A Little Christmas: A Little Love

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Our culture can sometimes over-emphasize the feelings of love. We have sappy romantic movies and fairy tales that are all about falling in love. We are almost in love with the feeling of being in love. By contrast, when that feeling is absent, we are off the hook. It is easy to feel like we don’t have to treat others nicely if they do not treat us well. Sometimes the Golden Rule is misconstrued to “do unto others as they do to you” rather than “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

Some people are tough to love. I’m sure all teachers can relate to those students who can be tough to love, just as most people can think of someone in their workplace who is tough to love. As far as my two year old students go, there are definitely those who require more time and more discipline than others. And somehow, God has a way of making more room in my heart for them.

Love can be a feeling. But there are times when loving others is a choice without the feelings. Working day in and day out with students has reinforced that fact for me. When Jesus tells us to “Love one another” I do not think he is talking about warm fuzzy feelings. People who annoy us or treat us poorly do not produce warm fuzzy feelings within us.

There are some popular Bible verses that I’d like to bring up again because they are worth re-reading as often as we might come across them. This quote is from the Common English Bible, so it might sound a little different than you have heard before.

Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant,it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Making a choice to love someone else means choosing to act this way toward them: to treat them with patience and kindness; to resist the temptation to keep track of all the ways they have wronged you or to have a short temper with them. Loving that person who is tough to love means not being rude or short in return for their rudeness or shortness.

At Christmas we celebrate the fact that God made a choice to love us. God decided to send his son to be born here as a human and endure life within the confines of humanity. He chose to live here and teach us how to live as one of us. Being born as a human gave God the opportunity to show us the full extent of his love: to die on the cross for our evil nature so that we might be redeemed. God first chose to love us, so that we can choose to love one another. And for every moment we are able to love others, it’s another moment in which God is again born here on earth.

A Little Christmas: A Little Hope

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Before I get into the subject of hope, I’d like to introduce my theme for Advent this season.

A little Christmas: Small things that make a big difference.

Last February I began working as a teacher of 2 year olds. Before I took the job I prayed. I prayed for God’s guidance to find the right job for me at this time of my life. After I prayed I came across two completely separate articles about small things; not just little items, but about doing small things versus doing ‘big’ things and especially as it pertains to church or our spiritual life. (The main article can be found here: http://shelovesmagazine.com/2015/small-plenty/.)  The quote that really struck me that day was this:

“Get ready, God is preparing you for something really, really, small.” – Shane Claiborne

When I was working in churches, I tended toward wanting “big.” I watched the big churches to see what they were doing. I wanted big groups of youth and children. I wanted to make a “big” impact on the community. When I had the opportunity to teach some of the smallest people that exist, I had to sit back a moment and get my ego in check. Is this class really where God wants me right now? It’s so small.

But there is something particularly holy about little people. I’ve been learning it ever since I had children, and I was learning it in children’s ministry, but it has really sunk in as I’ve spent so much time with little people who are not related to me. Holiness is not only found in small people, but I believe holiness can be found in small actions as well. Little things that we do or do not do that are far more important and reach far deeper than we realize. Indeed, life starts extremely small and our lives are made up of small things. Small growth, small words, small seconds, minutes, and hours that add up to years.

So what about hope? The first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of hope. We reflect on the hope that the Israelite people had that God would one day send the Messiah to bring salvation and righteousness. In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet by the same name is living in a time in which the Hebrews have been conquered by the Babylonians and exiled to live in Babylon. Jeremiah gives the people hope for two different events: 1) God would make a way for the Hebrew people to return to Israel and restore Jerusalem and 2) God would one day send the Messiah to lead them.

 “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. 15 In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.” Jeremiah 33:14-16

If one had just been through war and exile, perhaps seeing family members killed, perhaps being separated from family and friends, I’m not sure how much hope, if any, one would have. The Israelite people would have been raised on God’s promises that were handed down from Noah and Abraham. What would they think of those prior promises in the wake of the Babylonian invasion and subsequent exile? Would these promises continue to bring them hope?

