If You Don't "Feel" Christmas This Year

"So completely are we carried away by the excitement of this midwinter festival that we are apt to forget that its romantic appeal is the least significant thing about it. ...It does seem strange that so many persons become excited about Christmas and so few stop to inquire into its meaning; but I suppose this odd phenomenon is quite in harmony with our unfortunate human habit of magnifying trivialities and ignoring matters of greatest import.” - A.W. Tozer

There’s an expectation that surrounds Christmas of how we are supposed to feel. The lights, the music, the smells—it’s supposed to be magical. Our hearts should feel light and we should be filled with childlike wonder and excitement. For me, sometimes, I fight to get there. If I don’t feel whimsical and filled with joy when I hear “All I Want For Christmas Is You” or see a Christmas tree lit up, I feel like I am missing something.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling that childlike wonder. It’s a fun part of the holiday. But what if that’s not what Christmas is? What if it’s not so much about how we feel but about the magnitude of what happened that night so long ago.

Our pastor read portions of A.W. Tozer’s thoughts on Christmas this past Sunday, including the lines above. It made me pause.

Christmas’ romantic appeal—the lights, the music, the smells—is not Christmas itself. It’s a subtle difference, but it changes everything for me.

Not only do I not have the pressure of “what if I don’t feel Christmas this year,” but I can also clear it away a bit and really look hard at what God incarnate really means for humanity and for me.

Lloyd, our pastor, talked about the theology of Christmas. About how God incarnate is a more amazing miracle than water into wine, than the resurrection, than even creation.

The creator of the universe, the author of time, the reason we live—crammed in to one single tiny human body. Jesus is a miracle. A pure miracle.

I’d never thought about the mere fact of Jesus’ existence as a miracle. But he is. Because Jesus IS God himself. Not just an expression of God. Not just a part of God. That’s amazing to me. God was walking around on this earth.

Why? Solely because he so loves us. God—THE God--embodied human flesh, walked with us, taught us, then let us nail him to a cross. He was born to die. For us.

The miracle of Jesus in light of the whole of God’s story—our story—is even more beautiful. The entirety of creation for hundreds of hundreds of years longing for a savior. God hinting at Him along the way in Isaiah and even Genesis.

Then—finally—he has come! He is HERE. The one we’ve been waiting for. This is it. Come and behold him!

Acknowledging the miracle of God incarnate has subtly yet profoundly changed my understanding of Christmas this year and brought me a sense of peace and joy and wonder I don’t think I’ve felt before. May the hope and peace of Jesus fill your heart this Christmas!

I Think I'm Better Than You.

The questionnaire

I have a confession: sometimes I think I'm better than you.

I know, I know. It's bad. I know it's bad.

It doesn't come out in a conscious, "you suck and I'm awesome" way. But it comes out when I am angered by the concept of grace.

Grace for you, of course.

Because I don't need any.

I'm the "good girl." I follow all the rules. To borrow a phrase from Derek Webb, even a few I made up. Even a few I made up and put on you and then expect you to follow. Because I'm following them. And why shouldn't you have to follow the same rules I do?

Why should you get to miss three weeks in a row of a weekly commitment we both signed up for, when I was there every week? I could have been watching Doctor Who on Netflix for the hundredth time, for crying out loud. But I wasn't. Because I do what I say I'm going to do.

Why should you get a free pass? Why should anyone? If you follow all the rules, you won't have a problem.

But sometimes even I don't live up to my own standards. When that happens, I am filled with regret and anxiety and must make it up to myself later. Or to whomever I assume is placing these expectations on me (usually it's just myself again). Or just justify it and move on.

Grace is nowhere to be found. Not toward you. Not toward myself.

Yeah, God has grace for me and whatever but really I don't need it because I deserve God's favor.

What? Yep, I said it.

I've never said that out loud, but that's what I say with my thoughts and actions.

I mean, overall my track record has more "good" (or at least just "not bad") things than "bad" things, and I've apologized for those few "bad" things, so I'm still in the clear, here, right?

We are studying Jonah at my church right now, and it is quickly becoming one of my favorite books. It is not just a story of a man getting swallowed by a fish because he disobeyed.

It is a story of God's relentless pursuit of those whom he loves and his even more relentless grace.

This week our pastor quoted a man who said "The only man who is offended by grace is the one who thinks he deserves God's favor." (my paraphrase)

Jonah was one of those people. He had a problem with the doctrine of grace. Often I am one of those people.

The Ninevites didn't deserve grace. They were living egregiously. But God gave it anyway. Jonah hated it. He hated it because he thought he deserved God's favor and they didn't. It wasn't fair. He literally would rather die than endure such injustice.

I can so see myself in that picture. I can also see myself as the brother in the story of the prodigal son.

Him? He gets the fattened calf? I've literally been here the whole time. I didn't break the rules. I didn't insult you by asking for my inheritance early, then desert my family and go squander it like it meant nothing to me. I've been faithfully following the rules and doing everything I was supposed to. Where's my party?

That would be me, on the inside.

So I'm trying to learn grace.

If nothing else, I am learning through marriage that I am absolutely not flawless. In particular, I am blatantly selfish. I am uninterruptible. I often get caught up in the trap that it's all about me.

I clearly need grace. I need it from the Lord. I need it from others, and I need it from myself. Even if I don't live up to my own standards, it's okay. I am human and I am broken, but I am loved, not just in spite of, but including all my flaws.

I am also trying to have more grace for others. To not hold them to this invisible set of standards only I can see. To understand that life is messy and people are messy and not everything can fit in a perfect little box. Not everyone has the same priorities as me, and it doesn't make theirs wrong.

God's grace is limitless. It is beautifully shown in his patient pursuit of Jonah's heart, particularly when, in response to Jonah's indignant wailing (twice), he asks:

"Do you do well to be angry?"

Doesn't your whole body just melt in response to that question? My hardened heart begins to defrost immediately. It's such a simple, kind and gentle rebuking of Jonah's spirit. So patient, like a father kneeling down to speak at eye-level with a child who is still huffing and puffing after an angry outburst, arms crossed, reluctant tears still trickling down his flushed face.

