Sabbath 3

Well now, that Mexico trip sure is something

For eight long days, early mornings to late nights, we traveled and camped, worked and sang, ate rice and beans and lived communally. We shared a memorable and almost indescribable experience while fourteen teams composed mostly of teenagers built homes for families who had lost their homes to a fire last fall.

It was energizing and exhausting.

I came across a new-to-me word the day after we returned: quanked. It means, “to be overpowered by fatigue.” Oh, yes, I’ve been feeling quanked. A week later and I’m still not sure I’ve recovered.

I imagine I’ll continue to process what we lived and learned for some time to come, but life doesn’t stop just because we’ve been traveling. While it would have been nice to sleep for a week, we had to restock the fridge, unpack and do all the laundry, parent our kids and, of course, work.

So, yesterday was Sunday and I had so much still to do. Instead, I made an intentional decision to Sabbath. I taught my 4 year old Sunday school class (cute chaos). I read a book for fun, then napped. I read my Bible and wrote in my gratitude journal. I made a nourishing pot of soup to share with my family and we enjoyed some TV time together (Buddy vs. Duff, dueling cake makers on Food Network, and Game of Thrones; Guy and I are on Season 1, racing to watch the whole series now that the final season has begun).

To be honest, it felt both refreshing and a little boring. It might have been easier to keep going business as usual. But the world kept turning and didn’t miss me.

Sabbath: The Power of Rest
Matthew 12:1-14

Connect
Share about a good deed someone did for you recently.

Study
Read Matthew 12:1-14
Name all the examples, real and conjecture, of Sabbath law breaking that Jesus exonerates. What do they have in common?
Explain the connection between “mercy, not sacrifice” and the Sabbath.
How might the Pharisees, rather than the disciples, be the ones in danger of breaking Sabbath law?
What does Jesus say and demonstrate about what is and isn’t appropriate on the Sabbath?

Live
Did you take any steps toward implementing a Sabbath practice this week? If so, how did it go?
How do you decide what is and is not permissible for you on the Sabbath?
Why is it important to respect others’ interpretation of what Sabbath rest looks like?
What might it look like to spend Sabbath extending mercy and goodness to others?
How might a Sabbath practice itself be an opportunity for God to provide healing in your life?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with mercy and goodness.

Family Share
Use these questions to reflect on Matthew 12:9-13 individually and with your family.
What are some good things you can do for others?
How can taking a Sabbath day of rest be a good thing God wants to do for you?
Ask God to help you do good things for others.

Sabbath 2

You find what you look for.

I’ve been thinking about Sabbath, so of course I’ve found it even when I haven’t been actively looking. Try these unintentional definitions:

Stop doing and just be here.

“This is the day that the Lord has made. You can rejoice and be glad in it. You can have fun and laugh and be peaceful about your to-do list because God is in control, and you can have total peace in Him.” Annie F. Downs, 100 Days to Brave p.162

Recently, while perusing a book about loving your neighbor, I came across this paradigm:

Put first things first.
Hack off the unnecessary.
Be interruptible.

Those three points have hung on to my imagination.

My first things first: God, family, friends, work, rest/play. So how can I not observe Sabbath if a) it’s God’s command, and He wants to spend time with me; and b) rest/play is already a priority, one that I don’t make enough time for regularly? Leaving my work email off, letting the house be less than pristine, long dog walks rather than our usual quick route, reading all the books, choosing activities that feel life-giving rather than draining–all good!

Hack off the unnecessary: The author wrote about Michelangelo carving the David and famously saying that he “simply” carved away everything that wasn’t his masterpiece. If my life is my masterpiece, my gift devoted to God, then what do I need to carve away to reveal its beauty? One example: I added a time-tracker to my iPhone. Last week it alerted me that my usage was significantly down, but still at over an hour/day. Yikes! What else might I have done with those wasted hours? Today it alerted me that my usage was down to a much more reasonable less than 15 minutes/day (still too high?).

Be interruptible: I shouldn’t be so busy that the task at hand takes precedent over something else–or someone else–God wants me to see. Sabbath is an interruption of sorts to my regularly-scheduled week, one which prioritizes God. I can choose to see human interruptions at any moment during the week as gifts from God.

Sabbath: The Power of Rest
Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Connect
What do you enjoy about your work?

Study
Read aloud Deuteronomy 5:12-15.
Why are we commanded to remember the Sabbath?
How would it help the Israelites to remember their deliverance from slavery? In other words, what is the connection between work, slavery and rest?
How are we to keep the Sabbath holy?
How does the Israelites’ Sabbath benefit others?

