Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. – Romans 10:13-15
Do you know when you first heard about Jesus?
How old were you? What was the circumstance?
For me…I was maybe 6 or 7. Before that, my mom was doing all she could to keep us fed and clothed in a hard marriage. If she told us about Jesus, I don’t remember. She might have, but for her during those years of small ones, faith had been wrung out of her by hardship and disappointment.
Until…some neighbors invited us to their church, and we went. It was there that, as Paul described in his letter to the Roman church above that we first heard a clear message of the person and life of Jesus Christ. It was in that church, as a 9 year old, that I trusted God, through Christ, for the forgiveness of my sins. I trusted God with my small life and my large future.
There have been bumps in the road over the decades following, but none so large that caused me to leave my faith. During a time of great persecution, the apostle Peter declared (in response to Jesus’ question “Do you want to leave?”): “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
That is my witness as well. Nowhere would I want to be except in this journey and destination the Lord has graciously given to me…and you. What a wonder that I got to hear about Him. At an early age. How about you?
It’s not always in a church building where we hear. I’ve known people (and the stories of many others) who came to faith through the quiet revelation of truth by the Holy Spirit…a taxi driver in a far away place whose conversation with a believer really just confirmed what he had already heard, in his dreams and private wrestling with God. A young woman who witnessed her mother’s long years of faithful following of Christ and finally received Him for herself. A man who heard Jesus’ teaching, as he read torn and discarded pieces of Scripture, and believed. So many.
What joy we experience in knowing Jesus. He has brought joy to the whole world. May many hear and receive the good news!
[Pet peeves are not anything we want to cultivate or nurture…I get to a more positive place at the end so hang in there with me.]
US culture has changed – especially related to encounters with strangers or those we consider insignificant or irrelevant – as shown by turned down or away faces, looking beyond people, or not engaging with those we don’t know or don’t care to know.
People passing in hallways as if a living human being isn’t within their visual field. Charting a course from Point A to Point B, maneuvering around people without words. Stepping aside, disengaging, when someone else enters the space and greets one of the two in conversation. Disinterested.
I don’t understand this lack of desire in connection. This avoidance of engagement.
Where does it start? I occasionally teach elementary school-aged children, and even at this early age, there are kiddos who seem to easily engage across groups and with authority figures, others who are shy to engage or are awkward in social interactions, and, finally, those who only engage with their buddies (unless pressed to engage with others). Is it a personality thing? A social anxiety? Is there an environment (classroom or home) that sets a pattern for the children who see and engage with those around them and the ones who refuse to see beyond their friend group? It’s probably complicated, right?
We have grandchildren that look, gaze, see others…and refuse not to be seen. I hope it never changes as they grow older. How did they get where they are as children? I need to ask this question of their parents.
Eye contact as a behavior of connection can occur on a spectrum. No one wants the gift of creepy, penetrating stare-downs. A more subtle or passing gaze could communicate a desire for engagement but accompanied by a further desire not to intrude. Or at the opposing end of the spectrum, the total lack of eye contact as if there is no one there…or the hope, with social anxiety, that if I don’t look, you don’t see me. However, somewhere in the middle of all this, is the one who makes steady and engaging eye contact. That one that says with their eyes and facial expressions, “I see you”. Conversation may or may not follow…but to be seen and acknowledged is a small and precious gift we can present to another.
A life habit easily developed is to determine to see those around us. To make meaningful eye contact. To honor those in front of us (whether a store clerk, fellow employee, or guy in the gym). Lock eyes, a head nod, a smile, a greeting – communicating “I see you”.
This comes to play in all sorts of situations. It is a humanizing practice. A situational awareness that goes beyond keeping ourselves and others safe. It communicates that we matter in the spaces we share.
In our city, as one for instance, we see people with signs at many of the intersections. Beggars. Homeless. Not really sure. The very least we can give them is our eyes…acknowledging them whether we give money or not.
Remember, I spoke earlier of a pet peeve not being something I want to indulge, right? So…
A pet peeve is a button pushed. Long ago, I made it an aim to get rid of the buttons in my life. They divide us and there’s enough division out there already.
This is one I’m still wrestling with…and not to my credit. It becomes easy for me to intentionally ignore, or see past those who see past me…or those who “refuse to see” ones who matter to me. Yet…am I not doing the same thing then? By faulting those in my small opinion are “refusing to see”? When we fault people, without understanding them, we don’t really see them either.
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. – Galatians 6:14
Oh the wonder!!! That we can walk around this world with Creator God, our Sinless Savior, at home in us.
We spend much of our life in the mundane, and yet, miracle of miracles, we carry the fragrance of Christ with us wherever we go. He turns seemingly inconsequential encounters into divine appointments. He fills our quiet with glory. He turns our wanderings into plain paths, clearing the way for His will.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. –Thomas Merton – Deb Mills’ blog
Today I resonate with Thomas Merton’s words. Each day of our lives brings both clear purpose and clouded faith. We don’t always know how to pray or which door of opportunity to enter. Nor do we even feel like lingering, listening to God in prayer, or taking steps forward into the latest unknown.
