Tag Archives: Advent

Worship Wednesday – We Need Christmas – Matthew West

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. – 2 Corinthians 13:11

And once more, Isaiah says: “The Root of Jesse will appear, One who will arise to rule over the Gentiles; in Him the Gentiles will put their hope.” Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:12-13

As we move to the close of Advent, and all the candles are lit, we are struck by what we have been given in the coming of Christ. The four candles symbolizing hope, peace, love, joy. Salvation and eternal life. All we need for life and Godliness. A forever relationship with the God of the universe…the God of perfect love.

It gives pause.

This beautiful God. This Jesus who came so near to us, as low as we are. He condescended Himself for us to know Him…and to know His unmerited forgiveness…to learn how to walk with Him and with each other.

In this Christmas of 2021, we pull these truths close around us. The world has become so divided and full of hate. Yet, not so full of hate that God cannot draw us together and to Himself. I’m reminded of an old carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”.

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

We take hope in the person of Christ, the promises and purposes of God untouched by whatever darkness surrounds us.

The candles have been lit and we are days away from Christmas. We lean into the hope, peace, love, and joy that God has already given us in Christ. As we lean in to Him, we draw those around us closer.

With the Christ of Christmas in mind, we can choose to put away hatred, unforgiveness, and those personal preferences that divide us. We can love like Jesus loves (John 13:34-35). Be at peace with those around us (Romans 12:18). Take joy in His provision for good (2 Corinthians 9:8). Hope in what is possible in Him, even when it feels impossible to us (Matthew 19:26).

We are not alone in this. “Emmanuel” – God is with us!

This Fall, singer/songwriter Matthew West released the We Need Christmas album. It is a mix of new music and great old standards done as only he can do them. He describes his inspiration below:

“These past couple of years have felt like peace is in short supply, hope has been hard to find, and love and joy have been lost for so many,” shares Matthew West about the inspiration for his new project. “Christmas is a time when our hearts can be powerfully reminded that the peace, hope, love, and joy we all need can still be found in a saviour.”Matthew West

Worship with me to this sweet song. “We need Christmas..now more than ever to bring us together.”

Lights that twinkle red and green
Charlie Brown on the TV screen
Hugs from friends and family
That’s what we need right now
Zipping up on a winter coat
Truck tires down a snowy road
That’s the sound of coming home
That’s what we need to right now
This world could use a little healing
And our hearts could surely use something to believe in

We need Christmas
Now more than ever to bring us together
We need Christmas
Come on, December, help us remember
The joy, the peace and the hope that love can bring
Cause we need Christmas

Singing carols in the living room
That’s Grandma’s favorite thing to do
And Grandpa reads Luke, chapter 2
That’s what it all about
It’s Red Salvation Army can
Reaching out a helping hand
Looking after your fellow man
That’s what we need right now

We need Christmas
Now more than ever to bring us together
We need Christmas
Come on, December, help us remember
The joy, the peace and the hope that love can bring
Cause we need Christmas
Oh, we need Christmas

This world could use a little healing
And our hearts could surely use something to believe in

We need Christmas
Now more than ever to bring us together
We need Christmas
Come on, December, help us remember
We need Christmas
Now more than ever to bring us together
We need Christmas
Come on, December, help us remember

The joy, the peace and the hope that love can bring
And the bells hear ’em ring
Let every angels sing
Cause we need Christmas*

*Lyrics to We Need Christmas – Songwriter

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Worship Wednesday – I Know that My Redeemer Lives – Handel’s Messiah & Nicole C. Mullen

Photo Credit: Heartlight

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:25-27

We are in the third week of Advent. On Sunday the joy candle was lit, and Pastor Cliff preached on “Hope Deferred”.

“We live in a period of already but not yet, a time of deferred hope. With the Holy Spirit active in our lives, we can take part in God’s kingdom here on earth. However, the kingdom will not reach its fullest expression until Jesus’ return.” – Erin Franklin, Our Hope Has Come

Sometimes we have to wait on answered prayer…on someone’s forgiveness…on a cure…on peace to be restored to our hearts. Hope deferred. Yet, in every situation of life, we have His Word to remind us that waiting (and suffering) is but for a season, and with it comes great gain.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:1-8

“While we were still sinners…” Not after we’d cleaned up our act, but while we were in the muck and mire of our lives. What a Savior!

In our small group tonight, we processed Cliff’s sermon and the whole concept of hope deferred. Our group leader asked us what Scripture verses encourage us when our hope is weakened. We all had our favorites…Romans 8 has several treasures.

I wish I could transport you to that moment…friends gathered in our living room, warm inside on a cold December night, Christmas lights aglow, recalling Scripture after Scripture on the hope we have in Christ. It recalled still another account in Scripture when grief-stricken followers of Christ (journeying home after his crucifixion) encountered him after his resurrection.

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, gathered together and saying, “The Lord has indeed risen”…!Luke 24:32-34a

Finally, one of our friends reminded us of Job…that Old Testament saint who lost so much and yet clung to his God. What a huge testament of the goodness of God even in the midst of suffering and hope deferred. Job 19:25-27 tells us that Job knew his Redeemer lived and he would see him one day.

