It’s time to snuggle in our tents just like Mary did with baby Jesus. In Luke 2, scripture tells us that Mary wrapped him “snugly.” There is nothing better than to snuggle in for a good night at home. Especially with people you love, a fuzzy blanket, and a cup of hot chocolate. When that perfect snuggle moment happens (maybe right after you have taken in your first deep breath all day) every thing in the world feels just right. At that moment, you feel completely accepted and loved.
One for our favorite Christmas stories is by Max Lucado. He writes a story about a crippled lamb. The lamb grows up smaller than others, different than others and often last. When the time came for the other lambs to move on to another pasture, the cripple lamb was left behind because he was not strong enough for the journey. One night a new baby boy was born in the barn where the lamb stayed. Because the lamb was at the right place at the right time, he had the opportunity to snuggle in with the new baby Jesus to help keep him warm. At that moment, the lamb feels completely accepted and loved.
As we move closer to the “best holiday ever” in our tent, we are looking for ways to snuggle in to baby Jesus just like that little lamb. We want to be at the right place at the right time even when we feel smaller, different, and last. We want to snuggle in to the “best gift ever” of being accepted and loved.
For us, to snuggle in means being on the couch together to enjoy our favorite Christmas movies. By taking advantage of a slower schedule, we are careful to not over plan our way through Christmas. We also keep the fuzzy blankets close and the hot chocolate stocked. It also means taking advantage of the season by putting ourselves in the flow of the Holy Spirit. We use reminders of the ever green trees, twinkling lights, candy canes, presents, and never ending wreathes. They remind us of the everlasting pure light of Christ that is given to us through his sacrifice. When we feel completely accepted and loved because of Christ, our joy is just contagious.
If you need permission this Christmas to snuggle in, you have our permission. It’s good for the soul!
While Mary and Joseph were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guest room. Luke 2:6-7
From Our Happy and Snuggly Tent to Yours,
This week, our pianist has been playing the piano more than ever. For hours at a time, she happily sits on the piano bench and fills our home with “Silent Night.” Over and over and over again. First she could only play the keys on her right hand. Then she learned how to play the cords on her left hand. Finally, she put them all together.
If you do not know our pianist, you are probably wondering why this is interesting. If you do know our pianist, you are probably wondering what in her world changed to create such dedication to her hobby. Normally, after she attends her weekly piano lesson she carries her bag out of the lesson (with the piano lesson books inside) and gracefully tosses it into the back of the car. It stays there for seven days until it is time for another lesson.
But something happened over Thanksgiving. Her grandmother visited our tent. When her grandmother left, our pianist began to play with passion. Curious? Granny filled the piano bench with extra incentives for practicing the piano. Lots and lots of motivation in the form of one dollar bills. The agreement between Granny and Grandchild is one dollar for each time the pianist practices playing the piano. Suddenly we have a passionate pianist in our tent!
Motivation in any form is the reason we reach our goals. Motivational speakers call us to action. Motivational moments require a response. Motivational grandmothers produce accomplished pianists in our tents.
As people who love Jesus, it is worth our time to look around our tents and our communities to see who needs some motivation. Who needs someone to fill their “piano bench” to help them accomplish their goal? How can you be that person. This amazing event happened in our tent happened because an outsider came into our tent, assessed the situation, and made a slight change to our pattern. The result got our attention.
As we move into a season of celebrating the birth of Jesus, let’s remember that he too motivates us every day. God intentionally sent him into our earthly tent on a silent night as an outsider to assess the situation and make a change. A Big Change. The result got our attention thousands of years ago and I pray it still gets our attention today.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
This week many of us will welcome friends and family into our homes. Families will gather all across our country to give thanks together for God’s blessing and for each other. This is a well honored tradition across our states. And over the years, we have learned to master the turkey dinner. We have come a long way from the first feast.
Although this time together is much anticipated, the days before offer us an opportunity to give thanks as well. So often in daily family life, we are caught in the business of life. Going here and there, on time and late, seven days a week robs us of the relationships we enjoy. Our family relationships are reduced to a quick text, a quick kiss and a quick hug good bye. We easily fall into our beds in an attempt to get enough sleep so we can do it all again the next day. Or maybe this is just happening in our family! Exhausting.
In the days leading up to thanksgiving, there are some spiritual practices we can exercise to re-set our hearts on each other.
Yummy Breakfast–Breaking bread together in a special way, is a yummy practice. If the children in your tent are enjoying a school break, take time around the breakfast table to enjoy each other a little more. Nothing says good morning like the smell of warm biscuits, bacon, pancakes, sausage, eggs, muffins and other yummy creations. A delicious breakfast will help everyone recognize that something special is happening this week.
