Lent – what’s the purpose?

lentLent is coming up in a week. Some of you may be very familiar with it, others of you may have only heard of this Church tradition. If you aren’t familiar with it, Lent is the period of time set aside to focus on simplifying your life, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God during the 40 days before Easter, starting with Ash Wednesday and lasting up until Easter. It’s actually 44 days, but the 4 Sundays in Lent are excluded because each are considered a mini-Easter. One article I read pointed out that it’s about 1/10 (tithe) of a year.

Next Tuesday, Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday” is the day before Lent starts. Since Lent always starts on a Wednesday, the day before is always a Tuesday. It’s called “Fat” or “Great” because it’s associated with great food and parties. Traditionally, people didn’t want to be tempted by sweets, meat and other distractions in the house during Lent so they cleaned out their cabinets. They used up all the sugar and yeast in sweet breads before the Lent season started, and fixed meals with all the meat available. It was a great feast!  Course now Mardi Gras has evolved into a pretty wild party with little to do with actually preparing for the Lenten season.

I grew up Lutheran and thought everybody knew about Lent. In my high school most everyone went to either the Lutheran, Catholic or Methodist church and we all did Lent, or at least talked about it. We would give up chocolate or soda or TV. It didn’t really mean much to me, it was just a tradition. I was really surprised when I got to college and met Christians who had never really heard of Lent nor participated in it.

So why do Lent at all? There is no rule saying you have to, it’s not commanded in the Bible. It’s a church tradition; however, it is a beneficial one when used with the right motives and mindset. It’s a great time to fast, which, when Jesus talks about fasting, it’s always in the context of “when you fast” just like when He says “when you pray.” Plus, it’s a chance to do it in community. It’s easier, and more fun, to fast when you know your friends are doing it too. It’s a good time to prepare our hearts for Easter. Jesus sacrificed His life for us. By sacrificing food, a desire, a need, or our time, we can appreciate a bit more His sacrifice for us. Ultimately, the purpose of participating in Lent is to Glorify God by knowing and loving Him.

fasting-1God created us to hunger for Him, and we will fill that hunger, even as Christians, with so many things to numb that hunger. Fasting awakens that hunger for God as we deny ourselves the numbing agent of food, media, noise, relationships, etc… and we can begin to let God fill that hunger instead.

A word of caution: Fasting needs to have a purpose. Otherwise the hunger pains will only make you calculate the time until you can eat again. We need to have our purpose in mind while fasting, so when I get hungry, I say to myself: I’m hungry because I’m fasting today. And I’m fasting today because _____________________. Without a spiritual purpose, a fast from food only becomes a diet, and a fast from media only becomes a time management saver. It doesn’t Glorify God nor help us know and love Him more.fast-2

For instance, if I know Brandy is going through a rough time and I want to pray for her more throughout the day, I could choose to fast and pray for her. Then every time my stomach growls or my head aches, my hunger reminds me that I’m fasting, which in turn reminds me that I’m fasting for the purpose of praying for Brandy, and then I pray. So all day, whether I’m driving, walking, working, I’m reminded by my hunger to pray, and then I’m praying far more often, which is why I fasted in the first place.

Other purposes of fasting besides praying for someone, are to seek God’s guidance, to put my trust and hope in Him instead of some other thing, to overcome temptation, to minister to the needs of others with the time and money I would normally use to eat, or to express love and worship to God – fasting demonstrates that seeking God is more important than food, or Facebook, or spending time with people, or whatever it is I am fasting from. Jesus is more important and more satisfying than food, media, people, etc…, but we won’t know it until we fast and let Him fill us with Himself instead.fast3

Food is a great choice for fasting because God made us creatures who survive by eating. It’s a basic need. He made the world work in such a way that it provides food for us to eat. Those who eat too much, or even too little are looking for satisfaction in something other than God.

A fast doesn’t have to be just food. Other great things to fast from can be found in the things that clutter your calendar and life.

Two weeks ago I took a couple days to spend (mostly) alone with God. I cancelled all meetings, turned off my phone and computer, and rested. God did a lot in my heart in those two days of fasting from my phone. I realized I was so exhausted because I was spending too much time reading the news or on Facebook. There’s a whole side story related to this, but suffice it to say, I was surprised to learn that reading and processing the news takes energy, a lot of energy, and I need to limit the amount of news I take in because I don’t want my energy going there.

Another non-food fast that I did was my first meaningful Lent fast after I joined Campus Ventures. I fasted from music that year. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard, but the first few days were torturous. The first day was fine, but the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc… were rough. I was agitated and restless. I didn’t even realize until then that I was looking to music and noise to be my source of peace and security. When it got ripped away, I had to start looking for it in God. During those 40 days I found myself automatically reaching for the radio station in the car, or wanting to turn on the stereo or TV as soon as I walked in the door to my apartment. It was habit. But somewhere in the middle of Lent, I began to appreciate the quietness and then eventually to love it. Before, I always had music playing. Music had a big role in my coming to know Jesus as my Savior as well as growing in my faith. But I was relying on it instead of Him. Once the 40 day Lent fast was over, I was reluctant to turn noise back on. It became by choice to listen to music or watch TV rather than just a habit. And my love for quietness has stuck. I had never loved it before, but I am comfortable with it now as I find it restful and restoring.

Lent is also a time of simplifying your life in terms of what you eat, wear and do. Some people will simplify their diets. It used to be a big thing to not eat meat during Lent, except fish on Fridays. Simplifying a diet can free up time in preparing meals to allow time to spend with Jesus. And by removing sweets, caffeine or other items from your diet and just doing a simple diet to meet your basic nutritional needs, you can learn to crave God instead. For instance, if you decide to simplify your diet to basic needs, then when you crave the extra portion of food or a tastier treat, you can remember that you are fasting, and fasting for a purpose to seek God during Lent. Another option is simplifying your clothing choices for the 40 days. Or your activities. Maybe saying no to one thing every day, or pulling back from hanging out with people if you’re an extrovert. We can look to our clothing choices or people to fill the hunger we have for God just as much as we can food.