As we read the passage in Job, a song bit came to mind. It was “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah.

Glory! How thankful I am that Jesus died for me…to take the penalty for the awful sin in my life. He was my substitute, and now He is my Savior.

Worship with me to Nicole Mullen’s “My Redeemer Lives”. Not as difficult to sing as Handel’s Messiah but every bit as true.

Who taught the sun
Where to stand in the morning?
And who told the ocean
“You can only come this far”?
And who showed the moon
Where to hide till evening
Whose words alone can
Catch a falling star?

I know my redeemer lives
I know my redeemer lives
All of creation testify
This life within me cries
I know my redeemer lives
(yeah)

The very same God
That spins things in orbit
Runs to the weary, the worn and the weak
And the same gentle hands
That hold me when I’m broken
They conquer death to
Bring me victory

Now I know my redeemer lives
I know my redeemer lives
Let all creation testify
Let this life within me cry
I know my redeemer

He lives to take away my sins
And He lives forever, I proclaim
That the payment or my sins
Was the precious life He gave
But now He’s alive and
There’s an empty grave

(repeat chorus over and over)*

Advent: The Journey to Christmas – Redemption for Deferred Hope – Rod Lindemann

Photo Credit: River Valley Mission

*Lyrics to My Redeemer Lives – Songwriter: Nicole Coleman Mullen

A Little Preview! (Job 19:25-27) – The Bereans Blog

YouTube Video – Nicole C. Mullen: “Call on Jesus” (33rd Dove Awards) – more goosebumps at this reminder of the presence and power of Jesus

YouTube Video – The God Who Sees – Kathie Lee Gifford & Nicole C. Mullen

Worship Wednesday – Our Christmas Hope – Jesus Is Alive – Josh Wilson

Photo Credit: Wikipedia; Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

[Adapted from the Archives]

Angels appeared to shepherds on the Bethlehem hillside:

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:9-11

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the Baby, who was lying in the manger. After they had seen the Child, they spread the message they had received about Him...The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, which was just as the angel had told them.Luke 15-17, 20

Shepherds appeared again, years later, to three women, visiting the tomb of their Lord:

Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here! See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”Mark 16:7

Ordinary people. The God of the universe delivered the best news ever…to ordinary people. So startled by the messenger angels, they had to be settled by the words, “Fear not!” This sort of thing doesn’t usually happen to ordinary people…but God.

What hope we have in the coming of Christ…then on that starry night in Bethlehem, His coming into our hearts as we receive all He is, and His coming again…in the not so distant future.

That hope sends us, like the shepherds, in search of that tiny obscure family. In a town so full of people that night, they could not even secure proper lodging. Yet, by miraculous means, the shepherds found Him.

That hope sends u, also like the shepherds to tell others the good news. The news that Jesus has come!

The women at the empty tomb did not find Him…there! He had gloriously “left the building”. That rekindled their hope. Their Lord was risen, and they must run and tell that good news, as well.

In thinking about these accounts, I’m reminded of camp songs. You remember those songs we learned as a child or teen? Those songs that stuck with us all through the years…either because of the message or how we felt singing them. Over and over, night after night at camp, and then over again with our friends after.Photo Credit: Flickr

Josh Wilson‘s Christmas song Jesus Is Alive is like telling a story around a campfire. It causes me to wonder at how the shepherds must have recounted the story of that wondrous night. How the women talked around their own fires in the evenings after that trip to the tomb. I can just see the fire, large before us, warming our faces, popping and crackling, brightening those in the circle and casting shadows beyond. Sparks flying up to the sky.

Josh’s song celebrates that baby born for us, and his song also points us to a blessed redeemer, a risen Savior. As I write, there’s a little figure of the Christ child on my work desk. Wrapped in swaddling clothes as recorded in Scripture (Luke 2:7). Something about this figure reminds me of Jesus’ death also (John 19:40). Jesus, as an infant, was briefly swaddled before he grew up and became a man like no other. After the briefest of glorious ministry, he died a horrific death…for us. Let that soak in again. His body would be wrapped in grave clothes but would not be bound by them.  He rose to life again, right out of those burial cloths. Hallelujah, Jesus is alive!

Worship with me as we tell this great story again in sweet song. Let’s warm ourselves by the shepherds’ fire. Let’s glory in the Savior as he brings the Kingdom of God to us ordinary people. Let’s run into the tomb to find it emptied, and, without delay, take the message to those who need to hear. There’s hope, People. Jesus Is Alive!!!

Wish that I was there,
On that silent night,
When your tiny heart started beating for mine,

I wish I could have seen,
The star in David’s town,
When you turned a stable into Holy ground.
I sing along, the angels song.

(Chorus)

Noel, Noel, Jesus is alive.
Emanuel, hope is here tonight.
So go, and tell, the world that death has died.
‘Cause Jesus is alive. Yea Jesus is alive.

The God who made us all,
With these two little hands,
Is bringing us his kingdom quiet as a lamb.
Oh such Amazing Grace!
A divine conspiracy.
This Savior in a manger changes everything.
That’s why we sing.