Fortunately, God knows our frame…our struggles and our strengths. Our weaknesses are not a surprise to Him. In fact, He has already told us that His own strength is revealed as perfection in our own weaknesses. Hallelujah!!! Nothing to fear here.
During our worship time this past Sunday at Movement Church, we sang the song Resurrecting by Elevation Worship. At first I was just singing the words and enjoying the community of our gathered church family. Then this verse caught me off-guard:
The fear that held us now gives way To him who is our peace His final breath upon the cross Is now alive in me
Any of you who know me know that breathing is something I no longer take for granted. Especially as a lung cancer survivor and twice rescued by God during emergencies when I could not even get my breath. Since Sunday, this song has stayed on my heart…as have the apostle Paul’s words to the Galatian church above.
The life we have, as Christ-followers, is ours because of the life Christ gave for us. He lives in us and works that beautiful life through us to others, for our good and the good of those around us, and for His glory.
We won’t always get it right…living this side of Heaven…but we can trust Him to carry us through whatever comes. Praise His glorious name! “His name, His name, is victory!”
There is none like You, O LORD. You are great, and Your name is mighty in power. Who would not fear You, O King of nations? This is Your due. For among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. – Jeremiah 10:6-7
Lord, there is no one like you among the gods, and there are no works like yours. – Psalm 86:8
Earlier this evening, a small group of friends were gathered. Our hosts were refugees from a war-torn country which they fled over a year ago. We were celebrating a late Christmas/New Year’s together… One Christian friend was describing the “why” of giving gifts at Christmas. Crossing cultures and languages, the conversation was peppered with polite exchanges of where our beliefs were similar and where they were not. It happens…close friends who all consider themselves believers, but in very different experiences of faith.
I was reminded of a letter I wrote after a difficult conversation with a dear friend who wanted me to believe in God as she believed…just as I wanted the same for her…to believe as I did.
[As you read the letter, remember I’m writing to someone I loved very much and didn’t want to offend by my words. So keep that context in mind. To this day, she is as dear as ever. Precious to me. Still loving me as I love her…still two people who love God from different faiths.
You’ve asked me why can’t I follow your way…the way you believe. I know you spoke that from your heart, and you know I love you for it. You also know how much I love you as you love me. Since our conversation, your question has weighed heavily on my mind, and I want to try to give that question the answer you deserve. Thank you for loving me enough to risk asking that question. Now, I hope you will hear my love through this answer. We think very differently on these things, but I don’t think I will be telling you anything that we haven’t already talked about. Also, I want you to clarify anything for me that I’m in error on regarding your religion. I commit to you the same in our talks about what I believe. So what I write below is the answer to your question, “Why?” And it’s written with all my love.
First, I already see myself as one “submitted to God”, in the deepest sense of the word you’ve defined for me. My greatest desire is to know God and to surrender to Him in all areas of my life. It’s been the imperfect but deeply personal pursuit of my life. My hope is to follow Him as He reveals Himself to me, both through His Word and by His Holy Spirit.
As I understand your question, to follow your way would require me to leave the way I now follow. That would be impossible for me. I wasn’t born Christian. I became a believer as I understood His revelation of Himself (through the Bible, the witness of others, and the stirring of my heart by the Holy Spirit). This is a relationship with God that I would never or could never sever. To remove a portion of Who I believe He’s expressed Himself to be, both to and for His creation, would be unforgivable. He has come near to us, and I am thankful to know Him, as One both Holy and Humble. I would be sad to believe in a God whose holiness and judgment distance Him far from His people. Am I wrong in my understanding of your experience of God?
To have to face the burden of a life of sin would be more than I could bear. I believe, by His Word, that He has forgiven me and continues to forgive me, as I confess my sins, repent of them, and live for Him. I can’t imagine life where I was responsible to do good works and more good works in hopes to cancel some of my sins and hopefully to win His mercy. My understanding of what is required in your faith may not be altogether correct on this point, but it’s what I see practiced. Help me with this, if I am wrong.
To live not knowing whether I would spend eternity with God or in Hell would be very painful…unimaginable, to be honest. Such terrible uncertainty! His Word tells me that I can know – not because of my good works but because of His good work for my sake. I take great comfort in knowing that I will be in the presence of God forever. It is also a great comfort to know I will see my Mom and Dad again, my brother and others who have gone before me, confident in God’s promises to them through His Word.
To have to deny the sinless life of the Messiah, to deny His death on the cross, and to deny His resurrection would be the greatest dishonor to God that I could ever commit in life. I would never be willing to deny this, and if this is required to be a good believer in your faith, then I am helpless to go that way.
I could not require my children to follow any religion. I do prefer for them to be believers in God by way of the Messiah, and I would be heart-broken if they denied God in their lives. However, to be in a religion that requires them at birth to be identified with that religion seems beyond my right as a parent. It is up to God how He moves in a person’s life. I cannot demand it, no matter how much I would wish it a certain way.
