Epiphany

Good Dirt Sunday

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*This devotional excerpt is taken from Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany

Sunday
Till:
 Jesus, you not only taught but showed us that when we entrust our lives to you and give up everything, we don’t lose out. No, our life blossoms forth like a seed into the most beautiful flowers! Help us be reckless with love, laying down our lives as servants.
Plant: Read John 12:24-32
 
Water:
 Enter it: This reading takes place just a little before Jesus was crucified.He knows all the pain he was about to suffer for us, but he goes ahead anyway because of how much he loves us and his Father! Then God shouts from heaven, telling Jesus that he is doing the right thing. How do you think Jesus felt when he heard his Father’s voice?
Apply it: Jesus taught that our lives are like seeds: in order to bear fruit, a seed has to look like it’s gone for good, lost and buried in the ground! But then it bursts forth into wonderful fruit. Sometimes, in order to love people well, it can look like we have to lose what we need. Are there any ways that God is inviting you to love that look hard or painful? How can you trust God and love in this situation?

 
Weed:
 Was there a time today when you had the opportunity to love and it cost you something to do so? How did you do? Was it hard? What happened?

 

God Always Answers

Last week as we read Good Dirt and focused on the passage from Luke 11 where Jesus teaches the disciples to pray with what later has come to be known as the Lord's prayer, we talked with the boys at some length about how God always answers prayer. We've talked about it many times, but again there was some argument. "Well, God doesn't always answer prayer, like if you ask to become a millionaire. God might not answer that prayer," offered one of the boys.

And then we talked about how God may answer by saying, "No, I know what is good for you and I want to give you my best. I am not going to make you a millionaire but I will make you rich in other ways that will bring you much more joy."

And then we talked about how as we grow closer to God we begin wanting what He wants for us more than what we in our limited understanding can want for ourselves. We begin to have God's desires for our life rather than our own desires.

And then we talked about how Jesus taught his followers to pray for their everyday, usual needs. Our prayers don't have to be complicated. They can be simple. And we talked about what some of those everyday needs are. The boys reviewed the ways we pray from day to day--asking for help on a test at school, asking for healing from illness, asking for guidance in making a decision.

And after that time together and as the week proceeded, I began to think about how in parenting, with all the changing of our kids' stages of life and with all the challenges we have in knowing how to parent a child who is different from us, with all the waiting of months or years to know whether the decisions we are making now in parenting our kids are going to end up being the right ones to help guide and mature them--with all these unknowns it's a big comfort to remember that God always answers our prayers.

Mike and I got a glimpse of it twice this week with our teenager. An issue we have prayed about for years and not known if we were deciding rightly in the way we have gently but firmly kept him involved in something he didn't want to be doing has come full circle. He has suddenly embraced it and is seeking further involvement on his own and it's meeting a  place of passion inside of him. Another issue as well, he has embraced after some off and on complaining and resistance.

There has been much comfort not in feeling like "we were right" but in the realization that yes, God answered all those prayers, day by day, about how to guide him. In the end, it doesn't matter so much whether Collin stays involved in these particular areas or not. What matters is that we've tried to put our need before God and then follow the ways God seemed to be leading. The rest is up to God and He will take our child where He wants him to go over the course of his life if Collin learns to follow daily the leading of the Spirit as he places his needs before God.

"Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." Thank you for teaching us to pray, God. And thank you that you always answer.

What's a Hypocrite?

I don't think we've had this particular discussion before with the boys. It was verses from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) and questions in Good Dirt that got their wheels turning and, before we'd even finished the Scripture reading our 8-year-old was interrupting with, "What's a hypocrite? ... What's a hypocrite?" They couldn't really identify with Jesus' examples of blowing trumpets when giving money in church, or praying really loud on street corners, or fasting from food with troubled faces. So, the challenge was to bring hypocrisy to a kid's level.

"It's doing things so that other people will think you're a really good Christian, but you don't mean them in your heart. It's caring more about what other people think of you than what God thinks of you."

Well, that description seemed to satisfy. Except that our two younger boys haven't reached the place in life quite yet where they would conceive of doing good deeds to impress other people. It's not a motivation that resonates a whole lot with them. What you see is what you get.

