Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wednesday Words of Encouragement

Each year our denomination's Great Commission Women's leadership team comes up with a theme for the year.  This year our theme is God's Positioning System: Placed for a Purpose.  I thought I would focus on one aspect of GPS here for my Wednesday Words of Encouragement.  I did realize that it would be hard to do this every week so I'll do it once a month and then just write my regular Wednesday Words of Encouragement the rest of the weeks.

God's Positioning System: In the Desert
 
Psalm 63 (HCSB) ~
 
God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You.
I thirst for You;
my body faints for You
in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.
So I gaze on You in the sanctuary
to see Your strength and Your glory.
My lips will glorify You
because Your faithful love is better than life.
So I will praise You as long as I live;
at Your name, I will lift up my hands.
You satisfy me as with rich food;
my mouth will praise You with joyful lips.
When I think of You as I lie on my bed,
I meditate on You during the night watches
because You are my helper;
I will rejoice in the shadow of Your wings.
I follow close to You;
Your right hand holds on to me.
 
Desolate, unending, parched and dry.  Stinging sand, blazing heat, scorching sun, and exhausting are just a few words to describe the desert. There have been times in my life when I feel like I'm in a desert place.  The scenery is the same, day in and day out.  Nothing new or exciting happens.  I stumble and wander through my days, wondering if this is all there is.  I feel dry and stale both emotionally and spiritually.
 
When we are going through dry times, the only way to face them is by finding shelter from the scorching heat in the presence of God. 
 
He can help us through those the desert times in our lives with his following attributes.
 
His strength – Our strength is sapped in the desert.  We stumble along day after day and lose our energy with the unending scenery.  Yet, in the Lord, we find the strength to carry on.  His strength will help us along when we think we can’t walk one more day. 
 
His glory – Every single place in our life that the Lord places us is for a purpose and that purpose is to reveal His glory through us.  It doesn’t matter if we are on the mountaintop or in the valley or by the ocean or even in the desert.  His glory is revealed through the way we handle our circumstances.  As we face the desert wasteland with praise and thanksgiving, He is glorified.  When we walk through unending days of struggle with joy, He is glorified.  When we keep our eyes on Him, he is glorified.
 
His faithful love – The reason we can praise Him in the desert is because the Lord truly is faithful to us.  He doesn’t give up.  He doesn’t turn His back on us.  He is plodding along with us in the desert.  He is there even when we can’t see Him. 
 
His help – God is the one who will help us through the desert times.  So often we want to turn to people when we are struggling, but it is only in the Lord that we will find our help.
 
We are to praise him with joy, even in the midst of the desert.  If you are like me, I want to look for a change of scenery.  I want to run back to the mountaintop or anywhere else.  But we need to view our lives as being placed for a purpose.  When I find myself in the desert times, I need to remember that God has placed me there for a reason.  I need to embrace it.  I need to accept it and I need to do it joyfully. 
 
Rest in God’s wings from the scorching heat.  He will protect you and keep you safe.  He won’t let you wither and die in the desert.  He will be an oasis for you from the unending heat.  Trust Him in the dry places.
 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Finishing Strong


I'm reading an excellent book right now, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John C. Maxwell.  I've been challenged, stretched and convicted.  I see many weaknesses in my life that I must work to change and since we are heading into the homestretch of 2015, the timing is good for me to be reading this book.  I want to finish strong.

I also would like to revisit my yearly goals on this first day of September and see where I am in accomplishing them.  The goals are listed below and my update under each is in blue.

Spiritual
* Consistent quiet times with the Lord each week.
* Go on a retreat this year to write, meditate and connect with the Lord.

This has been going well, though I do need to do a better job of not getting distracted.  I would like to get a way for a few days this fall and will plan to do this soon. 


Marriage
* Build up my husband with my words, and not tear him down.
* Take over a couple tasks to take the burden off him.
* Continue date nights


The first one is always a work in progress and it seems I fail more often than not, especially when I'm stressed.  :-(  We haven't gone out specifically for a date night since July so I'm thinking it's time!

Health & Nutrition
* Lose 25 lbs.  I did lose 26 this past year but still have a ways to go.
* Consistent, weekly exercise.


