Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent Musings pt. 6

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. Luke 21:34 (NIV)

The anxieties of life can certainly weigh you down. George Bailey, in the iconic film, It's a Wonderful Life, almost succumbed to the anxieties of life by ending his own life. Clarence appears and gives George a glimpse of what life would have been like if he had never been born. My favorite scene in the film is at the end as George reads the inscription from Clarence. "Remember, no man is a failure who has friends." 

Three years ago our family gathered to celebrate my cousin's wedding. Weddings are joyous occasions that remind us of God's blessings in life when the anxieties are threatening to trap us. Jesus performed his first miracle as recorded by John at a wedding feast. Three years ago as we celebrated Brad and Bonnie it was a reminder of the joy of friends and family. It was a reminder that life really is wonderful. It was a reminder that the anxieties of life meet their solution in Jesus of Nazareth. 

This year I have been continually encouraged by dear friends in my life. I'm most grateful for the friends that God places in my life that help push me closer to Jesus. Those friends remind me not to let the anxieties of life close in around me. Those friends are a tangible expression of God's grace. Praying the Lord surrounds you with friends this Advent season. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent Musings pt. 5

The greatest event in the Old Testament was the Exodus. This event defined the Hebrew people for generations to come. The second most important event in the Old Testament is the Babylonian Exile. Both events brought about a renewal of God's covenant promises with his people after a period of time that felt as if God had abandoned them. The prophet Micah speaks of the coming judgment that would manifest itself in Exile. Micah also spoke of restoration. Of Hope. Of renewal. Of God's faithfulness in the midst of a period of perceived abandonment.
Micah 4:6-10 (NIV)
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“I will gather the lame;
    I will assemble the exiles
    and those I have brought to grief.
I will make the lame my remnant,
    those driven away a strong nation.
The Lord will rule over them in Mount Zion
    from that day and forever.
As for you, watchtower of the flock,
    stronghold of Daughter Zion,
the former dominion will be restored to you;
    kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.
Why do you now cry aloud—
    have you no king?
Has your ruler perished,
    that pain seizes you like that of a woman in labor?
10 Writhe in agony, Daughter Zion,
    like a woman in labor,
for now you must leave the city
    to camp in the open field.
You will go to Babylon;
    there you will be rescued.
There the Lord will redeem you
    out of the hand of your enemies.

Redemption, rescue, hope, restoration. These are things Micah draws the people to consider as they get ready to go into Exile. In the words of that esteemed American folk theologian, Tom Petty, "You don't have to live like a refugee." The refugees and exiles that we see around us, the ones we find in our homes and families, and even ourselves can cling to the promise of redemption. The broken shell of who we are, beat down by life, in prison to our sin and idolatry, cast away from our homeland and family can rejoice that through Jesus we can experience restoration. Exile doesn't have to define us because Jesus has redefined us through his victory that conquers Exile. 

As we observe Advent, let us wait with great expectation of the promise of redemption found in Jesus alone. 

Advent Musings pt. 4

My Mamanon's birthday was today. She passed away in the spring of 2016. Remembering a loved one on a birthday always reminds me of good times shared with them. My mind is filled with wonderful memories of childhood, young adulthood, and even adulthood in which her presence was felt because of something she said or did. The impressions she left on me continue to shape me. She was a woman who loved deeply, who prayed fervently, and who worshiped authentically. Psalm 79 speaks of the generational component of faith. A life of faith is passed down from one generation to the next, in much the same way as family stories are passed down to each other. Mamanon passed down her faith, the faith, entrusted once and for all to the saints to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She taught us and others what it looks like to praise the God who created us and redeemed us in unending praise.

Psalm 79:13
Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
    will praise you forever;
from generation to generation
    we will proclaim your praise.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent Musings pt. 3

Isaiah 64:7-8
No one calls on your name
    or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
    and have given us over to our sins.
Image result for potteryYet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

Today, the words of the prophet remind me that God's love for us is not based on what we contribute, our moral uprightness, our moral bankruptcy, or a certain level of spiritual enlightenment we achieve. In fact, verse 7 reminds us that on our own we don't seek God, in part because we are so consumed with ourselves. 

The contrast found in verse 8 holds forth the hope of the gospel. The hope that God loves us not because of who we are, what we have done, or what we might achieve. He loves us because he is our Father. He loves us because he is the potter, we are the clay. He is the creator, we are the creation. He is the one molding and shaping us into the image of Jesus just as the potter molds and shapes his pieces of pottery. The imagery of potter and clay constantly speak to the truth that God is not finished with me. He is constantly smoothing and working in the details that will make me a complete picture of His Son. 

Though we are sinful, He is faithful to his covenant promises. He loves us not because of our lack of sin, but in spite of it. He doesn't give up on us in our sin and idolatry He draws us back. Back to Him. Back to the wheel. Back to creation. Back to new creation. Back to the cradle and the grave. Back to the manger and the mount of Calvary. Back to the stable and the savior. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Advent Musings pt.2

The Georgia Bulldogs won the SEC Championship for the first time since Cyd and I had children...let that sink in for a moment. And just like that Gus Malzahn went from being one of the most envied coaches in college football (having beaten two number one teams this year) to potentially being on the hot seat at Auburn. The reality of SEC football is you can be the most beloved coach one week and the most hated coach the next week. And this is all from the fans and boosters of your university.

