Tag Archives: advent

Advent: Making Space for God

Yesterday at church we moved into the Advent season with an interactive message that had us reflect on John the Baptist’s call to “make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23).  We littered our stage area with random “stuff,” blocking sight-lines to our worship team and speakers.  Then we sought to use John’s life and message as a template for how to prepare the way for Jesus through an often cramped and cluttered season.

photo

We talked about the importance of confession and repentance; two actions that help us de-clutter and throw off (cf. Hebrews 12:1) all the distractions that prevent us from beholding Jesus (cf. John 1:29).

We invited people to come forward, take an item from the front, and remove it.  Our goal was to make straight paths together.  Our aim was to create space for God.  Making space for God is not easy.  But when we clear out the distractions that interfere with us beholding Jesus, we encounter him in new and life-giving ways.  Perhaps most importantly, when we create space for God, He fills our emptied spaces with more of His presence, love, grace, and power.

As the Advent season unfolds, here are a few resources you may find helpful as you seek to create space for God in your life.  As you use them, may God fill the spaces you open up for Him (however meagre) with new life and new hope in Jesus.

A daily video series that the 24-7 prayer movement has produced for this Advent season looks incredible! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1_0WFGKEr8&feature=youtu.be&list=UUJuxgOp1QBXfb-qFQONAtiA

A local pastor Chris Schoon is writing daily advent reflections here: www.muddiedprayers.com 

I wrote a series of daily devotionals for Advent last year. Here’s the first: https://www.meredisciple.com/2013/12/first-week-of-advent-sunday-december-1st/  (Just search “Monday, December 2nd”, “Tuesday, December 3rd”, etc. for the subsequent days on my site)

Share

Fourth Week of Advent: Monday, December 23rd

Zephaniah 3:14–17

14 Sing, O Daughter of Zion;
shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
O Daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”  

Why does God come to us in the vulnerable form of our own humanity?  To establish once and for all that He desires intimacy with us.

This is a God, who while “mighty to save,” tends to save through subtle, quiet, almost imperceptible means.  But that’s how He tends to express his love as well.  He takes delight in us by quieting us with His love and rejoicing over us with singing.

When I tuck my children into bed, I often spent time quieting them with my love.  It’s one of the most meaningful parts of my day.  It’s amazing to think that God wants that kind of interaction and intimacy with me.

Do I carve out time to simply sit in God’s presence and let him take delight in me?

Advent is a time to remember that God came to us in Jesus in order to show us the depths of His delight in us!

Share

Fourth Week of Advent: Sunday, December 22nd

Isaiah 11:1–10

11 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.  

Wherever God’s kingdom breaks forth, it leads to unnatural reconciliation (i.e. “the cow will feed with the bear).  People that “should” be enemies find themselves drawn into fellowship.  People who are justified holding onto bitterness and plotting revenge uncover a willingness (and even a desire) to forgive.

But this amazing and unnatural turn of the heart cannot be manufactured in and of ourselves.  Our hearts are not bent towards justice, mercy, love, and grace.  That’s one of the reasons Jesus came: not just to show us the way to live and but to give us a new heart (i.e. “a new set of desires”) that makes that kind of life possible.

The Christian life cannot be lived simply by “applying ourselves” to try to follow Jesus.  It starts–and is sustained–with us asking God for a new heart.

Share

Third Week of Advent: Saturday, December 21st

Luke 3:1–6

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’ ”

I’m continually surprised by Christians I meet who live their lives as if sincere and genuine repentance doesn’t need to be a trademark of their lifestyles.  It seems a lot of us are under the assumption that we should “try” to do our best to follow Jesus, but in the end, we’ve got our lives to live.  I guess we assume that God will do what God will do, and that since we’re saved, we can ease off on the gas pedal of discipleship.

And then we wonder why our experience of God and the Christian faith is so shallow and uninspired.

While it’s true that God’s love for us isn’t dependent on our faithfulness to Him, it is true that the depth and quality of our lives is significantly connected to how seriously we take living out the way of Jesus.

That’s why John is sent ahead of Jesus.  John’s message is that repentance is the door into the life God is opening up to us.  We are not saved by “good deeds,” (Ephesians 2:8-9) but we cannot be saved if we don’t repent (“turn away”) from lives where our values and happiness are central.

Martin Luther wrote that, “All of life is repentance.”  To grow as a Christian means an almost continual practice of redirecting one’s energy away from habits that glorify ourselves and prioritize our agendas, to habits that glorify God and make His Kingdom the central priority.

This Advent, where do you sense God’s call to repent and change direction in your life?

 

Share

Third Week of Advent: Friday, December 20th

John 9:1–9

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

 We have to stop thinking of the world as a kind of moral slot-machine, where people put in a coin (a good act, say, or an evil one) and get out a particular result (a reward or a punishment). Of course, actions always have consequences. Good things often happen as a result of good actions (kindness produces gratitude), and bad things often happen through bad actions (drunkenness causes car accidents). But this isn’t inevitable. Kindness is sometimes scorned. Some drunkards always get away with it.

