Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Too unimportant for God?

At my last Bible study meeting, there was a discussion about feeling like some things are too unimportant to bother God with. Some people wonder why they should even bother God about their to do list or routine activities. Why would God care about cleaning the house or grocery shopping? Surely he has better things to do than to help me remember to pick everything up that is needed for dinner tonight. House chores are too mundane to warrant God's interest or power.

I definitely feel that way at times. Why bother God with cleaning the bathrooms? Perhaps it could change my sense of dread to one of encouraging connection with God, but it seems silly that God would want to join me as I clean the sinks. Could all of the humdrum housework that I loathe at times actually obtain some flecks of pleasantness if I invited God to help change my attitude? I don't know. Am I afraid that he won't show up so why bother asking?

And if these things are too small for God, then at what point is something large or important enough for God to make an appearance? A fussy child? A work review? A fight with a friend? A shortage of finances to pay the bills? What is the tipping point from the obscure to important?

And, if things can be too small for God, can they also be too big? Is cancer something that God just can't handle? Might I send up a small prayer about my ill friend but then not expect God to do something?

We definitely tend to live this way at times. It's certainly human nature to try and handle things on our own, especially those "small" things. But why do we really do it? Do we want to feel like we have a sense of control? Is that why big things like illness, where we can't possibly do anything to help, are when we usually seek God? We think that if we ought to be able to handle it, then we should? Or do we not trust God enough? Are we afraid that we'll offer up our small need and he'll bat it away as unimportant to him? Are we worried that he won't come through when we need him to? Do we have such small faith that we don't know that we can really trust him with any are of our lives? And what about when we do pray about a sick family member and, instead of a miraculous healing, they die? Does that mean that God didn't hear us? That he didn't care? Or perhaps that's when we are supposed to trust that God's ways are higher than ours and his understanding is greater than ours? Are we to trust that God truly does desire good things for us and has a hope and a future for us (that may be different from the one we've imagined)?

We sometimes think that God should be reliable like a math equation. If we pray this way (A), then this (B) will happen. We don't like having to trust that whatever is best will happen, especially if it's not what we want. Who says that getting that promotion will be better for my family than not? Who says that the added salary and accompanying responsibilities won't take away from spending time with them and investing in my children? Who says that temporary hardships won't lead to lasting joy?

What about you: Are there things in your life that are too small or too big for God?

Ephesians 1 (Confidence in God's love)

In this week's study of The Frazzled Female, we were invited to read Ephesians 1 (below).

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his glory.

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

That's a lot of reading, but I was so encouraged to hear these truths and to have them penetrate my being. I was reminded that I am God's child, an heir with Christ, "according to his pleasure and will". I have been redeemed, my sins have been forgiven, and I have been given wisdom from God. I have been marked with a seal that guarantees my inheritance. I needed to be reminded of God's love for me and his pleasure in me. He did and does many things because he loves me. I can trust him and count on him to come through for me. He is on my side and desires to be active in my life.

After reading the chapter, I couldn't help but praise God and give thanks for all of my blessings and for his provisions for me. I poured out my heart to him in prayer and thanksgiving, confident that he wanted to hear it all and has an interest in me and my life.

When you read Ephesians 1, how do you feel and respond?

The Frazzled Female

I have joined a women's Bible study that a woman in my neighborhood has started. There are just three of us, but I am excited about getting to know the two other women. We all live on the same side of the neighborhood. I don't know that I would have met them had we not all decided to be a part of this group. I have met a lot of people through playing tennis, but I am always interested in getting to know more!

We have started going through a study called The Frazzled Female. I wasn't really sure what I was going to think of the book. Then I started reading the first section. It was all about thinking about God throughout the day and inviting him to be a part of everything I do. I almost laughed out loud because I had just been challenged through church and the Soul Revolution study to find ways to continue to remember God's presence. Here I was given the opportunity to continue to learn about ways to do just that. I am very convinced that it was an affirmation from God that I was doing what he wants me to do. I am continuing to try to grow in my relationship with him and, at the same time, connecting to people around me in my community.

Give the Light

Sunday was week two of the Light series at church. Neal spoke this week. Below are my notes. Feel free to hear the whole thing at our website.

Givealight.org - organization in Chad (21st largest country in world, 5th poorest)
>Not much electricity so group is trying to get lights to families so that kids can study at night and hopefully this will help people and families to get out of poverty.
>Bogolight - flashlight that is charged with solar energy
>Slogan: "A light that will never go out."

Luke 2:8-20
>The shepherds had a choice to make after the angels left - go ahead and find the baby or stay on the hill where they were.
>Not only did they go, but they then told others what they had seen and heard.

We can give the light through our motives, mission, and message.
>To whom am I giving the light? What are my 3 Ms?

Matthew 19:30
>Story about shepherds in India

God can do big stuff if we are willing to give the light. How often do we receive the light (in messages, small groups, worship)? How often do we then give the light?

I really enjoyed this message and the reminder that we are to share what we learn and know of God. God is not just for me. He is for the world and wants the world to know him. I am not benefiting anyone by keeping what I know to myself. It seems really silly to be afraid of what others may think. I have seen God work in my life and know that he cares about each one of us. Why wouldn't I want to encourage others to invite God into their lives to work in them as well?

60-60 Conclusion

Well, the 60-60 experiment officially ended on December 11th. Of course, we were challenged not to actually end the experiment and stop trying to draw closer to God throughout the day. We were just freed from the beeps/alarms if we so choose. I am super excited that I don't have to wear my sports watch every day. It certainly wasn't the best fashion statement, but God didn't care and, really, neither did I.

So now what? I definitely enjoyed the challenge of trying to spend more time throughout the day with God and being shown just how short I fall on most days. I don't want to return to morning and night only like I had tended to do previously. It would be awesome to be conscious of God hourly (or even more frequently). The rub is that it is hard to develop that habit and sometimes I struggle with wanting to put forth such effort. However, I am continuing to learn that all of my efforts will always fall short. I need to be asking God to help remind me of his presence and to seek him in all things.

I do want (and need) to put practices in place that will help me to think of God more often. I have thought about using my cell phone screen to post a banner or picture that reminds me of God. Perhaps little post it notes on the bathroom mirror or in my car. I remember once a while ago thinking that it would be awesome to have a watch that said "Pray" on the face. I still think that would be great, but have not found one. Perhaps if it's possible to engrave watch faces, that would work. Or, of course, I could always purchase and engrave a pocket watch, but that's not as practical.

Anyway, I am glad that I participated in the experiment and hope that I will continue to grow in this area. If you participated, what did you get out of it? If you haven't, do you think this is something you might enjoy trying?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shine the Light

We've started a new series called Light for the Christmas holiday. Below are my notes from the message on Sunday. You can listen to it here.

John 1:9 - The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

John 8:12 - When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

In Medieval times, during the Christmas season, Christ followers would light a candle and place it in a prominent place (such as a window) to remind them that the light of the world (Jesus) has come.

Isaiah 9:1a,2 - Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress...The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

John 1:4-5 - In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

John 3:19 - Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

It is easy to make decisions for others; much harder for oneself. When it's your struggle/temptation/decision, you can feel the pull of the darkness.

People doing things in darkness don't want the light shining on them.

As Christ followers, we are supposed to shine the light into the world.

Matthew 5:14-16 - "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Challenge: Think of ways you can shine the light of Jesus this Christmas season.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Grace Received

Yesterday at church I was discouraged and annoyed at myself that I really slacked off on quiet time with God during the previous week when we were on vacation. I know that I really struggle with maintaining an established time when my routine changes, but it's not an excuse. Before communion, I was thinking about this and repenting for my lack of discipline. I hate that this happens so often and yet I am not sure how to change it. I know that God would be just fine with a few minutes here and there throughout the day and yet I can't even manage to do that some days. I feel like I am a slave to the first thing in the morning quiet time of prayer and reading. I act like if I can't do that, then I shouldn't do anything.

I was still thinking about this after communion when we were singing a song I hadn't heard before. The lyrics said something about having regrets followed by the chorus of "O how you love me". I so needed the reminder of God's grace and unfailing love at that moment and that's what I got. I was overwhelmed by the truth that God loves me despite my behavior. Nothing I do or fail to do will change how he feels about me! Sometimes I forget my need for grace, but I was quite appreciative of the reminder and the ability to receive it yesterday. Praise God for his endless supply!

Do you ever forget about your need for grace? Have you been blessed by God's faithfulness lately?

