Relating to Someone

Dec. 10, 2012

Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zecharaih’s home and greeted Elizabeth.  – Luke 1:38

What’s next for Mary? She goes and visits her cousin, Elizabeth. The angel had said Elizabeth was also pregnant, another miracle. Beyond child-bearing years, Elizabeth is finally pregnant for the first time. Unsure who will believe her outrageous story, Mary decides that maybe, just maybe, Elizabeth will listen.

Elizabeth doesn’t just live next door. Mary had to join a caravan or arrange for transportation to Elizabeth’s town. It probably took her a few days to get there. I imagine Mary’s thoughts enroute being how Elizabeth will respond to her. Will she get it? Hopefully this trip will be just what Mary needs.

Sometimes we just need someone who might understand and relate to us. We need support and love from that person who is most likely to see the world somewhat through our eyes. Mary knows her teenage friends will think she’s crazy. Her family will think she’s lost it. If there is anyone who might really believe how she got pregnant, it will be cousin Elizabeth. So off Mary goes.

At times, I can relate to people and their situations. But I can also honestly say that I am not always the best person to understand. When people are going through a divorce or separation and the look to me for support, I often think Rick might understand much more than I do. I know he can relate on a deeper level than I can when it is someone who has lost a child. Now if it is someone who has lost a job or had a career change, this is a little more up my alley.

Certainly, no two situations are ever the same. Every case is unique and different. But isn’t it comforting to be with someone who has had a more similar situation? That’s why we often seek these people out when dealing with a tough time. It’s just another way we are God’s messengers.

Lord God – Sometimes the person who can relate to us isn’t very close geographically to us. And sometimes it’s not a person closest in age. Thank you for the people you’ve brought into our lives to help us sort through challenging times. These often unrecognized messengers make a difference. Thanks for loving us this way. Amen.

Blessings –


Being the Lord’s Servant

Dec. 9, 2012

Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her. – Luke 1:38

Mary’s maturity amazes me. She’s YOUNG, pregnant and her world has just been turned upside down. Her response? “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be.”

I don’t know about other folks, but when my world is upside down, seldom is my first response, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be.” Nope. My response tends be more wanting to scream! Or wanting to climb into my bed and never have to leave. Or call up someone and share how awful my day has been. I know this is not how I would have responded when I was 13- or 14-years old!

Listen again. “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be.”

What is Mary’s message to us this Advent? It’s more of a question. How can we be the Lord’s servant? Too often, we focus on what others will do for us rather than how we can be the Lord’s servant. God isn’t asking women today to give birth to the Messiah. What God does ask us is to take an extra plate of cookies to the lonely neighbor … and more. Being God’s servant might mean anonymously paying for a person’s groceries, covering someone’s electric bill or giving items through the giving tree rather than buying your spouse or parents a present. God doesn’t require men to be Joseph’s and take on the responsibility of being Jesus’ earthly father. What you can do is pay for the next person’s tank of gas at the gas station, graciously plow your neighbor’s snow or fix the person’s door that doesn’t quite shut right.

Imagine how these people … and you … will feel if we would just allow ourselves to be God’s servants. Give yourself a challenge to humbly serve one person every day between now and Christmas. See how this makes you feel and how it adjusts your attitude these next two weeks. Why should we do this? Can you answer like Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be.”

Almighty God – Mary give a huge gift to humanity when she agreed to be the Lord’s servant. She didn’t do it for recognition or money or notoriety. She did it for You, Lord God.  Help us discover one person everyday between now and Christmas that we can serve in your name. Amen.

Blessings –


Nothing Is Impossible for God?

Dec. 8, 2012

The angel said, “Look, even in your old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive” is now six months pregnant. Nothings is impossible for God.” – Luke 1:36-37

Nothing is impossible for God. Case in point: a woman way beyond child bearing years is having a baby. Elizabeth prayed and prayed for a child. But one never came. Now when she is old enough to be a grandmother, she is pregnant with her first child. Nothing is impossible for God.

Sounds good. But real life is a little different. What about the woman who prays and prays for a child and never is able to have a child? What about the spouse who prays and prays for their loved one to be healed of a terminal illness? What about the family member who keeps returning to a hurtful and harmful addiction? Where is God then?

If nothing is impossible, then why aren’t prayers answered? If nothing is impossible, why does God choose not to answer our prayers as we wish? If nothing is impossible, why is there so much sadness and hurt in this world?

While “nothing is impossible sounds great,” most of us feel like we’ve been let-down at some point. We become disappointed. We feel our prayers are too often idle petitions.