However, as I've thought a little more on this, I've realized that we adults can sometimes use subtle ways of encouraging hypocrisy in our kids before they even really understand what they--and we-- are doing. For awhile our Christian school used a popular behavior program called Positive Behavior Management, where instead of focusing primarily on giving consequences for unacceptable behavior, teachers focused on praising and rewarding good and appropriate behavior. It was a big hit with the kids and it really did make a difference in the overall demeanor of the student body in classrooms and on the playground.  The kids rose to the occasion and loved being singled out for doing good things.

I wouldn't throw out this program completely. Encouraging kids is always good. Noticing the things they do right is biblical--the apostle Paul praised churches and individuals in his letters of exhortation. Praising those around us is part of loving them. The rub comes, though, when we consider what is motivating our kids to be "good," day in and day out, as they play with friends, serve their teachers and neighbors, and as they live as members of families in our homes.

That is what we ended up talking about this night where hypocrisy became our new vocabulary word. And Good Dirt helped us come to the crux of the issue with these words,

Today, Jesus is teaching us that because it is God whom we really need--not other people's approval--we don't need to act, perform, or pretend to be good to impress others. Let's practice that today by doing an act of secret service! Try not to be caught! Do something nice for someone else--maybe clean up after them when they're not looking, or make something nice for them, or do a chore for them--without telling anyone. Do it so only God sees!

That night our boys prayed, "Lord, help us not to be hypocrites. Help us not to have hypROCKrisy. Help us to do something in secret. Amen" The next night, again, they prayed for help in doing something secret--they'd forgotten. This may be an ongoing prayer. I don't think doing things in secret comes so naturally. It will be a good daily prayer for us all.

***You can get the next issue of Good Dirt by clicking on the title here and downloading for free, or you can order through Amazon. It's titled Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families

SQUIRREL! (Or, Dealing With Distractions)

Wow. Keeping a five-year old's attention is a chore. At least it is with our little dude. We've been trying different ways to help him listen to Good Dirt devotions. Sometimes I start making things up during the reading to see if he notices ("then Peter got on a motorcycle and started doing wheelies!") His sister thinks it's hilarious, but usually it goes over his head. One night we tried offering him M&M's if he could answer questions based on the reading. But mostly we just say stuff like "Are you paying attention?" "Stop squirming." "Get off of your sister!" "What did I just say?"

I figured it would get better after he got into the habit of daily devotions, but alas, three months in we're still dealing with distractions every night. Not unlike the dog from Up.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSUXXzN26zg]

It's hard to help everyone keep focused night after night. I might have a better attention span than a kindergartener, but I'm not immune to distractions (case in point: I'm writing this blog post while watching the Olympics, texting and playing a game on my smartphone). In fact, I think the distractions are what have derailed our family devotions in the past. After the excitement of Advent and Christmas, we tend to run out of gas after a month or so--then we get distracted with other things and the habit slips away.

Epiphany is also called Ordinary time. Carolyn has been learning a lot lately about finding God in the ordinary, but doing that takes discipline to avoid distractions. Because the ordinary seems so--well, ordinary. It's easy to get caught up with distractions and miss the still-small voice. But God is patiently waiting to give us the gift of His presence if we'll put down the phone, turn off the TV and listen.

And stop chasing the squirrel.

Moments in Time

As most of you know Wendy my gorgeous wife paints houses now and then with her sister Christy.  Their most recent accomplishment was wall papering a "castle" outside of Delta (Delda for those who speak Deldonian).  I call it a castle because it sits on the south side of Grand Mesa, is 11,000 square feet and has just a magnificent feel to it.  A secret door, a giant tiled living space that could fit a half basketball court in it, a kitchen that makes cooks like myself drop to their knees exclaiming "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!"  Anyway you get the idea.  It's a nice place. Last week I was in "Delda" with my two boys while Wendy and Christy were working at the castle.  It was one of the very snowy days of the week and I'm in our Buick Lasabre with bald tires and the castle sits 7 miles off the hyway straight up the extinct volcano's reaches.  I, now 47 years of age,  hesitate to take the journey as it's a blizard in "Delda", but adventure awaits and my boys' sense of adventure is getting to level six on "Skylanders Swap Force" video game and the snow is lifting a bit.

