Christmas Need List

I was out shopping and feeling a little overwhelmed by the financial pressure of the holiday season. Organizations begging for donation money. My shopping list for friends and family and my own Christmas want list.

Christ's Birth In A StableDo you ever get that way? I deserve this because: (list reason here.) It’s not at all financially responsible or Christ-like but I was in one of those moods as well.

Perhaps you’ve had a year like our family has where you’re hemorrhaging money around every corner. Two children in braces. Hubby needing dental work. Crowns (the dental ones) are expensive! The house needed painting. Before we knew other things were going to break, we built a roof over our deck which we’d put off for years. Then cars broke down. The garage door broke. The dog broke– well, got sick and that mysterious hum vibrating our house whenever someone took a shower meant the water heater was on its last leg.

It just seemed like everywhere we turned– we were signing big checks for things that weren’t vacations at Disney.

I’m in my car, thinking through all these things when my own children came to mind. This is probably the first year they’ve been anxious and uber-excited about buying gifts for other people. Their allowance couldn’t stay in their pockets long enough. It was fun to see them pick just the right things for people of our family. Though, they did soon figure out that those “good prices” generally meant “small quantity” but I digress.

This has been a year where I’ve seen my two children grow in their giving spirit. Over the summer, my girls and several neighborhood children were putting up lemonade stands almost every weekend. They collectively earned close to $90.00 and decided to donate it to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. It was definitely one of those proud mommy moments.

Look at these children I’ve raised. How generous they are with their money!

Then, a little bit of the Grinch seeped into my heart when analyzing the reason for their generosity.

Of course they can be that generous with their money because they know their father and I will take care of all their needs. 

And then one sentence spoke into my mind breaking the silence of my car.

Do I not do the same for you? 

I’m not one to hear God’s voice all the time. These moments are truly rare for me but I felt a conviction deep in my soul. Of course, God does provide for our every need but how often do we recklessly apply that principle, like my children, to our every day lives? How quick are we to completely drain our bank accounts to a worthwhile charity and be completely at peace with it because we know that God will provide for us?

I know I don’t but it got me thinking about ways that I could begin to stretch myself to do these things.

Christmas is really about getting every need fulfilled. There was an unrepairable distance between God and ourselves until Jesus came along.

What is it you need for Christmas? Is it unconditional love? Friendship? Grace? Mercy? Forgiveness?

That’s what was sleeping in the manger.

My hope for you this Christmas is that you, too, can have a moment where the Christmas spirit speaks to you in a way like this.

This year, the Water Cooler will be taking a blog break until January 2nd to give our authors and volunteers focused time with God and their families.

Speaking for all of here at the WordServe Water Cooler– we hope and pray you have a wonderful, blessed Christmas!

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And God Said . . .

maypoproadside flowersLast month, inspired by a woman at a conference whose phone told her where we could get a hotdog, I decided to replace my dinosaur of a cellphone.

My daughters were delighted. They soon had me instagramming photos of their dogs, whom they rarely get to see, being off at college and internships much of the year. Before long, I was posting all the time: my garden’s amazing abundance this summer, pies about to go in the oven, snakes and spotted fawns and wildflowers I see on my runs.

Then, a visiting former student and I entered into a psalm-memorizing pact, and she downloaded a Bible app onto my phone that she said would help me, and soon I was listening to scripture as I ran, the voice of God booming forth from the net pouch I wear on my stomach—I hate earphones—to the astonishment of cattle, dogs, horses, and the occasional human passersby.

Almost immediately, I ditched the psalms for the gospels and soon settled on John—now esoteric, now fatherly—as my favorite voice. On one long run, I listened to everything we have of John’s writing. His three odd little letters I’d never paid much attention to before (one addressed to a woman, who knew?!) His gospel, with its baffling beginning:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (Genesis 1.1-3 ESV)

And Revelation, for me always an unsettling narrative, in which heaven seems such a strange and off-putting place.

