Sunday Summaries: Holiday Head Start for Generosity

holiday head start no date squareYesterday, our church continued our teaching series Holiday Head Start with a challenge to become more generous. It was more specific than that, though. My husband wasn’t asking us to be randomly generous whenever the notion strikes us. Rather he challenged us to be intentional and personal in our giving.

As Shawn taught, he asked one question that gave me pause. Pause to consider my own actions in the area of giving. Here it is:

Are you raising your standard of giving while you’re raising your standard of living?

My family gives away what I consider a large percentage of our income in the form of tithes, offerings, and meeting needs. But I’ve never – never – considered raising my standard of giving when I raise my standard of living. Sure, we increase our tithe and offerings as our income increases, but my mindset has never been to find ways to creatively give more.

I find ways to creatively MAKE more, that’s for sure. I sometimes dream about a roomier house or a blinged-out backyard which of course costs money. I have no problem dreaming up ways to spend money, but I can honestly say I’ve never dreamed of ways to give money away.

Why not? Why not determine a finish line for my consumerism (as Shawn suggested in his message)? When is enough, enough? How could I spend less on myself and give more away?

How do you respond to that question? Are you raising your standard of giving while you’re raising your standard of living?

*Want to watch the message for yourself? Click here and search Holiday Head Start Part 2.

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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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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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Lies We Believe

Lies-We-Believe_Webcurrentseries-f239edd56e5b842d9f7dc5bb91d56ab5I was watching The View the other day when Whoopi Goldberg promoted a new weight loss technology. She claims to have gotten outstanding results from a machine that radiates heat while hovering over a person’s midsection. Apparently, all that is required to lose unwanted pounds is the ability to lie on a table and allow the heat to melt the fat away.

Lies we believe.

We ought not believe something that is so obviously false, yet marketers make such appealing promises that we lose all reason and find ourselves buying the lie. We do it everyday, don’t we?

We believe we’ll be happier with one more outfit or a better car. We believe we’ll be better off with the next promotion or a different spouse. We buy the lie that if God really loved us, He would change our situation.

Ever been there?

The TRUTH is satan deceives with lies that cause us to want more than we have and to doubt God’s provision for us – as if God is purposefully withholding good things from us. Just as he tricked Eve in the Garden of Eden, he tries to manipulate us with clever promises that twist God’s truth. We fall for it far too often.

Why?

Why do we become so easily entangled in the allure of satan’s tricks? How can we overcome the lies satan seductively whispers in our ear?

KNOW THE TRUTH.

I knew when I watched Whoopi demonstrate the weight loss machine that it was a farce because I knew the truth: weight loss only comes from a healthy diet and exercise. There is no shortcut.

The same is true in our spiritual lives. If we want to overcome the lies our enemy uses to trip us up, we must know the truth: God’s Word.

When I know Scripture, I know how God relates to His people. I know how God works. I know the depth of God’s love for humanity. I know God’s expectations of me. I know how to best live my life.

Most importantly, when I know Scripture, I can clearly identify when satan offers me what only God can deliver.

We could all avoid needless pitfalls in our lives if we knew the Truth so well that we could laugh in the facing of a tempting lie.

Why not join Mountain Lake Church for a 21 day journey to knowing the Truth. We are reading through the book of John – 21 chapters in 21 days – and writing down the truths we learn about God and His love for us. You can track along in social media by using #KnowTheTruth.

We don’t have to fall victim to the lies satan cunningly whispers. God has given us a weapon to defend ourselves: His word. We can know the Truth, and the Truth can set us free.

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Weekend Tidbits

0This weekend my husband wrapped up our teaching series, Don’t Be A Victim. In it, he has helped us tweak our thinking regarding dealing with the difficulties of life. Our goal is to avoid a victim mentality when life doesn’t go our way. Rather than moaning about what we don’t have or throwing pity parties when we mess up, Scripture teaches us to choose a different response, to choose a different perspective on our circumstances – to focus on God and choose contentment.

The messages have been inspiring and motivating, and more than a few key verses have challenged me to reevaluate my outlook on life.

See what you think:

1.  When faced with beatings and imprisonment for preaching about Jesus, Paul says this in Philippians 1:20, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Rather than questioning God as to why he must suffer, Paul hoped he would be found courageous and faithful to honor God through his suffering. Paul didn’t say, “Woe is me!” He said, “Let me at ’em!”

