Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Matter of Perspective

It was time. My little-league-toting, gas-guzzling SUV was making a noise that let us know its days were numbered. After de-mucking and grieving, we traded it in for a sedan. I am still getting used to feeling as if I am sitting on the ground and miss all the space of my SUV, but my gasoline budget is happier.

Taking the highway to my husband's work last week, I noticed another big difference between the two vehicles. In my old SUV, the speedometer topped out at about 85 miles per hour. So, going the legal limit of 70 on the highway meant the needle was almost as far as it would go. In my new little sporty sedan, the speedometer goes to something crazy like 140 miles per hour. Now, going the legal limit of 70, my needle is barely halfway around. I feel like I need to catch up!

It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it?

Like that outfit I put on this morning that seemed a little revealing, but when I look at how the other women at the office dress it's not too bad. Besides, extra attention it gets me from the guys on the third floor is nice.

I don't put my husband down too bad compared to the other ladies in my Bunco group. Besides, it's only for laughs. I don't really mean it.

I'm not really talking about those people. I'm sharing my feelings. That's completely different, right?

It's all a matter of perspective.

We are called to be "in the world, not of the world," and to "be holy as your heavenly father is holy." If I'm using anyone on earth as my "speedometer," I may be going way beyond what is safe and reasonable for a child of God.

Hear what God's word has to say:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:13-16 NIV).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Safety, Beauty, and Power

originally on Heartlight

It had been a hot, difficult week of work for the teens on the mission trip. The other sponsors and I were just as eager as the teens for a fun day — an excursion to a water park in a nearby coastal town. The park wasn't large, but was a well-planned water amusement park.

We enjoyed the rides, slides, and boogie boards. There was no need to leave your inner tube to stand in line — you could float while waiting for the various rides. Rapids and a conveyor belt hauled park-goers the circumference of the park as they enjoyed enormous buckets of water dumped at random times and various waterfall spots. It was a good way to relax after a long week of hot mission work for the teens and sponsors.

When we gathered for lunch, almost as an afterthought, several of us made plans to venture out to the beach. With admission to the park came access to the adjacent beach. We cleaned up our area, left the shady picnic spot of the park, making our way toward the beach.

Up a flight of stairs and across a lengthy, narrow, rickety, wooden bridge we trudged through the heat of the glaring sun. The bridge seemed forever long as it stretched across sand overgrown with weeds. Finally the bridge emptied the group onto crystal white sands with the thunderous ocean beating down at our feet, still steaming from the trek over the bridge. The air was a cooler temperature here as the wind blew in off of the ocean.

As the teens began to play like toddlers in the surf, shedding the cloak of ambivalence they try to maintain at all times, I surveyed the scene. With all respect to the architects of the water park, it simply couldn't compare. If it had been a photograph I would have claimed it to be photoshopped, with too-perfect tinting of blue-green water rolling in on the white sand. The brilliant azure of the sky was punctuated with soft puffs of white. The picture was perfectly accented by a lone ship floating regally on the horizon.

As my eyes took in the beauty, the rest of my senses were overwhelmed with this awe-inspiring scene. The faint smell of salt rolled in on the cool breeze that refreshed my sun-warmed skin. The call of the gulls could be heard sporadically over the faithful roar of the waves.

The whole of the scene filled my heart, as well as my eyes with tears, as I considered the One who created it all. How could any of this compare to the man-made park we had just left? The beauty was breathtaking; the peace that the scene brought was beyond compare.

My eyes continued to survey the wonder while watching the teens and enjoying the sound of their laughter. I began to notice another enormous contrast to the water park: where were all the people? A couple of love birds holding hands in the surf, a young girl with a scorched back building a sandcastle, and a small family seemed to be the only people at that section of beach. Where were all the people?

Back at the water park floating the lazy river, I suppose.

I grieved over how many people were missing this breathtaking sight, just feet from where they played in man-made fun.

Of course, there were no lifeguards on the beach, and warnings were posted about a dangerous current. With the majesty of the ocean came amazing power, dangerous if not respected.

