A Call to Simplicity

A Call to Simplicity

For the first time in 19 years, I stayed in Nashville over the Christmas break. I needed to air out. To clean stuff out. At first, it started with drawers and closets, under beds and inside wicker baskets holding all manner of sewing kits, lint brushes, and emery boards…I don’t think I’ve ever purchased an emery board in my life, but it turns out I have what it takes to become a supplier. Clothing I haven’t worn in a few years, papers “I need to get to” that are past needing to have been gotten to, cannellini beans that would have been savory in 2008—it all went away. I went to Goodwill, I recycled, I returned items I’d borrowed, I gave some things away, I took a trip to the dump. It was wonderful!

Paring down gives you eyes to see what’s important, it reminds you of the meaningful things you possess that you didn’t know you possessed because they were being obscured by lesser belongings, and it creates space for you to best utilize the essentials. What I didn’t realize is that this was a process the Lord wanted to do in my soul as well—paring down to the people and work He’s called me to so I can serve Him more effectively. It had been too long since I’d taken a good inventory.

Relinquishing the Good for the Best

This is certainly not new, but it bears repeating: The good things that tug on us get in the way of the best things. Most everything I pulled out of a drawer or closet was good and useful, but I had better and more beneficial items available to me. The former only got in the way. Similarly, after taking inventory of my year, I realized I’d said “yes” to many good activities that ended up stealing from the best ones I could put my mind and hand to. Whenever we say “yes” to something we’re necessarily saying “no” to something else. While it always pains me to part with something good, the freedom and efficiency that come with clinging to what is best never carry remorse. “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (Psalm 90:12).

Unloading the Bad for the Best

Perhaps my favorite trip of the great year-end purge was my drive to the dump. I unloaded items that weren’t fit to be given away or even recycled—they simply needed to go. Like heaving sandbags off a hot air balloon, after removing those items my home felt lighter and airier. Nothing left to trip over or maneuver around. It wasn’t but days later that the Holy Spirit showed me things in my heart and habits in my life that also needed to go. The intangibles like pride and self-reliance, but also the specifics such as too much time on my iPhone, or spending time on frivolous things that rob me of what’s meaningful. I made some adjustments and set some boundaries. These disciplines will help me get rid of what ultimately keeps me from flourishing. I will never tire of the imagery the author of Hebrews uses, “Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Sorting the Unnecessary from the Necessary

This step overlaps the first one—Relinquishing the Good for the Best—but it’s different in that it requires a good look at the people and work to which we’re called. I plotted out on a piece of paper the major parts of my work that I know I’m called to and thought about the people the Lord has entrusted to me as an aunt, sibling, daughter, friend, or minister. This gave me the clarity to see what the essentials are in my life. The nominal or simply good activities are more easily spotted once we’ve determined what’s non-negotiable. I think of Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:19-21 from His Sermon on the Mount, “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Oddly enough, treasures in heaven can only be stored up from here on earth. As you consider what are the heavenly treasures the Lord wants you to seek, beware of the competing “good” things, be ruthless with getting rid of the competing bad things, and pare back on all things so you have the clarity to see what’s important. I have a feeling you’ll find more treasures worth living for than I found emery boards. And that’s saying something.

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HOLIDAY HOSTING HACKS THAT FREE YOU TO SERVE

HOLIDAY HOSTING HACKS THAT FREE YOU TO SERVE

Entertaining during Thanksgiving and Christmas can be stressful but a lot of pressure can be eliminated with a little planning and by keeping our daily focus on Jesus’ command to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39). Here are a few tips to get organized and prepared so we’ll have room to do what Jesus calls us to do.

Plan Ahead

After your guest list has been decided, settle on your menu. Once your menu is set, make a list of all the ingredients you need at the grocery store or farmer’s market, as well as which stores you’ll need to visit. Pro tip: the holidays are not the time to try out a new grocery store. Stick to what you know or you’ll be wandering the aisles frustrated that you can’t find the vanilla extract or chopped pecans. This will put you in a very bad mood, and you can’t be in a bad mood when you’re about to possibly encounter sometimes-challenging relatives you haven’t seen in a year (we’ll get to relatives in a moment). While you’re shopping, cooking, and cleaning, pray as you go. Thanking the Lord for His many blessings and praying specifically for those you’ll be encountering is a great way to prepare your heart.

