Conference Time!

tgcconferencepic It’s almost time for my annual conference trip to The Gospel Coalition Conference.  I gain so much from these conferences, it is one of the biggest “pour in” moments of my year.  Every bit of leadership juice I pour out throughout the year is replenished here.

I learn a lot from not only the conference main sessions, but also the workshops that I attend.  I even learn a TON from the exhibition hall, connecting to resources and ministries that I can share through my work in the Women’s Ministry Council.

The first thing I do in order to prep for the conference is the purchase a new journal and colorful pens.  (Yes, I still hand write my notes… and science says it’s the best way to remember what you learn.)  I love using the colorful pens to help me quickly differentiate between sessions and workshops.

I am also excited because this year I added extra time on my trip, and I’m going to have a 24 hour personal retreat.  I have decided, finally, that my retreat is going to be one of personal reflection with God.  Laying down the burdens on my heart, forgiving, surrendering to His will for my life, seeking direction and clarity, and really just letting the Holy Spirit speak into my life.  I want to purge so that my spirit is fresh for the conference and the truths the Lord will speak into my life.getawaywithGod1

So, this is my last blog post until after the conference.  When I get back, I’ll let you know how the retreat went.  Then I’ll start my post conference posts sharing what I’ve learned.

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Adult Coloring Books – #Write31Days

coloringbook

Look what I found at PUBLIX!  I am super excited about this little find.  I actually grabbed it a few weeks ago, and my intention was to color it.  I had been going back and forth between using colored pencils, markers, or pens.  The pages are thick and single sided, which even brought to mind using watercolors for some of them.

Reality was that I just didn’t have the time to get started on anything, so it sat on my desk.

Today, I had a bit of free time.  I plucked the booklet off of my desk and began thumbing through the pages trying to decide my plan of attack.  Did I want to treat this as a coloring book, working my way through the pages?  Or, would I pick a few pages out and spend a little more effort on staying in the lines.  If I did this, I could potentially frame the pages and hang them as art pieces in my house.

However, to my surprise, I didn’t want to color a single page.  As I looked through some of the intricate designs I had an epiphany!   I could use the pieces for inspiration for a few quilling projects.  I think for now, I just want to work on some of the individual images.  However, I may then piece them together and create a picture/scene of some sort.

I’m curious if anyone else has ended up using the adult coloring books for something other than a relaxing color session?

Tend the Orchard – #Write31Days

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit,

showing yourselves to be my disciples.  John 15:8

Oh, to bear much fruit.  Good fruit.  This is a good thing for the body of believers.  In order to bear much fruit we need a few things to happen.

  • Seeds of the Word planted in good, fertile soil.
  • Daily exposure to the Son.
  • Nourishment through the Living Waters.

Our roots grow deep in the word, our tender shoots are fostered the God and the Pastors who lead the church we sit in from week to week.   We grow stronger, and then it is time for us to begin bearing good fruit, much fruit, and fruit that is long lasting.

Whether you are leading a church, a women’s ministry, or a small group… you will have an impact on how much fruit your members produce.

A careless orchardist will trim back the trees too far, which can limit their growth, limit their fruit, and even kill the tree.

A good orchardist will know how to trim to tree in a way that will encourage growth, foster repeated burst of fruit, and tend to the tree so that it continues to produce fruit for many years to come.

A few years ago, a woman I know approached a Pastor.  She had a gift and talent, and she wanted use it in her church.  He didn’t spend anytime talking with her about her offer, he responded swiftly:  “We don’t do that here. Thanks for offering.”

This past summer, I was speaking with a Pastor about the role of women’s ministry in the church.  As I shared my view on the need for women’s ministries to come up along side the Pastor’s vision, he placed his hand on my shoulder and said:  “What I want the women in my church to do, to help me the most, is to serve their husband and children well.”

A man I know spent years evangelizing on the streets of his city.  By the time he moved to a new city, he had gotten wrapped up in life, and a bit complacent.  After attending a men’s conference, he was convicted of his lukewarm Christianity and was ready to step back up to the plate.  He met with his new Pastor, confessed his complacency, and said he wanted to serve in the church.  The Pastor didn’t even take a moment to learn about this man’s background, but instead responded:  “No, brother.  Let us serve you.” 

