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Advent: Three Questions to Ponder

While on vacation, I read a book called Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller – about Sabbath-keeping. She also has a blog and a regular Friday email with prompts for the week. This week’s email started her Advent theme, and these 3 questions about the Christmas hustle and bustle resonated with me – maybe they will for you as well?

Is this opportunity/activity/action essential as I wait for Jesus to come?

Is my heart focused more on giving presents than being in God’s presence?

Is my yes to opportunity/activity/action about being the gift or more about guilt?


Sent from my iPad


The Joys of Practicing Sabbath

I realize that the concept of Sabbath might be completely foreign to you, or might have legalistic connotations involving more restrictions than freedom. But give Sabbath a chance. It’s said that when asked which of the Ten Commandments was the hardest to keep, the rabbis chose this one – to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” over all the other nine. Why? Because we intuitively know we shouldn’t murder, lie, steal, or want our neighbor’s possessions for our own. We know we should treat God and our parents with respect and keep our marriage vows. But setting aside one day a week to rest, when there’s unfinished work, laundry to do, errands to run and mouths to feed? It doesn’t come naturally. Which is why it may be most important to our mental, physical and spiritual health.

How would you feel on Monday morning if you had spent all day Sunday resting instead of trying to squeeze in as much fun and work as you could? What if one day each week was set aside to think, to create, even to (gasp!) play? What if for one 24 hour period you focused on family and friends, not in a guilt-ridden way, but with the goal of enjoying each others’ company? What if this day was the capstone of your week, a day you prepared for in advance by getting your “have to” tasks completed, maybe even including preparing the day’s meals ahead of time and eating on paper plates (or going out to eat)? Is it possible that by practicing Sabbath regularly you could become more of who you are?

It’s worth a try.

Doing What Doesn’t Come Naturally

We are forgetful creatures. That’s why we have to re-read things that are important, like the Bible, that’s why we write out affirmations and repeat them to ourselves. That’s why we have to regularly say “I love you” to those important people in our lives lest both of us forget.

We also have to practice things that don’t come naturally to us. We naturally gravitate to stimuli like that ding on your phone when an email shows up, people who are charismatic, and getting likes on our Facebook posts. We don’t naturally get 8 hours of sleep a night or practice Sabbath once a week or have a daily quiet time to read, meditate and reflect because it doesn’t act on us – we have to act on it. We have to make an effort to set those boundaries instead of letting outside stimuli control us. These are the things that recharge us instead of drain us, even though we think that rush of dopamine will do it. Eventually we end up empty exhausted shells of ourselves instead of vibrant and energetic.

Practice isn’t just for children – it’s a lifelong endeavor. We practice yoga, practice a new diet, practice to get good at a sport or to play an instrument. We practice being better listeners and using our filters so that what’s in our brain doesn’t automatically come out of our mouths. Practice means it’s not perfect the first time and may never be perfect. But it does mean we should get better and improve based on the time and effort we put in.

What to do when you mess up

I was wrong. I thought I had the moral high ground, that the other guy was way more at fault than I was, but I was wrong. I was the reason things went south, I was the reason things were as bad as they were, I was the catalyst that caused the really bad outcome.

What to do? How to get out of this burden of guilt and misery, knowing someone else’s life is worse because of me and my selfish actions?

Recognize. Nobody wants to admit they’re wrong. It means coming face to face with our own faults and failings, and they’re not pretty. We’d much rather cover them up with excuses and comparisons to other people who are much bigger sinners. But then we bump into reality and realize that we are the problem, not the other guy, that we contributed in large part to what went wrong and that in fact it wouldn’t have happened without us. Ugh.

The Prodigal Son merrily indulged in wine, women and song until one day the music stopped and he found himself empty, friendless and hungry. He had to recognize that for himself – he wasn’t willing to listen to anyone else until he hit the humiliating reality that his situation was his own fault.

King David said it best in Psalm 51, his beautiful, poignant  song after committing adultery with Bathsheba:

3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.

Repent. Once you realize you’re in a hole, stop digging. Stop eating donuts, spending money, cultivating that inappropriate relationship. Turn around and start taking steps in the opposite direction.

7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
9 Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Restore. Do as much as you can to make it right, pay it back, fix it. Apologize. Go the extra mile. Do whatever is within your power to put things back the way they should be.

Replace. Jesus said that if a man was healed of demons without replacing with something else, that new demons would rush into the clean house and he would be left worse off than he was before. Or said another way, nature abhors a vacuum. Find something to fill the void left by your inappropriate behavior. Go serve needy people. Practice gratitude by counting your blessings. Instead of eating donuts, eat fruit. Or go take a walk when the chocolate craving hits.  Instead of spending money on stuff you don’t need, figure out what need that filled (Boredom? Self esteem? Socializing?) and find a new habit to replace it.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
13 Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.