The journey up goes by a ranch house with old dead monstrous cottonwood trees on one side of the road and an abandoned small orchard on the the other.  Then it comes to several chicken raising barns and then the final ascent to the castle is steep.  We make it up no problem.  After I tour the place and determine its castle-like status we venture back home after a farewell smooch from my lady.  The snow now is back with a force and our visibility is down to 50 yards.  I put the Buick in low and we just creep down getting up to a top speed of maybe 20. I start expounding on the moment with my boys, for what we can see is only just what's ahead. "What if there's only what we can see and nothing beyond?" I exclaim to the somewhat worried looking boys.

We then approach the old ranch and we can see as we near the cottonwoods several Ravens and they are fighting with a Golden Eagle.  Whiteout of snow around us and God clashing before us in battle with our enemies.  There's no show of fear from the eagle even outnumbered 12 to 1 and we in the old car as mere spectators to their clash.  The boys just exclaim (raised from their 80's era father) "cool!"

A week later I'm taking my oldest son Quinn to his tutor outside of Montrose.  She lives about 6,000 feet and has had some accumulation after several days of heavy snow so she says that her husband will meet us at the bottom of the hill to help us with the journey.  Sounds like another adventure to me so I take our SUV.  We get to their driveway and see there is probably a foot of new snow. I roar the SUV down the drive in four wheel drive slipping a bit several times to the side of the mile long treacherous driveway.  I take extra care to go beyond the limits of a 100% safe trip down the drive just to exhilarate my son a bit.  On the way out I take my time viewing the covered landscape covered with the engineered frozen crystals that transformed the mesa to something magical.  Millions of tiny mirrors reflecting beams of sunlight.  Odd shapes of snow covered trees make a rounded lumpy white terrain.  The trail is just a moment in time going through a free tour of Gods transformation.  No troubles exist here for this mile is God's orchestration.

Later that day I pick up Quinn in town from his tutor and he wants to go to his favorite pizza place for lunch.  Colorado Boy is our local fire brick oven pizza/brewery.  The responsible father in me that thinks we have sandwich stuff at home is easily swayed because I too like the pie at Colorado Boy.  While I'm there I usually help the place out and purchase a pint of Irish ale,  just to be a good patron of local business. I hold several gold medals for eating slowly and savoring the food and beverage of the moment.  However, Quinn is now a definite contender of eating as slow or slower than his old man so, we are not in a hurry.    It's getting past 1:00 pm and with the fill of beer and pizza and the view from the gunfighters seat in the booth of the quaint restaurant it all goes kinda slow motion.  The place is clearing out people are talking, laughing, enjoying the atmosphere of the fire brick oven and the brass laden bar, I see God again.  He's enjoying the moment with us.  Father and son, no words need to be spoken. These are moments I cherish and wish they could last forever.

"Simply to Thy Cross I Cling"

I will confess right off the bat that this month has been a season of clinging to Jesus for me.  I think I might be part ostrich, because my natural tendency is to just stick my head in the sand whenever life gets ‘too tough’.  But whether I’ve allowed myself a little time in that soft, cool sand or been out in the thick of it, I’ve been clinging.  And not gracefully clinging, either.  I’m talking the fingernails dug in and feet dangling kind of clinging.  There is a battle raging, I have no energy to fight – and so I cling. If I were to write about our family experiences with daily devotions, you would hear about the time when Kaiser was going to draw something about the Sabbath healing at the Pool of Bethesda.  He diligently hovered over his notebook adding precision details before proudly showing us a drawing of himself playing badminton.  I know that I’ll come across that picture one day and faintly remember the despairing of my heart as I wondered if my son would -ever- experience God intimately.

When I ask my son the leading questions in our devotions, his most common response is, “Uh, Peace! Love! Courage!”  (See, Wendy, I wasn’t joking)

So I’ll leave those stories for another day when my heart isn’t despairing quite so much.  And I’ll just say that the reading of Scripture every morning and every evening has been a form of clinging for me.  I loved Lacy’s post about eating the Book.  Yes, I have it with honey for breakfast (Psalm 119:103).  We do like honey in this house.  To prove my point, I’ll share just one more kid story. Kaiser smelled honey when we were living in the story of the feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8:1-10).  Turns out he had some honey toast along with him.  He even shared some of his honey toast with Jesus.  And when Jesus stood and gave thanks, I leaned over and whispered, asking Kaiser who Jesus was thanking.  Loudly, he says, “Me!”  4,000 heads turned our way……..  *sigh

Lord, thank you for Your Word.

