Where is God In The Countdown to the Year’s End?

It is hard to believe that we are almost at the end of the year – in fact even as I write this the new year has already come for those living in Australia, New Zealand or Asia.  And what will this new year hold?

Some of us are breathing a sigh of relief, optimistic that the turbulent times are over and done with.  However, most of us are beginning this new decade with a certain degree of fear and trepidation.  We have endured a rather bumpy roller coaster ride not just in 2009 but throughout the entire decade.

Economic collapse has for many been the last of a string of disasters.  The horrors of 9/11, war in Iraq and Afghanistan, tsunamis that killed hundreds of millions, devastating bushfires in Australia, and even more life taking devastation from hurricanes hitting New Orleans and Myanmar have undermined our confidence in the future and raised our fears to panic level.  Even more disturbing are the slow motion trends that will continue to devastate lives throughout the coming decades – climate change and the growing disparity between rich and poor.

How can we respond so that the devastations of our physical world do not undermine our faith or destroy our ability to trust in our loving, caring God whose heart aches for all of us in the midst of our anguish?  How can we respond without allowing compassion fatigue to form walls of indifference between us and those who suffer?  And how can we respond in a way that strengthens our faith and draws us closer to God?

Following Christ into tomorrow’s world is a challenging commitment.  It will require us to grow deep roots that anchor our souls and provide stable foundations that withstand the buffering of wind and storm.

As I look out on my winter garden I gain hope from what I see.  There is little evidence of growth, but I know that many of my most treasured plants are still busily growing.  In fact it is in the heart of winter that they put down their deepest roots, roots that will provide anchors throughout the coming seasons.

My greatest hope for the future decade comes from the emerging spirituality that is sweeping around our world.  Everywhere I travel I meet followers of Christ who are developing everyday spiritual practices that will I believe enable all of us to grow strongly into God’s ways no matter how difficult life becomes.

The resurgence of interest in ancient practices such as a rule of life, daily offices, and the liturgical calendar are heart warming signs that convince me God is alive and very active in our world.  The emerging theology amongst evangelicals that embraces concern for God’s creation also gives me hope.  And the emergence of a spirituality that connects faith practices and everyday life is even more encouraging as we are rediscovering how to live constantly in the presence of a God outside our church boxes .

Probably most encouraging of all is the growing recognition amongst followers of Christ that we belong to a God who cares for all the peoples of the world and also for this beautiful created world of which we are a part.  We are part of an interdependent world community and of an interconnect world environment.  We are all made in the image of God and need to grapple constantly with what it means to live as God’s people in a world of rich diversity and complexity.

We live in a changing world and I don’t think that the coming decade will be any easier than the last one has been.  However I do believe that it can be a time in which God’s people  can shine as beacon’s of light encouraging all the world’s people to journey towards a world that reflects something of God’s eternal world of peace, harmony and wholeness, a world in which all the world’s people share abundantly from the riches of God’s storehouse.  A world in which there is mutual care and concern once more as there was at the beginning of God’s creation.

Perhaps as this new year begins you can find hope and encouragement as I do from the ancient words of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 65: 17 – 25 which one day will be fulfilled.

17 “Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth,
and no one will even think about the old ones anymore.
18 Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation!
And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness.
Her people will be a source of joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and delight in my people.
And the sound of weeping and crying
will be heard in it no more.

20 “No longer will babies die when only a few days old.
No longer will adults die before they have lived a full life.
No longer will people be considered old at one hundred!
Only the cursed will die that young!
21 In those days people will live in the houses they build
and eat the fruit of their own vineyards.
22 Unlike the past, invaders will not take their houses
and confiscate their vineyards.
For my people will live as long as trees,
and my chosen ones will have time to enjoy their hard-won gains.
23 They will not work in vain,
and their children will not be doomed to misfortune.
For they are people blessed by the Lord,
and their children, too, will be blessed.
24 I will answer them before they even call to me.
While they are still talking about their needs,
I will go ahead and answer their prayers!
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow.
But the snakes will eat dust.
In those days no one will be hurt or destroyed on my holy mountain.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”

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What Are We Waiting For This Advent – The Entire Series

Many thanks to all those who participated in the series What Are We Waiting For This Advent? Even though Advent is over there is still a lot of interest in the posts from this series.  For many of us these days after Christmas Day – the Christmas season which ends with the Eve of Epiphany, are much more relaxed than those before so it is a great time for some quiet reflection.

