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Small Beginnings

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand…” (Zechariah 4:10a).

Finding this famous phrase in the Bible surprised me. As Biblically literate as I am, I still missed realizing this common saying had roots in the Bible. “Do not despise these small beginnings…” (Zechariah 4:10).

What small beginnings are being referred to here in the Bible?

In this particular passage, Zechariah was having a vision of the future when the temple of God would be rebuilt. The temple was the center of the Israelites’ original promised land. At the time of this prophecy, the Israelites would have been downtrodden, discouraged, defeated, disappointed. All the “D’s.” It was after their city and country had been destroyed, including their beloved temple. It was after they had been taken captive by a foreign nation. But the Lord encouraged them that it would be rebuilt. The small beginnings referred to here were the foundation of the new temple. It might have looked measley compared to the old one. It might have looked like nothing, but a foundation. Small as it was, it signified the start to something big.

What does the Lord say about these small beginnings?

The Lord told His people two things regarding these small beginnings. First, He said not to despise them. Second, He said that He “rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10). I’ve had to recently start over in many ways. My house is half the size it used to be. Some kids recently came over and asked, “Do you have a basement? Do you have an upstairs?”
I answered plainly, “no, we don’t. We miss our basement. But we’re close to the park and we have a great location.” I have to remind myself that we’re rebuilding. We’re starting over, just as the Israelites were. God did not despise their small beginnings. He was happy that they were moving forward, taking small steps in the right direction. The Lord did not care that it wasn’t grandiose, like Solomon’s temple before. We too, must remember, to not compare ourselves to others. Our small beginnings will be used of the Lord for great things. God will use my small house, our start over. Just as He brought that temple to completion, He’s bringing you and me to completion too. The Israelites’ relationship with the Lord was restored, along with their temple. So the Lord will restore in me and mine, all that’s been broken. He will bring it to completion, despite these small beginnings. And He will do the same with you! Whatever seems small and dispise-able in your life, God can use for His glory!

What significance does the plumb line have?*

The plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand referred to a man going to work completing a work God had called Him to do! Despite how hopeless the work looked to the masses, God loved that this man was pursuing it’s completion, trusting God would bless it. What work has God called you to? As you consider that for a moment, let’s look a bit deeper. The small beginnings referred to here can also be translated in other places in the Bible as “young, youngest, small, least…” ( Logos Word study). What in your life has the Lord led you to that seems young, possibly the least, needing MUCH improvement? Instead of being annoyed at it not looking Pinterest perfect, remember that the Lord LOVES those things. He loves His people seeing value and bringing value to something the masses see as insignificant. Perhaps it’s people, literally young children, or others young in their faith. Perhaps you’re called to build them up just as this temple was raised up to glorify God. Do not despise teaching Sunday school to preschoolers. Do not despise that small business you’re starting with just a few sales, or that online presence with only a few likes. The Lord LOVES you moving in a direction, be it ever so small, in order to glorify Him!

Whatever you’re working on today, no matter how small and insignificant it seems, remember not to despise small beginnings, for the Lord LOVES seeing you work as you trust Him to bring your work to full glory. God’s got this. God’s got you. He’ll enable you to finish what He’s called you to. Amen!

Afterthought

Just a reminder. God sent Jesus to earth with a “small beginning,” being born in a manger, with animals. In God using Zerubbabel to prophecy this message, He was also preparing His people to receive a Savior, born in a manger. That small beginning saved the world! If God can use that, of course He can use you.

*The plumb line had significance, which you can Google.

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Strong Men Needed

2 Timothy 3:6

“They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires.”

Sometimes, verses sound down right confusing! Other times, they sound so familiar it’s frightening!

This verse today, 2 Timothy 3:6, unfortunately reminds me of the plight of many women today. They grew up in troubled homes. They got married, thinking their husband was their knight in shining armor, who would rescue them from all the trouble of their childhood. Years down the road, some wake up, realizing the man they married is just like or possibly worse than their troubled home they ran from.

The women are vulnerable. They’re hurt and seeking healing, possibly in the wrong places. Whatever healing they find, seems to work, albeit, short lived. In time, they realize the disparity of their situation and their inability to fix it. Enter young man with smooth words, who knows how to make her laugh. She falls head over heels, in love, possibly, again. She finds herself once again, bound by an unhealthy relationship. She’s stuck in sin. She doesn’t know how to break free.

Men used to be expected to protect women and not take advantage of them. If a woman was considered an enabler or a co-dependent, it was her husband’s job to take care of her. Despite her enablement, the husband would have had self control. Despite her co-dependence, the husband would have seen her need for people and validation and helped provide for that need! Despite her imperfections, the husband should not use it as his excuse to sin, to abuse, to refuse, to neglect, to run.

This verse is such a far cry from Ephesians where Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5).

My grandparents did not have a perfect relationship, but it seemed perfect to me. My grandma did everything for my grandpa, cooking, cleaning, going everywhere with him, hosting, etc etc. We never realized just how much of her life was lived for him until he died. She stopped largely, being social. She was a homebody at heart, but loved my grandpa so much, that she went everywhere with him. But he too, took excellent care of her. He bought a lake house and took her there often because “raising six kids was stressful,” he said. But he knew she could always relax at the lake. He took her out to eat multiple scheduled times a week, just so she wouldn’t have to cook, long before going out to eat was a thing. He took her to see her grandkids regularly, because she loved them so. He arranged trips to see her sister nearly weekly, though they lived well over an hour apart. They did this their whole lives. He took her on regular dates a couple times a week without the kids. He not only took good care of my grandma, but he took good care of his business staff. I’m told he sent all his office ladies on a trip to Chicago, just because. He was a man who loved the Lord and lived it. He still held my grandma’s hand when out walking until his death. And she still stood by his side until then too. Sure, they lived in a Leave it to Beaver age. But there were some good parts to that time that we’ve lost today. While there’s no need to go down the road of arguing which time was better and why. Today, we need to recognize that the verse in Timothy is happening. Some men are taking advantage of women. Therefore, we have all the more reason to preach the Word, reminding women who they are in Christ, bathing them in the Word like Ephesians 5 says. In this way, enslaved women will be set free.

Photo credit: samer daboul

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What to do with non-believers in Church


“These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want” (Jude 1:16).

I read recently that only about 40 percent of church goers are Christians.* If you’re a church goer, that statistic makes you question your salvation. I thought it was more like 80 percent. Sure, a few here and there might not really be Christians, but the vast majority are, right? Apparently not.

What do we do with verses like those in Jude? It’s an entire book ,albeit only one chapter long, about those in the church who don’t actually follow the Lord! Jude knew this was a serious problem. He says people like that cause divisions in the church, use God’s grace as an excuse to sin, defy authority, care only for themselves, and rebel (Jude 1). The Bible describes them as “dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you,” just from sharing a meal together (Jude 1:12). Our verse explains them as “grumblers and complainers” (Jude 1:16).

I don’t know about you, but as I read this, I couldn’t help but think, “I know people like that!” Unfortunately, I know people who flatter others just to get what they want (Jude 1:16). I know a whole group of people who will try to stop me from pursuing God’s will for me if I spend much time with them.

So what do we do? I mean, nobody’s perfect and we’re supposed to be around non Christians too, right? Thankfully, Jude tells us. We’re to build each other up and to pray (Jude 1:20). Note that he doesn’t say we’re to snuff out the non Christians and kick them out! Instead of complaining or praising to get what we want, we’re to show mercy to others, loving the person, but hating their sin (Jude 1:22-23). We can do this when we remember that God is the One responsible for keeping us in Him (Jude 1:24).

Do you know a person described in Jude’s book? How can you show them mercy without falling into sin yourself? If you truly know someone like that, you know how difficult it can be. Let’s start with prayer. Pray for those you know like this and how you can show them mercy without compromising your faith.

*From the book I Am a Church Member (Rainer).

Photo credit: Laura Stanley

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Why Marriage Ministries are Failing

Over half of marriages in America are ending in divorce and the church is not immune. Statistics inside the church are just as bad as outside the church. “But we did pre-marital counseling!” I hear someone say. Churches are filled with pre-marital counseling ministries, post-nuptial marriage ministries, and the like. America has no lack for marriage books, ministries, or resources telling you how to have a great marriage. So why aren’t they working? The answers may surprise you.

  1. The first reason we’re failing is because we’ve overdone it.

We’ve given marriage too much attention. The church in general in America, just doesn’t know what to do with single people. Therefore, if you’re a single adult in a church in America, you feel great pressure to get married or else you will not have value. It’s sad, but true. We, as a church, need to value and love people in every stage in which the Lord has called them. I had a godly older woman tell me at age 24, “you need to just marry this guy because you’re getting old.”

