Advent 4: Stand Firm (2019)

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. How are you doing in the whirl and swirl of holiday preparations?

Our tree is up, lit, and half-decorated. I was at work when Guy and Q15 got that much done; C21 still has his box of decorations to add, if he gets around to it.

The mantle is decorated, but the boxes that hold the decorations eleven of twelve months clutter all the corners while awaiting their return to the attic.

Later today the boys and I will brave the mall for one last gift. The college kid had finals one week, the high school kid had finals the next, and either I or the college kid have worked most nights…coordinating our schedules has been ridiculous, holidays aside. Honestly, I had stress dreams about trying to park amidst the holiday crowds, only alleviated this morning when I realized my son who works as a valet can park my car.

No presents have been wrapped. I’m not even sure what we’ve purchased.

My refrigerator looks like an explosion went off and we haven’t finished shopping for the holiday meals. Guy called an hour ago to say we’ll have four extra guests for Christmas Eve, all good and now it actually does matter if a) the house and b) I am ready to receive guests.

I tried to make a list of all the things that need to be done by tonight so I can enjoy tomorrow, and it’s incomplete because I’m not even sure what needs to be done. It’s that overwhelming. I will just do one thing and then another until I collapse into bed.

Oh, and Q15 fell asleep with his glasses on his face, which tweaked the frames, so we have to fit in an emergency visit to LensCrafters. Meanwhile, he’s wrapped them in scotch tape.

So, no surprise that the Advent mediation I’d meant to write yesterday didn’t happen. Instead, I took the dogs on a walk, cleaned myself up, and went to a lovely holiday party to connect with friends for an hour. Both the walk and the party felt more important to the state of my soul than the sorry state of our house or my self-imposed deadlines.

(Having read about my disorganization, does anyone feel better yet about their own life? You’re welcome!)

Yesterday’s Advent invitation was to “Stand Firm.” The beach is my favorite place to wiggle my toes, and I love the feeling of shifting sand under my feet as the flowing water pulls at the grains. I love less the metaphorical feeling that the sand beneath my feet is shifting, that change is coming and is now here and I don’t know what that means for today let alone tomorrow.

How to stay calm, how to stand firm and resist the all-too-easy temptation to worry? Jesus. Yes, it sounds cliche, but it’s also true. I have been hanging on to the prayer I wrote last summer, that Jesus would plant my feet on solid ground. And the only true solid ground is the knowledge and experience of His grace and love. I don’t deserve it. I can’t earn it. And still, He offers Himself. As Max Lucado writes, “…when the world goes wild, He stays calm.”

What matters most is not that I get my house perfectly clean and organized, or that I put on the best-ever holiday meal, or that the presents are beautifully wrapped. I am not a Pinterest-perfect mama. What matters most is that I take a few deep breaths, do what I can do, and then enjoy the company of Jesus and my family and friends.

May we all, today and this week and into next year, allow Jesus to set our feet firmly on the solid rock of His loving presence with us. Merry Christmas!

For your own set of the cards I’ve used as an Advent calendar, which can be used throughout the year, please click here.

Advent 2: Be Content (2019)

Get a modest place and be content there Mark 6:10

Jesus invites us to be content, an invitation we struggle to receive. The focus of Advent is our longing for the Savior, but instead we make it about longing for the perfect gifts. Santa may be making a list and checking it twice, but we hit the malls more than twice. I read that the average American household spends over $1,000 on Black Friday sales alone.

I like the advice on shopping for children: something they’ll want, need, wear, and read. Now that my kids are young adults, we’re all about experiences. Tickets and gift cards and memberships they can enjoy with friends or family. Experiences that will create memories and won’t clutter up their rooms with more stuff to manage, clean, organize.

A good question during this season (and throughout the year): am I content with what God has provided? Am I content with my home, my job, my neighbors and friends, my hobbies? Another helpful question: Where do I notice grumbling and dissatisfaction, and what will I do about it? For example, if I’m frustrated with housework, I can clean up, even if that means delegating tasks to less than enthusiastic young people.

One way to cultivate contentment is to practice gratitude. I am grateful for the people living under our roof who also make messes. I am grateful for the healthy food consumed on plates that mean more dishes. I am grateful for the clothes we wear that make piles of laundry. I am grateful for the appliances that make cleaning dishes and clothing easier. I am grateful for the holidays and the opportunity to decorate and celebrate even though, at the moment, my home contains a hodgepodge of both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Jesus, help me be content with what you have provided. Amen.

