Sunday, January 31, 2010

After the Message

What an awesome morning! We were able to host the teams from the SC UMC basketball tournament in worship, which meant we were 800+ with standing room only and people crowding the halls. Even more exciting - most of the crowd was teenagers!!! It was a great opportunity to talk about Jesus and His incredible glory!

This morning we also brought in tons of food to fill food pantries in our community - ARC, you blow my mind! Thank you to everyone for your generosity and passion for sharing the Gospel in word and deed.

"We are all witnesses."

How will you be a witness to the glory of Jesus this week?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Doing It All

In my perfect world of high expectations, here is the list of things I would like to accomplish in any given day:

Quality time with God - reading Scripture, prayer and reflection
Quality time with Clark and Jacob
Eight hours of focused work (as in, the job I get paid for)
30 minutes to an hour of reading
Housework and errands
Cooking good meals for my family
Volunteering (sidebar: this one gets confusing sometimes b/c I'm very cognizant of the fact that I'm always asking people with full-time jobs to engage in ministry and service beyond their jobs; I can only ask that of others if I'm also asking that of myself. Being a pastor is not an 8-hr a day job and so it's easy to lump it all together. For what it's worth, I still wrestle with what I am doing as "Pastor Jenn" and what I'm doing as "Jenn" - not sure if there a difference, but now you've spent a few confusing moments in my brain)
Some time to chill - tv, staring into space, etc.
A few phone calls to catch up w/ friends and family

Now, here's the thing - try as I may, I can' fit all of those things into every day of my life. And while I can admit and acknowledge that in writing, it doesn't keep me from feeling like a failure on all the days I don't even come close to doing half of the things on the list.

So, where's the balance? How do we set priorities and do the things we feel are important to do without always feeling the strain to do more and the guilt of trying to do so much that we don't do anything well?

This is an area where I am seeking wisdom everyday, but here are a few thoughts along the way:

1. Pray and decide which things are absolutes, i.e. cannot and will not be sacrificed in any given day. For me, the non-disputables are time with God and time with Clark and Jacob. I'm not perfect in this regard, but I know, know, know that this is how it should be and it's what I'm striving for.

2. Pray and decide which things need to be absolutes on ___ number of days in the week. For example, I'm making exercise a non-disputable 4 days a week. If I get to exercise any more, it's a bonus. Any less, and I'm not doing what I should to care for my health.

3. Rest has to be a priority, in whatever form that comes for you. As my OT professor says, "You can't work for God until You rest with God."

Bottom line, it never fails that when I prioritize my time with God that the rest seems to take care of itself. Today, ask God to help you set priorities and live with faith that God will set you up to do whatever it is He wants you to do today.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Few Cultural Thoughts

Today I was told that I have a little "gangsta" in me. "Why?" you ask. Well, my message for this coming Sunday is titled "We Are All Witnesses" and yes, it is in reference to LeBron James and his pregame ritual (to find out more, show up Sunday or listen to the podcast - and yes, that does mean that by Sunday you'll be able to subscribe to the Ashley Ridge Church podcast on iTunes, thank you Jamin!)

Now, I don't think my allusion to LeBron qualifies me as gangsta, but the aforementioned worship leader did not know what I was talking about when I referenced the pregame ritual, and when I accused him of living under a rock he responded in kind by telling me I have "a little gangsta" in me. Please understand that all of this was in jest.

Nevertheless, it has plunged me into a few minutes of reflection on cultural awareness. Do we, to some extent, live in cultural bubbles based on factors like race, gender, age, etc.? And, assuming the first answer is yes, how do we talk about Jesus in a way that recognizes these bubbles while also bursting them?

We talk about having relevant worship. Well, Jesus is relevant to everyone, but is that what we mean, or are we talking about being relevant to the worshiper?

For now, I'm just posing the questions. Anyone have thoughts to share?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

After the Message

(I'm going to use my blog on Sunday's from now on to do a little further reflection on the morning's message. Sometimes it might be a summary, sometimes it might be a tangent that I didn't take time to address and sometimes it might be questions for further discussion, and sometimes, well, who knows.)

Today's text was Nehemiah 8:1-10 - the Israelites are given a second chance (more like an 800th chance) to be God's people. Nehemiah leads them back to a destroyed Jerusalem and they start by rebuilding the wall around the city. In chapter 8, Nehemiah calls all of the people together and Ezra, the priest, gets up and reads from the Law of Moses. As the people listen, they dissolve into grieving and tears, realizing how far they have fallen short and how undeserving they are of God's grace. Nehemiah cuts into their tears and says, "No more grieving. The joy of the Lord is our strength, let's party."

