Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve!

Lion of Judah
(with apologies to those who have read this before)


Lion of Judah, Lamb of God,
On this night the Creator of all things
          seen and unseen,
Humbled Himself to be born
          in a lowly condition,
And accepted for Himself a limited human body.
He who spoke the universe into existence
          Must now learn to talk.
He who taught cheetahs and gazelles to run
          Must now learn to walk.
He who fashioned whole galaxies with His hand
          Can barely grasp His mother's finger
          with His weak, tiny, human fist.
And He who abhors even the concept of evil,
          Must become my sin,
                    Suffer my guilt,
                              Bear my punishment
                                        For my redemption.
My praises, my worship, my exultation
          Will transcend even that of angels.
My song will rise and spread to fill heaven.
          I am no longer captive!
This earth can not hold me, for
          This baby so tender,
                    This man of compassion,
                              My victorious Savior,
                                        My risen Lord,
                                                  Lion of Judah,
                                                            Lamb of God
                      Has made me His very own.

copyright Virginia Akin 2002


May the Lord bless you and keep you,
And give you the strength, courage, and grace,
and peace,
That you need each day
During this Christmas Season
And the coming year 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Little Christmas Eve: Guest Post

Today we have a guest post from my favorite writer: my Dad!  I know a number of people who are struggling this Christmas with burdens and heart-break.  Here is one of my favorite of his articles.

It's Okay To Cry At Christmas

 

Many years ago, just two days before Christmas, a young woman lay in her bed weeping uncontrollably.  This last incident which devastated her so might seem so trivial it was hardly worth a single tear; but wait before you make rash judgment on her, and listen to her story.  You may find yourself crying with her.

In many ways her life had been one tragedy after another, with only a relatively few happy days to remember.  While still a very little girl just starting second grade, her mother died suddenly at the age of 29.  For her grief stricken father this was the second wife he had lost to early death.  Because his work carried him far from home, his daughter went to live with her favorite aunt.  But that was not a very happy time, for her uncle by marriage was a scoundrel and stole the little girl's meager heritage from her dead mother.  Within two more years this aunt, her foster mother, died too.  Then her Father became ill, and after a lingering illness, he died.  This made three parents she had lost in six years.  Again she went to live with another Aunt who was good to her, and whose husband also was as a second father.  


However, the sorrow of death of her dear parents still haunted her.  She felt as if she really didn't belong to anyone.  She finished high school and college before she reached the age of twenty and then went to work supporting herself.  She still longed for a family of her own, which she thought she would never have.  Life went on for several more years until one summer she went to visit the Aunt who had taken her in after her parents and foster mother had died.  There was a handsome young man in that town just back from the war in Europe who caught her eye, and whose eyes bugged wide open when he saw her. 


Within a few months they were married.

At long last it seemed that life was going to be much better, and it was.  Soon they were expecting their first child and she could hardly wait for the coming birth.  Tragedy struck again, and the little boy ~ perfectly formed and beautiful ~ died in the trauma of birth.  She had never known such grief as this.  But before too long she was pregnant again, and this time a sweet little girl was born alive and healthy, to be followed in the next few years by three more children.  Life was good again.  Her husband's business was growing and prospering.  They built a new home.  He was elected to the city council, and all was well.  

Then dark clouds once more closed in on her life.  The Great Depression which devastated this country in the 1930's wiped out their business almost overnight.  Soon the new house had to go and on top of that, just after moving into a dingy little two room apartment with four children, she discovered she was pregnant once more. 


It got worse.  As the depression deepened, and no work could be found by her husband, they were forced to sell many of their possessions to buy food and pay rent.

Shortly after the fifth and last baby was born, her husband found work; a thousand miles away from home!  There was no choice; he had to go or the family would starve.  He was gone almost two years.  From his meager salary, he was able to send home a little money and even baskets of food from time to time.  In that dismal time, a few days before Christmas, he sent her the usual monthly check for the bare necessities of life.  From that pittance she managed to save back seven dollar bills to provide a meager Christmas for her children.  Then once more, like the straw that broke the camel's back, tragedy struck.  She was only out of the room for a few moments, but while she was gone the baby boy, now a little over two years old, found the pretty pieces of paper lying on the table.  He managed to drag them down, and merrily tossed them into the fire.  When she came back into the room she saw the last of her Christmas dinner and her hopes going up in smoke.  

It was too much.  This was the low point of a very sad life.  It couldn't get any worse.  All night she wept and prayed and longed for her husband, but sleep would not come.  Finally, at day break, she arose wearily from her bed to face the day before Christmas with little hope, and no joy at all.  It would take a miracle even to have a meal on Christmas day.  Still she prayed.  When the mail man came that last day before Christmas she found a letter from her best friend from college days whom she had not seen for years.  She opened the letter, and the miracle happened.  Inside the note was a crisp new ten dollar bill, and a wish for a Merry Christmas.  Later that day a box of toys for the children came from the same dear friend.

