December 21, 2008

Generations Tour

2009 Encouragement Events Tour:
How to Bless the Next Generation

The counsel of the LORD stands forever;
The plans of His heart from generation to generation.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.
Psalm 33:11-12

Schedule a retreat or Bible study event for your group. Now reserving for spring and summer '09.

December 9, 2008

Countdown Clock

We are in the heart of our traditional December activities. Our middle daughter is 6 years old today. Sharing her birthday month with Jesus creates an extraordinary backdrop for her festivities. We are incorporating her celebration into our family's Christmas fun. In past years, we decorated the house on her birthday or made gingerbread houses at her party. Tonight, we had our first official drive of the season to look at Christmas lights.

One of the houses we saw had a countdown clock. "16 days", it said. It ticked away the hours, minutes and seconds as well. Normally, I think of my endless shopping list. I would read that and tally the number of remaining shopping days. I have been thinking, tonight, about a different list.

How many days are left in this year? It's time for me to take stock of where I am on the obedience list. Have I completed the spiritual assignments that the Lord has given me? Hmmm. I may need to check that list twice.

James 3:17: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

October 29, 2008

Playing Favorites

Yes, we are slowly making progress through the book of James. I spend days pondering the challenges that he offers here. Thank you for your patience.

James chapter 2 examines our heart by watching our actions. Favoritism, or prejudice as we call it today, is a subtle temptation. We can look down on someone for having more resources than we do or for having less. We can be irritated that someone has higher standards that make "us" feel guilty. We can be prideful about a family that lets their kids watch "that" show.

James 2:8-9: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself,"you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. The law will always judge according to God's holy standard; never does it compare us to other people. We do. We feel more righteous than other people. We feel more kind, more forgiving, more open minded than the guy we are judging. What a trap!

James closes with this warning: give mercy because you need mercy. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (2:12-13) Aren't we grateful for that?

In order to reduce and prevent favoritism and judgement from creeping into our lives, let's work on increasing the mercy that we offer each day.

October 7, 2008

Wisdom and Power

We know that the Holy Spirit is a counselor. (John 14:26) His wisdom can help us navigate through life. But are we receiving the benefit of the power of God through the Spirit?

Look at 1 Corinthians 2:6-13:
"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words."

Through the Holy Spirit, we can better understand God’s Word and His best plans for us. Through wisdom, we have up to the minute insight for life’s big decisions but also our daily choices. This can be developed in us as we mature in our walk.

But, we often need the power of God, and we don't realize that we have access. This power is our supply line for the miracles, signs, wonders and breakthroughs that we need. Do you ask for God's power when you are stuck? Or have you given up on a rescue from the Lord in your situation? Let's not forget that we have been offered power. So often ,we settle and ask for patience only. Let's develop this power by making sure that our lives match our Spirit filled theology. God offers freedom to us through His power. We can break the bondage of sin; we can be set free from fear or generational curses or out of control lives. Look at I Corinthians 2:4: "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

The good news is that we don't have to guess what He is saying to us. We are encouraged to lean in close and hear what His wisdom will say and to see what His power will do. He is our rescue. We are blessed to have access to Him. Yes. . .we have the mind of Christ.

"For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?

But we have the mind of Christ." (I Corinthians 2:16)

September 20, 2008

Worthless? That seems harsh.

James is clear and concise. He says that speaking should be followed by listening. We should be quick to listen and slow to speak. And that our hearing should be followed by doing. “Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves.” That deception is a like a pride that we have in what we have heard. We may agree. We may feel emotional even. But if we do nothing about it, then we have been deceived by those emotions. We have been fooled into forgetting our experience.

However, there is a blessing for the one who remembers what he has heard and continues to act upon the freedom in Christ. (James 1:25)

Next, James takes on religion. Church can play a key role in our lives. Social development. Fellowship with other Christians. A place to learn and grow. Peaceful refuge during times of crisis. But why was James so extreme to say that our out of control mouth could render our religion worthless? Can it cancel out all of the choir practice and Sunday School? “Hey, I volunteer in the nursery.” “I used my vacation time to work a week at VBS. “ Those are real sacrifices. They are acts of service to God's people.

That’s the whole idea. This entire passage is taking to task that idea of hearers who are not doers. We can be busy doing religious things, but we are expected to also being doing Godly things- taking on His character. Be not deceived. James has clearly called it on this.

We will explore the power of words again in Chapter 3. His emphasis on this topic (and my own struggle over this area) remind me of how much this matters to God. God expects, even requires, me to get my words under control before I will be the grown up that I think I should be by now.

I have been growing in the Lord my whole life. I have been gobbling up God’s Word with more hunger for the past 10 years. I know that this will come up again if I do not get the rudder in the hands of a skilled captain, so that I can face the strongest winds of my life. (James 3)

James 1:26-27: If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue he deceives himself, this man's religion is worthless.
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Ooh- I need to read this passage again.

