There’s Just Something About Mary: The Irony of Mary

The Christmas season is filled with beautiful pictures of love, grace, peace and hope.  I especially love seeing all the nativities on display.  What could be more beautiful than a mother holding her newborn?  As I reflect on the Christmas scriptures, I’m reminded that things aren’t always as they seem.

I’m moved this year by the ironic sufferings of Mary.  We see Mary as the chosen one, the woman most blessed by God.  However with this blessing came a tremendous amount of suffering that probably even felt like a curse!

My college age daughter likes the TV series, “Jane the Virgin.”   It’s about a young girl who goes to the doctor for a routine pap smear and ends up being mistakably inseminated and just like that she is pregnant, engaged and a virgin all at the same time.   Jane has a doctor who admits the mistake.

Mary didn’t have that!  There wasn’t anyone to vouch for her except for the supernatural appearances by the angel Gabriel, only experienced by a few, but what an important few that was: her fiancé and her relative Zechariah!

Jesus’ birth was full of suffering:  a long trip at the end of her pregnancy, nowhere appropriate to stay, no medical staff to help with the birth.   Shortly after came the words of Simeon the priest, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)  “A sword will pierce your own soul.”

As a mother I have had similar feelings of a “sword piercing my soul,” and I imagine that most mothers have had similar experiences as well.   When my child has been so ravaged by sin and shame and they do not want to live anymore I feel a sword has pierced my soul.  When I watch my children deal with another broken promise and they endure more and more suffering of uncertainty of whether or not their parent will do for them what parents should do, a sword pierces my soul as I watch them suffer.

Poor Mary watched her son bear the weight of the sins of this world while dying on the cross.  She experienced unbearable excruciating pain, and yet we celebrate God’s choosing of Mary.   And, God is choosing us.

Could it be that with a calling to follow Jesus we should expect a road of suffering instead of being surprised by it?

  • Being pregnant as a virgin? Not good!   Who’s going to believe her?
  • Having a baby in a stable? Yuck!
  • Fearing Herod will kill her child and hearing stories of all the other young boys who were murdered; how did she endure?
  • Watching her son be brutally murdered even though he was innocent…

God chooses us to endure what is ahead and gives us His promise to walk with us through whatever it is that awaits us tomorrow.  God’s choice for Mary was a tough road of suffering.  I can only imagine what a joy Jesus was to raise and have in her household.   As a mom I cherish these joyful times as well.

The nativity is so beautiful and magical that I tend to forget the orders from Herod to kill every male child age 2 and under.  So, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape the massacre.  Yes, I can imagine that someone is out to get my child.   I lived with these feelings years ago when I was told to be careful with one of my kids that someone may be after them to retaliate.  I was on high alert and it was so stressful!  I don’t know the feeling of other mom’s losing their children because someone is out to get mine.  Herod died and they were able to go home.  God took care of this and Jesus lived.  God has also taken care of me and He will take care of you too.

Some of us tend to fall into depression because we cannot see beyond our suffering circumstances whether that means we have recently lost a loved one, we might be experiencing a serious health condition, we might be mourning the loss of a relationship.  Whatever the case, Christmas can bring on a whole host of emotions.  I know this well as a foster and adoptive mother.  It’s hard to celebrate when a whole host of emotions can feel like they are overpowering you from your past suffering.    Christmas can be a reminder of what we lack, but along with that is the true, pure hope that we belong to God and He has given us the greatest gift ever!   I too am His child and He will see me through and give me what I need to be who He has called me to be.

So, when the feelings of suffering come, let’s remember Mary.  She knew suffering well.  To follow God is to suffer.  To follow God is the greatest joy.  Follow Him this season and walk in irony.

It’s ok.  He is our King.

I Remember, I Remember

I remember, I remember in Guatemala my family,

They have a hard life.

My father who doesn’t have a job.

My mom sometimes cries because my father doesn’t have a job.


I remember, I remember the food in Guatemala is so different.

I make tortillas for my father.

He was happy and my mom too.

I was happy to help my family although I am so young.


I remember, I remember my friends in Guatemala;

They were good friends.

Sometimes I go to the mountains with them to play.

One day my aunt invited me to go to the cemetery to watch a gang use cocaine.


I remember, I remember my religion in Guatemala.

All my family is Christian.

Every Sunday I go to the church with my family.


I remember, I remember the school in Guatemala.

It was different.

All ages are together in the class.

I went to school for three years in Guatemala.


I remember, I remember in the desert it was scary because many people died coming to the United States.

Many immigration police were passing in the night.


I remember, I remember my first day of school.

My teacher gave me a paper in English.

I couldn’t read it.

I answered the questions in Spanish.


