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Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Advent

Themes of Advent: Peace

Hey folks,

Tomorrow starts the second weekend of Advent.For those unfamiliar with the tradition, Advent is a season of anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, the birth of baby Jesus, on Christmas, so we also turn our hearts, minds, and spirits towards His Second Coming. We look back in remembrance and forward in hope. Each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas carries a different theme, and today we’re going to look at the second one: Peace.

Peace at Christmas. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Maybe after the presents have been bought, the parties have been attended, the pageant costumes have been sewn, and the cookies have been baked, decorated, and packed in their cute little tins. Maybe then we can have some peace. As long as everyone likes their presents.

Does this sound like your Advent? Crazy busy with activity? Maybe it’s because you love all of it, or maybe it’s because it’s what’s expected of you. Either way, peace seems like a distant memory.

Besides, it’s cold at Christmas. It’s far more peaceful in the summer, with the barbecue fired up and a cold drink in your hand and no one asking for anything but a grilled hotdog.

Yet, in the Isaiah passage we looked at last week, the Messiah to come was to be the Prince of Peace. Should our primary cultural celebration of the Prince of Peace really be so chaotic?

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I love all of the activities surrounding Christmas and Advent. I love parties and I love cookies and I love caroling. I love decorating our house and lighting the Advent wreath. I love writing to all of you about the wonder that can be found throughout December. It keeps me busy.

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However, there are times that my family and I need to take a step back from all the planning to make sure that we have enough time to really soak in the majesty of it all. It can become so easy to rush past the Christmas lights that we forget to marvel at the beauty of coloured lights in the darkness.

So, what can we do? Should we stop attending parties? Maybe. If they are causing you stress and not allowing you to build into your friends and family, then perhaps declining a couple invites will make all the difference in the world. Remember, we are to be agents of peace in this world. If we spread ourselves too thin, if we take on too much in the name of “holiday spirit,” then we cease to live out our calling.

Maybe this week, we can take a few minutes to think about ways we can first find peace in our own lives. This might be as simple as taking a few minutes each day to remember Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and why He came down to earth. From this starting point of peace, the activities we have during the day can become acts of worship and wonder rather than hectic to-do lists.

After we up our own peace quotient, the next step is to pass that peace on to others. This week, I would love to see dozens of random acts of peace. Whether that’s shoveling your neighbour’s driveway so they don’t have to worry about it, or bringing a meal to a family with a new baby, seek out someone who could use a little more peace in their lives. Simple acts can be so effective.

Now, take a deep breath. Let it out. Take another one. Think about how much God loves you, and how much He wants peace for your life. Let it out. Keep breathing, and find something peaceful to do today.

Blessings,

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New Advent Devotional and Thoughts

Hey folks,

I’ve started a new Advent devotional put out by Biola University that is HEAVILY inspired by the arts. Each day includes a piece of art, a poem, and a song, alongside the devotional. My wife and I are walking through this devotional together, which has been doubly enriching for us. If you are interested in an arts-based devotional time, you can click right here:

http://ccca.biola.edu/events/2018/dec/2/advent-project-2018-online-devotional-series/

I need to say, I love Advent. It’s perhaps my favourite seasons of the entire year. The world slowly changes from the mundane to the magical. Lights appear everywhere. People start focusing on others and what brings them joy. Also, gifts. Gifts is one of my love languages, and getting to splurge on gifts for my loved ones brings me much happiness.

However, Advent is also my job. I start seriously thinking about Advent in June. We craft themes, dramas, art projects, and experiences that will build upon each other to create an advent experience that draws our congregation into greater relationship with the God who came down to earth over 2000 years ago. I have to pace myself or risk burning out on Advent before October shows up. By the time I’ve arrived at actual Advent, I’ve often lost some of the magic that I love about the season. It becomes a time of implementing what we’ve designed (which, I will admit, has its own magic) rather than about preparing my heart for the wonder of Christ’s arrival.

That’s where this devotional has been a Godsend (literally!). Each morning, I’m able to open my email, pull up the devotional, and allow someone else’s work to usher me into a place of wonder and beauty. And, already, I’ve had my Christmas world shaken!

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The first day’s devotional speaks about our tendency to think of Christmas as a time of family gathering. However, for the Trinity, it was not a time of gathering but of scattering. The Father SENT the Son to earth, away from heaven. (The writers are clear to preserve the unity of the Trinity, however, so don’t worry about heresy). It was not a time for togetherness for God. 

I have never thought of this before. The silent-night image of the star over the stable, with the angels and the shepherds and the Holy Family all reverently gazing down at the manger brings me all the soft fuzzies. However, this beautiful picture came with a cost. God’s plan to gather all of humanity meant sending His Son away. 

This adds a little bittersweetness to the story. It also adds to the seriousness of the season. We are aware that this season can be hard on many. Especially those who don’t have anyone to gather with. God knows. God’s been there. And He loved us enough to choose that option.

The writer also has thoughts as to the repercussions of this for us, but I’ll let you go, sign up, and read the devotional for yourself. It’s well worth the time. You can catch up, or just start on whatever day you’re at (after reading the devotional for Dec 2nd, where I got today’s thoughts from).

Anyways, I hope you’ll come back on Friday when we dig into the theme of the 2nd week of Advent: Peace.

