How Church Can Show the Love on Ash Wednesday

How Church Can Show the Love on Ash Wednesday

Valentine’s Day happens on February 14 every year. In 2018, that day also happens to be Ash Wednesday.

These are two pretty different holidays. Valentine’s Day mostly involves excess—cheesy love songs, over-the-top romance and elaborate gifts. Conversely, Ash Wednesday is primarily about moderation. It marks the start of Lent, when most people give up something for 40 days.

Despite these differences, there is one similarity between these two days—love. Valentine’s Day revolves around romantic love. Ash Wednesday is a solemn reminder of Christ’s sacrificial love for us.

What Does This Mean For The Church?

What is the church to do when one of our traditional Christian holidays falls on the same day as a flower-filled, Hallmark-driven, love-fest? This is actually a great opportunity to connect with those people in your community who don’t know about your church.

Ash Wednesday is an event some within the church know. For others, it’s a tradition that’s at least vaguely familiar. However, it’s not something those outside the church know at all.

The fact that these holidays fall on the same day gives us the chance to make a church tradition relevant to what society does. We have the chance to spread God’s love on a wider scale.

Connect Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day

  1. Combine your traditional Ash Wednesday service with a Valentine’s celebration; find a balance between the colorful Valentine’s decor and the humble trappings of Ash Wednesday
  2. Send out handwritten love notes to every house in a one-mile radius of your church—this could even be an opportunity to explain why we celebrate Ash Wednesday
  3. Partner with a local restaurant to give couples a discount on their date night meal if they mention your church’s name
  4. Host a relationship/marriage focused sermon series leading up to the big day that focuses on the humility of Ash Wednesday
  5. Give away relationship/marriage books that your church can read during Lent
  6. Instead of giving something up for Lent, give couples ideas of things they can start doing to improve their relationships
  7. Give your the couples in your church date night ideas—each date could start at the Ash Wednesday service so the couples can connect spiritually
  8. Host a free fancy dinner at your church for everyone in the community who can’t afford one—offer childcare so couples are more likely to attend
  9. Publish a short Lent devotional with the theme of God’s love
  10. Organize a service project to help those who don’t feel as loved in the community—encourage couples to come serve together, or singles to be a part of something that’s not all about coupled romance
  11. Post quotes about love on social media to let people know you care; then post a few verses of scripture referring back to Ash Wednesday
  12. Write words of encouragement in chalk on the sidewalks of your town—chalk isn’t the same as ash, but it’s close enough (it’ll look even closer if you use those sticks of black chalk you normally avoid).
  13. Instead of marking people’s foreheads with ash crosses, draw some ash hearts on foreheads
  14. Buy extra Valentine’s Day cards and flowers to give away to any of the busy significant others who forgot at the last minute—they can pick them up while getting their foreheads ashed

What is your church planning on doing this February 14?

What Do I Hope 2018 Brings For My Marriage?

What Do I Hope 2018 Brings For My Marriage?

The end of the year provides us with the opportunity to evaluate our year and our marriages. While we should certainly seek to grow all year long, the end of the year provides that good reminder to take stock on the last year.

What can you do to not coast in your marriage in 2018? How can you make 2018 a year of growth—not a year where you plateau or even decline?

A few questions to ask each other

  • Is our marriage better, the same, or worse than it was a year ago? Why?
  • What do we want our marriage to look like?
  • Who are some couples we admire and can learn from? What do they do that makes their marriage stick out?
  • What are some specific actions steps we can take to grow our marriage?
  • Where are some specific areas where I’m just coasting in life and in marriage?
  • What will we focus on in the next 12 months of our marriage?

I also want to leave you with a few suggestions of practical steps you can take to grow your marriage. If you’ve read my blog for a few months, you’re not going to hear anything new. In fact I’m reminded often, there’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Most of the time we don’t have a knowledge problem. We know what to do. We have an application problem—we don’t do what we know we should do. I hope this post reminds you of what you already know and spurs you on to do it!