Want your own set of these devotional cards? FREE download right here. Perfect for stocking stuffers, or feel free to share the link so others can get their own set.

Advent 1: Follow Me (2019)

Come, follow me…and I will send you out to fish for people. Mark 1:17

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the church season in which we remember our longing for the arrival of the Messiah. My friend The Creative Resource and I have created a set of devotional cards you can use in any order all year long, or you can use them in order during Advent as an Advent calendar. This set of cards all feature two words spoken by Jesus as found in Mark’s gospel; you’ll find Nancy’s artwork on one side, and the corresponding Scripture and a prayer written by me on the reverse.

FREE download, available here.

Also during Advent, I will post a longer meditation on Sundays using the words on that day’s card. We’re not following the traditional themes—love, joy, peace, and hope, or the characters of Jesus’ birth narrative—but the way the two word themes of Jesus play out chronologically in Mark’s Gospel.

The First Sunday of Advent: Follow Me

Jesus met people where they were: the seashore, the tax collector’s booth, in a tree, caught in sin. He went to them, gracefully interrupting their lives in progress. He didn’t expect them to clean themselves up before they came to Him, holy and ready. Truly, He loved but didn’t much like those who considered themselves holy; those were the ones who thought their own goodness could save them; they didn’t need a Savior.

Sinners who recognized their need for a Savior, that’s who Jesus looked for. And Scripture shows us so many beautiful scenes of sinners recognizing their Savior Jesus when He arrived.

Simon and Andrew, James and John, fisherman at work casting and preparing their nets, Jesus called them first. Was it a crisis? Did they wonder at this stranger who walked up with an unlikely invitation to follow Him? Though they did, at once and without delay. Maybe they had heard of Him, this One who had strolled their town, Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: God’s kingdom has come near. Repent and believe!

Maybe they were intrigued by His words: I will sent you out to fish for people. Fishing for fish, they knew; what could it mean to fish for people?

We still think we have to get cleaned up for God. We gussy up for church, out of respect, perhaps, but also to fit in. We wouldn’t want anyone to look askance. Would they, would we, look askance if we knew the truth of one another’s lives?

The first disciples must have reeked of fish. They didn’t shower and change before following Jesus, before He put them to work fishing for people. He accepted and loved them just as they were, and began immediately to show them what God’s kingdom looks like: healing, teaching, praying, loving: restoration.

That’s the journey Jesus still invites us on. Wherever we are today, this moment, Jesus appears to us if we have eyes to see Him. He wants us, just as we are, to follow Him. To learn from Him what His kingdom looks like. What love looks like.

Jesus, thank you for inviting me on the adventure of loving others. Amen.

Advent 2018 Wk4 – Worship

Too often we think Worship = Going to Church. We hustle-bustle out the door. We sit, stand, sing, shake hands in the pews, listen. We greet our neighbors and head home, worship-job done.

That’s too narrow. Worship = recognizing and reflecting back to God His incredible worth, to love Him and love our neighbor with all our heart, soul, and strength, Sundays and all through the week.

I love Jesus, and I believe God ordained the Church to be a unique witness of His love for humanity.

However, more than ever, I am accurately aware that Church isn’t doing it for a lot of people. That many have been allowed, even encouraged, to substitute Church for Jesus in worship. That what should be safe sanctuary has been instead a place of pain. This place, this people, that should witness to God’s love hasn’t been doing a great job.

Not to vilify all churches in all places and times, not at all. Some churches are doing a beautiful job living God’s story. Yet I hear repeating refrains from many directions that they haven’t found those places.

I am also reminded of how desperately we need God. I met a couple this weekend who told me they have lost five young men to suicide in the last five months, friends and sons or brothers of friends. Their story oozes the aches of living in a fallen world. I cling to hope for the Church to be a place that eases the pain, that gives comfort and courage to face each day, that offers light and love and joy.

The Magi encourage me. They actively sought the coming King and were open to seeing signs of His arrival directing them to the most unlikely place. They left their business (and theology) as usual and endured a trying journey to fall down before Him in worship. They worked hard to seek and find the One True King.

Maybe the most worshipful thing you can do today is go to church. Or try a new church. Or, maybe Church looks like quietly listening for His still small voice through His Word. Or heading outdoors to take a walk with Him. Maybe it looks like loving your family, friends, and neighbors, the people He put in your life for you to love as He does. Or loving yourself, making self-care a priority.

Whatever your practice, keep Jesus the focus of worship. Keep your eyes open to see Him in the expected and unexpected places. And be aware of His unending grace and overwhelming love raining down on you as you journey to wherever you have to go to fall down before Him in worship.

