The Advent App

Jessie, my youngest daughter, has an app that plays Christmas music while telling you how close it is to Christmas. As I write, Christmas is exactly 4 days, 17 hours, 17 minutes, 32 seconds and 543,790 heartbeats away. Oops, I mean, Christmas is 4 days, 17 hours, 16 minutes, 55 seconds and 543,735 heartbeats away. Wait, now it’s…well, you get the idea.

Jessica is anticipating the arrival of Christmas. Since before Thanksgiving, she has been planning, preparing, decorating and getting ready for the big day.

For Christians, we call this the season of Advent. The word advent actually means the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. When we talk about the season of Advent, we’re referring to the waiting, anticipation, longing – even yearning – for the arrival of Jesus.

During the season of Advent we acknowledge that a Savior is coming, but He isn’t here yet. Hope is on the way, but we haven’t experienced the joy of it yet. Advent acknowledges the integrity of a promise made that has yet to be fulfilled.

The Jewish people were well-acquainted with waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Four hundred years of slavery longing for God’s deliverance; four hundred years of silence waiting to hear a word from God. Centuries of enduring oppressive rule from polytheistic while anticipating the arrival of God’s Kingdom.

At Advent we’re allowed room to acknowledge the pain and longing that often accompanies the waiting. This is incredibly freeing because, for many people, Christmas can be a less-than-holiday-cheer-and-merriment time of year.

  • Many of us are living far away from people we love and not being able to them during the holiday makes Christmas a lonely time.
  • For some of us, Christmas can be a painful season. Someone who was with us last year isn’t here this year. That hurts. The pain is still fresh and real.
  • For others, Christmas is difficult season of year. Financial pressure, relational struggle make the celebration of Christmas seem forced. It’s tough to navigate the tension and put on a cheerful face.

Advent invites us to be honest with our grieving, disappointment, longing and loneliness. We acknowledge the world of deep darkness in which we live and desperately wait for and long for His light to shine upon us.

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I don’t know what this year was like for you. This year may have been a great year. But perhaps this year, you have a greater understanding of the longing that accompanies advent. Perhaps you’ve experienced unexpected loss, pain, heartache or unimaginable disappointment.

Advent says, “It’s ok to feel that way.” You don’t have to fake happy, push through or prop yourself up. Advent acknowledges the longing in our soul, but contains the expectant hope that our story is still being written.

Advent is a hope-filled reminder that what is broken will someday be repaired; what is hurt will someday be healed.

The extravagant promise of Christmas – even though darkness may surround me, the light of Christ will shine upon me once again. A baby is coming. He’s not here yet, but hope is on the way.

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.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:21-23

God’s Presence, The Best Present

Christmas season… The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. A time of thankfulness, a time of celebration, a time of gathering with those we love, a time of giving and remembering what God has done for us.

It’s ironic how a season centered around a little baby born to a simple teenager on a quiet night in a small town can easily become the busiest and most stressful season of the year.

For me, it can easily become the season I find myself overdoing everything. Instead of “peace on earth good will towards men” I overcommit, overschedule, overextend myself, overeat and overspend.

What I envision for the season – quiet nights at home sitting around the tree drinking hot chocolate with the family easily evolves into…

Stuff, fill, cram, shove, pack, hurry, rush, dash, run, stress, worry and strain to create the perfect Christmas with a beautifully decorated home, neatly wrapped presents and artfully designed cookies. *Sigh*

But running at this pace, I find, leaves me disconnected from the people I love, weary, frazzled and resentful for overstuffing my schedule.

Our hearts long for connection and significance and when we run, work and go non-stop, we can end up feeling drained and unsatisfied. Can anyone relate?

I hate to admit it, but there have been some years when I looked forward to the day after Christmas – the day I felt I finally had permission to rest and stop.

What I am learning (I’m a work in process mind you) is that…

Hurry is the great enemy of my spiritual life

and the health of my soul.

When we hurry, rush, run, cram and do, even the things we love can become burdens and obligations. And when we live a loud, hurried life, the one thing that tends to get squeezed out is the most important thing.

