The Generosity Challenge

If you’ve been tracking along at SharpenHer, you know that generosity has been a hot topic as of late. My church has not only been studying the concept through Scripture, we’ve also been challenging one another to live it out. As I look around the people I know, I’ve seen generosity everywhere….to me, personally.

  • One friend brought me a gift basket of fresh veggies and marinated steaks as a thank you for helping her with carpool this past year.
  • Another friend surprised me with Raspberry Limeade Twist Tea….just because.
  • My daughter gave up time with friends to help me around the house. Her choice. 
  • Friends invited us over for a boat ride and dinner on the lake. So relaxing.
  • My husband grilled dinner for me…in the misting rain….which is really generous since he’s a vegan and doesn’t eat meat. 

But the generosity hasn’t been one-sided. I’ve been a busy bee this week helping friends in need. I’ve made a gift basket for a sick friend and cooked dinner for another. One afternoon, I was in Little Caesar’s Pizza grabbing a fast meal for my kids, but I was hesitating on making my order. I couldn’t decide between buying a 2nd pizza or getting an order of Crazy Bread. (I know, I know. 1st world problems, right?) Well, the manager was in a generous spirit, and gave me a pizza for free. I returned home singing the praises of the cashier at Little Caesar’s. I didn’t even need the extra pizza, but I was so happy to see generosity in action. That’s when my phone buzzed. A text from a friend in need led me to offer to watch her kids the next day. Guess who ate the pizza I didn’t need? You got it! That free pizza was a hit with the kiddos!

That’s when I remembered something my husband said, “God will be generous to you when He knows He can be generous through you.” In other words, God will bless us when He knows we will, in turn, bless others. Check this out:

2 Corinthians 9:8 “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”

Has God blessed you with something? Something big? Something small? Are you using it to be a blessing? Here’s a challenge for this week: look for ways God has done something kind for you and find a way to pass the kindness on. 

Generosity. Kindness. Love. These are hallmarks of the Christian life. I’m praying that these virtues mark YOUR life this week!

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It’s Not a Suggestion

This past weekend, my hubby challenged our church to become more generous people. More generous to God and His mission. More generous to the people around us. Sometimes being generous is easier than others. For instance, being generous at Christmas is easy because everyone is in the giving spirit. We buy gifts for friends and family and even for the neighbors we rarely see. The spirit of Christmas is contagious, it seems, and in December we really enjoy blessing others.

But, right now it’s July, and it’s a bit harder to get excited about giving to others. I’m more concerned with giving a vacation to myself. I’m not necessarily thinking of how I can bless others. I’m thinking more about the fastest route to the pool. So, the message about generosity reminded me that it isn’t a seasonal virtue. This morning, I did a little Bible research on the topic and discovered what God says and promises regarding my willingness to tithe to the church and bless others. Check out a few of the verses I read:

Giving to others:

Isaiah 32:8 “But generous people plan to do what is generous, and they stand firm in their generosity.”

Proverbs 22:9 “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.”

Deuteronomy 15:8 “Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.”

Deuteronomy 15:10: “Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.”

Giving to God:

Exodus 35:5 “Take a sacred offering for the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 14:22 “You must set aside a tithe of your crops – one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year.”

Luke 6:28 “Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into you lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

Matthew 6:1-4 “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Malachi 3:10 “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!

Leviticus 27:30 “One-tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord and must be set apart to him as holy.”

God’s generosity to us:

Titus 3:6 “He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

2 Corinthians 8:9 “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty He could make you rich.”

2 Corinthians 9:8 “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”

1 Timothy 1:14 “Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.”

It’s quite apparent that generosity is a foundational element of the Christian faith. Bringing the tithe to church is a command. Meeting the needs of others is a command. Being rich in good deeds is a command. These things are expected of those of us who bear the name of Christ.

If you are a Christian, let me ask this: how are you doing in the area of generosity? Are you obeying God’s commands? If you are struggling a bit in this area, begin taking steps today to change! Don’t procrastinate! Let’s honor God with the resources He has graciously allowed us to have.

