Dear God, Jesus, Ministry, Sermon Prep

An Advent People

This morning I have the privilege of ushering you all into the New Year…the new liturgical year, that is. At Monroe Free Methodist Church, Pastor Kevin and I have chosen to follow the Revised Common Lectionary and today is the beginning of Advent, the start of the new Church year. To begin, we’ll spend some time breaking down these “church-lingo” terms, then I’ll share a bit of my personal story, and finally I’d like to challenge us to become an Advent People.

12_07_13 Advent Candle

Ok, so backing up a bit…the Lectionary. What in the world is it? The root of the word is “lection” which simply means “reading.” The Lectionary, then, is a predetermined way of reading through the Scriptures. Back in the 60s, the Catholic Church made the groundbreaking decision to begin following an organized plan or reading the Bible. The Revised Common lectionary came about in the 80s and 90s when a long list of non-Catholic Christian Churches tweaked the original reading schedule. Each week we read a Psalm, an Old Testament passage, an Epistle (the biblical term for “letter”), and a Gospel (the biblical term for one of the four books teaching on the Good News, the life of Jesus.) Many Presbyterians, Lutherans, United Methodists, Mennonites, Anglican and Free Methodist churches follow the lectionary together. That’s one of my favorite parts about the lectionary – knowing that on this Sunday I’m reading the same passages that many other churches are across the country, and around the world. The reading unifies the Church across space and time.

The cycle of readings begins in “Year A” with Matthew and it’s correlating Old Testament, Psalm, and Epistle. Then, we start over again with a new set of passages for Year B (using Mark), then Year C (in Luke). Thus…we travel a three year journey through the whole story of the Bible. Though not every verse or chapter can be read during this time, we as a church are able to get a better taste for the beautiful story of God’s redeeming plan for creation, a story that spans Genesis to Revelation. 

Following the Lectionary is not required of our church. It is a decision Kevin and I have made out of conviction; conviction that our personal plans for sermons will never surpass the wisdom of God. Sure, we could be determining our sermon series based on our own agenda, but we’re pretty sure our creativity would run out, our biases would show through, and we could easily steer the church on our own insight. In reading the Lectionary, we trust that the Holy Spirit works outside of time, believing that even (and perhaps especially) predetermined Scripture readings are exactly the message God has for us today. We choose to submit to the authority and study of the men and women who’ve gone before us, as opposed to sticking to our favorite books of the Bible or using the trusty “open your Bible and blindly point” method. It’s exciting to watch how God has used these pre-planned Scripture passages to weave together sermons at the proper time. He is so faithful.

Ok…so now that we understand the Lectionary a bit better, there’s this concept of the Church Calendar (also known as the Liturgical Year or the Christian Year). This is yearly progression through the life of Christ, a calendar of seasons – of feast days and fasting – adhered to by nearly every Christian church. We begin now with Advent, then follow the arc of scripture through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Season. With each changing season, we are offered the opportunity to reflect on how God worked in us and we’re invited to become aware of his leading into the coming season.

Which brings us to today. The cool thing about today?! It’s the first day of the New Year in Year A! So if you’re just hearing about this for the first time, you’re getting in on the “ground floor.” (But don’t worry, we’ll come back around to Year A in 2019).

Today we are entering into the season of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The origin of this Christian season dates back to 480 AD and perhaps even further…to the times of Peter and the Disciples. The word “advent” simply means “to come” and so this season is an opportunity to prepare and to wait with baited breath for the arrival of the newborn King. We wait, as Mary did, for Jesus Christ to be born. We wait, as the prophets did, for their long-awaited Prince of Peace. But as followers of Jesus on the “other side” of his birth, we have a different invitation to wait. Knowing that the celebration of Jesus’ birth is imminent, we now wait for his second coming. We wait for the day when Christ will come to bring his perfect peace to earth as it is in heaven…for all eternity. We wait with hope and angst for the day when he will make all things right, restoring relationships, repairing sick bodies, aligning healthy governments, abolishing poverty. We wait with excitement and perhaps dread, for his day of judgment, knowing that our trust in him brings salvation but that a detailed account of our lives will acknowledge the moments when we failed to follow faithfully. But we wait.

