Saturday, December 9, 2017


Shopping at Barnes and Noble yesterday. Daniel and I both felt a little overwhelmed with too many choices. As we entered the store, bustling with Christmas shoppers, I explained that with his birthday gift card, he could choose anything he wanted for $15. But alas that idea never really registered. “I want this!” “I want that!” He was bouncing between the aisles in the kids' section, browsing through books that caught his eye, and then getting sidetracked by the stuffed animals.

If you get this, then you can't get that,” I informed him. “You have to choose your favorite.

We wandered around, as Daniel excitedly checked price tags and imagined himself being the proud owner of all the things. I, meanwhile, was growing weary as the options increased. “It's time to make up your mind now. Out of everything you've seen, what did you like the best?” After much consideration, he finally settled on the Christmas teddy bear that he had loved on from the very beginning of his search.

We maneuvered our way back to the front of the store, through the crowded displays and customers right up to an empty checkout counter, then--very fortunately-- just before the cashier appeared, I glanced sideways and noticed a line of people behind a sign “Wait here for next cashier.” So we found our rightful place in the back of the line. When we got to the front, the very friendly cashier oohed and aahed over Daniel's choice. She even gave him a dollar back, which he was completely thrilled by.

After the purchase, as we were making our exit, Daniel happened to notice a stack of advent calendars. “What is this???” I explained that there was chocolate under each of the days in December. “Oooooo. I think I want that too.”

We're leaving,” I told him. “You made your choice, remember?” So I steered him out the front door and into the van. Now focused just on what he had, he happily cuddled his teddy bear the whole way home. All other choices left behind in the store. 

Don't we often want it all? But if we choose this, then many times we have to say no to that.

I could relate to Daniel's I'll take this and that too mentality this morning as I was Christmas shopping online at Christianbooks. (They are having some great deals, by the way, if you're looking for a place to shop.) Several items caught my eye that I considered purchasing for myself, like a Best Mom in the World mug. But no, I kept reminding myself, I need to keep focused on my list of people to buy for.

Two years ago I was really struggling with the Christmas tradition of gift-giving and not at all excited about shopping, so I am happy to be more “into” buying gifts this year. I'm thankful not to feel so anti-consumerism or to feel weighed down by a sense of obligation to buy gifts; instead I feel free to experience the joy of giving.

As soon as Daniel came out of his Sunday School class last week, he told me he learned that it was better to give than to get. His lesson was on Generosity. “That's great!” I told him. He usually struggles to remember what his lesson was about (his go-to answer when I ask him is “Jesus”), so this was huge. Also, I was remembering that two weeks ago, when I was volunteering in children's church, he had asked me to help him write on a card what he was thankful for. “Presents,” he had said.

Daniel was very excited about turning 12 last week and enjoyed having his friends over afterschool for a birthday party. Afterward he said that his favorite part was eating cake and opening presents. One good thing about Daniel is that we never have to guess what he's thinking.

We are thankful that the Giver of all good things takes delight in seeing His children enjoy the gifts He gives. He is a God of Extravagance, who desires for us to experience the joy of giving too.

Instead of being focused on all the things we wish we had, He also wants us to be happy with what's right in front of us.

How are you experiencing giving and receiving this season? Longings and contentment?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Undone to be Remade

It has not yet been revealed what we shall be.”
(1 John 3:2)

We have to be undone in order to be remade.
For our hope to be made new, we must first let go of all that we had previously hoped for.
To seek God in the midst of crushing grief and pain, we have to believe that somehow He is still good.
Faith says that although sometimes God appears to be against us, He is always for us.

Surrendered Trust enables us to be molded and shaped by the Potter's hands.

The writer of Lamentations had quite a lot to be unhappy about:

He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.” (3:6)

My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” (3:18)

In his pit of darkness, he was completely undone and almost consumed because of all of the difficulties mounted against him:
no resting place
enemies laughed/triumphed
(just to name a few)

But there's a significant turning point in his lament. An anchoring verse where he chose to stop despairing over his current situation and to lift His eyes up to God and His goodness:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope; because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:21-23)

God desires for each of us to find this same anchor in our lives: that our grief, pain, and suffering would not be in vain, but that through the dark we would find the Light.

Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope.” (3:29)

The writer of Lamentations' suffering humbled him into a place of repentance. He moved from complaining to confessing, as our pastor Thomas challenged us in his message on lament last Sunday.

Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven and say: 'We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven.'” (3:41-42)

While God allows us to face the consequences of our sin and rebellion, His ears are also always tuned to hear our cries of confession and our petitions for help.

I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit.” (3:55)

God, from whom “both calamities and good things come” (3:38) acts in His way and in His time to bring redemption.

The Most High is truly a God of Compassion and He is our gracious Giver of Hope:

You heard my plea
You came near
You took up my case
You redeemed my life
You have seen

As we ask for His help, to keep us from being swallowed up by the darkness, we can see His Potter's hands at work in our lives as well.

Repent. Remember. Return. Be Restored. And Revealed.

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old.” (5:21)

Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:3)

Restoration. We must be undone in order to be remade.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Hope in the Dark Waiting

Yesterday Thomas tied Lament to the Portrait of Hope in his first sermon series on Advent. He expounded on Psalm 80, Asaph's psalm of lament to the Shepherd of Israel who seemed to have abandoned His people:

“Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.
You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land...

Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes?

Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! 
Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, 
the son you have raised up for yourself...

Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
 the son of man you have raised up for yourself.”
(Psalm 80:7-9, 12, 14-15, 17)

In his message, Thomas differentiated complaining (which includes hopelessness) with lament (a passionate cry for divine help) and ended his message with a question:

Where do you need God's face to shine on you in Advent this year?

Then Meryl and his grandson Joseph lit the first Advent candle representing Hope. Joseph read, “The Israelites were hoping for a Savior, their Messiah. God had promised a Messiah and they believed it. They didn't know when or who but they were waiting, hoping for this Messiah to come.

And Meryl read Isaiah 11:1-10:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord...In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:1-2, 10)

Reading Psalm 80 alongside Isaiah 11 yesterday made me think about the Branch and the Vine and the long time of waiting in darkness for God's promise to be fulfilled.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land.” (Jeremiah 33:14-15)

Jesus. Our Messiah.

In God's way and in God's time. We wait for the day that the ugly violence and evil we witness and experience now will be transformed into beauty, righteousness and goodness. That the awful sting of death will be healed completely. That all the wrongs will become right. That the crushing weight of pain and grief will be released and lifted from us forever. 

Therefore, we can hold on to hope as we wait in the dark: that our lament is heard, that we are seen, and that God will act.

We anticipate with great longing the day when the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; when the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious.

In this season of Advent we Hope.

We believe in the Light as we are surrounded by darkness.

Our Messiah has come and is coming again.


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