Devotions

Advent Simplicity: Prepare Him Room (the Model of Mary)

Behold.jpg

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” – Luke 1:30-31

An appropriate place to start Advent is with Mary, mother of our Lord. Here was a young woman, probably just in her teens, when the angel came to her.

In and of itself, just the appearance of the angel would be a defining moment in one’s life, right?! But this angelic appearance was much more than just a fleeting apparition. This angel had a life- (and history-) altering message:

  • First, the angel proclaimed to Mary that she had “found favor with God.” Let me ask: How many of us have occasionally doubted our level of faith or God’s acceptance of our imperfectly sinful selves? The angel’s first proclamation – “you have found favor with God” – would alone have qualified as life-definingly-good-news. And yet, this revelation was just beginning.
  • Second, the angel proclaimed that something miraculous was going to happen. He said, essentially, that “even though you’re still a virgin, you are to conceive and bear a child.” Again, this new alone would have been stunning, but the angel had still more to share …
  • Finally, the angel told Mary her infant would “be the Son of the Most High who will reign forever.” And that news was not just life-changing for Mary, it was history-changing for all humanity! Did Mary – young and surely wrapping her head around the improbably impossible – consider this good news, yet? We don’t know about Mary at that moment, but we do know that this was the beginning of the Good News for all humanity!

Now, what does this all mean in terms of simplicity? Well, do you remember this line from “Joy to the World”: “Let every heart prepare him room”? Mary’s presumably simple life was suddenly massively complicated. Suddenly pregnant, her body began to literally prepare room for Jesus in her soon swelling womb. Practically, she had to prepare room in her life for a baby, adjusting her life to the realities of unexpected motherhood. Emotionally, she had ponder how this shocking news would be received by her parents, her gossiping village, and most especially, her fiancée who surely feel confused, angry, and betrayed. How would all these people make room in their hearts for her, and how would her heart make room and allowances for their disbelief and judgment?

Finally, Mary had to make greater room for God in her life. Surely God chose her in part because she already was greatly faithful, but this was a daunting new reality! The only way this teen could survive such a once-in-history-moment would be to draw closer and closer to God. She had to rely totally on his power, his truth, his love, his provision, his priorities, his blessing and acceptance. She had to strip everything else away and focus fully on God.

And that’s what Advent invites us to do. Instead of becoming consumed with to-do’s, we’re invited to slow down, strip everything else away, and focus fully on God. Advent is about spiritual “spaciousness” – “Let every heart prepare him room.” Mary had to strip everything else away and physically, practically, emotionally, and spiritually make room for this nativity reality.

This holy Advent season, what might you do to strip away the excesses – physically, practically, emotionally, and spiritual?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who is mostly done

shopping for Christmas already

– we’re buying less, focusing more,

and have it out of the way already.

Advent is now the focus.

 

 

Simple Christmas

Simple Christmas.jpg

When [Jesus] was alone, … the twelve asked him about … – Mark 4:10

I didn’t get many responses from yesterday’s devotion on The Hundred Dollar Holiday … but what I got was really good! Yesterday I asked you for ideas for simplifying Christmas. Here’s some of your insights …

REFLECTION – A number of years ago a friend gave me that book (The Hundred Dollar Holiday). It really moved me – so much of what we really want is time, and sharing that time with others really is the gift.  That’s something I have not done as much this year (ironically, because I have been investing my time into a project FOR my family, at the cost of direct time WITH them).

TIME – My wife and I have made it a goal to spend much of our Christmas just “being” – maybe a movie-marathon day, baking cookies as a family, visiting other relatives and friends, and other simple “tasks” that are really focused on being together. (Pastor’s Question: What things might your family do together?)

REFLECTION – Years ago I read the book you mentioned. After reading it, I committed myself to execute what I had learned, but decided to take it to the extreme. That year I made homemade Christmas cards for my parents, kids, and wife. That’s it; no presents bought at all. And guess what; nobody even noticed a lack of physical gift from me due to the excesses they received from others. I’m convinced that most gifts bought around the holidays are to appease the buyer and not to celebrate the recipient. (Pastor’s Question: How many of you have shopped for “just one more gift” so that it will seem like enough presents under the tree? I know … me too. Most of those last-minute, fill-a-quota-purchases never really get used. They’re just another waste of money. Better to think hard in advance about a couple meaningful gifts than just a lot of extra stuff to fill a guilty conscience.)

