Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Not Much To Say

I find myself without much to say right now. I've been back from South Africa for about two weeks, and I think I left a part of myself behind. Though it's my third time to take a mission trip there, the coming back has not gotten any easier. My heart is once again torn between two continents, and so I find myself not knowing what to write. Because of that, I've decided to share this video with you instead. It's a little long (8.5 minutes), but the song choices and the pictures tell you more about what I'm feeling right now then any words could. I am posting it with a prayer that God might speak to you as you watch. The people and places you'll see through these images have changed me. Let it change you, too.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Run the Race

Okay, I will admit it. I have football on the brain. Yes, yes.. my beloved Cowboys lost last week so were not contenders for the NFC Championship tonight. But I was rooting for my second favorite team, the New Orleans Saints. And they WON!

I knew that the Saints had never been considered one of the "great" NFL teams. What I didn't realize until this year was that they had never made a trip to the Super Bowl! One of the announcers tonight said "this team has been waiting 43 years to get here". Forty-three years! That is longer than I have been alive (ok, just barely). This evening I am so happy for all those players, coaches and fans. Fans who believed in this team through thick and thin, year after year. This team who, most acknowledge, truly helped to rally the spirit of New Orleans in the days and years following Hurricane Katrina.

As I celebrated their victory with them, I couldn't help but think of all those years "in between". How many times had the fans been disappointed yet again? No Super Bowl this time. Maybe "next year". And yet, they are recognized as some of the most loyal football fans anywhere. They never gave up on their team. Forty-three years. And look at them now. Having the moment of their lives and headed for football's biggest game.

I kept thinking of the apostle Paul saying, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7) The Saints haven't finished their race quite yet. But they certainly have fought the good fight...and kept the faith.

I also remembered my Beth Moore Bible study homework that I'd worked on tonight. In her study "Living Beyond Yourself", Beth writes: "In His sovereignty, God has chosen to do His work through us. If we miss our ministry, we will miss our entire purpose in remaining here... One day I will see my Savior face to face, and in His hands He will hold the assignments which were prepared for me in advance. Oh, how I pray I will hear Him say that I completed each one in the course of my lifetime."

Wow.. that was so powerful to me. Assignments that God wrote just for me.. prepared in advance (before I was even born!). I couldn't stop praying that this image would help sustain me on days when I get tired. On days when I get frustrated. On days when I feel like I just can't do anything right, or I just can't take another step. On those "why am I even here??" days. On days of sorrow, days of anger, days when I just hit a wall.

I want to keep running the race. I want to finish all those assignments. I want to keep the faith.

Beth also talked about keeping in mind that though situations may be painful for us, personally, God is working all together for "kingdom profit".. for the overall good of His kingdom. One day, we will get to see that no matter what we went through here on Earth, all was able to be used & woven together by God, for the good of his entire kingdom. Beth kept emphasizing that "the good is not always the easy". We'll get to see what happens when you don't give up. When you keep the faith. When you run the race.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perserverence the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, to that you will not grow weary and lose heart."-- Hebrews 12:1-3

I also noticed a commercial that aired during tonight's game. It stood out among the rest initially due to its quietness. As you probably know, most commercials airing during football games are anything but quiet and thoughtful. It was for Visa, and it was about Olympic speed skater Dan Jansen. It was the story of how he'd been inspired to the sport by his sister Jane. Jane passed away of leukemia the day that Dan Jansen was to skate in the 500m in the 1988 Olympics. He bravely skated anyway, as he'd promised his sister that he would win the gold medal for her. But it was not to be. Jansen fell in the 500m, and fell again a few days later in the 1,000m race, so was not able to win any medals.

He tried again in the 1992 Olympics, but came up short again and again. The 1994 Winter Olympics were Dan Jansen's final attempt to win an Olympic medal of any kind. He did win the gold, set a new world record in the process, and finally was able to dedicate his medal to his late sister. The sweetest part of the victory, as shown in the commercial, was when Jansen got to skate his victory lap with not only his gold medal, but with his baby daughter... Jane.

