Category: devotional thoughts

A fresh lemon arranged in two halves against a pair of green leaves.

Summer break started here last week, and already my kids are living it up. We’ve had an overnight at our family cabin, fires in the firepit (with s’mores, of course), pool days and popsicles and a new rainbow slip & slide for the backyard.

Today, we went to the pool in the morning and the library in the afternoon. (One kid picked two books, another picked 12, and the youngest picked 24. #justlikehermama) You’d think that would be enough fun for one summer day, but you’d be wrong.

My daughters, 10 and 7, love to bake. They’re still in the learning stage where they need an adult nearby for most of it, but I’m beginning to see glimpses of independent-recipe-followers, and I can hardly wait for that day!

After our library trip, they wanted to bake chocolate chip cookies. Unfortunately, I’d let our pantry supply of chocolate chips run out. So they turned to an old standby and started browsing.

They settled on lemon bars, a treat I’ve eaten other places and loved but have never baked at home! We had everything on hand and set to baking.

I was helping measure out the lemon juice when a bit splashed onto my fingers. It was a tiny bit of juice, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed–except that I have a little cut on my ring finger. (It’s one of those weird little scrapes just below the cuticles. Do y’all get those?)

As you can probably guess, I had a sharp intake of breath and bit my lip! OUCH. Oh, the burn. The sting!

Before the juice hit my skin, I hadn’t even been aware of that tiny little cut. Have you ever had something small, like a papercut or a nick from a razor, that you didn’t even sense until something irritating hit it?

I got to thinking: God’s Word works a lot like lemon juice on the papercuts of hidden sins in our lives. You know, some sins are big and flagrant. People are aware, usually, if they’re lying to people or swindling folks out of money or committing adultery or murder. But I’d bet that many of Christ’s followers are susceptible to letting small sins enter their lives, and they don’t even know it.

A couple of months ago, in my time with God’s word, I kept running up against the idea of self-centeredness. I did not think I was self-centered. The first few times I encountered verses like:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Romans 12:3-5

I was clapping and cheering: “Yeah, that’s right, y’all quit thinking of yourselves more highly than you ought.” But as weeks went by, I kept encountering verses like:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

And I started to feel that lemon-juice-on-a-papercut sting. The oooh, that’s me, Lord burn. I’m self-centered. I’m selfish. I feel resentful when I don’t get my way, when I have to work harder than I perceive someone else is, when my kids or spouse don’t seem to appreciate my role.

Maybe self-centeredness isn’t the hill you’re dying on. That’s okay. My point stands. You may very well have something in your heart, in your life, that’s sinful. And you don’t even know it’s there.

The best way to uncover it is to pour God’s word over yourself and see what stings.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

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Home staging is a big buzzword in real estate these days. You’ll hear about it on HGTV, and see it on the DIY network. Bloggers love to talk about staging, and it’s all over apps like Houzz and Pinterest.

If you haven’t dipped your toe in the staging waters, I’ll explain:

“Home Staging” is the act of turning a lived-in (or vacant) home into a neutral, appealing space for the purpose of attracting potential buyers. Home staging removes the personal touches of the current (or previous) occupants and creates a ‘blank slate’ where buyers can envision their own furniture, family, and life.

Home staging, my dears, is a pain in the butt. We’ve done some staging here – hid away the 5’x7′ rug to make the entry appear larger; slipcovered the ratty loveseat in our front room, tidied up the bookshelves (but a true home stager would make me pack 75% of those books and have ‘styled’ shelves); removed all the homeschool items, hung new curtains, and turned the schoolroom back into a dining room (but a real pro would probably make me create a faux ‘leaf’ to extend our dinky table and buy slipcovers for our ugly mismatched chairs). We reduced the items on the kitchen countertops (but if I were hardcore, it would be nothing but the KitchenAid and the Keurig!) and took most of the toys out of the family room (that room might pass ‘real’ muster, actually). Purged things from the kids’ rooms (again, probably a pass), but we didn’t change the office-slash-guest room (and a properly staged home has no dual purpose rooms. You’re supposed to pick one and make it shine!). Bought new handtowels for the powder room and hung the nicest towels in the other two bathrooms.

Living in a house which has been staged feels stilted. This is still my home, but it’s “off.” It’s like sitting in a nicely decorated hotel room. I feel awkward if I leave a dent in the sofa cushion. On the surface, it looks great – and it’s supposed to, that’s the point, for real estate purposes.

