Thursday, March 27, 2014
Monday, December 23, 2013
And that's ok. It's actually a very positive thing. Because while I'm not feeling like Christmas caroling or making tons of cookies or even turning on the lights of my Christmas tree, I do think this somewhat difficult time has put me into an Advent spirit, which is a different thing completely.
Advent is the season of the church year that many Christians celebrate that mark the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas. This is a time when most Advent-observers think about waiting, expectation, and longing. We reflect on the prophecy from Isaiah:
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom,establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:6-7)
It's during this time that we think about preparing for and waiting for the coming of Christ, and what His coming means. What better time to do this when things are darkest?
I think that when things are perfect and happy and full of warmth, we don't always understand the urgency of what Jesus came to do. When we are able to create our own light, it's not easy to understand why we so desperately need the light of Christ. However, when it's dark outside and we might be going through a dark time in our souls, it's natural to long for Jesus. And I think that's what God desires.
I spent time with a friend yesterday who I knew when I lived in Atlanta. For the past several months, her oldest son has been going through major health issues. Doctors can't quite figure out what's wrong. What they do know is that they've spent time in hospitals, she's had to spend the week before Christmas away from her other four kids, and her sweet child is weak and sick. Darkness. In reflecting on what's happening in this family's life, I'm reminded of what true Christmas means. It often means that life is sometimes dark. It means that this earthly life is imperfect and sometimes tragic. It means that there are some days the best we can do is get out of bed and have a good cry. It also means that we long for the light of Christ. It means that there's a knowing (not necessarily a feeling) of joy and peace in our souls in the midst of the darkness. It means that we know that Christ came to drown out the darkness. It means that darkness and evil will not win the war, even if it feels like sometimes that darkness wins a few battles.
It means that even when things feel hopeless, that there's a knowing in our souls that this is not the end of the story. We prepare for and celebrate the birth of Christ because there are battles yet to be fought, and victory yet to be had.
I know that my own personal journey this month has led me to a deeper longing for the presence and hope of Christ in a much more profound way. In days when a passing smile has been difficult to find, I've found myself pressing into the meaning of real, concrete joy and peace. I don't mean peace in a hippy-esque, peace on earth kind of way. I mean peace in a real, abiding, strengthening, transcendent kind of way. And I think it's impossible to understand what the joy and peace of Christ actually are if you haven't dealt with pain, disappointment, or darkness. I've come to believe that it's the darkness we encounter that makes us long for the light.
And while I long for the fullness of Christ to come and dwell, I'm also thankful for glimpses of the light to come. While dealing with my own struggles and seeing the struggles of those around me, I am reminded that God gives us grace even as we wait. I'm reminded of the light of a dear friend who is planning a surprise trip for me in February. I'm reminded of light as the friend I mentioned earlier, who even in difficult moments, finds ways to make her child laugh as he spends time in a hospital bed. I'm reminded of friends who give me the grace to cry. I'm reminded of the power of others believing for us and having hope for us, when hope seems hard to grasp on to. I'm reminded that there is always, always hope. And the darkness and waiting of Advent leads us to a time when the darkness will fade away and give way to victory, peace, and the splendor of day.
Nothing could sum this up better than words from my favorite Christmas/Advent hymn:
- 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!
Rejoice, for He is coming.
Thanks be to God.
Monday, December 16, 2013
Although I took this class over 5 years ago, there was one very specific revelation that stuck with me. Throughout the class, we were asked to think about this question: when do people feel like they've become an adult? We discussed a lot of significant marker events like graduating from college, finding one's first job, and of course, getting married. We also discussed how many other cultures have certain rites of passage that serve to concretely communicate to one that he or she is now an adult. I realized that, for the most part, we don't really have that in the West. The revelation I previously referred to is this: are weddings the primary rite of passage we have for adulthood in our culture? It's at that time that we often talk about setting up a home, the beginning of real life, and all the responsibilities that come with marriage. When a woman gets married, she is typically given a plethora of home-oriented gifts (kitchen ware, dishes, home furnishings). It's at the point of entering into marriage that we see that folks are really ready for these items.
When this is the case, what happens when you are all of a sudden 35 and not married? Are you any less of an adult? I certainly don't think so. What's the rite of passage for folks who, for various reasons, didn't get a wedding shower?
