Archives for December 2013

Step #12. Remember

season

This entire series, 12 Steps to Stay in Tune this Season, isn’t the end all be all. I don’t attempt to claim expert status. I’ve simply been sharing what the Lord has taught me about keeping the main thing THE MAIN THING throughout November and December. Thanksgiving must be more than turkey and Black Friday deals. Christmas is so much more than decorations and wish lists. Around Mid-October I determined that I didn’t want to end up frustrated and worn thin on Christmas Eve. I resolved this year would be different.

Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

– Robert Robinson, 1735-1790

This song easily became my motto. I heard it while shopping. I sang it as I rocked my baby. The lyrics have stayed with me and reminded me to seek what matters, to have a heart tuned to God’s grace.

Reminded.

Remembered.

We must remember why these dates are celebrated on the calendar. We must tell our souls the stories of God’s provision and faithfulness. We remember so we don’t forget.

stepStep #12. Remember.

“I am a wandering Israelite who sees the flame in the sky above, the pillar, the smoke from the mountain, the earth open up and give way, and still I forget. I am beset by chronic soul amnesia. I empty of truth and need the refilling. I need to come again every day–bend, clutch, and remember…” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)

 

Remember how Mary was not chosen out of her perfection, but out of her willingness. Remember the first “Silent Night” was probably anything but silent. For while our Savior was sinless, he was most certainly fully human-  and much crying he probably did make. Remember the wise men who saw with their eyes and believed with their feet… they followed.

 

All this to say, in five days, when you sit by yourself or with your family in front of a tree, around a table, in a wooden pew, or on a cushioned chair… remember the 42 generations who awaited the birth of the Messiah. Recall the young teenage girl who gave up her expectations for God’s amazing reality. Picture the infant breathing his first gulp of air and wailing – and then the man who cried out and gave up his last breath on Calvary. This God made flesh has come.

remember

 

 

“Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

 

Following,
Ginger

Step #11. Spread Joy

season

I want you to think of something that you really wanted for Christmas when you were a kid.  Make sure you choose something that you actually ended up receiving!  It should be the kind of gift that made it difficult for you to sleep on Christmas Eve.  You couldn’t wait for it.  When you discovered that very gift waiting for you in the morning you began hyperventilating and being terribly overdramatic.  (Wait, was that just me?)  Ok, have you picked something yet?  Did you choose your most-desired Christmas gift?  Good.

New question: Did you wake up thinking about that Christmas item this morning?

Isn’t it amazing that something that held so much JOY all those years ago is now lost and forgotten.  Maybe the memory of it put a smile on your face.  But the truth is that stuff (no matter how great in the moment) just doesn’t bring lasting joy.

christmas morning

But what about the huge trampoline that was waiting in the backyard in 4th grade?  I don’t think I even asked for it.  It was an AMAZING surprise that brought joy to my siblings and I (and let’s face it, the whole neighborhood) for years.  But like everything else, the trampoline wore out, fell apart, and eventually made it’s way to the trash.

Even if you enjoyed your favorite item for a few years, it doesn’t hold the same daily joy for you now.

So if we want joy like Christmas morning throughout the season, do we simply continue to replace the old stuff with the new stuff?

Rather than changing out our stuff, I think we need a change of heart and mindset.  God is always in the business of changing us from the inside out.  He desires for us to find real and lasting joy- something that’s done by spending time in His presence.  It’s totally contrary to the solution the world would give us.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  Romans 12:2. 

I tend to lose joy when I put all the focus on me.  Joyless living is often wrapped up in self-focus and selfishness. So how do I break the cycle this season and stay tuned to sing God’s grace?

stepStep #11. Spread Joy

Buddy the Elf was headed in the general direction when he quips, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

I think our joy is multiplied when we look upward and outward. Too much time on MY list, MY expectations, MY gifts and suddenly worry, resentment, and stress can take over. Joy flows most often when we take a step back from ourselves and notice those around us. Joy comes from blessing and encouraging others, rather than focusing on our own needs. When life is all about me, it leaves little room for the joy that emerges through loving people.

