The third week of Advent is Joy. Joy is another one of those words with multiple meanings like peace. Joy is both a feeling word and an action. Joy as a feeling is a sense of well-being or success Talking about joy as an action is something that Scripture commands where it is an action that can be engaged in regardless of how a person feels (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible).
There are a few passages of Scripture that are commonly read during this week. One we briefly touched on last week when the angels were praising God, Luke 2:8-14. The other passage is Isaiah 35:1-10. In this passage we read about how the ransomed shall return.
In this passage in Isaiah, we learn about how God is going to bring about restoration. This passage is such a great one to talk about how God will come and redeem his people. We read in verse 4:
“Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
John Oswalt says in The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, “This is the apex of the eschatological vision: a day when the people of God can be set free from their own sins and the sins of others, when they can come home to their God and be fully restored to his image, when a lifelong struggle to avoid grief and pain will be ended in their being overwhelmed by gladness and joy.”
This is the place where I want to be. The place where I am overwhelmed by gladness and joy and not worried about the struggle to avoid grief and pain. I believe that this is the place where God wants us to be which is why he promised redemption back in the bible times and why he promises us today that His son will come back.
Joy is promised when we read in the Scriptures that God is going to redeem his people. God promises that he will redeem his people when he shares the new covenant. The new covenant is introduced in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and it is brought up again in Ezekiel 36:22-32. While these scriptures don’t explicitly state that God is going send someone, they do say that God is going to put His law within his people. In the New Testament, Jesus talks about how he is the fulfillment of this new covenant during the Last Supper that he shares with his disciples.
While we wait in expectation during this season of advent, let us find the joy in our lives. We live in a world where we already have the promise of the new covenant in our lives.
The second week of advent is Peace. Peace is such a big concept. What really is peace and how do we have peace? Some define peace as just a lack of conflict and strife as if time outside of war. The Biblical concept of peace is “one in which God’s authority and power over his created order are seen to dominate his relations with his world, including both the material and human spheres” (New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 683). Peace goes beyond a lack of conflict and strife. The all too common and known bible verse Isaiah 9:6 talks about how this child who is coming is going to be the Prince of Peace.
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah goes on in verse 7 to say that his government and peace there will be no end. The peace that is being brought is more than just a lack of conflict and strife. It is that of Shalōm. Shalōm is not something that man can bring to relationship with man, but is a gift or blessing of God. If we move past the Old Testament and look at the birth of Jesus, he is expected to guide us in a way of peace. Zechariah prophesies about how his son John the Baptist will point others to Jesus. He concludes his prophesy saying that Jesus will “guide our feet into the way of peace.”
When does this peace come? Do we have to wait until Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross for the fulfillment of peace? No, the peace comes from the time that Jesus is born. We see when the angels appeared to the shepherds that they were praising God saying:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
God’s peace shows up from the very moment Jesus enters this world. This peace that Jesus talks about is the new covenant with God that is promised to us in Jeremiah and when the new covenant is recognized in the blood of Jesus. The new covenant reconciles God to man and it is such a beautiful picture that we get when we understand peace. This baby’s birth that we celebrate at Christmas is more than just a cute little baby, but is one who reminds us that peace with God is achievable through a relationship with this baby who is born at Christmas.
How does this apply to our lives today? I think one way we can apply this concept of peace to our lives today is knowing that when we come to God, he is the author and perfecter of peace. No matter what might get in the way of a relationship with him whether it be people or things that we place above him, we can always turn back to God and find peace.
When you hear the words Silent Night what do you think of? I’ll tell you what I use to think of and then I will share what these words mean to me now. I use to think of Silent Night as:
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
If this is what you think of when you hear the words Silent Night, you would not be wrong but I will tell you a little more about what Silent Night means to me.
Silent Night a basketball game at Taylor University, my alma mater, that is played on the Friday night of the last day of classes for the fall semester. It’s a huge tradition of the school and it brings the community together as well. So what exactly makes this basketball game so special? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Silent Night is a tradition that has been going on at Taylor University for 23 years. Last night’s game against Ohio-Chillicothe University was the 23 year that this game has been taking place. Silent Night began as a tradition where students would wear their pajamas to the home basketball game at the end of the fall semester. It has turned into a huge tradition. The students stay completely silent until Taylor has scored their 10th point. No technical foul is called but as soon as the 10th point is scored there is an immediate Taylor timeout while the students storm the court cheering. The students not only wear pajamas but many of them also wear costumes. It is a fun way to celebrate the end of the fall semester. With last night’s victory over Ohio-Chillicothe (89-50), Taylor now is 22-1 for all time Silent Night games. The tradition doesn’t end there. In the final 2 minutes of the game, the student body along with the community members who have come to watch this amazing game all join together singing the Christmas carol Silent Night.
