From the very first jingle of bells I get excited. I can’t help smiling. It literally turns on a happy switch inside my brain and heart. One day I’m raking leaves, focused on a deadline, and trying not to be late to pick up one of my kids, and the next I hear those bells and I’m instantly transformed from a mom-in-motion to a Christmas elf. I want to bake all the cookies, decorate a tree right this very minute, light a pine-scented candle and order matching polar bear pajamas for the fam.
The catalog of Christmas music can do everything from make me giggle “6 White Boomers”, tear up “Silent Night”, or belt it out at the top of my lungs “Let it Snow.” But mostly for me it sets the mood for the holiday celebrating that Jesus chose to come down to earth to be with us. It is the soundtrack of my season. I play it while I shop, cook, and wrap. It evokes so many memories--of the kids caroling with their cousins when they were little, of them singing in their preschool Christmas programs, of candlelit Christmas eve services at church growing up. But Christmas music does more than just put us in a good mood or a nostalgic state of mind.
There’s power in it.
In 1984 Bob Geldof, front man for the Boomtown Rats, organized a group of the most famous British and Irish musicians to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” His goal was to raise money and awareness for a famine in Ethiopia. Geldof’s song raised over $24 million dollars! From one song. Recorded in one day and released a week later. Why? Because there is power in music. There is power in us using our place here on earth (whether we’re a stay-at-home mom, an accountant, or a member of Duran Duran) to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, because Jesus asked us to (Matthew 25:34-39). There is power in people coming together to be light to this world.
Seventy years earlier, on December 24, 1914 soldiers in Europe were in the fray of World War. Over a million lives had already been lost. Deep in the muddy trenches a group of British soldiers saw lights and then heard their German enemies not firing guns, but singing “Stille Nacht,” which we know as “Silent Night.” The British soldiers joined in in their own language, both sides singing of the night Jesus came to bring peace on earth. And for that night, there was. Soldiers on both sides shook hands, exchanged their meager possessions--chocolate and cigarettes--as gifts and even played a game of soccer. There was a ceasefire in the midst of a bloody warzone. People loving their neighbors. I’m certain it made Jesus smile.
Christmas music can be super fun, but it can also be powerful. The old Christmas hymns like “O Holy Night” and “Away in the Manger” take us back to that very first moment when Jesus entered the earth. When He said, “Yes, I’ll leave heaven, step off my throne, put down my crown and royal robes and humble myself as a baby, and as a carpenter from Nazareth. I’ll do all of this to be with my children, the incredible individuals I created (that’s you and me). Not only do I want to be with them for a little while, but I want to be with them forever. So, while I’m down there, I’ll sacrifice myself for them. But it starts right now, in this most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of people--an unwed couple and a manger. Yeah. It’s going to be perfect.”
And the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.” May the glory of Christ Jesus and the peace He offers be with you this Christmas season and always.
I'd love to hear. What’s your favorite Christmas song?
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Kelly Clarkson said on a recent episode of The Voice, “2020 has been a trash can!” She’s not the only one claiming 2020 has been a disaster. You don’t need me to tell you about the global pandemic, systemic racism, wildfires, hurricanes, and a doozy of an election year. Scroll through your social media feed. Click on your most trusted news source. Eavesdrop on the people near you. Oh wait, we shouldn’t be close enough to be able to eavesdrop, should we? A friend recently mentioned she just wanted to hear some good news, any good news. I understand what she meant. And yes, this year has been fraught with turmoil. But there is good news. His name is Jesus.
And as far as news goes, Jesus tells us:
Your faith has made you well. Mark 5:34
Go in peace. Mark 5:34
Your suffering is over. Mark 5:34
Don’t be afraid. Mark 5:36
Just have faith. Mark 5:36
Little girl, get up! Mark 5:41
And that’s on one page of the Bible in only a span of six verses.
I know phrases like, “Just have faith,” can sound trite when we’re in the midst of a real-life crisis. But can we look at these words in their original context a minute?
There was a woman who’d been hemorrhaging for twelve entire years. This is the woman Jesus tells, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”
Her crisis sounds pretty real to me. She was losing blood, for years. Bleeding in her day and age made you “unclean” and since she always was, she was always “unclean” and thus a social outcast. Imagine being quarantined for twelve years. I thought two weeks was rough. She’d spent all her money trying to get medical help and none of it worked. She was at the end of her rope. But she reached out to Jesus. That was it. Reached out to Him, stretched out her hand and she was instantly healed. He offered her peace and ended her suffering. Are we reaching out to Jesus in our trials...or just complaining?
Okay, want more?
