Category Archives: Church

Peace at Christmas

I was asked to share a devotion at our church’s women’s tea. Here it is:

Know Christ. . . Know Peace

Colossians 3:15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts–a peace into which you were called in one body.  And be thankful people.”

Different translation: Let the Peace of Christ rule in your heart.

Peace is a longing we have! I recently attended a parenting training and the speaker asked every single parent in the room what their longing was for their home. EVERY SINGLE PARENT REPLIED “PEACE.”  I think of commercials with the picture perfect family, smiling children, perfect Christmas tree decorated beautifully with every ornament matching the theme. . .

That’s not the case at my house, just to be clear.

What is Christmas peace?

A baby sleeps peacefully in a manger on a hillside. It’s a beautiful, balmy evening. Stars are bright, farm animals are milling around, munching on hay.


Wait.

Babies don’t usually just quietly lay by themselves. Typical newborns have their days and nights mixed up. As a doula, I know babies. I don’t know the exact details about THIS special baby beyond what Scripture tells us, but I know about  typical newborn behavior. Many times, I’m hired to support families overnight to maximize sleep for everyone. Exhausted parents long for a peaceful stretch of hours.

 

My ability to provide parents with a peaceful night comes from knowing babies and teaching parents how to  better understand their baby. Babies need to feel secure. (Those swaddle blankets are still used! Imagine that! What worked for Jesus works for most humans. Babies have a startle reflex where if they’re put on their back their hands starts to whirl outward for protection. 

Parents need to know that to better meet their baby’s needs. How to hold, how to soothe,  how to feed a new baby are important qualities to learn quickly when becoming a parent.

 

As parents go through this process, they bond to their baby. They get to know their baby’s cry. They get to know hunger cues and sleepy cues. Soon, they develop a routine and rhythm as they respond to to their baby and as their baby adjusts to life in the world. The better they know their baby, the better they are able to respond to their baby.

Mary, too, as a mother, would know Jesus intimately as his mother and respond to him because of this knowledge.

 

Mary was a Jewish woman who knew God. She must have–for who else would respond to a unplanned pregnancy (miraculous though it was) revealed through an angel with the words “I am the Lord’s Servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”

 

Mary knew that God is faithful. She trusted God’s blessing with her life. Her knowledge of God’s provision for her people–from God sending plagues and saving the Israelite’s firstborn as remembered during Passover, delivering Moses and the Israelites by parting the Red Sea, lighting the lamp that never went out, the courage and grace God gave Esther to save His people yet again, to Isaiah preaching of a coming savior, . . . OT miracles and prophecies were all probably known to Mary, a faithful Jewish woman.  She knew God as trustworthy. She knew that God’s blessings are worth more than anything to be found on this earth.

 

Socially, she faced ruin. Caught in the middle of a political change and census, she had to travel with her fiance to Bethlehem, only 6 miles away. Perhaps she was relieved at the chance to escape the social ramifications of her conditions; She delivered her baby in this foreign- to-her town.

 

Her knowledge of God brought her an intimate relationship with God through Jesus the Christ.

 

So. . . what do we know about God? What we know about (or think we know) about God influences our relationship with God.

 

How about this: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Does that come from the Old Testament or the New? I wonder if Mary realized these Old testament prophetic verses from Isaiah 9 applied to her son.

 

Do you know who else knew Christ? The disciples. Jesus called 12 men to travel with him, learn with him, minister with him. He called them to earthly itinerant poverty. . and he called them to help bring about the Kingdom of God’s blessings to this same earth. These men listened to Jesus teach. They slept near him. They ate meals with him. They saw him feed 5000+ people; they watched him raise the dead back to life. They knew him.

 

They chose to change their lives to be a part of the Kingdom of God.They chose to obey him, they desired to please him. They didn’t always get it right. There were certainly life threatening dips in the road:

Peter cut off a guard’s ear on the night Jesus was arrested. It was the wrong thing to do–because Peter didn’t understand. Peter denied knowing Christ 3 times following his arrest. It was the wrong thing to do–because Peter didn’t understand.