That's me. At least some of the time.

So grace is the theme of my life at the moment. Learning to have it for others. Learning to have it for myself. Learning I need it from the Lord.

Because grace frees us. We are no longer bound by the rules and regulations and standards we or other people set on us. We are no longer bound by our own sin, even. Grace allows us to be who we were meant to be without being paralyzed by the fear of failing or messing up or getting in trouble. Grace gives us life--the kind that makes your heart swell. And I want you and I to have that.

Do you ever have a problem admitting you need grace? Do you struggle to have it for yourself or for others, or to accept it from God?

Falling Apart When Your Bible Isn't

I grew up in church, which is probably no surprise to you considering my goodie-goodie-ness and the fact that I'm from a small town in Alabama. In church culture you hear a lot of dumb slogans. Let's just be honest. Half of them are on church signs trying to be relevant and/or clever. ("God answers knee-mail," anyone? It's ok to gag if you want.)

All these mantras have varying levels of truth but usually share one particularly large measure of the eye-roll factor.

There is one in particular that somehow stuck with me over the years:

A Bible that's falling apart usually belongs to a person who isn't.

When I was young, this just made me want to scuff up my Bible a bit--maybe slightly tear the cover and fix it with duct tape--so it would look a little more well-read. I could be super-awesome humblebrag Christian, then. "What? This old thing? Yeah, it's a little weathered, but it's just because I read my Bible so much. Don't worry about it."

I usually only remember this quote occasionally when I see someone's Bible that actually is falling apart, which happened a week or so ago.

It popped back into my mind: "A Bible that's falling apart usually belongs to a person who isn't."

And what struck me this time was how blatantly untrue that is.

I know it means well, but the more I try to figure out what they are trying to say, the more I realize you can't really skew this positively without shaming someone.

A Bible that's falling apart almost definitely belongs to a person who is also falling apart. So does every Bible.

Because everyone is falling apart in some way or another.

We're all broken, lost, shame-filled, sinful, sorrowful, struggling, name it. All of us.

Reading your Bible won't help you not fall apart. The people who wrote those words were falling apart--Paul, David, everyone.

What it will do is give you something to cling to when you are falling apart. It gives you some place solid to plant your feet--truth when everything else is uncertain, or a place to lie down and rest when you feel like you can't do it anymore.

If you're falling apart, know that you're not alone. It seems like you are because we don't tell people we're falling apart. We suck it up because "someone always has it worse than us." Which might be true on the surface, but pain is pain.

Your pain isn't less valid because of the existence of someone else's.

Don't be afraid to fall apart. We're all doing it. But, if you're open to it, you have something to cling to.

Have you ever felt like you weren't allowed to fall apart? What helps you feel peace when you do?

On the Massacre in Aurora, Colorado

I realize you may have read twelve blog posts or articles about the tragedy in Colorado by now. I also realize it might be somewhat cheesy to address something that so many others are already doing. I won't be telling you anything you don't know. It might be pointless. But I feel compelled to write a response to what has happened, and also I can't write something funny when my heart feels this heavy. I'm angry.

I'm angry at James Holmes. Like, livid-angry.

I don't know why this tragedy above all others is hitting me so hard. It makes me want to sob and scream at the same time.

I think it might be because it happened during something so ordinary.

When I think about the fact that all these 71 people wanted to do was watch the new Batman movie like everyone else in the country and they ended up losing their lives, my heart gets caught in my throat. They went to a movie and never came back.

All because some psychotic maniac thought it was his decision whether they lived or died.

How dare you, James. Who do you think you are?

How dare you think that just because you have some nonsense to prove, or were hurt by other people, or just see reality as fiction, that you have any sort of claim on anyone else's life.

Not only did you steal 12 lives, but you ruined at least 59 more, not to mention their family and friends.

Every time they see a Batman poster or the DVD in Target, they'll remember this day. It will probably take them years to even feel remotely comfortable walking in a theater again. They will have to go to therapy, both physical and emotional. They will be frightened. They will feel anxious. You have scarred them for life. You have left an irrevocable, deep bruise on their soul that may never heal.

And your stupid photo. Every time I see it I want to punch that damn arrogant smirk right off your idiot face. You stare at us from that photo like you're proud of yourself. I look in your eyes and this indignant burning sensation wells up in my stomach. How. Dare. You.

I can't even think of a word bad enough to call you, and I don't usually say those kinds of words at all. But you deserve it. You deserve much, much more than that.

There are some things that, in terms of consequences, are unforgivable. I hope your fate matches the gravity and pure evil of the horror you have committed. I believe that God can and will forgive you if you ask for it, but I also believe that God gives the government the authority to punish this kind of heinous crime, and I hope it does.

Despite all this, I believe God is good. I believe he is the source of all comfort and walks with us through the darkest of times, because he has for me and he has for my friends. I can't imagine what this feels like to walk through, whether a family member or friend of a victim, or a victim themselves.

But this world is not our home. Take heart, for Christ has overcome death. Even the darkness is not dark to God (Ps. 139).

He is our only hope and joy in a world that presses in on all sides and crushes our souls. Thank God for his unending grace. Thank God that he is sovereign and cares about our individual hearts. Thank God that he made a way for us to be reconciled to him so we can be delivered from the wretchedness that surrounds us on this earth. But thank God also that there is still love. There is still life and happiness and friendship. There is still community, and we walk through these times hand in hand with the common bond of suffering.

Psalm 46 says,

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…"

In a lot of ways, when we look at the world, it feels like the earth has given way and the mountains are being moved into the heart of the sea. But we will not fear, for our God is greater.

Weird Christian Marketing Tactic #238: Puppy Bibles

My friend Jenny suggested I write a post on this abomination, and it simply too good to pass up running unsolicited commentary on. World, I present to thee: The Puppy Bible.



