04.11.2017

The Road to the Cross

Untitled design (6)

Holy Week. The week before Easter. The week when Jesus knew that “the time had come for him to leave this world” (John 13:1), and that the road ahead – the road to the cross – would be filled with unspeakable pain. What was he thinking?

Do you ever wonder about that?

I do.

Being fully God, Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen. He’d be insulted, rejected, and abandoned – both by the Jewish leaders (many of whom believed in him but who were too scared to admit it, since they “loved praise from men more than praise from God”) and by his closest friends. (John 12:42)

He would suffer indescribable torment. The press of the thorns…the sting of the whip…the pain of the nails…the struggle to breathe.

And he would know the heartache of watching his mother watch him die – and of being unable, in that moment, to wipe the tears from her eyes.

So what was he thinking, on the road to the cross?

I can’t begin to imagine, but Scripture gives us some clues. Jesus says that his heart is “troubled” and that the idea of backing out has at least presented itself. He confides in his friends, telling them that he is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” And he prays, asking God if there is any way to take a pass…but then, ultimately, choosing God’s will over his own. (John 12:27, Matthew 26:38, Matthew 26:39)

Clearly, the road wasn’t easy. It was agonizing. So how did he do it? How did he – being fully man – get past the fear and the worry and the sorrow that stood in his path?

Here again, the Bible offers some answers. Reading through the gospels and Paul’s letters, we see a man inspired by obedience, trust, humility, and love. And, in addition to these internal motivators, Hebrews 12:2 reveals an external driver: Future joy. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,” the writer says, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” 

Future joy.

I’ve combed through the commentaries looking to flesh out, exactly, what that joy was. It seems like, for Jesus, the joy came in three parts:

The first is the idea of a mission accomplished. His teaching was revolutionary and his miracles amazing, but Jesus knew that the whole point of his life was the cross (“It was,” he says in John 12:27, “for this reason I came to this hour”). Fulfilling his purpose – the job that aligned with God’s master plan – gave him joy.

The second reason was the resurrection. Jesus knew (because he was God, and because of prophecies like the one in Psalm 16:9-11) that he would come out of the tomb alive, and that his experience would open the door to the everlasting joy of God’s presence – not just for himself, but for all who would call on his name.

And the third reason? The third reason is the one that makes me cry. The third reason Jesus stayed on the road to the cross (the main reason, in fact) is us. He did it for us. He did it, the Bible says, to keep us from falling and to present us before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy. (Jude 24)

Jesus wanted to be able to bring us to God. We are the reason he endured the cross. We are, I believe, what he was thinking about, as he made his way up that hill.

And this Holy Week, this Easter, I want us to think about that, too. Because we are God’s beloved – not just in the future, but right here and right now.

We are – you are – his joy.

 

 


04.07.2017

Refresh and Be Refreshed

A generous person will prosper;whoever refreshes others will be refreshed

Well, hello there Spring! It’s refreshing to have you back!

And speaking of…

I love what the Bible says about refreshment: In a nutshell, we get what we give. So let’s look for ways to pour our time and talents into other people’s lives, sharing our resources to revive even the weariest heart. Let’s make this our Friday Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me be alert to opportunities to exercise generosity. Let me refresh other people and, in turn, may I be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)

Amen


04.05.2017

An Easter Basket Giveaway…for Mama Bunny!

I love Easter.

I love the joyful songs (Christ the Lord is Risen To-Day-ay…Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-lay-ay-loo-oo-yah!), the fragrant lilies, and the occasional bonnet that shows up in church (particularly when the ‘Hoos are still in the hunt, like they were on Easter Sunday last year):

IMG_4637

I love dragging our big plywood egg out to the street late Saturday night (under the cover of darkness), and then waking up to the Good News Sunday morning:

DSC_0360

And I love stuffing Easter baskets. One year, we had 23 college kids stay with us for the weekend. Never have I been so grateful for the Dollar Tree and its affordable stash of plastic eggs, candy, and gifts. Because nothing says “Happy Easter” like a chocolate bunny, a new toothbrush, and a tattoo sleeve:

DSC_0409

 

This year, we won’t be welcoming any college students (other than Robbie, who says he mostly just wants to come home and sleep). Which is kind of a shame, cuz I have some basket upgrades in mind – upgrades that, truth be told, Mama Bunny will like even more than the kids:

FullSizeRender

It’s been a while since I’ve done a free giveaway, so how about this? Post a comment on this blog – share a favorite Easter tradition, a prayer verse you like, or anything you want to wish others a Happy Easter – and you’ll be entered for a chance to win one of the treats in this basket (which, incidentally, would also make a great Mother’s Day gift). Here’s what we have:

Unshaken. This new book from Sally Burke and Cyndie Claypool de Neve (order your copy or download a free chapter here) outlines a four-step prayer process to help us keep our eyes on the Lord and pray with confidence, even when everything around us seems to be shaking.

