Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Prayer for the New Year

Each evening my husband and I put on our Keens and head out the door.  The route is the same even though the landscape of the lagoon and sand is always changing depending on the season and high and low tide.  The pictures below come from our favorite view.

It might not look like it at first glance, but the same tree is in all three pictures.  The pictures are from different years, different seasons, and different angles.

I have always enjoyed watching the changing landscape around the tree, but until today I had never really stopped to think about this tree.  This tree stayed steadfast during the years that have gone by.  It weathered the storms and survived both dry and rainy seasons.  It will not live forever but for now it is holding its own even as it leans a little to the side.

I want to be like that tree.  I want to stay rooted in my faith even as all around me is changing. When the waters get close and threaten the stability of the ground around me, I want to stay steadfast.  Through the good and the bad, I long to be rooted in the promises of God.  But the thing is that I can't do that on my own. 

Paul, the great missionary of Acts, had the same problem.  In Galatians 2:20, he writes, "My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is not longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.  So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."  Then in Philippians 4, he gives the secret of being content in every situation.  It is doing "everything through Christ who gives him strength."  Paul knew what he was talking about.  He had his highs and his lows but knew that Christ in him was key. 

Last year was a year of transitions for our team and family.  Our team changed leadership. Some team members left to new opportunities. While new members joined our team. My classroom grew up to having 7 students of all ages for most of the fall.  Our daughter was married adding a son to our family.  This year looks to have even more transitions some big and some small.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by transition. Other times I embrace it.   It is a natural part of life especially living overseas. The trouble is that I can focus so much on the change, the transition, that I forget the unchanging God who is by my side.  I forget that Christ is in me and try to do it on my own. My eyes neglect to see the faithfulness of God and his steadfast love.  As the waves get closer and slowing erode the ground away, I need to cling to Christ who gives me strength.

At this time next year, I would like to look back and see that I weathered the transitions not because of me but because of Christ in me. I might be a little like that tree and leaning a little to the right but I am still standing. This will only be possible when I am rooted in Him.  Rooted in prayer. Rooted in His word. Rooted in spending time with others who share my faith. And not to forget, rooted in serving.  

I find myself saying these words from James Bryan Smith as a prayer.  "I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in the unshakeable kingdom of God. It is not in trouble and neither am I."   May you live as one in whom Christ dwells and delights. 

(Note: For more on this quote, check out Emily P. Freeman's Episode 86 of The Next Right Thing.)

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Favorite Books of 2019

I love looking at book lists.  What did people like or hate. Which books are worth the time or which might be a waste of time. One thing I have realized from these lists that I don't necessarily like all the same books as other people, but I am sure the same could be said about my lists.  I do find it a good starting point to find new books. I am doing this list for that reason plus it is a great way to reflect on the past year.

One of my favorite things about reading this year was that my husband and I read a lot of the same books at the same time. It was fun to talk about them when we were in the same spot and hard to not talk about them and give something away if one of us was ahead. 

My goal for 2019 was to read more nonfiction but that didn't happen.  On the other hand, the nonfiction I read was timely for that season. 

Here are the nonfiction books I would recommend.

1. Sick of Me by Whitney Capps

This book was about sanctification which Whitney defined as both a divine process and human pursuit of being made into the image of Christ. The book was easy to read, grounded in scripture, and a good push in the right direction for me. I would love to go through it again with a group of ladies as the chapters would lead to good discussions and hopefully accountability in our walks.

2. Atomic Habits by James Clear

"True behavior is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you'll stick with one is that it becomes a part of your identity."
I thought this quote described well the premise of the book. James not only talked about why need need good habits but how to go about establishing them. I am still implementing some of his strategies six months later.

3. The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman

I listened to this book on audio while I was in California for my daughter's wedding. The chapters were perfect for reading or listening to one a day with a reflection and practical application at the end of each chapter. And most of all, Emily's voice was restorative. This book will be a great resource for future decisions and transitions.

4. Women in the Word by Jen Wilkin

This was my second time reading this book. This time I was ready. Jen went through step by step how to go about studying the bible on my own. Practical. Doable. Yet still daunting as I try to study the bible on my own and do it well.

5. Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz

This book is still a work in progress in regards to application. I loved its description of the nine different types but especially how each type has a sacred path-a way to better connect to God and become whole. 

When reading fiction, I often read series so I can stay with the characters longer. My favorite authors to read this year were Louise Penny, R.J.Larson, Kristen Heiztmann, and Carol Moncado.  They were a great mix of mystery, fantasy, and royalty stories. 

What are some books or authors you would recommend for me and my husband to read in 2020?

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