Shalom

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Being a person who is, at times, full of anxiety, fear and discontentment – there is nothing more that I long for than peace. Not just normal peace, but the peace that passes all understanding. The peace that has been promised to those who follow Jesus. Philippians 4:7 promises “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I have been intrigued by the concept of peace this past year. I found that there is so much more to the word peace than I realized. I discovered that often times in the bible, the word peace is translated from the word shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word referencing not only peace but also wholeness and completeness.

Shalom existed before sin entered the world. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. There was no barrier between them or the world around them. Things were whole, complete. It was the way God intended.

God also has promised us that we will again walk with him freely. In Heaven the world will once again be restored to its intended state.

But while we wait, we have access to that peace today. Heaven and earth collided, shalom came to earth. He came in the form of a baby.

His name is Jesus.

Unfortunately, when he came, he did not bring peace in the way we think of peace. It did not mean that we would live in a world without war. It did not mean that we would no longer struggle.

But he came to give us a glimpse. He came to give us an opportunity to experience shalom while we wait. He gave us the opportunity to walk with God, free from any barriers even when there are barriers around us. He gave us the opportunity to be the fullness of who God created us to be amongst people who are lost . He gave us the opportunity to experience shalom in the midst of strife.

I have mentioned throughout this series that I am in my own season of Advent. I’m in a season of waiting. But as I wait, God has opened doors. I believe that they are glimpses of what is to come. Just as Jesus has given me a glimpse of what is to come. Jesus came to give us a glimpse – a glimpse of Shalom. Of what is to come.

God has used this series on Advent to challenge me. I’ve been challenged to put language to ideas that are so ingrained in who I am that I no longer had a definition for them. This series has held me accountable in my own season of waiting. It has reminded me to remember what God has done, what he is doing and what he is going to do. He has reminded me of who he is and that I can put my faith in him. He has reminded me that I have access to Hope, Faith, Joy and Peace. He has reminded me that as I wait, I can experience Shalom. I have access to Heaven on earth.

And so do you.

Many of you will be heading to church this week. Some of you only go this time of year. Maybe you go because your Grandma makes you go. Maybe you go because you like the tradition. Maybe you go because that is what you have always done. As I was running today, I felt like God wanted me to remind someone – don’t let this Christmas be the only time you walk through the church’s doors. Make it be the first of many.

If you have had a bad experience with church, I am sorry. I apologize on behalf of all the Christians who have said hurtful things, that have been judgmental or that have just ignored you. Christians have given Jesus a bad rap. If you have had a bad experience with a church, if you can, put those experiences aside. Take the time to get to know Jesus. I have NEVER met someone who has experienced who Jesus truly is and has walked away from him. It’s us Christians who have ruined his reputation.

If, when you walk into a church, it isn’t full of people that are full of hope, faith, joy and peace, go somewhere else. No one will be perfect, no one will exemplify all of these qualities all the time. But you will know. There is nothing more contagious than being around a group of people that have experienced the shalom that comes from encountering Christ.

So this Christmas, don’t just go to church because it’s the right thing to do. Open up your heart. Open up your heart to who Jesus really is.

Advent is over. We are no longer waiting.

Jesus was born.

Shalom has come.

And because of that we have the opportunity to experience

Hope.
Faith.
Joy.
Peace.

And I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want that.

Merry Christmas friends,

Lisa

Happy doesn’t cut it

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I can’t believe how fast this Advent season is going. We are already in the midst of the third week; the week of joy. This is the week of Advent when we are being called to join the Shepherds as they rejoice at the arrival of the newborn king, the long promised Messiah. If I were one of the Shepherds, I would be the first one to join the chorus of Angels. I would get swept away in the moment. I love the emotion of happiness. But that feeling, that feeling of happiness, actually has little to do with joy. 

I am really good at getting swept up in happiness. 

I have to fight hard for joy

And my enemy? 

Discontentment. 

It’s natural that we would think that the opposite of joy is sadness or depression. I haven’t found that to be the case. In my life the opposite of joy is discontentment. 

