Month: December 2021

  • Looking Back to Look Ahead

    I love the New Year! There is something about a fresh start, a new beginning and a time to reflect back on the past year and look ahead to what the new year may bring. Every year, my husband, my two daughters and I have a tradition where we go to a coffee shop on New Year’s Day and spend some time reflecting and looking ahead.

    Our lives are busy, as most peoples are, and we want to be intentional to make sure we don’t miss it. We have found that setting aside some time for reflection allows us to pause and take a moment to see where we have been and where we are going. Through this time we look at all that has happened in the last year (good and bad) and how God has worked in our lives in each of those moments.

    If you’re like me, you can get to the end of the year and wonder, “what did we do this year? I can’t even seem to remember what I did yesterday!” It’s pretty normal to get to the end of the year and feel like not much happened. I know that is exactly how my kids felt about 2020. To them it seemed as if the whole year was a bust and we did nothing. But upon some reflection and looking back, we realized that we had still managed to make tons of great memories through walks in nature, some camping trips, game and movie nights and so many other blessings (like getting a new house!). What helps me remember, is to look back through my pictures and go month by month in my calendar to jog my memory.

    Whenever we take the time to recount the past year, my family ends up having fun remembering the places we went, the milestones and accomplishments that happened, the holidays we celebrated and the new friends we made in the year. Even in years when there have been times of grief and stress and difficulty, remembering the ways God faithfully brought us through it and the rich blessings in between brings us peace and hope moving into the new year.

    Reflection can be vulnerable and difficult work but it is so worth it. Often we are afraid to stop long enough to reflect, because we don’t want to be faced with all the things we wish we would’ve, should’ve, could’ve. Maybe you are ashamed that you didn’t do any of the things you set out to do last January 1st. Or maybe this past year just didn’t turn out like you had hoped it would. Please don’t let these things keep you from this intentional and important work. Only by looking back to see where you have come from can you then take all that you experienced and learned and begin to look ahead.

    Allow this to be a time that you invite your compassionate and merciful Heavenly Father into the process. He longs for you to have a full and abundant life. The only way we can truly have this type of life is through following Him. He is our source of life and the only way toward the abundant life He has for us.

    As we wrap up 2021, I would encourage you to take some time either by yourself or with friends or family members to look back at this past year. Here are some questions that my family goes through each year, that you are welcome to use as well:

    • What were a few of our favorite moments of last year?
    • What can we celebrate about last year? (a new job, a new house, achieving a goal, etc)
    • What were the hard or difficult things this last year has brought?
    • How did we see God at work in our lives last year?
    • What ways were we able to be a part of the work God was doing in the world this past year?
    • What should we do less of or get rid of? What should we do more of or start doing?

    After taking stock of the past year, then take some time to look ahead to what is to come. If the past year has been a difficult one for you, a new and fresh start can be so welcoming! If you realized that last year wasn’t all you wanted it to be, you get to put the old behind and start anew. God’s mercies are new every morning! God is all about making things new, and we are always invited to join Him.

    ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.'” 

    Isaiah 43:18-19

    The new year is a fresh start to re-commit all aspects of your life to the Lord. Allow Him to guide your steps in the coming year. Just as it is important to reflect back, it is equally important to look ahead. Take a moment to just imagine what this new year can bring. Here are some questions that to ponder about the coming year and pray about with God:

    • What might God be wanting to do in your life in the coming year?
    • How could you join God in what He is doing?
    • What ways can you grow in your relationship with God, with your family, and with your church community?
    • What are 3 things you really want to happen in the coming year?

    It is my prayer for you that you will intentionally look to God in this coming year, knowing that He is always at work and He is always working on your behalf. God invites you to be still and rest in Him so that you can see Him at work in the blessings around you. You are His precious child and He longs for you to live the amazing and abundant life He has for you!

