Perhaps the assignment today will be the most difficult thing you will do all year.

13You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.

Psalm 139:13-14

Today I want you to acknowledge how awesome you are. Everything about you, all your accomplishments and failings, all your quirks, oddities, pecularities, beauties, talents…everything! It is truly awesome! You are a wonderfully complex individual and today is the day to acknowledge and embrace it.

I encourage you to speak it out loud to at least one other person! It can be as simple as this:

God has made me wonderful, complex and amazing! I accept it and believe it today!

Happy New Year!!

As I review the year, I acknowledge God’s presence. He was with me every step of the way, even when I didn’t feel it.

Secondly, I ask God to show me ways that he showed up, blessed me, made his presence known. It might be helpful to take time and write down what he shows you. Twelve months is a lot of opportunity for God to show up and you don’t want to miss a single one!

The next step can be difficult. If you are like me, I don’t like seeing where I have failed. Failed to respond lovingly or to go the extra mile, failed to support someone or missed an opportunity to forgive or think the best. Transformation cannot happen if I overlook my failures to respond with Christlikeness. Recently, I was watching “The Crown,” a Netflix series based on the British monarchy. At one point, the queen reminded the new prime minister how important it is to accept personal responsibility for things that didn’t go well. That’s what this part is all about.

11I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—12but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.

Psalm 139:11-12

23Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 139:23-24

Too often, I long for the darkness to hide me, for my failings to be secret. But there is no darkness in my Father so I pray with David, “Search me, know me, test me, lead me!”

As I reviewed the year, the Lord brought to mind a comment I made to a friend. It bothered me almost immediately after I said it, knowing that it was not kind. I wanted to send a quick text and be done with it, but the Lord challenged me to consider my ways. I made the comment face-to-face, wouldn’t apologizing face-to-face be the way to go? I knew it was but resisted for a few days. Today, I made the FaceTime call. I apologized for my unkindness and asked forgiveness from these friends which they quickly granted, releasing me from any distressing feelings I experienced.

Perhaps over the next few days the Lord will bring more to mind. It seems there have been plenty of opportunities for harsh words, judgmental attitudes, criticism, lack of graciousness toward others. There is no end to the way humans can harm one another. My admonition to you… be quick to confess, quicker to ask forgiveness and quickest of all in letting it go. Don’t allow the difficulty of this year to hang on you into the new year!

In the first step of the year in review, I acknowledge God’s presence with me, even when I didn’t feel it. The second step is to look for consolations. Consolations are simply those times in the year when God showed up, times you know now were his hand of blessing. It might have been a visit with a friend, a good book, spectacular sunsets, a bountiful garden, sunrises that awed you, deepening relationships, time spent with children, meals around the table . . . let the Spirit of God lead your mind to the blessings of the year.

7I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! 8If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. 9If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, 10even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. 17How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! 18I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!

Psalm 139:7-10; 17-18

As I reflect on the blessings of God this year, my heart is overwhelmed. Here are just a few from my list:

  1. Deepening family and friend relationships.
  2. Shorter lines . . . everywhere!
  3. Faster appointments at the doctor when I did have to go!
  4. Ease with which we accomplished spring, summer and fall yard work even though I broke my toe early in the summer.
  5. Eating at home . . . and enjoying it.
  6. Dave experimenting with the grill and making some really good food on his own.
  7. Forced slowing down to facilitate deeper spiritual and personal growth.

In what ways has this past year been a blessing? Sure, we don’t want to go back and do it again…but what has been a positive outcome? Where has God shown up, not in spite of everything, but because of everything?

Reviewing this year may seem like an insurmountable task; one I might just as soon forget. After all, there is something to be said about leaving the past in the past. There is also something to be said for reviewing the past and making peace with it. I know I don’t want to allow 2020 to hold me captive in anyway for any length of time. So, I review.

1O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. 2You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. 3You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. 4You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. 5You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!

Psalm 139:1-5

I begin my review of the year affirming the truth that God has been with me every step of the way. I cannot go anywhere or say anything that he doesn’t already know. Knowing that the loving presence of God is always with me gives me confidence to look back. There is nothing I will encounter in my review of the year that is unknown to God, the one who loves me deeply, intimately, and unconditionally.

Perhaps you have felt abandoned or neglected by God this year, even angry at situations and events outside of your control. I encourage you to take a few moments to acknowledge your feelings before God. If his hand of blessing seemed to be missing, acknowledge that and tell him you want to see anything you missed the past year. Ask him to go before you into this honest review of your life.

Rest in his loving embrace today.

It is at this time of the year, these days on the calendar, I begin to ponder the end of one thing and the beginning of something else: the end of one year and the beginning of a new year. While nothing really happens except turning to a fresh page on the visuals we call calendars, it feels right to pause and reflect.

As I sat down to write this, I opened YouTube and watched a review of the year 2020. As you might imagine, the images were filled with sadness, loss, catastrophe, grief, cries for justice, outrage at injustice, fire, violence, death. As I watched, I wondered if this review accurately portrayed the year. Was there nothing good? Was God not active anywhere?

