Sunday, May 28, 2017

Decorations, Celebrations & Graduations

Holidays can be celebrated in so many different ways. Graduations, too! I've heard of some regions of the country where parties last all day long and include picnics, fishing, boating and all kinds of activities. Other locales celebrate with Open Houses that last for hours and hours. Those who are invited must figure out their Graduation Open House Schedule carefully so that they can enjoy as many celebrations as possible! Still others enjoy simple affairs with a few close friends and family members. Whether you are invited to one party every few years, multiple parties in a year or no invitations arrive in the mail, a graduation dilemma will eventually surface. 

Should the pastor and his wife give a gift to every high school graduate in the church family?

Depending on the size of the church, or the age of the congregation, the number of graduates could include dozens of students or it could be non-existent. Assuming you have graduates in your church family and you want to share a gift with some or all of them, how do you make that distinction? How much do you spend? If you have multiple pastors on staff, do you partner together and buy a group gift? There's so much to be considered.

I’d like to tell you that I have the perfect answer, but I don’t.

I will tell you that we try to keep things simple – and under $10. I shop for bargains throughout the year which allows the value of the gift to be more than $10! That is always a blessing, but I have to be careful. I don’t want the graduates one year to get a really nice gift only to have one of their siblings receive a much more modest gift the following year. 

Since we live within a short drive to the beach, we’ve often given gifts of beach towels or folding chairs. Bags of candy, sunflower seeds and beef jerky were the gift of choice one year when we had a ton of young men graduating. A different year we only had a few gals graduating, and I was excited to find fun picture frames for each of them. I hit a really good clearance sale at Pier One - but don’t tell them that!

So, do we give gifts to every graduate? 

Nope. However, the church does. Each graduate receives a Bible from the church which takes a bit of pressure off of us, as representatives of the church. Personally, we have chosen to give gifts only to those students who send us a graduation announcement or an invitation to a party. 

But, what if the budget doesn’t allow for gifting? Don't let that discourage you. A note with a fun memory, Scripture verse or personal words of encouragement are just as valuable. Just this year, I reminded two of our graduates that they were one of the few that I “knew” before they entered the world. Each one gave me a silly, half-embarrassed grin, but I think they both were pleased to know that we had loved them and cared about them from the very beginning. 

What a privilege it is to watch these young people grow up before our eyes. We need to make sure we let them know how much they mean to us - as well as assuring them that we’ll be continuing to pray for them in the days ahead. Speaking words of congratulations and hope into these graduates' lives is truly an honor that we should not take for granted - whether the well wishes are accompanied with a gift or not!

And, if you haven't taken the time yet to pray for those special graduates in your life, join me in lifting them up in prayer right now.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the lives of the young people who are graduating this year and are entering into a new adventure in life. Thank you for the privilege that we have had to watch them grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Infuse in them a sense of hopeful anticipation as they journey forward in life. We ask that your hand of protection and guidance be an ever present force in their lives. Guard their hearts that they will not become hardened by the world’s influence. Continue to hold them in the palm of your hand and call them to your ways and will. Give them strength to persevere and face the challenges that the coming year will present them. Bring Godly people into their lives – whether a roommate, a professor, a co-worker, friend or teammate. Nudge them, through your Spirit, to read and heed your Word – whether from personal Bible study, heard on the radio or seen posted on a billboard sign. Place in their hearts a yearning for your truth and a passion to serve others with your love. Hold them close as they learn to let go of ‘childish ways’ and grow into all that you have planned for them. We entrust them into your care, Lord, that your peace “which surpasses all understanding, will guard [their] hearts and [their] minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

Amen.


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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Why Worry When You Can Pray?

Seems like a simple question, doesn’t it? It’s a solid, Biblical concept. A logical solution to an ongoing problem in our lives. So, why do we allow ourselves to get so stressed out at times? After all, “Can any one of us add a single hour to our lives by worrying?” (my paraphrase of Matthew 6:27) Definitely not! In fact, the complete opposite is true. We are likely shortening our lives with the anxiety we allow to consume us from time to time.

Just this past Monday, I was asked to make a simple phone call. What I didn’t realize was that this call would plunge me into a sea of ‘red tape.’ Plus, I was working with a tight timeline - everything needed to be completed by Friday. Other than calling every day to check on the progress of things, there was little else I could do - except to worry or pray. As the week progressed, I had to continually choose to pray and to speak kindly to those who were able to bring our desired goal into reality and on time!