CHORUS

Sin you have no sting.
Hell you have no power. (Jesus is alive)
Curse you are no more.
This is your final hour. (Jesus is alive)
Because the son of God
Has not left us alone. (Jesus is alive)
He’ll live and die and rise again, and then he’ll bring us home. (Jesus is alive)
The old will pass away
And we will become new. (Jesus is alive)
This baby boy is making all sad things untrue.

CHORUS (X2)

Jesus is Alive!!*

*Lyrics to Jesus Is Alive – Josh Wilson

Worship Wednesday – That Was Then, This Is Now – Josh Wilson’s Song of Jubilation – Deb Mills Writer

#PeopleMustKnow

5 Friday Faves – Beyond the Guitar Christmas, 4 Advent Habits with Justin Whitmel Earley, Advent Readings, Forgive & Remember, and Christmas Ads 2021

December is here! The days will fill up fast with holiday celebrations. Here are this week’s faves. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

1) Beyond the Guitar Christmas – We’ve been listening to Christmas music since October. Both worship carols and secular songs. Even our favorite guitarist has arranged and posted some Christmas songs – a precious few. I post them here for you to enjoy a listen.

Photo Credit: Beyond the Guitar

YouTube Video – 3 Christmas Movie Classics on Guitar – Beyond the Guitar

YouTube Video – A Star Wars Christmas – Classical Guitar Mashup – Beyond the Guitar

YouTube Video – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (w/ Surprise Guest) – Beyond the Guitar [After the special guest enters the frame, he gets our full attention with the sweet music in the background.]

YouTube Video – December Song (Peter Hollens) – Classical Guitar Cover – Beyond the Guitar

YouTube Video – Amazing Grace – Beyond the Guitar [OK…not a Christmas song but one of my personal favorites of Nathan’s]

2) 4 Advent Habits with Justin Whitmel Earley – In less than a month, those of us who challenge ourselves with New Year’s resolutions will have our lists and resolve ready to go. When true habit change happens, it’s worth the work.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Justin Whitmel Earley speak. He wears many hats – attorney, writer, speaker, husband, dad. He spoke then on the habits of a simple life, introducing his fascinating book The Common Rule. His latest book is Habits of the Household. Both are excellent resources for examining our lives (home and work) with the goal of building habits of flourishing.

I was not surprised when he offered us Advent habits (practices, playlists, and readings). Earley offers all these free as part of his determination to do good with his lift. The books go deeper and are definitely worth the read. For now, check out the links and note below his recommended 4 Advent Habits – Kneeling posture in prayer, lighting candles, tuning to God as the first voice of the day, and pocketing our phones while waiting (restoring the art of waiting).

Photo Credit: Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule, Advent Edition, 4 Advent Habits

Understanding True Habit Change and Rocking Your New Year’s Resolutions – Deb Mills Writer

3) Advent Readings – Advent means “coming”. We celebrate the coming of Christ, as Messiah, a helpless baby born of a virgin mother. God in arms. Miracle and mystery. Advent also commemorates the coming again of Christ in the last days. We look with hope to the day He will come again for His people, as Redeemer King.

The Advent Project – Biola University – Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts – a daily Advent offering of art, poetry, and devotional from Scripture

This year, our church is working through an Advent study entitled Our Hope Has Come. Gathering in home groups, we celebrate Christ’s coming in our hearts and throughout history.

In our home, we have a shelf of Christmas books (for children and adults) that have been treasures to us through the years. We bring them back out at Christmastime, reading again the beautiful messages of hope we have in Jesus.

Do you have any favorite Advent books or online resources? Please share them in the Comments below. Thanks.

Hope for Hopeless Things: The First Sunday & Candle of Advent – Ann Voskamp [Advent readings start with this one]

4) Forgive and Remember – In less than a month, we leave 2021 behind. Hopefully without regret. I’ve written a lot about forgiveness this year. Partly because of seeing the pain of prolonged unforgiveness in some of my closest relationships. Too much hurt. Too deep the offense. Too unfathomable the possibility of reconciling. The best attempt is “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.”

Photo Credit: Pinterest

What if we don’t try to forget? What if we determine to remember, but remember in a way that moves us to healing…to true forgiveness.

Psychiatrist and writer Curt Thompson has become a favorite resource of mine in recent months. Books, podcast, and articles. This week, I discovered his piece Forgive and Remember. Intrigued by the title, I read it and found hope renewed in the possibility of forgiveness, even in chronic trauma or painful persistent memories.

I find Dr. Thompson very engaging, but if you aren’t used to his references to brain physiology, you may need to do a slow read. Here is his take on the importance of remembering, in company – with a sense of the presence of Christ in the pain, remembering in the skin of “the offender”, and remembering with people who care about you.

“Because I refrain from remembering, I prevent myself from eventually remembering additional parts of the story that I have likely thus far, albeit nonconsciously and unintentionally, ignored. For indeed, it is possible that forgiveness requires me to expand my awareness of additional realities that were in play at the time I was wounded. For instance, if I only pay attention to my hurt feelings, I never attune to my adversary’s own layers of brokenness; never consider their deeper story, the cistern of their own fear of their own deep shame from which emerged their hurtful behavior in the first place; the depth to which they “do not know what they are doing…” Through the hard, repeated work of my imagination, my awareness of the larger truths of the life of the one who has mistreated me begins to gradually diffuse the intensity of the emotional content of my anger and resentment.

