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Archive for December, 2016

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Christmas 2016 is now only a set of memories.

Mine include:

  • The first preschool performance of our granddaughter, Elena. Picture a stageful of two-to-four-year olds singing off-key with cherubic enthusiasm. Delightful.
  • Christmas Eve dinner with family in a lovely restaurant, and then an outstanding church concert afterwards.
  • A gathering of eight around the Christmas tree to open presents—seven family members and one adopted uncle (a friend of our son’s who could not get home for the weekend).

Now it’s time to finish up or freeze all the leftovers from holiday meals. Soon we’ll have to bring up the boxes from the basement and undecorate (the most deplorable of chores) while listening to Christmas carols one last time.

 

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And as folks around the world put away the ornaments, wreaths, and fairy lights, many will put away their cheerfulness and good will. There will be fewer smiles and happy greetings, fewer kindnesses and generous gestures.

I don’t want to be one of those folks, melancholy as my spirit might be. I need a new attitude, as described by Charles Allen and Charles Wallis:

 

“Christmas need not be limited to only a day.

Christmas can become, as it was meant to be,

an attitude toward life that will continue

during all of the days that follow.”

–from Christmas, p. 51.

 

My new attitude could take inspiration from the shepherds who, after visiting the stable, returned to their flock glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen (Luke 2:20).

 

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Surely their glorifying and praising was not just a temporary state. Of course, the intense euphoria lessened with time. It would be impossible to live with that level of excitement long-term. Who could eat or sleep?

But I can picture them, sitting around their campfire year after year, frequently reminiscing about that night. I can see their soft smiles, recalling how terrible fright had turned to gleeful joy. And I see the shaking of their heads in wonder, remembering that they were among the first to look into the face of the long-awaited Messiah.  What an incredulous privilege. That kind of elation never grows old.

I have a feeling those shepherds were never the same after that night. Their families—even the village of Bethlehem—were impacted by the effervescent joy that overflowed from their lives.

After all, they had seen the Lord.

 

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(Gerard von Honthorst painting, 1622)

 

I, too, have encountered him in my spirit. But when post-Christmas melancholy comes calling, my thoughts gravitate toward disappointment that the beauty, excitement, and wonder of the season is over.

I need to renew my mind by following the shepherds’ example:

  • Glorify God—for all his marvelous attributes
  • Praise God—for all I have heard from him and seen him do
  • Spread the word about Jesus—my merciful Savior and gracious Lord

As I pack up all the decorations, may my thoughts center on the joy Jesus provides—not just for the Christmas season but always. May I look forward with anticipation to the experiences God has planned for me and the growth he’ll achieve in me during the new year—even as I fondly look backward on the sweet memories of Christmas past.

May I begin to develop a Christmas attitude that will last the whole year through.

To that end, I’ve chosen several Christmas cards to tuck here and there around the house—as reminders to keep glorifying, praising, and spreading the word:

 

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No need to wait until next year for Christmas joy after all.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.youtube.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; Nancy Ruegg (4).

 

P.S.  For 2017, beginning next Thursday, January 5, I’ll be posting just once a week in order to allow time for other projects and for assisting our son and daughter-in-law when Baby Girl #2 arrives (sometime mid-January).  I do hope you’ll still return each Thursday for a new post.

 

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Praise God that, because of our Savior, Jesus Christ,

the joy and peace of Christmas endures forever.

HALLELUJAH!

 

(Our family is enjoying some precious together-time for a few days.  I’ll be back on Thursday with a new post.  Merry Day-after-Christmas, my friends!)

 

(Photo credit:  www.pinterest.com)

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Sometime on Christmas Eve, after the kids have finally fallen asleep and the last gift is wrapped and all do-ahead preparation is completed for Christmas dinner, peace on earth will at last settle in many homes.  Such peace is characterized by contentedness that everything is ready for tomorrow.  There’s also a sense of good will toward mankind–even toward the eccentric relatives who’ve come for the weekend.

But of course such peace doesn’t last long. The children awake and the noisy celebration begins—way too early in the morning.

Truth is, throughout recorded history, peace on earth has always occurred in small, intermittent fits. Since 36 B.C., the world has seen 15,000 wars.*

So it seems incongruous that the angels told the shepherds, “On earth peace to men” (Luke 2:14)–until we read the rest of their proclamation: “On earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

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We have to understand: the heavenly choir was not proclaiming universal, political peace but individual, internal peace to those who enjoy God’s favor (same verse, ISV).

So how do we access this favor and receive God’s peace? It occurs as we:

  1. Accept Jesus’ invitation to be in relationship with him.

He is the way God has chosen for man to be reconciled to himself (John 14:6).