Does this mean I’ve given up on God? Do I not believe this line? Absolutely not. While nothing is impossible for God (i.e. – a virgin woman can have a baby and a grandma-aged woman suddenly becomes pregnant), God sometimes chooses not to have things happen just the way we desire. Fortunately, only God can see far into the future and see how seemingly challenging situations can eventually turn out OK.  May we not forget when the impossible does happen: cancer goes into remission, reconciliation happens, prayer is answered in a completely unexpected way. Maybe impossible is a lot more probable if we just shift our thinking.

Almighty God – For some reason, it’s so much easier for us to give up on you and you give up on us. May impossible situations not frustrate us. May your wisdom and guidance pervade and encourage us to simply trust you.  Amen.

Blessings –


The Miracle of a Baby

Newborn babyDec. 7, 2012

Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.” – Luke 1:34-35

Growing up on a farm, birth was part of life. Baby making happened regularly. Every September, we put the ram in with the ewes for lambs to be born in January. Before I was 10, Dad taught me how to pick out which cow was in heat. Dad kept a book in the milk house with the date cows and heifers were bred and which bull they were bred to. I had the artificial inseminator, John Prissel’s, phone number memorized. I could call and request which cow he breed and what bull to use.

All of this, long before school sex education class.  It was clear to me that something from a male and something from a female combined to form a baby. Sex education class gave name to these somethings: sperm and egg.

As an uneducated teenager girl, Mary probably never had science or sex education class. Yet she was familiar with life formation. She became engaged when she hit puberty. Once a young girl had her period, her parents would arrange for marriage. The official wedding ceremony would take place a year-long engagement. Then, the young bride would get pregnant as quickly as possible. Providing she withstood childbirth, Hebrew women were expected to have babies annually until they no longer could.

Mary was engaged. But it was completely unethical for her to be intimate before the official wedding. When the angel told her about a baby conceived within her, Mary’s first thoughts are, “Impossible! I’ve followed Hebrew tradition and kept myself for only my future husband. There’s no way I can be pregnant. It’s logistically impossible.” For regular human beings, it is impossible. But not for our Almighty God. God went beyond the impossible and make it possible.

The conception part of the Christmas story is one of those details that either you accept or you don’t. There is no scientific explanation for Mary being pregnant. For some, this is too much and deemed impossible and improbable. I choose to accept this miracle and believe it. Maybe Mary didn’t know the technical words for sperm and egg. That’s not important. What is important is whether she chose to believe it could happen. And this, she did.

Almighty God – There are parts of the Christmas story that can be deemed as too far-fetched. Mary becoming pregnant is a detail that can’t be explained. May we see every created baby as a miracle, with Jesus being another one of those very special miracles.  Amen.

Blessings –


Grandpa and His Princess

DSC00521Dec. 6, 2012

The angel said, “He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will reign over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” – Luke 1:32-33

Grandpa (aka husband Rick) loves to ask our two-year-old granddaughter Ellie who is a princess. She’ll flash a huge smile and flutters her long black eyelashes as she dramatically peeps out, “Me!”

As Americans, it is harder for us to understand the significance of a king. Our founding fathers moved away from a centralized power family and established a three-branch system. Nonetheless, even Americans paid attention to William and Kate’s wedding. And who hasn’t heard about Kate’s pregnancy?

For over 500 years, the Hebrew people had been waiting for the Messiah. Several prophets spoke of a new king that would redeem the Israelites. The angel’s words remind us that this new “king” will come out of the same family as King David, the most revered king in Israelite history.

What was different is the kind of king that arrived. The Israelites anticipated a king that would lead them to battle and take back all of the Promised Land. They expected a king that would restore their country to previous greatness and notoriety.

But this is not the king God had in mind. God’s king could redeem all people. This king’s kingdom would live forever. This king was humbly born in a barn, lived a normal childhood and studied the Torah. This is also the king who accepted responsibility for all humanity on his shoulders and died for our sins.

This is also the kind of king who makes princesses and kings out of all of us when we name Jesus our king. In this sense, Ellie is right. She can and is a princess in God’s kingdom, as we all are.

Almighty God – It’s easy for us to misunderstand you God. When you redefine what a king is, we too often miss it. Thank you for wanting to make all of us kings and princesses in your kingdom.  Amen.

Blessings –


Faith vs. Fear

Dec. 5, 2012

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name his Jesus. – Luke 1:30-31

What are you afraid of? As a child, maybe we’re afraid of the dark, snakes or rats, when we lost our parent at the store. When we’re older, our fears shift. Will there be enough money for the mortgage? What about this sick child? How will I deal with all of this stress?

Listen to the angel’s words. He knows once he dumps the big news, Mary may stop listening. So, the angel gives advice first. “Don’t be afraid.” We do this also. When we have important news to say, we often try to prepare the listener. We do it just a bit differently. “Are you sitting down?” Or, “Hear me out.” Possibly, “Please don’t jump to conclusions.”  

