Thursday, June 30, 2011

Obedient vs. Obligated

As I work on the plan for my ministry project and get ready to take action I am trying to remain aware of the difference between being obedient to God's leading and feeling obligated to an outcome of my own anticipation.
Do you know what I mean?

Have you ever felt God leading you to take a specific action, speak to someone about him, reach out to someone, only to have it backfire on you? They rejected your advice, laughed at your faith, didn't make a remarkable change like they 'should' have? Maybe it wasn't a total disaster, it just wasn't a rousing success. Less than remarkable.

I find that very often when I start out to do something I have a very specific end or goal in mind. That, in itself, is not a bad thing. If you don't have a plan or goal you just tend to wander aimlessly, and very often, uselessly and ineffectively. The problem comes when I forget that God may have a completely different outcome in mind. I may see success as having a certain number of people attend, sign up, read my blog, give money...whatever...God may simply want to know if I will be obedient enough to trust him and act.

I need to remember that God sees the big picture - and my part in his grand plan. Do I have goals for my project, standards for a measure of success? Yes, and I'll be writing about those soon. Will it be difficult and disappointing if things don't work out as I'm planning? Yep. Will I be quick to try to see the hand of God in whatever happens? I sure hope so!

Please, Lord, let me remember your words, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."  Isaiah 55: 8-9.

Do you sometimes become a slave to anticipated outcomes? Do you miss the working of the hand of God because you are fixed on one particular result? How do you keep your perspective and trust the heart of God even when you can't trace the hand of God?

How will I do? We'll find out soon. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Time To Celebrate & Get Ready

Yesterday was a great day for my church. We welcomed a new pastor and his family to our congregation. He has a practice of getting out into the community for ministry, to reach those not otherwise touched by the church. He wants to lead our fellowship into ministry in a way that will really make a difference and there is great excitement about that. We feel and are blessed by God to have this new minister ready to work with and among us. God has a plan. I think he will soon begin to reveal to us the next step in this plan.

Are we ready? I think so. We've been praying and talking about this for weeks - months. We continue to talk about our strength and purpose - our redemption and righteousness - coming from God. We know anything we do that has any worth and merit will come from him and be done in his power.

I think there will be many things to write about in the coming weeks. It's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

What is it that you need to be doing? What opportunities is God placing before you? Are you ready? Let's be in prayer together and be ready to serve him today.

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let's rejoice, be glad, and offer it to him as an act of sacrifice, praise, service and worship. Have a blessed day in Christ today.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Well I missed my post for Thursday. The best laid plans... This is one of those weeks where I've just held on for dear life and tried to make it to the weekend. Actually I've had quite a few of those lately. It would be easy to get discouraged - and I have lately. I feel depleted in every way  and don't see any chance of catching up and filling up any time soon. How long can you run on fumes? I think I'm about to find out.

How will I regroup and refuel? Not sure yet. How about you? What do you do when everything becomes a chore and feels like more than you can handle - even the little things?

What do you do when the plans for the future that used to get your heart racing and energize you beyond belief, now seem like just one more task to do before you can rest?

All suggestions welcome. I hope this weekend is long and quiet and restful. For all of us. See you next week.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Good to the Last Drop"

Do you remember the coffee commercial that used the line "good to the last drop"? Well, to be perfectly honest, I can't remember the brand now, but the tag sticks with me. I'm not a coffee drinker but I understand the concept here...that it's just as good at the end as it is at the beginning. It doesn't draw you in with the best, then leave with the worst, or even the so-so. No bait and switch here. It's all good.

I was thinking about this in terms of service and using my gifts/talents. I tend to think about spiritual gifts as the "big" things...teaching, preaching, prayer, etc. While they are important and very often tied to our choice of profession, what about the lesser gifts? Even as I write 'lesser' I have to stop and think about that. Are there really lesser gifts, or do we just consider them to be less important because we tend to see everything on a scale. You know what I mean, right?

