Merry Christmas! You can probably blame the lack of activity around here on the fact that LifeWay empties out faster than you can say, “Ho ho ho” during the Christmas season.

We do, however, stay somewhat active on Twitter, so find us there!

The Navigator: @rickhowerton

Agonistes: @bcdaniel

Nomad: @chinavols

Philo: @philbdavis

Syeira: @vanderbiltwife

You can also follow Steve Gladen, the general editor of Small Group Life, or Pete Wilson, who was featured in the Canvas videos.

Giovanni's Madonna with Child

I think it’s probably only natural that this Christmas is different for me.

Not only I am too bogged down in newborn-ness to really decorate, bake, or buy presents, I’ve had a child this year.

Now when I reflect on the nativity on top of my china cabinet, I think a little differently. I consider how much pain Mary must have been in on her donkey, traveling many miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem (a quick Internet search says anywhere from 60 to 90 miles). I was so uncomfortable in my last weeks of pregnancy I could barely sit in my desk chair. I spent most of it on the couch watching movies and old Project Runway episodes. If she was having contractions, all the worse!

Now I am sure God could have given Mary a very easy labor if He wanted, and maybe He did, but why should we think it was any different than what we go through to give birth? She probably hurt tremendously. She certainly had no epidural. She was in a stinking stable! And can you imagine Joseph’s face as he had to cut the cord? Deliver the placenta?

Joseph and Mary were humans, and I think sometimes we forget that. And this year I can identify with Mary and look at the scene differently. Imagine her feelings of honor, excitement, pain, joy, and exhaustion all at the same time. And responsibility.

And then there was the Savior of the world, in her arms. Not just the joy of holding your own baby, whom you have carried in your belly for many months and felt kick and respond to your voice. The joy of holding in her arms her very own Savior.

I really, REALLY love the CD The Nativity Story: Sacred Songs. I would encourage you to go to iTunes or Amazon and at least get “The Virgin’s Lullaby” and this song, which has brought me to tears many times this season already.

Labor of Love (go listen here on Peterson’s own blog)
Andrew Peterson

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town …

Originally posted December 13, 2008 on Vanderbilt Wife

As I sat in church Sunday morning, I relished in the beauty of the sanctuary. Poinsettias overflowed on the stage. Wreaths hung from the walls. Beautiful arrangements of candles and fresh magnolia leaves graced every windowsill. The chamber choir sang a glorious song recalling the words of Mary as she learned of the child in her womb:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,
because He has looked with favor
on the humble condition of His slave.
Surely, from now on all generations
will call me blessed,
because the Mighty One
has done great things for me,
and His name is holy.”   Luke 1:46-49, HCSB

It was easy, in that setting, with the first candle of the Advent wreath glowing, children singing, and sun streaming in the windows, to remember the birth of our Christ. I couldn’t help but think that if I could just camp out in the sanctuary for the next four weeks, I could truly worship. I could be with Jesus all day long, praising God for sending His Son, singing to Him.

But we all know that’s not an option. Our struggle, always, with faith is moving it out into the everyday. Into brushing your teeth, changing your kids’ dirty diapers, and burning dinner.

A wise campus minister once told us that Quakers have prayers for everything they do. Showering, cooking, gardening–everything was deemed sacred and devoted to God. What a blessing, to have such a focused mind.

This Christmas season, I pray for focus. In the car every morning, I try to spend time in prayer, thanking God for His gift. While it may not matter that I don’t have a tree, don’t have any lights up, don’t even have a nativity other than the Fisher-Price version, it would matter if I forgot why we celebrate these weeks in December.

How do you make the season sacred?

Give thanks

With a grateful heart

Give thanks

To the Holy One

Give thanks

Because He’s given

Jesus Christ, His Son

For nature and nurture, for family and friends, for food on the table and a house that won’t sell, for a sweet, healthy daughter and employed loving husband, for a job until January and especially for my Lord forever, I give thanks.

Thankfulness around the Blogosphere:

20 Little Gratitude Attitudes / InCourage
Thanksgiving Week / NanaHood
Embracing the Strong Will of My Child / We are THAT Family
I Am Thankful / Jason Boyett
The Ultimate Feast / Kitchen Stewardship
A Month of Giving Thanks / SugarMama Baking Company
Permission to Hope / Bring the Rain

Three weekends ago, we had a small first birthday party for my daughter in Chattanooga, our sort-of-home. My daughter and I live in Nashville still as I continue to work at LifeWay and wait on the sale of our house, while my husband lives in a rental house in Chattanooga and works full-time as a teacher theredryleaf. Most weekends he returns to Nashville, but every few weeks Libbie and I try to spare him the drive and head down his way. Her birthday was a lovely, pumpkin-themed Fall event.

