Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

Have you ever said to yourself, “I can’t do that, I’m not ____ enough.”

(Enter your word of choice: smart enough, or experienced enough, or perhaps brave enough?)

A cautious boy clings to the edge of a swimming pool

In our current Rotation on the story of Esther, I imagine that Esther herself wasn’t so keen about doing what her wise cousin Mordecai was suggesting:

Open quote markGo to the king and beg for mercy (Esther 4:8).

Surely Mordecai knew that in the kingdom of Xerxes, one didn’t just pop in to see the king without an invitation! No, no, no! That would result in certain death! Yet Esther takes that heroic, risky step.

Wow. She was brave.

But wait a minute. Esther was just an ordinary girl. Esther didn’t seem bold or courageous. Sure, she was just caught up in a strange series of events that led her to queenly status, but that was just fate. (Or was it?)

Once again. Another example: God chooses ordinary people to do his work.

We see this as a pattern in the Bible, look at all those humdrum humans carrying out amazing achievements: There are the disciples (including obscure fishermen, chosen to be Jesus’ students), and David (a lowly shepherd-boy chosen as king), and Mary (a simple, young girl chosen to birth God’s son)…

And then there’s you.

That’s right, you!

Open quote markGod can do anything you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us (Ephesians 3:20).

How can you (and your family members) believe this?

It helps to have spoken reminders, both in your self-talk and in your speech to others.

Use words of expectation; expecting only good to come from you.
Offer a blessing to yourself and to those around you:

Open quote markGod envisions you as worthwhile.
Live this day fully aware of your potential.
Go out with courage! Confident of your value to God.
God is making a difference through you.

Click on a box if you would like to…
A check-box Satisfy your curiosity about why you should bless your child.
A check-box View other suggested blessings.

Photo credits:
Cautious boy by Devon D’Ewart, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Today is the day

Today is the day to proclaim Epiphany! (Even though it was commemorated in church last Sunday, today, January 6th, is the officially marked day.) You may finally move your magi nativity pieces into their final resting spot — assuming that they’ve been traveling over your tablelands until now.

Three wise men approach a nativity scene

Epiphany serves as a reminder that God has come among us as a human being – God with us as Jesus. Celebrations of Epiphany traditionally are tied to the arrival of the wise men to worship Jesus.

These magi have always fascinated me. Their courage! Their fortitude! They likely traveled a thousand miles from their home in Persia or Arabia, all the way to Bethlehem — guided by an unusual star in the sky.

They followed this star, not knowing where they would end up.

Can we do that?

Start off on a journey not knowing where we are headed?

Graphic says - The wise step out in faith

How about your family’s faith journey?
Or even your own personal walk with God?

Do you know where your journey will take you?
Do you know what you will find along the way?

Will you step out in faith… to grow your faith?

Your family is depending on you to take the lead.

Need some help getting started? Try this or this or this.
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Photo credits:
Photos are from my archives. I created the starry sky graphic from various Public Domain clip art.

My New Year’s resolutions. And yours?

The crazy season of rushing is over. {Take a deep breath.}
Now we turn our thoughts toward the new year.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be different in the coming year.
I want to pay more attention.

It goes like this:

Big Horn Sheep at the Grand Canyon

Take something dramatic like the Grand Canyon. With no effort it registers off-the-charts: instantly recognized beauty.

Yet I easily miss the small details, which might seem like minutiae, but when exposed are equally awe-inspiring.

Details such as the fact that the Grand Canyon was formed by water and wind…

  slowly… imperceptibly…

     eroding the rock.

“Gentle waters flow over rocksWith a lack of attention I miss seeing the clout of one simple gust of breeze…

  of just one drop of water…

    whittling away…

      drip by slow drip.

I need to pay attention and focus to the level of a single water drop.

To slow down.
To always be noticing…often and regularly…

My life intertwined with the presence of God.

A collage of nature scenes

What about your New Year’s resolutions? Join me in being more intentionally aware of God with us?

Happy New Year!
 — Carol

Photo credits:
The Grand Canyon, by Marcin Wichary who licensed this photo on Flickr via a Creative Commons License.
Other photos from my archives with thanks to Tracy K. for the lower center shot of kids at the lake!

