devotional, encouragement, holidays, midlife faith

Come and See … Then Go and Tell!

You know the deflated feeling after a much-anticipated holiday or event has passed. You’ve planned, cleaned, and cooked for weeks, and all of a sudden, all that’s left are dirty dishes and a stray toy peeking out from under the couch. Posting the pictures to social media helps us relive the highlights, but even the likes and comments can’t bring back the euphoria of the moment.

The same thing happened to the disciples. They had traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover. Then they had watched their beloved rabbi die and puzzled over thinking that he had been the Messiah. Deflated, they traveled back to Emmaus, their hometown. 

As they were discussing the traumatic events of the previous week, a stranger drew up to walk with them. This stranger joined their conversation and reiterated everything they knew (or thought they knew) about the prophecies of the Messiah, yet they still did not recognize Him. 

By the time they recognized Him, He had vanished from their sight again. That recognition refueled their passion, and they rushed back to Jerusalem to be with Jesus’ other disciples. They then received the Great Commission to go and tell:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

Days later, the Holy Spirit breathed a fresh fire of evangelism into the hearts of these (and many other) disciples: 

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting .

Acts 2:1-2 ESV

The church was birthed from the excitement of these Christians going and telling others about Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. And it’s still going strong 2,000 years later.

Did you catch the two main factors here? The disciples were all together in community. They weren’t off scrolling through social media from their separate sofas. And they were ready to receive power from the Holy Spirit. They were waiting expectantly for Jesus to fulfill His promise of sending them a Helper. 

So, how can we keep the excitement and commitment of Easter going strong long after the chocolate bunnies have been consumed? We need to keep ourselves plugged into our Power Source by staying in community with other believers and by receiving encouragement and instruction from the Bible regularly.

Then we need to go and tell others about Jesus. Just like we can’t resist posting our family photos of beautiful new outfits, fun egg hunts, and spectacular meal presentations on social media, we should also want to share the best, most fantastic news ever: Jesus is alive, and He STILL MAKES A DIFFERENCE! 

It’s easy to come and see. We do that every day on social media. It’s harder to go and tell. That’s when our true commitment to the Gospel will be needed. Are you ready? Go and tell!

Pray and reflect on the following Scripture passages

Psalm 79:13
Luke 24:13-35
Acts 13:1-12 

Reflection Questions

  1. How can you stay plugged into a community during a time when actual gatherings are limited, making it more difficult?
  2. How can you intentionally focus on your true Power Source (God, through His Word) this week?
  3. What can you do to regain your sense of passion and purpose in fulfilling the Great Commission yourself? 
  4. How can you go and tell right where you are?

*Also published on the Beyond Sunday Blog.

anxiety, devotional, encouragement, healing, holidays, lessons learned, midlife faith

The Mask of False Happiness

As we wrap up 2020 (who’s breathing a sigh of relief with me?), it’s a good time to reflect on our emotional health. One of the masks we women tend to don frequently is the mask of false happiness. Now, there’s nothing wrong with faking it till you make it occasionally, but we’re not meant to live that way. We’re meant to live authentically, sharing our true selves with each other in community.

When we drop a bowl on the ceramic floor, and it shatters, what do we do with it? We toss it in the trash can, of course. When the Japanese break a piece of pottery, on the other hand, they repair it with gold (do they sell that kind of superglue in WalMart?) and proclaim that the piece is even more beautiful than it was originally. Their idea is that by embracing the brokenness and flaws, the piece becomes even stronger and more stunning. This is called kintsukuroi, which means “golden repair” or kintsugi, which is “golden joinery.” Wow! 

What if we treated people like that? What if we reframed our emotional scars—instead of judging ourselves as failing at the Christian life, how about we see our scars as battle wounds of winning warriors? What if we saw those made fragile by life’s circumstances and emotional upheavals as those who needed more care—not judgment and rejection?

Then, perhaps, we would be able to take off the masks of happiness and perfection that have become so a part of ourselves that we hardly recognize ourselves without them. With the rise in mental health issues and social media comparisons, we’ve all become quite adept at putting on a happy mask. But behind the mask of “fine” lies a multitude of “not fine.” Good news: God cares for the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

What if, instead of hiding behind the mask of our fake smiles denoting a nonexistent, perfectly happy life, we put our authentic selves on display? Scary thought, I know. 