Mary is a 13- or 14-year-old Hebrew girl from the poor village of Nazareth. Think Podunk, Israel. Not only has this angel appeared to you, but is telling her she is pregnant. And she’s not to be afraid? Really?

Fear is a funny thing. How often we spend time “fearing” things we cannot control or we are not sure will even happen. Fear is like worry. It can capture a lot of our energy negatively. Our minds get racing and soon we’ve created all these possible scenarios which may or more likely may not happen.

What really is fear? It’s a lack of faith. It’s choosing to let possibilities become more important that what we believe. It’s not trusting that God will be with us no matter what. It’s having more confidence in ourselves than God’s eternal presence with us.

Mary had every right to be afraid. Yet somehow, we’ll read that she kept her wits about her. She did not get wigged out. She kept her faith. She knew that God would journey with her every step, every day. Maybe the angel’s warning caught her attention and she headed his warning. I am still working on that one.

Almighty God – Help us hear those same words. “Do not be afraid.” Forgive us when our faith in you isn’t strong enough to overcome our fears. Thanks for loving us even when fear is chosen over faith. Amen.

Blessings –


God’s Strange Favor

Dec. 4, 2012


When the angel came to Mary, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. – Luke 1:28-29

Mary: the favored one. Not usually the first word that comes to mind when I think of Mary. Here’s a young girl that will potentially lose everything because of God’s favor upon her. This is how God often works.

Thanksgiving week, I traveled with my friend, Kristin, to Argentina. We spent a few days in the countryside. One city was called Chacobocu, a city of about 40,000 people a couple hours west of Buenos Aires. While there, we spent a chunk of a day at a foundation, what we would call an orphanage. At the time, 29 kids from the ages of five months to about 16-years-old were waiting for a more permanent living situation. Some kids had no families. Some parents, like one boy about 2-years-old, had been brought to the foundation because his parents lived at a dump and did not want him living there. Some kids have siblings and the foundation tries to place them together, which is terribly difficult.

In the afternoon, we spent a few hours doing crafts with the kids: designing turkeys, making necklaces and decorating Christmas crafts. Simply and easy to do, we were surprised how much the kids loved doing these simple things. Crafting was not normal for them. The kids would make the same craft over and over, just as excited with the sixth necklace as they were with the first necklace.

One 16-year-old girl was initially not too interested. But she warmed up and by the end of the time, wanted her picture taken with her projects. We learned this teenager had recently been brought to the foundation and was having a difficult time fitting in. My guess is she wanted to be somewhere else than the foundation.

Earlier that day, we visited a private school. The sixth grade girls wanted to speak English with us. They were curious about American music, movies and entertainment. One girl shared how her sister was attending Yale. I could not help but contrast the difference between the girls at the private school versus the misfit teen at the foundation.

At the end of the day, I wondered: if God was choosing a mother for the Messiah today, would God be more likely to pick the Yale college student or the teenage orphan? I think we’d be very surprised with God’s pick. I’m thinking it would not be our first pick.

God’s favor looks strangely different from our favor. God intentionally chooses the meek, the mild, the lost and the challenged. Rarely does God seek the wealthy, the person with status or the influential person. God chooses ordinary people for God’s favor so that everyone can feel welcomed. Now if I could only be as gracious and open.

Almighty God – Mary didn’t seek your favor and yet you chose her. We think, “If this is the kind of favor God dishes out, I’ll pass.” But this is exactly the type of favor you often extend: asking us to do the seemingly possible. Nudging us outside of our comfortable little boxes. Challenge us this Advent to let our boxes grow. May we find favor in your eyes not for our benefit, but purely for the glory of Your kingdom. Amen.

Blessings –


Life-Changing Decisions

Dec. 3, 2012


When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David of David’s house. The virgins name was Mary. – Luke 1:26-27

Ever have a day that turned out differently than expected? Today was one of those days for me. I knew decisions related to my Dad’s health were foremost. And we made decisions that will affect both of my parents and our family. My Dad’s health care is moving into a different direction.

Was it any different for Mary the day Gabriel visited her? I cannot imagine that when the day began, Mary ever expected a messenger to show up as she went about her daily routine. The news the messenger dropped on Mary? One word: unbelievable. Jaw-dropping, I-think-I’m-dreaming caliber.

This one visit changed every day forward for Mary. Did she think of her life as “before the visit” and “after his visit?” I’m not sure. I’m confident Mary knew once she accepted the offer, her life would never, ever be the same.

When a 13- or 14-year-old engaged Hebrew girl became pregnant, the penalty was stiff: death by stoning. Even if this did not happen, most likely Mary’s finance would leave her. Her family would be disgraced. She had to reconcile that she would probably raise this child as a single Mom. Talk about heavy things, for a teenager. Yet Mary accepted Gabriel’s news.

