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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Surviving Christmas . . . Mary’s Way


As I look over my list of things to do for our upcoming Holiday Women’s Ministry event my soul is already yearning for January. For in January the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over and I can just settle in and rest.

But rest is not on today’s agenda. With Andy Williams singing throughout the day that this is the most wonderful time of the year (and he croons it out eight times in the popular Christmas song) all I can think of is this is the most hectic time of the year.

Whether your husband ministers to a large congregation or small, there are so many demands and expectations put on us as minister’s wives. In a large church there are more events to help with and attend, and in a small church . . . well, we just about do everything.

So how can we get through the Christmas season without wishing it was January already? By following Mary’s example: treasure and ponder.

A lot had happened in this young women’s life. It started with a visit from a real angel telling her she would have a baby, without ever being with a man, and not just any baby, but one who would “be great and will be called the Son of the Most High,” (Luke 1:32).

You know the story. Mary travels with Joseph to Bethlehem, has the baby in a manger, shepherds come and visit and tell her about the angel that visited them and then how the skies were filled with angels as they sang, “Glory to God in the highest,. . .” and then how they followed a star to Bethlehem and found her and the baby.

I don’t know if they barged in after running to see what the angel said was true or not, or if they gently pushed open the door with reverence to see the Holy child, but one thing is for sure, they probably became very animated and excited as they retold their story to Joseph and Mary.

When Mary heard all of this the scripture says she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart,” (Luke 2:19).

I think that is the key to surviving a busy Christmas season. We need to take time to ponder the things we have treasured in our hearts concerning Jesus and His birth.

I’m sure we all have our own personal reactions to the Christmas story found in Luke 2. Being a prodigal daughter, and coming back home to the Lord in the fall of the year, the next couple of weeks were unexplainable as I experienced the birth of Christ in new heart-felt way as I made Jesus not only Savior but Lord of my life. The story was more meaningful and continues to be to this day. I treasure my salvation and the fact that God came to earth in the form of a man to live on earth and then die for me. I ponder what all He went through, what He did, and now how He continues to be with me.

What have you treasured in your heart concerning Jesus? Take time to ponder on these things this Christmas season. Mary did. She had much to treasure. And as children of God, the One who sent Jesus from His home in heaven to this earth to live and die for us, we too should have much treasured in our hearts.

Yes, January is coming, but I’m not going to wait until then to settle in and rest. In the midst of the busiest time of the year, I’m going to make it a point to be settled and rest in the fact that Jesus really is the reason for this busy season and that it is because of God’s love I am His child.

Now that is a lot to ponder . . .


About the Author:

The hats I wear are many but with each one brings an opportunity to share heart, humor, and hope. My day job is with a ministry in Greenville, SC but my other hours I fill with writing, speaking, teaching Bible Studies, leading our women's ministry, designing landscape/gardens, rowing at Greenville Indoor Rowing and answering to Beth, mama, and grandmommy. Serving alongside my husband, who is a pastor, for over twenty years, I can say without a doubt that as difficult as it is at times, it's also a great honor. They say that with age comes wisdom, I'm not sure about the wisdom part, but I do know that with age comes the realization that no matter what I go through God is always there with His overwhelming love and grace. 



Connect With Beth:



Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Survival Skills



The countdown is on. Does the date pop into your head as soon as you wake up? Or only when you look at your To-Do List?

Bowls of dough and trays of cookies surrounded Trish when her iPhone rang. She wiped her hands on the red-checked towel and pressed Accept. Two sentences in, her mother’s sweet voice suggested her cousin Sue and her kids join them for Christmas. “It’s only been a month since Joe abandoned them. They must be struggling.”

Mom said she and dad would pitch in all they could, but Sue lived hours away. Coming for the whole weekend made the most sense. Yes. It made sense. Was something Trish might have thought of on her own . . . if she had a moment to think.

She heard herself say, “Of course. I’ll call her right away.” Her thumb poked the S in Contacts then chose Home. Peter, Sue’s oldest, answered. Trish felt hollow when she asked for his mom.

“Hello?” Sue sounded frail.

“Hi, Sue. It’s me, Trish. How are you?” Her mind snapped back into place.

Photo by Sandra Allen Lovelace
The cousins chatted for a few moments before she offered an invitation for Sue and her three children to join them for the holiday. Sue hesitated. Trish described cozy pajama times with young ones around the tree, fortified by hot chocolate and hymns. “You would bless us if you come,” did the trick.