There are tenets of faith in your religion that I agree with wholeheartedly. I think it’s a very good thing to have calls to prayer. I actually also prayed, (when we lived in the same country), when I heard the calls to prayer, so in that we are alike. I also agree with giving money to the place of prayer (for me, the church) for its service to the community. I also think the intention of a month of fasting is a good thing. To sacrifice food, drink, cigarettes, etc. to understand better what it’s like to be poor, and then to give that money to those less fortunate is a reasonable service for believers. I think pilgrimages are also good opportunities to draw closer to God. I do struggle with a pilgrimage that is not really accessible to every believer.
Like you, I believe that God is One…but I cannot ascribe to a faith that places a messenger of God in a preeminent position. You say that is what I do with Jesus, even to the point of making him equal, or a partner to God. This is where we differ greatly, and I know it divides us which makes me the saddest. We have books we believe to be holy which speak very differently about Jesus, even though Jesus is called Messiah in both. He is also said to be without sin in both. This is not a small thing.
I don’t understand the concept of a holy war. I do understand dying for one’s faith, and my hope is that if I have to die for my faith in God, that I will do it courageously and for His glory. That part I understand. To kill others, even infidels, and martyring oneself in doing so, seems morally wrong. God doesn’t need my help to deal with infidels. I know there are examples in the Torah of God calling His people to battle with those who stand against His people, and He shows His glory by miraculously giving them victory. I don’t see God when people take matters into their own hands. I don’t believe God would give me greater rewards for killing people rather than to try to reason with them to become true believers.
Last, but not least, is that to follow your way, I would have to give up parts of the Bible to believe everything in the book you hold sacred. I can’t do that. It would be great sin for me to deny any part of God’s Word. I believe every word is true. I know you think I am deceived. All I know, is that there was a time in my life that I wasn’t a Christian, and it was a dark time for me. God revealed Himself to me through His Word, through the example of others whose lives had been changed by God, and through the movement of His Holy Spirit in my life. Now, I know the experience of a changed life. I am free, because His Truth has set me free. It would be impossible for me to leave His guide for my life. This person that you know and love is that person, only because I am walking in the Light of His Word. We all struggle with the presence of sin, but we can have victory through His Word and by His Power. Since I believe what He says about His own Word, I cannot leave His Word, any more than I can stop breathing.
As I write this, my heart aches, because, of course, I would love for us to be on the Way together. I have answered your question. Maybe, you’ll answer the same question for me sometime. No matter what, if you let me, I will love you all the days of my life. You are my friend, my sister, and my daughter. You are one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given me, and I am so grateful. Sometimes His gifts require a price. He gave Himself for us, that we may be with Him forever. My hope is that our friendship won’t require a price. I never want us to be apart…although we’re not exactly traveling on the same path. My prayer will always be that we reach Home together….and I know you pray the same for me. Only God can answer both our prayers.
That letter was written years ago…to a friend who is even more dear to me today than decades ago. My faith remains unchanged…because God has not changed. He is worthy of our praise…He is worthy of our very lives. The song “Build My Life/Holy, There Is No One Like You” (by Housefires) speaks my heart today.
[Verse 1] Worthy of every song we could ever sing Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe We live for You
[Verse 2] Jesus, the Name above every other name Jesus, the only One who could ever save Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe We live for You Oh, we live for You
[Chorus] (Holy) Holy, there is no one like You There is none beside You Open up my eyes in wonder And show me who You are And fill me with Your heart And lead me in Your love to those around me
[Verse 1] Worthy of every song we could ever sing Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe We live for You Oh, we live for You Jesus
[Verse 2] Jesus, the Name above every other name Jesus, the only One who could ever save Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe We live for You Oh, we live for You
[Chorus] And holy, there is no one like You There is none beside You Open up my eyes in wonder And show me who You are And fill me with Your heart And lead me in Your love to those around me Holy Holy, there is no one like You There is none beside You Open up my eyes in wonder And show me who You are And fill me with Your heart And lead me in Your love to those around me*
In the early days of a new year, we give pause to possibilities of what’s ahead. Besides gym memberships, weight loss programs, and aspirations to spend more time with family, we could use a word of encouragement to move us forward. Debbie Macomber‘s One Perfect Word gives a strong case for choosing one word for the whole year. A word to dissect, and meditate on, and to make real in both our thoughts and walks of life. One Perfect Word. For the year.
This year, after praying and meditating, I chose the word “wonder”. The definition of this word is to be awe-inspired, to marvel, and to be surprised, even astonished. My little grandchildren have taught me great lessons on wonder as so much around them seems miraculous…and it truly is, when you think about it.
Instead of filling my thoughts and speech on the brokenness of this world, I will choose to wonder at the beauty around us, even in the hard. Wonder won’t be at the expense of responding to those in need, but I will study on how to see the wonder. For example, the wonder of a God who is both merciful and just. The wonder that we can actually come alongside someone and be a help…that we can forgive an offense…that we can give hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
How does one decide on a word to cover a whole year? It might be an intentional decision or completely serendipitous? For me, it was through thinking of what might be lacking in my life and asking God to confirm. I thought the word would be perseverance, but in prayer and a series of rapid-fire circumstances, the word “wonder” came into focus. It seemed I would hear or see the word everywhere.
