When You Feel Ordinary

Luke 1-38

This holy season we are examining the characters of Christmas. Last week we looked at Elizabeth. (Click here to read her story.) This week we will look at Mary.

Mary’s story is so familiar to us. Every Advent season we hear the story of the angel visiting the young girl. We see the picture of Gabriel giving the news to Mary on dozens of Christmas cards every year. The artist usually pictures Mary sitting very serene, looking at the angel. And so it’s easy to assume that it was easy for Mary to accept this special role. That it was effortless for her to say yes to God’s plan for her. After all, she was given the most important task any woman would ever have. She would be honored for all time. Who wouldn’t want that?

But we know the whole story. We have the advantage of looking back at history and seeing how God worked everything out. We know the story has a happy ending. Mary didn’t have that perspective.

Young Mary was betrothed to Joseph–which is a little like our engagement process. But in the eyes of the law, a betrothed woman was legally bound to the man–even if the marriage ceremony hadn’t taken place. And so, if a betrothed woman was found pregnant by another man, she was accused of adultery. And the punishment for adultery was stoning by death.

And even if she was not put to death physically, Mary realized that life as she knew it was going to die. Friends would probably not believe her story of an angelic visit. Not to mention her fiance!

So if I had been in Mary’s shoes I probably would have reacted to the Gabriel’s message with something like, “Sure, I’ll go along with God’s plan if you will just go out into the streets and tell everyone that I, Mary of Nazareth, have been chosen to be the mother of the Savior.”

But what did Mary say?

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Mary was selected for the most special role any woman could have. But think about it—very few people during her lifetime would truly understood her unique calling. Most people would have seen her either as a tramp, someone who violated God’s laws, or as a crazy person, someone claiming to have a virgin birth.

And that’s why it’s so amazing that she responded to Gabriel with the words, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Mary’s humility enabled her to say yes to God.

Unlike Mary, I struggle with acceptance. I struggle with acceptance because I subconsciously put myself on a level with God. I don’t see how my life fits into God’s big plan and, truth be told, my mighty self sits on the throne of my heart more often than Christ does.

Maybe you struggle with acceptance too. Perhaps life is not going as you had planned. And there is no relief in sight.

That’s why we need to remember Mary. She accepted her God-given role. And even though we now see her as special, to most people in her day she probably appeared very ordinary. Mary was able to say yes to God because she understood her small life was a piece of God’s big plan.

You may feel like you are nothing special. But the Bible tells us that each of us has been selected for a unique calling (Ephesians 4:10). Only one woman is mother to your children. Only one woman is the wife of your husband. Only one woman can minister to the needs of your church with your specific God-given gifts. Only one woman can reach into your world with your particular skill set.

When you feel ordinary remember that is not how God sees you. God sees you as special. God sees you as unique. God sees you as a one-of-a-kind person with a one-of-a-kind life. All those tears you wipe away, all those dishes you wash, all those memos you type–all add up to one incredible life when you see them through God’s eyes.

God sees you as unique. God sees you as a one-of-a-kind person with a one-of-a-kind life. Click To Tweet

Sometimes it’s hard to accept the life you have right now. 

But maybe it’s a little easier when you remember that all the little things you do matter in God’s big plan.

God’s plan is more immense than we can imagine, but every little piece of the intricate design matters. You matter.

Next step: Read Mary’s story in Luke 1 (click here to read it online). Imagine yourself as Mary receiving the news from Gabriel. How would you have wanted to respond? Then write out Mary’s response, ““Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” and post it where you can see it often. Repeat this words back to the loving Savior.

mary

The One Thing You Need to Do to Be Extraordinary

self-sacrifice-is-the-way

Last week the leaves on my Burning Bush turned from an ordinary green to an extraordinary red.

But here is an amazing fact: the leaves were actually red all summer long.

I didn’t see the red color until a week ago, but it was there. The brilliant red was hidden beneath the green.

During the growing season, a leaf produces chlorophyll which makes it appear green. As the days grow shorter, chlorophyll production slows and the leaf’s true colors appear.

In a way, the leaf has to die to be more beautiful.