She placed her cell phone on the granite counter top as her mind threatened to collapse. On top of preparing for the traditional visits from her parents, her brother and his family, not to mention her two returning college kids, she had no idea how she’d survive. What did I just do? How could I let my mother talk me into this?

She caught the bad attitude. Holy Spirit alerted her exactly as she’d been asking Him to. She went to the blue wingback by the picture window, her devo chair. Grabbing her Bible off the side table, she settled back and opened to the next chapter in her reading plan, Isaiah 63.

Her mind raced over the endless tasks ahead as her eyes flowed across verses 1 to 8. The word distress caught her attention. She placed her finger on verse 9 to steady her thoughts.

In all their distress he [the LORD] too was distressed,
She paused to soak in the idea of God sharing her panic.

and the angel of his presence saved them.
God joins His chosen ones to rescue us.

In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
            Deliverance is based on His character, not our efforts.

he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old (Isaiah 63:9).*
            Trish relaxed into God’s presence and provision.

How about you? Has your holiday pace hit the fever pitch?
Relief is as close as prayer and an attitude change based on Biblical Truth.

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest (Exodus 33:14).*

*NIV

Brief Bio

Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s an award-winning speaker and author, and a sought-after mentor. Sandra’s a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers, and has two manuscripts underway, Wallflower Women and Naomi. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/
You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+  she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The “Perfect Christmas”


Before we had children, it didn’t matter to me for some reason. I would have celebrated Christmas at a dirt track if that’s where we happened to be. But once we had children, I found myself dreaming about a perfect Christmas.

My perfect Christmas didn’t have to have snow on the ground, although that would have helped, but everyone would get up early, though not too early. They would gladly wait to open presents while drinking coffee/hot chocolate. The kids would be quiet while we read the Christmas story (or maybe even acted it out). We would have a time of prayer and thanksgiving around the tree. Everyone in the family would enjoy the food, spontaneously burst into carols, and get along. And most importantly, we would be at home.

Are you laughing yet? Because the perfect Christmas never happens.

Like most girls, Mary, the mother of Jesus, probably imagined starting her own little family. Living in Nazareth, near her mother, sisters, aunts, and cousins, she would have enjoyed plenty of support and know-how for that scary labor-and-delivery…plus the even scarier first days at home with a newborn. But after a low-key marriage with no wedding-night intimacy, she got none of that. Instead, Joseph—a carpenter and a man (in a time when men didn’t know anything about babies)—yes, Joseph helped her deliver her baby in a stranger’s barn in a town miles away from her family. Then, the only people to visit her were a bunch of smelly shepherds (again, all men).

No one would call that a perfect scenario. No one dreams of living like that.

I don’t compare myself to Mary, but I think we still (even after all these years) have much to learn from her. Nothing in her life turned out like she anticipated, but she found contentment anyway. Mary traded a quiet existence for the quite extraordinary Emmanuel.

When I dream of some ideal Christmas, I put stress on myself and my family to live up to my unrealistic expectations. I end up disappointed, and my family ends up frustrated. Plus, I do something God never does with us: anticipate earthly perfection.

We travel every year at Christmas, and it usually rains. We invariably duplicate or royally miss it on someone’s gift. The cousins get in an argument…or three. Some distant relative gets offended. The food gets cold before we can gather everyone to eat. Some years (and I’m just being honest here), no one even mentions Jesus until after the wrapping paper is in the recycling bin and the cookie tray is down to crumbs.

But this year, I’m asking God to help me be okay with that. I’m trying to remember that even the first Christmas wasn’t ideal, and Mary, the first mother to observe Christmas, probably wasn’t too happy about how it went either. I mean, straw and shepherds? Really?

What counts—for Mary and for me—is the result of that first Christmas. Even though our plans may fall by the wayside, the perfect plan of God’s perfect son incarnating imperfect human flesh went exactly as planned.

And that’s enough.
  
Question for Reflection: What Christmas expectations do you need to reexamine? What can you release so that everyone—especially yourself—has a more peaceful Christmas?





Bio.

Carole Sparks has celebrated Christmas in three countries and several states since she got married, but she’s still a sucker for Tender Tennessee Christmas. Sorry, but she hopes it doesn’t snow because, as usual, she’ll be travelling between grandparents those days. You might find her on social media (Twitter, Facebook, her blog) this month just because she needs an excuse to get some peace and quiet.