Bottom line - Jesus gave His life so that we could have a new life. We could spend the rest of our lives feeling guilty and unworthy of this life b/c, let's face it, we are guilty and unworthy; or, we could say "thank you" and go forward with hearts and lives that are fully committed to Jesus.

I'm a fan of option #2. For starters, option #1 is miserable, and secondly, option #1 is downright sinful - who are we to shove God's incredible gift back in His face?

What would it look like in your life this week to truly embrace your second chance?

Who is it in your life that needs a second chance that you've been unwilling to give? If Jesus died for them, I'm guessing we can show some grace.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Never By Our Own Strength

My little Jacob has been sick for over a week, which translates to the fact that Clark and I have not slept in over a week. I don't know about you, but I can run fairly well for a few days on little to no sleep, but when it catches up, it ain't pretty. I get irritable and unfocused. I can't make basic decisions like what to eat, so I skip meals which makes me even crabbier, and the downward spiral continues.

"What terrible timing" is what I've been thinking for 10 days now. Just as we're in the midst of launching and life is busier then ever, I'm running on empty.

Now, please don't misunderstand what I'm about to say. In no way do I think that God made Jacob sick to teach me a lesson. However, I do think God is using the situation to remind me of something crucial - nothing we do for God and/or with God is every by our own strength. We are entirely dependent on the power and strength of He who lives in us.

I often fancy myself Superwoman, but Superwoman I am not.

Child of God I am - I think that's better.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Second Day

It's a good thing God didn't create the light and the darkness and then lose momentum.

It had to have been exhilarating. I mean, I'm sure God knew He was good, but He had to be pumped when He created light and darkness and saw how amazing it was. I have to think God has some high standards, so if he said it was good, you know it was out-of-sight (or rather in-sight seeing as there was this new thing called light). I picture God partying into the night and reveling in this new creation. And then, it was the second day. And God said, let's see if I can do something even more amazing...

And He did.

Here we are today on day #50 kazillion, and God is still creating, still making everything new and amazing and earth-changing.

Now, I'll be honest, after all our talk about running yesterday morning in worship, I went home exhausted. But, I couldn't sleep because I couldn't stop thinking about all of the amazing things God had done. We had so many new families in worship. We gave an offering of over $6k to the earthquake victims in Haiti. We had 10 kids in the preK-1st grade class who learned that Jesus loves them and wants to be their friend forever. We had eight 2 and 3 year olds who learned the same thing and we had 6 babies in the nursery being loved on by some of my favorite people who I know are filled with the love of Christ that was poured into those little ones. We remembered God's faithfulness in our worship and our hope that isn't shaken or taken away by day-to-day circumstances because our life is secured forever in Jesus Christ. "My Lord, what a morning" as the old song says.

And it only gets better from here because God never slumbers nor sleeps. I'm sitting in Biggby's right now dreaming and anticipating our time together this coming Sunday - I hope you are too!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wishin' and Hopin' and Thinkin' and Prayin'

Am I the only one singing Dusty Springfield's song this week? We're here, the week we've been waiting for and planning for and praying for and hoping for, and you know what I can't stop thinking about...NEXT WEEK.

Funny how that happens. In this particular case, I think it's a good thing. I'm pumped beyond all imagination for worship this Sunday, but I'm also dreaming big for all the weeks that come after b/c this week is just the "launch" into a future of being used to further God's Kingdom and make the name of Jesus famous in our community and all over the world - can you believe we get to be part of God's plan in this extraordinary way??!!!

My mind is racing with thoughts about how we can reach out in love and practical faith to people half a world away. I'm thinking about how we're going to pour ourselves into the next generations and raise kids who are passionate for Jesus and teenagers who are willing and able to make bold decisions to live differently than the world tells them to live. I'm salivating about all the time we'll spend together worshiping the God who has given us EVERYTHING! I'm jumping up and down about our small groups of people who will be able to go deeper in their spiritual walk and hold each other accountable to a higher calling.

As we pray and plan and INVITE for this week, keep in mind that this Sunday is not the finish line, but the start of the race. We press on as Paul said to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Here we go!!!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

God Always Provides

I was reading Genesis 3 this morning where Adam and Eve take the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and God discovers their disobedience. It's a familiar story, but what struck me big time today was that even in the midst of revealing the consequences of what they had done, God provides for Adam and Eve's most basic needs. Verse 21 says that God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve and He clothed them.

