The Good News

As the accuser, the enemy of my soul is continually at work chipping away at my identity in Christ. He accuses me of how I never change; how wretched I am; how far I fall short…and he is right – I am and I do!

My performance, however, doesn’t make God’s Word about me, His love for me or what He has done on my behalf more or less powerful. It isn’t based on ME – my ability to live up to a standard, to do “this or that,” to achieve a certain level of performance or perfection. He came to seek and to save the lost! And I qualify!

THIS is Good News!

Roman 5-8

Angels & Shepherds, the Expressive Ones

imagesRead Luke 2:1-20.

We live in a “PC” world. Oftener and oftener the Christian’s worldview is shushed in deference to the agenda of the moment. My husband and I were talking just this week about the big divide we’ve seen this holiday season. Currently there is a media-driven rebellion against wishing someone a “Merry Christmas,” even though the malls are packed with Christmas shoppers and Amazon is busily delivering packages in time for Christmas morning. “Happy Holidays” is the new trend and to wish someone a “Merry Christmas” is unbelievably considered offensive.

The thing is, what is considered “PC” is ever-changing. It’s tough to keep your finger on the popular pulse at any given moment these days. I think that’s why the response of both the angels and the shepherds of the nativity stand out to me so much this year in particular –

Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”  vv 13-14

the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. v 20

These last few days of the season, I want to challenge myself to live expressively in light of Emmanuel (“God with us”), the One for whom Christmas was named. I want to live uncensored in my praise of Him. I want my words and actions to express my beliefs. Like the angels and shepherds, I want glorify Him in an expressive way, that those around me may know the reason for the season by what I say and do.

On that note, I wish each of you a heartfelt Merry Christmas!

Magi, the Expectant Ones

The Wise Men Travel to Visit Jesus, LDS Media Library
The Wise Men Travel to Visit Jesus, LDS Media Library

Read: Matthew 2:1-12

I have collected nativities since 1990. I like to have them in every room in the house during December as a constant reminder of what I’m celebrating during this season. With holiday shopping, parties, decking the halls, filling shoeboxes, providing for angels, and just plain making memories with my minions, I can too quickly forget to focus on the birthday boy Himself. Maybe you can relate?

Several years ago I noticed that my mother-in-law, who has a beautiful collection of nativities herself, had one display of just the Magi. Just three wise men, all facing the same direction, all carrying different gifts, all quietly traveling toward something they couldn’t yet see.

I’ve thought about that partial nativity many times since first seeing it. The fact that the original Magi were attentive, that they weren’t casual observers of the world around them, but active and engaged, that they were looking for something when they “happened to notice” the star in the east. And the fact that they were expectant. They believed the Scriptures and combined with their knowledge of geography, astronomy and perhaps some other sciences, recognized the significance of the star’s appearance for what it was!

During this third week in December, in the midst of looking for deals or hunting down the “perfect” gift, ponder what it is you are looking for. What are you expecting this season?

Father, This time of year is so busy, so full of activity, to-do lists, parties, shopping, and stuff. Please, help me this holiday season to live in a more expectant way, with a heart attentive to You.

Joseph, the Contented One

I love this image of Joseph, freshly awakened and ready to obey the Lord's command. I found the image here.
Annunciation to Joseph by LDS artist Joseph Brickey, 2000.

Read: Matthew 1:18-25

I like Joseph. In my head, he was a quiet thinker. He was happily content. He was the kind of guy that kept his nose clean. He was responsible. He was dependable. When we’re introduced to Joseph, things are going pretty well for him. He is able to make a respectable living working with his hands as a carpenter. He was soon-to-be wed to Mary, a chaste and God-fearing young lady in the village. Before long, God would surely bless them with children to run and laugh around their happy home. Life was good.

Until it wasn’t.

His beloved fiancé…was pregnant? Who was the father? What should he do – expose her? divorce her?

He must have wrestled for hours over where it all went wrong and what he should do about it until finally – mercifully! – Joseph fell into what I imagine to be a hard-won sleep.

In the wee hours, Joseph finally lay sleeping quietly. It was then, as Joseph was still, that God whispered through Gabriel. He spoke to Joseph’s fears. He answered Joseph’s groanings that were too confused – too hurt – for words. He calmed the chaos that robbed Joseph of his prior contentment. And in response –

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” (v 24)

As you navigate this second week of the {chaotic} Christmas season, begin by pondering what has robbed you of contentment during past holiday seasons? Is it the hustle and bustle of making lists and checking them twice? Is it holiday entertaining? Is is the constant strain from an overly committed calendar? Is it crowded stores? Financial stress? The self-imposed pressure of making this the “best Christmas ever?” Joseph’s contentment was found in living in obedience to God’s Word. What about yours?

This week, prioritize being still with God daily. Spend your time with Him listening more than speaking. And then, like Joseph, obey.

Mary, the Lord’s Servant

"Blessed Art Thou Among Women" by Walter Rane
“Blessed Art Thou Among Women” by Walter Rane

Read: Luke 1:26-38

Mary had plans. She was engaged to be married. Her man was stable, respectable and dependable. She was soon to embark on the next season of her life. You can almost hear her whistling while she cheerfully went about her work, maybe even daydreaming about the day she would soon become Mrs. Joseph. {contented sigh}

In a moment, Mary’s dreamy plans were altered. She was to be the mother of God’s Son, not Joseph’s. She was to name him Jesus, not whatever name had tickled her fancy growing up. He was going to go into His Father’s business, not the family business. And God was going to bring this about in a supernatural way, not by implementing the natural order of things.