Yes, the Puppy Bible. For all your puppy AND Jesus-loving friends (who just can't bear to separate the two). Like the girl in Free Fallin'. Only with puppies instead of horses.

Thoughts and/or follow-up questions to its mere existence: 

1. This is the easiest Jesus Juke provocation I could ever imagine. "Oh, the Bible isn't good enough for you on its own? You had to add puppies to it to get you to read it? Shame on you. Shame on you for adding puppies to Jesus. There is a time and a place for puppies, but this is not it. It's like you don't even own an ESV study bible."

2. There are twelve photos of "adorable" puppies contained in this version of God's word. [It's important to note that they specified they are not ugly puppies, but adorable puppies. Just in case you were worried they put ugly puppies in there. This is not the Ugly Puppy Bible. This is the (adorable) Playful Puppies Bible.]

Once you look at these 12 puppies, isn't I mean, do you ever look at them again? How long could the excitement possibly last? 72 seconds? Is that really worth the blasphemy? Why not get a puppy-a-day calendar? Or the Internet? Then you get more than 12 puppies to behold, and you don't get struck dead by an angry God. Win/win.

3. Did they decide on 12 puppies because of the 12 disciples? Are said puppies NAMED after the disciples? Are they also DRESSED like disciples? Do the puppies look exasperated from sitting through a three-hour photo shoot dressed like ancient Jews? This is getting more interesting by the second.

4. Guys. Guys. You guys. There is even a RIBBON MARKER. So you can mark your spot (no puppy pun intended). With a ribbon. Is this always still listed as a feature for Bibles? I think it's safe to say by now we assume there is a ribbon marker unless otherwise stated.

A feature we would need to be alerted to would be a lack of ribbon marker. "This bible does NOT come with a ribbon marker. We at Zondervan believe it contributes to brain-laziness, so if you're not lazy, buy this Bible. If you are lazy, don't. Whatever. It's up to you. But just so we're clear, you're on your own bookmark-wise." It could happen.

5. There is a sister Bible to this Bible called the Curious Kittens Bible. Which is approximately 400 percent worse, because cats are 400 percent worse than dogs. So if you're going to purchase a Bible with cute animals inside, go big or go home and go puppies all the way. Don't risk your salvation over cats. They're not worth it. They sass. Sure, they're cute for about 2.5 seconds when they're kittens (post-declawing) but then they grow up and want nothing to do with you. I don't reward that kind of behavior.

What is the most ridiculous rendition of the Bible and/or Christian marketing tactic you've ever seen?

Do we lose something important by using a Bible app?

Photobucket I'm not against technology. I may be a little late coming around, but I generally embrace it. Which is why I have an iPhone, and on that iPhone I have a Bible app.

It's convenient when I forget my Bible or just need to look up a verse quickly, but in general I prefer holding my Bible. I'm not against people who don't. That's just me. I still have a monthly planner in my purse and take notes in a real live notebook.

But I know plenty of people who would rather just use the Bible app on their phone or iPad than carry a Bible to and fro.

So here's what I've been thinking about lately: aside from the common cry of the anti-app crowd (wanting to hold it in your hands, write in it, feel it) I think there might also be another thing that's lost with the app version of the Bible, and here's why:

It has a search function.

I mean, it'd be weird if it didn't. You'd waste half your life scrolling through thousands of iPhone-sized pages to get to 1 Thessalonians.

But because of this feature, we never have to know where anything actually is in the Bible.

I only came to this realization a couple weeks ago. It may seem obvious, but I didn't make the connection that because I can use the search function, I never have to recall where any verse or chapter or book is in relation to any other verse or chapter or book.

This realization has stuck with me for a few days, and left me with a question:

Is there something important lost by having a searchable Bible?

I don't have an answer; I'm asking.

It's probably not as much an issue for us because we grew up learning the books of the Bible. When we search for Romans, we know we're in the New Testament, after the gospels and Acts (Most of the time. If we sing that song we learned in 4th grade sunday school real quick in our head.).

But will the Bible eventually be primarily used in an electronic format, so that future generations don't have to sing "Matthew, Mark and Luke and John, Acts and the letter to the Ro-mans..." over & over again to win stickers in Sunday School? (Will stickers even EXIST? I don't want to think about a world where stickers don't exist. Let's not follow that rabbit trail any further.)

I think that's a real possibility. (The electronic Bible thing, not the sticker thing. Hopefully.)

But I just don't know if that's a huge detriment or just part of adapting to the digital world. Is a general knowledge of Old vs. New Testament all we need?

I would think the most glaring problem would come with the chronology of the Old Testament stories. If we don't know if Moses came before David, how will we understand the significance of Jesus?

Or should we just teach the order of the books of the Bible in Sunday School and church to form the foundation, but continue to use the electronic format in practice?

Would that approach still produce a sufficient knowledge of the grander story of the Bible? Or would we lose something in the process?

Again, I'm asking. I genuinely want to know what you think.

I'm leaning towards "yes, there is something lost in the 'search' function and we should fight to preserve the real-life book," but that may just be my late-adopter still-uses-a-pen quality talking.

What do you think? Is knowing the order of the books and where verses are located within the context of the Bible important enough to outweigh the convenience of a Bible app?

I'm the rebel.


Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.

To understand the concept expressed in this hymn is to understand the depths of our own depravity. To speak this way of God's love requires us to understand the extent of love it would have taken to reconcile us to him, because of how far away we stood.

I want to think of God's love in such a way.

I don't, though. Because honestly, I think I'm generally pretty lovable.

What's not to love? I'm a nice person. I do my best. I don't do any of the really bad sins. I'm the stereotypical "good girl."

I play myself as the innocent victim so often. I give him the puppy dog eyes: but...all things considered...I'm doing pretty okay, right God?

But I'm not the victim. I'm the rebel. In every way.

If nothing else, I fail to see God for the majesty of who he is, and I have an extremely inflated view of my own importance and desires. That in itself is an abomination. My belittling of the most high God, the Almighty King of the universe. I make him small in my mind. I ignore him, and I care far more about my image than about his glory. I care far more about temporal things than about the eternal.