As noted by poet ee cummings, “The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.”

But here’s the thing. The emotional connections and emotional health we all long for do not lie behind the mask of perfection. They lie in wide-open authenticity. In order to be truly loved, one must be fully known. The reverse is also true; in order to truly love others, we must fully know them.

The other side of emotional health is what we believe about ourselves, which is largely based on how we talk to ourselves. So often, we talk to ourselves in ways we would never talk to a struggling friend. Instead, we need to pretend the woman (or man) in the mirror is a good friend across the table at our favorite cafe. 

What we think—about others and about ourselves—matters because out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45 NKJV). 

Instead of trash talking to and about ourselves, we need to remind ourselves of what is true and right and lovely. Instead of sowing discord in our own lives and in the lives of those around us, we need to reap the fruits of the Spirit by being as gentle and patient with ourselves as we are with treasured friends.

Remember what God says about us: we are his masterpieces (Ephesians 2:10)! Not practice pieces, not discarded, broken bowls. Masterpieces to be treasured!

When we can fully embrace God’s proclamation of value and worth about others and about ourselves, then our brokenness will become beautiful, and we would no longer feel the need to hide behind the mask of perfection and false happiness. We would embrace others and ourselves with the art of kintsugi. 

Call to Action:

Pray and Reflect on the following passages in light of this week’s sermon:

  • Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)—But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”
  • Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)—For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
  • Philippians 4:8 (NLT)—And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What emotional masks have you been wearing lately and why?
  2. How can you embrace your emotions in order to become more comfortable with them and then be willing to share them (judiciously) with others?
  3. How can you make yourself a safe place for others to be their authentic selves?
  4. Make a list of your characteristics and thank God for making you the way you are—a masterpiece. 

*Note: This article was originally posted to my friend Tammy’s church blog, Beyond Sunday.

devotional, encouragement, holidays, midlife faith

Advent Week 4—LOVE

I’m pretty sure Mary did not have in mind to give birth to the Savior of the world in a dirty, dusty stable miles from home, but babies come when they are ready—or in this case, when God ordained that “the days were accomplished that she should be delivered” (Luke 2:6 KJV). She obediently followed Joseph from Narareth—and the comforts of home and family—to Bethlehem to fulfill the census orders of Caesar Augustus. 

As if the journey were not arduous enough, when the time came for her to give birth, the only place for her to lie down out of the elements was in a barn. I don’t know about y’all, but I had a hard enough time giving birth in a comfortable, sanitary hospital surrounded by doctors and nurses. Yet, Mary didn’t doubt God’s love for her, knowing that this birthing plan was all in God’s hands. 

We need love now more than ever. Not only do we need it in the world around us, but we also need it within our hearts. Sure, we may know intellectually that God loves us, but how long has it been since that knowledge traveled the endless 18 inches to our hearts? Yeah, me, too.

Let’s celebrate some good news this week as we approach the end of 2020. The fourth week of advent celebrates love, and the angels’ candle commemorates the hope fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming and our continued hope in His second coming.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
   
“Glory to God in the highest,
          and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:13-14

This is good news not just for 2,000 years ago, but through the ages. We see the evidence of God’s love for us from the wooden manger to the wooden cross, to the empty tomb, to the promise of the rapture of the saints. Only a sovereign, loving, and omniscient God could have planned and executed such a plan for redemption.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon  his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

That’s what God’s love for us looks like. Mary’s response? “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

What does love look like for us in this season? Sometimes it’s telling someone a hard truth. Sometimes it’s keeping our opinions to ourselves. Sometimes it’s wearing a mask when we’d rather not. Sometimes it’s letting our kids grow up and make their own decisions without making a big deal. It’s always sharing the grace and peace of the real Reason for the Season.