I remember, I remember my first day here in the U.S.

I did not like the food.

The food here is so different because I never ate meat or drank soda before.


I remember, I remember the first time I saw a black person.

I was looking for clothes in Wal-Mart.

He scared me because I never saw a black person before.


I remember, I remember I thought all white people did not know how to cook.

I thought they only ate in restaurants.

This is a poem my adopted daughter wrote her freshman year in high school.   She knew no English and broken Spanish.  Her native language is an Indian dialect called, Akateko. Despite her challenges of language and overcoming a huge amount of suffering she is now studying on a full-scholarship at Gardner-Webb University and I am forever grateful!   Grateful God brought her to me, grateful she works so hard and grateful for those who have come alongside us to be our cheerleaders.


How Missional Are You Really?/How Do We Best Choose Where to Get Involved? Part 2 of 2

How do we gauge what to do and what not to do in Christian missions?  Our resources are limited, so how do we know where the best places to put our resources are?

One test to help us answer this question is something I learned from a missionary in Nigeria.  I don’t know if this concept is unique to him or if he learned this from someone else.  All I’m saying is I cannot take credit for this as it’s not my original idea.

He shared this, “Good, Better and Best.”

We can do many “good” things for God.  We would all say that helping someone is a good thing.  But is it the best thing?  We can evaluate our “good” things and make them even better in the work that we do, but how do we know if we are doing the “best” thing?

The “best” thing is always sharing the Gospel message and pointing others closer to God.

I can do many acts of kindness, but so can someone who isn’t a Christian!  I know many kind, giving people who aren’t Christians.  What makes the Christian different than any other volunteer who serves an organization?  The difference is we have been transformed by the Gospel message and that is the very reason we have a desire to do an act of kindness.  So, we can take our good thing and make it the best thing if we share the Gospel as we go along.  We should always be ready to share the reason  for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15).

My grandfather went on several trips to Mexico years ago.  When he arrived back home he would light up when he told us how many tracts they had given away on the street corners.  This was their main task: handing out little folded papers that had Bible Verses on it. As a person involved in missions now I believe what he did was a waste of time and resources.  I know many Mexican people and have good relationships with them.  I’m well aware that some of them are illiterate.  I’m also aware that their culture is very relational.  Handing out tracts isn’t the “best” thing to reach them.

In our church we have a team that leads our church family missionally.  We constantly feel the tension between social justice and evangelism projects.  At one time some were wanting to throw out all social justice ministries and focus on evangelism alone.  This would have been a major uproar in our church family as many among us are called to the ministries of social justice.  I’ve learned throughout the years that we need to just be intentional in sharing with people no matter what the focus of the project is.   If we are serving in a food pantry, we can ask people if we can pray with them.  While some will say, “No thank you,” others will share a lot about what’s going on in their lives and appreciate a prayer.   Sometimes just asking a simple question like this opens the door for someone to hear the Gospel message.   It also is relationship building that can bear fruits in ministry later on down the road.   Someone might meet you for lunch later on for example, or you might just see them again next week when you’re volunteering.

I deeply encourage our classes and small groups to choose something and get deeply involved!   Build relationships and KNOW the people you are giving to and praying for.  This is a natural setting where our faith can be shared freely and naturally.  Adopt a ministry for a year: give to this ministry financially, pray for this ministry, encourage the ministry leaders and volunteer together in this ministry.   After a year, evaluate what God has done and remain with that ministry or choose another to walk with for a year.  Eventually a class or small group will feel so passionate about what they see God doing among them together as a group that long-term partnerships will naturally form.

We have so many of these that we have created what we call a “missional moment” of 3 minutes long for people to tell their God-stories in worship each Sunday, remind our congregation of the ongoing partnerships and ministries we have and lead our church family in corporate prayer for that ministry.   We have a great problem!  Our people feel so passionate about the ministries they are involved in that they want more and more PR time to get more people involved!   It’s a great and fun problem to have!  When our people’s faith is deepened through these missional ministries they want others to experience it too.

Our people don’t need our mission leadership team to tell them what to do or only bless the ministries our leadership team creates.  We encourage our people to live out their calling and let us know what they need from us.  This past year we had more individuals go out on mission than ever before!   This is a mark in ministry for us to celebrate that our people aren’t waiting on us to create something for them to do missionally.   They are stepping out on their own and we are blessing them, financially supporting them and praying for them as a church family.  As people see, hear and experience what God can do when we step out and try what we feel God is leading us to do others are encouraged to do the same.