I’ve listened to women share ideas at Women’s Ministry meetings only to have their suggestion dismissed for a myriad of reasons.  A leader who can’t see the value others can add to the ministry, looking for workers to do her bidding vs. Kingdom work.  Dismissing ideas without even listening to them in entirety.  Dismissing people who want to serve without knowing their background, credentials, or heart to serve.

In the last several years, I have spoken with many men and women who have stepped up to the plate to bear fruit, only to be trimmed back sometimes to the point of death of their dream or calling.  A person can only be rejected so many times before they stop offering.  A person can only be dismissed so many times before they stop feeling valuable.

The Bible tells us that every believe is given gifts, fruit bearing gifts.  These gifts will vary, and how they will be used will vary as well.  A leaders we have a responsibility to help those we lead identify their gift, develop that gift, and find a place to serve with that gift.

Not just some believers, but all believers.  That means when a Pastor looks over his podium to the 50 people or 5,000 people who are in his flock… each person has a gift to bear fruit.  If your body is not bearing fruit, it’s imperative to determine WHY.  If you are leading a Women’s Ministry of 15 women or 150 women, and your ladies are not bearing fruit, there must be a reason.

Before we look out to the faces we serve to place blame, we must examine ourselves as the leaders first.  Am I guilty of dismissing the gifts of service that have been offered to the ministry?  Am I guilty of dismissing people who have sought to step up to the plate and serve? Am I guilty of not recognizing the gifts in all of our members, helping to develop those gifts, and finding a place for those gifts to be used in our church or community?

A tree that has the gift of bearing fruit, can only bear good, plentiful, long lasting fruit if the conditions for this success are met.  If the Lord has planted a good seed in fertile soil, light from the Son, showers of Living Water… the roots will grow.  However, if that tree is continuously neglected by those charged to care for it and trimmed too far back, the fruit will be minimal … if any at all.

Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

Understanding is not Condoning

praytogetherRight now, there is a vein of pain in the United States.  Yes, the media (including social media) are quick to paint pictures without all of the facts.  Yes, there are some responses to what is happening in our country that are not RIGHT.   Yes, there are good cops out there who love and are committed to their communities.  Yes, there are people out there under the guise of “protestors” that are just trouble makers.  A predominant question I am seeing a lot of lately is about the protests that have become riots, coupled with looting.  It is a question of not understanding WHY communities are responding in such a radical… and violent way.  

Understanding what brings a group of people to this place is NOT condoning.  Understanding however does bring clarity, sympathy, and empathy.  Understanding can be the catalyst for change as more eyes open to what is happening around us.

I penned this on my Facebook page today:

If you have ever been so mad about something that you slammed a door & a picture fell off the wall and shattered…

If you have ever been so frustrated that you threw whatever was in your hand down hard on the table and it snapped in half…

If you have ever snapped back at a family member or raised your voice before you gave them a chance to speak…

If you have ever punished your child based on the evidence before you without giving them a chance to explain…

You have a FRACTION of the understanding needed to wrap your head around what is happening in Charlotte.

Sometimes it hurts… it hurts deep. It is raw and you just can’t control your actions. Right? No. Real? Yes. There are real people who are hurting right now, and it’s not because of one incident but the culmination of incidents. A boiling point.

Will there be opportunists who take advantage of this situation for their own gain? Who are not truly protesting or broken, but happy to take advantage of an opportunity to create mayhem … knowing with the # of people protesting they most likely won’t get caught? Of course.

We have a media who is happy to tell us about the long wrap sheets of these people who have been killed. Yet celebrates the accomplishments of guilty men who are let off with minimal to no consequence.

But you do have to scratch your head and wonder how in the world NY police took down the bombing suspect during a gun fight with a shot to the leg… and yet an unarmed man, walking away from the officers was such a threat that lethal force was required.

Just as much as scratching my head and wondering why a routine traffic stop has to take the life of one of our officers. Or, how the calculated attack on the Dallas officers occurred.

