Flawed People and An Unrelenting God

I’ve been reading through Paul’s letters in the New Testament with several friends, and we just finished Philemon and Colossians, and let me tell you they were dealing with some issues.

Here’s the skinny. Epaphras started the church in Colossae after becoming a Christian under Paul’s teaching, and Philemon hosted the church in his home. At some point, Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, stole something and ran away….straight to Rome where he met Paul. Under Paul’s teaching, Onesimus repented of his thievery and decided to return to Philemon. Umm, that was a bold and brave move! Onesimus could have been prosecuted, and he had no guarantee how Philemon would respond.

So, if you are keeping up, we’re talking about repentance, forgiveness, acceptance, and flawed people.

But, wait. There’s more.

The people of Colossae were so influenced by their culture that they were beginning to combine ideas from other philosophies and religions into their Christians beliefs, and Epaphras didn’t know what to do. Like any good student, he sought out his mentor, Paul, in Rome. After Epaphras spilled the beans on the issues facing his church, Paul wrote letter to help disciple them.

So, if you’re keeping up, we’re also talking about false teachings, ungodly living, ignoring God’s Lordship, and lack of integrity.

I don’t know about you, but it all sounds pretty familiar to me. After all, I myself am a flawed person who struggles to repent and forgive. I sometimes seek acceptance where I shouldn’t. I’m tempted to fall for lies, to choose ungodly behavior, to ignore God’s Lordship, and to lack integrity.

What about you?

Here’s the good part. The Colossians were flawed, but God loved them anyway. As a matter of fact, He loved them so much He gave them a pastor who was committed to their spiritual growth….even if it meant traveling far away to get help. God loved them so much He prompted Paul to write to them with words of encouragement and correction. God loved them so much He gave them the Holy Spirit to lead them in the right direction.

I don’t know about you, but that all sounds pretty familiar, too. I’m flawed, but God loves me anyway. He’s provided me with the Body of Christ – the church – to encourage my spiritual growth. He’s given me dear friends who inspire, motivate, and encourage me. He’s given me His Word to reveal Himself and His ways to me so I can understand Him better. And, He’s given me His Holy Spirit to guide me along the way. He loves me well.

What about you? I bet you could say the same. After all, our God is loving and gracious and unrelenting. He doesn’t give up on flawed people. Never has. Never will.

Maybe today you needed to hear that. If so, maybe God just showed you a little more love by sending this post to YOU.

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The 10,000 Foot View

Not long ago I listened as a friend confided some problems she was facing. It seemed as if her whole life was a mess, but it really wasn’t. I was able to see a few key adjustments she could make to reverse course and feel peace again. 

Fast forward to just a few days ago when I faced a problem that frustrated me and felt like withdrawing from those around me.

Why was I able to clearly see the answer for someone else but not for myself?

It’s called the 10,000 foot view! When we rise up above the minutia and details of our lives, we can more easily surmise a solution. It’s “seeing the forest in spite of the trees.” And, more often than not, we have a 10,000 foot view of the problems of other people, but we are too mired in the details to have the same view of our own.

Check out what Paul wrote:

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us – they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5 NLT

The bottom line is Paul challenged us to have a 10,000 foot view of our own problems. He preached that if Christians rise up above the frustrations and hurt that our problems bring, we will see the bigger picture.

  • We will see how our problems build up endurance (which means the next problem won’t trip us up quite as badly as the last one).
  • We will learn that our ability to endure difficulties builds a strong character (which prevents us from wallowing in self pity and makes us models to follow)
  • We will learn that our strong character makes us confident in our salvation (which brings purpose and peace)

Friends, if we could learn to pause in the midst of our problems to gain the 10,000 foot view, we would benefit immensely. I’m convinced our problems, though just as difficult, wouldn’t cause us to stumble so badly. Just look at Paul. He faced unbelievable circumstances: betrayal, threats, misunderstanding, jail, beatings, loneliness,….the list goes on. His problems were difficult but he wrote often of his joy, his purpose, and his willingness to keep going.

