Ministry Marriages

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. There’s even a song about it. Couples in ministry usually find extra opportunities for ministry over the Christmas season. So you would expect ministry couples to feel their closest to each other at Christmas.

Statistically speaking, however, Christmas is a tough time on relationships. December 11, exactly two weeks before Christmas, is the day couples are most likely to break up. Many unmarried couples break up then because their relationships aren’t going well and they can’t bear to go through the holidays pretending everything is all right. Even for married couples, the Christmas season with its many family expectations and social gatherings can be hard to get through when your marriage is struggling.

We expect ministry marriages to be bullet proof, but couples in ministry have the same sort of problems as couples in the pews. Added to the normal stresses of life, ministry couples often deal with the struggles that other couples face as they seek to counsel and help Christians in crisis. Just as ministry couples try to plan more time for family traditions and social gatherings, they are often expected to produce extra services and ministries at Christmas. Each activity may be fun and rewarding, but added all together they can put a strain on their own family relationships. And then the global pandemic has added its own challenges this year.

Personally, I find my marriage is the easiest part of my ministry. I thank the Lord for that. But I’ve found that many marriages struggle in ways no outsiders would ever suspect. Here are some tips for these last few days of the Christmas season:

  • Be kind to everyone. You don’t always know who is struggling.
  • Don’t let Christmas get out of control. If traditions or obligations are stressing you or your family, take some activities off your list.
  • Spend time with family and friends doing simple things you can enjoy.
  • Tell your family you love them, that you’re proud of them, and why.

If you get past Christmas and your marriage is still struggling:

  • Make working on your marriage a top priority.
  • Talk out your problems with your spouse.
  • Become accountable to a trusted person outside your marriage. Activities you keep secret can kill your marriage before you even have a chance to work things out. If you’re not okay, you need to tell someone who can help.
  • Make space for quality time with your spouse and your children.
  • Determine to find a good balance between your ministry and your family.

I hope your Christmas 2020 will build your relationships and not tear them down. May God bless your marriage and ministry this Christmas.

Deb Brammer

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas 2020!

Instant winner!

Being a subscriber to Deb’s Book Blast automatically qualifies you to be in the draw to win the Kindle version of Mistletoe and Murder: A Christmas Suspense Collection. I’ve already read about half of these novellas by Christian authors. I’ll announce the winner at the end of this Book Blast.

Because of Covid 19 my husband and I were not able to return to the States for Christmas 2020. New Zealand remains one of the safest countries of the world from Covid. Our country here continues to have near zero cases of community transmission. We were due for a furlough from our mission church ministry this year but it didn’t seem like a wise time for us to go back.

We were disappointed not to be able to see our family who we have not seen since 2017. So we planned a virtual Christmas. From Thanksgiving to Christmas we met online for weekly Zoom calls with our daughters and their family. We used these advent calls to share memories and photos from the past, seasonal crafts, share brief devotionals, and even play a short game. We planned activities that could involve everyone in some way. Several times we talked about the ways God has provided for us during the last year and during difficult times in the past. These have been positive calls that helped us be together in a year like 2020.

I have many things for which to be thankful. Today I’m especially thankful for social networking like Facebook and Zoom which allows us to be connected to friends and family even when many miles (or kilometers) separate us.

What Christmas tradition are you changing because of Covid-19 this year? What special blessings have touched you during this unusual year? What have you learned to appreciate more because of the effects of the pandemic?

I hope you have a lovely Christmas full of awareness of all life’s blessings.

Now for the free drawing.

I have randomly picked a winner from my subscribers list to receive the Kindle version of a book with a cross cultural theme.

And the winner is … Jenny Leavitt from Florida.

Free true story for Thanksgiving

Do you ever feel like life doesn’t make sense and the world is spiraling out of control? 2020 will do that to you.

