Advent: The Candle of Hope

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It is my intention to write a post for each week of Advent. Whether that comes to pass or not remains to be seen, but that is my desire. Life often gets in the way of my good intentions, especially this time of year, perhaps only because I allow it. In addition to the usual daily responsibilities, there are decorations to be displayed, gifts to be bought and wrapped, cards to be sent, cookies to be baked, etc., but let’s not forget the whole point of Christmas—celebrating Jesus’ birth and its significance all these years later. Of all the items on my “to do” list, I can’t imagine any are more important than sharing the Good News.

We kicked off the Advent season at church last Sunday by lighting the candle of hope so I’ve been giving much thought to that word this week. Who can’t use a hefty helping of hope? The state of our world gets more depressing by the day as we wake up to news of yet another senseless act of violence or tragedy beyond our comprehension, all part of living in a sin-stained world. This is in addition to the more personal heartaches that touch each of us individually. As Pastor Chris frequently says, “Everybody’s dealing with something.” Your something may include grief, unemployment, a broken relationship, poor health, a big decision, or any number of other things that create turmoil in our lives. One thing is sure—we could all use a fresh infusion of hope as we deal with our somethings.

One of my favorite activities during Advent is to sing in my church’s annual Christmas cantata. It’s coming up next weekend. I think this is my 14th one and each year we participants, and sometimes even our audience, seem to say, “This is the best one yet!” They’ve all touched my heart in their own unique way. Oftentimes there is one song that especially gets to me. One that, if I think about the message, I’ll lose it. When singing, it’s best not to think too much. This year my tearjerker is titled “Unto Us.” We are ALL broken and in need of a Savior. God knew that from the beginning and put His plan of redemption into motion on that very first Christmas. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this event long before it ever came to pass.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”         Isaiah 9:6 NKJV

I created and named this website a few years ago with the intention of letting my readers know that Jesus, our Messiah, is the Ultimate Gift. Unto you. Unto me. Unto us. He. Was. Given. May that good news fill you with hope in the middle of your something!

Looking Back

What a week—I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced so many emotional occasions packed into a seven day period. Since my body doesn’t seem to process stress very well, I often turn to writing to help the cause. I call it my therapy. My hope is that my words benefit you, my readers, in the process.

First, there was my daughter’s last dance recital on Sunday. Then, we celebrated her high school graduation midweek. To put the icing on the cake, pun intended, my baby girl is 18 years old today and joining the ranks of the adults. This may not sound like a big deal, especially if you’ve never heard Hillary’s story, but I can assure you it seems monumental to me. She defied the odds and overcame a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. We brought her home from the hospital after 88 days in intensive care following her birth. Not coincidentally, I wrote about every one of them! I think that may have been when I first discovered writing as a form of therapy.

Celebrating Hillary’s 18th birthday today is a real milestone in my mind, one that I haven’t taken for granted. During her last year of high school there was a need to go through old photo albums in search of pictures to share at various end-of-year functions. This led to quite a bit of reminiscing on other milestones in her life and served as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the past. When the going gets tough and it seems God is distant, we would be wise to intentionally look back at the trials He has brought us through in getting us to this point. It is a great faith-building tool. It reminds me of this passage from the Old Testament:

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:4-7 NIV)

To serve as a reminder that God stopped the flow of the Jordan River in order to allow the ark and the Israelites to cross, Joshua commanded a man from each tribe to bring up a stone from the river. These stones would later be piled up at Gilgal to serve as a memorial to God and this mighty act of His. I studied this passage several years ago with my small group and was encouraged to collect “stones” of my own to commemorate God’s great work in my life. These spiritual markers could be any item representing the life-changing events that God has used to mold and shape me. Remembering helps keep us going when the seemingly impossible enters our lives. By looking back, we are reminded that with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)

As I look back at how my daughter’s life started and the many hurdles she has jumped along the way in her 18 years, I can’t help but think of these words from David’s prayer after the prophet Nathan shared his revelation with David regarding the building of the temple:

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? (1 Chronicles 17:16 NIV)

I don’t necessarily know where you’ve started, what you’ve been through, or how far you’ve come, but I would imagine you, like me, are able to see some significant life-changing moments in the rearview mirror, moments that God has used to shape you into the person you are today. Will you join me in giving thanks to God for bringing you THIS far? To Him be all praise, honor, and glory. Amen.

