O, little town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep,
the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together,
proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the king,
and peace to all on earth!

How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given;
so God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him,
still the dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
o come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!

 

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Fear Not

My friend M – let’s be real, she’s one of my BFF soulmates (i.e. I hope we’re friends for life) – forwarded this email about not fearing this morning. Her hope was that it would encourage those of us she sent it to. In turn, my hope is the same thing. I hope it finds you where you are and encourages you greatly. I hope it stirs your soul within you and helps you to recognize if you’ve been living out of fear. I’m definitely feeling convicted of that this morning. I live most of my life in fear – hell, I’m not even just afraid of the dark, sometimes I’m afraid in the light! And I think it’s quite paralyzing. I hope that the words below cause you to turn to Christ. And if you find you’re paralyzed by fear, then I pray that your renewed trust in him would allow you to stand, pick up your mat and walk in faith.

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FEAR NOT

Devarim – דברים : “Words”

Torah : Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

Haftarah : Isaiah 1:1-27
Gospel Mark 14:1-16

Thought for the Week:

Fear is the opposite of genuine faith. Fear comes from a place of faithlessness. When we have real confidence in God, fear is driven out. For the person of faith, fear is actually irrational.

Commentary:

“Do not fear them, for the LORD your God is the one fighting for you,” Moses declared. (Deuteronomy 3:21-22) The commandment, “do not fear,” is a command we find repeated frequently throughout the Torah and all the Scriptures. In fact, there are over 130 instances in the Scriptures where it says, “Do not be afraid,” or “Fear not!” The words “Do not be afraid,” occur five times in parashat Devarim alone.

Yet often times we do find ourselves crippled with fear, doubt and worry-fear from uncertainty, fear of change, fear of loss, fear of danger-real and imagined. At times we may find ourselves boxed in and paralyzed by our fears. Similarly, it was fear that cost the first generation their opportunity to enter the Promised Land.

Moses’ address to the new generation is carefully crafted to give them confidence and certainty. By reviewing how God has delivered them in the past, He hopes to bolster their faith enough that they will no longer be crippled by fear. Fear is the opposite of genuine faith. Fear comes from a place of faithlessness. When we have real confidence in God, fear is driven out. When we feel frightened or worried, we must remember who our Father in Heaven is, and that He cares for us and watches over us. For the person of faith, fear is actually irrational.

Paul tells us, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Romans 8:15)

It may not sound like one of the commandments of the Torah but it actually is a rule of life for the People of God. We are to live by faithful confidence in the strong hand of God. He who delivered Israel from Egypt and defeated the Amorites will also deliver the Canaanites into the hands of Israel. He who rescued our Master and Savior from the grave will also rescue us from every trouble and fear.

Yeshua says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

 

 

The Gardener

I feel compelled to tell you this right now. I was just in the middle of planting flowers in my favorite flower bed in the backyard (the blue one – there are only blue flowers in it and it makes me immeasurably happy to gaze out the window and see them) and I couldn’t not come here and write down the picture the Lord was putting in my heart.

Imagine, if you will, that you are dirt. Not a “dirt bag” or a dirty person, just that you are dirt, dust, the very thing God created you out of. Imagine that your pride and ego are not tied up in this illustration and just pretend that you are a big patch of dirt.

Are you there? Ok. Now imagine that things start happening in your life and you can’t make heads or tails of any of it, but things are being taken away – abruptly, roughly, or slowly pecked away at. You are sad, angry, devastated, befuddled, whatever have you, but you feel wanting, empty, like there’s a hole in your life. It’s impossible to see the bigger picture, to understand what is going on in the grand scheme of things because -remember! – you are dirt.

But the hope in the devastation and the emptiness and confusion is that God is the gardener. He sees everything in the lay of the land. He even sees your little patch of dirt. And what you don’t know, but what God can see in his infinite wisdom is that the plant that is currently sitting in your soil is dying, or it’s dead. But you, in your finite wisdom as dirt can’t see that what’s so deeply rooted in your life is suffocating you, stunting growth and keeping you from producing unimaginable fruit.

