Church & Ministry

I Just Didn’t Know His Name


We sat in the campus cafeteria and talked about Jesus. I told Cathy about how our sins keep us away from God and why we can’t make our own way back to him. I shared about how Jesus came to save us through his death and resurrection. And when I asked her if she wanted to confess Christ as her Lord and Savior, she said yes.

“Are you sure?”

I was surprised at her eagerness (it was the first time we’d ever met) and I wanted to let her know there would be a cost. It wouldn’t be easy. God said there would be hardships. It would mean obedience to his will. Some say you’d have to be crazy to follow Jesus. She should think more about it.

Yes, she was sure. And, 11 years later, I remember her next words verbatim:

“Because I always knew there was a Lord and that he could save us— I just didn’t know his name.”

Continue reading “I Just Didn’t Know His Name”

Church & Ministry

Not secular work VERSUS foreign missions

What about global missions? This was the last bit missing for me in the few months I wrestled with issues dealing with my work as a new mother two years ago. So many times, I had heard of the decision to stay or go based on what you “have a heart for” (as in what God’s made your heart to be moved by). But what I found was that the more I understood the greatness of the gospel, the more my “heart” for local ministry AND foreign missions grew. The thing is, while I had a heart for missions overseas, my  (and Jeff’s) desire was increasingly to stay in the US and based on our experiences, opportunities, and gifting, we believe that God has called us here, at least for now. To reconcile the seemingly conflicting passions, I tried to use reasoning that used overseas missions to justify local ministry (e.g. people we work with here may be called there), and that worked, until I had our first daughter.

Finding out the Biblical answer in terms of the relationship between secular work and foreign missions has helped me not only  be freed from constant guilt, but to be fully here as a wife/mom/local church member and be passionate about and involved with what God is doing overseas at the same time. One resource that helped was listening to John Piper’s sermon “The Relationship Between Diversified Domestic Ministries and Frontier Missions“.  Another was the reply that Matt Perman, blogger and writer, gave to a question I sent him through his site. I’ve been wanting to post it for a while (this was over a year ago), but since his book just came out, I decided to finally do it!

Below is the question I sent and his answer that really clarified things for me (slightly edited for posting):


Hi Matt,

I’ve been subscribed to your blog for some time now and although I am not currently in the workplace outside the home (I’m a fairly new stay-at-home mom), have been tremendously helped by your writing about the doctrine of vocation and its application in life. It has been freeing and challenging. I have one question though that I have been wrestling through that I believe has to do with the doctrine of vocation and the Christian life…

I don’t think I ever really learned much about the doctrine of vocation growing up in the church and much of what I learned plus my Christian experience pushed the sacred/secular divide pretty wide in my mind… From those experiences, this is the view that I have been struggling to dissect and examine in the Biblical light: “We only have a short period of time on earth. We should look into investing into what is eternal. Only God, his word and souls are eternal. Therefore, we should spend as much time as possible evangelizing” and, this is unsaid, but “everything else is ancillary.” I have heard it through multiple venues (e.g. at a missions conference: “if you turn the page in the end of your life, the only thing that will be on the next page that you can bring is the name of the people you bring to Christ!”)

These ministries and people would, I believe, say that worship is ultimate and that yes, work is good and from God (we can love people through our jobs, etc.) but I think the implicit logic is that while we know that worship of God, not missions, is ultimate, our time on earth is limited. There is only a small window of time that we can spend evangelizing and bringing people to Christ…Therefore, that task and the task of ministerial vocations (emphasis on evangelism) take priority over all things and everything else either supports it (i.e. it’s okay to do a secular job if it means more people will be saved in the end) or is allowed as necessary. It leads and has led to so much guilt, confusion, and a de facto sacred-secular divide even while in word it is denied. I find many people struggling with this both in ministries I was a part of and outside of them as well. I know that it isn’t the full picture of the Christian life in Scripture, but the logic of the urgency of “soul-saving” is what I feel like gets people (including me) and I don’t know how to address it. Do you have any insights or resources you could point me and the people I know to?

Here was his reply:


Thank you so much for your question.

It is an excellent question. The logic of what is being said and implied sounds compelling (“we only have a limited time on earth…” etc.). And, it is a tough issue. I don’t think I have the complete answer. I continue to think hard about it. But here are a few thoughts. God requires of us most of all is not evangelism, but love. 

