Sometimes It Does Depend on Me + 6 Ways to Serve In Your Church

MRM_9413_001It may be because Drew’s a redhead, but his bright red cheeks told me he was tired. It was one of his last soccer games of the season, and only the minimum number of players showed up. That meant lots of playing time – yay! – but no breaks. Eventually it looked like the whole team was playing in slow motion.

They were exhausted.

My previous post was a lesson I learned that when it comes to serving in the church (or anywhere really), it doesn’t all depend on me, no matter how much I may think it does. But as anyone serving in the church knows, there are times in fact when it seems that if you don’t do it, no one literally will.

That’s why I felt it necessary to follow up on that post with a friendly reminder that sometimes it does depend on me – and you. 

You’ve probably heard that in any given organization, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. I’m not sure if that’s an official statistic or a quotable quote, but I’d say it’s pretty accurate.

Why is the minority doing the majority of the work? Sometimes, granted, the minority can be control freaks and want everything their way. (I’m not pointing fingers…you saw my last post about hating group projects. Most of the time I ended up doing all the work because I wanted it done my way. Guilty.)

But sometimes it’s simply because the whole team isn’t showing up to the game. There are no subs, and the players – while they love the game – are exhausted and desperately need a water break.

So let me encourage us all to come to the game. In a church setting, here are just a few suggestions:

1. Be attentive to the communicated needs. Maybe you’re a horrible cook so providing a dish for pot luck may not be your thing, but helping clean up afterward is something you can do. On the flip side, maybe you have young kids and can’t stay late to clean up, but you can certainly bring a dish.

2. Seek out serving opportunities in areas that interest you. Don’t wait to be asked. If you love music, ask the music director if you can come to choir practice. If you have a passion for the elderly, ask a pastor how you can help meet their needs. The list is endless.

3. Volunteer for the church nursery or to serve in Children’s Church. When you serve there, you’re not only serving the children (obviously) and the parents (clearly), but you’re serving the other workers. I remember when Drew was a baby and we had lots of babies and not enough workers, and Matt and I were in nursery two out of every three Sundays. We rarely got to be in worship and listen to biblical teaching we so desperately needed. If you volunteer, you’ll be contributing to the rotation, allowing everyone to be in worship more often.

4. Participate in the church’s outreach events. Again, the more who serve, less work is shouldered by few. Plus, serving alongside your brothers and sisters in your church is a huge blessing!

5. Be there. You can’t very well do or even know about the above items if you’re not present with your local church regularly. Make it a priority to serve God through the ministries of your local church.

6. Pray about where God would have you serve in your local church. This should probably be #1. Jesus moves and grows his kingdom through the local church. Don’t dismiss that. He has equipped you uniquely to use your gifts to serve through the local church. And there are few things more fulfilling than exercising those gifts for the glory of God and for his kingdom.

God doesn’t call us to be mere spectators in kingdom work any more than he expects us to do all the work. It’s a team effort.

Come on, team, let’s all come to the game and play.

Coming in two weeks!!
Glory in the Garden: 30 Days of Devotionals
FREE e-version for e-mail subscribers!

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Click the link above to receive Glory in the Garden for free when it is released in late November!
*The paperback version will also be available – a great Christmas gift!*

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It All Doesn’t Depend on Me

DSC_0094“You’ll work on this project in groups.”

Those were the words I dreaded in college. UGHHHHHH! Why can’t I just get it done myself?  I gritted my teeth during every management/marketing class I had, thankful that my major was psychology, where groupthink wasn’t a priority.

Since college, my mindset has continued along the lines of, “If it’s going to get done, I have to do it.” That’s one reason I was very confused when I felt God leading me to give up my position as Sunday School Director at my church after only serving for a year.  I had just gotten started and I was enjoying what I was doing.

But in many gentle whispers, I knew God was prompting me to make space in my life to be available to invest in those around me in a more concentrated manner. If a new Christian needed discipled, I wanted to be available to have a regular Bible study time with her. If a friend needed to talk, I wanted to have enough room in my schedule to drop it all for her and my other commitments not go crashing to the ground.

