by Charlotte O
Have you ever uttered this phrase, even in jest? Do you expect miracles? Believe they exist but wonder if they'll ever happen to you? Or remain skeptical that they happen at all? Maybe you're like my grandma who believes there will be small miracles every time she prays for lost glasses, available parking spots or good weather. Apparently, even people like Angelina Jolie pray for good weather when they really need it!
Or have you ever found yourself desperately needing a miracle, but being almost afraid to hope for one in the halls of an ER, cancer ward or NICU? If you ask nurses and doctors, many would tell you that unexplainable things happen with a frequency beyond coincidence, but it may leave you with a question of why do some get miracles while others don't?
We think of Christmas as a time of miracles; maybe because it celebrates the miracle of a virgin birth, and the even greater miracle of God stepping onto the plane of humankind in order to relate to us
I tend to find myself on the rational, skeptical side of miracles, yet I can't deny that there are things that have happened in my life or in the lives of those around me that seem impossible without divine intervention. Me even being where I am now in Taiwan is the result of a series of small signs and miracles.
And yet, I find it hard to ask God for miracles when I really need them. I think part of me is afraid that if it doesn't happen then I'm stuck with no other choice but to blame God or doubt his power.
We think of Christmas as a time of miracles; maybe because it celebrates the miracle of a virgin birth, and the even greater miracle of God stepping onto the plane of humankind in order to relate to us, or as the oft-quoted John 1:14 so profoundly puts it, "God became flesh and made his dwelling among us..." From that framework, we can redefine miracles like this:
From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. (John 1:16 NLT)
Miracles by definition need to break the rules of what should happen, lest they be taken for granted.
Gracious blessing. Undeserved, unexpected, desperately needed. That sounds like a miracle to me. So, maybe we should think of miracles as a gift from God. But so often in the clamor of gift-giving come pressures and expectations. Everyone has been in the position of receiving a gift from someone you didn't happen to buy anything for. What do you do? The answer most often is a 'guilt-gift' (and it better be of equal or greater value). Or maybe you get a gift that, as soon as you open it, you start thinking about who you can re-gift it to... Or you resign yourself to getting gift cards for those hard-to-buy-for people, envying those who are somehow able to choose the perfect gift for everyone. Giving can even become a form of manipulation. There is such a complicated relationship between gift and giver and giving (which is even more felt in many Asian cultures, but that's an entire post on its own) that we can become like demanding spoiled children when it comes to receiving from God. I mean, he has unlimited resources, right?? Or cynical, not really expecting him to follow through, just like we never really got that one thing on our Christmas lists when we were 10... Or we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, knowing that we can't fully enjoy the gift because it's so very conditional. In fact, I'd suggest that our approach to receiving gifts from God is often based on our own experiences with giving and receiving from those closest to us.
So what does that mean for miracles? Miracles by definition need to break the rules of what should happen, lest they be taken for granted. And when we see them as a gracious blessing, it can temper both the seeming unfairness and the fear of not receiving, or only receiving based on performance (have you ever heard someone say a healing didn't occur because one didn't pray hard enough or have enough faith?).
I can't answer better than anyone else why God chooses to perform certain miracles, chooses to speak at times and remain silent in others, but I can redefine my own mindset when it comes to miracles, and like a child waking up in wonder on Christmas morning to see that Santa has come, I can rejoice when there is one more gift waiting for me. Undeserved. Unexpected. Desperately needed. Just like the baby who would become Savior. That's the Christmas miracle for me this year.
As I am preparing for our Christmas Eve service this season and I think on the 'reason for the season', I can't help but wonder if maybe we have missed the mark. Every year, at this time, there is a great war that rages on and each year it claims the time, energy and minds of millions. It loses the focus in which it tries so hard to keep and takes people captive into the age-old slavery of violence. What I am speaking of is the War of Christmas.
No sooner are our houses adorned with decorations and the malls filled with Christmas songs, do the weapons of war come out. Each year we see this cultural battle rage on with both sides bringing out their big guns and the average person is caught in the middle. You would think being inundated with Christmas consumerism would be the thing that would unsettle me most, but it isn't. It is the war campaigns attempting, from all sides, to make some hollow point, which is simply lost in the grenades being thrown and the gun fire over-head.
As a follower of Jesus the Messiah, I truly believe in keeping Christ at the centre of our minds and hearts during the Christmas season and all that Jesus coming to earth means for the cosmos. It was an event like no other and would change the very fabric of reality forever! But I fear that in all the propaganda tactics of 'Keeping Christ In Christmas' we have actually lost Christ in it all and His true purpose of coming... His reason for this season.