Paul encouraged the Philippians to “not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). He actually goes as far as saying that we can talk to God about anything! “In every situation” and “with thanksgiving” we are to share our hearts with our Heavenly Father. That is a powerful statement! God cares about every situation in our life. Nothing is too small to share with Him, and nothing is too big for Him. Was my issue this week a big thing? No, not in the scope of life. Was it important to get done? Yes, and a timely solution would definitely be a positive thing.

So, on Friday morning, when I got word that all was well - boy, did I rejoice “with thanksgiving”! In fact, I think my excitement actually betrayed how much underlying worry was behind my prayers. I had tried to squelch the anxiety, and by God’s grace it had not overtaken me. What a relief it was to get untangled from that mess. Thank you, Lord! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

According to USA Today, the top fears of 2016 included - 
  • Corruption of government officials
  • Terrorism
  • Financial issues
  • Restrictions on firearms and ammunition
  • Death or serious illness of loved ones
  • Identity theft
  • Health insurance

Now, I have to admit that my worries and fears this week were nothing as dire as the topics on this list, but it still took up a lot of my energy this week. And, I can’t even imagine what it is like to live life without the confidence that God is in control! What a blessing, and sweet peace, can be found by completely putting our trust in Him for all that comes our way – big or small!

So, what have you been tempted to worry about lately?

Take a few moments to prayerfully consider what burdens you are trying to carry that can be given over to God right now. God loves you and wants to take all your anxiety and stress off of your shoulders. Will you trust Him with your fears? It’s your choice. After all, why should any of us worry, when we have the gift of prayer!

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

(Resource referenced - USAToday.com, October 12, 2016)

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

What to do with the empty pew?

There’s an empty seat today. Someone is missing, and I miss them. It tears at my heart. Was it something I said or did? Was it something my husband said or did? Why did they leave? We invested so much time in them. We discipled them. We shared life with them. I thought we were friends.

Have you ever thought those things or had those doubts? I sure have.

Any time a seat is open or a ‘special spot’ is left vacant – for any reason - Satan is quick to whisper in my ear. Planting seeds of deception, doubt and despair. It’s as if all the others that are present disappear from my view and my heart becomes heavy with sadness and a sense of emptiness.

When someone leaves the church, whether by decision or death, it is natural to grieve. We grieve the loss of a dear friend or the dreams of what could have been. That gaping hole robs our hearts of God’s grace and peace. In our human weakness, we fall prey to the enemy. Regrets of time lost or broken relationships overwhelm our minds. Their absence each week is a reminder of our loss, and it hurts.

Sooner or later, we each have to face the reality that people come and go from our churches. The list of reasons are endless. Some church attenders, and even members, are in the habit of shopping around for the next new thing while others may just not be able to live peacefully with individuals of differing convictions. Others leave because of unresolved grievances toward the pastor or church leadership. College, job relocation or opportunities to serve on the mission field also bring about changes in our church family. Regardless of the reason, their absence each Sunday grieves our hearts.

So, what do we do with that empty pew?

Pray! 

Yep, pray.
  • Prayers of thanksgiving for the season of life God gave you to share with this individual or family – the love, the laughter and the tears.
  • Praises to God for the opportunity you had to share God’s Word with them or to worship alongside of them.
  • Prayers of self-examination. Ask God to show you if there is any area of offense from your life that could be tied into the reason for their departure from the church fellowship. Psalm 139:23
  • Praises to God for who He will bring to fill that open pew, seat or chair - and for future friendships.

I know God will answer these prayers, because I have seen Him do it over and over again in my life. In fact, three pews came to my attention just a week ago. My one empty pew (along with even more pews) are now consistently filled with new families. The heartache has eased and God has given me a brand new view. I rejoice in God’s faithfulness and am humbled to witness a part of His plan!

Psalm 34
I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.   v. 1
I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  v. 4
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.  v. 8
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.  v. 14
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.  v. 15
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  v. 18
The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.  v. 19

I wonder who God will bring into your church, and mine, in the days ahead? May we each find a special spot for them to come and find rest for their soul and peace for their future! 



Saturday, May 6, 2017

Mr. Wrong, Mrs. Right!

Everybody likes to be right. It feels good. It is what we have been praised for from nearly the beginning of our existence. Correct behavior gets a cheer. Good grades get us a ‘high five.’ Winning a debate or an argument cement our value and credibility in this world. But, what about when we’re both right?

