Day 1 :: O Little Town of Bethlehem

December 1.  Christmas season is officially upon us.  We received a beautiful blanket of snow overnight.  Looking past our Christmas tree into the glittery field definitely puts me in the mood for a little Christmas!  The most wonderful time of the year!

 

Today I’m listening to O Little Town of Bethlehem & doing a little reading from Micah 5.  Here’s a link to the song on YouTube, if you don’t have it in your iTunes library.  And from a good ole’ fashion Baptist hymnal, here is the music.0285=285

Micah 5:2 says “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet foretold he would be born in Bethlehem.  Bethlehem.  A dot on a map.  Not significant in any way.  Certainly not worthy to hold the promise of the coming Messiah.

Side Factoid {if you like that kind of thing, which I very much do} :: Beth•lehem signifies the house of bread.  Fitting for the Bread of Life to be born in the house of bread, don’t ya’ think?!?

So lowly, map-dot Bethlehem.  This is one of those things that is most surprising about God.  He seems to chose the nothings for some pretty important assignments.  Luke 1:52 says “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate”  God loves to exalt the less-thans.  And Bethlehem would definitely fit in the less-than category for cities.  Bethlehem had nothing in it worthy to have this honor of being the birthplace of the Son of God.  I’m pretty certain there were cities that had prestige, perhaps winners of great battles or places of successful commerce & immense growth that would be more fitting the honor of Jesus’ birth. But God chose Bethlehem.  Christ would give honor to the place of his birth and not derive any honor from it.

Another Side Factoid ::  The chief priests and scribes that King Herod called on when the wise men arrived, knew this prophecy of the Messiah’s birth place well.  {Matthew 2:1-7}

Here’s the thing I see about God on this first day of December.  First, He keeps his promises.  He said Jesus would be born in Bethlehem & all those hundreds of years later, He was!  And second,  He uses the most unusual places & unworthy people to make His promises come true & tell His great redemption story.  He uses what, in the eyes of us humans, is less than worthy on its own to accomplish His work.

If you’d like to join in on the advent fun, here is the link to the free printable Christmas Carol Advent Cards I’ll be using this month at my house.  If you’d like a more traditional advent set, head over to yesterday’s post for Classic Advent Cards or the Names of Jesus Advent Cards.  All free.  Just print them off and enjoy!

encourage one another

What a weekend!  I am a big fan of the Hearts at Home ministry & this weekend was the annual Hearts at Home conference in Rochester, MN.  Hearts at Home is a Christian ministry designed to build up women, no matter their age or stage, so that they can be the best wife, mommy, friend, woman they can be.  And, let’s be real here, it’s a weekend away from the responsibilities of home with some girlfriends to just relax!  Winner Winner Weekend.

This year I was so excited to be a volunteer for the conference.  I was a personal assistant for one of the speakers.  And what a speaker I got assigned to!  Courtney Joseph! I have been hanging out over at Good Morning Girls for a long time & following along with her journey through Scripture.  I also absolutely love her book!  And I discovered this weekend that she is an incredibly kind & God seeking gal! And she’s real & normal.  I love real and normal!!

But the very, very, very best part of the weekend was the time after the conference.  When all the gals that I traveled to Rochester with would meet up, attempt to make a decision about where to eat {harder than you can even know!}, go back to the hotel room & laugh and cry and laugh a lot more!  There is something incomparable to time with girlfriends.  Longtime girlfriends & new ones too…no matter!

One of the evenings, we sat in the hotel room all cozy in our sweats, eating up all the chocolate & mints we brought along.  Never mind that we had just finished some of the best burgers we’d ever eaten. {shout out to the Half Barrel in Rochester, MN!}  There is always room for sea salt chocolates!  One of the gals said “we are going to share what we like best about each other.  I’m not kidding!  Let’s start with you.”  We sat, eating taking turns sharing the things that we loved most about the other women in the room. It was awkward at first – both to share and to be the receiver.  But as we all shared, it became so much less awkward and so much more refreshing.   Character qualities and skills and talents and stories filled the hours.  Some of us had known each other for decades.  Others, just a day or two.  But we shared what we saw, what we loved, how much we appreciated each other.  It was powerful!  To hear what others see in you, deep inside you…life giving!

