Monday, December 31, 2007

worshiping God

What should be our priority going into the new year as marked by our calendar? Worshiping God is one good place to start.

Eugene Peterson remarks how we get into trouble when we're talking about God, rather than talking to God. To worship God is to present and offer ourselves to him because of what God in Christ did for us, in offering himself up for us. It's a response of love and it's our response to God's word.

Worship should be a regular part of what we do. Really, in a true sense we should be endeavoring to worship God in all we do. And there are those special times we set apart to express devotion to God both alone, and with others. Bot are important as we see from examples in Scripture.

Worship helps us connect with God, and helps us see our true selves. True worship allows for nothing but pure devotion to the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If there is any rival in the heart as we endeavor to so worship, God will make that known to us.

This weekend at my sister's place with her family, we had a good time of worship singing songs and mostly hymns as I played my guitar. What mattered in that is that we were seeking to worship God in our singing, and in expressing our faith with the words of the songs we sung. I need to do more of this.

If we're to have a new year's resolution, maybe a good one would be to seek to make the worship of God a practice in our daily lives and in our special gatherings. Asking that God will help us in this, as we seek to worship him.

What thought might you have on this?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

prayer for the week

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

hearing God's word

I love to hear God's word well read, out loud (of course). And I love to hear it done in dramatic effect, well- not overdone, but giving us a feel for the story or what's being said. After all the Bible is just as human a book, as it is of God. Like Jesus, the Word who became flesh/human, the Bible is a God-human book. Not lessening its status as the word of God. Of course words are first, by nature, heard. They are spoken first and received by ear. Or written down and for most of God's people in Bible times, heard from one reading them out loud.

I used to go through the Bible several times a year by hearing its reading dramatized, or later, read- on tape. I used to drive my wife Deb, herself a lover of God's word- kind of "crazy" in doing so- and I was wrong for not letting her interrupt me the few times she wanted to, so I could catch everything. I grew tired of cassettes breaking and jamming. So I set it aside, after years of doing so, just a few years back.

I've enjoyed reading Scripture now in the conventional way, though I try to read slowly and "out loud" in my mind.

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed recently had a post that rather excited me. He highly recommended The Bible Experience, a reading of Scripture done by a number of gifted people, done to give one the sense of being present- before the original writer or reader, or before the story itself. And so easily finding oneself becoming a part of that. I once sampled it in a bookstore and was much impressed. Now I've decided I want to pinch my dollars and get it. Though I still intend to keep to my more conventional way of going through Scripture daily- morning and evening. But like going through The Message, as I'm doing now, this will be at least a good supplement, and in itself a dynamic, that may mirror more the way God wants us to approach his word. With our whole human person, as those engaged with other humans and in story, with God and in his Story.

What has helped you in reading or hearing God's word? Or whatever you might add.

Friday, December 28, 2007

looking forward to the new year

If you're like me, New Year's Day is just a day off in which one is hopefully with family and can watch some decent college football (with hopefully some good reading). But beyond that New Year's Day doesn't take on much more significance to me than beginning a new calendar year, and getting used to writing a new date for the year: 2008 or 08 instead of 07.

And I'm not one given to New Year's resolutions. I can't remember any one I've actually made in particular, and it's not really in my understanding of how to live, particularly how to follow Christ. Though I know it's a custom in our culture.

What the turning of the calendar does remind me of is the periodic new, fresh starts we need in our lives, in Christ. There are times when we become aware that we need a change of heart, or a new working in our heart from God. This past year has been a year like that for me. And I've had one significant breakthrough after which I must by grace, keep heading in a long obedience in the same direction. I am in the midst of more change. It's hard, but good, as the Lord works on areas to make me more like himself.

This has not been done in a vacuum, nor is it being done so, but through others, and especially one who having shared their own story, through the blog world entered my story. And in the Lord has had, and continues to have an impact in my life which has been, and continues to be life changing. Isn't the blog world funny? Maybe not as surreal as some think it to be. It does seem like in "the real world" there are friends few and far between as well as opportunities in which through fellowship, life change can take place. But this is an important part of what the Jesus community is all about.