Not only that, but we’ve overdone it once people get married. We as the church have set marriage expectations so high, everyone will be disappointed. “Marriage is great! It’s God’s gift! You need to get married. God can work any marriage. Go on weekly dates together. Don’t have sex until you get married. Then have it all the time. Your marriage should be your top priority, I mean, aside from your relationship with God, that should only require 15 minutes of your day, but your marriage should be 2 hours of your day!” Unbeknownst to us, in focusing on marriage ministries, we’ve set aside our relationships with Christ. That leads us to our second point.

2. The second reason we’re failing is because we’re not focused on Christ.

All ministries should first and foremost be evangelism and discipleship ministries. Jesus’ last words to His disciples were the great commission, “therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19-20). If that’s our highest calling, every other ministry needs to fall under that command. The marriage ministry needs to be making sure those involved know Jesus, and if not, how they can know Jesus. If someone’s not walking or growing in their walk with Christ, no marriage book or teaching is going to help, no matter how great. Once someone knows Christ, they need to be being discipled and growing in their walk with Christ. If that’s not happening, no marriage ministry will be effective. Those involved in marriage ministries need to be discipled, not just attending classes, but sitting down with someone, sharing their praises and struggles, and praying together.

3. Another reason we’re failing is because we’re avoiding teaching about divorce.

If you just preach, “God hates divorce,” jerks will take that to mean they have an allowance to do whatever they want without consequences, especially if they’re married to Bible believing church going people who will be involved in these types of ministries. Unfortunately, evil exists, and so do horribly evil people, who end up getting married. To ignore this fact is to ignore what the Bible says about evil and sin. Unfortunately, not every person in church is a believer. Some are even there for the purpose of bringing others down (Jude 4, 18-21).** But the church doesn’t like to talk about that. It’s negative. Why be a Debbie Downer?

The church shouldn’t just teach, “God hates divorce,” but teach the biblical allowances God gives for divorce, and warn people to stay very clear of those things. Sure, divorce isn’t God’s original plan, but He did divorce His firstborn Son, Israel. Because the Israelites rejected Him, He sent them into exile and a way was made for the Gentiles. Divorce isn’t encouraged in the Bible, but for good reason, under certain circumstances, it is allowed. It’s never required, but allowed. An effective marriage ministry will give the Biblical reasons for divorce in depth.
-Abuse (more than physical)
-Adultery (porn, fantasies)
-Abandonment (emotionally, spiritually, etc)

I’ll go over these briefly, but you should check out the following for more in depth explanations.
-Divorce and Remarriage book by Tony Evans
-Enough is Enough book by David E. Clark and other resources by him
Sermons about marriage from January-February of 2021 by JD Greer

Abuse:a Biblical allowance for divorce
Anyone can have abusive tendencies and not be abusive. What makes someone abusive is when their behavior becomes a pattern and increases in severity over time. One incident might make someone abusive. One hit, one hold, one inappropriate physical contact, equals abuse. But as far as abuse that’s not physical, it’s a lot harder to determine. That’s when the increasing in severity becomes important, and seeing a pattern. Study abuse. Study the cycle. Teach what it is, how to confront it biblically and safely, and what the Bible says about it. Most importantly: don’t think that by avoiding the topic, it won’t happen. You’re wrong. It’s the opposite. By avoiding the topic, you’re allowing it to continue.

Adultery: a Biblical allowance for divorce
“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). When you teach about not committing adultery, talk about porn. Talk about what men should do to get help if they’re addicted. Talk about how a wife should handle it if she catches her husband in it. Talk about a person needing a desire for God’s holiness more than a love for his/her own sin. Talk of how if someone continues in this sin, it is adultery. Talk about not just being pure physically, but also mentally, not giving into thoughts of being with others. Overall, teach what the Bible says about adultery and purity. Teach ideas of how to keep the marriage bed pure.

Abandonment: a Biblical allowance for divorce
1 Corinthians 7 talks about abandonment. If you were to study the passage in depth, you would see that the word for abandonment doesn’t simply mean physically leaving the house. While it does mean that, it could mean more than that too. If a spouse abandons his wife emotionally, sexually, financially, parentally. Please understand, I’m not promoting divorce or giving reasons for divorce if you’re simply unhappy in your marriage. I’m calling spouses to stay close in all areas of your relationship. Stay close to the Lord and close to each other. Refuse the enemy’s attempts to separate you or get a foothold in any area of your life. Refuse to give in to separateness in the relationship, even in the slightest. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8). Similarly, draw near to each other. Don’t zone out in the TV or dive into a hobby all alone instead of dealing with issues in your relationship. Draw near!

4. Fourthly, marriage ministries are failing because we’re in denial and don’t want to deal with the mess of our failure.

If fifty percent of marriages end in divorce in America,* then that’s half of the church-going population. How many divorce ministries do you know of? If half of married Americans are getting divorced and divorce is hard, that’s half of the population dealing with a struggle that the church is simply ignoring. While I love the church, a divorced person in America is more likely to get sympathy from a lawyer than from the church. There’s one, very good ministry, called “Divorce Care.” I highly recommend it, but more churches need to offer it. And we need more resources like it. It’s Biblically based and simply walks people through the issues they’re dealing with, like grief, finances, legal issues, co-parenting, anger, etc. If a church marries people, they need to offer a divorce care group, because half of those marriages, yes half of the marriages at YOUR church (and MY church), are ending in divorce.

5. The final reason marriage ministries are failing is because they’re teaching ALL statements as opposed to conflict resolution

Any good marriage requires two people working at it. Marriage books assume two people are trying. Marriage ministries need to recognize the challenges when this is not happening. ALL statements can be confusing and misleading. Stay away from “all statements…” and standards like…

No marriage is perfect
Every marriage has problems
Have sex at least once a week
The woman needs to stay home. The woman needs to work.
The man needs to work.
Go on dates at least once a month
Your priorities are God first, spouse second, kids last.
Your kids come after you spouse
Never say anything negative about your spouse

Let me give you an example really quickly to illustrate why these seemingly harmless statements could be a big problem. Let’s imagine a girl who didn’t grow up in a Christian home, married a man whom she thought was a Christian. They had kids and then things got bad, really bad, like he beat the children and abused them. Let’s say the family was in church, trying to be good Christians. The woman was home with the kids, not working. She would say things to herself like, “no marriage is perfect. He’s just a sinner, like me. Every marriage has problems. It’s probably because we didn’t have sex last week. I’m to blame. I can’t leave him because I don’t have a job. Besides, stats for kids in divorced homes are awful. Don’t want my kids to end up like them! Oh, it’s sinful even to consider divorce! How could I?! If my priorities are God and then my spouse, I can’t call CPS, because if they take away my kids, my obligation will be to my spouse. No, better not tell anyone else about this. Can’t say anything negative about my spouse. That reminds me, I’d better go praise him for what he’s done well today.”

That might sound like an extreme example, but it’s a real one, not a hypothetical one. And unfortunately, statistically speaking, the boys of abusive fathers grow up to become abusers themselves. The daughters of abusive fathers grow up to marry abusers. That wife needs to hear what qualifies as abuse. She needs to know Biblically how to handle it and that the church will help her to confront that sinful situation. She needs to know that it’s safe to share something her husband has done without feeling like it’s sin or like she’ll be condemned for “talking bad about her husband.” When a person in abuse begins to speak about their abuse, the first things they share will not even sound abusive, because the most painful things will be too painful to share. The church needs to be educated about this and know how to handle it. Yes, people can change and God can do miracles. But for those who refuse, the remaining victims need help and healing. If that healing isn’t coming from the church, it’s not sufficient.

Therefore, instead of ALL statements, the church should encourage generalities and emphasize that every person and every marriage is different. Encourage things like…

If it matters to your spouse, it should matter to you
If it’s a big deal to your spouse, make it a priority for you, no matter how ridiculous you feel it is
Make time to meet each other’s needs, even if you don’t understand them (physically, sexually, emotionally, for conversation, etc)
What works for your marriage might not work for everyone, and visa versa.
If you have an issue, you should feel free to share that in a loving way with your spouse and pray about working through it together
Don’t expect your spouse to be Jesus or meet needs that only God can fill, but Spouses, you do have a God given role, responsibility, and opportunity to meet your spouses’ needs.
Expect your spouse to follow God and encourage them in their walk
Find a way to regularly pray together and/or read and discuss the Word together
Discipleship should be happening in your marriage and your family

With all of these generalities, teach conflict resolution. Teach the importance of working through problems together as opposed to a dictatorship. Disagreements and conflicts are normal. But they should lead to resolutions, not continued conflict or issues that remain unresolved. Any couple that gets conflict resolution right, just increased their stats of staying married by a million.

