Tag Archives: Christian

God Loves Celebrations: Part II

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

When I wrote the first post with this title, I thought I was finished with the subject. It turns out, I’m not. My last post was in light of a wedding I’d recently attended, and how amazing and God-honoring it was, how God must truly love celebrations of all kinds, and encourage His children to participate.

Now that Christmas has come and gone, and I’m exhausted with all the joy (and chaos) I’ve been experiencing, it happens to be my middle child’s birthday. Just like any mom who wouldn’t want her son’s birthday to be overshadowed by the birthday of his Savior (well, you know what I mean), I’ve tried to plan a few things, save some presents for his special day, and make sure he feels celebrated. He hasn’t really wanted a party, but told me that for his fourth birthday (the only fourth birthday he’ll ever have, ya know?!) he’d like a “yellow or boy-colored watch” (like his dad’s) and some cake. He didn’t mention a party, fancy food, a special outfit, or balloons – which I do plan to get early that morning, along with some sprinkled donuts. Why will I do it anyway? Because it gives our whole family great joy to celebrate him! The joy I derive from celebrating him must be only a tiny particle of the joy our Father derives from celebrating us.

Let me explain.

I’ve spoken about how God planned all sorts of things for His son’s birth, angels and unkempt shepherds and the like. In Psalm 145, we are encouraged to celebrate His goodness (v7). His goodness when He blessed my husband and me with a son, after a hard season of sadness over a miscarriage. Celebrating my son, for me, is celebrating a gift from God! And God loves the celebration! It is, to both of us, an expression of my gratitude.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable that finishes with a celebration. The prodigal son had returned to his father, hanging his head low and expecting (asking, even!) to be treated like a servant. However, the father is so delighted that he calls for a celebration to rival all other celebrations. That father, symbolizing our heavenly father, celebrates his son’s return, without even mentioning his sins. To bring it back around to my four-year-old, his tantrums and mistakes abound, but his birthday is a day to celebrate his very existence in our family, his very being that was lovingly created by God, who knit him together in my womb (Psalm 139) before we knew anything about him. I’d say that a gift of that magnitude is worth celebrating! And I daresay God would agree.

And still, all through the old testament are more and more examples of celebrations. Harvests, festivals, Passover… there are celebrations for all of these, signifying God’s faithfulness, His provision, and the deliverance He provided and is providing for His people over and over again. He built celebration into the strict rules the Israelites followed in the book of Exodus, and it continues all the way through till Jesus’s birth. There were rules surrounding celebrations and how they were to be observed. But the first rule was that they would be observed. Celebration has been an integral part of His plan for us, from the beginning of time. If in Zephaniah 3:17 it says that He will rejoice over you with singing, then I’d say celebrations are for you, too. 

A Christmas Itch

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

Every year at this time, I get the itch.

No, it’s not just my dry skin.

I get the itch to play that Christmas music, get out my decorations, and even to watch those cheesy movies. You know why? Because I truly do believe it’s the most wonderful time of the year. My home state has a chill in the air – but not too chilly, because, let’s be honest, enough is enough when it comes to cold weather. Lights are beginning to twinkle at some of the houses on my street. Stores are full of Christmassy colors, freshly baked treats, and boxes of glittery cards to send to loved ones. It really, really is the most wonderful, incredible time of the year.

But it isn’t the borderline-oppressive red and green decorations, the Christmas cookies, or even the sweet-smelling wreaths and garlands that make this the best time of year. No, it’s much more than that. It’s the general feeling of goodwill the circulates, because it’s even more apparent than usual that we’re part of a bigger story. The story that began all this stuff, this gift-giving and song-singing, is a story that has always been written. In fact, it started who knows how many millennia ago, before the beginning of time as we know it. And it’s still going on now; we’re not to its end. This narrative, the story of all of us, it’s not even remotely over.

You see, God knew this story was going to play out like this. He knew each of us, before we were knitted together in our mothers’ wombs, before our great-great-great-grandparents were even thought of. Before the flood, or even Adam and Eve. God is so far out of time as we know it that He probably feels like all that stuff was just this morning. He has known forever that we wouldn’t be perfect, or even good, without His help. He knew we’d screw up and need some serious intervention. But He didn’t stop loving us or start holding back His help. He provided the ultimate way for our saving, a way to let us be closer to Him. He had this majestic plan to send His Son before He even created us!

