Advent 2 – Finding Peace

Ironically, during a week in which I’ve intentionally focused on expecting peace, I’ve found distress more often.

The same hour I learned about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, I also heard that a neighbor, husband of an acquaintance, was in a suicidal stand-off with police. He alternately pointed a pistol at his temple and his mouth and, after hours of negotiation during which a nearby elementary school – his son’s school – was on lock-down, he pulled the trigger. He leaves behind his beautiful wife and four kids, his youngest only six and four years old.

Heart breaks. Lord, have mercy. Send your peace!

Far less dramatic: Traffic. Rushing. Deadlines. Botched plans. Carpools, worse, no carpool. Kid stress (aka, school stress!). Appetizers for two different functions. Overly full calendar. On and on.

Thank God for His Word! A few of our church staff did a Bible study on Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Interestingly, I’d most often read those few verses as three different points: 1- Rejoice. 2- Worry less, pray more. 3- Think about good things.

This week I realized they are One Point (as Peterson translates in The Message): “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

When we rejoice, we put Christ at the center of our hearts and minds. When we present our requests to God, we put Christ at the center. When we think about good things, true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things, we put Christ – the author and perfecter of all things – at the center. When we fix our eyes on Christ, Christ displaces the worry that has us spinning like hamsters on a wheel and in turn gives us peace.

Phew! Hopping off the hamster wheel as my head spins…

This hasn’t been an easy week. Looking back, however, I felt most at peace when I intentionally focused on Christ. Engaged in friendship, worship, Bible reading, serving loved ones, diving deep in fulfilling work, walking our dog, I can pray and allow Christ to displace worry. Sometimes peace “just happened” as I had already scheduled life-giving activities; other times Grumpy Me made a decision to pray and pursue peace (the dog got a few more walks this week).

Bottom line: The Lord is near. So much better than tossing sleeplessly or numbing the anxiety, we can rejoice, pray, let our loving God care for our needs, and think on God’s good things. As the angel declared to shepherds watching their flocks by night, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Peace be with you!advent wreath

Week 2 – Finding Peace

Read and light two candles (purple)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us.

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: Isaiah 26:3 and Philippians 4:4-9

Read: How many times today did you think about yourself: your fears or worries, your wants and needs? How many times today did you offer to God your fears or worries, your wants or needs? We get so easily distracted, so quick to neglect the peace God offers us in His Son. God invites us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us. Set your heart and mind on Jesus and live in peace.

Pray: Dear God, help us to trust you and to let go of everything that keeps us from you. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

Monday Isaiah 26:3 Where do you need peace in your life?
Tuesday Matthew 6:31-34 What worries distract you from seeking God, and what will you do about it?
Wednesday Luke 12:25-26 How does worry sap your time and energy?
Thursday Philippians 4:6-7 When have you experienced peace in response to prayer?Friday Philippians 4:8-9 What are some of your favorite “whatevers” to think about?
Saturday Colossians 3:1-2 How do you actively set your heart and mind on God’s priorities?

 

Another blog I’m enjoying this Advent: lessnerismore. Grab a mug/cup of something warm and tasty and set aside a few minutes to check out her daily Advent blog.

Scripture: Our Map

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This picture has always struck me as an accurate portrayal of my relationship with my mom – the two of us snuggled up, enjoying a book together. Mom read with me all the way through high school, and even when I was in college she sometimes read the books I was assigned. She loves to read, I love to read, and one thing I know for sure I’ve done well as a mom is pass on that passion to my children.

I love stories, written stories and life stories. My story and your story. And God’s story, the written version of it found in the Bible, and the living version we play out everyday. I grew up going to church and I knew the kid-versions of Bible stories. But when I got to be a teenager people kept telling me I needed to read the Bible on my own, except I didn’t know how.

Let’s be honest, the Bible can be fairly intimidating! It was written in different times and cultures, with different languages and different uses of language (literal, figurative, descriptive, prescriptive, poetic, etc). And that’s even before you get to all the translations (NIV, NLT, NASB), study Bibles or life application Bibles, or even the question of where does one begin to read? At the beginning? At the beginning of the Old or New Testament, or at the beginning of any of its 66 books? And then what? You might feel, as many of us have, like the Bible belongs to certain people, whoever they are, and remains a big mystery to you, that some people ‘get’ the Bible while others aren’t qualified to crack its cover.

In our mid-20s Guy and I were married and working at a church and, while I regularly read books about the Bible, books that guided me in what the Bible said, I didn’t often read the Bible itself. Until someone showed me these verses in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“All Scripture is God-breathed [other translations read “inspired”] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

“Teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” not big words but they don’t easily roll off the tongue. And what do they really mean?

Know. Stop. Change. Do.

God wants to use the Bible to speak to you about what you should know, stop, change, and/or do. So you read this Book, God’s Story, filled with incredible stories of God at work in the lives of some very ordinary people, all the while enjoying a conversation with God Himself about what He wants to say to you through His book. The “know, stop, change, do” paradigm changed everything for me.

I didn’t immediately shelve my stack of devotional books. I didn’t stop attending worship or my small group Bible study. But with this simple tool I didn’t have to rely on someone or something to help me understand the Bible. Instead of reading about the Bible I could read the Bible itself and come away changed because I’d read it. Because, while reading, I recognized that I was in the presence of God.