If you feel called to a marriage ministry, please, by all means, start one. But please don’t just be another sounding gong failing the multitudes. Be a beacon of hope, teaching the WHOLE word of God. Amen!

*https://www.wf-lawyers.com/divorce-statistics-and-facts/

**https://www.challies.com/articles/7-false-teachers-in-the-church-today/

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The Faithfulness Miracle

I’ve read and taught about Daniel in the Lions Den more times than I can count. My kids know the “story” so well they can tell it to each other. This morning, I read it again. And once again, I was amazed at some points within it that I had not noticed before. Join me as we review one of the greatest Bible “stories” of all time. It’s not just a story though, folks. It’s a real situation with real people and hungry lions that actually happened!

Daniel was OLD

First of all, Daniel was old. While Daniel had been taken captive as a teen, that was with King Nebuchadnezzar, a good while ago by the time Daniel chapter 6 with the lions happens. After serving King Nebuchadnezzar, his son, King Belteshazzar ruled. Daniel lived during that time, but it does not say he was involved in government. In fact, he was probably enjoying his retirement! Who knows, maybe he wrote a book called So Help me God about his time in government as a Christian and was busy promoting it. Maybe he was preparing to lead a tour to the holy land because he knew the 70 years was nearly up. Perhaps he was a health coach, promoting the Daniel Plan diet. Maybe he had cancer and had to go get chemo treatments three times a week that wiped him out. Not likely, but anyway. Until the last day of King Belteshazzar’s reign, Daniel mostly lived out of the public eye.

Next came King Darius, where our “story” takes place. This was the third king Daniel served! He obviously wasn’t losing his memory yet, because he was sharp and the king noticed that. The king wanted to promote Daniel. But, as we know, some haters got all hateful and mad about Daniel getting promoted. “We don’t like his politics! He’s horrible in government! We need him out of there! Let’s pass a law that makes it illegal for him to be promoted! Better yet, let’s pass a law to get him killed! Yeah! We’ll get rid of our problem Daniel, and his politics, just like that. Agreed? Agreed!” You can see the drunkard mob talking around a table figuring this out. Yet they knew the only way Daniel would do something against the law was if the law interfered with his faithfulness to God. So they said Daniel wasn’t allowed to pray to God anymore.

Daniel was FAITHFUL.

Next, let’s look at Daniel’s faithfulness. Daniel 6:10 says, “But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” OK, first of all, what did he do when he learned of this law? Did he cry? Did he find a rack a shack and a bungalow and tell his friends not to be caught praying? Did he pull a Mordecai, dress in sackcloth and ashes and go  plead at the palace gate? Did he pull a Haman and go cry to his wife and friends? Or pull a Noah and get drunk? Or pull a Judas and just decide to end it himself instead? Did he pull a Jonah and run away? Or an Elijah and hide in a cave? You know, not all of these examples were sinful in their responses to trouble. But Daniel was different. He didn’t cry, look to others for help, gorge himself on food or alcohol, run, hide, or give up! He could have! Folks, is the miracle the shutting the mouths of the lions or the calmness in which this man approached his coming doom fully entrusting his life to the Lord? So what did he do?

He went home and prayed! The law said, “you can’t pray to God anymore,” and he went home and did JUST THAT! Note, he didn’t go before the palace and defiantly do just that. He didn’t decide he was going to start praying just because he disagreed with the law. But alone, in his own home, “as he had always done,” he prayed, “giving thanks to…God” (Daniel 6:10). He had a habit of praying three times a day. It wasn’t a pleading prayer either, but a prayer of thanksgiving! Three times a day! I’m sure Daniel had faced some times in his life where he thought he should have been killed. Captivity, refusing to eat the king’s food, interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, interpreting the writing on the wall, two kings taking over the throne and likely killing top previous aids. Now this. Was Daniel thanking the Lord that he’d lived such a long life? Was he thanking the Lord that the church would be purified through persecution? Was he thanking the Lord that he’d finished writing his will the day before? That he got to celebrate his grandson’s first birthday the week before? Despite the trial, Daniel found things to be thankful for.

My daughter likes to complain sometimes. If I’m honest, she gets it honest. I have to remind myself, as I remind her, to find things to be thankful for. Being thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) doesn’t mean we’re thankful for all circumstances. But it means we find things to be thankful for despite our circumstances. The other day I had to do some outdoor maintenance for work. I’m not very skilled in this area, but it costs too much to hire someone else, so I have to do it. I was pretty grumpy about it. Then I realized I needed to have a grateful heart. As I thought about what I could be thankful for, it occurred to me that it was an unusually warm day for the middle of winter! Thank God that He provided a nice day for me to have to get that outdoor work done!

So Daniel was faithful. He prayed every day three times a day, even when the law said not to. Because of this, he was thrown into the lions’ den. Let’s fast forward. The king liked Daniel. I would say, he loved Daniel! I would say, Daniel was the king’s favorite of all time! The king wanted Daniel to be in charge so he could rest east at night. This news that Daniel needed to be thrown into the lions’ den upset the king, to say the least. But what does the king, say to Daniel, as he’s headed into the lions’ den? “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you” (Daniel 6:16b). What God does Darius hope will rescue Daniel? The one Daniel serves so faithfully!

OK. I could go on, but perhaps we’ll finish this next week. For now, consider: Are you faithful to God? Do you have godly habits as Daniel did? Perhaps you don’t pray three times a day facing Jerusalem, but do you do something once a day faithfully for the Lord? Do you read your Bible faithfully? Pray regularly? Teach your children the Word faithfully? And when trials come, do you stop? Or do you just keep on following God faithfully trusting Him? Let’s be like Daniel this year in our faithfulness. God faithfully brings up the sun every day and puts it to bed every night. What godly practice can you do faithfully?

photo credit: Monstera

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Why we like things we shouldn’t…or should we?

Have you ever really liked a movie or TV show that you felt, as a Christian, perhaps you shouldn’t? I recently felt that way about a 90s musical and a 90s Australian TV show. I wondered, “Why do I like them so much?” Then it hit me, I liked both of them for the same reason: they addressed real issues in a creative, artistic way. They were well written. The characters were relatable, real, had strengths and weaknesses, baggage and things to work through. That’s why I loved it.

I don’t approve of normalizing sinful behavior as many media outlets do. However, occasionally, something is produced that hits people on a deeper level, beyond their sinful behavior. For instance, in the musical RENT, many characters struggle with AIDS and don’t know how long they have to live. While not everyone who sees the musical (or now movie) will relate to having AIDS, many will relate to the themes these characters struggle with. Things like, making the most of their lives, not knowing how long they have to live. Other themes include, how to measure one’s life, from the famous “Seasons of Love” song. People with cancer can relate to not having much time to live. Everyone can relate to how to measure one’s life. In the musical, one of the characters dies. Everyone can relate to losing a loved one. I also find an interesting input into the musical, the parents’ voices of the characters. That little bit makes the characters seem even more real. Only once do we see one of the main characters actually talking to their parents, but we hear from five different concerned parents throughout the show.

Another example would be the Australian TV show, Sea Change. About every Australian alive in the 90s knew of the show. It was the “Friends” of Australia, but only for a short lived three years. During that time, it tackled issues of abuse, adultery, divorce, adoption, countless small town quirks, big business verses small business, following the law or caring for people, relationships, and many more issues. Each episode had a theme that was brilliantly written throughout where nearly every character and/or scene dealt with that theme. Each season had overall things happening that strung all the episodes together.

A more recent example of a TV show I liked would be the Crown. I only watched the first season, but at some point, realized there was just too much inappropriateness for me to be fast forwarding through, so I had to stop watching. I also didn’t want to continue supporting Netflix, for various reasons. However, I liked learning about the monarchy. I liked that I felt I was learning about history in an interesting and creative way. It was real, yet presented in a creative way. It’s too bad they thought they had to sell it by including so many inappropriate scenes.

Again, some people would simply look at these examples and say, “they’re full of sinners! Christians shouldn’t support them!” I understand. I’m not about to say that I’m above being influenced by what I watch or listen to, because that’s far from the truth. We need to be cautious. We need to be filling our minds with truth and dwelling on the truth. I’m not about to encourage anyone out there to go watch whatever you want. But it is good to look at what we like about a show before we dive into it. And there’s nothing wrong with fast forwarding parts that are inappropriate.

