Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summertime Slowing to Live Small

Summer 2016 has definitely been a sweet slow-down for my soul. An extension of my retreat so-to-speak that began when 2015 disappeared from the calendar.

What does it mean to slow our souls?

For me, it means:
  • soaking up a little more sunshine
  • getting lost in the adventure of a good book
  • catching up with friends I haven't seen in a while
  • lingering a little longer in God's Word (with a cup of coffee, of course)
  • enjoying the summer breeze
  • playing games
  • savoring the flavor of a SC grown tomato sandwich
And oh, so much more!

Last evening in my home, girlfriends gathered, leaning in to laugh and relax while enjoying some great food, and the discussion of a really good book.

Simply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman is our Summer 2016 Book Club choice. As we go through the book, I'll be blogging about how she challenges us to slow, rest, and soak in the small of living.

Small is always considered extraordinary in Scripture, so why wouldn't we embrace the small in our lives and look for the Kingdom of God there. Emily points out the obvious that the Kingdom of God we are challenged to "seek first" in Matthew 6:33 is right here. Right now. Right where we are.

The author gracefully shows the value in bench dwelling. Through the gifting of a bench in her cul-de-sac, the neighbors begin to slow, sitting for long spells to engage in real conversations. Just like our grandmamas and grandaddies used to do on their front porches, swings and in lawn chairs around the back yard enjoying slow-churned, homemade ice cream.

Forgetting the hustle and bustle we're all addicted to and just embracing the glory of God in the small moments of living brings back into focus what is truly important - people.

Jesus became small to live among us. 
And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger (Luke 2:7 NKJV). Jesus made Himself a small seed, conceived in the small womb of a young virgin by the Holy Spirit, all because God so loved people and would redeem them through Christ.

Jesus became small to bring significance to the insignificant. 
Then He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Then He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace" (Luke 8:48, 50 NKJV). Jesus acknowledged the incredible faith of an insignificant sinful woman as she anointed her new-found Savior with her tears and very expensive oil in front of the religious zealots. What a tender moment.

Jesus chose the small to reveal the greatness of the Father.  
And they [the disciples] said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." And He [Jesus] said, "Bring them here to Me." (Matthew 14:17-18) Jesus blessed that small, insignificant offering and provided more than enough for the multitudes to be fed.

Time after time, Jesus acknowledges the small because He knows the great potential the small contains. 

The same is true with us today. We are small, but within us dwells greatness - God's glory, Jesus Christ. 

The insignificant becomes significant when we release our smallness to the Father, through faith in the Son.

Jesus is here, now. He dwells in the souls of His people, now. He lives within us, about us, all around us, now. We can easily miss the small in our striving to have it all. The "all" is not about us doing more to be enough or get enough. None of these will ever be enough.

Only in Christ can our deepest wants or desires be satisfied.

But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:33 NKJV).

How about you? Are you tired of always striving for significance? Are you hurrying through life thinking you'll arrive if you can just get to the next bigger and better thing? Spoiler Alert: You'll never get there. Slow down. Even if you don't have your summers off like we did when we were kids, you can still sit a spell on the neighborhood bench, linger awhile, leaning in to the King and His Kingdom, right now, right where you are. He is enough.

My Pleasure,

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Friendship: Let's Get Acquainted (Part 3)

Hi. I'm Melanie.

Isn't this how most friendships begin?

We may have introduced ourselves to a complete stranger, or someone else may have done the honors, but either way, friendships begin with a simple greeting.

Through my past two blog posts on Friendship, we've uncovered the different levels of friendships we develop through the journey of life. From our inner circle of intimate friends to our casual friendships, and today, acquaintances - the level of just getting started.

Do you remember how you and your very best friend met? Where did you meet her? At a party, a friend's house, a wedding, a bridal shower, at school, through church? Were you introduced through mutual friends, or did one of you just go for it and introduce yourself?

Though it's interesting to trace our steps back to the beginning of where and how our friendships began, it's amazing to also see how God orchestrates the intersecting of His people, weaving them in and out of our lives at just the right times.

Every acquaintance is a potential friend.

Just as with deeper levels of friendships, with acquaintances we must also be cautious and intentional. You can never be too careful when being introduced to new people, even in the church. We must learn and pray for discernment. It can be tricky, but God will help us when selecting and making friends, especially the life-long kind.

Jesus was introduced to many people as He traveled from town to town. One of my favorite encounters is when He meets Zacchaeus - a small frame of a man who wanted desperately to get a glimpse of Jesus as He came through his town. Since he couldn't see over the heads of those pushing there way towards Jesus, Zach ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree to see the Messiah. And you know what? Jesus noticed. He called Zach down from the tree because He saw something in Zacchaeus others did not. The Messiah intentionally chose to go to Zacchaeus' house to break bread with him, his family and friends. (See Luke 19 for the whole account.)

