Advent Week 2 -The Promise of a King

In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel announces the divinely-appointed births of two world-changing babies. First he tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist. Next he tells Mary that she will give birth to the King, the long-awaited Messiah.

Zechariah and Mary both respond with a question.

Zechariah: “How can I be sure of this?”
Mary: “How will this be…?”

Similar, but subtly different. Zechariah’s question carries doubt, whereas Mary asks for clarification: This will be, but how?, she might have said.

Too often, my questions sound more like Zechariah’s than Mary’s. Doubt first, trust later.

To both Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid…” That might just mean they had a darned good reason to be afraid! I wish I were more like Mary, meek, humble, accepting. But God made me in a different, fierier furnace and, as much as I love Him, I’m stubborn and seem to need to wrestle with Him first. I’m also a big scaredy cat. Most days I am content to be a spectator, to cheer others on from the sidelines. I don’t crave fast-paced action. I like comfort.

I’m pretty convinced, however, that God doesn’t intend for our lives to be too comfortable. When we’re comfortable, we rely on ourselves; discomfort pushes us into God’s arms. Five years ago God shook up my comfort: He gave our family the opportunity to participate in a Thanksgiving break mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

I love to travel, but travel and mission trips are not synonymous. Previous mission trips had convinced me that some of us get to send money, pray, and cheer others on. I felt fine with that role. Until God called me.

Do not be afraid? Right!

I thought money would be a deal-breaker. God provided.

I like to be well-prepared, but mission trips don’t work that way. “Flexibility” is key. Unfortunately, I rediscovered that when I’m stressed I can be a cranky control freak.

But the overriding fear was: How could I be a participant and a parent? Teen would be fine–he craves adventure–but Tween is a homebody, content in his pj’s and his own company for days on end. At the time he was 7 years old, and he didn’t even like easy vacations.

God and I had an ongoing conversation about all this for months. One early morning, after sleeplessly tossing through the night, I told Guy I couldn’t do it. I had time to go for a walk by myself and started to pray, when God cut me off. He said: “Be strong and courageous…for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (from Joshua 1:9). I don’t typically think in Bible verses, so I recognized this verse in my head as God’s word to me. I could go to the DR because God would be with me.

I told God I wouldn’t be the obstacle, however, I was open to God throwing up obstacles. He leveled them. I thought we might miss the passport deadline. Instead, we got two appointments in one day on the very day we called, early enough that we didn’t need to expedite, and then the passports arrived in one week.

Another time I tried to duck out the back gate of a team work day. I didn’t feel like good company and I didn’t know how to help. But our team leader just happened to be in the driveway, looking for me. I burst into tears. Talk about humiliating, but God turned it into an opportunity to provide the support I needed to once again say yes to the trip and to God.

I pleaded, “Hey, God, you’ve got the wrong person! I have all sorts of excuses why this just won’t work for me. Do you want to think this through and get back to me? I’m sure there’s plenty I can do for you right here…” And still, God was patient. He got me there in the end, with a powerful sense of His presence and encouragement along the way.

John Ortberg wrote, “The antidote to fear is the presence of God. In him we are courageous.”

The evening of our first full day in the DR I jotted some notes in my journal. I started with “Where I’ve seen God so far…” The list isn’t short! It includes things like
*an unexpected nap
*meeting the child we’ve sponsored for years face-to-face in his home
*and one of my all-time favorite worship experiences: Tween’s little body wasn’t feeling great after the long trip, so we sat outside church. The congregation sang in Spanish, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” He recognized the song, so we sang along in English. Those words—open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you—echoed what I had asked people to pray for me, that I would see God.dr-nikaury

All those prayers worked, because Tween and I had the best trip! Young as he was, he saw himself as an important member of the team. During our meetings we shared SMOGs, “small moments of grace.” God’s grace was everywhere, and we took time to notice and celebrate it together. Tween shared at least one SMOG at every meeting.

