How Brook Hills Goes Local

Over the next few weeks, we are spotlighting different ministries at Brook Hills to inform as well as to celebrate how God is working within our faith family. Click here for our post on Preschool Ministry, here for the one on our Worship Team, and here for the one on Children’s Ministry.

At Brook Hills, we often hear so much about global missions – which is wonderful, but for this week’s Q&A, I sat down with our Local Missions Pastor Keith Stanley and with Stephanie Davis to learn more about how our church is

Local Mission Team: Stephanie Davis & Keith Stanley

Local Mission Team: Stephanie Davis & Keith Stanley

involved in serving across the Birmingham area – how we’re going local.

BH Women: Provide a big picture of what Local Missions looks like at Brook Hills.

Keith: Our goal is to equip and empower Brook Hills members to intentionally make disciples in the city among the least reached and most impoverished. We all have opportunities in our normal rhythms to make disciples, but there is a whole world who needs to the church to come to them. We have to be mobile in order to reach the most needed areas of this city.

At Brook Hills, we specifically focus on four areas of ministry in Local Missions because these four groups represent the least reached in our city.

  • Internationals – There are over 40,000 internationals in Jefferson and Shelby County, many of whom are from unreached people groups.
  • Urban Children, many of whom are isolated from the gospel.
  • Urban Adults – To reach this demographic, we primarily partner with WorkFaith Birmingham, but our church members also serve with transitional ministries, prison ministries, and ministries such as Brother Bryan.
  • Foster Care – With this, we both encourage families to be foster parents as well as to WRAP foster families.

BH Women: So what are we doing as a church to reach these four groups of people?

Keith: Well, people in poverty are isolated from the church, both because of fear but also because of location. Or while there are churches in the inner city, they are not set up to meet all the needs of the people who live around them. For example, Marks Village (a government housing project in the Gate City part of town) has 500 families living there who all have needs – one church cannot meet those needs or reach these families by itself. So we partner with urban churches.

For the kids at Marks Village, we host a weekly Bible Club that currently has over eighty kids. We promote relational discipleship and have a 1:3 or a 1:4 ratio of adults to kids in order to allow this to happen more easily.

We also participate in Breakfast Club at Oliver Elementary, which is on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00am. Again, it’s one adult who meets with three kids who the school says are struggling academically and emotionally, and these adults have an opportunity to encourage and mentor students. We also do Discovery Clubs at Oliver, and our church hosts the Ready Day One project at Oliver in order to address physical needs with those students. We want to holistically minister to these urban kids – emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

For urban adults, we partner with Serving You Ministries, which is out of North Park Baptist Church in Trussville. They help address food, utilities, as well as some clothing needs and have two locations – one at North Park and one at Brook Highland Community Church. We send people from Brook Hills to serve there as well.

We also have church members who serve outside of these four areas we’ve identified. We encourage our church to find where God is calling you to serve and to make disciples in this city.

BH Women: You’ve mentioned WorkFaith Birmingham, which we’ve heard about a couple of times from the platform on Sundays. Can you explain more about this ministry?

Keith: First of all, understand that WorkFaith is a Brook Hills partner, not a Brook Hills ministry. I think there’s been some confusion about this.

At this point, 87% of WorkFaith Birmingham graduates have obtained employment, but we’ve discovered that they need more support after getting a job. In light of this, we are implementing monthly meetings for our graduates (the next one is Thursday, April 16, at 6:30pm at New Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church).

WorkFaith BHMFor this, we need people to serve as a table host at this meetings. This involves leading the table talk for the night – helping graduates network with each other, debriefing spiritual growth as well as job challenges (“What’s one thing you can do to grow in this area this week?”), and praying together. At these monthly meetings, we’ll also highlight our core ethics and values and address topics related to challenges they’re facing. We’ve also realized that we’re dealing with life needs. For example, food resources will be the focus of the April 16 meeting, and we will help them connect to support ministries and grow in life skills.

From March-December in 2014, we had nine workshops with sixty-seven graduates, and as of today, fifty-eight of them have a job. WorkFaith doesn’t give anyone a job, but we empower them with skills to get and keep a job. We’re trying to help our WorkFaith students move beyond entitlement and develop a biblical worldview of life, work, and ethics. We’re teaching them about God’s design for work, and we’re addressing the heresy of the prosperity gospel.

We have twelve core competencies that we teach in the curriculum we use, and we send our graduates job leads and coach them on how to stand out in a job interview and how to identify and explain what they can bring to a company. We also do mock interviews and teach them how to research companies.

BH Women: If a small group or a Brook Hills member wanted to start serving locally, what would they need to do as a first step?

Stephanie: First, look at what the people in the small group are passionate about, and identify the giftings of the people in the group. We have so many opportunities available, so it’s helpful to start with the person or the group’s passions and gifts in order to know where to serve.

An interest in working with children, for example, would narrow things down. If I can know something like this, I’ll list some options, tell you what the needs are, and what available serving opportunities are. You can take these opportunities back to your small group and pray through where God might be leading you.

If you still don’t know, just try one of them. We do immersion opportunities like the Fall Festival where you can serve for a day and see what it’s like before committing to serve there on a regular basis. These immersion opportunities also help get rid of preconceived notions about the people in that area.

Keith: In other words, just try it. We also send out a weekly email where we highlight needs of our ministry partners as well as opportunities to serve. If you want to be added to this email list, contact Stephanie at sdavis@brookhills.org

Stephanie: We usually send this out on Tuesdays, but you can also check our website on the “Get Started” tab. There we’ll list immersion opportunities, immediate opportunities, and the info from our e-blast.

Keith: We also highlight equipping opportunities on our weekly e-blast.

Stephanie: I often encourage people just to come to our Working with Urban Children workshop. If you have no idea where to serve, come to one of these. You can meet folks who are already serving with urban children and get a picture of what it involves.

BH Women: Many people at Brook Hills don’t really know the history of Local Missions at our church and how the Radical Experiment helped shape what this ministry looks like here. Can you fill us in?

Keith: We had a Community Outreach program even when I came here in 2004. As people came back from Global serving opportunities, we wanted them to have a way to plug in here in our city.

With Radical, David Platt challenges us to pray about an area with spiritual and physical poverty where we could make a long-term impact. Globally, this was India, and locally, we identified the East Lake and Gate City area.

We drove around the city praying, and back then, we had about 100 people serving with Lovelady. We were asking where were the deepest needs in our city, and we identified Marks Village. The needs were and are immense. 60% of kids are raised by a grandparent, and 80% of these families have no male father figures in the home. The average income per year was $6200, which was the lowest income of all the public housing communities in Birmingham. And we sensed that God was calling us to make a difference there.

Ben DeLoach, who was on our staff at that time, was from East Lake and sensed God leading him to plant a church there – to move to that area and make a difference there. God opened up partnerships – some more successful than others, and through it all, we’ve learned about our own expectations and how to serve the local churches in those areas.

Radical called us to ask the question: how can we best and most intentionally make disciples among the least reached and most impoverished, both locally and globally?

Stephanie: It’s important to note that people both within and outside of Brook Hills were addressing needs in our community, but nothing was really present in Marks Village. No one was addressing the generational poverty there.

Keith: There’s lots of great relief work in this city, but not a lot of ministries are focusing on restoration. This is why relational disciple-making is so important. People can’t move out of their economic or their spiritual situations without someone walking alongside them.

We try to restore people – families – to God, to His plan for their life, and empower them to live it. We are not trying to mold them into some sort of Brook Hills image. We want to empower them to walk with God themselves and to understand His plan for them. We counsel with resources and provide opportunities for them to get out of poverty.

It’s relational disciple-making. When you don’t have Christ-followers investing, they reach a plateau spiritually. We have all benefitted from relationships, from where people have invested in us, and we want to provide these relationships for internationals, urban children, urban adults, and foster kids in Birmingham.

BH Women: Do y’all have any recommended reading for folks who want to serve with any of these four groups of people?

Stephanie: Click here to see a list of books, studies, and sermons that we recommend for anyone who wants to serve with the spiritually and materially impoverished.

BH Women: Two Sundays ago (March 22), Ready Day One was emphasized in the Sunday Worship Gatherings. Give us more information on what this and how our church can get involved.

Keith: Ready Day One provides urban children with the resources they need to start school, and for us, it’s a way to display the gospel, to connect local churches to needy, unchurched families, and to love them in Jesus’ name.

Prior to Ready Day One, more than 33% of students in Birmingham City Schools were not showing up until after Labor Day. Since the start of Ready Day One, this number has dropped to 5%.

At Brook Hills, we were already focused on reaching out to the families at Marks Village, and Oliver Elementary is where these kids go to school. So we focus on the Ready Day One project at Oliver Elementary.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 11.04.23 AMAll of this came about when Frank Woodson (from Mission Alabama) and I traveled to Dallas a couple of years ago, and Frank told me of a conversation he’d had with Dr. Witherspoon. The school superintendent told Frank of how the inner city kids were starting a month later than suburban schools, that it takes that long to get students there because school uniforms are required. These kids have to wait until their families’ Social Security checks come in at the first of the month to buy the rest of what’s needed to start school, and Dr. Witherspoon asked if there was any way that the local churches could help.

