Deb’s Books Blast/Deb’s Ministry Blog

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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.

Again, you’ll receive occasional emails. You may unsubscribe at any time. Your privacy will be respected. Your name and address will not be given to anyone else for any other purpose.

Follow Me: 5 Ways to Follow Me as an Author

Jesus asked many people to “Follow me.” This one command changed the lives of all who truly followed him, in the same way it changes his followers today.

Don’t worry. I’m not asking for that kind of commitment. If you’re like me, you’re probably pretty choosey about who you follow online. When you consider following someone, all kinds of questions come to mind:  “What if they clutter up my email in box with lots of junk mail? Will they expect me to interact with them all the time? Will I offend them if I ask to be taken off their mailing list? Will they share my address with others?”

If you hate that kind of thing, be assured I do too. I want people to feel they can follow whatever I offer while it is helpful, and they can unsubscribe easily when they’re no longer interested. I honor privacy, never sharing your address with anyone. And I try not to send so much content that it gets annoying.

That said, here are the best ways to follow me.

Deb’s Book Blast  

This is an email list for people who enjoy reading my books. Since I’m getting ready to publish another book later in the year, I intend to send more letters this year, but almost never more than once a month.

Coming soon in Deb’s Book Blast:

  • When is Book Three in the Keyhole Mysteries coming out?
  • Why am I re-branding the Keyhole Mysteries as the Art Spotlight Mysteries?
  • What is a beta reader and how can you become a beta reader for my new book?
  • What does the cover for my new book look like? How are the other covers changing?
  • What have I learned about art by writing a series about an artist?
  • Why is ministry and culture prominent in almost all my books?
  • Why do I handle romance and dating differently in my books than most Christian authors do?

Deb’s Ministry Blog   

This list goes to people who want to read my blogs about ministry. I write about ministry in three areas: missions ministry, small church ministry, and writing for Christian publication. For some time I’ve been posting blogs fortnightly (every other week), but starting now I’ll post once a month.

Coming soon in Deb’s Ministry Blog:

  • Do you use possessions or achievements to define yourself? What should you use?
  • Why do I avoid saying, “God told me.”
  • What does it mean to be a “conservative Christian” and how do you get past the labels?
  • Where can you find a Christmas program for your small church?
  • How can you guard contentment in your heart when you’re away from home for Christmas?

Facebook Author Page  

My ministry blog automatically posts to my Facebook Author Page. I also share or post other items on this page.

What’s the biggest drawback with following me on my author page?  Facebook users need to “like” my author page (not my personal profile) at the top of the page to see any of my page content in their newsfeeds. Even then, only a small percentage will see it unless the content is generating a lot of engagement. If you’ve been following me on Facebook and getting less than two notifications a month, you’ve been missing some of my posts.  If you want to see all of them, it’s better to follow me through my website and join the mailing list for Deb’s Book Blast and/or Deb’s Ministry Blog.

Pintrest  

You can also follow me on Pintrest. Recently I’ve found a lot of fun ways to use Pintrest to interact with readers and show visual images of the things I write about in my books. Here are some examples of what you can find there:

  • Full color art from Art Spotlight Mystery #1: Broken Windows
  • Artwork, art illusions, and places mentioned in Art Spotlight Mystery #2: Déjà Who?
  • Previews of art for Art Spotlight Mystery #3: I Scream
  • Art Humor
  • Art I Love

Goodreads   

You can follow me on Goodreads by checking out my author page. If you want to see what fiction I’m reading and what I think of it, you can do that too. I usually friend anyone who wants to friend me. It would help if you shoot me a message to tell me how I know you or how you found out about me.

Note on series name: I am in the process of rebranding my mystery series, changing the name from Keyhole Mysteries to Art Spotlight series. It will take a number of months before I can make the change complete. This is merely a name change and doesn’t change the content of the initial two books, Broken Windows and Déjà Who?

Note on image: The image at the top comes from my upcoming book, I Scream.