No one can tell you where the line is that makes something inappropriate or not. Everyone struggles with different issues and might find triggers in certain things they watch or listen to. Obviously, certain things are always wrong. Porn is always wrong. Anything that causes arousals or takes you away from family and friends, possibly because it’s addicting, is also wrong for you. Excessive violence or idealized romance could become an issue. Witchcraft is wrong. The things I’m talking about are not as controversial as those. Some less extreme things might be OK in minimal doses. For instance, I like the musical RENT for various reasons, but it’s not a good idea for me to dwell on it or see it more than once a year. I actually just watched it for the first time in maybe five years, but I don’t need to see it again for at least a year. I just don’t need to be dwelling on it any more than that. Les Miserables is similar. I love the creative way that it presents real life struggles, but I do not need to watch it more than once a year. Both musicals have a scene in which I always fast forward.

One last note on children’s shows. In general, I think its easier to simply limit kids’ screen time than it is to pick and choose so much of what’s out there. It’s the same with adult stuff. My kids and I watch a lot of children’s movies and a few cartoon TV shows. I definitely have a goal to know what they’re watching, but I can’t control what they watch all the time (at friends’, relatives’, daycare, etc.). But my overall goal is to know what they’re watching over and over again. Those are the things I need to be especially mindful of. The themes from those shows or movies are what will be sinking deep into their souls. While no show is perfect and TV is not a necessity, we all need to be weighing the costs and benefits to the things our kids see.

I do wonder, and I hope, Christians will produce real drama presented in a creative way. The Chosen is a great example of this! It’s a real story, and talks about real issues that could have happened at the time of Christ. It’s presented in a very creative way. We need more of this! We need Christians producing creative content that deals with real life and then, points people to Christ as the answer, but in a real, not a cheesy way. Can you do it? Without those scenes that require people to fast forward? Can you do it clean? Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Gaffigan both agree, that clean comedy is more difficult. It requires greater skill. Again I ask, can you do it? With God’s help? I’m trying to with one book I’m writing. Stay tuned!

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#Reading Goals

What a person reads in their free time says a lot about them. With that in mind, I realize the books I’ve read this year say a lot about me. Conclude as you will, but here they are, categorized. Hopefully you get some ideas of books to read next year. Many were audio-which I highly suggest. It’s a great way to pass time in the car.

PSYCHOLOGY BOOKS
How we Love
Get out of your head
9 Things you simply must do
Your Brain is always Listening
Don’t Let Their Crazy Make you Crazy
Necessary Endings

PARENTING BOOKS
Boundaries with Kids
Parenting by the Book

CHILDREN’S LIT
Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Ramona Quinby series
Mouse and Motorcycle series
These Happy Golden Years (little house series)
The Long Winter (little house series)
Mary Poppins
Mr. Poppers Penguins

SPIRITUAL GROWTH BOOKS
A Vision with Wings
Holy Ambition by Ingram
Win the Day
The 5 Solas
I am a Church Member
All Together Different
We will not be Silenced
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
Standing Strong by MacArthur
Divorce and Remarriage by Evans

CHRISTIAN CLASSICS
A Grief Observed
The Ragamuffin Gospel
The Pilgrims Progress

WOMEN’S CHRISTIAN BOOKS
Becoming Myself
Women of the Word
Choosing Forgiveness by Wolgumuth

CHRISTIAN LIT
Confessions of Adam
Reformation Fire
Dead Sea Squirrels (jingle #9)
The Last Battle (Narnia)

MISC.
Your Total Money Makeover
Business God’s Way

*I have a reading goal every year, but it’s usually closer to 10-12 books a year. Audio books have definitely upped my game. I encourage you to make a reading goal for 2023. Here are some ideas:
-Read one book a month
-Read 10 books on one topic
-Read through a novel series
-Read through the Bible in a year
-Read through the Bible chronologically in a year
-Read one parenting book, one marriage book, one Bible commentary book, one classic Christian book, one novel, and one other book (half a book a month)

Here are some tips on goal setting when it comes to reading more
-Set reasonable goals. If you only read one book last year. Set a goal to read 2-5 this year, not 100.
-If you spend a lot of time on social media, look at your settings to see how much time. Consider setting a timer to half that time and using the other half of the time to read. You’re reading a lot on social media. Why not invest it in a book?
-Choose things you enjoy reading, not things you feel like you have to read to be a good person. Novels can speak to you too.
-Just read! Reading is so good for your brain and even has proven to lower blood pressure and anxiety when done regularly.
-Consider reading a magazine or newspaper column regularly if you’re too overwhelmed by finishing a whole book.
-Just try a certain amount of time a day or a chapter a day. For instance, consider reading for 10 minutes a day to start, and only for 3 days a week. If you’re not into reading, just start there.
-Consider an area in which you wish to grow in. Choose a book or periodical that will help with that.

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Go to the Ant

Ever get really overwhelmed by something? Or all the things? I recently heard a great explanation on Proverbs 6:6-11 about the ant. I have been meditating on that passage ever since. Ants are tiny, right? Yet they store up their food in summer. Have you ever noticed that each spring and summer, ants return? Like, no matter how cold it gets, the ants return!


We spend a lot of time marveling at famous people doing amazing things. But how often do we look at what they did in order to get to that point? One of my favorite examples is Odell Beckham Jr. He was just another football player until one day, during a game, he made a phenomenal one handed catch that was a game changer. I’m not big on watching sports normally, but I saw that catch as it happened. I said out loud, “I wonder if he practiced that!” He did it so flawlessly. Guess what?! He DID practice it! He’d practiced catching that football with one hand, while running, many times. Then one day, when it mattered, he was able to do it perfectly. He became known for that catch. Not every football player can catch a football one handed. But every football player could practice and then be able to.


It’s the same with us. The big moments are few and far between. But what makes them stand out is what we’ve done quietly, daily, preparing for those big moments. We might not be able to accomplish something huge today. But we could take a step in the right direction. We could, like the ant, take a lot of little steps, moving lots of little grains, one at a time, until we have moved a mountain. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant by faith as small as a mustard seed. The faith to take one little step, followed by another, and another, until the mountain is moved.


Instead of being overwhelmed by all the boxes to unpack, I can unpack one. I can submit my work to one publisher, then another, then another, knowing that will help me achieve my overall goal of getting published. I can weed one area of my yard, knowing that if I keep at it, eventually, all the weeds will be gone. I can devote 15 minutes a day to playing ball with my son, knowing that investment in his life will have eternal benefits. I can’t do everything, but I can do something, today.


And you can too. What are you overwhelmed by currently? Maybe it’s your kids’ birthday party that you’re supposed to clean the house for. Just clean one room, or one corner.
Perhaps it’s trying to finish that house project before hosting family for the holidays. What step can you take?


Or do you have a work deadline? Or did you just move and there’s just so much to do. Unpack one box. Hang one thing on the wall. Just do something, no matter how small. Choose to do something instead of being frozen at the insurmountableness of it all. (Sure it’s a word! You just read it, Lol)

One last thing, if doing something, even something small seems impossible, maybe you need help. Call a friend. Enlist a support group. Get some accountability. I recently recruited some friends to join me in submitting our writing to publishers. We have a total goal number we’re working on together. Simply having friends in it with me has boosted my motivation immensely.

Proverbs 6:6-11
Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.
    Learn from their ways and become wise!
Though they have no prince
    or governor or ruler to make them work,
they labor hard all summer,
    gathering food for the winter.
But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep?
    When will you wake up?
A little extra sleep, a little more slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest—then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit;
    scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.

*9 Things You Simply Must Do by Henry Cloud reference

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Christmas 2022 Letter

This past year, I have experienced incredible loss along with indescribable joy. I have seen some dreams utterly crushed to pieces while others I had long forgotten have been fulfilled. I have had highs and lows amidst the comfortable mundane of everyday life. As I am sure you have too. I am constantly amazed at what a person can experience within a year. It’s amazing how much can change within a year. I never imagined one year ago, I would be where I am now. I do not know what the future holds, as I often remind my children, but I know who does and I know He has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11).

This Christmas, I have been thinking of the great lengths God went through to be WITH His people. He loved us SO much, that He did all these things for us in order to be WITH us (John 3:16). He never said this life would be easy or we would be free from trials. He also never said tough times were necessarily a result of sin. But God has promised to be WITH us through it all, the good and the bad, the thick and the thin, the yuck and the muck and the high flying times.

