A few weeks ago I was in Indianapolis at a gathering with a group of ministers from a wide range of places, backgrounds, and denominations. As we made introductions, we repeatedly asked one another the same questions: Where are you from? What church are you serving? What do you do there? When I told one participant that I was a children’s minister, he said something along the lines of, “So the typical job for a Baptist woman in ministry.”
One of my favorite things about kids is their curiosity. They are unassuming, full of questions and wonder. They are always hunting, searching for answers—freer than we are to admit that they don’t know something. They love surprises and that little thrill that comes from the appearance of the unexpected.
Adults aren’t really like that. We like to know what to expect, what’s going to happen next. Our modus operandi to act like we have all the answers, like we have everything figured out already. We like to plan, to be in control of every aspect of our lives.
But that’s not really the way God works, is it? From the very beginning, the life of Jesus was all about the unexpected. We expect that the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the entire world, would arrive in some grand fashion with flashes of lightning and clashing cymbals, but that’s not what happened. Instead, Jesus came quietly, gently, and without threat or fanfare. In fact, only a few lowly shepherds and animals living in a stable had any idea that the world would never be the same.
We expect that the very Son of God would be awarded great power and prestige, but again that’s not what happened. Jesus taught us that the meek would inherit the earth and the last would be first. He taught us that it is better to serve than to be served, and he lived that truth in his leadership throughout his life. And then finally he died. Jesus didn’t use his incredible power to free himself from the cruelty of crucifixion, but he died a painful and humiliating death on the cross. For us. Because he loved us so much.
And now we arrive at Easter. The women went to the tomb that first Easter morning with the no doubt that they would find exactly what they expected. A tomb. A body. Sadness. Despair. But then the most unexpected thing happened—the tomb was empty.
The women, understandably, were terrified. But an angel appeared to them and asked what must have seemed like the strangest question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The angel was tasked with delivering the most unexpected surprise in history—Jesus could not be found in a cold, dark tomb. He was not there anymore. He is risen.
The story of Easter has so much to teach us, but I think one of its greatest truths is that God has the power to do so much more than we expect or imagine. You think God can’t bring healing to the brokenness in your life? Think again. You think no beauty can come from this hurt? It’s not true. The story of Easter—the story of God—is about light from darkness, hope from despair, life from death. The resurrection is God’s promise that what is lost and broken can be redeemed, that whatever pain you’re experiencing right now doesn’t get the last word in your story.
This Easter, I’m thankful that God does so much more than I expect or even believe is possible. And he that he loves me so much more than I know.
I’ve been studying the story of Moses recently. Our kids are doing a musical about Moses freeing the slaves, and in an effort to help them understand more about the man they’re singing about (no kids, Moses was not one of Jesus’ disciples), I’ve been learning more about him, too. The other day I was reading the story of Moses at the burning bush. I’ve read this story many, many times and heard it told a hundred different ways. But this time, I was struck by something new. There was one word that stood out and changed everything for me: Aware.
God spoke to Moses, and he said, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering.”
Aware. That word says everything, doesn’t it? Often, in times of hurt or fear or pain, we feel like God is absent—like he doesn’t know or doesn’t care about what we’re going through.
But God speaks to Moses in the most miraculous of ways, and assures him that he does indeed see what’s going on:
I know. I see. I’m there. It may not be the way you want right now, but I promise that I’m working in this, too. I’m aware. I’m with you.
I think that what we want so often is just to be seen. So many people are walking through life carrying massive burdens that know one else can see. And even though we may try to keep these parts of our lives quiet, there is something inside of us longing for someone to come along and say that they see our pain. They get it. They’re right there with us. We want to know we’re not alone.
God’s promise to us is not only that we don’t have to go through it alone, but that he knows and understands what we’re experiencing. He’s knows every fear, every worry, every hurt—he sees all of it. God is aware. Isn’t that a beautiful promise?
In Exodus, God speaks to Moses and says, “Come up to the mountain and stay here.” It’s a simple invitation, and yet it strikes me as profoundly important. As I’ve reflected on those words this week, I can’t help but think that this invitation is at the very heart of Lent. During this quiet, reflective season, God offers us an opportunity to come up to the mountain with him and just stay. He invites us to stay with nowhere to be and nothing pressing to do. He invites us to rest in the quiet and just listen. He invites us to be present and make space for his glory.