 

Other ideas for Lent:

  • Try an electronic fast. Give up Netflix, Facebook, texting, email, Snapchat, and all things electronic for one day every week. (Or everyday of Lent!). Use that time to spend with God reading the bible, praying, memorizing a verse, or spend quality time with family or roommates, or writing an encouraging note to someone on paper!
  • Try skipping one meal each week and use that time to volunteer for an hour or more each week or look for ways you can serve roommates, friends, or even strangers.

 

One thing I will be doing, and I invite you to do with me, is to focus on the Cross. A few years ago I read the Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges and it was a powerful book about all that the Cross represents and the incredible riches found in being a Christian. Bridges shared how the Cross represents so many opposing ideas all beautifully tied into one. Take for instance, God’s Holiness and God’s Love. God’s holiness demanded the Cross as punishment for our sins and God’s Love provided the Cross to save us from our sins. I’ve wanted to re-read this book before an Easter for some time now, so Jordan and I are going to read it over Lent if you’d like to join us. You can get the book off of Amazon Prime for only $11 or used from Amazon for $6. If you don’t have time to read one more book, maybe fast from a meal once a week to use that time to read, or if you have a Spring Break coming up, read it over Break to draw your heart back to Him and the season of Lent. I’m also hoping to write a blog entry about each chapter to make myself think through it more, so you could follow my thoughts on future blogs. Maybe Jordan will write a blog entry too. Or if you read a chapter and it speaks to you, I’d love for you to write an entry for my blog!

Whether you read the book or not, I do invite you to mediate on the Cross over Lent.

Before you finish reading this blog and move on to your next thing, would you take a few moments to talk to God and see if He wants you to fast from anything over Lent? Maybe one of the ideas I shared spurred something in your mind. Ask Him if there is something He wants you to fast from for all of Lent, for part of Lent, or for one day each week of Lent. If He brings something to mind, have the courage to follow through! God loves you and if He’s asking you to fast from it, no matter how hard it may seem, trust Him that He really knows what is best for your heart and your relationship with Him. Fasting is hard, especially if it’s for a long haul, like all 40 days of Lent. I encourage you to share with someone to hold you accountable and to encourage you. And keep before you the purpose of why you are fasting. Without the purpose of knowing and loving God, this will just become another empty tradition.

Thankfulness vs Unthankfulness

thanksgiving

Have you heard the saying, there is always something to be thankful for? But doesn’t it seem there is always something to complain about? Why is that?

Well, there’s a reason, several reasons actually. For some of the reasons, let’s look into what Psychology has to say. I love Psychology. I didn’t know I loved it until long after I graduated college (I ended up getting my degree in Chemistry, Physics and Math). I find the Psychology behind negativity fascinating. There are two concepts, called the Negativity bias and the Prospect Theory, that say people are more likely to choose things based on their need to avoid negative experiences, rather than their desire to get positive experiences.

Psychologists conclude negative experiences or the fear of them has a greater impact on people than positive experiences. Negative experiences sear to our brain instantly, whereas, positive experiences have to be held in our awareness for more than 12 seconds in order for it to transfer from short-term memory to long-term memory. Psychologists say that unless we are occupied with other thoughts, worry is the brain’s default position.

Complaining is tempting because it feels good, but like many other things that are enjoyable — such as eating a pound of bacon for breakfast — complaining isn’t good for us. Repeated complaining wires our brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, we’ll find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around us. Complaining becomes our default behavior.

Here’s the kicker: complaining damages areas of our brains. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus — an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. It’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage! A few other health concerns: complaining release the stress hormone cortisol, which impairs our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. And since we mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with, complaining is a lot like smoking — we don’t have to do it ourselves to suffer the ill effects.

Taking time to be thankful isn’t merely the right thing to do; it also beneficial for our health. Gratefulness reduces that stress hormone cortisol which improves our moods, gives us energy and substantially lowers our anxiety levels.

Not only is complaining bad for our health, it is bad for our relationships. Complainers repel others with their negativity. Sometimes I don’t even want to be around myself when I’m in a negative and complaining mood. It also influences others to be negative and ungrateful toward God (we can influence our roommates, our families). If that’s not bad enough, it affects our relationship with God.

We hinder our ability to intimately fellowship with God when we complain. Complaining causes us to focus on circumstances and not on God to satisfy us. Ungratefulness hinders our faith, hinders our ability to see God, to see Him at work, and to trust that He cares for us.

Ungratefulness is bad for our health, bad for our relationships with each other and bad for our relationship with God. What does the Bible have to say about it?

Well, the Bible says we will have problems. In John 16:33, Jesus says “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.” We will have problems; don’t ever be surprised by this. But we needn’t lose sight of God when problems come.

Sometimes God will cause problems in our lives because we are losing sight of him. John Eldredge in his book, Journey of Desire, calls God the Divine Thwarter. Sometimes God will thwart our plans on purpose, and this is when it’s easy to complain. (I can’t find a job, I don’t have a relationship, my computer isn’t working, the internet is down, etc…) The first time I really came to understand this concept of God as the Divine Thwarter was back in the early 2000’s. I was first on staff and needed my own computer. My Grandpa, who recently became a Christian and was very excited about me joining the ministry, offered to buy me any laptop I wanted. I got to pick out the specs and nearly everything I wanted (trying to keep it reasonable, of course). I put a lot of time and thought into it, and boy, was I excited to get it. Once it was ordered, I tracked the shipping and counted down the days. And wouldn’t you know the thing was delayed, not once, but twice! And it was June, there wasn’t even a weather issue! Oh, I was frustrated and just wanted to complain. But right around that same time, I first heard the concept of the Divine Thwarter and realized God was thwarting my desire on PURPOSE! I was putting all my hope and joy into receiving this new laptop, and my hope was not in Him. So I confessed where I was at, stopped complaining, and put my hope back in God. Then I patiently waited out the extra days for my computer to come.

We can either focus on God or focus on our problems. Our minds can be filled with only one or the other. It is impossible to thank God and blame God at the same time. There is always something to complain about. There is also always something to be thankful for.

God wants us to give Him our problems, whether caused by Him when He’s divinely thwarting us or caused by the World. We live in a broken world with broken people, and we are hurt & frustrated by it. 1 Peter 5:7 was one of the very first verses I ever memorized. It says, “cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” Cast ALL your cares on him, because he CARES for you!

