Prayer for Christmas Week

Dear Lord,
As this day dawns my thoughts turn to the anticipation of the first night. The angels are primed and ready to announce the birth of the Savior. Mary’s heart is dancing with as the contractions get stronger. Joseph must have been nervous yet excited that he would soon be a father, but not just any father the father of the savior of the nations. This is the day the Father in Heaven had been planning since paradise was lost in the garden. Lord help me to stop all the noise of the season and rightly focus my heart and mind on the birth of Jesus.

“11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:11-14

Help me, Lord, to close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world. You have delivered me from evil, by the blessing that the Christ child brings may this Christmas time give me peace, and a grateful heart because I am forgiven help me share that forgiveness with others.

In the name Jesus, Amen.

The Light in the Dark Days of Depression

 

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“I am the light that has come into the world. No one who has faith in me will stay in the dark.” John 12:46

Everybody has dark days.  You know those times you don’t wish or can’t get out of bed. You’re afraid to face the world.  You are scared to face your anxiety, your depression, your anguish, your demons.  You don’t feel like it’s worth the effort.  You just want to throw in the towel.  You don’t want to see anyone nor do you want anybody to see you.  Holidays can make those days seem even blacker.   We all go through dark days or those seasons like this.

In this series of post leading up to Christmas I want us to look to the light of Christmas, Jesus Christ for our dark days.  I want us to look primarily at four types of dark days and how Christmas is the response to that through the life, death, and resurrection of the babe of Bethlehem.  Jesus is the way through the dark days of disappointment, distress, doubt, and depression.  You perhaps can relate to at least one of those during this holiday.

The Dark Days of Depression

I have written before about how depression robs us of our true identity.  What depression also does is makes it seem like everything in our life seems to cave in around us.  The holidays are a particularly lonely time.  When the world around you tells this is a season of joy,  but all you are feeling is hopelessness.  You may say to yourself, “what’s the use?”  You feel like giving up.

In World War II, Winston Churchill said when the war started in Europe, “The light has gone out in Europe.”

Depression has the effect of snuffing The Light out of our life.”  Misery is evident in Lamentations 3:19-20,

Just thinking of my troubles
and my lonely wandering
    makes me miserable.

20 That’s all I ever think about,
    and I am depressed.

Some of you faced a major crisis this year.  Maybe it was a divorce, a death of a loved one, a defeat, perhaps you got laid off, maybe you faced a significant illness, but it has snuffed out or at least dampened your Christmas spirit.  As you approach December 25th the fact is, you don’t feel like being happy. Other people’s talk of happiness only intensifies your pain and your loneliness.  Maybe you feel like Job in chapter 3 he said, “Erase that night from the calendar and conceal it with darkness.”

When the pain is that intense you wonder, “Does anybody care?” “Does anyone see the hurt?” If you find yourself asking those questions know this: God cares.  He cares about you because you matter to him.  Your issues of pain matter to God and He cares about it.

If you need some proof, in 2 Samuel 22:29, “You Lord, are my light; you dispel my darkness.” What Christmas reminds us is Jesus says, “I’m the light of the world.”  Jesus came at Christmas to bring light to our dark days.  Only Christ dispels the darkness.   Only Christ can be the Light of my life. Here is an illustration to remind us of the power of Jesus.

From the news, Julianne Holland, 13, an eighth grader in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, wanted to do her part for Jesus at Christmas. Without informing her parents, she addressed a letter to Jesus in care of the local post office. It landed on the desk of Presbyterian Donald L. Orner, 62, director of customer services at the postal center in Harrisburg.

“Dear friend,” wrote Julianne, “I am 13 years old. And you must think I’m weird for writing a letter to Jesus when everyone knows it wouldn’t get anywhere. But I wanted to give you a message.

“Every Christmas all people think about is getting presents. But that’s not the reason at all. I think Christmas means getting all your friends together and having a good time because Jesus is born, and that’s just the beginning of all the beautiful things he did for us. By being born he let love into the world.”

Replied Orner:

“We have no mail route to heaven, but I am sure that (Jesus) is aware of what you wrote. He knows our thoughts, our feelings, in every line of your beautiful letter flowed out across all the miles that no mailman could ever travel and touched his heart.

