Raise Your Hand if You’re So Excited

“Raise your hand if you’re so excited about Christmas!”

That was my five-year-old son on repeat in the weeks before Christmas day.  He asked us often and he expected a response every time.  Everyone in the vicinity had to raise a hand quickly and high enough to  be seen. Either that, or the offending non-responder would be quizzed stringently.

Aren’t you excited for Christmas?  Why didn’t you raise hand?  Are you not really excited?

During our Christmas Eve service,  he started to fall asleep a bit ( so much excitement can wear a fellow out), so I picked him up and cradled him in my lap during the pastor’s message.  We made it almost to the end when my son sat straight up, no longer tired, and said in not quite a whisper: “Raise your hand if you’re so excited about Christmas!”

Every one of us in the pew raised our hands just a teeny bit, not high enough for anyone else in the church to see, but enough so he wouldn’t launch into the full-scale interrogation.

After Christmas, he kept the excitement going.  He enjoyed every bit of Christmas break.  Then I explained our New Year’s Eve plans and how our family usually has family game night, eats special snacks and watches funny videos on TV.

The first thing he asked as he rubbed sleep out of his eyes at 7:30 a.m. on December 31st was  if it was time yet for the game playing and  the snack eating and the funny video watching.

He was ready. Ready all day.  He quizzed me at 10  a.m. and again at noon and then afternoon right up until we (finally) started celebrating.

During the Christmas season, I felt a continual nudging as I read each part of the story: am I living with expectation?

The wise men were searching the night sky.  They were actively looking, digging deep into ancient Scriptures,  studying promises,  watching for their fulfillment.  Then, at the first sign of God on the move, they chose active obedience and pursuit.  They left behind the familiar, they traveled far from  home, because they wanted to see what God was doing.

Simeon and Anna both knew the Messiah was coming.  They had been promised  and assured of  his imminence.  With profound expectation, they lingered in the temple courts, hoping for the day they would  see the Savior with their own eyes.  And they did.  God did what He said He would do.

Am I this excited?  Am I expectant?

I’m not really. Not as excited as my son, and not as expectant as the wise men, or Simeon, or Anna.  I’m not watchful or hopeful of seeing the goodness God is doing.

Maybe you’ve started this new year with just that high level of expectation and excitement.  Or, maybe you’re more like me, limping in slowly, timidly, a little worn out from the hard season you’ve just walked through–hoping (but not certain) that the most difficult steps are finally in the past.

Maybe you’ve been waiting and there’s more waiting to be done.

I read this today:

Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were questioning in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah  (Luke 3:6 CSB).

Can we all be expectant?

It wasn’t just the Christmas characters who lived with anticipation of the Messiah; it was a general buzz of anticipation.  Crowds lined the riverfront to see John the Baptist because they “were waiting expectantly,” on the lookout for a Savior.

And one day, they stood along that riverbank  and watched as Jesus Himself stepped out of the crowd and into the water to be baptized.

They were seeking and because they were seeking, they found the Lord Himself.

So,  what am I seeking?

I’m not seeking answers or direction.  I’m not seeking next steps or a Promised Land or a bright future.

This is what Scripture says:

You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13)

and

 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you (Matthew 6:33).

I can raise my hand because I’m so excited to see Jesus. Even the worn-out me who is tempted to hide away can instead be stirred up with eager expectation because I want to see the Lord and to see God’s kingdom at work in the here and now.  I’m so excited to catch glimpses of His glory this year,  knowing that He is present and He is powerful.

He is a Good God.  And He is doing Good things.

 

 

Christmas Stories On Days Like Today

Today was the most ordinary of ordinary days  with a hint of drab and dreary thrown in.

We heard the rain strengthen as my girls grabbed their backpacks to leave for school, so I drove them to the bus stop and we sat in the minivan where it was dry (but not quite warm).  I told one daughter to pray about her missing retainer  and hoped this is a way God would draw her close.  (May He teach her how to turn to Him for everything?)  Then I wished them well on the last day of school before Christmas break as we saw the bus lights through the fog.

