Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent meditation: Joy

(That was a sunrise a week or so ago.)

Well, it's 10 O'clock, and everyone is in bed and it's finally quiet so I can think. I'm trying to stave off some bug that's decided to give me a dizzy-headache and sore throat in the last hour. Hot tea and lots of vitamin C I'm hoping will do the trick.

Today, joy.  The third Sunday in Advent the preacher preached on joy.  And I'm glad he did it the way he did.  Cause it's not that easy.  It's not a health and wealth gospel the joy of advent speaks of.  It's not, "Jesus will make you happy." Or, "Jesus will give you what will make you happy."  It's, "Jesus, Man of Sorrows, he knows.  He knows you.  He knows what caused things to not be the way their supposed to be: sin.  And He came to take care of that problem.  And believing that about Him brings something much more real than circumstantial happiness, something you can bank on, something warm and hopeful in you even when you feel sorrow: joy.  Real. Lasting. Unstealable. Joy."

I'm glad he did it the way he did it because honestly, I walked in that building today and when he asked the congregation if we had to pic an emoticon what would we be, I mumbled, "Depressed" under my breath.

It comes like a heavy fog that rolls in.  There's no control about when or how or why.  Depression is a real deal that I've been dealing with for awhile now.  And for the past several weeks it's fog has been gone.  Really gone.  Light and pleasure and smiles and singing have filled my days even in the mundane things that can get a person down.  But a few days ago it rolled in again.  I felt it.  I did a little inventory to see why.  Is it a female hormone thing?  (Note to self made about what day it fell on the calendar).  Did I forget to take my medications?  Is it my diet?  Am I eating too much junk?  Could be any and all of that and more.  But this time, when it rolled in, I did not mindlessly keep wandering through the fog.  I pulled over and preached to myself.  "Self," I said, "Why are you so downcast?  Put your hope in God!"  And then I sang it.  Out loud.  In the kitchen.

"Why so downcast oh my soul. Put your hope in God.  Put your hope in God. Put your hope in Go-o-o-d. Why so downcast oh my soul.  Put your hope in God.  And bless the Lord oh my soul.  Bless the Lord.  He's the lifter of my countenance.  Bless the Lord.  He's the lifter of my head.  Bless the Lord.  He's the lifter of my countenance.  I will never be ashamed..."

The fog didn't clear.  But I was OK with knowing it was there and that, as in the past, it would clear.  I'll wait it out.  The joy in me is the hope of Christ:  He came.  He destroyed sin and death's power over me.  He is committed to conforming me to the image of the Son and He has given me His Holy Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing that when I see Him, I will be like Him and I will be fully alive and live fully with him perpetually and not one drop depressed.  No fog.  No sin.  That's the joy of Advent.  It's massive.  It's greater than all our sorrows.  It can handle sorrow and depression and loneliness and grief and pain.  It knows Who came and Who's coming again.

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. -Psalm 30:5



Quieted,
Sheila

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Advent meditation: It's for freedom that he set us free

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ...For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. - Galatians 5:1,13



I've been thinking about this a lot today.  I used to read these verses and sort of feel lost.  "It's for freedom Christ has set us free"???  Ok.  What does that mean?  I mean, yeah, I'd agree that Christ set us free from the condemnation coming against us, but free?  Free from what?  Doesn't God restrict, not free?  If Christ has set us free are we "free" to do whatever we want?  And if we're not, is that really freedom?  

If I'm honest those questions have gone through my head many times over the years.  But today, after pouring my heart out to one that I love, I heard those verses in my head and it made total sense!  Sin is slavery.  Christ's blood bought freedom.  Freedom from sin!  He didn't die to serve us our favorite, chosen sin on a silver platter.  He died to give us the power to kill sin, to break free from it's chains, to turn to him when we find ourselves in a sin.  He didn't come to leave the dead, dead and the sick, sick and the broken, broken.  He came to give life to the dead, heal the sick and restore the broken.

Until we see him face to face we will be in a battle to fight sin with faith.  We have been given the power to look the slave driver of sin in the face and say, "NO MORE!  I will not give myself over to you!"  And when we fail, and we will fail, we have been given the grace to cut off the arm that causes us to sin and turn our minds and hearts back to the One who died to set us free.

