Advent meditations: week 1 – hope

Each week of Advent, I will be posting meditations based on that week’s theme of Advent readings. I would love for you to join in as well! Let us together celebrate Christ who brings hope, peace, joy, and love.

First of all – hope. We began with these beautiful verses in Isaiah 40:1-5. A few phrases that stood out to me:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to [her] and cry to her that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned …” [English Standard Version]

What does it mean for her warfare to end? Christ is coming: He is bringing peace and reconciliation — and that will flow from a redeemed relationship with God. (Though different than they imagined – not an end to political warfare.) Lord, remind me that my warfare has ended. I have nothing to prove or to win or to defend … You are my peace and my identity.

And then to notice what hope feels like, we read Psalm 42.

“But each day the Lord pour his unfailing love upon me,

and through each night I sing his songs,

praying to God who gives me life.” [New Living Translation]

Hope means thirsting, panting for God – the living God. In the midst of feeling downcast, I hope in God (despite the turmoil of my emotions). Hope is to praise God as my salvation; it is to remember HIS steadfast love. It includes crying for relief from the enemy’s oppression — not wanting to believe the enemy’s taunts of “where is your God?” Summary: In the midst of feeling downcast, there is hope to be found in God — if I remember to look upon Him!

How does Romans 8:18-27 add to our definition of hope? We see that not only we ourselves, but also all creation is hoping and even groaning for full redemption that Jesus Christ will bring. We wait eagerly; hoping for what we don’t yet see; waiting for it with patience (and the Spirit helps us in waiting, believing, patience, hope). Hope transforms present suffering into future glory. The Spirit intercedes for us while we wait and hope and groan. “Wait/waiting” is used twice; “groaning” is repeated three times; “hope” is repeated six times. And who are the subjects of all of this waiting/hoping/groaning? Creation (repeated 5 times); the Spirit/God (repeated 8 times); and WE are (repeated 12 times). This Advent passage makes it clear that even after Christ’s first incarnation, we are still hoping for his second (and final) coming – for the end of suffering and the revealing of glory.

Isaiah 11:1-11 paints the picture of that for which we hope. When the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, all hurt and destruction is banished. And to know the Lord fully means that we will not destroy others or his creation. Who will bring this hope and life-giving knowledge? “A shoot from Jesse” on whom will rest the Spirit of the Lord: of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. One clothed with righteousness and faithfulness. And the “remnant” [those who have hoped in Him] will be recovered from the ends of the earth [raised to new life].

Hebrews 6:13-20 shows an example of this hope in action.

“And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.”

This is quite different than the way I wait! Lord, help me to have in view your promises and for those to be sweet enough to me that I will patiently wait, even against all odds. That because I’ve fled for refuge to You, the God who promises (and doesn’t lie), that I would have strong encouragement to hold fast to hope. That I, too, will go where our forerunner, Jesus Christ, has gone.

I close this week’s meditations with a thought from Psalm 33: I am to hope in the steadfast love of God — to turn to Him in distress and to trust that God sees and will deliver. And then to have a glad heart as I see Him do this — to say with the Psalmist,

“Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”

Isaiah 35 is tomorrow’s meditation … so I will let you add your meditations for that.

A Time to Read and a Time to Write

In thinking about life as seasons, I believe that the book of Ecclesiastes gives much wisdom in its most well-known (and oft-quoted) passage about the passing of time – and what different times are for (Eccl 3:1-8):

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

We have recently transitioned from our “time of saying good-bye” to a “time of saying hello” and are coming out of our “time of adjustment.” The grocery store doesn’t feel so foreign anymore. I don’t usually get lost going to the places I need to go in a week. We are making new friends. I have my two favorite classes at the gym that I schedule my week around (Casey’s awesome TurboKick class and Becky’s BodyFlow class – combo tai-chi/yoga/pilates). I now go to ballet class with two friends on Wednesday evenings where I’m learning how to pirouette (and arabesque and demi-plie …). Church is beginning to be filled with more people who are familiar rather than unfamiliar. Women’s Bible Study started two weeks ago. Seth & I have begun weekly tutoring with underprivileged kids in Norfolk, and we had week two of our community group tonight. Counseling is gradually picking up week to week.

imagesAnd yet even in the midst of so much going on, I’ve been in a season of reading rather than writing. I know there’s a lot to process still, but I’m enjoying a “time to read.” And that season will eventually (like tonight) overflow into a “time to write.” On my bookshelf right now:

Freakonomics by Levitt/Dubner – reading this for book club – more interesting than I thought it would be, as one who is certainly NOT economically inclined

In The Company of Cheerful Ladies the 6th in “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series by Alexander McCall Smith – the fictional series about a female detective who sets up shop in a small African town in Botswana – very interesting read!

Undoing Depression by Richard O’Connor – it’s been surprisingly refreshing to read as an honest look at depression and its treatment – though not from a Christian point of view, his viewpoint does not readily espouse any one particular psychological school of thought and he advocated for ideas that I see as being answered fully with a Biblical worldview. Here’s his commentary on the series of various psychological theories over the past few decades:

“Now most new ideas are being touted as paradigm-shifters. The concept is in danger of losing its meaning by being trivialized. But the fact is that the Freudian theory of human functioning has been on its last legs for some time, and we wait for a new theory, a new paradigm, to replace it. … New medications have helped literally millions of people, and understanding certain problems as physiologically rather than psychologically based has changed somewhat how we think of ourselves. But although there is a wish to achieve a biochemical theory of human behavior, our current knowledge leaves us far from it; and if we had it, it would not answer our most interesting human questions. (p. 51)”

Talk about a set-up for a “new” paradigm to be introduced! Yet one that has been in existence since the beginning of the world … And especially since my philosophy is that these “most interesting human questions” cannot be answered except by the author of those most interesting humans, God Himself.