Jesus saw his faith.

Jesus saw his heart turn.

Jesus saved him.

Though Zacchaeus didn't make the earthly inner circle of the Savior, he did make it into the Kingdom of God because of his faith in the Savior.

Acquaintances can be believers, but much of the time they are not.

Jesus chose to mingle among unbelievers because they needed Him the most. Our acquaintances need Him too, and we have the privilege and are called to share Christ with them if we are discerning, alert, and intentional. We may only get one chance, so we must be keenly aware of every opportunity to introduce others to our very best Friend - Jesus. 

The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear [honor, are in awe of and reverence] Him, and He makes known to them His covenant (Psalm 25:14 ESV).

But, if our acquaintances are causing us to pull away from Christ, then it's time to close that door and move on to the next. Don't linger.

Most of our acquaintances won't move into our earthly inner circles, but by grace through faith, if they choose Christ, we will be together for all eternity.

And after all, aren't those the best kind of friendships? Eternal ones?

Dear Jesus,
I am forever grateful for the acquaintances in my life who have become some of my very best friends, and those who are my inner circle. Thank You for the joy of friends. The gift of friendship that stands the test of time is what You have provided to encourage us in our walks with You, to challenge us to go deeper with You, to draw us back to You when we've strayed, and to love us through the highs and lows of life. You, Jesus, are my very best Friend and I'm so thankful for our relationship - one that will live on throughout eternity. Help me be a friend like You. 
For Jesus' sake and in His holy name, Amen.

My Pleasure,

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Casual Friendship: Be Selective (Part 2)

Friends are treasures. Like shells on a beach, we put forth much effort to find those really special ones. Some days we search long and hard to find just the right ones, and other days they just appear on the shoreline laying at our salty, sandy feet.

Friends are the shells we select and take home. Some may fall through the holes in the net of life, but others will remain priceless treasures for a lifetime.

In Part 1, we examined our deepest friendships - our inner circles. Today we will discover the importance of casual friendships.

Noah Webster defines casual as:
1. not foreseen or expected
2. Occasional; coming at certain times, without regularity

A casual friend is someone we meet up with occasionally for companionship sake; someone to laugh with, talk shop, and enjoy the lighter side of life.

But, our casual friendships are of utmost importance. Why? These friends become the pool from where the deeper will flow.

She may be a co-worker we eat lunch with on occasion, a neighbor we engage in conversation over the fence, or the teacher in the classroom down the hall. She could be the quiet one at Bible study each week, or the mom we chat with in the carpool line, at our children's birthday parties, or at community events.

Casual friends are those we linger with because we want to. They're the occasional catcher-uppers on the latest scoop. We may or may not go below surface talk, and there's not as much transparency here.

Guarded, but penetrable.

Safe, but not isolated.

Casual friendships are where the waters are tested to see if going deeper is possible. But, before taking a friendship to the next depth we must ponder some very pertinent questions:

Can I trust her with the delicate pieces of my heart?

Will she be one to encourage me, pray for me, and hold me accountable in my walk with Christ?

How will inviting her into my inner circle be glorifying to Christ? 

Will we challenge each other to be all God has designed us to be?

When I think of Jesus' casual friendships, I remember Mary, Martha and Lazarus. These were among those Christ loved and cared for very deeply. And they loved Him. Even though Lazarus' death was to be a defining moment in revealing God's glory by raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus' humanness still spilled from His eyes as He grieved for Lazarus with his carefully chosen friends. (refer to John 11:1-43)

Margaret Feinberg says, "Good friends love me as I am, but they also love me enough not to leave me there." (Wonderstruck Bible study, pg. 116) What a spiritual visual. Jesus loved Lazarus so much and knew He wouldn't leave him in the condition He found him - dead and in bondage.

Good, casual friendships take work, too. We have to intentionally make time to check in, catch up, and encourage one another to press on, so we remain spiritually healthy.

So, as you continue evaluating your friendships this summer, select your shells wisely. Take some time to browse the seashore searching for just the right ones. Don't be afraid to leave some along the shore for someone else to come along and find. We must use caution even when selecting our casual friends because our spiritual health, and our friend's spiritual health, may depend on it.

My Pleasure,

Friday, June 10, 2016

Inner Circle Friendship: Caution (Part 1)

A righteous man [woman] is cautious in friendship 
(Proverbs 12:26a NIV).

Every book I've picked up lately has dealt with friendship. Maybe God is wanting to teach me something. 
(Ya' think?)

