What does God want me to do? Part 3—Choosing a Ministry

In February I talked about how to find God’s will for your life. I talked about finding God’s will through the Bible, positioning ourselves to do His will, getting godly counsel, and rattling doorknobs.  I promised to give you some personal examples of how I found God’s will in several areas of my life. In March I talked about the way the Lord has led me in writing for Christian publication. Today I’ll talk about how the Lord has led me in ministry. I hope this will help some of you who may be looking for guidance in your own ministry.

I became a Christian at age five and, as a teen, told God I would do whatever he wanted me to do. I was raised in a pastor’s home and always had a special heart for ministry. It only made sense to go to a Bible college, since Bible college training is a pre-requisite for many kinds of ministry. I thought it would be great if the Lord would lead me to become a pastor’s wife, but for several years no would-be pastors asked me out. During my junior year at Faith Baptist Bible College I felt God leading me to write for Christian publication, but that didn’t rule out other ministry at the same time.

Suddenly I became aware that Art Brammer was interested in me. After dating 2 weeks he informed me that God had called him to be a missionary to Taiwan. He asked if that was an option I would consider. It sounded a bit like a proposal, but it wasn’t. He just didn’t want to waste time and emotional energy dating if there was no future in it. Being a missionary wife sounded more daunting than being a pastor’s wife, but I told him I believed it could be an option. We continued to date, asking the Lord to lead us apart if this wasn’t his will for us. God continued to lead us together. We married in 1978 and I believed God had called me to my husband and the field of Taiwan as well.

After about fifteen years in Taiwan we came to a scary place in our ministry. We had started one ministry and helped with another. In a period of about a year it became clear that both of the ministries weren’t really going forward. We didn’t want to quit and go home if the Lord wanted us to stick it out, but we also didn’t want to stay when the Lord was leading us elsewhere. How could we know what the Lord wanted?

We prayed and ask God to lead us very specifically. We sought godly counsel from our field council, mission board, and sending church. Finally we set some goals for our ministry that would help us discern the Lord’s leading. The goals were high enough to show progress, but low enough to be reasonable. If the ministries met these goals we believed God would continue to build those ministries and we should stay with them. If the goals were not met however, we would take that as a sign that the Lord was moving us on.

Within about six months the Lord made his will very clear. Neither of the ministries came close to meeting the goals. It was time for us to move, but we had no idea about what to do next. Art had planned on missions in Taiwan since he was a teenager. It had been difficult for him to even consider any other ministry. But sensing God’s leading, we brought our two high-school-aged daughters back to the US and began the search for a new ministry.

At first we looked at Chinese ministries in the US and Canada. Some sounded promising, but when we actually visited them, we didn’t feel like they were a good fit for us. God didn’t give us peace about them. Each time we “rattled a doorknob” we found the door was locked. After a couple of months in the States our field administrator from our mission board called. “Would you consider pastoring a church in New Zealand?” he asked. On the southern tip of New Zealand was a church that had been started by a missionary who felt the Lord leading him away.  We said sure, we’d consider it. Then we got out our maps. Where in the world was New Zealand?

Within about a month Art and I flew down to Invercargill, New Zealand for ten days so we could meet the church people and he could candidate as pastor. We visited the church and toured a bit of the South Island. Soon after we returned, the church voted to extend the call to Art to be their pastor. We talked about it with our kids, prayed about it, and God gave us peace. We’ve been in that ministry for twenty years now.

Early on in our ministry here, God showed us that this new place of ministry was right for us. Our daughters both had opportunities to share in our ministry before they moved away from home.

Most ministries go through ups and downs. Sometimes God brings us through down times to times of more apparent blessing. It’s not always easy to know when to leave a ministry and when to hold on. But if we really want to know God’s will, because we want to do it, because we love him, he will show us his way. We may only be able to see the next step, but when he shows us that step, we can take it in confidence. God will help us through all the necessary changes.

Are you confused about the direction of your ministry today? Are there godly counsellors you can talk to? Have you made long range goals and short range goals to get to the long range ones? Are you flexible enough to sense when God is leading you in a different direction? Are you moving forward, rattling some doorknobs to see which ones are locked?