Another of my fears: would I be able to do anything worthwhile? To make myself laugh and keep a good attitude, I pretended my tasks were challenges on The Amazing Race. I helped sort the 2,000 pounds of donations our team brought with us; weighed and measured kids at Anija (school); led Christmas craft projects; and peeled countless potatoes and apples for 2 huge Thanksgiving meals.dr-thxgiving

More importantly, I shared coffee and conversation with house mothers at The Ark (orphanage); played and laughed and hugged lots of new friends; and shared conversation and worship with teammates. The goal on The Amazing Race is to be the first team across the finish line and win $1 million dollars. My goal was to see God and serve Him in whatever way He asked. I’m pretty sure I won.

God doesn’t always call you to something you’re good at, but simply to something you can do. I didn’t expect to be good at something, so I simply made myself available. That was enough. We heard repeatedly that God doesn’t care about how much or little you have; He cares about your heart. The Big Question is always the same: Do I trust God?

This trip changed me, and it changed our family. Both kids made friends and did their jobs. They grew in faith and even encouraged each other. We each saw one another with new eyes as we served together. This trip gave us the courage and preparation to spend 10 weeks of Guy’s sabbatical in Costa Rica. We were prepared for crazy motorcycle drivers, humidity and bugs, and having to think so hard to understand the language. We were ready to look for and share SMOGs, to see God everywhere.dr-friends

Do not be afraid… If you believe our good God has set an open door before you, then you should walk through it. Saying yes makes it easier to say yes again. The opposite is also true: saying no makes it easier to say no again—and, honestly, that scares me more than saying yes.

One week five years ago still has significant impact on my willingness to trust God. I may keep arguing with Him along the way, and yet I can’t wait to see what else He has in store!

Week 2 – The Promise of a King
December 4-10

Read and light two candles (purple): The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a King.

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.”

Read Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

Read: In old age Elizabeth miraculously conceived her promised joy, her son John. The angel Gabriel delivered a similar promise to her young cousin Mary: she, too, will miraculously conceive a baby. But whereas John will prepare the way, Mary’s baby Jesus will be the everlasting King, the Son of God. With Mary, we trust the promise because no word from God will ever fail.

Pray: We are the Lord’s servants. May your word to us be fulfilled. We wait and pray in the name of Jesus our coming King, Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 31:8 How can God’s presence comfort you in discouragement?
Tuesday Psalm 5:1-3 What difference does it make that your King hears your cries and requests?
Wednesday Matthew 6:9-10 What might God’s kingdom look like on earth today?
Thursday Hebrews 1:1-3 How do you learn to hear the Son’s voice?
Friday 2 Timothy 3:16-17 What has God said to you through His Word recently?
Saturday 1 John 5:20 What does it mean to you to have eternal life with the Son of God?

 

Running in the Rain

run-in-the-rain

You don’t have to know me well to know I’m not a runner. My inner critic says, You might know at first glance, but I tell that voice to hush up now. For various reasons, I haven’t run since a college-required fitness class, mostly because it felt torturous, no fun at all. Walking, hiking, YES, but even still, it’s only been in the last decade of my life that I’ve realized how much better my body – and my brain – feel when I move for 30 minutes most days and some days more.

My funniest running memory? I set Toddler Tween on his feet in the park after releasing him from his car seat. He was so excited to see his friends on the playground that I said, “C’mon, let’s run!” He took three steps then halted, wide-eyed. “Wait! You know how to run?” Goodness.

Still, I’ve always admired runners and the freedom they seem to feel in their bodies. I can’t remember feeling truly free in my body. Even when I’m hiking, enjoying spectacular vistas, I fight feeling sluggish. I have to push myself forward no matter how much I’m enjoying the experience.

