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Deb’s Ministry Blog shares articles of interest to people in a small church, missions, or writing ministry. These are practical and encouraging articles that may be shared freely.

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7 Colors That Teach About Jesus

Need a short object lesson for Christmas, Easter, or other occasion? I just created this lesson to use as a kids’ sermon for our Friend Day.  The colorful poem can be reproduced to go with a bag of jelly beans or enlarged to use as a visual. I give directions on how to make a 15-foot (5-meter) Bible bookmark fit into an ordinary Bible. You can find all the instructions and files here.

Dealing with Expectations of Ministry



Several people block the church door exit. “We think you are the perfect person for the job,” they tell you. “Will you do it?”

Not another job! You’re glad they have confidence in you, but aren’t you doing enough already? What areas will you have to neglect in your own life to do it?  What will they think of you if you say “no”? What will God think?

Deciding whether or not to take on another commitment can be tricky. How can you tell the difference between God’s will and others’ expectations?

An article I read recently is typical of the most common approach Christian authors use to solve this dilemma. It talks about needs in ministry, and using your gifts and passions.

The article reminds us that need doesn’t equal call. Just because there’s a need in a ministry doesn’t mean God wants you to meet that need. Learn to say ‘no,'” it says. “Don’t live by others’ expectations.”

According to the article and common Christian thinking today, when faced with the needs of a new ministry these are the most important questions: Would this energize me? Can I feel passionate about this?  Does this fit in with my dreams, gifts and desires? What will it cost me and my family? Would it make me feel fulfilled?

There is some truth in all of this, yet something is missing. The article never suggests I ask, “What does God want me to do?”  The emphasis is on me, me, me. So then who is master, who is servant, and which one do I capitalize?  Have we forgotten that the main point of serving Christ is doing His will, not mine; of service, not self-esteem; of meeting His needs, not mine?

It is true that need does not equal call. I should be using my gifts to serve the Lord, but the matter does not end there. I believe the questions above can be valid if we keep them in balance. The Holy Spirit does gift each one of us for service.

We need to look for ways to use these gifts with all our hearts. But today we hear some say we should only serve in areas in which we are gifted and passionate. That presents a problem. Who does the jobs that no one feels gifted to do, ones for which no one feels passion?

My husband and I serve in a small mission church in New Zealand. We face this reality: Some things just need to be done, even if no gifted, passionate person exists to do them. I don’t feel gifted to clean the church or paint tables and chairs. I don’t enjoy watching the nursery or confronting anyone.  Yet we and others in our church do these things because they need to be done.  I’ve never been good at sports, but when we led the youth group I became an aggressive basketball player.

A missionary to Jews once told me, “I don’t believe Christians are required to have a passion for souls, but they are required to witness.” If we all waited to feel passionate about witnessing before we did it, few people would come to Christ.

Much of the work that needs to be done for the Lord is mundane and uninteresting. While God expects us to serve Him cheerfully and without resentment, He doesn’t require warm fuzzy feelings, only obedience.

It’s also true that if we only try jobs in which we feel gifted, capable, and comfortable, we won’t grow much. And we may never discover other gifts God has given us. God can help us do things we don’t think we can do.  That doesn’t mean we’ll do these things perfectly, perhaps even well, in the beginning. We grow in our ability with time and experience.

Before we came to New Zealand our mission church found itself between missionary pastors. Because there was no one to do many jobs, our people ended up doing things they had never thought they could do.  Though they were scared at first, they learned that they could do more than they had realized. Since then, starting new programs has stretched our people to do other things they had no confidence in doing. It began with their willingness to try new things. They analyzed what worked and what didn’t and experimented with different methods. In time they grew in their ability to do things they had previously thought they could never do.  God isn’t looking for perfection the first time around. He does want us to learn and grow.

So what do I do when someone at church asks me to do a job? How do I know if this is something God wants me to do, or if it’s simply the other person’s idea? Here are four questions to consider:

Is this a need only I can fill?

