Shockproof

“These will be perfect for us!” I said to Tim. With our very active, fairly disorganized lifestyle, ‘shockproof’ phones would surely suit us well. I had done my research and the Samsung Galaxy S5 was said to be one of the most rugged phones on the market – I even watched videos of it being dropped onto cement and run over by a car! So we signed the contract and each became the proud owner of a Galaxy S5 – the “Sport” (a.k.a. even more rugged) version.

But, alas, within a couple months, even with our extra-tough cases, we had both cracked our screens! We were, of course, *shocked* because this wasn’t supposed to happen. It was hard to accept the fact that even our best efforts couldn’t prevent the cracks from forming… and that we were now stuck with damaged screens for almost two more years!

In my early years of being a Christian I thought I was strong. The cracks I had from my childhood hardships and teenage mistakes were erased. Because of Jesus, I had overcome and was ready for any challenge that lay ahead of me. I was going to make a difference in this world, no matter how hard things got, because nothing could be too hard for Him! I genuinely believed I was shockproof.

But time after time I’ve found myself broken – shattered by circumstances and people – or most often, by my own sin. It turns out I’m much more fragile than I thought I was and just because I have the power of Jesus inside of me, that doesn’t make make me immune. Every time I think I’ve got it all together, another crack appears – and most of the time I don’t even know how it happened!

In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul encouraged the believers by reminding them of the incredible gift they had been given: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” As believers, a light has been powered on inside of us so that we can see the truth about Jesus and then help others see it, too.

Which sounds great… until you read the next verse:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (v. 7)

Clay jars, like glass phone screens, are fragile and easily broken. No matter how strong and powerful the light inside of us is, that doesn’t mean the container is unbreakable. Our human bodies, hearts, and minds are prone to cracks. Notice the “we” and “us” of this verse. Even Paul – the writer of a large portion of the Bible, a man who gave his entire life to growing the church and who did give his life in refusal to stop growing the church – even Paul knew he wasn’t shockproof.

When I think about this it frustrates me. Why would God do things this way? It doesn’t make sense! If you were going to choose a “vessel” for your “light,” why would you not search for the strongest thing you could find? Why would you purposely choose something weak?!

It reminds me of the scene in the gospels where Jesus walks up to Matthew, a despised tax collector – a man who betrayed his own people by working for the enemy and, in his selfishness, likely stole from them as well. Matthew was sitting at his tax collector’s booth – he was literally sitting in his sin – when Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Follow me”.(Matthew 9:9)

Every time I watch this scene in “The Bible” series (Episode 7, about 10 minutes in – check it out if you can!) it breaks me all over again. It just doesn’t make sense! Why would Jesus choose someone like that? Why would He choose someone like me? He knew from day one how fragile I would be and how many cracks I would take on and yet He still looks at me, in the middle of my darkest moments, and says, “I choose you“. WHAT?

It turns out, though, that this cracked-up life of mine is exactly what He’s looking for. Because my cracks remind me of where I came from and how much I don’t deserve anything that God has given me. They remind me of how He’s worked in my life by covering every single one of them with His grace, peace, and love. And when I look at them, I know without a doubt that I have no room to tell Jesus how He should do His work.

A few months ago, we were finally able to upgrade to new phones (yay!). But, honestly, I kind of miss the cracks. No matter how annoying they were, there was a certain camaraderie I felt with other people whose screens were also shattered. It was an easy conversation piece as we swapped stories on how it happened – and it was never offensive to ask the question because mine was obviously broken, too.

It’s frustrating to look at our lives and realize we’re Matthew. But that means we’re Matthew! Because “while Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.” (Matthew 9:10) Sometimes our brokenness, even when it’s a result of our own sin, has less to do with us and more to do with those who can relate to us and meet Jesus because of it.

We’re not shockproof, but maybe that’s a good thing. We don’t know why God would choose us, but maybe He knows something we don’t. Maybe the cracked ones are the best ones because they allow the light to shine though. And maybe all those fracture lines in our glass reflect the light of Jesus a little differently than we otherwise would.

