Previously Published

Ramabai: Overcoming Obstacles

Born in 1858, Ramabai was destined to live an empty life. It was not the best time to be a woman. Society saw no value in women except for procreating and housekeeping. Even these value markers dropped to a zero when the husband died; the expendable widow was thrown onto the funeral pyre to be burned alive atop of her husband’s corpse.

Against all odds. Ramabai was fortunate to have a father who believed that destiny is not predetermined by gender. While society espoused that girls were not worthy of education and opinions, Dongri—a renowned scholar of Sanskrit—educated both his wife Laxmibai and his daughter Ramabai at home. However, his ways contradicted society, and he was soon ostracized. Wherever they went, they were denied a place to stay, food to eat, and the company of others. So Dongri moved his family from town to town, relentlessly trying to bring about positive change. Experiencing little success, they were forced to retreat into the jungles to eek a living off the land. Their nomadic lifestyle even took them through a famine when they survived on just water and leaves for eleven days. Finally, the wanderings took a toll and Dongri and Laxmibai died.

Alone and destitute, Ramabai and her brother continued to stand up for what they believed, regardless of consequences. Ramabai fought against child-marriage and advocated education for women.

Proving oneself. Ramabai’s thirst for knowledge continued. But being a woman, she could not enter into any school system. So she found and created opportunities to prove herself over and over again. Her competency in Sanskrit soon gained attention and stories of her impressive memory spread—of how she had memorized 23,000 shastras even before she was 16 years old. She was so talked about that the elite scholarly group (made up of all men, of course) called her into their presence to check her out. What they saw and heard astounded them and they did what had never been done before. They offered her—a woman—the opportunity to take the most prestigious Sanskrit exams. These exams were difficult and it was common for men to fail several times before passing. Ramabai, however, got high marks on her first attempt. And she was honored with the title “Sarasvati.”

Standing tall and alone. Ramabai became a lecturer. But just when life seemed to be getting better, her brother died leaving her alone. Six years later, she married a man of a lower caste but one who supported her causes. Again, just as her life took a positive turn, her husband died—only 19 months after they were married. Although now a widow with a baby girl, she was unwavering and strong. Next Ramabai traveled to England where she taught Sanskrit and then later to the United States. During this time, she studied the Bible and felt impressed to translate it into Sanskrit and Marathi. Her study of the Bible led her to Jesus and to a journey that reaffirmed her determination to change her destiny. After her respite overseas, Ramabai returned to India where she established shelters, schools, boarding houses and organizations to uplift women—widows, low-caste, homeless, and the suppressed.

For most of her life, Ramabai was alone—physically, emotionally, sociologically. She could have allowed loneliness to cripple her. But she didn’t. She rose above it to stand tall, look over the horizon and see her calling—her destiny.

What is the crippling factor in your life? How do you overcome obstacles. Ask yourself “How important is it for me to stand tall and find my calling, my destiny?”

Check out her Wikipedia page for biographical details.

Previously Published

Strengthening Faith through Service

(Unlike my usual posts, this is a chapter in this recently published book)

When determining the world’s saddest countries, the Annual Misery Index[1] uses unemployment as a primary predictor of misery. When the employment rate creeps towards 7%, a country panics[2]—crime increases, health declines, divorce is on the rise, and even life expectancy is shortened. It is a time of crisis because less money and fewer people are attempting to fund the on-going needs of a country. More alarming, the negative consequences of unemployment often linger for decades, long after employment picks up.

The rate of unemployment reflects the number of “uninvolved” people—those not participating in a country’s economy. If a country panics when 7% or more of its population are unemployed, should not the church panic when an average of 80% of church members are uninvolved in the life of their local church?[3] In the average church, only 20% of worshippers[4] are “active”—these are the people who have a church office or who pitch in when there is a need. These active participants are ambassadors of their faith. The other 80 % are pew warmers, worshippers who check in for worship on Sabbath and check out of church life for the rest of week.

Similar to how unemployment has a debilitating effect on a country, the higher the percentage of noninvolvement and disengagement within a church, the greater the risk of a church becoming stagnant, losing members, or worse, shutting down—“By some estimates, every day in the United States, nine churches shut their doors forever.”[5] According to one study in 2014, of the approximately 300,000 churches in the United States, 177,000 had less than 100 members.[6] A lifestyle of service, on the other hand, is a key performance indicator of a healthy, vibrant, growing church. The measure of a church is not in its attendance but in the transformational effect it has on its community. It’s about the lifestyle of service that exists within the church family.

Servanthood—The Mark of Every Christian

If the current service projects in your church are not making a significant impact on the health and growth of your church, it may be because 1) only a small percentage of worshippers are involved in service while the rest are passive supporters, 2) the service initiatives are perceived needs and not the true needs and desires of the community, or 3) the acts of service are happening void of close relationships, and therefore are perceived as handouts or charity rather than love and support.

Connecting with the community is not solely the responsibility of the pastor.

Ministers should not do the work which belongs to the church, thus wearying themselves, and preventing others from performing their duty. They should teach the members how to labor in the church and in the community. There is work for all to do in their own borders, to build up the church, to make the social meetings interesting, and to train the youth of ability to become missionaries. . . . They should co-operate actively with the minister in his labors, making the section of country around them their field of missionary effort. . . .