Let me explain.

A lot of us have pondered the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is a feeling. That feeling changes depending on our circumstances. When life is going the way that we want, we feel happy. When life is not going the way we planned, we aren’t happy. We feel sad. At times we may even become depressed. Our feelings change in accordance to our circumstances.

Based on my research, joy isn’t based on circumstances. It is a state of mind. I found the most clear definition of joy in Theopedia. It defines joy as “a state of mind and an orientation of the heart, It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.” Joy is a state of mind. It is characterized by contentment, confidence and hope. 

More often than I would like to admit, joy is not my state of mind, discontentment is. My emotions change based on my changing circumstances just like everyone else. Then as soon as I exit the roller coaster of emotions and settle back into status-quo, my state of mind is not one of contentment, confidence and hope. I am full of regret, wishing, and longing for more. 

Recently, I have decided that I am tired of my status-quo. I no longer want my baseline to be discontentment. I have wasted too many days being discontent. I want to fall back into joy. 

The ideal is compelling but the change feels daunting. I can change my emotions by simply changing my circumstances. But how do I change my status-quo from a mindset of discontentment to a place of joy?  

By no means am I an expert, but let me share a few things I am trying.

First, I am trying to remember that Joy is a fruit of the spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control …” So when I am struggling to maintain a mindset of joy, the first question I need to ask is, What is keeping me from experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit?I have written a full blog series on it, (What is the Holy Spirit anyway?). When we are not exemplifying the fruit of the spirit, there are some very basic questions we should be asking God and ourselves. “God, reveal the state of my heart. Is there a sin that is keeping me from the fullness of your presence?” Pride? Selfish ambition? “What unrepentant sins are keeping me from seeing clearly?” He wants nothing more than for us to be in line with him. If we humbly go before him, I promise you he will reveal the true condition of your heart. 

Second, I’m asking him to fill me with joy. Full contentment in him is his original design. John 16:24 tells usUntil now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” We have access to complete joy, we just need to ask. He will meet you there. 

And as I do those things, I am trying to follow the example of the Shepherds. Luke 2 tells us that after after meeting baby Jesus “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” They met Jesus and then…

They worshiped. 

Worship has become my biggest weapon against a mindset of discontent.

It has been the key in my journey to shift my mindset from discontentment to joy. I find myself going through a similar cycle several times a day. When I feel like I’m settling into discontentment – I pause. I ask God what is preventing me from experiencing joy. I ask him to fill me with joy. He meets me. Then I worship. 

In the last few months as I have been in my own season of Advent, of waiting – I  quickly spiral into discontented thinking. I can’t always stop what I am doing and listen to worship music or sing out loud. I’m so grateful that there isn’t just one way to worship. A lot of times for me it does mean turning on worship music and singing along. But sometimes it means just repeating a few lines of a song over and over in my head, even in the midst of conversation. Sometimes it means simply acknowledging the beauty around me. But whatever it takes, I raise my weapon of worship against discontentment.  

I am then brought back to a place of joy. Sometimes I don’t stay in that place very long, some days all I manage to have is a mindset of joy for only an hour or two. But being there gives me the strength I need. So that when I start to feel discontent again, I’m ready to fight and I’m armed with my weapon.

Worship. 

So let’s go humbly before God and ask him to reveal our hearts. Let’s go meet the newborn king. Then let’s arm ourselves, raise our weapons high and join the chorus of angels singing…

Joyful, all ye nations, rise

Join the triumph of the skies…

Light and life to all he brings

Risen with healing in his wings…

Hark! the herald angels sing

Glory to the newborn King

May you be filled with joy this Christmas,

Lisa

The Challenge of Faith.

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I often wonder what I would do if I were Mary. Can you imagine? When she became pregnant – the expectant mother of Jesus – she was between the ages of 12-14. She was engaged to a man named Joseph. There is a strong chance she didn’t know him very well. Arranged marriages were the norm. That seems stressful enough. And then the angel appeared. I would love to be a fly on the wall when the angel appeared to Mary. Luke 1:29 tells us that when the angel appeared to Mary, she was “greatly startled.” I would have fainted, screamed or ran away – maybe all of the above.

