Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hope Reigns

I've been thinking this morning of several people I know who are struggling this Christmas. Some are struggling personally, some physically, some financially, some relationally. You name the category, people are struggling.

Then I read the Lectionary for today and ran across these verses in Psalm 147:

How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.

2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.

3 He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.

4 He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.

5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.

6 The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.

8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.

9 He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.

10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;

11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

These verses again remind me that God is big (kind of a silly understatement, huh?). But he is. So whatever is facing me - whether it's silly little things or big, huge, life-altering things, I can count on him. This God (that I don't understand), for whatever reason has chosen to come in the flesh to give meaning and purpose. God takes pleasure in those who fear him and in those who hope in his STEADFAST love.

So, I am becoming more comfortable with blogging my thoughts - which mostly just state the obvious. Here I go. It's ok to hope. It is right to hope. And it's ok to fear the Lord. When you look at the magnitude of who he is and what he's done, who wouldn't fear? And he knows us. He knows us like no other. To me that is a comfort. I like the thought of being with someone who 'gets' me - who knows the good and the bad and still loves me. I don't have to TRY to be anything other than who I am. Here's to hope.

Advent Action: Today is a day of hope. Allow yourself to feel it. If you don't feel it, allow yourself to think it. What are you hoping for? Lay that hope in the hands of the one who loves you like only a creator could.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve Eve

As far as I can see (so far) this day is laid out for me. I met Kates for coffee this morning - so sad that we'll be going different directions on Christmas - but thankful for the time we do have.

And as soon as I can pull the girls out of bed (which will probably be around 10am), we'll start our fun day. I've decided to do some 'psuedo-baking' this year. There are all kinds of great recipes out there for puppy chow, chocolate covered popcorn (ok, I realize that one doesn't need a recipe...), sweet/chocolate covered crackers. Since I'm not much of an actual 'baker' I thought I'd try my hand at some other stuff. The main thing is that I wanted to carve out time with my girls. They're getting older, ya know. They are beginning to have their own lives apart from us.

Things have changed even since this photo was taken...Liz has started High School. Paige is in Junior High. I know I keep mentioning my girls...I guess maybe it is hitting me harder than ever that they are growing up. I'm not sad we're past the baby stage, but I do wish we could stay in this stage for a long, long time...

Advent Action: Think about your season of life. Maybe things are easy. Maybe things are harder than they've ever been. Open yourself up to see God in all of it. Where is he working? Leading? Comforting?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ahhh, Family...

Parker Palmer, quaker writer, has these words to say of community:
"Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. So community is not a place where you love each other sort of freely and warmly and affectionately. Community is in fact the place where you are purified, where your love is tested, where your childhood of God is constantly put through the mill of human relationships."

Sometimes those family Christmas times bring out the best in us. Sometimes those family Christmas times bring out the worst in us. Relationally, I think if we can be open to it, God can use ALL of the relational experiences of the holidays to glorify himself and bring us closer to him.

Maybe a relationship can be deepened through honest conversation....

Maybe we learn to give grace where we never thought grace could be given...

Maybe we mourn what is not, and begin to move beyond it...

Maybe we are given the opportunity to lovingly speak truth...

Maybe we are brought together as we mourn a loss together...

Maybe where a family member is lacking, we allow God to fill in& it teaches us to further depend on him...

Maybe God will bring enlightenment as we've never known...

It is hard to know how God may break in. But if we are open, I believe he will break in. He is Immanuel.

Advent Action: When we're with family sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the patterns of youth. The 45 year old suddenly becomes the 10 year old again. Prior to your family gathering, check your posture before God. Seek to be used as a vessel. Allow him to be your strength.

Friday, December 19, 2008

This Weekend

I want to share a little with you about the growing generosity I see around New Hope. One of the things we've tried to do is avoid pressuring people to do things a certain way. We believe that when it comes to giving, God - who is eternally creative - will help people find their role. So, while we've talked about Advent Conspiracy and our desire to make a difference this holiday, we have in no way dictated what people SHOULD do.

It has been such a blessing to see all the different ways people are giving - of their money & time. You can check out the tree (beautifully painted by Tammi Johnson) this weekend to see what all New Hopers are involved in.

