December 28, 2013

New Beginnings and the God Who Never Fails

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When I was a girl, we had a fun tradition of gathering as a family on January first to record our resolutions for the coming year.  My dad began this annual event when we were quite small and kept a record of our resolutions over the years.  I loved when he would read the pages from the previous years, which included gems like, quit wetting the bed and stop biting my nails.  As we matured our resolutions became more sophisticated –  commitments to read a certain number of books or master a new skill before the end of the year.
You know, I don’t know if I ever “achieved” any of my goals – I still bite my nails, ugh.  But I so fondly remember those times when my brother, sister, and I would rearrange the couch cushions and pillows to make our resolution booths, from which we would announce our intentions for the new year.  Maybe it’s my personality, but I have always loved fresh starts:  a new calendar year, a fresh school year, a new job .  I embrace with joy the opportunity to start off on the right foot and dive into the delights that the unknown future has for me.  So much potential!
Do you feel that way about the coming year?   Are you eagerly looking forward to January 1, so that you can leave 2013 and its failures behind forever?  Have you set some goals, made some commitments, and resolved to make 2014 a better year?  ...
Keep reading over at  at  where I'm sharing today!

December 22, 2013

Heart Hospitality

Sorry for skipping posting this past Wednesday.  My husband's semester officially ended that day - grades all turned in - so the week has been one of catching up as a family, getting a tree, wrapping up school for the year, and all that good stuff.  I also had a terribly stiff neck most of the week that wore me out, driving me to bed earlier at night and keeping me there later in the mornings.  Thankfully, I think that's almost gone.  (Full disclosure: not only did it make me tired, it also made me kind of a bear to be around.  This week had some fantastically grumpy moments hours as well!)

So here we are, the last Sunday in Advent 2013.  Christmas sneaked up real quick-like this year, didn't it?  Wow!  This morning I woke up and the phrase "Heart Hospitality" popped into my mind, when I was considering blogging today.  I have written about hospitality before.  Today the topic is on my mind, because yesterday we had an open house here for women from our new church.  For me, it was a matter of wanting relationship and being obedient to God's prompting to open our door and create a space for women to be together.  Our gathering was planned very last minute, but women came!  Read the link above and consider practicing hospitality where you are in this coming new year.  The Lord does amazing things when we open our homes (no matter the size or shape) to others (no matter how many)!

Today's post, however, is not about opening your home to others.  It is about something much greater.  In fact, what I will share with you is of utmost importance as a first step in the process of becoming a more loving, kind, patient, self-controlled, and hospitable person:

opening up the door of your heart and making room for Jesus.

I have read a couple of things and heard a couple of songs this season that focused on the idea of opening up one's heart to Jesus.  For example, verse three of O Little Town of Bethlehem.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

There was also an anthem sung at the early service last week at church with the same theme.  The sermon, by Charles Spurgeon, that I read talked about how there was no room for the Savior to be born in the inn and how still today there is no room for Jesus in so many places - physical and ideological - in the world.  But then he went on to remind his listeners that

when room is made for Jesus, He comes in!

Do not say, I pray you, "I hope I shall have room for him"; the time is come that he shall be born; Mary cannot wait months and years.  Oh! sinner, if thou has room for him let him be born in thy soul today.  "Today if ye hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation ...: (Heb 3:7-8).  "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).  Room for Jesus!  Room for Jesus now! 
"Oh!" saith one, "I have room for him, but will he come?"  Will he come indeed!  Do you but set the door of your heart open, do but say, "Jesus, Master, all unworthy and unclean I look to thee; come, lodge within my heart," and he will come to thee, and he will cleanse the manger of thy heart, nay, will transform it into a golden throne, and there he will sit and reign for ever and for ever.  ~Charles Spurgeon

You might be preparing beds and meals this week for guests.  Have you made room, not only in your home, but also in your heart, for the Guest who is the very Gift of Christmas?  Make room for Him and He will come in and make His home in your heart!  Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Make room!  MAKE ROOM!!


*Charles Spurgeon, Have You Any Room? from Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, ed. Nancy Guthrie (p. 64)

December 15, 2013

Christmas is for the Kids, too!

I'm sure from the title you're thinking, Uh, Heather, doesn't it seem like Christmas is mostly for the kids?!  Well, sure, children really get into the spirit of things with all of the activities and the promise of gifts on Christmas morning.  But I'm scheduled to give the children's sermon at church this morning, so I thought I'd share with you what God brought to mind when I read this week's passage.

