ADVENT

 

 A voice of one calling:  “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  Isaiah 40:3

 

 

 

In the liturgical church, the season of Advent precedes Christmas and is a time of waiting and preparation for Jesus’ birth.  It should be a time of reflection and of readying our hearts for a season of renewal in Christ to see what new thing he will birth in us.

 

Matthew 25 tells us about wise and foolish virgins.  They were all waiting for the bridegroom to come so they could participate in the festivities.  Five of the women had spent time in preparation, making certain they would be ready for the bridegroom’s arrival.  The other women either hadn’t prepared or hadn’t anticipated the long wait.  All the virgins knew the bridegroom was coming, but only half of them had gotten ready for his arrival.  The other half missed the whole event. 

 

Advent charges us to prepare for Christ’s inauspicious coming, not the gawdy commercialization tempting to distract us in so many ways.  Even the shopper’s countdown to December 25 is filled with a sense of urgency.  But Advent quietly draws us into relationship with him, into his peace, into his love, into his wholeness.  Yes, it’s a precious time of waiting and preparation.

 

Here are just a few things we can do to get ready for Jesus:

 

Thoughtfully, reread the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel (1:5-56; 2:1-20).  Prayerfully, in your mind’s eye, become a participant of the wonder of Jesus’ incarnation.

 

Make an Advent Wreath, light a candle each week, and read an Advent devotion (www.cru.org).

 

Meditate on the meaning of Christ’s coming for the world.

 

The French verb, manger, means “to eat.”  How could this possibly relate to the life of the Babe lying in the manger?

 

List the many ways Emmanuel has affected your life.

 

Find ways to demonstrate Christ’s love for others (http://adrielbooker.com/family-advent-activities).

 

Sit quietly in contemplative prayer, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak.

 

To enjoy this beautiful season, we have to intentionally engage with Christ Jesus rather than getting distracted by the mad rush of buying, and cooking, and festivities.   Do the shopping and cooking and celebrating, but keep Jesus at the forefront of everything.  (A little preplanning helps.)

 

May this Advent season find us all closer to our Lord, sitting with Mary at his feet, and not busy about so many things that we miss out on his coming.

 

Father, the world is so much with us that we often miss out on the joy of being in your presence.  Remind us to stop and wait for you; to be still and know.  Our hearts are willing.  Help us to rest in you.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

 

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EVERYTHING YOU NEED

…his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness… II Peter 1:3 (KJV)

I’m learning to use my new “Think Pad,” after the demise of my ancient laptop. My technician friend spent about an hour with me yesterday explaining the new features. And then he left a full-page list of directions among which are these sorts of instructions: Think twice before installing software that didn’t come from the manufacturer. Do not install browsers that didn’t come from the manufacturer. Don’t install malware software; you already have it. You have everything you need.
If there are any of you who don’t understand computer jargon, essentially my technician said, Just use what was installed by the manufacturer and not anything that comes from anyone else. You already have everything you need. And his note was written all in capital letters, which in computerese is like shouting or at least strongly emphasizing the message.
As I reflected on this, I thought about the times I look outside God’s provisions for an easier or better way to address my concerns. Perhaps that person could give me insight; that new book might shed light on the matter; or there may be a technique I haven’t yet tried. You know what I mean.
I recently was tempted to fret about a relational matter. I examined the situation from one side and then the other. I stewed about what seemed too complex to unwind. I knew to cast my cares on the Lord, but as soon as I had the opportunity, I hashed the whole thing out with a trusted person. Of course, that didn’t bring satisfaction, so I thought about contacting a counselor. In the meantime, I had created more than a tempest in a teapot.
I wish I’d had Ric’s directions to remind me to use only what was installed by the Manufacturer. You already have everything you need. God has, not will, already provided everything we need that pertains to life and godliness. He has said that we’re not to be anxious about anything but to pray and give thanks, and then God’s peace will fill our hearts and minds.  And there are so many other wonderful promises we can access when necessary.
After struggling with my concern and allowing it to distract me from the peace and trust that was already mine in Christ Jesus, I released the care and cast it on the Lord just as was advised in the Manufacturer’s directions. I haven’t added an inch to my stature or changed the circumstances, but I’ve put the issue where it belongs—on Jesus’ shoulders. And he’s giving grace that I need to move forward.
I’m going to keep Ric’s reminders close at hand: You already have what you need; use only what came from the Manufacturer; don’t add anything to that.

