Perfectly Chipped

I’m a girlie girl. I like pink. A lot! I also like to have my nails painted.pinknailpolish_hand

A perfectly manicured hand…a perfectly orchestrated life. It can only be achieved for a short time. Eventually, the chips will come. Get close enough and you’ll see them. I don’t like chips in my nail polish.

Somehow, it feels like I’m chipped…flawed. And I am. I just don’t like to admit it.

I have 2 choices when I need to fix chipped nails. I can cover up the chip with more polish and hope it won’t be noticed, or I can take the time to remove the polish and start fresh. A ‘cover up’ doesn’t last as long as a redo; it just buys me a little more time before having to put the work into a whole new manicure.

Why do we work so hard at covering up our chips and striving for a perfect looking life on the outside, settling for quick fixes and cover-ups rather than taking the time to get to the heart of the matter and deal with the root issues?  Why is is so difficult to admit we’re wrong, seek forgiveness, and take steps to right it?  Why do we focus more on the loss of what God is asking us to lay down or ‘give up’ when we know that we’ll gain so more with Christ than we ever could apart from Him?  And when it all gets to be too much, why do we struggle in reaching out for help?

Could it be that we’re choosing

  • Pride over humility
  • Selfishness over selflessness
  •  Trusting in myself rather than trusting in God?

I meet each week with a group of gals who get REAL with their chips…their flaws. They’ve tried to cover them up too many times. They know it just won’t work anymore so they take it all off, strip it all down, remove the chips… one finger nail at a time. They have courageously decided to reach out for help. The risk of staying where they are is greater than the risk of letting others in. They share to expose the darkness and stand in the light. They know that healing comes only when they stop covering up. They share so others can love on them and encourage them. They share because God’s grace is this amazing gift that removes the stain of sin in their lives. They share because His mercies are new to them each morning. They are some of the bravest women I’ve met. I see God showing up in their weaknesses.

God’s perfect and complete grace, abundant for all life’s chips and flaws.

“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses,so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”                                                                 -2 Corinthians 12:9

Grace is the fingernail polish remover for life’s chips. I don’t see a shortage of polish remover coming anytime soon. And, thank goodness there will never be a shortage of God’s grace.

A fresh manicure of grace beats a cover-up anytime!

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-Jodi Ross
Director of Women’s Ministry

Something More

I know we normally don’t get too deep in our everyday conversations, but with some subjects, it’s critical. For this post, I’d like to ask you an important question: Do you believe in a Creator God who is fighting for your soul?  Maybe I should break it down a little more.  Do you believe in God at all?  Do you believe there is a war for your soul?  Maybe I should back up more and ask if you believe you even have a soul?  I’ve had several conversations with people lately that have only confirmed my suspicions about the age in which we live.  My theory can be summarized like this: Many people claim they want the truth, but only if it aligns with their thinking and desires and only if it doesn’t affect their way of living. Why is this?

I think it starts in our deepest intellect.  We know there’s got to be something better than just this empty life: we’re born, we breathe in, we breathe out, we die, and we become dust.  In our hearts we want something more and our being cries out, “Please don’t let this be all there is!”  And though society theorizes that we are basically good from birth, we know better than that lie.

On one end of the spectrum, ten minutes of the evening news will confirm that mankind is capable of committing the worst of atrocities against the rest of creation, including our fellow man.  This evil leads us to put more weight into the thinking that there is nothing more than this life and when it’s over, that’s it.  On the other end, we’re struck by heroic stories of people helping others, caring for the less fortunate, loving the unlovable, or even sacrificially giving their lives for another.  It’s these moments that give us a twinge of hope… that mankind can be saved and that there is more to this life.  We know it can’t be both; either this life is all there is, or there’s something else at work, something beyond this hurting world.  We’re hesitant to admit there’s more because we innately know the ramifications – and that we don’t have all the answers.
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I believe there’s a spiritual thirst in all of us.  We may not recognize it as such, but it’s so persistent that we’ll try to fill it with anything and everything: drugs, sex, money, possessions, relationships, identity, beauty… you name it.  Let me quickly drop some truth on you as it relates to this issue: this spiritual thirst cannot be filled by anyone or anything other than the Creator Himself.  St. Augustine of Hippo likened this to a “God-shaped hole” in our hearts.

