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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Making Room for Jesus

These days are my favorite part of the Christmas season. I love all the parties and projects and programs, but the few days just before Christmas are the best.  The days too close to the big day for any parties or deadlines but just far enough away to anticipate and enjoy family are my favorite. Celebrating Baby Jesus and His arrival is something I just love; truly love. It's what to do when December 26 rolls around or say January 3 {when kids go back to school, husband back to work} that plagues me. I'm staring down another year with excitement or dread or a confusing combination of both...anyone feel it? I know, it's just me.

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." 
Luke 2:7 ESV

Toward the end of our Christmas Musical at church this year our Associate Pastor read the Christmas story and emphasized Luke 2:7, where there was no room for Jesus. 

Perhaps this year the few quiet days of pre or post Christmas can remind you to make room for Jesus as He is nowAlive Redeemer praying for us and preparing to return for us.  And next time He won't be helpless or a baby.  As you head into the new year I would encourage you to make room for Him in the everyday messy normal mundane parts of your life. How do we transition from cherishing the Baby to submitting to the Savior? I believe it comes from the healthy habit of devotion. Think about what you are most devoted to. See it? Do you make time for that person or habit or passion? Yes. 

Women often ask me about how they can have a stronger devotional life. We want to be passionate and hungry for God's Word, able to understand and believe it easily.  The truth is that God's Word is spiritual food and the best way to become passionate about it is to feed yourself whether you are hungry or not. A few months ago I taught a series of lessons called Faith in Real Life. One of the lessons was about how to have a healthy devotional life even when you don't feel like it. Here are the notes from that lesson....

Take a look.
Be encouraged.
Become Hungry.

Keys to a Healthy Devotional Life

“Your joy will be fervent but not feverish.  You will be energetic but not excitable. You will be speedy in doing things, but not hasty. Prudent, but not selfish. Resolute and fearless, but not rash.  You will have joy without a lot of parade and noise.  Your soul will be serene yet people all around you will feel the influence of God.  It’s what devotion looks like on you. 
-Joni Eareckson Tada, from the Introduction to A Place of Quiet Rest by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, p. 10. 

Recognize the Necessity of Devotional Life.  In Mark 1:21-35 we see a day in the life of Jesus.  It's full of teaching, healing, crowd management. While I can't get on Jesus' level of power and authority I can identify with the demands as I spend so many days full of meeting needs. Mark 1:35 says that the next morning, "while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place and there he prayed." This shows Jesus’ “resolve to have fellowship with His father.” ESV Study Bible Notes, p. 1895.  The question is this, if Jesus needed a devotional life, how much more do we?

Trade Obligation for Devotion. In Luke 10:38-42 we learn that Martha is distracted by her service to Jesus. Distracted means to be cumbered or pulled apart in many directions. Her sister Mary by contrast is listening, which means to hearken or obey - it's effective listening. The lesson here is that when you try to serve apart from foot-sitting devotion you will be burdened and distracted, pulled apart by good things. Martha wasn't rejecting Jesus, she was prioritizing obligation. Mary wasn’t rejecting service, she was prioritizing devotion!

Some Practical Suggestions:
  • Separate your Study Time from your devotional time. This may not be for everyone, but it's big for me. For those in ministry or leadership of any sort this is a big temptation. The purpose of Bible Study often is to learn, sometimes so that you can teach or share or write.  The purpose of devotion is to connect and listen and share so that you can give your heart away to the One, only One worthy of holding it.
  • Choose a BIBLICAL devotional guide. If your guide is not based on The Word of God it's a waste of time. Remember that your goal is to connect to God. Using something other than His Words would be the same as reading a love letter from a former boyfriend and expecting it to make you feel more devoted to your husband. Absurd.
  • Use a journal to stay on track. Ask yourself two questions: What does this passage say? What does it say to me? Write your answers in a journal and then write a personal prayer of response.  This will help build the discipline of prayer, since prayer time often can become full of distractions. Many prayers that go unwritten end up in a mental To Do List. Again, that's probably just me. 
  • Prepare the night before. Nothing weird, just get your devotional guide, pen, journal and your Bible stacked and ready. Maybe set the timer on the coffee.
  • Devote a bit of your best energy in the morning to attaching yourself to HIM. No big expectations and no checklists.  Just start your day with Him, whether it's giving a few minutes to submissive acknowledgement and gratitude as you swing your legs over the edge of your bed to rise saving Bible Study for later in the day, or 15 minutes doing what I've described above. 
  • Give Grace Room… will not get this discipline right all the time, and that's ok because it's not about you being good. It's about you in your weakness attaching yourself to the Source of all strength and light and goodness. Devotion, not perfection. If you allow yourself to be caught up into a trap of legalism in this you are missing the point.

