“Everything Will Be All Right”

“Nothing can harm you permanently, no suffering is irrevocable, no loss is lasting, no defeat is more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Jesus did not deny the reality of suffering, discouragement, disappointment, frustration, and death; he simply stated that the Kingdom of God would conquer all of these horrors, that the Father’s love is so prodigal that no evil could possibly resist it.”~~Brennan Manning

Good morning. It is Sunday, December 21, 2014. Four more days! Also, welcome to Winter. Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year.

Today’s Word of the Day is “palinode.” It has two definitions. 1. “An ode or song recanting or retracting something in an earlier poem.” 2. “A formal retraction.”

Today is International Dalek Remembrance Day. It is deemed so, because, apparently, the Daleks first made their appearance on Doctor Who on December 21, 1963.

Yesterday was a strange day. I’m not really going to write about something that occurred yesterday morning, but I will say that my reaction to the circumstance was wrong. I think I managed to salvage the situation, but it illustrated how badly I still need to work on this whole idea of being a servant and not being selfish. The afternoon went pretty well. Christi went ahead and did the grocery shopping for her mother, and I finally got the oil changed! The guys at the oil change/car wash place must have been really bored, too, because they got the oil changed in record time. I was a little skeptical, because I wasn’t sure they even had time to drain the old oil. The car wash was surprisingly open, so I got that done, too. Free car wash with an oil change, and all that. I picked up the required Sonic drinks, along with some lunch, and headed home.

After lunch, we got ready and headed up to church, where we were challenged a bit. We are still in a series on the Great Commission, and tying that in with Christmas. Last night’s message focused on the two words, “all nations,” and was very challenging, even uncomfortable, at times. But it turned out being a good evening, with some good worship. We hit Whataburger on the way home and settled in to watch some TV before bedtime.

Today, I’m supposed to help clean house for the upcoming Christmas festivities. I whined a little, saying, “Why? We’ll just have to do it again Wednesday!” 🙂 But I will do my duty and faithfully do whatever is asked of me.

We only have to work three days this week, as we are off Wednesday and Thursday for Christmas. Do Canadians get off Friday for Boxing Day? If so, I think I want to move there. On second thought, I don’t want to have to root for the Blue Jays, so never mind.

(Source: This Day in History)

It was on this date in 1974 that Harry Chapin had his only Billboard #1 hit, with the song “Cat’s In the Cradle.” This song began as a poem written by Sandy, Harry’s wife.

Today’s birthdays include Samuel L. Jackson, Steven Yeun, Kiefer Sutherland, Ray Romano, Jane Fonda, Frank Zappa, Natalie Grant, Florence Griffith Joyner, Chris Evert, Carl Wilson, Phil Donahue, Benjamin Disraeli, Paul Winchell, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Thomas Becket, Roger Williams (English colonist, not piano player), Werner von Trapp, and Philip Humber.

Natalie Grant is a Christian singer, fairly well known in the CCM industry. She has received the GMA Dove Award for Female Vocalist of the Year several times in her career. She turns 43 today.

Here is her song “Your Great Name.”

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

Fourth Week of Advent

Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.

Psalm 96:2-4
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Psalm 90:14
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas;
Psalm 65:5
You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
Psalm 91:5
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25
Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD!
Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!
The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!

Psalm 113
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Purify my conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at
his coming, may find in me a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:11

Today’s Gospel Reading

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Matthew 21:1-11

This passage describes what has become known as “the Triumphal Entry.” Jesus gave his disciples some pretty explicit instructions on where to find the donkey and its colt. The quotation of Zechariah 9:9 is significant, as this was recognized as a messianic prophecy. The crowd spreading their cloaks on the ground before Jesus indicates that they recognized his claim to be the Messiah.

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “Everything Will Be All Right.”

“Christmas is the promise that the God who came in history and comes daily in mystery will one day come in glory.” In Christ Jesus, God tells us that “in the end everything will be all right. Nothing can harm you permanently, no suffering is irrevocable, no loss is lasting, no defeat is more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Jesus did not deny the reality of suffering, discouragement, disappointment, frustration, and death; he simply stated that the Kingdom of God would conquer all of these horrors, that the Father’s love is so prodigal that no evil could possibly resist it.”