“You said your letter wouldn’t get anywhere—it touched my heart, and be assured, Julianne, he knows. May you have a happy Christmas, and God bless you.”

Somehow a reporter found out about the letters, and the Associated Press flashed the story around the world.[1]

 

[1] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (pp. 656–657). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

 

Are You in the Wilderness This Christmas?


A man walks on a path under a colorful night sky.

You ask, what is the wilderness? Here are the characteristics of the wilderness. A wilderness experience usually follows a season of highs. For Jesus right after He was baptized (which was more accurately a coronation), He was taking His rightful place as the final and greatest king of Israel. As soon as the event was over Mark’s gospel says He was immediately thrown into a wilderness experience where Satan would tempt Him after 40 days of fasting. Wilderness experiences usually happen when you are at the end of your spiritual rope. It is a time of seeking God’s will and direction for your life. 

In a previous post, we talked about the valley. When you are in the valley you get to know Him in a deeper way because you are forced to rest on Him. We enjoy Him on the mountaintops, but get to truly know Him in the valleys.  It is those wilderness times where we experience God. For a deeper dive at this, enter our subject Elijah.  

Background

Elijah was a prophet of God in a dark time in Israel’s history. Their King Ahab had abandoned walking in the ways of Yahweh and turned to worship Baal. Elijah was sent to lead God’s people back. Elijah faced struggles and God delivered a stunning victory that would lead him to his wilderness wanderings.

• Elijah stood down evil King Ahab and prophesied drought due to the consequences of his sin. 

• For 3 years, King Ahab, searched with all his forces for Elijah.

• While Elijah was hiding, ravens feed him and he raised the dead.

• On Mount Carmel, he stands down 850 false prophets—called down fire from heaven on a water-soaked altar, which is consumed.

• Destroyed false prophets—asked God for rain.

After defeating Ahab and Jezebel’s false prophets she vows he will be dead by this time tomorrow.  

3Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there,4while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 1 Kings 19:3-5

Elijah after this amazing victory performed by God now runs 100 miles to get away from the evil queen.  

You may have a high tolerance for pain. At some point, you will reach your breaking point. When you get there one thing can push you over the edge. My mother loved to say, “You are jumping on my last nerve.” For Elijah, after all, going through that threat from Jezebel was the last straw. God sent him into his wilderness wanderings. 

Your Mindset in the Wilderness

When you look at Elijah, he seems exhausted. Have you been there?  Can you relate? You are more than just tired you are physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted. As you get to this point you just want to jump in a hole and pull the world in after you. The thing about the wilderness is that this season can last a long time. While the valley is hard, the wilderness wanderings can go on for a while.  

How Do You Recover?

If you find yourself in the wilderness this Christmas don’t try and power through it. You need to power down and allow God to reboot you. You need physical rest and spiritual replenishment.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”8So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”1 Kings 19:5b-10

Once God got Elijah’s physical strength up he sent him to Mount Horeb to connect with him.

11The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake came to a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 

1 Kings 19:11-12

And the reason God whispered to Elijah is to remind him and us He is near. God is never far from us. Satan yells lies, God whispers truth. The world screams, God gently reminds us of His divine presence. This Christmas as the world yells the trappings of the holiday, go to Bethlehem to the quietness of the manger and hear the voice of God in the silence of that special night of the Savior’s birth. 

May be this doesn’t fit you. It is possible you are more in the valley.

Prayer of Remembrance

Dear Lord Jesus, 

I praise you for the gift of a new week in your grace. Thank you for the opportunity to remember in this season of joy that every good and perfect gift comes from you. It fills my heart with gratitude for all You have accomplished for me by Your birth, life, death, and resurrection. In this season of gift giving, I want to stop and remember the gifts of Christian leaders and witnesses you have a place in my life and the life of Your Church. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “7Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9 So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them. Hebrews 13:7-9 

So often we forget the faithful saints who have gone before us like, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, Tertullian, Augustine, and the one we remember most this time of year St. Nicholas, a devout Christian who served as Bishop of Myra, known for his generous heart as he cared for those in need.

