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A Glimmer of Hope

hopeBetween the Old and New Testament stretch four hundred years of uncomfortable silence. During that time, Isaiah’s words would have brought the first inkling of the idea of Hope.

The people walking in darkness

Have seen a great light;

On those living in the land of the shadow of death

A light has dawned.

Isaiah9:2

This is the beginning of hope; that first glimmer of the idea of a Savior for all people. It would have been a foreign thought, though. When you hope in human terms, it starts very small. Just a flickering of light in your dark surroundings. Only if the situation improves will that flicker grow steady and brighter.

But hope, from God’s perspective, bursts onto the scene with “a great light”. What I love about this verse is that it shows the sheer size of Godly hope with a God who has even the scariest of situations in already in hand and will walk with you through whatever fears, doubts, sorrow or anxiety you may be facing.

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The darkness must come first in order for hope to shine against it. Our trials become a mere backdrop for God to work. Hope appears in the midst of darkness and gives us a target to aim for, a goal to strive for. It forms itself into an anchor that you can cling to.

This is the essence of Hope.

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Advent 2017 – week one

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Having a Hard Time Listening

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sometimes you are just listening for that one special song

 

Thirty years after the inception of the Contemporary Christian Music movement it seems ridiculous that so many are still divided over this issue. It speaks volumes of the health (or lack thereof) of the Christian church today that we allow such petty issues to divide us when there are so many other issues that we should be grappling with.

Having said that, someone tried to pull me into just such a discussion recently. His objection to modern praises was that he felt the songs focus on ourselves while traditional hymns focus solely on God. My first reaction was that perhaps he should go back and revisit the lyrics of both genre of music. But I resisted the urge to be sarcastic and tried to listen. Problem was I was only allowed to listen. He just wanted to vent and was not expecting a response other than agreement and sympathy.

But I did have an opinion that I wanted to share. This is the fun part of having a personal blog. I can vent all I want. It’s my blog and I’ll vent if I want to.

As a music lover, I have a deep respect for the music of the church, from the old hymns to the repeated praise choruses to the more thoughtful and varied songs of today. Of course, I have my favorites but I love a wide range of styles of music so I am comfortable and able to respond to a wide range of worship styles.

I’ve been listening to an old Todd Agnew song lately, “Written on the Wall”. The chorus cries out:

‘Cause the sound of this world’s deafening, and I ‘m having a hard time listening, and I wish your will was still written in the walls.”

To me, helping me get back to a place where I can hear that one special song that God sings for me is the essence of a solid worship service. When I come to church on a Sunday morning (or whatever day/time your service is) I am coming with the dirt and grime of this world on the soles of my shoes, worked under my fingernails and ground into the fibers of my clothes. It will take me a moment to refocus.

‘Cause the sound of this world is really deafening and I’m having such a hard time listening.”

I’ve come running into church dragging a bleary eyed toddler behind me. I’ve trudged up the front steps after spending the day before with my dying father and couldn’t wait for service to end so I could get back to his bedside. I’ve been so tired after a rough week at work, a night out with friends, a fight with a rebellious teenager.

The sounds of the world…I’m having a hard time listening, Lord.

But then I hear the strains of music from within those four walls that aren’t meant to be walls at all. Sometimes the sound of a keyboard or piano, or maybe the sound of voices greeting each other after a hard week out in the world where it can be so hard to hear. As the congregation starts to sing, I join in. The world begins to fade. It slips gradually away. I love when that first song gently pulls me before the throne. A song about me. A song about myself and Christ. I guess my friend would have disagreed with me on this.

But don’t let it end there. Subsequent songs need to refocus us on the One who is the whole reason we are there. I allow the music, the prayer, the choice of Scripture leading up to the sermon help me to tune out the noise and tune into Christ and who He is – grace, love, mercy and peace.

And I’ll find that I didn’t even notice if an old hymn was sung or a praise chorus. It was simply my being led away from the world which is deafening and into His presence of peace. And the next time someone tries to start that some old argument with me, I’ll just let the music I hear in my heart play while the storm surges around me.

Zephaniah317_1920x1080_1The LORD your God is with you,

He is mighty to save.