When we finally wearied of jumping and playing in the surf we began the long walk across the footbridge back to the park. I glanced back at the beach, wondering how many times I have missed a scene so majestic by playing it safe. Majesty may be waiting just beyond a long, lonely walkway, through thorns and weeds.

Have I ever traded a walk with the Lord on His breathtaking beach for the safety of a go-nowhere lazy river, overcrowded with other safety seekers?

I recalled a scene in the book "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," by C.S. Lewis where Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are trying to explain Aslan the lion to the children:

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

Is walking with my Lord safe? No, not always. Like the beach, there may be danger and trials my earthly eyes can't see or understand. I've certainly suffered my share of scrapes and bruises. But he is always very, very good.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I've Become the Other Woman

originally on heartlight

"This is how we know what love is ..."

I have frequently requested a weather forecast for my church. Not for the town the church is in -- for the auditorium. I have suggested a running scroll on the website: "Current temp in the auditorium is 58° and breezy. Dress accordingly." or "High of 84° in the auditorium today." I have yet to be heeded.

Recently it was 58° and breezy. On Easter Sunday. The children were precious in their Easter finery and blue lips. My daughter, Ashley, and I were in "spring-ish" type clothes, but not sleeveless. When I sat down, I got quite cool quickly.

I was sitting next to my husband, Troy, while Ashley was on the other side of him. He finally put his arm around her trying to warm her up a little. I sure would have liked that warm arm around me, but I made do tucking as much of myself under the other arm at his side trying to warm up. Eventually, he leaned forward to remove his jacket. "Good plan," I thought, "Leave your arm around Ashley, and give me the jacket -- or vice-versa, whatever. I'm good." Oh, no. He handed Ashley the jacket so he could have both of his arms back.

Let me be honest -- I sat there shivering. And beaming. It pleased me to sit by while Troy took care of his girl the way she needs to be taken care of. I want my daughter to know her daddy is crazy about her. As she seeks out a husband, I want her to know how she should be treated, and know what it's like to be the apple of a man's eye.

Having a loving parent helps a child understand the love of God -- well, as much as we can understand it on this planet. Having loving parents helped me start to get an idea about the unconditional love of God. I want Ashley to know that as crazy as we both are about her, it's just a tiny drop compared to the abundant, never-ending, perfect love of her heavenly Father.

I spend plenty of time shivering for her while watching tennis, I don't mind a little more shivering while her daddy takes care of her. It's why I picked him.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:11-12 TNIV).

Is your religion worthless? James 1:26

When you pray what do you ask for? Depending on what is going on in my life I might ask God for strength, His strength, discernment, always ask for wisdom, scripture says if we only ask for wisdom God will give it to us, that meant a lot to a young women whose wisdom was nill. (James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.)

The only wise choice I made at that time in my life was to know I had no wisdom, and wanted some. So I started praying each day for wisdom, and I might not be as wise as many, but compared to my wisdom 18 years ago I have been blessed richly. One consistent prayer, I ask God each time when I pray on my own and when I pray with my kids is to make me more like Jesus tomorrow than I am today. That probably sounds cliche but that is what I want and that is what I want for my kids. I don't want to be rich, I don't want a fancy home, earthly things just seem to keep me as their possession not the other way around. I just want to love with a love that comes from Christ. I want to love those who other's either don't see, or those who for whatever reason are not easy to love. I want to love people as they are, no strings attached, but I want to see them through the eyes of Christ, for what they can become. For what they can overcome if they will just follow the path God has for them. A friend helps a lot in those circumstances.

God has many times in my life brought people with same-s*x attraction into my life. I have several times written of my friend Carey here who passed several years ago. I have recounted Carey's story several times in the last couple of weeks and each time I am caught off guard with tears. God might have used me in Carey's life, but truly God used Carey to teach me more than I ever taught him. He just needed a friend. A friend who could bring food when he was sick, or a friend who could answer questions from scripture but not spout off scripture as a deadly weapon, mostly Carey just liked to laugh and be a friend.