I live in New Zealand, one of the safest places on earth from the Covid-19 pandemic. New Zealand locked down early and strong. Now, when cases are skyrocketing across America, New Zealand has almost no Covid cases from community transmission. Almost all cases are Kiwis returning to New Zealand from overseas.  Everyone entering the borders has to isolate in special hotels for two weeks and have several negative Covid tests before re-entering. My life these days is very close to normal except for travel restrictions. It’s been almost three years since we’ve seen anyone in our family in person. We were due to take a five-month furlough this year, but Covid changed all that. We have so much to be thankful for, but it has been a crazy year.

How are you doing where you live? Are you thriving or barely surviving? 2020 can make you wonder what God is up to. How good it is to know that, even in the darkest days, God is in control and is working things out according to his plan.

Mary Weaver, a godly Christian housewife, watched her life seemingly spiral out of control. She faced many dark days when she couldn’t see God working for her.

See a quick summary of her story in this trailer for Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story. (click on the screen with the doctor and stethescope.)

During the darkest days, Mary still believed God would show her innocence. In the end, God proved himself strong and revealed his mighty work behind the scenes.

For two and a half years I was challenged every day by this true story as Mary, her lawyer and I wrote her story. I was constantly challenged by Mary’s testimony and encouraged by God’s amazing work in her life.

As we come to the week of American Thanksgiving, I want to share a chapter from this book that will challenge you to give thanks. You are receiving this chapter free simply for being one of my subscribers to Deb’s Book Blast. In December I will tell you how you can get the ebook Edges of Truth for free as well.

Here’s the story:

 

Prison Blues: a Thanksgiving Challenge

Mary Weaver sat on her prison bunk and slipped a family photo from the pages of her Bible. It pictured her with her husband and two children, before she was sentenced to life in prison without parole. She caressed her red-headed son John and his blonde sister Catherine in the picture. For sixteen months she had only seen them once a week when her husband brought them to the prison visiting room.

It all started January 22, 1993 when Mary was providing childcare for 11-month-old Melissa. Mary was putting the baby’s snowsuit on when Melissa quit breathing. Mary called 9-1-1 and performed CPR until the ambulance came, but the baby died within a day. The autopsy found a two-inch skull fracture and other severe injuries that were seven to ten days old. Some doctors ignored these older injuries and believed Melissa’s death was caused by acute injuries from shaking and possibly slamming the baby just before she quit breathing. Since Mary was with Melissa during the forty-two minutes before she quit breathing, they believed Mary must have caused the fatal injuries.

Mary had never done anything to hurt Melissa but opinion on her guilt was divided. She was eventually sent to prison for murder. Her lawyers were seeking to appeal her case, but over a year had passed and they still hadn’t been able to get a new trial. Meanwhile Mary was separated from her husband and kids who were now five and six years old.

Mary felt sure God would eventually free her and clear her name. She was a Christian and she knew God would get her through prison one day at a time. But she grieved for her children and unsaved husband. Months had passed into a year and more and her children were growing up without her. She would never get those years back.

As Mary sat in her cell worrying about her family, a guard appeared at the door. “Mrs. Weaver? You got a visitor.”

Mary set her Bible aside and preceded the guard down the prison corridor. Who could this be? As she stepped into the visitor’s room Catherine skipped up to her in a pink tutu and leotard.

“Mommy, Mommy, I’m going to my dance recital! Aunt Lisa brought me so you could fix my hair.” Catherine jumped around until Mary could hardly get a hug from her.

Mary smiled her thanks at her friend, Lisa Murphy, who had figured out this creative way to include Mary in her daughter’s special occasion.

Mary drew her daughter close. “I’d love to fix your hair. Shall we do French braids?”

“Yes, yes, yes, with pink ribbons!” Catherine bounced with every word.

Mary removed ribbons and elastic bands from Catherine’s ponytail and pulled long blonde strands into sections with her fingers.

“Hold still,” she reminded her daughter as she started one braid. Mary breathed in the fruity fragrance of the superfine hair as she began to weave the strands into identical braids on either side of her daughter’s head, then tied perfect pink bows at each end.

Catherine shook her head to feel her new hairdo. “Thank you, Mommy! I can’t wait to see myself in the mirror.”

Mary surreptitiously wiped tears with one sleeve. “You look beautiful. Can you show me your dance?”

