Have A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

Graduation Day!Hello Friends!

I am planning to take a break from blogging and all things social media from now until the new year. Tomorrow, a fun interview I put together with Rachel Jankovic will go up on Credo Magazine so I will be sure to link to it from Facebook and Twitter, but beyond that, I’m aiming to have a minimal online presence.

I pray that you and your family will have a joyful Christmas and a blessed New Year!

I look forward to joining you back here in 2014 and continuing on with the [intlink id="466" type="category"]Bite-size Theology[/intlink] series, book reviews, [intlink id="6" type="category"]Bookmarks[/intlink], and much more. Please let me know in the comments if there is a particular topic you would like for me to tackle in 2014 and I will begin contemplating it now!

Also, I would encourage you to subscribe to Desiring Virtue via email updates so that you never miss a post (especially since it will be such a long period of time before I post again!). You can do so by simply filling out the form below.

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Also, I wanted to share this beautiful Christmas song from my very talented friend Aryn Michelle. I know that it will bless you:

Discipleship in a Foreign Culture

Q&A with Chelle Stire on Discipleship in a Foreign CultureRecently, I shared an interview with my high school mentor, Chelle Stire, which focused on the topic of discipleship. In it she shared some incredibly challenging thoughts on making sure our discipleship relationships center on the life-altering truths of the gospel rather than outward signs of obedience or disobedience. Chelle had so much wisdom to share on the topic of mentoring that I felt compelled to break the interview into several sections, which I very much want to share with you. This section of the interview focuses on the difficulty of discipling women in a foreign culture, but not surprisingly, much of what Chelle shared can be applied to any discipleship relationship. I pray that you will find it encouraging, especially as Chelle encourages women to pursue honest and open relationships fueled by the gospel. Enjoy!

For the past 6 years you’ve lived in Albania serving in a drastically different culture. Does the culture in which you live affect the way you disciple other women? Can you give some examples?

The Albanian culture has greatly impacted the way I disciple.  There are so many aspects of discipleship that are born out of a church culture or maturity level of a body of believers.  Here are just a few aspects of the Albanian culture and church that have made me rethink or adjust the way I disciple (let me say, from the start, that this is a generalization of Albanian culture and churches and does not represent all Albanians. Thank the Lord that there are some Albanians and bodies of believers here that are vigorously and lovingly discipling one another and impacting their communities for Christ):

A First Generation Church

We are just now entering into a second generation of believers and in large part the format of mentoring and discipleship has been on the back burner while the evangelism, church planting, and leadership training has been taking place.  When atheistic, communistic Albania opened up in the early 1990’s a flood of missionaries from every denomination and cult poured into the country.  Many missionaries were not really prepared or trained to provide these new believers with one-on-one relationships to help them grow to maturity.  Discipleship was not a foundational part of many churches and now the first generation of leaders is not equipped to pass that on to the next generation.  Some para-church organizations that focus on ministering to students have been effectively discipling new believers but that has not made a significant impact in local churches yet.

This aspect affects my discipleship because there is not a framework of mentoring/discipleship in place.  Many women or youth don’t know what this kind of relationship is like, the biblical examples or mandate for them, or the immense benefits for their spiritual life.  It has taken a long time to even build the foundation for the relationships to be established whereas in the states you could just jump into a relationship with another woman with the understanding of what level of interaction that would entail.

A Shame-Based Culture

The traditional way to “encourage” someone to excel is to shame them by comparing them to someone else or pointing out (publically) their ineptitudes.  Harsh words, raised voices, and sharp criticism are more characteristic of the learning/teaching culture than loving encouragement, gentle reprimands, or humble exhortations.  It is also very inappropriate to bring shame or a bad name to your family so any action/sin that could reflect badly on you or your family is not discussed.  This carries over into the church culture by a general lack of vulnerability about specific or significant sin issues.  When a sin issue does come to light or is shared, the tendency of shaming to reform behavior only leads to temporary change and does not engender loving healthy relationships.  There is great fear among many Albanians that if they share their weaknesses/struggles their sins will be shared to others (gossip is a HUGE issue here) and so they only reveal what is acceptable or common and not shameful.