September 10, 2008

Good vs. Evil

Because God so loved the world. . .
Even as we study James chapter 1, we remember that He loves us. John 3:16 may offer the best summary of the Gospel- or Good News about Jesus. I feel that John 10:10 offers the best explanation of “Why does evil happen?"

"The thief comes to kill, steal and destroy. But I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10

Abundant Life. That’s His offer to us. The enemy also places offers on the table, everyday. Many times a day. These are called temptation. Some are set up within us on an automatic reset cycle. They are self maintaining and sin inducing. Our own lusts. Our selfish desires. It doesn’t always feel like a major demonic battle. It is just us and our plan, playing out over and over. A repetition of despair, defeat, and distrust in God.

I often hear people who love God saying that sometimes God does evil to teach us something or for some greater good. This is breaking my heart. It’s a pseudo-spiritual idea. It sounds so noble to be resolved that the end will justify the means. That God is allowed some ruler breakers. After all, He is God. (I have thought this.)

When I study James 1:13, I read the following: Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

James does not support the “sometimes God does evil or tempts us to do evil" theology. Most people like explanations and tidy morals at the end of our fables. At the end of tragedy. At the end of our drought. We long to put God into the picture of our lives. (I have done this.)

So, what’s the harm in saying that God causes sicknesses sometimes or tempts us to sin to give us a maturity test? How can I be so confident that He does not break character to teach lessons?

I see the answer in James 1:14-15. "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death."

OK, there is encouragement for us in this passage. Hang in there. But James warns us first.

Do you think he is reminding us to not fade God over into the “evil” category. He reminds us that God is always good.

Let’s close with verses 16 and 17. Read them several times and then think of the Father of Light when you flip light switches today. He is Light. He is good. "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."

I hope you get to hang out with Him today and hear from Him. I long to see His heart during my crisis! Where is He? What is His plan of escape? Let's lean in and hear where He leads.

August 28, 2008

Ruth's Legacy

RUTH’S LEGACY is an entry in "Devoted: the workbook"

I’ve always loved the story of Ruth. Sometimes when I wanted to read a whole book of the Bible to feel studious and productive, I would sit and read Ruth. Four chapters. It’s a great read. Love. Loss. Loyalty. And lineage.

The Book of Ruth is approachable. It is interesting. I hope you get the chance to read it today. Ruth knew that God was leading her to the land of Judah, to His people, and even to Him. Ruth had a destiny to follow. Her integrity and love for her mother-in-law kept putting her in the right place at the right time.

15 "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her." 16 But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. RUTH 1:15-18

Three times Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, asks Ruth to go home to Moab now that they were all widows. Naomi was grieving and confused. She said that the Lord had brought this pain in her life (1:21-22). But Ruth knew that she would be disobeying God to do what Naomi was telling her to do. Ruth was Moabite; Moab was a pagan, idolatrous country. Even in her limited knowledge of the true God, she referred to him as Lord on this matter. She heard, “Do not leave her.”

Has that ever happened to you? The person that the Lord has given you to love and support (spouse, parent, child, friend) is asking you to give up on them? To give up on God’s plan ? But you know that if you do, you’re going to have to deal with God. Have you recently had that conviction? I’m not talking about a hunch or a feeling. I mean a physical hand on your chest saying, “Do not leave. Do not give up. I am working this out. It is my plan.”

Ruth needed to be in Judah to meet Boaz, to work in his fields for food for herself and for her mother-in-law. But she also was to meet this kind, generous man Boaz and eventually marry him. Their son would be King David’s grandfather.

I get it now. What I love about this story most is that Ruth was destined to be the great grandmother of someone great- Israel’s anointed beloved King David. She had a choice to make. Her choice of obedience fulfilled God’s plan to have the Messiah- the Christ come from the house of David.

Ruth was drawn to Boaz to be his wife. She had an appointment to keep in Naomi’s homeland, and she was determined to go keep it. But her obedience, her response to the call of the Lord created a family line for Jesus. Today’s obedience is very significant. When I am feeling isolated or insignificant, this book reminds me that obedience is always significant.

My grandmother is not quite 80 years old. She is smart and funny and one of the best storytellers I’ve ever heard. She has been reading her Bible and books about the Bible for years. My mom tells me of her as the Girl Scout leader and the Vacation Bible School teacher. (She asked Jesus into her heart at VBS as a little girl. VBS is very important to this family.) But I now know her as the homebody who is tired of going and doing. Eating even seems like work to her these days.

But just a few years ago, I was telling Grandmother about our busy lives and Bible study groups. She responded, “I get to count all of that.” I answered, “M’am?” She then explained that the obedience of her children and grandchildren were a blessing to her. She feels that the Lord saw her part in praying for us and in equipping us. She taught her daughters and each of her grandchildren about the Lord. Encouraging us to serve Him was part of her ministry.