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Glasses

20/20 vision is something I’ve always been proud to have. I’ve never questioned whether or not I was seeing something accurately and when other people were struggling to read a sign up ahead, I could always see it perfectly.

It wasn’t until I got married that I realized how much I took my clear vision for granted. It was so hard for me to understand that my husband needed his glasses on in order to see things! I remember trying them on and being shocked at how different our eyes saw the world.

In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul addressed some issues they were facing as a body of believers. One of those issues was confusion and debate about what ceremonies and traditions Christians should follow. Along with that debate came a whole lot of judgment, which Paul knew would only cause division and pain.

So, after presenting a clear explanation of the thing that brought them together in the first place – the gospel message of salvation through Christ alone – he reminded them to “let no one pass judgment on you” (2:16) or “disqualify you” (2:18) based on “things that are on earth” (3:2).

In the following verses, Paul points out that instead of focusing the how of church it’s the relationships within the church that need the attention! He tells them to put away the “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” (3:8) of the “old self” (3:9) and instead put on the “new self” (3:10). As recipients of completely undeserved peace with God, they could also “let the peace of Christ rule in [their] hearts” and live as “one body” (3:15).

Unfortunately, you and I both know this is easier said than done. The “earthly things” are all to easy to focus on, which means we disagree often and just can’t figure out how others could possibly see things so differently than us! It’s amazing how quick those “old self” ways rear their ugly heads, resulting in division and pain.

In verses 12-14, Paul lists those attributes of the “new self” we can actively “put on” in order to prevent this. Love, when chosen, (even in the midst of disagreement), “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:14). Because even though we’ll never be able to clearly see life through another person’s eyes, we can try to put on their glasses.

In any disagreement or difference of opinion, instead of throwing a blanket judgment on someone, we can choose kindness by asking questions and learning about that person’s life. We can choose humility by trying to see things through the lenses of their past experiences and preferences. And in that, we might even find it easier to have compassion and find forgiveness. “Bearing with one another” might not be so difficult if we took simple steps to see things from the other person’s perspective.

Recently, I again became aware of how much I took my perfect eyesight for granted when I ended up at the eye doctor myself. Over the past year or so I’ve noticed a decline in my ability to read road signs and things like digital clocks from across the room. I am almost 40, so I assumed this might be a normal – but my doctor informed me otherwise. It turns out I’ve developed a slight astigmatism and will need to start wearing glasses when I’m driving at night. Yikes!

But I remember the moment I put them on for the first time. I called Tim right away to tell him that the whole world had just gone HD! I had no idea that I wasn’t seeing clearly until I put those glasses on – and saw clearly.

When Jesus prayed for us in John 17, He didn’t pray “that they would do church this specific way” or even “that they would all agree on everything” but “that they may all be one” (17:21). Being one doesn’t mean we see everything the same way, but instead that we simply make the effort to step into each other’s shoes and look at things from another perspective. And you never know – putting on the “new self” glasses of “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” may just give you clarity you never saw coming!

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Rocky

Running is my escape. When I throw on my sneakers and set out, it’s just me and the path ahead. All I’m responsible for over the next half-hour (or so) is putting one foot in front of the other. It’s my introvert “me-time” and even though it’s a struggle to get out the door on these cold winter days – I love every minute of it!

Over the past year, I’ve gone back to my Vermont high school cross-country roots and started to do more trail running. I’m so over the suburban sidewalks and even the wonderful wide, paved paths we have so many of in our area. I want a narrow, rocky, root-covered trail winding through a forest I can get lost in.

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Trail running is so much less monotonous than pavement, track, or treadmill running because it demands that you to pay attention. The rocks, roots, and holes in the path force you to constantly evaluate the position of your body and the regular ups, downs, twists, and turns force you to think strategically about the placement of your foot with every single step – you can’t just coast.