Don't ever give up. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Run the Race.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."-- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thoughts on Restoration, Haiti, and Poverty (not necessarily in that order!)

This week I had a conversation with a friend about restoration. It has been on a lot of minds as we watch tragic events unfold in Haiti. Those events have sparked a lot of conversation as we seek to explain to our children what is going on and why. Many have been called to action to raise money, travel to Haiti, and pray. I am always amazed at how it seems to take a tragedy of this magnitude to get our attention, if only for a little while, and to cause us to reflect, project, and even become diverted from our own struggles to unite for a common cause.

I had a conversation with another friend who is reading The Hole in Our Gospel, a compelling book by Richard Stearns, that disturbed my friend on many levels and challenged her perspective on what God expects of us.

For today, I thought I would share some food for thought that has come my way over the past week, as many ponder the present and the future.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:18-23 NKJ)

" restore and to forgive, remain the purest, most powerful forms of love -without them -God and life make no sense at all" Tony Campolo

"If we don't know how to tackle the issues of poverty in our towns, our own cities, and our own nation... how can we dare think we know how to take on the issues of world poverty? Think about how we could be more effective elsewhere if we became masters at solving our own poverty issues here at home."

I would love for those reading to share thoughts on restoration, Haiti, or Poverty.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thoughts on Haiti, God, and All That

It's been a good week to be reading through the book of Job. No sooner did that man of God lose everything than the earthquake in Haiti struck. All week updates and images of the immeasurable destruction have filled my eyes and mind during the day. Each evening Job's and his useless friends' arguments have filled my mind. The parallels are striking.

Pain and suffering happen, to anyone in any station of life. We rarely discover the reasons behind it--more often, we are left to endure and hopefully heal. God does not promise us answers to his rationale, to his plan. He promises to help and strengthen us as we pass through the fire. So when high-profile religious commentators offer their own take on why Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake (His judgment for their pact with the devil?), I grieve and fume. What a horrible message to send to the world on behalf of Christians! How insensitive, untimely, judgmental... how presumptuous!

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! ...Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness...You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!" (Job 38:4-5, 19-20)

(I do love a little godly sarcasm.)

Our response to Haiti, and any other disaster (personal or national), should be love. Love that takes action to meet the needs of the hurting. Love that can sit with a grieving victim and cry along with her. Love that rejoices to see individuals and nations rush to aid the hurting. We are called to share the love of Christ, and this involves not only the message of hope but our hands full of generously given help. Jesus had compassion on the hurting--this led him to feed them, heal, them, touch them, comfort them. He met them at their greatest physical need first.

That's where we find ourselves today with Haiti. Don't let the overwhelming nature of the destruction hinder you from helping however you can. Volunteer to sort and pack supplies, donate to any number of charities responding to the disaster, sponsor a trip, and when the time is right--go there to serve in person. That time will come for many of us!

And it's OK to think theologically about the horror we've observed. I found an interesting post on Her.meneutics, the Christianity Today blog for women, that does just that. But let's refrain from the pompous (and unfortunately public) pronouncements that we've got the answers.

Some things we'll never know. But in the meantime, the people of Haiti and all who love them can know God's love through us.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Spring Bible Studies!

I know I posted about Bible Studies during Fall sign-ups.  It is now time for Spring sign-ups and a great time for you to get involved in a study if you are not already.  You may wonder why you need Bible Study....and I know I have posted most of this before but thought I would post again.

This is the last Sunday (January 17th) to register for Bible Studies in the Connection.  If you would like to register online go here.
The Bible Studies that are being offered this spring are:
  •  Understanding Your Blessings In Christ: Ephesians by Elizabeth George
  • Daniel:  Lives of Integrity, Words of Prophecy by Beth Moore
  • Esther by Jill Rhodes
  • Sitting At The Feet Of Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler & Lois Tverberg 
  • Breaking Free:  The Journey, The Stories by Beth Moore
  • Proverbs and Principles for Parenting Practically Perfect Progeny by Jean Stockdale
For more information on each of the studies click here and then click on Brochure.