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  • Love Came Down

    Each year during the Christmas season, we find ourselves surrounded by songs, sermons, and scenes depicting Jesus as a baby in a manger. We sing carols about how he came to save us and to bring hope, peace, joy, and love – all incredibly powerful truths. But this year, as my family has been walking through the Advent season together, I’ve been pondering what it means that God came to earth, not mature and fully formed, but as a loud, messy, unpredictable baby. 

    This can be a difficult idea for our image-obsessed culture to embrace. Most of us prefer our lives to be relatively tidy, logical, and orderly – at least from the outside looking in. But how often does everything in our lives stay neat and tidy for long periods of time? How many of our intimate relationships stay neat and tidy for long stretches of time? Where there is life and growth, there are messes! So if messes are inevitable, maybe they aren’t as bad as we think they are, but perhaps instead we need to examine our responses to the messes that happen.

    In John chapter 3, Jesus explicitly referred to the growing-up process we all go through when He explained the Kingdom of God to the religious leader named Nicodemus. Nicodemus had come to Jesus under the cover of night, searching for more answers to his questions. They didn’t talk long before Jesus had revealed the secret of God’s kingdom to him, saying “you must be born again”  (John 3:3) 

    If you’re like me, you might read that verse through your “Christian filter” and it might sound pretty normal. But what might Nicodemus have thought when hearing that sentence for the first time? How unexpected it must have been! I imagine He had expected Jesus to share some sort of profound statement full of wisdom that would blow His mind. (And in fact, that’s exactly what Jesus did.) But at the time, I don’t think Nicodemus expected to hear that he needed to become a baby again! In the next verse, we can see that he responded quite literally to Jesus’s statement, exclaiming, “how can someone be born again when they are old? Can they enter into their mother’s womb a second time?” (paraphrase) But of course, we have the helpful perspective of knowing that Jesus didn’t mean literally, He was speaking metaphorically. So if we follow that metaphor to its natural conclusion, what do we infer?

    Well, first of all, we can first infer that becoming a spiritual baby who is learning everything all over again is not only OK, it’s actually a requirement!” You MUST be born again,” Jesus says. And yet this metaphor of birth and babies sure brings with it a very messy-sounding reality. Many of us, if we’re honest, might admit how uncomfortable it sounds. After all, who wants to go back to the baby stage of being helpless and vulnerable?! Isn’t it better to maintain the posture of being wise and respected? Shouldn’t that be of the most value in God’s kingdom?

    But God’s kingdom is not of this world. It thrives not in the pride of perfection, but in the simplicity of our humble, messy growth. The step-by-step stages of our spiritual growth and development may never feel easy or tidy; but over time, as we embrace God’s good plan to parent us, we grow from spiritual babies to curious children, to mature adults. This radical acceptance of God’s wisdom and timing sets us up towards sustained maturity and great wisdom through our dependence on Him. Meanwhile, there is so much more grace for our messes and mistakes than we think there is! God is not surprised by them, and just like every good parent, He will help us – teaching us and loving us unconditionally through it all.

    We will all continue to make messes and mistakes throughout our lives, but because of Jesus, they don’t have the power to define us or to change our identity. Messes and mistakes are a normal, even expected result of our growth and development as people and Christ-followers. We must remember that as children of God, we desperately need Him to parent us to maturity. 

    In Psalm 40:2, David describes God’s mercy this way: 

    “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

    Psalm 40:2

    From a muddy pit to a firm and strong foundation, God’s love for us, through the life of Jesus, brings help, hope, and redemption to even our worst messes!

    This Christmas, I encourage you to spend time remembering that Love came down as a baby. It wasn’t easy, quiet, or tidy, but it was good. Let’s give thanks to God for sending Jesus into our messy world, to redeem it and restore it. No matter what messes might be present in your life, you can take heart knowing that God will not leave you there in your mess, but lift you up out of it and set your feet on solid ground. We can give it all to God, the redeemer of our messes, and proclaim like the angels in Bethlehem so long ago, “Glory to God in the highest!”  Love has come.