So all that you can feel and see is that God is uprooting things in your life. It’s painful, you’re angry and you think rightfully so. But the beauty of what’s happening is that God is conditioning you as dirt to receive something even greater. He’s removing the old and preparing to do a new work in you. He adds fertilizer, maybe some fresh dirt and he restores your dying patch of dirt into something far more beautiful. And He says, “trust me,” but all you can remember is the pain of the digging that was necessary to create the hole that allows the fertilizer to be dumped in so that you can support new life. He gives you new life. So don’t miss it. Don’t wallow in the pain and misery because you feel like God is picking on you. Relish in the knowledge that he loves you and is preparing to do greater works than the weeds you’ve allowed to grow in your soul. Delight in the fact that your dandelions are going to be replaced with prize-winning flowers. And the sweet aroma of the spirit living in you and producing new blooms will draw in others and you can tell them of the work God did in you. Because they will see. They will notice that the prickly weeds of your soul are gone and in their place is the most wonderfully pleasing, appealing aroma.

This must be why everything in me aches to garden lately. He’s showing me a bigger picture and giving me an illustration of what he’s done and is doing in my life. I understand pictures and abstract things and my Father knows that about me and gives me these desires so that he can teach me. I’m so giddy with all of the flowers blooming everywhere right now I could explode into a million happy, laughing pieces! I literally squealed in delight while I was driving after lunch because it is just so gorgeous outside today.

Praise Him, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

A recommendation: “James: Mercy Triumphs”

“But he gives more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” James 4:6-8

I wanted to take a quick second to recommend a bible study to you. I’ve been working through Beth Moore’s James: Mercy Triumphs bible study workbook and I’m really enjoying this study of James. In the past I’ve been a little hesitant about doing her studies because I get distracted by her calling me “Sister” and “Girlfriend” and her enthusiasm is sometimes a little overwhelming. But what God has revealed to me about those predispositions and biases is that I’m judgmental and have pride issues (we all knew that already, right?). I have come to really, truly appreciate her passion for teaching and sharing, and quite frankly, I’ve learned a lot from her through this study.

I’m working through week five right now and I wanted to quickly journal a response to the question she asks at the end of today’s lesson. (This is mostly for my benefit because my hand started cramping from writing so much already today and because my arm is tired from sanding bookshelves yesterday – pictures to follow). Actually, I’ve changed my mind and am diverting the program for a quick second to share an excerpt from today that I really found encouraging – and it’s my blog so I can do that. Muahahaha

“But He gives greater grace.” Don’t rush past those five words. Soak them in like rain on parched ground. Submerge yourself in them like a pitcher tipped and sinking to the bottom of the spring, surrendering to the weight of the water.
For the next little while, you don’t need to be the pitcher so many people in your sphere of influence look to for filling. Simply receive. Say those five words out lough as if they were written just for you.
Think of all that weighs on you: yesterday’s regrets, today’s demands, tomorrow’s plans. Let the pitcher become the cup and don’t just agree to be filled. Sink yourself in those five words until all your fears of failure, inadequacy, unforgiveness, and insufficiency drown.
Don’t come up for air until those fears lay lifeless and cold on the bottom of the sea. Let Jesus lighten your burden until you float to the top, youth renewed, heart restored. He is enough. When you need more, you will have more. When your woes are great, His grace is greater. When our sins are vast, His mercy is deep. We cannot exceed Him. We cannot outrun Him.

I loved that. It was exactly what I needed to hear as I’m struggling with my to-do list today. I work against my own to-do list and expectations and often run myself ragged because I’m afraid of not accomplishing enough in a day. Who puts those pressures on me? No one but myself. I needed someone to tell me to rest and relax in Him. To drink deep and not come up until I’ve let go of the things that burden me. God is bigger and He can do immeasurably more than what I ask of Him.

I’ve really enjoyed doing this bible study because I feel like God has given me this time to prepare for the time to come. I’ve been richly blessed by a husband who is willing to work hard and provide for us so that I can work on putting our home together and prepare a welcoming place that we feel good about entertaining and ministering. I’m proud of him for how hard he works and how brilliant he is at what he does. Sometimes I make it hard on myself by setting up unreasonable expectations for how much I can do in one day without being burned out by the time Mike gets home. Sometimes I can get things done like a machine. And it’s awesome to check everything on my to-list off (I’m such a to-do list person. It gives me much satisfaction to cross things off as done). Often times I fail. It’s hard to see the to-do list get longer when the number of things I can accomplish grows fewer. There are just days when my energy and abilities are not sufficient for the tasks at hand. And all the women with children just laughed because I have no idea what’s in store for me whenever we start having kids.

