Thursday, June 29, 2017

Unexpected Lessons in Ministry

Lessons in Ministry

Are you exhausted from constantly striving to do good? Do you feel like you've been obedient to God's call on your life, but are discouraged because you aren't seeing any fruit? Have you been praying and praying for a loved one with no answer and no change in their behavior? Maybe you've been asking "what's the point in all of this?"

I have to admit that's how I sometimes feel about this writing thing. I love it and I know that God planned for me to do this and the words that I write are directly from Him, but sometimes it's a lonely journey. Recently, though, I received a gift that has really challenged my perspective. 

John Farmer was a man who I never had the pleasure of meeting, but I feel as if I know him. You see, he was a writer too and his son blessed me with a collection of his words. His writing is genuine and simple, but so powerful. Without having known him at all, I can tell you that he loved God, he loved his family, he loved others and he loved to make people laugh. As I read through his book, I found myself both laughing out loud and inspired to love and appreciate others more. 

What was most surprising about receiving a copy of John's book and hearing his story and the story of his family is what I learned about ministry.

God uses even the smallest of ministries

John Farmer is not a household name. You won't find multiple books written by him on the shelves of bookstores. There aren't any interviews featuring him on Youtube. Even still, his work is meaningful and it's finding its way to the people God intended it for.

In the midst of ministry and our Christian walk, it's easy to obsess over the numbers. The number of people we lead to Christ, the number of good deeds we do, the number of dollars we give, the number of followers we have. We can become so focused on measuring our success by these numbers that we forget what we set out to do in the first place.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't strive to reach as many people as possible, but the Bible tells us that there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. The pressure to reach millions is unnecessary pressure. If 100, 50 or even just 1 person is all we ever reach, Heaven is expanded and God rejoices. 

I love the quote from Mother Teresa that says, "if you want to change the world, go home and love your family." 

Sometimes the people that God has planned for us to minister to are the people who are right in front of us.

It's obvious through his writing that John's family was incredibly important to him. His faith inspired his son, who inspired me and I hope this message inspires you. The living out of our faith has a domino effect. Never underestimate the impact you make by simply loving the small number of people God has entrusted you with.

God's timing is not our timing

As we serve God and use our talents to further His kingdom, our tendency is to want to see the fruit of our efforts immediately. Sometimes we do, but most of the time we don't.

 "What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful in its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:9-11
I love verse 11, "people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end." 

I'm reminded of Ruth whose faith and loyalty earned her a place in the genealogy of Jesus, though she never met Him on this side of Heaven. And Moses who never actually stepped into the promise land, but through his obedience to God played a major role in leading the people of Israel there. 

Sometimes our reward is what we leave behind. 

In the front cover of John's book he wrote:
 "Never miss an opportunity to be a positive influence on young people with your proper actions, sincere pats on the back and words of encouragement."

He left a mission for all who read his book and it's being fulfilled even now by his son as he shares his father's encouraging words with others. 

There will be times when the fruit of our efforts comes days, months even years later and there will be things that we do in this life that we never see the results of, but God promises a harvest in due time if we do not give up. Just know that due time rarely comes on our time.

His ways are not our ways
I'm sure that he had many hopes for his writing, but I don't believe "Big John" knew the legacy his words would leave.

He didn't know that a student from his substitute teaching days would become a pastor, move to this small town and start a church. 

He didn't know that his son would become a doctor, move to that same small town and be baptized by that same pastor.

He certainly didn't know that I, a nurse who works with his son, would attend that same church and end up with his book in my hands. 

But God knew all along and that's what I love about Him. He knows every detail. Where we'll live, who we'll meet, our careers, our dreams, our fears, our failures. He knows it all and he weaves it all together in His perfect plan to bring us all a little closer to Him.  