So in that effort to create this margin in my life, I knew God was prompting me to cut back on a few of my commitments. But my biggest concern – and why I didn’t officially resign quicker – was that I was afraid “no one” would step in. Our Sunday School was growing and I didn’t want to leave it hanging.

Little did I know, God was working on another woman in the church, a woman I love and respect immensely. When I confided in her that I felt led to step down, she began feeling God’s nudging to step up.

I watched the fire in her eyes yesterday as we discussed turning over the leadership. Her passion for Sunday School eclipsed my own exponentially. It was almost as if God whispered to me in that moment, “It all doesn’t depend on you, Jill.”

DSC_0102I don’t think God was done driving home his point when this morning I received a text from a friend who was struggling asking me to pray for her. All I wanted to do was drop everything I had planned for today – which was hours of garden work on this last 70 degree day until winter moves in tomorrow – and have coffee with her.

I was about to offer, when I received a text from a mutual friend offering the same thing (the first friend had sent a group text and I was unaware of it). Again, God reminded me – even in the specific area I had felt him leading me to be more available – “It doesn’t all depend on you, Jill.”

Had I not followed God’s promptings and stepped down as Sunday School Director – and stayed because I felt no one else would do it – I would have robbed someone else of the blessing of serving. I would have continued my frantic pace, unable to minister to those who needed me.

Not only did God teach me that it all doesn’t depend on me, he taught me to listen to his gentle whispers to guide me in the smallest of details.

What about you? Have you struggled to step down – or not say yes to something – because you were afraid no one else would do it?

Coming in two weeks!!
Glory in the Garden: 30 Days of Devotionals
FREE e-version for e-mail subscribers!

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Click the link above to receive Glory in the Garden for free when it is released in late November!
*The paperback version will also be available – a great Christmas gift!*

Kroger Deals to Stock Your Pantry and to Give Generously

If you’ve been following my blog since it began, you know I started out by posting great deals on grocery and household items. I was working toward slashing my grocery budget in order to become a full-time mom. Over the last year I’ve shifted my focus to my true passion – writing about my Christian faith in everyday life and how the Bible speaks in our generation.

But my adrenaline surge at good deals hasn’t gone by the wayside! I still have to shop sales and coupon to keep on a budget, especially with rising food prices. And I also want to be able to have room in the budget to give to our church’s food pantry. To do all that, it’s critical for me to take advantage of good deals when they come.

This week is one of those weeks. You should have seen me in Kroger this morning, snapping pictures of items so I could go back and see what coupon match-ups would make good deals. And some of these are good deals without any coupons!

So get your pen in hand, your newspaper inserts ready (if you have them), and paper in your printer. Get ready to stock up for your own family and I challenge you to use these deals to help with whatever food pantry, ministry, or non-profit you support.

All of these items are part of Kroger’s Buy 10 Get $5 off sale. So that means you must buy in increments of 10 to get the full value.

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Campbell’s Chunky Soup: $0.32
$0.99
Less $1/3 Campbell’s soups from 11/5 Smartsource Insert
OR $0.50/2 printable here
Buy 3 and get $1.00 off your next order (Update: the Catalina did not print for me. I will be contacting them but from what I read on other blogs, they will mail me the coupon.)

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Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce: $0.99

 

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Swanson Broths (can): $0.49

Swanson Broths (cartons): $0.99
Sale: $1.49
Less $1.00/2 coupon here
OR $0.60/2 from 10/5 SmartSource

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Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Chicken Soup: $0.49
$0.69
Less $1.00/5 coupon here
(other Campbell’s condensed soup are also on sale)

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Green Giant Canned Vegetables: $0.50

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Skinner Pastas: $0.38

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Heinz Gravy: $0.79

Stove Top Stuffing: $0.99
(I’ve bought this for around $0.60 in previous years after coupons but it’s hard to tell whether it will go that low this year or if this is the best deal.)