1. Continue to date each other

Recently, Kristen and I went to dinner and then a concert together. We laughed, ate some good food, and enjoyed five hours away from our kids, email, and routine. We know if we’re going to grow, we need to make our marriage a priority.

2. Pursue Jesus together

We don’t do a great job of this in our marriage as a couple. We each spend time with Jesus in His Word and in prayer, but we don’t often share what God is teaching us. I know if we’re going to grow and not just coast we need to grow in spiritual intimacy.

3. Pursue each other

My friends Ryan and Selena Frederick are starting a 31-day challenge in January for married couples. They’re going to lead other couples through their 31-day pursuit books (Husband in Pursuit and Wife in Pursuit).

4. Commit to being a learner

Live with your spouse in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7). I hope I never grow tired of learning more about my wife. Be a student of your spouse, ask them questions, pay attention to what they like and dislike.

My friend Kyle says he never needs to ask his wife what she wants for Christmas because he pays attention to her all year long. Can you say the same?

5. Communicate and resolve conflict

I struggle with this one, just like most other couples. I keep trying to apply Proverbs 18:2 to my marriage:  “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” God, please help me to not be a fool. Help me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19). Lift my wife up with my words and never use them to tear her down or win an argument (Ephesians 4:29).

I have some friends who make it a point to have a significant conversation every day when the husband gets home from work. They have several kids, but still make it a priority for some husband-wife conversation time. Their kids know to leave them alone and give them some couch communication time.

Another couple has their kids wash the dishes after dinner while they go sit in another room to catch up with each other. Yes, this works better for those families with older kids, but you can probably start sooner than you realize.

6. Be on mission together as a couple

I won’t spend much time on this one since I just wrote about it a few weeks ago. What can you do as a couple to be on mission together in 2018?

Do not grow weary my friend. Don’t coast in 2018. I’m praying for you and I hope you’ll do the same for me.

What one thing can you apply that you read in this post?

Reposted with permission. Read original post here.

3 Keys to Leaving Work at Work

3 Keys to Leaving Work at Work

A Brief Confession

I have a short list of confessions to make as I write this article on work/life balance.

  • I believe balance is overrated and rather boring. A perfectly balanced see-saw doesn’t go anywhere. We are incomplete without the ups and downs of circumstances. We learn to lean in, to share strength with others, to trust, to breathe. God reveals Himself fully in the ups and downs. He is our balance.
  • I know there are seasons in every life that are “all-in” moments where extra amounts of grace are extended, extra reserves of energy are discovered, and extra helpings of caffeine are welcomed.
  • I am a workaholic who comes from a long line of workaholics. My grandfather neglected time with his family because “things just needed tending.” My dad found solace in alcohol and prescription drugs to deal with the stress of “never enough time to do it all.” I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder almost two decades ago, in the midst of one of the most successful chapters of my career. For me, every season was an “all-in” out-of-control rodeo ride on that see-saw.
  • I’’m writing this while sitting in a recliner in my flannel pajamas. I no longer work in a traditional office setting. Working from home definitely has its benefits. But leaving work at work becomes even more challenging when it lives with you.

Search Google for “time management tips” and you’ll see 365 million possibilities. No matter the vocation, finding ways of doing good with our lives while we do good with our hands is something we all long for. I’’m still learning, but there are a few things I’’ve discovered along the way— on keeping work at work.

1. Time

Time can be such a threatening word in a world that never seems to have enough of it. One of my favorite ways to make the most of the days I’’ve been given is to use my calendar for more than scheduling meetings and project deadlines.

I make appointments with myself, blocking time for strategizing and goal-setting, reading and research, and tackling administrative tasks. I even block time to simply enjoy time with others—to catch up with colleagues over coffee or to serve someone in need.