The study by Barna cites that most Christians are defined by non-Christians as h*m*s*xual haters. That is how we are defined. I would say that many who represent Christ by holding a sign, and saying ugly words, hateful words outside a funeral, do not represent Christ at all. Christ was very clear in scripture that we are not to judge the world, but by our love they will come to know Him. Hate never changes someone's hearts or desires. But love does.

It was Christ's unconditional love that brought me from drug and alcohol abuse. It was never someone telling me I shouldn't be participating in all the mess I was in. The people who helped me along the way were kind, loving and authentic with their own struggles. The spirit of condemnation that many have repulse and put walls up between them and others.

I am writing this today because I heard someone speak words that would have been hurtful and possibly turned someone away from Christ if they had been present when spoken. I have a news flash for everyone out there, people who you hang out with have baggage, if they don't have baggage their family has baggage, there is baggage somewhere.

It is time that God's people start talking like God's people, acting like God's people, loving like God's people. Not just choosing what sin's we can accept in those around us and bash the rest. A great man of faith who I am blessed to know, M.C. Cranfill used to make a business card up to carry with him. He might still have some in his wallet. He put the name of our church, then underneath, Hospital for Sinners. I wonder if there are certain sinners some don't welcome with open arms into our church? We will answer to God on how much we love, and the pain we cause others who are searching for Christ. Would our words or actions cause them to just leave and give up for there is no hope for them even in Christ, for His followers make that very clear?

James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

We're Fresh-Brewed!!!

Check this out:

A few months ago I (Sarah) finished reading Nicole Johnson's book, Fresh Brewed Life. (It's splendidly awesome and you need to read it. Book review. The end). As a writer, it touched me how the tone of it is very conversational and enjoyable. I went to Nicole's website and sent her a little note of appreciation for the book, telling her that I received it when my Coffee Group spoke at one of our events.

Well, lo and behold, Nicole's assistant Michelle cruised over to our website, (which has recently been updated and you should go cruise, too) checked us out, and decided we sound pretty fresh brewed.

There were a few email exchanges, a conference call interview, and here we are!! Check us out over at Nicole's Fresh Brewed Life!! (I can call her Nicole because we have gotten to be SO close... not really, but Michelle? Michelle rocks out loud!)

Thanks, Michelle and Nicole for the shout out! We can't wait to see what God will do with this publicity!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Are you worried? Rx below.

By Tammy M.

Belief. I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief. Words I say to God every day. Words taken from scripture Mark 9:24. I asked Jesus to be my Savior when I was in the 7th grade. After studying and making the choice I asked my dad to baptize me in our swimming pool. That very day I had been saved, but it took me 20 years to make Him my Lord and Savior. What's the difference? By submitting myself under His Lordship I have been given a gift. A gift to trust Him to guide me where He wants me to go. For much of my late teenage life and early adulthood, I trusted no one, I was trying to check out of my life mentally and emotionally by using drugs and alcohol and searching for love in places where there is only darkness. God saw me through that time and called me to Him, gratefully I felt I had no other options left so I followed. Fast forward a couple of years, been living a Christian life, working in a church, doing all the 'right' things. But still not submitting all I am to Him, how do I know that? Because I allowed worry, anxiety, and need for control to be my lord, and I thought that was normal because it was everywhere I turned. Many people (not all) were worried themselves, worried about money and the lack of it, worried about health, worried about their kids, worried about their jobs...I fit right in. Did I really believe and have faith that God was in the details of my life? Did I just believe that He was to be worshipped on Sunday and then real life happened after that?

When I began in depth bible study a number of years ago my eyes opened a little to this lack of faith I was struggling with. I longed and still long for the faith of a champion of God. Although the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 show me people who had faith to be recognized by God, but many struggled to gain that faith through difficult circumstances and their faith was grown through those circumstances. God uses broken people, that is when His strength can be seen. Last week in bible study there was a quote, "God is drawn to weakness." Thanks be to God for that because I am weak, but God calls me to grow stronger in Him each day, to move from milk to meat, to move from a faith that is easily shaken to a faith that has been tested and can weather a storm that might have toppled it just last week. Growth.

