Fearless Faith

I can’t turn away from the Olympics. The clock may flash warning numbers as the midnight hour approaches, but if there is still a gymnastics rotation left in the schedule or a lap for Michael Phelps in the pool, I’ll continue to sip my caffeine until I reach the finish. We’ve made a party on our couch of celebrating the world’s greatest athletes by eating cookies and staying up so far past our bedtimes that we’re useless the next day.

Yes, I see the irony in our situation.

As I watch these men and women, young girls and boys, an excitement turns in my stomach. The former gymnast in me is driven by competition, and every four years I live vicariously through the USA’s athletes. While I remember the numerous sacrifices I made during my gymnastics career, I also realize that these athletes take sacrifice to a whole other level.

I look at my daughter as I hear the story of Gabby Douglas leaving her family in Virginia Beach to train in Iowa. Would I be able to let my daughter go, knowing that there are never any guarantees of success?

But, of course, there are no guarantees in life, no guarantee except ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ I look at the smiles and tears of those who stand atop the Olympic podium, and I know that they are only standing there because they pushed aside fear. They decided the hours of training for a chance at the dream were worth the risk that that dream could remain unreached. They ignored the fear that keeps some from even starting and pushed themselves to the finish.

photo via nbcolympics.com

Watching the Olympics these last few days jostled that something that lives inside me that wants to do more. Then a sermon at church this past weekend shook it wide awake.

After reading from Matthew 8, the pastor brought our attention to Jesus’ question. The disciples are panicked as their boat begins to sink in the midst of a ferocious storm. They are terrified for their lives as the waves crash around them, yet Jesus asks, “You of little faith,(A) why are you so afraid?”

Isn’t it obvious why they are afraid? They are going to die as a result of drowning in the storm–they had a good reason to be afraid, yet Jesus admonishes them for their lack of faith. The disciples had forgotten the most important detail: the God-man in the boat with them was greater than the storm that surrounds them.

Our pastor went on to say that Jesus requires fearless faith. We often brush aside fear as something normal, when, in fact, for the Christian, fear is sin.

Every person who made any significant gains in spreading the word of Christ had to push aside fear–the Apostles, Martin Luther, Jim Elliot, Corrie ten Boom–they each had to worship Him who is, was, and will always be greater than that which they feared,to remember why they could have fearless faith.

And that requirement for fearless faith is for me, too.

I sat in my chair at church, and my insides were a mess. I wanted to jump up and do something, but I wasn’t sure what.

Given the start of the Olympics, I thought, perhaps, the Lord wanted me to start training. After some consideration, I decided a sport where I use a gun or the coxswain in rowing are my best bets.

Over the last few days, I haven’t felt confirmation of this Olympic goal, but this uneasy, excited feeling has continued. I don’t know where God is going to take me, my family, but I know I want to be fearless. I don’t want to miss out on the life I could have because of fear or complacency. I don’t want to use my kids as an excuse or my lack of ability to do something that God is asking. I want to do His will, whether His will takes me around the globe or just down the street.

And in the meantime, I’m going to start target shooting just in case….

Have you ever equated ‘fear’ with ‘sin’? This idea was new to me. Are you living completely fearless, or do the comforts of your everyday routine keep you from questioning if there is more for you to do?

Boycotts Leave Me Hungry

I typically avoid writing posts political in nature. While I do my best to stay informed and vote every election, I find myself a little disillusioned by the whole political process as of late, and I don’t like any one candidate enough to fill others’ Facebook streams with my opinions. That, and I really don’t like appearing condescending and mean.

Nonetheless, I find that I can’t look away when, yet, another Chick-Fil-A article rolls down my newsfeed. Let’s be honest–Chick-Fil-A serves food, so they have my attention. And given the fact that their chicken actually looks like the chicken that I buy at the grocery store, they’ve had my business for many years. Since serving those squeezy applesauce pouches in the kids meal, the decision to indulge at this fast-food restaurant became a no-brainer.

So I’m frightened.

If anti-Chick-Fil-A advocates are successful with their boycotts, what other restaurants will be ruined for me? Last night, I prayed that Taco Bell didn’t give their money to any organizations–I can’t risk not having the Cheesy Gordita Crunch to run to on cheat days.

