Monday, December 12, 2011

A Christmas Blessing

Dear Friends,

Like many these days, I’m finding it hard to make ends meet. Presently mine is the only income as my husband has been out of work for a while and so I’ve been doing all I can to keep up on our bills. However, this month of all months, I fell short. I had most of the rent due, but was short a couple hundred dollars. I was afraid, but I sought out the property manager to let her know where we were at. I expressed to her what an amazing holiday we had at Thanksgiving, and how we absolutely love living in such a lovely home. I then shared regrettably that I would be short this month, but would do what was necessary to get the rent all paid up in two weeks.

I waited and waited to find out her response. I wasn’t sure if I would be charged
huge late fees or even asked to leave the property. To my great surprise, I received a
call from the property manager expressing the desire of the owners to forgive us our rent for this month with the hopes that this will help us get back on track on all our bills. I asked her to repeat what she said with some clarity because I couldn’t believe with my heart what my ears were hearing. When she got through to me, I began to weep uncontrollably right there in the lingerie department in Target. Even as I wandered around the store, I couldn’t stop crying tears of joy. How could someone be so generous with someone they barely know?

Today, as I remember this great gift I know that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Even at His birth Jesus was destined to die. If earthly men can give such gifts surely our Father in heaven has given us a gift for all time. Jesus was and is the ultimate gift. I know I will never forget this Christmas Blessing! I know He’s the reason I had the courage to be honest and faithful and trust that He would work it all out for His glory.

Christmas Blessings,

Maria McAllister

Monday, December 5, 2011

Where did you lose it...your effectiveness?

Dear Friends,

The story in 2 Kings 6 tells about a young and enthusiastic prophet-in-training under the tutelage of Elisha. It was a good day in Israel. After a repressive time under King Ahab and the notorious Queen Jezebel, the schools of the prophets were enjoying a time of expansion. Revival was happening in Israel mainly because of Elisha’s ministry.

In the middle of a planned expansion of the premises, one of the young prophets wielding a borrowed ax found himself in a dilemma. The ax head flew off the handle and landed in the River Jordan! He lost his cutting edge. One minute he had it, and the next he didn’t.

He knew immediately something was wrong. (Why wouldn’t he?) He was no longer effective. Being a sensible young man, he went at once to Elisha and told him about his trouble. In those days an ax head was a very valuable instrument (like a computer today), and the tool had been loaned to him. “Where did you lose it?” the leader asked the young man. “Show me the place.” The young man did. Then God moved in. Elisha took a stick and threw it in the place the ax head was lost. The heavy iron floated to the surface of the water and the teacher told the student to put out his hand and appropriate it.

So how do we lose our spiritual edge? It can happen anytime, anywhere, at any place. It can happen to the best of us and the worst of us. Have you lost it? Did you have the joy of the Lord? Were you serving Him in the community of believers?

May I ask you the question? Where did you lose it? Your effectiveness. In what river? The river of willfulness, worldliness, bitterness, or forgiveness? Would you show Him the place? Show God the specific place you stopped walking with the Spirit, and began to listen to that other voice. The same old, same old voice Adam and Eve heard in the garden. His devices haven’t changed, you know. The evil one wants us to stop walking in harmony with God in the garden of our lives and begin to walk with the old snake, instead. He wants us to be our own God and do our own thing. It all depends on which voice we decide to heed.

Only God can work the miracle, of course. When we get around to being miserable enough (and, make no mistake about it, we can only be happy listening to and obeying God), and say as the young man said, “Alas, Master, I’ve lost it!” at the point of confession, He will forgive and restore us. One of the reasons we get dull and lose our effectiveness in the service of the Lord is because we get bored with our spiritual disciplines.

Here are some practical ideas to sharpen your “spiritual edge”:

●Devotional study. Get a plan. Ask your pastor, group leader, or friend who is just a little bit ahead in the Christian faith to help you. The plan should include personal Bible reading and prayer. People learn differently. Look at three different Bible study methods and choose one. Stick with it daily for three months before you change and try another.

●Topical study. Get a concordance. Often there is one at the back of your Bible. Choose a topic of interest from the words listed: peace, fruitfulness, pain, perseverance, or purpose. Look the word up in the concordance. There will be a list of the word every time it is used in the Bible. Work your way through the list and write down what you learn about the topic from each verse. You don’t have to look up every one listed – unless you want to. Take as much time as you need to on each word. Get the context. Read around the verse. Think about what you’ve learned. Chew it over. Ask yourself: “What did I learn about peace, etc.?” Lastly, pray about what you learned and apply it to your life. Then go and practice it this week. This is a way you can involve the family, too. Take ten minutes, and do this exercise as a family. Share the verses around the table. Let all have a say.

