December 24, 2015

Combating the Christmas Crazy, by Faith

When our three-year-old, Katherine, can get an adult's attention, she has all kinds of plans for them.  I observe this almost every time someone walks into our home.  She leads them up to her room to show them whatever is important to her at the moment or she guides them back to our familyroom to engage in some very involved pretend play.  As I watched her with my friend on Tuesday, I noticed that she was micromanaging everything Kristen did.  "You sit here."  "Hold this thing this way."  "No, like this."  I have kind friends who always play along for a while or till Katherine is distracted.  It is endearing.

As I observed Katherine on Tuesday, I was struck by how much I am like her in life.  I have plans and programs for my life and expectations of how others will fit into that.  "You sit here."  "You behave this way, so I can be comfortable."  "No, don't act like that; I can't deal with it."  I often spend more time trying to control my surroundings and circumstances, rather than embracing and enjoying them.

Tomorrow is Christmas.  For most of us that means spending time with family and friends.  For some, maybe many, of us, that also means dreading what might happen, engaging in tense conversations, having to interact with "that" relative, or enduring questions we have no interest in answering!  A holiday time that they say is supposed to be full of joy, peace, and harmony is anything but.  What are we to do?

I am fond of telling my children that it does not matter how their sibling is treating them, they are responsible for their own behavior.  We absolutely cannot control another person.  We can try, of course, but that rarely gets us our desired results.  Hanging out with our families at Christmas is no exception!  This truth has me thinking about what Scripture has to say about how believers should act this Christmas, and every day.  What does God want me to do?  What does His Word say about how to interact with people, whether they be kind or difficult?

A few verses came to mind:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.  Psalm 119:9-16 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
Love never fails.  I Corinthians 13:4-8 

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.  Galatians 5:6b

If you find yourself feeling nervous about family time tomorrow, remember the Lord is near and He has shown you how to love Him and love others.  Do not let your worry and imagination get the best of you ahead of time, creating scenarios.  Each time a fear arises, tell it, God goes with me and He will help me with what actually happens.  I do not need to make up a future I cannot predict.  Meditating on the Word can also help you to stay steady, like the Psalmist says above.  Have some verses ready to call to mind when you feel tension mounting inside you.  And as you walk through your day, call to mind how love expresses itself: kindness, patience, not envying, not boasting, looking to the interests of others, and so on and so forth.  You can never go wrong with love!  The tough part is that loving usually means dying to self and promoting another, even if they are annoying, rude, or even hateful.  Christ is in you; He will help you choose love!

What a better way to do Christmas, than to love others the way that Christ has loved us!
Remember how He loved us?  While we were still sinners.

My hope, of course, is that you're looking forward to your Christmas celebrations!  But a lot of Christmas movies indicate that these family gatherings often involve a lot of ... squirming, to say the least.  Don't worry, meditate on the Word of God, and choose God-style love.  May God bless you as you walk in His way on this most incredible of holidays, when we celebrate how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Merry Christmas!

PS For my family that is reading this.  I am really looking forward to hanging out with all of you.  Don't worry!  I simply wanted to explore how we Christian folks can use God's Word to guide us in trying circumstances at Christmas.  Love you all!

December 22, 2015

2016 Word of the Year: Be on the Alert!

Resolutions have always appealed to me, because I am a planner and like goal setting.  While I rarely achieve perfection with resolutions, I have found the quote, "shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you land among the stars," to be true.  If I commit to reading a book a month or something, I may not do it every month, but I'll likely read more books that year than I did the previous.  You get the idea.

Last year, however, I felt the draw away from specifics to the more general idea or theme for 2015.  You may recall that I invited you to join me in choosing a theme word for the year.  Did any of you do that?  If so, I'd love to hear how God used that word to guide and transform you!  The word the Lord had impressed upon my heart was OPEN.  The concept, or practice, of being OPEN to the Lord kept coming up so much, I could not ignore it.  To hold myself accountable, I wrote regularly (at least till September) about how I saw God nudging me to be open.

With only a cursory review of the year, I can see how that one word, hanging above the garbage can in my kitchen, was used by the Lord to grow and stretch me in ways I never expected.  He provided opportunities for me to be OPEN, with my life, our home, my time, and my stuff, over and over again.  I'm sure those chances would have come with our without  a 2015 theme word, but it is fun to look back and testify to God's work from providing the word, OPEN, to providing opportunities to grow in Him by being OPEN.

