Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Ministry of Exhortation

There is a reason the scriptures tell us to edify and exhort one another. We can make a difference in someone’s life simply by verbally affirming them.  I recently conducted a little experiment with my students that gives evidence of this.
I teach 6 classes of 6th grade math each day. Of course, I have one class that is “my best” class. These kids work so hard for me. They have the best grades and they want to do well. I began to wonder why this class as a whole was better than the rest. Naturally, some of the kids are “the smart ones,” but even the trouble makers in that class did their work, put forth effort, and made decent grades.  I realized that because they were excelling, I was constantly giving them positive feedback and encouragement. I told them how smart they were and how proud I was of them.  In my other classes, I did not say these things as much, and sometimes got frustrated when they did not “get it” for the umpteenth time.
So, I decided to experiment. I began offering encouragement to my “lowest performing” class, and really meaning it. I had to find smaller victories to commend, but I made a big deal out of them, individually and as a class. After a couple of weeks of this, the strangest thing happened. More kids began bringing their homework, and they started paying attention in class.  Now, they have not caught up with my “best class,” but they have surpassed the other classes with their effort!  I couldn’t believe that I had not realized how my different relationship with each class affected my students’ “want to.”
So, what it is the significance of this experiment? Think about all the people in your life that you could exhort! Wives, instead of nagging our husband maybe we could exhort him to empower him to become more Godly. Parents, maybe our kids need a little more exhorting and celebration of the small victories that may seem very big to them. Or, perhaps you have a friend that is trying to kick an addiction, who could use a word of exhortation spoken into their life. Surely, we all could minister to someone by encouraging them.
We can learn a thing or two from the Apostle Paul. He often included words of exhortation in his letters.  He knew exhortation is a powerful thing! Encouragement builds people up, just as a sharp criticism can tear a person down.
Please, allow me to interject few disclaimers here: First, it must be authentic and personal. Just saying any old thing because you want to encourage someone does NOT work. It must be authentic. Inauthentic encouragement is very often translated as pity, which usually only further hinders a person. Also, I am NOT referring to shallow compliments. Girls, sometimes we confuse “I love your hair” or “I love that outfit” with exhortation. True exhortation is  really knowing someone and speaking a word of encouragement that is specific to them.  Second, it is hard. For those of you who are like me and tend to see the glass half empty, this is real work. I have to prepare my heart each morning to be ready to encourage/exhort some of the kids I teach, and I am FAR from having this thing all figured out.  Third, we still call sin, sin. Exhortation and encouragement does not mean we turn a blind eye to sin, for fear of discouraging someone. We should still "see sin as God sees sin" (to steal a phrase from Fred Luter).
So who can you exhort/encourage? Maybe, like me, you need to spend some time in prayer asking God to help you in this area. I believe there is someone in your life who needs a little encouragement; I encourage you to extend the grace of God to them through an authentic, personal word of exhortation.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Biggest Insecurity

