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Archive for December, 2020

 

Years ago my husband Steve and I lived in a small town outside Lexington, Kentucky. All through the area old stone walls stitch together fields and pastures into a landscape quilt. We often marveled at the workmanship as well as the time and effort required.

According to historians, the rocks were gathered out of the fields by Scot-Irish immigrants of the 1700s, who settled the area and needed to clear the land for farms. They used the same dry masonry skills of their ancestors back in the British Isles.

As decades passed new immigrants built more walls as did the slaves who followed.

 

(Similar walls in Ireland)

 

Those stone walls came to mind as I read again a story of Samuel, recorded in 1 Samuel 7:1-12. He set up a memorial stone in celebration of an Israelite victory over the Philistines. Samuel called it Ebenezer (which means Stone of Help), explaining that “thus far the Lord has helped us.”

Thus far in our lives the Lord has helped you and me also. And if we collected a rock to represent each time God has helped us, we’d surely accumulate enough to construct many walls, stitching together our experiences into a kingdom quilt—in the kingdom of God, that is.

And what a memorial it would be to God’s faithfulness!

As many of you know, I began a journal in 1983 of God’s faithfulness to our family—a record of his provision, protection, guidance, and blessing. To date there are nearly 1400 entries.

 

(Note how yellowed these early pages have become!)

 

If I gathered a Stone of Help for every event noted, I could build a wall ten stones high and nearly 140 feet long. No doubt a record of your life would produce a similar-sized wall, perhaps longer.

Imagine an aerial view of thousands of such walls criss-crossing the landscape—a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness to all of us. Our eyes would pop in wonder.

During this challenging year of 2020, God has demonstrated his faithfulness in numerous ways.

 

 

I am particularly thankful for:

  • Sightings of wildlife that turn window glances into marvel fests
  • Family and friends within easy reach through various forms of technology
  • Livestreamed church services that allow Sunday worship with our congregation
  • No hospitalizations for Steve in 2020 (Last year he was admitted four times for various problems related to his liver transplant and a subdural hematoma.)
  • Emotional and spiritual health in spite of isolation

And all of us have benefited from God’s unending supply of strength. We’d do well to remember:

 

 

I’m guessing you can remember a situation or two when you thought it impossible to press on. But you did—because of God’s enablement.

Other times responsibilities piled up to impossible heights, and the emotional crush was nearly unbearable. But then—miraculously—cancellations and postponements occurred, assistance materialized, and the pile decreased to manageable size–because of God’s intervention.

And why is all this looking back at the past significant? Because:

 

 

Where others might say, “So far, so good!” and hope for the best, we say, “So far, so God!” and rely on him whose help is certain. He never fails to do what he has spoken (Psalm 145:13b).

The millions of virtual Ebenezers among us provide reliable evidence we can count on–for 2021 and beyond.

 

 

A blessed and confident New Year to all!

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.needpix.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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Does that title sound familiar? It’s an old Christmas carol—my maternal grandmother’s favorite. Sadly it never occurred to me to ask her why.

Perhaps it was the lilting tune that dances up and down the treble clef, with leaps from low notes to high. (You can listen to the carol here: There’s a Song in the Air.)

Perhaps Grandma especially enjoyed the expressive lyrics since she was a poet herself. I found this Christmas poem in her journal.  (Keep scrolling for a typed version–easier to read.):

 

 

FOR CHRISTMAS 1955

Star of the East that shone for men

To guide to Jesus’ side,

Shines in the Christian heart today

Where the Lord Jesus abides.

For he’s the Bright and Morning Star,

Turning darkness into light.

He died on Calvary to save,

To remove sin’s dark blight.

Baby Jesus was born a King,

A Savior to die yet to reign.

He left His home in heaven above

And chose instead earth’s pain.