Life All-In With God

Yesterday was the last message of our Soul Revolution series. I missed the week before due to traveling, but you and I can both listen to it, as well as yesterday's message, here. Below are my notes from yesterday.

Soul Revolution Week 8 (so there were only 8 weeks after all)

December 11th: 60th day of the 60-60 experiment

How does an experiment like this end? God's desire is that it won't.

It's a matter of acquiring a new habit of thought. - Frank Laubach

We need to establish our own God reminders: in the car, bathroom mirror, cell phone, keys, fridge, laptop, etc.

Philippians 1:6 "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it on the day of Christ Jesus.
>He: God is in charge and in control
>who began: we are a work in progress; change to our hearts comes slow
>a good work: all that God does is good; Habakkuk 3:2
>in you: he has plans of good specifically for you
>will be faithful to complete it: God will not give up on us
>on the day of Christ Jesus: God's work in us will be completed only when Christ returns.
~Our gain did not begin the day we were born and will not end the day we die.

Therefore, we should not give up on our attempts to draw closer to God.

God's focus is not on good starts, but on complete games.

I really enjoyed the reminder that just because the experiment is almost over, does not mean we ought to revert to our old way of living where we think about God maybe once per day. I like that Jeff acknowledged that we may need to use something other than beeps and alarms to continue to cultivate this mindset. I have found that as the weeks continue, there are multiple times per day when I don't hear my watch beep. Obviously, I am becoming used to it and it's effectiveness is waning. I thought about other things I might do to remember to focus on God. Perhaps put a banner on my cell phone reminding me that God is with me - something to see whenever I look at my phone. Perhaps put a note in the car prompting me to pray each time I head out to somewhere. There are many things that can be done that will prevent me from a pray once and done mentality. I know that it is hard, but most worthwhile things are challenging. Habits are developed through repetition. If this is something that I really want, I have to be willing to put in the necessary work.

What about you? How do you remember to draw near to God?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

60-60 Post 5

On Sunday evening we had our small group. We talked about the chapters we had read along with how the 60-60 experiment was going. It has definitely been harder to be diligent about focusing each hour on God as the experiment has progressed. I know that I don't want to go back to not thinking about God once the 6o days are up, but I can definitely see that as a possibility unless I improve my focus now while I'm in it.

We talked about focusing on one area in our lives where we would like to improve. We talked about putting intentional practices in place to help us grow in this particular area. The area that I said I wanted to get better at was thinking of others. I do notice that I tend to spend a lot of time on what I want. I really do want to get better at thinking about how I can help others and in considering others' interests when making decisions about using my time and energy. I, obviously, can pray to be more sensitive to the needs of others and to have eyes open to see opportunities to help others. I also thought about memorizing scripture that pertains to being others-focused (Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others - Philippians 2:4).

This week's 60-60 challenge was quite pertinent. Chapter 14's challenge is to "pay special attention to how [God] wants to use you to meet spiritual and physical needs around you." We are to ask God to see the people we interact with through his eyes, write down the names of four people who seem far from God or disconnected from community and pray for them, and take risks by reaching out to those around us. Definitely all others-related.

I'm glad I am blogging about this because I had already forgotten about the "four people" part. I will be sure to spend some time thinking about others and praying specifically for four.

Related to this, I was talking with a woman on Sunday at church and she said that she was having a difficult time presently. I told her to give me a call (because there wasn't time nor place right then to have a private discussion) to talk about it. Yesterday I was reading Chapter 14 in Soul Revolution and it was talking about getting involved with others' lives even if you aren't sure what you are supposed to do. Pray for guidance and then act. After reading this part, I was reminded of the woman. I know that she usually leaves work on her lunch break so I thought it might be a good opportunity to meet her during her break to talk with her about what is going on in her life (as I don't work on Tuesdays). It was 11:30 a.m. when I had this thought so I called her and ended up leaving a message on her answering machine. I decided to wait around until about 12:30 to see if she would call back and accept my offer. I didn't hear back from her, but she did call in the evening and we had a chance to talk for a bit. I was grateful for the opportunity to step out in faith even though it seemed like it might be an inconvenience to my regularly scheduled program (my plans). God wants my obedience, which sometimes means sacrificing time, energy, etc. I didn't have to at this time, but I think he was proud of my willingness.

Developing a Spiritual Workout

I was in the nursery on Sunday, but I listened to the message yesterday. Jeff talked about how there are certain spiritual practices we should all develop, such as prayer, Bible reading, and meditation. However, the way in which we do these can be different and should correspond to how we best relate to God.

Gary Thomas wrote a book called Sacred Pathways that talks about nine different pathways in which a person may best relate to God. They are the Naturalist (draws near to God through nature), the Sensate (draws near to God through the senses), the Traditionalist (draws near to God through ritual and symbol), the Ascetic (draws near to God through solitude and simplicity), the Activist (draws near to God through bringing about social change), the Caregiver (draws near to God through caring for and serving others), the Enthusiast (draws near to God through celebration and mystery), the Contemplative (draws near to God through personal adoration and heartfelt devotion), and the Intellectual (draws near to God through his/her mind). North Point has the survey online where you can answer 45 questions to find out which is your strongest pathway.

I took the survey and found that I am pretty evenly Contemplative and Intellectual. It definitely makes sense to me. I like to read and journal. I would be interested to learn more about these particular pathways (the Intellectual in me). Jeff had mentioned trying to hold a two hour class to go more in depth on the pathways but I don't know if/when that will happen.

I did like the reminder that we all worship best in different ways. It's okay that I don't raise my hands and dance when we sing. And it's okay that others do. My focus tends to be on the words I am singing.

I would be interested to know what pathway you found to be your strongest when you took the survey. Feel free to post your answer in the comments section.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spiritual Inventory

Like I mentioned in the last post, one of the challenges from this last week/end was to take a full spiritual inventory. We were then encouraged to share it with a Spiritual Running Partner (aka accountability partner). Jill and I had both shared and confessed to one another when we first became accountability partners but that was a while ago and we both thought it would be good to go through the inventory to determine whether there was anything we may have inadvertently neglected to share.

Tuesday morning I sat down with my Soul Revolution book to go through the inventory. It asked me to write down five different headings under which I would write down whatever came to mind that needed to be confessed and forgiven (I figured I'd list everything including the things that had previously been confessed to be thorough).

The first heading was RESENTMENTS. Anything that I felt resentment toward - people, institutions, ideas - I was to list. It was an eclectic little list but not all that long. I guess that means I tend to do a decent job of forgiving others (my perception, could be inaccurate).

The second heading was FEARS. This was to include any childhood fears along with an explanation of why I am afraid. It also was relatively short but there was sort of an underlying theme of fear of rejection and/or humiliation. Interesting observation.

The third list was MORAL BEHAVIORS. This is anything that was against God's will - lying, cheating, sexual impurity, greed, revenge, etc (check out Galatians 5:19-21 for additional items that could be included). This list ended up being the longest along with the one about which I felt the most shame. Talking with Jill, these are the things that society tends to condemn the most. Fear (not trusting God), resentment (unwillingness to forgive), pride, selfishness, etc - none of those are really seen as sinful in our culture. "Getting what's yours" (selfishness) is definitely seen as acceptable behavior.

The fourth list was PRIDE AND SELFISHNESS. We were to think about where these two issues have hurt others or separated us from God - acted unloving or hypocritical. I know that selfishness is a definite struggle as is pride. It's really hard not to struggle in a "me first" culture. This is one area I definitely want to grow in and am willing to admit that I fall short of "loving others as yourself".

The fifth list was RELATIONAL/EMOTIONAL STRUGGLES. When writing down people's names, we were to write down the feelings associated with their name (fear, anger, shame, guilt, envy, etc). This list was surprisingly short yet brought up the most emotions when discussing it with Jill. I guess because I do value relationships and don't want there to be any issues.

Looking over the list, I was reminded of when I was younger and had a "holier-than-thou" attitude. Sure I had lied and cheated, but I had not committed any sexual transgressions or participated in illegal activities (drinking or drugs) so I was a-okay in my mind. Definitely a Pharisee-in-training. I was able to justify any sin as "not as bad" as some others that I could have committed. I had my own sin rating system (which, unfortunately for me, God does not have or endorse). Praise the Lord for helping me to see myself as I truly was - a sinner like everyone else in desperate need of a Savior! Now, seeing everything that I could think of written out has reinforced my need for grace. It was a very humbling experience that really helped me to see myself as I am and how much I need God in my life. I am thankful that some of the items on the list are no longer struggles. I also see how much I need to grow and know that, if I stay connected to God, he can change me in these areas.

