20161209

Risks of Faith :: Advent’s Love

It is God’s love for us, not ours for him, that is the context for faith. Our ability to love God is imperfect—though spiritual disciplines and the rhythms of community can shape them greatly, as C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity:

People are often worried. They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it.

Lewis isn’t deceived—“go and do it” only works until you can’t, or simply don’t—then what becomes of faith? He continues:

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about.

Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’

He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

There is no faith without risk, and no reward in heaven for returning spiritual armor without dents. The armor of God is to protect believers as we apply our faith in a broken world—will not our hearts grow weary? The gospel is that Christ has succeeded where we have failed.

We do not shrink back because we are inconsistent in our love for God—we take risks of faith because God is relentless in his love for us.

Listen: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear by Ella Fitzgerald (3:20)

Today’s Reading
Zephaniah 1 (Listen – 3:09)
Luke 23 (Listen – 6:39)

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20161208

Love’s Journey :: Advent’s Love

The town of St. Joseph, 60 miles north of Kansas City, MO, originally served as a starting point for the Oregon Trail. In its heyday, the streets would have been filled with thousands of pioneers provisioning for the final time before “jumping off”—a term used for leaving civilization behind for the nearly half-year journey west.

Almost thirty years after the Civil War, in 1892, Katherine Kennicott Davis was born into a second-generation pioneer family who had settled in the old trailhead town. By the time Davis was born the railroad had expanded and St. Joseph was no longer as influential. Much like the town they lived in, Davis’ family was neither culturally elite or affluent, but even as a child she showed unique talent which would shape her life.

While pioneers risked everything to travel from St. Joseph into the promise and peril of the Wild West, Davis would take her own risks, cutting her own path east. After graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she braved trans-Atlantic travel to study at the Royal Academy of Music.

Davis returned to the US and, with a world-class education, dedicated herself to teaching children music at various schools across New England. The majority of the more than 600 pieces Davis composed during her lifetime were for the children she taught.

In 1941 Davis penned, “The Carol of the Drum,” which would be popularized as, “Little Drummer Boy” when the Trapp Family Singers picked it up in 1955. Despite her volume of work and level of talent, Davis isn’t widely known for any other song.

The story of the “Little Drummer Boy” embodies part of the beauty of Davis’ story. The song begins with a boy taking a risk to travel and sit with someone great. The boy is aware of—but undeterred by—his simple heritage, offering his musical talent with great diligence. Though many might overlook such a musician, he receives the prize upon which his hope was set: the love of the One whom he has been playing for all along.

ListenLittle Drummer Boy by Burl Ives (3:17)

Today’s Reading
Habakkuk 3 (Listen – 2:59)
Luke 22 (Listen – 7:58)

20161207

All Things New :: Advent’s Love

“Experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having),” observes Cornell University phycologist Thomas Gilovich. Research over the past decade has converted this reality from hypothesis to near-universal belief.

It is no coincidence that Google searches for spiritual experiences, while remaining exclusively a U.S. search term, have maintained a steady clip over the same decade. This, of course, isn’t a bad trend—God’s love is irresistibly wonderful.

In his book God’s Love, David Powlison explores the glory:

God’s love actively does you good. His love is full of blood, sweat, tears, and cries. He suffered for you. He fights for you, defending the afflicted. He fights with you, pursuing you in powerful tenderness.

The experience of God’s love draws us into relationship with him. This is where we have to fight our cultural instincts. Experiential purchases are transactional—we pay to receive a benefit which outlasts material purchases. If all we want is an experience with God we’ll miss the depth of his relationship with us.

Advent draws our hearts away from a commodified experience with Christ. Timothy Keller gets at the heart of the season when he says, “The religious person finds God useful, but the Christian finds God beautiful.”

How are we to rest in the beauty of God’s love? Advent reminds us it’s by setting the tune of our heart toward God’s return. Dr. Gilovich’s research came to the conclusion that, “Waiting for experiences tends to be more positive than waiting for possessions.” No wonder the language of Heaven, which lacks details of material inheritance, is dominated by our relationship and proximity to the Father.

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Listen: The First Noel by Lady Antebellum (3:23)

Today’s Reading
Habakkuk 2 (Listen – 3:20)
Luke 21 (Listen – 4:18)

20161206

Quieted with Love :: Advent’s Love

“We, today, have a language to celebrate waywardness,” observes contemporary artist Makoto Fujimura, “but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home.” This reality makes the prophetic words of Zephaniah stand out:

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

The Hebrew language, despite having extraordinarily fewer words than modern languages like English, dedicates multiple words to describing the idea and experience of love. The word the authors, poets and artists of the Hebrew Bible frequently use for God’s love is hesed, meaning God’s covenant, unfailing love.

Another word for love, often used to describe different types of love in human relationships, is ahab.

Jacob’s ahab for Rachel gives him the dedication to work 14 years for a chance at her hand in marriage. It’s ahab as a passionate, unrelenting love.

Jonathan’s ahab for his friend David leads him to remove his royal robe and place it over David’s shoulders—a symbol that David was now a rightful heir to the throne, as well as everything that belonged to Jonathan, the son of the king. It’s ahab as selfless, sacrificial love.

Zephaniah says God pursues his people in ahab.

God’s love for us is passionate and unrelenting—he pursued us even to death on a cross.

Through resurrection Christ has clothed us with the garments of salvation; he has covered us with the robe of righteousness. We are rightful heirs to the Kingdom of God, as well as everything that belongs to Jesus, the Son of the King.

Advent, as a season of reflection, tunes our hearts to depths of God’s love for us. As a season of anticipation, Advent focuses our hope to the day Christ will restore our disquieted souls, heal our deepest wounds, and rejoice over us as his beloved children.

Listen: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Ella Fitzgerald (1:27)

Today’s Reading
Habakkuk 1 (Listen – 2:39)
Luke 20 (Listen – 5:07)

20161205

The Gift of Service :: Advent’s Love

The story of Christ’s birth is the story of giving. Christ humbled himself. He was familiar with financial tension (his family lived at the sustenance level). He knew the pressures of vocation, and of working one job though he was designed for another—the Messiah was a carpenter for well over a decade. He gave himself to obedience, even to the point of death.

The words of Scripture instruct us to live as Christ lived, and draw models for Christian living from those that came before us. One such person to examine is Wenceslas I, the Duke of Bohemia, who later became a king and a saint. Ed Masters, writing for Regina Magazine, chronicles Wenceslas’ reputation:

He was generous to and provided support for the needs of the indigent, the widows and orphans. He bought freedom for slaves and even visited prisoners during the night, giving them alms and listening to their concerns as well as exhorting them to leave their former ways of life behind and to repent of their crimes. He was known to have carried wood on his back in the middle of the night to those that needed it for fuel and assisted at the funerals of the poor.

The saint was memorialized in the 1853 song, “Good King Wenceslas,” which celebrates the power of following the footsteps of a holy man. The fourth verse opens with the king’s page weakening as they press into the night to serve a poor man in the snow:

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”

“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.

Wenceslas did not walk under his own strength; the king was often found at night praying in the church. His gifts of service were expressions of Christ’s ultimate gift—something our service to others can bring to life this holiday season.

Listen: Good King Wenceslas by Downhere (3:03)

Today’s Reading
Nahum 3 (Listen – 3:04)
Luke 19 (Listen – 5:29)