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We Are Free Indeed

Sojourner Truth used her God-given freedom to set others free—and we can too.

Powerhouse is not a word often used to describe women of the 19th century, but Sojourner Truth is not like most of our spiritual mothers. An itinerant preacher turned abolitionist, and an early voice in the fight for women’s rights, Truth poured out her life for the marginalized and the oppressed.

Born into slavery in 1797, Isabella Van Wagenen—as she was called at birth—was separated from her parents at nine years of age. She was sold on an auction block for $100, with six sheep thrown in to “sweeten the deal.” Over the years, she faced sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of her masters, but somehow persevered. Many saw her as the lowest of society—not only black, but also a woman—but she overcame unfathomable adversity. From birth, the cards were stacked against her, but she retained a steady faith in the God who sees and hears every single one of his children.

When she was 29, Sojourner’s life began to take a positive turn. Although she couldn’t read or write, Truth escaped slavery with her infant daughter in 1826. A year later, the New York State Emancipation Act declared her a free woman. She soon learned that her five-year-old son, Peter, had been illegally sold into slavery in Alabama; so, in 1828, with the help of the Quakers, she sued the owner and became the first black woman to win a case against a white man in court. Some say this series of events gave Truth the gumption to step further into the life she was meant to live.

Isn’t it the same for those of us whose hearts beat wildly for the marginalized and the oppressed? We have encountered the God of the underdog, and now we can’t help but fight for the same. So we teach the children ...

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Mon, 29 August 2016 08:00:00 CST
Tell a Good Story When You Preach

How to teach in a way that connects, compels, and builds trust.

My stepsons come barging in the door after seeing a movie with their dad. They are laughing and talking and quoting lines from the movie as they scour the cupboards for snacks.

“How was the movie?”

“It was really good! So funny.”

Then I ask this question: “What was it about?”

I usually get a play-by-play of the story line, with one of them talking over the other to clarify a point in the plot. They tell me about the actors and the cars and the funny parts. They tell me who won in the end and if this one was better than the other one that was kind of like this one but starred that other guy. All of this is said through mouthfuls of cheddar and sour cream potato chips, of course.

Never, in all the times they have told me about movies, has either one ever looked at me and said, “I can’t remember. There was this guy, and maybe he was a detective or something, and he had a car. Something blew up. I don’t know.”

They always know. The can always remember. They can always tell me. That’s the power of a story. We can remember a movie because someone is telling us a story. The story begins with people who need something, or something happens to them, or there is the promise of love, the threat of global extinction, or an epic battle between good and evil. The story unfolds as the characters respond to whatever comes their way. A good story draws us in because we want to know how it turns out: Did the accused commit the crime? Do the aliens wipe out life on earth? Does the girl find love? Find out this Christmas in a theater near you!

Our challenge as preachers is that almost everyone who listens to us knows how the story turns out. God is in the still, small voice. The boy ...

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Thu, 25 August 2016 08:00:00 CST
When Leadership Development Is a Bad Thing

I used to think I had to change to be a good leader. Now I see the strengths I had all along.

“How do you know?”

I can’t tell you know many times that question has stopped me cold. As a highly intuitive and introverted person, my favorite way of knowing is through my intuition. I naturally collect information without conscious reasoning, synthesize it behind the scenes, and come to a quick and convincing conclusion. The problem is intuition doesn’t come with hard evidence. When people challenged me to explain my conclusions, I often couldn’t do it.

Merriam-Webster’s simple definition of intuition is this: “a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence: a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why; something that is known or understood without proof or evidence.” This definition makes intuition sound a bit like magic, but it’s not based on pixie dust or hocus-pocus. It’s based on instinct, experience, knowledge, environmental input, and unconscious awareness of sensory stimuli.

Intuition is legitimate. And while relying on intuition is not always the best way to make a decision, sometimes it is.

After facing several challenges to my intuitive convictions in my professional life, I learned that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I had to back up my intuitive conclusions with empirical data. I had to use a slower process of logical reasoning—something I knew how to do, but didn’t always prefer. Ultimately this challenge was good for me, but the way I interpreted these incidents wasn’t.

I took professional challenges as signs of shortcomings, and I was determined to change my natural tendencies. This was just one more in a series of misunderstandings that ...

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Mon, 22 August 2016 08:00:00 CST
The Sound of My Voice

Discover the value of your unique voice.

Have you ever winced as you heard your own voice played back on a voicemail or video? Upon hearing the playback most people lament, “Do I really sound like that? Is that really me?” We grow up hearing our voices one way, as they come to us internally, echoing through our inner ear. As a result, you may experience your voice as deep and husky, yet in reality it may be high pitched or even shrill. It can be difficult, even disorienting, to discover how your voice sounds to others.

The term voice can mean the physical sound produced by your larynx. Yet when it comes to literature and life, voice takes a different meaning. In literature, voice is the form an author or narrator uses to tell a story, the way writers put themselves into words. Voice reveals the lens through which we experience a story. Consider Huckleberry Finn or Scout as they come to us via Mark Twain and Harper Lee.