As a new mother – only a few years ago- I was overwhelmed when people talked about my responsibility to teach our daughter about the Word. I just could not take that on; I was a marketing major. I had no plans to be organized or deliberate with teaching her the Bible. But I asked the Lord to help me, to show me how to introduce her to God’s Word. So He gave me a sweet, smart girl who asks me the deepest questions. I am often running to the concordance in order to respond. I do want to equip her in God’s Word- to be faithful to God’s call on my life.

My grandmother is the great grandmother for my kids. She gets to count their pursuit of the Lord too.

Ruth’s obedience blessed her mother-in-law. I want my obedience to bless my family. Not just for bragging rights. But that they would be forever blessed through my response to God’s plan.

August 14, 2008

Goodness of God: James 1

James was written for the believer. We are ready for the book of James, because we are ready to move forward with an active faith that marks mature believers. I am struck by how James' letter calls us to boldness in our prayers, addresses trials, establishes the source of temptation in our lives, and sets expectations for our behavior- all in the first chapter.

While studying James, I am reminded of how rich each chapter in the book of Proverbs can be to situations that we are facing in our lives. Known as the book of wisdom, Proverbs is filled with practical advice for life. We are blessed to have the Word of God in print, to hold and find comfort. James, referring to our access to the Father through Jesus reminds us that we can hear directly from God's Spirit.

James 1:5-6 : If anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt. . .

We are welcome to go directly to God for specific guidance in our lives. When we are stuck in an area, we go straight into His presence, full of faith, and wait for answers. We can receive wisdom. And what a great word: generous. He does not hold back or ration His communication with us. We are not bothering Him. Have you not heard that He is busy with other people and their bigger problems? Well, we will not be pushed away from asking or expecting. He is inviting us to bring our faith, our expectant hearts, and come talk with Him. He wants to see us through the trials of life. He is our stamina, our ability to perservere. He is also our rescue!

Here is your essay question for the day: Differentiate a trial, a test and a temptation. Verses 12 and 13 list that we are blessed when we persevere under trial, that we receive the "crown of life" when we have stood the test, and that God does not tempt anyone.

Can it be so simple? God, who does not use evil as a currency, holds us and helps us and heals us from evil that encroaches into our lives.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

Read and pray through the other half of James 1. We will discuss it together in a few days.

Let's lean in to the Giver of Goodness.

Leigh Ann

August 5, 2008

Reliable or Random?

"They cried to You and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed." Psalm 22:5

I do believe, really I do, that He has come to give us life and for that life to be full. (John 10:10) I have lists of blessings and breakthroughs that have come from the Lord.

Why, then, do I still have a list of things that I do not take to the King of Kings? James remind us, "We have not because we do not ask." Then, there is a disconnect between what I believe and what I am doing. Is it possible that I still somewhere in my soul think that Jesus is doing random acts of kindness? Oh, I hope that I know better.

God is deliberately good. He is Healer and Deliverer. He is reliable. People- not so much. Oh, we try to be. Some are better than others. But when we assign God the characteristics of a good person, we mistake the nature of God. He is not even on the field with the "best" person that you know. Think of a good person. A generous person. A wise person. Not even close to the goodness, generosity and wisdom of the Lord.

When I hear "trust the Lord," I think, "Of course, He's so reliable."

To go deeper, Dan recommends: Read Ephesians 3:12 and Psalm 21:2.

July 31, 2008

Ready, set, go!

With my capable and creative Mom's help, I have 2 weeks of lessons plans ready for my students. Mom (Charlotte Laughlin) also serves as the principal of our school. She provides encouragement and incentives and even textbooks for the students. Our daughters are so eager to break open the new school supplies that we are going to start work on Monday, August 4. By Labor Day, we will be ready for a break.

God bless this home and all who teach and all who learn.

In other news, the kickoff party and first Encouragement Event will be held here at my house on Monday, August 11. Please pray for Living Water to be served that evening.

Also, this Saturday night, Dan is performing a set at Cup O' Soul Christian Coffee House in Winter Park. He will debut a new tune along with a list of his originals and other worship songs. And it's a date night for us. I guess that makes me a groupie.

Thanks for the encouragement that you all have extended to me as we "Go" therefore.

July 22, 2008

New Season

A new season of life. Around this house, I am cleaning out closets and getting organized. But also, we are also officially changing our focus to things Above. Yes, ok, we already live a deliberate life that ventures with the Lord.

But for the first time in a while, I feel the freedom to really serve Him fully.

So, what's changed? First, we have stepped out of our little school, where Julia has attended (and I have volunteered) for 5 years. We will homeschool this year: 5th grade for Julia (age 10) and kindergarten for Charlotte (age 5). William (1 year) will be majoring in cuteness and hopefully naps so that schooltime be productive.

Second, it is clear that this new flexibility in our schedule will allow me to pursue some specific assignments that the Lord has given me. The Lord and I have been discussing these plans for several years, and now is the time to take some steps forward. One assignment is a ministry to the discouraged and overwhelmed Christian. Communicating the hope and power of the Gospel is my desire.

Please lift our family in prayer during this transition time, and check in often for updates on our family's school projects and for information on "Encouragement Events" coming to a town near you.