REPURPOSING – Our grandson was sent to the basement storage room to get something.  When he came back he whispered to his mom, “Boy, you aren’t very good at hiding Christmas presents!”  He had seen his dad’s rarely used golf clubs that had been hidden in a corner until a recent clean-up.  His mom realized that they COULD have been given to this young man who was wanting to learn to play golf!  Then she wondered, “How many other things do I have in my house that could be passed on?”

NON-COSTLY GIFTS – Pastor Ed: I shared with you a couple of weeks ago that I remember three gifts from my college years. Two-out-of-three didn’t cost a thing.

  1. A nice winter coat. (At 20, I had just moved to Colorado to work for the Church, and I need a nice winter coat.)
  2. LOVE GIFTS – with three sons in college, extra money wasn’t readily available in our family, so we gave what we called “love gifts.” We made coupons for family members, saying things like, “I’ll clean the bathroom for you,” “I’ll wash your car,” “I’ll cook dinner in your place one evening,” “I’ll make you cookies.”
  3. A SPECIAL MEAL – In those same lean college years, my mom checked out three cookbooks from the library – Italian, Mexican, and Seafood. She wrapped them with a coupon taped the book’s cover. It read, “Pick out any meal and we’ll cook it together.” I still remember that a picked out a really rich crab entrée, and I had the privilege of spending time with my mom.

Send more ideas to me!

But here’s a quick spiritual point … Jesus regularly spent his mornings in prayer to his Father. (See Mark 1:35 – He pointed UP.) He often spent his afternoons ministering to the crowds (See Mark 6:34-35 – He pointed OUT.) And, according to our verse for today, he repeatedly spent his evenings with his spiritual family; his disciples had time with him to talk and ask questions and relax from the burdens of the day. (He was pointing IN.)

How might you balance those all three principals this Christmas – UP, OUT, and IN? And as our first congregational insight suggests, how might you spell “in” T-I-M-E?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy whose most

important Christmas gift –

besides T-I-M-E – is as

simple as a pair of pajamas!

(a tradition my grandmother

started when I was a boy)

Prioritizing Simplifies

Priorities

You used to live just like the rest of the world … – Ephesians 2:2

In 2008 the economy crashed. A wife lost her job. It panicked their family. How would they make ends meet?

“How are y’all doing,” I asked a few months later.

“Great,” she said, “Without me having my job, I’m home when the kids get home from school, instead of rushing home late from work … picking up the kids at childcare … and running through a fast food line four nights a week. I’m also not commuting to and from work, which was expensive. And I’m not buying lunch at work. And I haven’t been shopping for clothes to keep up with the styles at work.

“It’s amazing,” she continued, “we’re doing better financially than when I had a job. And our life is so much less stressful. We sit down at the table now and eat as a family. And we’re not so exhausted by chaos of the week that we’re making it to church more often.”

“That’s awesome,” I said.

And then two weeks later, she got a job offer and immediately climbed back on the hamster wheel. When I’d see them (twice a year at Christmas and Easter), I’d say, “How’s life.”

“Crazy,” they’d say.

A lot of families, of course, need two jobs. Life is truly expensive. But sometimes aren’t too many people opting for the hamster wheel just because “all of these activities are what suburban families are supposed to do”? We’re living just like the rest of the world. And sadly, “exhausted” is truly our societal norm.

The Apostle Paul wasn’t talking about busyness or simplicity when he wrote the verse for today. Nevertheless, he was talking about the sin of living just like the rest of the world instead of living like Jesus. For the last two weeks in worship, I’ve talked about the call in Matthew 10 to be disciples and to journey through life more simply. Jesus took no gold or silver or bag for his journey of ministry. We are to be like Jesus and as our Lord told the first disciples, we’re also to trust in God rather than carrying so much stuff on our journeys (Matthew 10:8-9). Stuff would have tied Jesus down. And it surely ties us down.

