Christian Living

Peace Is Here

I find it ironic that Christmas is simultaneously one of the busiest seasons of the year and the time when we celebrate peace. I’m not sure if we can celebrate peace when we’re running from one thing to the next.

Merriam-Webster defines peace as 1) “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions” and 2) “harmony in personal relations.” A lack of hostility between governments or freedom from civil disturbance are other definitions in their list. Those first two though–those are the ones we’re all looking for.

Can you imagine what that’s like? Take a minute and imagine you were sprinkled with fairy dust and from this moment forward you don’t have fear or anxiety or stress. Imagine what your life would be like. You have harmony in your relationships. What would change? What would be the same?

Peace in the middle of a world gone crazy is a gift beyond measure. On our podcast, we often talk about how stress shuts off our reasoning brain and creative problem solving selves. Stress begets stress–the more stressed you are, the less well your circumstances go and then more stressed you get.

It’s easy to think that peace will come when we get our circumstances right. If we just had more time, less things on our to-do lists, fewer activities on our schedule, it would translate into less stress, right? I know I lived in that place for a long time. I was so convinced that peace would follow if I could just get ahead. I worked harder and harder, trying to attain peace. Like a donkey chasing a carrot, I really thought I could get peace if I worked more.

However, that’s not how peace comes. At Christmas, we celebrate the fact the Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6-7), came down to earth and became a human man so that He could bring peace between us and God. His blood is what allows us to move from being God’s enemy to His beloved child. Peace came because God injected peace into a broken world.

In Gal. 5:22-23, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit and peace is in that list. In other words, peace is impossible apart from the Holy Spirit. We can run on our hamster wheels until the cows come home but we’re never going to get anywhere.

I also love Col. 3:15 which says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” We see there and in Is. 9:6-7 that peace is connected to submission to God’s rule. This is why we’re passionate about reminding people (including ourselves) that we need to align with the way God’s designed us to live. There is so much peace in just doing what God calls us to do when He tells us to do it. My life used to be full of chaos. Chaos in my relationships. Chaos in my living space. Chaos in my schedule. Stress was my middle name for a long time šŸ™‚ But as I’ve learned the CSC’s (being calm, surrendered, centered, connected, and complete), I’ve been able to align with God’s design, to surrender and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Obviously, I need reminded daily that that’s the road to success (and that’s a huge part of why we do our podcast!), but there is so much more peace in my life than there used to be.

So as we’re celebrating holidays, rather than getting swept away into the busy-ness, let’s hang onto God’s rule. Peace is possible even in the middle of crazy circumstances. We don’t have to wait to find it–peace is now.

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Christian Living

Using Thanksgiving as a Springboard

The holidays are here! Did anybody have a moment of panic when they realized Thanksgiving is this week? Much as I love Thanksgiving, it feels like the gateway to a month of trying to cram holiday traditions in. I had to remind myself that we’ve done the pre-work: 90% of our shopping and wrapping is done, and we made a family list of activities we want to get in before now and Christmas (different lights displays, making cookies, doing the tree, etc.). Most of those activities even got written on the calendar.

I’ve been thinking about how Thanksgiving sets us up for the holiday season much the way that Sabbath sets us up for a good week. Or at least that it can set us up for a good holiday season.

JB Glossinger talks about how most of us see things as 51% negative and 49% positive, but if we can flip those numbers, we can change our entire lives. A changed perspective can be the difference between worry and trust, between the hope that drags a person forward and despair that leaves us exhausted.

Gratitude is one way we can have a more positive outlook. I’m always amazed by how differently I can feel about my life from day to day. Tuesday last week I was excited about the projects I had going on and ready to take on the week. Wednesday, I was convinced we haven’t made any progress in the past year and that we weren’t going to make any. There were no major changes that happened Tuesday night or on Wednesday. I was a little sleep deprived so that was part of it. But mostly, it was just a perspective shift. The same events that seemed so hopeful and exciting on Tuesday were lackluster and a waste of time on Wednesday.