There’s a quote by Elizabeth Elliot that I enjoy, “If it’s big enough to worry (complain) about it’s big enough to pray about.” God wants us to cast ALL our cares on Him.

Another familiar verse is Phil 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” We could camp out in this verse for several blog posts. But I’ll just hit a few highlights. Did you know, as a Christian, we have the option to not be anxious? God wouldn’t command it if it wasn’t possible through Him. We don’t have to be anxious about anything. Period. Ever. Period. This is good news, especially for those of us who are prone to anxiety. I know what’s it’s like to deal with anxiety and panic attacks. But God gives us another option. Paul says “INSTEAD, in every situation,” we can pray about it, with thanksgiving. All our cares. All of them. Every situation. With thanksgiving. We can always find something to be thankful for, because there is always something about God to be thankful for. We can be thankful that He is Sovereign, in control of the frustrating situation, that He loves you when someone else was rude, that He is your provider when you are out of money, etc…

And then it gets even better, as we tell our requests to God, with thanksgiving, the peace of God that surpasses understanding (and does it surpass my understanding) will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. I don’t understand at all how it works, but I know by experience personally and through living life alongside people, that His peace comes and it guards our hearts and minds. What a huge blessing! That His peace will guard our hearts and minds instead of them being attacked by anxiety.

Many times my time alone with God starts out with a list of worries. My concerns and complaints are the loudest things in my head and I can’t concentrate on anything else, and they get louder the less I am trusting God with them. So, in humility and trust, I give each one over to God. Some are easy, some are hard. Especially with the hard ones, I need to remember and believe that He is God, He is Good, His heart towards me is good, and He can and will take care of each one of my concerns in His way and timing. After this time of surrender and being thankful for who God is, my heart can be still and I can actually live out Ps 46:10 to “Be Still and Know that I am God…”

If you continue on after the verses in Phil 4:6-7, into verse 8, Paul says “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I thought it was interesting to look at the opposite of each of the things in this verse.

    • True                       False (Fantasy)

Whatever is true. Frequently I will have bad dreams, and now that I have a daughter, they are usually about some kind of harm coming to her. I have a choice in that moment, to entertain that thought, which I have and it will lay me flat in my emotions and ruin my morning, even my day. Or I can declare it not true, declare the truth that she is currently safe in her crib, and always safe in God’s hands and reject the thought. The same with fantasy. As a single gal I used to daydream about whichever boy I had a crush on. I could entertain the fun daydreams, which would get my heart and longings for relationship going, or I could choose to stop the daydream and trust God with my heart and desire. When I entertain a fantasy, I’m not thankful to God for where He has me, and I quickly become ungrateful, wishing for the fantasy to become reality.

The same choice applies to each thought on this list. The enemy will CONSISTENTLY try to throw a negative thought our way. Don’t grow discouraged at what he throws your way. You have an incredible option as a Christian to reject it, to turn to God, and think about the list Paul gives us. Let’s keep going with our list.

    • Nobel                     Ignoble (dishonorable in character or purpose) Such as complaining about a professor, boss, coworker, roommate which is dishonorable to them.
    • Right                     Wrong
    • Pure                       Dirty
    • Lovely                   Ugly
    • Admirable           Unworthy
    • Excellent              Poor
    • Praiseworthy      Blameworthy (we can either blame God or thank God)

When we are thankful, it awakens us to God’s presence and overshadows all our problems. Giving thanks fills our minds with God’s goodness and power rather than our anxieties. When we thank God for what he has done, it reminds us of who God is and what he can do in our lives. The more we thank God, the more confident we become in Him and the less the enemy can discourage us.

The Psalms are filled with shouts and songs of Thanksgiving to God. A common theme with thanksgiving in the Psalms is this is how we enter God’s presence:

Psalm 95:1-2 Come! Let’s sing for joy to the Lord! Let’s shout out praises to our protector who delivers us! Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving! Let’s shout out to him in celebration!

Ps 100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving 
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

We enter God’s presence through Thanksgiving! How cool is that?!

There’s a thought from Jesus Calling, November 1st that I thought was encouraging. It said along the lines of: Don’t be discouraged by the difficulty of keeping your focus on God. It’s a lofty goal to continually be aware of His Presence. He is delighted by your desire to walk closely with Him. He is pleased each time you initiate communication with Him. He notices the progress you make. When you wander into negativity, don’t be surprised or alarmed at how easy it is to be negative. Our world is rigged to distract us and to bring us down. We live in a broken world. But each time you plow your way through the massive distractions to be thankful to God, you achieve a victory. Rejoice in these tiny triumphs!

We are in constant need of help. We hate that, because it’s not the American way. Exactly! It’s God’s way, he designed us with limitations and designed us to need Him. He wants us to come to Him with our neediness! Paul says in Phil 4:11-13 I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. We are familiar with the end of this verse, but did you catch the context? Paul learned to be content/thankful, rather than discontent/complaining. He learned. It’s a journey, even for Paul. And if it was a journey for him, it’s also a journey for us. It’s possible for us to be content and not complainers.

Another verse that shows God will give us the desire and the ability to be thankful is Phil 2:13-15 Paul says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may become blameless and pure…” The ability, as well as the desire, to be thankful comes from God.

We also need each other. Just as a complaining person is contagious, so is a positive person. Be around contagious people! Be that kind of person. Community is necessary to live with thankful hearts.

positive-cat

I have also noticed a trend that thankfulness and song are often woven together.

Ps 69:30 I will praise God’s name in song 
and glorify him with thanksgiving.

Colossians 3:15-17 (NCV) Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking, because you were all called together in one body to have peace. Always be thankful. Let the teaching of Christ live in you richly. Use all wisdom to teach and instruct each other by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Everything you do or say should be done to obey Jesus your Lord. And in all you do, give thanks to God the Father through Jesus. Did you notice that the command to sing is sandwiched between two verses on thankfulness? Thanksgiving is the fuel for our worship.

I encourage you to spend some time today praising His name in song, and let Him fill your mind so your worries, problems and complaints cannot. Enter His presence through a time of thanksgiving & praise.