The game is a standing-room only event that is played in Taylor University’s Odle Arena. Last night’s game was just as enjoyable to watch online as it was to be there in the middle of the tradition as a student. Into the game by about 2 and a half minutes, Taylor’s Ryan Robinson scored the 10th point from the top of the arc to end the silence. The last time Taylor met Ohio-Chillicothe in the famed Silent Night game was December 11, 2015 when Taylor beat Ohio-Chillicothe 100-50 which was the most lopsided score in Silent Night’s history.
The game in 2015 was one to remember. That was my last Silent Night at Taylor. I remember being dressed in my warmest pajamas because it was so cold outside, but underneath my pajamas I had on a t-shirt and shorts. Odle Arena is always packed to standing room only so as you can imagine it gets very hot with all the basketball players and then you add in the vast majority of the Taylor student body as well as community members. At the end of the basketball game, no matter what the outcome of the game there is always a university sponsored Christmas party. While I am no longer a student at Taylor and was not actually on campus during the basketball game, I still follow the school on social media and know that President Paige Comstock Cunningham and her husband carried on the tradition of the Christmas event. While I can only imagine that it was great fun, it was always one of the best times of the fall semester to enjoy the men’s basketball team play during the Silent Night game. Now when you hear Silent Night, maybe you will be inclined to wonder what those students at Taylor University are doing and what they are dressed up as this year while they watch the Men’s basketball team play as they round out their fall semester.
*information about Ryan Robertson scoring the 10th point was gathered from watching the game as well as the article Trojans Cruise to Victory on 23rd #TUSilentNight (https://www.taylortrojans.com/article/mens-basketball/trojans-cruise-to-victory-on-23rd-tusilentnight)
The first week of Advent the first purple candle is lit. This week and candle represents hope. Merriam-Websters defines hope as “cherish[ing] a desire with anticipation or trust.” Hope is a big thing. At Christmas, we hope for the arrival of Jesus entering into this world. Back all those years ago, the Jewish people hoped for a ruler who would come and save them from the Romans. Their hope was found in the birth of Jesus whether they knew it or not.
The Bible talks a lot about hope. Different stories talk about how the people waited for the Lord. They waited or hoped. A great verse about hope is Isaiah 40:31 which says “ But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” If we hope in the Lord, our strength will be renewed to carry on through the journey of life. The Lord will restore those who find their hope in Him. Hope is all through the Old Testament while God’s people hoped for a ruler to come and save them.
This season, I am hopeful for this time of anticipation that concludes with the celebration of Jesus. I am hopeful to learn more about Advent and each week. I am hopeful for the new beginning that this season brings. What are you hopeful for this season?
During the holiday season it seems like we tend to forget what Christmas is all about. Thanksgiving ends or the meal is over and people are already out shopping getting ready for Christmas. Friday bleeds into Thursday where people can be tempted to blow off what Thanksgiving really is. What is Thanksgiving? It’s a time where we can come together as a family or as friends and slow down and take time to share what we are thankful for. While this isn’t a post about how we forget Thanksgiving and what it’s about, I think that the holiday season overall just bleeds into one big event with consumerism. We don’t focus on the important things, the family around us or friends.
For the next 4 weeks through the Advent season, I am going to spend some time reflecting on each of the 4 weeks and what they stand for and how they are impacting my life today. If you look at an advent wreath, there are 4 different candles. 1 pink and 3 purple. What does all that mean? And what are the 4 weeks? I’m going to take this season to reflect on what each of the weeks mean. This first week is the first purple candle which is joy. Come back each Sunday to follow along with my journey this advent season.
This book, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God by Sarah Bessey is another of my favorite books that I have read this year. In this book Sarah is very personal in sharing her life with the reader. She begins this book by telling the story of the car accident that she was in just a few years ago. In this, she talks about how her father got sick with a heart condition only the year before the accident. In this, Sarah saw God.
