Five Minutes of Your Time

So we are practicing Sabbath, with about the same agility of a toddler taking first steps into his father’s arms. Five minutes a day to just stop where we are and block out the noise, say no to the distractions and whisper “Come, Lord Jesus.” Some days it’s harder than others. Some days it feels like I am the blind beggar sitting outside Jericho by the side of the road, calling out through the commotion “Jesus…have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47) That’s about as much sense as I can muster in those few minutes, with too many things swirling around in my head. Kyrie eleison…Lord, have mercyChrist, have mercy…one of the oldest prayers of the church, and the one that is always appropriate for us.

And sometimes the question comes in the quiet: “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51) It’s the best part of the beggar’s story. As if the Lord of heaven and earth doesn’t know, or doesn’t have the right to make an executive decision for the man. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Because Jesus really wants to hear it in the beggar’s own words. I’ve begun to take a timid attempt to verbalize what I want Jesus to do for me– both because it’s quicker (given the five minute time slot), and because it shocks me to realize how difficult this is for me. Like maybe somewhere inside I don’t feel convinced of His interest in me, or worthy of His favor? The question helps me focus, though, cuts through the emotions and thoughts about the issue and gets right to the center of it, to my dependence on Jesus and my need for what only He can supply. Healing, strength, forgiveness, grace, perseverance, love, peace, the Breath of the Spirit– this is my daily Bread, and I am a beggar at His feet.

A few other helpful questions this week to focus my thoughts more quickly on Jesus and His work in me: “What are you missing because you are too busy to notice?  What is shame convincing you to believe that isn’t true?  Where is God in your lack, pain, and difficulty?  What path is He asking you to walk with Him?” (Shelly Miller, Sabbath Society)

This five minutes of Sabbath rest may be the most important of the one thousand four hundred and forty you will receive today. Just do it, and don’t be surprised if it stretches longer. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

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“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” (John 15:9-10)

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“Here’s my heart, Lord;
Speak what is true,
Cause I am found,
I am Yours,

I am loved…
(Here’s My Heart, Lauren Daigle)

Rest for the Heart

Funny how all of us who thought we were going to get a handle on busy schedules are facing instead the heart issues that pushed us onto this merry-go-round to begin with. We were just looking for a band-aid solution really, but Jesus had other ideas. He is not interested in helping us manage our agendas with more energy, wield our female super-power of busyness with more confidence, or even in delivering us from the consequences of our own neglect. Instead He is calling us to Himself.

Would it be so bad to admit that we are heartsick and tired of running? That the effort of hiding our wounds and avoiding our grief is wearing us out? That these failures we are covering up, these fears that drive us, this never-ending workload are all getting mighty heavy? What if we could just face up to the hidden dread that if we sit quiet and listen for God, He might not stoop to answer us– or worse, only reinforce the negative voices in our heads? If we could be honest about all our baggage, I wonder if Jesus’ words would ring loud and clear, and we could finally accept His invitation at face value: “Come, you who are weary….” Yes, we are the weary, but until we are truly ready to give up that shield of busyness, we cannot just come and find rest, really accept the Everlasting Love that calls us.

Author and speaker Shelly Miller rightly observes that resistance to God’s call is a symptom of self-reliance, an insistence that we can manage life on our own rather than trust the Creator. Looking at it that way, our failure to stop and rest is just plain ugly….one more way to rebel against the God who made us to serve Him. And herein lies a fundamental truth, that rest only comes when you stop trying so hard to be somebody and just come as you are with nothing to offer. The broken, the desperate, the lonely, the needy– all are more likely to experience Sabbath rest than the busy. “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:3-4)

This understanding of Sabbath rest underscores the pointlessness of confining it to one day of the week, or outlining the activities that should or should not happen then. Whenever I come running to my Father and lean my head against Him like a child, sit with Him awhile, it is Sabbath. The Lover of My Soul knows when I need a break from everything that batters and presses, in this world. And in all the ways He calls to me, whether through a sunrise or a song, He is reminding me of His presence and His goodness– reminding me to stop and enjoy Him in the middle of Everyday. “…for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