Set the Table Together–Prayerfully preparing your heart for the guests you love is another practice. If you are the one hosting this year, do it with a heart of joy. Joy is contagious. Invite other people in your tent to join you. While setting the table, pray for those who will be gathering around your table. Pray that your Thanksgiving Feast is a place that is life giving. Make it a place where the Holy Spirit can be experienced by all.
Tell Your Story–Remembering God’s story and how it connects with your story opens awareness in your heart. While you are gathered together, share your family story. Duke Marshall is a psychologist at Emory University. His work with families shows that families who share their family narrative and build it together help children in the family know who they are. It helps children successfully navigate their lives. It also helps the adults remember who they are as well.
Give Thanks–Gratitude is a life giving practice. Our families may not look the same as they did this time last year. Some members have grown taller, some will have more wrinkles and some will be missing from our tables. Life is precious. As your gather, give thanks for this moment and this time together.
Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. Colossians 2:7
We hope you and your family enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday together.
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
Back in the day, my favorite week in school was pep rally week. Pep rally week was a signal to me that the work was done and the celebration began. Before pep rally week, my friends and I worked all summer.
We gathered over the summer at various houses and painted vertical pep rally signs, on hot driveways. Some signs were made to hang from the gym ceiling and HUGE run-through signs were made to hold while the football team enter the football field on Friday nights. We spent one week during the summer learning new chants and cheers to teach our hometown. We practiced building human pyramids on our shoulders in the city pool during the afternoons. We fell in the water again and again.
When the summer came to a close and school began, it was time for the first pep rally. At the pep rally, we gave it our best. We yelled. We jumped. We nailed our human pyramid. We smiled. The spirit of the school and the town grew week after week. The football players felt like heroes and we were all ready for the competition.
Holy Week is like a pep rally week for Christians. For the past forty days, we have prepared. We looked for signs of selfishness, sin, and doubt. We discovered our deep need for forgiveness and grace. We unplugged, fasted, prayed, discerned and listened. We remembered the final act of death on a cross so that we can find hope in our darkness. We patiently waited.
When the sun comes up on Sunday, let us cheer. Hallelujah! Let us lift up the Spirit. Our helper. Our advocate. Let us paint signs all around us for others to see. Signs of love, hope and peace. Let us see Jesus in unexpected places. Testimony. Sunrise. Stillness. When the sun comes up on Sunday (and every day), Jesus is our hero and we are ready for the competition.
Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Matthew 27:54
From our Happy Easter Tent to Yours,
How many times a day do you shake a jar of pickles in your fridge. Around our house, it is a new activity. It began by receiving a jar of pickles from a friend who instructed us to shake the jar at least twice a day for a week to help season the pickles. (The jar contains a secret seasoning…or at least that is what he said.) We know how to follow directions so we have been shaking the pickles, daily.
No matter what is going on in our house, we shake the pickles. During homework, we shake the pickles. While cooking dinner, we shake the pickles. In the morning while drinking coffee, we shake the pickles. We have embraced the process and we are looking forward to eating the pickles at the end of the week.
God invites us to do a lot of things in life. We are called to hang out with God in prayer during the day. We are called to play God-spy by keeping our eyes open for God at work around us. We are called to “be” more and “do” less so that our religion makes more sense. But above all, we are encouraged to embrace the experiences around us. If we are too focused on the past, we miss it. If we are too worried about the future, we miss it. Only when we can embrace the moment (and shake the pickles) do we really catch a glimpse of what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come so that you may life to it’s fullest.”
Our pickles keep us present in the moment and they make us laugh. Every time someone opens the fridge door and shake the pickles, we all laugh. This silly exercise creates a moment where we forget our stress, phones, chores and challenges and we just shake the pickles. When they are placed back in the fridge and the door is closed, all our problems do not seem as challenging.
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
P.S. Delicious pickle recipe: Buy a large jar of sliced pickles (ours are Hamburger Dill Chips made with sea salt from HEB). Add one package of powder Ranch dip. Shake your pickles for a week. Store in the fridge.
P.S.S. The season of Lent begins next week. If you need a devotional guide, order your copy of Have Mercy on Me. All proceeds will be donated to Habitat for Humanity.
A familiar friend showed up for a three-day visit in our tent this week…Mrs. Humility. She came on Wednesday and stayed through Friday. She took time to visit with three of us. Mrs. Humility took advance of our insecurity, stress and mistakes to enlighten us. With each encounter, we were reminded of our sad attempts to be perfect and prideful. But like they say…after three days guests and fish begin to smell!