To the man whose daughter had just died--unimaginable, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, just have faith.” Simple, but not easy. In fact, harder than I can fathom. But then Jesus goes to the man’s house, walks in the little girl’s room, takes her hand, and says, “Talitha koum (little girl, get up!). And. She. Does. She was dead. But she stands up, walks around, and Jesus even makes sure she gets a snack. So, if you feel exhausted and simply done, but Jesus asked you to get up--would you?
Our God? He’s a God of miracles. He’s a God of healing. He’s the Prince of Peace. And that is super good news. Not just in a trite, make a cute phrase on a mug or social media post way, but in the midst of tragedy He will step in and change your life kind of way.
I’m fully aware that the Bible was written thousands of years ago. But I’m also fully aware that God carefully curated the historic events, people, and occurrences that made it to the pages of Scripture. And these two (the woman and the girl), are here so we know, when we’ve been struggling for over a decade, when we seem to be out of options, when the thing most dear to us seems to be gone, Jesus can flood our lives with peace, joy, and hope. All we have to do is reach out and get up.
Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. Colossians 1:27 MSG
No matter what’s going on in your world, in the world. Christ is in you. Right now. Today. Amidst the chaos, the shutdowns, the election. The Prince of Peace. The One who brought a little girl back to life. The One who was raised back to life. The One who Created the World. The One who died for you. He’s in you, with you, closer than your breath. You get to shine God’s glory. Right where you are—in your office, on your next social media post, when you wake your kids up in the morning, as you stand in line at your favorite coffee shop, or help your spouse find their keys. As you try to figure out online schooling or Zoom, as you’re quarantining, planning a Thanksgiving that’s smaller than you’d hoped, God’s glory—the kind that raises the dead and heals chronic ailments and is the embodiment of peace—that’s in you. Inhale it deeply. Exhale the gunk of the world straight into that garbage can.
In the midst of bad news and biased news and erroneous news there is very very good news. And His name is Jesus. The world might be calling 2020 rubbish. But Jesus is calling it yet another opportunity to love you more than you can imagine.
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I was driving behind a college student riding a Lime scooter the other day who jumped off in the middle of the sidewalk and started running. Yes, part of the beauty of these motorized rental scooters is as soon as you’re at work, home, your friends’ apartment, favorite coffee shop, or whatever you set the scooter to the ground. Lime has trackers, gathers the two-wheeled wonders at the end of the day and redistributes them at key places people can utilize them the following day. But this girl didn’t exactly look like she’d gotten to where she was going. I’m guessing she ran out of her prepaid limit. As the scooter hit the pavement it hit me that so often, we treat God like this.
We pick Him up when we’re in the mood or use Him when we need help getting somewhere, then when we feel better about ourselves or our situation, have gotten as far as we want, or have invested as much as we wanted to in our relationship with Jesus we drop Him to the ground. Boom!
This could mean spending time with Jesus in the morning and then living our lives however we want the rest of the day without regard to truly loving our neighbors or ourselves.
Or praying in times of crisis but patting ourselves on the back when our life seems to be going well.
Maybe we do all our Bible study homework or sing at church, but at home have an addiction we’re not willing to turn over to the Lord.
Or we tell someone we’re praying for them and never do.
Or say we trust Jesus and then positively freaking out when things don’t go as planned.
Any of these hit home?
Most of us are guilty of at least one if not several of these. Not because we’re bad people, but because we’re people. And, well, people aren’t perfect.
But thankfully Jesus is. And the kicker? Our perfect King and Savior wants to be in a relationship with you and me, no matter how late we’re running or how many times we’ve crashed to the pavement.
Still we treat Jesus like a rented ride, and that’s not how healthy relationships work. Healthy relationships possess what psychologists call the three C’s—communication, compromise and commitment.
1. Are we communicating with Jesus on a regular basis?
Do we take time to talk to Him? The spiritual word for this is prayer, but it’s really just talking to Jesus like you would to your best friend. This means telling Him what’s on your mind today, what you’re excited about, what you’d like to accomplish, who you’re mad at and why, what you’re worried or stressed about, how you’re feeling physically, spiritually, emotionally. And also listening, because communication is a two-way street.
You can do this by reading the Bible, this is God’s living Word, so reading it is listening to Jesus speak. Not sure where to start? Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all actually have Jesus’ words to the world—sometimes even in red print. And the letters to the early churches like; Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, etc. are all instructions for the early church on what being a Christian means.
Listening to Jesus also means sitting still and being quiet, asking Him a question like, “How do I handle this person I struggle with? What should I say to them? Not say to them?” or “I’m wondering if adding this thing into my schedule is the best use of my time, what do You think?” And then sitting in stillness and allowing the Lord time to respond.