–C. E. M.  (Clara Edna Mensinger)

 

Perhaps “There’s a Song in the Air” appealed to Grandma because her creative soul responded to such artful lines as these:

 

 

  • And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing
  • And that song from afar has swept over the world
  • In the light of that star lie the ages impearled
  • Ay! We shout to the lovely evangel they bring

 

“The Angel Appears to the Shepherds”

by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812)

 

I wonder if Grandma ever became curious about the origins of the carol? Did she know that the composer of the tune, Karl Harrington, discovered the lyrics while reading the works of one of his favorite authors Josiah Holland?

Holland was a novelist, poet, and editor of the popular Scribner’s Monthly. In the 1870s he reprinted his Complete Poetical Writings. This was the book in which Harrington found the poem “There’s a Song in the Air.”

At the time, the summer of 1904, Harrington was struggling through an overwhelming assignment: to compile a new hymnbook for the Methodist Church. Even for someone with his background as a highly trained musician, choral director, and composer–the task proved difficult.

 

Karl Harrington (1861-1953)

 

While taking a rest one hot afternoon, he picked up Harrington’s book, came across the poem, and immediately felt inspired to set the lovely verse to music.

He went to his organ and as he read the words aloud, let his fingers drift along the keys. A melody soon began to form. Harrington included the carol in the new hymnal.*

Perhaps like Harrington, my grandmother appreciated the fresh wonder stirred up by such inspiring lines as:

 

 

  • The manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
  • There’s a tumult of joy over the wonderful birth
  • We rejoice in the light, and we echo the song, that comes down through the night from the heavenly throng

 

Grandma didn’t know Jesus until her mid-thirties, and up to that time had endured several painful traumas. (You can read a bit of her story in the post, The God of Rachel, Henry, and Clara Part 2.) But her newfound relationship with God brought peace and strength.

 

(Grandma Clara, years later, 1968.

P.S.  Those glasses were the height of fashion back then!)

 

Perhaps a carol about joy, light, and song reminded her of the transformation Christ had brought to her life.

Grandma would want these lyrics to speak to our hearts too, refreshing our wonder in a Savior once cradled in a manger, destined to be King, who comes to us with “the lovely evangel” (verse 4, line 3)–the good news of God’s gracious plan to rescue us.

Hallelujah and a blessed Christmas to all!

 

*Ace Collins, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) 164-166.

 

What is your favorite carol and why? Please share in the comment section below!

 

Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.pixy.org; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.hymnary.org; http://www.pixy.org; Nancy Ruegg.

 

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(One of Wilson Alwyn Bentley‘s photos)

 

Remember your first glimpse of a snowflake under a magnifying glass and your reaction to its tiny intricacies? I’ll bet your eyes grew wide and you leaned in for a close-up view. You probably uttered Wow! or Look at that!

And perhaps while gazing at such infinitesimal beauty you learned:

 

Only when we examine something closely

can we begin to appreciate its value.

 

Scripture urges us to magnify God.

 

 

To magnify God is to look closely at him and take careful notice of his actions and attributes. Mary, the mother of Jesus, did exactly that. We read an example in the account of her visit to Cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56).

Elizabeth was much older than Mary, well beyond child-bearing age. But like Sarah of the Old Testament, God had intervened for her. Elizabeth would soon be the mother of John the Baptist.

 

 

When Mary first arrived and offered her greeting, Baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:41). (Can you imagine how that would feel, to have a baby jump inside you?)

Elizabeth responded with a blessing for Mary and the holy baby her young cousin carried. Then Mary became overcome with joy and incredulity herself, and burst into praise. Her song is called the Magnificat, Latin for magnifies.

For ten verses (Luke 1:46-55), Mary magnifies the Lord, examining the reason for her joy (vs. 46-49) and looking closely at God’s attributes and actions (50-55). Never mind her relative poverty, the misunderstanding and derision of others, or the uncertainty of the future. Mary focused on God who was working a miracle within her.

 

 

If your Bible includes cross-references you’ll notice Mary quoted bits and pieces of seven psalms. In addition, she included fragments from Isaiah, Habakkuk, Exodus, Genesis, 2 Samuel, and Jeremiah.