●Prayer. Ask yourself, “Which part of prayer do you find hard? Intercession? Praise? Repentance? How to use silence and solitude in your prayer time? How do we hear God’s voice? Whenever you have a problem with prayer, pray about it! Ask God. He will help you!

Praying you will keep your spiritual edge.

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday Stress Busters!

Dear Friends,

We’re all under it – as soon as the Thanksgiving weekend is over it feels like everything moves into fast forward until Christmas! We women especially feel it, don’t we? With our long to-do lists, the pressure to make everyone’s dreams come true, and the endless preparations to make Christmas perfect, how do we minimize the stress so we don’t become Mrs. Scrooge?

Prioritize and Budget Your Resources

No one can do it all. We all have only so much time, energy, and money to spend. If we want to spend it well, we need to clarify what’s most important to us and our family this holiday season. Is it making time to go to a holiday concert or ballet? Cooking a wonderful meal? Baking cookies with your children? Spending quality time with friends and family? Shopping and beautifully wrapping all your presents?

After you’ve listed everything you’d like to do, be realistic. Do you have the resources to accomplish these things? Or are you going to stress yourself out by overextending yourself? Don’t do that.

Instead, choose the most important things from your list. Use your resources for those things. Simplify the rest or let them go.

Simplify

When my children were small I wanted us to bake a birthday cake for Jesus. However, the week before Christmas was always hectic, and what seemed like a good idea now felt stressful and burdensome to accomplish. Here’s a simple solution. Instead of baking a cake, buy plain white frosted cupcakes. Get tubes of sprinkles, edible glitter, and frosting, and let the kids decorate their own “cake” for Jesus’ birthday. You can do the same with plain sugar or gingerbread cookies.

You don’t have to send Christmas cards this year with a picture of the family on them; in fact, you don’t have to send them at all. Your house doesn’t have to look like a Norman Rockwell painting. A lot of holiday stress can be avoided if we don’t put so much pressure on ourselves to do it all beautifully or perfectly. Good enough is OK.

One year we cut down a Christmas tree ourselves, got it up in the stand, and put the lights on it, but never got the ornaments on. It still looked beautiful and we all remember that as one of our best Christmases.

Pay Attention to Your Mood and Your Body

One of the ways I can tell that I’m doing too much is that my “being” is compromised by my “doing.” I’ve used up my energy resources. I’m tired and crabby. I’m short- tempered with my husband or children when they’re keeping me from accomplishing all I have to do. Something has to give, and I don’t want it to be my relationships.

Another problem with the holidays is that we tend to eat too much and skip exercise because of our busy schedule. As a result we gain weight and feel bloated and sluggish. Although I’m not suggesting you skip the wonderful foods available at holiday festivities, be mindful of how much you’re eating and what your body is telling you. Eat some fruit or a cup of vegetable soup before going to a holiday party so you’re not ravenous. You can still indulge, but you probably won’t eat as much junk.

Make Time for Quiet Prayer

I love the story in Mark 1:29-39 where Jesus was pressured by the whole town to stay and do more healing. It was during His time of quiet prayer, however, that Jesus clarified His purpose. He discerned what was best, and didn’t settle for doing what people expected from Him.

Planned times of quiet and solitude are a good balance for the hectic pace of the holidays. Guarding our quiet time helps us more fully experience His presence throughout the day.

Many of us use prayer to try to change a stressful situation. Although this is not a bad idea, prayer often doesn’t change the situation as much as it changes us. As we purposely quiet our hearts each day, the Holy Spirit has a chance to change the way we see our situation. That may be just what we need in order to better cope.

Prepare and Practice for Anticipated Difficult Family Situations

For many of us, holiday gatherings often bring up old hurts and replay family dynamics that are destructive. Don’t walk into an obviously difficult family situation without first making a plan.

Prepare yourself mentally and spiritually through prayer and practice. Imagine what difficulties you might encounter and how you want to respond to them in a godly way. Mentally rehearse your responses to difficult situations so that you handle your own reactions without regrets. You cannot change or control another person, but you can prepare yourself so that if provoked, you will not react in a sinful way.

Give some prayer and thought about how you want to go into this holiday season, so it’s a joyful time instead of a stressful one.