Come, Lord Jesus, and give us eyes to see you and love to offer the world.

Week 4 – The Magi’s Worship

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light four candles: We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope, joy and faith, and to inspire our worship.

Read Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

Read: The Magi had open eyes. They actively searched for signs of the King’s arrival and, when they spotted the star, they took a long journey to joyfully worship Him face-to-face. Herod, however, had his eyes and ears shut tight to the good news of Jesus’ birth. May we be constantly on the lookout for signs of God’s presence with us and respond to Him in joyful worship.

Pray: King Jesus, we joyfully bow down in worship before you. In your name we pray, Jesus. Amen.

“Next time a sunrise steals your breath, or a meadow of flowers leaves you speechless, remain that way. Say nothing and listen as heaven whispers, ‘Do you like it? I did it just for you.’” –Max Lucado, The Great House of God

Advent 2018 Wk3 – Faith

The year C20 had his first birthday, Guy and I both turned 30 a few weeks before and after. Our birthdays span November to January so Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s got wrapped up in the fun. We created a list of small celebrations we could enjoy each day during those eight weeks, simple activities like sweetening a mug of hot chocolate with a candy cane, going for a walk together, or watching an animated Christmas movie. We celebrated our lives and the holidays with flair.

As I spent this last week reflecting on joy, I realized that I might be doing Advent wrong. Or, at least, wrong for me at this time.

Other than chomping the daily chocolates in our Advent calendar, I didn’t grow up with an Advent tradition. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was simply Christmastime, when we listened to Christmas music and shopped and wrapped and enjoyed the season.

I appreciate Advent for its thematic focus, its intentionality, its lens on waiting for Jesus. But over the years, our church has adopted a fuller Advent tradition, limiting Christmas music to Christmas Eve and the following Sunday (and the annual Christmas concert, the one exception to the rule) in favor of Advent hymns. And since there are only two popular Advent hymnsCome, Thou Long Expected Jesus and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel–the music sounds like the rest of the year. So even though I used to start listening to Christmas music in October while I planned the church Christmas materials, I have mostly stopped listening to Christmas music before Christmas.

And I’m missing it. I’m missing the joy. I’ve employed the discipline without reaping the benefit, and I’m sorrier for it. I feel dry and dour.

Perhaps traditional Advent observance might also necessitate the observance of the Twelve Days of Christmas–Christmas celebrations commencing on Christmas and lasting until King’s Day on January 6. But I’m not there; when Christmas is over, it’s over. And since so much of life necessarily involves waiting for Jesus, I want to enjoy Him now. I want to celebrate Him today. I don’t want to wait any longer.

Besides, there is way too much good Christmas music to limit it to a day.

Those of us who follow Jesus live in tension between the already and not yet. Jesus has come, and He will come again. We have the joy of salvation now, but we won’t experience the fullness of life in His Kingdom until the second coming. So we wait.

But why in the world am I intentionally limiting the joy of celebrating His birth? Sure, His birthday is next week, but He’s already here. This year the discipline feels a little absurd, like not talking to my son for the month before his birthday just because his birthday hadn’t yet happened… What sense would that make?

This week’s focus is faith, that God will direct our paths even (especially) when the way seems foggy. I’m staring intently down some foggy paths of my own, and I do believe that Jesus will show up, that He will hold my hand and walk gently with me. And I’m going to celebrate that reality today, with some Christmas music, even as I wait for His eventual arrival.

Week 3 – Joseph’s Faith 

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light three candles (two purple, one pink): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope, joy and faith.

Read Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

Read: A good man, Joseph found himself in what looked like a bad situation. While he quietly planned a way out, an angel assured him that he had no reason for fear: what seemed like bad news would be good news for everyone. Mary’s baby wasn’t just any baby—this would be God’s baby, Immanuel, God with us! When we accept God’s plan, God turns our fear to faith and our faith to joy.

Pray: Holy Spirit, where we feel fear, plant your seed of faith. Grow our faith into joy in your presence. In the name of Jesus, we wait and pray. Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 7:8-9 How does God’s faithfulness inspire your faithfulness to Him?
Tuesday Psalm 93:1 How do you hang on in faith that God is in control?
Wednesday Isaiah 26:3-4, 12 What worries do you need to put in God’s hands?
Thursday John 14:27 Let go of your troubles and receive Jesus’ peace.
Friday Colossians 1:3-4 Who can you thank God for as an example of faith in Christ?
Saturday Hebrews 11:1 How do you define faith?

