Why I love “The Little Drummer Boy”


Dr. Russel Moore, me and my gone-to-Jesus Grandma Oleta have something in common: The Little Drummer Boy is one of our favorite Christmas songs.

I read Dr. Moore’s, “In Defense of ‘The Little Drummer Boy‘” this morning and smiled. I’ve been driving through busy traffic, writing to-do lists, wrapping presents, and trying to stay on top of the full calendar this December with the motivating live rendition of The Little Drummer Boy by For King and Country playing on repeat.

Dr. Moore’s mention of the Christendom that I grew up with, where the Little Drummer Boy was the “carnal Christian’s” favorite Christmas song because it wasn’t Biblically accurate and repeated the non-churchy phrase, “Ba-rum-ba-ba-bum” made me chuckle. I remember hearing my late Grandma Oleta say her favorite Christmas song was The Little Drummer Boy, and somehow in my family that was interpreted by me to mean she didn’t know her Bible very well. But even as a girl, I secretly agreed with my grandma- I loved the Little Drummer Boy!

In Dr. Moore’s article he shared how he longed to tell the Drummer Boy, “You don’t really need to perform for him. You really don’t need some token of excellence, to make you worth loving, worth being here. You’re loved and received already. You’re adopted for life.” I understand Dr. Moore’s empathy with the Drummer Boy from that perspective. I understand that conviction and desire to receive from Jesus his un-repayable love, and stop trying to earn his approval. But unlike Dr. Moore, that’s not where I feel a connection with the Drummer Boy. Like the Drummer Boy, I am a poor boy too (actually a poor girl, but I digress), and I just want to bring an offering with my life, my skills, my weakness, my poverty, my child-likeness, to Jesus.

The message I’ve spoken to myself this Christmas season has been, “Bring an offering Sheila. Prepare an offering. The Father loves your offering. As little and ineffective as your offering is on it’s own, bring it. The Father will light it on fire! He’ll make it powerful and effective. He’ll receive it as an offering of thanks, love and worship and he’ll use it powerfully to draw others to Jesus.” That is why I feel the Little Drummer Boy beating in my soul this year! And looking back on my precious Grandma Oleta’s broken life and legacy, I think she wanted her life to be an offering to Jesus too. She felt her poverty, but came as she was. She wanted to bring a smile to her King. So do I.

There’s a definite danger the Little Drummer Boy, Dr. Moore, my grandma, me and other poor boys face- the danger of thinking we can earn Jesus’ favor. But if we check our stuffy, defensive, Bible-literacy at the stable door, and with the child-likeness of a poor boy who knows how to bang a beat on a drum, approach our King wanting to play for him; just wanting to bring an offering, we’ll march right past all that looming danger and enter the worshipful relationship we were intended to have with the King of the Universe.

All that to say. Here are the five reasons the Little Drummer Boy has become one of my favorite Christmas songs:

1. The Drums! There’s something visceral, soul-shaking; a ring of command, order, and mission that makes me want to stand up against all odds and march behind my feet-washing King Jesus all the way home when the drums play.
2. Bring your gifts to honor him. You and I could never offer Jesus anything fit for his Alpha and Omega-ness. He’s the King of the Universe. But like the Drummer Boy, we should bring our gifts and offerings in response to what Jesus has done for us. We should beat our drums, or paint our paintings, or sing our songs, or build our bridges, or care for our kids, or whatever we do, we should do it as an offering of adoration for our King.
3. “I am a poor boy too.” Jesus knows our poverty! He became dependent and poor so that we could be free and rich in his Kingdom. Come in your poverty. Come like my grandma. Our sins and the sins of others have robbed us. But we come offering our lives too the one laid his life down for us.
4. “Mary nodded.” Mary’s life tells me to pay attention to Jesus. To look at him. To do what he says. To treasure in my heart what I don’t understand but sense is way bigger than me.
5.”Then he smiled at me.” Poor boy or girl, Jesus loves you. He loves your childlike offering. He receives it as worship. You’re not trying to earn his favor, you just want to honor him with what you have. He’s smiling.

Hope is not a dandelion wish

red-948617_1280I decided to write some reflections on hope as I pass through Advent this year.