The gift of trust and faith in God is the greatest earthly gift I can think of that I don't want to waste any longer here on earth. I think it is one of the traits that shine the light of Jesus through Christians. How does one get this faith? God grows faith, we just need to seek Him with all of our heart and He will increase it. The way I seek Him? Prayer, bible study, scripture...I take scriptures that stand against whatever I am struggling with and I quote them through the day. Keep them with me. Over and Over. There is the amazing example in scripture where the man cleans out his house of the 1 demon that is living there, but he leaves it empty, and the demon brings back friends who take up residence. What that means to me, I can push out the fear, worry or anxiety, but if I am not rewallpapering my mind with the promises and faithfulness of God and His scripture, then the fear and worry come back fourfold or debilitatingly more. God is with me, I am never foresaken. Does my life always look like I want it to? Hardly ever. Are there hardships? Absolutely. Those hardships are where the rubber meets the road, that is where I can shine for Jesus or whither like a lilly in a drought. Call on Him in the hardships and if you are willing He will give you peace and show you the way.

Our faith is refined by fire, the more fires we walk through the stronger our faith grows. Fire burns, but what it burns away is our pride, greed, selfishness, and what it leaves is a humbled servant of God ready to say "here I am Lord, I will go where you lead." To be content in our circumstances and trust God that we are part of His great plan are gifts that brings tears to my eyes. Thanks be to God.

I pray for the faith of Mary the mother of Jesus. When the angel Gabriel came to her and told her that through the Holy Spirit she would become pregnant with Jesus, she said "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said."

Whatever my lot in life, may it be to me as You have said Lord. And may I be an encourager to others along with way, with a smile filled with love for You, and a smile and love for others that shine peace and contentment that can only come from you.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Considering Valentine's Day

originally on heartlight

My family experienced some minor medical drama the week between Christmas and New Year's while traveling out of state. On one of my many trips to the drug store, I had to stop dead in my tracks. I was perusing the Christmas decorations and wrapping paper on clearance. I turned around to look for more, and was faced with a shelf full of boxes of Valentine's cards that children will use to declare love for classmates. Before the confetti of the New Year's holiday is swept up, the shelves in stores are fully stocked with hearts, balloons, and all manner of Valentine props and paraphernalia.

Maybe it's age, maybe it's motherhood, maybe it's global warming, but I don't think of Valentine's Day the same way that I did as a young, single woman or newlywed. Valentine's Day is a fun, light-hearted opportunity to lavish love on those around you, but life has shown me that love rarely looks like the front of a Hallmark card.

Love is not running along a beach hand in hand. Love holds the flashlight in the middle of the night, make-up long gone and tempers flaring, holding your tongue while your sweetie attempts an emergency home repair. Love isn't demonstrated by dewy eyes across a candlelit meal, but rather by one more run to the doctor or pharmacy when you are exhausted beyond reasonable or rational thought.

Valentine's Day lends itself to romance. Romance is wonderful and exciting, but won't take you very far when the stomach bug hits, or your "Love Shack" floods, or one of your parents is critically ill and/or dies. Romance will not be found in any of those situations, but love is there larger than life. Love brings the cool wash cloth again and again for the stomach bug, and mops and covertly repairs damaged keepsakes during the flood, and cries and holds and works and loves with an ill family member.

Love is not rose petals and champagne, but aching backs and work gloves. Love at my house never dances in an evening gown or tuxedo, but love supplies the elbow grease, the patience, the encouragement, and the clean clothes to face each day and, Lord willin' a comforting place to come home to when the day seems to come out on top. Love is holding tight when no words will fix it, and tears the only language uttered.

Love is not a polished, glimmery state. Love is messy, inconvenient, and frustrating. Love is giving up the last ounce of energy, sleep, time, or chocolate for the well-being of another. Love isn't found in romantic restaurants or destinations, but in hospital waiting rooms, the lobby of funeral homes, and kneeling in prayer next to race-car or princess beds in the middle of the night. Love is less about flowers and cartoon hearts, and everything about the value of another soul on this planet. I guess that's a little harder to put on the side of a coffee mug.