I admire people who are willing to take a stand, forego the most tasty chicken fillet with two pickles between buns, because they don’t want to send their money to organizations who then in turn use that money to support causes with which they don’t agree. However, I’m just not that disciplined. The fact that I have allowed my children any fast food is proof.

Out of curiosity, I looked up a list of companies who support causes with which I don’t agree. The conclusion: I’d have to buy a farm because I couldn’t eat at some of my favorite restaurants or shop at the grocery store. Thank goodness I didn’t see any pizza chains on the list….

Frankly, there are too many views in this world to choose the ‘anti’ stance any time anyone disagrees with me, not to mention that sometimes I find myself disagreeing with myself. I’m a flip-flopper. Over the course of my life, I have found myself vacillating between stances on different issues. I’d like to attribute this truth not to a lack of conviction, but, instead, a desire to thoroughly investigate and learn more.

As a result, my worldview has some black and white on the shores filled with a sea of gray. The more I try to investigate, think for myself, and empathize, the more my ‘convictions’ become ‘best options at the time.’ When I look at the issues dividing our country and seek the example of Christ to guide me, I am more uncertain. Christian denominations full of devout individuals who love Jesus can’t even agree on ‘what would Jesus do,’ so why would I loudly proclaim my opinion?

Jesus didn’t seem to be as concerned with politics as with saving our souls, so I quietly choose His model. I don’t recall reading about boycotts in the New Testament; instead, I see Jesus shocking the religious establishment by spending His time with tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus didn’t yell His message of equality for women in the face of others; instead, He quietly asked the woman at the well for water. He knelt down on the ground of the accused adulteress and forgave her sins.

I find eating dinner with those whose actions disturb me harder than refusing the meal they made. It’s much easier to boycott companies who support Planned Parenthood than to forgive, much easier to picket outside an abortion clinic than to adopt an unwanted child.

It’s much easier to shout what I’m against than to actually live what I’m for.

Perhaps, that’s one reason that I don’t boycott much of anything. The few convictions that I do have require much more than my money. Sure, withholding my money from those organizations whose beliefs go against my core convictions can be seen as action, but I find it a trap to complacency.

Especially as a Christian, I can use my money as a powerful tool to bully the world into feeling as I do, to feel like I am standing up for God and my convictions. But truly standing up, truly making a difference is so much harder.

That kind of a difference sent Jesus to the cross. Jesus seemed more repulsed by those who kept the rules than those who broke them. Perhaps, Jesus saw those who broke the rules as broken people and felt His time was better served by investing in them.

I want to follow His example. I want to be more like Him. I want to invest in people, not by whether or not I buy a chicken sandwich, but by actually learning people’s names and their stories.

And, well, I really like food. I think Jesus’ model of having dinner with sinners (since I am one, after all) works better for me.

I don’t want to know your opinion on gay marriage or Chick-Fil-A. Instead, I want to hear stories of people and convictions and how they made a difference. Do you know anyone who has adopted an unwanted child? Do you know anyone who sold all they had to care for the poor? Share your stories and inspire us!

 

Perspective

I sat on the edge of the bottom bunk listening to Chloe pray. I love the sound of her little munchkin voice talking to God, the sweet innocence of a three-year-old. She rattled off family and friends, not leaving out one member of each family unit. I kept my head bowed and smiled.

But then she ruined it.

“And I thank you for Ella and Ellie. Thank you for their cat and the dog. I pray for their daddy…”

I’ve never had a problem with imaginary friends, but now they had entered her prayer life, and I had a moment of panic.

“…and their mommy and the baby in her tummy…”

“Yes, her mommy has a baby in her tummy,” Hannah Grace chimed in.

Great, I thought. Two crazies. Should I stop them? How far should I let this imaginary world go? We were supposed to be praying to God, not continuing our play from the day.

But I let the little voice continue as she learned to lay that which was most important to her at the feet of her Lord.

“…and I pray, I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

The infamous girls pretending to be fierce warriors.

Linking up with the Gypsy Mama for her 5 Minute Friday. When is a time that you had to change your perspective?

 

 

My Only Hope

The other night I opened the dishwasher and sighed. For the third time, all the dishes were covered with a dusty film, and, having changed dish detergent for the third try, I now knew the soap I was using wasn’t the problem.

“Great,” I thought to myself. I had a sink full of dishes that I couldn’t load because the ones in the dishwasher weren’t clean, and the thought of washing them all by hand was just enough to cause my mind to start to shut down.