As we have said, Need doesn’t equal call. When a need arises I should ask myself if this is a need only I can fill. Would I be taking the opportunity for ministry from someone else? Is this something someone else should be doing?  Does it need to be done at all?

Am I gifted in this area?

The Holy Spirit has not gifted me for service for no reason. I may not be able to use all of my gifts at one time. Some talents may need to be put on a shelf for a time, awaiting the right opportunity to use them. Yet I should be involved in areas of service that I believe in, that I can get excited about. Am I finding an area to use my gifts and passions?

Is there a need?

The job may not be one for which I feel particularly gifted. I need to ask the Lord if He is laying this need on my heart so that I will do it. Is it something that I can do without resentment? Maybe the Lord wants me to learn and grow in a new area. Does the Lord want to use this need to stretch me?

Most of all, I need to be doing what God wants me to do. I can never meet all the expectations of others. I shouldn’t even try. I will never fill a position quite like my predecessor. But I must be faithful to becoming the person God wants me to be, doing the tasks He wants me to do.

Serving Christ should be our greatest joy. Yet experiencing that joy is not our main motivation for service. Bringing Him joy is.


Excellence in Small Church Christmas Programs

As Christians, we want to serve the Lord with excellence. But excellence can mean different things in different situations.

At the Olympics excellence means athletes give their all-out best effort to train and excel at their sport. They compete to win. When they finally make it to the Olympics, win or lose, they want to be able to say they gave their absolute best possible performance.

Excellence looks a lot different at our church’s Discovery Club. Clubbers can excel at the group games by making everyone in their team feel wanted and accepted. They need to do their part to help their team win or do well. They need to give their enthusiasm to the game to make it fun for everyone. Working too hard to win or showing off in front of other clubbers can actually be counter-productive. A skilled athlete might have to pull back a bit to avoid outclassing the poorer athletes and give them a chance to play. Winning and showing off their skill is not the kind of excellence we need at Discovery Club.

In the same way, excellence in a large church may look different than in a small church.

A large church may rightfully display excellence when they use their most talented people for an outreach program and give exceptional effort to prepare a polished, professional performance. Less talented performers may be used in less visible programs.

Excellence in a small church program may mean using the time, resources, and people you have to the best advantage. It may be a time for the pastor and other church leaders to step aside and showcase other people. Most often smaller churches will have less -polished programs, but they can compensate in other ways to give a good effort that pleases the Lord and reaches out to others.

As a missionary pastor’s wife, I’m usually in charge of finding or putting together a Christmas program that provides good outreach for our mission church. Each year as Christmas draws closer I have to ask questions like these:

  • Who is available for choir at this point? How skilled are they? How much practice time can I reasonably expect from them? What kind of music fits the occasion, their skill level, and our finances?
  • How many teens and children are available? What are their skills and interests—puppets, drama, memorised parts? Are they interested in performing and excited to take part or are they shy wall flowers who wilt on stage? Will they work to learn lines? Can I expect their parents to help? Will they make time in their schedules to attend practices?
  • What musicians do I have who can help? What instruments can they play? What is their skill level and how much are they willing to practice?
  • How can I tailor our Christmas program to allow people to shine who don’t usually have an opportunity to be up front? How can I use children and others to reach out to their friends and relatives who don’t usually go to church?

If you work in a small church with limited resources, you will have to be creative to make your Christmas program worth inviting unchurched people to. Here are some ways to add excellence to a small church program:

  • If possible, balance less skillful performances with some more-skilled ones.
  • Promote a friendly atmosphere that emphasizes wider participation rather than superior skill.
  • Choose someone who can lead the program in a smooth and friendly manner.
  • Organize seating, music, and platform arrangement to run smoothly from one event to the next.
  • Cover awkward transitions with music or comments from the program leader that draw attention away from movement that distracts.
  • Add some shine with unusual instruments, props, decorations, costumes, or activities.
  • Provide festive refreshments that help this program rise above other activities during the year.

