December 9, 2018

Fighting for Christmas (a Repost)

I am thankful not to be feeling this year like I did when I wrote this in 2016, but I want to offer it again as a gift to those of you who may be ready to throw in the towel in 2018.

Fight on; don't give up!





Earlier this month in an Advent devotional provided by our church, which includes Bible passages and selected readings from C.S. Lewis, I read:


Christianity is a fighting religion.
It thinks God made the world - that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colors and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God "made up out of His head" as a man makes up a story.  But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.

Christianity is a fighting religion.  I don't know what December has been like for you, but I think that sentence really struck me because I feel like I have been fighting this month - fighting for Christmas to win over in my heart.  Not Christmas-the-feeling promoted by Deck the Halls, White Christmas, and Holly Jolly, but Christmas-the-Truth proclaimed by Joy to the Word, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

December has been a tug-of-war in my heart and mind between the Truth and the lies.  I have been more impatient and frustrated in the last few weeks than I have been in a while, and for no good reason that I can find other than the reality of the earthly battle every Christian faces against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  And oh!  How the latter would love to see us stop fighting:
  • to give up on the Advent readings with our family, because it seems like no one is listening;
  • to let go of the traditions, because they seem like too much this year;
  • to give in to all the stress of preparations, because it's more natural to complain than rejoice;
  • to take our eyes of that precious manger, because it seems more comforting to wring our hands and lament than to cast our cares on Him and live in the freedom Christmas heralds into the world;
  • to forget about loving our neighbor generously, because we aren't sure we have the reserves to care for anyone else.




Christianity is a fighting religion.  And I'm gonna fight!  Why?  Because I know Jesus.  Because there is victory over the grave.  Because I'm in enemy territory and I want to stand firm.  For What?  Not a feeling, but for Truth.
  • So my kids can taste and see that God is GOOOOOD. 
  • So that in my little spheres of influence I might have the opportunity to see the Kingdom come in new ways.
  • So that I can see my Savior demonstrate His strength in my weakness.
  • So that God can be glorified, as He is worthy to be.



None of us are entitled to anything, not even a holly, jolly Christmas. But Christians know the Prince of Peace.  And we can let Him rule in our hearts.  As Lewis points out, we can participate in God's work of putting the world right again.

So when I lose my patience, I ask my kids and my Gracious God to forgive me.  When I feel my pulse quickening with anxiety about gifts, or plans, or not measuring up, I stop and look to my Good Shepherd to takes my hand and says I love you, always, little lamb; let's take each day one step at a time.  I will lead you.  When I want to grumble, grovel, or gripe, I will turn on the Pandora Christmas Hymns station and let the lyrics permeate my mind and soul.  When we pass a bell ringer and her red bucket, I dig in my wallet, the kids throw in coins, and we talk about God's love .  Through all of those things I am reminded how the Lord has put my soul right with Him thought Christ, and it renews my desire to be a part of His ministry of reconciliation in the world.

Christmas, true Christmas, is restored in my heart.


Every time we choose love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control, despite every fiber of our being wanting us to go in the opposite direction, we are fighting the good fight!  Every time we repent and believe the good news, heaven rejoices and hope is restored!  Every time we put our neighbor's interests before our own, the Kingdom comes and Christmas is rightly observed!

Christmas is God-come-down, true, life-changing love.  That "sweet baby Jesus in the manger" came to rescue a world lost in sin and destined for death and destruction.  When our hearts are filled with the faith to believe that Truth, well, everything is different.  Christmas holds fresh new wonder, and will year after year!

We have a choice.

Will you fight with me? 

Let's start here.  Sing along and rejoice!




Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

December 2, 2018

Believe.

I originally shared this post in early December 2011,
and repost today for your edification as Advent 2018 begins.



'Tis the season!  Stockings are hung, halls are decked, carols are playing (everywhere you go!)  It is a season of wonder, of joy, of hope, of delight.  And according to Macy's we should Believe.

Believe what?

