advent: stillness

The verses for our devotional study today are Isaiah 2:3-4.  In Verse 2, God says that "He will teach us His ways so that we may walk in His paths."  The Message paraphase of this verse says that "He'll show us the way He works so we can live the way we're made."

There's so much security in that, isn't there?  We were created to live life God's way, and He's promised to teach us everything we need to know to do that.  No more running around, trying to figure out what it is we're supposed to be doing that we're not doing that's leaving us with this empty, unsettled feeling that there's got to be more to life that "this" (whatever it is).  It is far more simple than that.  All we need to do is follow the directions that He's given/gives/will give us.

But here's the thing about directions: you actually have to listen to them and do what they say for things to go well.  I have a set of bookshelves I've put together myself, and let me tell you - the one I didn't read the instructions for is extremely unstable!  And life works the same way - if we're going to live it well, there's a set of instructions to follow, and we need to listen to them.

Listening for God's voice takes time, patience and practice.  It's possible to read His Word without actually understanding a word of it on the heart level where it's meant to instruct us.  It's possible to pray frantically for help in a situation for which we need specific direction and then rush off without waiting for an answer, still trying to figure out what we're supposed to do, on our own.

But God's Word says there's a better way:

"...In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength..." - Isaiah 30:15

We need to get quiet.

Quite some time ago, a good friend of mine picked up the phone and made a reservation for me at a retreat center.  I was leading a song at church that weekend, but there was something in the way - something that was blocking my ability to lead it from my heart.  And so my friend packed me off to a retreat center for 5 hours, to sit quietly with God, and find from Him the wisdom and instruction I needed.

The first 1/2 hour was painful.  I had about eighteen million things I was thinking about other than the task at hand.  Getting quiet, internally, seemed like an insurmountable task.  But my friend, far more seasoned in this sort of thing than I was, had warned me it would be like that, and I'd taken with me, on his advice, a notebook.  Every time something came into my head that could be labelled as a "distraction" (for example: things to add to the grocery list, emails I needed to write, phone calls to make, etc.) - I just wrote it down, so I could deal with it later.  And finally, all the head chatter faded, and I moved into silence, and waited.

And He spoke.  Through His Word, through the beauty of creation all around me, directly to my heart - and even through the nap I ended up taking that day.  And 5 hours later, I was so at peace, and knew what I needed to do to live the way I was made to live, instead of the way I'd been trying to live instead.  I'd confessed the sin I needed to, and walked straight out of the barren wilderness of it into the rich, full mercy of God.  It was beautiful.

And it began with being still.

Sometimes life can be so overwhelming.  It's busy, frantic, fast-paced, and loud.  It's tough to hear anything in an environment like that.  But if we could just be still...

"The Lord is my light and my salvation - of whom shall I be afraid?.... I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Be strong, and take heart, and wait for the Lord." - Psalm 27:1, 13-14

But how do we do that?  How do we "be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord"?

Well, we repent for what we need to.  We slow down and rest (even when there's a million things to do, because they will still be there later).  We get quiet.  We choose to trust Him (no matter what).  And we listen.  We listen for the Voice that will always speak truth, whose words are life and light to all who hear them, and who promised us that all we see is not all there is.

And we keep on waiting on Him, day after day, because we know, no matter how dark things may seem some days, that there is always hope.

"Do not be afraid, for I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-12)

waiting. quietly, but with great joy...

It's almost here!

Tomorrow is the first day of Advent, and I have been waiting for this moment for almost two months.  No, actually, more like eleven and a half months.... I love Advent.

Some of my best childhood memories are centered around Advent.  Decorating the banisters of our New England church sanctuary with real evergreens and red ribbons and candles and a Christmas tree so tall you could barely see the top from the floor.  Replacing the green banners of Ordinary Time on the pulpit with the rich purple hues of Advent.  Taking a break for soup and crackers with the church family, and eating out of the church's fine china dishes.  (Washing and drying all those dishes after lunch!)  Making wreaths to take home and hang on our doors.  Waking up every morning to open the next little door on the Advent calendar that hung on the cabinet in the kitchen.  Watching the colored lights twinkle in our tree.  Setting up the Nativity scene on the bookshelf.  Putting out our Christmas decorations.  Listening to Kenny and Dolly and Amy Grant and Alabama and Bing Crosby and Manheim Steamroller and countless others sing Christmas carols, back in the days when we had actual records and cassette tapes.  Wrapping Christmas presents.  Popping popcorn and watching Christmas movies.  Lighting a candle every Sunday on the altar at church, marking one more theme celebrated, one week closer to Christmas.  Wondering why the third candle is pink.