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The Taboo Topic

generousThis weekend at Mountain Lake Church, my hubby continued a teaching series called Courageous. We’ve been learning that fear isn’t a bad thing. Instead, fear is simply an opportunity to trust God. To trust Him in our finances. To trust Him with our careers. To trust Him with the circumstances of our lives. When we choose to obey God, we must then trust Him to help us overcome our fears and move forward!

This weekend, Shawn tackled a topic that is taboo….a topic that steps on toes…..a topic that offends some people: money.

To be more specific, we learned about being generous with our resources: our time, our abilities, and yes, our money.

Do you know what I think? I think none of us have a problem with spending money on what matters to us. I, for one, can find several reasons why I need a new outfit or a new phone or a new radio for my car (my latest area of discontent). Those things provide me with instant, personal gratification. But we do have a problem with spending money in ways that don’t result in a personal reward. Yet, Scripture is replete with commands and admonitions to tithe to God through the local church and to be generous in meeting the needs of the people around us. Tithing and being generous isn’t a suggestion; it’s a command and expectation.

So why is the subject of money so taboo in churches? Why do I see people walk out of church services when money is the topic? Why do so many of my friends who pastor other churches tell stories of people complaining when a sermon about giving is taught?

The bottom line is simple: we are commanded by God to be good, faithful managers of the resources He has allowed us to have, AND we are expected to tithe, AND we are to be generous in meeting the needs of others. 

Just as there are many “do not’s” in the Bible (like do not murder, do not steal, do not lie), there are also many “do’s” (like love your neighbor, forgive each other, and give generously). Both the do’s and the don’t’s are foundational elements of the Christian faith. 

So, this month Shawn challenged our church to live up to the do’s of our faith….to honor God by courageously putting our finances in His hands (where they belong) and choosing to:

1. Seek God’s heart regarding generosity.

2. Set aside the first 10% of my income for God.

3. Spontaneously bless at least one person each week.

What could you do this week to meet the challenge? Here are some ideas: 

1. Seek God’s heart: google bible verses regarding generosity and giving. Spend a little time each day writing down what you learn.

2. Set aside the tithe: Write the tithe check before you pay any other expense. Don’t give God your leftovers; give Him your first and best.

3. Spontaneously bless: provide a welcome basket to a new neighbor (or help them move in….now THAT’S generous!), offer to babysit for a young married couple who can’t afford childcare costs, deliver soup and crackers to a sick friend, mow a friend’s yard, buy a coke and candy bar for the cashier at Walmart, leave a surprise in your box for the mailman, or invite someone into your home for dinner.

What will you do this week? I’m praying you will courageously honor God with the resources that He has allowed you to have. And, if you do, I’d love to hear about it!

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Wave Goodbye, Say Hello

ebenezer17 years ago, we said goodbye. My husband and I packed our belongings, hugged a lot of necks, and waved goodbye to the very first church congregation we ever served: Ebenezer Baptist Church in Hammond, Louisiana. My hubby had been the Minister of Music and Youth, and we made memories with every member of that small church. Some of the best, though, were with a few students (and their families) who latched onto our hearts.

Thinking back over our time at Ebenezer, flashbacks of specific moments fill my mind.

Sunday lunch at the Johnson’s house, followed by a game of horseshoes.

Students (who shall remain nameless) spilling candle wax in my den and trying (unsuccessfully) to hide the evidence.

Praying with friends as they asked Jesus to be their Leader and Forgiver. 

Sneaking into a back room of the church to catch some shut-eye during a student lock-in. Apparently, even at the young age of 25 I still couldn’t pull an all-nighter. 

We learned a lot about ministry, people, leadership, and God in that little church, and I’m so thankful for those lessons. And for those memories. And for those people. 

This past weekend, those memories came to life as a few of those students made the long drive from Louisiana to Georgia. We lingered with them over pancakes and old times at Cracker Barrel Saturday morning. I listened as these young men shared about their wives and children….about their involvement in their church….about their strong faith. My heart was full as they thanked us for our ministry in their lives and explained the impact we had on them as young kids. I’m so very proud of those guys. What a privilege to see who they have become. To see what God has done in their lives. To see how God is using them. To hear of their dedication to God and His church.

Sitting across from them at breakfast, God reminded me that what I do matters. 

Every day matters.

Every person matters.

Every season matters.

Every opportunity to serve matters.