It is with great joy I remember the true faithful saints you’ve woven into the salvation story. May I remember the heroes you’ve given me. The men and women whose humility makes the gospel incarnational and beautiful to me and others. We remember those fragile jars of clay You used to store the most precious treasure of truth and life everlasting. Lord may you use me to be a faithful saint that point people to You and your work of salvation. I ask this in Jesus precious name, Amen.

How to Cultivate a Welcoming Heart At Christmas?

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Pastor Clifford S. Stewart of Louisville, Kentucky, sent his parents a microwave oven one Christmas. Here’s how he recalls the experience: “They were excited that now they, too, could be a part of the instant generation. When Dad unpacked the microwave, and plugged it in, literally within seconds, the microwave transformed two smiles into a frown! Even after reading the directions, they couldn’t make it work. “Two days later, my mother was playing bridge with a friend and confessed her inability to get that microwave oven even to boil water. ‘To get this darn thing to work,’ she exclaimed, ‘I really don’t need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift!'” When God gave the gift of salvation, he didn’t send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out; he sent his Son. – The Greatest Gift sermon, 17 Dec. 2016

Inhospitality

When it comes to Christmas, there was something else beyond preoccupation and ignorance. Inhospitality. There were those in Christ’s day who looked him over, listened to him, and when they sensed what he was saying, only said: “No thank you! I don’t have room for you!”

There was no room in the synagogue at Nazareth – they threw him out. During this past year, we have seen such racial, and political division such inhospitality, have we forgotten that all people, regardless of their color or political views are equal in God’s sight? People today are not very hospitable to that idea, just look at the unrest around the world.

There was no room in the Temple.  Jesus came to disrupt the status quo.  He began to shake up the comfortable.  And you can’t go around overturning the tables of the high priest’s concession stands and expect to have hospitality among those in power.

There was no room in Israel. We don’t welcome people who turn our comfortable lives on their head.  Jesus was accused of not playing by the rules, of inciting riots, conducting rallies and engaging in the subversive talk. With the Romans breathing down their necks the religious leaders felt threatened.  The Jewish people were under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire.  So, it was the standard practice to try to get by through getting along.  Don’t make waves. Be patient and wait for the deliverer to come. Because when the Messiah shows up, He will deliver the nation from the rule of Rome and free the people from the arrogant tyranny of a dictatorship. The people were obsessed with that issue; it was always at the forefront of their minds. They were not at all united on how that would be accomplished, but they all believed that something had to be done.

A large faction, called Zealots, thought the only way was to resist, fight and kill. Sounds like some in society today.  They were in a quandary for a while, wondering if Jesus could be the promised king who would provide the kind of strong leadership necessary to lead the revolution. They would have made Him king if he even indicated that He was ready to take the mantle and run with the movement. But Jesus had other plans, a different mission. Jesus saw the problem of power and passion. He knew that hatred was not a proper solution.  You must love all people; Jesus said, even your enemy. If he compels you to go one mile, go two. You must get started with something constructive to get out of the everlasting vortex of hatred. If you resist evil with evil, you will be destroyed by evil.

Well, they were in no mood to welcome that! They shut him out. “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” There was no room for his kind.

The story continues.  We do not need to belabor the point. All too well, we recognize that even in countries where Christ is loudly praised, in nations where the public holiday is made of his birth, there is not much room for him, at least not down in the dark currents of life where real decisions are made about real issues.

The late David Roberts said that if he could have anticipated Bethlehem, his first temptation would have been to cry out: “O Gentle Son of God, don’t come here! Don’t come into such a world. This is no place for you. This is no place for someone who cares nothing for money, prestige, or power. You don’t fit in here—it will destroy you. This kind of world will crush you, break your heart. Don’t come! You don’t belong.”

But then, he went on to say that, on second thought, as the years roll by, we can’t get rid of the haunting realization that Christ is the one who actually belongs. We are the misfits whose ugly passions and unholy lives are out of touch with reality. We are the strange ones with distorted images of what humanity was meant to be.

The encouragement of Christmas is that the light of Christ is still shining in the dark and that the future belongs to the light. With the darkness of every tragic human blunder, the contrast of the light grows clearer. The light of Christ is the real thing, and we must make room for it in our business, in our politics, in our education, in our homes, and in our personal lives. And we must do it soon.

We never find room. We must make room.