Of course, trail running also brings with it a greater risk of injury, but for me the adventure is a worthwhile trade-off!

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When we choose to do life as a disciple of Christ, we’re choosing a path that is anything but easy. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” A narrow path presses in on you, is often filled with unexpected twists and turns, and forces you to think about every step.

There have been so many times recently where I’ve looked around at the world and thought about how much easier it would be to just be “normal” – to just be a mom or just work a job and go home to my family and not have to think about how my decisions are impacting the eternity of others. It’s not just because I’m in ministry – it’s that following Jesus every day is a rocky, narrow path.

Sometimes it’s the roots of my own sin or the hole I seemed to dig for myself by the choices I made that trip me up. Sometimes the rocks seem to come flying at me in the form of criticism or judgment. There are twists and turns of pain that I never saw coming and those uphills can be killer when I feel like I’m trying so hard but making such little progress. And there are times when things just get downright muddy!

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But when I really think about it, I wouldn’t trade this path for anything! The wide, paved road may look safer and easier, but the last thing I want to do is coast through this life.

It may be challenging, but the rocky, narrow path forces me to constantly pay attention to my position. No matter what obstacles lay ahead, I know that because of Christ I am a dearly loved child of God and the power of His Spirit resides within me. And every rock or root I stumble over gives me the opportunity to take a good, hard look at myself and see where I need to grow and change to be more like Him.

It also forces me to think strategically about the placement of every step – which means keeping my focus in the right place. The bumps in the road force me to keep my mind constantly open to how Holy Spirit is leading me in any and every situation. I can’t just coast – I can’t even look away for even for a second because I can’t guarantee what’s in front of me!

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This morning I ran the Mt. Joy trail (my current favorite) at Valley Forge Park. I was trying out a new app to keep track of my distance and about a mile into the trail, it had already announced to me three times how far I had gone and what my pace was (which I did not want to be reminded about since most of that mile had been uphill!)

I was getting increasingly frustrated, so I pulled out my phone to try to turn off the app. But as soon as I looked away from the trail – you guessed it – OUCH! I stepped on a rock and rolled my ankle. When I shifted my focus from what was in front of me over to the thing that was bothering me, I ended up in a whole lot of pain!

When you choose the rocky path the bumps are never a surprise. You can expect that on the narrow road of making your life all about loving God and loving others the way Jesus did, things are rarely going to be easy. So keep your focus on Him and whatever those next steps are that He’s leading you to take today!

If you want some help, just listen to this amazing song and get these words stuck in your head: (#proudyouthworkermoment)

“Guide my every thought
Guide my every step
Oh, let me walk in Your footprints
Teach my eyes to trust what I can’t see
Knowing that Your footprints are guiding me”

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Difference 

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My eyes scan across the table, back and forth, back and forth, looking for that piece. It’s green with some blue on one side and has a little bit of an odd-shaped ‘arm’. It’s out there somewhere and I’m gonna be the one to… Oh! There it is! Ugh, never mind.

I have a strange addiction to jigsaw puzzles. You can ask Tim – whenever we’re on vacation in North Carolina or visiting my Grandma’s house in Vermont, he has to physically drag me away from finding “Just one more!” I love all the designs, colors, and, of course, the feeling of accomplishment when you place that final piece!

Last summer, the puzzle on the table at Grandma’s house was a tough one. It had been started in February, but was so difficult that in July it was still less than halfway complete! I took this as a challenge and vowed I would get that last piece in before heading back to Pennsylvania.

The thing with this puzzle was that the pieces were all very similar in shape and the colors were nearly impossible to differentiate from one section to another. There were times where we sat for 15-20 minutes and and enjoyed only one tiny piece-fitting victory!

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Human relationships can be just as puzzling. Though similar in our basic structure, functions, senses, and abilities – there are drastic shades of difference in our experiences, cultures, personalities, and opinions. Even those of us who are born into the same families often find it hard to fit in together!

