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(“For unto us a child is born, unto us a child is given:

And the government shall be upon his shoulder:

And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,

The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

–Isaiah 9:6-7)

 

For decades now, merely reading these majestic words sets me to singing (in my mind).  Perhaps you know also Handel’s choral composition of this passage from his immortal Messiah. The familiar words have become forever entwined with the stately melody.

But familiarity does not equate to complete understanding. Some of those titles for Jesus, the Messiah, beg questions:

  • What is the government on his shoulders?
  • How can Jesus, an invisible presence, be a wonderful Counselor?
  • Why is he called Prince of Peace and not King of Peace?

What follows is a bit of research and reflection.

 

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The Government Is on His Shoulder:

Isaiah was surely referring to the day when Jesus will reign as King of kings. But long ago I invited him to govern my life. Now someone much wiser and more powerful than I am is in charge of my days—such a great relief.

Wonderful Counselor:

Consider a man with deep hurts who visits a highly recommended counselor. The counselor allows him to pour out his heart, and with body language and facial expression demonstrates warmth and understanding. His gentle questions and brief but well-chosen advice encourage the patient so catharsis can take place. He guides the patient toward positive change.

Jesus is our perfectly wonderful Counselor, able to provide the deepest catharsis and most positive change possible—through his Word, through prayer, and through the influence of others who believe him. He never leaves us to deal with our problems on our own—such a comfort.

 

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The Mighty God:

“He has established his throne in heaven; his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19) – even over my pint-sized concerns.

He is great and powerful and glorious and victorious and majestic (1 Chronicles 29:11). What awe-inspiring descriptors for the ultimate One in authority over all!

“From him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

“He is filtering every aspect of your life and the things that concern you through his omnipotent fingers of love” (Kay Arthur). Such a sense of security.

 

Everlasting Father:

 It sounds like a fairy tale—a great and powerful king of far-reaching lands takes in a dirty, insignificant pauper, adopts him into the royal family, and pronounces him a prince, with all the privileges of that station.

But it’s not a fairy tale. Our Father God adopts us into his family–not out of pity but because he loves us. And as a result, we enjoy incredible privileges, which will culminate in eternal life with him in heaven. Such joyful expectation.

 

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Prince of Peace:

We long for peace on earth–the cessation of all war among nations, the end of animosity between races, cultures, and neighbors. We long for “peace to men on whom his favor rests,” as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds (Luke 12:14).

But the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, offers a different kind of serenity—for now.

“Jesus offers an inward quiet in spite of outward trials. Rough winds may ruffle the surface of a lake, but far down in its depth there is perfect calm” (Herbert Lockyer).

Oh, but the day is coming when our Savior, Jesus, will be crowned King of kings and Lord of Lords. In complete wisdom and omnipotence he will reign as our everlasting Father, our Prince of peace forever. Such glorious anticipation.

 

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*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Each of these names proclaims a wonderful facet of your magnificence, Lord God. My spirit finds rest as I contemplate them one by one and embrace the truth that all this splendor is at work in the world and in me. All praise belongs to you, my sovereign and trustworthy Father.

 

Is there one name that speaks to you particularly?  Tell us about it in the comment section below.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.youtube.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.reviveourhearts.com; http://www.slideshare.net; vimeo.com.)    

An Advent Adventure

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We’re off! The race to Christmas has begun.

The next twenty-six days will include shopping, wrapping, sending, writing (the Christmas cards), decorating, cleaning, baking, attending, final rehearsing and performing. Did I leave out anything?

No doubt some of you are far down the track. Your house is already decorated, the cards are nearly finished, the cookies are baked and tucked in the freezer. You started preparations weeks ago.

 

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I am not among you—never have been. What would Christmas be without a little hustle and bustle to get the adrenalin flowing? Except I almost always become overwhelmed, which leads to frazzled nerves.

This year I want to maintain (or recapture as needed) an Advent perspective of tranquil expectation and worshipful celebration—even when the schedule and the to-do list get a little crazy.

How?  The following three ways might be a good place to begin:

 

1. Gratitude.

Gratitude will prepare the way—the way to salvation from discontent and agitation, the way to the presence of God.

 

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(“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me

and prepares the way

so that I may show him

the salvation of God.”

