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“The Church thrills and thrives,

multiplies and advances

on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing

that we simply call song.”

–Jack W. Hayford*

 

 

And at no time of year is that more true than during Advent. Christmas carols seem to waft on a unique Holy Spirit breeze of blessing all their own.

Part of the blessing is in the familiarity, the memories they evoke of Christmases past. Many of us are predisposed to sentimentality, especially at this time of year. Just listen to how often we wistfully say, “Oh, that reminds of…”

 

 

But are familiarity and nostalgia the only reasons we love our Christmas songs? No, it’s the lyrics themselves that contribute to the breeze of blessing—lyrics that remind us:

 

  • God’s gifts far surpass what is under the Christmas tree.

 

“God imparts to human hearts

the blessings of his heaven” (1).

 

  • Jesus brings wisdom and contentment to our lives.

 

“This child, now weak in infancy,

our confidence and joy shall be” (2).

 

 

  • He is our Emmanuel, God with us.

 

“Love has come—He will never leave us…

Love is Jesus within and among us” (3).

 

  • He has made it possible for us to spend eternity with him in heaven.

 

“Jesus Christ was born for this!

He hath opened heaven’s door

And man is blessed forevermore” (4).

 

 

  • The day is coming when we will be privileged to sing with the angels, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns” (Revelation 19:6)!

 

“When the new heaven and earth shall own

The Prince of Peace their King,

And the whole world send back the song

Which now the angels sing” (5).

 

 

Now that will be a song wafting on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing.

Can you imagine the scene? Thousands of us in row after row singing our praise to God and celebrating the Prince of peace, our King.

Perhaps we’ll sing harmonies never even dreamt of on earth. And in a perfect heaven with perfectly miraculous acoustics, not only will we be able to hear the voices of those nearby, but the composite whole of the largest, grandest choir ever to sing.

Will there be those who stand in silence and choose not to participate? Impossible. How about folks who barely open their mouths and just whisper-sing? No, I can’t see that happening either.

Surely we’ll all sing with euphoric enthusiasm, hearts bursting with joy that:

  • Every blessing of heaven is now ours (1)—blessings we can’t even imagine now because we’re so limited in our knowledge and understanding.
  • Our confidence in Jesus has been rewarded beyond imagination (2).
  • Our loving, Savior is finally with us in Person as well as in Spirit (3).
  • Eternal bliss will be ours forevermore (4).
  • We’re able to join the angels in glorious song for the Prince of Peace our King (5).

But there’s no reason to wait until we’ve joined the angel choir.

We can sing as if performing for our King now.

Because we are.

Sing a song of Christmas, my friend, on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing!

__________________________________________________

  1. “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” verse 3, line 2.
  2. “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light,” verse 1, lines 3 and 4.
  3. “Love Has Come,” verse 3, lines 1 and 2.
  4. “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” verse 2, lines 2-4.
  5. “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” verse 3, lines 3 and 4.

*from the Foreword of The Celebration Hymnal, Integrity Music, 1997.

 

Which Christmas carol wafts a breeze of Holy Spirit blessing through your spirit?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.army.mil.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.Art4TheGlryOfGod; http://www.flickr.com (3); http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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Whether I heard it or read it, I don’t remember. But the words caught me by surprise, and I jotted them down:

“What was uppermost in Jesus’ mind as Good Friday approached?  The answer is, Joy.”

Do you find that surprising too?

Yet at least three times on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus spoke about joy (John 15:11; 16:22, 24; 17:13)–a most unexpected topic and completely unnatural.  Who thinks about joy when they know catastrophe is about to strike?

Jesus, that’s who.

Within the next twenty-four hours he would face excruciating pain, total abandonment by his Father, and the most horrific death ever devised.

But his concern was for his disciples, not himself.  Jesus wanted them to remember the important principles of love, obedience, and joy–an empowering joy that no one could take away from them.

Perhaps you remember the scene. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their last Passover supper together. After the meal, he taught his final lesson.

The first mention of joy came near the end of his teaching about the vine and the branches:

 

(“I have told you this

so that my joy may be in you

and that your joy may be complete.”

–John 15:11.)

 

The word, this, refers to the ways Jesus had just mentioned that will contribute to joy:

1.  Live close to him and produce much good in and through your life (vs.4-8).

2.  Live in obedience to Jesus and experience the warmth, peace, and care of His love (vs. 9-10).

 

Note that Jesus wanted his joy to be in the hearts of his disciples. What characterized his joy compared to that of others?