This year was far from perfect.  Many were the times I was not generously open to God or with those around me!  But I would not count having a theme word as a waste, because I saw God work in and around me.  Without opening the year with that theme word, I would not have the same testimony to God's goodness, patience, mercy, and love.  This year He showed me there was space for playgroup, leading a Mom Heart group, and gave me two speaking engagements (which came right on top of each other and really stretched my trust in His provision, and wisdom)!  He filled me with joy as I saw dreams I had for our home coming true: space being used for both gathering people together and making and deepening relationships.  I guess God has primarily used being OPEN in 2015 to solidify the ministry calling He has on my life right now.  I am humbled, because my failures and shortcomings could not hold Him back.

And, can I tell you a secret?  Lean in.  Though sometimes it has been hard, mostly it has been a lot of fun!

That brings to mind these verses from Psalm 37:3-5,

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.

Trust in HIM, and HE will act.  He knows the desires of your heart better than you do.  He is also utterly trustworthy, (Christmas and Easter testify to that).  So again for 2016, I invite you to seek the Lord, keeping your eyes peeled and your ears open, for whether he has a theme word or verse for your walk with Him.  I've had the word surrender coming up a lot lately.  That one scares me.  A lot!  I hold on so tightly to so many things that are not Christ, but more about that later....

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, one that is full of gifts from above as you worship the King of kings and Lord of lords!  And keep your heart open for a word from the Lord.  I am confident that He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion!  Let Him amaze you.

December 16, 2015

A Fierce Flourishing: Part II, Life in the Spirit

Back on October 29, I said that "tomorrow" I would share the second half of the talk I shared with our local MOPS group.  Today is that tomorrow!  You can read Part I here, in which I lay out the Gospel.  I reread it and felt renewed excitement about how much God has done for us through Christ - a perfect topic for reflection in the Christmas season.  I encourage you to start there, then come back to read this post.

Welcome back!  Isn't it amazing how much we receive freely from the Lord when we take Him at his Word and place our trust in Christ.  Today I want to expand on point number three: "We are filled with the Holy Spirit.  God empowers us to live for Him!"

The passage du jour for the talk was Galatians 2:13-25
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

In the opening verses of this section, Paul reminds us of Christian freedom; we are free from sin and have unrestricted access to God.  Then he points out the new purpose we are given when we become a Christian: serve one another humbly in love.  This echos Jesus' words in John 13:34, A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Side note: "Loving one another" includes the people we live with!  I am convinced that we can grow more spiritually under our own roofs than anywhere else.  At home our character is truly tested.  In fact, I never knew what a horrible person I could be until I got married, then had kids!  For fun, reread verse 15.  Don't some days at home feel like "biting and devouring"days!  Please tell me you know what I mean ... now, back to the post.
Life in Christ gives us new purpose, to love one another.  And it also introduces a battle.  The theme Fierce Flourishing captures this so well.  When we believe in Jesus a serious war begins within us, the old self (flesh) vs. the Spirit, our new identity in Christ.  The list in verses 19-21 manifests itself even under our own roofs and in our actions and reactions as moms, or whatever our occupation!  (This is why Jesus died on the cross, by the way.)

But the situation is not one of hopeless struggle till we get to heaven.  No, the new Spirit in us means we can become Fiercely Flourishing Christians, and moms.  The Spirit is the difference maker, the game changer, the hope giver!  If you are a Christian the Spirit of God LIVES IN YOU.  (Let that sink in a minute.)  So Paul gives three instructions for living by the Spirit and not being defeated in the new battle that is introduced into your life when you come to faith:
  1. WALK by the Spirit
  2. BE LED by the Spirit
  3. KEEP IN STEP WITH the Spirit
What do all these mean?  Generally speaking, they all imply activity, intentional movement away from the flesh toward God and others.  We must be learning the Spirit's way so we can walk in it: read the Bible, pray, hear the Word preached, attend Bible study.  We must be listening for the Spirit's direction to be led by Him.  And we must be quick to get back into step with the Spirit when we're out of step.  In short, a fierce flourishing does not come without engagement!  The Spirit will give us direction, strength, and wisdom to become fiercely flourishing people; engaging with Him is how we grow!

Do you long to to be the kind of person described in Galatians 5:22-23: loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled?  That is only possible as God works in us through His Spirit; we engage in the transformation process by walking, being led by, and keeping in step with Him.  The goal is not perfection, only in Christ are we made perfect.  No, friends, the goal is faithful engagement, one day at a time, with the Spirit of God who lives in us and can transform us, enabling us to flourish fiercely!