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How to find time for God in the midst of Advent chaos?

Are you feeling it yet? The rat-race turmoil leaning towards a muddled mess?

A dance of light rays

It must be Advent. (Or it could be in the midst of the chaos of any season.)

How can we find time for peace?
How can we find time for God?

Pastor Nancy Lynn at FUMC in Ann Arbor, MI had some ideas in a recent sermon.

Let’s review Nancy’s ideas. (And is it okay if I build on them?)

    Split rocks in the woods

  • Go out and notice something in nature.
    (Even if it’s just a bunch of rocks.) Set a recurring timer (to go off when it will be okay to be interrupted). When it rings, go for a daily walk. Find a truly beautiful nature-made article. Allow yourself to fill with awe. Yes! God made this!
  • Take time for prayer.
    (Be like Jesus?) How about a different way of praying? Breath prayer: This sort of prayer brings yourself to a quiet rest. Start by relaxing—take a couple of deep breaths. Then, focusing on your breath, silently recite a word (or words) over and over.

    Try the Aramaic word (Jesus spoke Aramaic) that means “Come Lord” – Maranatha. Break it into four syllables:
    Breath In: Ma
    Breath Out: Ra
    Breath In: Na
    Breath Out: Tha
    When your mind drifts, bring yourself gently back.

  • Change your prevailing viewpoint. Give yourself compassion and change your self-talk!
    Practice grace and forgiveness… towards yourself! Rather than piling up accusations against yourself (I should have… I am such an idiot… Why didn’t I… ) Try loading your brain with positive, helpful thoughts. Phrases like:
    • Sometimes I make mistakes. I can learn from them.
    • Most decisions in life involve tradeoffs.
    • I chose not to buy the most expensive gift.

    This change can take some brain-training. Keep at it!

  • “Rack - Random Acts of Christmas KindnessMake a point to be spontaneously kind. Print a calendar page for December. Each day write something you’ve done to be helpful.

    Want a different idea to promote a randomly caring attitude? Try “RACK” (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness).

  • May one of these activities help you to find peace (and God with you) in this busy season!


    Photo credits…
    Chaos by kevin dooley, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0). Rest of photos from my archives. (I made the RACK’ed figure.)

    Being a disciple is hard work!

    A cropped picture of a painting of Jesus calling Matthew by William HoleA few fishermen, a tax collector, and some other unseemly students… the hard work started with the abrupt summons: “Follow me.” They don’t even seem to give it a second thought! Consider what they each gave up to become disciples of Jesus…

    Matthew probably gave up a pile of money. (That’s him in the painting, in his tax collector’s “booth”).

    The fishermen gave up a rich haul of fish (as told in Luke 5:1-11).

    Bartholomew (called Nathanael in John’s gospel) gave up his uncertainty.

    James and John, sons of Zebedee, gave up their fishing equipment… and they left behind their father!

    What about yourself?

    What must you forfeit to follow Jesus?

    Discuss these possibilities amongst your family group. Do you give up…

    • Sleep? Most of us don’t get enough sleep; I sure could use a few more zzz’s on Sunday morning.
    • Time? Read the Bible? Pray? They take time! My days are already jam-packed! (And I’d rather play a computer game.)
    • My ego? Because being a disciple places the focus on God and I like things to be about me.
    • My comfort zone? Because I don’t enjoy _______. (Fill in the blank: Hanging out with people I don’t know, or rubbing shoulders with the down-trodden, or opening my wallet.)
    • Dignity? Because I might do this disciple-thing wrong (and what would people say?) And yikes! Every decision I make is an exercise in discipleship!
    • A firm life-path? I want answers and a road map. Following Jesus can be scary! Who knows where I will be led next?
    • Reputation? Because maybe I’ll be laughed at. (You follow Jesus!?)
    • Society’s endless clamor for praise, power, and possessions? There are just so many distractions from Jesus’ calling! This is hard!
    What difficult choices are you being called to make?

    (Mess up? Me too. It’s okay. You can start to follow again and again!)

    Photo credits:
    Painting of Jesus calling Matthew, by William Hole, in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

    Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and practice discipleship

    A Super-Disciple!

    It is easy to understand why Jesus assembled a crew of special disciples. Jesus needed help!