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  • Joyful in God

    When I was in second grade, an older kid on the playground tried to push me off the swings. I hollered and protested but to no avail. Thankfully a sixth-grader named Tony heard my pleas for help and crossed the playground with what seemed like a single stride staring down my opponent with a look that no one dared challenge. My bully slinked away defeated, and I was overcome with triumph and pure joy as we celebrated the victory with a triple-under-dog push on the swings. To this day, I don’t remember the fear or trouble of the conflict, only the joy of having found such a friend and defender. 

    Often in the Bible, we see that joy and trouble seem to hold hands. It’s easy sometimes to think that joy is the natural response to everything being alright in our world. But if that were true, we would hardly ever experience any sense of joy. Even though we may have seasons where most things are going right, it’s rare they stay that way for long. Joy doesn’t come only in the absence of trouble but is made all the more meaningful and more pronounced by the presence of trouble.

    But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name be joyful in You.”

    Psalm 5:11

    In times of trouble, those who put their trust in Jesus have reason to rejoice—not because the battle is over, but because they are sheltered in the midst of the battle. God doesn’t always eliminate the trouble, but he does give us protection and will defend us in the middle of it. He is faithful to hear our cries and works powerfully on our behalf when we call His name for help. 

    In John 16:33, Jesus acknowledges that there will be trouble in this life, but in the same breath, He reminds us to take heart because He has already overcome anything we could ever face. We can trust Jesus to know what we are going through and to help us in our need. In fact, in the very next chapter, Jesus prays for all believers. That includes us! 

    Let that sink in for a second. Jesus prayed for us. And with Jesus praying for us, there’s no trouble in the world that could dim the joy of being loved by the ultimate Defender, Savior, and Friend. 

    Yes, life is hard. Impossibly hard at times. We can go through seasons where the trouble never seems to end. But when we choose to turn our hearts toward the source of our salvation, instead of focusing solely on our situation, that same trouble and turmoil can serve to push us into the open arms of Jesus where real joy lives. We can rejoice again because God is worthy of our trust. We can shout for joy because we are His children and He defends us. 

    Whatever you are facing today, I pray that you know you are not alone and that there is joy waiting in the arms of our Savior Jesus. Let Him hold you close as He restores your heart, and renews your joy.

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  • Hope for the Hopeless

    A few years back I was rehearsing with my church choir for our annual Christmas program. To be honest, I didn’t want to be there. My Christmas spirit had up and left. It was difficult for a spirit of joy and anticipation to thrive in my mental state of mind on that day. There was just no place for joy to take root in my spirit of negativity and self-doubt. I had been fighting intrusive, negative thoughts most of the year and I was tired. Tired of not being good enough. Tired of the world being a broken place to live in. Tired of fighting to put one foot in front of the other. And that tiredness was manifesting itself into hopelessness. I was starting to believe things would never get better.

    Then, we sang the first verse of “O Holy Night”: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks, a new a glorious morn.” 

    These words spoke directly to how I was feeling. Pining means mental and physical decline, especially because of a broken heart. That explained my heart exactly. By allowing negative intrusive thoughts to rule in my life, my heart was broken, and it was hard to feel joy. When I read the news headlines or ran into an unkind person in the store, it added to the sense of brokenness I felt. But “O Holy Night” revealed what God did to help that broken heart.

    “Till He appeared…” Those living in the times of Jesus, were living in a broken world as well. They were under a harsh Roman rule. There were high taxes. Roman soldiers on every corner watching you. The religious leaders had created a law that was impossible to follow. It indeed appeared hopeless. Those that tried to throw off Roman rule were killed. Those that didn’t follow the man-made religious law, were outcasted. Their one lifeline of hope was the promise of a Savior. The promise of the Messiah, God’s anointed.

