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Hope Dangerously

Edie Dutton

Romans 8:18-25

The New Testament in Modern English paraphrases verse 19 as “the whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the people of God coming into their own.” What an exciting image!  But too often I forget that sometimes the hope these verses describe is produced by persevering through suffering. I want the end goal without the work it takes to get there. Mary was described by the angel as “highly favored” or “blessed among women,” but don’t forget her “blessing” included being a teenage, unwed mother, having her baby in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn, and watching her beloved Son be rejected and crucified on a cross. Doesn’t sound like much of a blessing, does it?  But the end result is glorious! Three truths in these verses and those that follow bring us much HOPE not only in this advent season but always. God says:

BEHOLD I have a purpose!  In the end, you will have “liberation from decay” and have the “glorious freedom as children of God.”

BEHOLD I will walk with you through your sufferings and I have given you the Holy Spirit who intercedes for you!

BEHOLD I will make you more than conquerors through HIM who loved us!  Nothing can separate you from MY love.

In Suzanne Collins Hunger Games, President Snow tells head game maker, Seneca Crane, that, “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous.”  Let’s HOPE dangerously this advent season!

 

A Full Panoramic View

Paul Gagné

Isaiah 40:11

Cameras offered on newer smartphones can be overwhelming. Many choices are provided like Night, Professional, Panoramic, Live Focus, etc. Furthermore, each option presents many levels of complexity. 99.9% of the time, I do not use any of these options. My goal is just to snap a quick picture. After all, I am not an expert photographer. I wonder if my lack of understanding of photography prevents me from seeing important nuances.

Christmas is extremely rich in significance and beauty. Though I try hard to grasp God’s message, often I just snap a quick mental picture. After all, there is so much to do: gifts, invitations, cleaning, church, work, and … hosting family and friends.

Isaiah 40:11 says: “He tends his flock like a shepherd:  He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Using a mental snapping approach would not bring this wonderful verse into the picture because it is too far from the precious Baby sleeping in a manger. Our text is all about the Almighty: His agility, His wisdom, His commitment, highlighted by His giving and tender love. This image of God is at the antipode of the Babe in a manger that is given to us.

Considering Isaiah 40:11 and Christmas, we have to realize that snapping a quick mental picture of the season is not enough. We need a full panoramic view that includes God as the all-powerful, independent leader, and committed caregiver, as well as God, the One who renounced for a time his powerful nature to become a baby. All this because of His incredible desire to have a close and redeeming relationship with each one of us.

 

Plans for Shalom

Lance Mayes

Jeremiah 29:11-13

Have you ever thought something will never happen? You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel? You have hope, but it is becoming wishful thinking?

We were in the system to adopt for a long time (years) before we adopted Nicholas. Seeing our friends having babies and adopting was hard. We were happy for them and sad for us, thinking we might never be parents. When we decided to adopt again, we had to wait again. Would it ever happen? Then we got Leah, almost overnight.

The people of Judah can relate. They were in exile in Babylon, hoping to return home soon. Some prophets told them to get ready because God was going to deliver them. But nothing was happening. Would they ever get to go home?

Jeremiah tells them a different story. They were going to be there for a while, so they needed to build homes, plant gardens, get married, have children, and plan to stay. What a blow. Jeremiah even encouraged them to pray for the shalom of the city where they were in exile. What a tough assignment.

Jeremiah then shares God’s plan for them. Shalom. What a great promise: peace, wholeness, welfare, completeness, and human flourishing right where they were in exile. But, how could they experience shalom in a foreign land? This is no prosperity gospel. God is listening to them and will be found, even away from their beloved Judah.

Hope is not just wishful thinking. Hope is something you can count on, even when things seem so foreign.

Our dreams of parenting came to pass. We have two children whom we love. We thank God for them. (Leah’s middle name is Mattea and means “gift of God”). Did Nicholas and Leah bring us shalom? No. God already provided shalom during our journey.

Refuge & Confidence

Lisa Massar

Psalm 63:1-8

Today’s scripture, the first eight verses of the 63rd Psalm, beautifully reflect David’s ability to find refuge and confidence in God even when he was in the wilderness of Judah, fleeing from those who sought his life.

Last May a group of Woodlanders under Randy Edwards’ direction trekked the circumference of Ireland, often finding ourselves in the footsteps of Patrick, the country’s patron saint… from the Dublin cathedral bearing his name, built on the legendary site of his baptizing of local converts, to the haunting Rock of Cashel, historic seat of ancient kings. The “Rock,” a 200-foot-high outcrop of limestone crowned by the stone ruins of a Gothic cathedral, is built on the site of Patrick’s baptism of King Aengus in about A.D. 450. One of Patrick’s prayers, often called “Patrick’s Breastplate,” said to have been written to invoke God’s strength as he prepared to personally challenge and convert King Loegaire, the high king of Ireland, is reminiscent of David’s psalm in time of need. Two eloquent portions of the prayer:

I bind to myself today God’s Power to guide me, God’s Might
to uphold me, God’s Wisdom to teach me, God’s Eye to watch
over me, God’s Ear to hear me, God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me, God’s Way to lie before me, God’s
Shield to shelter me, God’s Host to secure me…

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ
before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort
and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in
quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ
in mouth of friend and stranger.