IMG_0139

I love the real-life stories these gals use to illustrate their prayer principles. And, as a bonus, they offer cleverly designed pages that are meant to be copied and shared:

IMG_0062

 

One Word Cards. These beautiful 5×7″ cards pair the devotional musings of author Susan Alexander Yates with the stunning artwork of her daughter-in-law, Christy.

IMG_0106

The cards – which feature one key word, a relevant Bible verse, and a simple prayer – come in four different sets (click here to see the collection), along with a wooden easel you can use to display them:

IMG_0104

 

Scripture Prayers and Blessings. I created these little cards with help from the talented gals at Sisters Ink; they represent twelve of the best-loved Scripture prayers from my books. The marbled stock is scrumptiously thick and perfect for tucking into a child’s backpack, slipping into a note to a friend, or just keeping in your purse or car as a reminder to pray.

IMG_0135

 

So how about it? Post a comment, share a story, offer up one of your favorite prayers…and you’ll automatically be entered to win. And since there are three prizes in the basket, we’ll have three winners…so hop to it, friends! Get a little something for Mama Bunny this Easter!

And for those who think that what Mama Bunny might really want is a new tattoo, try these. I can’t vouch for the design or the quality, but hey. They’re removable.

You’re welcome.


03.31.2017

Bible Xanax for the Anxious Heart

Cast all your anxiety

What are you worried about?

Over and over again in the Bible, God tells us that we shouldn’t be anxious. Instead, he says, we should come to him with our concerns and requests. Because whatever it is – your job, your relationships, your finances, your kids, your health – God already knows. And he cares.

Let’s take a little Bible Xanax today, casting our cares on God and exchanging our fear and worry for his peace:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that you are a God who cares. I am worried about ______today. Help me cast my anxiety on you, knowing that I can trust you to care for me and for the people I love. (1 Peter 5:7)

Amen.


03.29.2017

To the Final Four…and Beyond!

To all my Tar Heel friends: Congratulations!!! Way to make it to the Final Four! I’m with you!

IMG_0064

(And yes, I was actually screaming at the television on Sunday night when your boy Luke sunk that incredible game-winning shot. I thought he was adorable then, but now that I’ve read where he showed up for his 8:00 a.m. class the next morning, I am smitten.)

It’s thanks to you, Carolina, that my bracket still looks okay. I always take every ACC team as far as they can go, and this year I could still be half right. I figured you’d make it all the way thru, at least until you met U.Va.:

FullSizeRender

Speaking of…can we please just take a moment?

I love U.Va. Basketball. And even though the pundits didn’t give us much of a chance after we broke up with our big man, I thought we’d still be okay. Because Tony. And London. And those cute first-year boys (who will only get better). And so, when tournament time rolled around, I was all in.

I prevailed on Robbie to make his one-and-only signature dish (unless you count frozen pizza, at which he also excels):

IMG_0070

Knowing that we’d be playing over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I bought a new hat:

IMG_9924

And I even went to the beauty supply store to stock up on extensions and elastic so that even the most closely cropped fellas in our aging fan base could rock a man bun like our Guy:

IMG_0065

kyle

Alas, it was not to be. If you are the one Virginia fan who did not fill out a bracket this year (Nancy), I will go ahead and tell you that our Cavaliers lost.

Badly.

But the season was still amazing, and to the coaches and players who gave it their all (even the guys who are transferring now because people vary): Thank you. I think I saw every game and, even if you don’t count the one where you so vigorously took Virginia Tech to the woodshed (which I do), it was a very good year.

My favorite basketball memory, though, didn’t come during regulation. My favorite memory was of being at JPJ the night they retired Malcolm Brogdon’s jersey. (And Nancy, he’s the guy who was named ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year last year, before moving on to light up the NBA by doing some very un-rookie-ish things, like dunking on LeBron.)

During the jersey ceremony, Brogdon got up and, in a speech that he said he hadn’t expected to make, he thanked his mom. That right there stole my heart. On the “Good Son” scale, throwing some public love on your mama ranks even higher than showing up for your 8 a.m. class. Like I said, smitten.

