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Archive for December, 2015

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(Reblogged from 12-30-13)

 

A new year requires a new calendar. Don’t you just love the crisp, uncurled pages–the empty spaces for each day, filled with nothing but optimistic possibilities?

Perhaps you’re starting the new year with a fresh journal. Again, the pristine pages are filled with nothing but hope and expectation.

We might also desire to start the new year with:

New eyes—to see the glory of God around us.
New ears—to hear his still, small voice.
New resolve—to follow God’s direction.
New courage—to speak his truth boldly.
New faith—to live with confident trust in our Heavenly Father.

These abilities cannot be bought at Barnes & Nobles, like a calendar or journal. They are procured through prayer and discipline.

A good place to begin? David’s prayer in Psalm 51: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10, 12).

Allow me to personalize it a bit.

Create in me a pure heart, O God (just as you created a perfect universe from chaos).

And renew a steadfast spirit within me (that my greatest desire might be to please you).

Restore to me the joy of your salvation (just as we experience in the euphoria of Christmas Eve)!

Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me (throughout 2016).

The typical new year’s resolution is made, broken, and forgotten. Rarely does someone make a once-a-year promise and keep it faithfully for the next 364 days.

Perhaps we’d be wise to see each new day as a fresh opportunity for beginning anew. To repent of yesterday’s failures and forget them. To strain toward what is ahead—with enthusiasm, expectation, and hope (Philippians 3:13).

And gradually those new abilities we aspire after will begin to flourish.

God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:18-19a)!

* * * * * * * * * *

Thank you, Father, for your mercy to forgive the past, and your grace to provide for the future. Thank you that each morning is a fresh start, and each new day holds hidden opportunities. With great anticipation I turn the page!

 

(photo credit:  www.news.health.com.)

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(Reblogged from December 27, 2012)

 

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The main events are over: the decorating, the programs, the gift-giving. Yes, there may be a few more get-togethers to enjoy. You may still have family camped out in the living room (we do), and there’s still New Year’s Eve to look forward to.

But most of us are now experiencing the afterglow of Christmas—an agreeable feeling following a pleasant experience. (Thank you, Mr. Webster.)

In an effort to extend the euphoria, I skimmed through my blessings journal to remember special moments of Christmases past. I was surprised by the number of them and the fact I had forgotten many.

Example #1:

One year my husband’s parents were going to fly the five of us from South Florida to their home in Ohio for Christmas. Our kids could hardly wait, excited by the prospect of a new phenomenon—snow.

I was teaching school at the time, and a colleague, Ginny, asked me early in December, “Do you have warm clothes to take with you?”

“We have a few things,” I responded. “But I’m going to check the thrift stores over the weekend, and we can layer up.”

“Well, we have a bunch of stuff. Our family usually heads north for Christmas, but we’re not going this year. Let me loan you our gear.”

Ginny gave me sweaters, hats, gloves, and five coats. I think every item fit someone in our family.

Example #2:

As the kids became teenagers, their schedules became busier. Getting five people where they needed to be with only two cars was a challenge. Then a friend from church offered to sell us his car at a very low price. (He was buying a new one.) It was a blessing we hadn’t even prayed for. But it proved Matthew 6:8 perfectly: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Our older son got a car for Christmas that year.

Example #3:

Another year I needed a long black skirt for the Christmas musical at church. Pushing through a long to-do list each day, I kept postponing the eventual mall trip. But the afternoon I finally went shopping, God met me at Macy’s! Not long after arriving in the misses’ department, I spotted the perfect, ruffle-and-lace-trimmed skirt for almost 75% off!

How amazing is our God? He keeps track of planetary movements and weather patterns, yet he cares what we wear (Matthew 6:28-33)!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, Heavenly Father. Reviewing Christmases past does give me a lovely afterglow. But it’s not the holiday memories as much as your involvement in those moments that causes the glow in my heart. Each instance proves your loving care, and the obvious pleasure you take in surprising your children with good things. I celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness (Psalm 145:7)!

What Christmas memory gives you an afterglow?  Share your story in the comments below!

(Photo credit:  www.freechristmaswallpapers.net.)

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Dear Father,

Christmas 2015 is almost here. Soon, all preparation will have to cease.

However (as You well know), my to-do list is still not complete; I’m going to have to prioritize and leave some things undone. That’s probably just as well, so my OCD tendencies don’t win over reasonableness!