Catherine performed several ballet steps, ending with a lopsided pirouette. Mary clapped loudly. “Good job! Just remember, when you’re in that recital today, I’m going to be thinking about you.”

Catherine gazed at her mom with pleading eyes. “I wish you could come to my recital.”

Mary blinked some tears from her eyes. “Me too, sweetheart, but Aunt Lisa will take pictures and I’ll study them carefully. Just remember that your mommy is very proud of you!”

Mary gave her daughter a quick, prison-acceptable hug and watched the two walk away. Satan whispered, “You are missing her recital and all the other important moments in her life.”

Mary lifted her chin. But God allowed me to fix her hair. God gave me that precious moment. God is good.

She thought of other ways God had allowed her to mother her children as well. God had given Mary a prison job, and her wages had been raised from thirty-eight to forty-one cents an hour. So what if it was only ten percent of minimum wage? The job made her time pass more quickly, and she could use the money in the commissary or craft store. Supporters could also add twenty dollars a week to her prison account. The activities directors had been especially kind to use this money to purchase fabric and patterns for her. Mary had been able to sew outfits for the kids, paint T-shirts, and buy presents for them.

Mary returned to her cell, sat on her bunk, opened her Bible, and prayed. Lord, help me to be thankful for what I have, not to complain about what I don’t have.

A prison sentence made it easy to slide into self-pity. Unfairness could defeat her but only if she let it. Instead she thought about The Hiding Place, a prison library book she had recently read. Corrie ten Boom had hidden Jews in Holland during World War II. The Nazis had caught her and thrown her into a bitter cold prison for four months, then a women’s extermination camp in Germany. Except for her sister, who was imprisoned with her for a time, Corrie had almost no contact with her family. She and her sister existed in overcrowded, filthy cells with little regard for sanitation and little to eat. They were allowed no exercise or fresh air.

Like Mary, Corrie was unfairly imprisoned, yet Corrie’s sister challenged her to focus on what she had. Corrie accepted the challenge. In solitary confinement she hungered for human contact, but she thanked God for an ant that crawled into her cell and provided a bit of company. In one of her prison cells, for one hour a day, she could stretch herself out tall and feel the sun shine on her head and chest. She thanked God for the sunshine. Later, at the extermination camp, she slept piled on a straw-covered platform with many other prisoners, sandwiched between other crowded platforms. Fleas infested the stinking straw, but Corrie even learned to thank God for the fleas. The tiny insects kept the guards away from the overcrowded bunk, where she hid her precious Bible.

Mary closed her eyes to shut out the conversation of the other inmates lounging right outside her cell. Her prison cell was the Ritz Carlton compared to the ones in the book. “Thank you, Lord, that my family is safe and that I can see them every week. Thank you that I have other gals to talk to. You’ve even given me a roommate who seems to be a true Christian. Thank you that I can feel safe in prison, that other inmates haven’t given me trouble, that the guards treat me with respect. Thank you that I have a Bible and I can read it openly, whenever I want. Thank you that I’ve grown closer to you in prison.”

The State had stolen her family. The first year they seized all her possessions, even her clothes. Only now they allowed her to keep a few things of her own. The State could separate her from her home and family, but they couldn’t take God away from her and they couldn’t take her away from God. She would focus on him and the things she was allowed to enjoy. Today that meant fixing her daughter’s hair for a special occasion.

 

God showers us with so many blessings every day that we sometimes get used to them and claim them as rights. When we have them we don’t appreciate them, and when we don’t, we complain.

Thanksgiving is a great time to focus on what we have. What has God given you today?  

 

 

 

Dealing with Disappointment in 2020

Chances are good that Covid has caused you significant disappointment this year. I went through several stages of lockdown in New Zealand where I serve as a missionary. Locking down with my husband in my comfortable home was not terribly difficult. In fact we enjoyed our time together. We did eight jigsaw puzzles in a couple of months and I was able to work extensively on a book I’m writing. New Zealand locked down quickly and extensively, with good result.  As far as Covid is concerned, I find myself in one of the safest places in the world. New Zealand’s closed borders, however, made the June-to-November furlough to the States we’d been planning impossible. We had found a couple from the States who were willing to fill in for my husband and me in our church planting ministry, but Covid meant they couldn’t get into New Zealand.