I looked up “prodigal,” having seen the word in the parable of The Prodigal Son for most of my life. Knowing the definition of the word is helpful, especially in light of Timothy Keller’s book about that parable, called The Prodigal God. For many years, I thought it meant something like “wayward” or “lost.” But that is not at all what it means. It means, “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” Which is exactly what “the prodigal son” did. However, it also means, “having or giving something on a lavish scale,” which is exactly what God does! Hence, Brennan’s usage of the word in the above paragraph. God’s love is, indeed, prodigal!

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning,
nor crying,
nor pain anymore,
for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4

Father, thank you for the promise of Christ’s coming in glory. I give you thanks for the first advent of Jesus, that gives us hope for life, for future grace, for “heaven.” Thank you for the promise that, indeed, everything will be all right! All of us have suffered, been discouraged, frustrated, disappointed, and, inevitably, experienced death. None of these things are permanent! My mind cannot truly fathom this truth, as it is in a fixed, finite jar of clay. But someday, this jar of clay will be smashed and replaced with something indescribably glorious!

Your extravagant, prodigal love cannot be truly, adequately described. “Could we with ink the oceans fill, and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.” How true those words! How unfathomable your love! Teach me, Father. Teach me your love. I don’t need to pray for you to show me, for you have, over and over and over again! But I need to learn it. I need your love to be so ingrained in my being that it flows out from me to everyone around me. I need for your prodigal love to push out every negative character trait that so viciously plagues me from day to day, things about myself that I truly hate. Teach me your love!

I pray for this day. We still have a few things to get done, and I pray that we will accomplish those today. Keep us safe as we travel around, and give us good rest, as we prepare for the week ahead. It is a short work week, but there are celebrations to be done during the days off, so they will not necessarily be restful.

As we look forward to Wednesday and Thursday, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, may our hearts be led to praise you and to ponder the miraculous birth that changed the world forever. May Christ be born in us today! “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee!”

I pray that you experience the prodigal love of God this Christmas!

Grace and peace, friends.

Creatively Responsive

Good morning. It is Saturday, December 20, 2014. Only five more days until Christmas!

Today’s Word of the Day is “nurture.” Nurture is a fairly well-known word. It has several meanings, though. 1. “To supply with nourishment.” 2. “To educate.” 3. “To further the development of” or “foster.”

Today is Sangria Day. Sangria can come in a lot of forms, but it is basically a fruity wine that originated in Spain. The historical origins seem to have to do with the time when Romans inhabited the area, around 2000 years ago, and put all kinds of things (along with alcohol) in the water to make it safe to drink. The name comes from sangre, or blood, due to the original color of the drink that resembles fruit punch more than wine. This reminded me of this old song by Jerry Jeff Walker.

We had a very busy day, yesterday. And we didn’t quite get everything finished, either. One thing that took a bit of time, that was not originally planned, was me getting a new phone. I had been thinking about this, on and off, for a few months. My previous phone was a Samsung Galaxy 4S. For the most part, I have been happy with this phone. However, there were occasional issues with its connection to the bluetooth in my car, and being able to make calls to Christi and Stephanie (or, I guess, anyone else). Several times, I was knocked off of the bluetooth connection when merging calls, and there were frequent times when I simply could not hear the person on the other end, and they could not hear me, either. At those times, I would wind up having to completely restart the phone. I don’t know if this was an issue with my individual phone, or with the Galaxy in general. At any rate, both Christi and Stephanie still have iPhones, so I elected to switch back. On the “Next” plan, the payment for the iPhone 6 was only a dollar more than the payment for the iPhone 5s, so I went ahead and got the newer model. So, now, I’m having to relearn all the operating nuances of the iPhone.

