teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name... psalm 86:11

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


This past Sunday marked the beginning of the Advent season… and I have to be honest- I don’t think I’ve ever really truly paid much attention to the significance of this tradition. Shocker, I know, coming from the pastor’s wife, the one who has worked at churches in some capacity for the past ten years. This year is different though, and I’m finding myself intrigued…

Maybe it’s because this year I’m removed from the busyness and chaos of being “church staff”- the many hours of planning events, services, activities and then having to actually attend said events, services, and activities… there’s been a space created that I’ve missed for a long time… a space of reflection and quietness as we prepare for Christmas…

Really, though, I think my intrigue of Advent stems from something I read recently. Words that described the heart of the season, but also echoed the heart of my own life season… there’s a parallel that drew me in…

“Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning. Advent is the question, the pleading... Advent says the baby is coming, but he isn't here yet, that hope is on its way, but the yearning is still very real... Advent allows us to tell the truth about what we're grieving, without giving up on the gorgeous and extravagant promise of Christmas, a baby on his way.”
-Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

Advent is joyful hope and restless longing mixed together in this beautiful way that only makes sense through the lens of faith. I relate to the waiting, anticipating, yearning… for God to act, to move, to speak… and yet I share too in the sense of resting in God’s promises, walking in the hope and joy of what is just beyond the horizon.

And that joy… that unexplainable, overflowing joy that is a gift of God… was the first candle lit this week as we began this Advent path. It reminds me of the words Peter spoke in his first sermon: “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” {Acts 2:28}  Joy in His presence… only possible because He who is infinite and incomprehensible chose to enter our world and become tangible… become Immanuel, God with us. And this is what we celebrate on Christmas.

So this year I’m challenging myself to embrace the invitation of the season… the invitation to, in Shauna’s words, “Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found…”

What an incredible God we serve.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

thankfulness & denial...

In this long weekend of giving thanks, it was fitting that my reading picked up at Mark 14… describing the Last Supper. We are told to take and eat and remember, as modeled in this Last Supper, whenever believers gather for the Eucharist… with bread and wine… and I say it’s fitting because “Eucharist” quite literally means, “to give thanks.”

So I pause and give thanks- for Jesus, for the way He makes beauty from messes, for the way He loves, and for the grace I receive from His work on the cross. I pray I would remember the weight of this and never become immune to His story or the sight of His cross.

As Jesus and his disciples gathered to celebrate this Passover meal, I imagine it was similar to the excitement and festivity that we all experienced Thanksgiving night. The meal had significance in that it was a time of looking back on God’s faithfulness and provision, thanking Him for the ways He’s blessed them and protected them. They had certain foods that were traditional to eat at this meal… probably not pumpkin pie, but I’m sure it was delightful just the same…

Jesus put a damper on the mood a bit, though, when he told the group at the table that one of them was going to betray him in a major way that night. Suddenly everyone was on edge, making sure to point out their loyalty and that surely it wouldn’t be them. More so than the others, Peter was adamant that He would never forsake Jesus. When Jesus responded by specifically telling Peter that he would deny Jesus three times that very night, Peter spoke from his heart that he would rather die than disown his relationship with him…

Jesus was being gracious here, I think, because as I read on Peter denies Jesus more than just the three times we typically hear about…

- As Jesus spends his final hours praying in the garden of Gethsemane, so distraught that he is sweating blood, he asked the three closest to him, Peter included, to keep watch and pray with him… and three times Peter fell asleep instead of holding vigil with his desperate friend.

- Then when Judas and the mob showed up to arrest Jesus, there is a brief altercation as told in the other gospels, but eventually “everyone deserted [Jesus] and fled” (v.50)… everyone including Peter.

- The chapter ends with the other three denials that Jesus had predicted earlier in the evening. Three bold questions of whether Peter was one of Jesus’ followers… and three blatant answers that he was not.

Here’s the thing… I can identify with Peter. In my excitement and passion I make lofty statements and bold proclamations of how I wish to live my life for Jesus… but then, like Peter, I so often give into my flesh and my fear. I will sing songs and pray prayers of how I will do anything for the glory of His name… and then when opportunities arise I let my own desires or doubts get the best of me.