This year you may want to plan an excellent Christmas program and be discouraged with your resources. Remember God sees your heart and knows your need. Simple, friendly, well-planned Christmas programs can be effective in their own ways.

I’ve been planning Christmas programs for our mission church for many years. Some years we’ve had many more people and much higher skill and interest levels than others. We’ve had to adapt to our situation just like you have to adapt to yours. You can find 8 original programs here which we’ve used in our church. They offer a variety of performance and practice levels.

May the Lord bless your efforts as you look ahead and plan Christ-centered Christmas programs.


5 Marks of Healthy Romance in Christian Novels


Since I write Christian fiction, I also read a lot of Christian fiction. While I read few novels that are primarily romance, I like to experience a little romance in the fiction I do read. I believe a Christian novel that uses romance well can be inspiring and helpful for the Christian reader. Sadly, however, I note some very unhealthy romantic elements in many Christian romances. Perhaps this is why many Christians shy away from the romance genre.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Bible stories include healthy romances, as well as unhealthy ones we can learn from. Christian romances can be more than just “clean reads.” I believe Christian romances should be distinctively Christian, not just Hollywood without the sex scenes.

Part of the problem, I think, is that some story elements make for exciting fiction, though they are contrary to healthy Christian relationships. Thank the Lord, my dating relationship with my husband would make a boring biography. Many writers quote something close to this: “Fiction is real life with the boring parts taken out.” Face it: Commitment, faithfulness, appreciation, and stability are less exciting in fiction than jealousy, misunderstanding, fighting, and hurt feelings. To build suspense, romance authors try to keep a couple apart when they want to be together, or keep them together when they want to be apart. Conflict builds suspense. No conflict, no story.

Sometimes authors work so hard at building suspense that they fail to spot the unhealthy romance in their novels. As readers, however, we need to be discerning. We need to support Christian writers who handle romance in a healthy way.

Here are five things I look for in healthy Christian romance:

  1. It reflects godly standards for choosing who to love and pursue in a committed relationship. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

A godly protagonist won’t date an unbeliever or a believer who is distant in his relationship to God. Many times I see a protagonist fall in love with an unbeliever or someone who is far from God. At the end of the book that person suddenly gets saved or comes back to the Lord. Then, a very short time later, they marry. That is portrayed as a perfectly acceptable model of romance.

The problem is the protagonist , who seems to be godly, set her heart on someone who doesn’t love God like she does. A godly character sets her heart on godly things.

This also sets a dangerous example. It’s easy for a believer to fall in love with an unbeliever, hoping that person may get saved. But that unbeliever may never get saved, or may not get saved for many years. Sometimes an unbeliever professes salvation just to please a believer they love.

Christians need to set a high standard for people they marry or form a relationship with. Salvation is a bare minimum. Believers need to look for other believers who are growing in their relationship to Christ.

  1. The romantic attraction should be based on more than purely physical attraction.

Some Christian romances go on for so long about the color of a person’s eyes, his muscles, or her figure, that the romance seems more hormonal than anything else. Godly characters need to be attracted to each other because of friendship, common goals, concern for each other, and godly character traits. We’re all imperfect and need forgiveness at times. But a reader should be able to pick out positive character traits that draw the characters to each other.

  1. It shows a healthy dating relationship or the dangers of an unhealthy one.

“Dating” is not the only way for a Christian couple to get to know each other. Some use more of a courtship model or group date or simply get to know each other by being in situations where they are together. When I talk about a “dating relationship” I use the term broadly, as whatever means a couple uses to go from point A, where they meet, to point B, where they marry.

Here are some dangerous dating practices I’ve seen in Christian fiction:

Whirlwind Romance: Add up the passage of time in a novel and sometimes the couple is ready to commit to marriage in a matter of a few weeks. They may have solved the story problem, but do they really know each other well enough to make that kind of commitment?

Moving too fast: Some characters move into kissing and commitment very early in their relationship, clouding their emotions before they have time to think clearly.

