The Best Gift Our Church Gave Us

This weekend, my husband took me by the hand, led me onto the stage, and we said goodbye to the church we founded 16 years ago. That moment was the culmination of months of planning the best transition possible, pinpointing the right successor, and preparing our church body to accept a new lead pastor. We announced our intentions to launch our new ministry in June, and it seems we’ve been saying goodbye every weekend since. I’ve hugged necks, held hands, wiped tears, and celebrated memories with friends and strangers for the past three months, and it’s been good.

Really good.

Everyone should be so blessed as to have 12 weeks of hugs, 12 weeks of encouraging cards, 12 weeks of people sharing how God used you in their lives, 12 weeks of people expressing their sweet devotion and support. Yes, everyone should be so blessed. I’ll carry the moments of these past 12 weeks with me for the rest of my life.

Looking into the crowd of faces as I held my husband’s hand on stage, I was reminded of a recurring question that people have asked since June: “What are you going to miss most?”

To be very honest, I’m going to miss a lot. I’d be crazy not to! God gave Shawn and me a pretty good gig. But, there’s one thing I’m going to miss the most.

The stories.

I’m going to miss hearing the first-hand accounts of what God is doing in the lives of others. As leaders of the church, we receive countless emails, texts, and personal notes from complete strangers. They tell us of the habit they’ve overcome, the relationship that was rescued, the fear they’ve conquered….all because they’ve found Jesus. They share what they’ve learned about God as they have served in the church. They celebrate the ways they are being discipled. They tell some inspiring, humbling stories of faith and action.

I’ll miss the privilege of hearing those stories. 

But, then again, I don’t have to miss it. You see, my amazing church wrote their stories down. Hundreds upon hundreds of stories. Some wrote a few sentences; others wrote several pages. Then, they delivered them to us at a reception where, of course, more hugs ensued. And tears.

But, the stories. I have them. Tangible. Readable. Touchable. Any time I’d like, I can open the box and be reminded of the power and grace of my God…..and of His choice to use my family in His work. Now that we’ve said goodbye, those stories are my most precious gift. You see, God blessed us at Mountain Lake Church unlike any church I’ve ever served. He did so much during our tenure…..and in the midst of ministry busyness it was always far too easy to focus on the next need rather than relish the current victory.

I’m so grateful to my church family for taking time to share their stories and for the generous housewarming reception they gave us.

Mountain Lake Church, we love you. We are humbled by your spiritual maturity. We are proud of your devotion to God and His mission. Keep your eyes on Him and Him alone. Do not waver. Stay true to what He called us to do:

Be a place for people to Belong in a healthy relationship with God and others,

Become more like Jesus each day,

and Bless our world.

Shawn and I will be cheering you on, praying continually, and listening for your stories. I’m praying thousands more stories will be told….

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The Final Countdown

its-the-final-countdownMay 1, 1999 was a monumental day in my life. It was the day my husband and I moved to Cumming, Ga to start Mountain Lake Church. We had no idea what awaited us, but we rolled our sleeves up and got busy.

We knocked on doors to invite people to a tiny church in a primary school that smelled like pizza and corn.

We joined civic groups and mom’s clubs to meet others.

We wrote curriculum for our children’s ministry.

We developed security procedures for childcare.

We created a guest services team.

We decorated environments.

We wrote sermons.

We shared our vision with everyone we met.

We posted signs all over our community, mailed flyers, and rented a billboard.

We crafted budgets, devised a financial plan, hired team members.

And then….

We watched God work….time after time after time.

We baptized people. Over 2000 of them.

We witnessed people meet Jesus.

Marriages were rescued. Relationships were healed. Sin was overcome. Purpose was discovered.

We were blessed the most incredible team of talented, God-honoring pastors and staff that I’ve ever known.

We were blessed by hundreds of Christians who linked arms with us to accomplish the mission….to help people Belong in healthy relationships with God and others, to Become more like Jesus each day, and to Bless our world.

We were blessed with random notes of encouragement, offers to stay in vacation homes, prayers of spiritual warriors, unwavering support and loyalty, and the trust of thousands of people.

And, we were blessed with the opportunity to expand our ministry to thousands of pastors and ministry teams as we began mentoring others along the way.

