Chronicling 40: Day 187 of 365

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Do you know what I love about the word “new”?  I love it’s endless implications.

The excitement of a new experience.  The joy of a new family member.  The peace of finding a new perspective.  The opportunity of being a new creation.

New means that the old has gone away.  I’ve replaced an old habit with a new one.  I’ve replaced a broken down car with a reliable new one.  I’ve replaced my past with a new future.

New means that I do not need to be shackled by was has happened, only open to what can happen.

Some people fear change, so much so that they would cling on to the comfort of the old… even when it isn’t good… because it’s familiar, expected, and predictable.

Challenge yourself to be open to new things.

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For the Love of Women’s Ministry

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This has been a very interesting summer, as I have been developing a Women’s Ministry college course.  I’ve been entrenched in books on every topic from Women’s Ministry leader books, to deeper books on the biblical stance on women as leaders in the church.  I’ve been digging into the scriptures, looking at historical evidence, and frankly…. my head is going to explode.  There is a lot of information rolling around in my head, and much of it has challenged and even changed the way I viewed certain topics.

It has also increased my passion for women’s ministry, but a different women’s ministry from what I have ever known.  It has also opened my eyes to some of the glaring holes we have in resources, as well as lifted my spirit as I have uncovered things in the works across the country that are going to turn women’s ministry on it’s head.

Women play a huge part in the life of their church, most recent surveys estimate women make up 55-65% of most congregations, additionally they make up about 80% of the volunteer force of the church.  This volunteer force are the ones responsible for teaching and leading other women, teaching our children in Sunday School, leading Kids Clubs, volunteering for VBS, and this is in addition to service like preparing meals for new moms, taking care of hospitality for Sunday morning, rocking babies in the nursery, volunteering for secretarial duties in the church, cleaning up the church, etc.

Yet, it is becoming more apparent, that the majority of these women who are volunteering to teach and lead are not being discipled for those positions.  Are we ensuring that our women are qualified to teach or lead, or thankful for the warm body willing to volunteer?  Are we encouraging our volunteers by equipping them with mentors?

Women’s Ministry has lost focus in recent years, becoming unbalanced in what they offer to the women in the church.  There are more social events, fewer study groups.  Study groups are focused on content from books, versus content from the scriptures.  We are studying books about the bible, instead of the bible itself.  We have lost our ability to interpret scripture on our own.  We come together for social events to foster community, which is important, but at the cost of spiritual growth.

Why has this happened? 

In part, it is because Women’s Ministry has no real support at the moment.

Women’s Minsitries are often independent ministries within the church, that exist in their own sphere.  Pastors, sort of leave the women to fend for themselves.  They lack invested guidance, and many are not truly clear about the church’s vision.  The goal of a women’s ministry should be to use their calender of events and studies to support the vision of the church.  But in order to do so, the leader team really needs to understand what that is.  We need our Pastors to not only allow women’s ministry to exist in the church, but also to step in and help mold it.  We need a Shepherd.

When it comes to resource materials on Women’s Ministry, much of what is available is very outdated.  There are books and websites that lean more toward party planning, and less about making sure our ministry is gospel centered.   Additionally, many of these books are out of touch with the current obstacles and difficulties women face TODAY.    We are lacking books of substance, that train us on how to be effective leaders, run effective and gospel centered ministries, how to minister to the women in our church, and with changes in societal norms…. these subjects are just going to get more confusing.

Women’s Ministries are being led off the cuff, wading the waters and uncertain of what to do.  We begin to mimic other ministries, or do age old activities because “that is what women’s ministry does”.  We are afraid to break those molds, because women won’t come.  Or, we want to… but we can’t get the support of church leadership because of the stereotype of women’s ministry in the past.

I spent the last week speaking to women’s ministry leaders across the country.  I wanted to understand what the greatest obstacles women’s ministry leaders face.  I received the same answers, state to state…. east coast to west coast.

1)  We don’t know how to reach the 20 year old women in our church.

2)  We don’t have a budget to work with, to get the materials we need.

3)  We don’t have support from our Pastors.

I reached out to a woman who wrote her doctorate thesis on Women’s Ministry, and sadly… she didn’t have an answer to these questions.  She confirmed that these are indeed real problems, on a board scale, but there hasn’t been an answer in the church.  She surmised in her thesis paper, the best way to address it was to step outside of the church and start a parachurch organization.

I was saddened that this was her conclusion.

Then I looked at the statistics on the number of women leaving the church, and began to wonder.

I dug a bit deeper…. why are women leaving the church?  Why are women not committing to bible studies?  What are we missing???

Spiritual Gifts.