At the end of today’s lesson Beth lists eight things that God is bigger than to encourage study-guide participants to submit to God as James says in chapter 4, verse 7. She then asks which one most spoke to you and why. I picked three.

  • God knows everything about you and every matter concerning you.
  • He loves you completely and unconditionally and will never let you go.
  • He knows the well-deliberated plan for your life and how all things must fall into place for you to fulfill your destiny.

Guh. The last one is a big one. I would say I’m not fond of surprises and I want to know how things will work out. However, I’m also well aware that if I were to know how every detail in life plays out I wouldn’t need or want to trust God. I would trust the plan, the layout, and rely on the future things I know will happen. As it is, I am day in and day out having to submit my hopes and dreams to the Lord and trust that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.” All my life since I’ve walked with the Lord he has shown himself to be faithful and good. My past experiences make it easier and somewhat daunting to place my life in his hands because I know that “to the one who is given much, much will be demanded.” But God gives more grace.

The second is an equally big one because I’m a bit of a people pleaser. I strive to win affection by doing what other people want. And oftentimes I fail. Okay, like 99% of the time I fail. That’s not often. That’s almost always. And I struggle with feeling inadequate. What do I really bring to the table in this home/friendship/bible study/ministry/etc.? I am constantly questioning my worth, my efforts, everything under the sun. But the kicker is this: God has more grace. More unconditional love. More patience. He is good. I am not. He is God. I am definitely not. But I struggle a lot with pride and insecurities (if it’s not one it’s definitely the other), and it’s not a reflection of my relationship with my husband or anyone else. I am just a life-long struggler with these things and a work in progress. I love Psalm 139 for this reason. It gives me such comfort when I am having particularly rough days: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful I know full well. …All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Anyways, allllll of that to say, I recommend this bible study. I found a .pdf file online that has the answers to the viewer guides at the beginning of each weekly session if you, like me, are too cheap to buy the CDs or DVDs, but want to get just as much out of it. And you will too, if you’re willing to put in the effort. I think it’s completely true that you get out of bible study what you’re willing to put into it. This bible study is organized so that you can commit to different levels of study based on how much time you have. There’s no pressure to bite off more than you chew, but it’s rewarding to sacrifice the extra time you would have spent watching Doctor Who to get more out of each day.

Now I’m going to transition 198 degrees to tell you that I just started season 5 of the new doctor and I’m as surprised as you are to say that I actually really like the new doctor. Nothing and no one could replace David Tennant (Mike knows I have a slight crush on the Doctor), but Matt Smith does an amazing job. I will give him that.

Also, if you would, please pray for a distant friend and his family. I don’t know the details, but I know they’ve just found out the dad (roughly my parents’ age) has stage 4 colon cancer. If you would, please lift them all up praying for peace and understanding, trust in the Lord’s will, wisdom for the doctors and comfort for the dad and the rest of the family. I don’t know what the treatment plan is, but God does, and they are such a wonderful and loving family that I’m sure they are surrounded with support and prayer warriors. I’m sure they covet your prayers as well.

The Bigger Point

Edit: I had the completely wrong links on here so if you listened to the sermon or read the transcript, sorry. I haven’t heard/read that one yet and have no idea what it’s about. The links are corrected now.

This morning, since it’s the start of a new week and the start of a new month (sort of, close enough) I decided that I wanted to add a workout component to my morning routine. I also realized it’s the perfect way to catch up on the sermons we missed while on honeymoon. I just wanted to tell you that while my workout was great  (thanks for your concern), this sermon I just listened to was amazing.

Here’s the link: Sermon or if you prefer to read sermons, here’s the transcript/sermon notes: transcript. Once you’ve listened to it or read it, how would you answer these questions? I’m still working on them.

Who would I be if I didn’t care what other cave dwellers thought of me?

Who would I be if I didn’t care about the cave?

I leave you with Matt’s closing prayer because I thought it was a challenging close: I pray that we could understand that the world we live in is not the real world. That there’s a spirit world. That when we look at other humans we see souls instead of irises; we see people bearing the image of God – and we treat them that way. I pray that we would be people who live out the songs we sing, “all my soul needs is all Your love that covers me. Without You I’m nothing.” Let that be the desire of our hearts and the expression of our life style.