Last weekend I leashed up the dog and decided to shake things up: I decided to run. I had thought it through in advance since I walk this neighborhood almost daily. I walked down our street, then jogged the next leg. Walked half a block, jogged half a block. Walked the up-hills, jogged the down-hills. Wash, rinse, repeat for a longer distance than I usually walk in 30 minutes. I imagine even the dog was pleasantly surprised, and she indulged me by forgoing her sniff-and-water routine.

I can’t even think about how I looked. It felt as awkward as I remembered, and different: no one required this of me, and so I could think about it as play. I felt new feelings in my knees, my thighs, my arms. My lungs filled and ached. I felt slightly light-headed in a not-so-unpleasant way. And I kept moving. I didn’t pass out and I didn’t die. Surprising even myself, I might have had fun.

Rain has been splashing down this weekend. But in Costa Rica we hiked in the rain, played frisbee in the rain, didn’t mind the rain; so why should I let some glorious and much-needed NorCal rain keep me indoors? Besides, I heard the voice of a long-time runner friend in my head telling me that she loves running in the rain. Doggy hates the rain so I left her home. I donned my favorite kelly green windbreaker, put my phone in my pocket and headphones in my ears, and took the same route.

Of course the heavens unleashed a downpour just as I hit the street. No matter. I thought about puddle jumping with a college friend during a big storm; our sweat pants got so wet-heavy we had to hold them up. I remembered puddle jumping with Teen as a preschooler. He wore his yellow rubber rain boots and yellow slicker, green froggy umbrella in his hand, as we danced and jumped and reveled in the rain. Head and heart filled with pleasant memories, I ignored my thudding steps and smiled.

Just as I topped an up-hill and prepared to jog down the other side, my phone offered up the Glee version of Rhianna’s “Umbrella,” arguably my favorite Glee scene/song. I giggled. Not singing in the rain, not dancing, but running in the rain – playing, and enjoying it, even when it felt hard. If my wet hand could have dislodged my phone from my pocket, I would have put the song on repeat.

Why did I run, not once but twice? I don’t know as it’s so out of character. All I can say is, I wanted to and so I did. I might even do it again, especially if it’s raining.wet child

One Year Later

alien flowerA year ago today, in our last few hours in Costa Rica, I wrote this post:

How was your summer?

Oh, how to answer that question…? In many ways this summer has been like others:

  • We’ve shopped, cooked, and cleaned
  • We’ve done laundry
  • We’ve paid bills
  • We’ve played with the dog
  • We’ve read, relaxed, and rested
  • We’ve taken day trips and road trips
  • We’ve been to the beach and the mountains
  • We’ve had good days and bad days, boring days and exciting days
  • We’ve laughed together and gotten on each other’s last nerve
  • We have lived out our particular personalities – needs and wants, insecurities and strengths – as well as our particular pattern of family dynamics.

The difference? We’ve done all these things while living in a foreign country, facing the challenges of an unfamiliar language and culture.

toucanTsh Oxenreider writes: “[Travel] strengthens our family bond. Together, we smell smells and see sights collectively that no one else will at that exact moment… When we travel, no matter how near or far, we share moments that shape our family culture. Each exploration, to the next town over or the next flight out of the country, is one more chisel notch in our family’s sculpture.”

Almost three years ago our family participated in an MVPC mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip changed us, and we believe it set the precedent for this trip. We saw God at work in the world, in our family, in our lives.

We came to Costa Rica for two months of Dave’s pastoral sabbatical. It has been amazing, long and short, hot and wet, frustrating, lonely, beautiful, intense, interesting, educational, challenging, restful… And we almost can’t believe this adventure is coming to an end. We fly home this evening.CR beach

Culture shock hit us harder than we expected, but we’ve been here long enough to adjust, to learn, to grow, to become comfortable. Embarking on this “God Treasure Hunt” we knew we’d find God in the beauty of His creation, and we have. We knew we would go places and meet people and see God at work – in people caring for creation, in ministries caring for God’s children. We expected to see God at work “in the world” but forgot to expect that God would also desire to work in us. Travel has given us an opportunity as a family to limit distractions and share experiences and conversations about important matters: how we live and how we want to live as people faithful to God and making a difference in the world in His name.

