Monday, December 09, 2019

Lessons from the Magnificat

Luke began his book with a meeting of two expectant mothers.  This would not be an ordinary meeting. Mary was a teenage girl overwhelmed by wonderful news. She would be the mother of the Messiah.  Elizabeth was in her 6th month of pregnancy even though she was past the child-bearing years.  She who was barren was carrying the forerunner of the Messiah. With Elizabeth, Mary hoped to find another who would understand what she was going through.  

As Mary entered Elizabeth's house, she called out a greeting.  It was at that moment the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaped. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth greeted Mary with a blessing and affirmation.  

This was Mary's response.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever. 

These words made me wonder if Mary was familiar with Hannah's prayer in I Samuel 2 which had similar phrasing.  Or if she was familiar with the Psalms as her words have the parallelism and themes for so many Psalms. Either way, Mary's word also known as the Magnificat are a good reminder this advent of how to prepare my heart.

1. Mary's words were focused on God not herself.

How easy it would have been for Mary to talk about what she was going through.  She might talk about how lucky she was that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah. Or she might have expressed how scared or worried she was about the next few months and what people would think. Instead her words remind us of who God is and what he has done and will do.  Her response is not about her but God.

This advent and in the coming year, how can my words be focused on God more than myself?  When do I direct attention to myself when I need to be giving God the glory?

2. Mary took time to worship.

The first two phrases were pure worship.  She worshiped with her soul and spirit.  The deepest part of her reached out to God. This was not just saying the words or going through the motions.

The busyness of the year can crowd out the things that truly matter.  One of those things is worship.  What are some ways I can take time to worship or make it more a part of my days?

3. Mary had a high view of God

Lord. Savior. Mighty. Merciful. Holy. These were all words she used to describe God. This holy God chose to bless her and she is humbled. This high view of God would bring her strength in the days ahead when life would become difficult. When she was misunderstood, she could remember that God understands. When she and her family fled to Egypt, she could remember that God brings down rulers. When she stood by the cross and her heart was breaking, she could hold onto the fact that God was her Savior, and his plan was good. 

Do I have a high view of God?  If not, why is that? How does my view of God give me strength in all seasons especially this one?

4. Mary had an accurate view of herself.

She was God's humble servant.  He was her Lord and Savior.  She was a sinner in need of saving.  It was by God's mercy that she was blessed.  Her job was to trust and obey this sovereign God who had chosen her to be the mother of His Son. She could not do this journey on her own. 

How did I see myself? Do I see my need of a Savior? Do I see myself as a child of God saved by his mercy? Do I truly know I can't do life on my own without him? Is my pride getting in the way of my worship?

I hope these questions help you reflect as you prepare your heart for what God has for you this season.  TJ

Sunday, September 01, 2019

6 Lessons Learned (Summer 2019 Edition)

My summer months were full of reading good books, drinking lots of iced coffee, connecting with friends-old and new, and feeding interns.  I loved the slower mornings and not having to rush to get off to school.  I cherished my extra time in the word and the chance to work on a few projects such as new kitchen curtains.  It was also a good season of reflection and regrouping before the start of school.

Now as I get ready to start my third week of school, I thought I would take a minute to reflect on lessons learned this summer as I join up with other bloggers who are doing there same thing.  (Check their posts out at Emily Freeman)

1.  A Goal Plus Accountability Helps Complete the Task

Last year about this time, I started an online program through a seminary that had classes that ranged from how to study the bible to church history to global missions.  There were 10 courses in all.  I knew that it would be easy to start and hard to finish.  But I also saw that it was doable to do in a year if I did one class a month.  The key was how to make myself accountable to do it.  Each year for my job, I am required to set goals that either do with my job or my personal life.  I decided to make finishing these courses my goal.  It was just the push I needed.  

This year my goal is to write a bible study.  I have enjoyed doing the research but am finding myself reluctant to start the actual writing.  Hopefully having it as a goal will keep me on schedule to complete it.  Now I need to come up with a good plan of how to get it done.

2. So What If You Always Do the Asking

This summer I listened to a lot of podcasts.  One of them was Made for This by Jennie Allen, and the first season was about relationships.  I took to heart her challenge in one episode how it is okay to consistently be the one to reach out-to do the asking to get together, etc.  She commented on how easy it is for us to have a victim mentality of no one ever asks me to do things.  I admit that I have had this mentality where I felt like if I wanted to do something I had to do the asking.  But she was right, when she pointed out how this mentality is unhealthy.  Does it really matter if we are always taking the initiative?  What if God is calling us to do that?  Truthfully, we may feel like we are always taking the initiative, but if we looked back we would probably find that it wasn't as one sided as we originally thought.  

This summer was a season of reaching out to friends-old and new.  It was fun to reconnect.  I found that ladies love to get together but sometimes it is hard to take the first step.  I also found that the more I reached out, the more others reached out to me.  It was a good summer of connecting which was something that I was really needed. 

