Advent — Day 1

GOD is intelligible light.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

Recently, one of my children asked me who my favorite author is.

For someone who likes to read, that should be any easy question, but I puzzled over it. Who do I like to read?

I have a Buechner shelf at home. It flows into a Robert Farrar Capon. Elie Wiesel is on the shelf above, right next to local history. Go figure.

C.S. Lewis didn’t get his own section. He is scattered. So is Wendell Berry.

I have hundreds of children’s books. They aren’t arranged by author. They are on the shelf partly based on size of the book and partly on where I saw a place where I could wedge it in.

If I go to the used bookstore — one of my favorite places in the whole world — what  am I looking for? Generally, not Buechner, Capon, Wiesel, Lewis, or Berry.

I go to the religious section. There I look for old worn books. Small ones, that I can put in my bag or on my bedside table.

The biggest selling point for a book, though, isn’t the author. It’s when it falls open to certain pages and has sections underlined or things written in the margins. Dog-eared pages are a plus, especially when it looks like that dog-eared page has been revisited time after time after time.

I found just such a book on a recent trip: The New Christian Year, chosen by Charles Williams, 1941, Oxford University Press.

Based on the strong recommendation of Mr. Kenneth White — who received the book in the summer of 1941, and who used it for years, the latest dates scrawled on a flyleaf being 3/25/56; who underlined and asterisked sections; who wrote page numbers in long lists inside the front cover and the back cover, with key words beside the numbers; who broke the binding — I purchased the book and could barely wait for the Christian Year to begin.

It began today — the first Sunday of Advent.

Every day contains usually two or three short passages from a variety of great Christian thinkers. However, the reading for the first day was six quotes. Quotes from Aquinas, Kierkegaard, St. Ignatius, Thomas a Kempis, Pascal, and Leonardo da Vinci.

I got stuck on Thomas Aquinas.  “God is intelligible light.”

I looked up the word “intelligible” — and settled on this definition: “able to be understood only by the intellect and not by the senses.”

Still I struggled.

So I read the quote in context, in Summa Theologica. The magic of the internet offers such luxuries.

Aquinas was answering the question, “How is God known by us?” and in this particular quote, he is specifically addressing “whether the created intellect needs any created light in order to see the essence of God.”

It was then that I realized that I could spend all of Advent on this one quote, or this one work,  but that would defeat the purpose of my little book and Mr. White’s underlinings.

From this quote and my mini-investigation into it, I can easily state, though, that the more I understand about God, the less I understand about God and the more I want to study Him.

And isn’t that the point of Advent — preparing for Him. Inching closer to the manger like a lowly shepherd. Trying to understand this thing which cannot be understood.

Day One of Advent.

I’m excited for what is to come.

Advertisements

Block Party

I was a little embarrassed to have been caught. At the auto mechanics, in the customer waiting area, inches from the television, staring at CMT.

“You can turn it up if you need to,” said the young mechanic as he walked through.

“Umm… no… that’s okay. I was just trying to see if someone I knew was in the video,” I stammered.

He looked at me with a yeah-right smile, shrugged, and went his way. I decided to look up the video on YouTube when I got home.

Now, Alison Krauss has a beautiful voice, and I love the song she was singing, but, yesterday, at the car shop, I didn’t really care about Alison Krauss. I wanted to see if Ron Block was in the video.

Ok, so I’m a little late to the Block party. Before I went to my first Hutchmoot, I had no clue who Ron Block was. Now that I’ve heard him speak, and sing, and play, well, I would put myself in the fan category. He’s part of Union Station, and a singer-songwriter in his own right. In fact, his CD “Walking Song” was my favorite CD of 2013.

I really wanted to see if he was in this video so I pulled it up on YouTube and watched it, stopping it multiple times, asking Laurel (because she was in the room), “Do you think that’s him?”

I never was quite sure. It’s 20 years later, he’s not wearing a hat, and I have trouble recognizing faces anyway.

My mind is showing its age.

I’ve hit a major roadblock in memorizing, too. For whatever reason, I just don’t seem to be able to cram any more verses in.

So I picked up a little art journal the other day and decided to attempt a new tactic. I started drawing pictures to go with the verses.  Trust me, I am no artist.

But I figured that no one is going to see them.

Except me.

And now you.

Because I’m going to be brave and show you the picture I drew yesterday morning, hours before my is-Ron-Block-in-the-video moment.DSC01239The drawing, I know, is faint. I have no boldness when it comes to sketching.

My writing is messy, so I’ll decipher it. “What distinguished him? Nothing that was visible to the human eye. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. It was all something beyond our grasp, beyond our eyes, beyond our perception. What else am I missing?…”

I look for God all the time. And yet, I know that I miss Him in so many ways.

It hit me that the reason I couldn’t pick Ron Block out of the music video is that I don’t know him well enough.

You see where I’m going with this.

The reason I may miss out on God’s presence in my day-to-day is that I may not know Him well enough.

You’re probably wondering what the song was.  Alison Krauss – “When You Say Nothing At All” – it’s a beautiful song. And the words of the first verse fit right in here:

It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart
Without saying a word you can light up the dark
Try as I may I could never explain
What I hear when you don’t say a thing

Picture singing that to God.

Lord, let me be more perceptive of all the ways You are present and speaking today.

Spider Web, or, Lessons from a Cat

I stood staring at the thin barely-visible filament of a spider’s web.  It stretched 15-20 feet, from the railing of our deck to a high branch on a tree.

026

Spider strand — can you see it?

027

Spider strand stretching to the tree top

I looked at it for a long time, thinking that there must be a metaphor here somewhere.  Like the “Footprints in the Sand” poem, which illustrates how God’s presence is not always visible in our lives, I thought about that tenuous filament and how it was only visible where the morning dew had settled on it.

It was delicate, yet strong.  It had an almost ethereal beauty.

“Lord,” I asked, “what is the lesson of the spider web?”

Almost on cue, our cat, Trinity, jumped up onto the railing.  She began walking, as only a cat can walk, perfectly balanced on the rail. Suddenly she stopped at swatted at something.

030

Trinity — she’s not falling; she’s swatting.

A little further on, she made herself comfortable and looked at me rather smugly.

028

Trinity

She had swatted my spider filament away.

I laughed out loud.

“Okay, Lord,” I said. “I think I get it.”

God doesn’t want us to put our faith in the beautiful but tenuous.  It may seem cool or artsy to find Him there, but He’s so much more than a spider strand coated with dew.

God is a rock, a fortress, an ever-present help in time of need.  There’s nothing spider-webby about Him.

I’m thankful today for my cat that God uses to teach me lessons.

Trust in the Lord

Psalms 25 and 27, Deuteronomy 7:6 – 8:20, Hebrews 11:32 – 12:2

Is it a coincidence that the first Psalm I looked up this morning began with these words:

Unto thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul!  O my God, I trust in thee…

I have been struggling for days now with a survey that was given me.  One of the questions was worded as a yes/no/not sure question.  “Our church trusts and respects our pastors and our staff.”

The church’s name is Berean Bible Church.  The Bereans in the Bible “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  (Acts 17:11)  Does that mean that they didn’t trust Paul?  Does that mean that they didn’t respect Paul?  No, I think it means that they were not afraid to question the things that Paul said, because, ultimately, their faith and trust was not in Paul but in the Lord.

So why ask this question?  It feels as though they want me on-board with something that they want to do;  they want me to trust them.  I respect them, but I give blind trust to no one.  O my God, I trust in thee!

Every scripture I read this morning was pointing toward a trust in God and a waiting on God.

Psalm 25: 5, 21

5Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

21May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.

Psalm 27: 8, 14

8You have said, “Seek my face.”My heart says to you,
“Your face, LORD, do I seek.”

14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!

Deuteronomy 8 is Moses reminding the people of all that God brought them through, because once they go into this prosperous land, it would be easy to forget the One who brought them there. (Deut. 8:11-14, 17)

11“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God…

17Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’

My fear is that as the church trusts in a consultant and studies and known fund-raising tactics, we are putting our faith in those rather than God.  I think it was George Mueller who let his requests only be known unto God.  He never made pleas for financial support and he never went into debt.  God honored his ministry because he honored God.

And then, I’m still reading through Hebrews (for the second time), I settled on Hebrews 12:2 —

2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

My eyes are on Jesus, and there I want them to stay.

Don’t show me studies of church growth.  Don’t show me statistics about how money is effectively raised.  Show me Jesus.

Do I respect and trust the pastors and staff of our church?  I respect them as fellow Christians.  I trust Jesus.

External vs Internal God

Psalm 32, Deuteronomy 1:19-46, Hebrews 10:19-25

I wonder sometimes about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness.  They had that pillar of cloud/fire leading them.  How could they doubt when God told them to go in and take the land?  And yet, it seemed so easy for them to believe the words of the spies instead of the word of God.

And then in Hebrews we see them drawing near in confidence — Hebrews 10:19-22

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

In Hebrews we see words like “confidence” and “full assurance”.

I was thinking this morning that one difference between the Old and New Testament is where God is in our lives.  In the OT, He’s an external God — leading them visibly by cloud and fire, seated visibly (in some sense) on the cherubim.  Despite that, the people had trouble following Him.  In Deut 1, Moses retells how they refused to follow into the land even though He was leading them, and then they plow ahead into the land, even when He’s not leading them.  It seems a simple enough lesson — let’s only go where and when is leading!

In the New Testament, God indwells us.  His Holy Spirit lives in us.  Is that what gives us confidence?

Being Carried

Psalm 28, Deuteronomy 1:9-33, Hebrews 10:1-18

Two word pictures stuck with me from the first two readings.  First in Psalm 28:9, it says,

Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

And then in Deuteronomy 1:30-31

30The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’

While reading in Psalm 28, I thought of a picture from my grandmother of Jesus the Good Shepherd.  He has a lamb slung over his shoulders — and I prayed, “Oh, Lord, carry me!”  For I am weary.

Then, when I read in Deuteronomy about a father carrying his son, it was almost as if God was reminding me that our relationship is even closer and dearer than the shepherd analogy.  He loves me as a father loves a child, and He picks me up with the same tenderness as a father carrying their child.

Thank you, Lord.

Preparations

Psalms 13 and 14, Deuteronomy 1:1-8, Hebrews 9: 11-28

It was a little hard this morning to decide where to go now that Isaiah is done.  I was tempted to go back and read it again.  I was tempted to go on to Jeremiah, my favorite Old Testament book, probably even my favorite book of the Bible.  In Hebrews, though, the writer is explaining about Christ being the high priest and the sacrifice and the heavenly tabernacle and all so I thought I should go back to the Pentateuch.

Once there, I still wasn’t sure where to go so I started at the beginning of Deuteronomy, the 2nd telling of the law.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read in the Pentateuch and I’m hoping there’s enough re-telling that it will refresh my memory.  If not, I may go back and start with Exodus.

God keeps reminding me that this is all one story.  All one story.  So, one can’t read Hebrews without understanding the tabernacle.  And one can’t truly understand Christ’s sacrifice without understanding the law laid out by Moses.

So when in Hebrews 9 it says,

24For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

I understand that all those centuries of ritual were to prepare the way for the ultimate sacrifice.  Just as those who are trained to recognize counterfeit money are trained by studying the real thing for months or years on end, so we were being prepared for the real sacrifice by going through the ritual for years on end.

And I love this passage —

But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Now we are in a preparation time again for His second coming.  I wonder if we’re doing adequate preparations.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Psalm 10, Isaiah 66, Hebrews 9

It’s funny reading three different scriptures, chosen sort of randomly.  Well, they’re not exactly chosen randomly, but they’re chosen in a way that makes them unrelated to each other.  I choose my Psalm based on the lectionary in The Book of Common Prayer.  I choose my Old Testament and New Testament readings by going through a book.  Right now I’m finishing up Isaiah and am midway through Hebrews.

Sometimes, because the whole book, the Bible, is telling one story, the chapters I read relate to each other in obvious ways.  Sometimes, I feel as though I’m studying two very different lessons.  This morning was a very-different-lesson kind of day.

Isaiah 66, as I mentioned yesterday, paints a picture of tender God, like a nursing mother or a mother bouncing her baby on her knee, but then today it was like reading a totally different story.  Isaiah 66 goes from tenderness and joy to  a God of fire and fury —

15“For behold, the LORD will come in fire,
and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to render his anger in fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
16For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment,
and by his sword, with all flesh;
and those slain by the LORD shall be many.

Isaiah had to have wanted that stark contrast.  The only way to miss it is to not read the whole chapter.  In fact, Isaiah ends on such a bleak note, that I went to end of Revelation for a happier ending.  The last verse in Isaiah says,

24“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

Bleak.  Grim.  The last chapter of Revelation does contain some words of judgment, but it ends with this —

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.  Amen.

But then I moved onto Hebrews 9, a different part of the same story.  Jesus has come.  He is the mediator of a new covenant.

15Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

And here I am today — between these two comings of Christ.  He has come to make all things new — a new covenant.  And He is coming to make all things new — a new Jerusalem.

Yes.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Nursing babies

Psalm 9, Isaiah 66:7-24, Hebrews 9:1-10

Isaiah 66 holds beautiful imagery for any mother.  I could picture each thing Isaiah wrote but I’m not sure I understand the bigger picture.

v. 7 -9 deal with a birth that occurs without labor.  Verse 7 says,

 “Before she was in labor
she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
she delivered a son.

I read this and, having given birth to eight children, had to agree with verse 8 —

Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?
For as soon as Zion was in labor
she brought forth her children.

I have never heard of such a thing.

But really, where he got me was in verse 11 —

that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious abundance.

So many times, I have nursed a baby and felt him or her relax in my arms and finally fall into a deep blissful sleep.  My sister-in-law would look at them at say, “Milk-drug!” because it was almost like the milk was a drug that knocked them out.  More, I think, it was the comfort and the closeness, that allowed them the peace to fall asleep.

The world is such a stimulating place for an infant —  so much to see!  so much to learn!  so much to soak in!  The comfort of a mother’s arms and a mother’s breast is a solace.  I think that ‘s why Isaiah, in verse 12, says,

Behold I will extend peace to her like a river…

Then he goes on in verse 12 to describe scenes that any parent can relate to —

and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
and bounced upon her knees.

It’s a progression from nursing baby, to being carried on her hip, to being bounced on her knees.  I have done all these in abundance.

Finally in verse 13 it says,

As one whom his mother comforts,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

The imagery seems to apply to God — here as the mother — and His people or Jerusalem.

It is  a beautiful picture.  Now, how to apply it to my life?

New Covenant

Psalm 7, Isaiah 66:1-6, Hebrews 8

I’m growing a little sad to see that I’m coming to the end of Isaiah.  What to do when I finish?  Read it again?  I’m doing that with Hebrews.  Or move on to Jeremiah?  Or move on to something else?  Oh, Lord, guide me!

Hebrews is so rich.  I can’t believe I haven’t spent much time here before.  I love the beautiful picture the writer is painting of this New Covenant.

Hebrews 8: 6 says,

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.

Sometimes we wonder why we have to go through difficult times, but I think those harder times enable us to truly appreciate the good times.  If life was always easy, always a breeze, we would take everything for granted and never acknowledge the One who makes it so.

The same is true of our New Covenant.  The Old Covenant, the one with sacrifices offered by the high priest to atone for our sins, has been replaced by a New Covenant, a better covenant, an excellent covenant, enacted on better promises.  If this had been the first covenant, would we have appreciated Christ’s sacrifice?

The first covenant showed us that we can’t do it.  We need a savior.

I love the verses the writer of Hebrews quotes from Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says,

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Beautiful words.  Beautiful Savior.  Beautiful covenant.