Christmas itself saturates us with wonder as we look deeply into what happened with the birth of Christ. What it must have been like for Mary when she realized the full weight of the Angel’s message to her of bearing the Messiah! For the lowly shepherds being the first to receive the good news of his birth. For us having the incredible invitation to be restored to an eternal relationship with the Lord! Whew!
In “O Little Town of Bethlehem” we sing, “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.” It’s a bold image, but quite right. Every Christian is like Mary. Everyone who puts faith in Christ receives, by the Holy Spirit, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27, emphasis mine). We should be just as shocked that God would give us—with all our smallness and flaws—such a mighty gift. And so no Christian should ever be far from this astonishment that “I, I of all people, should be loved and embraced by his grace!” I would go so far as to say that this perennial note of surprise is a mark of anyone who understands the essence of the Gospel. What is Christianity? If you think Christianity is mainly going to church, believing a certain creed, and living a certain kind of life, then there will be no note of wonder and surprise about the fact that you are a believer. If someone asks you, “Are you a Christian?” you will say, “Of course I am! It’s hard work but I’m doing it. Why do you ask?” Christianity is, in this view, something done by you—and so there’s no astonishment about being a Christian. However, if Christianity is something done for you, and to you, and in you, then there is a constant note of surprise and wonder. John Newton wrote the hymn: Let us love and sing and wonder, Let us praise the Savior’s name. He has hushed the law’s loud thunder, He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame. He has washed us with his blood He has brought us nigh to God. See where the love and wonder comes from—because he has done all this and brought us to himself. He has done it. So if someone asks you if you are a Christian, you should not say, “Of course!” There should be no “of course-ness” about it. It would be more appropriate to say, “Yes, I am, and that’s a miracle. Me! A Christian! Who would have ever thought it? Yet he did it, and I’m his.” ― Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas: the Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ
I’m thinking God is preparing me for a year full of wonder…with eyes fixed on Him.
How about you? Is there a word…one perfect word you would desire as a focus in 2023?
2022 is rapidly winding down. Whew! to finish out the year, these Friday Faves can help us get ready for the new year…hopefully a joyful one!
1) New Year’s Resolutions – 2022…the end is in sight. What do we do with this new year ahead? Do we revisit those habits we thought about changing up in this year? Maybe so. Or maybe we didn’t alter course so much for good reason. Let’s give pause a moment and consider…
I take New Year’s resolutions seriously. They have served me well through the years in shaking up troublesome habits as well as galvanizing better ones. New (or restored) habits that nurture the body, the spirit….and, when possible, family and community.
New Year’s resolutions are not always exercises in futility. They can be excellent pathways to a strong start into the next year. Some of my family and friends treat resolutions with disdain…they never work; they never last. Oh, but not always!
They can be super energizing. Whether we meet our goals or not, there is great promise within the resolution for resetting our thinking. A keen sense of self, or self-awareness, aids in our understanding of habits and true habit change.
Without knowing it, I have actually used a practice of habit change that Ken Sande writes about on his blog, Relational Wisdom 360. He first influenced my life years ago with his work on conflict resolution through his Peacemaker Ministries. He is a gentle guide in many of the issues that complicate our lives.
His article on Seven Principles of Habit Change came at a great time. Sande talks quite kindly about how we develop habits and what it takes to change them. His first principle of habit change gives us a look at the cycle of habits – the cue, the routine (or response), and the reward. I have actually followed Ken Sande’s principles below (without knowing the wisdom of it).
Every habit has three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward.
You can change an undesirable habit by keeping the cue and reward but learning a new routine.
The best way to overcome the temptation to revert to old routines is to have a detailed action plan.
Habit change builds momentum if you can change a single “keystone habit” and then continue to build on consecutive “small wins”.
Will power is like a muscle: it can be strengthened and yet needs to be exerted strategically.
Faith is an essential part of changing habits.
Habit change is more likely to occur within a community (even if it’s just two people). – Ken Sande
Self-awareness is a huge factor relating to habit change. I can see that more now having come through seasons of looking at my own habits.
“Self-awareness is defined as conscious knowledge of oneself; it’s a stepping stone to reinventing oneself, learning to make wiser decisions, and helps you tune into your thoughts and feelings. So often we place blame on externalities because it’s the easiest excuse, when in fact we should be thinking about our thinking, reflecting, trying on different perspectives, and learning from our mistakes.” – Paul Jun
It is possible to affect true habit change if we are willing to take a studied look at ourselves – our awareness and our engagement with making choices/decisions, singularly and within relationship. I used to think that self-awareness was morally charged, i.e., it drove us to become more self-centered. That doesn’t have to be the case. When we take time to really examine where our minds go, through the day, we can train our thinking toward what matters most – related to people, resources, and life purpose.
