Sirens Aren’t Coming To The Rescue

My hubby and I were parked in a empty parking lot in an unusually quiet part of Atlanta when we heard it – the familiar and sickening sound of car tires screeching on asphalt. We whipped our heads around in time to witness two cars collide with heart stopping force. Time slowed as I saw one car careen into another. For some reason I felt the need to provide commentary as we sat frozen. 

“Oh my gosh, that is a horrible wreck!”

“Umm, the second car is rolling. Wait, the driver is bailing out of the car….the car is still rolling!”

“Shawn! She is crawling across the street! She’s hurt!”

Shawn got into motion before I did, and before I knew it, we were both running full speed to the scene. An elderly man had been driving the SUV that hit the lady. He sat frozen in his car. Stunned. In shock. Thankfully, Shawn and I weren’t the only ones on the scene, and 2 other men began helping him.

As Shawn began directing traffic to avoid another accident, I tended to the woman who had rolled out of her moving vehicle. Her car had rolled to an embankment and died. Both air bags had deployed and glass was everywhere. I couldn’t find any immediate injuries, but blood was on her face which was rapidly swelling. She was so thoroughly stunned that she had trouble speaking. 

Then I heard another sound. This one was familiar, as well. The sound of someone praying. Another lady had arrived on the scene and had begun praying aloud over our friend on the ground.

“Do you hear that,” I asked the hurt lady? “People are praying for you right now.” She nodded her head. 

As I asked the injured lady who she needed us to call, I could hear the prayer warrior asking God to heal and comfort. I reached up and squeezed the praying woman’s hand in thanks. 

All of us together kept traffic at bay and took care of both victims until we heard another familiar sound – sirens. Thankfully, an ambulance arrived within 10 minutes and offered much better help than we could. But, the sound of those sirens….they brought hope and comfort.

My ears were full of sounds. Some brought pain and destruction. Others brought hope and healing. Although my experience was quite literal that day, my ears are full of metaphorical sounds every day. Sounds of friends in need. Sounds of my family in need. Sounds of my church in need. Sounds of a neighbor in need. I won’t hear sirens coming to the rescue in any of those situations. I am the rescue. God has equipped me to do His work. He has tasked me all of us with that responsibility. What’s more, it is our privilege to be the rescue. Check out Proverb 20:12: 

“Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord.”

When God gives you the gift to see someone’s hurt or hear their need, be Jesus with flesh on. Love. Serve. Give. Christ in you is the help they need.

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A Mom’s Work Is Never Done

No more lazy mornings. No more pool days. No more unscheduled free time. 

A new school year has begun, and my family hasn’t gently eased into it. We’ve jumped headlong into the busyness of carpool, homework, football practices, and less sleep. I’m already missing the far less demanding days of summer as I practice multiplication tables with my 9 year old son and quiz my 11 year old daughter on European countries. Those are fairly easy tasks, so I was patting myself on the back until, that is, my 10th grade daughter entered the scene. I noticed her reading an AP World History textbook, a college level course. The text was difficult, and Hannah was literally using a dictionary website to aid her as she read. Everything within me wanted to ignore her need for help….to convince myself that she’s old enough to handle it alone….that she could figure it out. My wiser self prevailed, however. I told my son that I wouldn’t be able to attend his football practice that evening, and I made plans to read all about the history of mankind with Hannah. 

Two hours later, we finished chapter one. We stopped several times along the way to define words and phrases or to put the ideas in context. It was slow, but effective. We also noted how various bible stories fit with the material. The textbook, of course, didn’t include bible stories, but as we read I was able to weave biblical events into the timeline that the book covered. Our time together was incredibly beneficial for Hannah as she gained a much better understanding of the subject simply because she had a partner, but even more importantly, Hannah was building an better spiritual foundation. 

I’ll be honest. I could find 10 other ways to spend my time rather than reading an AP World History textbook. Much more fun ways. In actuality, however, I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with Hannah. We’re both learning a lot, and when our brains get tired, we find ourselves slipping into goofy-mode and laughing at my poor pronunciations of neolithic vocabulary words. Most importantly, I’ve found another easy way to further disciple one of my favorite people in the world. 

Here’s my challenge for us as parents: invest yourself into the lives of your kids. All aspects of their lives. Teachable moments are found in car rides, late night chats after football games, in morning routines, and yes, even in homework. They are never too old to benefit from your influence. 

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When Prayers Aren’t Enough

healing power of musicMusic has a way of speaking straight to my heart. More specifically, lyrics set to beautiful music has a way of capturing emotions I’m incapable of expressing.

Does that make sense?

Have you ever heard a song that so clearly explained how you were feeling that you needed to play it again? Needed to google the lyrics so you could read them slowly….letting them sink deep into your heart?

My daughter endured the most difficult experience of her life earlier this year. During one of her most painful moments, I overheard her humming. It was in the wee hours of the morning, and she was high on pain killers, eyes closed, but she hummed. The sound was beautiful even as tears streamed down her face. Although the tune was familiar, I couldn’t quite place it. While she hummed, I prayed for her comfort.

Later that week, I heard the same familiar song on the radio – Oceans, by Hillsong. As I listened to the lyrics, I had one of those moments when I when I wished I could hit replay on the radio. Comparing the painful experience my daughter was living with the sentiment of the song…..well, tears streamed down my face. As a matter of fact, every time I hear the song now, my eyes still fill with tears.

To be clear, my daughter had no idea what she was singing that night. She was out of her mind with pain and painkillers and doesn’t remember humming. But, without a doubt, I believe the Holy Spirit was using that song to comfort my child. I believe He ministered to Hannah when my prayers and groanings were not enough.

Romans 8:26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

Read the song lyrics for yourself. If you are facing circumstances that are too deep for words, may you remember that you, as a child of God, are His, and He is yours. He will keep your eyes above the waves.

Oceans, by Hillsong

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

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Hater or Fan?

Each month I write an article for a local magazine, Up In Cumming, and I also enjoy sharing those articles right here at SharpenHer. Lately, my husband has been counting the days till the kickoff of college football which got my mind spinning on a related topic. Check it out:

A couple of months ago my son attended Nick Saban’s Alabama football camp for kids, and he had a blast. Saban has critics and fans, and my son happens to be a fan. The dictionary defines a fan as a person who has a strong interest or admiration for a particular sport, art form, or famous person. My son is a full-fledged fan of Alabama Crimson Tide football….right down to his Bama backpack and the Roll Tide blanket that lies on his bed.

I’m a fan of a few things, too. Like my son, I’m a fan of college football. I love tailgating food. I love campfires and fall foliage. I have Pinterest pages dedicated to these things and spend far too much time researching more pins. With school resuming this month, I’m reminded of a few things of which I’m not a fan: school projects that require my help, early morning routines, and the staggered school release times my family will endure experience this year.

We are all fans of something. We might even be a fan of some people. Yet, the truth is, some people aren’t fans of us. Pop culture calls those people “haters.” If fans serve to encourage and bolster, haters serve to deflate and undermine. Haters don’t like us. Haters have personality clashes with us. Worst of all, haters cheer against us.

I’ve worked in churches long enough to know that some people think God is a hater. Maybe they were raised in a church tradition that portrayed God as the Great Killjoy in the sky ready to smite us the moment we step out of line. Maybe life has dealt them a series of difficult circumstances leading them to believe that God is conniving ways to make them miserable. Or, maybe they simply haven’t heard any applause in the stands. In other words, they’ve taken the field of life and haven’t felt God shouting accolades for them. They feel alone. To them, God is a hater.

None of those depictions are true. Someone is absolutely fanatical about us. Someone is cheering us on. Someone wants the best for us. We have a fan. Not a fair weather fan who walks out of the stadium when we are losing or when we drop the ball at the goal line, but a fan who loves us no matter what we do.

Its one thing for me to tell you that God is our greatest fan, but let Him tell you Himself:

Isaiah 41:10 (ESV) “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 43:4a (ESV) “You are precious in my eyes and honored and I love you.”

Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT) “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Matthew 28:20 (NLT) “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”

No matter what society or circumstances tells us, God is not a hater. He loves us – all of us. Every. Single. One. He is fanatical about us. He’s done some over the top stuff to prove it, too. He certainly has standards by which He expects us to live, but He doesn’t walk out on us when we make unwise choices. Instead, He longs to bandage our wounds and get us back in the game. He wants to see us win!

This fall, when we see all those crazy football fanatics donning their team jerseys and painting their chests, let it serve as a reminder that Someone is just as enthusiastic about us. God’s love and devotion are unshakeable. When the haters in your life get too loud, allow God’s Words to remind you of His certain devotion….to you.  

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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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