Paralyzed in Fear or Reenergized in Faith- A Reminder and Charge to Followers of Jesus

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In light of the news coming out of Texas yesterday and this morning, I wrote these words to my sisters at Centerpoint Sisterhood but I feel they are relevant and appropriate to all followers of Jesus. As a community of believers, we all need to be reminder of God’s promises and His Sovereignty. If you are a follower of Christ, I hope these words will be encouraging to you too. And please know I pray for you! I pray the words I write would be helpful, uplifting, and encouraging in your lives and in your journey of faith and that they find their way to those who could use them. If you have questions of faith, my message box is always open. God Bless you and yours! 

Dear Sister,
It seems as if every day there is a new story. A heartbreaking, devastating story of senseless evil and violence, but I encourage you to take heart! He has overcome the world! Jesus knew these things would take place and He gave us His words in John 16:33. Words for times like these. When things make no sense in logical ways, when it seems easier to place the blame on policies and illnesses and motives, when the darkness seems to have won, remember He has already won! He has overcome and He reigns! He is sovereign over all things.

In these times, look for the good. Look for God’s grace and His glory. Do not be paralyzed in fear but reenergized in faith. The enemy wants us stopped cold in our tracks, he wants people to be fearful to walk into churches, scared to gather in Jesus’s name. But we will not be stopped!

We will continue to gather, continue to serve, and continue to praise and lift high the name of Jesus!! And we will be women of prayer! We will pray, pray, and pray!!! Pray for the victims families, pray for those who are suffering, pray for all those who are lost, pray for our community, pray for the world, pray for peace, and for God’s strength to continue to do the work he has started in us for His glory.

I am praying for you today. Praying that the Lord would give you spiritual sight to see the truth and see the spiritual battle at hand. I’m praying you would put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. I’m praying that the Lord’s would give you courage and strength so you can step forward in faith. I’m praying you would find time to dedicate to prayer and time to rejoice in the fact that our God is not in the bit surprised by any of this and that He is sovereign over all things. I am praying for you, for peace and comfort and that you will shine brightly for the Lord in a darkened world. Go! Serve and love others in Jesus’s name!

With love , your sister, Shanna xo

Circles of People, Circles of Prayer

 

circlesof people

It was Thursday night. It had been a long, good week but I was tired. On top of our usual routine busyness, there had been a MOPS meeting to prepare for and a Sisterhood message to finish. I had just finished making dinner and I was craving some moments to myself. To my kids delight, I let them eat their dinner on trays in front of the TV. The sound of Miles from Tomorrowland and quiet kids gave me some peaceful moments to take a deep breath and strategize my next steps. I could only manage to think one step ahead and doing the dishes seemed like the next logical thing to do.

I stood at the kitchen sink and sighed over the mountain of dishes. The dishes were not going to get done by staring and sighing so I began to scrub and circle the dishes clean. The warm, soapy water became a salve to my weariness. And as I scrubbed, I became overwhelmed. So overwhelmed, I began to weep. This was a different “overwhelmed” than I have become accustomed to. Not the overwhelmed by busyness or by my to-do list or by expectations, but overwhelmed with deep gratitude for my life and the people in it.

Right there in my kitchen, in the quietness of my heart, memories came back to me so clearly I felt as if they were present time. One by one they came. I could smell things, feel things, and see details of things I had forgotten. I was with people who have long gone to be with Jesus.

I was a little girl standing in the church kitchen, looking up into the faces of a circle of kind, older women. The women were smiling, chatting over their work of cleaning up the communion cups. They welcomed me in their space and allowed me to eat the leftover communion crackers. I felt accepted and safe.

I was a little girl sitting in an oversized metal folding chair among a circle of other folding chairs placed around the small living room of my childhood home. Each chair was filled by a Godly man or woman. Some held hymnals and others large, beautifully tabbed Bibles in their laps. Their songs of praise beautiful. Their prayers powerful. I felt accepted and safe. 

