December 8, 2017

The Prince of Peace - Part I

Sunday evening I was invited to be the speaker at a service our church hosts once a month at a local continuing care retirement community.  There's a group of church members who regularly facilitate the service, providing musical accompaniment and structure for the time, but individuals rotate in to give a message.  I don't post much here these days, but since I have the content all typed up anyway, I thought I'd share it with you.

The Lord directed me to speak about peace, specifically the Prince of Peace.  How did He direct exactly?  Well, it went something like me thinking one morning, God, what should I talk to these people about?  I am feeling clueless and have no specific direction other than thinking it's December, so it should be Christmasy or Adventy or something.  Then later as I was praying (I journal my prayers, by the way, because, well, focus, you know), I called God the Prince of Peace, and it was like a light bulb went on.  I felt 100% positive that was the trail I was supposed to follow for the folks at St. Andrews.  Fancy, right?  Ask God for direction and He gives it.  And yet, I am still always amazed He does.  Grace upon grace!

Aaaaaanyway.

Christmas is a time when we think a lot about peace.  We long for "peace on earth" and receive Christmas cards with the phrase, and probably an image like the one above, maybe with an outline of the world, as well.  I have a Peace decoration I put above my kitchen sink this time of year, in fact.  But what the heck is peace?  I mean, what are we talking about, and do we all think of the same thing?

The dictionary defines peace as:
  • freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility
  • freedom from or cessation of war or fighting
That sounds good, right?  A life free of disturbance and a world free from war.  Sign me up!  I really, really hate conflict.

But the Bible calls Jesus the Prince of Peace, which makes me think that maybe peace is something more that mere tranquility and the absence of war.  Maybe peace is not about my personal comfort, my plans coming to fruition without difficulty, or all nations and peoples getting along, but rather about something deeper - soul deep - a reconciliation and a comfort that we all long for, but can't create for ourselves.

Speaking of, the peace that we try to create always has an end, doesn't it?  There's often that uncomfortable feeling when things are going well that perhaps something terrible is lurking just beyond the next sunrise.  The peace we long for cannot be offered to us by the world in which we live, the governments ruling over us, or the protections and plans we put in place.

That brings me to Isaiah 9:6:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The Bible tells us that the Prince of Peace will usher in a government and peace that will have no end.  Peace with NO END?!  God was doing something BIG when he sent the Prince of Peace!  (By the way, the Prince of Peace is more commonly known as Christ Jesus.)

In Hebrew, peace is the word shalom, which means completeness, soundness, or well-being.  The angels announced peace to the shepherds.  Jesus spoke of His peace, a peace different than the world gives,  to His disciples as he was nearing His crucifixion and ascension.  Paul taught that when we have been justified by faith in Christ we have peace with God.  I don't know about you, but I want to experience that kind of peace!

But since this post as gotten long enough, I'll save the details of how to experience the peace offered to us by the Prince of Peace in a subsequent post.  Advent is all about waiting, right?

Till next post, grace and peace,
Heather

March 3, 2017

Walks for WASH

One day last week as I had laundry running, dishes drying in the sink, and a cool glass of water in my hand, I thought about how amazing it is to have access to water all. the. time.  I began to wonder, then, how to combine this thought with the Lenten season, to get our family thinking about relieving the stain on others' lives (loving our neighbor) through these six weeks before Easter.   World Vision is one organization that I know endeavors to alleviate and eliminate poverty in the world, so I got on their site and looked around for their water initiatives.  They have great things going on.  Their main water initiative is WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene).

The most surprising thing I learned was how water collection effects girls' education.  Girls and women are usually the water fetchers, and since they can spend more than half their day walking back and forth to bring water home, their opportunities to go to school are limited, if not completely impossible.  Other effects of lack of clean water access are better known, like diseases that weaken or kill and the inability to grow food.  Yet I am shocked by my complacency as I enjoy my comfortable access to a liquid that enables me to do so many things.



With all of these thoughts floating in my mind, I wanted to come up with some way to incorporate giving clean water into our family's Lenten season.  After speaking with my husband, I decided we could walk a mile a day through these six weeks to remind us of those who walk much more each day simply to have clean-er (cause let's face it, it's not clean!) water.  At this point, I'm not even sure what we will be contributing; I'm trusting God to bring that to light over these weeks of examination and reflection.  But I wanted to use this space to invite you to join us!

I'm not going to start up a Go Fund Me page or anything.  If you feel compelled to give, please do.  In fact, here is World Vision's page with donation opportunities that involve bringing water to communities.  You can give a share of a well, water to a family, a whole well, etc.  If you want to pledge to our walkathon-ish thing we've got going on, let me know.  I'd be happy to put together a larger collection to give on Easter Sunday to World Vision; the kids would love that!  Perhaps you'd like to walk a mile every day in solidarity, as well!*


I cannot even imagine how different my life would be if, like many mothers in the developing world, my children and I had to walk 3 or 4 miles every day (maybe more than once) to get the water we needed to survive!  We'll be working to learn more over Lent and I'll share off and on about those things.  No one in a world like ours should go without access to clean water.  Don't you agree?


