Monthly Archives: December 2013

Whispers of God

It’s the morning of Christmas Eve, and I’m the only one up.  Tears stream as I watch Godvine videos. When I have tears like this, there’s usually a deep truth to acknowledge.

IMG_1249On Godvine, I watched a skinny “Santa” giving coats, gloves, hugs, and bowls of soup to the homeless.  A  choir sings Christmas hymns in a mall, ending with O Holy Night and scores of shoppers kneeling before Mary, Joseph and Jesus as they walk into the gathered crowd. Even a pit bull puppy was in my teary-video mix. It seems this rambunctious dog has a compassionate gift. He spends days in a veterinary hospital and naturally snuggles with other animals who are suffering.

I can’t help but make comparisons. Jesus — do I have anything to offer? How can I share You with a hurting world? in my home? with my friends? in my city? Where do you want me, and how can I best reveal You? I feel inept, like I am letting You down, Jesus. Like I am missing my mark or wasting my life. I softly sob. I want to be different, like those on the videos. They share You through their lives, and people feel loved, encouraged, joyful. What is my gift, Jesus? How is it that I can share Your love? Share You, Jesus?

The following  quotes from writers much more eloquent than I pour into my soul this morning.

“You are most prepared for Christmas when you are done trying to make your performance into the gift — and instead revel in His *presence* as the Gift.” Ann Voskamp

John Wesley died with the words, “The best of all is, God is with us” on his tongue. These words could beat joy in our hearts on a night like this.”
IMG_2607Ann Voskamp “is a broken, weary sinner who joins a weary world rejoicing that Jesus is coming, that Love comes down —  that there is the deep relief that Christmas and Christ, our only hope, is coming and this the most glorious news that has ever really happened.”
My prayer: What is the answer, Jesus? I am painting and writing. I am sharing myself, and what you have done in me. In this casual blog writing, I don’t feel at my best. I’m better at a more formal and less vulnerable style. But I know, You are the gift, Jesus! It is not about me at all. Please help me to simply give. To follow you and your nudge to me. Help me to trust you.
We’re at the Christmas Eve service, singing “In the Bleak of Midwinter.” This line jumps off the page, “What can I give Him poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what can I give Him — give Him my heart.” There’s my answer — the one I knew all along, but so quickly forget.
IMG_2703It’s December the 26th, and God wants to be sure I heard Him. Today’s devotional added a final stamp to God’s Christmas message to me.  I can’t sing or dance. I’m not really remarkable at much. I’m a very ordinary person, with everyday type talents. Like the widow in Mark you could call me “impoverished” in the talents-that-encourage-and-move-people category. But I know and love Jesus, and He loves me. He is with me always. And that is all I need to do what He purposes for me. Now, if only I will remember.
Today’s devotional follows:

December 26, 2013

Quiet Devotion

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

In Mark, Jesus makes note of the actions of a simple widow:

[The Lord] sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41-44).

While many people came to the temple, hoping to be seen and to make an offering that would bring awe and approval, this humble widow gave all she had to the Lord—seeking only to worship Him and to be found faithful in His eyes. She was not caught up in the trappings of her society. Nor did she wonder what others thought of her. Her only thought was to obey the Lord and to demonstrate her love for Him.

In fact, this woman probably knew that if the temple leaders saw her meager offering, they would scowl, but she knew God would bless her obedience and quiet devotion.

Is the attitude of your heart set on the Savior, or do you compare yourself to others and strive to do what appears right from the world’s perspective? God has a different grading scale. It is one of grace and infinite love. When the motivation of your heart is right, you will sense His good pleasure and blessing. All that you do will glorify Him, and He will guard your heart and mind with His mercy and grace.

Prayer: Lord, my purpose in this world is to love You with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. You are worthy of my devotion. Continue to search my heart so that I will be only Yours. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.


“guest post” on the Duck thing

I’ve never watched Duck Dynasty, but as a Southern girl, I’d probably like it if I did. I also haven’t read a lot about Phil’s recent issue with A&E, but you can’t be online at all without seeing the subject light up cyberspace. This post is not about what Phil should or should not have said to a reporter.

A Facebook friend of mine reposted Jen Hatmaker’s recent blog post giving another perspective on how Christians might respond around inflammatory subjects.  Well-intentioned Christians taking a hard-line are not necessarily “wrong.” But perhaps it’s worth considering what’s my heart’s motivation? Which of our responses best reveals and reflects Jesus? Should we respond the same to to other Christians as we do to strangers who do not know Christ? Jen’s message was articulate and eloquent. It so closely mirrors the heart of my Christmas blog,  I wanted to share it here.

By the way, I don’t see either message as being at all incompatible with speaking the truth in love — to believers or non believers. I don’t believe in a watered down Gospel. To me, it’s about leading with love, and hopefully, earning the opportunity to share my relationship with Jesus (especially how he’s saved me and continues to work in my sinful life). We want to actually be heard by the open heart and mind of another. Thank you, Jen — for expressing what I was thinking with so much grace and wisdom.