As a Christian, let me speak to my fellow followers of Christ. The so-called 'War on Christmas' is probably not the battleground we should be focused on (when the gift of hope, joy and love is so desperately needed in this season) and truthfully we are not being persecuted. Sure, each year there are billboards that come out attempting to make claims against Christmas, Christians and ultimately Christ (mainly from the Atheist community). This shouldn't surprise us and truthfully shouldn't shake us. But each year it seems to do just that and accomplishes its task.
Now don't get me wrong, I believe the hyper-political-correctness movement has probably done more damage than good. In the attempts of trying to be inclusive of differing beliefs and world-views (which is needed), we may have overshot our mark. As a Canadian, we hold great value in diversity and the value of people's ability to have the freedom of that diversity. This video speaks volumes in how hyper-political-correctness can actually dilute this diversity, especially around the Christmas season.
Furthermore, I realize, not everyone who says 'Keep Christ In Christmas' is making a public stand against something. I would assume, it is simply meant to be a reminder for themselves and their faith community to keep their eyes on Christ in the busy-ness of this season. But, there are definitely those that use this as a tool to remind those in their community the real reason for the season and for some as a response to those who would actually wish to strip Christmas of its original meaning. Though, I suspect that the intent is to be a witness and light to the world, for at least four reasons, I believe it misses the mark and is the opposite of the witness we are called to be and how we are to live it out.
1. IS THERE FREEDOM AND EQUALITY FOR ALL?
Living in a society that holds high value in freedom of speech, religion and life, and demonizes the idea of tyranny and oppression, we do a disservice by attempting to silence the views of those who disagree with us. And sadly, in many ways, this is exactly what is happening. If I am able to advocate on the street corner, public square or create a campaign that promotes my values and beliefs, I should not only allow for others to have the same freedoms but also be an advocate for those freedoms.
It seems quite narrow to fight for my right to pray, celebrate, worship and practice my beliefs and conviction without fear of persecution or censorship and not extend that same freedom to others. It is quite telling when we, as Christians, feel the need to fight for our right to propagate our message and when an opposing world-view does the same we cry foul and claim persecution. Worse, we protest this freedom to do so and not only create counter-campaigns but petitions to have the content we disagree with removed and banned. We may feel that we are defending truth, when in reality we are simply trying to legislate that truth. In so doing, we simply make a point and do not bring real life transforming change.
2. ARE WE SO INSECURE?
The compulsive need to constantly defend our views and attack those who oppose those views, in my humble opinion, only shows the insecurity we have in our confidence of our own world-view. If what we hold is true, why do we always feel the need to destroy any opposing view?
What this speaks to the world is that we are so insecure in our world-view that it is unable to stand to any scrutiny at all. This kind of faith is built on a house of cards that will instantly crumble when anything opposes it or a differing perspective is presented. If we have confidence in what we believe, we shouldn't need to be afraid of something that wishes to challenge it, but instead let it stand for the worth and truth that it is. Let us have confidence in our faith and focus on speaking life into the world and not have our attention drawn away by the need to put out every fire.
3. BUT WHAT ABOUT MY RIGHTS?
This goes back to the persecution complex we see so often from the warring spirit that claims their very rights are being attacked. At the core of it all is the false value of 'My Rights' and 'Entitlement' that permeates North America and has become a cancer in the Church today.
It is this same sentiment that has plagued the 'Christmas Cultural War' for years. By someone opposing my ideals of Christmas, they automatically are waging a war against my very rights.
First off, this is ludicrous to think that someone choosing to celebrate Christmas differently is automatically attacking us or trying to take away our rights. Putting a giant Santa in one's yard is not some kind of civil unrest towards Christmas and its core meaning. Honestly, I have seen so many people get defensive because others choose to focus on Santa during Christmas, or say Happy Holidays. We have not lost the right to celebrate Christmas as we please, but not everyone needs to celebrate it the same way as us. If anything, by forcing our world-view as public norm, we are the tyrants in this story.
I honestly wonder if it is simply change that has caused all this unrest. In a culture that is continuing to change from being primarily Christian focused to becoming more and more multicultural and inclusive to adapt to that ever-growing diversity of cultures and beliefs. Our personal traditions are no longer the norm, and honestly, no one likes change and so we react by claiming our very rights are being infringed upon.