Don’t repeat. Get yourself out of temptation’s way – don’t keep Oreos in the house, don’t go to the mall or that favorite bar. Stay away from the Home Shopping Network or online shopping websites. Unfriend that toxic person on Facebook.

The best thing about mistakes, I think, is the lessons we can learn from them. If you touch a hot stove, even if you’re told not to, you learn what to avoid. The worse the outcome, the better the lesson. Maybe one day I will have committed every mistake possible and will be wiser before doing something stupid. That’s the benefit of age and experience.

Fix My Eyes . . .

Stand face to face with the younger me
All of the mistakes, All of the heartbreak
Here’s what I’d do differently:

I’d love like I’m not scared, Give when it’s not fair
 Live life for another, Take time for a brother
 Fight for the weak ones, Speak out for freedom
 Find faith in the battle, Stand tall but above it all . . .
 Fix my eyes on you

– “Fix My Eyes” by For King and Country

When my focus is inward, I get anxious. And if I keep thinking about my power, my strength, my abilities, my talents, I get even more anxious. It’s only when I fix my eyes on Jesus that I find peace and can move forward. It’s not about me, it’s about Him.


The Scriptures are full of admonitions to change our focus:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.

– Hebrews 12:1-2

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.

– Colossians 3:1-3

You will keep in perfect peace
    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

– Isaiah 26:3

17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

– 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

– Philippians 4:8b

So it’s only by keeping our eyes, our focus, our thoughts on things above rather than things below, that we have any power. It’s not about me.

Mercies New Every Morning . . .


I’m a morning person, so I actually like getting up early. There’s just something about the peace and quiet before the day begins in earnest that puts me in the right mental state. Speaker and author Brian Tracy calls the first hour after you awake the “Golden Hour”, and suggests spending it in thinking about and visualizing your goals. By doing so, he says, “your life will start to take off at such a speed that you’ll have to put on your seatbelt.” The blogger Sean McCabe suggests that “the best time to do the most important work of your day is right when you wake up.” He proposes that because our brains work through issues while we’re sleeping, we have more mental clarity right after waking up and should take advantage of it. He suggests that everything starts with writing, so we should spend those first few moments writing down our thoughts.

My days seem to go best when I set aside this time for deep thinking, prayer and meditation. If I don’t spend that quiet introspective time, I don’t seem to have the same ability to handle stress and problems I encounter the rest of the day. These days, my routine includes reading the day’s entry for Jesus Calling, which has been one of the best devotionals I’ve ever encountered (thank you, Kerry!). I’ve given a copy to multiple people, and highly recommend it!

The Scriptures are full of morning references – here are a few:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness!
– Lamentations 3:22-23

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
– Psalm 143:8

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
– Psalm 88:13

And I like Nicole Nordeman’s song “Mercies New”, the chorus of which goes:

Your mercies are new every morning
So let me wake with the dawn
When the music is through or so it seems to be
Let me sing a new song . . .

Mornings give us that new chance, a “do-over.” No matter how bad the day is, there’s always a new beginning the next morning. How cool is that?

Things That Matter Most Should Never Be at the Mercy of Things Which Matter Least

daylilies and phlox

Priorities. It’s all about priorities. Resources like time and money are limited, so in order to be most effective, we have to squeeze the most out of what we’re given.

Time is the worst – we all have the same 24 hours a day, and it’s so easy to get distracted, at least for me! I wander off on attractive bunny trails – of “good” things – and then an hour later realize I still haven’t done what I was supposed to do.

But bunny trails are so fun, especially in summertime when the livin’ is easy. I went out to water my garden a couple of days ago. I gave myself 15 minutes . . . and went back inside an hour and a half later.


I’m especially bad at saying “no”. I think that I have to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes along, but then for some reason I find myself overwhelmed and grumpy. It’s so much better to say no at the outset than to disappoint others later when you can’t fulfill your obligation. The author Randy Alcorn wrote a blog post about this concept, which he calls “planned neglect.” He says we have to make sure we’re living to please God, not everyone else. We have to learn to say no to many good things in order to be available to say yes to God concerning that small number of things He has truly called us to. He further says we should NEVER say yes without asking God whether this is one of those exceptional things He wants us to do. Assume that God doesn’t want you to do that new thing and that he will smack you up side of the head if He does.

Alcorn concludes, “If I’m booked so tight there’s no room in my schedule for unanticipated God moments, I’ll miss them, and thereby miss some of life’s greatest joys and opportunities and occasions for gratitude. If you don’t give yourself room to breathe, you won’t give God room to move.”

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.Ephesians 5:15-17 (NLT)