 

Mary chastised Jesus because she lost him on their pilgrimage. She knew him. She didn’t understand.

 

Sometimes we want to know Christ. We want to understand. But we just can’t get it right. That perfect christmas is just out of reach. We focus on the wrong things (or maybe even the right things!) and we still fail. That’s life. But we shift our focus, strengthen our resolve to pay closer attention to our King and to understand better the priorities of Heaven versus what the earth tells us we need.

 

Christmas celebrates the day that God became Flesh and walked among us. God took on human form and was tempted, betrayed, crucified by and for the very ones God came to save. God realized that humanity’s end of the sacred covenant we held with God was in jeopardy–because we have chosen time and time again to turn away from God.

 

The peace Christ brings is in fact, peace with God. The Kingdom of God is here, today. You are a part of it. Everything you do works to establish God’s kingdom on earth. How you respond to conflict, how you spend your money, what you teach your children, how you serve others, how you share your talents, abilities and gifts–has eternal consequences.The ultimate goal of Jesus’ Life, death and resurrection was to restore peace to God’s people. Jesus lived, laughed, suffered and died so that we might be found righteous.

 

Do you know Christ? Do you want to know Christ better?

Follow in Mary’s footsteps. Speak to God. Listen for God.

Follow the disciples’ example–Question God. Obey God. Look for miracles. Read others’ accounts about Jesus in the Bible.

Listen to the Holy Spirit, which is in each of us.

Fellowship with other believers–ask hard questions, hold each other accountable.

 

The better we know Jesus, the more we will understand and the better we are able to respond to God’s call on our lives.

 

The apostle Paul encourages believers to fix their minds on things that are above, where Christ is sitting. With a focus on Christ’s priorities, our church and our community will flourish. Paul explains, “The peace of Christ must control your hearts–a peace into which you were called in one body..” Colossians 3:15.

 

Then, as you navigate the dips of life with knowledge of and relationship with Christ, you can name the challenges, navigate a plan through them, and know that with Jesus next to you, trusting God will bring you through as a new person–blessed with fruits of the spirit such as joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. . . and peace. ❤

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Easter Grief

Easter seems to be like such a happy celebration of life. Western culture has made it the new Christmas, it seems. School spring breaks are scheduled around Easter often. Children wake up excited to find eggs the Easter Bunny hid for them–and a large basket of gifts. A new Easter dress and shoes and hat. Fancy lunch. It’s the Christian holiday of the spring.

It is celebratory. Yes, Jesus Christ conquered the grave! Yes, Christians are given new life and hope of Heaven because of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. His life and death would have been pointless without the resurrection.

And yet–I’m filled with grief. As I read different accounts in the Bible of the events leading to Jesus’ torture and death, I’ve been moved to tears. This man, this God, loved His people. He lived to bring them Life with a capital L. He was born of a miracle, created miracles all to bring attention and glory to a God who loves all people. He taught people to love each other, to fear their own judgment and not judge others. He taught communities how to live together, how to worship together and how to resolve conflict according to the way we were created.

People were afraid because he challenged the status quo. People in power were afraid to lose their power. They feared this humble man because he had the ability to inspire people to want better, to hope for justice, to care for each other.

Because he was a threat to oppression, he was killed. The nighttime mob in the streets of Jesusalem screamed for a bloody show. The religious leaders plotted and threatened to have this man killed before he upset the “system.” Pilate refused to take responsibility and acquiesced to the crowd. Who rules who, really?

And an innocent man stood condemned for crimes he did not commit.

My grief overflows. The Hope of the world–condemned by the world. Ironic. Sick. Twisted. I imagine what it might have been like had the world accepted Jesus and sought social reform, justice, hope and love for all. I’ll see it when Heaven is at my door.

