Newborns, Expectancy and Advent

Yesterday I had the privilege of holding a friend’s newborn baby. He was a mere 13 hours old and I have to say the sheer breath of calm and joy he ushered in was beautiful. To see friends becoming parents, and the elation and sereneness on the faces of my friend as she looked at him, as her husband held him, was one of the most beautiful sights to behold. (Thank you Abby and Tom for allowing me to witness that and hold the fantastic Fitz)

All week there’s been a build up of expectation, even as another friend awaits the arrival of her son whose holding out a bit on them a week after his expected arrival. It occurred to me the same feeling was overcoming me as well heading into Advent season. This expectation of the glory of the Lord. The celebration and elation of the birth of Christ 2,000+ years ago even now.

In doing some digging into expectancy, and what that word looks like (hi word nerd over here) in the Bible, it is so strongly correlated to hope throughout the Hebrew. They are linked and intertwined, and then I found this beautiful imagery of expectation. It is as one with an outstretched neck.

I don’t know about y’all but I LOVE THAT. Expectation is us stretching out to look, to see. It took me back to the days of going to parades in my hometown, and leaning out my head to see what was coming, to see if Santa was near at the Christmas parade, or the band was marching next in our 4th of July parade. You have to put yourself into it and truly feel the expectation in your body.

The expectation doesn’t come without a wait. It doesn’t come without some pangs of hurt, loss, strife, and suffering. Expectancy can be long and drawn out, but it’s still lingers. Hope builds in expectancy, confidence in the thing believed to be on the way. And just as my friends are now living out the fulfilled expectation of new life, so do we. The expectation of this season of Advent brings new life in joy, peace, hope. It ushers in the new life of Christ with us. In flesh now appearing. It brings confident expectation of new life not found in ourselves, but in Him.

All may be calm, it may be quiet as we wait in expectation. But may we lean out our necks to see the fulfillment of our expectation this Advent season in Christ’s presence with us.

In Everything? Give Thanks?

In everything, give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

This time of year, especially the week of Thanksgiving, we see the first part of this verse tossed around. It’s on plates, napkins, chalkboard walls, plaques. It was probably on church bulletins Sunday and will be statuses come Thursday.

But I have to be honest that Sunday I really didn’t want to give thanks in my situation. As I sat waiting for the police to take an accident report (I’m fine, Betty’s scratched up) I was not giving thanks thinking it was God’s will for my life. I was frustrated and irritated at the hassle of someone not paying attention and side-swiping me. In the extended wait time for the cops (who never showed) I didn’t give thanks for that time in my car in the middle of a busy thoroughfare near my neighborhood. Thankfulness was not entering my mind as I steamed over plans for my afternoon that were now thrown out the window.

Real honesty here that I was just pissed. Pissed that now I have to get my car fixed, pay a deductible and deal with insurance claims for the next few weeks. It’s life I know, but I was not having it and most definitely was not giving thanks through it. I stress baked and fumed for a good part of the night. Then suddenly this verse floated into my head. So I pushed it aside and distracted myself with a book I’d gotten. I dove into another world to find some semblance of salvaging my afternoon, my evening, my day.

This same verse from 1 Thessalonians 5 popped back up yesterday morning in my mind. It was a gentle reminder that I hadn’t taken stock of giving thanks in my circumstances. That I was intentionally living outside of the will of Christ because I was vehemently choosing to be unthankful in my circumstance. I didn’t want to be thankful it wasn’t worse. I didn’t want to be thankful that there weren’t injuries. I wanted to pitch a fit and be stubborn in my irritation.

Guess what though…you don’t get to live in that attitude or perspective. Because it’s not in the will of Christ. No, instead we give thanks in every circumstance, not comparing that we are better than the next person in it or that we aren’t like them. We give thanks that He saw fit to place us here in this moment, that we have a God who hears when we’re frustrated, broken, angry. Thankful hearts recalling seasons of joy and pulling them into our now. Thankful minds choosing an attitude of thanks in all things rather than an attitude of disdain.

Rushing Christmas

So I put up my Christmas tree yesterday. Yep, Veterans’ Day…November 11th, and the Christmas tree is up. I have seen alot of ill-will and shade thrown this year about the Christmas décor and music coming too early.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving. I have done multiple years of thankfulness projects right here on this blog. Thanksgiving morning I have a tradition, and this year I’ll be running a 5K to add to it. Me and Macy’s parade are bffs and I watch it all while I begin prep work.