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Celestial Tea: $0.99
$1.99
Less $1.00/1 coupon from 10/5 SmartSource

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Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate: $0.59
$0.99
LESS $0.40/1 printable coupon here

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Carnation Evaporated Milk: $0.62
$0.89
LESS $0.55/2 printable coupon here or 11/2 Smartsource insert

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Pillsbury Cake Mix: $0.54
$0.89
LESS $0.35/1 from 11/2 RedPlum insert

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Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce: $0.49
$0.99
LESS $1/2 printable

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Kleenex Tissues: $0.74
$0.99
LESS $0.75/3 printable

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Marie Callender’s Pies: $4.49

Edwards Pies: $4.49


Mrs. Smith’s Pies: $3.49

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Breyer’s Ice Cream or Turkey Hill Ice Cream: $2.99

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Green Giant Veggie Tortilla Chips: $0.99

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Chex Mix: $0.49
$0.99
LESS $1/2 from 10/26 Smartsource insert
OR $0.50/2 Kroger digital coupon

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Orville Redenbacher’s Popcorn: $0.74
$1.49
LESS $1.50/2 from 10/26 Smartsource insert

Doritos: $1.99

Minute Maid Pure Squeezed Orange Juice: $0.99
$1.99
LESS $1/2 Kroger digital coupon

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Land O’Lakes Stick Butter: $2.99
(Last year this was $1.99. I’m not sure if a better deal will come or if prices are simply higher this year.)

There are  many other good deals at Kroger this week. Those above are just the best ones I’ve found. Let me know if you see any others!

Thanks to Kroger Krazy for info on several of these deals. I love this site but since not all deals are the same in our region, not everything on that site is the same (most are, however). The deals above are what I found in going in my Arkansas Kroger this morning.

I hope this list will help you stock your pantry and give generously this season!

*If you’re looking to begin shopping sales and coupons to slash your grocery budget as a way of life, check out my audio teaching ( part 1 and 2) on how I did it and how you can, too!*

Coming in November!
Glory in the Garden: 30 Days of Devotionals
FREE e-version for e-mail subscribers!
Sign up!
Click the link above to receive Glory in the Garden for free when it is released in late November!
*The paperback version will also be available – a great Christmas gift!*

Two Years

Alyssa and JudyTwo years ago this month, I received the call. My mom’s previously-contained cancer was found in her lungs. Although it was treatable, it was incurable. She was looking at six to nine months to live.

Two years ago this month, I sat down to a thanksgiving meal, thankful to have my mom beside me, yet clouded with sadness. I fully expected it to be my last with her.

Two years ago, Mom and I went Christmas shopping. I savored every minute, thinking this was the last Christmas shopping trip we would enjoy together.

Two years ago next month, I solemnly hung Christmas ornaments on the tree, reminded of the many Christmas memories over the years. My mom loves Christmas. I hung ornaments she had hand-selected for Drew and Alyssa each year, thinking this would be the last year for her to add to their collection.

I stared at the lighted mantle wondering how Christmas would have any joy next year. I opened each gift from her, mourning not getting Christmas gifts from my mom next year. It wasn’t about the gifts. It was about how she knows me better than anyone else. Each gift was selected with joy and love.

Two years ago I watched as a childhood friend grieved the loss of her mom to cancer and I sobbed as I read her status updates feeling that I was reading my future. My husband, having lost his dad to cancer three years prior, had no words. He couldn’t think of anything to help my pain.

Each holiday, each get-together, and each milestone carried the thought that, “this would be my last….” By the six-to-nine-month calendar, I might have her on Mother’s Day but I would likely not have her on my next birthday.

Last fall, my mom had exceeded the nine month mark, though the treatments had weakened her. I watched her labor to walk to the field to watch Drew’s final soccer game of the season. She had just had a chemo treatment and was extremely weak. But she was grateful to be able to watch him play. I pushed the thought aside that it might be the last game she’d see him play.

I struggled to enjoy the days I had with her because in a way I was mourning what I thought was coming. Like a slow pull on a Band-Aid, I figured if I pulled it off slowly it wouldn’t hurt so much. Much of my joy of being with her was robbed that first year.

One year after her diagnosis, her prognosis hadn’t changed, but my heart began to lift.