“The work of forgiveness requires the remembering of the event in the context of others who assist you to remember the additional alternative realities that we so often forget. Imagining Jesus being with you in the moment during which and after you were mistreated begins to literally change the nature of those neural networks that represent the fury of the hurt you initially felt. Over time the remembering of the hurtful event alongside the memory of Jesus and others who represent him begin to diffuse the intensity of the electrochemical signals of the hurtful memory, and open up opportunities for you to begin to construct a different possible future between you and the one who has hurt you. We then begin to see that remembering the event is really about the process of remembering it differently. Remembering it in a way that is eventually utterly transformed and transformational…reminding us that we are not really ever alone.

This takes time, effort, and plenty of help from those with whom you are practicing together to forgive not seven, but seventy times; to forgive, even as your Father in heaven has forgiven you.

Forgiveness. Who would have thought that there would be so much freedom in remembering? Sounds like something we should never forget.” – Dr. Curt Thompson, Forgive and Remember

YouTube Video – However Long the Path Might Seem: It’s Christmas. Time to Reconcile. – Penny.

5) Christmas Ads 2021 – I love Christmas commercials (or ads). All the twinkle lights and unfolding family gatherings or intimate moments. The compilation of Christmas ads below are all from 2021. Many are from European stores/businesses. Take your pick.Photo Credit: Glossiplanka 360

  Best Christmas Adverts 2021

YouTube Video – This Christmas, Nothing’s Stopping Us – Tesco

YouTube Video – Unexpected Guest – John Lewis & Partners

YouTube Video – An Unlikely Friendship – Prime Video – Christmas Ad 2021

YouTube Video – The StepDad – Disney Christmas Advert 2021/Official Disney UK

YouTube Video – Imaginary Iggy – McDonald’s UK

YouTube Video – Christmas Is What You Make It – Hobby Lobby – Christmas 2021

YouTube Video – A Christmas to Savour – Sainsbury’s – Christmas 2021 Ad

YouTube Video – Coca-Cola – Christmas 2021 – Real Magic

YouTube Video – John Lewis 2021 Christmas Advert Alternative by NimbusBeds.co.uk – Stop Loneliness at Christmas [2020 revisited]

YouTube Video – Boots Christmas Advert 2021 – #BagsofJoy – Boots UK

YouTube Video – Ernste Christmas Ad 2021 – #BelieveInTomorrow

YouTube Video – 10 Emotional and Heartbreaking Christmas Ads EVER! Most Emotional Holiday Ads (19 minutes – Don’t miss these! Most are in languages other than English, but it won’t alter the beauty of the film story in these little ads. If you need a good and  cleansing cry for no reason except the beauty of a little story in an ad, your heart will be filled.)

YouTube Video – Top 10 Most Heartwarming Christmas Commercials Ever Made (Will Make You Cry) – 16 minutes. At least fast forward to the last few. So lovely.

_________________________________________________________________________

That’s it for this week. Please share a fave of your own from this week in the Comments. Thanks for stopping by. It is a joy for me to share in this together with you.

Bonuses:

Photo Credit: Ann Voskamp

[If you want to see The Chosen Christmas – The Messengers but aren’t going back to theaters yet, it will be streaming soon free to all. Available on The Chosen app and we’ll see where else when it is announced.]

YouTube Video – Christmas with The Chosen – The Messengers – Watch This Before the Christmas Special

A Thanksgiving Prayer from the Anglican 1662 Prayer Book – Marlo Huber Salamy Facebook Page

John Harper – the Night the Titanic Sank – Facebook Story

She Was Tired of Her Giving Her Kids Candy So She Wrote Her Mother-in-Law a Letter

Worship Wednesday – The Hope of Christmas – Matthew West

Photo Credit: Harriet Long, Facebook

Out of the depths I call to you, Lord!
Lord, listen to my voice; let your ears be attentive to my cry for help.

I wait for the Lord; I wait and put my hope in his word.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning—
more than watchmen for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord. For there is faithful love with the Lord, and with him is redemption in abundance.Psalm 130:1-2, 5-7

Writer Ann Voskamp talks about Advent and the healing hope we have in Christ.

“I thought I lost hope when life tore a hole in my back pocket of my heart, and my creased and worn-out hope fell out when the bottom of things fell out — you know: when the door clicked close for the last time.  When that email landed and kicked hard right in the gut.  When the doctor shook his head slow and the room kinda spun, when too many mattering things felt impossibly wrecked, and it’s your life that can feel sorta totaled, and how do you keep going on hoping — when it’s the important parts of your life that are write offs?

But who knew that folded and creased Hope unfolds into wings?

Turns out: You can think you’ve lost hope, or you can try to shield yourself from it, abandon it, mock it, guard against it or try to trash it.

But hope is a rising thing and flies to you.

No matter where you are — in the unknown and unfamiliar — Hope is like a homing pigeon that knows how to find its way back home to you. Because Hope has an inner map and will always wing its way back to you.” – Ann Voskamp

Hard to Keep Hoping? The Secret to Finding a Way Forward – Ann Voskamp

Worship with me, considering the truth of singer songwriter Matthew West’s The Hope of Christmas.

