Advent: Faithful in Our Waiting

I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You before the gods.

I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth;

For You have magnified Your according to all Your name.

On the day I called, You answered me;

You made me bold with strength in my soul.

All the kings of the earth will give thanks to the Lord, when they have heard the words of Your mouth.

For great is the glory of the Lord, for though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me.

The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.  ~Psalm 138

Waiting.  So many I spoke with yesterday are waiting for something seemingly impossible.  A new job, a restored marriage, a healed heart.  I, too, am waiting.  Waiting for God to do what I know only He can do.

I confess I get discouraged in the waiting.  Somehow God always seems so much more powerful if He acts immediately…but He rarely does.  He requires that we trust His power even when it is still.

If Advent teaches us anything, it is that in our waiting God remains faithful.  Faithful to us.  Faithful to His plans and purposes.  Faithful to working together His will and His way into a masterpiece of something beautiful, good, and true.

Are you waiting on God today?  Rest in His faithfulness.  He does not forsake us or His work.  Keep believing God for big, impossible things.  Let the story of Advent–its waiting and accomplishment–give you hope.

Advent: O Come, Divine Messiah”

“O Come, Divine Messiah”

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

O Christ, whom nations sigh for,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Come break the captive fetters;
Redeem the long-lost fold.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

You come in peace and meekness,
And lowly will your cradle be;
All clothed in human weakness
Shall we your Godhead see.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Simon J. Pellegrin (1663-1745)

Liberation.  It’s for what Christ came.  Thank Him for it.  Continue to trust Him for it.  Rob Lacey, in his book The Word on the Street, paraphrases key points of the Bible with modern language as to increase understanding of the redemption message woven throughout every page of the Scriptures.  (If you haven’t read his book, I encourage you to get it!)  I’ve been enjoying his writing, and have found the traditional Advent readings to be a helpful way for me to appreciate all that Christ has done for me.  Reflect on Lacey’s paraphrase of Isaiah 61.

The Spirit of God is coursing through every part of me.  He’s commissioned me to announce the breaking news–fantastic news for the poor!  He’s sent me to mend broken hearts, to liberate those slammed up in dark prisons, to announce the news that this is the era of God going gentle on His people.  It’s payback time for our enemies!  My manifesto is to get alongside the grieving–to swap their burnt-out hopes for beautiful crowns, to exchange their regrests for delight, to trade in their despair for celebration songs.  They’ll be like towering sculptures–chiselled out by God to be a constant reminder of His brilliance.”  (Rob Lacey, 2003)

Jesus enters our places of bondage to free us.  He gets right “alongside the grieving.”  He sets us free.  Liberates us!  What hope!  What comfort! May both be yours today.

Do you have a favorite scripture that speaks of God’s liberation?

First Sunday of Advent: Light Descendeth

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High! 
Edward Bairstow (1874 – 1946)

Light descendeth! Is that not good news?   Today, pause and thank Jesus for His light.  Imagine how thick the darkness would be without Him.  May your contemplation of His light lead you into heartfelt gratitude, and also compassion for those who have yet to know Him.

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.  Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.   O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!  Isaiah 2:1-5

What is your favorite scripture that speaks of Christ’s light?  Encourage your heart with the truth of His Word!

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

“The virgin will give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel” Isaiah 7:4.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel.

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

           Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel,

           Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer

Our spirits by  Thine advent here;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel,

Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high

And order all things, far and nigh;

To us the path of knowledge show

And cause us in her ways to go.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel,

Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Desire of nations, bind

All peoples in on heart and mind.

Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;

Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel,

Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Latin Hymn, Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, 1710

Ransom captive Israel.  From Egypt, to Assyria, to Babylon, to Rome.  The Israelites were well acquainted with captivity.  Their hearts waited for their long-promised Messiah to come and bring freedom from their oppressors.

We have our prisons of our own.

Does your heart long for the second advent of Christ?  Do you long for His presence wherever you may be?  We’re well-acquainted with the captivitated places–the greed, envy, and deception of our hearts.  For some, captivity is experienced in broken places where healing and light are needed to break through the thick darkness of the soul–to a broken marriage, a grieving heart, the wounded survivor, or a diseased body.  “O come, o come, Emmanuel” to all the places today where your beauty, goodness, and truth hold the power to break the prisoners’ chains.  O come.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

“The Lord has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives” Isaiah 61:1

I grew up on hymns.   To this day their melodies–rich with truth–often serve as a pacemaker for my heart.  It has been said that Charles Wesley, the most prolific hymn writer of all time, taught the Church more through his hymns than did his brother John through his sermons.  How true it is that hymns have informed Christian lives with the deep truths of Scripture.  In my own life, their poetic melodies have served as tender chisels in my spiritual formation.