 Sneak Peek at Art Spotlight Mystery #3: I Scream

 Jordan Axtell can’t believe it. Out of all his students’ paintings on display at Maple Tree Art Center, a prominent art critic focuses on one by Destiny. CJ Fogelquist labels this six-year-old student’s painting “a masterpiece of contemporary art.” His review is great publicity for Destiny, but why does she need publicity when she just finished kindergarten? Jordan would kill (almost) for that kind of publicity to help him build his own art career enough to support a wife and family. One solid endorsement from an art expert like CJ would push his career to a new level, but the critic wastes it on a kid!

When Destiny’s work goes viral, Jordan agrees to become her agent. As her success spirals out of control, Jordan tries to market artwork he doesn’t believe in. It feels wrong, but if Destiny’s work is validated by major art experts, who is he to question its validity? Can he help it if Destiny’s success sends his own career soaring? Her success triggers immediate challenges and Jordan is forced to choose between living by his art ideals and protecting his young client.

Careers hang in the balance and wedding plans are side-tracked as Jordan tries to make sense of social media gone crazy. When the controversy about Destiny’s art becomes lethal, can Jordan and his over-looked fiancée find the killer and protect the future of their new little friend?

Art Spotlight Mystery #3, I Scream, makes you wonder if contemporary art, which challenges traditional boundaries, is true art. When even artists find it hard to define, what criteria is objective enough to judge it fairly? This light hearted mystery asks the Christian reader, “How can you promote yourself and serve others at the same time?”

 

How to Create a Theme for your Women’s Ministry Activity

When you plan a ladies’ craft night outreach, a retreat, a mother-daughter event, or other special ladies’ meeting, where do you begin? I begin with a theme. Sure, you could just choose a fun activity, add any devotional, bring a plate of cookies, and call it good enough. Most activities, however, become much stronger when you plan them around a theme. You might find ideas off the internet, but this let’s say you’d like to create your own theme. Where do you begin?

As a writer I’m used to developing ideas and I’ve been developing my own ministry ideas for about forty years. I start with an idea and keep working until I’ve developed these components:  visual theme, theme tagline, Bible verse or Scripture that goes with the theme, related activities.

I’m going to show you how I developed one visual theme into a full program that related to that theme.

Visual Theme

I was planning a ladies’ craft night and had some craft ideas that involved gingerbread men, so that’s where I started. The visual theme of gingerbread men could be used in many ways to make crafts and decorate. I could use a picture of a gingerbread man on invitations, posters, and promotional materials. I also knew it had great potential for a Bible devotional.

Theme Tagline

Once I had chosen the visual theme, I needed a tagline to go with it. A tagline is a catchphrase or slogan that communicates your theme in a few words. It ties the visual theme (gingerbread men) to the spiritual application of your devotional.

I thought about various processes of making gingerbread men: making the dough, rolling it out, cutting it into shapes, baking it. How could that have a spiritual application? How could I express that in a few words? I tried different phrases, used a thesaurus for some of the words. Finally I settled on this theme: Shaped by His Love.

Theme Verse or Scripture

When I planned the Gingerbread Man Craft Night, I used a lot of verses in my devotional to show how God shapes us, but it’s often good to choose one theme verse that pulls everything together. The craft night was a one-time event with a short devotional. Since the main purpose of this event was outreach, I didn’t print a theme verse on the invitations, but I could have used Philippians 1:6 for a theme verse.

But let’s say I was planning a ladies’ retreat with four or five different speakers. I would want to choose a theme visual and theme verse that were broad enough to allow many related topics to be discussed. A theme like “Guard Your Heart,” for example, could be used to teach moral purity, salvation, relationships with God and people, priorities, marriage, and other issues.

Other Activities

Once I’d settled on a visual theme with a spiritual application, I searched the internet for several simple craft ideas to use for our main activity. I made gingerbread cookies for refreshments. While making the cookies, I took pictures of the various stages that related to my spiritual application, and used those photos as a PowerPoint presentation. From there I went on to make a bulletin board promotion, invitations, and evangelistic folders to give to visitors. I already owned decorations related to gingerbread men that made for easy decorating.

