Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Praise the Giver

There’s a lot of thankfulness going around this time of year. Yep, it’s Thanksgiving. The one day we dedicate to being thankful…when really we should dedicate every day of the year to it. Many retailers choose to skip right over Thanksgiving to concentrate on the “bigger” holiday, Christmas. I don’t like that. I’ve always liked Thanksgiving. I like concentrating on thankfulness and as a girl who’s love language is “words of affirmation”, I like hearing thank you as well.

When I was growing up, I loved Thanksgiving. We’d get together for a family meal with all the fixings…turkey, potatoes, cranberry salad, yeast rolls, pumpkin pie and about 15 other dishes (give or take a few). Then, came the most coveted persimmon pudding, my mom’s signature recipe. A favorite for each of us four siblings.

One year I remember it was unseasonably warm in Indiana, so we were enjoying our dessert outside. All of a sudden I felt something crawling up my dress. I felt “it” crawling up my chest. Out of impulse, I took the paper plate full of food that was in my hand, brought it to my chest and…I squashed the spider, but I squashed my persimmon pudding too! That stuff’s so good I ate it anyway!!  :)

Like I said, I loved Thanksgiving as a young girl. Still, there were years when I was in my early twenties that I didn’t appreciate the holiday much. Although I liked getting together with family and stuffing my face (hee hee), my heart wasn’t very set on the significance of the holiday. It just seemed like a good day to indulge on food…even more than we normally did.

Several Thanksgiving Days went by without much affect on me. I kept a gratitude journal throughout the year (a wonderful gift from a friend) and I had heard Oprah (ugh!) talk about the importance of being a grateful person…how greatly it would affect my attitude and that of those around me. I was trying too “stay positive”. Still, something was missing.

Who was I thanking? Where was all that gratitude going? A person can be thankful ‘til they’re blue in the face and still be empty, sad and searching for the meaning of it all. I know because that’s where I was!

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” James 1:17

Every good gift is from God! He is constant and doesn’t change. I’ve heard people say…and I’ve even said it myself, “The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.” BUT, it’s not true…one thing doesn’t change, God doesn’t change. He’s the only thing that is constant, certain and unchanging in this life. What a great reason to praise Him!

My pastor shared a quote with us a few weeks ago, “Praise the Giver, not the gift.” I’m glad so many are thankful. It’s nice that so many are expressing gratitude for all they have in this life. Yet, I’m often left wondering Who are they thanking? Where is that gratitude going? Do they recognize the Giver, and not just the gifts?

I give you thank, O LORD, with all my heart. I will sing praises before the gods. I bow before your holy Temple as I worship. I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness; for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name. Psalm 138:1-3

Even when things aren’t going so well (yep, had a few of those years too…and we all have our problems in life), do we recognize the Giver of unfailing love and faithfulness? There is always something to praise Him for! He will never leave you, nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). He will always love you unfailingly and will be faithful, no matter what! His promises prove true and are backed by the honor of His name.

Henry Blackaby wrote, “Regardless of how bleak your present circumstances are, do not lose hope. No one has ever experienced unfaithfulness of God’s part! Allow time for God to reveal His faithfulness to you. Someday you will reflect on what God has done and praise Him for His absolute faithfulness to you.” Amen!

This Thanksgiving I'm going to praise the Giver!! How about you?!  Let's praise Him...not just for what He’s given to us, but for Who He is…a faithful, loving Father who’s promises hold true. The best way to truly “stay positive” is to look to the Giver of hope! Then, we can praise the Giver for the gifts He has given too! All of us have things to be thankful for, if only we are aware.

Oh, and if you ask me, if we would take more time for some “thanks-giving” (and not try to skip over it), Christmas would probably be a lot better celebration for more of us too.   :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lessons from the Vacuum Cleaner

Today I got out our handy, dandy trusty Eureka vacuum.  I started in our living room.  I swept away...back and forth...back and forth thinking about my to-do list.  It took me a while, but I noticed something...hmm, it didn't seem to be picking up.  The vacuum isn't very old and it normally works very well.  I had a long list of things to do.  I was in a hurry.  I didn't feel like dealing with a problem.  I kept vacuuming.  I kept vacuuming...the same area over and over.  It wasn't working.  There was clearly a problem and it needed to be dealt with.  I thought, "What a hassle!" 