2. Are we compromising—giving up some of our preferences for His?
Will we bite our tongue even though we really want to complain? We know Jesus urges us to love our neighbor. He doesn’t want us to trash talk them, so will we, or won’t we? Will we tell the cashier they gave us too much change, even though the money is already in our hands? Will we set down that thing we know is bad for us when God asks us too? Even though we’re craving it? All of these are us comprising our preferences for His. And, as it turns out, God’s choices for us are always best, because He is 100% pure goodness and light.
3. Commitment—are we committed to Jesus?
Do we take time from our days to spend with the Lord—in prayer, silence, listening to or singing worship music, reading the Bible, meeting with other Christians for support in our faith journeys? Are we committed to do this on a regular basis? Daily is ideal. Daily kissing my hubby, sharing a meal with him, going on a walk with him, etc. are ideal for our relationship. There are days when conflicting schedules mean we have to miss. But we still touch base on those days—text, call, or even when Brett had to take a trip to Nepal, we emailed each other because the ten-hour forty-five-minute time change was crazy hard. But we made an effort to communicate. We were committed.
Same goes with our relationship with Jesus. If we’re committed to Him, we’ll daily want to sit with our Bibles and pray, but on crazy days, we’ll make exceptions and pray on the airplane or while driving a car full of middle schoolers to practice or in the shower. We might let the audio feature on the Bible App read us a passage or listen to some great Mav City tunes while getting dressed. No matter our schedules, we need to make it a point to touch base with the Lord every day.
So, are we in a relationship with Jesus? Or are we dropping Him to the ground like a scooter we don’t need right this minute? Because He’s the best friend we could ever ask for. He loves us for exactly who we are. Always listens. Always keeps His promises. Never stands us up or lets us down. He’s always on the side of good. Life with Jesus is always exhilarating, so hop on, commit, compromise, and communicate and enjoy the most amazing ride of your life.
My sons love the Avenger films packed with space fighting, complex plots, and fairly fantastic special effects. Most of the heroes are men, but the most marvelous? Well, she’s a woman named Carol, but her hero name is Captain Marvel. Have you seen it? The film is centered around Captain Marvel trying to figure out which voice in her head to listen to, to deduce who is for her and who is against her.
Spoiler Alert: There’s a scene where Carol’s enemy shows her flashbacks of all the times in her life she’s fallen down—falling off her bike when she’s little, falling out of a go-cart in middle school, falling off a rope she’s climbing during military training. The enemy floods Carol’s thoughts with negative ones, trying to make her feel like a failure, weak, and unable to do anything she sets out to do. He does this to us, too. Trying to make us see ourselves at our worst. But we don’t have to dwell there. When Carol pushes past what her enemy is showing her, Carol sees more. She remembers the truth—the rest of those memories. That each time after she fell, she got back up again. That’s who she truly is—not the girl who trips and tumbles, but the one who rises up. She is strong. She is capable. She is resilient.
I see this in my own life. The enemy tries to show me one thing—a half truth, a piece of the whole. He flashes a past rejection from a publisher in my mind trying to distract me from all the sweet moments God gives me words and ideas to write. That slithering snake tells me I’m doing a bad job as a mom because one of my kids is down, even though I love my kids and can’t be responsible for making them happy 100% of the time. The enemy makes me try to think I don’t have enough time to complete a project I’m passionate about. When in truth, God always makes a way for me to finish the things He wants me to complete.
That slippery serpent has been lying to us from day one—trying to show us half-truths and make us focus on the negative instead of the full, beautiful picture. He approached the very first woman on earth and asked, “Did God tell you you can’t eat any of this fruit?’
Eve answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” —Genesis 3:2-3
And here’s where the enemy strikes. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. —Genesis 3:4
Die to the good life Adam and Eve had, one without shame, one with perfect union with the Lord. God did say that. But the serpent’s words are like a smoke screen in Eve’s vision of all that God has laid out for her. She basically gets a fresh fruit basket each morning, and all of a sudden that doesn’t feel like enough. And so, she eats the forbidden fruit. And the next thing we see is Adam and Eve no longer feeling like they’re enough. They hide when God comes strolling through the garden. Suddenly they feel naked and afraid. What? Wait. Why? They still have the same bodies. God is still the same God who created them in His image. God hasn’t changed. He still loves Adam and Eve and wants to hang out with them. Only the way they see themselves has changed. That was Satan’s goal—to get Adam and Eve to see themselves as not good enough to be with God, not good enough to do the work He actually called them to.
And the enemy slithers off snickering to himself.