Blessings,

Leslie Vernick, DCSW, LCSW

Monday, November 21, 2011

Habits of the Grateful

by Joyce Wallace


Nineteenth century poet Celia Thaxter wrote, “There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.” Those who are grateful brighten a world in need of hope. The grateful create a climate of grace and generosity that warms the chill of bitter souls. But narcissism, arrogance, and envy can lure believers into a culture of entitlement, an atmosphere where unmet expectations spawn confusion and hostility. How does one avoid this trap? Healthy Christians understand biblical gratefulness and discipline themselves to practice the habits of thanksgiving.

Detach the strings

Biblical gratefulness rejects shallow notions of gratitude. The Bible teaches us to “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Too often, being grateful in all circumstances is confused with being grateful for all circumstances. The difference, though subtle, can profoundly impact our ability to deal with life’s difficulties.

Being thankful for the momentary circumstance requires me to apply some positive spin to the situation. Biblical gratefulness says, “Thank You for holding my hand through this pain.” God wants us to give thanks in the midst of our suffering, not for some invented reward to which we feel entitled, but for who He is now. Grief and suffering sharpen our focus on the Lord and deepen our relationship with Him. The grateful have learned to stop holding out their hands expecting compensation for their trials.

Rather, they wrap their arms around the One who wants to hold them, love them, and comfort them today. Though the world rages around them, the grateful enjoy the warmth of His fellowship, with no expectation other than the enduring compassion of our Lord.

When Biblical gratefulness infuses our daily routine, we gain strength for life’s inevitable blows. The grateful are intentional about replacing unrighteous reactions with thanksgiving. They are able to swiftly diagnose and treat a touch of bitterness, greed, or envy because such bouts are inconsistent with their normal, healthy responses. As we grow in our understanding of Christ, prayers of thanksgiving should brim from our lips, even in the midst of crisis. To be counted among the grateful, try developing these simple habits.

Say thank you. Many forget this basic manner in the frenzy of life. Do you teach your children to write thank-you notes? Do you thank the server who filled your water glass? These expressions of gratitude root our self-centeredness and remind us to show kindness to others.

Pass gratitude on. Rare is the success that results from a single person’s efforts. Imagine you’re the coordinator for the hospital fundraiser. After a successful event, you’re presented with a thank-you gift. Would you accept the gift, without acknowledging the committee who also sacrificed for the event? Recognizing another’s contribution to your success helps guard against pride.

Celebrate God’s bounty (whether it’s yours or not). My daughter, Kailey, comes home from her friend’s house, “You wouldn’t believe Amanda’s house! They live on a lake and we got to ride on her family boat!” Your gut response is to convince Kailey that Amanda’s house isn’t so great. Squash envy by celebrating with your daughter, “You have a friend with a fantastic home who’s willing to share with you! Isn’t God kind?”

Be generous

Be generous. When we practice generosity, we increase our ability to empathize with those who sacrifice for us. I’ve known new mothers who, when stretched to their personal limits, dropped everything to call their moms and say thank you. At that moment, these new moms understood the sacrifices made by their own mothers. Gratitude was the natural response. Generosity is the antidote for greed and the feeling of entitlement.

Be honest about your sorrows and thank God for who He is. As a result of disobeying God, Jonah found himself in the belly of a big fish. He talks about being engulfed by water and having seaweed wrapped around his head. Is he thanking God when, as Jonah puts it, “my life was ebbing away?” Yes, but not for the seaweed around his head. Rather, Jonah said, “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9). In the midst of suffering, Jonah thanked God for being One who seeks and saves the lost. Honesty with God transforms shallow, self-serving prayers into intimate, life-changing conversations with the Father.

Read the Psalms. God’s Word leads us to the One who should be the object of our gratefulness. The Psalms remind us of God’s character and the many reasons we have to rejoice and give thanks. A deeper understanding of God protects us from expecting that which God never promised, but gives us hope for a future greater than we can imagine.

Maybe you want to add to my list? I’d encourage you to take some time this week and think of all the things you have to be thankful for – and then tell God and the people in your life what you’re most thankful for!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thanking God for Purple Coats

by Shelly Esser

A number of years ago I needed a winter dress coat, but didn’t feel I could afford it. I whispered a little prayer to the Lord telling Him of my need and didn’t think about it again. A couple of weeks later, I visited a friend.