Can we intentionally ask God how what you’re already doing can be made better?  Can we challenge and encourage our people to get more deeply involved beyond praying and giving?  Can we set aside funding to empower our people to be brave and try what God is leading them to do?  How can we take everything we do and make it “better” and eventually the “best” thing?  God has great things and plans for each of us.  Can we be actively seeking what that is together?  Are we asking the right questions?   Are we probing new areas?

Don’t be afraid of trying something new.   I’m always telling our people that the one who tries and fails is greater than the one who did nothing!  At least we know what NOT to do if we try something and it doesn’t work out!  It’s how we learn and get better and better at what we do.  I pray God’s blessings for you each time you step out and try!

How Missional Are You Really?/How Do We Best Choose Where to Get Involved? Part 1 of 2

The word “missional:” It’s the new thing.  Or maybe it’s on it’s way out by now?  I don’t know.   As Christians we all want to be “missional” right?  After all there’s this gnawing command Jesus gave us called the Great Commission found in Matt. 18 right?  How do I know if I’m pleasing God on mission?  What’s a missional lifestyle look like?

As a college student I was a summer missionary in Puerto Rico.  I was in awe of a man in his early 30’s who I thought at the time was the most missional person I’d ever met.  I mean, if he found someone in need he’d stop right there and help, never mind he was headed to an important meeting.  He’d stop right there and it was like the whole world just waited on him to show up. He oozed with stories of sharing the Gospel with people because he always helped, no matter the problem or moment; he stopped to help.  I remember thinking that this guy is amazing!  He doesn’t care about his earthly responsibilities as much as he cares about God and people.  This is the Great Commission being lived out!


Well, maybe not…

Some people tell me how “missional” they are because they give money every Christmas to support missionaries.  They wouldn’t even consider for a moment about not giving.  They support the people in the trenches on the field.    Is this what being “missional” means?

Others have shared stories with me about how they give, but they also pray for mission efforts and the missionaries they support financially.

Others give, pray and express acts of service in their local community.  Now, THAT’S a missional person you might say!  Someone who is involved; someone who is using their time to help people is missional.

Another gives, prays, serves and shares the Gospel message.  Oh, wait a minute!  Can one be “missional” if we aren’t sharing the Gospel message?

The transformational Gospel message of Jesus Christ is the most important thing we can ever share with anyone.  This is what it means to be “missional:” finding the best strategies through which we can share the Gospel message.

So, if what we’re involved in doesn’t share the Gospel message is it “missional” at all?

I’ve been a mission’s pastor for over ten years.   I have walked with people trying to live out their calling and mission in the world.  I have seen great moving successes and I have seen great stressful messes!  I have learned a few things along the way that I believe are worth sharing.

Hell, Who Knows?

Did you know there are three main views of Hell?  Did you know that there’s not one view or another that is considered to be totally conservative or totally liberal?  Christians are very divided in their opinions of Hell.

I sat next to a grieving man in a nursing home crying one afternoon. This man’s commitment to Christ was obvious.  His wife passed away and I found myself grieving with him.  He had a theological concern that had haunted him for years: the concept of Hell.  Through tears he cried, “Jeni, Hell just cannot possibly be forever!”  I knew his wife was a very dedicated Christian.  Who he was concerned about, I didn’t know.  I only knew this matter was causing a tremendous amount of pain for him.

Soon after this conversation, Christianity Today came out with an article outlining the various views of Hell, so I quickly shared it with him hoping to settle his soul.  “Did you know there are three predominant views of Hell?” the article asked.

One view has been staring me in the face through the first Bible verse we all learn as children: John 3:16, “shall not perish but have everlasting life.”   While I never noticed this before I sure saw it now!  Of course we all place the emphasis of this verse on eternal life in the Kingdom.  Why didn’t I ever notice that this verse might be saying something about Hell as well?

Perish means to stamp out, to not exist anymore, extinction.  My summer annuals perish after they have lived their life through the fullness of summer

The view I was taught as a child was the first view presented in the article:  1) Hell is a place of eternal suffering.  It includes fire, damnation, total separation from God and anything good, and the devil taunting you forever.

The other two views I’d never heard of are:  2) Hell is a place where one suffers for a time and then perishes.  3)  Hell is extinction, perishing.  When one dies they simply cease to exist any longer.

Of course John 3:16 can be a reference for these last two views on Hell, but not for the view I learned about a child.  Eternal suffering doesn’t include perishing.

Which view is the right one?   I don’t know.  I choose to give God my life and follow Him as best I know how so I won’t have to find out and I hope you will too.  Is our primary goal in life to be “right” anyhow?  Hell?  Nobody here knows…

What’s at the Core of Christianity?/What Do Christians Believe? One Believer’s Story and the Core of Christianity Revealed

Christians can seem to be strange people.  I remember when I met a real Christian for the first time.  A neighbor of ours had invited me to church.  I had been to church as a child a few times and I found it so boring I thought I’d die.