God doesn't stop taking care of us when we've been disobedient (which is most days), instead God is unconditional in providing and caring for all of His creation. So, why do we worry? Why do we get all bent out of shape about having enough? The answer - it's human nature. But, today I'm reminded that we have the ability to overcome that nature in Jesus and re-claim the promise of God to provide abundantly more than all we could ask or imagine.

Ashley Ridge Church is less than two weeks away from launch and I have great confidence that God is already providing for us and making a way two weeks, 5 years, 10 years and further down the road. We can and should do all things through Him!

Monday, January 04, 2010

"Do Whatever He Tells You" John 2:5

When Mary asked Jesus to turn the water into wine, he tells her it is not yet time. Instead of arguing with him or making a fuss, she responds, "Do whatever he tells you." It strikes me as unconditional obedience. Most did not yet know who Jesus was. Mary did. She was bold to ask for what she wanted, but she was also willing to accept the given response and trust Jesus' better judgment. No little thing.

"God, please give me the boldness to ask for what I desire and the humility and grace to accept the response and through it all have faith and trust that You know the very best way."

On another note, my grandfather died yesterday. I am heading home to PA this week for the funeral, which will be an incredible celebration of his life and his faith, and most importantly, a celebration of He whom he put his faith in. My grandfather was an accountant by trade, but his passion and heart was for the ministry that dominated his life. He was a song leader for his church, the Lykens Valley Camp Meeting, the Christian Endeavor gathering and many more. He was a Sunday School teacher for years and I am the grateful recipient of his commentaries that are underlined and marked and hold his own thoughts and discoveries in the margins. My grandfather was an orphan who put his faith in Jesus and grew up to be a father to so many.

When he died, his only remaining asset was a checking account that has just enough money to fly the grandkids home for the funeral. As I think about that, I marvel at his faithfulness in life to give and give and give of what he had. He gave of himself and he and my grandmother lived in a way that meant storing up treasures on heaven instead of earth. They invested in people. They invested in their church wholeheartedly. And so, Grandpa, well done good and faithful servant! I too hope to live in such a way that the story told at my passing will be one of faithfulness and joy and a life that belonged entirely to Jesus.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year, Welcome 2010!

Fresh starts, clean slates, new beginnings - there's something great about changing the calendar every year and feeling as though we have a personal re-start button, a chance to get the bugs out, make the system move faster and better, and, well, you all know what I'm talking about.

I didn't make any "New Year's resolutions" per se this year, but I am going into 2010 with intentions of getting fit (went to Dick's yesterday and bought some cute work-out clothes to inspire me), planning menus to eat healthier and save money (I'm sure I'm not the only one who's budget goes kaploohie when it comes to the food category - groceries and eating out), more focused prayer time and Bible reading (check out YouVersion), more reading in general (at least one book every week, and Jacob's books don't count), quality time with my boys where work gets checked at the door, and, oh yeah, there's that little thing of starting a brand new, totally awesome, Jesus-centered, knock-your-socks-off, livin-for-Jesus-all-week, outward-focused church.

Now, I'm not under the illusion that I'm going to transform into a perfect person in 2010. I'm so far from that mark that it will take years to get there and none of it through my own doing. Nevertheless, the Bible says to "Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect," and so I re-engage the pursuit knowing that the first step is making Jesus my everything, every day and every step of the way.

But even having said all that, I have to be honest about my expectations for 2010. As Clark and I crawled into bed in the wee hours of the morning after toasting the new year and finishing the movie I fell asleep during at 9:30pm (don't judge), he leaned over and asked me what I hoped for and expected in 2010. I didn't have much of an answer for him then, other than "roll over, I'm going to sleep now," but I woke up this morning thinking about it and here is my response:

In 2010, and every year for that matter, I hope and expect that God will be God. That's it. You see, I can't expect a perfect year with no tragedies and no disappointments and no frustrations. I can't expect all of my plans and dreams to come true (doesn't stop me from planning and dreaming), but I can expect that God will be God. I can expect that in every situation God will reign over all things. I can expect that even in the face of death and danger and disillusionment that Jesus will give me life. I can expect that I will be able to face and do all things through Christ who gives me strength. And so, I go into the new year with great hope. No matter what comes my way, Jesus is King of Kings and He is the Lord of my life.

I pray that all of you have the same expectation. It's a promise that has been true in my life again and again. And it's that expectation that gives me the fuel to dream big dreams.

What are you dreaming for this year?