Perhaps. Perhaps they could continue to tell one another the stories of how they truly do have a good God. A God that would continue to work in their lives in spite of mistakes, shortcomings and disobedience among them and among all people. But not only do they have the old stories, but prophets like Jeremiah were there. They lived during the time of this exile and they were currently hearing from God. They were living in the present day and they were sharing new promises from God. The promise that even though things were really, really bad right now, God was still at work. God would restore them to their land (the one that was promised to Abraham) and God would also send a new leader, one that would be far, far better than any they had ever seen.

Our Christian faith today is not only about the old promises, it’s also about what’s happening currently. We can find hope in the promises found in the Scriptures, but we can also be lights of hope to one another. No, we don’t have prophets like the ones from the Old Testament who we believe have a special word from God. However, we can remind one another daily of God’s love, peace, and desire to be a part of our lives. In the midst of terrible situations, we can look toward what Advent points to – Christ coming into our world. One who will be called “The Lord is our Righteousness” as well as “the Prince of Peace” and “Wonderful Counselor.”

Sometimes, it can be the littlest things that give us hope. When we see someone hold the door for someone else. Or when someone even just gives us a smile. God came down to earth in the form of a baby. What could be smaller or more helpless? Yet, as a baby he would live and grow like each of us. And from that tiny baby would come the world’s redeemer. I have more than hope – I know that Christ is still at work in his followers and empowering us to continue the work that he began. If you find yourself in need of hope as you read this, I pray that you will find it in those facts: God desires to be with you, alongside you no matter what you are going through. If you find yourself hope-full, I pray that you will share that hope and be that hope for others. Even if you think it is only in the smallest way!

Holding On and Letting Go

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Tomorrow my older daughter heads out to Kindergarten. She has mainly been extremely excited – she can’t wait to ride the bus and buy her lunch in the cafeteria. I’m mostly excited for her, too. She is more outgoing than me times about 10 and she loves meeting new people and going new places. She also loves learning, so I have no doubt that she will have a great year. However, it also starts another new step in her independence. She will be on her own for most of the day and I won’t be there to see. Over the past year I feel like she has already taken this step personality-wise. Some days I look at her and see very little of myself! She has developed her own likes, dislikes, silly voices, and mannerisms. Some days, that’s when I grab my younger daughter, my mini-me, and hold her tighter. Most days I just ask the big girl more questions so I can keep up with knowing her as well as I did the day before.

I can’t tell you where I read it (horrible citation, I know), but someone wrote that parenting is about learning to let go a little bit every day. Kids are constantly growing up and away from our protective hold on them. Growing up works best when we gradually give them a little more independence each day, both for them and for ourselves. I know I can get really nostalgic and when the moment hits, I will fall to pieces thinking about the bygone days of tiny onesies, that adorable way she used to say Spiderman when she was 2, or just sad that I can’t remember an exact memory from something she did as a 3 year old. I have to say a prayer and move forward with life. I have to live in the moment or else I’ll miss something else.

Recently I had the opportunity and pleasure to lead a women’s retreat for a small group of ladies at my church. Our theme was “A Very Mary Weekend.” I wanted to research the many Marys of the New Testament and see what their lives and experiences with Christ could teach us about our own. I enjoyed learning about each Mary, but the one that touched me the most was the mother of Jesus. I found a great book entitled “The Real Mary” by Scot McKnight. McKnight walks us through Mary’s life from the time she hears from the angel Gabriel to her days working with the early church after Christ’s death. He described Mary’s transformation as her understanding of what Israel’s Messiah would look like changed as she watched her son grow up and eventually die. We can tell from the Magnificat that Mary expected a political Messiah that would help the people of Israel gain their independence from the Roman government. We can tell from the wedding at Cana that Mary expected Jesus to obey and follow her directions as any good Jewish boy would. However, as a mother, Mary would have to learn to let go. She would have to let go of her specific ideas of what the Messiah should be and do and hold on to the idea that he would bring peace and justice in his own way. She would have to let go of the idea of her son following her and hold on to the love she had for him and allow that love to humble her to follow him.