I’d wager that even those who ardently disagree with the fact that God exists might be trying to displace their thirst with academia, which ultimately gives them nothing more than a misplaced feeling of superiority.  They end up approaching every discussion on spiritual matters thinking they are smarter than everyone else and trying to persuade those around them to agree with their way of thinking.  Anyone who disagrees is simply wrong, and (at it’s kindest), silly for believing in such nonsense. It’s as if truth itself can be replaced if people can be convinced that it’s foolish to believe there’s a real god who cares about them. The truth may be that they’re just trying to convince themselves- as if stating their position over and over will make it true.

Believe me, I get it.  Many of us hope against hope that God isn’t real because we know what it means if He is.  We want to live how we want to live without consequences and without accountability.  BUT, if there is a Creator God, then there has to be a design, plan, or preferred method for living, which might go against our desires and addictions.  I have come to find this spiritual thirst will remain just that until we lean how to fill it – and better yet, WHAT to fill it with. In the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul is in Athens and is curious about all of the altars to a myriad of different gods; he’s especially interested in the altar dedicated to an “UNKNOWN GOD.”  The people in Athens were just as lost as we are in this day and age, seeking a God that didn’t require a change in their belief system or lifestyle.  In Acts 17:24-27, Paul speaks truth into this scene that is so relevant for our culture today:

““The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

So is there a God who loves you and fights for your soul?  Charles Spurgeon wrote, “With thine whole heart seek him, and he will be found of thee: only give thyself thoroughly up to the search, and verily, thou shalt yet discover him to thy joy and gladness.”  I know there is a Creator God who gives us life and the very air we breathe.  He desires for us to seek Him and promises we will find Him if we seek with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13). I believe that all men are inherently not good (Romans 3:10, Ecclesiastes 7:20), and the fact that we see any good in our fellow man points to the fact that there is a Good Creator who loves us and pursues us.  I believe there is a struggle for our souls. A war within that must be won (Ephesians 6:12).  But it’s only won when we discover the One who created us, loved us, came to us, died for us, and rose again so we could be forgiven and live eternally with Him (John 3:16).

There is more to this life, whether we say we believe it or not.  The question I really should have asked is, “Do you believe it?”

My Definition vs. God’s Definition

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Christmas is always my favorite time of year. I love the lights, the Christmas candles, the guaranteed family time, the joy, and the fact that I can watch ‘Elf’ as many times as I want without shame.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for too many people. In the couple of months leading up to Christmas, I heard stories of sickness, surgeries, death, addiction, grief and things that just seem absolutely unfair. One story that sticks out to me in particular is a family that lost their teenage son just a week before Christmas Eve.

Hearing about people who are suffering is more than enough to make anyone ask God what He could possibly be doing, how any of this could be a part of His plan, and why He couldn’t just step in and provide healing? We repeatedly see stories in the Bible where sight is given to the blind, the lame are pulled to their feet and the dead are called back to life. If we believe what the Bible says, we undoubtedly know that God is fully capable of doing these things. So when we walk through these struggles ourselves with what seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, where is God? Why doesn’t He just heal us?

dblogI remember the night I found out that my aunt died. Without any thought, my first inclination was to be angry and question why God couldn’t have just healed her. It’s over six years later and if I’m being honest, I still struggle with this. When people ask, I am quick to tell them that cancer took my aunt from us, not that God provided the healing that she so desperately needed. In my finite mind, I am quick to forget that she was healed—that her death was her ultimate healing.

Looking at it from that perspective, my definition of healing and God’s definition of healing are substantially different. Because to me, healing is living here in this earthly life free from sickness and pain both physically and emotionally. To me, death is a bitter end. To God, death is the start of new life. An eternal life.

It goes without saying that my definition is obviously wrong. But if my definition of “healing” is so far off from God’s, it makes sense to me that maybe my definition of “suffering” is also not super-aligned with God’s. In 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul refers to suffering as “our light and momentary trouble.” Some of the stories I heard throughout the holidays and the pain that it brought people were very obviously not light or momentary and understandably so. Suffering is heavy, messy and has the ability to control our lives when we’re in the midst of it. It becomes difficult to fix our eyes on anything else other than that pain. Paul is essentially taking suffering—this life-consuming burden that we so often face—and making it seem like it’s no big deal at all. Paul has this uncanny ability to take a mountain of suffering and shrink it down to a tiny little mound of “light trouble”.