Carole, five days before Christmas last year.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Carrying Thankfulness with You in Ministry


It was one of those Sundays when it seemed everything had gone wrong. I wasn't in the mood to worship--I just wanted to survive the next hour so I could go home and hide. Being thankful was the last thing on my mind. But then the praise team played the opening notes of "Count Your Blessings." As we sang and people called out their blessings across the sanctuary, my mood shifted. I had much to be thankful for--including our congregation.

Thankfulness should characterize our ministries. Paul directly told congregations that he was thankful for them and prayerfully thanked God for them in nine of his thirteen New Testament letters. Paul cultivated an attitude of thankfulness toward the congregations he served--even congregations he sometimes had a strained relationship with. He didn't shy away from correcting problems, but he chose to be thankful for the way God demonstrated his grace among the churches he planted and served.

We also need to choose thankfulness in ministry. Sometimes it's hard to do. Our brains are hardwired to hold on to negative information more than positive information. Researchers say it takes five positive comments to outweigh one negative one. Perhaps that's why the criticisms and the slights are easier for us to remember than the positive things about ministry. And when we let ourselves dwell on that negativity, it sets us up to become bitter toward our congregations.

Choosing thanksgiving cancels out that negativity, It forces us to be attentive toward what God is doing and how he is blessing us--even in the midst of challenging circumstances. In ministry, choosing thanksgiving allows us to see how God is at work around us.

This week, try beginning your prayers for your church by thanking God for them. Thank God for:
  • Lives that are being transformed
  • People who love one another well
  • Those who give generously to one another
  • Those who hold on to faith despite life's challenges
  • People who are willing to speak the truth
  • Those who faithfully serve
  • How God displays his grace and glory in your congregation
The list could go on, but perhaps this can help you get started. Write down your list of thanksgivings and look back at it when times get hard. Choosing thanksgiving puts our attention back on Christ and helps us love well in ministry.

About the author:
Leigh Powers is the author of Renewed: A 40-Day Devotional for Healing from Church Hurt and for Loving Well in Ministry. She is passionate about helping women find hope and healing by meeting God in his Word. You can connect with Leigh on Facebook or Twitter, or follow her at her blog, My Life. His Story (www.leighpowers.com).


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dodging Pity Puddles




"Hello."

"Not yet, no one is here."

"Five minutes."

"I hope so. This was a crazy week and as you know, it took all I had in me to prepare. I sure do hope someone shows up."

"Thanks honey, I will call on my way home . . . it could be sooner than later."

Ever been there? You've had a busy week and it took all you could do to prepare for a meeting, Bible study, or get-together and then either no one shows up, or just a few.

I have, obviously, and it was just a few weeks ago. As I sat in a chair looking out the window waiting for at least one car to pull up I felt it—that familiar tap on my heart when the Lord needs to get my attention. I knew my attitude was not good when I was on the phone with my husband, but at the moment I felt I had good reason to feel as I did.

As the minutes ticked, God took this time as a teaching moment. You know, the moments you take with your children or grandchildren when they are doing something wrong or inappropriate and you guide them. Well, that was where I was. He had my full attention and was going to teach me something right then.

In those minutes He gently reminded me that this wasn’t about me. I know, in ministry we are well aware that we signed up for “it’s not about me,” but sometimes we get tired and we fall into a pity puddle and forget. Yes, I said pity puddle, instead of party. Puddles are stinking and stagnating, and that was about my attitude at the moment.

But our Heavenly Father is so gracious and if we will give Him our attention for those teaching moments, He will not only guide us, but prepare us and give us the energy for the work He has called us to, as well as pour over us His peace.

In those quiet moments of waiting He reminded me that this was His work and the dear ones I was waiting on, they were His also. He didn’t prompt me to teach this particular Bible Study for the numbers so that my worth could be validated. No, He prompted me to teach for many reasons; to use the gifts He had given me, to begin to grow our new women’s ministry, to bring together these ladies for instruction and fellowship. If only one came, then my preparation was for her. It wasn’t about my performance or their attendance but about obedience.

While in the midst of ministry I think we can stumble and fall face first into a pity puddle. But again, our Heavenly Father is full of grace and love. He will always give us what we need when He has asked us to serve Him. Our part is to be obedient and keep our eyes focused on Him, then it doesn’t matter the outcome.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good word in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Phil 1:6 ESV).