Some people want to believe all religions should lead to God. It doesn’t seem fair to them that one is deemed better than another. But if we look at the situation from God’s point of view we realize: It’s not necessary there be dozens of ways to him. He chose one way, through his Son, Jesus.

And those who accept him into their lives do indeed receive great favor. They become the children of the King of the universe (John 1:12)–forever.

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  1. Learn more about God and his attributes. “May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord (1 Peter 1:2, NLT). For example: 
  • He knows all (Romans 11:32-36)—every worrisome situation and how he will resolve it.
  • He is all-powerful, able to do anything (Job 42:2). If, in his wisdom, he chooses not to rescue us from our circumstances, then he’ll see us through.
  • Everything is under his control (Psalm 103:19)–even those inexplicable, puzzling events that throw us into a momentary tailspin.
  • Everything he does is good and right (Deuteronomy 32:4).
  • He makes perfect decisions, including how and when all events will unfold (Psalm 147:5).

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The more we know, the more confidently we can rest in our powerful, all-wise God.

  1. Review his promises.

 At the first sign of worry or fear, we can replenish our peace with a scripture promise. A few of my favorites include:

  • “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
  • “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

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  1. Pray.

 Our prayers about the situations that troubles us can include praise that God’s glorious attributes are already at work, his promises never fail, and his blessings continue to flow. Worship is the way to peace (Philippians 4:6-8).

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  1. Practice God’s presence.

 Strive to live aware of God’s presence at all times, in every place—even at the kitchen sink, in the car, at the mall, in the office.

And during those rather mindless moments while washing dishes, sitting at a stoplight, or walking from one store to another, we can enjoy his company and affirm our trust. Strong trust results in peace (Isaiah 26:3).

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To enjoy God’s favor and peace does not mean we are devoid of emotion or concern. It’s when concern is accompanied by unbelief in God’s attributes or promises that worry and fear result. But if concern is combined with prayerful faith, then perfect peace is the outcome—peace that will not only pervade the mayhem of Christmas morning, but also the maelstroms of life.

What helps you  open your heart to God’s peace?  Tell us about it in the comment section below. 

*John MacArthur, www.gty.org , “The Gift of Peace.”

(Art & photo credits:  www.imgur.com; http://www.indulgy.com; http://www.pinterest.com (4); http://www.flickr.com.)

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Many elements of the Christmas season trigger memories of long ago, including:

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  • The carol, “O Holy Night,” takes me back to the pew of my childhood church where I listened to a gifted soloist, my mother, sing that Christmas hymn. I remember anticipating the high notes—so rich, clear, and resonant. The lyrics, including “Let all within us praise his holy Name” came from her heart.

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  • Waking up on a winter morning to the sound of a snow shovel scraping against concrete. Dad would always clear the sidewalks for the suburban commuters who’d walk past our house on their way to the train station—just one example of Dad’s thoughtfulness.*

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  • Red, green, and white tissue paper remind me of the gifts our grandmother would pile under her tree for my brother and me (her only grandchildren). You would think Grandma Clara’s shopping budget was unlimited, to see the number of packages. But what she lacked in funds Grandma made up for by shopping for super-bargains all year long. The tissue was probably an economical way to wrap some of the packages, so her precious dollars could be spent on what was inside.

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  • The aroma of pies, cookies, or breads baking in the oven take me back to Grandma Rachel’s kitchen. No one’s piecrust was as flaky, no cookies as perfectly browned on the bottom, no Parker House rolls as tender. And no holiday was complete without these treats.

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  • Red N-O-E-L letters with angel cherubs adorning each one remind me of childhood home #3. My mother would perch them on the sill of the leaded glass window by the stairs. I don’t know what happened to Mom’s set, but Steve’s aunt had the same ceramic letters and we eventually inherited hers. Now I’m the one who lines them up each year.

Not one of these memories is attached to a significant event, yet they are precious treasures of my heart. Now why would that be? Is it just the nostalgic atmosphere of the season that seems to envelope many of us at Christmastime?

Perhaps such memories highlight best what our Heavenly Father provides for us: his peace, love, and security–entities that our souls crave.  A verse from Isaiah gives us a perfect image of his constant loving care—one that Handel used in Messiah, “He Shall Feed His Flock.” (And yes, my mother sang that one, too.)

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“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd:

He shall gather the lambs with his arm,

And carry them in his bosom,

And shall gently lead those that are with young.”