I turned to making school lunches instead and ignored the dishes, and while I slapped some peanut butter on bread, my mind began making lists. Matt was going out-of-town, and now the dishwasher didn’t work. I had spent the last two days at the service center after my set tune-up turned into a long list of everything I needed, including new tires and brakes. Day three at the shop was tomorrow. Then there were all the problems and tasks I hadn’t gotten to yet.

The DVD player in the minivan wasn’t working, and we were leaving for a wedding in New Jersey in a few days. I couldn’t imagine driving 17 hours with 3 kids without the ability to play a few movies. And the wedding–I had to pack in addition to dealing with the normal chores of the house (which of course would now take longer because I would be washing everything by hand) all while Matt was across the country for business.

Then my mind began to remember all the tasks that weren’t pertinent to the trip to New Jersey but were still left undone. I wanted to write Junrick.

Every month I set the goal of writing Junrick once a week, but, instead, most months go by with one letter. I really felt the urgency to write Junrick this time, though, when he mentioned in his last letter that he didn’t have a Bible. I, honestly, was shocked when I had learned that he didn’t have one–I guess I always assumed that when we began sponsoring Junrick that some of that money would go towards items like a Bible–and wanted to designate a special gift on his next letter for a Bible in his language.

And I began thinking of Junrick.

His mother wrote most of the letters to us while Junrick was still learning. She told me that he worked very hard doing all the chores around the house while she went into the city to work. He washed dishes and made rice and gave his brother and sister a bath. And, of course, he studied.

I could always tell from each letter that Junrick’s mother thought his only ticket out of poverty was an education. She also sounded so worried, that Junrick was so lucky to have a sponsor, and she didn’t want Junrick to blow this opportunity.

Recently, Junrick began writing to me himself. In one letter he told me that Matt and I were his only hope.

I felt very uncomfortable when I read those words. I wrote back to him and told him how much God loves him. God had brought us together, and Matt and I were so grateful to sponsor him. Whenever I saw a new letter from him, I would rush to open it in excitement. I praised him for the good reports from his mom and emphasized his relationship with the Lord. I encouraged him to stay in prayer and read his Bible. In his next letter, I learned he didn’t have one.

As I finished bagging the lunches, I thought about my problems of a minivan that needed work and a DVD player that was broken and a dishwasher that was useless and a husband who was out of town. And then I thought of Junrick washing all of the family’s dishes by hand and Junrick walking to school and Junrick’s mom working for little in the city and Junrick’s dad who had left the family.

I was ashamed and a little afraid. My heart is for the poor, but I fear that one day when I meet God face-to-face He will say, “Jennifer, you just didn’t get it.”

I know about poverty, I know what Junrick’s life is like, but I just don’t know.

After every letter I send, every missions project I work, I come home. Home to a big house full of furniture. Home to a garage filled with too much stuff so that we have to park our two automobiles in the driveway. Home to a sink full of dishes that held three full meals worth of food for five people. Home to laundry baskets overflowing with clothes I haven’t yet put away.

I want to, but I don’t know if I will ever get it.

I think about Junrick writing that I am his only hope, and I shake my head. No, Junrick–you are mine.

Lent: What to Give?

I find us at the typical halfway point for the school year–the kids no longer sleep with their backpacks on, nor do they dress in one minute flat. They’ve exchanged eagerness for apathy as they lie on their beds in the morning pulling covers over their ears hoping to snatch one more minute of sleep. The freshness of those first few weeks in a new class have given way to the tiredness and doldrom of routine.

Their mother is no better. Most nights, she packs their lunches ahead of time, but there are those nights when she slumps on the couch, fatigued and determined to not do another chore for the day. Ironing the night before becomes part of the morning haste, a haste brought on by one too many swats of the ‘snooze’ button. And at the mid-point for the school year, a new routine has emerged–a routine of frenzy and angst and the general need for a few days of ‘slow.’

I get it. After so many days of the same thing, I test the waters. I try to accomplish more in less time because the need for more sleep presses in hard, yet, all I create is more rush, less harmony, and greater fatigue. When I get to this point, I look to the next break from routine where I can start over fresh, restoring the exhilaration I felt back in August.