What does all of this mean? It means is that we have been given the greatest gift possible. We’ve been given the most perfect gift in the form of a helpless babe in arms. What kind of God sends His love to someone like that? As it turns out, an all-powerful, forever-gracious, fully righteous God sends His love like that. Love came down, under a bright star, in the dead of night, to an unwed mother and a frightened earthly father. Love came down to give hope, to live a perfect life, to be persecuted and crucified, to make straight a highway for our God to literally come alongside us. Jesus was the first Christmas gift, the most mind-blowing and expectation-shatttering gift ever.

Now, what does all of this mean for us? It means that we can call on God for anything and everything. It means that through Jesus, we are made holy and righteous, and God sees us that way. It means that, through Jesus, we have literally been given every spiritual blessing. Did you read that right? Every. Spiritual. Blessing. (Ephesians 1) That means we have the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5). We can pray directly to our Father and receive the ability to do works, just as Jesus did (John 14). We can ask Holy Spirit to intercede for us (Romans 8).

Four Reasons It’s Great to Sow Into Your Local Church

I’m a big believer in spreading the Gospel and building the Kingdom of God. Why? Because it’s part of what we’re called to do as followers of Jesus. I’m also a big believer that ANYONE and EVERYONE can do that. There are so many ways to take part in those things, and the best place to start is within your local church. I LOVE the local church. Every small-town church, every multi-site church, every megachurch – they all are sowing into the everyday lives of people just like you and me, and I believe it’s one of our greatest gifts to be able to sow back into the local church. How will we do this? We are Biblically called to tithe, but I think it’s just as important to find a place to serve. Why? Well, here are a few of my favorite reasons:

It’s easy! I don’t know a single church in existence that doesn’t have a job for a willing volunteer. Seriously, a lot of people think the only thing you can volunteer to do with work with kids. That just isn’t true. If that’s not your ministry of choice, just ask a pastor or ministry area leader how you can help, and they will direct you! Be sure to communicate your level of commitment – it’s okay if it’s low! A cheerful helper always has a place at a church.

It builds community and relationships. If you’re new to your church and looking for a way to get connected, giving your time to a ministry is a wonderful way to start. You’re rarely a lone volunteer on a project, and it’ll immediately connect you to people in various areas of leadership or service. If you aren’t new to your church, but you haven’t found a tribe there yet, get plugged in to a ministry, like being a greeter, a musical worship volunteer, or join the technology team! I’d bet you don’t have to be super-skilled in technology (or any other area) to be able to help out, or learn as you go.

It helps the wider community. Many churches have volunteer opportunities that are more outreach-centered. Ask what regular contributions your church makes to local ministries or organizations. I’ll bet your church partners at some level with helping the homeless, feeding the hungry, or providing for needy children.

It’s good to see the Church isn’t perfect. The Church (yes – even the “Big-C Church”) is comprised of – you guessed it! – imperfect humans. I think it’s important to get to know your church leaders on a personal level, working alongside them to build the Kingdom. One of the biggest reasons that I think it’s important is to dispel the often incorrect idea that church leaders are superheroes, or even worse, somehow perfect. We all have bad days, we all spill our coffee from time to time, and we all sometimes cry at  stupid Hallmark commercials. Pastors and ministry leaders included!

So if you’ve been holding off on giving your time and talents to the local church, I implore you to give it a try. There’s never a bad time to sow into a church community!

Do not be afraid.

This piece first appeared on Everyday Exiles.

Fear. It’s that voice in our heads, that feeling inside of us, the one that stops us from doing things. Or maybe it keeps us doing things so we don’t see the consequence of stopping. Maybe it keeps us in our routines, or prevents us from branching out and trying something new. It sometimes manifests in worry, anxiety, or anger. But what if we stopped our fears in their tracks? You might be thinking, “What if there was a way to banish our fears, and find comfort in those places instead?” That’s what the Lord has for us.