(Written in honor of the birthday girl—From your first picture to your most recent, you’ve come a LONG way, baby!)

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With All Our Might

Tap Dance '13

Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. (2 Samuel 6:12-15 NIV)

With my daughter’s last dance recital on tap (pun intended) for this weekend, I have dancing on my brain. It brings to mind the story of the Ark of the Covenant being transported to Jerusalem. The first attempt ended in failure when the oxen stumbled and Uzzah reached out and grabbed hold of the ark. This irreverent act led to Uzzah’s death, the plan was foiled, and the ark was temporarily housed by Obed-Edom. The scene described in the passage above is the second attempt at taking the ark to Jerusalem. Maybe the celebration was bigger due to the failed first attempt, but there is no question that this was a BIG deal in the life of David and the Israelites. I can picture this event in my mind and see David’s affection for God in his dancing. It must have been evident to his wife as well, but apparently it made her angry and filled with contempt towards her husband. Perhaps she didn’t like taking a back seat to God in David’s life??

Though I’m not much for dancing, it seems to be one of my daughter’s gifts. She has taken dance lessons since kindergarten and I’ve loved watching her progress through the years. Her movement is perfectly timed and a beautiful display of grace. She puts her heart and soul into each move just as David did.

Shouldn’t we all learn something from this account of David? Maybe you’re like me and aren’t much of a dancer. No problem. I think the lesson is more about praising God and less about the dancing anyway. David didn’t hold anything back in his expression of joy and thanksgiving towards his Heavenly Father. God deserves our praise and honor too. Let us celebrate who He is and all He has done for us in the past, present and all the days to come!

Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 150:1-6 NIV)

 

 

One Little Word

Thanksgiving Snow

A fresh coat of snow on the ground, Christmas music playing on the radio, Rudolph on TV—it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas Thanksgiving??  I know with Thanksgiving being so late this year it allows less time for the Christmas preparations, but let’s not lose sight of Thanksgiving as a result.  I’m as guilty of looking ahead as the next person.  It is my prayer that we all pause and take time to reflect on our many blessings as we celebrate Thanksgiving, no matter what that day might look like for you.

The apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”   How is that going for you?  I will confess that I am a ‘cup half empty’ person—more likely to grumble than praise.  That is my natural inclination.  It takes a concerted effort on my part to focus on the good and not get caught up in the bad. Can you relate?  Maybe you have discovered, just as I have, that it is well worth the effort.  Positivity breeds positivity and produces a big, beautiful snowball!

I have wrestled with this idea of giving thanks in ALL circumstances.  Let’s face it, bad stuff happens, stuff for which I do not feel thankful.  How about you?  Have you suffered a loss lately—loss of health, loss of a loved one, loss of your job, loss of a relationship, loss of _______(fill in the blank)? I’m guessing so.  Are you thankful for it? Me either.  So how are we to live out this verse?  I’d suggest reading it closer.  I believe the key is found in one little word.  It doesn’t say give thanks FOR all circumstances, but rather IN all circumstances.  Why does one tiny word make any difference?  I believe it all goes back to one of my favorite promises in the Bible—And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).   The circumstance may not be good, but God is!  As His beloved children, we can be assured that He will use ALL of our circumstances for His glory and our good.  THAT is reason to be thankful!

While we offer thanks for our countless blessings on Thanksgiving, let’s be sure to thank God for the good that comes from our difficulties, even if we can’t yet see that good.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

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