New Year, New Focus

 

Simon and me at the beginning of our epic, 2 hour lunch date on New Year’s Eve.

Simon and I started a new tradition last year – a lunch date at our beloved Big Shucks discussing the past year and framing up the new year. Thank you, Ann Voskamp, for your excellent freebies to help us focus our goals in such a measurable way! (If you’ve never done this before, we highly recommend it.)

This lunch date was an integral part of living life purposefully this past year and I’m looking forward with eager anticipation to what 2017 will bring because of it. I do plan to continue blogging here, but during the course of “framing” 2017, I decided that I needed to spend more time writing offline than online this year. Blogging takes a lot of time and while I enjoyed blogging last year immensely, my focus has shifted for 2017.

The days leading up to our date I felt the Lord prompting me to go deeper with Him this year, to take a topic I am woefully unlearned in and saturate myself with what His Word says about it during the course of the entire year. In 2017, I’m going to sink my teeth into the reality of WHO I AM IN CHRIST and I look forward to sharing what the Lord shows me from time-to-time by blogging about it. My blogging will look sporadic compared to last year’s more regularly shared devotionals & Summer Bible Study, but I hope each post will help you to see just who YOU are in Christ in a clearer, sharper way, too.

Until next time, friend.

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

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.

Meet Martha of Bethany

He Qi's "Martha & Mary" in The Life of Jesus series is available here.
He Qi’s “Martha & Mary” in The Life of Jesus series is available here.

Martha, Martha…

I have known both Mary & Martha all of my life. I have always thought of Martha as the poor, misunderstood, responsible sister of the lazy, irresponsible Mary. I always felt that I could relate to Martha, that I understood where she was coming from in doing all the necessary things one does when one offers hospitality. I “got” her irritation with Mary, who was just sitting there doing nothing. I felt the sting of Jesus’ words as if He’d spoken them to me when He gently chastised her and praised lazy Mary.

After spending a week with Mary, connecting with and understanding her like I never have before, my entire perception of her changed. And I mean completely and utterly changed. I wondered if I’d had it wrong all these years where Martha was concerned, as well, so I asked Martha for some one-on-one time and she graciously invited me to spend a week with her in Bethany.

I still share a lot of commonalities with Martha. I have a do-er personality. I have a keen sense of duty, of doing the “right” thing (even if it is too often accompanied with the wrong attitude). I get upset with others when they don’t do what I think they should. My sense of justice oftentimes leads me to ask the Lord to make things right when I feel I’ve been wronged by someone, to take my grievance directly to Him.

Against the newly painted backdrop of her sister, Martha’s shortcomings (and my own!) shine brighter than before. But like the saying goes, We learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. (Can I get an “Amen!”?) And tucked amid all of the character flaws that we share, Martha displayed something that I feel shamefully lacking in my own life – a beautiful, teachable heart.

Listening to her testimony again, I realized that Martha didn’t repeat the same mistake twice. I want to have such a teachable heart! I want to receive His Words to me and have them “stick” like that. I want to respond to His chastening as quickly and wholeheartedly as Martha did. I want to be sensitive to His teaching. I want to be changed by obeying His Word. I want to share that positive character trait with Martha, as well.

If your heart desires the same, I invite you to visit Martha in Bethany this week. Click here to spend some one-on-one time with Martha of Bethany.








 

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 Mary Magdalene

"Mary Magdalene," stained glass from St. Kilian’s Church in Sülzbach, Germany (Photo by Peter Schmelzle)
“Mary Magdalene,” stained glass from St. Kilian’s Church in Sülzbach, Germany
(Photo by Peter Schmelzle)

I’m just going to go ahead and admit that I’ve never given Mary Magdalene a second thought. If I met her as a kid, I don’t remember it. If we were introduced sometime in college, I’ve forgotten. The truth is that, for me, Mary Magdalene always got lost amid the throng of other Marys in the Bible.

Recently that all changed and I confess that I’m glad I took the time to get to know her more personally. I found Mary Magdalene to be someone perfectly content to live in the background, serving in the shadows of the spotlights cast by her friends. (Truthfully, this is the first thing we connected over as I feel most comfortable serving behind-the-scenes, as well.) As Mary shared her story with me, I perceived a deep level of loyalty to those she called friend – a trait I value highly in my own friends. By the end of our week together, we wept with one another over the loss of loved ones that were so dear to our hearts that it felt like just breathing was an effort. We connected over the intense need we felt to do something for those we’d lost in the wake of their deaths.

