The Gift

Joshua, my grandson, and our family chose a life-giving gift for AIDs orphans in Africa through ZOE Ministry’s Christmas Animals project. We relaxed at dinner one night last week and talked about the kids in Africa who need ZOE’s ministry and what they might appreciate most right now, as well as in the future. Then we discussed each animal and how it might have both an immediate and long-term impact to provide for their needs. We also talked about how God created animals and how blessed we are to have them.

After careful consideration, Joshua picked which animals we would provide. He chose a goat, because it gives milk and you can either drink it or make cheese or yogurt and he loves both, especially Gogurt. Then he chose four chickens, because they provide eggs and Joshua loves scrambled eggs! Which led to me making scrambled eggs the very next morning.

I thought it was so great that Joshua, with his sweet innocence and generous heart, wants others to have and enjoy what he loves best.

Magnified

In December, we set expectations extremely high for ourselves and for those we know and love. We rush into the month with lists and plans for decorating, baking, shopping and partying – all so we can celebrate and show our love for God and one another. We want to wow everyone, including ourselves.

We create unrealistic expectations, hoping to have the best Christmas ever and we often base those expectations off embellished memories from our past.

We can enter December magnifying our misrepresented version of the perfect Christmas. The looming realization that most or all of our high expectations will not be met can lead us to increased anxiety or depression. This experience can push our strained relationships over the edge and even strain our healthy ones – which is the exact opposite of our original hope.

I’ve been asking myself over these past few days what or who do I want to magnify in this holy season of Advent.  Advent means coming, waiting and preparing for Jesus to be born again in my life and so Advent requires some patience, quiet and calmness.  So, I’ve been remembering the words Mary shared while she waited for Jesus to come and her words give me peace and hope.

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,…      Luke 1:46-53 (ESV)

 

5am

Have you ever woke up at 5am on one of those mornings you had the freedom to sleep until noon if you wanted to? It happened to me this morning.

I remember turning off my alarm last night and thinking, “I can sleep as late as I want tomorrow!”  That thought must have brought on an adrenalin rush because I got so excited I couldn’t fall asleep for at least seven minutes.

I fall asleep way too easy – especially if an episode of Law and Order is on that I’ve already watched eleven times. There is no mystery involved that will keep me awake this way.

In addition to falling asleep easily, I sleep so soundly that earthquakes in Waxahachie and cats crying like babies outside my bedroom window do not wake me up. But at 5am this morning, God woke me up. Right away I knew it was him, and I wasn’t very happy about it.

You see, I’ve had a pretty busy week and there were a couple of mornings that I skipped my usual “hanging with God time” to fast-forward into the work of my day.

God noticed.

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend so we could catch up with each other and keep our friendship alive and healthy.

At 5am this morning I had breakfast with my very best friend so we could catch up with each other and keep our friendship alive and healthy.

I’m glad he noticed.

Psalm 57:8 “Awake, my soul! Awake…”

Wonder

Wonder is defined as astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience. I love that each season of Advent is filled with wonder as we anticipate once again the mystery of Jesus’ coming.

I remember a moment of Christmas wonder the year of my sixth birthday. My seventy-two year old grandmother lived in a tiny house where only the living room had heat.  She was a very content, joyful lady but all her life she had lived on the edge of poverty. On cold days her bedroom felt just like a walk in refrigerator. In the bedroom sat her trunk, her prized possession where she kept all her treasures.

Just before Christmas that year she must have felt that I crossed some major maturity milestone because that was the year she sent me by myself into that chilly room to open up the treasure chest, her trunk. The moment I entered the room and felt the chill I also experienced the sweet scent of wonder. I still live in that moment at times. It was filled with mystery and awe.

As I opened the trunk I immediately saw the source of that sweet scent. The trunk was filled with oranges, apples, nuts and candy.  My grandmother had sent me to this place to find my Christmas present. She had also invited me to choose a piece of fruit and a hand full of nuts and candy to enjoy – but the true gift I received that day was the experience. Somehow I knew that my grandmother treasured her relationship with me and sent me on this mysterious adventure as part of the gift.

Today, that experience still fills my heart with wonder and her trunk now sits in my own bedroom as a treasured reminder.

Wonder is an experience of Christmas I never want to miss. It is something I want to share this year with my family, especially my six year old grandson, Joshua.

My hope for you is that you too will experience wonder this Advent season – something awesomely mysterious and new, something that draws you closer to the treasure of life found in Jesus.

Unburdened

Galatians 6:2 says,  “reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.”

People loved Jesus because he unburdened them.

Since reading this verse a few days ago I’ve been evaluating my own burden factor. Do I lighten more burdens than I create? I’ve definitely been noticing more people who are carrying burdens since I read this and I hope I can unburden someone today.

How about you?

What I learned at Disneyworld

As I sit outside this morning and see the deep blue sky filled with raindrops and listen to the singing birds in the trees I’m thinking about the glory of God.  God’s hands created everything I see and feel right now and therefore a trace of his glory has been left behind for me to find. I’m wondering why I allow so many moments to pass by without looking for it.