Advent doesn’t officially start till next Sunday, so this post will be a preface to this series. I hope you’ll join me, or find some devotional like the one here, or here , or here, or just pick up a Bible app and read a passage daily on one of the many options there are for readings through Advent… or follow along with the readings at my church’s app.  If you join me here you’ll find me trying to trace hope through the Bible.

If you had to boil down the meaning of Christmas to one word you might say joy or love… both true.  But the more I think about it, I would settle on hope as the meaning of Christmas.

Hope in our culture means making a wish.  And it’s about as solid as the puff of a dandelion flower. In fact that’s what our culture means when we say hope.  We mean wish. We hope for new jobs, better relationships, happier days, healthier bodies, to be married, to be single, to have kids… you get the idea.  We wish for our circumstances to change and call it hope. There’s no confidence in it.  It’s just something we want.

But that is not Christian hope.  It’s not hope in the Bible.

I used the Blue Letter Bible tool to do a word search to find the original word translated hope in the Bible.  I found the Hebrew word tiqvah (pronounced tick-vaw).  (I’m not a Hebrew scholar… I’m just a curious girl who learned to use a Bible search tool.)  So tiqvah literally means a cord.

The first place tiqvh is used in the Bible is where the Israelite spies tell Rahab, the prostitute, that she and her household will be saved from the destruction God is bringing on Jericho if she hangs a scarlet tiqvah out the window, the same tiqvah she used to let them escape safely from the king of Jericho.

Surely it’s no mistake that the word that became the word for hope or expectation in Hebrew is the word for the red rope that saved the spies from Jericho and saved Rahab and her family from the destruction God was bringing.

Hope at Christmastime in 2018 America can feel like a pipe dream to the cynics or a flighty wish to the optimistic. For the depressed, the suffering, the poor, the broken… all of us, hope is something we long for. But so often we don’t know what it is we’re hoping for.  The Bible doesn’t give us a pipedream or a wish.  Hope in the Bible is a rescue!

The Bible offers hope that deals with the deepest longing we all have to be made right. We are longing to be saved from the judgement we feel the effects of here and sense is coming in greater measure when we stand before our Maker. We look to temporary changes in circumstance and think, “Maybe this will save us.  Maybe this will make things right.”  But hope can no more come from our circumstances than a rescue from destruction on a city can come from a dandelion flower.

Hope is a scarlet cord woven through the scriptures.  Let’s look for it till Christmas comes.


Christmas Day 2017 thoughts


(Virgin Mary and Eve
Crayon & pencil drawing by Sr Grace Remington, OCSO
© 2005, Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey.)

Today started off with dog poop on the floor.  Not exactly the picturesque Christmas morning.  Ugh.  But the good news is, it got better from there.

We didn’t visit with family, except by phone today.  Just watched the boys act like they weren’t surprised (cause that wouldn’t be cool) about the bikes they had parked next to the tree.  We didn’t buy them new bikes.  We refurbished James’ nice custom mountain bike and gave it to Connor and purchased a barely used BMX bike on Craigslist for Ryland.  We didn’t break the bank and the boys now have wheels.  Before we know it they’ll be behind the wheel of one of our vehicles.  Yikes!

James’ pulled off some surprises by getting the family a dishwasher.  We’ve been washing by hand for a year or so.  It’ll be nice to not hear such a fuss over whose turn it is to do the dishes.  James and I laughed when we opened the gifts we got each other- he booked us both for a Spartan race in February and I booked us both for a Tough Mudder race in March!  I guess we’ll either be really fit by spring break or injured.

Today two of my friends lost one of their parents.  Both loved Jesus and are now enjoying the fullness of life, joy and glory they were redeemed for!  Teach us to number our days Lord.

I went for a run today (gotta start training for these races).  I always think a lot when I run.  Today I was thinking about that verse in the Bible that says:

“Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:55-56).

