ARCHIVES: December 2015


12.30.2015

Prayers for 2016

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that I like to pray the scriptures, taking the actual words in the Bible and turning them into prayers. It doesn’t matter what the need is (wisdom, physical health and safety, diligence or self-control, favor at school or work, endurance in times of trial, healing for broken relationships…anything, really), God’s Word has got you covered.

For instance, if Robbie has a lacrosse game (and if you know anything about men’s lacrosse, you know that the main point is to get the ball in the goal, but the other main point is to use a long metal stick to hit the guy who has the ball), I might lift a prayer for his protection out of Psalm 91: Don’t let any harm befall Robbie; command your angels to guard him in all his ways. (Psalm 91:10-11)

Likewise, when Hillary is facing a tricky problem at work, or if she has a big presentation to do, I might borrow from Psalm 90: May the Lord’s show his approval to Hillary and make her efforts successful. (Psalm 90:17, NLT)

If I find myself facing uncertainty about one decision or another, I like to draw on verses that showcase God’s promised guidance, like this one: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. (Psalm 32:8).

Using the Bible this way – letting God’s words shape your prayers –  infuses them with meaning, creativity, and power. It also helps shape your perspective, as words filled with faith and hope and encouragement take up the battle against things like sickness, worry, or fear.

Untitled design (2)Last year, I told you how I spend a little time every December thinking about Robbie and each of our kids. I ask God to show me how he wants to bless or provide for them in the coming year, or to alert me to any particular needs they might have. Usually, one or more specific concerns or opportunities makes its way to the forefront of my mind: Maybe I sense that someone needs perseverance to make it through a particularly challenging circumstance or relationship. Maybe someone needs divine wisdom for an impending change, like choosing a college or making a career move. Maybe someone else has a tendency to grow fearful or anxious, and they need help trusting God. Or maybe someone is just not being very nice to their siblings, and they could use a little more kindness or compassion in the coming year.

I let these thoughts gel, and then I find a verse that “fits” and turn it into a prayer, one that I will return to over and over again during the coming year. (I wrote about these “annual prayers” in a post last December; click here if you want to read that one, or if you want to see a photo of the “prayer hands” we make.)

Want to find your own prayer verse(s) for 2016?

You’ll find a whole catalog of them, arranged topically, at the end of each chapter in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children and Praying the Scriptures for Your Teenagers. Or, just open your Bible and ask God to pick a verse or two for you; the Psalms are a great place to start hunting.

Write your prayer on an index card (or a paper hand!) and date it. Keep it someplace where you’ll see it often…and then pray with confidence and joy, knowing that God hears you (1 John 5:14) and that his word will never return empty, but will always accomplish his desires and purposes. (Isaiah 55:11)

Happy praying – and all God’s best to you and yours in 2016!

And P.S., If you’re pressed for time (God doesn’t care, but if you’re as uptight as I am, you might want to have your prayer verse at the ready by midnight tomorrow), help yourself to one of my current “one-size-fits-all” favorites:

Make ____ glad by your deeds, O Lord; let ____ sing for joy at the works of your hands. (Psalm 92:8)

Fill ____ with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that ____ may live a life worthy of you, Lord, and please you in every way. (Colossians 1:9-10)

Don’t let ____ be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, may ____ present his/her requests to you. And may your peace, which transcends all understanding, guard his/her heart and mind in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

 


ARCHIVES: December 2015


12.25.2015

Merry Christmas!

Luke 2-14

Let’s join our voices with angels and generations today, praising God and saying:

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:14)

Merry Christmas!


ARCHIVES: December 2015


12.22.2015

The Christmas Sweater

(I published this blog a year ago, and it was among the most popular posts of 2014. And since a good Christmas sweater never really goes out of style, here it is again – with warmest wishes to you and your family for Christmas that’s filled with peace, love, and joy-filled laughter!)

Back when W. was in the White House, my friend Catharine, who worked there, invited me to be her guest at the Christmas party. I was thrilled! And I had the perfect outfit: A Christmas sweater adorned with snowflakes, red and white piping, and a faux fur collar that gave the whole thing, I thought, just the right touch of holiday elegance. I’d already had the sweater for one season, and every time I wore it small children would come up and ask if I knew Santa. Truly.

Were this story to happen today, I am sure that my daughters would launch an intervention, but they were too young at the time to know better. And so off I went to Washington, ready to meet the leader of the free world in all my fluffy glory.

I should have realized my faux pas as soon as I arrived. Every other party guest wore cocktail-attire black, or a subtle shade of cranberry. Needless to say, I turned more than a few heads, and when the president’s social secretary broke through the receiving line (“I heard about your outfit and I just had to see it!”) all I could think was, “These people are jealous! They all want my sweater!” Holding my head a little higher, I wasn’t even surprised when the time came to shake the First Lady’s hand and she leaned in to whisper, “Love the sweater.”