There were many long hard years ahead, but in spite of everything, Christmas was very special that year.  Before the next one rolled around, her husband found work in the town where they lived, and life slowly improved in every way.  She had many years to enjoy life and the family God had given her.


You see, the young woman was my dear mother, and the baby boy who tried to ruin her Christmas was me.

Yes, my mother cried all night just before Christmas Eve, as she had many times before and after but that was okay.  She had plenty of reason for her tears.  I am confident she will never cry again, for she is with the Lord, who promised He would wipe away every tear from her eyes, and He has done just that.

Many of you who read this during this Christmas season have plenty of reasons for tears too.  God has never told us not to cry, just that one day He will wipe away all our tears.  What tears were shed in Bethlehem that terrible day when Herod's butchers killed all the little baby boys from two years old and under, a tragedy difficult to even imagine.  Listen to that lament in Matthew's Gospel as he quoted from Jeremiah the Prophet.  "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more."

But the path our Savior would walk in His short life was tear-strewn too.  Despised and forsaken, betrayed and abused, tortured and finally killed, Jesus wept.  He wept when His best friend died.  He wept when He saw the people of Jerusalem reject Him and seal their own fate.  He wept in the bitter garden of Gethsemane.  He wept when His Beloved Father forsook Him on the cross.

All the sorrows, disappointments and failures which wring tears from your broken heart, He understands, for He endured them all and far more.  

I know for some of you this Christmas is especially difficult.  It may be the first one you have faced since that dear one died, or your marriage was torn apart, or your life just seemed to cave in.  You feel destitute, lonely, and forsaken.  Like my poor mother so many years ago you have endured what seems to be the straw that broke the camel's back, and your heart.  I can not tell you that things in this world will get better for you; they may or may not.  I can't tell you the worst is over, or even that there will be a ten dollar bill and a box of toys in the next days' mail.  But what I can and do tell you is that our God has told us that when all the final effects of Christmas have taken place there will never again be a reason to cry, except for sheer, unending joy.  For "There will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain, nor curse, for all these former things will pass away.  And His servants will serve Him, and they shall see His face, and there shall be no night there, for the Lord God gives them light, and they shall reign forever and ever."

Yes, it's okay to cry at Christmas if your heart is sad.  Tears are God's gift for now.  But He has better things in store for you in heaven where you'll never weep again or have any reason for tears.  No doubt many of you will be participating in a Christmas Eve communion service.  The supper displayed before you will remind you of that night long ago when Jesus was eating the Passover with His disciples.  The Word tells us He was deeply grieved and troubled at heart, saying, "One of you will betray me, and all of you will forsake me."  A little later when alone in the garden, He fell on His face and wept sorely with a breaking heart.  But though weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning; and so it did on that morning we call Easter, and so it shall on that morning we will call Glory.

If you have tears to shed over the sorrows of your broken heart and shattered dreams, then let them flow freely with no shame.  But never forget that God will wipe away all tears from your eyes and heart.

Years after I had burned up the family Christmas, my mother told me that she had taken me to bed with her, and both of us cried most of the night.  But before she got up she had hugged and kissed away my tears.  I think that is exactly what God plans to do with you and me when the time comes, for He said, "Even as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you, and you will be comforted."  

So if you can't dry your tears tonight, it's okay.  God will.

That's what Christmas, and the Christmas Eve communion are all about.  It's okay if your tears mingle with His when you drink the cup, for after His tears and yours, joy comes because of Christmas.  Believe this.  Go ahead and shed your tears on Christmas.  Then wait in faith for Him to dry your tears; and He will wipe away all tears from your eyes forever and ever.  That will be the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams, and that glorious Christmas will last forever and ever.

 

May the light of Christmas,
the hope of the resurrection,
the assurance of the Saviour's glorious return,
and His peace,
surround your hearts and homes
with comfort this Christmas. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas

Forty seven years ago our country was in the middle of the Vietnam War.  The USSR was still a frightening power-house, and we still had fears of nuclear holocaust.  We often look back with nostalgia to the 50's and 60's, but those years had their own challenges.  The world has been a tragic, difficult place since Adam and Eve sinned.  I will agree that what church-people label "common grace" seems to be diminishing over time, but awfulness and evil have been around for a long, long time. 

Forty-seven years ago my Preacher-Father looked at the world in which he was trying to raise five children and shepherd two-hundred or so church members.  He recognized that the world was indeed a tragic place.  He thought and prayed and worked over a sermon series that would acknowledge the tragedy of our world, and point to the hope of a Saviour.  He began writing a four-sermon series about the tragedy of the world, pointing out that the world was a fairly tragic and frightening place back around the time of the Roman conquest of Israel. 