  • smaller vs. larger
  • good vs. bad
  • spiritual vs. secular
  • hard vs. easy
  • little sin (usually mine) vs. big sin (usually theirs)
I'm thinking that my perspective may need a little work here...again! I just reread the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and saw something for the first time (I love it when God does that!). What I remember about this story is that the master gave each servant a different amount of money (talents) when he left, and upon his return, rewarded the two servants who had used the talents wisely to produce more. The servant who was punished had hidden the talent away and not used it at all - even in the most basic way. 

Lets look at the other two servants. What I just realized is that even though they were each given different amounts to start with and each produced a different yield in terms of a measurable result, their rewards were the same.  Read verses 21 and 23 in Matthew 25. They are the master's responses to the servant with five talents AND to the servant with two talents, and they are exactly the same! 

"Well done, good and faithful servant!
You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things."

And here's the best part....

"Come and share your master's happiness."

What an invitation! What a reward! What a huge relief! Did you see what was NOT there? Two things:

First - no comparison between the servant with two talents and the servant with five. Read that again. No comparison! None! 

Second - no condemnation for servant number two for not producing as much as servant number one. Read THAT again!

 God didn't hold them each up to the same scale and condemn one for not producing as much as the other. In fact, the only condemnation found in this story is for the servant who hid the talent with no intention of increasing it, or even making any use of it at all. 

We see things with such human eyes, don't we? Big gifts, little gifts... How often do we belittle ourselves and rob ourselves of the joy of service because we believe we don't have a "big" gift, an "important" gift.

It's such a heart thing isn't it? Where our treasure is there we will find our hearts. What do we hold dear? Is it fame and fortune, recognition, our own sense of self-importance? Or do we seek to honor God and let his spirit reign free in our lives every day, which makes every act we do one of sacrifice and worship to him? 

We need to remember that the creator and sustainer of every gift is the Lord. Big or small, outstanding or ordinary, it is all from God, with purpose. 

I have a little plaque on my office wall with a quote from Erma Bombeck that says this:

"When I stand before God at the end of my life I would hope that I would have not a single 
bit of talent left and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.'"

Can you imagine standing before God and saying something like, "That was such a lame talent! Why couldn't I have gotten something really cool?" 

While I think we would all quickly agree that we would NEVER, EVER actually say that to God's face...
but isn't that exactly what we do every time we wish for a "cooler" talent? Every time we fail to serve because we can't serve like (fill in the blank here), we are throwing our talents back in God's face and essentially saying, "That's not good enough. I won't embarrass myself by even going there." 

It is truly a heart thing. For someone with a servant's heart like our savior, there is no talent, no gift, no act of service that is not pleasing to him, and that will not bear fruit - in someone else because we have shown the love of God, or in us because we were obedient. 

Every little thing can be an act of worship if our hearts are right. The world can be a better place tonight because of what we do today if God's hand is in it. Look at your agenda for today. Look at each entry on your 'to-do' list and submit it right now to God as an act of worship and obedience. Ask for his heart, his spirit, his eyes to see opportunity, and for the grace and courage to make every act, every thought, every word a gift back to him. 

See what plans God has for every drop of talent he's given you, and have a day that glorifies your Creator! He never fades away, gets tired, or runs out of steam at the end of the day. With God, it only gets better. Remember, we're working toward the most spectacular finale ever! 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

One More Thing on the List!

Good almost Friday morning. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to the weekend. It will prove to be a busy one, though, so for a girl needing some rest it's hard to get excited about it - almost. In the meantime, I still have two days to go to get there. Two busy days. On my agenda for the next two days...

  • one in-service
  • team meeting
  • two camp planning meetings
  • intake for a new patient
  • paperwork
  • making ice cream for the employees appreciation party on Saturday
  • picking up door prizes for party
  • paperwork
  • laundry and a basket full of ironing
  • grocery shopping
  • cleaning out some closets
  • planning for Father's day
  • did I mention PAPERWORK???!!
Hmm. I think I felt better before I put all of that on paper. Can you relate? I'm sure you can. The scary thing is...that's not everything! 