Like Mary, we have to learn to let go and hold on in many areas of our lives. In our relationships with others, we have to make room for our friends to grow and change. We have to make choices about holding on to the friendship or letting go of expectations about who and what that person should be or do. As parents, we have to “hold on” to our kids in such a way as to assure them that we will always be there for them. We have to hold on to standards we set for them and for their behavior. As the timing is right we also have to let go and let them be who they are, even if that’s different from us. This is symbolized as we reach milestones with them, but it happens every day. And I’m sure that I have much, much more to learn about this as my children grow.  In our faith, holding on and letting go is a careful act of discernment. Mary’s ideas about God shifted as she witnessed Christ’s ministry on earth. Where have my ideas about God strayed from who God truly is? Where has some outside influence shifted my beliefs? Our community of faith helps guide us through these shifts and helps us discern the right path.

In the morning, I will hold my sweet girl tightly. Then I will let her go climb those big steps onto the big yellow bus. And as the tears flow, I will hold on tightly to the God who loves me more than I love her. The God who entrusted her to me and her dad to take care of in the first place and who will continue to be with us as we raise her. The God who simultaneously holds each of us and lets each of us go our own way whether that is close or far from God. May God be with each of you in whatever areas of life you are holding on and letting go in these days.

Fear Freezes, Love Thaws

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19

If you haven’t had a chance to see Disney’s Frozen, then you are missing out! Anna and Elsa show that true love can be found within our families – no prince required. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Elsa learns as a child that she has the power to create ice and snow. However, her parents are normal people and so she has no one to teach her about her powers or how to use them. Their plan is for her to hide her powers. Because of an accident with her little sister Anna, Elsa is afraid of her powers.

Flash forward several years and we are at Elsa’s coronation party. Elsa accidentally reveals her powers to the party guests and as her fear grows she ends up causing a terrible winter storm. She runs away and decides to live all alone, afraid to be around anyone for fear of hurting them.

In an attempt to get her sister to come home and end the winter weather, Anna goes after Elsa. Sadly she is hurt again, because Elsa is still afraid to return to a normal life. Anna is told by some friendly trolls that the only thing that will heal her is an act of true love.

Today I want to show how Frozen reveals a pattern that Christ helps us realize in real life. We can all be frozen in fear, kept from doing what God wants us to do. Through Christ’s love we can overcome these fears and through the Holy Spirit we can be empowered to live the life God has for us. We see this pattern in the life of the Samaritan woman that Christ meets at the well. I would like to read some of her story from the gospel of John so that we can see how she was frozen and exactly how Christ loved her out of her fears.

Fear Freezes

There are different kinds of fears. There are some fears that are good for us to have: a fear of spiders might keep us from getting bit. A fear of getting burned while cooking causes us to take extra precautions and wear our oven mits. Today, I’m talking about a different sort of fear. Some fears are unhealthy and prevent us from doing God’s work. We might be afraid of what people will think of us. We might be afraid that if we give our things or our time away, there won’t be enough left over for us.

Elsa has a fear of her power that has reached an unhealthy level. Her fears became detrimental to her life. They keep her from having a relationship with Anna and from fulfilling her duties as queen.

As I mentioned, I would like for us to look at the conversation Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at a well in a town called Sychar. In this story, we see the transformation of a woman who could have had many fears to a woman who is empowered to bring the good news to her entire town.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritanwoman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”21“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. John 4:7-10, 15-21


Like Elsa, the Samaritan woman that Jesus meets at the well is isolated. If we stick to the text, I can’t say truly that fear in particular was plaguing her. However, we do know that she was doing something that most women at this time would have done together, not alone. She goes to the well to draw water in the middle of the day. This is a chore that women would usually do at the beginning of the day. This Samaritan woman goes about this chore alone.