After years of following Jesus, I only recently began to embrace the seasons of the Christian calendar. A few years back, a friend who I deemed my “spiritual mother” invited me to join her intimate small prayer circle. Each Wednesday evening, five of us would gather in a chilly, candlelit sanctuary for an hour of stillness. We prayed the vespers service together, reading Scriptures and praying written-out prayers. Spending this type of quiet time together was new to me, but became deeply transformative. Together we were experiencing the life-changing lessons contained in the liturgy and the communion of saints.

And it was there that I met Advent. Along with my dear vespers sisters, we read Ruth Haley Barton’s Advent Reflections to guide our focus during this season of faith. Ruth’s writing and urging, combined with the lectionary Scripture passages offered the opportunity for self-examination, for refocusing, for shifting my perspective. Yes, this is the very same devotional guide we’ve offered to you. (Which, side note…the orders are in, and we have two extra, if you’re interested!)

Advent is such a beautiful, yet challenging time in life of the Church. It is at this time of year that we are reminded of our need to wake up to the coming of Jesus in our lives, to become an Advent People.

This Advent-waiting is so difficult because we are invited to sit in this in-between space: a space where we are no longer experiencing the comfortable, oh-so-familiar life, yet neither have we seen the resolution of the waiting…the answer, the direction, the “ahhhh yes” everything-is-turning-out-just-fine moment. We are in the time of holding our breath, left to wait. We can choose to gasp for air, fight for our lives, flee the fearful expectancy. Or we can seek the Lord Jesus Christ in this uncertainty, looking for his movement, listening to his voice. Because even in the waiting, especially in the waiting, there is Jesus.

When I first started observed Advent in 2013, I was in the middle of one of my darkest winters. It was our third year of infertility and that combined with other life circumstances made the dark winter nights a reality in my heart. But during that time, I prayed this prayer:

Lord Jesus, As hard as this is to admit, I thank you for this long time of advent in my life. This journey of infertility may continue for many more years, I don’t know, but the grace, the blessing has come and is coming in the ways I’m learning to seek you. I imagine where my focus would be right now if I had gotten “my way”…and it’s not likely to be totally on you. Teach me now how to keep company with Jesus, how to kindle communion with Him, that it may be an inextricable part of me in years to come.

Advent is so much more than a countdown to Christmas. It is an invitation to wait with God on God in our everyday lives. The process of Christian growth – of spiritual formation – is slow and ongoing and, quite frankly, beyond of our control. Friends, my challenge for our church is to become an Advent People: a congregation who responds to God’s invitation every day; a people who hold vigil with Christ each day – keeping the candle burning in our devotion to prayer and to scripture and to one another; a humble group of Jesus-followers becoming increasingly willing to change, willing to step out of the control seat and willing to let God do his transformational work.

Come! Let us walk in the light of the Lord together! (Isaiah 2:5)

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Jesus, Ministry

Camp with Middle Schoolers

This week I had the awesome privilege of being the evangelist for the Young Teen Campers at Somerset Beach. I cannot adequately describe what the Holy Spirit did at camp this week. Far beyond anything I asked or imagined, God was on the move, and lives (especially mine) were changed. More than any other year of camp-speaking, I connected with this group of young teenagers and young adults (the counselors and worship team).

Explorer Camp 2 / Young Teen Camp 2

Even though I didn’t have the chance to meet with every single person, it was the work of the Spirit binding us together in corporate worship and Scripture memory and the life-altering work that only God can do. Not only did I have a blast hanging out with them – dancing and singing, splashing in the water, waiting in line for meals – but I was completely blown away by their tender hearts, their receptivity to the Gospel of Jesus. And these kids are sharp. Like, WOAH. Their insightful questions truly impressed me. (I’m fairly certain our culture significantly underestimates the intelligence and the comprehension and the capabilities of 11-13 year olds. These students could easily rival college coeds or grown-ups in theological discussions.)

Explorer Camp 2 / Young Teen Camp 2

The overarching message of the week was The Image of God. We began Sunday night by a fun competition where cabins wrote down lists of adjectives that would describes someone’s image – the way they perceive themselves or believe others see them. Words such as weird, silly, jock, bully, perfectionist, athletic, skinny, fat, dumb, smart covered the pages.