Having this revelation has prompted me to think about those times that made me feel particularly adult-like. There have been a lot of them, but they've snuck in quietly in the night, not really pronouncing themselves. However, those moments have been important, nonetheless.
So, here's my list of things that have made me (or others, as not all of these are mine) feel like I've become an adult. Some of these happened a long time ago, some more recently.
-Hosting my first holiday meal (in particular, the making of the ever-intimidating turkey)
-The first time I asked for dishes for Christmas
-The first time I signed a lease on an apartment
-The first time I made a purchase over $200
-The first time I drove more than an hour on my own
-The year I realized I had enough items in my home to officially decorate for Christmas without needing to borrow anything
-Having a desire to buy a grill and gardening items
-Getting my first full-time job
-The first time I had to get my own medical insurance
What would you add to this list?
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
A Generous God
My boss once asked our staff the question, “Do you pray out of God’s generosity or God’s scarcity?” He went on to explain the question: “Do you pray, pleading and hoping that God will just help you scrape by? Or do you pray with the knowledge that God has made and owns everything? Do you pray really believing that God is generous and loves to give to His children?”
Do we, as Christians, truly believe that God is generous? We live in a broken, hurting world that seems to live between two poles: we either have so much stuff that we feel entitled to more stuff, or we are forced to go without, feeling anxious about how we might survive until next week.
Scripture certainly points us to the perception that God owns all things. Psalm 24:1-2 reads, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” Psalm 50:10-11 reminds us of a similar truth: “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains and the creatures of the field are mine.” Scripture shows us the story of God’s creation and that He is the maker of all that is. Does this mean that He also gives to His creation?
I do believe that God is generous. However, to truly answer this question correctly, we have to understand that Kingdom economics are different from earthly economics. Stating that God is generous does not automatically mean that we will be rich in money, possessions, or other temporary things (however, I do believe that there are times that God chooses to bless us with such things. I don’t think that’s the point, though.). God’s generosity is much deeper and contains much more meaning than that. If we are people that genuinely seek after God, He desires to give to us freely out of things that are eternal: joy, peace, abundant life, Godly wisdom. Jesus points to this fact in the gospel of John when He reminds us of His purpose: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Jesus has come to give us an abundance of things that cannot be destroyed.
In fact, I believe that if we saw generosity only in terms of monetary or material items, the idea of God’s generosity would be cheapened. If we are only given what cannot and will not last, we will never be satisfied. However, the fact that God is generous towards us with a Kingdom economy reminds us that He delights in His children.
Those who are rich in money go bankrupt. People lose jobs and houses. Unfortunate life circumstances happen all around us. However, the generosity of God never fails.
In the book The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith reminds readers that God is indeed generous. He shares, “The metanarrative of the Bible is the story of the steadfast love of God that culminates in the incarnation, death and resurrection of God on behalf of a wayward world God is generous because He lives in a condition of abundance - His provisions can never be exhausted-and God is moved with compassion because He sees our need.” (Smith 79,84)
As I journey through Lent this year, I am thinking about God’s generosity, especially in terms of Jesus.
God gave us Jesus on earth, and then sacrificed Him so that God’s people could be with Him. It is because of the sacrificial and generous nature of God that we have eternal life. The book of Romans reminds us of the true nature of God’s generosity: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) While there are many temporal things in this life that will certainly point to God’s generosity towards us, it is at the Cross that we see the culmination of God’s generosity. God gave Himself up for His people and poured all of Himself out so that we could be reconciled to Him forever. If He sacrificed all of Himself at the Cross, surely He takes care of us in the ways that truly matter.
As we continue our Lenten journey, here are a couple of questions to ponder. How has God been generous to you? And how can you share His generosity with those around you?
Saturday, November 26, 2011
I was expecting an answer related to stuffing, pie, whipped cream, shopping, or having a couple of extra days of no school.
"I love that we have a day to think about all the little things we're thankful for, because we don't usually do that."
This was a conversation I had with one of the girls who was recently matched with a mentor in our program. I arrived at her home a few minutes early, and I was making small talk with this bright, mature young girl. I certainly didn't expect that answer, and it put a huge smile on my face. From the mouths of babes...
