How will you respond to the Light?

Advent pic sermon series

Our pastor and church have been delving into our Advent series theme “The Light Shines in the Darkness” the last four weeks. Sunday morning Pastor Dave spoke on the title “Responding to the Light.” If you’re familiar with Pastor Dave’s preaching, then you know his sermons consist of three main points. (I am particularly fond of this!) The three main points on Sunday regarding the theme of Responding to the Light (Jesus) were:

 

  1. Many will be oblivious to the Light of Christ. (John 1:9-10)
  2. Many will reject the Light of Christ. (John 1:11)
  3. Many will receive the Light of Christ. (John 1:12-13)

Obviously, this numbered list doesn’t give you the whole context of the sermon, and I’m only mentioning a few points that spoke particularly close to me. (You can listen to the Advent series online here: The Light Shines in the Darkness.) Pastor Dave elaborated on these points, as always, and illustrated the bigger picture. He stated, “For many people, Jesus does not fit into their Christmas celebration…for many people, the focus of Christmas is all about family and friends. For many people, Santa Claus is the central figure of Christmas.” Christmas is more about “gifts and good will.” Pastor continued, “For many people, Jesus remains in the shadows; a Christmas decoration and nothing more.”

I was struck by the truth of these statements. Of course, family and friends are important, and we should cherish the time we have with them, but when they become the central reason for celebrating and take precedence over Jesus, it’s time to re-focus. And if the only time we think about Jesus is at Christmas, then He has, indeed, simply become an ornament on the tree, a sparkly bulb to unwrap at the beginning of the season, only to pack back up at the end of it. Friends, Jesus isn’t seasonal.

Pastor Dave’s second point is hard truth: Many people today still openly reject Jesus. Pastor defined several ways in which this is true. One way is that “There are those who want a purely secular Christmas without Jesus.” Look no further than your local retail stores and shopping mall and you’ll see this is true. Secular greetings of “Happy Holidays” have long since replaced “Merry Christmas.” Moreover, a number of atheists have incited cities to institute ordinances where nativity scenes are no longer allowed.

Another way some have rejected Jesus: “There are those who want to replace Christmas with a winter solstice celebration.” There is a winter solstice celebration in my city this Thursday, in fact. While we are to rightly enjoy and care for the earth God created (and its creatures), we must be careful not to worship the created, but to worship the Creator.

I found those points to be the most obvious, but Pastor stated a few other ways in which people openly reject Christ: “There are many who want a form of spirituality devoid of Christ.” “There are some in the church who want a human Jesus but not a divine one.” “People reject Jesus because he is a threat to their power, position, and personal agenda.” I wonder if that’s not one of the biggest reasons people reject Christ. See, in order to place your faith in Christ as LORD and Savior, you have to bow the knee. You have to acknowledge that you aren’t ruler. You have to humble yourself and follow Jesus, doing His will and doing it His way.

The message of Advent has been, and will be, rejected by many, but Advent comes anyway. Jesus came as the Light of the world, and He continues to shine in the darkness. We have a choice, Friends. We can choose to hide in the darkness or step into the Light. Pastor Dave ended his sermon with the question I reiterate: “How will you respond to the Light?”

Blessings,

Angie

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Why you can’t do grief alone

I’ve been re-reading Ann Voskamp’s book on Advent, “The Greatest Gift.” The entry for December 12th drew from the book of Ruth with the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi’s story gives a glimpse of real life, life with death and disappointment. Naomi’s husband has died, as well as both of her sons. She has been through famine and a subsequent move, and is preparing for yet another move. Her life hasn’t been easy. I know some of you can relate. However, Naomi does have her two daughters-in-law. But, seemingly strange, she tells them both to return to their mothers’ homes. Her words to them reveal much, I think, about her state of mind.

11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1)

Even if she thought there was still hope, Ruth is still hopeless. What happens when hope is gone, you wonder? Ruth’s words leave no ambiguity. Bitterness slides in when hope evaporates. With all her heart, she believes God is against her. Do you feel like Ruth, Friend? Listen as Ruth continues:

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1)

Wow. That’s strong stuff, right? Naomi doesn’t pull any punches, and it’s clear who she thinks is to blame. Bitterness doesn’t hold back, and neither does Naomi. Bitterness blames, but God’s favor (and character) are not dependent on our circumstances. Circumstances do not dictate God’s character. I believe that’s where Naomi got it wrong. While she’s correct that the LORD has afflicted her or allowed these things to happen, her response to these tragedies, albeit honest, is wrong. She, like many of us, missed the obvious truth: God is sovereign. He reigns. He alone has supreme power and authority. Pastor and theologian J. Vernon McGee put it this way: “This is God’s universe, and God does things his way. You may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.” 

Grief has a way of clashing with sovereignty. We want our way. We want things done sensibly, understandably, neatly. But heartache, catastrophes, and sorrow are never these. Seeds of bitterness, watered by hopelessness and despair, grow quickly if one disregards the soil of sovereignty. Many who have lost a loved one can tell you how how swiftly the temptation towards bitterness sweeps in, how the temptations to choose bitter over better keep rolling in like waves upon the shore, day after day, month after month, year after year.