We also know her life had not been the easiest – she had 5 husbands and currently was living with someone she wasn’t married to. In this point in history, women had to be married in order to be taken care of – there was no ‘work outside the home.’ This is why there are laws in the Old Testament instructing men to marry their brother’s wives if their brother dies. This is how the widow would be cared for. So in this case, the woman probably lost her former husbands through death of some kind. It wasn’t a sin to be married 5 different times, it was just tragic and difficult. It was a sin to be living with a man she was not married to and this may have added to her shame and isolation.

With these details about her life, this poor woman could have had any number of fears! Perhaps a fear of abandonment from losing so many husbands. Perhaps she had a fear of getting close to others. Maybe she was afraid to go to “church.”

Love Thaws

So, what’s the antidote for fear? We have all seen situations on TV where people expose themselves to their fear in order to overcome it. This might work for some fears, but not all. Consider the woman at the well. If she did have the fear of abandonment, I don’t think more abandonment would help the problem. The same with a fear of rejection or a fear of one’s special ice powers. Elsa continued to use her powers even though she knew they could hurt others. She decides at her coronation to remove herself from others and see how powerful she could be. However, the more she used her powers, the more afraid of them she becomes.

Until. An act of true love. When Elsa sees the extent of Anna’s love for her. When she sees that Anna is willing to give her life for her, she is changed forever. The answer for her fear is love. Anna’s love shows Elsa that she doesn’t have to be afraid. Her mistakes are forgiven. Love is the key to undoing the ice storm and allowing Elsa to use her powers to their fullest extent. She can now thaw the ice she created and bring back summer. In the end, Elsa is able to come back to her town and be the queen she was meant to be. Through love, she has learned to use her powers in ways that help others and not hurt them.

Let’s see how love affects the Samaritan woman.

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” 27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him. 39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. 42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:25-30, 39-42


Like Elsa, the Samaritan woman is also deeply changed. In her isolation, she happens upon the God of love incarnate. We can learn a lot about how Jesus loves through this encounter. First of all, love listens. Jesus takes time with her, hears her questions: not just what she actually says, but also what she means. Secondly, love meets others where they are. Jesus doesn’t invite the woman to come hear him speak next week. He starts a conversation with her in the midst of her daily routine, not his. Fear keeps people isolated; in order to show them love, we have to go to them.

Third, Christ loves unconditionally. The woman’s testimony is that Jesus knows all about her. He knows everything “she ever did” and still he loves her and she feels that love through their time together. We can tell from their conversation that the Samaritan woman knows a lot about her religious history and about what the prophets foretold. She is a smart and talkative person. She is the perfect candidate to be the pastor of the First Church of Samaria. She just needed some love. And not just any love, the truest love that only comes from Christ.

The Spirit Empowers

The Samaritan woman spreads the word throughout her town that Jesus is the Messiah. She shares what he did for her and the townspeople come to meet him AND invite him to stay there for 2 days. Don’t forget, some towns chased Jesus away and threatened to stone him. Don’t forget, this is a Samaritan town – sworn enemies of Jewish people – and everyone knows that Jesus and his posse are Jewish. Through what the woman shares, the people’s hearts are softened. They are prepared. And many come to believe in Christ because of her story and her invitation to come and meet him for themselves.

A while back I came across 2 Timothy 1:7 and it has continued to stick out in my mind. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

Wow! I tend to be a ‘timid’ person. I tend to be un-self-disciplined sometimes, when it comes to putting extra effort into studying and reading things I know God wants me to. But this verse has been my get-up-and-go verse. God doesn’t give us fear and timidity. He gives us power, love and self-discipline! At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given to all of us who believe in Christ. Jesus says that the Spirit will be with us always and will remind us of what he taught us. The Spirit reminds us of Christ’s love each day. Jesus promises that the Spirit will help us and live in us!

Each of us has fears. And each of us has the opportunity to know Christ and to know his love. When we are afraid, we can look to his love to help us overcome it. “Perfect love drives out fear!” Once we have overcome our fears, the Holy Spirit is present to lead us into action. We have our work cut out for us. There is so much pain and fear in the world. We don’t have to look very far. Once we have overcome our fears, it’s our turn to go out and show God’s love to others still living in it. Christ met the Samaritan woman in her town, at her well, in the midst of her daily routine. It’s our turn to do the same.

