Dec 3, 2012

A Cup of Christmas Tea

I was asked to speak at our annual Ladies Luncheon this year. Several have asked for my notes. They are below.

A Cup of Christmas Tea

The book that Norma read reminds me of another story. You can find it in Luke 10:39-42

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.”

[the original Brady Bunch moment here]

Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what He said. Martha was distracted with all the preparations.

There is so much truth in these words. Is there ever a more distracting time in the life of a wife and mom than the holidays? So much responsibility to make it special falls to us, doesn’t it? I honestly cringe when I hear my children say things like “22 more days till Christmas” when I remember that I’m the one who’s gathering and wrapping the presents and I haven’t started yet!

We have a tendency to be a Martha around Christmas. We have to be intentional to be a Mary.

This year, I’m going to choose to be Mary. Yes, there will be Martha moments, but I will strive for more Mary moments. I want to make my family’s Christmas special, I want to honor traditions and make wonderful food. But I want to slow down and treasure my savior and the season with the people that the Lord has entrusted to my life..

In the bustle of this holiday season, I’d like you to take time for two ‘cups’ of tea daily. The first cup of the day needs to be with your Savior. Mary spent time at the feet of her Lord. She understood that He was the most important thing. She understood that time in His presence brought perspective to all the other activities of the day.

I’m not naturally a morning person. But over the years I’ve learned to become a morning person. I start each day in the Lord’s presence. Actually I’ve gotten to a point where I wake up, sometimes before my alarm clock anticipating my time with Him. I hate it when something interrupts my ‘flow’ of our time together. It’s my sanity in the day, the lens that I put on to remind me of His perspective throughout the day. This ‘cup’ should not be a hurried thing, but a relaxed time of fellowship in His presence. I usually journal, read a devotion, read a portion of scripture in my overall ‘journey’ through the Bible, and lift up specific areas of concern or joy. But sometimes He has a totally different plan and we go on a scripture treasure hunt together or He points out an area in my life that He wants to deal with. The thing is that we spend that time together and it’s precious and life-giving.

The Lord wants your first cup of tea of the day. Don’t rob Him of that time and don’t rob yourself of that joy. Especially during this season, when you spend time with Him you remember what it’s all about. Daily time with the Lord will only further enrich your Christmas experience this year.

The second cup of tea I’d like you to partake of daily is with your family. Maybe you are in a season where you don’t have family, but you do have close relationships. Take time each day to slow down and appreciate your family or your close loved ones. Maybe you literally sit down and have a cup of tea or coffee with them. Maybe you play a board game with you child or grandchild. Maybe you all pile in the car and tour Christmas lights while listening to Christmas music. Maybe you go caroling to your neighbors or set a night aside to bake cookies as a family.

I know we have a wide age range of women in this group, but I’d like to take a moment to address the moms with children still at home. These years are precious. My children went from being helpless newborns to eight and eleven in a minute. Pastor Rob and I have worked with teenagers for a few decades now, I know how fast the next 7-10 years with my kids will go. We need to intentionally slow down and invest time and attention into our children. Holidays are a unique opportunity to make soul deep deposits in your children. We have the chance to lead our children deeper into their faith by showing them what Christmas is truly about. Don’t miss this, Mom!

Now to every lady in this room who either doesn’t have children or they’ve grown and gone on their own. You have a unique opportunity to invest in someone else this Christmas season. Take time for your family, or your neighbor, your grandchildren or the elderly friend down the road. Remember that relationships are what this life is really made of. The gift of time is the most precious commodity you have, share it willingly.

Remember that there are two cups of tea to have daily this Christmas season. The first and foremost is with the Lord. And the second is with others. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the season turn you into a stressed out and bitter Martha. Choose to be Mary, listening at His feet instead and treasuring what He treasures most… people.

Nov 7, 2012

ct|woman ladies article

(November-December 2012)

Recently I visited downtown Chicago. Being from a tiny farming community I was a classic tourist; neck craned back in awe of the towering skyscrapers bursting from the city street around me.

Skyscrapers require a firm foundation, don’t they? If the base of the building isn’t solid, either the structure will never reach full potential, or it will crumble when stressed beyond it’s foundational capacity. The first outcome is disappointing, the second is destructive. When buildings collapse, people get hurt.

