Contrasted Joy

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By Nate Champneys

As I reflect back on the Advent season, some thoughts come to mind. Advent is all about reliving the anticipation for the coming Messiah, right? But when you look at the language of the Old Testament, it wasn’t this excited, happy, “Santa Claus is coming to town,” “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” kind of anticipation. It was a desperate longing. A crying out to God in the midst of pain, confusion, and almost even anger. It is interesting how Advent strikingly resembles a lament. If we go through Advent without reliving the lamenting of the people of Israel, I think we miss out on something.

Contrast is a huge part of our lives and really important. In an autumn landscape, if all the trees were exactly the same color, it just would not be nearly as beautiful as the contrast of all the colors. Think of some of your most favorite foods. In food, one flavor, take salty for example, is okay, but it’s multiple flavors together that make food tasty. Salt is fine, but when you put buttery, sweet, and salty together, it makes something amazing—salted caramel chocolates. Mmmmm. Without the salt, though, it’s just an ordinary caramel. In the same way, when we go through Advent, if we miss the lamenting, longing part, the joyful part is just not as good.

Contrast. It gives everything context. How do we really understand joy without the contrast of suffering? The apostle Paul said, “I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 7:4). Kay Warren defines joy as “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” It’s not that suffering is necessary for us to have joy, but how much more can we take joy in something when we contrast it with suffering. Psalm 43:4 says, “There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!” Psalm 86:8 says “Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord; Nor are there any works like Your works.” There is contrast again. There is no one like our God. That fact contrasted with everything else makes our God the source of true joy. Joy is really the natural response to the understanding that, in all things, God is god.

So as we finish the Advent season, our final resting place is joy. We have joy because our God is like no other God. Our God, since the dawn of sin, promised to make things right again. Our God kept His promise. And our God will also keep his promise to come again. Because of all these things, we can have joy.

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God’s Gift of Conflict

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By Jeff Foerster

What is it that propels us to fix a problem? Problem solving is certainly a practical skill, one taught in school and valued highly in the business environment. So why is it then that this doesn’t carry over into relationships in the same manner? Why don’t our spouses understand that our intentions are to produce good, not harm, and for pain and discomfort to recede and for problems to be made smaller or even resolved? We have only the best of intentions.

Or so we think. Can there be something more to this desire for calm, for peace, for everything to settle into place? The answer might come when the result we desire doesn’t surface quickly. Does this cause more conflict, first within, then with the nearest available person? Having an attitude that demands an immediate “fix” to every difficulty is unhealthy and selfish. The presence of conflict in this world is as ubiquitous as sin. It will be with us as long as the Spirit resides with the flesh. To desire the eradication of conflict is the yearning of every saint. To expect it in this life is the whimsy of a fool—one which will gather much disappointment to his household.

Conflict, however it may feel, is not primarily a “pain” to avoid or a “problem” to fix. Rather, it is a beacon, lit to identify a problem, not to be seen as one. Imagine this: the display on your vehicle’s dashboard catches your attention with an illuminated, bright-red “CHECK ENGINE” light. You have options. One of those is to “fix” the problem of that annoying light … by covering it with black electrical tape. There. Done.

Now, no rational person would employ this tactic thinking, “Success!” as the tape is pressed into place. Some immediate relief would be felt, but the real issue will worsen without attention. What is an obvious automotive illustration provides us an insight into the riddle that can be relationships.

The “CHECK ENGINE” light of conflict does not require a quick fix; it signals that a closer look is in order. It’s a warning that something is wrong. It’s not the enemy to be avoided or covered with a masking solution. Taking advantage of this “early warning system” could mean the difference between repair and catastrophic failure. It is a good gift God has provided to draw you closer to Himself, and to one another.

Living life alongside conflict requires a fortitude that I cannot muster. But for Jesus, I am lost. Yet with Him I can see the reality of its presence in this age and not be overrun. Even so, what could be my undoing has instead drawn me closer to Him through suffering, and promises to be the medium through which I am being conformed to His image.

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The Bread of Life Never Grows Stale

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AdventBy Cindy Waple  

The Bread of Life never grows stale. I saw this recently on a church sign and thought what a wonderful message for the Advent season. Advent, which means “coming,” is the season of preparation to celebrate Jesus’s birth, in whom all of God’s promises are fulfilled. In addition, it is a time to celebrate Christ’s coming into our own lives as our Savior and Lord and to prepare and await His second coming.

Advent is like an icebreaker—those large ships built to cut through the ice on the frozen Arctic waters. Advent breaks through the onslaught of the economic-driven and worldly messages of Christmas that promise happiness by receiving the right gifts being offered now at the lowest prices of the season. Advent also breaks through the familiarity and rote traditions, bringing a new and fresh vision of God’s faithfulness. Advent breaks through empty messages and unrealistic expectations of a Pinterest-perfect Christmas with the enduring truth that the sovereign, holy, almighty God of the universe, our Creator, because of His immeasurable love for us, took on the form of man and came to dwell among us—Emmanuel, God-with-us. Advent invites each one of us to step out of the holiday-prep-merry-go-round and take time to stop and pause, to consider afresh with eager expectation the gift of Christ.

Here are a few ideas and practices that Brian and I engage in during Advent. First, be intentional and make space for God and those opportunities that are energizing and life-giving, not life-draining. Try to under-schedule your time this season, rather than over-scheduling. Take time for Advent devotions and perhaps schedule a half-day (or full-day) retreat. A friend and I did this recently using a guided Advent-retreat resource. It was a wonderful time of rest and perspective shaping as we worshipped, prayed, read Scripture, and spent time in silence, listening and reflecting. This is a great way to slow down and cherish the Good News of Christmas.

Second, I have been captivated by the idea of “one thing.” During this season of many lists—to do lists, wish lists, gift lists, and so on—I am encouraged by David in Psalm 27:4, where he writes: One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple. There was only one thing David wanted—to be with the Lord and enjoy the beauty of His presence. What if that was the only thing on all our lists? Or what if that was the first thing on our lists? I wonder how long (or possibly short) our lists would be if that was our primary focus.

Lastly, the greatest way to enter into Advent, to prepare our hearts, to break through the hype and ward off staleness, is to consider Christ Himself. What do you really need the most this Christmas? What is going on in your heart?

  • Are you struggling, disappointed, or tired of the trials and the hardness of life? Isaiah 61 reminds us that Christ “comforts the brokenhearted.”
  • Are you grieving a loss—loss of a loved one, a job, health, or a relationship, or a loss that comes from change and transition? Jesus promises a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair (Isaiah 61:3).
  • Is your hope diminished because of unanswered prayers for healing, for prodigals, nagging sin, the lack of transformed lives? In Christ, we have been born into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). He is our sure and steadfast anchor (Hebrews 6:19).
  • Are you tired and weary? Christ is our Strength, our Refuge, our Rock (Psalm 62:5-8).
  • Are you in need of peace? He is our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
  • Are you in need of love? His love for us is inexhaustible. (Ephesians 3:17-18).

This is a list that, thankfully, goes on and on. Here is the truth—whatever your deepest and greatest need, it is found only in Christ.

In a few weeks, the tree and lights will come down, the credit card bills will begin to arrive, and the gym will be overly crowded for a week or two as we try to hold to our resolution to finally lose weight. Christmas will be over, but the truth of Christ will not. We have Him and His promises into eternity. With our focus on the one thing, the only thing that is necessary (Luke 10:42), the Bread of Life will never grow stale. This Advent season, may your heart be renewed and refreshed as you ponder the good news of Christ, and “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit Romans 15:13.

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