The Weight of the World At Christmas

carry holiday ornamentI bet you didn’t expect to find an intersection between Greek mythology and Christ–did you? For that matter, would you expect to see a connection between the chaos of politics and the peace of Christmas?

The iconic Christmas passage, other than Luke 2, is doubtless Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Currently, we are beleaguered by the constant press of politics, international relations, government failure and deception. And while many of us struggle to remain hopeful that there is an end in sight: that a new administration will somehow improve things … we all know it’s not very likely.

The United States government isn’t doing a very good job of heralding peace within our own borders, let alone in relationship with other governments or in our attempted role as mediator.

In your own home, is there peace? Or, does it feel like, whether discussing national issues, what’s for dinner or where to go for Christmas that the weight of the world is on your shoulders?

That little idiom harkens to the story in Greek mythology of the luckless Atlas, cursed to bear up the weight of the world on his shoulders.

But did you notice, that–far from myth–Jesus already told us through Isaiah that He Himself bears the weight of the world on His own scarred shoulders?

” … the government will be upon his shoulders.”

And it gets better. Not only does Jesus bear us up, shoulder the burden, He promises peace–that passes understanding, that has no end, that promotes righteousness and justice:

Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

A far cry from what we experience in the world today … right?

Jesus doesn’t just work in the big picture either. He’s not merely concerned with bearing the weight of governments and world leaders. The first part of this passage calls Him our Counselor, Father and Prince of Peace. This great God is the savior of the world and the peace-bringer in your home. He is the messiah and the counselor who whispers behind you which way to go:

Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30:21

 

 

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I Can Do All [Crappy] Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me

Say it with me now …

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

What does that mean to you?

Do you have it scribbled on a sticky note in your gym bag? Is it on one of your coffee mugs to psych you in the morning, “I CAN wake up!” We’ve all heard it touted from various sports fields and courts.

Yes, it’s true. None of those things would be possible with out Christ.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

But if we take a close look at what Paul was saying, he really didn’t have any intention of implying that God’s crazy, awesome, supernatural, sustaining power was specifically designed to help you finish the marathon. Read the whole passage, starting with verse 10:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (emphasis mine)

The context of Paul’s famous phrase was him telling the Philippians not to worry about him. No matter that he was in jail even as he penned the letter. A quick cross reference with 2 Corinthians 11:25 tells us that Paul was no stranger to physical pain and suffering. And it’s from that place that he tells the Philippians, “I can do anything … ”

Basically, I think, boiled down, Paul was saying, “I can deal with all the crappy stuff through Christ who strengthens me.”

Paul wasn’t claiming that he could obtain any promotion, conquer any athletic feat or leap tall buildings in a single bound. No, he was telling them that he could survive anything. Christ’s strength was his anchor, his sustenance, his confidence to endure suffering, pain, loss, defeat and rejection.

If you reframe this famous line in the context of the Apostle Paul’s original words, what is Christ enabling you to do today? What are you confident he will enable you to face tomorrow?

When Seasons Collide

Dead leaves on bench

It’s the collision of the seasons.

Here I stand on the precipice of my favorite season–autumn. Summer is merging with colder air, the leaves are giving up their green and their death grip on brittle branches. I’ve already broken out the jeans (still paired with flip flops), and I’m reticent to recall shorts.

All this exquisite splendor is the harbinger of time well spent with loved ones and favorite people in front of the fireplace, with a good book, cuddled on the couch, over a good cup of coffee (or a deliciously dark beer!)

And so, my soul is singing with anticipation, but I’m sad too, my heart is a little wounded and my hopes are fragile. It’s strange for me, this mix of opposing feelings. But I suppose it’s good–that tears are mitigated by laughter and disappointment with excitement. 