–Isaiah 40:11 KJV

I first experienced the love, peace, and security of God the Great Shepherd within the fold of my loving Christian family—not just during the euphoric season of Christmas but all year long. Memory after treasured memory give proof, and I am so very grateful.

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I thank you, Father, for treasured memories of the heart, and for the love, peace, and security my family provided throughout my growing years. I praise you as the Source of those glorious qualities.  

You first loved us and allowed your only Son to be sacrificed in our place. Such love is beyond human comprehension. You provide peace as we trust in you, just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds. And our final destiny is secure because “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 How can I not be grateful?

(1 John 4:19, 10; Isaiah 26:3; Luke 2:14; Romans 8:31)

What Christmas memory speaks love, peace, and security to you?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

*After forty years in Florida, my husband and I moved back to the Midwest in 2014 to be near our sons and their families. Imagine my delight to hear that shovel-on-concrete sound again after so many years, and have that ancient memory come bubbling up from the depths.

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

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God of creation, Lord of the seasons,

I praise you and celebrate your wonders:

The silver silence of snow enveloping the landscape,

The regal stillness of trees, outlined in white,

The happy chatter of birds wafting on winter breeze.

Your ethereal peace soaks into my spirit, oh God.

 

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Indoors, golden candle flames flicker,

Star lights on the Christmas tree glimmer,

Memory-infused ornaments nestle among branches,

A patchwork of love-wrapped gifts creates a crazy quilt of color,

And old, much-loved carols knit one generation to another.

Your inexpressible joy fills my heart, oh God.

 

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Emmanuel, you have come!

God with us—always, everywhere,

Because the Incarnation of God submitted to human form,

And became the Guarantee of eternal life at the Resurrection.

Limitations cast off, transcendence accomplished,

Your unfathomable greatness confounds my thoughts.

 

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With the angels I want to sing of your glory—

With the shepherds I want to proclaim your glad tidings–

With Mary I want to ponder all these things in my heart,

To gaze upon your beauty, Lord—

Your faithfulness and grace to those who believe.

Your profound perfections compel me to worship.

 

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Glory to you, Lord Almighty,

God in the highest, who stooped down low

To scoop one lost lamb out of the chasm of sin

And provided for her a full and abundant life

With all the splendor of heaven yet to come.

Your immeasurable love compels me to surrender.

 

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I exalt you, my God and King; 

I will praise your name forever and ever 

For your ethereal peace and inexpressible joy, 

For your unfathomable greatness and profound perfections, 

For your immeasurable love—Gifted to us not just for Christmas 

But for all eternity.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.quotesgram.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

  

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Isaac closed his eyes for a moment and pondered the scripture he had just read:

 

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,

all the earth:

Make a loud noise,

And rejoice, and sing praise.”

–Psalm 98:4 KJV

 

A poem began to take shape in his mind, and he picked up his quill to write.

Poetry came as naturally to Isaac Watts as regular conversation to others. Ever since he was a boy he’d taken great pleasure in rhyme and rhythm.

He also appreciated a heart-stirring tune, which is why, as a young man, he found the chanted church music of the day uninspiring and ponderous. At the urging of his father (also a nonconformist), young Isaac set out to write new hymns. In fact, he may have been among the first composers of contemporary Christian music—contemporary for the late 1600s, that is.

As could be expected, his first songs were rejected by some as unworthy for congregational singing. They even called Isaac a heretic because his lyrics were not direct quotes from scripture.  Despite the critics, however, his first volume of Hymns and Spiritual Songs was published in 1707.

 

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Even today, some of his hymn-titles are familiar, including: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “We’re Marching to Zion,” and “At the Cross.” In all, Isaac Watts wrote more than six hundred hymns.

In 1716 Isaac was hired as an assistant to the minister of Mark Lane Independent Chapel in London, and less than three years later, became the minister. He worked tirelessly and creatively; the congregation grew.

 

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It was one day during that same year of 1719 Isaac chose to meditate on Psalm 98 and was particularly inspired by verse four (quoted above).

Perhaps Isaac pondered the “joyful noise” all the earth would make—if fields, hills, rocks, and plains joined mankind in praise of the Lord, the King. And the words began to flow:

 

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“Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King:

Let every heart prepare Him room.

And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns!

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains

Repeat the sounding joy.

 

The four-stanza poem was published in 1719—without benefit of tune.

More than one hundred years later in Boston, Massachusetts, Christian composer, Lowell Mason, was inspired to write an upbeat melody he titled, “Antioch.”

 

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This tune needs to be sung, he thought. But finding lyrics with the correct rhythm and a suitable theme proved difficult. Not until three years later, in 1839, did Mason come across the perfect lyrics in Isaac Watt’s Modern Psalmist: “Joy to the World.”