I ran errands, including a visit to the post office where the employee helped me figure out the least expensive way to ship a Christmas package.  I met with a piano tuner, folded laundry, packed lunches, and made meals.  At some point today, I answered emails and made some  phone calls.

I avoided puddles (which my son stepped in) and slipped around mud throughout the day. At the end of the afternoon, I comforted a daughter whose day ended with some disappointments and hurt feelings.

Mostly I searched for the missing  retainer (in the trash, under the furniture, around town, in the cabinets, down the sofa cushions) and prayed about the missing retainer, then made a bunch of plans to replace it only to have my prayer  answered 10 minutes before I left to pick up my daughter and head to the orthodontist.  I found the elusive retainer where  it had fallen down from the shelf where she had safely placed it.

But that was the day.  Finding it took nearly the whole day.

We baked cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday, and watched a movie while I cleaned the kitchen and worked on getting a stain out of another daughter’s sweatshirt.

A day like today, completely saturated in so much ordinary–missing dental appliances, messes, errands, and chores–doesn’t feel very much like “Christmas.”  It wasn’t all flashing lights, beauty, extraordinary worship, or holy feelings . There wasn’t snow or “magic”  or warm and fuzzy, jolly or joyful fun.

Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, I had a moment of feeling disappointed in myself really.  The pile of  clean and folded laundry and the found retainer seemed like all I had really accomplished today.

Not exactly the kind of success that makes headlines.

But then I remembered that Christmas means something deeply and powerfully true:

God came down into the ordinary.

He came down into MY ordinary.  And He inhabits my ordinary days in the here and now of my waking-and-sleeping life.

He didn’t come extravagant, grand, wealthy, and powerful.  He came plain and simple . He came small: A tiny, insignificant town called Bethlehem.  A poor couple, a young girl and her husband, a laborer.  A bed of hay and a makeshift outfit.  Shepherds called out of their nightly vigil on the hillsides to “come and see”  this tiny, unexpected Savior.

What if he had come differently?  What if all the pomp and circumstance had been there, making the first Christmas a grand event of royal magnitude: Red carpets, crowns, robes, a palace, power, wealth, and position?

What if Jesus had come untouchable, unapproachable, and inaccessible?

An out-of-reach Messiah couldn’t have saved anyone.

Jesus came on an oh-so-ordinary day to an oh-so-ordinary town and reached oh-so-ordinary people.

That’s where I live, too–in ordinary places, on ordinary days, doing ordinary things with ordinary people.

Max Lucado  wrote:

“Jesus did not separate himself from his creation; he pitched his tent in the neighborhood”  (God’s Story, Your Story)

John said it this way:

 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 NASB).

That means our story can be a Christmas story of its own, how the Savior dwells in the simplest of places and uses simple people like us.  How he is so extraordinary but He meets me right here in the middle of all my ordinary.   How God impacts the world as we run errands, clean messes, make phone calls, and pray for our kids.

This is what Max Lucado said:

“…you live an everyday life.  You have bills to pay, beds to make, and grass to cut.  Your face won’t grace any magazine covers, and you aren’t expecting a call from the White House.  Congratulations.  You qualify for a modern-day Christmas story.  God enters the world through folks like you and comes on days like today” (God’s Story, Your Story).

So today, this ordinary day, is part of my Christmas story:  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  We need your presence here among us even now.

.

Bible Verses About God’s Gifts to Us

  • Ecclesiastes 3:13 ESV
    also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
  • Matthew 7:11 ESV
    If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
  • Luke 11:13 ESV
    If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
  • Luke 12:32 ESV
    Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
  • John 3:16 ESV
    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  • John 4:10 ESV
    Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
  • Acts 2:38 ESV
     And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • Ephesians 2:8 ESV
    For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
  • Romans 5:17 ESV
    For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
  • Romans 6:23 ESV
    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • Romans 11:29 ESV
    For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable
  • Romans 12:6 ESV
    Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;
  • 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 ESV
    To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
    For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:15 ESV
     Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
  • 2 Timothy 1:6 ESV
    For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,
  • Hebrews 2:3-4 ESV
    how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
  • James 1:5 ESV
    If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
  • James 1:17 ESV
    Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
  • James 4:6 ESV
    But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
  • 1 Peter 4:10 ESV
    As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
  • 1 John 3:1 ESV
    See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Praying it Out on a Hard Day

Worry hits me like a sharp, shallow breathing,  right in the middle  of the Wal-Mart.