We are missing the fact that we have a church made up of mostly women, where God has bestowed gifts upon them to use for His purposes.  We are not identifying them in the church, we are not developing them in the church, and we really are not using them in the church.  Women feel as if they have more to offer than child care and making coffee.  They have gifts of teaching and mentoring, that are being unused.  So they leave, looking for a place where these gifts will be embraced.

Spiritual Growth.

Women want to grow spiritually, they want to dig deeper in to the word, and they don’t know how.  We have failed in bible literacy for women, underestimating what they can and cannot do (or understand).  We offer them cake, but eventually they get tired of cake and then they stop showing up for study groups.  It’s because their spirit wants something more substantial…. they may not even realize that is what they are missing.  They do know the group is not meeting a need.  We need to create programs that address this need.   Not just asking for volunteers to lead studies, but identifying and training study leaders.  Give those without confidence, confidence.

Spiritual Community.

Something that really breaks your heart, is when you hear a woman from your church tell you that she is lonely.  Recently a well known author posed a question on her facebook page, she asked what was the one thing women felt they were lacking in their church.  The answer, community.  Women want to not just have a church family on Sunday, or bible study nights.  They want to go back to the earlier church days where we were a community who “did life together”.  Older women responded that they missed having lunch with the church on Sundays after services.  Another commented that in 10 years of being in her church, she had only been invited to dinner with another family ONE TIME, and that her invitations were going unanswered.   She lamented that she had a closer relationship with her “non-Christian friends” than those she worships with.

A women’s ministry needs balance, and needs to be Christ focused.

Have social gatherings, like brunches and ladies night out events.  This is where we begin to form community.  It is the place where we start getting to know each other, establishing trust, and building relationships.  Use these social gatherings as an avenue to tap into the spiritual gifts of the women attending.  As you learn of their spiritual gifts, funnel them toward study groups that will help develop their spiritual growth and maturity, and build closer tight knit community. It is here that women will begin to have deeper bonds and are given the ability to serve each other with compassion and love, counsel and guide, mentor and disciple.  Then, as we wrap it all together, we have built up women to serve the church.  Women who are committed to serving in ways that support the over all vision of the church.

As our Pastors begin to recognize this shift in ministry, where we are intentional about every event & study pointing toward Christ and supporting the church’s vision… I believe we will see greater support for the ministry.

The change must start with us. 

The great news is that there is a widespread recognition amongst women’s ministry leaders that there is a shift coming in women’s ministry.  The are organizations that are developing to train women’s ministry leaders, and provide support and encouragement.  Several are focusing on the Pastors, and getting them on board with effective women’s ministry.  Three books are currently on the market that should be in your Women’s Ministry library.

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As these various organizations and ministries complete their programs for Women’s Ministry trainings, and more support resources come available, I will definitely be sharing them here.

It’s time to look at our women’s ministry with new eyes.  There are many men and women who see a revival on the horizon, within women’s ministry, or at least with women’s ministry a contributing factor.  Churches can’t afford to lose their women because they feel unrecognized, under appreciated, and under valued.  And women, we can’t take a posture that we will just leave the church and do it on our own.  Let’s not divide our churches any further, but restore unity within the body.  Be a part of the solution.

INTERNAL MAKEOVER

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I love watching shows about makeovers. I want to glean from the experts tips I can apply to my own life.  And, to be honest, there are moments I wipe the sweat from my brow and think “Whew, at least I’m not that bad.”

Brutal honesty folks, I’m not perfect.  Clearly.

More exciting to see, however, is when internal makeovers happen.

That is why we are drawn to romance stories.  The woman with the hardened heart that opens up to love again, swoon.  The bad boy that couldn’t be tamed, but that sweet girl changed his ways, swoonier.   For us believers, couple any of the above with someone coming to Christ in the process, swooniest.

As a mom, nothing gives me more hope than watching movies about prodigals… who went their own way, and then returned to mom, dad and God.  Swoonierest. (Yes, I am aware I am now making up my own words.)

We are drawn to internal makeovers because they give us hope, that anything that is happening our lives or  with those we love is not necessarily permanent. 

We hope that our husbands will change their boys nights out to family nights in.

We hope that our teenage kid will change from rebellion to joyful obedience.

We hope that our broken relationships will be mended because someone will see the error of their ways.

Internal makeovers give us hope because they mean there has been change, growth or progress.The problem with internal makeovers is that we can be paying to much attention to where others need change and ignoring that need in ourselves.

Matthew 7:3-5 NIV

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The prodigal may be the person you are looking at in the mirror.