So I look forward to a new year in which God will be present in Jesus by the Spirit to us together, in our lives- through the good times and the bad times. That we will be present for each other, sharing our stories and God's working in our lives. And helping someone along their difficult way, through loving fellowship, listening, prayer and words of humble counsel.

I also look forward to another year, Lord willing- in which I will continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In which I will not only continue to change, but that by grace I'll be a different and better- in Jesus terms- person, all the way around. In quietness and confidence before our God.

What about you? Are you looking forward to a new year, and why- or why not?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

living in the desert

Related to yesterday's post, I think it's true that quite frequently, we in Jesus see ourselves living in a desert, in this existence. Often I feel spiritually dry, barren (fruitless), or sometimes petrified with fear or more likely even boredom.

Yet frequently I sense the Lord's presence, the Spirit moving- even if ever so lightly and just enough to recognize it- and the motivation to act in faith. This comes from God and his word, all in Jesus. Though the desert experience for some may be prolonged, it should not last forever. Not to judge Mother Teresa. But as a rule there should be a sense of oasis along the way, here and there. This is what I find in my own life, most every day. Some seasons of a dry spell last longer, but most have at least some refreshing and rest to them.

Living in the desert is to be a time and means of preparing the way for the Lord, first in one's own life, and then into the lives of others, helping them by our lives in their wilderness and desert experience. It is a place where we come before God as we are, and where God exposes our hearts so we can repent and find God's new life.

We should not despise the desert. It is part of life in this barren present world, not to be despised, but appreciated, as the Lord's tool for holiness and godliness in this present existence, and a precursor (or forerunner) to God's blessing in Jesus.

What have you found about living in the desert?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Advent and the holy stump

Eugene Peterson, in his wonderful book Subversive Spirituality has a chapter entitled, "The Holy Stump." This is taken from this passage in Isaiah 11:
1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
This originates in a spiritually destitute time, in which at the end of Isaiah's faithful proclamation of the magnificient revelation he had received from God, due to God's judgment- all that would end up being left of God's people would be a nation of stumps.

God had promised Isaiah the same at Isaiah's commission after the life shattering and changing vision and the thrice proclaimed holiness of God (6):
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.
Wonderfully we find holiness, a holiness which changes us, bringing the real life from God in place of the counterfeit life pressed in on us from every side: from the world, the flesh and the devil. Wonderfully this life from God in Jesus appears at the most unlikely places. In seeming desolation and ruin often among those who are castoffs and of no regard to this world. And if we look, we can find it in the stump of our own lives.

Holiness in the form of judgment begins this process. Yes, Jesus took the judgment on himself, but we also read that judgment must begin in the house of God. We can receive this salvation from God only by acknowledging both God's righteous judgment against our sin, as well as God's gracious salvation in the Savior. From this the holy seed, Jesus, comes life, life that takes hold in the most unlikely places of our lives, as we submit to the Holy God- receiving the revelation of his presence and ourselves in light of that, and submitting ourselves to his just judgment on ourselves and his accompanying salvation in Jesus.

This is part of the Immanuel ("God-with-us") promise in Isaiah, fulfilled in Jesus, and coming true even in the most devastated, dead places of our lives, and likely especially there. Look for the life, the life of the holy, changing us surely, as we seek to worship and live faithfully, before him.

What does this bring to mind? Why should this encourage us?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas reading

Luke 2

The Birth of Jesus

1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David's town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

An Event for Everyone

8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."

13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!

The Message

Christmas prayer

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

taken from Jesus Creed

Monday, December 24, 2007

Advent and the cross

Christmas is about Christ and his coming. God becoming flesh to take on himself a death that we as sinners were, and in ourselves are doomed to die. Jesus took that on himself at the cross that we might in exchange receive a new start in the new humanity in Jesus.

The cross. It should never be forgotten that it is through the cross that God accomplishes everything that is to be done, in the coming of his Son. And in Jesus, by faith, especially together we're to become part of the solution, as we live a cross-formed life in Jesus, a humanity like what he lived. But not by mere imitation, but by very participation through the Spirit, as by Jesus' atoning work we're taken up into this new way of living.