Perhaps those who crafted the church calendar had a sense that a break in routine is needed to keep our faith fresh, too. I look back to Christmas and think of the devotions I had with my children. My heart felt full and my love for Christ renewed as I told them the story and purpose of His birth. Now, just as my mornings gave way to rush and routine, so has much of my own time to quiet devotion.

Yet in the midst of my own faith doldrom, along comes Lent. Last week I watched my Facebook feed as friends said ‘goodbye’ for 40 days while others had their last piece of chocolate or glass of soda. In the midst of those updates, a friend posted a quotation that immediately resonated within me:

Lent is a call to renew a commitment grown dull, perhaps, by a life more marked by routine than by reflection. After a lifetime of mundane regularity or unconsidered adherence to the trappings of faith, Lent requires me, as a Christian, to stop for awhile, to reflect again on what is going on in me. I am challenged again to decide whether I, myself, do truly believe that Jesus is the Christ-and if I believe, whether I will live accordingly when I can no longer hear the song of angels in my life and the star of Bethlehem has grown dim for me. Lent is not a ritual. It is a time given to think seriously about who Jesus is for us, to renew our faith from the inside out. – Joan Chittister

When I read Chittister’s comment, I immediately thought of my own relationship with God and how the newness of Christmas had begun to wane. I thought of my mornings with rushed quiet times and rushed dressings and rushed breakfasts. In my mind, I brought the two together. I have fallen into a “lifetime of mundane regularity” as Chittister writes, and for Lent, something needs to give.

I’ve always wondered about the practice of giving up things for Lent. As a child, I would give up soda or potato chips and feel so proud when I resisted temptation for 40 days. However, now as an adult, I look at the practice a little differently than as a child.

While I have heard that we sacrifice so that we can relate to the sacrifice of Christ, I cannot find anything that I would give up for Lent that could ever cause me to understand what it would feel like to be sinless yet take on the weight and shame of every person’s sin on this earth. I cannot give up anything that would help me understand what Christ felt when the Father turned His back as He hung on the cross.

Honestly, I don’t think God intends for us to give up things merely for the purpose of sacrifice. Rather, I imagine He wants to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him. When He tells us to fast and pray for those who are sick, we are not fasting so that we will feel hunger and broken. Instead, we fast as a reminder.

I cannot go without one meal before I feel hunger pains. It is then that I am reminded of who sustains me. When I am tempted by a worthless potato chip, I am reminded of the weakness of my flesh. It is in those moments of weakness that should draw me to God in prayer, for if not, for what purpose did I practice sacrifice?

After prayer, I found what God wants me to give, and I heard Him loud and clear. He doesn’t want me to give up anything for the purpose of taking away my joy. Instead, He wants me to trust that His hands are overflowing with a greater abundance of joy than mine could ever hold, and I have to let go of some things in order to hold His. I cannot fall into routine when it comes to my faith; I have to not only find time but truly use this time to reflect on the goodness of God and the importance of my faith.

Everyone needs a little break from routine. Everyone needs a fresh start. This Lent I’m hoping to find a newness and exhilaration in my faith that will carry me from the first sound of the alarm in the morning to the last lunch I pack at night. And I pray that you find that newness, too.

Linking up with Michelle and Jen today. How do you observe Lent?

 

Sex, Religion, and Gymnastics

photo by Rick McCharles

For the majority of my childhood, the gym was my home. Every day after school, I put on a leotard and my hair up into a ponytail and went to practice. At one point,  I worked out six days a week for four to five hours a day. Spending that many hours away from home, it’s not surprising that many of the lessons I learned about life took place on that square floor mat.

Amidst chalk-filled air and between turns on the vault runway, our group of adolescent gymnasts had conversations about sex that would make Hugh Hefner blush. The hormones among us were out-of-control, and, given the fact that we didn’t have time to date, we verbalized our curiosities as soon as they came to mind, and we had no shame as far as whom we would ask. I’ve heard that teenaged boys are disgusting and that locker room talk is foul, but I can’t imagine anything more crude than what came out of the mouths of us four foot seven girls with pink leotards and matching hair scrunchies.

While we discussed topics that were most unholy, a group of religious coaches formed a protective circle around us. The owner and head coach of the gym was a devout Christian–a Pentecostal– who prayed before every practice with us, and while he did not require that his staff follow his faith, many did.

During my time at the gym, I remember having coaches who were Methodist, Catholic, and Mormon. And while we would ask them questions about sex and when they had their first experience (I know; we had no shame), we also would ask them questions about their faith.