The coaching carousel of college football reminds me of a verse tucked into a prophesy that Jesus gives in Matthew 24. Jesus is reminding his disciples to not be duped into thinking that the Messiah has come again if the news seems to trickle in slowly. Rather the return of Messiah will be earth-shattering and life-changing. "Just as a gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near" (Matthew 24:28).

Living in the country you notice vultures a bit more than if you live in the city. When you see the flight pattern circling overhead you sometimes begin to wonder if they're really coming for you and you don't know it yet. By the way, my favorite line from The Outlaw Josey Wales is, "Buzzards got to eat; same as the worms."

Jesus seems to be using a simple biological truth to illustrate that one should practice discernment with people. In other words, don't be so gullible all the time. Don't buy everything the medicine man is selling, it might just turn out too good to be true. Jesus takes our death and brings life. New life. His life.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Advent Musings pt. 1

Christmas season has always been a favorite time of year for me. Memories are filled with family, presents, Christmas programs at church, and most importantly the birth of Jesus. It wasn't until after college that I really began to fully appreciate the fullness of Advent. The anticipation each year of the humble, earthly begins of the one who would fulfill God's plan of redemption. There are several reading plans and books that can help you in your devotional reading. The one that I have read through numerous times is Calvin Miller's The Christ of Christmas. The book may be out of print now but if you can find a used copy buy two.

"And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord--his name alone will be worshiped." Zechariah 14:9

Advent calls us to consider the worship of the Lord. How interesting that the king over all the earth begins in an obscure outpost. He makes his arrival with an audience of animals not other royalty. And yet, the beginnings of Jesus during that first Christmas remind us of the truth found here in Zechariah, Jesus, the Christ child is Lord over all the earth. His mission was reconciliation and redemption not just of humanity represented by Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, but of all of creation. The lowly beasts marked by stubbornness and aloofness holds out the hope that the most stubborn and aloof people we encounter are able to join in the worship of the one and only Lord of all the earth.

Could it be that we need to be reminded that stubborn people in our lives are markers that remind us that we are not a god and we certainly aren't worthy of worship? Only one is Lord; he alone is worthy of worship.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Finding Jesus in the Dark

Grief is a strange human experience. It can knock the breath out of you one minute, and bring a sense of relief, even hope the next minute. I have lost several people who are important to me to death through the years. Each loss is different. Each memory unique. As unique as each person who once was with me in this life. Just as each person and each loss is unique, so too, is the process of healing and remembering peculiar to that particular scenario. In short, every person processes grief differently.

I still miss all of my grandparents dearly. Their legacies live on in their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. My father-in-law and my dad are both deceased. The impact that losing these two men, in the season of life of being a young father is something I wrestle with nearly every day. So many times, I wish I could ask them a simple question or share a moment of joy and even frustration with them. Like getting power tools to crank. Taking two weeks to figure out what was wrong with my vehicle and having the spare time to address the issues so that I could drive it again. Getting to see their grands would bring a huge smile to both faces.

I have two cousins, who lost battles with brain tumors and cancer. Cancer...such an ugly word. I sometimes would rather hear the vilest of swear words on repeat than to hear that word uttered. It is ugly, dark, sinister even to those who battle it and those whom it leaves in its wake.

Still, the death that haunts me most perhaps is of a student, Luke. Yesterday was the anniversary of his death, a death that continues to impact me and others in our community because as Isaiah 35 says, God is able to make a river in the desert. Luke's death has given way to life. Just as the seed must die in the ground when it is planted in order to bear fruit. Luke's death has brought life to others through his memory as well as a non-profit established in his honor.

It's funny how much death impacts believers in Christ. We know the end of the story. We know that victory is ours through Jesus. Through his life, death, and resurrection, we cling to the hope of the gospel and the promise of the resurrection so that death never has the final word.

...and still we scratch our heads looking for answers to make sense of it all. We try to put the pieces back together of our broken, fractured selves in our broken, fractured world that needs a broken savior. That is exactly who Jesus is! He is the one wounded for our transgressions. He is the one broken to make us whole. He is the one who experienced death, darkness, and hell so that the darkness we try to fight in this world and the hell we experience in this life is eclipsed by the one who after all brought light out of darkness at the foundation of the world, on a hillside called Calvary, and every moment when the darkness seems to overcome us.

I recently read through Frederick Buechner's two newest collections. They are classic Buechner in every sense. This phrase towards the end of A Crazy, Holy Grace struck me in the most profound way. "Anyone who has ever known him has known him perhaps better in the dark than anywhere else because it is in the dark where he seems to visit most often." Is it possible that death and grief stay with us to remind us of our own mortality, even more, to remind us of our dependence on the one who has claimed the final victory over death.

Darkness is not just about death and grief. Darkness could be lurking in any number of corners of our hearts and lives. Jesus offers light. He offers healing, He offers hope. He offers himself...and that is enough...ultimately!