Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Turning 50!

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The year 1967 is a very special year to me. It is the year of my birth, and last weekend I celebrated my 50th birthday. I always enjoy my birthday, because it is a chance to reflect on my life and see God’s faithfulness interwoven throughout my days.

This year was especially meaningful. My husband organized a party at a local pizza place, and we invited our family and friends to join us. We were blessed with more people than we anticipated, along with some surprise arrivals. It was thrilling to be surrounded by such a loving and supportive group. Some people have known me for many years, other people are more recent friends, but each one has a special place in my heart.

I soaked in the sweet camaraderie of the evening, and pondered the gift of life. The fabulous evening punctuated my resolve: I don’t want to waste this precious gift on meaningless pursuits or to secure my own comfort. Instead, I desire to focus my attention on a few things that really matter.

Jesus. My Savior and Lord is absolutely everything to me. I dedicated my life to Him at the age of 13 (which was a long time ago). It is easy to settle into a spiritual comfort zone, but I don’t want that. I want to love and serve and know Him with all that I am. I want to passionately follow Jesus Christ in joyful obedience, and live as a bright light for Him. I want to be in the habit of saying “yes” to Him, and step out in faith to do whatever He asks of me.

Relationships. I dearly love my family and friends. I am also wired to be task oriented and goal oriented. I like structure and organization. I like to check off my to-do list, preferably in order. Tasks and achievements bring peace to my mind. Unfortunately they can interfere with relationships. However, connecting with loved ones nourishes my soul. I want to engage in the sacred, messy work of building and restoring my relationships.

Growth. The older I get, the less I know. I won’t presume that I have ever arrived. Rather, I submit to the process of life-long learning. I want to become more like Jesus, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform me into His likeness. I want to continue to heal from the effects of childhood and more recent traumas. I want to develop the skills of being a better servant leader in myself and others.

Service. I don’t want to be guilty of being enraged by all the injustices in the world and not doing something about it. I can’t sit on the sidelines while people are hurting. I must invest in improving the lives of those who are disadvantaged or marginalized, the “least of these” who are so important to Jesus.

I just had the privilege of celebrating 50 years of life. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. But I can live each day I am given with intention.

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:21-24).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life. May I not take it for granted. Help me to identify what really matters, and then live with intention. I know I cannot do this by my own strength and abilities. May I thrive through Your Spirit, as You empower me to make each day count. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

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Posted in Faith, Personal Development

What If Today Were Your Last Day?

calendar-82578Six months ago two masked men invaded my home and I was held at gunpoint. Through the Lord’s gracious work of healing and help from a wonderful counselor, anxiety and flashbacks have gradually lessened in intensity and frequency. One thing that hasn’t faded over time, though, is my awareness that life is precious.

I am incredibly grateful for each day, knowing that it is a gift. Life is short. None of us knows when we will take our last breath, and yet it is all too easy to live as if we are guaranteed tomorrow. Because of my encounter, the realization of life’s temporary nature here on this earth has been engraved in my awareness. Throughout each day I ponder the effects of my actions. Do they honor God? Will they lead, even in some small way, to make someone’s life better? I am mindful that I am here on purpose and I desire to make a difference.

My commitment to make each day count for God’s Kingdom powerfully influences the way I live.

As I imagine that today could be my last day (or that my next breath could be my last breath), it motivates me to…

Deal with difficult situations courageously.
I don’t like conflict, and talking about offenses is uncomfortable. However, life is too short to allow hard feeling to simmer under the surface. It is also too short to avoid asking someone hard questions, because it seems awkward or painful. I rely on the Lord for bravery and, as much as it depends on me, try not to leave issues unresolved.

Choose my words carefully.
I want to be remembered for speaking words of kindness and encouragement. I want my words to build others up. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stranger, co-worker, friend, loved one, or my husband, I want the words I speak (and write) to help make their day better. Life is too short to tear others down and unleash pain. At any given moment, may my words be life-giving, because they could be my last words.

