Advent Blog Day 24 – This is merely a shadow

It went so quickly.

Tonight, after putting in several practices, we had our first ever Christmas Eve service at our church. It went well, but quickly. Same with our Christmas brunch with my family today. Lovely, but over so fast, I found myself in the car on the way home trying to remember if I’d had any quality conversations with my family at all.

I enjoy looking forward to special occasions – birthdays, holidays, reunions with friends I’ve missed, and of course, Christmas. I always have and probably always will. And I don’t think I’m the only one. We’re all placing hope in something in the future, something just around the corner. A promotion. A holiday. A new car. A reduced mortgage. The problem is that all these things are either just that, things, or they are just days, or weeks at the most, and they pass, lose their newness, their worth.

With Christmas tomorrow I’m feeling a mix of emotions. I’m already experiencing a bit of disappointment that part of our Christmas celebrations are over. And after digging up all our old Santa photos  at Mum and Dad’s, I’ve been reflecting again on the excitement and tradition of the Christmas Eves of my childhood. Going to church, and afterwards drinking ice-cream spiders, eating Mum’s special Christmas slice afterwards and setting out food for Santa. It doesn’t feel special like it used to. Tonight we ate Thai on the couch while trying to resolve a misunderstanding.

It’s very tempting to get all nostalgic and sad now, but I must catch myself. The family lunches, the events, the memories of the past – they’re simply not what Christmas is about. And the hope that it evokes needs to be centred on something worthy.

Celebrating Christmas is merely a shadow of a greater celebration that is yet to come. It won’t pass quickly – it will never end. Jesus was born – that he might die and rise again to pay the price for our rebellion, giving us the life that is truly life, forever.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night when Christ was born; O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Jesus – the reason for Christmas
Jesus – the reason for Christmas

Advertisements

Advent Blog Day 23 – Why remember Advent anyway?

Today in church, our student minister asked us to reflect on what we’re hoping for this Christmas. A certain present? Quality time with friends and family?

Advent calendar

I have always loved counting down to Christmas Day on advent calendars. Last year I enjoyed having one of the cheap chocolate advent calendars from Aldi. Keeping a blog has been far healthier…except perhaps when it comes to sleep. I remember fondly some of the advent calendars we had when we were kids, and in particular, a felt one that I made myself. For each day there was a Christmas stocking with a unique decoration on it, and each one had a lolly inside and a little slip of paper with a Bible verse on it. I do remember wondering though why there were only 24 days on my calendar. Why wasn’t the most important day included? Perhaps because the wait is over come Christmas Day.

I learned today that the traditional season of advent doesn’t necessarily start on 1 December. It actually starts on the fourth Sunday before 25 December (anywhere between 27 Nov and 3 Dec).

Even if we have simplified the start-dates, there remains significant purpose in advent. According to trusty Wikipedia, for Christians:

The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

Advent is all about Jesus. It’s about sharing in and remembering his coming to earth as a man, the first Christmas – God with us, as well as looking forward with true hope, to his return.

Bible Society #25days Advent Calendar
Bible Society #25days Advent Calendar

I’ve enjoyed receiving the #25words thoughts and videos as part of remembering Advent this year. Today’s email said:

Christmas is one of the world’s great stories. But it’s only the beginning. There’s the life Jesus lived, the teaching he brought, and the benefits of his death and resurrection. Still, there’s better yet to come. Especially to those who are broken, who suffer, as you’ll see:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:4

As we eat our final chocolate(s) or write our final Advent Blogs, we can remember that Christmas is worth hoping for, but the best is still to come. What are you hoping for this Christmas?

 

 

Advent Blog Day 7 – soaring with the Lord.

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31

Yesterday I, and many, many others, said goodbye to a precious young lady – Victoria Leah Pearce. Tori was 23 when she passed away last Wednesday.

Tori
Tori

The service was perfect. Tori loved her family, her church, her friends so much. And oh how she was so loved.

I remember visiting Tori in hospital when she was a baby – she was born with spina bifida and so throughout her life has been in and out of hospital for various reasons. My Mum and Dad were her god-parents. Our families spent lots of time together when we were kids…bushwalking, camping, birthday parties, playgroup, picnics, violin concerts and lots of things at church.

