How to Be Great

What does it look like for you to be at the top of your game?

Maybe you’ve won a championship, or an award, or you hold the top position, or you make the most money. Or maybe you just truly enjoy what you do.

We all like to be the best. Still, I think the bigger question we have to ask ourselves is how we live out being our best selves. Do we become proud, power-hungry, demeaning others beneath our status? Or do we remain humble and serve everyone, not assigning status at all?

We’ve all seen examples of both attitudes at play. Frankly, I don’t ever want to be The Best if it makes me into a worse version of myself. I don’t respect and refuse to become someone who condescends.

When the disciples argued over who among them was the best, Jesus put a child in the center of their circle. A child, who has no status (at least in Jesus’ time, before the Glorification of the Child), who hasn’t done anything to deserve anything. The child just is, and that child is welcomed and loved just for being.

Even at the top of our game—because Jesus is not at all against us using the gifts He’s given us—our job is to serve and welcome and support those who can’t do so for themselves. Which requires humility, not pride.

Obviously the disciples didn’t get it, because a few verses later we see them sending away parents seeking Jesus’ blessing for their kids. So again, Jesus stresses His priorities: the Kingdom of God belongs to children and to everyone who will receive it as a child.

Not earn it, because we can’t. Key word: Receive. God gives grace, grace, and more grace.

Whatever game we play, whatever position in that game, however hard we’ve worked to make it to that place, we must remain humble. To recognize God’s gifts for what they are: gifts. To serve others freely and generously with those gifts. To receive with open hands the grace God desires to pour out on us so that we can share it with the world.

Dig Deeper

Connect
In your opinion, what makes someone “great”?

Study
Read aloud Mark 9:33-37, 42.
How does the little child serve as an illustration to Jesus’ lesson (vv35-37)? Who or what else could illustrate Jesus’ point?
How would someone cause a little one to stumble (v42)? Why is that so bad?
From this passage, summarize what Jesus wants His followers to know about power and service.
Read aloud Mark 10:13-16.
What do you think motivated parents to bring their children to Jesus (v13)?
Why would the disciples rebuke parents who desired Jesus’ blessing for their children?
Put Jesus’ response in your own words (vv14-15). What did Jesus want His followers to learn about life in the kingdom?
What does it look like to “receive the kingdom of God like a little child” (v15)?

Live
We all want to be at the top of our game, great at what we do. How is that like/unlike what Jesus teaches His disciples in this passage?
Share an example of someone who excels at being first and last, servant of all.
What’s your favorite type of service? Which kinds of service do you practice most?
What would it look like today to welcome “a little child” in Jesus’ name?
How do Jesus’ followers today get caught up in competition with one another? What could it look like to serve each other instead?
How do God’s people continue to get mixed up regarding God’s priorities? With humility, share examples.
How might someone hinder a child’s approach to Jesus?
How can we encourage children—everyone, including ourselves!—to come to Jesus?
What does it look like for Jesus to bless children (and adults) today? How have you experienced His blessing?
How can you cultivate childlikeness in your life?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray for the children in your church and community and then pray for childlike receptivity to God’s kingdom among adults.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:33-37 & Mark 10:13-16 individually and with your family.
What makes someone “great”?
What do you think Jesus likes about you?
Thank God for Jesus’ blessing on your life.

Hot & Bothered

How do you feel when you are engaged in a surprising and passionate conversation?

Recently, I had an epic, hours-long, meandering and caffeinated conversation with some young women I absolutely adore. For a time, the chatter turned passionate…not at all bad, just intense. In reflection, I felt heard, loving and loved, supported, and I think they did too; walking through the chilly winter evening to my car, I realized I also felt a little bit sweaty.

Mark 9 records that Jesus had a miraculous, mountaintop conversation with two historic figures: Moses and Elijah. Interestingly, Jesus physically changed just before their arrival. Not just transformed, which could mean changing His clothes or mood or facial expression, but “transfigured,” shining bright like a diamond; “transfigured” implies spiritual transformation; something way beyond normal human experience is going on.