I was a preteen kneeling on the rug in my parent’s friends living room, not quite happy that all my other friends were out at the movies and I was at a Bible study. Regardless of my inside-ungrateful-attitudes-struggles, I was still still in the circle and I listened to God’s word be discussed and life struggles shared. I felt accepted and safe.  

I was reminded of the countless times my parents had us hold hands around the kitchen table. This happened with whoever was joining us for dinner, when we needed the Lords’s guidance, or when we were praying for someone who needed prayer. I felt accepted and safe.

Circles of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe. 

These were the people my parents chose to surround me with. Faithful, Jesus-loving, people who seeked God with all their heart. These were people who let me sit at their feet, invited me into their discussions, welcomed me to participate, let me ask my questions, and loved me through my attitudes and seasons of growing up.

They were not perfect people. They struggled with life. They went through trials. Some of them lost their way. But these are the people who God used to shape my life. These are the people whose stories and testimonies shaped how I saw God and Jesus. These are the people who have prayed circles in and around my life.  Prayers I am just starting to see answers to. These are the people who I wept to God in gratitude and thanksgiving over.

Somehow, the dishes seemed to get done quicker than I thought. I lingered in the memories as long as I could. I didn’t want to leave. But the call of “Mommmm!!!!” brought me to my next task. I wiped the tears from my eyes and heading into the living room to fulfill some random request. The feeling of overwhelming gratitude remained.

I want my children to have what I had. I want to leave a legacy like my parents have left for me. I want my children to grow up in circles of Godly men and women. To be able to sit at Jesus-loving people’s feet, invited into conversations about faith, feel safe enough to ask questions, sing songs of praises and embrace their part and purpose of the Kingdom of God. I want my children in circles of imperfect people who know they need Jesus, where powerful prayers are prayed, where life struggles are prayed through, where testimonies of God’s faithfulness are declared.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Where they feel accepted and safe. 

As I write this, I am overwhelmed and weep again. This time for the people currently in our life. Our faithful parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Our Godly friends. Our intergenerational church family whom I love so much. People who have graciously given us room to grow in our faith and have come alongside us, encouraging us in our parenting and leadership, and loving us unconditionally. People who have welcomed our kids at their tables, fed them, watched over them, given them smiles and a hugs, invited them into prayer circles and to join them in singing songs of praise. Imperfect, Godly men and women, who know they need Jesus, who pray circles around them and encourage them with their words.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe.   

 

A Ship Called “The Fixer”

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I am a fixer. When something is broken, I want to fix it. Messy situations call to me like a sirens’ song to a ship. I want to jump in and help but sometimes I find myself frustrated and overwhelmed by the rocks of reality and the lack of my resources. Conflict makes me uncomfortable and angry disagreements make me uneasy. I wish the world could find a way to live in peace, love, and harmony, like pretty boats sailing on calm, happy seas at a beautiful sunset. (I know, I am a dreamer.)

There seems to be a lot a whole lot of broken lately. A lot of things that need fixing and many jagged rocks to be snared upon. From world wide issues to individual interactions and attitudes, I have been watching and listening, reading and thinking. I have been praying and  I have been trying to explain and solve situations and circumstances that are completely out of my control. When I find myself tired and heading for the rocks of burden and frustration, I need to steer my ship in a different direction.

If I had unlimited resources and ultimate power, I would drill wells for clean water, make sure each person had a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, shoes on their feet, and food in their bellies. I would find each orphan a home. If I had the power to take away all brokenness, fear, and the hurt, I would. I would cure cancer and all other diseases that destroy and take people away too soon. I would mend and heal broken relationships and anything else that cause physical pain, shattered lives, and futures that seem hopeless and scary.

But I do not have that power, I am not God (and a good thing too. I would royally mess things up.) I cannot see the whole span of time or His divine plan. I cannot see how God orchestrates divine interventions of people crossing paths and circumstances that allow people opportunities to grow in their faith and love. I cannot see the finest details or understand how harden hearts soften or how darkness turns to light through the smallest miracles and touches of love found in the most perilous of storms.