So if you want to take advantage of time for some quiet reflection here is the entire list:

Fourth Week of Advent:

Still Waiting – An Advent Reflection by Christina Whitehouse Suggs

Awaiting the Morning – An Advent Reflection by Brad Culver

On the Side of the Rebel Jesus – A Christmas Carol by Jackson Browne

Advent Waiting on the Cancer Journey – reflection by Jill Aylard

Third Week of Advent

Habbakkuk Revisited – An Advent Reflection by Dave Timmer

Amazing Grace Christmas Lights

The Least Likely – An Advent reflection by Kathy Escobar

We Don’t Invite Jesus Into Our Lives, He Invites Us into His – An Advent reflection by Jason Clark

Patience in A Time of Distraction – An Advent reflection by Thomas Turner

A Cynic’s Hope – An Advent Reflection by Ryan Marsh

Waiting Without Busyness – Reflection By Greg Rickel Bishop of Olympia

Advent – We Don’t Know What We Are Waiting For by Ed Cyzewski

A Journey of Longing – Advent Reflection by Tara Malouf

Second Week of Advent:

Second Monday of Advent – My Violin Advent by Barb Buckham

Second Monday of Advent – Waiting Disagreeably for the Prince of Peace

Second Tuesday of Advent – Waiting Down Under by Andrew Wright

An Australian Christmas Carol

Second Wednesday of Advent – What Does Copenhagen Have to do with Jerusalem by Malcolm Duncan

Second Wednesday of Advent – More Advent Resources

Second Wednesday of Advent – Advent Waiting a poem by Andrew Wade

Second Thursday of Advent – Finding the Christ in Christmas by James Prescott

Second Friday of Advent – Waiting Without a Calendar by Kristin Tennant

Waiting for the Lord – Music From Taize

Waiting for the Homecoming of God – A Liturgical Reflection

First Week of Advent

The First Sunday of Advent

First Monday of Advent: Reflections from Mosaic Bible and Lynne Baab

First Tuesday of Advent: Waiting for a Job – Reflections by Coe Hutchison & Judy Naegeli

World AIDS Day – What Are We Waiting For

Shifting Your Wait: An Advent Reflection by Jason Fowler

First Wednesday of Advent – Waiting: A Reflection by Julie Clawson

First Thursday of Advent – Actively Waiting in Newness of Life – David Bayne

Waiting for the Advent of Light – Christine Sine

Advent Reflections by Karl Westerhoff on the Loss of A Daughter

Let Our Eyes Be Opened – Advent Reflection by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

First Saturday of Advent: Holy Waiting – A Reflection by Liz Dyer

You may also like to check out some of these other entries with Advent resources

Celebrating Advent With Kids

Daily Bible Readings For Advent

The Coming of the Lord is Near – An Advent Meditation Video for 2009

Its Really All About God

I mentioned yesterday that Samir Selmanovic’s book Its Really All About God is the most challenging book I have read this year so I thought that it was time to tell you why.

Though Samir has a strong Christian faith he believes that God must also be found outside the boundaries of our own particular faith tradition.  In other words he believes that Christians need Jews and Muslims and even atheists to stretch their understanding of who God is.  Looking for and finding God in others who are very different from ourselves is meant to be at the centre not the outskirts of our religious experience he contends.

Selmanovic has an amazing life story.  He grew up in a Muslim family in Croatia and was converted to Christianity while serving as a soldier in the Yugoslavian army.  Though his family were not particularly religious, they shunned him after his conversion.  His subsequent struggles deepened his Christian faith but also taught him to value the worldview of others.  He is now co-leader of Faith House Manhatten, hich brings Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists and humanists together to explore and find ways of living interdependently.

My favourite quote from the book:

In Jewish thought and belief, God first provided empty space for life to be created and continues to provide empty spaces in which creation can continue.  According to the rabbis of old, one of the ways the creation continues is through spirited conversations in which we are in a disagreement – the highest form of discourse.  When we take a stand and pull the argument in our own direction, we create an empty space between us, a possibility for the emergence of a truly new idea, an unexpected solution, a way forward.” (p175)

I love this concept that implies that all humanity needs to be included in a conversation that creates rather than destroys.  We need people in our midst of different religious perspectives and cultures so that in the creative tension between us new ideas are created and new understanding of God emerges.  A God that is revealed only through our own perspectives is a very small God.

The struggle is that this kind of creative dialogue requires an attitude of humility and a posture of learning.  It is a real challenge for all of us who have grown up to believe that we have the corner on truth about God and religion.

Western culture has trained us to believe that we are here to teach the world how to live and we do it out of an arrogance that says our way is the best and only way to live.  However I agree with Samir.  The pinnacle of success is not becoming a teacher but becoming a learner, particularly learning to live with the creative discourse that is present in the midst of disagreement.

This is a very thought provoking book.  I think that it is a must read for all of us who want to deepen our faith in a way that moves us towards peace and understanding in our complex world.  Breaking down the barriers between peoples, religions and cultures should be at the heart of our faith and Its Really All About God is a great place to start in moving toward this understanding.

Also check out this interview with Samir

Best Reads of 2009

Well the year is grinding to a close and like many of us I am not just looking forward to what I hope will happen in 2010 I am also looking back and processing what went on during 2009.  So what have been my favourite books from this last year?  Its hard to decide because I have read so many good books this last year.  But I still thought I would give it a go.  The links go to the reviews I have done of these books over the last year or of where you can find reviews on Amazon.