Why? Because someone is watching. Someone is listening. Someone is being impacted by our actions. 

God never promised that we would get to see the fruit of our labor, but Saturday morning I saw fruit. And today, I’m offering praise and thanks to God for allowing me to see it because it reminded me that investing into other people with the love of Jesus has eternal ramifications.

Let me challenge you: build relationships with people and teach them about God. Share His love. Say yes to opportunities to invite people into your home and heart. Be willing to serve. Be willing to lead. 

It matters. To God….and to them.

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What Can You Do?

This past weekend, our church kicked off a new teaching series called Courageous. Life can be scary sometimes, and we’re learning that fear isn’t a bad thing. Instead, fear is simply an opportunity to trust God. To trust Him in our finances. To trust Him with our careers. To trust Him with the circumstances of our lives. When we choose to obey God, we must then trust Him to help us overcome our fears and move forward!

That 1st paragraph sounds like good Christian-ese, doesn’t it? Sounds easier said than done, that’s for sure. If you’ve ever had to forgive someone who has deeply hurt you, then you understand. Or, if you’ve faced persecution for your faith. Or, if you’ve done the “right” thing but life got harder, not easier. Being courageous enough in those situations to keep obeying God is tough. That’s why we’re talking about it at MLC. We need encouragement (and sometimes a push!) to move forward despite our fears of what others will think, what sacrifices will be required, or uncertainty of the future.

What are you afraid of? What conversation do you need to have? What step do you need to take? What decision do you need to make? Do you have the courage to follow through? As a child of God, maybe you need some encouragement today straight from the Word of God.

1 John 5:4-5 (NLT) For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV) But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Whatever you face today as a believer in God, remember that you are fully equipped for the battle. Every resource that God has is at your disposal. Wisdom. Discernment. Strength. Influence. God owns it all and makes it available to us when we are walking in obedience to Him. Don’t shrink back in fear; step out in confidence! Happy Monday, friends!

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My Only Appointment This Summer

lazyI love the unstructured, unplanned days of summer. August through May, my family has demands, appointments, deadlines, and expectations that fill each day. Every day. Summers bring a very welcomed respite from that pace, but I still keep SOME structure. My kids sleep a bit later…..giving me the opportunity to lounge in my bed with my iPad. I read my bible and pray….and check the news and weather ….without interruption. Everyday. I have to wake up earlier than the kiddos , but it is always worth it! A structured plan to spend time with God means I’m walking TOWARD God and a healthy relationship with Him. On the flip side, when I don’t spend time with Him, I’m walking away from Him.

During our busier months, I wake up between 5-5:30AM in order to grab those quiet moments. In the summer, I get to stretch that to 6:30 or 7AM. For those of you who hate mornings, I’m sure you are rolling your eyes right now. Well, pull those peepers back into place and keep reading. Finding quiet, undisturbed, undistracted moments to read God’s Word and talk to Him are critical to spiritual health. Let me correct that. Moments aren’t enough.

Praying while we drive isn’t enough.

Talking to God while we walk a few laps around the ‘hood isn’t enough.

Those flip-style devotional calendars? Not enough. 

Squeezing time with God into our already full agenda isn’t enough. I’m sure God isn’t impressed by our ability to multitask.

The fact is spending undistracted, focused time reading God’s Word transforms us into wise, mature, and equipped Christians. The bible teaches us what God is like, how He relates to us, and how we should respond to the world. When we study its stories, we find parallels to our lives….and answers to our questions. Then, we can take the next step  - actually living out what we’ve learned.

We don’t get that kind of info when the sum total of our plan for spiritual growth is a prayer walk.

So while I’m enjoying the lazy days of summer, I’m taking advantage of the extra time to read. My YouVersion bible app is in full swing. I’m reading the bible in chronological order (just a few chapters daily) and I’m reading a short plan by Rick Warren called God’s Prescription For A Healthy Life (just a 16 plan). I’m going to pull my kids into the mix, too. We’re going to choose one book of the bible to read together this summer – their choice. I’ll let you know how it goes!

The bible is God’s love letter to us. Don’t neglect it. Instead, blow off the dust and crack it open. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

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It’s What’s For Dinner

My hubby became a vegan 7 months ago, and since then quite a few inquiring minds have bombarded us with this question:

Where does he get his protein?

