Looking to Advent

I have a special kind of love for a room lit by only twinkling Christmas lights.

The ambiance created by those lights just weeps with hope. Many of us connect it to fond family memories, a moment of peace and tranquility, and an eager anticipation for what’s to come.

That really sums up the whole season of Advent – eager expectation, hope, a little extra peace in this trouble-filled world.

This year we’d like to help you feed on that peace and hope that is only found in the One who came for each of us, to take a tiny moment each day to be satisfied with all that He is.

Above All Names includes very short devotions for each day for individual use, as a family, or use for your group or church. The entire series can be used electronically or can be printed.

  • Read the devotion on the blog or get it in your email inbox by subscribing to I Love My Shepherd. The subscription field is on the right side of the screen on desktop and near the bottom of the scrolling home screen on mobile.
  • Share each image, or just your favorites, on social media to add Hope to everyone’s newsfeed this Advent.
  • Print the Above All Names images and use as tree ornaments, a simple bunting to hang, reminders around the house or work or anywhere else, as notes to a friend, a Christmas card insert, etc.
  • Use the Above All Names Scripture Reading and/or Writing Plan if you’d like a little bit more to add to your Advent reflection time.

Here’s some ideas for using and sharing:

Here’s all the links you need:

Above All Names Advent Devotion PDF
Above All Names Printable Images
Above All Names Advent Reading and Writing Plan

Remember, all the devos can be found right here on ilovemyshepherd.com and graftedheart.com each day of Advent!

Fighting against shallow grace: Forgiving well

This past weekend, my husband and I had a three day argument about who was more right.

Worse yet- It’s the same argument on repeat:

“You don’t listen attentively.”

“You don’t talk very nicely.”

We sometimes become magically more mature and remember our “I-statements”:

“I feel unheard when you don’t listen attentively.”

“I feel hurt when you don’t talk nicely.”

After a few days of this argument, sometimes after a few minutes of this argument, we get tired of it, and we move to something that looks like forgiving each other.

“I’m sorry, I know I don’t always talk nice.”

“I’m sorry, I know I don’t always listen.”

We don’t want to hurt each other. I understand that there are marriages and other family relationships that do go for the jugular with each argumentative blow, but that isn’t the dynamic at work between my husband and I, or most relationships each of you have either.

Many arguments end with “I’m sorry.” at the very least and “It’s ok.” or even better, “You’re forgiven.” Save the few extremely loud individuals who love political drama, most of us aren’t trying to duke it out with words to win some trophy, but something eludes us here. There’s a missing piece. We are settling for shallow grace and arguments on repeat.

Lately, I think at our house we’ve managed to get closer to the heart of it, and this stubborn problem…I know it’s mine.

In Pastor Andrew Richard’s book, Christ and the Church, a  thirty-day devotion concerning marriage, he includes a really helpful day on reconciliation. It unmasked my tendency to seek shallow grace…for myself, for my husband, and in other relationships.

Pastor Richard, proposes five simple words to begin reconciliation:

I am the worse sinner.

Where I wanted shallow grace, a quick “I’m sorry” from my husband to keep me happy, preferably without having to say it myself, Rev. Richard cuts to the chase: I am the worse sinner. This is the door to real grace – recognizing my utter inability to talk nicely to my husband. I have a fault and he gets the brunt of it. Who cares if he doesn’t listen sometimes! I’m loosing out on grace by pointing out his issues in order to avoid fully looking at mine.

I have sinned.

That’s where grace starts.

I know this can all circle around and you may be dying to say, “But wait, if you never talk about what bothers you, how will you solve any marriage struggles?!”

Good point! But that is for discussion time, not confession time. Arguments demand confession. Discussion is for another time. In the heat of the moment, we most often need confession.

Arguments, disagreements, harsh words give me the chance to take the log-shaped trinket out of my left eye and let Gospel grace in.

It’s so hard, so against my nature. That tells me it’s more Jesus than it is me, and that’s a good thing.

Christ has forgiven me. I have been awful. I have wandered. I have been selfish. I have been rageful. I have been lazy. He actively forgives me anyway. There is no shallow, “I’m sorry” “No problem” in my relationship with Him. There is

“Chief of sinners, though I be.”