God is Our Hope

Daniel Zamora

Isaiah 7:14

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

This ancient prophecy was given to Ahaz, king of Judah, while Jerusalem was surrounded by the armies of Aram and Israel, its ally, commanded by their bullying kings. The bad signals were overwhelming: these wicked men wanted to cause fear, divide and conquer the people of Judah. In the preceding verses, the prophet Isaiah delivered God’s message: “be careful, keep calm, do not be afraid and do not lose heart.” (Isaiah 7:4) Easier to say than to do, considering they were in huge danger.

God was so concerned about his people that he himself promised a sign of his presence: sending his own son, Immanuel, a name meaning “God with us.”

About eight hundred years later, the apostle Paul made a similar reflection in the book of Romans: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

During this Advent season, let us be reminded that God cares for us. He is not only aware of our troubles, limitations, shortcomings and illnesses but is also interested in our wellbeing, desires, future and success.

God is our hope, today and tomorrow!

Advent Calendars

Ashley Allen

Isaiah 40:1-5

“Prepare for God’s arrival. Jerusalem has served her sentence. All sins have been taken care of…Make the road straight and smooth…Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. “ (The Message)

Advent calendars are always welcomed in our house (especially the ones with chocolate in them). Over the years we have had many different types of calendars. With each one we have tried to guide our children to prepare for the real meaning of Christmas. Our children love to be able to open them each day to see what special treat they will find. Whether it’s a task of kindness to do for others, a Bible verse to read, or an ornament symbolizing a part of the Christmas story, we want our children to pause and try to remember the real reason we celebrate this season.

Today our Woodland children and their families created a new Advent calendar for the season. Using simple objects (small rocks, wooden people, a popsicle stick stable) along with short devotional cards, we hope to help our children focus on preparing their (and our) hearts for the birth of Christ. May we all pause like children before God and give thanks for His Son.

Dear Lord,  Thank you for Isaiah’s words. Thank you for reminding us that our sins have been forgiven. Our debt is paid. In this busy season please help us (no matter our age) to pause each day and focus on the real reason for this season. Thank you for showing us your glory.   Amen

Dawntreading: Dr. Nora O. Lozano

Dawn Treading: A Monthly Blog Dedicated to New Experiences and Practices in Faith Development

Editor’s Note: In the coming months we will post a blog each month in hopes of deepening our experiences in Christian education and faith development. We will seek to share insights on how one might grow in her/his relationship with Christ. We will use a variety of methods but each month we will visit with a professor from a different university or seminary to explore what is happening on his/her campus in relation to faith development. In addition to learning about what is happening in theological education we will also ask for recommendations on what folks are reading at their seminar.

This fall I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Nora O. Lozano. I found her to be extremely bright, gracious, articulate and passionate in her calling. Dr. Lozano is professor of theological studies at Baptist University of the Américas.  She received her Ph.D. and M.Phil. in Religious and Theological Studies at Drew University, Madison, NJ, her M.Div. at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, now Palmer Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA, and her BA in Social Communication at Universidad Regiomontana in Monterrey, Mexico.

Her academic interests are centered in the areas of systematic, Hispanic, Latin American, and women’s theologies as well as leadership studies. Her writings include chapters in books, essays in theological dictionaries, devotionals, and Bible study curricula. In addition, she is a monthly columnist for Baptist News Global.

Dr. Lozano is executive director and co-founder of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute. The work of the Institute is devoted to the discovery, development, nurturance, and empowerment of women leaders from a Latina perspective to be transformational agents in church and community settings.  The Institute offers a three-year certificate in Latina Leadership Studies. The CLLI is housed at Baptist University of the Américas, and has sites in United States in Texas and North Carolina, and In Mexico in Metepec and Monterrey.

Professor Lozano is part of the Baptist World Alliance Commission on Doctrine and Christian Unity and was a member of the second Baptist World Alliance delegation that held theological conversations with the Catholic Church (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) in order to find ways to understand each other better and to promote collaboration on issues of social justice and religious freedom.

She attends Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio, where she lives with her family.

DT: I asked Dr. Lozano to tell us a bit about herself and her call to ministry.

NL: I grew up in Monterrey, Mexico and attended a conservative Baptist church. I was quite active in the youth group and had been nominated to become the president of the youth group.