But there’s something about the spirit of Christmas that I want to pull in close. The hope. The joy. The peace. Especially this year. I yearned for that sense of awe in a year that has seen change and hurt and worry sweep across everyone’s hearts and lives. I want to wrap up in the holidays this year. Last year I said no to so much to slow it down and create space for my heart. This year I wanted to usher it in fully and be known and to know the season deeply. To rejoice and be filled with gladness.

I may be wrong but I feel as if the world is groaning for the holiday season, for the Christmas season. The anticipation of drawing into the birth of Christ, to remember the thrill of Hope, our weary world rejoicing at Him coming to be with us. I have this sense of pulling in close to His with-ness and seeing the hope abounding. To celebrating His desire to be with us, and our response of awe and wonder. Our coming to give Him the gifts that can never match the Gift of Him.

So I have my tree up on November 11th, and the filling of a heart drawing into the Christmas season knowing His with-ness is reason to rejoice. A reason to push the season a little earlier and usher in joy, peace, and Christ Himself a bit closer to this world-weary heart.

Growing up I don’t remember being grounded much. That’s not to mean I was the perfect child (far from it y’all) because I was met with a spanking instead when my mouth got me in trouble. A grounding would mean my oft-times introverted self would have a reason to sit and read for hours instead of playing with the majority of boys that grew up in our neighborhood.

Being grounded or getting grounded has taken on the connotation of that of airplanes more than it’s intended meaning. We’ve been there when a plane has gotten grounded, and the disparate sighs of the passengers and the crew too become the soundtrack of a gate. Or it’s been our own and we scurry to try to get around it, finding another one to hop onto to bypass the grounding. But being grounded as a person means you are stable, realistic, unpretentious. Wouldn’t you want that for your plane as well as your character?

Maybe that grounding as a kid was so that we could be more grounded as an adult, emotionally and mentally stable, realistic. Being grounded gives us time to think about what put us there to begin with as a kid. What consequences our actions (or words) hold for us and those around us.

I thought on this as well when I saw Paul’s words to the Ephesians of “being rooted and grounded in love”. And then again his words to those at Colosse, “if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard.” That grounding means rooted, holding fast, and found tapped into the very love of Christ and hope of the gospel. Being grounded isn’t a punishment but a reflection of character and of Christ Himself, who we are called to reflect. That to be grounded means we are unmoving and not blown about by whims and feelings, but connected to the source of our rooting, the True Vine Himself.

I think for me I’d much rather be grounded more and more as an adult, finding that if it’s in love it ends up setting up roots that grow deep and secure not in my own actions, words, whims and feelings but in Christ’s, in the very Hope of the world.

Living Sacrifices

It’s the 4th of July here in the States. A time when we celebrate our independence from that monarchy and reign of the British so long ago. I joked it was the original Brexit on a couple of social media platforms because IT WAS. We often take this time in America to show our respect for the Founding Fathers of our quite young nation (look at other countries y’all, we’re pretty green behind the ears still) and honor those who have sacrificed for our country through battles and wars.

We are very sentimental that way as Americans, remembering the sacrifices of others to give us the independence we exercise through tubing on the lake, shooting off fireworks until the neighbors call the cops, and playing Florida Georgia Line at top volume. We like that word sacrifice alot around this time of year, what with Memorial Day and 4th of July, and the regal nature in which we honor those that ultimately sacrificed their lives so that we can not be under a reign of a monarchy or dictatorship.

But I don’t think we like that word being applied to our lives, or what we are asked to do. It’s good for others, but no so much ourselves. Believe me when I say I wrestle with this just as much. Because sacrifice means something has to be given up, it has to be surrendered…or even killed. So I look at Paul’s words to the Romans in chapter 12 and start to see the bigger tension evolving.

“That you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

See we are living…breathing…acting…doing…and yet, we are to be sacrificing ourselves for God, to Him, because that is the reasonable response to the God who saves, redeems, loves and sacrificed Himself for us. It means to me I have to kill off myself in every moment, give myself over not to my whims, desires and emotions, but the Spirit within me. Not choosing this world (as Paul continues on telling us) to live into but transformed by Him in every single part of us. It is the surrender of ourselves for the sake of something better-the very best we could ever encounter, God Himself.

So when I want to dwell in this place of sacrifice and seeing how others have given of themselves I cannot help but look at the sacrifice of Christ and the daily act as this living being of sacrificing myself unto Him, His reign, His rule and His will. Not for some selfish pursuit or half-hearted liberty I can conjure up but for the ultimate liberty in Christ.  Not to pursue my own life, but one sacrificed fully for the very best thing…Christ.