We went ahead and did our grocery shopping yesterday, both for our weekly needs, and for the Christmas dinners we will be preparing for Wednesday and Thursday. We also picked up some gifts for relatives, as well. By the time we got all the groceries, picked up our ubiquitous Sonic drinks, and got home to unload all the groceries, it was after 4:00 PM. As soon as we got everything put away, we headed across the street to Fogata’s for “lunch/dinner.” (Why is there a word for “breakfast/lunch” but not for “lunch/dinner??” “Linner?” “Dunch?”) After that, we went to the mall (*gasp*) and got a case for my new phone, as well as a new screen protector for Christi’s phone. Oh, and a new car charger, since the one in my car only fits Samsung phones. Of course, we had to buy cookies while we were at the mall.

Today, we still need to go out and hit the dollar store for stocking stuffers, and I think, after that, we are done with Christmas shopping! Oh, and I still haven’t gotten that oil change. Tonight, as is our custom, we will have our prayer gathering at 4:45, followed by our worship service at 5:45. As always, I would welcome anyone who is in the area to visit us. We are The Exchange.

Tomorrow, we just might go bowling again. 🙂

(Source: This Day In History)

It was on this date in 1597 (mistake point out . . . that should be 1957) received his draft notice for the U.S. Army. Elvis was spending Christmas at Graceland when he received the notification. By that time, he had a run of gold records, including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” as well as a hit movie, Love Me Tender. Elvis was at the peak of his career, and here he was, getting a notification that he would be required to serve for two years in the Army. Thousands, nay, tens of thousands of letters were sent to the Army, begging that he be excused, but the King of Rock and Roll would have none of that. He willingly served, after receiving a one year deferment to finish work on his movie, King Creole. Elvis was sworn in as a private in Memphis, on March 24, 1958, eleven days after I was born.

Today’s birthdays include Jonah Hill, JoJo, Peter Criss, David Cook, Chris Robinson, Branch Rickey, Harvey Firestone, James Shields, John Hillerman, Alan Parsons, and Aubrey Huff.

Alan Parsons is a musician and producer of great fame. He began his career at the age of 18, as the assistant engineer for the Beatles album, Abbey Road. He received his first Grammy award nomination for engineering Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of the Moon. He also engineered five albums by The Hollies, including their hits, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and “The Air That I Breathe.” In 1975, rather than return to work on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, he started work on his own project, The Alan Parsons Project, with songwriter and singer Eric Woolfson. He is 66 years old today. Here is my favorite song by the Project, “Old and Wise,” featuring Colin Blunstone on lead vocals.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

(From The Divine Hours)

Third Week of Advent

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
Micah 4:2
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Psalm 80:1
The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation—
Psalm 18:46
“At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity.”
Psalm 75:2
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,
to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

Psalm 145:1-13
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are
sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and
deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory now and for ever. Amen.
The Concluding Prayer of the Church
O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth your unending day upon all of us who watch
for you, that our lips may praise you, our lives may bless you, and our worship may give
you glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading

And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.
Matthew 20:29-34

“What do you want me to do for you?” That is the question that Jesus asked these two men. What would I say, if he asked me that today? My response might be exactly the same as those two. “Lord, let my eyes be opened.”

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “The Kingdom of Liberty.”

“Jesus calls us at Christmas to enter the Kingdom of Liberty, to be set free by his Father’s love.” His unexpected birth in Bethlehem creates a “longing to be free from self and free other others.” Perhaps it even creates in us a desire to look for “intelligent and imaginative ways to celebrate an unconventional Christmas.”

God’s Word is fresh and alive, and Christmas bears witness to this. Our God is not one who defends the old, that which is settled or familiar. “The God we encounter in Jesus is free from preoccupation with his own glory, free to be for us, free to be gracious, free to love and let be.”

This same God might well expect us to be “creatively responsive” this Christmas. “Indeed, he might call us to set free captives bound by loneliness and isolation, to share our hope with prisoners of gloom and despair, to invite the unlovely to our table, to celebrate our freedom in forgetfulness about our comfort and convenience, to cry the gospel by ministering to widows and orphans, to be the Church by bringing soup to the poor, to ignore conventional expectations, to call his Son out of Egypt once more.”