If there were ever a thing that seemed impossible to me, taking suffering and viewing it as just a momentary affliction would be it. How does Paul do it? Fully reading verses 17 and 18, it says “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” In the midst of his suffering, Paul realizes that his heavenly destiny is becoming increasingly more evident. He created this eternal mindset and holds tight to the hope that is promised in who God is.

Philippians 1:29 says “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.” In this earthly life, suffering is guaranteed. C.S. Lewis once wrote that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Paul spent his life choosing to fix his eyes on things unseen and remembering that this life is not all about this life. We grow up learning that “actions speak louder than words” and when it came Paul’s time to suffer, I can only imagine how people reacted to the calmness and peacefulness that radiated from him. How different would our lives look if when we were in the depths of our suffering, we only remembered to keep clinging to the hope that is promised in things unseen instead of being bogged down by the messiness of suffering? What would that say about God to everybody who was watching?

The only way we can keep clinging to that eternal mindset when we’re suffering, is if we are consistently committed to fostering an relationship with God every day—if we’re building that foundation of hope every day. Clinging to this eternal hope won’t eliminate the suffering we experience in this life, but it can surely make our pain more manageable. This eternal mindset that Paul possesses serves as an amazing example of where we should be fixing our eyes, even in our suffering. And who knows, maybe eventually “suffering” as we see it will become the “suffering” God sees—a light and momentary trouble that achieves for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Serving Matters

Are you one of those people who already know your gifting and your passions? You know, that one thing that God gave you that makes you feel fulfilled and purposeful? Or do you look at people like that and think, “Well… good for you! I want to show others what a change God has made in my life and be involved too, but I can’t sing like Titus, or engage people with my words like Donn. I really don’t possess the infinite amount of patience for spending time with a group of rowdy teens like Hunter, and Ryan, thanks, but I’m not ready to go on adventure in the jungle!”  You might be looking for a way you can serve, but feel you have nothing meaningful to offer. But, I promise, you do!

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Did you know that we have a very dedicated member who has made it his ministry to make sure that rain or shine, blowing snow or gale force winds, the church signs are out bright and early EVERY Sunday, so that everyone knows how to get to our service? Or that boxes of donuts don’t just magically appear on Sunday mornings?  They’re picked up by another member at 7am at King Soopers and delivered with a cheery smile EVERY Sunday, so that a mom can sleep in 10 more minutes and not worry about what her kids will have for breakfast. Or that there is a family that makes sure that the first Sunday of the month we have everything set up for our families to take communion together?

Most of us don’t even wonder how these things get done… because they are always just taken care of. If you were to ask any of these people (or many more like them) who quietly work behind the curtains each week why they do it, they would all probably say something like, “It’s no big deal… it’s just how I help out.” Here’s the thing though, what they do MATTERS a great deal; it may not seem like a lot to them, but it means SO much! These “little” things done each week by serving hands and hearts have enabled MVF to keep going strong for 11 years as a set-up/tear-down church!

It MATTERS to the souls that enter our doors every week looking for truth in a complicated and scary world. It MATTERS to the 396 people that have been baptized in a tank that someone took the time to fill, warm-up and haul to the school! It MATTERS to the single parent who can sit and listen to the message uninterrupted and to the Mops mom who can participate because someone is lovingly caring for their children. Whether we know it or not, everything we do MATTERS, and when we chose to not engage, that MATTERS as well. There are over 100 different verses in the Bible on serving others. Jesus himself came to serve, as shown in Matthew 10:44-45: “And whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It doesn’t matter that you can’t sing like Titus, or teach like Donn. Those are their gifts… and you have your own. God gave them to you. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ…” 1 Peter 4:10-11.

If you don’t know what your gifts are or how they can be used for His service, that’s ok- it can take a little time to figure out. One of the easiest ways to start is to simply ask yourself, “What am I good at and what kind of things do I enjoy doing?” and then volunteer in one of those areas or get involved in one of MVF’s many ministries. If you find it’s not for you, then be honest and try something else! If you still can’t seem to find a good fit, talk with someone that is already involved and who knows you. They may see something in you that you have trouble seeing in yourself.

I know many people in our church, myself included, who tried several different areas before they found their perfect fit, and they now have an unstoppable passion for what they are doing! As the person on staff who helps match people with open service opportunities, I would love to talk with you about your passions and how we can get you plugged in… let’s get together in person or via email and figure out where you fit in! You’re part of the church… part of the body of Christ!  Let’s get you doing what you were called to do because it MATTERS!

– Nikole Armbrust
Director of Volunteers

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Forgiveness in the New Year

The end of 2016 is quickly approaching and many of us find ourselves thinking about changes that we want to make in the new year.. We have well-intentioned motives to make meaningful changes in our lives. We desire to drop some habits and build new ones as we take advantage of the promises and possibility of the new year. We’re feeling inspired and energized.

We tell ourselves that we’re going to spend time in the gym in hopes of resurrecting that amazing physique that we used to have. Or that we’ll quit that pesky habit (insert personal vice here) that continues to rear its ugly head. Maybe even vow to start that devotional that has been collecting dust on the bookshelf. 

I know that most resolutions are an attempt to achieve better health, better mental acuity, better financial decisions, or just be better altogether. What about resolving to be better at forgiving? I was reminded of many of the questions that came out of the Misunderstood series when trying to decide on a blog topic and kept coming back to the idea of forgiveness.forgiveness

I think its safe to say that, in one way or another, we’ve all been wronged. I’m not talking about being cut off in traffic… I’m talking about the the kind of pain that cuts deep and seems impossible to to forget.

My dad’s employer transferred him to Oregon on October 9th, 1986. I was only 9 at the time and was relatively naive to the situation, to say the least. My mom and dad shared with me and my many other siblings that the desired outcome would be for the family to join him once a house was purchased.  Now, I know my mom and dad looked for homes and there might have even been a couple that were viable options. However, a house was never purchased, and the family never joined my dad in Oregon.  My dad would return to Colorado for some holidays, graduations, and special occasions. And four of the boys, including myself, did spend time living in Oregon with him over the course of his employment there. My dad retired and returned to Colorado on August 3, 2000, the day before my wedding.

This could be one of those offenses that seem impossible to forget- basically growing up without my father in my life- and there are probably a few siblings of mine who have yet to forgive. I however, had a couple men that God placed in my life who helped me through this process by modeling the characteristics a Christian man possessed. One of those characteristics was resting entirely in God’s love. In doing that, I was able to forgive my father for not being there for the majority of the 14 years he spent in Oregon. You see, I’ve found that resting in God’s love, the type of love that allowed His son to die for people that don’t deserve to be forgiven, has opened me up to be more loving myself.

“For if you love those who love you, what thanks do you receive? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks do you receive? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks do you receive? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much in return. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and the evil. Be therefore merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” -Luke 6:32–36

Withholding forgiveness is one of the largest obstacles between ourselves and the fullness of joy. When we struggle with forgiveness, it affects everything. We find it difficult to be “real” in the present when all we’re thinking about is the grievance. So it not only affected us in the past but it continues to affect us daily. We’re unable to be our best for others because we believe we’re “owed” something. Shall we live burdened or live free? Remain damaged or be renewed? Or ultimately, reflect the Grace of Christ that we’ve received and pass it on to those who’ve wronged us?  Paul tells us t0 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” in his letter to the Colossians (3:13), and to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”  in his letter to the Ephesians (4:32).

This type of forgiveness takes sacrifice, and I believe that it even hurts. I’m thinking it hurt God for His son to be crucified so that we, those who don’t deserve it, can be forgiven. This, to me, is the best example of how we are to forgive, especially in those situations that seem impossible. I know it’s not easy… quite the contrary. It takes work, and much of it is communing with our heavenly Father. It’s easy to find ourselves reacting to offenses the way the world does if we aren’t constantly keeping ourselves in check with God.

The word ‘forgive’ in Greek is aphiemi, which means “to send away”. So when 2017 shows its face, and we’re all thinking about resolutions, let’s resolve to send our grievances away with 2016. I know it’s a resolution that will have lasting impact on our lives and the lives around us. Let’s not just strive to be “better.” Instead, let’s strive to be like Christ!

Pastor Ryan Dwyer

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Celebrating Simply

simplenativityI know for most of us, the week before Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year. For us, it’s usually insane. Donn spends lots of hours prepping one of the two biggest messages of the year and trying to make them fresh, plus there are a million other details that he’s thinking about as we pull MVF’s three special Christmas Eve-Eve services together. Add all of the regular Holiday Hustle and me singing at all three services, and you have a stressed-out situation waiting to explode.