Ready Day One provides three school uniforms, a belt, a jacket, a backpack, shoes, socks, and school supplies for all children who live in public housing in Jefferson County and for all DHR kids. There are 460 kids at Oliver, and it costs about $100 per child to provide all that’s listed above. So our goal is to raise $45,000.

Last year, our faith family provided uniforms and school supplies for more than 450 children in the Gate City area.

Stephanie: If people want to give online to Ready Day One, they can do so at this site. We’ll also have serving days this summer as we prepare items for distribution and as we give them out to the families. We’ll have more information about this on our website and in our weekly e-news starting this summer.

BH Women: Is there anything else that you would like our faith family to know about Local Missions at Brook Hills?

Keith: We are joining God in what He’s already doing in this city. We’re not Saviors coming in on a white horse. But we are called to serve, to join God, and to go in humility.

Stephanie: And we don’t always know how to best do this, so we learn – often through trial and error.

Keith: As with Global, there are also short-term, mid-term, and long-term needs in Local Missions, and obviously, the greatest impact is had when there’s weekly involvement with people. Also, we think of projects in terms of people and ask the questions, “How does this ‘event’ support relational disciple-making? How does it allow us to relay the gospel?”

An Inside Look at BH Kids

Over the next few weeks, we are spotlighting different ministries at Brook Hills to inform as well as to celebrate how God is working within our faith family. To read our post on Preschool Ministry, click here, and for the one on our Worship Team, click here.

Never a dull moment with our Brook Hills Kids Lead Team!

Never a dull moment with our Brook Hills Kids Lead Team!

On a sunny day at the Brook Hills playground last week, I sat down with John Tice, Phyliss Wright, Allison Turner, and Nathan Graham from BH’s Children’s Ministry to find out what exactly goes on in the third floor of the church.

BH Women: What drew you to Children’s Ministry? Why this age group?

John: It is inarguably the greatest work on earth. Here’s why. If our goal is discipleship (and it is), then the best time to shape a person’s understanding, love, and heart towards fear of God is when this person is a child. It’s a prime time for discipleship. Plus, children’s ministry is fun. Kids are real with no pretense.

Nathan: They’re very impressionable.

BH Women: What does a typical Wednesday or Sunday look like on the third floor?

Phyliss: Wednesday nights are IGNITE where we have a huge missions focus. The tag line for IGNITE is “Kids with Jesus on His great mission.”

We want them to know that they can and should be missionaries where they are as well as look ahead to where God might lead them as adults. And we provide them with opportunities to meet real missionaries.

John: Sometimes, they (the missionaries) come here, or we provide exposure through media such as Skype. We particularly focus on missionaries who are from Brook Hills and who have kids this age.

Phyliss: During Wednesday nights, the kids take time in their small groups to pray for them – and they are serious about praying for our missionaries!

John: Wednesday nights are casual, no chairs, and we have an energetic game time-

Nathan: Which is a kid favorite!

Phyliss: It’s a John and Nathan favorite. They play as hard as the kids do.

Nathan: With Kids Choir rehearsal also on Wednesday nights this past month, one sister went to Kids Choir while her brother went to IGNITE. His reason for choosing IGNITE over Kids Choir? “Choir doesn’t have game time!”

BH Women: What all happens on Sundays?

John: On Sundays, our emphasis is on Scripture, for sure. We’re using a three year curriculum from Gospel Project that gives an overview of the whole Bible. Every lesson is a gospel emphasis.

Allison: The kids see each of the stories – how they tie together and to the gospel, which is not how I learned all of the Bible stories as a kid. I was taught them as individual, stand-alone stories and didn’t see how they all connect together as one larger story.

John: We’re building a high regard for Scripture. For example, we emphasize bringing Bibles with us to church. For the most part, we’re above 85% each week, but our goal is 95%. And if we reach that goal, we have Heavenly Donuts…

We also make a big deal about Scripture memory, and we want them to get the application of what they’re memorizing. And we make it fun.

BH Women: How do you make it fun?

Nathan: We invite kids up on stage to recite their memory verses. If they quote them correctly, they go to the treasure chest for a prize. And when they recite the verses, the room explodes like they just made a touchdown.

Phyliss: Like Alabama just beat Auburn!

John: And the kids participate more in the service through the spoken

Kids Ministry Lead Team (L-R): Allison Turner, Phyliss Wright, John Tice, & Nathan Graham

Kids Ministry Lead Team (L-R): Allison Turner, Phyliss Wright, John Tice, & Nathan Graham

Word.

Phyliss: We also have a time of song and praise – with hand motions because it’s good to move when praising God.

These kids truly worship – even without planned motions. Even some of our Faith Trainers (small group leaders) have commented how they wish they could be as free in worship in the Big Room as they are in 304.

Our 5th graders lead us in worship on Sunday mornings. We have three teams of boys and girls who rotate leading and come early enough to rehearse.

Nathan: They also help run the sound booth and run water to the rooms for snack time.

Phyliss: And we can’t forget our Welcome Team. They rotate every week with one team standing at the main desk to check in guests and walk new parents and kids to the rooms. We have some at the check-in stations to assist parents. They’re so faithful, and it’s great to have them!

And we have a great group of subs – to the point that we never have to worry about having small groups covered. We even have “floaters” who will just ask, “Mrs. Phyliss, where you need me today?”

John: At this point, all of our serving positions are filled. When I first got here, we had 56 volunteer staff. Now, we have 106 serving in Children’s Ministry.

BH Women: Tell me more about what y’all do with Scripture memory.

John: We’ve selected verses for each grade, and we were guided to choose these verses by three of Paul’s pastoral prayers (things he prayed for the churches). These bullet points became the emphases. They focus on being mature, hopeful, and grounded in the faith and are Christ-centered, with many being Christ’s words.

The boys and girls are exposed to these verses for nine weeks because we want to let life unfold while these verses are in front of them. We also have a built in review system by reviewing the verses on Sunday mornings. For example, when a first grader quotes one of their verses, they’re rehearsing them for all the other kids who memorized that verse in first grade.

Allison: It’s really cool. We’ll ask if anyone remembers a verse from the section before, and they do!

Phyliss: We even had a fifth grade child quote all of her fourth grade verses. She rattled them off like an auctioneer.

BH Women: How do you help equip parents to talk their kids about salvation?

John: When something prompts conversation with their child, we encourage them to listen. We also provide a moms and dads with a printed resource (to help them talk to their kids about the gospel). Once a child goes through this with their parent(s), we as a staff have a conversation with them just to affirm them in their faith.

Starting this next school year, we’ll have a class offered two times a year for parents to attend that addresses salvation, baptism, and communion.

Phyliss: We also have a guide to help the kids write out their testimony. We adapted it from the one for the church, but it’s more kid-friendly.

Nathan: And parents are involved in the Bible memory program. Kids quote their verses to their parents, and the parents sign cards letting us know that the kids have memorized that verse.

John: We’re trying to link church with home and to reinforce that parents are the primary disciplers of their kids.

BH Women: What types of things does Children’s Ministry have coming up?

Phyliss: Rock the Block Easter, Summer, and Fall.

John: Which, in a nutshell, is the Brook Hills faith family decentralized. It’s intentionally not on campus but scattered to meet in neighborhoods.

Allison: More of the church is involved than if you actually met at the church.

John: Last year, over 1500 children came to Rock the Block Summer.

Nathan: With the smaller sites, more ongoing relationships are formed Rock the Block Easterwhere our congregation actually lives.

John: Rock the Block is weeklong – 4-5 days, and you can choose one of the four weeks in June to have it.

For Rock the Block Easter, this is something that would just be on a Saturday morning.

With Rock the Block Fall, this could be either a Friday or Saturday night thing.

Phyliss: The purpose of RTB Fall and Easter is to encourage continued gospel conversations that began in the summer. We want our folks to be intentional with their neighbors and use these activities to spawn conversations with them throughout the year.

John: Because neighbors are more likely to see the church through a member who lives across the street rather than the church building on 119.

BH Women: And we can’t forget about Kids Camp, right?

Phyliss: Oh, it’s the most fun week of the entire year!

John: Where else can you swim in a green lake or pond?

Phyliss: And throw up all the ice cream you ate (with sprinkles on top)?

A cool story from camp last year: we had a girl that was homesick the entire week. That first night, I gathered with her in her room to pray for her, and every night we went through this with this one girl. But on the last night, she ended up praying with one of her friends who trusted in Christ, and she told us how she was so thankful that she had stayed instead of going home early.

It’s an example of how our kids are making disciples, how they are disciple-makers.

Nathan: This year, we’re going to camp June 16-19 to Student Life for Kids.

Allison: At Shocco Springs.