Listening to John’s whole opus read aloud in one go was transformative for me. His wise, kind voice pulled everything together in a new way: the creation, the fall, Jesus’ life on Earth, the struggles and successes and sheer realness of the early church—so recognizably the church of today—and the resolution of everything in the end.

After my run, I stood sweating in my driveway and listened to the beginning of Genesis and had new thoughts about it all. The creation was a work of words:

“And God said . . . And God said . . . And God said . . . And God said . . . And God said . . . And God said . . . Then God said . . .” (Genesis 1.3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 26 ESV).

God spoke everything into being. And speaking being a communal act, involving a speaker and a listener, God would have been speaking to someone. So, not only the Spirit hovering over the waters but the Son—or, as John calls him, “the Word”—was present. And, if John is right that the world was created through Jesus, a narrative of the conversation preceding the creation might have had Jesus speaking with his Father, making suggestions, perhaps coming up with the whole idea.

volunteer arugulaI imagined it so:

“Hey, Dad, let’s make a world swarming with swarms of creatures—live creatures like us. And in it, a beautiful garden full of people just like us that we can love, and they can love us back, just as you love me and I love you.”

And the Father, besotted with love for his Son and surely impressed by his good ideas, spoke, the very words from his mouth giving flesh and movement and life to the words of the Son.

running shadowI didn’t let myself think about what happened afterwards—when, as John tells it, Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1.12 ESV). It was too horrifying. Instead, I stood there in the driveway, teary-eyed about that unwritten conversation into we’ve been invited, not only as people made in God’s image but, the more so, as Word-mongers—God-lovers in the business of inviting still others into the same conversation.

What a responsibility.

What a delight!

Craft of Writing

“Craft – an activity involving skill to produce something by hand” says my newly installed Oxford English Dictionary. The origin of the modern word ‘craft’ is to be found in the Old English word ‘craeft’ which combined the concepts of skill and strength together.

If there was companion dictionary, like the expanded translation of the Bible, then we might reach a better understanding of our topic, like this for our opening definition:

“Craft – an activity [worthwhile human endeavour] involving skill [proving one’s dexterity, competent, virtuous, masterful, graceful] to produce [make, invent, fabricate, construct, fashion, create] something [worthy, honest, valuable] by hand.

When we focus on those activities which involve hands, there is also an intrinsic underlying meaning, a deeper meaning.  For instance, if you are a shipwright, a builder of boats, then you surely are using your craft to make something that is fit for purpose.

If you are a fisherman then you need to trust your boat. The boat builder knew that when he designed and built the boat, it would need to have numerous good qualities, you could even say ‘virtues’, that the boat users would need to rely on implicitly. It would need to be watertight, buoyant, stable, robust and strong enough to weather the worst storms and most of all it needed to be safe to protect the lives of the fishermen. When Jesus said to Simon-Peter, ‘Go out into deep water and cast your nets again’, the scriptures record that the nets began to break because they were so full of fish and the boats began to sink under the load. But sink they did not, for the boat-builder had done his job well. He had built a fishing boat that would not just take a big catch, but would stand up to a miracle.

Boat%20fishermen

Is there a craft of writing? I believe there is but it’s not what the textbooks say it is. It’s not the kind of skill you can simply learn and then apply. Not a mere crafting of words to make them sound good when read or spoken aloud. Not just a clever way of stringing sentences together or paraphrasing speech and drama to create an interesting story. Nor is it a means to earn lots of money. You can’t serve two masters.

No, it’s much more than all these things.

The key is in the picture shown above.

Simon-Peter, Andrew, James and John were all expert fishermen. They had good solid boats in which to fish on Galilee but Jesus saw something more than just the simple dexterity of their hands. He saw a dormant skill that was in their hearts and souls, a skill that was profound and could be used in the kingdom of God.

As writers, are we satisfied making good catches? Showing off our skills and craftsmanship so that others will applaud our artistry? Or are we like the disciples standing in the boat, willing to listen to Jesus and be obedient to him, and answer the calling of the Kingdom of God?