This work has been neglected. Is it any marvel that God does not visit the churches with greater manifestations of his power, when so large a number are shut in to themselves, engrossed in their own interests?[7]

Servanthood—helping others in love—is not a spiritual gift. It is the mark of every Christian. Christians serve others just as Jesus did. It’s as simple as that. How we serve and how we use our spiritual gifts and talents are an assorted variety, but the call to serve is the common call of all worshippers. To experience maximum impact in your church, service opportunities need to be strategic, intentional, and occur at all of these three levels:

  1. The Church as a whole—service projects that the corporate church does as one large body (e.g. adopt a nursing home and visit the residents regularly with church worshippers on a rotating schedule)
  2. Small groups—service projects that come out of relationships created between worshippers and their friends and neighbors in the community (e.g. two families from church who live in the same neighborhood and who have children or the same age begin a book and babysitting club with two other families in the neighborhood. They take turns meeting in one of the four homes each month. After a brief study of the book, all the children are babysat by the host of the month in their home while the other three couples go on a date.)[8]
  3. Families/Individuals—service projects that individuals and families choose to participate in that make service an integral component of their Christian lifestyle (e.g. A musically gifted family offers their services once a month to a neighboring Sunday-keeping church. This interaction gives them opportunities to make friends outside of their own church family, partner with another church in community projects, etc.). “It is no small matter for a family to stand as representatives of Jesus, keeping God’s law in an unbelieving community. We are required to be living epistles known and read of all men. This position involves fearful responsibilities.”[9]

When service opportunities are supported by strong relationships and spiritual nurture, churches can result these positive outcomes:[10]

  • Increase in giving and in church attendance and involvement.
  • Increase in spiritual growth.
  • Increase in efforts to share one’s faith.

An example of this is a church in Groesbeck, Texas, a small town of about 4000 people and 20 churches. When John Carabin stepped into this church as its new pastor, the building was falling apart and its membership was at just nine faithful worshippers. First they changed their name to “Living Proof.” Then they began living their new name by proving God’s love to their town through meaningful service that met specific needs. Two and half years later, in 2016, their membership was 90. By 2019, it had grown to 200.[11] “In every land and in every community there are many opportunities for helpful service. . . . Look these ones up. Use your talent, your ability, by helping them. First give yourself to the Master; then He will work with you. To every man He gives his work.”[12]

Service—The Shared Space

“A company of believers may be poor, uneducated, and unknown; yet in Christ they may do a work in the home, in the community, and even in the “regions beyond,” whose results shall be as far-reaching as eternity.”[13]In their analysis of community-centered, externally-focused churches, Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson emphasize that “the power of service requires a deep understanding of three intersecting circles that form a visual construct for the externally focused church. Wherever churches are engaged in community transformation, the avenue they’ve chosen lies at the intersection of the needs and dreams of the city or community, the mandates and desires of God, and the calling and capacity of the church.”[14]  This section is a summary of their three-circle concept that describes the connections between the local church, its community, and God’s desire for both.

The first circle represents the needs and dreams of the community. Rather than assume, learn what the true needs are. Being connected to people who work in key areas such as city government, law enforcement, schools is an easy way to be tuned in to the needs of the community. One church, for example, hosts a monthly lunch for a few leaders and businesspeople. The guest list is created with strategy and intention to encourage brainstorming and networking among one another, making the church a great community liaison.

The second circle is the mandates and desires of God. “From Isaiah 65:17–25, Dr. Raymond Bakke, speaking of a future city, outlines six characteristics of a healthy community from the heart of God—public celebrations and happiness (vv. 17–25), public health for children and the aged (v. 20), housing for all (v. 21), food for all (v. 22), family support systems (v. 23), absence of violence (v. 25). To this list we would add meaningful work (vv. 22–23).”[15] This is what God wants for people everywhere.

The third circle is the calling and capacity of the local church. “The capacity of each local church determines the part it will play as an agent of community transformation. No church can do it all, but every church has the capacity to serve the city and the people of the community in a meaningful way that represents the love, mercy, and power of God.”[16]

When these three circles come together, intersecting spaces are formed that define what happens between these circles and how they are connected. Rusaw and Swanson use John Calvin’s term, “common grace,” to describe the space where the city’s needs and desires of a city meet the mandates and desires of God—“Common grace is God’s beneficence toward everyone as reflected in Luke 6:35: ‘[God] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked’ and Matthew 5:45: ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’ God desires for all people to live in safety and with justice. The city wall that provides protection for believer and unbeliever is an expression of common grace. . . . Common grace is part of the reason we ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ (from Mark 12:17)[17]

Control takes up the space shared by the city and the church. There are often limitations, boundaries, and laws a relationship between the church and the city.

Salvation takes up the shared space between what God wants and what the church is called to do. “God ‘wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4). God’s words to the exiles who were carried off to Babylon are also relevant here: ‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper’ (Jeremiah 29:7).”[18]

The circles and the intersecting spaces point out that “as much as God wants the city to be saved and the task of saving the people of the city is the calling of the church, salvation is really outside of what the city desires.”[19] If you were to ask city leaders to list their needs and desires, salvation would most likely not be on that list. Service, on the other hand, is the space that is shared by all three circles.