As time went on we began to see that a regular furlough might not be possible for quite some time ahead. As people who travel from state to state and meet with big groups of people, missionaries pose a significant health risk to churches. Also many of our supporting churches were not functioning as usual. Most probably only had virtual services for an extended time.

When a regular furlough wouldn’t work for the foreseeable future, we began to consider a quick trip to the States for Christmas to visit our family. The first obstacle was finding someone who could fill in for us for a number of weeks. The fill-in couple pretty much had to come from New Zealand since our borders remain closed. In August we found a couple who would consider the idea, but couldn’t let us know right away. In October, just when we had begun to get excited about seeing our family for Christmas, the couple said they couldn’t come. Then within a week, it seemed like a miracle had happened. We found a well-qualified couple who were New Zealand residents who were happy and eager to fill in for us during the time needed. We decided the Lord was leading us forward, the time was right for a number of reasons, and we would go back. We started looking for airline tickets and planning a schedule. Within a week, however, some feedback we got from trusted sources made us feel that it would be significantly safer if we waited until the middle of 2021 or so. Our daughters and their family had started to plan for a family Christmas and we were all excited about it until this new development made us feel like we had to reverse our decision.

But we’re missionaries so we don’t get disappointed, right? Wrong. So wrong.  For a number of reasons, we had decided we really needed to go back at this time. It seemed the Lord had answered our prayers and provided a couple to fill in so we could go. Yet in the end, it didn’t feel right to go when waiting another half year or so would make it significantly safer for us and the people we want to visit.

What have you lost during 2020 that left you feeling disappointed? You may have lost a loved one or your health or your job. We missed a hundredth anniversary celebration for our mission and a seventy-fifth anniversary of our sending church that we had planned to attend.  Almost everyone has had plans changed and church attendance curtailed. We’ve just experienced a national election in New Zealand and will experience another in America in the coming week. Both involved critical moral issues.  Racial unrest, wildfires, hurricanes. What a year!

What do you do with your disappointment? You know God is in control, that he’s working out his best for you, but you’re still disappointed.

Here are some things that helped me:

This song sung by Ben Everson spoke to me right away. We have the CD of this so the words were so familiar that they were the first song that came to mind after our second decision.

The chorus goes, “You know better than I. You know the way. I’ve let go the need to know why for you know better than I.” I admit that I’d like to know why God seems to be saying no to this Christmas trip, but I am still working on letting go of that.

I filled in for a Sunday School teacher this morning in church. The story was about Cain and Abel. The lesson talked about warning signs. Sometimes God gives us a green light to do something. Sometimes a thing is definitely wrong and we get a red light from God. And sometimes he gives us a yellow light, telling us to use caution or to wait and listen to God’s warning. Cain was angry God didn’t accept his sacrifice and that anger was dangerous. God told him sin was crouching at his door like a wild animal, waiting to overpower him. Disappointment, discontent or anger can quickly turn to sin if we listen to it, wade through it or wallow in it.

Then a character in the current novel I’m writing was struggling with a similar issue. Long ago I had plotted out the book, but as I came to the disappointment of missing Christmas with children and grandchildren, I was just working on the part where my character faced a similar issue. I couldn’t expect my fictional character to be more spiritual than I am, could I?

So when disappointment rears its ugly head at me, I need to remember I have some choices.

  • Refuse to listen to what God is trying to tell me
  • Do what’s asked, but wallow in self-pity
  • Conclude that nothing good ever happens in 2020 and expect the worst to happen
  • Step forward in faith, knowing God is good and in control, and choosing to trust him

“Just two choices on the self: pleasing God or pleasing self.”  (by Ken Collier)

Teaching Christian Kids about Gender and Racial Issues

Parents need the support of the church more than ever today. When children go to public school, they especially need the church to back up good teaching.