God the Father, being holy and perfect is incapable of being in contact with sinful man (or woman or child). However, He wanted to be WITH His people so much, that He chose to dwell with His people in a tabernacle first, and then later in a temple. This preserved His holiness and yet allowed Him to be with His beloved creations. Yet God wanted to be even more with His people. So He sent His Son, Jesus. God the Son (aka: Jesus) became a man in order to live among His people and show them how to live. He LIVED WITH His people. Even so, Jesus died on a cross in order that sinful man could be forgiven for our sins and therefore, live for eternity WITH God. Jesus paid the ultimate price so that we could forever be WITH our Savior, Creator, God, and King. After Jesus defeated death, rose from the grave, and ascended into Heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit, to be WITH all believers. God the Spirit now lives inside all believers, who are the living temples of God, the living stones, the living church. God the Father dwelt in a temple. God the Son dwelt among His people. God the Spirit lives inside His people. The godhead, three in one, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit desires to be WITH you! Do you desire to be with Him? Are you doing your life WITH God?

Daily we make choices of whether we will live WITH God that day or WITHOUT Him, whether we will allow Him into our lives, or out of it. Daily we choose. It cannot be a one and done decision. And back to the daily grind. It has to be a daily commitment, a daily decision, to live for the Lord and not for ourselves. Daily I must choose to put the Lord’s plans ahead of my own. Daily I must choose to prioritize my life according to His Word. Of course we mess up and don’t do it perfectly. Thank God that every morning His mercies are new (Lamentations 3:23). Every day we have a new opportunity at life.

This Christmas, I have been thinking about the meaning of “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.” As I reflect on the great lengths He has gone through in order to be WITH me, I have to ask myself what I am willing to do in order to be with God? To what lengths have I asked Him into my life, my home, my parenting, my work, my driving, my conversations? Have I gone to as much effort to make Him a part of my life as He has gone through to allow me to be with Him? Of course not. But have I even tried? Have I tried to live according to His Word? Do I read it enough to know what it says? Have I tried to do all He has called me to? Or have I chosen a lesser life of faith? Not believing His power is sufficient to enable me to do all He is calling me to do (Matthew 28:18-20). Do I believe the promises in the Bible are for me? Or are they for someone else, anyone else?

Let me encourage you choosing to be WITH God. Once we have chosen to be WITH God, “…nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Personal Update

PS: I’ve read a LOT of books this year. Below are my top recommended reads. Enjoy!

                Win the Day by Batterson

                Your Brain is Always Listening by Amen

                Necessary Endings by Cloud

PPS: Please check out my children’s book, the Nut Donut here.

PPPS: This past year, the kids and I moved to Pendleton and bought a house. It’s perfect for us and such a great location. I also took over my family’s storage unit business. N started kindergarten and is learning to read. She still loves unicorns. P has revealed his love for non-fiction books with lots of facts. He also loves playing ball, of all kinds, dinosaurs, and hot wheels. H has started talking. He still just wants to be big and able to keep up with his siblings, but will take a cuddle whenever possible. While we feel blessed, we are also very dependent upon the Lord.

Photo by Stephen Paterson on Unsplash

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Ritual of Remembrance

Photo credit: Daniel Sandvick

“They must not leave any of the lamb until the next morning, and they must not break any of its bones. They must follow all the normal regulations concerning the Passover.”
Numbers 9:12 NLT

When my first child started at a school with uniforms, I was overwhelmed by the strictness of it all. With children coming from various economic backgrounds, the school had a unifying purpose with their uniform code. Likewise, God had a purpose in His strictness regarding sacrifices in the Old Testament.

A year after their exile from slavery, God had the Israelites celebrate through a ritual of remembrance (Numbers 9:1-3). Through sacrificing a lamb and eating it all, without breaking it’s bones, they would remember how they did that exact thing one year prior. As they took the lamb to kill it, they would recall the thoughts in their head the year before. As the smell of roasted lamb hit their nose, they would recall the excitement they had a year prior at their two year old starting to talk saying, “lamb lammy!” At the sight of everyone eating the same meal they had the year prior, they might recall trying to answer their children’s questions. “Why are we eating standing up? Why didn’t Moses explain more? Why did we put blood on the doorway? Why didn’t Joey’s family put blood on the doorway? Is Joey going to die?”

Along with the memories, a grateful heart would emerge at all the Lord had done the year before. Year after year, they would do this same ritual of remembrance to fix their eyes on the Lord and what He did for them. The bones of the lamb would not be broken. It would all be a part of it.

When the Jews saw Jesus, the lamb of God be sacrificed, they would remember the Passover lamb. When they saw that His bones were not broken, they would remember how the lamb’s bones were not broken. They would know it was more than a fluke in the Roman execution. It was by God’s perfect will and design. It was because He truly was the Son of God!


What traditions or rituals of remembrance do you have that remind you of what God has done for you? Do Christmas lights remind you how Jesus is the light of the world? Does gift giving remind you of Jesus being the greatest gift of all? Do you celebrate the day you came to know your Savior? Do your children’s birthdays remind you of God’s grace in giving them to you?

****This is a preview of my Advent Devotional I’m writing. Please stay tuned for more! And if you’re interested in helping edit or give feedback for the book, please send me an email: bec.harbert@gmail.com****

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Maximizing Spiritual Growth in Women’s Bible Studies              

 Another Bible study gone by and you wonder how it happened so fast. The end of a Bible study leaves us either sad to see it end, sad we did not get more out of it, or completely rejuvenated in our walks with the Lord. For the leader, ending a Bible study could bring an array of emotions from excitement at seeing what God had done, to a feeling of failure wondering what went wrong. As a student of the Bible and teacher of it myself, I have observed a few things that seem to be essential in allowing women to grow spiritually. I have also found a certain order to doing Bible study that seems to work best. Then lastly, I have come to realize the wonderful responsibilities of a leader.

Essentials for Spiritual Growth

Let’s start with the essentials to spiritual growth within a Bible study. Many essentials go into a woman’s personal time with the Lord regarding spiritual disciplines and such. However, when it comes time for the Bible study meeting where everyone is together, we should focus on making it most meaningful. We cannot control what each woman does once they leave the study, so we should focus on the time we all have together. What essentially is necessary for that time?

First, there is power in women hearing the Word of God preached and explained in depth in its context. I cannot explain why, but this has the power to change women spiritually. This is why God’s method for His church is to proclaim His Word through preaching. Women (and men) long to hear the Word of God preached in depth in a way they can understand and in a way they can also apply it to their lives. Martin Luther was a popular preacher because he preached using the common language of the people and he explained what the Scriptures meant. Women sign up for a Bible study as opposed to some other club because they want to know and understand the Bible more. Some sort of teaching the Word of God in depth must be a part of our Bible Studies each week if we desire our women to grow spiritually.

Second, there is power in women sharing what God has been teaching them. Studies say we do not remember so much what we hear or what we read as much as we remember what we say (or teach). Therefore, as a leader, we must encourage our participants to voice what God has taught them in their own words so that it imprints that teaching on their own heart even more. A simple question might be, “What did God show you through your study this past week?” Even if every woman doesn’t share, every woman will have an opportunity to think through their answer in their head. This will enable them to remember what they Lord has done. I see a power in women confessing and proclaiming what God has taught them to a group of other women. A large part of this definitely has to do with accountability. Leading the ladies in this type of discussion points them to God and acknowledges Him as the ultimate teacher. We all are encouraged as we see God moving in the lives of fellow believers. Without the opportunity for women to share what God has taught them, a Bible study will not reach its full potential for spiritual growth.

Third, there is power in women being prayed for and praying for others. We cannot teach the Word of God, talk about God (about Him and ourselves), without praying to God. Prayer must be a part of a women’s Bible study. However, we cannot just pray to begin or pray to end, yet we should at least do that! We must also give the opportunity for personal prayer requests to be prayed for. If a woman cannot bring her personal prayer requests up at a Bible study, where can she? While we do not need to all pray for everyone every week, women should be regularly given the opportunity to share their prayer requests and to pray over the needs of others. This shows the women that they are cared for, helps them bond together, and it also shows them how they can be used of God to care for others through praying for them! What power we have in prayer! Without praying for the personal needs of women in our study, we lack a chance to help them personally be affected by the study.

The challenge comes in achieving all of the above requirements for spiritual growth within the allotted hour or hour and a half time slot given! I have been in Bible studies three hours long that never achieved the above three and I left lacking. Yet I have also been in studies only an hour long that achieved the above three things and I left feeling full.

Order of the Bible Study

As a leader, I have found a certain order to Bible study that enables us to touch on all three important points above. We start by easing into the lesson through teaching, then asking deeper tension questions, and ending with a scheduled time of prayer.