Three years ago, Donn finally let me convince him to have a small get-together of friends and family over for his birthday. I actually sent out invitations, if I remember correctly. My sister and her gang were here from Texas, my parents and Hunter and Lauren came down from Bailey, and Trooper was on Christmas break from college in Utah… so about 12 family members and about 10 other friends.

That year, Donn’s birthday, which is December 22, was on a Sunday.

Since this was literally the first party he’d ever let me throw for him, I went full-on southern belle, determined that it was going to be a perfect event… my house would be sparkling and beautiful, the food and drink would be spectacular, and I would, of course, be the life of the party.

All of our family had come down the mountain for Church that Sunday morning, and then just stayed to help get things ready for the party. That morning, I felt a strange little twinge in my belly as I hugged and kissed my sister, but I was so busy, it was easy to ignore. Donn and Trooper had shared a stomach virus the week before- and I honestly felt that it was a Christmas Miracle that I had escaped unscathed.

After church, the family minus Hunter and Lauren converged on my house to help with party prep. The twinges in my belly seemed to be getting a little more persistent, but there was no evidence that anything was wrong with me, if you know what I mean. I skipped lunch just to be safe.

Guests were to start arriving at 5:30 and literally at 5:25 there was one final lurch of my stomach and I broke out into a cold sweat and raced to the bathroom. The twinges had suddenly become very large boulders that were rolling down my southernmost hill, and there was no stopping them. There was only making sure that they rolled into the right place.

Not only were boulders rolling down the hill, but a volcano was erupting up north. At the same time. We’ve all been there. Sitting on the toilet and heaving violently into the closest trash can which is tucked securely between your knees. I had just never been there five minutes before the start of a party I was hosting.

May I just say that, I do try to be a lady. I still say Yes Ma’am and No Ma’am, I hand write thank you notes, and I cover my mouth when I sneeze. But there was nothing ladylike about this stomach flu. It came straight from the bowels of hell, and it could not be dealt with quietly. The party was in the room adjacent to the one I was in, with one thin little wall separating us.

I tried to be quiet, I did. But soon my mother and sister were standing in the bathroom door holding their noses and staring at me with horror as I did my best impression of the exorcist. I kept saying “Get Out!” in between heaves. When they finally understood they threw a cold, wet rag on my forehead and said, Don’t worry about the party, we’ve got it!

The next ten to twelve hours were a blur- kind of like a closing sale at your favorite store- Everything Must Go! I survived the night and drug myself to the performances on the 23rd, sheepishly asking the custodian at the school to please unlock the bathroom next to the stage. But I was an empty vessel at that point.

The next day, I called my parents, where all of the family was staying, to confirm our plans for Christmas day only to hear that my sister had written a poem. I’d like to share it with you now.

THE BUG BEFORE CHRISTMAS

‘Twas just days before Christmas
When all thru the fam,
A stomach bug crept
Like a thief on the lam.

First Trooper, then Donn;
Next came Angie and Daddy,
Then Audrey and Ian
And now my turn, sadly.

I ran for the bathroom,
Tore open the lid
Then heaved like I’m dying
(When did I eat squid?)

Of shivers and headaches
And teeth-chatt’ring chills
And loud eardrum ringing
I’ve had quite my fill.

Four blankets, two aspirin,
Please, stomach, don’t lurch!
I don’t want the toilet
For my all-night perch.

My mother and hubby
Alone have been spared
So please, God, please let them
This virus not share!

Warn Hunter and Lauren,
Just keep them away.
Their new life should NOT be
Beginning this way!

Tomorrow is Christmas,
Your precious Son’s birth –
One act in all history
Revealing our worth.

This virus will die out
Eventually
But Your love will not dim
Through Eternity.

So puny and queasy
And mis’rably sick
I’d rather be Yours THUS –
One thankful (sick) chick.

We postponed Christmas for two days that year. When we all finally did get together on the 27th, it was a day of pajamas, hot chocolate by the fire, chicken and dumplings, old movies, and lots of sprite and crackers. It was the one time I can remember letting the wrapping paper lay on the floor all day… we were too drained to pick it up and that was ok.
There was no mad rush to get family pictures while everyone was dressed nice. No last minute wrapping. There was no going through the paper to plan our attack of day-after-Christmas sales. There was no fancy ham or turkey, and no rushing around trying to get things done, picked up, put away.

We just… were. And we just were… together. And looking back, it’s one of my favorite Christmases to date.

