Advent at the Chapel: The Light of Grace

sunrise10171

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 
so that, just as sin reigned in death, 
so also grace might reign through righteousness 
to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:20-21
sunrise11171
Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, I am your sin.
You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours.
You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.
~Martin Luther
sunrise10173

The issue is now clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.
~G.K. Chesterton

by Emily Gibson

Advent is not like randomly creating two opposing teams in grade school, numbering off one-two-one-two until everyone knows where they stand, the weak and the strong all thrown together by random chance.

Advent is not like an explosive election year where choosing sides means being aligned with a political candidate with whom I vehemently disagree, simply to avoid supporting an even worse option.

Advent is not like a Lincoln-Douglas debate tournament where I might represent one viewpoint for the first round, and then be asked to represent the opposite viewpoint in the second half.

Advent is like being chosen, even if, klutz that I am, it means being the last to be picked for any sports team with all my limitations, my poor coordination, my weakness and my flaws.

Advent is being chosen not for an hour or a day or a year, but for eternity; whether I’ll stand in the light of grace as it shines on my dark, glum, sullen head or will stay unexposed and hidden in the shadows.

It isn’t about choosing, but being chosen,
my flaws being taken on and covered by Christ,
just as I am,
so that I might become what I was not before.

 

Though the light shines on things unclean, yet it is not thereby defiled.
~Augustine

 

sunrise10172

 

For Advent devotions this year, we are using Pastor Tim Keller’s themes in his new book  Hidden Christmas

Advertisements

Advent at the Chapel: The Dawning of Light

by Emily Gibson

 

sunrise916174

 

Made for spirituality,
we wallow in introspection.
Made for joy,
we settle for pleasure.
Made for justice, 
we clamor for vengeance.
Made for relationship,
we insist on our own way.
Made for beauty,
we are satisfied with sentiment.

But new creation has already begun.
The sun has begun to rise.

Christians are called to leave behind,
in the tomb of Jesus Christ,
all that belongs to the brokenness
and incompleteness of the present world.  
It is time, in the power of the Spirit,
to take up our proper role, 
our fully human role, 
as agents, heralds and stewards 
of the new day that is dawning.

That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian,
to follow Jesus Christ into the new world,
God’s new world,
which he has thrown open before us.
~N.T. Wright from Simply Christian

 

sunrise916175

 

 

I was made for better than I am.

I was given a voice,
to give thanks, not complain.
I was given two strong legs,
to stand not sit, walk not rest, climb stairs not ride.
I was given two good hands,
to build up not tear down.
I was given eyes,
to see and acknowledge,
not avert and hide behind.
I was given ears,
to listen to your Words,
not my own.
I was asked to follow wherever you may take me:
even in this darkened world
even as the sun begins to rise
even as you make all things new again~
including me.

 

sunrise916173

 

sunrise916171

 

For Advent devotions this year, we are using Pastor Tim Keller’s themes in his new book  Hidden Christmas

Advent at the Chapel: The Meaning of Light

sunrise10172

by Hosanna Lovegren

There are many kinds of light– bright morning sunlight that makes the earth look clean. Light that dazzles the eyes at midday. The colored displays of sundown. The lights for the night–starlight and moonlight and the homey light that twinkles from windows and far off towns. Light helps us to see. Light is beautiful. Light is good.

In thinking about this I have noticed that we find light at the very beginning of our Bibles and at the end. After God created light, “he saw that the light was good, and he separated it from the darkness.” Then, in those last descriptive pages about the New Jerusalem, the reality put forth is bathed in light. Created light is no longer needed, for the glory of God will give it light, and the Lamb of God will be its lamp. God’s children “will see his face…and there will be no more night.” So, surrounding the story of man’s fall and the Lord’s provision of a savior for his people–we have shining descriptions of light. Our world began with light. It will end in light, and in between, to guide us through this valley of darkness, it is sprinkled with God’s light.

For those who do not understand the light, these things have no meaning. But for us, how much. Isaiah: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” It was dark, we could not see, but Jesus came into the world and also into our hearts. “You once lived in darkness,” Paul says, “but now you live in his light.” We walk in light, and yet we are also waiting for that final day, as Peter says, when “the morning star will rise in our hearts.”

Recently our family read of the perilous journey Christopher Columbus made with his men across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a water passage to India. After weeks at sea in a small boat, the men had lost hope and wanted to turn back. They were sick and starving. There was no assurance that any land would be ahead. No one, of their knowledge, had ever charted those waters before. Then one night they spotted a faint glow of light far away. Their hearts filled with hope and relief. Light did not mean just land, but people: a home, firelight, and food.

