The Sentence That Stopped Me In My Tracks

So I was reading through Romans  the other day when one sentence stopped me in my tracks.

“We must not just please ourselves.” Romans 15:1 NLT

Well, that advice flies in the face of what our society teaches, doesn’t it? Self-help books, talk show hosts, and advice columns all teach that we should never live to please others. Seeking to win the love and acceptance of other people by saying and doing certain things only leads to empty, one-sided relationships, and any counselor would agree.

I agree. And so would Paul, the author of that quote. 

But Paul didn’t teach that we should live to please others in order to win their approval. He didn’t advance a plan for winning friends and gaining popularity. Instead, Paul taught that we should seek to please others out of respect for their view of God. The bottom line is this: what we say and do influences others. So when we choose a particular behavior or action, those watching us are influenced. They have an opinion about us and about God.

For instance, when a group of Christians collects funds to provide gifts for the needy at Christmas, people are blessed and know that God cares about them. When we invite someone to church, they are reminded about God. When exhibit honesty, loyalty, or compassion because we choose to live by God’s standards, we model God’s character for those around us. And, when we choose to avoid certain things or activities out of respect for those with weaker faith, we are displaying love and sensitivity. Check out what Paul said:

“We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” Romans 15:2 NLT

Living to please others is actually a very good thing…..it just has a vastly different definition in Scripture than it does in our culture! Our goal in pleasing others is to encourage them and their faith in God.

Today, live to please others. Not to win their approval, but to protect and encourage their faith.

Please others by showing love when someone has been rude.

Please others by displaying Godly character which encourages them to raise their own standards of living!

Please others by investing into a friend. Showing unexpected kindness models God’s love!

Please others by being patient with them.

All of these actions help to encourage the faith in others! You might not see the fruit in the moment, but we trust that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. We trust that the Holy Spirit plants seeds in their lives through our actions….seeds that will yield a great harvest!

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The Pep Talk You Need To Hear Today

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. Through suffering, these bodies of our constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4: 8-10 NLT

Paul could have been a great coach, I think. These verses sound like a locker room pep talk before a championship game. His words conjure images in my mind of athletes who push themselves to their limits….who sacrifice long hours of training….who suffer injuries, but play through…..oh, to be that kind of Christian! Oh, to be that kind of leader!

Think about your life for a moment. In what areas do you push yourself? My mind wanders to my friend, Jill, and her dedication to physical fitness. In our workouts together, I am always impressed with her ability to perform every move with power. She squats lower, lifts more, and performs more repetitions than I ever can. Well, I take that back. I could do them, but I choose not to. When Jill pushes herself, I often take shortcuts. I often fail to really push myself.

Paul described something of vastly more importance than our exercise routines. He shared that he had been pressed, knocked down, perplexed, hunted down, and that he suffered, but he wasn’t crushed, didn’t quit, didn’t feel abandoned, and he kept going. He pushed himself to be the man God asked him to be.

Sounds like Paul had incredible stamina and endurance. Sounds like Paul had a clear understanding of his purpose and mission. Sounds like Paul knew his goal. Sounds like Paul kept his eyes on the prize.

How can we do that? As Christians or leaders, you and I aren’t often met with physical resistance like Paul. Yet, we encounter situations that make us want to crawl into the fetal position and hide awhile, don’t we? How can we prevent those “pressing” and “perplexing” circumstances from driving us to quit?

My answer is going to sound cliché. You might be craving a 3-step process to overcoming adversity in life or ministry, but I’m not offering one. The key to being a resilient person who doesn’t quit is this:

Stay close to our Father. Take every need to Him. Talk to Him often. Know Him and His ways through Scripture. Discipline your mind to be God-centered. Rely on His strength. And begin to view life as something you tackle….not something that tackles you!

Why should we do these things? Paul answered:

“For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18 NLT

What could that “immeasurably great glory” be? What “joys” could last forever?