Still, where to start? I recommend using a Bible reading plan. I particularly like One Year Bible Online. Click on today’s date and it pulls up today’s Bible reading – Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm and Proverb. I don’t necessarily read all of each day’s readings, but the beauty of a reading plan is I don’t guilt myself if I miss a day or even a few days; I just go to that day’s reading and start fresh.

Recently a friend asked me about the Bible. She didn’t understand the basics: Old and New Testaments, the various books of the Bible, the chapter and verse markings. I was so grateful she asked, for two reasons: 1) she trusts me to guide her, and 2) she reminded me that the Church takes for granted that people understand the Book we revere as our authority for life and faith. So to you, dear Readers: if you need help understanding the Bible, find a trusted person to ask your questions; and if you’ve been around the Book a while, don’t assume that others get it. It’s up to us to help them find their way to Jesus, the Living Word.

Connect
What is your favorite book and why?

Study
Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17.
From whom did Timothy learn the holy Scriptures? (see 2 Timothy 1:5)
Using this passage, how would you explain the Bible to someone who hasn’t read it?
What benefits result from reading Scripture?
Read James 1:22-25.
Put James’ mirror analogy in your own words and explain what it says about Scripture.
What does it mean to “look intently” into Scripture and “continue” to do so?

Live
Who has been influential in helping you learn to read and apply Scripture to your life? How have they influenced you?
What are your practices for hearing the Word? For example, do you have a set time and place to read Scripture? What tools have you found helpful?
What are some strategies that have helped you be a “doer of the Word”? (i.e. How do you keep Scripture in mind throughout the day?)
What do these verses tell you personally to know, stop, change and/or do?

Pray
Pray that God will actively speak to you through His Word and that the Spirit will guide you to continue in it.

Experiment
Read Bible stories with children, or read a children’s story Bible. My favorite is The Jesus Storybook Bible.
Use One Year Bible Online and read for at least five minutes five days this week. As you read, have a conversation with God. What does He want you to know, stop, change and/or do?

“Living and Lingering in Love”

My intention in starting this blog was to chronicle the places and times my eyes caught a glimpse of the Divine among the mundane. So where I have seen God this week?

In too many ways to count, actually!

Last Monday I led a devotional for a church ministry leadership team. We’ve been reading a book together and this phrase, “living and lingering with the Father who loves me,” grabbed hold of my heart. I could have treated the devo like one more thing on my To Do list and I could have led it as such, but instead I used it to provide an opportunity for us to linger in God’s love.

Instead of spending a lot of time discussing a chapter any of us could read I took us to Luke 8, the Parable of the Sower. The thing God impressed upon me from Luke 8 is that the primary difference between the fertile soil and the others is that the good soil not only receives God’s Word but clings to it. I hear a lot of God’s Word, but how do I cling to it? There’s the challenge. So this week I began writing about God’s Word, for myself, as a way of lingering with God in conversation about His Word. There are certainly other ways to cling to God’s Word, but this is working for me.

Tuesday I had the opportunity to host a lovely friend for lunch in my backyard. We talked about the challenges of a busy ministry schedule, and that while programs are well and good, Jesus fostered relationships. Relationships require time to ‘waste’ together. She told me some of the ways she has been intentional in relationships with her immediate neighbors and with those in her ‘neighborhood’ – coffee shop and friends of friends, mostly. I am encouraged to look for relational opportunities, to linger.

Wednesday the church staff had a great conversation about the need for water, and how new shoots grow from old plants in the right conditions, which led to a discussion about how we can tend to the new shoots who participated in our spring break Mexico house building trip. That afternoon I took Teen on a spontaneous coffee run and saw two teenage girls in the coffee shop, one meeting with an adult from our church and the other who told me she’d met with her team leader the day before. I hadn’t planned to be at that coffee shop at that time, but God allowed me a few extra minutes in order to show me that it doesn’t take a lot of program for relationships to develop – it just takes willing adults ready to foster relationships in His name.

Also Wednesday a friend told me about her amazing experience on a two-week trip to Ghana to work at a preschool. She’s well-rounded in mission experience but this trip grabbed her heart differently. How so? Her specific skill set is exactly what the Ghanaian school needs, and she saw just in two weeks the difference she’s already made and a vision for what else she can do. Joy overflowed in her stories. She can’t wait to go back, and those listening can’t wait to hear what happens next – isn’t that a great way to build a support team?

Friday Guy and I took a much-needed day to spend together. We went to Napa, just over an hour’s drive from our home, for a wine and chocolate tasting, a Christmas gift experience Guy arranged for me. We talked and laughed, we sipped and enjoyed. We made conversation with the winery employee who served us, and we joined the wine club to continue the experience – and potentially, the relationship with our new friend. We ate lunch outside at one of our favorite spots and we walked around the gourmet marketplace next door. After a stressful few months of too much work and a resulting strained relationship, the day was exactly what we needed.

Friday night we hosted friends new and old for a barbecue. Kids and adults, people who’ve known each other for years and others only for a few hours, mixed and mingled and felt welcome. It’s exactly what I want for our home: for people to know they are welcome, to relax and enjoy and be together.

Saturday was all about time with Tween and a baseball game where encouragement flew faster than the ball, and today I’ve set aside for Teen and his final rugby match of the season. We’ll have hours together in the car and then I’ll do the thing I do best as Mom, cheering him on from the sidelines.

Living and lingering in love – that’s what Jesus modeled, and that’s what I want to be about. Less busy-ness, more love. Yes!