Pura Vida (“pure life”) is CR’s unofficial motto. It’s similar to Aloha – “welcome,” and “until we meet again,” and “all is well and all will be well.” Last night we read in Jesus Calling:

I came to give life – life in all its fullness. John 10:10

“Life is my gift to you – enjoy it! I want every day to be a delight as you live in My Presence and discover My blessings. Choose to enjoy life, and let the world see Me through your Joy!”

slothWe expect to face more culture shock as we return home and see our lives with fresh eyes. It would be all too easy to simply worm ourselves back into the familiar, but we also know that this trip has changed us even though we don’t fully recognize how. We look forward to unwrapping the gifts God has tucked away in our minds and hearts along the journey.

By the way, here’s a short list of what we didn’t do this summer: we didn’t ride horses on the beach or to waterfalls; we didn’t go sport fishing; we didn’t learn to surf; we did not get fabulously tan; we didn’t spend hours (or days or weeks) swinging in beach-side hammocks. And though our Spanish skills have improved, we’ve acquired a nice vocabulary of animal names not likely to come up in everyday conversation (unless you’re anxious to discuss monkeys, snakes, or birds!). We had to leave a few things for the next adventure, right?

*****

So how was this summer? In so many ways, just the same. In one essential way, completely different: we didn’t travel, and my heart aches for missing it. However, the garage is really coming along…

passion flower

Jumbled

My kids don’t do transitions well. I know this, and sometimes it still surprises me.

During a still-early fall hallway conversation with Tween’s then-2nd grade teacher, she commented that Tween didn’t seem to be taking school seriously. Without missing a beat I responded, “Give him until Thanksgiving and he’ll be great!” She looked at me cross-eyed, as if I had given the most ridiculous answer. Maybe I had, but time proved me right.

What should surprise me is how little I recognize that I don’t do transitions well. Summer is more than half flown, we’re only weeks from the start of a new school year, and I haven’t yet settled into the rhythm of this season. And it’s about to change, another transition.

I can’t help comparing this summer to last. Apples to oranges but, as I want to continue to learn the lessons packed into our two-month Costa Rica sabbatical, I keep checking our blog to see what we were experiencing and learning last year.

The Costa Rica sun rises around 6am and sets around 6pm and I have never felt so physically in tune with the Earth’s rotation. Not an easy morning person, the sun beckoned me to new adventures each day, at least after a cup of coffee enjoyed facing this view:view

Leisurely mornings, adventure-filled days, and extended togetherness… Costa Rica sunset meant Family Time to eat, talk, play games or watch movies or read aloud. Of course Teen prefers friend-time to family-time, I get it. But a year ago we were making the beach safe for sea turtles and swimming in secluded waterfalls and mugging for the camera with toucans on our shoulders, making memories.

Guy and I took two weeks off for a camping vacation. And then every itinerary we discussed had some strike against it. We researched, Google-mapped, discussed, contacted friends, prayed, and persisted for hours over weeks before coming up for air with the same befuddling conclusion: we need to stay home this summer.

First world problems, I know. But I’m still disappointed.

So instead of adventuring out, we have ventured in to the crazy jumble of our garage to create a hang-out space for our kids and their friends.

We have vision, and still I’m overwhelmed. Cleaning the garage means face-planting in All The Projects I never got around to. I shafted some straight into the trash, donated others, and shuffled some back into the house. Projects covered every surface, and a few miraculously got done. And the panic-stricken late-night realization that the cleaners were coming in the morning meant that a whole bunch of projects went, yup, back into the garage. Oy!

Thank God Guy is an Energizer Bunny! Day 1 we began sorting and donating. Day 2 he pulled Too Much Stuff into the driveway and added storage areas to the rafters, then moved our extensive collection of camping gear up and out of sight. (Inside I’m screaming: “Don’t put it away, I want to use it!” Ugh.)garage

Day 3 we went to work, because that’s what happens when you work at a church and don’t leave town. To be honest, I’ve worked every day of what was supposed to be our vacation, because we are not on vacation, and I mostly work from home anyway. Sigh.

The garage is jumbled but better. I am jumbled, and a discipline of gratitude will make me better.

I’ve just finished reading The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The surprise ending? A laser-beam focus on gratitude in two steps:

Step 1. For one week try to be aware of your tendency to criticize, to see what is missing, to focus on what is not there and comment on it. Try instead to focus on what is right. Notice what you have and others contribute. Search for things to praise. Begin with simple things. Praise the world. Appreciate your own breathing, the sunrise, the beauty of a rainstorm, the wonder in your child’s eyes. Utter some silent words of thanksgiving for these small wonders in your day. This will begin to change your focus on the negative.

Step 2. Give at least one genuine, heartfelt praise to your spouse [or child, neighbor, whoever] each day for an entire week… extend the exercise one more day. Then add another day…. When you meet someone new, look for what is special about this person. Appreciate these qualities. Remember, this all has to be genuine and heartfelt. Don’t be phony… Tell people what you notice and genuinely appreciate about them.

So I will refuse to criticize this summer, to see what is missing. I will be grateful for the progress we’ve made, the project we’ve undertaken. I will search for bright moments (Teen offered to help me do his laundry – progress!) and offer generous praise.

And eventually the garage will be clean, and I will be grateful.

Jesus: The Way

As we planned and lived last year’s Costa Rica summer, guides took on an importance like never before. Before we left we had maps and guidebooks and websites, all of which we continually referenced throughout the trip. But once on the ground, we also relied on new friends and strangers to point the way; just after we picked up our rental car a friend of our new landlord met us at a major landmark so we could follow her to our summer home. We would never have found it on our own.

We would have driven in perpetual circles without the GPS we bought for our rental car; Costa Rica has no street names or addresses; roads to major tourist destinations are two-lane, seemingly insignificant, and ill-repaired – without the GPS we definitely would have thought we were going the wrong way and, even still, sometimes we were. More than once we came to roads overrun by streams and in one case a river had completely washed out the road to a highly anticipated hiking destination.

We never left home without our copies of Fodor’s See It Costa Rica to direct and inform our itinerary and The Wildlife of Costa Rica to help us identify the magnificent creatures we encountered in air, land, and sea. It’s a wonder we didn’t wear out the covers of these books as each one of us thumbed through them almost daily. The kids in particular used the wildlife book as a treasure hunt, ticking off the animals they’d seen and setting goals to see others. Another important reference book: our Spanish-English dictionary. Its heft made it unwieldy to carry around so we made note of words and looked them up when we returned home.

Of course we also had tour guides. We went to several animal rescue centers, including Proyecto Asis near Arenal Volcano, and the Jaguar Rescue Center and the Sloth Sanctuary, both on the Carribean coast. These amazing people are working to make Costa Rica – and the world – a better place by serving animals and educating people.

Carlos & spider monkeys at Proyeto Asis

Carlos & spider monkeys at Proyecto Asis

Staff & guide at the Sloth Sanctuary with an injured 3-toed sloth

Staff/guide at the Sloth Sanctuary with an injured 2-toed sloth

We visited several ministry sites (Abraham Project, La Montana Camp, Roblealto Children’s Homes) and met with followers of Jesus serving the people of Costa Rica.

Phil at Abraham Project and the site of their upcoming stadium sanctuary/skate park - no kidding, this is out-of-the-box creative ministry!

Phil at Abraham Project and the site of their upcoming stadium sanctuary/skate park – no kidding, this is out-of-the-box creative ministry!

