NorCal

I am counting down.  A weekend away.  2-1/2 days of whatever, wherever, with my man.  Quality time with my husband ANYWHERE is my love language … quality time with my man back where it all started makes me giddy!  

This is the best gift.  It can’t be put in a gift bag or box.   You can’t wear it.  You can’t stick it on a shelf.  You can’t place a price tag on memories.

NorCal holds one of the sweetest spots in my heart.  This is where God brought me to get my attention.  This is where my life in Christ began.  And it’s absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.

Thank you Baby!  Is it too soon to pack?

 

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The Fields

Our church has a very clear and biblical vision and mission.  As it should be.  

One God, one Church.  Jesus was clear in what our role, as His followers, is in this world.

If anyone is confused as to why we exist, or as to what our purpose is, the answer is simple.  Love God, Love others.  Live like Jesus, love like Jesus, leave what Jesus left behind.  The only thing that matters is people finding Jesus.  

After all, why wouldn’t we share His love, grace and mercy?   It is that hope in Jesus that we so tightly embrace, that saving grace, undeserved yet so lavishly poured out on us.  A way back to God the Father.  Redemption.  Salvation.  Eternity in a restored, right replationship with our creator.  If we know the way, why is it sometimes hard to walk in it and share our faith with others?

Our church shares the love of Christ in so many different ways.  Everything we do is with purpose and intentionality.  The sharing of the gospel.  The simple gospel. So that others will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ .  Unfortunately sometimes we find ourselves facing the choice to get in the trenches, to get messy with people, but we crumble, withdraw, wimp out. 

I can tell you from first hand experience that real life- change happens through relationship.

When I was far from God, broken, hurting, seeking and asking questions, feeling like something in my life was missing but I hadn’t a clue what was wrong ….  it was the people that God brought into my life that made the difference.  These were the ones who weren’t scared to answer my hard questions.  They weren’t intimidated or fearful to engage with someone who was lost.  If they didn’t know the answers to my questions, we would study God’s word together to find the answers.  They were open to relationship so that Christ would be known.

We give our partners at LifeSong Church opportunity to be missionaries … gospel bearers … over and over.  We do it together, because we are much better together.  Whether we are serving hot dogs, installing insulation, painting a house, delivering meals, opening up our homes for lifegroup or any number of good things, it’s that gospel intentionality that we must take, the relationships we must cultivate, that carry hope into a hopeless world. 

It may be intimidating to go door to door.  It might hurt your budget to live with an open hand.  It might be hard to dig in and answer the hard questions.  But the investments we make over and over will yield kingdom results.  As a church, and as individuals.

  
(Artwork by Darcy Kent)

“Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”

‭‭John‬ ‭4:35-36‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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“Faithful, Available and Teachable”

Some years ago I had the honor of being a part of Leadership Greenhouse at LifeSong Church.

Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what that was. I wasn’t qualified or deserving, but God was working on me. He gave me an opportunity. The next move was to take it and follow through to see what He would do.

  
These three words have become a mantra over the years. Faithful. Available. Teachable. It sounds like the burden to be faithful, to make myself available, to remain open and teachable is all on me. That’s true in a sense, but the reality is that being FAT is simply not sustainable without a close, intimate relationship with and continual pursuit of Christ. We are all so flawed and broken, we just can’t maintain this attitude on our own. There are so many factors that work against us in the flesh. Every day we are reminded that we live in a fallen world. That’s why it’s so critically important that we choose to stay connected, surrendered and submitted to Jesus DAILY.  
Think about it. We can serve God, the church and others faithfully and with enthusiasm in our own power …. for a while. We might start out with pure and eager hearts, but very subtly corruption can start to creep in and take over like kudzu. The sin of pride can threaten our faithfulness. Is approval or recognition our real motivation? Are we in the game for our own glory? If so, it’s not long before we’re disappointed, angry, jaded. When we make a mistake, does the fear of failure cripple us? Satan says “this is too hard” … and yes, choosing to deny self and follow Christ IS HARD. The temptation is to throw in the towel. If Jesus isn’t front and center, if our love for Him isn’t behind everything we can easily lose interest, get mad or scared, give up, lose the faith.
How available do we make ourselves to be God’s instruments? We are a busy people. Our calendars are slap full, leaving little margin to give ourselves away. Between work outside the home, chores around the house, kids, parents, grandkids, personal wants, unexpected problems, commitments we choose (and those placed upon us) and trying to carve out a few minutes of desperately needed down-time We. Go. Wide. Open. At the end of today, we’re already behind on tomorrow with zero time and energy to even think about anything beyond what’s on our plate. Maxed out, over capacity and unable to respond to anything else. (Sound familiar?) For others the problem may be the total opposite. There’s lots and LOTS of margin, but we are lazy, or we lack confidence, or feel unequipped. We mistakenly think that the little we might offer Him wouldn’t really make a difference so we do nothing. We muster up our best excuses, expecting God to accept our justification instead of giving Him our all. Maybe it’s our poor financial decisions that have stretched us to the point of snapping that disqualifies us and makes us unusable. With hard hearts, full calendars, poor self-image, wrong views of God, bad choices and more we can easily exclude ourselves without even realizing it, making ourselves unavailable to Him and others.
Someone who thinks they already have all the answers makes for a bad student, but someone who is humble is receptive to change and learning new things. If we aren’t interested in growing in Christ, we won’t. By honest self-evaluation, by seeking God’s wisdom and guidance through prayer, through the study of scripture, by surrounding ourselves with wise counsel, by allowing Jesus to shape and stretch us …. we not only remain teachable, but our capacity increases. Choose to do nothing and what we get is stale, stagnant and distant from God. It’s up to us to stay in training and flex those spiritual muscles. The work of the Holy Spirit is squelched in a heart that is unyielding and unwilling to accept instruction.