“The secret of joy is always a matter of focus: a resolute focusing on the Father, not on the fears. All fear is but the notion that God’s love ends.” (Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift)

I long for my heart to remain tuned to the key of grace. I want my interactions at the post office, grocery store, and with my family to bring joy, so my prayer is that I will choose joy in spite of any challenging circumstances or unmet expectations. The Lord has come, what a reason to spread the joy!

“Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.”

Following,
Ginger

To catch up on the rest of the series:

Tune My Heart

Step #1. Demonstrate Gratitude

Step #2. Today’s Manna

Step #3. Limit Distractions

Step #4. Rest

Step #5. Listen for the Echoes

Step #6. Practice Prayer

Step. #7. Give Grace

Step. #8. Prepare Him Room

Step. #9. Set Your Hope.

Step #10. Give Love.

Step #10. Give Love

season

I promise I’m not just stating the obvious when I tell you that giving love is an important part of tuning our hearts this season. I’m not talking about the sweater you ordered for your Mom or the cookies you are giving to your child’s teacher. I think our hearts allign with the Lord and are attuned to sing His grace when we give to others outside of our immediate family, and outside any expectations. So often we write a check for charity out of a surplus, but I want to challenge us all (myself included) to really ask and pray about how you can share this Christmas. How can we love the stranger, the difficult neighbor, and even the rude driver in the parking lot.

I know that more often than not, entitlement keeps me from loving more freely. “She was SO RUDE. I would be nice, but only if someone respects me first.” “I don’t have time to hold the door open.” “No one else is slowing down, I’m just going with the flow of traffic.

I think entitlement is sometimes hard to recognize because it’s so ingrained in our culture. The American Dream says if we work hard we deserve a big pay-off. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. It sounds like the making of success. But I not only demand and deserve success, I also deserve to be right (as the customer), to be heard (as a citizen), and to be happy. So you can imagine my relief when I discovered Acts 20:35 (NCV) which says:

“I showed you in all things that you should work as I did and reap the blessings of your labor. I taught you to remember the words Jesus said: ‘You deserve to succeed and be happy.’”

Except that isn’t what the verse says at all.

“I showed you in all things that you should work as I did and help the weak. I taught you to remember the words Jesus said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “ Acts 20:35, NCV

give loveStep #10. Give Love

Jesus tells us that we are more blessed when we give love than when we expect love.  This isn’t just a nice sentiment to quote to children when they are consumed by the wants of Christmas.  He’s stating a fact.  We will be blessed [divinely or supremely favored; fortunate… blissfully happy or contented] when we stop seeking self and begin to seek the Lord and His desires.

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.” Proverbs 8:17, NIV

The real truth is that you and I don’t deserve anything. But thanks be to God who has not withheld His love from us. When we focus our source, direction, and identity in Him who is love, we will slowly begin to leave the demand for self behind.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:37-40, NIV

“Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.”

 

Following,
Ginger

To catch up on the rest of the series:

Tune My Heart

Step #1. Demonstrate Gratitude

Step #2. Today’s Manna

Step #3. Limit Distractions

Step #4. Rest

Step #5. Listen for the Echoes

Step #6. Practice Prayer

Step. #7. Give Grace

Step. #8. Prepare Him Room

Step. #9. Set Your Hope.

I Trust You

Nativity

When I read the gospels, I usually skim through the Christmas story. The nativity is repeated so often during December that I consider my Christmas story quota filled. But recently I started researching Mary, the mother of Jesus, and discovered something both deeply humbling and encouraging.

“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you’” (Luke 1:26-28). . .

For the rest of the post follow this link to the Whatever Girls Blog! I’m sharing how Mary continues to teach me about trusting God even in the midst of uncertainty and change.

whatevergirls

I’ll be back tomorrow with the next installment of 12 Steps to Stay in Tune this Season. Catch you then!