Thanksgiving Day 2011 has come and gone. In the weeks preceeding this annual day of feasting, I, like most people, tend to reflect on those things I am thankful for, since that is the nature of the holiday.
I find the word "thanksgiving" to be a difficult word, mostly because I believe that it has lost its power in this culture. We use this in conjunction with phrases like "counting blessings." When a clerk at a grocery store gives us our change, we say thank you, because it's common courtesy. When a loved one gives us a gift that is meaningful and impacts our lives, we also say thank you. Certainly these are at two ends of the spectrum. I believe that we should be grateful for both.... remembering to thank someone doing a job that serves us for little pay....and expressing gratitude for the acts of love that those closest to us display.
I believe in living a life of gratitude and remembering to thank God for His activity in our lives. I believe in the importance of reminding those close to us how much they mean. I believe that the practice of gratitude is a crucial spiritual practice. I had a seminary professor who shared once that, "Gratitude is the beginning of humility." Beautiful. When we truly practice gratitude, we are reminded that it is God who provides all things...not my own efforts. When I remember who my provider is, I am reminded that God takes care of all things, and that His grace truly is sufficient. When we practice gratitude, I am reminded that (from the words of the movie Rudy) that, "I know two things. God is God, and I am not."
And not only is practicing gratitude important, it's how we enter into the deepest part of God's heart...
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I believe that, for the most part, we live in a world where we don't remember to share with others how important they are to us. I just sometimes wish I had a word that had more depth and power to convey what it means to be utterly grateful and thankful.
I certainly don't want to be cliche, but I'm about to be. I am about to share the obligatory list of all that I am thankful for, because I believe this to be an important thing to remind myself of.
Today, I am thankful for...
*a family who loves me.* friends who encourage and believe in me.* good health, and steadily improving health.* the ability to improve health by doing easy and natural things.* renewed relationships* God's constant provision.* God's grace, especially in the midst of my mistakes.* new opportunities.* a job I love* co-workers who typically feel more like family than officemates.* my dog* beautiful Kentucky weather.* the hospitality of both friends and strangers.* never having to go without* having opportunities to impact this world in a positive way.* challenges.* wisdom*mentors* words* scripture* laughter.* tears.* music.* the ability to think.* medicine.* doctors.* good memories.* fun experiences.* the ability to continually learn.* hugs.* children.* life giving conversation.* exercise.* travel.*board games.* ice cream.* hot chocolate.* books.* movies.*inspiration.*perspective.* advice.* the faithful who have gone before me.* shared experiences.*
Sunday, November 06, 2011
Several months ago, I was at a one-day ministry conference at a local church here. One of the speakers talked about the importance of remembering certain people and times in our lives....the moment that we knew how loved we are by God, the moment we knew that we wanted to commit our lives to loving Jesus, the moment we knew that we were called to vocational ministry, etc.
As I reflected that day, I remember thinking about so many people and experiences that will forever mark my life. I thought about professors from college and other experiences from college that shaped my understanding that I was called to ministry in some shape or form (and ironically, the day of this conference was the day that my alma mater announced its closing. but that's a whole different can of worms...). I thought about family members (particularly my grandma, Evelyn Middleton) who prayed for me and reflected the love and passion of God to me, and encouraged me to give my life completely to God. I thought about so many other people I have been amazingly blessed to know... friends who love selflessly, married couples who have displayed for me what a Godly marriage looks like, ministry leaders and supervisors who have believed in me and shown me what a life of ministry looks like, peers in the same journey... the list goes on.
There's been a lot that has happened this week that I can't write about in a public space (hopefully in the next several weeks, though, I'll be at liberty to share), but these things have reminded me of God's calling on my life-and that it is never what I expect it to be. I've been reminded that our experiences of God are both dynamic and static...He is always the same, yet always revealing how He desires us to change and become more like Him. And it's been through the lives of the community and the lives of the saints in my own personal life that I've watched Him work so often.
Since I've started the journey of physical transformation, here's a verse I've been reflecting on a lot:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. -Hebrews 12:1-3
We are surrounded by the Holy Spirit and by His witnesses. These are reminders that God is forever with us, always working, always seeking to transform us into people who are intimately seeking His face and His Kingdom.
We're not alone.
What an unbelievable gift.