[Tweet "When the gospel is brought to bear in a discipleship relationship... there is freedom to be real..."]

Of course, this wreaks havoc in terms of discipleship.  Fear, pride, and people pleasing drive relationships when shame is the motivator.  When the gospel is brought to bear in a discipleship relationship and there is no fear of rejection, shame, or condemnation by Christ or your fellow believer there is freedom to be real with one another.  I John 4:18 describes a perfect love that drives out fear because it is founded in the source of love, God Himself.  God’s love does not just turn a blind eye to sin but reveals it to bring restoration, not condemnation (Rom. 8:1).  Relationships between believers that are characterized by this kind of love will not be shallow relationships that hide behind what is culturally (national or in the church) acceptable or taboo.  Instead, they will be honest and real with a view to bring the glory of God and the transformational magnificence of the gospel to light.  In many of my relationships with Albanian women and youth it has taken years to build a level of trust and a biblical perspective of acceptance by God to get to the point where we could delve into a real, honest discussion about sin.  Being real and transparent about my own sin struggles has been a major factor in breaking down the barrier of shallow relationships and fear of transparency.  Modeling the Biblical mandate to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) has also challenged the thinking of women I have interacted with about how to go about confronting sin or foolish thinking in fellow sisters-in-Christ.

Discipleship in a Foreign CultureA Post-Communistic Culture

For over 50 years the indoctrination of communism (and atheism) shaped the thinking of the Albanian people.  They were taught to blindly accept as truth what the government told them.  They were taught to distrust others and to inform their officials of those who spoke negatively against the government.  They were taught that there was no God and that their savior was Enver Hoxha.  The effect that communism has had on the Albanian culture pervades every strata of life.  In relation to discipleship I have experienced the vestiges of this indoctrination still lingering.  What has been taught as truth (evolution, abortion, national pride as a form of religion, self-preservation, greed, and corruption) is so deeply rooted in the culture that is has taken missionaries and Albanian believers over 2 decades to begin to open the minds of the Albanian people to the lies that they were told for so many years.  Biblical truth must trump culture and this has been a hard pill to swallow.  Distrust of others and self-reliance gives many Albanian Christians a basic distrust of “western” methods, even if they are grounded in Biblical truth.

In some of my relationships it has taken months to undo unbiblical thinking and beliefs about marriage, parenting, finances, family duties, work ethic, the sufficiency of Scripture, theology, etc to even begin to start dealing with the application of Biblical mandates in those areas of life.  It is an arduous and oftentimes discouraging work. I don’t really comprehend the premise of distrust and cynicism that the Albanian Christians must fight against.  Coming from a basically trusting and open culture, I have to learn to be patient and gentle in instruction and not become personally offended when a fellow believer says to me, “You just don’t understand because you are rich American.” Coming back to the veracity and primacy of Scripture over ALL cultures is my only valid defense.

Albanian women, as a rule, work outside the home.  Albania is just rising out of the status of a third world country.  The economy is tenuous at best and the unemployment rate is very high (especially among men).  During communism every adult worked and the state raised and educated the children.  The idea that a woman would be “homemaker” by profession is regarded with incredulity.  In the Albanian culture homes are multi-generational and when a woman is married she moves into the home of her husband’s family and becomes the bride of the house.  This is a nice term for servant of all.  Her work is largely unappreciated and is very rigorous.  She has few rights and even in her marriage and parenting the mother-in-law has more authority than she does.  Leaving the house to go to work can become a relief.  Once she has children, the children are left to the care of her in-laws and she works long hours to provide for her extended family.  Often, men spend the majority of their days in coffee bars or on the streets drinking alcohol and playing dominoes or chess.  Women feel the heavy burden of financial provision for their families.  Coming from years of bare existence under communism they have bought into the lie that material things will bring happiness.