We spent one remarkable day with Prudencio and his five-year-old son Leandro in Yorkin, a community of the indigenous BriBri people. Entirely in Spanish, Prudencio spent the day explaining to us how his people live: schools, organic farming, chocolate production, making thatched roofs, hunting and fishing by bow and arrow.

Prudencio at the entrance to Yorkin

Prudencio at the entrance to Yorkin

Prudencio & Leandro teaching us to thatch a roof

Prudencio & Leandro teaching us to thatch a roof

You can’t travel to Costa Rica without adventure, so we also had adventure guides – white-water rafting guides, scuba and snorkeling guides, tranopy and ziplining guides, and hiking guides. Stanley, our snorkeling guide, offered to take us on a true locals-only Costa Rica frog ‘hunting’ hike: his goal was to find three frogs, one found only in that particular region of Costa Rica, and indeed he did find all three on our hike. Greivan, our host at the Jaguar Rescue Center’s La Ceiba jungle house, took us hiking three times in two days looking for animals. A PhD candidate in herpetology, he was a special gift from God for our budding herpetologist.

Grievan & a kinkajou at La Ceiba

Grievan & a kinkajou at La Ceiba

And finally, it took us a while to figure out that the people barking orders at us as we arrived at different destinations weren’t beggars but parking guides, a culturally acceptable way for people to make money in a country sorely lacking good parking. We had a unique encounter with a parking guide at Guayabo National Monument, an archaeological site. He directed us to park along the street (typical), but the spot was on an odd angle. When we tried to leave the car slid sideways towards a rock wall. We had to climb out of the car and wait until the folks parked in front of us returned to their car, and then several men came and helped to push the car out of danger. Only then did we notice that the parking guide was blind!

All this thinking about the importance of guides for life in Costa Rica caused Guy and I to reflect on important guides for the life of faith. We need a guidebook, the Bible, and other reference books/websites can be of great help. We need a GPS, the Holy Spirit who directs us even (especially?) when the road seems out of the way. We need tour guides, mentors and friends to walk the way with us. We need adventure guides, people who help us take new steps of faith in service or mission. We need parking guides, the church in which we regularly park our patooties to worship and learn and engage in relationship.

All of these guides point us to The Way, Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

In An Unhurried Life, Alan Fadling writes:
“What if, instead of a road map, God is offering to be my guide? What if I let him decide where we are going? … He would prefer to guide me as my companion for the journey rather than hand me directions that I’d be tempted to run off with, leaving him in the dust. Maybe I could learn to ask less for God’s guidance and more for a sense that he is being my guide; to ask less for help and more for the awareness that he wants to be my helper; and to ask less for strength adn more for confidence that he is my stronghold” (p176).

In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus said:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

And then in John 10:9-10 He said:
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus Christ, true God and true man who lived, taught, died, rose again, and reigns at the right hand of the Father, is the way to abundant and everlasting life. His road may be bumpy and pot-holed, out-of-the-way and not well-traveled, but I’d rather walk His road to life than an easy road to destruction. Walk with me?

Connect
When you meet someone new, do you introduce yourself by who you are or what you do? What do you say, and why?

Study
Read aloud Colossians 1:13-20.
What does Paul tell us about what Jesus does?
What does Paul tell us about who Jesus is?
Describe Jesus’ role in salvation (vv. 13-14, 20); in creation (vv. 15-17); in the church (vv. 18-20).
How does Jesus show us God (v. 15ff)?
Jesus is “the head of the body, the church” (v. 18). What does Paul’s description of Jesus say about what might be Jesus’ priorities for His body, the church?

Live
When you think about Jesus, do you think of Him primarily in terms of God (Paul’s cosmic description in Col. 1) or human? Explain.
What most stands out to you from Paul’s description of Jesus, and why? Which, if any, are most difficult to accept, and why?
How might this description of Jesus change or challenge your view of Jesus? Your relationship with Him?
Read Matthew 16:13-18. Who do people today say Jesus is? Why was Peter’s answer such a big deal? Who do you say Jesus is? Who does Jesus say you are?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will grow in knowledge of and love with Jesus.

