Unique You

uniqueWhat spiritual gifts do you believe you have?

Are you content with what gifts you believe God has given you?

How well do you fit and work together with others who are different but can complement your gifts?

 

God gives us instructions. He deals with us as a general group of people, yet He also communicates with and relates to us individually. He is personal. He keeps the whole in mind and intends for us to serve alongside each other, working together to accomplish His work; yet He gives each of us very specific gifts, instructions, and timing. He has certainly not created drones.

Life—and faith—isn’t about uniformity. It’s about unity in God’s will and conformity to Him. We live by the same standards, but we lead different lives. We have different struggles, personalities, and experiences. We have different relationships, abilities, and weaknesses. He knows the details of each of us, and He invites us to be unique in the ways He’s created us…but unified together for His purpose. He doesn’t want us to be the same with each other…just the same with Him. Of course, that means as we conform to Him, we will have many similarities. But we will never become drones that follow the exact same pattern of life.

As we follow God well, we have a lot of freedom. We don’t have to demand everyone else respond to the instructions in the exact same way that we do. We don’t need to copy or envy someone else’s work because we like it. We need to follow God and be creative. After all, He is creative, and He made us in His image.

 

As you walk behind or sit with someone today, try to carry yourself, walk, sit, and gesture in the same way as him or her for at least one minute. How uncomfortable is it? Celebrate your differences as well as similarities. Thank God for your uniqueness.

Worship Today: Family

We often talk about all the great things about getting together with family for celebrations and holidays. And we should. But families go through struggles, too. Family requires commitment, sacrifice, and humility.

The effort is worth it.

The Difference Between Us and Them

259800a843d2b1dafa21b021b88e0ab2“So now, may my Lord’s power be magnified just as You have spoken: The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love, just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:17-19)

We get reassurance from the promise that God “will not leave the guilty unpunished,” and we apply it to the “them” in our lives, often a “them” we categorize and distance ourselves from. It’s easier to make accusations from a distance. When we get close, we realize just how human people are. We see that we have much in common with “them.” Really, there is little difference between us and them. We are guilty, too.

We sometimes focus so much on the promise to punish the guilty that we forget the context of this promise, which also includes the reminder of God’s character of being slow to anger and rich in faithful love. Yes, God is just as much those things to “them” as He is just. He is just as much those things to “us” as He is just.

Also in these verses is a humble plea for God to pardon “their” wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness for “them.” It’s not a blaming, condemning plea. It’s not an assault on “them.” It’s a plea to God. There is no finger-pointing, declaring that YOU need God’s forgiveness. It’s having such compassion, gentleness, and mercy on people that we go to God on their behalf first and foremost, continually and confidently. We tear down the wall between us and them so that we stand and speak on their behalf.

 

 

Engaging the Disengaged: 10 Ways to Invest in a Woman’s Life

Not every woman wants to attend a women’s conference, tea, or Bible study. Sometimes it’s because she’s not interested. Sometimes she doesn’t see it as a priority. Oftentimes, she doesn’t know she’s welcome.

Putting an event in the church bulletin doesn’t ensure everyone feels welcome. I recently had a conversation with a woman who posed this question: “Why do you think younger women today don’t get more involved?” I shared a few thoughts, mainly focused on the communication breakdown between women who are planning ministry and those who are uninvolved. I suggested the issue is two-way: those in leadership aren’t effectively communicating what’s available, what needs may be met, and who is welcome. This makes it difficult for those who are disengaged to have opportunities or feel comfortable sharing ideas, needs, and thoughts.

“It comes down to what I’m willing to invest,” I concluded. “Is my focus simply on putting together a program and expecting people to come? Or is my focus on getting to know women and their needs and passions and meeting the needs and feeding the passions?” I explained how the best way to get women involved is through personal relationships and invitations. Women are more likely to attend an event or study with a friend. We also need to invite multiple times in multiple ways.

We discussed back and forth until she threw up her hands and said, “So, I have to make the effort?!”

“No. You don’t have to make the effort. Only if you want to get women involved.”

Are You Willing to Make the Effort?

God created us for relationships. He wants us to intentionally invest in each other’s lives as He guides. Programs can be effective, but aren’t magically magnetic. In order to engage women, we must put people over tasks. We must set our own expectations aside to respond to what God wants us to do. While an event reaching hundreds can be inspiring, intentional time spent with one woman can create a quiet yet far-reaching ripple effect. When you’re willing to make the effort, try these ideas.

1.  Cook together. Swapping recipes is great, but cooking together is a lot more fun. Grocery shop together. Share tips while in the kitchen. Enjoy the meal together or make enough to take home to both families. Even clean-up will be more fun together!