–Psalm 50:23)

 

Gratitude renews my mind and spirit as I remember: “The things [I] take for granted, someone else is praying for”–things like:

  • Colorful Christmas cards in the mailbox
  • An ample supply of sugar, flour, and butter for cookies
  • A Christmas tree filled with treasured, memory-laden ornaments
  • Loving family gathered to revel in each other’s company and hear the story of Jesus’ birth once again
  • Presents aplenty under that tree, to express our love

 

Christmas presents under the tree

 

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – William Arthur Ward (1921-1994).

What better time than Advent to be more thankful, to experience more joy, to take note of our many blessings in the ordinary? M-m-m. ‘Think I’ll reflect on that question in my journal during these days leading up to Christmas.

 

2. Prayer.

 If someone asked me, “Is there a scripture about the impact of prayer on a person’s emotional state?” I’d steer them to Philippians 4:6-7.

 

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“Do not be anxious about anything,

but in everything, by prayer and petition,

with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

And the peace of God,

Which transcends all understanding,

Will guard your hearts and your minds

In Christ Jesus.”

 

How easy it is to steer others in the right direction, but not take that route myself.

So these reminders are for me:

  • Be anxious about nothing – including the long task-list that requires completion by Christmas.
  • Pray with a grateful heart about everything that needs to be done – including what to say on the Christmas cards, what gifts to give, what is needful to accomplish and what is just my OCD in over-drive.
  • Pray for godly perspective. The result will be as he has promised: peace that transcends understanding.

To keep mindful, I’ve put Philippians 4:6-7 on the bathroom mirror.

 

3. Hope.

 

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Yesterday, the first Sunday of Advent, we focused on the word, wait –an action often accompanied by impatience.

But in the ancient language of the Bible, Hebrew, the word wait is the same as the word for hope. How appropriate—hopeful waiting—waiting that includes positive expectation, confident assurance, and absolute conviction, because our God is the One and only God of hope.

And because of him we have confident assurance of:

  • Strength (Psalm 31:24)
  • Blessing (Jeremiah 17:7)
  • Joy and peace (Romans 15:13)
  • Eternal life (Titus 1:2)

 

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What a glorious list.  And that’s just the beginning.

If I focus on my God of hope and all his benefits, my attitude will be transformed (Romans 12:2). If I turn my face to the Son, the shadows will fall behind me.*

Too often in the past, my attitude has turned the season of Advent into an adversary to be beaten.

This year I want Advent to be an adventure of gratitude, prayer, and hope.

 

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*Based on a Maori proverb

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.flickr.com (2); http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Blessed be the Lord,

who daily loads us with benefits,

even the God of our salvation.”

–Psalm 68:19

(King James Bible 2000)

 

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Five Grains of Corn

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Lots of folks will be trekking to the grocery store today or tomorrow, picking up ingredients for their traditional Thanksgiving feast: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and more.

But that’s probably not what the Pilgrims and their Indian guests ate in 1621. According to the two primary sources that survive, their feast included wildfowl (wild turkey among them, for sure, but those taste nothing like a Butterball), waterfowl, cornbread or corn porridge, and venison. Perhaps vegetables from their gardens were also on the menu, but they received no mention.

Soon after that first Thanksgiving, our American forefathers added a custom to the meal: putting five grains of corn at each place around the table as a memorial to those first Pilgrims—a people of strong faith who had faced persecution and even imprisonment in England.

So the small band left everything—extended family and friends, jobs, homes, and goods—to establish a colony for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith (according to the Mayflower Compact).

 

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“Embarkation of the Pilgrims”

by Robert Walter Weir

 

You may remember a late departure from England delayed their arrival in America by two months. To complicate matters further, they were blown off course by a storm. Instead of arriving at Jamestown, Virginia where other colonists already lived, they landed at present-day Massachusetts.

In numbing cold and deep snow the Pilgrims began the overwhelming task of building a colony from scratch. Shelter was their highest priority, and construction of a common house began immediately.

At night the men stayed on land while the women and children returned to the Mayflower, thanks to the captain, Christopher Jones, who anchored the ship a mile offshore. Jones knew that if he left, they would all die.

But even the ship offered little relief from the frigid temperatures. To keep their children warm, the mothers would actually sleep on them.