There’s one more segment that I found especially poignant as well:

“Anyone who defines himself in terms of other people is at risk for depression. The more sources of gratification one has in one’s life, and the more predictable and controllable those resources, the less risk for depression. If a woman is taught to define her worth in terms of keeping her husband happy, she is too dependent on an arbitrary and capricious source of gratification. If she is taught that her worth is measured by raising happy and successful children, her self-esteem depends on forces over which she really has very little control.”

Although O’Connor’s point here is to show how cultural expectations contribute to more depression in women than men (who primarily define themselves by a “more predictable source of gratification” in their jobs), his observations ring true to Biblical teaching. St. Augustine said “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” And there is warning after warning throughout the Bible not to put your trust in people but in God. We are created in God’s image, and so we are created to glorify God. How do we do so? A modern-day theologian, John Piper, summarizes Biblical teaching well when he says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Again and again there are invitations throughout the Bible to “come, you who are thirsty, come and eat …” (Is. 55) and “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). So certainly any counseling for one struggling with depression should include attention not only to the physical aspects but also to the underlying spiritual aspect as well – which is a soul desirous of a closer relationship with the Creator and Redeemer.

In my “cue” to read next is Beautiful Boy about a father’s journey through his son’s addiction. No more light summer reading for me!

where did August go?

So, alas, August came and went and I did not blog at all. Now it is barely September, and I hope to get back into a routine which will include blogging.

I have enjoyed reading through the Bible this summer. I started out attempting “90 days in the Word” which is turning into, well, a few more than 90. It has been enlightening to get a broad sweeping overview of the Story that is also my story through the life Christ has given me.  And regardless of how many times I read the Bible, I always find something new. Here are a few of my favorites from  the past few weeks:

Isaiah 60:4 – a picture of heaven, when Christ returns again: “Look and see, for everyone is coming home!” Particularly poignant in light of our friend Beverlee Kirkland’s recent home-going

convicting commentary in Jeremiah that so easily applies to me and to our culture today: “From the least to the greatest, their lives are rules by greed.” (Jeremiah 6:1-3)

Jeremiah 31:25 – God is talking about the future restoration of Israel from their captivity – and  ultimately pointing to Jesus’ arrival as the one who invites all into His rest – “For I have given REST to the weary and JOY to the sorrowing.”

Micah 7:7-8 – “As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”

Luke 1:78-79 – “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” Zechariah, a prophet in Jesus’ day, speaks these words when he sees baby Jesus in the Temple for the first time

And a convicting note to end on, which I’ll point you to Katherine’s blog to read a full exposition on this idea: Luke 21:34 -“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day [when Jesus returns or when we die] catch you unaware …” It’s easy to see how the heart grows dull through “carousing and drunkenness” but Jesus goes further to include “this life’s worries.” Who can not but relate to that one? It is much more subtle, this kind of dulling of the heart and numbing to the Life that is truly life. Oh, that we would NOT be caught unaware!

leaning on the everlasting arms

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

We closed our worship service at my church this morning with this old hymn. It was the fitting closing to a sermon on Deuteronomy 33: a series of final blessings Moses gives to the Israelites, tribe by tribe, which ends with these verses: “There is none like God, O Jeshurun [a term for the Israelites], who rides through the heaves to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms….” Noah Huss, a seminary student, was preaching this morning and one thought in particular stood out to me. He highlighted the idea that we, like Israel, although held secure by our God’s everlasting and strong arms, continually stray after idols and other things which ARE NOT God. The irony is that we are held by God and yet we often anxiously ask Him for new idols to which we cling desperately … as if what we’re holding is better and more powerful than the ONE who holds us. We forget where we are.

And so then my prayers begin to look something like the following:

“God, please work out my schedule today so that I can do what I want to do (and am planning to do) when I want to do it. Don’t let me be interrupted.”

“Lord, would you heal this terrible cold I have? Quickly? And keep me from getting any more colds this winter?”

“Father, would you provide more money for us? So that we can dress in nicer clothes and drive shiny new cars and be able to buy a home?”

“God, please keep trouble and suffering away from me. Will you please deliver me from the current troubling situation? And give me strength so that I can think that I did this on my own?”

Can you relate? Perhaps not to how obvious those examples are … and rarely do my prayers actually sound this obviously idolatrous. But if I’m honest, this is what’s often in my heart. NOT that God doesn’t care about every detail of my life, like the fact that I’m fighting a cold or that we would like to live in an apartment with 2 bedrooms one day, but His heart desire is that I would want HIM more than I want any of these things or comforts. And that my prayers would begin with resting in Him. Realizing I have what makes me most secure already — that I have true comfort and eternal treasures.

Where do you struggle? What do you run to the most? And what helps you to remember your secure place in the arms of our Father God?

For those of you “reading” to whom this concept seems quite strange, I hope and pray that you will one day know the security of this God-embrace I’m discussing. It’s only possible as our brokenness of sin that separates us from God is restored through the saving work of Christ on the cross. And, oh, what true security and comfort is found in God’s embrace to us in Christ! It is a wonder that we who know its comfort struggle so …