The Hope of Advent

ELIZABETH, THE MOTHER OF JOHN

(Inspired by the book of Luke chapter 1)

 

Along with all the world she stands pregnant.

Beneath her heart beats the tiny one of the messenger.

This old woman once belittled by the townsfolk,

A raisin dried in the desert sun,

Now stretching and blooming with life,

Elizabeth holds her noble head erect and proud

Knowing she bears a holy burden

A voice cries out and the babe once still,

So small that only a few have noticed the swelling,

Leaps for joy! 

All four limbs stretch

To their full length in the first steps

Of a dance begun by the angels

Deep within the womb

Of his mother.

The eyes of the women meet,

Filling the distance with shared wonder

As they cross the sands to meet face to face.

A Simple Advent

We began today, though it doesn’t “officially” start until December first.  But I know me, and I know us.  Life happens, schedules get tight, and we struggle to finish what we start whether it be a devotional, project, or “school” book.

I’ve purchased many advent devotionals over the years, bought every “memorable” ornament, tree, and wreath there is to make this season count.  This year, though, I’m going back to basics.  Like so many things in my too-busy life I’m paring us down, starting at the beginning and revisiting an old favorite that brings back beautiful memories of the days when all five of my babies gathered ’round the warmth of a winter fire and listened with wonder to the stories that just happen to be true.

We read the first few pages of “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones this morning over hot coffee and before a crackling fire.  I’m down to three kids in our morning time, the oldest two having grown and moved on to other things, so I savor these hours and pray they will last longer with these three.  I opened the book, now worn and with binding beginning to fray, to “The Story and the Song” and read the words slowly, carefully, wishing I had the author’s lovely British accent and determing to make the reading beautiful for my children.  The familiar words felt like home on my tongue and I slowed down as I came to page 17…

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

My voice broke over these words, tears spilling from my eyes and my heart bursting with gratitude for fresh understanding…revelation, even…of the Christ.  That Jesus would become a baby.  That He would give countless clues all through History that we had not been left to wallow in our sin, but were so very loved that the Son of God had already planned to descend here before we even knew we needed Him…I could barely speak.

“Are you ok, Mom?”  My son’s soft voice broke my concentration.

How do I even answer that question?  I am more than ok, I am free.  I am saved, gloriously and forever seated with Christ in the heavenly places!  I am forgiven and beloved and, oh my sweet ones, how I long for you to realize this is true about you as well!

He came.  Jesus came and lived the life I could not live, died the death I deserved to die. He is the center of my story, and of yours.

“…So in Heaven and earth and below, every knee would bow in worship and every tongue would proclaim that Jesus, He reigns with the angels. Son of God, Son of man.

Hallelujah!”

From the song, Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come by Andrew Peterson

We too easily complicate things in an effort to make Christmas beautiful. We too often forget the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ.  But, today, I was reminded of why I am who I am and why I do what I do.

For the sake of Christ and the Glory of God.

Keep it simple, my friends.  Remember and celebrate the Advent of Christ with all of your heart, and without all of the fluff.

The stories are true.

Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come.  Listen to the old, old story…

 

On Being Followed

Our family spent Fall Break on the beach. (Can I get a hallelujah, Amen?) My oldest son (a legal adult, though I swear he was toddling around my house just a few minutes ago) followed me down so he could have his car to meet up with his buddies.

As we made the 7-hour-plus-many-stops drive to Florida (Helloooo Whataburger!) my son followed close behind. He has never made a cross-country drive alone so this was good practice for him. Except for a few logistical hiccups it was a relatively uneventful and mostly enjoyable drive.

And as we drove something struck me. I was much more aware than usual of my own driving habits. Not only my speed, but also my use of turn signals, passing techniques and courtesy shown to those around me. Because I was being followed.

By my son.

Whom I love more than life.

He has been driving for two years but I know he still has much to learn and I saw this as an opportunity to model good driving and intentional precautions to protect myself and those around me. It was a needed lesson for both of us.

So as I drove the Lord was so kind to reveal a truth to me.

You see, we are always being followed. I have five children watching me, but even if you do not have children I assure you someone is watching how you live, love and navigate this life. Our decisions almost always affect others, for better or for worse.

Jesus modeled the perfect life and, though I am far from perfect, I can examine my own life and ask if I am worthy of being followed.

On good days I can say, “Sure, I’m doing pretty good.” But there are too many days where, if I’m honest, I’m living under the “do as I say and not as I do” umbrella. I’m really adept at telling you what you should do but then going home and not necessarily following though with that advice in my own life. This is why we are counseled by the Lord to examine our hearts, to look ourselves honestly in the mirror and be willing to make the needed changes in order to more closely follow Jesus and more effectively lead others into a life of truth.