When I was in high school evolution was the big problem. Textbooks taught evolution as if it were fact. In most museums and national parks today, the idea that the world is billions of years old is automatically assumed. Students can get the idea that their parents and teachers believe what the Bible teaches, but scientists know better. They sometimes think scientists have proven evolution as a scientific face and the earth has to be billions of years old. While this is far from true, the teaching they receive in schools can make them doubt the truth of the Bible. Churches can help students have faith in God and his Word when they teach creation in a way that shows the credibility of the Bible.

In my last blog I talked about a common problem Christian parents have in New Zealand. Maori, the native people of New Zealand, have many ancestral stories which talk about their gods and the part they supposedly played in creation and other parts in life. The public schools use these stories to teach respect for the Maori culture. Since these stories often contradict the Bible, they can undermine Bible teaching that students get at church.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is another big issue parents face today. Public schools in New Zealand may soon be forced to teach curriculum that actively teaches that gender stereotypes are harmful and students should be able to choose their gender identity. Even now our church parents say their children are being taught these things at in school or bringing home library books that normalize having two daddies or two mommies.

These dangerous ideas are beginning to be taught to children as young as five:

  • Gender identity as male, female, both or neither is determined by a person’s feelings
  • A person is sexual from birth
  • The proper time to begin sexual activity is whenever one is ready
  • If you speak out against people being able to change their gender at will, you’re guilty of hate speech

At this time, not every public school is teaching all of these things, but curriculum has been developed for public school use that teaches these things. These are the kinds of ideas students are now hearing at school at a very young age. Find out more here.

If we say and do nothing about these things our children will hear, they may decide that teachers a school are better educated than their parents and thus know the “real scientific truth” about them. Several parents in our church have brought these gender issues to my attention because of teaching or library books their children have brought home. This has shown me I need to address these issues in Discovery Club.

There are several dangers in addressing gender issues like this. If I say too much about it, I may actually spark an unhealthy amount of interest in the subject. If I say nothing, my students may believe wrong teaching or think it doesn’t matter. Without guiding students’ responses to students who struggle with gender identity, I could trigger arrogance, insensitivity, or disrespectful remarks in them.

Racial Equality

Racial Issues are also becoming prominent in today’s world. Some children live in an area with great racial diversity. Others live in areas with very little diversity. All need to know what God says about on the topic. When teaching small children, it’s probably not wise to dig into historical wrongs and how to make them right. But clear Biblical teaching can give children a strong foundation to build their worldview on. These are things we can clearly teach:

  • All people come from one blood. Share the same ancestors, Adam and Eve and Noah and his wife. All belong to the human race. Acts 17:24 – 26.
  • Nationalities developed different skin colors and physical characteristics as different people groups settled in different areas of the world. Genesis 11:1-9.
  • Just as men and women are equal in Christ, so are the various nationalities. Galatians 3:28
  • All cultures have positive elements to their culture as well as negative, sinful ones. We need to judge cultural ideas by the Bible. Many cultural differences are not right or wrong, they are just different.
  • We can all learn from others. Very early in the church we see diversity. The Ethiopian treasurer (a man of high rank in Acts 8) and Simeon who was called Niger (a prophet or teacher in Acts 13:1) were probably black men.

Who Am I? – Lesson Plan to Teach about these Issues

I don’t plan to teach a whole lesson centered around gender identity. Instead I want to talk about our identity in Christ. In that way gender identity doesn’t become too big. It’s just one aspect of who we are. Racial equality also fits nicely into the topic.

Here’s a brief outline that you can use to teach about our identity in Christ and how to deal with others of different opinions.

  1. God created people in his image. Genesis 1:27-31

Because of that people are like God in these ways:

  • They live forever somewhere.
  • They can reason, figure things out to a high degree, make decisions.
  • They can create ideas and use them in art, literature, music, and science.
  • They know the difference between right and wrong and can make moral choices.
  • They communicate with each other on a very high social level.

God created people to be either male or female.

  • They would be the mothers and fathers that would bear children and fill the earth.
  • They would take care of the plants and animals around them.
  • They would form families to take care of each other.
  • God’s creation of people in this way was very good.