 

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“Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor”

by William Halsall

 

It’s no wonder that severe illness decimated the Pilgrims. At one point, only seven colonists were strong enough to care for the others. Half of the original 102 colonists died, many of them the women who had protected their children from the bitter cold. Most of the children survived.

The trial of rampant illness was compounded by the lack of food. During that first dreadful winter in America, corn had to be carefully rationed. Each person received just five grains at a time.

And thus began the custom among early settlers to put corn kernels at each place for Thanksgiving—in memory of those resolute and persevering men and women who suffered so much to live for the glory of God and share the good news of Jesus with the American Indians.

 

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William Bradford

 

Sometime later, Governor William Bradford of the Massachusetts colony wrote, “We have noted these things so that you might see their worth and not negligently lose what your fathers have obtained with so much hardship.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Forgive me, Lord God. I do forget these things and become focused on the delight of gathering with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day. I neglect to soberly note the worth of the Pilgrims’ sacrifices, that they might live for your glory. Their perseverance, courage, and passion put me to shame.

Help me to be a voice of remembrance to those around me. May we not negligently lose what the Pilgrims and other heroes/heroines have obtained for us with so much hardship.

 

Sources:

 

The Higher Happiness by Ralph W. Sockman (1950), p. 45.

The Founders’ Bible by Shiloh Road Publishers, pp. 95-104.

http://www.eagleforum.org; “Thanks-living Time–The Extraordinary Example of the Pilgrims.”

 

(Photo & art credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikipedia.org (2); http://www.biography.com.)

 

 

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Last year in mid-December I purchased the book, Christmas on Pleasant Hill, Twelve Stories for the Season, by Colleen Scheid. My plan was to enjoy a few pages each day during the remainder of Advent. Little did I know how compelling Colleen’s stories would be—stories that included:

  • A preschooler who figures out a way to give Jesus a gift for his birthday.
  • A young boy who ingeniously, all by himself and with great excitement, delivers presents to a less-fortunate neighbor.
  • A teenager who unknowingly brings about a Christmas miracle.
  • A grandmother who carefully plans her legacy to transform the lives of her two granddaughters.
  • A little girl who learns that all things are possible with God.

 

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As soon as I finished each story, my curiosity would start to pester me. What delights might the next story include? So last year, the Christmas cards and gift-wrapping had to wait until all 171 pages had been read. I was still baking cookies on Christmas Eve, but it was worth it!

Colleen’s gift of story includes the compelling characters she creates—“people we care about, people we want to know,” as reviewer, Mitch Teemley (President of Moriah Media) described them. I couldn’t agree more.

A page or two into each story, and the reader wants to know what will happen to: the young boy secretly living in a low-income retirement building, the rebellious teenager assigned as personal helper for a special needs child, and a distraught mother whose self-centered, twenty-something daughter is anxious to move out on her own.

Colleen also holds the reader’s attention by the way she writes. Perhaps you’re like me and enjoy best those stories that not only include an intriguing plot line and interesting characters, but also inventive language, an occasional, clever metaphor or simile, and delicious description to savor. Colleen does not disappoint.

For example:

  • A chatty young boy “monologued all the way home.”
  • The town of Pleasant Hill “was a mixture of ghetto and fairy tale.”
  • A mother says of her quiet son: “Raising an introvert was like playing darts in the dark. You never knew if you were anywhere near the target.”
  • Pleasant Hill “Yards [were] busy with statuary…Santas fraternizing with shepherds and wise men.”

 

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  • The emotional state of one character is creatively revealed:  “When she breathed in, Janice whispered, ‘God is my refuge and strength…’ When she breathed out—‘an ever present help in trouble.’ This had become a habit. It was not working very well for her today.”

‘See what I mean?

Granted, we haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving yet. But I wanted you to be able to enjoy these heart-touching stories as Advent unfolds—if you’re so inclined. Begin now and you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate each one, while still getting your Christmas cards and gifts mailed on time. Oh—and the cookies baked, too.

I can promise you: Christmas on Pleasant Hill will augment your journey through the season to come, inspiring hope, refreshing your spirit, and reaffirming in your heart the sacred truths of Christmas.