Then the angel told her she was going to have a baby by the Holy Spirit. Just say that to yourself “I am going to have a baby conceived by the Holy Spirit.” I don’t know about you, but I have no context to help make sense of that statement.

Yet, Mary answered “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word be fulfilled.” Luke 1:38

Then there is Joseph. I feel kind of bad for him. He is a key player in the story, but was given very little stage time. We know that he was a noble man. Even before the angel appeared to him, he was still committed to marrying Mary. Then after an angel appeared to him in a dream we learn, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Luke 1:24). Just like that.

Most of us have heard these stories many times, especially this time of year. I know for me, I can easily forgot one key piece, Mary & Joseph were humans. They were mere mortals. They were people who had parents, sisters, brothers. They had friends. They had hobbies. They grew up, they had histories. We know little about them, we don’t even know where they met.

But of one thing we can be sure, they were both people of incredible faith.

We are in the second week of Advent, a week designated to meditate on faith. On Sunday, people all over the world lit a candle, the Bethlehem Candle. As the candles were lit, we were reminded of Mary & Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. We were charged to remember their journey and to follow their lead.

To rise up as a people of faith.

Last week I talked about hope. The question I have been asking myself this past week is, what is the difference between hope & faith?

I started by looking at the basic definitions, hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Faith is defined as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

You see, hope precedes faith. Hope is the foundation in which we build our faith. It is not an accident that the first week of Advent challenges us to renew our hope; to be reminded of what God has done, what he is doing, and what is still to come. Knowing who God is gives us a spirit of expectancy – hope. Only when we have hope in the Lord can we have faith. When we are able to have full confidence and trust in Jesus – we become people of faith.

Let me share an example. My kids really enjoy eating at McDonalds. Say I tell them on Wednesday that we are going to eat McDonalds on Friday. For the next couple days they have hope – they are full of expectancy – thinking about going to McDonalds. They have hope because over time I have proven to them that I keep my promises (to the best of my ability). So when I ask them to be ready to go on Friday at 5:00 to leave for McDonalds, they have faith I will be there. They are ready to go. They have complete trust and confidence in me. Their hope spurred their faith in me, which motivated them to act.

As you can see in the example, hope speaks to the future and the past. Faith speaks to our today. Not only does faith speak to our today, it gives us the courage to act.

I often talk about God speaking to me. For many people, I’m sure that sounds weird and out there. God speaks to all of us; most of us just don’t take the time to listen. Often God speaks to us with a simple nudge; that feeling in your gut. It’s that persistent nagging that tells you to apply for that job, reach out to that friend or make a simple course correction. It’s when someone says something in passing that you can’t forget, no matter how hard you try. It’s when you read the Bible and the words that you have read a hundred times seem to float off the page-like God is speaking them directly to you.

And then sometimes even an angel appears.

You see, God will speak to us. We just need to learn to listen. It is also our job to cultivate enough hope that we become full of faith. That way when God does speak to us, our confidence & assurance in who he is will inspire action. We do that by spending time reading God’s word, declaring what he has done and reminding ourselves of what he will do in the future.

These next couple weeks before Christmas are a great time to exercise your faith. People’s needs and emotions are front and center. In the midst of your busy days, take a moment to listen to those nudges. Text a friend, remind them how loved they are. Give more than you planned. Smile at a stranger. Share your faith with your co-worker. Take a step of faith.

This Christmas season let’s join Mary & Joseph and rise up as a people of faith.

Lisa

We so quickly forget….

 We are currently in the first week of Advent. The theme of this week is hope. As I shared last week,  (What is Advent anyway?) Advent is a season of waiting. We join those who waited in hope for the birth of Jesus and we are longing with hope for his second coming. 

Hope is a common word in the Christian dialectic. There are many verses in the bible that talk about hope. We sing songs about our need to hope in the Lord. But what is hope? What does it mean to have hope? How do we become hopeful?