I miss the hymns.  You hardly hear them sung anymore.  Songs that shaped and saturated Christian community for centuries are now replaced with novel, inspirationals.  I miss the hymns because of their fixation on the person and character of God.  God inspires me.  In a hymn you sing along with the brothers and sisters of centuries past who fixed their hope on the only One that captured their heart’s devotion.   Your voice becomes one with those whose generation is silenced by death, but their faith sings on.  I miss singing in the great choir.

Each year as Christmas approaches, I love the hymns more and miss their absence from our celebration.  To remedy this, in part, I will be dedicating the month of December to reflect on Christ’s birth, and His great salvation, as expressed to us in the great hymns of old.  I know that Christmas is a frantic time of chasing your calendar by its tail…but slow down and don’t forget Jesus.  If you know the tune to the hymn–sing it, let it echo in your heart all day long.  If you don’t, meditate on the words–they will inoculate you from forgetfulness.  Let these hymns enrich your preparation for Christmas.  Let them tether you to their truth; we have a Savior!

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”

Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free.

From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;

Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver, Born a Child and yet a King.

Born to reign in us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

By Thine own eternal Spirit, Rule in all our hearts alone;

By Thine all sufficient merit, Raise us to They glorious Throne.

Text: Charles Wesley, 1744

Israel longed for their Messiah (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Micah 5:2).  Are you longing for yours?

It Must Be Thanksgiving

Turkey, gravy, stuffing.

Parades and plans for Friday shopping.

Pumpkin pie and probably a family squabble or two.

It must be Thanksgiving.

For the last month, I have identified five things each day for which I am thankful.  Practicing thankfulness has given me a much needed attitude adjustment.

Gratitude is perspective changing. It causes you to focus on the life-giving things we’re so apt to overlook.  If I have learned anything over this last month it is that thanksgiving is to be an orientation--a way at looking at life.  The real shame is that we have to set aside one day to do what should be a natural overflow  of our heart’s orientation to God’s work in our life.

As Christians, we are all acquainted with the Eucharist–that time when we remember what Christ has done for us on the cross. His atonement for our sins.  His redemption of our lives.  His clothing us in His righteousness.  His bringing us into the family of the Father who He loves. His securing our future and hiding  us in resurrected life.  His conquering of sin and death.

Eucharist means ‘to give thanks.’ When we remember Christ, we can’t help but give thanks.  Of course here in Southern California my life is filled with many things for which I can give thanks–a family, a house, food in my fridge, beautiful beaches.  There are also many things for which I am not as thankful–Sacramento’s taxes, a broken oven (lucky turkey!), and a sore foot.  But these are all lesser things…lesser things we let take a place at the table and we stuff ourselves with their concerns and entitlements.

The lesser things always demand more. But the Eucharist satisfies everything. What do we really need that Christ does not provide? (If you don’t believe me, go read Ephesians 1.)

Give thanks for Jesus today. Amidst the turkey and the gravy, don’t forget the bread and the wine which makes everyday a day of thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thankfulness: Womanhood, Purity Balls, and Parents Who Did It Right

I’m pausing to consider and give thanks for my heritage.

Several  days ago I saw this

Christian friends, we can do better than this!   We must do better than this.  We must learn to esteem the gospel in the way we raise our children.  I mean really esteem it–recognizing it alone has the power to transform the hearts of youth and empower them to live in the light of its truth.  Young girls don’t need fancy dresses and purity balls (such a bad name!).  They need to know they have a heavenly Father who loves them perfectly and to live their lives in the reality of His love for them.  They need to hear from us and see in us what it means to have our identity as men and women hidden in Christ.  They need to be instructed in how to clothe themselves in the compassion of Christ and the conviction of His atonement.

My own parents weren’t passive by any means about dating relationships.  So involved that I never dated anyone who didn’t first call my dad and hear him say, “I want you to know how special my daughter is to me.”   My parents spoke into these early dating relationships, but it was always in the context of who the “big picture” me was.  Sexuality was never disconnected from whole. I was never led to believe that I was “saving” something for my future husband, but rather I was preparing to offer the best of all of me.  But somehow the purity movement has let sexuality become the Queen of  a girl’s worth.