“I shed my blood for thee.”

The Word cuts to my heart and because I see my need for grace, I see my need for Him.

My husband mirrors this for me in my daily life. He mirrors all my deepest issues. Other familial relationships, even very close friendships, may do a little of this mirroring too, because of their intimacy. My husband gets the best of me, but he also gets the worst of me. These intimate relationships that lay bare our messy souls remind us that Grace is bigger than my mess.

I am the worse sinner.

Those words stick a little in my throat coming out. I’m learning slowly that it’s better this way. It’s better being healed, than being right.


Christ and the Church is available for purchase here, or get a free downloadable copy here.

Another great resource on the topic of forgiveness, particularly when forgiveness feels like an overwhelming task, is Donna Pyle’s, Forgiveness.

 

 

Refusing to be halfway in

How many times have you invited someone and never received an invitation back?

It hurts.

This isn’t new to our generation. Maybe connecting with people is complicated by the presence of social media and a disconnection in neighborhoods, but reaching out and not receiving meaningful relationship in return is not new.

Paul addresses this universal human concern directly in Galatians 4:15-20:

 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Paul has theological concerns that are the purpose of his letter to the Galatians. He wants them to be spiritually free, not burdened by this yoke of circumcision and Levitical law that the Judaizers were trying to deceive them with. But he knew that spiritual freedom didn’t exist in a box. Spiritual freedom impacts every freedom in the Galatians’ lives, and in ours as well.

Paul’s message was that he wanted, and expected, real, genuine, honest, and reciprocal relationship with the Galatians. Is that too much to ask?

To some extent, yes, and Paul knows it. Our relationships will not be perfect. We are all sinful people. Paul speaks about this in his own letter to the Roman church, in Romans 3:9-12:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

We are all in this relational reality boat together. I mess up, you mess up. We offer confession and forgiveness and the planet turns and turns.

However, Paul also points out that there is a difference between sin present in our relationships and trading in people we love to impress other people. I can’t deal with masks. I can’t deal with fake, and very many of us cannot deal with that kind of rejection.

Paul, a very real person, had every right to be heartbroken, angry, sad, and bent out of shape about this kind of behavior in a relationship, particularly in the church.

Paul’s message to the Galatians and to us is:

We are all in.

All in.

Paul didn’t shut off his love for them – he wrote and labored for them. He references the pain of his heart and mind, the cost of being tossed aside by his fellow brothers in Galatians 4:19:

…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

This is serious labor, the work of relationship.

Just as children are born and grow over time, so does relationship and Paul is going the distance, not giving of himself half-heartedly. Loving when it’s hard. Caring when it feels like too much work, when it physically hurts.

He also calls some BS. Honesty in relationship, spoken in love and with the foundation of real relationship, breaks open the doors for Christ to shape and grow us. Paul, wraps his challenging statements in love for the Galatians.

 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (Galatians 4:20)

“I wish I could speak gently to you. I wish this conversation wasn’t so necessary or so painful…” (Heidi’s paraphrase)

However, he calls it like it is. He expects the Galatians to be all in, as well; Nothing less.

Some people include so that the can exclude.

Whether on purpose or because they are unaware of life outside themselves, this is being halfway in a relationship. It’s not ok.

Paul says, All in or no in.

It gives me strength in relationship to know that I can call it like it is in love, have some level of Biblical expectation of people, while letting Christ form each of our imperfect selves. All wrapped up in the grace of a God who does not disappoint, who always includes.

God is completely and utterly all in.

Romans 8:31-32 is one of my favorite Bible passages about our All-in God:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

All things- exactly what we need for freedom in our relationships, exactly what we need for this day, for this difficult person, for being true and real and honest, when life is grand and when it’s tougher than we ever imagined.

Lord, you are an All-In God. Guide us in our steps, our days, and our relationships to love and set boundaries as You would have us, but to never give up hope that You are working, to give when it’s hard labor, and to love when we do not receive. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.


Discussion questions:

What are your relationship pet peeves? When are relationships hard for you? What happens in them to make them hard?

When has God called you to have stronger boundaries, while remaining “all in” in a relationship?

When has someone invited you further into their life in a way that spoke grace into your life?