She is a preacher and writer and by no accident at all she was out on a retreat talking with women about Mary Magdalene and her impact on Christian faith. One thing that Bessey says is “I believe with my whole heart that the number one place where women should be flourishing is the church” (29). If you desire to hear more of that passion of Bessey’s, I highly suggest picking up her book Jesus Feminist. In that book she goes into much more detail about women flourishing in the church. In the accident, Sarah saw God. She saw him in different ways through the women who ministered to her and prayed for her when she slipped away for a moment at the retreat to Tim Hortons to get some time away. As she was returning to the retreat, the accident happened.
Sarah and her husband Brian had 3 children and while she was considered “advanced maternal age” (50) by the doctor, they found out that they were expecting their 4th child. Sarah uses her stories of childbirth to explain in detail how mothering was where she found God. Not long after their 4th child was born, Sarah received an invitation to meet Pope Francis.
Sarah and Brian take a 10 day trip in Italy to meet the Pope. Back at home in Canada, her parents are watching the children. In the middle of all her pain from the car accident, Sarah makes the journey up the many steps to meet the Pope.
There is more to the book than what I have explained here, but the book is really worth picking up and reading to hear the rest of her story. I just wanted to add some of a summary of what happens in the beginning of the book so I could attempt to understanding what she meant by unlearning and relearning God.
So what exactly does the subtitle A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God have to do with this book? Well, from what I have understood in my reading of this book, Sarah had to go back to the basics and trust God in different ways than what she may have already known how to do. This going back to the basics is the unlearning part. The relearning is her learning to trust God in these new ways that were different from what she has before. This is a difficult part of the book to understand because different people might read different things into Sarah’s story and situation based on what they have personally experienced.
As for me personally, I think that unlearning and relearning God is going back to the basics of learning what it looks like to trust God and see how he is using the many situations of your life to bring himself glory even if the situation you find yourself in is hard or your in a moment where you don’t necessarily feel God’s presence with you. God can use the people around you to minister to you in your life without you even knowing that is what his plan was for your life with those people at that specific moment.
Going back to Sarah’s accident and the women who prayed for her throughout the remainder of their conference while she was in the hospital. These people were in a specific moment where they were able to minister to her while she may not have known that was what they were doing until she was told after she left the hospital.
God places people into our lives at different times and for different things. I personally have found myself to be in a season of learning God and attributes about who he is. One thing that I personally have found and that carries well into Sarah’s book is God is a rescuer. God rescues you when you face hard situations. He might not prevent you from going through something hard and challenging, but he is right there with you. You just have to pray.
I highly suggest reading this book Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey. I also suggest you read her book Jesus Feminist to get more of an understanding of what her view of women in the church is. She is very well written and keeps your attention through her whole book. #Miracles
This morning I visited the local United Methodist church again, one that I have found myself attending weekly prior to my regular Sunday morning service at UCC. This morning, Hope Brown spoke. She spoke on Jesus being present in the midst of grief. She talked about a few things before she spent some time in the Scriptures. One thing that she said that I have heard before yet paid no attention to is “unprocessed grief has a negative impact on us.” This is true. If we suffer any sort of loss, we need to process it. While it is typical to think of grief as only when someone dies, grief goes beyond that. Grief is any loss whether it was something we had and lost it or if it is something that we don’t have. Christians have been widely told that they should not question God in their grief and grieving. What Hope said is counter to that. We are to question God. We can question him. His son, Jesus questioned God in the midst of his grief while he was hanging on the cross.
The image that she used to discuss the Christian life is the Lego Movie. If you’ve seen this moving then you likely know the theme song of the movie “Everything is awesome…Lost my job, there's a new opportunity…it’s awesome to lose” (Everything is Awesome). This is the mindset that Christians have. Everything is awesome. There is nothing that can break me down. We act as if everything is well with our soul (see It Is Well, hymn). That is not the case and it does not need to be the case. We live in a place of tension between our faith and our grief. There are times when it is hard to be in church when we are broken and grieving especially when those around us in the church act like everything is awesome all the time.
This reminds me of the phrase I have been told by multiple people “the church is a hospital.” I think that to a certain degree that yes the church is a hospital, but I think beyond that to the fact where the church needs to be a place where those who are grieving are able to go and attend and not feel as though their feelings are being downplayed because everything is awesome.