I took off the canister.  Woa!  It was full.  I looked at the filter.  Woa!  It was clogged.  I mean, it was really clogged.  Why hadn't I noticed this before?  Why hadn't I emptied it the last time I used the vacuum?  I wasted all that time trying to vacuum...over and over...with a full canister and a clogged filter.  It only took a few minutes to empty the canister...and just a few more to take a toothbrush to the filter.  I couldn't believe the amount of dirt that I got out of the filter!  I had to vacuum the living room all over again, with my "renewed" vacuum cleaner.  This time it worked beautifully!  I was so glad that I took the time to take care of the dirt and the clog...and wondered why I hadn't done it sooner.

Why didn't I deal with the full canister and clogged filter before..before there was a problem?  I was so busy trying to save time that I wasted time trying to vacuum with a machine that wasn't working to it's full capabilty.  Why didn't I stop to deal with the problem when it arose?  The solution was so simple.  I dealt with the dirt, the clogged up filter, and things went so much more smoothly. 

I believe there' a spiritual application here.  I'll let you figure it out...

I got up early one morning
and rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish,
I didn't have time to pray.

Problems just tumbled about me,
and heavier came each task.
Why doesn't God help me? I wondered,
He answered, "You didn't ask."

I wanted to see joy and beauty,
but the day toiled on, gray and bleak.
I wondered why God didn't show me,
He said, "But you didn't seek."

I tried to come into God's presence,
I used all my keys at the lock.
God gently and lovingly chided,
"My child, you didn't knock."

I woke up early this morning
and paused before entering the day.
I had so much to accomplish
That I had to take time to pray.

Grace L. Naessens

AND I would add to Grace's words that we should also take the time to be in God's Word and to let God's Word get into us.  Going to God in prayer and spending time in His will help us keep the dirt in our lives dealt with and our hearts "clog" free...allowing us to work to our fullest potential.  :)   

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It is a Choice!

At Rise & Shine Women’s Retreat guest speaker Lysa TerKeurst spoke on being “Prayer-full”. She shared I Thessalonians 5:16-18 with us, Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Lysa shared that joy is not a feeling, it is a mindset…a shift in our thinking. She said, “sometimes our circumstances feel anything but joyful”, but we can choose to be joyful and thankful despite our feelings, despite our circumstances. Lysa said, “Feelings are indicators, not dictators.” So true!

Lysa went on to say that we need to “ask God for our daily portion.” Keep asking, keep believing, keep our eyes and hearts on Him daily. Praying continually shows our daily dependence on Him.

In my breakout group (a small group setting) at Rise & Shine we spent some time digging into Lysa’s message just a bit more. We talked about what being in the center of God’s will meant to us. Of course, being joyful, praying continually and being thankful came up again. One woman pointed out that you can’t really have one without the other…you need all three, they all go hand in hand. When you’re thankful you’ll be joyful, when you’re prayerful you’ll be thankful, when you’re joyful you’ll be prayerful…you get the idea!

I Thessalonians 5:18 does say “for this” (all three of those things mentioned before) “is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” To be in God’s will, we must be joyful, prayerful and thankful. Wow!

As I’ve pondered this more, I realized I had a great example of this growing up. I was brought up by my mom who, by God’s grace, is an extremely grateful woman. Despite some very tough, life-altering circumstances, she chose to see the joy in life. Life didn’t turn out just the way she thought it would, circumstances beyond her control left her a divorced woman and a single mom who was often scraping for money to provide for us. Yet, she constantly pointed out to me (and still does) how God was with us…was blessing us…was providing for us…was showing His love for us. She gave Him such thanks in front of me that I grew up seeing God clearly in those ordinary, everyday moments. Her faith was strong and totally intact despite circumstances. She wasn't necessarily thankful for her difficult circumstances, but she was thankful even in her circumstances! She prayed about everything, she saw how God answered her prayers and was quick to point it out to me as well. Her prayerfulness made her thankful, her thankfulness made her joyful. What an example!