We can only imagine the content of their conversation since no one recorded it. Why Moses and Elijah? Both biblical action heroes, Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, through the wilderness for 40 years, and right up to the edge of the Promised Land, while Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and called God’s heart-wandering people back to worship the One True God.

What would they say to Jesus, soon to take up His cross and die? Surely they couldn’t give the Son of God advice, which leads me to wonder if they were there for two reasons: to encourage Jesus with emotional strength for the grueling journey ahead; and for the sake of Peter, James, and John quivering nearby.

Talk about hot and bothered, the disciples were terrified! Only Peter musters up the courage (stupidity?) to speak, and he offers up their brute strength to build three shelters for their honored guests. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to build one, a meeting house of sorts for this divinely-appointed exchange? Does he expect they’ll all be moving to the mountaintop for the foreseeable future, in which case, the disciples might also need shelter?

Peter’s suggestion demonstrates his terror, for sure, but also his joint desires to serve and to tame the untameable. He’s desperately trying to make sense of a scene so startling he could never have imagined it in his wildest dreams.

To add to the intensity, God speaks, saying much the same thing He said at Jesus’ baptism, except this time addressing our small, tremulous crowd: Listen to my beloved Son, Jesus. The heroes of old vanish as suddenly as they appeared, and first thing Jesus tells His buddies to keep mum about what they just witnessed. James and John might have been stunned silent, but bumbling Peter might have had just a wee bit of trouble keeping his trap shut with the rest of the gang.

These poor guys witnessed a mind-blowing event, and they can’t even begin to grasp what Jesus means by “rising from the dead.” He can’t die, their glowing Friend to whom God sends friends from long-ago; despite having just now seen people who haven’t been alive for forever, they can’t wrap their brains around life after death.

It’s too much, way too much. Thank God He doesn’t disqualify us for not understanding His ways!

When was the last time Jesus blew your mind, surprised or terrified you, left you hot and bothered? Have you been watching, listening? Have you tried to tame the untameable? What journey are you on with Him now, and what might He say to you along the way?

Dig deeper…

Connect
If you could have a conversation with any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

Study
Read aloud Mark 9:2-13.
Describe the scene in vv2-8. Who is present and what happens?
Merriam-Webster defines “transfigured” as “to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance to; transform.” Discuss in this context.
What do you remember from Scripture about Moses and Elijah? Why is their presence with Jesus significant?
Besides fear, what motivates Peter’s response to the situation (vv5-6)?
Compare Mark 1:11 with Mark 9:7.
God’s voice commands the disciples to listen to Jesus (v7). What does Jesus tell them (v9) and why?
Read Malachi 4:1-6. Explain the conversation in Mark 9:11-13.
What impact do you imagine this event had on Peter, James and John?

Live
How has Jesus recently surprised or awed you?
Why do people want to “tame” Jesus? How do they try to tame Him?
What helps you retain a sense of God’s glory and keeps you from getting too lackadaisical?
How have you recently been listening to God? What have you heard?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for revealing His glory in Jesus Christ.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:2-8 individually and with your family.
When have you recently been surprised?
How does Jesus surprise His disciples? What does that tell us about Him?
Thank God that Jesus is more surprising than anyone we know.

 

Featured image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Two Words

What’s your most spectacular New Year’s resolution fail?

To get healthy, eat clean, lose ## pounds? To stop swearing, or drinking? To fall in love, or find a new job you love?

I gave up on resolutions years ago. Why set myself up for failure…again and again, year after year? If I’m going to set goals, I can do that any ol’ time, and not just at the turn of a new year (although, admittedly, there is something about January 1, or the start of a new school year, that I find motivating). Not surprisingly, 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions break them, and most resolutions get trampled in the rain-soggy February mud.

Five years ago, I joined the ranks of the One Word movement, where people choose a word to inspire their actions and decisions over a year. My first foray, 2015, was my most successful, interestingly not because I chose a word but because I chose a phrase: Put yourself in the way of beauty.