Service is something that the community needs, God desires, and the church has the capacity to do. The community may not care much about salvation, but it does needs. It is in meeting those need through service that meaningful relationship develop, and out of relationships come endless opportunities to share the love of Christ and the gospel of salvation. The early church grew because its people loved and served. We believe servant can go anywhere. Service gives us access not only to places of need but also to places of influence. . . . Barriers to the gospel melt away when people are served and blessed. It’s been said, ‘There is only one way to God and that is through Jesus. But there are a thousand ways to Jesus.’ By creating a thousand entry points into the community, we create a thousand ways to show the love and share the good news with the city.[20]

The Community—An Extension of the Church

When you view the church’s immediate community as an extension of itself, it becomes easier to find ways to integrate the church into the life of the community, to “meet people where they are, and take them where Jesus wants them to go. . . .  Leading people on a personal level must involve hearing their individual story, understanding their worldview, and engaging persuasively through building bridges to a gospel-centered, word-centered way of life. ”[21] The strategy is simple—weave a fabric of friendship and relationships within the church’s immediate community.

One way to do this is to become a part of community events, initiatives and organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Lions, Rotary, etc. This provides unparalleled opportunities to connect. Here is how one particular church takes advantage of its membership at the local Chamber of Commerce.[22]

  1. They show up and make friends—Whether it is the casual weekly meeting for small businesses or the formal monthly luncheon, they are there. But they don’t just attend to be seen;  they show up early to greet and connect and stay back to help clean up. This extra fifteen minutes makes a huge difference in not only how they were perceived but also gives them opportunities to mingle and get to know others. It is not just the pastor who attends—church officers and worshippers, be they members or not, take turns, ensuring the church is always represented.
  • They connect through service—Organized and intentional, worshippers form teams based on interest and relevance. For example, church families with children that attend the local public high school make up a team and work together to find ways to connect and build relationships with other parents in the school. This “team” represents the church by meeting needs specific to the school community. During the basketball season, for example, they provide bottles of water for the team and help out at school events.
  • They are always available—The church always keeps up with local news. When there is a news story about a need, they are the first to show up with a plan, ready to serve, and to rally other businesses to get the job done.
  • They take the church to the community—Rather than hold events at the church to lure the community, they go into the community where the people are. In the middle of town, during the week, they run a community center that offers a variety of programs such as after-school care and tutoring, various trade classes, and community service credits for teens on probation. And on their day of worship, the church has a parallel worship service right there in their community center. Because a majority of worshippers are active participants and not pew warmers, they have enough volunteers to do all of this.

Ellen G. White points out that “in almost every community there are large numbers who do not attend any religious service. If they are reached by the gospel, it must be carried to their home.”[23] While she was specifically referring to the work of missionary nurses, the premise is applicable in other situations. “It takes between 12 and 20 positive bumps (refreshing encounters with the church) before people come to Christ. Our presence in the public square through service gives us opportunities to provide these refreshing encounters.”[24] Take a look at the current programs in your church and determine which ones can be repurposed for your community. Here are a few examples:

  • If you have a Sabbath designated for Children’s Church, repurpose it as free day care to the first 10 who sign up.
  • Consider having the Pathfinders and Adventurers meet somewhere in the community and marketing it as a kids club for the neighborhood families.
  • Partner with a local organization and take movie night from the church gym to a public space.
  • Move your smaller Bible study groups from the church to a local coffee shop. The chances of random strangers joining your Bible study at Starbuck are slim, but the probability of strangers considering God and prayer during a bleak moment in life because of what they saw in Starbucks is a possibility.

Worshippers—Not Visitors

Within these relationships spiritual seeds will be sown. “Let us not grow weary of doing good” (Gal 6:9, ESV). We must serve without any agenda but to reflect the life of Jesus on earth. If and when they come to church is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus served with no expectations. He healed 10 lepers knowing only one would say thank you. In His last act of service of washing the feet of his disciple, he had no agenda or expectation in return. Had He expected faith in return, he would have skipped Thomas. Had He expected loyalty, Peter’s feet would have remained caked in dirt. He didn’t even expect honesty for he washed Judas’ feet.

When the church is connected in its community and worshippers are plugged into their neighborhood, people from these relationships may visit your church. And as a church, we must welcome them as if we have been expecting them. From the moment someone new steps into our church, they become a worshipper—one of us. Calling them visitors implies a temporary connection.

Like meeting for the first time the family of the one you’ve been dating, first-time worshippers are often apprehension. But just as how one is slowly, but intentionally, drawn into a new family, it is important to build and nurture relationships from the moment they first walk into the church. The power of service can play a very important role in your strategy: Just as one gets comfortable with a new family through trivial yet significant tasks such as helping with the dishes, the church needs a plan that takes a first-time worshipper from “Welcome” to “Here’s the broom,” from “Good to meet you” to “You’re family.”

