Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 17)

How to Build a Sanctuary

“Any building is a temple if you make it so.” Phil Knight

I read this quote and it brought to mind this old post which was a good reminder for me, so I hope you don’t mind a redo!

People say I have the gift of hospitality, but I once put a cup of salt, instead of teaspoon of salt, into a batch of lasagna so clearly it can’t be about gourmet cooking.  I also once totally forgot that we had invited six people for dinner, so hospitality apparently doesn’t hinge on attention to details.  Instead, I would agree with someone I heard recently who said, “Hospitality is inviting heaven into the house”.

Actually I’d expand that to say, “Hospitality is inviting heaven into the house…the bus, the office…the hair salon…the airplane…the parking lot.”  And I know many people who do that much better than I do.

For a season, some mentors of ours, Gordon and Gail MacDonald were pastoring in New York City.  They befriended some city bus drivers who were Christ-followers, but felt they didn’t have an environment for ministry.  Gordon pushed back and suggested:

“Why don’t you start up your buses each morning and, while the engine is warming, walk down the aisle of the bus and shout, ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, I declare this bus to be a sanctuary where passengers will experience something of the love of Christ through me.’ You can be a pastor in your own sanctuary.”

The bus drivers took his suggestion and experienced a transformation of perspective on their everyday life.  Suddenly their buses were a safe place where they were aware God was present and welcoming.

For my friend Anne a 747 is her sanctuary.  I can’t imagine anyone more full of the love of Jesus caring for weary travelers with joy and patience on the long flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam.  Her flights are places where God is present and welcoming. Recently Anne switched her schedule to work this flight when I and my colleague were on our way home.  She treated us like royalty, but she does that with everyone she meets! Can you even??

Another friend moved to a new home last year and before painting over the walls of her living room, this is what she wrote.

IMG_4805She and her husband were declaring their house a sanctuary.

Another friend, Daoud Nassar, has a farm outside Bethlehem that is surrounded by Israeli settlements.  The government has blocked the road to his farm with boulders so you have to walk in.  They have restricted him from building anything above ground, so he uses caves.  They have repeatedly bulldozed the olive trees he grows.  But his farm, called Tent of Nations, is a sanctuary.  This is the sign that greets everyone.

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Welcome, Jesus.  May each place we set our feet today be a sanctuary, a piece of heaven on earth.

Where is your sanctuary today?  Might you take a minute to dedicate your space to the work of God?

 

Do You Feel Too Small?

The other day I was working in my “office” and this was my view.

I posted this on Instagram:

Do you see the two people in a canoe on the far side of the lake? They remind me of the first line in a book we used to read to our kids: “The world is big, but I’m so small….”

This morning I’ve been thinking how we can feel “small” in a way that says “insignificant”, or we can feel “small” in a way that says, “Wow! Be inspired. You are part of something bigger than yourself, held and loved by One bigger than yourself.” Whether you’re a teacher or a boss or a mom, I pray this Monday that you have a sense of being part of something great!

Two of my favorite Bible verses seem like they might be at odds with each other.

“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Nehemiah 6:3

“Who dares despise the day of small things?” Zechariah 4:10

The thing is, our “small things” may also be the “great work” we are not to be distracted from. Our “small thing” may be showing up for a commitment when we don’t feel like it, listening longer than is comfortable, bringing a pot of soup to someone who feels tired and alone, reading a Bible story to a toddler… In each of our small things we have the opportunity to love well, to reflect the character of Jesus, to make an eternal impact.

What is your small thing that is also a “great work” God has given you today?

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Summer

Many of you are jonesing for Pumpkin Spice Lattes and cozy sweaters on crisp fall days right now. You are just done with this season and ready to move on. I get it. It seems like many of my friends have been living “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Summer this year.

One friend is grieving the sudden death of her husband. Another reeling from a deeply painful betrayal, and another whose 18 month old has leukemia is living with chemo and isolation. Still others are dealing with “prodigal” children, dysfunctional communication in their families, and postpartum anxiety.

This pain leaves my friends wondering “Why, Lord, why? and WHEN will this END???”

In contrast, I have had a delightful summer, making me loathe to share my joy, for fear of intensifying their pain. I know. I’ve been Alexander in the past – the one in deeply wounded confusion.

I really want to be a good friend.

It’s timely, then, that I’ve been reading “The God of All Comfort” and doing a study of Job.

When our friends are hurting, our first inclination is to want to figure out and fix, right? After all, we hate seeing our friends suffer! The thing is, only God can fix it, redeem it, and in His time He will.