About that time our church called a new pastor, who was quite different than those in the past. He came to our youth group just prior to the elections of officers. He then pulled out a Bible and began to quote I Timothy 2:11-14 where the subordination of women was advocated. It was obvious that he did not want a woman to be the president of the youth group or any other organization in the church. Knowing that the president of the youth group had to work closely with the pastor, I withdrew my name for consideration. However, it was that encounter that began a calling for me because I immediately began studying the bible with an intense desire to know what it says.

I enrolled at the Baptist Bible Institute and began a journey into formal education that was punctuated by a holy curiosity to know what the bible says about women, and especially women in leadership. I loved my interpretation classes and the opportunity to ask questions, however, I could not find the answers that I was looking for. Even though I continued to study the bible, I found a different source of comfort in secular feminism. However, my life was split between my Christian and feminist perspectives.

In 1986, with an earned B.A, I felt the distinct call to the ministry and began to look for places to further my education. Trusted pastors advised me to study outside of Mexico due that the main seminary there had a double standard for men’s and women’s theological education.  Thus, I turned my attention to the United States. I came to the Baptist University of the Américas where Dr. Daniel Rivera advised me to go to an accredited seminary to get my Master. I solicited information to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but they took an exorbitant amount of time to reply to my request. During that period, I heard about Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and applied there. Immediately, I heard back from them and was offered a full scholarship to come and study. I went there and pursued a Master of Divinity. It was there that I was able to put my Christian and feminist perspectives into a coherent understanding.  I was so excited with my new findings that I wanted to study more. Thus, following my time at Eastern I entered the doctoral program at Drew University where I eventually earned a Ph.D. in theological and religious studies.

DT: Tell us about your calling into academia.

NL: Following my doctoral training I moved to San Antonio and began teaching at the University of the Incarnate Word. In 2000 I was called to the faculty at the Baptist University of the Americas where I have taught for the past eighteen years.

DT: Have you considered teaching elsewhere?

NL: People have talked to me about that, noting that I could go to a larger school and get paid more money, but I believe God has called me to BUA. While my official role at BUA is to impart knowledge, the simple fact that I am there as a Latina woman theologian and leader serves as a way to open the students’ imagination. If I, as a Latina woman who came as an international student, was able to obtain a doctoral degree, they can do it, too.

DT: Share a bit of BUA with us, and give us a sense of what is going on at BUA these days.

NL: Baptist University of the Américas is an institution that educates people in preparation for ministry (lay and clergy). There are four B.A. programs – Biblical/Theological Studies, Business Leadership, Human Behavior, and Music. BUA is multi-cultural with more than twenty nationalities represented. Thus, we are a working laboratory in preparing our students for the world.

DT: What are the areas of study for BUA students?

NL: Many of our students go into church ministry, beginning at the Bachelor degree level. 85% are Hispanic. Thus, they receive a solid biblical and theological education. In addition, one of our major foci is to inform and further educate them in regard to their Hispanic identity. They so often come with a damaged cultural self-esteem that is the result of the negative messages that they hear from the predominant culture. We give them an empowering understanding of their heritage in ways that build up their general self-esteem, and thus, transform their future.

DT: Go on with that a bit in regard to formal education. How much personal engagement do students get with faculty?

NL: Our student body is small, so there is a lot of opportunity for personal time between students and professors. Everyone knows everyone by name at BUA. Our classes are small and we as faculty have office hours and other times to assist our students in their pilgrimages.

DT: Speak to us about the discipline employed in training your students for the ministry.

NL: Everyone is required to do some kind of ministry or community service. We want to give them a practical understanding of their callings, but we also want BUA to be a “stepping stone” to the next steps in formal education. We want to push our students to go further.

DT: Can you give an example of that?

NL: Yes. Recently I went to a Wabash workshop at Baylor University where I represented BUA. In preparation for this event, I was asked to reflect in experiences that represent my teaching at its best. I talked about an experience with a Latina student. She arrived to BUA and to the Christian Latina Leadership Institute with low self-esteem as a Latina. She came from a particular Texas Hispanic background where acquiring an education beyond high school was foreign for both her family and friends. In this setting, high school counselors often discourage Latino and Latina students from considering attending college.

Unfortunately, many of these students hear    something like this: “You are not college material, find something else to do.”

Given this environment, after her high school graduation, her goal, and that of her Latino and Latina friends, was only to climb the work ladder of fast food restaurants.

After attending BUA and the Christian Latina Leadership Institute, and observing me and other Latina faculty, her academic, gender, and cultural self-esteem was nurtured and developed. The teaching at its best moment was one that I did not know about until much time had passed.

During an informal conversation after one class, I asked her: Are you planning to attend a master’s program after college?

Given her background, she was shocked by my question. Eventually, this question opened her imagination and her dreams. Last spring, she graduated with her master’s degree, and now she is dreaming about starting a doctoral program.