I hadn’t seen Tori for some time. The last time I saw her was at Hillsong Colour Conference – but it was so inspiring to hear the brave, honest words from her friends and family about the beautiful woman of God she had grown into. A young lady who loved Jesus with all her heart, and whose wheelchair never held her back from anything – skiing, swimming, singing, dancing in her chair, playing violin (we all had the same teacher) and more recently, driving. Determined, joyful, stubborn, loving and always smiling.

I can’t comprehend the loss that her family would be feeling. Her dear sister Sarah said, “Well, this sucks.” God’s timing is so far beyond our understanding. As I sat in the service, tears rolling down my face, sang songs of praise to and hope in God, and heard about the impact of Tori’s life on people, I felt a great sense of confidence that God would bring good, awesome things out of this. Her life had significance because she trusted in Jesus. Sarah thanked her parents for fighting for Tori each day of her life, helping her grow and flourish. She concluded with these words of hope and truth:

Tori is with the Lord. And the Lord is good. 

butterflies

a party and a story

Last week Adam and I went to a very unique party. A party to celebrate the fact that a family who once lived in fear for their lives can now call Australia home. Last year their initial application for residency in Australia was rejected, but on 26 March this year, I got a message to say it had been approved!

the story

refugees in Africa

The Sydney Refugee Team was working with this family last year. Their lawyer was doing a reasonable job but B* and his wife S* were very distressed and simply couldn’t understand why the government had refused them. They were scared and confused. So even though my knowledge of refugee law was limited, my boss Janice graciously let me don my lawyer’s hat and I listened to B’s story.

B recounted parts of his and his wife’s childhood, of growing up in a culture where violence, discrimination, poverty and corruption were sadly, normal. Like many refugees, their story was complex and fragmented. I asked, “Did that happen before or after this?” at various points. I too was confused, but at the same time filled with compassion for this man and his family. I was starting to pull the pieces together – it seemed that their case was really valid, but their story was muddled.

For him, the events had just happened. But I explained that he needed to tell his story to the tribunal in the order the events had occurred. I don’t think he’d even heard of chronological order, let alone understood it. I was struck by this vast African/Australian storytelling difference.

How does one talk about such traumatic events in an orderly way? If this couple couldn’t write and tell their story in a clear, consistent order, enabling our legal system to recognise them as refugees, there was a risk that they might be rejected again.

I also read to him the definition of a refugee according to the United Nations. He said in his culture persecution equated only to being killed. He didn’t know that other forms of harm and discrimination are also considered persecution.

B and S were able to rewrite their application, face the tribunal process and then wait the many months for the outcome with help and support from Sally and the SRT. The team truly walked with this family on this difficult chapter of their journey.

the party

At the party B* was almost the first person to greet us – he emerged from the loud African music and dancing – and hugged me, saying, “Naomi! It’s good to see you. Thank you. Remember that day! Thank you for helping us. Thank you.” He turned to Adam and embraced him – automatic friends. I was so glad to help them in a small way! Oh and I almost forgot to mention that they came to faith in Jesus in the midst of their trials!

helping refugees

Adam and I before RIDE 2010

I’m getting a team together to do RIDE for Refugees on Saturday 18 August in Sydney. I want to help people like B and S and others around the world facing uncertainty, fearing for their lives, fighting for survival and desperately seeking a place to truly call home. Want to join my team (leave a comment on this post) or register your own (go to the website)?

Today is World Refugee Day. Every refugee has a story, but few have a choice in what happens next…how will you help write a different chapter for a refugee today?

*Names withheld to protect their privacy.

 

the myth of missing out

On Tuesday I stayed home from work sick with a nasty headache and pounding pain behind my eyes. I was only feeling marginally better by the evening, but as I tried to decide whether to go to bible study that evening, I found myself torn – 15 minutes before it started. I struggle with a fear of ‘missing out’.

In my childhood and teenage years there were orchestra practices, netball training, violin lessons, tennis, swimming squads, hockey training, bible study, school musical rehearsals and youth group. I’m thankful for all these opportunities and for my parents funding them and ferrying me around, but I think somewhere in amidst all this busyness, the fear began to creep in.

Maybe it started in Year One when I was sick the day they gave out parts for the school play – I was given the role of playing a mustard pot in ‘Food, Glorious Food’ from the musical Oliver. Or maybe when I stopped doing ballet at the age of nine, and I wanted to start jazz ballet. I was probably busy enough, but I thought I was too old to start. I had missed out already.