What's missing? Good works - random acts of kindness - deliberate acts of service to others. You're kidding, right? Well, no. Read this verse from Hebrews, 4:24. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." 

What if at the end of the day, as I'm checking off items on my list (and don't you just love this part!) I add those random acts of kindness and service? What if I do that every day? Would my attitude toward that to-do list change? In addition to that feeling of satisfaction I get from checking off the list, would I also develop a spirit of gratitude for the opportunities God provided for me that day? I think it might work exactly like that. 

I freely admit that the last thing I need is something else to add to my list for the next two days. I'd like to sleep sometime in there and just goof off a little. And eat! That is never a question for me, and while I never put eating on a daily to-do list,  I'm GOING to eat! It may be later than planned, it may be different than what I was anticipating, but it will happen! 

Could I be that deliberate with random acts of service? I think I can. How do I make this happen, especially when the very nature of 'random' acts would seem to be in conflict with the whole idea of planning? Here's my plan:

1. I will specifically pray for God to provide opportunities TODAY, and  that I will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading during the day.

2. I will actively seek out opportunities to serve.

3. I will intentionally seek to develop this as a new discipline - intentionally. 

4. I will pray for God to help me be willing to take my hands off my own agenda and embrace his. He is a God of order, not chaos. He knows what needs to be accomplished today and will graciously enable and equip me to do those things in his strength. 

5. I will ask for God to give me his spirit, his love for those around me and to help me remember that things and activities are NEVER EVER more important than people. 

6. I will remember that my act of service may never be acknowledged or even known by others. That doesn't matter. I will remember Jesus' teachings from Matthew about not doing things to be seen by others. Rather I should do those things as a true act of service and worship, and be satisfied that God knows about them, and sees my heart. That is enough for me. 

So tonight, as I review my list, I will add to it all those opportunities that came my way today. I will think about the difference those things made in my life, and I will offer gratitude and praise to God for the privilege of sharing his love with someone today. 

Will you take this challenge with me? Let me know what obstacles you face as you try to develop this discipline. What helps you to stay on track? What scriptures are you meditating on to keep you on track? 

Blessings on you as you serve Him today. May we end this day more like our Savior than we are right now! 

Giving God a Wish List

"You do not have because you do not ask," the scripture says. Can it really be that simple? Depends on your list, I think.

Do you ever feel like you're in a spiritual slump? I do right now. I'm very tired - not just physically, and sometimes that's not even an issue - but emotionally, mentally and spiritually tired. My discipline in every area of my life is shot, and some days I am simply too overwhelmed to care. The frustrating thing is that this follows about eight months of really sweet time with the Lord; time full of enthusiasm and closeness, great communication, growth and maturity, vision and excitement. It has been a life-changing time for me and I have loved it, even when it was difficult.

What has happened? Not sure. Maybe I really am tired and need a season of rest and restoration. Maybe I have enjoyed the results of those spiritual disciplines so much that I have focused more on them and less and less on the source - Jesus.

It is so easy for my focus to slip! How does it happen so quickly, so subtly?

Perhaps the better question is, "How do I get that back?"

I need to ask. It's that simple. Here's why. Asking puts me back in touch with the source - the relationship - from which everything else flows. Anytime I meet with the Lord I am changed - he's just like that. You can't have contact with someone like our Lord and not be changed because of it. So what does this wish list look like? What do I take to the Lord as a request right now? It goes something like this:

  • fix my focus on You - our relationship
  • help me to remember the things you have taught me in this time (this is where journaling is so important - go back and read what God has been teaching you - what he has been doing in your life)
  • give me a desire for you - give me a hunger and thirst for your word and for you
  • remind me not to try to "do Christianity" in my own power
  • use me today - in spite of how I am feeling - help me to remember that no matter what my situation or feeling, you are still God
  • keep me close to you during this time - help me to see what you are trying to teach me - remind me that you are always near, always at work, always with me
  • restore my excitement and enthusiasm in living for you each day
  • help me to do the things I need to do today - accomplish the tasks that are required
  • remind me to praise you in all things today
  • forgive me for....
  • don't let me get stupid!!
I could go on, but this hits the high spots. What would you add to this list? What do you need from God today? Yes, he already knows, and already has plans to provide. Asking is for our benefit. It makes us focus on what we need - really NEED - and more importantly, it brings our focus back to the one who supplies it. 