Elsa saw first hand an act of true love when her sister gave her life for her. Christ has given his life for each of us. The truest act of love that ever could be! Spend some time dwelling on this love. But don’t stay there. Allow Christ’s love to propel you over your fears and into what God is calling you to do.

 

“We are Groot.”

The movie Guardians of the Galaxy features an eclectic team of characters. There is the human self-proclaimed “Star Lord” leading the way. There is Gamora, adopted daughter of the bad guy. There is Drax, the brute strength of the operation seeking revenge against noted bad guy. And then there is the genetically-altered talking raccoon Rocket and his sidekick Groot. Groot is a tree who moves and sort of talks. His only words are “I am Groot.” He has the ability to grow quickly and uses this ability in a variety of ways to fight and protect the team.

At the climax of the movie the team is about to crash land in a giant space ship. There is not much hope. Groot, however, starts scooping up the team one by one. He gathers them together in a small circle and begins to grow around them. He grows a thick protective barrier so that the team will be shielded when they crash. Rocket, in tears, realizes that with this plan, Groot himself will not survive. “Why are you doing this?” He asks. “WE are Groot” is Groot’s solemn answer. You can see the beautiful and emotional scene on youtube: https://youtu.be/fVpq9pAjmE0.

The ship crashes and Groot has in fact saved the team, although he does not save himself. However, Rocket takes one of the broken branches and plants it in a small flower pot. At the end of the movie we see that Groot is re-growing. From the broken twig a new tree has begun to grow. Groot lives on.

We can learn a thing or two from this tree man. As I mentioned above, Groot’s vocabulary is limited to three simple words. Even so, it is clear that his passion and loyalty lies with his friend Rocket and anyone who becomes Rocket’s friends as well. He doesn’t need to speak. His actions tell his story and assure others of what sort of creature he is. We would do well to remember the old adage, “actions speak louder than words,” and follow Groot’s example at times.

Groot is not only loyal and passionate, but he sees himself as part of a bigger picture. Groot has a more collective and communal view of life. In America, we tend to see our lives, our faith, and our actions quite individualistically. It’s all about me. I go to church because I want to be a better person or I want to be closer to God. These ideas are true, but they are only part of the picture. We are a part of a group, a town, and a world. Groot dies because he sees himself as a part of the team. He dies, but the group lives. Therefore he knows a part of him will live, too.

The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. 15 He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised. 16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!”
2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Like Groot, Jesus gave his life to save all of us. Jesus died on the cross because his death took the punishment that humanity deserved because of sin. His resurrection conquered death for us all. Because of Christ, we can “die to sin” and rise again with him. He is a part of us and we are part of Him. We are invited to take part in the new creation of the risen Christ.

Groot reminds me that I am not alone. I am one part of my marriage, my family, my church, my community. My actions affect all those around me and can bring others up or down. Because of Christ, I am empowered to overcome those things that would bring me down and live a life of resurrection and love. May we each remember these things: we are in this together, death has been overcome, and new life is there for us all.

 

 

 

The Dead Walking

After the first season of the Walking Dead I decided the show wasn’t for me. However, my husband continued to be a fan and the story line in season 4 drew me in. In season 4, the characters get separated and we get several entire episodes that focus on just 1 or 2 characters. My favorite character in the show is a sword-wielding woman named Michonne. Like most everyone else in the zombie apocalypse Michonne has been through so much including the loss of her young son and boyfriend. After her loss, she was on her own for a while and became an extremely hardened individual. She didn’t want to build new relationships; she was simply surviving.  In my favorite scene of her episode we see Michonne walking so slowly that walkers are walking around her. She has become like one of them. They are dead, yet alive. Although she is alive, she is dead. Just as slowly, she comes to a realization. She isn’t like them. She is alive. There is no dialogue, but you can see on her face that she makes a choice. She’s going to start living again. In her resolve, she gloriously slashes down the dozen walkers samurai-style and continues on her way. In the world of The Walking Dead, death is not the end.