There, in any moment, we find Sabbath rest that refreshes and re-orients the heart again. Stopping our regular schedules for a whole day is certainly healthy, and a helpful way to turn in the right direction, but when we deal honestly with the issues that keep us busy, we begin to find Sabbath rest in bits and pieces everywhere. God promises, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

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“…’Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.'” (Exodus 31:13)

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“I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think You’re like,
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night.
And You tell me that You’re pleased,
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a good good Father–
It’s who You are….
And I’m loved by You–
It’s who I am….”
(Good Good Father, Chris Tomlin)

When He Is in The Center

And when the day brings only the routine tasks of house and family, there can still be joy in the One who gives this time: another twenty-four hours, and a clean slate for what we will do with it. May we spend it wisely and well, and not forget to whisper “Come, Lord Jesus” in the midst.

“It is wholly impossible …to make a proper application of heavenly principles, as long as the necessary duties which each day brings seem only like a burden grievous to be borne. Not till we are ready to throw our very life’s love into the troublesome little things can we be really faithful in that which is least, and faithful also in much. Every day that dawns brings something to do, which can never be done as well again. We should, therefore, try to do it ungrudgingly and cheerfully. It is the Lord’s own work, which He has given us as surely as He gives us daily bread. We should thank Him for it with all our hearts, as much as for any other gift. It was designed to be our life, our happiness. Instead of shirking it or hurrying over it, we should put our whole heart and soul into it.”
(James Reed, quoted in Joy and Strength for The Pilgrim’s Day)

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“You were reaching through the storm,
Walking on the water,
Even when I could not see;
In the middle of it all,
When I thought You were a thousand miles away,
Not for a moment did You forsake me.”
(Not For A Moment, Meredith Andrews)

The Things We Do for Love

As we peel off the onion-layers of our busyness, our motivations and priorities are coming into focus, and it may or may not be a little sobering. It’s no surprise that at the heart of most of us women is just this longing to be loved and valued, to be connected to other people in meaningful relationships. But when we sit down and admit how much that drives us– realize we will do whatever that takes, regardless of our own health and welfare? Who knew that Love would be such a taskmaster?

I think of Jesus’ quiet words, that seem more and more relevant: “Come to me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Because He already loves us with an everlasting love. He rejoices over us with singing. He says there is no more condemnation for us who are resting in Him, only grace that is sufficient for all our weakness.

So we can say no to the things that are not ours to do, without losing worth, or any of His regard. And we can say yes to anything He asks of us for the sheer delight of pleasing Him, in full confidence of His enabling us for the task. Best of all, we can ask Him to show us the difference between what is ours and what is not….ask Him to show us how to let go of the fear that we will not be worthy of love.

There is freedom in His invitation to Come, a safe place of acceptance to run to, when we are feeling pushed and pulled by the voices around us…when other people’s expectations and opinions get too difficult to carry around. And there is purpose here, in all tasks large or small, as long as they come from His hand. I suspect that if we could see how our Everyday is alight with the glory of His favor, we could more easily trust that each circumstance is given according to our unique workmanship and His good plans for our growth. We just need to know (down deep in the heart of us) that His is the only voice that matters.

Forgive us, Lord, for listening to people more than to You; for holding up the opinions and expectations of others above Your will for us; for trying to fill up our hearts with the admiration and approval of people, when the Beloved One of Heaven has already given us all things. Let us rest in the Sabbath of Your love.

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“… love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced His perfect love.”
(1 John 4:18)

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“He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane;
I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.”
(How He Loves, John Mark McMillan)

When You Are Afraid to Stop for Fear Something Will Catch You

We are starting to recognize the heart issues that keep us from finding rest. And it doesn’t look at all the way we thought it would. Because as much as we want to point to the outside circumstances like work and responsibility and the needs of others, the Holy Spirit keeps pulling off the half-truths we wear…keeps gently revealing the fragility inside.

It’s satisfying to think that we are busy because we are capable, self-sacrificing women. (And we really are, in many ways.) But rather humiliating to admit that I am also busy for fear of disappointing others. Sometimes busy with the endless needs, no matter how stressful, to avoid the hurricane roar of God’s love. Pursuing performance to cover up the shame for all the ways I feel not-enough. Swallowed up in the mind-numbingly trivial so I don’t have to feel the loneliness and disappointment and boredom of this world. Busyness can be like an armor we wear to hide our weaknesses, protect our hearts. Busyness can be a banner to proclaim our worth, to give us a reason to get up in the morning. And women can end up owning this crazy busyness like a super-power, all the while it threatens to suck the life right out of us.