But I don’t want to miss that Jesus brought the Kingdom of God TO EARTH. It’s not missing. It’s here. It’s in my local churches. It’s in people who seek to do God’s will and love the Lord. It’s in me–because the Holy Spirit is in me and all believers. The Holy Spirit is a gift and a crucial piece of the reconciliation we so desperately need today. Believers can continue to make a difference in how they live, in how they treat others, in how they spend their time and money and gifts. Jesus is the Light of the world. I think the local church is now the Hope of the world.

Leading up to Easter, I participated in Lent. This participation included regular reading of a Lenten Bible study plan .Throughout this time, I was not just preparing my heart for the seasonal Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. I was also preparing for the death of a dear relative.

Pamela is actually my husband’s cousin. She’s our favorite relative because of her solid faith, sweet natured spirit and love for everyone she meets. She particularly had a gift with children. She and her husband were unable to conceive a baby, and so Pamela took on her nieces and nephew and my own children as some of her many projects. She has always made a point to connect with us and our children. Pamela was a social worker, placing children in foster homes and helping young adults who age out of the foster care system at 18 years old with no family and no resources. The closest I can come to describing her is that she reminds me of Rev. Fred Rogers from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” That’s high praise, if you’ve ever been a kid who watched that show and felt the warmth and caring through your tv screen straight to your heart. Messages like “I like you just the way you are” are exactly things Pamela would tell the gaggle of children who constantly surrounded her.

About a year ago, she was diagnosed with a rare cancer. We were shocked. She has always been healthy and active. Just after Christmas, she called us and explained that the chemotherapy and surgery she’d had were no longer effective and that she was planning to enter Hospice Care. We were shocked and in denial.

How could we imagine a world without Pam??????

My husband took our daughters across the country to visit her and say their goodbyes. Pamela’s one outing that week was to the mall. She was on a mission to purchase stuffed bears from Build a Bear for our daughters. She kissed the heart that goes in each bear and recorded a voice message for each girl. They sleep with their bears every night. My family came home with a handwritten card for each of us that Pamela had written. We haven’t presented the cards to the kids yet. I don’t know what they say but I know they will be encouraging, positive and loving. As her card for me was.

As far as miracles go, I’m pretty realistic. I don’t often ask God for miraculous help but I was praying for it this time. “Please, God–heal her. Don’t take her just yet. Give her more time. Give us more time with her. We need her, God. So many people need her. Take someone else. . .”

A tiny little spark of Hope lay dormant inside me, hoping against Hope that Pamela could be a miraculous testament to the power of God.

And yet, on Easter Sunday–she died. 36 years old. We learned of it on Monday morning.

I was and am so disappointed. I felt like God let me down. Like of all people, why? How?

It’s unfair.

And yet–there is still Hope. I still have faith that God is in control. That Jesus loves us. That this world is not forsaken as long as there are people who continue to love God and love each other.

Pam died. But she’s not gone. The resurrection of Jesus means that beautiful Pamela is resting in His arms. And that one day we will be reunited.

My 12 year old daughter told her, “Think of all the babies in Heaven who are waiting for their parents. You can be THEIR mom now.”

I imagine this beautiful woman, rocking a baby, completely fulfilled with confident purpose in Heaven.

And I know that her life isn’t over but just beginning.

But I miss her so.

 

 

 

Gold and Faith

Matthew 25:14-30

I’ve always struggled with this passage. I didn’t understand why the one who buried his Master’s gold (called a talent) would be punished. In my mind, he kept it safe, not taking chances with it. It’s like keeping “Mad Money” stashed in a secret drawer like my previously mentioned Grandma. In my mind, I likened it to depositing in a bank, because I didn’t think about the Roman financial system of the time. It seems like responsible behavior. How could that be wrong?

Well, recently I’ve been told by different, unrelated people (who I respect and who I have given authority to speak in my life) that I am “blocking my own blessings” and I am “the only one holding myself back.”

I’m at a crossroads in my life. I’m afraid to grow. I’m afraid to take a risk. I’m afraid to let my family down. I’m afraid to make a wrong move and to make my family suffer as a result.

So here I am reading this passage, and some things struck me.

The man who didn’t invest wisely, first of all was only given 1 bag of gold to start. His master didn’t expect much from him. It says in Luke 12:48 “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” Had the man “failed” in his investment, it wasn’t a huge portion. The Master didn’t trust this man with a large sum to begin with. It was an opportunity to grow and multiply and the man didn’t take it.

The man who didn’t invest wisely was afraid of his Master. He didn’t understand the expectations. He saw his Master’s bountiful gift for prosperity, “harvesting where you have not  sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid. .  .”

The man did nothing. He sat on the gold. He buried it.

Is it possible the Master didn’t communicate his expectations? Or is it the man who didn’t listen with the intent to understand?

I feel like that man sometimes. I’m given “talents” of shepherding, service, music, teaching, fellowship, connection, intuition, love; and I’m terrified to use them. I don’t use them in small ways, I don’t use them at all. I hide them. Because what if I use them wrongly? What if I displease God with those uses? This parable makes it pretty clear that it’s better to invest them even a little rather than not at all.

The master admonishes the man, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”

(Note: Oh! Banks did work then as saving accounts with interest!)

Is this story really about using our “talents”? Or is there something bigger happening?

Is this about faith? About being assured of our Master’s ability to reap blessing from nothing? About a willingness to take a risk because we know our Master can redeem the possible failure?

The Bible repeatedly refers to faith in God as something that can grow exponentially and as something with precious value.

Faith is the hallmark of Christian salvation. It is the only method of salvation, in fact.

So when the master says “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This issue isn’t about wasting a talent. It’s about a lack of faith. The man’s condemnation springs from knowing some things about the master but not believing in the Master’s ability to redeem and save.

The time is coming for my faith to grow fully, covering me as flowers and leaves cover a tree, and give me courage to step out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sad. . .

Terry and I have been reading a book called “Out of Mormonism”. It’s about a woman and her family (true story) who convert to LDS, are temple-worthy members for 7 years and then re-discover Jesus Christ and become evangelical Christians.

Her recollections regarding temple practices and beliefs about Lucifer being Jesus’ brother are horrifying, and incredibly saddening to us. We hope to find more information about how to respond to the Mormon community. We don’t want to just exist here, we want to be a light in this present darkness.

Harvest Party

Our church had its first-ever Harvest Party in our brand new building last night! I coordinated games and a friend coordinated the chili cook off. We were hoping for about 50 people if we were lucky. We ended up with OVER 300 people!!!  It was amazing. The games for children went extremely well–they were simple, like bobbing for apples and rolling gourds to knock over pins, and throwing hoops over pumpkins. Our pastor played guitar on the hayride, driven by our other pastor, and we had horses to pet and a Team Extreme show (men who bent metal with their teeth, crushed soda cans on elbows, ripped phone books in half, etc.). It was so fun! I really enjoyed it.

 Then–a volunteer commented that SHE could have done much more with the games. She does carnival-style games all the time. And HER husband’s a DJ. He could have DJ’d for us. Plus bobbing for apples is horrible–there’s some evil pagan ritual associated with it. I started to feel defensive and ended up just thanking her for volunteering to help.

As I thought about her comments, I realized some things. First, she may have been able to jazz up the games. She may have been able to coordinate everything. But she didn’t. She didn’t volunteer and pour all the work in to this event. She didn’t tell us that her husband would volunteer his DJ services. Second, perhaps she’s looking to feel needed. She needed to feel superior and judgmental, and I’m sorry for her. Thirdly, we had a VERY limited budget of less than $100 and we had a time frame of less than two months to pull this together. And did  I mention we just moved to Utah 4 months ago? I hate when people just assume we know their talents.

However, in all, we truly could not have asked for a better evening.