Phyliss: And they’re building a new slide for this year. It’s 90 feet tall and called “Wet Willie.” It even has a two slides, so you can race.

And we can’t forget the nasty suckers and liquid ice creamy that were favorites of the kids last summer.

BH Women: Liquid ice cream?

Phyliss: The soft serve ice cream machine is used so much that the ice cream doesn’t get a chance to freeze.

Allison: It’s ice cream soup.

And we also do Family Game Night each year. I haven’t experienced it yet [Allison just joined our staff back in November].

The kids who have completed Route 66 (memorized the books of the Bible) can come early with a VIP early pass, play games, and do everything for free. We have inflatables…

Phyliss: And carnival-type games and some things where parents and Faith Trainers compete…

Nathan: And face-painting, Steel City Pops..

Phyliss: Duck pond, ring toss, cotton candy…

John: This year, I’m hoping to get a backhoe of dirt for the boys to just play in.

Phyliss: And the girls too!

BH Women: Is there anything else you would want our church to know about BH Kids?

Nathan: It’s for 1st-5th graders.

John: It’s a great place to serve, and if you’re interested in serving, contact Allison at aturner@brookhills.org or at (205) 313-7745.

For more with BH Kids, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and check out their website.

Q&A with the Brook Hills Worship Team

Over the next few weeks, we are spotlighting different ministries at Brook Hills to inform as well as to celebrate how God is working within our faith family. To read our post on Preschool Ministry, click here.

For today’s post, I joined our Worship Team (Matt Mason, Audrie Appel, and Philip Townsend) in their weekly Worship Team meeting and got a behind the scenes look at this ministry at our church.

BH Women: So what all goes into preparing for Sunday’s Worship Gatherings?

Matt: It starts with knowing the sermon passage. That drives it all. Knowing the text and the pastoral theme allows us to think about songs that echoes that theme. For example, in Romans 8, God as our Father and the Spirit guiding us are themes that loom large. We choose songs that echo the sermon and have a gospel shape – that tell the story.

Once we know where the sermon is heading, we lock in on the songs. We especially focus on the song that comes right after the sermon since it serves as a response and a reinforcement of what was preached.

A third layer we consider with song choices has to do with any songs that we’ve recently taught our faith family that we want to continue to learn or emphasize.

Audrie: We also don’t want all of the songs to be the same type of song – not all upbeat or not all slow. We don’t want them to all sound the same. We also ask whether or not the song is accessible to the congregation. Is it singable? Does it have good content?

Philip: And we think through how the songs tie into the sermon. Does anything need to be said to make the Worship Gathering more cohesive or to make things flow from one element to the next?

Matt: We have default settings for the order of a Worship Gathering – baptism, intercessory prayer, the sermon, and the Lord’s Supper. If the sermon suggests it, we set things up differently. For example, with a sermon on the resurrection, we would put baptism after the sermon to make the truth of the resurrection pop – where people could hear about it then see the truth through baptism. So our worship order is not set in stone. Based on the sermon, our team will make suggestions, but the preaching pastor for that Sunday makes the final call regarding the order.

Audrie: We also communicate with other ministries such as when Global is commissioning people.

Matt: And we try to look in advance to see what goes together, what themes are coming up. So we moved Kids Choir to sing on April 12 since that is a Local Emphasis Sunday and since the New Parent Commissioning is that day.

BH Women: Outside of planning for Sunday’s Worship Gatherings, what all does the Worship Team do?

Audrie: Well Matt is preaching these days…

Philip: There’s the logistical side of things. And Audrie handles the finances now for our team.

Student Ministry has its own Worship Team with student musicians who lead every Wednesday and on one Sunday a month. We incorporate a few adults on Sunday, but it’s mostly student led.

We help these students think through the same processes – gospel shape, Scripture to read, etc. It’s a microcosm of what we do as a Worship Team.

(L to R) Matt Mason, Audrie Appel, Philip Townsend

(L to R) Matt Mason, Audrie Appel, Philip Townsend

The students arrive at 3:30pm on Wednesdays, and we have Bible study for an hour before they practice. This is time to invest in them on a deeper level. They’re absorbing and are much farther along than I was at their age.

Matt: Philip takes point in this.

Philip: And Audrie works with the vocalists and their ability to harmonize. And Audrie also works with the Kids Choir.

We also write Bible verse memory songs for Children’s Ministry that go along with what verses they are already memorizing.

Matt: It reinforces what those guys [Kids Team] are doing. So in our meetings, we’ll ask, “Who wants to write the Romans song?” or “Who wants to write the John 14 song?”

Audrie: Working on lyrics are another thing. And auditions for vocal team and for the band.

And we have 3D Nights where all of our worship volunteers gather together. This time together looks different each 3D Night.

Matt: The 3 D’s stand for doctrine, discipleship, and devotion.

  • Doctrine – We sing about God all the time, but we also want to study more about Him. So we might look at a particular doctrine such as an attribute of God.
  • Discipleship – We fellowship together, bear one another’s burdens, pray together, and ask how we can better serve the church.
  • Devotion – We sing together and pray together.

Philip: It’s the one time that all of our Worship volunteers gather together.

Audrie: This past year, we had a time of training for our vocalists.

Philip: And we’ll do band camp in the summer for a week with our students. We have them do push-ups and sit-ups everyday… We teach them the musical aspect of leading in worship, which is important especially for the incoming sixth and seventh graders.

Audrie: We have a new normal now that Matt is preaching regularly.

Matt: The routine for us during the week is:

  • Worship Staff Meeting on Mondays – We pray a psalm together, review Sunday’s Worship Gathering, track areas or themes we’re emphasizing, discuss things to reinforce, etc., and we read through a book together. [They’re currently reading Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor.]
  • Worship Planning Meeting on Tuesdays – This is with the preaching pastor, the Communications Team, and anyone else who is involved in that Sunday’s gatherings.
  • Songwriting Meeting on Tuesdays – We carve out time to write songs and work on upcoming projects.

BH Women: What resources have been influential for helping you think through Worship Ministry at Brook Hills?

Audrie: Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin. We’ve gone through that together as a Worship Team. And we’ve been to a Sovereign Grace Worship Conference together.

Matt: John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and Truth

Philip: Doxology and Theology – and not just because Matt has a chapter in it… [Chapter 13 on “The Worship Leader and Singing” in case you’re curious.]

And Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges

Audrie: We’ve read Fellowship with God by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Philip: And Kevin DeYoung’s Why We Love the Church

BH Women: Are there any upcoming projects or events that Worship Team is working on?

Matt: Adult Choir this Sunday, Kids Choir on April 12, Easter, Secret Church, auditions in the summer for vocalists, and two songs at the Look at the Book Conference.

Philip: We’re wanting to record the memory verse songs for Children’s Ministry.

Matt: Our rotation for vocalists and the band starts or resets in August. We ask our vocal team and our band members to serve for a year – this is not applicable to choir, though.

Choir members are not deacons, but vocalists and band members are.

BH Women: Is there anything that y’all would like for the church to know about the Worship Team or about Worship Ministry at Brook Hills?

Audrie: I’m not sure how many people are aware of the projects we’ve released, like Death to Life.

[To see all of the albums put out by Brook Hills Music, click here]

Philip: And we are going to continue to write music.

Matt: We’re looking for more people to get involved to serve with us.

Philip: It’s not difficult to audition. Feel the freedom to contact us and to set something up.

Audrie: If you’re wanting to be a vocalist or in the choir, contact me (aappel@brookhills.org). If you’re wanting to be in the band, contact Philip (ptownsend@brookhills.org).

Matt: The choir practices for the three weeks leading up to when they sing in the Worship Gatherings, and they sing every six weeks, except in the summer.

Philip: Anyone can do it [sing in the choir]. There are no auditions for that.

Matt: And you do it when you can. Unlike vocalists or the band, choir is not a one year commitment. If you can join us on the Sunday the choir is singing, then just come to practice. We even have rehearsal tracks that you can use if you can’t come to all of the rehearsals.

To keep up with Worship Ministry, you can also follow them on Twitter (@BHWorship) and like them on Facebook (Brook Hills Worship).

You May Not Have a Preschooler, But…

If you don’t have a preschooler, you may not know what happens in our church’s Preschool Ministry, and the same goes for all of the other ministries in our church. So over the next couple of weeks, we will spotlight different ministries at Brook Hills to inform as well as to celebrate how God is working within our faith family.

Our Preschool Ministry Team (L-R): Diona Hightower, Mary Cannon, Kimberly DeLoach, Amy Throckmorton, and Robin Cheatham.

Our Preschool Ministry Team (L-R): Diona Hightower, Mary Cannon, Kimberly DeLoach, Amy Throckmorton, and Robin Cheatham.

For today’s post, I sat down with Diona Hightower, Robin Cheatham, Amy Throckmorton, and Kimberly DeLoach from our Preschool Team, and did a short Q&A with them about Brook Hills’ Preschool Ministry.