  1. Strong awareness of the Father’s love for him, and his own love for the Father (vs. 9-10).
  1. Absolute surrender to his Father, and the joy of doing what his father had sent him to do. Even during his great travail in the Garden of Gethsemane, his one desire was to do his Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

Jesus’ joy coexisted with the profound sorrow of impending suffering, because he was already well-acquainted with the satisfaction and fulfillment of obedience.

  1. The understanding that joy deferred to the future is anticipatory joy in the present. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

 

 

 

And finally, Jesus told his disciples that he desired complete joy for them. What does complete joy look like? It is:

  • Not so much an emotion as it is a conviction (Keith Krell, “Moment by Moment,” http://www.bible.org).
  • Inner contentment, resulting from continually cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus.
  • Constant, not dependent on circumstances.
  • Enduring, day after day. Indestructible.
  • Perfect—the perfect, joy-filled fulfillment of the destiny for which God created you, even when a portion of that destiny is suffering.

I’m thinking of the martyrs–Stephen, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, John Wycliffe and countless others who demonstrated complete joy even as they died in anguish.

 

 

Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Smyrna for many years, refused to revile Jesus. For that he was burned at the stake.

But before the flames rose up, Polycarp prayed:

“O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of thyself…I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and to rise again unto life everlasting…”

Such devotion, courage, and supernatural strength are impossible to fathom apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Can you hear the grace in Polycarp’s voice as he blessed God for the privilege of dying a martyr?

That is complete joy, only experienced by those who trust in Jesus implicitly.

Complete joy that Jesus purchased for us at Calvary.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

We marvel, Heavenly Father, in the extreme paradox that is the cross. Out of the evil unleashed upon your Son comes your holy, righteous goodness–upon us. Out of the horror of the crucifixion that Jesus endured comes inexpressible and glorious joy, to those who put their faith in him–not a temporary feeling of elation, but deep, abiding, abundant joy. 

All praise to you, our loving, gracious God!       

(Acts 3:13-16, 1 Peter 1:8, John 6:47, John 10:10)

 

 

(Reblogged from April 7, 2015.  The Ruegg family has gathered this week for an overdue reunion.  Art & photo credits:  www.rejesus.co.uk; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.heartlight.org.)

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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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“But when the appropriate time had come,

God sent his Son.”

–Galatians 4:4, ISV

 

Let’s see…Jesus arrived on Planet Earth during the height of the Roman Empire, some 2000+ years ago – long before television or radio, even before the telegraph.

Why didn’t God wait, at least until the 1800s, so news of Jesus’ birth could be transmitted quickly?

Then there’s the argument from the other end of the spectrum. Why did God wait so long to send Jesus? Century upon dark and gloomy century had passed since Adam and Eve first sinned and a Savior was promised (Genesis 3).

 

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There must have been something just right about that era when the Romans ruled the world. In fact, Bible scholars have identified a number of factors to explain the appropriateness of this time for God to send his Son.  Such information contributes proof of God’s wisdom and his ability to engineer circumstances perfectly:

  • The Romans had built roads all across southern Europe and into the Middle East, making travel much easier. During the first century after Jesus’ birth, early Christians were able to spread the good news about Jesus from one end of the empire to the other.
  • Pax Romana, a period of relative peace and stability that lasted approximately 200 years, began with the reign of Caesar Augustus. You’ll remember his name. He was in power when Jesus was born (Luke 2:1). Travel during this era was much safer.

 

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  • Years before the Romans rose to supremacy, Alexander the Great of Greece had instituted common culture and a common language (Koine Greek). More people were being educated than ever before, and learning Greek or Latin in school. Language was not a barrier in proclaiming the news that the Savior had been born.
  • However, in spite of these positive effects of the Roman Empire, few people appreciated their cruel tactics to maintain control and outward peace. The Jews certainly chafed under their domination. But that increased the desire of God’s people for their Messiah to come.
  • Other nationalities had to face the fact their false gods had failed to save them from Roman conquest. Many people were ready to abandon the worship of idols and discover the different kind of peace Jesus offered (John 14:27).

 

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  • By this time, many of those who had embraced Greek philosophy were realizing the spiritual emptiness of such thinking and were also ready to consider Jesus. The success of Paul’s ministry in such cities as Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch of Pisidia, and Colossae are in part due to this readiness.
  • The Roman army recruited men from every province they conquered, then dispersed them as needed throughout the region. Imagine Christian soldiers stationed among those of other beliefs, living Jesus’ way and sharing their faith—all across the empire. Historians credit this kind of interaction among Roman soldiers as the means for the people of Britain learning about Christianity.