    Some Resources for Your Devotional Life:
    How To - 
    A Place of Quiet Rest, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
    One on One With God, Jerry and Marilyn Fine - great to use with a mentor.
    A Modern Girl’s Guide to Bible Study, Jen Hatmaker - more about Bible Study, but great!
    Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin
    Some of my Favorites:
    My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers
    Jesus Calling, Sarah Young
    31 Days of Praise, Ruth Myers - my very very favorite.
    Praying God’s Word, Beth Moore
    66 Love Letters, Larry Crabb
    Unglued Devotional, Lysa TerKeurst
    Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren

    Devotional Websites:

"I’m asking God for one thing,
    only one thing:
To live with him in his house my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty;
I’ll study at his feet."
Psalm 27:4 Message

This a healthy devotional life; living with Him my whole life long, contemplating His beauty and studying at His feet.  Yes, that's my Christmas wish and my New Year's Resolution all in one.  Be devoted.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mary's Treasures

I love to teach Sunday School. The last two weeks have been about Mary, Jesus' mother. I was once told that the best lessons you teach are the ones you've best learned. For me, this has been the best Christmas lesson ever.

Here they are at our Christmas Party {xoxoxo}.

The first Mary week I taught my college girls all the traditional parts about Mary being young and ordinary and obedient.  It was good and convicting.  The second week we dove in to what it might've been like to actually PARENT (verb) Jesus. Mary usually gets the "perfect, hands-folded, blue bath-robed, angelic mother" award as she kneels next to a manger holding a silent sleeping baby. We love her for giving birth to Jesus.  We forget to even consider the other experiences she had with Jesus.  The Bible tells us about them.

While there are beautiful lessons on friendship as we watch Mary and Elizabeth interact (Luke 1:39-45), it's what happens right after that part where God started to get me with this lesson.  Elizabeth speaks Spirit-filled Truth over Mary and her baby and Mary's previous willingness turns into precious rejoicing. In the next nine verses she sings a beautiful prayer (Luke 1:46-55). I saw that in my Study Bible there are 38 Old Testament verses and 12 New Testament verses listed in the cross-references for Mary’s song. Mary knew the Scriptures. She didn’t necessarily quote the Scriptures, but as she sang, the Truth of them is what came out. I love this quote about Mary's song, "The song reveals that Mary was a learner of God before she became a disciple of Christ….she was confident that God would come through.” – Women’s Evangelical Commentary New Testament, 147. 

Mary knew and BELIEVED the Scriptures….and so she trusted.

In Luke 2:15-20 we see another famous Mary scene. She’s recovering from childbirth. The shepherds hear about Jesus from thousands of angels and come looking for Him.  When they burst in [for real, anyone burst into your room soon after you gave birth?]  they start telling their story, that the angels told them that this baby was a Savior, that He was Christ, that He was the Lord. Everyone who heard them say this craziness "wondered" (18). While they wondered, Mary "treasured" (19).  I learned that to treasure means to guard, keep. To preserve, keep safe, close.  Do you have any words or memories that you keep?  They are treasured in your memory because you keep them close by remembering and rehearsing. I want to be a woman who is quick to treasure what matters even while others are wondering if it matters. Luke 2:51 is the next time Mary treasures and this time it's after she and Joseph find Jesus at the temple after losing Him. [There are a thousand things that blow my mind about even imagining to be the mother of the Son of God, but losing him on a family trip has gotta be close to the top.  Seriously, can you imagine?] 