While most of us naturally struggle to identify with our auditory voice, it can feel just as disconcerting to identify our narrative voice. Each of us has a narrative voice—the interpretation of and reaction to the events that shape us. The ability to reflect upon our lives and exercise voice is a divine gift everyone receives, and yet recognizing and using it can seem an insurmountable task. Your life is comprised of a set of circumstances and events unique to you. No one on the planet will ever live your beautiful, exhausting, tumultuous, grace-filled, or anxious life. Your narrative voice is the way you bring your experiences to a place that honors God by contributing to the lives of others. Narrative voice is a combination of three things:

1. An individual’s unique set of life experiences.

2. A person’s acceptance and ...

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Thu, 18 August 2016 08:00:00 CST
How to Figure Out Your Calling

Amy Orr-Ewing says it takes a combination of being proactive and listening for Gods leading.

I was 19 when I met Amy Orr-Ewing—the British speaker, writer, and evangelist that CT’s Katelyn Beaty deemed “among the most prominent apologists in the UK today” in a recent cover story. We were both students at Oxford University at the time, and we met through the student ministry at St. Aldates Church—a lively group that went by the memorable, slightly awkward name of “Risky Living.” But Amy and her now-husband, Frog, did, in fact, embody some of the riskiest living I’d ever seen in Christian peers, and that’s still the case today.

Today, Amy serves as the regional director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and as the director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. She writes books, teaches and trains in evangelism, and co-leads a unique and growing church. While she wears many hats, she is anchored by a central calling to evangelism and apologetics. Amy is an inspiring example of a woman passionately and relentlessly pursuing her calling, and encouraging others to do the same.

As a high schooler, Amy went on international mission trips with YWAM (Youth with a Mission), which initiated her training and experience in evangelism and public speaking. She says, “Through my teen years, the Lord put the dream in my heart of being an apologist . . . though I wouldn’t have called it that at the time. I thought of it as ‘the life of the mind,’ and I just knew that I wanted to extend faith to others though that vehicle.” By the time she was a student at Oxford, Amy was accustomed to giving talks about her faith and did so regularly, wherever God gave her opportunity. She had a big picture ...

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Mon, 15 August 2016 08:00:00 CST
How to Steward Your Ministry Well

What does it look like to invest in the resources God has entrusted to you?

Stewards are people who care for someone else’s property. They oversee, protect, and care for what is entrusted to them. That’s also the management responsibility of a leader. As people of faith, we are accountable as stewards on behalf of two different owners: (1) God, who created it all and entrusted it to us, and (2) for the ministry for which we work.

A familiar passage in Matthew speaks to the responsibility and the consequences of stewardship. Jesus told the story of a master who entrusted three servants with different amounts of money. One of the servants was given an amount comparable 100 years’ wages, the second was given 40 years’ wages, and the third was given 20 years’ wages. This was an outrageous sum of money for three men who had very little resources of their own. What an amazing opportunity to prove themselves! While the master was away, the first two servants went to work and both doubled the amount they were given. But the third did nothing. In fact, he dug a hole in the ground and hid the money. He literally buried his treasure.

Stewardship Is a Big Responsibility

I’m quick to criticize the third guy. “Seriously, you just buried it! You were given an amazing opportunity. Don’t squander this!” But then I put myself in his shoes. He’s a servant. He’s at the bottom of the corporate ladder. He’s not used to a lot of responsibility, and he’s fearful of messing it up. When the master confronted him about why he buried it, he said, “I was afraid” (Matthew 25:25). Paralyzed by fear, he was unable to steward the treasure he was responsible for.

That’s the way it is for you and me as well. How many times does fear paralyze ...

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Thu, 11 August 2016 08:00:00 CST
When You Feel Like You Can Never Do Enough

How to follow a sacrificial Savior without losing yourself in ministry

If you are in ministry, you most likely have a strong desire to serve others. But where does it end? When have you served enough? Where are the limits?

It’s popular to talk about having healthy boundaries, but how do we know where to set them in ministry? Since we have a Savior who died to fulfill his mission, how do we emulate him while still maintaining our mental and emotional stability? I’ve had a bad track record with this, and lately I’ve been slowly untangling the reason why.

When I came to Christ, I was not leaving a decadent lifestyle. Even though I wasn’t raised going to church, I had a strong moral compass and stuck to that pretty consistently. So when I became a Christian—which I did because I wanted to know God, not because I felt a lot of guilt for sin—I wasn’t sure what to do when I learned I was sinner.

Others I knew were able to see measurable results in their behavior when they trusted Christ. For example, I had a promiscuous friend who radically changed her sex life, and a man I knew kicked a drug habit. But I didn’t have that kind of behavior to overcome, so I simply focused on overcoming my propensity to be selfish. The trouble with that it’s difficult to determine when we’ve conquered selfishness. When it comes to selfishness, we’re never able to say, “Well, I’ve conquered that. Let’s go to the next thing.”

