Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Highly favored

When I was pregnant, I was very sick, each and every time. Traditionally, the royal family in England doesn't announce pregnancies until after the 12th week, but with Kate Middleton, she was just too sick. They couldn't hide it. I've been there.

The first time, I was so depressed and overwhelmed. I had to quit my part-time job at a bookstore. Johnny would pack me a small cooler by the bedside and I would be alone for eleven hours, crawling to the bathroom to puke, crying, not even strong enough to read. My mom called one time and said words I will never forget: "God must love you a lot to put you through this." Mom was saying, and it still startles me, that God could ask something of me because He somehow saw I could handle it.

Ok, first and foremost, it's just really wonderful to be blessed by your mom. Thanks, Mom. Now listen to a little bit of the Christmas story from Luke 1:26-31:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God
Twice the angel tells Mary that she is highly favored. Mary, we know, would not only deliver the baby Jesus, but raise Him and care for Him and live with Him until He was thirty. Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus--she was indeed favored by God.

With that favor, she bore the stigma of pregnancy before she was married. She left her home and delivered her child in someone's garage with only a new husband to help her. She fled to Egypt for a decade to protect her son's life. He seemed pretty normal, going into the same line of work as Joseph, but then He begins to teach, which makes her kind of proud, kind of embarrassed, not all that surprised and yet still shocked, and then He is crucified. We might have seen the movie, but she lived it.

When Mary and Joseph presented this child in the temple, a stranger takes Him and prophesies, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35). Her heart was also pierced. Mary was highly favored of God.

The Bible tells us over and over again that we are blessed when we suffer with Him. When hard circumstances sweep over you, do not assume that you are abandoned by God. This may be your visitation. You may be highly favored.

In hard times, is God enough? When you lift your eyes to Him, those watching you will draw their gaze upward as well.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Drinking wine on duty

Then the LORD said to Aaron, "You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and common, between the unclean and the clean, and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses." - Leviticus 10:8-10

I wonder sometimes if there was anything inherent in the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Or did the Lord simply create a rule to give us the opportunity to obey? It pleases me when my children obey me, a deep joy because I know their souls are healthy. It also sometimes shocks me, but that's not the current subject.

There are some practical reasons that the priests shouldn't be drunk when performing their duties. The rules the priests followed were complex, detailed, and absolute. Two of Aaron's sons were struck dead for lighting unauthorized fire at the very beginning of the system of sacrifices. Don't compromise your judgement. This is not a time to relax and kick back; this is serious work. Unlike the Nazarites, who were never to touch alcohol, the priests were simply forbidden to drink while they worked.

I like the phrase, "so that you can distinguish between the holy and common." I have been watching coverage of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and crying. I don't watch it all the time, and will stop when it overwhelms me, but I have let myself grieve and pray. When the Murrah bombing happened in OKC, I didn't watch enough of the coverage. It was like skipping a funeral or something; I didn't pay enough respect. I'm not a very scheduled, orderly person, so I am very sensitive to things with a ritualistic feel. Sometimes those rituals help us notice things, to distinguish between the holy and common.

Aaron and his sons were examples. The sacrifices they carried out were living lessons about who God is. The way you and I live, because we are called Christians, requires a certain reverance from us. Revelation 1:5 said that God has made us priests, and so we represent who God is to people watching. We display reverance to help distinguish between the holy and the common, so that people can learn about the God we serve.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eat cinnamon toast in the Spirit

I am not the kind of person who says, "That's just the way I am." I expect to change. This morning I have noticed some unpleasant things about me. For example, when my dear husband was done making his cinnamon toast, he licked the knife and put the butter away. I said, because he somehow had failed to read my mind, "Hey, I was going to make cinnamon toast for me." He replied, "There's a clean knife in the drawer." Instead of hitting him, kissing him, and carrying on, my first angry thought was, "Well, I won't have cinnamon toast." This is called passive/aggressive behavior: getting back at someone by playing the martyr.

It's not pretty. I had the same pattern flair up with my youngest. She didn't start on homework yesterday? Well, (big sigh) I guess I'll just change my plans for today so I can stay home and make sure she does her work.

