A Thrill of Hope

As many of you know, yesterday marked the first of our four weeks in Advent. This week’s focus on hope is expounded on through the experience of expectation, of desire, and of longing. It is with hope that many anticipated the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and it is with hope that we anticipate His coming again. It is hope that gives us the strength to look towards the future without fear and it is hope that urges us to be kind, loving, and compassionate towards one another as we desire for this world in which we live to look more and more like the One who came to save it.

candle

But the thing I’ve realized about hope is that for there to be hope, there first has to be a reason for it to exist. You see, we’re only able to have hope after first recognizing the reality of where we’re left without.

For there to be hope, there first has to be despair.

Our brokenness, sinfulness, and unfaithfulness remind us again and again that we are nothing on our own; that we are a hopeless people left to our own vices.

But thankfully that’s not our reality.

Our God, the One  that has created all things, loved us too much to leave us in our hopelessness, and therefore forged a plan of redemption and salvation in which He sent us a Savior, His Son Jesus, to live and dwell among us.

The Savior. His Son. Our hope.

This hope, born to us, was beyond anything our sinful hearts could begin to ask for, yet wasn’t beyond what our souls truly needed. This child, God’s only Son, our Savior, the light of the world, the hope for all men; was born to us out of an outpouring of the Father’s love. An outpouring of love that continually seeks to bring all men to Him.

As we meditate on hope this first week of Advent, I pray that we not only think about the way Jesus has already come to dwell on Earth, but also upon the ways in which He has yet to come to dwell in the most intimate and broken places of this world and of our lives. As we journey towards Christmas, may we encounter this hope in new and profound ways and look at our most difficult days through this light of hope in the darkness. May our lives reflect the hope that was sent to us from above that blessed Christmas morn.

_________________________________________________________________

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Titus 3:3-7

Repent and Believe

It’s crazy to me that somehow we are over halfway in our 2016 Lenten season. It seems like just last week I was receiving ashes on my forehead from a Catholic priest.

Yep, I said it: Catholic priest.

Now before all the Lutherans stone me, hear me out.

The week before Ash Wednesday I was contemplating and praying over how this season of Lent could be more intentional in my life and in the lives of those around me. At the time, I was working at a care center where many of my coworkers were not Christians. I decided that, in an effort to present an opportunity for conversation, I would find a church that had a morning service, so that I could wear the sign of the cross on my forehead throughout the day at work. Which lead me to the only church within a 30 mile radius that had a service before work, St. Isidore Catholic Church.

DSC06639a.jpg

Now those of you who know me, know that I’m a lover of old architectural buildings, stained glass, mosaics, etc. But even as I walked into this church, which was physically beautiful, there was another sense of beauty I found as I snuck into the last pew of a widely diverse and packed chapel. Parents and children, elderly couples, college students, professional businessmen and women, widows, etc all gathered in to begin this beautiful season together.

Due to prior visits to Mass with a good friend, I was able to follow along and participate in most of the service, but then came time to receive the ashes. I’ve never left my seat during a Mass, so I was a little nervous to journey up the aisle, but as I got to the priest, he looked at me, smiled, and as he marked me with the sign of the cross said,

“Go child, repent and believe in The Gospel.”

Repent and believe in The Gospel.

As a Lutheran, you typically hear, “From dust you came and from dust you shall return.” But this time it was different. I traveled back to my seat, I kept repeating that phrase in my head.

Repent and believe in The Gospel.

Repent and believe in The Gospel.

During Lent, especially on Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortality and our need for forgiveness, including what the price of our sin actually cost: Christ’s death on the cross.
We are reminded that someday our bodies will die and we will turn to dust.

But that phrase, “Repent and believe in The Gospel.” has stuck with me over and over these last few weeks. As a first born, type A, people-pleasing perfectionist, I find that more often than not, I do very well at reminding myself of my failures, shortcomings, mistakes, and sins, yet I’m slow to remind myself of whose success, victory, forgiveness, and grace is greater: that being the work of Jesus Christ.

While I so often find myself bogged down by the weight of my messy and sin-stained life, I constantly have to be reminded that although I’m not perfect, I have a perfect God who is all knowing, ever present, and forever reigning in my life.

My job isn’t to have it all together; if it was, how discouraging would that be? If it was up to me and only me, there would be no hope or promise of eternal life to look forward to. No, my job is to live a life worthy of The Gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27) and when I fail, to repent and return to God, so that in Him I may be restored to the fullness of life.

As I sit here typing these words, I realize that this post is more of a reminder for me than anyone else who may read it. But I pray that you may be encouraged and reminded as we continue through the rest of this Lenten journey to Easter day when in overwhelming joy we hear, “He is Risen!”