My husband and I recently participated in a “Newlywed Game” at one of our small group meetings. We’ve done this in the past, but this is the first time we both left the game a bit bewildered. How did we get that one question wrong? It is so obvious that...I’m right! Uh oh! Yes, we both said the other person was the perpetrator. How can that be, and where do we go from here? Things between us were now a bit strained, and that can be really awkward when you're supposed to be the 'happily ever after couple.'

So, what was the question? Simply this, Who never replaces the toilet paper when it is empty?

As we headed home for the evening, I found myself pondering how my husband could actually believe that he was the one who always changed the toilet paper. That is crazy and perplexing because I am the one who always changes it. (It's been that way since the day we were married!) Then I had a 'lightbulb moment!' The conversation went something like this.

Mrs. – Is the paper roll empty of all paper when you replace it?

Mr. – Yes, or nearly empty. Maybe a few squares of paper. Not enough to do anybody any good.

Mrs. – So, every time you have need of the toilet paper and find it has only a few squares left on the roll that means it is empty and needs replaced?  

Mr. – Definitely, and that is the way I often find the toilet tissue roll. It is so frustrating.

Mrs. – Ah, mystery solved. 

I’m a girl, and I’m frugal. I also – to put it delicately – need tissue a bit more often than my man. He stands…well, you get the picture. So, when I said I replaced the toilet tissue when empty I really meant it. When it is empty, I replace it. But, when he said that he replaced the toilet tissue when empty, he actually meant it was half-full. Well, maybe that is an exaggeration! (How many squares of toilet paper does one have to have on a roll to count as adequate for the next visitor?) In actuality, we were both right. We both were the one that replaced the toilet tissue the most often in our household, we just had a different definition of when that needed to take place.

Perspective can be everything when there are disagreements or differences of opinions.

We often impose our perspective on another individual and assume they think the same way that we do. To truly understand what they think, however, we have to get their perspective on a subject. We may genuinely disagree, but we may be saying the same thing and are just coming from two different directions. The longer you know someone, or live with them, the easier it is to understand where they are coming from and the disagreements – or arguments – lessen and lessen. What is scary in this scenario is that we have been married for over 30 years and are just now learning each other’s TP perspectives.

What was our new solution?

Well, first off. We both have need of toilet paper from time to time, so we both agreed to replace the roll when needed. However, I have now started to put the ‘almost empty’ roll off to the side and also replace the tissue holder with a fresh new roll of TP. This simple strategy now helps to keep things simpler for my husband and any family or guests that stop by and have need of a little rest stop.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Unless we’re talking about absolute truth of the Biblical proportion, it often simply depends on perspective. To gain perspective, we have to put ourselves in the other person’s proverbial shoes. Our difference of opinion on TP duty could have easily turned into a source of contention in our marriage. Hard to believe, but it’s true. Satan is always looking for ways to bring strife into our homes – even through a silly game. A humble and gentle spirit, coupled with prayer, can help us navigate the storms of who is right and who is wrong. And then there are the great verses in the Bible that remind us to seek peace – whether over TP or much deeper issues in life and ministry.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.” Hebrews 12:14a

“So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Romans 14:19 (NAS)

Pursuing peace. Building each other up. Becoming holy. That’s where we should be headed in life, ministry and our marriages. We can’t always make every situation turn out with a happy ending – or in total agreement - but we can put in as much effort and prayer as possible and seek to move forward… “as far as it depends on you.”

Oh, and I have a feeling the next time my husband and I are asked to be participants in the “Newlywed Game” and get asked the question, Who changes the TP most often at your house?, we’ll both be right!


https://yokemates.blogspot.com

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Raising PK's

When raising our 'Pastor’s Kids,' my husband and I had a few non-negotiables. Well, at least on most days.

- We ate dinner together each evening.
- We didn’t tolerate lying or defiance.
- We all attended Worship and Sunday School on Sundays.
- We never punished our kids by withholding fun activities at church.
- We treated others as we would like to be treated.
- We prayed together before bed.
- We asked for forgiveness and said we were sorry – even if we didn’t totally mean it!

By God’s grace all of our girls did choose to accept Christ as their Savior and are living for Him. Was their individual choice to our credit as parents? No, I don’t believe so. Their choice for Jesus was between them and their Savior. We did, however, understand that it was critical for us to live out our faith and values before our daughters each and every day. Our example, good or bad, would impact their choices in life and that is a humbling responsibility before God.

Two realities are very evident -
  • PK’s are tempted to sin just like any other kid. They are simply the child of the pastor.
  • PW’s are tempted to sin too. After all, we aren’t superheroes! We're just married to the pastor.