“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.”

‭‭1 Samuel‬ ‭12:24‬ ‭NIV
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

‭‭John‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭1:7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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Fruit

This is a busy time of year, the planning, groundwork and preparation for corporate Community Transformation events.  I absolutely love taking the vision and breaking concepts down into pieces that work together, then are built into something tangible and purposeful that our whole church gets to be a part of in service to our community.  I’m not a visionary, more of a collaborator on a team of like minded servant leaders.  I’m a customer service, behind the scenes, detail oriented, production coordinator sort by nature.  After the prep is done and event day comes, I love to sit back and just watch people serve and love others like Jesus.  Our people often say that they were “the ones who were blessed”. 

These corporate events are a catalyst from which personal ministry springs.  The reaping what you sow stuff I’ve read about.  Sometimes God gives me glimpses of what He is doing in and through His church and their fertile hearts.  And it’s sweet, sweet fruit for the soul.

 
LifeSong Church is full of missionaries who do the quiet work of Christ in their daily lives.  No fanfare, no spotlight, no public recognition.  These are the stories nobody hears about because they live out their lives for an audience of One.  

These are the ones who take time to prepare meals and take them to the sick and injured on their one day off.  These are the ones who bless single moms with real and tangible items they couldn’t afford on their own.  These are the ones who take groceries to the elderly and homebound every week.  These are the ones with the gift of hospitality, who open up their homes to show love to the widows.  These are the ones who prepare and file taxes for someone in need for free.  These are the ones who invest in people for the purpose of helping them grow closer in their relationship with God.   All of them are ministers, seed sowers, gospel-bearers.  Missionaries right here in our own hometown …. giving themselves away, expecting nothing in return. 

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Number 5

  

God says in Exodus 20:12 “”Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
Number 5 is pretty clear.
Family is family, and you’re blessed if you still have them.  No family is perfect, however my parents were very good to us growing up, even when my brothers and I were sneaky, disobedient, mouthy, hardheaded, reckless, foolish and less than honorable towards them.  Now we’re all grown and the roles are reversed. In their youth mom and dad cared for and protected us.  In their old age it’s now our turn to care for and protect them.

Gods is always good, faithful and perfect, even when we can’t grasp all the intricate details that led to where we are or see beyond this moment or the one to come.  

His plan is greater than I am able to understand, but the reality is that He has shown Himself to be a good, good trustworthy father. So gracious and merciful. In the past few weeks we’ve gone through some family stuff and God has been actively present, miraculous even. 

Daddy had lost his Medicaid over 6 months ago and we had no idea.  We found out only 3 weeks ago.  My brothers and I jumped on it.  Within 12 working days it was reinstated and retroactive.  If you’ve ever dealt with DSS you know that’s something only God can do, I don’t care who you know or who handles your affairs.

During this time we’ve also been helping mom transition from independent to assisted living.  

After daddy got sick and it became clear to us that he would never be able to leave the nursing home, mom struggled to keep up with the family home.  Eventually it sold and for the last two years she has been happily living independently in her cute little apartment, surrounded by loving and attentive friends with help from a caregiver 4 days a week.

This season of independence ends tomorrow.  Thankfully mom came to the realization that she needed more help on her own.  We were spared making that decision for her.  The fact remains, we all knew the more time passed that this might be the next step.  

I can only imagine how she must be feeling.  Smaller place, new routines, someone else’s cooking. Things in different places, learning the layout of the facility.  Making new friends …. Again.  I worry that depression will set in.  I worry that staff and other residents won’t be mindful of her severe visual impairment, an issue that also plays into moms overall mental health.  Worry easily turns to sadness and grief over the future.  My heart just hurts.  I don’t know any other way to say it.

But for now I know what I have to do, and that’s ‘honor your father and mother’.  Treasure every moment, make sure to the best of my ability that they are safe, comfortable and well cared for.  Make every effort to be soft and patient, careful with word choices and tone of voice.  I need to practice  active listening.   Seek Gods wisdom and guidance with every decision and trust Him completely with the outcome.  