What this tells us is that there is still work to do. There are still strides to take forward. There is still hurt, pain, and marginalization. Just because we don’t see it here in our own lives or cities doesn’t mean it isn’t existing elsewhere.

As I have been listening to my fellow human beings talk about their experiences with racism… whether they are my grandmother’s generation or young kids… we can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. We can’t ignore it. Because, when we try to pretend or ignore… it impedes our ability to be honest and take the necessary steps to move forward.

We need to be the change.

 

Perhaps in God’s providence he is bringing forth an injustice to people whom he loves greatly that are being mistreated? He is exposing a bitter root that has gone deep and been ignored. Perhaps God is saying to his people STOP … LISTEN… and be my hands and feet. Stand up to injustice of all types. Maybe we are not in chaos and confusion, but instead the Lord is dropping the scales and opening our eyes to hurt, pain, and suffering of a group of people who are created in His image. Perhaps the Lord is calling us to STAND up for what is right, honorable, noble, and good. And in our stubbornness to see the sin before our eyes… we had to be shaken from our stupor.

Lord, I pray for our communities… the people who live in them and those who serve to protect them.  Let there peace and calm that comes, let real conversations happen that lead to healing and growth.  Let us more forward and not backward. Protect us from those who mean us harm.  Open our eyes to injustice.  Let us stand united, every color… civilians and officers… for good.  Amen.

We Need Roots to Grow, To Fruit.

Have you been there?  In the place where the Lord has given you a talent and calling, and yet you don’t ever seem to be able to actually USE it?  It can be a very confusing time, frustrating even.  Perhaps, however, our eyes have been to focused on the finish line that we neglected the process to get there.

I just finished reading Banning Liebscher’s book ROOTED, and I found myself taking my sweet time to get through his message.  Usually, I can finish a book of this size in a weekend.   This time, I would often set the book down for a few days to really think about the points Liebscher was making and looking at my own calling and periods of waiting on the Lord.

rooted

If you have any gardening experience you know the importance of a good root system.   Take a beautifully potted plant and pop it in the ground, and you’ll see the plant go into shock and die.  Why?  You didn’t take the time to tend to the roots before you planted it.  A seed dropped in good, fertile soil will produce strong plants in comparison to seeds careless scattered among the rocks. 

Banning Liebscher takes the time to set the context of his book into the Parable of the Soils, and then walks through the value of having solid roots in order that we may grow, and bear fruit.  Not just some fruit, but a lot of fruit.  Not just any fruit, but GOOD fruit.  Not just a temporary harvest, but a long and lasting life of fruit bearing.  But, in order to do this … we must have GOOD ROOTS.

Often when we are waiting for the Lord to reveal our calling or make a move, we feel like nothing is happening.  Yet, it is during this time when the Lord is working on our roots.  He has fashioned life around us, opportunities, and put people in place to create a fertile soil in which we can grow.  Then, like a good farmer, He tends to those seeds.  Weeds are pulled, water and nutrients are provided, and He carefully watches over for disease and pests.

Then after all of the work of preparing the soil, tending to the seeds, building up the roots, caring for the shoots… suddenly life bursts out of those gardens.  And it produces fruit, a lot of fruit. Good fruit.  If we want to produce a lot of good, long lasting, fruit… we have to start with our roots.  That means we dig into the Word, build our relationship with Christ, allow the Holy Spirit access to our lives to move it and shape it, and trust that the Lord’s plans will always be good.  We just need to trust in Him who we have faith in. 

If you are ready to start working on those roots, Liebscher’s book ROOTED is a great way to prepare the soil of your heart to receive, foster, and bear the fruit of God’s Word and Love.

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How Deep is Your Faith?

Some of you may recall that back in June I experienced quite a bit of delays trying to fly out to a conference in Indianapolis.  The benefit that came from those delays was the amount of time it gave me to dig into this book without many distractions.  I had no idea how much that reading was going to impact me while in a city far from my own, and would linger since returning home.

amwbook

In the beginning I thought this was going to be a book about deepening my faith.  In many ways I was right.    Exposing shallow faith, where law becomes an idol, and the wake we can leave behind when we are not walking in love and grace.  Recognizing that we have to do more than go through the motions, and that there will be times our faith will take out out of comfort zones into the deep end of the waters.  Pushing ourselves to a deeper understanding of the scriptures and what the Lord expects of us as a response to His Word.

