Simply Jesus

I’m sure you have heard by now that Billy Graham went home on February 21st.  And I’m sure you have heard the name of Jesus thrown about more…and more positively…on all the media outlets than has been heard in years.

Now, I don’t watch as much news as I used to.  It brought me down,  made me angry, and generally cast a cloud over what would otherwise be a good day.  But the past few days I’ve tuned in a little more, clicked on those Facebook videos with highlights of Franklin Graham talking about his father and Kathie Lee passionately explaining the impact Billy Graham had on her and her family.

And throughout all the conversations, so far as I have heard, no one has refuted the Gospel of Jesus Christ as shared by Billy Graham.

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I wonder why.  Why the reverence for a man who shared there is only one way to Jesus?  A man who didn’t bow to political ideology or ride the waves of Progressivism?  Why aren’t they debating Christianity this week, but allowing the Gospel to be presented over and over without interruption?  Why do the secular talk show anchors show only the deepest respect for Billy Graham and his legacy even though many of his beliefs were the polar opposite of theirs?

I know Billy Graham was not a perfect man.  He had flaws and struggles and, dare I say, sin just like you and me.

For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  (Rom. 3:23)

Billy Graham needed Jesus.  And he knew it.  He was wide open about it.  But he also knew he had the answer to all of life’s big questions regarding death and eternity…Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham lived for Jesus.  Period.  Billy Graham taught Christ and Christ crucified.  Period.  His message was simple.  Always simple.  Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

No one can argue with a man who was so singularly focused.

We make it so hard, don’t we?  We put God in a box and tell people what we think they need to do in order to open it.  Stop this.  Do that.  Don’t go there.  Straighten up.

But not Billy Graham.  He said, over and over, that God wants us just as we are.  We can’t clean ourselves up.  We can’t make ourselves worthy.

But Jesus can.  And He did.

He did it simply and humbly.  Nothing about Him drew the crowds, but everything about Jesus did.

“So many people think that somehow I carry a revival around in a suitcase, and they just announce me and something happens—but that’s not true. This is the work of God, and the Bible warns that God will not share His glory with another. All the publicity that we receive sometimes frightens me because I feel that therein lies a great danger. If God should take His hand off me, I would have no more spiritual power. The whole secret of the success of our meetings is spiritual—it’s God answering prayer. I cannot take credit for any of it.”

Simple.  Yes, friends, the Good News of Jesus Christ is simple.  Come as you are and let Him do what He does best.  He will handle the changes that need to be made.  He will show you what is next.  He will carry you and remind you of who you are and WHOSE you are when you doubt.  Because He is who He says He is and He will do…always…what He says He will do.

“I’m counting totally and completely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on Billy Graham. I’m not going to Heaven because I’ve read the Bible, nor because I’ve preached to a lot of people. I’m going to Heaven because of what Christ did.”  -Billy Graham

I’ll close with this…the gospel as shared by the man who very likely led more people to Christ than anyone else in history.  Read this, please.  It really is this simple.  And if you want to surrender your life to Jesus, I would love to introduce you to Him.  It is no accident that you are still reading this!  God loves you passionately.  All of Heaven awaits.

“I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins,” said Graham at his final Crusade in June 2005 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York.

May we, as the body of Christ, find a new boldness in this season where the culture is hearing the Gospel anew.  May the home-going of our era’s greatest evangelist spur us on to take up the Cross and follow Jesus.  And may we purpose to keep it simple.  Because coming to Jesus is.

If you would like to know more about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, please email me at alifeofsimplejoys@gmail.com.  You can also find more information at stepstopeace.org.  I would love to help you find the same hope and peace that He has given to me.

When you have Christ’s full attention.

In Luke 8, Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of people who want to see him, touch him, and be healed by him. Word had gotten out about the miracles being performed by him and curiosity runs rampant throughout the cities and villages through which he travels.

He shares parables, one about the Sower, another about the Lamp.  He challenges those crowding around him to do more than just be curious or seek to be able to say, “I saw Jesus,” or, “I was there when…”  He encourages them to own the faith that is being planted in their hearts.  Let it take root, be bold to live it out and don’t hide it from the world.

The people continue to press in, wanting more, wanting everything He is willing to give them.