Yeah, there’s any number of reasons busyness is more appealing than rest, and none of them healthy.  No wonder God calls us to His rest gently and persistently, like a parent who knows what is best for a child. It’s kind of a relief to admit to one another that our reasons for doing things are often flawed. It helps to realize that we are so much the same in this, get to the point where we can shake our heads and laugh at ourselves, and help each other look for something better. In her book Rhythms of Rest, Shelly Miller points out the bald truth that busyness is a bully, pushing us to fit into the world’s patterns of thinking– whispering to us about who we need to be, and what we need to achieve, and what our lives should look like in order to be happy and loved and safe. And the more we go along with it in order to fit in, the more we lose of our true selves and our true purpose in life.

All the while Jesus is holding out His arms, calling us to rest there and be loved just as we are. When God calls us to Sabbath, He is giving us opportunity to detach from the world’s values and come into the light of His reality, let it re-shape our thinking. He wants to comfort our weary aching hearts with His love, refresh our hearts as we focus on Who-He-Is in worship. This is Sabbath, when we step into God’s holy presence….“and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) It can be just a few minutes to breathe deep and give thanks in an office cubicle, or a whispered invitation to “Come, Lord Jesus” in the heat of a stressful moment. It may be a joyful gathering of like minds, or a quiet morning on the back porch over coffee and your tattered Bible.

Whenever we step aside to listen for His voice we are finding Sabbath rest, and God says it is the secret to that abundant life He offers. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” (Isaiah 30:21) And we find our worth and our purpose here in the Creator’s presence– discover who He made us to be, and that we are beautiful in His eyes. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)

There’s nothing like a capable, self-sacrificing woman who isn’t afraid to stop and listen to her heart beat, in the presence of her Maker. “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:25-26)

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“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” (Proverbs 31:30-31)

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“You hold my every moment;
You calm my raging seas;
You walk with me through fire,
And heal all my disease.
I trust in You, I trust in You.
I believe You’re my healer;
I believe You are all I need…
And I believe You’re my portion;
I believe You’re more than enough for me;
Jesus, You’re all I need.”
(Healer, Kari Jobe)

Meet Me Here

Today there comes this lovely word from an early Protestant of the Reformation:

“Let your heart and desires continually hold converse with God, in heartfelt simplicity. Reflect on Him with feelings of love and reverence, and often offer up your heart, with all that you have and are, to Him, in spirit and in truth, as cordially and sincerely as possible. If through weakness or unfaithfulness you forsake this exercise, which is so incredibly helpful and beautiful, all you have to do is, meekly and heartily to begin again; and do not be weary of it, although in the beginning you my not find any great advantage from it, or make any rapid progress in it. It is not true that such a mode of life is hard; it is easy and pleasant to the spirit, and becomes in due time like a heaven upon earth. A little patience and courage alone are needed.” (Gerhard Tersteegen, 1697-1769)

Because I could spend the whole day at church doing the Lord’s work, and yet find it wasted, if I do not enter into heartfelt communion with God Himself.

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“…He is not far from any one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’” (Acts 17:27)

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“I need You to soften my heart,
To break me apart;
I need You to open my eyes,
To see that You’re shaping my life.
All I am,
I surrender.
Give me faith to trust what You say:
That You’re good and Your love is great.
I’m broken inside, I give You my life.”
(Give Me Faith, Elevation Worship)

Slowing the Pace

When we grab hold of the busyness in our lives, intending to wrestle it down to manageable size, we had better address the balancing principle of rest– otherwise, the newly emptied and swept out schedules will soon fill right up with a new crop of hustle.