As an adult I still don’t like to miss dinners with friends, church on Sundays, or failing to do things I’ve said I will do, whether for illness or because I can’t be in two places at once. When I have to make decisions like these I’m plagued with thoughts of “I really should…” and “what will so and so think?” Sometimes I just put it off until I really have to or I get others to make the decision for me. The husband is not a fan. “What if I don’t choose the best thing? What if I get sicker? What if…?”

Well I recently joined with thousands of women at the Equip Conference in Darling Harbour. The Bible talks on the theme Heaven is Waiting were a powerful reminder to live in light of eternity – looking forward to Jesus’ return.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives  as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:11-13

Through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection we can look forward with hope to the day of Jesus’ return, when he brings heaven, where God dwells, to us (Acts 3:21).

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

This world is not where I belong, but it matters how I live here. In Di Warren’s talk at Equip she gave four suggestions* for how we live now in light of our true citizenship. The first:

We enjoy good experiences, but we don’t chase them

This is the counter to my struggle. To entertain the idea that I am ‘missing out’ in any sense, amounts to a lack of trust in God.  This world offers many good things, but ultimately it is fallen and is just a shadow of what is to come. No amount of me controlling the events of my life in the pursuit of happiness will truly satisfy. In fact, usually when I pursue the ‘perfect’ day, I end up sad or fighting with my husband because things didn’t go according to my plan.

This world isn’t intended to satisfy and I’m not supposed to be in control – Jesus is Lord of my life. The worst that can happen in any situation is that I die or am injured in some way. Death and injury do not justify a life lived in fear. Because heaven is waiting. God doesn’t make mistakes and always works for the good of those who love him. Not for our happiness, but our good.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
― C.S. LewisWeight of Glory

I’m challenged to make decisions in faith. Yes I must be thankful and enjoy God’s good gifts – delicious food, breathtaking sunsets, soul-nourishing time with friends, inspiring music, my loving husband. But I’m convinced that with God in control, ‘missing out’ is nothing other than a silly myth.

heaven is waiting

***

* Di Warren’s other helpful suggestions for living as citizens of heaven:

  • We invest in our homes, but we don’t over-invest (Matt. 6:19-20)
  • We save souls, not the environment
  • We have hope, even in pain

Worship worthy

Yesterday I went along to the City Bible Forum in Sydney for the first time – a weekly lunchtime meeting investigating what the Bible says about different issues.

Working with missionaries all over the world as part of my job exposes me to some of the realities of life for people serving and living in countries where security risks for Christians are high. It reminds me to be thankful for the freedom we enjoy in Australia to gather around the Word.

The talk was on the theme, “Must love always end in tears?”  Now, tonight I’m sitting here with dry tears on my face after watching the start of a romantic comedy where a man loses his wife in a car accident.

The end of love whether through death or otherwise, is excruciatingly painful.

Worship of something is inevitable for humans. Bertrand Russell said “love ceases to be a demon when it ceases to be a god.” I don’t think we can love someone too much, but we can put the wrong thing in first place – and that will certainly end in tears.

God has always commanded that we make him our first love. We were challenged yesterday to consider that if the object of our worship is anyone/thing other than God, it will almost certainly, destroy us. The object of our worship must be worthy of it.

Love is painful. Jesus has been there – confronted by his friends mourning for the loss of their brother Lazarus, he wept (John 11). He had compassion for the woman at the well whose own love life had likely been deeply painful and unsatisfying. He pointed her to himself, the Christ, the one who could offer living water, eternal life – through the only truly satisfying love relationship possible.

How good it is that there is a bigger picture, one who is truly worthy of our love, a God who from the beginning has called us to worship Him alone and who came to earth to show us how.

I long to love God with all my heart, soul and mind. It’s a regular prayer of mine. And as I love him more, though there will certainly be pain, I will love others more like Jesus did. I will love my husband well.

Though inevitable, death is not the end. Our hope is in an eternity with our supreme love, the all-powerful, gracious God who romances us like no human being ever could or will.

made to be friends

Created for relationships

Relationships are a really important part of my life. Chapter 4 of The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller is titled “The Mission of Marriage” and Keller starts by looking back to the first marriage in Genesis. Being created in God’s image means that we were designed for two relationships – vertical with God and horizontal, with one another. And so, God created Eve to be Adam’s ‘ezer, his ‘helper-companion,’ his friend.

