Advent-Hope

Christmas Jewelry Advent Candles Advent Wreath

      Christmas is such a wonderful time of year. Though our society has descended into a more commercialized form of celebration ($140 billion is expected to be spent on Christmas gifts this season), for the genuine Christians in our midst, this Advent season is an adventure, remembering our Lord’s First Coming, and looking forward to His Second Coming.

      In our home we use the traditional Advent Wreath as a guide and reminder of this adventure.

      The first candle to be lit is known as the Prophets candle. They, like us awaited the coming of the Messiah, the One who would set all things right in Israel and bring hope to those who look forward. So it is also known as the HOPE candle. For in the coming of Christ to redeem us from our rebellion against God and the destruction of ourselves, we need HOPE.

      In our era there doesn’t seem to be anything to hope for. The deep depression running across our world is overwhelming. And this consumer–Christmas mentality saps most of us of our strength and wallets. In light of what could destroy us, allow me to suggest some ways to manage this Christmas season.

  1. Get yourself an Advent Wreath and 4 (5?) candles. Focus on the coming of our King into this world to redeem it and call all of us back to Himself.
  2. SLOW DOWN. Seriously. STOP running around. Wassail is good for this. So is a warm fire.
  3. Spend LESS.
  4. Value people in need more. Not just the poor, but the hurting and broken as well.
  5. Bake Christmas cookies together. Then give them away. [Well, of course not all of them.]
  6. Attend a Christmas Eve service at a church. Bring along some friends.
  7. Read the Christmas Story in the Bible (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1&2), Christmas Eve or on any Sunday in Advent. Kids in our culture need to hear it.
  8. Invite anyone who might be alone to Christmas dinner. Buy them a gift while you’re at it.
  9. Go Christmas Caroling with any group you might find. It’s worth it.
  10. Again, spend less, GIVE MORE.

      On that first Christmas 2,000 years ago, Christ made it more about us than Him. I think we should follow suit and make it about the people who still need to acknowledge Him as Lord.

Merry Christmas

Gary

NEXT ADVENT 2— PEACE

Untenable

ropeun·ten·a·ble  /ˌənˈtenəb(ə)l/  adjective
1. (especially of a position or view) not able to be maintained or defended against attack or objection: “this argument is clearly untenable”     – Oxford Dictionaries
     Over these past few weeks I have been reading and listening to lectures by Peter Boghossian, author of How to Have Impossible Conversations [DaCapo 2019]. Dr. Boghossian is a professor at Portland State University who argues that we are done with Culture Wars 1.0. We are now entangled in Culture Wars 2.0.
 “The rules of engagement relate to how we deal with our disagreements. In Culture Wars 1.0, if an evolutionary biologist gave a public lecture about the age of the Earth based on geological dating techniques, creationist detractors would issue a response, insist that such dating techniques are biased, challenge him to a debate, and ask pointed-if unfairly loaded-questions during the Q&A session.
“In Culture War 2.0, disagreements with a speaker are sometimes met with attempts at de-platforming: rowdy campaigns for the invitation to be rescinded before the speech can be delivered. If this is unsuccessful, critics may resort to disrupting the speaker by screaming and shouting, engaging noise makers, pulling the fire alarm, or ripping out the speaker wires. The goal is not to counter the speaker with better arguments or even to insist on an alternative view, but to prevent the speaker from airing her views at all.” https://americanmind.org/essays/welcome-to-culture-war-2-0/
     This shift to Culture Wars 2.0 is a new playing field for the Christian. We will not even be allowed a platform to offer our values. We will be shouted down. So where does this leave us in the marketplace of ideas and the public forum? Trying to present a meta-narrative about ultimate destinies and Truth has been eliminated from the discussion. There is no discussion.
     So, now what?!?
     Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) once said
No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister. All the Friars should preach by their deeds. This eventually was condensed to Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words. Though it is impossible to proclaim the gospel without words the point is well taken.
     Like our Lord Jesus, our actions must supersede our explanations. Offering the love of Christ may often lead to the question Why are you doing this? Sometimes I explain my faith; sometimes I simply reply, because it is right.
     We have entered a new phase in the battle for the hearts of men. When we are informed in advance that we will not be allowed to speak. We are not there yet, but it is coming.

Honor God, honor people…, make a difference,
Gary

NEXT ungrateful at Thanksgiving

The Interior Castle

default  Beside Holy Scripture a good deal of my personal spiritual life has been shaped by the Saints who wrote of their journeys of faith and discovery. One such person is Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). She was a Spanish noblewoman within the Carmelite tradition of the Catholic Church (Protestants were forming throughout her lifetime) known for her mystical faith and writings. She was not prone to writing until she was directed to write by the head of her Order. One of her best known works is The Interior Castle, where she describes the chambers of the human heart as a series of Mansions through which we move in growing closer to Christ.

