Church · Holidays

Why I’m wearing the Same Thing I Wore Last Easter (And it’s Not a Dress)

Easter Sunday

This is me last Easter. I wore jeans to church, and I did it on purpose. It was my first Easter as the pastor’s wife of the congregation we lead in Ozark.

I like dresses and skirts, don’t get me wrong. I wear them on a pretty regular basis on days that aren’t Sunday, and even sometimes to church. I also wear jeans to church a lot. Our church has a very casual dress style, mostly because that’s how my husband, Jason, likes to dress. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen him in a tie in the almost 8 years we’ve known each other, and they’ve all been very solemn occasions: weddings, funerals, ordinations, etc. But for the average Sundays, a button-down shirt and jeans is his idea of “dressed up.” And that’s okay with me. I’m not a big fan of dress codes, either, and while I like to dress up more than he does, I would probably bristle at having to be in a church where the pastor’s wife was expected to be in a dress and pantyhose every Sunday.

But Easter is its own thing, and I LOVE dressing up for Easter. It was always an occasion in our house growing up. We would go to the store and pick out dresses (or in the leaner years, fabric) and then wait anxiously for forever with that pretty dress hanging in the closet until FINALLY it was Easter Sunday, and we could put it on, complete with new tights, white shoes, and a few times, a hat. And back then, by the time Easter rolled around I usually legitimately needed a new dress – being a growing child and all.

But now that I’m an adult, I admit, I still like picking out a little something new for myself for Easter. One of my favorite dresses to this date is one I bought for Easter when Jason and I were newly married. And then there were two years in a row when I was pregnant on Easter, and finding a pretty maternity dress those two springs went a long way in boosting my attitude and ability to be at peace with my growing belly. Two years ago on Easter, I was nursing Garrett, and I wanted to be able to wear a dress really badly, but I didn’t have any that were nursing-friendly.

So then last year rolled around. I was planning (and excited) to wear a dress. I hadn’t even really thought about it all that much. I could, I wanted to, and so I was going to. But a few days before Easter, I began to feel the Holy Spirit stirring up something inside me about that choice.

Being a pastor’s wife is not for the faint of heart. A lot of people in that role assume some unnecessary pressure and let the weight of people’s expectations for them dictate their every decision, and I agree that this is not healthy. But at the same time, you can’t be in that role and expect to have zero influence on people’s perceptions and expectations for the church.

People tend to wear their very best on Easter. As I toyed with the idea of wearing jeans on Easter Sunday, I was a little worried – would I be the only one? That’s when it hit me – Easter is also a Sunday when people who do not regularly attend church are most likely to set foot through your doors. And I knew in that moment that if someone visited our church in jeans on Easter, I most certainly didn’t want them to be the only one.

I remember getting ready on Easter morning last year, still a little self-conscious about my choice. I’m not completely above the superficial side of myself. But what’s funny is, almost a year later, I have no memory of whether anyone else was in jeans that morning. After all the mental debate last year, I must have ended up being totally comfortable with my decision to wear jeans.

So as I started planning things for Easter this year, I settled on jeans without even thinking about it. But the more I read and studied during the season of Lent, meditating on what it means to go without, to fast, and to deny oneself things that very well may be your right, as Jesus did, the more and more I came to this conclusion: I don’t need anything new to wear.

I’m not that 7-year-old little girl who outgrew last year’s Easter dress anymore. The clothes I wore to our last Easter service still fit me, and by some miracle they have survived several rounds of closet purges in the last 12 months. So I’m not going to try to find anything different. This year, I am planning to wear the exact same thing I wore last year.

Now, if you buy a new dress to wear to church, do I think there’s anything wrong with that? Of course not. This is about thinking through my unique position in my own church, and what God is doing in me right now. I just want to leverage the little bit of influence I have to proclaim the message to anyone who walks through our doors that they can come exactly as they are to the foot of the cross. And I know my own tendency to focus on everything except what Easter is really about, and I want to leave as much room as possible in my mind and my heart for God to move and speak and resurrect as He chooses.

Because I don’t want to get something new for the outside at the expense of God doing something new inside me.

I hope you all have a great Easter, regardless of where you go and what you wear. And if you live in the Springfield metro area and don’t have anywhere to go on Easter, we would love for you to join us at Life360 Ozark!

Church · Holidays

My Funny Valentines

Do you remember Xanga? It was around after Open Diary, but before Myspace or Twitter, back when blogging wasn’t something very many adults did.

I had one, way back then, when I was approaching 20 instead of 30, and was young enough to think all my thoughts were brilliant. I wrote on it all the time. A lot of what I wrote was about ministry and the Bible and the books I was reading and what was going on in my life and in my heart. So I guess not much has changed. Except I don’t know that I think all of it was quite as brilliant as it seemed to me a decade ago.

But every once in a while, I came up with something halfway decent, even back then. I was volunteering with the middle school girls in our church at the time. They were goofy and quirky and full of self-esteem issues, and I loved them fiercely. So one Valentines Day, I wrote this to them:

“PC middle school girls – i wish had enough money and time to go to each of your schools and bring you each chocolates and a dozen roses and sing you a song and let you know that you don’t have to be someone’s girlfriend to feel special today (or any other day for that matter).  i know it’s easy to get caught up in wanting a guy when it seems like everyone else around you is dating someone. but please know that you already are the princess in the fairy tale: you’re being romanced by the Prince of Peace.  He loves you more than you can even imagine. He’s the one who says to you: “You are beautiful…” “I choose you…”  “I want to hold your hand…” “You are mine…” “You are precious to me…”  (Psalm 45:11, Isaiah 41:9, 41:13, 43:1, 43:4).  Fall in love with HIM today.”

Lack of capitalization aside (I thought I was being cool; I wasn’t… sorry), there are a lot of thoughts in there I still agree with. Valentine’s Day can be hard if you don’t have someone special to share it with. Or maybe you are in a relationship, but you’ve hit a rough patch and a day you thought was going to be about celebrating love ends in a fight. Or maybe you’ve been married for a long time, and you feel like your husband doesn’t try anymore, so the day ends up being one big disappointment.

Whatever your expectations are for today, it’s safe to say that for a lot of people, they won’t be met as long as you are looking to a person to fulfill your need for love.

Relationships with people are a great thing, and I sincerely hope you do have friends or children or a lover to spend time with today. But even if you don’t, please do not let that lead you to believe you are unloved.

Because you are loved.

You are love-ly.

You are worth loving.

And God does love you, more than you can even fathom.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:16-19

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Heart · Holidays

Why I’m still listening to Christmas music

I know my mom will be appalled, but I have a confession to make:

It’s February, and I’m still listening to Christmas music.

Let me explain myself. By the end of December, I am usually ready to say goodbye to to all things Christmas. The stockings and lights and parties and candy canes have had their month in the limelight and I itch to start January with a clean slate, a lighter diet, and freer schedule.

This year was no exception. In fact, I don’t know if I have ever been as anxious to see Christmas behind me as I was in 2013.

For some reason that Jason and I have not quite been able to articulate yet, we found this Christmas to be one of the most stressful, complicated, and overwhelming holidays we have faced as a couple (or perhaps ever). It was probably a combination of the weather’s unpredictability, the ping-pong feeling of bouncing back and forth between home and the various celebrations, and the sheer vastness of the stuff that our kids received this year. Those things, coupled with the normal way that tensions and expectations run high over the month of December made us feel that this year, Christmas just drained the life out of us.

So when January 1 rolled around, the tree was already in the attic, the house had been swept clean of all the junk we’d been pigging out on for weeks, and it felt like we all just took one huge sigh of relief. I’ve put all of Christmas behind me, save for one thing: a playlist on my phone I’ve called “Christmas worship.”

One of the things I feel that, unfortunately, we did not do well in December was to spend time stilling our hearts long enough to focus on the image of Jesus in the manger, to remember that he came, and to receive the peace he came to give us. I don’t want to throw that baby out with the bathwater of everything I was so tired of by December 28. So I find myself, more than ever, irresistibly drawn to songs that remind me that that stuff’s not Christmas. Jesus is.

So yes, I’m still listening to Christmas music. Because my soul still needs to hear words like these:

From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee
(“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” Matt Redman & Christy Nockels)

And these:

God with man is now residing
Yonder shines the infant light
(“Come and Worship,” Bebo Norman)

And these:

We’re not that far from Bethlehem
Where all our hope and joy began
(“Not that far from Bethlehem,” Point of Grace)

And these:

Rejoice, rejoice
Emmanuel shall come to thee
O Israel, rejoice
(“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” Stephen Curtis Chapman)

I still need to remember that Jesus did not come as an infant to give me a parade with free candy, and lit-up snowmen in the park, and hot chocolate, and packages wrapped in red and green paper, as wonderful as all of those things are. He came to reconcile me to God. He came so that I, sinful as I am, would have a way into the Father’s presence. He came to be God with me.

And I don’t ever want to stop celebrating that.

Heart · Holidays

Advent

At work today, I overheard a lady say that she was so sick of everything, she wished Christmas just wouldn’t come.

I was heartbroken for her. 

On the one hand, I totally get it. My to-do list is long, too, and my wallet is starting to wear a little thin as we buy up the last few things we feel we need. I understand the stress of managing family obligations and expectations and the tug of covetous desire warring against the cry of our hearts to throw off the materialism just for a moment. 

If I thought all that was what Christmas was, I might wish it would not come also.

In my home are two little boys who have landed squarely on the other end of that spectrum. They are driven crazy with anticipation and hardly unable to stand the waiting. In fact, on Thursday, Caleb simply decided for himself that it was Christmas, and had opened two presents before I was able to make it into the living room and effectively kill all their joy. Now we have a calendar on the refrigerator that we reference almost every hour to see how many more Xs we have to make until we get to the box with the 25 in it. 

And I get that, too. 

I get the pull of wanting something that will be yours but you aren’t allowed to have yet. I get the desperation for the waiting to be over, to cry out incessantly, “how much longer?,” because I’ve been there, too.

And that is why we MUST have Christmas. It was into a world of busy-ness and work and impossible expectations that Christ came and said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

The law was a burden the people of Israel could not bear. It told them what to do and how to live and they could never measure up. And then in the 400 years of God’s silence, the Pharisees studied those laws and heaped more and more rules upon the people’s already burdened shoulders. They had to much to do and they couldn’t take it. So they cried out to God. Over and over, the prayers of the righteous could be heard. Righteous and devout men like Simon, who were waiting for the consolation of Israel. Their prayers rose up to the throne of God, crying out “how long, Lord? How much longer?” 

And then the waiting was over. 

Christ came.

He came.

Our Messiah came to us. To end the waiting. To give us relief from our burdens.

So as we look forward to this Christmas, as our calendars point to December 25, and as we turn our longings toward the blessed hope, that second Advent in which we eagerly anticipate the day when Jesus will appear in the sky and call his church home, we can still rejoice with Simon because Christ has already come.

Even with the groaning the earth makes as it waits for redemption. Even as we still do battle with sin. Even as we experience pain and grief and shame in this broken world. Christ has already come, and he is with us now.

We don’t have to wish Christmas away. We don’t have to wait for it. We can experience the hope and joy and peace and love of Christmas today.

“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people. a light for the revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:30-32

 

 

Holidays · Home

Just About as Cool as a Dad Can Be

My dad is an amazing gift-giver.

It’s probably because he gives an enormous amount of attention to detail. So when my sister, Katie, or I would mention something in passing, Dad would make note of it and remember. Then on our birthdays or at Christmas, we would open our gifts to find the exact Barbie, Bonne Bell lip gloss, N*Sync CD, straightening iron, or Ugg boots we’d been pining after.

I was not so good at returning the favor.

For example, when my sister, Katie, and I were in elementary school, we saw a bright turquoise blue t-shirt, emblazoned with screen-printing that read “Just about as cool as a Dad can be.” We laughed out loud when we saw the shirt. Daddy had to have it, so we begged mom to buy it for him for Father’s Day. (Or maybe his birthday; they’re less than a week apart most years, so we usually combine them, but I digress.)

Daddy, being the ever-supportive unselfish guy he was, wore the mildly insulting (and horrifically uncomfortable, I’m now finding out) shirt all over Six Flags for an entire day. He never once complained.

That shirt was probably the worst gift we ever got him, but none of our gifts during those years were terribly exciting. Out of a lack of other ideas, we usually gravitated towards buying him cologne and new rags to use for washing the car for all gift-giving occasions. If he was disappointed, he never let on.

But we were a family of all girls. What did we know about what men wanted?

Poor Daddy. He was so outnumbered for so long.

Until one day, I brought this guy home with me:

After awhile, I married him, and suddenly, there were two guys in the family. Finally, Dad wasn’t alone.

But it didn’t stop there.

Two years later, I brought home another guy:

Then sixteen months later, a third:

Now I’m the one who is outnumbered. You’re welcome, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.

Heart · Holidays

Christmas: Magical or Holy?

I watched Polar Express the other day. I tried to get Caleb to watch it with me, but like so many other types of children’s programming, he wasn’t terribly interested in it. So I watched it mostly by myself. That may be a little pathetic, but I’m not ashamed to admit I love the movie.

It’s magical and exciting. I love the poor boy who realizes that Christmas is for him, too, and the smug know-it-all who learns a little bit of humility (although that part of the storyline hits a little too close to home for me). I even love how the one little boy finally hears Santa’s sleigh bells towards the end of the movie.

It’s a perfect Christmas movie.

Except, of course, that there’s nothing about Christ in it.

Now I’m not advocating a complete removal of Santa and trees and everything except church from Christmas, because as Ashleigh points out, we can really go overboard with that, and get so particular about celebrating Christmas one way that we cease to be the light God has called us to be. We need to be in the world, celebrating both the material and the immaterial aspects of Christmas.

