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Archive for December, 2021

One of the psalmists proclaimed, “I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight” (Psalm 43:4). The statement raises the question, How do you delight in someone who can’t be seen or touched?

Perhaps we can discover the answer by considering how we delight in the people around us. My father offers a perfect example.

First let me tell you: Dad worked miracles with his numerous tools.  He could fix or build practically anything, as well as paint and wallpaper like a pro.

We were probably among the first to have a built-in sound system.  Dad wired and hooked up a speaker in every room (each with its own on-and-off switch), so anything on the radio or hi-fi could be heard anywhere in the house. 

Dad also built custom-sized furniture:  in the living room–a bookcase (with open shelves above and enclosed shelves below) along with Mom’s music cabinet; in the kitchen—new cupboards and a storage cabinet; in Mom’s and Dad’s bedroom—a large dresser; and for my brother John and me—desks. Each project displayed his careful attention to detail.

But Dad’s admirable qualities weren’t only on display in his home improvement projects.  He demonstrated patience while teaching us how to play Muggins (an old card game), how to use his tools, and how to plant seeds.

He exemplified selflessness by taking us sledding and kite-flying in the park, swimming at the community pool, and biking around town. Dad proved his generosity by volunteering time and effort to help neighbors and fulfill various needs at church.  

When Dad said, “Who wants to pick up some lumber with me?” or “Who wants to go to the hardware store?” John and I were ready to drop whatever we were doing. 

It’s not that these were exciting activities in themselves, it was Dad who made them a special delight–conversing with us as we rode to and from, pointing out items of interest along the way, and holding our small hands in his big ones as we crossed streets.  

Now all this activity and industriousness took place decades ago of course, yet I still take pleasure in remembering his noteworthy undertakings and attributes. In fact, appreciation and admiration for him have only increased over time.  I consider myself privileged to have known Dad and spent time with him.

(Dad and me, mid-1960s)

To know our Heavenly Father we turn to the Bible, of course.  There we learn about his wonderful deeds and miracles. We see God’s glorious character traits on display, including his astounding abilities, his goodness, generosity, and love. We soon find ourselves delighting in all that he is.

We also delight in God as we spend time with him–celebrating what he’s done in our past and praising him for what he’s accomplishing today. We learn important life lessons from him.  And we consider the benefits bestowed by our Heavenly Father, his eternal commitment to us, unfailing love for us, and strength-infusing presence with us.

We find ourselves happily praising God:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 7335.jpeg

Then we turn all these contemplations into gratitude.

The daily practice of the discipline of gratitude

is the way to daily practice the delight of God.

–Ann Voskamp*

And what will be the result of such a practice?  Pleasurable wonder, resilient faith, and serene contentment—as a start. Doesn’t that sound glorious? Especially during these turbulent times.

In addition, we’ll bring delight to him also (Psalm 147:11). Imagine that!

Perhaps we’d do well to turn Psalm 43:4 into a New Year’s resolution for 2022:

[Daily] I will go to the altar of God,

to God, my joy and my [deep] delight.

____________________

*One Thousand Gifts, 82.

Photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.pixnio.com; Henry Mensinger (my grandfather); http://www.heartlight.org (2); http://www.pixabay.com.

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For most of us, the words Christmas scriptures bring to mind the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke.  We may even remember the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah.

Rarely will we think of the psalms as part of the Christmas story, yet at least a dozen passages from the Book of Songs include references related to Christ’s birth. A few qualify as outright prophecies; other statements are less direct, but hindsight allows us to make delightful connections.

So for each passage quoted below, see if an aspect of the Christmas story doesn’t come to mind!  (To keep this post from getting too long, I’ve included just six examples. Answers appear below.)

1. “The Lord said, ‘I have made a covenant with My chosen one, I have sworn to David, My servant, I will establish your offspring forever and build up your throne for all generations” (Psalm 89:3-4 HCSB).

2. “[The Lord] himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (Psalm 130:8).

3. “Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart” (Psalm 97:11).

4. “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory” (Psalm 97:6).

5. “Send me a sign of your favor.  Then those who hate me will be put to shame, for you, O Lord, help and comfort me” (Psalm 86:17 NLT).