I have found that teaching towards the beginning of the lesson to be the best time because it helps ease the ladies into a deeper time of discussion. As a leader, I have labored over the lesson for a week or more. I have often even reviewed and prayed about it at least a whole hour leading up to the start of class. So when everyone arrives, I am so excited and so ready to dig deep right away! Yet, I find I am not met with quite the same level of enthusiasm immediately.

Many of the ladies coming to class have at least slept since they did the lesson, but most likely they have done a whole lot more than just slept! When a woman arrives at Bible study, her mind is everywhere! “Did I lock my house when I left? Did I feed the dogs? I can’t believe I didn’t crash on my way here, that semi SO almost hit me! I wonder if my child is still screaming from me dropping him off at childcare. Work!” And on and on and on it goes. I know because I am one of those women, with a million things on one’s mind when arriving anywhere! With women especially, they’re not totally present mentally when we begin the study.

Starting off the Bible study with a deep question, even if it’s from the lesson and they have an answer written down, will take them a while to mentally be ready to respond and share what they wrote. Remember, their minds are a million places. The last thing they want to do at the start of a Bible study, is be the first to be vulnerable. Therefore, I have found this a great time to simply start teaching and/or reviewing the lesson. While they might not be ready to share, they will be ready to listen. Many come completely drained and exhausted and need to hear a word of encouragement or good news. So hearing their leader speak about the Bible right away helps them transition their minds from thinking of everything circumstantial to things eternal, from God’s Word. As you teach, they will remember what they learned from the lesson and grow eager to share as they listen.

We typically start our Bible study with a song, prayer, and reading our Scripture memory verse together. All of these things help ease the ladies into something deeper. Just like at church we often sing before we hear the Word preached. We prepare our hearts to hear God’s Word at church. In Bible study, we prepare our hearts to hear, and then share. After our song, a quick prayer by the leader for our time together, and the Scripture memory verse, I usually use the time to teach God’s Word. This could be teaching on the passage we studied over the week. It could be simply reviewing with the ladies our passage or what we have studied in the past weeks. It could also be a worksheet (that does not require too much thinking) that they do in pairs or groups to study the passage more (that I go over with them when they finish). I might also use that early time as an opportunity to explain something I missed in a prior week, or to clarify something in the lesson that seemed confusing. Whatever it is, it needs to be something that takes a little bit of time so that the ladies are eased into the study of God’s Word and eased out of wherever they just came from. At the start of this, usually only one or two ladies will be with me and thinking about the study. But by the end, the goal is that every woman will have transitioned out of where she came from and into the study to be totally present for the hour you have her. Not only that, but she will have learned a bit of something new about God’s Word!

Occasionally, especially early on in the study, I have found an ice breaker question to be appropriate. This seems to work really well if 1-the ladies do not know each other well (which could inhibit their sharing later on in the night) and/or if 2-the lesson was fairly easy and did not require a lot of extra explanation on the leader’s part. For example, I have asked the ladies before to share a high and low from their past week or current day. Again, only one or two ladies will be ready to share at first, but then as they start to share, others will begin to process things in their mind and it will help ease them into the study. Note: if doing an ice breaker, some type of teaching or explaining may still be needed on the part of the leader at another time during the study. The ladies still want to hear God’s Word preached.

After a woman hears the Word of God preached, especially if she is reminded of the passage she studied earlier in the week, her mind will start to recollect what God taught her through that passage and throughout the week. As she listens to the leader review and explain the passage, her heart will begin to get excited about what God has taught her through the passage. And as every good teacher says: repetition, repetition, repetition! Even if we just review what we learned the previous weeks, we give the ladies a chance to remember what God has been teaching them through the study the previous week. Then after hearing a bit of teaching and hopefully learning a little something and/or feeling fully eased into the Bible study, they will be eager to share what God has taught them. They will then share as an overflow of their own hearts being so full of God’s Word. After feeding oneself so heavily on the Word of God, one cannot help but vocalize (especially women) how feasting on God’s Word has changed them. If women are eased into the Bible study, they will jump at the chance to share God’s working in their lives.

Hence why sharing seems to be the next logical thing to cover after some sort of teaching or review occurs. Obviously with sharing, I usually have prepared questions and topics and depths where I desire the discussion to take us. Ultimately, the goal in this discussion time is not to simply ask questions in the study, but to find issues of sin or areas where women recognize growth needed in their lives. As Dr. Julius Wong Loi Sing (Dr. J) from Moody would say, “areas of tension,” are what we’re after here with regards to discipleship. This is the depth we need to reach through discussion. It’s not just addressing sin, but addressing what sparks the sin and what stops us from obeying God, in everything. Again, this is all for the purpose of pointing each other back to Christ, not for the purpose of condemnation.

For example, it’s not just addressing wives submitting to their husbands without fear (1 Peter 3), but asking what stops women from submitting to their husbands without fear. Would we rather complain about why our husbands need help as opposed to joyfully being the helper God knew they needed? Do we fear submission because we have an improper understanding of it? Do we fear it because we do not trust our husbands? Or is it ultimately God that we do not trust? Do we want ultimate control of the relationship? If so, that’s saying we want ultimate control of our lives as opposed to being willing to submit our lives to God. Do we not think our husbands are capable? If so, we probably have a deeper heart issue and need to pray to view our husbands in a more positive light the way God views him. Then within this, we should address what if the man is not godly, and/or asks the woman to sin etc. The boundaries of submission should also be discussed. We are not required to submit to every man, just our husbands. We are not required to submit when being asked to sin. Without getting into lots of examples of people outside of the Bible study, the women should see and want to share what God meant by this passage and how that affects them.

Now, especially after a time of deep discussion, the ladies will long to go into a time of prayer together. Yet also having heard the Word of God explained, the prayer requests they had when they walked in the door (largely circumstantial) might have changed by the end of the study (largely heart issues). Perhaps someone walked in thinking everything in their life was going wrong, thinking they needed prayer for their work, family, relationships, and house. But after the study, they might realize they really just need prayer to have a thankful heart in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Prayer can be all together, in smaller groups, or whatever. It just has to happen regularly, and the ladies need to be given the opportunity to share personal requests fairly regularly.

Responsibilities of the Leader

Lastly, I will share the role and responsibility of a leader. I often ask myself why these ladies have signed up for a Bible study. I used to go to a large church. Our church had countless groups or volunteer opportunities. Why would a lady sign up for a women’s Bible study… especially if she’s married and/or with children and it would mean time away from her family? Regularly, I am reminded it’s because she’s hungry. She’s looking for something. Whether she’s hungry for the Word of God or for relationships with other women, she has prioritized filling that hunger above whatever else she could be doing during that time.

She has also taken a risk by signing up that must be acknowledged by the leaders. Think about it! She signed up for a study with a bunch of ladies she doesn’t know in order to go in depth studying God’s Word and sharing her heart with a bunch of strangers! This is not easy! Again, ladies signing up for these studies want something so much that they thought it was worth the risk. They have prioritized this because they are hungry.

That leaves the contemplative leader with quite an expectation to deliver! Praise God that only He can deliver what they are seeking. Praise God that He does use things as “simple” as Bible studies as a way to transform lives. Praise God that He uses imperfect leaders like myself to do His work. He takes what little we have to offer and really does above and beyond all we could ever ask for or imagine (Ephesians 5:20). Sure we can plan to ease the ladies into a time of discussion. We can plan to teach something in greater depth that was just breezed over in the lesson. We can plan to discuss certain things in certain depths. And we can plan to pray a certain way. We can plan and prepare and we should. Yet we must always remember, our planning and preparing is simply like planting and watering. Only God makes things and people grow (1 Corinthians 3:7). Therefore, we have to be open and sensitive to His leading as the ultimate guide of our study.

As a leader, I do feel the burden and responsibility to do my best each time I lead. This definitely requires studying the passage in greater depth while anticipating and researching answers to possible questions the ladies may have about the passage. It also requires a great deal of prayer on my part in preparation. The week my leading went the best is when I had asked some ladies to pray for me to teach well (after failing miserably one week!) We, as the leaders, should be praying and seeking God as to how to lead. We should be seeking God asking Him what topics in the study need covered in greater depth, what areas and questions to prioritize in covering as opposed to other less important details. All of this goes into preparing our lesson each week. Remember, the ladies are coming to learn about the Word of God. So we must do our best to teach it clearly (Colossians 4:4).