However, amidst all the warm fuzzy feelings that accompany the things I love about the Christmas season I want to be careful not to blur the line between the “magic” of Christmas and the true miracle of what Christ has done for us.

The story of Santa Claus and the North Pole is a beautiful one, in the same way that the story of Cinderella is beautiful. It’s a story I love. My fear is that when the true story of Christ gets thrown into the mix with the others this holiday proliferates, it loses its impact. It becomes just another Christmas myth. Beautiful in theory, but untrue.

And Christmas is so much more than nice, neat stories about a baby Jesus in a manger.

I love how these Chris Tomlin lyrics put what this season truly means for all true Christians:

What fear we felt in the silent age
400 years, can He be found
But broken by a baby’s cry
Rejoice in the hallowed manger ground

Jesus was the answer to all the prophets’ unrequited hopes for God’s kingdom. It was the announcement of a coming perfect age, a time when the Son of God would rule the world and we would all live at peace with him. But it was also that kingdom breaking into our world, God coming to dwell in the hearts of men, making those of us who choose him reconciled to God here and now.

The manger scene is not a picture out of a storybook. It’s holy ground, just like the burning bush or the Ark of the Covenant were. Holy because God was there.

He still is here.

That’s the beauty of Christmas.

He came to be our Emmanuel.

God with us.

Heart · Holidays

The Gift of the Magi

Last week, I wrote about what it really means that Jesus was born in a manger.

This week, I thought I’d address another part of the Christmas story that has become so cliche that we often forget its significance.

I’m talking about the gifts the wise men brought to Jesus.

We all know what they were – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But why? Of all the things the wise men could have given the two-year-old son of God, why these three objects?

I never gave it much thought myself until college when I stumbled upon the full lyrics of the Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” As I read the second, third, and fourth verses, the Lord opened my eyes to see the meaning behind each of these important gifts.

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign

The gold given to Jesus spoke to his royalty. It’s no secret that the Magi knew Jesus was a king. When they arrived in Israel, these wise men went straight to Herod to ask, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) Since they knew he was a king, they brought gold as a tribute to Jesus. The Queen of Sheba did the same thing when she visited Solomon (1 Kings 10:2).

Gold is something you give to a king. But the next two gifts show that the wise men had even greater revelation about who Jesus really was.

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owes a deity nigh
Prayers and praising, voices raising
Worshiping God on high

When I was studying in Europe, I had the privilege of attending a service at a Greek Orthodox church. It is an experience I will likely never forget. Every surface of the interior of the church was covered in iconic paintings. I marveled at them as I listened to the cantor worshiping God in a language I didn’t understand. What I remember most, though, is the incense.

During the service the priest walked throughout the room with what I at first perceived to be a lantern, until I saw smoke coming from the small box. Almost immediately, the most fragrant perfume began to fill the room. The scent was almost intoxicating, like nothing I’d ever smelled before.

In that moment, it wasn’t very hard to believe that God truly does dwell in the praises of his people. His presence seemed near.

The traditional American Evangelical church I’d been exposed to up until that point had never included incense in the worship service. But it was something that Matthew’s Jewish audience would have understood immediately.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take fragrant spices…and make a fragrant blend of incense…. Place it in front of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.” Exodus 30:34-36

Despite the fact that these days you can buy incense at your local Pier1 to make your house smell good, that wasn’t its original purpose.

Incense is meant for worship.

The wise men understood this. The fact that they gave Jesus incense meant they  knew he was God.

And they were choosing to worship him.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes the scent of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in stone-cold tomb

Of all of the gifts to Jesus, I imagine this one had to have confused Mary the most. She understood that Jesus was king, and that he was God. But I am sure she did not yet know the full meaning of what him being the Messiah meant for his future. Like most other Jews, she probably expected Jesus to grow into a strong warrior, leading the Israelites to throw off the bonds of Roman oppression.

She couldn’t have known that instead, he would grow into the ultimate Passover Lamb, who through his sacrifice, would enable us to throw off the yoke of slavery to sin. As Jesus’ mother, that knowledge probably would have been too much for her to bear.

But the Magi understood Jesus’ true purpose on earth, or they wouldn’t have given him myrrh.

He wouldn’t need it until 30 years later.

Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes…. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it with the spices, in strips of linen.” (John19:39-40)

Jesus had not just come to be our king and our God, but to die for us. The Christmas story will always be incomplete unless we look forward to that point in time when he defeated our sinful nature on the cross.

Thankfully, that isn’t the end of the story.

Glorious now, behold him arise
King and God and sacrifice
Alleluia, alleluia
Sound though the earth and skies