About the Author:

The hats I wear are many but with each one brings an opportunity to share heart, humor, and hope. My day job is with a ministry in Greenville, SC but my other hours I fill with writing, speaking, teaching Bible Studies, leading our women's ministry, designing landscape/gardens, rowing at Greenville Indoor Rowing and answering to Beth, mama, and grandmommy. Serving alongside my husband, who is a pastor, for over twenty years, I can say without a doubt that as difficult as it is at times, it's also a great honor. They say that with age comes wisdom, I'm not sure about the wisdom part, but I do know that with age comes the realization that no matter what I go through God is always there with His overwhelming love and grace. 



Connect With Beth:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Who Comes First?



Joan rested her hands in her lap, crossed and uncrossed her ankles. The entire week was filled with activities again. It had been months since she enjoyed even an afternoon to herself. As for family and friends, it would take a shoehorn to wedge in quality time with them.

And here she sat wasting time at the doctor’s office for a follow up to an annual physical.

“Joan Phillips?” The nurse’s voice was tight.

Joan rose and followed the perky blonde down the blue-carpeted hallway. The casual pace and chitchat made her wonder if she’d be on time for Bible study. Gesturing toward a black leather chair set in front of a massive desk, the nurse assured Joan the doctor would be right along.

Dr. Johnson entered the room as his personable self, but when he folded his hands on the green blotter his eyes tightened. He took a deep breath, and said, “Joan, I’m sorry Dave couldn’t be here, but this can’t wait. I have to tell you your test results came back and . . .”

On the drive home, the only words she could remember were, “If we can get hold of this now, you have plenty of quality years ahead of you.” How could that be? I feel fine.

A tearful conversation with her husband Dave when he returned from his trip followed by a three-way discussion with Dr. Johnson brought clarity. The ongoing stress of her busy lifestyle had taken a toll on Joan’s body. Immediate corrective action was recommended to stabilize her overall health.

Dave and Joan went through her schedule and cut back all but essential responsibilities. Her symptoms improved somewhat, but Dr. Johnson was not satisfied. “You’re getting more sleep and regular exercise, but there’s still a harmful level of tension. Can you pinpoint the cause?”

His question drove Joan to the inner courts of heaven. LORD, please reveal the problem. I want … I need to rest in Your peace. Thank You for Your grace. Amen

God granted her request in the days and weeks ahead, bringing her to a fresh understanding of His priorities. The key element was Holy Spirit’s whispers through two main references to convince her that leaving herself at the bottom of every list was not the Father’s design.

With support from Dave, Joan began to exercise biblical self-care. Embracing her identity as a cherished child of the Risen Savior relaxed her soul. The inner transition carried peace filled her life with peace and blessed those around her.  The transformation took mental and emotional effort, but a year later Dr. Johnson gave her two thumbs up.

 Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).*emphasis mine

Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31,33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:19; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Are your days regularly over-the-top busy?
Could it be time to consider your priorities in light of these verses?

About the Author:
Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s an award-winning speaker and author, and a sought-after mentor. Sandra writes for a number of publications and has two manuscripts underway, Wallflower Women and Naomi. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/
You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Weight of Waiting




You know how, in January, people claim a word for the year? I’ve been doing that for a long time, as in, since the hashtag symbol meant “number.” One of my early words was obedience. Another was balance.

Then one year, about mid-February (not ironically), the Lord gave me a different kind of word: wait, or more specifically wait on the Lord. Wait is not a very inspirational word. I mentally argued with Him about claiming it. I needed something to get me through the year, not hold me back.

As I reflect now, I can name several periods of unexpected waiting in my past—times when I thought God was ready for me/us to move forward, but instead, He told us to wait.

Perhaps your mind has already gone to that classic verse about waiting.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.  -Isaiah 40:31 ESV

We think of waiting as a dormant period where nothing much happens, but Isaiah says waiting is a time of strengthening. Why is it “they” can fly, run, and walk endlessly? Because they first waited.  And in the waiting, they got stronger. They lifted weights, so to speak.

That’s another thing people do in January: They resolve to get fit, maybe through lifting weights. When you lift, you schedule rests between each set of exercises. It’s in those waiting periods that your muscles connect more tightly and become stronger. If you don’t wait before jumping into the next set, you’ll hurt yourself.

Two things happen when we wait for the Lord. God prepares the way for us (as in Proverbs 3:5-6’s “make your paths straight”) and God prepares us for what’s coming.

In my year (fourteen months, actually) of waiting, we faced unexpected…let’s call them challenges instead of difficulties or trials. Sometimes I felt like I was doing squats with weights too heavy for me. However, when the time came to take off in flight, we soared instead of stumbling.

