Renewing Advent: Rescue is on the Way

“Christmas has become cozy.
Advent calls us to stay awake.”
—N.T. Wright

The forgotten season of Advent is upon us. What’s this “Advent,” you say? Well, it’s akin to Christmas but much bigger — and better — I say. Advent is a forgotten season because in the Christian Church around the globe we know Easter is a big deal, even though it moves around from year to year, can vaguely remember there’s something to give up during Lent (was it all sugar or just chocolate or do we give up unforgiveness?), and Pentecost sounds like a party with a delicious potluck.

Advent: Rescue is on the WayBut why Advent, and why not just call it Christmas-time, or even more broadly, “Happy Holidays”?

Well, let me say this at the outset: I’m not outraged when someone neglects to say “Merry Christmas,” or when a certain purveyor of caffeinated beverages takes those words off their red cups in order sell more of those red cups.

Christmas is so special, and the Holidays are “Holy Days” because JESUS is so special. He alone is Holy, pure, whole. That’s why we care, and He’s the reason for the season. His image is meant to be impressed upon every aspect of our lives. No gift or purchase can do that for me; I must enter into God’s Story and discover the meaning of Jesus personally.

I won’t rail against consumerism (much) here, nor rant about how we should have more Christmas cheer and be making more merry. I will say this: I long to embrace and embody the kind of Hope I find in the great promises of God. Advent is a reminder that I don’t often do this, and how we can again. More than one message, Advent is an unfolding narrative — the whole of Scripture and all of history — coming together in the incarnation of Jesus. This God-Man moved into the neighborhood and made God’s promises real. For us. To us.

So for this season of six weeks, we as a church family and as families within the church will join with our brothers and sisters around the globe keeping watch and waiting for the coming (again) of our King Jesus. Advent means “arrival” or “coming,” derived from the Latin word Adventus. So, as we celebrate His arrival through an unexpected and miraculous birth, we keep in mind His second coming, for the Son of Man will come again to wrap up the scrolls of history and right every wrong. And much wronging there has been! Jesus will make every sad thing untrue (as our favorite children’s Bible reminds).

Our efforts this season will be guided by the Advent Catechism 1, a helpful resource for all ages. Each Sunday from November 29th to January 3rd we will dive into the rich themes of the Advent Story, for all ages of Renew Kids and the main sermon teaching as well. I’m excited! 2Advent Catechism

Why six weeks? There’s much more to be discovered about this season 3, but suffice to say that the weeks leading up to Christmas Day cannot tell the whole story. There’s the travels of the Magi to come and behold the newborn King, on the day known as Epiphany (celebrated on Sunday, January 3rd, 2016). Technically, it’s really four weeks of Advent, followed by two weeks of Christmas.

Here’s the plan of emphases we’ll follow, each Sunday kicking off a new week:

11/29 (wk 1) A Distant Promise
12/6 (wk 2) Silence Broken
12/13 (wk 3) Hope Dawning
12/20 (wk 4) Beyond Belief
12/24 (Christmas Eve gathering @ 5 PM @ the Revival Building)
12/27 (wk 5) An Unlikely Rescuer
1/3/16 (wk 6) The Longing (+ Benediction)

Each week’s entry in the Advent Catechism has a story centered on that theme, bringing to light the promises of God and hopes of His people. All are encouraged to READ, MEMORIZE, CHAT, and PRAY. This four-fold pattern helps us remember well God’s remedies for what aches our souls. And it’s a helpful way to invest time around the dinner table.

This first week we honed in on the first lesson of Advent: “A Distant Promise.” With five responsive lines of biblical history we see God’s promises becoming a clearer reality:

Will you join us for Advent?

Advent is an invitation to ache with the longings of the world by believing that the incarnation of the Son of God is the solution to all of our problems. It’s rare to hear about a problem in today’s world that does not have a promising human-made solution, only to realize that today’s solutions will inevitably create tomorrow’s problems. On and on it goes, and without God and the Hope He brings by entering the Story, we will be left to our own devices.

Let us keep focus upon the coming of Jesus our King. He comes in unexpected ways, disrupting history, illuminating God’s promises, waking us up to the stunning reality of His promises.

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

—Ephesians 5:13-14

Advent Catechism

  1. Available for purchase in print ($15) or to download as a PDF ($10). Email hello@Godrenews.us to get your copy.
  2. There are many more helpful guides to the Advent season. My friend Tyler Braun has sound guidance on embracing and entering Advent, some of Bonhoeffer’s writings on Christmas and Advent have been edited for us, and I find that in every season the Mosaic Bible (NLT) helps me return to gospel roots each week of the year.
  3. See Justin Holcomb’s summary “What is Advent?”
 

