Awake!

People feel strongly one way or another about having a word for the year. One friend says, “It’s Jesus!” noting it’s all about Him, no need for another word. Someone else has said we should focus on the whole Bible, not a word. I get their thinking and fully support following Jesus wholeheartedly and being a student of His Word!

I used to be against the whole “word for a year” simply because others looked down on it. I didn’t want to launch out into something controversial. But once I started having one, I realized it can be something really special.

A word (or theme) for the year is not intended to take away from focusing on Jesus or the Bible. It’s intended to magnify Him, to give an extra focus as you study the Bible throughout the year. For example, in prior years, I’ve had words with themes around prayer, Bible reading, “firstfruits,” the Lord being our Shepherd, “whiter than snow,” “God is Light,” the fear of the Lord, being steadfast, being still before the Lord, and others. I so often think back to that in-depth study of the fear of the Lord or what it looks like to be steadfast rather than anxious and unstable. When I consider tithing or not tithing, I remember what I learned when I studied giving our firstfruits, not our leftovers.

To me, it’s like doing a Bible study. You might spend several months reading about the Divided Kingdom (as I have been with Bible Study Fellowship this year) or researching something theological. Looking in-depth at a slice of theology or a book of the Bible doesn’t take away from your overall devotion to God and His Word. In fact, it strengthens it as we grow and learn. Bible studies, sermon series, personal devotional times and more have the potential to deepen and expand our love for God as we think biblically about all things.

Having given this brief apologetic for a “word of the year,” 🙂 I will share with you what mine is: Awake!

Several times over the last few months, as I would listen to a powerful sermon, I wanted to express “Amen!” or leap to my feet and raise my hands and rejoice, or even burst into tears with the beauty and accuracy of the message! Yet appropriately, we as a congregation sit so still, listening, surely each person absorbing it in personal ways, with God working in each heart. But I have wanted to shout at moments, first to myself, “Wake up! Don’t you hear it? Don’t you see it?” This warning, or this exhortation, or this needy world, or any number of other things. What am I to do with this that I’m hearing?! And then I walk away into my week, forgetting what was preached, seemingly unchanged by it.

Then, we have been visiting many churches this fall in our new community. Some have different theology on “non-essential” issues, like end times. These can be confusing things to study because we don’t know the day or the time of the Lord’s return. We have his Word to tell us about it, but people can interpret it differently. I take encouragement that even the disciples who walked with Jesus couldn’t always understand what He was saying directly to them until it later happened! For us reading it now in the Bible, it can seem pretty straightforward: “He was telling you… how did you not get it?” But we in our day are faced with the same sort of thing reading about future events; it can be hard to understand. So I’ve wanted to read and study more about these issues. I don’t expect I’ll figure it out perfectly or any better than the trustworthy people around me have, but it’s worth reading the Bible and giving it some thought, even while we trust Him and rest in all He has promised for those who know and love Him.

With all this as the background, I arrived at church on January 1, with two thoughts for words for the year: 1) Wake up! or 2) something along the lines of love, serve, give — if you’ve read my last blog post, you’ll understand why!

The service opened with this prelude:

Wake, awake for night is flying,
the watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices and at the thrilling cry rejoices:
Come forth, ye virgins; night is past!
The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take, Alleluia!
And for His marriage feast prepare, for ye must go to meet Him there.”

“Wake, Awake for Night is Flying”

This echoes Matthew 25:1-13 with the parable of the 10 virgins. It tells us the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish, not taking any oil with their lamps; five were wise, taking oil. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, so they fell asleep. When he finally came, they awoke and trimmed their lamps, but the foolish ones did not have oil. While they went to buy oil, those who were ready went with the bridegroom to the wedding banquet, while the door was closed to the foolish ones. They said, “Lord, open the door for us.” And He replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” The passage concludes with, “Keep watch [be alert, awake], because you do not know the day or the hour.”