We visited this weekend again, the temperate Tennessee climate allowing for cool mornings and glorious afternoons. It is still in the 70s around here during the afternoons–a rare occurrence for mid-November, even in the South, but enjoyed by all those who fear snow as I do.

As I drove home in the late afternoon on Sunday, I noticed the trees for the first time. Those limbs that had just three weeks ago held vivid oranges and reds were now turning brown. The glorious time of Fall was over; the trees hummed of a long Winter to come.

Just three weeks. It seems like such a short time. In that time, though, my baby has turned into a confident walker. She can navigate the stairs of our townhome. She trails behind me, uttering a near-constant stream of “nonononono!”

It all goes too fast. My baby is a toddler. I can still barely put together the words that I am old enough to be someone’s mother, and already we’re thinking of when to start trying to have a sibling for Libbie. Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not.

Never have these words from Ecclesiastes seemed to scream at me more loudly: “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” I firmly believe we feel time slipping through our fingers so quickly because we are meant for eternity. Our souls are eternal and yet our minds struggle against that: “Wait! Why is everything going so fast? I’ll be dead before I know it!” But friend, if you know Christ, there is so much more for your timeline past death. While it cannot be fathomed, it is there.

My mind, clinging to what is known, battles against the rapid watch hands of Time. But my soul, deep within me, breathes a sigh of relief as it considers life beyond this world. Does yours?

Thursday, I performed one of those tasks that somehow got added to my job description along the way: using commentaries published by LifeWay to create Scripture Notes for our new resource, Small Group Life.

About 99% of the time I use the Holman Old Testament and New Testament commentaries since they are complete now. But we didn’t have the commentary for Galatians in our reference closet on the 8th floor, and I was feeling a little too lazy to trek to the library and have to take notes WITH MY HAND instead of a computer, so I grabbed the slightly more complex New American Commentary on Galatians.

As I almost always am when I read a commentary, I was swept away by the new life the commentary breathed into a familiar passage. While I tumble over some of the bigger words in the NAC, the nuances it catches in the original language make the difficult read worth it. And it made my mind go to one of my biggest annoyances:

People–women especially–who rely entirely on Bible teachers for their Bible study.

Chastise me if you like. I think it’s wonderful that people are doing Bible studies together, reading the Scripture, answering questions about life. That is, after all, what I work on day in and day out. We want people to have meaningful experiences with the Scripture together in an environment where they can toss ideas around and lean on one another. But I have met one too many women who will only do studies by a specific author. While I think the authors we work with and read are amazing, appointed people–and mostly incredible speakers as well–they are humans.

If we believe the Bible, we can know that all Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit. I believe that means we all have the power to hear God for ourselves! We don’t have to be taught by man–we can be taught by the Holy Spirit. We have ALL the same books, commentaries, and Bible translations that these teachers have access to. If we are willing to spend some time in research, we can discover truths for ourself.

We also need to remember that because these teachers are humans, their words are not infallible. Just because it’s published in a book doesn’t mean it’s right. Test the words against Scripture and be sure they are true, biblical messages.

In this time of “busy” I think we’ve lapsed into letting others do our Bible study for us. Their job is to write books; our job is to go to work, do laundry, spend time with our kids, and then squeeze in 10 minutes of reading what these teachers tell us and go to bed. I think it’s about time we took responsibility for our own spiritual growth and realize we have just as much accessibility to the Holy Spirit as someone who’s written 300 books.

What’s your opinion on this?

Lots of discussion on Can Christians Celebrate Halloween? over at Without Wax

Thoughts on Marriage from Mary at Giving Up on Perfect. What keeps a couple together or drives them to divorce?

Do you trust freely? Anne Jackson writes that Trust is Not a Two-Way Street.

How to Eat an Elephant–a 7-year-old’s method to reading through the Bible. (She did! The whole thing! Have you?)

Receiving the Kingdom of God Like a Child by Jessica from The Mom Creative

Enjoy! What’s the best post you’ve read recently?

I’ve always struggled with Job.

While I consider God’s admonition in the last chapters of the book my second-favorite Scripture passage, I am never quite sure what to do with the rest of the lengthy chapters.

If you’re not familiar with the biblical Book of Job, the short version is that Satan asks God for permission to afflict Job with many painful situations after God cites that Job is His most faithful servant on earth. So God allows it. Job’s children are all killed, all his riches taken away, and his body inflicted with boils from head to toe. Wearily, he sits on his doorstep and scrapes at his boils with broken pottery.

That’s when his three buddies come to visit. Over the course of many chapters, they try to convince him of all kinds of crazyness. Then in the end God swoops in, reprimands Job and his dumb friends, and then restores everything to Job. Of the friends, God says, “I am angry with you … you have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has” (42:7).

So here’s what I’ve always battled with: is there any merit in the words of Job’s friends throughout the Book of Job? Can we quote those passages out of context as Truth?

It seems to me that they do say some insightful things:

“See how happy the man is God corrects; so do not reject the discipline of the Almighty” (5:17).