 

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Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but it is significant that I found seven reasons why the Roman era, particularly under Caesar Augustus, was the appropriate time for the birth of Jesus.  The number seven is mentioned over 700 times in scripture. Often it expresses completeness and perfection, beginning with the seven days of creation—six to complete the universe in absolute perfection and one day of rest.

The bulleted list above provides evidence of complete preparation for the coming of the Messiah: politically, culturally, and spiritually. But none of these factors would have mattered if Jesus’ message hadn’t been perfect truth:

 

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(“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,

that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

— John 3:16)

 

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(“I have come that they may have life,

and have it to the full.” — John 10:10)

 

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(“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

No one comes to the Father except through me.”

— John 14:6)

 

Today, well over two billion people embrace the complete and perfect truth of Christianity.

I am so very thankful to be among them.  Aren’t you?

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.youtube.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.pinterest (5).

 

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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.)    

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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.)

 

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She was more animal than human – grabbing food and stuffing her mouth, communicating with grunts, and reacting wildly to anything that did not suit her.

A teacher was hired to train the totally undisciplined six-year old, and make her into a mannerly, well-behaved child. To complicate matters, the child could neither hear nor see, the result of a high fever when she was a toddler. You’ve no doubt guessed her identity–Helen Keller, and the teacher’s–Anne Sullivan.

 

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You’ll remember that little Helen was not only wild but willful, too. She balked ferociously at the changes Miss Sullivan tried to initiate, attacking with fists and feet, tearing at clothing, and biting. No one would have blamed Anne if she had given up.

But the young teacher was even more determined than Helen. She would reach beyond the barriers of deafness and blindness. So the two of them moved into a nearby cottage where Anne offered constant support and instruction. With patience and tremendous perseverance, she tended to Helen.

You know the outcome. Helen was transformed into a cultured intellectual, who graduated from Radcliffe College in 1904 at age 24, and went on to become an author, an advocate for the handicapped, and even a lecturer. In addition, Helen and Anne became lifelong friends and constant companions.

 

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Their inspiring story illustrates several ways in which our lifelong Friend and constant Companion, Jesus, transforms our lives:

1. Just as Helen discovered life was a much more positive experience when she submitted to the mores of civilization, we too experience a more positive life when we accept God’s ways and purposes rather than insist on our own (John 10:10).

2. Anne took up residence with Helen, ready and willing to transform the girl into a glorious new version of herself. Jesus has taken up residence in our spirits (John 15:5). He, too, is ready and willing to transform us–“into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

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3. Helen balked at change, unwilling to give up her way of life—unsatisfactory as it was. Little did she know what Anne had to offer. I, too, am slow to learn that “when God empties our lives of a treasured love, it is to fill them more completely with the greater treasure of himself” – Herbert Lockyer (1).

4. The relationship between student and teacher developed into a deep friendship as Helen grew up. She said of her beloved teacher, the day Anne Sullivan arrived at her home was “the most important day I remember in all my life.” Those of us who know Jesus as Friend would say the same of the day he came to live within our spirits (2 Corinthians 5:17).

5. As a result of Anne Sullivan’s instruction, support, and perseverance, Helen exchanged:

  • Constant uncertainty for confidence
  • Helplessness for achievement
  • Ignorance for knowledge

Jesus does the same and more. Because he dwells within us, we can exchange:

  • Our uncertainty for his wisdom—James 1:5
  • Our frailties for his strength—2 Corinthians 12:9-10
  • Our puny efforts for his ability to accomplish the impossible—Luke 18:27
  • ALL our inadequacies for ALL the fullness of God—Ephesians 3:19 (2)

 

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*     *     *     *     *     *     *    *     *     *

 

I praise you, Lord Jesus, that the moment I invited you into my life, you began your transforming work—teaching, guiding, supporting, and encouraging. You have granted me newness of life! I am not a condemned sinner; I am a saint! I am no longer bound to the sinful nature; I am a brand new creature in you! I am not a reject; I am a beloved child of the King of the universe! Thank you, oh God, for these glorious realities.  “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain!”  But I am greatly relieved and overjoyed that it’s all true.

(Romans 6:6; 6:4, 8:1; Ephesians 2:18-20; Romans 8:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 3:26; Psalm 139:6)

 

Notes:

(1) Seasons of the Lord, Harper & Row, 1990, p. 15.

(2) Henry Blackaby, http://www.preceptaustin.org, Experiencing God Day by Day, “An Exchanged Life.”

 

Photos and art credits:  www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pinterest.com (3).

 

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