Malcolm

But that wasn’t all. Brogdon also thanked God.

“While I was here in my five years,” he said (and the man got his masters in public policy, so don’t be thinking victory lap), “I learned about having a faith and that, if everything else fails, your faith in God – your relationship with the Lord – will carry you through.”

If everything else fails, your faith in God – your relationship with the Lord – will carry you through.

Those are some very smart words. (Did I mention that Brogdon turned down Harvard to attend U.Va.? As one would.)

And on that happy note, Tar Heel fans, I will wish you the best. Basketball seasons (like so much in life that we mistakenly allow to define us, or to dictate our happiness) come and go, and I truly hope yours lasts ’til next Tuesday. But if not, don’t let that get you down.

Take a page out of Brogdon’s book, and go celebrate life’s biggest win.

140642-Love-Never-Fails

 

 

(Player photo credit @UVAMensHoops)

 


03.24.2017

Let’s Meet at the Rock

So when I saw these turtles climbing all over themselves in their effort to get to the rock, I had just one thought: Wouldn’t it be awesome if every believer was like these guys, determined and eager to get to the Rock?

IMG_9945

And what if, instead of telling ourselves that we don’t need the fellowship of other Christians, or that we don’t have to be engaged in a church community in order to experience all that God has for us, we took God at his word and showed up on Sunday? What if we saw verses like Hebrews 10:25 not as a suggestion, but as a command – one that was written for our benefit, rather than God’s?

The Bible says that God is our Rock, and that all his ways are perfect. Let’s do all that we can to draw close to him, and to bring other people along. Let’s make these words our Friday prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of your return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)

Amen.

 


03.22.2017

When Life Finds You Stuck

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you may remember the theme from our family Staycation a few years ago:

Paddle hard.

It was a motto lifted from Colossians 3:23 (“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”). I figured these were words we could live by, whether we were navigating our way through careers, ministry opportunities, or relationships. Work with all your heart. Do it for God. Paddle hard.

That’s good advice.

At least until you get stuck.

IMG_9935

You know what I mean. There are seasons in life when we find ourselves sailing along, emboldened by a fresh vision or a clear sense of calling or even just the pressing need to finish the laundry, find the missing soccer cleat, and get dinner on the table. We know what we have to do, and we have a pretty good idea how to do it.

There are other times, though, when life can seem a little more…stalled. Maybe we have a God-given dream or a promise, but things haven’t worked out how we thought they would. Maybe we feel passionate about working or serving in some particular area but the door hasn’t opened, or we aren’t sure how to begin. Or maybe we don’t have any vision or sense of purpose at all. Maybe our life doesn’t look anything like amazing and (if were were being completely honest) we’d say we were a little bit underwhelmed. Bored, even.

Or, as my kids would say, “meh.”

During those times, we don’t need a paddle so much as a push. And while I am sure that there are plenty of good strategies for getting un-stuck and propelling ourselves back into life’s current, I’ll give you three of my favorites:

First, remember that your life does have meaning. You were created for a purpose, and God has worthy and specific jobs for you to do. You are “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Second, forget about the past. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done; God is all about breathing fresh life into his people. Ask him to help you see what he’s up to, and be prepared to jump on board. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

And finally, until God shows you the next step to take, focus on what you already know. Micah 6:8 is my husband Robbie’s favorite Bible verse, partly because it works well in every situation or relationship: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Our seasons of stuck-ness may be painful, dreary, or long. (I know; I’ve been there.) But God promises to do new things, even in the most washed up or barren places. Like the tide, he will come in.

And when he does, let’s be ready to move.


03.17.2017

Let God Quiet You

He will quiet you by his love.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

It’s a question that many of us have considered, or at least heard, at some point during the last two weeks. Some Christians choose to fast (from desserts, say, or maybe from a habit like smoking or drinking or Netflix); others mark the weeks leading up to Easter by adding something to their daily routine (a new devotional, morning Bible reading, extra time for prayer). Either way – giving up or adding on – the idea is to do something that reorients your perspective and draws you closer to God.

For me, neither option works too well. Giving up chocolate doesn’t seem all that hard. Until I try it, and then all I want for breakfast is a brownie. I tell myself that I should channel that craving into a hunger for Jesus, but it’s like there’s a Doppelganger in my head saying, “Yeah. Jesus and a brownie. That’d be sweet.”

And when I try to add something (like a few extra minutes in prayer as a start to my morning) I don’t fair any better. Just opening my prayer journal seems to unleash a Kraken of cares, and they all start shouting at once: “Worry about this! Don’t forget to do that! Hurry up; you’re going to be late!”