But when we choose to make this most important thing a priority in our life, we thrive. We thrive in our workplace, in our community, in our relationships and in our family. We thrive because it’s how God created us to live.

What God created us for – what our souls really crave – is space. Space to reflect, space to rest, space to connect with God and other people, but the volume and activity level of our life can be so loud and frenetic that it’s impossible to accomplish.

Psalm 131:2 gives us insight into David’s ability, amidst a lot of activity and a busy life, to maintain a quiet and restful soul.

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You may think, “David doesn’t understand how busy my life is. Life back then was simpler, easier, quieter. They didn’t have all the social media, expectations, traffic, stress we have today.”

However, David had a lot going on. His life was busy, stressful, fast-paced and loud.

  • He was a warrior and military leader in Israel who had to hide in caves and run for his life to escape  a crazy king for about 15 years.
  • He was king of Israel and undoubtedly the most influential and affluent person around with a role that carried more responsibility than we could imagine.

Not to mention, David also had,

  • A minimum of 19 sons and one daughter
  • At least 8 wives!

Can you even imagine how loud, busy, hectic David’s life was?! Yet somehow, with all of the demands on his time, all of the people needing his attention, all of the people demanding decisions, all of the children needing affection, David made the time to calm and quiet his soul.

He was intentional about it.

David likens the state of his soul to that of a weaned child. Those of you nursing mamas know that to a nursing child, mama means “food”. Babies will fight, sometimes even claw, for their right to eat and if they’re denied they’ll squirm, fuss and cry.

But a child who has been weaned is content to just be with his mommy, enjoying her presence and love without needing anything. David had discovered the value of quieting his soul and quietly coming into God’s presence. He didn’t see it as a duty or requirement. He didn’t demand anything from God. He learned the value and necessity of intentionally caring for his soul by creating space for the presence of God in his life.

This is so important for us to get right.

David knew the importance of having a healthy soul. He knew that…

the outflow of his life came from the inner state of his soul.

If your soul is frazzled and stressed and chaotic, it will bleed into your relationships and all of the areas of your life. Instead of imparting peace, you’ll impart anxiety. Instead of imparting a calm presence, you’ll impart chaos. Instead of connecting with others, your relationships will be shallow and disconnected.

If David was able to create a calm and quiet soul in the middle of the demands, responsibilities and chaos of his life, I believe there’s hope for you and me.

But how? David doesn’t give us “three easy steps to having a quiet soul”. He doesn’t teach on “five keys to creating a calm heart”.

When we’re stretched and stuffed and over-scheduled, we only see the “to-do” list. We can’t see anything beyond the chaos of our life.

Throughout Scripture, throughout Jesus’ ministry, He gives us an invitation. It’s an invitation to declutter our souls and come to Him.

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”     Mark 6:31

Jesus intentionally creates space for His disciples to pull away and be present with Him. The crowds are pressing in on us and we’re weary. Our schedules are stuffed and our souls are drained.

We need space. We need space to be in His presence. We need space to create rest for our souls.

To receive God’s strength and feel his presence

you have to come close.

God invites us to come to Him and in His presence He calms and quiets our soul. And when we do, He fills our heart with His peace and presence.

This Christmas, receive God’s greatest present to us – an invitation to be present with Him. Give yourself permission to pause long enough to calm and quiet your soul and experience the refreshing that only comes through time in His presence.

 

 

How I Almost Ruined Thanksgiving Dinner

 

I love Thanksgiving! It’s the one day of the year where family and friends gather and share an abundant meal, eat to our heart’s content and give thanks for all that God has done and continues to do in our lives.

It truly is the best kickoff to the most wonderful time of year. It’s a day to reflect on God’s goodness, to enjoy the special relationships in our lives and celebrate God’s continued faithfulness. It’s a day to watch football games and parades, and a day to cook and create a wonderful meal for those whom I love the most.

While I’m no Pioneer Woman, I enjoy investing a lot of thought and time into preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Gathering my favorite recipes, compiling the grocery list, shopping and cooking usually begin several days before Thanksgiving.

