Saturday, April 13, 2013

Away To A Quiet Place

'Then Jesus said, "Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." ~ Matthew 11:28

The past several weeks have been extremely stressful, caused by various situations and encounters with some difficult people in my life.  Yesterday was the clincher, a day that just about drove me over the edge.  A good majority of the time, I felt as if I had a huge weight bearing down on my chest, making it hard for me to breathe. And I spent most of the afternoon and evening battling to keep several panic attacks at bay.

I woke up this morning, with remnants of stress still hanging on.  I felt like a bee trapped inside of a jar and my time alone with the Lord was ruined by the distractions running through my head, like words on those scrolling TV news tickers.

Afterwards, as I prepared to take one of my children to their early morning job, I felt a whisper in my soul:

"Come away with Me to a quiet place."

"Well, alrighty then, Lord. And where might that be?" I wondered.  And as I ran out the door, I grabbed my camera, just in case I got some clearer directions along the way and found the need to document my time wherever I wound up.

Which, of course, I did.

At 6 AM, I found myself at the marina of a nearby park, where a certain bloggy friend of mine, Toni, from over at Lakeside Lessons, often spends some quality time with Jesus.  It was cold, a bit windy and the sun was just beginning to make a glorious appearance.  It was also peaceful, save for the excited cries and chatter between some feathered friends and the sound of the water lapping up on the shoreline.

In the gospel which bears his name, Mark paints a picture of Jesus' disciples returning from a mission to which He sent them.  There is no mention of how long they were away, but as tired as they must be from the journey, they ARE very excited about all they did and everything they've witnessed.  As they're in the midst of sharing with Jesus their stories of preaching, healing and driving out demons, we are told that there are many people coming and going all around them. So much so that they weren't even able to eat a meal. 

That's when Jesus issues this invitation to His weary and hungry friends:

"Come away with Me. Let us go alone to a quiet place and rest for awhile." (Mark 6:31)

Jesus takes them away by boat to a lonely place. Just Him and them.  A place of rest and peace. Because that's what they needed.

And that is where Jesus invited me today. To a place of rest and peace. Just Him and me. Because He knew that's what I needed.

Won't you join me?

Tenth Avenue North -- Worn

Friday, April 5, 2013

Chase -- Chasing After The Heart of God

Recently, I was contacted by a publicist from Shelton Interactive and asked if I would be interested in reviewing a DVD-driven women’s Bible study by Bible teacher/author/speaker, Jennie Allen. The study is called ‘Chase: Chasing After The Heart Of God.’ I’d heard Jennie on several Focus On The Family radio broadcasts a few months ago, and last year, I’d purchased her latest book, ‘Anything.’ So after prayerfully considering this request, I decided to give it a shot and said yes. 

Never EVER having reviewed anything, I have to admit I was pretty nervous when I received the package from Thomas Nelson Publishing, Inc. and wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. Inside the package were the various tools of the trade: two books – one for study and one a leader’s guide – a DVD and a small box bursting with cards, labeled ‘ask.’ I was intrigued. 

While at first blush, I was of the honest opinion that this study seemed geared towards and better suited for a younger audience of women, I’ve since rescinded that opinion. This study is for EVERY WOMAN -- young, old and in-between -- who desires to be a woman after God’s own heart. 

The question Jennie Allen asks right out of the gate is:

‘What are you chasing?

She goes on to state that ‘we’re all chasing something, something that we think will make us happy – comfort, success, a bigger house, or someone’s approval.  But if we are all honest, it feels like trying to catch the wind.’  This statement resonates deeply with me.  

The study is broken down as follows:

Lead -- The leader’s guide totally prepares you to facilitate this study, providing much encouragement and wise counsel along the way. I’ve NEVER facilitated a Bible study. Too scary and overwhelming a prospect for me, although I have several dear friends who have led studies for years and who tell me they can see me doing this.  Reading through the 'Chase'  leader’s guide, I was impressed with the wise and useful advice that Jennie provides, making facilitating the study actually seem doable for someone with zero experience in this realm.  I SO appreciated the attention to detail here with the various tools and tips shared, most especially regarding guiding conversations (and what to do when faced with specific challenges from a group member or members), as well as when and how to refer a deeply hurting member of the group to the proper helpful and professional resources, such as Christian counselors and the Christian 12 step group, Celebrate Recovery.  

