The Resurrection and the Renaissance

We do not really use the word “Easter” around our house. I know it is the quintessential Christian holy day, but the word itself has roots, well, elsewhere. We tend to say “Resurrection Sunday.” After all, that is what it is. We reflect through Holy Week. We prepare our hearts on Maundy Thursday. We mourn on Good Friday. We wait on Holy Saturday. And then, we rejoice on Resurrection Sunday. Jesus has risen, and He is risen daily in our hearts. And because He is risen, we, too die to sin and are risen in Him, alive again.

But there is more, isn’t there.

I taught my son about the Israelites’ feast days that were ordained by God as they dwelt in the desert. I told him how many cultures from the earliest times have held feasts or celebrations during spring and fall because nature itself reminds us of what we have to celebrate and urges us to give thanks. We discussed the importance of Jesus’ crucifixion occurring on the Passover, which is in the spring. It signifies new life.

To resurrect is to rise from the dead. But as any little boy will tell you, when someone comes back from the dead, he is a zombie. And zombies aren’t pretty.

God built our hearts to earnestly seek resurrection. When He begins to draw us, the overwhelming feeling of sin compels us to run to the cross and die to ourselves.

But if we stop there, we are little more than the risen dead, zombies with old bodies and old habits and old hangups, still just waiting to please the flesh.

I think Jars of Clay wrote a song about it…

<ear worm>

We all know the word “Renaissance” from our history lessons. It means “new birth,” and it is the joy and exuberance of spring in her glory. It is the breath of fresh air after the death of winter. It is color and song and light.

We are built for it, my friends.

See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being, I announce them to you.” – Isaiah 42:9

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

The Resurrection brings us back, and the inner working of new birth, or Renaissance if you will, gives us a new heart, a new mind, and a new perspective. We leave the dead man in his grave and embrace with fresh eyes the Kingdom of God.

It is a choice. This Resurrection Sunday, I will not walk around dragging my dead, decaying self, believing it is enough to have been risen in Jesus. I will not go to the altar, say I am dying to myself, and take those same habits back home with me to live every other day the same way I have always done.  I will leave that old self in the grave. I will choose to accept His new life.

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In Your Hand; In Your Heart

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:21‬ ‭

Pull your toes in, honey: I’m about to preach.

I was cleaning under the kitchen table today. The underside. Yes, the place my kids secretly smear their icky fingers during dinner instead of the convenient napkins I give them.

It is on the underside of the kitchen table scrubbing dried ketchup where you start to evaluate your life’s purpose.

I remember hearing a sermon once on how we spend our time, talent, and treasure. For some reason, there on the underside of that table, I began to scrutinize all of my choices in that light. Time spent cleaning is good, as long as I am using that clean house to make a comfortable home for my family and anyone else who may visit. That is honoring God and a reflection of my heart.

But what about the other areas of my life? Does anyone else hear Holy Spirit speak to you during the mundane tasks of life? Maybe it is because in those places we are quiet enough to hear Him.

We all have gifts that we hold in our hands. They are our free time, our expendable treasure, and the talents God has given us. What are yours? What are the things that you hold in your hands that God has given you? And where do you spend them? How do you use them? The Lord Jesus tells us that where we put these treasures of ours and these talents of ours are indicators of our hearts.

I have noticed a sweeping trend among Christians, especially women, with regard to self-care. I am all for self-care and soul care. Those are valid and important things. After all, a person cannot pour out of an empty cup. Unfortunately, we humans have a tendency to take things to the extreme. If unchecked, the desire to focus on self-care can lead us down a path of self-centeredness.

If you look at the sum total of your free time, your expendable income, and the way you use your talents, where do those things go? Do they solely benefit you?

Do you spend more money on pricey coffee than you do on the poor? Do you spend hours at the hair salon or nail salon chatting about nothing much (or worse, gossiping), but forget to share the gospel every once in a while? Do you wander through the aisles of Target daydreaming without noticing the woman next to you who needs a little bit of encouragement? Do you spend more energy thinking about how you can monetize your talents rather than blessing someone with them? Do you spend your life making your home comfortable and pretty for Instagram without opening your doors to those who might need a place of refuge.