To close, here are a few photos of the last couple of days. The weather here is bonkers!

It rained on our first day, and the little one's feet got too hot.
She took a short break.



 Snow on the second day




This is our jerrycan to keep track of our miles;
Containers of this shape are common for carrying water in Africa.


Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4:13-14 



*If you decide to give or walk with us and want to let the kids know, that would be fantastic.  They'd love to hear that others are behind them as their mom makes them walk a mile every day. (Poor kids! haha)  There's snow on the ground here today!

January 28, 2017

A Valentines Challenge for You, Married Person!

February is upon us.  Around here that means we're starting to think about our youngest's birthday, which happens to fall on Valentine's day.  Since she was born, Valentines day - a day I could focus on my husband and give him some much-deserved attention - is often overshadowed by celebrating her wonderful little life.  While folding laundry this week, an idea came to mind that could remedy this problem: lead up to Valentines day by sharing with him one thing I love about him each day during the first two weeks of the month.




Coming up with ways to keep the romance alive when you've been married for a while can be challenging, can't it?  Kids distract, work overwhelms, exhaustion overtakes, and our spouse does that little thing that really annoys us, and why don't they just stop it!  ;)  We must be creative and proactive to keep our till-death-do-us-partner in life at the forefront.  Taking him or her for granted is far to easy, which is why I share this idea with you.


The Challenge, should you accept it:
  1. Spend some time thinking about your spouse: What attracted you to them?  What are some of your favorite memories together?  What do you love about them: looks, personality, behaviors, style, gifts, etc.?
  2. Make a list of fourteen things, (twenty-eight if you want to do the whole month), so you are ready to go.
  3. Starting on February 1, write them a note or whisper in their ear each day one thing that you love about them.
  4. Be prepared with a couple of reasons why you love that attribute of who they are - my husband always asks when I compliment him!
  5. Be prepared to find that you really do quite like that person who keeps you awake with their snoring at night!

There you are, then.  Whatever you do to celebrate the marriage God has given you, I pray He would strengthen you to know how high, long, wide, and deep His love is for you in Christ.  And may that love fill you to overflowing into the lives of others in your homes, workplaces, towns, and cities.


Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 3:18

December 18, 2016

Fighting for Christmas

Eight-twenty this morning was a comical and accurate example of what December has felt like for me this year!  My phone dinged a notification.  I was working on this post and it was a couple of moments till I checked my phone.  My daughter had to be at church 5 minutes ago to acolyte for the first service!  Obviously it was on my calendar, but I never noticed it this week.  She was sound asleep snuggled under her blankets, recovering from a busy weekend that included a youth lock-in.  Intentionally, I was letting her sleep in.  Oops!  Well, I threw on clothes as quickly as I could, slipped into a coat and boots, grabbed my purse, and drove way-too-fast to church to sub for her!  Thank goodness I'd showered the night before - it's the little gifts!!

Even better, I really enjoyed being in the service.  Immensely.  The choir's anthem fit so well with the Sunday School lesson I had ready for the youth this morning on the transfiguration in Mark 9 - the glorious Christ, the center of Christmas Himself on beautiful display.  The sermon was about celebration and fit so well with the post you are about to read, confirming for me the need to interrupt my hiatus to write this Christmas.

I have been needing to get this all down, to get the thoughts in my head sorted out one way or another.  Hopefully these words are not only a help me, but to you too, dear reader.  I wish you a very merry Christmas, giving this to you as my gift!  Cling to Christmas with all your might!!




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!"

February 16, 2016

Farewell, For Now

You may have noticed that posts are few and far between these days here at Life in the Valley.  Lying in bed this morning I realized that now might be the time to let go of this for a while.  My Gram once advised that I should keep writing till I felt like God was telling me I shouldn't anymore.  So wise!  Today, that time has come.  I want to be writing now and then, but cannot seem to fit it into life.  Then, knowing this space is dead becomes a source of stress rather than the joy it has been during seasons when I have been able to write regularly, i.e. when I have been willing to choose writing over something else.

I am so grateful to you readers who have encouraged me along the way.  And I hope someday to be back at this.  But right now, maintaining a blog does not fit in with my priorities.  Surely this being a year of surrender has something to do with why the idea of leaving Life in the Valley alone for now came up in the wee hours this morning.  I am rolling with it, because the thought brings me such peace ... and because I'll find excuses not to obey if I don't take this immediate action!

Feel free to poke around the blog.  I will pray that past posts will be an encouragement to you in the present.  May God bless you as you seek Him; I know you will find him!

I leave you with my favorite verse:

Source


Most sincerely,
Heather

January 28, 2016

A New Refrain for Your Days

Since it is the beginning of the year, my Bible reading program includes a chapter from one of the gospels each morning.  Recently I finished Matthew and started in on Mark.  As usual, I was struck by the story of Jesus calling Levi, who held the despised position of tax collector.  He says to him, as to the other eleven He called, "Follow me."  Levi, (later to be called Matthew), got up and followed him.  Then Jesus goes and has dinner at Levi-the-sinner's house, dining with him and other undesirables and drawing the disdain of the Pharisees for such unclean behavior.  Doesn't He know with whom He is dining?!