I’’ve found that the task list seems to get done when it’s transformed into bite-sized chunks on a calendar. The focus moves from “there’s so much to do” to “this is what I’m going to focus on right now.”

2. Focus

Focus is often thwarted by things like anxiety and stress. The calendar is one way to help with the focus. But there’’s something else I’’ve found that helps me rightly focus the day before that calendar chirps its first appointment.

My day begins with worship. Most mornings, I’’ll read scripture, journal my thoughts, and spend time in honest, gut-level prayer. I’’ll admit, there are some days the prayers are happening in the shower and the scripture is a song on the radio.

Quiet time isn’’t a revolutionary thought at all. But it’s often the first thing that’s pushed to the side when the days are full— and all those around us feel the impact of that sacrifice.

3. Sacrifice

The word sacrifice jarred me to my core as I sat in the doctor’s office and heard the words, ““You are not OK.””

I thought about my husband and son, about my family and friends. I thought about the staff that trusted me to lead them. About people who trusted me to serve them. And I thought about God—, the very One I had said was my Lord and my Guide.

For every “what” I was willing to sacrifice to do everything well while never having enough time to get it all done, there was a “who.” My own unwillingness to leave work at work caused everyone around me to carry the load.

My own all-in, out-of-control rodeo ride revealed my disregard for others. I thought about my heritage, and the history I didn’’t want to repeat.

So I learned— —to invite others to ride on that see-saw with me, to help me lean in and share strength and trust and breathe. I have a trusted group of souls who ask the hard questions about my focus and my time.

I ask permission rather than forgiveness of those who are closest to me in the necessary seasons of all-in. And I’’m embracing the power of confession from James 5:16: “Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and wonderful results.”

Ronne Rock finds joy in helping people discover their true story. A former church communications director and corporate marketing executive, she now shares her more than 30 years of leadership prowess with churches and other faith-based organizations, and she travels the world to curate story that changes stories. Ronne narrates life with words and imagery, and finds the redemptive threads that inspire others to action. Connect with her on Facebook  and via Twitter or Instagram, and read her stories at http://RonneRock.com.

Reposted with permission. This article originally appeared here.

How to Minister to Couples Struggling with Infertility

How to Minister to Couples Struggling with Infertility

They sit in your services every week. They worship alongside you. They listen to your sermons. They serve Christ with hearts crushed by the weight of an empty cradle. They are infertile.

The heart of God is touched by infertility. Marriages affected by it are found throughout the Bible: Abraham and Sarah, Elkanah and Hannah, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Marriages touched by infertility are also found throughout our churches. One out of every eight married couples struggles with unwanted childlessness. How do you minister to those who are hurting and sometimes overlooked?

Allow me to share some practical ways to help.

Be Sensitive

Be sensitive on hard days like Mother’s’ Day and Father’s’ Day. Pray for couples who desire to be parents.

If you give gifts to moms and dads, have a gift available to those struggling with infertility and loss—. Perhaps a card sharing how you pray for them: strength on hard days; timely encouragement; healing for diseases that affect conception; healing for grief over losses; strength for marriage.

Understand their Grief

Many infertile couples experience miscarriage. Minister to married couples as if they were grieving a two-year-old. The death of a child at any age is a devastating loss.

Never say: “You can always have another baby.” Even if they are blessed with a home full of other children, they will always grieve this baby.

Host a Memorial

Host a memorial service honoring and remembering miscarried and stillborn babies to the married couples in your community.

Protect Their Hearts

Protect hearts that are already hurting. Don’’t ask women who are infertile—or who have miscarried—to host baby showers or help with Mother’s’ Day events.

Create a Small Group

Launch a small group for couples who are walking through infertility.

Discuss tensions that can grow between husbands and wives and ways to communicate through the process. Discuss grief, doubts, and God’s faithfulness. And consider opening it up as a community-wide group.

Recognize the Cycle

Remember that infertile couples grieve anew every 28 days, when another cycle signals another failed attempt at conception.