Second, even if your rights were being infringed on, the very idea of rights and fighting for those rights seems counter of who Christ was in His very nature. Christ Himself gave up His rights for our sake and the redemption of His creation:
Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross.
Should we not have the "same attitude that Christ Jesus had"? Christ himself humbled himself and put His very rights and power aside for our sake, whom ultimately rejected Him. Before these powerful verses, Paul urges the Philippians to be like Christ and elevate others in love and think of them before themselves--putting the needs, rights and privileges of others above their own (Phil 2:3-4).
4. WHERE ARE THE PEACEMAKERS?
If you are a parent, you know what I mean when I say the most peaceful thing is watching your child sleep. Seeing them in their crib in the silence of the night, it almost seems as though all is well in the world.
It makes me wonder how Mary and Joseph must have felt watching their newborn child sleep. I would think they would have had similar thoughts and feelings while looking at Him and even more so for them, as Jesus was the embodiment of peace, come to earth.
In this season of busy-ness and unrest, turn your eyes to the one who is peace, brings peace and sets the captives free. This is something we can truly celebrate and deserving of all glory.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. // Luke 2:14
Even if every other point above meant nothing, this whole debate and fighting seems to miss the very mission of Christ coming to earth. It is declared of Him that He comes in the most humblest of forms and comes with a mission of reconciliation and peace and in turn calls us to also be peace-keepers, not war-makers. What saddens me most about the battle cry of 'Keep Christ In Christmas', is not the idea of trying to keep our hearts and minds on Christ during this season, but the cultural war it continues to fuel year after year.
When peacemakers are so desperately needed, we too often find soldiers fighting a war that only takes more and more casualties. Of course, not all fall into this trap and I am encouraged to see many taking the position of a peacemaker in this world. But it is my hope this short post will make others think to do the same.
Is it possible that instead of us bringing love, hope and peace this season, we have instead been fuelling hate, fear and war? What if we lived our lives in the counter cultural way that Jesus did, returning hate with love? What if we put down our weapons of war and lived lives that laid down our rights and privileges for the sake of others and the mission of Christ in bringing real reconciliation and peace to the world this Christmas season?
We sat down with Dr. Randal Rauser to discuss his book 'What On Earth Can We Know About Heaven' and explored the idea of our theology of the after life, how it effects our daily living and why it matters.
Let's Share A Bold Cup Of Coffee Together - CONFIDENCE NOT CERTAINTY
You can view more content by Dr. Rauser at randalrauser.com
Flood’s latest offering is addressing a deep problem in the way Christians have (mis)read our Scripture. The problem of violence is not just an anachronistic oddity of interpretation of Scripture. As Flood comments, “genocide narrative is a central theme of the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, and constitutes a major component of the defining story of the Israelites as they came into the promise land.” Sadly the Bible has a long history of being used to justify, and legitimate violence throughout history. Texts like the conquest narrative of the book of Joshua have been rallying points for crusades, manifest destiny, and genocide. The problem of the violence of the Bible is a problem for Christian precisely because we claim these Scriptures as our sacred text. Flood in his latest book, gives us the vocabulary and hermeneutic to address these problem passages head on.
What Derek Flood does exceptionally in this book is to challenge both liberal and conservative readings of Scripture. A liberal reading, according to Flood, is “to point to the good parts… deny the problem and simply whitewash over the evidence.” The conservative reading of the violent texts is to “advocate for things we know are profoundly wrong in an attempt to defend the Bible and our faith.”  In so far as Flood has done this, you should expect to be challenged by this book.
I personally grew up in a tradition that has more or less ignored the troubling passages of Scripture. This book has given me a renewed encouragement to re-engage those troubling passaging with a "faithful questioning" that asks tough questions of the text in light of how Jesus read his bible.
A good challenge that Derek Flood brings to those of us from traditions (like Anabaptist) who have a tradition of Jesus-lensed interpretation on the violent passages, is to not base our understanding of Scripture purely on authority. As Flood comments, "As long as we are basing something on authority, we are not understanding it. This is the way of unquestioning obediencewhich inevitably leads to hurtful interpretations because it has no means to differentiate between what is hurtful and what is loving." Instead, we need to take the next step to imitate the way Jesus reads and engages Scripture. Why is this important? Well, without giving away too much in the book, because ultimately Jesus did not speak out on all the issues that we may find morally problematic today. (e.g. slavery, discipline of children)
Something I also appreciate about Flood in this book is his thorough engagement with some of the best academic minds and information in the field. Authors and theologians such as N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, James Dunn, Peter Enns, John Yoder, Susan Niditch and many more are being engaged and cited throughout this book. Flood does a great service in summing up arguments, critically engaging scholarship, and providing helpful footnotes all throughout this book. I honestly feel as if Flood is intentionally empowering his readership to engage his book as a launching point to further study. For this reason, I would encourage everyone who is interested in the topic of violence in Scripture to check out Flood's latest book.