Before I left, she called me into her bedroom and asked me if I would like to have a brand-new, wool purple dress coat. I couldn’t believe it. I hurriedly tried it on. It was a perfect fit!

Every time I wear that coat, I am reminded of God’s gracious gift. It has become a visual reminder to me of just how lavish and extravagant God’s love is. To think that God is concerned with the little things in our lives to that detail never ceases to amaze me. I can’t help but wonder if He does so to continually give us opportunities to turn our hearts heavenward.

Psalm 103:2 says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” My heart isn’t always overflowing with thanks to God for all of the ways He makes His presence known in my life. Because it’s so easy to get bogged down with the mundane tasks of living, we can often forget.

Perhaps that’s why God in His love and grace for us interrupts our lives with His gifts. Is He trying to get our attention? Trying to tell us how much He loves us? I think He is. But He also desires that we learn to be thankful so we won’t forget.

Gratitude is really a response to a gift. The more we become aware of the depth of our greatest gift – salvation – the more thankful we become because gratitude enlarges our hearts towards God. In a mysterious way, it links us to the divine.

It’s been said that God has two dwellings: one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart. Gratitude will help us keep our focus on God, the giver of all good and perfect gifts.

Here are some ways that have helped me make gratitude a more integral part of my life:

Be thankful for little things. If you’re looking, every day holds a host of things you can be grateful for ─ the sunshine, a kindness from a friend, an encouraging phone call, a Scripture verse. Look for the purple coats in your life. Last week, I was having some back problems.

When I went to my room, I found a beautiful homemade card on my bedstand that my daughter, Anna, had made, telling me she loved me and was praying I’d get well. My heart was not only uplifted, it was filled with gratitude. In a difficult moment, there was something to be thankful for.

Be thankful for creation. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I find myself so much more awed by nature than I used to be. The breathtaking sunset, the ducklings swimming in the pond, the deer on the walking trail.

I’ll never forget the year I was going through an especially dark time when life seemed hopeless. As I pulled onto the freeway, a huge rainbow filled the sky. It was like God had dropped it there just for me ─ to remind me of His presence and promises. I am so thankful for His creative touches in my life that display His love.

Be thankful for the good around you. Too many times we only hear about the bad things going on in the world. I have determined to find the good, the inspiring story of someone’s encounter with God, a kind deed done by a stranger, a person helping another person. By concentrating on finding the good in every situation, you will discover your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude.

Be thankful with words. Practice saying thank you for both the happy and challenging experiences in your life, and to the family, friends, and other people God places there. As we express our gratitude to others, including God, we are blessed.

I like what G. K. Chesterton said, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, and swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Gratitude is to be a way of life – we are to cherish what we’ve been given in every single context of our lives and use our words to convey it. Thankfulness is best when it’s expressed.

Focus on what you have. A number of years ago, I was watching a Good Morning America show at Thanksgiving time. The God Squad – a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest – interviewed numerous homeless people about what they had to be thankful for. I was in tears by the end of the segment as person after person, having nothing, could say with a smile that they were thankful to simply just be alive! And they were thankful to God for another day. Sobering!

In comparison, I have so much more and yet my heart doesn’t always gravitate towards gratitude like that. It is a wise person who doesn’t grieve for the things she doesn’t have, but rejoices for the things she has. We need to choose not to focus on what’s missing from our lives, but be grateful for the abundance that is present.

What are the purple coats you need to be thankful for in your life? In what areas have you forgotten to thank God? Don’t miss out on the wonderful opportunity to connect with God because of ingratitude. Nothing is more pleasing to God than a thankful heart. “…in everything give thanks” (Phil. 4:6).

Shelly Esser is editor of Just Between Us magazine. She and her husband, John, have four daughters.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Time for a Gratitude Check

A number of years ago I was watching a Good Morning America show at Thanksgiving time. The God Squad a Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic Priest – interviewed numerous homeless people about what they had to be thankful for. I was in tears by the end of the segment as person after person, having nothing materially – no place to even lay their head or no knowledge about where their next meal would come from could say with a smile that they are so thankful to just simply be alive, thanking God for another day! And they meant it. Sobering.

In comparison, I have so much and yet my heart doesn’t always gravitate towards gratitude like theirs did. Life in itself is an incredible gift. Because it’s so easy to get bogged down with the mundane tasks of living, we can often forget that. To further complicate things, society has made the quest to satisfy our desires the foundation on which we teach people to build their lives, and by never having enough, we have a hard time appreciating all we do have. I like what G.K. Chesterton said, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, and swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in ink.” Gratitude is to be a way of life and we are to cherish what we’ve been given in every single context of it.