BH Women: If someone does not have a preschooler, what would you want them to know about Preschool Ministry?

Robin: We point preschoolers to Jesus and the world.

Kimberly: Jesus is in the nursery.

Diona: It’s not just babysitting. We are impacting the next generation. Preschool ministry is family ministry.

BH Women: How many preschoolers do y’all see each week?

Diona: In a week, we see about 600 preschoolers on our campus.

Amy: On Sundays, it’s between 450-500.

BH Women: What does a Sunday morning or a Wednesday night look like in Preschool?

Diona: Foundational, God-centered Bible study; large group worship time with praise and worship; prayer; Scripture memory.

Robin: Building trusting relationships with the children and their parents.

Kimberly: In the nursery, it’s providing babies with consistent faces and creating a sense of safety and security. The nursery, in particular, is a huge opportunity for influence. Just think of how many things you learned to do by the time that you were two that you continue to do today and don’t even remember learning.

Check out this cute video of one of our 4 year olds quoting a psalm she had memorized!

BH Women: Tell me more about the focus on missions within Preschool Ministry.

Robin: We have a monthly missions focus where we learn about a particular missionary or mission organization around the world. We particularly focus on our Brook Hills missionaries, but we have recently begun expanding a little bit to focus on our ministry partners such as Compassion International and Neverthirst.

For example, this month we are focusing on Samaritan’s Purse and helping the kids to understand that they do more than just the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Week one, we explained to them about what Samaritan’s Purse does. For week two, we are explaining to them the good news that Samaritan’s Purse shares through the booklets that they put in the shoeboxes and through the follow up that they do in the months after the shoe box giveaways. On the third week, Angelia Stewart, one of our church members, will share with the group about what it looked like to do some of this follow-up (she recently got back from a short-term trip with Samaritan’s Purse).

We also have the kids come up after each mission presentation and pray for the missionaries and for the people. And in the past, we have Skyped in the missionaries we focused on that month or have them come share with the preschoolers in person if they’re home on furlough.

BH Women: Kimberly, tell us more about Brook Hills’ ministry to new and expecting parents?

Kimberly: On April 12, we will have a New Parent Commissioning in all three Worship Gatherings, and this will be something that we will do twice a year. For the one in April, we have over forty families who will be participating, and each of these families took part in a required First Steps class during this month.

BH Women: So if someone just found out that they are expecting a child (whether through natural birth or adoption)…

Kimberly: They need to notify me (kdeloach@brookhills.org),and I’ll add them to our Expecting Board on the Preschool Hall. We will also send them a packet and small gift when their child comes home,

You can find the Expecting Parents Board in the Creation Care part of the Preschool Hall (immediately to the right when you're coming from the Main Lobby). The fruit on the trees displays the new arrivals, and the parts in between feature the due dates and parents' names.

You can find the Expecting Parents Board in the Creation Care part of the Preschool Hall (immediately to the right when you’re coming from the Main Lobby). The fruit on the trees displays the new arrivals, and the parts in between feature the due dates and parents’ names.

and we’ll update the Expecting Board. Their packet will explain how the nursery operates and will include information on the Early Learning Center at the church, Mom Time small groups, and information about New Parent Commissioning. We also have a Facebook group for new and expecting moms that has been a huge resource and place for these women to ask questions and to share.

BH Women: How can our faith family be specifically praying for Preschool Ministry?

Robin: Pray for God to send those whom He is calling to serve in Preschool Ministry.

Kimberly: Pray for leaders who are passionate about preschoolers and walking alongside new parents. Pray for a Titus 2 mindset, especially among the empty nesters and older people in our church who have been there and done that when it comes to parenting. You have such an opportunity to minister to young moms. You do have something to offer – what you’ve learned as a parent!

If you would like to serve or learn more about Preschool Ministry, contact Diona Hightower at dhightower@brookhills.org or Amy Throckmorton at athrockmorton@brookhills.org. In particular, there are serving opportunities available for newborns on Sunday mornings and for 4’s and 5’s on Wednesday nights.

Straight Talk Event

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“Who am I, and where am I going?”
Ladies, have you ever asked these questions? Are you trying to make decisions about the future and just want some clarity?

Join us as an intergenerational panel of women from Brook Hills share and host a Q&A on the topics of identity and discerning the future.

Tuesday, April 14
7:00pm
Student Building
For Single Women in Their 20s/30s

Preparing Your Family for Easter

This past weekend, I had a conversation with one of my small group girls who grew up in a family with very nominal beliefs, but this year as a first year seminarian, she got invited to five different Ash Wednesday services. But, as she confessed, she had no idea what Ash Wednesday was, so she went to Google and was so overwhelmed about what she read and what to expect that she didn’t go to any of them.

I grew up in a family with a parent in ministry, but our church never practiced Lent, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, or even Good unnamedFriday. That was for the one little Catholic church in town. We had an Easter Sunday service (maybe a sunrise service), everyone wore their new Easter clothes, and we ate a scrumptious meal after church with an Easter egg hunt that afternoon. Oh, and don’t forget the lavish Passion Play production that the church put on for Easter weekend.

We all have different backgrounds and different levels of exposure when it comes to Easter, and you can read the previous blog posts we have done (see below), but this year, I want to let you know about an exciting new resource that you can use for yourself or, if you have kids, with your family to help them know about “the greatest rescue mission in history.”

Scott James, one of our Elders at Brook Hills, wrote this two-week devotional that families can beginning on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) through the week after Easter. It looks at the overall message of redemption, and it helps parents unpack the importance

This past Sunday, Brook Hills Kids had a fun time celebrating the release of this book with Scott, who serves as a fourth grade Faith Trainer at the church.

This past Sunday, Brook Hills Kids had a fun time celebrating the release of this book with Scott, who serves as a fourth grade Faith Trainer at the church. Here, John Tice (left), our Children’s Minister, presents Scott (right) with a cake that our kids and leaders enjoyed on Sunday.

of Jesus’ death and resurrection and how these truths affect our lives today. You can simply read the devotional as a family, and the book also provides suggestions for family activities that parents can use with kids of all ages. If you’re new to the concept of family worship or family devotions, this would be a great resource to start, for each devotion only takes about ten minutes to do, and it reminds our kids and ourselves that Easter is more than just “bunnies and baskets.”

If you would like to purchase a copy of Mission Accomplished, you can do so for $10 at the Brookstore at our church, or you can order a copy from this site.

If you want to learn more about Easter itself and about how to cultivate family traditions that point to Christ during Easter season, read the following BH Women posts:

Fathered or Fed?

Fill in the blank: I want ______________.

Today, I have wanted meat (my new workout regime has me craving protein), a wicker tea tray, a cute Aztec cardigan, Piper & Leaf tea (Front Porch Blend and/or Peach), water, time alone, to be thinner, a magic solution to moving issues (going from a larger kitchen with a pantry to a smaller kitchen with no pantry, #movingprobs), a book contract, tickets to Wicked, everything I have pinned on Pinterest, a haircut, salvation for the Togolese, and not to waste time with the girls God has put in my life. Oh, and let’s not forget, a husband. And that’s just the list off the top of my head from today.

We all have things we want. We have appetites – God-given appetites. The problem comes with where we go and what we do to satiate our cravings. Look at Eve in the Garden of Eden. She had a desire for wisdom (Gen. 3:6), which in and of itself is a good thing, but she sought wisdom outside of God, listened to horrible counsel from the serpent, and ate the forbidden fruit, introducing sin to the human race. Abraham and Sarah had a desire for children so strong that after decades of infertility they chose for Abraham to have sex with Sarah’s servant to produce a child instead of waiting on God to fulfill His promise (Gen. 16), and Esau hungered for food but chose to trade his birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen. 25:29-34). Along these lines, G.K. Chesterton once said, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” We all have desires for acceptance, affirmation, security, etc., but like the man searching for love from a prostitute, if we do not turn to God as our sufficiency then we will find nothing but emptiness and a craving that becomes even more insatiable.

Why the Hunger Pains?

Have you ever stopped to think why God allows us to hunger (not literally)? I had lunch today with a precious Samford girl wrestling with the common college student question of what God has for her after graduation, and she noted how if she had the answer up front, she would not be spending as much time turning to God. Her lack of an answer right now – her lack of what she wants, which is direction and the security it brings – has caused her dependence on God to increase and her relationship with God to deepen.

Immediate gratification might lead us to utter a quick thank-you to God for His good gift (maybe, if we remember), but God wants more for us than we want for ourselves. Sometimes He withholds to teach us to hunger rightly. The hunger is already there, but when the fulfillment of that hunger is beyond us, it should motivate us to turn to Him. Now, this does not mean that we treat God like our personal genie where if we turn to Him, we’ll magically get what we want. Another conversation today with a different girl involved her recognizing that her motives for becoming more consistent in time with God and for pursuing greater contentment in Him found root in an attempt to manipulate God into giving her a husband. “If I do this for God, then He’ll give me what I want.” She recognized this as the false theology that it is.