So we are on a quest for Sabbath rest, some holy respite from the busyness, this Winter. And I’ll be the first to admit that Sunday is often anything but Sabbath. Just getting a family out the door at a certain time, all washed and pressed and fancy-dressed when we’d rather be lounging around in our pj’s is a feat of superwoman strength, especially if you’ve also managed to put Sunday dinner in the crock-pot and gathered up your Sunday School lesson before you left. For too many years I ran extra-ragged on Sundays and felt guilty about not feeling Sabbath the way God surely intended it. Seemed like Sabbath was for everyone except the Mamas in this world, and Heaven knows we needed it badly.

Somewhere along the way I grew a little wiser and realized that Sunday wasn’t Sabbath unless I found rest there– which meant giving up a lot of my ideas about how it should look. A little advance preparation on Saturday and some simplified mealtimes definitely put the emphasis back on family rest, and from there we started to get the hang of it. Yes to eating in front of the football game, yes to a large pot of coffee in the afternoon, big yes to Mama sneaking off with a book at some point for a couple hours, yes to games or a movie in the evening after church, and something fun for a light late supper….all of which put us in the frame of mind to enjoy getting together with our church family and worshiping from the heart. It took us years to learn how to put Sabbath-rest into Sunday.

But that is only a place to begin, if we roll out of bed on Monday and push straight through our own agendas til next Sunday at high intensity, as if we had to do the rest of the week on our own steam. Because Sabbath isn’t about resting once you have your work all done. It’s not even just about setting aside one day a week for God’s stuff. Finding Sabbath rest is more about learning to experience the Holy in the middle of our Busy, so that we don’t forget Who made us and Who gave us this life we are living. When we pull away from the busyness to seek Jesus’ presence; when we cultivate that desire in our hearts and listen for His voice, find praise and thanksgiving flowing through our days no matter what we are doing, then we are starting to understand Sabbath-rest.

Shelly Miller, who leads the Sabbath Society of hearts seeking God’s rest, says that “A life built upon Sabbath is contented because in rhythms of rest we discover our time is full of the holiness of God.” He calls us to just come and be in the moment with Him, fully present. Just breathe, and know that you are loved and cherished and completed in Him. No requirements, no expectations, no need to please. It only takes a moment, and you can find it anywhere, if you are seeking Him with all your heart.

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“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
(Psalm 46:10-11)

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“Turn your eyes upon Jesus;
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.”
(Helen Lemmel)

Beginning Again

We sit around the massive wooden table as one year ends and another begins, warming our hands on hot mugs and enjoying the peaceful evening, now that the bustle of the holidays is on the down-swing. We share about our journeys in the past year, and look ahead at the months to come. It’s something we are learning– that the days and weeks will pass by, regardless of how you live, and you have to live like you mean it if you want all those minutes to mean something in the end. We waste too much, stuffing life into boxes labeled with Work and Family and Church and Play (as if some hours matter more or are deserving of more scrutiny), when it is all just Life, and all of it shaping who we are becoming.

The math says we have 168 hours every week, but when you start dividing them out into piles of Sleep, and Housework, and Job, and driving kids around, and even multiplying the minutes it takes to put on your makeup in the morning, they get swallowed up pretty quickly. And I confess that an inordinate amount of time gets swallowed up by the TV, and there are whole hours unaccounted for that fall through the cracks completely, so who am I to complain that I don’t have time to pray, or time to invest in my own health, or time to minister to others? We are starting to realize that the question goes much deeper than how we spend our time– it’s more about why we do what we do– the needs and fears that drive us.

The Church-planter Paul encouraged the new believers to leave that Self-driven life behind, to embrace their identity and purpose in Christ: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) Hand-made uniquely and purposefully, and brought to life in Christ for God’s good purposes; and we are just the right people to do what He has in mind for us, because He made us that way. This is the abundant life that Jesus came to provide. Why then do I let other people’s expectations drive so many of my 168 hours, and push myself to impossible standards, or let lethargy and avoidance steal so much of my days, just because it is hard to believe that who-He-made is good enough? This is the yoke we lay on ourselves, and it does indeed get heavy. But Jesus is still saying “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29) Those 168 hours of sleep and work and play are all alight with His presence and the purpose He gives them, if we will only wake up and live them all.