When we are willing to do that, New Year’s resolutions can become much more transformative than just a few weeks of good intentions. These habit change principles can apply to anger issues, pornography, other addictions, and pretty much any habitual process that negatively affects your work, relationships or general peace of mind.
Five years back, our pastor Cliff at Movement Church challenged us to commit to some resolutions to the Lord…together [podcast of 12/31/2017 here]. That was such a pivotal exercise that I have kept the resolutions made that day in a visible place, to be reminded of the good change in life, and the struggle… Still in view…five years out. Still relevant to now. For 2023, on it again.
Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th century preacher and theologian, definitely understood the importance of praying through and writing out resolutions that would inform his daily life. Over the course of several months, he composed seventy resolutions for life. You can read them here. The five resolutions I made during church on a New Year’s Eve are weighty enough for me…can’t imagine 70! Edwards just gives an example of a man who, even as deeply devoted as he already was, did not want to miss God in a busy life of ministry. Nor did he want to miss the people God placed in his life.
Resolutions help us to keep the main thing the main thing. Sure, we may struggle to keep our bodies and houses in order. Those are temporary situations. Where we hope most to be successful is in keeping our hearts tuned to what matters most. Going deep with God and others. Even with the continuing threat of COVID...if we are ruthless and wise, and don’t give in to another year of listlessness and waiting.
2) Habit Planner –Anyone who knows the writing of Justin Whitmel Earley knows his commitment to a life well-lived. He is determined to live intentionally, not leaving the substance of his life to outside powers or sloppy habits.
“Unlike resolutions, we actually become our habits. There are no changed lives outside of changed habits. And if we want to actually change, we need to take a sober look at where our habits are leading us.” – Justin Whitmel Earley
“Habits are the little things we do over and over without thinking about them. And the tiny and subconscious nature of habits makes them powerful. Why? Because they create our “normal.” Normal life is what stays with you from January through December. Normal life is what shapes your kids, your body, your schedule, and your heart.” – Justin Whitmel Earley
His two books – The Common Rule and Habits of the Household – lay out a simple path for examining our current lives and then setting strategy for habit change. So accessible and engaging whatever our preferences for methods are. If spreadsheets help, he has one for you. If you need a more fuzzy-boundaried approach (that would be me), you can glean from his wisdom, and alter course accordingly.
Below are his own examples of the habit planner. I appreciate his heart so much. He helps us all he can (in his books and free resources):
Below is Tim Ferriss’ guide for a past year review from his own blog (and podcast):
Grab a notepad and create two columns: POSITIVE and NEGATIVE.
Go through your calendar from the last year, looking at every week.
For each week, jot down on the pad any people or activities or commitments that triggered peak positive or negative emotions for that month. Put them in their respective columns.
Once you’ve gone through the past year, look at your notepad list and ask, “What 20% of each column produced the most reliable or powerful peaks?”
Based on the answers, take your “positive” leaders and schedule more of them in the new year. Get them on the calendar now! Book things with friends and prepay for activities/events/commitments that you know work. It’s not real until it’s in the calendar. That’s step one. Step two is to take your “negative” leaders, put “NOT-TO-DO LIST” at the top, and put them somewhere you can see them each morning for the first few weeks of 2022. These are the people and things you *know* make you miserable, so don’t put them on your calendar out of obligation, guilt, FOMO, or other nonsense.
We do a year-end review but not in order to plan out the next year. Mostly to celebrate the year rapidly coming to an end and to reflect on how we might reorder the course of the next year (re the negatives).
4) Word for the Year –Two years ago, I read Debbie Macomber‘s book One Perfect Word. She tells fascinating stories of persons’ choosing a word to guide their year. Finishing her book and praying a bit, the word compassion became my focus. 2021 was a good year for that as we dealt with so many divisions over COVID, race, politics, etc. Compassion for all on both sides of each issue.
At first I wasn’t going to do “a word” for 2022, and then a rapid series of “coincidences” drew me to the word: joy. As 2021 ended, I had become negative and even a bit cynical. Still having faith in God but not so much in humans, including myself. Even after a year of compassion!!
to notice joy in this day and to hope for joy in days to come,
to look for light and share it with others this Advent season,
to see beauty in creation and the people we encounter,
to laugh heartily with childlike glee,
to feel true joy in your presence. Amen.
Now looking at 2023…what word? For awhile, I thought the word would be persevere. Dave and I both agreed that perseverance is essential but did I want to make it my word of the year? Prayed that one down. Then in the last several days, the Lord keeps bringing the word wonder to mind.
I’m thinking God is preparing me for a year full of wonder…with eyes fixed on Him.
5) The Last Days of 2022 – What a year! Losses and gains as most years bring. The losses feel more lonely, and the gains more glorious. Maybe it’s my age, but as this year ends, I’m just incredibly grateful for God, for life, for loves in this life…and for opportunity…welcoming 2023 holding onto God and those around us…with joy and wonder.