It’s interesting to me that they ALL fell asleep waiting, but five were prepared when Jesus came, and five were not. The commentary isn’t on the fact they were found sleeping (similar to the disciples who slept instead of prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was betrayed, Matthew 26:36-46, Luke 22:39-46). It’s on the fact they weren’t ready. The stories in Matthew 25 reflect that there were people who thought they would be safe and saved and that they knew the Master, but He did not know them. That’s a sobering thought.

The New Year’s Day church service also quoted Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” How do we arise and shine if we do not awake?

As I came home and reflected on the church service, Bach’s prelude, Isaiah 60:1, and looked up Matthew 25:1-13 (the parable of the virgins), it brought to mind my desire to read the Bible and study more about what it says regarding end times, and these things all converged back to the thought in my head every so often last year of “Wake Up!” Awake!

Be awake to the things of God. Be awake to the things He wants to do in my life as I follow Him, how He wants me to spend my life and my time and my days, prayerfully filled by His Spirit to love and serve Him and others. Will I quench the Spirit or walk in the Spirit, allowing Him to awaken my heart to the needs of the world and how He might use me, being ready for the day I meet Him and for the day of His return.

Here’s how a word for the year works. I wrote this post above earlier this week. As I sat down this afternoon to read Joel for my Bible study that starts back this week, in Joel 1:5, it says, “Wake up…” He’s speaking to drunkards, while also talking about a locust invasion of the land, a judgment, and the Day of the Lord (a theme of this short book) being near. In Joel, God is calling His people to repentance, to “return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster” (Joel 2:13). As I study the Day of the Lord and what it is, as I think of God’s judgment but also His mercy, as I see the call to repent, I also see this admonition to “wake up” in light of these things!

Having a word for the year should not cause us to neglect God or His Word for some fanciful idea, but it should hopefully help us learn, to connect dots, to see a bigger picture and be deepened by a bigger vision. Do you have a word for the year? (No pressure now! 🙂 I respect all those who don’t like to choose one for many other reasons! But I also want to fortify those who like me once felt I couldn’t because others didn’t.) If you do have one, I’d love to hear in the comments! Blessings to you all this new year!

Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

Ephesians 5:14

Happy New Year 2023!

2022 will be a year to remember. Leaving our home and moving after 20 years! Getting settled in a new community. Having my mom join us. All good things, yet change can bring stress and joy, challenge and expectation, and it impacted everyone in the family, even the dog!

Yet, here we are at the end of the year, recognizing again the faithfulness of God, His intimate care for us through these changes, and soaking in the wonder of all He has done in every detail.

I try to read an Advent devotional each year. This year, it was Love Came Down at Christmas by Sinclair Ferguson. He walks through 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter on love. It was not what you would at first expect for an Advent book, but as I worked through each chapter, I began to see how appropriate it was. The love we are to have and demonstrate can only be had by knowing Christ’s love, demonstrated to us in His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.

My husband and I memorized 1 Corinthians 13 when we were in high school. Something can become familiar, so you set it aside and forget to reference it, despite it being framed in our bathroom! But walking through its truth again was convicting. Consider the first three verses:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

I Corinthians 13:1-3

The person described might have a powerful faith, a faith that moves mountains! Speaking in the tongues of angels perhaps! Giving all to the poor! But the passage notes, if there is no love, it is nothing. He gains nothing. He is nothing. Sobering truth.

It then gives us a description of love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Considering each of those phrases as to how Jesus loved us and how I love, I could see the massive gaps and the many, many ways I fall short.

Further, whereas prophecies may cease, tongues will be stilled, and knowledge passes away, love never fails, does not end, and does not pass away (13:8). In fact, the greatest of faith, hope, and love is love (13:13). How can we know and receive this love? How can we humbly give this love?

On December 23, around 9 a.m., we lost our power due to the storm that hit the entire country, it seemed. In the grand scheme of things, ours was a relative inconvenience, nothing like what many people faced. Our house dropped into the 40s, and it was cold and dark. By the second day, when the power did not come back at 5 p.m. as had been projected, we realized we needed food and a hotel. It was now Christmas Eve. It had gotten dark outside, restaurants were closing early. We arrived to the first hotel, and after probably 30 minutes of working to find us a room, we heard the verdict: no room.