It’s the same thing that serpent tries to do to us—make us think we’re not good enough, that we should be ashamed, that we’re the kind who always fall down, who have failed before. But that is a bold-faced lie.
So, let’s replace the lies with truths. Here are some to get you started:
We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). God loved us so much He sent His only son to earth so we could have life with Him (John 3:16)—full, real, abundant life! God tells us that He packed us with gifts, gifts we’d better be using (Ephesians 2:10). There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
Think about each of those. If you don’t like the way you look today, consider you were created in God’s image. Dang. You must look good! If you’re wondering if anyone loves you, if God loves you, remember He sent Jesus to rescue you. I know how much I love my boys, and I can’t imagine sending them away from me for a dangerous mission unless it was for someone or something of great value. Feeling like you’re not that good at anything or not good enough to pursue the job, class, ministry, shop…Lean into the truth that God has good work He’s actually gotten you ready to do! And if something you’ve done or haven’t done is hanging over your head. Take it to Jesus. He does not condemn you; He loves you. Ask for forgiveness. Allow His grace to wash over you. And move forward.
So what lies are you believing about yourself today? Time to take them down like a superhero. Because you? You’re marvelous (Psalm 139:14)!
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This is how we’re cheering for my sixteen-year old while she plays soccer this year. Yup. Through a fence. Because crowds aren’t super safe and bleachers are only so big and seating is incredibly limited—at some venues only one fan per player. And you know what? I am incredibly grateful. Because right now, she’s still getting to play. And not everyone is. And we didn’t know if she’d be able to, so for today, peering through a chain length fence feels like a ginormous blessing.
And this is how my son’s play practice looks—a small show with a limited cast instead of the splashy musical they’d planned on performing. Wearing masks on stage. Shorter rehearsals. Oh, and the show is going to be streamed. No live audiences. But wow! He gets to be in a play. His spring show was cancelled two weeks before the performances. His summer theatre was called off altogether. And my boy, who loves to act, gets to be with his fellow thespians, stand on that stage, slip into character, and act. Gift. Gift. Gift.
Life looks different. The rules seem to change every day. Our schedules and plans keep getting unended. But there is one thing we can count on—our everlasting God! As the prophet Isaiah explained to a weary nation, “Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying,“God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts."
I love that.
School looks different. Sports look different. Church looks different. But God? He is sturdy and strong. He is solid and never changing. I see Him at the soccer games, giving the precious gift of camaraderie and teamwork to the girls. I see Him in the theatre allowing His creative kids to use their gifts. I know we all didn’t get to do the things we wanted to do. Although high school sports are on, college sports are cancelled. My teen can act, but Broadway is closed. Even these things I'm grateful for today could be cancelled tomorrow. And God calls us to be thankful in ALL of it.
Paul instructs the Thessalonians, in 1 Thessalonians 5:27-28 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Is that always easy? No. I can’t begin to understand it all. But I know that God is working in those closed and cancelled spaces too. I’m not sure how, but I know He is. I know He is, because that’s the kind of God He is. A mighty God. A loving God. A faithful God. And for that I will rejoice and give Him thanks.
God loves you and wants the best for you. Even if something looks stark, God wants to carry you through the challenges, set you back upright and help you soar. He’s a good good Father.
The prophet Isaiah continued by saying:
He (the everlasting God) gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. –Isaiah 40:29-31
Yes, life looks different. Our world is changing. Some of those changes have been hard. But some of them are pretty great--less business travel as we realize Zoom is an easy way to meet, groceries we can conveniently pick up in the parking lot, and outdoor classes, meals, and meetings. I’ve loved breathing in so much fresh air! But no matter how the world shifts and changes, God is constant. He does not change. He still loves His children (that’s all of us humans) and wants to shower us with gifts. Will we receive them? Will we even notice them? Will be take time to breathe them in? Will we thank Him?
When the uncertainty and shifting schedules tangle you up, make you anxious, or leave you exhausted, God wants to strengthen you. He’ll give us power and energy to renew us. All we have to do is ask. Even though you might be weary? He’ll help you fly. We don’t have to do this on our own. We actually can’t. But if we reach out to God, put our hope in Him, He’ll help us soar.
God does not change. He is still good. He is still all powerful. He still loves you. He still has plans for you. He still forgives you. He’s still fighting for you. He will never leave you. Hold these truths in your heart today. This is something to be so thankful for! Look for the gifts our faithful God gives--they might be as simple as being able to watch your child do their thing through a fence. Breathe them in like the cool, crisp fall air, and let His love surround you.
