Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Gear Up for Good Gifts

Thanksgiving, Christmas and a New Year are right around the corner. Days will be busy for most and lonely for some. Wherever we are on that spectrum, there is opportunity. I want to paint a picture of how we can give and receive life-lifting gifts this holiday season.

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, 
so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.Titus 3:14

Do you remember how it felt when you were the kid who got picked last because you ran a little slower than the rest, weren't quick enough with your times tables or just weren't wearing the right color shirt that day?  How about that time when a sprained ankle kept you on the bench? Your mom made you go to the game saying, "you're still part of the team and need to show your support even if you can’t play!" Some part of you wanted to be there with your friends but another part would just rather have stayed home alone than be trapped on the sidelines unable to fully participate. 

The holiday season stirs very similar tensions for folks who are wrestling with something that is challenging or seems to differentiate them from the crowd.  Imagine these holiday scenarios:

You are the parent of a child with autism who has been invited to attend the family Thanksgiving. The atmosphere will create stress for your child — and so for you too. You anticipate being exhausted trying to manage your child’s disruptive behaviors. You will spend a lot of time on the periphery of the group watching other parents enjoying the freedom to relax in conversations and play traditional holiday games. You’ll probably spend the afternoon trying to help your child avoid a myriad of scene-causing possibilities from sensory overload to a toileting catastrophe or seizure.  Knowing you’ll get depressed and feel guilty for resenting others who will sip a drink and casually balance a full dinner plate in their lap, you consider staying home.

You have been having some difficulty remembering names and staying focused in conversations. It is frightening to go out in public. You aren’t comfortable speaking in case someone hears that you are struggling. You regret that you’ll miss seeing the grandchildren play but your mounting fears remind you that staying home feels safer.

You’d like to be with family for the upcoming holiday dinner but you don’t want to drag everyone down. You wish you could sit quietly on the couch just soaking up some of the joy around the room but you’ll feel pressure to participate and look happy. You suspect the family has wearied of your moods and just wants you to snap out of it. You feel misunderstood, unwanted and unsafe.

Going to church for the special holiday services has always been a joy for you but now it feels overwhelming. Seeing happy families reminds you of that loved one who won’t be with you this year. Unexpected moments of raw grief quickly spiral out of control. The last thing you want to do is draw attention, feel out of control or cast a shadow on someone else’s joy.

When Carly was first diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, I suddenly found myself experiencing a paradox — surrounded by people who loved me yet feeling very alone. Some part of me knew these were not rational feelings. Yet I still encounter too many triggers for feelings of disappointment and isolation, especially during the holidays.  

Nobody likes to feel different, undervalued, isolated, last or lonely. Yet there is heartache and longing to feel included all around us. Whether you’re the one feeling sidelined during these holidays or someone who is enthusiastically gearing up for the celebrations, I hope you’ll pray for radar to recognize the Divine promises and opportunities.

4 Promises that Anchor and Encourage People

1.      Nobody is immune to trouble but we have hope.
Jesus said “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NLT)
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. 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)

2.      God remains your most faithful advocate.
The Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.”  Exodus 2:23-25, 3:7-8 (NLT)
So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! Luke 15:3-7 (NLT)

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don't know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will.  Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)

3.      You are never alone.
So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 1 Peter 5:6-10 (NLT)
Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8 (NLT)
4.      When you suffer, God’s comfort will be multiplied to you and through you.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NLT)

5 Ways to Ease Someone’s Heartache During the Holidays
  1. Notice someone who may be hurting — Reassure someone who feels isolated that they are not invisible. Let a simple word or act of kindness speak clearly that people matter to you and to God. “Tithe” a few moments of each day to send a kind email or hand-written note, make a phone call, do an act of service or give a grocery/gas card. While you’re out in the community, be intentional and generous with your eye contact and a smile.
  2. Just BE — Come over and hang out next to someone (whether it’s across the room or across town). You don’t have to know what to say. Resist pulling back from relationships that feel awkward or too complicated. Your presence ministers so much more than you know.
  3. Listen first, then listen some more — Ask what somebody is thinking, feeling or wanting. Take time to understand what the person is experiencing and, without analyzing or judging them, learn how they are coping with life’s challenges.
  4. Remind someone of God’s sure promise — Share one of the examples above or describe one of God’s promises that has been tangible for you recently.
  5. Express appreciation and affirmation — Thank people for sharing their heart with you, for helping you learn something, or for coming to the party even though it was hard. Let someone know that their patient endurance through hardship inspires you. Tell a caregiver that they are doing a good, important and beautiful work.

Have you believed the lie that you are too busy to be used by God in sharing someone’s burden this holiday season? Or are you someone who is feeling too stuck or too broken to experience God’s touch? 

Here’s the truth:

God will generously provide all you need.
Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 
2 Corinthians 9:8 (NLT)

Let’s remember together that we live and move and have our being by the grace and power of God, not ourselves (lest we might boast about it). 