I drove to another hotel, and thankfully, they had space for us and the dog. We found one fast food open until 11 p.m. (thank you, Cook Out!) and got some food. As I tried to sleep, I lay there at 3 a.m. wondering about this whole experience. Though I knew the Lord wasn’t absent and that He was near, I didn’t feel His presence. I thanked Him for the provision of a warm place and food, but I wanted to sense His nearness. So I prayed and asked him about this.

I began to think about Mary and Joseph not finding any room in the inn. This experience could make you ponder that a little longer! Mary leaving her home to have a baby, finding no place to go, no room, ending up in a stable to give birth to Jesus. Wow.

And then I began to think about how, though our Christmas had been so much fun so far, we hadn’t yet worshiped. We were longing for the power at that point so we could cook and open gifts, but we hadn’t been able to ponder the true Gift.

And 1 Corinthians came back to mind… “If I speak in the tongues… If I have the gift of prophecy… If I give all I possess to the poor… but have not love, I am nothing.”

And I realized the comparison. If I have all the decorations and a warm and beautiful home, if I have all the gifts and the wonderful family, if we eat and enjoy each other and have a special celebration, but Christ is left outside the door of either our home or our hearts, we really have nothing. Yes, fun; yes, much to enjoy. But without Christ, there is no true Christmas. Without His love and loving sacrifice, we would be without hope. That is Christmas.

And as I lay in that hotel room thinking, I realized God wants to have our hearts. He wants us to know Him. And He’s made a way and given us truth so that we can. Our hearts are like the inn — will we make room for this baby who is our Creator and King? Or will we leave Him outside our hearts, outside the door, content to have what seems like much, but lacking the most important thing, Love Himself.

We awoke on Christmas Day to hear the power was now projected to return December 27 at 11:30 p.m. We watched our home church’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services by livestream. After our noon checkout, we found one restaurant open on Christmas Day, Applebees. As we waited for a table, my husband, who stayed home with the dog, called: we got power!! I turned around to my family: “We got power!” We ran to the car, raced to the house, started cooking our meals again and enjoyed opening our gifts. And I rejoiced in the fact that there is a reason for this celebration, Jesus, this baby born in the manger, our Savior and King. Without Him, life would be nothing, though it could seem we have everything. With Him, we truly have an eternal hope, a life beyond the grave, a purpose and peace and joy for today.

This was a Christmas to remember, a year to remember! I look forward with expectation and hope for the coming year, 2023, to see all God has in store, as we live each day before Him, trusting in Him.

Happy New Year! May you know the deep Love of our Savior, Jesus, who came to save us from our sins.

Count Your Blessings

Last Sunday, we visited a country church up the road from our new home. There were probably 20-30 people in attendance. They sang the old hymn Count Your Blessings: “Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.” What a great reminder as we approached Thanksgiving this past week to stop and count my blessings.

We have much to be thankful for, having just settled in a new community. After being rooted for 20 years in Chicagoland, and planning to be so for many more, my husband received a call out of the blue in April to see if he would have interest in applying for a theology professor opening. That had been his career for 16 years, but the last four years had been in publishing with one year in Christian education/administration. By early June, he had the job offer, and by early August, we had moved!

Suddenly, life as we had known it was over, and a life with new opportunities was waiting in a new season and place. We saw God’s hand in every step along the way, in every detail, so that made it easy to move forward with confidence, even when some days were difficult. It was hard to leave behind family, but my mom is joining us here next week. We love being back in the Appalachian mountains, having enjoyed the Smokies during our college years and the Blue Ridge during PhD years.