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Today I welcome my friend, Kristan Dooley on the blog. She is passionate about taking people to a deeper place in their relationship with Christ. Kristan is a discipleship pastor at Anthem House Church in West Chester, Ohio and a discipleship coach for Gravity Leadership. Her new book, Left Turns; Following Jesus off the Beaten Path just released. I hope you’ll be inspired by her description of what going off the beaten path with Jesus looks like. Kristan, take it away....
It was early and cold for a fall morning, but the road called. I was training for a half marathon and had a five-mile run on my checklist for the day. I didn’t plan to turn. My run didn’t require it either, still, as I rounded the corner headed into mile four, I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit prompting me to turn left. Somewhat annoyed and definitely winded from the unexpected turn, I slowed my pace and made my way up the hill that now stood before me. What was God doing? Why the sudden change in direction? Where were we going?
All things He would answer in due time. I had no idea how my left turn on that morning run would soon become a foundational piece in my future formation. But here I am now, years later, still learning and growing from my experience from turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path.
What I did physically on my run that morning, the Father asked me to do spiritually with my life about a year later. He had me walk away from my job, which was a left turn I never saw coming to spend two years in ministry on a side street in East Hamilton with the homeless and the broken, hurting people of the inner city. This wasn't even on my radar. Unpaid, untitled, unequipped, these were not the ministry circumstances I was accustomed to working with.
Still, East Avenue provided me with a new understanding of my Father and how much He longs to partner with me in love and life. From this place, I have been able to posture my heart to better meet His presence and recenter myself in His perfect love. The world around me looks and feels different than it ever has before.
On my side street, I learned three valuable paradigms...
1. God is always present and always working
God is not only God of the mountain tops. He is God over all things, in all things, and available for all things. He doesn't need me continually striving for the mountain top, because He also dwells in the mundane. Neither is more important and both are invaluable to the Kingdom. During my time on the streets in a forgotten, hopeless part of town, I found the presence of God at work in ways I never knew possible. It wasn't loud or flashy, but it was pure and perfect. Joining with Him made the mundane feel like the mountains.
2. God actually likes me
The second truth I embraced is that my Father is not showing up to the table with a checklist ready to negotiate what I deserve from His Kingdom. He doesn't need me to do better, try harder, or figure more things out. He simply longs for me to be present. He's prepared a table for me and it's not based at all upon anything I already am or need to become. He likes me. The God of heaven likes me and He wants to be with me. Right now, exactly how I am.
The cool part is, as I come and spend time around the table with Him, I will change, take shape, and grow because the natural by-product of spending time with Jesus is that we begin to reflect Jesus. But I am not changing because He needs me to change. I'm changing because He's inspired me to change. My goodness does not lead to His kindness. His kindness leads to my goodness. Always. And my posture in this place is a posture allowing myself to be loved, completely, right now, regardless of how I feel and what I've done.
3. God is committed to meeting me in reality
The final paradigm I learned on those side streets in East Hamilton was how committed God was to meet me in my reality. I didn't want to be where I was. I didn't ask to turn left. It felt harsh and unnecessary. I felt left out, lonely, and rejected. But God stood in my place of rejection and He patiently waited for me to be real with my disappointment. We cannot deal with our disappointments and live in denial of them at the same time. Dealing with them will involve getting our hands dirty. And a little dirt doesn’t scare Him.
I don't know if God has a left turn prepared for you anytime in the near future, but I do know if He does, you should take it. We don't look back after a mighty move of God and wish we hadn't been a part of it. He doesn't work deeply within us only to leave us with barren trees. The fruit produced by turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path is life-changing and life-sustaining. Turning left is the way to abundance.
Ever since Disney Plus released Hamilton our family has been ob-sessed. I think most of us have the intricate lyrics (passing over the first five seconds) of the title track down pat. Well mostly.
If you haven’t seen it yet. Do. It is a gorgeous, creative, inspiring story packed with love, grace, and redemption. The talent is phenomenal and the music brilliant. There is a thread woven throughout the show of the tension between being satisfied and not. Phrases like “that will be enough” and “running out of time” “never be satisfied” “all I have” are littered throughout the lyrics.
It makes me question what is “enough” in my life? What’s enough in yours?
What’s enough money? Enough pairs of sandals or shorts? Enough house? Enough memory for our phones or laptops? Enough time on social media? What are you measuring right now? Do you have enough? Or do you want MORE? Why?