Determined to be Useless…

special guest blog by McLain, one of the young women I disciple

mary-kay
Mary Kay Party

One of my five roommates hosted a Mary Kay party on Wednesday night. I spent the whole day exhausted, and by evening, I was spent. I decided to take a nap in the basement to avoid the hoard of girls gathered upstairs. In the dark, stuffy room, I tossed and turned for about an hour before I couldn’t stand the noise of all the girls upstairs. I decided to go upstairs, try to get in the shower, and go to sleep without having to interact with anyone.

 

Just as I was ascending the stairs, six more girls bustled into the house. There was no avoiding it now—I had to face the party. Not hiding my scowls, I declined a free facial, and tried to hide in the kitchen. I was determined to be useless. Because I didn’t want to have a good time, I decided that no one else could. Every time someone asked me to do something, they got a half-hearted response. I didn’t go out of my way to engage the new girls, which should have been my focus, and even had a hard time interacting with my best friends.

After some more sulking, some girls asked if they could have a tour of the rest of the house. I decided that this would be easy enough, so I began leading a large group of international students into my room. Their excitement of being in a “true American woman’s room” was overwhelming. They were engrossed in my earrings, clothes, books, and decorations—from the biggest mirror, down to the smallest knick-knack. Their joyful mood started to touch my heart, and I decided it wouldn’t be that much of an imposition to get to know them more. To establish common ground, I showed them my glass Japanese fishing weights, and the girls erupted with delight. I was amazed at how much reaching out just a little bit would be affect them, and even affect myself.

As the tour continued into Brandy’s room, I started to forget my determination to be useless. I showed the international girls the scripture and it-is-wellworship lyrics on Brandy’s wall, and explained a few passages. They were particularly interested with one that read, “It is well.” I explained that it is a popular worship song, and what it meant. One of the girls had actually heard it in her home country!

Encouraged by their interest in God, I remembered that I had a Korean/English bible. Before I could even enter the room again with the bible, Korean girls, ecstatic to see their own language in a foreign country, swarmed me. The Word passed between eager hands and hungry eyes. Many even wrote down the brand so that they could look into getting one for themselves. One girl asked, to my surprise, “Where is John?” I flipped to that book, while she explained that she liked some paragraphs from John, but couldn’t remember which ones. I got the butterflies just thinking about that the Lord has been calling each of these girls to himself for their whole lives, and he let me be a small part in that narrative! How exciting!

img_1668Again, the tour continued. While the girls loved every room in the house, they were particularly taken with Jordan’s room. “This is my dream room,” they sighed. Everything from her hand crocheted blanket on her bed, to the fairy lights hanging on her wall were captivating to them. One girl zeroed in on Jordan’s display on the song “Good Good Father,” and wanted to know where it was from and what it meant. As I began to explain the lyrics, I could feel the Spirit move in me, and prompt me to explain deeper and get real with them.

Sharing with the girls got cut short by beautiful piano music. After a few performances on our keyboard, I asked Hannah Garza if she would mind playing “It is Well” and “Good Good Father” for us. It only took a few seconds for girls to join in worshiping the Lord. The international students had never seen anything like this before—Christians truly worshipping. Behind all of the beautiful singing were constant camera clicks. They found this captivating! It was surreal to me, watching all of the girls in worship of our God, because just an hour before, I was determined to be useless. But God works despite of us, and our attitudes; His will is stronger than that. He was determined to make me useful.

 

Beauty and Danger

beauty danger2Last week I could feel my spirit just dragging. Life had been busy, time with God had been shortened, and I was keenly feeling the effects of not having quality time with my Savior. I knew I needed to get away to the Mountains for at least a couple hours to just sit and be still. My mom was up visiting, so she hung out with Aurora while I took off to the Hills.

I found a spot off a dirt road, parked the jeep, grabbed my blanket, glanced around at the ground and dropped my blanket and settled in. Now, when I picked my spot, I noticed the bigger “beauty” and “danger”. The spot was shaded, full of greenery, with a few flowers. It also had a thorny wild rose bush that I was careful to avoid putting my blanket near. I was sad my spot wasn’t near water, as I really enjoy the sound of waterfalls and creeks. But the waterfall area was crawling with tourists, and not the place to be alone to think.

As I sat in my spot and practiced being still, I started to notice more “beauty” as well as more “danger”. At first I had only noticed a few bugs flying around me. But after 3o-45 minutes, I noticed they were everywhere, and the longer I sat, the more I noticed (and swatted). I also noticed a big ol’ spider web in the thorny rose bush next to my blanket, as well as a watery cocoon. (I’m not a fan of insects, so these are “danger” to me). But I also started to notice more beauty. A few rose buds on the bush I hadn’t noticed. Some white flowers tucked into the greenery below. Sunlight filtering through the trees. And then, after an hour of sitting and being still, I heard the sound of rushing water!

And God had an analogy for me in all of this. In my rushed state when I first picked my spot, I only noticed the immediate and large “beauty” and “danger”. If I’m not still in my spirit, I will only notice the larger beauty and danger to my soul. I will miss the smaller blessings (beauty) from God, and may even come to the point where I doubt His love and goodness towards me because I can’t see the smaller, more intimate ways He’s showing His love towards me. I will also miss the subtle dangers to my spirit, and it seems that’s where the enemy likes to work best. When I first sat down, I only noticed a few bugs, but the longer I sat, I noticed the small ones. Unless I am still before God, I won’t notice the small “gnats” eating away at my spirit.

In the moments of being still, God can reveal to me the dangers to my soul that I’m not noticing. Like when I’m prizing efficiency over loving people. Or trying to pursue rest via my own efforts of control. I find myself thinking “if only I could clean & organize my house, my schedule, my thoughts… then I’ll find rest/peace.” Sure, cleaning and organizing will provide a sense of rest, but it will be temporary, and not the true rest my soul is desperate for. That kind of rest can only come from being still in God’s presence.

It’s takes a peaceful spirit to see God’s intimate and personal ways of loving us. It takes a peaceful spirit to be teachable and humble to God revealing where we are slipping into sin. We might think we’re okay, because we are catching the bigger danger and beauty, but the smaller ones may matter more.

