What Soars in Your Life?

Have roasted chestnuts and Christmas cheer failed to fill your soul with pure goodness this season?  Do shadows still reside within you? Take heart with these words from The Valley of Vision :

“Though my sins rise to heaven thy merits soar above them.”

When my pride rises to heaven, your humility soars above it.

When my selfishness rises to heaven, your love soars above it.

When my greed rises to heaven, your generosity soars above it.

We all have those sin struggles that seem like they must surpass the reach of God.   His patience surely has ended, his forgiveness surely used up.   No more grace for you, naughty child. No gifts for you. You’ll get the coal you deserve.

But it’s not true.

The carol’s words are:  “He’s come to make his blessings known…

Far as the curse is found. 

What good news.  His merits soar and his mercy surpasses the widest reach of our sin. And his gift of grace is under the tree for us this Christmas and forevermore.

 

 

 

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Bittersweet

Here is a truth that every honest soul admits, every created thing proves, and every culture tries to ignore:

Life is bittersweet.

Even the greatest joys contain a hint of that flavor simply because they are temporary.

  • The football team won the championship!  (But how will they do next year?)
  • I married the love of my life!  (But daily life isn’t as romantic.)
  • I finally retired! (But I hope I’m healthy enough to enjoy it.)
  • The baby is walking! (But I miss the sweet newborn days.)
  • It’s a beautiful snowy night. (I wish this moment could last forever.)

Last week my youngest daughter performed in the church Christmas play for the last time. She was nervous and sweet and amazing, like all the kids. We’ve been doing this for 13 years and this was the last one: joyful, funny, precious, and bittersweet.  They’re growing up and these sweet moments are passing.

All of life is like that, and if we’re honest we’ve felt it.  It’s a little unnerving, like a timepiece ticking in our ear.  We can drown it out with small talk or food or laughter, but sometimes it’s best to look it in the face.

C.S. Lewis did, and his conclusion has helped me often in those bittersweet moments.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

That explains the element of sadness in every joy, the longing in every satisfaction. They are reminders that we’re made for another world, one in which joys won’t fade but will grow brighter every day.  Heaven is not wishful thinking for a magical world where all our dreams will come true, it’s a promise made by the great Satisfier himself for those found in him.

One day in the presence of Jesus, the bittersweet will be only sweet.

Until then, let’s remind ourselves that each temporal joy is a taste of the real thing.  So light the cozy fire, buy the Christmas tree, sip the hot chocolate.  They are gifts for now, and hints of something far more wonderful to come.

 

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Let Men Their Blogs Employ

carolersWhat will you employ for Christ this Christmas season?

We hear “Joy to the World” all over the place, and the second verse sings

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ.

Why?  Because even the “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.” Even they know to do it.

Yesterday I walked through the open doors of our church, festively decorated by some friends of ours.  Later we enjoyed a song written and sung by another friend.  Then yet another preached a powerful message.  All of them were employing their gifts to repeat the sounding joy that the Savior reigns.

What a privilege.  It’s what each of us was made to do, and we don’t need  a broad audience to do it. We just need to use our little gifts and opportunities to echo the happy truth of the incarnation.  God sees and is glorified, and often multiplies our sowing a hundredfold.

How can we use our tools, our ovens, our songs, our homes, our free time, our hugs, our Christmas cards, our social circles for the glory of Christ?

I don’t know your answer, but today I will employ this little blog to repeat the sounding joy one more time:

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is. 9:1,6)

His name is Jesus.  Be reminded forgetful soul.  Our Savior reigns.

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Beware the Elusive Christmas Spirit

Related imageIt’s all begun of course.

So on a clear, cold night this weekend I wandered into a high-end garden store in search of the perfect Christmas moment.  And Jim (who needed no such moment) came along because that’s how much he loves me.

Envisaged moment included steaming mug of hot chocolate sipped over deep conversation at rustic table surrounded by sparkling white lights.  I sense the Christmas spirit smiling as I type that.

Hot chocolate creating warmth and togetherness; rustic table providing history and earthiness, and white lights of course bringing the romance.  Right?  Come on people, right!?