2.  Make a standing date. Weeks and months easily slip by with the best of intentions to get together. Set a biweekly or monthly date. Swap planning responsibilities for variety or grab coffee and a snack at the same restaurant every time. You’ll soon anticipate your regular time together.

3.  Give mom a break. Offer to hang out with a young mom on a regular basis so she can get things done around the house while you occupy the children. Your willingness to spend time investing in her children will pour encouragement into her.

4.  Serve together. Find a way you can help someone you both know or serve a community agency. Clean at a local crisis pregnancy center, or bake and deliver cookies to people in assisted-living.

5.  Work out together. Try a new exercise class together or hold each other accountable by expecting to see each other at a weekly class. Meet at the local gym for regular workouts or enjoy early morning strolls together.

6.  Swap support. Ask for and offer help. Find out what projects others are involved in and lend your support. Ask for help so others are comfortable asking you, too. As you support each other, you share the weight of responsibilities while also getting to know each other.

7.  Gather a group together. Get together with additional people so you avoid isolating yourselves. Whether you attend an event or study with other women or host friends for coffee and dessert, get to know each other as you interact with others.

8.  Organize photos together. Encourage each other to catch up on printing and organizing photos. As you categorize them into years, family members, or projects, you’ll get closer to each other as you share memories.

9.  Learn from each other. No question is insignificant. If you want to know how to create an event or share someone’s photos on Facebook, just ask. If you want to gather ideas for closet organization or landscaping, just ask. If neither of you knows the answer, search for it together.

10.  Remind each other. Serve as sticky notes for each other, extending accountability by following up when someone shares plans for an apology, organization, service, and so on. As you touch base with each other on a regular basis, your friendship becomes part of your routine, and you’ll stick together through struggles and triumphs.

Look around you today for opportunities to connect with others. A lasting friendship might begin with a smile or a heated discussion. Expect the unexpected. God doesn’t work within our guidelines. Let Him guide you to the women whose lives you need to invest in.

Are You a Reinforcing Cohesiveness or Separation?

togetherWhat are you reinforcing in life? You’re strengthening whatever you spend the most time and energy on. We do the same within the communities in which we live, including our churches. We either reinforce the church family around us with God’s love, compassion, accountability, discipline, and support, or we reinforce the judgments, divisions, and self-centeredness. We reinforce the cohesiveness of the community or the separation of individuals.

Our arguments drive people away from the church instead of attracting them, which means they miss out on the joy, strength, and security of living for God’s Kingdom. Consider the local church, including the one you attend. What are the topics that are currently dividing individuals? How eternally important are those topics? Are projects put before people? Is too much time spent on details and not enough on dreams? Does fixing problems overshadow fixing processes? Narrow the focus a bit further. The local church is made up of individuals, including you. How are you separating others? How are you separating yourself? Sometimes we withdraw one step at a time for a variety of reasons and then wonder why no one is investing in us.

God created us for community. It’s going to be messy at times. We’re human. We’ll have disagreements, personality conflicts, and problems to solve. We’ll have to set aside our personal agendas for God’s agenda. We’ll have to set aside our pride for humility. We’ll have to reserve our energy to fight only with God’s weapons to protect only his territory. We’ll let God define the boundaries instead of us. We’ll yield in obedience instead of trying to take control.

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

One Thing Leads to Another

onethingleadsI’d been invited to speak to a small group of older women at an unfamiliar church within a couple hours from home, and I felt welcome right away. The three women who greeted me quickly passed the formalities of where to sit, stand to speak, and set up a book table and began to talk about shopping habits, Google searches, and small town idiosyncrasies. Several more women entered the room laughing and introduced themselves. Always looking for small ways to help me get to know and remember individuals I meet, I called attention to the beautiful butterfly ring on one woman’s finger, commenting on the connection to the butterfly image of Pure Purpose. She unhesitatingly pulled it off her finger and extended it to me. When I tried to tell her I didn’t need it, I quickly realized she wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer, and I graciously took the ring and slid it on my finger. It fit perfectly.

I settled into a seat at a round table with a couple of my new friends, and we were joined by several others, one by one, until our table was full. We had little time to get to know each other before the program began, but we certainly didn’t waste a moment. As soon as the main program ended and it was time for lunch, we dug into conversation again, flitting from one topic to another.

Near the end of lunch, one more announcement was made. There were fancy socks (designed to wear with flip flops) in the center of each table, and women were instructed to take a pair home if they had on pink underwear. I did! But…it never seems fair to me to win a door prize as a speaker, so I asked who else at my table had on pink. Before another woman could answer, someone walked by the table and announced the color she was wearing, then proceeded to prove it! That started a chain reaction, and there was a brief flurry of flashes of color surrounding our table. I wondered if I’d ever be asked to speak in the area again!