I am limited but I serve and love a unlimited God. When I start feeling overwhelmed and the need to fix things, or more accurately the need to control things, I am better off leaving those things in the hands of God and trusting in His divine purpose and plan. Trusting He will provide.

Yes, I can be the hands and feet of Jesus. I will still reach out, walk alongside, and love the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the widows, the orphans, and the lost. BUT I will not get overwhelmed trying fix the unlimited number of problems that exist or get frustrated with my lack of resources to fix them. God has ultimate control, the power, and all the resources necessary. He is watching and listening. God hears the cries of our earnest hearts. He hears and listens and because He listens, I can be calm, hear and listen too.

In the book of Malachi, chapter 3, Malachi points out different groups of people- the complainers and the believers. The complainers (Malachi 3:13-15) felt as though they were serving and not getting anywhere. They were grumpy, frustrated and could not see the rewards of their faithful service. In their eyes, their world was getting worse and they did not like not having the ultimate control to fix it.

The believers, the faithful remnant (Malachi 3:16-18,) found themselves surrounded by the same circumstances but they remained faithful to God by fearing the Lord and His plans. The believers met together to edify and encourage each other, to worship God. They held God high in awe. They did not try to control the situations, they did not complain, they spoke to each other about the Lord and His truths. God paid attention to them. He paid attention to their words and the way they served in gladness.

   16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

Malachi 3:16-18 English Standard Version (ESV)

When faced with situations that need repair, I can remember the faithful remnant and their example of servitude in gladness. When I feel helpless or overwhelmed, I can pray  in full confidence knowing God hears my prayers and he remembers me. I can remember that I am a treasured possession, like a jewel, beautiful, unique and precious. I can recall my own sufferings, trials, and God’s faithfulness to me and use those past experiences to have compassion and help another person. I can surround myself with a cloud of joyful, glad witnesses who can speak truth and encouragement to me. And I can trust, I can trust that the Lord sees the horizon and all the storms in between. He has the resources necessary and in His strength and for His glory, He will provide.

Be encouraged! Keep sailing your ship forward, diverting the rocks and learning from the storms. Pick up those who have been shipwrecked, help where you can but do not be burdened. Trust that God has you in the right place at the right time, it will be He who gives you want you need and it will be God who completely restores those in need. Fill your sails with prayers and thanksgiving, and enjoy the views as the Lord gently guides you in the right direction through life.

August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar with Reflection Questions

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August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar

July’s Scripture Writing Plan focused on God’s movement in our lives. The idea was to set aside ten minutes a day, copy the scripture and circle the verbs found within the passage. Using the daily word as a prayer focus, I hoped we would ask God to help us recognize His activity in our lives and journal our reflections.

Each morning,  I tried to slip away to a quiet place to open the Word of God. This worked best when the kids seemed occupied or when I turned on the TV to occupy them (just keeping it real…sometimes you got to do what you got to do.) Some days I was more successful at this than others, but on the days when I was able to give my complete attention to God, His Word and His voice, I felt the time spent prepared my heart and mind for the day’s constant barrage of requests and demands thrown at me. I noticed my reactions to other people seemed more gracious. I said “yes” more than “no.” I was less distracted with social media and more aware of relationships. Heavenly, eternal things seemed way more important than the earthly, fleeting things. I was filled with peace and joy. Don’t get me wrong, life was not perfect, easy or without challenges. There were still trials and life to work through but how I approached those challenges was different. I found myself prompted to rely on the LORD’s strength and reflecting on the words I was hiding in my heart and mind.

Growing up, my dad always said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” I have always remembered that phrase (see Dad, I was listening.) I do not think we give enough thought to what we are filling our ears, eyes, heart, mind and even our mouths with. What we allow in our lives will shape and mold us and eventually those things will impact the way we think, speak, act and respond. This month (and every month), I am choosing “Truth in, Good out.”