I’ve heard those verses before, but it really struck me today- the sting of death is sin!  We hate death so much and fight against it so much because of the shame of our sins.  If we faced death and we weren’t bearing the guilt andshame of being liars, cowards, adulterers, abusers, vengeful, selfish, proud, oppressive, bitter, lazy, sexually immoral, murderers, etc., well we be ok with it… like coming to the end of a book maybe.  But it’s the fact that we know we’ve had this life and we’ve messed it up that makes death sting so much.  We long for life.  We don’t just want to not die, we want to live.  We want to be made right.  We want to be free of guilt and shame.  Only Christ can free us like that. Only Christ can take away the sting of death because only Christ can take away our guilt and shame and put abundant life in us.

Today is we remembered that Christ has come.  He came to bear the guilt and shame and condemnation for our sins and give us life.  He came not to take away death, but to take away it’s sting.

And as surely as he came over 2000 years ago, bearing our sins and removing our shame,  he’s coming again to make all things new.

Come, Lord Jesus!

The real, not so glamorous, Christmas story


On a night (or maybe it was day), in Roman occupied ancient Israel, a young, Jewish woman writhed, and cried as the excruciating pains of labor gripped her body and tore her flesh.  And there, where animals in the ancient world feed, a vernix and blood covered baby boy, swaddled in clothes to keep him from dying of exposure, lay while young Mary’s uterus bled.

There, the comfort of God came to Israel.

There, light came to the people’s of the nations. The coastlands.

There, in one small square of the world, while people in Israel lay in beds complaining about having to submit to a Roman census, the King of kings lay in a feeding trough, utterly dependent upon the zeal of God to accomplish, against all odds, the salvation of his people.

There, Mary completed the last stage of labor and expelled the placenta which fed the One who knits the human form together in the womb.  All the while native tribes in the coastlands of the Americas, Africa, China and the islands prayed to the gods they made.  There the God of gods began to make himself known to humanity as like no other.

This God, who would be pleased to work on behalf of those who wait for him, came as a poor infant born in a place for animals.

Today is Christmas Eve.  While my friends gathered at church to hear the real message of Christmas and others shopped for last minute presents I was helping a 100 year old patient get off a bedpan.  Not the least bit glamorous. “It’s not good to live this long,” my patient moaned, writhing from the pain of a fractured hip as I slipped out the urine-filled pan.

We long for something glorious, something bright and beautiful like lights shining in December darkness.  But our lives are full of perverted glory, broken by sin and death.  We ruin the beauty of life with our evils.  And when we live as long as my patient has, we know we weren’t made to live like this.

Earlier this year my sister said something that caught my attention, “We weren’t made to die!  We were made to live!”  It’s the truth.  My patient was expressing what we all feel, sooner or later, death is in our days.  And to live long here means tasting more and more of what we weren’t made for. We rehabilitate 100 year old people with broken hips instead of putting them down like horses as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death in this life, pushing back what we know we weren’t made for.  And that is why the real story of Christmas is so much better than artistic renderings.

The God of the Bible who comes to dwell among us and save us from death’s sting, comes not as a pretty, noble, rich child of royalty.  No he comes poor, rejected, despised, hunted and hated from his humble birth.  He comes in our mess.  He comes to walk through the dark shadow of this living death’s valley.  He comes to absorb death and God’s condemnation of sin in his flesh so that we can have real hope while we sojourn here.

So, while we rip open pretty packages tomorrow, somewhere in the world, maybe in your own life, death is raising it’s stench- babies starve, women are abused, men are enslaved, the poor are oppressed, the rich grow more proud, bitterness destroys marriages, selfishness destroys children, and the old suffer alone.

Jesus came for these.  He came like these.  There is no god like Him!

Listen to me, O coastlands,and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb,from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword;in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow;in his quiver he hid me away.

And now the Lord says,he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has become my strength he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel;I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”


How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;yet we esteemed him stricken,smitten by God, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,and with his wounds we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,so he opened not his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;his soul makes an offering for guilt,he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,make many to be accounted righteous,and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,and makes intercession for the transgressors.

From Isaiah 49, 52, and 53

Isaiah, I believe your report


(image credit)

Isaiah, I Believe Your Report

by Sheila Dougal

O God of Isaiah!

I believe your report!

You cut me from the Rock.

You planted in me the Word.

You made me your child because you became the Servant.

My transgressions pierced You.

My sins crushed You.

One of your smallest stones yet you laid me.