I have found, however, that if I catch myself when I start sliding into negativity and add gratitude to the mix, I can keep from having that negative perspective shift. A gratitude list is one way to do that–although I can make a list without actually feeling gratitude; it turns into a list of things I should be grateful for. Another way is to pick one or two things you’re grateful for (or know you should be grateful for) and to dwell on them until your heart swells and you see God’s grace at work.

Thanksgiving can be a day of frantic cooking and stressful interactions. It can also be a day to reflect on the amazing things God has done in our lives. It just depends on what we choose to do with the day.

Gratitude can be a solid foundation to springboard into the holidays with a heart that is looking for God’s hand, for the good gifts that He wants to give us this December.

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Christian Living

Rushing through the Holidays

Raise your hand if you feel like the holidays are some sort of bizarre mad dash where the finish line is a date instead of a place. Yeah, me too. This time of year is so busy! I’ve had a few conversations with folks lately about why the heck we put so much pressure on ourselves to check off some kind of list of activities thatĀ haveĀ to happen before Christmas. Buy the perfect gifts, make the perfect meal, bake the right amount of perfect cookies, send Christmas letters/cards, put up a tree, go caroling, etc., etc., etc. Lots of things on the checklist.

I’ve been thinking a lot about being busy this year–not because I’m so superly awesome at handling busy-ness and having margin in my life and resting. No, it’s because I’m superly not-awesome at being busy. I get stressed and demanding and I forget to take breaks. I’m not a fun person to be around when I’m too busy.

This week I was reading a story that’s pretty familiar to me but it hit me in a new way. Here goes: Jesus shows up at your house. He’s actually physically there, hanging out on your living room couch, and He decides, while He’s there, to talk about the Bible. So you have the author of the Bible actually explaining what He meant. With me so far? Do you A) sit down as close as you can get and ask questions? or B) go bake some awesome cookies to share?

I chuckled as I wrote those choices because I cannot imagine NOT sitting down and getting the scoop on how God designed things to work. On how I’m supposed to work. It’s Jesus! There are hundreds of questions I’m dying to ask Him: What was it like becoming human? How did He fully surrender His life to the Holy Spirit? Does He remember being born? Or being in utero? What’s His relationship with His human parents like? Why the heck did He allow various things to happen in the world and in my life? To name a few.

Anywho, I was re-reading Luke 10:38-42 and it hit me that that’s what Martha was doing. Jesus comes to Lazarus, Martha, and Mary’s house and Martha freaks out because she’s so overwhelmed with her to-do list and Mary isn’t helping. She goes to Jesus about it but Jesus tells her that Mary had chosen the good and it won’t be taken away from her.

As I read, I was reminded of the Israelites during the Exodus: reading how visibly present God was (pillar of fire/cloud) and how many miracles He did for them, I’m always amazed at how little faith they had. And then it hits me how little faith I have. God’s still the same God today as He was when He provided manna in the desert for forty years and yet I’m worried about how to pay our car repair bills.

Looking at Martha, I was reminded how easy it is for me to tell God that I am too busy to do my quiet time, that I’m too busy to pray, that I’m too busy to stop and sit in His presence and just bask in being His child. If Jesus was physically here, I’d put my whole life on hold to spend time with Him. Yet when I’m given the opportunity to study His Word and hear His voice through His Word, I skimp on my time or rush because I have so many other things to get done afterward.

The holidays are busy. I’m not trying to say we should deny the reality of the situation. Schedules and to-do lists get nuts. But we have the opportunity to be with Jesus, to spend time with the God of the universe and to hear His words. Let’s not forget that even when life is at it’s busiest.

