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Talking About It
Category Archives: ministry
I remember hearing about Gracia and Martin Burnham in 2001, when the New Tribes Missions couple was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf, Islamic terrorists in the Philippines. I also remember hearing of her husband’s death and her release, and then, sometime later, my alma mater’s in-person honoring of her faith (a couple of her nieces were on the dormitory staff) during her ordeal. Her book has been on my “want-to-read-list” since I heard of is publishing, but I never followed through until this month, when the book, In the Presence of My Enemies was offered free via Kindle (no longer available free Kindle download, although the first chapter is available to read here).
In the book, Gracia shares her early life and marriage to Martin, their 17 years of ministry as missionaries in the Philippines, their life there with their three children, and then the 376 days of their captivity (after being kidnapped while at a small resort where they were celebrating their eighteenth wedding anniversary). With only the clothes on their backs (which wasn’t much, as they were taken away in the early hours of the morning), they faced over a year of difficult travels, near starvation, absence of of basic sanitation and comfort, constant exhaustion and physical pain, false hope of release, gunfights, and even having fellow captives face rape and decapitation. In the end, all but one of the other captives besides the Burnhams and those who were killed were released. Martin was unintentionally killed by the gunfire of their rescuers, and Gracia wounded.
The struggles they faced were not merely physical. Gracia humbly and honestly recounts her spiritual struggles during their time in the jungle, one which allowed her to emerge believing in and testifying to the gracious and loving sovereignty of God. The book gives readers a glimpse into fundamentalist, Islamic-based terrorist groups, particularly the dynamic that comes to play when the militants are somewhat uneducated to their own religion and even the manipulation and hypocrisy that is used to force others to join.
After her rescue, Gracia was asked to return to the Philippines to testify against her kidnappers. Eventually, those who were not killed in subsequent gunfights, or who had not escaped, were imprisoned. In an ultimate expression of loving her enemies, Gracia writes these men and shares with them the Gospel. She has also started ministries to help provide financially for their families by buying some of their craftsmanship. As the pastor at our church reminded us this Sunday, many religions ask their adherents to “love their neighbors as themselves;” yet, it is one of the marks of true Christianity for one to love their enemies. Clearly, it is an evidence of God’s sanctifying grace in Gracia that she emerged from this ordeal able to truly love her enemies.
As a wife and mother who at times thought our family would be in a similar missions context, such a scenario is still only one I could have imagined. Yet, there were countless scenarios that placed Gracia in a position dealing with the same experiences many first-world Christians face on a regular basis.
As a young mother, I found this lesson from Gracia to be a helpful admonishment and reminder:
“Poor Martin — he was so good to put up with my emotions. If we were in a gun battle and I was falling apart, he would say, “Gracia, this isn’t the time to cry. You’re wasting energy. You need to get ahold of yourself—you can cry later, okay
But he never reprimanded me for crying. It made me think back to earlier days, when I was homeschooling the kids, and I pushed Jeffrey so hard to perform that he would burst into tears. On more than one occasion I had said, “I don’t want to see you cry, because you’re just trying to get your way.” I was really impatient and unfair with him.
Now in the jungle, I thought to myself, How would you feel if someone walked up to you right now and said, “I don’t want you crying, because you’re just trying to get your own way?” I promised myself that if I ever got back to Jeff, I would sit him down and apologize for pushing him so hard. He was actually a good student, and so were the other kids. I just expected them to be perfect little adults instead of kids who were learning to make their way in the world.”
The story is engaging, though at times difficult to read and imagine what the Burnhams and fellow captives faced. Gracia divides her story into 22 chapters:
Table of Contents:
- 1 Seized at Dawn
- 2 Bright Beginnings
- 3 The Nicest Guy
- 4 Rookies
- 5 Toddlers and Traffic
- 6 The Perils of Palawan
- 7 Hospital of Horror
- 8 The Threat
- 9 Left Behind
- 10 Surrounded
- 11 A Song for the Jungle
- 12 Justice or Mercy?
- 13 September 11
- 14 Wedding Time
- 15 The Package
- 16 Silent Nights
- 17 So Close
- 18 Ransomed!