I’d be lying if I said it was all unicorns and rainbows. It wasn’t. There were nights both my husband and I cried ourselves to sleep as we suffered a loss, experienced a defeat, felt the sting of betrayal, or bore the burden of the decisions before us. There were days I thought I had no more energy to put the next foot forward. There were moments I wondered how a need would be met. Yet, God allowed us to experience every thrill and each defeat, and we were drawn closer to Him as a result. I know God deeper and more intimately because of our time at Mountain Lake.

Now, the final countdown begins. We have 2 weeks left to pastor MLC before we launch Courage To Lead in an effort to mentor other pastors and ministry leaders. This weekend, MLC is blessing us with a housewarming reception to help us set up a new house. I absolutely cannot wait to hug necks, reminisce with friends, and celebrate all God has done over the last 16 years. Then, the next weekend we introduce the next lead pastor and his family to everyone as we pass the baton of leadership from the Lovejoy’s to…..well, you’ll have to be there to find out! Trust me, you’ll love them.

The final countdown is here. Two weeks to go before my next adventure begins. I’m relishing every bittersweet second. If you have a MLC story, a God-moment, or a memory that stands out, I’d love to hear it! Feel free to email me, leave a comment, or find me at the reception this weekend. I’ll be the one with tears in my eyes and a smile on my lips. Sending BIG love to you, Mountain Lake!

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10 Tips For My Church Family

Still relishing the warmth of my blankets, I am snuggled among my down pillows willing the sun not to rise. I need time to slow down. I need a chance to catch my breath. My life is moving more quickly than I can keep up, it seems.

Although my husband and I felt God calling us to begin a new ministry, Courage To Lead, long ago, the details of our transition have piled up all at once, and my mind is spinning with all that I want to say and do here at Mountain Lake Church in my final days.

Passing the baton of leadership for the church we planted isn’t easy for us or for our church family. A myriad of administrative details must be addressed, and choosing our successor feels like choosing a new parent to raise our child. Our top priority in this time, however, has been the spiritual health and outlook of our church body and our ministry team. Transitioning from one lead pastor to another has its challenges, and churches sometimes suffer through the process.

With that in mind, Shawn and I want the people of Mountain Lake Church to be prepared! So, allow me to encourage and challenge you with the same tips I gave my own team of pastor’s wives. Check them out!

5 Ways To Manage Your Emotions Through A Transition:

  1. Stay calm. God is not wringing His Hands as He wonders what will become of His church. He has a plan; He has all along. Don’t allow your mind to panic as you fear what the future could hold. Remain calm. There is no better place to be than in the Hand of God.
  2. Stay confident. How many times has God proven Himself in Scripture? In your life? In the lives of those around you? Has God – even one time – ever let you down? Ever lured you out to the middle of the ocean only to let you drown? NO! So, stay confident. This church and our ministries belong to Him, and He is in control.
  3. Talk to your spouse. Share your feelings and worries. God will use those conversations to embolden both of you.
  4. Serve. Now is not the time to shrink back from serving God! If you want to hear from Him, move closer to Him. Join Him in His activity!
  5. Pray. Talking to God (and listening!) strengthens us. God encouraged me with this verse: Don’t be afraid,” he said, “for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!” As he spoke these words to me, I suddenly felt stronger and said to him, “Please speak to me, my lord, for you have strengthened me.”” Daniel 10:19 NLT

 

5 Ways to Pastor The Church Family Through A Transition (if you serve in any area of volunteerism, YOU are a leader! These tips are for YOU!):

  1. Be present. Stand in the lobby for 15 minutes after attending a weekend service in order to mix and mingle. Being available for questions, hugs, prayer, and warm conversations allows people to feel secure during the transition. 
  2. Serve. Continue leading by example in worship and in ministry areas. Model the way for people and recruit them to serve, as well. Be diligent in helping others use their gifts to build a strong church!
  3. Smile. Be mindful of our facial expressions and allow our personalities to show on our faces! Remember, we are helping to foster a safe place for people to connect with God and others. Be a stellar host!
  4. Encourage. Catch people doing what is right and celebrate it! Write notes, fist bump someone, compliment a volunteer in front of others, thank people for serving, celebrate a life that God has changed. Never squander the opportunity we have to encourage others to keep fighting the good fight of our faith. Be a proactive encourager!
  5. Leverage social media. Post a Scripture, a reminder for an upcoming church event, a picture of people enjoying fellowship, or a snapshot of worship. Use social media to motivate excitement for God and for the church. People ALWAYS need to be reminded that God and His church are good!