Well, it was too crowded to get the hot chocolate.  Instead I paged through a book on how to arrange an organic feast on the forest floor.  Handy.

The perfect Christmas moment eluded me.  It was okay though–I knew I was a faker.  The stuff around me wasn’t really old, just made to look that way.  The $60 rusty watering cans were for display, not use.  And I, worst of all, was hiding a nasty sweatshirt beneath my white coat and festive scarf.  Imposter!

Beware, normal person, the elusive Christmas “spirit” and the pressure to seize it.  Beware the Gap adds, the coffee commercials, and the flawless holiday portraits–not because they’re evil but because they’re not the point.

Maybe you hang ornaments made of plastic rather than fairy-spun moss.  Maybe you walk holding the arm of an aging parent rather than the spouse you long for.  Maybe you have a kid who’s just challenging.  Maybe your family devotions contain more interruption than inspiration.

The Christmas spirit may be aghast, but the Holy Spirit smiles.

The best Christmas moments happen when we look around at our sometimes messy, sometimes broken lives and realize in awe that Jesus came to redeem it all.  Cue the music. Plug in the lights.  Hug the kid who’s too cool to hug you back.  You’ve found it.

I love the Christmas season and plan to embrace it (overpriced hot chocolate and all) so I need Psalm 16:11 to remind me that snowy branches and sparkly trees are empty without the real source of joy:

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

It’s God’s presence that brings fullness of joy.  Being with him will make me happier than all the white lights in the world. So this December, let’s make it our goal to spend time in his presence.  A few simple ideas:

  • Read “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” by Nancy Guthrie.  It’s a series of Christmas readings that will keep your heart tuned to Christ.
  • Start your day reading the Bible instead of checking your phone for anything.  Try focusing on the incarnation narratives in the gospels or Isaiah 9.
  • Listen to Christ-centered Christmas music and not just “It’s a Marshmallow World.”
  • Spend some time in prayer as a family or household thanking God for his incredible gift.

Forgetful soul, don’t sacrifice the Holy Spirit for the Christmas spirit.  Seek him first.

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When Life Gets Erased

eraserWhy does so much of life get erased?  Our best efforts written in careful script now smudged and dirty with eraser crumbs.

I just finished a really promising blog post and it disappeared. Off the face of the earth.  Goodbye time, energy, and inspiration.  Hello dirty blank screen.

It’s reminiscent of all of life. Smooth white floors fill up with scuff marks.  The rebellious child hears the warning and forgets it. The life of a clean sock is briefer than a gnat’s. So why turn back the morning blankets and face another day of erasable work?

The answer has everything to do with who God is.

  • He’s the one who sees and rewards what is done in secret (Mt.6:6).
  • He’s the one who makes our light and momentary afflictions achieve eternal glory (2 Cor. 4:17).
  • He’s the one who says that what we do for the least of these, we do to him (Mt. 25:40).

He makes the meaningless meaningful; the mundane fruitful, the worthless worthy.   Are you changing diapers?  Praying for a rebellious child?  Working hard at a thankless job?  Trying to please a difficult spouse?  God remembers you and will make these moments count.  They are gifts you will one day offer a gracious master, and what looked to be mundane and humble will be sparkling and bright, never to be regretted.  In Christ, the only thing that will be erased is our sin.

So take heart, weary parent, weary spouse, weary worker.  Though earth may erase, heaven will remember.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Giant Despair

giant-despairA formidable character in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Giant Despair is the terrifying owner of Doubting Castle and its infamous dungeon where many a poor pilgrim has been trapped.  Christian and Hopeful lay in the stinking darkness where the Giant beats them regularly and fills their minds with all manner of doubts.  “Why should you choose life,” he scolds, “seeing it is attended by so much bitterness?”

Giant Despair whispers all kinds of things in our ears too, doesn’t he?  “You’ll never amount to anything,” he hisses.  “You’re messing up your family.”  “God doesn’t really love you that much.”  “It’s not worth it to get up this morning.”  The more the lies penetrate, the deeper the darkness becomes, and the heavier the chains that shackle us to that cell in Doubting Castle.

