A Star of David

Christmas has been an exciting time in witnessing Frank’s spiritual growth as well.  I am falling deeper in love with this man pursuing God with such fervency.  I’m delighting in the research he’s been conducting ever since hearing the Scriptures this past Sunday regarding the census when Jesus was born.

Through his studies, Frank found a few articles that propose theories of Christ’s birth and its timing.

We all know that December 25th was not the actual birth date of Christ.  Rather, we celebrate it in remembrance.  Constantine wanted to focus on Christ rather than the pagan holidays.  He thus declared that we should celebrate Christ’s birth now.  Perhaps it was some sort of missionary evangelism Constantine was trying to set forth.  We can’t be too sure why he did it except that it was to focus the hearts of the people on Christ rather than the pagan rituals occurring at this time of year.

Anyways, I digressed a bit.  Frank found articles that proposed Christ would have been born on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement, as suggested through Kepler’s orientation of the stars and when the wise men would have possibly seen The Star of David.  Other articles suggested that Christ was born on the Jewish celebration day of Sukkot.  It was a pilgrimage festival when the Israelites would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem.  There they had a willow festival in which willow branches were piled at the altar and the people parade around the branches worshiping.  Sukkot, in Hebrew, actually means Tabernacle.

The above birth date proposals are theories regarding the birth date of Christ.  In fact, these celebrations are roughly around the same time, being about 5 days apart or so.  We aren’t sure of these proposals.  As I said before, they are merely theories.  However, I like both.  This reveals the connectedness of God to his people and his immensely perfect timing.  You see, Jesus (Hebrew: Joshua = God saves) was the perfect and sufficient sacrifice (atonement) for humanity’s sins.  If Christ was born this day it would be a foretelling of his purpose, to reconcile humanity unto God and be our Savior.  If Christ was born on Sukkot it would be like God saying, “Here I am dwelling with you in flesh, I go with you where you go.  I am Immanuel.”  It would reiterate that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh.  God was in the Tabernacle and that is where his people, especially those who were permitted behind the veil, would see God.  So with Christ as the human Tabernacle, humanity could encounter God and by his death on the cross, there was no longer a need for the veil.  The willow branch ceremony is reminiscent of the palms laid before Christ as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey.

He loves us enough to have humbled himself to usher peace (the symbol of riding on a donkey vs. a horse), even knowing he was going to his death.

If either of these theories are true it would solidify just how amazing our God is.  It would emphasize God’s perfection and his perfect timing.  A birth on either of these days, just like the symbolism of the Passover reveals Christ as the sacrificial Lamb, would indicate God’s role in the organization of time.  If either was true, it would reveal God’s constant prophecies given to his people about the Messiah, himself in Christ Jesus.

We can know no greater love than a God who would write a story with such keen attention to detail.  So while they are theories I think they are beautiful.  These suggestions simply point to how great God’s love is.  Christ’s love is eternal and how remarkable would it be if either of those theories were true to demonstrate just how intricate and complex this eternal love is.

*Thanks Frank for sharing these articles with me and causing me to love God more. I have an insight into how vast the possibilities of God’s love can extend through these mere theories.*

For the Love of God

Sunday was hectic again for us.  As such, we lit our Advent candle of love last night.

One of the texts we read discussed God’s conversation with David.  David wanted to build God a permanent dwelling place.  God asks David why it should be him to build a temple.  Throughout the conversation, God reiterates that he has been with the Israelites moving where he led his people.  It was as if God was saying, “Why contain me?  I’ve never left you or forsaken you.  I told you to go somewhere and with the Tabernacle, I moved with you.”

That imagery brought forth tears to my eyes.  I thought of how relevant it is today.  At Christmas, God became man.  He loved us so much that he chose to dwell with humanity.  The author stepped into the story and experienced what his characters did.  He related to his people.  God was born to lowly people, humbling himself to be born to impoverished, but faithful folk.  Then he led a life of service and died on the cross to service salvation to all mankind.  Upon his ascension, he gave himself to his people again through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God dwelt in the Tabernacle that moved with the people.  He now dwells within his people, through the Holy Spirit, and never leaves them.  God moves with us and through us.  He loves us so much that he never has us endure life alone.  A believer’s tribulations are manageable because we have his strength inside us.  May we live trusting that.

I admire Bonhoeffer because he didn’t just live hoping that God was alive and moving inside and alongside him, he lived actually believing that.  I want God to help me in my unbelief at this time.  I want to love him because he first loved me.  It is my prayer that friends, family, and enemies have noticed a stark contrast in who I was and who I’ve become.  My fear is that there hasn’t been a noticeable difference.  I guess it comes down to trust again.  I have to trust that by pursuing God daily, out of love, that I will be transformed, however slowly the process might be.

He loved me enough to grant me a long awaited prayer, even though I’m wracked with fear now because of it.  God answered my prayer and he’ll see to it that I’m guided every step of the way.  I was said to be barren, well basically barren (5% chance of natural conception), but now I am in my sixth month.  Like the dialogue with David, it is as if God is telling me, “Child, why do you fear the plans I have for you?  Don’t you know that I move with you?  I’ve always been with you.  Won’t you seek me and find that you’ve always had your needs met?  Trust me to walk with you child.  I walked with humanity in the flesh of Christ and I walk with you now through the Holy Spirit.  Do not confine me to be an observer of your life.  Let me in and see how I’m still doing the miraculous even in the mundane.”

So may others know I am Christian by my love of Christ because he first loved me.  May I submit to God’s will and not box him in, but let him move with me all the days of my life.  I pray that I’d keep a better record of how he’s been forever faithful.  May I look at that manger this Christmas season and see the just God who willingly lay inside a hay covered wood to later be wrenched upon blood stained wood because he loved his creation, even to the point of death.  Thus as my girth grows may I see his promises fulfilled and a love divine throughout all eternity.

Immanuel- the greatest love he could have ever shown his people.

*I know this is a bit sporadic in thought.  Several ideas have been put forth, but my mind has been racing over how vast and wide God’s love for his people is, including me.  Perhaps I just need to sit and be still, graciously appreciating this love rather than typing faster than my mind can comprehend a love this deep and sincere.*

Jubilee

I went over to Rachel Held Evans blog yesterday. While I was there, I read her post from the lectionary called Advent 3: Living Jubilee. Jubilee is rejoicing. It was the year when debts were forgiven among the people. You could start anew.

Rejoice-another biblical word that my mind wants to fight and explain away.

Maybe that’s where the answer to joy lies-in the Jubilee. That seems redundant. Follow me.

If Jubliee is the year when debts are forgiven and there is much rejoicing and festivities then I can conclude that joy is the experience we have when we forgive and are forgiven.

That’s what we have in Christ, forgiveness. With blood pooling in his eyes from his crown pierced brow, he looked upon the nations of the earth and forgave us all our trespasses. We, sinners, who repeatedly abandon God, were that day, reconciled. As we meditate on such a compassionate sacrifice (the surrendering of one’s life for a friend, let alone an enemy), we begin to have hearts rendered to Thanksgiving. That appreciation for Christ’s precious, eternal gift lifts our hearts in praise. Even in pain, sorrow, and adversity we can praise God. There is no veil. Through Jesus we have been forgiven and can approach God without fear or condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

If I continue on with this thinking then I start to see that joy in the life of a believer is known and expressed not in happiness but more so in forgiveness.

Perhaps to truly be joyful I need to surrender my frustrations, irritations, and complaints to the one who forgave me even though I agitated the Author. Maybe I can attain joyful living when I stop boiling every time my neighbor blares her music, when I let my mom vent about drivers around her without lecturing her on calming her attitude, and when I stop expecting Frank to be my knight in shining armor. Joy will be had, I presume, when I just generally let others be themselves without molding them to my whims.

We speak of preparation at Christmas. If I forgive others as Christ has forgiven me than I will be beginning the preparations for his return; he won’t find me asleep, as I too frequently am. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll find me fulfilling his command-

To love my neighbor as myself; this is done through a radical and uncomfortable, yet amazingly beautiful and gracious, forgiveness like that seen on the Cross.

(Thanks Rachel for your musings. God has placed your writings in my hands to grow closer to him and gain further understanding of what gospel living and breathing, along with complex concepts, is all about.)

Unpacking Joy

“These definitions only define the expression of the wonderful emotion. They fail to consider the causes of joy, the circumstances in which it is expressed or its longevity. In these areas, the Bible presents a much more complex virtue than these definitions indicate.”- http://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/280/Fruit-of-Spirit-Joy.htm

Are we to understand biblical principles aside from the dictionary’s definition of words? Do we not understand language through word definition? Can a word capture everything a particular emotion conveys? How do we understand what joy is without the expression of emotion? Is the WORD and connection with God more than emotional outpourings? Yes, but how?

I’m not entirely sure I’ve grasped the concept. Bonhoeffer frequently argued the faith through logic. I’m a scientist and like to do the same.

Joy is a complex fruit that I’m not sure I fully understand quite yet. As such, I feel ill equipped to converse on it in these threads. Is it because I am driven towards complacency and complaining rather than humble submission and thankful pursuit of all that Christ has that I don’t really see the division between joy and happiness? Perhaps.

Maybe this is a lesson God wants to emphasize in my life. Would that mean that joy is synonymous with contentment, trusting God’s providence and deliverance?

Do I need more suffering to understand that? Should we want to suffer in order to achieve greater spiritual understanding? If so, why? Would I even know true joy if I had to express it in dire adversity?

I feel that this concept is leaving me with more questions than answers. Maybe that’s okay too.

A Pink Glow

Due to our late return home on Sunday night, we wound up lighting the 3rd Advent candle, Joy, last night.

We read verses in Isaiah and the Thessalonians. I kept thinking about the Philippians verse: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” written by Paul. He was encouraging them to stand firm despite conflicts and adversity. We shouldn’t let our petty problems get in the way of furthering God’s kingdom.

Now the Bible doesn’t dismiss or belittle our situations. If we read the Psalms, we see amazing laments to God; a book rich with honesty and vulnerability. However, Scripture does emphasize the need to put our situations into perspective. We shouldn’t be so consumed with this world that we indulge strife with others, hold grudges, seek wrath, and follow fleshly pursuits. Christ should be our pursuit. People should notice a stark contrast before we were followers compared to our life once we became followers of Christ. If friends and family can’t see the difference, or state that we are in fact more judgmental, we must assess how we are living out our faith.

I have a tendency, okay if I’m honest a constant struggle, to complain. I never seem to be satisfied with where I’m at. I tend to be a driven individual. Being a motivated person can be great in that I have several passions but it also means that I can become inclined to agitation and venting when I’m not “achieving my goals”. Too often I want others to see things the way I do.

I will increase in joyful living when I begin to appreciate others as Christ intended. When I love my neighbor as myself, not critiquing them or myself any chance I get, and seek God’s hand in the mundane. By doing so, I might just experience the greatest joy of all—satisfaction in God’s will and his creation, his reign over my own.

A Happy Heart

This week of Advent focuses on Joy.

I’ve always been a bit confused about the difference between joy and happiness. People say that happiness is circumstantial but joy transcends situational difficulties. Doesn’t the expression of both appear to be the same? Are we not praising God in both? I can choose to be happy regardless of a struggle just like I can joy, can I not?

If we are Christian we have the Holy Spirit and doesn’t the Spirit guide us to be content in any and all circumstances? Isn’t that the path we are on; the path to have the countenance of Christ? I don’t really notice a difference between word usage of happy and joy in Scripture. Isn’t that where we are supposed to gather truth? Has man made a distinction because joy sounds holier? Can I have sorrow and joy at the same time? To me, they seem contradictory, polar opposites.

Then again, maybe I don’t fully understand the concept because I haven’t fully grasped (lay hold of) it.

The Pageant Wish

At the battlement of the church spire:

Arms lay dispersed, deserted,

Soil cakes with the former drops of rage shed,

while finally, the auburn sun rises.

In the trenches of adversity I can see men huddled together, heads bowed, knees bent.

Their uniforms vary,

former enemies now grasp hands in reconciliation.

Words have ceased and silence has beckoned unity among these brothers.

In this circle of warm affection we see a glimpse of love,

taking care to treat a neighbor as oneself, fulfillment of the greatest commandment.

Now unity ascends to peace

and with it a rested heart.

Wholly Surrendered

How does one attain peace?

I’ve been reading the biography Bonhoeffer lately. He was a bold, non-apologizing man. Bonhoeffer was a devout follower of Christ and an eloquent, sometimes seemingly arrogant, preacher. When he spoke church attendance would rise. His scientific background meant that he did not simply accept principles. He questioned thought and long held beliefs. Bonhoeffer asked what church was. He asked how he fit into the man made mold of community. At a young age he was able to propose complex theories.

I mention Bonhoeffer because he has quotes akin to stating that we are not a Christian if by voice alone. We must surrender our life otherwise we mock Christ, belittling him to merely a moral teacher. He argues that Christianity when viewed as a religion is no different than any other. Christianity builds upon the moral teachings of the Jews. However, Christianity is different from other systems when we don’t look to doctrines or dogma, but rather the person of Christ. Christ is God incarnate, God reaching down into humanity. God first initiates and we are to follow. When humanity tries to attain heaven by our finite efforts, we fail.

This theme got me thinking. Perhaps the lack of peace I’m experiencing is because I’m a prisoner of religion rather than a willing bond servant of Christ. If I fully surrendered my life and understood the sacrifice and jeopardy that entails than I might actually experience a fullness of peace.

I can have peace because Christ gives it abundantly. However, I must be willing to render this anxious heart to him. I must seek Christ, not a solution to my problems and in doing so I just might taste peace.

Peace Like A River

This past Sunday was the second Sunday of Advent. We lit the peace candle.

In a time of great uncertainty in our life- housing, financial impact of this child, my job, babysitting/daycare, and the life change of a child added to our brood- I’m often wrought with worry. I’ve often been told that the degree of worry in an individual’s life correlates to their spiritual walk. Do you trust God to get you through any and every situation or do you succumb to life’s circumstances and become consumed with fear?

I tend to lack trust, a lot. Maybe it was my upbringing. Perhaps it was a traumatic experience that I can’t quite remember. Yet, when I pause and render thanksgiving, counting how God has provided I see that my needs have always been met. I haven’t had everything I’ve always wanted, but I’ve had what I’ve needed to survive. I keep thinking that if I remove myself from American culture that I’ll be able to see how much I have, that in fact, I have excess.

However, God has placed me here. He wants me to trust him and share his good news in this consumer-diseased nation. Christ wants me to meet with him. I won’t necessarily get the answers I’m looking for, but when I fellowship with him, I am assured that I’m not alone in this journey. Christ gives of himself. His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

His perfect love can cast out my worst fear. Christ’s love washes my soul. His mere presence, when sought, drowns my fears by the river of his providence and omnipotence and the waves break to let peace envelop my soul.

A Heavenly Fish Pond

Belly up.

For days the gills bounced up and down assuring us of life. In researching how to address the problem of a back swimmer we decided to separate out Professor in hopes of curing whatever disease he had picked up.

A sick pet, an ill owner.

A year lapsed from purchase to grave. I was saddened but not as much as Frank was, perhaps I’ve been a bit selfish in wanting my health over caring for a 49 cent fish. I feel so cruel typing that. I love our fish. Yet they were bought as a numbing agent when I was told my womb would not likely harbor a life. Now it does. I notice I don’t watch the fish the way I used to. I’m sad to say that maybe my apathy led to his fall, my selfish desire for myself to be better contributed to his slow decay. I lay on the couch trying to care for my body and cure my illness, to no avail as of yet. Frank frantically filled buckets, switched out water, ran to the pet store for water testing kits, and read several articles for cures. As I’ve said before, Frank is compassionate. I haven’t known him to ever be selfish. He tried so hard to help Professor fight.

Still what we wanted to avoid occurred. Professor passed last night. As soon as we put him in a separate bucket the gills stopped flapping. Watching him suffer for three weeks was unbearable though. We weren’t trying to euthanize him. Articles said to feed them skinned peas and put them in a separate container. As soon as we did Professor became still. I feel guilty saying it but I wanted him to pass already. He appeared to be in so much pain. I also wanted hubby more focused on me and less so on the tank. It’s horrible to say that. Maybe my lack of emotion stems from the fact that I never became attached to Professor. I felt that he taunted Skipper when we first purchased him. I guess I haven’t gotten over that observation. Yet, it all feels so selfish to not be the least bit distressed over this, to not be shedding tear alongside my more compassionate hubby, and to want my health more than that of my fish.

So I pray that I won’t have such a callous heart. I need to practice faith in the hacking, praise in the misery. I can hope that I’ll see my fish again because there will be a fish pond in heaven, even though Professor didn’t profess to know Christ. Maybe he did but I’ll never know because we can’t know the thoughts of another species with whom we can’t communicate. This could all be absurd, but a portion of heaven for pets gives me comfort.

I hope because without the anticipated expectation of such an event I’m engulfed in sorrow for the fate of creation aside from humanity. We hope in things yet unseen. We hope in what might seem scientifically absurd. We hope in Christ’s redeeming work, his salvation for those who believe. I’d like to think that hope in Christ restoring creation includes my fish’s life even if I haven’t cried over Professor’s death, and regrettably might be a bit relieved.

Is there anything in Scripture that would contradict or support this hope? If you have any biblical insight in the matter please let me know.