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Fast forward about seven years. My girls grew up, caught sight of this photo, and—as teenaged girls are wont to do—burst into gales of mocking (and, I like to think, sympathetic) laughter. I still had the sweater and, not knowing what else to do with it, Annesley and I decided to dress the dogs.

Khaki (the lab, who clearly has a keener eye for fashion than I do) had the good sense to protest, but after a little bit of snarling and more than a few treats, she and Max were photo ready. The result was our 2009 Christmas card:

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Today, these two photos—“The White House” and “The Dogs”—sit side-by-side on the bookshelf in our family room. To most people, they are simply a curiosity. To me, they are living proof of why we need verses like Romans 12:3 (“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”) and of letting God weigh in on what not to wear.

Colossians 3:12 says, “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.” If you’re like me, and getting dressed for holiday parties is harder, even, than getting your kids to show up (showered) for the Christmas photo, consider posting Colossians 3:12 in your closet. Even the most awful Christmas sweater, paired with humility, can make a good impression.

(Looking back, I have to believe that Laura really did like the sweater. As my mother-in-law says about almost every celebrity she has never met, “She seems like such a nice person.”)


ARCHIVES: December 2015


12.18.2015

Friday Prayer for Your Lambs

Isaiah 40-11

When our children were little, Isaiah 40:11 was one of my favorite verses:  “He tends his flock like a shepherd:  He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

Today, my lambs are all grown up (Robbie turned 20 this week!), but I still love this promise. And honestly, it doesn’t matter how old our children are – we all need a shepherd. Let’s borrow Isaiah’s words for our Friday prayer. We can pray it for our own kids, or for some little (or big!) ones we love:

Heavenly Father,

Watch over ____’s life like a shepherd. Gather ____ in your arms and carry him/her close to your heart. (Isaiah 40:11)

Amen.


ARCHIVES: December 2015


12.15.2015

All About That Plan

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

I used to write books for a financial brainiac named Ron Blue, and that was one of his money management maxims. He was talking about things like spending and investment strategies, but his counsel applies to pretty much every area of our lives. We make fitness plans, business plans, even dinner plans – all because we know, either instinctively or cuz some trainer or consultant told us, that having a purpose and a strategy are keys to accomplishing any goal.

The same can be said for our spiritual growth. It doesn’t “just happen.” We know that, of course (and plenty of us approach the new year with a fresh resolve to go to church, pray more consistently, or read our Bibles), but without a clearly defined plan, our best intentions can fizzle.

At least that’s how it works for me.

Last week, I wrote about light. If you’ve already got a plan to light up your life in 2016, you don’t need to keep reading. But if you’re looking for a strategy – something to keep you moving forward, all year long – here are four of my favorite ways to add the Bible (the best kind of light!) to your schedule:

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The Bible in One Year. This free Bible reading app from Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (you may know Nicky as the guy who launched the wildly popular Alpha course) shows up in your in-box every morning, with three different passages to read and insightful commentary to help you process and understand them. Click here to subscribe.

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The One-Year Chronological Bible. I’ve mentioned this one before (it was the one-size-fits-all family gift a couple of years ago and a significantly better choice than the posture braces that showed up under the tree in 2013). It has all the same words you’ll find in a normal Bible, but the readings are arranged in the order in which the events actually happened. There are several versions available; click here to order the one I am giving Charlie, since he is new to the fam and acted sad when he heard he’d missed out on getting a copy. But don’t tell.

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The Two-Year Bible Reading Plan. I like this one because “Two-Year.” As in, it takes two years, so the readings come in shorter chunks. Plus, they give you periodic “catch-up” days, which are much-needed mulligans for people like me. Pro: This is a free download. Potential Con: There are no notes or commentary, so if that’s high on your list, you may want to purchase the accompanying Guided Tour book. Click here to get the free printable PDF of the Two-Year Plan.

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The Songs of Jesus. New this year from Tim Keller, this beautiful devotional takes you through an entire year in the psalms, which were originally worship songs in ancient Israel. In addition to shaping how we understand and relate to God, Keller says that the psalms “anticipate and train you for every possible spiritual, social and emotional condition – they show you what the dangers are, what you should keep in mind, what your attitude should be, how to talk to God about it, and how to get from God the help that you need.” Alrighty then. Click here to order your copy.

Okay, so we have just over two weeks to order, download, or do whatever we have to do to put our plan in place. Which is good news. Because sometimes even the best laid plans need a little, ah, tweaking…

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Yeah. Buddy the Elf is gonna be pretty sad when he gets home from work.