Focus on what really matters.
I have often heard it said that when people are on their deathbed, they don’t wish that they had made more money or had become famous. Their greatest regrets relate to their most significant relationships, not spending enough time together, not sharing how much they loved them, not reaching out to mend the hurts inflicted. When the barrel of a gun was held inches from my head, my only thought as I prepared myself to meet Jesus was, “Lord, please take care of my family.” Thankfully my husband rescued me, and I have had one more day 182 times to love my family and influence others in positive ways.

Friends, life is too short to avoid difficult situations, to be careless with our words, and to waste time on trivial concerns. What if today were your last day, how would you live differently?

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” ~Joshua 1:9

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. ~Ephesians 4:29-32, NLT

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of today. Help me to use the time wisely and to honor You in all I do. Empower me to live by faith and not by fear, trusting You for the courage to step out and make a difference in this world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Personal Development, Vision & Goal Setting

Questions to Ask Yourself to Set Priorities

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Last weekend I had the privilege of coordinating a local conference for women in ministry called “Refresh.” It was designed to encourage women who invest themselves in serving their churches and communities. The focus was connecting with Jesus and connecting with each other. It was wonderful to see the Lord touch the hearts of women dedicated to service, rejuvenating them to continue their work.

It’s wonderful to attend a retreat, to get away and unplug from demands. But going from retreat to retreat isn’t the answer for staying refreshed. It’s important for men and women alike to practice strategies in order to serve well for the long haul. People in leadership tend to overcommit. We are a part of the 20 per cent that do 80 per cent of the work. Unfortunately, our faithfulness to get tasks done often crowds out space for the things God desires for us. We need to discern between good things and God things, so we can thrive.

Good things are indeed things that are good, but they aren’t God’s best things for you right now in this season of life.

God things are those things that God has asked you to do in this season, and He gives you the grace to accomplish them.

Choosing God things means setting priorities and saying “no” to good things without feeling guilt.

Admittedly it’s not easy to pinpoint God things, especially when we are surrounded by good things vying for our attention. There are seven filters that I find helpful to remove good things from my full plate.

  1. The stress factor. How much stress does this add to your life? You weren’t created for regular doses of stress and drama.
  2. Your passion. How passionate are you about this? Is this something you enjoy and love?
  3. Your strengths. Are you using your God-given strengths, skills, and spiritual gifts?
  4. Health assessment. How healthy are you? How much rest and down time do you require to care well for your body?
  5. Time management. We all have 24 hours in a day. Is it wise to spend time on this?
  6. Input from others. What does your spouse or trusted friend say about this?
  7. A sense of peace. When you pray about it, do you have a sense of peace? Pay attention to any unsettling or anxious feelings.

Be intentional about selecting God things, and thrive in God’s calling on your life.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I desire for my life to be filled with You. Give me Your wisdom and help me to follow the plans You have for me. May I honor You by choosing God things over good things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Vision & Goal Setting

Don’t Try Harder, Try Different

Don’t try harder. Try different. That was the theme of my sabbatical this summer.

We know what we know. We build habits around what we know. When we encounter problems, we do what we know to solve them. Unfortunately, when our handy dandy tools aren’t working, we keep using the shovel to dig a deeper rut. That’s when we need to stop what we’re doing and try something else. Something different.

Different routine

For me, the first thing different was taking an extended break. My schedule had become busy and the demands so great that it was taking a physical and emotional toll. Of course, my personal struggles had a negative effect on my marriage. Thankfully my regular time with Jesus sustained me with grace, as other pressures bore down heavily. A different routine provided freedom to stop, to take stock of what was really going on, not from the surface, but on a deeper level. The insights I gained provided the impetus for trying different.

Different location

There is something powerful about a change of scenery. A change in routine and location provided a break from the habits I had established. This allowed me to step back from the situations in which I was so closely involved, and gain a different perspective. My focus was able to broaden, and I saw the bigger picture and things I had missed.

Different tools

Because my limited knowledge is what helped to get me where I was, I needed to stop doing what I’d always done and find some new tools. I found people that knew what I needed to know. I read books that addressed my situation. However, developing real, live relationships with others created accountability, ensuring I actually put the new tools into practice.