And FINALLY - Christmas Eve.  Dressing up, leaving home in the dark.  Caroling outside the church for an hour before service for the people passing by and coming to church.  Caroling some more indoors.  The beauty of the Christmas story read aloud.  Hearing a soloist sing "O Holy Night" and hoping that someday I'd get to sing it (one day, finally, I did).  Lighting the Christ candle, and then passing the light of Christ's love from candle to candle through our historic church sanctuary and singing Silent Night together acapella.  Watching the familiar faces of friends and family shine with the mystery and beauty of it all as we ended our service in quietness, peace, and candlelit wonder.

And now that I'm older, this season has become even more special than the magical memories it held in my childhood.  For now I understand, in a way I didn't then, what this season is really all about.

Advent is a season of waiting.  A season of joy, hope, peace, love, wonder - and waiting, expectantly, for something to happen.  It's the pathway, the journey to Christmas.  And with Christmas, comes radiant, amazing, overwhelming love - in the form of a baby boy, born in a stable.  The very Son of God, laid in a manger, here to experience all that we do - and to make a way back to God for us.

God waited a long time to send His Son.  He waited for the perfect moment.  But while He was waiting, He did some things. He wrote it in the stars, that this baby was coming.  Remember the Magi, following that star?  Think about the fact that light takes time to travel, and that what you see in the sky is actually something that happened a really, really, REALLY long time ago - and think for a moment: God put a star in the heavens that would point the way to His Son AGES before His Son would be born.  Does the wonder of it floor you, even just a little bit?  He also promised us that a Saviour would come - His prophets foretold His coming, and His people waited, too.  And then, finally -  He came.  And He is coming again.

For these four weeks of Advent we wait.  We remember.  We hope, dream, imagine, wonder, experience the mystery that is the gift of God's Son, born in the city of David: Christ the Lord.  We sing special songs - songs we sing once a year.  We celebrate.  We give gifts that echo, tho they could never compare with, the Gift that we've been given.  We light candles.

We wait.  Quietly, but with great joy.

Last year for Advent, my friend Amanda and I did a devotional study together with a book and a website called The Uncluttered Heart, by Beth A. Richardson.  We loved it so much that we've invited our church family to go through it with us this year.  Nineteen people have signed up so far!  We are super-excited about this.  :)

And if you want to join us, we'd love that, too.  The Uncluttered Heart website has all the info you need to get started.

Hope to see you there!

and Happy Advent-Eve.  :)

you're welcome

Have you ever been in an ordinary run-of-the-mill conversation and found yourself suddenly floored by something you just said?

This happens to me frequently when I'm with close friends, but it's usually in the context of saying something I probably should have run thru the filter first, or saying something to be funny and then joking about, "oh, did I just say that out loud?"  But today it happened with two simple words that I've said thousands of times before without thinking about them at all:

"You're welcome."

It's just what you say, when someone says "thank you," right?  But think for a minute about what those two words mean when you put them together outside of the generic, rote conversation in which you usually find them.  "You're welcome."

You - are welcome.  You're welcome.


What does that mean?  In French, it's "bienvenue," which translates literally to "good coming."  You've come well; it's well that you came?  I was glad to do what you're thanking me for because I'm happy you're here, that you're a part of my life.

You're welcome here.

My heart's posture toward you is one of welcome.

We say it to a lot of people, strangers and friends alike.  But do we mean it?

Food for thought.  :)

honesty, prayer, and the power of song

Quite some time ago, I worked as a nanny for a family who had a little girl (who is now grown up and has graduated from college).  Sometimes, at the end of the day, if her parents were away or working late, I had the privilege of tucking her in and listening to her prayers.  They inevitably began one of two ways:

"God, thank You so much for this day!" (followed by an explanation of why said day was so awesome)


"God... (pause) ...this has not been the best day in the world." (followed by an explanation of why, but often followed by:) "BUT...."

and anything could happen then.  "BUT - thank You that tomorrow is another day."  or "BUT - thanks for being there with me anyway."  or "BUT - i know You have a plan for this."

She taught me a lot about prayer.  about God.  and about being honest with God in prayer.

And tonight, listening to the Tallis Canon for about the 25th time today (because I've needed it that much - this song centers me, re-orients me to the Truth and to Life and to the way things should be) - I find myself praying:

"God, this was really not the best day in the world.  There are so many things about it that I would go back and fix if I could.  But I know You are good, and Your timing is perfect, and I will wait on You.  I will to wait on You.  I choose it.  I will do this.  I will wait, and I will trust You, and I will be honest and I may yell and rage and tell You exactly what I think, but at the end of the day, Lord, You are GOD and You can do anything You like with me and with this day and with my life.  So here it is - and Glory to Thee, my God, this night, for all the blessings of the light - for there are so many, and they are all from You.  Forgive me, Lord, for Thy own Son, the ill that I this day have done...  I messed it up a lot today; I've messed it up a lot for ages.  But You are good, and Your love endures forever.  Your mercy knows no bounds.  Your grace is sufficient for me.  I trust You, Jesus."

Praise Him above angelic host; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - for He is worthy to be worshiped and honored and praised and extolled and loved and adored and trusted.

