It’s Complicated

One of the lessons from history that repeatedly presented itself during our recent trip to Washington D.C. was just how amazingly complex humans are. People can do fascinating things–like deciding it must be possible to fly like a bird and, within less than ten years, producing not only working airplanes but aviation schools.

People can create works of intense beauty out of unthinkable destruction, like the artists commissioned by the U.S. government to document World War 1.

People can speak and write on behalf of justice, and still manage to justify living in opposition to their own convictions. Like Thomas Jefferson, who called slavery “moral depravity” and “a hideous blot,” yet owned and directly profited from the work of 600 slaves, freeing only five upon his death.

Does our good work invalidate our bad deeds?
Do our bad deeds make meaningless the good we do?

Maybe. Sometimes. I hope not and, in some cases, absolutely. It’s complicated.

One need only to have participated in church for a few minutes to recognize that some people should not be in leadership. Perhaps they need more help than they offer. Or maybe, in the helping, they are working towards greater health.

Yet one bad sermon doesn’t invalidate a preacher. The occasional missed opportunity or lack of understanding doesn’t mean someone doesn’t care. The Bible is pretty clear that the church is a mixed bag of nuts, sinners redeemed by grace. God isn’t done with us yet. He is bigger than our best attempts and worst failures.

God uses people, broken in oh so many ways, almost despite ourselves. He uses people because He’s good like that, because His grace shines brighter through our cracks, because, in using us, He redeems and restores and heals us along the way.

I’ve long said I’m more Moses than Mary. Sweet, compliant Mary imagined the unimaginable and sang, “Let it be…” My flare for the dramatic makes me, like Moses, prone to argue with God, to be a true chicken squawking that I’m not fit for service.

Thank God, He knew that about Moses before the conversation began. He created me that way, too. And in the push-back, God takes the opportunity to reveal Himself, to teach us more about who He is and what He’s about and how great big GOD can use lil’ ol’ us to accomplish His objective.

“God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” (I think I read this in Madeleine L’Engle’s books decades ago; but I’ve just now seen it attributed to at least three other authors…)

Sure, I have some qualifications: degrees, work experience, relationships all direct my life in certain ways. But all that would mean nothing if God wasn’t behind the work. In so many ways, I’m unqualified; and so are you; and yet, God calls…

Journey to Freedom
Exodus 2-4

Connect
Share about a time when you made a big move (i.e., going away to college, moving for a new job, etc.) and what you learned about yourself in the transition.

Study
Read Exodus 2:1-10.
Where can we see evidence of God in Moses’s early life?
Read Exodus 2:11-22.
Describe Moses as a grown up.
Read Exodus 2:23-4:17.
What stands out to you from the conversation between God and Moses, and why (2:23-4:17)?
What do we learn about God from this conversation?
Read Exodus 4:18-31.
Put yourself in the meeting of Moses and Aaron with the elders (vv29-31). What encouragement did each receive?

Live
God sometimes delivers people from circumstances, but perhaps more often works through circumstances. How was that true for Moses? For the Israelites? For us?
When have you experienced God turn a mistake or failure in your life into an opportunity?
Moses took off his sandals and hid his face. How do we show respect for God’s holiness?
When has God called you to take a scary step of faith? How did you respond?
Have you ever argued with God? How did that go?
Moses had Aaron and the elders. Who has been a partner/helper/encourager to your faith adventures?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God that He works all things together for good.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 3:1-10 individually and with your family.
What amazing things have you seen God do?
How can you show respect for God’s holiness?
How do you know that God sees you and cares for you?
Thank God for being so good to His people.

Seasonal Recreation

How did you play when you were young? And how do you play now? I used to swim and bike for what seemed like days on end. I took art classes, played piano, and read. These days I hike or run or practice yoga. I write, play at art, and have an ever-growing stack of to-read books. It’s good to allow ourselves to grow in play, to try new things, to let go of things that don’t satisfy the same creative curiosities we once followed like rabbit trails. So long as we continue to take time for soul care, engaging in creation and recreation and play so that we can be transformed. We need to set aside time for activities that dust off our souls. You know what to do. Now go do it.

re:create recess #12: Danielle Humphreys

There have been a couple of times recently in which my recreation inspired creativity which led to transformation in me. Recreation, or ‘play,’ in this season of life looks different from when I was younger. In college, I remember being part of “Rec Sports” where recreation looked like playing intramural soccer or taking a fencing class. Being in Santa Barbara, it also meant a fair amount of time at the beach! I also used to read and do artsy-craftsy things, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy these anymore, but recreation now looks a lot like planting seeds and watching them grow into a garden. It also looks like getting out in nature or going someplace new, or listening to music. These are the things that take me out of my head and clear the dust off my soul; where space is created to dream, to feel, to hear and respond.