I don’t remember what started the conversation (maybe sex), but I remember sitting on the floor mat with Jerry and telling him my confusion:

“I know that Jesus died for my sins, but I don’t understand why he died for my sins.”

I had grown up Catholic and believed with my whole heart that Jesus died for me–I had that message pounded into my head since I was little–but I had no idea how Jesus ended up on the cross and what his death meant for me.

And there on that dusty mat, Jerry filled in the missing pieces. He explained that in the Old Testament, God had set up a system for the Israelites to follow. God could not allow sin, and we should die as a result of sin, but God would allow the sacrifice of a perfect lamb in place of us. In addition to this sacrifice, the shedding of blood for sin, God also commanded the priest to lay his hands on a goat and pray, symbolically transferring the sin of the people onto this animal. This scapegoat was then sent into the wilderness away from the camp, taking the sin of the people on its head.

God fulfilled the law by sending Jesus. No longer did we need to sacrifice a perfect lamb in place of us; Jesus acted as that sacrifice for all who believed. And like the scapegoat, He took our sins on his head and bore our shame. With his death and resurrection, Jesus died in our place and conquered death so that we can share eternal life with Him in heaven after our imperfect lives here on earth.

When I look back on my time at the gym, sometimes I wonder how I didn’t end up with a carload of kids before I was 20. In reality, I know that we were a good group of girls, and I’m glad for the time we spent talking that didn’t leave much time for doing. And I’m glad for that group of coaches–I don’t know what prayers they sent up for us on their own, but I do know their words didn’t fall on deaf ears.

These ears listened and believed.

Did a sport or coach help to shape you as a person? Did an area outside of the church or your family have a profound effect on your faith? Sharing my thoughts today with Jen.

 

If I Were Mary

photo courtesy of lindsayshaver

The year I turned 15, Christmas took on a different meaning for me. I remember looking in the mirror and imagining myself pregnant. I rubbed my belly as I thought of how I would tell my family the news. I envisioned the walk downstairs to the kitchen and the kitchen table where I would ask my parents to sit, and I pictured the look on my dad’s face as I shared what I learned from the angel Gabriel:

Dad, Mom, I’m pregnant–but please don’t be mad. I’m still a virgin–I’m carrying God’s baby.

But of course they would be mad…and confused…and scared, much the same as I imagine Mary and her family were. Sometimes as I read the Bible, I forget that these people in the stories weren’t some special breed of holiness, able to accept anything God threw their way. They were real people, and when I was 15, I got that for a moment.

Mary had to be scared even though she trusted God completely. Her parents had to be confused, worried about public shame, and unsure as to how to treat their daughter. And Mary’s community–I’m sure they were abuzz with their own interpretation of how that baby bump got there.

When I was 26 at Christmastime, I imagined I was Mary again. I looked in the mirror and rubbed my belly, except this time my belly was round from the life that grew inside it. I was pregnant with my first child, a son, and I was full of joy and anticipation for his arrival that March.

I was also nervous. Would I instinctively know how to care for this child? Would I be a good mother? I thought about Mary, brimming with joy as she felt her baby kick inside her womb, brimming with questions and pressure as she realized her responsibility–she was the mother to God’s son. How does one prepare for that job?

Now I’m 32. I look in the mirror and find a couple laugh lines that I hadn’t previously noticed. I rub my belly that has never quite gone back to the way it was before three kids. Over the last six years, God has shown me glimpses of His goodness, His holiness, His provision, His plan; and I’ve grown as a result of struggles He has brought me through while holding my hand.

And I think of Mary, riding on a donkey as her stomach tightens and the pangs of labor prick her abdomen, while God is holding her hand. I wonder what runs through her mind as she realizes her baby is coming and she is still far off from a bed. I wonder what she thinks as each door Joseph  knocks on is opened to the news No room. I wonder if she feels His hand, this young girl who had not yet experienced the pain of sex for the first time, as she experiences the pain of childbirth on a bed of hay with cows and sheep as her audience instead of a midwife.

Because I know what I would think. If I were Mary on that donkey, I would worry. If I were Mary watching door upon door close with bad news, I would question. If I were Mary lying on that bed of hay, I would doubt. God, where are you? Why didn’t you plan for the birth of your Son?