Freedom in Christ is freedom to no longer be poisoned by the lies of sin.  It's the freedom to be sober again, to see clearly the beauty of God in Christ and realize we've been feasting ourselves on vomit and rottenness and poison.  When we have that freedom we recognize sin for what it is and we hate it and we fight it and we turn from it when we find ourselves in it.  And we can do that now, because Christ has come and purchased with his own blood the ability for us to taste the goodness of God and despise the putridness of sin.  He bore or sins in his body to free us to love God and love one another not to turn ourselves back over to the destructive things that he had to die to free us from in the first place!

So when I read these verses now I exclaim, "Yes! Yes! Yes he really has freed me."  Now I hate the thing I used to think he was unfairly keeping me from.  I now know he's freed me from the thing that was keeping me from really loving Him and really serving and loving others.

And because of all this, this Advent, I'm thinking a lot about my longing for the coming again of Christ.  Until that day he's freed me to fight the fight of faith.  To stand.  To change my thinking.  To turn to him.  And when he comes and I see him face to face, the fight will be over.  Until then I cling to the promise that he came to set me free and I press on to fight the good fight of faith in who He is and what He teaches me to do.




Quieted,
Sheila

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Jesse Tree: Celebrating the God of promises. The God who makes life when all seems as good as dead.



I think it was five years ago now that I started doing a Jesse Tree with my sons. Each year we've done it a little differently. This year I gathered some branches my goats had stripped bare of all leaves, stuck them in a large vase and put some lights on them. In years past we've pulled an ornament out for each day and placed them on the tree after that day's reading.  But this year I decided to put all the ornaments on the tree from the start and focus more on the reading for each day.  Up until this year we've used Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree readings.  But this year, I decided to the family readings from the Reformed Church of America website.  They're short and to the point (which my highly distracted 11 and 9 year need right now) and they set our minds each day on the hope of Christmas.

The Jesse Tree comes from reference to, "the Root of Jesse" in Isaiah 11.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. Isaiah 11:1-5
One of the reasons I love doing a Jesse Tree at Christmas with it's dead branches as opposed to the pretty green fir tree is because it reminds me that my God is the God who makes promises.  And keeps them.  When I look back over history through the Jesse Tree readings I see that for thousands of year God has been showing himself faithful.  He will do what he says he will do.  And so it causes me to look forward to the promise of His return.

And all those dead branches remind me that that's me, without Him.  And that He did the miracle.  He has born me again to a living hope.  Out of my deadness He has caused life to come.  Just as out of as-good-as-dead Abraham and Sarah, Isaac was born.  And just as out of dead Israel, Christ was born.   In my deadness God has birthed new life in me.  His Holy Spirit is my deposit, guaranteeing one day, I will be completely new and alive with eternal life.

This is my God.  He makes promises. He doesn't lie.  He keeps them, no matter how long has gone by and no matter how impossible things may seem.  He will do it.




Quieted,
Sheila

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent meditation: Hope



I'm doing a Bible study through 1 Peter with a neighbor and the verse that has really grabbed me, which I am trying to memorize, is 1 Peter 1:13:

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

We've been getting together for quite a few weeks and I never once thought of this verse in regards to Advent.  But during the preaching on Sunday it came to mind. It's the perfect verse for Advent!

Our Pastor talked about hope and how we as Christians look back during Advent to the birth of Christ, but we should really look forward with the birth of Christ in mind.  The Advent Israel waited for was Christ's birth.  It is the Advent I look back to and rejoice in, but for me, the real Advent I wait for is Christ's second coming.  He will come again.  And I will see him as he is!  And oh what grace!  What amazing grace that will be brought to me when I see him face to face.


Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. - 1 John 3:2-3

That'll sober you up!  That should prepare my mind for action.  I mean, who cares about sales or the latest gadget or the best bred goat or the finest materials for your new shed or the car that needs a paint job, or...  I'm going to see God!  And be like him???!!!  I can hardly wrap my brain around it!

I know this doesn't mean I'll become a god myself.  But I'll be whole like God is.  I'll be loving like God is.  I'll be a perfected, redeemed reflector of His glory like I was created by Him to be!  Christ will be my brother!  God my face to face Father!  There's no time for pettiness.  There's no time for continuing in sinful, worldly, self-indulgence.  That's all a waste!  But anticipating that day, meditating on it, pointing others to it- that's not a waste.  I bear his name.  And one day I will see his face.  Oh what a day!  Come quickly Lord Jesus!


Quieted,
Sheila