Now this is the heart of the Mary lesson for me.  From this point we see her a few more times in Scripture.  First at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12), she's adorable here.  I love her. In Mark we are told that shortly after he left home to start His ministry His family went to get him because they thought he was "out of His mind" (Mark 3:21). In Mary's defense, the verse just before that said that the crowd around Him was so big that He "couldn't even eat.”  And we all know nothing makes a momma crazier than when her child needs to eat.  As the tension thickens she and her other sons go to speak to Him and only get as far as the edge of the crowd. He won't see her. As Jesus uses his earthly family to make an eternal lesson (Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21) I can only imagine Mary. Here we set aside our sweet little Manger Mary.  See instead a mother who is confused and angry and very quickly nearing “I’ve had it up to here!” mode. We don’t see how she reconciles her fleshly expectations of Him with what she is coming to understand is His unique God-ordained calling, but she does. It’s hard for every mother to transition from parenting a child to supporting a young adult.  For this mother, it must’ve been a monumental lesson in submission.  Here is where her lesson on treasuring must’ve kicked in. As she stood unsummoned at the edge of a crowd or heard the talk going around town about what her child was up to, these are the Truths she had carefully protected that surely came to her troubled mind:
He is Savior,
He is Christ,
He is Lord,
He is the bringer of great joy for all people,
He is doing His Father’s business.

Mary follows her son to the terrible cross (John 19:25-27) and to the amazing grave (Luke 24:1-12). Jesus died. And Jesus rose from the dead. For 40 days He cared for His followers and gave them the seeds of assurance that would root and grow to bear  entire generations of new faith. Then he went back to heaven as His mother watched. As he disappeared into the clouds did she close her eyes and remember the same sky years earlier filled with a remarkable star? Did it seems like lifetimes away?  Did she treasure again the words the shepherds spoke of Him? I can’t imagine and can’t begin to put it to these mere words.  Her life was remarkable and difficult and miraculous.  As his followers walked away from their very last time to lay physical eyes on Jesus, we last lay our eyes on Mary. “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.” Acts 1:14 NLT

Some versions say the followers “continued in one accord.” Continue literally means to endure, to remain, tarry, to continue with someone, to cleave faithfully to someone, referring to those who insist on something or to stay close to someone.  Imagine Mary’s prayers in this room.  I know this post is long, but take a few minutes to fold your hands and imagine your head covered in our favorite baby blue Mary color.  Bow your head and imagine her memories, her treasures, her pain, her acceptance and joy.  What would she have prayed? Imagine the joy of seeing her treasures anew and spiritually fulfilled. Here Mary is making the choice to follow God’s Son as HER Savior, to submit to a plan that caused her great pain and loss but will bring great joy for ALL PEOPLE, to be about the Father’s business.  The mother who insisted on seeing her son and protecting him from what would certainly bring him earthly harm now is insisting on spiritual endurance.

There are just so many ways that she encourages me:

I must treasure the eternal, so that when my faith encounters bumps I am ready.
There will be bumps in my faith journey. That’s not the end.
Sorrow is a part of every meaningful faith journey. The joy is worth it.
Success is not the goal of my journey. Relating to the Savior is.
Everything worthwhile comes from that discipline of relating. Insist on staying close.

As I’ve studied about Mary for the last weeks, this is my favorite quote about her;
But her heart was true, and from the beginning to the day of Pentecost, she pondered in her heart the meaning of her many puzzling experiences until the light came. – ISBE,

“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 
2 Peter 1:19 NIV

Rejoicing over the Morning Star. Merry Christmas!

The word studies in this post are quoted from The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, p. 958 (treasure) and 952 (continue).