Sure, there are some things we do need more of—if we don’t have enough money to pay our rent or medical bill—yeah, we could use a few more bucks. If our doctor tells us we’re supposed to exercise at least three hours a week and we’ve been lucky to squeeze in one, we need to find a way to move more. But overall, we Americans, as a society struggle to be satisfied. We get one promotion, but what we really want is her job. We meet a great guy, but we wish we could spend even more time with him. We find an adorable home, but we want to get a coffee table for the family room, and a fresh, new comforter for our bed, oh and a couple of cute throw pillows to add a pop of color to our couch. None of these things are bad. Not at all. God created beauty and relationships and vocations and wants us to enjoy and savor all these things. I’m just asking myself, “What’s enough?” Because, Jesus tells us that He satisfies our souls.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. —John 6:35
Never hungry again? Never thirsty again?
Okay. I’m listening. But Jesus didn’t mean our physical bodies wouldn’t require food or drink. My stomach growls first thing every morning and I cannot wait to pour myself some dark chocolate granola with almonds and top it with a handful of fresh, sweet berries from the local farmer’s market. But that inner craving, that soul searching, that hunger inside that makes us antsy and itchy and twitchy and wanting more—Jesus satisfies that. When we turn to Him, soak ourselves in Him, we find complete peace and satisfaction.
We realize that yes, a cute new cozy sweater for fall would be amazing, and if we can afford it, great, and if we can’t also great, because Jesus loves us with or without that sweater. He provides joy for us with or without a paycheck, partner, or the palomino pony we thought we needed when we were kids.
Do you have enough? The answer is we already have all of Jesus’ love and grace and hope and joy and peace. Right now. Today. If we want it. If we ask Him for it. It’s ours for the taking. And when we have that? All the other things are yummy or fun, but not necessary. Our peace, hope, and joy don’t hinge on them. Because we’re already fully satisfied. The love of Jesus? Is more than enough. It’s everything!
I was presented with a wonderful ministry opportunity, but it means traveling to a different town in these crazy Covid-19 days, being away from my fabulous family for a night, and missing one of my daughter’s soccer games. It also means some extra work and preparation—translation time. I had mixed emotions. I started praying.
I shut my computer, closed my eyes, whispered the pros and cons I listed above, told God I knew that He knew my heart. I told Him I was worried if I could give both the Bible study I was teaching that same week and this opportunity my best. I asked Him to let me know what He wanted me to do. God popped into my head, What if you used the same topic for both? Sure, they’d have to be a little different, but you could use the same research, prep time, Scriptures, themes—that could make both events even better. I quickly checked the few notes I’d scribbled in pink ink for the upcoming Bible study, and thought, “Hmm. This could work.”
Are you listening?
Before transitioning out of work, I straightened my desk, picking up a stray bookmark that had fallen out of my Bible. It has the hymn I was going to reference in the Bible study printed on it. Side note: I have over a dozen bookmarks currently in my Bible. “Okay, God.” I smiled.
I headed downstairs to start dinner. I was itching to tell my husband about the invitation, because it was exciting, and I wanted his opinion. I told God if He wanted me to go, I’d need my husband’s support, because I want to be in sync with him. But Brett was on a call, so I started cooking and kept the conversation with God going. As I cracked eggs and sliced creamy avocados God whispered scriptures and stories to me as I stirred. He started writing my talk for me in my mind.
Are you listening?
One specific idea was front and center. I wanted to ponder this particular passage more while I cooked. So, I ran back up to my writing nook, found the book I needed, and discovered it was sitting open to the precise page I needed.
When Brett got off his call, I barely got three words out before he said, “You should definitely do this.”
I ask God all the time to help me discern things—know which way to go and when. I ask Him to tell me what I should do next and for the right words to say. And here’s the thing. He answers. All the time. And I’m not saying God always answers pronto like in the example I just gave. Or that He always gives me several iterations of that answer in a row—bam! Bam! Bam! But He does answer all of us when we ask Him questions in a million ways—an idea, an overwhelming sense of peace, a bookmark, a page open to a certain something, a conversation, a reminder of something we’ve talked to God about before, a note from a friend, a song on the speakers that confirms what we thought we just heard.... But do I always notice? Am I really listening?
Or am I too quick to turn on the noise—check Instagram, answer a text, put on an audiobook or music, that drowns out or muffles Christ’s voice? There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. Communicating with friends and loved ones is awesome. Christian audio books and worship music help me tune into Jesus. Secular novels and music can be great too. But what kind of conversation am I trying to have if I ask God a question and then turn to something else, instead of sitting, quietly, attentively, to hear His reply?
What if I did that to my husband?
“Hey, honey, do you have time to pick up Maguire after school?”
And then instead of waiting for Brett to answer, I immediately opened my phone or slipped in my earbuds or left the room.
I would never know his response. It would also be rude. But somedays I do this to God. No wonder I don’t always hear Him.
“Are you listening?
These are words Jesus spoke over and over again while He was on earth. He shared an important insight into God and love and life—something folks should be taking notes about and then because Jesus knows how distracted we get He asked, “Are you listening?”