This is who I am naturally. I became a Christian when I was fourteen in a wonderful small Baptist church that really loved me, loved Jesus, and loved the Bible. I learned a lot about being a Christian from them, but very little about the Holy Spirit. I learned about the Holy Spirit through a Baptist study called MasterLife when I was in my 20's. Here is the Holy Spirit in a nutshell: I can live my life by my own power, trying to do right things, or I can be filled with the Spirit and let Him work through me. If it sounds easy, you're right. All you have to do is sacrifice everything you are, all of your rights, and change the way you think.

Case in point: me. Naturally, I have some good qualities, but I have a lot of hangups, and I do not seem able to treat my family consistently with the kind of godly love and character that I want to. Spirit-filled Angie is much more pleasant, because she doesn't bring herself to the table. She's not selfish, but always able to think of the greater good. Trust me. If you know me, you like Spirit-filled Angie the best.

When I realized I was not off to a good start today, I didn't resolve to try harder. I pulled apart with my Father, and asked Him to have my day. Let me die. Work through me for His purposes.

It is possible that I will get less done today because I walk in the Spirit than if I scurry around with all my natural strength. But my agenda doesn't matter--He trumps. If I trust my natural strength, I will likely do more damage than if I walk in His peace. This trust means turning my head away from my own instincts, and letting Him have control of me.

I did have cinnamon toast, but after adjusting my thinking, it wouldn't matter what I had for breakfast. God cares intimately about all the little details of my day. He wants them all, and then they fall into their proper place.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent, a time of waiting

Advent means "the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event." In the church, it is a time of waiting for Jesus' birth, representative of all the years the world waited for the Messiah to come the first time. Advent also reminds us that He is coming again. Jesus told several stories about not being distracted from that reality.

Waiting is essential to following God. It is a submission, almost like fasting. In fasting, we give up food as a way of saying that God is more important to us. Waiting is laying down our own solutions, our own ideas and fixes, in order to receive what God has for us, in His time.

When I am sitting in my car, waiting on one of my daughters, I often have a book with me or my planner and calendar. Sometimes I'm texting or listening to the radio. But when my daughter hops in the car, she becomes my focus. Phone calls are ended, my things put away, and she has my attention. When you are waiting for company to come, you make final arrangments of the table or drinks, maybe turn on the tv. But you stop when they arrive, because they are your focus.

My daughter, who is sixteen, wants me to put up our advent calendar. I have promised to make her a chain instead, so she can visually see how long it is until Christmas. I thought my girls were too old for this. But she wants to know; she's waiting with anticipation. If I announced today when she came home from school, "It's Christmas!" she might be a bit puzzled, but she would run with it. It's what she's waiting for. (For some reason, she thinks she's getting a new phone--hence the excitement.)

As we wait, we are marked by what we're waiting for. When I sit in a parked car or Lizzye asks me, "How long until Christmas?" we become identified with the thing we are expecting.

It is interesting that "wait" is the verb used for servants. If you are at a restaurant, someone waits on you. Sometimes we use the phrase, "I'll just wait on myself," meaning, "I'll handle things on my own." May you be caught waiting on Jesus today. May the potential of His coming pull your attention away from what is in front of you. It's going to be great; it's better than what we're doing now.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Steal my show

This morning I heard Toby Mac's "Steal My Show" on the radio. I love this song. Toby is a class A performer, and he strikes me as the "real deal" when it comes to Christianity, not an easy thing when you're a big public figure.

So I listen, and Toby's giving his show to God, so God can do what He wants. I've seen Toby Mac perform, and as loud and crazy as it is, God does shine through. But towards the end (never heard this until today!) he says, "No matter who you are/No matter what you do/Every day, we can choose/To say, If you want to steal my show..."

And it hits me, in the car, that I have a show. My own little unseen musical, "Angie the Housewife and Home Educator" kicks off every Monday with a bang and goes full force until the weekend. And often through the weekend. And Jesus might want to take over.

Now Toby has a performance. What I do, people don't watch. But Toby doesn't kick back in a chair behind stage while Jesus holds the mic. Toby plans for excellence, rehearses, and then executes--and he knows none of it means anything if Jesus isn't the center of it all. Toby, in his surrender to God, isn't passive.

So, Jesus, if you want to steal my show, You can have it. When I am choosing one activity over a different one today, would You please direct that decision. When I am cleaning, cooking, writing Christmas cards, would Your song be in my heart the whole time, giving glory to You. When I am speaking to my husband, my children, my friends, and strangers, would Your words be on my lips. I'll give you center stage.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Fixing things

It's December, the month when the semester winds down and holidays ramp up. This year, my oldest has been prepping for the ACT, and we're looking at colleges and trying to think beyond high school. There are extra social events, the pressure of gift giving--ya know, I'm not all that great at giving gifts. I want my family to be surprised and yet have just what they want, and I end up jumping through a lot of emotional hoops to try to make that happen. Cards to mail, things to bake.