Beloved, if so, our priorities are out of line.

Does what you value have value in God’s eyes?

So what is in your hands? What can you bring before the Lord that is a true reflection of your heart?

If you have a voice, use it to give hope and encouragement. If you have possessions or wealth, hold them loosely with a heart of generosity as the Lord leads. If you have talent, do not bury it in the ground for fear of critics or release it with contingencies attached, but offer it in faith that God can use it to impact whom He pleases.

Deuteronomy 16 reminds us that we should never come before the Lord empty-handed, but bring an offering in the proportion of how the Lord has blessed us. The portion we bring to the Lord is our first and best. It is a reflection of the position of our hearts.

And if you feel you have nothing left in your hands (because sometimes we do), just open your arms to love. People will ask why you love so much, and you can just say “Jesus.”

Oh look, you’re an evangelist.

Seriously, it is that simple and that profound.

It is time we put our money, our skills, and our time where our hearts are.

March

My backyard smells like heaven – like green and dirt and sweet, inviting pollen. It’s only fifty degrees, but the sun is shining on my face, lovingly forcing my eyes closed. Birds and bugs compete for sound space with their happy wooing calls.

And why not sing, after all?

My children explore the wet creek, full of freshly washed treasures, better than any screen inside the house. I walk circles just trying to move, to breathe deep.

They (the omniscient They) say the very soil of the earth contains anti-depressants. They say time in nature is good for the soul; that sunshine gives Vitamin D, which lifts our mood. Whatever the science, I will take the effect.

If you have found yourself weighed down with too many days of darkness, too many hours under roof and behind artificial noise and light – now is the time.

The sun is calling us alive again, like awakening from hibernation. Feel the sun on your face. Breathe deep the sweetness. Turn off the voices and hear the birds.

You made it. You’re still there, after the dark night of winter. You’re still there after all.

City of Sound

I looked for a sound to rise up from these streets

And quench the fire in my head,

Turned corners filled with rhythms

Notes like bees swarming the sky

Ev’ry direction echoing between

My ears, filling the anxious space

With their sweet buzz

Bring me back to here, now

Sun shinin’ through concrete and steel

On the glass tube letters,

On my hair and in my skin.

The fire falls into my bones,

My cadence gets in line and I

Swing through this city

Two three four.

No pain strain rain in my brain

Just mixed up mellifluity

My pulse paced with a bass on

The facing corner

Two steps to the left of drum sticks

On a five-gallon bucket

Ka-thunk, thunk-it

Meowing steel guitar pierces through

Honky-tonk windows to the sidewalk

Crowds sing along to secondhand classics,

And for the space of of five city blocks

My heart too

Sings.

2019 Word of the Year

Before I reveal my 2019 Word of the Year, let me recap 2018’s word. My word for 2018 was “Free.” You can read all about it here. As for how accurate it was, well…

Halfway through the year I erased the word and scripture from the picture frame where I had written them. I was frustrated. “Why, God?! Isn’t freedom supposed to be my theme this year? Aren’t I supposed to be experiencing new levels of freedom? Why am I feeling bound again under a yoke of slavery?”

Sometimes God doesn’t just hand us a win. We have to fight for it.

Somewhere along the way, Jason told me I should rewrite my word and scripture. He said the year wasn’t over; God is faithful, and our job is to stand firm.

It took eleven months to get there, but I can say that breakthrough happened. I am experiencing a level of freedom today that I have not known my entire Christian life. It has been a learned and earned freedom, for which I am glad to have fought.

As I look ahead to 2019, I am expecting a learning experience. Beyond a theme, I know I am in for testing, growing, and understanding with the topic. And this new word is speaking to me already, convicting me in areas which are the opposite by nature.

The word is “Open.”