So too for those who contemplate Christmas and the meaning of light. A star shone above Jesus when he was born, signaling his arrival. Though a baby is wonderful, it wasn’t just a baby; the Light of the world had come.

++++++++++

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Revelation 21:22-27

 

For Advent devotions this year, we are using Pastor Tim Keller’s themes in his new book  Hidden Christmas

Advent at the Chapel: Humanity Cannot Save Itself

St. Cuthberts Burial Ground, Edinburgh, Scotland courtesy of Trip Advisor

by Daniel Gibson

Humanity Cannot Save Itself

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, Christmas falls in the darkest hours of the year.  About seven years ago I made my first trip to Europe, in December of all months.  As dark as it was in my northwest corner of the United States during that season, I ventured even further northward to Edinburgh, Scotland.  By the time my train arrived at Waverley Station at 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon, darkness had blanketed the city.  In defiance of that pervasive darkness, inhabitants of Edinburgh had mounted light displays that pierced the wintry gloom along the main concourse of that city and created a festival atmosphere along that thin strip of commerce.  Once I mistakenly stepped from the lighted walkway into a cemetery near St. Cuthbert’s Church and was quickly overtaken by that darkness before regaining my bearings.  I came away from that trip with two strong impressions: winter lights are a great aid in fighting the all-encompassing darkness, and for all that, darkness is the stronger physical reality, dwarfing even great cities filled for the moment with flickering light, and landing us finally in the dark cemetery.

And yet each Christmas season has become an occasion for fighting that battle of light against darkness.  Though we know deep in our bones that soon the lights will go out for us, we battle against the dying of the light and lift, if only briefly, our torches in the face of the darkness.  In fact, we may do so with sufficient determination and success that we convince ourselves at times that this is not a losing battle, and that we can indeed hold the darkness at bay.  Our particular torch may be the illumination offered by education, or the warm rays of good government, or the reassuring glow of observant piety — they have all been tried, and though they have all burned low or burned out, we continue to invest in the quest for the light that will last, and well.

It is in the midst of this on-going search for the light that will not go out that we encounter the words of Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  Note that this light is not of their own manufacture.  It is a light that has dawned upon them, from a point beyond the land of the shadow of death.  It is a light given them, given us, gratuitously, and not as a function of our skill or cleverness.

So in the face of such a gift, we rejoice with gratitude, correct?  Darkness and death displaced by light and life in an eager trade, right?  Right at this juncture we are confronted by these words of him who is the Light of the world:  “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19.  This is the truth of the matter — not only can we not generate our own light, we choose darkness rather than light because of the darkness of our own hearts, the cherished evil that dwells within.  Is there any hope, or will darkness have the final word?

Dear Savior of the world, may we confess in this dark season that you are the Light of the world come down to us, and that we have no hope, no light but you.  By your Spirit, dawn within our darkened hearts, vanquish the dominion of darkness, and so illumine our way that we may see and believe, and may walk in your light.

 

For Advent devotions this year, we are using Pastor Tim Keller’s themes in his new book  Hidden Christmas

 

Advent at the Chapel: A Show of Inexorable Love

sunrise103117

“God has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us,
in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.”

~C.S. Lewis

 

The preparation for Christmas begins long before the season of Advent: it is part of my daily bread, feeding me when I am empty, illuminating this world of darkness we all inhabit.

The Lord in heaven and the Son who comes to earth shows me relentless, unstoppable, inescapable, inevitable, unavoidable, irrevocable, unalterable, unceasing love.

It has always been, is now, and always will be an intolerable compliment as nothing I have done warrants such a gift.

I’m discovering what it means to slow down and rest in Him by accepting and receiving  such a gift of grace.  I need inexorability too –nonstop and continuously through the Holy Spirit– in my own expressions of gratitude, forgiveness, and loving.

Never ending and unrelenting —
not just one day out of the year,
not just one month of Advent,
not just one year of my life,
but every single day I live and breathe,
I gratefully say:
Thank you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
for coming to dwell among us bringing Light to the darkness.

~Emily Gibson

 

 

 

Chapel Thanksgivings: Little is Much

IMG_0431

LITTLE IS MUCH WHEN GOD IS IN IT
by Nick Laninga

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14: 13-21

Reflecting on the message of Matt 14: 13-21 I was drawn back to the above statement that was credited to Hudson Taylor of the China Inland Mission [ now known as OMF ].