Do As Much As You Can Ahead Of Time

After you’ve bought your ingredients, whatever you can make ahead of time, make it. If you’re serving a salad, have your vegetables chopped, nuts toasted, dressing made and stored appropriately. If you have casseroles that can be chilled in the fridge, make them a day or two before. Appetizers like a charcuterie board can be put together ahead of time as well. Have your bread sliced, asparagus trimmed, lemons squeezed beforehand—you get the idea. Also, clean as you go. There’s nothing like waking up to a spotless kitchen on the day you’re hosting a large meal or party. Instead of running from room to room with your hair on fire, you’ll be able to enjoy your guests. You’ll have the capacity to ask good questions, listen, and watch for opportunities the Holy Spirit gives you to encourage or pray for someone who needs it.

Delegate

Every year I have this ideal that I want my guests to be able to simply show up and not have to do a thing. But the older I get and the more people I host, the more unrealistic this becomes. Friends and relatives really are happy to bring their specialty dessert, or pick up that artisan loaf of bread, or come with an overflowing bowl of salad. I find that for every dish or drink that someone else handles, a surprising amount of pressure is taken off on the big day. When others pitch in not only are you, as the host, more at ease but also more people get to share in having a part in the celebration.

It’s Not Your Responsibility To Fix Your Relatives

If your guest list happens to include difficult or awkward relatives, it’s freeing to remember that it’s not your responsibility to fix them. I know what you’re thinking… but I know exactly what’s wrong with them and have so many good ideas! Let Jesus decide what He wants to do with those great ideas and then ask Him to help you walk out the gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… (Galatians 5:22-23). Think of how less stressed you’ll be if you don’t task yourself with having to change all your loved ones over Christmas. This is very freeing news. The day may come when you have to gently confront a loved one, or deal with a perpetually difficult problem. But the holiday season typically isn’t the time to try to solve decades-old issues. Throw off the responsibility of having to fix everyone, pray, and pick up a piece of pumpkin pie. You’ll thank me for this one.

Focus on What’s Right This Year

Every holiday season has a cultural ideal that none of our holiday experiences can live up to. Our Thanksgivings and Christmases will never totally measure up to the standard we read about in books or see in the movies. Someone or something will always be missing. Disappointments will happen. But make a decision to focus on what is right this year. Be intentional to thank God for who is present with you, for who He is, and for all the blessings He’s given you. A thankful heart will be a salve for whatever disappointments linger. With a little planning ahead, a few people to help, some delicious recipes, your loved ones around you, and most importantly, the presence of Christ Himself, this holiday season is sure to be the most wonderful time of the year.

Check out Kelly’s New Cookbook, A Place at the Table.

The post Holiday Hosting Hacks That Free You to Serve appeared first on LifeWay Voices.

Hearing God In The Quiet

Hearing God In The Quiet

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I took this picture of my niece mesmerized by the deer in the distance. (Also, she hikes in a bow).

A couple weeks ago I went away for a quiet retreat. The Lord had been nudging me toward a time of solitude, but you know how that goes—things were BUSY. And loud. And moving fast. And you know what? I can get really comfortable with that fast pace because…

busyness covers a bunch of STUFF.

You know what I mean?

When we’re sprinting from thing to thing—running around in a frenzy or intentionally stacking our calendars—the busyness can become an escape. And it’s easy to excuse our disconnect with God by falling back on how much there is to do!, which makes this all so sneaky. I am guilty of this. But I made the time to get away and I’m so thankful I did. Here are a few things I learned from my time of solitude:

  • Silence allows the chatter that’s deep in our souls to surface. I didn’t realize some of the fears and anxieties I was using busyness to shove back down until I unplugged for a time. As the fears percolated the Lord reminded me of the difference between True Safety versus False Security. In Psalm 16:1 David cries out to God for safety because he had made God his refuge (true safety). I began journaling about all the things I sometimes make my refuge: relationships, social media, financial security, personal devices, entertainment, my career (false security)… It took the quiet to reveal my fears and the quiet to reveal the Lord’s remedy for those fears. I’m still working through them, but they’re out in the open before the Lord now, as opposed to being covered up by a packed schedule.
  • The Lord is pleased when we set aside time to seek Him. I’ve been spending time in various parts of the Old Testament recently and am reminded continually that God desires His people to love Him with their heart, soul, strength and mind. For me, stepping away from the normal routine, daily relationships and too many iPhone checks a day was a way of showing God that I love Him. That He is worth my sole attention and affection. Being that I am forever recovering from legalism, it’s important to note that I didn’t get away to earn the Lord’s love—I can fall into that trap too. But this time I was truly expectant to spend time in His Presence, even if I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I took prayer walks, journaled and meditated on Scripture I sensed His pleasure.
  • Solitude is the landscape wherein God shows you what you otherwise wouldn’t know is there. Like sitting silently in the woods waiting for creatures to crawl out of crevices or alight onto branches, so waiting in God’s presence reveals what’s often obscured when we’re in a rush. I had a piece of paper for each family member and friend I was praying for. I felt led to write different prayers for each person, some prayers that felt expected and others the Lord impressed upon my heart that surprised me. Also, the Holy Spirit brought up a conversation He wanted me to have with a loved one about something I would have never seen a need for on my own. When I came home I had that conversation that was both uncomfortable and healing. The Lord knew.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was only away and fully unplugged for about 28 hours. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I spent a month fasting while hiking the Appalachian Trail in sackcloth. But it was a start for me and I was thinking you might be encouraged to start with some time of solitude yourself, even if it’s for an hour or two this week. Just make a plan and stick to it. Set aside the time to pray, read Scripture, worship and journal what the Holy Spirit reveals to you. Find the quiet. Make the quiet.

Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God.

 

 

 

Where Has All The Joy Gone?

Where Has All The Joy Gone?

 

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Sunflower Field, Moldova

Sunflower Field, Moldova

These two images represent joy to me. I should first let you know that I am one of those people who has to fight for joy much of the time. Not that serotonin equals joy but I think it helps and I think my levels are low. Nor does a glass half-full mentality equal joy but, again, at least this points us in the right direction. I naturally dwell on what’s not working, could use improvement, the half where the doubts and questions linger. So, generally, I’m fighting for joy; I’m praying for it; I’m seeding and watering it. Which is why I was surprised when I discovered it in the most unlikely places.

See the Discovery boat in the Amazon? See those sunflowers in Moldova? These pictures embody places that have brought me joy, but not simply because of their beauty or majesty. Though a generalization to be sure, the Amazon is where the forgotten live and Moldova is where the orphans live. And nothing has brought me greater joy than meeting these people and experiencing the power and love of the Gospel in the harshness of poverty and hopelessness and abandonment. I’ve also found this same joy here in my own community, too. This next picture represents that community: meals around the table, family suppers, home bible study, afternoon coffees, the place I have to love others.

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My Dining Room Table, Nashville, TN

Serving, reaching out, bringing in the lonely, encouraging the downcast, throwing the birthday party, taking a mission trip, teaching the Scriptures in your home, holding babies in the nursery, praying for the sick, however you’re doing it… this is where the joy is. I watched a fabulous sermon this morning by a friend of mine, Mike Meyers, who is on staff at my father’s church. The title is “Do Something” and if you have 40 minutes of quiet, I would spend it right here.

Mike spoke out of James 1:25, which says, “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” 

I’ve read that verse so many times and missed what Mike so brilliantly pointed out: “Knowledge without action robs us of our true joy.” The flip side is this: When we do what we know to do we’re blessed. It suddenly dawned on me why my greatest most sustaining most fulfilling joy has come from being a part of the change Jesus is bringing about in the lives to whom He’s called me. It’s why I’ve found joy in such unlikely places, in parts of the world and in my own neighborhood where it makes no sense to find joy. Because God blesses our obedient doing. And when He blesses, His blessings are full of joy.

As we fly into September, and the Fall promises a new school year, the holidays, a fresh routine, I’m asking myself how my joy is faring. What am I not doing that I know to do? Who needs the warm embrace of Jesus? Where is He asking me to go? What step has His Word told me to take?

Because there is blessing in the doing.

And there is joy in the blessing.

You Are Always With Me

I’ve been making my way through Luke in the mornings. During Lenten season I enjoy the gospels especially as we soberly march toward the cross, our hearts flinging open with joy at the resurrection. This morning I was in Luke 15 reading about the familiar parable of The Prodigal Son. Sometimes it’s hard to mine anything new from these well tread passages, though the Holy Spirit is good at showing us anything we may have missed, or maybe can only now handle. Today I don’t know if I have anything new for you, but one particular thought was new for me.