- 19 One Rainy Afternoon
- 20 The Embassy
- 21 Going Home
- 22 Reflections
In Spirit-Led Parenting: From Fear to Freedom in Baby’s First Year, Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer reflect on their early years of parenting, and how God moved them from fear to freedom during their first year of mothering. The book is divided into two parts, the first (chapters 1 through 3) focusing on their personal journey and their realization that many young mothers have also had a similar experience, and then part two (chapters 4 through 11) mostly focuses on examining specific areas in which many young mothers have been led to believe confusing and conflicting teachings.
I picked up this book because it was new and written specifically to a Christian audience (with specific encouragement to mothers who have already read and/or practiced confusing mainstream parenting advice). It’s a field in which I try to read broadly, though this one definitely captured my interest as my experience of concerns with some “infant management” teachings seemed slightly similar to the authors’s experience. Still, I was surprised at how refreshing and encouraging this book was to me as we prepare to care for and nurture an infant again, in what could be just a few days or weeks.
- Chapter One: As We Began
- Chapter Two: As We Confess Our Fears
- Chapter Three: As We Pursue Another Way
- Chapter Four: As We Feed Them
- Chapter Five: As They Sleep
- Chapter Six: As We Parent Together
- Chapter Seven: As We Keep the Spark
- Chapter Eight: As We Encourage Connection
- Chapter Nine: As They Sleep … Where?
- Chapter Ten: As We Stay On Track
- Chapter Eleven: As We Have Found His Redemption
Why We Accept Fear-Based Living and Rules of Parenting Infants
(For highlighting this book, I think this post is less of a “review” and more of an introduction and exposure to the book. As such, I wanted to pull out several quotes from the book.)
“The stakes in parenting are high. Unlike other areas of life in which we can walk away if things don’t work out, in parenting this is it. You are the only parents your child gets and it is up to you not to mess it up. That is an incredible amount of pressure, and it weighs heavily on parents-to-be. Added to this is the fear of failing our spouses, our marriages, and our circles of friends by not sticking to the established norms for how things are done to build and maintain happy homes.
All of these worries boil down to one central concern: Fear of the unknown. If we could just know for sure what was headed our way in parenting and know for certain what the answers were to any potential problems, we would feel so much more prepared for the journey.” (35)
“Because our culture tends to avoid sharing life together in the intimacy that provides real-life responses to these universal fears, there are bookshelves full of advice from the experts. The authors of these manuals are quite certain they have found the answer to all your baby-raising needs, with some even going so far as to suggest that the approach they take is God’s way to parent an infant.”
“There is something to be said for the comfort mainstream parenting paradigm offers. In the face of fear, the natural response is to seek out a way to avoid what is causing us anxiety or to enact a plan that will help us overcome the fear.” (35)
“When you are peering into the great unknown of life with a baby, it can be quite comforting to know that someone will tell you what to do. We crave a solution, and we are given one.”
“Answers chase the fears away. Charts and schedules color in the unknown. A sturdy plan becomes the lifeline. Now we can do this. Now we can shake the fear.”
Only what if that doesn’t happen?”
“What if the realization that our days and nights and our babies’ behaviors look nothing like the ones we are reading about only sends us careening into deeper, darker tunnels of confusion–and the fears just intensify?” (37)
“The fear of failing these instructions climbs to painful intensity when we also carry the perception that we are failing God.”
“One-size-fits-all parenting advice already makes sweeping assumptions about the effectiveness and appropriateness of the methods for every child of every parent in every home. When such advice is penned or interpreted through a Christian perspective, it can create some of the strongest fear of all for those parents who do not, in fact, fit. Suddenly, everything is at risk: our children, our marriages, our reputations, and even our relationships with God. The implications of these risks can be truly terrifying.” (40)
“Some parenting manuals seem to actually rely on fear to convince the reader that their way is best. Fear can be a strong motivator, but it’s an exhausting burden to carry…Rather than feeling empowered to step off the beaten path to explore a new approach that might be better suited to our families, we found ourselves paralyzed, listening to voices which seemed to play on an endless loop in our minds, perpetually indicting all of our shortcomings.”