I recently watched a video entitled Confronting Toxic Positivity in Church by Jillian Benfield. This video was so powerful. We live in a culture where everyone is supposed to talk about the positives and only the positives. This is so far from the truth. Yes it is important to talk about the positives, but it is also more than okay to talk about the negatives, the lows, the challenges. No one, not even the pastor in the church should tell you that you should only talk about everything as though everything is awesome and great because in reality everything is not always awesome. As Christians who live in a post Genesis 3 world, not everything is always happy and great, but there is a lot of heartache because that’s just who the ruler of this world is. He is death, pain, suffering, heartache. But we as Christians can rejoice because though we face trials of many kinds, Jesus came to bring us hope. Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus tells us these things because while he is God, he was also fully human. He experienced suffering, pain and loss. If the church tells you that Jesus did not experience these things then I would challenge you to talk to your pastor or I would even urge you to leave that place. It is not biblical to say that Jesus experienced no loss or suffering. Look at the story of Lazarus. We see in the Scriptures that Jesus is sad about his friend who has died so much so that he raises him from the dead.
Back to the message of the morning. Hope took us into John 20 and 21 to look at how Jesus deals with grief. The background to these passages is that Jesus has already died and risen. In the first passage we see Mary who has come to see Jesus on the first day of the week. She is first met by angels who are sitting where Jesus body once lay and then she is met by Jesus himself. She is crying in each of these places. What happens here is Mary is given the chance to share her story. She shares her story of grief twice. She shares once with the angels and a second time with Jesus, who she thinks is a gardener who moved the body of Jesus. Jesus showed up before he ascended to heaven to be with Mary in her grief.
Here are some practical things that we can do for others who are experiencing grief:
Don’t run away from grief, run to it. Running away may draw you into a position where it could kill you. The church has a way that it can provide for her people who are grieving. Show up. Don’t downplay their feelings.
If you would like to view the message for yourself, here is a link to the YouTube channel with the message. The message is titled Jesus is Present / Hope Brown (6/30/19) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SzDCwJiOP0.
While I did not personally know Rachel Held Evans, I knew of her work. I followed her on Twitter for years. Her ministry was to everyone. She especially ministered to the marginalized; people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. She encouraged women who were hesitant about accepting God’s call on their lives to become pastors. She taught that doubt and faith go hand in hand.
One thing that stands out a lot about who she was is so boldly proclaimed on her Twitter page for all to see “doubt-filled believer”. Those words are powerful. They allow the believer to see that and recognize their doubt and lean into that while not turning away from faith. A quote of hers on faith from her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood is “Faith isn’t about having everything figured out ahead of time; faith is about following the quiet voice of God without having everything figured out ahead of time” (RHE, A Year of Biblical Womanhood). I find that quote to be something that every Christian, man or woman, needs to cling to. To be a Christian and having faith isn’t about having it all figured out, it is about following the still small voice of God. Listening to where He is prompting us to go.
As most of her followers may know or saw last night in the top 10 trending hashtags on Twitter was #becauseofRHE. The Christian community is mourning right alongside her husband Dan and her 2 children. I can’t help but think of her this morning as in church we began a new sermon series on the book of Ruth. One word that was brought out of the whole book and is something that I have heard many times when studying this book is ḥā·sîḏ. This word, while I am not a biblical scholar or do I have much knowledge of the Hebrew language, roughly translates to loving kindness, faithful, loyal, being devoted to a person. This is what Ruth shows her mother-in-law Naomi. This is seen so clearly in Ruth 1:16-17: For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you (ESV).
While she (Rachel) was not perfect, and in no ways am I claiming that she was, I believe that I have a modern example of this kind of love. This loving kindness that is talked about throughout the book of Ruth. Rachel exemplified how Christians can and should be a voice for the marginalized. While she didn’t speak of every marginalized group, I think that she would be the person who would have spoken up for people of any group.
Through her work and ministry, Rachel led many who wandered away from the church back in. She wrote 4 books, with her most recent being Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. One quote from this book that is so poignant is “Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved. It is no more beneath God to speak to us using poetry, proverb, letters, and legend than it is for a mother to read storybooks to her daughter at bedtime. This is who God is. This is what God does” (RHE, Inspired).