The August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar contains scriptures that refer to our reactions to God. For deeper reflection, I have included question for each passage. My hope and prayer is for you to join me as we dig into the scriptures and ask God to align our reactions to His word.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8

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July Scripture Writing Plan and Prayer Prompts-Actions of God

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July Scripture Writing Plan and Prayer Prompts

This summer I am co-leading Margaret Feinberg’s  Bible study called “Verbs of God-How God Moves on Our Behalf.” The study focuses on the active nature of God even when our emotions, moods and circumstances makes it hard for us to see Him, hear Him or feel His presence. God is always active, engaged and fully involved in our lives. He continually redeems, restores and renews us. He draws us closer to Him and desires to have a full, loving relationship with Him. Relationships take two people though. How can we get to know God and His nature better?

As I was preparing for this week’s session, it was put on my heart to create a scripture writing plan and prayer prompt calendar to further focus on God’s movement in our lives. The idea is to take ten minutes a day to copy down the passage and circle the verbs found within the words. Using the daily word as a prayer focus, pray that God will help you recognize His activity in your life. Listen for His voice and journal any reflections or revelations you may have. I hope we will be able to find specific themes by the end of the month. (The word/passages correspond with the ESV and NIV translations of the Bible.)

Prayer is simply a two way conversation between you and God.

-Billy Graham

One note on prayer….Prayer doesn’t have to be a long-winded “speech” filled with big words and deep theology. Some of my best prayer times have been short prayers filled with unrefined words drenched with emotion. God pays attention to what is in our heart and our posture towards Him. If praying hasn’t been “your thing,” don’t worry, start small and say what is on your heart and mind. Prayer is also about being quiet and listening. There is no right or specific amount of time you should pray for. It is okay to say a few words and be still before God.

If you want some ideas of what to pray for, here is a visual to use. (It is a great resource for teaching kids how to pray too!)5 finger prayer

 

I hope you will consider joining me this month and I pray that you will see, hear and feel God working in your life.

July Scripture Writing Plan and Prayer Prompts

Lessons From a Gorse Bush

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I have sat down to write for days but everything I write seems meaningless compared to my lengthy prayer list.  A list filled with situations riddled with suffering, grief and pain. Intercessory prayers for people close to my heart who are experiencing the hard reality of life. Stark reminders that life is precious and difficult.

My heart is also heavy and broken for my fellow Americans. We share a human condition, a need for love and live within the borders of a country that claims liberty and justice for all. Yet unbelievable, indescribable crimes continue to be committed against innocent people. Sometimes there are no words, no easy answers. When the future seems scary and the state of our soul seems hopeless, when our hearts are perplexed, discouraged, and despaired, there is something we can do. We can respond and our response will define us.

There is a spiky, flowering evergreen bush native to the coastlines and wastelands of western Europe called a gorse plant. These plants are masters of adapting to their environment. They can withstand sun, drought and even fire. Fire which may initially burn the plant down but not destroy it. Their stalks quickly regenerate and the heat of fire can stimulate their hard seed pods to pop open and begin new life.

Like the gorse bush, we must fearlessly continue to thrive in the environment we have been rooted in. We do not stop growing or blossoming because our surroundings have become rocky, stormy or fiery. Our children, the next generation, are watching how we respond to difficulties. We are modeling (sometimes unknowingly) what to say, how to act, where to turn, and how to pray. With the Lord’s help, we must build in them a sense of confidence and courage in Christ. Confidence in no matter what is happening, God is still in control. We must cultivate a place where they can draw from, a place of fertile faith and new hope, so when the fires of uncertainty and tragedy come they might feel burned but never destroyed.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:9 (ESV)

The conifer leaves of the gorse bush are spiky and spiny. Over time, the leaves harden into long, sharp thorns. Yet out of these hardy stalks and pointy thorns comes life. In springtime, fuzzy little buds start to appear and eventually bloom into glorious yellow bursts. Their fragrant blossoms smell of sweet coconut attracting bees and animals to its thorny retreat. The plant becomes a safe haven for birds and animals who find protection among the spikes.