But today I was thinking about how many Christians are walking around fully staged. We are prepped and polished. We have packed away our unsightly clutter and mess – but it’s not really gone. We have hung up new curtains of humility, modesty, patience, grace – but there remains pride, greed, selfishness, anger.

We want to gleam and glow, and when others in the church ask how we’re doing, we give them our “listing” answer. (Four beautiful bedrooms! Gas fireplace! Eat-in-kitchen!) “I’m so blessed… Things are really busy, but we’re doing great….” I’m not saying that we’re being dishonest when we present these generic answers, exactly. After all, the houses on your local real estate market really DO have the features with the funny abbreviations: 4bd, FP, lg bkyd…. Right?

What I am saying, though, is that one of the functions of the body of Christ is to build each other up.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

It’s impossible* for me to help a sister shore up the foundation of her marriage if she never shares her fears or hurts. I can’t speak encouragement and hope into the heart of a friend who doesn’t confide her doubt and desperation. My Sunday School class recently finished a study of Romans 12, and the author used this passage to exhort his readers to build an authentic community with each other.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

“You can’t be a genuine part of this Body,” he said in one of the videos, “when you’re so busy keeping your mask on straight.”** And that’s the truth, y’all. I accept the challenge – and I hope you will, too – to take off a mask of holy-roller perfection, to stop “home staging” my life and my spiritual walk, to start sharing even my doubts and ugly moments. When I do, my brothers and sisters can step INTO their God-given calling to build me up! When I do, the saints around me may be emboldened to de-mask and de-mystify and share their own hurdles and difficulties, which gives me (and others) the chance to step up and serve my Lord by building them up.

 

 

___________

*I should add a note: we’ve probably all had times when an unknowing person did or said something profoundly needed which interceded in our lives at just the right moment. Those are great examples of times when the Holy Spirit prompts us to aid, even though we don’t know the specific need. But those examples don’t let us off the hook for being transparent and authentic with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
**I didn’t take perfect notes: that’s a paraphrase. 🙂

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God sent His son, they called Him Jesus.

He came to love, heal, and forgive.

He lived and died to buy my pardon;

An empty grave is there to prove my Saviour lives.


Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living, just because He lives.
When I was five-and-a-half years old, our church hosted a production of a play about the life of Jesus; it was the first time that my little heart grasped the graphic reality of Passion Week. Before that, of course I had heard the Sunday School version of the Easter story. My parents had talked about Christ’s death on the cross, and I’d sung the hymns about it. But seeing that young man in a robe and sandals “healing the sick” and singing with the disciples, taking that jug of water and “turning it into wine,” breaking bread during his last Passover, and then walking down the center aisle between the pews… carrying a back-breaking heavy cross on his shoulders. Being whipped, bleeding as thorns pierced his head. Hearing the hammer strikes ring through our sanctuary as his hands and feet were nailed to that tree. And then those final words spoken – the room went black – and I cried harder than ever before in my life. When we went home after the play, I had a long talk with my parents, and my Daddy led me in a prayer to ask Jesus into my heart.

On Easter Sunday 1986, I was “buried with Christ in baptism – raised to walk in the newness of life.”

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives.
But greater still, the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because HE lives.


Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living, just because He lives.

My mom loved the song “Because He Lives.” During our year(ish) living in Oklahoma, we were members of a church with a vibrant Deaf ministry, and Mom and I learned American Sign Language. Over the years, I’ve lost a lot of the ASL I used to know, but Mom continued to sign many of  her favorite hymns. She was almost on autopilot when those songs began – her hands started to fly even if she wasn’t singing aloud. When I close my eyes, I can picture sitting by her side during this song. Her voice was wobbly and warbly, hitting and missing the notes with abandon. But her hands were strong and sure, fluid and beautiful. She believed every word, and I think signing became a form of worship for her – she worshipped and praised God as she “sang” without voice.
And then one day, I’ll cross the river;
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain.
And then as death gives way to vict’ry,
I’ll see the lights of Glory and I’ll know He lives.


Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living, just because He lives.

