Friday, January 22, 2016

Blessed to BE a Blessing


In Genesis 12:2 God told Abraham that He would make him into a great nation and bless him and make his name great SO THAT Abraham would be a blessing. Abraham was blessed so that he could bless others.

                                Blessed to Be a Blessing Sermon Series Idea        
                                                         
And I think its fair to say that we are still being blessed today so that we can bless others. Sometimes we sort of forget that. We store up blessings and cling to them. We live as if we deserve these blessings. Like they're our right. We often get so used to them that we fail to even recognize the variety of blessings that have been poured out in our lives.

I was reminded this past weekend that I have been richly blessed. I grew up in a great church. Not a perfect church, but a church that offered me more spiritual blessings that I can even recount. The name was Providence Baptist, and it was through the ministries of this church that I first learned how to have a quiet time (or devotional time) with the Lord. It was through this church that I went on many state-side and overseas mission trips. The ministries of this church taught me how to study God's Word for myself as well as how to teach and lead others. Through this church countless women prayed for me and poured into me. Several pastor's wives invested in me in ways that still impact my life, marriage, parenting and ministry today. When I was in college this church even gave me a job working with the youth ministry...a job that would help me understand to a small degree some of the pressures and responsibilities Jon would face as a student pastor in year's to come. The internship program at this church allowed me to meet and work with a young intern from Georgia who would one day become my husband. The pastoral equipping ministries of this church gave Jon immense opportunity to grow and learn from wise and godly men who served as mentors and encouragers to many seminary students. I could go on and on. I do believe one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was exposing me to the ministries of a great church.

And this month the pastor who planted this church 37 years ago retired from his leadership position at this church. On Sunday night Jon and I sat in a celebration service recognizing the incredible work God has done through the people at Providence and the ministries of Pastor David Horner. It felt like a reunion, getting to see many people who (like us) have moved to other places and other areas of ministry. It was such a joy to worship alongside this great family of faith and to think about how many people have been blessed by God through this church and sent out to minister in all parts of the world. It was so fun to sing a few of the worship songs we used to sing years ago and to hear of the many ways God has been glorified by this particular body of believers. It was so encouraging to reflect on the ways God has used Pastor Horner over the years...the pastor who baptized me when I was 9, performed my wedding fourteen years later, and then connected us with the first church Jon served at as a full-time pastor just a few years later.


As I was sitting there (in the row right behind Anne Graham Lotz), I thought about something I frequently remember when I'm visiting PBC. I didn't grow up there just for my own personal edification. I wasn't poured into by so many people and exposed to so many ministry opportunities just to fill up my "church experience" resume. I didn't work there for three years just to have a job or just to meet my future husband.

I was blessed to be a blessing. I frequently think of the passage in Luke 12:48: "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required." I've been given alot...am I pouring that out on others?

What about you? Maybe you didn't grow up in a "good" church. Maybe you weren't taught how to study the Scriptures or even that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. But let's look around us. We live in a country and in a technological age that is overwhelmed with spiritual blessings. We have access to just about any pastor's sermon we want to hear via websites and podcasts. We have so many Christian bookstores and seminaries and ministries and resources that we are in danger of becoming spiritually fat and lazy if we just sit around and eat it all up for our own satisfaction.

Let's look for ways to pour our knowledge, our experiences and our gifts out for the benefit of others. After all, we've been blessed for a significant reason. We've been blessed to be a blessing! 

(By the way, if you clicked on the link above to check out the celebration service, you saw it was pretty long! It might take a moment to load, but my favorite songs were at 29.11 minutes in, 43.35, 109.16 and 121.50 minutes into the feed. Check those out...I think you will be blessed!)

(photo credit: top photo from http://churchsermonseriesideas.com/blessed-to-be-a-blessing/)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Read Hard Books

Sometimes the things that make us grow the most are not the things that we would choose. It's the difficult situations that make us strong. And it's often the difficult books that really stretch our minds and make us wise.

I like to read. But if I'm honest, I like to read books that I find relaxing or enjoyable. Sometimes I like to read books that address a specific responsibility I have, like parenting. You know how you're usually drawn to people who have similar interests or similar backgrounds? Well, my book choices are like that...frequently very similar. But this year I'm trying to read a wider variety. To stretch my mind in new areas. To expose myself to different ways of thinking. To get outside my reading comfort zone. (In case you're interested, I'm using this reading plan to accomplish this.)