Our skill and craftsmanship is a God-given gift and as communicators we should always ask if our writing is fit-for-purpose and of great worth and value to the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Don’t settle with being a craftsman of the word, let the word craft you into being a disciple of the Lord

Eat, Think, Praise!

Eat, Think, Praise!

The busyness of the season tends to breathe a cold chill on us until we remember who’s in charge of our hearts’ thermostats.

We are!

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Eat Jesus & Turn up the Heat!

“You are what you eat.”

Sometimes this saying echoes in my mind when I devour God’s Word, but mostly, I think of it when I’m reading one of a hundred Kindle books, and the Spirit calls for my attention.

Why is it so easy, so tempting, to fill up on Twinkie books at the expense of reading the Bible?

Satan reaches into his arsenal of distractions ~ even good ones ~ to keep us away from the gold mine.

The busier we are, the more we need a sweet retreat with Jesus. He warms our souls with the washing of His Word. He renews our minds and teaches us how to think, how to conform to His image ~ so we can reflect His love and maximize our impact on the world.

Think Jesus & Turn Down the Cold!

No thanks to television news, my imagination, and my neighbor’s yappy chihuahua, it takes effort to focus on the character of Jesus. But bless my heart when I do!  Because there’s no better thought in the world…

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

When I trudged into church with a bad mood one day, my pastor played a video by S. M. Lockridge, and my blahs didn’t stand a chance! Because when you feast on God’s goodness, He fans the flames of your passion. Your problems, worries, and fears shrink in the light of His flaming love. See for yourself how your perspective changes.

“He’s enduringly strong. He’s entirely sincere. He’s eternally steadfast. He’s immortally graceful. He’s imperially powerful. He’s impartially merciful. He’s the sinner’s savior. He’s the centerpiece of civilization. His promise is sure. His light is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes…”

Praise Jesus & Keep it on Auto!

King David pulled off all stops on praise when he sang, danced, and worshipped with all his might. People thought he was out of his mind, but he was too focused on God to care!  Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to be out of our minds ~ especially if they’re dragging us down.

David knew praise begins with an attitude of thankfulness.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.” Psalm 100:4

During the rocky early years of my marriage, I didn’t feel like thanking God for my husband, but decided to thank Him anyway. I thanked God in my heart and I thanked him aloud to my husband. “Dwight, I’m thankful God gave you to me.” Sometimes I found it difficult to see something I was thankful for; but when I honestly started to look and I opened the eyes of my heart, I could always find something positive.

Inch by inch, my husband and I breathed God-praises into our marriage and watched God honor the fruit of our lips with restoration.

Perhaps we can start this praise habit by thanking God that we don’t need to settle for cold wintery hearts?

Thank you, God, that we can adjust our hearts’ thermostats by putting You first, and meditating on Your greatness! Thank you that we can place our highest expectations where they belong ~ on You, not on fallible people and circumstances.  And thank you that in Your presence, there is fullness of joy. When we break into praise, You allow us to gift ourselves (and the world) with happier, hot-for-Jesus hearts!

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Merry Christmas!

Have you ever praised Jesus when you didn’t feel like it? What happened?

When it comes to eating, thinking, and praising Jesus, which of these will you do more of this Christmas season?

Loaves, Fish, and Writers

Late in the afternoon the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” 

He replied,  “You give them something to eat.” 

They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.”  (About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”  The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  Luke 9:12 – 17

Give it up

Poking at God about what I could cook for you today, he flipped this sizzling little fish story onto my brain plate.

Eyes scrunched on “impossibility” rather than on the Master of limitless capability, it’s easy for us writers to be disciple-like and condescend to natural-mindedness.

The crowds aren’t growing less hungry, aren’t inching any closer to food. Cloistered in the middle of nowhere, fatigued and famished, the beloved twelve scratch their heads before Jesus speaks: “Give the people something to eat.”

As we shake our heads at our scanty drizzle of words, Christ tells us the same: “Give the people something to eat. Don’t worry about sparse resources or small beginnings. If I’m in it, as sure as the heavens, you can make a difference.”