I encourage you to find some time to be still. Regular time. It doesn’t have to be up in the mountains, that’s just where I connect best with God. When we spent some time doing this during our women’s bible study, each girl picked a room in the house, or a spot in the yard, to spend 30 minutes being still with God. One girl received a lot of personal encouragement from God by seeing Moby Dick on my bookshelf and perusing through it. I don’t get it, but God knew she would! Because He is that personal in His love for us!

If you need some help letting God show you the smaller dangers to your spirit, I thought this blog post was pretty right on: 9 Sins the Church Is Surprisingly OK With as Long as You Love Jesus.

 

 

Crushes: Crush Them, not the other way around

Guest post by Brandy, one of the young ladies I mentor

he loves meI’m going to be completely honest with you gals, writing this was kinda difficult. At first I was so honored and excited to write this that I completely forgot that it meant sifting through the tender parts of my heart, the deep parts where my desires are held. Some of what God’s been teaching me has been a ‘hindsight is 20/20’ kind of thing, but, for the most part, this is very real, very new, and hard to work through. I’ve found that when God asks you to do or go through something, most of the time He isn’t asking only for your benefit, but for others as well.

So, here is what God is teaching me about how to cope with crushes in a way that protects the heart and grows our relationship with Him at the same time. Let us commence at the beginning.

Once I’ve unearthed my crush on someone, I’ve noticed certain tendencies to always be present. Here is what it looks like:

  • It looks like striving for my crush’s approval.
  • It looks like comparing myself to other women who my crush is giving attention to.
  • It looks like wondering if I’m enough, and tearing myself down when I’m convinced that I’m definitely not enough; all because I don’t hold a monopoly on my crush’s attention and affection.
  • It looks like changing who I am to be someone I think my crush will like.
  • It looks like plotting:
    • How can I sit next to him?
    • How can I bring up a conversation with him?
    • How can I bring him up in conversation with friends?
    • How can I spend more time with him?
  • It looks like reading into every single thing my crush says and does.
  • It looks like reading between and outside the lines (you know, daydreaming).

I think you know what I’m talking about here, ladies. Our hearts are in turmoil! We feel at war with ourselves, bullying ourselves, believing the enemy’s lies, and changing ourselves, all because some guy isn’t pursuing us. But what if I were to tell you that this isn’t how it has to be? What if I said there is a way to receive life and hope in the midst of a heart-wrenching crush?

I want to share a story with you. I recently messaged a guy I had a crush on. He responded, asking me how my evening was. So I dove, head-and-heart-first into what was sure to be an earth shattering conversation! But, after a few messages back and forth, it was obvious that I was the only one holding the conversation. It was completely one-sided. Then, our wonderful God impressed upon me this truth:

I am worth someone asking questions to. I am worthy of someone taking the effort and time to have a two-sided conversation with me because God says I am worthy. He, Himself, takes time to pursue me, love me, and ask me questions, and I should expect no less from man. Especially from a man that I desire to hold my heart.

With this truth safely tucked into my belt, I allowed the conversation to end. I did this trusting that God had my heart in mind, and would provide for my desire to be pursued and have meaningful conversation through some other avenue.

You see, you, yourself is enough, just the way you are. Whatever God is having you do right now, this very moment, is enough. No need to change who you are, or what you are doing to (maybe) appease what you believe a guy wants. You don’t need to be burdened with trying to figure out how to “make” the guy you’re crushing on like you, or what you’re “doing wrong” that’s “making” him not like you. FYI it’s not your responsibility to “win” a guy’s heart.

You are enough. Your heart deserves better than what you’re giving it. It is a treasure, and it is high time you start to treat it that way, because this is the truth that our Father desires you to know and believe about yourself! You are worth so much! You are pretty enough, smart enough, funny enough, _______ enough! You have the God of the Universe, the King of Kings, the Rescuer of your soul pursuing you! He loves and desires you. He has your absolute best in mind and wants to give it to you, His beloved! We only have to believe this and give Him the hurt, the pain of not being pursued by an earthly man at this moment. Give God your desires and allow Him to provide for them. Place your hope firmly on God, not imperfect man, to provide for what you want. Choose God, not self. Choose to see yourself the way He does, not the way the enemy is trying to trick you into seeing yourself, and treat your heart the way He died to have it treated. Just treat yo-self right girl!!

Story time. I was getting fuel and was just beginning to pump gas when I saw a familiar car pull up. One of my guy friends hopped out and told me that he had seen me pumping and had to stop to say hi! We talked for a few minutes while I finished pumping and then he departed. Now I could take what happened here one of two ways. The first is the way of wishful thinking; seeing it only how I’d like it to be: He stopped, just for me. He must like me. He is pursuing me. That’s the only explanation. What should the colors be at our wedding? The second way is to view it as it is, not reading into it, and seeing how God has orchestrated it. God, who loves me immeasurably more than I could ever imagine, has chosen to show His love by having this man come up to me and notice me. Because God notices me, He saw me pumping gas and sought a way to encourage me even there, and He did so through this man. No reading into it; it’s in God’s hands. My guy friend was the vessel that God choose to show me how important and loved I am by Him. Praise Jesus for His love!

This is what a crush can look like when you choose to crush with God by your side, believing the truth of who He says you are, and giving and trusting your desires and hopes to Him:

  • It looks like giving God the desire for your crush to pay attention to you.
  • It looks like letting God fulfill your desire to be pursued and seen.
  • It looks like being open to seeing how God is pursuing you, and letting him.
  • It looks like putting your hope in the One who loves you and your heart.
  • It looks like rejoicing in the Provider when your crush pays attention to you, or does something admirable (after all, most of the qualities that draw you to your crush are qualities that God also possesses, so why not praise Him for that!).
  • It looks like being who you are and doing exactly what God asks you to do without the fear of what your crush will think (because we should pursue pleasing God, not man, right?).
  • It’s sprinting to God when your heart hurts, giving the hurt to Him; allowing Him to heal and comfort you.
  • It can also look like plotting:
    • How can I see God provide for me today?
    • Where is God at that I also need to be?
    • How is God pursuing me?
    • How can I spend time with the Lover of my soul and allow Him to encourage me?

