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.

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!

Patterns of Prayer – Pt. 4

This week, let’s implement yet another new pattern of prayer – The T.R.I.P. Method. This seemed like an abbreviated pattern very similar to last week’s P.A.R.T.S. pattern. Like the P.R.A.I.S.E. method, I enjoyed starting my time with God thanking Him for what He has already done. It positioned my heart for the next section, which is perhaps what I appreciated most about this particular pattern of prayer – the section on “regrets.” That is a category that I can relate to! Unlike “repentance,” regrets encompasses mess-ups that don’t stem from intentionality, but burden me, keeping me stuck in those moments. I appreciated this new aspect of talking through the times during the day that I missed the mark. It was unburdening to approach the Lord with these burdens, gratefully dumping them at His feet and being able to move forward – both in prayer and with my day. I feel that beginning with those two prepared my heart to intercede, praying for His will more than my own. And then ending by praising Him for His answers, whatever they will be.

the-t-r-i-p-method

Patterns of Prayer – Pt. 3

This week, let’s have our prayers focus on the P.A.R.T.S pattern, another new pattern of prayer for me. This prayer pattern didn’t flow for me as easily as the P.R.A.I.S.E. pattern did, but I appreciated the addition of “repentance,” as that is one area that I tend to forget amongst all the needs I find myself praying for more often. I also liked the “sharing” addition, as too often I keep my prayer & devotional life private. It challenged me to open up more with people and share what the Lord was actively teaching me and I needed that.

the-p-a-r-t-s-prayer-method

An Issue of Trust

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21

I’m a planner. I delight in planning memory-making times for others. Upcoming big events, family vacations, get-togethers, parties – just the mere thought of getting to plan, to control these special times from start to finish, truly floats my boat. I’m also a planner of another kind – constantly planning scenarios and running through possibilities in preparation for a time when life will take an unexpected left turn. If I have already run through the scenario, it can’t catch me unawares when it comes to pass, I think. I have already thought through all the possibilities. In essence, I shoo Jesus off the throne of my life while I try to order things according to my plans, which indicates a lack of trust in the only One that truly has control. It’s a self-preservation way of thinking that stems from my lack of wholehearted trust in God.

PONDER: What circumstances are you facing in which you struggle between truly trusting God and attempting to control the situation? Are you ready to trust Him wholeheartedly?

PRAYER: Father, I confess the tendency in my heart to want to rule myself, to take control and run things according to my own understanding. This is, at its core, an issue of trust. Please forgive my lack of trust and help me in my situation to fully trust You to lead me, to direct my path.

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 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 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.