There I am, just picking the cereal for the week and mentally running through what we already have at home in the pantry, when I realize my breaths are kind of shallow, kind of pained deep in my stomach.

Maybe it’s not even worry; it’s more just thought after thought piling on over time.

Thinking about the to-do-list items, an upcoming  event, soccer and dance, rehearsals, families around me in need, relationships and friendships and peace, work craziness, and ministry decisions.

I  feel “off.”  Unsettled.  Worn down.  Tangled up.

As I push my cart around the store, I take some deep breaths and pray some quick prayers.

Dear Jesus, for my children….

Dear Jesus, for my own brokenness and sin….

Dear Jesus, for those around me….

Send peace . Be our peace, Lord.

I also chide myself.  How foolish, like a tiny child, stressing over things not worth stressing over, thinking and mulling over decisions that will  just come and work out and happen.

It all piles on in one day, though, my own problems to  sort through and a host of others for people I care about:

A family in need, a friend who is grieving, another awaiting medical test results,.

This is a hard day.  A hard day that is making me tenderhearted.

All that sorrow tumbles me into  a sweet place of just crying with Jesus.  I think maybe He weeps, too, just as He did when He stood outside of Lazarus’s tomb and saw how hard it is for all of us, how scared we are, how we mourn.

For a little while, I feel guilty for letting the smallest things in my own life land on my wimpy shoulders  like heavy burdens.

I think, “Count your blessings!  Buck up!  Get over it already!”

And, maybe that’s a little right. Maybe my perspective is off and I needed a little spirit-check, that what has me personally weighed down is foolishness compared to the deep concerns of others.

But I read this also, right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus says:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? ( Matthew 6:25 ESV)

We’re no different than the crowd of people surrounding him on a mountainside that day.

We feel anxious over the daily things that pound at us.  The food we eat.  The clothes we wear.  The bodies we walk around in. The tiniest mundane details of our everyday life.

Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t be anxious about your cancer diagnosis or don’t be anxious about a divorce or a foreclosure.”

He said don’t worry about any of it.  Don’t worry about lunch and dinner and your outfit for the day and your body type.

And he was so gracious about it.   He didn’t tell  the crowd to get over petty concerns because He was actually going to–you know–be persecuted and die for them because they were, after  all, heading for  eternal  damnation.

Hannah Anderson writes:

“Jesus understood …that small things can unsettle us more than large things; so when He called  the people of Galilee to leave their anxiety–when He calls us to  do the same–He does so in context of very mundane, very ordinary concerns…  At the same time, He doesn’t shame us for worrying about them.  He doesn’t tell us just how to be grateful, to remember how much better we have it than other people…..Instead, He asks if our worry is actually accomplishing anything” (Humble Roots).

It’s not, of course.  Worry isn’t accomplishing  anything for anybody.

But it is a prompting to prayer.  It’s the catalyst that stops me from just standing nearby as a helpless bystander and instead rolling up my sleeves to get in the fight.

I can’t fix this.  Not any of it.  But I can pray.

I can pray it out.  Pray it like that’s our only hope because that’s exactly who Jesus is:  He’s our Hope and our Strength and our Peace and He is who we need when we’re worrying over our children and He is who we need when our friends are facing down death and despair.

So  as I stand there in the middle of the Wal-Mart and then in my minivan and then in my home, I begin to pray it out to Jesus.

Originally published 10/2017

Finding the sacred in this place

Hats and sunglasses, that’s what my son likes, and he’s amassing a collection.

When we headed to the beach this week to enjoy the weather,  he popped his Paw Patrol baseball cap on his head .

“This is my beach hat,” he announced.

Then he gave me the full run-down.  His Batman hat is for playgrounds.  His Paw Patrol hat is for the beach.  And, when he gets a Star Wars hat , that will be for the aquarium.  “My aquarium hat,” he says.