The life of a student is similar. Their future needs to be built on the firm foundation of the word. As parents we have a God-given responsibility to give our students the spiritual and moral bricks to assemble a solid base for their lives. This may seem to be an overwhelming task, but that’s where the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit become so vital in the parenting process.

The most imperative foundational work in your student’s life actually begins in your own. Godly parenting begins with a hunger for the Word and spiritual growth in your life. You will never be equipped to shepherd your student’s heart if you haven’t allowed the Shepherd to direct yours. If you aren’t spending time in the Word and before the Lord daily, you are not adequately qualified to parent your student.

Proverbs is a great source of godly parenting advice. This Old Testament wisdom book leads us on the journey of a young man as he prepares to enter the world up through the time that he finds safety in his own home with a godly and virtuous wife. Proverbs tackles two primary concerns for teenagers; the wrong crowd and sexual sin. It’s amazing how a book written about 3000 years ago can be so relevant in modern time, isn’t it? Proverbs teaches us that wisdom begins in the home and as a young person grows, it continues in the marketplace and the even the courtroom.

If we lay a firm, biblical foundation in the lives of our students, we will see them grow to be strong towers of God’s love and faithfulness. In the decades to come today’s students can become the much-needed spiritual infrastructure that our country is currently lacking. Our hope as youth pastors and parents is to see the horizon line of our future take a new shape. With proper foundations laid, skyscrapers of faith will rise as strong examples of life and godliness to all who see them. I encourage you to lay the bricks in their lives carefully; we are engaged in tedious yet crucial work.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Proverbs 22:6

Sep 25, 2012

Love Yourself

Aren’t people beautiful? You may not spend a lot of time thinking about it but I’m a photographer. It’s my privilege to find beauty in people.

[show favorite images of all ages]

I believe everyone is created beautiful. I’m not blind. I believe the word of God and it says we are created in God’s own image. Genesis 1:27 – God actually repeats this, He really means it! A God who creates such beauty is surely beautiful Himself!

It’s funny. I have no difficulty finding beauty in most everyone else. Yet I have such a hard time finding it in myself. I know that I am not alone in finding it difficult to love myself. There are a lot of contributing factors.

The longer I walk with God the more I know about Him. And honestly, about myself. Through out this series we’ve talked about His love letter to us. The more we read and understand God’s Word, the more we hear what He has to say about us. Here are a few biblical truths written about you:

  • Created in His image. Genesis 1:27
  • Fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14
  • He loves you enough to die for you. John 3:16
  • He created you as a temple for His spirit to dwell. 1 Corinthians 6:19
  • Created for good works. Ephesians 2:10

I know these things. I’ve drilled them into my brain. And yet I struggle - specially in the pastoral training process. Why do I still doubt my worth?

[last week’s test tutorial experience – the voice shouting in my brain – “you’re not good enough, you can’t do this!”]

After the tutorial I was relaying my feelings of inadequacy to Rob – he realized that even though this inner voice sound just like me, I have actually mistaken the devil’s voice for my own.

The reality is that Satan is a great ventriloquist. The best actually. He can speak and it will look and sound just like you. He wants to waylay your plans and destroy God’s calling on your life. The Bible tells us that His goal is to steal, kill and destroy. Why would we listen to Him?

And yet we do. How many of us have bought into the lie that we are not good enough. That we can never change. That we are junk and we’ll never be anything more than junk.

Remember Psalm 139:14?

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

 We are fearfully and wonderfully made. That doesn’t sound like junk to me? Junk is the Emerson sound system you can buy for twenty bucks at Walmart that will break in a week. Fearfully and wonderfully made is the Bose sound system that you fork over a thousand dollars for and expect to last for decades. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, high quality craftsmanship.

Remember Ephesians 4:10?

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We are His workmanship. The Greek word used here is ‘poem’. We are His poem. A poem is a thing of beauty and grace, a true expression from the heart of the writer. We are His poem.

We know we are made in His image, and that it is a good image. We know we are created for good works. How do we remove the voice of Satan from our heads?

I have three practical steps to shut down the lies of the devil in your head.

1)     Drive him off in Jesus name. You are a saved child of God, He has no business in your life anymore. The devil hates the name of Jesus. Remind yourself that the devil is a liar and a thief and you want no part of that.
2)     Saturate your life with the word of God. The more you read God’s word, the more you’ll know how to pray. You’ll be familiar with His promises to you. Jesus Himself used scripture to fight off Satan’s fiery darts, so this is a great example to us.
3)     Declare your dependency on and sufficiency in Christ.