One of your least fruitful trees yet you planted me.

One minuscule cell of your body yet you formed me.

One of your most-lost sheep yet you sought me.

One of your shameful women yet you call me daughter.

One of your children far off yet you adopted me.

One of your sick from head to toe yet you healed me.

One of your proud and obstinate yet you humbled me.

One of your sold in chains of lust yet you redeemed me.

One of your blind yet you opened my eyes.

One of your deaf yet your voice you made me hear.

One of your dead yet you made me alive.

Your pierced feet are beautiful!

Your scarred hands bear my name!

See and be satisfied!

Your child believes!

Good news! Scandalous, glorious news!

No one has ever published so good a report!







4 Ways to Unwrap the Gift of Waiting on God


There’s a lot of waiting on God in the Bible. Joseph’s waits in prison, wrongly accused. Israel waits in captivity, suffering for her idolatry. Roman occupied Jerusalem waits for the Messiah after centuries of hearing nothing from God. And we wait for Christ’s return while we sow the seed of his gospel sojourning here. Waiting on God is an act promised to receive blessing according to the scriptures (Isaiah 30:15). And it’s the meditative focus of Advent. During the Christmas season we have opportunity to think about what or who exactly we’re waiting for. In the midst of parties, shopping lists, cookie exchanges, decorations and concerts, it is easy to miss the gift of waiting on God. Sometimes it takes hard circumstances for us to wake from our busy stupor and embrace the sober gift of longing for our coming King. It took a hard situation for me to exchange the stress of the season for savoring the sweetness of waiting on Jesus. If you find yourself in a painful, confusing, not-at-all-jolly season while the world around you rings bells and sings carols, I invite you to come aside with your Bible, a pen and paper and start unwrapping the gift of waiting on Jesus this Advent.

Waiting When Life Doesn’t Get Better

My youngest son was born two days after Christmas 13 years ago. That year, while I was burdened with his growing body inside mine, I was also heavy laden with a load of fear, sadness and shock. My husband was seeking a divorce and I was about to give birth to our second son. Along with the heavy anxieties of those cares came a stronger arm of grace to bear me up. In those days I began to learn what it means to wait on God in faith amidst my fearful circumstances. In the year my son was born, I started to learn that hoping in God and having faith in him meant waiting with expectation for Jesus, not waiting for everything in my life to get better.

That year, I began journaling in a discounted spiral-bound notebook I found at a local grocery store. With a poinsettia and the word “Faith” on the front, that journal became the place where I started a practice that has continued until now. Every year around Christmastime (sometimes the first week of the new year) I spend some time prayerfully reading God’s word with a specific look for how the Spirit would direct me in the coming year as well as reflecting on the last year’s entry and reality.

As I look back over the years, each year, I see how God is faithfully doing what he promised. He is using all things together for my good, to conform me to the image of his Son. Although I’ve seen God’s answer to my slow-to-believe prayers, my circumstances haven’t changed much. Thankfully, my husband and I are still married. But the marriage hasn’t been without its very difficult times. It’s not like I can say I have hope because God turned life in to a fairytale story of happily ever after. Not at all. I’m still praying for salvation to come to my household, and save every member. I’m still praying for God to rid me of being a coward and a man-pleaser and make me a woman of God who laughs at the days to come and fears God not man. I’m still a tired mom, who deals with depression and fears. But I do all that with a periodic lifting of my head to remember that I’m waiting on God. Advent is a good time to lift our heads and call to mind our hope.

Capture a Remembrance of Your Hope

Even if writing or journaling isn’t your thing, making a yearly tradition of using a small journal entry as a way of focusing your attention on Christ and his coming may help you look up and focus on the gift of Jesus. Here are four suggestions for how you might capture a yearly remembrance of your hope in the One who came to save his people from their sins, and is coming again to consummate our joy in him.

