Sunday, November 29, 2020

Advent 2020: Hope and Two Divorces

This post is part of a series of reflections on Advent.
You can read the first post here: 33 DAYS AND COUNTING.

It's the first Sunday of Advent, and I'd like to kick of this special time of year by talking about divorce.  Merry Christmas.  Ho ho ho.

Though my parents were married more than forty years when my father died, both of their parents were divorced.  Technically, my mother's parents were only legally separated, but they were functionally divorced with no intent to reconcile. My father's parents on the other hand were legally divorced. As the story has been told to me, my parents had married Thanksgiving weekend, and it was their first Christmas that my grandfather announced he wanted to divorce my grandmother. This was a decade before I was born, and obviously not one of the stories you ask to be told at bedtime, so some of the details are missing. Growing up, when I would think of my grandfather coming home one day in December to tell his wife of twenty years that he met someone new, my heart grew sad for my grandmother. My grandfather would stay married to his second wife until he died almost fifty years later, and my grandmother did everything in her power to avoid them. Even though she herself would go on to have a "special friend," they never married. It seemed she never could move past her identity as a divorced person.

The funny thing about our disassociation between divorce and Christmas, is that the Biblical Christmas story actually describes a couple's intent to divorce. Mary and Joseph's story is salacious. The couple was technically engaged, but legally committed to each other when the unexpected happened:
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:18-19, NIV)
Joseph doesn't always get much attention when we read about Christ's birth.  Like many dads, Joseph lived in the shadows of everything else going on around him: angels, shepherds, wise men, a government census, and the plot to kill his wife's child. It's easy to to miss Joseph in the grandeur of the story, but initially Joseph was struggling to find balance between his faith and love. In verse 19 we read that Joseph intended to quietly divorce Mary because he was "faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace."  As He often does, God had other plans.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:20-25, NIV)

The first week of Advent is about hope. Joseph found himself in a situation without hope, and so he planned to resolve the problem as best he could. He was going to "send Mary away secretly" as the NASB translates verse 19.  When God sent His angels to Joseph, the situation changed; Joseph had a reason to hope. He could live in the hope that his wife had not been unfaithful to him.  He could live in the hope that her child was the promised Savior.  Let's just be real here, he could even hope for the day he would consummate his marriage. Because Joseph chose to live in the hope God offered him, he was part of the greatest story ever told.  All because he allowed himself to have hope.

If this post finds you, like Joseph, trying to make the best of a situation you never anticipated... look for hope.  We cannot always immediately have that thing we are waiting for, but we can always wait in hope for it.  Romans 8:24-25 (read it HERE) reminds us that hope only exists in absence.

Hope beyond reason.

Hope beyond measure.

Friday, November 27, 2020

FMF: Grateful

...and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:18, NCV)

Pies are a terrible American tradition. There are too many ways they can go wrong. Yesterday, as my friend cut into my family's traditional cranberry pie, she remarked how it reminded her of crème brulee. You know, crunchy on the top and wet underneath. I assure you, it was not suppose to be like that.

So I did the only thing I knew to do.  I grabbed that pie and threw it back in the oven, and then I waited - impatiently - until finally, it was as good as it was going to get.  To be honest, I'm not sure if I even made it better.  It was still soft in the center, but now the edges were burnt.

Even though it wasn't the way I'd envisioned it, it was pie time.  My #nailedit worthy pie returned to its spot among the perfectly executed classics: apple, pecan, and pumpkin. Yes, we had four pie varietals at my house yesterday.

This year I struggled with Thanksgiving.  I always struggle with holiday, but this year was especially hard.  Just like my cranberry pie, too many things feel raw in the middle and burnt on the edges. But this is what I have to work with. I pray that, like my cranberry pie, God allows me to be grateful for the good parts of life instead of focusing on the rest.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Advent 2020: 33 Days and Counting

Thirty three. There are only thirty three days until Christmas. Every year, when I hear someone announce the days until Christmas, it freaks me out a little. Even in the simplest of years, there are always so many things to do. Certainly 2020 has scaled back my December plans. Four parties that I attend each year have been cancelled, and to be honest, I'm not even upset about it. There's just something about a countdown that freaks me out.

I must be one of the few who feel this way.  Christmas countdown calendars seem to be everywhere this year, and I don't just mean the cheap cardboard ones with terrible chocolates inside of them.  I mean beautiful, wooden creations that are meant to be used from year to year and that could last a family a life time, with drawers large enough to hold a Hot Wheels car, a Lindt truffle, or a golf ball.

In some Christian traditions, the season preparing for Christmas is celebrated uniquely.  We call the season Advent.  Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas with each week focusing on Hope, Peace, Joy, or Love.  Different Christian traditions have other focuses, but this is what we celebrate.  Advent means "to come," and there are two things we celebrate the coming of: Christ's birth and Christ's return.

Christ's Birth
The story of Christ's birth is likely well known to even non-believers thanks to Linus' monologue in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  A frustrated Charlie Brown asks if there is anyone who knows what Christmas is really all about, and Linus recites:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:8-14, KJV)
I must admit that more than once I've heard Linus' voice when Luke 2 has been read in a church service, and it always puts a smile on my face. However, the story of Christ's birth actually begins in Luke 1 with the angel visiting Zechariah who would father John the Baptist, and it goes through Luke 2:39 with the story of Jesus being presented in the temple (not to be confused with Jesus being "forgotten" at the temple, which is the very next story in Luke's gospel account). Matthew 1-2 also tells the account of Christ's birth, but with different details than Luke. Matthew begins with Christ's lineage and concludes with the young family fleeing to Egypt for safety.  Both Luke and Matthew tell the most important part - the birth of Christ.

This is the image of Jesus we usually hold onto at Christmas.  As anyone who has cared for a newborn knows, He was totally dependent on His mother to feed Him and care for Him.  When our first son was born, we acted like a strong wind would break him.  In that same way, we like to imagine Him in Mary's arms while Mary and Joseph look lovingly into His face.

Christ's Return
For the believer, there is a second "coming" that we celebrate at Advent.  We believe that Christ will come again, as He told His disciples in Matthew 24, but this part of the story does not the paint the same images of Him as His birth does:
At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. Then all the peoples of the world will cry. They will see the Son of Man coming on clouds in the sky with great power and glory.  He will use a loud trumpet to send his angels all around the earth, and they will gather his chosen people from every part of the world. (Matthew 24:30-31, NCV)
Instead of fragility and need, Christ's second coming will be with "great power and glory."  It is both a promise and a warning.  So let us approach Christmas this year with a broader perspective, not just focusing on the Christ Child but also on the Son of Man.

Friday, November 20, 2020

FMF: Grief

Truly, truly I say to you that you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy! Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one is going to take your joy away from you.
(John 16:20-22, NASB)


Christians do not mourn like the rest of the world.  No where in Scripture is that more evident, than in John 16.  Jesus tells his disciples that He will be leaving them, something they could not understand.  Jesus moves beyond trying to explain what will happen to how they will feel.  They would mourn even though the world would rejoice.  However, for those disciples and for the modern believer, there is hope in grief because we know the sorrow will not last.  There will come a day when we are reunited with Christ and we experience a joy that cannot be taken from us.

Earthly joy is often limited.  We might be happy about something that happens, but we restrain ourselves because we don't want to lose sight of reality.  Or, we understand that something that caused us joy may have caused someone else grief.  The last year has been a time of balanced joy and grief for many.  One day we're jumping with joy and the next day we're punched in the face by grief.  Some times those days were the same days.

If our faith is secure in Christ, we are able to push through the pain (pun intended) like a woman in labor to the beauty that will soon be ours: Not just any child, but the Christ Child in all His glory.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Psalm 29

In my last post (Read it here: Psalm 23), I wrote that Jesus' sheep know His voice. Do you ever wonder what God’s voice actually sounds like? Maybe deep and booming.  Maybe high and squeaky.  Maybe He has an accent. In the Bible, God’s voice is described different ways. In 1 Kings it’s like a gentle wind or whisper (Read more here: Waiting for the Whisper). In Revelation, it’s like a trumpet. In Psalm 29 David describes God’s voice seven ways:

God's Voice is Above All
Psalm 29:3 says “The voice of the Lord is heard over the waters.” This reminds us that God created the entire world because in the story of creation, Genesis 1 starts by saying that God’s Spirit was moving over the waters.

God's Voice is Beautiful
Psalm 29:4 says “The voice of the Lord is majestic.” When you hear the voice of someone you love, doesn’t it sound good? David loved God’s voice and thought it was beautiful.

God's Voice is Big
Psalm 29:5 says “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees.” Cedar trees were thought to be the biggest trees in the world. I’ve never seen a cedar, but I do know that in California we have some of the biggest trees in the world. Some are so big that a car can drive through the middle of it. God’s voice could break a tree, even one that big!