When we are dependant, we acknowledge our absolute need for Him. We know that we are weak and fallen vessels. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:11 that when we are weak, He is strong. We need Him to show himself strong in us and admitting our weakness is a great starting point.

      When we are sufficient in Christ we are saying that He is more than     enough. John 10:10 tells us that the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy          but Jesus came to give us life and life to the full. If Jesus called you to do   something (school or witnessing or serving or fulfilling a specific dream)          you can trust that He is going to equip you for the task. And when you           complete it, you’ll give Him the glory.

There’s something more here though. I’ve given you practical steps to love yourself, but love is not that mechanical. It’s not a chemistry problem where you use specific ingredients in the correct order and heat it to the desired temperature and ‘presto’ you love yourself.

I wrestled with this conclusion. I honestly struggle with loving myself, but the longer I walk with Jesus the easier it has become. I was trying to put my finger on what it is that has changed, how am I ‘ok’ in Christ? I prayed and prayed about this message and this morning I finally had my ahah moment. It came to me like this…

When Rob fell in love with me, I was, for the first time, able to see myself in a new light. He loved everything about me. He was passionate, persistent, and vocal about his love for me. He insisted that I was beautiful, interesting, and important. And I believed him completely. My step was lighter, the world is brighter – all because this incredible person had chosen me to be with.

This is what we can experience with Jesus. When you spend time in devotions with Him – literally devoting yourself to Him, sharing your life with Him – you will learn to hear His voice and feel His intense affection for you.

Loving Jesus is where we learn to love ourselves.

When you are cherished by the Creator, you will see yourself through His eyes, a precious part of His creation. You’ll know there is something special about you because He says so. You’ll feel secure in who you are because Jesus doesn’t make mistakes.

Altar: [Gungor: Beautiful Things]

What did you connect with tonight?
Did you realize for the first time that satan is the liar in your head?
Maybe you realized that you can’t connect with what God’s word says about you if you haven’t read it.
Perhaps you realize you haven’t allowed yourself to fall in love with Jesus?
Maybe you have been living in your own strength.

Take a few moments here at the altar to sort these things out. Come let Jesus show you His incredible love for you.

Yesterday's Interview

Yesterday was incredible. Definitely a day that I will remember until I am old and grey. We had our Section Council, including my interview for licensing. (Janet's for ordination) I had taken my test on Thursday and it was killing me to know how I did. The council itself was great, I loved the message given on 2 Chronicles 7:14 - calling us all to fast and pray for our nation. I'm choosing to participate in that fast and I am really excited and challenged by it.

The interview went really well. I was afraid I said too much, that I was too emotional about how much I loved Jesus. But they said it was refreshing, in fact, the one interviewer said I answered all of his questions just in my testimony part. So I am passed on to the General Council for approval on my licensing. :) It was a great day and I am humbled and blessed. :)

Sep 18, 2012

Tis So Sweet

I have been so in love with my savior lately. Even His correction feels like love. I was thinking about it this morning and God brought to mind Rob's and my premarital counseling. I remember our dear Pastor Tom telling us that marriage made love sweeter. I distinctly recall thinking - but how could I love Rob more? So young, so naive. Now, after fourteen and half years of marriage, I think I have a better understanding of what Pastor Tom meant. There is something so cherished, so precious, about a lifetime of choosing each other daily. As the years roll by, my heart for my husband has only grown. Our relationship has deepened and sweetened over time. Our appreciation and need for one another has grown too, as has our mutual understanding.

The next thought God brought to mind is that my relationship with Him is just like that. Deepening and sweetening over time. And to think, that His relationship with me is eternal! What an incredible thought. I am so thankful for the treasure that is my relationship with the Lord. I encourage you to pursue Him with your whole heart and your love of Him sweeten over time.

Sep 17, 2012

No Offense

Last week we talked about God’s love. This week we are talking about our love of others. The more I thought about this subject the more I realized our largest stumbling block in loving others. Offense.

Have you ever been offended? I mean really offended?

When I was seven I got a brand new red scooter. Red was my favorite color and I had never had a new bike before in my life. Scooters were a huge trend (like heelies or iPhones) and I was completely stunned that my parents had shucked over the cash. My older brother got a grey one. But for whatever reason, the first day we had them, he took mine and went off-roading. Within 8 hours he had completely trashed it. The white rubber tires were grey and white tassles hanging from the handlebars were tattered. I cried and cried and cried.Ten years later while I was dating Pastor Rob I told him that story. It’s really hard to forget a big offense, isn’t it?