I would like to begin with how the Bread of Heaven brings real and lasting life. We spin our lives so often on the things of this earth that do not satisfy. We need to come to Jesus that life giving bread and stream of living water and how we are to share that knowledge with others pointing them to Christ who alone can satisfy. In the front of the Bible Diana gave me in 1976 ,the Bible that made it through many BSF years has many notes, many stains but remains a favorite even though it is now relegated to a shelf in my office.

As children our mother would read to us from a Dutch [ in Dutch ] children Bible story book by Anne De Vries. I copied what I felt was a meaningful picture about sharing with others, or as Pastor Bert said “One beggar showing an other beggar where to find food”

This picture has been in that coffee stained Bible for over 40 years and my mother sharing the Bread of Life with her children goes back to the mid 1940’s.

Please see that picture but also reflect on the words of SATISFIED by Clara Tear Johnston. As you listen to the music please be blessed by the words.

Psalm 90:14. “Oh satisfy us early with your mercy. That we my rejoice and be glad all our days.

IMG_0432

Chapel Thanksgivings: Saving Lives

shared by Chris Lovegren

A Christmas Story from A Christmas Prayer (Christmas Books) by Rian B. Anderson.

Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or for those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors.

It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving. It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn’t been enough money to buy me the rifle that I’d wanted so badly that year for Christmas. We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible.

So after supper was over, I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace, waiting for Pa to get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn’t in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But Pa didn’t get the Bible; instead he bundled up again and went outside. I couldn’t figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn’t worry about it long though; I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.

Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard “Come on, Matt,” he said. “Bundle up good, it’s cold out tonight.” I was really upset then. Not only wasn’t I getting the rifle for Christmas, but, now Pa was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see. We’d already done all the chores, and I couldn’t think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this.

But I knew Pa was not very patient at one dragging one’s feet when he’d told them to do something, so I got up, put my boots back on, and got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn’t know what.

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn’t going to be a short or quick or little job, I could tell. We never hitched up this sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him.

The cold was already biting at me, and I wasn’t happy. When I was on, Pa pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed. “I think we’ll put on the high sideboards,” he said. “Here, help me.” The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high sideboards on.

After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood – the wood I’d spent all summer hauling down from the mountain and all fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said something.

“Pa,” I asked, “what are you doing?”

“You been by the Widow Jensen’s lately?” he asked. The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I’d been by, but so what? “Yeah,” I said, “Why?” “I rode by just today,” Pa said. “Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, Matt.” That was all he said.

He then turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading   and went to the smokehouse where he took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait.

When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand. “What’s in the little sack?” I asked. “Shoes. They’re out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunnysacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a little candy.”

We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen’s pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn’t have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn’t have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us; it shouldn’t have been our concern.

We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house, unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, and took the meat and flour and shoes around to the front door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, “Who is it?” “Lucas Miles, Ma’am, and my son, Matt. Could we come in for a bit?” Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all.

Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp. “We brought you a few things, Ma’am,” Pa said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children – sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last. I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks.

She looked up at Pa like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn’t come out. “We brought a load of wood too, Ma’am,” Pa said. He turned to me and said, “Matt, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let’s get that fire up to size and heat this place up.” I wasn’t the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and, as much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes, too. In my mind, I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn’t speak.

My heart swelled within me and a joy that I’d never known before filled my soul. I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference. I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people. I soon had the fire blazing and everyone’s spirits soared. The kids started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of candy, and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn’t crossed her face for a long time.

She finally turned to us. “God bless you,” she said. “The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us.” In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I’d never thought of Pa in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it, I could see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the earth.

I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Ma and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it. Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Tears were running down Widow Jensen’s face again when we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn’t want us to go.

I could see that they missed their pa, and I was glad that I still had mine. At the door, Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said, “The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We’ll be by to get you about eleven. It’ll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn’t been little for quite a spell.” I was the youngest. My two brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved away. Widow Jensen nodded and said, “Thank you”. Out on the sled, I felt warmth that came from deep within and I didn’t even notice the cold.

When we had gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, “Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn’t have quite enough. Then yesterday, a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your ma and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that. But on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunnysacks and I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent your rifle money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand.” I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it.

Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Widow Jensen’s face and the radiant smiles of her three children. For the rest of my life, whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night; he had given me the best Christmas of my life.