Punching Monday in the face. (Why your pastor might be depressed today.)


Mondays are the worst, right? They just punch you in the face.

Unless you punch Monday in the face first.

(Not advocating violence per se, except that winning your heart decisively — and winning their hearts — is the key to finding joy, even on a Monday.)

Fight the good fight Winning the battle on Monday starts with surveying the land: What. Just. Happened. (?)

As a preaching pastor, I can wake up with a “case of the Mondays.” You ever feel that way? Lethargic, not wanting to move. Tough to get motivated. In a malaise, mentally and emotionally. 1

This experience is not confined to pastors, and it’s not just a spiritual thing. Rather, the root of this Monday feeling comes from what Archibald Hart calls “Post-adrenaline depression.” He describes it this way:

“…what I was experiencing was a profound shutdown of my adrenal system, following a period of high stress or demand. It was as if my adrenal system were saying, ‘That’s enough abuse for now; let’s give it a break,’ and shut down so that I had no choice in the matter.”

While this might seem like a mini-crisis, this slow-down provides a helpful clue to something we all need: active rest. Have you noticed that when you lay in bed all day you  feel achy later, while going for a brief walk actually energizes your body? Your body needs rest, but active rest is better.

The impetus (and partial title) for this post came from Mike Leake, who points out:

“This really isn’t unique to pastors. Even if you aren’t a pastor I’m guessing that you have had times of a great spiritual high, only to find yourself the next day feeling like a total schmuck.”

I’d say if you’re never honest about when you feel like a “schmuck,” then you have other problems.

Yet we need not be surprised or sidelined about needing to work at a slower pace in our jobs. While we seem to naturally swerve between over-confidence and despair, let us find a new rhythm to combat the inevitable fatigue and mental battles. Continue reading

  1. Surprise: not all pastors preach regularly, and so until the last three years hit me I didn’t realize the weight of the day after Sunday. Until this new season with Renew Church I was just as much a pastor/shepherd, but I did not preach regularly so this is all new-ish to me.
 

Do you only run when you feel like it? (And where do you run?)

Most mornings I wake up and go for a run, creating a mini-crisis.

Every run in 2015, visualized.

Every run in 2015, visualized.

What do you think about while exercising? I think about many things while running. For one, my thoughts are scattered in the darkness around, but eventually they take upon a new order as I turn to meditate on Scripture. Usually the passage from Sunday’s sermon (e.g., if on an early Monday morning) comes to mind, and I mull over what I said and should have said. Or the text I will speak on the following Sunday fills my mind, followed by its implications. I meditate on truth, and meaning, and beauty, and most of all, seek to loop back to the Father’s character.

To be honest, I don’t always feel like running, nor do I always feel like thinking. Sometimes I just want to “zone out.” But this is a sacred moment, perhaps an hour of uninterrupted personal space, the only of its kind that day.

Rise & Run

Rise & Run

The discipline of running — and going for a run, whether I feel like it or not — is akin to other disciplines in life. Like the effort needed empty the dishwasher, fold clothes, listen to voicemail, or respond to that ill-timed email. These habits are hardly convenient, but daily necessary. Like getting in the rhythm and routine of opening the Bible to allow God’s thoughts to interrupt and intersect my thoughts. This is Letting in Light, the brightest Light shining in the deepest darkness. 

[Video: God Wrote a Book from Desiring God.]

In chapter nine of When I Don’t Desire God, John Piper introduces a memorable and helpful acronym for what to pray before reading Scripture: I. O. U. S. »

  • Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. (Psalm 119:36)
  • Open my eyes to behold wonderful things in your Word. (Psalm 119:18)
  • Unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11)
  • Satisfy me with your steadfast love. (Psalm 90:14)

An unfortunate side effect of repeatedly praying the same prayer is that, over a period of time, it can lose its sense of pertinence. One way to keep it fresh is to unpack the content with language that expresses what you mean in a new way. 1

For example, here’s an amplification of the I. O. U. S. prayer:

  • Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. That is, focus my affections and desires upon you, and eradicate everything in me that would oppose such a focus.
  • Open my eyes to behold wonderful things in your Word. That is, let your light shine and show me what you have willed to communicate through the biblical authors.
  • Unite my heart to fear your name. That is, enthrall me with who you are.
  • Satisfy me with your steadfast love. That is, fulfill me with the fact that your covenant love has been poured out on me through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A prayer for each new day, and our new Family Verse for Renew Church:2

Psalm 90:14

  1. I.O.U.S. Devotional by —Jonathan Parnell of Desiring God.
  2.  Psalm 90:14 Scripture artwork by Hand Lettering Co.
 

Create a Crisis for a Change.