I have also found that praying for each lady every week throughout the week helps me prepare. Not only does it help me prepare, but I believe it helps them grow spiritually as well. I used to have a professor, Dr. Bill Thrasher, who asked his students every semester to fill out a notecard about how he could be praying for them throughout the semester. I believe he prayed for us each week and I know that aided in my spiritual growth while having him as a professor. Praying for others is also a way we can love them. If we’re praying for those in our study regularly, God will grow a love in our hearts for them which will then motivate us to do our God enabled best to work hard in preparing to teach each week.

One final thing I have found to be good is to try as far as it depends on me, to make things run smoothly. Obviously, we cannot plan for everything and sometimes things just do not go as planned. But if we can anticipate and arrive early and set things up ahead of time, it really helps things run smoothly. Interruptions (be it technical difficulties or whatever) seem to stifle the mood and distract the ladies from staying focused on the study and God’s Word.

For example, one time I printed out the lyrics to our worship song, but did not realize the lyrics I printed out were not entirely correct for the version of song we were listening to! After the first verse, we were all lost. It sure made worshiping that week difficult for everyone, although, they were quite gracious. Thankfully for us, we followed worship with a prayer in which I praised God for working through our mistakes, and I trusted Him to do His work that night despite me. We will never realize how important it is that things run smoothly until we see the devastating consequences of something going awry. Being the creative person I am, always trying something new, I have often had things not go as well as I planned. I have found a fine line between doing something creative and different to better illustrate a point and doing something so creative and different that it distracts from the point. I am still figuring this one out!

With all of this, I have to mention something about technology. I firmly believe the devil is into technology. Therefore, whenever I have something requiring technology for a study I’m leading, I have a backup plan in case something goes awry. I take two laptops. I’ll take two speakers. I’ll have my phone or another laptop ready in case the classroom TV doesn’t work. I have paper copies of powerpoints. I have paper copies of everything in case some technology doesn’t work. Whenever I have backups for my backups, the devil takes one look and says, “forget it! That’s too much work to mess with that Bible study!” and the technology works perfectly! Anyone who’s ever led a Bible study having any element of technology knows exactly what I’m talking about!

Another thing that can stifle or distract from the Bible study is getting off track. This also is the responsibility of the leader to keep the ladies on track with their study of the Word of God. Doing this requires a great deal of prayer. We can and should pray beforehand that God would lead the discussion and keep us on track covering what He desires to be important. Yet we should also pray throughout the study constantly seeking God with how to steer the discussion and which questions to ask next, how long to wait for others to answer, etc. Granted, some things can be figured out before the study, like a type of time schedule prioritizing which questions to cover when and which to skip over if not enough time. However sometimes the discussion takes an unexpected turn and we must seek God about what to do in the moment.

While I did not mention this as a leader’s responsibility, it should go without saying that the leader should be constantly spending time in personal Bible study and prayer and working on her own relationship with the Lord. If anything stands between her and the Lord, it will make her teaching and leadership less effective. She should constantly be giving herself to the Lord and allowing Him to prune her in order to make her a more holy woman of God. It is assumed a leader chosen will do this regularly.

So while the leader has a great responsibility to teach the passage accurately and correctly each week (James 3:1-2), we also have the responsibility to pray regularly, and to prepare things as best we can so things run smoothly without interruption. We do not want anything to distract the ladies from growing in their relationship with God. The ultimate purpose for all of these things is simply to set the stage for God to do a transforming work in the lives of each of the ladies in the study. Yet as the leader, we have a great responsibility to shepherd the souls of precious women in our studies. And for this responsibility, we answer to God, who is the only One capable of truly shepherding us and our ladies.

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Happy Reformation Day!

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis (not 95 Reese’s, lol) to the door of a Catholic church in Wittenburg, Germany. It contained 95 things he found the church was doing against Scripture! This started what became known as the Reformation. Up to this point, the church was just Catholic. The Reformation meant Protestants came into being. People fought over it and lost their lives over it. Many were burned at the stake for saying things that were against the church, but agreed with the Bible.

One of the biggest issues was how someone came to become a Christian. The Catholic Church had lists of things required for people to receive and keep their salvation. Martin Luther said, “by grace alone through faith alone,” based on Ephesians 2:8. Along with that, the reformers had five basic areas of doctrine which they called the five Solas. These included things like “God’s Word alone,” having the highest authority in one’s life.

Did Martin Luther plan his act to be done on Halloween? No one really knows. The church did honor All Saint’s Day and Hallows Eve at the time. I personally think he just happened to get his thesis finished by then. But perhaps God planned it like that. Who knows. Either way, a fun way to commemorate our freedom in Christ is through nailing 95 Reese’s on a door for Halloween.

If you’re visiting because you took one of our 95 Reese’s, please see my children’s book available here: https://www.amazon.com/Nut-Donut-Rebecca-Harbert/dp/194383105X

More on the 5 Solas here: https://www.logos.com/grow/5-solas-reformation/?campaignid=18467614031&adgroupid=142254639065&keyword=&device=m&utm_source=google&utm_medium=advertising_cpc&utm_campaign=

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The Reality of Taking a Step Back

“… They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right! (Jeremiah 4:22)”

We all need to take time to laugh at some verses in the Bible. Then after regaining our composure, context helps greatly! God is not mad at His children, as much as He is incredibly hurt. Their destruction is upon them because they’ve chosen their own way. Earlier, God says, “my heart, my heart-I writhe in pain!” because the enemy is upon His people! He’s given and given and given to a people who have turned their backs on Him. He’s sent warning after warning through the prophets, yet they’ve refused to turn from their evil ways. God knows they need punished for their sins, but it’s still hard for Him to watch His children suffer. Every parent understands not wanting to see their children suffer, but needing to enforce an unpleasant consequence due to their misbehavior. I find I love the idea of things a lot more than their actuality. I love the idea of being wealthy, but I don’t want to put in the effort and sacrifice my family time to make that happen. I love the idea of living for God, but I don’t love the actuality of getting up early to devote the first part of my day to Him. God loves His children so much He wants a relationship with them. But He doesn’t enjoy having to discipline them when they disobey.

Ultimately, God is saying in this verse, “they don’t get it!” And He’s realized that He has done all He can for them. The only thing left to do is to allow them to face the consequences of their sins. It’s like a parents with the drug addicted child who keeps stealing from his parents and using it for drugs. They’ve put him in rehab, but he’s not chosen to change on his own. Finally, exasperated at knowing they’ve done all in their power to do, they kick their grown child out of the house. “If you’re going to do drugs, steal from us, lie to us, and not respect the rules of our home, then you can no longer live here. We’ve done all we can for you. You’re on your own now.”

I can’t help but think about relationships in our own lives. Some people like to focus on God’s grace and forgiveness. But they ignore God’s justice. God, being the perfect parent to His children, the Israelites, still had His children turn away. Is there a relationship that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into that it’s had little to no effect on the person? God eventually took a step back. He left the temple. He stopped intervening and protecting and allowed His people to face natural consequences. Is there a relationship where we need to take a step back? We like the idea of continuing in a relationship, but the reality is that there’s nothing we can do to help the person anymore. With much prayer, sometimes taking a step back can be the most loving and Biblical thing to do.

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Why You’re Overwhelmed with Relationships

Troy has called me every year, on my birthday, for the last eighteen years of my life. Ever since the one summer he led a mission trip I went on, he’s called me on my birthday. He leads a few mission trips a year. How many people do you think he calls? How wide is his network? How wide is yours? How wide was Jesus’? And the question we all deal with every day is: How do I choose between friends? Or family? Or my extended family over my immediate family? Do I really need to organize and be intentional in my relationships? The Bible tells me so.

I just recently moved (about an hour away) and felt completely overwhelmed with my networks nearly doubling in size. I suddenly had a lot of old friends I still wanted to connect with and new friends I wanted to get to know. Then my kids started asking to hang out with their friends too. I found myself trying to keep up with everyone equally, but I wasn’t doing it equally. I would forget to tell one friend something and tell another friend something three times.

Then the Lord reminded me of the 12-72 principle. I could prioritize my relationships like Jesus did. Really, it is more like the “1-3-12-72-multitudes” principle, but that’s a mouthful to say, so let’s summarize by calling it the 12-72 principle. Jesus did this. He came to earth to show us how to live, and that includes our relationships. One night I made a list of all my relationships and I separated them into the 1, 3, 12, 72, or multitude category. This not only helped with my own brain and priorities, but it helped me have a filter for what to share with different people. It also freed me from the pressure to maintain deep relationships with so many people.

Ready for more freedom and direction in your relationships? Let’s do this together. Ok, grab a pen and paper or your favorite list app, and let’s go through these categories together. Let’s live intentionally modelling our lives after Jesus, starting with the most important.