  • The pleasure we’ve brought to God because we’ve obeyed him. 
  • The refinement of our character.
  • The example we’ve lived before others.
  • The people we’ve influenced for God.
  • The mission we’ve accomplished with our lives.
  • The consequences we’ve avoided (and helped others to avoid) because we’ve chosen God over our own desires.
  • The celebrations in Heaven when we’ve chosen to deny ourselves and follow God.

My mind can’t even begin to comprehend the rewards that will be ours in Heaven if we’ve been good stewards of our time, gifts, and ministries here on earth!

Today, friends, push yourselves. Be Paul’s kind of Christian today. In the face of confusion, don’t give up. In the face of trouble, be unbroken. If you get knocked down, get back up again. Not with your strength, but with God’s, for He never abandons you when you are living for Him!

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The Best Teams Do THIS!

She didn’t like me, and she told me so. Very bluntly. I was naively blind to her frustrations, and she was kettle pot of irritations waiting to explode.

And she did. She pulled me aside to vent her anger leaving me stunned and speechless. As I reeled from her biting words, my mind struggled to understand how she and I got so far off-track.

That was 2 decades ago. We worked together in the mortgage industry, and it was my first experience with staff teamwork, or lack thereof. That season of my life taught me many lessons, not the least of which was love (especially on a team) is work.

These days my experiences with teamwork are vastly different. Not because our team is composed of Godly Christians who always do the right thing, but rather because our team lives by a code – a code which guides us to interact wisely and avoid those “off-track” moments.

The Code is our set of Ministry Team values at Mountain Lake Church. It sets the tone and trajectory for how we get things done. Each of our 7 core values is important, but I daresay one is critical.

Honesty.

Working alongside people with different agendas, personalities, and strengths presents its challenges, but those challenges are exponentially multiplied when we aren’t honest about how we feel. When our staff relationships become strained, our ministry quality takes a dive. Have you ever found yourself in these situations:

  • When that staff member makes a hurtful comment, we give the cold shoulder and avoid him/her.
  • When a team member overlooks us, we feel underappreciated and grow bitter.
  • When the actions of someone else costs us, we choose not to help him/her in the future.

Conflict happens. On every team. In every church. On every staff. Unresolved conflict leads to an unhealthy team. The key to success, however, lies in our response to conflict.

At Mountain Lake, we’ve chosen honesty as our response. Leaning on Ephesians 4:15, we have agreed as a team to speak the truth, in loving ways, to each other. These conversations are:

  • always done in private.
  • never “vented” about to other people.
  • handled immediately.
  • initiated with phrases such as, “You probably don’t realize it, but when you said____, it bothered me.” Or, “I’m sure you didn’t intend any harm, but when you ______, I was a little frustrated.”
  • ended with grace.

We’ve learned that the best ministry teams are made up of people who love each other. We’ve also learned that love takes WORK. Some teams aren’t willing to work that hard. But the best ones are.

If you or someone on your team is struggling in this area, let me encourage you to be honest, talk through your issues, and offer grace to one another. It’s not easy, but it’s oh, so worth it. Join us at Velocity 2015 for more great ideas like this….I have it on good authority that the Pastors’ Wives Track is going to be the bomb!

Ephesians 4:15 (NLT) Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

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A Surprise Encounter

Three years ago my husband and oldest daughter went on a World Care trip to Haiti to help in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. Their plan to help rebuild a school and assist with a medical clinic was cut short when they were involved in a horrible car accident. Hannah received a severe concussion and a broken collar-bone, and Shawn’s shoulder was separated. Both had multiple cuts and bruises. Needless to say, they came home early. Caring for them over the following weeks brought many of my emotions to the surface as I was face to face with what could have been a tragedy.

But my family wasn’t the only occupier of my thoughts. My mind often wandered back to the driver of the truck, a Haitian pastor with whom our church team had partnered. He had suffered the least physical injuries, but his truck had been totaled…a truck he had intended to sell in order to pay for the cost of rebuilding his damaged home. Although I have heard a few updates regarding Pastor Ricardo since, I’ve often wondered how he is.