In particular, you can’t stretch the point back to a previous ‘life’, or to someone else’s sins. Being born blind doesn’t mean you must have sinned, says Jesus. Nor does it mean that your parents must have sinned. No: something much stranger, at once more mysterious and more hopeful, is going on. The chaos and misery of this present world is, it seems, the raw material out of which the loving, wise and just God is making his new creation.

When Jesus heals the man, John clearly intends us to see the action as one of the moments in the gospel when God’s truth and the world’s life (theology and history, if you like) come rushing together into one. ‘I am the light of the world’, says Jesus in verse 5, sending our minds back yet once more to the Prologue: ‘life was in him, and this life was the light of the human race’ (1:4). As the passage goes on, we see part of what it means that ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness didn’t overcome it’. John’s gospel is pushing us forward in heart and mind towards God’s new creation, the time when God will make all things new. Wright, T. (2004). John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10 (pp. 133–134). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Share

Third Week of Advent: Thursday, December 19th

Isaiah 40:1–11

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” 9 You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Again and again the Old Testament prophets declare that “good news” (or “good tidings”) are coming to a lost Israel.  The New Testament points us to Jesus as the anointed one who brings us this good news (or “gospel”).

And yet many Christians today have a very stunted and meager understanding of the good news Jesus brings.  Here’s an incredible video by Lisa Sharon Harper explaining the breadth and depth of the good news available to us through Jesus.

 

Share

Third Week of Advent: Wednesday, December 18th

John 3:16–21

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Jesus came not to condemn us, but to offer us rescue.  Rescue from the power of sin (a life of hell here and now).  Rescue from the penalty of sin (i.e. an eternity of hell there and later).  At the moment we genuinely surrender our lives to him, Jesus saves us out of our own spiritual dead-ends.  Jesus saves us into a new family, a new hope, a new future, a new covenant.

But only if we yield to him.  Completely.

Many people simply won’t give over authority in their lives to a new king.  They love darkness instead of light.  Or more precisely, they love their darkness rather than Jesus’ light.   “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven” John Milton’s Satan declared in Paradise Lost.

What a tragedy that so many people, including many Christians, resist a radical discipleship to Jesus because there are elements of this world they aren’t willing to give up.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Share

Third Week of Advent: Tuesday, December 18th

1 John 1:5–7

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  

Many Christians are confused as to why they aren’t experiencing fellowship (i.e. deep connection) with God and other Christians.  John writes that obedience to the way of Jesus (i.e. walking “in the light”) is necessary in order for that connection to be experienced in any real way.  We cannot expect to feel connected to God and other Christians if we living in whatever way suits us.

Where am I playing “fast and loose” in terms of my obedience to God, but expecting His blessing to come nonetheless?

Share

Third Week of Advent: Monday, December 16th

2 Corinthians 4:3–6

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  

The light that blinded Paul on the road to Damascus, the light that suddenly shone in people’s hearts when he went around the world announcing the gospel of Jesus, was like the light at the very beginning, at the creation of the world. ‘Let there be light,’ commanded the creator God, and there was light (Genesis 1:3): a light which, as John says (John 1:5), shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not been able to put it out. With Jesus, God’s new world comes into being. The gospel isn’t about a different god, someone other than the world’s original creator, but about the same creator God bringing new life and light to his world, the world where death and darkness have made their home and usurped his role. Paul summarizes God’s command in Genesis 1, in order to say: what happened to me that day, what happened to you when you believed, and what happens whenever anyone ‘turns to the Lord’ (3:16), is a moment of new creation (see 5:17).  That is how Paul has come to believe that Jesus, the Messiah, is the one who reflects the living God himself. Only the living God can shine the light of new creation; and when you look at Jesus, as Paul had, face to face, you realize that you are looking at God’s own glory. That gives you knowledge, knowledge of the innermost secrets of the universe, and God’s saving plan for it; and in that knowledge there is more than enough light to see the way through the dark world.*

Am I opening myself up to the light Jesus provides in the Gospels?
*Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians (pp. 40–41). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Share

Third Week of Advent: Sunday, December 15th

Isaiah 60:1–3

60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

The hope of Israel before the coming of Jesus the Messiah was rooted in the conviction that God’s faithfulness to His covenants made with Abraham and his descendants (i.e. Israel–the people of God) could not be shaken or placed in jeopardy.  Despite periods of “thick darkness,” the Lord would rise and His glory would set things right: not just for Israel, but for the entire fallen world.

That was a longing that every Israelite felt deep in their bones.  Their love and obedience to God was connected to this shared longing for restoration.  The forces of darkness, evil, and death were realities that consistently confronted Israel throughout its history.  And yet Israel clung to the prophets’ voice that dared to proclaim that darkness, evil, and death would not be the end of their story.

Who in your life needs to hear that good news?  How could you be a gentle, humble witness to fact that Jesus’ glory has appeared, and He has come to invite those living in thick darkness into an entirely new life of hope, peace, and joy?

Share