The topic: Jesus the Priest.  One of the passages is from Hebrews 4 and 5, about Jesus being THE High Priest, chosen by God to bring His people to Him.  When I first sat down to read the passage and another from Exodus 19, I said to God, I have NO IDEA where to go with this sermon, show me what to say to these kids.  So here you are, God's answer to my prayer and the Good News of Jesus the Priest to share with a child or children you know sometime this week!

Jesus: the boy, the Priest

Good morning, I am so happy to be sitting up here with you this morning!

I have a question for you.   Did you know that after Jesus was born, he grew up, so at one time he was the age you are now?  Jesus was a kid!  He went through everything you go through as a kid.

What are some fun things about being a kid?

What is tough about being a kid?

All of those things, Jesus experienced!  He played with his friends.  AND He had to obey is parents.  Just think!  Jesus, the one who would be our Savior - Jesus, the Son of God who lived in heaven with the Father and the Spirit before he came to earth – He had to clear his dishes from the table, sweep the floors, and make His bed when His mother asked him to!  And He had to listen and learn respectfully about how to be a carpenter from His dad!  God had to obey his parents.

And you know what the Bible tells us?  HE DID!

Do you obey your parents every time?  (You’re supposed to say ‘NO’ here.)

I didn’t when I was a kid either.  In fact, I am still rude to my parents sometimes.

I did always WANT to please my parents and obey them, but the sin in my heart would get the best of me.  I’ll bet it gets the best of you more than you would like, too.

But it is GOOD NEWS that Jesus obeyed His parents!  The Bible tells us why in the passage Pastor Milligan is going to preach from today, Hebrews 4: 14-16

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

That’s a lot of big words to say this:  Jesus is now alive in heaven with God.  He understands how hard it is for us to obey God and obey our parents.  He knows because he had parents and was tempted to disobey them.  But, he always obeyed and He’s up in heaven saying to God on our behalf, “Forgive them, I died for their sins.”   Through Him God will forgive our sin and help us not to sin.

Pretty neat, huh?  Jesus not only did amazing miracles, preached wonderful sermons, and died on the cross and rose again.  He was also a little boy who had to obey his parents and did it just right so he could understand us, forgive us, and change us to look more like Him each day, when we ask for His help.  It is very good news that Jesus was once a little boy!

December 11, 2013

The Spiritual Disciplines: Meditation

What do you picture when you hear the world meditation?  My first thought is quiet.  Then I think about the mind, something is going on in the quiet of the mind.  One usually meditates on something.  Merriam Webster defines meditation as the act or process of spending time in quiet thought.  That means to meditate we need to make time and quiet in the hustle and bustle of life.  You know, Jesus did this.  Our Lord was in very high demand in his three years of ministry.  But Scripture says he would sometimes withdraw, alone, to a quiet place.  Isn't that neat?  When I think about that I'm humbled.  The Son of God needed to take time to be alone with the Father.  If He needed it, how much more do I!  But how difficult it can be to withdraw and get our brains quiet enough to meditate on Him and His Word.  Difficult or not, it is certainly these quiet, set-apart moments that are the training ground for having hearts and minds that are at peace in the midst of the rest of life.  Meditation transforms.

What does the Bible say about meditation?

The Purpose of Meditation
Pleasing God with the meditations of our hearts (Psalm 19:14 and 104:34)
Transformation by the renewing of the mind  (Rom 12:2)

The Content for Meditation
Knowing the Word helps us to obey  (Josh 1:8)
The present and future, not the past (Isaiah 43:18)
God's law (Psalm 119)
God's works (Psalm 145:5)
Good things (Philip 4:8)
The word of Christ (Colossians 3:16)

The Results of Meditation
A changed you because of greater fellowship with God!  Psalm 1:1-3 

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

I read in an Advent meditation by Tim Keller recently that our definition of blessed is "limp."  What the Hebrew and Greek really point to is that "to be blessed brings you back to full shalom, full human functioning; it makes you everything God meant for you to be.  To be blessed is to be strengthened and repaired in every one of your human capacities, to be utterly transformed."*

If that's what it means, then sign us up to be blessed, right?!  Well, Psalm 1 indicates that one habit of the blessed person is meditation on the law of God.  His thinking is focused on the Lord and His Word.  The result?  He is solid.