Well, wonder no more. Last week, I met Pastor Ricardo and his wife, Kendra, face to face. They were in the States for our Velocity Conference, and when he introduced himself to me I grabbed him by both shoulders. “YOU are the pastor who was with my family in the wreck?! YOU are the one who lost your truck?! YOU are the one who suffered with Shawn and Hannah?!” Then I hugged him. Tightly. I shared that he was often in my thoughts, and I how happy I was to finally put a face with the memories. Here is Pastor Ricardo and Kendra with Shawn:

shawn and ricardo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also had the chance to reunite Hannah with Ricardo and Kendra. Kendra was so kind to Hannah, embracing her like a mom. The wreck and the search for medical care had been a frightening experience for my then 12-year-old daughter, and Kendra never had a chance to connect with Hannah before she and Shawn flew home. Here are Hannah, Kendra, and Pastor Ricardo celebrating their reunion:

Kendra talking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you can’t see is me. I’m the crazy mama taking all the pictures while I’m wiping tears out of my eyes. That’s why the pictures are so bad….I couldn’t even think clearly to turn the flash on.

Sometimes things happen in life with people we’ll never see again. And, then, by some strange turn of events, we see them. Treasure those rare gifts. Celebrate the connections you have with people and love them well. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

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An Odd Vacation Destination

MLC Tower 1There is something odd about the people of my church. Something different from the other churches I’ve served. Something refreshing, but rare.

They vacation at church.

Or, something like that.

We hosted our annual pastors’ conference earlier this month, and just like each year for the past 10 years, we asked our church members and attenders to consider assisting us during the event with set up and takedown, greeting, registration, and hospitality. We never have to recruit extra volunteers; apparently serving at Velocity is a hot ticket item. Again this year I talked with volunteers who actually used their vacation days to work from sun up to sun down serving strangers.

It boggles my mind, really. I mean, Velocity isn’t cool drinks and white sandy beaches. It’s not restful. It doesn’t pay much – just a Velocity t-shirt and a sore back. But the volunteers tell a different story. They say they are inspired as they listen to our main stage speakers. They say they gain insights in leadership and help for their own marriages in our breakout classes. They say they hear the “behind the scenes” stories of pastors and churches across our nation – stories of what God is doing in their churches and the challenges those pastors face. As our volunteers host and greet, they overhear all kinds of things, and they grow. They worship. They bless and are blessed.

Conference attenders notice. The number one compliment we receive as a leadership team just might be about our people. Time and again we hear how helpful, friendly, and genuinely interested our volunteers are. We’ve heard stories of them meeting financial needs of conference attenders, praying with them, and getting home addresses in order to mail encouraging notes long after the conference ends. In so many ways our volunteers “pastor” our guests, and our volunteers find great value in their service.

Sometimes value is worth more than a vacation. Just ask the camera man who worshipped between camera shots during our main sessions. Or the worship team who left exhausted but felt closer to God. Or the registration team who was energized after meeting so many new people. Or Mike, who when asked by a conference attender if he could quote the mission of Mountain Lake Church, confidently responded, “To belong in healthy relationships with God and others, to become more like Christ, and to bless our world.” Mike knows our mission….and his purpose….and that in itself is extremely valuable.

So while I mixed and mingled with the conference attenders, I hugged the necks of our volunteers, I slipped into back rooms to give high-fives, and I asked what God was teaching them. I love those people….God’s people….our partners. They chose to vacation with me last week….at church….and I’m thankful for them.

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Lessons From 5th Grade….and other world impacting news

homeworkHomework. It’s a foul word around here. My kids don’t like it, and to be honest, neither do I.

That is until last night.

Madison, my fifth grader, was putting the final touches on a speech she was assigned. The topic? “How My Passion Impacts The World.” Check it out:

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” Those are the words of a famous baseball player, Jackie Robinson. He was important because he changed the way people thought about African-Americans. He was passionate about baseball and people.

I am passionate about serving at my church. That is my passion! Serving at my church will impact the world in three ways: belonging, becoming, and blessing.