 

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P.S. Colleen just happens to be in my writers’ group. Not only does she write delightful stories, she’s a delightful person as well. Visit her blog at www.colleenscheid.com.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.amazon.com; http://www.holidappy.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.colleenscheid.com.)

 

The Crux of Our Lives

For a number of months, the pastoral staff of our church has been preaching from the gospel of Mark. Yesterday the text was chapter fifteen, the account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.

Pastor C. graphically described the flogging, the nailing of limbs to the cross, and the slow death by asphyxiation so we might better grasp the appalling circumstances of Jesus’ death and appreciate, at least in part, the supreme sacrifice he endured for us. Tears kept burning my eyes as I contemplated Jesus’ physical pain and emotional suffering—for me.

 

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Next Sunday, the sermon text will come from chapter sixteen of the same gospel—the description of astounding events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, his escape from a sealed tomb, and his sudden appearance to a group of men in a locked room.  (Further details are described in the other gospels.) The wonder and splendor are in sharp contrast to the preceding horror.

 

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Now according to the traditional church calendar, such sermons in November are terribly out of sync. Usually we save the sobering remembrances of Christ’s crucifixion for Lent. And it’s Easter morning we celebrate “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” with euphoric joy.

But my husband, Steve, noted after church, “It might seem strange to some people that we’d focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection at this time of year, but actually, I see it as the perfect time. Next week is Thanksgiving Sunday.   And of all the things we have to be thankful for, nothing is more precious than Christ’s sacrifice in our place and his gift of eternal life.”

 

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So true, I thought and nodded in agreement. How dreadful my life would be if Jesus had not taken my sin upon himself and provided the God-enhanced life I’ve enjoyed all these years.

 

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“I also find it fascinating,” Steve continued, “that Mark fifteen would just happen to be the text for today. Pastor C. couldn’t have known months ago when he planned this series that a lot of people would be distraught and even angry about the presidential election. Other issues have folks divided too—from racial tension on the national level to family concerns on the personal level.

“But there is one central fact that should overshadow everything else and help us keep a proper perspective: Jesus’ death and resurrection and all the incredible implications.”

 

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Smart man, that Steve.

The crux* of our lives is the cross, because it put on display the wondrous love of our God and Savior (John 3:16) and his omnipotent power over sin and death (1 Corinthians 1:18).  All matters of our day-to-day lives are secondary — including disappointments, irritations, and frustrations.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Oh, Jesus, keep me mindful it was my sin you took upon yourself that dark Friday. Every selfish deed, every outburst of anger or hurtfulness, every unkind, impure, or prideful thought—you paid the price.

That price included torn flesh, spilled blood, and excruciating pain beyond my ability to imagine. Yet such unthinkable suffering resulted in hope and healing for me.

Remind me to let go of  petty irritations, and prideful self-centeredness, to live instead in continual gratitude, awe, and celebration of you, precious Savior!

 

 *In Latin, crux means cross.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.christiannews.com; http://www.desktopnexus.com; http://www.pinterest (2); http://www.azquotes.com.)

 

Stilled Time

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A common, ordinary day in mid-November

Overcast and chilly, just like yesterday

Tomorrow promises to be the same

No breeze to make leaves dance

no birds to add lyrical songs

Few trees remain bannered in crimson and gold

Dullness and grayness predominate and

joy seems unwarranted.

 

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But wait—gentle wonders abound

Soft light filters through windows

Candles glow sprightly on tabletops

Hazelnut coffee in a favorite cup

Offers cozy familiarity and

A colorful afghan created by a friend

Wraps my lap in warmth and

My heart with her love.

 

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These quiet wonders provide the perfect backdrop to stilled time

Sublime moments of solitude to experience God’s presence

To receive revelations from his heart to mine

Time to wonder, time to ponder

Time to turn to God and listen

Allowing his Spirit to mend my brokenness

Tend my worriedness and bend my self-centeredness

To his way of contentment.

 

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Ordinary moments on an ordinary day suddenly become holy

Sacred and separate

As attentiveness leads to discovery

Discovery ushers in joy

And joy results in gratitude

I exult in you, Heavenly Father!

You reside among the commonplace as well as the astounding

There is great glory in the ordinary after all.

 

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(Photo credits:  www.wikipedia.org; http://www.keyword-suggestions.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.dailyencouragement.net.)

Strength Renewed

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

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