I even dare to doubt the eternal. I see only what is directly in front of my face. Because at least I know for sure this is real.

I'd rather take a world of pain and suffering than hope in a heaven that might not exist.

What is wrong with me? I have such little faith. Sometimes it's embarrassing, to be honest.


he loves us so greatly and so perfectly. It's humbling. I can't look him in the eye. All I can do is collapse onto him with my head towards the ground and weep. Just like the prodigal. God is far better than anything I could wish to deserve.

I love the sheer magnitude of God in this hymn. That we as mere human beings can never fully attest to the greatness of God and his love towards us. I'm reminded of this verse that fills me with wonder every time I read it:

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. [John 21:25]

We spit in his face continually, yet he waits for us to turn around. Even now, he waits for you. You personally. Not some general "you" in the sense that he wants us all. He waits for you.

It's unexplainable--unfathomable-- this love of God--as the hymn describes. It makes no sense whatsoever. Why does he love us? Why? There is no logical reason why he should love us.

I'm not really sure why he does.

I suppose simply because we are his.

I am forever inexpressibly grateful.

The Thing I Didn't Get About Glory

When I think of glory, I think of Roman warriors. I'm not really sure how that happened. Let's just agree to blame the movie industry. So when I hear the word "glory," I often find myself picturing a muscular man (usually with Gerard Butler's face) raising a sword in the air, wearing one of those gold leaf crowns and something that slightly resembles a kilt, shouting "FOR NARNIA!" I know I just threw out a hodgepodge of references that are probably in no way related, but that's how it is in my head.

Praise and adoration from others. Celebrated victory. Fame. Renown. All those things are wrapped up in the idea of glory.

But glory doesn't always come barreling through the crowd in a golden chariot.

Sometimes it comes in blog comments and retweets. Sometimes it comes in applause or pay raises or "love those boots!" Nothing wrong with those things on their face. I don't think you need to shut down your comment section or wear ugly boots to avoid it. But making those things your goal, or stacking them up in a nice, neat pile to admire, or feeling less valuable when they don't come...that's when it becomes detrimental.

There's something I heard at my church a few weeks ago that really convicted me of this attitude:

You can't seek God's glory and your own at the same time.

It doesn't work. In seeking God's glory we are required to die to ourselves each day. To put his plans above our own. To humble ourselves and exalt Christ. To surrender to the fact that life is not about us.

I think until that point I understood that I should seek God's glory in my life, but it didn't quite register that it also meant instead of my own. I think my sentiment was that as long as I sought his glory first and foremost, I could seek my own right behind it. As long as I didn't seek mine more than his. It's a slight difference on paper, but it's a huge difference in my heart.

We must give all of ourselves to Christ, and we should strive to exalt him first and foremost in every aspect of our lives.

I'm not going to lie, even though having a blog and pursuing writing is something I think God has blessed me with and delights in, doing something so fueled by my own creativity and individuality makes this little concept pretty difficult to retain. Any slight gain in traction or appreciation can easily set me back on a track that says it's all about me.

It's difficult to walk the line between having the freedom in the Spirit to not be required to write a "Christian" blog or "Christian" book in order to glorify God, and writing books and blogs that do nothing but promote myself. I sometimes struggle with how to still glorify God (rather than myself) even though I'm not overly talking about him.

Though I have found that when I'm making my blog traffic or my desire for people to like my writing a higher priority than my relationship with the Lord, I find that I'm more stressed and unsettled. I feel like I'm always behind what everyone else is doing. But when I flip those priorities around, I feel more at peace. Funny how that works out.

Because when it's not about me, it takes the pressure off. There's no grade or performance review. It doesn't matter if two people read my blog or if two thousand people read it. It just matters if I'm exalting Christ with my life. Which is not to say that's easy, but it's not contingent on doing everything right. And that's a relief.

It's a daily struggle for me, and one that I'm sure I'll be working on for a long time.

What parts of your life are you tempted to use for your own glory?

For the Times When You Forget Who You Are

Our 20's are weird.

There are so many different possible stages of life wrapped into that one 10-year time frame. Not just within the span of our individual lives, but across the board.

One 25-year-old has two children already, balancing work and motherhood. One 25-year-old is at bars until 2am just living the life. One 25-year-old is newly married. Another is working on her medical degree. Yet another has set off to travel the world, because, as they say, "these are the best years of our lives."

Is there any other age group that is on the whole so schizophrenic?

A theme that seems common throughout all of our 20's, though, is the struggle to find an IDENTITY.

For so long our sense of self has been shaped by our families, our high school friends, our hometowns, and maybe even our college.

Now we're on our own and we've screeched to a halt, looking around for clues as to who we actually are and wondering what we have been doing all this time. (Oh yeah, homework.)

For me, part of that experience was the realization that I had no hobbies. No passions. Nothing that I felt any more alive than usual doing. I'd caught glimpses here and there, but never really gone all-in on anything.

I trucked through high school and college, just doing my homework, playing softball (high school of course), going to church, hanging out with friends and just taking it one day at a time. Who didn't?

But I didn't pursue anything just for me. Just because I liked it. I didn't even know what I liked to do. I just wasted away free time watching T.V. or on Facebook. Then I graduated. Who wants to just go to work 9-5, come home, watch T.V. and go to bed, only to start over again the next day? I realized I didn't really have a sense of who I was outside of my day-to-day tasks and my new husband.

We all spend so much time seeking identity in so many things: Apple products, friends, jobs, riding boots, musical taste, campus groups, talents...

Those are all great things to enjoy. But what happens when we lose those things or they disappoint us? A basketball player who is paralyzed. Friends who drift apart. A CEO who loses his job. Even a college student who simply graduates.

We don't know who we are anymore.

The good news is we don't have to wonder very long. There exist some ancient words that tell us exactly who we are, day in and day out, even if we don't fully believe it.