Blessings,

Themes of Advent: Hope

Hey folks,

Tomorrow starts the first weekend of Advent. For those unfamiliar with the tradition, Advent is a season of anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, the birth of baby Jesus, on Christmas, so we also turn our hearts, minds, and spirits towards His Second Coming. We look back in remembrance and forward in hope. Each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas carries a different theme, and today we’re going to look at the first one: Hope.

Sometimes, life is amazing. Your family is loving and without lasting conflict. Work is firing on all cylinders and progress is made all over the place. All your favourite movies are on Netflix. You can feel the blessings flowing like a gentle waterfall, and you are content.

But other times, life is hard. Borderline impossible. Health crises. Unemployment and underemployment. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken lives. This can be even tougher as the Christmas season rolls around, when the rest of the world is celebrating their “perfect lives,” and you can barely get out of bed in the morning. Or the afternoon. Or at all.

It’s like walking in darkness. A darkness so deep that it can feel like light doesn’t exist. Like everything you have is dust and life is meaningless at best.

It’s into this that God speaks:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”
-Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

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A great light has come into the world, and His name is Jesus. Every time we light a candle, or string out houses with lights, or plug in the Christmas tree, we declare to the darkness, “Light has come!” When the darkness threatens to overtake us, we shine with whatever we have and remember that the darkness is not forever. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5).

Just as God brought hope to the nation of Israel with the promise of a Messiah, we have hope that the Messiah, the King of Kings, will return and will bring an end to all of the pain and suffering and brokenness.

For those who follow Christ, we are called to be messengers of this Hope that Jesus came to bring. In word and in action, I challenge you to bring hope to those around you this week. An encouraging note, a friendly conversation, or an unexpected gift can be exactly what someone needs to get through the day. The thought that someone cares can bring enough hope to carry someone forward.

So, during this Advent week of Hope, how are you going to celebrate and share the gift of Hope? 

 

Advent: All You Need Is Love

This final “week” of Advent, we look to the theme of love. I thought about writing something new, but after listening to the voiceover I wrote for our Advent bumper video at church this weekend, I decided it perfectly summed up what I wanted to say about Love this Christmas.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

God loves you. Do you know that? I mean, beyond just saying so because you’re in church. Do you really know that the Good Lord, the one who created everything in the entire universe loves you so passionately that He would let His only Son die on a cross for you?

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Seems everyone these days is talking about love. But how many of them really know what the word means? If we really think about it, it’s far more than just nice feelings or affection, or being all giddy inside. It’s a deep, burning desire for someone else’s good. It’s so deep that it can cost you everything you’ve got, even your life.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13

So, when I say that God loves you enough to send down the little baby Jesus, He knew what it was going to cost. When the High Prince of Heaven came down to earth, it was because He felt a love so deep for you that He couldn’t stay on His throne.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

We might see hate everywhere we look today, but as we light this candle, we remember that Jesus is the ultimate symbol of the Father’s love. This light shines in the darkness, holding back the one who would try to smother us in his hate. As we celebrate Christmas this year, we stand up against the enemy of our souls and take the side of Love.

Blessings

Advent: Joy to the World

The theme for week three of Advent is Joy!

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Does joy fill your life?

I don’t mean happiness. Happiness comes and goes. We are told by our culture that we should be happy. If we have the right job, the right relationships, the right possessions, we will be happy. And for some, this may be true…for a while.

I’m talking about a deep-seated contentedness. A sense of wonder at the majesty and beauty of life, even in the hard times. When we are filled with joy, it changes everything. We may have times of unhappiness, but they never seem so dark. The end is always in sight, and we know that our endurance will only make us stronger.

Joy is deep. It’s a way of living. It’s getting up in the morning and going to work not only to make money, but to make a difference. It’s pouring into your family and friends because you know that in the long run, they are worth more than any of your possessions.

So, how do we get this joy?

That’s the question.

For me, the only real source of joy is the Spirit of God, because He is the only thing that will not fade. My family, my job, my hobbies all help and bring me much happiness, but ultimately, they do not fully satisfy. God alone will outlast my day job, my friends, and even my sense of self. So, I rest in the joy of the One, True, Good God.

With God as the foundation of my joy, I can let Him seep into the rest of my life, filling even the smallest things with meaning and potential joy increase.

Knowing that part of my call as a Christian is to love those around me allows me to open up and enjoy the company of those I work with. While the daily activities of my job do not excite me, the opportunity to see and talk with my co-workers is always a bring point.

Knowing that being a father and husband is part of my holy mission in life, I connect with my wife and kids every day and find joy in their activities, antics, and foibles. We aren’t perfect, but I love them for exactly who they all are.

Writing can be exhausting, but knowing that God uses this blog to reach others allows me to enjoy the process of writing, posting, and managing EpicTheology. You, my readers, bring me joy.

In the end, I think joy is more costly than happiness. It requires us to be open to each other and the world. We have to allow everything in our lives to affect us and have meaning. We can’t just brush off the bad and focus on the happy circumstances. Happiness can be chased with cash and free time. But, like a rainbow, it will go away and ultimately disappoint. It is only when we allow the joy of God to seep deeply into our lives and live for Him that we find something better than happiness.

Purpose.

May we all spread a little joy this week.

Blessings

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