I have been so blessed with many friendships over the years. Some have lasted for a season, and some have grown deeper and more precious as time has passed. Some friends still live close by, many have moved away. 

But distance doesn't have to be the enemy of friendship. It takes effort to maintain, and even more to move forward. One particular relationship in my life has survived 30 years as her family has moved from state to state, and even to the other side of the world. Today, God has reconnected us face to face in this season, and I'm so grateful for her wise counsel, loving spirit, and deep friendship.

Friends intersect with our lives for many different reasons, but I believe the main reasons are so we can love and be loved because A friend loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17). 

Some people make friends easily and others struggle with the whole "building relationships" thing.
Friends don't usually just fall into our laps. We have to seek them out - intentionally and cautiously

So what characteristics should a person look for in a true friend?

We will be looking at three levels of friendship: Close, Casual, and Acquaintances. First, we will define and examine the most important level and why caution is of utmost importance.

A close friend is someone who has the same belief system, common purpose, and is willing to be transparent and honest. 

She [he] is given the responsibility of holding us accountable in our spiritual walks and vice versa. We pray together and separately for each other. 

Our conversations are more than just fashion and weather, children and marriage, Pinterest and the greatest and latest party themes or organic recipes. Our conversations center around the Word of God, and our relationship with Jesus. 

We rejoice with each other in times of joy, and weep with one another in times of sorrow. Close friends give each other permission to peel back the layers of our hearts to the core of who we really are, cheering each other on to become all God has created us to be. 

Close friends are our inner circle.  

And they are usually few in number.

Jesus had a very carefully selected inner circle. The disciples. His intimate friends would carry on His message after He was gone. These men ate every meal with Him, traveled with Him, listened to Him teach, asked Him questions, watched how He lived. And 11 of the 12 grew to love Him deeply. For three years, the inner circle did life with the Messiah by their side!

There is joy on all levels of friendship, so why should we be cautious, especially with our inner circle? 

In the Wonderstruck Bible study, Margaret Feinberg references 1 Corinthians 15:33.

Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character."

This is the best reason I can think of to be cautious with all of our relationships. It very easy to slip into bad habits that can damage our influence for Christ. Following those who are not spiritually like-minded can draw us into gossip, unhealthy (even toxic) relationships, producing unholy fruit instead of the fruits of the Spirit. (refer to Galatians 5:16-26)

Bad company corrupts good character. 

Does this mean we never associate with non-believers or questionable believers? Certainly not. We will discuss other levels of friendship later where we are encouraged to befriend weaker believers and even non-believers.

Our close and intimate relationships, thoughshould be intentionally sought after from within the Body of Believers, our sisters [brothers] in Christ. Inner circle friends encourage and build up, break bread and fellowship in each others homes. They drive each other to the Word for answers to life's questions, challenge one another to go deeper with Jesus, becoming all God has purposed us to be. Our inner circle are those we allow inside and trust with our weaknesses and imperfections. (Wonderstruck, Margaret Feinberg, pg. 114)

As we look at the different levels of friendship, we will be asking the Spirit to examine each one. Summer is a great time for re-evaluating those we have influence over and those we allow to have influence over us. Let's begin by asking ourselves the following questions:
  • Who is in my inner circle? 
  • Are they building me up in my walk with Christ or tearing me down? 
  • Am I reciprocating the characteristics of those I've cautiously selected to be my close and dearest friends? 

 Maybe it's time to close a door on a season of friendship, or put forth more effort to grow a weak friendship. Or, maybe God is calling us to pursue some new friendships - with caution.

Dear Jesus, 
Thank you so much for my inner circle. You have blessed me with some very precious relationships over the years. All have sharpened, encouraged, and built me up in my walk with You. Several have been brutally honest when I needed to hear their words of wisdom directing me back to where I needed to be. Bless each one with an extra measure of your grace and minister to them wherever they are today as only You can. Use me to be their friend and confidant. May I be sensitive to their needs and available when they call on me. Help me not to take these intimate friendships for granted, and to nourish my inner circle with prayer, time, effort, love and grace. 
In Jesus' Name and for His sake, Amen.

My Pleasure,

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sunday's Scribbles: The Batter's Box

Watching my SC Gamecocks play ball yesterday and winning back to back games, working hard to dig themselves out of the hole of elimination has this writer's mind tuned in to another baseball analogy. 

Outside the Batter's Box is the where this all begins.

As I've mentioned before, the prayer God has me praying in 2016 is, "Ruin me so You can be." These are hard words to express in the flesh, but I've learned that on the other side of ruin is resurrection. 