Now on to 2023!! Thanks for stopping by. It means a lot.
Resolve in 2013 to mend fences, repair broken bridges, build appropriate gates, and tear down unnecessary walls. — Burk Parsons @burkparsons
Advent for this year has come and gone with the glorious ending being Christmas Day. I haven’t highlighted very much of this season because we were immersed in the moments. Hopefully, though, writing about this month-long celebration would be a joy…may the words find their place on the screen. Even as I write this Wednesday Worship following Christmas, it is New Year’s Eve…days later, that I will finish.
No rush, right? While many have their Christmas tree down and the trimmings of this Christmas stowed away…we are continuing to squeeze all the delicious good out of this season, now celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas (Christmastide).
In all the activities leading up to Christmas, some of the wonder escaped me…the post-Christmas quiet has been a second blessing…to reflect, not just on this past year, but, on all the beauty of Christ’s coming.
A couple of nights ago, we finally watched A Charlie Brown Christmas – a tradition every year. Charlie Brown expresses (to his friend, Linus) his exasperation in how Christmas has become so commercialized. Wondering at the meaning of Christmas. Linus comes to his aid, quoting from the Scripture, the wondrous account of the Christ child being born “unto you”. Unto you…to the world, but, in particular, to each one of us.
That short scene in the film is exquisite, cutting through all the clutter never meant for Christmas. Because of Linus delivering truth, dropping his blanket as he spoke, his friend Charlie Brown’s thinking cleared. Clarity was restored…even joy.
The film finishes triumphantly with all the kids singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.
Let’s ask some questions of the famous Christmas carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”…Who is Jesus? He is “everlasting Lord,” who from “highest heaven” comes down to be the “offspring of the virgin’s womb.” What did he come to do? His mission is to see “God and sinners reconciled.” How did he accomplish it? He “lays his glory by,” that we “no more may die.” How can this life be ours? Through an inward, spiritual regeneration so radical that, as we have seen, it can be called “the second birth.” With brilliant economy of style, the carol gives us a summary of the entire Christian teaching…One season a year hundreds of millions of people, if they would take the trouble to ask these kinds of questions, would have this same knowledge available to them. To understand Christmas is to understand basic Christianity, the Gospel….one moment of the year when our secular society and the Christian church are, to a degree, thinking about the same thing. – Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas: the Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ
As we prepare to enter the new year, we take the truth of Christmas along with us. In wonder at how God would draw so near to us…to reveal himself to us in ways we can understand…to demonstrate a love for us wholly unrestrained. Not surprising the angels filled the sky with song that incredible night.
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With th’angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Refrain: Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Christ, by highest Heav’n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord; Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity, Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home; Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed, Bruise in us the serpent’s head. Now display Thy saving pow’r, Ruined nature now restore; Now in mystic union join Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, Stamp Thine image in its place: Second Adam from above, Reinstate us in Thy love. Let us Thee, though lost, regain, Thee, the Life, the inner man: Oh, to all Thyself impart, Formed in each believing heart.*
Your burden is too great to bear? Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season? Your tears have no end?
You should lead the celebration! You should run through the streets to ring the bells and sing the loudest! You should fling the tinsel on the tree, and open your house to your neighbors, and call them in to dance! For it is you above all others who know the joy of Advent. It is unto you that a Savior is born this day, One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders, One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes. You are not alone, for He is born this day to you.– Ann Weems
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
Two out of my many favorite December solitary experiences are Christmas songs on the radio and Christmas cards in my mailbox. For some, maybe, all that Christmas music on various stations gets old…but for me, it’s a continual feast. Then those old-fashioned cards in red or green envelopes transform our mailbox from bill and junk mail holders to a wonder of greetings from friends and family.
[Most of the images you see on this blog are from treasured old Christmas cards.]
As to Christmas songs…there are many beautiful ones – both standards and new. Songwriter Marc Martel‘s How Many Kings, out since 2009, performed by the Canadian Christian band Downhere is one such song. My favorite radio station still pops this one up often during the Christmas season. The lyrics allude to a visitation by some number of wise men from the Far East. Through their knowledge of both the ancient Scriptures (Micah 5:2) and the stars of Heaven, they were able to chart a course right to the baby Jesus, in his home in Bethlehem. How Many Kings speaks of their amazement and wonder…and ours…at the coming of the Christ Child. It is the story of such love as God had…has…for us in that even His own son He would not withhold…to make a path for us back to Him.
God sent His son to us. Our triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – perfectly One in unity through the ages – would somehow include 33 years of life on earth to bring Himself close to us. God with skin on – that we might understand better what love looks like and how we can live loving because of His love… Glory!
Follow the star to a place unexpected Would you believe, after all we’ve projected, A child in a manger? Lowly and small, the weakest of all Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shawl – Just a child – Is this who we’ve waited for? ’cause…
How many kings step down from their thrones? How many lords have abandoned their homes? How many greats have become the least for me? And how many gods have poured out their hearts to romance a world that is torn all apart – how many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior All that we have, whether costly or meek because we believe. Gold for his honor, and frankincense for his pleasure and myrrh for the cross he will suffer Do you believe? Is this who we’ve waited for?