Human nature tries to deflect in order to protect.  It is easy to give yourself a pass, when you can point to someone else and say they are worse than you are.  It’s easier to blame someone else for the problems in your life, than to accept accountability on your part.   You can avoid having everyone looking at you & your failures… when you can get everyone looking somewhere or someone else.Magicians use distraction in their tricks.  They want you to pay attention to something totally unrelated to their trick, so you are not watching the hand or mechanism making the trick work.  Deflecting attention away gives them a chance to keep their techniques hidden.  We use deflection to hide the truth we don’t want others to see.

I was reading a devotion one day, and it ended with a prayer.  The writer was asking God for an internal makeover, and I couldn’t help but say AMEN for myself.  I know there are still areas in my heart, mind and life that could use a make over.  There are areas where I have failed others, and myself.  I have struggled with forgiving others, forgiving myself.  I have struggled with selfishness and self preservation. I have struggled with control issues and obedience.  I have struggled with faith and commitment.  I have struggled with relationships.  I have struggled with my own self.

I needed an internal makeover.  I need to stop looking at others, stop deflecting, stop blaming, stop justifying… and WHOLLY SURRENDER.

In doing so, everything changed… and it is still changing.  I began to see things differently, and what amazed me the most was that those changes were visible to others.  They could see the change in me.  God put the right people in my life to encourage me in these times, people to affirm and guide, correct and suggest.  God also removed people from my life, that were stumbling blocks and toxic.  He removed negativity and discouragers, those who were holding me back or holding me down.  I found a freedom I didn’t have before, in my life… my thoughts… my heart.  A freedom that continues to grow and has allowed God to move me to places I never expected, and use me in ways I never imagined.

When you wholly surrender, and God starts that internal makeover, it’s can be a slow start but it builds momentum.

I also learned that before I could wholly surrender, I had to be broken.

Leading up to that moment, where I was ready for that internal makeover to happen… changes had to be made.  They were not easy, I didn’t understand it at the time, some of it was very painful, and admittedly I didn’t want it to happen.  I was actively fighting to keep certain things as the status quo.  Now, in retrospect, I see the purpose of it … even the pain.  I had to be stripped of everything that was standing in the way of my relationship with Christ, and keeping me from seeing the the truth about myself.

Ephesians 4:22-24To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Then something unexpected occurred.  The more I focused on myself and my issues, the less I cared about everyone else.  I was less interested in molding them into my idea of what was right & godly.  It isn’t my job to make anyone else more Christ-like, that is the job of the Holy Spirit…. a job I am entirely unqualified for.  My job is to keep my eyes on Jesus, my head in the Word, my heart filled with the Holy Spirit and do what God has called of me.
Lord, I pray that you will help me to keep my eyes focused on you, and my ears open to your calling.  So that when you call my name, I may answer that your servant hears you.  May I worry about my own righteousness and holiness over that of others so that I do not stand in judgment over others, but rather repentant over my own iniquities.  Continual renew to the new spirit your created in me, and allow me to be a teacher of words, but a living example of Christ. Amen.

Recommended Reading:  Romans 14:1-23

BUYING SALVATION- Making It Up to God

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In the days before she knew Christ, she was broken.  She felt abandoned by her father.  She never felt good enough for her step father.  She had a great mom, who was overworked and under appreciated.  She attended schools where she was the perpetual “new girl” because they moved a lot.  And, even when she settled in, she was always different than the rest of the kids.  She would withdraw herself into the background, hoping to go unnoticed.

By the time she would graduate high school, she would find her self settled into rebellious ways.  She wanted to stand out, and if she couldn’t be recognized for her accomplishments and her good deeds…. she would take another approach.   The way she dressed, talked, walked all would tell another tale.  A story of a confident, wild child.  An illusion of someone who didn’t care.  A mask that hid her insecurity and her depression.  She would find her self bar hopping and bed hopping.   Looking for acceptance, love and appreciation any place she could find it.

Do you know her, this girl?  I bet you do.

She was that girl from high school, who went off to college and went “crazy”.    She was that girl who shocked everyone when she got pregnant in the 11th grade.  She was the girl who dropped out of school to become a stripper.  She was the friend you thought you knew everything about, until she attempted suicide.  She was your sister, who suddenly got wrapped up in drugs and ran away.  She’s the girl that so many people will often ask “what ever happened to that girl….”.

You may know her.   You may be her.

Then, by the grace of God, she met Jesus.  It may have been in rehab or even that stint she did in the local prison.  It might have been on that cold floor, with her tear stained battered face.  It may have been through that person who approached her on the street corner & told her there was another life for her than this.  The neighbor or roommate, who steadily went to church and simply extended an invite.  It could have happened at the funeral, when she was burying her best friend who died of a drug overdose.  He could have found her lying on her bed, needle dangling from her arm… and he whispered “I am not done with you yet” and breathed new life into her.

