Faithful Workers

h7039537_sWhen we travel across America on furlough and I find myself deeply moved at things others hardly notice.

In Casper, Wyoming a deacon hurries to vacate a table so we can set up our display. He’s trying not to annoy us. I am touched. This deacon drives to church every Sunday, early, ahead of his family, to fold bulletins and add inserts so the pastor doesn’t have to.

In Kalispell, MT I stumble upon the lady who has kept the church financial records for 25 years. She even keeps track of the small change the children put in the offering year by year. (“They tithe too. They need to be acknowledged.”)

In Sheldon, Iowa a small church has a rotating schedule of pianists and organists. Many musicians play special numbers for services, sometimes more than one special per service.

Two different churches maintain mission houses all year long, year after year, which we can use on furlough. Our short furloughs make it impossible to rent, but living by ourselves for short stretches helps us keep our sanity.

In every church we find people who mow the lawn, watch the nursery, count the offering, prepare dishes for pot-lucks, scrub toilets, type bulletins, play the piano, direct programs, teach Sunday School, and do a thousand other small jobs around the church. Deacons, trustees, secretaries, treasurers, clerks, hospitality committees, and other volunteers. Yes, a pastor and his wife can and do fill some of these positions. No pastor should be too important to scrub a toilet. But if you have people to help with these tasks in your church, thank God for them. You are rich. So many missionaries would love a fraction of the help you have every week.  In our mission church we have a small corps of people who faithfully help us. We are so thankful for them. But I am so touched when I see the wide variety of small jobs filled by people in the average church.

Take time to thank God for the workers in your church. While you’re at it, why not thank them for all they do?

Why I don’t tell people, “God told me to.”

Success highway curve stop go sign progressMaybe you’ve had this experience. Someone you know is moving into new territory by a major decision that makes no sense to you. You ask them why and get this answer: “God told me to.” What can you say to that? Not much, actually. Who are you to argue with God?

I get nervous when I hear someone give this answer. Do I want people to obey God and follow his leading? Certainly. But I think the “God told me to” answer has some dangers that we often miss.

Does God speak to us today? Yes, he speaks clearly and specifically from the Bible. If you want to know if God wants you to steal, cheat, lie, take his name in vain, or engage in immoral behavior, his answer from his Word is a resounding, “No.” He also speaks clearly about Christians marrying unbelievers, being kind to others, obeying those in authority, and telling others about Christ. He also gives many principles that help us make decisions in areas that are not specifically spelled out in Scripture. God has spoken and continues to speak from his Word. The Bible speaks with authority from God and, where it is clear, we don’t have to second guess what God wants us to do.

Today, however, many people want to speak their own words with the same level of authority as Scripture. They may say, “God told me to tell you,” or “I have a word from the Lord.” I believe those are dangerous words to say.

You might as well know that I am a cessationist. By that I mean that I believe there were certain “sign” gifts given to the church which passed from use early in church history, about the time of the completion of the New Testament and aren’t given to believers today. While God can do anything in any age, I don’t believe that he gives these gifts to people today: the ability to speak in tongues, that is speak a foreign language without learning it; to heal people miraculously and instantaneously; to foretell the future authoritatively and without error; to speak or write with authority equal to the Bible and without error. If you are a continuationist and believe the gifts of tongues, healing, and special prophecy to write the Bible are for today, then you won’t agree with me. It’s not the purpose of this blog to change your opinion. If you are really searching to answers to these questions, one good book is The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective by John F. MacArthur, Jr.

But if you are a cessationist, I caution you to avoid using phrases like, “God told me to do this,” or “God told me to say this and write it down,” or “I have a word from the Lord for you.” You may feel God wants you to do or say something, but phrasing it this way leads to misunderstanding. Some who believe the sign gifts are for today also say that their words carry equal authority with the Bible. They may even state that the Bible is outdated but we have newer, better revelation. Unless you want to identify with those groups you may want to word your thoughts in a different way.

Can we know what God wants us to do in given areas of our life? Yes, God promises to lead us. As I’ve noted already, God leads us authoritatively through his word, both specifically and by principle. Of course we need to be careful to take his Word in context. God told Abraham, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Gen 12:1 NKJV) That doesn’t mean God wants every Christian today to leave their family and go to another country to live.

God also leads us through circumstances, godly counsel, even feelings and desires that are in tune with him. But we need to be careful not to put feelings and circumstances on the same level as the Bible. Feelings and circumstances can be subjective. No counselor is always right. A course of action can feel right at some point and still not be what God wants for us.

So saying “God told me” is often sloppy theology which leaves us open to error. But there is another reason I believe this is dangerous. When someone says, “God told me to do this” they are, in effect, closing off all other input. “God told me” can mean, “I’m going to do it because I know it’s right. I’m not going to listen to anyone tell me otherwise.”

I prefer to say, “I believe God is leading me to do this.”

God’s leading through life is a process, a long path with many twists and turns. Sometimes it changes direction. Sometimes God seems to lead toward a certain goal or destination, only to change our course before we arrive. I believe he sometimes does this to lead us away from where we are, even when there is not yet a clear course to lead where he eventually wants us to go. He promises to lead us, but sometimes we only see a few steps ahead.

Each person is responsible to determine God’s leading for his life, but sometimes that leading is subjective. Most of the time God uses a combination of ways to lead us. He may use his Word, our circumstances, our desires, and the advice of godly people whom we trust. When I say, “I believe God is leading me to do this,” it shows I am moving ahead with confidence, but I am open to a change in direction in his leading. If I were to feel the Lord leading me to do something, but at some point several godly people whom I trust greatly express real concern about my decision, I would want to listen to them and consider their point of view. I might need to go back and ask the Lord to show me more clearly if I truly am following his leading and not just my feelings.

On a flight from Minneapolis to LA several years ago I noticed my seatmate was reading a New Testament.

“I see you found something interesting to read on the trip,” I said.

She told me it was her favorite book. I asked her if she was a Christian and she said she was. We chatted for a few minutes about our churches and ministries, then settled into reading.

As we approached our destination she interrupted my reading. She had just read the parable of the talents. She said she believed God was telling her to tell me that Art and I were doing a good work in New Zealand and he wanted us to be encouraged. She meant to be nice and encouraging. I didn’t launch into a long theological discussion and chew her out. I just said, “Thank you. That’s nice of you to say.” But I reminded myself that she really knew very little about our ministry and how faithful we were to it. What she was saying actually follows the pattern of many who claim to have “a word from the Lord” and speak authoritatively for God on a subject of which they have little knowledge.

One of my greatest joys is knowing God’s leading in the direction of my life. I do have to be careful, however, to acknowledge the fact I may be wrong in discerning this at times. I need advice from godly Christian people. I need to continually ask God if I am truly following his leading. And I need to remember that no other source of direction should be set on the level of God’s Word, which is authoritative and without error.

[Image courtesy of Michael Brown/Deposit Photos.]

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