Another form of clinging for me has been found in a gift from my sister-in-law.  A book called “Then Sings My Soul” by Robert J. Morgan.  In it are 150 Hymns with descriptive narratives alongside each one about the life of the author.  I have an hour at taekwondo class where I sit in a cold office and read.  Since this book arrived, I’ve been reading and singing, reading and singing.  And I’ve even begun to sing some of these to Kaiser to put him to sleep at night.  These words are medicine.  Listen.

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages cleft for me / Let me hide myself in Thee

Let the water and the blood / From Thy wounded side which flowed

Be of sin the double cure / Save from wrath and make me pure

Could my tears forever flow / Could my zeal no languor know

These for sin could not atone / Thou must save and Thou alone

In my hand no price I bring / Simply to thy cross I cling

 

While I draw this fleeting breath / When my eyes shall close in death

When I rise to worlds unknown / And behold Thee on Thy throne

Rock of Ages cleft for me / Let me hide myself in Thee

“Just As I Am” was written by a woman wrought with physical disabilities and angry to the brim because of them.  When she faced her own epiphany that Jesus bids us come just as we are, she gave herself, full of anger and distrust, to Him - and He received her (John 6:37).  Her story brings healing.

Just As I Am

Just as I am without one plea / But that Thy blood was shed for me

And that Thou bidst me come to Thee / O Lamb of God I come / I come

 

Just as I am and waiting not / to rid my soul of one dark blot

To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot / O Lamb of God I come / I come

 

Just as I am though tossed about / With many a conflict many a doubt

Fightings and fears within, without / O Lamb of God I come / I come

 

Just as I am poor, wretched, blind / Sight, riches, healing of the mind

Yea all I need in Thee to find / O Lamb of God I come / I come

 

Just as I am Thou wilt receive / Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve

Because Thy promise I believe / O Lamb of God I come / I come

Lord, we encounter you in all sorts of dusty regions.  We see you healing those who are sick and feeding those who are hungry.  We recognize your compassion.  As we cling to you, increase our faith.

 

-Tamara Liebenthal

Just Like a Snowflake

© Julie Falk. Used under Creative Commons License This week we reach the mid-point of Epiphany, and this morning two of my boys and I had a fitting conversation on the way to school. First, I will backtrack.

We started off Ephiphany in early January talking about Jesus, the Light of the World. This season of Epiphany (between Christmastide and Lent) is focused on just that--Jesus revealed to us as Savior, Messiah, Light of the World. And as we have basked in the glow of Jesus during this season, we have also considered how he calls us to let our light shine before others. Our family has prayed many prayers thanking Jesus for being the Light and asking him to shine his light in our lives. I wrote a blog about how we even entered into discussions of Jesus, the Light, with our neighbors one night.

The family and neighbor time has been meaningful, though devotional. We don't often know how the talk will translate into the rest of life. And then last week my 8-year-old came home from school with a paper from Bible class asking what he could do to help another who was hurting. His answer, in a 3rd grader's block print, was to

"share the light with them."

And then this morning on the way to school, after a weekend of Colorado snow and cold, this same 8-year-old asks, "Mom, why does the snow sparkle?"

"Well, snowflakes are little ice crystals, and when light shines on water or ice it reflects back to us and sparkles."

And then Derrin's response, "Why  doesn't dirty snow sparkle?"

Hmmm... Teaching moment appears, despite early morning and a Monday. "Dirt fills up the snowflake so that light can't shine through it. It's kind of like sin, huh? When we're filled with sin we can't shine Jesus' light. But when Jesus' life is living in us it clears away the dirt so that we can shine just like a clean snowflake. "

The car gets quiet and we ride alongside banks of clean, sparkling snow and also dull, dirty roadside slush.  I think about how God brings truth to life again and again in our lives. His Word is living and active--with a house full of people of many ages and backgrounds, at a 3rd grader's desk, in a car on an almost-tardy morning. And God lives through his Word, through Jesus' life in us, differently every time and for each person. Kind of like a snowflake. No two are the same. Every time, every one, new and unique.

An Epiphany of shining moments.  An Epiphany of Light.