Jesus, and everything about his coming is somehow related to his cross and his death for us. It speaks God's word to and about everything. All is judged but also redeemed and saved through that death. Through this death alone comes our real life. Not in the world's terms of life, but in God's terms.

This is part of God's word to us this Christmas season: it's the word of the cross. God's gift to the world in his love, his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Do we see this season in terms and through the cross? Do we see everything through the lens of the cross? And with that the resurrection. But resurrection means life out of death, accomplished for us and for the world by Jesus.

What might you like to add or say here?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

prayer for the week

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Advent and faith

Quite often it is the case that when we feel stuck, or out of sorts, not knowing what to do- it can be a matter of our lack of faith. We find ourselves stuck at a crossroads or down the wrong path, and really our faith seems to be going nowhere, or is stagnant. I find this to be true of myself at times.

The Magi (see this) were led by this mysterious star which led them all the way to Bethlehem where they worshiped this new King and presented gifts to him worthy of a king. Then they returned, by God's direction avoiding King Herod who was bent on destroying this new King.

Faith for us is key to be led to look towards Jesus in the first place, to be led to him and to worship him, giving our best and our all to him. We need to be thinking this season of Jesus in his coming. God becoming flesh in the Person of his Son, God's final Word to us. This is what the narrative of the New Testament is all about. God being revealed in Jesus, and what all of that means for us all, and for the world.

Everything else then, can take its proper place in light of this wonderful revelation to us, as we embrace this revelation and gift by faith. Our faith may be weak and wobbly, but it can become stronger and more steady as we keep our eyes on the star which leads our eyes to become fixed on Jesus.

Whatever faces us, let's remember this star, and Jesus. And let's worship him this season, giving our best and our all to him.

How do you think this star can apply to our lives? How can this help us, or even hinder us? Or whatever you might like to add here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Advent and time

We read that at just the right time, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we all might have the full rights of sons.

We are creatures of time. Time was important too, for Joseph and Mary. Events and human development happen within time. We have the advantage of seeing the time and events of Mary and Joseph in the narrative given to us in Scripture. We can see the whole picture and how God brought this together, worked it out with the more than difficult issues and completed it. Time like everything else, is God's servant. And yet we, even as servants of God in Jesus, can think and live at times, as if this is not true. As if time is not on our side, though since time is a servant of the One we serve, we know that God will work out and make everything beautiful in its appropriate time, at just the right time.

It has been said that for God to send his Son during this time, from the perspective of inhabited earth, was apt, as the Roman empire, with its roads and civilization, maximized the possibility of the spread of the gospel and the growth of this faith. The mission of God in Jesus is always to be undertaken, as we in Jesus plant seeds of this good news, water it with more proclamation and living, and then see the harvest of souls, as we continue to share and live out this word. This takes time, but time is on our side since God is over time, which along with us, ends up serving God and his will in Jesus.

We are not told in Scripture that there will be no bad times. Certainly Mary faced this later in life when the sword of her son's suffering pierced her very soul. We live in a world in which time seems to have run out or is running low for many. Yet we must persevere in faith, and be assured and awake as God's servants, that God is in control of time. At the right time God moves, and by the Spirit God wants us as his servants to move in correct time; his timing in our lives, in mission in Jesus in this world.

Advent and time. Let's take the time to make this Advent season and celebration special, remembering this most remarkable gift given at just the right time, in God's time- for us, and for the world. And then let's live out the continued giving of this gift for our own time, in Jesus as God's servants, knowing that time in God's will in Jesus, is not out of hand for God, but in God's great and good hands.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Advent and hope

Hope helps us endure when all seems hopeless. It is called "an anchor for the soul", set on Jesus and his life and work for us. I see it spring up from my own deadness. Like sprouts seeming to come out of no where, from nothing, and in spite of some things.

As we celebrate Jesus' First Advent, we look forward in hope or anticipation to his Second Advent. This is when all that has begun in Jesus now is completely fulfilled. What a wondrous event that will be!

As we celebrate Jesus' First Advent than, let us look forward to his Second Advent in which our hopes born of faith will be fulfilled.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Advent and stress

Scripture is written to the point in its largely story form, surely partly so we can fill in the gaps in seeing how our various stories fit into the one great Story of God (as Eugene Peterson points out). When we read of Mary and Joseph we read of a narrative with gaps in which there surely was some times of more than ordinary stress for the two.