The Bible tells us that fear is not of God. Romans 8:15 AND John 14:27 both confirm this! We were not given a spirit of fear; God doesn’t give us what the world would give us. Fears, worries, anxiety, and what ifs… all those things are wrought from a broken world and an Enemy who seeks to drive us away from a loving Father. You can be sure not only that God would never cause you to have fears, but that casting your fears and cares on Him won’t scare him away. There’s no fear you could confess to Him that would cause Him to stop caring for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says this: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Is there any better news than that?! He cares for you. The God of the universe cares for you, and is ready for you to just humble yourself and give Him all the fear. And He will even exalt you (hold you in high regard and speak highly of you), because He considers you as His son or daughter!

Voicing our fears removes their power. There are two reasons for this. The first is that speaking a fear out loud typically means you’re speaking it TO someone. You might be speaking it to a friend, your spouse, a mentor… all of whom are hopefully willing and able to help you dispel that fear; rebuke that fear in Jesus’ name! Or, you might be speaking it straight to the Lord, praying for Him to take the fear and replace it with promise He’s made.

The second reason speaking the fear out loud diminishes its hold on us is this: a big part of the fear is admitting you’ve got a fear at all. We’re ashamed that we’re afraid, or we’re fearful of burdening someone with our fears. So we bottle them up, pretend they don’t exist, and wait until we’re likely to explode with that fear, crippling as it has become. Stuffing the fear down might give us the illusion that it’s gone away, but fear can be toxic when left to fester. But admitting the fear, saying it out loud, “God, I’m really scared to take this next step.” or “I’m afraid of what might happen if I can’t keep this up.” can put that fear out in the open, and allow us to work through it. When we identify and call out the fear, we can cling to God’s promises for us: He brings peace, courage, and joy. He has called us worthy. He loves us, and that won’t change. His Holy Spirit is always with us. Those promises won’t change, no matter the size or shape of our fears.

So when you feel the fear of next career steps, unsteady relationships, unknown paths, or painful choices, don’t push the feelings aside. Call them out. Call a friend. Say a prayer. Cling to God’s promises to you. You’re no longer a slave to fear. You’re a child of God.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. Isaiah 12:2

Holy Week

It’s Holy Week. Passion Week. A week full of preparations, where all the believers are preparing their hearts, homes, churches, and communities for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For someone who works in a church, it means a lot of extra hours on the clock, organizing, preparing, checking and double-checking. But after a wonderful Palm Sunday service this morning, I was obviously exhausted (because Sunday) and sat down to pray about the week ahead.

You might think I was praying that I wouldn’t be stressed out or that I’d keep my eyes on the prize of a gorgeous Easter Sunday together with the congregations of our church. But no. What I was led to pray was this: I ask not for help with earthly preparations, though they are certainly important, but instead for a heightened awareness of You.

A heightened awareness of a God who has drawn near, a Jesus who has taken away my sins, and a Holy Spirit who leads me and nourishes me in my day-to-day. I prayed to be floored, taken aback, mystified again by the willingly-given sacrifice. I prayed to be constantly reminded of why we celebrate this week, going through our motions of beautifying and preparing the way of the Lord in our own church buildings and services.

He has indeed given us more than we deserve – a holiness we could never achieve, but one we have been granted through Jesus. Any praises we bring to the table this week could never be enough to truly merit what should be given – and yet! AND YET, the beautiful conundrum is this: they are absolutely, entirely, perfectly enough because we have been predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:30) by a Savior who was all of those things in our place! Bring your tired, weary, unworthy selves to the altar on Sunday morning with CONFIDENCE because He will be there as He is each and every moment, doling out grace and mercy with LOVE (Heb. 4:16) and without requiring anything of us but faith in Him.

May we go through this week with a heightened awareness of the God who sees us as holy – as holy as His Son, Jesus, who rode on the donkey through a crowd singing, “Hosanna in the highest!” As holy as Jesus who healed the blind and the sick, pardoned promiscuous women, and opened his heart and his lap to the meek little children. As holy as Jesus who hung there, on a terrible cross, proclaiming that He would do the Father’s will, no matter how much he suffered, and still asked for our forgiveness.