We need a focus change from focusing on us and what we’re feeling to focusing on God and what He is saying, about us, who we are, why He loves us, what He has for us to do. It’s safe to give God your desires. He wants to give you life and life in the fullest. He knows and loves you. Secure your hope, your desire, in Him who gave up everything so He could be in relationship with you. Give Him the chance to reveal how He can provide, and experience the real relationship that comes from allowing God to invade the deepest parts of your heart, the part that desires, the part that hurts when your crush doesn’t notice you, or rejoices when he does. Jesus loves you, His bride. Trust Him. Give Him the chance to provide. Embrace Him.

A Daughter of a King

daughter of a kingWhat does it mean to be a daughter of a king? What does it mean to be the Daughter of THE King? Some of us have distorted views of God as Father because of our experiences with our earthly ones. Even the best fathers aren’t perfect. And the enemy of our souls takes the hurt we experienced and runs with it to destroy our view of and our relationship with our perfect Heavenly Father. Thankfully, God gives us so much truth in Scripture that we can cling to instead of our experiences.

I encourage you to allow God to change your view of Him to who He truly is and how He truly sees you, His Daughter. It takes time to renew our minds with truth, but as you do, you will see and love God more than you ever thought imaginable!

We spent some time doing just that during one of our Women’s Bible Study, and here are some of our discoveries.

You are a Princess! God is the King of Kings and he chose you to adopt you as His Daughter. And He WANTED to! He was pleased to! There is no sense of obligation here. He’s not feeling obligated to be your father and to do fatherly duties, He wants to be your father. And you have a great inheritance as a Daughter of the King.

For at just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. 1 Tim 6:15

 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. Eph 1:4

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

 

You are lavished on like a beloved Princess should be. Our heavenly Father doesn’t hold back His love, attention, or gifts. He gives you good and perfect gifts; He gives you everything you need for your enjoyment! You are provided for with the best care. There is never a shortage of resources.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. Eph. 1:7-8

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Ps. 84:11

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 1 Tim 6:17

For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands. Ps. 92:4

For every wild animal in the forest belongs to me, as well as the cattle that graze on a thousand hills. Ps 50:10

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,     and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isa. 40:29-31

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matt. 11:28-30 (MSG)

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 (ESV)

“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10 (NLT)

 

You never need to be afraid of bothering your Father, the King. You can always approach His Throne with confidence. You can come to Him with anything and He is always available to you to give you His full attention. He is never distracted by anything else. He never grows weary of you. He loves you! You can talk to Him about anything, and you never need to fear asking for things, or even wanting things. You can count on Him, He is dependable. He comforts you when you are distressed, and wraps you in His loving arms.

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. Heb 4:16

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Phil. 4:6-7 (MSG)

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary,   and his understanding no one can fathom. Isa. 40:28

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isa. 40:11

 

A lot of time, care, thought and planning has gone into your upbringing as a Princess. You have a purpose for your life. You are a significant woman.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Eph 2:10

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jer 29:11 (MSG)

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Ps 139:16

 

You aren’t just a “trophy child,” a “feather in His cap.” He never ignores you. He knows you! He knows you even better than you know yourself (He even knows how many hairs are on your head). Plus, you are invited to join along with what your Father the King is working on. You get to work with Him! And He wants you to know Him as well.

And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Matt. 10:30

But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. 1 Corin. 8:3

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corin 3:9

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3

 

He is always with you! Always! He will never leave you. He will never forget you. He won’t leave you alone to face your fears, instead He is right there by your side.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you; Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isa. 41:10

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:20

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. Ps. 139:7-12

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close. Ps 27:10

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands!” Isa 49:15-16

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime–until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” Isa 46:4

 

You are valuable to God. So valuable in fact, that he paid your ransom to get you back with Christ’s blood, not just mere gold and silver. Gold and Silver aren’t valuable enough. You are so much more valuable!

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days. 1 Pet. 1:18-20

How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Matt 12:12

So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matt. 10:31

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Isa 43:1

 

He watches over you and valiantly fights for you with a King’s fury! He is never passive.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—     where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord,     the Maker of heaven and earth.

 He will not let your foot slip—     he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel     will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The Lord watches over you—     the Lord is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day,     nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—     he will watch over your life;  the Lord will watch over your coming and going     both now and forevermore. Ps. 121

But the LORD says, “The captives of warriors will be released, and the plunder of tyrants will be retrieved. For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children.” Isa 49:25

 

He forgives you! He doesn’t hold your mistakes over you. In fact, He forgets them!

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Col. 3:13

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Ps 103:12

Love keeps no record of wrongs 1 Corin 13:4

Praying for Guidance

praying for Guidance2I’ve started reading John Eldredge’s newest book, “Moving Mountains,” and it’s been soooo good! It’s all about prayer, and praying effectively. I hope to write several blog entries about it as it will help me process the good stuff in this book, and hopefully also be a benefit to you reading my blog.

I picked up the book as the description seemed to be where my thoughts have been for the past several years. It did not disappoint and Eldredge put things into words so much more effectively than I had been able to. He wrote on prayer, but I’ve been thinking about how these concepts apply to our relationship with God in general. His general concept in the book is that there is a way things work, it’s that way with everything in life. There is a way friendships work, marriage, owning a dog, raising a child, planting flowers, reading a book.

But like many people, I’ve had the idea that prayer just works. Raise a prayer and hope for the best. But in my heart, I knew that wasn’t quite it. Especially based on my experience of when my prayers work and when they don’t. It’s not as simple as God giving a “yes”, “no”, or “later” answer; even more so as we mature as Christians. I know that statement ruffles some feathers, as it goes against some long-held beliefs many of us have had.

Let’s look at praying for guidance. There is a way to pray effectively for guidance. And really, it’s common sense, or at least to me, because as I read what Eldredge wrote, I noticed this is what I’ve done when I’ve experienced effective prayer for guidance.

So here are some of Eldredge’s thoughts mixed with my own, taken from Chapter 11: “Let There Be Light” – Praying for Guidance, Understanding and Revelation.