Beauty was my word, but the phrase required dynamic action. It motivated me to get out of the car to play in the cold, wet snow with my kids. So I shivered, but I also hiked up a hill (exercise!), took a picture of vivid red berries contrasted against the white snow, threw a few snowballs, and saw some train tracks that inspired moments of wonder.

You can read more about my one word experience over the last few years here, where I share why one word just wouldn’t be enough for 2019.

Honestly, at the dawn of 2019, I didn’t realize how unhappy I was. I had, little by little, painstakingly over years, folded into myself until I no longer resembled my best self, who I am or want to be. My origami life wasn’t a unicorn or a crane; it held no magical reflection of the beauty within me. I had unwittingly entered myself as “paper” in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and, in this version, rock and scissors beat paper every time.

Last New Year’s Eve, I didn’t know if or how or when I would make the changes necessary to love myself back into three-dimensional wholeness. Thank God for His guidance and strength, and the renewed health I’m enjoying now.

Having braved up also freed up time to invest in a project with my favorite creative collaborator, Nancy. Together we created a set of devotional cards: To Do Cards//take two. Each card has a two-word invitation from Jesus, found in Mark’s gospel, beautifully hand lettered by Nancy. On the reverse, you’ll find the corresponding Scripture from Mark and a prayer written by me.

If you’ve been around my blog this month, you’ve seen them. Nancy and I used and promoted them as an Advent calendar. There are 25 cards in this set, and they worked nicely as a way to daily check in with Jesus in a season that can get more than a little hectic, even among the twinkly lights and festive gatherings.

The set definitely has a life beyond Advent, however, and they are still available for free download. We recommend you print them double-sided on card stock for best results.

I’m looking forward to steeping 2020 in these two-word invitations from Jesus. And, as it turns out, I have a two-word response that will be my prayer throughout this year: Transform Me.two words

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 3: Preserve Peace (2019)

True confession: I worked on this post yesterday and got confused on my dates. I thought today would be December 14 and so the invitation should read: “Preserve Peace.” My partner in creativity made two beautiful images, only recognizing my mistake after she had them ready.

Thing is, I think Jesus does that sometimes. He directs us to what we need even if it’s “out of order” from our expectations. I needed to dwell on peace this weekend, and so that’s what God gave me.

May God always give you what you need, and may you have ears and eyes to receive His truth! Side note: we put our devotional cards in biblical order, but please feel free to shuffle the deck to get what you need from Jesus (to get your own set of cards, click for your FREE download).

Cranberries are one of my favorite holiday season tastes. They’re in everything: cheese, salads, pastries, savories and sweets. I typically make cranberry sauce the Monday before Thanksgiving and Christmas, always making sure we have more than enough to go around the table for a few days. My recipe includes lots of ginger, orange juice, and orange marmalade to finish. The results taste sweet and tart-bitter and never fail to please the pucker.

I’d never thought to wonder why jam can be called “preserves.” It seems obvious that the fruit has been “preserved” in a different form, right? Yes, and because early cultures used sugar as a preservative to keep fruit from spoiling.

I did a quick google search on preservatives when I saw the Advent invitation to “Preserve Peace.” Jesus made peace between God and humanity and, as we follow Him, we are called to be peacemakers, to make peace where conflict reigns and to keep peace when it is fragile.

We are the sugar preserving the fruit, the marmalade in the cranberry sauce. In other words, Jesus invites us to be delicious and make life tastier for everyone.

 

I Went Home.

Many of the Christian women writers, teachers, and preachers I follow have posted this week about John MacArthur’s deplorable behavior at a recent men’s conference. He was asked what two words come to mind when he hears the name “Beth Moore.” He replied, “Go home.”

Beth Moore has been a powerful Bible teacher for 40 years, teaching women since her Southern Baptist Church won’t permit women to teach men. Her reach has extended far beyond the Southern Baptist Church, however, through her books and videos and conferences. She is intelligent, well-read and -studied, dynamic, and one of the best preachers I’ve heard in any pulpit anywhere. Arguably, she is the Billy Graham of female preachers.

