Advent 2017: First Sunday

It’s the first Sunday in the season of Advent this weekend, where we not only prepare to celebrate the first coming of Christ, but we also look ahead with hope towards the time when Christ comes again.

Tonight I just read the following in my devo in my Bible app, written by Ms. Laura Yates, a senior Psychology major at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, based on this verse.

It was a great reminder and challenge, to not keep quiet about the best news ever!!

Our God is coming! -Isaiah 40:9b

A child running to show his mom his artwork.

Getting an A on a test and telling all your friends.

Hiking up a hill to see the sunset and Snapchatting the photos.

What do all of these scenarios have in common? We love to share good news with others. We cannot contain our excitement when we receive a raise, when we get engaged, when we enjoy a relaxing vacation.

So why do we hesitate to share the greatest news of all with others?

Fear. We fear rejection. We fear the opinion of man. We fear failure. We forget that the King of the universe came to a filthy stall in a mangy barn and took on the limitations of our leathery skin, salty tears, and fragile heartbeat. He subjected Himself to our pain and sorrow, growing ever greater until it climaxed with His brutal torture and death. Because of us.

I forget this sometimes. I forget the God who became a servant of all. I forget that He has called me to bring this life-giving news to a weary world, and to show them by my words and actions “Here is your God!”

He is here, inviting us to join Him in the greatest story ever told, begun with the love song sung into the chaos and climaxing with the Love Song that thundered out on the cross, “It is finished!”

Emmanuel. Say it again, breathing the name in and then out slowly. Our God is here with us, in our very breath and very being.

Our God is here with us. Let us not forget that. Let us use our time with others this Christmas season to share the greatest news in history, that our God dwells in us, is with us, and will be our God forever. (Rev. 21:3)

– Ms. Laura Yates, Senior Psychology major

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Pursuit.

My attention was recently drawn to this song as it came on my Spotify playlist.

The chorus simply says
I will pursue You, I will pursue Your presence…

It got me thinking.

In the late 1990’s & early 2000’s, I remember there seemed to be a number of Christian worship songs that talked of seeking God’s face, not just His hand and I questioned, where are those songs now?  Why do we talk of seeking, pursuing, waiting for, following after God’s presence instead of His face?

Then the thought came: it’s the same thing.

How?

When you really want to get to know someone, you don’t just talk over the phone, you don’t just write letters, but you want to, and you make time to, be with them.  You spend time with them in their presence.

If we want to get to know God, we can’t talk with Him over the phone, we can’t write Him a physical letter that He will reply to in the same form, we pursue His presence.  We invite His Spirit into our lives, we get out for a walk in His creation, we can commune with Him in a quiet space or in a space with loud sung worship, we are mindful of Him with us, in every part of our lives.

Just as we can be changed, we can be inspired, we can become more like those people we hang around with, the more we spend with God, we are changed, we are inspired, we do become more and more like Him in our thoughts, our actions, our hearts.

When was the last time you or I spent time earnestly seeking after, or hanging out in, God’s presence?

Let’s pursue Him, His face, His presence…

Be Still.

“It’s helpful to ask ourselves regularly, ‘how am I doing?’ Are we hungry for more of God’s presence? Are we more, rather than less, dependant on Him than we have been before in our lives? Are we secure in Him because of increased time spent in His presence? Or are we too consumed with work and general busyness to spend time with God? As a result, have we maybe even forgotten some of His precious promises to us?”

These are some of the questions David Shearman asks in his devotional “Presence Carriers” – helping us get, and stay, closer to God.

God, I want to be someone that carries Your presence everywhere, everyday. Keep my connection with You strong Lord. Don’t let my life get in the way, so You get pushed out. Give me eyes to see the moments in my day where I can be still in Your presence. Be honoured Lord in my heart and my life my Lord and my God. Amen.

https://bible.com/bible/116/psa.46.10.nlt

Fog/Musical Monday: God I Look to You

This morning, we woke to this view:

From our point of view, it was (& still is!) a gorgeously sunny day 🌞 but for those living on the flat part of our city, it was a foggy morning.  The sea fog is clearing for those living down there now, but initially they would have been shrouded in mist, with not much of a view.

Too often, life can be like that.  We can become overwhelmed by the fog, the circumstances that surround us.  We can’t see a clearer way, we can’t see where we’re going, we can’t see what’s above.  But if we change our perspective, if we get ourselves higher, get above the fog of life, we can see clearer, we can see the lay of the land so to speak.

In one of his messages from a few years ago, our pastor in our previous church gave an illustration from a surf lesson he took.  The instructor showed them the beach and asked them to point out the rips, but they were at best, difficult to see.  Then the instructor took them to the top of the cliff overlooking the beach and from there, the rips were easier to spot.  It was a matter of perspective.

Not belittling the issues we face in life, because some of them can be huge (& what is big for one person may not be big for another), sometimes we need to do what they did in the surf lesson and physically get ourselves higher too.  Drive or walk up to a high point where you literally can see things differently.  I love the city I live in because there are a lot of hills that I can go up and it takes me out from where I am, giving me fresh vision.

The other place we can go to get a different perspective is to God.  At the moment I’m reading a book called Without Rival by Lisa Bevere.  The other day I read this in it:

Through us, [God] wants to be on the inside looking out, not because He needs our eyes, but because we need His vision.