Christian is almost fainting when he suddenly remembers,

I have in my pocket, he said, an old key called Promise.  It might just fit the lock.  Try it, said Hopeful, hopefully.”

As Christian tries the dungeon door with the old key, we’re told,

“The lock went damnable hard; weak as he was, he had to work at it.  But at last the key began to turn.  There was a creaking and groaning, and the door swung open, and in came the light of dawn.”

Oh, the old key called Promise that we forget we have in our pocket.  What hope in that remembrance!  It’s too often rusty from disuse or completely forgotten, as in Christian’s case, but Christ gives all his followers this key.  It’s certainly easier to lie on the dungeon floor listening to the lies than to work with that key in the terrible lock, but what fools would we be to not take advantage of this great way of escape?

This Monday morning, if we find ourselves wallowing in Doubting Castle or even hanging around its walls, let’s remember that we have a key called Promise, and though it may feel “damnable hard” at times, it will open the lock and we will breathe the fresh air.

God’s promises are true for us, Christian. I’m not sure which promise would open your lock most effectively–there are many words spoken about God’s steadfast love, his promise never to forsake us, his commitment to his church, his fulfillment of his purposes in our lives.  But certainly, the best of God’s promises is Jesus himself, who conquered sin and death and threw open the doors to grace and hope and love.

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” 2 Cor. 1:20

He IS the key.

The predictions you hear about your future misery and hopelessness–they’re all lies.   I know you feel weak, but fumble in your pocket for that old key called Promise.  And let in the dawn.

(Quotes taken from “Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress” which is an illustrated children’s version you MUST buy and read, whether or not you have children, until the cover is completely falling off.)
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A Tale of Two Books

bookSo here’s a weird thing I do:  Sometimes when I’m driving by myself I’ll find a radio station I would never choose and crank it, just to get a feel for why people like it and what message it’s heralding.  Gets me out of my bubble.

I do the same things with books sporadically, grabbing a nonfiction book at the library that is completely outside the Trish zone.  The last two couldn’t have provided a more powerful contrast.

The first, by a massively successful TV writer, presented her worldview with great confidence.   Here was a quote on motherhood :

“This is good, we’re told.  It’s good  how Mom diminishes and martyrs herself.  The message is: mothers, you are such wonderful and good people because you make yourselves smaller, because you deny your own needs, because you toil tirelessly in the shadows and no one ever thanks or notices you… this all makes you AMAZING.

Yuck.  What the *** kind of message is that?”  

Now, granted, mothers should be thanked and loved and becoming a doormat is definitely not good, but the whole book mocked self-denial and humility in every form.

The other  book was Something Beautiful for God by Malcolm Muggeridge about Mother Theresa, who diminished and denied herself, toiling tirelessly in the shadows of suffering and death.  Of the girls she trains she says:

These girls wanted to give their best, because in our society we have to make a total surrender to God; this is the spirit of the community.  They wanted to achieve this fulfillment in their own lives by giving all to God, giving up their position, their home, their future and dedicating all of it wholly to the poorest of the poor.  They thought they couldn’t give enough to God who had given them this beautiful vocation of serving the poorest of the poor. 

I don’t typically look to Mother Theresa for my wisdom, but I have a guess as to whose life philosophy will produce more fulfillment and joy.

God’s ways have always seemed upside-down to the culture–and to our own natures for that matter, but they are good, right, true, and beautiful. More than ever, we need to throw our arms around the sometimes surprising Word of God and trust it.  Let’s take a quote from Jesus himself in Luke 9 and see where he stands on the issue:

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

It’s a good reminder.  We don’t need to be afraid of losing ourselves in following Jesus.  To shed more of  me and get more of him… what a wonderful trade.

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Does it Matter if You’re Somebody?

mountainDo you ever feel a little disappointed about your life?  Like it’s not quite what you hoped it would be?  You know you should be thankful, but all the dreams, all the potential, all the work, and you ended up being kind of just… regular.

I have good news: It doesn’t really matter.  In fact, it may be to your benefit.

John Piper reminds us:

We weren’t meant to be somebody–                                                  we were meant to know Somebody.”  