What I find interesting about the people interviewed is that they had full hearts of gratitude despite very difficult circumstances. With the hardship of their lives they could easily have failed to see past their problems, even blaming God, but instead they actively looked for God’s blessings and chose to give thanks anyway. They started by giving thanks for life. For simply being born.

1Thessalonians 5:18 commands us to “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice the focus on “all” – when we’re healthy, and when we’re not, when things are going well and when they’re not, when we’re poor and when we’re rich  it covers every conceivable thing we can ever experience. Why? Because thankfulness is the will of God for us. Wow! How many passages in Scripture actually spell things out that indisputably and clearly? The passage actually tells us, in case we don’t get it, it is the will of God to be thankful – all the time!.

Thanking God in good times is easy, but how do we do it when life goes terribly wrong? It takes an act of the will – a choice. Oftentimes, I’ve found it is the very act of gratitude itself that God uses in the dark hours to ignite my hope and change my perspective. Ultimately, a grateful spirit does wonders for our hearts and outlooks on problems and life in general. Practicing thankfulness helps us move from what isn’t to what is. It moves our attention to what God is doing wherever we find ourselves.

This past year has been a tough one. As such, I have intentionally looked for God’s hand on my shoulder throughout uncertainty and painful circumstances. What I have discovered is that when I am looking for God’s hand on my shoulder, my faith and trust in God has been strengthened and renewed, and my heart fills up with thanksgiving. At these moments, I have become acutely aware of His presence. Despite terrible circumstances, I have been able to witness His hand in ways I never would have had I not stopped to look for them. As author Craig Barnes said, “Every day of your life you face the possibility that a blessing in your life may be taken away. We are grateful that we are held by God even when the blessings are slipping through our fingers.” No matter what happens to us, we can always be thankful that we “are held my God”! Thankfulness helps us to grow in our capacity to trust God. By trusting and turning our hearts towards thankfulness we find what we need to live in the present circumstances whatever they may be.

The more we demand, complain and worry, the less we can value, cherish, savor, enjoy, accept, and see God’s hand working in our lives. Psalm 34:1 says “I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” Maybe it’s time for a gratitude check. Looking for the blessings in our lives is a choice we make daily in all of our circumstances. If the homeless can do it, so can we!


In His service,

Shelly Esser

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Unstuck

A little of my heart
By Jennie Allen
Women are hurting. A lot of us feel stuck. This is not a novel perception – this is human. We are stuck trying to be perfect. Stuck in sadness. Stuck feeling numb. Stuck pursuing more stuff to make us happy. Stuck in something we can’t even name. And most of our stuck places are invisible to the world, which keeps us from dealing with them.

When I wrote Stuck, I dreamt of creating things that took women to deep places – real places. I think we might have learned so much about God that we missed actually knowing Him.

I want us to live truth, not just memorize it. And this takes encountering a supernatural God. I pray this study will push you up face-to-face with Jesus, and in the process you will grow closer to the women around you as you go to war with stuck places. The trenches are a good birthplace for the deepest of friendships.

I don’t know that the goal is getting unstuck. Our stuck places are the very places that make us ache for God, leading us to Him and His freedom. God’s never been one to tie up our problems with little pretty bows and send us on our way. We wrestle, and as we wrestle on this journey we depend entirely on Him. We are inadequate to fix our lives.... and we have a relationship-building God who likes to move in and settle in those holes within us that hurt.

I want us to band together as women and grow and live and experience God.

But let’s not neglect that, as women who know Jesus, we have something priceless to give away in the process. I believe God wants to do more with our stuck places.


Hear more here:




Compel Project from Jennie Allen on Vimeo.

Find out more here: CompelProject.com

Jennie Allen is a Bible teacher who is passionate about inspiring a new generation of women to encounter the invisible God. Raised in a Christian home, Jennie heard about God her entire life but not until high school did she see her need for Him. Since that time she has been teaching groups of girls and young women about her God. Her first Bible study, Stuck: The Places We Get Stuck and the God Who Sets Us Free is now available wherever books and Bibles are sold. To sample Stuck, visit www.StuckDVDStudy.com. For more on Jennie, visit www.jennieallen.com.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sad

The Discipline of Joy

By Jennie Allen

I was hurt. Not the kind of hurt I can talk about here – it involves people I love and things that are not mine to share – but my heart was flat broken. I woke up with puffy eyes after four hours of sleep to hear the funniest little whisper from God… a verse I hadn’t read or thought of in years.

