Advent – An Overview

imageThanksgiving gave us time to reflect on that for which we are thankful. As we move into the Christmas season, Advent gives us time to anticipate the One for whom we are most grateful. As I thought about writing a post for each Sunday of the Advent season, I wanted to ensure that my facts were correct. I began by asking others about their knowledge of Advent. Many of those that I asked were unfamiliar with the concept. It quickly became clear that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, either. Knowing these things led me to research the history and practice of Advent. Briefly, I am going to share with you the basics of what I discovered.
Advent is derived from the word adventus, meaning “coming”. For this season, advent represents the coming of Christ. History is uncertain of the exact beginnings. What it has become is an intentional preparing of hearts for the coming of the King. It’s main purpose being to quiet our hearts, minds, and souls to anticipate the birth of and second coming of Jesus.
Many symbols have become connected to the Advent season. The most prevalent of which is the Advent Wreath. Christians use evergreen in the shape of a circle to represent God as everlasting. In the middle of the wreath, sits a white candle named the Christ candle. Surrounding the Christ candle are four more candles. Typically three purple candles, and one pink candle. One candle is lit each Sunday for the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. When at last we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christ candle is lit, symbolizing Christ as the light of the world. The three purple candles represent Hope, Love, and Peace and the pink candle, Joy. The order of how the candles are lit varies between denominations. Frequently, hope is first and joy is third. Regardless of order, the candles are lit as Scripture is read that speaks of the first and second comings of Christ.
Advent calendars, opened each day
starting with Dec. 1st, are a favorite among children and parents. Each day a Scripture is read as the calendar counts down to Christmas Day.
Jesse Trees are used by many to mark the passing of each day as well. In this tradition, an ornament is placed on the Jesse tree for each day. Again, these ornaments are accompanied by Scripture. Jesse Trees were named to honor the prophecy that foretold Jesus would come from a branch of Jesse.
Advent is a season built around remembering and longing for the coming of Christ. It offers a way to focus on Jesus and His birth and eventual return. In the midst of all the busy, Advent gives my heart and mind the chance to build up hope, as I anticipate the birth of my Savior.

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Hope – Celebrating the First Week of Advent

image.jpegHope is my favorite word. Recently, a student came up to me and said with some confusion in her voice, “You sure have the word hope around a lot.” “I sure do,” I responded with great joy. Having the word Hope around me is very intentional. Two years ago, a situation presented itself that felt hopeless to me. Unwilling to give in to despair, I surrounded myself with the word Hope and the Scriptures that spoke of Hope. Those words helped me focus on what could be, rather than what was currently.
While this specific situation was resolved in a positive way, not all of our prayers are answered the way our hearts desire. Hope tells us that even when our hearts are hurting there is healing. Hope is that feeling, that acknowledgement, that no matter how dark the night, there is light coming in the morning. Hope is that belief that this current circumstance, no matter how disheartening is not the end of the story. Hope is the knowledge that God is still on His throne and He is still working for our good. Hope allows us to keep moving when all the signs are telling us to quit.
As our world continues to suffer tragedy, and horrors are inflicted upon people beyond what anyone should have to endure, Hope shows us that there is still love, and light, and goodness. Love in the form of families who adopt children as their own, families who offer their homes and their hearts to those who will not stay, but need a safe place for a time, and friends who rally around each other to meet basic needs. Light in the form of visitors to the darkest places – jails, treatment centers, abandoned buildings, and hospitals. Goodness in the form of students standing up for their peers when a bully just won’t stop, food given away to those who are hungry, words spoken that touch the heart of the broken. Hope tells us that someday, there will be no more death, and no more tears. Hope whispers that because He has overcome, we are over comers.
As Christians, it is our responsibility to share this Hope that we have, that we cling to when all else fails. This Hope demands that we become bearers of love, and light, and goodness. When we spend time focusing on the Hope of eternity, the Hope that Jesus has overcome all evil, we become able to give that Hope away to others.
On this Sunday, as you reflect on the Hope that you have, consider how you will be able to share that Hope with others? By share, I don’t mean tell, I mean show. Our words are far more meaningful when our actions prove we mean them.
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:4

Even When It’s Hard

     Roman’s 12 is just hard. I have been reading in Roman’s for months now. I have wrestled with almost all of it.It not fluffy, or full of happiness. It is a serious look at who God is and how we should be because of that truth. Roman’s 12 basically lays it out. No mincing words, no embellishing the commands to make them easy to swallow. Just a command – do these things.And all the things are hard. Really hard.

     The kind of commands that make me ask. “Are you sure, God? Cause, really, this seems a bit much.” Commands like, never be lazy, be patient in trouble, be ready to help others. Then it delves into those commands that are just flat out opposite of everything our humanness feels and thinks. “Bless those who persecute you.” Does any one else feel like you would be doing a lot of “blessing” if you followed this rule all the time? 

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     Then He takes it one step further, “Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” If this meant bless them by taking them out of my life, maybe. But, no. The verse means pray that goodness will abound for them. Oh my. The verses go on to say not to repay evil with evil. My hurt feelings, and frustrations, and anger have trouble with this one. 

     So I’ve prayed about it, thought about it, and looked at it from various angles. Three thoughts struck me. First, why would God set it up that way? Because He loves His people. He doesn’t want us going around repaying each other for all the bad that we do. We have all seen where that kind of chaos can lead. We would go back and forth until we hurt each other. Period.         

     Second, He also knows that holding in anger and bitterness eats us alive. They are like an acid – destroying us more and more as we allow it to fester. He wants what is best for us – and so He asks is to let it go.

     Third, I had to realize that so often, I’m on the other side. I’m the one people are not cursing. I’m the one being given grace rather than being paid back for evil. If I want people to treat me with forgiveness and mercy – I need to offer it to them.