The book of James says this:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:22-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

From this passage I learn two vital lessons…

First, I MUST know the Word of God. I can’t do what I haven’t learned.

Second, I must allow the Word of God to affect the way I see myself, to change my perspective and affect the way I live even when no one is looking.

Lip service is useless. It’s cheap. But a transformed life, a woman who lives and speaks the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is worthy of being followed and will lead those looking up to her straight to the Throne of Grace.

How to be True to Yourself

Boy, is this ever a big topic. So many books and blogs claim to have the answer but, when all is said and done, we still end up empty and searching. Advice ranges from getting a manicure to “washing your face.”

(Yeah, I went there.)

I, I, I, me, me, me…we fight for peace and rest and determine to recharge and charge forward, but for what? For “likes?” For fist bumps and “Yeah, girl, that’s right?” Is that what we are reduced to…our social media popularity and comment sections? Recognition from a world who stands against the things of God? Success that is temporal and cannot eternally satisfy our deepest longings?

In Romans 8, starting in verse 5, Paul explains where our focus should lie. Let me give you a hint…it is not on “self.”

At least not in the way today’s popular books would sell it.

Read this section of Scripture carefully …

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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 through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:5-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The only real method of self-care has nothing to do with yourself but everything to do with God.

Here are three important steps to truly taking care of yourself:

1. Set your mind on the things of the Spirit.

What dominates your thought life? The Kardashian’s? Sports? Chip and Jo? (Ouch…stepping on my own toes here!)

Do you fill your mind with truth or twaddle?

The answer to that question dictates how you live. What we feed our minds determines the fruit we will display in our everyday lives. Flesh equals death. Spirit equals life and peace. This passage tells us the flesh is actually HOSTILE to God! It does not like to be told what to do or how. (“Who are you to judge me?”) It doesn’t want to, nor is it even able to please God. To profess to be a Christian yet be unable to please God is scary. Very scary.

2. Be sure the Spirit dwells in you.

Paul’s assumption is that he is speaking to believers. But what if you have not surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus? Well, you are basically spinning your wheels. Without faith in Christ you don’t have the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, you do not belong to Christ. If you are not certain, please contact me. I would love to help you get that settled once and forever.

3. Know who you are…and who you are not.

I am many things: wife, mom, writer, sister, teacher, friend. But above and beyond all of these I am a born-again child of God, daughter of the King, and forever alive because of the righteousness of Christ. His Spirit lives in me and gives life to my mortal body because Jesus rose from the dead and promises to do the same for me! This is EVERYTHING. This is the reason I live and breathe and get out of bed at sunrise to meet with Him. The flesh has no right over me because I owe everything to Jesus. If I belong to Him it affects everything I do, every word I speak, even the passive information I allow into my mind while going about my day.

My behavior is greatly affected by the contents of my mind…trash in equals trash out. Beauty and things of the Kingdom in equals peace and joy out.

If I choose obedience to God I choose life. If I follow the patterns and godless ways of the world I will suffer the same negative consequences in my life.

If I truly know who and WHOSE I am the very fabric of my days will change. My tastes and desires will be refined. I will find joy in living fully into who my Creator, who knows me best, says I am!

Here’s the point:

Do I enjoy self-care in the earthly sense? Sure! I don’t know many women who don’t like a good mani-pedi or massage. Being told I did a good job or that you like to read my blog 😉 always feels good and encouraging. But I want us to go deeper, to a more permanent solution to the inner battle we all fight each day. I want us to see where our value lies and know that if no one else is cheering us on, if finding time to be pampered is just not happening in this season but we are certain our lives count for the Kingdom of God then we can find joy in knowing we have achieved the highest of rewards and most holy of accolades from the only One whose opinion really matters.

In Heaven my feet won’t hurt, thus nixing the need for pedicures.

In Heaven I’m fairly certain we won’t need Facebook or Instagram.

And in Heaven we will be eternally satisfied to hear “Well done” from the Eternal One, Himself.

Live forward, dear one. You are who you will be! Walk in that knowledge and turn away from twaddle, beginning NOW. Don’t settle. Don’t compromise. Hold a high standard because Jesus regards you highly. He is worthy of our well-lived lives.

Into the Deep

What is the best way to learn to swim in the ocean?

I would venture to say that the toddler pool would not be very helpful.  Even going as far as the adult pool, maybe the 8-12 foot deep end, would not be enough.

Why?  Well, for one thing the ocean is vastly deep and often rough.  Undertow can end the life of the most strong swimmers, not to mention the wildlife swimming below.  A clean, chlorinated community pool is not the same.  Not even close.

