Category Archives: Christian Life

What Does a Pastor Do?

This month is Pastor Appreciation Month, a time where you can reflect on what you pastor does and how he serves the church. However, many times I get the question, “What exactly does a pastor do?”

Usually our work titles explain what we do. Doctor? They work with patients and healthcare. Teacher? They work at a school teaching kids. Secretary? Works in an office and usually handles office work and telephones. But what does a pastor do, other than preach on Sundays?

This is a good question, one I’ve even been asked even by close family members. What does Dan do every week? Does it really take five days a week to come up with a sermon for Sunday?

So I thought I would share a little of what Dan does (and probably many of your pastors) every week.

Sermon Prep1) Study God’s Word and prepare a sermon. Dan usually plans his sermons months in advance, digging deeper into the series and the particular sermon as the Sunday draws near. This includes praying, studying the Bible, studying context, browsing commentaries and other writings on that particular topic or verse(s), finding illustrations, and praying some more.

2) Strategic Planning. A pastor doesn’t just preach every Sunday, he leads the church, usually in conjunction with an elder board. This means asking where is the church going? How are they reaching their community? How are they reaching the people already part of the church? How are they teaching and equipping their people? These are just a few of the questions he asks. Then he works with the elders and staff on how to answer these questions. If you’ve ever walked into our church and seen the whiteboards in the backroom, that’s Dan’s brain on strategy 😉  And not only is he asking these questions, he is in constant prayer about where God wants the church to go. After all, it’s not his church, it’s Christ’s church.

3) Meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. Dan meets with his staff every week to find out how they are doing, both in their ministry and personally, both as a group and individually. He cares about the people who serve the church and wants to help them in any way he can along with praying for them. He also meets with other pastors to encourage them, talk about the church community, and discover new ways of doing ministry. And he meets with the elders, to share his heart with them, to encourage them in their leading, and to work together to lead the church.

4) Counseling. Pastor means “shepherd” and as a pastor that means helping those in the congregation. Almost every week Dan meets with people who are struggling with their marriage, parenting, or life in general. He talks with them, shares what God’s Word says, and prays with them and for them. Trust me, this isn’t always an easy thing to do, to get involved in people’s messy lives, but when I watch Dan interact with people, I am amazed at his patience and love with those who are hurting.

5) Church events. Whether that is leadership training for small group leaders, teaching a class during an evening, or meeting with newcomers after church over pizza.

6) Pastoral care of church members. Sometimes this means conducting weddings, funerals, or hospital visits.

Praying hands7) Prayer. Dan prays a lot. If you didn’t notice, almost all the points up above have some aspect of prayer. Dan is always on his knees for the church. I know, I’ve walked in on him on his knees, praying, even sometimes in tears.

This is just a glimpse of what a pastor does. Along with his daily and weekly duties, he also strives to walk with God. A pastor must be Biblically qualified to lead the church. 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 lay out the character and lifestyle that a pastor/elder should exemplify. Not perfectly, but walking with God in humility. (I share more about church leadership here).

Many pastors also go to seminary or a Bible school to gain more training in theology, doctrine, etc.. as well as how to lead a church. Some have a master’s degree, some have 2 master’s degrees, and some even have a doctorate. This is not so they can show how smart they are, but so that they can accurately teach God’s Word.

The pastor’s family also serves by giving their husband and dad to the church so he can serve. Now I’ve seen unhealthy examples of where the dad/husband is never home because he’s always serving the church. That is never good for the family or the church. Instead, a healthy church/pastor family relationship is built on the understanding that there are times the church needs daddy and there are times the family needs daddy home. I wrote an article about the relationship between the pastor, his family, and the church here).

Sometimes a pastor gives up financial stability to serve the church. Most pastors are not in ministry for the money (and if they are, that’s a big problem). But many pastors, for all of their qualifications, education, and years of experience, make very little compared to most professions that require the same. They do this to serve the church. However, a pastor sometimes walks the line between living on the resources provided by the church and providing for their family (I share my thoughts about doing what you love for a living here).