I’m not sure how much time I’ll get to spend with my husband this fall. Yes, last year about this time he was leaving for Africa, so count my blessings (more on that later) he’s safe here in the states. But, we have suddenly launched into a season of such intense training and planning that I scarcely see him for a half hour a day. And waiting in the wings are a few weeks where they will work straight through the weekends–at least 21 days in a row.

And this sadness, I might have shared earlier, but I wasn’t ready–a couple months ago, I miscarried the baby my husband I never thought we could never have.

We never planned or risked the hope of getting pregnant. So when we learned in late July (with utter shock!) that I was expecting, we were floored. Just as surprising was the joy that overtook us! We couldn’t wait to hold our baby! But that wasn’t God’s plan. Somehow, our little one lived a purposeful life, and filled the purpose of his life in just 11 short weeks.

We survived that.

But now, the pain is refreshed each month. We’ve dared to think we can try now. We’ve dared to step into the realm of miracles only God can do–and to hope. And that’s scary.

So, as you can see, my emotions (fragile as they are), are swirling like the autumn leaves shimmying to the ground. And it’s tempting to complain to God–a lot. It’s easy right now, to form all “prayer requests” around the little phrase, “God please!!”

God, please give us a baby. God please give us more time together. God please give my husband a day off. God please help me to be kind and compassionate and understanding …

You know, I think all that is okay. Today I was scrounging for peace–the peace that God promises in Philippians when we present our requests to God:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

And suddenly, it dawned on me. There were prerequisites for that peace. I’ve met one prerequisite by simply praying, the second one is harder–with thanksgiving. 

I can’t have this unbelievable peace as long as my prayers sound like whiny pleas. Of course, I still believe God will answer those prayers, but I’m sabotaging my own peace if I insist on whimpering and repelling His peace with self-imposed anxiety, even as I pray. My attitude, even my emotions, is my responsibility.

So, I changed my prayer:

God, thank you for your marvelous plan of blessing and deepening our marriage in this season. Thank you for balancing the sorrow of this season with nature’s beauty. Thank you for giving us a baby, for making us parents. Thank you for teaching me your own faithfulness through pain. Thank you. Yes, thank you.

Seasons: Why You Might Be Overcommitted, Stressed Out and Irritable

There’s Beauty in Every Season

Somewhere, some-when, in the last several months, I’ve lost my “edge”. Suddenly, the blank page intimidates me again. I have nothing to say. Nothing seems original or worthy of the time and effort to put fingers on keys, nor does anything seem worthy of being read–it’s all been said before, right?

In fact, when I look back at the thousands of posts I’ve written–I’ve probably said it all before.

God’s Word is emphatically clear when it tells us that our tongues can get carried away. They can set an entire forest on fire! So, at what point does a writer say, “Enough?”

I’m wondering if that’s where God has me … I know many authors and writers take full lifetimes to express all God has laid on their hearts. But, I’ve turned a corner in my own vocation, finding greater joy and ease in reading others’ work than crafting my own. So that’s where I’ve been–reading, refining and relishing the work of other writers who call on the One True God. What a joy it is!

We’ve talked about seasons here before. I truly believe one of the hardest things in life is letting go of a lovely season. Think of autumn, always seemingly the shortest season of all. A few crisp days and then suddenly, they bleed into frigid temps and good reasons to stay cozy indoors. Or, summer clings to its very limits, refusing to release those long, hot days to the reprieve of fall.

In life, think of the things God’s given you to do that you absolutely loved! You found your niche–others could tell, too. For a time, you were successful, happy, predictable, comfortable and then … something interrupted your flow. Suddenly, you found yourself starting over, asking God, “What do you want me to do?” At the very least, you found yourself doing something you never expected.

I think that’s why I love the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon says over and over, “There is a season for … “. The interesting thing about seasons though, is one can’t begin until the other ends.

Maybe that’s how we find ourselves overcommitted, stressed out and irritable–we’ve launched into a new season with out telling the last one “goodbye”. 

What season do you find yourself in? Is one fading and another dawning? Are you afraid to say goodbye?