As Russell Moore puts it, would you rather be “fathered or fed”? Do you want what you want when you want it? Will you manipulate circumstances, take control, and make it happen for yourself (whatever “it” is)? Or do you want Him more than you want “it”? Would you rather have Him? Can you sing the following lyrics and truly mean them? “Give me Jesus! Give me Jesus! You can have all this world. Give me Jesus.”

Open Hand or Vise Grip?

When I was dating this guy during my seminary days, I had an “open hand policy” about the relationship. While I was in this relationship, my pastor at the time preached sermon after sermon about having a blank check with God. Think about that – a blank check. My mind flashes back to the ’90s Disney movie with the kid who somehow gets his hands on a blank check, fills it in for a million dollars, cashes it, and blows it on a house, stuff, and entertainment. To intentionally hand someone a blank check requires an incredible amount of trust.

My open hand policy was a variation of the blank check. I could either hold that relationship with an open hand, or I could hold on to it with a vise grip. Tightly gripping it indicated my desire for control, to make things happen the way I wanted them to. But an open hand demonstrated my trust in God to either make the relationship progress or to take it away if it wasn’t His will. Well, guess what. It wasn’t His will. The open hand policy – the blank check – got me a broken heart (and motivated me to take up running. Gotta love exercise-induced endorphins).

What I wanted was the happily ever after. The ring. The wedding. The person to have and to hold till death do us part. The two kids with the Pottery Barn house and the dog (although the dog was negotiable). I wanted to be fed. I had a desire, and I wanted God to fulfill that desire (still do, in fact).

Sometimes, God’s sovereignty conflicts with our desires, and His plans for us do not correspond with our desires. God cares about what I want and about what you want. But He also knows what is best, and sometimes, what I want is not what’s best for me. He loves me enough to tell me “no,” to protect me from getting what I want, to protect me from myself. He’s more interested in fathering me, but often, I would rather prefer being fed. His fathering me in that dating relationship meant that the relationship ended, and in hindsight, I am so thankful.

What God has prepared for me may not line up with what I have prepared for myself, but it is so much better (1 Cor. 2:9). As I look back on all that God has taught me and grown me and on all of the college girls He has given me the privilege to walk alongside, I  think how I could have so easily missed all of this had I gotten what I wanted five years ago. What He had for me was so much greater than what I had planned for myself, and the greatness of it has been measured in Kingdom impact, changed lives, and a deeper relationship with God.

It is easy to trust God when I am being fed. It gets tougher when I am hungry with no food in sight and when I have to rely on Him to provide and to satisfy. But I turn to Him more often when I lack. My longings propel me to God. The problem is not my desire for marriage (or even for someone just to take me to dinner and a movie). The problem begins when that desire becomes greater than my desire for the Lord. Have you submitted your preferences and desires to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Do you have an open hand policy, a blank check, with Him?

Now vs. Eternity

A desire to be fed brings my attention to the here and now. My vision narrows, and everything else lessens in its importance except the fulfillment of that desire. I become irritable – maybe even angry – at whatever interferes with my pursuit and attainment of said desire. But a desire to be fathered draws my attention to what is eternal. It becomes easier to forsake the momentary for what will last. I endure the hunger because I prefer the end result.

A noted characteristic of physical poverty involves a lack of foresight and planning for the future because people in poverty live in the moment. They are concerned with today and what is directly in front of them. For someone without adequate food or other basic necessities, why would I plan for tomorrow or a year from now or ten years from now when I don’t even know if I will make it through today? But most of us humans (including us as Christ-followers) live with this poverty mindset when it comes to our desires. Why wouldn’t I satisfy myself today? If I do not look to the return of Christ, to the glory of what is to come, and to the worthiness of Almighty God, then why shouldn’t I feed myself when I’m hungry? We need a vision of the eternal! We need a greater vision of our God!

We serve a Savior who put on human flesh and who felt what we feel. He experienced desire. He hungered. And as He spent forty days in the wilderness after His baptism, Satan tempted Him (Matt. 4). As the Creator of the universe, He could have easily fulfilled His own desires, but for Jesus to have done so in the wilderness would mean that He elevated His desires above communion with God and fulfillment of God’s mission. Jesus had a vision of God and of His purpose that enabled Him to resist temptation, to resist His own desires.

Dealing with Cravings

Did you know that most cravings subside after thirty minutes? Knowing this, when desire wells up inside, I can choose how to endure those thirty minutes (or however long the craving lasts). I can be ready with a game plan. A plan that does not involve retail therapy, alcohol, porn, loads of chocolate (or whatever your comfort food is), people, or anything else that we try to substitute for God. Psychologists call this “urge surfing.”

How do you normally respond when those moments of intense desire hit you? What’s been your MO thus far? How has it been working for you? Are you a prisoner to your own desires and affections? Have you made an idol out of them? Do you want “it” more than you want God? Here’s the thing, giving in to your desires fails to subside the burning, fill the ache, or enduringly satisfy. There’s a difference between satiation and satisfaction. You give a starving kid a bowl of rice, and his hunger will be satiated. But his body will not be satisfied with all of the nutrients needed to function properly and to sustain his life in good health. Which scenario do you prefer for yourself – satiation or satisfaction?

Let your cravings lead you to God. Everything else is but a poor substitute for what only He can provide. What are you thirsty or hungry for? How are you currently satisfying those desires? Identify those longings or your current methods of satisfying yourself. Expose the counterfeits, the things that you are substituting for God. Confess sin and turn from it. And meditate on the goodness of God and the truth of His Word.

“When obedience to God contradicts what I think will give me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love Him. If I can say yes to that question, can’t I say yes to pleasing Him? Can’t I say yes even if it means a sacrifice? A little quiet reflection will remind me that yes to God always leads in the end to joy.”
Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity

For more on this subject, I recommend Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore, Surfing for God by Michael John Cusick, “Fathered Through Temptation” by The Village Church, and “The Idolatry of Appetites” by Marian Jordan Ellis.

Are You Frating?

Don’t you hate emotional limbo? You know what I’m talking about. It’s that phase of a relationship where you don’t know if you’re just friends or if he’s feeling it too (you know, that there’s something more than just friendship going on). So you wait to see if he will initiate a DTR (define the relationship) talk. And you wait. And you wait. And you wait some more. “Will it ever happen? What is taking him so long? Will he just let me know where we stand? For the love!”

The waiting is agony. We mull over every conversation, every text message, every hangout. We dissect it all looking for “signs.” We read into everything (or we want to at least hope that there’s something to read into). We’ve invested so much time and mental energy and angst – and we don’t even know if we’re actually dating!

What is frating?

Are you familiar with the term “frating”? Are you just friends? Or are you dating? If you don’t know, then you’re frating. Prime example: Luke and Lorelai in Gilmore Girls. For the first couple of seasons, everyone could see there was chemistry between these two. They were great friends, which says something considering Luke didn’t really do friends. But it took five seasons for them to actually admit they liked each other and to finally term themselves as a couple.

Is that what you want – the real life equivalent of five seasons before you know where you stand with the guy you’re currently hanging out with? Think about it, if he decides he’s not into you, you’ve wasted all of that time and mental/emotional energy on a relationship that was headed nowhere.

Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves in pseudo-relationships with guys who are not willing to initiate, act, and commit? If you can identify with what I have described, why did you put so much stock in that friendship? Why did you invest so much? What were you hoping to get out of it? What desire were you attempting to fill – a desire for attention? Affection? Affirmation? Acceptance? Security? Significance? Satisfaction?

Go back through that list of seven core desires that I just rattled off. I wasn’t listing them just to list them. Which of these drives your interactions with men? It might be a combination of desires. But what are you seeking in a relationship with a man instead of seeking from God? And where is that getting you?

Exactly.

The Need for Emotional Purity

We commonly talk about physical purity in our youth groups, college ministries, and pulpits, but purity in our actions begins with purity in our thoughts and affections. We act the way we do because we think the way we do, and we feel the way we do because we think the way we do. What do we allow to fill our minds? What do we daydream about? What do we long for and desire? Does it line up with Philippians 4:8 (whatever is good, honest, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise)?

In relationships, we often set ourselves up for failure. Have you ever seen a horse race? The gates fly open at the start of the race, and the horses launch out galloping full speed, blazing down the field towards the finish line. All too often, we do this with our hearts. We meet someone and quickly become emotionally intimate with them. Please do not mistake me, I am not referring to the speed of a relationship in which there are communicated intentions as well as commitment (so if you’re in a relationship that’s on the fast track, which is becoming quite common at Brook Hills, you can ease off the defensive). What I am taking issue with is emotional closeness and attachment void of communication regarding the status of the relationship.