But the hope I have is this- even though the only consistent things about Peter were his tendency to speak too quickly and bail out when things got uncomfortable, God still used him as the vessel through which His church was organized and the gospel was spread. If God can use Peter as a pillar of establishing His church, maybe just maybe He can use me too. And this is another thing that I am deeply thankful for…

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

a prayer for kindred souls...

When I began this crazy task of writing a blog a few months back, I didn’t really know what the experience would look like. My honest intentions weren’t to gain a following or be recognized in any way… I just wanted a way to process some of what I was learning and possibly be a glimmer of encouragement to whoever might read these pages.

And here’s what I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find… there’s a lot of people out there just like me.

I’ve been blessed to “meet” people through their blogs and linkups {I didn’t even know what those were until two months ago!}… and they have so much wisdom and insight to share, so much love and encouragement to pour on people like me. Sounds creepy, I know, like I’m this little online stalker… well, I guess I kinda am… but if you’re here reading this, then you probably are too!

And these people… who I have never met in person, but I feel like I know a piece of their heart… they are who I thought of when I began reading Ephesians this morning. Because I know we all have a similar struggle. We read a lot… and allow ourselves to reflect, be inspired, grow convicted, be challenged… we constantly take in, desiring to grow and influence and bring the most glory to God that we possibly can… but sometimes it’s just a lot, and we need to settle and just be. I was reminded by Steph that sometimes we need to just breathe.

So to the few blogger buddies I’ve come across so far… I pray you can stop for a moment and let Paul’s prayer settle on your heart and your mind, your stress and your anxiousness, your hopes and your joys… today, I echo this prayer for you:

“When I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn't stop thanking God for you. Every time I prayed, I'd think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask— ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!"
-eph 1:15-19 (msg)

Monday, November 21, 2011

one foot in front of the other...

Highlights of the weekend:
decorating for Christmas and indulging in a Caramel Brulee Latte…

Not so favorite moment of the weekend:
running a practice 10k to prepare for Thursday’s Run for the Hungry…

Here’s the deal- I made a “30 before 30” list, and 29 of the 30 things to do were of my own accord. But Number 5… the one that says “run a 10k”… that was ALL my husband’s doing. Truth is, I hate despise (is there a stronger word than despise?!) running. I’m all for being active… as long as it’s in any form other than just plain old running. I started “training” two months ago… which lasted about 4 weeks. Now here we are days away and I’m not sure if I can do this.

So on Saturday we set out to do a practice run… I was good the first mile… my problem was with the five that came after! Literally, by mile marker 2.5 I was having a conversation in my head that shouldn’t be repeated… In a nutshell- I wanted to quit. I was tired, annoyed, didn’t see the point of all this. In the process and the struggle, though, there was a lesson to be had (isn’t there always?!)…

The lesson was this- just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Initially I thought this just had significance with running… but then Sunday night we got an email closing the door on something that we had been really hopeful for. I was instantly overcome with discouragement and defeat again. I’m exhausted from not knowing, from all the dead ends, the feeling like we’re getting nowhere. Then I heard it again…

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ve been dwelling on this phrase since, trying to figure out what that means for life and faith and me & M… and this morning I was reminded of Psalm 119:105…“Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”

The path of life can be hard and long… and often we desire for God to point a giant flood light down our path so we can see everything between here and eternity… we want to know it all and know it now- where we're heading, the purposes along the way. We want specifics because let’s be honest, journeying down the dark, uncharted path of unknowns can feel daunting. And while God doesn’t give us that all-illuminating flood light, he DOES give us a lamp, through His word and His spirit. The Hebrew word used in Psalm 119:105 means a small handheld lantern… the kind that only provided enough light to see right in front of you.

Here’s the picture this verse paints- we walk hand in hand with God through life… us and our lamp… and He allows us to see just barely one step ahead from where we’re standing. We have the choice to focus on everything we can’t see or that which we can… we’re invited to step into that light, into His presence, and with that one step of faith comes enough light to see just a little bit more. The only way for us to not be frozen in life and faith, is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, stepping into the little bit of light before us.