Yes, surely it has something to do with the fun of Santa Claus making his yearly appearance (without being seen!) in the homes of those with little ones.  But for Christians, people often referred to as "believers," that word and this season offer so much more.

These weeks leading up to Christmas are a time of wonder, joy, hope, and delight because we believe not in one we outgrow, but rather in One who is eternal, all-knowing, ever-present, and Almighty.  The One who came on that first lonely Christmas night so many years ago.

Emmanuel.  God with us.

Jesus.  The Lord saves.

Christmas is no blip on the screens of our lives, to be momentarily enjoyed and immediately forgotten.  Christmas is, rather, a major "we interrupt this program" service announcement than changed the course of human history.  God, set in motion events that would bring real justice and real peace between man and Himself.  Christmas looks toward Easter and points to eternity.

For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16


Believe.


Our culture invites us to believe in something during this magical season, but offers no real consensus on what.  And it leaves most of us disappointed on Dec. 26 when the fun ends, the decorations are down, the gifts are opened, and the parties are over.

But God invites us to  believe in Him, the only wise God who offers a living hope, a new life, the true light that is the light of men and does not fade when the bright decorations come down.

Christmas is an invitation to believe.
Thanks for the reminder, Macy's!

Do you believe?

Will you believe?


St. John does not include the Christmas story in his gospel account; he zooms out to the bigger picture, looking from eternity past into eternity future:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 
John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”  From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

God has made Himself known in Jesus. (Whoa!)


All the longings of creation are met in Him.


The waiting is over;
the kingdom is near;
repent and believe the good news!

November 30, 2018

Live Alive {Day 30}: In Conclusion

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.

Hey!  This is it: the end of November, the end of the Live Alive series!  Thanks so much for joining me on this journey.  I pray for you as I do for myself that, though we've come to the end, this will be the beginning of something wonderful in your life with the Lord.

I started the series in these verses:


The purpose of series was to explore the idea that once we were dead people walking, but now we are ALIVE in Christ!  There were three questions I posed in the first post:

  • Have you experienced being brought to life by God?
  • Are you living alive?
  • What the heck does that even mean?

If being made alive together with Christ is a new idea to you, I pray this series has ignited in you a desire to know God, be made alive by Him, and to follow Him.  If you have more questions, please be in touch with me or a local pastor or friend.  If you follow Jesus, but have been feeling like there isn't any "spark" in  you life, I pray that this series has given you a sense of how to draw near to the Lord and live alive in Him in some new ways.

I wonder after thinking about this for a month how I would summarize "what the heck it even means" to live alive.  Here's what I would say:

To live alive the Christian acknowledges daily that they belong completely to and are utterly dependent on God (Father, Son, & Spirit) for all things pertaining to life and salvation, and not in a miserable way, but in the joyful manner of a child who knows how deeply loved and secure he/she is in relationship to a good parent.  From that solid foundation, the Christian then lives alive in the world by loving God through the love they show other people, the things they pursue, what they discipline themselves to think about, the decisions they make, and the risks they take.
The alive person is always thinking: How can I love and honor God today?  How can I lift up my fellow human here?  What is the next step God wants me to take?  And none of these questions are asked in fear or guilt, but in anticipation of what God will do.  They are grateful to have been invited to participate in God's work in the world.  The alive life is intentional, but not stressful, because the Christian knows the details are not up to them; they simply heed God's voice as He calls and directs.  And this life is lively because they can never anticipate the exciting ride God has for them until they step out in faith!

There.  Does that cover most of what we went over for the last twenty-nine days?  Anything you'd add or subtract?  What have you been thinking about as you've read this series?  I've gotten emails from my mom and dad about it, so I know I have at least two readers!  Hahaha.  But I really would love to hear your story!