“Give them something to eat.” 

Thrust in this love-test, the apostle John records a different angle in sharing Philip’s retort: “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite.” Andrew speaks up. “Here’s a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

No matter how measly, how un-supersized our flounderings, if God calls us to serve fresh truth in a word-stir, if he speaks the royal “ok,” we step up.

Notice how Jesus dishes up faith-stretching instructions to the disciples. Directing five thousand people to sit in groups of fifty is no small potatoes. It takes time and sweat. Just like advancing in writing.

And so we lift our minuscule loaves and fish, and give thanks.

Give Thanks

Wouldn’t you give your lunch to see the puzzled looks on those hungry faces when Jesus raises his bitty snacks to give thanks?

Thanksgiving flows from a posture of humility. The soul bends low, acknowledging our Sovereign Source, his power, ability, and desire to provide.

Jesus gives thanks and his fingers rip the bread. I wonder if he considers how his flesh will soon be broken to feed many.

Writers know about brokenness, the heart-deep pain-sap that drives and feeds our meanderings. With battle scars, we give thanks to the living Word who uses our words and wounds to paint blood-colored pictures of grace.

No matter how few or many we touch, we give thanks for the opportunity. Chosen conduits of hope, we’re blessed to be a blessing. Our words, charged with Spirit-power, awaken God-hunger. They sustain and multiply life!

Whenever we naturally live out thankfulness, we display God’s bigness to a hungry, watching world. We become more than wishful thinkers about remote possibilities.  We reveal supernatural expectancy. This is how the world sees truth in us as we step up to our dream.

Expect Much

“It will take a miracle to get published!” We say it like miracles are viruses when they’re more likely God’s favorite pastimes.

Food in hand, Jesus says thanks because he expects the miracle. He prays and “looks to heaven.” He isn’t focused on his stomach, the food, or the crowd, but on his Father, the source.

The more we fix our eyes on God, the more we see miracles. The more we see miracles, the more we look for them in him.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…” God’s prayer transcends the “me,” and rests on “us,” because we, in the body, are one, and because love necessitates caring for those outside ourselves.

If we want to use our love gift to nourish souls, we can expect God’s provision to match his call. I haven’t forgotten that we can also expect spiritual warfare (perhaps even intensified tests from a rattled enemy), but ultimately mercy triumphs over Satan’s thievery. God promises to give us everything we need to win!

This gift, this impervious spawning of words, isn’t an instant dinner miracle; rather, it’s a progressive one, a long-term partnership with Chef Jesus.

Part of the miracle involves staying with the process. If God says, “Get everything and everybody in place,” that’s what we do. We plunge in for the long run, expecting to produce sweet fruits like patience and perseverance. Likewise, we expect readers, writers, characters, and observers to be transformed by our faithfulness.

We’re Christ-followers, sojourners on the cusp of miracles. In the course of our collective, out-of-this-world writer-journeys, we can expect nothing less than God cooking up his best.

Bon appetit!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. 

A Gift for the Holidays – Part I

Come.

Do you hear the Master calling?

There’s a twinkle in His eyes and a gift in His hands. Notice how the golden paper glistens with a metallic gleam. And don’t you just love the big, blood red bow?

A present. Just in time for the holidays.

Your Best Friend is excited about your gift. He’s done all the work—choosing what you need most, going to great sacrifice to procure it for you. All that’s left is for you to open it. Won’t you focus on Him and unwrap His gift?

You pull the red bow apart and lift the lid. You can’t see what’s inside, but you can smell it. It smells like lilacs and fresh cut grass and sunshine. You can feel the present, too. It’s solid as iron, soft as a baby’s cheek, and makes you warm all over. You can even hear your gift. One minute it swells with symphonic melody, the next it sings with the sweetness of a child. You can almost taste it on your tongue. It’s meat, potatoes, and vegetables—all that is solid and healthy—and it is also silky chocolate and all that is sweet.

“What is it?” You ask.