Take me back to eight years old
The little church on a dead-end road
With a candle flicker in one hand and dad’s hand in the other
Take me back to Silent Night
My heart was full and the world was right
Cause right now the world looks nothing like those innocent Decembers
These days peace on earth is hard to find
And I need you to remind me one more time

You’re still the hope of Christmas
You’re still the light when the world looks dark
You’re still the hope of Christmas
And You’re still the hope of my heart

Watch the snowflakes falling down
Like a blanket on this town
For a moment we can hardly see the pain this year has brought us
May the sick find healing’s touch
May hatred’s fight be won with love
And may every heart make room for you the One who came to save us

You’re still the hope of Christmas
You’re still the light when the world looks dark
You’re still the hope of Christmas
And You’re still the hope of my heart

I bowed my head to pray tonight
Felt my little girl by my side
She slipped her tiny hand in mine
And we both talked to You
And it took me back to eight years old
My daddy’s hand and a story told
About Heaven’s love in a manger low
And a promise that’s still true

You’re still the hope of Christmas
You’re still the light when the world looks dark
You’re still the hope of Christmas
And You’re still the hope of my heart*

Put your hope in the Lord. For there is faithful love with the Lord, and with him is redemption in abundance.” – Psalm 130:7

*Lyrics to The Hope of Christmas – Songwriter: Matthew West

Monday Morning Moment – Hope in Christmas Lonesomeness

Holidays can be lonesome. We all get that. Any of us who has had to be away from family, because of distance or work obligations, know the ache of celebrations missed…people missed. We make the best of it, of course, but we miss the memories not made.

Now, for some, Christmas is not a happy holiday. My dad died on Christmas Day. Other Christmases were spent far from our families. Or we may have other, painful reasons for not thinking of Christmas as a happy time. The lonesomeness can be right under the surface in a room full of people. We may have all the trappings of a happy holiday…but…

Then…add COVID-19.

Writer Joe Pinsker has posted an insightful piece on our experience of COVID 2020 – The Year We Lost – When We Look Back on 2020, Will We See Past All the Things That Didn’t Happen?

He talks about the missed celebrations, the delays in academic and career goals, the mass exit from our public lives…and how we have been affected. He also points to the lack of punctuation that holidays usually bring us…the missed comfort of rituals we have held dear or at least help define who we are as people attached to others.

The general shortage of chapter breaks in 2020 has three notable consequences.

  • First, as researchers have demonstrated, moments of transition can prompt people to reappraise their habits, and perhaps adopt new ones.
  • Second, a year without celebrations means fewer vivid memories—and looking back on vivid memories is one way people mark the passing of time.
  • Third, and maybe most powerfully, missing out on full-fledged birthday parties, baby showers, and so on can feel like cutting pages out of one’s life story. Rites marking important milestones “play a key role in shaping what we call our narrative self, the sense of who we are and how we came to be that person. – Joe Pinsker

This is where I want to pull us back from the edge.

I understand lonesomeness…it is my experience sometime during every Christmas. I miss my Dad…my Mom (who died almost 20 years ago…still miss her every day). We live still separated geographically from many in our family. All the gift-buying-and-giving is stressful, right? The question of “Did I do enough?” is both agonizing and ridiculous.

There is a longing that seems to belong especially to Christmas. A longing for something more…something beyond this world… something that doesn’t hurt. We we find ourselves in this mindset, we have to “pull up”. We have to shake off the darkness in order to see the light.

I am not saying that is easy. COVID has given us plenty of darkness this year. We do not have to let it take Christmas…not this year.

Maybe you like us won’t get to be with family and friends this Christmas. Even our Christmas Eve candlelight service is happening via Facebook Live. It is what it is this year.

We can fight to step away from the loneliness…the ache of lonesomeness. It does take some effort, but our being present, our showing up, matters. Not just to others, but to each of us personally.

We step outside. We use our phones to actually make a call. We pull some cans of food out of our pantry to feed someone else. We forgive. We ask forgiveness. We remember Jesus. He had to have been lonesome for intimacy with his Father in those years he came so close to us. He understands.

We remember. We receive. We re-enter.

Too often we have heard (and maybe said) “I can’t wait until it gets back to normal”. Or “I wonder what the ‘new’ normal will be after COVID”. We don’t have to be passive recipients of what is coming.

We turn the waiting of this year…the isolation of this year…into hope for the coming Savior…hope of the filling that this season can bring, even in the presence of a pandemic.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Contemplative Monk

2020: The Year We Lost (A Year Without Parties, Celebrations or Ambition) – Joe Pinsker

The Story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s great losses that inspired the carol “I Heard the Bells” – Facebook

To the Lonely at Christmas – a Poem – Secret Angel

Worship Wednesday – When Earnestly Wrong – Behold! – Plumb

[A theme “Behold” – See! – continues this month in Worship Wednesday – last week’s blog Behold Him is found here.]

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:19

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...” – Jesus – Matthew 5:43-44

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – Jesus – John 13:34-15

This week I oddly became the target of some Twitter hate, related to my politics and a comment I had made. It was nothing – social media stone-throwing doesn’t usually have an effect if you have nothing to lose. Plenty of folks reacted in my defense, but when the last person commented (to me) that what I expressed was “shameful” – and she was also a Christ-follower, I finally had to respond: “You don’t know me”.