Today is my 26th “birthday” in Christ. And Easter Sunday 2012 is my first holiday – holy day – without my Mom. I feel fragile and sad. I miss her, even though the last time we spent Easter together in person was years and years ago. I know that Easter is about hope… and even in the face of her diagnosis and in the face of death, Mom held her hope in Christ without wavering. Easter is about new life… and on January 11th, Mom walked into the lights of glory and into her new life in the presence of God. Easter is about the fullness of the Gospel. I am so thankful for that, and for the fact that the truth of the Gospel doesn’t change even when our lives seem to be made of nothing but changes. 
If you’ve never seen “Because He Lives” in ASL, this is a lovely example:

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(for the conversation I had with Susannah after we dropped Jonas off at karate, click here)

When I picked Jonas up from karate, he told us all about learning the next eight steps of his kata. And then the conversation turned to building a tower high enough to reach the clouds. Which reminded me to tell him the story of the tower of Babel. Which led to the topic of the invisible nature of God, and that we can’t see or reach heaven. And then:

“So what happens when everyone, every person, everyone, is just dead and in heaven? What happens to our Earth then?

I tried my best to explain the New Heaven and the New Earth, not that I’ve got a perfect theological grasp on it myself. But I figure “A+ for effort,” right?

“So. We get new bodies… Will it have skin?”
“Will… your body have skin? Hmm. I don’t know, exactly. I’m not sure what our new bodies will look like. The Bible says they will be glorified bodies, like Christ has in heaven….”

“I hope we have skin. What color will it be?”
“I don’t know.”

“I hope my new skin is brown. And a little ‘fleeesh.’”
Then Susannah chimed in, “And I hope mine is blue! And purple!”
“You guys are awesome.”

{*Jonas’ word “FLEEESH” is how he pronounces the color-word on that Crayola crayon that’s sort of pale pinkish. I think I like his version better, since it always struck me as unfair to call that one “flesh-colored” when actual human flesh comes in such a beautiful array of shades.}

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I’m struggling, again, with a growing dissatisfaction about the way my Sundays feel. This is an ongoing thing for me – it crops up every so often, and I read and pray and read and pray. Honestly, though, Chris has never shared my burden for it, so actually implementing changes has never happened. Eventually, life gets busy or something else comes along and my focus shifts and I forget about it… until something reminds me, and I circle back around to this.

I want Sunday to feel “set apart.” I want a Sabbath. I want rest.

Oh, not necessarily literal rest. Every mom of a baby would enjoy an extra day just to catch up on her naps, I guess, but that’s not the issue here.

Usually, Sunday goes like this:

5:30 a.m. Jonas wakes up, creeps into our room, and whisper-asks if it’s time to get up. We tell him no, he goes back to his room, and we roll over and try to doze off again.
6:00 a.m. Chris gets up and goes to the hospital. If he’s on-call, he’s likely there all day. If he’s not, he either makes rounds and races home just in time to hop in the car as we leave for church, or he makes rounds and does a small case and misses church but is home for the afternoon.
6:30-ish a.m. I get up and tell Jonas he can get up and open Susannah’s door; we all head downstairs for breakfast. The next couple of hours are just like every other day – fixing two separate breakfasts for the big kids, gratefully sipping a cup (or three) of coffee, letting the dog out and in and feeding him, at some point Abigail waking up and doing diapers/dress/nurse with her. I usually flip the TV on, even though I’d like to have at least ONE day without it, and try to catch a weather report before the kids start clamoring for PBS versus DVR versus whatever-the-current-video-obsession is. The benefit to giving in to the clamoring is that it usually buys me a few minutes to get myself dressed (and possibly even put makeup on) while they’re watching something. I wish I didn’t feel so dependent on a screen to accomplish that, though.
8:30 a.m. I start wrangling everyone into “church clothes.” Jonas is pretty capable at this point of assembling an appropriate outfit that matches, and only needs help with combing his hair, cleaning his glasses, and tying his shoelaces. But Susannah tends to wiggle and muss and undress and pull ribbons off and generally takes twice as long to get ready, so it evens out. Abigail is still at a cooperative stage for getting dressed, but at least 50% of the time has a last-minute diaper-change needed just as we head out the door.
9:20 a.m. I grab Susannah’s bag, Jonas’ worship bag, my diaper bag, (and my Bible if I’m lucky) and shepherd my little animals toward the garage. Queue up at least one lost shoe, missing hairbow, diaper blowout, or trip-and-fall-scrape. Then someone freaks out about carseat buckles and/or which CD is in the car stereo.
9:45 a.m. Sunday School starts, and hopefully we’re there. 🙂 Worship follows.
12:30 p.m. Home! Throw some sandwiches to the hungry lions children. After we eat, we have quiet time, during which Jonas plays in his room, Susannah lays on her sleeping bag in the family room, and Abigail may or may not nap, depending on how well she slept in the sling during church.
2:00 p.m. Everyone’s awake, and unless Chris is on-call, he’s probably home. And then we…. I don’t know. I feel like we don’t really do anything special, but it doesn’t really feel restful or relaxing, either. We probably have the TV on, because we’ve gotten into a movie rut lately. One of the adults might run to the grocery store or some other errands, and leave the kids home with the other of us.
5:00 p.m. Dinnertime, and while I sometimes try to make a nice “Sunday dinner,” sometimes I don’t. Again – it’s nothing special.
6:00 p.m. We start getting the big kids ready for bed. They’re usually down by 6:30. Abigail has been following around 7:00. Then we have a few hours to ourselves (we tend to go to bed around 9:30) but there’s nothing remarkable about how we spend it on Sundays. Catching up on something we DVR’ed, watching a Netflix movie, chatting about the news. If Chris is on-call, this is usually the time of day he finally makes it home, so he’s exhausted.