I love this quote from Jon Acuff's blog:

As we rush off to find anyone or anything to determine our identity, the Bible sits quietly by with page after crazy page of truth about who we are.

I never really knew what it meant to "find your identity in Christ" until this past year. You're right, it does just sound like one of those Christianese nonsense terms that sounds warm and fuzzy but means nothing in practicality. Until you experience it.

I can't quite explain what it feels like other than the fact that when I know who the Bible says I am, I'm more at peace. I'm not so lost. I'm a part of a bigger story. I'm not just another warm body meandering around on the earth until I die.

So when you don't know who you are, when you feel lost and purposeless, when you can't figure out if there's a point to all this…take heart. You belong to Christ.

Know that the Lord, he is God!

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100:3

You are His and you are so loved. You are created to be in relationship with Him, and your identity is not found in what you do, what you buy or what others think about you.

He bought you with the price of his life, therefore you are His, and no one can change that.

One of the great things about that truth is that this identity brings SAFETY and FREEDOM.

Stable ground from which you can go out into the world with confidence and take risks, because your identity no longer depends on others.

I forget who I am sometimes.

I bet you do, too. But don't worry, God's word is there to remind you. Day in and day out.

This catechism turned on the lights for me. Maybe it will do the same for you:

Heidelburg Catechism Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death? Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Have you ever forgotten who you are?

Creating Joy

Joy can be hard to come across these days. Once we enter the "real world," sometimes it feels like there's not much room for it. It seems we often just set our course and stick to it, doing the same thing day in and day out.

Sometimes it feels like we have to find joy. That it's hiding from us, and we have to search for it.

But what if we chose to create it instead?

I watched a video on Jon Acuff's site the other day that lifted my spirits and gave me a picture of what joy can look like when you choose to create it.

A little background: Bob Goff and his neighbors have this parade each year on New Year's Day with only one rule: anyone can participate, but no one can watch. 

A few things I love about this video and the people in it:

  1. Bob Goff and his neighborhood chose to ask "why not?" rather than "why?" There's no logical reason to have a parade in your neighborhood--let alone one that nobody is allowed to watch, but anyone can participate in. It doesn't make a profit or change the world (per se). It's probably a lot of work to organize. But some things--especially joyful things--don't have to have a "why." How much would having the attitude of "why not?" change how I live? What could I do if I didn't worry about if it made sense or what people would say?
  2. They believe that every person has something valuable to contribute. I love seeing other people's creativity at work and that the parade encouraged that. I love the idea of just being YOU, and that being special on its own. That you have something to contribute that no one else can. I think sometimes we can get lost in our jobs or our family or school (all good things, by the way) that we forget we are an individual with talents and opinions and a "you." This parade brings out each person's "you," and I love it.
  3. They weren't performing for anyone. It takes the temptation of chasing applause--which, if we're honest, I think we all battle--out of the picture. They did it simply for the joy it brought their souls.
  4. I love anything that brings people together and connects them as fellow human beings. I think there's something beautiful about finding common ground with others and living in community. I doubt all the people in this parade shared the same beliefs or political standings, but instead of focusing on what divides us, it highlighted what connected us. They all came together to create something beautiful and joyful.
  5. Balloons. Seriously, is there anything more joyful than hundreds of colorful balloons?
  6. Roderick's smile. Wow.

So there's your mini-dose of joy for today! I hope it made your heart lighter and maybe even brought you some encouragement.

Do you struggle to find joy in the everyday grind? What's your favorite thing about this video?

You can read Jon's post on this video here.


Letting Your T-shirt Do the Talking

I had a shirt in my early high school days that said "Satan is a punk." True story.

(I also had a guitar-pick choker my best friend and I made to match the one Lindsay Lohan wears in Freaky Friday, but that's neither here nor there.)

I always felt slightly self-conscious wearing the shirt because it was so blunt, but I thought it was witty and liked that it identified me as a Christian. I didn't wear it very often, though, due to the aforementioned self-conciousness, and because it was black with white letters. I didn't want people to think I was trying to be a Christian scene kid.

But I had a handful of other t-shirts that identified me as a Christian. I can say with confidence, though, I never wore one that featured a popular brand logo changed into a scripture reference. So, dodged a bullet on that one.

The ones I wore came from retreats and concerts, but the sentiment was the same. This was a witness to my classmates. If I wear these t-shirts to school sometimes, people will know I'm a Christian and it will spark their interest in becoming a Christian too, right?


Let me tell you how many times my t-shirt acted as a conversation starter: zero.

Not one person ever walked up to me while wearing a Christian t-shirt wanting to know more about Jesus.

I was too shy and scared of what other people think to ever verbalize my faith to someone who I wasn't certain already believed. I wanted my t-shirt to do it for me. Because wearing a t-shirt is safe. Putting a fish on your car or a sticker on your computer is safe. It declares (or whispers, rather) who you are but shields you from having to face a potentially negative reaction to it.

Let's face it, the likelihood that someone is going to see that sticker on your laptop, approach you and say "hey, I see that you are a Christian...what's that about?" is probably pretty slim.

We fool ourselves into thinking that wearing Christian shirts or putting Bible verses on our Facebook statuses is being bold, but really, it's being safe. Even if someone responds to your status, you don't have to face them in person, and you don't really get to know their heart on the issue.

Though I rarely wear a Christian t-shirt anymore, I'm as guilty of this as anyone--I'd venture to say maybe even more than most-- so I'm going to start praying for true courage.

I think what that looks like, for me at least, is vocalizing my faith regardless of who is on the receiving end--whether they are a believer or not.

There's no need to hyper-spiritualize everything we say, but let's choose to make our faith known in ways other than what we wear or what we put as our religious views on Facebook. Let's be honest and genuine. Let's choose not to be ashamed. Let's build relationships and show God's faithfulness and grace to others.

Have you ever worn a cheesy Christian t-shirt? What are some of the best ones you've seen?

Merry Christmas!