Dangerous situations: Recently I read about a vulnerable, hurting protagonist who spent many hours with the guy she grew to love, alone, in a motel room with a bed/living room/kitchenette. Not smart, but the author portrayed this as a normal, healthy, place to talk. So normal, in fact, that the protagonist felt no one had a right to question the situation.

Surprise kiss: How many Christian romances have the main characters suddenly thrown together and kissing without either realizing it was going to happen. This is almost always depicted as a lovely surprise with no question asked about if they should be kissing someone they don’t even know how they feel about.

Inappropriate touch: Writers always struggle to bring more action into their scenes to show what the character is feeling. In a clean Christian romance, a guy often shows restraint as well as care by stroking a girl’s face, squeezing her hand, or kissing her forehead. He uses these means to show he cares about her before he is ready to declare his feelings. But think about it. If an employer strokes the face of an employee, what do we call that? Sexual harassment. Touching a person’s face is a very personal gesture. When these gestures are used in a casual relationship, in which a couple isn’t even dating yet and are undecided if they want to, this seems inappropriate to me.

Ungodly responses: All couples experience conflict, but Christian characters should model ways to work through their problems in a godly way. They may learn by their mistakes, but ungodly responses should not be shown in a favorable light.

  1. It leads my mind down spiritually healthy paths. (Philippians 4:8)

Recently I read a Christian romance that was really well written. In fact, she described the physical responses to the character’s feelings in so much detail that, even as a married woman, I felt the physical attraction a bit too clearly.

Other Christian writers write about immorality and homosexuality in ways that, though they stop short of the bedroom door, can lead your mind down paths that aren’t spiritually healthy. Immorality starts in the mind and even Christian books can cause us to think beyond what is stated to things that may be sinful. When dealing with immorality, Christian novels should show the consequences of sin without too much detail. Stirring the curiosity about immorality isn’t spiritually healthy.

Some content might be perfectly healthy for a married reader, but might draw a younger person or single into sinful thoughts.

A well-balanced Christian novel, on the other hand, will encourage readers to think clean thoughts and make them want to live by a high standard of behavior which pleases God.

  1. It encourages contentment in my present relationship or season of life.

Romances should not only warm us, but also uplift us. Some singles find that reading romances makes them desire a relationship that isn’t right for them at this time. Romances may make some married women feel discontent with their own marriage that may be less romantic than what they read in books.

This is something the reader has to determine for herself, but authors can sometimes help this by exercising a little extra restraint.

Is it impossible?

Finding a healthy Christian romance novel can be hard, but it’s not impossible. Sometimes it’s easier to find healthy romance in a genre that isn’t primarily romance. Light romance mixed with mystery, historical, or a general genre often places the focus more sharply on other aspects than the physical attraction. I like to put a little romance into my adult novels, and pair them with ministry. Actually, participating in Christian ministry is a good way for a committed Christian to find a marriage partner.

It’s often hard to judge a romance novel before you’ve read it, but when you find one, tell your friends or write an on-line review to help other readers find it too.

My Keyhole Mysteries combine light romance with light-hearted mystery that deals with relationship issues. Broken Windows, the first in the series, is now perma-free in these places:

zcover Broken Windows

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Déjà Who?, the second in the series, is now available in these places:


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5 Ways to Encourage Your Missionaries


I used to say, “You can tell how long a missionary family has been on the field by the color of their Tupperware.” But the face of missions is changing rapidly and the ways churches can help missionaries has changed with it.

  • Monthly missionary meetings have stopped in many churches.
  • Today many women work at paid jobs outside the home, making it hard for women to attend missionary meetings.
  • The missions projects of yesteryear—rolling bandages, sewing quilts from scraps to save money, cutting and pasting bookmarks and prizes out of old greeting cards—are seldom helpful on the mission field today.
  • The rising cost of postage and shipping has made treasures from missionary closets impractical to transfer to the field for many missionaries.