My daughter loves to say “no offense, but ….That hairstyle makes you look old.” “no offense, but Pastor Aaron knows more about the Bible than you.” “no offense, but I don’t like the way their house smells.”

Basically any time you hear Sarah utter the words “no offense” you just better brace yourself because offense is about to happen.

Offense is a problem in our relationships, isn’t it? I mean, everyone raised their hands when I asked if they’d ever been offended. We can all relate to that. Unfortunately, we all tend to hang on to that.

Just this week I’ve heard several adults (like vintage adults) talk about hurtful things that had been spoken to them as children. More than likely the offender doesn’t even remember what they said, but these adults are still carrying the weight of those words decades later.

Offense poisons our relationships. It seeps deep into our heart and destroys the way we think about a person, and eventually all people. Offense seriously interferes with our ability to love people.

Take a moment and think about the people that have hurt you or offended you. What is your relationship with them like now? If you’ve held that hurt in your heart, you likely can’t stand that person, you may even duck behind a locker when you see them. Either that or you have learned the bigger blessing of forgiveness – you barely even remember the offense and have chosen to move on in relationship with that person.

There are two sides to offense. Tonight we want to learn to handle both sides. Our scripture for this evening is found in Ephesians 2:29-32.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

First off we’ve touched on, to forgive the offense.  Verse 32 commands us to forgive each other. My dear friend said to me this weekend that ‘offense is of the devil’ – meaning that Satan wants you to wallow in offense. To allow offense to stick to you like a piece of gum on carpet – where it messes you up!

Forgiveness is unnatural and often times painful. We want to hang on to the hurtful word and turn it over and over in our mind until it’s so familiar it’s a part of us.

But Jesus taught by example to forgive. Remember when He was on the cross and the soldiers were gambling for his things? His words were “Forgive them Father, they do not know what they do.” Imagine that moment, you are dying and the very people that strung you up there are playing games for your clothes and mocking you. And yet Jesus forgave them. Just like He forgave us for all of our sins against Him. Surely no one can hurt us the way we’ve hurt Jesus, and yet He forgives.

We need to embrace His teaching and pass on the forgiveness that we have received. You might think, but they don’t deserve to be forgiven! But we didn’t deserve it either. You aren’t all that. I’m not all that! Romans 3:23 - All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Remember that we are all sinners. Don’t think you are all that. Instead of focusing on the offenders shortcomings, remember yours. We had a pastor growing up that would always say that most of our issues were within our own hearts and we could easily spend the rest of our lives just working those things through. The older I get the more true I know this to be! Your heart is a mess and you have no business telling anyone else how to get it right.

Besides, hanging on to the unforgiveness hurts us far more than the original offense. You might need to start thinking now about people in your life that you need to forgive. It may be an older sibling who bullied you, a classmate that betrayed you, a parent that has failed you.

Ask God to help you let go of the offense. And every time it rears it’s ugly head, ask again. Until you have forgotten it completely.

The other side of offense is the offender – meaning the person who is offensive, the person who hurts.

I hate being an offender. It literally makes me sick to my stomach when I know I’ve hurt someone, but that’s just my personality quirk. There are lots of people in this world who will say or do what they want to and not care who it upsets.

The thing is, we all offend, with or without intention. I have a big mouth, so this has gotten me in trouble a lot over the years. I have a couple practical ways for you to learn to stop offending people.

Don’t say stupid stuff. Look at our scripture again. Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Use your words wisely, to build others up.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another.

Be kind. Cut out the nastyness in your heart that is not godly. Stop being vicious and angry. Allow the love of God to seep all the way down into your soul and affect the kind of person you are even on the inside.

Be loyal to the absent. Meaning, if someone isn’t there, don’t talk about them. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it at all! This is harder than it sounds and you may need to really ask God to help you in this area.

Look for the best in others. You are going to find what you watch for. Like a red pair of Toms. You don’t see anyone with them until you bring home your pair; suddenly everyone has red Toms. Look for the good in other people to a point that it blinds you to the not-so-good.

Pray for the people that rub you the wrong way. Not like “God, give them what they deserve” kind of prayers, but pray for them the way you pray for yourself. This will change your heart towards them and maybe even change them too!