Truthfully, I feel I have found a real gem of a friend in Mary Magdalene, a real kindred spirit and soul sister.

And I invite you to get to know her, as well.








 

 

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 Naomi

Simeon Solomon's "Naomi and the Child Obed" 1881 wood engraving was scanned by Simon Cook. You can see more of Simeon Solomon's Bible illustrations here.
Simeon Solomon’s “Naomi and the Child Obed” 1881 wood engraving was scanned by Simon Cook. You can see more of Simeon Solomon’s Bible illustrations here.

Naomi is one of those women that you know of, but have never really known. Because of her more famous daughter-in-love Ruth, the spotlight has always just missed her. About three years ago at a Women’s Bible Study, that all changed for me. I connected with Naomi over the fact that we had both endured the unspeakable – the burial of our children. This is a club few are in and none want to belong to; when you come across other members, you tend to gravitate toward them. That semester was eye-opening for me as Naomi (with Ruth) shared her heart, hurts, and healing with our group.

I reconnected with Naomi last summer for a week and I learned even more from this wonderfully pleasant woman of God. Through her losses, Naomi remained rooted in the knowledge that God is sovereign. She is the first to confess that her losses weren’t easy to endure. (She actually renamed herself “Mara” for a time, which translates bitter.) Her grief was often ugly! Her faith in His sovereignty wasn’t rooted in her feelings, however, as mine tend to be. For Naomi, His sovereign control was a firm & unwavering fact. She knew (with the great Patriarch of her faith, Job) that God gives and God takes away. He is sovereign in the giving and He is still sovereign in the taking away.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21 (NASB)

I invite you to spend some time with Naomi this week. She is a woman who has journeyed through the valley of the shadow of death many times. Because of that, she is uniquely qualified to lead you as you learn to trust in His sovereignty through your own valleys.








 

Meet Deborah

"Deborah Judge of Israel" by Dina Cormick is one in a series of Heroic Women in the Scriptures. You can see the collection here.
“Deborah Judge of Israel” by Dina Cormick is one in a series of Heroic Women in the Scriptures. You can see the collection here.

I was briefly introduced to Deborah when I was a child. I bumped into her again in college a couple of times. All I remember from those encounters is that she was larger than life.

I decided to connect with her again last summer – and I’m so glad I did! I sat captivated by her testimony as she shared her story with me daily for almost an entire week. I was awed by her military prowess. I was impressed by her devotion to God’s agenda even above her own. I was encouraged by her example of unwavering trust in God’s power to keep His Word. I was convicted by her utter surrender to God’s will and her consistent obedience to it. In short, I felt empowered in the presence of this assertive, working woman – a discerning and godly leader that even mighty men would willingly follow.

I would love to introduce you this week to my new friend & mentor, Deborah.








 

 

Meet Rahab

"Rahab," a Bible illustration by a German artist in 2003; learn more here
“Rahab,” a 2003 Bible illustration by a German artist; learn more here

I don’t remember meeting Rahab until college. To be honest, I don’t remember thinking much about her then. I didn’t feel like we had much in common, what with her past and all.

I met her again last summer in a small group setting. She invited us into her home, into her life, to get to know her. She wore no Christian mask and was refreshingly lacking a facade of any kind. She was honest with us about her past. She was open about the choices she has made. As I listened to her story again last summer, she allowed me to ask questions (some of them pretty personal!) and through our time together I finally felt like I connected with this precious sister.

I found myself drawn to her belief in a God she had only heard rumors about. I was convicted as that belief turn to remarkably actionable faith in Him. I was inspired by her all-in obedience to God and her trust in His faithfulness from the first days of her knowing Him.

I saw her in a new light through my friends’ connections with her, as well. “A woman with a past is a woman with a future if she follows God,” one friend said of Rahab after the week was over. Another friend commented, “She took care of God’s people and we should, too.” Still another remarked how impressed she was that Rahab was such a good housekeeper (for her pantry was full) as well as a woman prepared (for that readiness allowed her to do what the Lord called her to do the moment He asked).

You, too, are invited to spend a week getting to know Rahab at her place. Please join her by clicking here.