Different mindset

I confess, I had allowed a negative attitude about myself and my situations to dominate my thinking. While I know the Scriptures and can quote many of them, they were not what my soul was anchored to. It was time to remember who I am in Christ, and make that the truth by which I live. It was also time to remember who I want to be. I had lost sight of my dreams and desires, things that God had placed in my heart. I dusted them off and re-calibrated my vision.

It might not be feasible for you to take a sabbatical like I did, but I urge you to make time to stop. Step back. Take in the view from a different perspective. Find a mentor, accountability partner, expert, counselor, or coach with the tools you need. Really, it doesn’t matter their title. What’s important is that you glean from their resources. Reconnect with who you are in Christ and His calling.

Rely on the Lord for courage to stop trying harder, and try (and keep trying) different.

Posted in Character, Faith

Don’t Miss the Next Surprise

I really did not see it coming. It simply took me by surprise.

I had recently been ordained as a minister and was investing my time in church work and developing a leadership coaching/consulting business, when I received the email. It was a prayer request for two pregnancy centers in the area whose executive directors had resigned. “Let’s be praying for God to raise up strong, godly, life-focused directors to take those positions.” The words jumped off the screen and I felt compelled to apply to the pregnancy center in the community 45 minutes away.

“Wait a minute!” I argued with myself. “How can you possibly be the right one for the position?”

It was a valid question. I have a heart for pregnancy center ministry and served as a volunteer for many years. I worked for three years managing two pregnancy center offices in the area, but I had resigned there to focus more attention on church ministry. I continued to volunteer; however, I felt my days of pregnancy center vocation were over. In addition, over a period of months, I had become increasingly aware of God’s call to minister in the marketplace and was exploring ways to do so. And then…the email prayer request invaded my life.

I wrestled with the idea of applying for the job for two days. Finally I contacted my former boss, CEO of the local pregnancy center network. “I really feel like I’m supposed to apply for this position. Do you think I’m well-suited for it?”

Her reply: “Are you kidding? You are totally qualified!”

So I made a phone call and spoke with the exiting director. I submitted an application, had multiple conversations and three interviews, and prayed earnestly for the Lord to make His will clear throughout the process. The door of opportunity continued to open, and I was offered the job.

Today I know that I’m exactly where I belong. Yes, I have a 45-minute commute and put in long days. Yes, there are challenges and changes that need to be made. But I love what I do, and I love the people I work with.

What would have happened if I had ignored God’s prompting? What if I had dismissed His leading, because it didn’t fit my idea of His will for my life? I would have missed this divine surprise.

This blessed experience makes me wonder. How often do we miss divine surprises, because they arrive in boxes of unexpected shapes and sizes? How often do we bypass an open door, because we don’t like what we see inside or we’re afraid of the unknown? How often do we try to pry a closed door open, because that one suits our preferences?

No matter how thoroughly we plan, God’s plans are always the best.

You may not see it coming, but don’t miss the next divine surprise. Be open and flexible to God’s leading. Be willing to take a step of faith.

Posted in Character, Faith

It’s Time to Take Inventory

But don’t just listen to God’s Word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. James 1:22 NLT

It is so easy to be fooled when it comes to practicing God’s Word. As Christians, and especially leaders, we know what God’s Word says and we readily give answers to situations when they arise. We know God’s standards and are quick to instruct others in the way things should be. Knowing what ought to be done and diligently following God’s Word (and our own Bible-based advice) are two different things altogether. Leaders must regularly take inventory of their lives to avoid falling into the trap of deception.

Here are some questions I often ask myself:

  • Am I motivated by the love of Christ in thoughts, speech, and actions?
  • Do I show kindness, patience, and grace to others, especially to those within my own home?
  • Am I willing to share my faith with others?
  • Does my lifestyle reflect Christ well?
  • Do I spend time with the Lord daily in His Word and prayer, not as a strict ritual but as a means to commune with Him?
  • Is there unforgiveness or bitterness in my heart?
  • Are there areas where I feel that I can’t or won’t obey the Lord?
  • Do I reach out to the hurting and those in need?
  • Have I built margin in my schedule, intentionally creating opportunities for rest and renewal?