Mary's pregnancy was glorious, but it brought the potential that she would be stoned to death.

Joseph's dreams for his upcoming wedding and a quiet, peaceful life with Mary were shattered when she came to him and said, "I'm pregnant". 

Rome was not a kind and gentle conqueror.  Herod was no beneficent magnate.  A seventy mile journey by foot or donkey was no pleasure jaunt.  There were no excuses accepted for one's very pregnant wife. 

King David had many, many descendants.  His city was crowded, leaving no inn rooms available. 

Have you been inside a stable lately?  Even when it has been mucked out, it is not exactly a pleasant place.  No anti-microbial soap, no sterile drapes. 

The world was not a fairy-tale place back when Jesus was born. 

Then consider the need for his birth.  It wasn't just Adam and Eve who sinned; we add to the burden of human sin every hour of every day.  In yesterday's post I talked a little about the holiness of God and how His perfect holiness makes our sinfulness something that can not be in His presence. 

There you have it.  We are unacceptable to God.  The Romans have invaded.  A young woman is pregnant.  She and her husband are forced to travel by foot in the last days of her pregnancy to a crowded village where there is no quiet, private place for her to give birth. 

And we think our world is a mess??

All those factors would seem overwhelming, wouldn't they?  Except.

Except that a baby was born into this frightening, tragic, miserable place.  A treasure.  A king.  A redeemer.  A saviour.  He grew up.  He worked hard.  He had compassion.  He taught.  He healed.  He prayed.  He forgave.  He was innocent.  He was accused.  He suffered separation from God.  He died.  He conquered.  He came back to life.

Dad's sermons became a book which is my favorite Christmas book. 



If you read this book, you will find the following at the very beginning:

The following sermon was preached on Christmas day, 1968 at the annual Christmas communion service.  Just two days before, on December 23rd, word was received of the tragic death of First Lt. L. Curis Wuestenberg.  Curt was one of the fine young members of Second Church, who gave his life for his country in the Viet Nam conflict.  He was the son and grandson of some of our most devoted church members.  Although the sermon was prepared several days before news came of Curt's death, it seemed even more urgent that this message be delivered to a sorrowing congregation whose feeling towards each of its members is one of intesne love and filial devotion.  The pastor shared in these feelings of sorrow and hurt no less than any others, but the God of all comfort spoke to his own heart through the message he was commissioned to deliver.  It is my prayer that this message may bring comfort and true Christian hope to all who sorrow, but especially at Christmas time.  

The pastor penned these words as a tribute to Curt in the Women of the Church newsletter which went out to the congregation shortly after Christmas.  With these word, this sermon is lovingly dedicated to the Glory of God and to the memory of Curt with whom there was a strong bond of deep affection and mutual esteem.

"When Abraham Lincoln breathed his last breath, the attending physician was heard to murmur, 'Now he belongs to history'.  So Curt Wuestenberg, who so recently laid down his life for his country and for freedom, now belongs in the long line of those who have gone before him in giving the last full measure of devotion.  Just as Curt won a special place in the hearts of all who were privileged to know him, so now he has won his own niche in history, in the hall of heroes.  We mourn his passing, for he will be sorely missed, but we rejoice in his victory and his entrance into the presence of the living God, and the Lord Jesus Christ in whom he trusted for his salvation."


The world and our life in it is difficult.

God is triumphant.


This Christmas as you think about what He did for you, 
may His peace fill your hearts and your homes.





Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wednesday Prayers

Thank you for your continued work of prayer.  It seems that this time of year is so difficult for so many people.  There are people who are desperately trying to "get in the spirit of Christmas" without having a clue what Christmas is really all about.  There are people who are suffering through that first Christmas without someone.  There are those who have husbands or wives in harm's way and don't know when they will be back home again.  There are those who are ill or have just gotten a dreadful diagnosis.  May God's people be generous with our joy and compassion.  May God give us His wisdom to find those who are particularly in need this week and next.

As we think through praying through the attributes of God, this week let's focus on God's holiness.  It is God's holiness that creates our need for a Messiah to come.  Our sinfulness must be transformed somehow for God to be able to even look at us.  His holiness is so great it has no limits.  Holiness means being without the stain of sin.  If God's holiness is perfect and unlimited ~ and it is ~ then there can not be any sin in His presence.  His holiness can not tolerate sin.  Because of that, our least sin (and let's be honest; we are covered with sinful thoughts, motives, and actions) makes us intolerable to God.  So Jesus came.  In His life, work, death, and resurrection, we are changed.  When we are able to get a glimpse of what God's holiness means, we are able to appreciate even more what Jesus has done.