I lost count of how many times I went to school when the girls weren’t expecting me. There were days when I went to see if they had obeyed me and were really wearing their jacket on the playground, or if they stayed inside due to a lingering cold. Did I like to spy? No, but I did need to know if they were telling me the truth or not. Trust was hanging in the balance. As the girls grew up, the trust levels ebbed and flowed. But even in their teen years, there were times that we had to confirm with our own eyes that what we had been told was truly what was happening. Sometimes it stinks being a parent, but that doesn’t mean that we stop being diligent. The goal is to raise up Godly kids and that takes wisdom, energy and a little bit of detective work from time to time!

There were other days when I showed up at the girls’ school and requested to speak to one of them for a few minutes. The staff made it known that it wasn’t the normal thing for a parent to do, but they allowed the quick visit. You see, some mornings just didn’t come together real smoothly at our house. On those days, my patience had typically worn thin, and my temper had gotten the best of me. I just couldn’t wait until the girls got home from school to set things right. With guilt weighing heavy on my heart, I couldn't let go of what impact the morning tension may have made on their day. So, I showed up at their classroom door and I asked for their forgiveness. Even though they were always surprised to see me – and usually didn’t even remember the conflict – they graciously forgave me and returned undisturbed to their class. A tear would slip down my cheek as I quietly exited the building. As I returned home, I thanked God that my heavy heart was free, and I was relieved and blessed to know that I hadn’t ruined their whole day!

Seem a bit overkill? Not at all. Relationship with others – even our kids - is where we build trust and share our true faith walk. When something at home wasn’t right, I was committed to righting the wrong even if that meant disturbing the classroom. Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for teachers, but I have an even greater respect for the precious relationship I have with my child!

So, here come the hard questions.
  • When is the last time that you apologized to your child or grandchild, husband or friend? 
  • Does your life truly reflect your values and Biblical convictions? 
  • Are you tired from the struggle of endless effort with seemingly little, if any, noticeable result? 

Wherever you are in the reality of raising your kids or building a relationship with others it is critical that they see Jesus in you.

‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? 
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ 
Micah 6:8

Are you walking the way the Lord God Almighty has asked of you? Don't give up. Ask for forgiveness if needed, and keep on walking. It is worth the effort – each and every day!



Saturday, April 22, 2017

Inside Out

Staring at the pile of clothes that were strewn about the guest room, I found myself asking the question, “Did I really make such a mess yesterday morning?” That’s crazy! I had even tried to prepare the night before by laying out two possible outfits for Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, my plan didn't come together the next morning. One outfit looked too sloppy and the other just didn’t look quite right. So, a whirlwind of frantic outfit swapping ensued. Gratefully, I eventually found something presentable that felt – and looked - right for the day. Wardrobe crisis averted!

As I now hung up the discarded clothing, I pondered how easy it is to get caught up in one’s appearance – especially on Sundays or for special events. Typically, I’m not real fussy about what I look like. I do have favorite clothes, and I’m always glad when I have a good hair day. But my Sunday morning routine is pretty simple. Teeth clean, check. Slip not showing, check. Hair brushed, check. Earrings on, check. Oh, and double check that those ‘hanger helper’ strings aren’t hanging out somewhere, check!

Taking time to dress appropriately for the day’s events as well as freshening up what God has given us to work with is fine. However, if we’re not careful, we can easily fall into the temptation of becoming a bit too self-conscious of our appearance. It is at those moments that I have to remind myself that my outward appearance doesn’t really matter. What is important is how I look on the inside.

I’d like to think that I’m continuously working on my inner self, seeking to rid my heart of sin and growing deeper in my walk with Christ. But, when do I really take the time to look at my inward reflection? I’m afraid that my soul-searching is often nothing more than a quick glance in that internal mirror. And when I do take the time to look closer, do I tend to position myself to my best advantage and think “Now that’s pretty good.”? Or, do I go to the other extreme and only see my ‘problem areas’ and can’t help but focus on all the negatives. Hiding from the truth may be the easy way out, but it doesn’t do a thing to help the condition of our inner self.

Thankfully, cleaning up the inside doesn't have to be any harder than cleaning up the outside. Healthy questions to consider on a regular basis are pretty simple. Have I taken the time to rid myself of sinful thoughts and attitudes today? When is the last time that I asked for forgiveness? If I was able to look into a mirror and see my inner reflection, what would I see? Is my heart clean before God and others?