This is funny on so many levels.

For one thing, he doesn’t need an aquarium hat since we are infrequent visitors.

And for  another thing, we really and truly just grab whichever hat we can find whenever it’s time to go to wherever we’re going.  We have more than one hat precisely because we don’t always know where any given hat is at any given moment.

Hats are essential  wardrobe pieces for us.  We are fair-skinned folks who burn at the slightest hint of sunshine.

But exactly how many hats does he plan on having anyway?

Specific hats for specific places may not be practical or likely by any stretch of the imagination, and yet I love the idea of valuing place, all the individual beauty and uniqueness of this place and that place.

How something changes in us as we travel from  here to there, something about us in those destinations that might even require a new and different hat.

It’s so biblical, isn’t it, the way God’s story roots itself  in geography and location?  The Holy Land and Mount Sinai, Eden and Bethel ,right on to Bethlehem, to gardens and mountaintops, the Sea of  Galilee, the Jordan River.

God’s story in us does the same thing.

There are places that have entwined themselves with my own salvation story:  a childhood neighborhood, a college campus,  a church, a two-year sojourn in New Jersey, and the long-term settling in Virginia where God continues to work in me.

Maybe certain places in our lives are set aside for a holy work of significance.

Like the way the burning bush drew Moses’s attention out in the wilderness, and how God brought him and all of Israel back to that same holy mountain after they made it out of Egypt.

Or the way Jacob camped out at Bethel and saw a vision of a stairway to heaven and then returned to the same place years later to settle there with his family and build an altar to God.

It helps to know what places have holy significance for us, especially when we’re seeking His face.  Where do we go when we want to be alone with Jesus?  Where do we go when we’re desperate for a glimpse of Him or to hear His voice?  Where do we go when we need hush and peace and a stillness in our hearts?

Where is our Bethel?  Where is our Sinai?

Where is the place of spiritual retreat?

For  me, it’s a back deck or a porch, just one small step from inside my house to outside my house and there I am, in a peaceful place.

Sometimes, though,  I need to run away from the ordinary, everyday.  These aren’t long trips, just a drive to the botanical gardens, or to a museum, or the beach–anywhere there is beauty and there is quiet.

My go-to holy place, though, is a mobile one–it’s in a walk  The location matters less than the opportunity to stride in rhythm and not talk for about 30 minutes.   This is a sacred space for me.

It  also helps to know that God does focused work in specific places.

This is Gilgal for Saul.  That’s where the prophet Samuel sent the newly anointed King to wait before being presented to Israel.  That’s where Saul is crowned.  It’s also the same exact place where Saul loses his kingship, as he gives up waiting for Samuel and disobeys God’s instructions (1 Samuel 10:8,  11:15, 13:7).

Gilgal is where Saul both received and lost the kingship.

What if Saul had recognized the significance of the place?  Gilgal is where I wait and where God is faithful.  Maybe he would have been more patient.

Perhaps this place where you are right now is the growing place or the place of rest.  Maybe it is the land of milk and honey or maybe it is the waiting place.

It could be the place of worship or the place of calling.  Maybe it’s the place where we’re poured out or maybe it’s the well where Jesus fills us.

Where are you now?  In this place God has brought you, how is He at work?

Parenting in light of the resurrection

My son woke up early on Easter morning and he is not a morning person.  He is, instead, a curious combination of early riser plus total  morning grump.

That  means demands, tears, and the request (denied) that we use the tie-dye kits he and his sister received to make “splat shirts” right away, as in before 7 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning.

Mornings aren’t usually rough, but everyone has a  tough start sometimes.  Mostly, I just shrug ours off and move along.

But this day.  This day was harder on the soul.

It was Easter Sunday morning.  It should be holy and sacred and full of worship in all-the-things.  Worship  in my parenting.  Worship in my daily routine and acts of service for my family.  Worship in the breakfast meal and the dinner preparation.

Good golly, we should have JOY!  Joy, I tell you!

It wasn’t  worship, though.  Or joy.