The first rule of seeking guidance is to take the pressure off. Pressure to get an answer or hear something “right now”. Or pressure, stress, or drama of any kind in our lives from any source. Pressure nearly guarantees you will have a hard time discerning what God is saying, if you hear anything at all. Pressure clenches up your heart and soul and ties up all your insides in rubber-band knots. Even if God is shouting, it is unlikely he can get through to you because of the chaos. We need to do what we can to reduce the pressure. Get someplace quiet, peaceful, away from the chaos and stress. The whole “Be still and know that I am God…” concept is super important. Take a moment to remember who God is. Our hearts need some breathing room to hear God. I think of the story of the scattered seed in Mark 4:19 “…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Eldredge shares the story of Daniel (chapter 2) when King Nebuchadnezzar had dreams that troubled him. He wanted his “magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers” to interpret the dream, but first to tell him what he dreamed. When they said it was impossible and they couldn’t, the King ordered their death. This included Daniel. Talk about pressure! Daniel took the pressure off by asking the King for some time and sought God. Now, I doubt many of us can even comprehend the pressure Daniel faced, but our pressure will still clench our hearts just the same. If Daniel needed to take the pressure off in a high pressure situation, we certainly do too.

Daniel calms the situation down and he and his friends seek God, God answers and Daniel praises God:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.” (Daniel 2:21-23)

God will make known to us what we ask of Him. But first, we need to take the pressure off.

The second thing we need to do is let go of our constant attempt to “figure things out”. This one gets me often, my brain will just go and go, figuring out plans and plan b’s, and c’s. I’ll start praying for guidance and then get sidetracked in my trying to figure it out.

Eldredge shares how God has some strong feelings about those who choose to walk in the light of their own counsel:

Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on their God.
But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment. (Isa. 50:10-11)

Ouch! Wow! God wants us to seek Him rather than light our own fires and try to figure things out on our own. And why not?! He is the God of all wisdom, knowledge, insight, and power. It’s silly for me to not go to him. Even sillier, fruitless really, is seeking God’s counsel while I am privately committed to one course of action over all others. Or trying to “fill in the blanks.” Spending half my energy trying to figure it out while I give the other half of my energy to seeking God. It’s far better to live with uncertainty for a while than to be our own counselors. Tolerate the ambiguity!

We must surrender our agendas. We must surrender our “best thoughts” on the matter. We must surrender even our secret desires. When we do all this, we are in a much better place to receive God’s thoughts on the situation.

Surrender is the key. We need to be open to WHATEVER it may be that God has to say. If you are only open to hearing one answer from God, “yes, you should take that apartment,” then it’s not likely you will hear anything at all. And if you do hear a yes, you won’t be able to trust it (is that me or is that God?). Yield your plans, desires, even hunches (oi!) to the Living God so you can receive something far better: His counsel. Give the matter to God; give the process of decision making over to God too!

Finally, give it some time. Seeking God’s guidance through prayer isn’t something to get done in 5 minutes. It takes time to take off the pressure and be still. It takes time to remember who God is. It takes time to truly surrender our thoughts, desires and hunches. And it takes time to specifically pray. “Do you want me to take this job?” “Is now the time to move?” If it’s a complex decision, try and break it down into parts: “Do you want us to move, Lord?” Should we move now or wait?” Complex decisions are better handled in bite size pieces.

If you feel you are receiving guidance from the Holy Spirit, then ask Him to confirm it. God speaks through His Word, His People, Circumstances and Prayer. Look for all four areas to line up.

If you haven’t heard anything, try another round of prayer. If clarity isn’t coming, come back tomorrow. Most decisions don’t need to be made right this instant, and if someone won’t give you time to pray about it, then my advice is to say no. However, if a decision truly needs to be made now, then ask God to come into your decision and to block your path if you haven’t chosen well.

I’ve also noticed that when we aren’t getting the answers we seek, it’s because God wants us to be asking a different question. Quite often God wants to address a different issue in our lives first, and He will be silent on the one matter until we let Him speak on the other. I’ve noticed in my life, I’ll go to God because I really want some direction, but He wants to talk to me about a relationship that’s gone sour. I don’t want to deal with the relationship, so I won’t talk to God about it. But He won’t talk to me about what I want until I talk to Him about what He wants. And I’ve learned that I can’t argue with God and win.

A sample prayer for this situation:
Holy Spirit- is there something else you want to say to me? Is there something you want to address before you speak to this? What should I be focused on right now – what do you want to speak to? Shine your light on that; make it clear to me. I surrender the process and I allow you to speak into whatever it is you want to speak into.

I hope this helps. There is a way things work. There is a way prayer works. There is a way praying for guidance works.

I look forward to processing more thoughts and sharing them with you in future blogs.

Christmas Peace … for whom?

I discovered something new about the Christmas story that I never noticed before. While reading John Piper’s Advent Devotional, Good New of Great Joy, he highlighted Luke 2:12-14:

 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Now I’ve always noticed verse 10:

The angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.

To all people. The good news that will bring great joy was for all people.

But verse 14 brings a limit; peace on earth isn’t for all people. It’s for those with whom God is pleased. Which is people of faith (Hebrews 11:6  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him).

I believe that peace on earth for believers also means peace in our hearts. If God is really real, which He is, then there is no reason for a Christian not to have full peace and assurance in their hearts. Even with, especially with, how the world is today.

I know a lot of people, including Christians, watch/read the news and panic. And I must admit, lately, my heart has faltered into fear over ISIS and stuff. However, God is in control, with a good plan, and the more time we spend in His Word and with Him, the more we gain that reassurance (as opposed to spending time watching the news and being reassured our world is in trouble). As a Christian, we never need to fear or worry when it comes to the bad news in the world, or the bad news that comes to us personally.

Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We aren’t helpless either when it comes to the bad news. We can pray. Pray for Paris,  pray for wisdom for leaders, pray for God to thwart the enemy and his plans, etc… Prayer isn’t just a feel-good thought, it has power! James 5:16b: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. God lets us change the spiritual climate around events through prayer. Granted, sometimes I have a hard time believing this all the time. It takes work to pray: focus, time to set aside, remembering that prayer is powerful when nothing seems to be happening.

But it’s when we remember God, what He’s done in the past, and who He is, that we can have peace, no matter what is going on in the world around us.

a baby, fear, & pride

I’ve been thinking about my blog a lot lately. Partly because it’s been a year since I started it. Partly because I’m going through Experiencing God again and as I read about “what has God asked you to do,” this blog keeps coming to mind.