To be a strong swimmer in the ocean requires understanding of the behavior of the waters and wildlife, and incredible strength to withstand the pummeling of large waves.

One has to study and and train in order to survive the wild.

Lately I have been pondering this reality.  As I prepare to launch my firstborn into adulthood and strive to educate my younger children I have seen a common thread woven throughout this season of life.

We avoid boredom like the plague.  We don’t know what to do with it.  Stillness makes us unsettled and we rescue ourselves from it with the click of a smartphone.

Just look to your left or right at any intersection.  Most people cannot handle even one minute of boredom, pulling out their phone to fill the empty space until the light turns green.  Dead air on the radio for more that two seconds will prompt us to change the channel.

Even our children, with fresh and creative minds so able to learn and explore, are taught to turn to video games and television because the adults find it easier…less messy…more quiet in the house when the headphones are on and the controller is clicking away.

We have shelves full of books that sit unread.  Art supplies still in their original packaging, purchased with great intentions but rarely used.  Yet we scroll.  We click.

And we die.

We were created for more.  We live in a tumultuous and rocky world.  An ocean of culture and change lies before us but we don’t know how to swim in it.  Our minds numb, becoming accustomed to shallow waters, bright floaties and chaise lounges while our surroundings succumb to the flood.

We can’t even tread water.

But we can change this.  What if we choose excellence?  What if we listen, read and learn and bless our minds with strong tools for survival?  What if we study the dark spiritual waters and learn how to swim in them, to stay afloat and rescue others who are sinking?  The specifics are up to you and me.  Only we know ourselves and where we have neglected good and necessary growth.  But I suggest we begin by seeking God, diving into the Scriptures and letting the outflow of that affect our choices in entertainment, media and education.  We learn to allow ourselves to sit in boredom, to become contemplative in those awkward moments and let it result in growth and creativity.

My goodness, imagine what we might hear from the Lord if we give Him a quiet space in which to speak!

“Be still and know…”

Turn away from foolish things and look to the good, true and beautiful.  Retrain our minds to look inward and evaluate ourselves before looking outward for a quick fix at the stop light.

Let silence ring loud in our ears and listen…

We can hear ourselves breathing.  We might even hear our own hearts beating.

Build strong spiritual muscles in those moments and swim out into the deep, unafraid when the shore disappears because we have trained and are ready.  Truth is our guide and Jesus is our light piercing the darkness.

We were born for more than a quick fix.   Don’t settle any longer.

A Simple Discipline

It took years for me to find what worked, to develop spiritual disciplines that I could “stick with” and that felt grace-filled instead of burdensome or rote.  I tried the “read-through-Bible-in-a-year” programs, only to get stuck somewhere in Leviticus.  I bought a Bible that had daily readings from the Old and New Testaments along with a Psalm and Proverb for each day but it was too confusing…like reading four different Novels at the same time and trying to keep the stories straight.  Most everything I did caused me to read passages out of context or rush through or simply fall asleep in the middle and have no idea what I had read the next day.

I was practicing religion, not relationship.

I struggled.

After twenty years of being a Christian I simply did not know the Bible like I knew I should.  I wasn’t “in love” with the Word, only treating it like a habit to be kept or a box to be checked.

I sure would hate for my husband to treat me like that.

By the grace of God, I went to a retreat a couple of years ago that changed the way I interact with the Bible forever.  I signed up for a breakout session on “Bible Journaling,” which was all the rage and I thought looked kind of stupid, to be honest. Drawing in your Bible?  Mmmmkay.  But the girl was teaching hand-lettering techniques and ideas for easy sketches and drawings, which appealed to me, so I went.

I’ll never forget her holding up her colorful, stickered Bible and saying with great emotion, “I love this book.”

She had my attention.

In that session I learned to take it slow.  Read heading-to-heading.  Stop.  Ask God to show me what He wants to teach me.  Let the words sink in.  Look them up in different translations to get a broader picture (like The Message or The Passion Translation) and then write, doodle, draw, paint…whatever I want to do but allow the act of slowly and creatively writing what God is showing me to be a tool of meditation, to let the Holy Words take root in my hurried heart.

That means I probably won’t (and haven’t) make it through the Bible in a year.  And that is OK.  I had a friend say recently, “Read until He stops you.”  Yes.  God may have one beautiful sentence he wants me to mull over all day.  It may be an entire chapter.  But the key is to be in communication with the Holy Spirit as I read, not just to “get through it,” but to truly commune with the Lover of My Soul.  Sometimes I write in the margins.  Sometimes I get really creative.  But always, always I walk away knowing I have not been alone.  That is relationship.  That fosters my passion for Jesus and fills my cup so that I can live and love and parent more effectively, out of His strength and not my own.

