Thursday, January 21, 2016

Faith Accompanied by Action: Winter Blanket Mission

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:14-17).
The Living Stones Women's Ministry collected blankets to donate to the Media Food Bank Clothing Closet during the months of November and December.  I was happy to get them dropped off this morning, just in time for the freezing, and possibly very snowy, weather we will be experiencing this weekend in the Philadelphia area.

In addition to the nine blankets my mother and I donated back in November, the women of Living Stones provided eleven additional blankets for me to take in this morning!
We received a number of new and gently-used blankets, but I have to give a special shout-out to Stephanie, who provided four hand-tied fleece blankets in the most wonderful fabrics.
I loved these two designs so much, I had to take a special photo of each to remember them:
When I left the blankets at the Clothing Closet this morning, the woman who took them from me said that she would distribute them to the people who came this evening.  I know that it can sometimes feel impossible to be effective in the face of the unspeakable need in our world.  But just imagining eleven children wrapped in these blankets this weekend--children who would not have them if the women of Living Stones had not taken the time and made the effort to purchase, choose, or create them--makes me realize how seemingly small actions can make an incredible difference in people's lives.

Please consider some small act that you can do in the coming week that could make a difference in the life of someone in need.  Glory to God for faith accompanied by action!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Word for the Year: Our First Meet-Up

When I posted about finding my Word for the Year at the beginning of January, a few friends from church commented on Facebook that they, too, choose words to direct their years.  A group of us thought it might be fun to remind each other to reflect on our words over the course of the year, kind of holding ourselves accountable to the vision we were creating for 2016.

After I put out some feelers to a larger group of women, we ended up with 20 people interested in finding, exploring, and sticking with a meaningful word for the year!

Our plan is to meet four times over the course of 2016, while also communicating monthly via email.  We will complete prompts and projects to keep us thinking about our words, and we will reflect on how "living" our words is affecting our lives in positive ways.

On Saturday morning, we had our first "official" Word for the Year meet-up, with eight women gathering at Media Presbyterian Church for several hours of fellowship, conversation, and activities surrounding our chosen words.

At our meet-up, I shared some of the ideas and information I had gathered from Ali Edwards' One Little Word site, which is a great place to begin if you are interested in finding out more about how choosing a Word for the Year can be a productive exercise.

Ali explains that the word we choose basically sums up what we want for ourselves over the course of the year; it represents what we want to invite into our lives.  She specifies that we choose words that have meaning for us, and resist any temptation to choose words we think someone else might pressure us to select.  Ali also emphasizes that there is no "perfect word," but rather "choices and paths and possibilities."
At our meet-up on Saturday morning, we all shared the word we had selected, or the one that seemed to be pulling at us most insistently.  We spent some time individually considering our words:  what it means to us, some synonyms for it, how our lives already embody the concept, as well as how we would like our lives to embody it more fully.  We also brainstormed ways to stay connected with our words over the course of the year; we will explore some of these ideas as part of our group activities, while others we may pursue individually if they sound interesting to us.  (We had ideas that ranged from collages and journals, to screen savers and iPhone reminders, to texts from friends and lipstick on the mirror!)

For the rest of our meet-up, we engaged in activities that will help us stay connected with our words this year.  First, we made old-school collages, using scissors, glue sticks, and a huge pile of magazines that participants brought along with them that morning.

Our collages included words and images that appealed to us and related to our selected words, though we had no obligation to justify or explain why we included them.  If we wanted something on our collage, we added it!

My love for cutting up paper is well-documented on my Drawing Near blog, so I was happy to share this relaxing and therapeutic pastie with my Word for the Year friends.

As we worked, we each got our photo taken holding a sign with our word written large.  Participants are encouraged to keep both their collages and their photos someplace meaningful for them:  posted on an inspiration board, on the fridge, on a cabinet door or a mirror, in a drawer they can open for a quick peek, or in a notebook.
I am creating a small-sized binder for all of my Word for the Year materials.  I discovered that if I cut my computer-paper-sized collage in half, it fit perfectly inside.
We also talked about keeping a journal or monthly record over the course of the year.  Some form of written record will allow us to document our activities, experiences, thoughts, and feelings related to our words.  Even if we write just one entry a month, we will have a solid record of twelve entries by the end of the year.  Some may use words, others may rely on images, while others may include both.  We can write about our experiences as bullet-ed lists or items on a chart, or we can write in a narrative manner, if that comes more naturally.  We will be able to share from our monthly records when we have meet-ups later in 2016.
Finally, we each got an email partner.  We are committing ourselves to send at least one message each month--saying hello, asking how our Word for the Year experiment is progressing, sharing an inspiring quotation or a funny joke.  It's just one more way to keep ourselves connected with our word and with this project over the course of the year.
We got off to a great start at our Saturday morning meet-up, and some of us even stayed an extra hour-and-a-half, determined to finish our collages before we went home!  I will continue to share our journey here on the blog, and I invite you to come along and see where our Word for the Year adventure takes us!