He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward,
since he himself is beset with weakness.

Hebrews 5:2

Father, I pray for the desire to be creatively responsive this Christmas. I’ve acknowledged that I’m feeling a little more joy this season than in seasons past, although, this particular day, I’m struggling with feelings of failure, as I have, once again, allowed my selfishness and insistence on not having my routine disturbed to cause disharmony. I certainly need your Spirit to speak in me that I might forget about my own comfort and convenience, in order to help someone else who is in need. May your mercy flow through us, this Christmas, as we encounter needs for encouragement and ministry.

I pray for this day, that we might finish up things that need finishing. I pray that Rachel will make her flight on time, so she can be with her friend in Virginia, for the wedding she is attending. Give us wisdom and patience, as well, as we work through the details of car repair or replacement and insurance stuff. May your grace prevail in us. I pray for this evening’s prayer and worship time, that your name will be lifted high and glorified. Help me get my heart into things the way it should be.

Indeed, Christ calls us to be “creatively responsive” as we celebrate Christmas. May we find ways to do that, this season.

Grace and peace, friends.

First Or Last?

Good morning. It is Friday, December 19, 2014. Just 6 more days until Christmas! My last day of PTO for this year.

(New feature)Today’s Word of the Day is syncretic: “characterized or brought about by a combination of different forms of belief or practice.”

Today is Underdog Day. So go ahead; cheer for the unlikely winner today. Or watch cartoons featuring a little dog that wears a leotard.

We had a great time, yesterday. After the doctor’s appointments (the dental appointment was canceled, because the dentist we were taking Stephanie to doesn’t take Medicaid for patients over 21), we went and had breakfast for lunch at Joe’s Coffee Shop in Watauga. Or is that Haltom City? Anyway, they always have a good breakfast. After that, we took our new bowling balls to Watauga Brunswick Lanes, and had the pro there fit us and drill the balls. Christi decided on a fingertip grip, rather than conventional. We aren’t sure, but it may be her first time to use fingertip. I have used fingertip for years, but it has been twenty years or more since I have been fitted, so the pro wanted to do a new fitting, rather than copy my old ball. We also both elected to have slugs and grip inserts put in the balls. He said it would be about thirty minutes to an hour, so we left to go look for bowling shoes and bags. Academy Sports does not have any bowling equipment. Dick’s Sporting Goods, even though the Interwebs claim they do, did not have bowling equipment.

So, we wound up back at the pro shop, where I found some decent bowling shoes for about the same price they were selling for on Amazon. Then we looked at several rolling bags that he had, which fit two balls and shoes, and picked out one of those, so we can both put our bowling balls in the same bag. It’s pretty likely that we will always be together when bowling, so that’s a good thing. He had our drilling finished, and all he had to do was determine which finger grip inserts to put in them. Within fifteen minutes we were bowling with our brand new Columbia 300 Throw Down balls. I have used Columbia 300 bowling balls for about 30 years. Of course, they really aren’t “Columbia 300” any more, even though they carry the logo. They are made by Ebonite.

Anyway . . . Stephanie bowled with us, and we had an awesome time. Christi did very well, and by the end of game two, had really found a groove! She got three strikes in a row, at least twice, and finished game two with a 172, significantly above her average from twenty years ago. I failed to break 100 the first game, as I had a little more trouble figuring out the new ball’s breaking characteristics. Also, my “style” suffers severely, from lack of usage. But the second game was much better, with a 162. Christi beat me soundly, 319-259, for the two game score. We plan to get in more practice, and possibly join a league next year, sometime, maybe over the summer.

We were so tired from the bowling, that we came home and collapsed to watch TV for a little while. Then Christi had her Huddle group, after which she stopped and got some dinner to bring home for us. All in all, it was a pretty fantastic day.

Today, we plan to go out and get some last minute Christmas shopping finished up; gift cards, cash, stocking stuffers, and so on. Also that evasive oil change. Looks like I’m going to have to skip the car wash for now, as there is a 60% chance of more rain today.