He's rooted, flourishing, and strong, because He's walking in God's way, not his own.

I'm a traditionalist, I get up early in the morning for quiet time, when most of the time kids won't interrupt me. (In fact, Brian popped down for a short visit this morning.) But God is available any time and anywhere you find yourself, and He may not have made you a morning person!

How do you, or how can you start to, make time and space for meditation?

Consider picking up a few verses to memorize this week.  Meditate on them.  Let them sink into the recesses of your brain.  Hang them up in a place you'll see them often or write them on a card to keep in  your pocket.  Let the Lord use them to transform your way of thinking and, thus, your way of living.  Foster says we learn to meditate by meditating.  So give it a shot!  This time of year is a wonderful opportunity to meditate on some aspect of the Christmas story, asking God to help you see it with fresh eyes.  God BLESS you as you seek Him!

*p 36 of Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, ed. Nancy Guthrie

December 8, 2013

The Spirit of Christmas

We are one week into December and it's all around us!  Twinkling lights, festive tunes in malls and coffee shops, lists of ingredients needed for baking, arrangements being made with family about who's spending what time where, parties and activities filling the weekends on the calendar, and white elephant gifts being pulled out of the dark corners of the attic are all shouting at us:


Well, grab yourself a cup of cheer (whatever that means) and pull up a chair, because I've got something to tell you.  That Christmas spirit, that may or may not be filling your heart?  It's not real.  I know, because I find myself trying to create an environment of cheer for myself, by constantly listening to Christmas music, making sure the lights are just so in my home, and lighting pine and cinnamon scented candles around the house.  But shucks if I don't still have to tend to routine duties - dishes, children, laundry, school, trash, diaper changes - which really dull the sparkle of the cheer.  And I can't tell you the number of times I have offended a family member or had a cruel thought in the last week.  Real cheer-wreckers, I tell ya!

Christmas spirit, you're nice (actually, I like you very, very much), but you're not enough!
What I need is the Spirit of Christmas.

Wait, isn't that just the same thing with different wording?  No, it is not.

The Spirit of Christmas is a person,

the third person of the Trinity, the one who came upon Mary and caused her to conceive Jesus, who was born to save His people from their sins.  The point, the purpose, and the power of Christmas lies with a baby in a manger, fulfilling the promise of Most High God, accomplished through the Spirit: the Spirit who helped Mary to believe the words of the angel, the Spirit who moved mysteriously in her womb, the Spirit who filled Christ as He lived and moved, taught and served on Earth, the Spirit who comes upon God's people NOW, when they put their trust in Jesus.

THAT is the Spirit of Christmas.

That Spirit can fill us up to endure hardship with faith and hope.  That Spirit can free us from the tyranny of sin and fill us with joy.  That Spirit can enable us to love my neighbor when all we want is to love our self.  That Spirit can change our  heart of stone into a heart of flesh.  Christmas spirit can't do these, but the Spirit of Christmas can!

I have been memorizing these verses from Titus 3.
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
I've been impressed by Paul's repetition of Savior and saved while also thinking about the Christmas season.  Salvation is what Christmas is all about; Salvation is what we really need; and Salvation is accomplished by the Father, Son, and Spirit!

Spirit is very important at Christmas, not Christmas spirit, but rather the Holy Spirit.

Enjoy this holiday season!  Go to parties, decorate your tree, listen to the festive music, and eat too many cookies!  It is a very fun time of the year; I LOVE it!!  But through it all, let's worship the Spirit who caused Mary to conceive, who came upon Jesus, who fills our hearts and changes us, giving us the greatest gift we could ever ask for - but never would, so God got the ball rolling - SALVATION!

Merry Second Sunday in Advent!

December 4, 2013

The Spiritual Disciplines: An Introduction

Toward the end of November, I bombarded you with a few posts about the Spiritual Disciplines as Richard Foster lays them out in his book, Celebration of Discipline.  There was not enough time in the series to give each proper attention, so over the next few months, once a week, I will share a post about one of the disciplines.