So this is what I’m learning, whether in running or in life or any other journey before me, that I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other… even when I’m frustrated and discouraged… even when things don’t make sense… leaning into the promises of God and the knowledge of His love for me, I will keep going one step at a time.

May we find hope from the God who desires to lead us with His light… and may we find courage to trust Him and step into where His light is guiding us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

a work in progress...

There’s been a reoccurring theme this past week amongst conversations, readings, and my own crazy little world… letting go of perfectionist tendencies. Releasing ourselves from the pressure of our seemingly unending to-do list. Freeing ourselves from our own expectations of having it all together, all the time. Learning to give ourselves grace… and room to breathe… and permission to say no…

This battle resonates deeply with me, I know it well. In all these discussions I keep hearing the taunt of Matthew 5:48- “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This verse is like crack for people like me… a challenge to keep going going going and doing doing doing, always striving, never ceasing… but that’s not what Jesus intended these words to mean.

Isn’t that so like Satan to twist words that were meant to encourage & bring life and turn them into a burden, another chore that weighs us down?

I opened my Bible to this verse today and was reminded of grace as I read old notes written in the margins of the page. An arrow from the word perfect to my own scribbling… “the Greek word teleois means complete, full-grown, developing.” But how can you be both complete and still developing? Welcome to the paradox of faith, the mystery of sanctification.

In Christ… we are complete, we are whole, we are perfect. Our scarlet sins & failings have been made white as snow. We are new creations, welcomed to participate in the eternal kingdom of our Father without a second thought. This has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with Him.

Yet in ourselves… we are still developing, still growing and learning. We are a work in progress, battling a war between our spirit and our flesh. So even in this invitation to become more in line with the heart of God, He allows grace for the journey.

If we read this verse in the context of the words prefacing it, it’s really a call to love as God loves… to love as fully and generously as perfectly as He does, without false motives of what we can get in return. THIS is the true invitation of Matthew 5:48.

So we learn to release our expectations for ourselves… we are reminded that our value comes from who we are as a child of God, not how perfectly manicured our lives appear. We are not failures if we didn’t carry out every good intention… we are still His beloved, and we’re learning slowly but surely how to allow our hearts to be shaped like His.  We are all a work in progress...


Thursday, November 3, 2011

come to the table...

I’ve shared a little bit already in other blogs, but this past year has been a unique season in my life… it’s been a time of transition, of stepping back and resting, of evaluating and regrouping... One of the biggest changes for me from the life I had grown so used to is that it’s the first time in a decade I haven’t led a group of High School girls. My heart beats for these small group times… for the relationships built, the discussions had, the laughter shared, the prayers offered… it’s what brings my heart joy.

By being removed from this environment, I feel like I’ve been able to reflect on what exactly it is I “do” in these ministry settings… Certain scriptures have come to light in new ways and settled different in me now that I’m still enough to process their significance for me.

Like today, I was reading a familiar passage in Mark 7... it started with an argument between the Pharisees and Jesus about the disciples not washing their hands before they eat… I mean, really?! (Obviously, there are cultural and religious implications that run deeper than the surface would suggest) In response, Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 to them:

“These people {the Pharisees} come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

It’s easy to gang up on the Pharisees and point the finger at them for their ridiculous legalism, but that last little part of what Jesus said caught my eye and got me thinking… what if empty traditions and hollow actions were all they were ever taught? What if all they were shown by their leaders is how to go through the motions of faith, without ever actually experiencing the heart behind these traditions? These are convicting questions for a person who's been in a teaching position...

So what does this look like for today? Teaching that focuses on behavior modification rather than Jesus- instructing others on how to play church and follow the rules of being “good”… but neglecting to communicate the big picture- the heart of God, the undiluted gospel. Sometimes we as teachers get so caught up in fixing the outside that we forget it’s more important for God to do work on the inside. We need to be reminded… I need to be reminded… that true grace allows for faith that looks a little rough around the edges sometimes.  It’s more important to teach those listening to us how amazing it is to eat a meal with Jesus, than to rebuke them for not washing their hands before they eat.

Being a communicator of God’s truth is not an easy task… we’re reminded repeatedly in scripture that this role should not be taken lightly. I was encouraged this week by another verse that seems to be the perfect prayer to follow this thought up with:

“Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well,
discerning the difference between good and evil.
For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?"
~1 kings 3:9

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

but even if he does not...