Of course, we have prepared our Team with far more instructions, but I wanted to share these with my entire church family, especially our leaders in volunteerism! Serving at Mountain Lake Church has been the highlight of my ministry journey. God has breathed on this place, and I have been privileged to see so much of His activity. I stand amazed. Our next lead pastor is getting quite a gift from God to be called here. I know our church will honor him well!

I’m praying for you, Mountain Lake Church! I love you!

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Putting One Foot In Front Of The Other

walkingI love my community. I love eating at my favorite restaurants. I love shopping at my favorite stores. I love knowing the shortcuts to avoid traffic in town. I love that the bank tellers know me by name. And I love the countless friends that I have all throughout Forsyth County, Georgia.

I love this community because it is home. As I drove through town a few weeks ago, I wandered down memory lane. As my mind skipped through memories of my kids on football fields or receiving awards at school, I passed my favorite tree whose leaves turn a brilliant shade of yellow in the fall. Ahhh, there is so much I love about our community.

Then a question struck my mind: what makes a community home?

It is a sense of belonging. A sense of familiarity. The notion that one has roots that have grown down deep and strong and secure. Home is where the heart is, and the heart is full of memories. So in some sense this community will always be home to me and to my family because we have so many memories of this place.

Yet, God has called my family to something new. A new ministry. A new home.

So when I was driving down the city streets of my new community in Alabama, and I wasn’t shocked when I felt a sense of detachment. I didn’t belong. As I drove through town, I was acutely aware that those weren’t my shops, my restaurants, or even my people! I was so overcome with emotion that tears filled my eyes. It was a brief moment, but I had the distinct impression that I was not home. If you’ve ever moved, I bet you can relate. It was a vastly different experience from the warm fuzzies I felt as I had driven through Forsyth county just days earlier.

But God has a way of weaving my experiences together to teach me things, and today God spoke straight to my heart. He showed me that the only difference between my two road trips was my sense of belonging. Both communities are fantastic; I’m simply more acquainted with one than the other. In my quiet moments with God today, I felt Him challenge me to find ways to connect in my new community…to become familiar with my new surroundings…to initiate new friendships…to tackle this new adventure.

You see, my sense of belonging depends on me. It depends on my willingness to engage!

People – certainly people in ministry – move all the time. Yet, I’ve spoken with far too many who have stumbled through that process because they feel too detached from their new city and miss the sense of belonging. God reminded me today that my new home will be what I make it.

Maybe God is nudging you to do something new. Maybe you have hesitations. Can I encourage you? LEAP! Give it all you’ve got! Whatever God is inviting you to do, don’t walk; run! Don’t allow emotions or hesitations or fears to prevent you from living the adventure God has designed for you. God will direct your steps, but you must put one foot in front of the other.

So I’m leaping, too. I’m embracing a new community, new friends, and a new home. I’m exploring a new city, making new memories, and starting a new ministry. And God is filling my heart with gladness and purpose and confidence.

 What about you? Will you leap today? God will direct your steps. Will you start walking?

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The Big Announcement

The word is out. My husband and I stood on the stage of Mountain Lake Church – the church we planted 15 years ago – and announced our impending departure.

Even as I type those words, my fingers hesitate. Emotion catches in my throat. We dearly love our church and feel a deep sense of responsibility for it. Yet, God has given us a new task. He has been nudging us, preparing us, and moving us in this direction for years, really.

I could type all day and never explain our calling or our heart as clearly as Shawn did last weekend. Please take a few minutes and watch.

Nothing about SharpenHer will change. I will still use this platform to motivate and encourage. And, as always, I will share my life and journey along the way. Over the last year or so, I’ve taken a step back from writing often because my heart was wrapped up in this potential move. I was so consumed with adjusting my heart to God’s plan that I had a difficult time processing much else….like daily posts here! My acceptance of God’s call has been a journey that has demanded all of my attention. Yet, now that our decision is public, I feel a sense of creativity returning. I’m looking forward to connecting with all of you again!