As we pray this week, let's pray particularly that we will reflect God's holiness to the people around us.  Pray that we will be bold in grabbing hold of opportunities to tell people about God's holiness, how we have been changed, and how they may also be changed.

Please also remember the following needs ~ including the need to give thanks! ~ through this week:
  1.  Princess Catherine had a good check-up with her cardiologist.
  2. Nancy's chemo went well.  She gets to have a break until after Christmas.
  3. Sandra found out this week that she has stage II breast cancer.  Please pray for wisdom for her doctors and herself and for her physical and spiritual health.
  4. Dana is facing her one-year mark without her dear husband.  Please pray for her and her daughters this Christmas
  5. Kate had a good check up with her oncologist!  Please pray for this young lady as she is working hard over the next week to make Christmas a little more cheerful for others dealing with cancer.
  6. Nikki had a heart attack last week.  Because of her chronic disease, the doctors are struggling to treat her appropriately.  Please pray for her and her family and pray for wisdom for her doctors.
  7. Remember to pray for all the students who are working their way through final exams.
  8. Remember to pray for all the teachers who are working their way through final exams.
  9. Please do not forget to pray for your pastors this week!
Be  bold to share the glory and the joy of the Christmas story with those around you.

Immanuel.

He came!

And He is coming back.

God's peace to your hearts and homes.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas: Day Fifteen

As I was growing up my family always had Advent candles.  Evey year around Thanksgiving time we would go find some fir trees and delicately (!) hack a few small branches.  Mom would take these home and pull out the square of styrofoam (it was the same piece for as long as I could remember).  She would artistically twine and drape the branches into a circle (thus proving that a round wreath fits quite well onto a square styrofoam base).  There were holes in each corner and one in the middle.  As children we were quick to burn those holes a little "better" each year so that eventually Mom had to resort to little candle holders at each corner and in the middle.

We then went to Roses where we would look for four white candles and one red/purple/gold candle.

Et voila!  The wreath was ready for the first Sunday in Advent.  Five candles and five children.  How perfect!  Except that we always argued over who went last the year before.  Because whoever went last got to light the candles on CHRISTMAS DAY.  And by the way, got to light all five candles instead of a measly one.  So for once, we jostled and argued over who got to go last.  And who got to pinch the candles out after Sunday dinner.

I have tried to continue this tradition in my home.  It's a little different having just one child instead of five, but as a family the three of us have enjoyed this tradition over the years.

This year our church is lighting Advent candles each Sunday.  Mr. Marvelous and I were honored to light the second candle.  Up at the front of the church behind the pulpit are the banners celebrating the Advent candles.  Hope.  Love.  Joy.  Peace.

As we are walking through the Advent season, our pastor is using the Sunday School hour to talk about Advent in more detail.  Last Sunday I was struck by the progression of the candles.  Hope.  Love.  Joy.  Peace.

Think about that for a moment and let it sink in.

Think about the culture under Roman dominion and trying desperately to keep themselves separate.  Struggling to be obedient to the necessity of the Levitical law.  Hanging by a thread to the hope of God's promises.

Hope then finds its culmination in Love.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
  
Which circles back and increases the hope.

From love we move on to Joy.  How can one not be joyful at this expression of God's love?!  To no longer be constrained to perfectly keep the Levitical law.  To be freed from the guilt of knowing that my sin makes me odious, repugnant, and untouchable to God.  Happiness is found in our circumstances.  Joy is a soul-deep response to God's expression of love toward us and makes circumstances irrelevant.
  
That in turn circles back to increasing our love for God, and thus our hope.

Finally, that hope that comes from God's love and brings us rich joy works peace in our hearts and minds and lives.  Our busy attempts to earn God's love, our frenetic action to make ourselves happy; all are stilled in the peace that comes from the joy given by God.

The peace is so important that Jesus instructs his disciples to speak God's peace upon each household that they enter.   

In the center of the Advent wreath is one last candle of royal color.  This is the Christ candle.  Christ at the center, from which hope, love, joy and peace all flow.  

I know that there are different ways of arranging the progression of each candle.  There are probably twice as many ideas about the arrangement as there are churches who celebrate Advent!  But no matter how you arrange these the final result is the same.  As we celebrate with great joy the fact that Christ has come as our Messiah and Saviour, and the certainty that He is coming back, we are filled with hope, with the love that He demonstrated, with great joy, and with the peace that surpasses all human understanding.

May His peace fill your hearts, and rest and abide on your homes.



Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday Morning Memories

Seven years ago my brother started hanging out in his "spare time" at a local Dojo.  He watched.  He thought.  He prayed.  He spent time talking with the teacher and the students.  Six years ago he dove in and started the study of Akido.

My brother is a rather busy man.  He owns a tree business and is out in the cold of winter and the heat of summer climbing and cutting and working with the men on his team.  He comes home rather tired most days.  He is very active in his church, faithfully attending services, teaching and preaching whenever asked.  Until last year, he was teaching a Bible Study every Sunday evening in his home for whoever would come.  Early every Friday morning he is at the local IHOP teaching a Bible study for the men who work for him and whoever else wants to listen and learn (One year for Christmas I went and bought him a gift card at the IHOP.  When the ladies at the cash register found out who I was they were thrilled and told me that my brother is their "Bible Man" and that they love him dearly).

My brother is very active in a local community of Christians.  At the semi-annual four-day weekends, he is actively participating in teaching, leading, praying, counseling and comforting.  He usually works the men's weekend one week, helps as Spiritual director for the women's weekend the following week, then flies out to Northern California to help them with their weekends.  It is not unusual for me to meet folks in our area, find out that they are a part of that community, and then hear all about how they have been blessed by my brother when they find out who I am.

My brother is a man of prayer.  He spends a lot of time interceding for people he knows.  He is a minister of God's mercy and grace.  If God asks him to reach out to someone, he obeys.  

My brother is a husband, a father, a father-in-law and soon to be a grandfather.

With all of this, for the past six years he has worked hard at the study of Akido.  He has seen it as one more opportunity to minister God's grace to another group of people.  During this six years he has managed to tear the meniscus in his knee.  He had surgery, went to physical therapy, and got busy back at the Dojo.  Last October he had a heart attack.  Yes, the brother who works outside cutting down trees, works with a trainer every week, watches his diet and works out at the Dojo ~ that brother had a heart attack.  They were able to stint the lesion and once he recovered, he was back at work with Akido.

Last January his teacher suggested to him that he might want to put Akido on hold.  My sister-in-law's cancer had come back and chemotherapy was going to be grueling.  The Sensei thought that perhaps my brother needed to be at home with her, rather than working at the Dojo.  When my sister-in-law heard that she called the Sensei (who had by now become a close family friend).  She told him that seeing my brother receive his black belt was one of her goals.  She would rather have him working toward that so that she could see him get his belt, than have him at home those evenings.

Last week, my brother's manager and chief climber got sick.  Knowing that he had his black belt testing coming up, my brother had to go to work and do most of the climbing.  We were praying earnestly that he would not be injured!

This past Saturday my brother invited us to come to his Dojo.  We had the honor and privilege of watching him successfully test for his black belt.

I am very proud of my big brother for a lot of reasons.  This is one of many.






Way to go, Robert!

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas: Day Fourteen

Books


Just in case you have forgotten this about me, I LOVE books.  I am a bookworm and have been as long as I can remember (and my memory stretches back to the tender age of two).  

I firmly believe that books become friends.  When one makes friends, one should not get to know them and then never revisit them.  What a loss that would be!  No, one should go back and revisit these friends often, enjoy their company again and again and learn new things about them each time.  Yes, I re-read books.  Yes, I know that the outcome will not change with each re-reading.  


There are certain books that I particularly enjoy at Christmas time each year.  The Twenty Four Days of Christmas by Madeleine L'Engle is a must, as is Barbara Johnson's  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  I enjoy looking through Karla Dornacher's The Heart and Home of Christmas.  The Festival of Christmas: A Book of Days by Mary Hinderlie and Edna Hong is a terrific resource (good luck finding this one).  Mrs. Ruth Graham's book  Our Christmas Story is another great one.  So many favorites to read through and enjoy!

 


This year I added back in Jan Karon's Christmas book, Shepherd's Abiding.  I found it used at the local library book store (sorry, Mrs. Karon!) and could not resist the purchase.  I am so glad I grabbed it.  Father Tim is one of my favorite literary characters and his approach to the reality of the Christmas season is marvelous.  As he reminds himself to stop and listen to God throughout the work and the activity, I am taught the same much-needed lesson.  Jan Karon writes well and her work moves at a slower pace.  I am aware that many people don't care for her writing because of the slower pace.  For me, it is an encouragement to slow down and find and enjoy the little patches of God-light that are more evident when one slows down.

My all-time favorite Christmas book is this one.


My Dad wrote this series of sermons in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam war.  They were difficult days, and our church lost one of it's own young men that Christmas.  I have always loved this book because of the hope that is expressed in the reality of life in a fallen world.  Our world is a tragic place; you don't have to read very far in the news to figure that out.  Illness, natural disasters, wars and rumors of war, terrorism; the list of tragedies goes on and on.  Yet in the darkness of the world shines the one true light.  This is the world to which He came.  This is the world to which He will return.  He knows our struggles.  He cares enough to have surrendered His own royalty and accept a full humanity.  

 And it is written by my all-time favorite author!

That is my reading list for the next week or two.  

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go make an orange marmalade layer cake....