You may ask why you should join a Bible Study.  Here are a few reasons I think Bible Study is great and why we should all be studying the Word.

1. To Get In God's Word
I don't know about you but I can tell a huge difference in my life if I am not studying and reading my Bible. Getting in the Word is also how you learn more about Him. Compare it to meeting a new friend. If you never talk with this person do you ever learn anything about this person? Does your relationship with this person ever become more than an acquaintance? If you are not in God's Word then how are you deepening your relationship with Him? The Bible tells us in Ephesians 6:10 "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes." Believe me, Satan knows where we are weak and that is where he will try and get us. 

2. Friendships
A group of ladies and I started a Bible Study over three years ago. It worked best for us to meet every other week rather than every week. Here we are over three years later still meeting. I think there were 11 or 12 ladies in the Bible study originally and 5 of us are still in the people have joined the group in the past few years and friendships have grown during this time.  When our study started back this time we had about 16 ladies in our study.  When one of us has a prayer request we know that these ladies are just an email away. The relationships you can build with Godly women is priceless.

If you are not already in a Bible study I urge you to find one to join. It will change your life!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

I am thankful for the New Year. It is a time for me to seek direction, write out my goals and desires, and seek clarification for what HE has for me this year. It is a blank slate to see if I will get out of the way and allow God to work in my life instead of me working for me. It is a time to check myself to see if I am on the path God intended for me.

Charles Stanley recently wrote an article called, A Barometer for Spiritual Growth. In his article he outlined 13 'signposts' to mark spiritual progress. He encourages each reader to take these signposts and put them in their Bible, or place them somewhere where they can read them often and measure their status. What a wonderful way to start the New Year by focusing on our relationship with God growing in our faith. Here is the quick list version of his article.

1. A Hunger to Know God More-Do you hunger to know God? If we are maturing in our Christian walk, then we will certainly have a growing hunger to know God.

2. A Desire to Know the Truth of the Word-If we are growing in the Lord, then we will want to know what HE says about everything. How much time are we spending reading the Word of God, compared to the time spending on Face book, magazines, TV, etc?

3. An Increasing Awareness of our Sinfulness- Are you able to recognize danger zones so we can guard against them. By doing so we are becoming more and more aware of our desperate need for HIM.

4. A Quick Response to Sin, Involving Genuine Repentance- When we grow spiritually, we will no longer be able to loiter so effortlessly in sin. We will want to bring that offense to the feet of God and repent of our actions as quickly as possible.

5. Joy in the Mist of Intense Spiritual Battles-As we mature in our faith, spiritual warfare becomes more intense. As we trust in the Holy Spirit, we can still rejoice because we know God is in the process of developing us into mature believers.

6. Understanding trials and temptations as opportunity for growth- Most of us grow spiritually in the mist of a trial. Even though the situation is painful, mature believers recognize the potential for God to reveal Himself in a mighty way.

7. Viewing Service To God as an Honor, not a Burden- If we are growing in the Lord, we will want to serve Him. Love is spelled T-I-M-E. The motivation of your service will be love, not responsibility or obligation. You will truly enjoy the time you spend in service to Him. Remember that even though we're called to serve, we are also called to observe a day or season of rest. God wants us at our best, but that cannot happen if we take no breaks and work ourselves to exhaustion.

8. Viewing Everything -Both Good and Bad- as Coming From the Lord- If we are to be mature believers, then we must understand the Father's complete and total sovereignty. Everything that happens, both good and bad, is under HIS control.

9. Faith to Ask God for Bigger Things- As we mature in Christ, so does our faith and confidence that god will answer our prayers. It may be no sometimes. But we show confidence in God by asking for bigger and bigger things while allowing the Holy Spirit to guide their requests.