What I didn’t expect to happen was the deeper convictions I was going to feel about how I interacted with this world.  Who was I serving?  How was I serving?  Was it easy, comfortable?  Did it require much of me?

I was great at serving those in my church, but what about the “least of these”?  What real needs have I been engaging?  Was I limiting the Gospel?  Was I limiting my service?  Was I talking a good talk but not walking along with it?  These questions were bouncing through my mind, as I sat in the airport… waiting.

Having a ministry position where I train other leaders, my biggest burden at that point was…

Am I training leaders who are going to go out and serve their people well … or are we just learning how to put on another successful event?  Are we playing ministry or living it?

Had I allowed the Gospel to be too small, was I not seeing the big picture?

This is where the book took me on a new journey about serving, loving, and living the Gospel out in real tangible ways.  Where it becomes more than talk.  Brandon Hatmaker’s words were reeling in my head, as I was walking back to my hotel after the conference let out for the evening.  It was late.  That is when Gregory made eye contact with me.

Gregory walked up to me, tears in his eyes. He was a homeless man, and he was hungry.  I don’t carry cash on me, but directly behind me was a restaurant.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was a better meal than a fast food place.   In Indianapolis, I met a man named Gregory who was from my home state.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath.  I wasn’t sure if I believed his story about being mugged and just needing a few dollars for some food.  It didn’t matter, I knew the man was hungry.

As we walked into the restaurant, Gregory was still crying.  He was sorry for bothering me.  He was sorry for asking. He was sorry for taking our time.  He asked for very little, but I told Gregory to order whatever he wanted.  He first asked for just a sandwich, but I told him to order more.  He gently asked my friend, “Do you think she’d let me have fries too?”.  She smiled and said absolutely, and immediately followed that up with inquiring what he wanted to drink.    In the end we had two sandwiches, french fries, and a large drink for Gregory.   He was grateful, his tears and slurs made him almost inaudible at times.

We prayed over Gregory before we left to return to our hotel.  It sounds like a beautiful moment, doesn’t?

What I neglected to share until this point, was the response of others.  The manager, saw Gregory walk in with us.  She approached us, looked right past my friend and I.  To Gregory, she spoke directly… “Looks like you convinced these nice ladies to buy you a meal.  You can wait here for it, but you can’t eat it outside.  You’ll need to take it and go.”

Her response was as if my friend and I were naive out of towners, taken advantage of by this con-man.  It was insulting to our intelligence and demeaning to Gregory.  He was now a paying customer, and should have been treated as such.  Gregory didn’t leave our thoughts for the rest of the trip, and quite often we prayed for him.  We didn’t see him again before it was time to leave.

Layovers and delays on my return flight home, I kept reading.  Over and over again, I found myself writing in the margins (next to a piece of text)…  Gregory.

From the book:

“It’s true that giving a sandwich to a homeless man on one day is not going to end hunger on the streets of your city.  But it will bless that man today.”

and in another passage:

“You see, after Jesus taught the most significant sermon in the history of time, Jesus didn’t make his way to the next sanctuary to meet  with the religious. He made his way to the next street corner to meet with the outcast. 

By meeting him in his greatest need, Jesus restored more than the man’s health; he restored his dignity. “

Gregory.

A Mile Wide opened my eyes to see so much more than how deep my own faith was, but my willingness to go the distance for my fellow man.  It changed my vision and scope of how ministry was supposed to look, and how I was going to change the way I approached our ministry work of training leaders.  It inspired me to a bigger Gospel.  A global Gospel.  A Gospel that feeds the man on the corner, that restores dignity, fights for justice, helps the Great Commission with feet on the ground.

Lord, I pray for Gregory tonight… where ever he lays his head.  I pray Lord, when I return to Indianapolis next year… I see his face again and we can break bread together.  Keep him safe, bring him to healing, and if I can’t see him again… let it be because he has returned to his family.  I pray for the hardened hearts that have forgotten that Gregory and those who are like him… are human beings made in your image.  Let us treat them as you would.  Amen.