I will play along this Valentine's Day, like all the others, and I certainly hope for you to feel cherished on that day. But, later in the year when the toilet overflows while the drama at school comes to a boiling point and work causes too many demands to keep everyone civil, love will be there with a plunger, Kleenex for the tears, and hugs, pats, and kisses for all the things the plunger and Kleenex won't fix. Consider that your own Valentine's Day -- but don't look for Hallmark to make a card for it anytime soon.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Focus On the Goal

by Sarah Stirman
on heartlight

It happened again. Out running, my foot landed squarely on ... something ... a pecan ... a rock? Whatever it was, it rolled my foot right off, twisted my ankle, and sent me sprawling. Now I'm sporting an oh-so-fashionable walking cast and have a few weeks to rest the foot before I can take off running again.

Having a "poor me" moment, I started thinking, "Well, how am I supposed to run? I guess I'll have to focus on the ground around me to keep this from happening again ..." That would slow me down considerably, and cause me to hate running as I would spend each run scanning the road at my feet for obstacles or jeopardy instead of enjoying the scenery and running toward my goal.

Well, what do successful runners do? Successful runners run smart by not running on obviously treacherous landscape, but run with gusto enjoying the scenery, scanning the road for obvious pitfalls and dangers but keeping an eye on the goal, knowing that injury is an acceptable risk: it just might happen and you deal with it when it does. You can't run a successful race worrying about and focusing on obstacles and injuries; you run a successful race by knowing your goal and running toward it.

What if this race I run in life were the same way? What if I spent most of my time enjoying the scenery and focusing on my goal of heaven instead of trying to tiptoe my way around obstacles and worrying about what I will do if I get hurt? I tend to hyper-focus on people that may (or have) hurt me, situations and arguments that hold me back or frustrate me, and obstacles and stumbling blocks that only serve to keep my eyes off my goal.

In the same way that the road I run on is my reality, and perils along the way will likely be a problem at some point, this world that I live in is my reality, no matter how perfect my goal destination is. Focusing on my goal of heaven won't keep this world from affecting me, twisting my ankle and scraping my knees on occasion. But I can't let the fear of that injury keep me from running this race with all I've got, loving and living big and loud, spilling God's love and sharing my goal of heaven along the path. I must run smart, and avoid obvious pitfalls, but I have to accept getting hurt as acceptable risk: it will happen at some point and God will continue to be faithful, providing His people and His comfort in my time of recuperation.

So I'm ready. Ready to get back to road running as well as running through life with my eyes on my goal, not on the pettiness and mess around me. If you see me sprawled along the way, I may need help to my feet, I may need a ride home, and I may need some encouragement and comfort while I recuperate. But I'll invite you to run alongside me, running this race with perseverance, fixing our eyes on Jesus, striding together toward the goal.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Update from The Coffee Group

Ola! from 2009!! Coffee Group realizes we have been remiss in updating our blog, or website! We know some of you are still out there, still praying for us even, and we would like to keep you updated on us.

The biggest, most heart-breaking news is that our precious Judy lost her 24-year-old son, Ben, to an aortic aneurysm November 10, 2008. Judy, her husband Tom, her remaining two children, Cade and Lori, as well as dozens of other family members and friends were thrust into grieving and are now walking a journey there is no map for. Ben would have turned 25 tomorrow, January 9. Please keep all of Ben's family in your prayers.

Sarah wrote about it here.
Tammy wrote about it here.

As God is prone to do, He really protected Coffee Group's schedule for this spring. Now we are not able to minister to ladies far and near as we love to do so much, we are caring for one of our own. We still have some speaking opportunities that we are trying to confirm and work with every schedule. As soon as that is confirmed, we will post it here! We appreciate every prayer brought before the Father on our behalf.

As we look to 2009, we pray that each of you continue to make time with your Father a priority, a daily cleansing of your mind from what the world and Satan throw your way! We pray, too, that you will come to cherish His word and the truth and words of love it contains. May you trust HIM to grow you into the Princess you are!