Looking back over the last six years, I’ve seen how I react. I get confused when God’s plan takes me through hardship. I question what He is doing. And when doors close, I despise the words of those who reply,”Well, that must not be God’s will.”

But they are wrong as I have been wrong. For something to be God’s will doesn’t mean that all doors fly open. For something to be God’s will doesn’t mean that the end result is neat and clean. Sometimes God’s will is exactly what He told us it would be–He just used different means to that end than we would’ve chosen.

He held Mary’s hand as He closed the doors to those inns, yet she had heard Him correctly. She was in the center of His will. He hadn’t forgotten that she was giving birth to His Son–He chose that blanket of hay for his baby’s bed. He chose the most humiliating way for a woman to deliver a baby to deliver the most beautiful love story this world has ever heard.

God’s Son, Immanuel, God with us, God for us. God’s son, for the lowly shepherd, God’s son for the rich intellectual. God’s son, for the old prophet, God’s son for the smallest child. God’s son, accessible to all on that humble bed of hay.

I wonder if Mary felt God’s hand, if she were able to push aside the doubt that I would’ve allowed to creep in and fester in my mind. I wonder if Mary were able to trust in the midst of agonizing pain and closed doors.

If I were Mary, I’m not sure that I would’ve. It is only now, at 32, that I’m beginning to grasp that the truths in these crazy Bible stories are also true for my crazy life. When I thought I heard God clearly only to have door upon door close, I may have been right.

I just hadn’t realized that God is preparing my own bed of hay.

Merry Christmas to you and your family. May you feel God’s hand as He leads you this coming year.

 

Christmas Lessons 2: The Nativity

I sighed as I took the nativity out of the box. A gift from my mother-in-law, the olive wood figurines from Jerusalem stood beautifully in their simplicity. I wanted to do the scene justice–display it in a setting of prominence, center-stage in our family room–yet I wanted to enjoy this nativity for more than one Christmas.

For the same reason the breakable nativity from my mother sets atop the T.V. cabinet, this nativity quietly hangs out on our electric piano: I fear my children.

I fear the two-year-old who ate all the candy out of the kids’ advent calendars by December 10th.

I fear the four-year-old who lost her one new pair of school shoes (how does one lose the shoes that one was wearing?)

I fear the five-year-old who discovered the razor I use on my legs can also shave off hair from his sister’s head.

I don’t want baby Jesus to go missing. I don’t want the shepherd to lose his staff. I don’t want Mary to break her face. And I don’t want the sheep to become part of a wild animal safari in the playroom.

I want them to remain sacred objects of our faith, a reminder of the beautiful Christmas story.

“She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them”

The story of the king sent to reign over heaven and earth, the king who entered this world not on a golden chariot but instead through the blood, sweat, and tears of a young girl. The king for whom there was no room but instead a bed shared amidst foul-smelling animals and dust and hay.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord”

The story of the God who chose to reveal himself first to a group of shepherds, the young and the elderly, those not valued by society but who caused disdain with the stench of sheep they carried. These were the first to meet the Savior of the World.

13 ‘Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace on whom his favor rests’

The story of a baby who made the angels sing. This baby, the Son of the holy God who loves His children so much that He sent His Son to bring us peace.

As my children retell this story with shining eyes anticipating Christ’s birthday, I see the nativity, no longer mere objects on my piano destined to be broken or misplaced at their hands. These objects that they caress with their fingers, the star that they turn as they sing of that silent night, holy night are living as the story takes root in their hearts.

And that story can’t break.

Linking up with Mama Kat in response to her prompt to describe my nativity scene. Come back tomorrow for another Christmas lesson, this time inspired by some of the Santa stories left by you!

*For the complete Christmas story, read Luke 2.



 


Christmas Definitions

 

Photo by tmorkemo via Flickr 'Creative Commons'

Since I was small, I remember hearing the ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ motto for the holidays. I would nod my head in assent whenever the challenge was brought to me, and I continued the crusade of saying ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays’ when I was shopping at a retail store.

Now that I’m older, I’ve noticed not much has changed. My Facebook newsfeed is filled with reminders to keep Christ in Christmas, but this year I had to ask what does that actually mean? Christmas changed for me when I had to explain the meaning to my children, and during the last year, especially, I struggled through my own definition of keeping Christ in a holiday that, at times, feels largely secular.

