Here I raise my ebenezer

Ebenezer. I type that most people reading will think of an old, skinny dude with slightly used clothing who is always grumpy and grumbling about the cost of coal (thus, heat) and undigested potatoes. Or you think of a duck counting money.

But today is not about Ebenezer Scrooge, but about his name which, I suspect, Dickens might have given to him on purpose.

See, the word “ebenezer” is an actual thing. It’s a thing that you keep around to help you remember what God has done for you, or in you. So, when the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the promised land, and God had each of the 12 tribes pick up a stone and build an alter to remember what He did that day – He was asking them to build an ebenezer. He was asking them to remember what He had done for them.

God knows just how easily we humans forget things, especially during times of hardship or pain. And so, having things around to help you remember what God has done in you is incredibly important. Otherwise we begin to doubt God’s goodness.

No bueno.

As you begin this new year, think over last year. Where were you a year ago? How has God helped you grow? And then, figure out something to keep around to help you remember where He has brought you from.

For me, pictures are a big deal. Every year for the last four years (if you count this one too) at the beginning of January, I have gone through all the pictures I took of the year that just ended, and put them together in a memory book. Memories are important. Our journeys are important. The stuff God does in our lives – the big and the small, mundane everyday stuff that we might not even really notice – is important.

This year, take some time out to remember. Figure out an ebenezer – you’ll need it in the coming year. God is good, but sometimes we need reminders of just how good He is.

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Reflections

The last Friday of the year, a great time (and place) to reflect.

Things I’ve learned this year:

– Treasure your friends and never take them for granted. You never know when they will be called elsewhere. And you have no idea how much you are going to miss them.

– Also, sometimes you become friends with people you weren’t expecting, and it’s wonderful.

– You can be still and have a heart at Sabbath even when your world is spinning a million miles a second.

– That being said, times of physical stillness are incredibly necessary.

– Being thankful for what you’ve got, when you’ve got it is crucial to enjoying life.

– Relationships are the most valuable thing you will ever invest in. Don’t give up on them. Keep working.

– God loves you, beyond imagination.

– Priorities, priorities, priorities… and remember that HIS priorities trump yours.

– Be ready for surprise, side trips, and bunny trails.  And enjoy them.

– God restores, redeems, and blesses…though usually none of that looks like what you think

– Pain is not necessarily something to run from, or try to end.

– The Velveteen Rabbit is still my favorite children’s book out there. Read it before the end of the year if you haven’t yet.

– Laugh

– Take care of yourself, and trust your instincts. Often, they’re right.

– Love God and trust Him above all others.

What about you?  What did you learn this year?

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Mary, did you know?

Christmas music, the perfect soundtrack to make everyone feel guilty for not loving their family and friends better, and so encourages them to go buy more stuff to make up for the lack of love. Or reminds everyone how the best way to show love is through giving stuff. Either way, it surrounds us right now.   It has taken over the airways.
Not the point. The point is that because I am surrounded by Christmas music, I was inspired to write the next bit:

I was somewhere recently and heard the new, gorgeous version of Mary Did You Know.   And I got to thinking that while, yes, Mary DID know there was something special about her son; that she DID know he was Messiah, she hadn’t a clue what that meant! She probably had no idea that the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the dead would live again, that he would calm the storm with his hand, the lame would walk again, that He would walk on water, etcetera.

Because, really, except for a couple old people hanging out in the temple, and one cousin who had only been born a few months before, no one knew.

But that’s true of every person born, isn’t it? I mean sure, Jesus is the Savior of the world, but to some extent, what was true of Him is true of every child born ever. Mother Theresa’s mother had no idea who her daughter would be. Neither did Martin Luther King Jr.’s father. No mother knows who her child will ever become. That’s true of all of us. We never know whose presence we are in. Even if that person is an adult, we have no idea who they will become by the time they are done on Earth.
So, this year as you get together with family – pleasant or not – keep in mind that you really have no idea what the people you interact with are capable of. You have no idea whose presence you are in. Your aunt who always has to bring the rolls and burns them every year might be the woman who one day knows exactly what to say to you when you need it most. Or might be the woman who discovers a cure for ADD or, well, who knows. Same goes for your Father-in-law, or your chatty cousin or nerdy brother. Each of us has our purpose and role to play, whether or not we realize it.
Remember this season, that you have no idea whose presence you are really in. It might give you a little more grace with your sister who thinks God loves her better than anyone else.