My prayer for you today is that God will lead you to make good decisions and you will find the place or ministry where you can best serve him. May you find joy in serving him today.

What does God want me to do? Part 1

Does God want me to be a missionary? Should I make a career change? How should I treat a new unmarried couple in church who claim to be Christians but are living together? Should I pursue a new interest or join a community group? How often should I go to church if my unsaved husband doesn’t want me to go at all?

These can be tough questions without clear answers. Thankfully, God does want us to know his will, if we want to do it because we love him. I’ve been a Christian for fifty-seven years. I’ve had to find out what God wanted me to do about ministry choices, friends, writing for publication, people problems, and many other things. When I need guidance about a decision these are the things I consider.

  1. What does the Bible say?

The Bible speaks clearly on many issues. It defines morality, forbids stealing, gossip, and using God’s name in vain. I don’t have to pray about whether or not to do something when God commands me to do it or not to do it. I must obey.

Other things are not specifically dealt with in Scripture, but Scriptural principles apply. The Bible doesn’t tell me not to smoke or view pornography. It does, however, tell me that my body belongs to God. It’s a temple of the Holy Spirit. I need to take care of it. Jesus taught that lustful desires in the heart are the root sin of physical immorality. These principles help me to know what God wants me to do in many cases.

Some churches today actually teach that the Bible doesn’t apply to life today! I can’t imagine that, as we have a Bible in about every room of our house. As people come to talk over their problems we are constantly reaching for a Bible. In any decision we make, we need to consult the Bible first. If it tells us what to do, we don’t need to second guess it. We only need to obey.

  1. Position yourself to do God’s will.

Let’s say you want to become a great basketball player. You find out there’s a great team in town that you can join, and the coach is fantastic. You go down to the gym and watch practices, hang out, ask the coach questions. At first the coach answers your questions. Members of the team show you a few tips. But if you keep asking for help, but don’t want to join the team, what will the coach say? “Hey, buddy, if you want me to give you advice, join the team! Let’s see some commitment and then I’ll help you all I can.”

Salvation is the first step to positioning yourself to do God’s will. When you get saved, you “join God’s team.” God wants us to accept his Son Jesus as our Savior and commit to living for him. Why should he give us advice if we won’t even get on the same side as he is and work for the same things? (John 1:12)

We also need to give our lives to God, promising to do whatever he wants us to do. God doesn’t reveal his will so we can vote on it. When we show God we’re serious about doing his will, he will let us know what that is.

Often we ask God to show us his will, and then expect it to be terrible. “Lord, if you really want me to, I’ll be a missionary to reach the hardest tribe with the most difficult language and live in conditions that will cause me to balance on the edge of death even though it is totally opposite to all my spiritual and natural gifts and I know I’ll hate it.” We may be surprised to find that, when we truly find God’s will, it is a place that fits us well and we can enjoy serving in that capacity.

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) Some people think this means, “he will give me anything I want.” Actually I believe this means that if we delight ourselves in the Lord he will give us the desire to serve him in the way he wants us to serve.

How do we “delight ourselves in the Lord”? The same way we delight ourselves in people we love very much. We listen to him by reading the Bible and learning about it. We talk to him in prayer about the things that matter to us. We hang out with him by talking with him throughout the day’s activities. We grow to know him better and love him more. As we do this, God will make his will clear to us. 

  1. Ask for godly counsel.

We can always find friends who will tell us what we want to hear, but we need to search out counsellors who care about pleasing God and finding his best for us. Proverbs 11:14 tells us there is safety in this approach. That doesn’t mean the counsellor makes our decisions for us. It does mean that the counsellor can point out things we might not see on our own. Pros and cons of a certain decision. Helpful hints. Biblical principles we may have missed. The other side to the story. 

  1. Rattle some doorknobs.

God can steer us best if we are moving forward. If we truly want God’s will, he will close the doors we should not go through and open doors we should. (Revelation 3:7-8.) Sometimes we need to rattle a doorknob to see if the door is locked.