So what did we do? In our own little way we confessed and repented. We shared the mistakes that we made and then we asked for forgiveness. We talked to God and apologized for worshipping our idols instead of God. We listened to friends that God sent us who said just the right words. And then we experienced the best feeling…GRACE. We exchanged grace between each other. (Families are a great place to practice giving and receiving grace.) We gave it and we humbly received it. God’s forgiveness fell over us like a refreshing shower.
God’s love for us kept us from inviting Mr. Shame to come over. He is just a simple text away and always wants to partner with Mrs. Humility to strike when we are weak. But not this week. This week, Mrs. Humility grabbed our attention and we turned right back to God before we could fill our minds with destructive thoughts. Once destructive thoughts take root in our minds, the journey is even more challenging.
As we watched Mrs. Humility leave our presence, we were surprised to find that we were filled with thankfulness instead of anger. A weight fell offer our shoulders. We were free to live under God’s rule over our lives. The paradox is that we felt more freedom in that place than when we were trying to be in control.
God worked under the surface of our lives this week. We all grew in ways that we cannot measure. We were reminded that we will make mistakes, we need wise friends and we need grace.
What about you? Have you had any unexpected “friends” visit you lately? How is God working under the surface of your life and nudging you to grow in ways that cannot be measured?
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:3-4
From our humbled tent to yours,
P.S. It looks like Mrs. Humility has been busy with others as well. If you have time check out this video from Q Ideas about Humility in the Time of “Me”.
January is a time for life changes, behavior modification, and New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps this year you have decided to focus on your health, eat less pie, eat more fruit (or cake!), spend less time on social media, spend more time with family, accumulate less stuff (now that Christmas is over!), create more memories, spend less time griping and complaining about people, spend more time worshipping God. I love a picture I saw recently about a guy who makes the comment, “My New Year’s resolution is to stop lying to myself about making lifestyle changes.” Maybe 2017 needs to be a year when we simply get honest with ourselves and cut ourselves some slack.
As I started thinking about 2017, I was struck by a quote from an 18th century German writer, scientist, and statesman named Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe encourages us to, “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” Dream no small dreams – now that’s something to consider at the beginning of a new year! 2017 is overflowing with opportunities to be enjoyed, days to be seized, and love to be shared. 2017 has all the potential to be another tremendous and blessed year. So here are a few tips to help you dream no small dreams in 2017:
Take the Plunge: In Matthew 3:13 to 17 we see Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan River. This is when Jesus goes public with his plans to change and save the world. And to make these divine plans known, he literally takes the plunge. He jumps in with both feet, and he never looks back.
Time in the Saddle: My family received a Christmas ornament this year that includes the quote, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle” (Winston Churchill). If you want 2017 to be a year of dreaming no small dreams, then there is work to do, and work requires time in the saddle.
Stay Motivated: Of course along the way we will get frustrated and want to give up. Staying motivated can be difficult, but is possible when we remember the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing, have a strategy but remain flexible, monitor and recognize our progress, keep it fun, get the help we need, and reward ourselves along the way. The apostle Paul ministered in the name of Jesus for over thirty years. Remember…God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1
A Dream Come True: And the time will come when that big dream becomes reality. What then? We celebrate! Nehemiah oversees the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls after they are destroyed by the Babylonians. When this massive project is completed, all the people gather, Ezra reads from the Law, and Nehemiah tells the crowd, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.”
So whatever your plan is for 2017, my prayer for you is to dream no small dreams.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Steven Henry Bell
Don’t you love those moments when everything falls into place? Sometimes it’s when you are hosting a dinner party and new friendships form. Sometimes it’s when you finish the last chore in the yard and it just looks beautiful. Sometimes it is when someone simply says “thank you” after noticing your small act of kindness. There are those spiritual moments too when it feels like God is whispering “peace be still” right into your soul. They to take your breath away. Sometimes it is during a beautiful sunset after a long and stressful day. Sometimes it is when the person you love most holds you just right. Sometimes it is in the middle of worship when you feel as though God is speaking directly to you.
This Christmas, we are invited to join Mary and Joseph once again for their “manger moment.” Their moment when everything they had experienced for the past nine months falls into place. Their moment when their hearts are so filled with joy. Their moment when the angels are above them, the shepherds are running to them and the stars are surrounding them. And once again, they invite us to make their “manger moment” our moment, too.
This Christmas weekend, we hope that your days are filled with “manger moments” when everything just falls into place and God fills your heart. Enjoy the people you love. Enjoy unwrapping gifts and giving them. Enjoy delicious treats. Take notice of God’s presence. Take notice of the peace. Take notice of tiny glimpses into eternal life. Experience as many “manger moments” as you can for it is these moments that we come back to when the pressures of life push in on us.