1) Cast your circumstances on him. Put in the journal the circumstances that are causing you to long for him. Is your marriage a wreck? Is your child dying? Have you lost a loved one? Are you lonely? Depressed? Anxious? Afraid? Tell him! Write it down. The Bible calls us to cast our cares upon the Lord because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). In Isaiah, Hezekiah took the threats of his enemies and laid them out before God and called on God to intervene. In the gospels, people brought their sick selves and loved ones to Jesus. When you bring your troubles to God in writing, you start to realize how much you long for him to do what he promises to do one day: Make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

2) Call to mind his promises. Look up scriptures with words like “hope” and “wait” and “trust” and “faith”. You’ll find some promises and prayers that will help you worship while you wait this Advent. Like this one, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 64:4) Write it down. And turn those specific scriptures that grab you into prayers for yourself and others. Pray that God will help you hope in him.

3) Cry for your kids, or someone else’s. A yearly advent journal is a good place to put prayers for your kids or for kids in your life, maybe cousins, nieces, nephews, grandkids, kids in the neighborhood, kids at school, kids at church, etc. God doesn’t want us to hope in our kids. But he does want us to hope in him for our kids and to give our kids Him as their hope. “…that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God…” (Psalm 78:5-7). Writing down your prayers for the next generation is a wonderful way to build your anticipation for Jesus.

4) Cry for new desires. It’s easy during the holidays to get distracted by things we want. Whether it be material things like a new phone, or clothes. Or relational desires like a new friend, or a happier marriage. Though there’s nothing wrong with those desires, if they consume us, we’ve missed out on real joy. In the midst of God’s chastisement Isaiah prays that God would be gracious to his people, because though they may be sick from head to toe with sin, his people really were longing for him. In their distress they waited for God their Savior. It says, “Your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.” (Isaiah 26:8). Over the years I look back and realize that often the name of Christ and his remembrance wasn’t the desire of my soul, but as I have cast my cares and called his promises to mind and cried for my kids, he’s developed in me a longing for new desires. He has created in me a desire for his name and remembrance. He has caused me to embrace waiting on him.

Life’s circumstances can be horrific, mundane, depressing, chaotic or just distracting. But when we lift our eyes off the circumstances, tell God about them, cry for his help, seek his grace and wait on him we experience the gift of anticipating our coming King.

Just keep reading


(Image credit: Paul Gauguin, Te Tamari No Atua (Nativity),1896)

*Before I begin, you should really go to that image credit link and read about this painting of the Nativity.*

I’m not a Bible scholar. I really enjoy reading and studying the Bible, but I don’t have any formal education in the Bible.  I have had some really good pastors and Bible teachers teach me how to read the Bible for myself and without fail that still small voice of God speaks to me through the words on paper and pixel.

I don’t think I’ve ever read through Isaiah.  Today I read Isaiah 7-9.  Honestly, I had to read it several times and listen to it read to me on my YouVersion app on my phone.  I get stuck on spots like:

In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it… – Isaiah 7:1

Who’s Ahaz?  Who’s Jotham? Who’s Uzziah and Rezin and Pekah and Remaliah?  I want to go investigate (and I probably should) but I can’t let these foreign names stop me from reading.  I need to just keep reading.  And reading.  And reading.  And listening.  And then when something sticks out to me, dwell on it.  So that’s what I did today.  Although I would like to know about Ahaz and all those people with strange names in the first sentence to help me get my brain around what was going on when Isaiah wrote this, I don’t need to know them to hear what God would say to me about himself and his ways in these chapters.

In a little gathering of believers who called themselves Pathway Bible Church I had a pastor who did such a great job of teaching me to stop devotionalizing every scripture to see what I could squeeze out of it for myself, but rather to ask what the passage was teaching me about God and the people in the passage and about his ways in the world.  I’m so thankful for that.  And him.

Seeing God, especially Christ in the scriptures has much greater impact on my life than trying to see myself in the Bible.  The Bible is not about me. It’s about Jesus. Isaiah is not about me.  It’s about Jesus.  Israel is not about America or me, but about God’s people everywhere.  And how God relates to his people, everywhere, is shown in how he relates to Israel.  Now I know there are theological trains of thought about Israel and God and times and such, but what I mean here is, Israel is at least in part a picture of God’s people universal.

In Isaiah, Israel was being told of “God with us” (Immanuel) coming to be the ruler they desperately needed.  The Creator of the Universe says to his sin-laden, man-fearing people, “Stop fearing rulers.  Fear me.  I will come.  And you will stumble and break on my humility. The rule of power is on my shoulders.”

When I read today’s section for the #IsaiahChristmas reading in chapters 7-9, I was struck by a couple things about God and his people both then and now:

  • God’s people need to be told not to fear.  The phrase, “Do not fear,” appears fifty-one times in my ESV Bible.  God tells his people not to fear because they do.  We’re afraid.  And we’re afraid of things that seem reasonable.  This guy Ahaz was afraid of the, “fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.” But despite these guys’ power and anger, God calls his people to trust him.  He tells us his perspective on the fierce anger of those we fear: their just irritating smoke.  And He declares our problem:

If you will not be firm in faith, you will not be firm at all. -Isaiah 7:9b

  • God’s ways are not our ways.  His sign to Israel that he will deal with oppression:  a son born to a virgin who’s name will be Immanuel- God with us.  God won’t simply deal with angry rulers who threaten his people.  He deals with the fear of man that oppresses his people.  Instead of fearing God, they fear people.  And so do we.  God won’t come to be with us the way we want, making us oppressors of the people we fear.  He comes to be a sanctuary for those who trust in him and a stumbling stone to those who don’t.  He breaks apart the chains of the fear of man by his humble coming as a child.  A child who bears the government on his shoulders.  He will make things right.  But he won’t sanctify the oppressive fear of man that keeps his people trapped in sinful cycles of loving men’s praise rather than God’s. He comes not to give us what we want, but to give us a new want, new eyes.  He comes to us in our darkness, shining brilliantly so we can see our real state where our real hope lies. 

And it won’t be Israel’s zeal to pull herself together again to begin another cycle of obedience, idolatry, suffering, crying out, rescue, repeat that will accomplish this freedom and seeing.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. -Isaiah 9:7


Advent Day 20: Waiting For God

Save me, O God!  For the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.  I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.  My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. -Psalm 69:1-3

Psalm 69 is not exactly a common Bible verse quoted at Christmas.  But I think it’s perfect for Advent.  At least it’s where I’m at right now.  Maybe you are too.

For lots of people, Christmas is not all joy and jolly.  For many it’s a very painful reminder that they long for things to be right and happy and light, but in reality they find themselves in a place where things are wrong and sorrowful and dark.  If you find yourself in a place like that today, I pray this will encourage you as it has me.

I counted 11 times in my version of Psalm 69 where the writer asks God to save him in various ways.

Save me O God!  For the waters have come up to my neck… (vs.1)

…answer me in your saving faithfulness. (vs. 13)

Deliver me from sinking in the mire… (vs.14)

…let me be delivered from my enemies. (vs.14)

Let not the flood sweep over me… (vs. 15)

Answer me, O LORD… (vs. 16)

Hide not your face from your servant… (vs. 17)

Draw near to my soul… (vs. 18)

Redeem me… (vs. 18)

Ransom me because of my enemies…. (vs. 18)

…let your salvation, O God, set me on high. (vs. 29)

Obviously the person writing this was in some sort of circumstance that made him feel desperate for God to show up and do something!  And apparently these circumstances had been there for awhile and the writer wasn’t seeing God show up because he writes:

I sink in deep mire, 
where there is no foothold; 
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim 
with waiting for my God. (vs.2-3)

He’s sinking.  There’s nothing to stand on.  He can’t keep himself up.  He’s overpowered by his circumstances.  And it’s not short lived so he’s weary.  His faith-eyes are barely able to see any kind of hope because he’s been waiting so long for God to show up and do something about this overwhelmingly difficult, long season.

There’s a lot here.  The psalm describes the writers desperateness for God to do something about his circumstances.  He’s specific about the circumstances- overwhelming numbers of enemies, lies, reproaches, shame, accusations.  He even says that even though he knows he’s not guiltless- God knows the wrongs he’s done- he knows these circumstances aren’t because he did anything wrong.  “For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach…”  He’s in these overwhelming circumstances because he is a God-representative.  He’s in this despairing situation because of his identification with God.

At that point you may say, “Well, I’m out.  I’m in the situation I’m in that I wish God would show up for and do something about because of my own mistakes.”  That might be true to some extent.  Like this Psalmist, none of us are free from the guilt of folly and wrongs that God knows about and may even be in part cause of our current suffering.  I too am in a long-lasting difficulty that is in part due to my own sins.  But in 1 Peter, Peter says something that always gives me hope and encouragement:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)

I know that the only person who can claim perfect sinless suffering for God’s name’s sake is Christ.  But, we who bear his name and love him and seek and him hate our sin and, like the psalmist in Psalm 69 acknowledge our sins before God, we have an “insofar as” sharing in this suffering that Christ perfectly endured.  And we need to see that and believe that, because that’s where we will find the deliverance and redemption we long for from God.

The psalmist who wrote this was weary with waiting for God to come do something to deliver him out of these horrible circumstances.  You might be too.  I know I am.  And that’s ok.  It’s ok to long for God to do something to keep you from being swallowed up by the anger, bitterness, hopelessness and guilt that your circumstances threaten to bring.   What I find amazing in this psalm is that the writers very cry to God to save him and answer him and deliver him and draw near to him and redeem him and ransom him and set him on a high place, is exactly where he finds God giving him hope and a song and a word of encouragement for other fellow long-sufferers.

He doesn’t find that his faith-dim eyes suddenly see because God comes in and changes his circumstances.  He finds that in his crying out to God, God is there with him, strengthening him to endure.

By verse 30 of the psalm the writer turns from crying out in desperation and vulnerable confession to praising God with his words.

I wil praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving…

When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
And build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it. (vs.30-36)

This is what we, who are waiting for God this Advent, need to do:  SING and GIVE THANKS!


I can’t even tell how many times the simple act of opening my mouth and letting my soul sing, even while the tears flow, has caused me to find God is there.  He’s there as I sing reviving my heart and reminding me of his promise: He will conform me to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29)  He will make all things new (Rev. 21:5).  He will not reject me or leave me (Hebrews 13:5).  He will judge rightly all that happens to me (1 Peter 2:23).

Don’t know what to sing?  Don’t have a great voice?  Here’s a couple of my favorites to sing when I’m overwhelmed with my circumstances and sadness:


This is harder for me.  Singing seems to come out of me (with the assistance of YouTube or iTunes) more easily, and lifts me almost instantly into hope.  But the psalmist says he will magnify God with thanksgiving after telling him how dim his eyes had grown waiting for God to show up.

When the flood of hopeless thoughts, accusations and heartaches barrages you and threatens to take your faith down, you need to open your mouth Sheila and speak out loud what you are thankful for, or write it if you can’t talk!  It will be a gasp of oxygen to your soul and some light for your dim eyes!

It’s Christmas.  Everyone is decorating trees and you may feel like the world should be painted grey not red and green and glitter right now.  But what if you took out a piece of paper and started writing what you’re thankful for and put it on a tree, or on a wall and decorated your hard, painful, weary-with-waiting-for-God Christmas with words of thanks to God.

Don’t know where to start Sheila?  How about the fact that you have access to God’s words that pulled you out of a sinking pit this morning?  How about the fact that you’ve been provided food and clothing and comfort and song and family and… the pieces of paper should cover the tree, or the wall.

Join me today in pouring out desperate cries for God to show up, singing songs of worship and longing and faith, and writing or speaking words of thanks to God that make you and I remember how big and good he is.

Advent: 24 Days of Looking to the Light of the World

Christmas is a very special time for me personally. My history of personal trials and having a baby boy at Christmastime nearly 12 years ago has changed Christmas for me forever. Every year since then, Christmas has been not a day, but days of worship and meditation leading up to the 25th of December and a new year.  I’ve spent many years doing a Jesse Tree devotional with my boys.  The last couple years, the Jesse Tree devotional was replaced by other short readings and discussions (read resistance and challenge) with my preteen and teenage sons. This year, I’ve decided to write out my own meditations and thoughts and share them with my young men.  I am planning to post a daily meditation/devotional between now and Christmas.

 December 1: What Life Is All About

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” -John 8:12

I’ve been thinking a lot about how following Jesus explains everything.

I’m currently going through a situation where I’m being asked questions, almost daily, about God, what the purpose of humanity is, what marriage is for, how to find happiness and more.  The questions come from someone who doesn’t believe in Christ and even admits to being repelled by the idea of worshipping God or needing a Savior.  As I’ve listened and humbly put forward the answers I felt led to speak I’ve come to realize what a freedom and wonder it is to see life in light of Jesus.  

Christmas is ablaze with lights.  Lighted trees, lights on the house… everything is lit up.  I love the lights.  The shine and glimmer at night is just beautiful.  But lights aren’t just pretty.  They allow us to see.  In fact seeing is really just our brain’s interpretation of the light the photosensitive cells in our eyeballs receive.  When you’re blind, your eyes don’t take in the light.  The light is there, but you don’t see.

Light allows you to avoid danger.  With the tiniest of lights on at night I can distinguish a Rubik’s cube in the hallway on the way to the bathroom so I don’t twist my ankle.  Light invades darkness, but darkness never puts light out.  When the lights are on, night creatures and creepy crawlies scramble.

In the Bible Jesus calls himself the light of the world.  Jesus is the light every human being needs to see what life is all about.

The famous Christmas reading of the prophecy about the coming Child says:

“The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” – Isaiah 9:2

 Living life in this world without following Jesus is like living in deep darkness without any light.   Sounds scary.  But even scarier is living life in this world without following Jesus thinking you see just fine.  Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:23)  

The Christ we celebrate at Christmas is the way we see what life is all about!  Christmas is about the Light of the World coming into our great darkness, making those who believe in him able to navigate this dark, crazy world with understanding, peace and purpose.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:1-13

Light of the World life doesn’t make any sense to me without you!  Even though I don’t fully understand you, when I look to you, and follow you, I can see where I’m going in life and everything has purpose.  You really are the Light of the World!  Thank you for breaking into my darkness and shining your light on my heart!

Love. Suffering. And the Heart-Stream Turner.

(Old pic, boys have grown a lot in a couple years.)

Here it is approaching midnight. I so wanted to sit down and write out some thoughts from today earlier but a neighbor popping in, a child wanting to play cards, a husband not feeling well and soap to be made stood in my way.

So, here I am, printing labels for soap at the very end of this 2nd Sunday in Advent and writing out some thoughts with this very tired brain.  Consider yourself forewarned.

Today’s reading was reflecting on love and today at church we heard from 1 Corinthians 6, not an apparent tie here, but there are these two questions:

Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?

I remember having a Bible study with a lady once who seemed appalled at the thought that you should do something or refrain from doing something because it might cause that person to stumble in their walk with Christ.  I remember the look on her face that said, “That cannot mean that!  That’s co-dependency.  I can do whatever I want.”  I remember thinking she doesn’t get it.  She still thinks Christianity is something you add like a cherry to the top your personally selected sunday life.  She certainly doesn’t think Christianity is taking up your cross and following Jesus daily in dying to yourself and bearing with others, even suffering.

That section in 1 Corinthians that asks those two small questions… that’s the part that came to mind when I read this evening’s Advent reading on love.

Christ suffered wrong and was defrauded along the path to glorify the Father and bring me (and all those who would believe) back into a right relationship with God.

I will suffer wrong and be defrauded in this life as I set out to glorify my Father and point others to Christ.

That’s the price of love.  But oh is it worth it!

To the one who holds tightly to all they have to uphold their worth, suffering wrong and being defrauded is to be avoided and must be avenged at all cost.

But to the one who knows all things are theirs in Christ; who knows their worth and identity are found in him, to suffer wrong and be defrauded is a light and momentary affliction on the path of Christ-like love.

Being a Timothy-Mom to two boys in a divided house is hard.  It’s been really hard these last 48 hours.  But God amazes me how, “The king’s heart is like a stream of water in the hand of the LORD- he turns it wherever he will.” I worried.  And I took all those worries and cried and poured out my heart before the only One who can do anything about a 12 year old boy’s heart and his tired, unbelieving dad. And He turned that unbelieving heart toward wisdom.  And gave him the right words for his troubled son.  And I stood there in the hall and thanked God for hearing my cries and intervening.

I will trust Him!  There is no one like my God!