In the end, the life and service of a pastor is not easy. Much is expected of him. He wakes up thinking and praying for the church, he goes to bed thinking and praying for the church. He gives of himself, his time, his resources, everything he is so that he can shepherd the people God has placed under his care.

Because of that, pastors need your prayer and support. You may never know the pressure they are under or the battles they are facing.

I would encourage you this week to say thank you to your pastor and tell him how much you appreciate what he does. I know from experience how much a word of encouragement can mean to a pastor 🙂


Moments of Wonder

A week ago I was at a friend’s house celebrating the Fourth of July. With dusk came the fireflies (or lightning bugs as they call them here in the Midwest). Having spent most of my life in the Northwest, I rarely saw a firefly, let alone hundreds of them. But here on a warm, summer evening you can find them glittering above the grass and bushes just as the sun sets.

I was captivated by the hundreds of little sparkling lights, so much so that I wasn’t even paying attention to the fireworks. My friend noticed. “Don’t lose your wonder,” he told me. At first I didn’t understand what he meant, then I realized he was referring to the fireflies.

How many of us “grow up”, move on, and in the process lose our wonder of the small things around us?

I spent the next day thinking of all the things that awe me: the peaceful sound of rain hitting the window panes, a thunderstorm blazing across the open plains, a cat’s purr. Newborn babies, gardens, the scent of a flower, the sound of the ocean’s waves.

It is in these moments of wonder I see the fingerprints of God. They connect me to my creator.

I can still be distracted by all the busyness and demands of being an adult, a mother, and a writer. But I don’t want to lose my wonder.

How about you? What are moments of wonder for you?


Sometimes There are No Answers for Why Things Happen

I like answers. I want to know why something works, what happens when you do X, and how can I get the best outcome. I tend to get to the point, whether it has to do with work, solving a problem, or with relationships (about drove my husband mad with this early on). So when life doesn’t compute, I want answers.

Unfortunately, sometimes there are no answers for why things happen.

I struggled with this over the past year. Most of the time I can find an explanation on why God allows something to happen. You know, the usual answers: to grow us, to prepare us for a greater blessing, fill in the blank. But none of those answers seemed sufficient for the pain and tears shed over the last several months. I wanted to know why. I wanted a reason so I could close those doors, heal, and move on.

Did God let Dan lose his job because He has something better planned? Why did it feel God was leading us to church plant, to then not have it work out? Why do bad things happen to people who want to follow God?

I will admit this past year shook my faith to its very core. I could feel the darkness closing in on me. I cried out to God, but couldn’t seem to hear Him. I felt alone and spiritually cold.

Now some people will say you should never question God. I believe it’s better to be honest with God. David was honest with God in the Psalms. Jeremiah the prophet was honest with God. God knows my heart and can see the hurt and confusion already inside. Through honesty comes truth. And with truth comes answers.

A couple weeks ago, I had my answer: that sometimes there are no answers. I could feel in my heart that God had been patient with me, but it had come to the point that I needed to let go. I would not have the answers for why things happened the way they did this year. Why? Because God is God and I am me.

In that moment, I caught an awe and terrifying glimpse of God. I forget how much bigger, how much smarter, how much more God knows than I do. He is running this entire universe, watching over every life, creating divine intersections, moving things along on a scale that I can’t even comprehend. So when He says that all things work together for good (even if I can’t see it), He does and I need to trust that. And I need to let go.

I may have my answers someday, perhaps in heaven. But I have a feeling that by then I’m not going to care. Why? I’ll finally be in God’s presence and that will be all I need.


*I wrote this back in 2011 a couple months after Dan was abruptly let go from a church we were serving at. I still have no answer as to why it happened, but for those of you going through dark times, I can tell you healing does come when you let go of your need for answers and move on, your hand in God’s hand.

Following God is not a Game

I like games: board games, video games, outside games, indoor games, you name it 🙂 But I play games, they are not my life. They do not dictate my life, they do not help me make choices. They are there when I need a break or want to do an activity with someone. I think everyone would agree games are there to be played, but then you walk away and go back to living life.

I think people treat their walk with God the same way. They pull out their Bible once in a while, attend church every couple weeks, and pray when something bad happens. God’s Word is a list of things that—if you feel inclined—you can follow. But if they gets in the way of your happiness or what you want to do right now, then you can toss them out.