It was  more chaos  then calm.  A clothing crisis (or two or three) and missing shoes despite instructions that all  children should prepare all outfits the night before.  It was a grumpy four-year-old not wanting to leave the comfort  of the couch.

It was the culmination of a weekend when we had seen sin and attitude and outbursts of anger and fighting.

That’s how I ended up at church on Easter Sunday, trying so hard to psych myself up into feeling all the excitement of celebrating Christ’s resurrection, but actually feeling stretched thin with the realities  of me being not-enough.

It hit me in a wave  of realization as we sang about death losing its sting and about the wonderful cross.

I was  distracted by a teen outgrowing her  clothing, a lost pair of white shoes and a four-year-old who doesn’t like waking up.

Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be worshiping the God of the Universe who died on the cross for my sins and then rose up from the dead!

That’s what started my searching:  What does it look like for the resurrection to impact my parenting?   My home?  My everyday morning routine and beyond?

Christ brings  all the power of the resurrection right into my everyday, ordinary life.

We read in Romans:

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies [a]through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11 NASB).

and in Ephesians:

 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 1:19-20 NLT).

The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is within us!

He can mightily heal what is broken and  He can re-order any mess that seems hopelessly overwhelming.   No way can an “off” morning defeat me, nor should it  distract me.

It also means He brings peace.

After Jesus’s resurrection, He stood in the middle of a room, surrounded by followers, and He said:

“Peace be with you” (John 20:26).

He knew that’s what they needed with all their fear, worry, sorrow, and their deep grief and confusion.  They needed His peace smack dab in the middle of the mess they were in.

He brings the peace of His presence  right  into my life, too.  Right into my craziest morning with the deepest ache for calm and for quiet, He can speak peace.

He can BE my peace.

Parenting in light of the resurrection also brings great value to what we’re doing here.  It means there is salvation for my children.   No one has to stay the same.  And I get to be part of their sanctification.  I get to witness God at work in their lives and hearts.

Not only does Jesus bring peace.  He brings redemption.  He brings strength for me and He brings grace for  my kids as we come face-to-face with sin and how ugly it is.

Because Jesus died and because He arose, my kids can be forgiven.  They can be transformed over time.  The sin that tangles them up now doesn’t have to tangle them up forever, as long as we’re willing to battle together against it .

I’m a mom who needs Easter.  I  need the resurrection to  keep the right perspective.

He came.  He died.  He arose.

Such grace.  Such love.  Such power.  Such hope.

Such peace.

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Weddings can be confusing to a four-year-old.

My son is actively preparing for his role as ringbearer in a family wedding this weekend.  By actively preparing, I mean we periodically hand him a pillow to hold and ask him to walk it across the room slowly.

He’s been thinking about this a great deal.  Randomly as we drive about town, he’ll call out questions about all this wedding activity from his seat in the minivan.

“Mom, why do they want girls  to throw flowers?”

There is no context for this question. We’re just driving along.  We ‘re not in church and we haven’t been talking about the wedding.  So, it  takes me a few seconds to  place his question and then it takes me a few more seconds to figure out an answer.

Because—seriously—why does the flower girl drop flower petals to  the ground as she walks?

He also wants to know why he has to carry a pillow?  Why will there be rings on the pillow?  Why he has to look “handsome” in suspenders and a bowtie?  And whether or not he can “run-walk” up the aisle (which apparently is a steady paced walk with an occasional quick-step shuffle forward thrown in).

This is all before he’s even seen the rehearsal.  I can only  imagine the questions he’ll ask after he’ sees the full gamut of wedding traditions, including bouquet-tossing, candle-lighting, and more.

For now, my little guy still considers mom and dad the official source of all knowledge.  He brings us his questions about weddings and more in a fairly steady stream and he trusts us to know or to find out.

That’s something I’m considering because I’m a question-asker myself from way back. I’m always the girl asking the most questions in any meeting or gathering.

And that’s okay, because  I’m also the girl who knows I  can bring all those questions to Jesus.

That’s why I’m stunned as I read this in the gospel of Mark:

But they (the disciples) did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him (Mark 9:32 NASB).