We are called to build each other up, encourage each other, do good to one another & a whole host of other things that help us to thrive in this life.  It’s not easy to do, awkward at times, but it’s so powerful!  Sometimes it’s easier to pull down.  To remind people of the areas that are not so swell, not the best, not what you love.  Other times it’s easy to think that people know what you love about them, that they already are aware of the qualities that make them special to you.  But, often we don’t know & often we even question if any of those qualities exist in us.  We see them in others, but can’t find them within ourselves.

So today, be thankful for your friends and take time to remind them that not only are you thankful for them, but share what you see in them that makes them lovable & wonderful to you.

{click on the image for a printable version}

valuation

After thinking through another mass shooting in our country, I got to thinking about value.  What is it exactly that makes me valuable?  What makes you valuable?

I could give a great Sunday school answer right now…but instead, let’s do this.

For a ridiculously long part of my life, I would say that I determined my value based upon external things.  I was obsessed during late high school, college & early adulthood with weight.  I determined in those years that I was more valuable as a thin woman than as a larger one.  And I truly believed that I would be more valuable in the eyes of others that way too.  Ridiculous.

I have spent time determining my value based on the style and color of my hair.  Stressing over roots, worrying about it being too flat {in the 80’s} or too curly and unruly {anytime but the 80’s!}.  In junior high one time I actually refused to go to school {but lost my refusal when my dad was called at work.  whoops!}  because I could not get my bangs right.  I was convinced that I would not be accepted by my peers that day  with my hair in the condition that it was.  My poor grandmother tried to reason with me & explain that it really didn’t matter and that any peer who was not going to be my friend because my bangs weren’t a certain height off my forehead, should definitely not be my friend.  I couldn’t understand that though.  I was certain it mattered & my value as a human was wrapped up in my hair.  Ridiculous.

I have also spent time thinking it was all about all the material things I had.  Specific brands, specific styles.  My clothes needed to be like the latest catalog and my home needed to look like that most popular Pinterest board.  I believed that those were the things that determined who I was and what I was worth.  Ridiculousness!

Although I could certainly go on {and on and on } let’s wrap this little confessional up with the accolades of others.  I have spent way too much of my life basing my worth on what others are thinking about me.  I handed my life to them {whether real or the mask I wore} and asked them for a valuation.  What am I worth?  Good words and praises equalled great value.  Critiques and complaints {or even worse ignoring} equalled little value.  And the biggest trouble with handing over my life for outside valuation is no matter what the answer, it’s never quite a good enough value, it can always be improved upon & the craziness of the cycle continues…lose more weight, work out more, eat right, make sure my hair and make up and clothes are spot-on, get that new car, get that new house, go on that vacation.  Exhausting.

I don’t think we’re meant to be chasing a higher value this way.  And can it even be true?  Am I more valuable at 125 pounds or 250 pounds?  What happens if I gain weight?  Is my value as a human decreasing?  It can’t be.  I’m still me.  What about my hair or clothes?  If I’m sporting the best hair style {no roots to be found} and wearing the best brands in the latest fashions, am I of more worth than if I’m all rooty on top with last year’s styles? Can’t be.  If I have a great, successful career making oodles of bucks am I more valuable than the person working three jobs to just stay afloat?  I hope not!  Because what happens when I gain a few pounds or lose my hair or lose my job?

I also don’t think I’m meant to be valuing everyone around me either.  Sizing them up and critiquing their life to make a valuation about their worth.  And then treating them in a manner that my valuation dictates.  Ugh!  That’s ugly isn’t it?  But I’m afraid it’s true.  I do it & I’m sure many, many {let’s just say all} do it too.   What a tragedy of humanity.

I guess I believe {or I’m learning to believe & trying hard to live it} that value is set.  No matter what I do or look like or own, I have value.  And the other side of that pancake, no matter what you do or look like or own, you have value.  And that value is not something that rises and falls.  It is steady.  Constant.  And it is high.  I believe that I am valuable simply because of the One who made me.  Simply because I am.  I am not valuable because of what I have, how I look or what is said about me.  I am valuable because I was made to be valuable.  And so were you.  And so was every.single.human I will ever lay eyes on or hear about or never meet on this planet.  every.single.human.  Valuable simply because they were made.  Exhale that a second.  That’s freedom.  That’s rest.  That’s stopping the shimmy-for-value game that we play.   All of us!  Our worth is set.  I will not be more valuable tomorrow because I’m already as valuable as I can be today.  I will not be less valuable in a year, because I’m already as valuable as I can be now.  And you too!  That, my friends, is freedom!  And likewise with every person on the earth.  Our value is definite, great and never lost!

