Magnificat

Visitation

As I continue to intentionally set my heart to thank God for all He is and all He gives, I am taking time to consider how thankfulness is expressed in the Bible. One of the most famous songs of thanksgiving is Mary’s Song when she greeted Elizabeth, the Magnificat:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

(Luke 1:46-55 ESV)

Mary praises God for His works towards her, an insignificant, humble person who has been mightily blessed through His merciful grace.

Not only has Mary been blessed, but all of Israel and all of the world. God is working His justice: defending the weak, humble and hungry by opposing the proud, powerful and rich. Mary exalts in seeing God’s hand at work in social, religious, economic and political spheres – He is intimately concerned about each individual person and also the social and cultural realms in which we live.

Mary knows her place in history, from now on all generations will call her blessed, yet speaks of all God’s works as if they had already happened. But she is only 3 months pregnant – the baby who will become the man who will become our savior has not even been born yet, in an era when many women and babies perished during birth!

She is keeping her eyes fixed on God, whose works she praises. He is so sure to make it happen that she speaks of all His works as having already happened.

Faith.

Trust.

There has already been brokenness and heartache, sickness, death, wars and famines. And there will be more. Yet God has exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things. For some of us the brokenness, sickness and hunger is current reality. So too is salvation from these.

[This] is our same world, already perfected in Christ, but not yet in us. It is our same world, redeemed and restored, in which Christ “fills all things with Himself.” And since God has created the world as food for us and has given us food as means of communion with Him, of life in Him, the new food of the new life which we receive from God in His Kingdom is Christ Himself.

(Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World)


Gifts I have noticed recently:

  • A new puppy {1024}
  • Pen on paper {1026}
  • Night-time vista of harbour lights on my way to work {1030}
  • Making some progress building the back fence {1033}
  • Seeing my brother before he goes on ice for a year {1035}
  • Enjoying my children {1038}
  • Missing Rata {1039}
  • Spring! {1040}

Image: iStock

Loving God

Over the last few months I have been slowly re-reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. This week I read the final chapter and seemed to finally grasp what she is getting at. It now makes sense why Ann included a chapter about her trip to Paris and her response to a Rembrandt painting.

I could bless very God.
Not take anything. Not ask anything, demand anything, petition anything. I could simply give something to God. A gift to Him! (One Thousand Gifts, p216)

When we love someone it is a delight to give to them. I can bless my wife by giving her some thing she would like, or by doing work for her which relieves a burden from her, or by praising her – letting her know how I delight in her. This is powerful, to be given the gift of being deeply valued for who you are. When genuine and truly given with no motive other than love, such a gift goes deep into the soul of the recipient – an act of love.

This seems to be what Ann means when she writes:

God, He has blessed – caressed.
I could bless God – caress with thanks.
It’s our making love.
(One Thousand Gifts, p216)

A brief passage which has upset some folks. Yet deep spiritual interaction with God is what most of us are desperate for, even in our crazed pursuit of everything other than God. To find the core of what it means to truly live is a source of constant unrest, unease and anxiety because we know it is essential to find it.

I know this is what drives me – beyond all else I must know God. So when someone describes knowing Him in the closest way possible, I pay attention. Even if a word used forces me to reach for the OED to confirm the meaning as being: “communion between human beings and God.”

… this is intercourse disrobed of its connotations, pure and unadulterated: a passing between. A connection, a communicating, an exchange, between tender Bridegroom and His bride. (One Thousand Gifts, p218)

If God is saying, “enjoy Me”, I am a fool to not do so. Purposely being mindful of thanking and praising God for all He gives is a precious interaction with Him, the form in which we each do so is not overly important. I continue to write out my thanks to God, but am no longer numbering or keeping count as this can be a distraction for me personally.

Other posts related to this topic:

Image: WikiMedia Commons

Thank offering

As I notice and count the gifts and joys God gives, my eyes are opened to how often giving thanks is mentioned in the Bible.