Imagine Hannah’s heavy weight of waiting (1 Samuel 1). Year after year, she endured the teasing of a rival wife. Year after year, she hoped the next festival season would be different, that she would carry a son rather than the twin dumbbells of disappointment and shame.

But God caused her to wait. On the outside, He was preparing a place for her eventual son with Eli, the priest. On the inside, He was cultivating Hannah’s heart so she could and would give her child to Eli and the Lord. Both these things had to happen before the time was right for Samuel to be born. Without those years of “heavy lifting”—of strengthening her heart—Hannah might not have fulfilled God’s purpose in her life.

The NIV translators chose another word in Isaiah 40:31. Look at this:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength...  -Isaiah 40:31 NIV

Our waiting is a time of hoping, of looking confidently toward the future, of knowing we will soar if we are obedient in the meantime.

So do some squats and lunges while you’re waiting…I mean hoping.


Question for Reflection: Have you been frustrated by a time of waiting? Reflect on that time and document how He strengthened you during those days. It may have been pure encouragement, the acquisition of a new skill, a maturing of the Fruit of the Spirit, or something else. Regardless, we find ourselves praising Him once it’s over!


We would love to hear from you in the comments below if you’d like to share your own experience with waiting (or any other response).

About the Author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.comor on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Pastor's Wife Devotional Launching November 28th

I'm so excited!!! My long-time friend and fellow pastor's wife, Leigh Powers, joined our pastor's wife blog in the summer of 2016 -- writing articles, assisting with social media, and also arranging for other guest bloggers to encourage pastors' wives around the globe.


Now, Leigh is launching a devotional book for pastors' wives. Truthfully, I find many devotional books -- especially those aimed at women -- to be trite and shallow, or too syrupy for me to stand for very long. But this one stands apart.

Leigh is a gifted and insightful writer, holding an M.Div.Bl from Southwestern Seminary; and more importantly, a love for her fellow pastor's wife.

Each devotional practically identifies with the pain/emotions we're feeling, ends with encouragement and insight from God's word, followed by prayer and action steps that lead to healing.

Read an excerpt online at Medium. This is the very first devotional in the book--the one that kicks off the 40-day journey from lamenting the pain to loving the church again.

Here's a sample:

I see the hope in my husband’s eyes slowly dying. It dims a little with every idea shot down, every deacon who puts a finger in his face before he gets up to preach ...

We live in a messy, sin-stained world. Those who are meant to be God’s people don’t always live like it. As ministers and church leaders, being on the front lines of the battle means we get hit by the shrapnel. It hurts, and sometimes anger is our gut-level response to the pain. Anger at ourselves. Anger at our churches. Anger at God, because it’s his fault we’re here in the first place.

When you are angry at God, the worst thing you can do is hide it....


Read the rest at:

https://medium.com/…/devotional-excerpt-god-im-angry-at-you…

-rg-

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tell Yourself the Truth



Her dearest friend was away the morning she found out. The information halted her breath and drove Judy to her knees. When she could move, she shut off her cell phone and left it on the floor. The patchwork quilt cocooned her on the tan corduroy loveseat. She wept as she realized the details were too deep and personal to share with anyone.

By the time the afternoon shadows lengthened, the crisis dominated her mind and heart. She rose and fumbled through dinner preparations, forgetting to add tuna to the casserole. Dread about how she ought to respond settled over her as she ladled out the soup. The brave front she adopted left her family unaware of her dilemma. She excused the children from clean up, saying it was her turn.

Have you been isolated by events or emotions on occasion? Or do you keep your own counsel by habit?  

Either way, in reality we’re never truly alone. We can turn to God at any moment. But sometimes the human condition can make our heads feel like an MRI scanner. Thoughts bounce and bang ominously as they repeat past messages, conjure odd ideas, evoke wild emotions. Even devoted believers fall into this pit. There is an escape route.

1. Listen to the rebounding clamor and write down what you hear.

2. Read the comments aloud to engage the objective side of your brain.
Would you call a friend one of those names? Refuse to say it to yourself.
Does that evaluation or plan make sense? Double-check the facts.
Is the fear, anger, or pain out of balance? Verify their sources.

3. Research what God says about and to you, and write it down.
Are you yearning to be valued or belong, to dwell in a place of security?
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine (Isaiah 43:1).
Is the constant barrage wearing you down, and the turmoil stealing your peace?
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).

4. Rephrase His Truth as godly self-talk, not I-centered statements.
“Judy, you are redeemed. You belong to God.”
“Judy, soak your mind in God’s Word. You will be revived.”