“We were born only yesterday and know nothing. Our days on earth are but a shadow” (8:9).

“It is impossible for God to do wrong and for the Almighty to act unjustly” (34:10).

Working in the world of Bible studies, I know we HAVE done exactly this, taken the friends’ words for the wisdom they seem to be. But God Himself said the friends were fools? It’s a strange dichotomy.

I believe that everything in Scripture is there for a reason. Certainly there are many truths that can be scraped from the falsehoods in this text. It’s a life lesson not to let even your most trusted friends draw you away from what you know to be true. A perfect example of standing up for what you believe in and remaining pure in heart.

But still, I wonder. Can we quote the words of fools as good, as Truth?

What do you think?

1206351_romansI had never considered until recently that maybe Paul thought he deserved to be persecuted.

He was, after all, a very well-known persecutor of the first Christians. Acts 8 tell us Saul (later called Paul) was “ravaging the church,” “drag[ging] off men and women” and “put[ting] them in prison” (v. 3, HCSB).

Once Christ called him by name and Paul knew the truth of that Christianity he had so hated, how do you think he felt? I can’t even imagine. The sorrow in his heart must have overflowed. The blackness of his heart revealed, he went on to make up for his past life by spreading the gospel as far as he could.

Although he asked Christ to remove his thorn of the flesh several times (2 Cor. 12:7-9), do you think maybe he was a little glad it hung around? He was only human.

Sometimes we revel in our guilt. Like the monks of old who found their joy in self-mutilation through flogging, sometimes we enjoy the guilt that binds us. It makes us feel holy. I think, “Hey, I deserve to feel bad about such-and-such a thing that happened 10 years ago. It was BAD.”

And yet I think that this clinging to our guilt is embarrassing the Holy Spirit. He has to peek over my prideful shoulder and remind me, “Hey Jessie, I came to cleanse you from those sins. By clinging to them–any piece of them–you are not fully embracing the life you could have with Me.”

Maybe I want to make Paul like me. I know he understood this point, because he wrote, “Christ has set us free to live a free life”! (Gal. 5:1, The Message). But Paul also struggled with feelings of self-importance and with doing what he knew was right, among other things. I think that probably, somewhere in his deep mind, he felt he deserved the imprisonment, shipwrecking, torture.

It’s going to be a struggle for all of us. But guilt can weigh us down tremendously. In order to live the life of freedom God intended, we’ve got to get out from under those “yokes,” and get under His. Because it’s easy and light, unlike the ones we make for ourselves.

I don’t have this clicked in my head any more than the next person, but I’m working on it. The most important tool is implanting Scripture into your heart–the Truth. I hope you’ll join me in memorizing these words of Hosea that speak of God’s Truth for us:

I led them with human cords,
with ropes of kindness.
To them I was like one
who eases the yoke from their jaws;
I bent down to give them food.
Hosea 11:4

One of the first looming projects I learned of when I returned from maternity leave in January was a Life Connections piece on the Minor Prophets. (Cue scary music here.) In general, I don’t think many people do a whole lot of studying in the Minor Prophets. Other than commentaries, I don’t think LifeWay has any product in print that deals exclusively with these men that ended the Old Testament. The task of completing a 13-week study on JUST the Minor Prophets scared me more than just a little–as I think it did Agonistes and Nomad as well.

I was just glad I didn’t have to write it. That daunting assignment went to one of our favorite writers–and a great guy I had the pleasure to meet at one of our writers’ conferences–Barry Cram. Barry has worked with great diligence and full-fledged passion on our Soul Cafe series, and if anyone could write this, it was Barry!

Hosea-Malachi: Twelve Timeless Voices

Hosea-Malachi: Twelve Timeless Voices

The second week in September, we finally finished the monumental project and all breathed a hefty sigh of relief. Life Connections is always a beast, long and packed with information and teaching sessions. There is a leader book AND a learner book. But it’s also a wonderfully helpful series for truly STUDYING the Bible. Digging deeper. Knowing context. Discovering the intricacies that lie within the great Book we sometimes read randomly and without fervor.

Barry concentrates on how the words of the Minor Prophets fit into the Larger Story of the Bible, particularly how they fortold Christ. The first chapter is about Jesus walking on the Emmaus Road with His disciples. He used this time to explain how the Law and the Prophets fortold everything He had done–His life, His message, and His death and resurrection. We know that if Christ thought the Prophets were important, we should too!

The remaining twelve chapters each focus on one book of the Bible, from Hosea to Malachi. Working our way through, we can discover that all the Larger Story themes–beauty, adventure, Enemy, Hero, battles–are found within the texts of these thin books.

It’s been a delight and a learning experience for me to dive deeper into the Minor Prophets books. I hope you’ll be interested in studying these Twelve Timeless Voices when the study releases in November.

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