I, too, once thought the bulk of a person’s protein needs are met by eating meat. I have learned, however, that vegetables and grains have all the protein we need. For instance, beans, peas, veggie burgers, peanut butter, almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews (my fav!), spinach (I guess Popeye ate it for a good reason!), and broccoli are packed with protein. Our latest discovery is quinoa – a super food with 24g of protein and 12g of fiber in 1 cup! Today, I want to give you a peek inside our kitchen and share one of our favorite vegan recipes. It’s flavorful, filling, packed with protein, and oh so delicious. Check it out:

Black-Bean-and-Corn-Quinoa-SaladWarm Black Bean and Corn Quinoa Salad

1½ cups uncooked quinoa
3 cups vegetable broth
3 TBSP olive oil
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, finely chopped, seeds and ribs removed for a milder flavor
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
12oz frozen sweet corn
15 oz Low Sodium Black Beans, rinsed and drained
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
3 TBS chopped fresh cilantro
2 TBS fresh lime juice
diced avocados and lime wedges for serving

First, cook quinoa according to the directions. I cook 1½ cups of quinoa in 3 cups of vegetable broth instead of water to increase flavor.

Heat 3 TBS of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add red pepper, jalapeno, shallot, and garlic. Sauté over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes.

Then add frozen corn, black beans, salt and pepper, and all seasonings. Mix well and cook over medium heat until corn and black beans are heated thoroughly.

In a large serving bowl add quinoa, black bean and corn salsa, chopped cilantro, and lime juice. Gently combine until all flavors are distributed evenly.

Enjoy!

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Are You Ready?

preparedLast week brought unwanted excitement to Forsyth County. A man wearing 2 bullet proof vests and a gas mask and carrying an assault riffle drove an SUV loaded with explosives to the front door of our county courthouse. He was intent on deadly mayhem, and he got it…..except the mayhem was on him.

One of our sheriff’s deputies saw the suspect approaching the courthouse and engaged him outside. A gun fight ensued. Police backup was called, and our local SWAT team (who had just completed a drill and were dressed in full combat gear) arrived in 37 seconds. Yep, 37 seconds. The suspect – who was determined to take lives – lost his life within the first 2 minutes of the engagement.

The safety of our civilians rested in one thing: our law enforcement officials were prepared. They were trained, alert, and ready to step into battle. They had participated in drills to train their reflex reactions. They were aware of their surroundings….conscious of danger. As law enforcement officials, they long ago accepted that they would likely find themselves in extremely dangerous situations….and they were willing to put themselves in harm’s way.

I’m incredibly thankful for the quick response by those men and women. More importantly, I’m inspired by it. Because of their preparedness, they did their jobs with excellence last week. I have a job, too: to represent my God to a watching world. Sometimes that job requires me to speak about my faith; other times that job simply requires me to model Godly behavior while others quietly watch. Either way, if I’m not ready to speak or act in ways that honor God, I will squander the opportunities I have to lead others to know or understand God. If I haven’t trained myself in the quiet moments of life, I won’t be ready to respond when storms roll in. And, trust me, storms WILL roll in.

So, how can you and I be prepared to do our jobs as followers of God? 

  1. Know what the Bible says. Read it. Memorize it. Study it. Learn the principles by which God relates to us and expects us to behave.
  2. Pray. Talk to God. Listen to Him. Ask for help. Ask for opportunities to serve. Thank Him for His goodness.
  3. Discipline our tongues and emotions. Learning to guard our words and responses to others takes practice. Speaking before thinking often produces moments we regret, so we must train ourselves to pause before those biting words tumble out of our mouths. We must train ourselves to pause long enough for heated emotions to die down before we engage someone else.
  4. Sharpen one another. Learn from one another. Listen to church messages, read books, build a small group of Christian friends, and spend some one-on-one time with a trusted mentor or friend. People in these settings grow in faith faster than those who aren’t.

Life happens. Kids ask questions. People divorce. Cancer strikes. Consequences hurt. When life happens, I want to be prepared. My effectiveness depends on it. Maybe, just maybe, someone else might depend on it, too.

Who is depending on you today? Will you be prepared to respond in a way that honors God?