Blessed be the name of the Lord, who has given much and loved much.

 

 

If you’re local (to central NC) and you need a place to be on Easter Sunday, feel free to comment or email me! I’d love to have you at my worship service.

The Father’s Love

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

The other night, as I was spending some one-on-one time with my daughter, who is five, she caught me off guard with a question.

“Mama, what’s the thing you love most about me?”

I paused to think for a moment. That’s a weighty question. Would a pause any longer than a second be interpreted as not being able to think of anything? Would a simple answer like “Everything!” be too flippant? Even if it’s true that I love everything about her (except the obscene amount of laundry she generates) it seems like a silly answer to give when she’s clearly asking me for specifics.

“Your smile!” I say. “And I love that you’re kind, and a great big sister.”

“What else?” she asks.

Here goes. “I love how excited you are to read! And I love watching you dance.”

It went on like this for a few more minutes, me naming things I love about her. Even as it became harder to pinpoint specific things that I knew she’d like to hear me say, I could that my words were bolstering her, giving her what she needed in the way of affirmation. Who doesn’t sometimes long to climb into the lap of a loving parent and hear the things about themselves that are good?

The idea of a loving Heavenly Father is in the forefront of my mind as a parent. While I know I could never measure up to His perfect and unconditional love, He presents Himself as a good model for me to follow. He knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8) and He is even a Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). His love has been compared to storms, ocean waves, mighty winds and raging seas. His love for us, weak and weary sinners, is the greatest example of sacrificing for the good of someone you love.

So come like a child, and ask Him to exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17). He loves you and rejoices over you! He wants us to come close to Him (“like a little child” we’re told in Matthew) and allow Him to speak life and blessings into our lives. All we have to do is draw near. Like my daughter, who knows that if she comes to me, and asks for compliments and showers of love, I’m always happy to oblige.

The Vine and the Branches

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

My family has traveled a lot this summer. We also have a large vegetable garden. Those two things didn’t go together terribly well. While we had some friendly neighbors come water in exchange for picking whatever they wanted while we were gone, we still had a few of our plants die, or stop producing earlier than they should have. We also acquired some serious weeds… and I mean REALLY enormous and gnarly ones.

The worst, perhaps, was a vine. Now, I don’t know much about most weeds, but I do recognize most of the common ones I see in our garden. Obviously we try to get them out before they’re huge, but this vine escaped my clippers for long enough to be quite entwined with our okra plants and was starting on the kale. It seemed to all originate from one spot, but it had spread across the ground, and climbed up every single okra plant, of which there are eight, and they’re all taller than me. You can imagine my disdain for this vine once I finally got around to pulling it up and out of the garden bed.

As I hacked away at this stubborn vine, snipping here, pulling there, rescuing my plants from the surprisingly strong vine that had almost consumed them, I kept remembering Jesus’s words from John 15: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, it is he that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (ESV) Jesus had likened himself to the vine, and the Father to the vinedresser. He likens us to branches, knowing that we may not do anything on our own, if detached from the vine. But stemming from Jesus, being nurtured by his love, his encouragement, and even his admonishment, we are to bear much fruit. In fact, no fruit can be borne if we aren’t being filled by the Holy Spirit.

The more I thought about this strong vine, I noticed the way it had almost lovingly curled itself around each plant, not too tight, but swirling its way up the stalks, around each leaf, splitting off in different directions to leap across to the next plant, and the next. There were also little white flowers sprouting from a few parts of the vine that had been there the longest. This gently flowering vine had made its home, nestled in the garden bed with the good soil I had prepared and tended and watered. The more I noticed the vine’s intricacies, the more I almost began to admire it. You know, if it hadn’t been smothering my beloved (and thankfully resilient) okra.

This strong vine began to serve as an example of how when we allow ourselves to be rooted in something as powerful and good as Jesus, we can be the branches, sent out into the world, lovingly coming alongside others, blossoming and bearing fruit. We can accept and share the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5), those gifts that Jesus has offered, knowing fully that apart from him, we really can do nothing.