I was thinking the other day about the upcoming year, and before I could get the sentence out in my thoughts, this word dropped on me. Often, when Holy Spirit is speaking to me, His voice interrupts my thoughts faster than I could have conjured it up on my own. As always, I set the word on the shelf of my mind to let it wait. I prayed for confirmation or redirection if needed. But the word remained.

I began to do a word study through scripture and found four verses, all from The Psalms, which speak of openness.

“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭119:18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This is my daily prayer: that I will be cognizant of His goodness in everything. I pray my eyes will be fixed on His will and His ways.

“All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭38:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This verse regards an open heart. Nothing in me is hidden from the Lord, even my struggles and heartaches.

“You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭145:16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The Lord is my provider and supplier. If He is generous to me, I must live with open hands to others as well.

“Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭51:15‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This verse reminds me that I must rely on real, active praise as both my duty to God and my weapon of spiritual warfare.

Openness does not come easily to me. I am by nature a private, introverted person. But I know God is about to push me out of my comfort zone and teach me things about myself, and about Himself. I am ready.

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study – Day 20

“… but the greatest of these is Love.”

So what is the point, in the end? Have we exhausted the topic? Could we ever?

Love is the point. Love is the reason we were created, and it is the drive of our lives. There are countless calls. There are countless gifts. But the root of them all – the very heart of every purpose in life – is love. If we have everything, and have not love, we are nothing.

At the end of our lives, our thoughts will be consumed with how we loved, and how we were loved. And we will stand before our Maker and He will ask us, “Did you learn to love?”

There is a reason He calls Himself “Love.” Everything He does is by love and through love and for love.

I am sorry if I sound like a broken record. I am just not sure it is possible to say it enough. Love is not a system of rules about being patient and kind; it is a lifestyle of caring deeply about God, about others, and about all of creation. That lifestyle requires a heart change and a spirit that is completely surrendered to God.

Advent Activity: Take another look at that nativity scene this morning. How do each of the participants express love to God? How does that baby go on to live a lifestyle of love? Pray and ask God to reveal ways that you can express love in your every day life, not just on Christmas.

Personal Reflection: If you are finishing this on Christmas day, take a moment to pause and think about what lies ahead for your day. It may be a busy and stressful day, especially if you are a parent. How can you slow down and keep the focus on loving those people around you? How can you honor God today in word and in action?

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study- Day 19

These three remain: faith, hope, and love…

The above passage is something of a mystery. What does it mean by “remain”? These three what? Is the author referring to them as qualities only, or does the writer mean them to be our only aspirations? What other qualities were in consideration besides these? Am I over-thinking it all?

The answer to that last one is, probably.

I suppose the sentence is intentionally vague, like a piece of abstract art. Understanding must lie within the mind of the beholder.

Perhaps these three are the trifecta of human spiritual attainment, as though a person characterized by these three qualities attains Jedi status. Like Christian zen, such a person would walk in a heightened level of spirituality and grace.

The problem is that they are intangibles. There is no checklist of good deeds to accomplish. There is no quantity of Prayer wheels to spin, beads to count off, or candles to light. No warm fuzzy feeling signals you that you have faith or hope or love enough to reach your goal. They simply are abstract concepts which pragmatists could disregard as instinctual impulses, deceiving our senses and propagating the species.

That was a bit of stream of consciousness there. My apologies.

Are they in our imaginations, these abstract ideals? Or not? We must pose the existential question to these qualities and prove them in our own lives. For many, until they encounter Jesus, our lives are the only place faith, hope, and love are seen.

Advent Activity: Do some art today. Pick one of the three qualities and paint or draw an expression of it. This would be a great way to talk about color theory or symbolism if you’re feeling extra educational. Have children explain why they did what they did with their creations. Ask, “How do people see the faith, hope, and love in your life?”

Personal Reflection: Feel free to do your own creating today, using the above activity as a jumping off point. Put on your worship music, ask Holy Spirit to give inspiration, and create freely.

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study- Day 18

Love Never Fails

My husband and I have joked through our years in youth ministry that there is the “church” answer to any question in service- Jesus. Just answer Jesus to any question posed by a youth pastor and, odds are, you’re correct!