As leaders, you’re familiar with Philippians 4:13, yet ministry begins with verse 14: “Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction,” (NASB).

Certainly, God gives infertile couples strength to ride that 28-day roller coaster of expensive medications, doctor’s appointments, and anxiety, not knowing until the end of the ride if they will be released or confined for another 28 days.

Nevertheless, when you walk alongside couples struggling with infertility, when you make a difficult season a little less isolating, when you share their affliction, you have done well.

Beth Forbus, founder of Sarah’s Laughter: Christian Support for Infertility & Child Loss, has written three books on infertility and loss, including an Infertility Bible study for groups. If you have questions about launching your own infertility ministry, please email her at beth@sarahs-laughter.com. For more info, including daily devotions, please visit www.sarahs-laughter.com.

7 Ways To Protect Your Sabbath

7 Ways To Protect Your Sabbath

Sabbath is a hard word for some pastors. Many pastors struggle in this area.

In fact, many pastors I know who would teach their church to observe the Sabbath, seldom do so personally. This fact alone is one of the leading causes of pastoral burnout.

Protecting my Sabbath has proven to be crucial in protecting my ministry. I observe my Sabbath day on Saturday most weeks. It’’s my day with Cheryl. It’’s not a day where I do nothing. That’’s not how I rest. It’’s a day where I do what I want to do.

On my Sabbath, I don’’t work. I play. I rest. I recharge. I clear my head and prepare for the week ahead.

Here are seven ways to protect your Sabbath:

1. Recognize the value –

I have to realize there is a reason to observe a Sabbath. It’’s almost like God knew what He was doing. If I value it enough, I’’ll make it a priority. The value of a Sabbath is not only for myself, but it aligns me with God’’s design for mankind. “

On the seventh day, He rested”. Have you read that somewhere? We were created with a need for the Sabbath. That makes it valuable.

2. Make it a priority –

Not only do I value the importance, but I make it a priority in my week. As important as any other day, my Sabbath is a must do part of my week.

A Sabbath is good for the pastor, the pastor’s family and the church. That’’s worth prioritizing.

3. Place it on the calendar –

The Sabbath needs to be planned in advance. If you think it’’s going to happen when you “catch up”, you’’ll never take a Sabbath.

Depending on the size of your staff or the demands of your church, your day may not be the same as mine. Choose a day that works best and calendar it regularly.

4. Trust others –

One of the leading reasons I hear for pastors not taking a day off is that they don’’t have anyone who can handle their responsibilities. This is especially true in churches where the pastor is the only staff member.

Regardless of staff size, pastors need to surround themselves with some healthy people and take a risk on them. I delegate well so that when I’’m gone I know things will continue to operate efficiently.

Ultimately when I honor my Sabbath, I’’m demonstrating that I trust God. After all, the plan was His idea.

5. Discipline myself –

I just do it. I make myself take a day off. (You should consider this discipline!)

Now, here’’s the hard part of that. In addition to saying “Yes” to yourself, you have to discipline yourself to say “No” to others. Without a doubt, if you try to protect a day there will be multiple invitations, seemingly good opportunities, and non-emergency interruptions. It will happen.

You’’ll have to continually help others (and yourself) understand the value in this discipline. It’’s part of being a healthy pastor. And, I assume, most churches want that.

Frankly some will never understand the value in your Sabbath (even if they see the value for themselves). But they will also be the first one to complain if you aren’’t performing at your best in other areas of your ministry.

6. Prepare for it –

I have to work hard prior to a Sabbath so I can comfortably take it without reservation. That means I handle any details I can in advance.

Whether a pastor works five or six days a week, (I personally work six) it is important to work hard and smart enough where there is no guilt in taking your deserved and commanded sabbath.

Not trying to be cruel here, but if you are not finding time to take a Sabbath, it could be a planning and organizational problem as much as it is a demand of your time problem.