DT: What an amazing story! What an affirming story! Resonating with that can you describe some of the issues challenging your students these days.

NL: Immigration is, of course, a major discussion on campus. It is not just an academic subject to study but a way of living. It is a dramatic example of how to put theology and life together. Then again, there are the women issues. I have been fervent in speaking in favor of women rights and women in ministry, encouraging and empowering our female students to strive for the best.

DT: What are some of the teaching strategies you employ to do that?

NL: We use the lecture method, of course, wanting to disseminate the knowledge that our students need for ministry and further education. But we are also group-oriented, encouraging everyone to learn from everyone. This is especially true in our advanced classes where we do more seminar work. We want our students to be able to be knowledgeable but also to effectively communicate that knowledge.

DT: What are you suggesting for the students to read?

NL: I like to introduce them to authors and theologians who write from different theological and cultural perspectives. I want them to feel empowered by reading theologies that mirror their own experience.  In addition, my job is to help them understand gender, class, and race dynamics that will affect their ministerial and leadership roles. Of course, they read, too, traditional theological books, but the uniqueness of BUA and the Christian Latina Leadership Institute is that the students are able to learn from the Hispanic perspective – perspective that unfortunately many times is ignored in other educational institutions. One of my primary goals is for the students to start thinking theologically for themselves. This is a life changing experience at many different levels.

DT: I want to go back to something you just said. You want them to think theologically for themselves. Can you expand on that a bit?

NL: Yes, I don’t want them to just repeat theological formulas. I want them to think theologically in order to explain the reasons why they affirm a particular doctrine or belief. This new skill will empower them for life, and will prepare them for graduate studies.

DT: Nora, I think it would be a privilege to be one of your students. Thank you for your time and insights.

God Says, Yes

Week of Love

We give thanks for the perfect love of your Son, so that we may, with grateful hearts, love one another.  Amen

Weekly Advent Prayers by Betty Claire Jackson

By Garrett Vickrey

John 3:16-17

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

Christmas is God’s ultimate amen.

In a world of ‘no’…
No room in the Inn.
No hope for the poor.
No food for the hungry.
No sleep for the anxious.
No peace among nations.

God says, ‘Yes.’

Not everyone heard it at first. Perhaps, it was a whisper only Mary grasped. On the way to Bethlehem, Joseph must have come to hear it too. Shepherds and wisemen heard the echo of amen.

Can you hear it today?

God’s amen resounds in the words of messengers and signs of earth. In song. In light. In kindness. God’s yes resounds.

In Jesus, God says, ‘Yes!’ To a world too busy to turn aside to notice the message of angels, God says, ‘This is who I am.’ God is with us. In the child born in a war ravaged country, God comes to a people poor in spirit. God comes to us before the dust settles.

 

Celebrate

Week of Love

We give thanks for the perfect love of your Son, so that we may, with grateful hearts, love one another.  Amen

Weekly Advent Prayers by Betty Claire Jackson

By Sandy Peters

Luke 2:11-14

Hmmm! Reverence and celebration! Wow! I’m looking at the two Advent themes for this year surrounded by the two prevailing themes of outrage and hatred portrayed daily in press.  How can I think “reverence and celebration” when the world is screaming that I should “hate and destroy” those who disagree with me?

Whew!! The Spirit nudges my thoughts: Maybe I should be thinking of “who” not “how”! Maybe I need to “turn your eyes upon Jesus” (those would be great lyrics for a song).

When I remember the love and compassion God sends my way daily, I am brought to my knees in reverence for the King of kings, the Lord of lords!  He is Creator and Omnipotent.

I celebrate with thankfulness that in reality God is in control of the universe and not the screaming folks that appear on TV!

 

God with Us

Week of Love

We give thanks for the perfect love of your Son, so that we may, with grateful hearts, love one another.  Amen

Weekly Advent Prayers by Betty Claire Jackson

By Curtis Peterson

John 6:33

“For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  

At first glance, one might not notice how rich this verse is with the message of Christmas. It echoes the message of Emanuel-God with us. It is a message not limited by time or space.

This truth is the reality that David acted upon around 1000 B.C. when he had the courage to challenge and slay Goliath. This same truth — God with us — is a timeless truth we can still act upon today, over 2000 years after His incarnation. The stories of Scripture, from the garden to the gospel and beyond are all relational.

The message of Christmas, God with us, is not meant just to be a physical truth, but a spiritual one as well. Here in John and especially John 6, he tells us that the incarnation is not just about the historical fact of Christ physical presence but a promise of God’s presence in the spiritual realm as well. We can act boldly and with confidence because God enables us through His presence and power through the Holy Spirit.

The power and wonder celebrated in the incarnation of Christ that was heralded by angels and told of in the heavens still exists. Today it gives eternal life and power to all who seek it.