Live
Did you take any steps toward implementing a Sabbath practice this week? If so, how did it go?
How do you define “work”?
Is it possible for you to get all your work done in six days? If not, why should you still observe Sabbath?
How does society define “rest” and how might that be different from “a Sabbath to the Lord”?
How might Sabbath benefit your relationships with others?
What mighty acts of God would it help you to remember?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Remember the ways in which God has delivered you, then ask your mighty God to help you keep Sabbath.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Deuteronomy 5:12-15 individually and with your family.
What does “work” look like in your life?
What can you do to get your work done in six days?
Ask God to help you experience true rest for one day each week.

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

Mighty Love

The first time I saw Yosemite Valley it snowed. I had accompanied my boyfriend (now husband) and his family on a cross-country skiing weekend a short drive from Yosemite. Having never been, they decided I must see it.

The snow itself was beautiful but, as it fell from the sky, it obscured the view. I had a sense that I should be gasping with awe, yet all I saw was white: white clouds, white snow, with patches of grey rock and black trees stabbing their presence known.

So much snow fell so quickly that, by the time we reached the valley floor, we had to purchase chains to drive back out. We may have paused for a quick cup of coffee at the general store, but it was a slow drive for a quick trip.

The next time I saw Yosemite was two years after we married on an anniversary camping trip. This time, I understood all the fuss. I aimed my camera every which direction–at impossibly large rock faces, dogwoods, brooks, clouds in glorious blue skies–understanding that no camera could adequately capture the beauty of standing in this one spot.

You’ve felt it, I’m sure. You recognize that sensation of glory. The feeling of being in the presence of something so awe-some, so wonder-full, of being so small a speck on the face of this planet and yet somehow also feeling larger than life because you had the chance to witness this moment.

In those moments, I am overwhelmed by the presence and power of God. By His might, and His mighty love through which He created everything and everyone. I don’t understand God and have plenty of questions for Him, but recalling those astounding moments when I can do little more than utter WOW! grounds me in gratitude for His presence.

Journey to Freedom
Exodus 5-10

Connect
When has God made you say, “WOW”?

Study
Read Exodus 5:1-9 and 5:22-6:9.
Why did God want the Israelites to go into the wilderness?
How did Pharaoh respond to God’s request through Moses and Aaron?
What does God reveal about Himself?
If you’re discussing these questions with others, break into three groups. Invite each group to read one of the following passages and discuss the questions that follow as they prepare to share with the other groups: Exodus 7:14-8:19; Exodus 8:20-9:12; and Exodus 9:13-10:29.
What are the plagues? What do you notice about each? What do you learn about God?

Live
When have you experienced God’s power? How did you respond?
How do you describe God to someone who doesn’t yet know Him?
Have you ever felt so discouraged by circumstances that you couldn’t see what God might be doing? How did that situation resolve?
What do you do when you just can’t understand God?
How can remembering who God is and what He has done help you in times of doubt and struggle?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Worship God for His fearful might and great love.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 5:22-6:8 individually and with your family.
When have you seen God’s power?
How do you say thanks to God?
Thank God for being your God!

Overflow

The Friday before the Monday C19 left for college out-of-state, neighbors we hadn’t met posted on social media that they were giving away a full-size bed, a few years old with limited wear-and-tear, with an almost-new mattress. Free.

That morning, C19 had awoken in the twin-over-full bunk beds he’d had since childhood. We asked if he’d like a new bed, even though he wouldn’t sleep it in often. He replied with an emphatic, “YES!”

We didn’t need more to do that weekend, but nevertheless we made arrangements to see the bed, and the owner, congenial and overly generous, helped us load the pieces into our minivan. He easily could have sold the bed/mattress, but he just wanted it gone. Two trips and less than a half-hour later, our kid had a new bed he loved.

Q13 liked it, too. Since his bed was the metal frame we’d found, free, when the crib-daybed-full bed frame that had served both our children finally cracked, he decided he’d be moving in to the new bed as soon as his brother left home.

Guy recognized that Little Brother, easy-going and uncomplaining as he was, had grown tired of hand-me-downs. He needed a new bed of his own. He also needed a show of provision from his parents. So he checked online and found another almost-new bed/mattress combo for sale at a ridiculously low price. He bought it, and wouldn’t you know?, it matched the existing decor of Q13’s room as if we’d planned it all along.

We donated all the matching bedding from the twin-over-full bunks to charity. We listed the bunk beds for sale, and the low purchase price was still enough to pay for the purchased bed plus new bedding for the free bed.