From the Mouths of Babes

My boys want to share their thoughts about this season and our Good Dirt readings. Please remember that Kadin is 4 and Quinn has a very hard time verbalizing his thoughts and feelings. That being said.... I type their words... Kadin: We talk to each other and about Jesus. We hug each other and we love each other. I know that Jesus is the best Jesus. I like that we have a great time in our Bible study. I like to draw the pictures. I draw my shepherd pictures. I like to pray for my Tt (aunt) that she has a great night sleep and that Rilynn (cousin) will have a sleep over again at our house. I like when Daddy prays for me. My favorite is the kids Bible. My favorite story is about Jesus when he talks to persons and heals persons. I like that we have a great time every night. I miss it when we don't do it.  We pray for each other and I like to pray for Daddy. That's all!

Quinn: Every night we pray for blessings and forgiveness and our ability to know Jesus. I like to pray for Lacy and Easton and Grandma Nonie and our neighbors and believing. I like to draw pictures of what you're saying of the stories. My favorite picture I have drawn is of the Jesus giving the woman a loaf of bread. I like this picture because that lady was grateful and she said thank you to Jesus for the loaf of bread. I am always grateful! I am grateful for friends, pets, toys, clothes, bed, food, water, lions, movies and video games, parents, family, wood for our stove, ipods, funny youtube videos, Max (the dachshund), real trains, giggle fits and our home/farm. (truly he can keep going but my fingers are not fast enough). I love to light the candles every night... OH YEAH! I learned about Jesus how he is a good man and our King. How he made our world very good. I have learned how He loves us by how He made us and how He gave everything for us. I like when we do our (Good Dirt) Bible study after dinner because we want to learn more about Jesus and it helps us know Jesus better.

I am beyond blessed listening and talking to these two precious boys. They are my heart and soul! Just a minute ago I was frustrated with Quinn and his difficulty getting his schoolwork finished and with Kadin for not finishing his room chores. Now I am humbled and honored to just be able to talk with them.

They remind me why Jesus liked to spend his time with the children. They are profound and simple and fun.

How often do we adults just make things too difficult... to detailed... to big... to complicated. I think now all of my concerns of this life I will just take to my kids and let them answer with their perfect faith. (PS... Isabella is not here. She is on a "date" with her daddy. That makes me love him even more!)

Seeing for the first time...again

I find it interesting that the word smothering is only one additional letter from mothering, which is exactly how mothering feels like some days; smothering. Now please hear my heart, I love my children and I am so thankful for the privilege of motherhood but a woman does need to be able to use the restroom without interruptions or visitors! Reading through the book of Mark with my children has been eye opening to me; I have always read the gospels through so quickly that I didn't take time to ponder the flow of Jesus’ life. Reading it in small batches each day, expounding on the small points so that my five year old understands it, makes me really understand it too. And much to my delight, I see Jesus constantly surrounded by crowds of people, so much so that He and his disciples cannot even eat! That brings comfort to this mommy who is often crying out, “Can’t I just eat please?”  The beauty of it for me, is that I see Jesus never got frustrated with the crowds, he didn’t yell at them to just leave him alone, He patiently taught them and healed them. Now I acknowledge that Jesus is fully God (and human) and perfect, both of which I am not (thank goodness!) but he is my example and I think I have realized his secret.

He knew that his earthly ministry was limited to three short years. He knew that the hearts in those crowds were desperate for his life, his teachings, his hope and those were the only years He had to show it to them. His years on this earth were limited and most of all, he was teaching his disciples the most important things so that when His time was finished they would know how to go and spread his life to the world.

Thankfully God has given me the same opportunity. Every day I am smothered by mothering, yet I realize that these are short years indeed and every time that my daughter calls “Mommy look!” I need to stop and look, because that only lasts a few short years. Some days feel like they will never end but the years do fly by. I know too, that each day I have the privilege to walk in such a way that when my children leave my house and live on their own, they will know the way to walk.

I want them to know that each day, we can’t do it by ourselves, we need God each day. I love how my son loves to hear the scripture reading each day, he gets excited when he knows what Jesus is doing, like a miracle. The scriptures are alive and breathing to him, and I remember in that moment that yes, they are truly amazing. These stories can grow stale after years of hearing or being taught about them, but when I see my son hear the story for the first time, I feel the awe once again and breathe a small thank you to God for his everlasting power. Jesus was God, yet fully man, and thankfully one that in those moments of my day, that I feel like I can never get a little time to myself, he whispers in my heart, “I know darling, I have been there too. Just hold on, it will be over before you know it.”