So, if I sound a little cliche in this article, forgive me. But I have realized something.

Love is the answer. To nearly every conflict, every hurt, every trial, love brings resolution. The expression of love might look different in each circumstance, but love never fails to be the best answer.

And yes, dear scholar, that leads us back to the first premise. Love is the answer. God is love. God is the answer. Ergo, and all that jazz.

Advent Activity: Read The Mine-o-saur. Ask, What can we learn about resolving conflicts from this book? How did the dinosaurs’ kindness change the Mine-o-saur? What did he really want (toys, snacks, or something different)? How can you use love to solve conflicts in your life?

Personal Reflection: Has there been a circumstance in your life that could have been resolved with love? Did you take that route? Why or why not? How can love look different for different circumstances?

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study- Day 17

Love Always Perseveres

My parents will be married forty years in 2019. My in-laws are approaching forty-five years married. I am blessed to have learned the secret to staying married– don’t quit.

Simple does not always mean easy, am I right?

But it is simple. You make a choice, day after day, not to give up on a person. Good, bad, richer, poorer, sickness, and health, as long as you both shall live.

Godly love is not just found in marriages, though. In every kind of relationship we have, there should be a level of perseverance. There should be some degree of stick-to-it, even when the other person is being terribly un-sticky. Repellent, even.

Because, in all seriousness, real life struggles go beyond someone just being irritating. Sometimes it gets heavy, deep, and dark, and walking away would just be easier.

Love says I will go with you through the darkness.

Advent Activity: Let’s use the metaphor above to teach kids the importance of sticking with someone through the struggles. Create an path from one side of an area to another, placing obstacles to maneuver around throughout. Have one child be blindfolded and travel from one end to another while another child shouts directions from the sidelines. Once that task is complete, have the same children do the same thing, except this time, the child without a blindfold can walk with the blindfolded child. Children can switch up, and you can move obstacles for more fun. Ask which turn was easier and why. Explain that perseverance means sticking with someone, even in difficult times, because two are better than one. Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

Personal Reflection: Write about a time when you persevered with love with someone. What was the result? Has there ever been a time when you gave up, or were tempted to? How was the relationship effected?

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study – Day 16

Love Always Hopes

I am a believer in the importance of names. Each of my children’s names is significant, and the meanings have proven true to their personalities. Our youngest is Seraphina Hope. Seraphina is the feminine form of seraph, which means “burning one.” We did not decide on her middle name until I was between contractions. I could not get away from Hope. It is such a powerful force, especially in my own life.

I have not always had hope. In fact, for most of my early life, I was hopeless. I have dealt with depression on and off my entire life, and I spent most of my young life feeling worthless and pointless. I looked down every existential avenue for any kind of hope. But all I found was that either there was none, or that I had to obtain it through my own efforts – neither of these options would work for me.

But Jesus. You see, becoming a Christian does not change your brain chemistry, or your circumstances, or your history, or personality, even. It does give you a hope and a future. It says our lives are not in vain. It says there will be good things to come. It says our sufferings are not wasted. It says Someone cares for us.

There are moments when all we have is that hope. Nothing makes sense and nothing seems to change, but we can cling to our hope; that still, small voice calls us to hang on and stay strong.

And, yes, it’s real, because my life has been worthwhile and purposeful, and it will be in the future. I can see the fruit of my hope.

Advent Activity: Plant a seed. Select some seeds for an easy to grow indoor plant (perhaps an herb or flowers for a kitchen window – or even start with a bean). Talk about how a seed does not look like much, but it holds hope. We must do our part to take care of it in the natural, like give it water and sunlight. If we do, it can become something amazing! Just like ourselves, we do what we can in the natural, and we have the hope of becoming something amazing.

Personal Reflection: On a scale of 1-10, what is your current level of hope for the future? Why? Looking back at where God has brought you in life, what reasons do you have to hope? How has God been faithful to give you purpose?