In the meantime, would you pray for our family as we tackle a new adventure? Would you pray for the thousands of pastors, pastors’ wives, and ministry teams we hope to help?

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I’m Going To Miss That

By now, I hope you’ve gotten up to speed on all that is happening in the Lovejoy family.  While it was quite a news flash for most people, it certainly wasn’t for us. As a matter of fact, our decision to launch Courage To Lead has been brewing for a long time. We are anxious to dive headlong into a new ministry venture, to make a new house our home, and to meet new friends. HOWEVER…. We have also been grieving. Closing this chapter of our lives doesn’t happen easily or without heartache. We have planted a church, raised 3 children, baptized over 2000 people, made lifelong friends, and lived incredible lives in Cumming, Georgia. I feel like I’ve planted trees and watched them grow over the last 16 years, and now I will miss seeing their leaves change each season.

As my family prepares to adjust to a new life, I can’t help but celebrate what God has done during our time here….and to reflect on all I will miss. Being a church planter and pastor’s wife has been a privilege, an honor, and a superb adventure. I’m going to miss:
  • People stopping us in restaurants and stores because they recognize us. If they didn’t like us, they would avoid us. Taking time to say hello is a validation of their warm feelings toward our family. Our family has felt incredibly loved and valued.
  • Strangers telling us about the personal spiritual decisions they are making. They tell us in the church lobby. In emails. In Target. At the park. In our neighborhood. When they see us, they excitedly share of an upcoming baptism or an answer to prayer or about a friend they’ve invited to church. Celebrating what God is doing in the lives of people spurs us on
  • The privilege of influence that comes with our title. Being the pastor’s wife means people often seek me out for wisdom and guidance simply because they assume I have more spiritual knowledge than they do. I’ve taken that trust extremely seriously. I’ll miss planting myself in one spot in the church lobby and talking with people as long as they need me. I’ll miss leading the other women on our ministry team. I’ll miss teaching at Girlfriends. My title gave me a specific platform. What an honor to be chosen by God to lead in that way!
  • The way our security team cares for our family. It sounds ludicrous that we would need security, but then again we live in a world where messed up people do messed up things. Our security team has our back. Over the years, we’ve had a few questionable characters who needed a little attention, and our team acted with confidence and grace. When I leave the church lobby after each worship service I always chuckle when I hear one of our security crew say into a headset, “WOODSTOCK IS IN FLIGHT” or “SNOOPY IS HEADED TO THE HOUSE.”
  • The Saturday night debrief. I enjoy seeing our ministry team in action. In these meetings they critique and challenge every aspect of a weekend service. Their goal is to provide ministry in the most excellent way possible. We have always strived for conservative theology and progressive methodology. I feel a kinship with our pastors as we plot and plan together. I love being part of that fraternity
  • Messing with the parking team. I enter through the exit, park improperly, and have weekly battles with orange cones. When the team directs me to drive a specific direction, I roll down my window and tell them I have different plans. I recently discovered that one of our pastors gave the team a photo of my car with instructions to let me do whatever I want. It’s not nearly as fun messing with them if they aren’t going to play along, though. I’ll miss seeing them throw their hands in the air in defeat when they see my grocery-getter zipping down the drive.
  • Sitting on the front row. I have a front row seat for everything that happens at MLC. Baptisms, salvations, rescued marriages, salvaged relationships, healed addictions, new hires, leadership lessons, conferences, building projects, special events…I have a front row seat for all of it. I’ll miss that blue chair and the great view it offered
  • My Life Group(s). Participating in our small group ministry has afforded me not only spiritual growth but my closest friends. God uses those friendships to sustain and entertain me. I will miss eating, laughing, praying, and growing with my brothers and sisters.
Do you know what I’ve realized? Most of the things that I will miss most are the very things that some people complain about: lack of privacy, meetings, and responsibility. Yet, looking back I can tell you that those things haven’t drained me; they’ve energized me.
I’m going to miss so much about my life here in Georgia. So until my new life begins, I’m spending time celebrating all the things I love about my life now.
What about you? Don’t wait until it’s gone to appreciate the good things in your life! CELEBRATE THEM!
If your life changed tomorrow, what would YOU miss?
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7 Day Contentment Challenge

In a “more, more, more” society, Mountain Lake Church has taken the plunge for more, too.