I try to model this for my two young boys as well. It sounds easy doesn’t it? When we’re sitting in a Christian women’s conference being built up, encouraged, refreshed and renewed, it sounds so simple.

Of course we should be joyful always!
Of course we should pray continually (why wouldn’t we?!!?).
Of course we should be thankful in all circumstances.
Of course this is God’s will for us.

It makes total sense! BUT, when we get home, that’s the real test! When things don’t go our way…there are bills to be paid…kids fussing…dinner burning…frizzy hair…telemarketers…rising blood pressure…life can get messy. It’s easy to lose sight of all that joy and thankfulness we felt while sitting at that conference. Or maybe our circumstances are much bigger…like a sick loved one, divorce papers delivered, past mistakes coming back to haunt us…the list could go on and on. No matter what the circumstance, do we choose EVEN THEN by God’s grace within us to be joyful, prayerful and thankful?!

As we pray continually we will see how God gives us just what we need (not necessary everything that we want, but all that we need), then we will be thankful. When we live with a thankful heart, choosing to see past the circumstances to see the blessings in life, then we will live joyfully…always. When we are joyful and thankful we will prayerfully praise God and will pray even more because we will be keenly aware of how faithful He is to answer. They go hand in hand.

November is “Thankful Month” on facebook. Each day I am posting what I am thankful for that day. Honestly, I am so thankful for all that God has done that I find it hard to say just one thing. It has been a great reminder for me! As I think of the things that I am thankful for, I find myself full of joy and then I find myself praising God for it! I have a lot to be thankful for and I believe all of us do…if we only choose to be aware! Thankfulness is not a one month event, it is an every day, moment by moment, forever life changing choice!

Are our eyes open to all God is doing around us? Are we thankful for all the little, “everyday” life stuff that He provides? Do we recognize our blessings despite our feelings? Do we see the joy in this life, in our relationship with Him despite our circumstances? Do we choose to look to Him continually…asking for our provision every day, every moment? Do we say thank you, Lord?

I am thankful for Lysa TerKeurst’s message that has caused me to focus on these Truths. I am thankful God continues to work on these things in my heart. I am thankful that I can choose to be joyful always, pray continually and to be thankful in all circumstances…because this truly is God’s will for me, and you too if you are a believer!!

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again - rejoice! …the Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus…Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Phil 4:4-8
What are you thankful for today? 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rise & Shine 2010 ~ God is Faithful to Answer!!

The Rise & Shine team with Lysa TerKeurst and her assistant Holly Good.
Me, Jill, Lysa, Holly, Judy and Leanne

It’s been a week since Rise & Shine Women’s Retreat and I’m still basking in God’s greatness. I still feel overwhelmed by it all! Not sure that I have adequate words to do it justice. And I know I don’t have adequate words to express the praise in my heart for all that God did there that day! I don’t think I can wrap up the day in a neat little blog post fit with a shiny red bow.  :)   So instead I want to take the time to praise, honor and glorify God for the way He showed up and revealed Himself to our planning team and me personally that day!

Pray, pray, pray and pray some more. That’s what we felt led to do. That’s what we did! And, boy oh boy, was God ever faithful to answer!!

The call to pray more, and more specifically, was heard loud and clear by our planning team this year. I shared a bit about our specific prayers in an earlier blog post, you can read it here.

I knew God would answer our prayers for Rise & Shine, but what amazed me is the way praying for these women blessed ME, the pray-er (and others who prayed as well).

“What a wondrous thing it is when God changes us! says Cheri Fuller. “As the Lord Jesus Christ becomes the focus of our lives, the eyes of hearts are opened, and we see more clearly His faithfulness and His loving-kindness…As we walk with Him, talk with Him, and behold Him daily in our lives, transformation comes. We are drawn closer to Him the more we come into His presence to intercede for others - and in His presence is fullness of joy.”