Take a few minutes to make your list. What do you need from God today? What will make you a better servant ? Ask him. Trust him. Praise him. Follow him.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What Does God-Sized Really Look Like?

I haven't posted a project report yet, but my focus is homelessness - especially families with children. In my mind I have an idea of what needs to be done and what I would like to see happen in my town, my county. I have been praying for God to do God-sized things through me. What I just realized is that even though that's what I'm praying, what I'm actually thinking is still 'me-sized'. What I mean by that is that the projects I'm thinking about start big, and usually involve God providing everything upfront so I can see my resources and feel secure about moving ahead.

Somewhere in this process I have confused my definition of God-sized with something else.

Here's what I'm hearing God say to me right now:

  • God-sized is about God not me
  • my expectations are not His - my definition of success is not the same as His
  • God-sized does not mean I will have all the answers before I start
  • God-sized is about faith
  • God-sized is a little scary.
In other words, God-size is not about size at all - at least not to God. Nothing is too difficult for him. Rather, a God-sized thing is a heart thing. It is a trust thing. It is easier for me to wait on God to provide every need before I make a move. That gives me an 'excuse' to do nothing - risk nothing - accomplish nothing.

How much more God-sized is it if I see the plan God has for me and move ahead, one-step at a time, trusting him to provide the next thing, then the next, then the next? What if I step out in faith and obedience with no idea how things will work - only a solid belief that they will work? Is that life-changing for me? Heart changing? How could it not be?

Does this negate the need for planning and research? I don't think so. God is a God of order, not chaos. He also expects us to be wise and to be good stewards. This means that we don't waste time and resources reinventing the wheel. We also don't choose projects that will bring us recognition and praise, but at the end of the day, don't really make a difference.

I think that we research, talk to others who know about the issue we are addressing, pray for God's leadership...then we step out on faith. What will that step look like? Telling someone, gathering a group, taking food to someone, meeting someone in need, putting aside my own comfort to help someone else? Any of those things and more.

My point is, God-sized is more about my heart than about my project. I have been praying about my calling and my role in ministry. Is it now time to start working? Is it time to take the first step so that God can reveal the next one? I think it might be.

God looks at the heart, not the size of my project or the number of people I help, or what I may deem a success. Do I trust him because I know him because I spend time with him? If I answer yes, then what am I waiting for? What am I waiting for?

What are you waiting for?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Does God Ever Interrupt His Own Plan?

This blog is all about discovering God's plan for us and jumping in. What happens when the plan we know to be God's seems interrupted by another opportunity brought to us by God? Is that God changing his plan or something else?

Is it possible to be so intent on following God's call on our lives that the plan itself becomes more important than obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit?

I'm learning that this may be an area where I need to exercise great care and attentiveness in my daily walk. This is especially true when being obedient takes me out of my comfort zone. I can become so focused on learning a new skill or doing something different that I allow what should be my first priority - my relationship with God - to slip in the ranks down to second, third, fourth... It's not long before I'm feeling the effects:

  • feeling overwhelmed
  • losing my sense of purpose
  • feeling overwhelmed - did I already say that one? it's a biggie!
  • loss of discipline in most - if not all - areas of my life
  • becoming irritable
  • inability to sense and respond to God's leading
We see God's plan from a very human, finite perspective. God sees the whole picture. What we see as an interruption - something not a part of the plan - God sees as the next step. 