  1. The Mansion of Humility & Grace
  2. The Mansion of the Practice of Prayer and Growth
  3. The Mansion of the Exemplary Life
  4. The Mansion of Prayer of the Quiet, where the supernatural and natural meet
  5. The Mansion of Prayer of Union, where the soul is completely possessed by God
  6. The Mansion of the Bride & Groom, where the soul would receive more favors, but also afflictions
  7. The Mansion of Spiritual Marriage between Christ and His Church.

     Where would you find yourself in Teresa’s Interior Castle? In many ways, even at this stage of my life, I would place myself in the Mansion of Humility & Grace, needing a great deal of both. In other ways I am firmly planted in #4, the Mansion of Prayer and Quiet, wherein the supernatural and Natural worlds blend.

     Most certainly I am not in the Mansion of Prayer & Union, where my soul is completely possessed by God; although I am most definitively striving for that.

     It must be also noted that I more likely than not skipped over the Mansion of the Exemplary Life entirely. For this, I hold much regret. But I am not dead yet.

     The most encouraging aspect of this delineation is that it helps me measure where I am in my journey to holiness, in my journey to become more like Jesus. It was penned almost 500 years ago. Maybe you might write one in a more contemporary vein?

     My journey has been one of service, suffering, joy, and celebration. May our Lord grant you one of similar combination.

Honor God, honor people…, make a difference,

Gary

NEXT—  untenable

“ad astra per alas porce”

lucky-pig-1843071_960_720     When John Steinbeck was in college he was told by one of his professors that he would become a published author when pigs fly. He liked the insult so much that he opened each pf his subsequent books with the phrase— ad astra per alas porce. “To the stars on the wings of a pig.”

     Steinbeck would not be deterred from what he was designed to do by the critical comments of one person. It was as if the comment had steeled his resolve to prove his professor wrong.

     It amazes me how so many of us give up so easily. One negative comment, one rejection, one disappointment, and we throw in the towel. How did so many of us get this way? Is it our educational system? Our family’s disapproval? When I was a young teen I could do nothing right in my father’s eyes; I couldn’t even cut the grass right!

     Since those days I’ve learned to rise above the negative comments of my friends. [Albeit, some negative commentary should be heeded.] We all need to answer to a higher calling; one where we live up to our abilities and to the levels of accomplishment that God has designed us to achieve. This is not an easy practice to incorporate into our daily mindset. We are quite content to base our self-worth on the belittling of others. I knew I wasn’t good enough. Really?!?

     For the nominal Christian, words like “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,” [Philippians 4:13], or “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us who can be against us?” [Romans 8:31] seem to have lost their thrust. Our fear of failure has crushed them to the ground. Have we ceased to believe what is true?

     If there is one thing genuine followers of Christ need to do in this present generation it is to regain their sense of adventure in their Christian lives. We need to truly trust God and take the risks our faith requires. There is no time left to continue in a Let’s wait to see what happens attitude. And the only way I know to learn faith is to step outside of our comfort zone into the uncomfortable. This will be a different step for all of us. For extroverts, they probably won’t even know they’ve done it. For introverts, it could be terrifying.

     Nonetheless, our Lord calls us to it. What is our Christian faith without the faith part? Mere social alignment with a religious institution. Yeah…, that’s meaningful!

     Our Christian faith could be so much more exciting if it were not mere religious attendance.

Flying with the pigs,
Gary

The Fear of the Lord

the-fear-of-the-lord2The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.  Proverbs 9:10

     We have very little understanding of the fear of the Lord in our era. If anyone does think about it, an image of an awe-powerful God sitting on a throne on Mt. Olympus comes to mind. He is the awful, powerful God lording his power over us. For most of us, that is ancient myth, Greek fable, and not a real reality. Nor do we rarely give a thought to a real Satan, a roaring lion, prowling about seeking to devour us. (1 Peter 5:8)  Our world has moved beyond such myths.

     Nonetheless, should we, in some way, fear the Lord? For those who live outside our faith, the answer is yes. But what about us who have placed our lives in Jesus’ hands, should we fear our Lord?

     It might be noted that we do have a way of constantly stepping outside of the perimeters of God’s protection for us. I would dare say that if we continually stray from the Truth and the practice of the Christian life we have something to be concerned about.

     The question is not Am I saved? Rather, it is— Am I abiding within God’s grace and living by the principles of the Christian faith laid down in Scripture? Not that our outward actions necessarily reflect an inward reality, but they do go a long way toward clarifying what is important to us.

     So, the real question then becomes, Where is your heart? What is the general direction of your passion, your direction in life, how you use your time and how you spend and give away your resources? “Where your heart is…” (Matthew 6:21) These things are measurable, not measured by deeds-done alone, but by inspiration and devotion. These are the internal qualities the drive us toward God. To not have them makes us mere actors in a play. Play-acting the Christian life is always an alarm for fearing God.

     You can run… .