Having seen what you are supposed to write and then share with another person, I'm sure you can understand how difficult this can be. It requires extreme vulnerability. Even knowing that Jill already knew most of this, it is still hard to place yourself in a position to be rejected, judged, or condemned. We have established a strong enough relationship that we knew neither would do that to the other. Still, it wasn't easy to share. Knowing that we were both confessing was beneficial because both were required to be vulnerable. And it was a great opportunity to demonstrate acceptance and love to one another.

The best part about our sharing, was the conversation about which parts were hardest to share, where we wanted to change and the prayer at the end. I love praying with Jill! It is so encouraging to hear someone pray for you and to be able to pray for another person. I was so refreshed afterward. Yes, we both left with a "things to do" list but it helps knowing that she supports me and it definitely challenges me to do what is needed because I know she will follow up to see how I'm doing.

Do you have someone with whom you can be completely honest? If so, isn't it freeing to be able to just be and not have to put up a front? If not, would you like to have someone like this? Pray that God would bring that someone into your life. He is faithful!

How People Change

Adam and I were out of town for this past week's Soul Revolution. However, I was getting together with my accountability partner/friend Jill on Tuesday and she wanted us to share our Spiritual Inventories (which was a part of Sunday's message) so I decided I had better listen to the message before we got together. (I also needed to do the inventory so I had a busy Tuesday morning). So I listened to it and took some notes that I will share with you. Feel free to listen to it yourself here.

Soul Revolution Week 5

Spiritual Inventory
>Am I living as if my sins are the main event rather than God's work and grace on my sins?
>Am I allowing my sins to label me?

This reminded me of a Stuff Christians Like post I had just read on Monday about focusing on our failures rather than our successes (I was doing catch up there as well). I recommend you check it out.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

1 Timothy 4:8 - spiritual workout
>Put spiritual practices in place so that when trials come, we will turn to God rather than responding with our old habits. (Spiritual practice info in next week's message which I will also miss due to being in the nursery but you will be able to find it at the church's website where this week's message is linked).
>Work out in community.
>We can have a greater impact as a group than as individuals.
>Spiritual growth is not a solo sport.

I did enjoy the message. Especially how it related so well to the SCL post the previous day. I definitely liked Jon Acuff's point that it is "NO CONDEMNATION" rather than "SOME or A LITTLE CONDEMNATION" that we sometimes tend to believe. Romans 8:1 is a verse that needs to be written on my heart.

If you are wondering what exactly the Spiritual Inventory is, check out the post after this for more information along with my experience with it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

60-60 Post 4

As I stated in my last post, I was out of town last week. Now, I suppose that really shouldn't affect the 60-60 experiment. But it did for me. See, I'm a routine person. When I get out of my daily schedule I struggle a lot with maintaining a quiet time and being purposeful about spending time with God.

Why does a new environment disrupt my usual fastidiousness? I think it has to do with what I perceive to be unwritten expectations. When I'm visiting someone, or someone is visiting me, I find it hard to justify hiding myself away for half an hour, especially when I'm the last one up in the morning. I feel like everyone is waiting on me so I shouldn't dawdle. Having or being company tends to mean squeezing in as much as possible into the few days we are seeing each other which also shuts the door on "me time".

Now, I know that God is present at all times (hence the 60-60 reminders) and that even short times of connection can be beneficial. I just really prefer that time of solitude. I'm an introvert so I have trouble focusing when there are other distractions. I can focus when I'm driving alone in the car, but if there's someone else with me, they usually want to talk or listen to the radio.

I did hear the beeps and did think of God's presence throughout the week. I admired the beauty of fall and the rolling landscape of the Shenandoah Valley. I just don't feel like there was anything that really stuck out. Probably the most interesting thing of the week was helping Adam's grandmother list her old couch on Craigslist. I took a picture and posted an ad on Wednesday. Someone contacted her on Thursday, stopped by on Friday, looked at it, purchased it and took it with her that evening. That's some fast response! I did not think that it would be such a quick sell.

So that was last week. How is everyone else doing?

What's Wrong With These People?

I apologize for the delay in new posts. I was out of town last week without regular access to a computer. So I will try to make up for it this week by giving updates on Soul Revolution.

On November 1, Neal shared with us a situation from his life that involved conflict in relationships and dealing with it. My notes do not talk about what he shared, just his closing comments. You are welcome to hear the whole message here.

Soul Revolution Message week 4:

Luke 23:34a "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
>What if we could pray this for those who have hurt us?

It's not just "them". It's me too. I also have sinned and need forgiveness. We are all broken and messy because of sin. Jesus was broken to put us back together again!

Lessons Learned:
>Don't avoid the situation.
>Follow the Matthew 18:15-17 way of handling conflict.
>I may not be able to change the situation, but I know that I can change how I handle/deal with it.

We are wounded wounders but God is calling us to become wounded healers (John Burke).

Is there anyone in your life that you need to forgive or that you need forgiveness from?

Friday, October 30, 2009

60-60 Post 3

Well, this week has been a bit better than last week with being faithful to recognize the beeps. I am trying to make sure I am following through with the prodding to call or email people. I really do want to be obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I have seen God bless me through my obedience.

In our Running Partners group on Sunday, one of the questions we ask is how we can encourage one another throughout the week. I said that I would benefit from being held accountable to actually taking time with God when I heard my watch beep rather than hearing the beep and continuing on with whatever I was doing. On Monday, one of the women called me to see how I was doing that day. I was very encouraged that she cared enough to follow up with me. I am really enjoying our women's Running Partner meetings.

Yesterday was a really good day. I had to wait on some guys to come finish our floors which gave me plenty of time for reading, prayer, and connecting with others. I called my friend Jill as she was on a road trip up to Kentucky. We had such an awesome and encouraging conversation. I shared with her that sometimes I would sort of feel like I can't communicate with God until my watch beeps, but that's silly and somewhat legalistic. The whole purpose of this exercise is to spend more time with God throughout the day. He's perfectly fine with hearing from me at the top of the hour, fifteen minutes after the hour, thirty minutes after the hour, etc (or at all of those times). The point is that I am supposed to be seeking God for all things at all times in all areas of my life. So I was sort of excited that I was seeking God at random times and not just those that are already scheduled.

So that's a bit of how this week has gone. I feel like I've done better at trying to reach out to people in the ways I am being led to do so. I know that I have missed some opportunities, but I know that God values relationships so I want to work harder at connecting whenever the opportunity arises.

If you're doing the 60-60, how has your week been? Feel like you're floundering or making progress?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Moving Toward Others

Yesterday was our church's fifth anniversary! It was a lot of fun looking back over the past few years and considering what the future may hold. I really appreciated Jeff's zeal and excitement about the doors that have been opening and the possibilities of what the future may hold. I definitely want to be a part of where our church goes from here!

Below are my notes from week three's Soul Revolution message series.

Matthew 22:36-40
-Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. He responds by giving two, indicating that they are inextricably linked together: love God, love other people.

Our relationship with God can be measured by how our relationships with others are going (their health).

God loves people; therefore we are to love people (love what God loves).

Our conviction (wanting to love and serve others) does not always match our practice (how we actually relate to other people).

John 6:1-13 - limited supply (5000 hungry people, 5 loaves and 2 fish)

A limited supply (our abilities, time, money, possessions, shortcomings) in the hands of an unlimited God can yield amazing results.

It's amazing that people can be both very selfish and very generous.

Perhaps the boy with the food realized that this was his opportunity to love/serve others with what he had.

What if we gave our limited resources to God to use to love those around us? We can love people in rich and meaningful ways with what God has given us.

Help people fall in love with Jesus by being Jesus to people.

"MY CHANCE" : When an opportunity arises to use what God's given you to help others, instead of saying "mine" why not try saying "this is my chance"?

I really liked the call to be generous with what we have. To not limit God by what we may see as an impossibility. What if God wants to show his immense power through our puny resources, but we are too scared to see what he will do? In line with the 60-60 experiment, when we are reminded to ask what God's will for us is in this moment, perhaps we should consider what we have to offer and ask God to use us and use it. Who knows what God wants to do through us? We won't know unless we ask and then respond.

Is there anything God is calling you to do that you are hesitant about, perhaps because you are concerned that you aren't enough, don't have enough, or that God isn't enough?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A New Way to Live Together

Today I was reading chapter seven in Soul Revolution (by John Burke). It's all about relating to others. It was such a good chapter. I really needed to be reminded of what community should look like. It describes the type of community I want to experience. I want to share some excerpts from the chapter.