Even as He quiets my mind, heart and fingers, God still speaks. So, for the next season, I hope to share the little things He’s teaching me–the daily wonders, the calls to thankfulness, the stern rebukes, the steadfast love. These posts may be shorter, concise or questioning and even less than profound. But I hope you’ll enjoy this next season with me. After all, there’s beauty in every season.

Trust Your Gut

Have you ever been told to “trust your gut”?

Psalm 16:7 says, “I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.”

The word for heart there actually means “kidneys”. Obviously, your kidneys aren’t going to help you make decisions, know what God’s will is, or understand a difficult Bible verse. But the full meaning of the phrase implies “my bowels admonish, instruct and discipline me”. In plain English: “My gut tells me what I should do.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can just do whatever you feel like. We can only trust our heart (or our gut) when we develop a close relationship with the God who is trustworthy.

Psalm 16 begins by saying, “I say to the Lord, you are my Lord. I have no good besides you.” David has come to know that no matter what happens, God is always good and whatever God leads him to do is best.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” This means that when you see God as better than everything else in your life, He will plant His desires within you, enabling you to be obedient and to want the same things that God wants. When you want what God wants, you can trust your gut.

When You Don’t Know What to Say

My sisters and I watched Mary Poppins more than any other movie growing up. If you get me started on one line, it’s likely I could quote the rest of the movie—at least I could 25 years ago! But even if you’ve never seen the movie, it’s a safe bet that you’ve heard the famous word:
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

It’s a made up word that Mary Poppins, the incomparable nanny, taught her charges, Jane and Michael, to say when they didn’t know what to say.

Most of the time, true to my female gender, I’m quite well supplied with things to say. However, there are those moments in prayer when I’m uncomfortably tongue-tied. Usually this happens when I’m grappling with that baffling request. You know the one. It’s the same request you’ve been presenting to God for as long as you can remember with seemingly no answer. You’re at the point when you wonder if God cares about this request at all, or if you mention it one more time, He might throw His hands in the air and say, “Enough already!”

Other times I lose my words when I’m struggling with how to ask God for what I want so badly to happen. Those are the times when I want someone healed or someone saved. I want a miracle, but tremble every time I ask God, and tack on the caveat, “But only if it’s your will!”

Recently, I have faced both of these daunting scenarios. I sat silent on my back porch, journal, pen and Bible open beside me and nothing to say. But in that hush, that God whispered to me. (Makes me wonder if I should be quiet more often!)

It was Jesus’ conversation with His disciples in John 12 that spoke to me. In verses 27 and 28, Jesus tells his listeners:

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Jesus too, had come to that place where He desperately wanted God to do a miracle. Could the world be saved by a different method? He wanted to ask God to spare Him the suffering of the cross. But Jesus stopped. He didn’t plead with God, but neither did He recant the request or wonder what the will of God was. His response was simply, “Father, glorify your name.”

When I’m faced with those impassable questions: “What is God’s will? What will He do? What should I do? What can I ask for?”, the only right answer, the only plea I can know with certainty that God will answer, “Yes!”, is, “Glorify your name”. And I know that His glory and my good are one in the same. I can trust Him.

There’s also the problem of ongoing requests. There are people whose salvation I have prayed for for so long, that I almost gloss over the intercession, “God, you know.” The day after God whispered to me during my quiet time, He also provided the answer to this conundrum.

I stood in front of the mirror getting ready for church. Prayers echoed in my head as I listened to worship music. I came to a particular person and stopped. “God, I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know what to ask. It seems like you’re not hearing me!”

Quietly, but very clearly, I heard God respond. “I have been waiting for you to not know what to say. It is in those moments, however brief, that you stop trying to tell me how to run the world. You can rest; you’re not responsible for the outcome.”