You can plan themes in a similar way. You might start with a scripture verse instead, or a tagline. Wherever you start, keep working until you find a theme that work well for your activity.

Here are some themes I’ve developed for Mother-Daughter Evenings and Ladies’ Craft Nights:

Teddy Bears’ Picnic 

God’s Beauty Makeover 

Lives Under Construction 

Making a Masterpiece 

Jewelry of the Heart 

International (All Are Precious in His Sight)

Heirlooms of Faith 

Shaped by His Love—Gingerbread Man Craft Night

Hang in There—Clothes Pin Craft Night 

Follow the Star—Christmas Star Craft Night 

Button Jewelry Craft Night 

 

Ministry Marriages, Part Four: Managing Your Finances

Picture an orchestra playing a magnificent symphony. All the different instruments make their entrance and play their respective parts. At the end, all come together in a swelling crescendo that moves the emotions and stirs the heart. It leaves you with an unforgettable feeling you can’t explain. You remember that high note that the flute hit perfectly or the rumbling of the bass. You don’t think about the mechanical bits like how many beats there were to a measure or what key the piece was in. Those mechanical bits aren’t even noticeable when the piece is played right, but if one player is playing to a different time or in a different key, the symphony is far from pleasant.

Finances are one of the mundane parts of marriage that no one likes to talk about. When they’re in order, your marriage can move on to more interesting pursuits. When there is dissension or unwise choices in this area, however, the marriage suffers in other ways.

Art and I are so blessed to have come from similar family backgrounds. Both of us were raised in Christian homes by parents who were faithful, fun, and frugal. That gives us similar ideas about finances and how to spend them. Handling finances can be a big problem, however. They lead to the breakup of many marriages. Even ministry marriages struggle with this.

Here again, balance is a key word in dealing with finances. Couples who spend more than they make get in huge financial trouble. But couples who are so frugal that they don’t provide for the needs of their families also have problems.

Living within a Budget

Somehow couples need to agree on how much they can spend and what to spend it on. They need to look ahead and prepare for emergencies that could come up. During certain times in their lives they might need to be extremely frugal. Seminary students with families often have to pinch every penny in order to get by. They may have to do very careful shopping at the grocery store and buy necessities second hand. Hopefully the situation will ease with time.

When you are on a very tight budget with no choice about it, you will have to work hard to stay contented. Everyone around you may seem to have more money than you have, but you must be happy with less. Wanting more than you can have will make your marriage unhappy and may push you to make unwise choices.

Hopefully you will come to a time when, even though you may have to be careful, you will have a little more freedom to make choices. Both husband and wife should have some freedom to use money for things they choose. A husband should be able to trust his wife to spend money freely within the guidelines that have agreed to. Part of being an adult should be having freedom to make financial choices.

Very often God puts a frugal person with someone who spends more freely so that they can balance each other out. If the money just isn’t there, obviously, you can’t spend it, but we can be too frugal as well.

I have seen ministry marriages in which the wife and family lived in unnecessarily harsh conditions, without enough heat in the house or without proper food. Sometimes the family never takes a vacation or goes fun places together. In some cases the wife has to account for every penny she spends and can spend little to no money on things she enjoys.  This puts a strain on the marriage. Many marriages go through hard financial times, but I believe, if at all possible, a wife and family ought to be able to enjoy reasonable comfort and some fun things and activities.

Kids will also be less likely to resent the ministry if they don’t feel poor. Most ministry families have to be careful with their spending and may have less “things” than families around them. But when children grow up and they feel like they never had nice things growing up, that their Christmases and birthdays were pathetic compared to their friends, they may resent that. Giving them a few nice things that they really want and that give them good memories may really help their perception of the ministry. And a wife who feels she can’t give nice things to her kids won’t be happy either.