  • Evangelism and work are to both come from this motive. This makes our work eternal and enduring, as well as (successful, so to speak) evangelism.
  • It is God’s regard of something that makes it valuable. That needs to be our criteria. Since he ordained secular work, those who who are engaged primarily in secular work are doing the right thing, even if the result is that less people (directly) come to Christ.
  • Work itself is a form of gospel witness. I hope to flesh this out in a future book; it is clear in the Scriptures.
  • A close reading of Ephesians 5 shows that as we love people (not just evangelize them!), some will come to faith. The vision Paul seems to have of evangelism in the Christian life is that as we are good workers in all our secular vocations, instances will come up when we can winsomely and rightly share the gospel, and even apart from that people will tend to know we are Christians and our good behavior in our jobs shines the light of the gospel (when in conjunction with the fact that they know we are Christians). The result is that some people will come to faith. I wish I had time to show this to you from the text in Ephesians 5; if you are interested, Peter O’Brien’s commentary goes in to detail. So, with that said, here’s the point: secular work is part of God’s strategy for how the church reaches the world. Meaning: there doesn’t have to be an ultimate choice.
  • What I think God requires of us is that all of us as Christians share our faith and seek to lead many to righteousness, as we have opportunity. As with a war, some will be more on the front lines and some doing other things, but everyone is essential. And the task is not only to share our faith, but to testify truthfully to what God is like, through our words and actions. 
  • I think Paul’s analogy of the body in 1 Cor 12 is key here; some do have the gift of evangelism, but those who are primarily gifted in other areas are no less necessary and no less significant.

Thanks so much for your question. I don’t think I’ve given a perfect answer here, but I hope it helps.


Here are some quotes from What’s Best Next regarding the topic that I just read this week:

Since Gospel-Driven Productivity is about putting our productivity practices — and all that we have — in the service of God’s purposes, that means we will put our productivity practices in the service of fighting large global problems and bringing the gospel to all nations. This is at the heart of Gospel-Driven Productivity, whose essence is the recognition that we glorify God by loving others as Christ loved us, and that we are to go to extremes to do this because Jesus went to extremes to help us. (314)

The gospel spreads through our vocations…But if we don’t know how to serve others by doing our work well and getting things done, we will undermine our testimony to the gospel (Titus 2:7–10; 1 Tim. 6:1). Hence, we must have a robust doctrine of work if we are going to reach the nations with the gospel.  (320)

And here is where you can get the book: On Amazon or at WTSbooks

Church & Ministry, Motherhood & Family

One Way I’ve Thought (& Gone) Wrong & A Book Recommendation

“The things that we are doing every day when we are being productive—answering emails, going to meetings, making supper for the family—are not just things we are doing. They are good works…The activities of our everyday lives are not separate from the good works that God has called us to. They are themselves part of the good works that God created us for in Christ. And, therefore, they have great meaning.” – Matt Perman, What’s Best Next

As I wrote about in my last entry, I am passionate about right thinking about God and the Scripture because of the way that translates into worship and life. One way in which I have seen wrong/incomplete thinking and teaching play out in my life has been concerning the sacred-secular divide which is addressed in the doctrine of  vocation (calling). This is the theology of how the things we’re called to do in our various stations in life (e.g. as a child, student, mom, worker, etc.) are done to the glory of God. I’ve posted about this in bits and pieces in a few posts on motherhood, but I thought it may be helpful to show how the lack of a Biblical understanding of what the “secular” aspects of life had to do with living for God manifested itself, and point anyone interested in reading more to an excellent resource.

Here are the ways that my lack of understanding regarding the doctrine of vocation showed up in various stages in my life:

Half-hearted work: When God wakened my heart to the gospel in college and gave me a deep desire to live for his glory, I started pitting  “spiritual” activities  over and above the “non-spiritual” activities almost immediately. I was a student at the time as a biology major and my motivation for studying ceased once I didn’t want to go into the medical field anymore but wanted to go into ministry. I immersed myself in prayer meetings, Christian campus events, time alone by myself in prayer and reading Scripture, and talking about God but neglected my studies. God was really doing something new in me and I do believe that the desire to change my plotted life course was from God (changing majors and career goals), but my response in the way I treated school was not. But without seeing clearly what God had to do with my work as a student, it was really hard to be motivated because at the heart of it (though I may not have articulated it this way) I didn’t believe God thought it was important or that it had lasting spiritual significance.