How could we gain a better perspective on our problems? Could we talk to a trusted friend? Could we make a pro/con list? Could we read Scriptures for insight? Could we pray? Could we read a book for help? Could we visit a counselor? 

Your Turn: What steps could you take to “pause” in the midst of a problem and gain a 10,000 foot view for perspective? 

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Toes In the Sand and other daydreams today…

beachI’m staring at light snow flurries outside my bedroom window, but nothing fun will come of it. No accumulation. No sledding. No school snow day. No excuse to cancel my calendar events and drink hot chocolate. Nope. Just a few light flurries with gray skies and cold temperatures, but then this weather system will pass. Seems like kind of a letdown.

Let me be clear: I enjoy all four seasons. I like the new birth of spring. I welcome the cooler temps and beautiful colors of fall. I enjoy bundling up in cute scarves and boots in the winter. But, for me, there ain’t nothin’ like summer.

Hot temps. Long days. Poolside afternoons. Grilling out. Vacations. Bike rides. The smell of freshly cut grass. Car rides with the sun roof open. Flip flops. 

Oh, yes, I’m a summer girl.

Even now as I stare at the snow swirling outside, I’m daydreaming about a rented chair on the beach with Jimmy Buffet playing in my earbuds.

So I’m planning my summer vacay now, and I’d like some suggestions. Which is your favorite beach for a summer vacation? Destin? Orange Beach? Something further south? 

If you have a recommendation for a resort/condo/beach, I’m all ears! Let’s do a little daydreaming about warmer weather!

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Two (or four) Are Better Than One

We recently moved to Alabama, and let me tell you I’m loving my new home. And my new community. And our new ministry. And being near family for the first time since 1998.

Life is good.

But one thing isn’t.

I’m missing my partners.

For years, I’ve worked out 4-5 times each week with 2 of my neighbors. Meeting in our homes, we used exercise videos or routines we found on Pinterest to facilitate a 30-45 minute workout. The accountability of meeting together kept us all on track (it’s hard to skip a day when 2 people are expecting you to show up). Here in Alabama, I’m on my own in my basement, and I’m missing the camaraderie and inspiration of my 2 partners. I find myself skipping a day or pushing the fast-forward button.

Left to my own devices, I’m slacking.

But, not in the spiritual growth department. 

3 friends and I are reading through various books of the bible together. Some Georgia friends; some Alabama friends. We might not be able to meet face-to-face, but we are meeting! After we read our selected passages each day, we email the group to share our thoughts and prayers. Nothing fancy…just a sentence or two about what we sensed God saying to us.

God is speaking to us about our attitudes, habits, and actions. He is challenging us to become more like Him, and He’s increasing our understanding of Who He is and what His purposes are.

So, while I’m pushing myself to tackle a daily workout, I have 3 friends pushing me to grow in faith. Trust me, I’m pushing them, too! Last week, we studied the book of James, complete with background research and memory verses. Next up, Galatians. We are stretching muscles and getting stronger.

What about you? Are you slacking? Maybe you need the reminder that two are better than one. Find a partner (or 3, like me!) and start growing! 

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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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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

contentment

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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Perpetual Planning Paralysis

more actionI’m not one to make rash decisions. No spontaneous big purchases. No impetuous schedule changes. I’m what one would call a “planner.”

When hosting parties in my home, I orchestrate the details of guest lists, seating arrangements, and clean up well in advance of the soirée. When I supervise church events, oversized post-it pad papers full of instructions plaster the walls of my planning sessions. And if my husband offers a last minute change to any of my schemes, well let’s just say marital discord looms.

Being a planner has its upside. Considering all the details of an event or decision helps to avoid pitfalls like surprise expenses or overlooked guests. The world needs people like me. But all that planning has its downside, as well.