Chapter Three: Paul’s Conversion From Violence
I think I share Brian Zahnd’s sentiments in that we both think this was an amazing chapter in the book. Basically put, Flood makes the convincing case that Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road is one away from violent zealotry of religious fanaticism and into an interpretation of his Scriptures in light of the non-violent Messiah. As Flood brilliantly comments,
Rejoice with his people, you Gentiles, and let all the angels be strengthened in him.For he will avenge the blood of his children; he will take revenge against his enemies.He will repay those who hate him and cleanse his people’s land [OMITED FROM ROMANS].
Paul’s conversion to Christ was not one of a “sinner” who finds religion. Paul already had religion, and describes himself in fact as a religious zealot who could boast that his observance of the Torah was faultless… Paul’s conversion was one away from religious fanaticism. In other words, Paul did not see himself as rejecting his former violent interpretation of Israel’s scriptures, but rather as rejecting his former violent interpretation of them. Paul’s great sin - as he came to understand it- had been participation in what he understood as religiously justified acts of violence, motivated by religious zeal. 
If we read the New Testament as a storehouse of eternal principals, representing a “frozen in time" ethic, where we can simply flip open a page and find what the timeless “biblical” view on any particular issue is- as so many people read the Bible today- then we would need to conclude that the institution of slavery has God’s approval and maintain it today. This is in fact exactly how many American slave-owning Christians did read the Bible in the past. Yet all of us would agree today that slavery is immoral. 
Flood then spends a good chunk of chapter three showing how Paul’s citation of Torah in his writings deliberately edits the original context to strip it of violence. One such example Flood provides is Paul’s quotation of Deuteronomy 32:43 found in Romans 15.
Paul, Flood argues, is not just being a sloppy exegete but, “artfully and deliberately reshaping [scripture] from the original cry for divine violence into a confession of universal culpability, highlighting that all of us need mercy." 
A Trajectory Reading of Scripture
Flood has divided the book into two parts: (1) Violence in the Old Testament & (2) Violence in the New Testament. In the later half of the book, Flood invests considerable time introducing his readership to the concept of a trajectory reading of scripture. This I believe is an important point to consider in relation to how we formulate our ethics in the New Testament. Many Christians understand that Scripture is a progressive narrative from the story of Israel being fulfilled in the story of Jesus. We get that something new has arrived on the scene with the new covenant. What may be a surprise to many Christians is that the New Testament is not a static monolith of arrived ethical perfection. As Flood explains,
I often feel this unresolved tension and partial fulfillment in the writings of Paul. For instance, Paul in Galatians boldly proclaims, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Yet in other instances we see the tension of Paul commending a slave Philemon to return to his Master, which is further exemplified by Paul’s multiple exhortations that slaves should, “obey your earthly masters in everything”. How do we resolve this tension? Flood encourages us to read the direction and trajectory of the New Testament authors (e.g. Gal 3.28) and try to progress on that journey ourselves.
Unquestioning Obedience to Faithful Questioning
The problem we face our readings of Scripture is one of unquestioning obedience. Or in other words, our practices can sometimes be reduced to turning to any page of the Bible and yelling “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” This, Flood suggests, is not a faithful representation of how Jesus or Paul would read their Scriptures.
So a few basic points that Flood makes in favour of a faithful questioning:
1. The Hebrew Scriptures are multi-vocal documents of sometimes opposing views- testimony and counter testimony.
In the Hebrew Bible, we do not hear only a single unified voice, rather we encounter multiple competing voices - each claiming to be the correct view, each claiming authority.
2. When Jesus & Paul read their Scriptures they did not affirm every voice and every assumption in the Hebrew text.
Jesus, while embracing the prophets’ priority of compassion over ritual, rejects their common tactic of blaming the victim, and instead acts to heal those who are sick, effectively undoing God’s supposed “judgement” on them. Jesus, in fact, does not associate sickness with God’s judgement at all, but with the kingdom of satan, and thus acts to liberate people from its bondage, rather than upholding it as right and calling for repentance as the prophets do. 
3. Faithful questioning requires us to enter into the discussion with humility, knowing that the function of Scripture, as summed up by Jesus, is to love God, and our neighbour as ourselves.