My passion can impact the world by helping little kids, teenagers, or even adults belong – belong in healthy relationships at church. One lady said that the moment she walked in the door of our church she knew she was truly home. She said she came alive at this church and so did her family. She said she was overwhelmed to call a place home where anyone can come as they are and be embraced. She knows the church is a place she can belong. I can also tell you about a little boy I assist during church services. He has Down’s Syndrome. When he first came to church, I noticed he didn’t smile, and he seemed shy and kept to himself. I began playing games with him and smiling at him while I was on stage with the worship team.Now, he smiles back and has fun. I can tell he likes coming to church. He feels like he belongs there. 

Another way my passion impacts the world is by helping people become closer to God. It can help them give more to the church, the community, and the world. Another way my passion impacts the world is by helping people become closer to God.

The most important way serving at my church impacts the world happens after people discover that they belong in relationships and then become more like God. Then, they begin blessing others. Not just in the church. Not just in the community. But in the world. They help and serve and love.

Belonging, becoming, and blessing. These are three ways my passion impacts the world, and my passions is serving in my church. 

Ok, I didn’t help Madison write that little diddy, so I was impressed with her speech, and I wanted to share it!

If a 5th grader can understand how her passion could impact a watching world, what about you and me? Do we understand the influence we have? Do we leverage it? Good food for thought today, my friends.

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Musings from the Mix

Oh, I love my church family. Wednesday night we came together for The Mix, our quarterly gathering geared toward fantastic worship, delicious food, and a “state of the church” address from my husband. And, I must say it again, I love my church family.

I roamed the lobbies and hallways hugging necks and sharing laughs with the people who make up Mountain Lake Church….the warm, friendly, humble, God-loving people of our church. Familiar faces who have been with Shawn and me since we started the church and newer ones I’m growing to love just as much. People with stories of pain and hurt, people with stories of healing and strength, people who have walked with God for a long time, people who are just getting to know God for the first time. Lots and lots of people!

Those people brought tons of food for our potluck dinner, and they brought TONS of energy! I could feel it while we worshiped. Hands were raised or clapping, feet were tapping, smiles were contagious, and the singing was LOUD. I tell you, we made a joyful noise Wednesday night! Pastor Todd Nichols and Pastor Alex Workman lead us straight to the throne of God, and it was wonderful.

And, then my hubby spoke. He spoke words of thanks. Thanks for his family who partners with him and loves him well. Thanks for individual friends who have supported him and our ministry. Thanks for the best group of pastors in the world….our MLC ministry team. And, most of all, thanks for the people of our church! Like me, he LOVES our church family. From my front row seat, I could see the emotion in his eyes as he shared his great affection for them, and it was beautiful to watch.

As I reflected on what Shawn was saying, I grew more and more excited about the future of Mountain Lake Church. We have such big plans for 2014 with the launch of not one, not two, but three new campuses! The idea of other groups of people getting to experience what I’ve experienced in our church….well, it fires me up! Shawn and I moved to Cumming 14 years ago and didn’t know a soul. Today, we’re a church of nearly 3000 people! If God could use 2 people 14 years ago, what could he do with 3000 today? Oh, the possibilities to further His Kingdom are endless.

In just two short weeks, we’ll come together as to make some financial commitments to help support these new campuses. If you are a Mountain Laker, these dates are extremely important:

Friday, Dec 6: Leader Kingdom Commitment Dinner (for ministry leaders only; please don’t forget to RSVP!)

Sat/Sun Dec 7 & 8: Church-wide Kingdom Commitment Weekend (we’ll commit offerings over and above our regular tithes)

Sat/Sun Dec 14 & 15: Church-wide Kingdom Giving Weekend (we’ll actually give our financial offerings)

Want to know my favorite part of The Mix? Was it when my own daughter read Scripture from the stage to kick off the night? No. Was it the delicious plate of food waiting for me backstage? No. Was it hearing the inspiring words of my husband? Close second, but no.

It was when a group of people from our newest campus, Mountain Lake Gainesville, stood up to say how grateful they are to be part of Mountain Lake. To have a place to belong in a healthy relationship with God and others. To have a place to become more like Jesus. And to have a place that can equip them to bless their world. A lady said, “We are broken, hurting people. We need this.” That, my friends, was my favorite part. We have a mission. Let’s tell the world about Jesus!