The church and discipleship relationships are not immune to this influence.  The reality that many families live on under $300 a month and can barely feed their children is a sobering fact.  Women feel obligated to work and then they come home after 7 or 8 p.m. to cook dinner, shop for groceries, clean house, and help children with schooling.  Trying to fit in a discipleship meeting during the day is nigh unto impossible.  Women’s Bible studies or even mid-week church meetings are difficult for women to attend due to their work schedules.  Add to this that most Albanians travel around the city on foot or by public transportation and having a “quick” lunch meeting is time prohibitive.  I find it very challenging to even find time to meet with women for discipleship.  Generally, Albanian husbands do not care for the home or the children and so having a night where women can meet for spiritual encouragement and the husbands care for the children is not manageable for many women.

The Barrier of Language

Learning to communicate on a deep and intimate level in another language may take some years to accomplish (like me).  Some languages are more difficult to master and Albanian is one of those languages.  Communicating clearly what Scripture has to say and how to personally apply it to our lives takes a grasp on vocabulary and grammar that must continue to deepen.  Thankfully, Albanians are a gifted people with language and can easily learn multiple languages (which keeps me mighty humble) so there is the possibility to disciple is English with many Albanians in our church.  However, the fact remains that speaking and expressing yourself in your mother tongue allows you to delve more deep in relationships.

I am committed to learning Albanian so I can disciple, counsel, and communicate in Albanian, but it makes discipleship a challenge until I have those language skills.  Also, few Biblical literary resources have been translated into the Albanian language.  In America it was easy to pick a book up from the Bible book store or church resource center and begin to read it together as a springboard for discipleship discussions.  There are only an armload of solid Christian books translated into Albanian and so Christians desiring to read commentaries, study books, spiritual living resources, or even Christian biographies are seriously hindered in their ability to find these resources.  Even getting English copies of books is difficult with cost of shipping material to Albania.  All in all, it is a challenging hurdle to overcome when trying to teach Albanian women how to read, think, and live a Christ centered life…

I have much more to share with you from this insightful interview in the coming weeks. I pray that the words of this dearest of friends will be an encouragement to you in your own discipleship relationships.

You can read my first interview with Chelle Stire on the topic of discipleship and how her perspective on discipleship has changed over the years by clicking here.

Christ-centered Christmas Picture Book Countdown

Christmas Picture Book Countdown: Over 25 Christ-centered Christmas picture books to share with your children this holiday season!

One of the simplest and funnest Christmas traditions we began a few years ago was a picture book countdown. This tradition serves three purposes in our family:

  1. It is super fun to open a present every day. Even though most of the books are repeats from last year, they are special because we only bring them out at Christmas time!
  2. It helps to keep our hearts focused on the reason we are celebrating. The books we have selected are all focused on the birth of Christ.
  3. It builds the anticipation for Christmas day! Who doesn’t love a countdown?

Before December begins I wrap our collection of Christmas books and number them–beginning with the total number of books we have–in descending order all the way down to 1. We are still working our way up to the full 25, but have built our collection surprisingly quickly! (I also try to make use of our local library’s books to fill in the days I don’t have books for.)

Of course, one of the most difficult aspects of this fun tradition is building a library of books that focus on Christ’s incarnation rather than the typical snow/Santa Claus/reindeer/elves topics. However, there are many, many, many books that focus not only on the nativity, but on other facets of the Christian celebration of Christmas. I thought I would share a good sized list here of books we have as well as books that have been recommended by others–all focusing on Christ* and celebrating in a way that honors him. I hope you find it helpful in building your own Christmas book library! If you have a favorite that isn’t on the list, please feel free to share in the comments! To find out more about how to have a Christmas Picture Book Countdown, visit my guest post at RedeemedReader.com.


Celebrating Christmas:

*Note: None of these books (through their text or illustrations) will perfectly portray the actual account of Christ’s incarnation. Only the Bible can do that. It is important that we teach our children to know truth and be able to spot errors. Therefore, instilling the biblical account within the hearts of our children is of the utmost importance so that they can know fictional additions or errors when they hear/see them. Also, I have included books in this list that look at the nativity scene through the viewpoint of fictional character’s (both animals and people). My husband and I don’t have any problem with this form of story telling, though we do like to point out what is truth and what is fiction as we read. :)

Bookmarks 11/14/13

BookmarksModesty Series: Tim Challies has posted three articles so far in a new series on modesty. If you have never read his book Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel, I would encourage you to spend some time reading through these articles. The first one begins here.