This is the God that I have given my life over to, the one that is always with me, who understands because he was a man, tempted just like me, and knows how it feels to be smothered and yet chose to die to yourself and delight in those smothering you. He is Immanuel who has come for each of us.

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

How to “EAT THIS BOOK”

“He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give to you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.” Ezekiel 3:1-3 is always a hard one to explain to children who have been told most of their lives to keep things out of their mouths.

“If you are going to pick your nose, please don’t eat it.”

“No. You cannot eat the candy you found in the sofa.”

“The gum underneath the table is definitely off limits.”

However, in this passage God is clear, he want Ezekiel to eat the word of God. God wants Ezekiel to place that dry, inky word in his mouth and chew. And perhaps chew some more. God wants Ezekiel to swallow those words and let the process of all that he has eaten become part of his very being. Eugene Peterson translates this command as “Eat this book.”[1]

In Romans 12:2 Paul gives his readers a leg up on how the transformation into Christ likeness happens. We are “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” One way mind transformation happens is when we “Eat this book,” when the words of Scripture become part of our very being.

Often when we expose our children to Scripture we get surface level understanding, but that isn’t all they are capable of. If we want to go deeper with them; we have to speak the language they know best—the language of imagination.

C.S. Lewis said that, “Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” [2]

Ignatian meditation is one way to chew and swallow the word of God. It becomes part of our being, it transforms our minds. The practice is quite simple.

  1. Choose a passage of Scripture from one of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. A passage that has some action is particularly good. Also choose something short. If you are following along in Good Dirt, you can use the passage from that day. John 6:1-14 is one of my favorites with children.
  2. Pray a short prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to speak through the passage into your hearts. Then read the passage through once.
  3. Remind everyone that they have five senses. Touch, Taste, Sight, Smell, and Hearing. It is with these senses that we experience the world. Invite everyone to close their eyes and enter into the passage using their five senses just as if they were actually there. Read the passage again.
  4. Ask the questions: What did you see? What did you hear? What did you smell? What did you taste? What did you feel? Some responses to these questions might be… I heard a lot of people talking. I saw Jesus. I smelled fish. I touched the bread. I felt hungry. Give everyone a chance to share their experience.
  5. Read the passage through one more time. Do 2 things this time. Ask, who are you most like in the story? And ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you. When you finish share your responses. (Remember that nothing you ever hear from the Spirit will go against the character of God found in 1 Cor. 13: 4-8, and further the words of the Spirit produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control.[3])

Once when I was explaining to a third grader why chewing the end off of his pencil and swallowing it was not really a great health choice I said, “It’s not that I don’t want you to eat. I just want you to eat things that are good for you.”

So how about it? Grab a kid or two and give it try. Let us know how it goes.


[1] The translation I’m referring to is the Message.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays: “Bluespels and Flanlansferes: A Semantic Nightmare,” Cambridge UP, 1969, p. 265.

[3] Galatians 5:22-23

Immanuel, God Still With Us

God Dancing
God Dancing

During Advent, my 5-year-old son, Jon, drew this picture. As part of one of our Good Dirt devotionals, we asked the kids to draw what it looked like for Jesus to come to earth. "This is great, buddy!" I said. "I can see baby Jesus in the manger on the left. And who is that on the right?" Jon answered, "That's God, dancing in the hay!"

His words have stuck with me ever since. I loved Jon's view of God, just dancing away, as His son was born here on earth. We spent much of Advent talking about Matthew 1:23: “'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)." And in the weeks since then, I have thought about how Immanuel is not just for Christmas time. God is still with us. God is always with us.

On Christmas morning, celebrating the birth of Christ. God with us.

During visits with loved family members who don't know God's saving grace. God with us.

Waking up each morning, going to bed each evening. God with us.

When the doctor says, "It could be cancer." God with us.

On a birthday, rejoicing in another year of life. God with us.

In every day, every moment, every laugh, every tear. God with us.

Last Christmas morning, we wanted to find a special way to remind ourselves that God is constantly with us. My husband suggested that every time we hear a beep--any beep, coming from anything--we all say, "God is with us!" Do you know how many times something beeps through out an average day? The phone, the computer, the car, the washer and dryer, the toys... so many beeps in this society. And every time: "God is with us!" I still think this (almost) every time I hear a beep. Our Good Dirt devotionals have kept God with us at the forefront of my mind, and I am so grateful. Because we need Immanuel all the time.