The ‘highest’ form of thanksgiving in the Old Testament is the peace offering, part of the Levitical sacrificial system. A peace offering was the only voluntary sacrifice that could be brought before God. It was also the only sacrifice in which the people were able to eat of the sacrifice. As such it was the most popular offering and is a precursor of our Christian communion meal.

No other Levitical offering permitted the inclusion of yeast as a component of the sacrifice. Yeast represents sin and contamination, so God’s inclusion of leavened bread in the thank offering shows that in giving thanks to God we are accepted even as sinful beings if we come in repentance.

In Christ we also offer our thanks on top of a prior offering for sin (see Leviticus 3:5). The price has already been paid for us, but this does not mean it cost nothing.

“And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the LORD. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the LORD. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning. (Leviticus 7:11-15 ESV)


A Related Link:

Gifts I have noticed recently:

  • Caring and competent school teachers {1005}
  • My son’s giggles when tickled {1007}
  • Reading a good book in front of the fire on a wet drizzly day {1008}
  • The jumpy wee dog we brought on the spur of the moment 8 years ago {1013}
  • A daughter’s concern for her upset sibling {1014}
  • A 3-year-old’s legs running flat out down the Ross Creek track {1019}
  • Family trip to the library on a dismal wet day {1023}

Related to this topic:

Image: iStock

The first thousand thanks

During this past week I noted my thousandth prayer of gratitude to Jesus for all He gives me. What I’ve learned in the 22 months since I first began recording gifts goes way beyond any pop psychology feel good factor. In fact, for much of this time I’ve not felt good at all and counting blessings hasn’t changed that at an emotional level.

The primary lesson has been a realization of how vast the eucharist is. As Ann points out, the Greek word for giving thanks is eucharisteo, and our sacrament of holy communion derives it’s traditional name from the same word:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
(Luke 22:19 ESV)

Jesus has given Himself that we may have life. The sacrament of communion was instituted to cause us to remember this in thanksgiving and praise. I am learning how vast God’s giving is, and how unending and appropriate is my continual thanksgiving and praise in response. Counting gifts is a useful reminder to look for God’s provision in all of life.

In walking with Christ, straining to see properly, a common theme is my need for constant reinforcement of what He has already taught me. If I could only live what He has already taught me I would be unrecognisably stronger in faith. It is comforting to know others also experience this:

The one who lives his life in circles, discovering, entering into, forgetting and losing, finding his way round again, living his life in layers – deeper, round, further in.
(Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p105 Slightly modified)

The one thousandth gift:

  • New flower buds on the kowhai tree {1,000}

Looking over my list, there are some common themes in what I have counted:

  • My wife
  • My children (and their antics)
  • Increasing knowledge of God
  • Creature comforts
  • Financial stuff
  • Quietness, peace
  • The natural world God has made
  • The creativeness of people
  • Enjoying the company of family and friends
  • Benefits of being born in this place and this time

It could be argued that there is a lot of selfishness in what I am thankful for, this is true but these are the sort of things I noticed as gifts from God. Perhaps as I grow and mature the themes may change, wait until I reach 2,000!

Related to this topic:

My cheerful winter friends

Close-up of iris flower

As a lily among brambles,so is my love among the young women.
(Song of Solomon 2:2 ESV)

Near the entrance to the building in which I work is a patch of irises. I particularly like these irises because they flower during the winter, adding a splash of cheerfulness on gloomy days as I head to work.

I’m no gardening expert, but to the best of my knowledge these plants would normally flower in spring or summer, but for at least 12 years that I know of this clump of greenery has flowered right in the coldest part of winter. I feel like they have been my little cheerful friends for many years now, even when I have worked in other parts of campus these flowers boldly send a message of beauty and hope during the dreariest part of each year.

Somehow these small, fragile living things displaying their beauty does more to lift my heart than all my own efforts to do so. As I near the one thousand mark on my eucharisteo list I notice that many times I have given thanks for the fresh air, sunlight, plants, birds, insects, hills, and water that is given by God to all of us to partake of.