With the greatest of earnestness, was I wrong? Was she?

How do we respond to each other when what we think or believe is contested? What goes on in our hearts when our reputation seems at stake? How do we process a situation when what we were longing for…what we had hoped would happen…didn’t. Do we throw in the towel on relationships that get complicated, or even hurtful, because we don’t want to do the work of reconciling them…or nurturing them back to health. Do we want our way more than God’s?

Could we be earnestly wrong about such things?

The Jews of Jesus’ day were earnestly wrong about the coming Messiah. Oh, not that they weren’t looking for him…but he was supposed to be a “conquering king on a white horse, not the suffering servant…. Should they have known about the Messiah coming first as a baby?”

Yes. The Scriptures are full of prophecies and promises about the Messiah…There would be those who received Jesus…and through the ages there will be…as Himself, not as we wish he would be…our own made-up messiah.

When we want something that doesn’t go the way we think it should, something dark can happen in our hearts. Something dark that we then take out on others…even on God Himself.

The real Jesus calls us to trust him even in the darkness of our current circumstances. He calls us to love when we would rather hate. He calls us to speak and live in the truth, when we would rather just give the perception of doing so, without the reality displayed in our lives.

Whether my Twitter foe knew me or not…God knows me…and loves me…and wants what’s better for me than even I want for myself. When I stated to her, “You don’t know me”, my own self-protective heart was exposed. She didn’t know me…did she see Jesus in me?

Singer, songwriter Plumb talks about Advent being the season of anticipation. When we set our hearts on who God is, who we are as His image-bearers, and whatever His purposes might be, we can look forward with joy…for the coming of Christ. This Christmas. This coming year. Into every circumstance and every relationship.

“We in our own lives anticipate things coming or happening and sometimes they don’t happen or they don’t come in such a way that we thought or we expect or we wanted. We can still trust in the same God who knew what we needed then in a Baby. He knows what we need now in our own lives, no matter what. Behold, He has come, and He knows exactly what we need, and we can trust Him.”Plumb

Worship with me to Plumb’s Christmas worship song “Behold”.

Years of silence
Waiting on a king
They thought they knew who you would be
A soldier, fearless and strong
A warrior, but they were wrong

In the darkest night
Came brightest light

Behold
Behold
A baby’s birth
Precious lamb of God
Behold
Behold
Your gift to us
Savior of the world

So we pray
We ask and seek
When the answers don’t come easily
And when they’re not what we expect
Help us to trust you even then

In our darkest night
Be the brightest light

Behold
Behold
A baby’s birth
Precious lamb of God
Behold
Behold
Your gift to us
Savior of the world

Unlikely Joy
Anticipated hope
Give us your peace
Undeserved love
Such relentless grace
You are our king

Behold
Behold
A baby’s birth
Precious lamb of God
Behold
Behold
Your gift to us
Savior of the world*

As we count down to Christmas and to the end of 2020, a hard year (harder for some of us than we ever thought), we have an opportunity to examine our own hearts. Have we been earnestly wrong in dealing with a situation? Have we taken our own counsel about a relationship and not God’s (the Scripture is bursting with His great wisdom)? Has our resoluteness in our own rightness (in politics, or any other stand) jammed a wedge between us and someone He also loves? If so, there can be forgiveness…

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”Philippians 2:5-8

“Oh come to my heart, Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for Thee.”

*Lyrics: Behold – Songwriters: Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (Plumb), Christa Wells, and Jerrod Morris

YouTube Video – The Story Behind the Song “Behold” – Plumb

Isaiah 43:19 Commentaries

Advent and Christmas Music in the Midst of COVID-19 – Diana Sanchez-Bushong – includes the program of a Service of Lessons and Carols

Worship Wednesday – Advent – Is He Worthy? He Is – Andrew Peterson

[Adapted from the Archives]
We live in a “not so much”,  “couldn’t care less” world.
Our senses are bombarded with the material – the stuff we think adds value. The “too cool for school” attitude of self-importance pushes past high school into adulthood. We think highly of ourselves, and the coolest of us settle into tight tribes – actually cool or not, we find our people and tuck ourselves in.
Advent gives pause. Even for those who do not celebrate Christmas, the presence of a God-child, a baby like no other, must be grappled with…even for a transformative moment. For believers and non-believers alike, we can stop the show of our lives…and consider Jesus.
Who is he? What is there in him that must be, at least, examined?
Consider.
So much of Scripture is plain and clear in its teaching such that any of us could follow it and apply it to our lives. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, written by the Apostle John under the direction of the Holy Spirit…is not like any other text. It is full of the mystery of God and yet can yield great truth to the least theological of us. Read what John, in his last days on earth, wrote about Jesus:

“Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. I wept and wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.

Photo Credit: The Henry Luke Journey

Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne… He went and took the scroll out of the right hand of the one seated on the throne.