Coupla Things

ONE:

Did you know that outside of Austin they grow this green stuff in front of homes and it is soft and it is pretty and it makes me itch? It looks like this:

We don’t have ANYTHING like this in Austin anymore. I nearly ran into the curb driving through my parents’ neighborhood this evening because everything is just SO GREEN. You may not know this about me, but I love green. My favorite most comfortablest t-shirt is the perfect shade of green (I’m wearing it now, fyi — it doubles as a sleep shirt and a day shirt, it’s just that wonderful.)

TWO:

Have you heard about the book Heaven is for Real? (on Amazon.com) I bought it with a gift card Broham and Ellsbells gave me for my birthday. It’s a quick read. And I highly recommend it. I laughed. I cried. It gave me Holy-Spirit-goosebumps, as my roommate and I call them. But most importantly through this little boy’s encounter with Jesus and heaven, it has really truly made me think of heaven as a tangible destination. Do you know what I mean?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been looking forward to heaven as my final destination for many years. In some way though, it’s been kind of a “One day when I get to heaven it will be pretty.” But it’s so hard to know and fully grasp that heaven is real and even beyond my wildest imaginings. Maybe I haven’t given it much real thought — it’s always the end of a thought: “I can’t wait until this (particularly difficult class/day/moment/experience/whatever) is over and I get to go to heaven.” But I haven’t spent much time dreaming what heaven will be like. It’s just the end destination after my time on earth, except that it’s not — it’s the beginning. I’m afraid I’m not explaining myself well. But, I think maybe some of the childlike wonder has returned to me. There’s a small stirring in my spirit after I just finished this book and it’s a whisper and a shout at the same time: “I love you. I LOVE YOU.” Lord, grant me the sight to see your creation with childlike wonder. Give me faith like a child and the same lack of inhibitions of a three year old that I would boldly proclaim your kingdom without the sense of self-awareness that makes me afraid to.

I love the way the clouds look in this picture. That’s downtown Austin in the background.

So much, so…

Edit: This post is as all over the place as my thoughts tonight.

“Oh God of grace, thou hast imputed my sin to my Substitute, and hast imputed His righteousness to my soul, clothing me with the Bridegroom’s robe and decking me with jewels of holiness. But in my Christian walk I’m still in rags. My prayers are stained with sin. My penitential tears are so much impurity, my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin. My receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness. God I need to repent of my repentance. I need my tears to be washed. I have no robe to bring to cover my sins. I have no loom to weave my own righteousness. I’m always standing clothed in filthy garments. And by grace I’m always receiving a change of arraignment (or clothes). I’m always going away into the far country and always returning home as a prodigal. Always saying, ‘Father, forgive me!’ And You’re always bringing forth your best robe every morning and letting me wear it.”

I borrowed that. I’ve been filled with such restlessness and I know it’s because I’m not resting in God’s sovereignty. I’m trying to do His job. I know what needs to be done and what I need to accomplish it, but it’s neither according to His plan nor in His timing. Or maybe it is, but I’m clearly in the way, trying to act out of duty rather than Love. This particular devotional from God at Eventide stuck with me the other day: “Remember, if you look to Me for everything, and trust Me for everything, and I do not send the full measure you ask, it must not be thought that it is necessarily some sin or weakness that is hindering My Help from flowing into and through you. In some cases this may be so, but it may be simply My restraining Hand laid on you as I whisper, ‘Rest, step aside with me. Come apart and rest awhile.'” And do you know the image God gave me? Don’t laugh. I had an image of when a young animal needs to be disciplined and they are held down by the scruff of the neck until they understand the balance of power and reach a state of calm. I had such peace over this! But also I laughed because I am out of control. Lately I feel as though I’ve worked myself into a frenzy trying to do what I think needs to be done. It is not my plan. It is out of my control. Thank the good Lord for that.

My accountability partner and I are praying that we would understand Christ’s love for us and that we would know how to love Jesus as we should, re: Ephesians 3:14: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” It is so hard to subtract the self from the equation! For what reasons do I love the Lord? Why do they all deal with what He has done for me? How do I begin to know him in such a way that I love him for who he is, not what he does. So glad grace flows from heaven in buckets. I’m in sore need of it. All the time. All the time. I feel the spirit’s leading me to meditate on grace. To study it and understand it that through it I may come to value more fully “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” and that I may be granted the strength to comprehend the love of Christ. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with how much I have to learn. But God is faithful, amen?