For me, one of the most challenging accounts in scripture is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego during their exile in Babylon {Daniel 3}. The whole story is really quite incredible… describing persecution that is hard to relate to, here in the States anyways… and their response to the accusations against their faith is inspiring. But the part that gets me every time… like a punch to my gut… comes from just six little words that they utter before the king…

“But even if he does not…”

These words follow their boasts of the goodness of our God, His mighty power, His ability to deliver from even the most horrific of scenarios. They proclaimed that God Almighty would save them from the blazing hot furnace that was awaiting them. Bold words… but what they said next was even bolder in my opinion…

“But even if he does not…”

This was their last battle cry… What could have been their final words, their final legacy… The heartfelt declaration that even if God chose not to answer their prayers and save them from this tragic situation, they would still worship Him alone and cling to their faith in Him until their final breath. Theirs was a faith that rested not on personal circumstances, but on the character of God. Belief that He is who He says He is.

“But even if he does not…”

Right now there’s something big looming before my husband and I… it’s nowhere near the magnitude of a death sentence like our 3 friends in Daniel… and it’s not even something bad- it’s actually the potential of something really GOOD! I find myself praying a lot about it, pleading before the Lord for this thing that M and I want so desperately. But our theme has been to pray with open hands… because whether or not this good thing comes to fruition, we still want to be able to say with sincere hearts that God is good and that God is able. We don’t want faith so wrapped up in our circumstances that we lose heart in God when we lose heart in life.

So I keep praying…
With open hands…
But even if He does not answer these prayers…
I will still worship Him.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

not about being right...

I secretly cringe sometimes when people ask me what my major was in college… not because I’m embarrassed or regret it… but because it tends to transition into awkward conversation regardless of whom I’m speaking with. I have my degree in Biblical Studies, with an emphasis in Exposition… which apparently means I’m an arrogant Bible-thumper secretly judging everyone around me (*I’m not*) and/or I REALLY love to debate theology (*I don’t*). It’s interesting how this one book can elicit such a range of reactions in people… we're talking the WHOLE spectrum…

This weekend at church we discussed how the attitude with which we approach this book can have deep implications for our spiritual lives, and how sometimes we don’t even realize the faulty views of scripture we align ourselves with. There were analogies of people treating it like a fortune cookie, a magic 8 ball, a law book, a text book, a Rorschach test, a paddle we swat people with… the metaphors were endless… but safe to say, at least one of them resonated with each person there. It’s good to evaluate our view of God’s Word. I think it can be a litmus test for our perception of who God is and the healthiness of our faith.

It’s said in 2 Timothy that the holy scriptures are God-breathed. A unique description of God’s Word. This word picture brings us back to the beginning when God created earth and man and everything in between… and how Adam was just a pile of dirt until God breathed his breath into him. With God’s breath comes life and spirit and purpose. It’s the same with what’s written in The Bible- that same divine breath that’s in us is alive in scripture too... this is why something in us is stirred and awakened if we allow ourselves to engage with God’s words!

The writer of Hebrews understood this… he says that the Word of God is alive and active- it’s not just empty words. They have relevance and power. He relates scripture to a sharp sword before which we are uncovered and exposed. Apparently, these words in the original Greek were the same words used to describe animals laid out before being sacrificed and gladiators about to be killed by their opponent. They have the connotation of complete and utter vulnerability, a matter of life or death.

BUT… and this is what I love… right after it says this in Hebrews, the writer says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence…” We have no need to live in fear or guilt or shame… the only need we have is for the grace of Jesus which He wants to shower on us.

The repeated phrase of the morning at church was that “The Bible is not about being right, but about righting relationships (with God and with others).” The theme woven throughout the pages of The Bible is one of redemption and reconciliation. It's meant to bring hope and light... not argue people into the ground. God's words should be treated with humility, not pride.

My prayer for myself… and whoever else may read this… is that we would develop a passion for God’s Word and allow it to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us so that we might be thoroughly equipped… not to argue or lecture people into the kingdom of God… but to love them and serve them, that they might desire to know our Jesus too…