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!

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.

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.

Test Driving New Traditions

I came across a great idea at the end of summer while looking ahead to the Thanksgiving holiday season – a Thanksgiving Tree!

Perhaps the phrase “Thanksgiving Tree” heralds the nostalgia of school days with images like these…imagesthanksgiving_treethanksgiving-tree-2-apron-strings-other-things-570x526

Or perhaps the phrase “Thanksgiving Tree” brings to mind Pinterest-worthy creations like these?

We should have known Ann Voskamp would be ahead of the curve with this elegant table topper.
I should have known Ann Voskamp would be ahead of the curve with this elegant table topper.
This Thanksgiving Tree by Lia Griffith is absolutely enviable, right?
This Thanksgiving Tree by Lia Griffith is absolutely enviable, right?

Now put a pin in both of those preconceived ideas because when I say “Thanksgiving Tree,” this little beauty is what I’m talking about:thanksgiving-tree

I first discovered the whole idea of having a “Thanksgiving Tree” here and I love this site’s vision for a few different reasons. First, I scarcely decorate for Fall, much less Thanksgiving specifically. Second, I appreciate the focus on handmade decorations for our first “Thanksgiving Tree” because I have always have resident artists in my home. Third, it uses something I already own (the tree) in a new, creative way. Fourth, it cuts down on the workload that is December 1 in our home (the day we decorate for Christmas) by one tree.

So…this year we’re going to test drive this new tradition of a Thanksgiving Tree and see how she handles for our family. What about you? What new traditions are you going to test drive this November in your home? Feel free to share your great ideas (or links) in the comments section.

Patterns of Prayer – Pt. 2

Our focus this week will be on the P.R.A.I.S.E. pattern of prayer, the first of many that were completely new to me. I particularly enjoyed this prayer pattern because it began with thanking God for what He has already done. I found that this opening act positioned my heart for all that followed. It “flowed” well with how my heart and mind are wired, so to speak. Another element that I appreciated was praying His Word, however He illuminated it to me that day in my morning devotional. (The way my day unfolds, I spend time in the Word in the morning and time in prayer in the afternoon so there was time to savor & ponder what He had shown me before praying it.) I also enjoyed the time at the end to just enjoy His presence, to “be still and know that He is God.”

the-p-r-a-i-s-e-method

Meet Mary of Bethany

John Forte's "Annointing His Feet #2" can be found here.
John Forte’s “Annointing His Feet #2” can be found here.

I know, I know. Last week I was confessing that there were too many Marys in the Bible to keep them all straight and yet, here I go introducing another. Stick with me, though.

Mary of Bethany is someone I’ve known all of my life, but I felt like I had more in common with her sister than I did with her. Maybe its because I have this thing about feet and she always seemed to be about the feet. I don’t know. With half-hearted enthusiasm, I reached out to Mary of Bethany earlier this year and was surprised to find that we not only connected in a couple of ways, but she has since become a woman I deeply admire and want to be like.

You see, I’ve always had this prejudice where Mary was concerned, this judgment of her as the lazy sister, leaving her sister to pick up the slack while she did her own thing. The more time I spent with Mary, however, and the more attentive to her testimony I became, the more I saw her in a new light – as an example of a female disciple. Jesus called His male disciples to leave their work and follow Him. I saw clearly for the first time that this was what Mary was doing, as well. I became ashamed at how I had always viewed her, leaving all the work to her poor, burdened, responsible sister, Martha, when what she was actually doing was following Him, just as His male disciples were. And she was praised for her choice.

If you’ve held off on getting to know Mary of Bethany, let this be the week you decide to invest in that relationship. She’s not your average Mary. And she is about so much more than just feet.

Click here to meet my new friend, Mary of Bethany.








 

Meet Esther

"Esther" by John Everett Millais
“Esther” by English Painter/Illustrator John Everett Millais, 1865

I first met Esther as a kid. At my church, she was always talked up to us girls, heralded as a real role model. And why not? Esther was a woman of remarkable beauty and she had the brains to match. I looked up to her throughout my childhood. Unfortunately, as the years of my childhood faded, so did our acquaintance.

I decided to reconnect with Esther last summer, initiating some one-on-one time with my childhood hero.  I was encouraged by this {still} beautiful and remarkably faithful woman of God. I think the three areas that Esther encouraged me most to grow in were:

Social Grace – I find it terribly hard to deal in awkward social situations and Esther is savvy in a way I aspire to be. She is not conniving, but understands that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Fear Factor – I suffer from a plethora of fears, but none so great as what Esther and her people faced from evil Haman. Esther taught me to walk forward even though I am afraid; to walk one step at a time, trusting God with the outcome.

Prayerful Processing – I am a “doer” personality. Often this translates to moving forward before prayerfully processing situations. Esther, on the other hand, turned to God in prayer and fasting for three days before moving forward regarding Haman’s evil scheme.

Esther is looking forward to getting together with you this week. She has a wealth of wisdom & insight to share with you, too. Click here to meet my friend and personal hero, Esther.








 

 

Meet Bathsheba

"Bath-Sheba" by quilt artist Dolores Fegan. See more of her Women of the Bible quilts here.
“Bath-Sheba” by quilt artist Dolores Fegan. See more of her Women of the Bible quilts here.