One way of doing this is to set a long range goal that we want to ultimately achieve, and then set short range goals of activities that will help us reach the long range goals.

Sometimes God wants us to stand still and wait until he leads definitely, but many times we can prayerfully proceed in a certain direction, asking God to lead us in a different direction if that’s what he wants. He won’t speak in an audible voice, but he will lead us through circumstances and giving us peace about certain steps.

Maybe these points all sound good, but you don’t know how to put them into practice. Need to see them spelled out in actual circumstances? In the March and April blogs I’m going to give several personal examples of my search for God’s will in a number of areas. I hope this will give you some ideas that help you search out God’s will for your life.

Part 2 gives an example of how I found God’s will for my life in writing for Christian publication.

Part 3 gives an example of how God led me into missions and to the place we now serve in missions.

Tips and Resources to Refresh Yourself in 2018

“If you want something you’ve never had before, you have to do something you’ve never done before.”

Maybe that sounds obvious, but this challenging quote from Dr. Jim Tillotson at a Montana pastor’s conference last September grabbed my attention. I do want different results than I’m getting now in some areas. That means I need to change. I believe even small changes can bring good results.

The beginning of a new year is a great time to refresh ourselves, analyse some things, and figure out a new approach. God has brought some helpful resources into my path recently that can help me make changes. Maybe some of them would help you too.

Refresh Your Health

The top two New Year’s resolutions people make today are (1) to stay fit and healthy and (2) to lose weight. Maybe, like me, you’ve decided that if you lost X number of pounds (kilos) and kept them off, you might have better health and mobility for the next 20 or 30 years. Maybe you’ve even decided on a diet and exercise plan. Now you just have to stick to it.

“I Deserve a Donut” includes an app, blog, and Bible study that shares these helps for dieters: Lies that make you eat, emotions that make you eat, questions to ask yourself when you’re tempted to break your diet plan, and Bible verses to encourage you to think Biblically when temptation arises. This is new to me but I can see how it could be a great help to the dieting Christian.

You can find help here:

Android App

iTunes/Apple App

30-Day Bible Study

Refresh Your Spirit

Godly music can soothe the spirit while you sit and meditate or even while you go about your daily tasks. Just recently I’ve found some music that settles my soul. While I don’t know a lot about Ben Everson (Everson begins with an e as in “eat” not “etch”), I know he went to Northland Baptist Bible College at the same time as my son-in-law. I consider his music to be fresh and conservative at the same time. He specializes in his acappella style which he calls a “one-man vocal orchestra.”

I especially like the song, “You Are My Refuge.”  We bought two cd’s for Christmas: “I Am Free” and “Acappella Refuge.”

Listen to You Are My Refuge with Ben Everson and Megan Hamilton.

Order Ben’s music.

Refresh your Body

We all need time off to refresh our bodies. Last year, during our furlough, we took time off to visit the Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky. This life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark is fascinating! Hours in the ark will help you imagine how Noah’s family lived during their year in the ark. You’ll walk away with renewed confidence in God’s Word, clearly seeing that this story, which many skeptics doubt, makes perfect sense. I highly recommend this attraction.

Visit the Ark Encounter.

Refresh Your Ministry

This past furlough we’ve heard very positive things about Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa. Many pastors have also told us that the highlight of their year is the Refresh Conference for pastors and wives at Faith. This year’s conference is scheduled for January 30-February 2. The theme is: “Down but Not Out: Ministering With Disappointment.” Since we’re back in New Zealand now we won’t be able to go, but we strongly recommend it for ministry couples who can.

Find conference details.

Refresh Your Relationship with God

As important as it is to refresh and renew ourselves in all these areas, our relationship with God is more important than all the others. Loving God is the first and most important commandment. Constant renewal in our relationship with him is vital to a growing Christian life. A daily quiet time with God is a discipline well-worth exercising, but even that doesn’t guarantee a close relationship with him.

I’ve been a Christian now for 58 years. My husband and I have been in fulltime ministry for nearly 40. I’ve heard Bible stories all my life and taught them over and over. I probably know hundreds of hymns very well. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the Bible through.