One year ago this month, I rejoiced that I got to have another Thanksgiving with my mom. I wasn’t solemn like I was the year before. I was grateful! I got to have my mom for another Thanksgiving.

One year ago next month, I hung Christmas ornaments more happily. I got to have my mom for another Christmas! We enjoyed each moment, from the Ladies Banquet at church to the Christmas Eve candlelight ceremony.

With each holiday, “this might be my last with Mom” wasn’t even a thought. It was, “I get ONE MORE with Mom!”

Here I am, two years later, simply grateful. Mom’s cancer is still there but it hasn’t spread thus far. She’s weak from two years of treatments but she’s the strongest woman I know and only the astute eye can detect how much her body has endured. She serves in the church faithfully when others would have taken a break. She’s an inspiration.

Drew and Alyssa were 6 and 2 when she was diagnosed. Now they are 8 and 4. They have had two years of extra memories. That’s a lot in kid years. She was able to see Drew’s first-ever baseball season and Saturday will mark another fall soccer season of Drew’s that she was able to enjoy.

Yes, at times I get scared. Really scared. And yes, I prayed just last night that God would allow this new treatment that her oncologist recommended to be covered by insurance and for it to cure her.

But mostly I pray that God will sustain her. Healing would be a miracle for sure, but from where I sit, two years has been a miracle. And unless something unexpected occurs, I’m looking at another set of “extra” holidays that two years ago I never dreamt I’d have with Mom.

I am praying that God would sustain her for another couple of decades. I am still praying that she will live to see both of her grandchildren to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior. But no matter how long God chooses to sustain her body here, I know he will sustain me.

Two years later, I’ve seen enough of God in Mom’s life to know that he is with us. And two years later, anticipating yet another Thanksgiving with Mom, I am grateful.

Coming in November!
Glory in the Garden: 30 Days of Devotionals
FREE e-version for e-mail subscribers!
Sign up!
Click the link above to receive Glory in the Garden for free when it is released in late November!
*The paperback version will also be available – a great Christmas gift idea!*

Crying Over Hot Dogs

3623757386_d7a9e4172d_zMy poor friend Heather. She probably wasn’t expecting her statement of, “I’m not sure if he has bought hot dogs yet” to bring me to tears. But she’s a counselor for a living. I was pretty sure she could handle it.

I was shocked by my meltdown. After trying to gracefully hang up the phone as quickly as possible, I began to examine what in the world caused my reaction. It seemed to be caused by quite a few little things that had added up:

1. I called our local garden supply store for the third times in 2 weeks to find out if their seed garlic was in, after being told it would be any day. Then they told me they weren’t getting any after all.

2. I went to my ENT checkup, which was supposed to be mainly for a hearing test to determine if I had progressive hearing loss, and the audiologist wasn’t even there. So I’d have to reschedule.

2. Though my ears looked great, my sinuses still look horrible, despite few complications, so a CT scan would be scheduled. Something else to add to my calendar.

3. Afterward, while at Kroger, I discovered that the candy that was supposed to be on sale (for which I clipped a dozen coupons to stock up for class parties) were not in fact on sale for my Kroger. Coupons clipped for nothing. No candy to last the rest of the year.

4. After checking out at Kroger, the Catalina coupons for Zip Loc containers – that I wouldn’t have bought without the Catalina – didn’t print out.

5. Once I got to my car, I got the text from Heather that another person from our Life Group was going to buy hot dogs for our next meeting. I had just bought 25 hot dogs hoping no one had claimed them, trying to avoid another Kroger trip that week. She asked to get buns instead. Except I didn’t buy buns. I bought hot dogs.

But the rational Jill understood that although these were irritating things, none of them would have normally produced this reaction. So what was the deal?

I was hurting. Back pain was so bad that another trip into Kroger felt like the straw that might break, well, you know. I had been suffering from a different kind of pain (possible sciatica) for months. I decided I needed to exercise and get in better shape, thinking that was the problem. After two weeks of exercising, the pain seemed to be easing, except somehow I ended up injuring my back, causing pain far worse than my original problem.

My constant misery was affecting everything I did. It amplified normal inconveniences that wouldn’t be that big for my ordinarily healthy self.