One such experience was on a hike at the Trappist Abbey in Carlton, Oregon. It was a beautiful Spring day, one of the first in the midst of what seemed like a never-ending wet winter. My friend and I planned to travel together and then spend time apart for soul care as we hiked the vast swath of land at the Abbey. Reaching the vista point, I sat and pondered a shrine there to the Virgin Mary. It reminded me of growing up Catholic and how honored she is in that faith tradition, especially compared to evangelical faith streams where it seems she’s only thought of at Advent and Christmas. I began journaling that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was also a fellow traveler in this world and is one among the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding me (Hebrews 12:1). She is also a fellow mother, fellow disciple and fellow sister. She went before me and cheers me on as I run the race before me. Her model of surrender, faith, trust and patience became new to me in that moment. Looking out at the surrounding towns and landscape, I decided to take out my small watercolor set and paint what I saw. I didn’t paint Mary, but imagined her sitting with me. My understanding of Mary had been re-created.

I also find that listening to certain worship music draws me close to the heart of God and gives permission for my soul to feel and experience the movement of the Holy Spirit. Like I mentioned, the Pacific Northwest winter was a brutal one, even for the Oregon natives around me! One day it was finally dry enough to put the garden in so I carved out space to get all the plants in the soil. The song in my earbuds as I worked was “Bitter/Sweet” by Amanda Cook. The lyrics are simple and repeat. “You make all things new…You turn the bitter into sweet…You turn the winter into spring…You make all things new…”

I found myself praying this to be true as I planted summer squash. I prayed for spring for my friends, for our church and for myself. As I mounded hills of soil around each plant, I prayed for God to be the foundation that supports us, for our roots to grow down deep into the soil of God’s love for us (Ephesians 3:17, NLT) for fruit, and for protection around tender plants, and tender us.

Another time, I ended a long day by listening to worship songs. As the words, melody and truth washed over me, I began to have a conversation with God. I prayed about needing to know God was with me, because I sensed that the Spirit was asking me to be prepared for something new, which made me feel scared. I imagined myself and my family being taken to the unknowns of outer space. The conversation I was having with God started to come out in pictures, so I started drawing them in a small notebook. This became a sacred moment, one that transformed me from a place that felt dizzying and uncertain to one of intimacy and trust in the goodness, faithfulness and nearness of God.

Later this week, I am doing something really out of the box for me (in this stage of my life) and going on a backpacking adventure in the mountains with a group of women I don’t know beyond the friend who invited me! The homebody in me was pulling out cookies from the oven when I got a call from the group and learned that we would be ascending 7,000 feet, and that our gear included both a helmet and an ice ax. What have I gotten myself into?! Recreation via adventure! Blowing dust off of a weary soul. Being surprised by the creativity that springs forth on the journey. Stars and glaciers and the beauty of British Columbia. New soul sisters and pilgrims on the journey. And for certain, there will be re-creation and transformation. I can.not.wait.

Danielle is a native Bay Area gal, (still) adjusting to life in Oregon, married to Matt and mom to 3 kiddos and 1 dog. She has a B.A. in Aquatic Biology, an M.A. in Theology (Fuller), and enjoys conversations about church, community, Jesus, and gardening. She is also a lover of good food, music, creativity, and outer space. She is the Associate Director of Family Ministries at Trinity Covenant Church where her husband Matt is also on staff as a Pastor.

For Cryin’ Out Loud

How many times have I sat with a group of women, Bibles open to Luke 10, as criticism of Martha zings around the room?

Martha’s too busy.
She’s caught up in the wrong thing.
She’s obviously Type A.
Clearly she’s a fussbudget busybody.
She’s overly dramatic.
She’s causing a scene.
Does she think she needs to prepare six courses? Hasn’t she heard of a one-pot meal? How about a sheet pan dinner?

Poor Martha! Every once in a while a woman seated around the circle will eke out a timid comment in her defense: who among us hasn’t acted like Martha at least once? Who truly feels qualified to cast these stones?

Mary gets the honor, while Martha gets vilified. I think we might be missing the point.

I think Martha lost sight of Jesus.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She made Him and His traveling entourage feel comfortable. Hospitality was a BIG big deal back then, way more so than these days. Dirt floors and mud walls might have made housecleaning less of an obvious burden (or moreso?), but inviting at least thirteen hungry travelers into your home meant you probably had to slaughter a goat or two. To skin it, clean it, cook it, how long would that take? (asks the vegetarian…) Plus the side dishes: I imagine tabbouleh and unleavened bread, eggs and nuts and fruit, cheese and wine.spice-370114_1920

I’m getting better, but I used to turn into a whirling dervish before hosting a dinner party. Except way less graceful. I have a soft spot for Martha.

No, I don’t think it’s Martha’s hospitality that got her in trouble. She worked that gift in spades (go, girl!). The key is in her question. Interrupting the party beyond the kitchen, Martha cried:

“Master, don’t you care…?”

Martha forgot who Jesus was. If God = love and Jesus = God, then Jesus = love. Okay, I’m willing to concede that maybe Martha didn’t know Jesus well enough yet. Maybe the if/then hadn’t been made clear.

And yet: I believe Mary’s stillness at Jesus’ feet and Martha’s busyness in the kitchen were separated by only one thing. Mary was attentive to Jesus and Martha was attentive to her preparations.