The Duck Thing: Is There Another Way?
by Jen Hatmaker on December 21st, 2013
 I know. No one needs to spill any more ink over the Duck Dynasty Debacle. I’m barely online these days, and even I was saturated with the crazy. A quick scroll through Facebook revealed about an 85% DD preoccupation in my feed, whether it was for, against, or that uber cool other response: “I don’t even care.” (But I will go ahead and make that my status…sic.)
Maybe just bear with me for five more minutes, okay?
As many have mentioned, this is clearly not a First Amendment issue. Phil had every right to say whatever he wanted. He could take issue with any people group or demographic on earth, right into a microphone. This isn’t North Korea where the wrong public statement lands you in prison. Or dead. Freedom of speech means you are free to speak. The end.It does not mean you are free from consequences. Isn’t this obvious?This swings both ways, folks. I’ve been unhired from an event for things I’ve said publicly, because they made a Christian organization uncomfortable. Those things were well within my rights to say, and that group had every right to can me for them. That’s how things work. If you are getting paid to represent a church or network or brand, then the First Amendment does not protect your contract, only your freedom to speak your mind.In light of this Duck stuff, here is my little hope for our Christian tribe: May we be peacemakers, because Jesus cast blessings on that role. To me, that means making peace within the church and making peace with those outside of it. I think folks will know us by the love we show others, because the Bible is OBSESSED with that concept apparently. I hope we use our public words to build bridges, not reinforce caverns, because peacemaking is truly a blessed business, my favorite thing.  Specifically with issues that have caused such heartache and damage already like gay marriage and racial inequity, we should refuse to contribute to someone’s pain by speaking about them abstractedly, distantly, as if they aren’t real human beings whose lives bear actual repercussions of our casual public conversations. The sterile public sphere outside of the protective confines of relationships is not a safe place for such weighty discussions, and we should not add to the pile of condescending, degrading comments about real human people. These precious, fragile conversations belong among people who love one another, who’ve earned the right to be heard, who can look each other in the eye and listen with grace and humility.We are not judges, because how could we possibly be?? How dare we? What right do we have to cut someone to the quick when we are nothing but sinners saved by grace? Sanctification is Jesus’ territory, and we can safely leave Him to it; He can handle the human heart. Our only sane offering to our fellow man is mercy.Why are we here? I teach often about the Last Supper in Luke 22, when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine and commanded: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” A close study of the original language reveals a better translation: “Constantly make this real.” This sacrifice, this gospel, this love that saves the world…make this real for people.Do you know how many people are starving for real love? Real hope? Real mercy? This world is dark and lonely and suffering, and Jesus seemed to think the best course was to send disciples out who were willing to constantly make the kingdom real for people who were searching for something true.Jesus didn’t tell us to make the gospel right.He didn’t tell us to make it law.He told us to make it real.For me, this is the most extreme obedience to “biblical truth” I can imagine. I think of my gay and black friends watching the outcry this week, and I can’t help but think the gospel yet again feels like a bludgeon to them, not a real balm, a real grace, a real sanctuary. And the tragedy is, Jesus is the most real source of mercy in the history of time, and He loves us all with a fierce, indescribable love, and none of us deserve it any less than anyone else, and THAT is the shocking headline we should be proclaiming.

I don’t think God needs any of us to defend Him…I believe we are here to represent Him. I’m not worried about the kingdom, since Scripture seems to think it is “unshakeable.” God has managed to stay on his throne all this time, so we can go ahead and just let him be God. (For the record, I don’t think Phil fancied himself some valiant defender either…I think he was just being Phil. And these were just a few sentences taken out of a greater context, but in a viral world where every word matters, well, every word matters.)

As for me, I care deeply for all the watching eyes, waiting for something real, something that heals instead of wounds. I dream of a faith community that demonstrates a love so scandalous and embarrassing that only the foolish and the rejected and the misfits and the cynics will find any solace in it. My heart’s cry is that someone far outside the sphere of Christian endorsement might whisper, “Even me?” and be stunned by Jesus’ answer: “Always you.”

Because if we are only good news to each other, where will that leave the gospel in our generation? I know exactly what moral issues to declare so Christians will take up my cause and Defend Jen, but I don’t want your spiritual energy…I want us to care about this suffering world more than we care about our Christian rights. Our rights were secured on the cross; the discussion is over. No one can steal from us what Jesus already won for us. Rather, let’s take all our victory, our hope and love and share it. That’s the hill I’m going to die on, friends.

I’m going to choose love.

This is not a gray area. I’m telling you now that I will find a way to preach the scandalous love of Jesus in the face of any issue, demographic, or debate. I will insist on jerking a door open for dialogue with people who’ve been previously maligned by my faith. I will not reinforce the notion that anyone is less than, condemned, or left out, because if that is true, then my salvation is a lie. Because I love mercy for myself, I can’t help but love it for everyone else, and I won’t cheapen it by imagining that my grace is free but someone else’s must be earned. Jesus is the best news in history.