Here’s my story of having a spiritual awakening through Christianity:

I was probably in the 8th grade and my family agreed to visit our friend’s church.   I remember walking into a foyer feeling a little guarded not knowing exactly what to expect.  People from left and right greeted my family and I, asked our names and helped us find our way.

I remember thinking, “These people don’t know me, why are they being so friendly?”  Friendliness isn’t the right word exactly as I sensed something deeper.  I sensed they had something I didn’t and wasn’t quite sure what that was.  I thought they were a bit strange to want to befriend someone like that.   I was in Northern Virginia and people just stayed out of each other’s way there.  Everyone was on a mission to get their tasks done and most of the time people didn’t even look at one another much, much less greet someone!

Whatever was in the air of that tin building we visited made us want to go back.   I was curious to discover more about these people and what it was they had that I did not have.  We started going pretty regularly.

They had a youth group that had a lot of cute guys in it so naturally I was interested in being a part of that group!  They were mostly older than I but really liked them.

One night the youth pastor was teaching and I felt a light bulb go off in my head.  It was clear to me now what these people had that I didn’t:  they had committed themselves to follow Jesus.  They first step in following Jesus is asking for forgiveness and repenting of sins.   The next step is to thank God for sending Jesus to die and pay for the sins of all mankind.  I just needed to accept this free gift and in turn hand my life over to God and follow Him and serve Him.

The night I heard and understood this message, I returned home and prayed to God in my room asking for forgiveness, asking for help to follow Him, asking Him to take my life and guide it.  I cried and cried with joy and felt a heavy load was lifted from my soul.  I felt very different.   I know now this was the Holy Spirit coming into my life.  I wasn’t alone any longer even when I was physically alone.   God was with me.

One of the greatest differences people noticed in me was my insecurities were gone.  I cared a whole lot as a teenager about brand names.   After that experience brand names meant nothing to me.  I wasn’t defined by a brand name.  Making this decision to follow Jesus was a freeing one for me.  I mattered, I belonged, I was a child of God.

I also had sinful desires to explore certain things in life that could have been very damaging to me as a young person.  After that prayer, those desires were gone.  I didn’t change myself, God changed me.   He did that.  I only prayed in faith for God to forgive me, save me and change me.

I see many people so afraid God will take away things they enjoy.  The truth is when we go all in with God he changes our desires, we don’t have to do that!  It’s not about living a perfect life, it’s about following God the best we can with His help.

So, What’s at the core of Christianity?   What do Christians believe?

Here’s the message of the Bible in a nutshell for you in 11 sections; Christians call this The Gospel Message, or the Good News:  (This excerpt comes from