I want to quiet my heart and get ready for Easter, but I can’t.

Which is why, when I read Zephaniah 3:17 this week, it brought me up short:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. 

I’ve always loved the image of God as a mighty warrior, one who takes delight in his people and rejoices over them with singing. But the other day, as I struggled to get my distracted mind to behave, the phrase “he will quiet you by his love” fairly jumped off the page.

He will quiet you.

You know what that means, right? That means it’s not up to us. We don’t have to calm our own fears, or work really hard to shut out the worries and concerns of the day. We can come before God – during Lent, or at any other time of the year – and ask him to do that for us. We can relax, knowing that even as he “exults over us with loud singing,” his love will speak peace to our souls.

I don’t know what you’ve give up (or taken on) for Lent, or whether the change is helping you draw close to God. But if you’re like me and you find your mind wandering or your worries mounting or you wish you had just a little more diligence and self-control, why not ask God to help? Tell him you can’t do it on your own (which he already knows, anyway), and that you’d like him to step in. Make Zephaniah 3:17 your prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for showing up as the mighty one who will save. Thank you for taking delight in me, for rejoicing over me with gladness and singing.

I am worried/distracted/fearful; please quiet me by your love.

Amen.


03.10.2017

Get a Garland of Grace

So I was looking through Hillary’s wedding pix the other day. I came upon this shot of the bride with her young cousins (who did a stellar job as her flower girls):

20150919_Hillary&Charlie_117

Looking at this photo, I was reminded of what the book of Proverbs says about wisdom. Wisdom protects us, the writer says, and when we get it – when we “cherish her” – here’s what happens:

She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown… When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. (Proverbs 4:9-12)

A garland of grace. A glorious crown. And the ability to navigate life without tripping. I thought all of these things sounded great. But you know who didn’t?

The dog.

Come wedding day, the florist spent ages working on a spectacular wreath for Khaki to sport – a creation that looked every bit as glorious as the bride’s bouquet – but that mule of a lab wasn’t having it. She refused to be garlanded:

20150919_Hillary&Charlie_014

And all I could think, as Khaki wandered around naked, was that she had missed out. She could have looked really good at the reception, but she blew it.

How many times have I done the same thing? How many times has God held out a crown – a garland of grace, woven by wisdom – only to have me walk right on by? And how many times have I gone my own way, ignoring his counsel, and then stumbled straight into a ditch?

Oh, Lord, don’t let me be Khaki. Or Max. I love our dogs but, IQ-wise, I wouldn’t want to be them. (Remember when Max ate the driveway? Yeah. Me, too.)

Instead, I want to get wisdom. I want to take hold of God’s words – his garland of grace – so that I know how to live. When God’s offers a crown, I want to say thank you. And I want to wear it.

If you do, too (or if someone you love would look good in a garland), why not turn Proverbs 4 into a prayer? Click here to get the big picture, or (if all you’ve got time for is the condensed version) try this:

Heavenly Father,

Show _____ how to pay attention, gain understanding, and take hold of your words. Lead _____ along straight paths. Crown  _____ with a garland of wisdom and grace. (Proverbs 4:1-11)

Amen.

20150919_Hillary&Charlie_246

 


03.03.2017

Painting with a Purpose

I love the inspirational, open-ended beauty of 1 Peter 4:10. “Each one of you,” Peter writes, “should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Each one of you should usewhatever gift you have received to serve others

Last month, I got an insider’s look at a woman who is living out this verse in a big way. Anne Neilson (anneneilsonhome.com) is a talented and visionary artist whose paintings have garnered attention from some of the art world’s most discerning collectors. What makes her work particularly distinctive, though, is not just how good it is. Rather, it’s the fact that Anne paints with a purpose, using her platform to help eradicate homelessness, fund cancer research, and help other artists find their place.

In all of these efforts and more, Anne shines the spotlight on Jesus.

I’m no artist, but as I looked around Anne’s studio, I was reminded that all of us have unique talents and abilities. So do our children. And God knows exactly how each one of us is wired; butcher, baker, or candlestick-maker, we are all his handiwork, and he has good stuff for us to do.

Take a few moments today to thank God for the way he created you (or your kids), and then ask him to help you use what you’ve been given to serve other people and point them toward his amazing, life-changing grace.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the way you made _____. Show _____ how to use the gifts he/she has received to serve others, faithfully administering your grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

Amen.