I treasure the wealth these experiences bring, but they also present a danger. Familiarity in these pursuits can hinder the freshness of my relationship with God. It’s so easy for my eyes to skim over familiar scriptures. Playing the piano doesn’t allow me to focus on the meaning of the words of hymns. During the sermon I can be distracted by whether or not the nursery (crèche) worker took the kids out, or what family came in late, or who I need to talk to most after the service.

I need to refocus on the amazing aspects of the familiar, renew my mind, and refresh my relationship with God during my quiet time each day. Here are some practical ways that I have used and plan to use again. I hope some of these tips may help you as well.

  • Write in a journal. I haven’t done this in the past, but I’m beginning to do it now. Each day I write at least one thing that I’ve learned from the Bible reading that day that I can apply to my life. Writing out the words forces me to put the thoughts into words and focus on the message.
  • Refresh my prayer list. I use blank greeting cards to gather similar prayer requests into groups. I write specific prayer requests under each listing. I’ve just updated things I’ve been praying for. After visiting someone I haven’t seen for a while, I try to end the conversation with this question, “How can I pray for you?” Then I add that request to my list.
  • Meditate on hymns. If your church has some old hymnals they’re no longer using, ask if you can borrow one for a while. Choose certain days to find a meaningful hymn which is theologically rich and study it.
  • Memorize and/or meditate on one of the great passages about Christ in the Bible. Memorization makes the passage available to you to think about wherever you go. Or consider reading one passage every day for a week or a month and study the various truths in it. “One chapter studied is worth more than a hundred chapters read.” (A.W. Pink) What can you learn about Christ in these passages? John 1:1-14; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-22, 2:9-10, 2:13-15; Hebrews 1 and 2.
  • Read a challenging book along with your devotions. Right now I’m reading “God is More Than Enough” by Jim Berg. It is an excellent guide on how to quiet your soul in the midst of uncertainty, discouragement, frustration, and other threats to daily peace. I strongly recommend it.
  • Give back to God. “During your devotions give something to God even if you don’t get something from him.” (Joan Tillotson)

You may have other ways of refreshing yourself and renewing your relationship with God. That’s good. But remember, our relationship with God should be the most important thing in our lives. Don’t neglect it. Find ways to keep it alive and growing.

What do you do to refresh yourself?

Feeling Unappreciated?

Water drops folling from a bamboo leafDo you ever feel you are pouring out your life in ministry and no one cares? Like your drop of ministry isn’t making a very big ripple? Sure God knows your heart. He sees the hours of work, the spent emotions, the faithfulness in service with little visible results.

But you care about these people.

You watch them come to Christ in salvation and take their first baby steps as a Christian.

You listen to their heartaches. You pray with them, weep with them. You point them to Scripture.

You hear their concerns and make changes in your ministry to meet their needs.

You see them going in a dangerous direction and you want to shake some sense into them. Instead you pray and look for opportunities to encourage them to draw closer to God.

You’ve given your life to serve these people. You exhaust yourself in ministry for them. Don’t they care?

Dr. Raymond Buck, now with the Lord, served many years as a missionary to Africa. Many times this veteran missionary heard new missionaries voice their frustrations. He would say, “We didn’t come to be appreciated.”

In Second Corinthians the Apostle Paul opens his heart with great transparency. He had poured out his life for the Corinthian church but a small but vocal group were challenging his authority. They questioned his credentials as an apostle. They accused him of being insincere, spiritually weak, and an ineffective speaker.

As Paul ends his epistle he says, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. . . . But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.” (2 Cor. 12:15,19, NKJV)

Paul poured out his life in ministry in a way few others have. Though he was forced to defend his credentials so his message would be accepted, he didn’t do that to be appreciated. He cared only that his children would be built up in Christ.

Are you feeling unappreciated today? Are you faithful to the Lord and your work, yet seeing few visible results? Satan can use your discouragement to cripple your ministry while you sink into self-pity. So often God is working in hearts in a way you can’t see.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58, NKJV

Living as a Conservative Christian

Family 4I am a conservative Christian. You may think you know me, but you might be surprised.