Following,

Ginger

Step #9. Set Your Hope

season

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14, NIV

“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:30-37, NIV

Forty-two generations of hoping.

Nine months of waiting.

One teenage girl.

One eternal promise.

Mary teaches us all what it means to hope. She hoped in the words of an angel who said the impossible would happen.  She hoped in a God who had chosen an unassuming Nazarene to bear the Messiah. She hoped that this baby would bring hope to all.

hope

Perhaps you are hoping for answers or resolution in the coming year. Perhaps you too wait in expectation to see what this season will bring. Maybe you don’t even know what to hope for, you simply have a yearning for something different.

Mary shows us where to place our hope. If we desire to have hearts that sing of grace, we must place our hope in the Messiah.

stepStep #9. Set Your Hope.

Are you crushed by circumstances?  He is your hope.
Are you worried about upcoming situations?  He is your hope.
Are you stinging from wounds?  He is your hope.
If only for this one moment today- take time to stop. Gaze at the Nativity scene in your home or even locate one in a neighbor’s yard. Look at the Messiah and take a deep breath of hope. Imagine His first breath of life and find hope in knowing that His life gives YOU life. Take heart, the King has come. Take hope, the answer is here.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:22-25, NIV

“Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.”

 

Following,
Ginger

To catch up on the rest of the series:

Tune My Heart

Step #1. Demonstrate Gratitude

Step #2. Today’s Manna

Step #3. Limit Distractions

Step #4. Rest

Step #5. Listen for the Echoes

Step #6. Practice Prayer

Step. #7. Give Grace

Step. #8. Prepare Him Room

Step #8. Prepare Him Room

season

Joy to the World is one of my favorite Christmas Carols, and it might just be THE favorite. This morning sealed the deal.

Here was my expectation:

  1. Lay baby girl on the floor near the lit Christmas tree.
  2. Warm my one cup of coffee and take my Advent book, journal, and Bible into the front room with the tree and baby.
  3. Light a candle.
  4. Read today’s entry from The Greatest Gift. (Two days in and I highly recommend, by the way. thank you, Aunt Kathryn!)
  5. Play Christmas Carols on the piano while Baby Girl drifts to sleep.

Doesn”t that sound lovely?

After step #2 it was clear that the morning would have to look a little different from what I’d imagined. I ended up on the floor reading aloud to Norah, letting my coffee cool, not journaling, and then pulling her onto my lap as I sang…

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King. Let every heart, prepare Him room…” 

She stared at the lights and ornaments and I just took a moment to pause. I smelled, took deep breaths, sang, and took it all in. I gave thanks without saying a word.

More than any ritual, routine, or ceremony, this time of Advent calls for sacred spaces in the ordinary. It does not require books, crafts, projects, or perfection. This season exists so that we might let our hearts prepare Him room.

step

Step #8. Prepare Him Room

If we desire hearts attuned to sing of His grace, we must also make room for Him in our hearts. Our God has promised to be with us. Emmanuel, God is with us, but will we take time to be with Him?

If you are looking for some ideas to create a little space each day, check out these Advent resources.

Preparing Room

Advent Sounds

Advent Viewing

Advent Reading

“This, this, is the love story that’s been coming for you since the beginning. It is possible for you to miss it. To brush past it, to rush through it, to not see how it comes for you up over the edges of everything, quiet and unassuming and miraculous—how every page of the Word has been writing it, reaching for you, coming for you. And you could wake on Christmas only to grasp that you never took the whole of the Gift, the wide expanse of grace. So now we pause. Still. Ponder. Hush. Wait. Each day of Advent, He gives you the gift of time, so you have time to be still and wait.” – Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

tree

“Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.”

Following,
Ginger

To catch up on the rest of the series:

Tune My Heart

Step #1. Demonstrate Gratitude

Step #2. Today’s Manna

Step #3. Limit Distractions

Step #4. Rest

Step #5. Listen for the Echoes

Step #6. Practice Prayer

Step. #7. Give Grace