Let me give you an example. I’ve been planning a bedroom makeover for my 6th grade daughter. Her room is a hodgepodge of hand-me-down’s, and it’s time to give her a more grown up space. For the last several months (months, I said), I have pinned paint colors on Pinterest, made wish lists at Target, and searched decor ideas in magazines. Months. I have plotted and planned for months without taking any real action. No new furniture has been purchased. No wall has been painted. No old things have been thrown out. Apparently, I have become stymied in perpetual planning paralysis.

Well, no more. Determined to break out of my slump, I posted pictures of my daughter’s current bedroom suite to an online sales forum, and it sold in 20 minutes! That’s right, I’m the genius who sold all of my daughter’s furniture without anything to replace it. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting such a quick response, and now I feel slightly disconcerted knowing I must make quick decisions to complete the room redo. Painting the room and choosing furniture will most likely rock my world for the next few weeks, but it needs to happen. Too much planning and not enough action were getting me nowhere fast. Taking the drastic action of selling everything was just the kick-in-the-pants I needed to get moving in the right direction!

Maybe you aren’t a planner, like me. Maybe you are more of a free spirit that takes action when the mood strikes. Either way, all of us must take action in life.

In decisions.

In relationships.

In discipleship.

In leadership.

Planning paralysis and moody moments can rob us of becoming the people God created us to be and being effective in the hand of God.

Are you a perpetual planner? Do you, like me, simply need to take action? Or do moody moments prevent you from doing the things you ought? Do you need to:

  • have that difficult conversation you’ve been dreading?
  • cut up your credit cards and create a monthly budget?
  • engage in a mentoring relationship?
  • exercise?
  • disciple your family?
  • date your spouse?
  • use your God-given gifts in the church?
  • step out in faith?
  • obey what God has commanded of you?

Clearing out an entire room of furniture was the drastic action I had to take to start moving in the right direction. What drastic action is needed in your life? Don’t get paralyzed by perpetual planning and don’t wait until the mood strikes. Take action to become the person God created you to be! Take action to influence the world around you! 

I want to spur you on! Tell me: are you are a Perpetual Planner or Free Spirit? What change do you want to make?

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What My Family Will Be Doing In 2015

Wow. December was a blur of doctor visits, pharmacy runs, and Lysol. 

Lots of Lysol.

Our family fell victim to the flu bug. Yes, the flu. 6 days of the flu for my husband, and 9 days for my daughter. The fun didn’t end then, either. Upper respiratory infections and sinusitis wreaked havoc, as well. I had little time for extra activities (like posting blogs) while I was busy sanitizing every item that Shawn and Madison touched. I couldn’t help but smile in the chaos, though. In one of my wiser moments, I had decorated for Christmas and completed most of my gift shopping before December 1! I can’t tell you how much less stress I faced during December because my to-do list was done. My neighbors probably rolled their eyes at my Christmas decor in November, but my family was happy and peaceful. Score!

Last night we said goodbye to 2014, and I’m still shocked that I didn’t fall asleep early. As I blinked my sleep-starved eyes, I listened to my family walk down memory lane. They looked at pictures we had taken throughout the year and read all the notes in our 2014 Memory Jar. It’s the only thing that kept me awake. We laughed as we reminisced, and I was thankful to be home – alone – with the people I love most.

This year, I plan to once again fill a Memory Jar with special moments, but we’re adding a twist. Each month of 2015, our family will focus on a new virtue. Love, contentment, respect….12 different virtues in all. Our goal? To practically apply the principles by which God wants us to live. Sometimes (ok, most of the time) people find it much easier to talk the talk but not walk the walk. Well, not us. Not in 2015. We are going to find creative ways to live out our faith each day. Up first: encouragement. We’ll write notes to others, memorize bible verses, and speak positively to friends and strangers all month. I’m already pumped about the potential of this plan to disciple my family and bless those around us.

What about you? What are your New Year Resolutions? Happy 2015, friends!

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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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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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