I think it’s so good that our triune God wanted us to be in relationship too. Keller says “there are two features of real friendship – constancy and transparency.” (p.112), both of which are key to marriage also. Friendship is…

the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person – having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away. (Craik, A Life for a Life, p.169 in Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, p.112)

This is such a beautiful picture. I thank my Heavenly Father for the blessing of a husband who has shown me grace like this time and time again, and for friends about whom I can confidently say – this describes you too.

Something more

Adam and Nai old school. I think there's always been that something more...

Keller looks to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and C S Lewis – who both said that even with constancy and transparency, a true friendship can’t just be about the two people involved.  It has to be about something. A common purpose, vision, passion. Perhaps like a mother’s group where the babies were all born within weeks of each other – brought together by the “me too” moments as they experience motherhood week to week month to month.

For any two Christians, faith unites us. A few nights ago we met a couple who are old friends of our housemates for the first time. As soon as we learned of our common faith, the small talk wasn’t so small – and it was a privilege to hear how God has been at work in their lives and humbling to be warmly embraced and encouraged ourselves.  Faith can make new friends like old ones. We’re all journeying forward to the ‘high and far’ horizon of the day when Jesus returns.

Friendship is a deep oneness that develops as two people, speaking the truth in love to each other, journey together to the same horizon. (p.116)

Not speaking nice appeasing words to avoid a fight, but the truth in love. Another blogger recently suggested “Five ways to fight your way through to a loving marriage.”  Intriguing idea, but the old adage ‘the truth hurts,’ is… true. In the short term words of truth spoken in love can sting the ears and heart. Conflict can be necessary. But as we travel the journey of marriage in joyful servanthood not self-centredness, the sure hope of Christ appearing again must keep us focused on helping our spouse to be growing into the man/woman God wants them to be in the long term.

The bigger picture

My anxieties and concerns with the smaller things have often caused major blind spots to seeing the bigger picture of what God has planned for my husband and the man God is shaping. Self-centredness can be destructive to the true friendship God desires for marriage.

Adam and I talk about the bigger picture more and more these days. We wonder what God’s plans are for him this year and for the years to come and we yearn to understand what God is teaching us through this time of uncertainty.

Keller says,

The goal is to see something absolutely ravishing that God is making of the beloved. You see even now flashes of glory. You want to help your spouse become the person God wants him or her to be. (p.123)

Yes! That is what we journey towards. An ultimate cause which unites.  From the menial to the magnificent, each day together as man and wife, we get to play a part in helping our best friend to be more like our creator God as we look forward to the day of Christ Jesus. God is at work in our spouse and sometimes he may use us, his humble vessels, to do this work.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

it’s not about me … (part 2)

The Christian principle that needs to be at work is Spirit-generated selflessness – not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself but thinking of yourself less. (The Meaning of Marriage p.66)

I’ve been thinking about these words a lot in the last few weeks. How do I think of myself less?

In a recent sermon at church, I was challenged by the passionate words of David in the first verse of Psalm 18. David declares, “I love you LORD.” It is something I have wrestled with for many years – in my mind I think, well of course I love God! But when I examine my heart and I look at the rest of my thoughts, actions and the way I spend my time, I wonder…do I really love God? Heart, soul, mind, all?

Every day I let the small things weasel their way in. Through the Spirit, there needs to be a “find and replace” edit of my thoughts and attitudes. From the concerns and obsessions fueled by fears and wounds from the past (Keller says it’s primarily our wounds which make us self-centred), to the foot of the cross. To Christ. To the fear of the Lord. To loving God.

Five years ago as I went to Uganda on short-term mission, my prayer and heart’s desire was that my love for God would grow. In the space of a few weeks I witnessed God powerfully at work in the lives of my African brothers and sisters, despite the poverty and hardship they faced. They taught us a simple African chorus called “My God is Able,” and we sang this many times over. Oh how my passion for God grew. He is so big and yet he loves, knows, cares forgives me! My prayer was answered.

gorgeous girls at church in Uganda

My mission trip to Africa was wonderfully life-changing but I can’t take a trip to Africa every few years to get a boost of excitement for God. I struggle day to day to feel excited about God, but I want to have an enduring, passionate love for my creator, Lord, redeemer, saviour, friend, Father, comforter, refuge.

But how?