Father, thank you for the many ways you remind us to listen to you and to rely on your provisions. Forgive me when I forget. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

MOODS

The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Because the Arameans think the LORD is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the LORD.'”  I Kings 20:28

 

Have you ever awakened feeling glum?  And the day hasn’t even begun.  For no reason, it’s a “blue Monday.”

Oswald Chambers says that when we’re experiencing that sort of mood, we’re to kick it out.  That may be well and good for Mr. Chambers, but I’ve discovered I have more success when I wait it out.  Essentially, remembering that we can cast any care on our Father, praising and thanking him, his peace will surely fill our hearts in his time.  Rather than fretting, waiting in trust for him to appear always works.

In the story mentioned above, the Arameans had mistakenly thought that God only brought deliverance in the mountains.  Typically, we are already joyful in him when we’re on a mountaintop, but the Arameans didn’t realize that God is still there when we’re down in a valley.  In fact, he’s everywhere and waiting brings the peace that he’s promised.

 

Lord, remind us to keep our focus on you so that we’re not dominated by our emotions or moods.  You ARE the God of our ecstasies and even of our low moments.  Thank you.  AMEN.

THANKSGIVING

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

 

 

I’m so glad that the verse in I Thessalonians doesn’t say “for all things give thanks.”  That would be a pretty tall order.

Once again my sweet mother has spoken to me even though she’s been with the great Cloud of Witnesses for a few years now.  I picked up one of her journals and was thumbing through her collection of thoughts and submissions.  I was happy to find the recipe for zucchini bread that I lost years ago and quickly purchased all the ingredients needed to bake up that family favorite.

But the entry that brought joy was a list she had made.  At the top of the page, Momo had written, “Count Your Blessings, Name Them One by One.”  Momo mentioned our country, her Christian parents and family, her children, and her friends and neighbors.  And then she went on to mention their little dog and “the privilege of summer vacations” [in various places].  She even mentions their home location “with all the conveniences close.”  Momo lived with a heart full of thanksgiving so that it was easy to be grateful for the obvious as well as the small things of life.

My parents remain two of my heroes—not because they were perfect or I always agreed with them.  I admire them because they followed Jesus to the fullest of their understanding of his teachings and ways.  Even when it went against personal preferences or opinions, they followed Jesus.  Perhaps that’s why Momo lived with a heart of thanksgiving.

This year I cannot begin to list all the things for which I am thankful, but at the top of the list I would have to write, “my parents and my family.”

 

Lord, I have a godly heritage, and I thank you that I was led to you at a young age.  Thank you for the genuine examples of godliness that blessed my formative years, and help me to bless the little ones in my family that they may grow and love and serve you.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

TRUE RELIGION

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:20

 

The Sermon on the Mount is the essence of Jesus’ teaching and the Gospel.  Many of the religionists of Jesus’ day found him annoying because he took the Law and applied it in uncomfortable ways.  Through the 1500 or so years since the Law had been given, the religionists had managed to twist and compromise the Law so that it would be easier to obey and more complimentary to their comfortable lifestyle.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The Law focused on the outside—acts that could be admired as righteous or those acts that could be condemned as wicked and which rendered their perpetrators as outcasts.  Jesus made everything more difficult by interpreting the Law to encompass the motivation and the heart condition of its adherents.

For example, in Matthew 5:21-42, Jesus begins each new topic with something like, “You’ve heard it said [in the Law]…but I say…”  Where the Law says don’t commit murder, Jesus says don’t even be angry with someone or call him demeaning names.  Where the Law says don’t commit adultery, Jesus says don’t even think wrong thoughts about a woman.  Jesus is looking at the heart condition that initiates the sinful behavior.

Sometimes we’re not far removed from those hypocritical Pharisees who seemed right on the outside but were filled with unrighteousness on the inside.  We have to be convinced that the thing of most concern to our Father is our personal relationship with him by which everything else is determined.  If our heart is right, our attitudes, our words, and our behavior will be right.  We will act out of who we are and not who we pretend to be.