Our incredible uniqueness is God’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, instead of allowing His artwork to amaze us, we tend to let it frustrate us. In theory, we like that we’re not all the same, but in reality, not so much.

Part of the problem is that we love the completed puzzle. We love scanning through the crowds to find “our people” who match up and agree with us – and then securing them right to our side. We love it when all the pieces are present, easy to find, and fit together to make that perfect rectangle.

But rather than that completed picture, an incomplete array of various mismatched pieces is what we’re often faced with. In a world where we are allowed to have opinions and are given the freedom to express them, disagreements are inevitable. And not just the ones about where to get the best pizza in town or what Netflix show you should waste your time watching this weekend – the ones that reach to our depths of our values and convictions of our souls.

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When we do puzzles in our family, there are several reactions to the difficulty. Some of us try a few pieces unsuccessfully and then give up. Some of us try to jam the pieces into places they don’t fit because, “It looks like it goes there!” And some of us get angry and tear apart what everyone else has worked so hard to put together! (I won’t tell you who’s who!)

When our differences are revealed, the feelings are strong. We SO want everyone to agree with us and can’t imagine how they could possibly believe any different than we do! The patterns of our world give us some clear strategies for dealing with this difficulty: Give up and walk away from the relationship, argue and try to force the other person to change their mind, or get angry and find any and every way to tear them down.

In the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul sums up for the believers what God has done for them in Christ. He reminds them that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:23-24), that because of this great act of love, “we have peace with God” (5:1) and “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1), that God is “for us” (8:31) and that His Spirit “helps us in our weakness” (8:26).

Then, beginning in chapter 12, he shows the believers how their lives should be different now because of what God has done. In verse 2 he says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. The presence of Christ in our hearts and minds results in transformation – specifically, as Paul points out in the rest of the chapter, in how we treat people who are different from us.

Verses 3-8 deal with differences in our gifts. Because, “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function…We have different gifts” (v. 4-6) and should think of ourselves “with sober judgment” (v. 3). All of our varying passions, abilities, and interests are necessary to the health of the church!

But verses 9-21 extend to the bigger picture of all relationships – especially the difficult ones. Paul was convinced that it was possible to “Hate what is evil” and “cling to what is good” while still loving people sincerely (v. 9). He believed, and showed by his life, that a “transformed” mind could genuinely “Bless those who persecute you” rather than curse them (v. 14). And He concluded that because we trust in a God who “in all things…works for the good of those who love him” (8:28), there was never a need to “repay anyone evil for evil” (v. 17).

Our differences can be difficult, but as ‘renewed’ followers of Jesus, we have the ability to lead the charge of embracing differences the way He did. We can “honor one another” (v. 10) by engaging in mature conversation instead of following the world’s patterns of avoidance, gossip, and lashing out on social media. Even if we believe with our whole heart that someone is wrong, we can put aside our pride and “live in harmony” (v. 16) – agreeing to disagree and trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit in the other person’s (or our own) life.

As you may have guessed from the picture above, we did finally complete the puzzle – well, except for that missing piece, of course (Aaarghh!!) Putting those final pieces in was exhilarating and my Grandma was so happy to finally regain her table space!

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Our victory was sweet, but as long as human beings are human, putting together a perfect puzzle in our relationships is going to elude us. Because even when we do the right thing, that doesn’t guarantee us a happy ending. All God is asking, though, is that, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (v. 18) and then trust Him with the rest.

What does that look like for you today?

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Timing

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to think about one thing: Summer! It’s almost here, people – warm weather and outdoor adventure are right around the corner! Or at least we can dream about it, right?

Every July our family has the huge privilege of being able to spend several weeks in southern Vermont. We love being able to escape the Pennsylvania humidity and experience the beauty of those Green Mountains!

Last summer, my mom introduced us to a rope swing she had discovered on a creek near her town. Far from the old-piece-of-knotted-string-tied-to-a-questionably-stable-branch you may be picturing, this swing was the real deal – complete with a wooden handle and attached securely to the bridge above. The kids had a blast swinging off the rocks, letting go, and plunging into the water!