 


ARCHIVES: December 2015


12.11.2015

Friday Prayer for Spiritual Gifts

1 Peter 4-10‘Tis the season!

As you think about gift-giving this year, consider the spiritual gifts that God has given to you and your family. Have you or your spouse been blessed with leadership skills, a heart for service, or material wealth? Do your children seem particularly merciful, organized, or discerning? Do you know someone who is an excellent teacher, or who is especially good at explaining the gospel and pointing people toward Christ?

The Bible offers a whole catalog of these attributes, which are sometimes called “supernatural graces.” They’re the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit, and they’re all designed to bring glory to God and strengthen his people.

Check out Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12, or Ephesians 4:11-13 to learn more, and as you wrap presents for your family and friends this Christmas, ask God to help them use their Spirit-given gifts to share his goodness and grace with a world in need.

Heavenly Father,

May ____ use whatever gift he/she has received to serve others, as faithful stewards of your grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

Amen.

 


ARCHIVES: December 2015


12.10.2015

Let there be light!

Let there be light!“We need more lights.”

That’s pretty much how Robbie opens Christmas season at our house. Every year when he crawls into the attic and pulls out the boxes, he seems disappointed with our stash. Christmas lights, I guess, are like bathing suit bottoms; they spend the off-season lying in the dark, plotting all the ways that they will not work properly when you decide that you need them again.

And so, come December, Robbie heads out to the store (Christmas lights being one of three things he likes to buy; the other two being surfer gear and Fritos).  This year, he came back with 12 boxes, all white.

“It was buy one, get one free!” he crowed.

That would have been fine, except that after three hours of wrapping pretty much every bush and branch in our yard, he came back inside, looking for his car keys.

“Don’t tell me,” I said.

“Yep. We need more lights.”

And off he went.

I, meanwhile, stared at my un-decked halls and the naked tree that Robbie had erected in the family room. It had lights, sure, but no ornaments. They were still in the attic, nestled alongside my beloved collections of santas and nativity scenes, which I keep in separate storage boxes for theological reasons. Ever since my godly mother told my daughters that there was No! Such! Thing! as Santa Claus (“Do you really want to lie to your children?”), making them instant celebrity pariahs when they carried the news into preschool the next day, I have been very sensitive to the Santa-Jesus debate. (And to anyone reading this who had children at Atlanta’s Northside Methodist Preschool in the early 1990s, can I please just apologize again?)

(Seriously. I am sorry. And believe me, I totally understand why you didn’t let my girls come play at your houses that December. I would have shunned your children, too. I shunned my own mother that year.)

Anyhow.

My decorations are still in the attic, and Christmas is just two weeks away. Robbie may be all HoHoHo, but I am just not feeling it this year. For one thing, we don’t have any kids home. For another (and this is embarrassing, but true), I am still cleaning up from the second wedding. And for a third, I think the tree hates me. It’s dropping needles faster than the dogs drop hair. And you know how I feel about that.

So there I was, staring at nothing and wondering if “My tree hates me” was a legitimate reason to seek professional counseling, when Robbie came back inside.

“I need your help to get this tree out to the dock.”

Excuse me?

I knew we’d gotten a second tree (it was a thank you gift from Young Life), but I didn’t realize “we” had decided where to put it. Robbie, though, had a plan.

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Sigh. I do love my man.

We got the thing up and then, sure enough, Robbie grabbed his car keys. “More lights?” I asked.

“Uh-huh. And…more extension cords!”

Robbie was thrilled with his handiwork. He couldn’t wait until dark. And when the sun finally set, he came into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around my waist. “Are you looking out at the tree?” he whispered.

“No, Honey. I am unloading the dishwasher.”

I suppose our holiday season would have gone on like this for the next two weeks, a couple of Christmas caricatures:  One living like Buddy the Elf, the other too tired to even think about taking anyone’s last can of Who-hash.

But then, early this morning, I got up and looked out the window.

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I couldn’t help but smile. Light just does that.

And how clever of God to bookend the Bible with light. Genesis 1:3 kicks off with the familiar “Let there be light,” and Revelation wraps up the whole story with the promise that the time is coming when we won’t need a lamp or even the sun, because the glory of the Lord will be our light and – cue Handel’s Messiah, which yes, we are going to, again – he “shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5)

If you’re feeling a little Scroogey and you don’t have your own resident Buddy to string up some cheer, never fear. Just pin up a strand someplace (the Young Life kids who were here the other night made human Christmas trees, so I guess you could maybe try that), and plug it in. And then open your Bible.

Because God’s Word is the best light of all.

Psalm 119:105 says it is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Next week, I’m going to share a few of my favorite ways to help us get this light into our lives in 2016 (I’m all about that plan, don’t you know!), but for now, I’ll leave you with a few choice bits to chew on as you look at your tree. Because even a Grinch like me can’t help but feel her heart growing with encouraging verses like these:

The light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. (John 1:5)

How happy are those who have learned how to praise You; those who journey through life by the light of Your face. (Psalm 89:15, Voice)

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

Let there be light! (Even if it takes a few new extension cords.)