A recent comment from my website asked a question many churches are asking today.

What can our church do to encourage missionaries on a regular basis?

This is an excellent question. It doesn’t have a simple, one-size-fits-all answer, but I’m going to suggest some things to think about when you want to encourage your missionaries.

  1. Treat them as individuals.

What do missionaries need today? First of all, missionaries are just people. Some struggle in their marriages. Some have children who hate being MK’s. Some have complicated health issues or manage difficult diets. Some are introverts in a world where people expect missionaries to be extroverts. Some don’t have kids and the ones that do educate their kids in a variety of ways. Some collect turkey feathers, sew quilts, run marathons, write books, ski, or refinish antiques.

The needs of their fields also vary widely. You can minister to them in a much more effective way if you understand who they are. Figuring this out will often suggest ways you can encourage or help them.

2. Correspond to show you care.

What does that mean? Send birthday and anniversary cards? Write personal letters asking lots of questions? Sharing lots of details about your life?

I’m going to guess that some missionaries love birthday cards and some don’t care much. But if every supporting church sent cards on every holiday, with a long list of names signed, it would have about the same effect as when 147 Facebook friends write posts telling you, “Happy birthday!!!” Some churches make it their special ministry to hand-make beautiful cards and it can be a good way to show your missionaries that you are thinking of them in a personal way. If it becomes, however, a troublesome task which eats up too much postage, you might want to consider another way to do the same thing.

Personally, I’d rather have a personal, warm email than a card with a list of names signed. When you mention something specific from my last prayer letter or recall a personal memory, I know you’ve seen me and you are thinking of me, not just ticking something off your to-do list.

Whatever you do, make it easy to respond. If I get a card in the mail, I love it when an email address is included. Then I can easily write a few lines of reply and finish my response without having to remember to do it later. Find out what method of correspondence is best for your missionary and use that when possible. Sometimes it’s great just to say you’ve written to encourage them and don’t expect a response.

How early should you send cards? I’m sure every field is different and times vary within the same country. Sometimes we get cards from the US in about a week. Other times it might take much longer. I may receive cards a month or more before the date or a month or so after. Too early is always better than too late. I don’t open cards until the occasion has arrived. Usually, however, missionaries are thankful for the thought and don’t worry if the timing is off.

Lists of questions can take a lot of time to answer. Don’t ask questions about a country if you can find them on the internet. If you ask questions, make sure you use them well. Assure the missionary that she can use something she’s already written for other churches if appropriate.

Share your own personal details in correlation to the relationship you have with the missionary. If she doesn’t even know you by name, a few details are appropriate. If you know her well, you may want to share more. It’s appropriate to share a few personal prayer requests, but avoid sending heart-wrenching details that may burden the missionary more than encourage.

Consider a phone call or Skype. Sometimes this can be cheaper than postage. Check their time zone on the internet to make sure you aren’t calling them in the middle of the night or at a bad time. You could even email ahead and set up a time to talk. You could be quite an encouragement in this way. Even most pastors never call their missionaries on the field. We’ve been missionaries since 1978 and I know this for a fact.

What can you say in a letter or phone call to show you care? Tell them you’re praying for a specific request of theirs. This tells them you read their prayer letters and care enough to remember and pray specifically. Affirm something specific about their ministry. Say something personal. Don’t expect them to share private matters if they aren’t ready to do this.

  1. Look for special needs.

I feel kind of sad when people ask what special projects they make or do for us and I don’t have a good answer. You need to realize that sometimes missionaries don’t have special little “projects” that can be made by a ladies’ group. Sometimes they may not even have a specific, small financial need that you can even give toward. But when you treat missionaries as individuals, you may find special needs that come up.

Missionary closets were a great help to me in the past. I’m not sure I’ve ever purchased one Tupperware item, but I own many. They tend to be apple green or yellow or orange, which tells you how old I am. But now I’ve set up housekeeping. Posting, shipping, or bringing an extra suitcase on a flight often costs more than buying the items new. Many missionaries face this problem. Perhaps missionary closets are still helpful to missionary appointees who plan to send a large crate to the field or to home missionaries. But if you find missionaries aren’t taking much from your closet, you may rather buy specific items for specific missionaries.