I just finished a book that quite honestly I wouldn't typically choose to read. But the last 50 or so pages were so compelling and encouraging that I was literally crying at Panera while I finished it up. It's an allegory by C.S. Lewis called The Pilgrim's Regress



The Pilgrim's Regress is sort of a modern-day version of The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. And keep in mind that when I say modern-day, I mean published in 1933 versus 1678! So, not necessarily all that modern, and not necessarily an easy read. But I pushed through and at the end I was so glad I did. Some of the philosophical arguments probably went over my head, but there was a great deal of deep, rich insight for me to really think on.

This allegory is about a man named John who is walking through life in search of a great and beautiful island he has seen in visions. He begins a journey to find the island and along the way meets and interacts with people who represent various philosophies and worldly ideas of the time. They affect his thinking and make him question many things, especially the existence of the Landlord (who represents God). Eventually he comes to a great chasm and realizes his path to the island is completely blocked. He cannot cross over. He meets Mother Kirk (Christianity) who informs him that there is no chance of him crossing the chasm at all unless she carries him down. He doesn't trust her and decides to look for a way across the canyon on his own.

After trying and failing many times he comes to the realization that Mother Kirk was right...there is only one way across the canyon. Only one way to get to the beautiful island he has been longing for all his life.

Lewis' description of John's salvation experience is powerful:
     "I have come to give myself up," he said.
     "It is well," said Mother Kirk. "You have come a long way round to reach this place, whither I       
     would have carried you in a few moments. But it is very well."
     "What must I do?" said John. 
     "You must take off your rags," said she, "as your friend has done already, and then you must dive
     into this water." 
     "Alas" said he, "I have never learned to dive."
     "There is nothing to learn," said she. "The art of diving is not to do anything new but simply to
     cease doing something. You have only to let yourself go." 
     "It is only necessary," said Vertue, with a smile, "to abandon all efforts at self-preservation." 
     "I think," said John, "that if it is all one, I would rather jump." 
     "It is not all one," said Mother Kirk. "If you jump, you will be trying to save yourself and you 
      may be hurt. As well, you would not go deep enough. You must dive so that you can go right 
      down to the bottom of the pool: for you are not to come up again on this side. There is a tunnel in 
      the cliff, far beneath the surface of the water, and it is through that that you must pass so that you 
      may come up on the far side."  (p. 166-7)

Its not a book I would have chosen, but its a book that encouraged and deeply affected me. It was a tough read at times, but I'm glad I read it!

What about you? Do you hate reading? Do you only read for work-related purposes? Do you only read historical fiction or romance novels or mysteries? Let me encourage you to read something different. Something good, but something that would challenge you in a new and maybe deeper way.

And not to be patronizing, but I feel like it has to be said...if you aren't reading the Bible, start with that! There are tons of Bible reading plans out there to get you started if you don't know where to begin. Like this one or this one.

Friday, January 1, 2016

When Life is Like a Photo Shoot



Several weeks ago we had some family pictures made. My sister's sweet friend Courtney did a great job (anchorphotographync.com) and we were really happy with the results! 


But the funny thing about having your picture made is that the photos don't really tell the true story. I mean, a good photographer can make you look...well, really good. Laughing, playing, throwing leaves. It all looks so fun and so easy. 


You'd never know that we spent hours trying to organize just the right outfits so we'd all coordinate but not seem too matchy-matchy. I trekked from store to store to get some more stylish clothes for my two youngest girls who only wear hand-me-downs from a decade ago. (by the way...I'm NOT dissing hand-me-downs...we love, love, love those blessings!)


You'd never guess my mom was hobbling around on a sprained ankle or that Jon had hurt his back so badly he couldn't get out of bed two days earlier, let alone lean over to put on his own socks!


You can't really tell my nephew (and therefore his parents too!) had been up all night with a fever and ear infection the night before. And Courtney didn't give us the pictures where kids were screaming, crying, picking their noses or refusing to look at the camera. 


And I got to thinking that life really is a lot like a photo shoot. We try to look so pretty and put-together. So happy and carefree. So fun and fit. When in reality we're sometimes dying inside. Worn-out, hurting, scared and overwhelmed. We want everyone to think we've got it together, so we cover up the junk as best we can and try to put our best face forward. 


Its exhausting. And lonely. 

I was reading in Jeremiah 17:10 The Message version this morning:

"But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be." 

Isn't that refreshing? God knows what we're really like. He knows the hidden stuff of the heart. He knows our weaknesses and our fears. And He knows just how to treat us. 

Let's quit pretending and run with honest neediness to the God who knows. Let's confess sin, surrender fear and accept weakness so that God can forgive, comfort and strengthen us. 

Let's be real this year. With ourselves. With God. With others. 




Photo Credit: Courtney Smith, anchorphotographync.com