He will take great delight in you,

He will quiet you with his love,

He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

 


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Life Lessons From the Garden

 

 

P1030614We have been planting a vegetable garden in our backyard for the past twenty years. About 5 years ago we noticed that the neighbor’s trees had overgrown to the point where our little garden was not able to get enough sun to sustain tomatoes and such. This year we decided to plant a few tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini in a fresh patch of ground which would get more sun but still use the old garden area for the flowers that I love so much. After all, why waste a nice fenced in plot of land when you could be growing sunflowers. The veggies loved their new home and have exceeded our expectations. I have enough refrigerator pickles to last all winter. But my flowers struggled. The first seeds that I planted were eaten by birds, chipmunks and squirrels. Undaunted, I planted another round of seeds only to feed the birds once again. The third planting took root, sort of. A few plants made their way to the surface and half of them got munched as P1030600soon as they peeked a leaf above the dirt. Still they continued to grow. Then a few other plants appeared. Even though a few leaves were eaten, probably by groundhogs and rabbits, the plants continued to rise higher each day. I watched in amazement as the few tortured looking leafless stalks started to show some buds.

This has to be the strangest garden that I have ever had the privilege to tend. As the summer wore on, two things happened. The rabbits and groundhogs seemed content to eat other greens around the yard and leave the gardens alone. Even the weather has cooperated. Very mild temps with a nice mix of sun and rain. These plants with their munched up leaves wouldn’t have been able to stand the stress of a heatwave, drought or too much rain. I was glad that I had bought extra seeds and persevered with a second and even a third planting.

“Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly,P1030534

and whoever sows generously will reap generously”

2 Corinthians 9:6

20170729_131951I am so glad that I didn’t give up after the first planting. I didn’t sow sparingly but continued to pour more seeds, fertilizer and sweat into that soil. And now I can sit back and soak in the vibrant colors and watch hummingbirds, butterflies and bees benefit from my labor.

Give generously with all you do and watch for that generous harvest in all things.

 

“…he who sows in righteousness reaps a sure reward.”

Proverbs 11:18

God has not allowed you to toil in vain as Solomon would have us believe (Eccl. 1:3). Be patient and rest in the confidence of a loving God whose plans are higher than ours. Your reward may not be what you were expecting but it will be just what is needed and in the P1030615time that it is needed. My favorite sunflowers are little teddy bear sunflowers. I planted 4 packets of seeds but it seems that the bunnies are especially fond of them. Only one has survived, yet that one flower is so beautiful to my eyes.

“A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will come eternal life.”

Galatians 6:7-8

It has been a difficult summer for my family. Major upheavals in my church has left us battered and bruised and searching for a new church home. But we have consistently asked God for guidance and now as we look back over the past two months, we can see His faithful Hand. We have found friends in unusual places and comfort in stranger’s prayers. We have tried to sow seeds of faith and found comfort in His overwhelming provisions each Sunday as we venture out on new roads. We went from tears of sorrow at what could have been to tears of joy, wonder and gratitude as we explore different houses of worship. The sowing had seemed so fragile, yet the harvest has been incredibly rich and it’s only getting started!

 

Thank you, to the God who is faithful even when we are not. To the God who receives whatP1030606 little we have and returns it tenfold even when we do not deserve it. Thank you to the God who loves me more than I can ever imagine. Though the sowing was so difficult, His harvest is abundant.

Amen

 

 


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Good Night, Sweet Prince

17155323_10212514174588571_3581718803438938048_nSince my kids were very young, we have always had pets in the house. A dog, 4 cats, 4 guinea pigs, gerbils, chameleons and fish. A lot of fur, a lot of pine bedding, and I could have done without the weekly purchase of crickets. But they learned compassion in caring for another living creature. It was so worth it all to see my kids playing with the dog or snuggling with a cat. Over the years we have had to say goodbye to them all and each goodbye brought the tears of grief that spring from a heart that has loved much.