I love stories about resurrection. They are all around us. And I love THE story of resurrection that occurred so long ago when the women went to the tomb on the third day. Their friend and teacher and so-much-more had died a brutal death. They most likely had too many questions to count and hearts that were broken. But I want to think they also had faith. Jesus had called the dead Lazarus from the grave and they had seen him perform countless other miracles. But how could someone who was dead still go on making miracles? Jesus was about to show them that death is no longer the end.

When they got to the tomb it was open and empty. Angels told them that Jesus was risen and on their way back to the disciples Christ himself appeared to the women. They were instructed to “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me”  (Matthew 28:10). Death had been beaten. Jesus was alive and well, bearing the scars given him in his crucifixion. For the disciples, this meant everything. Their sacrifices to follow this man were not in vain. Jesus was telling the truth; he was the son of the living God! And this resurrection was not just for Jesus – it was for them and it is for us.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

Many things in life can cause us to feel dead. The loss of those close to us. Difficult situations in which we feel helpless and hopeless of getting out of. Physical or mental illness that can keep us from living our lives in the way we should be able to. Pain and suffering that I can’t imagine but that I read about in the news. And yet, God offers life. Death is not the end and it is not the way God intends for us to live in the here and now either. Resurrection is not something we wait to experience one day, but something we can experience each and every day that we need it. I almost stopped watching the Walking Dead because it was violent and graphic and there were children involved (I know it’s make believe, but it’s still tough for me to watch!). But there are so many resurrection stories! People battling the worst circumstances and fighting for life. Fighting not just for survival, but for the chance to find love where they have lost it, to find hope where it has been taken, and to find community in the pain. That stuff is not make believe. Love has conquered death. The risen Christ has made a way for life out of death. And we are invited to join him.

A Bible, Oil Pastels, and Some Inspiration

I was reading Kathy Escobar’s awesome blog (http://kathyescobar.com/) and she referenced a new project of another awesome lady, Heather Caliri (http://www.heathercaliri.com). Heather has written a lovely little ebook called Word Made Art.

Word Made Art is a list of ideas for creating art with and inside your Bible. As soon as I saw the title I was intrigued and excited. In the past, before two kids, I occasionally took the time to paint or draw in a devotional way. One Lenten season I created a grid on a canvas and each day of Lent I painted a small picture in response to what I had read that day. I love expressing my feelings about God and life in art, I just sadly rarely make the time to do so.

Sometimes I get into a rut. The idea of reading the Bible can feel like a chore or an uphill battle to hear something in a fresh way. Drawing and painting helps me to see things in a new way and if not that, it helps me take joy in remembering the stories I’ve heard many times. To actually draw pictures on and create art with the Bible just takes this to another level!

Simply because I was eager to start on the project and not wait until I had “alone time” (because in reality, that is very limited!), I invited my 4 year old daughter to help me. She was very interested in this idea of coloring in my Bible. After carefully explaining that she could only do this with books if she asked my permission, we raided our art closet and got to work. I found my oil pastels and we began coloring pictures of some of her favorite stories. She asked me to read the stories and I loved her excitement of thinking of the next story that she wanted to draw. I think this will be an ongoing hobby of ours!

Word Made Art is full of a variety of ideas, not just simply drawing and coloring in your Bible. Some of these will take more time, but I plan to share those as well as they come along.  I’m looking forward to where this project leads! If you like this idea too,  go check out Heather’s blog and facebook page and join us on this adventure where art collides with faith.

Here are some of our first pages:

Genesis 9: The Covenant with Noah (probably my favorite)

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Exodus 14: Parting the Sea

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Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

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Being a Finder

Lost Coins Blog Overlay

Being a Finder: Perspective on the Parables Part 1

I cannot even remember how I came across it, but back in November I bought Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi by Amy-Jill Levine (published 2014 by Harper Collins). I am slowly working my way through it. The book seeks to recover how Jesus’ audience of first century Jews would have heard and interpreted his parables. So much of Jesus’ teaching was given through parables that I don’t think I can ever learn enough about them. What’s more, I’ve become used to the traditional interpretation of most of them, so I am excited to take a fresh look. I plan to write several posts on different parables (hence the “Part 1” above).