Can we do whatever we’re doing and still be attentive to Jesus? I sure hope so! I’ve pretty much built my life and faith on paying attention to God while I also do business. In Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey claims that real, undignified life is the classroom for holiness. “If you can’t find God while you’re changing diapers or serving food or hanging out with your friends, you won’t find God at the worship service or the spiritual retreat or the regimented daily quiet time or the mission field” (p117).

If Martha had taken off her apron and plunked herself down next to Mary, she still might have missed Jesus. She needed to focus her heart, not her hands.

Martha’s cry recalled for me Mark 4, the disciples in the boat when the storm came up. Jesus was sleeping, which might have been a good tip off that God was not going to sink them. But their fisherman training got the best of them. They’d seen storms and this one seemed bad in the worst way.rembrandt_christ_in_the_storm_on_the_lake_of_galilee

They cried: “Teacher, don’t you care…?”

Of course He does. Jesus loved them. Jesus loves us.

Jesus loves us in the boat. In the kitchen. In the green pastures and the dark valleys, wherever He leads us He also loves us. Psalm 31:7 promises, “I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care…”

Thinking about Martha’s cry, the disciples’ cry, brought to mind the phrase, “for cryin’ out loud.” I did an online search and each site that popped up confirmed the same origin for the phrase. While consistently an expression of frustration or exasperation, its origin comes from the phrase, “for Christ’s sake.”

Which made me laugh: crying out to Christ, in frustration and fear, for Christ’s sake? That seems appropriate. We call out to Christ–maybe with the wrong motives, sure, but still–we cry out to Him and He draws us near for His own sake. Because He loves us.

Advent Wk3 – The Song of Glory

christmas-musicYears ago a pastor-friend shared from the Sunday chancel that, each year during Advent, he awaits the moment when Christmas will arrive. That feeling of wonder, the child-like joy-filled Christmas spirit, or truly, the Spirit of God who dreamed the first dreams of Christmas.

Every year since I’ve readily anticipated that moment and still every year it comes unexpectedly. One sad December I thought I’d missed it altogether; God took His time and my Christmas moment arrived in January. Last year it arrived as I read narration for our church Christmas concert.

This year’s moment was just as unexpected. I was supposed to drive carpool, a mundane-motherhood duty, and so would have to leave our staff Christmas party early. But I got times mixed up and asked the other mom if we could switch driving directions; I drove the first shift before donning party clothes and she took the second shift, dropping Tween at home to do homework while we reveled.

I hadn’t thought I’d be there for the caroling, followed by white elephant exchange, but I was. And as we began to sing Silent Night, suddenly my eyes welled with tears. I looked around the room, and my heart swelled with gratitude–for Christmas, for my job and these talented people with whom I work and worship, for the gift of song. I closed my eyes and whispered, Thank you…

It shouldn’t surprise me, really, that Christmas arrived in song. Music has the power to get past our logical brain and into our soul. Sometimes music is how we experience God, and sometimes music is how we express ourselves to Him. Some very blessed times, it is both.

Mary burst into song upon hearing Elizabeth’s confirmation of the angel’s confusing message to her. She glorified God who had lifted her up from her humble state, from poor small-town girl to Blessed Mother of God. She sang her praise-filled recognition that this miracle was not only for her but the fulfillment of God’s long-ago promise to Abraham, that all the world would be blessed through one of his descendants.

During Advent I look for my Christmas moment, but all year long I look for miracles in the mundane. I pray for eyes to see what God is doing. And I try, humbly, imperfectly, to share those blessings, recognizing that they are not for me alone.

Luci Shaw’s poem, Salutation, expresses that joy, that recognition of God in our midst. May we all look for our Christmas moments–God with us–and seek ways to share it with others.

Salutation
Framed in light,
Mary sings through the doorway.
Elizabeth’s six month joy
jumps, a palpable greeting,
a hidden first encounter
between son and Son.

And my heart turns over
when I meet Jesus
in you.

trumpet-angels

Week 3 – The Song of Glory
December 11-17

Read and light three candles (two purple, one pink): The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a King. The third candle represents the song of glory.

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 1:39-56

Read: Unborn John leaped for joy in the presence of unborn Jesus and Elizabeth newly saw her cousin as the mother of her Lord. Blessed because she believed the Lord would fulfill His promises, Mary sings glory to God her Savior, the Mighty One who mercifully lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things. God promised our ancestors mercy and still He works to fulfill His promises.

Pray: Lord, our souls glorify you and our spirits rejoice in you, our Savior. May we always be hungry for the good things you provide. In the name of Jesus we pray and sing, Amen.

Monday 1 Kings 8:28 Where do you need God’s mercy in your life?
Tuesday 2 Chronicles 7:14 How do you humble yourself before God?
Wednesday Psalm 63:1-5 Glorify God by sharing some ways you experience His love in your life.
Thursday Isaiah 43:10-12 What did God tell Isaiah about who He is and who we are?Friday Philippians 4:4-5 When do you sense God’s presence, and how do you express your joy?
Saturday 2 Corinthians 1:10 How has God delivered you?

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?