By way of introducing myself I shared these very honest bullet-pointed insights into my own image:

  • I have been following Jesus as a Christian since I was 5 years old.
  • I am a pastor.
  • I am mom to 7 month old Kirsten.
  • I have been married to my husband Kevin for 8 years.
  • I am a runner & yoga instructor.
  • I am a worship leader & grad school student.
  • I love baking cookies & coffee dates & reading & taking walks.
  • I am good student & a responsible leader.
  • I am a trustworthy friend & I give honest advice.
  • I am a people person and feel other people’s emotions very deeply.
  • I struggle with perfectionism and negative body image.
  • I struggle to not overeat or overexercise.
  • I care too much about what people think and try too hard to make everyone happy with me.
  • I am indecisive and a roller coaster of emotions.
  • I have a quick temper and a bad attitude far too often.

I preached on the words from Genesis 1:27, looking many of them dead in the eye as I said,

You were made in the very image of GOD. Your life has incredible worth and you have a purpose.

Throughout the next seven gatherings of morning worship and evening vespers, we broke down unhealthy images and reconstructed our mindsets based on the Image of God.

  • Mean Girls & Bullies –>
    • God’s Chosen People (Colossians 2:14-15)
  • Self Harm, Eating Disorders & Substance Abuse –>
    • Temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
  • Perfectionists & Cheaters –>
    • Obedience to God (Genesis 4:2-11 and I John 3:11-24)

Explorer Camp 2 / Young Teen Camp 2

On our final night together, I was prepared with responses to their really tough questions. My plan was then to move into a lesson and lead into an opportunity for salvation. The Lord had a much more beautiful plan than mine, however, for as soon as I was “done” with answering questions, hands began to raise left and right. I spent the next 20 minutes fielding deep, theological issues these young teens tossed my way.

  • Who wrote the Bible?
  • Did every story in the Bible really happen?
  • Are tattoos bad?
  • Can a Christian believe in evolution?
  • What happens if a baby is baptized and then dies – will they go to heaven or hell?
  • What happens to someone who commits suicide?
  • Is heaven and hell real?

And my favorite question of all:

  • How can I be saved?

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Throughout the week the lessons had progressed. We are made in God’s image. We become God’s chosen people by believing on the Lord Jesus. When we commit to following God we become Temples of the Holy Spirit and should live in Obedience to God’s commands. On this last night, I was thrilled to answer that question, the question that starts a life of pursuing God, of living in the very center of our chosen-ness, becoming fully who He created us to be.

Salvation is simple: Confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Romans 10:9-10

This is the first step and absolutely essential. This is a life-changing moment. But it doesn’t stop here. Every day it’s surrender, believing God has the best plan in store for you. It’s living in obedience to him and out of love for others.

After having an opportunity to pray, we worshiped and closed the session. Many students flocked to the counselors and Wellspring members and to me to talk more. These kids had further questions on the tough topics we’d discussed. And then there was one boy left, the quiet one who’d subtly passed me his piece of paper with the words, “How to be saved?” He came up to me with hardly an expression on his face but with the most tender heart and asked me to pray with him. I led him to Jesus right then and there and we hugged. I told him how thrilled I was for him and how exciting this moment one. I asked him if he had a church to go to and implored him to share this decision with his pastor and to get connected with someone who’s a step or two ahead of him in following Jesus.

This morning at our closing session, the kids were shouting out things they loved about camp. This meek young man said with the most enthusiasm I’d seen from him all week,

I accepted Christ!

The crowd cheered for him! Rejoice!

These students have memorized Scripture with joy and self-motivation. They have asked tough questions and processed tough answers. They have shown me that God’s spirit is alive and working in the lives of middle schoolers and the future leaders of the Church are being shaped and discipled right now. I have glorious hope for the next generation of Christ followers.

Thank you, Somerset Beach, for asked me to teach these young teens. What an eternal privilege it was.
Explorer Camp 2 / Young Teen Camp 2

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Confessions, Contentment, Dear God, Infertility, Jesus, Letters to My Kids, Parenting

The Dance of Grace & Trust

As my daughter creeps closer and closer to six months old, I get more excited and more freaked out. You see, I had a goal of having her solely breastfed for her first six months. In those early weeks I thought, “there is no way in heck I can survive this for SIX MONTHS.” But a wise friend told me (even before I had my baby girl), “It’s hard, just take it a day at a time. Don’t set up big goals, set tiny ones. I’m going to nurse her this week.” Nursing got easier and easier as I developed the procedures that worked for us and as I figured out what accessories I needed or didn’t need. And here we are….the end of full-time breastfeeding is in sight.