Since this will be my last post before Christmas, I thought I'd get a little sentimental on you and make a quick list of some Christmassy things I'm looking forward to about the break:

  1. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is hearing the choir director at my family's church in Georgia sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel a capella to open the Christmas Eve service. It's not Christmas without it. Really. The two Christmas Eve services I can remember in which she did not do this effectively ruined Christmas.
  2. Fantasy in Lights. Is there really anything better than riding in a trolley with 40 other people you don't know, freezing your butts off and listening to "Holly" speak in holiday cliches over the P.A. system whilst you journey through a magical wonderland of twinkling lights? I submit that there is not. Especially when there is also hot chocolate & gingerbread men involved.
  3. The traditional waking-of-the-house at 7 a.m. by my brother, who is 21 years old. Leave it to him to keep tradition alive. Once I get over the initial rage I feel at being awoken at that unreasonable hour, I'm okay with it. Plus, I can only assume you miss out on Christmas altogether if you sleep any later than this. Maybe the presents self-destruct if they are still lying there unopened at 7:59. I wouldn't know.

But in all seriousness, I am genuinely excited to celebrate the birth of our Savior. I think the more I read the story, the more I feel the weight of what his birth meant to the people who experienced it, and what it of course still means today. The Savior all humanity longs for is here!

 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 

Merry Christmas everyone!

Three Things I Know to be True

This post was inspired by another post by Jeff Goins, which you can read here.

Truth is everywhere, but so are lies. I think it's getting easier every day to get tangled in the lies and harder to find the truth within. You may have read about my interest and passion for truth in my recent endeavor into a blog series called "The Truth Sessions."

I read the post mentioned above today and it resonated with me. It asked readers to share their "three things," so here are mine.

Three things I know to be true:

  1. We can't do life without Jesus. Not really. I mean, we can meander through our days without any sort of direction. And that works for some people, maybe. But eventually I think we reach a point where we question why we even exist. What is the point to this thing? Just to be born, live and die? It has to be more than that. I think there's something deep down in our souls that tells us that, and, if we let it, points us to our Creator. Honestly, without Jesus, life would just be sorrow and brokenness---and stop there. With Jesus, there is still sorrow and brokenness in this world. But there's also redemption, rescue and beauty. There's hope. There's something bigger than our little lives and thoughts and aspirations. Without Jesus, this world is all we get. And I don't think any of us are satisfied with that. Which is why we try to find satisfaction in a myriad of things but can't find it. It's why people, advertising and entertainment all chase sex. Because for them, it's literally as good as it gets. With Jesus, there is purpose and hope and grace and love.
  2. All people desire to be loved and known. I mentioned this in my introduction to The Truth Sessions, but I'm mentioning it again because I still think it's one of the truest statements I can come up with. Even people who say they don't need anyone---that it's them against the world---that they don't care if people like them or not---I think they're lying. I can't prove that, of course. But I think there's something in our souls that longs to be loved and known and cared for just as we are. Once again, I think this points to a desire the Lord has put in our souls for an everlasting, unconditional love that only he can provide. But I think a lot of times, the reason people do extreme things is driven by a desire for love or the lack of it. They decide they don't need it. Or they decide to chase it. Or they turn to things that make them not feel anything because it's too hard to face life without it. On the flip side, if they have found it, they have an overarching peace. They can be their truest selves because they are confident in who they are and that they are loved for it.
  3. Words are powerful. Whether they encourage, inspire, cut down or wound. We've reached an interesting point in our culture where people can say everything and nothing all at the same time. By that I mean, the dawn of social media (and texting) has made it easier than ever to say hurtful, harsh or judgmental things with the click of a button, and we never have to actually see the other person's reaction to our words. Whether they initially cry, yell or laugh, we'll never really know. We can pretty much say whatever we want. On the other side, we can say nothing. Political correctness is king. This can be a good thing. It can. I don't want to make it okay to say hurtful things. But I think when even calmly vocalizing a personal belief can be seen as offensive, it can become a problem. All that to say---words are powerful. Be truthful yet kind. Be encouraging. Use the power for good. (I say this to myself as well.)


What are your three things? Feel free to share in the comments, tweet or write a post of your own!

If you tweet, use the hashtag #threethings to join in the conversation. 

The Lord Has Come

The Lord has come!*

This weekend I had the privilege of traveling with my husband to Huntsville for a gig he was playing with FFH. During the services, Jeromy said that approximately 400 years passed between what was most likely the last chronological book of the Old Testament, Nehemiah, and the birth of Christ.

I can't imagine what it was like to have no word from God for 400 years, considering they didn't have the Bible like we know it today. Whole generations would have lived and died without any new revelation from the Divine through a prophet or otherwise.

That's why this lyric took on new meaning for me this year. There is so much truth and inspiration in those four words.

The Lord has come! THE Lord. To me, the use of "the" means those who would have been exclaiming it knew exactly who Jesus was and what it meant for humanity. He was finally here! The one they'd been waiting for all this time. The one they were sure was coming; they just didn't know when. Here to save us all. What a blessing to not only be alive and experience the coming of our King, but to have the kind of faith to recognize it.

During the past couple of Christmases, it has really helped me to better understand the significance and joy of the birth of Christ to imagine what it must have been like before and during his arrival. How much more would I rejoice at his coming if I had known what it was like before him? Before redemption through faith? Before the hope the new covenant brought?

It's easy to take for granted the fact that Jesus has always existed for us. We as Christians don't know a faith before Jesus. Which is not to say that I am somehow disappointed in that. I don't really want to know what it's like without him. It's just that we can sometimes overlook the wonder and majesty of our Savior coming into the world when we didn't spend hundreds of years yearning for him.

Jesus was the single most divisive and pivotal human being to ever walk the earth. All things before and after his time on the planet point to him and our need for him. And we have the privilege of celebrating his arrival. And I'm thankful we live in a country where we are not persecuted for doing so.

So, rejoice, people of God, the Lord has come!

*As you may know, the original lyric is actually "The Lord is come," but for the sake of modern language and the fact that "The Lord has come" has become commonplace, I chose the latter.