More contentment, that is.

For the next 7 days we are attempting to cultivate grateful, appreciative hearts rather than stoking the raging fires of greed or materialism. And since I greedily just ate my kids’ Easter candy and then coveted new patio furniture, I figured I better join the challenge. Check it out

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I’m diving into this challenge (now that I’ve eaten the candy and logged off of Pinterest), and I’ll be honest enough to say I don’t struggle in all of these areas. I tend to be grateful for and generous with what God has already given me. However, when my eyes wander to my neighbor’s back yard or a HGTV design show….well, I become acutely aware of what I don’t have.

And what I need.

Right now.

Like a back patio with fire pit. I need that. I’m virtually positive that most of my problems would eradicate if only I had a covered porch (with recessed lighting, of course) on which I could lounge while writing bible studies and returning emails. For sure, I would be sitting on deep, cushioned chairs with candle lanterns hangings from the support columns and cute outdoor curtains tied back for visual detail.

But, I digress. Apparently, I really need this challenge.

So, today I’m taking steps to succeed. My eyes won’t be wandering the millions of pins on Pinterest or the stellar episodes of Fixer Upper (I totally want to be Jo and Chip’s friend). I won’t focus on what I don’t have. Instead, I will treasure what God has already given me. A thankful heart is a happy heart, and today my heart will be ecstatic!

What about you? Will you take the challenge, too? If so, figure out which step trips you up the most and make a plan to win! 

1 Timothy 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.

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Girlfriends Review: Authenticity

girlfriendsI find myself striving for perfection more often than I’d like. Just when I think I’ve beaten the temptation to put on airs, I fall victim to false pretense once again. Recently, our family posed for our annual Christmas card pictures, and we had 3 major meltdowns while we got dressed.

I can’t wear this if she’s wearing that!

My hair looks like THIS??!!

Who stole my sweater?

We were bickering and complaining, and then we slapped happy smiles on our faces and posed for the perfect family picture. We wanted perfection (or at least a facade of it), and we allowed that desire to ruin our afternoon.

Why do we do that? Why do we want to present ourselves as “perfect” to a watching world? Why not just be authentic? 

In an age of Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram it seems so much easier to pretend like we have all the answers (thanks google) and do all the craftiest projects (thanks Pinterest). Yet, we struggle to present our authentic selves.

No one wants to post a pic of the pile of dishes in their kitchen sink or a video montage of all the spats our kids have on the way to school. We much prefer showing the “perfect” parts of our lives with a cool filter added to our photographs make others oohhh and ahhhh.

But authenticity requires transparency and admission of failure. It’s truth-telling about all areas of life.

Last night, I hosted Girlfriends (our women’s environment) at Mountain Lake Church as my friend Hannah Whitley talked to us about this very topic. My takeaway from the night:

Perfection is not relatable, but authenticity is. 

None of us are perfect. Let’s just throw that out there. Maybe we choose to withhold this truth and live a false life because we think that we have to be perfect to be liked or valued or accepted.

Matthew 5:48 says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  The only perfect we need to be is that kind of perfect that Christ calls for us and sets the example to be.  Nothing else. Not perfect like your neighbor who has a blemish-free past. Not perfect like your friend who posts pictures of her house that always looks clean. Not perfect like your favorite blog/Instagram account/Christian author. We have one obligation in life when it comes to perfectionism – IT’S CHRIST.

Do you know what HIS idea of perfect is?

Matthew 22:37-39  Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Wow. All other secular ideas of perfectionism fall to the wayside, don’t they?

Let’s stop pretending. Let’s be real with one another. Let’s share where we are struggling in our marriage, in our singledom, in our parenting, and in our faith. Let’s carry each other’s burdens because we have ACTUALLY admitted we have burdens and failures. 

Today, friends, let’s choose to be authentic. Our greatest worth lies in being exactly who God created us to be. Nothing more.

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Hey Everybody! Look At Me!

Recently I joined my husband to teach during one of our weekend church services. We were in a message series on marriage and were sharing God’s commands as well as our personal experiences. As people listened, I knew they were also sizing us up….watching how we interacted….looking for discrepancies….critiquing my hair. To see the pastor and his wife talking candidly about a personal subject conjures some level of judgement whether good or bad.