I feel sad that this is the end; it's been fun!  No word form the Lord yet about what comes next on this blog, but stay tuned.  Let's close in praise of the one who makes us alive:
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen. 
Ephesians 3:20-21

LIVE ALIVE!
Heather 💛


PS  Don't forget I want to send someone my favorite Christmas album.  Drop me a comment anywhere you find this post on the internet before Sunday, Dec. 2 at noon and your name will be entered to win!




November 29, 2018

Live Alive {Day 29}: One Eye on Eternity & a Giveaway!!

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.

Before wrapping up this series tomorrow with a little summary post, I have one more thing to share that I think characterizes the alive life: living as if eternity with Jesus will be a reality someday.

It is so easy to forget that we were made to live forever in relationship with our Creator.  Bombarded by cares, temptations, and challenges, we lose sight of the fact that there is something beyond what our eyes can see.  Quickly we fall into thinking it will always be like this: the struggle against the sinful nature at war with our new self, the impossibility of having a peaceful relationship with anyone, the constant sense that perhaps the darkness is overcoming the light.

Then the Spirit reminds us:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.  Philippians 3:20-21
Then we can join Paul in saying:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14
Friends, what I look forward to most about eternity (whatever it may look like!) is that struggle being over.  Finally and forever we will know how to worship the Lord in Spirit and Truth and love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, without effort!  Always and eternally we will love our neighbors as ourselves, without having to think about it and make ourselves do it!  How joyful this will be!  Freely we will dwell with the Father and He with us, and with our fellow citizens of heaven and them with us.  Oooh, it's gonna be somethin'!

In the meantime, here we are in the training space.  Getting conditioned for the day that the Lord returns and every knee bows and every tongue confesses His name, either with delight or under compulsion.  Alive folks know that the promises will be fulfilled just as surely as the long-awaited coming of the Messiah who we celebrate at Christmastime.  Eternity with God is real, and alive folks are looking forward to it!  So they join Paul in forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

I confess that I don't live like this regularly; I am supremely distracted by what is in front of my face and my desire to control all the things!  But regular habits like personal Bible study/reading, worship on Sunday mornings, conversations with friends, prayer, etc. are rhythms that clear my head so I can remember Who is in charge, what He is capable, and (sometimes many times a day!) repent and believe the good news that I will spend forever with Him.  Do you have rhythms that remind you to keep one eye on eternity?

Doing so brings us to life, lighting a fire under us, so to speak.  Alive people share the story not only because it is precious to them, but because they know there will come a time when we no longer can respond in faith and be saved.  Alive people lean on the Spirit now to shape and mold them for eternity with their Father, because they know that will be a way longer time than the few years they spend here - and it is worth it to prepare for the bridegroom!  Alive people think about eternity not so that "they'll be of no earthly use," but so they don't get too attached to what they see and experience here and rather store up treasures in heaven.

I was sifting through my brain trying to think of verses related to our eternal life, and the phrase and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever came to mind.  That's from Psalm 23, you may know it; it's pretty famous.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

And so David summarized what alive living looks like: total dependence on the Shepherd, total provision from His hand, and total assurance of His presence now and forever more.

Live alive!
Heather 💛


*     *     *     *     *

Historically when I've done a series, I do a celebratory giveaway at the end.  This year I'd like to give away one of the best Christmas albums ever: Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God: the True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ.  In one album, Andrew Peterson takes his listeners on a remarkable journey from Genesis to Christmas.  Drop me a comment here, on Facebook, Instagram, or email and let me know you'd like to have your name in the drawing, and it could be yours!   If you already have it, throw your name in and you could give it to a friend (since it's all Amazon has, I'll be mailing you this 2 disc CD set).  If you've only read one post all series, no worries, get your name in the running anyway.  I really want you to have this album to help you worship through this Christmas season, and to help you believe God keeps His promises!

Comment by Sunday, 12pm EST and I'll let you know the winner Sunday afternoon!


November 28, 2018

Live Alive {Day 28}: Tell the Story

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.