When he took the scroll…they sang a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.Revelation 5:1-9

The passage above from Revelation 5 is derived from a God-infused vision that John experienced and then transcribed for us to learn from it.  We don’t know for sure what the scroll represents – is it the purposes of God? Is it the finale of world history? Is it the judgment for the sins of all humankind? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know, is the scroll could not be opened…except by One worthy. Not just able to open it, but worthy to open it.

Jesus, the sinless Savior, was/is worthy. He is given many names in Scripture. The spotless Lamb of God is one. The perfect sacrifice. He alone could give His life for ours. He alone could pay our debt to a holy God. He, without sin, gave Himself in our place for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus is also called the Lion of Judah. One day He will come for us in the might and majesty of a conquering king – this lion of God, unmatched by any foe, wholly able to deliver us to the Father.

During the weeks of Advent this year, our praise team at Movement Church is leading us through this beautiful song, considering Jesus: Is He Worthy?

Singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson wrote this song for a congregation to participate responsively with the worship leaders. The reading or singing of this song is liturgical in form…something I’m not used to…but appreciate.

“One of the things I like best about liturgy is the more or less constant involvement of the congregation. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” It’s not so much about us coming to sit while the pastor and the elders do everything, but about all of us together rehearsing the story of redemption, edifying each other by reading Scripture aloud, reaffirming what we believe, embodying worship by kneeling or singing together—all of it culminating, of course, in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t overstate how much I crave the moment at the end of the service when I kneel at the front and a friend of mine places the unleavened bread in my open hands, looks me in the eye and says, ‘Andrew, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.’

Every week my wayward, hungry soul is confronted by the love of Jesus. Like clockwork.” – Andrew Peterson

Photo Credit: GodTube, Andrew Peterson

Let’s worship together with this glorious anthem by Andrew Peterson.

[Verse 1]
Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)

[Verse 2]
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Refrain 1]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
He is

[Verse 3]
Does the Father truly love us? (He does)
Does the Spirit move among us? (He does)
And does Jesus, our Messiah hold forever those He loves? (He does)
Does our God intend to dwell again with us? (He does)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Bridge]
From every people and tribe
Every nation and tongue
He has made us a kingdom and priests to God
To reign with the Son

[Refrain 2]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Is He worthy of this?
He is!
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
He is!
He is!*

[Sidebar: If you worshiped God with the help of this video, you saw a sea of white faces as the singers. Andrew Peterson wrote an apology worthy of your time. Let’s none of us falter from what he calls a misstep and miss the larger message of this beautiful song.]

Jesus…You are worthy.

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.”Revelation 5:9Photo Credit: The Rabbit Room

*Lyrics to Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson

Story Behind the Song Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson – Kevin Davis

Waking Up to Is He Worthy?: an Apology – Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson’s New Song for the People – The Gospel Coalition – Andrew Peterson

Revelation 5 – The Lion, the Lamb, and the Scroll – Commentary – David Guzik

Monday Morning Moment – Advent Begins and Christmas Memories Follow

[Adapted from the Archives]

In our attic, there’s a space is filled with bins of Christmas loveliness. Tree decorations, wall and room decor, linens, and nativities from around the world (including a few of the made in China sort).

This time each year I clear out some of the stuff, albeit still lovely but nothing my kids would cherish.

Driving to the thrift store with the bags of what will become someone else’s treasures, my thoughts filled with memories of Mom.

In those bags, among the bits of stuff, were several sets of Christmas placemats and cloth napkins. During our childhood, Mom used to decorate our small rancher with so much beauty at Christmas. Most of it either homemade or bought at the local discount store. Still…when the family gathered around all the tables scattered through the house, it was magical. Color and light. Wonder at how she brought the fragrance of loveliness out of so little.

I had a hesitation in the thrift store parking lot. Could I let go of them? In that moment it was like peeling away a part of my memory of Mom and my heart ached.

Still in the driver’s seat, with the car running, a song I’d never heard on the radio came on. It was Michael W. Smith’s Somewhere In My Memory (from his 2014 album The Spirit of Christmas.

In this song, his granddaughter Audrey sings (when did Michael W. Smith get old enough to have a granddaughter?!). The song was actually originally featured in the film Home Alone. The musical score was composed by John Williams.

Have a listen:

Candles in the window
Shadows painting the ceiling
Gazing at the fire glow
Feeling that gingerbread feeling

Precious moments, special people
Happy faces, I can see

Somewhere in my memory
Christmas joys all around me
Living in my memory
All of the music, all of the magic
All of the family, home here with me

Precious moments, special people
Happy faces, I can see

Somewhere in my memory
All of the music, all of the magic
All of the family, home
here with me*

What a gift music is (right, Nathan?). It was one of those “Christmas comes” moments. I sat and listened to that song, remembering a mom who could stretch her income better than anyone I knew. Probably because it was always about bringing joy to others. I didn’t have to have those placemats to remember what a gift Mom was to all of us.

So Happy start of Advent, kind readers. Whether we get the gifts right or not this year, Christmas still comes for us. What your loved ones want most for Christmas…might just be you.

We have good advice, on choosing love, in this image of a holiday bucket list:

I am so enamored this year with the graces God gives us in this season – small remembrances of what matters more than trying to find that perfect Christmas gift… Solitude instead of having every minute of our December weekends filled with parties or other seasonal events. One such grace for me was seeing the plaque below, at a local Chick-Fil-A. Surprised by the joy of it.