Friday, January 8, 2016

What Does the Bible Teach Us About...?: New Year's Resolutions

How does God feel about all the resolution-making, plan-laying, and goal-setting that go on every New Year?

Perhaps the answer seems obvious to you, but I wasn’t so sure.  Does a lot of intense personal goal-setting suggest a lack of confidence and faith in Him to direct our lives? Or does sitting back and waiting for Him to work His Will for our lives represent a misuse of our gifts?

Before I launched into another year of resolution-chasing, I decided to do what I had never done before, and look at what the Bible has to say.

When I look at God as He reveals Himself to me in the Bible, I see a Planner.
When God undertook the astounding task of creating the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1), He made progress each day toward His ultimate goal, and even left Himself an opportunity for rest once the task was completed (Genesis 2:2).

When, in spite of eternal life, blissful paradise, and daily face-to-face communion with God, Adam and Eve misused their circumstances to try to attain wisdom equal to their Creator, God already had a plan in place for the redemption of humankind when He uttered these words to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head…” (Genesis 3: 15).

When the Israelites were making their way toward the Promised Land, God planned for ways to guide them (as a pillar of cloud and fire), and to feed them (with quail and manna), and to make the promised lands available for them (in the defeat of the people who were living there).
Unknown Source (broken web link)
Rick Warren points to Ephesians 1:10, in which God’s plan is revealed to “bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ,” to demonstrate that God Himself sets goals, in addition to making plans.  “God has goals for history that have nothappened yet,” Warren writes. “God has goals for his family—the church—thathave not happened yet. God has goals for your life that have not happened yet.”

If God Himself sets goals and makes plans, then I think we can feel comfortable moving forward with New Year goal-setting.

When I look at the people of God in the Bible, similarly, I see planners.
I see Jesus setting out a detailed plan for his disciples when he sends them out to teach and heal on their own for the first time (see Matthew 10:5-15).  He also seems to understand his Father’s plan for his life and death as he makes his way towards Jerusalem and predicts his death to his disciples (see Matthew 16:21). He has very specific plans in place for his final Passover meal with his closest friends (see Matthew 26: 17-19).
I see Jesus’ disciples making plans for how to provide for themselves as a new kind of religious community; they shared all possessions in common, and by doing what was necessary to support themselves, they ensured that there were no needy people among them as they testified to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (see Acts 4: 32-35).  

Further, when it became necessary, they developed a plan so that some leaders could focus on providing for followers’ physical needs, while other leaders continued to focus on the ministry of the word of God (see Acts 6: 1-6).

I see Paul making travel plans to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, as well as plans to revisit the churches once he has planted them (see Acts 15: 36, for example).  Sometimes his plans were thwarted, because of earthly circumstances (see Romans 1:13) or divine intervention (see Acts 16: 6-7), but that did not keep Paul from “press[ing] on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3: 14) in the best way he understood.

If Jesus and his followers set goals and made plans, then I think we can feel comfortable moving forward with New Year goal-setting.

When I look at Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, I see instruction related to setting goals and making plans.
In Luke 14, Jesus uses two different examples to show that his disciples need to count the cost of choosing to follow him, rather than making the choice rashly and without serious consideration.  In verses 28-30, he points out that anyone planning to build a tower would sit down and estimate the cost of the project to be sure he has enough money to complete it, rather than laying the foundation and then running out of money to finish.

In verses 31-32, he points out that a king planning to go to war against another king would sit down and figure out if he has any chance of winning based on how many men he has to fight with compared to his opponent.  If he determines that he has no chance with his smaller numbers, then he will send a delegation asking for terms of peace, instead. 