I can NOT wait until her daddy can feed her and I’m not her only source of sustenance and we can watch her experience new foods and sit at the table with us. I have a freezer full of pumped breastmilk and we taught her to use a bottle around 8 weeks. I kept offering to Kevin that I could share the feeding with him and a bottle. But he knew how well things were going and how much I had desired this gift. So he waited.

And I’m so stoked that we made it. But I am sad to see this special season of breastfeeding intimacy transition to something new. It’s been so sweet; most of the time I take it for granted. Lord Jesus, I am so thankful for this gift that was not a given. Thank you for bringing in my milk and allowing her the skill the nurse well and plumping her right up. I am so thankful.

Another paradox of motherhood, right? 

But here’s the real confession: I’m freaked out by what may or may not happen once I ease back on nursing.

I know my fertility will (maybe, probably, perhaps, who knows…) return once I’m not breastfeeding ’round the clock. I know I could conceivably get pregnant (…conceivably….ha. that’s punny…) in the coming months. And part of me thinks, “FOR THE LOVE, I just want to be normal again! I don’t want to be pregnant or nursing or a storehouse of uncontrollable hormones!” (I suppose that last one happens regardless…) I can’t fathom going through that whole ordeal again, so soon. Pregnancy was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Pregnancy is no joke.

But the other part of me thinks, “What if I can’t get pregnant? I’m not getting any younger and I have endometriosis and a whole bunch of other fertility issues and time is of the essence. And what if?” How long do we wait this next time before calling it quits?

So yeah, I want to get pregnant like right now…in the next few months. I would love to have babies close in age. And we always said that once we started a family, we wouldn’t prevent pregnancies until we’re “done.” I don’t want to live once again in the fear of monthly cycles and wondering and waiting and trying to not get all wrapped up in the hope and expectation for the future.

It’s hard to believe that I could move from one worry to another so quickly, despite the glorious answer to prayer dozing in her crib down the hall. 

And so I pray:

Holy Father, giver and sustainer of life, grant that I may know your perfect peace and trust in your infinite wisdom. Keep my mind fixed on the work of your kingdom and content with the gift of “today.”

Amen.

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Husband, Jesus, Kirsten Grace, Letters to My Kids, Marriage, Ministry, Parenting

Kirsten Grace – Month 3

My dear sweet Kirsten Grace,

Happy 3rd Month Birthday! This has been such a fun month with you. When people ask “how’s the baby” I find myself saying, “She is so much fun!” The first few weeks were just about surviving…how to feed you, how to soothe you, how to sleep with one eye open. But as we’ve learned a new sort of normal, the true joy is settling over our home and into the depths of our spirits. You are growing and learning and developing such a sweet personality and it is truly so much fun. Kirsten Grace Month 3

My favorite moment of each day is walking into the room where you’re started to wake, leaning over the edge of your cradle and saying, “Good morning, baby girl!”…and watching the world’s biggest grin cover your face. There is no feeling like that love.

And it got me thinking about our gracious God and how he must feel about us, his children. It doesn’t matter how much we fuss and cry and wrestle with our sin natures the day before, his mercies are new every morning! I believe He cannot wait to see us when we wake. He is thrilled to see if we’ll smile back at him, to watch what new thing we’ll do that day.

Your daddy and I just adore doing life with you, Kirsten. It’s a crazy dance we do, this life as parents, in full time ministry, in marriage. No two days look the same. I have come to accept that my time alone with the Lord may not (read: almost never) come first thing in the morning with my cup of tea and the rising sun. Rather than feeling frustrated by the fact that my schedule is no longer my own, I am learning to seek the Lord at any available interval. She’s asleep and the laundry’s going and it’s 11am? Prayer. She’s content and I have time for yoga and worship? Yes, please. Daddy is home and willing to stick around so I can get in a run? Thankful for the open air devotions.