Often when we speak, we inadvertently add to the pain of the sufferer.

Without thinking, we say the normal, “How are you doing?” and the one in pain wants to scream, “HOW AM I DOING??? I WANT TO DIE, THAT’S HOW I’M DOING!!!”

A better option might be to give a hug and say “It’s so good to see you.” or “What is on your plate today?”

My friend whose child has leukemia wrote: “Someone told me today that the vaccines I chose to have my son receive caused his leukemia.”

WHAAAT???? Why would someone say that?  As we talked about it, we agreed that when we draw close to people in pain, in addition to wanting to FIX, we also become aware of our own vulnerability. Our reaction may be to withdraw or come up with “reasons” that make us feel more protected.

But I believe God’s charge to us (though I do it poorly) is to sit with our friends in pain, not judge (as Job’s friends did), and listen more than we speak.

Glennon Doyle says friendship is two people acknowledging together that they are not God. Good word, that.

Joe Bayly lost three children years ago and wrote this after the death of one son:

“I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealing, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly. I wished he’d go away, and he finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour – or more. He listened when I said something. He listened. He answered briefly. He prayed briefly, and then he went away. I hated to see him go.”

If you are hurting today, maybe all you need to hear is that you’re not alone. You are precious and beloved no matter what.

 

What Does God Have to Say to You Today?

I’m a lake girl. I grew up learning to swim in a lake in Wisconsin that was big and deep and dark blue and often the wind whipped the waves into a frenzy. But it was a place I felt safe, treading water or diving under into the silent calm beneath the surface.

Friday I was not on a lake, but by the Pacific Ocean.

I walk along the beach wrapped the early morning air, cool and damp. The spray of crashing waves reaches out to tickle me every once in awhile. Fog shrouds the mountains encircling the bay, making them look like a watercolor painting or a dream – fuzzy in the distance.

My prayer is one common to me on my walks.

“Lord, what do you have to teach me about myself and Yourself today?”

There’s rarely an immediate answer, but rather, like an old-school photo developing in a water tray, something gradually emerges.

Usually.

I’m encouraged by this promise as I walk:

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

Sometimes the picture that develops is heart-warming… encouraging. Sometimes it’s convicting.

Sometimes it feels profound, but often, like today, it’s just a series of small reminders as I reflect on the power of the ocean before me.

The Lord whispers, “You can let the waves wreck you or refine you.”

Lord, how powerful is your love!

The waves of Your grace relentlessly pour over me like the tide coming in.

Help me not to resist the waters of Your correction that smooth my rough edges like polished sea glass on the shore.

Your faithfulness teaches me I can remain safe in storms.

Do you not realize who I am? Do you not fear Me? Do you not shake in the presence of the Eternal, the Creator of all things? 

It is I who has drawn for all time the boundaries of the sea.

The waves may crash and roar against the sand, But the waters do not cross the lines I have drawn. Jeremiah 5:22 (Voice)

“God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake, Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.” Psalm 46:1-3

When we are mature – attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ – “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14 (NIV)

What are you learning about yourself and God today?

 

Knowing Ourselves and Knowing When to Say Yes

When I was in high school and college I worked as a waitress most summers at country clubs. It took me awhile to get the hang of everything I needed to balance both physically (as in plates) and mentally (as in orders). One time early in my “career” I remember a bin of dirty dishes slipping out of my hands and crashing to the floor. In the silence that followed, every eye turned to see who had  messed up.

That would be me, blushing bright red and wanting to crawl into a hole.

This is a little how I’ve felt recently. I LOVE variety and doing ALL OF THE THINGS!

I want to talk to ALL OF THE PEOPLE AND GO ALL OF THE PLACES AND NOT MISS ANYTHING! (For those of you familiar with the Enneagram, I’m a 7…ahem. Yeah… “No” is not a familiar word in my vocabulary.)

I like being the Queen of Multitasking, but that’s not always a good thing. It may mean that I prioritize activity over substance, or I choose the easy wins over investing in hard work for the long haul.

Some of you have been kind to check in with me as I haven’t posted in awhile…wanting to make sure I haven’t died under a pile of crashed dishes. No, I’m fine and I want to give you a little update.

I’ve been thinking about Jesus. He was busy, but not rushed. He did a lot, but was always present to those around Him. He knew His job.

I’ve been considering the many good things Jesus had to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to the best.  Looking at the “I did not come to’s…” and the “I came to’s…”

Jesus didn’t heal everyone. He didn’t talk to everyone. He didn’t go everywhere.