Best on Spirituality

The Mystic Way of Evangelism by Elaine Heath

Cloister Talks: Learning From MY friends the Monks by Jon Sweeney

Best on Gardening

75 Exceptional Herbs for Your Garden by Jack Staub

Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening by Vigen Guroian

Best General Reading

The Curve of Time by Wylie Blanchet

Best Novel

City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

Most Challenging Books

Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices by Julie Clawson

It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim, Atheist, Jewish Christian by Samir Selmanovic (review to come as I am still processing what I have read)

I would love to know what have been your favourite books over this last year too as i am always looking for new books to read.

Prayers for the Christmas Season

Advent and Christmas candles

One of the things I love to do during the days after Christmas is read through the prayers and letters that I have received over the preceding weeks when life is too hectic for quiet reflection.  It gives me an opportunity to pray for friends around the world as well as to reflect on the birth of Christ and the wonder of his coming into our world.

This year I have received some beautiful prayers that I wanted to share with you all

The first is from Jeff Pratt who currently helps lead YWAM Axiom and Axiom: Global Monastic Community while creating an urban monastery in New Haven CT.

“Jesus, Oh Long expected One, the Joy of the whole earth, we pause here at the end of a decade, to consider the wonders of your comings in the history of our lives. Struck breathless by your scandalous grace we thank you for choosing a stable for your first home, to give us hope that there would come a day that you would be born into the far fouler recesses of our own barren hearts.  Thank you Jesus, for that day has come!

Oh Inescapable One, Incarnation of the Father’s love, thank you for the hope of your future coming in glory, when every tear will be dried from the eyes of Your friends, and more importantly, finally from your own. But till then, Jesus, we’re stuck between the dreaming at the stable and the coming true of Your second coming. So we’re most thankful that you’re the Ever-coming Christ! You relentlessly come all the time in our lives; in the sacrament of the present moment you live and breath. Forgive us for not seeing you there in the years gone by. Forgive us for our selfish living. May we perceive that there is a divinely initiated banquet going on at the heart of ordinary life, and that around that table is the poor, broken and needy of the world. In this coming New Year, and decade, we want to be where you are Jesus, more than anything. Somehow we want to provide for you a more comfortable place to lay your head, and your heart. We’re not sure how to do this, but this is our quest. In Your most beautiful name we pray.” AMEN

The second comes from Leigh, from Raleigh NC.

Tonight after all the hullabaloo that we call Christmas, please remember the words of Howard Thurman, renowned theologian: “Sometimes in the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper in the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair.” May you seek within the quiet of the shepherd’s field, the manger’s stillness, and wisemen’s quiet multi-night journeys spent in seeking the Peace.  Regroup and regather your spiritual selves in the silence that make this a 12 day event.  Love is all we need.  It is the greatest of these that we will find within.

Christmas Eve Prayer

Kenyan nativity

Rejoice this night with all the hosts of heaven

For Christ our Saviour is born.

He has come to foreigners travelling from afar,

He has come to shepherds outcast in the fields,

He has come bringing joy to the world.

He has come,

Heralding God’s eternal world of peace and justice.

May we make ourselves a part of it,

And look into the light of Christ.

Still Waiting – An Advent Reflection by Christina Whitehouse-Suggs

This is the last in the series What Are We Waiting for This Advent Season.

This post comes from Christina Whitehouse-Suggs.  She describes herself as a chameleon who struggles with finding a color of my own. I’m a performer who often loses my voice only to find it in silence. I’m a Baptimergent minister who is more comfortable among sinners than saints. I’m still searching for my tribe.  She blogs at Thoughts From the Journey

Ron Garvaise - Madonna with Child

I do not like to wait.

Call me impatient (I am). Call me a product of the consumer generation (I am). Call me what you will…I do not like to wait.

Which is why the season of Advent is so good for me.

I didn’t grow up celebrating Advent. I’d never even heard of it until after graduating college…yes, think mid-20’s. What a revelation! Spending almost an entire month preparing myself for the coming of Christ…instead of rushing into the season, thoughtless and mindless of the implications of the season for me as someone who professes to follow Christ (but rarely stops to think about what that really means).

And so, here I am, 10 years later, celebrating Advent yet again.

While many texts and sermons focus on the idea of “we are a people who are waiting in the darkness…waiting for the light of Christ,” I have a different perspective. I believe this season of waiting is ripe with possibilities and full of hope and promise.

Five years ago, I was 7 months pregnant with Kara, my first (and only, thus far) pregnancy. There was fear and hope and mystery and a great sense of the unknown wrapped up in the experience. I couldn’t peer into my womb to see her develop – I could only greet each new day with a sense of wonder and expectation. There were flutters of life (though with Kara, she kept her feet planted into my ribs most of the time…so it was more than “flutters” that I felt). The only indicators we had of her life were my swollen belly (and ankles and face and rear end and…) and the occasional hiccup I could feel as she grew and inched her way towards her due date.

Yes, it was more tangible than our waiting for the coming of the Christ-child. Yes, it was a one-time event for me…not something I experience every year (thank God!).

But there is something to be learned in the waiting time. There is something inside all of us that is longing to be born – hope or joy or peace or love – every year! But it isn’t something that can be rushed. We must nurture it, give it time and energy…and sometimes we must simply…wait.

Adventus Domini. Come, Lord Jesus. Come. We are your people and we are waiting.