Shameless Audacity

One year ago our family was caught up in a season of prayer and preparation for Guy’s pastoral sabbatical. For two years we had thought we’d go to Peru to work with Kids Alive International in the Andes. Guy has been several times and his heart has broken for the needs of the people there; the rest of us bided time until Tween was old enough to make the strenuous trip (early morning flights/drastic elevation changes).

God shut that door.

So we pursued the possibility of spending the summer in Costa Rica. Teen had been on a school trip and fallen in love with the beauty of God’s creation in the rain forest. It could be great (and it was) to spend the summer seeking God where we already knew His creation would astound us.

But living on 1.5 church salaries, how could we afford it?

One week I stood up during our women’s group of 100+ gals and asked them to pray with me that God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), would do a miracle and provide a way for us to live the summer in a Spanish-speaking country (we all have some Spanish skills), whether it be Costa Rica or elsewhere.

A week later God showed up as only God can to provide a house-sitting gig for us that was way, way, WAY more than we could ask or imagine. It made possible our summer abroad and became a safe haven for our often travel-weary bones. You can read more about our Costa Rican adventures and what we called our “God Treasure Hunt” here.

This week it has occurred to me that I prayed with shameless audacity for God to provide for Guy’s sabbatical. I believed God had good gifts to give him, and by extension, his family, during that time of well-earned rest. I believed, and so I prayed, even though I didn’t know exactly what I was praying for.

I don’t always pray that way. Why not?

I definitely get in prayer ruts. I don’t set aside enough time to pray, so I pray on the go – in the car, as I walk, in between the here-and-there of my too-busy life. That’s fine, of course, but it’s like infrequent snacking instead of sitting down to a satisfying meal. And it’s not a very good way to listen for God’s quiet whisper.

In church this morning I had a sudden inspiration, a nudge to the ribs from the Spirit: I would pray in color before writing my next blog post.

Praying in Color is a fun, creative, get-me-out-of-my-head (and my rut) form of prayer. It slows you down to meditate on each word and phrase as you color/write/doodle. You can pray for people, countries, events, whatevers, and you can pray the words of Scripture, no artistic ability required. I prayed the Lord’s Prayer from Luke 11, today’s Bible passage.

prayer

Part of the beauty of praying in color is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. This is my example, but yours would look entirely different. The point is to actively pray, to spend time with our loving Father. And at the end, you have a visual reminder of your prayer.

I just noticed that the Praying in Color site contains templates for praying in color during Lent. Although we’re almost half-way through the season, I might download a template and use it as a tool to pray from here to Easter.

However you pray, let’s pray with shameless audacity that the Spirit will show up in surprising and dramatic ways!

Connect
To whom do you turn when you feel like you need to talk? Explain.
Reflect on an example from your life of persistence paying off.

Study
Read aloud Luke 11:1-13.
Put this version of the Lord’s Prayer into your own words (vv. 2-4). What strikes you about the content of this prayer? [For comparison, see Matthew 6:9-13].
What is Jesus’ main point with His example in vv. 5-7?
What do vv. 9-13 say to someone who feels like their prayers aren’t being answered? [See also James 4:3].

Live
Author Anne Lamott suggests that all prayers boil down to three essential words: “Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.” Examine the Lord’s Prayer and see if you agree.
How do you balance your CHATs with the Lord: confess, honor, ask and thanks? Do you tend toward one over the others? Explain.
How would your prayers change if you brought shameless audacity to your prayers? If you expected the Holy Spirit?
How do you incorporate prayer into your everyday life?
What obstacles stand in the way of effective prayer time, and how can you level them?
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Reflect on joys and struggles.
Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that Jesus will teach you to pray and fill you with His Holy Spirit.

Where do we place our hope?