What does love look like for you this season, friend? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email. Catch up on the rest of the series:

Read Advent Week 1: Hope

Read Advent Week 2: Peace

Read Advent Week 3: Joy

devotional, encouragement, holidays, midlife faith

Advent Week 3–Joy

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” What better news has ever been declared than this—that the Savior of the Lord has already come? 

The shepherds were first in a long line of people who joyfully shared the good news of the coming of the Messiah. The angels, God’s glorious and special messengers, first announced to keepers of sheep that a King had been born?! I can kind of see Herod’s point about being left out of that revelation. Just sayin’.

But who better to be the first to hear about the One who came to save liars, cheaters, and the poor? 

Of course they were overjoyed! King Jesus didn’t come to trade gold and gems with other dignitaries—the overbearing Roman rulers of the time. Instead, he came to mingle with the tax collectors and outcasts in order to bring salvation to people from all walks of life.

We don’t have to be good enough to get an invitation to meet this King. We don’t have to Cash App a donation, sign up to sell essential oils, or have an award-winning TikTok channel in order to be noticed by this King. 

In fact, Scripture tells us numerous times that Jesus lowered himself to our level on purpose.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:8

That right there is enough to make me want to sing “Joy to the World” every day, not just one Sunday during December! In addition, throughout the Bible, we see example after example of other miracles God has done for His people. If you need a few reminders, check out Psalm 146.

Verse 3 of Psalm 46 reminds us not to put our trust in princes or in mortal men who cannot save us. This advent season, let us set aside the politics that so easily divide us and focus on the one, true King, the humble Messiah who will save us (from ourselves).

Instead, let us focus on our Savior with praise and joy. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us:  

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
  and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35:10

Heavenly Father, please give us joy that lasts beyond the moment, beyond the holiday season, into the mundane, drab days of January and beyond.

Friend, what are you joyful about this week of Advent? Hit reply to send me an email, or drop me a line on social media to let me know!

Catch up on the rest of the series:
Read Advent Week 1: Hope
Read Advent Week 2: Peace

devotional, encouragement, holidays

Advent Week 2–Peace & Preparation

When my kids were small, their father would take them to the mall (or WalMart) to buy me a gift for Christmas and my birthday, which are two days apart. They would be so excited to wrap their gifts and place them under the tree—almost as excited as they were about shaking and squeezing all the gifts with their own names attached. 

A month, let alone a few weeks, was such a long time for little girls to wait! They would grow more excited and animated about those gifts under the tree every day until I thought they would burst from excitement! 

Each day, more gifts would appear under the tree, building the anticipation even more. More Christmas cookies, more Christmas carols, and more Christmas parties fueled their frenzy.

Our custom used to be that we would each pick one small gift to open on Christmas Eve before heading off to bed. One year, my younger girl was so anxious for me to open the gift she had picked out for me, that she asked if I would please open “the umbrella-shaped gift”!  

As with children (young and old!) at Christmas time, we, too, anxiously await the second return of Christ to bring us peace, right all the wrongs, and deliver us from the cares of this present world. 

For he delivers the needy when he calls,
    the poor and him who has no helper. Psalm 72:12

Psalm 72:12

Even though the Israelites were longing for the promised Messiah, the Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago was not prepared for Jesus’ birth. 

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,    
from ancient days.

Micah 5:2

We’re looking for a Savior, just as much as the Israelites were over 2,000 years ago. So how can we prepare for Jesus’ peace during Advent? We can do good things for those around us. We can love and care for those within our sphere of influence. And we can pray to be transformed more to His likeness.

But just like the flurry of preparations that take place during December, we also must prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. Lord, help us remember to prepare our hearts for your coming. Soften our hearts. Give us open hearts to receive the King.

Friend, what do you need to do to prepare your heart for the coming King this Advent season?

Read Advent Week 1, Hope.

devotional, encouragement, holidays

Advent Week 1–HOPE

Advent

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Hope has lost the original weight of its meaning. Now we say things like, “I hope it doesn’t rain again this weekend.” But in biblical times, hope held a much deeper significance. It means “joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation.” 

Many prophets foretold the coming, or advent, of the Messiah, and the Israelites pinned their hopes—their confident expectation for salvation—on the long-awaited Messiah. Isaiah 40 foretells the coming of a Messiah who will comfort His people and establish justice. The Messiah will display the power of light over darkness and the triumph of good over evil.