A couple great Scriptures that can help each of us go beyond our outer appearance and focus instead on our inner condition are found in Luke 11:39-41 and Matthew 23:27-28. In both passages, Jesus is talking with the Pharisees and challenges them to not only clean up the outside, but to also clean up the inside.

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’

“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you - be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.’”

These passages hit hard on getting our priorities straight. It is good – and proper – to clean our bodies and to even enjoy a nice outer appearance, but not at the expense of our inner beauty. How we look and what people think of our appearance has no lasting value. How we live and exhibit the love of God at work in our lives is the key to a truly beautiful reflection.

If you'd like to see how clean your heart is, first off, pray and ask God to show you the areas that need work. Areas of "hypocrisy, greed and wickedness." Next, check out a great reflective resource entitled “Spring Cleaning Our Messy Hearts” by Shana Schutte. It's available online at http://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/spiritual-development/spring-cleaning-our-messy-hearts

Wouldn't it be great if the next time each of us looked into the mirror on a Sunday morning, we knew that we had taken as much time to work on our inner beauty that week as we had on our outward appearance? 

~~~~~https://yokemates.blogspot.com


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Teaching Our Kids About Heaven

It is exciting to teach others about Jesus’ resurrection – and the resurrection of the saints! I love sharing the story found in Matthew 27:51-53 which outlines the dramatic events that took place at the point of Jesus’ death. “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

When that passage is read to teens – even young kids – many instantly think of zombies wandering around Jerusalem. Oh my! I’ve had to rein in those discussions to try to get the lesson back on track. From that point, the discussion often goes to questions like these:
  • What are we going to do in heaven?
  • I don’t like to sing.
  • It sounds boring, ‘cause I heard that there will be no toys or electronics there.

Perhaps you’ve heard these questions as well. It makes me sad that this is the picture of heaven that we have drawn for our children. It also makes me want to take a moment to reflect on what I have been teaching my kids, grandkids and Sunday School students about heaven? 

Even though God has chosen to keep much of heaven a mystery, He has given us many details that can help change our understanding of eternity spent with Him!
  • There will be a new heaven and a new earth. Revelation 21:1
  • Every believer will have a special place to live. John 14:2-3
  • God the Father, the Lamb (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit are there – as well as living creatures and angels. Revelation 4-5
  • Worship and singing will be an ongoing part of heaven. Revelation 4:8, 11; 5:9-10, 12-13
  • There will be believers from every nation, tribe and tongue – too many to count! Revelation 7:9
  • We will not have to worry about any evil – or temptation to sin. Isn’t that amazing! Revelation 21

 …and I haven’t even touched on the description of the new Jerusalem, the Holy City!

Interesting reads on the topic of heaven include ‘Heaven’ by Randy Alcorn (www.epm.org/browse/heaven) as well as books that claim to be true-life experiences such as 'Heaven is for Real.' I call these interesting reads because they are that – interesting and thought-provoking. However, there is a lot of leeway from Biblical fact in these books. My biggest concern is that many 'heaven-focused' books and movies are not careful to spell out the Gospel message – including the necessity of repentance and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus, my caution and fear. Without meaning to confuse the next generation, many well-meaning Christian parents, Sunday School teachers and pastors are leaving a lot to the imagination. Our kids end up not getting a very Biblical picture of heaven - and maybe not even getting an accurate understanding of how they can get there!

The Bible's description of heaven leaves us with many unanswered questions. Personally, I’m okay with the mystery. I figure if God thought we needed the details, He would have given them to us in His Word. I’m more than content to just know that eternity means that I will be in God's presence and that He ‘will wipe every tear from our eyes’ and that ‘there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain'! Revelation 21:4

With just that verse in hand, we have a great description of heaven to share with others. For teens and kids especially, I address their questions this way: Since the Bible says we won’t have tears, we must not be bored. We’ll either love to sing and worship God or there will be amazing things to explore and enjoy in heaven. After all, if God gave us our present heaven and earth to enjoy - which we think is pretty incredible - how much more outstanding will the new heaven and new earth be? For many, this is all it takes for the skepticism to start to dissolve, and a new spark of hope and intrigue can soon be seen in their eyes. The conversation about heaven has now officially begun!

No tears or sadness, no evil, God’s presence lighting each day – I’m in! How about you? Are you looking forward to heaven? Have you taken time to understand and embrace the amazing mysteries that God has already revealed to us about eternity in His presence? 

We must share this incredible message of God's love, patience and promise of eternity with the next generation.

"The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire,
being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:
With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.
Instead he is patient with you,
not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

2 Peter 2:7-9


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