I agree! I have been changed as I’ve prayed for these dear women, and not only that, I have seen His faithfulness displayed clearly as I’ve heard and read the comments women have made about the ways these specific prayers have blessed them. It’s obvious that God guided our hands (just as we asked Him to) to assign their names to the fruit of the Spirit…and guided our prayers to effect them greatly. God revealed Himself in BIG ways…and I am blown away by His GREATNESS! I am blown away with how FAITHFUL He is to answer our prayers! I am blown away with what a PERSONAL, LOVING Father He is to each of us!! He knows each of us personally and knew right where our names needed to fall on that list…including my own!

I realize that we will probably never know on this side of Heaven about all of the seeds that were planted at Rise & Shine. I believe God was at work in mighty big ways! And I don’t need to see all of it to believe it. However, I did ask God to show us some very obvious answers to our prayers (like He did with the fruit of the Spirit prayers) so that we would know He heard, He answered, that He is faithful…and so that we could give Him all the glory. He did! He is faithful to answer!

We asked God to draw women by His Spirit to Rise & Shine…not a particular number of women, just every woman that needed to be there. There were women there from every part of the state of Iowa and also women from Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, one from Indiana (my mom!) and one from Nebraska who specifically told me that she felt drawn to attend Rise & Shine! :)  It’s not about numbers, but it’s about having the opportunity to minister to women. God is faithful to answer!

We prayed that when women walked through those front doors that morning that two things would be felt strongly there His love and His Holy Spirit. Although we wanted the retreat to be full of depth, we also wanted the women to feel loved on by providing fun things like flavored coffees and cappuccinos, homemade cinnamon rolls, comfy seats, chocolate and pretty decor. I am in awe of God’s goodness as I’ve heard women say that they felt pampered by all the details, were blown away by the love they felt there and how the Holy Spirit was felt so strongly that it couldn’t be denied. Thank you, Lord! You are so faithful to answer!

We asked the Lord to draw women into a closer relationship with Him at Rise & Shine. In the first morning session, our fabulous guest speaker, Lysa TerKeurst, shared her very powerful life testimony. Lysa clearly pointed women toward God. At the end of this time she asked women who had never entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to do so. Each time a woman raised her hand to let Lysa know they had made a new commitment she acknowledged them by saying, “To God be the praise.” I sat at my table with my head down listening to her say, “To God be the praise” over and over and over…31 times she said it. Tears flowed from my eyes as I realized that each, “To God be the praise” represented a brand new life for one precious sister. Later, Lysa told us that she didn’t even say, “To God be the praise” for every woman who raised her hand. This blew us away! How overwhelming! Truly to God be the praise!! God is faithful to answer!

Lysa TerKeurst’s second talk was titled "Prayer-full"! When we first started planning this event and felt the call to pray, pray, pray, we didn’t know Lysa would be speaking on being “Prayer-full,” a talk based on I Thessalonians 5:16-18. Nope, we found this out just a couple of weeks before the retreat. As a few of us met to pray a few days before the retreat, I read the entire chapter of I Thessalonians 5 aloud. Imagine our delight as we realized the chapter surrounding Lysa’s talk mentioned EVERY ONE of the fruit of the Spirit. It boggles my mind to think of how God prepared us and all of the women who attended Rise & Shine through prayer for this Spirit-led message from Lysa TerKeurst. How cool is that?  We didn’t know what Lysa would speak about. Lysa didn’t know what we were praying about. He knew!! He is faithful to answer our prayers as we are obedient in the asking! (P.S. I want to share more about Lysa’s “Prayer-full” talk in another post soon. Lysa spoke Truth straight to our hearts! The Lord is really blessing Lysa and her ministry as she conintues to obey and follow His lead.  Fabulous!).

At the end of the day we asked the women to write a letter to themselves expressing what they had learned at Rise & Shine. We then asked them to seal up those letters, address them to themselves and bring them to the front. They left their letters there and picked up “a letter from God” (a few sentences taken from scripture…along with the scripture reference) to take back to their seat with them. We will mail the letter they wrote to themselves back to them sometime in the days to come. It’s going to be so cool to hear how the Lord uses their own words to remind them of His faithfulness! It has already been so neat to hear from women that the “letter from God” they picked up was just the “right one” for them. This was true for me personally as well! God is faithful to answer!