These strategies are tools to uncover our human frailties and restore our confidence in who we are in Christ. As we implement them in obedience, we build our defense system and promote our peace.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).


About the Author:

Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s a well-respected speaker and author known for her transparency, warmth, and humor. Sandra has two manuscripts underway, Wallflower Women and Naomi. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/
You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.






Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Redeeming Halloween




Halloween is a tricky, touchy subject in many churches. What do we do with this “holiday” that seems to celebrate the demonic but offers such great outreach opportunities?

In the fifteen years we’ve had children in the house, we’ve tried just about every option. One year, we even hid in the house with the lights off and hoped no one rang the doorbell.

For the last two years, however, we’ve approached this cultural observation differently. We’ve chosen to redeem Halloween—at least on our street—and use it to bless our neighbors. It’s a friendly, non-threatening way for us to meet our neighbors and for them to rub shoulders with real Believers.

Our approach involves:

Accessibility
I
We set up a table at the end of our driveway so we meet parents. If we were in the house, children would approach the door while parents hung back on the street. We want to get to know our neighbors, so we moved out to where they are.

2    Welcoming Spirit

We set up some chairs and hang out at our table all night. We ask people questions and try to have conversations rather than just “Happy Halloween!” with a wave.

      Adult treats

We offer muffins or cookies for the chaperones. If it’s warm, we have apple cider punch, and if it’s cold, we have hot cocoa. I make up a big batch of homemade cocoa so we can serve people small cups instead of mixing packets one-by-one. My recipe is much like this one except I add cinnamon. (I just Googled this. It’s not an endorsement of the site.)

      Music
We make a playlist of fun, clean Halloween-ish songs and put it on shuffle. We have a little, inexpensive Bluetooth speaker so we can just use a phone for this.

 **GOOD CANDY**

This is the most important part! If you’re going to do this, don’t be the cheap-skate house with the bad candy. Invest in the good stuff, be generous with it, and you’ll be the house people want to visit at other times of the year.

In one night, we met dozens of people from our neighborhood—people who generally drive into their garages and are never seen again. What an opportunity! The second year, people told us how much they enjoyed the year before and said they looked forward to coming our way again.

Our idea might not work where you live because of your church expectations or the greater culture of your area. But before you decide what to do for Halloween, pray for God’s leading and make sure you take advantage of Halloween rather than it taking advantage of you.


Question for Reflection:
How is God leading you to redeem Halloween this year? Will you be brave and follow His leading, even if it’s unexpected or a little out of character for you?

For some thoughts on discipling your children through Halloween, check out this guest post on my parenting blog.

Have you found fun ways to redeem Halloween in previous years? Please share your experiences in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!


Bio.

Carole Sparks still hasn’t found the perfect Halloween costume because there were no prominent women theologians in the Reformation. Her husband is threatening to go as Martin Luther this year and shave his head in a tonsure. (That’s where you shave the center and leave the sides.) We’ll see.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sometimes All He Wants is Yes



I'd prayed about it. It was not something I really desired to do but I felt Him leading me in the direction of the opportunity in front of me. I struggled with the decision but knew it was what He wanted so I said yes. I began to pray about this new responsibility and prepare myself for the changes it would bring into my life. I'd have to travel and do things I really wasn't interested in, but I had peace about it because I knew it was what He had been asking of me. 

The next week I was at a dinner and, unbeknownst to me, the guest speaker got up to introduce the new person in the ministry position I'd just accepted. As Elizabeth was introduced I sat bewildered and a little embarrassed. 

I later shared what happened with my husband who called one of the two people in charge of this position. Frank was beside himself and angry that this had taken place without his knowledge. Frank contacted Melinda (the other person in charge) and she assured him that Elizabeth was indeed given the position. 

Two branches of this ministry team looking in different directions without consulting each other caused a lot of confusion over the next several days. Emails were sent to all involved, apologies were made, conversations held, all the while with me wondering if I'd gotten it wrong. 

I was relieved that I didn't have to take this position and was thrilled that my friend Elizabeth got it, she would be much better at it than I would. She's proven this to be true in the years since. 

I still struggled with the decision since I'd known God had wanted me to say yes, but then I realized that maybe the yes was all He wanted. I think sometimes He just wants to know we are willing to do what He asks, even if it is something we don't want to do. 

By taking this position, Elizabeth has gotten to shine and grow her personality in a way what would have had me shrinking back. By me not having it I've been able to focus on things that have taken more of my time and energy than I'd thought would. 

