Advent Week 4: The week of love

Yep, Christmas happened two days ago. I thoroughly enjoyed (and also kind of stressed out) the last push to celebrate. Every year we try to do better at scheduling… and this year was okay, except that I kind of burned out Christmas Eve morning after taking care of a sick emotional little girl, trying to make too many cookies and attempting to make it to church for my favorite Christmas Eve service. Let’s just say we didn’t make it to church and took a nap instead. And then on Christmas Day we drove across the mountains, chasing the tail end of a snow storm, to visit my mountain family in Paonia (see pictures below).

I really do love Christmas. I love that it brings all sides of my family together to celebrate. I love that we spend time thinking about how to be generous to each other. And at the risk of sounding cliche, I really do wish I was better at showing love, grace, peace and generosity all throughout the year (and not just the Christmas season).

My last week of Advent devotionals were all about love.

“Why do we love? When we have a complete understanding of love, perfect love displayed for us in God’s gracious giving of His Son, the outpouring of love upon others is not only justified, but instinctive. We love because He first loved us.” – 121 Advent Devotional, YouVersion App

And

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” – 1 John‬ ‭4:11-12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

But the thought from my week of love-focused Advent devotions that really caught my heart was the idea that God’s love (and the love we are called to emulate) conquers over all earthly forces, including human emotion, which so often uses love to disguise pride and self-seeking.

Of course we read 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings, and in a lot of dating books, etc. And the Bible talks about love a lot.

“God’s love is self-giving and sacrificial. He gave Himself on our behalf (John 3:16). God’s love is unconditional, it is given to us when we do not deserve it (Romans 5:8). God’s love is eternal (Jeremiah 31:3). God’s love is powerful. God’s love heals and comforts but also serves as our defender, His love defeats the enemy on our behalf. God’s love is life changing (1 John 4:19). Nothing can separate us from God’s love.” – 121 Advent Devotional, YouVersion App

But how do I learn to love with God’s conquering love? My heart dwelt this week in the mystery and powerful force of the love of a God Who has committed and sustained faithfulness to our human race despite often complete rejection, abhorrences and cursing of the God of the Universe by said created people.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” – ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭31:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

His everlasting love came to fruition in the manger babe, and love ultimately won that first Easter morning. His challenge to me (and all of us) is to love this world with the same love, starkly different than the world’s love. I am commanded to love void of self-motivation, and above and beyond the fleeting emotions that flourish from my desire to be loved in return.

Honestly, I’m not sure how to love this way. I want to defend my heart, stick up for what will be the best for me and my family at all times. Hopefully I will learn more this year about God’s path of hope, peace, joy and love, and not just in a Christmas-card kind of way. May I be willing to see God’s heart for all people and situations, and to act out of the genuine paradigm of the Father. May I be led by the Holy Spirit, anchored by hope, sustained by joy, and guided by peace. And all of these things also for you.

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Advent Week 3: Jingle Bells, Light and Joy

Okay, so really.

Sometimes the jarring difference between reality and the Christmas songs we hear all throughout the holiday season feels like a punch in the gut. And this year, I am stunned by the stories of sadness happening around me. Friends with parents dying, mothers with sons facing extreme illnesses, financial strain, job loss, depression, stress…

I was driving home Thursday night from my very last final for this semester of grad school, just kind of humming along to whatever song was playing in my head at the moment, when a wave of compassion washed over me. I felt led to pray. I mean, really pray. And as I was telling the Lord about all of the heavy things on my heart, my questions and anxieties for my community and for myself, He reminded me of the manger scene. I found myself in the middle of the birth story of Jesus, juxtaposed with scenes from Jesus’ entire life. God called His Son Jesus, Immanuel, God With US. This humble King would shoulder all of the worst sorrows and atrocities we could ever even imagining happening… He experienced them all, and sits next to us with tears in His eyes as our hearts become heavy with the cares of this world. But He doesn’t stop at just empathy. Jesus proclaims joy through every phase of His life. And not the jingle-bell type of joy that puts a warm glow in our hearts (seriously, though, when Elleanna sings “Jingle Bells” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” you can’t help but smile!). The joy Jesus drinks from is the sustaining type of life force that propels Him to the Father through all circumstances.

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” Jesus said. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:22–23)

From my advent devotional this week: “So no more let sins and sorrows grow. Though the battle rages for a few short decades here, and we experience many losses along the way, fix your eyes on the joy ahead. Rejoice! Nothing in this world can undo or even diminish your joy in Jesus. No sin and no sorrow can separate you from him and the everlasting happiness he brings.”

 

Our joy streams from belonging to the Lord, the stability of our identity, the hope of the world, because He offers us life beyond this world. Our joy is an act of trusting God’s goodness and wisdom, even when rampant shootings terrify our children, cancer takes our mothers when they should still be here for many more years, and families fall apart. I’m not trying to fix all of our problems with one small blog post, but I am exhorting myself to chose the empowering joy of the Lord. And it all began with the angels who told of the joy of Jesus coming to shepherds, wisemen and eventually the entire world.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:4-7

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” –  Romans 15:13

From our Zlaten family Christmas this past week

Advent Week 2: Peace and Flourishing

This week my academic thinking and my faith musings intersected in an interesting way. As I’m working towards finishing up my third semester as a Ph.D. student, of course I am writing a flurry of papers (not to mention all of the papers I have to grade… ahem).