Like some of you, I’ve heard of Bathsheba most of my life. It’s hard not to, having grown up in the church. Her name was mentioned now and again in association with the great King David, but it was always in passing.

When I had the opportunity to meet and spend time with her last summer, I was admittedly lukewarm. And I confess that she was kind of hard to get to know. It took more work to peel back the layers than all of the other ladies I’d gotten to know. She proved less transparent than Rahab, less of a role-model than Deborah, less of a leader than Miriam. My diligence, however, paid off and I was rewarded to find that I connected in so many ways with this woman renown for her beauty:

  • as a fellow mother of five;
  • as a parent that has known the deep grief of burying a child;
  • as a woman desired (thanks to my husband!);
  • as a mom with deep desires to see her grown children realize their full potential (and occasionally messes up by meddling in their affairs);
  • as someone who looks at herself soberly; and
  • as a {repentant} sinner.

It was good to see that I shared these connections with Bathsheba because she is one of those women that are known more for her failures than for her successes. That’s unfortunate, too, because most of my own growth as a follower of God has occurred in the wake of my own {colossal} failures and I sensed the same rang true for Bathsheba as she shared her story with me. As she shared, I was intrigued by her ability not to become mired to her failures because I tend to get stuck in the moments. I obsess about every detail and find it very difficult to crawl out of those moments and move forward.

Bathsheba doesn’t deny that her sin altered the course of her life, or that people were hurt by her choices. They were, and probably none more than her first husband, Uriah. That moment of failure, however, wasn’t wasted. She grew from having endured the hardship of widowhood, guilt and even the death of her son. I think she learned from her mistakes. And God, in seeing that, used her to bless the known world (through her son, King Solomon, in her lifetime), and the entire world (through Jesus Christ, her direct descendant).

Bathsheba is an encouragement to me to live in light of Paul’s words to the New Testament believers in Philippi –

“…forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God.” (Phil. 3:13-14 NET)

I invite you to make your own connections with my new friend, Bathsheba, by going here.








 


 

Meet Abigail

"Prudent Abigail" by Juan Antonio Escalante c. 1667
Prudent Abigail” by Juan Antonio Escalante c. 1667

I met Abigail in college and was so impressed with her as a woman that I named my first daughter after her. True story! In the business of raising the precious aforementioned daughter the past 22 years (along with 4 of her siblings), I unfortunately lost touch with Abigail. That’s why I was thrilled when we connected again last summer and got to spend some one-on-one time together.

Abigail is not only an intelligent woman, but she is absolutely beautiful – inside and out. Her first husband (a prosperous sheep-farmer named Nabal) never fully appreciated those qualities in her. He was a very rich, but harsh man, evil in his affairs with others. Abigail was just the opposite. Abigail was someone with whom even the household staff felt they could speak plainly (yes, she was so wealthy she had a household staff, including five maidens to attend to her needs!). One servant even felt at liberty to refer to Nabal as (and I quote) “a worthless man”- directly to Abigail’s face! Abigail was humble for someone in her station in life; an independent thinker; a problem-solver; an infinitely more gracious and savvy person in her rapport with people than her “worthless” first husband.

Through a series of (un)fortunate events that I’d rather Abigail share with you herself, she is now free from her wretched first husband and has become the wife of an actual King! Oh yeah – and in the process, she just-so-happened to save the life of everyone in her household! True story! But I will leave her fill in the details.

Click here to meet my impressive friend, Abigail, whose superpower is turning trial into triumph.








 

Meet Hannah

Wilhelm Wachtel's "Hannah at Prayer"
Wilhelm Wachtel’s “Hannah at Prayer”

I met Hannah’s son, Samuel, several times at church when I was young. Like all the other boys and girls, I was more interested in the kids like me than I was in their parents. Because of that, I never paid much attention to Moms before I became one myself.

Hannah and I got together several times last summer and I got to know her less as “Sam’s mom” and more as a kindred spirit. I was genuinely surprised to learn that we shared so much in common! God has given us both three sons and two daughters. We both raised one child fewer than we birthed, those children no longer in our household from the tender ages of 2 or 3 years. We both have attentive and devoted husbands who love us deeply and desire our lives lived with them to be happy. We’ve both experienced heart-deep sorrow that can only be (partially) purged through tears and crying out to God. We both have transparent faces. Our hearts are displayed in our countenances.

I learned so much from Hannah as we spent that time together. The two things that stick out most are the differences in our responses to heartache and acceptance of God’s timing in response to our prayers. Hannah’s heartache drove her to her knees, to the Lord in prayer, whereas my own usually takes the scenic route to God, preferring to drive by a person “with skin on” on my way to Him. I was encouraged by her example to cry out to Him first. Hannah is also the most persistently prayerful person I know. Her persistence in prayer (even in the midst of what appears to be unanswered prayer, even though His answer took years to become sight) encourages me when I don’t yet see His fingerprints in answer to my own long-prayed prayers and am tempted to give up.

I invite you to get to know Hannah this week for yourself. She’ll rub off on you, in the best way. Click here to meet Hannah.