Last week I spent some time with a group of ministers talking about wellbeing. One of the leaders spoke about this particular scripture and he noted that the thing about being on top of the mountain is that it changes your perspective. Suddenly, your view is completely different. When we’re on top of the mountain, we notice the beauty and majesty of creation—the vastness of it all.
But at the same time, everything feels smaller. The details fade, and we’re left with the reality of who we are. We are human. We are small. Sometimes we fail. We are broken and in need of a Savior.
And yet, we are surrounded by the grace and majesty of God.
Lent offers us the chance to see things from a new perspective. Today, on this first day of the Lenten season, I’m giving myself the space to experience something new. I’ll be closing my office door for a few hours in order to go up to the figurative mountain and stay for a while with God. I will let the details fade away, if only for a moment, and listen for how God is speaking to me in this season.
The invitation extended to Moses is for us as well. If you’re tired, restless, weary, or broken, there is place for you to sit and rest. Come up to mountain, take in the view from the top, and stay.
All that is sweet, delightful, and amiable in this world, in the serenity of the air, the fineness of seasons, the joy of light, the melody of sounds, the beauty of colors, the fragrancy of smells, the splendor of precious stones, is nothing else by Heaven breaking through the veil of the world.
The Civil Rights movement was based on faith. Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith. We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something.
May we always be advocates of justice, equality, and peace. Not only because it is right, but because it is the work of the One who calls us all children of God. Amen.
Well, it’s been pretty quiet around here for the past few weeks. Last week I took a little break from the internet while Bryan and I spent a week soaking up the sun in Hawaii! We had such a wonderful time, and I’ll definitely be sharing more about our trip here soon. We came home to snow and ice (sigh), so we’ve spent most of the past couple days curled up at home watching Netflix and snuggling Finley. For now, though, it’s back to real life. Today I’m sharing my one word for the year—the word I want to meditate on as I go through the coming year and the word that I hope becomes a bigger part of my story. This is my word for 2017:
As I thought about what I needed this year, what I was truly longing for, I kept coming back to the word grace. For me, it means grace for others—withholding judgment, offering forgiveness and understanding freely, and striving for compassion. For so many of us, this year has been difficult and divisive. We’ve had to bite our tongues about issues of great importance and swallow our anger when friends and family members make remarks that are hurtful or cruel. It’s a painful time in our country and most of us are struggling with how to respond. I have to admit that my first instinct in these situations has been judgment or anger or even disgust. But if we’re going to move forward then each of us must learn to show grace…even when we disagree.
It also means grace for myself. It means letting go of perfection and hustle in favor of a more present and content way of life. It means accepting that things may not always turn out exactly like I hope, and that’s ok. It means relaxing my grip and expectations and living with gratitude for the life I have, just as it is. It means cutting myself some slack when things don’t get done and learning about the beauty that exists in the imperfections.
Finally, this year I am praying for grace for our world. We are hurting and broken, but God offers us grace freely and unconditionally. My prayer is that we would accept and live into that grace, extending it to one another and working towards a different way of living.
So, what are you hoping for this year? What is your prayer for 2017?
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
1 John 1:16
On Sunday, we lit the third candle on the Advent wreath—the candle that represents joy. For most of us, joy is a word synonymous with Christmas. It announces itself in our favorite carols and the scriptures of the season. It reveals itself through laughter, song, dance, and an abundance of merriness. Perhaps we experience its magic is the embrace of a old friend or the smell of gingerbread baking in the oven or setting up our nativity scene as we tell the Christmas story to a curious child.
Joy is abundant this time of year, and yet something about this particular year feels a little different. I find myself wondering if anyone else is having trouble finding joy this year.
This has been a hard year for many of us. We feel the weight of what is going on in the world bearing down on us. Instead of letting our hearts be light this Christmas, we feel heavy and burdened. Our souls are tired, and so we long for joy.
But what I’m learning, even in this season, is that joy has very little to do with our circumstances. While joy does not ignore grief or pain, it does rise above it to speak to some more permanent and more true.
I love how Sarah Bessey says it:
Now, now I know this: joy is the affirmation of the truest thing in this life.
Joy is born, not from pretending everything is fine, but from holding both hope and truth together. The Christian can stand in that liminal space, the place of grief, even there with joy. Why? Because joy is the affirmation of the thing that is truer than any trouble, any affliction: the affirmation that Love wins. Jesus is as good as we hope, it’s all worth it, and all will be redeemed.