My husband and I are currently enjoying a summer sabbatical. We are intentionally spending time in God’s presence, to grow in relationship with Him. We are seeking God’s will for ministry at the church to which He has called us. In the midst of this season of blessing, I have taken inventory of my own life and have discovered a problem. I am not fully relaxed. I still have much on my mind. Although I am not involved in planning and conducting worship services, I have too much on my plate. There are things that I really love doing, and they take my attention.

I have sensed the Lord challenge my heart to take a break from blogging for the remainder of my sabbatical, among other things. I admit, this is difficult for me. I am passionate about communicating to others through the written word. Writing also nourishes my mind and heart. Nevertheless, I am committed to listen to God’s leading. I have experienced the blessings of obedience over and over again. I may not like it or understand it, but following God’s written (and spoken) Word is always best.

So with that…I look forward to connecting with you again in a few short weeks. In the meantime if you haven’t done so in a while, it’s time to take inventory.

Posted in Character, Faith

The Gift of Sabbath

Our culture prizes productivity. People bemoan how tired and busy they are, but they do not stop to evaluate how to live differently. Everyone is caught in this rat race and there is nothing they can do about it. The value of activity and busy-ness has infiltrated the Church. Although Christians may have different Biblical interpretations about Sabbath, most of us would agree that Sabbath is important. However, it is all too easy to give lip service. Yes, we know it is a good thing. However, we are under grace not under the Law. We don’t have to observe Sabbath.

When we approach Sabbath from a legalistic bent, I believe we miss the point. Jesus Christ taught that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 NIV). The Sabbath was created to meet the needs of people to rest and worship. In order to thrive in life and in God’s calling as leaders, it is crucial to invest in our own well being by regularly setting aside time to honor God and enjoy His blessings.

Up until a few years ago, I did not really understand the importance of soul-care. Over time I have learned the power of Sabbath in renewing my soul. If you are still pondering the merits of Sabbath, here are some things to consider.

The Sabbath is a gift from God. During the week of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, God modeled the Sabbath for His children. We were made to work hard for six days, and then cease from work on the seventh day. The day we set aside to rejuvenate is not as important as the rejuvenation itself. Our Creator knows that our bodies need rest. It seems counter-intuitive, but the most productive people are not the ones who burn the candle at both ends, continually pushing themselves beyond their limits. Research shows that the most productive people nap when they are tired, get eight hours of restful sleep at night, and are in tune with the needs of their bodies. Sabbath is a gift, not a restriction. When we enter into a rhythm of rest we function according to God’s design.

The Sabbath emphasizes simplicity. We cannot do everything. In order to incorporate the gift of Sabbath in our lives, we must listen carefully to the Lord about how to arrange our time. There are certainly many good things in which we could be involved. However, we must only say “yes” to the things that are best. That means letting go of things that are good to build margin in our schedules. Life becomes simpler when we guard regular times for rest, relaxation, refreshing activities, and worship. Last year my husband issued a challenge to our congregation. He gave a blank monthly calendar to each family and instructed them to select one day each week on which no work, appointments, or other non-restful activities were scheduled. This exercise helped families to simplify their lives by deciding and focusing on what is really important.

The Sabbath reveals our trust in God. When we take the bold step of incorporating Sabbath in our lives, we affirm that God’s ways are best. We demonstrate that we really believe that He is in control. We can take time to rest and refresh with confidence that the Lord will give us the time and strength we need to accomplish His will. We stop making excuses. We cease our striving to “make things happen,” and learn to lean on Jesus. We discover the joy, peace, and beauty of His presence as we observe Sabbath as an act of worship.

Do yourself a favor…don’t wait until you encounter burnout or health issues that force you to slow down. Do what is necessary to include Sabbath as a life style, and reap the astounding benefits.