And somehow, we still had a good quality full-sized mattress left over. We gave it to a young friend in her first apartment + (low-paying) professional job.

We thought we didn’t have time for more in an already overly-full weekend. But generosity flows downhill. Someone generously giving something away led to more, and more, and more. In the end, our kids had new-to-them beds they love, we came out about even on the cash flow, and we still had things to give away.

God is good!

By the way, I was going to title this post “Pay It Forward,” but I’ve already used that title on another post about someone’s generosity. C19 still enjoys that gift when he’s home and driving about town!

Abundant Life
Week 2: Grace-Fueled Gratitude
Luke 7:36-50

Connect
Share about a generous gift you have received.

Study
Read aloud Luke 7:36-50.
Describe Simon. Describe the woman. How does each interact with Jesus?
How does Simon view the woman? How does Jesus view her?
How would you retell this story in a contemporary context? Who would play the Pharisee and the woman?
Based on this story, why do you think the religious establishment and “sinners” had such different reactions to Jesus?

Live
Write a Yelp! review for the banker who forgave your $36,000 debt (equivalent to 500 denarii today). How would your review reflect your gratitude?
How are you like the Pharisee? Like the woman?
What moves you about the woman’s response to Jesus? Does anything about her response unsettle you, and if so, why?
How can we demonstrate our gratitude to Jesus?
What prayers has God answered for you?
How do we prevent a pharisaical, judgmental mindset? In other words, how can we keep God’s grace in constant view?
What would it take for the Church to be as welcoming to sinners as Jesus was?
Discuss: “Appreciating beauty and giving thanks for life’s treasures is not living in denial of life’s suffering and challenges. It’s what helps us cope with life’s suffering and challenges” (Rene Schlaepfer).
Create a Generosity Project—something you can do, ideally with others, to demonstrate and share your gratitude to God with others.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to help you stay grateful and reflect His generous spirit to others.

Keep Focused

Does the word psychosomatic still have a negative connotation?

It used to be that if someone accused you of having a psychosomatic illness, they meant it was “all in your head.” In other words, change your thinking and your illness will disappear.

But we know so much more now about the mind-body connection. The mind does affect the body and it can cause very real, very distressing physical ailments.

When Q13 first developed cyclic vomiting, everyone asked, “It must be stress, don’t you think?” That question stressed me out! I felt like they were blaming me, like I could somehow change my parenting and his cycles would stop. I already work so hard to keep stress out of my home. Don’t you think that if I could have done anything differently to keep my child well, I would have done it?

As it turns out, the poor kiddo has anxiety hand-in-hand with inattentive ADHD. He does not look like an anxious kid, but who knows what loopdeloops his brain spins. And his body pays the price, which increases his anxiety. More than one cycle at play, because of course our bodies affect our minds as well.

My sister is in the hospital. Again. She’s been in and out of the hospital for years with a chronic illness. Like most illnesses I’m sure it can be aggravated by stress, but the physical pain in her body sure causes stress.

She texted me an update and, understandably, vented her frustrations. She also yelled at God a little bit.

That’s okay, He can take it. But I took the opportunity to encourage her that God isn’t doing this to her, that He’s right there with her holding her hand and hurting with her.

Life happens, whether it’s illness, conflict, a bad day at work, or ordinary inconveniences like a flat tire or keys locked in the car. It can shake our confidence and, some days, even make us question God.

We all need some encouragement, all the time, but especially when discouragement flusters our faith. We need other people to help us keep our focus squarely on Jesus. When all else fails, He is our solid ground.

Walk in Love
Week 12: Final Words
1 John 5:13-21

Connect
What helps you feel confident?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 5:13-21.
What does this passage say we “know” (vv13, 15, 18-20)? Why are those things important?
What does this passage say God does for us (vv14-16, 18, 20)? Why are those things important?
Name some examples of prayers you could boldly pray “according to his will” (v14).
What specific prayer does John encourage (v16)?
Why do God’s children not continue to sin (vv18-20)? How does that square with your experience of life?
Why do you think John ended his letter with a caution against idolatry (v21)? How does that fit with what he’s already said?
Imagine you are among John’s congregation, hearing these words after a contentious church split. Explain how this passage would make you feel.

Live
When have you felt uncertain in your faith, and what did you do about it?
What helps you focus on Jesus when you feel discouraged?
How does your eternal life influence your daily life? Explain.
Share an example of a bold prayer you prayed and God answered.
How have you seen people in the church handle (well or not so well) other people’s sin?
What idols compete for your attention? How do you guard yourself again their temptations?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for the gift of eternal life through His Son, Jesus.