    Enter, the Super Disciples!

    These were not just average, I-like-the-sound-of-what-you-are-preaching, admirers. Jesus invited his apprentice good-news-broadcasters to come, follow me; become my students.

    Fairly early in his ministry, they were called to receive basic training in Super Discipleship.

    These selected followers saw it firsthand: God was up to something big! Here was a belief system that changed how you looked at everything! Transformed lives! And though they stumbled at times, Jesus’ disciples ended up doing an admirable job of spreading the good news about Christ, especially once they had the Holy Spirit.

    Today Jesus still needs disciples to work at transforming the world. What about us?

    Are we ho-hum fans, or are we Super-D disciples of Jesus?

    It shouldn’t be a surprise that we need to work at becoming the latter.
    How? It’s just like learning to play an instrument: we practice!

    But how does one practice becoming this sort of committed disciple?

    Here are some thoughts to ponder in forming a disciple-practice-plan:

    • Gather your family — how about around the dinner table? Read some of the stories of Jesus “calling” his disciples – fishermen, a tax collector, and others. Note that sometimes eventual followers were skeptical at first. Are we allowed to wonder at the mystery of what God is up to? You bet!
    • Next, discuss with your family what the difference is between an everyday follower and an in-it-for-the-long-run disciple like Peter and Matthew and James and John? How would it look if your family just “said” you were Jesus-followers vs. acted like you meant it? Would anything change or are you on that path now? Would you have to give something up? Is being a disciple of Christ one more thing to add to our to-do list? Or is it a new way of living?
    • According to your definition of a “Super Disciple,” tell stories of when you encountered someone like that. What was it that made that person memorable? What could you emulate? Perhaps you could invite a voted-upon Super D to share a supper with you?
    • Discuss which of these areas need your focus:
       A check-box On-going Christian education (not just for the kids!)
       A check-box Worshiping together as a family.
       A check-box Celebrating Communion together as a family.
       A check-box Regular Bible reading and prayer.
       A check-box Participation in mission to others.
    The Rule of Discipleship: Worship, Devotion, Compassion & Justice

    As United Methodist followers of Jesus’ teachings, we are guided in our quest to be Super Disciples by what is called “The General Rule of Discipleship” which is described in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church as: following Christ “through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

    This means we practice being disciples by inward, life-giving means such as worship and “devotion” (prayer and Bible study), and by outward participation in God’s mission for the world: seeking justice and having compassion for others.

    Pastor Nancy Lynn told us about this in a sermon she preached at FUMC on September 7, 2014, saying: “These four acts reflect that our journey of faith is personal as well as social, private as well as public, inward as well as outward. And to grow and be healthy, we need balance between them.”
    A person who commits to practicing can become a Super Disciple. How are you practicing discipleship?


    Photo credits:
    A Super Disciple! was altered from an image by Jam Zhang, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
    The Rule of Discipleship symbol © 2014, The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. Used with permission.


    God chose David; God chooses you

    “He is the one.”

    Samuel distinctly heard God say the words. In a flourish, Samuel uncorked the animal horn; the one he had so carefully carried all the way to Bethlehem; the horn that held the olive oil. Not for cooking! No, this oil would be used in a sacred ceremony.

    We are not told what words accompanied the pouring of oil on David’s head, but we do know the significance of this action: this “anointing” signified assignment of a special task. David had been chosen by God to be the next king of Israel!

    David is anointed with oil

    What do you suppose the family dinner table conversation sounded like that night? It could have gone something like this…

    open quote
    Jesse (David’s father): … I was very surprised at how it all turned out!
    Eliab (Jesse’s oldest son): I realize that it was God doing the choosing and all, but it was unnerving! As we all approached, Samuel kept muttering, “The Lord hasn’t chosen him…”
    Jesse: Please pass the bread.
    Abinadab (Jesse’s 2nd son): All seven of us…one by one… nixed!
    Shammah (Jesse’s 3rd son): When Samuel asked you, “Are there any others?” I thought to myself, “what does he mean? All of us kingly-handsome, nice-and-strong sons are right in front of you!”