10. Eagerness to Share Christ with Others- A sign that you are growing in the Lord is that you cannot stay quiet about it. You have to tell someone about it! As our faith matures, we develop a heart for other people.

11. Earnest Desire to Give to the Lord's Work- One key evidence of a believer's maturity is what happens to his pocketbook. If our heart is for ministry, then you will give gladly to the work of the gospel.

12. An Increasing Awareness of God in Every Area of Life- A mature believer is one who is constantly aware of the presence and work of God. I Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us that a growing Christian prays continually. This is an instruction to abide in the presence of God at all times. Are you the same person at church on Sunday that you are the rest of the week at home? Faith is not a part time commitment- we are to believe at all times.

13. The Priority of a Personal Devotional Life- The most important part of the day for a believer is the time dedicated solely to growing closer to the Father.

I am encouraging and praying for you dear sisters in Christ, that we all may grow more in Christ this year. Here is to 2010!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy, Glorious New Year!!!

"Oh, Happy Day, Happy Day! You washed my sins away.
Oh, Happy Day, Happy Day! I'll never be the same.
What a Glorious day! What a Glorious day, cause You- have- set- me- free!
Oh, Happy Day! I'll never be the same!"
I love this song! I love singing this song. I love hearing my family sing this song. I love hearing my church family sing this song. I love watching one of our worship leaders when he leads this song. He can barely contain himself! I love the Savior who makes singing this song possible.

This New Year is a year to celebrate so much. So much glory, so much happiness. No matter what is going on around us, no one can take away our salvation. No one can take away the true joy of knowing we are set free. It is a happy day when we get it- Jesus saves us and sets us free. We need not live in bondage to anything or anyone.

Now, I have experienced pain, I had a really difficult year last year, and I am praying with all hope (Psalms 5:3) to see how GOD will resolve many of these issues as I type right now. So, I know that all of life cannot be filled with happy days. But, when life brings us a new year, can we maybe just look at possibilities?

Our family was praying over the New Year and our son prayed and thanked GOD for preparing us for the New Year. I stopped after the prayer and had one of those "Mom moments". I had never really thought of it like that. I had prayed for the upcoming year. I had asked for blessings, for favor, for opportunities for our family to serve, for our family to grow in relationship with GOD/each other/friends, I thought I had covered a lot. But, our son had thanked GOD that He had prepared and would continue to prepare us for the year ahead. GOD knows what is coming. He will not be caught off guard. We would not be either, if we remained close to the "author and perfecter of our faith".

We are free from fear, from impossible mountains (Mt 19:26) when we look to Jesus and focus on Him as the one who sets us free. This sets our minds free for possibilities. It sets us free to allow Jesus to grow our faith. It sets us free to allow Him to minister to us when we are in the midst of pain. I love reading the Psalms. David praises GOD when his heart hurts. That is maybe why I also love this song. No matter what day the world wants me, my husband, my kids, or my friends to have, I can claim a different day because I know it can be a glorious day since "He has set us free".

Freedom might not seem like it comes easily for all. I suggest reading the Psalms. Use a journal as you read. Rewrite any verse you especially feel GOD might be using in your life. Substitute your name. Post the verse in your kitchen, office, closet, bathroom, carry it in your pocket. Listen to music that encourages you. Freedom is yours. If you are in Christ, you do not have to beg for it, it is yours. Just claim it and seek it. But, you have to read, pray and apply. GOD gives to those who ask.

I pray you will make it a "Happy, Glorious" Year- because He will set you free and give you life this year!

Dear Father, thank you for Jesus who died to give us life, freedom, joy. I ask that we would dedicate ourselves to Your word, prayer and to a church community so we can make everyday a glorious day unto You!!! I love you!

"But, You are a shield around me, O LORD;
You bestow glory on me and lift up my head."
Psalm 3:3

"In the morning, O LORD, You hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before You
and wait in expectation."
Psalm 5:3
"Jesus looked at them and said,
'With man this is impossible,
but with GOD all things are possible.'"
Matthew 19:26