But no matter how much fun it was, it was also an accident waiting to happen. An adult needed to be in the water directly below the swing – not only to catch the handle and get it to the next kid – but also to stop any kids who didn’t let go from careening back into the rocks!

If you’ve ever been on a rope swing before, you know that timing is everything. There is a very small window at the peak of your upward swing where you must let go if you want that optimal high-flying-plunge experience. Letting go too early just leaves you with a lame slip into the water and holding on for too long can be outright dangerous!

Another thing we’re all thinking about at this time of year is change. There’s something about the start of a new year that gives us hope that things will be different – or at least that we’ll be different. We’re ready to grab that handle and step off the rock, hoping that this will be the year we take that perfect high-flying-plunge into life.

But timing is everything.

If you’re human like me, you have regular moments of crisis – moments where you’ve done something you regret or where the Holy Spirit has revealed to you a pattern of sin or selfishness in your life. Man, it hurts to feel like you’ve betrayed yourself and those “I want to be a better person” and “I don’t ever want that to happen again” thoughts can seem to overwhelm for hours – or even days.

But no matter how badly we want to change, if we don’t take a proactive and practical step toward change within those hours or days, the ‘crisis’ will fade and we will default right back to the way we were before.

In preparation for our high school small group study this January, I’ve been reading through the book of Mark. One of the unique features of this book is the sense of urgency portrayed in the text. The words “immediately” and “at once” are used over and over, emphasizing the movement of Jesus as He traveled, taught, healed, and led.

But it wasn’t just about His action. Mark 1:16-18 shows His followers acting with similar urgency:

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

The window of opportunity for this change in their lives was very small – there were no days or even hours to weigh the options, pray about it, or just hope for the best. A decision needed to be made right away and if they had held onto their nets for even a few moments longer, they would have missed out!

Anyone who’s been on a rope swing before will tell you that that hardest thing to do (if you’re even able to hold on in the first place 😉) is to get yourself to let go at that critical point. It always feels safer to hold on for just a little bit longer!

In order for change in our lives to be real and lasting, a proactive and practical step must be taken at that critical point. But like Simon and Andrew – taking that step can’t happen while we’re holding on to our nets. Our lives only have so much room, so adding that new habit or taking a step toward changing that pattern is always going to require letting go of something else.

For me, I’ve noticed several instances over the past month where instead of being “quick to listen and slow to speak” with my family, I did the exact opposite – most of the time because I was distracted by the device in my hand. So starting today, after school time is no-phone time because something’s gotta go!

As we jump into this new year, have you sensed the Holy Spirit leading you to make a change? What’s one practical step you could take today to make that change a reality? What’s one thing might you have to let go of in order to take that step?

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Ginger

Last week, inspired by a YouTube “How To” video, Anna and I decided to make some gingerbread cookies. Not that we haven’t had enough sugary treats lately, but it is that baking time of year and what could be more fun and traditional than some cute little gingerbread men?

After googling a recipe, we got out a bowl and started mixing ingredients: Oil, sugar, molasses, and milk. Then flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Finally, it was spice time: Nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and uh-oh! Did we really have no ginger? Did I really just mix together all of the ingredients for GINGERbread cookies without first checking to make sure I had GINGER?!

A thorough search of the spice cabinet confirmed my fear: No ginger. Which left us with two options: 1) Push pause, get bundled up, and go to the store or 2) Attempt to make gingerbread cookies with no ginger.

It was cold out there, though – really cold! So I chose comfort over perfection and continued on. They couldn’t be that bad, right?

And guess what? They were totally fine – great, actually! You never would have known they were missing anything.

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Traditions are important, especially during this time of year. Many of our fondest Christmas memories were established in those year-after-year events or rituals that brought our families together and inspired childhood wonder and awe. Most of what we look forward to during the holidays is rooted in tradition – whether it’s the lights, the cards, the meal, the music, or the gifts – we all have some ‘ingredient’ that makes us say, “It’s just not Christmas without the _________!”