One instance in particular has stuck with me all week. Last Saturday while I was at a basketball game, a woman shared about her friend who is really struggling financially this season. I left the game and 20 minutes later was at New Hope for the gathering. When I got there, a couple came up to me and asked me if I knew of anyone who could use their financial help this year. Within the space of 30 minutes, the need was met. And that's just one example of what God is doing. What a blessing!

So...this weekend, we'll take a special offering that will help build wells to provide one of the very basics of life. The statistics are not good, but people ARE making a difference. You can check out more on the effort here.

We have the opportunity to to love as Christ loves - in a very tangible way. I encourage you - as always - to follow God's lead in this. He will let you know.

Advent Action: Cultivate a spirit of openness in your own heart. Ask God where he is working that you can be a part and take action.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Here's Where I am Today

I had a friend ask me how in the world one can have peace in such a crazy time of year. Good question! About three weeks before Christmas, my Sister-in-law begins waking up wide away before 5.30 thinking of all that needs done. Another friend will be moving nonstop from now through New Year's as she welcomes family from far away. This can be a crazy time!

I've finally started to actually FEEL the anticipation today. There IS something to this time of year. And I almost think some of the craziness is part of it. It's almost like on Christmas Eve, we stop, inhale, and remember what this amazing time of year is all about.

It's hard for me to navigate through the true meaning of this season and the commercialism of it all. I feel a little like I'm taking it a step at a time. I know that relationships are key - our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with those around us. My focus this season has become my family. Throughout much of this year, they have kind of gotten the shaft. I'm trying to take this time to learn to focus on them in a more consistent way.

Today Paige and I will wrap presents together. She has been DYING to start wrapping. I can't wait either - just to spend the time together. Then tonight my dad and I will take our annual stocking-shopping trip - stuff for 28 stockings - talk about crazy. I can't remember when we started it, but it's a tradition I look forward to every year.

Advent Action: Think of one person who could really use a visit, call or card from you and take time to make contact.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An Advent Evening

We've been doing this thing lately that I just love. Each evening my girls - Liz & Paige - 14 & 12 - come in and hang out on our bed for a while watching tv before bed. Maybe it's a Charlie Brown Special or House..whatever seems appropriate for the night. We didn't really plan this hanging out time, it has just sort of happened and I LOVE it. I remember when the girls were little and bedtimes were SO important because I was just so drained by that time of night. Nowadays, I'm still tired at night, but they are who I want to be with. I wonder when it shifted from needing a break 'from them' to wanting a break 'with them.'

Last night was Heartland's Christmas Concert. This concert is one of the highlights of my year. Paige sang beautifully - yes I could pick her out of the zillions of voices - I'm a mom:)

Several things made the evening particularly special.
1. I was able to hear the story of a new friend of mine who has had a rough couple of years. Her husband had a brain tumor and WOW.... One of the things she told me about was the Christmas when they had nothing - that is until 'Santa' showed up at the door with gifts for everyone. She said they cried through each and every present. If you ever wonder if your generosity is making a difference, let me just say, it is.

2. Next I was pleasantly surprised that Steve made it to the concert. I didn't realize how much I missed him until I saw his face. It was great to have that time together.

3. Paige and I went for our annual - after program ice cream - although this time we went for hot chocolate at the Dutch Village Inn. We saw the BOB guys there - I love watching the BOB guys gather. It's a group of men who want to be together, figuring out what it means to follow cool. We also saw a new friend there, Carol, and another precious friend, Chel....which leads to number 4:

4. At the program, I saved seats for Dave & Brenda. One of the things that I have prayed for for a few years now is to be a part of a geographically feasible community. I've benefitted from a lot of small groups in my lifetime, but I've often thought that God was wanting me to be a part of something where the group was made up of people who live near each other and see each other on a regular basis - during the ins and outs of daily life. Last night was an example of those connections. We are praying about where we feel God is leading us and what good things he wants us to be involved in in the coming year.

God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God. Psalm 53.2

Advent Action: Continue seeking. Ask God to show you where he is breaking in on your life right now. Remember that when God breaks in, there is usually action that needs to follow on your part. Remember Moses. Remember Mary.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent Day 17 Do you love me?