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Sabbath

I’m done.   Every paper is turned in, every test taken.  It’s good. I felt such a crazy amount of freedom yesterday as I drove away from campus knowing I probably won’t be there again for a good six weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love seminary and my classes, but breaks are needed and necessary!

Which is probably why God modeled Sabbath for us, and then decreed that we should do the same. Something I found interesting in my New Testament class this past semester is that often, Jewish holidays were treated as extra Sabbaths in their week. I love that idea. I love the idea of holidays being Sabbath.

Which is so foreign of an idea in Western Culture. We have presents to wrap, places to be, meals to prepare (or run to the store and buy and then arrange nicely), family to enjoy (or attempt to please), and church to attend (at the very least). It’s all very hectic.

But what if it wasn’t? What if, for Christmas this year, we took some time out and just enjoyed the tree, the people, the food, the presents. What if we just took time to be still? Or, since abiding and Sabbath are NOT just about being still, what in, in the midst of the chaos, we focused on God being our source of peace. He is supposed to be, after all.

It is possible, in the middle of garnishing the ham, to take a second and quietly give thanks (and I do mean a second), or in the middle of the presents, to simply soak in the joyous expression of a loved one. Sabbath and abiding, I have discovered over this semester, are usually found in the half-seconds, in reminding ourselves Who really Is the reason for all of this.

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The Good Shepherd who Wrestles

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“Lord you are our shepherd, we will lack for no good thing, for you take us to the pastures that are green, we lay beside still waters, bring refreshing to our souls, as you guide us in the paths that make us free, lead on…”

This song, from the first time I heard it in church, has brought tears to my eyes and a deep longing, of “Oh yes please Lord”.

It’s been an interesting journey this past semester of school.  I have been busier than perhaps I have ever been: a couple of intense classes at school, more youth group involvement than ever previously, friend stuff.  I should be worn out and exhausted (and sure, I look forward to several days of simply luxuriously reading fiction when break starts in a week – George MacDonald, J.K. Rawlings, and Robin McKinley here I come) but I am still able to function and move.  This should not be so.  I should be an emotional basket case.  Weird.

God has been leading.

One of the things that has made this semester intense is the fact that I have been doing a bit of wrestling with God.  Sometime this semester, I wrote about how I think God invites us to wrestle with Him about various weak points or needs in our lives.  Well, I have been wrestling with the idea of God’s goodness, pleading with Him to show me He is good.  I mean, sure, I believe He is good.  But I have seen His work enough, I have been around Christians and the church long enough, to understand that “good” does not translate into God wanting me to be happy, or to have everything I want, or any such silliness as that.  And so, I have clung to the exact opposite.  That God’s goodness means that God will only shape me in misery, pain, and through general hardship.

Sometime in September I asked God to help me believe that He can use happy times to teach and mold as well.  That God’s goodness CAN encompass laughter, delight, and soul-comfort along with the pain that I already know about and seem to grip so tightly.

I’m not there yet.  I still mostly only look for His goodness in the pain happening in my life.  I’m still deeply longing for the fullest understanding of “good”– because it is true.  Sure, the American church does not teach the hard part of God’s goodness enough, and they are robbing their members of the deeper understanding of God because of this.  However, to only believe God works through the hard stuff, like I do, means I am missing out in who God is as well.

So I’m wrestling.  I’m wrestling to believe the 23rd Psalm.  I long, so deeply, to be led into green pastures.

And yet, as I look at my life, at my craziness, and I notice the peace within me despite everything, I realize He has been doing just that.  If you read Psalms 46, you read a battle song, full of the Lord doing battle, and at the end, He tells us to simply Be Still and abide in Him.  Be Still amidst the chaos of holidays, of family, of drama, of shopping, of church.  God will do battle for you (through you).  He is good – all the painful, wondrous, complicated, intricate implications of that word.

Let Him lead you into the green pastures…just know you have to actually use your feet to walk into said pasture.  And know that often the green pasture is surrounded by Only-God-Knows-What Chaos.  And you will be asked to help Him.  Our God is a God of the peaceful spirit actively participating in the good life God has given us.

 

 

Also – if you haven’t yet – go read the update under the Dressember tab.  I’m wearing dresses again for the month of December.
If you want to support me, but not necessarily wear a dress yourself, feel free to give here, to help people rescue those who are enslaved.

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What Drives You?

Why do you do what you do?

Why did you spend hours cooking in the kitchen yesterday (or why did you not)?
Why are you out buying the Christmas gifts you’re buying?
Why do you get mad when someone trash talks your favorite athlete?
Or when they criticize your music? Or TV show? Or favorite movie?
Why do you work to make the grades you make?
Why do you take it personally when someone rejects something you’ve worked on for them?

What is driving you?

Is it selflessness, or is there something else lurking there?  Some desire to be recognized, appreciated, needed, loved?  Not that those are bad things, but if those things are why you’re doing what you’re doing, there will be more problems in the long run than blessings.

So, this holiday season, take time to analyze your motives.  Why are you buying those particular presents?  Why are you going to yet another Christmas party?  Why are you baking another batch of cookies?

What drives you?

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Sensei God

Hey Guys!  Meagan’s back with her brilliant thoughts! 

While my husband and I were on a backpacking vacation this summer, I poured out my heart to God, sitting in our tent. I have poured out my heart many times over the past two years, as we have faced physical, emotional and spiritual struggles like none I’ve never experienced. While I was in that tent, ferociously scrawling out prayers and thoughts into my tiny travel journal, a word came to me: Abide. It was unmistakably a word from God. Abide. What does that mean anyway? It means stay. To stay within, and partake fully in something. God told me to abide in him.

Specifically, he wanted me not to be looking for anything while I abide. Soley to know him better by staying in his presence. Over the past years I have been constantly seeking answers about my future, my past, how to deal with a lot of pain. I look for purpose, I ask for direction, I pray for all kinds of temporal blessings. All of those aren’t bad things until they become a laundry list of requests as if we are wishing to a Genie. God is not a wish-granting factory. He is a God of relationship.

So, I spent the rest of vacation pondering that word, abide, and how I might proceed to abide when I returned home. I began reading a daily devotional that is specific to experiencing the presence of God and how he sees, guides and nurtures us. Through scripture, the short daily readings have expanded my understanding of his character, and taught me to trust him with my life. That’s a HUGE step for a control freak.

Though, when you think about it, aren’t we all control freaks? We make every decision based on our belief that we can command the outcome of every part our lives. If something goes wrong in our master plan, we look for where we screwed up our system, or blame someone else for screwing it up.

In abiding, I’ve been trying to learn how to let go of that habit, and let God handle my outcomes. But like a classic control freak, I got wrapped up in the habit of “doing my devotional” rather than practicing the Presence of God. I went back to my usual daily treadmill, kind of half-praying to him when I “got the chance”  instead of truly listening to him. I let myself be distracted by every other thing.

This happens when we start feeling confident and good, doesn’t it? We forget to hang out with God. Or we remember, but put it off. Why IS that? Why do we forget to commune? We start relying on our own perceived strength and promptly forget he was the one who picked us up off the floor in the first place. Talk about lack of gratitude. Talk about abandoning and ignoring a friend that has helped, you, or rather, saved your ass.

When my life started getting disorganized and overwhelming again, I realized the auto-pilot habit I got into. I had a one-on-one date with God to just hang out. I need that radio-muted, inner-racket-muted, TV-off, chores-left, quiet, in order to hear him and really communicate — two ways. He doesn’t yell over my own noise. He waits for me to pursue him and gently reminds me that he is pursuing me.

This season, where I’m waiting and kind of wrestling with him to stop trying to run after some life that I find “meaningful,” is the abiding season. In a desert, there’s nothing else to do but talk to God. And drink lots of water.

The purpose is not to do anything but know him. Not to halfway know and then ask for something, but to really KNOW. Not to try to get answers, but just be still and know. Know his character, know what he expects from me, let him teach me His ways (which are so far from my ways, it’s laughable) and take those ways as my own. Sort of like a Sensei and his student.

There’s a scene in the movie Kill Bill, where Kung Fu Master Pai Mei teaches his student, Beatrix Kiddo, to punch a hole through a 4-inch thick wall. He says to her, “Now that your arm belongs to me, I want it strong.” She spends the next several months with a broken, swollen hand, learning to master the wall.

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In the same way, our body, mind and soul belong to God. Like any good teacher, God shows us our weaknesses, through our own flailing attempts control our lives. When we end up in a puddle on the floor, he uses our utter dependence upon his mercy to rebuild us with divine strength. Strength that actually lasts. Strength that can beat any foe.

This process is going to take a LOOOOONG time for me. God has a lot to teach me, and is very patient. Meanwhile, I’m very flawed, very undisciplined, and incredibly impatient. I am going to have to hit a wall with my fist until I break my hand.

I  challenge you to learn what it means to abide in God and learn his ways as your Sensei.

I challenge you to discipline your mind so that you can give your full attention to the ultimate teacher.

More than anything, I challenge you to fully trust him. Every morning, choose to let go of your little dominion of control, and let him handle your worries, fears, and doubts. Let him show you the better way, through his eternal view.

I’ve been practicing these three moves, and I can tell you from experience, it’s been the most rewarding learning in my life. If God can redeem a disaster case like mine, he’ll do it for you, too. He’s made that promise in his infallible Word — Check out Genesis 28:15, Hebrews 11:6-7 and Psalm 37:4-7.

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What is the end making me now?

“Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”
Thomas Merton

So, in the middle of a crazy life – in the midst of developing and cultivating friendships, between writing papers and attending classes, from frantic scurry to job to hectic driving to ministry – what, exactly is it that I desire?  What, specifically do I desire?  What is shaping me?

I like to think God.  I WANT to think God.  I’m even brash enough to look at my life and think, “God”.  But, is He really?  Or am I being side tracked by other, lesser important things, that are shaping me in ways that are not daring and bold and who I was originally designed to be?  Am I settling for less?

What is the end I am living for?  What is the end I currently have my eyes on? Is it bigger than just finishing this semester, or beginning the next project?

What are my deepest desires – the ones I know and few others do?  The ones even I don’t want to admit to myself (do I even have those)?  And how are those shaping what I do now, who I am now, who I am becoming?

Who is shaping me?  What is shaping me?

 

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Being Human

I am really beginning to the hate the Christian phrase, “Well, we’re human.”
There is this idea out there that it is our humanity that causes, or maybe better said, allows, us to do horrible things, or to not achieve what we’re supposed to.
We’re humans, so we murder.

We’re humans, so we wreck our environment.

We’re humans, so we use each other.

We’re humans, so we gossip.

We’re humans, so we sleep around.

We’re humans, so we bully each other.

We’re humans, so…

You get the idea.

And I hate it, because it’s not true.  We DON’T do those things because we’re humans.  There is nothing bad about being human.  In fact, when God made Adam and Eve, in the garden, He said that “It was very good.”  God wouldn’t say that about something that inherently did horrible things.
Being human is good.
But, living in a world that is broken, (thanks to a little fruit eating, and then years and millennia and who knows how long of rebellion against God) we seem to think that this is natural.  That our fallen state is natural.  And that this is just the way it is.

And it IS just the way it is…but it wasn’t supposed to be so.

Stop blaming stuff on being human, and own up to being broken.  It might actually help.

Broken can be fixed.  Broken can be restored and redeemed.  Broken can be repurposed.  Broken is not the end of the world.

Own up to being simply broken, to living in a broken world (it will help you remember this isn’t how it’s supposed to be and there is better coming); allow God to fix your brokenness.  Let’s see where that gets us.

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Trick or Treat

Walking through the stores right now it’s pretty easy to notice two things.  First, that Halloween is quickly becoming (if it isn’t already) as big of a deal as Christmas is.  Second, that Christmas is right around the corner.  Being that today IS Halloween, the last tid-bits of remaining Halloween paraphernalia have been pushed to the end, and room is being made for Christmas.  Which is interesting.  Well, not the Christmas part.  That part I sort of understand.  It’s the Halloween part.

Now, granted, I never really celebrated Halloween as a kid.  My wonderful parents decided they didn’t want to potentially expose me to potential evil that might occur on this night.  So, it makes sense that I don’t completely understand the hype.

Except that, I really think I get part of it.  Aside from the obviously addictive draw of candy’s sugar, and the fun of getting to play dress-up as an adult, there’s something more there.

Otherwise there wouldn’t be scary movies and haunted houses and people trying to scare each other.

But even more than that, Halloween is pretty much the only time of year when, if you’re not Christian, you can admit that maybe, just maybe you believe in, or at least are intrigued by, the spiritual world.  Any other time people might listen, but you wonder if secretly, inside they think you’re crazy, or just being tolerant.

But this time of year, talk about ghosts and haunting and spiritual encounters is really encouraged, and no-questions-asked pretty much accepted.  And I think we like that.  I think it’s like a breath of fresh air to be able to actually talk about this world that exists, that normally we’re too smart, advanced, and educated to admit that there’s something inside of us that knows a spirit world exists.

So, what do you do with that?

I don’t know.  That’s up to you and God.  But it’s interesting, and kinda encouraging, really.  And, really, opens the door for some interesting conversation potential.

Have a great night, and stay safe!

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