Encourage their college kids. The hardest thing for a missionary family may be sending their children back to their home country for college and university. The MK may seldom or never go home for holidays during these years and may be far from any family. The missionary mother might long to send care packages, but the postage may make it unreasonable. Churches can greatly encourage college kids by sending baked treats, coins for laundry, offers to sew, shampoo or panty hose, or things like that. If you know an MK well enough, you might be in a position to help them shop for clothes as they re-enter their home country or invite them to your home for a holiday.

Ask your missionaries if they need items that you could purchase and sent to them. Ask them to pick out an item from Amazon or an on-line store and have it shipped directly to them. For missionary readers, ask for a wish list to read on their e-reader. Send a gift of money through their mission board to use to go out to eat or use on vacation.

If you have someone with special skills who wants to help, your church could offer their services. This could be making puppets, sewing, web design, woodworking, or even servicing their car. Don’t be offended, however, if they don’t have a particular need in those areas.

If a missionary family with young children comes to your church, provide opportunities for them to move around, play at a playground, play with children from the church, or go someplace special when they come to your church. Instead of expecting them to be missionary kids, just expect them to be kids.

  1. Be a friend.

You might be surprised to know how many missionaries have no really close friends apart from their spouse.

They may have close friends and family when they first leave for the field, but after 20, 30, or 40 years away from those friends and family, developing very different interests and experiences, they usually find time makes for distance in many of their relationships.

Many missionaries have close missionary friends on the field, but others don’t work in close contact with other missionaries. Depending on language, culture, and other factors, they may make close national friends, but even here, they have to have boundaries. Missionaries often feel they are giving out in friendship, but do far more giving than receiving.

You can’t be a close friend to all your missionaries, but you can ask the Lord to lead you to becomea better friend to some missionary. You might find someone who shares similar interests or skills and relate to her in a personal way. When missionaries are home on furlough, offer to include them in an excursion to a local place of interest. Think of a question, other than the top five questions everyone asks missionaries, and ask about that. Let them know you see them as people, not just missionaries.

Discover their love language and show them you care. A small gift, when appropriate, can be meaningful to people who love gifts. Avoid gifts that are big and impractical. Some missionaries don’t have a regular furlough home and sending something to the field may not be practical. This eliminates many gifts. You might provide a service, like providing car maintenance or offering extended housing. Some might like a good hug. For me, it would be much more meaningful just to give a few words of affirmation.

When missionaries are going through rough times or times when they see very few visible results, they need to know that you stand behind them. Let them know (when it’s true) that you appreciate their hard work and faithfulness.

  1. Pray specifically and faithfully.

This one may be obvious, but I’ve saved the most important for last. We need effective and fervent prayer like we read about in James 5:16. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we can’t know how to pray very specifically for missionaries. I believe, however, that the most effective, fervent prayer happens when a person makes the effort to find out specific needs and prays faithfully for them. If that weren’t true we could just ask God to “bless all the missionaries around the world real good,” cross prayer off our list, and move on.

When we get to heaven, I’m convinced we’ll find results from our labor that we never saw on earth. I’m also convinced that we will understand, somehow, how much more could have been done with effective prayer support.

You may have even been placed in a situation where you are limited in how you can function, but you have more time than usual. Time is a wonderful gift, and time in prayer is a great support and encouragement for missionaries. Or you may struggle to find time to pray like most of us, but making time for meaningful prayer accomplishes more than we will even know on earth.

You can use these 5 ways to encourage your missionaries. Sometimes it’s easier to organize a craft and do it than to really see your missionaries and try to meet their needs. But if you are prayerfully looking for ways to meet the needs of your missionaries, these 5 ways can allow you to be a great blessing.