When Glory was the hope of the humble

The heavy darkness of oppression had blanketed the Hebrew people for years. They ached for deliverance, for a mighty king to rise up and free them. Then, one ordinary day, an angel stepped in and promised a Messiah to a young, unmarried girl named Mary. And, startling enough, this world-redeeming King would grow within her virgin womb. Unbounded hope and raw delight must have filled Mary – that the Most High had knit her Messiah in her being. The fullness of God had been implanted in her and would grow to save her people! Yet, the Bible doesn’t tell us about exuberant announcements or joyful parties to welcome this prophecy fulfillment. Simply, she and Joseph continued on in faithful living, quietly proceeding with life and customs. In truth, the Bible says remarkably little about the pregnancy, delivery, or even the rearing of this God-child, Jesus. And, I wonder if that isn’t the point. Because, although they found favor in God’s eyes, this story could never, ever be about them. Yet, if there were ever grounds for spiritual hierarchy, it would be now – for who else could claim the status of being chosen by the Almighty Creator of the universe to birth and raise Jesus Christ, the Messiah? Was this couple ever tempted to insert themselves in this divine plan? Did they ever beat down pride, or wonder if being faithful to God’s ways really applied to them – after all, their child was God, prophesied by angels, born of immaculate conception. As far as we can read, their response seems to lack the stench of pride; it’s nearly impossible...

When Glory was offered to outsiders

They were sitting outside the city, watching their sheep. “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Luke 2:8 Maybe these shepherds looked over the hills at roof tops and felt the pangs of loneliness. This life, this shepherding of dirty animals, required them to stay on the fringe. And so, they stayed on the outside and watched the town from a distance – day after day, year after year. But, that night, that glorious, world-changing night? The latest news didn’t start in the center of town. It didn’t reach their ears last. It didn’t shy away from their smelly, woolly companions. Glory exploded in angelic proclamation before their eyes, in their midst! Glory came up-close, as close as skin, that night. “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  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.'” Luke 2:9-10 A message for all people – brought to them, mere shepherds? “‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he...

When Glory was expected in the everyday

It was just one step after the other, on that long trip to Bethlehem for Joseph and Mary. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” Luke 2:1, 4-5 Even as they walked, Mary’s womb swelled with the presence of the eternal Almighty, nearly ready to be brought forth into flesh. Some nine months earlier, Glory had bowed low, trading His place at the Father’s right hand to be fitted inside her womb. Yes, with a hush, the heir of Heaven had slipped into her womb and into their routine obligations – a Bethlehem trip included. Maybe they could’ve avoided the trip altogether. Mary was, after all, about to deliver her baby – a child ushered in by angelic visits and prophecy. Maybe they could’ve explained their holy situation and received a variance or a waiver? Appealed to someone? Claimed their rights in this obviously special situation? (A hallowed child or not, no pregnant woman in any century would’ve blamed them for preferring not to travel in her last trimester, on a donkey,when no accommodations were arranged.) Yet, Joseph and Mary lived under the rule of a king. Obedience was next to breathing. And so, they packed their bags and started walking. It was one step after the other. This Bethlehem trip became just one of many...

When Glory was displayed in the disgrace

Once upon a time, a young girl named Mary found favor in the eyes of God. And, on the brink of one of history’s greatest leaps of faith, this girl said simply: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Mary thus entered into the plan of God with a bowed head, willing to carry within her the presence of God in order to birth His glory into flesh. Yet, in Matthew’s gospel, we get a wider picture of the drama surrounding Mary – when she was found to be pregnant and unmarried. In these words, we start to understand the cost of Mary’s surrender. We begin to see the human heart exposed in the midst of divine work. “And her husband, Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19) Shame. Disgrace. Maybe even a touch of scandal. An unmarried girl, suddenly pregnant. What did people think? Did they jump to conclusions, whisper about her, share their disapproval? And we’re left to wonder – why would a holy, perfectly pure God choose to use this scarlet thread of disgrace while weaving His eternal plan? “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 Prophecy declared it, yes, but certainly God Almighty could have engaged a staggering variety of means, outside of such a publicly disgraceful situation, to accomplish it. Truth is, I think we are all left a bit shaky at this unfolding – broken pieces of moral standards...

When Glory was birthed in a barn

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7 There, Salvation was nestled among animal food. And, we wonder over God, this God who stepped off His throne and into human skin, laying Himself into a mere animal trough. Glory Himself was birthed into baby cheeks and tiny hands by a young, scandal-surrounded girl. How is it that we find the King of all in such a place? How is it that the Almighty God, the great I Am, bends Himself into a world of labor pains and dirty animals? And, it’s at times like this that I find myself both awestruck and inexpressibly moved by the story of Jesus’ birth. Of course, it’s a familiar one, and most of us can see the story line from miles away. But what consistently moves my heart? It’s the common. Each year, I find myself analyzing the details, trying to imagine what it must have felt like to witness the great and awesome God stepping into the everydays of some simple folks. Because, it’s natural for us to attach the concepts of splendor and power and mind-blowing radiance to our God. We exalt Him. We praise Him for the attributes we can hardly understand – His sovereign ways, His unsearchable wisdom, His unfailing love. His stands far above us, and we marvel, speechless at His majesty. Therefore, it is not without near bewilderment that we...

Why “telling people about Jesus” may not be enough

One day, a couple kids in our neighborhood came in with a picture Bible and announced they were going to make a club. And, this would be no average club. It would be a club to “tell people about Jesus.” Something in me cringed as they innocently stomped into the volatile areas of ministry and missions, where few dare to tread. Oh, how would they navigate these rough waters of evangelism and church and “sharing Jesus?” I tried to tactfully respond. “Well, your friends may not want to listen. You may need to show them what it means to be a Christian— like, be nice to them. Tell them ‘good job’ when they dunk the ball on you instead of spazzing out on them. Use your words instead of punching someone when you’re ticked off. Ask before you ‘borrow’ each others’ bikes. Share your hot cheetos. Take care of the little kids instead of hiding from them. That would really be cool, right? See, just talking to them might not work so well if you don’t act differently.” The boys didn’t seem convinced. “So, what are you going to do if they don’t want to listen?” I asked. They perked up. Now this, they were ready for. Their excitement and confidence oozed out everywhere. “Oh, we’re going to do GAMES! So, they can come for games, and then we’ll just tell them about Jesus.” My husband joined in at this point. We tried a few more times to steer the conversation away from games and clubs, but the boys were resolute. They soon left, eager to set up their...

on rolling out welcome mats for divine work

She sat across the table from me, reminding me a lot of my younger self. Her pen was poised over a notebook, and I could see she’d already been making notes and plans. And so, this was it. After seven years of founding and developing The Bridge of Storm Lake ministry, I was handing over the position of Communications Director, a role embedded into my heart – and the role to which I knew she was called. Although the past months had been an awkward scene of passing the baton, it would be official now, I told her. Of course, it would sound nice to say “it’s always been God’s ministry” and “He can do with it as He pleases,” as if my feelings were exempt. But the reality for this mama was that it felt like my baby. I had dreamed of it and named it. I had labored over it, drawing up plans and tucking away dreams in drawers, like neatly folded onesies and receiving blankets. Eventually, the vision was birthed into reality. I cleaned it up and swaddled it with human words, making it presentable to onlookers who received and celebrated it. Together, Jay and I loved this vision-baby, amazed at what God had laid in our arms. We held on through disappointments and failures because we shared this passion to see it grow and develop and be all that God had intended. We cared for it, nurtured it, protected it, sacrificed for it, as any parents would do, through long days and sleepless nights. Sometimes Sacrifice calls us to hang on. But, other times it calls us to...

Why it Matters that Jesus Wept

I stopped on the story of Jesus and Lazarus the other day. Stopped right at the part about Jesus weeping. He wept. Fully. Compassion poured from His eyes and ran into His hands, hands which would soon enough be torn up on a bloody cross. Maybe He bent over in grief, pressing those hands to His mouth, without words. See, the God of the universe did not simply blink extra and ignore the well of emotion coming to His holy eyes. Didn’t choke it back and cough gruffly. Didn’t mumble out something about how everything happens for a reason after all, and what a beautiful life this one lived at least. I couldn’t get over that scene of Heaven’s Glory grieving long and hard over His friend, Lazarus. Why? Because certainly Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. Certainly He knew that death would never keep this one: not this time. Certainly He knew it was within His perfect power and awesome sovereign ways to fix this situation. Yet, for the moment or maybe for many moments, He wept. He grieved. He entered into the loss with compassion. He stayed there silently and let His human heart break with the brokenness of sin and death, for which He alone had the capacity to redeem. Jesus wept – willing to feel what He knew He could fix. And that’s where I stopped because I’m not sure we know what to do with that. How often we’d rather fix something than feel anything. We’d rather give a hand than grieve. We’d rather move on than mourn. It feels better...

The art of unraveling

I told my daughter, Maggie, the other day that I need to sit down and unwind. After a few minutes, she came close and whispered, “Are you unraveled yet, Mom?” I didn’t correct her. She’s asked me it twice since, and each time I melt a bit. I don’t plan to tell her the word is “unwind” not “unravel” anytime soon. I suppose I’m still unraveling anyway. And, what have I been up to exactly? Summer. Another Bridge ministry summer – a marathon of days stuffed tight with knocks on my door, activities, late-night suppers, kids falling asleep on couches instead of their beds, and a front porch swarming with candy-coated, sidewalk-chalked kids. Each summer is like living and learning a year’s worth of ministry. Kids are engaged in the Cultivate Training Garden, we have weekly Neighborhood Nights, activities at the Neighborhood Centers and Sites regularly, a daily lunch bus route, special trips for different age groups and summer camps, and on and on. Ten weeks of all-hands-on-deck, all day, until late night hours. It’s like taking a fast-track college course or drinking from a fire hydrant – or doing them both simultaneously. And, for me, it includes balancing the proper care, feeding, and cleaning of 5 kids as well. But, summer is over now,  so the unraveling begins. And, unraveling is an art. It really is. Unraveling well prevents crashing and denial-powered momentum (which leads to more crashing). This I know, with my scraped up elbows and knees, exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and ministry burnout. Yes, over the years, I’ve crashed a good many times, and the pain is just fresh...

On rescheduling contractions & sorting out rice & kite-flying (why I write, part 1)

My husband, Jay, says it’s like a mid-life crisis. He’s usually right, so I’ll believe him. This is the point in which a geared, passionate young woman, well-marinated in busyness and purpose raises her head and wonders, “Why? Why am I doing this again?” This is about writing. It’s long been my companion, both feared and loved. Feared, because I don’t know what to make of it, what it will become, or what it will require of me. Loved, because it’s my way, my safe place, an undeniable and otherworldly process that guides me, grows me. And yet, why exactly am I doing this writing thing? The question is like a fly in my eyes and ears, as I tap out late-night words to satisfy a deadline. Fellow creative souls, risk-takers, and air-breathers can likely relate. After all, no one knocks on your door and passes you a note with your life’s purpose and detailed plans of which steps to take on the road toward becoming. Do you ever lift up your head, adjust your glasses, squint at your surroundings, and say, “Wait a sec. Am I seeing any of this clearly? I am in the right place… right?” Writing guides say I should write to share information, that I should determine which is my area of expertise and establish my platform based on credentials and experiences. And, I should meet a need for my audience, helping or informing or inspiring you all of something. And, that’s precisely why I let this blog sit for a couple months. I got stuck on the bit about having something profound to share...