Actually, the news Mary received changed not just her life; it changed the world forever.  We have all had decisions that have changed our lives: getting married, where to live, a change of careers amongst various others. When we have one of those days when we make life-changing decisions, let’s be inspired by Mary’s faithfulness to God. Remember her words: “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”

Lord God, our lives are peppered days that turn out differently than expected. There are events and days that we label as “before” and “after.” Thank you for Mary’s model of how to graciously deal with these times in our lives. Amen.

Blessings –


Today Advent Begins

Dec. 2, 2012

She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. – Luke 2:7

Today, Advent 2012 begins. It’s a time to prepare for the coming of the Christ child, whose birthday we will celebrate in just four weeks. It’s the “coming” of this special baby we prepare for. Although we have heard this story many, many times, we tell it again this Advent and Christmas because it is a story that changed the world.

A common theme we also hear at this time of the year is how frustrated people are that the word “Christmas” can’t always be said. Shopping malls promote holiday shopping. Schools no longer have Christmas programs; they have winter celebrations. It’s not a Christmas tree at the state capital but a holiday tree.

We’ve seen the e-mails encouraging us to not be afraid to say, “Merry Christmas.” And I agree. But let’s be real. Do we really want Wal-Mart, Target and the Boston Store telling the Christmas story? Is it government’s responsibility to make sure the story is told correctly?

The Christmas story is one of the most common stories of all time. Whether a person went to church as a child or not, most children have heard a version of the story we hold dear. The Christmas story is the church’s story to tell. If we consider ourselves Christians, then it’s our story to tell. It’s our story to repeat over and over. It’s our story to loudly proclaim.

Rather than getting frustrated by those who aren’t sure whether they should tell the story, let’s reclaim our story this Advent. Let’s make sure and invite someone to hear the stories of Advent and Christmas Eve. May we be encouraged to remember this story and help others see how this story changes us and the world.

Lord God, we thank you for this special time of year to remember the stories leading up to the birth of your special Son. Encourage us to be the tellers of this story, to share with those around us how this story changes our lives. Amen.

Blessings –


Where Do You Find Great Joy?

Apr. 30, 2012

Luke 24:52-53 

Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

So this is how the author of Luke’s gospel closes out his account of Jesus’ life. Despite all of the white-knuckle days, the confusion and despair, the “I can’t believe it” moments, at the end of the day, the disciples found great joy in their risen Savior.

And in the end, this is one important aspect Jesus wants us to discover as Christians: joy. Great joy, in fact. Being a Christian is not to be uggy. (Is that a word? I think I just made it up.) It should bring a smile to our face, it should be a highlight of our day, it should be a feeling that overwhelms us and gives us peace.

Some recent moments of great joy I’ve experienced as a Christian:

  • Watching four teens share their faith statements on Confirmation Sunday. I know they don’t have their faith all figured out. (I’m still trying to figure mine out and I could be their Mom!) Cole maybe said it best when he admitted that his faith would change in years to come. Amen.
  • When a song from Sunday worship swirls around in my head for days to come. Today’s version: “I choose Jesus. I choose Je-e-sus.” Thanks Carrie, for sharing yesterday.
  • Sophia’s excitement yesterday when she told me her Mom is pregnant. Sophia is 5 and her eyes could not have gotten any bigger or brighter when she told me her family is growing. I pray this little baby will be as healthy as possible, as Dad requested. A good weekend at the Nelson household, I do believe.

Can you name some recent “great joys” in your life? Pause for a moment. Thank God for these events that brings smiles to our cheeks and contentment to our souls.

Actually, the author of Luke’s Gospel doesn’t stop here. He actually writes a long epilogue. We know it as The Book of Acts. In Luke’s Gospel, he shares with us what Jesus did throughout his life and ministry. In Acts, we see the disciples – the 11 and many other new disciples – continue Jesus’ message into the known parts of the world at that time.

But the story doesn’t end there. Great joy does not have a cap. It continues today. We’re the hands and feet of this story today. We are the ones who can bring the joy of Jesus into this world today. It’s a message that needs to be heard. It’s a message that should be priority. It’s a message I pray we’ll share today and tomorrow.

Let us pray: He rules the world with truth and grace. And makes the nations prove. The glories of His righteousness. And wonders of His love. And wonders of His love. And wonders, wonders of His love. Amen.

Blessings –


Mid-February, I committed to blogging daily through Lent. As much as I enjoy writing a daily blog, it is not realistic for me to post daily all year. I’ll continue to post weekly or so. Please continue to share any blog that touches your heart with someone else. And keep in touch! I’ll continue to write and share but just not on a daily basis.