And John MacArthur et al quite obviously feel threatened by her influence, because they think it’s funny to publicly mock her. I purposely haven’t watched the video, because I have read it thoroughly described by several respected sources. And because I have heard and experienced similar words from men; some meant well, others used their words carelessly and, perhaps, unaware of their own bias.

For most of three decades, I’ve spent my career in the Church. I showed up day after day, year after year, in one, two, three churches, using my gifts, skills, and creativity in every possible way to express God’s truth to God’s people. Until I finally admitted that I was too tired and too hurt from banging my head on the glass ceiling.

I went home.

But I haven’t given up, and I will not be silent. As long as I have breath in my lungs, I will use whatever platforms I have to speak truth:

God loves me.
God loves and gifts all His people (male and female; white and POC; old and young; rich and poor; straight and LGBTQ+; throughout time and the world over) to share His love.
All God’s people are preachers, though only some use words.

I may never again step foot in a pulpit (though I don’t rule that out), but I will never stop sharing God’s love. I am a God-loving and God-gifted woman. Even from home, you can hear me roar!

For more of the story of my ministry experience, please read this post.

Read these posts from two women I respect:
Cara Meredith
Sarah Bessey

Cover photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Getting to Know You

If you want to get to know me but you only invite me to large group gatherings and never have time for a chat over a cuppa joe, you might describe me as awkward, or unfriendly, or cold.

I hope I’m not truly awkward, unfriendly, or cold. However, as an introvert, large group settings are not my comfort zone. If you want to get to know me, it sure helps to know that smaller, more intimate settings are where I open up and can be my best self.

Like the story you’ve probably heard about the blind men and the elephant. Each man stood near a different section of the massive creature. As they felt tail, or trunk, or side, or leg, each described what sounded like a different animal. They didn’t understand they were describing parts of a whole and so they missed the truth of the elephant.

Sadly, it’s possible to do the same thing with Jesus. If we only want to think of Him as a good guy, a teacher, a buddy, and don’t acknowledge His divinity, His saving work on the cross, His indwelling Spirit that confirms for us the Truth about who He really is in all His glory, then we’ve actually missed getting to know Him at all.

God’s Church is massive, and each individual church has a different style and approach to knowing God. That’s fine, but to truthfully proclaim Jesus, there are a few essential Christian beliefs:

Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He lived to show us how to live humanly, and He died to pay the price for our sins so that we can live forever in relationship with God. Love God and love for His people are the basic and greatest commandments, and they are how we show that we know and love Him (yes, that sounds like circular logic: to show we love God we love God and His children, but it works).

The denomination to which our church belongs has a helpful motto: In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

If it matters for salvation (and Jesus as fully God and fully human sure does), we hold those things in common.

If it doesn’t matter for salvation but is a matter of interpretation and practice, you do you.

But in all things, we share God’s love. Because we love God, and loving God means loving His children.

Walk in Love
Week 11: Victory & Assurance
1 John 5:1-12

Connect
What is important for someone to understand about you as they get to know you, and why?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 5:1-12.
What is important to believe about Jesus (vv1, 5)?
Explain John’s argument about loving God and loving God’s children (vv1-4).
What do we learn about Jesus from His baptism and crucifixion (“water and blood”)? What would be different about Christianity if we believed only one or the other (vv6-10)?
Explain the significance of the three who testify about Jesus (vv6-12). What do they testify?
What encouragement does this passage hold for one who believes in Jesus, God’s incarnate Son, who died for our sins?

Live
What difference does God’s Spirit, testifying to Jesus as God’s Son who lived and died for us, make to your daily decisions?
How do you lovingly handle differences of belief with others who also say they believe in Jesus?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:23-24. How do you share the good news of the cross with someone who thinks it’s foolishness?
How do you recognize the testimony of the Spirit?
How do/can God’s children encourage you to stick to the essentials of Christian faith?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray The Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.