Deeper Still :: The Glory of Christmas

Wednesday, December 07, 2016  ::   Be the first to leave a comment!

This year I asked God to give me fresh insight and deeper wisdom into the glory of Christmas. Many people know Christmas brings me joy, but only a few people truly see my giddy, overwhelmed heart and tears as I contemplate the awe and beauty of it all.

In the Old Testament God set forth his law for people to understand his holiness, for people to know how to approach him, and for people to pay for their transgressions through sacrifice. He mercifully revealed himself and showed his people that he is gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) But to approach him took great care, ceremony, and permission. His presence was shown in a pillar of fire, or on a mountain, or so magnificent that one had to hide in a cleft of a rock and only see God's back because his presence was too rich, holy, and glorious for human consumption. He was and is good, but to approach him demanded sacrifice. *

Enters Jesus, a human, a baby, made for relationship.

Everything that was known about God changed the moment Jesus was conceived in Mary. Can you imagine the God of the universe in the womb of a young woman? He entered through a family line lowly enough to show his availability to everyone. The details and order of the prophecy and lineage for God to be born into the world at the perfect moment: profound.

It is difficult for me to fathom the radical shift in God's availability to humanity through relationship with Jesus. He meets me in my questions of doubt, and lovingly guides me to truth through his word. During Christmas I imagine myself worshipping a baby in a barn. He is the same God shining in glory on the mountain with Moses. As a baby he's defenseless, and yet that tiny baby came to crush the yoke of slavery and injustice with power and might on the cross. A thrill of hope, joy to the world, Word of the Father now in flesh appearing. Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us.

This week I read an important aspect of the birth of Christ that I had never heard, or at least had never paid attention to. Leviticus 25 maps out a significant detail of the law of Sabbath. It describes the Year of Jubilee, the last year of the seventh period of seven years, the forty-ninth year. "In that year, all slaves were to be freed and all debts were to be forgiven; all the land and all the people were to have rest from their weariness and from their burdens. The seventh seven, the Sabbath of Sabbaths." **

Matthew 1:17 says, "So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations." This makes Jesus the beginning of the seventh seven, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the True Jubilee! All true rest comes from Jesus Christ. He frees the slaves! Through him all debts are forgiven! He came to earth to have relationship with us, to allow us to rest in his love, mercy, and grace. He came as a baby so he could endure all the human pain and suffering we endure, to take it all to the cross, to show us he is indeed with us and for us. The seventh seven! The detail in scripture to show the Deity of Jesus is truly miraculous. My soul longs to know more.

To be sure, I love my family's Christmas traditions. Baking, decorating, hosting, all things red and green. My house feels cozy, warm, and lovely. I enjoy hearing my kids laugh and play as they work to solve the year's 1000 piece puzzle. These aspects of Christmas fill my heart. But I know they are temporary. As the years go by, the laughter will quiet, the decorations will fade, and the warmth in my home may grow cold. Of course I imagine I will deeply grieve the loss of days gone by as I'm sure many older people do, but O God, please allow my prayer to remain the same:

Give me fresh insight and deeper wisdom into the glory of Christmas. Keep my eyes away from worthless things, preserve my life according to your word. Fix my gaze on the eternal, not on the temporary. Allow my soul to feel your worth above all things. (Proverbs 2:3-5, Psalm 119:37, 2 Corinthians 4:18, Luke 2:19)

Merry Christmas isn't just a greeting for me. When I say Merry Christmas to you, it is as if I'm praying a short, small prayer for you, whether you want it or not. May God show himself to you this season no matter where you are... someone who doesn't believe, someone who is all alone, someone who is in a personal season of winter, someone filled with hope and joy, someone filled with despair, someone neck deep in doubt, someone who wears a Santa hat everyday, someone who hates me, someone who loves me... The prayer is the same: Merry Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us. Show yourself fresh and new, deeper still, the way you did in a stable in Bethlehem so long ago.

Thank you, Jesus, for coming.

He has come, he is here, he will return.

What does Christmas mean to you? Have you pondered the Incarnation? Believing in the resurrected Christ begins with believing God came to earth as a baby. How does this affect you personally? What are one or two things you can do to capture the wonder of Christmas this year? 