A feeling of emptiness in doing ministry: A gospel presentation I heard when I was younger encouraged children to evangelize after they accepted Jesus by asking, “Do you know why God doesn’t just zap you up to heaven after you become a Christian?”  The given answer was “So that you can tell other people about Jesus!” Although as a Christian, I knew and was taught that the ultimate goal in life is to bring glory to God, the “you’re only still on earth to bring about conversions” thinking was reinforced in my life through different ministries and speakers that I have heard. Bringing about conversions were often put as the central means of bringing glory to God  because of the rationale that souls are eternal whereas other things are not. At one point when I was in ministry, I remember asking someone if they thought it was true that this was the only reason we were still on earth (to bring people to Jesus through evangelizing) and when they said yes, I just felt a sense of emptiness.  I believe I felt that way because as people, we were made for more. Yet at the time, I couldn’t refute the seemingly Biblical logic in the argument.

Guilt: As long as I was in ministry, I could feel fulfilled and guilt-free since my “work” was almost completely in the realm of things which I could see were meaningful spiritually. As a student in graduate school, I could also justify my studies in the potential good it would do in helping me have a platform for evangelism in the future. But when I became a stay-at-home mom stationed not in a foreign country for missions, but in Staten Island, the guilt came as did the questions of whether what I did mattered and why.

Confusion: Ultimately I realized there was a huge disconnect between my understanding of “living for the glory of God” and my everyday life as well as the everyday lives of most people I know. Just being told to “do everything for God’s glory” wasn’t helpful in that I did not understand 1. why everything could be done to God’s glory 2. what doing everything to God’s glory  practically looks like. Did it just mean being prayerful and having the right attitude when we did something? Did it mean it would have to be part of a chain of events that led to conversions of others (like, cook an egg so that you can have energy so that you can go to work to make money to give to a missionary)?

If you know me, you know that I get really excited about getting solid resources out to others. It is an extension of my passion about right theology that translates into giving away books I own (something I picked up from my mom),  sharing  online articles, referring people to different sermon series, and tweeting deals from Because I know a lot of people who love Jesus and yet have struggled with the same issue of trying to think Biblically about God and work (whether outside the home or at school or at home), I want to recommend a resource to you!

When I was wrestling a lot with issues of vocation and the theology of the everyday, I stumbled (providentially) upon Matt Perman’s blog was helped a lot by his theologically solid and practical writing. At one point I sent him a question I still had and his answer clarified things for me (will post this later!) So, when he invited readers of his blog to be part of the launch team of his new book (helping promote the book and receiving an advanced e-copy of it), I quickly called my sister and had her do it and then promptly requested to be part of it too. 

I’m still reading through the book, but already can think of many people it would benefit from it given our past conversations on work, ministry, and the Christian life. I recommend it to anyone feeling a disconnect between the daily tasks that they do in life as a mom/student/worker/etc. and living radically to God’s glory. There is solid Biblical theology of work and vocation throughout and it is centered on the gospel while not being disconnected from the practical.

Here’s a good description of the book from within the book itself:

Numerous Christian books give an excellent call to living radical lives devoted to the glory of God and the good of others, but they typically don’t go into much detail regarding how to weave this into the fabric of your life. This leaves us at a loss for how to apply these things consistently.

Many secular books on productivity, on the other hand, have a great framework for capturing your overall priorities in life and making them happen, but they don’t call you to set the right priorities based on what God says rather than on what you say.

We are going to solve that problem by showing how to find the God- centered, Christ-exalting passion of your life..then showing how to keep this at the center of your life and weave it into everything you do.

And here are some quotes that have been helped me thus far:

  • “Each of us is an individual, with unique talents and gifts. Productivity is not about trying to do good according to another person’s style, or with gifts we don’t have. As the parable of the talents shows, productivity is about taking the gifts and resources God has given each of us individually and making those talents useful for the good of others.”
  • “…We need to be creative because God is not simply a God of utility but also is a God of beauty. Putting thought into how we can serve people with creativity is simply an implication of the command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
  • “Just as we do good works from justification rather than for justification, we are also to do good works from peace rather than for peace.”

I look forward to sharing from what I read (whether in person or more on this blog) and am praying that this book will get into the hands of anyone who would find it helpful for them in living their lives unto God with much joy.

Here is the link to the book on Amazon: What’s Best Next

And here is a great WTS bookstore deal if you want to read a physical copy! What’s Best Next- WTSbooks

Motherhood & Family, Truth & Orthodoxy

Why does my work matter?