It wasn’t until I graduated from college and got married that I began to fully appreciate my family’s traditions. Those things we ‘always’ did – like listening to the “Wee Sing Christmas” tape a hundred times, counting the number of houses with lights on Thompsonburg Road, and crowding extended family into a small house for Christmas dinner – that’s what made Christmas Christmas.

Having seen the value in my family’s traditions, I have of course tried to establish traditions with my own children. Over our 10 years as parents, Tim and I have thought long and hard about what we want our girls to remember about Christmas when they grow up. What is it that will make them say, “It’s just not Christmas without the __________!”?

Traditions shape our families and cultures. Their repetition over generations teaches values and a sense of belonging. But they can also result in a load of stress and undue pressure.

Take the life of Joseph, for example. As a Jew, Joseph was born into a culture firm in its traditions – especially when it came to religion and family. His marriage to Mary was likely arranged by their parents and involved a period of betrothal before the celebration and consummation of the union. This “time between was a sort of testing of fidelity with the couple having little, if any, contact with each other.”*

At some point during this engagement period, though, it was revealed that Mary had become pregnant. This obviously would have been a failure of the fidelity test and tradition told Joseph exactly what He should do in this situation – break off the engagement and “expose her to shame” or go even further and seek justice through the law.**

But though Joseph “was faithful to the law,” he also knew the mercy of the God he followed and “did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace,” so he decided to “divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)

However, “after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.'” (v. 20)

Joseph had a difficult choice to make – he could hold onto tradition or he could obey God. Thankfully, he chose God and “When [he] woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (v. 24)

Joseph “obeyed God’s call even when it went against common sense” and even more than that, he obeyed immediately – potentially cutting short the traditional year-long betrothal custom.** He risked his reputation as a “righteous man” and his standing as a member of his community and culture by obeying what he believed God was leading him to do.

Traditions are important, but, as Joseph showed us, they should never take precedence over obedience. Author Peter Scazzero states that “God’s intention is that we grow up into mature men and women transformed by the indwelling presence of Christ. We honor our parents, culture, and histories but obey God.”*** Yes, even at Christmas, we have to constantly be evaluating whether or not we are obeying God or merely dwelling in tradition.

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A couple days after baking our gingerbread men, I was surprised to discover that we did have ginger in the spice cabinet after all! I had looked thoroughly, but since I was looking for a red “McCormick” container, the beige “Spice Islands” jar of ginger never caught my attention!

That sentimental, “just like the ones I used to know” Christmas may seem appealing, but it’s likely that the love, joy, and peace we are seeking will be found in a different container than we expect. So as we carry on our traditions and attempt to form new ones, we must constantly be seeking God and asking what He wants us to do.

For many years now, we’ve had a tradition of sending out a family photo and Christmas letter. Every year the process of getting that ‘perfect’ photo is a source of stress and undue pressure on my children and husband and writing the letter is a time-consuming project for me.

But if gingerbread cookies can be gingerbread cookies without the ginger, then “Christmas can be Christmas without the _________!”

So this year, we replaced that tradition with a new one. We traded hours of stress for hours of fun together as we baked ginger cookies (my grandmother’s famous recipe) to package up and hand out to our Youth@Hope volunteers and some other people who have served our family so well this year.

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Don’t worry – we had the ginger this time!

*https://gotquestions.org/Joseph-and-Mary.html
**The IVP Bible Background Commentary (New Testament), Matthew 1:18, 1:19 & 1:24-25
***Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

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Ice

Brrrr… Winter has officially arrived in Pennsylvania. Below freezing temperatures and wind chills are upon us, so get out those warm coats, hats, and gloves – or better yet, just stay inside!

Last Friday morning, I fought the urge to sit in my cozy house and went for a run. The temperature was under 30° and the wind was whipping. After a mile-and-a-half I was still chilled, but it was good motivation to just keep moving!