*Do yourself a favor. Go back and click the links to the passages in Exodus. Marvel and be amazed at the glory of God and how different relationship is with him because he sent his Son, Jesus Christ to earth. Ponder, mediate, engage your heart and mind in the glory of Christmas.

**Tim Keller's new book Hidden Christmas, page 38

Change Happens

Monday, August 22, 2016  ::   1 important comment

Even though my friend, Alysa, lives in a different state, I think she sensed my current heart struggle, so she re-posted a guest post I wrote for her blog a couple of years ago. When I read it again this morning, as if right on cue, the tears leaked out once again. Tears easily fall from my eyes these days. My kids say that I cry all the time which I think is a slight exaggeration, but I will admit it happens more frequently than it used to.

One of my parenting goals from the beginning has been to embrace each stage as better than the last. Let me tell you, this goal is really being put to the test in this current season. The launching kids out into the world stage does not feel better than the everyone sitting around the table eating, talking, and laughing season. My heart and mind feel confused often. Because God allows us to feel multiple emotions at one time, I can be excited for the adventure and maturity awaiting my kids outside of my home and feel sad about them not being down the hall at night safe and sound in their beds. Life keeps on moving. Even though people told me the days were long and the years were short I didn't really know just how short the years would be. I hear the years just keep getting shorter, too, so I must continue to work to discipline myself to be present, engaged, joy-filled, and purposeful. But it is stinking hard.

So do not fear, do not be dismayed. I will strengthen and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ~Isaiah 41:10

For I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it out to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 1:6

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. ~Hebrews 13:8

Change happens, indeed. There are only three years between these two photos. We are all smiling, but if you could read the story through each and every moment between the lines you would see joy, pain, laughter, doubts, success, failure, hurt, apologies, time spent well, time wasted, family together time moved into launching them out time. All of it combined is the change that continues to lead all six of us to become who God intends for us to be as individuals and as family. Chad and I seek to be good, good parents as an example to them of God as the good, good Father. He never freaks out in the midst of all our human changes, so I'm on my knees asking him to help me not to freak out, to be steadfast in him, and overflow with thankfulness and security when it all seems quite wobbly. 

I have two tattoos symbolizing my family. The one on my leg is a good representation of the family season. We are all stars surrounded by a swirl of community support and togetherness. The one on my arm represents Psalm 127, my quiver full of arrows. We spend intentional time to craft and hone each arrow to be unique, to love God, and to love people. When you shoot them off, you pray so hard they will fly straight. The permanent marks on my body represent the permanent prayers of my life. I pray my life demonstrates deep love for my family and the ability to launch them well. I long for them to continue to love God with all their hearts as he shows them how to love and serve people. May it be so, Jesus. 

The End of a Season

Thursday, February 04, 2016  ::   1 important comment

To be jolted out of my sleep when the pitch black night still lingered didn't surprise me even though the clock glared, "4:00am." When you set aside a significant amount of time to pray and fast strange things happen. I shivered with deep cold in my bones all week. My sleep had been restless. My muscles ached. But, my soul was still and listening.

Deep, resonating conviction thickened the atmosphere of the room, so I sat up and dangled my legs over the edge of the bed to listen. 

Immediately I knew my time on the Cord of Hope giving team was over. 

Have you ever fought a battle for so long that you actually gave up fighting? Within minutes of quiet listening, God established a resolved ordinance in my guts, and showed me how tired my soul had become through 11 years of visiting clubs and leading this ministry. 

"The time is now, Angel. Let it go." 

"But what if..." 

"What ifs are not yours to carry." 

Relief came instantaneously as I thought about releasing the going, releasing the burden, releasing the chaos. And then relief gave way to conviction. 

"You've been carrying such darkness in your heart and mind, Angel." 

"I know. I'm so tired and I don't know how to make it all go away." 

"Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." 