     Besides, a HEALTHY fear of the Lord is a good thing, especially if it draws us into the presence of the Holy One. C.S. Lewis gives us a wonderful image of God. “he’s not a tame Lion, you know.” Who doesn’t approach a Lion with some healthy fear?

     Or, maybe gaining a deeper knowledge of God through Scripture and silence does produce a proper fear of him. Hummm?

Honor God, honor people…, make a difference,
Gary

NEXT— “ad astra per alas porce…”.  

unSelfing ourSELVES

12764758_10207871278393338_48460173020244048_o    Over the past few months I have let some of the saints of the Church lead in my devotional life. One such person is Frederick William Faber (1814-1863). He is best known for his Lives of the Saints. But from his work The Creator and the Creature, there is one line which will not let my heart wander far.

Holiness is an unselfing (of) ourselves… .”

    When you think about it, that makes sense. How can Christ fill us with himself if we are supersaturated with ourselves?!? Any form of meditation, which is a quest for inner peace, calls upon us to empty ourselves…, and stay that way. I find that course quite dangerous. If I empty myself of myself, and do not refill that void with Jesus Christ, then I open myself to all sorts of devious invasions.

    For much of my life I believed that holiness was a thing to pursue, something that was a goal in the Christian life. Then again, it is also a platform granted to us by the Father through Jesus Christ. This is how God sees us the moment we put our trust in his son.

    Frederick Faber’s idea of holiness being an unselfing of ourselves is new to me. I am going to have to give it some thought. Yet as I probe within I find that unselfing is exactly what must take place. In Scripture we come across thoughts like “I must decrease; he must increase,” (John 3:27-36). We need to reexamine our priorities and reflect on what our supreme goal in life actually is; that which fills our time, that places our desires and dreams under Christ’s command.

    The ancient Greek maxim— You DO what you want, really is your definer of what is most important to you. Every six months to a year take an inventory of how you spend your time. Actually, start NOW. This should tell you where your heart is: money, sports, possessions, mission. Any revelations?

    One of the things I’ve noticed about myself through the years is that what I thought I needed, moved to the what I wanted category. Then I found that I wanted less and less in life. It was a good move. Still is.

    We all live at different levels in life— wealthy, poor, average, extravagant, sacrificing, giving. None of these definers is any more significant that the other. It is all a matter of what our God has designed you for.

    Whatever that is will call on you to continue in the process of unselfing yourself.

Honor God, honor people…, make a difference,
Gary

NEXT— The fear of the Lord…. 

Yes!

61xpma7qt1l.sr160240_bg243243243  Late last month a friend of mine, David Rupert, released a book— YES. In it he recounts his journey to Living a Life of YES. It is a great book and you should read it…, and BUY it! Starving authors all agree heartedly.

    Last time I wrote about being TEPID, bland, unimpressive, dull, insipid. Too many of us are like that, Christians especially. We’ve come to equate humility with shy, quiet, insecure, introversion. I do not find that Jesus’ humility was even near that. He was unafraid, opinionated, forthright, daring, bold, assertive, forgiving and gracious. People wanted to be around him. Do people want to be around you?

    David Rupert found that saying Yes to life put him in over his head where he had to trust in God. No choice. From his work in the Middle East, to his neighborhood, even extending into his work, saying Yes removed him from being ordinary to a humble greatness he could have never anticipated.

    What do you think might happen to you if you prayed Well, God, here it goes. I’m going to step out of my safety zone and trust you. I’m going to say Yes. Go the extra mile. Care for someone who needs love. Give more money away than is safe. Open up my soul to others more than usual. Travel to some place that I sense God is directing me with little verification. I’m going to take a risk not because I want to, but because I need to. I must.

    I’m going to say Yes!

    The first thing that will happen to you, after you make this commitment, is a complete sense of peace, and confidence. The next thing is a total sense of terror. The good news— you’re on the right track. Next, some of your friends, and our roaring lion adversary, will try to dissuade you from your intended course. You’re still on the right track. Although, do not disregard wise counsel and insights of friends who know you.

    What would happen in your life if you started saying Yes? Most of us fill our lives with so much activity that we are more likely to say No to new challenges or commitments.

    How did we ever get this busy?

    If anything will quell the spread of the Christian faith it is the tepid isolationism of a life of saying NO. Cloistering within our Christian fellowships is not what our Lord Jesus intended when he commissioned us to GO. [Mathew 28:18-20]   Nor did he intend for us to be obnoxious manipulative peddlers of the gospel. But he does intend for us to be in the world, yet not of it.

    So what’s it going to be? Yes… or No? If Yes, then you will look forward to the exciting, scary, risky experiences Christ is creating for you even now. If NO, then you will live in fear and trembling that, one day, God may call you out of your safety zone and plop you in over your head. What are you going to do then?

    Growing a habit of Yes is a safety zone. Mostly.  Naugh, all the time!

Honor God, honor people…, say YES,

Gary