  • The Most High God is the Creator. He existed before there was anything else. He created everything on earth and in heaven and is all powerful over everything. When God began to create things, He just used His words. He spoke and everything came to being. He created angels to worship and serve Him. They were very beautiful. He also created everything we can see — the sky, land, water, mountains, oceans, sun, moon, stars, all plants and animals. Finally, He created man according to His image. God created man to enjoy all that He has created. God created everything and saw that it was good.
  • God placed the man and woman in a beautiful garden to live. They had a very good relationship with Him and with each other. He told them to take care of the garden and enjoy everything. He gave them a special command: they could eat from every tree in the garden except one. If they ate from that one tree, they would be punished and die. At first, the man and woman listened to God and had a wonderful relationship with Him in the garden.
  • One of the angels God had made was very smart and very beautiful. This angel became very proud. He wanted to be like God and to have the other angels worship him instead of God. Only God deserves all the worship and service. Therefore God cast this bad angel, now called Satan, and all the other angels who listened to him out of heaven. These other bad angels are known as demons. One day, Satan tempted the woman to eat the food from the tree that was forbidden. The woman listened to him and ate the fruit and then she gave it to her husband to eat. Both of them disobeyed God’s command. Disobeying God’s command is known as “sin.” God is righteous and holy. He must punish sin. God cast the man and the woman out of the garden and their relationship with God was broken. Human beings and God were now separated forever.  Like the first man and the woman, all people since then have sinned by not listening to God’s commands and are separated from God. The result of sin is eternal punishment in hell. We cannot live forever with God as we were designed
  • Over time, the number of people on earth multiplied. Yet God loved them very much and wanted them to have a relationship with Him. He gave them Ten Commandments to follow. Remember God is perfect and holy, so we must be perfect and holy to live with him. The Ten Commandments teach people how to relate to God and how to relate to other people. Some of the commands were: do not worship other gods or make idols; honor your parents; do not lie, steal, murder or commit adultery. However, no one was able to obey all of these commands.
  • So, when they sinned, God allowed them to turn away from their sins and offer a blood sacrifice to take the place of their punishment. This sacrifice was shedding the blood of a perfect animal like a lamb. If they would repent and offer the blood sacrifice, God would forgive them and let the animal die in their place. Only by the shedding of blood can a person’s sin be forgiven. However, people kept sinning, and the sin sacrifice became a ritual rather than something from their heart. God became tired of their insincere acts. People were still separated from God. We cannot come back to God on our own no matter what we do.
  • God loves people and wants a relationship of love and trust with them, so the time came when He sent man a perfect way to reconnect to Him. God sent Jesus to show us the way back to Himself. Who is Jesus? Jesus is God’s son, His one and only son. He became human like us: God in the flesh.
  • Even though Jesus lived as a man, He resisted temptation. He never sinned, and He remained obedient to God. Jesus had great compassion for people, especially those who had no hope. He was a wise teacher. He performed many miracles proving He was God’s Son. Jesus had power over nature, over disease, over evil spirits, and even over death.
  • Many people loved Jesus. They believed Jesus and followed Him. However, some leaders hated Jesus and they were jealous of Him. They made plans to kill Jesus. Jesus willingly allowed himself to be arrested, tried, and condemned to die. Soldiers placed him on a cross. A cross is made from 2 large pieces of wood formed together. They took His hands and His feet and nailed them to the cross. His blood flowed from His hands, feet and body. He suffered much pain and He died on the cross. Because Jesus never sinned, Jesus is the perfect blood sacrifice. He did not deserve to die, but God sent Him to die on the cross and take the punishment for the sins of man, all people. He died on the cross in our place. Only through the shedding of His blood is God willing to forgive our sin.
  • Jesus’ death demonstrates God’s love for us. However, this story doesn’t end here. After Jesus died, he was placed in a secure tomb. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead and showed Himself to His followers! He proved that He has the power over death. Then He returned to His Father in heaven. Jesus took our punishment and now provides a way for us to come back to God!
  • God wants you and your whole family to return to Him. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, and He is the only way to restore our relationship with God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” You must go through Jesus to return to God. How can you go through Jesus? You must admit to God that you have sinned against Him. You must believe that Jesus died in your place. You put your trust in Jesus to bring you back and give you eternal life as God’s son or daughter. From that point on, you let Jesus be your Master and obey His word. Do you want to let Jesus bring you back to God?
  • Jesus continues His work in the world through His Spirit and through His followers. God has set a day for Jesus to return to earth in all His glory and to judge all people. He will welcome His followers and turn away those who oppose Him. His kingdom will have no end. Until then, His followers are to pray and work together that the kingdom may come and God’s will be done on earth. We are to carry the good news of Jesus to others and serve Him in all that we do.


If you’d like to become a follower of Jesus too here’s how you can pray just as I did:

  1. Tell God you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness of your sin, and things you’ve done wrong.
  2. Thank God for sending Jesus, His son to pay for your wrongs through dying and defeating death through resurrection.
  3. Ask God to please take your life, guide your life, give it all to God.  Commit to follow God’s ways and not your own.

If you’re not ready to pray these things it’s ok to pray something like, “God, I don’t know if these things are true, please show me.”  Or something like this, “Lord, if you’re real, please reveal yourself to me.  Help me find You.”

God wants to have a relationship with us no matter what.   He wants to heal us, He wants to give us a purpose and He wants to help us to help others find this as well.  Opening our souls to something that we are unsure of is scary.  If we always let fear have its’ way we wouldn’t do much in life.   Step out in faith and I know God will move in your life.   You won’t regret it.  Each day take one more step closer.

Squelching Our Kid’s Calling

“He’s in Africa!  Boy I hope he doesn’t choose that as a career!  He’ll be poor for the rest of his life.”  I once heard a parent say.  A young person had given a segment of his year to experience missions in Africa.  His dad was a successful businessman and was telling him this was a good experience for now but it wasn’t appropriate as a career.

This saddened me and it still does today.  This young man is now a successful business man but I can’t help but wonder if his heart longs for more.  Where would he be and what would he be doing had his father encouraged him towards the mission field?

Being the parent of someone called to missions can be terrifying.  These fears are not from God.  Many times God has said to us in His Word, “Do not fear.”

When I was in high school I felt a call to missions.  At the time I assumed that this meant I’d be off on the mission field somewhere.  This hasn’t turned out to be the case for me so far.  My parents had their own fears about this when I was younger.  My mother can tell you that she cried all the way home when she left me at college saying I’d never come back home.  And, she was partially right.  Each summer I dedicated my time to Christian ministry in one place or another learning all I could take in.  Some summers I only learned what I DON’T want to be like in ministry.