There is the time after Mary received word from the angel of the miraculous conception and special baby she was to carry. How would this work out? Would Joseph believe her? There is Joseph, struggling through this until God assures him in a dream through an angel that Mary is indeed telling him the truth, amazing as that truth is. Then there is the aftermath, in which Joseph and Mary together surely had to live among whisperers and people who knew that she was pregnant, though they had yet to come together to live fully as husband and wife. A time of stress.

Then Jesus is born. Stress surrounds this of course, but more than from the normal process of birth. There is the king Herod from whom they end up having to flee and then live in a foreign land: Egypt. And then upon their return Joseph is uneasy and is directed by the angel to leave Judea and they go back to Nazareth.

Stress. A normal part of human life and at times especially acute. It's good that we have the story laid out as we do. We can see God's hand in it all throughout, though in the actual living out of it Mary and Joseph could not always see that, and surely they had questions along the way. But in our reading of it we see it turns out for good, though not in the way we would come up with ourselves. Simeon made it clear to Mary that her path would not be an easy one since a sword would pierce her soul too, with reference to her son and his mission from God.

Jesus himself shared in this stress. We can see it sometimes in his interaction with people during his time of ministry, and acutely so in Gethsemane. He knows firsthand and with that empathy is God-with-us, Emmanuel, to help us in the times of stress we face.

Let's thank and praise God who has come to live in the person of his Son, in this real world and experience. Completely human just as we are, yet also "God-with-us", present to help us through to the glorious end.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Advent and politics

Biblical scholars and theologians such as John Howard Yoder have helped us see that the coming of Jesus was indeed political. Jesus' coming had to do with all of life, not just with the inner world of the individual. The kingdom of God come in Jesus brings in the beginning of the new creation and this began at the coming of Jesus: his Incarnation, life and ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Jesus' coming said, in a day when Casear was considered both "son of God" and "Lord", that those titles belong to Jesus. Yet at the same time Jesus taught to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. Jesus seemed uninterested in dealing directly with the powers and trying to be a part of the world system. Instead he speaks of a kingdom not from this world and not living according to it. This is the heart of his kingdom come and now present "in Jesus" and in those who are in Jesus, his church.

To say Jesus' coming and the kingdom of God is political is to say that it really is concerned about all of life: the personal, communal and systemic; local, national and international. But it is one that infiltrates, I believe, especially through the people of God in Jesus, the church and the church's act and proclamation of the good news of Jesus in the world. And in the tradition of Daniel, Esther and early Christians in various stations of life, it is one that is salt and light in whatever corner or calling one is found in, and having potentially a major impact for its time.

I believe Jesus' coming is subversive in a transformative way within the system. It makes a big difference potentially even now. Herod could have been a part of that if he would have bowed his knees in repentance to the newborn king. In fact no matter what form of government is in play in this world, even in most trying circumstances brought on by it, acknowledging the King of kings and Lord of lords, the one exalted over all- can help in this world and existence to make a difference. But it's one of a subtle nature through the church and through members of the church at work in society. Not one of directly overthrowing this world order, which awaits the return of Jesus to this world, the Second Advent.

These are rather preliminary thoughts I have on this. Have you thought about this, and whether you have or not, what would you like to share here?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent and snow

Over the weekend we were rather bombarded with snow. There is now a lovely blanket covering the ground and our roof, equal to several warm blankets on a bed. It's Winter in Michigan, after all. We do get some lake effect snow this time of the year.

Advent reminds me of snow in that Jesus' coming ends up making our crimson red sins as white as snow. Believing and receiving this gift gives us far more than we bargain for. We may think we're getting "heaven" for someday, but we end up getting a new life beginning now. And it's a life in which there is a washing of new birth after which there are regular cleansings. Sin continues to be a factor for us in this present existence in Jesus. It is something we have to be aware of and sensitive to, if we're to really begin to understand and appreciate God's grace to us, in Jesus.

