The Ache of Advent

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We spent Thanksgiving week with family up in the mountains. Amidst the frequent meltdowns, fights, and disarray in our rental condo, we experienced brief ‘stabs of joy’, as C.S. Lewis called it— moments that helped us transcend the moment. Joy matters not only because it makes the toil and the cost of life worthwhile, but because it can lead to hope; it can remind us that there is more than what we see and feel.

That same week, tragedy struck our city as three lives were lost in a deplorable shooting at Planned Parenthood. Our hearts, still heavy from the terrorist attacks in Paris weeks earlier, were sinking with grief. Superficial joy has nothing to say to such pain.

The trouble with the generalized ‘holiday season’ isn’t that it is a part of some calculated ‘war on Christmas’; it’s that it leaves us with no lexicon for longing. It gives us snow and songs, elves and sales, cookies and cards…but no vocabulary for grief, for sorrow, for the deep ache in our hearts.

This is why we have come to appreciate Advent. Advent isn’t a spiritual, alternative name for ‘Christmas’; it is its own season, a season of preparation for Christmas. Advent is when the anticipated joy of Christ’s first arrival puts us touch with our anticipated joy at His return. Advent is a joy that helps us hope.

Advent is when we give voice to the ache and pain and longing in our hearts. Advent is also when we confess our own participation in the brokenness of the world. Advent, then, is not only about longing for Christ to come again and put everything back together; it’s about repenting and receiving grace so that we get to be put back together now.

But there’s one more piece. Advent is not only about longing for Christ to put the world back together, not only about repenting and letting Christ put us back together; it is also a chance to participate in bringing wholeness to others.

As we enter the Advent season, could we as the people of God, be a part of the answer to the longing in people’s hearts? Maybe its through buying slave-free products or serving in the local Rescue Mission. Or maybe its through taking a moment to ‘see’ your neighbor who’s going through a difficult time. It may seem difficult to carve out time to give to the things you desire in this season. We’ve had to cut out some of our regularly scheduled things to carve out space to focus on this season.

Yesterday, all around the world we lit the first purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. There are brief glimpses of Joy that remind us of this hope. Until then…we wait.

Grace and peace,

Glenn and Holly

RESOURCE LINKS

Advent prayers, devotionals, and music (Glenn)

On celebrating Advent with children (Holly)

Favorite Advent and Christmas reading lists for the whole family (Holly)

 

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Slowing Down to Be With Jesus

IMG_0818Well here it is….Part 2 on The Emotionally Healthy Leader. [You can read Part 1 HERE.] If thinking deeply about my shadow side wasn’t enlightening enough, I went on to ponder the ideas surrounding the concept Pete called, ‘Slowing Down for Loving Union.’

“In an exhaustive biblical study, theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote about how often Scripture describes people who do things for God without having life with God. Characters such as Balaam, the Old Testament prophet, Judas Iscariot, and Saul were all engaged in what most certainly would have been considered effective work for God by their communities, but without having an authentic connection to Him. The only mark of genuine spiritual maturity and ministry effectiveness, Edwards concluded, is the outworking of agape – a self-giving love for God and others. That is the one quality of our lives and leadership the devil can never counterfeit. And the sources of that agape love can be found only in a life of loving union with God.”

For the majority of my life in and around ministry, I have pondered this. But the trouble comes in when ministry itself is what fills all your time. We can spend all our time serving Him, but where do we carve out time to just be with Him? Unintentionally, its easy not to foster a deep and life-giving relationship with Him.

Here’s a peek at Pete’s assessment  – How Healthy is Your Experience of Loving Union with God? (You can rate yourself, Always true of me down to Never true of me)

  • My highest priority as a leader is to take time each day to remain in loving union with Jesus.
  • I offer God full access to my interior life as I make decisions, interact with team members, and initiate new plans.
  • I wait to say yes or no to new opportunities until I have sufficient time to prayerfully and carefully discern God’s will.
  • When I become aware that I am anxious or feeling emotionally triggered in leadership, I slow down to be with God.
  • I regularly set aside time for experiences of solitude and silence that enable me to be still and undistracted in God’s presence.

In considering the life of Jesus, it gives me perspective to realize He spent 90% of his life in obscurity. The stories we know of Him took place in a three year time period. Even during these three years, He continually went away from the crowds and noise to seek His Father.

“Jesus models contentment under pressure, calm in the face of betrayal, and power to forgive at his crucifixion – all of which is the fruit of a long history of oneness with his Father. I am convinced that a significant reason so many Christian leaders lack the qualities Jesus modeled is because we skim in our relationship with God. Whenever we find ourselves wanting the ministry impact of Jesus while simultaneously resisting spending time with Jesus, we are positioning ourselves for a beating and some variation on being run ‘out the house naked and bleeding’.” 

Oh, how I’ve been guilty of this. How many times have I prepared and given out of a dry and weary place? How many times have I led out of my own strength rather than relied on my relationship with the Lord?

When I think of all a day could potentially hold, its easy for me to be a doer rather than a child of God who sits in stillness to listen to His voice. I believe God is big enough to speak to us in many ways if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear. If we choose to seek Him, can He not whisper to us in creation, in the glory of the the clouds, in the whoo of an owl out my window? Can he not bring me peace in mind, body, and spirit through the practice of Sabbath? Can He not whisper His truth in a great book, a Bach cantata or a timeless piece of art? As we expand our view of God’s communion with us, maybe the idea of never ceasing prayer will take on new meaning.

If you’re a ministry leader – a pastor, a small group leader, a missions director, or any kind of leader for that matter – please read this book.  It will challenge and encourage you to develop a deep, communion with Christ, examining its profound implications for surviving stress, planning and decision making, building teams, creating healthy culture, influencing others, and much more.

Here’s a link to buy it now – http://www.amazon.com/Emotionally-Healthy-Leader-Transforming-Transform/dp/0310494575/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1446784964&sr=8-1&keywords=the+emotionally+healthy+leader