Saturday, December 15, 2018

My cup overflows

As I was digging through some files tonight, I found this devotional that I had written a few years ago for Karama just tucked away in google drive and thought I'd share.

My Cup Overflows
Do you have a favorite cup? A special coffee mug you use each morning? An heirloom tea cup you only use on special occasions? A souvenir cup you got at a sporting event?

Marc went to Nairobi a few years ago for a conference and bought some handmade mugs from a local Kenyan potter. They’re beautiful and unique with different colors and tones, each with a different shape and look. Though he bought four of them, both of us preferred the same one. On our selfish days, we’d try to get to it before the other could. On our not-so-selfish days, we might even make coffee for the other & deliver it in the sought-after mug. There is just something about the shape of it, the colors, the feel of it when it’s filled with hot coffee on a…well…we don’t really get ‘cold’ mornings here in Dar, but you get the idea. Even after an unfortunate mishap where the handle fell off, we still love it.

Some cups might just be a great sale find at Ikea (or side of the road from a street vendor), but others…other cups can tell stories.

Psalm 23:1-5
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
   for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.

While there is plenty we could reflect on in this verse, I want us to consider what we think of when we read the phrase, “my cup overflows.”

What images come to your mind?

What stories come to your mind?

What ‘cups’ come to your mind?

The first connection that came to mind for me was a visual image from our school’s primary assembly a few weeks ago. One of our chaplains talked about Acts 2:17, which reads, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” The chaplain held a cup and a pitcher full of water in front of the students, and slowly pouring the water into the cup, talked about how God is the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17), he wants to give us life abundantly (John 10:10) and He promises the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As the water overflowed from the cup and spilled out onto the floor, the students all watched, eager and wide-eyed, gasping with surprise and delight, many even moving out of their seats to get a better view or come and touch the water that had spilled.

The second connection that came to mind is from Matthew 26, which reads, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” A few years ago, my husband preached a sermon on communion and the four cups of the passover that are remembered during a Seder meal by the Jewish people (too much to get into here, but an interesting thing to Google & read more about!). While I cannot remember all the details of the cups, I remember thinking that learning about these cups was new information - not anything I had learned about in Christian education or through the church previously. An important part of Jewish tradition and belief that I knew nothing about. What did all these cups mean? What is this cup that Jesus would prefer to pass on? Certainly it’s not the cup mentioned in Psalm 23. No, Jesus was to drink a much different cup than the one we are offered, His was a cup of wrath.

In Psalm 23, God is our Good Shepherd but also our Great Host. He has prepared a table for us, the most amazing banquet that we could ever fathom. He provides for all of our needs, not only until we are filled, but to overflowing! God not only fills our cups to overflowing, but he is the Giver of our cups, or our portions. The cup or portion that the Father gave to the son was that of suffering, all the brokenness and sins of the entire world. A cup that was meant for us. Rather than handing us that cup, however, our Good Shepherd gives us rest, he leads us, he restores us, he protects us, he comforts us and as our Great Host he prepares a feast, he anoints our heads with oil, overflows our cups, giving us more than we could ever need.The reason we have cups that are overflowing is ONLY because Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath on the cross. He was our substitute. He atoned for our sins, giving us a seat at the feast that the Father has prepared.

What a gift! What a wonder!

Doesn’t that reminder make you want to sit on the edge of your seat, with eager anticipation and eyes wide, anxious to see the overflowing that God is pouring out, just like the kids in assembly? Doesn’t it make you want to gasp with delight or get out of your seat so you can get your hands wet in the the glorious overflow of God’s goodness?

Additional Scripture if you’d like to do a word study on ‘cup’ throughout Scripture:

  • Genesis 40
  • Genesis 44
  • Psalm 16, special focus on verse 5
  • Psalm 116: special focus on verse 13
  • Jeremiah 25
  • Matthew 23: 25-26
  • Matthew 26:36-46
  • John 18:1-11
  • Luke 22:14-23
  • I Corinthians 11:17-34

Questions for reflection:
Am I in a season where my cup feels like it’s overflowing with sorrow and suffering? As his sheep, are there burdens I need to bring to the Shepherd and let him tenderly take up and care for?

Am I in a season where my cup feels like it’s overflowing with joy and God’s provision? As his guest at the banquet, are there things the Great Host is blessing me with that I haven’t yet identified and/or thanked Him for?

Are there ways I am trying to prepare my own feast, or fill my own cup rather than allowing the Great Host?

In what ways can we become more like the children in the primary assembly - eager, wide-eyed, gasping with delight, on the edge of our seat in anticipation of what God is doing? What hinders us from that child-like reaction?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Advent Devotional Idea

For the last two years, our family has done a version of an advent calendar devotional at dinner each night. It’s been simple, meaningful and something we have all looked forward to, so I wanted to share what we do in case you’re looking for an idea. It's something you can do whether you're single, married with no kids or married with kids! You’ve still got plenty of time to figure something out as this year, Advent begins on Sunday, December 2!

The idea came two years ago when I was leading a Women’s Night of Worship in Dar. For that particular evening, in between the times of worship, we had a simple craft time. I had  cut up scrap book paper into strips that the women could choose from to make a paper chain to countdown the days until Christmas. On each strip of paper, we wrote a name of Jesus and a verse or two that corresponded to the name (see below).The idea was that at some point each day your family would gather and take down one of the links in the chain, read the Scripture together and learn about a name of Jesus. 

Shortly after this worship night, I realized I had a ton of small brown cardboard stars with simple twine loops that were meant for labeling gifts. I decided to write the names of Jesus on one side of the star and the scripture reference on the back. This took all of 10-15 minutes to do. 

About two weeks before this worship night I had been traveling and bought a wall hanging advent calendar that I got for a discount. When I bought it, I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to use it, but I was determined to FINALLY do something as a family for Advent. I was so excited to find that the little stars fit perfectly inside the pockets of the calendar! 

How we use it: 
Each night at dinner, one of our children takes the star out of the pocket and brings it to the table. If it’s one of our older two, they read the name of Jesus and the verse/s. We read for Geneva, though this year I have a feeling she’s going to labor through and sound out every single word she can! Once we’ve learned the name, read the verse/s and talked about what the name of Jesus means, that same child gets to hang the star on our Christmas tree. By the time Christmas comes, our tree is decorated with the names of Jesus! 

There you have it – super simple, but meaningful and engaging.

Ideas to change it up: 
Due to the fact that I am now a teacher (still feels weird to say that), I have to share ways to differentiate this activity:  
* If you have older kids, you could lengthen the verses/passages you read or add in reflection questions about the name of Jesus for the night. 
* If you have young kids, make sure you choose names that aren't as abstract - teaching a 3 years old about the Rose of Sharon or Root of David might be a bit challenging. Choose names like Shepherd, Prophet, Servant. Also you could read a story from a children's bible  that corresponds to the name rather than just the verse. 
* You could choose new names of Jesus each year and make it different. You could keep the old names from the previous year and put them on the tree when you decorate, but then add new ones each night of Advent. 
* You could also choose a new theme each year: names of Jesus, attributes of God, advent candle themes (Advent Candle Meanings ), choose key "Christmas" words and read Scriptures about those (one week on Joy verse, one week on Hope verses, etc) or come up with your own idea!

I’m including the list I used for the names of Jesus and the Scripture, but there are lots of lists out there, so feel free to find your own! There are more names than days of Advent, so you have to choose your favorites J 

If you don't have the cute little stars or a hanging pocket advent calendar - don't worry! Pinterest has so many amazing ways to do an advent calendar - get creative! If you end up using this idea, I’d love to see your families version of it and what you think of it.