These flowers remind me of God’s extravagant love. His love in placing reminders of Him and His creative power in my path. His extravagance in that even though flowers wither within days and may not be seen by many, it is God’s pleasure to make them. Within the thorny brambles of life in a sin-wrecked world God creates stunning beauty for everyone if they will look for it.

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
(Luke 12:27-28 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed recently:

  • Frost crystals on a sunlit rock {973}
  • Irises blazing midwinter colour {976}
  • Dozing in the sunshine {978}
  • Being less then 1 metre from an adult fur seal {980}
  • Enormous ice creams {983}
  • Very silly, giggly girls at bedtime {990}
  • Three-year-old son ‘reading’ the dictionary {995}
  • A quiet cup of tea with my wife after she finished work {997}

Loving God

 

loving-god

Over the last few months I have been slowly re-reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. This week I read the final chapter and seemed to finally grasp what she is getting at. It now makes sense why Ann included a chapter about her trip to Paris and her response to a Rembrandt painting.

I could bless very God.
Not take anything. Not ask anything, demand anything, petition anything. I could simply give something to God. A gift to Him! (One Thousand Gifts, p216)

When we love someone it is a delight to give to them. I can bless my wife by giving her some thing she would like, or by doing work for her which relieves a burden from her, or by praising her – letting her know how I delight in her. This is powerful, to be given the gift of being deeply valued for who you are. When genuine and truly given with no motive other than love, such a gift goes deep into the soul of the recipient – an act of love.

This seems to be what Ann means when she writes:

God, He has blessed – caressed.
I could bless God – caress with thanks.

It’s our making love.

(One Thousand Gifts, p216)

A brief passage which has upset some folks. Yet deep spiritual interaction with God is what most of us are desperate for, even in our crazed pursuit of everything other than God. To find the core of what it means to truly live is a source of constant unrest, unease and anxiety because we know it is essential to find it.

I know this is what drives me – beyond all else I must know God. So when someone describes knowing Him in the closest way possible, I pay attention. Even if a word used forces me to reach for the OED to confirm the meaning as being: “communion between human beings and God.”

… this is intercourse disrobed of its connotations, pure and unadulterated: a passing between. A connection, a communicating, an exchange, between tender Bridegroom and His bride. (One Thousand Gifts, p218)

If God is saying, “enjoy Me”, I am a fool to not do so. Purposely being mindful of thanking and praising God for all He gives is a precious interaction with Him, the form in which we each do so is not overly important. I continue to write out my thanks to God, but am no longer numbering or keeping count as this can be a distraction for me personally.


Image: WikiMedia Commons

Kiwi Christmas

We Kiwi Christians can be a bit confused when it comes to celebrating Christmas. Easter is easier – Easter bunny is clearly a crock and we find it reasonably easy to claim Easter as a Christian occasion because for the unbelievers around us it is just a long weekend and an excuse to eat chocolate.

Christmas downunder

Christmas, however, has all sorts of cultural baggage and expectations which make us feel quite out of sorts here downunder in a secular society attempting to celebrate what is effectively a northern hemisphere midwinter festival. People hang up lights to decorate their houses despite it still being light at 10pm. We gorge ourselves with food then flop around getting sunburnt. Songs like “Let it Snow”, “Jingle Bells” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” play in shopping malls that are selling bathing suits, camping gear and cricket sets. It really doesn’t work, it’s like some collage of Christmas clutter dumped into a jumbled heap on the beach. Yet we still have plenty to be thankful for in our Kiwi Christmas celebrations.

Pointers to Christ

It is summer, most people are on holiday, and even despite the pre-Christmas madness in a time to relax. Let’s treasure that, Jesus came to give us rest – while flopping around after Christmas dinner too full to move much, enjoy the rest and consider God who came to gain it for us.

Christmas in New Zealand is blessed with fresh fruit and vegetables; cherries, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, new potatoes, baby peas… Jesus is the true vine, He came to bless the earth and make it bountiful, He plants the seeds of the great harvest. For us Christmas is like a harvest festival and we are right to rejoice in the bounty of God’s blessing.