… She can laugh at the days to come – Proverbs 31:25

This woman in Proverbs had her allotted share of suffering just like the rest of us, but she could laugh at the future, whatever it held.

It kept ringing in my mind as my command. My choice. After involuntarily crying for most of the day before, to think that joy was mine for the taking… laughter was what He wanted from me. He actually made me laugh (and then start crying again).

As I searched for more of this call growing in me, I got into James 1 where God calls us to “… count it all joy when you fall into various trials (NKJV)” because all this suffering is building something, doing something in us and for God. And then He reminds us later in that chapter that it is all leading to a crown of life… it is all leading to heaven. If my days are few on this planet – and I believe they are – to suffer, to hurt, to cry, to ache is a very, very doable thing.

In fact, if hurting makes me ache for heaven, makes me need God, makes me strong for my few days here, makes me love and empathize with others, makes me less selfish, makes me humble like I should be, then I want to suffer.

And that makes me laugh because I am asking for trouble. I am longing for my few days here to be more than happy and more than easy. So yesterday I laughed. I laughed that I had cried so much. I laughed because God told me to laugh. I laughed that God is not always easy and comfy.

I laughed when I thought about my coming days, about some of the trials we are facing, a lot of them – a consequence of obeying God. Following God is costly. I missed that in Sunday School, but Jesus taught me that it just is. There is certain to be much more hurt. But I could laugh because I can do anything for a few days when heaven stretches out in front of me forever.

Jennie Allen is a Bible teacher who is passionate about inspiring a new generation of women to encounter the invisible God. Raised in a Christian home, Jennie heard about God her entire life but not until high school did she see her need for Him. Since that time she has been teaching groups of girls and young women about her God. Her first Bible study, Stuck: The Places We Get Stuck and the God Who Sets Us Free, will release in October 2011. To sample Stuck, visit www.StuckDVDStudy.com. For more on Jennie, visit www.jennieallen.com.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Overwhelmed

What are you striving for?
By Jennie Allen

“For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 (NKJV)

As depressing as this verse is, I relate. A lot of my striving only seems to make me more tired and empty. Even when I lay down at night after a day full of errands and phone calls and emails, my heart is still not resting. It’s often running more wild in the middle of the night.

Feeling overwhelmed is not new. This verse was written thousands of years ago. Humans strive. We always have. We fill our minutes and days with so many things. But those minutes equal the sum of our lives. What are we spending our minutes on? Will those things last?

God has an assignment for each one of us. He prepared in advance the good works we would do. We are to just simply walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10) He doesn’t want us to have more to do. In fact, running around and doing every good thing is not what He wants from us. He is not pleased with random sacrificial service. He is pleased with obedience. It is better to obey than to sacrifice. (1 Samuel 15:22)

We are busy and some things must be done to live… like laundry and dishes and eating and diapers and so on. But what if we really looked to God for the things He wants us to set inside of our everyday lives, inside of the mundane – the things He has for us to do here that will last forever? The things that He planned for us before He made us? What would He say?

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27 (NKJV)

For each one of us obedience will look different, but always begins in His Word.

Today I found this in His Word...

“Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” Colossians 1:28-29 (NKJV)

A reason to strive. A striving that is birthed by His power and rests in His power, a striving for things that will outlast my few minutes here. I want to build and live and strive for people, for Christ, in the midst of my everyday mundane. I want to strive for His glory, His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Maybe at night when my heart is restless it is because it wants and strives for all the wrong things.

What are you striving for?


Jennie Allen is a Bible teacher who is passionate about inspiring a new generation of women to encounter the invisible God. Raised in a Christian home, Jennie heard about God her entire life but not until high school did she see her need for Him. Since that time she has been teaching groups of girls and young women about her God. Her first Bible study, Stuck: The Places We Get Stuck and the God Who Sets Us Free, will release in October 2011. To sample Stuck, visit www.StuckDVDStudy.com. For more on Jennie, visit www.jennieallen.com.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Unlikely Leaders


While my husband was in seminary, we attended a church in a very wealthy area.  Surprisingly, it had no women’s ministry.  Since I had a rich background of women’s ministry growing up – I consider myself a WMK (Women’s Ministry Kid) as my mom coordinated women’s ministry for over 20 years at our church – I was asked to start one.  I felt inadequate, but God reminded me that He had given me on-the-job training.  For years my mom dragged my sisters and me to women’s events to serve in whatever capacity was needed.  So, I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, and trusted that God had given me this opportunity for a reason.