Beep!

~Carolyn

Faith

Faith.  Such an important word in our home.  My oldest daughter’s first name, given because of the walk that God took me on while I was carrying her.  And it’s the overriding topic of discussion in the Daniels home during this Epiphany season.  It’s a simple concept…but so much harder to live out in daily life. Mark 5 tells us of a dying girl’s father, Jairus.  There was no wavering in Jairus’ words when he said to Jesus, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” (NIV)  He believed.  So he asked.  In the same way, the sick woman came to Jesus in a place that couldn’t have been easy for her to be.  The people were pressing around Jesus.  It was standing room only, so to speak.  Bleeding for 12 years, I picture her, pale and wan, desperate after having tried every healing ointment and potion that others could recommend.  And yet, day after day, the very source of her life continued to flow from her body.  There is nothing to suggest that these two people had any knowledge of each other but they had one very important thing in common.  A firm faith in Jesus.  They both believed that He was exactly who He said He was.  And they both believed that a touch from Him could restore life and health.

This is the faith I want to have.  This is the faith that I want to share with my daughters.  I want them to rest fully in the knowledge that one touch from their Savior will set things right.  Maybe not in the way that they think, but always in the way that they need.  I hope that they will take the desires of their hearts to Him and that they will allow Him to shape those desires so that their hearts more fully resemble His.  I long for this for myself.  To rest so fully in the capable hands of the Son of God that I can’t help but search for Him, even in a place that is uncomfortable.  I want to be the kind of person who calls to Jesus first before I seek answers and comfort elsewhere.

Jesus restored health in both the life of the sick woman and the life of Jairus’ daughter. The sick woman felt health and vitality return to her body immediately.  A child, who had been dead, stood up and walked around and then had something to eat.   And all it took was a touch.  And faith enough to seek Him.

Epiphany

Epiphany! I love Epiphany! I love to say epiphany... I love to hear my people say epiphany... I love what it means and when it is in the year.  According to Merriam-Webster, Epiphany means a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way; an intuitive grasp of reality through something usually simple and striking;  an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure. I love that it is usually through something simple that God uses to illuminate new things to me. I look for epiphanies always! I started this when Mike used to prune in the orchard and his goal in this very mundane, tedious job was to think of something that he had never thought of before.  That was an epiphany to me! To intentionally think of something that I had never thought of.  Now as I get older and my kids and business take up so much of my time and energy this becomes more difficult... but I still love the idea.  I love nature and sense God's presence more in the outdoors than anywhere else.  I can see His creativity, His humor, His forgiveness, His steadfastness in things that grow or are a natural part of our earth. I can be an epiphany just stepping outside if I am aware! I always wonder "How did I not see that before?" At the beginning of this season we asked what we feel like God is showing each of us. What is our "epiphany" of the season. Kadin in all his 4 year old innocence says his is that God loves him. This is a child that will probably not have insecurity issues. He is a show stopper! He will be the one that "everyone likes" and will not know the wonder if he is loved. However I do pray that this is a constant epiphany to him in his life as he remembers that GOD LOVES HIM! and now he can love the world with the overflow of that love.

Quinn says that his is that God is/will help him with his schoolwork. This is exactly what he needs right now! Quinn struggles so much! His disability is called Auditory Neuropathy...where he hears things ok but it all gets jumbles when it goes to his brain. His actual ear drum is loose, not tight, so the sounds don't even sound right. If he is sensing that God is with him in this struggle than he is far ahead in the kingdom of God!

Isabella says off handedly that God is showing her "to be happy!" My first thought is ggrrr... she didn't even think about it! Then I read Act 13:52 and it talks of Paul and Barnabus "brimming with joy and the Holy Spirit...they were happy disciples." WOW! This girl is powerful! She could literally boss CEOs around and yet she has made some mistakes in the past couple years that I fear she will let hold her back. And then God grabs hold of her heart and whispers to her "Be Happy! Move beyond past choices and be happy."

