A New Year Crowned with His Bounty

Coronation of Mary

Read: Jeremiah 31:7-14

What comes to mind when you hear the word “promise?” Perhaps, like me, you think of promises you’ve kept…promises you’ve broken…promises others have kept…or promises they said they would keep and didn’t.

Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes wrote an article entitled “Controlling the Unpredictable—the Power of Promising.” He argues that we are largely who we become through making promises – and keeping them. Promise keeping is the means to freedom, he says, that when you make a promise with someone,

“…you have created a small sanctuary of trust within the jungle of unpredictability.”

I love that. And it seems like God is doing a similar thing in Jeremiah 31 when he makes fresh promises to his people. See, they come during a very dark and unpredictable time for Judah and for Israel, a time when they refused to listen to Jeremiah’s desperate and repetitive pleas to turn back to God (see chapters 1-29 of Jeremiah!). This eventually led to them being overtaken by their enemies and literally banished from living in their own land. They became exiles. Captives. Held as prisoners against their will in service to another enemy.

And it is at this point – when God’s people are living in captivity (of their own making) – where we get this fascinating interlude from God through the prophet Jeremiah speaking words of promise and hope to his people in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation.

Let’s spend a few moments taking a look at what these vivid promises are:

  1. God promises… to gather them and bring them back from captivity (v8). 

This word “gather” is often associated with a shepherd gathering up his lost sheep. And he makes it clear that it is not the strong and capable he will be gathering, but the blind…the lame…expectant mothers…women in labor. These are pictures of those are weak, vulnerable and helpless. God himself, like a great shepherd, promises to gather them up one by one and bring them back from captivity – not because they deserve it but because he loves them.

How often do we need to hear this promise – that it is nothing we do or deserve, but it is God’s love and initiative that compels him to save us and rescue us from our own places of captivity?

2. God promises…to turn them back to himself (v9).

Verse 9 says, “They will come weeping; they will pray as I bring them back.” There’s a timing to this. Not before, not after but as the Lord gathers them they will turn and pray. This is a beautiful picture of repentance.

It is interesting because for decades, Judah refused to turn back to their God despite all of the prophetic words of warning of the impending wrath and punishment that would come if they didn’t. It was only when God himself gathered them that they finally turn.

How often to we need to hear this promise – that even in our darkest times of feeling so far from God, even unable or unwilling to repent of our own sin – he already has a plan to rescue and restore us back to himself.

3. God promises…they will rejoice in and be filled once again with his bounty (vv 12, 14).

This promise of bounty is one of abundant provision. They will have all they need and all they have lost will be restored to them – grain, new wine, olive oil, flocks and herds. And not only that but they will be “like a well watered garden.” These are promises of both material and spiritual provision from a God whose sources never run dry.

How often do we need to hear this promise – that God knows our every need and has every intention of meeting it. Nothing is impossible for him.

For God’s people at the time Jeremiah was delivering this word, these were great promises of being rescued and restored to God’s bounty. But because it came while they were still captives living in sin, still exiled from their land and still far from God in their hearts, I can’t help but wonder how impossible it must have seemed to them and to Jeremiah even, that these things could actually come to pass one day.

I don’t know about you, but this resonates with me as I reflect on my own spiritual life. How easy it is to focus on the circumstances of our lives, especially our difficulties and troubles, our places of “captivity” and wonder: How could God EVER rescue, redeem and turn things around? It just doesn’t seem possible.

This week marks 2 years of my mom’s diagnosis of cancer. She is still undergoing treatment and we are all still enduring this trial along with her. If I am honest, I’ve had to wrestle with God’s promises in this season. Though I know in my heart and mind that God’s promises of healing and restoration are real and true, in reality it’s just…plain hard to trust sometimes. Isn’t it?

Maybe you can relate in some way in your own life. Where is it difficult for you to trust in God’s promises right now?

Just like the exiled Israelites, we are often called to wait—sometimes excruciatingly—in that period between when the promise is proclaimed…and when it is fulfilled. But the good news is that unlike the Israelites under the Old Covenant, we have something they didn’t have: Christ! I love it when Paul says to the Corinthians,

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”

It is in this this place of waiting…IN Christ…where we can cling to that “yes” to all the promises of God. And when we do, we are somehow given the grace to believe that they really will indeed come to pass… in his way and in his perfect timing.