I feel like Jesus is asking me this same question.
Maybe He’s asking you, too.
His answers are sometimes slower than we’d like in our instant gratification world. His answers aren’t always what we wanted to hear. Sometimes we get the, That’s not such a good idea or Not now from God even though we’re eager to get going. Sometimes He’ll send us a feeling of warning that we should turn around and stop doing the thing we are about to do. But only because Jesus wants us to know His will for our lives. He wants us to go the places He’s planned for us. He wants us to meet the people He hopes we will be roommates or friends or coworkers with. He wants to keep us from dangerous or toxic scenarios. He wants us to take the job and live in the city where we can live our lives for Him to the fullest. If we ask. And if we listen. He will always answer.
Jesus tells the truth. He gives the best advice. And He asks if we’re paying attention. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the story of a sower with some seeds. He wants His disciples (and us) to know that if we dig our roots deep into Him, we’ll flourish. In this same chapter Jesus tells another story about good crops and thistles—letting us know we can grow, encouraging us to be fruitful, even in the midst of a mixed-up world and all the “thistles” we’ll encounter. In Luke 14 Jesus tells us we’re the salt of the earth—here to bring seasoning, the true flavor to this world. All these things Jesus is saying are so important. We should be hanging on every word. But because Jesus knows our attention spans are tiny, He followed up these teachings with, “Are you listening? Really listening?”
The disciples were concerned with things like politics and number of followers and taxes and who was right and who was wrong. They’d interrupt Jesus to ask about those things. They’d be listening to Him, kind of listening, but they were distracted by all the buzz about the hot topics of their culture. Oh, yeah, maybe we do that, too.
For the record I read the news and think voting is a privilege we should all exercise. We need to know what’s going on in our world, because we live here. But I don’t want to get so tangled up in all that that I miss what Jesus is telling me. I need to take time to be still. To be quiet. So I can hear Him.
Jesus calls us into a conversation. Are we sitting down to chat with Him or barking out our questions and demands and leaving the room?
How do you listen?
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Be still. Go somewhere quiet—a porch, a park, a patch of grass in your yard when everyone else is inside, a picnic table where no one else is sitting. Tell God what’s on your mind, your heart. Tell Him what you’re really worried about today, what has you tied up in knots, or what you’re confused about. And then sit. In the silence. And wait. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day and the next.
Jesus tells us in Mark 4:24-25 “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given.”
I want that. More understanding. I’m focusing on sitting still more this week. Listening better. I want to hear what Jesus has to say. I want to hear Him more clearly and more often. He tells us we can. If we pay attention. If we listen closer.
Will you join me? I’d love to hear about the ways you’re listening. Drop a comment and let me know.
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About five years ago God placed in my heart a desire to switch from writing fiction to writing nonfiction. I’d been teaching a women’s Bible study and speaking at women’s events and it felt right and good. And so, I began writing nonfiction for women. But just because I was writing it didn’t mean it was time for it to be out in the world. In fact, it would be years before it was time.
I love how Banning Liebscher explains this in his book, Rooted, “When the Lord speaks to you, it is like seeing a second line on a pregnancy test. He’s telling you that you’re pregnant and that it’s time to start preparing for that word to come to pass… The Lord doesn’t give us what we’re asking for at first. Instead, He gives us a word.”
This desire to write nonfiction for women—to dive deep into the Bible and write about what it means for us today—burned deeply in my heart. God flooded me with ideas and words. I wrote and wrote and wrote—entire chapters and manuscripts and Bible studies. But the market is hard. And because I was “known” as a YA fiction writer (which had been a fabulous thing to write, but now God was calling me into new territory) agents and editors were hesitant about me switching genres and about taking a risk on my new endeavor.
There were some extremely hard days. Days when it felt like I was wasting time pounding out stories in my writing nook for no one to read. Stretches of weeks and months when I got so many rejections, I began to second guess myself. Of course, my goal was to write for Jesus. But the world’s opinions swirl and whirl around us. They made me dizzy. And when I’m dizzy, I eventually fall.
But God was faithful. He always is. He’d give me the encouragement I needed, just when I needed it most to stand back up. My heavenly Father reminded me time and time again that the writing was for Him. That He was pleased simply because I was writing. He taught me so much about His love and the peace, joy, courage, and hope He offers. Would I just write for Him and stop worrying about worldly outcomes?
And two weeks ago, How Sweet the Sound released—a nonfiction book for women. All because God planted a desire in my heart and then over time orchestrated countless pieces in a complex puzzle to make it a reality. All because our God? He is faithful.