God planned for people to be scattered over the earth and develop physical characteristics as a people group like skin color and facial structure.

  • All people come from one blood. Share the same ancestors, Adam and Eve and Noah and his wife. All belong to the human race. Acts 17:24 – 26.
  • Nationalities developed different skin colors and physical characteristics as different people groups settled in different areas of the world. Genesis 11:1-9.
  • He wanted all people to come to salvation. Matthew 28:19, 20; 2 Peter 3:9.
  • All people are equal in Christ. Galatians 3:28.
  • We can all learn from others. Very early in the church we see diversity. The Ethiopian treasurer (a man of high rank in Acts 8) and Simeon who was called Niger (a prophet or teacher in Acts 13:1) were probably black men.
  1. God planned out your life before you were born. Psalm 139: 13-16
  • He planned out everything that would happen to you before you were born.
  • He helped form you in your mother’s body from the moment your life began inside of her.
  • He made you to be a boy or girl, and choose how you would look and what you would be like.
  • You weren’t born in the wrong body. God doesn’t make mistakes.
  • He put you in the right family, the right country, to have the right nationality.
  • He is giving you the right opportunities to develop skills and abilities you need.
  • No one else can be you. God has a special plan for your life. You need to find his plan and follow it.
  1. Jesus died for your salvation before you were born. Romans 5:6-8
  • You are a sinner because sin entered the world. You do wrong things.
  • Jesus died to provide salvation, but you have to choose to accept his gift.
  • To be your best self, you need to follow God’s will and obey him.
  1. God made you to bring him glory. 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • My main purpose in life should be to bring him glory, not to do what I want.
  1. Every other person was also made in God’s image and is loved by God. John 3:16

 

  1. How should you treat someone who you disagree with, when they are wrong by the Bible? 1 Peter 2:17
  • We should treat every person with respect, no matter who they are.
  • We should never bully anyone.
  • You should treat people with respect, even if they think things that don’t agree with the Bible.

Situation #1 (gender identity):

A friend in your class at school says that he was born a boy, but he feels like he’s in the wrong body. He’s going to identify as a girl now. He wants you to call him a girl and use female pronouns for him.

Treating him these ways would show disrespect:

  • Make fun of him.
  • Tell him you think it’s stupid for him to say he’s a girl.
  • Refuse to call him by his name if he’s chosen a new one.
  • Refuse to play with him.
  • When he’s in your school group project, try to exclude him.

Treating him these ways would show respect:

  • You can be kind to him without agreeing with his decision to do this.
  • When you talk to your friends about him, be kind and point out good things about him.
  • Call him the name he asks to be called, just as you would do for anyone else.
  • If someone asks you, you can say you think God makes us the way we are and we should stay the way we are born. But don’t do this in private in a way that shows you think you are better than him.

Situation #2 (racial diversity):

A new girl becomes part of your class at school. She is a Muslim and wears a hijab (he – JOB or HE-job). You’ve heard that some Muslims have done bad things to Christians. How should you treat her?

Treating her these ways would show disrespect:

  • Make fun of her hijab.
  • Make fun of the way she talks.
  • Exclude her from a game you’re playing during break.
  • Ignore her and walk away.

Treating her these ways would show respect:

  • Be friendly to her.
  • Explain things to her if she doesn’t understand.
  • Include her in a game you’re playing during break.
  • If others don’t want to play with her because she’s a Muslim, you can say that you don’t agree with her religion, but she’s still a nice girl and needs to be included. Think of how you would want someone to treat you if you were far from home, didn’t always understand, and found it hard to join in fun with others.

Situation #3 (evolution):

Your teacher says the earth started billions of years ago with a big explosion. You believe the Bible and think she is wrong.

How you could show her disrespect:

  • Speak up in front of the class and tell her she’s wrong.
  • Tell your friends she’s stupid to believe that.

How you could show her respect:

  • Go to the teacher privately and tell her you know many people believe the things she said, but you’re a Christian and you believe God created the earth like the Bible says.
  • Tell your friends privately the same thing, but show respect for the teacher.