Because of the multiple conflicting narratives we simply must choose, we must take sides in the debate, we are forced to embrace some narratives, while rejecting others. 
POSSIBLE POINTS OF IMPROVEMENTS
Is Judgement Inherently Violent?
In the nine chapter, “Undoing Judgement”, Flood enters into a discussion on Matthew’s use of violent language. Flood highlights that the Gospel according to Matthew adds phrases that appear to highlight divine retribution. As Flood comments, “We read of the unfaithful being “tortured” (Mt 18:34), “tied hand and foot”(Mt 22:13), “cut into pieces” (Mt 24:51, par Lk 12:46), “thrown into darkness” (Mt 8:12; 22:13;25:30), and “thrown into the blazing furnace” (Mt 13:42 & 50).” 
Flood’s proposal is that, “Matthew has added apocalyptic language to the parable of Jesus with the intent of tapping into the hopes of the Jewish people for liberation from bondage.”  To this I say amen! I agree wholeheartedly.
My “possible point of improvement”, alongside Flood's points would be to also suggest a partial preterist reading of some of the violent passages in Matthew. (This will not bring an easy resolution to all of Matthew’s texts) This is to say that if Matthew’s community is primarily Jewish, then we are to read much of Matthew’s judgement passages as warnings of God’s coming judgment upon Israel. As Fredrick Dale Bruner comments on the Olivet discourse, "Jesus saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world as being almost contemporaneous.” This is of course does not immediately resolve any tension without clarification to how God is judging Israel. Is it a matter of God being retributive or violent? Or is it a matter God surrendering us to this ontological realities of sin? I would like to suggest that God’s judgments are a matter of punitive withdrawal, which is God “giving us over” to consequences of our choices. This is not violence in any sense of the term but rather the very fulfillment of our free will choices. God’s judgement is not the position of an active tormentor, but of the Prodigal father that willingly lets us divide our inheritance and go the other way. (Luke 15) This is the reason, I believe, why Matthew is being so vivid and apocalyptic is partly because this fate of the nation of Israel could have been avoided, and he is likely warning his faith community over danger of the rejection of the good news.  This perhaps would explain Matthew’s striking prediction of judgement to be fulfilled within “this generation”. (Mt 23:36; 24:34)
I think Luke helps us grasp God’s heart toward judgement on Israel, and subsequently a picture of God’s attitude to all judgement. Luke tells us that when Jesus was making his final journey to Jerusalem,
God in Christ arrives at the City that has rejected his way of peace which leads to them ultimately putting him upon the Cross of his execution and weeps over the state of affairs. It is striking picture of the God allowing us to rebel. To go our own way. "If they had believed in Jesus as the messianic Prince of Peace instead of a messianic Lord of War, Jerusalem could have actually become the City of Peace. Instead, they chose the path that led to a hellish nightmare of siege, famine, cannibalism, destruction, and death." I would like to suggest that this is God’s attitude in all judgements. As N.T. Wright comments on the above passage:
When you reflect on Jesus’ words and deeds of judgement, don’t forget the tears. And remember, with awe, … that those tears are not just the human reaction to a frustrating situation. They are the tears of the God of love. 
He wept over [Jerusalem] and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” 
What Is Violence?
I thought a helpful addition to Disarming Scripture might have been a focused discussion around the nature of violence. I should note that I do not think for a moment that Flood has limited violence to the physical realm in his book as evidenced by many of the examples he provides. It is merely a "possible point of improvement" that I suggest a concentration on the nature of violence. Often the assumption is to limit the defining parameters of violence to the physical realm. This is certainly fits into the provided examples of slavery and child discipline in the sixth chapter on "Reading on a Trajectory". I believe that if we expand our understanding of violence beyond the physical and into other realms- such as cultural or sexual violence- we might be able to bring further understanding on just how necessary a trajectory reading of Scripture is to the responsible reader.
An example that comes to mind of non-physical violence in the text is Paul's trajectory reading on the role of women. Certainly their can be no doubt that a first century cultural view of a woman was inherently violent and oppressive under host of categories of violence. "It was the view of Ancient Greeks that a woman was a 'failed man.' Women essentially existed on the same level with slaves. Wives always lived under the authority, control, and protection of their husbands. Women, especially wives, led lives of seclusion. Men confined their spouses to the household in order to make certain the legitimacy of their children.”  To many modern readers, violence is being perpetuated by Paul in his passages dealing with gender roles. Paul has often been labeled as a misogynist. But if we see the direction Paul was heading and the reasons as to why he gave the prohibiting passages, we might reconsider Paul, and hopefully reconsider that way that women are oppressed today. (You can read more about Paul and issue of women here).