As the angel told Joseph,

[Mary] 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

It is important for us to remember that in Jesus' very name is a crucial part of the reason why he was born on that wonderful night. It's a reason that's important in our lives and together, in this world, everyday of our lives. It gives us hope, not only for beyond, but in this life. For this we give him thanks!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

prayer for the week

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer
(the "Collect of the day" for each day this week, Sunday through Saturday- as true of past weeks)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Advent and shopping

By nature my wife, Deb is not a big shopper, really not a shopper at all- except for necessities- nor I, unless you would turn me loose in a book store. Same there to some extent for my wife, and there is a great cowboy store around here (horse saddles, etc.) that is fascinating to her. If we had the money- we've almost never had "much" extra- I think we would shop or buy more than we do now.

Christmas and shopping are intertwined in the culture we live in in our affluent society. For stores this is a big and critical time of the year in which they make a majority of their money, so that it's a make or break time for them. And the malls are especially packed now.

We know that the greatest gift of all came in a baby born in a manger or cattle trough. Yet Christmas has become all about buying gifts with little or no mention given to the Christ after which it is named.

I am not opposed to the traditions here in America, if held in their right place. We enjoyed, for example, the movie Polar Express, and we have a Christmas tree by our front living room window. Though I have to admit, because of the way this season is played out here, I'm mostly uneasy with it all.

Not just by necessity but from the heart we want to be into other things. More than ever we in Jesus need to light the candle in the darkness all around us, and be taken up with the true reason for the season- Jesus and his truly great and wondrous coming! Let's bless God, ourselves and others by pondering in wonder and awe this most wonderful gift of all.

What does this season and its traditions mean to you? Or what would you like to say here?

from Nancy, "Sublime Transition": more

Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent and beauty: part two

The Advent story itself, as given to us in Scripture does have a beauty all its own. What more beautiful reading is there in all of Scripture than the account in Luke 2:1-20? This beauty mirrors the beauty of the Son of God himself, in its majesty and simplicity. From this beauty we find beauty everywhere in the new humanity in Jesus found all over the earth.

Advent and beauty is about the story of God becoming human in Jesus. This means humanity's dignity and honor already given, is underscored and marked forever. There is nothing more important in this world than truly becoming more human together in Jesus. The together and in Jesus are each important since to be human is to be in true relation to God, to one's self, to others and to God's good creation- especially the earth. "In Jesus" we share in the radically relational God, in the Triune community and communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, insofar as humans can share in that communion. This begins now and is meant for all of us together, no one left behind. And thus we come to share in a beauty not of this world, but come to this world and for this world, in the Advent of Jesus.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Advent and beauty

How many of us see in the Advent story, striking beauty? Beauty is inherent in God and all that God does. We see it everywhere, even in this fallen world, and we are drawn to it, even though it can be impacted negatively by us humans in our sin. And we find beauty in the Story of God in Scripture, messy as that story is, in a fallen world of fallen, sinful humans. From both Matthew and Luke's account of the nativity, to John's words about it- we see a beauty that is of God.

What is beautiful to us? Certainly nature is, or God's good creation. And God's new creation in remaking sinful humanity in Jesus is beautiful as well. We see beauty worked out into the lives of Mary and Joseph, and changing the lives of others for this same kind of beauty, to this day. This beauty we find in and through the baby boy, Jesus. The God-human Jesus.

This beauty in Jesus we together begin to participate in, by faith. It's a beauty that puts "the world" to shame- in all its glitz and glamor. A beauty in which we must live, in Jesus, and persist, so that others along with us can share in it.

But why is this beautiful? Why is the story of Jesus beautiful even to non Christians? What makes this story along with the Story of God we find in all of Scripture beautiful to us who are in Jesus as God's redeemed people? What does it look like before us, and in our own lives?

What do you see as beautiful in this and in relation to Advent?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Advent and humility

Of course the epitome of humility is our Lord himself, coming "down" into this world and existence, as a human, born in the same way as all humans, living and dying like we all do, though the death of a cross.

Advent also includes a necessary humbling taking place by those who participate in this salvation event. Think of Mary and Joseph. Think of the shepherds and the Magi. Think also of those who refused to humble themselves, like Herod.