If you are a Mountain Laker, I pray you are listening closely to God. I pray that you, like my husband, are expressing your thanks to God for all He has done here. And, I pray you will continue to link arms with us in ministry….to reach a world who is broken and hurting.

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Driveway Dinner

thI’m looking forward to tonight. My neighbors and I are going to enjoy a little outdoor pot-luck fun. We’re setting up a few tables in the driveway and sharing some of our favorite foods before the kids go door to door begging for candy. Touchdown Chili and hot dogs are just two of the dishes that will make an appearance, and I. Can’t. Wait.

For me, that’s what Halloween is all about. Good times, good food, and good friends. Community enjoying community. The free candy is just a bonus. I’m looking forward to spending time with old friends and brand new neighbors. We’ll laugh and probably have more fun than our crazy kids. And, trust me, that’s saying something! So, I don’t have much time to write today….I’ve got cooking to do. Hot Cider is a must-have as we trek through the neighborhood, so I better get busy. And, those hot dogs won’t make themselves.

What are you doing tonight? Are you a trick or treater? Or are you in charge of handing out candy? Maybe you dodge the whole thing by turning out your porch light. Whatever the case, let me encourage you to leverage the holiday to meet your neighbors and forge some relationships.

They need you.

And, you need them.

Whether you don your best costume or hate the whole thing, you can find a way to get to know your neighbors and extend friendship. And maybe even get a yummy dinner (like me!) out of the deal! Happy Fall, y’all!

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The Best Video You’ll Watch Today

A few weeks ago, my oldest daughter, Hannah, and my hubby went to Tanzania on a mission trip with Compassion International.  She was stoked since she was going to have the opportunity to meet Stella, the 12 year girl our family sponsors through the Compassion project.  I could tell you more about her experience, but she does such a better job than I ever could.  Take a look:

I’m proud of Hannah for recognizing that God wants to use her to help the people around her….to be His hands and feet.  What she didn’t tell you is that she is using her own allowance money (along with her brother and sister) to sponsor another Compassion child, Peter, who will be 3 in November.  She’s allowing God to use her to help others, and I couldn’t be more proud.

So, today I wanted to brag on my daughter a little bit.  I think she’s pretty awesome.

One Person’s Pain Is Another Person’s Gain

Life around the Lovejoy house has been a little exhausting the last few days.  If you read my post about my husband’s and daughter’s mission trip to Haiti, you’ll understand why.  Shawn and Hannah are tough, but the last few days have brought their challenges.  Hannah took the brunt of the injuries, and oh, how I wish I could take the pain from her.  This is not the summer she had planned.  Nevertheless, an update we received the other day has brought a smile to her face….and mine.

Do you remember the Haitian teen with appendicitis that I told you about?  Our mission team in Haiti hosted medical clinics as part of their work and discovered a 15-year-old girl whose appendix was about to burst.  While our team was trying to care for her, Shawn, Hannah, and 2 others were involved in the car wreck.  One of the ladies on the team sent me an update on the situation of the teen girl a few days ago.  Check it out in her words:

“I am blessed to be the “mom” on the mission trip and one of the nurses.  It is difficult sometimes to see God’s big picture, but in this instance many of us reached the same conclusion–the 15yr old that had been turned away for medical care from other Hospitals (her family could not afford surgery) was able to have a life saving surgery because of the accident.  The hospital that Shawn found to care for Hannah agreed the night of the accident to see and treat this very sick girl and do surgery if needed.  It really was a miracle.  God is good-Always!!”

I explained to Hannah that because she and her dad were determined to find medical care, another little girl’s life was saved.  Did God cause my family harm in order to save someone else?  I don’t think so.  Did He use a horrible circumstance for the good of someone else?  Absolutely.  Tears filled my eyes when I heard the update on the Haitian teen.  Pain for my family meant a life-saving surgery for someone else. 

 One person’s pain is another person’s gain. 

I absolutely wish my daughter and husband had never been in that wreck.  But, knowing someone’s life was saved as a result….well, that makes it a bit more bearable.  🙂