2.  Just a few verses later, Paul instructs his readers (that includes us!) to adopt his attitude: Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Did you catch that? He said whatever happens. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, Paul challenges us to keep our eyes on the prize….to bring glory and honor to God. That’s perspective shifting! Do we gripe because life let us down, or do we find ways to model faithfulness instead? I pray as we mature in our faith and followship of the Lord, we could say the latter.

3. Finally, Philippians 4:12-13 smacked me in the face. Right upside the head. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have LEARNED (emphasis mine) the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through HIm who gives me strength.” Maybe you’ve heard these verses a thousand times, but I want you to key in on the word “learned.” Contentment is learned! It doesn’t come naturally! It doesn’t just happen! We must TRAIN ourselves to accept the pitfalls of life and respond in God-honoring ways…to be happy on the mountain top and in the valley. Are we learning? Or are we complaining?

Good food for thought, my friends. Little tidbits from the weekend services….that could change our entire lives if we allow it.

Click here if you’d like to watch the message for yourself!

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Don’t Be A Victim: Part 2

0Ok, so it’s week 2 of our latest teaching series at Mountain Lake Church, and it didn’t disappoint! Don’t Be A Victim is all about how to overcome setbacks in life – past sins/failures, old habits, or old ways of thinking – and not become a victim to repeating those mistakes or, worse still, have a victim mentality that assumes the worst about ourselves or others.

I could sum up the entire message from this past weekend and give you my two cents, but I really just want to key in on one point. Something Blake Stanley said painted such a vivid visual in my mind that I keep replaying it in my head. As Blake opened his message, he was having a bit of fun on stage with a few illustrations from old horror movies. You know, crazed monsters and their unsuspecting victims. (Hey, Halloween is nearing….we’re milking it.)

So, anyway, here is what Blake said which held my interest. It was an aside, but I know Blake’s intention. He knew many of us would catch the intended point.

“Why do the victims in horror movies kill the psycho and then lay down their weapon before leaning over the monster to determine if he’s dead!?”

He’s right, isn’t he? Don’t we all yell at the screen, “RUN!!! Don’t get near the monster without a weapon!!” Sure, we do! Then we watch the beautiful blonde get in right in the heart. BAM! Monster wins again.

You know what? We may not be stars in horror movies, but many of us could play the part of the victim. We, too, have slain monsters in our lives, only to lay down our weapon as we approach that which caused us such trouble. It goes something like this:

  1. After meeting God, we allow Him to work in our lives and defeat our addictions, wrong thinking, and sins……we slay some monsters.
  2. Then we get comfortable long enough to lay down our weapons: We take a break from spending consistent time with God. We neglect prayer. And, we stop discipling ourselves.
  3. It’s during this false sense of comfort that we think we can approach the old monsters in our lives and live to tell about it. Old fears and old habits seem harmless so we approach – without our weapons – only to find they spring back to life and rip us to shreds.

Sound familiar? Have you witnessed this pattern in the lives of others? In your own life? Let’s not be victims, my friends. Let’s not lay our weapons down and think we can protect ourselves from life’s dangers. Stay armed. Stay alert. 

Want to watch the entire message from this weekend? Click here and discover a few ways to become the victor….not the victim!

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Don’t Be A Victim

0It’s October and that means bonfires, s’mores, pumpkin patches, and scary movies. I must admit, I’m not one for scary movies. I wind up watching the palms of my hands more than the action on the screen. But, I’ve seen enough of chilling thrillers to learn a few things.

1. If you are spending the night in a secluded cabin, deep in the woods, don’t opt for the late night swim in the nearby lake. It won’t end well.

2. If your boyfriend leaves said cabin in search of firewood and never comes back, don’t go looking for him. It won’t end well.

3. If you have very little clothing on, it won’t end well. Apparently, psychotic killers go for flesh-baring females before anyone else.

These are a few key strategies to avoid becoming the victim in most horror movies, but there are also a few key strategies to avoid becoming a victim in regular, everyday life. That’s what we’re talking about at Mountain Lake Church over the next 4 weeks. Although all of us will fall victim to sin in our lives – to failures, disappointments, wrong choices – we don’t have to have a victim mentality, believing we have no hope or ability to change. The apostle Paul dealt with this “victim mentality.”

Romans 7:22-25 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Paul found the balance between accepting his imperfections – sin is inevitable – while not succumbing to a life of sin. In other words, Paul got up when he fell down! He wasn’t a victim. He didn’t have a victim mentality. He didn’t excuse away his sin. He followed the model of Jesus and constantly sought to become more like Him. He didn’t allow his failures to define him; his passion for God defined him.