In this hope, the Israelites anticipated a time of amazing worship, and we can likewise worship Jesus while looking forward to His second coming (see Psalm 122).

When the Messiah arrived as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, many were shocked and did not believe that He could save Israel from their hardships—the oppression of the Romans (as Moses saved the Israelites from the oppression of the Egyptians thousands of years earlier, see Exodus 1-14). 

For those looking for salvation from our current conditions (and who isn’t?) of pandemics, politics, and prejudice, our salvation might not look like what we think it should—just like the Jews of 2,000 years ago were sure the Messiah would arrive as a great and mighty King, not a tiny baby in a tiny town.

Today, we put our hope in the baby in the manger and our future hope in the second coming of the Messiah to save us from the oppressors of our current world.

While we don’t know the day or the hour, we do know that He will come to save us from the impending tribulation as foretold throughout the Scriptures “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).

The Jews of Jesus’ day were hoping for salvation from the Romans. We Christians today are hoping that Jesus will bring judgment to right all the wrongs. Justice will prevail—if only at the final judgment.  

We need to remember not to overlook the ordinary miracles and seemingly small moments of joy. In those things we will find our hope is truly a “steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19).

What are you hoping for this Advent season? Please share with me, so I can pray with you!

about me, encouragement, holidays

New Year’s Resolutions

If you’re anything like me, you’ve made resolutions to lose weight, do devotions daily, be nicer to your family, and have a home-cooked meal on the table every night by 5:30. While there’s nothing wrong with those resolutions, if you’re anything like me, you’ve already broken at least one of them–and it’s only two days into the new year.

Instead, let’s resolve this year to let go of the mom/wife/friend guilt we carry around. Just think how much lighter we’d be without all of that extra baggage! When our resolutions go out the window with the leftover Christmas fudge, resolve to be make more healthy choices the next time. When we hit the snooze alarm one too many times to complete our devotions before the kids clamor for breakfast, resolve to sneak in a little quiet time later in the day instead of giving up. Let’s resolve that the occasional drive-through meal doesn’t mean the end of our home dinners resolutions.

Deal? I’m in for less personal guilt, how ’bout you?

P.S. – If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to be more organized, stick around.  🙂

devotional, holidays

Merry CHRISTmas!

  About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancee, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavenly heights, peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. it turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

~ Luke 2:1-20, The Message

devotional, encouragement, holidays

What to be Thankful For

What to be Thankful For
By Louis Bromfield


Oh, Lord, I thank You for the privilege and gift of living and a world filled with beauty and excitement and variety.

I thank You for the gift of loving and being loved, for the friendliness and understanding and beauty of the animals on the farm and in the forest and marshes, for the green tress, the sound of a waterfall, the darting beauty of the trout in the brook.

I thank You for the delights of music and children, of other men’s thoughts and conversations and their books to read by the fireside or in bed with the rain falling on the roof or the snow blowing past outside the window.

I thank You for the beauties of the four seasons and of the churches and the houses built by fellow men that stand throughout the centuries as monuments to man’s aspirations and sense of beauty.

I thank You for powers of mind, which find in the universe an endless and inexhaustible source of interest and fascination, for the understanding of so many elements that make life precious.

I thank You for all the senses You have bestowed upon me and for the delights that they bring me. I thank You for my body itself, which is so wonderful and delightful a mechanism.

I thank You for the smile on the face of a woman, for the touch of a friend’s hand, for the laughter of a child, the wagging tail of a dog and the touch of his cold nose against my face.

I thank You for all these things and many more, and above all I thank You for people with all their goodness and understanding which so far outweigh their vices, their envy, their deceits.

Thank You, God, for life itself, without which the universe would have no meaning.

This poem was recited every Thanksgiving as a prayer by my great-grandmother,
Pearl Constance Cramer La Shell
P.S. – You caught me again! I posted this last year at Thanksgiving as well, but it’s so good that it bears repeating (besides, I’m still in the middle of all the craziness!).