Fail, fail, fail.  This area is a constant struggle for me but I do know that I need to get control of it because I don't want to end up with major health issues.  I have a few warning signs of things so I must work on my discipline here.

Financial
* Put money way in an emergency fund every week.
* Pay off two bills (outstanding debt)
* Make up spreadsheet for our finances.


Well, we did put money away and then had an emergency which depleted it again.  So back to squirreling away some money.  We didn't get the bills paid off yet, but are putting extra on each bill every month so that we can pay them off early.  Spreadsheet is done.

Household Organization* Find a system for paperwork & mail and stick with it so I don't have piles of clutter.
* Come up with a cleaning schedule so things are getting cleaned consistently
* Find a more efficient plan for the garden so I can grow more
 and then consistently weed.

I don't really have a system for paperwork other than trying to take care of it right away so it doesn't accumulate.  It's hit or miss and I do need to do a better job with this. 
 
Consistent cleaning is going well.
 
Garden is a bust this year.  Nothing grew well.  Weeds took over.  I think my gardening days may be over.  My heart is not in it and the amount of money and time it takes is not something I think I want to invest in anymore. If I do anything next year, it may be on a very small scale.

Ministry
* Make a conscious effort to invite people over (at least twice per month)
* Focus on building relationships and less on "doing"


This summer I don't think I've had anyone over.  Summers are harder to do this around here because everyone is off doing things.  Now that school is getting ready to start I need to refocus on this area.

Personal
* Finish new book I'm working on. 
* Read at least one book each month.
* Work on not feeling guilty when I say no to people.  This is a tough one for me, but necessary if I'm going to be focused on the things I feel I should be doing.


I've been reading.  I haven't worked on the book at all since we were on vacation in July.  I'm always trying to not feel guilty about saying no to people and this one I fail at a lot.  So my solution much of the time is not to say, "No."  But that obviously, is not a good solution. 

One of the things that will be happening in the next couple of months is that I am closing my sewing/craft business altogether.  After looking at my finances, I realize that I clear about $100 per month and given the amount of time and energy I put into the business, it makes absolutely no sense to keep doing it.  I told Dan that I need to work on clearing out my inventory and stop making new items that will end up not selling. 

My focus is on ministry and while the business certainly helped establish some relationships, it's not what I was called to do.  Obviously, I'll still be crafting, etc. for gifts but I need to focus on other things in my life. 

As I said, I want to finish this year strong.  My desire this year was to live intentionally and that requires some major reflection and restructuring.  Not always fun, but I'm working hard at it!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Multitude Monday


I'm so thankful for the ways that God works in our lives and as today is the last day in August I wanted to remember to list my blessings.

This week I'm thankful for blessings #2551 - 2560.

2551. God provided for two months of Stephen's school bill through an unexpected gift.  What a blessing!

2552.  I was able to get much accomplished around the house and rearranged, cleaned and decluttered my living room.

2553.  Emily got a workable school schedule that she is very happy about receiving.

2554.  Nathan's work hours got changed to 2:00-11:00 p.m.  No more driving home at 1:00 in the morning.  Still not great hours but definitely better than 4-1 a.m.

2555. Seeing people in our church getting excited about ministry.

2556.  Getting some clarity on what needs to stay and go in the activity area.

2557.  Praying with a friend.

2558.  A wonderfully fun day yesterday with friends who also are fellow pastors and pastor's wives.


2559.  Some new-to-Emily clothes gifted from a friend.

and finally...

2560.  A great end to the summer!
 


Friday, August 28, 2015

Frugal Friday

 
Jonathan Lockwood Huie ~
 
Your greatest gift to your family and friends is yourself -
your relaxed, happy, and full-present self.
 
I love this quote and I do have to say that this past week I've lived it and it's been wonderful. 
 
So often I get so wrapped up in activity to the detriment of all else.  This week I had an intentional plan for my activities and I was productive but I was also far more relaxed than I normally am.  I was able to clean my house, prepare meals, work on some ministry things, sew and craft and yet, still had time to chat with my family and spend time with them.  I took an afternoon off and went school shopping with Emily and we enjoyed each other's company so much.
 
It's been a great week!  And my plan is to remind myself of this quote each day.  Relax.  Be happy.  Be present.
 