In another not-so-coincidental coincidence, when visiting FFH's website to link to it, I noticed Jeromy's latest blog post talks about this exact longing he spoke of this past weekend. To read it, click here.


Words are words. Right? Whether they're written or spoken, are they equally valuable?

I ask this because over the last few years, I have at times gotten frustrated with God for not speaking to me directly. Audibly. Or at least in that I-immediately-knew-what-to-do, or, these-exact-words-just-popped-into-my-head sort of way.

I hear stories of God speaking to people. My friends, even. And I wonder--why not me? The Sunday-school answer is that I'm just not listening well enough. But I'm not so sure it's as simple as that.

Let's rewind for a second. Why did God speak out loud to people in the Old Testament, but later apparently decide to stop doing it?

Of course, I don't know God's thoughts or his plan, but I realized something.

They didn't have the Bible. Not like we do.

Sure, depending on who they were and at what point they lived, they may have had some Scripture. But they didn't have the entire story, beginning to end. They didn't have pages upon pages of God-breathed truth in the palm of your hand.

Maybe that's why God spoke. Maybe not.

But what I do know now is that we should count ourselves blessed. We have the holy Word of God in our backpack. On our iPhone. On our nightstand. We have the complete story. So much more, then, we should believe, even than the people who walked with Jesus. Peter speaks about the Word being more irrefutable than even witnessing the transfiguration: For we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention to as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts...2 Peter 1:19

So I thought to myself: why am I so intent on God speaking to me, when I don't even read all the words he's already spoken to me through his Word? Maybe he doesn't speak to me because he's already said it. Perhaps the answer is already there. What a blessing to have God's words written to me on-hand at all times. Yep, God spoke those words as much to me (and you) individually as he did the whole of humanity.

Maybe next time I am freaking out about what to do next, I should just read what he's already said to me. Sure, it may not say "DO THIS." But that's where faith comes in.

Perhaps I should focus less on insisting God whisper the answer in my ear, and more on reading the thousands of words he's already spoken to me. His word should be just as precious to me written down as it would be if it was spoken.

Have you ever wanted God to just tell you what to do?


Hymns are Sneaky.

There's a great temptation in my life--and I'd venture to say, a lot of people's lives--to avoid being seen as too anything. Too loud. Too quiet. Too enthusiastic. Too Christian. Too intelligent. The list goes on. The problem with this mode of living is that in avoiding being too anything, you become, well, nothing. Bland. Pleasant yet unexciting. Passionless. Not unique. Self-less.

And at that point, who are you?

I was reminded of this over the weekend when we sang "It is Well" at my church.

I know that's not really a typical take-away from that hymn, but let's go there together, shall we?

A byproduct of my love for writing is that I am a total grammar nerd (or nazi, depending on whether you see this quality as endearing or obnoxious).

In my years as a church-going grammar nerd I have noticed that hymns are sneaky. If you're like me, you've sung them approximately 100 times each and sometimes don't even know what you're singing about ("Bringing in the Sheaves," anyone?). Hymns also often invert parts of sentences to achieve a certain meter or rhyme (I'm going to have to ask that you fight the urge to let your eyes glaze over at the mention of "meter" and "rhyme"), making them less straightforward. What's more, in many churches, including my own, we look at lyrics projected on a screen rather than printed in a hymnal. In transferring the lyrics onto slides, somehow much (if not all) of the punctuation disappears.

All of these factors contribute to our struggle to glean the original meaning of the hymn when singing it in 2011.

But I've recently found that when I pay attention to the punctuation (or what I think would be the punctuation) and/or rearrange the words to form more typical subject-verb sentences, the hymns reveal new meaning.

The line that hit me this weekend (here punctuated by yours truly) was:

"My sin--oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin--not in part, but the whole--was nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more! Praise the Lord; praise the Lord, O my soul!"

The writer--who I have now googled and learned was Horatio Spafford (you may have already known that)-- was so taken by this idea that his sin was completely atoned for, that he couldn't even finish his sentence without exclaiming how amazing it was. He interrupts himself--twice--before he finishes his thought. First, to wonder at the sheer joy of what he was about to declare, and second, to reiterate that it was not just some of his sin that was atoned for, which would have been incredible enough, but all of it. I love that it is written that way. I love that he didn't just cross out the beginning of the sentence and start with "Oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!" It really makes it come alive.

To bring this back around, the lyric reflects someone who was not afraid of being too excited or too enthusiastic. He couldn't contain it. When was the last time I was so overcome with the joy of a truth that I couldn't even finish my sentence without interjecting how wonderful it was? I want that sort of passion for the Lord. I don't want to worry whether I will come off too Christian or too enthusiastic. Something I'll be working on for a long time.

Have you feared being "too" something?

Drawing Lines

I once saw Chris Tomlin wear pleather pants on stage. Dare I say, they were patent pleather. How do I know they were patent pleather? I was sitting on the 2nd row. They had several zippers. Several. Light beamed from them in all directions. I’m pretty sure they were black, and he topped them off with some kind of equally-shiny skater shoes. Though to be fair that was about 4 years ago, so that could just be my caricatured memory of it.

I laughed about it. I mean, come on, he was wearing shiny pleather pants. But as I look back on that instance (it obviously stuck with me—see: zippered pleather pants), I was not just laughing at the silliness of the pants, I was trying to distance myself from the “uncool” Christian on stage. The fact is, despite the fashion monstrosity, Chris Tomlin was on stage because he was leading thousands of people in worship that night, facilitating bringing them into the presence of God. I failed to see that because I was too caught up in what separated us rather than what united us.

Over the years as I have experienced many aspects of Christian culture, I have run into several other things that evoke a similar judgmental cynicism in me, and it usually has to do with whether I think that person is being genuine or not. Whether its a word-for-word rehearsed speaking style, a sermon story with an undeterminable source (Did this happen in real life? Did this come from an e-mail forward? So many questions…), a worship leader without an instrument (apparently for me there is a fine line between worship leader and performer, and that line is an instrument) or clapping in between every song at church, I start to draw lines between me and them.