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ARCHIVES: December 2015


12.04.2015

Friday Prayer for Glorious Joy

1 Peter 1-8 (1)We snapped this pic on Thanksgiving Day, during our family’s annual “Trail of Tears” hike through Virginia’s First Landing State Park. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 33 degrees and icy or 68 and (to some people) bathing-suit weather. We always go…and somebody always cries.

Not this year, though. This year the crew was all smiles, and the younger cousins squealed with delight when Robbie peeled off his sweatshirt, grabbed an iffy-looking rope, and launched himself into the bay. I know there were no shepherds abiding or angelic hosts warming up but, to me, it was the perfect kickoff to Advent, a season filled with the inexpressible and glorious joy.

Let’s take hold of that joy today in the same way that Robbie took hold of his rope. Here’s a prayer to get us launched; pray it for yourself or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Though we have not seen you, we love you, and even though we do not see you now, we believe in you. Help ____ to love you and believe in you, and fill _____ with an inexpressible and glorious joy! (1 Peter 1:8)

Amen.

 

 


ARCHIVES: December 2015


12.02.2015

Thank you, Mike London

Hebrews 11, informally known as the Bible’s “Hall of Faith,” catalogs a long and glorious list of Old Testament heroes, people who followed God and did what he asked them to do, even when they weren’t sure of the outcome. And, in fact, things didn’t always go the way most of these folks thought or hoped they would. Sure, some of ’em got to cross the Red Sea on dry land or shut the mouths of lions, but others were tortured, stoned, and (v. 37) “sawed in two.” These people led exemplary lives of faith and yet, near the end of the chapter, we learn that “none of them received what had been promised.”

That might sound like a faith downer, but it’s not. It’s a set-up for the Hebrews 11 punchline, the very last verse in the chapter: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

God had planned something better.

12896_spfootballlondonchufReading those words today, I couldn’t help but think about U.Va. Coach Mike London. Widely regarded as a top-notch recruiter and a powerful influence for good (he served as a father figure and role model to many of his players, asking that they go to class, show class, and treat people with dignity and respect), London did just about everything you want a coach to do. Everything, that is, except win a lot of football games. On that score, at least, things didn’t turn out the way U.Va. fans hoped that they would. And, after six years of losing a whole lot more than he won, London resigned on Sunday.

You’d think the victory-starved fans would be happy to have London gone (and maybe that one guy who sits two rows behind us and spends most of the game screaming about the penalties can finally give it a rest). But most folks (including Robbie, who groaned every time the third-and-long screen pass didn’t work, which was pretty much every time) seem a little sad this week. We know we’re losing a good man.

After Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech (and yes, we were there, with our two new Hokie sons-in-law, who had the decency to keep quiet and just eat the leftover charcuterie during our post-game tailgate), London gave what turned out to be a farewell speech. He said he was proud of his players, both for their character and for the things they had dealt with during an admittedly challenging season. “It’s important,” he said, “that they understand this is a tough game, you win, you lose, you try to get better, you try to move forward, but it’s a tough game. There’s consequences for a lot of things. I just told them, you’re going to be a husband, a father, a son, an employee, an employer, much longer than you’re going to be a football player. Your identity is not tied into being just a football player. I get it, we’re graded on wins and losses, I understand that, but you’re so much more than that.”

Word is that players and fans have heaped messages of love and support on Coach London, both in person and via social media. Having watched pretty much every game he coached (except for William & Mary this year, cuz we figured Hillary might notice if we didn’t show up for her wedding), I’d like to add my thoughts to the mix:

Dear Coach London,

Thank you for all of the good things that you brought to U.Va. football.

I’m thinking about you today, grateful for a man who knows that his identity is not just as a football coach. You are what you’ve modeled for your guys: You are a good husband, father, son, and employee. And, in the things that really matter – the lessons that last, game after game, season after season – you are a mighty good coach.

I know that you love the Lord and trust his hand in your life, which is why I hope you will get it when I point to Hebrews 11:40 and say that God has planned something better. U.Va. hired you to win games; God called you to win lives. That’s a calling you have pursued with excellence, and it’s one that won’t stop when you walk out of Scott Stadium.

Hebrews 11 is full of people just like you, men and women who followed God, spent their lives on behalf of other people, and lived by faith when they couldn’t see any evidence of the things they hoped for. They might not have known the fruits of their labors, but they knew back then what we still know today: God will one day make us perfect. Their faith, your faith, and our faith will finally come together to make a completed whole. The best is yet to come.

May the Lord richly bless you and your family as you continue to follow him. The best really is yet to come.

And in the meantime, thanks for the memories.

Jodie Berndt

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(Many thanks to the Cavalier Daily for the photo of Coach London.)

 

 




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