Now to pass this along to my littles.  To teach them that even though everything they see on media, everything they hear in commercials and read in magazines that says ‘do this to be cool’ or ‘if you own this, you’ve made it’, is a flat out lie.  It’s a chase for worth & value that is smoke & mirrors.  I want to teach them that no matter what, they are valuable because they are.  Because the One who made them says they are.  And I want them to believe it, to know it deep down in their insides and live it out in everything they do.  To not have to chase the wind, but to love the Wind Maker and know he adores them and has placed great value on them!

The Trouble with Kim Davis…and me

I don’t know.  I’m at a bit of a loss as I think about Kim Davis & her stand for, well, I guess her stand against gay marriage.  She’s the gal that refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her deep moral convictions & then she was found in contempt of court and got herself thrown into jail.  Then she got released & had a press conference where she was cheered on by a bunch of folks and a couple of Republican presidential candidates.

kim davisI watched her on that podium.  I saw her stand there with her hands raised thanking God and her fellow prayer warriors {my words, not hers}.  I heard the cheers from the crowd showing support for her defiance and “bravery” to take a stand against something they all saw as immoral and wrong.  And I couldn’t help but think ‘what are you doing?’.

From the outside looking in, absolutely nothing about this situation looks inviting, welcoming or kind.  Rather, it looks a bit more like a mob of people with a belief pointing their fingers at something they see as bad and pushing it out.  No part of this says, “come just as you are, we want you to be included because we know that the Spirit is powerful & can turn in hearts that have never turned to Him before, if we just get out of the way and let Him move.”  If I was not a believer, I would never in a million years choose to become a part of what I saw there.  Run away.  How does this point anyone to Christ?

“But, oh my oh my, if we don’t tell them the truth about their sin, that’s not loving at all” I hear you naysayers saying.  And you might have a point. But I have a better one.  {just kidding…sort of…my point is going to be good though}  We have to be able to discern when we can speak truth into the lives of those we love. Catch that last bit?  Speak truth into the lives of those we love.  I don’t think it does any good to just throw around the “truth” without a relationship of love behind it.  That relationship is vital.  And it must be real.  Real.  Jesus did it.  I’m sure he wasn’t in agreement with the behaviours of the prostitutes that showed up at the dinner party at Matthew’s house.  But I can imagine that he was welcoming & kind, getting to know them before he shared the truth with them.  Time and time again it can be seen that Jesus welcomed, built a relationship and then told the truth.  And it seems that more often than not, Jesus’ big truth telling moments were just between him and the person he was truth-telling too.  That doesn’t look much like what was happening in Kentucky to me.

Sin grieves the Holy Spirit.  It makes him sad.  I think it made Jesus sad when he walked among us.  And it should sadden us to. It shouldn’t sadden us because it’s filthy.  It should sadden us because it is what separates each of us from God.  And it should sadden us to the point where we are so concerned for souls that we will do anything to reach them.  We will go to where they are.  We should be so overwhelmed with the truth we believe that we faithfully pray for those that haven’t found the hope we hold to.  I think rather than being moral compasses for the masses, we need to be the walking mercy along side each other. The religious obnoxiousness of Jesus’ day questioned why he hung out with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus’ answer is fairly familiar…he said because those who are well have no need of a physician, only those who are sick.

I wonder how often I’m looking for the sick?  How often am I earnestly wanting to find the sick to introduce them to the Physician?  And how often do I arrogantly think I’m the physician?  I’m not the physician, but I try to play one sometimes, getting people all fixed up before I invite them into my life.  Instead, I should be the ambulance inviting all kind of sinners into the van to meet the true Physician.  And on the way to Him, we can chat & get to know one another & build a relationship so that when the Physician approaches the sick will more likely want to meet him.