So we look ahead at the days on the calendar and we choose right here to celebrate the good, mourn the bad, to forgive and to learn and to grow….to offer it all up to the Giver of Time as an act of worship. It’s what the Church-planter Paul kept telling the believers long ago: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17) That kind of living doesn’t come naturally. Much more natural to float along the river of days and just try to navigate without too many bumps and bruises, snatch whatever good comes our way. But this living intentionally?…this taking responsibility for our direction and our attitudes?…this choosing “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8)? If we fix our sights on such things here at the beginning of the year, knowing well that they all find their fullest expression in the person of Jesus?…well, if we do that, maybe we are indeed growing wiser with age.

Here at the beginning, it’s time to make some wise decisions about the way we are living…all us women of different ages and stages of life, united in purpose and heart’s desire. So we talk about finding One Word to name where God is leading us, and we wrestle with how to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1), and we make some honest confessions about why our schedules are filled with every distraction under the sun, and we explore how to encourage those younger to follow along in our intentions to live well. None of us know what we will face this year, but here at the beginning we resolve to seek God in it and through it, and invite His work in our hearts. This one thing, we can do.

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“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:10)

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“If you hold the past too tightly, your arms have no room for the present — no room for the gifts of now.” (Ann VosKamp)

 

 

Looking Through Faith-colored Glasses

We talk a lot about walking by faith and not by sight. Paul the Church-planter said it just like that, in reference to living here and looking beyond to our Home-with-Christ: “For we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) 

But I think we mostly are talking about having faith to accomplish things. Faith that moves mountains. Faith that changes hearts and lives. Faith that takes risks and steps out to do impossible things. Faith that carries us through difficult times. And it’s pretty easy to understand that in all these pressing situations my own abilities fall short and I need to reach out to the power of God. Faith is more like trust in that context, and that makes sense to most of us, because we have experienced childlike dependence that reaches arms up to Someone Bigger Who Can Help. When we are looking for that kind of faith, it has more to do with convincing ourselves that He really does love us individually and personally. Or maybe, if we are utterly honest with ourselves, it’s about figuring out how to get His power to work out the circumstances we desire (and cope with it when He doesn’t). It’s not that I doubt Who He Is…just that I need to experience it for myself, prove to my heart and my senses that He is present, and interested in my small world.

But when the writer of Hebrews is reminding us of all the great people who lived by faith and what they accomplished by God’s power, he defines faith in a somewhat surprising way. It sounds more like poetry than fact, and I have read it for years as one of those beautiful sentences you just accept without understanding: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for….” (Hebrews 11:1) The substance– the nature, the very essence– of things unseen. Which, if you are talking about faith to do, or faith to receive what you desire, might lead you to conclude that faith produces substance– as if by believing something hard enough you can will it into existence. Of course many have gone down that road with all its spiritual and emotional gymnastics, until they inevitably meet big-enough circumstances to defy any amount of positive powerful thinking.

No, these ancient people of faith weren’t trying to create what they desired. For the most part they were listening to the bewildering instructions of God about what He wanted, and struggling to listen and obey. Faith is that act of latching onto what God says, in full confidence that He knows what He is doing, reaching out for something He says is Real and True, even though we cannot experience it with our senses. It reminds me of something I read recently in a random book summary: “Life lived for sensory input alone cannot deliver the spectacular promises that each sense evokes.” And my spirit resonates with the truth of that sentence: there are unseen worlds that we glimpse only briefly here, and the glory of God flashes like sunlight through the thin places….what the Oxford Christians saw as inklings of immortality, and Amy Carmichael called “the edges of His ways.”

The Letter-Writer of Hebrews helpfully specifies what exactly those ancient heroes were holding onto: the universe formed entire at God’s command, worlds and suns hung in space in an instant….the knowledge that God exists and wants to interact with His people, inspiring worship and obedience in their everyday lives….that death is not the end, but the beginning of a different kind of life….that righteousness is the proper condition of mankind….that all God’s promises are true and faithful. This is grand overarching Truth beyond the reach of physical senses. The old heroes were looking at the Reality beyond ours, the invisible world where God lives and moves and works out His plans, with a host of created beings at His command, where stars sing and the heavens bow before His throne.