Today's post is simple.  Alive people tell the story of what God has done in their life: they tell it in word; they tell it in deed.  Their whole lives are an expression of joy and thanksgiving to God, even through hard circumstances and pain, (shockingly).  Quite naturally, alive people offer Life to those around them.


photo credit

As we walk, alive, with the Lord, we start to look like this too.  Faith overcomes fear more often.  Joy sneaks into places in our hearts where it's never dwelt before.  Hope invades the dark corners of our minds and transforms our thinking.  Love fills us up with security that surprises us with its comfort and reassurance that perhaps, no, indeed(!), "it is well with my soul."

I wonder if you are familiar with the hymn, I Love to Tell the Story.
Here's a link to a beautiful a capella version, if you'd like to listen.
I love to tell the story
of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory,
of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story,
because I know 'tis true;
it satisfies my longings
as nothing else can do.
Refrain:
I love to tell the story,
'twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story
of Jesus and his love.
2 I love to tell the story;
'tis pleasant to repeat
what seems, each time I tell it,
more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story,
for some have never heard
the message of salvation
from God’s own Holy Word. [Refrain]
3 I love to tell the story,
for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting
to hear it, like the rest.
And when in scenes of glory
I sing the new, new song,
'twill be the old, old story
that I have loved so long. [Refrain]

People love stories and are shaped by them.  The story of redemption is the best story every written!  As alive people share the story, it becomes sweeter and sweeter to them.  Remembering drives us to rejoice and also makes us long for more people to hear it and have the opportunity to respond.

Lord, make the story of your love so wonderful to us that we cannot help but share it! Amen

Tell the old, old story!
(Leave it up to the Lord to turn hearts to Him; if He saved you and me, anything's possible!)
Heather 💛

November 27, 2018

Live Alive {Day 27}: Living on the Edge

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.

Today's post is related to yesterday's, about prayer being a (the?) critical time for the alive person to recharge.  Things happen when we pray.  Jesus taught His disciples to pray that God's name would be hallowed and that His kingdom would come, to ask Him to meet their daily needs, to seek His forgiveness (and be reminded of our need to forgive others), and for protection from temptation.  The Luke account of what is commonly called The Lord's Prayer is simpler than what you may say in weekly worship, but no less meaty.  Jesus prayed and taught His dead-but-now-alive people to pray in a way that says Hey God, so I'm totally dependent on you here, regardless of how I act or how independent I might think I am.  Your name is the only one worthy of glory and You're the only one who can meet my needs, forgive my sins, and preserve me until I spend eternity with you.



The simplicity of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples reminds me of Ecclesiastes 5:2
Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
And now we come to the point of today's post:

When we keep quiet space in our prayer time,
there's time to hear God's voice and receive His direction.

I firmly believe that one reason we Christians are still walking around like dead people is because we are not listening.  We are too busy, too tuned into ourselves and not to the airwaves of heaven, too afraid of what might happen if we let go.  Yet, when we start listening, we will finally hear God's voice and the directions He has for us.  Some will be expected, even if they're not easy: forgive that dude that offended you or be kinder to your spouse today.  Then there will be things that give you pause: get involved with this group that scares you a little, start something new whose outcome you can't control, reach out to that impossible personGod will invite you to live on the edge with Him.  The excitement that is lacking - you know, that feeling of being involved in something greater and taking risks to see growth and what God can do, yeah, that excitement - will come with God giving you mission, vision, and purpose within His plans to have His kingdom come "on Earth as it is in Heaven."

One final thought.  This prayer can be a dedicated time set aside.  That is the perfect place to start. Prayer is also a posture of the mind, one that always has an ear for the Spirit's voice at all times.  Pair that with a posture of the heart that is always ready to respond in faith, and you'll be living alive on the edge with God.  There's no space for death when Life is at work!