I’m saddened to realize that I tend to gather together with other believers far more often to build up great walls.  Walls that I hurl truth from like cannon balls from a mighty fortress.  I stand back and watch them flatten people while my friends cheer me on.  Some love {note sarcasm}.  Instead I think I need to be working together with others to build larger tables to invite more sinners to gather together. To put away the bombs, open the massive gates and let everyone in.  We can all share a meal and a conversation and build relationships.  I may not {will not} approve of everyone’s choices.  That’s true.  And after I’ve spent some time with them getting to be friends, I may have the opportunity to explain that to them in a most loving, gentle, merciful way.  And their heart might be moved, or not.

After all I’m just a sinner too.  I just sin in more Christian-circle-socially-acceptable ways.  And I’ve been redeemed.  Hallelujah!  Not because I was the right kind of sinner or because I did all the right things to earn redemption, but because I trust Jesus & His work on the cross to redeem me.  What a truth that is!  I should want to meet everyone in all kinds of sins to share the joy of redemption and grace.  Not everyone will believe it, not everyone will accept it, not everyone will be kind.  But no matter.  I should still be seeking out the lost, praying earnestly for their hearts to be softened to hear from God, inviting them into my life & being a part of theirs all without compromising my bible beliefs while showing great mercy & grace.  I see this is where fruit is born.

5 Things I’ve learned from Josh Duggar

I was a Duggar fan.  You know the Duggar family?  From Arkansas, Jim Bob {you cannot make some of this stuff up} and Michelle and their, well, 19 kids.  They are conservative Christians, perhaps ultra-conservative would be more fitting.  They home school. They organize their pantry like a grocery store {dreamy}.  The kids do chores {actually do them & smile – at least on t.v.}.  They wear ridiculous swimming costumes {pulling out my British on this one}.  They talk a lot about God & the Bible.

I have to admit I was skeptical at first sight.  I know absolutely no one with a family that large & I know no mother who never raises her voice at her children, especially with 19 of them.  They’re a bit of an oddity.  But like any good freak show, I had to rubberneck it & couldn’t stop watching.  {not that I think they’re a freak show…just something SO different it’s freaky…in a good way…maybe…or not…i don’t know} Perhaps I admired Michelle a bit for the way she remained calm & peaceful, the way she lowered her head to look directly into the eyes of her little ones when correcting their behaviour.  So unlike my own way, which often involves my flailing of arms & yelling into the abyss hoping words land on the child they are directed towards.  I’m more of a tornado.  Michelle?  A calm wave washing up on the shore.  At least on t.v.  Which is the trouble with reality television.  Anyway…

josh duggarIf you haven’t yet heard, let me fill you in.  Seems the eldest Duggar child, Josh, has run himself into a humdinger of a situation. After last month’s scandal in which he confessed to making bad decisions as a young teen & behaving most inappropriately with his sisters, this latest yuck involves his inappropriateness as an adult.   Seems he decided looking at porn & cheating on his wife were excellent decisions.  Yikes!  All this while he tooted his horn about the importance of family values and morals and ethics.  Double Yikes!  His name appeared on the Ashley Madison hacker lists & he fessed up & said he was sorry.  I don’t know if he’s sorry he cheated on his wife or if he’s sorry he got caught cheating on his wife…and really that’s not for me to determine.  I can’t see his heart {thank heavens!} so this matter lies only between him & God.  I’ll keep my own self out of it.

What I do know is the more I thought about the whole thing, the more I read the ick that folks posted on social media, the more I had to sit back & do some thinking.  Here’s what this simple mind thought:

  1. Sometime Reality Isn’t Real.  For the past how many years, I cannot even count, I’ve watched Josh Duggar on t.v. with his wife, Anna.  I watched them awkwardly side hug upon his proposal.  I watched them more awkwardly kiss when they said “I do”.  I watched Anna give birth at their home {more than once} & I’ve watched them hang out at Josh’s used car lot, just so they didn’t have to be apart so long.  It all looked like it was on the up & up.  Awkward.  But genuine love.  But reality isn’t always real.  What happens behind closed doors sometimes {many times} is different than what we actually see.  On t.v. and with our friends down the street.  No ones life is exactly on-point at all times.
  2. People Fail.  It can be good to have people to look up to, admire, think are worthy of imitating.  I’m all for finding friends & mentors to help with life.  But remember #1 {reality isn’t always real}.  People are going to fail.  Even the most upstanding citizen with all the character qualities you’d like to fill yourself with is not perfect.  To elevate them to a place that only Jesus should occupy will leave you, well, feeling like you have to rub their face in the dirt all over social media.  Reserve the pedestal for Jesus!
  3. We Are Not Called To Critique Everyone.  Speaking of social media, where in the name of all things good in this world did we get the stupid idea that we can go about being the critiquers of everything on the social media airwaves?  Let some things remain unsaid.  Shut up. It doesn’t all need to flow from your fingers to the screen.  Even if it’s the truest truth that’s ever been true, you may not have earned the right to say it.  Save your criticism for people you have built actual relationships with.  And then social media may not be {is not} your best avenue.
  4. Mama, You’re Doing A Great Job.  I don’t know Michelle at all.  But I can imagine that at least once in the past week she’s questioned what she did wrong.  It’s what us moms do.  All us moms.  We have this idea that if we do just what we’re supposed to do, at the absolute correct time, in the right way, with the exact tone of voice & proper balance of grace, then we get kids that are perfect.  It’s like a math equation: A+B=C.  And then if our kid goes all rogue, we assume we have failed.  But breaking news, our kids are not us.  They are them.  And, regardless of our attempts to control them {or is that just me?}, they make their own decision. Good ones.  And bad ones too.  Not because us moms failed, but because they’re human.  Just like us.  They wander! We do the best we know to do.  We love them with as much love as we know to give.  They grow up & fly.  Sometimes they fly high & straight.  Sometimes they fly directly into a tree.  But it’s not all on us.  They get to chose their path.  And our success as moms cannot be determined by the flight path that our children take.  Look at Adam & Eve.  Two sons.  One kills the other.  Did Eve fail?  I don’t think so.  I think her son did.
  5. God Still Uses Losers.  This is not just good news for Josh.  This is great news for me.  Because truth be told, I’m a failure too.  Maybe not as a registered user of an adultery website cheating on my spouse while whacking people over the head with my family values Bible verses, but I’m equally as awful.  And I seem to remember a certain Bible guy who was pretty awful too.  David.  If he had Ashley Madison available to him, he’d have been on.  Absolutely.  But old school BC required just a lady next door taking a bath on her roof {and being the king helped too}.  He got her pregnant.  And then had her hubby killed.  Can you imagine the social media backlash?  {course, as king he’s more a kin to Pres. Clinton so maybe never mind}  But God still used him.  His life was covered with God.  Covered.  Not tomorrow, but after time & growth & strengthening.  God covered his life with Him.  God can use a loser.  Hope is NEVER lost.   hallelujah!

I would not in million years want to be inside the Duggar world right now.  The pain.  The lies.  The betrayal.  The hurt.  The, well, yuck!  I don’t want to be a fly on their wall.  I cannot fathom the thoughts that are streaming through Anna’s mind as she is up feeding a newborn baby.  Sin is ugly & it lays a path of disaster from it’s center, reaching more than the one in the middle, but to all those standing near.  I have no opinions on how anyone should handle anything about this…I’ve not lived this…I have not earned the right to speak into their lives…and truly, I honestly have no idea.  But I hope that whatever direction they fly, they fly with the strength of God beneath their wings & with the hope of Christ leading the direction.  May they ignore the noise, be still & listen to the voice they know as truth, even if they’ve ignored it before.  He still uses losers.

Go do it!

ezra 10.4 What’s your assignment today?  Love on someone?  Offer grace?  Be a humble helper?  Change a wrong, forgive a friend, celebrate another’s victory?  Our tasks aren’t always huge, enormous, change-the-entire-world things.  Dare I say those assignments are rare.  More often they’re the little everyday things that are talked about throughout the Word.  Sometimes they are joyful and easy.  But sometimes they’re I-don’t-want-to-do-this hard.  But He says “get up! get going! and do it!”

And we can’t just focus on our tasks.  We are to be the “we are with you” folks too.  We must be there for our sisters & brothers as they’re arising and doing what they need to do.

Two parts- get up & get to work on your tasks & support those who are also getting up & getting their stuff done!