 So if you're feeling weary in whatever it is that God has called you to do, I want to leave you with a little prayer of encouragement from John himself:

God, I hope that as I write, my pen you'll move along and give me the proper choice of words to make for the heavyhearted, a song.
Yes, please help me mix enough mischief in to lift the downhearted with a lurch,
but please help me mix a message in to reach those out of reach of church.
For not everyone uses a family pew; some sit on an old bar stool.
So please guide my pen as I write to tell them of the Golden Rule.
And certainly while I'm doing this I also inspire,
for those who are already lifted up, to lift up a little higher. 
And for those who have deafened their ears and don't try to listen,
please help me to live a shining example, that in their eyes will glisten.
Not an example of spit and polish or of ceremony fire,
but one of brotherly and sisterly love and concern for all mankind.
And God please help me to live each day so that when my final lines are writ,
Saint Peter won't look up and say,
"Hell! Here comes another hypocrite!"
-John G. Farmer

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Make Some Room!

Make some room for God to move in your life.

There's a song that our worship band does called "We wait for you (Shekinah Glory)" and it is the most amazing worship song. If you've never heard it, go look it up!

The song opens with the lyrics: "we wait for you to walk in the room." I've always thought of that line in a very literal sense: "God, come into the room. We're ready to worship you." But, as we sang it last Sunday, I heard something very different. 

God doesn't just want to come into the physical rooms of our lives. God wants us to make room for Him in every aspect of our lives.

Imagine a room so crowded with people you can hardly get from one side to the other. I was in a room like that recently. People were constantly bumping into each other. Everything moved very slowly. You couldn't hear what the person next to you was saying and if you walked away from the person you were with it was extremely hard to find them again.

I believe that sometimes the situations in our lives get just like that. Our minds get crowded with our worries, our fears and the advice of others until that's all we can hear. We struggle to shift our focus from our own plans and ideas for our lives. Our many unnecessary responsibilities keep us busy and steal our time. Our unbelief puts a limit on God's power. 

We wonder where God is, but even if He tried to come in we wouldn't notice Him.

If there is a situation in your life that God doesn't seem to be working on my question to you is: have you made room for Him to work on it? God can't move if He doesn't have any space.

The word shekinah comes from the Hebrew word shekinot which means to "settle in" or "dwell in." Whatever area of your life that God seems absent in, clear a space for Him to dwell in so that you can experience the fullness of His presence. That may mean freeing up some time to spend in God's word and prayer. It might mean surrendering your plans for your life so God can show you His plan. Maybe it means taking a leap of faith that doesn't make sense to you yet. Whatever it is, allow Him to settle in that free space today and do what only He can do.

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:16-19

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What A Ghost Crab Taught Me About Jesus

What a Ghost Crab Taught Me About Jesus

Am I the only one who still loves to hunt for ghost crabs on the beach at night?

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, ghost crabs (also known as sand crabs) are sand colored crabs that spend their days hiding from predators in the sand. At night, when it's safer, they come out and roam the beach looking for food. 

If you shine your flashlight on the sand you will see them running all over the beach. It's a lot of fun to look for them and chase them down. 

Recently, my husband and I did this and as our lights revealed all of the crabs hidden in the dark, the Holy Spirit revealed some things to me that I want to share with you.

God is always there, you just have to look

My husband and I were walking in the dark for a long time before we turned on our flashlights to look for crabs. When I shined my light on the sand for the first time, there was a crab right beside us. In fact, there were crabs all over the beach and what I realized was they were there the entire time. 

How many of us are wandering in the darkness, wondering when God is going to show up and change our circumstances? God is just like those crabs. Whether you're searching for Him, acknowledging His presence or not, He's there. 

In Jeremiah 23:24, God says "can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth?" Even if we don't choose to look for Him, even if we choose to stay stuck in the darkness instead of stepping into His light, He is there. He is in all places at all times. He's just waiting for us to call on Him.

If you've been feeling distant from God, know that He is not far away. He hasn't abandoned you. He is standing at the door of your heart, knocking, waiting for you to allow Him in. He promises that if you seek Him with all your heart you will find Him.

How many of us are wandering in the darkness, wondering when God is going to show up and change our circumstances? Whether you're searching for Him, acknowledging His presence or not, He's there.