It would appear Mary wove such far-spread scriptures into this beautiful prayer–on the spot! She must have been an intelligent young woman.

Perhaps she grew up in a godly home where the Law and Prophets were highly esteemed. Her parents may have taught her or, if she had brothers, Mary listened as they recited their lessons, and she too learned the ancient scriptures.

Now as Mary and Elizabeth greet one another, the young woman rejoices in God her Savior. She highlights his mercy, might, faithfulness, holiness, and saving power.

 

 

And yet in spite of his awesome greatness the Mighty One has been mindful of her—a humble, peasant girl. He has done great things on her behalf. Notice she prays in past tense, as if the events Gabriel announced had already taken place (v. 49).

Then Mary itemizes specific ways God benefits his people:

  • He extends mercy to those who reverence him
  • He performs mighty deeds
  • He has scattered the proud
  • He has brought down rulers, but lifted up the humble
  • He has filled the hungry, but sent the rich away empty
  • He has been merciful to Israel

We too are God’s people, if we believe in his Son, Jesus. And he benefits his people in these same ways today just as he has through all the eons of time.

No doubt God has been at work in your life too. He’s been mindful of you and blessed you (v. 48); he’s done great things for you (v. 49) and extended his mercy to you (v. 50).

 

 

View the activity of God in your life through the magnifying glass of meditation. Take note of his actions and attributes on display in the events of your life. And then please share with us an example in the comment section below.

Let us magnify the Lord together for his awesome deeds!

 

(Revised and reblogged from 12-20-2012.)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.metmuseum.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com (2).

 

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‘Recognize that line of lyrics? It comes from verse three of “O Holy Night.”

“His holy Name” is expressed 256 different ways in the Bible, from Branch of the Lord (Isaiah 4:2) to bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). Why so many?

“I suppose this was because He was infinitely beyond all that any one name could express,” evangelist Billy Sunday once offered.

Just within the birth accounts of Bible books Matthew and Luke, we’ll find seven names for Christ. And these alone provide plenty of reason to praise him. Granted, these names are well-known, but let’s not allow familiarity to numb us to their splendor. As we unpack several of them below, may you find renewed wonder in his Personhood.

 

 

Jesus, Savior   (Luke 1:31, 2:11)

Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries would have called him Yeshua. Ya as an abbreviation for Yahweh, one of the names for God (Exodus 3:14), and yasha, which means rescue, deliver, or save in Hebrew.

A savior rescues or delivers from danger or harm. He preserves or guards from destruction or loss, keeps one from being lost to an opponent, maintains and preserves.

But why would God send his Son as Savior for paltry creatures like us, who require saving from the harm sin causes in our lives?

It’s so simple, some people miss it: God made us, he loves us, and wants to be in relationship with us—forever. So he sent his Son Jesus “to fit us for heaven to live with him there.” (1). All we need to do is say yes to him.

 

 

 

Son of the Most High, Son of God (Luke 1:32, 35)

Such names emphasize his majesty and supremacy over all (Ephesians 1:19-21).

Mary and other devout Jews of her time would have known this name for God because it’s found throughout the Old Testament, from Genesis (14:18) to Daniel (7:18).

When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her child would be Son of the Most High God, he was declaring Jesus would embody the magnificent essence of God (2).

 

 

Messiah (Luke 2:11)

Messiah means “anointed one” or “chosen one.” Christos (Christ) is the Greek equivalent.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ time knew the ancient prophecies concerning their Messiah. They expected Jesus to deliver them from the Roman occupation, to set up his own kingdom in which they would be rulers, not understanding that the Kingdom of God is spiritual, not political.

Even today people look to Jesus for rescue from problems and pain. They want him to make everything right, not understanding that perfect bliss in this world is an impossibility because of humankind’s sin.

However!  “Our troubles have always brought us blessings and they always will.  They are the black chariots of bright grace” (Charles Spurgeon).