A Better Way Ministries -a place of refuge for men struggling with life controlling issues such as drug and alcohol addictions

Anyway….there you have my Monday morning rambling on this second day of Advent 2019.

One day a Christmas book for my children (like the one below I found in an estate sale) is going to be my gift to them.

Until then?

“All of the music, all of the magic
All of the family, home here with me”.

*Michael W. Smith – Somewhere In My Memory Lyrics | MetroLyrics

YouTube Video – Michael W. Smith – Somewhere In My Memory Feat. Audrey Smith

5 Friday Faves – December Song, Christmas Adverts, Food Insecurity, God’s Purposes, and Giving

This week and the month of November has come to a chilly close. December brings in the the season of Advent and the countdown to Christmas. I will do everything possible to slow down time, to savor the month ahead, and to remember, as Thanksgiving already prompted us, all the reasons we have to be grateful. Here are this week’s favorite finds (also revisiting some old precious ones):

1) December Song – This time in 2016, singer Peter Hollens introduced an original Christmas song. It is now one of my favorite songs of the season. How he introduced it was quite creative. He orchestrated a contest for people to do covers for the song and he had the entrants juried by a small hand-picked group of judges. Nathan (Beyond the Guitar) submitted an arrangement, and in the hundreds of contestants, he came in 16th in the hundreds of contestants. Here is the beautiful December Song and Nathan’s arrangement as well.

2) Christmas Adverts – Remember the Hallmark Christmas commercials of years past? Like this one. I am a sucker for sappy Christmas adverts. Tear up like clockwork. Many of the very best commercials come from Europe and other parts of the world. Here are some faves from this year and years past:

[The one below was produced with a pittance of $65 cost. Brilliant.]

3) Food Insecurity – This is the social dilemma of not having adequate access to fresh, healthy food. When marked by geography, the phrase food deserts is also used.Photo Credit: Mary Lide Parker

A simple Facebook post by a friend generated a thought-provoking, rich conversation on this topic.

Photo Credit: Alee Swanner, Facebook

I share the links from that conversation below.

The Root of the Problem – an Interview with Lindsey Haynes-Maslow – Mary Lide Parker

The Role of Local Food Availability in Explaining Obesity Risk Among Young School-aged Children – Helen Lee

School and Residential Neighborhood Food Environment and Diet Among California Youth – Ruopeng An & Roland Sturm

Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity – Gina Kolata

Should the Concept of a Food Desert By Deserted? – Layla Eplett

Always being aware of those who may need food is important. This time of the year, we are more likely to give to food banks, church food pantries, and other outreach ministries. This is just a beginning place…but it is a beginning. The family below introduced “canstruction” to us, and we do it every Christmas because of them.Photo Credit: Brenda McEwan, Facebook

4) God’s PurposesWisdom Hunters writer Shana Schutte has posted a fascinating list of 12 ideas on the purposes of God. Please take the time to read them. Comment below which ones were the most meaningful to you at this time. Mine were #1, #11, and #12. [For those of you who rarely click on my links – you know who you are – this one is not to miss.]

Photo Credit: Shana Schutte

Look Up, Child – [Speaking to Culture’s Preference to Youthful Leadership – Samuel D. James

To Survive Our High-Speed Society, Cultivate ‘Temporal Bandwidth’ – Alan Jacobs

5) Giving- On a trip to Walmart this week, I heard the Salvation Army bell ringing for the first time this year. Looking for the ringer, I saw the kettle but not the person. Finally saw him. He was an older black man standing away from the kettle, beyond the shadows of the building, to be able to soak up the warmer rays of the afternoon sun. He was very thin, “breath and britches” my mom-in-law would say. Ringing that bell for the sake of others less fortunate. Sure inspired me to give.

This is the season. I love the video below because we are not always open to give of ourselves…sometimes we need a nudge. Thankful for the nudges and the nudgers.

10 Overlooked People You Should Give Gifts to This Christmas

Baptist Global Response – Gift Catalog

That’s it for this week. Have a lovely weekend – this month fills quickly with all sorts of activities and adventures. Choose wisely and leave space for the unexpected. Maybe even a Christmas miracle.

Bonuses

Eight Blue Zone Lessons for Slowing Down – [Disclaimer: One of the 8 is “Do Happy Hour” – I don’t drink (lots of alcoholism among people I love and have loved – figure I’m vulnerable). So for those like me, I’m thinking any sort of afternoon break in the day – teatime, Happy Hour sans alcohol – would also work.]

FAQA – Frequently Asked Questions by Atheists – Six Day Science

Snowman Memories – This pic reminds me of a wonderful Christmas memory when our kids were small and we lived in Tennessee. Our Delaware family would arrive sometime over Christmas Day. Uncle Mark and Aunt Stacie didn’t make it until the evening because of a Christmas snow that blew in and complicated their travel. Almost immediately after they arrived, they took the kids outside and built a huge snowman out of the fresh and sticky snow. The kids named him “Oatmeal”. By morning, with the temperatures rising, he was quickly diminished but that sweet memory remains.Photo Credit: Beth Taylor, Facebook

…and the seed catalogs arrive: