Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Memoirs of a Mentor

(Please forgive me for the cheesy title). I have had the tremendous privilege of serving on the Pendergraph Women's Ministry Board this year at Southern. Last night we hosted an event on mentoring and they asked me to give a brief testimony on my experience as a mentor. I decided to speak about two dear friends of mine, Brittany LaBonte and Whitney Waldemar. Below is what I said at the event. We also made decorated tables in honor of our mentors, so I did mine in honor of my mom. In the next couple of weeks I hope to blog about mentoring and what Titus 2 ministry looks like as a single woman (though I will also talk about it more generally). I hope that this testimony is a blessing and an encouragement to you today!

I used to think that discipleship was about me. As I felt God calling me to ministry I began feeling the burden to minister to other women, which was not a wrong desire. But, I thought it would work my way. And my way was a romantic idea of finding a girl to disciple. We would meet. I would see her desperate need for my help, and I would disciple her and change her life. Thankfully, God rescued me from this sinful and very wrong idea. I first met Brittany in the beginning of my senior. She was a freshman who I didn’t have any real interest in getting to know. She immediately had a lot of friends, and I, in my sinfulness, questioned her love for the Gospel because of her friends. The week before I left for Fall Break she approached me in the cafeteria. Freshman couldn’t have cars and she needed a ride home for break. I just so happened to be the only girl on our campus who lived near her house. The last thing I wanted to do was to give her a ride home. And I definitely knew God would rather me use my drive time for my personal edification—not driving some freshman home. I mean, I had already had a hard semester trying to disciple women, I needed the break. But I had no legitimate reason to say no, so one week later we were headed to Michigan for break.

God used that ride to shatter a lot of pride in my heart. I told her that we would listen to sermons on the way home (thinking that she probably wouldn’t want to do that, but I was going to put my foot down anyway), but she seemed very excited about the idea and I still remember the encouragement that I felt when I saw her pull her Bible out and take notes. She and I shared our testimonies, which were very similar, and she asked me a lot of questions about moving on from a sinful past because hers was fresher than mine. As the drive continued, the Lord began to soften my heart towards her. And the entire week that I was home I felt the Lord leading me to ask her if she wanted to meet on a regular basis.

It was after that drive that we began to meet almost every week for nearly two years. We went to church together every Sunday, we prayed together often, and I always looked forward to our rides home at breaks. God used her to break my ideologies about discipleship. God knew exactly what I needed when he brought Brittany into my life. Discipleship was not about me seeking out the girl who I thought needed the most help, rather discipleship is about me being obedient to the Titus 2 mandate that God has placed on my life. Discipleship was just as much, if not more, of a sanctifying process for me than it even was for Brittany. As I would seek to pour truth into her, I myself had to believe in and know the Gospel that I was proclaiming. We always joke about how I always have the same experiences right before she does, and God has used all of those experiences in both of us to conform us more into the image of his Son. As I grew in my relationship with the Lord, I grew in my relationship with Brittany because she and I were both striving for the same goal.

Because God changed my heart about discipleship first with Brittany, it freed me to be more intentional in pursuing ministry to women. I knew that I was discipling not because of my great intellect or righteousness, but because Titus 2 is for all of us—including me. I began working with senior high girls at my church in Minnesota after college. It was there that I met the Waldemar family. Whitney, their now 16 year old daughter, was in my small group and her parents had been praying about asking an older girl to mentor Whitney. After praying and talking about it, they asked me. We hardly knew each other, but they felt God leading them towards me. And for six months, the Lord allowed me to not only mentor Whitney, but be apart of her family as well. She and I went on a mission trip to a Jamaican orphanage this summer as a part of a team of mothers and daughters. Mrs. Waldemar and I would talk often, not only about Whitney, but about what God was doing in me as well. She was one of the primary encouragers of me coming to seminary. She was even my ride when my car broke down, and it broke down often. By the time I moved here, both she and Whitney had become like family to me. Their love for the Gospel and desire to know Christ caused me to love him more.

I can remember many occasions where I walked away from meeting with Brittany and Whitney with an intense joy in the Gospel because of what they were saying about their love for the Savior. Their walks with Christ challenged me and spurred me on to greater holiness and pursuit of Christ.

Often we feel strange talking about our discipleship of other people. We don’t want to sound self-promoting or arrogant. But this stems from an unbiblical understanding of discipleship. It is not because of my merit that I discipled women. And it is not my merit that will enable me to continue discipling women. If discipleship was about my ability and righteousness, I would be doomed. It is the Gospel that moves me to discipleship. God has commanded that we disciple younger women, even now, not because we are great but because he wants people to know him and grow in him. Titus 2 ministry is not based on merit, but on grace. And if I was not growing in my love for the Savior while I discipled these women, then there was something lacking in my life. There was not a moment that went by in my relationships with these women that I did not walk away praising God for the work that he had done in their and my lives. Discipleship is not just a one-sided effort, and there is no manual besides the Bible. Rather, it is a life-on-life relationship rooted in the Gospel.

I still talk with both Brittany and Whitney. And there is not a week that goes by that I do not miss them and long for their friendship. God was so good to me in giving me them. They were, and are still, a blessing to me, and tremendously used by God to point me to the Cross.

Thank you for your friendship, Brittany and Whitney. Not only do I consider you dear friends, but I consider you my sisters, too. Our God is good indeed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why I Hate Saying Goodbye

I have been looking forward to April and May for a while now. Not only because it means the end of school and beginning of summer, but mainly because I had visits with friends and family to look forward to. The excitement started over spring break, when I was able to go home and visit my parents in Florida for a few days—which was such a blessing. Then I knew that when I came back it would be the Together for the Gospel conference, and many friends from my church back in Minnesota would be coming-which was another huge blessing. The two biggest visits of all are that my old roommate and a friend are coming down for the New Attitude conference Memorial Day weekend and we get to go together. Then right after that I get to go home for a week and visit my parents and youngest brother again, and my brother and his wife will be there, too. I know. That’s a lot of updating, but it shows how exciting and full these two months have and will be!

Last week was a life-giving week for me as I caught up with old friends and even made new ones. And going home was so refreshing because I was able to get away, relax, and fellowship with my family. It is hard to walk away from weeks like that and not be in humble praise to God for his provision in my life.

I can hardly contain my excitement when I get to see my friends and family from far away. It’s like Christmas for me all over again. But the presents go away. Even though we have phone calls and emails, it’s not the same as having them around me to talk with and laugh with and hug.

I have been thinking about goodbyes a lot this year. Probably because I have had to say some hard goodbyes to people that I love dearly. Moving is never easy. As I have worked through the emotions of saying goodbye, it has made me think about heaven more—and why goodbyes feel so unnatural.

Each time I say goodbye to my family, or close friends, it is a reminder for me to look forward. And not just forward to months when I will see them again, but to the place where we will be together forever—heaven. Goodbyes were meant to be sad because we were never designed to say goodbye. I think that the sadness that I feel when I say goodbye is a reminder that things are not quite right here on earth. And the excitement I experience when I see loved ones is a reminder of the hope that we will one day be together again, and goodbyes will be no more. If we are in Christ, we are able to say goodbye with hope. We know that our goodbyes are not the end, even when the goodbye is lowering a mother, father, or even a child, into a dark grave plot.

The Gospel reconciles us to God and begins the restoration process of what was lost. Part of what was lost is the fact that we are no longer in unbroken fellowship with God, and each other. Death is the great separator, and the small sting of a goodbye is a reminder of that great sting. But death has no sting for us because of Christ. And even though goodbyes are sad, their sting has been conquered by our King as well.

So, to all of you that I was able to see last week, and will get to see in the near future, know that you mean so much to me and that there is not a day that goes by that I don't miss your presence in my life. And, Mom, the next time we are saying tearful goodbyes at the airport know that it’s not really goodbye. It’s just “see you later.” And for us, later means forever.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Singles and the Church

If marriage is at a record low, the logical conclusion is that we are now left with a large singles population in our churches. Chelsea commented that it would be helpful to talk about how to encourage singles in our churches. Often we are left with singles that strongly (and rightly) desire marriage, yet feel disillusioned about their usefulness due to their marital status. Depending on where you go to church, there may be only one single person in your congregation, or you may go to a church with many singles. Regardless of the amount, there is still a place for singles of all ages and stages of life to serve the body. Since I am a single, I hope to offer examples from my own experience in church.

So, how can the local church serve their singles?

  1. You can start by teaching them about the gift of their singleness. God has not made a mistake with them. And the same God who saves and keeps them knows the end of their singleness. His purposes have not failed with singles. For many, singleness is a season, not a lifetime. Yet this season is not to be seen as a “filler-period” while you pine away for Mr. or Miss Right. We must encourage our singles to see this period as a gift, and not a curse. It can be extremely painful at times, and we should not take that lightly. Rather we should point them to the truth that God is not in error in causing them to be single, rather he is lavishing his grace upon them by giving them this gift and either preserving them for the one he has for them, or preserving them for a life of unhindered service to him alone. Often this is a hard thing to wrestle through, and older, mature Christians have an opportunity to encourage and shepherd their singles by walking through this period with them. There have been times in my singleness where I have felt intense loneliness as I watched close friends and siblings get married. But it is here that I have also experienced the most joy in knowing that God has allowed me to serve in far greater capacities than I would have been able to had I been married. I have grown tremendously in this time because godly Christian people have encouraged me not to waste this gift.
  2. Once we see that this season is a gift, we must be exhorted to use our gifts for the glory of God. Singleness is not a license for selfishness, though I have found that it has been a great temptation for me to claim “my time” rather than give of my time. The single life should be filled with radical Christian service to the local church. One of the ways that local churches can serve singles is by pointing them to areas in the church where they can pour out their lives. Maybe your church needs help in the nursery, encourage a single woman to serve on a Sunday morning. Maybe you need help in your youth department, encourage a single man to join your mentorship team. There are many areas in the local church that singles can serve based on their God-given gifts, and we should encourage them towards this end.
  3. Because many of our singles desire to be married, it is extremely important that you teach us what a godly marriage is supposed to look like. We are bombarded with conflicting worldviews regarding marriage and biblical manhood and womanhood, and it is in the church through the preaching of God’s word that we are to be set straight. We should not learn marriage once we say “I do.” The local church should model it, teach it, and encourage it among their singles, because it is here that we will see the Gospel begin to change the tide regarding marriage.
  4. Teach your church to adopt singles in their church. One of the greatest blessings in my life was the amount of families that were in my life at Bethlehem. I learned so much about how godly families operate and was able to be underneath the loving protection of godly people who cared about the well-being of my soul. They were the first people who encouraged me to go to seminary, and the first people I go see when I go back to Minneapolis. There are so many ways that families and married couples can make singles feel wanted and appreciated in the local body, and sometimes it begins with a simple phone call or invite to lunch.

Singles are not an “in limbo” category of the church, rather they can be a tremendous blessing and service to the local body simply because God has allowed them to be free to do so in this season of life. We should encourage singles towards an unwasted singleness that is counter-cultural and God-centered. The church is a family, and I really learned that at my previous church. God used them to encourage me to not waste my singleness and use my gifts for the glory of God.

Yes, we had an earthquake

Early this morning an earthquake hit Louisville. I didn't actually realize we had an earthquake until this morning. I sort of felt my bed shaking, but I sleep so hard that I thought it was a dream, or thunder. But when I went downstairs this morning nothing had moved on our shelves, so I just resolved that it was a dream. But, no it was not a dream. We really had an earthquake! It was very minor, but my friend Abraham has minute by minute updates of the happenings! I must say that this has been a whirldwind of a week. Now I can tell my children that I have survived two earthquakes. (I was in a minor one when I was a baby. I don't remember it though).

An earthquake in Louisville. Who knew?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Marriage is at a Hundred Year Low

"Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage."

According to a recent study out of Great Britain love and marriage don't necessarily go together like a horse and carriage. Love seems to be riding solo, and marriage has dropped to a 110 year low in Great Britain. The Office of National Statistics reported that only 2% of single men got married in 2006, the lowest rate since recording began in 1862.

According to The Guardian, the average age of first marriages for men was 32 and 30 for women in the United Kingdom. In the United States the average age of marriage for women at 26 and the average age for men 27.

Jill Kirby, director of a policy studies center, commented that this is not surprising because the government policy has not been encouraging of marriage. But the government is not the sole cause for the lack of marriages. When the Church is silent on these issues, then the government and surrounding culture establish the worldview.

We are living in a pro-adolescent culture. Men are not encouraged to grow-up, but are expected to behave like boys and seek the next thrill, toy, or woman. Women are not encouraged to desire marriage, but are rather pushed to climb the corporate ladder and be independent. Suddenly we have adults living like kids while wielding the income and resources of grown adults. But it's not like these "kidults" are void of relationships. Instead of settling down and getting married, these up-and-comers are living together and putting off marriage. Thus, we see a downward spiral of the marriage institution.

The statistics might give us insight to the culture, but what about the vast singles culture within our churches. Are we faring any better? I praise God for the singles groups in churches that point their singles to Christ and exalt marriage. But unfortunately there are some singles groups that are more like a Friends episode then a story out of the Bible. These singles are not being prepared for marriage, but rather delayed adulthood.

Though men and women in churches may not be living together (though it is not uncommon), there is another predicament-men and women as best friends. It is the intimacy without the marriage. I have known many women who have hoped in the close friendships with male friends only to be disappointed when these men never reciprocated the feelings, but still always wanted to "just hang out."

The Church must talk about marriage like the Bible does. Marriage is not just good for the economy, or society, though this has shown to be true. Marriage is good because it was designed by God to point to the Gospel. When a godly man lovingly leads his wife, and when a wife joyfully submits to her husband's leadership, the beauty of Christ's relationship with his Bride is reflected.

Marriage can't be reduced to "the best option." God is not pleased when we choose another "option." The very fact that marriage is at such a low in England, and in the United States, is not because we aren't choosing good options, but because our churches are not speaking candidly and boldly about God's design for marriage. Ultimately, it's not about the economy and society being strengthened; it's about the glory of God being displayed in marriage. And that is what we lost when we gave up marriage.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Gender Matters Task Force

My friends in Minnesota have started a blog that, I think, will prove to be very helpful for the students that they minister to. They call themselves the Gender Matters Task Force and they are headed up by my brother and some of my very good friends from college. The GMTF is doing great things for the Gospel on the campus of Northwestern College (my alma mater) and I pray that God will continue to use them to stand firm for his design for our lives. I also pray that God uses their fervor to inspire others to do the same on their college campus.

My friend Kalli wrote an excellent post this weekend on God's design for us as women. She closes by saying:

"When we align ourselves with God’s design we must accept certain limitations. I am not man. As simple as that sounds, the implications are real and if I try to live like a man I will be greatly disappointed. We are only satisfied when we live in such a way that fulfills our purpose. Only then will the Creator be glorified and will we be truly free."

I could not have said it better, friend!

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Gospel in Revelation

When I first became a Christian I remember how difficult it was for me to read the book of Revelation. My brothers used to discuss the rapture and pre-millennialism and I would simply tune them out saying that there were more important things for me to think about. As I was reading through Revelation recently I was struck with how important it is to read this book. Often people skip over it because of the interpretive difficulties, or think that it is irrelevant to us today, or even spend an unnecessary amount of time trying to chart out the exact date of when Jesus is coming back. But what stood out to me was not the interpretations of the visions, or the meaning of the imagery, but the fact that this book has everything to do with us today—with me right now. Not only is it a sobering reminder to me that Christ is coming back, but it reminds me that with his return will come his judgment. And this judgment will fall on all of those who refuse to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

It is a hard challenge that exhorts me to care about lost people, because apart from this Christ they will face eternal judgment that our King will bring in that day. The book of Revelation should push me to evangelize because I know that these words that John is writing are true. There is a coming judgment, and it is as awful as God says it will be, and it will fall on all who do not know Christ. It also should make me weep, knowing that there will be some who never believe who will bow to Jesus under compulsion, not in worship. This is sad, indeed.

It should also make me thankful that Christ even saved me at all. Apart from his work in taking the judgment that I deserved on himself, I am just like the seven churches—lukewarm, sinful, and utterly lost. My thankfulness should not be in boasting, but in humility. It is not because of anything that I have done but by the sovereign mercy of our living God. This thankfulness has everything to do with how I live my every day life. I live for the coming King and his Kingdom, not for this world.

We can’t read Revelation and be unaffected. . If we are in Christ the marriage supper of the Lamb is about us (Revelation 19:6-9), and the judgment is about our lost friends. This book, like every other book in the Bible is holy, right, and true. Everything that it says will come to pass, we can know that for certain. And it should move us to witness to the lost people around us. It should move us to go to the nations and spread the Gospel of our Christ. All because our earnest prayer is that we want the ones who bow on that day to bow in worship, not under compulsion and anger and judgment.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Co-Ed Pastoral Retreats?

I am so thankful that God has given us an Old and New Testament that points us in a clear direction regarding how our churches should run. From the Levite priests to the New Testament apostles and early church elders, God has been establishing for us a pattern of sacrificial, godly, and bold leadership from men patterned after Jesus Christ.

However, what would you think if next Sunday after the benediction at your local church, there were a man and a woman standing together to greet church-goers and offer prayer and counsel? This is not uncommon, and we see it quite often with pastors and their wives.

But imagine if this man and woman were married to other people. And they weren't a husband and a wife, rather they were a co-pastor team leading the congregation together while their spouses sat in the pews. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical scenario, because it is becoming increasingly common in some denominations to see male/female pastoral teams serving together. Instead of reviewing the theological arguments for godly, male leadership in the church and home, I think it would be helpful to look at the practical outworking about what it means for a church to have co-pastors of the opposite sex.

Consider the pastoral team of your local church: What would happen if on the next out-of-town retreat they took a new female pastor along? Suddenly there would be a new dynamic. There would be a host of wives (and a husband) left behind with the thought that their husband (or wife) is on a retreat, wrestling through tough issues with another person's spouse. Or what if your pastoral team decided to go to the next national pastor's conference? In that case, the idea of fitting as many pastors into a room as financially and ethically possible would become complex.
Or consider a co-pastor team. The pastorate carries many burdens and weighty issues. If shared with a member of the opposite sex, who is not a spouse, it could bring an unhealthy closeness that should only be protected within the bounds of marriage. When a man and a woman as co-pastors debrief after a hard session counseling a church member, they are left alone to share together the tough emotions and triumphs of personal ministry. This opens the door to a world of practical issues with regards to husbands and wives.

The New Testament commands for church government eliminate all sorts of complexities. It eradicates an avenue for questions in the minds of spouses. Suddenly pastoral accountability isn't nearly as awkward when one doesn't need to share temptations and sin issues with someone of the opposite sex.

God has always had our best interest in mind. No matter how hard we try to ignore or improve on his design, it is never a helpful scenario when men and women serve in such a close personal relationship as co-pastoring. But regardless of the "unhelpful" nature of it, Scripture simply doesn't allow for it. It is on this basis, and this basis alone, that we stand. As we look to God's Word to direct us, we are reminded that these commands are for our good, and for his glory.

*Originally posted here