In her last blog post written March 6, Rachel invited us to follow her through her journey called Lent for the Lamenting. She took primarily to social media, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to journey for those 40 days through Lent. Her final words in this blog post were:
“Death is a part of life.
My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
I cannot think that yesterday morning when she arrived at Heaven’s gate she heard those words that we all long to hear “well done my good and faithful servant.” While those of us she left behind in this world specifically her husband Dan and her 2 young children mourn the loss of her, we can rejoice knowing that she is in the place that one day we will all be. She is worshipping her Father and Maker in ceaseless praise. The call for me today in light of Rachel’s passing is to turn my attention to the marginalized. I hope and pray that other Christians around the world will continue to be inspired by the legacy Rachel left behind. She created such a legacy at 37. Christians are called to carry this on. #becauseofRHE the world is a slightly better place.
I strongly urge you to pick up a RHE book and pray for Dan and the kids. Books by RHE include; A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master, Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church and Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again.
If you would like to support the Evans family in their time of need, Rachel's friends, Sarah Bessey and Jeffery Chu created a GoFundMe for the family. Donations can be made here: https://www.gofundme.com/supporting-rachel-held-evans
This Easter we finished our sermon series on Understanding Salvation. We talked about our union with Christ. The greatest discovery in history is the tomb was empty! The central truth of salvation is that in life, death and all things we are united with Christ. In life there is no condemnation. Christ is our brother. Christ is our friend. Christ is our savior. There is no sting in death. Christ defeated death. The last enemy to be defeated is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26. There is no sorrow because we live in eternity with Christ.
Bethel music says it well in their song No Longer Slaves: I’m no longer a slave to fear I am a child of God. We are no longer slaves to our fear for that was released in Christ’s death and resurrection. Another great song is How Deep the Father’s Love for Us. The Father gave his only Son to die a gruesome death, death on a cross. Those who were there questioned him “get down and save yourself” they said. It’s not that he couldn’t get down off that cross it was his love, his deep love for us that held him to that cross. It had nothing to do with the nails. It was all love. The song goes on to say The Father turned his face away as wounds which mar the chosen one bring many sons to glory.
While it may seem contradictory to say that God the Father turned his face away he did. The scriptures point out that God is not the one who allows sin into the world. That is the role of Satan. It was His plan, that he would send his one and only son to die my death, to die your death that we may live in eternity with Him forever. Jesus gave up his life so that I may have mine.
So while I may not be perfect and while I sin daily, I know that Jesus died my death some 2000 years ago so when I die I can live with Christ for eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. That’s what Easter is all about. It’s about Jesus dying in my place, in your place so that one day when we die we will be back together with God in eternity like He originally had planned before sin entered the world. Happy Easter! He is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia.
Brené Brown's Netflix documentary The Call to Courage... 15/10 recommend spending the hour and 16 minutes watching this special.
I watched the new documentary on Netflix, The Call to Courage by Brené Brown. In this documentary Brené talks about what she knows best, shame and vulnerability. Vulnerability is not clean or easy. It is actually quite the opposite. It is very messy and very hard.
Brené brings up 6 different myths of vulnerability near the end of this video:
1. “Vulnerability is weakness”- Our society as a whole is taught that being vulnerable is weak. It is not weakness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability takes work and its not easy.
2. “I don’t do vulnerability.”- While you may think you don’t do vulnerability, you either “do vulnerability or it does you.
3. “I can do it alone.”- The minute you think that you can do vulnerability on your own, you are missing the whole point. We were hardwired for relationships. Vulnerability is not something that is done alone.
4. “ I can engineer uncomfortability and uncertainty out of vulnerability”- Once you try to separate uncomfortabilty and uncertainty out of vulnerability it is no longer vulnerability. Vulnerability takes being uncomfortable and uncertainty.
5. “I have to trust before I can be vulnerable” - Vulnerability and trust go hand in hand. They build on each other. You trust someone with something small and by sharing with someone something small you are able to become vulnerable.
6. “If I disclose, I am vulnerable”- Disclosure is not vulnerability. Don’t just share something with someone or post it to social media because you feel like disclosing is vulnerable.
There is a lot that we can learn about courage through our vulnerability. Answer the call to courage. Step into the arena and engage with vulnerability.