God wants to lead you into a freedom to fully be you - who he created you to be - free to respond to him and better love those closest to you. p.105

It will mean overcoming our fears - fears of trusting, fears of rejection, fears of being let down or hurt. p.106

God wants a community of people who tangibly show his grace to one another - who demonstrate his acceptance and who draw near to each other without condemnation. p.107

Grace allows people to come out of hiding, to be authentic, to stop concealing their wounds or pretending it's all good! p.109

At our church, we say "No Perfect People Allowed." We tell people, "If you want to pretend you have no struggles, no problems, no sins, no wounds, then go play that game somewhere else, because that's not real. But if we can agree to be authentic with our struggles, doubts, and temptations, then we can actually walk together, pray for each other, and help each other grow." p.110

Healing almost always comes through community. It's God's plan. Spirituality is relational! p.112

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16

God ants to lead us to be a healing community as simple, ordinary people learn to accept, forgive, encourage, and walk with each other no matter how ugly or messy it gets. p.113

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another. Hebrews 10:24-25

60-60 Post 2

I don't feel like this week has been as good as the first week as far as being aware of God's presence and seeking his will moment by moment. I have missed a number of beeps - hearing them but allowing them to pass without any sort of pause or thought. I don't feel like I have received much direction or prompting, but perhaps I haven't really been seeking it either. I feel like I've pretty much sucked this week.

I knew that this challenge was going to be difficult. I didn't think it'd only take a week to fall back into normal patterns. It is somewhat discouraging. However, I will not give up. I will try to pause at each beep to see whether I am honoring God or seeking his guidance or if I'm simply doing my own thing without thought for what he may desire for me.

I think that it helps that the desire is there. I just need action to follow. I mean, I loved all of the encouragement I received last week through the experiment. I want more of that so hopefully that will help me to be more actively engaged when the beeps come.

I tried twice to sit quietly (be still) and invite God to speak. Usually it ended with me thinking about what needed to be done that day. That is still a work in progress. I should continue to try though, because only through practice do I have any hope of successfully quieting my mind to a state where I can clearly receive a word from God. Is anyone good at doing this? I'm always open to pointers and suggestions.

One cool thing from the second half of last week. On Friday, a married couple was brought to my mind. I have had more interaction with the woman and had prayed previously for a potential endeavor they were considering. I hadn't heard anything in a while. Sunday morning, I saw a woman who is good friends with the couple and asked her if anything had happened in that regard. She informed me that it was not going to happen because it looked like the couple was going to be getting a divorce. That was quite a surprise, and apparently a development only occurring last week. I let my friend know that I would be praying for them. I know that that was a God prompting. What are the odds of a random thought about people I don't know very well who are going through a difficult time right now? Definitely a "God coincidence." I'm not really sure what exactly I should be praying, but I know that God knows what is needed. All I know is that I'm supposed to be praying over this situation.

I have been trying to respond to thoughts to call or write people. They don't seem like very big things, but I know that God knows what others need and can use anything for his purposes. So we will see what happens this coming week with the 60-60 experiment. If you are going through it (or have gone through it), I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

BUG Book

I believe I've mentioned on here before that I am working on writing a book for Christian girls preparing for college. Well, I finished the first draft at the end of July and handed out a few copies to some trusted people to read and make comments the beginning of August. That was a scary step because it required me to be vulnerable to others and allow them to critique my writing style and ideas. But I knew it was necessary. It was probably also good to let people who know me see it first so that I can get used to the feedback before giving it to random people who will probably be more harsh with their comments. Plus I want it to be well developed before potential publishers see it.

It is now the middle of October. I have received a couple of manuscripts back with notes. There are still a couple floating out there, which is fine. However, I have done absolutely nothing with the notes since receiving them. I did read through the first edited manuscript to see what kind of feedback there was. It was much more encouraging than I had expected (why I expected harshness, I have no idea). But they've just sat in the closet not being properly used. I have had people ask how the book is going and have honestly answered that I've been lazy and done nothing with them. In slight defense, I was dealing with my first trimester of pregnancy which makes one less than ambitious.

You would think that the accountability of people knowing and asking would motivate me, but it really didn't. I was okay with being honest about my laziness and not doing anything about it. I was sort of proud that I was at least honest. But, at the Catalyst Conference, the question was raised by someone speaking whether there was something God had called us to do that we weren't doing. I immediately thought about the book. God placed the idea and desire in me and I do need to be obedient and see it to completion. I don't know what is going to happen with it, but I need to do my part. And then Sunday's message was about needing to be obedient to God's promptings if we want to continue to hear him.

I finally got the message. I need to put aside any of my handy excuses for not working on the book (I'm lazy, the editing part is soooooo boring, I don't have all of my copies back) and just do it. So I decided to go back to the reasoning I used when working on the first draft when the writing became tedious. "Just sit down for 15 minutes and work on it. When it's done, you can go do other things." In the past, fifteen minutes sometimes was just that. But many times it turned in to an hour or more.

This morning I decided that it would be the first task I worked on for the day. To my surprise, it wasn't as bad as I had imagined it to be. I know some later parts will be more challenging than today's editing process, but fifteen minutes is a manageable chunk of time. I think I had allowed Satan to build it up in my mind as this completely boring and painful chore, which kept me from action. Now that I've taken that first step, I think the next one will be easier. Praise God who frees us from fear and does not allow us to drown in condemnation, shame or guilt!

Finding Ears to Hear

This past week was our second Soul Revolution message (quick note - there are only 8 weeks of messages instead of the 9 I mentioned last week. My bad.). Below are my notes. I REALLY would encourage you to listen to the message if you ever struggle with wanting to know God's will for your life and feeling like you don't hear him "speak" in your life.

Reminder: 60-60 experiment - It's not about perfection, it's about progress.

We don't just talk to God, we also need to listen to his voice.

1 Samuel 3 (v1: was God really not speaking or were the people just not listening?)

There are a number of things that can keep us from hearing God's voice. One of the biggest is sin. If you haven't heard God's "voice" in a long time, you should examine yourself to see if there is anything in your life blocking you from God.

v10: "Speak, [Lord], for your servant is listening."

It is possible for God to speak to us and us not realize it's him.

How God Speaks: through Scripture/the Bible, other people, circumstances, the Holy Spirit

1 Corinthians 2:10-12 - the Holy Spirit helps us to know the will of God

Things to Consider:
1. The promptings of God will never be contradictory to scripture.
2. The promptings of the Holy Spirit are always in line with the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).
3. The promptings of the Holy Spirit are generally in line with the gifts of the Spirit.

We have to get still to better hear God's voice (schedule times of stillness).
>Do you ever get rid of distractions and formally invite God to speak to you?
>Psalm 46:10 - "Be still, and know that I am God."

We need to respond with obedience when we hear God's voice if we want to continue to hear him.
>Sometimes it's not that we don't hear God, but that we don't like what he's saying so we ignore him.
John 14:20-21

The more you respond in obedience, the more you will hear God's voice; and the more you put God off, the harder it will be to hear him.

This was such a good message! I was excited when Jeff opened with asking about desiring to hear God's voice more. Because I definitely do. I know that responding will draw me closer to God and help me to live in line with his will. From time to time, I will feel the leading to write to someone or do something little like that. Often I follow through and sometimes I even receive positive feedback. Other times I don't hear anything so I don't know what was the result of my efforts. Still other times I don't respond and usually end up realizing it was a missed opportunity. As of late, I am really desiring to follow what I think are the leadings of the Holy Spirit. I know I am still missing some promptings, but hopefully I am improving in my level of response. What I want to continue to do is to have an obedient and responsive heart.

I also want to purposefully sit down and spend some time in quiet where I allow God the opportunity to speak. When I pray, I am often in the habit of pouring out my requests for God and then ending the prayer time. Relationships are supposed to be two-sided. I know how frustrating it can be to listen patiently to someone as they share and then not be asked how I'm doing. I don't want to do that to God. It feels like using him, which is not my intent. I do struggle with pushing everything out of my mind in order to listen. I often find my mind wandering to what needs to be done or things I am dealing with. However, I believe that if I sit quietly often enough, then the time will really be valuable and I will be able to hear God.

What about you? Are you good at waiting patiently and allowing God to speak to you? Do you feel like you are obedient to the Holy Spirit's promptings in your life?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

60-60 Post 1

Monday was my first whole day of doing the 60-60 experiment. I purchased a sports watch to have something to beep at me every hour. I do leave it downstairs at night so that I don't get woken up regularly by the beeping. I think God's okay with that. Hopefully the cat is too...