This is also true in my spiritual life. In Matthew 16:25 Jesus says:

Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. (The Message)

This is one of those great puzzles of God’s kingdom. I think my ordinary self is my real self and so I carefully protect my desires, my needs, my interests. In a way, I desperately work to stay “green.”

But Jesus tells me, “Let all of that go. Let your ordinary self fade and your extraordinary self will appear.” When I let my “green” desires go, my beautiful “red” self will emerge. When I realize that all that I’m so carefully holding onto is actually holding me back, my true self begins to unfold.

Today I was reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. This is what he has to say on the subject.

“We take as starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests…We are hoping all the time that…the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes…

Christ says, ‘Give me All…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead.”

It’s amazing to realize that our extraordinary self is hiding beneath our ordinary lives.

Let’s learn to let it all go.

God wants to give us so much more.

Next Step: Spend a few minutes with God today. Ask Him what you need to hand over to Him. Receive the new self.

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How to Truly Love Yourself: The Four Degrees of Love

A crucial element in truly learning to love yourself is learning the four degrees of love.

I tend to have a love/hate relationship with myself. Maybe you can relate.

On days things are going smoothly, we are pleased. But on days we mess up we might be disappointed with our performance and even despise who we are.

Popular culture says some of the keys to loving ourselves are not expecting perfection from ourselves and not comparing ourselves to others.  Loving ourselves means learning to nurture ourselves and forgive ourselves. Listing our best qualities and practicing receiving love are keys to loving ourselves.

These are all useful tools. But I think one crucial element in truly loving yourself comes in learning the four degrees of love.

Recently I read a devotion by Bernard of Clairvaux.   A supervisor of a monastery in France, he lived from 1090 – 1153. His writings influenced Luther and many other Christians. His book On the Love of God outlines the four degrees of love.

1. The first degree of love–love of self for self’s sake. This is our selfish preoccupation with our own needs. It is a sort of natural love for ourselves, wanting everything to revolve around us. 1 Tim 3:2 talks about this kind of love, “For people will be lovers of self and [utterly] self-centered, lovers of money and aroused by an inordinate [greedy] desire for wealth, proud and arrogant and contemptuous boasters.” (Amplified Bible) It’s not a true love for ourselves, but a love for comfort and fame and attention for ourselves.

2. The second degree of love–love of God for self’s sake. When we can’t meet our own needs and experience a crisis, we crawl to God and beg Him for help. We love God for His blessings. We see this love in Psalm 116:1, “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.” This is not a bad love, but it is still a self-centered love.

3. The third degree of love–love of God for God’s sake. As we grow in faith, we grow to love God in a deeper way. We realize that He is more than a genie who solves our problems. Through worship, prayer, and time in His Word, we come to truly know God and love Him for who He is and not just for what He can give us. 1 Peter 1: 6, 8 describes this kind of love, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trialsThough you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

4. The fourth degree of love–love of self for God’s sake. Bernard explains that this love is experienced only fleetingly in this world. But when we experience a oneness with God and can pray from the heart, “Thy will be done,” we lose our self-preoccupation. We don’t dwell on our needs. That’s when we truly love ourselves.

I think that this love of ourselves for God’s sake only comes when we truly see ourselves as the forgiven, much-loved daughters of the King. We don’t love ourselves because we have performed well. We don’t love ourselves because we deserve love. We love ourselves because we see ourselves through God’s eyes. Because of Jesus, He sees us redeemed and righteous. He calls us precious and honored and loved (Isaiah 43:4).  1 John 5:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” It is only because of Christ’s love that we can love ourselves or others.

I love the words of 1 John 4:16.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

Rely on the love God has for you. That’s when you can truly love yourself. That’s when you can truly love others.

1 John 4-16

For When You Feel Ordinary

ForWhenYouFeelOrdinaryI took a step back and looked at the bride. She was radiant in her white gown. A smile lit up her face when she saw her reflection in the mirrors all around the room. Her beauty was obvious.

During my college years I worked at a bridal salon each summer. I got to work with stunning bridal gowns, lovely bridesmaids’ dresses, and gorgeous formals. I could run my fingers over smooth satin and intricate lace. I was able to see the latest designs covered with sequins and pearls. Each dress was a work of art.