Now, I do have a few personal boundaries I set for Bible journaling in order to keep it about Him and not about me.  First of all, I never ever write over the text of the Bible.  I believe every last word is Holy Spirit inspired and I also know that countless people have given their lives to own and protect one sacred page of scripture.  I determine that every word should still be easily readable after I am done.  So, out of reverence, I just don’t.  My Bible has plenty of room to write in the margins.

It’s not an art project.

I also don’t post my creations online.  I have allowed a couple of friends to see them but, really, I’m not that good of an artist and it is also not about getting likes or any other kinds of accolades for my “skills.”  What I create is between me and Jesus.  That keeps it real and it prevents me from “performing” as I journal.

I wake up early every morning, before any of my kids are stirring, and head upstairs to my desk.  I light a candle, I pray the day’s reading from “Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” (or any of various books of prayer I have around my house), always taking time to lift up the ones I love who need prayer, then open my Bible and read slowly and purposefully…until He stops me.  This discipline has changed my life, my perspective, and taught me things I would have otherwise missed in my previous rush to “get through it.”  I look forward to this time with God, knowing He will faithfully meet with me and fill me with the knowledge of His presence and peace.  It is a beautiful, blessedly quiet way to begin each day.

 

The Turning of Peter (and maybe of us)

Last week’s post resonated with so many of you.  You wrote to me, commented on my Facebook page, and generally said you felt like it was written just for you.

This world is so dangerous.  It seems to be spiraling out of control, with sentiment against the people of God growing more sour, more violent, by the minute.  News reports are filled with so much negativity that I, for one, can hardly bear to watch it any more.

Just imagine if there had been a 24 hour news cycle during Jesus’ earthly life.  

Bodies hanging from crosses, children ripped from their mothers’ arms and forced into slavery or the military, crowds screaming for the murderer to be released while the Innocent One was nailed clean through his wrists and ankles…

Yes, I can see why Peter faltered and, in his weakness, denied he had ever known Jesus.

Because knowing Jesus is dangerous.

Today I read on in the book of Luke. Chapter 24.  

The disciples’ world was shattered as their best friend, and their hopes for the Kingdom of God to come, died on a tree.  In sorrow and grief they retreated, not knowing what to do now.  It was over.  Hope was gone.

Suddenly the door burst wide open and a group of women stood, breathless and eyes filled with tears of wonder, words stumbling over each other as they relayed what they had seen.

“He’s alive!  Jesus lives!  We saw Him!  He spoke to us!  The tomb is empty and He lives!”

Bull.

I can just hear the men, grumbling and shaking their heads.  They had seen Jesus die.  No one had ever survived a crucifixion and the soldiers had even pierced his side to be sure he was dead.  These women are grief-crazed and full of…

but Peter rose.

Three simple words pregnant with GRACE.  The one who denied Jesus, whose last interaction with the Messiah was that long and sorrowful moment of eye contact upon denying Jesus for the third time, who had done what he vowed he would never do and was surely beating himself up inside, rose.

Could it be?  It is possible?  It’s not over?  I have to know.  I have to GO.

And Peter rose and ran to the tomb.

The biggest failure became the first follower.  The fearful one became fearless.  The weak one…

Well, just read the second chapter of Acts to find out what God does with the weak ones!  Savor the words of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) and read them with the memory of Peter’s denial of Jesus fresh in your mind.  LOOK WHAT GOD CAN DO!

I need this!  I need to remember, as I’m raising kids and fighting off the threats that surround my family, that God is above and beyond the worst the world can throw at us!  He is above Crucifixion and death, and He is certainly above social media and the 24 hour news cycle!

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.  Acts 2:36

Peter spoke with authority, now fully convinced of the Lordship and power of the Son of God.

Am I?  Are you?

Oh, that I would learn to pray in power and the confidence of the Holy Spirit who is God within me!  What would happen if I lifted my face to my Father and declared my standing before Him, as an intercessor, a member of the Holy Priesthood, His precious child and warrior?  What if I prayed from a place of authority instead of timidity?

Because too often I squeak out a “please, God” instead of “this I know.”

I lament when I should be taking up my sword and standing in the gap as a warrior for my family.

I approach God with downcast eyes instead of boldness and outstretched arms.

Can you relate?

So today, sisters, let us rise and run to the tomb!  Declare who Jesus IS, because he LIVES and in His might we fight for our babes and the men we love!  I want to stop hoping and start knowing, praying out of a place of faith and expectation for what God IS going to do because I remember well what He has already done!

Are you in?  Lace up your shoes…it’s time to run.