Two small steps for now…

1 – God above all

I’m convinced that the only way to truly fill my heart with God above all, is to spend more quality time with him – whether the desire is there or not. Last year I borrowed Shopping for time, by Carolyn Mahaney et al., from a friend. It’s a little book with big challenges and comes highly recommended! Through it I was challenged to prioritise spending time with God by doing it first each day – no matter how early that meant getting up. (I know, yikes, right?!) It was great when I did it, but unfortunately it didn’t last. I’ve decided to order my own copy, with the hope of getting (back) into the habit of regular quiet times.

2 – Devoting less brain space to consumer decisions…

Another friend’s decision to spend less money on herself, by not buying anything except essential items (so no clothes, shoes, homewares, jewellery etc) has inspired me to do the same thing for two months, til my birthday. So I am trying to think about myself less by pre-making the potentially daily consumer decisions I am blasted with every day as I work in the CBD. It’s been 12 days so far!

As I close, it would be crazy of me to think that in the doing or not doing of things that I would be come instantly less self-centred. But I pray that these little steps and challenges help my heart to change in a lasting way and that my love for God deepens, as I look away from me and look up.

new year, new hope.

When I flipped over our photo calendar on January 1, I saw what I’d written last year on the front cover – “Adventures and challenges, hopes and dreams, joys and trials await.” I didn’t know what they would be, I just knew they would come.

From beholding the Swiss Alps and being drenched in water on a boat at the base of Niagara Falls with Adam, to finishing up my work with International Teams – a job that was more than a job – it was a deeply life-changing chapter. From the joys of witnessing up close our precious God-daughter’s growth and development and the new adventure of moving in with another couple, to a very dark week when people we loved passed away and a close friend’s marriage fell to pieces.

God knew it all before the year began, indeed before time began. And He was right there with me, with us, with my friend through it all, and always will be.

And so, as I write my first post for 2012, I wonder what it holds too. When it struck midnight on New Years Eve the people at the party were all exchanging resolutions – one said no caffeine, and another was resolved not to speak negatively about herself. I hadn’t really thought about it. Last year I resolved to write a blog post once a week all year…and that went well for the first few months and then petered off.

Was it even helpful to have one? New Year, new start…an external motivator to seek some internal change and growth. Can’t hurt! (provided I don’t get guilty about not doing it!)

Since I tend to default to worry in most situations – always scanning the future for possible issues and discomfort, and instead I would really like to be more fully trusting God with my future, from little to big things, I’m trying to think of at least one thing at the end of each day that I can thank God for. It seems easy and simple, (the hardest part will be to remember to do it…maybe I should be writing each thing down?), but I sense that it will help me see the day-to day things of life more positively and that thankfulness, no matter what life brings day-to-day, year to year, is an important part of growing in Godliness.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Getting poured out in Sydney

The four of us sit at a plain round table. Inside the room is a there is a stillness but it is not quiet. Other tables and chairs surround us but they are empty for now. Peak hour continues on the busy city street visible through the window. A taxi toots its horn, a bus slams on its brakes, the pedestrian crossing makes its’ ‘green man’ noise.

I am one of the women in the room and I’m there to join in prayer for Sydney, for the people in my city who are lost and broken, poor and oppressed, in desperate need of hope. And for God to use His people here in this city to help love people – that they might see Him, know Him, follow Him.

Hope for Sydney is the name of this network and tonight was their third monthly prayer meeting. It was my first meeting with them. I’m told that different people come each time and there’s usually a few more than tonight, but we know it doesn’t matter – God will hear our prayers!

The Hope for Sydney mission:

Connecting volunteers with Sydney’s poor and marginalised in the name of Jesus Christ.

We shared little snippets about our own churches, read from Isaiah 58 and reflected on the picture therein of God’s heart for the restoration of the oppressed.

We prayed for God’s people here in Sydney to be convicted by the Spirit of God’s love and that we would generously pour ourselves out for those in need. And we prayed for Partners like Anglicare, the Salvos, Mission Australia, International Teams and others, who are already engaged in helping the poor and marginalised – from the homeless, to the disabled to the refugee. God loves them all, and as His people we need to share His love with them.

I am excited about this movement of people uniting in prayer, and mobilising toward action. Ever since reading Generous Justice by Timothy Keller, I have been praying and dreaming about how I could be more deeply engaged with reaching out in Sydney, and how I might help others get involved too.

This is just the beginning, but I have a sense of being part of something bigger than my little world, that God is on the move and that change – both within our churches and our communities – is possible – only by His grace and guidance.

A deep social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to others, and especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of real faith and a real connection with God. ~ Timothy Keller