On the other hand, I know marriages that failed largely due to a wife who spent money too fast on things they didn’t really need. If you find yourself shopping for fun and buying more than you need, think about whether or not you can afford to do that or if you need to stop.

Marriages will be stronger if both husband and wife:

  • agree to financial guidelines,
  • live within their budget or guidelines,
  • have freedom to make choices, and
  • work to be content with the standard of living they can afford.

I hope you have found this series on ministry marriages helpful.  If you and your spouse are in ministry, what have you found most difficult?

 

Ministry Marriages, Part Three: Nurturing Your Relationship

It’s easy to get so busy in the ministry that you neglect your marriage relationship, but that relationship is foundational to your ministry. A man may be a powerful preacher or able administrator, but if his marriage relationship is in chaos, his ministry will be greatly hampered. Harmony in the relationship is key to a harmonious ministry.

Remember when you were first “in love”? When he looked at you, you felt like a beauty queen.  When she looked at you, you felt like lightning was coursing through your body. After several years of marriage you begin to understand that a lot of that physical attraction is just hormones. Yes, a good sexual relationship will help a marriage and protect it from outside attack, but there’s got to be more to a relationship that that. In time libido will wane, and then what will you have left?

Art and I have been married almost forty years. More and more I see that the biggest hunk of marital love is friendship and companionship.  You may change ministries. You may move away from family. But a marriage should last a lifetime. If your marriage relationship is weak, your ministry will suffer too. So how can you protect and nurture your marriage relationship?

Trust

Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, “The heart of her husband safely trusts her.” (NKJV)

Your marriage partner should be able to completely trust you and you should be able to trust him. That means you don’t sneak around behind his back and do things you know he wouldn’t approve of. You make decisions that fit with agreements you have already made. You don’t undermine his authority. You know her well enough to know what she’ll like or won’t like and try to please her. You honor joint agreements. You know what your spouse wants to be consulted on and when he doesn’t mind if you make decisions for him and you honor that.

If you can’t trust your marriage partner totally or you can’t be trusted, your relationship will suffer greatly.

Consideration

Art often quotes 1 Peter 3:7 to married men. “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them (your wives) with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (NKJV)

That means a husband needs to consider the needs and desires of his wife. When he makes decisions he needs to consider what’s best for his wife and delight in making her happy. His decision shouldn’t run over her needs.

At the same time a wife needs to consider her husband, how to help him and make him happy.

Simple kindness and consideration for each other is a big part of what makes a marriage relationship strong.

One thing I love about Art is the fact that he takes care of my silly but precious things like dolls, teddy bears, or collectables. If they are important to me, they’re important to him.

Friendship

Your marriage partner should be your best friend for life. That means you need to nurture that friendship. You may have separate interests that you like to pursue, and that is healthy, but you should also have things you like to do together.

What do you like to talk about? Are those things encouraging to you, or do they discourage? Can you read or view something together that gives you more to talk about? Is one person doing most of the talking and the other mainly listening? Encourage each other to share the things that mean a lot to you. Thank each other for sharing even when you don’t agree. Instead of censuring your partner, listen to understand his or her viewpoint.

Develop common interests. You may encourage each other in private pursuits, but you should also have things you enjoy doing together. After a while boredom may step in, so consider breaking the mold and beginning a new joint venture.

Art has always been a fast distance runner. He picks up any sport naturally and well. I’m hopeless at sports but love creative crafts and writing. We’ve each pursued our own interests, but we also learn from the other. I understand more about sports than I used to. Art will sometimes talk about writing issues. But we both like to rummage around garage sales and second hand stores. Sure, our house gets full of silly collectables sometimes and we have to restrain ourselves or recycle things we have previously loved. But looking for bargains brings us closer together. I don’t know just why.

Of course, we both love to go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef as well. (Who wouldn’t?)

Life is busy for everyone these days. Follow a diet. Spend time with your kids. Increase your skills. Keep up with social networks. Excel at your job. But in your busyness, don’t neglect your marriage relationship or it will affect your ministry and almost every area of your life.