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There’s A Bad Apple In Every Bunch

Each month I write an article for a local magazine, Up In Cumming. I enjoy sharing them with you guys, too. This month’s issue focuses on Father’s Day, which got me to thinking about families. Check it out:

 

bad appleEach year I read through the bible in chronological order which means I read the bible in the order that the events happened. I just finished Chronicles, including some chapters of family genealogies. You know what I’m talking about. So-and-so was the father of so-and-so. Verse after verse of so-and-so’s. It’s the type of stuff most of us usually skip over hoping to get to more enlightening reading.

But, this time I was enlightened.

Reading through the genealogies, I took note of the famous names, like Noah, Abraham, and David. These were men that God loved, men who obeyed God and earned fantastic reputations. In a way, I would expect that their family tree would be special….sort of blessed. I would expect that no black sheep would be in their families, after all, they would the elite of the elite. Yet, each one of these men had descendants who acted in honorable ways and despicable ways. As the family lines continued I saw that each generation had righteous people as well as wicked people. Apparently there’s a bad apple in every bunch.

Think about it: Judah sold his brother into slavery, yet Jesus Himself is in his family tree. David was a man after God’s own heart, but his son, Absalom, slept with David’s wives and tried to overthrow David’s kingdom. Eli was a righteous priest, but his sons were promiscuous and deceitful. The genealogies continue in various books of the Bible, occasionally pinpointing the righteousness or wickedness of specific people.

There’s a lesson buried in those so-and-so lists. It doesn’t matter who you came from or how good your family’s reputation is. The truth is every family tree has sin. We can’t ride the coattails of our Godly heritage, and neither are we limited by a disgraceful past. You see, we all make our own choices. We might bear a good name but we can choose to sully it. We might bear a sullied name but we can choose to reestablish it. I’ve seen children of godly parents walk a wayward road, and I’ve seen children of wayward parents choose more righteous path.

What will we choose to do with our lives today? Whether we’ve been given a good name or sullied one, we have the greatest power in the world – the power to choose. I’m choosing to never be limited by what came before me, whether good or bad. I’m choosing to keep my eyes on Jesus. To read scripture and live by it. I’m choosing to dust myself off when I fall and try again. I’m choosing to lay a Godly foundation for others to build on.

What about you? Don’t buy into the lie that sin must be a repeating cycle in your family tree. We can CHOOSE!

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Writer’s Cramp

handwritingI have messy handwriting. Not the sort of thing I notice often, since I type most of my correspondence. But, occasionally, I find the need to pick up a pen and paper, and that’s when I notice: I have bad penmanship.

My letters don’t slant nicely to the side. They aren’t uniform in size. The round letters are more oval than I’d like, and let’s not even get into the cursive/print debate. I don’t write in cursive. Accept it. As such, my notes often look like the work of a hurried elementary student.

While my oldest daughter recovered from surgery, many (and by many I mean tons) of our friends of and family showered her with gift baskets, gift cards, notes, and surprises. They brightened what were some dark days. Almost daily for several weeks, Hannah opened another get-well wish. She felt loved and blessed and remembered.

I can’t even put into words how thankful I was for the love that she was shown. But I can say thanks. And I did….with many, many thank you cards. My great fear is that I forgot someone, but I have certainly tried to personally thank everyone.

Even with my messy handwriting, which I discovered gets worse with writer’s cramp. I swear I’m more put-together and polished than my notes might have conveyed. Oh well. The sentiment remains the same: I am thankful. So is my daughter.

If you prayed for my family during this experience, thank you. If you wrote encouraging notes to spur Hannah on, thank you. If you hugged my neck while I cried, thank you. If you sent goody baskets, thank you. If you texted or emailed or called with words of love, thank you. If you are one of Hannah’s teachers who so graciously helped her while she did school work at home (while fighting intense pain), thank you. If you hung balloons in my neighborhood and on our house to welcome Hannah home from the hospital, thank you. If you helped redecorate Hannah’s bedroom to provide her a nice place to recover, thank you. If you made a meal for us, thank you. 

We are humbled by the love shown to our family. Thank you is not enough, but I hope you feel my gratitude. And, lucky for you, these typed letters are neat and easy to read.

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