The Lord longs for us to live alive in Him, because He made us alive to be alive!  Of course it seems silly to have to say it, but like we talked about earlier in this series - we are engaged in a fight, the enemy is at work trying to keep us distracted and disabled.  Let's stick it to him by opening up our ears to the Way, the Truth, and the Life and responding in faith to whatever He speaks to our hearts.  I know my most alive times are the ones when I have done this.  Maybe the best way to begin to day is to share a story about a time you watched God do amazing things when you stepped out on the edge when He called.  Remembering is a powerful thing.  If you can't think of a story, then it's time to ask God what edge He might be calling you to right now.

Listen, and come to life!
Heather 💛


November 26, 2018

Live Alive {Day 26}: Recharge

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.

Self-care is a hot topic these days.  Modern life is bonkers, so we look for ways to take care of ourselves in the midst of the hustle and bustle - because if we don't, we might just go crazy.  No joke.  At the heart of it, I believe this practice is wise.  We can't serve others on an empty tank.  But I find that my attempts to find rest in what this world has to offer always come up short.  There is something in our souls that needs something "me time" can never quite satisfy.  (Though I'm always down for a massage.  Just sayin'!)


One thing you need to know about me, if you don't know me well: I do not know how to rest.  I know how to make a plan to be productive.  I know how to get really distracted and do unproductive, but not restful, things.  When I get a chance to have "me time," my first thought is What can I accomplish in the x number of hours I have?! I believe my personality is a gift in many ways.  I appreciate many aspects being the way I am.  But I am learning the pitfalls.  I have got to learn how to rest if I want to live alive!  This may not be the case for you, but hang in with me, because I think what I'm going to say is universal and also applies to those who are blessed (from my perspective, haha) to have the opposite personality type!  The world needs us both, by the way; and I need to learn from you how to rest, and I can teach you how to make a list and stick to it.  <wink>

I spent the last two weeks, between Love God Greatly Bible studies, reading the book of Luke.  Y'all, Jesus is NO JOKE in the book of Luke!  He comes across as harder than hard core to the reader, and totally calls His followers to the same.  But there was something else I noticed: 

Jesus stopped sometimes.

He pulled away from the crowds.

He made the time, even early in the morning.

Jesus recharged;
and He did it in prayer.


But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.  5:16 
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. [and then He chose His disciples!] 6:12 
On their return the apostles told him all that they had done.  And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida.  9:10 
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  9:28 
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."  11:1 
And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.  And shen he came to the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed .. "  22:39-41

How many of you turn to prayer first thing when you need some self-care?  Yeah.  Me neither. I mean, the very name implies that you're trying to take care of yourself yourself.  But even in the midst of a restful activity, how hounded we can be by guilt, failure, fear, anxiety, doubt, anger, hopelessness, and so on!

Jesus withdrew to pray.


If the God-man needed to connect with the Father to be able to do live alive, I feel confident we ought to follow His example!

Please don't misunderstand me.  I think that doing things we love and find relaxing are wonderful!  Get that massage; go for that run; treat yo'self to that manicure; watch some Netflix; grab coffee with a friend!  But remember that, ultimately, only Jesus can lift the weight of the world off of our shoulders in a soul-rest kind of way.  He is the Prince of Peace.  Only the Lord can direct our path in the way of righteousness.  He is the Wonderful Counselor.  Only Yahweh is our sure protection from the evil one.  He is Almighty God.

I'm not an expert on prayer.  Like I told you: I know nothing about proper rest!  But I do think one huge thing prayer does to recharge us is to remind us Who is in charge.  Prayer - simply talking with our Father about anything and everything - not only fuels us for service, but fill us with joy, as we remember who God is, what He is capable of, how He has provided for us, the depth of His forgiveness and love, and so on and so forth.  Humbly taking our place as dependents sets our soul at rest and sets our hearts free.

Do you know how Jesus replied to the disciples that asked Him how to pray? (Luke 11)

And he said to them, "When you pray say:
"Father, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come.Give us each day our daily bread,and forgive us our sins,for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.And lead us not into temptation."

I guess we should begin our live alive recharge from that place of humble dependence.  God will take care of the rest.  (See what I did there?!)

Pray on!
Heather 💛