If this type of worldly goal-setting and plan-devising is advisable, Jesus is basically saying, how much more so should we be basing our decision to follow him on a well-considered understanding of our true commitment to being his disciples. 
These examples make me think of Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders, recorded in Matthew 7:24-27.  In this parable, he is saying that someone who hears Jesus’ teachings and puts them into practice is like a man who builds his house on solid rock, which can withstand the rigors of the wind and rain, while someone who hears his teaching and does NOT put them into practice is like a man who builds his house on the shifting sands that cannot withstand the eventualities of nature. 
Because Jesus’ parables used the truths of nature to lead his listeners to understand spiritual truths, I am led to believe that good planning, and the goals made attainable through that good planning, is a practical necessity that he embraces for our natural lives. 

With God as our solid foundation, as we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), we set our goals; we work towards our goals; and God brings about His great purposes through us.

God cares about our eternal destination, but I believe He cares about our day-to-day decisions, as well.  Because we are His children, I believe our goals, our plans, and our choices matter to God.   As blogger Kristen, from Celebrate Every Day With Me, writes, the Bible verses we read about making plans and setting goals “aren’t just for salvation.  They are for how we live now, too.  Are we committing our ways to Him? Are we thinking on godly things? Are we persevering? Are we seeking Him? What is the attitude of our heart?”


There has been so much enthusiasm at my church around the Word for the Year concept.  We are getting a group together to meet periodically through the year, and stay in touch via email so that we can use our chosen words to help us focus on our goals for 2016.  Here are a few resources you might check out if you would like to pursue your own Word for the Year program:

I will also share with you on this blog the progress that our women's group at church makes during our local effort to commit to a Word for the Year!


Friday, January 1, 2016

My Word for the Year, 2016

“A single word can be a powerful thing.”
Ali Edwards

This year, I am going to continue to follow Ali Edwards’ tradition of picking One Little Word as a source of focus and direction for my year.  

Ali explains that the words she has chosen since 2006 have helped her “to breathe deeper, to see clearer, to navigate challenges, and to grow.”  

I would like to be better this year about revisiting my chosen word and letting it affect my emotional, physical, and spiritual life in positive ways.

My Word for the Year, 2016, is:
This word came to me fairly powerfully in December after a couple of months that had been filled with my own grumbling and complaining about various aspects of my house, my routines, and a variety of my own foibles.  

Sometime in November or December, I realized that I really need to stop the grumbling, and start recognizing how amazingly blessed my life is.  I need to find contentment with all that I am and all that I have. 

satisfaction, gratification, fulfillment, pleasure, cheerfulness, ease of mind.

The "rightness" of this word choice came home to me powerfully as the old year gave way to the new.

I stayed up until midnight on December 31, 2015, in order to greet the new year, kiss my husband, and head off to bed. But before turning off the light, I read Psalm 23, trying to give it the careful attention that familiarity often prevents.

A note in the margin of my Women of Faith Bible sent me over the Psalm 84, where I was captivated by verse 5: 

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.”

I left my Bible open on my night table, and when I saw it in the morning, I thought, “Pilgrimage.”

I am interested in this idea of pilgrimage within my own life.  Not traveling to distant lands to visit unfamiliar holy sites that have been meaningful for bringing other people closer to God, but “visiting”—noticing, paying attention to—familiar holy sites in my everyday life that are meaningful for bringing me closer to God.

These thoughts this morning immediately brought to mind Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, which I first read back in 2011. My underlines and marginal notations exactly support the train of thought I embarked on with the coming of this new year.  Going on a pilgrimage within my own life, finding those altars or holy sites in my own daily territory, moving closer to God here, where I am now, with His Holy Spirit making His home inside of me—all of this fleshed out the word contentment for me. 

Going out on a pilgrimage suggests to me that I would be looking for something that exists somewhere else, that I have to travel a distance for, that I must go in search of.

Letting my daily life be my pilgrimage suggests to me a sense of contentment, a willingness to provide my consent to be where I am now (An Altar, xvii). Taylor writes in her Introduction about how we go off in search of “something more,” seeking spiritual treasure in distant places, but “the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot [where that treasure is] is because we are standing on it” (xvii)! 

Taylor defines “altars in the world” (the source of her book’s title) as ordinary places where we meet up with God.  My source for the contentment that will be focus in 2016 (and hopefully ever after) will be paying attention and recognizing that my life is already filled with these holy spaces—in my home, in my car running the girls to school or piano lessons, at the health club out on the track, in the grocery store buying food for my family.

If I am recognizing these ordinary, everyday places as the very places where I meet up with God, how can I help but find contentment in the life with which He has already blessed me?


Can you think of your own Word for the Year?  Can you identify an idea or a concept that could provide you with positive focus as you head into 2016?  Please share some of your “rough draft thoughts” in the comments.
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