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Merry Christmas to the Grinches

Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year,” right? Not for some people. I myself am what some would term a “grinch” around this time of year. Not because I hate Christmas–although I’m not a fan of how it’s shoved down your throat everywhere you go: “You must love Christmas! You must love Christmas!” (as Lois puts it in “Seasons Greedings”)

The sad reality is that Christmas is just a hard time of year for some people. Maybe you lost someone or are estranged from your family. Maybe you miss your kids. Maybe you “had a bad experience” around this time of year. Christmas tends to bring up lots of memories–some that are really good and some that are really bad. It’s just an intense time of year, and people who hate Christmas have good reasons to do so.

My holiday season starts the week of Thanksgiving and runs through New Year’s. I typically have panic attacks and nightmares that run through the entire thing. Christmas day I have multiple panic attacks. I can’t open presents without hyperventilating (thank the good Lord I have a husband and kids who can open them for me!). I have been thrilled this year because I’ve only had two panic attacks so far the whole holiday season and two nights of nightmares–huge, huge, huge progress!

Point is: I don’t like it for a reason. And, in my experience, everyone else who’s a so-called “grinch” is the same way.

But Christmas isn’t about all the trappings–as the who’s say. It actually isn’t even about the “spirit of giving” or about “love”–at least not love in the abstract. It’s a holiday where we celebrate Jesus’ birth because of what He came to do for us. As Jesus says when He quotes Isaiah 61: 1-3, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, Ā and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Jesus falls short of talking about the day of vengeance of our God, because that day hasn’t arrived yet, however, the rest is applicable in the now (and the not yet).

So the reality is that Christmas isn’t for the healthy or the happy. “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor” ((Mark 2:17). Christmas is for the brokenhearted. Christmas is for the captives, for the prisoners. Christmas is for those who mourn and grieve. Christmas is for those who feel like their life is comprised of ashes or mourning or despair, or all three. Christmas is about Jesus coming down and becoming a baby to transform suffering from the inside out.

If today is one of those days you suffer through because you really can’t avoid it, Christmas is for you.

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Pride and Prejudice in the New Year

Somehow for the past couple of years, my yearly book rotation begins with Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. I have heard from some folks that they wade through the book, feeling somewhat cheated when they get to the end by the lack of epic themes. However, every time I read it, I find myself challenged and convicted. Austen wrote a story about how two people characterized by these two character traits would interact… how the two find themselves rubbing against each other–bringing the worst out in each other. Rather like the church should be. I’m always challenged by their willingness to take a look at themselves and humbled by their heartfelt repentance and changed lives. They don’t just talk about repenting–they come face to face with the worst in themselves and become someone different. Both discover their flaws have made them blind to reality, about others and about themselves.

A few years ago my husband picked up Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy Trilogy (An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain). Basically, it’s Pride & Prejudice from Darcy’s perspective. At first I was really disappointed that she doesn’t go into the gospel more explicitly, but I’ve found myself wooed by her masterful treatment of the themes I love (and I’ve spent the past year wrestling through my own ideals about conveying the gospel in fiction). Mercy is what saves Darcy in the end, what enables him to move forward after seeing what a horrible person he is. He discovers he isn’t a “gentleman”–not in isolated specifics or actions, but in essentials, in the core of his being. At first he thrashes around in his misery. He runs from the knowledge, turning to other relationships, busy-ness, and alcohol to crowd it out. But mercy forces him to acknowledge his true condition and then he repents. In fact, his repentance paves the way for him to have mercy with Wickham.

In some respects, the holidays always feel like a furnace… for a variety of reasons, I spend mid-November to about mid-January adrift. I feel like someone steals away my personality, my coping skills, everything. I switch into straight up survival mode and I really can’t think straight at all. So, in the midst of this furnace all my worst qualities come to the forefront… the unbelief, the pride, etc., etc.

Reading Pride & Prejudice and/or the Fitzwilliam Darcy Trilogy reminds me that I have a choice when I come face to face with the worst in myself. I can go to God for mercy, repent and bear the fruit of repentance or I can run away from it.