Jesus declared that He would be “delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later” (Mark 9:31 NASB).

It makes sense to us in retrospect, but it didn’t make sense to the disciples at the time . He’ll be killed?  He’ll rise again?

They didn’t understand, but they were afraid to  ask.

Why?

Were they worried that Jesus would chastise them for not understanding?  Were they too embarrassed?  Did they fear the answer?

Whatever the reason, the disciples didn’t trust Jesus enough to ask Him the question they all had on their hearts.

That doesn’t have to be us.

In Judges 6 when God called Gideon to lead Israel to victory, Gideon answered the way I would have.

He answered with questions:

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian…how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (Judges 6:13, 15 NIV).

So many questions might exhaust me as a parent, but God was always so gentle and patient with Gideon.  He didn’t berate, mock,  or condemn.

Instead, He redirected Gideon’s need for answers to seeing that God IS the answer for the overwhelming and the frightening.

God’s answer was this:

“….Am I not sending you?….I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (Judges 6:14, 16 NIV).

He sent Gideon.  He would be with Gideon.  And He promised Gideon victory.

The NLT Personal Worship Bible says this:

The God whom we worship is  not distressed by our questions. He knows that, like Gideon, we often feel weak, inadequate, or overwhelmed by life. He desires our honesty in worship  and wants us to bring to him those issues, questions, and doubts that are on our minds.

And here’s what’s true—the answers he gives might not always be what we’re looking for.  We might not get details we want.  We might not get the confirmation we’re looking for.

But we will receive the reassurance of His presence and His character.  He will be with us, just as He promised  to be with Gideon.

So, keep bringing your questions to Him and trust His answers.

Have mercy on me according to your unfailing love

Today,  maybe for the last few days actually, it seems like I have some words on repeat.

“I’m sorry!  My fault!”

I’ve messed up and made mistakes, said the wrong thing,  planned poorly,  forgotten, and just generally haven’t been perfect.

Oh my, have I had a time, my friends!

Confessions are hard anyway.  When is it ever easy to say, “I messed up?” or “I was wrong?”  But when you’ve said it here and you’ve said it there and you’ve said it over and over in the course of a day (or two or three) to different people for different reasons, it becomes deeply humbling.

Can I get anything right?

And the temptation for me is this–to obsess.  I replay the video in my head of how I got it wrong and feel anew that wave of blushing embarrassment. My internal temperature feels like its 110 degrees and my heart is racing.

Even if I can fall asleep, I wake up at 4 a.m. and review the failures relentlessly because brains go crazy in the deepest parts of the night.

That’s when the self-condemning thoughts muscle in like a posse of bullies, never letting me move along, fretting and stressing over mistakes that are been-there, done-that.   There’s no way to correct them. Only thing you can do is move on.

My son is four and apologizing is hard for him.  We are wading knee-deep in the mess of parenting some character issues:  Being willing to  say “sorry,” just take personal responsibility, receive forgiveness, give forgiveness.

He cries.  He struggles.  He refuses. He complies. He learns and we try it all again.

It’s a journey.

Maybe it’s a journey  that I’m actually still on.  I’ve apologized.  I’ve fessed up and owned up.  That part I’ve gotten down.

But how to un-stick myself from the mire and move along?  How to start  fresh, embrace mercy, and forget what’s behind so I can keep pressing forward (Philippians 3:13)?

Isaiah wrote:

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord,
“Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NASB).

If I know in my head that I’m washed white like snow and like the purest, cleanest wool, how come I sometimes still see the dirt and the grime and feel like a mess?

In his book, Flee, Be Silent, Pray, Ed Cyzewski writes:

….we could all do well by praying, ‘Lord, have mercy on  me, a sinner.’ That’s one prayer in the Bible that we all should feel comfortable repeating daily.  This simple prayer puts us in our place and acknowledges God’s great mercy for us.”

This is a verse I’m learning to pray and not just pray it, but use it as a weapon to  beat back some of that pride and some of that hurtful self-talk.