One advantage I had coming into that church was I didn’t have preconceived ideas about who could do what, what women had which gifts, or what baggage women carried with them.  Instead I was able to observe, asking God to raise up women for the leadership roles we were establishing. 

I’ll never forget the first time I met Pat.  She wasn’t this church’s typical member – wealthy, well dressed, perfectly coiffed, overflowing with social skills and confidence.  Instead, she appeared to be cowering on the sidelines, uncertain about where she fit in.  She was single, quiet, and appeared lonely.  Yet as I got to know her, God allowed me to see something more.

Our first women’s event was planned; it was going to be an overnight retreat to get to know each other.  Our small committee was excited; they had never had a women’s retreat before.  Many of them had never exercised their gifts or even knew they had any.  We were totally dependent on God, daring to ask Him to bring 65 women.  It was a gigantic leap of faith.  When the last registration was counted, exactly 65 women had signed up!  You should have seen the women’s faces when they heard the news.  You would have thought they had just witnessed the parting of the Red Sea!

All throughout the planning, I kept thinking about Pat.  No one knew her, and we had yet to discover her gifts.  God was telling me to pull her into the weekend program somehow.  Pat was an avid reader, so I asked her to present several reviews of the latest Christian books she had read.  At first, she was hesitant.  “You can do it,” I cheered her on.  She eventually said okay.

The weekend finally arrived and the place was brimming with chatter and excitement.  The time came for Pat’s presentation.  It was hilarious and insightful, and she came alive.  Afterwards, Pat was surrounded by women; and throughout the conference this unassuming, quiet woman was glowing with a smile that never left her face.  Now, everyone wanted to be her friend and she suddenly found herself fitting in – I think for the first time in her adult life.  We eventually brought her onto the coordinating team where she continued to grow and blossom.  To watch her transformation was one of my greatest ministry lessons and joys.

I wonder how many Pats are out there under our noses?  Women who will one day make incredible leaders and do great things for God – if only someone will notice.  It’s so easy to gravitate only to women like ourselves, to look for the natural leaders, to look for those who fit the image we have of a leader  women who are polished, look good, or speak well.  I have seen over and over again that some of the best leaders are the unlikely leaders, because they’re the women God chooses.  As women leaders, we need to pray that God will give us His eyes to see the women around us, to trust His choices, and to be willing to take risks with women like Pat.

Years later, Pat became the women’s ministry coordinator of that church.  God had selected her and He had prepared her.  Amazingly, it all started with a couple of book reviews that got Pat off the sidelines and into action.  God had taken Pat’s small step of faith and transformed it into something extraordinary, and an unlikely woman became an influential leader, discovering her gifts and finding her place of service in the church.  


In His service,


Shelly Esser 
Editor

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Scared

Connecting Love and Fear

By Jennie Allen

Last night we were driving home from dinner with some friends. It was late and the houses glowed with lights and stories and lives. I knew each house held people whose existence was somewhat rooted in their little home.

As we drove up to our home, I was gripped with fear. The for-sale sign sat slanted on the edge of our yard. All our roots are feeling a little uprooted lately. We are only moving across town, but with a lot of other simultaneous changes in our life I have that feeling you get when everything is spinning and you can’t put your feet down. It’s a combination of worry, fear and insecurity.

We worry about the things we most love. I spin and I worry about the things that matter most to me.

I value connectedness with my people, building a home and memories for my kids, stability, and neighbors who feel like friends. When all those things feel jeopardized I start spinning inside.

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:31-33 (NKJV)

Something about that for-sale sign was a poignant reminder that I am not home and I am not even sure where home is going to be.

And the fears that I feel with that impending reality send me spinning. But those fears – our stuck places – are by their very design reminders of our need for God and our hope for a different home.

God moves into the spaces where everything feels undone and spinning, and he asks us, “Do you trust me? Do you trust me when your life is out of your control? Do you trust me when your husband loses his job? Do you trust me when your child is rebelling? Do you trust me when you are being misunderstood? Do you trust me when you are craving to be married and there is no boy in sight? Do you trust me when I ask you to risk your comfort, your security?”