     Knowing these truths doesn’t make it easy to obey. Doesn’t make it my first or my natural reaction. It does, however, make it worth doing. Oh, and God said to – so there is that. Maybe that is where obedience should have started, but working it out in my head and my heart has given me the why, and that will help me be obedient more often.  

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     I am finding that much of the Bible is hard, if you really dig into it. It’s not all about me and what makes me happy and comfortable. Yet, it is still all for my good. I’m making an effort to follow Roman’s 12. There will be much prayer and much work involved I guarantee the blessings will greatly exceed the hard.

Joy, Grief, and Gratitude

20150810_121820Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It is a day to come together and remember the little ones who left us way too early. It is a day for us to mourn, but also to share our stories and educate others on this very real loss. It is also a day where we can see and understand that we are not alone. I felt the need to share my own story today in hopes that it might bring healing and hope for others.

Danny and I were married for a little over a year before we decided we were ready to have a baby. We thought it would take a while. We thought wrong. It happened almost immediately. We were a little shocked that it happened so quickly but we were very excited!  We told EVERYONE! I can remember being so sick. I don’t think there was a moment that I didn’t feel sick from the time my feet hit the floor in the morning until the time I laid down at night. I remember one day as I was nearing the end of my first trimester, I realized I didn’t feel sick anymore. I was so thankful that the sickness had gone.

The day came for my 10 week check-up and we were so excited. This was the day that we got to hear our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Anticipation grew as they listened for the sound that would confirm life for our precious child. They worked and worked to find the heartbeat, but there was only silence. The doctor explained that we would need to move to another room for an ultrasound. I still didn’t quite get it. I wasn’t worried at all. I knew that we would get the ultrasound and hear that heartbeat that we had been waiting to hear. I was wrong. I looked on that ultrasound screen at a still picture of my baby. No movement, no heartbeat, no sign of life.

The doctor explained that they needed confirmation from another doctor. Since he was the only one left in the office, we had two choices. We could either drive to the hospital for a second ultrasound or wait until morning to come back. I couldn’t wait. As we drove to the hospital, the whole way I was crying out to God, asking Him for this to be a big mistake, praying that when we got to the hospital it would all be fixed and our baby would be healthy. Once again, I was wrong. The hospital confirmed, we had lost our baby.

This was one of the most devastating things I had ever experienced. My baby had died. I had heard of this happening to others but I never imagined it would happen to me. I certainly didn’t realize how much it would hurt. I didn’t even get to hold my baby. I don’t know if our baby was a boy or a girl. I didn’t get to give my baby a name. I never really understood the pain until I experienced it for myself. A few people reached out to me but many were silent. Many don’t know what to say. So many suffer through this in silence but it doesn’t have to be that way. I want to reach out to others who have been through this loss. It is important to know that we are not alone. It is important to know that this little life that grew inside of us mattered. That baby is just as dear to me as the two precious children that God has given me since then. There will always be an empty place in my heart for that baby until we meet again in Heaven. Even with the pain, even with the loss, I am still so grateful for the gifts that He has given me. I want you to know that it is okay to grieve. It is okay to walk through the pain of losing a child. It is also okay to feel joy again.

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​Often in Scripture, Jesus would go away to be by himself with God.
When I think of this it always causes me to reevaluate how I spend
my time. As followers of Christ, it is our job to be out among the
people spreading the gospel and sharing His light. In order for us to
be able to do this, we also must go away for a time to pray, read
Scripture, and just be alone with the Lord.
Jesus desperately needed this time with God. He did this on a
consistent basis regardless of  what was going on around Him. We need
to do the same. We need to stop allowing the circumstances in our daily
lives to be an excuse for not spending time with God. We can’t sit
around hoping that extra time will magically appear, just so we can
consider giving Him a tiny piece of it.
Yes, we are busy with work, kids, school, activities, family, health
issues, friends, and church. The list could continue indefinitely.
Our lives are full of people and circumstances that demand our time and
energy. We can choose to give our time and energy to God first, rather
than giving Him the leftovers. When we put Him last, instead of first, we
believe we have nothing left to give. When we give Him our best, He
will take what seems like nothing and turn it into more than enough.
This concept was illustrated when Jesus fed the 5,000 with only a little
boy’s lunch.
We can be aware of God’s presence and be in constant
communication with Him as we go about our daily activities, but it is
incredibly vital that we spend time with Him without all of the other
noise. Can you be a Christian without having a daily quiet time? Yes,
but why would you want to? It’s like paying to belong to a club and not
really enjoying any of the benefits. Did we receive salvation just so that
we can say we are a Christian or do we want all that God has to offer?
Our spiritual growth is dependent on our relationship with the Lord. We
need to walk past salvation, straight into a full blown love affair with
Jesus!
How can we do that if we aren’t spending time with him? How can
we know God if we aren’t reading His Word? How can we hear the Holy
Spirit if we don’t take the time to listen to his voice? When we speak to
our children, many times they don’t hear us, but it’s not because we aren’t
speaking, it’s because they aren’t listening. It’s the same with God. He’s
patiently waiting for you to listen to His voice so that He can guide you
and bless you. Won’t you stop today and just listen? Alone in the quiet is
where we learn to recognize His voice. The more time that we spend
with Him, the more recognizable His voice becomes.
We often blame our lack of time with God on the fact that we are too busy.  When the truth is that we don’t fully trust Him. We think we know more than He does. We think He doesn’t understand how busy we are. We don’t believe that He knows best. These are all lies that the enemy would want us to believe. The truth is that God always knows best. If we will put our trust in Him completely, and give Him everything, He will reveal to us how we should be spending our time. He will help us to order our day so that by spending time with Him, we can receive every blessing that He has for us.