ONE

Jesus chose ONE person, Peter, the rock on which to build His church (Matthew 16:18). Why is Peter talked about so much more than the other disciples? Because He was the one person Jesus chose to build His church. Why is your ONE? It could be Jesus Himself. It might be your spouse, or a best friend, a sister. If no one comes to mind right away, no worries. Just claim your one as being Jesus and let’s move on.

THREE

Next, Jesus chose THREE people for whom He poured His life into during His most intimate moments of ministry. He chose Peter, James, and John to take up to the mountain of transfiguration (Mark 9:2-3). He allowed only Peter, James, and John (and the girl’s parents) to be present during the healing of a little girl (Luke 8:51). At the end of His life, Jesus wanted Peter, James, and John in the garden of Gethsemane with Him to pray (Matthew 26:37). No one else. Not three disciples here and another three there. Jesus consistently chose the same three disciples to pour His life into. That’s a challenging call.

So who are your THREE? Perhaps in addition to your ONE, you now add your kids, your parents, or your next two best friends. If you can’t choose three, don’t get too worried about it right now, it might take time to iron that out. Try your spouse, kids, and one-three best friends. The overflow will definitely be included in the next group anyway. Your groups are allowed to be fluid. Give yourself that grace. Only Jesus was perfect.

TWELVE

After that, Jesus, as most of us know, had TWELVE disciples (Luke 6:12-16). He poured most of His teachings into His twelve disciples. Now is a good time to remember that none of His 12 disciples were from Jesus’ immediate family. James, Jesus’ brother who wrote the book of James in the Bible, is different than James the disciple. However, it doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t care for or love His family. He totally did. As the eldest son, culturally He was in charge of caring for His mom in her old age. While He did not allow cultural norms to distract from His mission, He still fulfilled that role by assigning John, the disciple, to care for His mom (John 19:26-27). And note, John is the only disciple that did not die young. Jesus did not skirt His familial responsibilities. Also remember, Jesus LOVED people outside of His twelve. I say all that because the line between twelve and seventy-two is a tough call. It’s like choosing the varsity players out of all those who tried out. But this is also where the rubber meets the road. I’ve seen those who do this well, separate their twelve relationships from their seventy-two type relationships. Those who do that well live calm, focused, full and fruitful lives. If that sounds appealing, let’s dive in.

Who is in your twelve? Jesus lived with His disciples, literally. While you don’t have to have a houseful, think for a moment about who you live life with regularly anyway? Neighbors? Parents? Siblings’ families? Or the formal answer might be: your small group. If you’re not in a small group officially, maybe there are certain friends you get together with on a regular basis anyway. Perhaps your kids are in travel ball together. I used to visit an elderly neighbor lady four-five evenings a week when I was home with my baby. At that time, she would have been considered to be in my twelve. We used to get together with two other families once/week for years. Even though we weren’t an official small group, they were considered in my twelve during that time. We lived the day to day, week to week life together. We prayed for each other and shared our highs and lows together.

If you don’t feel like you have anyone like that, don’t panic. Perhaps your in transition. But also remember, you can build up to a network of people who you live life regularly together with. The quickest easiest way would be to join a group. If your church has small groups, join one. If you have a passion for something and there’s a group in your area, join that group. I know a group I call “the walking ladies,” whom I see walking around town a few mornings a week. Most are freshly retired. They often go out for coffee afterward. If you still feel like you’re lacking the kind of community or group you long for, start your own. It’s OK to start small. You have my permission. Finding one other person who shares your passion will be worth it. And if it doesn’t last forever, that’s OK too. We all have seasons.

I started a prayer/playdate/picnic group for moms and their kids to meet once/week. I had one other mom who faithfully showed up every week. Another came once or twice. And that was it. But it still worked out perfect! My kids loved meeting up with people. The one faithful mom became one of my closest friends. The other mom who came a few times was someone I hadn’t seen in a while and was able to reconnect with.

OK, so let’s say your twelve includes your spouse, your two and a half kids, two best friends, three ladies from your small group, your kid’s friend’s mom, that other mom you sit with at ball games, your mom, and two neighbors. That’s it! You did it! Let’s try another scenario, just for fun.

Let’s say YOUR twelve includes your three best friends, the six ladies in your Bible study, a workout buddy, and the two coworkers you eat lunch with all the time. Yay! You did it!

 But what about everyone else? What about Betty? And Suzie Q? And Annie Jo and Lottie? Never fear! The seventy-two are here!

SEVENTY-TWO

Yet Jesus had other followers too. Remember Mary and Martha and Lazarus? Jesus loved them (John 11:5). Yet they weren’t in his inner inner circle, but still very dear to Him! When I made a list of my one, my three, my twelve and started my list of my seventy-two, I felt a wave of relief come over me. I had been trying to keep up with many people listed on my 72 as if they were in my inner circle of three people. It hadn’t been working. I was relieved because most of the people on my 72 list were dear friends. I suddenly realized that they we could also still hang out without the obligation to keep in touch so consistently.

Here, in the seventy-two, is where most people you interact with on a regular basis will end up. And it’s OK! I have so many people who in different seasons of my life have been in my top twelve, are now in my seventy-two. Who might these people include, you ask? Nearly everyone else you speak to regularly. For instance, that group of high school or college friends that get together once or twice a year, your extended extension family, all the other coworkers whom you like, but aren’t as close to. Those people you met at story time or friends’ of friends. Or that friend who you used to talk to all the time, but now don’t since you moved away, but you’ll forever be somewhat close. Yeah, they go here. And the seventy-two is an excellent spot for them! You’re not living life daily or deeply with them, but you’re still close whenever you see each other.

Most people don’t need to be added to this list. Only write down those you want to maintain a relationship with. Remember, the seventy-two aren’t being outcast. Rather, they’re on deck relationships growing at a slower pace, but possible to increase in intensity as times and seasons allow.

MULTITUDES

Beyond that, we see Jesus in Scripture having “the multitudes” following Him. These multitudes might have had one encounter with Jesus, or many. Jesus’ preached His sermon on the mount to the multitudes (Matthew 5-7). He fed the five thousand and the four thousand (Matthew 14-15).  This means social media followers, Christmas card recipients, friendships old and new and acquaintances in between, your address list, your customer base, nearly everyone. (Unless of course you’re famous and have more than five thousand followers. In that case, just include your most loyal subscribers, right?)

I love Christmas cards, because I love connecting with so many people who I often only connect with once a year, through a Christmas card. I often only hear from Troy on my birthday every year. But I love that I’m in his “multitudes” and that I can still hear what God is doing in His life and ministry. Don’t bother listing five-thousand people. Just know that those beyond your seventy-two belong in the multitudes.

Overall, just remember the 12-72 principle and you’ll be much less stressed in relationships.

And if you don’t read the Bible, or just prefer to hear someone try to “prove” what the Bible has already clearly advised, check out this article from the BBC.

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You Might Be in an Abusive Relationship if…

You might be in an abusive relationship if…

Your partner dictates what kind of peanut butter you eat

Your partner tells you how to do your hair and nails for your wedding

Your partner requests you wear a certain outfit for a date

Your partner requests you get a certain swimsuit to wear just for him

Your partner has specific requirements for your wedding dress

Your partner proposes without a ring because he says he wants you to pick it out. But when taken to the jewelry shop, he tells you which one to get and starts to get angry if you don’t do what he says.

Your partner talks bad of you to others causing them to treat you badly

Your partner shares your arguments with others outside of the relationship without your permission, in order to gain support for his way of thinking and make you look like a fool to them, and has those others come and talk to you about why you’re wrong

Your partner minimizes your feelings

Your partner lies regularly to you and others around you about you

Your partner spends money however he wishes, but denies you any spending freedom

Your partner constantly argues with you or puts you down

You find yourself isolated from family or friends and you’re not sure why

Your boundaries aren’t respected or are completely ignored

Your partner threatens divorce for something as simple as you mowing the lawn, or uses it as a way to control you

Your partner doesn’t allow you to upset or disagree with his family, but he allows his family to upset you without limits

Your partner constantly chooses his family over you, or anyone over you

Your partner doesn’t allow you to call 911 when you feel unsafe, even from outside gunshots or imminent threats

****All of the above examples could mean you’re in an abusive relationship, but they might not. What makes a relationship abusive is that the abuse increases with severity and frequency over time.

RESOURCES ON ABUSE

Enough is Enough by David E Clark

The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans

Don’t Let Their Crazy Make You Crazy by Laurel Slade Wagoner

Podcasts by David E Clark or Laurel Slade Wagoner

Photo credit: Alex Green