As we settled down, many women around us began to clean up and get ready to leave, but our conversation took a turn to more serious topics. We discussed marriage, divorce, same-sex attraction, abandonment issues, government, and more. We didn’t dig deeply into any one topic, but there was an intensity to our discussions. We didn’t agree on everything, but no one attacked or belittled anyone else. More questions were asked than statements declared. There was a genuine, “What do you think?” And someone always followed up the first question with “What does God say?”

At first, I was a bit taken aback that a table of women who didn’t know one another well would jump into such topics with a great deal of respect for one another (as opposed to the push of personal agendas and intolerance often permeating such talks). Then I realized there had been a warm-up process. We’d been listening and sharing along the way, and we’d done so with respect. We’d expressed genuine interest in each other, found common ground, and authentically revealed something about ourselves. To continue into some more sensitive topics—topics that could just as easily divide than unite—was the next step. We went a little deeper, because we could. We felt safe. We were ready.

We were a round table of women who didn’t know each other well but who came together for a brief period of time and shared life. All it took to get started was the willingness to get started. Authentically being ourselves and sharing, one thing led to another, and we grew together.

That’s what doing life along side others is all about. Sometimes it’s brief and sometimes it’s a lifetime. Some conversations are fun and silly and others are controversial and serious.

God is giving you opportunities to do life alongside others today. You might be very familiar with some of the people in your day. Some might be strangers to you right now. And there are a lot of people in between. Be sensitive to each person God brings into your life today. Discern the response and investment he intends you to have. Authentically be the person he intends you to be and trust him…as one thing leads to another.

Lessons from Josiah: Reaching One

josiah5Following the faithful life and leadership of Josiah,

The people of Judah chose Josiah’s son Jehoahaz and made him king in Jerusalem in his father’s place. Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he was king in Jerusalem for three months. Then King Neco of Egypt removed Jehoahaz from being king in Jerusalem. Neco made the people of Judah pay about seventy-five hundred pounds of silver and about seventy-five pounds of gold. The king of Egypt made Jehoahaz’s brother Eliakim the king of Judah and Jerusalem and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But Neco took his brother Jehoahaz to Egypt. Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he was king in Jerusalem for eleven years. He did what the Lord his God said was wrong. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Judah, captured Jehoiakim, put bronze chains on him, and took him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar removed some of the things from the Temple of the Lord, took them to Babylon, and put them in his own palace. (2 Chronicles 36:1-7)

Josiah was the last king who did what was right according to God’s will before God’s people, the Israelites, were taken into captivity. Throughout the Scriptures chronicling the kings of God’s people, it seems the Israelites were fickle to the leadership of each season. If the king followed God’s ways, so did the people, but when a king did not follow God’s ways, neither did the people.

We think we’re much different today. We will easily rebel against leaders we don’t believe are leading us well, but are we guided by what is right or are we guided by what we believe are our own rights and preferences? We’re certainly following someone…but “who?” is the question. Who do you listen to and respond to with the most assertive support? How active are you when listening to people you respect and those you don’t? Do you seek God’s truth despite who is speaking?

It is tempting to look for that which affirms what we most want to hear so that we can easily set aside someone’s opinion when we have little respect for the person or easily accept someone’s opinion when we have respect for the person. We need to listen to God, and that means respecting people enough to listen, trust God to filter what is being taught, and proceeding with caution against untruth and boldness into truth.

We need to not be like the Israelites in the way they responded with “group think” and responded with spiritual blindness. Despite the way we’ve been raised, the people who surround us, or the situations we find ourselves in, we can be impacted and guided by God and we can impact others for God.

Jeremiah, a great prophet, came out of Josiah’s leadership. After Josiah’s death, “Jeremiah wrote some sad songs about Josiah. Even to this day all the men and women singers remember and honor Josiah with these songs. It became a custom in Israel to sing these songs that are written in the collection of sad songs.” (2 Chronicles 35:25) The Lord spoke his word to Jeremiah during the thirteenth year that Josiah son of Amon was king of Judah. The Lord also spoke to Jeremiah while Jehoiakim son of Josiah was king of Judah and during the eleven years that Zedekiah son of Josiah was king of Judah. In the fifth month of his last year, the people of Jerusalem were taken away as captives. (Jeremiah 1:2-3)

God can speak to and reach us no matter what the situation by which we are surrounded. There can be no more “if only” excuses of our life circumstances. God is more intimate with our life circumstances than we are. He is able to do all things…even when we cannot see the way.

Jesus answered, “The things impossible for people are possible for God.” (Luke 18:27)

What are you “excusing” in your life? What do you see as impossible?

Are you ready to accept the possibility of your impossibilities? It’s time!