While roles can be reversed, let me present the stereotype we are all familiar with, and it’s a stereotype for a reason. Girl meets boy. They hit it off and become fast friends, spending lots of time together. Everyone assumes they’re a couple. She assumes they are an item. They text frequently, talk often, and hang out. They click, and she feels that he gets her and cares about her. She shares with him things she’s never told anyone else – hopes, goals, prayer requests – and quickly considers him to be her best friend (in many cases, he has reciprocated with similar behavior). In her mind, she has already started planning their life together, their happily ever after. Then one day, he shows up and wants to introduce her to his new girlfriend. Or she finally can’t take it anymore, confronts him about the relationship, and point blanks ask him where they stand, and he awkwardly (and probably angrily) retorts that he only sees her as a friend (or a sister) and nothing more. When word gets around the friend group, everyone is shocked, and her girlfriends assign him the label of jerk, douchebag, etc. Both leave with frustration, bruised emotions, and deflated egos. “How did I miss this?” she wonders.

Better yet, how do we avoid this?

Which Comes First?

Answer me this. Which should come first in a relationship – intimacy or commitment?

It’s not a trick question, so I hope your response was commitment. We see this pattern with God’s design for marriage, for He allocated sex to occur after marriage. Because of the commitment a husband and wife makes “to love and to cherish as long as we both shall live,” sex becomes a beautiful expression of their love for each other as well as an act that draws them closer to each other. This is God’s design for physical intimacy, but I believe it is also His design with regards to emotional attachment between members of the opposite sex. God clearly warns us not to awaken love before it’s time (Song of Sol. 2:7; 3:5; 8:4), and Solomon’s bride isn’t just talking about sex here.

Here are a few guiding questions for you with regards to gauging your emotional attachment:

  • Have your emotions been stirred up more than what is appropriate for the current commitment level of the relationship? For example, are you mentally planning your future with him when y’all haven’t even had a DTR?
  • Do you feel slighted if you learn that he has spent time with another girl? Do you feel that girl is encroaching on what is “yours”? Do you cling to him? Ladies, he is free to date someone (or hang out with another girl) if he is not dating you, and if y’all have not established that you are exclusively together, you are treating him as though he belongs to you and owes you fidelity when you are not engaged or married (or have even communicated that you are dating).
  • Are you jealous for his time and attention?
  • Is he your go-to person? When you are lonely? When you need advice? When you need a handyman? When you need someone to make you laugh, know about your day, fill time when you are bored? I am not saying that you must refrain from asking men for counsel or help, but is he consistently the one you go to?

And if you have to regularly explain the relationship to other people, that should be a red flag! Y’all need to have a DTR and figure that thing out. Either decide to date or pull back. If people cannot tell if you are free or dating, then the two of you need to figure out what is going on in the relationship.

When You Are the Perp

Until this point, I have focused on situations where we allow ourselves to be the victim, the back-pocket girl, and maybe you have been played like an Xbox. But as much as guys get the rap of being players, we can play the game too. We become the perpetrators when we make him our back-pocket guy.

I have a noticed a trend with Father’s Day and Mother’s Day sermons. Mother’s Day sermons tend to be so encouraging. Pastors elevate the Proverbs 31 ideal or give a thirty-minute (a little longer at Brook Hills) explanation of biblical womanhood preceded or followed by a standing ovation for all the wonderful ladies in the room. But Father’s Day? In that sermon, the men tend to get pounded about how they are not being men but little boys in grown bodies. Maybe it’s because the pastor is male and, thus, feels that he can be more direct and confrontational regarding his own gender. While I don’t want to beat you down, ladies, I do want to confront you regarding the relational sin we are all guilty of, for the guys aren’t the only ones to blame here. We need to own our share of the guilt.

We are all familiar with that verse in Proverbs 4:23 which states, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” But what does that mean? Ask yourself what are you setting your heart on. 1 Thessalonians 4:6 provides some additional insight on this subject. The context for verse six has to do with Paul’s warning about abstaining from sexual immorality and controlling our bodies “in holiness and honor…that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (4:4, 6-7).

That word “wrong” in verse six means “to take advantage of, outwit, defraud, cheat.” It connotes the idea of defrauding a fellow believer and/or their future spouse. It is taking advantage of someone and robbing them (and their future spouse) in some way. Obviously, this refers to physical actions, but it can also include emotional involvement with someone who is not your spouse. While Paul does desire to protect believers physically and emotionally, he also aligns defrauding with impurity and is concerned about them living in a way that glorifies God and honors others. Defrauding another person does not line up with the holiness that God calls us to as His people.

Here are some ways we as Christian women defraud and take advantage of our brothers in relationships:

  • The relationship is one-sided. Do you let him buy you meals or do things for you when you are not interested in him? Do you call or text him only when you are lonely or emotionally vulnerable? Basically, do you use him for how he makes you feel?
  • Do regularly complement or “encourage” him? My roommate brought this one up when we were talking about this post, and it nailed me because I have been guilty of it! Men like affirmation. They like to know they are respected. And don’t we all like to be encouraged and to know that others think well of us? But do you do this regularly to the same man? Do you “encourage” in a manipulative way because you want him to recognize how awesome of a girlfriend you could be or to see that he needs you in his life?
  • Do you flirt and give avid attention to someone whom you are not actually interested in? Maybe you like how it feels to turn a guy’s head. Or maybe seeing their interest or having them pursue you makes you feel better about yourself. You bait the hook, and every now and again, you reel him in just a little and just enough to keep him around. If you are a Downton Abbey fan, this is what Mary does with Tony Gillingham and her other suitors in season five. Bottom line, you are not being fair to the poor chap. Don’t toy with his heart. Be careful about showing consistent attention to a particular guy if you are not interested in him, and avoid singling him out and making a beeline for him when you see him. You are not treating him with the respect that he deserves as a human being and as your brother in Christ. Side note, if you see a sister doing this, lovingly call her out on it. Encourage her to stop flirting with the guy if she does not care for him.
  • Are you hanging out with him to fill up time until (if) someone better comes along? This is not a good reason to hang out with anyone! If you are always looking for the next best thing, you are being inconsiderate and unloving to that person.

Bottom line: be honest with yourself and with God about why you interact with men the way you do. If you are a female player, the actions I have described above are symptoms of heart issues, and you need to spend time with God and evaluate your own heart. Identify and confess sin. If you need to seek forgiveness from someone you have hurt in the past, take the steps to do so. And ask your girlfriends to help you gauge your interactions with men and to ask you questions about your motivations.

I don’t want to make you paranoid about your friendships with guys. Wait – can guys and girls even be “just friends”? If you treat him as though he is your surrogate boyfriend, then no. If it appears to the rest of the world that the two of you are in an exclusive relationship, then no. Can you honestly say that you are treating him like a brother, or do you have competing motivations for the time you spend with him and how you interact with him? Are you emotionally teasing and flirting with one another?

You can be friends with men, but you need to be careful with your own heart and be respectful of them. Do not be afraid of having a clarifying conversation if you are not sure about how he might be feeling. “I just want you to know that I think of you as just a friend” is okay to express – just make sure that your actions align with what you are verbalizing and that you are not giving mixed signals. Honestly, I’m a big fan of hanging out as a group of friends. It provides a neutral, safe environment to get to know folks. But if you spending one-on-one time, particularly lots of one-on-one time, with someone of the opposite sex, then y’all need to either pursue dating or pull back. The exclusivity communicates to everyone around you that you are a couple, and it hinders others from thinking of you as “available.”

Can I just say that arranged marriages in the Bible sure made all of this a whole lot easier! Relationships are messy. Add our sinful natures to the mix, and they can be downright frustrating and dramatic. As a single twentysomething, this article contains things I have felt and watched, and just because I am writing on the subject of frating and emotional purity, I am not exactly the love doctor or an emotional guru who has everything figured out. Writing this article has exposed sin in my own heart. But I do desire to serve my brothers well in my friendships with them. I don’t want to defraud them, and for most of the single men in our church, I would give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they desire to do this whole friendship, dating, and relationship thing right, even if they do not always know what right looks like. We should have grace with one another, assume the best about each other, and be quick to forgive one another.

In conclusion, I offer a few questions to consider regarding your friendships with other single males:

  • Do your conversations and interactions with each other glorify God?
  • Do your words, actions, and heart line up with regards to how you talk with, speak to, and think about that male friend? Do they accurately reflect how you feel about him? Do you treat him as the brother in Christ that he is (see 1 Tim. 5:1-2)?
  • If the friendship were to end today, could you exit the relationship with a clear conscience, without shame, and without being devastated?
  • Could you tell the person’s future spouse that you honored both of them in how you treated him? Or would you be embarrassed by the way you treated him?

 If you would like some additional resources on this topic, check out Emotional Purity by Heather Arnel Paulsen, The Mingling of Souls video clips by Matt & Lauren Chandler (Chandler also has a book by that title), and The Song of Songs sermon series by Breakaway Ministries. In fact, there’s one Mingling of Souls video that I just have to include below because it jives so well with the subject of this post!

God’s Design for Sex

Today’s post was written by Shawn Grubb. She and her husband Rob lead a couples small group at Brook Hills. Click here to read Shawn’s previous post (“Purity In A Perverted World”) on the BH Women Blog.