Through this I've been reminded once again that God will never do anything to hurt or harm us and that His tests cause us to grow. I could have reacted to this in several ways that wouldn't have pleased Him.

Rejection: I could have taken this personally and looked at it as if I'd been rejected. Once I'd done this I would have surely had a list as long as a six-year old's Christmas list, filled with reasons for the rejection which would have only left me in a puddle of self-pity.

Comparison:
Elizabeth is younger than I and offers different skills than I do, but different does not mean better. I could have spent hours awake at night going over all of the reasons why she was a better choice than me. This would have ruined our friendship.

Anger: I could easily talk myself into being justified with anger over this situation. I mean, it was unfair. I should not be treated like this. Who did they think they were? I could let it downward spiral until I ruined a friendship with Elizabeth and ruined my reputation with the ministry leaders.

The list goes on. No matter which I'd chose it would never be better than choosing to let it go. By letting it fly away I was able to maintain the friendship with Elizabeth and encourage her to shine in her special way. I maintained my reputation with the ministry leaders, and kept my testimony of what the Lord is doing in and through me in tact.

Through all of this I was reminded that sometimes He just wants our willingness. Sometimes all He wants is yes.



About the Author:

Suzanne Schaffer has been in full-time ministry with her husband Wayne since 1992, pastoring in Pennsylvania and Illinois. She has two grown children and spends most of her days either writing or reading with a cup of tea close by. She enjoys attending auctions and sometimes brings home more stuff than she knows what to do with. She believes life is too short for mediocre food and insists on having good chocolate in the house at all times. You can connect with Suzanne at her blog, www.notenoughchocolate.blogspot.com



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Rest and Trust


Racing thoughts spilled over the rim of Nicole’s mind. The annual ladies retreat was only a week away and the musician was suddenly unavailable. Her two teenagers were getting out of hand. Prayer meeting was in an hour and dinner wasn’t near ready. She dropped the vegetables on the counter and pulled out the cutting board.

Grateful the church was only ten minutes away, she considered other ingredients on hand to throw into a summer salad she could call dinner. The leftover chicken would add protein. Fresh pecans would delight her husband. And she was pretty sure there was a bottle of everybody’s favorite dressing in the fridge. It just might work.

Her hands flew as she started chopping. Clack, clack, clack. The knife’s rhythm somehow calmed her breathing. By the time she broke open the bell pepper and rinsed it, she was absorbed in the task. Her palm pressed into the handle as she sliced through the red vegetable’s skin. Bite-size pieces materialized.

She didn’t notice the blood until she rested the onion on the board. Dropping the knife, she reached across and grabbed at her injured thumb. Exerting pressure to close the wound, she stepped to the sink and pushed at the faucet with her elbow. The scarlet stream sent balls of light floating before her eyes. Her forearms caught her body weight against the counter’s edge. What now?

Once her head cleared Nicole inspected the injury and decided to treat it herself. While she alternated between applying pressure and wrapping gauze around the gash she turned to the Lord for solutions to her dilemma. Surely He created her for more than the incessant pressure that drove her.

She called her daughter to come finish the salad. When her son appeared to announce his hunger, she had him set the table. What would happen if I took on less?

They joined hands as her husband prayed. “Eat up, kids. We don’t want to be late.” The ping of forks on porcelain kept a bustling pace.

“Jeff, my hand is sore. I think I’ll stay home.” Nicole paused to check his reaction.

“That sounds like a good idea. Are you sure you’ll be all right by yourself? Caroline can stay with you.” Anxiety laced his words. “Can I pick up anything for you at the store?”

She closed her eyes as she took a cleansing breath. “No, dear. I’ll be fine.” Concern left his face and teased out a smile on hers. “Would you mind asking Joan Bennet to find a replacement musician for the retreat? I can’t think of anyone.”

“Sure. I’ll be happy to take care of that. Joan’s got connections. I’m sure she’ll find someone. Don’t worry.” He wiped his mouth with the checkered napkin. “Okay, kids. Let’s go.”

Peace I [Jesus] leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).


Brief Bio
Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s a well-respected speaker and author known for her candor and warmth. Sandra’s current manuscript invites wallflower women to enjoy the life God created them to live. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/
You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

FOMO for PKs in Small Churches


I want the best for my kids. We all do. It’s part of being a mother.

When God called us overseas, we had to forsake a loving nursery where every worker had a background check, followed by a well-structured, modern children’s program, and culminating in a large, energetic youth group. Without these, I was anxious about the spiritual education of my children.