So today I want to hear from you. What does keeping Christ in Christmas actually mean?

Linking up with Jen today.

 

Pick and Choose

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been studying how the supernatural intersects our everyday lives via prayer. I have to admit that even typing the word ‘supernatural’ feels a little funny to me.

I don’t know why. I say I believe in God and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ–to do so I’d have to believe in this idea of supernatural events–yet I’ve noticed that the way I pray and interpret Scripture indicates exactly what I believe.

I pick and choose.

On the one hand, I say I believe that God is the ultimate healer and can perform miracles, but I’m afraid to pray that way. Even when I do pray for God’s miraculous touch, it’s as if I’m praying with one eye open, bracing myself for the reality that that person for whom I’m praying probably won’t be healed.

There were times when I really believed, or, at least, really wanted to believe. My friend was very sick, and I woke up one morning feeling in my heart that I was supposed to pray for his healing. I did; I prayed earnestly and fervently, yet he was not healed.

A couple of weeks ago, our church set aside a special time to pray for healing in view of this series on the supernatural, and I went forward and asked for prayer for my uncle. Again, I felt a strong prompt that I was supposed to pray for his healing. My uncle is a quadriplegic due to what doctors think was a blot clot that formed after back surgery, and within the last few years his health has been on a steady decline.

A couple of days after praying, my mom told me that now my uncle is struggling to breathe.

In situations like those, I begin to doubt myself. Did God really prompt me to pray, or did I just want to see a miracle myself? Did I not pray with enough faith? Does God really heal?

I know that God really heals, but I’m afraid to ask. I temper my prayers with if it’s your will so that if someone is not healed or my prayer is not answered the way I’d like, I can say that it wasn’t God’s will.

Of course, I know I’ve stated the key–God’s will–not mine, yet I can readily admit my fear to really believe beyond ordinary.

Sometimes it’s easier to believe in the power of doctors and medicine than the power of the Doctor. And yet other times, times when I need the healing, I want to grab onto the power of God instead of the resources He’s given me.

Our pastor shared a familiar passage to me, but he opened my eyes to a fuller meaning:

13Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16, New International Version)

I have read and heard this passage many times in regard to praying for those who are sick. I’ve seen pastors anoint individuals with oil, and I always assumed the function was symbolic. However, our pastor shared that the actual Greek text suggests that this anointing served a specific purpose. Olive oil was known for its medicinal properties, and this passage instructs sick individuals to essentially seek prayer and medicine.

After my third child was born, my mental health was on a steady decline for two years. I chalked up my emotions to a confused, hormonal body after having three kids in three years and nursing each of them. However, my daughter rounded 18 months, and I wasn’t feeling better.

I thought, perhaps, that my spiritual life was out of whack. I started waking up at five every morning so that I could pray and read the Bible and process through my feelings on my blog. However, any relief I felt was temporary, and I didn’t understand why. Eventually, I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, and I cried and yelled at my children almost every day.

During my annual physical, my doctor suggested I try medication. Two years was too long for me to deal with depression. I cried as we talked about the prospect, feeling that I was mentally weak or spiritually deficient. My wise, Christian doctor offered the most comforting words:

Scripture says that it will renew the mind. Your mind is an extension of the soul, but your brain is part of the physical body. There is no indication in Scripture that by reading the Word your body will be healed. Now, God can heal you, but He would have to heal you the same way He would have to heal someone of high blood pressure. Right now, the chemical levels in your brain are out of whack, and medication will just retrain them to produce those chemicals that you need.

Looking back to the passage in James, I see that my doctor’s words were essentially the same advice I read a couple of weeks ago in church. Pray and seek medicine. God may heal me; He is mighty and able to perform miracles, but he may want to heal me through the use of the resources I have available.

The bottom line, whether I’m dealing with depression or my uncle is struggling to hold onto his life, is that I’m supposed to pray the same way. I’m supposed to pray, not with one eye open, doubting what my God can do, but believing that at this very moment my uncle could get up and walk. At this very moment, I could wake up without the need for medicine again.

While I will never understand the will of God this side of heaven, I understand my role. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. And while I’m not righteous on my own, I have Christ pleading on my behalf. God hears my prayers, and they are effective, whether God answers them with a blazing flash of lightning or a tiny pink pill.

Do you pick and choose when it comes to your understanding of prayer? Linking up today with Michelle and Jen.