Tag Archives: faith

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!

Girl Wash Your Face

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

Have you read Girl Wash Your Face yet? It’s a hot topic around the country, with many people singing the praises of this Rachel Hollis gal who went from zero to hero, all by making the choice to do so. She just decided it. Sounds easy enough, right?

This media and marketing “guru” has a story like many of us… lowly beginnings, hardships, and extra-relatable troubles in the job, family, and dating world. Although she meets Matt Damon, which puts her leaps ahead of me, personally. She has several pieces of good advice, which she has personally experienced to be able to write this book. No one is arguing that. Also, I LOVE the premise of the book: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become  Who You Were Meant to Be. Who doesn’t want to read a book about disproving lies and destroying strongholds? I need more of that in my life! After all the great press and positive reviews from friends, I decided to read the book for myself.

She’s a great writer. All the lies that she picked (one per chapter) are very real struggles that women have, many of them every day issues. The lie that you’re not a good mom, that you’re defined by your weight, or that you’ll never get past this – well, those are all lies that we ALL want dispelled so our focus and our lives can move on to bigger and better things. I’m not here to tell you her main ideas were wrong.

But what really gets me going is the fact that she’s writing as a “Christian” and rarely mentions Jesus. She parades herself as the hero of the story, how her hard work, her tough choices, and her knowledge contributed to her success. And that’s the American dream, right? Knowing if you fail, you have no one to blame but yourself. If you succeed, you’re the only one who gets the credit. Right?

In my opinion, wrong.

Jesus is the hero of my story. He’s in control (just like the cliche says) and I know that first and foremost, I have to trust Him with everything. As much as I LOVE to think I’m in control, I’m just not. I can make choices, yes, and do things inside and outside of God’s will for my life. But ultimately I know that joy is better than happiness, and peace is better than success, and God is the Giver of those things. The book is full of dos and don’ts, full of ideas to help you be more efficient and focused. But what the book isn’t full of is prayers for when you’ve hit the bottom, praises for when you’ve been delivered out of something, or reminders that your identity is not in YOU – or your critics and onlookers – but in JESUS and His sacrifice that placed you into the family of God. Your identity is the one given to you by your Savior, not the one that you imagine up for yourself.

A quick chat with a friend last night helped me realize that what throws me off the most about the hype surrounding this “Christian” book that doesn’t point me to Jesus is this: it isn’t heresy. It’s not bold-faced lies or something outlandish like devil worship. It’s not that obvious why it’s not on track with Biblical truths. It’s Jesus and. Jesus and making good connections in LA, and marrying the right guy. Jesus and self-confidence, and control of my situations. Jesus and knowing my self-worth and not taking no for an answer. Well I have news for you: Jesus IS. He IS in control, my confidence is in HIM, and HIS yes or no or not yet are the only answers I care about.

A Lifestyle of Prayer

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

I recently got a list of questions on self-care (Buzz word!) from a counselor to journal my way through, to help gauge my “level of health” in several areas.

WOW, it was tough.

But one of the most interesting ones was “Is prayer your lifeline and lifestyle?” I had to really ponder this one. Lifestyle was an easy image to conjure; a lifestyle of prayer must be what Paul means when he says in 1 Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”. A lifestyle of prayer to me suggests a closeness with God at all times, a reaching out as the first idea, not after a few other ideas have fallen short. But “lifeline” to me felt like a throwback to that show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The contestant used a “lifeline” when they didn’t know the answer to one of the questions. It wasn’t the first thing they did, and it often took two or all three of their lifelines to get an answer they felt confident about keeping for their own. Using prayer as my “lifeline” seems more like a last resort or a second thought than a first reaction.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about making prayer my lifestyle, and how difficult that can prove to be when I have so many things (ie: children) vying for my attention and just plain making noise when I’m trying to have “quiet time”. (Why does it have to be quiet, anyway?) I’m reading a book called Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman with a group of friends, and she says early on in the book that we shouldn’t be deterred from our time with the Lord because we’re busy with little children or chores or anything else, but rather that we should submit all of those times to the Lord, just as we would submit our “quiet time” to Him. I literally wrote in the margin of the book “Don’t make ‘silence’ or ‘quiet time’ an idol.”

How lovely would it be if I had hours to set aside each day for worship, studying the Scriptures, prayer, and journaling?! That would be a dream, but it just isn’t possible in my life as a mom of young children who also works part time. I’m guessing it’s not possible for many, or even most, of us with our busy lives in 2018. Monks in monasteries may have time for quiet hours set aside for Jesus, but my time with Jesus usually looks a lot more like worship music while I scramble eggs, and praying over booboos and sibling skirmishes. Is that my ideal? No, not always. But will these years of tiny people needing me but unfortunately short and certainly missed? Yes. So I’ll continue to pray for sibling altercations, and for patience in the midst of sleep deprivation and unwashed hair. If you’re in the trenches, Jesus will still meet you there.

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

We serve a loving God.

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

Kids these days, am I right?

We’re expecting them to do more than they ever would have needed to ten years ago. We’ve been pushing them harder to act older, testing them more often than ever before, and exposing them to more than they should see or know about, years before they’re probably ready.

Recently, my kindergartener came home to tell me a girl in her class (who she’s buddies with, by the way) had a mom who just went to jail. At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond. When I didn’t say anything, she continued on to tell me that it was because the mom had talked to bad guys, and bad guys were sneaky. I could hardly disagree. She also said that the girl would be coming to school with her grandma from now on.

What conversation could I have with my kindergartener about jail? About why people went, how long they stayed, and what would happen after they got out? How could I ever explain to her that this could alter her little friend’s life? Did I keep my daughter on a “need-to-know basis”, and not discuss it further, since she clearly didn’t need to know? Or did I use it as an opportunity to enlighten her on a subject she shouldn’t have to know about at age five? I couldn’t protect her from what she’d already heard; I didn’t want to lie to her, either.

What I ended up saying was that she might take this time to be extra kind to her friend. The girl might not talk about her mom, and that was okay. She might talk about her, and my daughter could just try to be a good listener. She might try to be a really good friend, because the girl might be sad. But most of all, I reassured her that sometimes bad things happen, and we talk to Jesus about them. We asked Jesus to be with the girl more tangibly, and asked Him to tell us what we could do to help her in her hard season. Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds us to clothe ourselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”. More and more, I find that children possess those qualities already, and we just need to help them develop. We can call it “character building”. We can call it “education” or “challenging” them. But what it really is is showing them that we live in a broken world, and teaching them to lean on Jesus while they’re here. It’s showing them that bad things do really happen, but that we serve a loving God, who will take care of us, even in the mess.