The story is told in verses 15:11-32, culminating with the father’s response to the oldest son who’s understandably frustrated, even angry that a party has been thrown celebrating his younger brother’s return—the brother who, by the way, had squandered the inheritance on foolish, even tawdry, living. That guy. A friend of mine recently told me that if she had been the older brother she would have stood there, hands on hips, saying, really?—in the spirit of  Seth and Amy from SNL. All this comes to a broil when the older son essentially does say really?, and has it out with the father, to which the father responds, “Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”

I once heard someone share about this passage and the “everything I have is yours” part, and it was just remarkable. I’ll never forget it. She shared about a deeply coveted experience she’d missed having only for the Lord to remind her that absolutely everything He has is hers. It turns out that someone else needed to experience the moment she’d hoped to have, and in the end, nothing was lost because when you belong to God and all He has is yours, there can be no true loss.

The phrase leading up to “everything I have is yours”, is “You are always with me”. I hadn’t thought too much about that phrase before until this morning. This is a stunning remark in light of everything the older brother was so upset about. We get angry or jealous about someone else’s party, the attention they’re receiving that maybe we should be receiving. We compare things for things, “She shouldn’t have gotten that, when I’ve done all this.” Or “Why is he getting the promotion when I’ve done all the work?” Why the nicer home, bigger family, better spouse, elaborate vacation? We focus on the monetary and material—why the ring, the calf, the robe? For him? For her? Are you kidding me?

And then the father brings us back in five words, “You are always with me.”

He brings us back to relationship. To what it means to wake up to him everyday. To see him out in the fields of our work. To call out to him with any question, because we can, because he’s right there, with us. To collapse at his table at night and dine with him over a lavish meal. To crawl under the covers knowing our beds are under the roof of his favor, the watch of his eye. The party for the younger son was significant, the celebration a study in grace and mercy, no doubt. But the grounding of the father’s words, “you are always with mewas the prize the younger son had forfeited for a season. Son, daughter, you have me! We’re together. Always. Don’t you see this is everything?

I suppose the question is how important this is to us. Would we rather have the party of the father or the presence of him? The father was reaching out to the older son’s heart when he said “you are always with me”, because absolutely nothing on this earth, nothing, no. thing. trumps relationship with God.

I don’t know what’s gnawing at you, but the offer of relationship with God through Christ is so intimate, so personal, so fulfilling, higher than even the most lavish of material celebrations. God sent His Son to die for it. As we set our sights toward Easter, my prayer is that we never forget that Christ came for many things, not the least of which was for relationship. So we could know him. (1 John 4:13-15.) You may be many things today: Disappointed, frustrated, confused, maybe even angry like the older brother. But don’t be lonely. We have The Father who has availed himself to deep abiding relationship with us. And as a bonus, he’s kicked in everything he has, as though it’s our own.

 

Grief of a Different Kind

I flew in from California last Sunday night just in time to attend a memorial service for a newborn baby. He was the son of two of my friends, whole and perfect. For reasons unknown, except to Elohim (The God who creates), this little baby went to be with Jesus on his third day here on earth.

My friends attend a new church that currently meets in a bar, which works well for Sunday morning worship services but not as great for other functions. Since my friends were without a church building to celebrate their son, they chose one of their favorite and frequented spots – Ugly Mugs coffee shop. Up until this past Sunday I had sipped many cups of loose leaf tea and french pressed coffee at many coffee houses in countless cities. But I had never worshiped. I had never sung songs to Jesus or prayed corporately or listened to a pastor say things like, “All things will be made right in the end, and if this is not okay with you, it’s because it’s not the end yet.”

Because my friends who lost their child are exceedingly young – 22 – the crowd skewed youthful, and it blessed me. It moved me to see a young generation saddened, confused and grieving, but lifting their hearts and minds to Jesus, the Author of life in a somewhat unconventional spot, yet so perfectly fitting. Why not celebrate life and ask questions and cry with one another – and invite Jesus to reign – in a place that regularly teems with community? It reminded me that Christ is not confined to the brick and mortar buildings we call “church” (though a phenomenal blessing to have a set apart place), but reigns in every crevice of our world. And He is delighted when we bring Him to those nooks and crannies.

Above all else, I was proud of my friends who said at such young ages, “We do not grieve as the world grieves” (I Thes 4:13). They had hope that was palpable and impossible to feign. They didn’t merely speak of the fact that God works all things together for good for those who know and love Him, but they hooked that truth with a lasso and tugged it into their breaking hearts. And the church stood around them and agreed with them and God. And drank Americanos.

God bless you Ben, Amy and Aiden.

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