Particularly here in the deep south, Christmas day is long – it gets light at about 5am and stays light until after 10pm. Seventeen hours of glorious light, almost two-thirds of the day! And here under the ozone hole it is bright light, a taste of what dazzled those shepherds and a reminder that He who dwells in unapproachable light came to abide with us. Every time you put on the sunnies and sun hat (and sunscreen) be reminded of the Light who dawned upon the whole earth in the advent.

An element of the nativity story that we obviously can identify with in New Zealand is the sheep (mmm… roast lamb for Christmas dinner!). Now, aside from the obvious anomaly of a lamb being present in the Christmas story if it was mid-winter, we know about sheep here, despite the Fonterra take over. Jesus is the Lamb of God, leading up to Christmas lambs are everywhere you look in this country – we get to remember the Passover, the feast of weeks (harvest) and the Advent all in one!

Christmas is a time when families like to get together, with all the strife this entails. Spare a thought for Mary and Joseph – they had travelled for days to get there, had lousy accommodation, were both isolated and lonely for home yet were in a town full of their relatives and then had a load of complete strangers turn up for supper! So whether lonely for company or overwhelmed by too much of it, you can at least feel for someone in the advent story.

Kiwis often get the barbeque out on Christmas day. Mary and Joseph quite likely cooked in a similar way on the very day Jesus was born. They certainly didn’t microwave last night’s leftovers!

Another way in which Kiwis have an empathetic perspective on the nativity story is our smallness and insignificance on the world stage. God chose to be born as a baby into a poor family in a stable in Bethlehem – an insignificant town. He then grew up in Nazareth, an even more lowly village. God chooses the insignificant place to come as God incarnate. Christ will come to us and dwell even here at the bottom of the world, we can be sure of this because He has already done it before – 2,000 years ago.

Gifts I have noticed recently (#749 – #762):
749) Prospect of getting to bed before midnight.
750) Children asleep.
751) Friendly neighbours.
752) Christian work colleagues.
753) Headache forcing me away from the computer.
754) Spring growth (and a lawnmower!).

Opportunities

Rickshaw driver in Madagascar

As I have learned more about displaced people and refugees, a common attribute of those who survive the terrible circumstances of their lives is that they make the most of even very small opportunities. This contrasts with my own life in which there are myriad of opportunities and I avail myself of very few of them.

No Choice

One way to describe poverty is a lack of choices. Poor people cannot choose what to eat or even when they will eat. They don’t get the choice of what to wear. There is no ability to choose where to live, what job to do, what school to send their children to – in poverty all these choices are torn away.

In poverty people simply exist, struggling daily to survive. If an opportunity presents itself they latch on to it and make all they can out of it because this is their only hope for a better future.

In a land of opportunity

My situation is very different, I have so many opportunities that I have to consider thoughtfully which will be the best ones to pursue. Unfortunately, when we have an abundance of anything we can become complacent. I have done this, especially in the past, but even now I am guilty of allowing opportunities to drift by out of inertia – I cannot be bothered moving out of my comfort zone.

As we near the end of one year and start thinking about what 2012 might bring, I already know it will carry opportunities. There will be chances to to things that will make a positive difference. Will I recognize them and make good use of such opportunities or will complacency cause me to lazily waste such gifts?

A focus for 2012

Something I did this year was to choose a focus for the year. In 2011 it was essentials, paying attention to what is essential and trimming away some of what is not necessary. For 2012 I am going to turn my focus onto opportunities and make an effort to use them well.

Still, there is a need for wisdom because not all opportunities are good to pursue:

If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
(Hebrews 11:15-16 ESV)

The end goal is what counts:

… whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
(Galatians 6:7-10 ESV)

Fears

So far this post has been like a celebration of all the choices available to me, and it is, but with opportunity can also come fear. There are some obvious fears such as being worried about failing, making wrong choices, change, what others might think and closing doors on other options. But the anxiety which got me thinking about this topic initially is what if God is inviting me to step into an opportunity so huge that the very roots of who I am would be challenged?