The story of the Bethlehem Inn reminds us once again about preoccupation, about being unaware, and about inhospitality to the highest. And the innkeeper calls to our attention the importance of opening the door when the knock comes.

It is coming again. What shall we do this year – just keep Christmas, or make room?

Other  Christmas articles:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/12/20/two-warning-signs-your-heart-is-too-crowded

The Light of Christmas Breaks the Dark Days of Doubt

A wooden manger and three wooden crosses

 So, Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” John 12:35

 The Christmas season is a common time to feel like you are drifting through life.  Maybe you have been there too.  It has been a rough year, perhaps a turbulent few years. The hurts, pains, and disappointments of life have caused you just to drift; having no clear objective.  Have you lost your way?  Is your head up in a cloud and your faith in a fog?  December is the time you look at your past disappointments.  As you peak into the new year instead of a sense of anticipation, you only get stressed. The future produces doubt and worry.

To be honest, there are plenty of reasons for us to have doubt and uncertainty as we finish 2018 and begin 2019.  Will, the economy continue at these record levels or will it come crashing down around us?  Will I have a job five months from now?  Can I count on my health remaining intact? These concerns are real and things to be stressed about, to have doubts about the future.  What will my options be six months from now?  Will the options be any good?  Sometimes the options are the frying pan or the fire. I am so thankful to live in the land of freedom of choice, but sometimes both opportunities for your future are bad.  Consider the voters of my home state, Louisiana.  One year they had to vote for a new governor.  Edwin Edwards, a crook or David Duke, who had been the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.  What a choice!   I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Vote for the crook.  Better a lizard than a wizard.”

Dark days of doubt.  The one who walks in the dark doesn’t know where they are going.  Have you ever felt like that?  What does my future hold?  Where am I headed?  You’re in a fog.

God will guide me when I’m doubtful.

When I’m confused, and I don’t know which way to go.  John 8:12 “Jesus said, I am the Light f the world.  So, if you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through darkness, for living light will flood your path.'”

What are you worried about?  What has got you uptight?  What is it that is keeping you awake at night, keeping your stomach churning?  You’re going to have to make some significant decisions in 2018.  I don’t know what they are and you don’t either.  But I guarantee you; you will have to make some significant decisions in the year to come.

On what basis are you going to make those major decisions?  “I thought/felt it was the right thing to do?”  Feelings are highly unreliable.  You might have just eaten a bad pizza the night before.  It’s not a good way to make decisions just on feelings. “Everybody else is doing it” is not a very good reason either. The majority is often wrong.

When you face doubts, there is a reliable source that you know will always give you the right advice and never steer you in the wrong direction.  Is there any place in the world you can get that kind of help?

Yes.  It’s called God’s word.  It won’t steer you the wrong way. “For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.” Psalm 18:28

God is the only reliable guide for life. His word is a flashlight.  It illuminates.  It keeps you from stumbling, helps you to see things.

May God show up in the midst of your doubts.  I would leave you with this poem.  It inspired me; perhaps it will you as well.

Let me meet you on the mountain, Lord,

Just once.

You wouldn’t have to burn a whole bush.

Just a few smoking branches

And I would surely be …your Moses.

Let me meet you on the water, Lord,

Just once.

It wouldn’t have to be on White Rock Lake.

Just on a puddle after the annual Dallas rain

And I would surely be…your Peter.

Let me meet you on the road, Lord,

Just once.

You wouldn’t have to blind me on North Central Expressway.

Just a few bright lights on the way to chapel

And I would surely be…your Paul.

Let me meet you, Lord,

Just once.

Anywhere. Anytime.

Just meeting you in the Word is so hard sometimes

Must I always be…your Thomas?

Norman Shirk, April 10, 1981, KQ (Dallas Seminary)

Pic Of the Week: God’s Grace in A Manger​

Immanuel Lutheran in Batavia

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. -Luke 2:1-16 KJV

Are You in the Valley This Christmas?

In the Valley of Smoky Mountains.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” Psalm 84:5-7

Our Valley of Sorrows.

Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She’d barely said “hello” when “ssssopp!” Chippie got sucked in.

The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie — still alive, but stunned.

Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air. 

Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.

A few days after the trauma, the reporter who’d initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering. “Well,” she replied, “Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore — he just sits and stares.”

It’s hard not to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over . . . That’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.

Max Lucado,In the Eye of the Storm, Word Publishing, 1991, p. 11.

This Christmas you may relate to Chippie. Your year has not turned out the way you imagined. You feel like life has sucked you in. There have been too many friends lost, too many funerals to attend. It is a year you have been washed up with disappointments, job uncertainty, or loss. It has blown you over by damaged relationships. Now it is Christmas and all the events of the past year come crashing down in this season meant to be one of joy, family, and celebrating the birth of the Christ-child; but songs of glory to God in the highest have been silenced. This is the valley of Beka, the valley of sorrows.

God provides the Strength we need.

In this, the psalms focus on Yahweh’s presence in the temple in Jerusalem. The psalmist stresses the joyful experience of the worshipers being in the House of God. He describes how Yahweh cares for His people by providing a place at the temple. Those who took advantage of Yahweh’s offer will be blessed in their worship. Normally, during a pilgrimage like this with each passing day, the pilgrims would grow wearier until finally their strength was depleted.

But that is not the case says the psalmist, just the opposite was the case. The closer the pilgrims got to the city of Jerusalem, the stronger they became. Their love for worship was so great that the mere anticipation of it had an energizing effect upon them.

So, as they reach the Valley of Baka, the valley of sorrows, those journeying to Zion gained strength. They got stronger from anticipating being in the house of God. What an awesome picture of our faith walk! When life seems to be the most difficult, when we are traveling through the barren valleys what gives us strength is the anticipation of being in the presence of Yahweh. This Christmas may we find strength as we anticipant the coming of Jesus, first as a babe in a manger but also as He returns victorious as King on the last day. 

How Do You Recover The True Meaning of Christmas?

In New York’s Hayden Planetarium a special Christmas holiday show was enhanced by an added feature. A giant lollipop tree was projected onto the planetarium dome, surrounded by a horizon filled with brilliantly colored toys which came to life and cavorted to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” At the climax, a huge figure of Santa Claus faded out in a snowstorm, and the star of Bethlehem broke through into a sky that produced exactly the Palestine sky on the night of the nativity. The designer of this show may not realize that he dramatically staged the supreme Christmas message our world needs to understand: The recovery of the lost meaning of Christmas. This is not said in any criticism of Santa Claus; the effect must have delighted the hearts of all the children who saw it, without doing violence to their love of Bethlehem. But for adults, it is a tragic loss to substitute “Jingle Bells” for “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” and a lollipop tree for the manger of Bethlehem. The instinct is right to fade out these things in the light of the Christmas star. It is about God’s incarnation that the angels sing–God with us. – Robert E. Luccock in James W. Cox, The Minister’s Manual: 1994, San Fransico: Harper Collins, 1993, p. 218.

“So, they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words in her heart.”Luke 2:16-19.

As rich and amazing as the pure gospel message of the Christmas story is, it is just as easy to drown it out with the trappings of the secular winter holidays. It is easy to forget the impact this birth had on the lives of simple folks like the shepherds. It forever changed their lives because they were the heralds of the good news that salvation has come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. They saw this miracle for themselves. They were active participants in the events of that incredible night and are forever part of the nativity account.

These societal outcasts were told by God “you matter”. This savior is not just for the wise and learned, but for everyday folk. Because of this universal savior, the shepherds and we included are getting to spend Christmas “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”

My prayer for you this Christmas season is that you rediscover your joy and the true meaning of Christmas. For unto us is born this day a Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Prayer for Advent Week One

A wooden manger and three wooden crosses

Dear Lord,

It is the dawning of a new week. As Christmas draws near, it is not a joyous season for everyone. Some of us Lord are journeying through the valley of Baka. The psalmists describes it in Psalm 84, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” Psalm 84:5-7 Faith is more difficult in the valley. In the valley you feel alone, scared, experience pain, and desolation. Yet like those who journeyed to Jerusalem to the House of Yahweh, we get stronger through the valley so long as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Dear Savior help me when those valley moments come when it is hard to have halleluiah’s flow from my lips, that I take the words of the apostle Paul to heart. “Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side.  Think about the things above and not things on earth.” Colossians 3:1-2 Point me to the Christ child, remind me daily that You, Father loved me so much you gave me the most indescribable gift possible, Your one and only unique Son, Jesus Christ. Fix my eyes on Jesus, renew my strength, restore the joy of my salvation. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

Pic of the Week: Mountains

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Dear Lord,

As I reflect on the beauty of your creation especially the mountain the words of Psalm 15 come to mind.

1Who can live in your tent, Lord?
Who can dwell on your holy mountain?
2 The person who
lives free of blame,
does what is right,
and speaks the truth sincerely;
3 who does no damage with their talk,
does no harm to a friend,
doesn’t insult a neighbor; Psalm 15:1-3

In Worship,​ we Gather, are Nurtured and Sent on Mission

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This four-week journey into worship has been interesting. I was not sure where God would lead this, but I do know I heard warnings from friends of “tread lightly.” Sad that worship is a touchy subject. People wrongly assumed I would pick sides on disagreements about traditional liturgical forms vs. more free-flowing forms (I refuse to get into the contemporary language argument). All worship should apply to today’s audience. Wrapping this series up in a nice little package, let me leave you with this final charge. No matter what side of the worship discussion you fall, we can all agree worship must extend beyond Sunday morning. I love this quote. “Can we really call it worship if it is not followed by service? It is a mockery to praise the Lord inside church walls unless we tell others about Him outside those walls![1]

Some Stunning Facts:

Churches in the United States have about $80 billion invested in real estate, mostly in church and Sunday school buildings. This represents about 80% of total resources of religious bodies in this country.

It has been estimated that America’s nearly 400,000 churches show a facility utilization rate of only 1%. This means the average church makes full use of its property and equipment for about one hour for every 168 hours in the week. No architectural structure is used so sparingly in the world.[2]

Do we still have a sense of urgency? Do we preach with a sense of expectancy that Christ could return at any moment? Jesus says that should be our approach. In Matthew, He says, “Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. 43 But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. 44 Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know.”

I wonder if the struggle in worship becoming a Sunday morning only focus has something to do with the shift in our thinking.

In early centuries, churches were built with the pulpit on the east end. The sun rises in the east, and believers were supposed to look to the east for Christ’s return (Matt. 21:27).

During the Reformation, the pulpit was moved from the side of the nave, and people were positioned around it as focus point (amphitheater style). There was a separate room for the Lord’s Supper with a long table for the people to sit.

In the third century, basilicas had east ends raised a little, with a “bishop’s chair” at its center, from where he preached and was surrounded by presbyters. In front of him was the Lord’s Table, around which deacons grouped.

Today, many church buildings incorporate the above features: amphitheater-styled seating around the pulpit, with a raised platform.[3]

Returning to the Heart of Worship

When I began this series in the back of my mind this song was on my mind and heart.

 

The Heart of Worship

written by Matt Redman

When the music fades

and all is stripped away

and I simply come.

Longing just to bring

something that’s of worth

that will bless Your heart.

 

I’ll bring You more than a song,

for a song in itself

is not what You have required.

You search much deeper within,

through the way things appear,

You’re looking into my heart.

 

I’m coming back to the heart of worship

and it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it

when it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.

Worship is so much deeper than hearing our favorite religious hymns or the pastor stepping up into a pulpit which is now becoming the focal point and nailing a sermon that moves your heart to action. The very heart of worship is all about Jesus. Jesus had a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:24. As she comes seeking answers on how to repair her broken life. He turns the conversation to living water and also to worship. And worship is not about the temple. He says if you want to truly worship God then you need to understand worship. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The essence of worship is not the many good externals. It is not about the forms, it is not about the music, nor the emotions you can create. Worship at its core is about the heart and head. Spirit and truth. God in worship through the working of the Holy Spirit, stirs our innermost being and connects us mysteriously to God, his Son; the gospel proclaimed, offers forgiveness, and then sends us on the mission to tell those who don’t know. While on the mission we tell them, what God has done for us and them through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We gather as a community, to be fed and equipped to be sent on the mission.

[1]Hobbs, H. H. (1990). My favorite illustrations(p. 272). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

[2]Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times(p. 1652). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

[3]Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times(p. 1652). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

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