The past five months of spiritual refreshment has reiterated a few things for me personally which have been profoundly life changing:
  •  Asking God to ruin us is not asking Him to crush our spirits. It's asking Him to crush anything self-made that hinders His sacred working in and through us. 

  • Crushing what hinders does not mean we become sad, miserable people. It releases us to be all He has created us to be.

  • Being released to become a high def image of Christ is the holy process of our salvation journeys. The holy process sets us apart to project God's glory onto the people around us and into everything we do.

The process is continuous, starting with a sincere attitude of gratitude and continuing with ceaseless prayers of thanksgiving offered up to our Lord for the ruin He bore on our behalf. No one has ever experienced lying in ruin (or emptying of self) like Jesus did for us on the cross, in the grave, and then conquering sin and death for the whole world. Meditating on this truth alone, throughout the day, should keep us in a consistent position of pouring out, emptying ourselves before an incomprehensible, loving, and merciful Father.

With an attitude of gratitude, and with the freedom we have in Christ, we choose to move by faith into the batter's box. Then, clothed in resurrection power and confidence, knowing it's not up to us as to what the outcome of our batting will be, we fix our eyes on Jesus and swing the bat! We're only called to live Christ, not control Christ.

This giving up of control is such an exhilarating way to live! 

Believe in Christ. Act on our belief.Trust Him to handle the outcome.

The trusting seems to be the hard part. The difference between the batting of the Believer and the batting of the non-believer is the Believer doesn't depend on his own instincts. The Believer depends on God's. We don't get to choose the outcome of our swings, but we do choose whether we will swing or not. 
  • Are you believing Christ can and wants to work through you?
  • How are you acting on that belief?
  • What has God instructed you to trust Him with today? Not tomorrow or next month. Today.

  • Are you willing to be ruined so He can be God through your life, not just of your life? 

  • Are you willing to let go of the outcome and just follow not knowing if it will be a strike, a base hit, or even a home run? 

Want you join me in praying today?

"Please God, ruin me so You can be. Whatever the outcome of my efforts today, I trust them to You knowing that You will work out Your will in Your time,  for Your glory. I bring my imperfections into Your perfect presence and ask You to do with them as You see fit. Thank You, Lord Jesus for being ruined for my sins and conquering death so I can live an obedient life to the fullest - in Your joy, Your freedom, Your love and Your grace. In Jesus' name, and for His sake, Amen."

My Pleasure,

Thursday, June 2, 2016

From a Writer's Viewpoint On the Mountain

Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood 
and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified," says the LORD 
(Haggai 1:7-8 NKJV).

On Wednesday of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers' Conference, God showed me this verse and gave me a picture as to why 400+ writers were to come to the mountain. He was directing us to consider our ways, to examine our points of view, and to clarify our purpose by redirecting our focus.

As writers, we can easily get stuck inside of our own worlds with our message, our genres, our thoughts, and our goals just like the Israelites were doing in being preoccupied with their own affairs.

So, from a writer's point of view, what "ways" does God want us to consider?

1. The way we view Him.

2. The way we perceive others.

3. The way we hear His voice.

4. The way we obey His instructions.

When Haggai was given specific instructions by God to speak these words to the people of Israel, the temple was in ruin. God wanted His people to rebuild it. He wanted to dwell among them and take pleasure as they honored Him by acknowledging His presence and glory in the holy, sacred place.

So why this verse from the Old Testament?

The O.T. is a foreshadowing of the New Testament. God reveals to us through the history of Israel how He was pleased to dwell with His people. It was a foretaste of what was to come. Just as God took pleasure dwelling among His people in the physical temple, He now takes greater pleasure on this side of the cross and resurrection, dwelling inside of His people.

As believers, we are God's temple, the work of His hands, the holy, sacred place where His glory (Jesus Christ) resides through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As the BRMCWC family collected the building tools provided for us on the top of the mountain (in His presence), God allowed us to linger in His presence so when we returned, we would be equipped to practice daily living in His presence, and allow Him to refine not only our craft, but His dwelling place, our lives.

As we fill with the glory of Jesus, we will spill Him over into our relationships with others, hear Him more clearly, and walk in obedience with a more confident faith.

You see, it wasn't about our writing that He took us to the mountain, it was for us to consider our ways - to examine our relationship with Him, to have a real Spirit-searching of our souls, and taking our faith to the next level in our journeys. 

Consider your ways means to: 
1. Repent of sins hindering our effectiveness for Christ.
2. Reconcile relationships with other believers.
3. Tend His Temple, our hearts, so we can hear Him clearly.
4. Obey in whatever He calls us to do.

Then, He will be glorified, taking great pleasure in us and enriching our writing with His power, purpose and clarity.

What was your take-away? Have you considered your ways?