 

 

Immanuel   (Matthew 1:23)

Matthew made clear:  this Hebrew name means “God with us”—not in a general sense, like an out-of-state business owner who asserts unity with his distant employees, but in a one-on-one personal sense. He sits beside us in our homes, accompanies us to work, watches over us as we sleep, and deeply cares about all our concerns (3).

In fact, he not only cares about every disappointment, every pain, and every calamity, he suffers with us (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

And as we avail ourselves of his comforting presence we find the stability we need (Psalm 46:1-2).

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

We praise you, O Son of God, for crafting us with the capacity to know you as our Savior, Messiah, and Immanuel, to sense your presence, receive your comfort, and experience your peace. Through this Christmas season and always may we praise you for your magnificence, reflected in every aspect of your holy Name!

You deserve nothing less.

(Colossians 1:16; John 1:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17; John 14:27)

 

Notes:

  1. John 3:16 and the last line of “Away in a Manger,” as originally written
  2. https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B151218/son-of-the-most-high
  3. Matthew 28:20; Psalm 121:2-5; 1 Peter 5:7

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixaby.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pikist.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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No doubt about it: Christmas is going to look different this year. Some folks (like me) will opt to scale back the decorating. Church and school programs won’t be presented, parades won’t be processing down Main Street, and fewer families will be cozied up at Grandma’s house for gift giving and feasting.

As if mocking the disappointment already rooting in our spirits, Andy Williams comes on the radio singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”—about friends coming to call, parties for hosting, and caroling out in the snow.

 

 

But wait. Perhaps this year could become a different kind of wonderful. Perhaps with less holiday preparation to complete and fewer activities to attend, we’ll have more time to revel in the preparation of our hearts.

How might we do that? According to pastor/author Handel H. Brown:

 

 

An attitude of expectancy includes an outlook of hope—hope in God’s provision for the here and now, and hope for what is to come. Even as we celebrate Christ’s first appearance on earth, we look forward to his second coming when he will “take us to heaven, to live with him there” (1).

 

 

Too often I’ve counted down the days until the Christmas tree is glowing, or the family is gathered, or the gift-exchange can finally take place. Those are all superb delights, but they quickly fade into wisps of memory.

We Christians can revel with expectant hope in a countdown of more substantive delight and importance. Peter called it a living hope, based as it is on our living Savior (1 Peter 1:3).

This hope is not just a feeling that fades like the euphoria of Christmas—once family members have departed and decorations are boxed and shelved. No, this hope is absolute certainty, placed in our faithful, eternal God . Everything he has promised he will deliver.

 

 

So how do we muster expectant hope? By immersing ourselves in God’s Word.

 

Hope is living constantly, patiently,

expectantly, resiliently, joyously

in the word of God.

–William Stringfellow

 

Here’s one scripture that fills me with expectant hope. See if these words don’t lift your spirit as well:

 

 

“Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death.

“This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away.

“They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God’s power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time–1 Peter 1:3-5 GNT (2).

 

Praise God for his mercy!

Praise him for the new and abundant life he provides!

Praise him for all the blessings of past, present, and future!

Praise him for the perfected life yet to come–with him in heaven!

 

 

As we prepare our hearts for Christmas by immersing ourselves in such scriptures, expectant hope is bound to well up and produce wonderful results.

In addition:

 

“Expectancy is the atmosphere for miracles.”

–Unknown

 

So let’s put the WONDERFUL into Christmas 2020 with renewed, expectant hope in our glorious Father.

Let’s create the atmosphere for miracles!

 

What scripture fills your spirit with expectant hope?  Please share in the comment section below!

 

 

Notes:

  1. The last line from “Away in the Manger,” based on John 14:2-3.
  2. Other scripture passages to explore that foster expectant hope:  a) Isaiah 9:6-7 (See also a previous post, “His Name Shall Be Called.”) b) Isaiah 40:28-31, c) Ephesians 1:3-13, d) 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.pixy.org.

 

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