Thursday, December 27, 2012

Forgotten Hope.

I haven't been walking on this earth for too long.
In fact, today marks 23 years of mistakes, grace and love.

That means I don't know too much. But I think I know a little. (Think being the key word.)

Tonight, I went to dinner. Amongst dinner conversation, the subject of choosing joy and happiness came into the conversation.

One thing I know for sure is that experience leads to wisdom in smart folk. And I also know that young folk are full of fire. And when the two are mixed, you find a very influential person. That's one reason why the Body of Christ exists. We share these two things with each other to create influential people.

But tonight, I saw someone with all the experience that should lead to wisdom. However this experience had turned to bitterness, as none of the fire of youth was mixed in.
In defending the pursuit of happiness, I was told by this bitterness, "Courtney, you're too young to know, but life isn't a fairy tale. Sometimes it doesn't all work out."

And of all people in this world, I have been blessed substantially. I've also been around quite enough to know and see that it doesn't all work out. You don't always get what you want.

Maybe it's my youth, but I'm more inclined to think that it is the Holy Spirit residing in my heart that screams back that statement,
"No! It doesn't all work out. But that does NOT mean that God isn't working! Just because your plans failed doesn't mean that His promise of 'abundant life' isn't applicable to you anymore! You're not allowed to give up on being blessed and being happy just because your life took a dirt road!"

And as I thought about this, I thought of one very famous passage. Particularly, one part of one verse.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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."

It always hopes. Always perseveres. It never, ever fails. 
As I thought about these, I figured out that the fire of the young is the hope that things can change. Jim always tells me that he keeps me around because I'm just dumb enough to think that things really will get better. But I'm not dumb enough. I'm hopeful enough! And because I hope, I make things change
As I thought about this in regards to life situations, and finding joy and happiness in life situations, another verse came to mind. 

From Psalm 34:
"Whoever of you love life 
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
    and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it."   

What these verses, and many like them, say to me is that we are armed with hope when we know the Lord. But like most things, if we don't earnestly remember and seek it, we will forget it, or worse, lose it.

So many people I know have lost hope. And they blame it on God, or whatever situation they're in.

But I want you to know that even though you're struggling and it stinks, God hasn't abandoned you. And just because your life took a dirt road for a while, God hasn't given up on getting you back on track! You don't have to live there. All you have to do is "seek peace and pursue it." You're not too lost, too old, or too whatever for the promise in John 10:10:
"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
There's no age cap or, in fact, any limitation on this verse concerning to whom it applies. 

Remember that love will NEVER stop hoping, so you shouldn't either. 
It will also always persevere, just as you will when you trust in it. 
Remember that you must seek peace. It won't always just come to you.
Love will also never, ever, ever, ever, ever fail you. It may not look the way you want it to, but trust in the Lord. He knows what's best.

It honestly broke my heart over the past few days to see so many hopeless people, so if you're a little low on hope, find someone who has plenty! They'll always share. 

Jesus didn't promise us the road would be easy. But He did promise abundant life, that He would never leave our side and that He would provide the strength to walk this life. Even on the dirt road.
Last week, December 23rd, we sang:
"Heaven Fall Down" by Phil Wickham
"Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy)" by Chris Tomlin
"O Holy Night"  
"When Hope Came Down" by Kari Jobe (my favorite new Christmas song!)

I hope that you all had a very Merry Christmas and I look forward to seeing you this Sunday!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Dead Horse.

Alright. I know that I'm in the church world.

And in the church world, Christmas and Easter are beaten like the dead horse that's starting to attract flies.

This morning, someone asked a large group of church members if they were experiencing "Advent Fatigue". They all answered with a resounding "Yes!"