    David was an unlikely candidate for king. He was a downright surprise candidate! After all, boy-David — who was probably 10 to 15 years old — hadn’t even been initially invited to visit with the prophet Samuel. Nope; small-fry-David was sent to tend sheep.

    So why did God choose David?

    Because God looks at the inside character of people. (See 1 Samuel 16:7c)
    And God liked what he saw.

    God decided that David was a man after God’s own heart.

    A man after God’s own heart? What’s that mean?

    Let’s back up in our Bible story. We know that God was in search of a replacement for Israel’s current king, Saul. Saul had started off as an okay king, but then he turned away from God. The prophet Samuel reported on the consequences for Saul:

    You have not kept the Lord’s commands. Your kingly rule is falling to pieces. God is out looking for your replacement; he is looking for someone after his own heart. (Translation of 1 Samuel 13:14).

    Of course “heart” in this case doesn’t mean the organ that pumps our blood. (You might know this but what about the youngsters around you? Explain it as: The Bible uses “heart” meaning our inner thoughts and feelings; the part of us where we wrestle with life, where we check it out inside.)

    God was looking for someone who had a “heart” just like his!

    Someone who…

    • Cares about the same stuff that God cherishes;
    • Is humble; empties themselves so they are not focused on their own plans and agenda;
    • Admits to their wrongs and keeps on turning to God for forgiveness, for guidance and for help.

    And do you know what?

    God believes that this describes your heart!

    God thinks of you as someone who has potential! As someone who displays admirable inside character. You are the one! Chosen by God!

    You are a person after God’s own heart.

    Who? Me?

    Yes you! We do not have to be “perfect” to be chosen by God. David was far from perfect! (Refer to 2 Samuel 11:2-4, 14-17.) God values each one of us because we were created by him. God sees good qualities and possibilities in each one of us; each person is important to God!

    So what does it mean to be a person after God’s own heart?

    Hard work! God gives us a choice. We can choose to work at living up to the way God sees us, or we can ignore God and make a go of it all on our own.

    What you can do?

    • Talk with your kids about how hard this can be in the midst of today’s societal pressures. Living a Christ-like life means we often have to go against the ways of society. (Good news: God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us attain this; to follow the example of Christ.)
    • Role-play situations where this choice may be exhibited: Standing up to a bully; noticing someone cheating; observing someone doing good. (Yes, practice affirming the positive!)
    • Over time we come to believe the words we say to ourselves. Fill your child’s mind with affirmations by regularly blessing them.

    God looks at our heart, our motivations, and desires, at who we are on the inside. He chooses you! How will you respond?


    Photo credits…
    David is Anointed from an unknown publisher of Bible Cards, Date=early 1900’s; in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

    How’s your home environment?

    We are blessed to have homes that contain familiar “environments” — times and places where certain events take place. As our kids grow up they presume that at home they will find…

    …a designated spot for family dining…

    two kids at the dinner table
    a space for play

    …opportunity for play…

    a child reads

    …and time for reading (hopefully every day!)

    Other environments we set up for our kids include a place to get some much needed shut-eye and an area for study. (Yikes, coming soon!)

    It’s the way things are. Eating, sleeping, studying, playing… You could say:

    It’s how we do it around here.

    But something important is missing.

    What about purposefully setting up space and time to experience God?
    So it feels normal.

    Here are some suggestions for adding this critical environment to your home:

    • an adult reads the BibleInclude the Bible in your daily reading roster. And make sure your child “catches you” reading.
    • Practice being grateful. (Documenting your gratitude brings attention to God’s gifts; they are everywhere! Even in the midst of darkness!)
    • Spend time as a family with everyone sharing one glad and one sad for the day – AKA: Glads and Sads, or Crowns and Thorns! Don’t try to fix anything, just listen and celebrate and commiserate.
    • Start every meal with a table blessing. Try here for some new ones.
    • Introduce new ways to talk with God – prayer. (Get out markers to pray? Yes!)
    • Offer your child a daily blessing – words said out loud that reassure your child that they are loved and accepted.
    • What other ideas would you add?


    Photo credits:
    Dinner table by Sean Dreilinger; Reading by John Morgan; Swing set by Wouter Verhelst all licensed on Flickr, under a Creative Commons License.
    Adult reading the Bible by StockSnap on Pixabay released under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Public Domain.