Joy, in its truest sense, is not about lights or laughter or carols. It is a testament to what happened in the world when Jesus entered it. The good news of great joy that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds is still good news for us, still the best news the world has ever received.
We have joy this Christmas because we know that Jesus, who came to meet us and dwell among us, is still at work. He will not tire. He will not quit. Joy to the world, indeed. The Lord has come.
Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is my favorite season in the church year. Advent offers us the opportunity to pause, to turn inward, to make space is our busy lives and hearts for the coming of Emmanuel, God with us. Advent is both sacred and somber, full of both hope and longing. Advent has something to teach us about expectation and promise. It makes a way, if we are willing, for us to connect more deeply and profoundly with the God who became flesh and dwelt among us. It offers us a glimpse into the millions of ways, big and small, that he is still making his presence known in our world today, showing up to remind us that love wins in the end.
This year the hustle and bustle of Christmas feel overwhelming to me. Shopping for gifts and hanging lights seems more like a burden, and I feel my soul longing for Advent. I feel myself longing for rest and connectedness and belonging more than cookies and ornaments and holiday cheer. I find myself needing to sit quietly in the presence of the one who came to be with me, the one who offers hope and peace and joy and love to a broken world. I feel myself longing for Jesus.
I don’t know what you’re longing for this year, but if you’re paying any attention at all to this messy, broken world then I know you’re longing for something. And that’s the promise of Advent. God’s gift to us in this season is hope. Hope that he hears our prayers and longings and hope that he is a God who keeps his promises. Hope that he has not abandoned us, hope that he is still here right where he always said he would be—with us.
So don’t miss it, friends. Don’t skip straight to Christmas and miss Advent. It is too holy, too precious, too worthy to be forgotten. Accept the invitation to pause, to take the time to prepare your hearts for Jesus. It will make all the difference.
I always vote early. I hate crowds and lines and tons of people (I’m delightful, I know), so I go early. I went to my local library this past Friday to cast my ballot. And I waited. I stood in line for about 45 minutes before I even got in the building (which I know is nothing compared to what many people experienced this weekend). I waited in line with all kinds of people who decided that this election was important enough to show up and vote.
I waited in line with mamas who had babies sleeping on their chests and toddlers climbing up their legs. They looked tired and overwhelmed, and I know it would have been easier for them to stay home. But they came. I stood in line with people dressed for work, who had jobs to get to and meetings to prepare for and appointments to make. But they came. I stood in line with people who were much older than me and people who were voting in a presidential election for the very first time. I stood in line with people of different races and religions and backgrounds. As I waited, I overheard a conversation between the man standing behind me and an election official. The man, an elderly African-American gentleman wearing a U.S. Army Veteran vest, told the official that he had driven by earlier that week and had noticed there was no line. He said he thought about stopping but decided to come back later. The official assured him that the line moved quickly, and he wouldn’t have to wait much long to get inside. He replied, “Oh, it doesn’t bother me. I’m not complaining. I’ll wait all day to vote if I have to.”
As I stood there, a lump formed in my throat. I truly thought I might start sobbing right there outside the Durham Public Library. My heart was so heavy that I just couldn’t stand it anymore. The truth is this whole election still baffles me. How did we end up here? I thought about the people I was standing in line with—people who had been demeaned and belittled and discriminated against throughout this election because of the color of their skin or their gender or their religious beliefs. I thought about the hate and distrust that weighs on our country leaving us all bitter and angry and so incredibly tired. I thought about the genuine fear that exists for many who are considering the future of our country and the kind of world we’re leaving for our sons and daughters.
All this to say—I get it. I understand why so many people are saying they want to abstain from this election. I understand why people say that they can’t, in good conscience, vote for either candidate. But friends, please hear me say that it is too important. This election is too close and the stakes are too high for us to be silent. If you believe that neither candidate is the right choice for our country, then use your voice to vote for a third-party candidate and say that. Please vote. The choices are bleak, I know, but the choice is still ours.
I (still) voted because I have been given a voice and a choice. I can choose to use my voice to speak up for kindness and truth and hope or not. I can choose to use my voice to say that all people are valuable and worthy and equal or not. I can choose to use my voice for love or not. So I chose to use my voice. I hope that you will, too.