So go forth my child, repent and believe in The Gospel.

Expectations

Have you ever wanted to become invisible? Ever just wanted to blend into the background and become hidden in plain sight? I have. It’s just that sometimes the stress and the pressure of expectations for my life sends me into a panic. Not manageable panic, but more like THE WORLD IS SUFFOCATING ME panic.

Blurry-iPhone-Photo-7

I was recently discussing this with a dear friend, when I began to whine that non-believers have it easy.

Let me explain.

As Christians, we are called to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). We have a purpose (Exodus 9:16), a calling (1 Corinthians 7:17), and a mission (Matthew 28:19-20) in which God uses us to bless and serve Him and all people. Talk about a lot of responsibility!

If I wasn’t a Christian, if I didn’t believe in God or in the promises He’s made, if I didn’t believe that my God sacrificed His Son on the cross for my sins and rose again on the third day, if I didn’t strive to live a God-honoring life in light of the Scripture and the teaching of the Church… I wouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed if I felt I wasn’t living up to this astronomical expectation that comes with being a faithful follower of Christ. I could coast through life, doing what makes me feel good, living for the moment without caring about the consequences, because hey, there’s nothing after this life anyways, right?

But I do believe in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I do believe in the promises He’s made and that His Word never fails. I do believe that Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross for my sins and rose again on the third day so that my sins could be removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). I do believe that God’s law perfect, that it’s for my good, and that living according to it keeps my heart, soul, and mind free from the consequences of sinful choices.

It’s hard, I mean really hard sometimes to press on in a journey leading to or experiencing unknowns. Especially when you don’t feel like it. When you’re all sapped out of cares to give and your patience has abandoned you, it’s hard.

But it’s in the hard, worn down, stressed out, given up, and worry-filled times in our lives when God reminds us that it’s in Him we find rest, forgiveness, love, hope, strength, mercy, and grace to restore our souls. He reminds us that it’s in Him and through Him that we are equipped for the purpose, calling, and mission He’s placed on our lives. And that although we may not always know what’s around the bend, we know the One who is with us as we twist and turn down the road ahead.

Yes, I’m…

Kristen the daughter/granddaughter

Kristen the sister

Kristen the Concordia graduate

Kristen the graduate of Family Life

Kristen the toddler teacher, etc, etc…

But most importantly I’m…

Kristen the claimed and redeemed daughter of the God who lives and reigns forever.

Sometimes I just have to let go of all the expectations of what I am or what I’m called to be, and simply remember whose I am. Because in the end, that makes all the difference.

Trials and Tears

Today was the first day in the last two weeks that I didn’t cry on my lunch break at work. Well, I guess that’s not entirely true; there were two days I slept in my car for, literally, the entire duration of my lunch break. But that’s not the point.

lessons_advocacy

The point is today I didn’t cry.

I didn’t really notice until I began getting ready for bed. I mean, most people typically go through a mental evaluation of their day before bed, right?

But the more I think about it, the more sense it begins to make.

As a recent college graduate who just moved in with her two youngest siblings (7th grader and a freshman in high school), mom, and step-dad, it makes sense that life would be a bit of a transition right now. But when you add health difficulties, financial insecurity, touchy family dynamics, job dissatisfaction, and the beginning of a Master’s Degree into the mix, you get a highly emotional anxiety-ridden person.

Don’t get me wrong I love my family, in fact being at home is a blessing to me in many ways, especially financially, but going from living independently to now being part of a family unit again has been quite an adjustment.

It’s just that when you picture graduating college, you make big plans and dream up big hopes for the future. You picture yourself in a job you love, making a salary that can hopefully pay off the mountain of debt you’ve acquired getting your education, maybe married or soon to be, and on and on it goes.

You never really dream of being a single, college-degreed debt bomb living at home, working in a job not specifically connected to your field. But the reality is that life doesn’t always work out according to your five to ten year plans. In fact, it rarely does.

But as I pondered the lack of tears accompanying my commute home, I realized that I didn’t cry because I saw an end. A light at the end of the tunnel.

The truth is today I put in my two weeks to a job I’ve only had for three. Now I know there’s probably a lot of judgment towards me and maybe even comments made about the lack of dedication and effort my generation supposedly has towards their careers, etc. But honestly, it doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day I had to make the best decision I could for me and for my place of employment. But again, that’s not the point.

The point is that throughout the storms I’ve weathered over these last few years, I’ve always coped better knowing there was an end in sight. The funny thing about trials and hardships is that we don’t frequently have that option of knowing when a sour season will end. We just know it sucks in the meantime and strive to grasp a purpose or conceptualize a learning to take away from the experience.