“Is it okay that I read your wife’s blog? Her writing challenges me every time I read.”
—recent comment from a man friend 1

Right now our kids are scurrying from the yard to driveway pretending to be a peregrine falcon and Thompson’s gazelle, respectively, so we’re safe to write for a few minutes. Until a playful predator comes.

That would be a crisis to their uninterrupted play time.

That’s what I want to talk with you about: crisis. Crises, in fact. Lots and lots of mini-crises, created from our own hands.

A crisis is when you need God to come through, because otherwise you’ll fail. You don’t have what it takes, so you take what He alone can give.

Of course, we cannot create anything ourselves, but all of our creative powers — our creativity — is on loan from the Creator. It’s borrowed to be used well. Whether we steward these powers for good or spend them foolishly on self, we better know what kind of power we’re dealing with. Too many people use their supposed “power” to play it safe, seek comfort, take no risks. That’s some kind of tragedy. A power failure. (Others create all sorts of drama for themselves and every moment seems like a crisis. That’s sad but not in view here.)

RUNRISE

Humanity has been made in God’s image. We may not look like Him in outward appearance, or take a representative form too often, but our essence, our createdness, is in the similitude of God. Makes sense, since He’s our Father.

God has created us for crisis. We were made to shine brightly in dark situations. Yet a person will only know if he or she is ready to trust Him in the inevitable big, unplanned crisis, if they’ve first learned by experience to trust Him with many mini-crises.