So I ask: How might God want to awaken our hearts anew to his promises entering into this New Year?

  • Perhaps he is promising anew….to gather you (or or a loved one) up from that place of “captivity” – delivering you from that fear, worry, sin or sickness?
  • Perhaps he is promising anew… to help you (or a loved one) turn back to him from the far-off places of complacency, carelessness and distraction?
  • Perhaps he is promising you anew…abundant provision in that place of real need right now—relationally, spiritually or financially?

Whatever it is, let us be re-awakened this day to the awesome promises of God and let us rejoice that they never fade or fail but are ALL a big hearty “yes”…IN Christ! I pray that this New Year will indeed – perhaps in the most unexpected of ways – be a year, as the psalmist proclaims (65:11),

“…crowned with the bounty of the Lord.”                                               

 

Come, Listen, Seek and Call

UCM Christmas

Around Christmas time, I always find myself reflecting on the season. Amidst all the festivities and the flurry I wonder: What is all this for? I guess the more accurate question is: Who is all this for? In the Christian tradition we know this long-awaited day is for and about Jesus. We recognize and remember his momentous, yet humble entry into the world. It is the day God entered onto the scene of our human story and brought salvation to all who believe in him.

The expression and celebration of this Christ event over the centuries has taken on many forms: the lights, the parties, the music, the gift-giving and more. It is all lovely and magical isn’t it? And yet, if you’re anything like me, there is always that temptation to get “caught up” in making Christmas about those things: what gifts to buy and for whom, what outfits to wear, what food to serve etc. How do we strike the balance between Christ and chaos? Between the reason and the romance of the season?

Though it is easy to neglect God’s Word in this busy time, I am convinced that it it is often through the meditation of Scripture that can snap us back if we’ve gotten off track. This passage in Isaiah did that very thing for me today and perhaps it can for you too:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while he is near. -Isaiah 55: 1-3a, 6

Food and gifts cost money, only last a short time and meet only physical and material needs. But God offers us free nourishment that feeds our soul. When we come (55:1), listen (55:2), seek and call on God (55:6), he promises to delight us with the “richest of fare.” God’s salvation is freely offered but to continue nourishing our souls (as we do our bodies), we must choose to go to God and receive from him.

This message hits particularly close to home for me this year as my husband and I live and serve in a country where many are poor and without physical food and gifts this Christmas. What good news it is that true nourishment and satisfaction comes only from the Lord and it costs nothing but our time and our hearts to go to him.

Our schedules may be full, but how about our souls? May we pay attention to our deeper spiritual thirst this holiday season and take time to be still in between the festivities and the flurry to come, listen, seek and call on the Lord our God, the Savior and Provider of our precious souls. Only then will we delight in the richest of fare.

Happy feasting!

A Simple (Yet Profound) Way of Praying Together in Marriage

 

Ritterliche_Gruppe_Tirol_1500_1510One of the best tips Noah and I were given by an older trusted couple before getting married was, “No matter what, try and pray together every day.” We entered into our marriage feeling excited and optimistic about incorporating this practice into our daily married lives. How hard could it be right?

Fast forward two years and we still haven’t gotten our prayer groove established quite yet. Turns out, praying together as a couple doesn’t just–“poof!”–happen over night. No matter how well-intentioned or well-disciplined a couple is, it takes work to make it work in your own marriage. For us, it’s been a matter of trial and error:

  1. The kneeling-before-bed prayer. This practice started out strong, but we soon realized my long-winded prayers were a bit too long for my early-to-bed, early-to-rise husband. I’d be halfway through a prayer only to hear him yawning me along! Strike one.
  2. The early-bird-morning prayer. After trying to pray together at night, we decided to give this early morning prayer a try. It was filled with promise yet again until it was soon discovered that early mornings, though “prime time” for my husband, were not my most prized hours. Let’s just say I often entered into our prayer times half-groggy and grumbling, annoyed at how chipper and alert he was in his praying! Strike two.
  3. The praying-for-each-other-but-not-with-each-other prayer. Since we couldn’t quite find a time that worked for us both, we decided to go for a while praying for each other, but not with each other. This gave us space to pray on our own time and at our own pace (and for however long we wanted) without affecting the other person. While this was all good and well, there was something that felt like it was lost in not coming together to pray. Strike three.