I am thankful I had parents who taught me to live fully in Christ.  I am thankful they nurtured strength in all areas of my personhood.  I’m thankful they taught me to think clearly, feel deeply, and to love purely.  I’m thankful they pressed me into letting Christ have lordship over my heart, mind, and body.  I’m thankful they let me walk in my future potential than in the condemnation of failure. There weren’t any fear tactics.  There weren’t any contrived manipulations.  Only the expectation that I practice loving God and honoring Christ with all of me.

Maybe that’s simplistic.  Or maybe it’s just taking God at His Word and allowing Him do the heart work necessary to stir up purity as one virtue of a surrendered life.

Thankfulness: Imperfections & the People Who Give us Grace

Today was not a perfect day.

Neither was the day before that.  I’ve yet to live a perfect day.

I keep finding myself in what is called ‘today’–and so imperfection inevitably chases at the heels of every attempt to do things right.

I hate my imperfections–and if I had a wand to wave them away, I would–but, I am thankful for them.

I know it’s a weird thing for which to be thankful. Yet when you live in a constant state of never-quite-right, you discover the people who love you for who you really are…and not just for what you do. I am so thankful for those who laugh along with my randomness.  I’m thankful for those who let joy fill up the spaces where my intensity has made a crack.  For their patience with my mistakes, forgetfulness (Family, sorry I lost the Christmas names…again.), and clumsiness. I am thankful for those who remind me that grace is way of seeing past the moment of failure into the future of growth and restoration.

I’m grateful for those who love my less-than-best self.

Last night I heard an interview on Sunday Night Football with Tony Dungy about his relationship with Michael Vick.  He was asked why he got involved with Vick in the midst of his criminal failures.  Dungy replied, “It’s what I do.  It’s who I am.” It really struck me that Dungy understands the impact of there being one person in your life who stands by you…no matter what.  We all need that one person.  We all need to become that one person!

Do you find that you discover who your real friends are by how they treat you in your messing-up mode?  Have you stopped to tell them how thankful you are for their grace?  Have you paused to give thanks that you have people in your life who love you because they see your best potential even when you’re stumbling all over yourself?

What Keeps You From Being Thankful?

What’s keeping you from being thankful?

Today I had conversations and emails and a phone call from people I love who are all going through incredible pain.  I-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e pain.  With these loved ones on my mind, I went shopping for all the Thanksgiving meal makings.

And all I heard was grumbling–over petty issues.   P-e-t-t-y issues:  turkey supply, long lines, slow cashiers, misbehaving children, and piggish drivers.  It was just a long parade of all that’s wrong in the world.  Unless you are actually one of the people who is a-c-t-u-a-l-l-y suffering from all that’s wrong in the world:

The poor who wish they had money to buy a turkey.

Those who don’t mind the long lines because illness is making their life seem all too short.

The lonely who welcome  the conversation of a slow cashier, because it will be the only one they have all week.

The barren woman who longs to have a child–even if it is a naughty one.

Okay, so the guy pulled out in front of you and you had to touch your brakes, but you’re driving a car.  Driving a $105,000 car (I saw the sticker at the auto show)!!!  Do you realize what percentage of the world even owns a car?  Do you know that most Americans can’t afford a house the same price as your car???

Really.   Do we really have so much that we can’t be thankful, only cranky that we don’t have more?  Do we really have so much that we can’t be sensitive to those who would consider your life rich and full?

Before you grumble–before you complain, ask yourself:  What’s keeping me from being thankful? Really?  What is it?

Thankfulness: Family, Friends, & the Things We Forget Are Extravagant Gifts

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:18

Is it possible for something to be so ordinary and expected that we forget it should be a cause for thanksgiving?

For those of us living in the West, in particular, there is so much in our lives for which we should be thankful, but we’re not because our excess and conveniences are commonplace.  Could it be that we  have agitated, discontented souls because we fail to notice the richest places of our lives when they come wrapped in the ordinary rhythm and routines of life?  If only we spent more time being thankful for what we do have than considering how to get what we don’t.

I’m inclined to overlook the common graces often:  Food, home, family–plus all our crazy pets, and friends.  Today I spent time visiting with a friend I have had since 3rd grade.  3rd Grade!!!  I really can’t remember a time when she was not in my life.  We don’t talk every day…or even every week or month…but it’s assumed that as long as we have breath, we will be friends.  It’s easy to overlook the extravagant gift of having a friend like this, until you stop and consider that not everyone does.

That’s just the key:  we don’t spend enough time pausing to consider.  We rush and remedy to make our lives “better” than it is, when in point of fact, our lives our already filled with so many overlooked and under-appreciated  treasures.

Does gratitude keep you walking slowly enough to let your heart soak up the goodness that surrounds you?