Yesterday, Dawn Stephens’ post discussed how to get started when having the sex talk with your kids. If you missed that post, click here to read it. For today, Shawn Grubb piggybacks on that subject by providing foundational information about God’s design for sex, and this post contains a selection from the “Developing a Generation of Sexual Purity” booklet that she and her husband wrote.

In the Beginning

God is the architect, engineer, and builder of sex. It is a carefully planned part of our humanity. It was created for our good and His glory. God’s Word says in Genesis 1:31 that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Then, in Genesis 2:18, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” The God of this universe said that man needed a “helper” (which is “ezer” in Hebrew for “strong aid”). In order to fulfill this need, God would craft woman – the perfect partner for man.

When God told Adam to name all the animals, Adam noticed he did not have a suitable companion. “So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air, and all beasts of the fields. But for Adam no suitable helper was found,” (Genesis 2:20). Then God formed woman from the rib he took from Adam and brought her to the man and he said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.” In the next verse (Genesis 2:24), God says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” They are united, as husband and wife and the two become one flesh through the sexual union. This sexual union was God’s idea, not ours. Sin was nowhere in the story to this point. Sex was created by God as a beautiful gift to man and woman.

Take a minute and let this Truth wash over you. So often, as women we have allowed the sin of this world, the perversion of Satan, and our own hurts and pains to cloud our vision of God’s design. Think about this Truth. God created sex. There was no sin anywhere around when Adam and Eve had sex for the first time. It was beautiful. It was intimate. It was good.

In Genesis 1:27-28, we see the first statement that God makes to Adam and Eve after their creation. “So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it’.” No doubt God is reveling in his creation of Adam and Eve, as sexual beings. It was beautiful! God said that it was very good (Genesis 1:31).

Shame & Sex

Where did the shame come in? Why all the fear concerning sex? Why all the perversion? The shame of sex came when man and woman chose to sin, in the very next chapter of Genesis. They deliberately rebelled against a Holy God. At that moment, everything changed for mankind. Much happened as a result of the fall of man. From one sin came all sickness, death, disease, shame, fear, secrets, and ultimately separation from God. It was at that point that Satan began distorting our view of the sexual union. Suddenly, man and woman felt ashamed and they hid themselves from God, (Genesis 3:7).

One of the realities of sin is that its effects swiftly spread, like toxic waste spilled in a rushing river. Satan has deceived and polluted our world with his lies about sex. Sexual immorality is one of the most rampant, least addressed sins we face today. Check out these statistics:

  • “Most experts in the field agree that somewhere over 60% of American teenagers have had sexual intercourse by the time they finish high school. (Lillian B. Rubin, Erotic Wars, Farrar, Straus $ Giroux, New York, 1990)
  • 11 million adults visit adult-only websites in a typical week. (Leadership Journal, Winter 2006, pg. 35)
  • One million children are forced to work in the sex industry every year. Between 100,000 and 300,000 children in America are at risk for being trafficked into the sex industry each year. (Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, 2007)
  • Since Random House bought the rights to the trilogy in 2012, the series, “Fifty Shades of Grey” has sold well over 100 million copies worldwide. Trailers for the movie adaptation of the first book have been viewed 250 million times, according to an ad aired in early February; it grossed over $240 million at the box office in its opening weekend.

With statistics like this, you may wonder if there is any hope. Are we destined to live a life of shame because of the fall and Satan’s influence in our world? Or is there a solution? If so, what is the solution? Certainly, there must be a way to reverse the trend that is so prevalent in our culture today. The Bible tells us that with God all things are possible (Mark 10:27)! Romans 8:1 says that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” That is why Jesus endured the cross. We don’t have to be doomed to a life of darkness and defeat and sexual perversion. Christ died on the cross to restore us back to Himself and to bring us from darkness to light. 1 John 1:6-7 says, “If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Jesus is the one who purifies us from our sins. Therefore, in order to change, we must first trust in the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from our sins and begin to address the lies we have believed regarding sex. There is no way we can dream about training our children in the truth about sex, if we don’t know it ourselves! There’s no way we can dream of having healthy marriages, if we don’t allow Word of God to renew our thinking and change our behaviors.

 Lies About Sex & Our Pasts

What lies has the world fed us regarding sex? What does God say about sex? What should we tell our children? Most of us didn’t hear the truth from God’s Word about sex from our parents. We had to learn it on our own or from our friends. Now it is time to transform our thinking. Romans 12:2 says that we do not have “to be conformed to the patterns of this world, but we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds!” It is time for us as Christian parents to renew our thinking concerning the sexual union. When we do this, we will experience freedom in our marriages and will be able to enjoy the intimacy with our spouse that God intended. As a result, we will be able to hand down a legacy to our children that will promote purity in their lives. As we embrace this purity, we will all be more equipped to fight the enemy’s schemes to pervert and misuse God’s original design. We will be able to take up the full armor of God and make a difference in our world, and by the Grace of God, we can begin to change the statistics we have just read.

Every person has a past. Sometimes that past has been very painful. We may have made wrong choices that have brought difficulty into our lives. Or maybe our pain is a result of someone else’s choice to sin (i.e. rape, incest, abuse). Regardless, when we have been hurt by sexual sin, whether the hurt came from our own sin or the world inflicting that sin upon us, this distorts our view of sex. We have a cloudy view of what God’s original intent for sex was. So, please take a minute and ask the Lord Jesus to open your heart and mind to His design. Ask Him to take this truth and wash away all the lies concerning sex and all the perversion this world has handed to us. Ask Him to clear your vision so that you can see His beautiful design absent of the stain of sin.

Jesus says in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” If the Truth sets us free, the lie is what binds us. Jesus says in John 8:44 that the devil is the “father of lies.” In order to walk in freedom regarding sex, we must allow the Lord to show us the lies we have believed and we must hold them up to the Word of God. We must adjust our beliefs to line up with the God’s Truth.

God’s Truth Concerning Sex

TRUTH #1: God’s design for sex has always been procreation.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it’.” (Genesis 1:27-28)

The very first statement that God made to Adam and Eve is about blessing them in their procreation. God is taking great pleasure in his creation of Adam and Eve as sexual beings. Humankind goes forth from the hands of the Creator with this first command to flourish, fill the earth with their kind, and exercise their dominion over the other earthly creatures. So, in the very beginning of time, God’s command was to go, fill the earth through procreation and subdue it. God said it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Adam and Eve were, no doubt, quite happy to obey.

TRUTH #2: God’s design for sex has always been intimacy and knowledge.

“For this reason the man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

This coming together as one flesh is expressing a closeness and an intimacy that only can be experienced through the joining together in sexual intercourse. Poet-farmer Wendell Berry talks about sexuality in life, he explains, “it is centered on marriage, which joins two living souls as closely as, in this world, they can be joined. This joining of two who know, love and trust one another brings them in the same breath in the freedom of sexual consent and into the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. From their joining, other living souls come into being, and with them great responsibilities that are unending, fearful and joyful” (Sex Economy, Freedom and Community).

This intimacy within the marriage covenant brings a deep level of knowledge that can only be understood through this oneness. “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” (Genesis 4:1). The Hebrew word used here for “knew” is the word “yada.” This word means to have a deep knowledge of something and is translated as sexual intercourse here in this text. Through God’s gift of sex, a husband and wife receive an intimate knowledge of one another that they have with no one else. This knowledge brings a depth to their relationship, like no other here on earth.

*Some of the above two paragraphs were adapted from Intimate Issues by Linda Dillows and Lorraine Pintus.

TRUTH #3: God designed sex to be a mysterious picture of Christ and the Church.

When husband and wife come together as one flesh in purity, it is a mystery on many different levels. The union between husband and wife pleases God so very much when kept pure. This relationship is so beautiful to God that He chose to compare the husband/wife relationship to Christ and the church.

In Ephesians 5:31-32 the apostle Paul writes, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” This marriage relationship and the intimacy God has given us through sexual union is actually an icon of the sacred union between Christ and the church! This is truly a mystery that deserves our time and prayer to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what this means. No wonder Satan is attacking so many marriages through sexual deceit and adultery! Marriage is sacred to God and is a covenant relationship that is precious in God’s eyes. Marriage is meant to be a picture for the world to see the beautiful Gospel of Jesus Christ.

TRUTH #4: God designed sex not just as a physical act; it is a spiritual act that brings glory to our Creator.

“So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

We have been created in the image of God. Think about it! God created both man and woman in His likeness. So what happens when the two come together in one flesh? This is a beautiful picture of God’s character, the fullest earthly realization of the image of God! God’s glorious plan is brought to oneness between man and woman.