Mike's been meditating on a prayer/Psalm that says "Fight those that fight me, Attack those who attack me. Tell my soul that 'I am' your salvation." He is remembering that worry and fret and stress only cause more worry, fret and stress. That God is bigger than all of this! This is his heavenly battle and Jesus is telling him "I am" and that's all he needs.

Mine is just that life happens! Sometimes it is pretty and sometimes it isn't but if I will have eyes to see I will see Him in every situation. I have always tried to live for Christ and I thought that I could have a perfect life. HAHA... yeah right! The only times that I have been able to minister the word of life to another is through my painful situations. HOLY MOLY! What an epiphany that was!

Basically, each of my people's epiphanies are an epiphany to me! How great is that of God... I had 5 just thinking about this post. Plus if I am looking, I have an epiphany daily/weekly/monthly/yearly.  That is why I love this season... because it reminds me to look!

Do You Want To Be Well

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" - John 5:6

As a kid reading that verse I remember thinking Jesus to be horribly insensitive. Of course the guy wants to be healed, he's sick and he's laying at the pool where healing happens. But Jesus never wastes his words. He never says things simply to offend. His words are a pickax to break up the ground of our heart so seeds of life can grow. The older I get the more I understand the importance and weight of that stark question.

"Do you want to be well?"

There's a cost to being made whole. Now I think it's a much smaller cost than not being made whole. But there is a cost. For the man in the story it meant learning to walk again and finding a new way to make a living, which at his age was no small matter. For me it means laying down habits of hurry and surrendering scruples I substitute for genuine Spirit-led life. It means admitting that I can't, despite all my efforts, heal myself.

What would you say if Jesus asked you that question? Our seven year old answered, "Yes!" I'm a little slower to respond. Today I'm sitting with the question again, not just for me but for our family.

Jesus, please grant us the courage to take you up on your offer and walk out the healing you offer.

A few years ago I wrote a song about this...

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Epiphany: a sudden and striking realization

Epiphany:  An experience of sudden and striking realization; a new and profound understanding that takes an individual to a deeper understanding of a situation.  An “a-ha moment” of the highest order. But, more importantly, to a Christian, Epiphany is the season in which we embrace the newly born child who came to Earth as our Savior.  He was, and remains, a gift. Teaching my girls about Epiphany led me to a personal epiphany. This time, between the joy of Christmastide and the personal reflection of Lent, has so often gotten lost in the waiting for a time of celebration.  What my family missed is the fullness of knowing why Jesus came.

Ask any child who has been raised in church “why did Jesus come to Earth?” and the answer will undoubtedly be “to die for us and forgive our sin”.  This is true, but only partially.  The magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is not lost on me.  On the contrary, each year his death and resurrection is revealed to me in new and fresh ways, increasing my understanding and my love for Him.  What I missed in the scope of that amazing and beautiful picture of surrender to God’s will is that Jesus’ first purpose in coming to Earth wrapped in flesh was so that we could be grafted onto the family tree of God, that we would be made fully aware of our status as fully loved and treasured children of the One True King.

When the Magi made the great journey to see the Christ child, it was not because they had been awaiting the arrival of the Jewish Messiah.  The Magi were not of Jewish descent.  And yet, God revealed the grandeur of this simple Bethlehem birth to them.  And so they came.  They learned who this child was because they stepped out and took the first step of a very long journey.  And God welcomed them.  He lit their way with a bright and beautiful beacon that said “this is my son…and he is here for you.”

With God there is no picking and choosing.  No one is left sitting on the sidelines waiting for the call to join a team that never comes.  No one is left trying to figure out where they fit in or trying to act as though they don’t mind being picked last again.  He accepts all races, all colors with no regard to age, socio-economic or (quite important to my family) developmental boundaries.  He loves us and accepts us because He made us.  We are, literally, His.  And all we have to do is accept the gift.

And so, in this beautiful season, I have had a sudden and striking realization.  My Lord is the ultimate inclusionist  (is that a real word?  It is for me!)  He will seek us across oceans and boundaries of our own making.  He will pursue us to the absolute depths to bring us home.  He knows the heart of those who express their love and pain to Him with unending words.  But He also knows the hearts of those whose words are hindered and for whom pain can only be expressed in cries and for whom praise can only spill out in dances of sheer joy.  He knows who the words and the songs are for.  They are for Him.  Because…we are His.   All of us.  Children of the One True King.  The recipients of the first Christmas gift.