I had a surprising and completely lovely conversation with Tween after Sunday school this morning. I asked him about the lesson, and he told me the story commonly called The Rich Young Ruler (found in Matthew 19:16-22 and Mark 10:17-27): a man who has kept all the commandments asks Jesus what else he must do, and Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and follow Him.

So I asked Tween what that meant practically, did he need to go home and clean out his room? (Horror! This kid thrives in a creative chaos that boggles his mama’s brain).

No, he responded, but this month’s Sunday school theme is “Don’t Get Wrapped Up in Your Stuff, Get Wrapped Up in Christmas.”

Okay, so what does that mean? Are you more wrapped up in your stuff or in Christ?

Christ, he immediately gushed. (A Christmas blessing for my heart!)

So how could your stuff distract you from Jesus? Isn’t that what the story is about?

He explained: it means don’t get so excited about your toys that you sit in your room playing when you could be out on a beautiful nature walk with friends. Or at church.

Because on a nature walk with friends you experience God?

Yes! You get outside, with other people, and you see what God has created and how good God is and how amazing this world is. That’s what we did all summer in Costa Rica. That’s why we went to Costa Rica. Because Teen had been there and he told us how beautiful it is and that God is at work there, and so we went to see what God was doing.

Joy, unspeakable joy! The kid gets it. He understands that getting wrapped up in Jesus is the only place to be, and he understands the point of our sabbatical trip: to eliminate distractions and seek Jesus.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).

And yet we insist on self-focus which leads to stress and distress, worry and fear. Why, when instead we could have hope, joy, peace, and love? It’s not because self-focus is easier, though it is perhaps more natural.

Ann Voskamp writes: “Worry is always belief gone wrong. Because you don’t believe that God will get it right. Peace is belief that exhales. Because you believe that God’s love is everywhere – like air” (Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, p44 – have I sold you on this book yet? I’m loving it!).

Believing it to be so sacred as to be unpronounceable, Jews don’t speak aloud God’s name, YHWH or Yahweh, and instead call Him by other names, Elohim or Adonai, Strong One, Lord, Father. Some argue that the name itself is the sound of breathing, that our every breath acknowledges God the Giver of Life. And don’t we all really need a deep breath, especially in this busy season? We need a change of focus, a change in our very being.

I am making a commitment this week: first, to breathe deeper, and secondly, to pray each time I change my clothes, reminding myself to take off myself and put on Christ.

Advent Week 2 – Where Do We Place Our Hope?
December 7-13

Read Scripture: Colossians 3:1-17

Candle lighting: Light the first and second candles.

Read: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The first candle represents the hope of Israel. The second candle represents the hope of heaven.

How many times today did you think about yourself: your fears or worries, your wants and needs? We so easily forget the hope God gives us in His Son. Like torn and dirty clothes, take off your troubles and doubts that lead to sin. Put on the hope of your new life in Jesus: the cozy Christmas sweater adorned with compassion, peace and gratitude. Live in hope as you set your heart and mind on Jesus.

Pray: Dear God, help us to let go of everything that distracts us from you. Thank you for the gift of new life. In the name of Jesus we hope and pray, Amen.

 

Throughout the Week// light the candle, read and discuss the daily Scripture and pray together.

Light two candles as you say: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read & Discuss:

Monday// Psalm 31:24// What does it mean to you to hope in the Lord?
Tuesday// Psalm 62:5// How can you rest in God today?
Wednesday// Psalm 147:11// When have you felt the Lord’s delight in you?
Thursday// Matthew 6:33-34// How can you seek God first and worry less today?
Friday// Romans 5:1-5// God grows our hope when we wait for Him. When have you felt stronger after experiencing something hard?
Saturday// Hebrews 10:22-23// How will you draw near to God today?

Pray: Dear God, help us to let go of everything that distracts us from you. Thank you for the gift of new life. In the name of Jesus we hope and pray, Amen.