Lent 2020: Walking Like The Wise Men

The three Wise Men…rode their camels across endless desserts, up steep, steep mountains, down into deep, deep valleys, through raging rivers, over grassy plains, night and day, and day and night, for hours that turned into days, that turned into weeks, that turned into months and months, until, at last, they reached…Jerusalem.

During our church’s Christmas Eve Family Service, we use The Jesus Storybook Bible as our Scripture readings while children in costume act out the roles. The Wise Men’s scene makes me laugh as kids follow the leader this way and that, up and down and around the aisles, back to front and front to back, and back to the front once again.

These days I feel like the Wise Men, walking my dogs endlessly through our neighborhood—up and down steep hills, across bridges beneath which gentle streams flow, past neighbors’ green lawns or along the paved golf cart trail at the local country club. This way and that, day and night, day after day, weeks turning to months, changing it up to keep us all interested. It’s the only time we leave the house during shelter-in-place.

Walking feels necessary, a balm to body and soul, keeping anxiety at bay. Enjoying the blooming of flowers, the sun and breeze on my skin, the repetitive movement. Laughing at the pleasure my dogs take in endless loops.

Even as I walk away, I know my road will always lead me back home. Still, as I read again this description of the Wise Men on their journey, I realized that my walks can lead me to Jerusalem. To Jesus. To a treasure hunt for gratitude right smack in the middle of a world-wide crisis.

I am grateful: for the beauty of nature right here in our walkable neighborhood. For my dogs. For my husband who often walks with me. For the many, many neighbors we have met along the way—at a six-foot distance (a leash length)—people we don’t regularly see in the middle of the work-a-day week. For acts of kindness. For time to rest. For laughter. For our health. For all those who serve others selflessly. For technology that keeps us connected when we can’t meet together face-to-face. For online yoga and library resources. For family. For home. For Jesus.

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: Light in the Darkness

Mary and Joseph named him Jesus, “Emmanuel” — which means “God has come to live with us.”
Because, of course, he had.
This baby would be…a Light to light up the whole world. Chasing away darkness. Helping people to see.
And the darker the night got, the brighter the star would shine.

Our county implemented mandatory shelter-in-place, and within days the Governor of California put the whole state on lock down. For how long: two weeks? Three? Two months? Longer? What does that mean? (Social media has lit up with people asking: “Can we do this, or that, or the other?” To a mixed bag of responses). What will it mean for life once the ban lifts?

People have begun putting Christmas lights back up as a way to spread cheer. I love the idea, although I’m not sure who will be out and about to see them. Still, we seek light in the dark.

Whether we like it or not, we’re all at home. Which makes me so grateful for the reminder that Jesus, Emmanuel, has come to live with us.

Years ago someone prayed for me that I would be aware of Jesus dancing for joy in the heart of my home. I’m praying that for myself–and for all of us–in these uncertain times.

We don’t know how long this will go on. We don’t know what will happen after, how businesses and jobs and students who can’t be in schools will be affected. Uncertainty can lead to fear. I’m choosing to focus on the bright light of Jesus, joyfully dancing right here in our midst.

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: Receive

I’ll take this emptiness…and I’ll fill it up! Out of the darkness, I’m going to make light! And out of the nothing, I’m going to make…EVERYTHING!

These lines specifically refer to God’s original act of creation. Yet God continues to create, every minute of every day as we experience them.

Sometimes we feel empty, dark, alone in the nothingness. Sometimes life hurts, or simply feels mundane, repetitive, unexciting.

Ash Wednesday begins this liturgical season of Lent, in which believers world-around and throughout the ages have focused on the suffering of Jesus leading up to the cross and, in God’s final word, resurrection. Talk about a time of emptiness, darkness, and nothingness…Jesus in the grave. How the disciples must have mourned. How we join them during these six weeks.

Enter God. He says, I see your emptiness, and I will fill it. I see your dark, and I offer light. I see your nothing, please accept my everything.

God holds His hands out, full of grace and truth, and we only have to receive.

It helps to know that even when we feel empty, dark, and nothing, that’s not reality. God is always with us. He longs to comfort, to be our constant companion. If we will recognize His presence and receive.

Receiving sounds simple, but we have trouble with that one, too. It reminds me of one of my favorite prayers in the Bible, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Lord, I receive. Help me receive more fully.

 

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

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.