I am finding in my own life a direct link between remembering God’s promises & having hope. Only when I take time to dwell on God’s promises do I become filled with hope. 

Several years ago our small group leader asked us “What is coming up this fall that we can be praying for?” Our kids were little. We lived in an 800 hundred square foot house that was built in the 1800s. We quickly replied, “We would like a new house in our neighborhood.” As our kids continued to grow, we began to grow out of our house. But we loved our neighborhood. They were our people, we raised our kids together. We knew we would need to move, but we wanted to stay in the same neighborhood. 

A month later our house burned down. 

Let me pause, I’m hesitant to share this story in a setting like this. It sounds fishy. Let me reassure you-we had absolutely NOTHING to do with our house burning down. 

A few weeks later, we were sitting around the table with some friends from church. They were asking what our plan was. Were we going to move? Build a new house? Rebuild the old house (the studs remained)? We didn’t know. It all felt very overwhelming. Then someone chimed in, “I’ll build your house”. Not only did he own a company that did this kind of work, across the table from him sat the owner of a plumbing company. They agreed on the spot to partner in our build.

Long story short, that is what happened. Our friends built us a house. Our prayers were answered, in a very unexpected and dramatic way. 

In the process, we were reminded of something else someone had said to us years before. I was pregnant with Piper. Someone of great faith, someone we respected, said to us, “There is going to be a point in your life where you are going to need more space. God is going to provide for you in a very unexpected way.”  We didn’t think too much of it at the time. 

It wasn’t until the dust settled that we put all these pieces together. The word someone had spoken. The prayer we prayed. The fire. Someone building our house for us. 

A promise made. A promise fulfilled.

A promise that we had forgotten about. 

But God didn’t.

I am so quick to forget God’s promises. 

I read God’s word, He promises me that he will never leave me nor forsake me. 

I am reminded at church of the promise that God has good plans for me. 

In a conversation, a friend shares the truth that God will always make good out of bad.

God gently reminds me of his calling for my life. 

I walk away from those encounters, pumped – ready for anything. I take one step out in faith and then things don’t happen the way I planned. I feel uncomfortable in the unknown, so I start to cling to what has worked in the past. I am scared that maybe I heard God wrong, I start to feel afraid. I start to make plans on my own. The cycle continues. I quickly forget God’s promises. 

I lose hope. 

I have to go back and remember. 

I believe that it starts by remembering what God has already done in our lives. I’m not talking about a quick recollection-I’m talking about really remembering. We can do this by writing it down, spending time mulling over the details of the event-recall how we felt and what we  experienced. Or we can tell a friend how God has performed miracles in our lives. Whatever it takes to remember. 

I am currently in a season of waiting for a job. I want to be prayerful and thoughtful about the process – but everything inside of me wants to have a job NOW. So I have decided to carry a notebook with me in my purse. When I get anxious and start taking action for the sake of action, I go back to my book. I am reminded about how God has provided and guided me in the past and that he will do it again. I meditate on God’s promise that He has good plans for me.

Remembering the past is key, but we also need to make ourselves aware of God’s movement amongst us. In this same book that I am writing down where God has fulfilled his promises in the past, I am writing down each day ways that God is moving. I may be waiting for the next job, but that certainly doesn’t mean God is not at work. We must celebrate what God is doing today. 

Then we need to lean into God’s promises that are still to come. God has so much more in store for us. He has promised to make good out of bad. He has promised that he is not done with us yet. He has promised that he will return again and make all things new. 

You see, when I remember in these ways, I have hope. And what does that look like? What does it mean to be filled with hope? 

I’m able to move forward with excitement and joy. I can rest in knowing what God has done, what he is doing and what is to come. I do not fear, I am able to wait. I don’t take action for the sake of taking action. I feel excited about what God has in store next. I laugh more. I am able to be present and I have peace.

I am filled with hope. 

And this Advent that’s the only way I want to be. 

Lisa