Tag Archives: God

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).

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.

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.

A Year of Being Thankful

Last night, on New Year’s Eve, just before my children woke up from their naps, I sat down with my journal and silent but bubbling glass of prosecco. I had seen a few people on Instagram talk about how they made lists of things they were thankful for and ways that God had shown up over the past year. Naturally, I latched onto that idea immediately; how better to be in a positive mindset and a thankful posture to begin a new year?!

So I sat, pen in hand, and wrote down twenty ways God had blessed me, our family, and worked things out for His glory and my good. I hadn’t predetermined twenty as the number, but it just worked out that way. The things are quite varied: some about our family, some about me personally, some about the kids individually. There were big things (my eldest starting – and loving – kindergarten) and small things (learning about the Enneagram). There were specific things (successfully transitioning our youngest to a “big boy bed”) and more general things (how often we were able to host our beloved friends and family in our home last year).

But what it did, even more than just posture my heart toward thankfulness, was make me SO. DARN. EXCITED. for what He could do in our lives in 2018. Lots of people are saying that 2017 was a dumpster fire, and in some ways it was. But I’d be willing to bet that at the end of every year, if you sat down and listed the crummy things that had happened, and the things that went wrong, that only thing you’d accomplish is a horrible mood at the end of it. But when I sat down to think of things that were successes, heartwarming memories, and things I was joyful about, I got a glimpse into God’s heart towards my family, His love for us, His protection over us, and His desire to build us up, not tear us down.

In this same vein, I just saw (again) a post by a fellow writer friend (check out the original here!) about how to daily shift the perspective from one of worry or stress to one of thankfulness. Cliff notes: each morning, she and her kids think of a thing or two – however small – that they’re looking forward to that day, and then she asks how she can be praying for them while they’re at school. Just a little shift to positive thinking, and a covering by mom of prayer over things they might not be as excited about. I love this idea so much, and I think that you can take that idea on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis, and totally run with it. God blesses us with so much; we can bless Him with our gratitude and prayers! When we do those things first, before asking for stuff or airing our concerns and “needs”, our hearts begin to change, ever so slightly each time, to become more like Jesus’s.

God Loves Celebrations

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

I’ve been privileged to take part in a great many celebrations. From weddings and anniversaries, baptisms and birthday parties, to dedications of babies and even memorial services, I have been a part of countless celebrations. Honoring relationships, accomplishments, and simply life itself, it is a beautiful thing to celebrate our blessings, the people we love, and just being together. I believe that God gave us the gift of celebration on purpose, that He is pleased when we join together in fellowship and celebration. It is part of the life abundant that He came to give us!

Perhaps the piece of scripture that’s most obviously a celebration is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. We know the whole story well, but here’s the best part: “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:22-24)

We aren’t always celebrating the return of a beloved person back into our lives, and we aren’t always killing fatted calves to do so. But if this parable, a picture of God’s love for His wandering children, is full of uninhibited celebration and holding nothing back from the son who was lost and then found, then it is fitting we should celebrate, pull out the stops, and show our love by sharing joy in this way!

Along with the countless other feasts, convocation days, and dedications mentioned throughout Scripture, the most incredible example of God-honoring celebration is found, as you might expect, at the birth of Jesus. There were no invitations sent, or caterers booked. There wasn’t a cake or 10-piece band. There was, however, a gorgeous star put up in the sky for just such an occasion, as well as a singing multitude of the heavenly host, and the proudest parents there have ever been.

This picture of the first-ever Jesus-worshipers is still my favorite image. Surprised, unkempt shepherds, used to hanging out in the fields with their sheep. New parents, knowing they had just experienced something special, but not really knowing the full extent. Angels (Full stop. Can you imagine angels at your next baby dedication?) coming out in hordes to announce the birth of Jesus, singing the first songs of praise, and filling the skies with the glory of the Lord. If that doesn’t seem like a picture of a father celebrating his son, you might need to look again. Jesus had been sent by a Father who was celebrating not only him, but the rest of His sons and daughters who would be saved by this Son of Righteousness. A truly happy Father, who was seeing His redemptive plan begin.

What Is Worship?

This post originally appeared on The Grit and Grace Project.

Worship. What does that word call to mind when you hear it? The songs that you sing at your church on Sundays? An organ and a choir, donned in jewel-colored robes? Your friend playing an instrument in the praise band? Perhaps you attach the word worship to the entire service on Sunday morning. Or maybe it’s something more.

Worship can actually be something we do day in and day out. It can be a heart posture. It can be an offering of praise. There is corporate worship: what we do when we are gathered together, in God’s name, singing, praying, reading/hearing scripture, receiving God’s word through a gifted preacher, and taking communion. There is personal worship – and it’s much more vague, or all-inclusive, depending on how you look at it. Worship is our response to our Creator, a dialog between us, a celebration on our part of all He has done. Worship is how we ascribe to Him (as it suggests in several psalms, and in 1 Chron. 16) the qualities of such a perfect, loving, forgiving, worthy God.

Worship can be asking Him to open our hearts and minds to be in tune with His will. Worship can be confession, and finding forgiveness. Worship is an expression of awe, wonder, and love. Worship can manifest in many ways; we aren’t all musical. Worship can be resting in His presence, praying continually (1 Thess. 5:17), shouting from the rooftops, or being silent. Worship combines exalting Him (Psalm 99), exulting before Him (Psalm 68:4), and offering our bodies as living sacrifice to Him (Romans 12:1).

Worship is heart work. It isn’t just singing the words, or even raising your hands. Isaiah 29:13-14 says this: The Lord says: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”  The worship God desires from us is communion with him – letting our hearts be open to His bending and rending. He wants to give us His kingdom! To “acceptably” worship Him with reverence and awe should be our natural response (Hebrews 12:28).

So when you wake up in the morning, or as you go about your day today, or when you walk into church on Sunday, take a moment to turn your heart to Him. Take a moment and ask Him to help your every move be worship. Truly ask Him to open the eyes of your heart. Let yourself see His wonders, see how He is working in your life. Thankfulness and acknowledgement of His goodness are acts of worship that you can do anytime.