Suggested Activities
Make a list of things in which you put your faith, for example, that your alarm will go off in the morning or that the lights will come on when you flick the switch. Try to count as least ten. Then ask: Is it (or, why is it) sometimes easier to trust in these mundane things than to trust in the God who sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior?

Incorporate silence into your daily routine and use it as a chance to talk with God. Drive with the radio off. Go for a quiet hike. Sit in silence with your morning cup of coffee. Read your Bible, and let God share with you His perspective on what you’re facing each day.

Journal
When have you seen God show up in your unexpected or unwanted circumstances? Where do you need to experience His presence currently?

“It is faith that what happens to me matters to God as well as to me that gives me joy, that promises me that I am eternally the subject of God’s compassion, and that assures me that the compassion was manifested most brilliantly when God came to us in a stable in Bethlehem.” –Madeleine L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace

Advent 2018 Wk 2 – Joy

Lately I have been impressed with stories of joy: people enduring difficult circumstances with genuine smiles lighting their faces and claims of, “Laugh or cry, I choose to laugh,” or “I was born a happy child,” or “I choose to do something I enjoy every day.” People who, in witness to others’ difficult circumstances, decide to get their hands dirty and serve, to make life that much easier or better for someone else, and discover joy in the shared experience.

Unlike happiness, tied to experiences that easily elicit smiles and laughter, joy is a choice. A decision to rejoice even when the circumstances don’t seem to warrant it. A connection to God who is the source of all true joy.

Like young Mary who, when greeted by a mysterious messenger with mind-boggling news–Hey, Mary, you’re going to birth God’s baby…–responded, Let it be, and My spirit rejoices in God who has remembered His humble servant…

Happy comes easy. Joy requires intention, effort.

I wore an audaciously bright pink scarf to church today (atop a gray/black pant/sweater set) and mentioned to someone that the scarf was in honor of Mary’s joy. Eyes wide, she chuckled, incredulous that I would match my outfit to Advent. Well, I suppose that’s an insight to the odd workings of my mind!

And, yes. We can find hot pink joy against a dark background. We can find joy in a cute Christmas mug filled with messy clumps of hot chocolate. We can find joy in the homemade and gifted decoration even though the mirror has cracked. We can seek–and discover–joy in the clumpy, broken, messy, difficult parts of life… That’s kind of the whole point: we rejoice in God with us, because God walks with us through life.

 

Week 2 – Mary’s Joy

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light two candles (purple): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope and joy.

Read Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 46-49

Read: The angel announced, “Mary, highly favored one, the Lord is with you,” and Mary rejoiced at the role she would play in the coming of the Son of the Most High. God’s Spirit whispers to each one of us, “You, too, are God’s servant, with a special role to play in God’s story.” The story may turn and twist in ways we can’t anticipate but let us say “Yes!” to God’s calling and rejoice in His presence.

Pray: We rejoice in God our Savior who has been mindful of His humble servants. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday 1 Samuel 8:6-7 How can you rejoice in Jesus your King today?
Tuesday Psalm 5:11 How does God’s protection increase your joy?
Wednesday Habakkuk 3:17-19 How can God increase your joy even when times are difficult?
Thursday Acts 16:33-34 How does believing in God give you joy?
Friday Galatians 5:22-23 Ask the Spirit to increase your joy.
Saturday Jude 24-25 Read these verses aloud as joy-filled praise to our good God!

Suggested Activities
Make a list of ways you can spread Christmas joy, such as:
Take a Christmas treat or poinsettia to someone who lives alone.
Find a way to serve someone, for instance, clean an older neighbor’s gutters.
Invite friends to join you for a cookie decorating party and/or viewing of a favorite Christmas movie.
Create handmade thank you cards and attach candy canes for your teachers or church leaders.
Gather a group and go caroling.
Pray over each Christmas card you receive, inviting God to rain joy over each household.

Ted Tuesday – Advent Hope 2018

With all that’s currently piled on my To-Do plate, it seems all I can do to stab a rolling pea here and there with the tines of my fork, barely making an impact. Hope, I remind myself, I cling to hope.

And then I remember, first world problems. Not to diminish the emotional and physical toil of the work before me, but just to put things back in perspective. I have speed bumps, while others have mountains.

Isaiah 9:2 – The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

I may encounter some darkness, but others trudge through darkness. So I found this video, this beautiful song inspired by a peace warrior who encouraged: If you’re feeling helpless, help someone. Maybe the video will help someone else today, and maybe each of us will look at others–at the world–with eyes that call us onward to be the helpers the world needs.