Each time I left on an international team my mom was worried something would happen to me.  What I have learned in the world travel I’ve done throughout the years is that I’m far safer in most places around the world than I am on American soil!  Yes, that’s right!  RIGHT here is much more dangerous than even many Muslim countries.  In many Muslim countries you’ll get your entire hand cut off for stealing.  In Nigeria I once dropped my sun glasses.  I was shocked that a small child living in poverty brought them to me.  This child could have sold my glasses for money to feed himself and his family, but he brought them back to me and I was grateful.

Many people around the world feel honored that we will visit their land.  Some greet us in song; others shout out, “You are welcome!”  I once visited a village where a small child had never seen a white person.  We all found it amusing the child was afraid of me!

I have had far worse things happen to me here at home than while traveling on mission overseas.  This is not to say that there’s no danger overseas.  I just think we are afraid of what we do not understand.  Ignorance really isn’t bliss is it?

Should we only share the Gospel message where it’s safe to go?  Do we really think our children belong to us?  They are God’s first and foremost.  God has a plan for their lives and if we get in the “way”, yes, I’m going to be BOLD here and say it:  We are sinning.  Anytime we are preventing someone from doing the will of God we are sinning.  Isn’t that the work of the enemy?  Yes, the enemy will do whatever it takes to veer our children off task.  Lord Jesus, help us not to be on the enemy’s team because of our fear!

The best parents encourage their children towards whatever their passion might be.   This is a mark of unconditional love.  This is probably the greatest gift my parents ever gave me: the freedom to pursue what I choose and they were my biggest cheerleaders!  Parents who steer their children towards a career that’s not the choice of the child are holding their children hostage.  ALL children want their parent’s blessing.  When it’s not given to us we cannot achieve our greatest goal.

A local serviceman came to my home and as he worked we chatted about the community, friends and family.  He expressed that he has one son that has learned his trade and another who isn’t interested in it at all.  He expressed grief over the son that wasn’t interest in his profession.  I could tell his son that works with him has his blessing but the other son does not.  We shouldn’t feel that we have parented improperly because one child chooses to like what we like and another doesn’t.  All people are programmed differently and have different gifts.  We need to be celebrating this in each child and helping them along the way of whatever career path they choose, whether this is one we chose or one that terrifies us.

My mother once said to someone, “Don’t pray for the missionaries!  They’re FINE!!  PRAY FOR THEIR PARENTS!”

Many Negative Experiences as a Woman in Ministry

I recently attended a pastor appreciation dinner given by a nationwide Christian organization.  When I arrived I approached the registration table with my two sons.  The woman at the table asked, “Are you a pastor’s wife?”  I’ve heard this question numerous times while serving in ministry.  I said, “No, I’m a full-time pastor.”  The lady squirmed and flustered around trying to find my nametag and packet of info.

I sat down at the table with my boys (ages 15 and 11).  I placed myself next to my boss, our senior executive pastor, who leads a team of five pastors.   I’m one of them.  Soon after, another pastor from the same city I serve in joined us with his wife.   There was another couple at our table as well and I quickly learned that they were with the organization that was putting on the event.

The pastor from our area I have known about for about 10 years.   I remember him well because he ignores me at events I’ve attended within our denomination.   He tries hard not to acknowledge my presence.  I assumed he wouldn’t treat me like he has in the past in front of my boss because I assume he has a decent level of respect for my pastor.  I was personally mourning the leaving of this man’s associate who I have grown to respect and appreciate in the past several years.

I mentioned I was so sad to hear about the leaving of his associate to another church and went on to share what an asset his associate has been to our community.   I had met his associate at many community events and am aware of his leadership and service to others in our area.  I always thought he was such a kindred spirit and partner for good in our community.

The pastor responded something like, “Yeah, well, it’s time to move on sometimes,” and he changed the subject.  I believe I hit an uncomfortable spot for him and so he leaned over and asked my 15 year old if he plays any sports.  He took quite an interest in my kids.

A good leader, male or female, can praise the other pastors that serve with them.   I can point out many strengths of each pastor I serve with enthusiasm.  If one of them were leaving us I’d be grieving and would certainly share points of the legacy they leave us and what I have learned from them as I worked alongside them in ministry.  An insecure pastor always needs to be out front, taking credit for everything and feels threatened by the accomplishments of their staff.  I’m wondering if that is the case in this situation.

Maybe he feels threatened by my presence because I’m a well-respected person in our community and I’m a woman in ministry?  That’s what I’m going to tell myself because this man doesn’t know me at all personally.  He just knows “of” me.