What wonderful inspiration and opportunity to carry us through these holidays and into a new year!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Just Love Me

Do you ever wonder if you have a “calling” on your life? Have you noticed how many of your friends are wrestling to understand their own greater purpose? I believe that our culture at large is presenting increasing pressures to be contributors and world-changers. Even the Christian community and a plethora of books are promoting ways to find our purpose.

Having a sense of purpose is essential but our understanding of what that really means can become twisted. We can become tempted to define our value to God and the world by whether or not we are doing something “of significance.” This way of thinking is dangerous. It makes us vulnerable to dissatisfaction, comparisons, restlessness and low self-esteem. It takes our eyes off of God and puts our attention on ourselves. 

Jesus didn’t tell us to go change the world. He said, “go bear fruit.” Jesus’ aim was not for us to feel pressure or shame. He said, “take my burden on you for it is light” and He assured us that it was through Him alone that the world could have “life to the full.”  God doesn’t need us to accomplish anything. But he does want us to join Him in loving others. (See Psalm 139:7-12 and 1 Corinthians 15:10.)

Maybe it would help to change up the way we talk about this issue and redefine a couple of things according to the heart of God and His ways.  Bear with me for a moment as I attempt to define two important words according to my understanding of God’s Word:

  1. The reason for which you were created and exist
“ I was born to love the Lord God with my whole heart, soul and mind.”
“I was made to live my life as a spiritual act of worship (whether I am making dinner, mowing the lawn, playing with children, sharing the Gospel or any other such thing).”
“I must become undistracted by the trappings of cultural values (job titles, accolades, an accumulation of volunteer hours, etc.) and devote myself foremost to trusting God and demonstrating that love by loving others, moment by moment, as He would.”
References: Matthew 22:37, Deuteronomy 11:22, Romans 12:1-2, John 13:34-35

  1. A cherished aspiration, ideal or hope impressed on a person by the Holy Spirit
“ I sense this prompting about an idea, vision or perspective is from God because it lines up with scripture.”
“I want a heart that breaks over the things that break God’s heart.”
“This specific passion or strategy I’m excited about promotes God’s plan.”
“I am experiencing a sense of urgency to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
References: Psalm 23:1-3, Hebrews 6:11, Hebrews 12:1-2, James 1:2-4, Acts 2:17, Colossians 3:23

Friend, instead of a purpose, maybe all you lack is a dream. Ask God about it. He, after all, is the planter of passions and talents. He, of course, is the weaver of our soul and the one who appoints us in relationships. Until heaven we will not fully know what Kingdom purposes God has squeezed out of our often hum-drum existence. We can, however, trust that He is making much of our seeking Him and sharing Him.

Pray that God would help you see how He has already placed you in roles and relationships where you have significant contribution to make. Your daily routines may seem mundane but they are ripe with opportunity in God’s way of seeing. Ask Him to prompt you with a dream and show you any new places where He would want you to join Him.

I am learning something in my own life that gives me a precious sense of peace and freedom while reminding me how deeply I am loved by my Heavenly Father. Whenever I start feeling confused about whether I am following God’s specific “plan” or wondering if I am stewarding my gifts to their fullest, God whispers again this most basic request:

“Just love me.”

It is my prayer that everyone reading with me today will experience the fruit of a love affair with God — fruit like big dreams, big power (from the Holy Spirit in you) and a big love for others that motivates you to persevere in faith as a fully engaged disciple.

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
Philippians 2:13

Monday, January 12, 2015

Will you be "growing up" in 2015?

When 2015 ends, I want to look back and see a woman that was stretched and nurtured into someone even more beautiful than I was when the year started.  I already have a few Bible verses, themes and ideas running around in my mind about how God may be trying to shape and refine me for a new year. I hope you do also.  

Today I'm sharing one of those themes rattling around in my busy brain. Writing it down gives me a greater sense of accountability but I also hope it spurs you on to see how someone else is wrestling with and enjoying the process of discovering God and relationship with Him in deepening ways. I know this kind of conversation is one way God uses community to encourage and inspire us all.

The word CONSECRATED has been sticking out to me (along with ANOINTED) in scriptures since late fall. I've been planning to sit down early in the new year and prayerfully consider how the Lord would want me to consecrate my life in fresh ways. I've been thinking about my roles as wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend and servant of God but also looking at my lifestyle and disciplines to see how God might be prompting me to new and better ways.

I believe it's a good thing to be both content and aspiring as a Christian. I am content and confident that I am a child of God who is adored by Him just as I already am. I am also aspiring to be changed — to be more like Jesus. The older I get, the more aware I am of by brokenness, my sinful nature and my utter dependence on God. I find greater delight being in His presence than ever before.  

Here are three passages that are inspiring me: 
Leviticus 8:10  "Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them." 
Joshua 3:5 "Joshua told the people, 'Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.'” 
1 Timothy 4:4-6 "For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed." 
SO HOW ABOUT YOU? Any themes, words or verses popping out for you lately or inspiring you into 2015? 

Let's encourage one another in how we're feeling prompted by the Lord to keep GROWING UP IN HIM.

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