It can be hard to see good in terrible situations but I urge you to look beyond the spikes and spines to find small specks of yellow hope. Do not let times of uncertainty and suffering harden our hearts. Instead of getting caught up in disagreements, let’s find things we have in common. Trade arguments for prayers and disagreements for love.

You may have had to walk through a period of grief and suffering, I would encourage you to be brave and think back to how you felt during the process. Use memories and forgotten feelings as a catalyst of sympathy and empathy. Ask the Lord for a compassionate heart. Be a doer and a helper. Sometimes that may mean sitting in silence, holding the hand of a grieving person, and praying for them when they cannot find the words to pray for themselves. Be a safe haven for people. Invite them to come and see the true Hope. The One who knows more about selfless suffering than any person could ever experience and know. The only One who can bring true peace to our hearts.

 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.  John 16:33  (ESV)

 

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Gorse Leaves and Flower Buds

 

So, let our responses be sweet smelling among the tough, hard moments of life. Model, pray, love, and believe.  Be patient and do not lose hope. For our responses now will define us later and pave a way for the next generation.

 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Romans 8:24-25 (ESV)

100 Things to Pray For (A 100th Day of School Activity)

100daysofschoolidea

I realize that most of us have already hit the 100th day of school mark and the celebrations have already been held. But I want to share with you a project that can be done any day of the year.

I love the 100th day of school-the fun with math, the activities, the achievement and celebration of learning. My girls love it too. Every year, I try to come up with some new ideas to celebrate the milestone.  This year, I came up with a few but this was the most important one.

100thingstoprayabout

I may have mentioned before how much I love prayer time with my children. It has become one of my favorite parts of our homeschool mornings. About a year ago, I took the time to write the names of our family and friends on cardboard hearts. I threw all the hearts into a small container. Each morning, we would each pull a heart from the bucket. The name on the heart was the person we prayed for throughout the day.

Our prayers have not and are not limited to what heart we pull from the container. We always pray for who/what has been placed our own heart and pray for the big, small, and those things important to each of us.

A few month ago, I started to find the small container needed a bit of refreshment. There were so many more people, things, and requests that had not been written on a heart. An idea was born.

I grabbed some chart paper and numbered it 1-100. The kids and I sat at the kitchen counter and in no particular order, started shouting out 100 people/things to pray for.  (If you see your name and wonder why you are not closer to the number one spot, now you know why. Position does not equal importance. 🙂 )

100thingstoprayaboutcloseup

After the chart was filled, I took 100 bottle caps and wrote the numbers 1-100 on them. I had come across a treasure trove of odd and ends in our church attic and these caps were perfect for this purpose. You do not not have to use bottle caps though. Numbered paper or cardstock works great too!

100daysofschoolprayerAfter all the bottle caps were numbers and collected into a big bowl, we took turns pulling a cap from the lot. We read the number and referred to the chart to see who (or what) we would be praying.  The first day we did this, I pulled #61- MOPS.  It just so happened that I had a MOPS meeting that afternoon. MOPS got some extra, extra, extra, extra prayers that day!

100dayspickaprayer

We have incorporated this prayer chart and bottle caps into our homeschool morning routine. Over the next few months, I would like to have the kids write “100 Praises and Answered Prayers” or “100 Blessings” or “100 Good Gifts.”  I think that would really help to emphasize thanksgiving and praise in our prayers.

If you have toddlers at home, please include them in praying out loud. I absolutely include my two year old. He loves to be part of this special time. He watches and listens to us as we model prayer for him. And when its his turn to pray, his prayers are sweet music to my heart. I know that the prayers of all of us are pleasing to God. (Revelation 5:8)

Here are a few verses on the importance of praying for others:

“Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV

 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,” 1 Timothy 2:1 ESV

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16  ESV

 “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”  Matthew 5:44 ESV