It’s important to know ourselves – our temptations, our calling, our season of life – in order to know what to say yes and no to.

I recognize the tendency in myself to shy away from the hard, long haul work that feels risky and sometimes monotonous. I’ve got some projects that I’m working on that require some extra time so I’ve given myself permission to back off posting consistently on the blog for a bit.

In addition to focusing more on preparing for speaking opportunities, friends and I have been working on a devotional with a twist that I’m super excited to make available to you soon!

Also, the hardest, scariest thing I’m working on is a manuscript (it’s taken me a long time to be able to actually have the courage to call it that!) I’m not ready to say more, but if you are a pray-er I’d appreciate prayers for the right words!

All that said, I may be a little hit or miss on posting regularly. I also want to give Facebook Live a shot. I’ll let you know when that is coming.

What about you? What are you most tempted to say “yes” to that isn’t important or bearing fruit? What’s one thing you need to say “no” to this week?

If you struggle with wanting to do ALL OF THE THINGS like I do, you might take a look at this book, Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.

Some posts on this blog contain Amazon affiliate links – I receive a (very) small commission on any purchases but I’m not paid to recommend any particular item and I’d never link to something I don’t own and/or feel strongly about.

A Selfie Gospel?

Living an authentic Christian life is just hard, isn’t it?

In a world of curated shiny “selfies” we want to be honest about our own mess and love others well in the midst of theirs. We don’t want to be the fakey judgey plastic Christians, banging others over the head with our Bibles, ignoring our own sin.

In the past few years I think there have been some brave, articulate Christians who have modeled vulnerability and authenticity well. It’s been a much-needed corrective to a Christian culture that just wants to show happy-clappy to the world and use the sword of Truth as a weapon of mass destruction.

These truth-tellers have been detailed and explicit about their mess, and God’s love, but sometimes I feel we’re in danger overcompensating – of making an idol out of authenticity and stopping short of truly grieving it as sin.

It seems like it has become more noble to talk about our sin than actually repent of it.

A pastor stands up or a writer writes “real” –  confessing motives, actions, thoughts, words – a heart that is darker than we’d guess.

We’re like, “Wow! That is so great! He is sooooo AUTHENTIC!!

We applaud their courageous honesty and breathe a sigh of relief. “Phew! I’m not the only one”, we think.

When we feel safe to show our rough edges, our failures, our missteps; we may celebrate grace. Yay! There’s NOTHING we can do to be holy, or good enough. I’m ok, you’re ok.

But have we translated Jesus’ acceptance of us right where we are, into an endorsement of whatever feels good to our culture? Has his patience in our minds morphed into tolerance of everything?

Does it mean we ignore God’s grief over our sin, or the price that He paid to rescue us, or the dreams that He has for our growth in character that is like Him?

Has “authentic” become code for celebrating sin under the guise of “Jesus is Love so it’s all good”?

Has love become all comfort and no cost?

Do we think someone loves us only if they endorse our behavior?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking… We get into trouble when we omit God from any Gospel equation.

You may say, “Well, duh!” but think about how inclined we are to do this.

Truth – Grace = Gospel – God  (pharisaical)

Grace – Truth = Gospel – God  (self-centered)

Both omit God from the equation.

 Do you take the kindness of God for granted? Do you see His patience and tolerance as signs that He is a pushover when it comes to sin? How could you not know that His kindness is guiding our hearts to turn away from distractions and habitual sin to walk a new path? Romans 2:4 The Voice

Clearly I’m not the only one thinking about this.

And…

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The church is where we as the broken and beloved come to receive grace and forgiveness, to place ourselves in God’s hands for His refining and redemptive work. This is not easy stuff! I’m thankful for grace AND truth… grateful that we’re on the way together.

 

3 Questions For Tense Days in America

It’s been an unsettling couple weeks, hasn’t it? Kind of like someone shook up our snow globe of life and we’re trying to figure out where things are going to settle.

Sunday morning husband John and I arrived home from a trip in time to overlap briefly with our daughter and son-in-law who were in town for a wedding. We went to brunch before taking them back to the airport, talking non-stop, trying to squeeze 24 hours into our 5 hours together.

We talked a lot about the sad state of our country and the mandate we feel to do what we can to stand up for those who are being persecuted, but the tone of our conversation left me a bit troubled. Our talk was marked more by righteous indignation, anger and judgment than anything else. We shared outrageous tweets and news stories we had seen.