Mary’s plans changed, her life altered course, not because of something she had done, but because she had found favor with God. Her reaction?

“Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ ”

As you walk through this first week in December, think about Mary’s response. Really ponder her words in the context of your own life and circumstances – in rush hour traffic, at the grocery store, in that important meeting, during the school play, at the library, while making dinner, at the neighborhood Christmas party. What is your response when life throws you a curveball? How do you react when your plans are frustrated? Is your knee-jerk reaction, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

 

Giving Thanks ‘Round the Table

give-thanks-to-the-lord-and-proclaim-his-greatness-let-the-whole-world-know-what-he-has-done-i-chronicles-16-8

Thanksgiving Day is the ideal time to “Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.” (I Chronicles 16:8)

Remembering His help, His faithfulness, and His active hand in our life helps shape our own perspectives. It also serves as an organic way to wave faith flags with those you love who have yet to come to know Him in a saving way.

One great way to do this around the Thanksgiving Day table is Gratitude Gab. The link has eleven questions that you can print out and scatter around your table as great conversation starters, or you can come up with your own. Questions like “Describe something that happened last week that you are thankful for and explain why?” are adaptable for everyone, no matter where they are on their faith walk, and help focus our hearts on grateful remembrances.

Another great way to steer conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table toward what we’re thankful for is this simple conversation starter. Scatter slips of paper with a single word/category around the table – mom, dad, brother, sister, pet, neighbor, job, person on the right, friend, God. Throughout dinner, take turns picking up a category and talking about that particular topic by filling in this sentence – “A time you were thankful for…”

What traditions (new or old) will your family enjoy this year? Please share your great ideas in the comments.

 

Action Items

I took a personality profile in college that pegged me as a “doer.” This wasn’t news to me, or anyone that knew me. I am an “action-y” person. I get things done. I don’t let dust settle on me, as the saying goes. I think I have viewed my walk with God through the doer’s personality lens. Working on my faith has always been another thing on my to-do list, until I came across this beautiful truth tucked into the first part of Hebrews 12 – Jesus (not myself) is the Perfecter of my faith.

Fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. – Hebrews 12:2

According to this verse, my part is to fix my eyes on Jesus. That’s my sole action item. His part is to begin, continue and finish my faith. I had never before thought that anyone other than myself was in charge of my faith! Other Scripture backs this up – He is the Potter; I am the clay. He does the filling; I get filled. He is the Vinedresser; I am the branch. Just like so many times in my walk with God, another piece of the puzzle slipped into place. Perfecting my faith? That’s His action item.

PONDER: Have you assumed you were the perfecter of your faith? How does this verse change your perspective?

PRAYER: Father, thank You that your yoke is easy and your burden is light! Forgive me when I take Your job of perfecting my faith into my own hands. I realize now that I have a lifelong habit of attempting to do Your job for You. Help me instead to keep my eyes fixed on You while You continue and finish what You have started.

More Like Mary

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Mary (left) and Laura, Season 1 of Little House on the Prairie

Growing up, Little House on the Prairie was one of my favorite t.v. shows. I could relate to Laura as someone who struggled to do the right thing when her feelings tempted her to do the opposite. One such example was from the first season. Laura and Mary had just experienced the first of many unpleasant interactions with nasty Nellie Olsen. Sitting on the stairs of the mercantile, Mary commented to Laura that she could never be as mean as Nellie.

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I confess – I loved this scened. Oh, Nelly!

Laura’s unforgettable reply was, “I could, if Ma and Pa would let me.” As she lived with her beloved parents’ daily influence, they molded Laura’s actions and reactions. In the same way, we have God’s Holy Spirit living within us.

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. – Ezekiel 36:27

His Spirit is constantly available to influence the choices we make and daily mold our actions and reactions, as well. While our feelings may echo Laura’s sentiment, with the Holy Spirit on duty within our hearts, our reactions can be more like Mary’s.

PONDER: In what situation are you most tempted to react in your flesh? Choose to submit your will unto God’s, allowing the Holy Spirit to mold your actions & reactions.

PRAYER: Father, I confess that my actions and reactions are more in line with Laura’s. Help me to be more like Mary, slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger. Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit living within me, teaching and guiding and directing me as I walk with You.

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Click on photo for Amazon affiliate link.

Patterns of Prayer – Pt. 5

The “Lectio Divina” (or DIVINE READING) Method

The four steps are reading the Bible (taking a bite), meditating on it (chewing), praying (savoring the word), and contemplating its applications so it becomes a part of one’s life (digesting). This method seems to require the biggest time commitment at one sitting, so give yourself at least 30 uninterrupted minutes per day this week as you explore this different pattern of prayer.

1. Reading. Read the passage slowly. Pay attention to the text. Read it several times. Underline sections that catch your attention.

2. Meditating. Try to grasp the meaning of the passage, be aware of God’s presence in your life.

3. Praying. Respond to God, converse with him about the passage and his will. Open your heart to God. Share your heart, not a laundry list of needs or things you think you ought to pray about.

4. Contemplating. Focus on God, rest in his presence, and commit yourself to living out his will, especially as reflected in the reading.

For more information, a simple google search of the name will yield a wealth of further reading on the subject.