Some of the opportunities God has given me (#735 – #748):

735) Opportunity to give, even a little, to others.
736) Opportunity to learn music.
737) Opportunity to get fit.
738) Opportunity to grow my relationships with my children.
739) Opportunity to write.
740) Opportunity to grow my prayer life.
741) Opportunity to know the Bible better.
742) Opportunity to grow vegetables.
743) Opportunity to fix my house up a bit.
744) Opportunity to do my job better.
745) Opportunity to serve my church.
746) Opportunity to love my neighbour.
747) Opportunity to memorize parts of the Bible.
748) Opportunity to speak up for those who are suffering.

Getting God’s attention

getting-gods-attentionAn article heading from The Desiring God blog:

How to Get God’s Attention

Mar 26, 2011 01:30 am  |  by Josh Etter
Isaiah 66:2 —
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

That headline certainly got my attention!

Oh to be a man who is looked upon favourably by God! The amazing thing is that this passage describes something I can actually do, and you can also. In fact, if you are a Christian you have already done this, because what is being described in Isaiah 66:2 is childlike faith. The faith Jesus likes:

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven
(Matthew 18:3-4 ESV)

Children know themselves to be small and powerless. They believe easily and take seriously what they are told about the consequences of disobedience. Childlike faith in Christ trusts Him because He is God, knows itself to be powerless against sin and genuinely trembles at the prospect of being a sinner without God’s favour.

I’m becoming more aware of the central necessity of such faith. My need to keep coming to the Bible in Childlike faith, awed by Jesus, desperate for His favour.


Gifts I have noticed recently (#701 – #709):

701) Coming home to pancakes after a night shift
702) A rebuke from the book of Proverbs.
703) My first run in a very long time.
704) Career clarity from the example of hard-working refugees.
705) King Saul and David reminding me of the value of music to my soul.
706) Patching up a daughter’s homework that was ripped by her baby brother.
707) Walking home from school with my girls.
708) A friend sharing his story in church.
709) Pastor John Piper.

Photo of father and daughter: iStock

God made me dissatisfied

On Sunday I gave a brief overview of Psalm 119 and then read the entire psalm out loud to our church. As I read it, my overall sense was that the psalmist had a very strong and deep trust in God and the promises God has given in His word. He knew for sure that God would keep His word, that the promises are sure and unfailing. I do not have this sort of trust.
When I read from the Psalms, listen to them spoken and sung, and realize how shallow my prayers and communion are that I cannot experience the depths they speak of. I trust in many things, really I should simply trust in God. I seek comfort, contentment and satisfaction in many ways, often ignoring the way which the Bible constantly points to as the only reliable source of comfort – Jesus Christ.

Why? How come it seems so easy to seek comfort in the world and so pointless to seek it from God?

What is blocking me from knowing God as my hope in the way the psalmists did?

My soul longs for your salvation;
I hope in your word.
(Psalm 119:81 ESV)

These questions are the gift God has given to me – the goad to not be content with a shallow experience of Christ.

Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
(Psalm 42:7 ESV)


Photo of Milford Sound waterfalls by dmathies via iStock

Gifts I have noticed this week (597 – 612):

597) Despite it’s hideous noise, the vacuum cleaner is a useful thing.
598) Peace in our nation, allowing me to even consider folding laundry.
599) Living in this place where ‘enough’ is in fact a lot.
600) Calm harbour with ripples from birds catching fish.
601) A sheep in the street (only in NZ!)
602) Local fertilizer factory replacing the glass in some of our windows.
603) Invitation to join 30 days of prayer for the Shan in October.
604) A pay rise!
605) The simplest sermon I have ever delivered.
606) Learning endurance through pain and discomfort.
607) Gastroscopy date drawing nearer.
608) Walking.
609) Rain.
610) Walking in the rain.
611) Old memories showing me that I have changed and grown.
612) Godly discontent with my shallow faith.