I can’t sing, and I am married to a worship pastor.  While it is easy to say that a music minister’s wife is not expected to be “musical,” the zillions of times I have been asked, “Do you sing?” or “Do you play the piano?” reveal that there is at least a small expectation that I, as the wife of “the music guy,” must also have a talent for making melody. But, I don’t. And this is my biggest insecurity.
Now, you may be thinking, don’t you sing in the choir? You are correct, but believe me if it were an auditioned group I would be the first to be “cut.” I only sometimes hit correct notes and I sing a little of every part. Don’t believe me? Well, just ask the poor souls who have to sit by me each week.
Sarcastic joking aside, this is an area of insecurity and envy that I have fought for a long while. Even though I am not musically talented, I love music. I love to sing. But, no matter how hard I try, I am just not good at it. I took guitar for a semester in college. I just couldn’t get it.  Even as a little girl, I remember my mom trying to teach me a few things on the piano, but it never clicked.
When we were first married, I said things to Stephen like, “I bet you which you had a wife that you could sing duets with.” He looked at me like I had three heads, as if that idea never crossed his mind. But, the enemy sure had me convinced otherwise.
All of this insecurity reached a peak a few months ago when I got “that question” once again.  A well-meaning individual approached me after church and asked, “When are you and Stephen going to sing a special together?” As I am used to doing, I smiled and told her I didn’t sing very well.  But she continued, “Oh I bet you do! I really want to see you two sing together.” Once again, I tried to convince her that I was not blessed with that gift. She would not let up. Stephen had walked up during this discussion, so she turned to him and said, “I bet she sings beautifully, doesn’t she?”  I felt the blood rush to my face and my eyes start to burn with tears.  Stephen paused awkwardly for a moment, and I think the woman realized her mistake.  He responded, “My wife sings from her heart.”
I went home and cried. I listened to the enemy tell me I wasn’t good enough and that I was an embarrassment to my husband. I vented a lot of anger towards God, asking things like, “Why did you make me this way?”, or “Why can’t I sing like so-and-so?”  I pleaded with God to just give me some sort of musical talent, and I promised that if he did I would use it to bring him glory!
God really used the story of Moses to grow me out of this funk.  When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, Moses offered up a list of excuses why he couldn’t do the task. Moses’ last excuse was, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue." Moses was telling God that there was something wrong with the way he talked, much as I had complained about my singing.  God responded, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” 
I was humbled. I realized that my attitude was totally sinful. I was saying that God did not know what he was doing creating me the way I am. Repentance was in order. So I confessed my sinful attitude and asked God to transform my mind in this matter.
God revealed to me that our singing is less about how we sound and more about who HE is. I know now that God is not concerned with how our sacrifices appear to men, but is concerned with the condition of our heart when we give our offering. I know now that my husband never had a duet-partner on his “What I want in a Wife List.” I know now that God has a place and a plan for me, and my voice!
So, here I am, saying so-long to this insecurity. I will sing anyway. My security is not in what my voice sounds like; my security is in the Grace, Mercy and Awesomeness of our God. HE is the reason that I sing.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Blessed by Special People

God has more than blessed us with so many friends here in Vidalia. We have grown to love and care for so many families. It is not easy living so far from our loved ones, but those of you who treat us like family make the burden a bit easier to bear.  If you have ever shared or provided a meal for us, bought us a gift for a birthday or Christmas, or even just spent time with us (think Dominoes, Settlers, or Quelf), please know that you have been an immense blessing to us. 
Making and keeping close friends is not something at which I am skilled. Several experiences have “taught” me to keep my heart guarded. However, it is something I am trying, with God’s help, to improve.  I know that relationships are important to God, and they can be the framework for spectacular ministry. Lord, please help me be a better friend!
I just wanted to take a moment to share about some of these special people. I know none of them want the “spotlight” but I am so overwhelmingly grateful that I had to write about a few of them.
The Knapps  - Where to begin? Settlers, awesome meals, trip to Texas, hauling our IKEA office furniture, hunting, and hand-me-downs are all so appreciated!  Una, I will never forget that conversation we had in the church office when you encouraged me to pursue teaching. I needed it! Thanks so much for all the love you have showed “Stephen Powell” and me!
The Randalls-  We love y’all dearly. Thanks for gumbo, fried fish, fun times at the lake and sharing your Christmas “family time” with us.  Kassi, you are my little sister away from my sisters and I am so thankful for you.  I am going to miss you so much next year.
The Welchs – Your generosity has never ceased to amaze me! Whether it was taking Stephen hunting, inviting us over for delicious food, or letting me use the workout room, you have shown us so much love. Thanks for all you have done for us; you are one very special family. Taylor, we are so proud of you and love you so much! We will miss you next year.
God has recently brought a new “group” of people into our lives. These are some folks that have just recently began attending our church. These people have been like a fresh breath of air to our ministry, and we have loved getting to know them.
Teressa Renolds – Teresa I love your heart for worship. I know this a direct result of your love for Jesus. I admire you for unashamedly worshiping God. Also, you have a mighty, mighty gift of encouragement. People like you are so appreciated by ministers and their wives.  Thank you.
Alethia Lawrence – Girl, you rock. Thank you for the invites to your house for get-togethers (we still have to have a firework party).  I am inspired by you.  You remain positive, and devoted to the Lord despite the many recent trials you have faced. Your friendship means so much to me.
The Pettys– Ok, the list could go on and on, but, in short, thank you for caring about us.  I am overwhelmed at your generosity. Encouragement, afternoon chats, meal, music, hunting, Zumba, guitar, prayer, and love. Thanks!
And this, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg. I could have wrote on and on about the people who have touched our lives. We are so blessed to be a part of FBCVidalia. We love all of you so much!