Losing a Daughter: Fred Zaspel shares a touching account of the Lord’s gracious hand in his life as he and his family have walked through the shadow of death:

“I have often suspected over the years that Christians who romanticize death have likely never experienced the loss of a close loved one. Death remains a dreaded and a devastating enemy, and there is just no way to make it pretty. It still stings, deeply so, and when it comes close like this it leaves us feeling all but completely undone. Yet for Christians there truly is a difference. And during this past week since Gina passed, agonizing as it has been, we have learned first-hand that we really do not sorrow as those who have no hope. The weighty promises and massive truths that God has revealed to us in his Word truly are life-shaping and soul anchoring, and they provide a sure point of reference for even the most hurting heart.” -Fred Zaspel

The God Who Redeems Families: Ruth Simons lets us peek into her family history and shows the glory of God in the redemption of family legacies.

What’s in a Name?: Joey Cochran has written a very insightful article on the accounts of Adam naming Eve, first “woman” and then “Eve” and how they relate to the story of the fall.

Picture Books for the Season: Redeemed Reader shares some new picture books for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Be on the look out for a list of my favorite Christmas books in the coming week!

Dealing with Discontentment: Christina Fox reminds us that it is an affection for Christ alone that can bring true contentment.

The Season of Youth: Carolyn Mahaney challenges us young(er) women to not despise the season of life where older women are meant to be pouring into us. In a time when youth are pushing to be the leaders within the church and offering the small amount of wisdom the Lord has given to them, this article is very timely. May we all remember that we have much to learn from those who have gone before us!

“Mothers of small children, yours is a season for gathering up seeds of wisdom from older women and planting them in the fertile soil of your family. Each day you stand at the head of an endless row of seeds to be sown—disciplines to be lovingly administered, squabbles to be settled, splinters to be extracted, plates to be cleared, lessons to be taught to little ones. Make it your aim to faithfully sow.” -Carolyn Mahaney

Discipling Others as God Disciples You

Discipling Others as God Disciples YouI was saved the summer before my sophomore year in high school. Up until then my understanding of God was incredibly limited. I knew there was a holy God and that he had a son named Jesus who was very important. I also knew from the weight of guilt I carried that I was a desperate sinner, enslaved to sin and in need of divine help. Tragically, I had no idea how to reconcile my brokenness to God’s holiness. That is, until the truth of the gospel invaded my heart one night at a summer camp. Suddenly, through the knowledge of God’s forgiving grace in the cross of Jesus Christ, my soul began to truly live. Freed from the chains of sin, I began down the road of sanctification at the age of 15.

It was about this time when the church I began attending hired [intlink id="9903" type="post"]a new youth pastor. His wife, Chelle Stire[/intlink], would become one of the greatest spiritual influences on my life. Week after week this young mother poured into me, teaching me how to apply the truths of scripture to my life, challenging me to be faithful in reading the word of God and in prayer, and living as an example of godly womanhood for me to follow. She was my real-life Titus 2 mentor throughout the turbulent years of high school. Much has changed since then. I am now as old as she was when we first met and have three little ones of my own to care for. Her daughters are growing into beautiful women who are as old as I was when my relationship with her first began. Our relationship has evolved from one of a mentor and disciple to friends who are able encourage one another in the faith. Even now however, though she and her family are serving on the mission field half a world away in Albania, her faith and joy in the Lord continue to impact me.

Recently, I asked Chelle to share some of the wisdom she has gained over the years as she’s sought to faithfully minister to younger women in the faith and now to her own teen and preteen daughters. I was curious if—when looking back over her ministry—she would have done anything differently. As she has grown in her own personal relationship to the Lord, how has her ministry grown? How does all this carry over to her relationship to her own daughters?

Today I share a sampling of this interview over at CBMW (click through this link to read it) and plan to share more in the coming days here at Desiring Virtue…