God is available to everyone

That night the ghost crabs surrounded everyone, not just those of us with flashlights. In the same way, God's presence isn't limited to certain people. You don't have to be super spiritual, have grown up in church, know the Bible front to back or live a sinless life to experience the love of God. 

His Word says everyone who calls on His name shall be saved. That includes the lost, the broken, the rich, the poor, those stuck in sin. Everyone. He requires nothing from you, just that you identify your need for Him and accept Him as your savior.

So many people believe that they can't follow Jesus until they clean up their lives. The truth is we can't truly clean up our lives until we follow Jesus. He didn't come for the righteous, but for the sinners.

When we know Jesus we see things differently

Having a flashlight made it easier to see the crabs just like knowing Jesus changes the way we see the world. When we become followers of Jesus, He changes our thinking. Our reactions, our words, our perspective and our goals all change to glorify God. 

"Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God, truly righteous and holy." Ephesians 4:23-24

A friend recently reminded me that when we know who we belong to we are able to handle tough situations with more grace. We are able to serve others selflessly and not sweat the small stuff because we know that our true reward is waiting for us in Heaven.

Following Jesus gives us a hope, peace and joy that completely changes our outlook on life.  

If find yourself wandering in the darkness without a source of light, consumed by the lie that Jesus could never accept someone like you, I pray that you would simply call on His name. He is there, waiting to change your life from the inside out.

Friday, June 2, 2017

7 Bible Verses for a Soul that Longs for Peace

Bible Verses for Peace

Everywhere I look I see people who are living in the absence of peace. People who are in a constant state of busyness, people who are in an unnecessary rush, overwhelmed by their to-do lists, people who are frustrated by their circumstances and more. God doesn't call us to live this way though. In fact, He is called Jehovah-Shalom, which means "the Lord is peace." 

The word shalom translates to more than just peace, however. According to Strong's Concordance, it means wholeness and completeness. This tells me that when we allow the peace of God to take over our lives we not only experience peace, but the fullness that He intended for us. 

Below you will find seven verses that I pray will bring peace to whatever situation you may be facing. 

1. "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." 
Isaiah 26:3

2. "For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace."
Romans 8:6 

These first two verses are key! Peace has so much to do with the things that we allow to control our minds. Galatians 5:22 (bonus verse!) tells us that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness" so we can be confident that if we set our minds on the Spirit good things will come.

3. "The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed."
Deuteronomy 31:8

It's so comforting to be reminded that God has already walked through your future. Every failure, every success, every disappointment and every celebration. He's already seen it and He's already worked it for your good.

  4. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 
Philippians 4:6-7

I believe that prayer aligns our hearts with God's will and it's when we are aligned with His will that we experience true peace.

5. "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

When we recognize that Jesus has already conquered everything, we are equipped to handle anything.

7 Bible Verses for Peace

6. "Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to you. When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Psalm 61:1-2

7. "Be still and know that I am God." 
Psalm 46:10

In times of worry and stress, stop and remind yourself of who God is. He is all knowing, ever present and all powerful. He is in control. Nothing comes as a surprise to Him. Nothing is too hard for Him.

So you have some verses to remind you that God is our greatest source of peace, now what do you do with them? 

  • Memorize them. Memorizing scripture saturates our minds with the truth. When our minds are saturated with truth, it's easier for us to recall God's promises when we need them most.
  • Pray them. So often we don't even know what to pray. When you're at a loss for words, pray God's promises back to Him. For example, "God, your word says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. Please help me to allow the Spirit to take over this situation and align my thinking with yours."
  • Put them where you can see them. Print or write out verses that encourage you and place them somewhere you will see them often (desk, bathroom mirror, car etc). I like to set Bible verses as the lock screen on my phone so every time I pick up my phone I see them.

I don't know what's stealing your peace today, but I want you to be encouraged that God is there, willing and ready, to reclaim it for you. I pray that these verses would be a source of comfort you and that they would not only bring an abundance of peace, but also an increased faith in Jesus.

"May the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." 
Romans 15:13