“It’s my grace.” He speaks with hushed voice, a tinge of emotion lacing His words.

You stare at the box. You’ve heard about grace before, but you’ve never really experienced it. Who knew grace had a smell, a feel, a taste?

He suggests you reach inside.

You pull out a “G” and frown.

Jesus chuckles. “G is for guilty no more. Too often you heap condemnation upon yourself. You are overwhelmed with your many tasks and feel guilty there’s dust on the mantle.

“But it goes deeper. You beat yourself up for faults and failures I’ve erased from your record. I’ve already forgotten them. There’s no need to be angry with yourself. I gave my life so you could live without condemnation. You are guilty no more. If you don’t believe me, read Romans 8:1. Read it a thousand times and tape it on your bathroom mirror. Live as you are, my dear: Free from condemnation.”

You have a big lump in your throat and since you can’t talk, you reach back into the box. The letter “R” is in your hand.

The Lord gently lifts your face to his. “R is for Rest in Me. Come to Me when you labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. I will ease and relieve and refresh your soul.” *

“It’s hard to rest,” You say.

Jesus tilts his head. “Think about a nursing baby—how a mother cradles him in her arms, and he nuzzles to her breast. He is nourished, body and soul. As he’s fed he never takes his eyes off of his mother, gazing with complete satisfaction, trust, and peace. Rest in me as that baby rests. I will nourish you. I will lead and comfort you.”

Your eyes are glued to the Master, hungry to believe all He is saying, but there is hesitancy, a fear you don’t deserve to rest.

My Child, did the baby do anything to earn love?”

You shake your head. “He could do nothing to help his mother.”

“In the same way, I don’t expect you to earn My love or the right to rest. I simply come and say, ‘Are you tired? Let me help you. Are you burdened? Let me carry it.’”

Little tears gather in your eyes as you listen to Him. There’s still more to discover. You peer into the gift box.

What special ways do you embrace His grace?

*Matthew 11:28 (AMP)

The Hero Within

In a writer’s world we are the masters of the pen (actually a computer keyboard, but that didn’t sound as cool). We create complicated characters through various techniques and tell them what to do.

But then they take on a life of their own and begin to tell us what the story is about. This can be quite fascinating, like sitting at a movie, watching the story unfold. Other times it’s frustrating because these life-like characters make bad choices or behave poorly (there’s always at least one), resisting our intended purposes for them.

When I think of writing in these terms, my thoughts drift to our Creator, and I wonder if God sees us in similar fashion. Aren’t we like His characters, created with His purpose in mind? Yet we have free will and the ability to choose poorly, or wisely.

God gives us that room, though I know we must frustrate him terribly at times. The Israelites certainly did. (Aren’t we still Israelites at times?) But part of the joy I experience in writing a powerful scene with my characters is seeing them grow and embrace God’s love and truth. There’s a sense of victory there even though these characters exist only in my head.

I remember as a kid imagining these scenes where the heroine (usually me, of course!) persevered and made this huge impact or discovery. I walked into the sunset as a new inspiration to my fellow underdogs (the theme of many teen movies).

The funny part of all this is, the longer I write and study the books and movies that are popular, the more I find a universal theme there—of a nobody discovering they have some kind of special gift that helps them save the day. A gift that comes from somewhere outside them and suddenly this feels-like-a-nobody character blooms into someone unique.

Now the amazing part. It’s a story theme that’s existed for thousands of years. The one I like best? The one in the Bible.

Jesus was just an ordinary carpenter. He didn’t look like much to those who resented and envied Him. He didn’t appear a whole lot different from the men He walked with. He started out as a nobody in the eyes of those around Him. But to know Him was to know He walked in greatness and humility.

He walked this earth like a man, yet within He holds a power to “save the day.” And every person who knows Him.

His is the story of the ultimate Messiah, the one true Savior of the world. He was and is the true Hero of the story—of the world and of our lives.

And the absolutely mind-blowing final part? He lives in us, changing us from nondescript nobodies to uniquely gifted individuals created to fit into a true story.

His story.