Jesus blessed me with so many opportunities to share about it—about the power of hymns to point us back to how powerful our God is, how very much He loves us, and that He will never ever forsake us. Like this devotional video "The Perfect Worship Song Playlist."
I encourage you today—wherever you are on your journey—to hold fast to the dreams and ideas and paths that God has instilled in your heart. He is Almighty. Meaning if He asked you to do it, gave you a passion for something, He is 100% capable of making it happen. He does love you. You are His child, His very own, made in His image. Therefore, He only wants what’s best for you. He is always on your side. And He won’t leave you or give up on you. Even if you get distracted, delayed, or give up on Him. For those of you who have been pregnant—with a business idea, brainstorm, or baby—you know it is a long, exhausting process, that seems to take for-ever. But God is faithful. Always there. Cling to Him and you’ll marvel at what He does in and through your life.
If you'd like to hear me talking more about how hymns remind us of God's great love for us, His power to overcome anything and His steadfast faithfulness click on the images below. Praying my journey will encourage you to keep fighting the good fight, taking the next step in your journey, chasing after what Jesus has put in front of you.
Early on in quarantine my oldest daughter and I were exploring the trails and landed in one of our local parks, green, spacious, and peaceful. The firepit at the edge of the park sparked an idea.
“We could make s’mores here!” Maddie declared.
On our next Clicklist we ordered all the necessary supplies—graham crackers, gluten free graham crackers, jumbo marshmallows, and Hershey bars. A few days later our family packed a cardboard box with firewood, paper, and some matches and grabbed our “s’mores kit”. When we arrived at the main entrance eager for a fun summer evening a large piece of plywood with the word “CLOSED” spray painted across it spanned the entry point of the bridge. Two large construction vehicles were parked askew blocking passage. But there was a back entrance. And as locals we knew where it was.
We meandered down the trail of entrance number two to an empty park. It was as if this giant grassy area was all ours for the night. Brett built a fire while the kids played tag. The thick scent of smoke filled the air while we told stories. We roasted marshmallows until they were charred on the outside and gooey on the inside, popped them between graham crackers and squares of chocolate, devouring the delicious sweetness that tasted like summer camp and left sticky marshmallow smears all over our faces.
We had so much fun that night, we scheduled another family s’mores night a few weeks later. And the next month we planned a small birthday celebration for our middle schooler—just three close friends plus him outside at this park for a couple of hours. They explored the trails, tossed a football, and roasted hot dogs on sticks fully able to both socially distance outside and enjoy each other’s company.
The park is simple. An old, rundown shelter, a dated swing set with four black u-shaped swings of equal height, a sand volleyball court, tons of open grassy space, and the campfire surrounded by giant logs for sitting on. No fancy soccer fields. No snazzy playground structures or gazebos. But we had it all to ourselves, except for the baby deer we saw galloping across the field and the mosquitos buzzing around our legs. Maybe other people in town stopped by when we did not, but each time we visited It felt like our very own Secret Garden (I LOVED that book as a girl) away from phones and Zoom calls and our neighborhood (which we love, but have seen quite a bit of from March to now).
Why wasn’t anyone else there? Maybe because when the college students were sent home for quarantine the population in our college town fell to half. Maybe because the main bridge was closed. I don’t really care why. We Smiths experienced the gift of space and freedom, as if God reserved the grassy expanse for us each time we needed it.
I fear in these unprecedented times we’re missing some of God’s gifts. We’re seeing the “closed” sign at the entrance and not going in. We’re turning around and heading home and missing the s’mores. But I don’t want us to. I don’t want to. I don’t want you to.
Yes, I realize the world is closed and the school year looks upside down and friends have tested positive and racism is rampant. And I’m grieving those things and feeling all the emotions. But I also know in the midst of all this awfulness I still want joy for my kids. I want them to eat gooey marshmallows and melty chocolate and laugh so hard they can’t speak. I want them to find joy every day and I’ll do whatever I can to help them find it.
I also know, as deeply as I love our four precious children somehow God loves them even more. He loves me more. He loves you more. Because He’s the Almighty Father and He created each kneecap and toenail of all of us. If I’m hoping my kiddos find joy, can you imagine how much more God wants us to find it?
Jesus said it like this, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:11
God gifts all of us all of the time. And His gifts are often as simple as an empty park. They could be overlooked, but if we embrace them—wow! An empty park! Oh, and look at that fire pit. You know what we could do there? Then those gifts turn into joy. They are hand-picked by God for us—they are personal and ours to treasure and enjoy and savor. So, keep your eyes open. Look past the sign. And maybe pop a marshmallow on a stick. I can’t wait to hear what you discover.
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Laura L. Smith