    “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…” One evening some 2000 years ago, the long awaited day arrived. The promised Messiah, our hope of salvation, entered the world. Luke 2:10-11 describes the angelic birth announcement:

    “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’”

    Luke 2:10-11

    Isaiah 9:1-7 shares the hope the Messiah would bring to broken, hopeless hearts.
    “No more gloom for those who were in distress.” (vs 1)
    “People walking in darkness will see a great light.” (vs 2)
    “He will increase their joy.” (vs 3)
    “The yoke that burdens the people would be taken away.” (vs 4)
    “He will establish justice and righteousness.” (vs 7)

    The Messiah was coming to take away the hopelessness and replace it with joy. He gives us hope that brokenness is not a place we have to live in any longer. In the gospels, we see time after time how Jesus shared hope with others. Jesus, forgiving the sins of the lame man on the mat, gives hope that living in the depth of sin is no longer a reality we have to live. Talking with an outcast woman at the well, He gives us hope that despite our past choices we can receive love and acceptance from Jesus. Jesus’s death and resurrection secures our victory over death giving us hope that no matter what happens in this life, we will rise to an amazing eternal life with a loving God.

    The gospels show Jesus offering and proclaiming hope to those who believe, so why was I living as if Jesus never came? I struggled with living in the hopelessness that I am not good enough. That God will never fully accept me because of my shortcomings. That there is no hope for my brokenness or my broken world. As I lived in my false sense of hopelessness, I found myself giving up, becoming a recluse inside myself and my house. I realized, that is exactly where Satan wants me to be–living a life disregarding the fact that Hope has already entered the world, ignoring that Hope had chosen to live inside me though the Holy Spirit. When I live that way, I am unable to use the gifts and talents He gave me to bless the broken world I live in. But I don’t have to live in hopelessness and neither do you! God already gave the remedy for it–He sent Jesus on that “O Holy Night.”

    “Yonder breaks and new a glorious morn…” The Christmas story reminds us of the ‘hope to which we are called’ (Eph 1:18). Hope came into the world, but we have to claim it. We no longer have to live in the darkness of hopelessness, but we can choose to stand in the light of a new morning filled with the hope and joy that we are loved despite our faults. To live in the joy that God still works and lives within us, transforming us into his vessel of hope and joy. To live in the truth that no matter what happens we have victory over sin and death, and a promised eternal life with God. Beloved, I hope that this Christmas you will be able to lay down any burden or hopelessness you carry and run like the shepherds did, to the presence of Jesus and rejoice.

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  • Guiding Us Toward the Path of Peace

    I love reading the Christmas story with my kids each year. We curl up on the couch in front of the fireplace, all cozy in our fuzzy blankets and jammies, each night before bed and read about when our Lord came to earth as a baby (out of his great love for us) to bring us hope and joy and peace.

    And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

    Luke 1:76-79

    These words were spoken by Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, when he saw his miracle child. Zechariah was a priest, and he and his wife, Elizabeth, had just given birth to their son, named John. Zechariah and Elizabeth had been childless for many years and were well past child-bearing age when this miracle happened to them.

    John was the one prophesied to come before Jesus and sent to prepare a way for Him, announcing His coming. Up to this point, the whole world had been waiting in the darkness for the light of hope to come. This story of John ushers us into the very beginning of the Christmas story–a story of when the light of the world came to “guide our feet into the path of peace”, to bring us hope in salvation and forgiveness of sin. John’s role was to point to Jesus and go ahead of him, giving the people hope that the one whom they have been waiting for, for so many years, is finally here!

    Jesus is “the rising sun”, shining light into the darkness in order to guide us into his peace. As we allow the light of Jesus to illuminate the dark places in our life, the peace of Christ comes to us and replaces all fear and doubt with rest and assurance.

    Father God, we ask that you help us see the areas of our lives where we need your light to shine forth in darkness. Bring your everlasting peace to our hearts and souls, replacing all fear and doubt, and helping us point others to you, the Prince of Peace. We long for true peace that comes only through your son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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