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas: Day Thirteen

Christmas Spirit

 

Have you heard discussion this year about "Christmas Spirit"?  I would imagine that you probably have.  It may have been someone asking the question, "How's your Christmas Spirit?".  It may have been someone accusing someone, "You just don't have any Christmas Spirit!".  Or you may have been bemoaning to a friend, "I just don't feel that Christmas Spirit".  You may have seen pictures on Facebook and thought to yourself, "Wow!  She really has a lot of Christmas Spirit".

Have you thought much about that phrase?  What does it mean to have "Christmas Spirit"?  I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately, and have even asked a few folks about this.  I think there are different answers to the question, depending on your perspective.  

If you do a search on the internet using the words Christmas Spirit, you might find that it could be any or all of the following:
  1. A Hallmark movie
  2. Essential Oils
  3. A collection of tree ornaments
  4. Something you want your children to learn to have which, according to the Wall Street Journal, is centered around being generous to those less fortunate than oneself.
  5. An album by Johnny Cash.  Or Donna Summer.  Or Richard Marx.  Or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
  6. It is characterized, apparently, by a clean, well-decorated house; or a particular color; or feelings of love; or generosity; or kindness to strangers; or baking; or constructing gingerbread houses; or lovely trees and light displays; or Mannheim Steamroller or TransSiberian Orchestra music; or....or....or....and....and....and
I found some fascinating websites where you can find out just how to generate Christmas Spirit in yourself, your family and your homes.  The Guardian website has a quiz for you to find out just how much you have (I am doing you a favor and not linking it here).  WikiHow can tell you how to develop the Christmas Spirit in 18 steps.  The Art of Manliness gives it to you in only 11 steps.  

It is an interesting study to look and see how our culture defines this.  

What is the Christmas Spirit really?  

Understanding the Christmas Spirit is requires that we understand WHO Christmas is about.  Christmas is about Jesus.  It is a celebration of His birth, which led to His work, His crucifixion, His resurrection, and His return to heaven.  It is the anticipation of His glorious return.

Christmas Spirit is seen in the Advent candles; the candles of Hope, of Love, of Joy and of Peace.  

Christmas Spirit is seen in the ending of the silent years.  The years that ended with the sounds of a woman in labor and a baby's first cry.  

Christmas Spirit is seen in Joseph's surrendering of his own personal desires for his new family in order to be the foster father for the Son of God.  

Christmas Spirit is the hope that comes even in the darkest of times ~ a country living under Roman conquest where a king could murder every single little boy under the age of 2 in a particular city on a whim.

Christmas Spirit is the peace that comes from God when we surrender our own agenda and accept His agenda.  

While I love the activities of Christmas and engage in them to the point Mr. Marvelous rolls his eyes, Christmas Spirit is not something that we can generate within ourselves through these activities, no matter how "good" they may be.  

It may come through moments of silence.  It may come through our tears of confession.  It will come when we exchange our own perspective of what is important, in favor of God's perspective.  It is built through careful attention to time spent reading the prophecies of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of the New Testament.  It is strengthened and encouraged each day that we go to our Father in prayer, ask Him how He wants our day to play out, and obey His instructions.  Sometimes He calls you to set aside a quiet life and be more active in His service.  Sometimes He calls you to abandon the busy-ness and be a little more quiet with Him.

This next couple of weeks as we prepare for Christmas, may we focus more on our King.  May we remember His first advent to a troubled world.  May we be strengthened to do the work that must be done before He returns.  And may our hearts be filled with the hope, the love, the joy and the peace of the Christmas Spirit.

 His peace to your hearts and homes.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas: Five Through Ten


Day Five:

First we went up to the church to decorate.
















  




Then we went and found our Christmas tree.

Yup.  That's the one.


Day Six:

Mr. Marvelous and I had the honor of lighting the second Advent candle at church.


Day Seven:

Eventually one does have to get the tree decorated


 With the help of the cats, of course.


It is prettier in the dark:


Day Eight:

Time for Christmas books


Day Nine:

Spending time with young friends makes the season that much more fun!

I'm thankful his parents are so generous in sharing him with me.

Day Ten:

Decorating continues

























 

There you have it.
The greening of the church had lovely results.
The house is kind of decorated.
The candles are being lit.
The books are being read.

Are you ready?

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas Day Four

Re-posted from 2014

Silence


Our home is filled to the brim with hundreds of books of every kind.  We have so many books that we do not have enough shelf space.  As if those are not enough, within ten minutes I can drive to a library where there are thousands of books (and video, and audio recordings) available to me.

Most of us have multiple Bibles in our home.  Our house has at least a dozen (we donated a lot in the past year).  In addition we have commentaries, Bible study books, Bible histories, Bible dictionaries, and many, many other works that explain the Bible more thoroughly.  I can just sit down whenever I want to, pick up my Bible and read it for myself.  