The first parables that Dr. Levine tackles are the “lost” ones: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. I’d like to focus on the first two of these parables in my post today. The traditional way these stories have been interpreted is found in the text itself. In the gospel of Luke, Luke summarizes the stories by comparing the lost and found to sinners repenting. To be lost is equivalent to living a life in opposition to God and God’s ways. When one is “found” one has noted the error of her ways and turned around to live the way God would want her to live. However, Dr. Levine points out that sheep and coins that go missing aren’t exactly sinning and repenting. They don’t even know that they are “lost.” What if we consider the stories without Luke’s tagline about sinning and repenting? What else was Jesus trying to teach us through these stories about finding lost things?

Thus, let us re-visit “The Parable of the Searching Shepherd” and “The Parable of the Searching Woman” found in Luke 15.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ …..

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’

Because of the traditional interpretation of identifying the sheep and the coin as sinners who repent, I normally see myself as the lost thing. At one time, I did not know God or see myself as a Christian. Now I do. We usually call this being “found.” The song Amazing Grace famously captures this sentiment. However, in verse 4, Jesus actually casts his audience in the roll of the shepherd – the finder. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep…” Jesus’ listeners are not the sheep, they are the finders (and losers!) of the sheep. There are several key points that both the shepherd and the woman share. First, they have lost something. Levine points out that it took some effort in both of these cases to realize what was lost (1 out of 100 sheep, 1 coin out of 10). Neither the shepherd nor the woman were content with 99 sheep or 9 coins. They knew something was missing and they went after it. They put in the hard work that is necessary to find their lost object. Finally, they call together their friends to celebrate the finding.

If Jesus wants us to identify with the finder, what is he getting at? When I see myself as I finder, I have a different outlook on my day. Being a finder places me in an active role. Being a finder means I’ve got to be alert, I’ve got to be ready for some hard work. Finally, being a finder means I grab my friends and we recognize what I’ve found. I have some sort of group around me that appreciates the finding and is happy to help me rejoice.

Lost things are not always things; even if we are in the “finding” role, we can still be in search of people (and they may not need to repent; maybe they are in need of something else). Jesus finds lots of people in the gospels. He finds the disciples. He finds people in need of healing and people in need of friends. At the end of John 1, he finds Philip, Philip finds Nathanael, and then Philip tells Nathanael that he found Jesus (See John 1:43-45). It’s a circle of finding! Maybe we need to find someone not for them, but for ourselves. Sometimes it’s easy to see that we need a certain person in our life. Sometimes we don’t know we’ve “lost” someone from our life until we find them again. Be alert! Be on the look out! Being a finder means that we notice that someone is missing. Perhaps we need to start by asking God what we even lost.

Let’s be finders! Let’s search our hearts and find kindness and generosity when we lose them on a bad day. Let’s search our minds and find solutions or a good attitude when we lose them among negative thoughts and complaints. In the midst of a dark world, let’s find some light. In the midst of conflict, let’s find peace. In the midst of our busy days let’s stop and find Christ. And when we do, let’s not forget to grab our friends and celebrate.

 

 

 

 

Unfailing

BlogImageLoveFourth Sunday in Advent: Love

“Show us your unfailing love, Lord!”
Psalm 85:7a

How do you show someone that you love them? I remember several years ago “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman was a popular way to discover how one best communicated love, either receiving love from others or showing love to others. Some people feel most loved when they receive a gift or if you do something for them. Others feel most loved when you spend “quality time” with them. I never took the quiz, but I’m pretty sure quality time is my love language, if I had to pick just one. Of course, I’m happy to receive a present or if my husband does the dishes, but there is nothing more special to me than for someone to just hang out and talk with me. It doesn’t really matter that we go somewhere fun or spend money eating out. We just have to be together.