Check out this excerpt from "The Return of the Prodigal Son," by Henri Nouwen.
At issue here is the question: "To whom do I belong? To God or to the world?"...As long as I keep running about asking "Do you love me? Do you really love me?" I give all the power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with "ifs." The words says: "Yes, I love you IF you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you IF you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you IF you produce much, sell much, and buy much."

There are endless "ifs" hidden in the world's love. These "ifs" enslave me, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world's love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain "hooked" to the world - trying, failing, and trying again.

Prayer: Lord, let the doubts hidden behind the question "Do you love me?" disappear as we advance through this Advent. Strengthen us to observe lovingly your commandments and precepts. Let openness to your love be the watchword of our hearts. Amen.

Advent Action: Spend the day in a conscious effort to comprehend the fact that you are God's beloved. Banish the "ifs" - the conditions that bar our confidence in God's love.

I can't think of superficial/worldly love without thinking of this song. Feel free to enjoy or ignore:) I think Paul had some sort of head-tilt quota for this video.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
Psalm 145.18-19

There was this day I experienced about 6 years ago. It was during a time of unbelievable stress. Steve and I had moved to a new town in Florida. We were learning to live with heart disease. The girls were in a new school. There were financial issues to handle. And the list could go on and on.

On this one day in particular, I had driven from our new home in Bradenton back up to Clearwater to go to the dentist. On my way home I was feeling unbelievably overwhelmed. I was at the end of my rope and it seemed these struggles would never end. I was just about to cross the skyway bridge and I remember telling the Lord, "I just can't handle it anymore. I can't go on like this. I don't want to die, but I can't go on." It was one of the most desperate feelings I had ever experienced.

So, freaky thing happened. I flipped on the radio and happened upon a radio preacher (something I don't normally do). The preacher said my words right back to me - verbatim. He said, "if you are at the end of your rope and you just can't handle it anymore, and you can't go on.......that's where God can use you..." He went on to say a bunch of other stuff, but what I remember is pulling off the road at the fishing pier because my tears prevented me from seeing. God was real. He heard my cry. He met me where I was. He heard my cry and saved me. That day is burned into my memory. I went from feeling totally alone to knowing I wasn't alone at all.

Advent Action: Reminisce in your mind about a time when God was there for you and heard your cry. If you haven't experienced that, begin to pray that God would show you his face.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Doubt It

I've been a part of church since before I could remember and yet I doubt.

I've asked and received forgiveness of sins and yet I doubt.

I have heard of miracles from people I respect and yet I doubt.

I have been a part of the miracle of life and yet I doubt.

I have seen miracles IN MY OWN FAMILY and yet I doubt.

I have experience God-given revelation and yet I doubt.

I have experienced God's intervening in my darkest moments and yet I doubt.

I have felt God's unmistakable presence and yet I doubt.

I could sit here in guilt over my unbelief. I could pretend like I don't doubt. I could play a game and put on a good face. And maybe that would make people feel more comfortable. But I can't do it.

I know that at the time of Jesus' birth there had been 400 years of silence from God. 400 Years! I don't know what to do with that any more than I know what to do with God's silence in my own life. But here is the choice I have made today. I choose to keep seeking. I echo the prayer, "Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief." I am waiting for God to break in. I am waiting for the Messiah to come.

I am a girl needing a Savior.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Advent Weekend Three - Joy is Coming

It's such a paradox that the closer we get to the arrival of Christ in the flesh, the busier our days become: shopping, gathering with family, business Christmas parties...and on and on. The following pray helps me reset my heart and mind.

"Lord, help us to rein in all the distractions to you. Let us truly listen to your requests. Keep us from the shortsighted absurdity of bestowing our attention on the wrong things. Amen."

Advent Action: There WILL come times in life when we are at a loss for words to pray. Memorize a prayer (such as the 23rd Psalm) that you feel will be helpful to you in times of trouble.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent Day 12

An Advent Prayer

"Lord, you have revealed your love to me by coming into this world as a helpless child, human in all except sin. Let me respond to this great gift of love by making your love a reality in this world. Keep me rooted in your love and let me flower into a new person transformed by the giving and receiving of your grace. Amen"

Advent Action: Often we remain so mired in the perceived sadness of the "old tapes" running through our heads that we cannot acknowledge God's love for us. Pick one "old tape"; a resentment, a belittlement, a loss, and pack it away permanently in exchange for the shelter of a loved and loving God.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Would I tell YOU?