As I reflected on that day, I started thinking, how many people around us live in pain of one type or another that we don’t know about? We see exaggerated reactions and make judgments on what we observe at the surface without stopping to consider that there may be more underneath that isn’t obvious.

Thankfully my friend Heather not only could understand that by her experience in her profession, but she also was able to see that because she understood me.  From the time she and I met last fall, she has made effort after effort to get to know me. She has invited me for lunch, she has texted, and she has emailed. She has been there. And I knew that no matter how embarrassed I felt on the phone that day, she would know that something else was going on.

I want to be a friend like that. One who seeks to really see a person. One who looks beneath the surface. One who loves unconditionally. One who knows when a friend isn’t just crying over hot dogs.

 

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The Time I Shared Jesus and Blew It

The time had come. She and I were the only ones in the office. I sent a quick email asking for prayer from a prayer partner and walked over to her desk, sat beside her, and asked her a question.

I was prepared. At church I was learning a new evangelism strategy that I thought was ground-breaking. It seemed to surpass every other strategy I’d ever been taught over the years – and I had gone through a LOT of them. Like this one. Do you recognize it? It got a major design upgrade since 1994. 🙂

But this one was unlike any I had ever known. It was based on Jesus’ ministry. It was a common-sense approach. I consumed my training, and I was ready.

However, the conversation didn’t go quite as planned. For one, she answered a question in a way that wasn’t in the script. I was so concentrated on going from step to step that I had to completely recalibrate on what would otherwise have been simple for me to handle. Half-trying to get back to my training and half trying to wing it, I could see I wasn’t going anywhere with her. She was friendly, but uninterested.

I tried to convince myself that I had done my part. It was my job to share. It was the Spirit’s job to do the rest. But still, all I could feel after the experience was one emotion.

Failure.

It seemed so simple on the video I had watched. So clear. What went wrong?

It took me a few years to understand the answer to that question. It wasn’t in what I said or what I did.

It was what I didn’t do.

I was spending probably 20 hours per week in an office with this girl and I never sought to get to know her. Really know her. Sure, she shared general details of her life and we talked about surface subjects. But at any point, did she ever feel loved by me? Did she ever feel that I really cared?

Was my conversation with her taken as an act of loving her enough to show her freedom in Christ from the sin that held her hostage? The same chains I would be enslaved by if it hadn’t been for Christ?

Or was it taken as what it was: my eagerness to share the gospel minus the love that brought the world the good news in the first place.

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Photo by Jennifer

I would venture most people would not have a story like this in which to relate. If you grew up in church and learned evangelism strategies like I did, you probably only used them at youth events or church outreaches or mission trips with people you may or may not see again. Rarely did they make their way into normal conversations in everyday life. I know that with few exceptions (the story above being one of them), that describes me as well.

Which is probably why we don’t share the gospel. Let’s be honest here. We cringe at sermons on evangelism. We wait out the outreach emphases in our churches until something more palatable comes up. We know we need to be reaching the world, but we have no idea how. So we throw our money in the plate and “pay” someone else to do it and feel we’ve done our part.

Here’s the deal. I was sharing Jesus with my coworker primarily because I knew the Great Commission with my mind and heart. I knew as a follower of Jesus, this was what I was supposed to do. I also could see in her life longings for God that she was trying to fulfill by the world’s promises. Her heart’s cry was evident to me. I had compassion for her.

But I didn’t love her.

In all my nervous eagerness to share the gospel I had forgotten what compelled God to send Jesus in the first place. For God so LOVED the world.

Do you want to see lost and broken come to find the freedom and wholeness that Christ offers? Do you feel completely ill-equipped to do so?

Pray for love. Ask God to help you see those around you the way He sees them. Pray the bold prayer of asking him to fill you with His love for them. When we love someone with the love of Christ so much that it hurts, then, we’ll be in the right frame of mind and state of heart to share Jesus as the Spirit leads us.