7. Learn to enjoy

Some pastors, like me, are not wired for a Sabbath. I realize some people have no problem taking a day off, but I honestly would work seven days straight if no one stopped me. There’’s always plenty to do.

I’’ve learned, however, that I function better the other six days if I have one day that I’’m not working. It’’s been a challenge to maintain it, but I now truly look forward to the rest. It’s proven to be as important for my wife as it is for me. When she’’s happy, I’’m happy.

What Do You Think?

Now, please understand, there are no perfect plans. This works most of the time for me, but not all of the time.

There are, of course, exceptions, interruptions, and Kingdom opportunities, which cause me to not be able to protect every Sabbath day. (Jesus had those too.) As much as is possible, however, I stick with this plan. When it is interrupted, I will make up the time with some extra time away. I try to get my downtime back at some point. It’’s that important to me now.

Are you protecting your Sabbath? Be honest. The strength and success of your ministry may depend on it.

Reposted with permission. This blog originally appeared here.

Why Many Church Leaders Struggle With Their Faith

Why Many Church Leaders Struggle With Their Faith

There’’s a secret many leaders won’’t readily tell you. One of the most difficult aspects of Christian leadership is keeping your relationship with God fresh and alive. It’’s amazing to me that a frequent casualty of Christian leadership is a leader’s personal walk with God.

I have had to regularly engage this battle for two decades now. So have so many leaders I’’ve talked to. I realize if I don’’t engage the battle, I’’ll lose it. How does it happen?

The Struggle Starts Innocently Enough

Drifting away from the God who loves you happens innocently enough:

  • You start out in ministry with enthusiasm and passion.
  • You get ‘burned’ a few times by people and the challenges of leadership. Your heart grows a little hard.
  • You confuse what you do (your work) with who you are (a follower of Jesus). The line between what is personal and what is vocational become blurry.
  • You end up cheating your personal devotions by reading the passage you’’re working on for Sunday. Or not reading much scripture at all.
  • You end up so focused on strategy and execution that the mystery and supernatural aspect of Christian leadership gets lost.
  • The services you lead become technical and clinical rather than life-giving and awe-inspiring because you’’re focused on executing them well.
  • You find yourself singing words that used to mean something and preaching words that once sounded more personal and alive than they currently do.
  • You still believe in your head, but you’’ve lost your heart.

I have drifted into or close to that territory in seasons, and as soon as I do I realize it’s a terrible and unsustainable place to be in, let alone stay in.

A Searing Question

I have tried to keep this issue front and center in my life because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who gains the world (or even a small slice of it) and loses his soul. A few years ago I landed on a question that forces me to be 100% honest about where I am with God.

The question: If I wasn’’t in ministry tomorrow, what would be left of my faith?

In other words, if ministry came to a dead halt:

  • Would I still passionately love God?
  • Would I have lots left to pray about?
  • Would I want to lead people to Jesus?
  • Would I wake up grateful?
  • Would I still confess my sin?
  • Would I live out of an overflow of my relationship with God?

If the answer to these questions is “I’’m not sure” or “no,” I have a problem.

And so, I try to foster a personal relationship with God that runs independently of anything I do in Christian leadership. I try to remember that God loves me, not what I produce. That in the end who I am matters so much more than what I do.

So What Helps?

There are several components to staying healthy spiritually over the long term. You need a close circle of friends for support and accountability.

  • You need to pray.
  • But here’s what I find. It’s so simple you might dismiss it, but I can’t. It’s just always true:
  • The more I engage the Scriptures, the more I engage God.
  • When I read the Bible personally, I grow closer to God. When I skip or skim, I don’t.
  • And this is also the area in which I find many leaders and so many Christians struggle.

Whatever you do, keeping your relationship with your Saviour fresh and alive is critical. After all, if your relationship with God dies, you lose your authority to lead, not to mention your passion and joy.

What has helped you? What would you add?

Reposted with permission. This article originally appeared here.