I understand the sentiment. My legs are sore from shopping for last minute stuff. My hands still have paint on them from the homemade manger I painted so that baby Jesus could get born into JD's house under the budget of $10 for a nativity. (By the way, don't paint your own nativity set! Mine is super ugly but he won't take it down because he's afraid to hurt my feelings. I told him my eyes were hurting from looking at the ugly thing.) I know that the pile of presents waiting to be wrapped is as large as the mountain of groceries I've yet to buy.

But all of that is not making me miserable. 
It's not making me fatigued.
My to-do list is consuming my mind, but so is the joy that I get to host people and give to people things that they want and need. I know that last week, I even talked about some of the Sticks in the Mud that I'm getting frustrated with for Christmas. But even though they threaten my joy, they have not stolen it.

I think the idea of "Advent Fatigue" is because we're beating the dead horse. Now, I'm all for telling people to remember the love story of Jesus coming to earth this holiday season. But I'm also all for having fun. Presents. Cookies. Elf on the Shelf. Santa. Christmas lights.

So this week, if you're experiencing Advent Fatigue, I'm sorry. I can't imagine what kind of pressure so many people are under during the holidays. I know some holidays can be sad.
But I also know that a good dose of fun will get you out of the funk. It'll get you out of the idea that maybe you're not celebrating Christmas fully enough.

Turn on the A/C and light the fireplace so that it feels Christmas-y down here!
Watch silly Christmas movies.
Let the kids hang tinsel. On their siblings.
Empty your gas tank by going to look at Christmas lights in other neighborhoods!
Do all the fun stuff that stuffy Christians will point at and say "Jesus is the reason for the season!"And then you can look at them and say "I love Him. That's why I'm having fun!"

Last night was Monday date night. We went to Subway and ate it in the car while driving to see The Hobbit. I didn't really want to go see The Hobbit (even though I enjoyed it thoroughly) but I figured it would be good for me.
Three hours with no way to check off anything on my to-do list.
Except for the one present I bought on Amazon Prime while waiting for the girl to butter our popcorn.

So go do something non-Christmas-y.
But don't let this season rob you of your joy. It's about Jesus, yes. But all of our "non-Jesus-y" traditions point to Jesus. Practicing hospitality (having relatives over). Giving (an Xbox to our brother). Feeding folks (with delicious cookies).  Having fun! Loving people!

I know that's not the most profound blog post I've written, but I know a lot of people that I just want to shake and tell them to lighten up! This season is fun. No one will judge you if everything isn't perfect. If you have joy to share, everyone else will find theirs too.

This week in NewSong, we sang:
"Angels We Have Heard on High" off of Chris Tomlin's Christmas album
"A Mighty Fortress" by Christy Nockels
"White Flag" by Chris Tomlin
and for the offering,
"Not For a Moment" by Meredith Andrews.

"Not For a Moment" has quickly become one of my favorite songs. As I hear the many stories of people struggling right now, including the shooting this past week, I can sing all of these songs in faith. But "Not For a Moment" really settled into my heart while praying for all of these people all week.

So! I will see you all on THURSDAY at the Christmas Communion Service. It's at 6:30 in the gym, so bring your family and friends!
Merry Christmas!

P.S. - For all you woman-type-folks, here is one of the great articles that got me thinking on this. In Defense of the Christmas Rush . Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sticks in the Mud.

I had the most interesting conversation the other day. I was talking to my older sister about this upcoming Christmas and her arrival at home when she said,

"You know, I'm excited this year about Christmas. It didn't sneak up on me. I'm really ready and excited for it this year. I didn't miss it."

There's nothing that brings joy to my heart like hearing someone say that they're excited about Christmas. You guys know that I love this time of year. Lights, carols, blah, blah, blah. It's all awesome.

In fact, I got this sweatshirt in the mail today from the boyfriend. He knows me all too well.   -------------------------->

And this year, I felt like I was ready for it too. Thanks to early preparation, and free two-day shipping courtesy of Amazon Prime, I was really knocking out my Christmas list. Boyfriend's house is almost ready for his family to get here. My parents have our house looking fantastic. (Turns out that when you don't carelessly fling ornaments onto the tree, but instead take the proper time, it turns out better! Mom was right. As always.)

