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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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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

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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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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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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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Geeked Out On Reading

7 Questions About Reading

1. What did you think of reading as a child?
Readers were considered geeks when I was growing up. I loathed having to read or do reading comprehension in school. Maybe it was because I was such a slow reader. But occasionally, when reading novels in school, I found myself actually enjoying it! I’d find myself pondering how I too, could convince my friends to do work, like Tom Sawyer did. I didn’t start reading regularly until I was 17. It happened after reading the book “I Dare You,” by a man who founded a leadership camp. From then on, I read nearly one book a month.

2. When did you consider yourself to be a reader?
I still never considered myself much of a reader, because I didn’t read novels. But then I started occasionally reading children’s novels in my adulthood and loved them! Recently I heard that you can still be a reader, even if you don’t enjoy novels. That’s it! I suddenly realized after nearly 20 years of reading non-fiction, that I am a proud reader. It just so happens that my favorite genre is non-fiction! I read to learn!

3. Do your children love reading?
One of my favorite joys in parenting has been passing onto my children a LOVE for books and reading. None of them can actually read yet, but they often fall asleep looking at pictures books.

One day, I was tired of reading picture books to them, also sick and laying on the couch. I picked up a children’s chapter book, Pollyanna, and started reading it aloud to them while they played with their toys. They LOVED it! And I loved it too! That started our reading of chapter books together. Confession: this is likely my second favorite genre.

4. What are some reading goals you have?
This year, I have the goal to finish on average one chapter book a week. We’re nearly half way through the year and I’ve actually finished 21 books, praise God! Audiobooks, folks, is a game changer, btw! I still love to hold a book and turn the pages, but audiobooks are so great for driving!

So I have a few friends who love reading even more than me. Like one friend, is going to read 100 chapter books this year. She did it last year too! She’s already up to 57! She’s a mom of three and one is a baby. They inspire me to read more and often make great book recommendations. I also love chatting to these people about books they’ve read.

5. Do you gift books?
ALL THE TIME! I’m totally that person that says, “oh, you’re dealing with that? There’s a book on that…” Even with kids I’ve started asking parents what the kids like and then buying their kids books related to that for their birthdays. I’m a firm believer that you can never have too many books.

6. How do you read? (All at once? Bits and pieces?)
I like to take breaks in the middle of my reading in order to think on what I’ve read and let it really sink down. I’ve never been one to read a whole book in a couple of days.

7. How do you read the Bible?
I read the Bible all different ways. Currently, I’m reading through the Bible in a year with our church. I also read through books of the Bible with my children. And of course, Precept Bible studies are my favorite way to study the Bible. So overall, I try to read my Bible daily (but I definitely don’t do it perfectly).

So that’s MY story about getting into reading, but what’s yours?

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Christmas Letter

A lot has happened these past couple years to give us reason to fear. Fear tends to be associated with words like scary, terrifying, anxious, afraid. However, the Bible also associates fear with love, power, and reverence. Multiple times within the Christmas story, people had fear when they encountered God, an angel, or the Angel of the LORD. Seeing power produced fear. Yet they were all told not to fear. Why?

“See the face of God and die,” as the saying goes (Exodus 33:20). But something besides that saying caused the godly people to fear. When an angel appeared to Mary, “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God’” (Luke 1:30). Why would we fear God if we are doing what He commands? He would find favor with us.

When Christ was born, the angel told the shepherds not to fear because he had good news (Luke 2:10). Could it be that an encounter with God, though scary in itself, might actually bring “good news?”

Zachariah was gripped with fear and disbelief so much that he lost his voice for a time after seeing an angel (Luke 1:12). He lost his voice due to “unbelief.” Yet, God has the power to do that, right? How much more faith did Zachariah have after that encounter because He personally experienced God’s power through taking His voice away for a short time? When God gave him his voice back, he praised God (Luke 1:62-66).

Every godly person in the Bible who had an encounter with God (or His angel or the Angel of the LORD), was afraid, initially. They feared because they knew the power God had over their lives, the power of life and death. The Creator of the universe and of their very being, stood before them (Genesis 1). Then, after seeing the Lord or His angel, Mary, the shepherds, and Zachariah praised God fearlessly.

Application

So what do we do with all this? First of all, we are to fear God and nothing (or anyone) else because He has all authority and power in all of existence (Matthew 28:18-20). Since we are commanded over and over to fear God, getting rid of all fear is not the goal. Rather we must realize that our fears are misplaced. Instead of fearing man or circumstances or the future, we must fear God and God alone. We should only fear the One who has ultimate power and authority over everyone and everything in the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20).

When we choose to trust God with our very lives, we might still have some fears. When we choose to trust Him with others’ lives, some fear might remain. And loves us perfectly.

The other reason we need not fear is because God is holy and perfect and loves us perfectly. The same God who Created the universe, loved you so much that He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus, as a baby, to live a sinless life, die a criminal’s death, and rise to life three days later (John 3:16). He loves you so much He gave His life for you! And if He defeated death, He’s big enough to handle whatever you’re facing right now (Hebrews 2:18).

Then lastly, if we truly fear God, we will obey Him. Fear in the Bible is often mentioned in conjunction with obedience to God. “Fear and obey God” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). And it’s also often mentioned in conjunction with loving God. Fear, obedience, and love for God all go hand in hand. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love, power, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Therefore, to know God, to love Him, and to obey Him, IS to fear Him, and Him ALONE!This Christmas… As fears creep in and anxiety mounts, let’s instead remember Who we are to fear and cast all our anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7). The only One to fear, is God. Since fear is associated with power and God is the most powerful of them all, of course we should fear Him. It would be disrespectful and quite frankly, unbiblical, to do otherwise. To know God is to fear Him. To love God is to fear Him. If we do not fear Him, we are denying His power and disobeying a frequent Biblical command.

FAMILY UPDATE

N started pre-K and is loving it.

H had a helmet for 5 months.

P has been talking all year.