Only one did that for me All, all for me… All for you…
I am not sure Downhere is even performing together currently, but thank you, Brothers, for this song…and thank You, God, for giving Your Son…for us all.
Is it writer’s block? Words have always been a friend to me, but they are hard-won in writing these days.
Christmas is a time of tremendous joy for me…deeper than happiness. Much deeper. For in the joy are such things as longing, grief, disappointment, anxiety. Most of the time, I can shake those off so as not to miss Christmas. Most of the time.
Here’s a tiny example. You may think it frivolous but it is reminiscent of something more. Our children grew up doing the nativity story as part of our Christmas traditions.
It was fun and chaotic – never sure how it would turn out, but for several years, the kids just acquiesced to the direction of the grownups in their lives. Some of it, I’m pretty sure they even enjoyed. Fast forward to them now being adults who bring their children – our grandchildren – into the picture.
For a year or two, our grands have also been caught up in the wonder of the Baby, donning costumes, and waiting patiently (sorta kinda) for the narration to move them to the next point of action. Not all of them wanted to participate but they were close at hand to add to the drama of the moment. It was sweet.
This year…it didn’t happen. In an attempt to do the play earlier (taking some stress out of a Christmas time together), we experienced a great divide – two eager and willing older grandchildren dressed in Middle Eastern garb, and, at the same time, being brilliantly silly with their parts. So…looking the part but definitely not in character. The other two younger grands…just not interested; not even present in the room. Now, Christmas weekend is still a few days away with another family occasion planned, but I have no inclination to revisit this tradition. Maybe next year.
After giving up on the play, and rejoining the rest of the family, I asked the kids to pray for me. Somehow longings and expectations had clouded my mind, and joy was left trembling at the edges of my heart. Such a small thing (right?)…it revealed more than just a family tradition in transition. It revealed an idol of some sort – so small but effective, distorting the reality of this beautiful time of the year.
In the chapter “Honest Songs”, Sauls proposed the ordinariness of distressed feelings. He wrote how some of the Scripture writers laid out these “negative” emotions, along with their praises, before a God who understands and loves us through them, not in spite of them.
In referencing Ecclesiastes, Sauls writes: “Like a skilled songwriter or poet, Solomon made sure that was was genuinely inside of him also came out of him. [Herman] Melville likened Solomon to Jesus, whom the Bible also describes as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…The Suffering Servant [Jesus] fully embraces, and is careful not to diminish, dystopian stories as well as the happily-ever-after ones…He refuses to whitewash the darker parts of our history.” – Scott Sauls, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen
He goes on: “The Suffering Servant invites us, in our pain, to wipe disingenuous smiles off our faces and start living honestly concerning how damaged and hurt we feel…Jesus loves humans, and when the humans you love become injured or threatened, the natural and godlike response is to get angry and feel the swell of energy directed toward righting a wrong…There is a solidarity to suffering that we are meant to embrace, so that no one might suffer alone. Sharing in one another’s suffering binds us together in the deepest form of fellowship.” – Scott Sauls, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen
So what’s the connection between a situation of no Christmas play this year and the suffering of a grander scale? You probably already know. The play is not the point. It wasn’t about our darling grands meeting any expectations I might have…it was the larger story. How the play reminded me of sweet memories, and sad ones. Of parents no longer with us who I miss terribly. Of grown up children I want to pull in and keep close (they are close…but a mother’s heart seems never full…again a larger story). Of the account of Christ’s birth that is so magnificent and miraculous…and how He laid down his life, just a few years later, through death on a cross…for us. How do we communicate such grandeur to our little ones?
Our kids will figure it out…and we will support them.
So…how about you? My example probably seems so mundane. I could have shared heartache over a painful family rift. Or about a friend in a terribly troubled marriage, or one who lost both parents within weeks of each other, or another struggling with mental illness, or another praying her heart out for a grandson white-knuckling through early sobriety.
Distress messes with our joy. Let’s not let it isolate us…drawing us away from each other to suffer alone. Being real with people is complicated. “Real is unsettling, scary, even traumatic. Take the risk anyway and lean in. Leaning into lament is a necessary skill in the art of rejoicing…Almost every person is insecure and underencouraged. Almost no person wants to admit it…There is no shortcut past Good Friday to get to Easter. There is no joy without a sorrow, no rejoicing without mourning, no comfort without distress, no rest without weariness, no gain without loss, no songs of joy without songs of lament, no rejoicing from Philippians without the vapor from Ecclesiastes.” [Scott Sauls, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen]
That day this weekend, when the Christmas play didn’t come together, my kids prayed for me. I don’t even think it seemed silly to them. [Dave was grilling our supper or he would have been right there in all that struggle with me.] Distress happens, and when it does, call on those who care for you to come alongside…for comfort and for joy.