Thanks for reading!
1. Flood, Derek. Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence Loving Conservatives, and why we need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did, (San Francisco: Metanoia Press, 2014) pg. 4
4. 48. emphasis original
6. 123.emphasis original
7. Galatians 3:28
8. Colossians 3:22 also see: Eph 6:6;
15. My proposal is of course dependant on an early dating of Matthew that is pre 70 a.d.
16. Luke 19:41-44 NIV emphasis mine.
18. Wright, Tom. Luke For Everybody,( Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2002) 233.
19. Gritz, Sharon Hodgin. Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus. Lanham,(University Press of America Inc, 1991) 32.
If you are too busy to pray, you are busier than God ever intended you to be. // Wanda Brunstetter
I assume that if you have ever lived through a December before, you know it gets insanely busy. There are so many things you have to do to get ready for Christmas. You have to get Holiday cards ready, if you have kids or pets then it's off to the mall to get Santa pictures to add to the cards. You need to get the ingredients together for cookie exchanges, then you need to find the time to bake them, then you are obligated to find cute ways of packing them. If you have a job, beware of theme days and potlucks. Again, shopping for and preparing food, then editing your closet for things that are appropriate for holiday functions. Then kids have concerts, so thats at least an additional evening. Of course you need to book off all the weekends in December to attend all the holiday gatherings. Of ones you actually want to go to and ones you seem obligated to attend. You can't forget to grab a gift for the host or hostess of the party, along with any meal item or treat you were supposed to bring. Of course present shopping, along with the stress of having to get the best gifts for your love ones. You have to get something you know they will love, without the problematic January debt you know you'll have. Then you have to wrap your gifts. Oh, did I forget to mention to decorate your house, getting your lights up and the ongoing debate about a live tree or a plastic one...
So far it is simple enough to say December is winning the battle. I am more tired than I can remember being, I feel like my stress level is coming out of my eye balls
So here I am, one month into 25 and dealing with all of the above holiday stressors. To top it off I am two shifts in to my third week of night shifts. Having to get your body to understand what day, or even what time it is, is additionally stressful. In fact I was a day late for my Gramp's Birthday this year because I thought it would be in the morning when I got off work, as opposed to the night before when I was starting. Now, couple that with the fact that over a month ago my little (and only) Brother had moved to the United States, and the new and exciting road of a fresh realtionship with a new Boy Friend. So far it is simple enough to say December is winning the battle. I am more tired than I can remember being, I feel like my stress level is coming out of my eye balls and standing in my store in the middle of the quiet night I realized it. I couldn't remember if I had prayed or had any kind of conversation with God in more than three days. Three entire days. That has never happened to me before. I am normally in constant thought or open prayer. Either with a Bible or Devontonial or just by myself.
So there I am. Holiday music playing in the back ground, looking at gift giving items at 3 o'clock in the morning and not only feeling absolutely no Christmas spirit, but always further away from God than I had been in a long while. I had let the season get to me. Somewhere between work and home and my cadets and church I had gotten so busy that I forgot about one of my most important relationships. The one between God and myself.
I let myself get lost in the hustle of the season this year, when what I needed to do was take a breath and remember what the season is actually about.
Have you seen those Billboards around, the ones that say "keep Christ in Christmas"? How is it possible that as an active Christian I was actually feeling like I was losing Christ at Christmas? This time and Easter are the two big times that people joke that the "twice a year" Christians come out to Church. Everyone seems to find him in December and April. How did I let this happen? I had a shocking moment of sadness. I had let my busy life style get in the way. I hadn't gotten into my Christmas spirit yet because I had let retail at Christmas time stress me out. I have spent more time worrying about the right cards to get people and how to fit in all the Holiday invitations that I was losing sleep. (which is hard to do on night shifts to begin with!) I had forgotten John 14:27 - He gives me peace. When I am stressed out and overwhelmed I need to remember that God isn't bringing me through anything I can't handle and he is who I should be looking to in those times.
With God all things are possible. // Mathew 19:26
That is what I need to concentrate on to get through this season. That and Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever".
I let myself get lost in the hustle of the season this year, when what I needed to do was take a breath and remember what the season is actually about. It is about being thankful that Jesus was born. It's about spending time with friends and loved ones. It is about slowing down and reminding myself that I am one person and can only do what I can do, but with God on my side, the weight of it all seems a little lighter.