What is God’s glory if it’s not God’s presence and God’s grace made visible?

Last week Ron and I were at Disneyworld, where people from all over the world came to have fun and make some great memories with their family and friends. We heard languages and saw faces from cultures and countries we could not always identify, even though we were competing to do just that.  It was fascinating to just sit together and watch all the people go about their day.  Of course, now I’m wondering how much it cost us to sit on that bench for 30 minutes!

A busy street in Epcot might not be the first place you would think to look for the glory of God.  But, looking around and noticing myself, my husband, and all the diversity of people and their unique faces…I could make it out. I was overwhelmed by noticing God’s glory right there in that place!

It reminded me of Paul’s words in Romans 8:17-18

Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Holy God, in this day, help me slow down and recognize your glory in all your people and in all you have created. And humble my spirit so that your glory becomes more visible in me.

Let the memories begin…

As my husband Ron and I walked into the Magic Kingdom yesterday we saw the words: Let the Memories Begin!  It’s been the marketing campaign for Disney Theme Parks since September 2010. Disney hopes some of our best memories will be made within their sparkling gates.

I’m really looking forward to the next three days at St Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando as Executive Pastors and other second chair leaders from the top 100 United Methodist Churches in the U.S. gather to learn from Disney executives and network with one another. The opportunity to experience the excellence of Disney and then immediately hear how top leaders guide the organization is an intriguing opportunity.

I believe the Disney theme is even more relevant in the church. I’m already thinking about how we can help growing Christians create more great memories that will motivate them to keep moving on their journey of spiritual growth. If you have a great memory that has helped you keep growing I would love to hear about it.

Born again

Sunday afternoon we celebrated and confirmed the decisions of 95 young people to profess faith in Jesus. As I prayed and laid my hand on each one, I thought about what it means to be “born again” and wondered how they might come to understand that moment.  Ever since Jesus spoke the words “born again” human beings have been struggling to fully comprehend what that means.

In John 3 we know that a man named Nicodemus came to ask Jesus a question under the cover of darkness. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a teacher of God’s law and an influential religious leader. Jesus already knew what was on Nicodemus’ mind and gave him the answer up front. “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Nicodemus was confused by this answer so Jesus explained further, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” 

To be born again is to invite the Spirit of God to breathe life into my spirit as I profess faith in Jesus. I might remember this as a single moment in time or as a period of growth in my understanding of faith in Jesus. And just as my parents created a plan to help me grow and flourish after I was born, I need to create a plan to help my spirit grow and flourish in the way God hopes for me.

I’m really excited that this fall we’re launching the Journey, a pathway of teaching and resources that can help all of us, including our 95 Confirmands, create a plan to grow and flourish as we love God, love others and serve the world.

In this moment, as I breathe in and out, may the Spirit of God breathe new life into my spirit as I prepare to take my next step.

Return to me with all your heart

“Yet even now, says the Lord, repent and return to me with all your heart” Joel 2:13

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day the Church takes its first steps into the Lenten season, a journey toward deeper devotion to God. This journey calls us to stop whatever it is we’re doing that is distracting us from growing in our love for God so that we can enter more intentionally into the disciplines of prayer, self-examination and repentance. But these disciplines – as significant as they are in themselves – are not ends in themselves. They are a means to an end and that end is that I would return to God with all my heart.

This day has often been reduced to the question: “What am I giving up for Lent?”  This is a good question, but it can only take us so far. The real question for today is: “How will I find ways to return to God with all my heart?” And this leads to an even deeper question: “Where in my life have I grown away from God and what are the practices and decisions that will help me find my way back to him?”

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.  These are such intimate, vulnerable and compassionate words spoken by the King of the Universe to me - not only on this day - but on every day.

What could keep me from him?

That Place

I really do know where to go to connect with God in an intimate and soul-restoring way even though my Google Maps app can’t find that place.

Over the past few weeks my life has felt out of rhythm with crazy ice days, an out-of-town conference, an out-of-town anniversary celebration – the list can go on and on but it doesn’t matter. I know how easy it is to create justification for being too busy for a relationship. 

And even though I pray and read and reflect on Scripture every day, these disciplines can become busyness instead of intimacy with God. I can “do” all these things and still not go to “that place” to connect with God in an intimate and soul-restoring way.

What I want to do every day is experience those good disciplines in that place where God holds my small, dried up, hurting, empty soul in his very own hands and breathes life back into me. I love this place. Everything changes here. My breathing changes, the tension in my body relaxes, the hopelessness I may have felt before transforms into a sense that “everything is going to be alright” because God is here. This is a place where I intuitively know how to praise God.

But to go here requires a deeper investment from me. I have to intentionally shut out the world and find time and solitude so that I can dive in and meet with God more intimately.  

Today, in that place, God is waiting to tell me something. He knows how much my soul needs to hear these words from his very own lips.

… may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. Ephesians 3:18-20  NLT

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