6. “Praise the LORD and pray in his name! Tell everyone what he has done” (Psalm 105:1).

7. “Because of your temple at Jerusalem, kings will bring you gifts (Psalm 68:29). 

(The second Jewish temple; a model in the Israel Museum)

Answers:

1. Jesus’ lineage and reign described in Matthew and Luke fulfill this prophecy perfectly (Matthew 1:1; Luke 1:32-33).

2. Psalm 130:8 sounds very similar to Matthew 1:21, doesn’t it?

3. The Light of the world began to shine that night in Bethlehem, and the angel of the Lord proclaimed great joy for all people (Luke 2:9-10).

(by Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1740-1812)

4. The psalmist may have thought he was writing about the stars, sun, and moon—all declaring the power and glory of God.  Little did he know his words foreshadowed events on the night Jesus was born, when the heavenly host proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:9) and the shepherds saw the glory of the Lord shining around them (v. 9, 13-14).

5. This verse also brings to mind the lowly shepherds (whom others often despised) as well as the angel’s words, “This shall be a sign unto you . . .” The birth of the Messiah brought great help and comfort to all his people, but perhaps especially the marginalized. For everyone, the long wait for his appearing was over.

6. The shepherds followed this directive as they left Jesus’ birthplace and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17).  They glorified and praised God for all the things they’d seen and heard, just as they had been told (v. 20).

7. That’s exactly where the Magi went first—Jerusalem—seeking the one born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-2.)  And of course they came bearing gifts–gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11).

Isn’t it amazing–from the Book of Songs written eons ago, come the distant strains of the exquisite, eternal Christmas Song that we celebrate to this day:

All your works declare Your glory;

all creation joins to sing.

Praise resounds as earth rejoices

in the birth of Christ the King (2)!*

*the last four lines of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” stanza 2)

Art & photo credits: Steve Ruegg; http://www.stockvault.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.pixabay.com.

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The first Christmas carol ever composed rarely appears in a collection of Advent songs.  But you will find it in the Bible, Luke chapter one.  It’s Mary’s song, shared with her cousin Elizabeth soon after she arrived at the older woman’s home.

Using much scripture, Mary artfully wove this prayer-song to praise God for his work in her life and in the world-at-large, especially now that the Messiah would soon be born.

Mary’s prayer is often referred to as the Magnificat, because in a number of translations it begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” as if Mary is holding up a magnifying glass to God’s attributes while she draws attention to each one.

I too have seen God’s attributes at work, and have experienced countless blessings.  While contemplating Mary’s song recently, I wondered: could I compose a Magnificat? What follows is the result.

My soul proclaims your greatness, O Lord . . . (Luke 1:46 HCSB)

. . . on display in the wonders of creation, events that defy explanation, and in the transformed lives of people—including my own. 

“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples”[1] as needs are met, disasters avoided, and the way forward provided. You alone are omnipotent, with all resources at your disposal.

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior (v. 47 NIV).

I praise you for saving me from the consequences of my sin through the sacrifice of your Son.  Upon my last breath, you will take me to heaven to live with you forever. In that moment I’ll be healed of all ailments and released from all adversity.

Until that day, you gladly save me from worry, fear, discouragement and stress when I trust you and follow your ways. Thank you, dear Father!

You have looked [with loving care] on the humble state of your maidservant (v. 48 AMP).

By the world’s standards I’m a nobody–no wealth, no fame, no power. Little do some know my true status, the daughter of the King of the universe, and the numerous delights I enjoy as a result:

  • glorious moments in your presence
  • generous gifts not even asked for
  • friendships with your other children (augmented by your involvement and influence)
  • your frequent intervention in difficult circumstances, as only a powerful King could arrange

From one generation to another you have demonstrated your mercy (v. 50 GNT).

I think of my grandparents, each of whom you sustained and helped through difficulty.  I think of my parents who also experienced your faithfulness as they were faithful to you.

And now we can testify of your gracious kindness. You have dealt compassionately, especially in times of distress.

Your mighty power has been on display (v. 51 GWT) . . .

 . . . through healings that doctors can’t explain, needs met in miraculous ways, monetary gifts arriving just in time, and moments of desperation turned around in an instant.