Scripture is clear about what happens when we repent and ask God for mercy and forgiveness:

Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, Acts 3:19 HCSB

then he adds,“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Hebrews 10:17 ESV

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25

 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12 ESV

When we confess and we repent, we are forgiven completely and that sin is washed away, blotted out, forgotten, and removed.

I don’t have to hear about it anymore.  God isn’t asking me to remember it, wrestle over it, feel embarrassed by it, or stress out over it.

He’s covered me in His mercy.

The tax-collector who prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” in Luke 18 got it right.  I’m a sinner!  But I come to the God of mercy.  Even if I feel unworthy, I am invited in before His throne of grace.

So, I pray this prayer in the night when I wake up to the thoughts that won’t leave me alone, replays of how I got it wrong and what I should have done to get it right.

“Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” and then I wait.

And if I still feel that wave of terrorizing shame, I pray it again, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” and I breathe.

God has already forgiven me.  I’m just standing on that forgiveness.  He’s already blanketed me with His grace, but I’m holding onto that grace.  He’s declared mercy, and I’m hanging on tightly to it.

“Lord, have mercy on me a sinner”—Our loving Savior does just that.

 

Seeing faith in action when you look in the kitchen

Funerals for dear friends who succumbed to cancer and funerals for young grandsons and sons , funerals after long-and-exhausting illnesses, funerals for unexpected death, and shocking funerals that remind a whole community of evil in the world– it feels like our church has had its share of sadness and hard losses in the last few years.

While we’re upstairs in the sanctuary, remembering loved ones, telling stories, singing hymns, and being reminded of eternal life in Jesus Christ, there’s this other truly beautiful thing happening downstairs.

The kitchen is abuzz.

Tables are set out and a team of people flit in and out of that kitchen carrying bowls and choosing the right serving spoons.  They cut up fruit and place sandwiches on trays.  They fill pitchers of water and tea and boil large pots of soup.

They are so faithful.  Funeral after funeral, they quietly set out the food and clean up the dishes. They work before most of us arrive and stay after most of us have left.

They do that kind of ministry that matters so much, that has so much impact, the kind that shows people God’s great love by meeting the most practical needs at the time they need it the most.  It’s not flashy or showy.  It’s “just” setting up tables.  It’s “just” setting out food.

But it’s also “just” loving others with self-sacrificing compassion.  These are humble acts, solely motivated by a desire to give.  No one is handing out trophies in the kitchen.

So, I marvel at these faithful few and I learn from them about what it means to live out my faith with obedience to Jesus.

Loving God well does not require degrees or ministry platforms.  It doesn’t require arenas or microphones.  It doesn’t even require being seen by most others around us.

When Jesus finished  rubbing off the grime on the disciples’ feet at their Passover  meal, He said:

If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (John 13:14 NASB).

We Christians are supposed to be feet-washers.

Paul emphasized Christ’s example in this also:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servantand being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.(Philippians 2:5-8 NASB). 

It doesn’t mean, of course, that we all have to crowd into a kitchen and serve up meals to  mourners at funerals.  We couldn’t possibly.  I, for one, would probably make a terrible mess of it.

But I can serve.

My faith in Christ is best expressed in service, in kindness, in gentleness, in giving, in  humility, in compassion, in rolling up my sleeves and getting dirty.

In Acts 28, Paul lands on the isle of Malta.  He’d been a prisoner on a ship bound for Rome on treacherous seas.  The sailors fought the storms for more than two weeks, throwing their provisions overboard, leaving them hungry, exhausted, wet, and terrified.

But Paul assured them that God would keep them safe, and that’s exactly what God did.  He washed them up on the shore of this island, where the natives showed them “extraordinary kindness.”

Then, Scripture tells us:

But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand (Acts 28:3 NASB).

In his book The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges says this:

 Under the adverse circumstances of shipwreck, why would Paul have gone about gathering fuel for a fire built and tended by someone else?  Why didn’t he just stand by the fire and warm himself?  He didn’t because it was his character to serve (see Acts 20:33-35; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9).

Paul was like everyone else: Lost and then saved, probably sopping wet, weary, and hungry.  Paul had every reason to  collapse near the fire and let others tend to his needs.