With this in mind, I urge you to sit down as a family and do a serious budget. Remember the family I referenced above? I’ll bet most of you, if you do a serious budget, will be surprised by how much you spend on unnecessary things that just keep the busyness of life spinning and spinning. And I’m guessing you’ll be surprised by how much of this spending – instead of giving you life – actually exhausts you further and further.

God wants you to be free. And how many of you have said that you want to be free? Well, one place to start is by budgeting. Budgeting is not really about money. It’s about prioritizing life. Doing an honest values-based budget is actually amazingly freeing.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who has squeezed

a lot of freedom and joy from

putting our values in a budget

Simplicity: Sitting in the Light

Light

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” – Numbers 6:24-26

Someone wrote back after I mentioned my light box which I often use in the fall. A lack of light in autumn depresses many people; indeed, Seasonal Affective Disorder leaves many people SAD. They’ve said, “I’ve often wondered if I needed one.”

I said, “I think the light helped … but equally good were three others things associated with it.”

  1. To sit in front of a light box, you actually have to sit. How many of us take the time to sit and relax anymore? To sit, I have to slow down.
  2. I usually sat before the light box in the morning … which means I had a cup of coffee in my hand! For how many of you can coffee become a quiet ritual blessing?
  3. While I sat, I usually opened my Bible. I was filled with light from God’s Word.

Literally – as it says in today’s verse of blessing and benediction – God’s face was shining on me.

  • I was in his word … which is a light unto our path.
  • I was enjoying what God created first … light (albeit from a light box).
  • I was sitting and relaxing … which was making my burdens light.
  • And I was drinking my coffee (and with as much cream as I like in my coffee, it was … light!).

QUESTION: How do you get each of these simple blessings?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who needs

more light

Simplicity: What Sticks?

What Sticks

For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:33

Today’s thought … Simplicity must not be complicated. It should be freeing. Not another form of guilt. Not another chore.

When I counsel people, I often say (near the end) that I’m going to start throwing spaghetti at the refrigerator. I said that to one young friend, and he didn’t know that this was a way some people test noodles. (If it sticks, you’re done.) He just thought it was hysterical. Sauce splattering everywhere. Meatballs bouncing off and rolling across the floor. He caught the idea that I was just going to go crazy, throwing out ideas. He missed the point that if it sticks, you’re done.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to throw out lots of ideas for simplicity. This is not a to-do list!!! Repeat after me: This is not a to-do list. ImagineL If you feel like you have to do everything I mention in order to live more simply, then these reflections are going to totally overwhelm you. The point is to see what sticks to you!!! If, in the midst of a hundred good ideas, you find one or two that work for you, then you’ll be freer.

So here’s today’s simple strand of spaghetti …

What is confusing and frustrating you most about the world right now? Well, according to today’s verse, whatever that is is not from God (for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace).

So, if we want more peace, we’re called to move away from the sources of confusion. We’re called to cut it out. We’re invited to take it to God. We’re enriched by talking about it with a mature Christian friend. Why? Because lies pull us from God and stresses weigh us down (and even if they’re little, a hundred little stresses can be like the straws that break the camel’s back).

What is confusing and frustrating you most nowadays? What’s robbing your peace? What do you need to do to go the other way?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who loves

to throw spaghetti

Eat Better, Exercise More, Pray More

And the Peace of God

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

In today’s passage, the Apostle Paul tells us that prayer is one of the blessings that leads to peace. And don’t you want more peace?

Simplicity is our theme for the next few weeks. Last Sunday – and then in Monday’s devotion – I listed a dozen tips to simplify life. One was …

Eat Better, Exercise More, Pray More

Healthy living gives us energy to make

better decisions and tackle life’s challenges.

Well, today let me tell you my story, and it starts with a question …

Do you know what serotonin is?

Some call serotonin “the happy chemical.” 5-hydroxytryptamine (more commonly “serotonin”) is a chemical with a wide variety of functions in the human body. Principally it is used to transmit messages between nerve cells. But serotonin plays a role in sleep, appetite, and cognitive functioning, and it plays a key role in emotions and mood.