Part Four will discuss managing your finances.

Ministry Marriages, Part Two: Working as a Team

In my last blog I began talking about ministry marriages and how to nurture them.  A couple can have a much more effective ministry by working together as a team than be each going their separate ways. Building that harmony into a marriage isn’t always easy, but good harmony will bless everyone around them.

Scripture pictures marriage as being like two oxen yoked together. The man and wife should be moving in the same direction at the same pace for the same purpose. This need for unity is even more important in a ministry marriage. If a couple is not united in purpose and are going separate directions, their ministry will suffer.

Have you ever met a passionate, gifted pastor with a wife who wished she could be someplace else? Doesn’t work very well, does it? Or maybe you’ve met a woman who longed to be in ministry and was trying to drag her husband along with her. God doesn’t lead a couple together and then give them mutually exclusive ministries.

Wives can help their husbands by supporting their ministries and working alongside them to see those ministries thrive. Husbands can help their wives by recognizing their gifts and encouraging them to use them.

More than forty years ago Art Brammer felt the Lord calling him to a missions ministry in Taiwan. He was training for ministry at Faith Baptist Bible College. I was attending the same college, eager to be involved in ministry and searching for God’s will. Two weeks after we started dating, Art told me about his desire to be a missionary to Taiwan and wondered if I would be open to the possibility. I told him I felt God was leading me to write for Christian publication, but I was also open to missions. The Lord led us together in marriage, then to Taiwan for sixteen years, then on to New Zealand in 1998.

Unity of purpose has helped us to work well together in various times of ministry. We both cared about the same people and ministries, though we had different jobs within those ministries.

Here are some ways I support Art in his ministry:

  1. Support and encourage his teaching ministry and ideas, both privately and publicly.
  2. Give feedback in a positive way. At times Art says something from the pulpit that comes out sounding like he means something different than I know he does. At times like that I mention it to him in private and allow him to correct it as he sees fit. I also try to get a sense of how people are responding to various ideas or events in the church and communicate that to him privately. Are we having enough or too many fellowship nights? Are people ready to make various changes? Who might be ready to fill a certain church office? Is a church member struggling with something?
  3. Offer suggestions for programs or events in the church. Art is a great plodder. He never grows weary of studying and he prepares well for all of his teaching and preaching times throughout the week. It’s easier for me, however, to come up with ideas for outreaches, programs, and events in our church. When I think of a new idea I run it past him. Sometimes these ideas don’t fly, but often, in talking about the idea, we come up with something that works well. Art doesn’t resent my ideas. He welcomes them, though he doesn’t use all of them.
  4. Complement his ministry with my ministry. I teach, plan, play the piano, lead programs, and do what I can do to help our team ministry prosper.

But Art also supports me in my ministry.

  1. He recognizes my gifts and encourages me to use them.

Yes, he’s happy for me to use my gifts in our church-planting ministry, but throughout all these years he has also encouraged me to write for Christian publication. This takes time, energy, sometimes finances, which I have to carve out of my life in addition to ministry. He encourages me to do this because he wants me to be happy and because he recognizes the Lord leading me to do these things.

  1. He gives me feedback about my church ministry and my writing ministry. He gives suggestions and help. He’s my first editor.
  2. He helps me in areas of need. He works through computer problems and handles my writing finances. He encourages me to go to writing conferences when I can, and order helpful books or resources. When I plan events at church he’s the first to help me set up or clean up. When I plan a book launch he’s the quiet helper who makes everything work.

When a husband and wife work together in accordance with God’s will, ministry becomes more effective and rewarding. The hard times become more bearable. Without that unity of purpose, however, the ministry suffers and the marriage does too. Even when a couple is serving in separate ministries, they can support each other in a way that makes them stronger in each individual ministry.

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be likeminded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (NKJV)

In Part Three I’ll talk about nurturing your relationship.