Although it may not seem like it, I have thought about this blog often. But then fear and doubt creep in. I have had so many ideas of things I want to write and share, but not the time to think it through as well as I would like in order to blog it. Getting pregnant affected my ability to write until April (first trimesters are rough!). By mid-April I regained vision for ministry and had things to share. But I didn’t blog them. And more ideas throughout this summer. And I still didn’t write. Then Aurora came, this beautiful baby girl that took up all my energy and time. Two months later, as we figure out this new life, start to gain a “schedule”, and my times with God increase in length and focus, blog ideas are coming to mind — but fear and pride keep me from writing.

So today, I’m choosing to push past it and write instead. I realized that I’m wanting to “think it through” because I want a “legit blog”, which to me means well-written and well formatted and great graphics. But that “goal” is keeping me from writing altogether. And it’s based in pride. God hasn’t asked me to write a professional blog, at least not yet. He’s asked me to share the things He’s speaking to me, as it helps me process them more fully, and along the way others may be encouraged or challenged by those things as well.

So here’s to a new year! 2015 isn’t over just yet! Is there anything God has asked you to do this year? Don’t wait for 2016 — 2015 isn’t over yet!

Lying in a Manger – 4 Challenging Words

nativityAfter my last post, I decided to order the book “In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas” by Dan Schaeffer, as one of the devotionals I read last week quoted his book. Wow, what a good read! I’ve really been enjoying it. The past two mornings as I read, I thought “this is good stuff! Who could I tell about it?” Then this morning I remembered I started a blog! ha! So, here are some of my thoughts from what I’ve been reading.

The announcement of the birth of Christ started off exhilarating for Mary. An angelic visit, a miracle of getting pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and her time spent with her cousin Elizabeth, who also gave a prophetic word. If I were Mary, I would assume the whole journey would be just as amazing and exhilarating, and well, trouble free. But then she comes home from her visit with Elizabeth, and Joseph sees that she’s pregnant and doesn’t believe her story. This is tragic enough for him to consider ending his relationship with her. An unwed, pregnant teen in our day is a dilemma, back then it would have been even worse. I wonder if while Joseph was considering his options if Mary was asking God “what now? how are You going to provide?” I imagine this was a huge low point for Mary. Thankfully, Joseph also received an angelic vision and the journey was good again as the babe grew within her.

But then another low point, Caesar Augustus declared a census to be taken, and a VERY pregnant Mary had to make the journey with Joseph to Bethlehem. I imagine it was a very wearying travel. They arrived to a crowded Bethlehem and as Joseph knocked on the doors from inn to inn, with no room for them anywhere, I wonder how frantic each of them felt. Joseph frustrated that he is unable to provide a place to stay for his wife; Mary possibly wondering, “God, where are you? Will you take care of us? Will you provide for your Son?” Did Mary wonder if perhaps God had forgotten them? I know I wonder that when situations seems to go horribly wrong.

The journey hits a low point.

And then maybe lower as the only place one innkeeper can give them to stay is a stable. In many of today’s Nativity scenes, the picture is of a crude stable, but quaint and clean. However, I seriously doubt the busy innkeeper had time to muck the stalls for his unexpected guests. Can you imagine how smelly and gross that stable was? Eww. And cold? Not your typical warm, clean birthing room. I wonder if doubt of God’s care for them filled their minds even more as the weary travelers moved into their shelter. Not that Mary would have much time to ponder as the labor pains began. I also wonder how heartbreaking her labor was, possibly awkward… alone with Joseph to deliver the baby (a man whom she hadn’t *known* yet), no mother to hold her hand through the delivery. All in a cold, smelly cave filled with animals and their excrement as a delivery room. A manger for a crib. Really God?

Really!

While this wouldn’t have been Mary & Joseph’s first choice, or even 2nd or 3rd; it was God’s plan, and He had a very wise purpose in it.

After the baby was born, some shepherds showed up, telling their fantastic story of an angelic vision, a host of angels! And their sign: you will find him lying in a manger. With all the people (and babies) filling Bethlehem that night, this unique sign separated the Messiah from all the other babies, no other baby would be in a manger. I wonder if hearing the Shepherds’ stories encouraged their hearts once more. God knew, God saw, He hadn’t forgotten them at all! He was working behind the scenes, and used their unique (and difficult) circumstance as a sign!

“Common folks can’t visit the palaces of newborn kings uninvited (and we seldom are). But kings and princes can visit mangers, and so can bakers and weavers, wise men and shopkeepers, priests and children, cattle and sheep. This reality is so simple that it is easy to miss” (Dan Schaeffer).

Jesus lying in a manger reveals in a dramatic way that He had come to be available, accessible by everyone! When Prince William and Kate had their baby, we could only hear about it and maybe see some pictures months later. But Jesus was available to everyone the day of his birth. God humbled himself in so many ways. Even if He was born in the very best earth had to offer, it would still be humbling for Him. But He went all the way so that we would realize there was nothing God wouldn’t do to bring us into relationship with Him.

Mary and Joseph’s journey was filled with some incredible highs and intense lows. Often, when I receive a call or mission from God, and it starts off awesome, I assume He’s going to work everything out so splendidly, and well, easy for me. But His Ways are not my ways, and when things seem like a mess and God has forgotten me, He just may be working behind the scenes where I can’t see Him. He is ALWAYS working, and His messy plan (in our estimation) may be a sign this world needs, or He may be making Jesus accessible to others through our difficulties.

The author of the book suggested that as we travel this Christmas (whether on errands or to visit friends or family), notice the hospitals you pass and take a few moments to remember how and where your God was born. “When I go into a hospital maternity ward or a comfortable home nursery, I think about how bright, clean, healthy, and warm these places are… and I marvel anew that my God lay in a manger!”

May you be encouraged through the birth of Christ this Christmas.

Discipleship is an art. Guidelines are quite beneficial, but each person's journey of discipleship is unique. Join me, and guest bloggers, as we explore the art of discipleship, from the basics to the deep, plus a few tidbits of life along the way.