Discover. Uncover. Recover. Spiritual Disciplines for the Expectant (Part Three)

Hope

Hope (Photo credit: bitzcelt)

God sure has His work cut out for Him this Christmas.

In keeping with our Advent theme of expectancy, what many of us are expecting from the Christ child and our annual celebration of His birth has changed over the past week. While we seek to DISCOVER Him in His Word and UNCOVER His Presence in our hearts, a growing number of us have another need – one which trumps the previous two…

a need to RECOVER.

The spiritual discipline of RECOVER requires that we look no further than the dictionary to aptly describe what our expectant hearts need most from Emmanuel today:

To get back: REGAIN

We desperately need what we had before last Friday; before the diagnosis; before the deployment; before tragedy struck and darkness hovered over the face of our deepest fears.

To bring back to normal position or condition: RESCUE

‘Normal’ is a relative term, isn’t it? We might even ask whether normal is a word we can entertain in a world such as the one in which we live. Perhaps what we need most is God’s reminder that He knows our condition. He sees our aberrations and infections and misfires. He knows that what we see and experience and read and watch each day is not His idea of normal. He knows that the most some of us are hoping for in the coming year is a new normal, since returning to an unbroken state in these broken lives we lead is impossible without a full-on invasion by the God of the Angel Armies.

But, WAIT! That’s what Christmas IS! The Baby in the manger came to be our life-line, our connection to Heaven. Our RESCUE.

To find or identify again

We discussed our great need to DISCOVER God when we began our series last week. It’s no secret that when tragedy strikes, people begin to look up and look around in search of meaning and hope. Our response to the struggles and challenges of life can take us down dark paths toward more difficulty and pain, or we can choose to seek out that which we have lost sight of. Through the tears and discomfort of knowing too much and seeing too much, we must discipline ourselves to look for the Light. Only by that Light do we stand a chance of finding what we’ve lost and in so doing, helping others to find it (Him), too.

REACH

I never thought about the word RECOVER meaning to REACH, and yet there it is – in black and white. In order to recover from tragedy and find what we have lost, we must REACH for the One Who has already reached out to us through the Presence of His Son in our dark world. If you can do nothing else to express what you find inside your head and heart today, do this one thing: reach for Him.

To save from loss and restore to usefulness

Ultimately, the work of the manger is a saving work. We have all experienced loss. In our hopelessness we know what it’s like to be rendered utterly useless. As we look forward to  reminders of God’s action on our behalf – as Christmas Eve approaches – may we be open to being saved. Rescued. Reached. Found. Restored.

Not just so that we can feel better.

Not only for the good of our own hearts and the lives of those we bump elbows with from day to day.

But so that we may be found useful in the ongoing RECOVERY work of the Kingdom of God. Agents of healing. Messengers of peace. Bringers of joy (and hugs and smiles). Sharers of tears.

Children of God.

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CREATING Space vs. FILLING It

 

Some people walk into a room and suddenly… it’s full.

 

Full of talk. Full of words. Full of opinions and agendas, served up without invitation for the rest of us to join in. Full of energypositive or negative – that proceeds to drive every conversation and interaction in its direction. Full of personality that draws attention to itself, shrinking the potential of our contributions by its overpowering, can’t-get-a-word-in-edgewise presence.

Some people walk into a room and suddenly… it’s full of them.

Now, some people fill space because they require our attention in order to feel validated and in control. Some people fill space because they’re afraid of silence or obscurity. Others fill space because they have an agenda to pursue which, for them, is a higher calling than pursuing things like relationship and harmony and community.

There are those, however, who fill space because they sincerely believe they have something to give to God. The problem is that when we fill the space around us with ourselves, we create a vacuum whose suction effectively removes God from that space altogether, leaving us alone with our gifts and no Spirit to power them.

This is what resonates in the words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome when he says,

“…it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Romans 12:3 (The Message)

If you’ve ever worked as a teacher, you might understand this from a programming perspective.

We can plan a lesson, activity or event and approach it with the goal of filling the schedule to meet objectives and create outcomes for the participants. This would involve lots of detail as we seek to maximize every moment for the greatest potential gain of knowledge, skill or understanding. After all, as the teacher, you are responsible for providing your students with every opportunity to learn. Right?

In the church, this approach has been heralded for every kind of teaching. If you plan it (well), not only will they come, but they will learn and grow and succeed in the future because of your ability to fill the time.

The hole in this bucket, however, is created by the assumption that we know what they need to know. We can fill an hour or a weekend or a sermon series with every bullet point we think important, but that implies that we somehow know what needs to be heard by our students. Even when the Spirit of God is leading us to serve as teachers, none of us is so perfect a mouthpiece for the Holy that we can single-handedly (or, single-mouthedly) communicate God’s truth to His people.

I think we often misinterpret our Kingdom-work in this way – as a call to fill the room with our gifts, our vision and our passion (God-given though they may be).

What if we were to follow God’s instructions to King Solomon instead? Instructions given to this gifted, passionate leader regarding the building of God’s Temple – the place where God Himself would live?

“About this Temple you are building – what’s important is that you live the way I’ve set out for you and do what I tell you, following my instructions carefully and obediently. Then I’ll complete in you the promise I made to David your father. I’ll personally take up my residence among the Israelites – I won’t desert my people Israel.”         I Kings 6:11-13 (The Message)

God tells Solomon that what’s important is how the people LIVE and that they DO what God has instructed. This is their work – to live obedient lives in front of God and one another! And what does God promise to do in response to their faithfulness? He will fill the space in the Temple. He will move in and live in community with them. He will be near and He will be present; God with us.

Physically, God instructed Solomon to build a building that would house His presence in an unprecedented way.

Israel was to follow the detailed instructions God gave in order to create space for Him to fill!

The exciting part of this story is that Israel did just that. They completed the Temple and created space for God to live among them. And God, in His faithful fulfillment of promise, moved into the neighborhood.

“When the priests left the Holy Place, a cloud filled theTemple of God. The priests couldn’t carry out their priestly duties because of the cloud – the glory of God filled theTemple of God!” I Kings 8:10-11 (The Message)

Oh, that we would live lives so faithful to the detailed instructions of our Lord that the space we create for Him here would be filled, not with ourselves, but with the glory of Emmanuel.

The presence of God.