I felt ready. I know that you caught that past tense.
I felt ready until I started getting really honest about the things that were worrying me a few nights ago. After pushing my worries and fears into the back of my head and heart, they finally came out. Turns out I was a little more worried than I thought about everything going well.

But as I talked through everything that was worrying me, I realized that most of it had nothing to do with Christmas. It had much more to do with relational tension that I know I'm going to face. It had much more to do with my frustration towards people not doing what I felt like is right thing to do and going with the flow.

I was very convinced that they were sticks in the mud. I'm still pretty convinced of that, but as I prayed, I prayed for two things.

First, I prayed that people who need the Lord would experience Him this season through the hope, joy and peace found in our home. I prayed for their hearts to be soft and open to the working of the Lord. I prayed for a miracle in their lives, stepping out into the faith of so many before me who have prayed for miracles during this celebration of the most miraculous event, Jesus coming to earth.

And then the second thing I prayed stung a little. I prayed for my heart to softened to those sticks in the mud. I prayed for my mouth to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And I prayed that if they're not going to be nice, I need an extra outpouring of peace, patience and love from the Holy Spirit this season.

You see, I can pray for healing and help in other people's lives. I can pray that attitudes change and that good things come. But I realized that I need to be praying for myself too!  

If they aren't open to the Lord's speaking in their souls, then I need to be speaking from the Lord! How will they know His patience and understanding if I don't model it? How will they know His grace and forgiveness if I don't extend it? How will they see anything positive this season if I just sit in a corner and pray for their attitudes to change but don't show them the love of God?

So this season, I'm not missing Christmas. I'm a bit of a hard head anyways, so I'm treating Christmas with the same kind of determination as most things I tackle. I'm not going to quit praying until I've found the Lord in this chaos. (And by chaos, I mean the number of packages mysteriously landing on my doorstep, with no effort from me. Not the mall traffic. Amazon Prime, baby.) I'm not missing it because I'm walking with the Lord through all of it. We're here to celebrate Him, even with those stick in the mud knuckle-heads that we call our family.  And after they leave, we'll be still here. We'll still have the Lord to celebrate with and for.

So if you're frustrated or broken-hearted about something this Christmas, brighten up. You're doing it right. You're not missing Chrismas. Jesus is Emmanuel, meaning "God with us." He's with you when you're frustrated and broken-hearted. So talk to Him and seek Him. He's in control of all of it already. Which basically means that He's the planner of this party, not us.

This Sunday, Jim will be preaching on Family Rejection. That sounds worse than it is. As I talked to him today, he'll be talking about how to get along with and get through a Christmas with family tensions. It will be much more practical than this blog, so make sure that you're in worship this Sunday at 9:15 or 10:40!

Here are the songs that Landon led last week in NewSong:
"Sing to the King" by Candi Pearson Shelton
"Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground" by Chris Tomlin (from his Christmas album, Glory in the Highest)
"Jesus, Son of God" by Chris Tomlin
and for offering, I sang
"Already All  I Need" by Christy Nockels from her new album called Into the Glorious.  And I tell you what, if you like good lyrics and a good groove and an overall good album, Into the Glorious is awesome. I can't stop listening to it!

So I hope to see you there this week! Worship will be great! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Twinkling Lights.

Happy December!
Merry Christmas!

I'd love to say that I fasted from blogging for the month of November. It sounds so very Christian-y.
But that'd be a lie! I just haven't sat down to write in far too long.
So I'm back!

In case you didn't know, I love Christmas.
Not just a little.
Like, a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot! It may have something to do with my birthday being on the 27th of December.

But I love the twinkling lights. I love the cold weather (which will hopefully come soon!). I love the red and green and fat Santa faces all over the place. I like that people dress up their houses in such funny ways, just bring cheer to a passerby.
I love that we celebrate God in a way that reminds unbelievers to believe, and reminds us all why we love the Lord so much. He truly did humble Himself and come down to the earth.
And I love Christmas music! As a child, taking piano lessons, I played Christmas carols year-round on the piano. My parents quickly got me an electronic piano with special earphones so that I was the only one who could hear myself. Clever, those parents of mine

This Christmas is different for me than all other Christmases. You see, I'm a woman of tradition. If we put Santa's cookies on the blue plate last year, we better put them on that exact same blue plate, in the exact same spot this year too!
But this Christmas is my second Christmas with my boyfriend, JD. And this year, he moved into a big enough house of his own for his family to come for the holidays. And in case you haven't ever met a man before, sometimes they just don't realize how many towels they actually need, or that women like to have mirrors.
So since Thanksgiving, instead of spending all of my time decorating my house with my parents, we've bought two trees. One for their house, one for JD's. Everything has been double. I've been working at their house to decorate and shopping for things to decorate his house with. It's been fun! And stressful.

I know that I work at a church, so I'm supposed to have the right Christmas spirit and be focused on the right things. It was all going well until I had been decorating for far too long on Friday. I might as well have had a pitchfork, red skin and horns out of my forehead, trampling over people in WalMart to get the right toy by 5 pm that night. I had just gone to the store to get lights for the front porch of JD's house when I started looking at houses on my way home and got to thinking,
"Their decorations look so much better. I want mine to look like that! Why don't I have ten thousand dollars and thirty more years worth of experience so that JD's house can really look like Christmas, like theirs!?"
I promptly got to JD's house and was working on setting up a bed in one room when he came in and asked me to come eat the dinner he had made. I turned around and yelled at him! I yelled, "I'm working on this room and once I'm done, I'll feel better! So let me finish and just hold off on dinner! Can't you see that I'm trying to get Christmas together?!"

The Lord should've struck me down right then and there! I had completely lost it. I started looking at other people's houses, thinking that theirs somehow determined how JD's should look. I started looking at my list of voluntary to-dos for him as greater than JD himself. I screamed at my boyfriend for making me dinner, and a really good  one at that! As JD (so graciously) gave me a hug and said he'd wait, I prayed immediately for forgiveness.
I had gotten everything mixed up. I'm supposed to be the one to remind people that "Jesus is the Reason for the Season."  (It doesn't matter that I hate that phrase) But I got so caught up comparing, that I forgot what I was decorating and fixing for. I'm not putting up Christmas lights and putting new sheets on the bed because I want to impress people. I'm putting them up so that maybe it'll feel like home, so that maybe they'll feel welcomed, comfortable and taken care of. I'm putting them up because we're supposed to be hospitable as Christians. "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." 1 Peter 4:9.
So it looks like I have a little work to do, but as I've prayed and worshiped and seen before, I know that Lord can even work on this ol' heart of mine.
I know reasons to be joyful for this season. I'm working hard to remember them while I worship and pray. So I encourage you this season, if your red horns start to poke through at some point, step back. Sit down and have a Coke. Pray and read through your Bible app on your iPhone. Remember that you love the people who are coming over and that truly, you just want to celebrate the greatest gift that has ever been given with people you like to make it more special.

So here are the songs from Sunday, December 2nd:
"Set Free" by Chris Tomlin off of Passion:White Flag

"Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy)"  by Chris Tomlin from his Christmas album Glory in the Highest, which is a great worship album for Christmas time! I love it!

"10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord" by Matt Redman off of Passion:White Flag and Matt's album, 10,000 Reasons (another great worship album!)

and for the offering, Landon picked out an incredible song called
"Winter Snow" by Audrey Assad from Chris Tomlin's Glory in the Highest 

I know that it was a great Sunday of worship for me as I continued to focus my heart toward the birth of Christ! I hope to see you all again next Sunday as we continue to celebrate my favorite season of all! Have a great week!