But what made the job especially interesting was to see the transformation of the girls who came in to try on the dresses. Since it was summertime, most of them came in to the store wearing shorts, flip-flops, and a tee shirt. Not particularly glamorous.

When a girl arrived for her fitting, I showed her to a room covered with mirrors and brought in her dress. I slipped the dress over her head. From the smiles visible in every mirror, I could tell she felt like a princess. In just a few minutes, she was transformed from an ordinary girl in summer shorts to a dazzling beauty in a stunning gown.

The Holy Spirit does something like that for us in our hearts. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, we are born with dirty hearts. We are hopeless and helpless. But when we first receive the gift of faith, the Holy Spirit begins our divine makeover. He starts by clothing us in Christ.

Galatians 3:26-27 says:

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

WeddingDress

What does it mean to put on Christ? When we put on clothes, they cover our bodies. When people look at us they see the outfit, not our skin. When we put on Christ, He is the one that others see. In God’s eyes we are no longer ordinary girls, we are princesses in His kingdom.   We are radically changed.  

Putting on Christ is not just playing dress-up. The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out. A beautiful gown may make you look like a princess, but when you are clothed with Christ, you truly are a princess—a child of the King.

Question: When have you felt transformed by a dress?

This post was adapted from my new book for teen girls:

Divine Makeover001Divine Makeover: God Makes You Beautiful  Check it out!

 

 

original photo source

Finding Your True Self

true self

Finding your true self–it’s a quest we are all on.

Because too often we live in a disguise.

Did you put on your funny self today to hide the pain in your heart? Did you dress up in the competent, confident self even though you feel like a failure? Are you wearing the bubbling, outgoing self to cover up the loneliness inside?

We’ve all been there.

We don’t think anyone will love the real person inside and so we cover up the authentic self with a closet full of disguises. Or we’ve neglected the true self for so long we aren’t even sure who that is anymore.

God is in the business of resurrecting our true selves. We can find that authentic person when we believe that God truly loves us as we are. Not the disguise. Not the mask. He loves our authentic self.

Now, finding that authentic self sometimes requires a bit of discomfort as Jesus peels away the masks we have been wearing. Jesus said:

Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? Matthew 16:26 (MSG)

Self-sacrifice sounds painful. But don’t worry–Jesus work is gentle. Even as He asks us to give up one of our false identities, He fills us with His love and grace. And when we do make that sacrifice, we often feel a sense of relief. Release in not trying to be someone we are not.

Today ask God to reveal to you any masks you have been wearing.

Feel the freedom of being your true self as you allow Him to peel the mask away.

Remember Christ loves the real you.

Question: What masks are you sometimes tempted to wear?

 

Book Review: Teach Us to Want

Many, like me, imagine desire and faith in a boxing ring, facing off like opponents.

Jen Pollock Michel makes that statement in the first chapter of her book, Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith. This engrossing and challenging book is a theology of desire explored through the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

I, too, have seen desire and faith as opponents: my old self wanting my desires to win and my new self rooting for faith. I have often complained that I have a dysfunctional “wanter.” After all, my health would be so much better if I wanted to do push-ups and eat salad instead of craving couch time and Mint Moose Tracks ice cream. My spiritual life would be easier if I only desired what God desired. In fact, maybe life would be better if I simply didn’t have any desires.

But Michel makes the case that desires are a natural part of us. Without desire we don’t have the fuel to move ahead in life. Our unique desires are part of who we are. Yes, our “wanters” can be corrupted, and so we must be careful to guard our hearts, but desire can be what draws us closer to God.

Reading Teach Us to Want helped me learn a lot of desire:

  • Desire pulls us to our heavenly Father as we pray for what we need.
  • Examining our desires can lead to self-discovery and transformation.
  • Unmet desire is a training program for learning to trust a gracious God.
  • We want too much and we want too little.
  • It is not self-effort that recalibrates our wanters. Only God’s grace can turn our heart’s desires toward His kingdom.

Desire has been a topic I have long struggled with. Teach Us to Want untangled a lot of my thoughts on the subject. In fact, now that I have finished reading it, I plan to read it again. It is a meaty book, filled with honest transparency and personal stories.