Sweet girl, if there’s one thing you know about your momma I pray you know how much I love Jesus.

Speaking of your faith, the most momentous event of your third month was your baptism and dedication on Palm Sunday, March 20th. In the Free Methodist Church, we believe in infant baptism as a sacrament, an act of God’s grace in which we are participants. Parents can also choose to dedicate their child, allowing them to select their own baptism as adults, but after much prayer and consideration, we decided we would baptize you. There is a spiritual, mysterious element to any sacrament (i.e. baptism, communion). We show up, we partake, we receive. But the work is done by God’s Spirit.

Thus, we wanted to invite the sanctifying of the Spirit to begin now, putting action to the meaning of your name Follower of Christ by the grace of God. When you are old enough to make a personal commitment to follow Jesus, you will get to participate in an affirmation of your baptism. This will allow you to assume responsibility for the vows we made on your behalf: that your life be lived in consecration and dedication to the Almighty God.

We invited Brian Kono to perform your baptism and dedication ceremony. Brian is a ministry professor at Spring Arbor and was a mentor for both your dad and me during our college days. He is a playing a large part in guiding me through my path to ordination, and he and his wife Angel have become our good friends. Superintendent Bruce & Jerilynn Rhodes were there for this service, along with our church family, five friends (representing many) from Albion, New York, and a portion of our family. We know that those who couldn’t attend – both family and friends – were there with us in spirit, standing in solidarity with the congregation’s affirmation to partner in your spiritual growth.

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Arvidson Great Grandparents, Eccles Grandparents, Mom & Dad & Kirsten, Uncle Brian and Beth

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Tara Thom, Kirsten Liddle, Eccles, Catherine Thom, Ashlyn & Sheryl LeBaron


This month Kirsten Grace Eccles:

  • make wonderful eye contact, following us all around the room.
  • loves light & screens (tvs, computers)…oh boy
  • smiles so big! (Her left eye squints in the cutest fashion!)
  • has become quite vocal, giggling, gurgling, and screeching on purpose
  • sometimes stop in the middle of nursing to look up and chat with momma
  • continues to be a star at Panera during many discipleship coffee meetings
  • does really well wearing cloth diapers (mommy & daddy love them too!)
  • seems to be keeping a full head of hair and bright blue eyes (like her Uncle Brian & Aunt Ashley)
  • sings along during church
  • is in a bit of a “momma-attachment” phase
  • enjoys car rides
  • is staying steadily strong and healthy with exclusive breastfeeding (momma is so thankful!)
  • has taken many walks along the River Raisin her carrier or the stroller (can’t wait for warmer days)
  • still loves her baths
  • has slept through the night (7 or 8 hours) on a couple occasions, but mostly keeps a consistent 15-20 minute nursing around 3am and then again at 6am, going back to sleep until 8:30am. (Glory!)

Now for a month’s worth of sweet moments caught on camera:

These first few photos were captured a few minutes before her second church board meeting last night. The sunlight was streaming in the bedroom window and momma just couldn’t resist. (Yes, she was a few minutes late for the meeting. worth it.)

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headband made by Andrea Ortell

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loves sucking on her fist, hasn’t consistently favored any fingers or thumb

 

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Spent all of month 3 sleeping soundly in the cradle made by Great Grandpa Arvidson for Daddy in 1986. And thanks to Amanda Loomis, our neighbor and dear friend for the lovely quilt. 

 

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Waiting for Dr. Aza Khaghany at her 2nd Month Appointment on March 3rd. She HATED the immunizations, but we all survived. (Mommy didn’t even cry!) Kirsten was 23 inches (up from 19.5″) and weighed 11lb 7oz (up from 7lb). Yay!

 

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We visited with the Shepherds a few times. Anastasia is her new friend, and now a big sister to Zoe (born just two days ago!)

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Kirsten goes to work with momma and daddy quite frequently. Here she studies St. Athanasius

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We voted in the Presidential Primaries on March 8th and then walked in the 70 degree temps.

 

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With Mom & Dad at worship practice

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Family Photo on Kirsten’s 3rd Month Birthday

After today’s photo shoot, Daddy read Kirsten his favorite childhood book: If I Had a Little Airplane. She really loved it.

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“I know, isn’t a great book?!”

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