Later, I thought, maybe we’re on to something…

Our next two Christmases were simple too. We fixed up and sold our house of 19 years and have been in two different rentals since then, living a vastly pared-down life. There are two storage units full of our things, and they’ve been full of our things for the past two years. The place we live now with our college-aged son Trooper is a tiny pre-WWII shoebox built in 1940 with one bathroom and no working fan. We are buying stock in Poo-Pourri.

We’ve been in transition, and life has become so. much. simpler. Waiting on God to tell us what’s next… one door opening, another closing.

All of my foofy Christmas decorations are packed in the back of one of our storage units- we don’t even know which one. But I thought ahead and kept out a few meaningful things, knowing we’d have at least one Christmas without a permanent home.

And our last two Christmases have been beautiful. Quiet. Contemplative. Not full of fuss and stuff, or spending too much money, or noisy, hectic trips to malls and post offices, fighting traffic all the way.

They’ve been… simple. And full of wonder when we read the Christmas story in Luke, contemplating what it must have been like back then. Wondering how the God of all things could choose to come into a deafening, messy world and dwell with us.

There were no earthly celebrations planned, no foofy decorations strung up to welcome him. Most of us know that Jesus came without pomp into a less-than-perfect situation: his mother a teenage bride being led by her new husband into a foreign, unwelcoming place- doors were literally slammed in their faces. She was feeling the pains in her belly become more and more frequent, though hers were of a different kind. I can almost see Mary’s desperation as she looked around at what was surely the very last place on earth she would have chosen to have The Son of God and thought, “Not here. Not now.”

I don’t know how many times I asked my boys when they were little and standing in the middle of a mess that they’d made, “What?! Were you born in a barn?”

Jesus was.

Some say it was a cave. Regardless, it was full of hay and animals, and the stuff that accompanies animals. The scriptures seem to indicate that it was just Mary and Joseph. I’d like to imagine a scene of multiple Jewish women talking loudly as they fussed over Mary and shooed Joseph away- this was not a man’s work.   But if they were able to find a midwife, we aren’t told about her.

It was just Joseph, and Mary, and finally, finally… a baby. He came intimately and naturally, straight into the arms of his family, in about as lowly and humble a place as you can find. It was messy. It was dirty. It smelled bad.

The surroundings were far from perfect. And yet Jesus still showed up, right on time, right into the middle of our simple, undecorated mess.

Did you hear that? He chose to show up into the middle of our simple, undecorated, mess. He chose simplicity over pomp for a myriad of reasons, I’m sure. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us- in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.”

But the thing that speaks most loudly to me, especially this time of year, is how simple and intimate (and a little messy) his birth was. And if simple and intimate and messy is ok with the God of All Things, it should be ok for us as well.

I would encourage you to take a look at simplicity this holiday season. Try keeping most of your foofy decorations in boxes this year- if you’re like me, you only dread having to put them all away again from the second you take them out.

I can’t talk about Simplicity without mentioning Matthew 18:1-5. The Message translation puts it this way: “At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom? For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, ‘I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.”

Following Jesus isn’t difficult. You don’t have to jump through a million hoops. You don’t have to be a bible scholar. You don’t have to be “good enough” before you come to him… in fact, you can be in pretty bad shape. All you need to do is believe in him and confess that. Believe that he chose to come from his high place and become one of us as a tiny baby. Believe that he died for you, and that he rose from the dead for you… for all of us.

And then – grow the relationship just like you grow any friendship. Talk to him through prayer, just like you’d talk to any friend. Hear from him by reading the Bible, especially the New Testament. Dig deeper by trying a bible study, and joining a Lifegroup where other Christians are doing the same thing. And go forward into your new life in the simplicity that he provided for us.

If you’ve stepped away from your relationship with Christ, I would say that this Holiday season is the perfect time to renew your friendship. I promise, He will run to you with open arms and welcome you back.

In closing, the world-renowned philosopher Ferris Beuller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So, instead of a huge, fussy, over-decorated, time-consuming holiday season, try taking out a few things you love and enjoy them.

Put down your cell phone.

Stay off of social media.

Spend time with the people you love and take the time to really love them.

Ask how they’re doing and really listen.

Let the dishes sit in the sink.

Leave the wrapping paper on the floor.

Make choices that help keep things simple and streamlined… so you have time for what’s really important- thankfulness, friends, family, and most importantly, Jesus.