One of the papers I have been working on is for my moral theory philosophy class. In this paper I am working to define virtue ethics as a moral theory, and compare and contrast it to other theories, etc. Now, keep reading… I promise not to get too technical here. One of the major components to virtue ethics is the value of promoting human flourishing, as in, focusing on what we were made to do and be, and establishing identity through the virtues – character, humility, etc.

In all of my devotionals this week on the advent, the very same word of “flourishing” was mentioned over and over again, but this Biblical type of flourishing is definitely quite different than a virtue ethics context. Many of the moral philosophers we read this semester completely rejected any ideas of a paternalistic being or society structure that would instruct them on navigating this world in the “right” way. And one of the most frustrating parts of moral philosophy… is that in modern times, many ethicists have recognized that all ethical theories have holes, and there’s no way utilitarianism, kantianism, pluralism, consequentialism, and even virtue ethics can solve all of our issues. So in a sense, why even be moral?

Throughout my entire semester studying ethics at such an intense level, I find myself deeply thankful for Jesus, the King who came to bring peace to this world and establish His upside down Kingdom in the middle of all of our humanistic mess. The ethicist’s are right; worldly paternalism is controlling, demeaning and does not promote flourishing. Worldly paternalism is an ugly distortion of Father God, whose plan for flourishing and peace is centering freedom, bedrock hope and truly seeing people as they were created. This Father wants our existence to be not just the absence of conflict, but peace flowing from good whole lives built in partnership with God.

Our faith in the redemption of Savior Jesus, the washing of our souls by His forgiveness, brings us peace (Romans 5:1). Jesus is the Mediator between us and God, restoring relationship between us and our good Father whose dreams for us outshine anything we could ever dream for ourselves.

From my Advent devotional this week: “God desires a kingdom of peace, of righteousness, of joy for all in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). God has created us to live in peace and to reflect the God of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33) that we serve with our lives.When we live in peace, God is glorified because He is the God of peace. We reflect Him through peace, but we also receive lives of good, of flourishing. This is why peace matters!”

This week, may I embody what it means to step out in faith and embrace God’s flourishing peace. May I do this by seeing the world as He sees the world; the humble King who came to serve (and not be served), the One who knows the depth of each heart and loves us just the same.

SnowyDrive2

Our snowy drive last Christmas over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house!

Centered on Hope: Advent Week 1

This past week during our Sunday service at Hope Boulder, Adam Bradley challenged us during the lighting of the first Advent wreath candle to purposefully pursue hope. This tiny word confers trust, waiting, looking expectantly to the future, and desiring. As he challenged us to think of what we are hoping for in our own lives, I was struck by the realization that I have not taken time lately to dream…to find those confident expectations. Overall, gratefulness for my family and the goodness of God does frame me; however, the darkness of this world has a way of creeping in unnoticed and changing my vision, especially when I am on an intense rollercoaster. This season has been stormy to say the least, and I’m not sure I’ve learned how to really let the hope of Christ anchor me.

So this week, that’s what I set out to journey towards, yet again. I’ve been pouring through several Advent devotionals on the YouVersion app (if you haven’t downloaded this free Bible resource, check it out!), and I’ve also been working through the 24-7 Prayer Advent 2015 series (http://24-7prayer.com/theword15).

The first challenge I received was recognizing what keeps me from spending time in God’s word. Anxiety, a relentless graduate school rhythm, and exhaustion from my pregnancy easily become my excuses to operate from a mind-numb paradigm.

Lord, still my heart and mind. Make your Word come alive to me again.

The focus of this year’s 24/7 Prayer Advent series is The Word, as in The Word made flesh through the coming of Jesus, and how each page of the Bible breathes God’s Son. The Word discerns me, challenges me, builds me, strengthens me, guides me. Spending time in the Word is spending time with Jesus. The first Advent video tackled Ephesians 6:10-17, discussing what it really means to be armed with the Word. The sword referenced in this passage is a machaira, a very short sword (like a dagger). It was used in close combat, but it was also used for self-surgery. If a soldier was hit with an arrow, he would stop and perform self-surgey with this short sword to prevent infection (and death). I was struck by the analogy Paul presented in Eph. 6:10-11; it is my responsibility to be aware of my battle wounds, and to get to know the Word so well that I can use it as my short sword to cut out the lies of this world. The word “Rhema” is also used in this passage, conveying a hope that the Holy Spirit will bring specific promises of the Word to help root out these lies. So I am not responsible for the surgery and healing, but I must take the first step in sustaining the influence of the Word in my life so that I have an arsenal to face this world.

Lord, may Your Word by my life blood; may I fully experience “Immanuel, God with us.” 

My second line of inspiration this week concerns the song “O come, O come Immanuel.” The advent hymnal devotion on YouVersion expressed this hope: “As you wait for Christmas this year, as you wait for God’s help in the stresses and pains of your life, as you wait for Christ to return and bring us Home, you can use your Advent month not just for shopping or killing time till the festivities. Sing this hymn with confidence – God keeps his promises. Sing this hymn with hope – your future will be better than your past.”

Lord, restore my eyes to see the hope that you offer this earth, even as the world seems to be falling to pieces. May we find true peace in the freedom that You bring. 

So I’m working on these ideas of trusting in God’s hope, and recognizing my responsibility to pursue God’s heart and word. It never ceases to amaze me how in each season, God asks me to trust Him in new ways; as my plates keep spinning and He gives me more blessings and responsibilities, may I still remember the child-like faith and pure hope found in the manger baby. He really is God with us, the true light of the world.

ChristmasTree

My little family last Christmas (2014). We’ll have to snap some current Christmas season ones soon! (And yes, that is Nans’s famous upside-down Christmas tree!)