But even as I try to settle myself, to pray and worship You on this holy day of Christmas Eve, distracting thoughts continue to ping around in my brain:

  • Did I dust the windowsills in the guest room? ‘Can’t remember.
  • Hey! We now have an evergreen tree in the yard. I could clip off some low branches and put them in the deck planters. That might look pretty.
  • Don’t forget to make sure the oil lamp is clean and ready for lighting.

I keep writing these thoughts down so they’re on paper and not in my head, because what I really want to do in these quiet moments is focus on You. I want to wonder again at the magnificent mystery of God becoming man. And I want to thank and praise You for sending Your Son to save me from the consequences of my sins.

Hush my mind, Lord; still my spirit as I pray…

 

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You are the God of the heavenly lights who lovingly sheds Your radiance over us.

With the angels, we praise You: “Glory to God in the Highest!”

All honor, splendor, and glory are Yours!

No one on earth or in heaven is as perfect and splendorous as You.

Who else can wrap himself in light as if it were a robe (Psalm 104:2)?

No one.  No one is Your equal.

What a comfort to know that Someone smarter and wiser than mere man is Sovereign over all.

What peace of mind You provide when I turn over to You the concerns of my life.

 

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Light of the World, Lord Jesus,

All praise to You for leaving Your glorious, heavenly home to dwell with us.

You are our Emmanuel—God with us.

More astounding yet, Your dwelling is not a general presence in the world, but personal.

You actually reside within each of us—when we invite You to do so. Another magnificent mystery.

And You have promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

In addition, Your Light provides guidance for our choices of action, strength to meet all life’s situations, confident hope for our future in heaven with You, and more.

 

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Help me, I pray, to rise up and shine like a brilliant star, because Your. Light. Has. Come (Isaiah 60:1; Philippians 2:14-15)! What a glorious privilege–to reflect Your Light, pointing the way to abundant life in You.

How I praise you, Lord Jesus, that Your glory, splendor, and power have risen upon me–an incomparable blessing I now enjoy in part, but one day in resplendent totality!

 

(Photo credits:  www.talkofjesus.com; http://www.themelight.radiantwebtools.com; http://www.eso.org.)

 

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The Word, Jesus, became human and lived among us (1).

 

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Think of it:

 

He is “the image of the invisible God” (2), and

“The radiance of his glory (3),

The Creator of the universe (4), and

The Sustainer of all things (5).

He is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (6).

He is glorious in power and grandeur because

God was pleased to have all of his divine essence inhabit him (7).

 

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Who can fathom such transcendence?

 

The Word dwelled in the perfection and beauty of heaven (8),

In an atmosphere of tranquil peace and effervescent joy,

Where every longing of the soul is fulfilled,

Where angel-songs waft on the breeze.

 

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Who can fathom such splendor?

 

Then, The Word humbled himself beyond comprehension (9).

The Infinite One entered time and space.

He submitted himself to our realm of hurt and greed and struggle.

He even accepted the confines of a helpless infant—

Unable to feed himself, dress himself, or speak.

 

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For a time, the Word relinquished the privilege of words.

And the most important event of all history took place in a stable-cave, where

God’s infinite love was wrapped in swaddling cloths, and

The most important Person of all history was placed in an animal feed trough.

For this King, no trumpets heralded his arrival to the royals in their castles,

No loud pronouncements proclaimed his birth to officials in their chambers of government.

Instead, an angel choir hailed His coming to humble shepherds on a hillside.

 

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Who can fathom the glory of such humility?

 

The Word grew to manhood and proclaimed the way to know God as Heavenly Father (10).

The Word spoke radical truth about believing in him and receiving eternal life (11).

The Word sacrificed his life that we might escape darkness

And live forever with him in the kingdom of light (12).

 

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Who can fathom such love?

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  1. John 1:14
  2. Colossians 1:15
  3. Hebrews 1:3
  4. Colossians 1:16-17
  5. Hebrews 1:3
  6. Colossians 1:17
  7. Colossians 1:19, ISV
  8. John 6:38
  9. Philippians 2:7
  10. John 1:9
  11. John 5:24
  12. 1 Peter 2:9

 

(Art credits:  www.inkwellgreetings.com; http://www.knowing-jesus.com; http://www.churchofchristarticles.com; http://www.hdwallpapers.cat; http://www.chrusler.org; http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

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Companies spend much time and money analyzing factors that grab our attention to their advertisements. They’ve discovered that certain colors, shapes, and layouts create impact upon buyers.