“You satisfy the hungry with good things” (v. 53, HCSB). 

The list is lavishly long: your undeserved love, comforting presence, inexplicable peace, fullness of joy, heartening encouragement, fulfilling purpose, undying hope, sure promises, abundant provision, generous blessings, wise counsel, abiding strength—to mention a few! “In your giving we have a sea without a shore.”[2]

My God, the King, I exalt you for your glorious attributes,

and will praise your name forever and ever.

 Your ways are absolutely holy—no one is like you. 

You are the God who performs miracles!

Your power is on display in glorious ways all over the earth,

yet you have chosen to do great things for me and those I love.

My heart is filled with joy!

(Psalm 145:1; 77:13-14; 126:3)


[1] Psalm 77:14

[2] Herbert Lockyer, Seasons of the Lord, 255.

Photo credits: http://www.pixabay.com (twstringer); http://www.pxhere.com (dorothe); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixaby.com (Simon); http://www.wikimedia.com (VinceTraveller); http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com (nastya_gepp); http://www.pix4free.

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To say I love decorating our Christmas tree would only be partly true.  If an assistant could arrange the prickly branches of our artificial tree and then drape and tuck the lights so they’re evenly dispersed, I’d be thrilled.

For me, the fun doesn’t begin until I unpack our collection of beloved hodge-podge ornaments—from family, friends, members of the churches my husband pastored, and students of the elementary classes I taught. It’s a delightful challenge to find the perfect spot for each one.

Some I hang where a tree light can serve as a tiny spotlight.

Other ornaments are perched over a light . . .

 . . . and still others are lit from within.

The aim is to create a tree that glows with reflected light.

One year, on a mid-December afternoon, Steve came home to find the tree collapsed on the floor.  Strings of lights snaked outward in uneven loops, and decorations lay scattered hither and yon. (Thankfully only a few ornaments shattered; the most prized survived.)

Our tree was much bigger with many more decorations,
so you can imagine the mess!

A moment later I arrived home.  Steve met me at the door, a pained expression on his face. “I have some bad news,” he began.

Immediately our two college-age children Eric and Heather came to mind—due to arrive home for winter break at any moment. Had there been an accident? Or maybe it was our youngest, Jeremy, who still lived at home.  Had something happened to him?

However, Steve’s expression didn’t indicate that level of emergency.  In the split second before he continued my mind riffled through other scenarios. Maybe one of our incoming Christmas cards included sad news, or perhaps something untoward had happened to a church member.

When Steve did reveal the problem, I actually felt relief and gratitude. A toppled Christmas tree was nothing compared to those other conjectures.

While taking my turn to evaluate the damage, Steve said, “I’m so sorry; I know how much you love the tree.  Listen–I’ll go to CVS and pick up that prescription you called in this morning; you wait here for the kids. We can figure this out later.” And off he went.

Unbeknownst to me, as he was pulling out of the driveway, Eric and Heather pulled in. They rolled down their windows to greet one another, then Steve told them, “Be extra nice to your mother—the Christmas tree fell down. I’m on my way to CVS to pick up a prescription for her.  I’ll be back in a few minutes!”

Steve continued backing out toward the street; Eric and Heather looked at one another in astonishment.

“Whoa!” Heather exclaimed.  “I can understand Mom’s upset, but she needs a prescription?”

They pictured me in full grieving mode.

Moments later the three of us laughed uproariously over the misunderstanding, then again when Steve returned, and once more when Jeremy arrived. 

Little did we know that all these years later we’d still be laughing about that toppled tree and Mom needing a prescription. In fact, just two weeks ago on Thanksgiving the story was repeated and everyone chuckled–again.

No doubt you have your own stories of imperfect Christmases. Interesting isn’t it–those are the ones that especially warm our hearts and make us smile.

The first Christmas story includes its share of imperfect moments too—although certainly not the humorous variety:

  • A grueling trip to Bethlehem at the very end of Mary’s pregnancy
  • No place to stay when Mary and Joseph arrived
  • The birth of the Messiah-King in a stable-cave
  • His first bed–a feeding trough
  • His first visitors–scruffy shepherds

Little could Mary and Joseph have known that the story of Jesus’ birth –full of imperfections as it was–would warm our hearts and make us smile all these years later. Why?  Because the Lord of heaven became one of us—born into the imperfect circumstances of this world. He understands completely every imperfection we face.