3. The Right Gear Makes the Difference

The closer it came time for school to start the more I dreaded my commute as the rains continued to fall.   I don't mind the extra exercise, and I even have a bike to make it easier.  The trouble was I didn't want to get wet and my rain boats were not comfortable to walk in for the 3/4 mile walk.  I noticed that our guards all had rain pants and thought what a great idea!  So now I have rain pants and even discovered that the hiking boats that I got from a friend who was leaving were waterproof.  This plus a rain cover for my backpack and my raincoat allow me to walk even when it is pouring down rain.  It is actually fun walking in the rain when you have the right gear.

4.  To Walk Rain or Shine

Okay maybe not downpour rain.  I am learning that if I waited for perfect weather I would never get my run/walks in.  Some days it is only a drizzle which makes it cooler.  Other days I get stuck in a downpour before I get home.  I am learning that I am glad to be outside rain or shine.  One bonus is that rain or shine, the waves are beautiful to look at as I walk.  Also sometimes getting caught in the rain is a good excuse to stop in and visit with a friend for a bit.

5.  I Can Have Cold Brew Coffee Using Less Coffee Beans

I love drinking iced coffee.  Sometimes I take the lazy way out and will just put left over coffee in a pitcher in the frig to drink the next day.  (Because in a land where good coffee is hard to find, you don't waste any coffee.)  Last year I found a good cold brew recipe that was easy. and I loved the taste but it used 2/3 cup of ground coffee.  Each batch would last 2 to 4 days depending on if I shared with my husband and whether I stuck to one glass a day.  I was excited when I found a recipe that used only 1/2 cup for the same amount of water.   I then added a few things that give it a fun flavor. The main difference with this recipe is that you let it set on the counter not in the frig.  

What do you do?  You put 1/2 cup of ground coffee, 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and four cups of water in a glass container.   Let it set for at least 12 hours so basically overnight.  Then strain and put in the frig.  To drink, add ice and milk to taste.

6. You Can Find Some Good News Sources

The last few years, I have struggled with reading the news and trying to figure out what is going on in the world.  What do I believe?  What is really going on?  What are both sides?  I don't have the perfect answer to these questions but I did find two sources that are helping me be better informed.  One is the podcast Pantsuit Politics which has two ladies that discuss the current issues.  One leans to the left in her views and the other to the right.  Their discussion is civil, informative, and demonstrates the need to listen to each other.   I also have enjoyed the instagram of SmartHER News.   Her updates are short and sweet but give you a place to start as you read the news.

What are some sources you use to help keep you informed?  What are some things you have learned this summer? 

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

We All Want to Belong

Have you ever wanted to recommend a book to a fictional character?  I have.  I don't know if it is a side effect of reading too much or the timeliness of the topic (belonging) in my life.  My vote is for the later.  Three characters in Tricia Mingerink's book, Midnight's Curse, wrestle with belonging which is the theme of Kristen Strong's book, Back Roads to Belonging.

Midnight's Curse opens with High King Alexander feeling on the outside of the people around him.  Even though he is the high king, he struggles to find his place.  This struggle increases as he observes the couples around him, but he has no one and feels he has no friends. This makes him vulnerable to some bad choices. His right hand man, Daemyn Rand, might look like he has it altogether, but his insecurities and past keep sabotaging the present. Elara longs to be more than a servant and jumps at the chance to go to the ball.  The glass slippers seem the answer to all her problems or are they?  The author uses this backdrop to create a fairy tale retelling of Cinderella that is both unique and unpredictable.  It is a fun read from start to finish as each character comes to grips with belonging and finding their place in the kingdom.

Why would I recommend Back Roads to Belonging to these three? First of all, Kristen reminds us that belonging starts with God.  For these three, belonging starts with the Cursebreaker (Jesus).  Only he can fill the empty places.  Belonging doesn't happen automatically sometimes you have to take the long way to get there. For the High King, Kristen might tell him that Jesus "didn't worry about being on the outside looking in.  He was on the outside looking up." Start there.  To Daemyn, she might gently say,"Belonging is not a state of your circumstances but a state of your soul."  For Elara, she might encourage her to not discount the places where she does belong instead of trying to belong somewhere that she was not designed to belong. 

This book is practical, encouraging, and most of all points to the source of all belonging.  If you have read my blog before, you probably know that I struggle with belonging and finding my place.  I related to Kristen's words and was thankful for her honest and real solutions.  Belonging is not easy, but God does have a place for us to belong, and it starts with Him.  Words I need to hear again and again.

It was a privilege to be an advanced reader for both books.  Right now, Tricia's first book, Dagger's Sleep which is a prequel to this one is only 99 cents on Kindle.  With Midnight's Curse priced at $2.99.  Excellent price for two great reads.  

Kristen's book, Back Roads to Belonging is perfect to read one chapter a day as you figure out your place of belonging.  I am hoping to go back through it again this year with a friend to process it more.

Is there a book you would love to recommend to a fictional character?  What book is it?  I would love to hear about it in the comments.  (Amazon affiliate links in post)