Study -- The study guide/workbook uses projects, stories, and bible study to engage the mind and heart.  There are seven weeks of bible study, plus an introductory session. Lesson titles include  ‘courage,’  ‘repentance,’ and  ‘surrender.’  Each chapter is engulfed and practically saturated with relevant portions of Scripture for the particular lesson. I believe that through this study, which explores defining moments in the God-centered, very real and raw, mistake filled and messy life of shepherd, king and psalm writer, David, and the lessons he learned from them, women of all backgrounds and life seasons will gain a greater insight into and understanding of the heart of God.

There is journaling involved (if you’ve never done this, fear not! It’s a wonderful thing to do and no need to be an English major or a professional author to jot down your heart-felt thoughts), and little exercises to get your creative and spiritual juices flowing (although I must admit, I really didn't care for the ones that required you to draw. Everything I draw anymore looks like stick figures done by a preschooler). Getting together with a small, intimate group of women seems to be the best way to go here, but if you are entertaining thoughts of using this for a large group study at your church instead, it would be a good idea to break it down into smaller groups during the study time. 

See -- There are eight short, but deep videos (and conveniently, all on one disc) to provide a starting place for meeting God and for transparent conversations with one another. Each video lasts about is 8-12 minutes. First off, I loved the fact that these were just the right amount of time. I’ve been a part of DVD driven studies where the video took up most of the time, and not allowing for much interaction and sharing among the women. And then, there are the scenes. Oh, those scenes! Jennie has the various sessions filmed in a variety of eclectic locales -- a trailer, her bathroom, a quaint little sewing shop in a small Texas town, an auto salvage yard, a gorgeous field at sunset, to name just a few -- which made Jennie and her lessons come off to me in a very non-threatening, non-self-righteous, simplistic and appealing way. I believe so many women will be able to relate to her. Jennie Allen comes across here as very real and approachable, as she not only speaks of David's struggles and sins, but her own as well. And the feeling I got as I watched was that I was sitting and having a private conversation with a treasured, trusted friend over coffee about the things that matter most to us….and to God. 

Ask-- These are great! Conversation cards offer questions for spontaneous and authentic discussion time. The cards are divided by workbook lesson and have a correlating Scripture verse for the week. The best part about this is that each woman gets to choose the questions that speak to her. Questions like, 

  • ‘What has God asked you to do, but you feel afraid to do?‘  

  • ‘How do you think God views you?‘

  • ‘Are you quick to share weakness or are you afraid of seeming imperfect?’

  • ‘Is your desire to please people bigger than your desire to please God? How is that affecting your decisions and life?’

I LOVE this idea, as it’s something quite different to engage the women in the group, to keep things fresh, and to help drive home the particular spiritual truth, as well as encouraging participation in a non-threatening way for those who may not normally speak up in group settings.

On the back of the study workbook, it states that the lessons found in the study guide are simple, yet deep. I wholeheartedly agree.  In the past, I’ve been in bible studies where I was able to finish the week’s homework on my coffee break at work. Believe me, I’m no genius nor bible scholar; it was simply a matter of the study questions barely scratching the surface. They did not cause me to look at and dig deep into my heart and soul for the answers.  

However, 'Chase' will invite you to do just that. It is both engaging and interactive, thought provoking and heart convicting.  You won’t need a PhD in Biblical literature to ‘get’ this study; yet I did not find ‘Chase’ to be a piece of mindless fluff either. This is not a coffee klatch disguised as a Bible study, folks. I enjoyed and was moved by what I learned as I reviewed and worked through the material, and I’m giving some serious thought here to inviting some friends of mine to do this study together in the near future.

So -- What are you chasing?

As summer approaches, this is the time of year when many women’s bible studies are winding down and coming to an end.  Whether you are looking for a summer bible study, or are in search of one to begin once September church activities resume, I encourage you to consider choose Jennie Allen‘s 'Chase.' 

This product has been provided courtesy of  Thomas Nelson Publishing, Inc.,  and  Shelton Interactive.  Many thanks to publicist Sara Pence at Shelton Interactive for providing me with the opportunity to review this study curriculum. 

To learn more about 'Chase' and about Jennie Allen, go to:

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