In humility Jesus came, and only in humility can we participate in this coming and gift. This will involve prayer on our part to God, acknowledging the truth about ourselves, our sin, and looking to him not only for forgiveness, but for cleansing and change. Humbling ourselves before God needs to be done regularly, especially when we know what is in our hearts is sinful.

When we're mired in our own sins, we have no time or heart for Jesus and God's work in Jesus in our lives and through the community of God in Jesus. Humility starts with the dawning on us that we are wrong and need God's help to be made right with a completely new start. While there needs to be those special "conversions" or clean breaks from a given sin issue- and this is important, at the same time there needs to be smaller conversions along the way. Only then can we be open to believe then see and participate in this great salvation Jesus brought into the world. And begin to learn to live, no less than in the very humility of our Lord himself in this world- together with others in Jesus and for the world. That others may come in faith and see and find this new life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Advent and fear

Fear paralyzes us and makes cowards of us all. I speak here of fear as in cowardice, turning me into a numb skull so to speak.

We read in 1 John that perfect love drives out fear, and this has been, in my life, a rather perpetual problem- even if not so much as of late. Though it did return very recently for an unwelcome visit.

But when God comes on the scene in the Person of his Son, he does so in a sense that ends up driving out the fears of those prepared to receive this gift. The shepherds were terrified at the angel of the Lord appearing to them, but they end up running to the manger and finding the baby Jesus just as the angel had told them. They were not fearful, but excited and active in a new found faith.

Fear as in cowardice is never of God. This fear paralyzes us- just the opposite of what God wants to do, though right down the alley of the enemy of our souls. We need to ask God to let us see the cause of fear and then repent of it. It is almost always unbelief in letting ourselves be taken in by the problem, whatever problem it is, so that it becomes larger than life. Larger in our minds, even than God!

Instead, we need to hear God's word to us in Jesus. And run to the manger, acting in faith.

Fear should not be a factor in our lives in Jesus. Let's remember the Christmas story in light of this. In spite of the different reasons that various people in it could have been stymied by fear, they responded in faith to God's voice, and acted accordingly. We see the end of fear and the beginning of something new taking hold of them, and of us. And not letting us go, as we have something in Jesus that the world cannot give or take away.

(in case you don't understand some of my posting times, you might say it's UK time, or just any time I feel like posting- since I have to get up so early on the morrow)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Advent and unbelief

Within the narrative we read in Scripture concerning Jesus' birth and its aftermath, and the circumstances surrounding that, we can see numerous instances where people by and large probably lost out in the blessing they could have received by simple faith. Within this group we could include the friends and relatives of Joseph and Mary in the community of Nazareth. Sure, it was highly unusual, what God was doing, as well as his word at that time. But evidently, the people were not open enough to be able to hear and receive by faith the word of God that had been communicated both to Mary and Joseph. And maybe it was not in God's will at the time to make this known openly, either. Just as Jesus was careful about revealing who he was, knowing the people were not ready for it, and would simply want to use it for their own reasons.

Then there are the likes of Herod, as well as the Herodians- and others, whose personal kingdoms could be threatened by what they had learned from the Magi travelling to see the one who had been born, "king of the Jews". Unbelief is not only limiting God, but it is refusing God to be God, not wanting his will to be done if it conflicts with one's own will and agenda.

Are we open to God's word in our lives, no matter what circumstances and difficulties we may be facing? Are we open like Mary to God's ways, which may not be anything we know at the time? And are we choosing God's will over our own, whatever that means? Not just saying that, but living that out as well, according to God's revelation given to us in Scripture.

I am so easily caught up in anxiety, though such attacks seem rare anymore. But just very recently I've been hit again. I want to respond to this in a way in which I can grow, as whatever might be holding me back from faith is exposed so it can be repented of. As well as wanting to trust God no matter what, and believe in God's goodness in it all. I want to be taken up with Jesus and his coming into the world, and living in that.

Let us be among those who could gather around the manger in true worship, adoration and contemplation, along with pondering all this in our hearts- not missing the meaning and wonder of Advent because of unbelief.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

prayer for the week

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Advent and listlessness

Bethlehem was more or less remarkable for its proximity to Jerusalem as well as the birthplace of David. All well and good, but nothing had been happening now, for literally centuries, nothing lasting.