Somehow, it will all work out okay.  And I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  So be still, o my soul, be still.  Be still, and take heart, and wait for the Lord.

Be still, and take heart, and wait for the Lord.

prayer request

it's been a crazy couple of days.  my mom is in the hospital.  two days ago she was at work, and she just coughed - and her lung collapsed.  she was in surgery within hours.  the surgery was successful, but she's going to be in the hospital for a few days, and is in a good deal of pain.  and my poor mom - she dislikes hospitals even more than i do.

it's been tough to be so far away.  my dad and my sister are there with her, but it's my mom, you know?  i just want to be there, even if all i can do is sit and read while she's sleeping, and just keep her company while she's awake.

please pray for my mom.  it's going to be a few weeks of recovery, and she's usually such an active person.  this is going to be - this IS - really hard for her.


meditation for worship and communion on All Saints Day

I had the privilege of teaching last night at worship and communion, and thought I'd share my thoughts with you as well.  :)

On the table next to my bed is a collection of things that are very special to me.  I half-jokingly refer to it as an altar, because most of the objects on this table are actually icons - objects that, at least for me, point past themselves to God.

There are a lot of things on this little altar, but here are just a few:

There's a birthday card from a friend and mentor.  On the inside, he wrote, "God does have a plan for your life, Happy, and it is greater than your dreams."  This card came at a time when I really needed to hear that, and he had no idea how timely his words were.  And now, every time I see it, I am reminded that it's true - that God's dreams for me are greater than my own, and that His plan is perfect and can be trusted.  The card is an icon that leads me into His presence and inspires me to worship Him for who He is: Jehovah Jireh, my Provider.

Another icon that reminds me of God's provision is a car key. My senior year in college, I took a job - the only job I could find - but it was across town, and I had no way to get there. I was telling a friend about my dilemma, and right then and there, he just gave me his car, for the whole year.  His generosity reminds me to be that ridiculously generous, and this key reminds me that even when I can't see a way, God always has a plan and will provide exactly what I need.

There's also a nickel - which reminds me of something a man named John Wimber said once.  He said, "I am just a nickel in God's pocket, and He can spend me any way He wants to."  That quote really hit me the first time I read it - and comes to mind often (usually when I don't want to be spent the way I'm pretty sure God wants to spend me...)  The quote reminds me that I belong to Jesus, not to myself, and that acknowledging His sovereignty - His Lordship over my life -  is always the best way to live, and that surrendering my life is actually an act of worship.  Again, it's an icon, connected to a story that points me to Jesus.

There are a lot of icons that the church has turned to over the years as well: things like the cross, stained glass images of Bible stories, sometimes even actual church buildings... We have to be careful with icons - it can be easy to turn an icon into an idol if we're not careful.  How can you tell if you're doing this?  The minute an icon becomes more important to us than the One to whom it is supposed to point us, we're in trouble - but icons can actually be very helpful in assisting us, as His word tells us in Psalm 77, to remember the deeds of the Lord.

It occurred to me as I was thinking about communion this weekend that Jesus gave us an incredible gift in this sacrament that we celebrate.  This loaf of bread and this cup are icons that point past themselves to Jesus, and remind us of what He's done.  We come to the Table, we see these two things, and we instantly remember that we are saved solely by grace through faith in Christ, and not by anything we've ever done.

This is the story: God's word tells us in Matthew 26 that "while they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."  Then He took the cup, gave thanks, and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

We know from Scripture, especially passages like 1 Corinthians 11, in which Paul gives instructions to the church as to how to celebrate it rightly, that the church very early on began to celebrate what God had done for them in Christ by eating bread and drinking the cup together.  Communion is a centuries-old feast of remembrance, and in coming to this Table tonight, we do, as Paul says, "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."  We remember the amazing grace that was given to us as Jesus went to the cross for OUR sins, and we give thanks.  And we come together, as Christians have always done, because this gift was for ALL of us.

So tonight, as you come to the Table, I simply want to encourage you to stop for a moment and remember.  This is a serious moment.  We come to this Table with great joy and gratitude, but Paul also warns us to come with a proper mindset.  He says, "...whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." (1 Cor. 11:27-29)

So let's take a few minutes to pause and reflect.  What is it that Lord has done for us?  What has He saved us from?  Is there any sin in our hearts that we haven't confessed to Him yet?  Let's clear that up now, confess what we need to, and receive His forgiveness where we need it.  And then come joyfully, together, each of us as we're ready, to celebrate and remember the mercy and the grace that was given to us through His broken body and shed blood, represented by this loaf of bread and this cup - icons that remind us of a very simple, but very profound truth:  God loves us.

In the Reformed church, where I spent a lot of time in college, at this point in the service, they say, "come, for all things are now ready."  I love that - because the truth is, Jesus HAS prepared this table for you, in the presence of your enemies, and because of His death and resurrection - surely goodness and mercy WILL follow you, all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

So come, for all things are now ready.