Then his mom and brothers show up, wanting to talk to him about something.  They try to get through the crowd to Jesus, but cannot because the people surrounding him are literally smashed hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder.  And if you know anything about Middle-Eastern culture (Shoot, if you have ever ridden on a subway!) then you know they aren’t about to part and let someone go through just because they politely say, “excuse me!” If you want to get through the crowd, you have to fight to do so.

So the disciples, seeing Mary and the boys’ frustration, try to help.  “Your mother and brothers are standing outside.  They want to see you.”

Now, for a long time Jesus’ response seemed kind of sassy to me.  Out of place, even.  But today as I read this passage and compared it with a couple of modern-language translations (this often helps clarify difficult passages) I saw something different.  Jesus refused to turn away from the desperate, searching crowd pressing in to him, begging and demanding to receive blessing and teaching from him.  He said to the disciples, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.”

I don’t believe Jesus was dismissing his mother or his brothers.  I believe his words were spoken for the benefit of the crowd.  In essence, he was telling them…

“You matter.  You are loved.  You are important to me, as important as anyone else I have ever known…including my own family.  You have my full attention as long as you need it.”

He knew the hearts of those surrounding them, their desire to learn the Word of God and please their Heavenly Father.  They wanted to be made better, to know what they were doing wrong and be taught how to live in a way that honored and pleased God.  And that attitude of humility, of strength and determined pressing in to the only One who could provide what their souls needed, captured the full attention of Jesus…so much so that he told his Mom and brothers to, in my words, “Hold tight for a sec, I’m busy and this is something that can’t wait.”

How does that make you feel?  I tell you what, it brings me such a sense of belonging.  To imagine that my seeking after him, asking for wisdom and wanting everything he has for me, captures his attention so much that he will tell his own mama to wait…

Wow.

This seals the deal for me, that no distraction or activity is more important than pressing in to Jesus.  No social event, no social media, no time-consuming “what-have-you” that is done to “fill time” is a better use of my time than finding out how to know my Savior more intimately and use the gifts He has given me to bring glory and honor to him.  It doesn’t mean I don’t relax or enjoy reading a good blog.  (Hello!)  It means that everything I do is funneled through the sieve of my relationship with God.  That I purpose and do my best to live without wasted time.  In the words of Brother Lawrence…

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Or, “Lord of all blogs and Facebook memes, make me a saint by writing only from your inspiration and not to gain attention for myself.”

Or, “Lord of all craft rooms and boxes of paint, make me saint by creating beautiful things that remind us of You and by cleaning up my mess.”

Or even, “Lord of all books and overloaded shelves, make me a saint by reading great words that draw me closer to you and help me understand the Great Story you are writing over us.”

I could go on and on…insert your favorite way to relax or have down-time and just see how, maybe, God can use it…use you doing it…to refine you and draw you closer to Jesus.  To give you an opportunity to have His full attention because He sees your pursuit of wisdom and spiritual maturity and HE HONORS IT.  He honors it by turning His face toward you and talking to you as if you are the only person in the room.

Jesus’ actions in this chapter tell me something very important…

Obedience is thicker than blood.

May we find ways to weave obedience to the teachings of Jesus and the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the tiny, mundane details of our every day routine!  It will be in this that we become a people who truly know how to filter out the noise and live simply…for Him.

That time I bought a Cello.

For most of my life, really…as far back as I can remember…I have dreamed of playing a stringed instrument.  Violin, guitar, what-have-you, they all have seemed so beautiful and unreachable to me.  Growing up, I played piano and clarinet.  Strings were not an option at my school.  But, for the past couple of years, I have found myself fantasizing about playing Cello.  We would go to concerts and I would be drawn to the cellists, the sound of the instrument, the grace of the bow, the posture of the musicians.  As an alto vocally, the Cello spoke to me because it is always that steady low voice that stabilizes the chord.  Though often not in the spotlight singing lead, when it does take center stage…wow.

So last week we went to another concert and I watched a young bass player named Scott Mulvahill ROCK OUT.  I mean, really.  Who would have thought a standing bass could do what he makes it do?  But it does and he obviously has so much fun on that stage.  (Look him up on YouTube.  He is amazing!)

We drove home after the concert and I mulled over my feelings and longings once again.  I’m 45, y’all.  Not exactly a young thang anymore.  Many might think I’m too old to start something big and new.

I decided to disagree with that.