Service Projects—Not Just for Members

New members who are not plugged into the life of the church either leave or become non-participants. Don’t wait until you’re sure they are there to stay. Be ready with ways to be inclusive. Don’t wait for baptism before you integrate a worshipper into church life. Have ready a strategy of friend-making and a list of ways they can be involved that don’t require membership. Here are some practical ways to be ready for and connect with new worshippers:

  • Groom people with the gift of social skills to be pew ambassadors. Have them in the same spot at church every week and look for first-time worshippers in the pews closest to them. Their primary task is to befriend  first-time worshippers by following a plan which the church may need to be periodically tweaked, depending on feedback and what doesn’t work.
  • When they begin frequenting the church and at the appropriate time, pew ambassadors connect the new worshippers with others in the church who share a common interest, are of the same age, or are from the same neighborhood, etc.
  • Plug them in to the life of the church by matching their interest with the church’s needs. Find ways to connect them to Christ, to their calling, to others in the church, and to their community.
  • Most importantly, grow your relationship with the now not-so-new worshipper.

Service—Woven into Life Events and Relationships

Plugging people into service opportunities is not just giving them a chore to do or an event in which to participate. It’s about discipling them, strengthening their spiritual health so they are comfortable sharing their story of Jesus. A nurturing plan that runs parallel to service opportunities addresses this need. Acts of service needs to be combined with social connections and spiritual nurture. To begin, the group needs to have something in common that they can self-identify with—say they are empty nesters, moms, men, or young families. Then they need to add a social element as well as a service-focused assignment. For example, three empty-nester couples who meet for a Bible Study every week [spiritual nurture], also volunteer together at a local shelter once a month [service] and take an annual trip together [social connection].

A legitimate barrier to any service initiative is the lack of time in people’s everyday lives. One way to combat this is to integrate service into events already on people’s calendar. Take, for example, two women at church who belong to a quilting group that meets at the community craft store. Since this is an activity they have already made time for and is one that brings them in contact with others in the community, this becomes their community connection, one where they intentionally, and together, befriend others and build relationships. This is an example of missional living, where you “take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walk-around life—and place it before God as an offering” (Rom 12:1–2, The Message). Alan Hirsch puts it well: “We are designed and destined to be a missional-incarnational people. . . . There is no such thing as an unsent Christian! We are all missionaries. It is not a profession; it’s the calling of every disciple.”[25]

Just as important as it is to build new relationships is the need to repair broken ones. Reaching out to those who no longer worship with you is like making up after a bad break-up. It’s hard work to woo a person back into your life. You must be willing to admit when you’re wrong, forgive, make some positive changes, and most importantly  nurture a hurt relationship back to good health. You have a better chance of success if 1) you really knew the person in the first place and 2) if you make them feel loved and needed and again.

Service opportunities can bridge paths back to the church. People are more inclined to engage with a community project connected to the church before they consider returning to church. Following private, honest conversations geared towards reconciliation and renewed relationships, connect them to a one of the church’s community project. For example, if the person has audio-visual skills ask if they’d be willing to help with a community concert. Then continue involving them in projects while rebuilding the relationship. Prayerfully and patiently wait to invite them to church at a time that feels appropriate. If you’re turned down, preserve the relationship and continue connecting them with community events and service projects.

Servanthood—Without an Agenda

“Long has God waited for the spirit of service to take possession of the whole church so that everyone shall be working for Him according to his ability. When the members of the church of God do their appointed work in the needy fields at home and abroad, in fulfillment of the gospel commission, the whole world will soon be warned and the Lord Jesus will return to this earth with power and great glory.”[26]

But even when energized by our call to service and share God’s love, we must remember that we can only control plans and projects[27], not people and hearts. That’s the business of the Holy Spirit. When you’ve done all you can within the space where your gifts and calling intersect with God’s plans, shake off your frustration but continue in grace and service, love and prayer—and always strengthening your relationships. We must merely be “willing to step outside the safety net of our church pews and cross the street into real-life, real world acts of service in order to share the truth of Jesus Christ.”[28]  Let your life speak the truth louder than your words.

Implementation Ideas

Note: Some of these are my ideas and others are what I’ve seen work in churches. With every plan: 1) Add a spiritual element to your services without creating a sense of expectation or requirement. For example, provide a short devotional after an English class only for those interested. 2) Whatever the project, be regular, consistent, and dependable.)

  1. Small groups studying God’s Word in groups of 4–6 to allow the addition of another 4–6 of new worshipers. Meet in the community and add a social element to it.
  2. “Kind” bags for worshipers to take on their way out to give to the homeless. Content suggestions:

juice box, granola bar, encouraging thought or Bible text, a dollar bill. Place these by the door for worshippers to pick up on their way out after worship. It’s an easy way to engage with first-time guests.

