lovedandlearning


final_advent_cover4.jpgThough you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. I Peter 1:8 (NIV)

Every Christmas I try not to miss it, to miss Him. I make it my goal to complete all my myriad tasks in an organized and timely fashion, so when the time comes, I’m serene, peaceful, and ready. I hurry and scurry and plan and prepare, so that when The Moment I’ve set to enjoy Jesus comes, I don’t overlook it.

The truth is I usually still manage to miss it. Every year I fall further behind. More unexpected guests show up, or my Christmas banana bread implodes, and I’ve got to make another batch. When I finally look up from the holiday wreckage, I discover that it’s time to pack up the ornaments, and I haven’t met with Jesus at all. (more…)

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Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV)

During Christmas, “hope” is a very popular word. Whimsical signs with elegant lettering spell it out across hallways and front doors. People sprinkle it around like confetti at a surprise party. Throughout this magical season, all you have to do is hope, they say, and everything will turn out all right.

We all hope for things. We hope that the car repair isn’t too expensive. We hope our team wins on Sunday. We hope that the sippy cup that’s been under the couch for a week contains water and not a stinky, solid mass that used to be milk. (more…)

rest.jpgBe still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

I’m supposed to be writing a devotional about rest; it was due three days ago. Instead, I’m still sitting on the couch, in the semi-dark, staring at an offensively blank laptop screen, thinking about anything and everything but writing. Or resting. I gotta be honest, I’m stressing. It’s ironic, preparing to write about rest by doing the opposite. But I can’t help it. Resting has never been my cup of tea. I know how to rest physically. I practically have my PhD in the art of napping. My big problem comes when I try and convince my brain that it’s time to rest. My thoughts race around like cars in the mall parking lot on December 24, driving erratically and honking their horns, circling and backing up, dodging distracted pedestrians and slamming on the brakes. Anyone else ever feel like that? Maybe it’s just me. (more…)

prepare.jpgLove is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

Tune in with me for a just a minute to It’s a Wonderful Life. I’m sure it’s on at least one channel right now. Fast forward to the end of the movie and look at that picture of Christmas. All the family and neighbors standing around, reveling in their togetherness. The picture of holiday harmony. Is that what Christmas looks like for you and your family?

At our house, the family part of Christmas is anything but serene. Just setting the date for our celebration takes an Act of Congress. School calendars, work deadlines, travel restrictions, and well-meaning in-laws jockey for position on the holiday calendar. Negotiations begin months in advance, leaving all parties ample time to finagle and finesse the dates. In the end, compromises are made, and we manage to be together all in the same place for approximately twenty-two-and-a-half hours on a day some time in December or October or possibly June. (more…)

Dear God,

 

For so long I’ve felt the pressure of wanting to be loved and important.  Because of the many obstacles between me and you, I haven’t often felt the love and significance that ought to come from being the adopted child of the KING OF THE UNIVERSE.   So instead, I make myself important and make darn sure that everybody loves me.  And since I know it’s wrong to boast and build myself up, I try and maneuver it so that I’m getting love and recognition for serving you.  But lately, I’ve started to see that the build-yourself-up strategy always leaves me cold and empty, and usually humiliated and bitter.  I can never make everyone love me.  I can never be so important that I won’t feel afraid anymore.  It will never be enough to fill up the very hungry beast in my heart.  Tears have come and gone.  I’ve cried out to you to give me something to know and trust, something I could feel and really sink my teeth into.  Most days, I don’t see it.   But then, in the midst of some pretty unpleasant circumstances, you prove it to me.  “God disciplines those he loves.”  Darn it.  “Why’d you have to definitively prove that you love me by kicking my butt?”  I retort.  “I’ve tried telling you the other ways, but you weren’t listening,”  you chide.  “Hmmpphh.  Point taken.”

 

Now I’m so used to learning the hard way, I can barely believe it when you teach me something without walking me through the fire.  That’s why I Peter 4:10-11 blows my mind.  “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.”  What?  First, you love me and now I’m important?  I think I need to lie down.  So you’re telling me that when you tell me to speak or to write, I’m speaking your words.  How much more significant could I be?  The answer makes me shiver all the way to my insides.  It’s scary.  I can only see the many, many sins between me and carrying out of your purpose.  I see the big obvious ones like being unkind to my family and the subtle, manipulative ones like taking the glory for myself instead of giving it back to you.  There’s just no way I can speak on your behalf God.  I can’t do it.  I’m too immature and, well, I just can’t do it.  I want to, but I know I’ll just mess it up.   Maybe call someone else, because I am not your girl.