Christmas time is full of wonder…of a mystery of Jesus’ coming, not just as a man but, as a baby. God drawing near to us, in love and long-suffering. Immanuel – God with us. What a wonder!
Several years ago, I spoke at a homeschooling conference on the role we as parents have in modeling wonder and training worship. Our children are born with this huge sense of wonder, and then as the years go by, it can be dampened by the harder things (or people) in our lives. However, we, as adults, can model our own grown-up wonder. What follows, then, as we remind our children the source of the wonder…is worship.
In preparing for the conference, I was reminded of the apostle Peter’s exclamation below…his own wonder at a question Jesus asked. At that time in Jesus’ ministry on earth, some of his followers fell away. He then asked his closest followers if they would leave him (John 6:67-69):
“Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Where would we go? There’s nowhere…no one…like the Lord. The Creator and Sustainer of this beautiful world…
“When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place— What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings; You crowned him with glory and honor.” – Psalm 8:3-5
“Even the darkness is not dark to You, but the night shines like the day, for darkness is as light to You. For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.” – Psalm 139:12-14
“So if you cannot do such a small thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the lilies grow: they do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith!” – Luke 12:26-28
“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement…I should ask that [a] gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life. If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” – Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
What happens to our wonder? How do we pass it along, or keep it flourishing in our kiddos?
It’s helpful to spend a bit of time in reflection on some of what causes us to wonder:
Cracking open a perfectly ripe watermelon – the color, how it smells, how it tastes.
Flowers coming from the tiniest of seeds (Dave has gardened in 4 different countries – pots on balconies when necessary).
The sky, night or day, and the vastness of space.
The water lines on the mountains of the Sinai Desert – no other way they could get there but a world-wide flood.
The wonder of sleep – lights out & alone with our thoughts & God; also sleep interrupted from anxiety but then the wonder of waking in the morning after miraculously falling back to sleep.
God’s answering Mom’s prayer – preferring for Him to be glorified in her cancer more than being healed from it, this side of Heaven.
The wonder of a virgin birth, of obedience even in death, of a resurrection.
the wonder oflovingGod – and that we are heard, known, understood, and forever received…by Him.
“Does the resurrection mean anything for your life now? Oh my, yes. [Because Jesus is the one bringing the kingdom of God – “shalom – complete healing of all the relationships in creation. We will be reconciled to God; to nature; to one another; and to ourselves…This broken world is not the only world we’re ever going to have…In the resurrection life we will dance perfectly, know perfect love, full satisfaction. The joy of your glory will be that much greater for every scar you bear”. – Timothy Keller, Jesus the King
If we aren’t careful we falter in our wonder because of the seeming weight of our responsibilities or the distraction of our differences one with another. God never meant it to be this way.
“In a world full of pragmatic ‘older brothers’ it is easy, even in church, to forget the love that wants to stream between us. Instead we allow our heads and backs to bend under the weight of all that needs to be put right.” – Teresa McCaffery
“The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” – C. S. Lewis
This is just a taste of the wonder we will know in Heaven…and what is our response to the wonder that surrounds us…the marvel of God Himself reflected in this world…and in His image-bearers? Gratefulness.
God of creation There at the start Before the beginning of time With no point of reference You spoke to the dark And fleshed out the wonder of light
And as You speak A hundred billion galaxies are born In the vapor of Your breath the planets form If the stars were made to worship so will I I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made Every burning star A signal fire of grace If creation sings Your praises so will I
God of Your promise You don’t speak in vain No syllable empty or void For once You have spoken All nature and science Follow the sound of Your voice
And as You speak A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath Evolving in pursuit of what You said If it all reveals Your nature so will I I can see Your heart in everything You say Every painted sky A canvas of Your grace If creation still obeys You so will I
If the stars were made to worship so will I If the mountains bow in reverence so will I If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I For if everything exists to lift You high so will I If the wind goes where You send it so will I If the rocks cry out in silence so will I If the sum of all our praises still falls shy Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times
God of salvation You chased down my heart Through all of my failure and pride On a hill You created The light of the world Abandoned in darkness to die
And as You speak A hundred billion failures disappear Where You lost Your life so I could find it here If You left the grave behind You so will I I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done Every part designed in a work of art called love If You gladly chose surrender so will I I can see Your heart Eight billion different ways Every precious one A child You died to save If You gave Your life to love them so will I
Like You would again a hundred billion times But what measure could amount to Your desire You’re the One who never leaves the one behind*
“Lord, what a world you’ve given us! Our senses are full of the wonder of Your creation. Even more than that, the wonder of You. How You love us is beyond our understanding or comprehension. Your provision for our lives…the people You have brought close to love and to be loved by. The work You have given us…we are so privileged. Life eternal and abundant that we have both here and in the Hereafter. We are amazed, Oh God. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.“
Father, thank You for sending Jesus, our rescuer, redeemer, and hope. Fill my mind with wonder and awe at the deep truths of Christmas. Help me to celebrate and share the good news of Your grace with others whom you bring across my path. – C. S. Lewis Institute, Advent Prayer