Every Sunday, and almost every Wednesday (at least when we are healthy), we drive to church and our preacher explains more of the Bible to us.  We pray together as a church, we share with one another how those prayers are answered from week to week.  We point out to one another instances throughout the week when we have seen God's hand in our lives and the lives of those we love.  
 
We take it for granted.

Now imagine a world without all these forms of communication.  Imagine that there are only a few scrolls with God's word.  The "preachers" (or the priests and prophets) who in years past would tell us what God had said and how He was working, had nothing.  No words.  No communication from God.  No place to gather as a group of people who worship the same God.  Not even any rebuke from God.  

Nothing.
 

Just silence.
 

For four hundred years.  
 

After four hundred years, don't you think there was very little hope left in God's promises?
 

After four hundred years, do you think there might have been a lack of hope bordering on despair?
 

Stop a minute and listen to the silence.  
 

Feel the darkness.



And far away in the distance, listen to the one or two voices that dare to sing despite waning hope:
 

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.


As you listen, dare to hope.

He came.

He will return.
 
 
May the light of our Hope shine in the darkness that surrounds us.
 
His peace to your hearts and homes.
 

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Twenty Four Days of Christmas

Day Three


This morning I was thinking about my list.  If you or someone you love is a list person, you know how this works.  We make lists.  Of everything.  Because it is so much fun to cross things off that list.  Some of us have even been known to add things to the list that were not on there originally after we have done them, just so we can mark them off.  Mr. Marvelous always rolls his eyes at that part.  My sisters understand.

I was thinking about my list.  What do I need to get done today?  What can I do to celebrate Advent today?

I like to sit down and read my Bible before I start making my list.  I prefer to pray over the list and ask God just what it is that HE wants me to do for the day.  I decided to read in Matthew this morning and look for God's promises to me in the books of Matthew and Luke this month.  There I found my celebration.

Once again, I was struck by the promise of the name Jesus is given in Matthew 1:23.

Immanuel

God is with us

It may have been a while since you read through the book of Leviticus.  It is not the easiest book for most of us to read; the details and minutia of the law are challenging at best.  There are lots of good lessons to be found there though.  This details how God's people could approach God.  

God could not be approached directly; He is completely holy and we are, even at our best, completely not holy.  Sins had to be atoned for.  Offerings had to be made.  There were sin offerings, guilt offerings, and peace offerings, just to name a few.  Even if you completed the ritual cleansing and all these offerings that were required, the best you could hope for ~ unless you were the high priest ~ was to be able to stand in the courtyard outside the temple.  Go in the temple?  Oh no!  You see, God was in the temple.  Only the one high priest was allowed to go in, only once a year.  He wore bells around the bottom of his robe and a rope tied to his ankle.  This was because if he came in without doing everything precisely the way God told him to, God would strike him.  God could not and can not allow unholiness in His presence.  If the bells stopped ringing, the people knew that the high priest had fallen and they dragged his body out.

This just barely scratches the surface of how people approached God in the Old Testament.  

Now look at that name again.

Immanuel

God is with us

Right now I am sitting in my living room in my sweats and a t-shirt.  My house has not been tidied up yet and the breakfast dishes are in the sink.  The laundry is running.  The bathrooms are waiting for my attention.  The floors have not been swept.  There are a few dust-bunnies in the hallway.  I have offered no sacrifices this morning, other than the sacrifice of praise.  No burnt offerings, no sin offerings, no guilt offerings, no peace offerings.  But God Himself is right here with me in this room.  On Sunday Mr. Marvelous and I plan to be at church.  We will walk in to a little room with chairs.  There will be a piano and a couple of guitars.  There will be wiggling children.  You would probably look in the windows or even walk in the door and not think that there is anything particularly special about the room where we meet.  But God will be there.  He will meet with us.  There is no veil separating us from God.  

The sacrifices have all been finished.  The guilt offering, the sin offering and the peace offering that Jesus made on the cross were so great and so complete, that there is no need for any more to be offered.  

The veil has been torn from top to bottom.

God is with us.


rentveil


And so I can say, 

His peace to your hearts and homes.


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas Day Two

Mr. Marvelous is a little under the weather today, so we will mark the Day Two with a Christmas movie ~ or two! 

I love the movie A Christmas Carol.  The one with George C. Scott, thank you very much.  The only thing better than George C. Scott playing the role of a cynical, bitter, miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge, is George C. Scott playing a redeemed, enthusiastic, and giving Ebeneezer Scrooge. 

It is an interesting picture of redemption, isn't it?  Scrooge's redemption came about because of his being faced with his own evil and repenting of it.  The change that occurred was marked by a radical shift in his focus and his spirit.  Because of the change that had happened, he became a joyful, caring and very generous person.  He did not change his behavior in order to obtain that redemption; the change in behavior was an outward sign of that inward change. 