I hope you all are finding a little Christmas Cheer!
We sat down with Prof. Michael Hardin to discuss some of his writings, his motivation to start preaching peace and his desire to challenge the status quo of the church, people's paradigms and biblical scholarship.
Let's Share A Bold Cup Of Coffee Together - CONFIDENCE NOT CERTAINTY
You can view more content Michael Hardin at preachingpeace.org.
by Charlotte O
'Tis the season'. Trees are going up, playlists are being downloaded, and gifts are being purchased. In churches it may be more of the same: parties being planned, plays being rehearsed and halls being decked. Where I live, it’s not uncommon to see decorations going up in department stores long before we start to decorate the church. We just passed the first Sunday in Advent, where at my non-traditional, non-North American church that meant business as usual. Living overseas, I’ve found my own ways to cope with being away from home during the (sometimes lonely) holidays, and to build a sense of expectation in my own heart, even if it’s not happening in the way I grew up back home (the biggest difference being the lack of snow!). But when I saw an ‘Advent’ or, as they would probably label it, ‘Holiday Countdown’ calendar for sale at Starbucks this morning, it brought me back to Drake’s recent post about McDonald’s and church. While it may seem ridiculous to us to adopt the measures suggested by the video (and as Drake so well refuted) what principles can we apply in a more positive way?
Jesus’ birth splits history. It uproots systems of power imbalance, elevates shepherds and virgins and brings kings to their knees in worship.
When it comes to Christmas, we have known it’s coming for a long time through commercials and store displays. Only 100 shopping days left until Christmas they declare, finish your shopping early they encourage. And with the over-saturation of cheap advertising gimmicks, it can be tempting to get sick of Christmas before December even arrives. Stores have plenty of reasons to get people excited for Christmas, all of them monetary. But as a church we have even more reason to build the anticipation to the event that changes everything.
Jesus’ birth splits history. It uproots systems of power imbalance, elevates shepherds and virgins and brings kings to their knees in worship. Let us not forget that without Christmas there would be no Easter. Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for us began in a stable three decades before it would end on a cross.
What we have to celebrate is so much greater than what the world would sell us. What we have to offer is so much more substantial than quickly-discarded stocking stuffers.
Christmas can also serve as a good reminder that we are living for something greater... and that there is a ‘Christmas Future’
Shopping malls may have a head start on us, but what can we do as a church and as those who follow that God-Man who came to earth that first Christmas to not only build anticipation but also bring meaning to an over-commercialized holiday? I’m not saying we need to look like the world, any more than we need to put a McDonald’s in every church. But we can try to draw people to the truth because it is good: it brings meaning and purpose, and ultimately, life.
How are you preparing for Christmas and what challenges do you face as you do? It’s easy to forget the meaning amidst the busy-ness, just like in life we so often forget that the sense of anticipation points to an even greater truth. Just as the Israelites of the Old Testament lived in expectation of the Messiah to come, we are to live in expectation of Jesus’ return. And Christmas can also serve as a good reminder that we are living for something greater, that this life is temporary, and that there is a ‘Christmas Future’ that involves no more suffering, grieving of lost loved ones, emptiness, greed, disappointment, or pettiness. And that is just as worthy of celebration!
This is a topic that has been on my heart after talks with some friends lately surrounding the search for love!
When you are a teenager and you start going on dates, it is exciting, it's fresh, everything is new. There are lists and lists of 'firsts'. Then you get older and maybe you are still on the search for Mr. (or Miss Right). As you get older, have you noticed the questions change? As a woman who was set to get married and then suddenly become single at 23, even I was out of touch with the 'dating game'. It is hard enough to be single and feel that loneliness, but then come the questions. It comes with the title. 20Something, single, white female...Christian to boot. That is quite a mouth full right? But it also gives an entire new list of questions. New things to think about, like what is Gods plan for you? Is he hiding someone? Does he want you to work on yourself? Are you destined to be Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love and travel the world to find who you love? There are a million people in and around my city and there isn't anyone God thinks I’ll be good with? Does your soul have a mate? When you are a 20 something member of your church and you are single, you are usually surrounded by young married couples, maybe even starting off their families. Your facebook news feed is full of Wedding day count downs, profile pictures that are of ultra sounds and invitations to birthday parties that are no longer for wine and dancing, but instead at 3pm on a Saturday for a toddler. Cue that feeling. That sinking awful feeling. The one that tells you that a Godly marriage is what you are aching for, and you feel like your prospect pool has run dry. You feel like you are missing out.
