Advent, week 1

By Bruce Stanley, president / CEO

Watch therefore, and pray without ceasing, that ye may be accounted worthy … to stand before the Son of Man. –Luke 21:36

For the second time in four years our family finds itself preparing for the marriage of one of our children to a fantastic person. Joy is overflowing our hearts and we are counting down the minutes. Decisions have been made, details decided, rethought, and decided again. The planning and preparations are complete. With only two weeks before the wedding, we sit on the edge of our seats with high anticipation.

The first wedding we celebrated was for our daughter; this time, our son. Because of convention and cultural norms, there has been a marked difference in the amount of work involved. At this point I will readily admit to what you already surmise – as the dad I have done none of the heavy lifting. Because all involved want the events to be tasteful and refined, my contributions have been limited to offering praise, affirmation, and applause.

From my father’s sideline seat I have been struck by the marked difference in effort required of our family this second time through. For our daughter’s wedding I was asked to be attentive to details large and small for months and months. For our son, not nearly as much has been asked. While I have been looking forward to his wedding, I confess that even as dresses are selected and accessorized, the menu for the rehearsal dinner chosen, and family travel solidified, it wasn’t until last week when a package for our son (who lives in San Francisco) came that the moment to be seemed close upon me.

I reflected some that night that my level of necessary preparation for the two events has been greatly varied. In the words of Luke 21:36, for my daughter’s wedding it felt that it was indeed “watch therefore and pray without ceasing.” For my son’s wedding, I am clearly joyous and looking forward to it but honestly my level of watchfulness has not been as high.

Further reflection revealed that this varied level of preparation and watchfulness applies not just to impending nuptials, but also to my approach during Advent. I know that during some years I have been constant in prayer and Bible study and I marked the days of the Advent calendar without fail. In other years my preparation has been more episodic and periodic. I am convinced that in most if not all of life, anticipation is likely to exceed participation. In years in which I prepared little for Advent, I gained little. In years in which it was priority, I gained spiritually.

With this renewed understanding, I am fully and completely committing to preparation for the coming of the truly great event, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I invite you to also rededicate yourself to intentional preparation for the joy that is to come.

Read Advent, week 1
Read Advent, week 2
Read Advent, week 3
Read Advent, week 4

Lent – Week 2

Bruce Stanley, president / CEO – The Bible contains poetry, genealogy, history, prose, hymns, liturgy, fable, and science. It is, however, not a book of’ any of these categories, certainly not science.

For example, in Bible stories that talk about seeds, there are things that are simply not correct according to botanical science. In John 12 it says that a grain of wheat goes into the ground and “dies” so that it may sprout and bring forth grain. We know, of course, that the seed does not die but rather germinates and is transformed by growth.

Now look at Matthew 13. Here Jesus says that mustard is the smallest of seeds. As he continues, he talks about the mustard tree and the birds that nest in its branches. But mustard, as we know, is a ground plant. And if you research how mustard grows you learn that it spreads – so much so that it is sometimes labeled “invasive.”  (In many northern climates it grows as fast as kudzu does here, spreading aggressively and taking over not just yards but entire fields.)

Regardless of whether mustard grows up or grows out, what a wonderful object lesson this is. During this Lenten season as we seek to examine ourselves deeply, it is possible for us to conclude that we don’t have much or any faith. Deep inner work can result in us concluding that we are not growing into the likeness of God and we may even feel as if we are shrinking or withering in our faith.

The good news in this teaching from Jesus is the promise that it only takes a tiny seed. God has already gifted you with enough – patience, kindness, charity, love, joy – for the good and God within you to grow. Christ’s presence in you is something God wants to magnify. He wants his love and compassion to become like mustard, wild and unchecked. He wants his love to be present in every thought and every act, every minute.

We don’t have to go “get” stronger faith. We simply need to look inward. God has already planted and begun great work within us. Let us use this season to let that small seed grow.

Read Lent Week 1
Read Lent Week 3
Read Lent Week 4