My pastor frequently reminds me that all metaphors break down at some point, so I am not going to belabor this one any further.  No, I am just going to go and enjoy the movie and spoil Mr. Marvelous a little more until he feels better.

Have a wonderful evening!


Wednesday Prayers

Good morning  Prayer Warriors.  Thank you for continuing the vital work of prayer. 

As we continue to focus on praying to God about Who He Is, today brings us to the power of God. 
As you look around you, in your home, your office, the chemo center, or wherever you happen to be today, look for God's power around you.  It is not hard to find.  Are the chairs floating through the air, or staying on the floor?  Does the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening?  Are the oceans staying in their appointed place?  Is time continuing to flow in its orderly fashion? 

Reading in Genesis about God's creation is quite a study into His power.  Sometimes I stand on my porch and watch as the trees around our little hill dance in the wind.  The trees do what God made them to do, and by His power they continue to behave as trees, rather than barking like dogs.

God's power extends throughout the entire created universe.  It is so large that it controls the outer boundaries.  It is so great that it controls even the smallest particle.  It did not have a beginning, extending before the creation of time itself.  It will continue on through time's end and into eternity.  It will not change in its limits or its nature.  God is all-powerful.

Think about His power this week.  Marvel at His greatness.  Thank Him for the protection that this brings to His children.

As you pray this week, please remember the following needs:
  1. Nancy is having chemo today.  Please pray that she will be aware of God's protective power through this process.
  2. Wally is having surgery this week for his heart.  Please pray that God's power will be clearly seen by he and his family, and that they will rest in the confidence this brings.
  3. Please pray for Jamal and his wife, that their marriage will reflect God's grace.  Pray also for his parents as they are struggling with illness.  
  4.  Jack is also dealing with an illness.  Please pray for he and his family as they walk through this time.  Pray that they will be aware of God's power surrounding them and place their confidence in Him.
  5. Pray for Angie and her daughter as they navigate the toddler years together.  Pray that this little treasure will see the love of God in her mother's love.  Pray that God's power will be their protection.
  6. Princess Catherine will be at the doctor's office today to see if she has to have surgery.  Please keep her and her family in your prayers.  May God's power continue to be seen in their family.
  7. Many fellow believers are working retail this month.  Please pray that by God's grace, they will appropriate His power in boldly speaking His truth to bring comfort and encouragement and hopefully even new life to their co-workers and their customers.  Pray for strength and pray for endurance.  And please remember to extend God's kindness to them when you are shopping!
  8. Remember to continue to pray for your pastors and your churches.  Pray through the week, that God will speak powerfully through every piece of the worship services; the prayers, the music, the sermon, and the silence.  Pray that hearts will be drawn to Him.
Please remember to share any other needs in the comments section.  I look forward to hearing from you!

God's peace to your hearts and homes.






Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas Day One

Advent!

 

Here we are in December again.  Another opportunity to celebrate Advent, to remember the first coming of our Saviour and to look forward to the certainty of His return.

If you have been following the blog very long you know I love the tradition of celebrating each day of December with something special to prepare our home and our hearts for the coming of Christmas.  I am sitting over a cup of coffee right now looking at a list of ideas and ways to celebrate the next twenty-four days.  The list is important; it is very easy for me to get caught up in the details and the doing.  Yet the details and the doing can become a distraction from the focus of the season.  So the top of my list has this:

Focus: Prophecy > Fulfillment > Return

This is my goal for the month.   My desire is that every activity, event, indeed every moment, encourage me to remember what I am celebrating and what I am anticipating.  When I am shopping for gifts, may I focus on the gift that I have received through Jesus.  When I am entertaining people in my home, may my home be a welcoming haven of God's grace and hope.  When I listen to music, may it draw my heart closer to heaven.  When I read my traditional Christmas books and watch our favorite Christmas movies, when I write, when I bake, when I decorate my home, may all this glorify God and draw my heart closer to Him.  

I assure you I will get caught up in the giddiness of the season.  We will have our times of silliness.  We will watch a movie that has little to do with Christmas.  I will get flustered and panicked and tired and probably irritable as the month goes along.  I will be sad that we have no little ones in our home.  At least once this month I will probably succumb to the cleaning frenzy that drives Mr. Marvelous nuts.  He will get annoyed with me for "over-doing", and I will get irked that he isn't jumping into the chaos with me.   That's just how we are.  

Still my prayer each morning, through the day, and every night as I drift off to sleep, will be that God enable me to maintain focus.  That He will be honored in our home.  That my heart will be prepared for His return.  And that the glory will be His alone.

May the peace of Jesus fill your hearts and homes this month,
as you wait with me for His glorious return.