We won’t be here forever; another kingdom is coming. And when it comes... when He comes, He wants us to be waiting for Him. But many of us will be holding things we value more. Those things we hold and spin over, they are idols. He is jealous for our affection and our trust, and rightly so. He is God, our Creator and our Redeemer. As we worry and spin, and pretend there is no God, He watches us. He sees us doubting His provision and plan.

No one ever told me before I signed up how insane Christianity is. No one told me it would cost me everything. But in surrendering everything, we find freedom.

What things do you love or fear more than God?



Jennie Allen is a Bible teacher who is passionate about inspiring a new generation of women to encounter the invisible God. Raised in a Christian home, Jennie heard about God her entire life but not until high school did she see her need for Him. Since that time she has been teaching groups of girls and young women about her God. Her first Bible study, Stuck: The Places We Get Stuck and the God Who Sets Us Free, will release in October 2011. To sample Stuck, visit www.StuckDVDStudy.com. For more on Jennie, visit www.jennieallen.com.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Keeping Your Eyes on Jesus




“But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’”  Matthew 14:30

Peter, having overcome his fear of Jesus, decided to walk on the water, too!  He was wise enough to wait until Jesus told him it was all right to try.  Then he clambered over the side of his boat to go to Him.

As soon as you get over your fear of the supernatural by recognizing and acknowledging God’s lordship over everything in heaven and on earth, you will want to experience that power for yourself.  I believe, for example, that Jesus could do extraordinary things.  Not only could He heal sick people, He could keep His temper, be unselfish, and always say the right thing.

Can I do what Jesus did?  Can I stride over the circumstances of my life in triumph?  Can I walk over the waters of worries and fears?  Yes, if I keep my eye on Him.

Peter unfortunately forgot who was keeping him afloat, and started to look at the reasons he should be sinking.  As soon as you do that, you are sunk!  “… Beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord save me!’” (v. 30).  Peter had been afraid to face the supernatural.  Having overcome that fear, he then became afraid he couldn’t depend on God to see him through.

It’s a matter of keeping your eye on Jesus, not on the storm.  And remember, if you begin to sink, cry out to Him.  He will put out His hand and save you.  It’s important to Him that you succeed!


Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Director

Monday, August 29, 2011

Discontent

God is what our souls are made for. Everything else keeps us restless.
By Jennie Allen

The first time I taught Stuck I asked a roomful of women a simple question.

“When was the last time you felt jealous?”

These were women with children and jobs, not junior high girls, and yet there was not one woman who had not felt jealous in the past week. Most had felt it creep in within the past few hours.

Our eyes seem to always be searching for what we want or do not have – both on the surface, such as pretty things in catalogues, and the deeper hidden things, like better marriages or even just to be married.

When we were knit together, God spent some time knitting parts of us to need Him. We were created to matter – to be known and seen – and once seen, to be loved no matter what.

These desires are innate – God knit these spaces into us.

He wanted us to need Him. Funny thought really, God of the universe creating spaces in little people so we would need Him, possibly want Him, and be incomplete without Him. But we don’t want Him. We never have.

We hunger to the point of starving for Him and yet we still don’t turn to Him; instead we chase wind.

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind. Ecclesiastes 1:14 (NKJV)

Here is the problem with us. We don’t go to war against invisible soul-sickening sin. We deal with the big, showy, impressive sin that everyone sees. But the invisible stuff is trickier, sneakier and deadlier. Discontentment in the forms of jealousy, comparison and greed is making us sick, washing over our minds constantly. And yet we are so accustomed to it, we have become numb.

Stuck. The more this word is tossed about in my head the more I become angry. I am angry at the devil, at myself, at this world. I am angry that such small and insignificant dreams would bind us so tightly that we live disappointed and paralyzed.

While we compare and long and wait and ask and save and spend and flaunt and pretend and cry and whine and tear down and puff up and stare and wish and ignore and complain and demand and search and find... we are missing something. I think we might be so distracted we are missing everything that lasts.

“My soul is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” – St. Augustine

God is what our souls are made for. Everything else keeps us restless.

What makes you restless?


Jennie Allen is a Bible teacher who is passionate about inspiring a new generation of women to encounter the invisible God. Raised in a Christian home, Jennie heard about God her entire life but not until high school did she see her need for Him. Since that time she has been teaching groups of girls and young women about her God. Her first Bible study, Stuck: The Places We Get Stuck and the God Who Sets Us Free, will release in September 2011. To sample Stuck, visit www.StuckDVDStudy.com. For more on Jennie, visit www.jennieallen.com.