The title of this blog, Life in the Valley: Pressing on with Great Hope, is meaningful to me.  People often speak of "mountain top experiences" with God, longing for life to have more of them.  We want to live on the mountain top, really experiencing God, feeling spiritual intimacy and intensity more regularly.  But most of life is lived in the valleys - home, work, play, chores, relationships, and responsibilities - where the intimacy and intensity can be quickly swallowed up by the mundane.  The hope?

Jesus is Lord on the mountain tops and in the valleys!

As we walk the valley of life, what I would call normal life, we can press on with great hope because God is with us, right where we are, relating to us and willing and able to transform us more into His likeness.  Sure, we should desire mountain top experiences with God and we should look forward to eternity in heaven with Him.  But we can also know and experience Him now, right now, in our kitchens at home, at our desk at work, in our cars in traffic, and, well, you get the idea.

How do we do that?  Well, the Spiritual Disciplines are your answer!  I don't want this to sound like an infomercial; I am perfectly serious.  God has given us many ways to grow in relationship with Him.  None of them are complicated or only for an elite, ultra-spiritual few.  They are for me and YOU.  There is a reason they're called disciplines, though - they require effort and regular practice.  The Good News?  God provides all we need!  We take the gift and, rather than admire it from afar, we use it.

I will not be writing to you as an expert to novices.  Many of Foster's disciplines are areas in which I need to grow - a lot - or try for the first time! So let's learn together, eh?  It should be fun to feel stretched and challenged, all the while remembering our gracious God who is our Savior, Provider, and Sustainer.

This is your invitation to join me on Wednesdays for the next three months as we peek into avenues the Lord has opened up to us to grow in relationship with Him.  What a good and gracious God!

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  2 Peter 1:3-4

December 1, 2013

What is Advent, Anyway?

Today is the first day of a season in the church calendar known as Advent.  In the introduction to the book we read as a family last year (and will again this year) says that observing this season did not begin until the fourth century and was not solidified into the four-Sundays schedule we know now until the ninth century.  Thus, like the Spiritual Disciplines addressed in the November series, observing Advent is not law that must be obeyed.  It is simply a practice that can help focus our hearts on God in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Tradition need not be upheld for tradition's sake, but it can be beneficial to consider how the Church has done things in the past and adopt practices that draw us nearer to the Lord.

I was surprised to learn last Sunday that the first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the church  (liturgical) calendar each year.  (Please feel free to snicker; I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't know that after so many years - my whole life - in Presbyterian churches!)  Seems so right, a time of anticipation of Christ's coming as a starting point for the church year.  Then, as I was reading last night, a couple of articles mentioned that not only in this period are we anticipating, preparing for the celebration of, and focusing on the birth of Christ, but it is also a time to think about the second Advent (which means, 'coming') of Christ.  He will come again, just as he came the first time!  We can join with Israel in her waiting, to some degree and sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel with similar longing, though we do have the blessed benefit of living after Messiah's first coming!*

Wikipedia says, For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.  I like that phrase to be alert for his Second Coming.  I sure don't live alert most of the time!  I long, for sure, to be rid of this body of death, of the evil one's schemes to trip me up, and all of the effects of the fall.  But I am dreadfully lacking in the anticipation department!  I moan and groan when I could be eagerly and actively waiting.  Maybe you do too.

What is Advent, then?  Simply, it is a season in the church calendar that includes the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, during which we reflect on the "comings" of Christ, first and second.  We set aside time to think about the promises of God and how He fulfills them.  Such thoughts remind us of our desperate need for His promises and their fulfillment in and through Him.  How wonderful to have a time of preparation and anticipation, shared with other believers, as we look to Christmas!

Maybe Advent has never been a "thing" at your church.  Maybe Advent was always overdone or too showy.  Maybe you love Advent with all your heart.  I dunno where you come from, but since it is the first day of Advent in the Western world and Advent has become more important to me in recent years, seemed like a good idea to talk about it here.  I'm looking forward to Sunday meals with one more candle lit each week (we got our advent wreath out this morning!), and I'm thankful for the new perspective about being alert for Christ's Second Coming while reflecting on the first.

I don't know if people say this, but I will: Happy Advent!  May this month full of activities, concerts, parties, and shopping also be a time of new discovery of how long, wide, deep, and high the love of God is for you in Christ.

*     *     *

Over the rest of the Sundays of Advent, I plan to write a Christmas-y reflection of one kind or another.  I hope you'll stop back!  :)

*Ideas borrowed from Justin Holcolm in this article: