Category Archives: Shining Light

Feeling a Little Un-Christmasy

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It doesn’t feel much like Christmas this year. I have decorated the house, wrapped presents and placed them under the tree, and moved the Elf 22 times. We made cookies and biscotti. My six year old, for whom the next three days will pass much too slowly, danced her heart out in her Nutcracker debut. We have sugarplums swirling in our heads all night long. My one-and-a-half year old is delighted by the decorations and lights, exclaiming “Wow! Mismas” at every turn. We have done all we could to prepare, but something is missing.

I feel like I’m hanging out in the Inn, maybe partying with the crowd late into the evening, while over yonder in the stable, something breathless is about to occur. And I’m going to miss it.

I have prepared everything for Christmas. Everything except myself. Today, I sent my family scurrying to church without me because I haven’t been feeling well. An hour later, as I walked into the mall for last minute gift-buying, I felt sick to my stomach. The feeling had nothing to do with my headcold.

I fell for it. Materialism and commercialism have robbed us of the sacredness of this holiday. And I am swept up in it.

Three months ago, I boarded a plane for Honduras. I came face to face with poverty and filth, desperation and heartbreak. At times, my memory replays the images like a documentary. Other times, the heat, the work, the love are so close I can taste them. But right now, while I am reveling at the Inn, carrying on about my selfish needs and desires, and thinking only of my family, the Love I encountered in Honduras is as far away as that stable in Bethlehem.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas because Christmas isn’t here where it’s warm and toasty, where the drinks flow freely, where our physical desires are met. Christmas is out there, in the dark. In a tiny manger lit only by a star, a light from heaven. That’s where Love is.

If I hope to encounter His Love this Christmas, I need to step out of the Inn of comfort and ease. Where do I want the Child to meet me? In my decorated home with our pretty tree overflowing with presents for one another? Or at the side of the manger, on my knees, thanking Him for each precious gift He has given – my family, my home, my broken heart? These are the best gifts. The ones I can receive with open arms, gifts from God Himself. And what does He want in return? Only my love. His Love for my love.

Maybe that’s the part of Christmas I neglected this year. Love for love. Not presents, candycanes, trees and ornaments, icicle lights, wrapping paper, the Elf, or even Christmas carols. Just His Love for my love.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
John 1:14 (the Message)

Merry Christmas to each of you. May you step outside of your Inn, walk toward the manger, and let His Love enter in.

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Big / Little

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God is big. We hear of His loud, booming voice, likened to thunder. He created the world, spoke it into being. He makes mountains move, separated the waters of the Red Sea, stopped the Jordan from flooding, even raised his son from death. He is big.

But we are also told He is in the details. We can pray to Him about specific needs because He cares. He even knows the number of hairs on our heads. Scripture and our answered prayers are full of examples.

As I pass through the litter-covered streets of Honduras, see children scraping food from filth, and think of other places in the world, much of the world, existing in such abject poverty, I wonder, “Where is God?” I see the mountains, lush forests, and lapping sea He formed, but what about that child, his mother, their future? The details of their lives can be changed by work – hands and feet making it happen. Because we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, WE must get to work on the details.

My Sermon

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I preached it, Sister! I brought it! Okay, really, I just shared the message at my church’s services while our pastoral staff was away. This was no fire-and-brimstone, but a responsibility to share with my church family what was on my heart. Given the spirit-filled pastors I have known in my life, this was a big role to fill. What I shared is far more humble. The opportunity was a treat for me, combining two things I love: writing and public speaking. (Kudos to my high school English and Speech teachers for the gift of both.)

Since preparing for the sermons consumed most of my recent blog-writing time, it seems only fair for me to post it here. My sermon notes, if you will. (Heeheehee – I still can’t believe I got to be the preacher.) Although this was initially for my church family, I humbly submit it to you, my blog family…

Sincerity of Faith

Good morning! My name is Leslie Vorndran. I am one of your lay leaders. I’m a mother of two, a wife. I’m currently a stay-at-home-mother. I’m an avid book reader, an art lover, an amateur cook, a dog owner, a terrible gardener, a blogger. Oh yeah … I’m a Christian.

Recently, I was making plans with a friend of many years. We met long ago during college, ended up on beach vacations and at late night parties together. As life moved on, we celebrated at one another’s weddings, baby showers, and housewarmings. But on a recent weekend, she mentioned our plans might be interrupted because she would be at church. Church? All these years, we have been “friends” through life’s biggest events, never suspecting we shared the same faith, the same core values, the same belief in our redeeming Savior. But why didn’t we know this crucial detail about one another? I suspect that’s because neither of us had been brave enough to name-drop the very Name of God. Without realizing, we had not been sincere to our friendship or ourselves.

Looking around, and in the mirror, I see people who are very, very blessed. We live in beautiful homes in close-knit communities. We cheer loudly for our local sports icons, from the Little League to the professional baseball team.
Don’t even get us started on our favored political groups. Left vs. right, red states vs. blue states, the elephant vs. a donkey (?). We love to speak out, argue vehemently, and cast votes for our sides.
We are so passionate about our careers that discussing what we “do” becomes what we talk about, how we introduce ourselves. If someone asks a prodding question, we happily delve deep, talking on and on about the work we do and who we know.
Talk and talk and talk. We create opportunities for talking: get togethers for coffee, girls’ night out, book clubs, conference calls, networking events. When the spoken word fails us, we email, text, tweet, status-update and, in the all too rare case, write letters. We love to communicate, to talk about issues, resolve conflicts, catch up, encourage one another, complain.

I’m right there with you. But what are we talking about? How much of ourselves are we actually sharing with one another?

This blog is just another opportunity to “talk” more if you will, though I started it to get some thoughts out of my head and challenge myself to be more forthright. One of my blog posts ended up touching a chord with a lot of folks. I shared a personal story of a new friend I met at the pool. She and I have spent the past few summers exchanging pleasantries, chatting without ever really talking. This year, when I was stuck in a sling following shoulder surgery, she shared the truth behind some health issues she was facing. It wasn’t until she and I broke down the nice-to-meet-you barrier of our homes, jobs, and children’s activities that we found a deeper connection. A sincerity of friendship.

The response to that posting got me thinking more about it. I have found that what we don’t usually talk about in our community is our faith. The very part of us that brings us hope, that which carries us through the hardest times and binds us together in the good. Like the old children’s song, we hide our little light under a bush. Those who enter our homes, who have a place in our hearts, may get to learn about our spiritual selves, but how many of our neighbors know upon Whom we built our faith? They see us leaving the house Sunday mornings, so we assume they know where we’re headed. We certainly don’t discuss God at work, where we might lose hard-earned respect, position, even the opportunity for upward mobility. Then there’s the social networking. Do we use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the blog-osphere, even Email to promote the Kingdom of God? For me, Facebook is a tool for connecting with others, be it my family, friends from grade school, or even the new friend I met last week. I used it to plan my high school reunion, announce the birth of our daughter, and RSVP to a wedding. I share pictures of my kids via Instagram; my husband filters his news through Twitter. Social networking. More talking. And another place to talk about everything, except our faith.

A couple of years ago, I went out on a limb and mentioned on Facebook something about my faith. This was a big deal to me, since many of my “friends” were work colleagues from whom I hid my faith, connections from a time of my life I had very little faith, and new friends who I knew held very different views from me. I risked ruining a lot of relationships in making myself known. But the opposite happened. Once I shared a little, I was encouraged by others holding the same beliefs, other followers of Christ. With this new confidence, I shared a little more and more over time. Here’s what happened. I didn’t lose out on any relationships, but rather I was given new relationships, deeper relationships. People I had known for years now felt comfortable expressing their faith with me. I have been blessed to watch their faith journeys, to grow along with them, to be challenged by their walks with Christ. Built on the sincerity of our faith, on our unity in Christ, my relationships have grown from acquaintances and social connections to friendships of the heart, a family with whom I pray.

In Galatians 3:23-28, Paul talks about this unity in Christ, calling us “children of God.” We no longer need to identify that which separates us from one another: religious background, social status, or gender. We are one in our faith. We need only to reach out and talk about it. But here’s the cool part. It wasn’t only Paul who spoke of our unity. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus actually prayed for us, for all believers, that we would be unified. And through that unity, that the world would know His Love.

Paraphrasing John 17:20-23 a bit, we are told Jesus said, “My prayer is not for the disciples alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You … so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.”

So, let me ask you a question: How do you define your community? In and around our town, across the country, on social networks, at work, in Honduras or Ethiopia, in your own home, or is your community in this church sanctuary? When you are surrounded by your community, do you catch yourself being reserved, hiding your faith “under a bush,” or do you speak out, share with others what God has done in your life, offer encouragement or prayer, and share His love so that others might see Christ in you? I am the first to say, I do not do this enough. Not even in my own family. I privately pray for extended family members, that they may come to know Christ, that He will soften their hearts to the freedom and joy that comes from knowing Him, but I choke with fear and timidity before I can talk of spiritual matters with them. And these are people I love; imagine how terrified I am of sharing my heart with colleagues or strangers!

But how can we ever be unified if we don’t know one another, truly know one another?

I challenge you, me, all of us in this together. Let’s speak out. Be unified in God’s love, His amazing grace. Let’s call on His strength and boldness to share His love, His name with our community: our town, our mission field (wherever that may be), our families, and one another right here in this church. Let’s pray with one another, encourage each other in Christ, and live our faith so others might see and believe the gift we have already recieved. My guess is that as you – as we – begin to live faith more boldly, more sincerely, we will find our relationships are unified in a Love deeper than we ever imagined.