How do we keep from making 'the plan' into an idol? By going back to first things. Taking time to let God speak to you through his word - asking him to reveal himself to you so that your obedience to his calling in your life flows from that relationship instead of replacing it with busyness. 

With the best of intentions, I can still find myself frustrated when my 'plan' is interrupted by something unexpected. I am praying for God to help me be so focused on him and ready to serve that I remember that nothing that happens or comes to me during the day is coincidence.

God is not a God of coincidence or luck; he is the creator, the master planner, the director of the great plan, and he wants us to join him. To do that we have to be willing to let go of our own agendas and go with the flow...follow the Holy Spirit's leading.

Thank God today for the 'interruptions' he places in your path each day. Thank him for the opportunity to serve represented by each one, and pray for the sensitivity to hear the spirit lead, and the courage to follow. 

Have a wonderful, God-interrupted day.   

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Secular or Saintly

Well my original post scheduled for 6 am yesterday morning is somewhere is cyber space. What a humbling thing it is to start a blog! At least it is for me. It does seem to fit into the topic of this post, however, and maybe God had a hand in this...but then, for me there really is no 'maybe' here.

My post was about how we - I - often tend to separate activities and jobs into opposing categories of 'secular' and 'sacred'.  I don't deliberately do this, it just seems to happen like that. For example, in my sacred category I have, of course, church, the prayer ministry I'm a part of, daily time with God, scripture memorization - you know...all the 'churchy' things. Secular is basically everything else: work, socialization, laundry, grocery shopping,    and for you mothers out there, soccer games and ballet, PTA meetings, etc. We could all list endless numbers of things that we do every day that we would never consider sacred.

Here's the thing. I looked up the word sacred and the first definition listed there is this: consecrated to God.  Wow! That says nothing about being in church or having a bible verse attached to it, or doing 'churchy' things, or saying all the right-sounding religious words. It just says consecrated (set apart as holy, devoted to sacred or serious use). Isn't that what we're supposed to be every day as Christians? Look at the scripture memory verse for this week, 1 Corinthians 10:31: "Therefore, whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 

Here's how this applies to me right now. I have been very reluctant to get into any kind of social media thing - Face book - not there. Twitter - not here either. A blog - what's a blog and why am I the last person to know about this? If you're getting the idea that this is not where I live, you're on the right track. I'm learning, though, that when you pray and ask God to do God-sized things through you, you can always expect to be taken out of your comfort zone - that's where the God-sized things are. For me right now, a blog is definitely out of my comfort zone.

Would I tend to put blogging into my 'sacred' category? No, except here's what God is doing for me through this:

  • taking me out of my comfort zone so that I must rely on him
  • showing me that I need to work on my tolerance for frustration, and that I need to more quickly turn to him and pray when I am frustrated
  • reminding me that anything he leads me to do in the pursuit of his plan is sacred
  • reminding me to seek him first - to know him first
  • preparing me for what's ahead
Why are these things important? For many reasons, but one big one is this: anytime we seek to obey God, honor him, and allow him to have his way in our lives we can be sure that we will face a spiritual battle. It may be very subtle or it may hit us upside the head like a cast iron skillet. Either way, we need to be prepared. 

I don't deliberately separate my to-do list into "sacred or secular", it just tends to happen that way. What I am trying to do now is treat this like every other spiritual discipline - I need to be INTENTIONAL about seeing every aspect of my life as ordered and ordained by God. That quick trip to the grocery store for a few items left off my list wasn't just a fluke. That's where and when I engaged in a short conversation with a total stranger that just needed a listening ear and some encouragement. Could God have used someone else? Absolutely! Why did he choose me? Don't have a clue, except that I needed the blessing of being a blessing, and I also need the reminder that God is intimately involved in EVERY aspect of my life. That is comforting and awe-inspiring! No accidents with God.

Deuteronomy 12:18b says, "...and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to." 

It is all his. We are all his, here to worship him and glorify him before the world in everything we do and say. Certainly puts a new twist on your daily agenda, doesn't it? 