In fact, researchers have even determined the most powerful, persuasive words. They recommend  advertisers use these top ten:

  • You – you matter; you deserve the product
  • Free – after all, everyone likes a deal
  • Because – people need reasons why they should buy
  • Instantly – we care about immediate results
  • New – everyone appreciates an improved product
  • Save – people like a bargain
  • Proven – we appreciate research that backs up an advertiser’s claim
  • Love – taps into what’s important to us, like family, safety, and security
  • Discover – hints of a promise that we’ll be satisfied
  • Guarantee – removes the feeling of risk

As I read through this list it occurred to me all these words are part of the glorious message of Christmas:

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On that quiet night in sleepy Bethlehem, God sent his only Son into the world to be our Savior. Why? Because he loves us. Whoever believes on him will be saved from death and will receive the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16). That includes you!

 Oh, but there’s more. When we fuse ourselves to Jesus, we become brand new people (2 Corinthians 5:17).   Our outlook on life is revitalized; our values and motivations change. We instantly experience the peace of God and his joy (John 14:27 and 10:10). Each day is an opportunity to discover more of what it means to live a God-enhanced life.

And how do we know those statements are true? God’s Word is our guarantee that these blessings become ours through Jesus. The truth presented within its pages has been proven. 

  • Over 150 years of archaeological studies back up the accuracy of numerous facts in scripture. Not one discovery has uncovered an inaccuracy.
  • Dozens of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled by Jesus. The mathematical laws of chance refute the possibility of coincidence.
  • Scientific and medical information in the Bible has been verified centuries later.*
  • Thousands of ancient manuscript fragments and letters (which include Bible quotes) corroborate the scriptures – many more than any other ancient text.
  • The influence of the Bible has been evident in the lives of individuals and upon the culture and history of the Western world. No other book has produced such impact.

There you have it. Ten words that researchers have found to be powerful and persuasive for selling products, or ten words that persuasively express the significance of Christmas and why it makes sense to embrace it.

The apostle John summarized the central truth of Christmas with these ten words:

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(“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14)

That is glorious, incredible news worth celebrating.

But Christmas isn’t just a happy one-day celebration, it’s meant to be a joyous, whole new way of living with Jesus — all year, every year.

Better yet?  A day is coming when the joy of Christmas will be purified, intensified and extended for all eternity–on the day when he comes again!

 

*For one small example, see “Pathfinder of the Seas” about Matthew Maury and his discoveries.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.wordstream.com; http://www.beyondwaiting.com; http://www.outreach.com.)

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“Oh, Lord, please don’t put me at a table where everyone else knows each other,I prayed, while putting on earrings. “It’s bad enough that Steve can’t go.”

I was getting ready to attend a dinner theater performance of I’ll Be Home for Christmas*, being held at a nearby church.  Had the evening been a date with my husband as originally planned, it wouldn’t have mattered where we sat. But Steve was in bed with a virus, leaving me to attend alone.

I couldn’t use Steve’s illness as an excuse to stay home.  Our daughter was one of the dancers. I had to be there; I wanted to be there.

God answered my prayer. No one knew each other at my assigned table, and we spent a delightful hour becoming acquainted—no conversation-monopolizers or negative Nellies in the group.

 

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However, I couldn’t help noticing that several tall people were seated between the stage and me. I was going to be rocking back and forth a lot to keep up with the performance. (You short people know what I’m talking about!)

A couple at the table, Larry and Susan, knew one of the teachers from the school where I taught.

“In fact,” Susan added, “She’s here tonight, too–I saw her come in. I think she’s at a table up front.”

During the after-dinner/before-performance break, I wove my way up front to greet Diane. Imagine my surprise when she said,

“We’ve got an extra seat here. Why don’t you come sit with us?”

I scurried back to my original table, expressed my pleasure in meeting everyone, and explained where I was moving and why.

Later, when Heather and the other dancers performed, she was right in front of me much of the time—with no obstructions. Thank you, Lord, for blessings not even asked for, I whispered.

The entire production was over-the-top wonderful, with an engaging script, a well-directed and thoroughly rehearsed cast, and a delightful score. In addition, everyone on stage seemed to be having as much fun as the audience.

