Keeping the party alive

Three straw milkshake – now there’s a party! 🙂

Day 4 – Keeping the party alive

A well known fact in our congregation is that my husband and I love to dance. I remember one of the first weddings my husband did. It was hot, middle of July-no-air-conditioning-in-the-church-hot. We all would have been happy with bologna sandwiches at the reception, because of the cool sweet blowing air coming from magical vents in the ceiling. I think everyone attributed our dance moves to sweet air-conditioned rejoicing, but we shut the dance floor down. At the next wedding reception, people started to comment.
“Enjoying yourselves?!”
“Look at you go! So much fun!”
And my personal favorite…
“Wow! You guys can really ‘cut a rug’!”

Dave and I are naturally less inhibited in one another’s company. Something about having someone that loves you so wholeheartedly brings out the party simmering on the inside. But give us a dance floor and we crank it to a whole nother level.

Now, do not be mistaken. We have no real moves. I mean we barely have pretend moves. We have a tiny bit of rhythm. And in college we took a 6 session class on ballroom dancing, but we are in no way even worthy of watching “So You Think You Can Dance.”

What we do have is a lot of joy. And it’s not just average run of the mill joy, it’s Jesus in the midst of His people joy. I think one of the reasons wedding receptions are so exciting for us, is that we are elated to be allowed into these people’s lives. It is sheer blessing to not only witness new love, but to be a part of building it up for the months before the wedding, and to look forward to the years to come of new homes and tiny babies and joy and heartache and just to be a part of it and experience it together. What a life we have!

Psalm 149 is chock full of this kind of Joy…
    “Praise the Lord!
    Sing to the Lord a new song,
        his praise in the assembly of the godly!
    Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
        let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
    Let them praise his name with dancing,
        making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
    For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
        he adorns the humble with salvation.
    Let the godly exult in glory;
        let them sing for joy on their beds.
    Let the high praises of God be in their throats
        and two-edged swords in their hands,
    to execute vengeance on the nations
        and punishments on the peoples,
    to bind their kings with chains
        and their nobles with fetters of iron,
    to execute on them the judgment written!
        This is honor for all his godly ones.
    Praise the Lord!”

Isnt’ He just so worthy?

Matthew Henry tells us in his commentary his “guess” that this psalm of praise was “penned upon occasion of some victory.” I love that. Some victory. Life is full of random little victories, pieced together, and we are blest as believers to be the ones who can look victory in the face and say “That’s Jesus. Right there. That’s Jesus.”

Weddings, babies, graduations, new ideas, a meal well served, time spent in refreshing conversation that builds up, words tamped down and spoken carefully instead of with unconstrained rage, getting to church on time with 4 small people in tow. Some victory.

There are so many things in life worth dancing and praising about. David danced before the Lord (2 Samuel 6). Miriam and the women dance before Him after crossing through the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Israel mourning is promised to turned to dancing (Jeremiah 31).

All of these dances, completely and utterly communal. I love to dance it up in my house while I’m dusting as much as the next girl, but there is nothing like sharing the joy, sharing the victories of life, with the Body.

What victories have lead you to dance in joy? Who have you gotten to share them with? What victories this day, or this week, can you celebrate before the Lord in praise?

I’ll leave you with my favorite dance party classic. We have friends that we have cried and laughed with, made life decisions with at 3am on our kitchen floor. These friends have held our babies as they’re baptized and while they threw up in a toilet one Christmas Eve. This song is so much a part of the fabric of our friendship that we still use the phrase “keepin’ the party alive” for any time we plan to get together. These relationships- sheer victory in the Lord. What would life be like without those around us to celebrate the victories, and hold us in our sorrows? They are Christ to us, walking around, offering a hand to hold, and dancing the night away in Praise.

Discussion questions:
What things in life just make you want to dance?
What victories, big or small, are you able to sit back and praise Jesus for?
Who has shared in these victories with you?

A burden that builds

Day 4 – A burden that builds

One thing I remember clearly about living in Haiti was the sound of construction. So much constructing! It was a wonderful thing. Daily we would walk in the village around our guesthouse and greet a myriad of neighbors and workmen laboring away on a home. 