Not one heartache on earth will be solved with more judgment; this world needs more love. It is what saved us and still sets us free. It is the magic balm that soothes tensions, crosses divides, and creates safe spaces. Love is the only answer. May we become beacons of it, Church.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~Jesus


Christmas Opportunities

IMG_1256** click on the title to expand to entire text**

I was almost ready to hit the streets to finish my Christmas shopping, when visions of a Christmas blog danced in my head. I was compelled to type. Ministers say Easter and Christmas are the toughest sermons to prepare. Dare I say anything about Christmas?

I’m not coming from a place of believing I have it right — rather this post is written from the bottom of the trail, looking up at my “Christmas path,” contemplating how I might look differently at the holidays.

I question how well I’m actually celebrating Jesus’ birth. I’m spread thin and tired. Possibly spending too much. Not giving enough to the truly needy. Is all I am doing in the name of Christmas glorifying Jesus? Is it about Him at all?  Should I be “more focused” on Jesus now than in, say February or August?

IMG_1333We’ve seen the buttons:  “Jesus is the reason for the season.” True, for a Christian. But is the message effective? Even many sincere followers of Christ find December to be a tough time to squeeze in prayer and reading the Bible. Stress can rise as we prepare for the joys of seeing extended family, squeezing in one more event, and shopping…

We try to be extra jolly and bright, but it can be hard. Sometimes we resign ourselves to the merriment and set aside being with Jesus until the calm of winter. Or possibly we begin to resent the “secular side” of Christmas and all the  traditional “trappings” we can’t seem to escape. Some of us are lonely and just wish we could skip Christmas. Others hang Christmas trees upside down and stop exchanging any gifts — all in the name of keeping Christ in Christmas. The extreme even become possessive of the Christ child, and militant toward the non Christians who are participating in our holiday.

What if we took off the well-intentioned, but slightly preachy buttons that might alienate, and simply reminded ourselves that Jesus is the reason for life in every season! Christmas is fun. It’s just the date we choose to outwardly celebrate His birth.

We  know the Gospel is our joy and our responsibility to celebrate EVERY day.  What if we took the pressure off ourselves to be more attentive to Jesus in December? Isn’t that really our everyday privilege? What if we believed that Jesus really did come for everyone, and experienced  Christmas as a unique opportunity to be a little more bold in letting Jesus shine through us to others — to strangers, our families, believers and non believers alike? What if the joy of our Christmas boldness grew into the new year?

year-round decoration in my house
year-round decoration in my house

It is open season on Christ all year long. But at Christmastime, the average person is more tolerant and celebratory  — no matter what their faith. Most people on the street know Christmas originated in Jesus’ birth, so they’re a little more tolerant of our prayer and worship. They love Santa and gift-giving. They accept our offerings and enjoy our singing — even about the little child in Bethlehem. Most Americans wave white flags around Christmas. Everyone seems to want a little more goodwill toward men. “Christmas spirit” (whatever it’s  source) is contagious.

What an opportunity! Instead of letting others see us struggle within our ranks about how to celebrate and what “should not” be the center of the Christmas celebration, let them see that Jesus always reigns in our hearts! Christmas is a great opportunity to share the One we celebrate all year long.

They may not understand our faith, but they’re watching. We can give gifts of grace as well as wrapped packages, because we’re the children of our King! His abundance is ours! We can celebrate family as one of God’s most precious gifts. We can have fun and joyfully receive and celebrate the mystery of the Gospel as little children.

Hopefully, some will ask the reason for our joy, and give us an opportunity to tell them about the Jesus who is always with us — our personal Savior. We don’t have to make heroic or divisive efforts to be sure outsiders see we’re all about Jesus in December, because we constantly surrender and accept His grace by faith — usually in the quiet of our daily prayers. Jesus knows our hearts.

IMG_2597We don’t enter God’s kingdom through debate or problem-solving, but we receive it in faith as little children.  Maybe at Christmas we need to be less pious and scholarly. As we continually open our heart, mind and soul to Jesus, we can leave it to Him to create opportunities to reveal Himself to others through us — or not. How is Christmas different from any other time of year in this regard? Only in that others are watching more intently.

We as Christians are on the world’s stage whether we like it or not.  What are we saying? Let’s reflect Him. Let’s give gifts and make merry — all with the purpose, not of preaching, but of loving. Let’s open our hearts first to Him in intentional prayer and worship. Then, to each other and our neighbors. We have a golden opportunity to share our everyday friend and Savior, Jesus, with the watching world.

IMG_2565Just how we celebrate Christmas isn’t the point. Rather we join together at Christmas and everyday to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself”  as Luke 10:27 teaches. To be thankful. To praise Him and to share what He has done in our lives.

Let’s realize that “Christmas” might not be just for Christians, but also a God-given opportunity for us to enter the world of nonbelievers, with a hall pass to share our faith and our holiday freely and generously. We can have total faith that as we open our hearts to Him and to others, the Babe of Bethlehem will be with us, and He will appreciate our celebration.