 

But I know I am, and just as I trusted you when you were walking me through a season of “discipline” (or should I say “love”?), I have to trust you as you walk me through a season of “calling.”  Good grief, I need to be careful what I ask for. 

 

Love,

 

Me

 

When God calls you to write (either specifically or in general) what is your response?  Do you feel the weight of I Peter 4:11 when you write?  How does his calling affect the writing process for you?

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

1 Peter 4:12-13

Suffering. The very mention of the word causes me to shudder. Suffering. Unpleasant, hard, and miserable, yet counted to believers as part of our inheritance with Christ. (Romans 8:17) Ugh. As the Lenten season marches on closer and closer to Good Friday, it pushes us to examine the sufferings of our savior. Pain. Agony. Abandonment. Sorrow. Grief. Loss. There is no way to escape the truth that he suffered those things for us. (more…)

Tonight I burned the bacon.  The charred remnants smoked and bubbled in the skillet as I did my best to quickly turn down the heat, move the pan, and turn on the overhead vent—all while trying to avoid starting a colossal grease fire.  The smell was intense, greasy and heavy, hanging in the kitchen just above my head as I continued my clean up efforts.   After a few minutes, though, thanks to the miracle of sensory adaptation, I didn’t notice the offensive odor any more and went on with the business of making dinner.  After dinner we headed out for a walk.  When we returned home the odor assaulted us once again with full intensity.  To me, this is what Lent is about.  “Lent is about bacon,” you ask?  No, lent is not about bacon (although I bet more people would participate if it were.) Lent is about awareness.  And focus.  About removing distractions.  Walking outside in the fresh air so that you can recalibrate your sense of smell.

As Christians, we live in a world for which we weren’t designed.  We groan and long for eternity, for face-to-face life with Christ and for the alleviation of suffering and pain. But as we trudge through life, we are easily distracted, tempted to anesthetize ourselves to those eternal aches and pains.  We adapt.   We accept that this is life. We get accustomed to pursuing our earthly agendas, the things we can see. We grow numb to the sin that parades itself around in front of us and inside of us. And Lent is our chance to corporately examine the “sensory adaptation” that naturally occurs as we live in this polluted place.

 

Enter the traditional Lenten disciplines: prayer, fasting and charity.  Many think of Lent as a time only for penance and giving up a vice.  But the purpose of Lent is not limited to removing sin from our lives, although repentance plays an important role.  It also includes separating ourselves from the good and perfect gifts of God in order to sharpen our consciousness to him and his movement in our lives and our world. To identify, in our own miniscule way, with the sufferings of Christ.  This is where the discipline of fasting comes into play.  Physical hunger can do wonders to sharpen the senses, but so any number of other restrictions.  For me, silence does the trick every time.  A “fast” from having the radio on in the car or the television on brings me to my spiritual knees, forcing me to recognize my dependence on background noise.  The silence provides space for God to walk around inside my head and my heart.  To graciously reveal my sin, but also to change my focus.  He points me away from my obsession with my own journey and destination, and redirects my focus onto himself and his plan for the world. 

 

This leads to the third element of Lenten discipline: charity.  As we separate ourselves from the world and its pleasures through fasting, we begin to see the world as the Creator sees it.  We see a magnificent creation, marred by sin and misuse.  We see the hearts of people, made for intimacy with the Father, separated and broken.  We see poverty, injustice, hatred and the plight of the lost around the world.  As we see these things his way, we are drawn away from the building of our own kingdoms and compelled to participate in the building of his kingdom and fulfill our call to seek it first (Matt. 6:33).  Giving charitably and sacrificially is the natural next step.  

 

This Lenten season I’d like to move toward a fresh focus and renewed senses. Senses that are not dulled by the world around me, but heightened by the presence of the Holy Spirit, free to work in me.  Instead of spending my prayers asking God for my fair share, I want to ask him to bind up the broken-hearted and to provide for the hungry.  Instead of spending my time pursuing my own pleasure, I want to make time to be the hands of God to someone else.  Instead of being numbed and mesmerized by the fallen world around me, I want to be aware of and motivated by God’s purposes for transforming and redeeming it. 

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