The sounds of construction are more than the sounds of hard work. They are the sounds of a life being built. A family being born. Of hope and of good health and the stewarding of God’s resources. Constructing means action and planning and progressing to something else, another season, another chapter of life.
When you look at building in the Old Testament, you will find many passages about building altars, homes, or a city. It is beautiful that all these primary structures still focus on connection and community among people. Through time, God has sustained his people as a people….together, connected, needing and blessing one another, through community.
Perhaps, one of the best examples of this is found in the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah had a dream. A God sized dream. 
Well, actually, first, Nehemiah had a burden. 
A God-sized burden.
Nehemiah 1:3-4 –
“And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” 

Nehemiah’s heart broke for those experiencing shame. His heart broke for the people and the city and the weight of sin that brought the present situation. Nehemiah’s burden did not go unnoticed. God opened a door through King Artaxerxes. He received supplies and people and headed out on a mission. A mission to build.
Smooth, you say? Not so smooth. Building up, although prompted and blessed by God, is not without its challenges, Nehemiah found out.
Read Nehemiah 4:1-6 –
“Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.
So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.”

A giant paragraph of bullies…but a prayer before God and a mind to do the work was a game changer the bullies never expected. Nehemiah and the people built anyway. They built with eyes fixed on a God, who is the very foundation of anything we even dream of building up.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 tells us that we fix our eyes on what is unseen, but is anything but temporary. We’ll look at the NIV for its clear word picture –

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Nehemiah and the people built one another up by fixing their eyes, not around them, but above them. Nehemiah and his compadres went through a life changing move, jeers and mocking, a tender heart put to the test, and actual life danger.
But in the end, all that mattered was God’s faithfulness lived out, in hands ready to put hammer to nails and hearts to prayer.
Nehemiah 7:66, tells us that Nehemiah’s project built up over 40,000 people in the Lord. I’m not sure Nehemiah had that great a number in mind. He was just a guy with a burden. 

A God-sized burden.
Because of God’s work lived out in Nehemiah and the people, the Feast of Booths was created and celebrated, the Law was read to these 40,000 people in a way that they understood it (read Nehemiah chapter 8, totally worth the time!), and eventually the temple was rebuilt, God’s presence with His people once again.
What is your God-sized burden? It need not be a city wall to be built. Maybe you desire for your precious child to follow Christ with their whole heart, or your husband to be filled with renewed joy in his work, or people to gather in your home for Bible study, or nursing home residents to be given a tiny gift of comfort. 
Ephesians 4:15-16 tells us that building is the work we are given in the Body of Christ –
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Go and build, dear one. This is God’s work in and through you. This is the church on earth at work, together. Driven by one God-sized gift…Love.
Nehemiah loved God and His people. He allowed His heart to be weighed down and stretched out, so that God’s ideas and God’s love could fill it up.  Building a home, building a family, building up the church. May He bless your God-sized burden for Him today and always.

Discussion questions:
What burden have you carried or are you currently carrying for His work?
What challenges do you face in carrying out this work?
What do you pray when you come before God about this burden?

We’re in this together…

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
                                                                                 Ecclesiastes 4:9
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly…
                                                                                 1 Peter 4:8

Yesterday, Jonah had a crudey hockey game. He didn’t play horrible, but he got trampled and scored on 10 times. In goalie land, that stinks. And it feels stinky. I walked into the locker room after the game to find my son with his head hung down, still sitting with all his pads on. He looked tired and defeated. 

I tried to encourage him, build him up. He’s still relatively new at this hockey thing. He played hard and stopped a million shots. He’ll get ’em next time. All my words and encouragement were good and maybe even helpful, but only made so much of a difference. He still sat slumped over and dejected.

And then…light. A puck landed square in Jonah’s lap. I looked up to see a skinny little hockey teammate. He slapped Jonah on the shoulder and said, “Good job, Jonah. We’re lucky to have you, man. I’ve been there. It’s hard.”

He went back to have a seat. Jonah turned the puck over. Written on the puck was the word “WOW” in boy handwriting. Jonah looked up at me and said, “Where are we eating dinner? I’m hungry.” And I knew he would be just fine.

Someone – nay, a teammate, a comrade – lifted him up. He said in a thousand different ways, “We’re in this together.” 
What a difference together makes.

There are dark and difficult times in life. There are also just moderately junky days, embarrassing moments, and times we feel let down or like we let everyone around us down. What makes the difference?

God created the church for a purpose. He’s a God of relationship. When those around us rally and take a moment to recognize that we aren’t an island, we aren’t a ship tossed alone at sea, but we are a body, built and knit together in Him, this is how we reach around us. Who are the ones that need to hear “I’ve been there. It hurts. But you’re not in this alone.”? Who is waiting to have the puck land in their lap and to be lifted up by the acceptance and warmth of the team?

Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s your pastor, maybe it’s one of the youth, maybe it’s your grouchy neighbor. There is One who has walked the dusty road, who knows what it’s like. Who embraces us because He loves that which is broken, not just to fix it, but because it is broken and he sees Together in broken.

Either way, sister, brother, you are not alone. 
We are in this together. 

Jonah carried that puck around with him all day today. I think he learned this life lesson long before I ever did. He can move forward. He’s ready to be all in, because he’s not in it alone.

Index card notes and never ending Love

Romans 8:39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What a beautiful way to end a series of devotions.  No mountain you have to climb, or valley deep and dark can separate you from Christ. Nothing in creation- no person, no place, no danger, no toil, no frustration, no job, no broken relationship – nothing can separate you from your Father, who loves you.
In the marriage relationship, love waxes and wanes. It changes and grows, certainly, but you will have seasons when love is vibrant and seasons where love is dull and even seemingly lifeless. Because of the one-flesh relationship being the most intimate one we will ever experience on Earth, we often relate God’s love to our experience within the marriage relationship. This happens without even thinking about it. In the times we feel unloved and devalued by our spouse, we wonder if there is a God who finds us valuable, who loves us no matter what. We can learn two things from this.
First, this verse speaks truth into our lives. God does love us, come what may. He always has and He always will. Nothing in creation, nothing around us or in us, or happening to us, can change His love for us. We cling tightly to these verses as Christians for a reason – our basic need to be loved, to be known and loved in spite of all of it.
Second, what can we do in our lives to help our spouse know the truth of this verse? What are we doing daily to grow in love together, so that God can speak to them through us? This may be one of the primary means that God uses to speak His love in to the lives of those around us. If our marriages were unbelievably strong, others may take notice of a God whose love is so deep, so wide and unfathomable, that divorce rates and life challenges and petty arguments have no hold on our marriages. It would be obvious that He is clearly the one at work. This model may be more valuable to the life of the church than anything else we ever do.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thank you, Lord, for your inseparable Love. Thank you, Lord, for being perfect in our imperfect marriages. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

I’m a big fan of index cards. I buy them in bulk. One thing I do in our house is leave “index card notes” for everyone. On one side I write a Bible verse that I want to share with them and on the other side I write a small note. Sometimes it’s just encouragement, sometimes it’s to apologize for something, sometimes it’s a thumbs up for something specific.
It’s easy and not something I have to do every day, but just as the Spirit guides.
What ways do you share God’s love funneling from you to your spouse or those you love each day?
I’d love to hear them!

Scattering gifts…

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

                                                     1 Corinthians 12:14

One day during Holy Week, my children and I sat around the school table, talking about plant classification (exciting stuff!). Someone was probably lamenting the heavy burden placed on them by Mom, the homeschooling tyrant. Someone else was probably demanding a snack. 
My husband innocently pops his head in the door and sweetly says to me, “Hey, were you planning on singing for Easter? I’m just getting the bulletin organized.” I glanced up from my work, and I’m not sure the look on my face, but I know the turmoil inside –
      One more thing, Lord. Really. 
      How am I going to manage?
      Where is the time going to come from?
      Maybe I can practice while the noodles cook….
      No, I need to return that phone call.   
      How about during quiet reading time?
      I need to get Bible study ready for tomorrow. 
And so on and so on. We all have the internal dialogue. Mine tends to range from organized files to harried and discombobulated. 
My husband looked into my face and gently imparted timeless wisdom for every pastor’s wife –
            “You don’t have to use all your gifts at one time.”   
Good call, dear. I’m going to sit this song out. I’m going to praise the Lord on Easter morn from the pew. 
I so often want to seize every opportunity, meet every need, heal every hurting heart, but not only is that God’s job, I was placed in a body to serve together. A wise person once said, “A need does not constitute a calling.” Sometimes it all seems so overwhelming, so many hurting people, little things to be done here and there and everywhere. God knows. He has a plan. Even this is in His hands. Sometimes His plan for me is to say, “Thanks, but not this time.”
God gave each of us many gifts to use for His glory. I’m sure you have so many ways and places to use them. He is so creative with each of us! Rest in this, sister…
      Use them, bless with them, but remember –
      You don’t have to use them all at one time. 🙂