Here's a quick summary of the two parts of this talk, before I send you on your way:
  • Jesus is the only way we can have a right relationship with God and live eternally with Him - our biggest problem is solved!
  • A right relationship with God is the way our hearts and lives can be transformed into something new and good.
  • God puts His Spirit in us to help us in the battle that will wage in us against the flesh till we get to heaven.
  • We can only experience a fierce flourishing in the Christian life by engagement with the Spirit, starting right where we are, the goal being faithfulness, not perfection.

May this Christmas season be a new beginning for you!  May the Lord fill you with awe at His free gift of love to you in His Son, gratitude for the Spirit He has put in you to transform you, and hope that the fierce flourishing you're longing for can be found by engaging with Him.


December 11, 2015

Passing Along a Christmas Challenge

Friends, I have all these posts brewing in my head, but not enough time to flesh them out, let alone sit down and write them.  But I want to issue an invitation to you as you enter your weekend.

Earlier this week, a mailing came to our home from the local Salvation Army.  I have to confess that since we get donation-request mailings from lots of organizations, I usually toss them straight in the trash.  We have a plan for giving at specific times, so I don't feel the need to be donating year round.  I feel a little guilty every time, but such is my practice.

That afternoon, however, I was curious.  Having never received anything from our local Salvation Army, I felt compelled to open up the envelope.  Inside was an invitation to give, using one of three included vouchers, to provide for a local family this Christmas.

One voucher was what our family spends on one meal out, without thinking.

To provide for a family of five equaled what I easily charge at Target, beyond my list.

I had plans to buy myself a new Christmas sweater this year, about that price.

Had plans, I say, because in that moment the Lord spoke to my heart.  Heather, you have a closet and dresser full of clothes.  Time to change your plans for that money.

Before I allowed myself to think twice, I wrote the check, sealed the envelope, stamped it, and lifted the flag on the mailbox for the next day's pickup.  Since that day, I have felt a little sad about not getting that sweater.  I mean, who doesn't love a new sweater?!  But better is the joy of knowing those dollars will have a far greater impact than my personal happiness.

Why am I telling you this story?  I hate telling stories like this, for fear they will be interpreted as boasting, which is not my goal.  As I was challenged by the Lord to put my faith into practice, I want to pass along the charge.  The lesson I learned from the experience is two-fold.  First, will I listen more often when God is tapping me on the shoulder?  And second, in this season of remembering God's greatest gift, will I give sacrificially as an act of worship?

So I extend the invitation to you to apply those lessons to your life over the next couple of weeks as Christmas approaches, and beyond.
  1. Listen for God's voice as he offers you opportunities to be generous with your time, money, energy, or stuff.
  1. Consider what you can give up so another can have, boldly worshiping the Lord in your heart as you give.

Truth be told, I always get a little fearful in these things, knowing that the Lord will probably ask more of me than I want to give!  Remembering my Savior, and all He sacrificed for me from the manger to the cross, humbles me and lifts me up, giving me boldness to obey, even when it stretches me.  We grow in the giving and we get to see God provide as we let go of our self-protection and self-preservation!  He is faithful; Christmas is proof.

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  ~Jesus (Matthew 6:31-33)

Merry Christmas!

December 8, 2015

A Few of My Favorite Advent-Season Resources

I don't know about you, but this time of year makes me so glad in my heart!  I told my husband the other day that I love all the Christmas songs, even the really terrible cheesy ones that are incredibly dumb.  They still mean it's Christmastime, so I'll take it.  ("Santa Baby", anyone?)  Maybe I subscribe too much to the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" philosophy, and maybe you'll never read my blog again now that you know this about me (hahaha!), BUT before you go I do have a few meaty and wonderful resources that I use to enrich this season every year.  I have recommended them before, but they may be new to some of my readers.  I've got two books and an album for ya!

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, ed. Nancy Guthrie is a collection of sermons by well-known preachers, past and contemporary, on Christmas topics.  I have read it every year for many years after asking our pastor in Cambridge for a recommendation for good Advent reading material.  It is a gem and worth having in your collection.  You can order it through Amazon.

The Christ of Christmasby James Montgomery Boice is also excellent.  Boice put together this book from Christmas sermons preached over more than a decade.  He is a wonderful Bible scholar and a passionate lover of Jesus Christ.  This is also available on Amazon.

And finally, some music for quiet time by the tree, in the car, or while you wash dishes: Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God.  Friends, I cannot recommend this album enough.  It is not a typical Christmas album, like those artist put together because every artist is supposed to have a Christmas album.  Instead, Peterson tells the entire Biblical narrative in songs.  It's good, people.  SO. GOOD.  If you do not have it, buy it now!

May the Lord enrich your Advent season with great wonder at what He has done, in the world and in your life.  Amen!