But as I lay here tonight mulling this all over, I realize that this is a silly realization because of two things:

  1. Christ tells us that we WILL face trials and hardships of many kinds (John 16:33), but that He WILL be with us through it all (Isaiah 41:10, Joshua 1:9, Deuteronomy 31:6)
  2. There is a season for everything; life on earth does not last forever. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2 Corinthians 4:18)

So if we as Christians hold prior knowledge that temporary seasons of trials will come, as well as knowing God will be with us every step of the way, why on earth do we fret over it all?

Control.

The #1 killer of faith. When we believe we are in control of our lives or doubt that God is in control, we give into the lies that Satan has crafted for our hearts. We give him footholds into distracting us and navigating us off the course God has purposed for us from before we were even born.

But faith, faith is something different. Scripture says that if we have even the faith of a mustard seed, nothing is impossible (Matthew 17:20). Nothing is impossible. Can you imagine what you could do if you believed nothing was impossible??

In the midst of our chaotic, stressful, and less than stellar seasons  of life, we are called to trust and have faith in the One who knows and can see the end in sight, even when we can’t. And for a control freak with the default to do things her way, this can be UNBELIEVABLY difficult.

Thankfully there’s grace and forgiveness found in Christ for all my sins, faults, and mishaps. Although, I’m also immensely grateful for friends, family, wine, and chocolate that helps me to get back on track when life knocks me down… ;]

Although I’m sure my fickle heart will reach back out for the reigns of my life again, I’m grateful for the reminder tonight that faith is greater than my fears and that God’s grace covers my doubts and frustrations throughout the tough seasons I face.

Hopefully you are too.

A Gift for the King: Advent Devotional

“Suppose you could give a gift to Christ, what would it be? How could you possibly select a gift for the One who not only has everything, but who made everything? The Wise Men can be an example to us. In addition to the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they gave the Savior some gifts we can give him today: their hope, their time, and their worship.” ~Max Lucado, Following the Star

12187787_10156121798085123_7541582596757703237_n.jpg

Giving a gift is an occasion of great joy; yet sometimes picking out a gift can be a little stressful. We have a desire to show people just how much they mean to us in both big and small ways. Christmas is a time where we are able to reflect the love that so beautifully came down to Earth for us.

As we look to the Wise Men’s example, we find that there’s more to giving than material gifts. Our time, our worship, our hearts, and simply our very being is what God desires. How can this be reflected in our homes this Advent season?

“O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways.” – Proverbs 23:26

Joseph: Advent Devotional

The Bible gives us many examples of people of faith. But one of the greatest examples of acting in faith is that of Joseph. After being visited in a dream by an angel with the news that his betrothed was pregnant with a baby that would grow up to be the Messiah, Matthew 1:24 tells us, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” We don’t know all that Joseph thought about this news, but we do know what he did. He stepped out on faith, and he obeyed. And not only did Joseph obey, but he continued to obey. He stood faithfully by Mary’s side through every step of what God called them to do.

Most of us will never be asked to exercise our faith as Joseph was. But all of us can remember his example, and exercise the faith we have and be faithful stewards to what God has given us.

11222252_10156121766820123_6593287426473713324_n

Father, help us remember the example of Joseph. Give us the faith to accept your will and the courage to act in faith in everything you’ve given us. Amen.

Mundane to Majestic: Advent Devotional

Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.
– Psalm 51:16-17 (MSG)
So often in life we get caught up in the world around us and fail to acknowledge the things that make life truly worth living. In a season of consumerism, political correctness, full schedules, and family dysfunction, there’s no doubt that this season can easily lose it’s “luster” and joyful tone. It’s not hard to feel the frustration and messiness this Christmas season brings.
But God has made a habit of breaking into our mess; in fact, like my last post described, He delights in it (Zeph. 3:17). He longs to be with us; He desires for us to know Him and love Him more fully. In the midst of a life with heartache and mishaps, God comes down to us saying, “My peace I leave you. My peace I give you, trouble not your hearts! In this life you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world! (John 14:27,16:33)
Let the remainder of this Advent and Christmas season be one of peaceful contemplation as we celebrate the majesty of the King born to us this miraculous Christmas season.
glowing-cross

“So I’m asking you in this Advent season to shift your perspective. Don’t view Christmas as a mundane or repetitious holiday. Don’t expect the “same old, same old.” Don’t rule out the miraculous and the startling; prepare your mind for the serendipitous joy of new insights, liberation, and the fulfillment of hope. Prepare to be surprised.”
~ Lance Moore, Anticipating the Advent