A few days later, I sat again with my pen and journal, hopeful to capture the essence of what God had been speaking to me. As I waited, He framed His grace and future sufficiency for those baffling requests in the context of what Jesus did for me on the cross:

Have you ever wondered how Jesus faced the impending agony of the cross? How the Son prayed to the Father in the shadow of such a future? Have you wondered how Jesus woke morning after morning and spoke, touched, taught and healed with the foreknowledge of such forsakenness, agony, pain and abandonment?

Through Jesus, I myself have endured the agony of unwelcome answers, resignation to a will beyond a mind of dust, and walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I can identify with your questions and confusion and repeat the promises that, “All things work together for good”, and “I will glorify my name.”

Dear one, you cannot reach ahead and pull the burrs from tomorrow. You cannot reach forward and hang the sun over those future days to illuminate them. You’ve one day, one moment really and I love you more than all of time combined. I reached through and looped up all of time and life in one all-inclusive, redeeming act. Though tomorrow is yet unavailable to you, it is redeemed and you can truly rest. ~ Your Father

Do I Have What It Takes to Face Persecution?

Have you ever wondered if you have what it takes to suffer persecution?

Yesterday, I heard a Christian talk show host field a question from his listening audience. The caller asked, “I’m afraid that if I ever had to suffer persecution like some Christians in other countries, I won’t be able to stand strong. That terrifies me! What if I fall apart? What if I can’t take it?”

You can read the rest of my article here at The Bottom Line …

Why Would God Wait for You?

I seriously miss my family. My husband is in the Army, so for our twelve-plus years of marriage we’ve lived at least 500 miles away from them. After we visited them last time, I printed off dozens of pictures and covered every square inch of my refrigerator. Now, whenever I open the freezer, my heart catches a little. I long to cuddle with my nieces, play games with my nephews, sip coffee with my dad and walk the dogs with my mom. Even though I’m so blessed to have a family who loves me, missing them hurts sometimes.

There are many Bible verses that instruct us to wait on the Lord, but did you know that God waits for you?

Isaiah 30:18a says, “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.”

The word for waits is “chakah”, and can also be translated “to tarry or long for”. If you have not yet trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, He is not far from you (Acts 17:27), and He is anxiously waiting to be merciful and gracious to you.

(first published on http://www.swagga4christ.com)

 

CS Lewis and Complete Freedom from Anorexia

I hereby designate C.S. Lewis “My Favorite Author”. But then, maybe by simply reading Predatory Lies, you figured that out before I did.

This morning, I got an email called, CS Lewis Daily. Never one to disappoint:

Teachers will tell you that the laziest boy in the class is the one who works hardest in the end. They mean this. If you give two boys, say, a proposition in geometry to do, the one who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will try to learn it by heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But six months later, when they are preparing for an exam, that lazy boy is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery over things the other boy understands, and positively enjoys, in a few minutes. Laziness means more work in the long run. Or look at it this way. In a battle, or in mountain climbing, there is often one thing which it takes a lot of pluck to do; but it is also, in the long run, the safest thing to do. If you funk it, you will find yourself, hours later, in far worse danger. The cowardly thing is also the most dangerous thing.

It is like that here. The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way — centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.

When I was fighting for freedom from my eating disorder, I ran up against this conundrum.

Could I not retain “myself” or the habits I had established that afforded me some imaginary modicum of control?

Could I give up counting calories but continue obsessively exercising?

What if I was willing to get treatment, as long as I could weigh myself everyday?

Could I continue to pursue the self-centered desires of my heart and keep personal “happiness” as the great goal of my life and at the same time surrender my will, my life, my eternal salvation to a God that I claim to love and trust?

And this is what I found: Just like cutting the grass can keep it short, but will not produce real, nutritious wheat; managing aspects of my eating disorder might keep me alive but would never result in freedom.

To mature and blossom in freedom, I must necessarily uproot the  grass and allow Christ to remake me–to make all things new. The change must be complete, a destruction of the old to allow the new to take root and flourish.