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Ahead

Every year we decorate our home for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and take it all down on New Year’s Day. This morning, after a late breakfast of pancakes and bacon we got on task, pulling the empty storage boxes down from the attic, carefully packing up our pretties and returning them to the attic until time to bring them down again. We both have our jobs and work well together to get it done. A quick vacuum, some Endust, and within a few hours our everyday decor is set back where it belongs.

Everything is put back just like it was prior to Thanksgiving Day, but somehow the house looks different. Bare. Like there’s more to be done.

“We have to get used to normal again”, he says.

But what IS “normal”?

2015 was a time of growth, maturation and change for both of us. 2016 promises more of the same. I welcome what I know of the new year eagerly, expectantly. There’s more to be done.

Change is the new normal.

My sweetie is no longer my ministry partner in Community Transformation. He has a completely separate role now, one that puts his skill, talent and work experience into use yet offers him opportunity for continued growth and learning.  This change happened gradually over the last 6 months of 2015 but when I found out he was transitioning into a new role I instantly felt very much alone, walking a tightrope without a safety net. I was sad and scared silly. Looking back, those fears were completely ridiculous and unfounded. I had (and continue to have) access to leadership, guidance and support …. all I had to do was ask. We had developed a tight, capable team and had procedures and processes nailed down. Above all God was very much present and in control, so seriously, why fear?

I am not ashamed to tell you the changes that began in 2015 were God-answered prayers. By May of last year I knew I had reached a plateau of sorts …. not that I won’t continue growing and getting better over time …. but in order for real growth to be possible, for the ministry to get to the next level, we needed fresh new ideas. We needed CHANGE. From the deepest part of me I cried out to God over and over to DO SOMETHING, either take me out or give me what I needed to do the job, but I had exceeded my current capacity. God answered that very specific prayer, which freed me up to finish 2015 well and provide the room I needed to continue growing closer in my relationship with Him.

No pressure on Shari, but I know God is going to do amazing things through her leadership at LifeSong in 2016 and beyond! There’s more to be done.

On a more personal note, God is blessing our family with new life. The Stud Muffin wants to be called Poppy or Papa. I think I’ll make an outstanding Mimi or Mima.  Come summertime we’ll be making space in our home for a long-awaited grandchild. Our hearts are already prepared.

Of course there are those things I don’t know of the new year. Sometimes I think it’s a blessing that we can’t see. Regardless of what may or may not be …. “GOD, our God, will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business. It’s up to us and our children to attend to all the terms in this Revelation.” ‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭29:29‬ ‭MSG‬‬

There’s more to be done.

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Life-Giving Truth

Lately God has reminded me of several “life giving truths” that I heard early on as a brand new baby Christian. These were the take-away thoughts that our pastor wanted us to remember, if we remembered nothing else after his message:
“My strength comes from clinging to Jesus.”

“Even I can be used by Jesus.”

“Every part of my life has meaning.”

“Everything is better God’s way.”

“Worship is never about me.”

“Everyone matters to God.”

And this life-giving truth, the one whispered over and over in my heart …..

“The only thing that matters is people finding Jesus.”
The only thing that matters is people finding Jesus. The path to discovering my need for a savior was a long, crooked one. Looking back now, I can see how God used people and situations (including my past and wrong choices) to point me to this realization. In this world we are influenced by what our culture says is necessary, good and right. We are driven by “self”, our own human desires to be loved, accepted, successful, admired, happy. Regardless of race, age, gender, upbringing, nationality or education I think we all basically want the same thing. So we go through life seeking purpose, community, happiness, success, love.  
The problem is that the ways we typically go about this can never satisfy our souls. In pursuing love, we often make a relationship the center of our affection. In pursuit of purpose, some of us become work-a-holics, with jobs becoming the priority. In the desire for acceptance, there’s danger of falling into a circle of friends that cheer us on into unhealthy attitudes and behaviors. In pursuit of success, we can become focused on getting more and more, new, bigger, better, shinier stuff.
It took me a long time to realize that no significant other, no job, no friend, no material possession would ever fill the place inside me that that God designed to be filled by Him. Truly, the only thing that matters is people finding Jesus.

   

Back then, when I was still in spiritual diapers, our pastor had us survey people who might be seeking, atheist or agnostic. Based on all the responses he then designed a sermon series called “Burning Questions”, and we were encouraged to invite the ones we surveyed to come hear their question answered. I was so nervous! What if I had to defend my faith? What would I say? I did have someone in mind, so scared as I was, I took the survey to work and asked if he would’t mind filling it out. I still have his responses in my bible. His questions were answered on 5/16, but he wasn’t there to hear them.             I wasn’t equipped to answer his questions then, I am better equipped now.  

** See the sermon on 3/21?  The irony is not lost on me. That’s the day we decided to do things God’s way. **

  

My path to finding Christ was a long, broken one, but I thank God for His patience, mercy and grace … because I finally got there. I save this slip of paper in my bible because one day I hope to celebrate, that the one I prayed for will have all his questions answered, and from that new life will begin. Because the only thing that matters is people finding Jesus.

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