Tears streamed down my face as the Spirit of God used his own written word to ask me to share my deepest struggles with a friend who would pray over me. I so hoped he would give me someone who would/could just fix my brokenness, but all he asked me to do was confess so she could lay hands on me and pray. Recently I read that communal confession is a forgotten discipline. We go through the motions of confessing our sin to God, but we find no freedom because we are really only confessing to ourselves. True confession and repentance brings heart change. Isolated confession always allows for an out. Communal confession allows for prayer, accountability, and true healing. In a moment, God took knowledge which had puffed up my head, and asked me to work out authentic faith through action. 

Many times as a leader I find myself in conversations I would rather not have... confrontation, a call to holiness, pointing out scripture people would rather ignore, and conflict for too many reasons. It sucks actually. One of my biggest fears as a leader is pride. I regularly struggle with the "who do I think I am" question. In order to combat this fear in my leadership, I consistently ask God to purify my life, my thoughts, my heart, and my actions. I ask him to teach me to obey his word, to be my main affection, to help me delight in him above all else. At 4:00 on a Thursday morning during the week of prayer and fasting, he showed up to answer my prayers. 

His kindness leads me to repentance. (Romans 2:3-5)

His law is perfect and revives my soul. (Psalm 19:7)

He strengthens me in my weariness. (Isaiah 40:29-31)

He illuminates the dark in me. (Psalm 139:11-12)

His forgiveness allows me to stand. (Psalm 130:3-4)

Friends, there are days I simply want to give up. It's all too hard. I want to go to work, come home, put on stretchy pants, turn on the tv, and zone out.  But, I know deep in my bones it wouldn't lead to the full life God wants for me and my family. 

May I count everything a loss compared to knowing Jesus more and more and more. May his name be lifted higher in my life every single day. May I point people to him through truth and love. When I have done everything I can to do to stand against that which seeks to destroy, may I still stand firm on Jesus, the name that is above every name.  

What about you? What or who is your greatest affection? What is the evidence of your claims? What are you learning and how do you plan to put it into action and not just puff up your head? 

On Fasting, A Review

Thursday, January 14, 2016  ::   2 important comments

In just a few days, the people of Second Mile will join hearts/hands, tighten our grip, and seek God together through prayer and fasting. So many new people joined our body this year and I've wonder if the thought of fasting is intimidating or overwhelming to some. I decided to give you a glimpse into what the week of prayer and fasting looked like for me in the past to encourage you as you engage this year, whether it is your first time or you've been doing this for years.

One of my go-to verses, one that is in my head almost every time I pray (no exaggeration) is Jeremiah 33:3. It says, "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know." What a beautiful, encouraging, and focusing promise! I continually claim this for myself, my family, my friends, and my church. I'm praying it for you, too.

As you consider what it means to fast, let me remind you this is not a legalistic, reward-based pursuit. We deny our stomachs as an act of worship. The emptying of our physical selves allows us to empty our wholes selves in order to be filled up with God. If you've never fasted from food, don't start with not eating for a whole week. Choose one or two days to go without food. If you've fasted before, challenge yourself to extend your fast by a couple of days. Whatever days you choose, let Sunday, the 24th be your last day because we will break fast with communion during the gathering. The experience is unifying, worshipful, and beautiful. (Chad will teach on fasting this coming Sunday to provide further scripture, instruction, and help.)

Take a look at some of these stories of my past fasting experiences. I hope it helps you as you look to the coming week.

This specific post walks through four personal lessons of fasting. My favorite part of the post is explaining how fasting tangibly shines light on the fact that we are exiles on this earth. If you don't read any other linked posts, read this one.

Sometimes we make excuses about how we have to eat, that fasting isn't reasonable. It is definitely true for some. If you are performing surgery on someone, please don't get the shakes from lack of food. However, our bodies have a way of convincing us to make excuses. Personally, I've been making excuses for a couple of weeks about why I don't need to exercise. I'm lying to myself. Don't lie to yourself about how you just have to eat. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Eat or don't eat, just make sure it is out of obedience, not excuses.

And sometimes you absolutely need to eat, and going without food would be completely legalistic and irresponsible. In that case, figure out a God-glorifying, flesh-denying alternative.