She met Jesus.  Her life, your life, changed.

With the deepest of sincerity, she appreciates and acknowledges what God has done in her life.  She is a new woman.  Married.  Children.  House. Dog. Cat. Fish.  She shares her testimony with the youth, the women, and possibly even during a service every now and again.

People look to her with awe.  They see the scars and wounds that have healed, ever present reminders of what she went through & where Jesus has brought her from.

And in her thankfulness, she strives to pay God back for his mercy and compassion and grace.  She volunteers for every committee.  Her tithing is above and beyond.  She leads the church study, leads a recovery group, disciples troubled kids in the church, she goes on missions trips, she dresses modestly, passes out hygiene kits to the homeless and witnesses to those who are lingering on the street corners.  She funnels Christ into everything she does, trying to prove to Him that she was worth saving.

All the while, she holds onto that past, which motivates her to keep doing good, trying to use all of these good deeds to erase the sins of her past.

To you who read this, nodding your head with understanding….

You can not buy your salvation, or ever pay God back for your salvation.   It was a gift.  For you.  Not to shackle you to the memories of your past, but to set you free into a future of great hope and joy.

Satan wants you to hold onto your past.  He wants you to believe that some sins can’t be forgiven or at least forgiven easily.  He wants you to believe you have to earn your salvation; because he knows that when you make a mistake you will feel like a failure.  Whenever we hold on so tightly to our past, we are sinning.  We are showing God a lack of trust in His word and a lack of faith in His promises.

You are a new creation.   (2 Corinthians 5:17)

You have been washed clean.  (1 John 1:7)

You have been adopted in to His family.   (Ephesians 1:5)

You are loved.   (Romans 5:8)

In John 8:1-11 a woman stood accused.  Jesus said to the crowd that if any of them were free of sin, they could cast the first stone.  No stones were thrown, the crowd dispersed.  Jesus said to her “Go, and sin no more”.     That was it.  He didn’t leave her with a debt that needed to be paid.

Because Jesus himself  will pay her debt, paid your debt… my debt.

In Isaiah 43:25 we read that our sins are blotted out.  Blotted out is different from erased.  Erased would imply that it was gone, entirely, disappeared.  Blotted out means that the transgression was marked through, illegible.  This meant an acknowledgment that the sin existed, but it is no longer counted against you.   We should never come to a place where we believe we are NOT sinners.  We all are.  The Word tells us that ALL will fall short of the glory of God.  But, we know that through the blood of Jesus Christ… those sins are blotted out.  They are no longer held against us.  There is nothing we need to pay back.  The debt is paid.  It was paid on the cross…. once and for ALL.

It’s time to let go of the past that shackles you and embrace real freedom.   Stop allowing Satan to steel your freedom through the lies of doubt.  Take down the wall you are building between yourself and God, when you hold on to those sins you think are unforgivable.  Stop wasting time and energy trying to buy your salvation or pay God back for your debt.  Find confidence in the fact that the debt is paid, you are free…. and in that freedom God will take you to places you could never imagine.

 

 

STATE OF SHIFT

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This weekend I attended The Gospel Coalition’s National Women’s Conference, in Orlando FL.   The woman who arrived, and the woman who left… simply are not the same person.

Prior to this conference, I was in a “state of shift”.  My friend, Jane Garee, coined that phrase in reference to that time period where you know that a change is going to happen, but you are not sure what it is.  And, I think it’s a pretty good description.  If you have ever driven a manual transmission car (aka stick shift, or 5 speed) you will know shifting is the act of moving from one gear to the next.  You start in first gear, shift to second, and so on.

When you drive a manual transmission car, there is a cue that it is time to shift from one gear into the next.  In the past, you would watch the RPMs to know when to shift.  In the more modern, smart cars, there is an indicator to let you know to shift (aka “the dummy light”).  But for those of us who have been driving manual cars for a long time, we can actually feel a change in the car, it tells us that it is time to shift.

The good news is that with a car, you know where you are shifting to.  The next gear.  However, in life, when you start feeling that need to shift….  you are not always certain where you are shifting to.

It is exciting.

It is, also, terrifying.

The unknown.

By the end of the conference, I was no longer in a “state of shift” but instead I was in forward movement.  Some very clear directions were delivered to me.  I have a place to shift to.  I still don’t know the final destination, but that is ok.  When driving a manual car, you don’t shift from first gear to fifth.  You have to work up through the rest of the gears first.

I have a lot to say in the coming weeks about the conference itself, so I’m leaving a bit of a cliffhanger.

But right now, I sit back in awe.  Listening to the Word of God.  Following His directions for today, and letting tomorrow worry about itself.