He also knows our internal flaws–our weaknesses, failures, and sinfulness—yet loves us anyway, and offers His perfect gift of salvation and eternity in heaven with Him.

One day—perhaps soon–all imperfections will be erased when Jesus returns to earth. 

May these truths of the ancient Christmas story warm your heart and make you smile—all season long and beyond.

_______________

(Other related scripture:  John 1:14; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 9:15; James 1:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 21:1-4)

P.S. We never did determine exactly what caused the tree to fall!

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg (4); http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.jeffholcomb.com; http://www.pixhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

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If asked to name a theme from the Christmas story, most people would probably mention one of these:

  • Love—expressed by God when he sent his Son to be born a man, then die in our place (John 3:16)
  • Joy—that the Savior of the world has come (Luke 2:10-11)
  • Peace—because Jesus is our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Hope—in the knowledge that our future is secure in heaven, when we believe in Christ (1 Peter 1:3-5)

But another word is mentioned more often in the account than any of the four mentioned above.  Perhaps you’ve already discovered this theme: 

FEAR.

You’ll remember:

  • Mary was greatly troubled when Gabriel appeared. He had to reassure her, “Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:29-30).
  • Joseph received an angelic visitor in a vision. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,” he was instructed (Matthew 1:20).
  • The shepherds were terrified when an angel materialized before them.  They too heard: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:9-10).
Annunciation to the Shepherds
by Edouard Joseph Dantan (1848-1897)

I jump and shriek if my husband walks into the room and I haven’t heard him coming. What must it feel like to witness the sudden appearance of an angel?    

And just so we understand:  Angels are formidable beings—quite different from the delicate, winged creatures or sweet little cherubs often found in paintings or nativity scenes. (See Daniel 10:5-6 for one description of a fearsome angel.)  

The Nativity by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

One of our pastors said Sunday, “In my imagination, I see Gabriel about the size of Dwayne Johnson!”

No wonder these Christmas-story participants were afraid, to be confronted with such a large, commanding presence.

But surely the angel’s message of “Do not be afraid”–spoken three times in the narrative–is not just happenstance.  Perhaps God would have us learn how to respond to fear from the examples of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.

First, Mary would teach us to counter fear with faith.

It’s doubtful the fear brought on by the angel’s appearance just evaporated at his command. Yes, his message contained good news, including great honor for Mary, but it also came with risks: “scandal, misunderstanding, lunacy charges, and possibly stoning.”[1]

Yet this young girl responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

Mary demonstrates:  Faith and fear can coexist as we exercise the former to control the latter.

Second, Joseph would teach us:  “Do it afraid.”[2]

Courage is not the absence of fear; courage acts rightly in spite of fear.

Joseph is a prime example. He’d face scandal himself as news of Mary’s pre-marriage pregnancy spread through Nazareth. Would his neighbors whisper in the shadows as he passed?  Might people refuse to employ him as their carpenter? Would his reputation as an honorable man (Matthew 1:19 GWT) be sullied forever? Surely such questions plagued Joseph.

Yet he chose to do the right thing.

Third, the shepherds would teach us to fight fear with truth.

Even while cowering in fear, the shepherds listened to the angel.

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people,” the angel announced.  The shepherds’ hearts that had pounded with fear the moment before must have continued racing, in anticipation of what this glad celestial news might be:

I imagine the angel’s voice boomed with emphasis upon each phrase.  And now all-out excitement coursed through the shepherds’ veins.  Fear had been eradicated by the truth of what God’s messenger had told them.

In our time we’ve no need to wait for an angelic visitation to bring us good news. Our Bibles provide all the truth, wisdom, and encouragement necessary to meet all circumstances—even those that cause fear.

Like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, we have a choice: give in to fear and become disheartened, paralyzed, and useless, OR we can exercise our faith to become encouraged, empowered, and useable.


[1] Patsy Clairmont, Joy Breaks, p. 109.

[2] Suzanne Eller, A Moment to Breathe, p. 43.

Art & photo credits: http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.pxhere.com; www. rawpixel.com; http://www.pixhere.com.

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