We prayed that God would be in every part of Rise & Shine…and He revealed Himself in every detail! I was amazed by the way He was seen and heard in the words of Lysa TerKeurst as she shared with us 3 times, the worship team, the smooth transitions of the sound and production people (and all the working equipment), the special music providers, the prayer room, the mouth-watering lunches from Scratch Bakery (you ain’t never had a cupcake ‘til ya had one from there!!), the wonderful volunteers who gave of their time, the beautiful d├ęcor, the “breakout reflections” time. Yes, His glory was revealed through every detail…big and small; through the talents and time given to honor Him! When we do the work He asks of us, He is faithful to answer!

On Monday, after the retreat, Lysa TerKeurst shared on her blog a story that she shared with us at Rise & Shine Women’s Retreat (and mentioned meeting some of us crazy women who live amongst cattle and fields and 45 miles from Wal-Mart! hee hee) Her post was titled, “Our Job is Obedience. God’s Job is Results.” Oh, how true! Oh, how appropriate! As we’ve been obedient to follow God’s promptings in our hearts, He has been faithful to answer! Thank you, Lord, for working through so many people to make Rise & Shine happen. The results are Yours and we are thankful!! To God be the glory!!

Rise & Shine was a lot of work, but it’s such a privilege to have a “front row seat” to bask in God’s glory…to see direct answers to our prayers, how God blessed women and every part of the day!

I’m now praying that each seed that was planted at Rise & Shine, whether it be a new commitment or a deepened revelation of who He is, will be watered and come to full fruition in the lives of the women who attended.  I pray that all of us will remember that "rising" up to who God created us to be and "shining" His light with our life is more than a one day event!  And I know God definately is faithful to answer!!

Is God asking you to be obedient in a certain area in your life right now? What is God prompting you to do? What BIG thing are you praying for right now? God is faithful to answer when our requests are pleasing to Him and we come to Him in faith believing!! Go to Him and keep going to Him again and again…leaving the results in His hands!

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. I John 5:14-15

A few more personal notes (I just can't stop!!):

I loved the personal connections that I made with other women and the connections I saw others making! This was an answer to prayer. He is faithful to answer!

I loved how God prepared me as a breakout facilitator…I didn’t know how to prepare, but EVERY subject that came up during that time was something He had been working on in my heart in the days prior. WOW! He revealed Himself to me personally in that way as well! He is faithful to answer!

As we gathered in the prayer room to pray on Saturday morning, one of the gals from the prayer team said something like, “Before this day is over, this is going to be Holy Ground! They’re going to want to take their shoes off when they walk in here.” I thought, “Wow!” and said a quiet prayer in my mind that those words would be true. At the end of the day, a new friend of mine said to me, having NO IDEA what was said earlier that day, “Earlier when I walked in here (the prayer room) the Holy Spirit was so strong that it about knocked me off my feet. I felt like I needed to take off my shoes. This is Holy Ground!” Wow, wow, wow! God, you are so good!! You are faithful to answer!

Sorry this is soooo long, but I have so much to say…so much more I could share, but I have to stop somewhere. More to come soon. 

Thank you, LORD, for the way you work and move in our very ordinary, very real lives!  I am amazed and blessed to be part of something so beyond me!!  Thank you for hearing us and being faithful to answer our prayers!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

So Much To Say...

I can hardly believe it's Wednesday already...and I haven't even posted anything about Rise & Shine!!  I have so much to say, but I'm still feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all.  I'm still basking in God's Faithfulness!!  I will share more soon.  I have a lot to say, just not the time or words to express it all yet.  :)

For now, I will give you some other sources to read...

This is what I wrote on the Rise & Shine blog.
This is what our guest speaker, Lysa TerKeurst, wrote about her time at Rise & Shine!  A great post!!
Teske Drake who brought a fabulous group from Mommies with Hope to Rise & Shine..shared her top 10 of the weekend.  Love!

More to come...stay tuned! :)