Thanksgiving yesterday was different. My husband flew back to Chicagoland to help my mom get packed up as the movers will come Monday. He celebrated Thanksgiving with our family there, which was our tradition for many years. My daughter and I stayed behind so we would not be in the middle of the move, but we missed being with family. I decided I would not try to cook a full Thanksgiving meal for just the two of us. After I couldn’t find an open reservation locally, I ordered Cracker Barrel! It was acceptable and tasty, but not quite the same. Still, it will be a Thanksgiving to remember!

This Thanksgiving, as I count my blessings, I give thanks for my family, both near and far.

I’m thankful for our new home and our wonderful neighbors!

I am also thankful for Bible Study Fellowship and the new friends I have made there. Knowing we wouldn’t be settled on a church home immediately, I signed up online for BSF near my house. What a gift to study the Word with a group of women locally, many of whom are also newer to the area. We get together for walks and meals, and I’m glad to have new friendships.

I’m also thankful for the couple that was recommended to us to help with some painting in our basement. They are a wealth of knowledge and have been invaluable to us in a few home projects.

I’m thankful for the university where my husband teaches, for the students and faculty we are getting to know, and for the beautiful landscape surrounding us.

I’m thankful for my work, being able to continue it remotely, and for the routine and consistency it has provided.

I’m thankful for an affordable, non-stop United flight from a nearby airport that gets us easily to Chicago when we travel back.

I’m thankful for a day set aside to be thankful! Living in Virginia, I’m learning more about history again. We came upon a reenactment of a pastor from the late 1700s who shared from the Thanksgiving Proclamation given by George Washington on October 3, 1789. It says in part:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…

From the Thanksgiving Proclamation, October 3, 1789 – read in full here.

It was interesting to hear how Thanksgiving Day was established and what its purpose was.

Beyond that, it reminded me as I count my blessings that there is a Giver of all these good gifts, a source of all the blessings we enjoy. I am not simply thankful in the general sense of a positive attitude or gratefulness, but my thanks is directed to the One who meets our needs and provides so graciously, abundantly, and faithfully. He first and foremost has given me salvation through Christ, an eternal hope, and purpose in the present here and now as we await His return.

With that in mind, I look forward to Sunday as we begin Advent and turn our focus to Jesus’ birth. He has come and will come again. He is the Giver and Sustainer of life, who carries us through all life’s hills and valleys, joys and griefs, to bring us safely to Himself. Thanks be to God today and always.

“I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.”

Psalm 9:1-2

Church

We recently moved after spending 20 years in one community. As I reflected on our years there, I could see one common thread that had anchored us in those years: our church.

The first Sunday we arrived in the summer of 2002, we visited the church where other family members attended, and we never looked back. It became a place of worship, of fellowship, of service, and even employment. Our children’s school met there, and I worked at the school for five years before working at the church for 11 years. My daily routine for 16 of those 20 years was to be at the church. Our kids went through all the children’s ministries, junior high and high school, sports ministries, mission trips, and retreats up until college. My husband and I served on various boards and committees and in the children’s ministries, and I discovered that service is the best way to meet people. You go to serve, thinking you are giving, and in the end, you receive way more than you could ever give, while making friends along the way! I participated in Women’s Bible Study which God used to shape me and change my life through the in-depth study of His Word. Our church was in walking distance of our home, about 4 blocks away. It was the center of our lives and community.

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A Father’s Day Reflection

The first email I read this morning was from a godly, prayerful man at church. He had sent a mass email, asking “What is the best advice your father ever gave you?” My first response was to think he might feel bad if I wrote him back and said my father died when I was 10 weeks old and I never got any advice!

But I reflected a little longer. When my dad died, God met every need that my mother (who became a widow at 25 years old), my sister (who had just turned 3), and I had. We never lacked. God was faithful to us.

And the gift that I had because of this was that I always had a strong sense and understanding of God being my heavenly Father. My mother made sure we understood what the Bible said about widows and the fatherless, how He cares for them. And we experienced that. I never had to try to understand God through the lens of an earthly father. I knew God cared for me and loved me and was faithful and would take care of me. I felt a strong and direct connection to God.

So that’s what I replied to my friend’s email:

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