I think this quote from the last chapter sums up Teach Us to Want:

There is a biblical case for wanting and wanting well…Although easily corrupted, desire is good, right and necessary. It is a force of movement in our lives, a means of transportation. It can be the very thing that motivates us to change and that carries us to God…Growing into maturity doesn’t mean abandoning our desires, but growing in our discernment of them.

Check out Teach Us to Want on Amazon.

Jen Pollock Michel is a writer, speaker, and mother of five. She is a regular contributor for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics and also writes for Today in the Word, a monthly devotional published by The Moody Bible Institute.  Jen earned her B.A. in French from Wheaton College and her M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her family and blogs at jenpollockmichel.com. You can follow Jen on Twitter @jenpmichel.

Book Review: Reclaiming Eve

ReclaimingEveBlogTour

The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God

The authors of Reclaiming Eve had me riveted from the moment I read that subtitle.

I struggle to find my identity. Although I occasionally get glimpses of it, I often feel like it is hiding beneath my doubts. Or it’s just out of reach and if I could just find some free time, I could actually catch up to it.

But Suzanne Burden, Carla Sunberg, and Jamie Wright, the three authors of Reclaiming Eve, reassure us that we can find our identity–in God’s Word. They take us back to the story when God first created woman.

Genesis 2:18 says:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man [adam] to be alone. I will make a helper [ezer] suitable for him.”

It turns out that the word ezer is one of the keys to our identity as women. Burden explains that although most of our English translations call ezer “helper,” that word isn’t adequate to describe the depth of God’s original intentions for all his daughters. “Ezer” also carries the meaning of a strong power and an agent of rescue. She tells us that “It just so happens this same word is used sixteen times in the Old Testament to describe God himself and how he comes through for his people in a time of great difficulty.” Wow! Women are not weak helpers, but, as creatures bearing God’s image, able to be strong powers for good.

The book goes on to describe our identity and calling in alliance with our brothers in Christ and in our sisterhood with other women. It talks about striving for wholeness instead of perfection and healing in the midst of community. One chapter describes the role of spiritual disciplines in growing our faith. And the final chapter discusses our roles in serving the body of Christ.

I especially resonated with the Sisterhood chapter. This chapter spends some time digging into 2 Corinthians 3:18 (which happens to be my life verse):

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Sunberg reminds us that it is God who gives us our image–in Christ Jesus we receive a brand-new, clean image. And as we continue to grow closer to God the reflection of Jesus grows in our hearts until we are transformed into His likeness. She then says,

“Interestingly, when we decrease and he increases, we become more of the person God intended for us to be in the first place.”

I love that! I have found that to be so true–and Sunberg said it so well. I’m posting those words on my bulletin board where I can see them every day!

This chapter also reminds us that we all meant to be encouragers. And yet we often tear our sisters in Christ down instead of build them up. These words gave me something to ponder:

“Every woman with whom you share this journey of faith is being transformed into the likeness of Christ. If we really stopped and thought about the journey on which we all find ourselves, would we be so critical?”

One word of disagreement with the book. The second chapter of this book does talk about women in the pulpit. The denomination I belong to (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) does not ordain women. I wholeheartedly agree with the authors that women should have opportunities to use their God-given gifts to share the good news of Jesus, but don’t I believe we need to be in the pulpit to do that. The last chapter of Reclaiming Eve also mentions this. Wright writes: “Service is not only teaching from the pulpit but also filling someone’s chipped mug with coffee in a church basement while talking with them about their illness. Service can be driving a bus full of kids…or praying with a friend at the altar.”

My Kindle edition of this book has so many highlighted passages that it almost entirely yellow, so it is hard to choose another favorite quote, but I will close with this one:

God’s plan was to fill his people with his Holy Spirit, and in filling them with his Holy Spirit, he would transform their hearts…This meant that they would no longer live by a set of rules, but instead, they would be motivated by the desires of their heart, which would be to love God and love their neighbor. A true ezer is motivated by Christ and the desire for Christlikeness. (Chapter 4)

Check out Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God on Amazon.

ReclaimingEve

 Question: Do you agree that the sisterhood of Christ tends to be critical of each other?