And here’s one other fact about serotonin: My own body produces too little of it. I tell people that I often run “a quart low” – meaning, I’m not as naturally happy or buoyant as most people. And it gets worse in the fall. Sunlight boosts serotonin levels, but with less sun as the days get shorter in the fall, many people get SAD (a depressive condition known as Seasonal Effective Disorder).

Most years as autumn approaches I sit for a half hour a day in front of a light box – artificial sun – to stimulate my serotonin and lift my mood. But this year, I haven’t needed it. This year I’m buoyant.

Mary Louise made this observation recently, and we pondered why. And between us, we came up with three things that are different this year …

  1. I’m eating better this year. I’ve lost ten pounds.
  2. I’m exercising more. I don’t exercise a huge amount, but every morning I’m on an elliptical treadmill for a few minutes to get my blood flowing.
  3. There’s more prayer surrounding me. To be honest, my prayer level hasn’t changed much, but our church’s prayer level – especially for our congregation’s staff – keeps rising! (Come try our Wednesday evening prayer group.)

And then suddenly … Wow! I realized that last week I went to lots of websites to come up with last Sunday’s simplification tips like “Eat Better, Exercise More, Pray More,” and it was precisely those three things that have been improving my mental health this fall!

And here’s the thing … indeed, here’s why “doing more” (exercise more and pray more, along with healthy eating) is a simplification tool … When we’re healthier, we have the capacity to deal with more stress. Or to put that another way, health simplifies our lives. In other words, if I don’t have the capacity to do one thing, then I’m routinely overwhelmed. But if I have the health, the mood, and the capacity to do ten things … then … well, I probably still shouldn’t do more than six or seven, but I’m operating within my margin.

Are you within your margin? Maybe it’s time to take up better eating, exercising, and praying!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who truly needs the light –

it improves my mood

(including my spiritual mood)

 

Slower Speed, Less Noise

Slow Down

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself … – Psalm 37:7

Do any of you remember when the nationwide speed limit was 55 mph? After an oil crisis and long gas lines at the pumps, slower interstate speeds were put in place to save gas. The rationale: You burn less traveling more slowly.

When the speed limit was finally raised back to 65 mph, there was an interesting side effect: The noise levels from the freeways doubled. Think about that. Raising the speed limit by just 10 mph – 18% – doubled the noise!

That’s the way it is with busy lives. Increasing our activities is not simply an incrementally additive process. Have you ever said, “I know we’re busy, but what’s one more little thing?” But here’s what you need to know for sanity’s sake: A little additional stress doesn’t compound at a simple additive rate; stress is exponential. An 18% increase in activity can double the stress and noise and chaos in our life.

I guess President Carter was right: You burn less traveling more slowly.  

But most people that I know today don’t say they’re going 55 mph … or even 65 mph. Most feel like they’re just trying to hang onto the steering wheel at 100 mph. Life is busy. Crazy. Exhausting. Chaos.

And then what happens when something unexpected comes up? Somebody gets sick … Grandma breaks her hip. Can you take a few days to go and help her … Your job demands overtime … The car dies and you have to figure out how to get by for a while with one less vehicle. Do you have the margin to handle the extra stress? And it’s not just time; it’s money too. What happens when the water heater breaks or the transmission goes out?

We’re trying to hang on at 100 mph while life is rushing at us at another 100 mph. How true is it in your life that we need to pump the brakes before something breaks?

I told you last Sunday that slowing down is a three step process: DESIRE, DECIDE, DETERMINE.

  • If you want to slow down, you first have to DESIRE peace more than you desire all the chaos that you’ve chosen and keep perpetuating. How big is your desire?
  • Second, you have to DECIDE what you’re going to stop. Something’s got to give. And to give up something, you’re going to first have to prioritize. What do you really value? Which activity(s) don’t fit my highest goals?
  • Finally, you have to DETERMINE that you’re going to stick to it. If you say I’m going to digitally declutter and limit the use of my phone, then you’ll need determination when you habitually reach to pick that phone up. If you say I’m going to do devotions each morning, then you may have to be disciplined each night to set the alarm fifteen minutes early (and if you’re like me, not hit the snooze button when morning comes). What is it for you? Most say it takes 21 days to form a habit and 60 to cement it into our being. Will you be that determined?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wants to

take his foot off

the accelerator