God says (as paraphrased by E. Peterson),
"If I get hungry, do you think I'd tell you?
All creation and its bounty are mine.
Do you think I feast on venison?
or drink draughts of goats' blood?
Spread for me a banquet of praise,
serve High God a feast of kept promises,
And call for help when you're in trouble—
I'll help you, and you'll honor me."

Some would say "always be on call for God." Be ready to drop whatever you're doing and do what needs to be done. I guess I would rather say "always be in tune with God." I know that following God will lead us out of our comfortable lives, but it is following God that takes us - not all the need we see around us.

I get concerned when I see people jumping in to meet every need they see. I also get concerned when I see people sitting on their duff doing nothing....Lest is seem as though I am sitting here in judgement....These two extremes are where I often see myself, so as I write, I write to ME most of all.

Following Christ is a package deal. We follow Christ and are a part of the Church. We have access to the Father through the Son. We are called to use that access. We are called to seek Him - and that's not a process you can microwave. We are also called to journey with others, so we pursue friendship - again, not a microwavable venture. Lastly, we are called to make a difference in the world. Maybe today that means fighting oppression for someone who is unable to fight; maybe tomorrow it means a smile and conversation. It's impossible to say what it looks like on a day to day basis, I think staying connected to God (who does not NEED us, but chooses us) is the key. So how do you do that?

Advent Action: Evaluate your pattern for seeking God. Do you have a good balance of quiet, community and mission? Where can you make changes?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Advent Tuesday, December 9th

I was talking with a friend at a basketball game last night. She and I were commiserating that we have not bought one Christmas gift yet. I just can't seem to get into it this year. So as I was watching tv last night and they mentioned that there are only 17 days left, I felt a panicky feeling go through me. I know these upcoming days will be filled before I know it. My prayer is that I keep in tune with God's heart as I move forward. I want to see him in the everyday. I long for new meaning.

"Advent is about waiting and wanting. All of the Advent people are waiting - Zechariah and Elizabeth are waiting, Mary and Joseph are waiting, Simeon and Anna are waiting. We are invited to wait, to want. We are invited to get in touch with our longing for someone or something to come along and bring new meaning into our lives.

Jesus, God made man, was born in ordinary surroundings so there is no need to look for the extraordinary, the spectacular or the miraculous during Advent. God can be found where we live; in our kitchens, at our tables, in our places of work, in each others' faces. There was no prior publicity regarding his coming, no expensive advertising, no claim to privilege, just a silent, humble entry. Jesus' coming into any life will be similar. Be ready to be surprised. We tend to look for Jesus everywhere, except in the place where the incarnation took place: our flesh. Incarnation means, taking flesh, and by taking flesh, Christ crawled into ordinary life and invites us to meet Him there."

Advent Action: The letters to the early church are so encouraging. Take some time to send a letter to a friend who could benefit from your encouraging words.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Advent Entry, Monday, December 8th

Sacred Space
When John the Baptist heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" (Matthew 11:2-11). There is real comfort in this story. John the Baptist, the powerful, austere man who held such a sway among the Jews, still had his moments of darkness. Imprisoned in Herod's dungeon, he wondered, "Am I a fool? Is this all there is? Was I wrong about Jesus?" He does not just brood on the question. He sends messengers to Jesus. Jesus does not send back reassurances; he just asks the messengers to open their eyes and see the evidence of Jesus' life.

Lord, in my moments of doubt and darkness, may I fill my eyes with you. Are you the one, Lord? I am staking my life on it. I am not waiting for anyone else. Politicians, gurus and celebrities come and go, with promises and new solutions, but I am sticking with you. You show me how to make this world better, by tackling suffering and sickness, and reaching out to the unfortunate. In my doubts and difficulties I fill my eyes with the sight of you, your person and your works.

Advent Action: As we walk with God and pay attention, our faith grows. Take some time to write three examples of God's faithfulness to you.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Second Sunday of Advent

Psalm 24
Of David. A psalm.
1 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;

2 for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.

3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ?
Who may stand in his holy place?

4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false. [a]

5 He will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God his Savior.

6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob. [b]

7 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.