Next came a special prayer for pastors.   We were asked to all raise our hands and those around us were to come lay hands on us for prayer.  Nobody came to me.  The prayer began.  I felt a hand on my shoulder.   It was one of my church members who was volunteering at the event.   Thank goodness he noticed.   I was already feeling like the black sheep in the room because of the registration table conversation.

I’ve had many experiences like these throughout the years.  This is just one small example.   I resolved long ago to not allow someone else’s ignorance thwart my calling to ministry.   I’m accountable to God first.

Let’s face it, we ladies have to know that we know that we know that we are CALLED to ministry.   There are so many barriers set in place for us that we have to be better than the men to make it in ministry.  If you’re not called, you won’t make it.

I had a moving experience in seminary while studying one day.   I felt the Holy Spirit say to me something like, “Jeni, are you ready for this?  You know there will be a lot of suffering right?   I will take good care of you and I have called you out.”   I broke down and wept and told God I’m willing to follow even if it means a road of suffering.

And suffering came soon enough.  My first experience with this was at SWBTS in a mission’s classroom.  As students we were handed a large chunk of a history book to present to the class.   My day came and I started passing out my outline to the class.   The professor said, “Jeni, you’re a good student, but I cannot allow you to present in this class because I’d be allowing you to have authority over men.  Your grade will not suffer for this.  “Next will be …”  I sat there in shock at what he said to me.   If you had told me that was going to happen to me I would have certainly come back with a strong rebuttal, but I was at a loss for words.  As we left the class that day student after student apologized to me for what the professor did.   I never reported this as I didn’t want to make a big mess.  I shook the dust off my feet and transferred to Gardner-Webb University’s Divinity School.   GWU is my alma mater and they welcomed me with open arms.

Soon after coming on staff at my first full-time ministry position there was an older lady church member that called asking if she could take me to lunch.   She told me of her excitement that they had hired a woman and how proud she is I’m working at her church.   She then expressed a concern that I was wearing pants on Sunday mornings!  She said, “It’s like a sweet little girl in a new crisp white dress carrying around an old dilapidated purse.”   “Your calling and pants don’t go together,”she said.   I explained to her that she and I would just have to agree to disagree on that one.  Thankfully this lady didn’t make a stink and we just disagreed and moved on.

Every Sunday morning we were feeding about 150 at-risk children and youth that came into the church through our bus ministry.  I was running around like crazy!   I’d at times struggle to get the kids into the sanctuary on time so I could sit on the large throne-like chair so everyone could look at us pastors up there.  I always hated that chair.   I’m just a person saved by grace like all the other people in the congregation are.   I’m not better than they are.  So, pants and flats were a Sunday morning staple for me!    Heels would have left me injured with all the running around I did on Sunday mornings.

While in this same position I soon finished my degree, graduated and began to really pour myself into ministry.   The pastor who worked with a committee to hire me was delightful and we shared many passions like at-risk kids.  A few years passed and he announced he was leaving to be closer to his wife’s family as her dad had fallen ill and they wanted to be closer to him.  The church hired a wonderful interim and the search was on.

“We don’t think he is a good fit for us,” we told the chairman of the search committee.   Their top candidate had an associate’s degree and had served 2 different churches for 2 years each.  The rest of us on staff had our Master’s degree and we saw a few concerns from the candidate’s resume.    “You’re meeting him Friday.”

We met him and decided the committee was star struck because a prominent pastor we knew had recommended him.  Staff and their families all agreed we’d vote no and we did.

In the interviewing process he stated he supported women in ministry.   He even told a story about how he’d ordained a woman once.   About 8 months passed and he gave an evaluation full of lies and accusations.  He rated me a 4 on a scale of 1-10.  That night lightning struck his house!   My co-workers (other pastors on staff at the church) and I were appalled at the evaluation he gave me.  We laughed at the lightening incident.

Soon after we were sitting in deacon’s meeting and the deacons were telling him he better not even treat our janitor the way he has treated me.

I got a Tony Campolo quote he placed in my box, something I actually agreed with!   It said something like, “anyone who limits the calling of a woman in ministry is doing the work of the devil.”  I agree with this wholeheartedly!   Anyone who hinders the work of God in anyone else’s life IS doing the work of the enemy.   I guess he thought he was giving me a quote about something I’d disagree with, I have no idea.

It soon became very clear to our pastoral team that for our new boss the end justified the means.   We’d heard about conservatives trying to come in and take over moderate churches.  This is exactly what was happening here.  He soon spread lies about me and and, thank God, my co-worker pastor friends knew these were lies.  We called him on the carpet about some of the lies he was telling and he then told another lie.  When we confronted him about lying to cover his lie his excuse was that we had “backed him into a corner.”  Major character flaw!  There’s nothing conservative about being an intentional liar.