Being a conservative Christian doesn’t make me think that I am better than you.

I’m not a Christian because I am so good. I’m a Christian because I know I can never meet God’s standard on my own. I think and feel and do wrong things. But God has granted me salvation on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus was completely holy and didn’t deserve to die, yet he took my punishment. I’m sinful and don’t deserve God’s mercy, yet I have believed in Jesus as my Savior, so he has given me his righteousness.

Beyond that, being a conservative Christian doesn’t make me better than a more liberal one.  You may be less conservative than me, and yet please God in areas in which I fall short. I may please God in areas you in which you struggle. I don’t look down on you because you are different, but I may disagree with you on some things. We each have to answer to God for what we do. I’m simply trying to do the right thing.

Being conservative doesn’t make me a legalist.

What is a legalist? Many people define a legalist as anyone who is more conservative than they are. At the same time, anyone who is less conservative than they are, is a liberal.

The book of Galatians talks about true legalists. A legalist tries to keep a list of rules in order to gain merit with God. Sometimes legalists try to earn or keep their salvation by keeping this list of rules. Other legalists obey rules to exalt themselves rather than glorify God. Their emphasis is on keeping a list of rules in their own strength, rather than living to please God by the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Myron Houghton says:
A distinction should be made between lists and legalism. It is certainly true that believers differ on their lists, and we must evaluate each item on a list in light of relevant Scriptural teaching. But disagreeing with fellow believers over whether or not Scripture supports their lists has nothing to do with legalism! Legalism is related to why one should obey a list rather than to the rightness or wrongness of the list. If people think they gain merit with God by keeping a list [any list!!], they are legalistic!

True freedom is living obediently to Scriptural guidelines in the knowledge that all of our sins have been forgiven because Jesus Christ died and now lives for us. (Romans 5:10) . . . And true liberty does not use itself as an excuse for sinful living (see Galatians 5:13), but rather, recognizes that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world (Titus 2:11–15).

We need to be careful who we call “legalists.” Just because someone is more conservative than I am doesn’t make him a legalist. He may have good reasons for his standards. I have no right to call him a legalist just because his rules are stricter than I think they need to be. I can’t see his heart. I don’t know his motives, unless he reveals them to me.

Being conservative doesn’t mean I’m too stubborn to change.

I know Christians who have less strict standards than I have, and some who are more strict. If you are a Christian, I’m glad you are. I don’t hate you because you have come to different conclusions than I have. I may not be able to work with you in certain ways if we can’t agree on some issues that are important to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you.

The world changes quickly and so does the church. Sometimes I see people change in ways that I don’t feel would be right for me. I’m trying to please God and live the way he wants me to. You may see an issue as a matter of preference, where I may see it as a conviction. Thus you feel free to do something that I do not. That doesn’t make me mean. I’m simply trying to please the Lord in the best way I know how.

Remember, if I feel something is not pleasing to God, yet do it anyway, that is sin. (Romans 14:23) So please don’t push me to do something against my convictions. I’m not just trying to be stubborn.

Being conservative doesn’t mean I’m a scrapper.

Yes, I know the world, and much of the church, is changing faster than I am. I expect to be different from the world. The Bible tells us to expect that. (1 John 2:15) But sometimes I even struggle to find a place in the church. Much of genuine Christianity would find me hopelessly conservative and I actually grow weary of wearing a legalist label simply because I’m trying to do the right thing. Very small differences sometimes divide the more conservative segment and I feel ostracized from Christians who I would like to consider as friends. Living today as a conservative Christian is not easy. Sometimes I struggle to know how God wants me to do certain things, but I am trying to figure out God’s pattern for me and then live that way.

So you may not agree with me. I may seem hopelessly conservative to you. But please don’t assume that I’m a fighting legalist who thinks I have all the answers, refuses to change, and wants to force you to be like me. I’m actually just an ordinary Christian who is trying to please God in a sinful world.

(See this link for Dr. Houghton’s entire article on legalism: http://www.faith.edu/resources/publications/faith-pulpit/message/what-is-legalism/read )