I joined an online dating site. You know what? It isn't always as easy and awesome as the TV commercials make it out to be. It doesn't actually just magically happen...
The simple questions are the ones that would eat away at me. “Ashley, you are such a beautiful young woman, don't worry he is out there somewhere,” “Ashley, you look so great holding that baby, don't you want to have one of your own?” The worst ones were always after I got really excited before a first date and talked about it, only to have it be awful and then have to come back defeated and tell them that yet again, I hadn't found my person. Also, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Don't worry Ashley, it will happen.” I have only ever been a bridesmaid once! That hardly seems like a fair statement! Lastly my all time favourite... ”Ashley, time is creeping away, do you even want to get married? Better get started!” Well, let me say, if you are in a community or group with some singles among you, let them bring it up to you. Its the whole 'impact, not intent' scenario.
Your intention is to try to give a compliment and all that really happens is once again I have that sinking feeling of failure. Why am I behind on “getting on with the rest of my life”? Let me tell you something, the “happiest day of your life” may never be a wedding day. Maybe it's the day you get your degree, or move to some amazing country and settle in, maybe you land a dream job, maybe you adopt an animal. Not everyone gets married. Your entire 20's are not just a waiting period to find a spouse. You need to get out and live your life and if there is a person out there you are meant to spend you days with, God will show them to you.
Love is a funny thing, but I think sometimes God has to work on people before he can bring them together.
I knew in my heart that I wanted to spend my days with a person, so you know that I did? I was impatient, I didn't trust God's plan for my life. So I did it. I joined an online dating site. You know what? It isn't always as easy and awesome as the TV commercials make it out to be. It doesn't actually just magically happen that you open up pages and pages of profiles of men holding fish and heads of animals they've killed and pick a man and say that one. He's the one. You have to put time and effort into the search and then you talk online, and then you have the inevitable coffee date and realize you actually have zero things in common. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Now that I think about it, God was probably up there laughing at me. He was getting ready to bring a man into my life. Here I was rushing to meet all the wrong ones.
Let us fast forward through months and months of that. Of dressing up to be disappointed, of picking neat and trendy restaurants and having the waitresses watch me and know that I was on horrible first dates. Lets fast forward through all of that. To a weekend this past October, where I was sitting in my living room with a coffee debating what the weekend of a single 20 something should look like. Then my phone buzzes. My phone buzzed and it was a message from a man I had gone to school with. That I had one class with 10 years ago and maybe I had ran into him three times in a decade. A simple message that just said “Hey Ashley, how's it going with you?” That turned into a few back and forth messages and we ended it with exchanging cell numbers and the idea of maybe getting a coffee and catching up soon. I thought about it and decided that I am often so busy that things get away from me.
the “happiest day of your life” may never be a wedding day. Maybe it's the day you get your degree, or move to some amazing country and settle in, maybe you land a dream job...
I often tell people we will get a coffee or we should catch up, and it never happens because life gets in the way. So after a day I decided it wasn't going to happen if I didn't say it soon. So I sent a text to the guy and we decided that Monday we would meet a Starbucks. I had such an awful day at work that I was almost going to cancel it, but instead I was 3 minutes late. I was 3 minutes late to the best unofficial “first date” I have ever had. We had coffee for hours, that turned into a dinner and the start of the best relationship I've had yet. I think that things happen when you aren't looking and you can make plans for your life and God looks down and laughs. He knows there is a plan. You have to trust that he knows what he is doing. Even if the time line isn't on the schedule you had planned out in your mind. Never in a million years would I have thought that the grade 12 student in my band class would grow to be my best friend and someone who I love with my whole heart. Love is a funny thing, but I think sometimes God has to work on people before he can bring them together. 2,3, 6 years ago I was in a relationship much different than this one. I would not have thought about him the same way. I don't think we would have connected this well.
What compelled him to shoot that message off to me initially? Why did I feel so much pressure to not let the coffee invitation go to waste? Everything happens for a reason, even if this reason took ten years. It was meant to be, it just took a decade for us to figure it out. What I can tell you is it comes with its own separate sets of questions. 3rd degrees and future questions. So maybe you really are set to be Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. Maybe you aren't set to find someone. Whatever your path may be. Don't rush the journey. Enjoy every step. God has your back. You can make plans, but don't be surprised when God flips them around. He loves you, he wants what is best for you. You are going to find something or someone that gives you butterflies in your stomach. You don't need to be a teenager for things to feel fresh and new.
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