These are just a few of our “trial and error” attempts in two years of marriage in trying to establish a rhythm of praying as a couple. I look back on our less than stellar record and don’t know whether to laugh or be discouraged. I can hear my first-grade teacher giving us a pity clap,  “It’s okay, you get an A-for-effort!”

But is an ‘A-for-effort’ all we can expect in our married prayers lives? Are we doomed in finding something that is worthwhile and satisfying for us both?

I think not. At least I hope not! We’re not willing to give up yet and I hope you’re not either.

For us, we’ve just had to keep at it and give ourselves grace in taking the time we need to figure it out. All marriages are different and the rhythm of life ebbs and flows as different seasons come and go, which requires times of honest evaluation and re-evaluation of how we’re doing in our spiritual lives, both individually and as a couple. Praying together is not something to be legalistic about, but I think it is a worthwhile endeavor to work towards.

Though we have yet to find our perfect praying formula as a couple (which I don’t think exists anyway), we have recently hit a sweet spot, which I wanted to share here for any couple who, like us, needs some fresh inspiration from time to time. You ready? Here we go, three words:

The. Lord’s. Prayer.

Yep, the Lord’s Prayer. This may sound like an overly simplistic solution, or even a “cop-out” to some. But I think it is in the beautiful simplicity of this prayer that its power is truly found. After all, the so-called Lord’s Prayer is THE prayer given by our Lord Jesus in teaching us how to pray (See Matthew 6:9-13). And even though it may seem all too simple, it really is profound when we take a look at how much ground it covers. Imagine clasping hands with your partner and praying these words together at the start of each day:

Our Father, who art in heaven, 

hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come,

thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lead us not into temptation, 

but deliver us from evil,

for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever.

Amen.

This prayer allows us to come together as a couple to address our Father in heaven at the start of each new day, praying for each other that God’s will would be done in our lives as individuals and as a family, that we would be given all that we need for that day, that we would be forgiven by God as we have forgiven each other, that we would not be led into temptation of any kind, and that we would be protected from evil that may come our way, as we live by faith as children in his Kingdom for his glory.

Can we really write this off as a simple prayer? I think not!

One reason this prayer practice had helped us is that there is a definitive start and finish. Though there is a time and place for longer-winded spirit-filled praying together as a couple that is not time-bound, I’ve had to come to the (slow) realization that it is perhaps not the best way of attempting daily praying as a couple. It is no less serious or less spiritual, or less meaningful, but it allows you both to engage in earnest prayer for each other in a practical way. It serves as a symbol, not only of togetherness and oneness, but also of humble obedience, praying as the Lord taught us at the start of each new day.

Perhaps you can try it, as we are, and see how it goes. May we all experience afresh God’s love, power and grace as we engage in this simple yet profound way of praying together in marriage.

*Why do you think praying together in marriage is important or not important? Feel free to share any fresh inspiration of prayer practices that have worked in your marriages and family here!

 

 

 

Daring to Dwell

 

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The immediate view out my window is an indoor/outdoor shopping mall. As I sit hovered high above, I’ve been able to detect two groups of people: the shoppers and the dwellers. The shoppers are those who are moving around swiftly, sometimes frantically, looking to buy things, while the dwellers are those who are sitting leisurely in outdoor cafes, not buying, just being. I have definitely been a part of both these groups, but what dawned on me this morning as I sipped my coffee and began my time with God, was that perhaps this mall scene is a little snapshot of how I approach my relationship with God. I couldn’t help but wonder: Am I a shopper or a dweller?

If I am honest, I often begin my prayer time (which I write in my journal) with:

Good morning Lord, I seek you, expectant that you will speak to me. 

Though subtle, I think this might reflect a consumer mentality. I sort of cringe even as I write it out. Its not that seeking God to speak to me is a bad thing. But there’s a motive of coming to him only to get something in return. Whether it’s clarity over what I should focus on that day, or peace over a conflict I had with a loved one or healing from a nagging sickness or direction on what course of action I should take…I often enter into my time with God seeking not him, but to get something from him. Yikes.