This week was also a wonderful week in the frugal living department!  The biggest detriment to our budget is eating out whether it's at a restaurant or getting take out food.  But because I had a plan, went shopping and kept my activities manageable, we didn't eat out once the entire week.  Dan is certainly happy and Nathan was ecstatic because he loves when I cook! :-)
 
Our meal plan this week:
 
Sunday - roast chicken, mashed potatoes and veggie
Monday - A hearty soup made up of lentils, bacon, veggies and macaroni
Tuesday - Puerto Rican rice and beans, rice, fried plantains, salad
Wednesday - Lubiyeh (Lebanese beef & green bean stew), rice, salad
Thursday - Baked ziti, homemade Italian bread, tossed salad
 
I did tell them today is leftover, "clean-out-the-fridge" day. ;-)  One of the things that actually worked well for our schedules this week was that I had our big meal of the day around 1:30-2:00 in the afternoon, right before Nathan went to work so at least he was getting a good, solid meal.  Then Dan, Emily and I just had a light snack in the evening.  I know we can't always do that but it worked for this week because I was home and not running around.
 
Another way I saved this week was as I grocery shopped.  We go to a local farmer's market and they always have a few shelves right inside the door where they offer veggies and fruit that are bruised a bit at a discount.  I was able to get 4 quarts of peaches for $4 and a basket of bananas (about 8) for $1.50.  I've been shopping for my fruits and vegetables every few days because I find if I try to do a week's worth something ends up going bad and I have to throw it out. 
 
Well, that's about it for this week. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reflection


Acts 2:42 ~

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.

One of the first things we see that the early Christians did as a new church was to pour themselves into each other's lives.  They studied together.  They spent time in fellowship which included meals.  They prayed together.

The modern church has wandered so far from this.  Most churches seem to have people content to come once a week and engage in small talk with each other, leave, and then have no contact again until the following week.  When anyone tries to share what they are struggling with, they are shut down because "Christians should never show weakness."  Or a familiar Bible verse is plucked out of the air, thrown at them so we can feel like we've ministered without going deeper.  Most believers never fellowship outside of the four walls of the church.

It frustrates me.  My desire is to be part of a church body that not only wants to grow spiritually but truly desires to fellowship together and pray together. There have been days when I feel very lonely.  My desire has always been to be part of congregation that are passionate about their faith and also share their joys and concerns so we can lift them up in prayer.  I want to go beyond the superficial.

But I notice that when I feel frustrated, the grumbling and complaining, pity party and bad attitude begins.  When that happens, the Lord reminds me to look at ME! He asks me, "What are you doing that shows this?"  "Do I reach out to others even when I feel rebuffed?"   "Am I inviting people over regularly?"  "Am I ministering to others even if I am not ministered to in return?"  "Do I offer direct words of encouragement even if they are not reciprocated?"  "Am I passionate about God's word even if I think I'm alone in that?"  OUCH!  I don't like looking at myself because it requires change. 

The biggest question of all came, "Who am I doing all this for?"  Is it fulfill some desire for affirmation in me or is it for the Lord?  Because if what I do is truly for the Lord then it doesn't matter if I never get affirmed, acknowledged, invited or a response in return.  Everything I do should be for the Lord and my own desire to grow.

These inner struggles are really unpleasant, but are so necessary for my own spiritual growth.  I can spend all my time, spinning my wheels and looking to others, or I can live out my faith in a vibrant and victorious way.  God gently reminds me that I don't know what is in another's heart or mind so what seems stale to me may not be that way at all.  When I start looking at my own spiritual walk instead of others, that is when I feel like I'm ministering the most.  When I keep my eyes on God, I find that I'm joyful and less judgmental.

Reflection really is good for the soul.  :-)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wednesday Words of Encouragement

Each year our denomination's Great Commission Women's leadership team comes up with a theme for the year.  This year our theme is God's Positioning System: Placed for a Purpose.  I thought I would focus on one aspect of GPS here for my Wednesday Words of Encouragement.

This week I'm going to look at being on the mountaintop and the following is from a devotional I did from our district's leadership retreat a couple of weeks ago.