In comes that mysterious, glorious night when in God's providential working, the son of David, Jesus is born. Announced to the shepherds in a majestic display by angels, what had been listless (my guess) was now buzzing with hope.
I find in my experience I can so easily become listless. But like the shepherds of old, I have to remind myself what God's word already tells us: "Look to Jesus; come and see. Keep looking, and then learn to follow. And keep following no matter what."

If we have our eyes of faith open, which by the way are opened by simple faith in God's word, then we'll come alive in this new hope and reality found in Jesus. And we'll want to tell others so they can share it with us. We'll no longer be listless in a sleepy existence, but awake and alert and eager for what God wants to do and is doing- God's will in Christ Jesus. And we need to keep doing this.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Advent and repentance

We're not told, precisely, that John the Baptizer's father, Zechariah, actually repented. But he was muted, unable to talk, after he failed to believe God's word through the messenger sent to him, when he was doing priestly service for Israel, in the temple.

God's graciously blessed him and his wife Elizabeth, in their old age, with the birth of a son, the forerunner of the Christ, John the Baptizer. I'm sure Zechariah repented of his unbelief along the way. At John's birth his muted state was removed, as he confirmed the name that had been given to him from the messenger/angel, and then we have the Benedictus as Zechariah bursts in thoughtful praise to God.

Repentance is something we do, whether we feel like it or not. We agree with God and God's word, that we are wrong in word or deed, including our inner world of thoughts and attitudes. This is a humbling of ourselves before God. And God will answer in his grace. God changes us, and gives us, in time, a sense of his peace.

John the Baptizer was sent to prepare the way for the Lord. He is important as well, as we think of Advent. Our hearts need to be prepared to receive, in Jesus, God's coming into this world- all of it, including every part of our existence.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Advent and prayer

[Anna, a prophet] never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. Luke 2:36-38

Prayer along with fasting was something that was Anna's regular practice. She had chosen a simple lifestyle engaged in one simple yet profound activity: fasting in prayer.

Insofar as fasting helps promote prayer (and I could use a good book on fasting) it can be good. Prayer is the activity of the soul, meaning us in our whole person pouring ourselves out to God, humble and simple and unadorned as that pouring out in prayer may and really normally should be.

I believe there is no greater thing we can do than simply to pray to God. This does take at least a personal "fast" at the moment from everything else. We think no other thoughts- at least that's the aim- do nothing else except pray.

What Anna's requests were is not made known to us, though they certainly were related directly and indirectly to "the redemption of Jerusalem."

Do we really believe in God enough to lift our hearts to God in prayer? Do we believe our prayers matter? That they arise as holy incense to the Lord and are answered in God's good time? This is especially true when we lift up our hearts together, before God.

Anna believed, and so prayed. I'm sure she had many days when it was just a simple act of faith, devoid of any great feelling. When one fasts, this can particularly be true; it's not a feel good state. I think God values our prayers that we pray when we don't feel like praying. But we choose to because we want to, and in so doing, we're actually, in the mystery of God's working, making a difference.

Advent is a time of looking forward to the freeing of ourselves, others and the world- in Jesus. This is directly and indirectly what our praying is all about, and we look forward to its fulfillment, just as Anna did, in the God and Word who became flesh/human, Jesus.

What would you add to this, or say? (a question for all these posts, whether I state it or not)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Advent and clear thinking

Joseph and Mary both had to go through alot before Jesus was born and afterwards, in the path chosen for them by God. In that, for Joseph, he wasn't always sure what to do, though being both a righteous and good man, he wanted to act in a way of both love to God and to his neighbor.

God helped Joseph, of course, to think clearly. I think of thinking clearly as in thinking and then living according to the will of God in any given situation.

There are times in my life where my thinking can be muddled by my sin, or temptation to sin, or less than good thoughts. Or muddled by disparaging, discouraging thoughts. Often less than noble thoughts. Thoughts that don't line up with what we read of here.

What do we need to do? In the midst of it all we need to be in prayer, as Joseph was. We need to be seeking to meditate on God's truth, which again, Joseph was surely doing. Then we can be open to the revelation of God to our hearts and minds of his truth by the Spirit.