Last year, was no exception. Jessica, my youngest, and I got up early and began the preparations. We recorded Macy’s parade to watch later in the day because my boys were adamant that a football game – not a parade – should be watched live.

Several hours later as the smell of turkey wafted in the air, Jessie and I sat down to enjoy the parade while Gregg and the boys headed to the beach for a quick surf session. Before engrossing myself in the holiday floats, high school bands and the Radio City Rockettes, I thought I had better check on the turkey and baste it one more time.

However as I attempted to open the oven door, it wouldn’t open. The door was stuck, trapping my turkey inside!

On Thanksgiving!

Really?!

You have GOT. TO. BE. KIDDING ME!

Why couldn’t this have happened while I was reheating Bagel Bites like on any other night? This is Thanksgiving! The Super Bowl of all meals!

Seriously, the door was only opening about six inches.

Somehow, the latch at the base of the oven door had broken, jamming the door and preventing it from opening. We tried EVERYTHING! Pounding it. Prying it. Shaking it. Kicking it. Skyping in family members for advice.

Nothing worked.

So there my turkey sat, in my oven, fully cooked, with no way of escape.

My Thanksgiving dinner was on the verge of disaster and as my attempts to liberate my turkey proved futile, the excitement of family gathering together around our table shifted to worry, anxiety and visions of eating at Zippy’s.

After about 45 minutes, we decided to break the oven door, bending and prying it open about 12 inches – just enough space for Gregg to spear the turkey with two roasting forks and squeeze the bird through the opening and onto the platter. Crisis averted (as long as it’s fully cooked).

Ironically, throughout the week I had been meditating on Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians,

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Ouch! My joy and peace can be sooo circumstantial. How quickly I can allow something as silly as an oven door not opening to steal my peace and take my focus off of the important things. Opening the door to worry, I let can little distractions begin to consume my thoughts. First world problems, right?

Paul’s source of joy as he wrote this letter to the Philippians was in the midst of really difficult circumstances. He was in prison with no resolution in sight. Yet here he is telling them to not worry, pray and be thankful – as a man who had been beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, starving. OK, I’m now thoroughly convicted.

Paul could challenge them in this way because he had experienced God’s presence. He had a relationship with Jesus; he had seen people healed and delivered. He had confidence in a good God and knew that He was faithful (Psalm 100).

Paul wasn’t advocating positive thinking, or a “glass half-full” perspective. His confidence was rooted in a deep assurance that God is in control – regardless of his present circumstances. Paul encouraged the Philippian people that they didn’t have to live in fear, worry or anxiety anymore because the One True God, Jesus, is in control of everything and intimately concerned with every detail of their lives – even a turkey trapped in an oven.

You can approach God and know that He is intimately involved in your life. Even when troubles and difficulties arise, He will be with you to lead you through them. My hope is that I will grow in my ability to pray, give thanks and notice the shards of hope in the difficult places and unlikely circumstances. I want to be able to respond as Paul did…

Pray about everything…

I once heard it said this way: worry assumes that we are in control; prayer asks God to be in control. The causes and opportunities for our worry will never go away. While our natural reaction may be to control our circumstances or fix our problems, God asks us to surrender them to Him.

Tell God what you need…

There are legitimate needs and causes to worry. The benefit of talking to God about them is that while we do, we discover that the God who is everywhere and in control of everything, becomes real to us in ways that we wouldn’t experience otherwise. In our cries to him, we feel his comfort. In our pain and anxiety, we feel his presence and we get to know him and discover his character.

Thank him for all he has done…

Thank him for all the little amazing miracles He does every day all around you.

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

We liberated our turkey, (and it was delicious by the way) but broke our oven in the process. I almost ruined thanksgiving – not because I wrecked the turkey, but I almost allowed the pressure and stress of creating the perfect Thanksgiving meal to usurp the true intention of the day – a day of thanks for God’s abundant blessing in the midst of life’s imperfection.

As we enter the most wonderful time of year and begin to journey through the holiday season, my prayer is that you would remember these words from Paul and take time to thank God for the simple things around you – even an oven door that opens.