Fostering Our Identity in the King

If you asked my daughters why they think they’re princesses, they will most likely start into an extended monologue describing all of the relationships in our family as they relate to…me…the king. This all started way back when the girls were first becoming aware of the concept of princesses, and the undeniable fact that they wanted to be one. It was encouraged by my referencing them as “my princesses.” I would often hold them (and I still do) and kiss them, and tell them that they’re my princesses. A while back, one of them (I think it was Claire) asked me, “Papa, why am I acrown-necklace princess?” Even I’m smart enough to know that you can’t just declare yourself a princess. You have to have royal blood. You have to be in the royal family. You have to be related to the king. So in that moment, as concisely as I could, and with as much confident humility as I could muster…I explained to my girls that I’m the king, mommy is the queen, and because they are our daughters, that makes them princesses. Their eyes lit up and from that day on they’ve continued to make a pretty air-­tight argument that “I’m a princess because papa is the king.” And if anyone doesn’t seem to be stunned by that or show appreciation, they continue “and mommy is the queen and Silas is the prince!”

So cute, right?  (Not cute when they demand to be treated like princesses) But the point is, we all understand the power and implications intrinsic to relationships. At a very core level we all get what it means to have certain rights and privileges within our families that aren’t open to outsiders. We also know what it means to have certain expectations as members of our families. The same holds true in our relationship with God.

If we’re children of the KING, then what does it mean to foster our identity in King Jesus? We’re going to attempt to do that by looking briefly at what we’re talking about when we reference the “Kingdom of Heaven” and then we’re going to look briefly at what it means for us to be related to the King of that kind of kingdom.   

John 18

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
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So two things are made clear here. One, the Kingdom is not of this world and two, as King, His purpose is to “bear witness to the truth.” Pilate obviously asked the wrong question. He should have asked Jesus to clarify “what truth?” The clue lies in the phrase “bearing witness.”

Let’s go back in time just a bit to the conversations surrounding the last supper. If we look at John 14, we’ll get some clarity on what truth Jesus is bearing witness to.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”

I don’t want to skip over the description of heaven here, but for sake of time I’m going to. Not because heaven isn’t important or significant, but because I believe the scope of Jesus’ kingdom carries even more weight than just the destination of heaven. Remember, we’re trying to figure out what Jesus meant when he said, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

 I think John 14 makes a strong case that PURPOSE—the truth Jesus is bearing witness to—is the reality that Jesus is the complete and exhaustive fulfillment of the Father’s desire and will to reveal Himself to mankind and make a way for man to be reconciled to God. And really, that’s just a fancy way of saying, THE GOSPEL! Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

So what is this Kingdom of Heaven all about? It’s about THE GOSPEL: the good news that Jesus is the way to the Father, exclusively; that Jesus is the truth, perfectly revealing the Father, His words and His works, and that Jesus is the life. John tells us in chapter 5:26 that the Son also has life in himself and the power to grant that eternal life to others. The Kingdom of heaven is about THE GOSPEL.

So now we’re going to talk about you. If you read this passage through verse 14, you can see the progression and the set-up for what this means for you. In verses 9-11 Jesus is basically telling his disciples that He is representing Christ. He’s speaking on the authority of the Father and he’s doing the works of the Father. He’s being about the Father’s business and that business is redemption.

Verse 12-14 says “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

He’s been about the Father’s business and now he’s telling you that he wants YOU to be about His business, too. It’s Kingdom business. Jesus sets examples and then asks us to imitate Him. If you believe in Jesus—if you’re related to the KING—then ask yourself, how am I bearing witness to the truth in my life? The way, the truth and the life. If you truly believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father, are you willing to share his love and grace with others? Or are you embarrassed that it might come across as politically incorrect?

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

We could nuance the fire out of what it means when Jesus tells us that we will do greater works than He did. My personal understanding of this is that Jesus chose to place himself in one basic geographic location at a particular point in history to accomplish His saving work. But now he’s unleashed his Kingdom on the nations in a way that is described by Jesus in Matthew 13 as similar to adding yeast to a large amount of flour: Exponential growth of His KINGDOM as we imitate Christ.

I think the real question we all need to ask ourselves is when was the last time we asked God to do something so big and powerful that the results could only be explained by an all-powerful God? When was the last time we ended a prayer “IN JESUS NAME” because we were absolutely confident that what we were asking for was directly in line with Jesus’ kingdom purposes?

We’re related to the King. Let’s act like it. Let’s pray like it. Let’s foster our identity in it.