Later, I was reading in Acts 6 where the disciples are choosing men for special work. They look for “people whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense…”

One they choose is Stephen who is described as “full of faith and the Holy Spirit…”

Later, in verse 8 it says, “Stephen, brimming with God’s grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them.”

So, here’s the uncomfortable part. Would anyone listening to our conversation Sunday have identified me as “full of the Holy Spirit”? “Brimming with God’s grace and energy”? Not so much.

I’d be golden if a fruit of the Spirit was anger or frustration or criticism!

Yes, we need to speak truth. We need to rail against injustice. But bringing the kingdom of God will not happen if we are sucked into a vortex of CNN and Twitter madness that just fuels our anger.

To make a difference we need to be different.

We need to use different language, words marked by the grace and wisdom of Jesus.

We need to have a different spirit –  the Spirit of Jesus.

If we are to be the non-anxious presence, we need to be rooted and grounded first in Jesus.

So, 3 questions I’ve been asking myself:

  1. Am I taking time to be still, to breathe deep, to pray up, to fill up with the words of Jesus? Or am I turning first to news outlets?
  2. If someone overheard my conversation today would they note anything of Jesus in it? Anything different from the world? Am I listening with respect to the other?
  3. What does love require of me? 

“Wage peace.

Conspire justice.

Plot goodness.

Devise forgiveness.

Scheme mercy

Incite reconciliation.

Foment inclusion.

Practice resurrection.” Nathan Hamm

 

3 Questions I’m Asking About Spiritual Disciplines

When Katy was about 5 years old she did something I thought deserved a “time out” so I told her to sit on the stairs. A few minutes later, I walked by and heard her mumbling something.

“What are you saying Katy?”

Scowling and with the most disgusted, put-upon tone she could muster she said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, later on however it produces a harvest of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it!”*

So if “discipline” is unpleasant,  “spiritual disciplines” will be something I hate…a necessary burden to make me more like Jesus, right?  But then I read Matthew 11:28-30:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

And then there’s Matthew 15:8-9 where Jesus says:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

A spiritual practice is not an end in itself – not something we do to get spiritual brownie points, but rather, training we choose, like training for a marathon, that bit by bit, stretches our spiritual muscles, draws us closer to God, and transforms us into people who are more like Him.

In Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook,** she writes, “The simple truth is that wanting to keep company with Jesus has a staying power that ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ seldom have.”

So, three questions I’m asking myself:

  1. Where is my desire and longing? Where am I least like Jesus, but long to be?
  2. How do I want or need to be with God? (For example, I am an extrovert, so the discipline of silence and solitude has been stretching, but so fruitful)
  3. What spiritual practices might the Holy Spirit be inviting me to step into? As I do, they may be hard, but do they foster love and intimacy with the Lord, or resentment? Is this something I am doing with Jesus, or something that is ill-fitting and legalistic?

The post on fasting seems to have hit a nerve!  Some of you identified with my struggle, and some of you thanked me for being authentic, but you guys are way too shy about sharing your wisdom, insights and encouragement that could benefit everyone!  So many of you respond directly to me instead of posting in the comments. I thought you’d like to see some valuable thoughts that folks sent me or posted on FB:

I trained like you would for a marathon. I started out fasting from sugar . . . the next time I added bread . . . meat . . . vegetables . . . fruits . . . juice . . . until I could just drink water. One day a week. These days I am working on fasting from all electronic devices one day a week!

My husband and I have been regularly fasting over many years. It is challenging yes, but the benefits so outweigh the discomfort, that we actually enjoy it, especially the 21 day fast Daniel fast we do at the beginning of the year. The awareness of God, how He strengthens and enables us to go through is amazing.  Starting can be difficult but when it becomes a part of your life, it’s much easier. Drawing closer to God in this way is worth it.
Fasting? You have come to the right person!
When I became Orthodox I knew right away this was not something I was going to like. We fast on Wednesdays and Fridays — Wednesdays because it was the day Christ was betrayed and Friday because that was the day Christ was crucified. It is all done to remember our Lord . These are not strict fasts– only no meat or dairy but that is bad enough for a little fat person who loves her ice cream, yogurt, cheese and COOKIES. However I’ve discovered that Oreos are legal!
 
Seriously, I have grown to look forward to the discipline especially of the 40 day fasts of Nativity and Lent. Still only no meat or dairy for those. The process has drawn me closer to my Lord and His sacrifice. Easy? No but so worthwhile and beneficial to my spiritual growth. Forgive me for sounding”preachy” but the whole experience has has been an eye- opener for me and among other things has taught me that I am never too old to learn new helps in my spiritual life.
 