Early the next morning I drove to a music store in a daze of mid-life crisis and desperate longing. I parked my Ford Explorer and looked at the doors of Music & Arts, the sign saying “open” and my heart racing.  I summoned up my courage, walked into the store and looked at the young man who greeted me.

Deep breath.

“I’d like to rent a Cello.” (Did I really just say that out loud?)

“Is this for you?” he asked kindly.

I am probably old enough to be his mother.

I swallowed hard and broke out into a cold sweat. A COLD SWEAT.  I am not exaggerating ONE BIT.

“Yes,” I said calmly.  “Yes, it is.  I’m having a mid-life crisis and I want to learn to play the Cello.”  (Yes, I really said that.  Insert forehead smack here.)

He smiled (I can only IMAGINE what he was thinking) and said, “Ok, well…”

And we proceeded to look around, discussing lesson options and logistics.  Then it turned out that they had a beautiful Cello ON SALE and buying (instead of renting) would save me thousands of dollars over the course of the next few years so…

Y’all.

I BOUGHT IT.

I bought, not rented, a cello.

At 45.

It was like saying, “I do.  Til death do us part.”

But with a bow instead of a diamond.

I own the baby and it is MINE.

The salesman tuned it for me and put it in its case.  I looked at it longingly, afraid to even touch it just yet.  It is just so beautiful.  And it is mine.

MINE.

I set up the payment plan and bought a beginner book and tuner, though I didn’t know the first thing about tuning a Cello.  (What were the names of the strings again?) I carried it to my car and willed myself to breathe normally as I drove home, completely shocked at what I had just done.

But now?

Oh, glory.  The moment I pulled Sofia out of her case (Yes, I named my Cello.  Don’t judge.) I felt this JOY course through my veins.  I pulled the bow across the strings and, despite the scratchiness, to me it sounded beautiful…like something I had waited my entire life to hear. The vibrations that resonate through the Cello when it is leaned back against my chest as I play are like balm.  They calm me despite the fumbling and hiccups as I learn to hold the bow and draw it straight across the strings.  I have found a teacher (Sarah Joy) via YouTube and practice every single day, loving each and every minute of it.  My fingertips are becoming calloused and the sound is coming along.

I can play Mary Had a Little Lamb!

And Jingle Bells!

There is something so satisfying and rewarding about working through that beginner book and the videos one day at a time.  It is in enjoying the process, seeing progress from day-to-day, that I have hope to be making real music a year from now.  (Does this NOT have endless spiritual parallels???) Maybe over the summer I’ll take lessons from a real, face-to-face teacher when we are not in the throes of homeschooling.  But regardless, I love it.

I absolutely love it.

Listen, you are never too old to try something new.  I’m realizing that it is really good for my children to see me do this, to hear my squeaks and squawks and see me fight to create beauty through this challenging instrument.  And it’s good for me.  I had this dream and it wasn’t going anywhere.  I believe God wants this for me and I could not be more excited.  I’m praying for Him to give me the ability to do this and do it well for His glory.  What a gift it would be to sit near the back of the stage during worship, accompanying the beautiful choruses with the melancholy alto of my Cello!  That is my goal.

I’m 45 years old and just beginning.  By the time I am 50 I’ll be so glad I didn’t wait any longer.

What are YOU waiting for?  What keeps you from plunging in and going for it?  What if you started today?  Now?

Because, let me tell you, every time I take that bow in my hand I feel JOY.  Pure, simple joy.

It is going to be a good journey.  I can feel it.

 

Less is…less.

My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

As you probably remember, I spent the better part of Autumn 2017 purging like a crazy woman.  I got rid of possessions that I did not need, no longer wanted, and were just taking up space.  One thing that surprised me was the stuff in my kitchen.

It surprised me because I had done a “purge” just a year or so earlier…Marie Kondo style.  But, apparently, I did not go far enough.

You see the measuring cup photo above?  I had four of these 2-cup Pyrex lovelies.  Plus one 4-cup measuring cup, two Pampered Chef batter bowls (small and large) and about eight various sets of measuring spoons and measuring cup sets.  As I boxed up the kitchen for the move I stopped and looked at my unintentional collection.  What was my purpose in owning all of these?  Some had been given to me, others were decades old.  Some were purchased to replace older ones (often because the color was prettier) (I so enjoy pretty kitchen things!) but the older ones never got donated or discarded.  I had a very large kitchen with plenty of storage and, well, the older stuff just got pushed to the back of the drawer or cabinet.  There were a couple of them that had sentimental value because of who had given them to me but I no longer used them.  They were taking up space.  Period.