Remember that old metaphor about the cup of tea?  When the cup is agitated, only what’s inside will come out.  When Jesus fills us, any bumps along the way allow him to spill over and saturate whatever and whomever is around.  No pretense necessary.

 

 

Lord, change our hearts constantly; fill us with your Spirit; and cause us to glorify you in all we think, say, and do.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

LOVE ONE ANOTHER

…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  Romans 5:5  (NIV)

 

 

Who doesn’t want to love and be loved?  But sometimes we find ourselves working with people we don’t even like.  They’re unpleasant or disagreeable or—worst of all—don’t do things our way.  We know that God has called us to love and has, in fact, made provision for those times when we can’t find in ourselves the ability to love.  That’s when we discover that we truly are “poor in spirit” and desperately need God in us to love the way we know we should.

We’re tempted to think that this time he’s really given us more than we can bear.  He’s asked us to do something we can’t do.  And yet, he stretches us so that he will be glorified, and we can be changed.  We must acknowledge our spiritual poverty and cry out to him for what he’s already deposited in us through the person of his Son.  God isn’t looking for just a lovely character.  He’s looking for the image of Jesus in his children.

God has already given us everything we need to manifest Jesus in every circumstance.  Our task is to abandon our commitment to self-sufficiency and receive his grace to be manifested in and through us. His love has already been poured into our hearts.  We must choose to ignore the attitude that causes us to shut out the one with whom we have no affinity or who may even cause us grief.  Instead, we access God’s love and by faith live out his supernatural love.  What a perfect opportunity to die to the selfish nature that seeks to control and impoverish us.

In loving the unlovable (Aren’t we sometimes in that category?), we glorify God and recognize his sovereignty:  He put me here; He is in control; He has a good plan; all things [eventually] work together for good.  A loving God will never abandon us to environments where he can’t be glorified and where we can’t manifest him.  In all things, we trust to his love and his perfect will.  God does all things well.

God is bringing many sons (and daughters) to glory, but we occasionally find ourselves kicking against the vehicle he has chosen to get us there.  If we embrace the people and circumstances he has brought into our lives, we find the love, the grace, and every single attribute of the life of Christ available for us.  And often we discover that he sent the very person or thing that we most needed.

 

Father, we are your children.  Live and love through us that we may glorify you and that we may learn more of your ways.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  AMEN.

LEADERS

And a little child shall lead them.  Isaiah 11:6

 

 

Have you learned to be careful what you say around children?  Their hearing is remarkable, and their memory is even more astonishing.

I have two friends who are faithful ministers of the Word in another country.  They have taught their two boys by example to love the Lord and to be obedient to his teachings.   And now they have two little disciples who diligently live out the Gospel in their daily routines.

Matthew is seven years old and is enrolled with his brother in a local public school.  One day during the lesson, his teacher became frustrated with one of the students and finally said to him, “You are stupid.”  At this, Matthew stood and told the teacher that she had said a bad word when speaking to his friend and that she could no longer be his teacher.  I imagine the teacher, already distressed, was further upset when Matthew continued.  “You must apologize to this boy and ask his forgiveness for saying this bad word.”

When the teacher saw Matthew’s intensity, she asked the student to forgive her.  She said that he was right and then suggested to the class that this event not be repeated to anyone.  Of course, that was not to be with a group of second-graders.  Matthew went home and told his parents about the disturbance in his classroom, and the following day, my friends went to visit the teacher.  They explained that they were entrusting their sons to the teachers for the majority of the day and expected the teachers to be examples.  They knew the teacher had asked forgiveness, and they assured her that they, also, had forgiven her but reinforced the importance of her role modeling to all her students.

When I heard the story, and knowing Matthew and his brother as I do, I reflected on my own parenting, even my own personal witness.  How bold am I, how bold are my children and grandchildren in standing for truth?  Is truth so important that I confront error when I see it or do I tolerate unkindness or bad language or injustice rather than making a scene?  And how consistent is my life that my words reinforce what I live out every day?  Matthew was respectful when he stood up to denounce what he saw was hurtful and “bad,” but he was also willing to take the consequences for his public witness.

What can, what will I do when faced with abusive language and behavior?

 

 

Lord, make me and all my family such lovers of Jesus who is the Truth, that our lives reflect truth and that our mouths respectfully confront error.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.