·         Who would teach them the Bible stories?
·         Would they be “normal kids” without pizza parties and emphasis weekends?
·         How would they learn how to battle PEER PRESSURE?!?
·         What if they never learned “Jesus Loves Me”?!?!? (I was happy to avoid “Father Abraham,” because that song just drives me crazy.)

Maybe you’re in the same position. Maybe you live in a place with no churches or you serve in a small church with no “quality” programs for families. Maybe your FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) has kicked in, too, and you think God might be short-changing your children for the sake of the unreached people around you.

I did.

One day, I was almost crying as I walked through the narrow streets of our city, torn by my conflicting responsibilities, when the Holy Spirit stopped me in my tracks. Literally; I stopped walking and may have stopped breathing for a second there. In prayer, I realized something I should have known all along: God loved my children just as much as He loved the lost person I was going to visit. He was equally interested in the spiritual development of my children and my lost friend. Sure, I knew it intellectually, but this fact hit me at a heart level. I knew His purposes in bringing us to this far-away place included my children. I knew their souls were not sacrificed on the altar of service.

Over the next few months, I began to notice the depth of their spiritual understanding. I taught them “Jesus Loves Me,” but they loved and trusted the Bible at a deeper level than that. They prayed incredible prayers, and they spoke of faith issues with confidence.

Another mom in church planting felt the same way. She watched her children learn how to pray for lost people. She saw their faith deepen from sitting in small groups with adults because there were no children’s programs. She, too, is glad for the lack.

There are many great things happening in larger churches with children’s programs and youth groups, but don’t bemoan your church’s lack of such things. Don’t think your children are missing out because your church plant, small church, or house church lacks programs for kids. God will place people and events in your children’s lives that strengthen and expand their faith in unique ways. He loves them just as much as He loves the people you’re trying to reach with the gospel.

And as far as I know, my kids still haven’t learned “Father Abraham.” Whew!



Question for Reflection: Are you anxious about some aspect of parenting because of ministry? Relax into God’s faithfulness and watch Him mold your children for good in that exact area.

About the Author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.comor on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I was Miss Fix-It


“I’ll be right there.”

The Lord has crossed my path across those of countless women. One characteristic we all have in common is wanting to fix things. We do everything we can to keep our homes or offices running smoothly. It’s our fondest hope for those around us to get along so we oversee their lives. Some of us even work on appliances and vehicles that won’t run.

We come by that trait honestly. After all, God created woman to benefit the man who was alone. They made a team until Genesis 3 happened and the Fall damaged every aspect of creation. Who could blame us if we get carried away? Sometimes especially when we minister.

“I can take care of that for you.”

The idea never crossed my pastor’s wife mind. It’s been six years since my time in direct ministry, and I served from the pews for ten years before Curt was ordained. Regular attendance is reacquainting me with the other side of the pulpit, so to speak. And there’s a fresh perspective dawning that bears consideration.

It seems that during the time I lived with the Lord’s servant, I have forgotten a detail or two. At least that possibility struck me in a phone conversation. Jane* is a dear friend who’s a seasoned pastor’s wife. We were catching up on each other’s lives when she asked if Curt was still in Maine. When I said he was, she asked how we were doing. I assured her we were fine except for him finding a job.

Jane spent the next twenty minutes giving suggestion after suggestion of what Curt could do, should do to join me. At first I tried to explain why some of her ideas weren’t feasible, but it didn’t slow her down. It was when she started quoting Scripture and implying we were in sin because we weren’t together that I paused the conversation.

“Are you sure there isn’t anything else I can do?”

I explained our surprise over the delay and our confidence that God had a plan. Our conversation ended shortly thereafter. I can’t help but turn back the clock and wonder if I respond in similar ways. Do I evaluate anyone’s situation without knowing all the facts, and judge them? Do I find anyone’s circumstances uncomfortable and try to get them to match my preference so my feelings can settle? I have to say, “Probably.”

With a humble and contrite heart, I put Miss Fix-it out of her misery. I’m grateful for the security of His forgiveness, but my confession feels a bit paltry. Now I ponder much longer with the Lord before opening my mouth. I pray my repentance brings glory to His Name.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2 NIV1984

*name and nuances changed for privacy

About the Author:
Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s a well-respected speaker and author known for her candor and warmth. Sandra’s current manuscript invites wallflower women to enjoy the life God created them to live. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/

You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.




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