I took a deep breath and decided to choose wisely.  I kept the batter bowls (because Pampered Chef!) and only two sets each of measuring spoons and measuring cups.  The rest were donated.

This is only one example of the cleaning-out process that preceded our move, but now that we are here in our new home I am so thankful that I did that brutal purge.  Because, until now, I did not realize how often my little decisions had just a teeny bit of added stress due to having too many choices.

When I cook, now, my choices are easy.  Grab what I need and move on.  No more rearranging stacks, shuffling things around or standing there staring blankly before finally picking out what I need.  My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

Read that again.

My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

We clutter up our minds when we clutter up our homes.  We become saddled under the weight of our possessions because we refuse to let things go.  This applies to our physical lives as well as our emotional and spiritual lives!

Proverbs 2:4-5 says,

If you sift through the clamor of everything around you
    to seek her like some precious prize,
    to search for her like buried treasure;
 Then you will grasp what it means to truly respect the Eternal,
    and you will have discovered the knowledge of the one True God.  

(The Voice)

Sifting through the clamor.  That can manifest in so many different ways:  getting rid of possessions, thinning out our book collection (The. Hardest. For. Me.), turning off the TV or radio and learning to function in absolute quiet, getting up (and going to bed) earlier so fatigue doesn’t cloud my thinking, choosing friends more wisely, sticking to a grocery list or (gasp) reading a good and beautiful book instead of scrolling mindlessly through social media.  It is in the little choices, made all throughout each day, that we begin to reduce mental strain and find white space in our lives, space that allows rest and results in the restoration and recognition of who we are created to be.

God never called us to be busy for busy’s sake, or to have a calendar so filled to the brim that we dread waking up in the morning.

In 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul says,

you are still living in the flesh, not in the Spirit. How do I know? Are you fighting with one another? Are you comparing yourselves to others and becoming consumed with jealousy? Then it sounds like you are living in the flesh, no different from the rest who live by the standards of this rebellious and broken world.

(The Voice)

I believe the need to have and consume and hoard (whether physically or spiritually) is a form of living in the flesh.  It is sign of a lack of faith, of fearing there will not be enough or holding on to an idol.  We compare ourselves to others and want to keep up, have what they have, or even do what they do.  But if it causes stress or burdens us, holding us back from becoming who we are created to be, it most likely should not be in our lives or homes.

This is not a legalistic proposition, but a practical one.  It doesn’t mean we all have to sell our possessions and give everything to the poor (unless God calls us to) but it means we are intentional with what we have in our homes, creating beauty and space and an inviting environment within which we raise our children and entertain guests.

It means cultivating spiritual disciplines and making sure the time is there, each day, to spend time with God in prayer and reading His Word.  Non-negotiable.

It means being selective about who we “let in” as close friends, trusting the truly trustworthy and choosing to be an influencer for the Kingdom instead of being constantly blown back and forth by the winds of society for the sake of “fitting in.”

I guess it is a little strange that God would teach me this from a pile of discarded measuring utensils!  But, as usual, He shows up in the everyday mundane…when it is quiet and I am alone with my thoughts.  But as I dwell on the truth He has given me, I pray that I am obedient, letting it transform my life and making me more like Jesus who was fully satisfied in His Father.

Yes, may that be true of me.

And I pray it will be true of you.

Home.

Ducking in quickly to share a sweet joy found in the midst of a bittersweet weekend. I am in Texas for the Life celebration of my sweet Great-Aunt, Bernice. My brother and I are staying in our parents’ home…just the four of us for the first time in, probably, decades. My dad emerged with a stack of old photos, every one of which is like holding a time capsule. Our family in the heyday of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

My brother refers to it as “the time before we knew sin.” Haha!

My kids are going to die when they see them.

So, with time short, I leave you with two important things:

First: Love well, for this life matters. My Aunt Bernice did that, and the sweetness filling the room tonight was a testimony to a life of hard work and intentional relationship-building. She loved and served and will be missed.