Go out into your day today and every day excited that it all belongs to him, and that he has a plan. Look for it - look for him, and rejoice in your sacred day! 

Encourage others by sharing your experiences with us. How has God changed secular moments into sacred ones in your life?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Secular or Saintly

If you were to list everything you do into one of two categories - spiritual or secular - what would that list look like? Would one side be bigger than the other? Would you be ashamed that the secular side was bigger? Would you have anything to put on the spiritual side? If you're like most people, you would probably list on the spiritual side things like going to church, reading your Bible, praying, church committees, etc,; all those things that we normally associate with 'churchy' things. On the secular side we would find things like work, laundry, car pooling, soccer games and ballet, socializing with friends, etc.

What if that's not the way God sees things? What if, as Christians, everything we do is an act of service and worship? Read the scripture memory verse for this week: "Therefore, whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31.  And this one: "...and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to."  Deuteronomy 12:18b.

Think about that for a minute. What if that is really the way we are to view our lives - the activities of everyday living? Wouldn't it be great to live each day knowing that we have offered it to the Lord for his glory? Every day is a gift from God no matter what that day brings. If it is a good day, we can praise him for his blessings. If it's a difficult day, or even one that brings hardship or tragedy, we can grieve and mourn, be afraid or confused, and still rest in the fact that God is with us and be assured that our very reactions to our situations can bring him glory.

What's on your agenda for today? Take a few minutes as you start your day to present that list to God and ask for his blessings and his spirit to guide your actions and words today so that everything you do brings glory to him. It may be in a way that is very public and noticeable, or it may be in the simple act of having an obedient heart and mind, totally fixed on him.

Do you think that having this mindset will make a difference in how you go about your day? How so? Do you think that God views some activities as more 'spiritual' than others? What other scripture reminds you of the fact that every facet of our lives belongs to him?

Have a blessed day of service to the Lord today, whatever you "put your hand to."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Praise is Not a Feeling...Thank You Lord!

Some days I just don't feel it. My day is chaotic, my memory is shot, and my self-esteem is dragging behind me like something stuck on my shoe. What naturally wants to spring out of me is not praise and often not even very spiritual and I want to complain and focus on all the things that are not right. It doesn't take long for a spirit of heaviness and defeat to creep in and subtly begin to steal the joy of my relationship with the Lord. I become so focused on my feelings that I forget to praise because I don't feel it. Does this ever happen to you? I think it's part of being human and living in a flawed, imperfect world.

The good news is that praise is effective whether we feel it or not. Why? Because it realigns our focus on God and away from the things of the world, reminding us that the one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Praise is the antidote for despair and hopelessness, the heaviness that can weigh us down every day (Isaiah 61:3). God inhabits our praise; he dwells where praise is offered (Psalm 22:3).

Mostly, though, praise is effective no matter what our feelings because it's not about our feelings. It's not about us at all. It is about giving to the Lord the respect and admiration due him because of who he is. Read through the Psalms - start anywhere - and you will find words of praise offered in every situation in life, right along with the emotions and struggles of those early writers. Consider the life of King David. He was a man after God's own heart - and he was terribly flawed and very human. Even so, and maybe even because of this the words of his psalms and songs to the Lord resonate deeply within all of us. David poured out his heart to God - complaints, confusion, fear, despair, great joy and wonder - and in every situation found reason to focus on the sovereignty and power of God.

The source of our compassion and service is the Lord. Sometimes praise wells up in us because of an answered prayer or other strong emotional experience. Sometimes it is simply a spiritual discipline like reading and memorizing the word, prayer, tithing, etc. It may not always feel good, and at times we may only do it because we know we are supposed to, but consider this. Any time spent in the presence and power of God changes us. So when we don't feel like it, that's when we need to do it the most.

Do it because you need it. Do it because he requires it. Most of all, do it because he deserves it. It will change you every time.

Do you have a favorite praise scripture or song that you use in your quiet time? How has praised changed you and changed your understanding of who God is? When do you find it hardest to praise?