And finally, sometimes we need someone else to challenge us in prayer and say things like, "Do you want God to revitalize your church? Revitalize your prayer life." Zinger.

Dear ones, I so hope one or more of these posts encourages you for the coming week of prayer and fasting. Several of us have worked diligently on the prayer guide and we are expectant for what God will do in and through our prayers. Ready yourself. If you have any questions, please email me!

Hebrews 12:12-13 
Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. 

From Transition to Peace

Friday, January 01, 2016  ::   Be the first to leave a comment!

I've not often chosen a special word to mark a particular year. It's definitely a good practice and I enjoy hearing about people's words and how God uses it in their lives, but for whatever reason I have been unable to carry the discipline through for an entire year.

However, looking back at 2015 two words very clearly stand out to me.

Transition and Change.

In ministry, Second Mile gained our very own building which may be the biggest change our church has encountered thus far. Renovating the facility and moving into being the caretakers took grit, determination, stamina, strategy, and so much communication. After talking with key leaders in the moving process, many of us are still a little shell shocked. I believe we are just barely scratching the surface of experiencing "to whom much has been given much will be required" when it comes to this building. The good, good gift of our own home will continue to require transition and change in our hearts and ministry.

Relationships within ministry have also been laden with change. The longevity of ministry in Tucson provides my family with the opportunity to be the ones who are left when for the years before Tucson, we were always the ones leaving. The juxtaposition of leaving and being left created chaos in my heart. Shutting out new relationships in self-preservation became a burdensome temptation. Change and transition of relationships affected my whole family like never before. In terms of this specific opportunity for growth, I'm happy to see 2015 go and I hope to bring what I've learned about longevity and perseverance into 2016.

The change in my family of Esther launching from our home continues to challenge me. If you know me you know I desire to be a parent who claims, "Each stage is better than the last." Up to this point, I could confidently declare it; toddlers better than babies, elementary better than preschool, teenagers better than preteens in terms of not lamenting about the past, but being present in each chapter with my family. I've loved every single stage. The transition from all my arrows being safely tucked in my quiver to taking the oldest one and launching her out knocked me off balance. Learning a new normal of time and conversation with her and the family as a whole takes work. The good news is we move towards a beautiful new groove each day. I'm beginning to see ways I will be able to say this stage is better than the last.
So what about 2016?

Interestingly enough, two words swirl around in my heart and mind as I think and pray for the coming year. This is a first for me and I'm curious to see how it will play out in the coming months.

Peace and Focus.

Change and transition really struck a blow to my contentment. So many days in 2015 were taken up with tears and melancholy contemplation. To prayerfully shake it off, I've spent the month of December reading Psalm 77, specifically asking God to help me remember/meditate on his "mighty deeds and wonders of old." (If you are feeling tired, worn out, or in need, read it and pray through it. Do it every day until your soul finds release and relief.)

The fruit of meditating on this beautiful Psalm is growing peace. I'm asking God to put peace in my heart no matter what circumstances come my way. I'm sad to say this was often absent in my life during 2015.

Much to the annoyance of many of you, I've hinted about a big project I've felt God prompt me towards since last February. This year I'm asking God for the focus to make it happen.

The first verses I'm going to memorize in 2016 is 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. It is so, so good and inspiring.

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (italics mine)

In this task I believe God has set before me (I will tell you about it soonish. I promise. Please forgive my vagueness. I just need a minute more to get my head on straight.) it is imperative I trust that only he will fulfill this resolve of faith I feel with his power so that he will be glorified. Yes please! It's the only way it will happen and it will take a tremendous amount of focus because I can tell you, I feel incredibly inadequate to complete this undertaking. Will you please pray for me? If you aren't sure what to pray ask God to help me to love him with everything I have and pray 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 over me. I seriously need both.
I won't be continuing consistent Moxie Memorizers posts for 2016. Please continue to take in God's word. You and I desperately need it. As Beth Moore says, Jesus saved my soul, his word saved my mind.

Let's encourage each other with some comment responses. What stands out to you about 2015? Do you have a word or two you're praying for 2016? What is the first verse you are going to memorize this year?

As always, I'm continually thankful and continually prayerful for you, friends.