God's Positioning System: On the Mountaintop
 
I grew up on top of a mountain in the Catskill Park area of New York.  I recently had the pleasure of returning for vacation and experienced a time of refreshment and relaxation.  Every morning, I opened the window and could see a different mountain across the valley.  The smell of wild thyme permeated the air.  There was always a cool, refreshing breeze.    At night I drifted off to the sound of coyotes yipping and yapping in the distance.  I felt my spirits lift and my cares and concerns melt away.
 
Then I had to come back home.  As usual, after a mountaintop experience I start to feel down and depressed.  I don’t want my mountain top to end.  I wish it could go on forever.
 
However, as I looked throughout the book of Matthew I realized something important about those mountaintop experiences.  Every single mountaintop experience that Jesus had was followed by some key events. 
 
  • After the sermon on the Mount in chapter five, Jesus came down and began his ministry of healing. 
  • After the transfiguration, he came down and cast out demons.
  • After Jesus went up to the Mount of Olives, he came down and the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place.
  • After going up to the Mount of Olives again, his anointing at Bethany took place, followed by His betrayal, arrest and crucifixion.
  • And finally, his disciples were told to go to the mountaintop to see the resurrected Christ and were given the Great Commission.
I realize rather than look at my life following a mountaintop experience and feeling depressed, I need to have a different perspective about the mountain. Mountaintop experiences are given to prepare us for something. God allows these wonderful moments in our lives to prepare us for His purpose for His life.
 
We should use the mountaintop to:
 
1.    Get refreshed.  Use the time on the mountain to just rest and relax.  Breathe in the clean air and take in the beautiful views.  God gives us times on the mountaintop to rejuvenate.
 
2.    Get refocused.  There is clarity when you are on a mountain.  You can see things from a different perspective.  It’s easy to refocus on the task at hand when you can breathe in fresh air.  So use this time to refocus.
 
3.    Get ready.  God has a purpose for you.  He has a job for you to do.  Use your mountaintop experience to hear from Him and to prepare for whatever it is he has for you to do.
 
And then we can come down off the mountain, roll up our sleeves, and get to work at the task God has for us. God has placed you where you are for a purpose.  Use the mountaintop experiences you have and ask Him what it He wants you to take away and begin to use in your life and ministry.
 
Coming off the mountain doesn’t have to be depressing.  It can be an exciting time of renewal and refreshment so that you can face the task at hand.  Are you ready?


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Growing Trees


When our children were babies, we stood before our congregation and dedicated each of them to the Lord.  We took a vow, saying we would do our best as parents to raise children in a Godly environment and teach them about the Lord.

There have been days when they were growing up that caused me to pause and wonder if I was doing a good job at all.  Even now, I'll have days of exasperation, doubt and worry.  But overall, I think my children are on the right track and are growing in their own faith.

Nathan recently joined our church of his own volition.  I've seen a desire come over him to learn God's word and grow spiritually.  He has been pretty motivated, despite having multiple learning disabilities and reads at a low level.  They changed his schedule at work and he has been happy, mainly because it meant he could come to church. 


Stephen is on fire for the Lord right now.  One of the things that I've always prayed is that at least one of my children, if not all, would feel led to follow our footsteps into full-time ministry.  Steve is studying to be a pastor and is entering his junior year at college.  It's taking him a little longer because he switched majors so he has to take some extra classes he didn't anticipate.  He is so enthusiastic about serving God and I know some people think he is a little over the top in talking about God, but shouldn't all Christians be that passionate about our faith? ;-) 


Emily is still in high school and it can be difficult at times as she navigates the muddy waters of peer pressure and being in an environment that isn't always positive nor Godly.  But she is growing and maturing and we can see God working in her life too.  She is open and talks to us about the things she faces and it has provided us with wonderful opportunities to discuss how to handle various situations in her life.  Sometimes I worry about her, but then I'll see her Bible on her pillow where she left it after she read it so I know she is developing her own walk with the Lord.


My children aren't perfect and trust me, they make mistakes and sometimes handle situations in the wrong way, but they are growing in their faith.  God is honoring that vow we took so many years ago.  He is working in our children's lives despite our mistakes as parents.

My little shoots are developing into strong trees.
 

Psalm 1:3 (HCSB) ~
 
He (the one who follows the Lord) is like a tree planted beside streams of water
that bears its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.