And seeing that love from us might just open their hearts to see the love of the God who relentlessly pursues them.

photo by Benson Kua

photo by Benson Kua

If I had it to do over again, what would I have done? I would have listened more. I would have asked more questions. I would have prayed for her every day. I would have asked God to give me His love for her. I would ask the Spirit to show me when to speak and when to be silent. I may have used the evangelism strategy I had learned. Or I may not have used it at all.

Please don’t get me wrong. Gospel tracts and evangelism strategies are helpful tools. And sharing Jesus with someone we hardly know IS biblical. We see example after example of this in Acts when the church grew at an explosive rate.

But for those of us who spend most of our days at work or raising our children or caring for loved ones, we need not check ourselves out of the evangelism equation. Look around you. Who do you need to get to know a little better? Who needs a listening ear? Who can you share the love of Christ with by first exemplifying the love of Christ?

Many times those opportunities are closer than we think.

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A Little Girl in a Stormy Night

4587839319_378ab98e12_zMy eyes flitter open at the sound of rumbling. Flashes of light dance through darkness. Soon the quiet gives way to the steady sound of rain. I turn over and readjust under the covers and thank God for the thunder, lightning, and rain. Peace envelops me.

But not everyone in the home feels the same way about thunderstorms. Soon the high-pitched voice pierces my peaceful moment. “Mommy, I’m scared of the storm. Can you come lay with me?”

I walk into Alyssa’s room and lie down on one side of the twin bed. She turns to face me, puts one arm under my neck, the other over my neck, and presses her cheek against mine. I don’t have to say a word to her; my embrace is all the comfort she needs.  I breathe in the scent of her freshly-washed hair and get lost in the moment.

About a half hour later, I kiss her on the forehead and begin to get up.

“Mommy, are the storms over?”

“Yes, sweetie, they’re over. Good night.”

She turns over to face the wall and I walk back to my bed. I drift to sleep at the sound of the gentle rain.

In the morning, she walks out of her room, bleary-eyed, long red curls falling around her face. I pick her up and sway her back and forth like I when did she was a baby. Instead of her normal morning request – “mommy, I want a pop tart” – her first words are, “Cuddling with you in a thunderstorm is my very favorite thing.”

I would have expected Alyssa’s first thoughts to be, that thunderstorm was scary. But instead, fear wasn’t on her mind. It had melted away in my embrace, and the comfort she felt was her memory.

Before Alyssa awoke that morning, I had been reading in Psalm 7:

“Lord my God, I seek refuge in You; save me from all my pursuers and rescue me, or they will tear me like a lion, ripping me apart, with no one to rescue me” (Psalm 7:1-2 HCSB).

Though I’m only in chapter 7 of my Psalm Bible reading plan, the word refuge has been a common theme so far. I think God is trying to drive home a point. He is our refuge.

I saw that in a tangible way with Alyssa. I was her refuge. Once she was in my arms her fears melted away. All she knew was that she was safe and she could trust me. God wants me to run to him and experience such depths of peace and trust in his embrace as well.

Verse 2 above shows – rather graphically – what the alternative is. Without God as my refuge, I will be torn apart.

It’s easy to dismiss this verse if we’re living in physical safety, but I think about lots of things that could potentially tear us apart in a metaphoric sense:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Anxiety
  • Insecurity
  • Subtle or not-so-subtle verbal “attacks” from others
  • Depression
  • Feeling like we’re not good enough

Whether from without or from within, many of us face attacks that threaten to tear us apart. Many times we’re tempted to seek out counterfeit refuge in the form of comfort food, alcohol, drugs, relationships, entertainment, or other places that will never truly protect us or rescue us.

Our only refuge is our Father.

Alyssa didn’t ask for her stuffed animals in the storm. She didn’t ask for a snack. She didn’t even ask for the light to be turned on. All she wanted was my presence.

Do you feel like you’re on the verge of being torn apart? Run to the Lord your God and he will be your unfailing refuge.

*David made a point in Psalm 77:1 to address God as Lord MY God. In order for us to run to God as our refuge, we must know him as the Lord MY God. Jesus, God’s Son, said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). How do we know God? “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). If you don’t know God through a relationship with Jesus Christ, He is waiting today to save you and to be your refuge.

photo credit

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