In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan says he is writing for those who would rather die before their convictions do (p21), a sentiment that greatly appeals to me – reminding me of Philippians 1:21. Chan challenges Christians to move beyond a lukewarm faith and start giving our best to God rather than offering the leftovers of our lives to our creator.
I read another book over Christmas, about a teenager with deep devotion to God. The book is Night by Elie Wiesel, who was 15 when he arrived at Auschwitz. He writes:
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
Reading ‘Night’ has rocked my perception of the world and causes me to have grave concerns about the nature of my faith – what would suffering truly do to my faith?
Reading ‘Crazy Love’ deepened my concerns – is my faith real? If it is real, why is there so little fruit?
Do you consistently do what is right and not do what you shouldn’t? I struggle with this, failing most in the daily things such as patience and kindness to my kids when I’m tired and want to do something else, or laziness and eating junk food when I’m stressed or bored. Why do my good intentions fly out the window when they are most needed?
I find that the words of Mark 14:38 come to mind when I fail to live as I ought, “The heart is willing but the flesh is weak.” However, even this is giving myself too much credit – my heart and flesh are weak!
He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.”
(Joshua 24:23 ESV)
I am finding Joshua 24:23 to be good advice. If I want to bend my life to obey God then I need to both incline my heart towards God, and get rid of things in my daily life which turn me away from God. We cannot separate the internal and external actions, what I do affects what I feel and love, and vice versa. Of course, watching and praying help immensely too – though often the temptation to give up on this is what has gotten me into a mess in the first place!
It is a struggle to train ourselves for godliness, but the final outcome is worth more than the riches of the entire world (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15).
Remember what Christmas felt like when you were a child: the excited expectation of presents and food and treats and people you love coming to visit. For children Christmas is all joy in the anticipation, it just happens, seemingly by magic – the only anxiety is over whether you will really get the present you’ve been eagerly hoping for.
This is an example to us of what Advent is all about, the anticipation of the coming of God. For the Jews in 1 B.C. and earlier the yearning was for the promised messiah, in about A.D. 30 the anticipation reached fever pitch as the wild prophet John strode from the desert proclaiming the immanent arrival of the messiah.
Then the anticlimax of the messiah as a man, a very ordinary looking man at that, one who even ate and drank with sinners! This is not what they were expecting, should they be looking for another? (Matthew 11:3).
We also are looking forward to the coming of Jesus (again). Do you have the childlike faith and excitement for this that Christmas should elicit is all children?
I have a very good friend who is a faithful witness to Jesus. It is not uncommon for her friends to ask her about God and what it means to be a Christian.
She lives her life transparently in the community in which she finds herself. It can be hard feeling as though she doesn’t quite fit in when people are chasing their worldly values and pursuits.
Yet her friends will ask her serious, searching questions about God and faith. Her answers are honest about how trusting Jesus Christ affects her own life – the good stuff and the hard stuff.
She doesn’t recite a list of bible proof tests or prattle on about theology, rather an honest sharing of the hope that Christ gives her (1 Peter 3:15). True faith in the real world that has time for other people.
I’m sure you have found yourself wondering what to give someone as a gift recently. I have not only wondered that but also, is giving more stuff to people who already have lots of stuff what God wants me to be doing?
Obviously the wise men gave gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:11) but he is God incarnate, which is a bit out of the ordinary – do we have grounds to give gifts to each other in imitation of the symbol-laden gifts given to the Son of God? I’m not sure.
A clearer example is Esther 9:20-22 celebrating God’s salvation for the people of God. They sent gifts of food to each other and gave gifts to the poor. In my own gift giving practices I’ve turned this idea on its head – I give stuff to those close to me and we also eat lots of food together, the poor don’t really feature.
What would the Son of God, whom I claim to be celebrating, say to me about this?
Perhaps his response would be: And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
When I recently heard of a friend’s close encounter with a wild pig while out walking, I thought of how much his seven-year-old son would enjoy retelling the experience to his friends. I can imagine that with the retelling the pig will seem bigger and more scary and he will feel braver than during the actual incident.
This got me considering how the bible deals with similar stories. In a word, briefly, see passages such as 2 Kings 2:23-24, or 1 Chronicles 11:22:
He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23-24 ESV)
And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two heroes of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. (1 Chronicles 11:22 ESV)
David’s retelling of his encounters with lions and bears in 1 Samuel 17:33-37 gets a bit more detail because he was trying to make a point to Saul about God’s deliverance (which, by the way, Saul didn’t really take onboard, 1 Samuel 13:8-14).
I have to wonder if these biblical accounts of what would have been very significant experiences to the people involved are kept brief partly to omit the natural inflation of the emotive aspects in the retelling of the stories? We are left to imagine the details, all that is recorded are the facts and how the event impacted God’s people. It’s a bit like reading ancient newspaper headlines.
Went for a long walk with two dogs and a pruning saw this evening. Now our lounge smells of freshly harvested wilding pine. The kids will be happy in the morning. (It would be good if Christmas day was this cheap!)
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I’m actually a little late beginning this, Advent is the four Sundays prior to Christmas and obviously I have missed the first one. However, my excuse is that I don’t like to go into ‘Christmas mode’ before the start of December. But ‘Christmas mode’ in our society and Advent are two very different things:
The point of Advent is to consider the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God and prepare our hearts for His return at the second coming. I find that Paul’s reflection upon this in Philippians 2:5-11 is especially helpful, God all sufficient making Himself nothing on a mission to die for the sins I commit in making my will of more importance than His. Then glory, Jesus Christ exalted above everything, above created beings so exalted as to blow my mind, above the entire universe that we know, above every human strength, plan and achievement, and I get to join in the worship of Him!