…which brings me to my ‘Musical Monday’ post, here is God I Look to You from Bethel Church in Redding, California.  It features on their album Be Lifted High from a few years ago, but also their latest, Starlight, which is where this version comes from:

Flying

I am going on a plane this afternoon and all morning I’ve been feeling a bit anxious, as it’s been awhile since I’ve flown.  Even though I love the take off and landing, I relax while I’m in the sky and am amazed at the science behind these big metal ‘birds’ that carry a number of people from one place to another, I still get a bit nervous or anxious about the whole thing!

But then God gave me a little reminder which completely shifted my thinking. I looked at my calendar with Bible verses on and today’s verse, Psalm 97:6, is “the heavens declare His righteousness, and all the people see His glory”.

Immediately my mind shifted to the time after take-off where you are soaring in what can feel like the heavens. We are above the earth, above the clouds in a wide open space, with maybe a few higher clouds, the sun shining and it is glorious. The heavens are showing us a glimpse of God and those of us on the plane? We get to see His glory…

ANZAC Day

It grabbed me. Like a light shining in the dark, it was highlighted. Like a rock in my path that I couldn’t just quickly step over or around.
What was it?

It was the verse of the day from my Bible app. What was the verse?

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

1 John 3:16 

In New Zealand (& Australia), April 25 is known as ANZAC Day.  It’s the day we remember all our men and women who have been or are a part of our Defense Force. You would probably struggle to find a New Zealander who didn’t have a grandparent/great grandparent/uncle/father/any other ancestor fight in either WW1 or WW2.

ANZAC Day is April 25 because back in 1915, it is the day where the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC’s) first landed at Gallipoli, Turkey.  It was to be the place where we had one of our greatest losses of lives in the entire war.  In fact my sister gives a good run down of it in her blog here.

What drew my attention to that particular verse, was that we had just come home from attending the Dawn Parade (a ceremony of commemoration), where it was all about remembering those that gave their lives so that we could live in the freedom we have in our countries today.
The soldiers who fought in the first & second World Wars (& other wars since) didn’t know if they’d be coming home but they went overseas, potentially giving up their lives for those back in their home countries.

I believe this gives us a picture of what Jesus did on the cross.  He lay down His life in order for us to live in the freedom we can have when we choose to live in Him.

~~~

And a day late I know, but for Musical Monday this week, I’ve chosen to share The Last Post.  It’s a bugle call to honour all fallen soldiers.

Traditions.

Today is Maundy Thursday, the Thursday in Holy Week.

It is the day that we remember Jesus having “The Last Supper” with His disciples. Some churches have Passover meals on this night, other churches have a very reflective service and afterwards strip the church of all colourful banners, drapery, altar frontals, etc and leave it bare. Other churches have music practices for the upcoming Easter services, whereas other churches do nothing.  I’ve been a part of different churches where these things have happened in each one and there is nothing wrong with any of them. My current church is the latter. But the one I grew up in was the second example I gave.

As a teenager I would almost reluctantly, but definitely routinely go to the Thursday night service. I think the thing I enjoyed most was helping to strip the church bare of all the colour and then ‘dress’ it for Good Friday. We left the altar bare and put a black cloth along the altar rail & a purple one over the cross. But then is enjoyed the right word? How can we enjoy stripping the joy away? It is a reminder.

With the events of that particular Thursday night, Jesus was stripped bare. Not just literally, but He was stripped of His dignity – wearing nothing but maybe a loin cloth, I don’t know.. He was stripped of His friends – they all deserted Him, even Peter denied Him three times before the rooster crowed.. He was stripped of the Father’s Love – He cried out to God “why have You forsaken me?

The tradition of stripping the church building bare represented what happened to Jesus Christ.

Now that I’m an adult, a wife and a mother, I miss some of the traditions I grew up with. I miss the ‘getting ready’ for Easter that all the traditions and routines brought. I miss the choosing of songs for Good Friday &/or Easter Day services if I was worship leading at either of those services. I miss helping my Dad with Easter preparation, or even just witnessing how much time and energy he put (& still puts!) into all the Holy Week & Easter services, doing his best to give anyone that comes the most meaningful experience of Easter possible. I miss making hot cross buns with my Mum on Good Friday.

This week has been just another week in the life of a family. My sons went to school and kindy, my husband went to work, I went to the gym, did housework, had a job interview, did some shopping… all normal stuff. I did some personal ‘Easter prep’ in my devotional times and also physically like buying the things I need to make Hot Cross Buns with my sons. I can pine away for the traditions I miss or I can make my own new ones. After all, I can’t rely on others to get me ready to remover the events of Easter.

We will be going to church tomorrow, with the countless other Christians & other people wanting to focus on the cross. We will make hot cross buns. We will have music/songs playing that remind us of the cross and the love that was poured out.. for you. For me. For us.

That will be Friday.

Hindsight is a good thing. We know from looking back at history that His story doesn’t end with the events of Friday. While we have traditions to ready us for Friday, we have more, or they can be made, for Easter Day too!

Musical Monday: Seek You

Thanks Grace Vineyard in Christchurch, NZ for this incredible declaration of a song!

So I will seek You then I’ll seek You more, crying oh my Lord I have to find You… and I will hunger then I’ll hunger more, crying oh my Lord, I have to find You…