Thankfully, I was the one who ended up with the greatest blessing throughout all of this.  God is so GOOD and He honors His promises to us!  I took a position with a kind interim pastor who saw my wounds and quickly worked to ordain me.  We’d eat lunch together almost daily to talk about ministry and life.  He saw in me what God had planted there and worked to help me heal.  Eight months later I left there to take a position that was for sure my dream job!   God knew I needed that eight months of healing.

I’ve been a mission pastor for almost 11 years now and God is so good!  I’m one of those dream stories that we maybe shouldn’t be telling our children about because not everyone is able to land a job that envelops their personal passions.  I tell my kids, “They call it work for a reason!  They don’t call it FUN!”    However, on a regular basis my job is fun!

To the young woman feeling called into the ministry I’d say:

  • Do not fear because God has a place for you if He has called you!
  • Listen to God’s voice and follow His commands and He will take care of you and even bless you.
  • Never listen to those trying to limit what God has for you in ministry. This is the work of the devil.
  • Put your feet in the doors God has opened for you.
  • Be careful and do not listen to the praise of men. Serve and please God.
  • There will be barriers, but God will always see you through!
  • Persecution only makes us stronger and solidifies our calling!

Ladies, run the race God has set before you with passion!   Let no human being thwart the plan God has for you!  Barriers can be the very thing that solidifies your calling.

The Healing Nature of Community

There’s something to be said about our connectedness or lack thereof with other human beings.  As technology advances at skyrocketing paces what’s happening to us when it comes to having a  true sense of deep community in our lives?

As a foster parent I have seen what changing the community we live in does to us as humans.  Change our community and it changes us.

Bottom line: we need each other.

Bottom line: we aren’t meant to be alone, isolated or to survive on our own.

There are movies that have sought to communicate this truth like Tom Hank’s role in Castaway.  He’s lost on an island at sea and he is so alone he creates a friend out of a volleyball and names it Wilson.  Our human need for companionship is great and runs deep in our souls.

What happens to us when we don’t have the kind of community we need?

I got a call one day about a homeless woman who was living in her van.  While I didn’t have an immediate answer to her predicament while assessing the situation I learned quickly in our chat that she had no positive, successful people in her life.  She lacked a good community.  So, we brought her into our community and today she has a part-time job and housing.  She volunteers with us in ministry and has become a part of us.  She did this on her own with the support of our community.  We didn’t try to “fix” her with a paternalistic spirit or tell her what to do.  We merely loved her, met with her, encouraged her and helped HER meet HER goals.  Community healed.

This woman didn’t need me to throw money at her, she needed a healthy community.  She needed to feel a part of something larger than herself, a sense of belonging.

A paranoid schizophrenic who has lived a life of instability came to us.  Through community she is much more stabilized and has remained in her same apartment for a few years now.  Previously she moved about every 6 months.  She feels a part of us and is connected here.  We love her and encourage her regularly.

As people come to us our people naturally reach out to lend a loving helping hand.  Our pastor recently said something like, “Having different or needy people in a church means that church is compassionate, accepting and loving.”

I have seen healing in the lives of my foster children as church members have reached out to them and loved on them. They form relationships with healthy adults and they feel special.  They get invited to special outings with these adults and they come home beaming that someone chose them to go to the movies or a ball game etc…

Many who live on the fringe of society merely lack a healthy community.  We all need to feel accepted, loved and important.  There is something amazing to celebrate in every person.

Has our culture pushed individuals further and further towards isolation?   I don’t think we have done this intentionally, but it’s just something that’s happened to us.  There are so many things we do alone: TV, movies, video games etc…   Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, in their book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, say we as a culture have a monochronic view of time.  This means that we believe “time is money.”  Tasks are so important to us!  We stand together with the UK in this concept.  All other countries however (except Japan, they’re kind of in the middle) have a polychronic view of time.  This means they believe time is limitless!  There will always be more time!  The task isn’t as important as the relationship in a polychromic culture.  People who live in cultures that have the polychronic view of time are much more community and relationship oriented.  They have a deeper sense of personal connection to others.  They feel like they belong.

Our culture views the world through the glasses of individualism.  As a result many of us are depressed and isolated.  Could a healthier solution to some forms of depression be a healthy community?

Who can you help step on the path to healing through community this week?  How can we take steps to be intentional in bringing people together?  I have seen people who have healthy community in their lives choose this over a job promotion, a bigger house, or other opportunities.  Once we find meaningful relationships we will trade it for nothing.  Who better than a healthy church to foster these relationships?

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