  • Friendship ambassadors assigned to pews to sit at the same place every week in order to engage with new worshipers and connect them with members who may have things in common with them.
  • Hostess families— regular worshippers ready to take new worshippers home for a meal.
  • Babysitting Club—A small group of families with children in the same age group who meet once a month, rotating homes. They have devotional time or read a book together (as a book club), after which all the couples go on a date—except the ones hosting who watch the kids. The longer the tradition, the closer the ties. 
  • Host a family movie night in the community. Church can do this in a community center—In most small towns, there is an organized movie-in-the-park event; partner with another business. Families can do this for their neighborhood (project the movie on a garage door and invite neighbors to bring lawn chairs) .
  • Super Bowl Party with another community business 
  • Quarterly block party on church grounds or somewhere public for the neighbors within a block/ walking distance.
  • Partner with a business to start a community garden.
  • Adopt an apartment building—better yet, rent an apartment in the building you adopt. Have a strong disciple live there to minister to the people, to hold small group meetings, etc.
  • Repurpose current events into community services—Pathfinders, VBS, Sabbath School (take all of these to the community, outside your walls. Be intentional about including children from the community).
  • Begin various craft clubs that meet in public places (there’s a knitting club in the Panera near my home; tutors help kids at the eatery in Wegman’s).
  • Offer cooking classes in other churches right after their Sunday service (include a free meal).
  • Offer report card rewards to local schools.
  • Offer language classes in a community space (e.g. library).
  • Read the local newspaper to identify immediate needs and for long-term planning. Follow up and help!
  • Offer free rides to the airport (stick to a schedule, be dependable—offer this in airport advertising).
  • Welcome basket for people who buy homes in the neighborhood (home sales are public information).
  • Begin Bible studies at the local university.
  • Begin a travel club (worshipers traveling with non-worshipers provide many opportunities to share their faith).
  • Partner with a local hospital to provide a free gift to babies born there (Beginner’s quarterly, a pair of booties, book for parents).
  • Join local community groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, etc. Encourage members to join as well.. 
  • Plan for a permanent presence in the middle of the community. 
  • Have offsite worship service in your community center or in a public space
  • Families and individuals find ways to connect with others in things you already do: E.g. Young parents from the church having play dates at the same time, same place, same playground to connect with other parents in the community. 
  • Join trivia night at the local bar (e.g. many bars in the US that serve meals as well designate one evening as family night and host family-friendly activities).
  • Worshipers gifted in music offer their services to churches of other denominations (most churches pay for special music and pianists).
  • Mini concerts in parks.
  • Monthly lunch with community leaders (six possible areas to target: business, government, education, health and social services, media, religion)
  • Social media ads, ads on buses (of your services and not what you are).
  • Identify businesses that will allow literature and handouts. Keep these stocked, ensuring the material is appropriate and includes the church’s name. E.g., stack of healthy recipes at the local grocery store; health DVDs at the Health and Human Services Office; notes on positive living at the yoga studio; free women’s health magazines at the hair salon; packets of seeds at the craft store.
  • Post on community boards a list of the month’s services and events the church provides. Keep these current :)
  • Create a detailed database of your worshipers—their profession, hobbies, fears, names of children, hours of work, favorite food, spiritual gifts, etc.
  • Have a plan that ensures someone of the leadership team has a one-on-one with every worshipper outside of sickness and death.
  • Assign a got-to personal church liaison to every worshipper. The liaison contacts everyone on his list at least once a month.
  • Solicit service ideas from worshippers and provide new and more opportunities to serve.

[1] Johns Hopkins economist Steve Hanke’s misery index is the sum of unemployment, inflation, and bank lending rates, minus the change in real GDP per capita. For the 2018 Misery Index, see Katie Jones, “The Most Miserable Countries in the World,” Visual Capitalist, October 4, 2019,, accessed November 3, 2019

[2] See, e.g., these news stories: “Greek Unemployment Rate Fell to 18 Pct in December 2018,” The National Herald, March 2, 2019,, accessed April 2, 2019; “India unemployment  rate highest in 45 years,” Aljazeera, January 31, 2019,, accessed April 2, 2019; and “South Africa’s economic growth stutters,” Financial Times, March 5, 2019,, accessed April 2, 2019.

[3] According to several research studies, e.g., Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011).

[4] The author uses the term “worshipper” instead of church members to be inclusive of all who attend church, be they members or non-members and because a lifestyle of service has the same effect on both members and non-members.

[5] Angie Mabr-Nauta, “Mourning the Death of a Church,” Christianity Today, March 11, 2014,, accessed April 2, 2019.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ellen G. White, Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 2017), 291.

[8] Children in this group also benefit from this practice and often remain friends into their college years and adulthood, continuing the tradition of spiritual nurture and social connection.

[9] Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1952), 31.

[10] Based on a study of over 7000 people and 35 churches, these findings are from Diana Garland, Dennis Myers, and Terry Wolfer, The Impact of Volunteering on Christian Faith and Congregational Life: The Service and Faith Project (Waco, TX: Center for Family & Community Ministries School  of Social Work, Baylor University, 2006),, accessed April 2, 2019.

[11] “A Living Proof of Love—How a Dying Church was Transformed Through Service,” Outreach, May/June 2016, 34. The author confirmed 2019 membership with Pastor Carabin, phone call, January 6, 2020.

[12] Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1958), 1:103

[13] Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1905), 106.

[14] Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson, Externally Focused Church (Loveland, CO: Group, 2004),Kindle Edition, location 562–564.

[15] Ibid., 581–583.

[16] Ibid., 594.

[17] Ibid., 599–600.

[18] Ibid., 609.

[19] Ibid., 611.

[20] Ibid., 616–620.

[21] Todd Engstrom, “Meeting People Where They Are,”, November 19, 2013,, accessed April 2, 2019.

[22] This was a non-Adventist Church that the author observed during her time as vice-president of a chamber of commerce.

[23] Ellen G. White, Counsels for the Church (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1991), 311.

[24] Dave Workman, Pastor Vineyard Community Church, quoted in Eric Swanson, “Changing Evangelism in Campus Ministry,”,, accessed April 2, 2019.

[25] Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: A Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Apple Books

[26] Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: 1911), 111.

[27] See list of 36 service ideas entitled Nurture Through Service, Implementation Ideas and which follows this chapter.

[28] Kirsta Petty, “Connecting Your Church to Your Community—First Steps to Externally Focused Ministry,”, accessed April 2, 2019.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

devotion, Spiritual Musings

He is All Mine

People and relationships are often the backbone of stories. No different in the Bible, this is illustrated in the recitation of the begats and everywhere else. Profound, life-altering stories are crafted when God and humans come together. The setting may be nations or prophecies, the past or the future, but the plot of any story worth retelling revolves around one God and one person. In the thick of a great story, there is God doing everything He can to connect with one specific individual. When there is a dramatic change in direction, Abrams become Abrahams. When hearts are repaired and new beginnings awarded, Israels come out of Jacobs.

Even though I’m just one among so many in this world, God makes me feel like there are no other stories being told–except mine. He gives me 100% of Himself! God is not distracted by the billions of others. He is not preoccupied with the needs of the universe or sidetracked by someone else’s problem that’s more urgent than mine. In this moment, for my particular need, God is mine and mine alone. When I ache, He comforts. When I break, He heals. I throw a fit, he tames. I get lost, He rescues. My God is all about me, all the time!

And yet, just like that, God is all about you too! Omnipresent and unrestricted, God loves everyone else just as much as He loves me. And just as He makes me feel like there’s no one else in the world but me, He is there to make you feel the same. God doesn’t expect us to take a number or stand in queue. Each and everyone of us gets first dibs on everything that is God. How He does this is beyond comprehension, but that is what He does. The God who watches over the entire universe is first and foremost God of every person–God of you, God of me. And more than anything else, He wants a major role in our life stories.

What role does God play in our stories? Is He in the thick of it all? Or is He on the sidelines, relegated to a minor role?

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Spiritual Musings

When Whining Goes too Far

They even spoke against God himself. Psalm 78:19 (The Message)

The Israelites had a major case of the are-we-there-yet: The journey was long, the scenery boring. They were tired of eating the same fast food from heaven every day, of sleeping in the same dusty tent every night. And so they did what we all would do. They complained: They complained to one another, they complained to Moses, they complained to God.

But, they crossed the line when their complaining led them to question God and speak against God (Num 21:4-7). And with that, the consequence of their choices, attitude, and actions was the onset of poisonous snake bites that sent thousands on their way to an agonizing death.

This incident is often cited as an example of how God punishes the disobedient. Every version and paraphrase of verse 6 says that God sent the snakes. Even the notes in my Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale) say that God punished the Israelites with the snakes. I ‘m not a theologian and I don’t claim to know more than Tyndale and the Bible translators. But I have a problem with the severity of this punishment. Death for disobedience? Really? That too, from a grace-abundant God? Seems incongruent.

Perhaps, it’s us. Perhaps we’ve tied the hands of God.

Like bratty kids, we do a lot of complaining at God’s throne. Yet God, our patient, loving father, puts up with all our drama. He understands our complaints, but He draws the line at rejection. God cannot bend our will to either obey Him or love Him: He knocks, but we must open the door. He offers salvation, but we must meet Him at the cross. To the Israelites He offered direction and protection for the journey from Egypt to Canaan, but when they rejected Him, He could not force his direction and protection on them. They didn’t give God any choice but to step away.

It’s not like the snakes weren’t in the desert before this incident. Since the beginning of time, the desert was their home, the sand their breeding ground (Deut 8:15; plus Planet Earth told me so). All the years the Israelites shuffled their sandaled feet through the sandy wilderness, the snakes were always there. All the negative stuff was always there: the snakes, the heat, the unavailability of water, the lack of food.

It was God’s presence, His loving protection that kept the snakes from biting, that brought water gushing from a rock, that towered a cloud to block the sun, that showered the sand with manna. In spite of all the positive experiences with God, when they began feeding off one another’s whining, they couldn’t see the good stuff. When Israel rejected God, they forced God outside their camp, out of their lives.

When I shut God out, I shut out everything that comes with God–His protection, His grace, His love, His guidance, His Word. I can’t have it both ways; It’s simply illogical and completely unfair: I can’t reject God and at the same time expect to have His blessings. I can’t slam the door on God and expect to feel His presence in my life. 

My choices punish me. Not God. 

Spiritual Musings

Grace to Forget Oneself

He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. John 1:27, NIV

To be posthumously remembered as a disciple comes with accolades and praise. But the real, everyday life of a disciple is anything but prestigious. A disciple does more than learn the ways, teachings, and philosophy of his master. If the master says leave your nets, your job, and follow me, you do just that. If the master says leave your family and go on a missionary journey, you do just that. If the master says forget about the rules, go break the law and fetch me some grain on the Sabbath Day to fix the rumble in my tummy, you do just that. If the master says he’s got to leave for good, and you need to bear the risk of being stoned to death or crucified upside down, you do just that.

There is no glamor in being a disciple. A disciple in Jesus’ time was one who followed a master and did his bidding. The master had the right to ask pretty much anything of his disciple. Anything. That is, anything except the tasks of a slave. Menial tasks like untying the laces of a dirty pair of sandals and washing the dusty feet of the master was the job of a slave, not a disciple.

But there is more to the difference between a disciple and a slave. A slave is owned by the master; he has no choice but to do whatever the master asks of him. Whether the master asks the slave to take of his shoes or to die for him, the slave has no choice but to obey. The disciple, on the other hand, chooses to—wants to, of his own free will—obey the master. The slave does what he does without questioning the master; the disciples does what he does with understanding of and belief in the master.

When John the Baptist said he was unworthy of even untying Jesus’ sandals, he was saying Jesus is all that matters. Who I am–disciple, slave, or nobody—is of little significance. What matters is that I point the way to Jesus.

William Barclay says it best: “[John the Baptist] is the great example of the man prepared to obliterate himself in order that Jesus Christ may be seen. He was only, as he saw it, a finger-post pointing to Christ. God give us grace to forget ourselves and to remember only Christ.”

When you forget yourself in your love for Christ, everything about you points others to Christ. That’s being a disciple.

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Spiritual Musings

Remember and Never Forget

I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—stories we have heard and known. Psalm 78:2–3

Psalm 78 is the story about telling stories. Asaph the storyteller says before you go off on how bad you have it, remember. Before you dump God for something else, remember. Before you start wishing for more out of life, remember. Before you start forgetting, remember . . . .

Knee deep in despair, the past often gets foggy. But remembering better times is what we must do to keep moving in hope. Remember the past. Remember where you’ve been, how you survived. Remember the blessings, remember the miracles. Remember how your God has been with you.

Every time the Israelites lost sight of their history, they came to a bitter standstill—questioning themselves, one another, and even God. So Asaph tells them to never forget their stories.

It is in the stories of our past that we find hope. In sharing our stories of faith we find strength to endure today. From the mistakes of the past, we find direction for the future.

Feature image by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

devotion, Spiritual Musings

Head to Heart

Your God is beyond question the God of all gods. Daniel 2:47

On a scale of 1 to 10, Nebuchadnezzar’s stress level had to have been least 20. He had just conquered a nation. And with that conquest came the aggravation of dealing with a strange, stubborn people who were now his reluctant subjects.

By the time the new year rolled around, Nebuchadnezzar probably had his physician, shrink, and masseuse parked outside his bed chamber to attend to his stress-induced condition. Insomnia probably plagued him constantly. And when he did fall into short bursts of sleep, he had troubling dreams that left him paranoid during his waking hours.

No wonder Daniel spends an entire chapter describing Nebuchadnezzar’s obsession to discover the meaning of his dream. For the king, discovering the meaning of the dream meant finding the peace his soul so desired. Whatever would lead to the discovery would, therefore, be his salvation.

So when God, through Daniel, reveals the meaning of his dream, the king declares Daniel’s God the only true god. Having finally found the source of truth and peace, Nebuchadnezzar finally understands the power of God.

This should have been the turning point of Nebuchadnezzar’s life, the climax of the history of his new kingdom. But, it wasn’t. The very next chapter describes the next big event. Here Nebuchadnezzar proclaims that he should receive all respect and worship reserved for the gods and demands that every one bow before him.

What a change in attitude! And how quickly! He could not have forgotten what had happened just a little while earlier. Rather it seems like his discovery of the true God during his bad-dream phase was a just a needed solution to an immediate problem, another fact added to his bank of trivia and details. It was not an experience of conversion. The knowledge had not traveled from his head to his heart. Learning about and acknowledging God had had no long-term effect.

God has to be more than a Wikipedia entry, more than facts and details, more than proof texts and cross references. For God to have any positive effect in your life, your knowledge of Him must change your heart and make you a new creature.

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Spiritual Musings

What do You See?

The eye level of a dog is approximately eighteen inches. The eye level of a human being depends on the height of the individual, and is about five feet or more. Because of this big difference, it is very difficult to train seeing-eye dogs for the blind.

Dogs that help the blind have to be able to raise their eyes to abnormal heights. What is an obstruction crossing the path of a blind person at the height of five feet is not an obstruction for a dog. So the dog needs to be trained to look up to see what a human being would see. And until this happens, the dog is useless to a blind person.

As Christians, we too need to raise our eye level to see life as God wants us to experience it. Our natural, sinful tendency is to look at things from an earthly perspective; and things can get pretty depressing at our level. But when we have even a glimpse of how God sees life, when we trust in what He has planned for us, our view can be better than we could imagine—”No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9, NLT).

Even in the best of times, life is unpredictable. Even more so when life hits a rough patch, when the future–or just tomorrow—can be a daunting task. Knowing there is more to life, our future, and this world than we can see or comprehend, helps us remain positive, grateful, and content.

Live life, trusting in God’s complete panoramic view of the future.

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Midnight in Peking by Paul French (Penguin Books)


Until I met my husband I didn’t know that True Crime was worthy of a Dewey Decimal classification. I have had no interest in the genre even after learning that it has a large readership—people with a vicarious disposition to relive crime in the extreme details usually relegated to fiction.

I borrowed this book from my local library because it was shelved as “history.” In less than twenty pages, after line upon line of descriptive adjectives for a corpse covered in stab wounds, I realized I was reading my first true crime.

And I. Was. Fascinated.

Author Paul French wastes no time setting the stage: One winter morning in 1937 the body of a young girl is found at the foot of Beijing’s Fox Tower. Oddly, the body has been drained of blood and her heart is missing. 

From this spot where the body is discovered, French pulls you slowly, deeper and deeper, into the inner life of Beijing: the ways and customs of the Chinese, the secret lives of its British residents, and the politics that shape its fate. 

While he does stay true to historical facts, French does take liberty with the thoughts and perspective of the characters, giving the book somewhat of a fictional flavor. I appreciated his use of expatriate jargon (e.g. “amah,” “number one boy”) and Mandarin phrases. Without being overdone, they are well placed and lend the book authenticity. French also does a superb job of unfolding and exposing Beijing’s cultural context of the 1930s without patronizing the reader. 

Almost as fascinating as French’s storytelling, is the collection of photographs in the middle of the book. I say look at these first. They are not spoilers and will give you a visual context as you read the book, which in itself is one giant story mural. 

The book has the veracity and authenticity of non-fiction, while also providing the intrigues of a solid piece of fiction. It’s a prosaic quilt that pieces together history, anthropology, and true crime with threads of fiction.

Feature image by Tony Bertolino on Unsplash

Spiritual Musings

Hovering Love

The Bible begins with a declaration of the power of God: “In the beginning (going far back before anything or anyone ever was),1 GOD created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1).

Emphasizing the pitiful state of earth before God came on the scene, the second verse of the Bible paints this bleak picture: “The earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness” (Gen 1:2, The Message).

Into this nothingness, God steps in—bigger than the biggest you can imagine, better than the best there ever could be. He steps in with the ultimate power to create, to change, to make anew. In just the first two verses of the Bible, we encounter the indisputable power of our creator.

In the next verse, however, there is a dramatic change. From a picture of God’s power, we move to a second, yet equally compelling, portrait of God—His love: “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:3).

God hovers over my darkness
The verb hover is also used in Deuteronomy 32:11 where God is described as “an eagle hovering over its nest, overshadowing its young.” Here He is watching, protecting His people from danger. God is hovering, being the great I AM in the midst of their unknowns and fears.

God hovering over His people is understandable for caring for humans is part of His job description—we are His own, His creation, made after His own image. But what is He hovering over in Genesis 1:1? After all, “the earth was a soup of nothingness.” Nothing has yet been created, nothing is alive. Yet God hovers, standing guard, protecting this darkness, keeping a divine eye on this nothingness. 

This picture of God hovering in the first verses of Genesis has given me a deeper understanding of God’s love. It has taught me that God loves me not just because I am His child or because I am created after How own image. His love is bigger, bolder, better, and beyond His relationship with me. God loves because He simply loves. Over and above all His other characteristics, God is LOVE. God is overwhelmingly LOVE. God is indescribably LOVE. God is more LOVE than we could ever comprehend.

If God could hover over the inanimate dark blob in Genesis, imagine how much more hovering He does over me. Even if I’m nothing, even when I feel I’m unworthy, God hovers, God loves. When my life is dark all around, I am not alone. That’s the first picture of God I see in the Bible—a powerful, yet tender loving God hovering over me every minute of every day. Two others mean a lot to me too

God believes in my potential
Looking at the nothingness, He sees potential. God sees beyond the dark abyss and views the big picture of what could. He knows this nothingness does have to remain dark. So He says, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good” (Gen 1:3–4)

With the creation of light, a mere 1/6th of creation is complete. Yet God looks at what is still an unimpressive blob, and says it is GOOD! I believe he does the same with me. He looks at me, in my incompleteness, so far away from the finish line, and says I am good. When I place myself in the Creator’s hand to be continually molded, it’s always going to be good. Even when I am at my lowest God sees what I could be tomorrow, and He says “You are good!”

God provides for and empowers me
The third picture of God I see in the first few verses of Genesis is that He provides for and empowers me to do His will. In verse 11 God creates vegetables and fruit. Similarly, he outfits earth with sunshine, water, and everything else that humans would need before man ever was, before man could perceive a need or pray a request. 

And then God says to Adam and Eve, “Have dominion over . . . every living thing” (Get 1:28) I can’t imagine why a perfect, powerful God would trust fickle humans with His new creation! He turns over to Adam and Eve the entire earth—all of it. He does the same with me: Even after I’ve have let Him down over and over again, God continues to equip me with resources and talents. And then He does so much more—God invites me to partner with Him to care for other human beings, to be responsible for this earth, to build His church, to reflect Christ.

The confidence He has in me and the grace He gives me boggles my mind! His hovering gives me peace. Regardless of where I am, no matter what life throws at me, God’s power,  love, and presence will be my constants. For in the beginning, God. And now and forever, God.

1Extrapolation mine.
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Pachinko, by Min Jee Lin

34051011Descriptive prose, lyrical language, similes, and all those identifiers of a solid novel—there is none of that in this one.

Instead it reads like a story passed on from generation to generation, striped of the flourishes and left with only the essential and the important. It’s the story of one family held together by strong women.

Simple, pure storytelling. I couldn’t put it down till I was done!

Feature image by Tianshu Liu on Unsplash