But instead, he gathered sticks and laid them on the fire.  He did the work.  He served.

Jerry Bridges suggests that “it was his character to serve.”

Paul’s spiritual gifts were probably evangelism and preaching/teaching, not so much compassion, giving, and service.  Yet, here Paul is tending a fire because we are all called to serve like Jesus, to be humble like Jesus, to love others like Jesus.  This is the way we live out radical faith in Him.

May these words be said of me and may they be said of any of us who want so much to be like Jesus: “It’s our character to serve. “

The Light Shines Best Through the Darkness #Advent

My son decisively flicks off the overhead lights in the kitchen.

This is inconvenient since I am actually cooking dinner at that precise moment.

So, I flick the lights back on and thereby initiate a light battle.

Off. On.  Off. On.

Finally, he pushes down the switch one more time and says, “Mom, it’s pretty!”

That’s when he points to the Christmas lights:  Our Victorian village with houses, stores, a library and church all glowing; The garland strung with lights surrounding our nativity scene; the Christmas tree glowing from the living room.

Everywhere there is light.

But it shows up best against the darkness and he knows it.

So, I acquiesce a bit because I understand this quest for beauty.

When I need to see into the back recesses of the cabinet, I turn the switch on.  When I’m finished digging out ingredients and just stirring them into the pot on the stove, I keep it off.

Maybe my son and I are kindred spirits in this.

Each morning, before I have shuffled over to the teapot to heat water for my tea, before I have poured cereal into the bowl for my toddler, before I have fed the cat, I journey around our home and plug in every string of Christmas lights we have.

Only then am I prepared to start the day’s routine.

And throughout the day, I work and clean and write by the light of tiny Christmas bulbs whenever possible.

The light and the glow bring me a sweet, indefinable peace and a little bit of extra joy. It reminds me that even when I feel surrounded by darkness, the Light has come.

That is what Christmas is.

That is what Christmas promises.

Isaiah prophesied:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2 ESV).

What a blinding revelation of God’s glory as the Light of Christ shot through the darkness into a Bethlehem night.

So many missed it, though.  So many didn’t see.

But the angels declared it.  The shepherds worshiped. The wise men followed.

And Zechariah sang a song of praise to God at his own son’s birth because he knew the Light was coming:

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace (Luke 1:78-79 MSG).    

Maybe I enjoy my son’s pronouncements that the Christmas decorations are “pretty” because I need the reminder to actually look and see.

Too often I’m the one missing it instead of following His glory like Zechariah and those angels and shepherds and wise men long ago.

This year might have worn us down.  It might have exhausted our souls and depleted our reserves of hope.

We’re so desperate for His Light in our darkness.

This week I read in the Psalms a verse that perfectly described my heart this year:

My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled.  Psalm 119:123

We want to see.  We desperately, deeply want to see promises fulfilled, rescue coming, salvation here, prayers answered.

Yet, still we wait.

Advent reminds me to keep looking, keep straining my eyes to see, keep hunting for the Light like it’s the greatest treasure and the truest longing of my soul.

Because Advent is all about the longing, the seeking and searching, the expectant wait and the assurance that the promises are fulfilled.

Christ indeed came.

God’s people didn’t wait forever.

Finally, in God’s perfect timing, the Light cut through the darkness and it shone on His people.

But here’s what else I realize as my son points to the “pretty” lights…

Sometimes we need others to reveal the light for us.

Just like we languish in the darkness, just like we long for hope, for joy, for peace, so do those around us.

And maybe this year, instead of worrying over the darkness ourselves, we can help point to the Light just as Zechariah did in his song of praise.  Just like the angels did as they declared “Glory to God in the Highest.”

Just as the shepherds did as they ran out of the stable to tell everyone about “this thing that has happened.”

Just as the wise men did as they laid their gifts before the small Messiah.

The joy of the light isn’t just in the seeing; it’s in the sharing.

May we see the Light of Christ cut through the darkness this year.

May we also share the Light of Christ, may we seek out ways to be light so that others can learn to see, too.

Originally published 12/2/2016