After my daughter was born, one of my recurring prayer requests was that I would learn what it meant to worship God in the season of new-mommyhood. Up until then, it was pretty straightforward for me to answer questions of why I did what I did- I had seen my education as a given prep stage in life and then afterwards, being in campus ministry it was easy in my mind to explain why the things I did were of value to God and his Kingdom. I only found out what I was lacking in my understanding of God and what he desires of us in life when I could no longer measure what it meant to “glorify God” in the same ways that I had before.
Here’s a bit of what I typed up in a journal entry that became the first in a file I ended up naming “Vocation” (you’ll see why later):

The problem: I know to reject the non-Christian worldview on what the reason is for doing what we do in work. We don’t work for the sake of our own personal glory and fame or for the sake of pursuing wealth as our security and comfort.But it seems as if the Christian alternative given is that well, we can’t all be working vocationally in ministries, so we will use our jobs as ways to allow us to 1. do the types of things that would be done in ministry (Bible study groups at work, evangelizing to network of people you meet)  or 2. support the work of ministry (money, invite people to church, influence culture for sake of evangelism). The support for this understanding is often as follows:  The world is passing away and what’s more important and eternal? People’s souls or fill-in-the-blank? Shouldn’t we pursue heavenly, eternal  vs. earthly, temporary things?[…] There are different reasons why I know this perspective of the Christian life isn’t complete. One reason is that it’s not comprehensive to explain, for example, someone with a child with a severe cognitive disability or someone who is doing a job that doesn’t allow them to have influence or even much interaction with others. Another is that it ignores that we could be eating and drinking “for the glory of God” […]

Main Questions:

What does it mean to “give glory to God” in the earth-bound tasks we do?
What does it mean to do mundane things in faith?

I felt like I needed a course on the Theology of Motherhood! And it turns out I was looking for was actually best summed up by what has been known since the Reformation as the Doctrine of Vocation. That, along with my growing understanding of the doctrine of Providence since my ways at WTS have been monumental in shaping my understanding of my own calling as a mom. Here are some of the things that have helped and snippets of that “Vocation” file: 

  • The primary calling that I have in life and the way that I am to glorify and worship God here on earth is found in the Greatest Commandment.  These days, I often wake up and remind myself that my goal of the day is to love and fear God and to love my neighbor. Luther wrote about the Biblical Doctrine of Vocation during the Reformation when there was a huge gap between what was seen as spiritual (priestly) vs. non-spiritual work. He wrote about vocation (from “calling” in Latin) and how God has placed each believer in different stations of life (in my case, as a wife, mother, church member, etc.) with the purpose of loving people through the work we do. This means that when I get up and make breakfast, clean the house, play with my daughter, I can know that 1. I am called my God to do so and 2. It is meaningful and pleasing to God if I am doing it out of love for my daughter.
  • Love (as defined Biblically) is the ultimate goal. What that looks like will differ given different needs, different gifts, and changing seasons of life. One of the toughest things for me has been trying to find one way of living that glorifies God by looking at people around me or other seasons of life. God has been showing me that he is glorifying himself in different ways through different people. Why? 1. Scripture gives so many different ways that we are called to love depending on what the needs are- we are called to preach the Gospel, to speak truth in love, to care for widows and orphans, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned, etc. As tempting as it is to put these in order of priority, Scripture doesn’t do that (e.g. say that it is more important to preach than to care for widows). But love will see all these things as important- caring for the body and caring for the soul and how I  love my neighbor will depend on who is placed in my life and what their needs are. Right now, my husband and daughter are my most immediate neighbors and my daughter’s needs are taking up a certain amount of time and energy that will not always remain the same. 2. I have been entrusted with different gifts than people around me and am called to exercise them for the good of the church. (I’ve posted some helpful resources regarding this before.) 3. As a wife and mom, the shape of my days and time changes with different seasons.  The way it looks for me to worship and obey God today is not going to look exactly the same as what it meant for me to do so as a student or ministry staff worker. Therefore the orienting question (and my answer to why I stay at home) is “What does it mean for me right now to love my neighbor?”
  • The Biblical understanding of what is worldly vs. spiritual  is not mostly a matter of what is physical vs. what is immaterial but an issue of the heart. When the Bible talks about flesh or wordliness, it is not talking about physical need for sleep or making money- it is talking about the sinful ways that we pursue things other than God and the part of us that rebels against him. There are ways that I can do “spiritual” things in a way that is worldly- doing work in ministry in order to justify myself or for success. There are ways that I can do mundane, earth-bound tasks in a way that is spiritual- exhibiting the fruit of the spirit (helpful blog here about it), doing it out of love for others, etc. Therefore, as a mom, it is not as if the only spiritual things I do are when I am able to explicitly mention God or things that I do which eventually lead up to an opportunity to evangelize/disciple, I can do things that are earth-bound (diaper changing, feeding my baby) in ways that are spiritual when done out of and in love. How John Piper put it in Don’t Waste Your Life is “It is not a matter so much of what you do, but how and why.”
  • God has chosen to work in the world through human actions.  The Biblical understanding of Providence- that God is actively and sovereignly controlling and governing all things that happen in the world- has done massive damage on the sacred-secular divide that I had in my mind. If God is actively involved in all aspects of what happens in the world (providence) and working through people (doctrine of vocation), then he is working through me both when I evangelize and when I tend to my daughter’s physical needs. Luther has been quoted as saying that God milks the cows through the hands of the milkmaids. Similarly, what I do is important because God is working through me to answer my prayers for my daughter’s growth and protection in my day-to-day actions!
  • The work I do as a mom matters because God regards it as valuable. I emailed a question to Matt Perman of What’s Best Next  and this was really helpful from his answer: “What God requires of us most of all is not evangelism, but love…Evangelism and work are to both come from this motive. This makes our work eternal and enduring, as well as (successful, so to speak) evangelism….It is God’s regard of something that makes it valuable. That needs to be our criteria.” Growing up with a misunderstanding of what was spiritual vs. not spiritual and working in ministry, it was easy for me feel that work (non “spiritual”)  is not as important or secondary to the type of work done in church ministry or missions (Bible study, etc.) and that work was only important so much as it led to these activities. This was perpetuated by things I learned in church (e.g. being a spiritual doctor is more important than being a doctor that only saves people who will one day die anyways.) This is not Biblical though because as written above, it is God’s regard of something that makes it valuable. I realized that I had a wrong standard for measuring whether or not the work is important. God commands us to preach the Gospel. He also calls us to cultivate the earth and to work (Genesis 1-3). Love is the goal of both, and both are valued by God. As a mom who stays at home and is limited by my daughter’s developmental stage and my time in terms of how much explicit Gospel-instruction I can give, I can know that the work I do cleaning, caring, etc. matters because it is valuable  to God.
An important note that I have is that I am not trying to say that preaching the Gospel, the work of ministry, discipleship and world missions are not important. I love my daughter and so I desire for her to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, pray for her, and teach her to obey  me so that she can learn to obey God. I believe this pleases God. The main struggle for me though is to know that I can be pleasing and glorifying God also in the mundane and everyday work that I do- not only as a means toward discipleship and missions, but in and of themselves- when I work in faith and out of love. I pray and trust that God will give us all grace and instruction as we love him and our neighbors in the way he is calling us to today!
Here are some of the resources that have been tremendously helpful to me and I recommend to anyone wanting to know more about God’s calling in our lives in our work:
Truth & Orthodoxy