9 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

10 Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Advent Day 7

Words from Nouwen regarding the False Self:
"The two main enemies of the spiritual life (are) anger and greed. They are the inner side of a secular life, the sour fruits of our worldly dependencies. What else is anger than the impulsive response to the experience of being deprived? When my sense of self depends on what others say of me, anger is a quite natural reaction to a critical word. And when my sense of self depends on what I can acquire, greed flares up when my desires are frustrated. Thus greed and anger are the brother and sister of a false self fabricated b the social compulsions of an unredeemed world..."

Lord, renew our minds. Help us to find our TRUE identity in you. Help us to see beyond this world and all that seems to distract. Help us find ourselves in the shelter and safety of your wings. Amen

Advent Action: Consider forgoing all the world's distractions for a day; television, telephone, internet, negative comments about anyone, music in the car, busy work of any kind, reading magazines, etc... Replace that time with meditating on God''s word.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I love Liz - Advent 6

My goal yesterday was to just to listen to God...

We had a disagreement. Actually, we disagreed from 2.45p to 4.45p. Sometimes I don't know how it happens. There is this girl that I love with the protective love only a mom possesses and yet there are times...

We were both in the wrong. We disagreed - loudly.

After she went to her room, I sat at the table. So much for sensing God's leading. I began to pray. Why can't following Christ be less messy? I guess because then we wouldn't need God.

Mysteriously God stepped in. Anger gone. Apologies made. Relationship mended.

I love my girl. And I am thankful that God is leading our lives.

Advent Action: It is said that the original Christmas tree grew out of an evergreen that was part of the setting for the medieval moraity plays acted out on the steps of churches. This tree was used to represent the garden of Eden. Consider creating a small tree on which you place apples (or their representation) to remind you of the failings you wish to avoid this Advent period. The apples, of course, stand for the fruit of the tree of good and evil with which Satan tempted Adam and Eve.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Advent Day 5

This weekend at New Hope Paul will be teaching about Mary's role in the kingdom. I love this story. I love that God chooses to use VERY ordinary people to be a part of what he is doing. I think a lot of times I miss it. I think a lot of times I go through what I think is just an ordinary day and I am unaware of how God is using me or wants to use me.

Today, I am simply trying to listen.

Advent Action: This Advent, be generous in your prayers for others and their well being.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Advent Day 4

Advent Action: Find a scriptural motto to add to your Advent preparation calendar. Hold these words in your heart each day.

Luke 8.16-17
But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Advent 3 God is Amazing & Worthy of Trust

Psalm 33

Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord;
it is fitting for the pure to praise him.
Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre;
make music for him on the ten-stringed harp.
Sing a new song of praise to him;
play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.
For the word of the Lord holds true,
and we can trust everything he does.
He loves whatever is just and good;
the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.

The Lord merely spoke,
and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
and all the stars were born.
He assigned the sea its boundaries
and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
Let the whole world fear the Lord,
and let everyone stand in awe of him.
For when he spoke, the world began!
It appeared at his command.

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations
and thwarts all their schemes.
But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever;
his intentions can never be shaken.

What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord,
whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.

The Lord looks down from heaven
and sees the whole human race.
From his throne he observes
all who live on the earth.
He made their hearts,
so he understands everything they do.
The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
for all its strength, it cannot save you.

But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
those who rely on his unfailing love.
He rescues them from death
and keeps them alive in times of famine.

We put our hope in the Lord.
He is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in you alone.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Advent 2 -The Root of Patience

Matthew 6:31-33 (The Message)
If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

"The French author Simone Weil writes in her notebook: "Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life." Without patience our expectation degenerates into wishful thinking. Patience comes from the word "patior" which means "to suffer."...What seems a hindrance becomes a way; what seems an obstacle becomes a door; what seems a misfit becomes a cornerstone." Henri JM Nouwen, Out of Solitude

It's always kind of freaky when God speaks right into my world. As little as 12 hours ago, I was writing in my journal about what I 'wished.' My wishes primarily run along the lines of comfort, happiness, laughter. With today's light of day, I see the wisdom in being patient. Maybe those things I wish for will be replaced by deeper realities - contentment, joy, hope.

I want to be an active person of patience. Advent Action: Prepare the way of Christmas by making an Advent calendar of proposed contributions of service to others or positive changes in your own spiritual life. Remember to leave room for God's input.