Sing through the hymn and you’ll find no mention of Jesus’ birth—nothing about Mary, Joseph or Bethlehem, nothing about angels, shepherds, or wise men. So how did it become a traditional Christmas carol?

Perhaps pastors and music ministers began choosing the song because it celebrated the impact of Jesus’ birth—the advent of his Spirit to all who believe, and the final advent when Jesus will return to earth and begin his reign as King of kings.

When we sing this well-loved carol, we’re celebrating:

  • The past. “The Lord is come” (stanza one). Two thousand years ago Almighty God became flesh and lived among humanity, to win our hearts and transform our lives.

 

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  • The present. “The Savior reigns” within those of us who make room for him, filling our spirits with the joy of his presence (stanza two).

 

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  • The future. The day is coming when sin and sorrow will cease, God’s blessings will flow forever (stanza three), and he will “rule the world with truth and grace” (stanza four).

 

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The “wonders of his love” (also from stanza four) include all these truths and more.

 

So…

 

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“Shout your praises to God, everybody!

Let loose and sing!”

–Psalm 98:4, MSG

 

JOY TO THE WORLD!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest; http://www.yourworshiptools.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pinterest; http://www.wikipedia.org (2); http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.tumbr.com.)

 

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Steve picked up a card from the restaurant table and exclaimed, “Hey, look! TGIF is going to be open on Christmas!”

We had just discussed what our family of five would do for dinner that year since Christmas was on a Sunday. The fact that Steve was a pastor complicated matters a bit.

Yes, we could have planned a menu around a Crockpot main dish and a wee hours stint in the kitchen to assemble it. But after two Christmas Eve services the night before, that idea didn’t hold much appeal.

In addition, we knew that Christmas Sunday was already going to be plenty busy. Steve and I, the choir director and his wife, were providing the special music—a gift to the choir who was scheduled to sing the night before. Then, of course, Steve would preach again—twice.

So when he saw that card on the restaurant table, sometime in early December, we rejoiced that at least one holiday dilemma was solved.

But when we arrived at TGIF on Christmas Sunday afternoon, a CLOSED sign hung in the window. Sometime between early December and the 25th they had changed their minds. Now what?

It didn’t take too long for another idea to occur to me. “Let’s go to that delicatessen, TooJays, out at the shopping center. I’ll bet they’re open!”

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Off we drove, another few miles to the west. They were closed too.

Now we were in big trouble. Three hungry kids, ages nine to fourteen, sat in the back seat. And it looked like Christmas dinner would be tomato soup and grilled cheese. But when I mentioned that idea, no one complained. That’s how hungry they were. Plus, who could forget what was waiting under the tree?

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On the way home, while mindlessly watching the buildings go by the passenger window, my eye happened to fall on a brightly lit OPEN sign in the window of a strip-mall restaurant. We’d never noticed the eatery before, in the six months we’d lived in that community.

Steve made a quick decision to check it out, turned at the corner, and backtracked through the parking lot to Sun Hai Valley.

Soft Christmas music greeted us inside the door, as did the tantalizing aromas of fried rice, beef teriyaki and Kung Pao chicken. A hostess escorted us into the dining room where large floral fans adorned the walls, pink cloths decked the tables, and a long buffet stretched along the back. Not only did we dine in lovely surroundings, but we enjoyed a delectable, reasonably priced meal.

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Finally, we headed home to the tree, overflowing with gifts from family and friends. Our three children were such troopers, waiting until mid-afternoon on Christmas to open their gifts. But we held to tradition and opened them one person, one present at a time, and taking turns. That way we could all take part in the joy of each gift.

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About four o’clock, Steve’s parents called from out-of-state, ready to ask about the presents they’d sent.

“Guess what?  We’re not finished opening them yet,” Steve told them. “I’ll call you again when we’re done!”

That Christmas was one of my favorites. God expressed his love and grace to us by supplying that surprise dinner, far above and beyond what we had planned. In reality, soup and sandwiches would have sufficed just fine, but he saw fit to provide much more.

God also granted the children angelic grace to accept circumstances outside our control. No one expressed impatience or frustration that I can recall.

Such precious Christmas memories are in themselves treasured gifts to enjoy our whole lives long—especially those memories that unmistakably highlight God’s grace, loving kindness, and generosity.

(Art & photo credits:  www.savingadvice.com; http://www.toojays.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.zomato.com; Nancy Ruegg.)

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Please share one of your favorite, God-enhanced Christmas memories below!

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