Friends, left to ourselves to deal with our grief all too easily creates ripe conditions for bitterness to take root. Naomi wanted to be left alone with her bitterness. She wanted to nurse the wound, reject healing. Like bitterness does, it wants to complain. Naomi doesn’t lament; she complains. She complains about God rather than lament to Him. Complaint blames God. It demeans Him and separates us from Him. Lament draws us to Him with honest cries and a yearning for Him. Lament draws closer despite not understanding.

Thankfully, Ruth refuses to leave. Ruth stays and Naomi is ultimately blessed through her. Naomi couldn’t do it alone. She had Ruth and the women around her to remind her of the truth. They reminded her that God had not left her, that He was, indeed, the restorer of her life and her sustainer.

13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (Ruth 4)

Grief will do its best to isolate and embitter. Allow those around you to carry hope for you until you can again. Don’t push away the hand of healing, but embrace the One who died for you. Accept that though He wounds, He also heals. Ruth stayed with Naomi, and there are “Ruth’s” who will stay with you. Compassionate Friends is one Ruth. If you’ve suffered child loss, CF is there to make sure you “need not walk alone.” GriefShare is another Ruth. For loss of any kind, GS is available to provide hope and healing through a Christ-centered perspective and video seminars.

Grief was not the end of Naomi’s story, and it is not the end of yours. Naomi’s God, your God, proved Himself faithful. As He sustained Naomi, trust that He will sustain you. You are not alone. This holiday season may you be reminded, most of all, that Emmanuel, “God with us,” is with you. Yes, in even the grief.

Blessings,

Angie

Finding hope in homeschooling when you’re weary

So….I don’t know where all of you homeschool mamas are in this season of home education, but I’ll be honest and say that I am weary. I don’t want to discourage anyone when they see this 17 year homeschool “veteran” spilling her exhausted thoughts, and thus gain an inaccurate view of homeschooling. For the most part, it’s been an amazing journey, one I cherish and wouldn’t trade for the world. It is a joy, a gift, and a position I don’t take for granted.

But there are times, seasons, miles, whatever you want to call it, where home education is downright grueling. The reality is that there are challenges. There are days (months?!) when a particular child just isn’t “getting” it. There are times when you question whether you’re cut out for this, when the voice of doubt doesn’t whisper in your ear, but shouts intimidatingly in your face like a drill sergeant. Life and homeschooling happen simultaneously, yet some of us (me!) forget that. We try to compartmentalize school from our daily life, but there’s a reason it’s called homeschool. Public school is great, but home life and education at home are like peas in a pod; they coexist. Compartmentalizing isn’t conducive to homeschooling.

This morning as I printed off my kids’ assignments and checked our calendar for the day, I knew it was going to be a struggle to complete our work. I had already left the house to deliver two teenagers to the High School before 8am. (My one teen takes 3 classes, and the other participates in a foreign exchange student program, studying abroad in the U.S.) We were scheduled to be out the door again at 10am for a library event, and then I left the house once again shortly before noon to pick up the first teen. I will leave the house again this afternoon for one more drop off and pick up. So how does one do school if one is never home? How do I accomplish what needs to be accomplished if I’m leaving the house five times in one day? (Welcome to the teenage years. And I thought the toddler years were hard. Little did I know they were just prep years for having five teens!)

The 2017 school year has been hard. It’s been frustrating. It’s been exhausting. I have lost the joy in teaching, and patience is a thing of the past. School has become about check-marking the “done” box instead of fostering a love of learning and encouraging academic strengths while working on weaknesses. I remind myself often that this homeschooling thing is a season, but the truth is, it’s not helping. While I am convinced that the majority of our home school problem lies with my students’ bad attitudes, the legitimate reason rests with my attitude. Ouch.

However, this is good because I realize it. I just didn’t know what to do with it. Until today. See, my plan of action was that I was just going to plow through the school year until we were done. I was going to grit my teeth and bear it, joylessly. (And make everyone else miserable in the process and kill their joy, as well.) That is, until I watched the following video this morning. (How do you motivate people to do difficult work?) Though a video from the Global Leadership Summit may seem unrelated to our homeschool woes, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. The message was an eye-opener for me. I realized I need to change direction with our schooling for this year, put on my own oxygen mask, so to speak, and rediscover joy.

What does that look like, you ask? Well, to begin with, I’ve determined to put away the textbooks periodically and do more hands-on learning, incorporating more field trips to museums and other institutions of learning. We will make use of our Netflix subscription and library membership watching documentaries and historical DVDs. Perhaps, more importantly, I’ll intentionally make fun a priority in our day. We’ll implement educational board games, as well as educational websites currently unexplored. One of the best things about homeschooling in 2017 is the plethora of resources available.

I’m so thankful that homeschooling isn’t always difficult work. But when it is? Then it’s an occasion, perhaps, to explore hope. When you are weary with homeschooling, it may be time for the teacher to become the student.

I’m still learning…and finding hope.

Blessings,

Angie signature