God's Voce is Fast
Psalm 29:7 says “The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.” Have you ever seen a lightning storm? Lightning can move 200,000 miles per hours. That means that if lightning were moving around the world, it could go around seven times in one second!

God's Voice is Working
Psalm 29:8 says “The voice of the Lord shakes the desert.” When I think about the desert, I think about empty places. God is everywhere, even places that we don’t know or understand. (Read more here: Shake.)

God's Voice Changes Things
Psalm 29:9 says “The voice of the Lord twists the oak trees.” Have you ever seen a Joshua tree? Most trees grow straight up, but the Joshua trees grow twisted because the wind blows on them so much. Just like the wind can shape a tree, God’s voice can shape us if we listen to it.

God's Voice is Powerful
I think God’s voice is best described in Psalm 29:4. It says “The voice of the Lord is powerful.” Based on the first six descriptions of God’s voice, I hope you agree that God’s voice is powerful. 

There’s something really cool about all that power that God has. God is powerful, but He uses his power to help His people. Psalm 29:11 says "The Lord gives strength to his people. The Lord blesses his people with peace." He gives us strength when we need it. I don’t mean physical strength (well, maybe), but I mean He gives us faith to get through hard times. With His help we can make it through anything. And He gives peace during those hard times.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23, NLT


I feel the need to make a short confession before I begin writing today: I don't love Psalm 23. I'm a little uncomfortable writing this because, after all, it is God's Word. In that regard, I love the chapter for what it teaches me in the same way I love any other chapter of the Bible. However, I don't have the same deep regard for it that some do. Quite frankly, it's not the chapter I turn to when I need comforting, and I hope it's not read at my funeral.

That being said, for many people it is a special blessing. It might be one of the only passages they have memorized. They may read it and find assurance in God. This is one of the great things about God's Word. It speaks to each of us as needed. Who knows, one day I may feel differently about Psalm 23.

One thing that I do love about this passage is that it reveals David's roots. Before David wrote the psalms, before he was a king, and even before he fought Goliath, David was a shepherd. Clearly his faith was formed out in those pastures. He spent a lot of time in fields taking care of sheep which helped him to see how God took care of him.

This idea of God as shepherd was shared by Jesus. In fact, Jesus called himself the good shepherd. In John 10, He said that:
  • He knows his sheep.
  • His sheep know Him.
  • His sheep know His voice and do what He says.
  • He will give up His life for His sheep.

I know we are already aware that Jesus often spoke in codes, so let's break the code of this passage.  Every time Jesus said “sheep” He really meant people who believe in Him. The implications of John 10 are awesome: 
  • Jesus knows His people.
  • His people know Jesus.
  • His people know his voice and do what He says.
  • Jesus gave up his life for His people. 
That IS a good shepherd. I'm so thankful that God knows me and that I know Him. Baaaa....


A Little Extra For You: Last year I worked through Lysa TerKeurst's Finding I Am as part of a Bible study group.  In it, TerKeurst studies Jesus' seven I AM statements, including the one I've written about today.  You may be encouraged by it, as I was.

Friday, November 6, 2020

FMF: Ahead

"After hearing the king, they went on their way; and behold, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on AHEAD of them until it came to a stop over the place where the Child was to be found. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy."
(Matthew 2:9-10, NASB)

"And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will let Myself be found by you... "
(Jeremiah 29:13-14a, NASB).


It might feel a little early to be reading a part of the Christmas story, but that's what makes this passage so wonderful. Most of the wise men's time following the Christ-star was not Christmas.  (I hate to totally destroy your ideas about the nativity scene, but, if you were not already aware, it was likely long after Christ's birth that the wise men reached Him.)

The wise men knew the star would take them to "the King of the Jews" (2:2), but I don't think that meant they understood the journey's end. When we read Matthew 2 carefully, we see that the wise men did not go to Herod's palace to find their King; they only went to Jerusalem. However, the town was so stirred by their arrival that the news made it to Herod, and Herod called them to him secretly (2:7). But the wise men were not seeking Herod, and, eventually, the Christ-star led them to the King.

When we follow the Christ-stars in our life, we don't see the whole picture.  We might only see one bright idea that we hold onto for a long time.  If we continue to follow what God has placed ahead of us, we will find something better than we imagined: Sometimes great adventures. Sometimes foreign countries. Sometimes royal palaces. But we always find Him.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.