Oh that I wish it were as easy as I like to deceive myself that it is. But sacrificing myself and all that selfish desire, ambition and emotion is hard. The person that says it’s easy is lying, but just because it is hard doesn’t mean I give in and lean back into a self-pursued life. It means going hard into transforming my mind, knowing my strength is not my own, but Christ’s in every. single. moment. if I but ask, seek with my heart. Y’all, this Christian life of sacrificial living isn’t easy but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to surrender my attitude, my mouth, my mind, my weakness…every single bit of me even the parts I really don’t want to give up, to know I am serving God in faith.

So where might you need to live as a sacrifice today? What area has God been hammering in on you that needs to be killed off in order to be set apart?

Believing in Yourself

“He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He also was able to perform.” (Romans 4:20-21, NKJV) 
If I’m honest here, right now, I often live in unbelief that God will do as He’s promised. I’m not talking about these “false promises” we like to put God’s name on and call it a day (for traffic to be light, our day to go well, marriage, children, prosperity). I’m talking about those in Scripture, the ones He has given us to remind us in the daily that we cling to faith when those moments of doubt come and not to our own strength. 

But Paul is showing us in Romans back to the start, where Abraham could have wavered, scoffed at God’s promise to multiply his family. But he didn’t. His faith was firmly rooted and steadfast in God, a God who gave him the strength and the faith in which he believed. 

You see, He is a gifted…of faith, salvation, promises, strength, goodness. Yet I find myself doubting those gifts and relying instead on my own faulty and very unstable ways to put faith in.  Doubt will try, in all of its crafty ways to get us to believe in ourselves instead of God. It’s a cunning way for the devil to sneak into our thoughts and get us off-track and away from God. And boy do I fall for it. 

I can look back and see God’s faithfulness in every area of my life as I’m faced with the choice to stand fast or to waver. To be strengthened in faith in Him or take a step away into faith in my disobedient self. 

Maybe like me you’ve made yourself a god in your own life when faced with the lies of doubt.  Choosing belief in self over Him who is faithful and true. Maybe today you needed that reminder of His character and the lies you’ve believed that led to doubt and self-sufficiency. Maybe today your faith needs strengthening in the only One who can give it to you…God. 

That Post-Resurrection Life

Last week I posted alot about Holy Week, culminating in Resurrection Sunday. We make much of this day in Christianity as it’s the day Christ arose from the grave to pronounce victory for all over death and sin. We no longer have to worry about the bondage of sin, but instead we live lives of freedom found in Christ.

Easter is a celebratory time, and rightfully so.  We celebrate and live into that which we could not do, ever, knowing He is our Redeemer.

But here’s the thing, as I walked through this week and all the post-Holy Week living. I dug into Acts a bit, even as Christ ascended and the disciples are now left with much-including the Holy Spirit with them and in them.

I looked at Peter, Silas, and the others who were witness to Christ’s workings. As Pentecost came, so did God’s Presence in the Holy Spirit upon them. Not preaching the gospel, but speaking praises of His wondrous works. They weren’t witnessing to all those who had gathered around as the rushing wind drew them in, nope. They were giving praise, speaking it from words they had never spoken before thanks to the gifting of the Holy Spirit.

So that got me thinking, as I walked through this week post-Resurrection Sunday, when all the candy went on sale, the joyous nature of what’s coming had ebbed, and the very felt Presence may be waning for you. Maybe it doesn’t feel like much of a celebration now, in the week after. That praises continue to pour forth out of mouths which now face death, doubts, frustrations, worries and this post-Resurrection life in the day to day.

Do we grow used to the Resurrection the other 364 days a year?

That was the question posed on Sunday by David Hannah. One that has struck me over and over again this week, as I live out life in Christ and through Him. Am I living a “used to the Resurrection” life every other day but Easter Sunday? What does it even look like to live a Resurrected Life?

Well it means we aren’t beholden to the death that sin promises anymore. We aren’t buried under the weight of the world’s stresses, cries and defeats. We are alive in Him who defeated the grave and gave us life abundant. We aren’t bound to identities in anything but in Him.

But yet we choose the mourning cloths and embalmed rags of a life we once knew instead of the resurrected one in which we have with Christ, in His redemption. So maybe we need that reminder that praises come forth even when we may still be wondering, when we may still doubt and have fears…when Christ has told us explicitly of things to come and yet He also gave us life anew.