It was interesting to hear the beeps throughout the day. One time I was praying in my car. Another time I was working on a task at the office. One time, and probably the weirdest time to think "God is present with me and wants to help me", I was in the restroom. Now, we know that God can see and hear everything, but to really think about it at that moment is a little awkward. I was hoping that God did a little tasteful blurring like they do on The Sims computer game.

I didn't feel like there was anything profound about reminding myself of God's presence, but it is definitely causing me to think about him more than I usually do, which is part of the point. I don't always hear the beep, but we were told that we were going to fail at times and sometimes were going to be tempted to feel ashamed or embarrassed at our activities when the beep occurs, but that we are to remember that we are forgiven and loved.

Tuesday, I don't recall anything specific or profound, except that many times when I heard the beep, a line from a Chris Tomlin song kept popping into my head: I've seen enough to know that you're my only hope I don't want to go if you're not with me. Which I suppose is an encouraging reminder as well.

Today I have been feeling like I've been noticing things more. Like, something will fall into place or I will be reminded of something important that I've forgotten and shortly thereafter I will hear the beep and will thank God for his help and provision. Normally I don't think twice about having needs met or special little conveniences, but today has been different. I don't know that every day I will be able to see God in my life as much as I seem to be today, but I am thankful for this opportunity to be grateful for the little things.

There are still 56 more days so anything could happen in that time span. I am hoping for more days like this (or, possibly days even better than this!). Who knows what God will do if I am receptive and open?

Speaking of open, I was at the Catalyst Conference last week and one of the slogans was "Are you open?" I do want to write about it, but I have yet to spend time unpacking what I heard and learned so it may be a bit before I can blog intelligently about it. I definitely enjoyed all of the speakers, exhausting as it all was.

I hope that my experience with the 60-60 experiment will be an encouragement to you to maybe try to do something like this yourself. If you are interested, I would really encourage you to listen to this past Sunday's message as Jeff explains more about it. There's a link to it on the previous post. Feel free to leave any thoughts you have!

Soul Revolution

This Sunday our church began our new series, Soul Revolution. Not only is it a nine week message series, but there is a book that we are reading, a study for small groups AND a running partners option. Running partners is like an accountability group for the Soul Revolution study. As if our lives are not going to be saturated enough with Soul Revolution things, there is a challenge in the book/study/message series called the "60-60 Experiment", which I believe I mentioned in a previous post. Needless to say, if one is fully involved in this experience, there should be some growth/change that occurs in one's life. That's my hope.

I was in the nursery once again this Sunday so I don't have message series notes. I did listen to it on my way home from work today so it is somewhat fresh in my mind. What I got most out of it is that without God in our lives, it is like we are all steering our individual Titanic ship. We are on our own, not heeding advice, and bound to crash at some point. Jeff also talked about how, because we are very aware that, while God created us with some great plans and purpose for us, we are nowhere near living that life. There is a gap between where we are and where we could/should be. And so we may feel that God is disappointed in us and thus we feel guilt or shame. We then try to span the gap on our own strength and merit, which is not really possible. However, we learn in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. God doesn't want to punish us for not being able to do it on our own. He wants to come alongside of us and help us to become the people he created us to be.

I like the part where Jeff said that we really struggle with turning our life over to God because we don't know what that means and we like to feel like we're in control. However, when we do ask God to take over, this is what he says: "You steer the ship. However, remember that I am the captain. Listen to me and seek my advice and I will help you get through the dangerous waters and into safe passageways." (Well, that's not exactly what Jeff said. It's my paraphrase.)

I really enjoyed the message and it encouraged me to really dive in to the 60-60 experiment which started on Sunday as well. I am hoping to make time to blog about my experience with that as well, which I will do for the first time after this post. I would encourage you to listen to the whole message here. If it sounds interesting, perhaps get your own copy of the book Soul Revolution by John Burke.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Effective Prayer

Last Wednesday, I went to CCC's monthly prayer group. We started meeting in January of this year, I believe. There are usually about five of us who meet, the core four and then a rotation of several. I have enjoyed the intimacy of the group. We are definitely open to more coming, but we haven't made a church announcement because we want it to be composed of people who truly want to pray for our church and one another and not those who think that it may be something "cool" to do, or whatever.

Neal has been leading the meetings since the beginning, but last meeting he invited us to each lead a meeting as well. I volunteered to be the first to lead and had that privilege on Wednesday. Thankfully, I know the group is quite accepting and understanding so I wasn't too worried about what to say. However, I did still want to share something meaningful and relevant to all of us.

While planning, I thought it would be good to talk about my interest in prayer (sort of what has been my desire for seeking opportunities to pray like our prayer group). I have two major desires in prayer. One is to develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with God and the other is to be effective in my prayer life. I reasoned that most people would like to know that their prayers are being heard and answered, so I focused on the second desire.

My first action was to do a Google search on what makes prayer effective. It was interesting to look at the search results, because most of what came back were hindrances to prayer. Obviously, eliminating hindrances would increase effectiveness, but it was interesting that it was more about removing obstacles than building blocks toward effectiveness.

I then thought about James 5:16, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." I then thought, Okay, so then perhaps I should figure out what it means to be righteous. I thought that perhaps I was missing out on some key ingredient to effective prayer and that if I could just research every word connected to it, perhaps I could find the answer. This was when it hit me: I'm trying to find the ultimate prayer formula to unlocking God's power. That is obviously not going to happen because it's a relationships, not a math problem.

Relationships develop through sharing, honesty, and vulnerability. Perhaps my focus should be not on saying or doing the right thing, but on opening myself up more to God.

Now, I do want to stop and say that I don't think it's bad or wrong to learn about and try different ways of praying. It can certainly be a great way to improve your prayer life and get out of any rut you may be in. I'm just saying you can't rely on one particular method to be the magic key to unlock powerful prayer.

I have been reading Searching For God Knows What by Donald Miller and there was a quote in his book that related to my search for effective prayer:

I know it's tempting to believe if we will walk through ten steps or listen to only a certain kind of music or pray in a certain way and for a certain number of days then we will find favor with God, but we won't. The formulas, I understand, were created by their authors to help us, but they do more hindering than helping. If we trust in a formula, if we trust in steps, we are not trusting in God. Formulas, while helping us organize our faith, also tempt us to trust in them rather than in God. p.206

After reading and thinking about all of this, I was satisfied that I'm probably not missing out on the be-all end-all prayer style. So then, was that really my true concern? I think my question of ineffectivity is actually about seeing God's answers to my prayers. I can tell the difference between daily prayer/quiet times and the lack of them so there obviously is some personal benefit/aid in it. But what about all of those requests that I make for myself and others regarding circumstances and hopes and dreams? I feel like I really struggle with looking for/seeking God's response. Part of it is that I, like many others, tend to believe that if I don't see an affirmative response right away then that means my prayer had no power. But that's not true, and I was reminded of this while seeking wisdom about effective prayer.

I was reminded that there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. God hears and responds to each request. However, sometimes his answer is "no" and we tend to interpret that as God not answering our prayers. Just because you don't get what you ask for doesn't mean it wasn't heard. Your parents said "no" to requests from you. I guess it's harder because we don't necessarily "hear" a "no" from God. We see no action and so God must not have heard us. But "yes" and "no" aren't the only answers. Sometimes there's "not yet" which may be just as discouraging as "no" because it tends to "sound" the same. But for me, the reminder that "not yet" is an option really encouraged me. There are multiple prayers that I know God could answer immediately, but doesn't. It's not because he can't or won't, it's just because I don't know his timing. I was reading somewhere that said that sometimes God waits for the moment in which he will receive the most glory.

I hear many stories of people praying for years for a wayward child, spouse, or parent without much result. And then one day, it happens. The reminder that God can do anything, and that he wants no one to perish but all to come to him encourages me to continue to pray for situations such as these because it is God's desire as well. I know he can't force people to choose him, but he can place people in their path and reveal himself to them in unique ways. Knowing that God hears, gives me determination to be like the widow that continues to go to the judge until he finally issues her justice because he is weary of being hounded by her. And I know that God delights to hear from me. So this, along with the realization that I may have been misinterpreting God's responses, helps me with my struggle.