Want to hear more? Click here to watch the entire message. You don’t have to be a victim, either.

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Real Life Drama: Parts 4 & 5

0Conflict. It happens. Someone will betray you. Your kids will grate on your last nerve. A friend will disappoint you. Misunderstandings will occur. Often.

Conflict happens. Drama, however, is a choice.

Betrayal doesn’t have to lead to years of turmoil. Frustrations don’t have to escalate to Level 5. Disappointments don’t have to result in terminated relationships. Misunderstandings can be righted. In short, conflict can lead to peace, not drama.

In the past two weeks at Mountain Lake Church we wrapped up a teaching series on dealing with the inevitable conflict all of us will face. Pastors Blake Stanley and Brian Hunter taught us very practical, God-centered ways to respond when we clash with the people around us.

* Blake encouraged us to BE GENTLE with our approach and with our words. How? Listen more than we speak, choose the right time to talk, and guard our tone. What we say matters; how we say it matters more.

* Brian encouraged us to FORGIVE. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone the wrong or that we’ll forget the pain. It does mean that we show the same mercy to others that God chooses to show to us. Not easy to do, I’ll admit. Nevertheless, this is a muscle we MUST stretch.

So, let me give you a quick summary on dealing with conflict:

1. Focus on God

2. Go First

3. Speak The Truth in Love

4. Be Gentle

5. Forgive

The next time your temperature rises because someone has overstepped their bounds, remember the way God instructs us to respond.  If we do, the only drama we’ll see will be on TV.

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Conflict and Drama: Part 2

0Real life drama. It happens. And we’re talking about it at Mountain Lake Church. No, we’re not talking about The Real Housewives of Atlanta….although that is drama. Over 5 weeks, we’re sharing how to take the drama out of your conflict. In other words, it is possible to have conflict that results in peace rather than pain.

Last week, my husband kicked off the series with the first step in avoiding drama in conflict: focus on God. By focusing on God rather than focusing on what the other person did or didn’t do, we give God the opportunity to change our behavior in the moment…..to change the outcome from DRAMA to PEACE.

This week, Shawn gave us the second step in avoiding drama in conflict: go first. Go first to:

Acknowledge the conflict – Have a conversation with the person. “Hey, you may not realize it, but I sense a distance between us.” “You may not have meant anything by it, but my feelings have been hurt.”

Accept responsibility – Accept our contribution to the problem. Answer questions like: Have I been as good as my word? Have I been guilty of reckless words, gossip, or slander? Have I controlled my anger? Have I hurt or offended anyone?

Avoid blame – Eliminate words like you, your, and yours from your vocabulary in the conversation

Ask for forgiveness – Apologize for any offense you might or might not have intended. Ask for forgiveness.

Allow God to work Back away! Don’t demand the other person respond in that moment in a way that suits you. Instead, give them a little space and give God the time He needs to speak to their heart.

If when we have conflict, these are the biblical steps to restoring a relationship. And, that’s our goal, isn’t it? To restore peace in our relationships. Who couldn’t use a little more peace in their lives?

What about you today? Are you dealing with conflict that is filling your life with drama? Why not give God’s way of doing things a shot?

Remember, conflict happens. Drama is a choice.

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Do You Hang With the Wrong Crowd?

This weekend at Mountain Lake Church, we continued the “If You Really Knew Me” teaching series with a look at friendship.

To be more specific, Jesus’ type of friendship.

Jesus was criticized and maligned for being a friend of “sinners” by the religious leaders of the time. He hung out with people of questionable character, people who lacked moral integrity, and people who were shunned by everyone else. He ate dinner with them, took care of their physical needs, traveled with them, and enjoyed time with them. Yet, the religious leaders accused Him of defiling Himself and condoning wrong behavior.

Haven’t we heard that line before, too?

“You better not hang out with those people….they’ll drag you down.” 

“You are who you hang out with.”

“Don’t condone what they do by spending time with them.”

Yet, Jesus modeled a different approach to friendship. He didn’t run from the wrong crowd; He ran to the wrong crowd. He spent time with them. He was comfortable around them.  He helped them. And, He saw the best in them…..He saw their potential. He didn’t see their sin first…He saw them.

If you are a believer in God, let me ask you a question: Do you hang out with the wrong crowd? If not, why not?

Let go of the cultural and religious baggage that drags us down and find some ways to get to know the people around you. Want a great way to get started? Invite them to join you for the kickoff of our next teaching series, Real Life Drama, September 7/8th. Find someone, anyone, and start being a friend to them.

It’s what Jesus would do.

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