Getting Ready to Receive, Day 1

In an effort to Worship Fully this Christmas season, I’ve decided to turn my blog into a devotional between now and Christmas Day. I’ll be writing most of the entries, but I have a few special guests who will also be contributing along the way. I hope you enjoy!

Getting Ready to Receive, Day 1

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” ~Luke 2:1, KJV

No one has to issue a decree these days for everyone to be taxed. We’re stretched, overburdened, overloaded and encumbered. And even if that wasn’t the kind of tax Caesar was referring to, I find it funny that the Christmas story begins with a taxed world. We can relate, can’t we?

This may be getting a little ahead in the story, but funnier still is the fact that when Jesus shows up in the Christmas story he decrees a “stop tax” of sorts (without saying a word, of course, babies can’t talk). When Jesus arrives, the shepherds walk off the job for a night, the wise men start ignoring orders from their leader, and it seems as though the whole world collectively takes a deep breath while the angels sing. Jesus shows up and says, “I got this. Cast your cares on me.”

What if instead of waiting for Christmas Day to take a deep breath, we decided to issue our own “stop tax” in order to get ready for more Jesus in our lives? We could do less instead of more. We could make better choices about the things and people we tell “yes,” and make better choices about the things and people we tell “no.” It’s like the story of the two sisters, Mary and Martha, in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus shows up at their door and one sister, Martha, gets so busy preparing for Jesus that she misses spending any time with him. Meanwhile, Mary skips all of the preparation (much to her sister’s annoyance) and spends all of her time with Jesus. Who do you think made the better choice?

Here’s an idea: sit down with your family or friends and make a list of all the things you don’t want to miss this Christmas season. Then, make another list of all the things you want to not do this Christmas season so you don’t feel quite so taxed. You can call it your “Christmas To-Don’t List.”

What’s on your Christmas list(s)?

Christmas Cave

So, typically, I’m the “must wait until Santa appears at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade until we listen to Christmas music/talk about Christmas/decorate for Christmas” type of person. That’s a type, right? I’m not alone?

But this year, I have a confession to make. I have been listening to Christmas music for the last week (don’t hate fellow-types). I can’t wait! It’s possible I’m even out-pacing my 4-year old in level of excitement for the Christmas season. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration.) And so, I’ve decided that if I’m giving in, I’m totally giving in. I’m “buying the limited edition candy cane oreos this week” giving in.

Before you write me off as a sell-out, you should know the real reason I’m caving is because we are 5 days away from the launch of our #5000gifts campaign at Ashley Ridge Church and I’m about to bust something! We are re-imagining Christmas and preparing to celebrate the season like we’ve never celebrated before and I WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW ABOUT IT!

But not yet.

5 more days.

Just 5 more days.

I can wait just 5 more days…I think.

What about you? If you were to let yourself think about Christmas for just a minute, what would you be anticipating most this Christmas? Anyone else want to cave with me, just this once?

Enough and Exhausted

The local newspaper knew they made a mistake choosing me as a “Woman to Watch” the minute the photographer called me.

“Would you like to do the photo shoot at your office or your home?” she asked.

“Neither,” I replied. “The public doesn’t want to see that.”

It didn’t get any better a few days later when the reporter came to interview me. After talking for a few minutes about the details of my life and the church, he asked me, “Is there anything else? I mean, anything more you’ve done or accomplished?”

He wasn’t being rude. He just knew how much space he needed to fill in the column and “church planter, pastor, wife, mom to two young boys, and occasional half-marathon runner” wasn’t going to be…enough.

No wonder we’re all exhausted.  Our culture has built a mentality of more, more, more that none of us can live up to, but sadly we’re all still trying. And while we never reach the elusive “enough,” that other “e” word follows us wherever we go…exhausted.

Tullian Tchividjian recently asked the question, “If God’s grace is inexhaustible, why are we so exhausted?”

The question stopped me in my tracks because the answer is so obvious. We’re exhausted because even though we talk about grace and sing about grace, very few of us believe that it’s real. We think we have something to prove and subconsciously we believe God cares more about our resume than our heart.

Today I want to remind me and I want to remind you that God loved you before you accomplished anything. Take a deep breath and know that He is enough.

Lessons from the Boss

Perhaps the infrequency of my posting is sufficient commentary on marriage, motherhood and ministry, but I think it has more to do with building habits.   “They say” it takes something like 16 days to form a habit.

I’m not that patient.

Sixteen days seems too much, it should happen in two or not at all.  At least that’s what I told my husband as I ranted about people at church not filling out connect cards.  The rant started there and ended with a full-blown temper tantrum about feeling like no one is listening to me and I might as well be spending my days talking to a black hole.  And why wasn’t he filling out his connect card, anyway?!?!

Have you ever seen the movie Father of the Bride? Specifically, the scene where he’s tearing hot dog buns out of the package in the middle of the grocery store…yea, that was me.

And, of course, the rant ended as rants typically do in tears and weariness and the dawning realization that the “they” I’m ranting about includes me.

How often does Jesus look at me and think, “How many times do I have to tell her to trust? How many times do I have to tell her to love first and let the rest work itself out? How many times do I have to tell her to not be afraid and have courage?”

And yet, he never loses patience with me.  He never stops guiding and leading – doing that Good Shepherd deal he talks about in John 10.

I’ve chased sheep before.  The church my dad pastored when I was a teenager did a living nativity every December and the youth always went to the farm to pick the two sheep who would come and hang out with us for a week.  It was always fun for the first few minutes as we ran and dove and even got a little messy, but as time wore on, it got less fun.  The sheep were stubborn and disobedient and didn’t seem to get the command “Come” that seems to work so well for dogs.  Maybe that’s why the Bible compares us to sheep more often than dogs?

Sheep are frustrating, but the Good Shepherd continues to sheep herd because that’s what a good shepherd does.  And he does it less for the end goal and much more for the love of the sheep.  It’s hard to love when we’re ranting instead of guiding, loving and sacrificing.

I get it, Jesus, I get it.  But, you’ll still have to tell me again because that’s the way I am.  And, I’ll pass the message on, again, but maybe next time with a little more grace and a lot less judgment.

Failing Forward

I’m afraid to fail.  There it is, in print, my greatest fear in life.  I’m afraid to fail as a mom, as a wife, as a pastor and as a human being.

Sadly, there have been seasons of my life where this fear has been an asset and I’ve learned to rely on it.  For example, church plants have an 80% failure rate.  Logic might suggest that statistic alone disqualifies me as a church planter.  Instead, it became the perfect driver.  We set out to plant a church and I refused to fail because that would have been more than I could bear.

At a conference in Nashville two weeks ago, we talked about the dangers of leading out of our fears versus our true self (true self defined as, “the me that is essentially me, uniquely reflecting God’s merciful, undeserved presence inside of me”).  I had a lightbulb moment, realizing just how much I had been leading out of my fear of failure.  I had become paralyzed, unable to make decisions in case that decision became the decision that led to a failure.  I was pleasing people to build a hedge of protection in case I did fail and I needed people to love me so much that they wouldn’t be able to see it.  I was so busy worrying about what I thought I could control that I forgot Who is in control.

Craig Groeschel once said, “Be careful not to take too much blame for your failures or you’ll be tempted to take too much credit for your success.”  Wowzers!

Here’s the deal, I can’t allow fear to call the shots.  Especially when the thing that I fear is inevitable.  I will fail.  I have failed.  I do fail.

His grace is enough.  It’s time to go big!

2 Timothy 1:7 – “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love and self-control!”

More vs. Better

I left my office yesterday at 2:15.

It was a bold move considering the piles of unfinished work on my desk, the volume of e-mails beckoning for a response, and the staff watching dumbfounded as I walked away with unanswered questions still hanging in the air.

I went home, put on sneakers and ran out the door.  The air was cool, the sun was shining and in no time I was gasping for breath…yes, I’m that out of shape.  But, man, it felt so good.

For weeks, months really, I’ve been exhausted and irritable and straining for more time to work, more time to clean and more time to snuggle close with my boys.  There’s just never enough.  And the larger the deficit grows, the more my faith stumbles and my confidence shakes.

“I’m a terrible mom.”  “I’m a lousy pastor.” “Clark must think I’ve lost my mind.” And so runs the ongoing parade of negativity in my mind.

But yesterday I stopped and I realized something – that moment of “stop” was the most productive time I’d had in weeks.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

We have two options – we can work more or work better.  I’ll never have all the time I need to do all the things I want to do, but if I can start with things like rest, prayer, exercise and good food than all the time I spend doing everything else will be better time, productive time, present time.

It’s not about working more, it’s about working better.  It’s not about needing more, it’s about needing better.  It’s not even about loving more, it’s about loving better.

How do you fight the more vs. better debate?  What do you need to prioritize so you can be better at the things you do?


(Oh, and as an added bonus, check out Ann Voskamp’s incredible post from yesterday!)

Made for this

I stood there sweating with adrenaline pounding in my veins and my heart smiled.  I was made for this.

This morning I had the privilege of speaking to about 120 6th-12th graders at a Christian academy in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.  They’re having a week-long “Awakening” and I was asked to help kick it off.  I was excited about it until I realized I had agreed to drive 45 minutes away first-thing on a Monday morning.  I don’t know if you know this, but Monday comes after Sunday – enough said.

I was tired, feeling under-prepared and not sure if I had chosen the right outfit (chick problems).  But then I got there, we started to worship, I got up to speak, and something happened that always happens – God made me come alive!  For the next 25 minutes every move, every word, every facial expression and gesture seemed obvious and happened without conscious thought.  The power came through me and I felt like the cord that connects the power source to the light bulb.  Before I started, my notes were boring and my energy level was bottomed out, but then it happened and when it was over I thought for the 1,000th time, I was made for this.

I spend the majority of my work week doing things that aren’t speaking or even directly preparing to speak.  A lot of the time those things wear me out and make me question if I’m really doing what I’m supposed to be doing.  But then other times, I get to stand in front of a group of tired teenagers only too aware that there isn’t enough charisma in the world to capture their attention…and then God shows up.  And somehow, amazingly, incredibly, I get to be part of it.

I was made for this.