Well, in fact, He does.  His reply to the Pharisees about why He eats with tax collectors and 'sinners'? It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Surely hundreds, if not thousands, of sermons have been preached on this passage, highlighting various things we can learn about God and ourselves.  Here is what stuck out to me: in every instance that Jesus calls someone to Himself, He is recorded as saying, "Follow me."  He doesn't give any prerequisites and His authority doesn't demand that he give any explanation.  He looks people in the eye, says Follow me, and they do!




I want to respond in the same way, with this new refrain for my days, LEAD THE WAY, LORD!


What does that look like?  Some examples:

When my children are ignoring or blatantly disobeying, making my blood boil, and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When I start to feel overwhelmed by how behind I am on all things "life" and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When I am caught in sin (anger, pride, self-love, etc.) and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When unexpected financial, relational, emotional, or spiritual challenges arise and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When someone comes to me for counsel, I feel ill-equipped, and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When I feel paralyzed by insecurity, rational or not, and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When the Lord calls me to something I'm sure is out of my league, and I hear Him say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!



The way of the Lord is simply to follow Him!  He does not expect us to be Him.  Yes, He desires for us to grow in likeness to Him, but that is done in the daily following of our Savior.  It is in the following (listening for His voice and guidance through our days) that we are transformed into people described by the love in 1 Corinthians 13: patient, kind, not envying, not boasting, not self-seeking, not keeping records of wrong, rejoicers in the truth, people who protect, trust, hope, and persevere.  We grow in loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind by following Christ.  We grow in loving our neighbor as our self by following Christ.  We need never run ahead, we need only to let Him take the lead.  Since He is love, He will never fail us.

So, whaddaya say?  Will you join me in the refrain?

Let's pray: Lead the way, Lord!


January 16, 2016

2016 Word of the Year: Surrender

Making resolutions is fun to me; it's a personality hazard!  But like many, I love a new year full of possibility for positive change.  When I was young we had a tradition of making resolutions together as a family.  My dad kept a folder of our yearly goals and we'd reread them each year.  My siblings and I would make "resolution booths" out of couch cushions and pillows and set our sights high: quit wetting the bed, stop biting nails, learn to read, etc.  As we aged, our resolutions continued to be age-appropriate: read more or specific books, organize something, get better grades, etc.  I love these memories!




Last year, the Lord guided me in a new direction, planting the idea of a 'theme word' for the year, one I could focus on and watch Him use to transform me.  For much of last year, I wrote about being OPEN regularly, to keep myself accountable to that God-given word.  As 2015 was drawing to a close, another word kept coming up enough that it occurred to me that I should maybe pay attention: SURRENDER.

Truth be told, I find this word terrifying.  When I think of surrendering I think of having to let go and give up on things I hold dear, whether or not they are good for me or honor God.  I visualize myself clinging tightly to idols that might as well be golden calves, for as they are just as deaf, mute, and useless as idols made of stone and metal.  I picture SURRENDER looking like un-clinging to those idols and clinging instead to our Savior.

Well, I wrote the previous three paragraphs a couple of weeks ago.  Looks like I didn't make a very strong blogging resolution for the year!  The last week has been quite interesting, though.  Here I am fearing having to SURRENDER because I love myself and my golden calves so much, and God has been driving home to me that He is merciful, loving, and kind.  I cannot get through a day without being overwhelmed by His never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love, to borrow a phrase from The Jesus Storybook Bible.

God is killing me with kindness!

And I'm finding His kindness is unlike any other.  From stories of His chosen people and their deceitful, dishonest, and impure ways I have been reading in my study times, to the quiet whispers of the Spirit to my soul that say, Heather, you really are forgiven.  God truly loves you as His childI have been floored daily by this incredible God who owes me nothing but gives me everything, even Himself.

Of course, as a Christian I know that God is love and all that jazz, but it has been humbling and heart-freeing to be the object of His direct and consistent instruction from His word and Spirit that HE LOVES ME.


The Truth makes me want to live differently,
with my family, my friends, at the grocery store -
a joyful surrender in response to His love.


I'm convicted, but hopeful, because if God loves and forgives me, surely He can transform me.  I won't be forever bound by my chains of addition to praise, fear of failure, the prideful need to be the best, the constant need to compare, quick anger and frustration.  My Father loves me.  It is well with my soul.  Every day I can repent and believe the good news!

I have several stories to share about how Scripture reading has been piercing my heart and uplifting it.  I will do my best to share them over the next few weeks, because friends, God's word is the best fuel for our faith.  Watching the Lord "in action" with His people throughout history, reading about Him walking the streets of Earth, and meditating on the praise of the Psalms and wisdom of the Proverbs changes the way we think and sparks our spirit to life.  New life!

Dear reader, are you exposing yourself to and availing yourself of the Word of God more than on Sunday mornings?  You don't need an over-the-top plan or resolution, simply a commitment to crack the book or the app open and take in something.  If you need ideas, I'd be happy to help you come up with something.  I am confident, because of God's never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love, that regular meditation on the Word will make 2016 a different year for all us!




Finally, if you have a theme word for the year, I'd love to hear about it!