There Really Is A Tree

This quote from Tim Keller’s new book Every Good Endeavor sums up well why in the past year or so, the vision and promise of the church as the future perfect Bride of Christ has constantly strengthened me to not lose heart in ministry. It explains why lyrics like “Dear dying Lamb Thy precious blood shall never lose it’s power til all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more!” have been so moving and Scripture like “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” and 2 Corinthians chapters 1-5 have been so precious to me. The “tree” and “leaf” that Tim Keller writes about has to do with a story he summed up earlier, but the quote should make sense nonetheless:

Whatever your work, you need to know this:  There really is a tree. Whatever you are seeking in your work- the city of justice and peace, the world of brilliance and beauty, the story, the order, the healing- it is there. There is a God, there is a future healed world that he will bring about, and your work is showing it (in part) to others. Your work will only be partially successful, on your best days, in bringing that world about. But inevitably the whole tree that you seek- the beauty, harmony, justice, comfort, joy, and community- will come to fruition. If you know all this, you won’t be despondent because you can get only a leaf or two out of this life. You will work with satisfaction and joy. You will not be puffed up by success or devastated by setbacks. (p. 30)

And here’s another one that has to do with what I’ve been learning as a stay-at-home mom (I have been writing a blog post on this in my mind for a while now…):

Everyone imagines accomplishing things, and everyone finds him- or herself largely incapable of producing them. Everyone wants to be successful rather than forgotten, and everyone wants to make a difference in life. But that is beyond the control of any of us. If this life is all there is, then everything will eventually burn up in the death of the sun…Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference…Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, purposed in response to God’s calling, can matter forever. (p. 29)

Looking forward to getting into this book more!

P.S. If you buy Every Good Endeavor right now from (link above), you get 70% off your first copy! $8.09! Whoohoo! I’m reading my copy right now.