It was really good to talk about all this among the group to hear other perspectives on seeing answers to prayer and feeling close to God in and through prayer. At one point, I managed to see how my two initial desires connect. If I am drawing nearer to God and deepening my relationship with him, then I will desire his will. If I am desiring his will, then I will seek his heart. Seeking his heart should lead me to pray for his will to be done. If I am praying within his will, then my prayers will most certainly be effective and I ought to see God's action within those prayers. Sort of like a six degrees of separation thing, huh?

So, to sum all of this up, my true goal is and should be to increase my intimacy with God and deepen my relationship with him. I haven't really been sure how to do this because I realize that, generally, between my morning prayer time and the small window before I'm asleep at night I don't really think about God a whole lot. There will be instances here and there where I do, but it's more an exception than the rule.

However, our church is beginning a new series called Soul Revolution which includes a book as well as small group discussion and running partners (even smaller groups which allow for greater honesty and openness). This book has an experiment that everyone is invited to participate in. It's called the 60-60 experiment where, for sixty days, you are to set a watch, timer, or alarm to beep every sixty minutes. At each beep that you hear, you are supposed to reflect on what's going on, remember that God loves you and has great things for you, and recommit yourself to seeking God's will for that, and each subsequent moment. It sounds very challenging, but I think it will really help me to work towards establishing the branch/vine relationship mentioned in Luke 15 that invites us to abide in Jesus. The experiment starts this coming Sunday, October 11th. I am quite excited. I hope to blog some about it as we move through it. I invite you to try the experiment as well if you'd like. Join me as we see what happens when we try to seek God's will in every moment of our lives.

Day of Service

We did not have church service yesterday so there are not any message notes to post. Instead of holding service, we had our annual CCC Day of Service ("Don't go to church, be the church!"), where we all went out and served in various capacities in the community.

There was a group who packaged meals for Stop Hunger Now, an organization that assembles and sends prepackaged meals to countries around the world. I believe the goal was something like 15,000 or more meals completed. I haven't heard the results yet, but I'm sure the mission was accomplished.

One group helped with yard work around Durham Middle School, our Sunday morning location. It is always nice to be able to give to the place that allows us to do what we do.

Another group, which included most of our teens, went to City of Refuge where they helped feed the homeless and participated in their Sunday morning worship service.

A group went to the State Fair to help collect canned food on behalf of Must Ministries, an organization that works with the homeless in our area providing food, clothing, and emergency shelter. We have also had a box in our church lobby the past few weeks to collect Bibles for Must to distribute to those who need them.

One group worked with Care Net, an agency near Georgia State's campus in downtown Atlanta that offers a variety of services to pregnant women including counseling, parenting classes, services information, as well as a clothing and supplies pantry. I believe they helped install shelving, provide office furniture, and sort through the various clothing donations.

The group that I participated with volunteered at the YWCA in Marietta. We did yard work/landscaping on a courtyard, removed kudzu from a tree (no small feat if you are familiar with kudzu), and picked up litter around the facility. I learned that the organization can receive funds from recycling old cell phones and cell phone chargers. In a few weeks, we are going to set up a box in our lobby for CCC members to donate their old phones.

In the afternoon, some people also went down to the Austell area to help Samaritan's Purse and Westridge Church clean out some of the flood damaged houses in the area. I appreciate those who were willing to work both morning and afternoon to serve those in our area.

I really enjoyed serving yesterday. It always encourages me to find more ways to serve, but I am not usually very good at following through. I did however decide to take the initiative on collecting cell phones for the YWCA and Neal and I talked some today about continuing to improve the courtyard, be it by obtaining some better playground equipment along with more kid-friendly ground cover for the playground, locating gently used patio furniture, or even planting flowers in the spring to provide more color. I really would like to do more to help the agency. They have a 5K at the end of the month, but it's the Sunday morning of our 5th anniversary celebration. Perhaps their next event.

I am excited to learn next week how much money was raised in the Mina Offering Challenge. I am praying that it will blow our minds and fully cover all of our Day of Service expenses. I still have one more Farmer's Market tomorrow to sell bread for the project. I am interested to learn what others have done to make their money grow!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Storyteller Week 4

I was in the nursery last week so I missed Neal's message on the Good Samaritan. If you're interested, you can hear it by clicking here. Below is this past week's message notes. It was really good. I would recommend listening to it.

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16

Some worked twelve hours, some nine, some six, some three, and others only one hour yet they all received the same wage.

"Vineyard" was a common metaphor for "the people of Israel" in Jesus' day.

To work for "whatever is right," you have to have a great deal of trust in your employer because you are banking on his generosity.

Who would still be hoping to get hired with only one hour left in the work day? Those who were truly desperate. No work = no food.

Normally, the all-day workers were paid first. In this story, the one hour workers are paid first. If the employer had followed the normal system, the all-day workers would never have known that they were all paid equally.

Instead of lauding the owner's generosity, the all-day workers are furious that they were all paid equally. They, like our society, feel that the harder one works, the longer one's been at work, the more one contributes, the more is expected to be received in comparison to a newbie on the job.

Jesus' intent was to show the hidden sense of entitlement, the feeling of unfairness, and the economy of grace. Grace isn't about counting at all. The story is about who can be forgiven by God and allowed into the kingdom. Everyone is welcome at any time (any point in one's life, young or old).

Performance-based Christianity (all day workers) - we miss out on our need of grace; instead we feel entitled to it. Instead of feeling grateful for being chosen, we feel cheated because others we feel are "less deserving" also receive the same grace.

Grace-based Christianity - relationship based on trust, not a contract; we are overjoyed at the grace we receive, knowing that it is undeserved.

We are often outraged at the abundance of God's grace and the seeming unfairness of it. We often fail to remember that we are just as unworthy of grace as anyone else. Why do we tend to identify with (assume that we are) the workers who were hired first? We are all, in fact, latecomers in the story.

We are envious of God's generosity. He continues to seek out workers for his vineyard, even without benefit to himself.

"God dispenses gifts, not wages...If we were paid deservingly, we would all end up in Hell." Philip Yancey

This message really hit me. I do tend to see the seeming unfairness of the situation rather than the amazing message of grace that it is. I, too, would be outraged to have worked all day and have been paid equal to the one hour worker, regardless of the contract that had been established when I agreed to work. And it is true, sometimes I do feel like I am "working harder" than others even though we will receive the same reward. I don't know why I feel like I was one of the early ones to the vineyard. I am not supposed to compare myself to others. It is about focusing on my relationship with God. It's about my response to God's grace. I can't determine what other people will do with their gift, only what I will do with mine.

Personal application: Focus on seeking God's desires for me and not compare my efforts, my gifts and talents, my service to those of others. God created us each individually. Therefore, he has different work for us to do. My desire should be to complete the work God has prepared for me to do.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who is Jabez?

I was reading in 1 Chronicles today. There seems to be a whole lot of genealogy listing in the first half of the book. I'm only to chapter 5 and it's still all about soandso's descendants and their descendants, etc. It is laying out the genealogy to David, I believe, but sometimes it gets to be tedious. It is kind of cool to see who turns into what group of people who you hear about fighting with Israel and Judah later on (ex. Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites...).

Anyway, so I read three plus chapters of the sons of various people and in chapter four verses nine and ten it says: Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, "I gave birth to him in pain." Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request.

Then verse 11 goes right back to people and their sons. I, of course, was wondering, Where did this come from? And who is Jabez? None of the people before are named Jabez to indicate what family he's related to except that the title of the chapter is "Other Clans of Judah". So where do these two verses come from? They seem very out of place and a little confusing.

So this post is more of a question. Does anyone have greater understanding of this passage and could answer my questions? Who is Jabez and why is this random story in the middle of all of the genealogy?

True Leadership

I was reading in 2 Kings 22-23 about King Josiah. During his reign, the Book of the Law was found and read to him. It caused him to tear his robes and inquire of God to see what must be done because he knew that Judah was not following the law. He tore down all of the idols and destroyed the high places the kings before him and built as response to the Book of the Law. He worked on restoring the temple as it should be. He also shared his new knowledge with the people of Judah.

2 Kings 23:1-3: Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets - all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord - to follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.

This section really hit me. The king (the country's leadership) set an example for the people. The people then chose to follow it. That is a great testament of what leadership should look like. The king let the people know that Judah had not been living as it ought and publicly declared the changes that were going to be made. He made himself accountable to the people.

This is not something you see in today's leadership. They seem to be looking out for the people's interests, but they do not seem to be saying, "We think that this is the right course of action and, to prove it to you, we will be the first people to follow the rules and statues we are proposing. We will show by our example how effective the new plans and policies are." Instead it sounds more like, "This is what is best for you. We don't need this stuff so we won't have to be subject to it, but we're sure that it will be successful." There's not proof or accountability. They are not putting their money where their mouths are. Will we ever see this type of leadership in our country?