That is one secret to Jesus’ life. He is the definition of true humanity, coming to recreate what has been broken lost in us. Yet He did not do it by Himself. Jesus the Son depended moment by moment on the love, approval, and power of God the Father. He imaged the Father well. Perfectly, in all manner of crises. Never hurried, ever-present, calm and collected to unleash the power of God on the situation of Their choosing.

~~~

On my wife’s blog Sacred Mundane (on which this post first appeared) she reflects on various mini-crises encountered each week. As crises help you consider ours, each can find perspective to keep on creating these crises and growing as people. It is because of her steadfastness in the face of these crises, forged in fact by each crisis itself, that each us gets to read on the Sacred Mundane. That’s why many men I know read her blog. There’s meat there, substance more than mere style. Using the mundane moments of each life, what seems at first so un-spiritual, she makes connections to the Gospel. Every man, woman and child can benefit from that. Kari makes public many private details, though each is processed in prayer and with her husband (me), and together we sense the Spirit’s leading for her to share. Frankly, it would be easier to not share anything personal. Just “write about God,” but while the words would be true, they would not be real.

Realness is where the crises happen. Realness is what we’re after.

Actually, wholeness is the goal. Wholeness in Christ. We’re convinced real wholeness is only found in Him, and only on the other side of embracing realness.

There is a gap for each of us between the ideal and real, between what we say we believe and how we really live it out.

Most men I know … scratch that: every man I know likes to do things he feels confident about. Some only do the things they feel confident about. It’s why some don’t search for a better job, and why others like to fish. Confidence makes one work on their own car, and for the same reason others take it to the dealer to get serviced. Confidence. One can have the appearance of confidence with mere talk, yet to truly reveal one’s confidence, a crisis has to do it’s work.

Continue reading

  1.  This post originally appeared on Sacred Mundane, as guest writer for my wife Kari.
 

Love: Fitness, Fatigue & Form

In recent months a few friends have asked me to help them get in shape. Mostly through “friendly” encouragement, but sometimes more directly (and firmly) as a coach would. Various requests came in the form of invitations to run together, so we formed the Arch Bridge Running Club (Tuesdays, 5:00 AM running in/between Oregon City and West Linn). 1 A couple of us are training for a triathlon. Mostly we’re just running buddies.

RiskOne friend — not a runner nor desiring to become one! — asked me earnestly one day in mid-January if I would help him get in shape. Sure!

It took 86 days for his verbal desire to become “day one” of action. This month he began the journey through physical fitness. His resolve is now taking the shape of a new habit. (Don’t give up. Habits are usually stronger than desires.)

The key for him? Probably many things, like being disillusioned with getting older and sedentary. The inspiration of others on the journey, and a commitment to eating healthier has helped. Probably, like me, saying “no” is a challenge for him, so that there’s little left for cultivating a whole life.

Yet the key factor was this: beginning a new routine alongside his wife. (Yes!) This meant saying no to the customized fitness plan I had sent him (85 days prior) in order to say yes to a better and more realistic plan. (Principle: It’s good to say no to your friends for the sake of your wife.)

Personally, I default to doing just about anything alone. Which is precisely why I must not do so. Sure, there are times of solitude, and out of six runs in a given week, five usually are alone before the sun comes up (though with Strava you’re never really alone). Tuesday mornings are a reminder that I am both known and needed, and not just because I’m the one who usually sets the week’s running plan.

Being known is about vulnerability, where others can see you as you are: whether fit and fresh or fat and fatigued. In physical terms that means getting up early, when no one else will (especially yesterday’s you), to hit the road or gym hard. It means showing up to give your best, while not looking your best. It means turning on screens in order to get needed sleep. It means running slower on recovery days, since that’s wisdom. It means asking someone significant to check on what you’ve eaten, what you’ve spent, giving personal access to someone to see the behind-the-scenes of your life. The same holds true spiritually, relationally, emotionally. This is the pursuit of wholeness, where we see God’s love at work it us, whether fit or fatigued. Continue reading

  1. The Arch Bridge Running Club is open to all, though for your enjoyment some basics and baseline fitness are needed: 1) Be able to run continuously for thirty minutes, 2) sustain sub-9:00/mi for three miles, 3) a desire to be challenged. There are no dues, nor t-shirts (yet).
 

Good Friday, the forgotten holiday.

Good Friday is the forgotten holiday that speaks honestly (and brutally) about your past while inviting you do bury it with Jesus.

He died in our place, bringing us back to God. 1

We gather in reflect in the dark, without the cultural decorations (and relative obligations) of Easter Sunday, for each day needs the other. Without the resurrection Jesus’ death seems heartless, yet, through the cross the eternal life He offers carries the weight of God’s love.

When He cried out, “It is finished!” Jesus accomplished far more than we’ve ever dared to imagine.

I encourage you to find a Gospel-centered local church and participate in a Good Friday gathering, sharing this day with others near the foot of the Cross.

If you’re in Clackamas County, please join us as four Oregon City churches collectively contemplate His words, work and worth in the Cup, the Garden, the Trials, and the Cross. 

GOOD FRIDAY

 

  1. 1 Peter 3:18
 

Update in Uganda: Hurry home, Sharon.

Happy to see everyone! Surgery on Saturday was successful. Can we go home yet? Getting up to speed in her new wheels, a gift from NGM. Sharon lit up when she learned she could move around like this.

Happy to see everyone! Surgery on Saturday was successful. Can we go home yet?
Getting up to speed in her new wheels, a gift from NGM. Sharon lit up when she learned she could move around like this.

From March 10th to 20th I am in Uganda visiting friends and missionaries with Next Generation Ministries (NGM) » see NGM Facebook page. Below is my attempt to summarize the story of Sharon and the care she is receiving. Click any photo to see it enlarged. 

A week ago we met Sharon, the nine-year-old girl who was run over by two motorcycles (called “boda bodas”) in Jinja, Uganda. After being admitted to Jinja Main Hospital in about five minutes, she laid in agony on a bed in the women’s ward for three days. Without treatment. Doctors and nurses did drop by, but only caused her pain.

Looking for a creative outlet, Sharon and I took turns drawing everyday items. She's so bright.

Looking for a creative outlet, Sharon and I took turns drawing everyday items. She’s so bright, and ready to go home.

So, by the time Ugandan friends and colleagues of NGM learned of her situation, a change needed to be made. You see, children’s bones heal quickly, and if those are left untreated — let alone treated poorly or wrongly — she would have significant challenges in the future.

I’ll let you get up to speed on her injuries, the terrible care received, and the generosity of many to help enable a better future for Sharon by reading Words in Uganda: “There is no hurry in Africa.” Also, many have contributed to her medical costs (which may sum as much as $4,000 USD). » You may join in this good cause on this GoFundMe page.

sharon-surgery-x-ray

Steel plates put in each arm, to be removed in about six weeks.

Fast forward nearly a week and here we are: well, here is where Sharon is. Home, that is. Continue reading