But December isn't the only time that things get off-kilter. The pressure of the holidays is a cauldron for growth, to be sure, but I think today I'm experiencing the same kind of "off" that plagues me year round. I'm blogging in order to review my prescription. I know these things, but I forget.

When I am emotionally unbalanced, I need to spend some time planning. I need to look at the calendar. List out our menus for the next few days. Look at the budget. Make out my shopping list. Basically, I have to orient myself to the big picture, so that the sense of "There are things to do!!!" doesn't swarm me like killer horse flies.

I need to stay home, light a candle, and put away the groceries that I just left out two days ago. Go through the mail. Hang up the clothes I've been throwing over the chair. Or I need to get out of the house, buy a cup of coffee, and knock out all those little tasks that have been building up: paper recycling, books to the library, deposits to the bank, two items from Lowe's, returns to Walmart.

And the other thing I need is time with God. Just sit down. Read my Bible. Journal a little. Pray. Do you have that one routine that draws you to Him? I have been journaling and reading my Bible for years...not a ritualistic daily thing, but certainly a habit. And now that habit feeds me. What are your spiritual habits that pull you under His wing? Do that. If you don't have one, start one. A habit is built of a hundred small choices. Whether you're making the choice for the third time or the 63rd, make it.

Yesterday, my husband and I went out on a date, first time in a while because eating out just kills my attempt to lose weight. And I watched several episodes of Psych with my daughter. I've been honestly trying to rest all week, and yesterday I was tired of trying. I wanted to feel fixed. Now. I got so mad that I wasn't feeling better, more centered, that I was quite unpleasant with my children. (So sorry, kids. I really love you. You are close enough to me to get my warts...that's the way it is.)

Today my goal is not to fix things. Today, I'm just going to try, to make healthy choices and duck the arrows of Expectations that get shot at me. No matter how I feel, I'm going to plod along, trying.

And you guessed it: today is indeed a better day. As if I made room for God, the great Fixer of Things. Or a better title, the Lover of my soul.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Good, but good for what?

A dj on Air1 Radio (Brant Hanson--isn't he great?) spent time on his show discussed Luke 11, where Jesus rips the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Hanson pointed out that the Pharisees were really good people. They did the right thing, they were an example to others in good living, and they were passionate for the purity of their nation. But Jesus criticized them for being showy on the outside and not having clean hearts. Hanson pointed out that He gave them one prescription for getting right with God: "Give to the poor, and everything will be clean for you" (Luke 11:41).

Sounds like the same advice Jesus gave the rich young ruler. It seems that if we have a lot (of righteousness, of money, of comfort), we stop wanting to get messy. We withdraw from the world and make ourselves happy. Jesus also said it is hard for a rich person to enter heaven. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man received his reward in this life, while Lazarus received his in the next.

Jesus told us to make disciples. Leverage what you have--your time and money--to reach out to others. In an odd way, you can even leverage your own righteousness. Righteous living does not make you better than anyone else, but it does reduce the number of stresses in your life. The more sin you get out of your life, the fewer burdens and struggles you carry personally. It leaves you more free to help another with her load.

In verse 42, Jesus said, "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God." Jesus didn't tell us to stop obeying rules. But He did warn us that while we follow rules, our heart can get off kilter. What did the love of God do? God's love compelled Him to give His Son. Jesus laid down all of heaven to come for us. Sacrifice is better than a checklist of religious duties.

This conversation is happening while Jesus is eating with a Pharisee, who invited Jesus to his home. Now some other guests, who were teachers of the Law, speak up and say, "Hey, you're insulting us too with all this kind of talk." And so Jesus turns to them directly. He says, "Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them" (Luke 11:46). And later, "You have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering" (v.51)

If you know God, if you have experienced His love and grace, it is not enough just to be a shining beacon on a hill so others can admire you. You need to help others get to where you are. Don't just burden them with your knowledge; extend your hand. Don't make Christianity so complex and advanced that someone who wants to come to God can't find the way. Open the door for people around you. Invite others to come on the journey. Remember that you are also traveling, not someone who has arrived and is sending back postcards.