The second thing that caused me problems in ministry was my family heritage of never giving up. I’m sure my ancestors were hardy souls that had to survive the tough life of a prairie homesteader, but what am I to do with that since survival is pretty easy in my 21st-century life? I inherited their do or die ...

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Mon, 8 August 2016 09:00:00 CST
What Simone Biles Is Teaching Me about Innovation

Throwing out the old scorecard has changed gymnastics—and it can change your ministry.

On August 5, the 2016 Summer Olympics will officially begin with the opening ceremonies. And on August 7, I will grab a bowl of popcorn and watch the start of the gymnastics events, paying special attention to Simone Biles, the most decorated American female gymnast, as she competes at her first Olympics. This isn’t a new tradition. I have fond memories of watching the Magnificent Seven compete in the 1996 Atlanta games. As a young gymnast myself, I eyed every precise stunt and every perfect toe-point. I sat on the edge of my seat as Kerri Strug heroically vaulted, injuring herself, and ending her gymnastics career—all in the name of teamwork.

For those of you who may not have watched women’s gymnastics with as much zeal as I, it’s important to know that in 2008 the scorecard for gymnastics changed from the well-known 10-point system to a scoring scale that highlights the difficulty of routines. Despite objections from some long-time coaches, fans, and athletes, the new scorecard made its debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Why change a system that’s worked perfectly well for years? To promote innovation. You see, the new scorecard rewards gymnasts for attempting daring moves and connecting them together in close succession—even if they make a few mistakes along the way. The old scorecard was heavily based on perfecting elements with little to no reward for incorporating daring or innovative elements. In a nutshell, the point of the new system is to reward taking risks and to take away some of the fear of messing up.

Amazingly, only eight years later, it’s easy to see the benefits of the new system: Simone Biles. NBC reports that she’s “the first woman ever to be the all-around ...

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Thu, 4 August 2016 10:00:00 CST
Stop Leading from a Scarcity Mindset

With God, theres more than enough (gifts, opportunities, ministries, work) to go around.

There were 60 of us in the room that day, and only 8 were women. We’d been chosen, called, or assigned (however you want to say it) to speak at summer camps across the United States. I wish I could say that as I sat in two days of intensive training, every part of me was marked by Paul’s words in Romans 10:15, “Blessed are the feet of those who bring good news!” Instead, a fierce spirit of competition seeded its way inside of me, burrowing into my soul, and into every sinewy part of my body. I wanted to be the best. I suppose that’s where I went wrong.

Since it was my first speaking assignment, I knew that I wouldn’t be the best camp speaker in the room. I could swallow my pride and admit that I had space to grow. But if nothing else, I could at least be the best of the women in the room. Was that so hard? Was that asking too much of God? I began to see my sisters in Christ (who’d been entrusted with the same task) not as fellow travelers on the road, but as fierce competitors in the game. I began to believe there wasn’t room for all of us at the table. Only one of us could make it to the top. Only one of us could claim the top prize at the end of the day. I saw my sisters in Christ as my enemies.

But that’s not all. Not only did I want to be the best of the eight women there, I wanted to keep all the glory and honor to myself. I didn’t want to let anyone else in, especially not any other women—not because I thought my peers were less qualified, but because I wanted to hoard the achievement for myself. I wanted to become the star of my own Jesus-centered reality television show. I thought there was only room for my talents and gifts. I’d push any other ...

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Tue, 2 August 2016 08:00:00 CST
How to Minister to People Who Dont Like You

Eight tips to love the hard-to-love.

I have always been committed to obey the call of God no matter what. I was committed when I was ordained and released to plant a church in a community that didn’t approve of women in ministry. I was committed when someone actually threatened my life if I followed through with the church plant. I was committed when Johnnie—my husband, my greatest supporter, and my best friend—died of a massive heart attack 30 days after our church plant’s first service. I have no doubt that God called me to pastor anyway. When we obey God’s call on our lives, the road won’t always be easy.

The church plant was not all uphill, though. Many good things happened. The church grew with new converts, and my heart rejoiced to see people who had never been to church, who didn’t own a Bible, give their lives to Jesus. Men and women, singles and couples, and children of all ages joined the church. Although the church was small, the atmosphere was vibrant. The members were growing spiritually by leaps and bounds. Within 18 months, we were able to erect a church building.

The leadership of the church and I worked hard to make sure the church was healthy. The cornerstone was prayer. Small groups were formed for everyone: men, women, children, singles, and couples. Cohesion, interaction, and networking took place. The members visited each other in sickness, cried with each other in sorrow, and celebrated each other’s victories. We became a family.

I was moving so fast and was so excited about what God was doing in the lives of his people that it took me a while to realize that some of the members were unhappy. When I realized they were unhappy with me, surprise, anger, hurt, doubt, and discouragement overtook ...

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Thu, 28 July 2016 08:00:00 CST
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