But how does God want us to approach our relationship with him? Does this consumer mentality offend him? After all, he does tell us to “ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). And in asking for things like wisdom, guidance and forgiveness, we are promised it will be given “generously” (James 1:5). Making requests and petitions of all kinds is an important part of the faith journey, is it not (see Philippians 4:6-7)? It is. But perhaps it’s not all our relationship with God should be about. Imagine if I went to my husband only seeking to get things from him. I don’t think that would go over too well. One of the best things about close relationships–be it a best friend, a spouse, sibling or parent–is the fact that we can just be in each other’s presence. There is an ease, a comfort, and a deep sense of satisfaction just being together. Words don’t even have to be exchanged.

I think it might be the same with God. Or at least how he intended it to be. Perhaps a major part of our time spent together should be…just being. I’ve always loved the NASB version of Psalm 46:10:

“Seize striving and know that

I am God.”

Other versions say, “be still.” Sometimes we need to go to God and just be still, letting our asking, expecting and requiring of him seize for a while, so that we can become dwellers in God’s presence, as Scripture invites us to do:

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

– Psalm 91:1

To dwell means “to live in, reside, be settled, stay, abide.” It is as if God is saying, “Come, take off your shoes and stay a while. Leave your titles, your agendas and your worries at the door. Just be here with Me in the warmth and safety of My shelter.”

The neat part about choosing to come to God as a dweller instead of a constant consumer, is that the one thing that will bring true satisfaction –rest for our bodies, minds and souls–is a promised outcome. Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Dwelling with God and rest for our souls go hand in hand. But rather than a motive of ours, it is an outcome of his.

As we approach God in prayer today or this week, or even as we attend church on Sunday, may we be determined and even eager to go as dwellers, rather than consumers, saying nothing other than:

Lord, I am here dwelling today. Thank you for… You.

 

 

Singapore Noodles: Going for the Whole Grain

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Singapore Noodles

Since I have a special place in my heart for Singapore, and all things Asian in general, I got excited about trying this dish. It is rich in whole grains and veggies. Whole grains, unlike their refined counterpart, contain all the essential nutrients of the entire grain seed. They’re also rich in dietary fiber. The recipe calls for “mai fan” noodles made with brown rice, but you can use regular whole grain noodles as well. While this one calls for veggies, shrimp and chicken (which I think is a bit overloaded), you can easily substitute any kind of mix-in you have on hand. I left out the shrimp and the chicken and felt the egg was more than enough on the protein. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. thin brown rice noodles (or any whole grain noodle option)
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1-2 Tbsp. curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar (you can leave this out)
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. peanut oil, divided
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped ginger
  • 1/4 cup scallions, green part only, cut into 1-inch strips
  • 1 ½ cups napa cabbage cut into thin strips
  • 1 cup sliced red onion, cut into thin crescents
  • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin 1-inch strips
  • 1/2 medium green bell pepper, cut into thin 1-inch strips
  • 2 large eggs, well beaten
  • 2 tsp. roasted sesame oil
  • Optional: 1/4 lb. small (51-60 count per pound), frozen shrimp, cooked according to package directions and/or 1 cup (4 oz.) roasted chicken or turkey breast, shredded into 1-inch pieces

 Directions:

  1. Break noodles in half and soak according to package instructions. Drain noodles in colander, run cold water over them and drain well. Transfer noodles back to bowl.
  2. While noodles are soaking, in small bowl, combine chicken broth, curry powder, turmeric, salt and sugar. Set aside.
  3. In medium skillet over high heat, add 1 tablespoon peanut oil. When oil is hot, add garlic, ginger, scallions and stir-fry until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add cabbage, onion, red and green peppers and stir-fry until vegetables are barely crisp-tender, 2 minutes. Add contents of pan to bowl with drained noodles.
  4. Return pan to heat, reducing it to medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 teaspoon peanut oil to skillet. Add egg and scramble loosely. Add egg to bowl with vegetables and noodles, scraping up any egg sticking to pan.
  5. Pour broth mixture into skillet, scraping out bowl. Add contents of vegetable and noodle bowl, plus shrimp and chicken to skillet. Stir, lift and chop until all vegetables, shrimp, chicken and egg are distributed through the noodles, 1 to 2 minutes. Drizzle with sesame oil and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

 Makes 4 servings.

 Per serving: 326 calories, 12 g total fat (2 g saturated fat), 34 g carbohydrate, 22 g protein, 2.5 g dietary fiber, 474 mg sodium.

*Adapted from American Institute for Cancer Research.

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