The second? Well, it’s this:

Blurry, faded, but the love and joy my brother and I shared circa 1977? It is priceless. The gift of a much simpler era. Bare feet and smiles as we paused from our round on the Sit ‘n Spin long enough for our mom to snap this photo. I pray my kids have these kinds of memories, that they treasure their childhood and look back on it with soft hearts and gratitude for the years before life became more complicated.

The Word for 2018

I knew He would do it.  He always does.  Every year I look for it.  In songs, in books, in billboards even.  I wonder if I am grasping at straws or just making it up.  Is it a product of my imagination?  How will I know when it is the one and not something my brain is misfiring and creating of it’s own choosing?

But then, BAMContinue reading “The Word for 2018”

The Making of a Home

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way to where I am going.

John 14:3-4

If you had asked me what the absolute worst time I could imagine to squeeze in a move to a new house could be I would have, without hesitation, said Christmas time.  Need I list all the reasons?

I think not.

But here we are.  In our new home.  Just moved in with only days before Christmas morning arrives.

Call us crazy.  We might be.

God has a way of stretching us when we least expect it and, more often than not, the stretching is accompanied by great blessing.  In fact, sometimes it is because of great blessing.

We scaled down quite a bit in house size.  That meant some extreme and brutal purging in the midst of buying Christmas gifts and decorating our new home.  Talk about conflict.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you my brain is just plain tired.  Don’t even ask about my body.  But the process has been so good and sanctifying.

First of all, it spawned this little corner of the internet.  My quest to simplify our life and to find contentment and inspiration in the everyday normal of life brought me here, to you.  Second, I was convicted to the core about how much stuff we had accumulated.  Stuff I had honestly forgotten I even owned and, obviously, did not need.  I was determined to move only that which was needed and brought joy.  That may or may not have traumatized our resident hoarders.  (Ahem.)

We sold what we needed to sell and gave away the rest, which was a lot.  Friends and Goodwill benefited greatly and we spent weeks moving one SUV-load after another to our new space.  As Christmas neared, I spent two days putting up trees, the special decorations that speak “Christmas” to our family’s hearts, and dreaming of the first magical days in this house with a view.  Horses grazing out front, hills and trees and sparkling ponds out back.  A porch with a swinging bed where my daughter contentedly strums her ukulele and laughter echoing down the wooden stairs as the kids explore and discover their new favorite spots to land.  Moving in with Christmas already in place has been so good and helpful for our transition.  Having our traditions waiting was a gentle buffer to the stress a move brings.  I am grateful for that.

And now I can look out my window and watch the sun rise over the hills, the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen and the eggnog-scented candle burning next to the sink.  I sigh and thank God, once again, under my breath as I take in this beautiful and quiet moment on an Advent morning.

Christmas was waiting, here, for us, when we arrived.  All that meant joy and Jesus in this season was prepared beforehand so that our arrival would be seamless.  Home, with all of the trimmings and sparkle and tradition, was ready.

Though the original Advent took many by surprise (remember, there are 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments) the reality is that the preparations had been underway for thousands of years.  From the day Adam and Eve fell into sin, God had begun the countdown to the arrival of Jesus to redeem and restore mankind to intimacy with Him.  The star was ready to shine.  The manger was built.  Mary was chosen and Joseph placed in to “such a time as this” before anyone in the world realized what was coming.  God was moving and working behind the scenes, preparing Christmas for his Beloved.

For you and for me.

And as we arrive, one by one, in His Kingdom by faith don’t you imagine He rejoices as we cross that threshold of eternal life?  Don’t you think it pleases His father-heart to no end when we gasp in wonder and realize what He has done for us, embracing the gift of Jesus and walking through the doors of eternity to begin life with and for Him?  I do.  Most definitely, I do.  Our God is full of good gifts and lavishly loves us.  He gives us beauty and feasting and music and laughter for us to enjoy, together, as a family.  These holidays are just a foretaste of what is to come and, today, I am going to linger a little longer at the window and watch the wind blow through the horses’ manes as they graze.  I am going to sip my coffee slowly and inhaled the sweetly scented candle as Christmas carols play softly in the background.  And I’m going to thank God for leading me down this road to a more quiet and less cluttered life that frees me to be in the moment, fully, with the ones I love the most.

Merry Christmas, sweet friends.  You are loved.