My friends, following God is not a game. You are all in or you are all out. Now that doesn’t mean you don’t slip up, that you never sin again. When we walk, there are moments we trip and stumble. But we don’t stay on the ground. We don’t turn around. We get back up and take more steps, each step drawing us closer to Christ-likeness.

There is a reason Jesus repeatedly told His followers to take up their cross and follow Him. To not look back. To be hot, not lukewarm. Following God is hard. It means denying yourself, even dying to yourself. It means putting His words above everything else in your life. It means actually doing what He says, not just when it suits you.

There have been times in my own life that I haven’t wanted to go on. The grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. Why should I suffer if I don’t have to? Other Christians are doing their own thing and still following God. Why can’t I?

Here’s the thing. Are they really following God? When a person runs a marathon, they don’t go off in their own direction, they go the way of the race or else they aren’t really in the race. Same way with following God. He is going one direction. Are you going the same way? Or your own way?

Following God is not a game, it is a life commitment. How about you? Are you tempted to just follow God when it’s easy? How do you overcome that and keep on going?




True Beauty

This is a post I wrote a couple years ago shortly after I had the twins. I’m revisiting this because lately I’ve been struggling with my outer appearance (yes, I actually do sometimes) and it helped to reread something I wrote years ago. Hopefully you will find it encouraging too.

If your morning is anything like mine, you do the following: look into a mirror, evaluate the work that needs to be done and start pulling out the necessary equipment needed to transform the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. And there’s nothing wrong with that (trust me, after being up all night with twins, I would scare people by the way I look in the morning). But a thought hit me the other day that I would like to share with you.

How many of us wish we could change one part of the way we look? Perhaps it’s your hair, your legs, your face, fill in the blank… Unless you’re really rich and can afford plastic surgery, the best makeup, and constant visits to the beauty salon, you’re stuck with what you were born with (and for those of us with short legs, science has yet to figure out how to make them longer).

FlowerBut there is a part of you that you can change. It’s what’s inside of you. God calls it “unfading beauty”. Eventually your outer body is going to age. You can color your hair, but someday it will be white. You can wear color contacts to get the eye color you always wanted, but someday those eyes will be hidden behind a pair of glasses or whiten with cataracts. You use every cream that promises to forestall wrinkles, but eventually they catch up. And your weight will change, especially if you have children (trust me, I know; been there, done that). Our bodies are fading beauties. Like flowers, we bloom. But then the petals droop and eventually fall off.

So since we really can’t change what we look like on the outside, we should start investing in that which we can change: our inside. Any woman can do it. It doesn’t require a lot of money. Just time with God, time in the Bible, and a change in our perspective of what true beauty is.

So what is this true beauty that every woman can possess? God calls it a “gentle and quiet spirit” which is so precious to Him. That’s right, this kind of spirit is precious to God. And it’s available to every woman, whether she is freckly, has frizzy hair, or weighs more than she did in high school. And it will never fade. When your outer body starts to succumb to the ravages of time, you can control what your insides look like. In fact, you can posses it now.

Jesus is the prime example of this kind of beauty. The Bible says “there was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.” (Isaiah 53:2b NLT). Yet as we read the gospels, Jesus is one of the most beautiful people who walked the earth. His “gentle and quiet” spirit shone through to the point that people ceased to see his physical appearance and saw his true beauty within. He served others selflessly, healed those no one else would come near, and loved the world to the point of dying for it.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of beauty I want. I want a gentle spirit (this word can also be translated “meek” which means power under control and I don’t know anyone who has more power than Jesus, yet his was always under control). I want a quiet spirit (this does not mean never speak; rather it means in all situations, we are quiet before God and allow Him to direct the way we respond to the situation). I want to serve selflessly, love unconditionally, and let kindness seep out of my pores. This is the kind of beauty that will never fade. This is the kind of beauty you can possess now.