Perhaps you feel that our national and local leadership is living what it is preaching. If so, I am interested to be shown examples of this. I would be encouraged by this example.

Storyteller Week 2

I'm a little more on it this week. Here are my notes from Sunday. I would highly recommend listening to the message yourselves as it was very poignant and relevant.

Parable of the Ten Virgins

Matthew 25:1-13

"If Only"

In Jesus' day, weddings lasted for days. Toward the end, the bridegroom would go to get the bride from her house to take her to his house where they would have a week long party/honeymoon with their families. When the bridegroom does this, he has a procession with him of wedding guests. All of the guests carried their own light to show that they belonged to the party. Without a light, you were considered a wedding crasher and not allowed in to the party.

The bridegroom (Jesus) is going to return so we need to be ready. The lamp is our life. We are to make sure our life is a preparation for Jesus' return. We shouldn't allow ourselves to get caught up in/distracted by everyday life.

There are some things in life that cannot be borrowed - a relationship with God, character, past experiences. I am responsible to God for my life. It is possible to wait until it is too late.

Now is the time. "Someday" may never come.

The unprepared girls were not called evil or wicked, but foolish. They were not defiant or deliberately disobedient, they just didn't think everything through. They drifted along without making preparations.

Spiritual complacency: failure to have the proper sense of urgency or of what's really important

2 Corinthians 6:1 "Please don't squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us."

Do you have any regrets? About parenting, finances, sin, etc? Work on regret elimination this week.

Personal application: I really enjoyed this message. My husband and I had a good discussion about what it meant to each of us. My application is to stop making excuses about why I don't do things or am not being proactive about things. I could be doing some editing of my book, but I choose not to. I need to suck it up and do what is needed because I don't know how much time I actually have to work on/complete the project.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Storyteller Week 1

This past Sunday we started a new series called "Storyteller." It is going to be a four week series where each week we study a Parable told by Jesus. You can listen to this and previous messages by clicking here.

Parable of the Ten Minas

(Not to be confused with the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. Minas has the same initial amount with different rewards while the talents have different initial amounts with the same reward).

Luke 19:11-26

One mina = about 3 months of wages

The story essentially retold the story of Archelaus' kingship (son of Herod) which probably caused an emotional connection with the audience due to the situational familiarity.

Every servant was given the exact same thing (as are we - the gospel message of salvation).

The reward was determined by what the servants did with what they were given (as is ours - we may receive more responsibility or more opportunities to serve if we are faithful in using what God has given us).

1. Expectations are made Evident
>Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)

2. Excellent Efforts are Rewarded
>the focus was on the master ("your mina")
>Don't worry about what you don't have. Concentrate on what you do have (your talents and resources).

3. Evil "I" Ends in Rebuke
>The faithful servants focused on obedience. The unfaithful servant focused on his own hardship of his assignment. The master pointed out the servant's laziness/lack of action.

Our service to God should be out of a loving respect rather than the fear of punishment.

God will not buy our week excuses for our lack of obedience.

Mina Offering Challenge: Take the $10 provided by the church and use it faithfully for God. On October 11th, a special offering will be taken up from the challenge. The money will be used to help cover the cost of the Day of Service we perform on October 4th.

Personal Application: I am doing the Mina Offering Challenge. It's interesting to try to think of what I have and what I can use/do to grow what I've been given. I'm excited to see what happens!

With Week 4

I have been so slack lately. I admit it. Here is the final installment of the "WITH" series. You'll notice that week three is missing. I was in the nursery that week. If you want to hear it (or any of the other messages), click here.

I'm With Them

Lifestyle Enclaves: groups who have a common interest for the purpose of furthering the individual's interests
>This is how many people have been taught to think about the church.

Matthew 5:13-16
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

>Salt is cheap in our culture. In Jesus' day it was valuable and hard to come by. It was used to preserve food.
>Jesus was saying that we are valuable and precious in a world that's spoiled and decaying.
>Light meant warmth, safety, protection, hope. We are to provide truth and life.

74% of Christians agree that you don't need to be part of a church to be a Christ-follower.

A true community has a cause, a mission, a reason for existing outside of meeting its members' needs. True community is missional.
It is what is different about the church compared to other organizations and groups.

Acts 1:8 - you will be my witnesses throughout the world

What would happen if we became intentional about being salt and light in our community?
What would God do if we gave ourselves over to him to show compassion to others?
What would happen if we partnered with God to redeem and restore this broken world?

God has never been impressed with religious behavior. Isaiah 58:6-8

In the Metro Atlanta area there are 5 million people so 120 doesn't seem very important or impressive. However, Jesus changed the world with 12 followers. Imagine what could be done if the 120 of us were united in a common cause.

Personal application: Be purposeful in my actions and activities. Seek to give myself to God in order to be used to spread compassion and love to those around me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Crazy Love

I recently borrowed and read "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan. It is a deep book (with cool interactive website features). I think I'm going to have to get my own copy so that I can highlight all of Francis' profound words and not ruin someone else's copy.

What I gained from it were some not very encouraging and not very surprising insights.

1. I struggle with being lukewarm (as in I am when I would prefer to be hot hot hot).
2. I struggle with being obsessed (as in I am not when I would prefer to be so when it comes to God).
3. I need to (and want to) love God more. I need to pray about my lack of desire/action.
4. I don't really feel like I know how to develop and maintain an intimate relationship with God.

Let me expound on that last one. I desperately want to be completely in love with God so that all of my thoughts and actions are the result of my love for him. I want for my life to be nothing more (and nothing less) than an outpouring of love for my creator and Savior. I want these things, but I can't seem to figure out how to get there. I read books about developing an intimate relationship with God. I try the suggestions in the book. I have a daily quiet time where I pray and read the Bible. I read more books about loving God. I try to find ways to use my time and talents to serve others (not always, but I'm working on it). I feel like in all of this effort I am still missing the mark. I understand that a relationship is not developed through a formula. It's just so hard for me to continually think about God and to converse with him continuously because the tasks of "living" keep occupying space in my mind and day.

I try to think about it as doing what I do to maintain relationships with people I see. I will call them, email them, schedule activities and dinners to spend face-to-face time with them. I'll take pictures to commemorate occasions and post them on Facebook. I give gifts and affection. Okay, so I do this with God too, but I don't feel like it's increasing our intimacy. I think I really struggle sometimes with God's invisible quality (in relation to a physical "being" as I know God's qualities are visible through creation - it's not quite the same). Sometimes I do wish I could sit down across from God and see his facial expressions and reactions to what I tell him. Sometimes I want to give him a hug and feel his reassuring arms around me. I'd love to hear him laugh and see him smile. But I can't. So how do I fill in this gap? I don't know.

I see people who do have a deep and intimate relationship with God. They love him and know that they are loved and cherished by him. And his love is visible on their faces. It makes me wonder, what am I doing wrong? Or what am I not doing? I'm not satisfied with where I am and how I feel, but I don't know how to change it. My only thought is to continue to pray - to tell God that I want more of him, that I want to be completely surrounded by his love so that I do feel different. That I need him to deepen our relationship because I can't seem to do it with my efforts. Maybe that's it. Maybe he's calling for surrender. I guess I'll try that.

With 2

I am quite behind in posting my notes from our second week of the With series. And I'll be even farther behind with week three because I wasn't here to hear it and have yet to make it to the website. I am so slack these days. Anyway, here's a very belated recap of the message two weeks ago.

I'm With Stupid

Joseph - coat of many colors, dreams of superiority (Genesis 37-45): didn't exactly do the smartest thing by showing off his favoritism and sharing his crazy dreams.

Sometimes we think that if we are with the right people, then everything will be okay.

We think relational happiness comes from finding people who are easy to get along with.

"We all, like sheep, have gone astray." (Isaiah 53:6) -> We all make mistakes and hurt others by our words and actions. The big thing is to admit our failures and take responsibility for our part.

In Joseph's story, no one ever tries to work out their issues with one another. The brothers don't ask Joseph to stop wearing the coat or sharing his dreams. Instead they sell him into slavery.

Our tendency is to avoid issues/conflict/confrontation with others.
>Avoidance kills community (no one grows or changes)
>When things go unaddressed and undealt with, relationships suffer
>"Do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Ephesians 4:26)

Is there anything you need to talk about with someone that has not been addressed?

People who love authentic community prefer the temporary chaos of conflict to the peace of permanent superficiality.