If that isn’t counter-cultural, I don’t know what is.  In a world where being “somebody” is celebrated, the most important Somebody is often forgotten.

But is knowing Somebody (God) really better than being somebody (a success)?  The Psalmist seems to think so. In Psalm 63:3 he says,

“Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”

Our loving God is better than life: better than money, than fame, than comfort, than honor, than anything else that spells success to you.  Forget the questions about your accomplishments.  Answer these questions instead.

Do you know Somebody full of goodness?  Does He love you personally and sacrificially? Does He work all things in your life for good?  Has He made you a part of his family?  Has He promised to never leave or forsake you?

Now those are the questions that matter.  Let’s remind each other and our own wavering souls of the truth Dr. Piper stated so well.  It should change our Monday morning, turning inward-focused disappointment into God-focused joy.

 

 

 

 

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Can You Still Be Made New?

blackbirdI took one of my kids out for coffee this week.  Of course he got a yummy fattening drink that will not fatten him and I sipped a solemn decaf with Stevia.    We sat outside and hung onto our steaming cardboard cups.

It was one of those conversations that kept accidentally bouncing back and applying to me. I hate when that happens.   The question was which parts of our personalities should we accept and which parts should we try to change–an interesting topic for both of us.

We all kind of know who we are and get comfy-cozy in our me-ness.   Some of us love being around crowds of people.  Others prefer small groups.  Some like a lot of solitude.   Some of us are discerning, some talkative, some sensitive, and it is important to accept who God made us to be.  Unless we use that as an excuse to not obey him.

Does being a natural storyteller excuse you from drawing out others?  Does being an introvert allow you to leave large groups without greeting or encouraging people?  Does being a “realist” keep you from joy?  Does being an optimist keep you from compassion?

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we’re told “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

God makes us a new creation when he saves us then continues to conform us into his image, making us “new” each day. Does anything in the “me I’ve become comfortable with all these years” need to be made new?  It’s certainly easier to hold onto the old.  “Things aren’t going too badly,” we assure ourselves.  But are we stopping short of all that God has for us?

My coffee companion was impressively open to change.  Having had an extra generation to get used to myself makes me feel a bit more spiritually brittle, but God’s promises don’t just apply to flexible, youthful Christians.  They apply to us all.  In Christ, we are new creations. God is committed to the project of making us new.  Let’s be willing to play our part in the project.

 

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Practice Being Present

legosIf someone asked me in what area I need practice, I’d have lots of answers:  patience, working out, getting up when the alarm goes off.  Here’s what I WOULDN’T say:

“Being present.”

It doesn’t seem that difficult.  I’m here, right?  I’m present.  Mission accomplished.

And yet…

Being present is exactly the skill I need to practice.  Although my body may be “here”, my mind is often elsewhere: pondering my latest life problem, planning tomorrow’s schedule, trying in vain to multi-task.  How often am I fully engaged in the current moment without distraction?  And how would doing that change my life?

Here’s what Christian psychologist Phil Monroe thinks (note that I stole my title from him):

Practice being present. Much of our lives are run on auto-pilot. When we are in that mode, it is easy to fall into rumination. Work to stay present, to be mindful and attuned to your surroundings. Notice ruminations but let them slide on out of view and bring yourself back to the present. Use your senses that God gave you to enjoy the world he made. Smells, sounds, sights, taste, and touch all give you means to enjoy that world. Start practicing staying in tune with it, a few minutes at a time and build your capacity as you go.

I read that, shut my laptop, went downstairs and flopped down beside my daughter who was pawing through a giant bin of old Legos and organizing the pink Lego Friends ones.  An impressive endeavor.  I pawed with her, studying the shapes she knew so well, celebrating when we found one, smiling when she smiled. I was 100% there, and it was refreshing–and a little too unpracticed.

It’s good to be all there, focusing on the exact moment God has given.

Did I mention the title of the article was “Ruminating: The Mental Health Killer?”  It really rings true to me.

So let’s practice being present in the moment before us: listening, watching, tasting, laughing, engaging.  All there: brain and body, for the joy of those around us, the good of our own mental health, and the enjoyment of all God has given.

 

 

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