This is a faith that goes beyond accomplishing things in my little world, and making life better in some way, with God’s help. Because that’s still all about my interests and my concerns. It is a good start, at least, and Heaven knows I need all the help I can get, to live here. But let’s recognize what the author of Hebrews is talking about: a larger, bolder faith that opens its eyes to God’s world and what He is doing– the Real World, you could even say, with Jesus in the center, “For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16) In this context, faith is more like opening your eyes to see what has always been there. “Faith is… the evidence of things hoped for.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is our spiritual eyes and ears, gathering evidence of the unseen world and witnessing to the truth of what God tells us.

And when the unseen realities become as near and tangible to us as the physical world, we’re not just wishing for a better life any more and reaching out to God to help us. Faith literally gives us the substance of an unseen world beyond the tangible experiences of this earth, and Hope along with it. Not a daydream sort of hope, but a foundation-to-build-life-on sort of hope… an assurance of what is to come that is as dependable as the sun rising and the seasons changing….the kind of thing you can only know for sure when the eyes of faith are open. So open your eyes, and run well in this New Year. Because we understand what is lasting and real, and what is fading away. Because we have the evidence of the Unseen, alive and powerful within us. Because faith witnesses to God’s Truth every day. Because everyone is watching, like it or not. “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

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“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”  (Hebrews 11:13)

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“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” (CS Lewis)

Of Mothers and Mangers and Mirrors

Decades ago I held my first child, a son, in the Winter months– born right at the beginning of the holiday season– and the Christmas Story came to life for me. That year I could enter into Mary’s experience as a young mother: her wonder, her fears, the myriad changes in her own flesh, and all these experiences new and strange, as if the whole world had suddenly been born new with her labor pains. And in the utterly down-to-earth flesh and blood of pregnancy and delivery and the physical needs of a newborn, the Incarnation of the Son of God was no longer a theological concept, but an Everyday reality. That the Almighty One of Heaven who spoke the worlds into being would enfold Himself into the waxy translucent skin of a newborn…just a small warm fragile body held snugly in a mother’s arms…was wonder beyond wonder.

And in the years that followed, my whole world shifted, tilted, redefined itself in unexpected ways, as I struggled to live out my faith as a stay-at-home wife and mother, discovering that the small messy places of life where we bend to serve others can become something sacred– an offering of worship to God– because the Eternal One stooped into Time and Space to submit to an ordinary woman’s care. One of Jesus’ friends would explain it this way, later: “This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9) 

Mary must have known well how much she would lose, in listening to that angel. Any woman can imagine what it meant to give up dreams of a wedding day, the approval of her friends and neighbors, the comfort of her family circle. But in bending to God’s will, Mary mirrored His own humility and love, and found unexpected treasures of the heart that beckon to all the women that have come since. Her song still rises: “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.” (Luke 1:46-49) God bent down to us at Christmas, to show us what True Love looks like, and when we bend down to serve others, we become His image-bearers, reflections of His heart.

This Winter I gained another daughter, and I look at her fresh young face and wonder what roads lie ahead of her, see how hard it will be to listen to the right voices in this world– too many clamoring opinions about beauty and worth and meaning as a woman, and what makes a good life. I wish I could tell her and all the young wives and mothers that the best thing they can do with their lives is to live like Mary, to learn to say “yes” to God…to allow Him to shape them around His Son in the small things of Everyday Life. There are so many goals and dreams to chase out there, but it is in Christ that we learn who we are, discover our true worth. It is in following Him one step at a time that we find our purpose. It will be ordinary and humbling, often invisible to others…and quite probably difficult. And we will become beautiful and extraordinary women, if we can listen and learn from Him. A sister-writer said it well: “A woman’s most sacred responsibility is to be so comfortable not just only in her own skin, but in being in Christ, in being shaped and formed like Christ, like the Cross…that she becomes more interested in the ways of Christ than in what others think of her — or what she thinks she wants.” (Ann VosKamp) It is a high calling, a privilege indeed, to be a woman made and defined by God.

This is Christmas that can last all year round: to wrap our arms and our hearts around each other and bear one another’s burdens, to become Love in flesh, for all the world to see, as our Savior did, once upon a time in Bethlehem.

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“This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”  (I John 4:10, The Message)

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“The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not let anything but the Cross explain her life. (Ann VosKamp)