Uncomfortable Shoes and Lent

HHHshoes.jpg I’ll never quite understand high heeled shoes. Why do us women put ourselves through the age old ritual of walking on our toes while a tiny sliver of a platform supports our heels? This experience is rarely comfortable, nor is it practical. Imagine somebody successfully climbing a mountain, wrestling a mountain lion, changing a tire, or running away from zombies. Are they wearing high heels in your imagination? I didn’t think so.

You know what I do appreciate about high heeled shoes, despite their impractical discomfort? I truly appreciate taking them off at the end of a long day spent wearing them! Wow, do my feet feel great to be freed from the foot-clenching confines of an impractical pair of shoes! I wiggle my toes, rub my arches, and feel like my heels are sinking into the floor with the perspective of finally standing flat footed after a day upon my toes. Kicking off a pair of heels is the first step towards the inevitable change into sweat pants and wool socks, followed by lounging on the couch with a warm knit blanket, television on or fireplace roaring, hot cup of tea in hand. Relaxation never feels as good as it feels following a day spent wearing heels!

As we approach the season of Lent (coming up in about 2 weeks!), many Christians are considering the season as though it’s an impending 40 days spent in uncomfortable shoes. They plan for their own discomfort, willfully “giving something up”, fasting, or abstaining from either sin or pleasure, because it has become a cultural Christian norm to do so. But what is the purpose of this self-denial exercise? Many have come to view the season merely as an earthly exercise in self restraint. The secular Lent message goes like this: Give something up for a time so that when you return to it again, you’ll appreciate it more. Chocolate never tasted so good as it tastes following forty days of abstaining from it!

Self denial for the sake of self improvement is not strictly a Christian practice. Asceticism, or the practice of strict self denial, can also be found in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. This is where Lenten self denial can become problematic for Christians. For many Christians, the focus of the Lenten season has become self improvement, discipline, or endurance, worldly goals which can be achieved with or without faith. In the meantime, we neglect the Biblical depiction of Lenten asceticism entirely. The Biblical Lenten message is this: Jesus gave up the ultimate pleasure—his own life—so that we can enjoy eternal life with Him. It is Christ’s self sacrifice that should be the focus of the Lenten season, not our own. If our self denial does not point to Jesus, then it is self serving. How can we prepare our hearts and minds for Lent in a way that honors God’s true sacrifice of His only Son for us?

Dear Jesus, help us to prepare our hearts and minds for your death and resurrection this Lenten season. Help us not to be self serving in our asceticism, to make the season all about our own self improvement or endurance. Rather, allow us to celebrate your ultimate sacrifice for us—the ultimate fast which led to our salvation. Amen!

AmberSignature

Too Adventageous? My Advent Schedule

AdventFBcover Can something be too beneficial? too good for you? too perfect?

Let me break it down here... can too much of a good thing be harmful?

Advent did not catch me by surprise this year as it has in the past. Our Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts have been swarmed with ideas to prepare my family for Christmas during this Advent season. There are so many good ideas! They seem promising (and fun!) for my family to focus on Jesus during this busy and materialistic season that our culture promotes. GOOD!

Most Advent ideas are countdown calendars. There are simple calendars with paper doors that open to bible passages or some mediocre chocolate that somehow tastes better because of its adorableness. Whoever came up with that idea is genius! Anyhow, there are other Advent countdown calendars that guide families to create ornaments for their Christmas tree with bible readings, paper link chains with bible passages to read on the inside, hymn sing togethers, daily advent devotions, Jesse Tree journeys, and even some that have a countdown list for good things to do for others. I have used some of these Advent activities and recommend them. GOOD!

So, how can good preparations for Christmas become bad for me? How can I become too "adventageous"?

When all of these good preparations for Christmas take my focus away from Jesus - the source and heart of Christmas.

And ladies, I sit here typing with only one hand while my other one is raised because I am guilty. I am SO guilty of over scheduling myself and my family. It is the first week of Advent goodness and already I have rushed to events, practices, and pulled an all nighter preparing for this coming Christmas. I want to echo Amber's words, "I Can(t) Do It All!" I have learned a lesson.

My checklists, Jesse tree ornaments, music performances, Advent by Candlelight, children's Christmas service plans, family get togethers and Christmas dreams have me burned out.

If Jesus came back today am I ready? Like Jesus' parable about the 10 virgins in Matthew 25, my oil lamp feels empty.

AdventSchedule

Now, this post isn't written to make us feel stressed out or guilty but rather that we find peace. If we never miss a day on our Advent schedules, or if we skip a couple of days, or start with the best intentions and do not complete our tasks... we can find rest this Christmas.

A successful Christmas does not rely on how many things we prepare to do this time of year. Christmas was successful 2,000 years ago!

God prepared his Son to come to this earth at the exact time that was necessary for our salvation.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:6-8

Are we ready for Advent? Are we ready for Christmas? Is that really the important question?

I pray that above everything else during Advent we remember that God prepared FOR our salvation back then and is preparing FOR us even now.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in me. My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. - John 14:1-4

We don't know when Jesus will return, we can't see God's calendar, but we can always trust his schedule. God is perfectly "adventageous" for us.

Click here to print off the bible study that goes along with this blog post!

1. Share! How do you prepare for Christmas during Advent?

2. Discuss! How can good preparations for Christmas become bad for us? How can we become too "adventageous"? 3. Read Matthew 25:1-13! How can we be prepared for Jesus‘ second coming? Give specifics.

4. Discuss! How can we properly balance Advent to avoid burnout?

5. Read Romans 5:6-8! Where do you find peace in these passages? Where do you find hope?

6. Read John 14:1-7! In verse 4 Jesus says that the disciples knew the way to the place where he was going. What is the way to the Father? (vs. 6)

 

Amanda2

*If you use the bible study in a group or share it with another please give source credit to me and the blog. Thank you!

The "Too Adventageous" series is made up of four bible studies: 1) My Advent Schedule 2) God's Advent Menu 3) God's Christmas Decor 4) God's Christmas Gift

During the rest of the week you can find me at our private online bible study Facebook group where we dive deeper into God’s word and talk about it. If you want to be a part of the bible study I highly recommend being a part of the Facebook group where we get to know you more and be mutually encouraged! The Facebook group is private so any information that you share will be seen only by those allowed in the group.

You can join the Facebook online bible study group by clicking here.

It's Not Too Late

The last six weeks have been anything but restful, reflective, or regenerating.

They have been exhausting.

They have been trying.

They have been weary.

Between two boys teething at what I consider a way-too-early age and several rounds of the stomach flu which have managed to make their way through just about everyone's digestive system in the house, there hasn't been much time or energy remaining for anything “additional”. The days drag but also fly. With the endless laundry, tired eyes, and seemingly super-strength germs, nothing beyond mere "surviving" has happened. Play dates have been cancelled, friend and family get-togethers have been skipped, and dinners have gone unmade and uneaten. I feel as though I've been existing in a "fog" of sorts, wrapped up in our own little piece of the world, just trying to make it through each day.

So this last Sunday I considered it nothing short of a miracle that all six members of our family were sitting in a pew together. We may have arrived late -- after the first two verses of the first hymn had been sung, in fact -- but we were there.

As we frantically removed coats from small girls and small boys from carseats, I heard the familiar melody and lyrics sweeping through the narthex: a Lenten hymn. And that's when I realized it. We were beginning Holy Week.

Arguably the most important week of the church year had begun and I almost hadn't noticed.

While growing up, if we were to miss a mid-week Advent or Lenten service, we had better have had a good excuse. Since becoming a mom nearly four years ago, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have made it to one -- and even less times I was still present at the end of the service. The late evening timing of them is just bad. Plain and simple. Unless we were to show up with all of the kids dressed in pajamas (which wouldn't be the worst thing, I suppose) and also wanted for the entire congregation to know what four over-tired children sound like at one time, there’s no way we could make it.

But what bothered me most while sitting there in the pew was not that we hadn’t managed to attend an official midweek Lenten service, but rather that nearly the entire season had passed with me barely giving it a second thought.

Why was my heart so ill-prepared simply because my current situation did not easily allow for attendance at a mid-week church service? Why hadn’t I taken even just a minute out of my day-to-day obligations and responsibilities to reread the Passion history or spend time in fervent prayer? And how could I celebrate the true joy of Easter only seven days from now without having spent the last six weeks reflecting on the innocent sufferings and death of my Savior? I desperately needed forgiveness for my negligence. But because of this very week, I had it.

Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,

yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted.

But He was pierced for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him,

and by His wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to His own way;

and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

Advent had been different.

No, we hadn’t figured out a way to teach our dogs how to keep watch over the kids while we snuck away to church. But I had definitely paid more attention.

Advent is easy.

Advent focuses on an enchanting winter’s night in which a tiny, perfect little baby was born into a hurting world. There is so much anticipation, so much to look forward to. You cannot really go anywhere in the weeks -- or months -- prior to Christmas without being reminded of the coming holiday. How could anyone not want to be ready?

But not Lent. Lent is different. While yes, the finale of the Lenten season is extremely joyous -- He has Risen Indeed! -- and glorified in our society, all events leading up to it are anything but. Sure, the stores are filled with Easter basket stuffers, brightly-colored eggs, and soft, cuddly bunnies and chicks; however, not one of these things help us to remember the cruel suffering and death our Lord endured in our place.

So now here we are, less than a week before Easter and I’m asking myself: Am I too late? Is it too late to ask God to prepare my heart? Is there enough time for Him to fill me with the Spirit so that I may experience the extreme sorrow and repentance spurred on by the afflictions of Jesus done out of love for each one of us?

I’m convinced the answer is no.

Do I hope and pray that God enables me to be more mindful the next time Lent rolls around? Most definitely. But simply because my circumstances gave my sinful nature the perfect excuse not to prepare up until this point does not mean all hope is lost.

Today I set up our Lenten wreath and I lit the candle at dinner. We talked to our girls again about all that Good Friday and Easter means for us and just what Pastor was referring to when he kept using the words “Palm Sunday” in church this weekend. I’m praying for the Lord to continue to fill my heart with the reflections of this Holy Week. I desire to be reminded of all that Christ endured, not only during Holy Week but throughout His entire life on earth as a result of my sin -- simply so that I may share in all of His glory.

And I am praying the same for you.

After all, we’re not just preparing for another holiday -- but rather an eternity. And I thank the Lord that this doesn't depend on anything I do.

Teach me your way, O Lord,

and I will walk in your truth;

give me an undivided heart,

that I may fear your name.

I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart;

I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your love toward me;

you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.

Psalm 86:11-13

a still small voice

christmas 2 Every morning since flipping the calendar page to December, I have woken with a stirring in my heart that can only be brought on by one thing. It's a feeling I carry around with me the whole day through.

Jesus is coming.

My broken, tired, sinful self is desperate for Him. For His peace. For His light. For His forgiveness.

So I wait with bated breath knowing with an unwavering Hope that my Jesus is on His way. That He came and will most certainly come again.

The tiny newborn King comes so humbly, so quietly, with no glitz or presents or even a bed.

still small voice to cry one day for me.

For me.

That little bundle of babe has a big purpose.

He comes to save me. To rescue this world of darkness from our sin, from death, from the Evil one.

He comes as Light and Life and Love.

Exhale. 

christmas 1christmas 3

Happy Advent, friends! May these precious days of December be spent in joyful, prayerful, repentant preparation. This time of year spills over with fun and festive and glitter, the busyness and expectations can overwhelm us. My wish and prayer for each of us is that Jesus' coming would be the heartbeat of this most special season.

May the still, small voice of the Savior bring you comfort and peace.

Jesus is on His way!

Let every heart prepare Him room. 

 

RachelSignature