Sex is not just a physical act. Glenn Stanton writes, “The human sexual embrace, this most intimate and ultimate of all human giving and vulnerability, ought to take place in a union of total and permanent surrender of two people. That’s what marriage is: both public and personal dedication of a man and woman to forsake all and give themselves fully – body, mind, spirit – to another. It is impossible to separate the union. Where did we ever get the idea that we can separate our bodies from our mind and spirits and that our bodies could do whatever they like without consequences for the rest of our being?” (God’s Design for Sex series, How We Dishonor God in our Sex Lives). God, who is Triune, has created us in His image. We are made up of three parts: mind, soul and body. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sex does not just affect us physically; it affects our mind, our soul and our body. When husband and wife come together in sexual union, it is a glorious picture of the image of God that we represent as His creation.

Truth #5: God designed sex to help guard us from temptation.

God’s gift of sexuality can be used powerfully for good or misused for evil. His gift is used for good through procreation, intimacy, knowledge, and a representation of the relationship between Christ and the church! God’s Word warns us of the temptations of sexual immorality, in which men and women take his gift and use it for evil.

Proverbs 5:15 instructs, “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.” Hebrews 13:4 states, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” 1 Corinthians 7:2, 5 also speaks about sex in marriage: “But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

The Christian deprived of regular sexual activity with his or her spouse may be tempted by Satan to sexual immorality. By no means does this suggest that if someone falls into sexual sin that it is his or her spouse’s fault. Just a few chapters later in 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul writes, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Clearly, we must take responsibility of our own sin and choose to flee temptation. However, we cannot deny Paul’s distinct call on the husband and wife to take seriously our obligation within the marriage bed.

TRUTH #6: God designed sex for our pleasure.

Proverbs 5:18-19 “May your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” Yes! God wants you to enjoy your spouse. The sexual union in marriage is to be enjoyed by both husband and wife. Certainly every situation is different, but you may be thinking… “Not in my marriage!” The world tells us that the husband desires sex anytime, anywhere, for any reason, and the woman often dreads sex anytime, anywhere and for any reason. Is this just the way God made us, or is this another lie the enemy has fed us?

Let us look one more time in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Paul writes, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.”

All too often we hear the first part of this Scripture, “the wife’s body does not belong to her alone…” but we leave the last part out. Did God give us different sex drives to torture us? Absolutely not! God did not create sex to be a hassle or a duty. Sex is God’s beautiful creation, given to us for many reasons, in which our pleasure is a part of that. He could have chosen to allow us to procreate by kissing or holding hands. Remember, He is God, and He created everything just the way He desired. We firmly believe that God’s design for sex was given for our enjoyment. This doesn’t mean that we don’t go through days or even seasons that our desire for our spouse may be at a minimal level. During these seasons, we must rely heavily on God’s grace, choose to obey his Word, and diligently pray for God’s blessing over our sexual union.

Pleasure is great! God is clearly not against us enjoying our sexual relationship within the context of marriage. However, keep in mind that sexual pleasure is a byproduct – an outgrowth of other things that are more important. If we pursue pleasure for pleasure’s sake, we stand a chance of it steering us wrong. We can experience pleasure from doing wrong, as well as from doing what’s right. There can be immediate fleshly pleasure in some of the most hideous sexual sins. So, let us seek first to honor God in our marriages, in our lives and in the sexual union with our spouses by being servant-hearted and selfless. Then we can trust God to bring the pleasure to our sexual relationship with our spouse that He ordains.

In summary, God’s design for sex is for procreation, intimacy, and knowledge. He has created the intimacy in marriage to mysteriously represent the intimacy of Christ and the church. This is not just a physical act, but a spiritual joining together of two people. When this intimacy is kept pure, it brings great glory and reveals the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. In addition to all of this, God designed sex to guard us from temptation and bring pleasure to the marriage relationship.

A final note to moms (and dads) seeking to train children in God’s design for sex and purity

Let us be aware that one of the ways that sin has stained our minds concerning our desire for sex is through a negative message on this topic. Most of us had parents that chose to remain silent about sex. Then others of us had parents that did choose to “have the talk.” However, it probably went something like this… “Here is a book, read it and if you have any questions let me know. And by the way, this is not something you should do before you get married. It is wrong and is a sin. You could get pregnant or even end up with some disease!” NEGATIVE, NEGATIVE, NEGATIVE!

Yes, these are all true statements about sex outside of marriage, but is it the best message to start with as we begin the education process with our children? Fast-forward a few years… a daughter gets married and the parents give the newlyweds their blessing and say, “go and enjoy!!” Wait! It’s not that simple. Our minds are programmed… “Sex is bad, it is a sin, it is wrong.” How do we just automatically push erase and learn to enjoy what God has given us?

Sex is a gift! Has anyone told you that? Has anyone told our children that? What should they think about the sexual union between husband and wife? How are they supposed to know the truth if we don’t tell them? Recognize that these negative messages are motivated by fear. We think if we scare our kids away from sex, then they will not have sex until they are married. In the meantime, we are choosing not to disciple our children in the Truth regarding God’s design for sex. The beauty and glory of the sexual union should be planted in our children from the beginning. There is a time and place to explain the consequences of sexual immorality but, ideally, not until after the truth has been planted. Out of this truth will grow righteousness and purity.

These truths are much too profound to go untouched! It is time to embrace this subject with God’s TRUTH and expose all darkness as it relates to the beauty of the sexual union within marriage. Through the power of the cross and the restoration it brings and through the power of God’s Word, God will bring forth a generation that is sexually pure! We can also regain the ground that the enemy has destroyed in our own marriages. It’s time to go to battle for our marriages and our children’s purity. The war between Satan and Jesus has already been won. However, the battles over our sexual purity and our children’s sexual purity still rage on. A generation of sexual purity is hanging in the balance. Christian parents, it is time to rise up and fight this battle! Embrace it in TRUTH! “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free!” (John 8:32).

No Need to Whisper…Mom!

Today’s post was written by Dawn Stephens, who is the Women’s Minister at Brook Hills.

Recently as I was sitting at a table of young moms and the conversation turned to questions about our children’s sexuality, the voices got quieter. They whispered when they talked about it, sex…….why?

Why do we whisper in shamed and embarrassed tones about sex when the world is blatantly shouting about it with all its might? Why do we fret and stress over talking with our children about their God-given gift of sexuality when the world is clearly communicating a distorted picture across every media platform possible?

As Christian mothers, we have been given both the Scriptural understanding of God’s design for sex and the discipling opportunity to talk with our children about this gift He gave us all.

I understand some of us made poor choices in regards to our sexuality as young adults and that might affect why we are ashamed and feel ill equipped to teach our children about God’s design and plan for their bodies. But there is no need to be ashamed or to live handicapped in regret. For those of us who have submitted our hearts and minds to Christ and have trusted in Him as our Savior, He is and can be Lord over our sexuality, in all its brokenness and beauty.

His forgiveness of our sins extends back to those high school and college days when we lived for the flesh and the flirtation of the moment. His forgiveness covers our secrets and shame of childhood and “remembers it no more.” Therefore ,we shouldn’t either.

Sisters, walk in forgiveness of those poor choices and ask Christ to give you both confidence and peace to teach this next generation what God’s Word has to say about sex. Or if you were a virgin when you married and have no sexual sin in your past, but you were raised in a home that did not talk about “it,” that is okay. It doesn’t make you dirty or unladylike or anything else that the enemy might tell you are if you clearly and lovingly talk with your children about this most important part of who God made them to be…sexual beings.

Here are a few things to remember as you prepare to talk to your children about their sexuality:

  • Talk with your heavenly Father first and ask Him to forgive you of your sexual sin and to help you to live a life of sexual purity in front of your children in all its forms (your speech, entertainment choices, magazine/book choices ,and how you live with and love your spouse) as well as give you wisdom and love in how to talk with your children about their sexuality.
  • Talk with their earthly father second (whether you are married to him or not) and ask him how he would want you to talk with your children about their sexuality. This can open up some great conversations between the two of you about a most important topic in the lives of your children. You might be surprised at what you learn!
  • Make a plan with dad on how and when these important conversations need to take place.
  • Find a great resource(s) to both educate you on biblical sexuality as well as on the basic information all children need at certain developmental milestones. Below are a few resources I recommend:

My husband and I used the God’s Design for Sex series with our son. We all

Dawn and her 6th grade son Tyler

Dawn and her 6th grade son Tyler

sat down together and read the books (1 and 2) when he reached each developmental milestone. Then we asked him if he had any questions… those usually come later and at interesting times!

For young children (under 10) answer their questions as honest and appropriately as possible when they ask them. Don’t give them too much detail that they don’t need or don’t want to know, but encourage them to ask you first if they have any more questions about the subject.

For older children and teens, talk honestly and clearly about the topics in our culture that they ask questions about or mention in conversation, always giving God’s plan as the foundational truth. Create an environment of openness and approachability with your teens. They will tend come to you more often if they know all questions are good questions!

Finally, don’t make this too big and bad in your minds! Remember, God made sex for our good and His glory, and He will help us accurately and appropriately teach our children about one of his most good gifts – sex!

Another recommended article is “How Do I Talk to My Daughter about Sex and Masturbation” by Sissy Golf.