Clear thinking in the will of God can come in the midst of a battleground in our thought world, where for awhile the thought that won't last has the upper hand, but is cast down, for the obedience of Christ. Good, clear thinking has ultimately to do with obeying and being in the will of God. Joseph is a good model of this for us, in Scripture.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Advent and the faithful

We need to be thankful for the people in our lives who though, not perfect, are faithful in their walk in the Lord, and to us. We all have our flaws and blind areas. But I think of the few in my life that I can really look up to as brothers and sisters who love me enough in the Lord to hold me to God's truth in life.

Advent is marked along the way by those who from God did not settle for just getting through or surviving. There are remarkable examples of this during the Intertestamental Period- (and I suggest that we Protestants who call these books Apocryphal, rather than Deuterocanonical, dig into these books a little for ourselves, to find the value that is there) of men and women who in faith acted during that time. There are two great examples for us who before their passing were able to see the Promise for themselves: Anna and Simeon- and let's not forget Joseph and Mary themselves.

Advent is for everyone, for those of us weak and struggling in our faith, even for those with no faith- but Advent is God's great and good answer to the faith of those who won't let go of God's promises, and persist to see them fulfilled, in whatever way that may come. There is that human side, even though we know underlying it all is God's grace, without which there would be no remnant of believers or faith in the world left.

This is not in or of ourselves, this faithfulness, but it's in the One who became flesh for us. As we embrace him in faith, we will find that he is the faithful one who will help us to become characterized as truly more and more faithful in his way in this life. And this being true even though we will fail along the way.

We long for this, don't we.

I'm reminded now of the great carol: "O Come All Ye Faithful." What are you reminded of?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent: season of hope

The Advent candle lit Sunday morning in our worship service represents hope fulfilled in Jesus.

The story of Israel is one of promise, covenant and failure on the part of Israel. We see this time and again in the Old Testament. What marks the end of the Old Testament is one of renewed hope, yet somewhat despairing, because though a number of Jewish exiles had returned to the land, and the temple had been rebuilt, the grand promises of the prophets in the Old Testament and the hope of the Messiah which was kindled into a blaze during the Intertestamental period (the time between the Old and New Testament) were not yet realized. Israel was under the heel of a foreign invader; it certainly did not seem that God was King in the way he had promised.

Hope in the midst of despair. When we're in despair our hope can wane, diminish with even the danger of disappearing. We can lose all hope, which means we're in despair. How many of us are there right now concerning something or maybe a number of things in our lives. Things in which in our heads we can see God's promises for us to help in those matters, yet for whatever reason they remain unresolved.

Hope is found in the story of God and in the coming of a little baby boy into the world, something we remember and celebrate this season. Because of this coming, this advent, we know that by faith we will receive all the benefits and blessings from God through this. Not just for ourselves, but for all. This is God's gift to all.

Advent is a season of hope. Let's not let go of that hope, but hold on to it by faith. Let's do so with others, and let's look for the beginnings of God's fulfillment to us in Jesus here and now, in the unfolding of God's good will first in our lives, and then through them into the lives of others.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

prayer for the week

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Advent and Winter

We are getting a blast of cold air and some snow here in Michigan, and this day marks, or at least tomorrow, Sunday marks the beginning of the season called Advent.

I think the coldness of Winter along with the beginning of Advent is suggestive and can go together in our thinking, realizing at the same time that Christmas in other part of the world is celebrated in warm climates, even in Summer in the southern hemisphere.

Winter sends cold shivers up our spine, both physically, and for many of us, emotionally. It reminds me of my weakness as a human being; how I'm ever in need of shelter and clothing, and plenty of the latter. Advent is a season in which we remember the longing of Israel, and really the deep need of all humanity, for the coming of God's salvation, in a little baby boy. It is such a special season, filled with hope, anticipation and joy at what God did, is doing and is going to do in our lives and in this world. And it's a reminder that in Jesus the world's Winter will turn to Spring forever, as we're reminded so well in C.S. Lewis' great work: The Chronicles of Narnia.

I look forward to going through this, knowing that I have less and less times left to do it. I hope it is more special everytime for both myself and you.

What thoughts might you have on this?