I’m intrigued by faith communities that make set-apart-Sundays happen. As an outsider, I have really enjoyed reading about the traditions and rules that have come about to support and encourage and maintain the discipline of keeping the Sabbath ‘holy’ – and the parameters of ‘holiness’ that each group chooses. We all know that the Amish and Mennonite communities have very strict guidelines for eschewing many of the technologies that make up modern life; but even so, they have further restrictions for activities and endeavors that are prohibited during the Sabbath. And orthodox Jews observe Shabbat, which falls from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, but which they “set apart” by refraining from work of all kinds. When we lived in Fort Lauderdale, we’d sometimes see orthodox families walking on Saturday – usually with father and son in their black hats up front, mother and daughter a little ways behind. Their dedication to keeping the Sabbath holy is striking: NOBODY walks in South Florida. 🙂

I’m struck by the fact that the wider Christian community, evangelicals and mainline Protestants alike, tend to give lip service to the fourth commandment – but anyone observing our families would probably be hard-pressed to see a difference between believers and nonbelievers. Oh, sure, we’re probably in a church building for a few hours that morning… but after that? We shop, we play sports, we watch sports on TV, we waste time on the Internet, we patronise restaurants, we text and chat and game on our phones, we go to movies, etc. Wikipedia offers this explanation:

Many Christians look upon the Sabbath as a principle to be observed in spirit and not the letter. They point to the meaning of Sabbath as “rest” and the only New Testament admonishment to rest being Jesus’ invitation to rest in him (Matthew 11:28). Those who hold to the spirit of the Sabbath believe that a more permanent rest is offered which a day could never fulfill, rest in Jesus.

Sounds good, I suppose… Except for this restlessness I feel to make Sundays more special. I don’t quite know what it would look like – would we “unplug?” Or keep our phones on but turn off the TV, laptop, iPad screens? Play board games and read stories with the kids (oh wait, we do that all week long…)? And honestly, I’m still not sure of the reason I want to make the change.
While I wrestle with the idea, I welcome your feedback. I’m reading and praying and reading some more. A few things I’ve found this time around:

From the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship: God’s Countercultural Invitation to Sabbath Rest

From an apparently secular blogging family: Unplugged Sunday

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Leo Donald Maxwell
(my paternal grandfather)
September 14, 1921 – November 10, 2010

“13-14And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.

15-18And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Today, my family is sad. We will miss Granddaddy so much! We know that Grandmama will have many hard days ahead of her. They were married when she was still a teenager and just celebrated their 59th Anniversary; it will feel so strange to come home to an empty house after all these years. We have known that Granddaddy’s heart was failing, that his body was wearing out, so this isn’t completely unexpected. But still, we are sad. We will cry, we will share old photos and old stories (like this one: when we were kids, every time we asked for seconds of something at the dinner table, he would quickly answer, “Nope.” To our surprised faces, he would continue: “You might EAT IT!” and then break into a teasing grin as he handed the dish our way. Every.single.time.) and we will hug each other and sniffle together.
But we do NOT mourn ‘like those who have no hope.’ We know that Granddaddy had a deep faith – he knew Jesus as his Savior! He was a quiet man (at least during the years I’ve known him – I wonder if I’ll hear stories from his youth that are different?) and he wasn’t prone to preaching or lecturing. But he knew the truth: that he was loved by God, and forgiven by God. And today, he walked into the arms of God. As hard as it is for those of us who remain, we are comforted to know that he is worshipping Jesus face-to-face after 89 years of doing it from a distance.
Please keep the Maxwell family in your prayers over the coming days. My grandmother’s name is Erma, and their children are Twila, Daniel, Jud (my dad), Angie, and Alice. There are also numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and their first great-grandchild is due in four months.

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Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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