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!