Now don’t start throwing out your curling iron or mascara. It’s okay to make yourself look nice (I love to look nice for my husband). But consider how much time you are investing in your outer appearance and your inner self. One is going to fade, nothing can really stop that. But the other will last until the day you die. Not everyone can be a super model, but every woman has the opportunity to be the most beautiful woman on the inside. It’s not hard to realize which one is worth investing in more, is it?

“You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” 1 Peter 3:4 (NLT)

Should Opposites Attract?

Should opposites attract? Should they date? Marry? Can two people who are opposite in personality have any chance at a happy and successful marriage?

In J.K. Rowling’s latest interview, she revealed to the world that she believes Harry and Hermione should have gotten together and that Ron and Hermione would need counseling. In short, they are too different and she only put them together for the sake of the plot, but in real life, they would never have had a chance at a good relationship.

First, as a writer, I echo the thoughts of my friend: Author, stick to your guns. If this is how the story played out, and this is how you envisioned the end, stick with it. Don’t keep changing afterwards. As your readers we enjoy hearing how you came up with your ideas, but not your second thoughts years after the story is finished. There is a reason you ended it the way you did. It is a good ending. It is now time to move on.

Secondly, just because Ron and Hermione are different doesn’t mean they would need “relationship counseling”. Yes, people who are opposite have a greater predisposition for conflict, but they also have a greater propensity for becoming more than who they are alone.

Case in point: my husband and me. When we became engaged, we took the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis to see how we matched up. When we walked into the counselor’s office, he showed us Dan’s graph. Without even picking up mine, he simply flipped Dan’s and said that was mine.

Dan and I are complete opposites. In the DISC personality test I am a C, he is an I (“C” is slow paced, task oriented and “I” is fast paced, people oriented). Even in the Myers-Briggs we are complete opposites: I am an ISTJ and Dan is an ENFP. Yes, every letter is different 🙂

We had a lot of conflict at the beginning of our relationship and marriage. But we worked through it. We realized we each view the world differently, have different strengths, and have different weakness. We learned before reacting to sit back and look at each other’s perspective. Then to talk about it. Sometimes I had to walk away and calm down before I could talk about it.

Through the struggles brought on by our different personalities, we each grew as a person. I learned how to see people as more than projects. Dan learned how to be more responsible and why that was important to me. When I worry, I see his confidence and draw strength from that. When he doesn’t see a way to make the money stretch, I show him how we can save in small ways.

After twenty years of friendship and fourteen years of marriage, we have rubbed off the rough edges. Instead of letting our differences drive a wedge between us, we have let them bond us together like two puzzle pieces.

Do we still fight? Yes, just ask our kids. Do we still experience conflict from our different personalities? Yes. But really, who doesn’t? Even those couples with the same disposition still fight.

I believe I have become a better person by being married to Dan, and he has become a better person by being married to me. We have each been stretched beyond ourselves and learned to see the world differently, and that is a good thing.

So can opposites attract? They do all the time. Can they have a good relationship? Yes, and experience life a whole new way through their spouse.


2013 in Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas Lights

Christmas LightsOne of the many things I love this time of year are the lights. Maybe it’s because winter can be so dark, with night coming early and the overcast days. It can also be dark in an emotional way too. You miss family members who live far away or who have passed on. Or money becomes tight as bills come in and your Christmas list grows. Or you find yourself all alone at Christmas.

There is something about Christmas lights that make me pause and forget the sadness and darkness that can accompany this time of year. I like to sit on my couch and just look at them, sparkling all over my Christmas tree. Usually I have a hot cup of tea in one hand and soft music playing in the background. As I sit, I feel the tension inside me slowly loosen. Light reminds me there is hope, even in the darkness. Light is hope.

As I prepared for Christmas this year (and for this blog post), I realized there are many references to Jesus being light, especially when it comes to His birth.

“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death…” Luke 1:78-79

“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:4-5

“The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1:9

Light is most noticeable in the darkness. You can’t help but see it, your gaze automatically turns toward it. Light warms the heart and drives away fear. So this Christmas, as you gaze at the lights, remember there was one special light that came. The Light of all lights, Jesus Christ.

What if God Answered all Your Prayers?