Disclaimers also come with these fasts– do not make anyone else uncomfortable by fasting ( as if invited out or there is no other food available)  Thinking of someone else always comes first.
 *Hebrews 12:11 which we had memorized as a family.
** Highly recommend this book! In it there is a chapter on fasting.
Some posts on this blog contain Amazon affiliate links – I receive a tiny commission on any purchases you make from links, but I’m not paid to recommend any particular item. I’d never include a link to anything I didn’t own or feel great about endorsing.

The Perfect Monday Gift

It’s Monday morning, less than 2 weeks before Christmas. If you’ve even taken the time to open this post, you are probably skimming it just to see if there is any nugget to help you get through a day of deadlines, carpool lines, headlines, and metro lines.

You may be preoccupied with the gifts you need to still need to buy. But what about the gifts that you need today?

As I reflect on the people of the Bible, so often it seems they didn’t get what they asked for, but they always got what they needed. It wasn’t usually comfortable, or predictable, but it was always good.

The Jews expected a military leader but they got a Savior who offered the gift of a forgiven eternal life with God.

The Magi were used to getting honor and awe, but received a humbling before the true King.

The shepherds were expecting a quiet night of sheep-keeping, but received an adventure and introduction of epic proportions.

Mary and Joseph didn’t expect to have to flee Herod as refugees after Jesus was born, but the Magi brought gifts that financed this detour.

You may not find the present you’re looking for, but you will have God’s presence. You may receive a deeper sense of your identity as a beloved child of His. You may grow in patience and peace.

His gifts may be beauty, or the delight of a child’s face, or an unexpected act of kindness.

Today, this ordinary Monday, may God give you the gifts you need in the exact moments you need them.

“The One that God sent speaks God’s words. And don’t think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away—a lavish distribution of gifts.” John 3:34

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Worst. Parents. Ever.

Do you ever feel this way? Like you must be the worst parents ever?

Do you feel like you’re perpetually living a Plan B Christmas? Like NOTHING is going right?

Amazon was out of the Syma S107 Remote Control Helicopter so your child will probably have to be in therapy because they will be warped – devastated by disappointment, and labeled with a huge L.

You ran out of time, so instead of homemade cookies for the Christmas pageant reception you ran through Target to scoop up some store-bought ones, which actually took you an hour and 17 minutes (almost as long as it would have taken you to bake them).

Decorating the Christmas tree was supposed to be a fun family activity, but your 4-year-old swooped around the tree in his superman costume and knocked off two of the heirloom ornaments from your mother, breaking them into tiny pieces which the dog immediately ate. You’re still cleaning up glittery dog vomit.

You’re not alone.

Have you ever thought that maybe Mary and Joseph felt like the worst parents ever?

Trying to adapt to a Plan B life, they’ve absorbed the loss of a traditional wedding and “It’s a Wonderful Life” family.

Now they’ve had 9 months to adjust to the news that Mary is growing, you know… GOD in her womb, and like any expectant parents they’re probably nervous but preparing to do their best.

Maybe Joseph has made a cradle. Maybe Mary’s mom is ready to come and help out when the baby arrives. They probably have a PLAN for Pete’s sake!

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I’m guessing that walking 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the census was not part of their plan.

What do you think they felt as they traveled? Did their fear of the unknown come out sideways in anger or impatience with each other? Did their out-of-controlness in the big things cause them to be controlling with each other in the little things?

Maybe Mary figured that since she was carrying royalty, God would alert others in Bethlehem and someone would put her up in a beautiful home. Nope. Didn’t happen.

Did they hope that at least Plan B would include a modest room and a little privacy?  No luck there either.

In the stable – stinky, dirty, crowded, what were they thinking? Were they feeling like the worst parents ever?

We can’t know the anguished labor pains that may have come from Mary, or the desperate pleas that Joseph may have given for help because they aren’t recorded.

Did they felt confidently carried in the will of God, or did they felt panicky, like when company shows up early and you’re not ready?

What we do know is this. They did what they could. They accepted the unexpected with commitment and creativity. And that’s all we can do as parents.

“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray–with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.” – Anne Lamott

God is with you. In the dirty stable, or the bathroom or when you think you’re going to lose it with your mother-in-law.

You aren’t the worst parent ever. But you’re not the best parent ever either, because He is.

 

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