At one point, though, I looked off the trail and decided it was worth the pause to get a picture of this:

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No matter how much I don’t like the cold, I love ice. The idea of fluid, formless water taking shape and becoming solid is fascinating! The smooth, soft surface of a frozen pond – or even a puddle – reflecting the light of the sun on a crisp winter day = perfection.

Unfortunately, no matter how pretty it looks – ice can also be dangerous! When we were little, my sisters and I knew we weren’t allowed to begin skating on the pond in our neighbor’s backyard until the ice was deep. The air temperature had to be cold enough for long enough to penetrate and affect the water below the surface. We knew (and probably found out the hard way) that some ice may look solid, but if you step on it before it’s fully frozen, you’re gonna get wet!

As Christians, I feel like we should all come with a “Danger: Thin Ice!” warning label. When we first come to know Jesus, we feel a revolution of change as we see our lives being impacted by His love, His grace, and His power. A solid, initial layer of God’s transformative work has occurred.

But, due to the nature of our society and our humanity, it can be really easy to stay there. It can be really easy to make some surface changes and begin to ‘look’ like a follower of Jesus. We learn new behaviors, add some new activities, and season our language with a little Christian ‘salt’ so that we look smooth, sparkly, and solid from afar.

Eventually, though, the pressure’s gonna hit. Maybe it’s just a pebble or a stick someone threw out there and we can handle it. But at some point, someone’s foot is going to come down and we’re going to crack.

This is especially true when it comes to our pain. I’ve seen so many students meet Jesus or experience a revival of their childhood faith in their high school years. They become excited about God, eager to know more about Him, and expect Him to work in their lives!

At the same time, through a combination of their developmental stage and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they are becoming more aware of their sin struggles and patterns – as well as the hurt that others’ sin struggles and patterns have caused them. Unfortunately, instead of dealing with their pain – instead of confessing and finding accountability, instead of processing their issues with a mentor or counselor, instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to penetrate to the deep – they put on a surface layer of “God’s got this!” and pretend “It’s all good!”.

You know what happens next – the pressures of college and ‘real life’ start to crack and disintegrate that thin layer of “faith” they thought they had. Some will realize what’s happening and seek out the help they need, some will simply hope to repair the cracks by getting their God-fix when they come home and attend church, but many will walk away from their faith altogether.

When God commanded His people to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” (Deuteronomy 6:5) He was telling them that this ‘religion’ was way more than ‘religion’. He wanted to be sure they understood that having Him as their God would go way beyond duty, attendance, and outward morality. As their God, His work in their lives was intended to penetrate to the innermost parts of their entire being.

And it wasn’t just about their love for Him. In the Psalms we’re reminded that His “benefits” apply not just to “sin”, but to our whole lives – our well-being, our emotions, our pain, and our desires (Psalm 103:2-5). Psalm 130:7 says that “with him is full redemption”. His love for us has the power to fully permeate, transform, and restore even the most broken parts of our hearts and minds!

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If you’ve ever looked for a place to skate in the great outdoors, you know that your best bet is to find a pond or lake. The moving water of a river is much less likely to be deeply (and therefore safely) frozen. It’s in the stillness that the water becomes solid.

It’s so easy, especially at this time of year, to just keep moving. There’s so much to do and even when there isn’t anything pressing, we have devices full of entertainment and mind-occupying social media in our hands. We know the pain is there, but it’s so much easier to just say “God’s got this!” and pretend “It’s all good!”

But to stop and be still and allow that wind to chill us to the bone seems uncomfortable and something we’d much rather avoid. We know that if we let God in, it might hurt. We might find there are parts of us we haven’t let Him touch – parts of us that we don’t even realize exist yet. And even worse – He might ask us to take those solidifying steps of accountability, counseling, or making this ‘stillness in His presence’ thing a regular habit.

Yes, God does have this and yes, it is all for your good and His glory. He’s got “this”, but does He have you? Does He have all of you?

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23‭-‬24)

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