PrayerWhat if God answered all your prayers from 2013? What difference would that have made in your life? What significance? Perhaps there would have been an increase in your comfort of living, maybe a pay raise. A couple more “good days” and safe trips around town. A close parking spot, a sunny day for that trip to the beach. But what life changing or world changing events would have happened if God had answered all your prayers? Maybe not a lot, because we didn’t ask for those.

This is a sobering thought I’ve had for the last couple weeks. I’ve realized that if God had answered all my prayers, it wouldn’t have made much of a lifetime impact. Is praying for a pay raise bad? No. Is praying for a sunny day (or in my case, a rainy day) bad? No. But I’ve begun to realize that we pray more often about small things, and don’t go much further than that.

What if I also prayed for my church, that it would be healthy and grow and have a significant impact on my community? What if I prayed for my children, that someday they would have a faith that would not be afraid? What if I prayed that God would make me into the woman He desires me to be, even if the process means poverty and trials and many dark valleys? What if I prayed for my husband, that he would be a godly man?

I’m now looking at 2014. What will I pray for? I want to extend my prayers past myself and my comfort zone. I want to pray for more than a nicer home or food or job promotion or a higher amazon ranking. Those are not bad things, but I don’t want my prayers to be only those things. Because in the end, if that is all God did in my life, then I didn’t live much of a life. And I want it to be more.

The Heartache of Saying Good Bye

PetsI had to put my dog down a couple weeks ago. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. To own an animal is to have a small piece of your heart wrapped inside a furry creature. And when they die, that piece of your heart goes with them.

I’ve had Rory (my dachshund) for ten years. She’s been through everything with me: all our moves, the births of three of my children, the ups and downs in life. Apart from God and my husband, she has been the only constant thing I’ve had. She loved to sit on the couch with me when I wrote or watched TV. And when I wasn’t on the couch, she would sit on her over sized pet bed and keep watch over our family.

A couple years ago, she developed a skin condition that made her lose her hair and smell really bad. We took her to multiple vets, but no one knew what was wrong with her. We could either pay hundreds of dollars and have extensive testing done, or just wash her every week with a special shampoo. Since we didn’t have hundreds of dollars in our bank account, I chose the shampoo. Every week for the last three years I have bathed Rory, scrubbing the dead skin away and conditioning her poor irritated body. It wasn’t fun, but it was my way of showing love for her.

This fall, she began to have problems with going to the bathroom in the house. I thought it was because I wasn’t letting her out fast enough and tried to be more diligent. Then on my birthday, she went to the bathroom in front of me (something she would never have done, she was such a proper little dog and always went outside). It was then I realized she couldn’t control herself anymore. Since we live in a rental house, she couldn’t stay inside any longer. With tears, I went and made a place for her to live in the garage.

As the month passed, she went downhill. Her skin condition became really bad, she was disoriented half the time, and she could hardly move. I then had to make one of the hardest decisions so far in my life: to let her live this way until she was in a lot of pain, or to let her go.

For a week I battled the decision. I couldn’t put my dog down. It hurt too much to think about her being gone. But I also knew to let her live like this was selfish on my part. It was time to let my friend go.

I sat outside and watched my dog sunbath in the driveway. She could barely move by then. Instead, she just sat there and enjoyed the sun. Autumn leaves fluttered across our lawn and God spoke to me. Not in an audible way, but in a quiet, soul touching way. The leaves made me think of seasons. Life is seasons: youth and life, hard work adulthood, then the twilight years when the leaves fall from the trees and the world prepares to rest. God watches over all the seasons, His hand is a part of each one. And when fall comes, He is there to gently bring to life to rest.

There is nothing to fear in death, although death itself is the antithesis of life. God has power even over death; nothing escapes His gentle hands. And so I knew that He would hold Rory and carry her over to the other side. What happens to animals when they die? I don’t know. But I do know God, and He is love. He loves all of his creation. He will do what is best for it.

Rory is gone now. I cried when that day came, and still cry. It means I have a heart, and part of it is gone. I like to think she is running through a field of green grass with that kind of hop and jump a dachshund has when they run. But wherever she is, she is with God now, free of the groans of creation. And there is no better place to be than in the hands of God.