We need truth tellers to remind us of our values, let us know where we get off track, and to encourage us to do the right thing.

Genesis 39:2, 20-23 "The Lord was WITH Joseph...
>Just because he had difficult times doesn't mean God wasn't with him.

Isaiah 43:2 "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."

Genesis 50:20 -> "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

Some of the best things in life come from the most unlikely of places.

Romans 8:31,34,35,37 What shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?...Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger of sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

This was such an encouraging message that helped me to remember that no matter what is going on in my life, God is still with me guiding me through. I also really liked the comment about authentic community. I am not good at small talk and surface relationships. I want honesty and depth and real life. While these types of relationships are sometimes hard and messy, I desire them more than the easy breezy no-commitment ones because there is a richness to it that you don't get staying at the surface. I like to feel connected to people. To have people who know all about me - the good and the bad - and still choose to be in relationship with me.

So what would be my personal application? I guess to continue to put myself out there in order to build authentic community. To be honest with my issues as well as to be bold enough to confront others when necessary. I do struggle with conflict. I'd much prefer to let things smooth over, but that doesn't make anything better. I am growing slowly but surely in this area. I think marriage helps. Well, what really helps is to have a relationship that you are invested in and desire for it to be the best and healthiest it can be which means sometimes doing the hard thing of dealing with issues. I guess that's why marriage comes to mind, because it is one of those relationships for me.

What about you? Do you have any relationships that you are invested in enough to deal with conflict?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I have been thinking about how my job in the church office could cause others to misconstrue the motivation or drive behind some of the things I do. Relationships are important to me. I enjoy getting to know people better on a one-on-one format as that works best for me and my introvert tendencies. I have had the desire to develop a specific relationship with someone who attends our church and am excited to see what happens. It is something that God has laid on my heart to do and it is also something I want to do.

I have also felt the urge to visit a few other people that I don't see very often, probably because it's summer and everyone takes vacations during this time. I am thankful that my job allows me to take time to see people during the day. However, I wonder if some think that I am visiting them because I "work for the church." I don't want others to think I'm "just doing my job" rather than doing something of my own prerogative. I'm sure that pastors feel this much more acutely than us lowly office administrators, but I still wonder if people think I've been instructed to contact them.

I am sure that there will be people that think that but I hope that most people attribute my actions to genuine care. I don't know how one is to gauge these thoughts, I just wanted to share my concern. I wonder if Jeff or Neal (our pastors) think about this or feel this way as well.


Sunday we kicked off our new series WITH. I am very excited about this series. There are all sorts of fun things going on. This past Sunday, we started our "text and win" contest. At the start of service, the band plays a song whose title contains the word "With". The first person to text the name of the song and the artist wins a prize. Travis Crafton won on Sunday, being the first to figure out it was "Only Want To Be With You" by Hootie and the Blowfish. Jeff also tossed out some cool t-shirts and informed the crowd that they could pick one up after service.

Sunday's message was titled, Who Are You With? Below are my notes. For the full message, click here.

People with strong relationships live longer and are more able to battle illness than those who are isolated.

"It is not good for man to be alone." Genesis 2:18

I-It Relationship: one person relates to the other as an object; it's all about MY desires and wants (i.e. The church wasn't meeting my needs. I wasn't getting fed.)

I-Thou Relationship: both people's needs and desires are equally important; serving others and meeting their needs

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 : how would you like a relationship like this? Paul uses the word "agape" which is love that focuses solely on the needs of the other person.

Douglas Copeland quote from Life After God: "Now, here is my secret. I tell it you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again. So I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give because I no longer seem capable of giving. To help me be kind as I no longer seem capable of kindness. To help me love as I seem beyond being able to love."

We need God to help us love and to help us make relationships all that they can be.

Emmanuel = God WITH us (Jesus)

Jesus was all about being with us, being present at all times. When he left, he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell IN us so that we would never be without him.

God created the church to be where we get 1 Cor 13 relationships.

Will you start or continue to do life in/with the church?

You don't drift toward community but toward isolation. Deep relationships don't just happen.

*Pick one relationship to focus on improving for the next few weeks.

Personal application: I do desire to love others like 1 Corinthians 13 describes. I can't imagine what relationships would be like if we all tried to love like that. I understand that with a love that always trusts, always forgives, and is patient that there is plenty of room for abuse by others. I think that's why more people don't try to love this way. I desire for our church to be a place where people feel welcomed and loved and motivated to love and serve God more. I guess it starts with one.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sex and the Soul

I recently read a book called Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America's College Campuses by Donna Freitas. It was a book resulting from her research on different college campuses ranging from evangelical Christian schools to Catholic schools to secular universities. It was quite interesting to read about her conversations with a variety of college students.

There were definitely a lot of differences between the atmosphere at the evangelical Christian schools and the other types. It was interesting to learn that Catholic campuses were pretty much the same as secular universities in attitudes and behaviors.

While I was reading the book, I was thinking about my experiences while at school. I could see how religion could be divorced from sexual experiences on many universities, even if one is a Christian. I did flounder spiritually until I got involved in a campus Christian group and was able to spend time with others who shared my beliefs and values. I needed people who would encourage me to live what I believe and to help me grow in my spiritual relationship with God. If I hadn't found the group, I don't know what I would be like now.

When I arrived on campus, there was no one really telling me what churches were in the area or what groups were available on campus to become involved in. Sure there's a link on the school website that lists all of the organizations on campus, but how does that help me find one that is a good fit? I didn't have any friends who could point me in the right direction.

The book also opened my eyes more to what many students experience on college, the hook-up culture. Yes, I saw bits and pieces of it but it wasn't really part of my personal experience. I'm sure part of it was due to my lack of involvement in the party scene. I can't imagine trying to develop a committed, respectful relationship out of a one night stand. And yet, according to the book, this is what many women hope because they do not see another way of attracting a guy.

The book filled me with sorrow and compassion for all of the young men and women who cannot see a way out of the pressure-filled social scene laced with alcohol and casual sex. It has made me even more desirous to complete the book I'm working on to get it out there. Perhaps if more options were presented, it would help students to think what they truly want for themselves rather than going with the flow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I have been thinking a lot about sacrifice lately. With the exception of its application in war times, you don't hear about it a whole lot. It doesn't seem like something that is promoted in our society. Our culture is all about comfort, ease, convenience. We are told to make sure we get what is coming to us and to stand up for our rights. We should not let anyone get anything by us - that's why there are so many court tv shows and dramas. I've even seen a billboard advertising a website "Who Can I Sue?" The messages I receive from the world around me tells me that sacrifice is not important, or ever really necessary.

However, I learn in the Bible that sacrifice is the ultimate form of love. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13 The best way to demonstrate love to others is to sacrifice myself for them. That's what Jesus did for us. That is what we are supposed to do out of our love for God. But what kind of sacrificing are we to do? Are we supposed to seek out opportunities to put our life in danger? Not necessarily. Like I said above, we are all about convenience these days - drive-thrus, online bill pay, cell phones. What if we were open to allowing ourselves to be inconvenienced by others? What if we were not so interested in our own agenda, but in whatever God may have in mind? What if I were truly willing to sacrifice my own wants for the benefit of others?

Yesterday in prayer group we had a discussion on fasting. We talked about the different types of fasts, reasons for fasting, and the purpose of fasting. Fasting is generally associated with food, but fasting should be associated with sacrificing. For some people, it is nothing to skip meals. What would be even more difficult would be to give up the internet. In a fast, the thing sacrificed is supposed to help make you more aware of your need for/dependence upon God. If the "sacrifice" is not noticed, then it's not really a sacrifice. Sacrifices are usually associated with pain - not necessarily physical, but there's a pang of some sort, maybe a feeling similar to withdrawal. The lack of that "thing" is felt acutely. It got me thinking about times of fasting I've had in the past. Not every time has the sacrificed thing really been a true sacrifice to me. There have been times when it was ritual rather than purposeful.

I am pressed to ask myself, "Am I willing to sacrifice my wants, desires, comfort, happiness, etc for others or for something better? In my marriage, do I always seek my way or am I looking for ways to serve my husband? In my relationships, am I seeking the interests of friends and families, or am I continually guarding my own? With God, am I truly desiring his purpose for my life so much that I would sacrifice whatever he asked me to, or are there areas in my life that I am still holding onto and keeping away from God? Do I truly trust God that the result will be worth whatever sacrifice he may call me to make?"

What about you? Can you honestly answer "Yes" to the questions above?