 

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But I could tell hours of time had been expended to coordinate the various elements: costumes, set design, actors, dancers, singers, lighting, sound etc. The script also required impeccable timing for certain scenes. No doubt they had practiced again and again to get it just right.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to work on such a musical at our church, I mused. But no way that’s going to happen.

Our music ministry was in need of a new director; the interim (though trying valiantly) was barely keeping us going. The choir had dwindled by half. We weren’t even doing a cantata that year.

But several weeks later, a dynamic director named Dixie accepted the vacant position, and attendance immediately improved.  A few weeks after that she announced we would perform a musical for Easter.

Oh, no, I thought. We’re not ready!

But it turned out we were.   It took a few Saturday rehearsals and longer choir practices on Wednesday nights, but I don’t remember anyone complaining.   The extra hours developed stronger camaraderie among us, renewed our confidence, and bolstered our faith.  Dixie showed us that all things are possible with God—even Easter musicals memorized in six weeks!

Several years later in August, Dixie announced the musical we’d perform for Christmas. And guess what script she pulled out? Yup. I’ll Be Home for Christmas*.

 

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The Lord does indeed fulfill the desires of those who fear him (Psalm 145:17)– desires beyond probability, beyond hope, beyond what we ask for.

 

*I’ll Be Home for Christmas, by Deborah Craig-Claar and Mark Hayes, Lillenas, 1994.

Photo credits:  www.jointhedinnerparty.com; http://www.nph.com; http://www.christianbooks.com.

 

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After you’ve known God awhile you begin to notice:

His ways are not our ways–they’re better.

And he loves to weave together disparate, even far-removed elements (sometimes over decades of time) to achieve his plans…

Brothers, John and Charles Wesley are well-known names in church history.  God used them as highly effective evangelists in England and America during the 1700s.

 

(c) John Wesleys House & The Museum of Methodism; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) John Wesley’s House & The Museum of Methodism; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

Early in their ministry, they became convinced of the power of music to teach scriptural truth and create meaningful worship. Charles in particular began to write hymns. (In fact, he composed over 6,000 in his lifetime.  We still sing a number of them today.*)

One of those familiar hymns is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Some say the carol was inspired as Charles walked to church on Christmas Day, 1739.

 

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As the church bells rang out he wrote:

“Hark! How all the welkin** ring.

Glory to the King of kings!”

For years to come, those attending the Wesleys’ open-air meetings sang the carol to the tune of another Wesley hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.”

In 1743, another famous preacher, George Whitefield, decided to include the carol in a hymnbook he compiled, but changed the first lines to what we know today:

“Hark! The herald angels sing,

‘Glory to the newborn King.”

Charles Wesley did not appreciate the altered words, because scripture includes nothing about angels singing at the birth of Christ. Luke 2:13 clearly states “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’”

 

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Skip ahead more than one hundred years to 1856. Church organist, William H. Cummings (above), discovered a new and perfect tune for the carol, hiding within a cantata by his favorite composer, Felix Mendelssohn. (He had once enjoyed singing in a chorale directed by the famous Mendelssohn.)

The score, Festegesang (1840), had been composed for the 400th anniversary celebration of Gutenberg’s printing press. In the second section, Cummings heard “a beautiful melody looking for words.” He took Charles Wesley’s verses, George Whitfield’s revisions, and Mendelssohn’s tune to create a hymn suitable for congregational singing.

The result: the familiar carol we sing to this day.

If it had been up to Wesley, those lyrics would never have been changed.  He once commented that he and John were honored to have their hymns published, but he did wish the editors would “not attempt to mend them.”

If it had been up to Mendelssohn, his melody never would have become a Christmas carol.  Granted, he had recognized its  potential for a popular song, but as a Christian, Mendelssohn never considered the melody suitable for sacred words.

God had different plans, however, than Wesley or Mendelssohn. And he used two more gentlemen to accomplish his purpose.

Isn’t that just like our God?

Master Weaver indeed.

________________________________

*Some popular hymns of Charles Wesley: “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”; “Blessed Be the Name”; “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”; “And Can It Be?”; and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”.

** Welkin is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “the vault of heaven where the angels dwell.” 

Sources: Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins (2001); Stories of the Great Christmas Carols by Kenon D. Renfrow and June C. Montgomery (2003); www.aproundtable.com; www.markroberts.com .

 Art and Photo Credits:  www.bbc.co.uk; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.wikipedia.org.

 

 

 

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