Recently I have taken note of a couple verses in Luke that has convicted me of this attitude towards other Christians.

John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

(Luke 9:49-50 ESV)

The one who is not against you is for you. Just because they do not “follow with you” does not mean they are not also part of the same kingdom of God and earnestly seeking to follow Him.

While of course there are always things in Christian culture (or any culture I suppose) that misrepresent who we are and don’t really merit encouragement (t-shirts that change the John Deere Logo to John 3:16 come to mind), and there is a time and place for rebuking those who are speaking a gospel contrary to the Truth, we should strive to remember we are on the same team. We share the same goal: to proclaim Christ and live faithfully to Him.

Instead of making judgment calls on other Christians, I should be encouraging them and supporting them. After all, Chris Tomlin has probably reached more people with his music than I may ever. God may speak to someone through that rehearsed voice at the pulpit. And at the end of the day, I don’t know these people’s hearts. We of all people, as Christians, should be a united community amidst the chaos of the rest of the world, because we know that one thing matters more than anything else.

The King

The President probably doesn’t know your name. The CEO of the Fortune 500 company you work at probably doesn’t care about your individual needs and aspirations.

Why would they? Unless you’re Sasha or Malia’s best friend or the over-sharer at company-wide staff meetings, these people may not even know what you look like.

So it stands to reason we would be inclined to believe the King of the universe would also fall into this category of beings who are too busy, too far removed, and too important to truly care about us as individuals.

But in a great overturning of common sense (which Jesus has been known to do), this particular King knows your middle name and how many freckles you have. He knows what you are afraid of and knows what brings you joy. This King would have died on a cross just the same if you were the only human on earth. You. Even though he’s well aware of your shortcomings.

It’s comforting to me to know that though the uncertainty of the future (or even the next hour) can be overwhelming, at least the One who is in charge of it all loves you.

Sure, the President cares about the country as a whole. The CEO of your company might want to create a positive work environment and see the company excel. But they probably don’t actively care for your heart and soul. They may not have your individual good in mind.

So even though we are not in charge and may have little control over what happens during our journey through life (which is a scary thought), at least you know the One who is driving the bus loves you personally and completely. At least we know He is trustworthy. At least we know He is good. And though most of the time I don’t act like it, I’d much rather have the One who can see the road ahead driving than try to take the wheel and blunder through the darkness. [Resist the obvious temptation here to start belting “Jesus, Take the Wheel” from your cubicle.]

In a world that can sometimes seem like it cares little about your individual life, it helps to remember the One in control calls you “son” and “daughter.”

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:29-31

1 Cor. 16:13-14

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. 1st Corinthians 16:13-14 

I especially love the “act like men” part of this verse. It just seems so noble, calling the men in the church to step up and be leaders. Of course this verse can be applied to the lives of men or women in essence, but I love when scripture calls men to be more than what society asks of them. Not passive, not sex-obsessed, not the stereotypical bumbling husbands who know where the remote is but not the diapers…

Be more than that.

Soldiers. Men of integrity. Leaders.

Return to Me

Friday night I had the privilege of being a part of the Mosiac’s CD release show at Rolling Hills Community Church in Franklin. (You may or may not remember my post about getting to do gang vocals on their album, which was such a fun experience.)

These fine people are 5 friends from Belmont Craig has known since his Freshman year, and consequently so have I. They’re some of the most talented people I’ve ever known, and they’re even more amazing live than they are on the album.

They have felt called to proclaim God’s word through music. Nearly verbatim, actually. Combine that with their crazy-awesome arrangements and ridiculously beautiful voices and you’ve got yourself something special.

The music I heard that night brought scripture alive. I’ve actually learned a lot from Mosaic through the videos they posted explaining the theology behind their songs and what experiences the songs sprung from. (You can watch them here.)

One of my favorite songs from the night is called Return to Me. It’s written from the point of view of God, particularly in the Old Testament books of Jeremiah and Hosea. My friend Emily Martin (who co-wrote it and sings it on the record) explains in regards to this song that we tend to think of the Old Testament God as sort of harsh or mean, especially in comparison to the words of grace that overflow in the New Testament. I mean, he’s always condemning groups of people or sending in a flood to destroy humanity, but then Jesus comes and everything’s okay, right? But in the scripture this song comes from, God is speaking to his people, dying for them to just turn from their ways and come back to him. Sometimes God has to bring us to our knees before we will realize how much we need him and just run to his open arms.

Two things resonate with me about this. One, that God is the same then, now and always. He’s always been (and always will be) more gracious to us than we deserve. Two, that God cares about me (and you) as an individual. He cares about my thoughts and fears and knows who I am inside. More and more scriptures, songs and sermons are revealing this truth to me lately.

This song is a perfect marriage of tension and release reflecting the solemn, heartbreaking situation of our stubborn rebellion and the gentle yet firm response of God—filled with grace for his people. And it’s even better live.

Here are the lyrics to the Mosaic song:

(Click here to listen as you read—it’s pretty epic— and/or to hear Emily explain the song better than I can.)

Tell Me House of Israel What injustice did your fathers find in Me That they would go so far from Me?

Hear Me fearless daughter, You’ve forsaken Me and you’ve exchanged your glory For a well that won’t hold water.

[Chorus] How can I give you up? How can I make you see? Why are you bent on turning from Me? I will contend until you are free.

Return to Me, return to Me, return to Me Jerusalem Return to Me, return to Me, return to Me Jerusalem And I will heal your faithlessness.

See your way in the valley Know and understand what you have done You are stained before my eyes

Feel my pain, beloved I can’t restrain you or subdue your thirst for sin My love, you’ve become a slave


[Bridge] Break up your fallow ground daughters and sons Sow no more among thorns; stray no more Turn your eyes back to me; trust in My name I am Jehovah I’ll never leave you wanting

Hear Me House of Judah Obey My voice and I will be your God And you will be My bride