Life as a pastor’s wife means we’re on display for all to see – which is a good thing. The Apostle Paul, himself, invited people to watch his life and follow his actions. Yet, sometimes that notion can be overwhelming or can catch us off-guard. Like when our youngest child is acting like the devil is his best friend or when we are in a full-blown argument with our husband as we walk into the church lobby. When we know we’re on display, many of us are tempted to live our lives to meet the expectations of others.

Maybe we plaster a smile on our face or say yes to every request or present ourselves as the perfect family. Whatever it is, we are tempted to live up to the hype of the “perfect pastor’s wife” by looking good, sounding good, and feeling good. ALL. THE. TIME.

Yet, just as Paul invited people to watch his life and follow his actions, he also reminded them that his goal wasn’t to meet their expectations. He didn’t always meet their expectations, as a matter of fact. Scripture depicts more than one occasion in which Paul was at odds with people. He, however, was adamant that his goal was to please God rather than measuring his success by what everyone else thought.

While we are tempted to live up to the hype of perfection, we don’t have to live that way.  It’s just a temptation….one that we can overcome. Just because we live in a fishbowl doesn’t mean we are without flaws. We simply have a responsibility to lead and shepherd others. While being aware that eyes are upon us, let’s be transparent. Real. Let’s not hide our mistakes. Let’s allow people inside our world to see what happens after the mistake….the confession….the healing. Let’s not model low standards or poor character, but let’s not model perfection either. Let’s simply allow people to see God at work in our lives.

That’s attractive.

That’s good leadership.

That’s the Christian life.

Remember you don’t have to be perfect. Just be on the journey with Jesus. In Him, alone, will we find freedom.

Galatians 1:10 “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.”

Could you use more encouragement as a pastor’s wife? Help along the way? Join us at Velocity 2015, February 24-25, 2015 for a Pastors’ Wives Track designed specifically for YOU! Click here for all the details. Grab your hubby and register TODAY!


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Holiday Head Start: Sunday Summaries

StressLogoIt happens every year. The holiday season sneaks up on us as if we are unaware that Halloween just ended, and we find ourselves scrambling to clean our houses, bake holiday goodies, and find the perfect gifts for everyone on our lists. In the midst of our regular agendas, we add in office parties, family visits, decorating, and STRESS!

Stress over money (or lack thereof).

Stress over extended family relationships.

Stress over our overcommitted schedules.

Stress over the less than polite shoppers who will elbow us, steal the last toy on the store shelf, and then laugh as they checkout.

The holiday season is supposed to be full of good cheer and joy, but most of us experience anything but. At least we don’t until we attend a Christmas Eve church service in which we pause long enough to focus on Christ and feel His peace….and wish that feeling could have defined our holiday season.

That’s why at Mountain Lake Church we are getting a #HolidayHeadStart. Rather than allowing stress to rule our world, we’re choosing to put our minds and hearts in the right place before the craziness begins. The truth is that our own unrealistic expectations cause most of our stress.

The unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves to have the perfect tree, present the perfect meals, and give the perfect gifts.

The unrealistic expectations we put on others to behave perfectly at all times.

The unrealistic expectations we allow others to place on us to keep us with the Jones’s. 

Peace is lost when our expectations are different from the expectations of Jesus. We wear ourselves out trying to create the peace we crave by meeting those unrealistic expectations rather than simply being still with God. The only gift we need this season is the gift of peace…the peace that Jesus offers when we let go of the hype and fluff of the perfect holiday season and focus instead on the perfect God we serve.

So, we’re getting a #HolidayHeadStart at Mountain Lake. We are letting go of unreal, unwise expectations in advance. We are determined to keep a peaceful heart through the holidays…..a peaceful heart that worships God, allows Him to use us to influence others, and celebrates the most beautiful time of the year.

What about you? Could you use a #HolidayHeadStart, too? Let’s not allow the holidays to fly past in a blur of regret and dysfunction. Let’s determine NOW to allow God’s peace to be our focus. 

Click here to watch MLC’s weekend messages. The holidays are coming. Are you ready?

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