Sometimes in life there are situations when there really isn’t anything else we can do for someone else besides simply be there for them. In tough times or sad times, the gift of your presence can mean more than bringing cookies or walking the dog.

So many years ago, God understood that the greatest gift that humanity needed was simply his presence.

“4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:4-7

 This past week I’ve been dealing with a head cold, so I haven’t had as much time or mental clarity as usual to write. However, I’m happy to keep this post short and sweet. Christmas is about God coming down to be with Creation is a real, tangible way. Jesus was born in order to be with us. I hope that this week you can spend some time just being with someone. I know you might have plans to visit family and friends, but make sure you are there both physically and mentally. Put your phone away, stop worrying about work or whatever else, and connect with those around you. God has shown all of us unfailing love in the gift of Christ. Let’s show others this love by being with them as he is with us.

Unqualified

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Third Sunday in Advent: Joy

It started  a couple years ago. Around mid-December I have to start reining in my desire to buy more Christmas presents for my daughter (now daughters this year!). The ads are everywhere and although they are designed for children, I am also tempted by them. This year they have Frozen on everything. And instead of making me think, “Gee, do they really need a Frozen ride-around toy for toddlers and five more Elsa dresses?” I think “Wow! My almost-1-year-old would love that and of course my 4-year-old needs all five of those!” I know these things would make them so happy. I just want to bring them all the joy I can! Of course, I know I can bring joy to them in lots of other ways.

If I look at my own life, certainly tangible, gift-able items bring me joy. However, the intangible things bring me much greater joy. The reason giving things to my girls brings me joy is because they themselves are probably my greatest joy. I love seeing them grow and learn and interact with the world around them. My relationships with my family and close friends bring me joy. As I get older I have become more appreciative of my relationships with my parents and my friends as they grow over time.

Another source of joy that I realized over the past few days is the joy that I have received from living out my call to ministry. I have to admit, over my six years on staff in churches I had days where joy was the last emotion that I felt. Some days things didn’t go according to plan, some days I felt like my heart was trampled, and some days it was very difficult to see God at work. But! Some days things did work out, some days a teenager would understand God’s call on his or her own life, and some days I knew that the ministry I was a part of was truly making an impact in that child’s life. On those days, my soul rejoiced. On those days, those “other” days were worth it. On those days, I knew the joy that was the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work among us.

Mary the mother of Jesus also felt great joy at being used by God. I cannot imagine the many feelings she felt when she first encountered the angel Gabriel and learned of God’s plan. After Mary meets Gabriel, she goes to visit her relative Elizabeth. As soon as Mary enters Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth confirms what Gabriel has told Mary. With this confirmation, Mary is overwhelmed with the fact that God has chosen her to bring his son into the world. Her response is memorialized in a portion of the gospel of Luke known as the “Magnificat” or simply, Mary’s Song.

Luke 1:46-55
And Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me-
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”

Mary notes at the beginning of these verses that one the reasons she rejoices is because God has chosen her in spite of her “humble state.” Indeed, the contrasts in the later verses show that God has often taken special care of those who are considered least in the social strata or in need of help. Throughout the Bible, people are chosen by God for jobs that don’t really take into account any sort of previous qualifications that one might think were necessary to complete those jobs. Often in my own life, I felt like I simply happened to be in the right place at the right time to see God at work. In my call to ministry, I repeatedly come back to the idea that for some reason God called a shy, introverted girl to be some sort of leader in a church. Perhaps this is part of the joy. That, in spite of any real or perceived inadequacies, God does choose each of us to bring hope, peace, joy and love into this world. In spite of our shortcomings and mistakes, we sometimes get front row seats to small miracles and little glimpses into heaven on earth.

What brings you the most joy in your life? Have you discerned the job, whether in a church or outside of it, that God has called you to? Perhaps, like Mary, God will surprise you. This Advent season lets resist the temptation to get caught up in the things that might bring us a little joy and seek the One who gives us the greatest joy.