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Luke 2:16
Merry Christmas from the Bells,
Meredith and Steven
We have one happy, happy camper in our tent this week. The candy rule is gone and the “candy queen” is so happy. There is candy all over our house. Some of it is in the obvious places and some of it is tucked away in little corners, under blankets, and in drawers. It is everywhere and our happy camper has taken inventory and knows the location of every piece. Candy is available 24/7 in our home and life is good for a little girl.
Because we are kind, loving parents, we let the “candy queen” enjoy a few days of bliss. She even enjoyed some for breakfast a few mornings along with her protein plate. But then the time came to reintroduce the rules. “Okay, now that you have enjoyed lots of candy, we are going to go back to three pieces a day.” We expected shock, surprise or rebellion. Instead we simply got an “Okay.” Well that was easy!
There is a gift hidden in rules. They make us feel safe, secure, cared for and balanced. When we have rules that guide our choices and lives, we are able to relax within their boundaries. The big decisions have already be taken care of so we can just enjoy life within the boundaries.
There once was a psychological study of children playing on a playground by a school that I learned about recently. One group of children were encouraged to go and play on a playground without a fence. Instead of playing and exploring, this group chose to just play by the entrance into school. They didn’t feel safe enough to play on the playground. Another group of children were given the same instructions and same choice. The difference was that a fence had been installed around the play equipment. The second group played on the monkey bars and slid down the slide. The take away was that the children felt more safe with the fence and were able to relax and play together.
Our creator gives us fences (or rules) to live within simply because we are loved. They are not intended to restrict us, punish us or frustrate us. They are intended to remind us that we are safe, secure, and loved. Rules for life help us draw closer to God by making space in our lives for God. They offer us balance in the pressures of life and light in darkness. We may go through times in life where we are like the “candy queen”…we have more than we could ever need and life feels blissful. But then, we may feel that we have lost direction or purpose in life. We know then that it is time to go back to “three-pieces-a-day”. And when God calls us back to our center, we experience God’s grace. Another day and another chance to live life through God’s eyes instead of our own.
Explore your rules this week or create some. What is your rule of life? Share them with someone close to you. You might find that you will enjoy God’s playground even more with a fence around it.
For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17
From our Happy Tent to yours,
P.S. If you want to explore a rule of life more, check out Crafting a Rule of Life.
This conversation would be much more enjoyable if we had time to sit down together and maybe have a cup of coffee or tea. But that would mean we would have to align our busy, over scheduled selves in a such a way that our lives could intersect. Making this happen for just a while, so we could talk, seems impossible most days. A modern day miracle.
If you did have time to come over, we would visit about idols. I think it is time we come clean about what is really driving our lives. I think it is our idols. You know those little things in our lives that move from “important” to “little gods” while we sleep? Like my “to do” list. One day I make it, then I go to sleep and the next morning before I know what is going on I am worshipping that little list. I will move mountains to get everything checked off. Getting things done becomes my religion for the day. Who knows what God really wanted me to do that day? Sadly, I will never know what I missed.
Or the little children (well…one is as tall as me now!!) that really run my life. When they were given to me, I was full of joy and completely scared. I had no idea what to do with them or for them. But moment by sleepless moment, I discovered what do to. Now that they are working on their elementary and middle school careers, they have moved from needing me for basic survival to simply needing me to find their shoes or be a personal ATM machine. When I observe our routines, I notice they need me to move their plates from the kitchen table to the dishwasher and move their clothes from the floor in their room to the laundry room. And back again. When did I start worshipping their little lives and the messes they make? Ugh! No wonder I am tired. I am trying to use my two hands to keep up with six other hands and four paws! If I keep this up, there won’t be much of me left. I am pretty sure God created me for more.
And let’s not mention this phone I carry with me every moment of every day. Talk about an idol. I worship what that little phone tells me from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed. I am just being honest.
We serve a JEALOUS God. A God who created us so the world would see God in our words, actions and deeds. We work for the ALPHA and OMEGA from our beginning to our end. We worship ADONAI (the God who sees me) alone. We seek to know our CREATOR. We shrink before the mysteries of the great I AM. When we are about God’s work, we do not have time to worship little gods in our life. Little gods demand more of us than we are able to give and distract us from the one true God and God’s work around us.
If you had time for a cup of coffee, we might talk about your idols as well. I wonder what idols you would pull out of your purse or wallet. Which ones are hiding in your closest? We may even share the same ones. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, tired, anxious, confused, distracted or lost. Maybe one (or more than one) of those little gods has slipped into your tent or life and it has taken over. Take a good look through your tent (home) or routine and see what you are truly worshipping these days.
Kick them out on the curb by your next trash day because that is where they really belong. Don’t worry about what your neighbors think…they probably have some too! It’s best to just get them out in the open and get rid of them
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. Exodus 20:22-23