Today we said our goodbyes to our last fur baby – a 14 year old grey and white cat 20170414_094941named Smokey (whom I came to call “the Prince”). He was your run of the mill domestic short hair cat but he had the softest fur you can imagine. He was very shy when all the other animals were around but as each one slipped away we would see Smokey’s personality change and he would become more outgoing. He spent the last 18 months of his life as an only fur baby and during that time he was the most affectionate sweetie you could imagine. It turns out that he was one of those animals who do not like to share their people and he should have been an “only cat” all along. I am so grateful that we got to see his true personality come out in his senior years.16473075_10212257314687234_3889801842831162922_n

Today, as I mourn the loss of a beloved family pet, I cannot help but think of the church service that I will be going to later this evening to contemplate the death of my Savior. And out of that death – new life.

 

 

Out of sacrifice – another chance for us all.

Out of pain and sorrow – the sweetness of promised salvation.

Today, I mourn. But in three days…….

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a fair question

5096_1197313732195_1677986_nO LORD, what is man that you care for him,

The son of man that you think of him?

Psalm 144:3

A fair question.

Why does God care about us? I know that theologians can (and have) gone on and on about this but the answer is simply that He loves us. I wish I could state it more eloquently. I wish I had the beautifully poetic words that would make the notion of such a love come to life for you. But, honestly, there is no need to complicate things. God is love and He loves his creation.

That’s it – a pure simple truth.

Man is like a breath

His days are like a fleeting shadow

Psalm 144:4

Compared to God’s greatness, we are nothing

He loves us anyway

Our time on earth is momentary

He notices us anyway

Our foolish waywardness has to be frustrating

He shows us a true Way

Our speeches and written words (like this) must be entertaining

He listens anyway

And responds by pointing us to the Word – His Son

Why does He care?

He simply does.

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Anchored in a Foreign Land

How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? Psalm 137:4

 

I hear it all the time these days. People are asking how our country could have fallen into this quagmire of conflicting ideologies that have triggered such hate and fear. Whether you are on the right or left of the political fence, confusion reigns as finger pointing spreads the blame and shame.

So how do Christians respond?

Maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about responding to the world. Truth is, we need only respond to our God who is in control of this upside down world. If we can do that, I think we would find that our actions and words would spring from love and compassion rather than knee-jerk reactionary confrontations with the world we live in.

We may feel that we live in a foreign land, one that does not recognize Christian tenets but that would be short-sighted of us. God’s fingerprints are all over this world and its inhabitants. We sometimes miss what is right in front of us because we are so overwhelmed by the anger on social media feeds fueled by often biased news reporting. No wonder the land seems so foreign to us.

So here’s the best advice I can think of; take it or leave it.

anchorAnchor your life in both heavenly and earthly realms. Your faith must be built and daily
nourished by prayer and the Scriptures. This provides that all- important “hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19) that gives you an open avenue of two-way communication with God. Secondly, do not neglect the earthly anchors God has placed in your life to keep you grounded. Work to protect the relationships you have with your family and friends who love you, will pray for you, will trust you and allow you to trust them. Jesus said it all when he said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Finally, and this may seem contradictory, but remember that this is not your home. On the deepest level this is a foreign land; for we are spiritual creatures who will only come into our fullness when we enter into that next realm. In the meantime we have the Holy Spirit who indwells us and keeps us tethered to each world. We may at times feel adrift but we are never really drifting. We are always within reach of eternity even while grappling with a fallen world.

Go ahead and sing the songs of the LORD! Sing them with words of love, joy and peace. Sing them with actions that display the patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22,23) that comes from the Spirit within, the Father above and a Savior who bridges that gap for us.

The land may feel foreign but it’s only temporary and even the temporary can be very beautiful in its fragility.blue-sky-w-rainbow


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Extraordinary Love

 

jesus_mary_joseph

It was just an ordinary town

on the edge of nowhere

Just a simple, quiet night

that took the world unaware.

She was just an ordinary girl

Frightened of her part to play

He was just an ordinary guy

with a wife and child on the way

But He was no ordinary babe

Lying in that bed of straw

Surrounded by sheep and shepherds

Even kings bowed down in awe

star

Under that same old, starry night

Where one star shone out clear

A new mother held her babe

And whispered love into Love’s ear

On this simple, quiet night

He entered our world in this way

From a throne in Heaven above

To a simple bed of hay

Out of ordinary things

Comes a simple mother’s love

Out of ordinary things

Comes extraordinary Love.

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