What we desperately needed was someone who would tell us that what we thought were our shortcomings weren’t really shortcomings at all, but rather symptoms that fear-sickness had overtaken our hearts and minds.” (41)
“We want consistent guidelines and cold hard facts. We want outlines and directions that are easy to read and follow. But Spirit-lead parenting doesn’t work like that. And the reason for this is yet another radical idea: the first year should be less about training our babies and more about God developing us as parents and human beings. If we let him, God can use that first intense year of baby’s life to train us how to live a life that is fully surrendered to Him, to cultivate in us a trust that follows His lead, seeks Him first, and understands His grace.
A Different Perspective
As we will share throughout this book, parenting under the direction of the Holy Spirit is not easy. It can and likely will squeeze every last drop of self out of us. If we yield to it, though, there is much potential for spiritual growth and for learning–in the most hands-on, real-life way possible–what it truly means to be a servant leader. It can be a year of transformation from which we emerge with a refined and sharpened perspective, equipped to experience other people, other relationships, and other situations through the eyes of a servant. It can be a year of discovering new and life-changing joy and a release from the captivity of guilt and shame.” (44)
“This philosophy of child rearing requires a shift away from the mindset of parenting with the goal of convenience.”
“Letting go of control in any area of life is difficult and prying ourselves from the grip of those messages insisting that we maintain control…or else (Your marriage! Your child’s future! The harmony in your home!), takes far more effort. The relative unknown of surrendering to God’s lead versus the allure of neatly-ordered plans for success creates a stressful dilemma as we question whether He will really come through and wonder if we really hear Him.” (45-46)
“So much of what is spoken to parents (in secular and Christian material) is about maintaining and reclaiming yourself after you have a child, but there are few suggestions that one worthy response to God entrusting you with this little one is dying to your devotion to yourself. And since God Himself directs us to do so, we aren’t turning ourselves over to our babies or to other people as much as we are turning ourselves over to the Lord, who (among other things) leads and commands us to be servants of others.
“If we were to look at our spouse, or at a neighbor that God has placed in our lives who has needs to be met, and say, “I’m sorry, what you need from me isn’t convenient at this time. You’ll have to learn to require those things at an appropriate time,” we would surely consider that attitude to be one from which we need to repent.
Why would we see our children, the most precious gifts that God has placed in our care, any differently? Perhaps parenting an infant is one of the purest examples of living out the gospel because it is truly a give, give, give relationship. It is a constant opportunity to allow God to refine us by laying down our own desires to care for the needs of another.” (53)
“Life with an infant, however, is no time for unnecessary heroics. In fact, it can be a powerful opportunity to learn how to accept the service of others as you serve the needs of your baby.” (75)
“One of the most beautiful aspects of a healthy marriage is the way it is always evolving, shifting to meet the needs of both spouses, allowing them to move forward with clasped hands and interwoven hearts. The months of parenting an infant together are ripe with opportunity to grow even closer to the person you have pledged your love and life to through the covenant of marriage.” (117)
“Our encouragement to you is to pray, pray, and pray some more. It would be so much easier (wouldn’t it?) if God had included a short but very specific book in the Bible with black-and-white instructions on all things parenting. But rather than burdening us with more law, He had to have known His gracious offer of freedom would woo us ever closer to Him.” (215)
The book is specifically addressed to Christian parents, with specific application to those who have been offered mainstream parenting advice (both, either/or secular and Christian materials). In the preface, Sally Clarkson (author of The Ministry of Motherhood and The Mission of Motherhood) writes, “if you are a new mom, or a veteran mom about to give birth again, you have opened the right book. You only get one chance to give your baby a wonderful first year of life. This book will set you free to enjoy that first year of motherhood with all the blessings, grace, and delight God intends you to experience. Naturally, that’s the way it should be.”
While the book is written specifically with a female audience in mind, there are portions of the book also addressed to husbands/fathers. The authors’ husbands also share how God used the early stages of parenting infants to draw them closer to their wives and to God.
Although I’d hoped to share more of my experience and how it correlated with this book, the time and space is limited here. Essentially, much of what I “bought into” was a result of my fear and my pride, in my case–more pride than fear. Though even initially I was somewhat of an outcast from the mainstream because I did a few things out of the ordinary, there were still elements which I followed religiously and offered to my fellow mothers as the be-all, end-all solution. Through a couple of circumstances, I finally saw very clearly my own selfishness in my motivation and view of my child. (That’s not to say her first year was mostly rough–there are many wonderful memories, and she was a fairly “easy” infant. But I will never have that first year with just her back, and I regret some of the more harsh ways in which I treated her.)
Timothy Keller’s Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road is a valuable expansion on both the why’s and how’s of loving our neighbors, particularly doing so through mercy ministries. After taking a closer look at both Jesus’ command to love our neighbors and the Parable of the Good Samaritan (in the Prologue and Introduction, respectively), Keller divides his book into two parts, each with seven chapters: Principles and Practice. The first portion, Principles, is an in-depth study of the Biblical teaching on loving our neighbors through social justice and mercy ministry, while the second portion, Practice, focuses on the practical and technical aspects of practicing mercy ministry.
In the introduction to Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, Tim Keller notes that there are four types of people who he hopes will read his book:
1. People who have a concern for social justice and have been involved in the volunteerism movement, but who do not let their social concern affect their personal lives.
[This concern] does not influence how they spend money on themselves, how they conduct their careers, the way they choose and live in neighbhorhoods, or whom they seek as friends. Also, many lose enthusiasm for volunteering over time.
From their youth culture they have imbibed not only an emotional resonance for social justice but also a consumerism that undermines self-denial and delayed gratification. Popular youth culture in Western countries cannot bring about the broad change of life in us that is required if we are to make a difference for the poor and marginalized. While many young adults have a Christian faith, and also desire to help people in need, these two things are not actually connected to each other in their lives. They have not thought out the implications of Jesus’s gospel for doing justice in all aspects of life. That connection I will attempt to make in this book. (xi)
2. The person who approaches the subject of “doing justice” with suspicion.
In the twentieth century the American church divided between the liberal mainline that stressed social justice and the fundamentalist churches that emphasized personal salvation. One of the founders of the Social Gospel movement was Walter Rauschenbusch, a German Baptist minister whose first pastorate was on the edge of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen in the 1880s. His firsthand acquaintance with the terrible poverty of his neighborhood led him to question traditional evangelism, which took pains to save people’s souls but did nothing about the social systems locking them into poverty. Rauschenbusch began to minister to “both soul and body,” but in tandem with this shift in method came a shift in theology. He rejected the traditional doctrines of Scripture and atonement. He taught that Jesus did not need to satisfy the justice of God, and therefore he died only to be an example of unselfishness.
In the mind of many orthodox Christians, therefore, “doing justice” is inextricably linked with the loss of sound doctrine and spiritual dynamism. However, Jonathan Edwards, the eighteenth-century author of the sermons “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was a staunch Calvinist and hardly anyone’s idea of a “liberal.” Yet in his discourse on “The Duty of Charity to the Poor,” he concluded, “Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?” (xi-xii)
3. The younger evangelicals who have “expanded their missions” to include social justice along with evangelism, but who may have dropped attention to important theology.
Many of them have not only turned away from older forms of ministry, but also from traditional evangelical doctrines of Jesus’s substitutionary atonement and of justification by faith alone, which are seem as too “individualistic.” These authors usually argue that changes in theological emphasis–or perhaps outright changes in theological doctrine–are necessary if the church is going to be more engaged in the pursuit of social justice. The scope of the present volume prevents us from looking at these debates about atonement and justification. However, one of its main purposes is to show that such reengineering of doctrine is not only mistaken in itself, but also unnecessary. The most traditional formulation of evangelical doctrine, rightly understood, should lead its proponents to a life of doing justice in the world. (xiii-xiv)
4. Those who charge that religion “poisons everything” and see Christianity in opposition to social justice.
Recently there has been a rise in books and blogs charging that religion, to quote Christiopher Hitchens, “poisons everything.”
To such people the idea that belief in the Biblical God necessarily entails commitment to justice is absurd. But as we will see, the Bible is a book devoted to justice in the world from first to last. And the Bible gives us not just a naked call to care about justice, but gives us everything we need–motivation, guidance, inner joy, and power–to live a just life. (xiv)
Keller connects these four seemingly different groups as he concludes this portion of his introduction (emphasis mine):
I have identified four groups of readers who seem at first glance to be very different, but they are not. They all fail at some level to see that the Biblical gospel of Jesus necessarily and powerfully leads to a passion for justice in the world. A concern for justice in all aspects of life is neither an artificial add-on nor a contradiction to the message of the Bible. (xiv)