There is an ancient tradition called Examen. It is the process of a daily or weekly review of one’s personal experiences. Often occurring at the end of the day (or week), the participant begins by prayerfully acknowledging God’s presence, giving permission for the unveiling of the consolations (presence of God) and desolations (moments of failure) throughout the time period in review. The time ends with gratefulness for the presence of God and confession for times of failure. It is a means of wiping the slate clean, so to speak, on a regular basis.

As I considered the approaching end to the year 2020, I felt the Holy Spirit inviting me to prayerfully consider the year in the tradition of the Examen. I invite you to join me in this adventure as a means of clearing the slate to begin the new year on Friday.

Over the next few days, I will break down the elements of the Examen and provide some scripture to guide the practice. Of course, as always, you can be as involved or uninvolved as you like. In preparation, Psalm 139 is a great text to read. I will be using a portion of the psalm throughout this process.

Thanks again for joining me on this pilgrimage we call life. It’s comforting to have a traveling cohort – to know we don’t have to go at it alone.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

In case you missed it yesterday, listen to the real reason for the season, compliments of Charlie Brown!

So maybe this year is different than last. It’s okay. The reason we pause to celebrate is still the same! Jesus was born and someday he will come back to take us home with him! And that’s reason to celebrate!

1At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. 8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 15When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Luke 2:1-20

I am arrested by the way God broke through the trappings of humanity to accomplish his purposes in sending Jesus to heal our brokenness, to bring us back into relationship with himself. Meditate for just a moment on the way God spurred an emperor to take a census at the exact time Jesus was to be born. Due to this edict, Joseph and Mary needed to make the long trip to Bethlehem. Remembering how I felt when I was nine months pregnant, I don’t think Mary thought this was a great idea. As she prepared herself to make the journey, she may have been wondering why. Why did this have to happen now?

I don’t know what she thought or how she felt, but I do know that God does not change. If he said it, he will do it. And he used whomever he needs to accomplish it, even Roman emperors. Your situation is not beyond his ability to restore and heal. The journey may not be comfortable — Mary’s sure wasn’t — but it will be restorative and fulfill his word to you.

18This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. 20As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” 24When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

I am rarely at a loss for words, particularly when I give my thoughts time to coalesce into coherent words that can be formed into understandable sentences. When I read this passage, however, words evade me. There is a sense in which this passage highlights the utter thoroughness with which God implemented his plan to send Jesus to earth as our Messiah.

It wasn’t just Mary who needed to be brought on board, so to speak, but also Joseph. The culture into which Jesus was born was patriarchal, meaning that the male head of household led society. It would have been within Joseph’s “rights” to broadcast Mary’s pregnancy. He considered separating from her quietly. God had other ideas. He sent the angel to bring Joseph on board as well.

It occurs to me I can trust God implicitly to care for the details of my life and the plans he has for me. I do not believe he will leave me out to dry or call me into something that he has not adequately taken care of the details. He can be trusted. There is nothing he has left out of planning, no details gone unattended to.

When you consider your future, whether it is in six minutes or six months or six years — can you trust him with the details? It seems to me he has it covered.

26In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”29Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”34Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” 35The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.” 

Luke 1:26-35

Imagine the thoughts that ran through Mary’s mind when Gabriel announced she would have a baby. You know the thoughts I mean — the ones that run through our conscious mind twice the speed of light; so fast they barely make an impression. And yet, there they are. When faced with impossibility, our minds naturally ask, “How can this be?” and then it provides the natural solutions of achieving the impossible.

If you have an impossible promise from God regarding your future, be assured the solution God has in mind does not contradict his written word. God’s plan for Mary’s conception was to break the laws of nature and accomplish it without Joseph’s involvement. Imagine the outcome if Mary had decided Gabriel’s announcement seemed too preposterous and she had worked out the details in a human way.

I am continually reminded that God’s ways are not my ways. His ways are imaginative and creative; sometimes he colors outside of the lines. In what ways are you wanting him to stay inside the lines of a carefully planned life? How can you let go and trust him in the next steps of your life?

2The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. 6For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Today as we begin the final week of Advent, I pause to remember the passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies who will still make it happen. I have decided to intentionally put the brakes on activity this week to pause and appreciate Jesus coming as a baby. I want to notice and acknowledge the chaos and faith surrounding not only the unprecedented method of conception, but the months of pregnancy, the birth among animals, the escape from those who would kill the baby, the steadfast commitment to the word of the Lord given through Gabriel.

I invite you to pause. Just stop for a few minutes. Read the scripture aloud, paying close attention to any word or phrase that stands out to you. Use that word or phrase as a breath prayer throughout your day as you prepare your heart to celebrate the mystery and majesty of the birth of Jesus.

Let this song be a starting point for your interaction with the Holy Spirit today!