By Barbara Higdon
As I prepared to write this Advent message, I reread many of the old Advent booklets from Woodland. So many previous writers have gone on to perfect peace with God, but their gifts remain. Some, like Joyce Williams, taught me how to face life in the face of overwhelming grief. Bobby Myers taught me that surrender to God could bring peace and strength to change. Milton Rhodes showed how believing in God didn’t mean suspending intellect. Lee Maresh modeled perfect ministry and love through a life of quiet servanthood. The courage and faith these and others show is a reminder that God’s peace is real and present and available.
My sister-in-law once paid a tremendous tribute to my mother. She said that when her first son was born, she was in a state of constant fear and anxiety. Anne’s own mother died when Anne was a small girl, and she was reared by busy grandparents. Even though they were medical professionals, they simply added to Anne’s worries about her infant son. My mother, however, put Anne completely at ease, gently nurturing both her and her baby. She reassured Anne and taught her the basic elements of parenting. She modeled peace and gave Anne peace of mind—just as she did for me.
We all face difficulties and fears throughout this earthly life. Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus faced a tremendous conflict going on in His own soul at that very moment, and He knew the disciples would be fearful without Him. He left them (and us) a Comforter as well as earthly comforters and role models.
Lord, we give thanks for the peace that passes our understanding.
By Nikki Blair
If my mother knew I was writing a blog post titled “Cleaning House,” she would laugh. She knows—and I freely admit—that I’m not the consummate housekeeper. If we know someone is coming to visit, we tidy all the usual clutter, and scrub all the surfaces… otherwise, our house is more often than not in a state of moderate-to-severe dishevelment. Laundry, Legos, yarn, multiple remote controls, single socks, kiddie pajama pants, military boots, cartoon-character flip-flops. This is our life. Most of the time.
But in transitional times, we become immersed in weeks–months, even–of cleaning house. Too often we have moved from state to state, taking with us boxes of “just stuff,” sometimes still taped up from the previous move. We have carefully unpacked items that never saw the light of day until it was time to carefully repack them again. It only takes a few times through that cycle before you realize that it would be infinitely preferable to let the “stuff” go.
Though moving is hard and sad and in some ways I dread it, I do love the “cleaning house” phase. With a few months left in San Antonio, we are in it now: looking ahead to how our family is growing up, reevaluating all our “stuff” and considering what to let go, deciding which pieces of furniture need revamping to suit our needs, encouraging the kids to donate toys they no longer play with, sorting through all the boxes and consolidating the “keep-worthy” items. I know in a few months, when we arrive in South Carolina and our household goods meet us there, it will feel like a combination of Christmas and New Years. We’ll open boxes and be as excited as children to discover what’s inside, and we’ll begin to put items in place to shape a whole new version of our life together. A familiar comfort and a fresh start, all at once.
Of course, there’s a spiritual parallel to this. (Isn’t there always!?) I feel it myself, often, as I change and our family changes and our location changes. We feel it when a job situation changes, or retirement happens, or an expected joy or tragedy shakes things up, or when we are in transition between one choice and another. On the other hand, we may feel the pull to renewal when life seems not to be changing at all but is instead quite still, even perhaps stagnant. These are times when we all feel that “cleaning house” phase coming on, and we begin to evaluate. Revamp. Discard. Consolidate. We think about how we spend our time and energy, whether the “stuff” we’re doing is keep-worthy, or whether we need to let it go. We think about where we are comfortable, and how we are ready for something new.
One of the last things on my “to do” list while our family is at Woodland is to work with Lance to lead a small-group study that–I hope–will help all of us “clean house” a bit. I need it, and maybe you do too? It’s less about getting rid of things, though, and more about taking stock: reflecting on the gifts God has given, the experiences we’ve had, our hard-wiring, the things we are most passionate about at this moment in our lives. All those things that are keep-worthy. It’s a sort of Christmas plus New Years: looking inside ourselves for things that surprise us (or that we just haven’t seen in a long time) and moving toward new and renewed callings in our lives and in God’s church.
If you’re ready to clean house too (in the spiritual sense, at least! we won’t be judging anyone’s scattered toys or orphaned socks!), I hope you’ll watch for more information coming soon, and join us on Sunday mornings in April. I would love to share this part of the journey with you, exploring God’s work in our lives and supporting each other as we follow God’s call.
I preached on the parable of the “Rich Fool” from Luke 12 last Sunday. You know, the story about the man who had too much grain, too much produce. So made plans to tear down his large barns and build bigger ones to store all that he had. But, God said to him, “Excuse me, Mr. Brilliant, tonight you will die. Now what will happen to all that you have earned and saved.”
Alex Rodriguez kept coming to mind last week as I read this scripture in preparation for Sunday. The “great” Yankees shortstop, Alex Rodriguez A.K.A. A-Rod, is in trouble with steroids again. He has been called one of the most gifted athletes ever to play Major League Baseball. He was the top prospect coming out of high school in Miami, FL where he hit over .500 his senior year. He was drafted in the first round by the Seattle Mariners. He played a year and a half in the minors before going to the big leagues.
His first full year in the majors with Seattle his .358 batting average led the American League. And he also hit, 36 home runs and drove in 123 runs. Alex Rodriguez has been a 12 time All Star, won the MVP three times, and has a couple Gold Glove awards. He has signed two contracts each worth approximately the GDP of a small country. One with the Texas Rangers valued at about $250 Million and another with the Yankees for about $275 Million. A-Rod must have some pretty large barns to store all these goods.
Yet, it’s never been enough. In his mind, he has never been good enough. These past few months he has been under investigation for using performance enhancing drugs. He was already caught and punished five years ago. His natural talent was not enough for him.
We don’t know what he could have been without steroids, and that’s unfortunate. Maybe he wouldn’t have hit over 600 home runs. Maybe he would have. Alex Rodriguez has as much talent as any baseball player in the past fifty years. Many people have said so. Yet, A-Rod certainly didn’t believe it. If he had trusted in the treasure God had given him (the ability to play baseball) perhaps he wouldn’t have lost the treasure of his good name.
When we try to make a name for ourselves instead building upon the life God gives us we risk losing both. We are all born with certain gifts and talents God gives us to use to make this world a better place. But, we get distracted. Too often we define our worth by our net worth rather than the treasure that is already ours by the grace of God. A-Rod lost sight of his worth. In doing so, he has lost his reputation (and probably his chance at the Hall of Fame). Distractions in our lives lead us to make poor decisions because they threaten our perception of value, which leads us to invest in the wrong things. In Luke 17, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is within you. If you truly believe that treasure is within you now then that is something to invest in.