Letting go of offense and refusing to offend pleases God. Our lives can be like Christ’s who was ‘a fragrant offering’ to God. My prayer tonight is that you will let go of offense and choose not to offend others.

Altar: [Band-aids - Ephesians 4:29-32]

What offense do you need to let go of tonight?
Who have you offended and what needs to change that relationship?

Sep 10, 2012

God's Dream

This past weekend I attended Accelerated Minister's Training in Houston. One of the speakers talked at length about realizing your dream for your life. Early on in the session she had us write our dream down on a paper and turn it in. I struggled. This entire time I've been working on credentials, I haven't really known why, other than God told me to do it. I don't have a long term dream; there's no deep desire to run to the mission field, or to start some new ministry. All I could come up with is that I want to serve in ministry hand in hand with my husband (what I'm already doing) and to be a consistent lover of Jesus and His people, to continue to grow in Him and wisdom and humility.

This has bugged me since Saturday. I'm thinking and praying, "God, why don't I have a dream? Why doesn't it matter to me where I am going? Is there something wrong with me that I'm not a visionary or a dreamer?"

I read books, a lot of books in school. Most are written by high thinkers, visionaries, dream casters. I am not one of those people. I am a work hard day in and day out and ask God to bless it kind of girl. Reading all those books can make the 'hardworker' feel less than. Well, maybe I'm not called if God isn't giving me tremendous vision and dreams for our group?

This morning I was praying and asking God about all this. What is my dream? And I realized with a start that my dream is to fulfill His dream for me. My whole life has been about obediently stepping from one task to the other, one place to the next. I haven't seen some huge vision from the Lord, but I have seen the next step consistently. And I have tried to faithfully submit my life to His will. School has been a huge example of that, just trying to say 'yes, Lord' even when I didn't see a why. Even when it didn't make sense. A year after we started Rob and I went to the two message format and I could see His hand all over that.  God knew exactly where we were headed and what we would need to accomplish His plans for our youth group.

What I love about following the Lord is that He knows where He is going. Being omniscient, He is through all time and has perfect understanding of the best course.

So this morning I submit to you that my dream is to fulfill His dream for me. I don't know what that looks like. The further along the more things solidify, but I could have never in a million years guessed that this perfect fit of a life I have at this moment would be where He would put me, but it was never a surprise for Him.

So what about being a dreamer? I think I finally have realized that being a dreamer is important, well and good, but somebody needs to be the worker behind the dream. I am perfectly content to work hard and listen carefully for the next step for His glory. I'm just so incredibly thankful that God saw fit to include unworthy little me in His plan. :)

Deep thoughts for a Monday morning, but I was blessed by it! :)

 As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.       Isaiah 55:9 

If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.    Psalm 37:24-25

Aug 28, 2012

September/October 2012 ct|woman article

How can I shepherd my student’s heart when I feel so overwhelmed by the world we live in?

This question is on my mind because of my own struggle. Every where I turn I see evidence of our society’s ignorance or outright denial of the Lord and His word. It breaks my heart and grieves my soul. Then I remember that I am raising two children in this world. How can I set the example? How do we turn the worldly current that daily crashes against the moral foundation of our home?

Pray. Paul exhorts us to pray unceasingly. (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Prayer should be as regular to us as breathing. Pray with elements of thanksgiving, confession, intercession, supplication, spiritual warfare, praise and adoration. The battle for your student’s heart will be won on your knees.

Teach. Let the Bible be well known in your home. Scripture is the inspired word of God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 4:16) Do devotions as a family, not as a chore but as a joy. Open this life giving book and apply it’s truth to your lives together.

Inspire. Live a life worth following. Again, Paul tells us “Follow my example as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Show your student what it means to love the Lord and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Live openly and honestly, let them see you wrestle with a decision and seek the will of God. Let them see you read and obey the word of God. Let them see you depend on God to move or resolve a situation. Let them see you honor and praise God in the good times and bad times. Let them see you grown in your faith, love, and dependency of Him.

These are troubling times we live in. More and more, the moral decay of our fallen world points towards the imminent return of Christ. We cannot become overwhelmed by the state of things and stop pursuing and proclaiming Christ. If anything, the moral climate should further motivate the work of our Lord and Savior! Lead your students in the same holy work by praying, teaching and inspiring.

                                                                                                Anna Thoreson
                                                                                                Psalm 78:5-7