(Source: This Day In History)

On this date in 1986, Michael Sergio was sentenced to a fine of $500 and 100 hours of community service. His crime? Parachuting onto the field at Shea Stadium in the first inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox.

And people blame Bill Buckner . . . sheesh. Lo, and behold . . . Buckner was batting when the incident occurred!!

Today’s birthdays include Alyssa Milano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Cicely Tyson, Jennifer Beals, Mike Lookinland, Kristy Swanson, Al Kaline, Robert Urich, Alvin Lee, Maurice White, William Parry, Ford C Frick, Ralph Richardson, David Susskind, and Robert Sherman.

Kristy Swanson is an actress who was unfortunate enough to play the part of “Buffy Summers” in the original movie of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The movie was quite awful. Fortunately, Joss Whedon was able to resuscitate the character into a very successful TV show.

Alvin Lee was the lead guitarist and singer for the blues/rock group, Ten Years After. He was born on this date in 1944, and passed away last year, on March 6. Here he is with a virtual army of other guitar players. I’m not sure what this performance is taken from, but it’s a lot of fun.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

(From The Divine Hours)

Third Week of Advent

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre!
Psalm 147:7
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Psalm 80:1
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!
Psalm 57:5
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Psalm 110:4
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
1 John 5:1-4
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are
sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and
deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory now and for ever. Amen.

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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:9-12
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:8-9

Today’s Gospel Reading

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:20-28

In The Reformation Study Bible, this passage is prefaced with the heading, “A Mother’s Request.” I wonder if James and John were embarrassed by this shameless request by their mother. Or, do you think they put her up to it? Who knows? We really aren’t given any insight into the motive behind the request. Either way, it is quite arrogant, especially when they answered in the affirmative Jesus’s question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” Was Jesus surprised by this request? Of course not. You cannot surprise God! Nevertheless, I can easily see him shaking his head as he responds, “You do not know what you are asking.”

I am not surprised at the reaction of the other ten. But then, Jesus gathered them all together, and let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they still weren’t quite getting it. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” He had just alluded to this a short while ago, in the parable of the landowner, when he said, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” This turned their world upside-down, just as it does ours, today. We want to be first. We don’t want to serve or be “slaves” to one another. Just look at the way we drive! We cannot stand the thought of someone getting in front of us! I struggle with this on a daily basis, as I drive to work. But God is steadily working on this attitude in me. I’m finding it much easier to allow plenty of space between me and the car in front of me; space for someone else to slide on in, if they need to. I don’t need to be concerned about who gets in front of me. Ever.

And, you know, even this gets tricky. If I’m letting people in front of me, all the while thinking, I’m going to be last so I can be first, I’m still not quite getting it, am I? I need to be letting people in front of me because I care nothing for my own status or position. All is for Jesus; all is for Christ. It is all about him; none of this is about me. It doesn’t matter whether I’m first or dead last. God will take care of me.

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “The Gigantic Secret.”

“‘Christmas for the pagans is small publicity,’ Chesterton said, ‘for the Christian it is a gigantic secret.’

“And the gigantic Christmas secret is that Emmanuel, God-with-us, is a baby boy ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ When Jesus Christ is born in me, hope burns brightly and everything else fades into twilight. The roof can collapse, winter heat becomes unavailable, fair-weather friends shift their allegiance, popularity wane. The Kingdom of Christ Jesus remains alight within me. As Don Quixote tells Aldonza in The Man from La Mancha: ‘Wins and losses don’t matter, all that matters is following the quest.'”

. . . who through him are believers in God,
who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1:21

Father, as this Christmas season progresses, I sense more of the joy than I have felt in many years. I am savoring that, to the point that I almost wish it was still another week or so until Christmas Day. The funny thing is that this really should not be an issue, at all, as I should feel this joy all year long. So that’s what I pray for. May this baby be born in my all year long, and may the attitude of not caring if I am first or last be prevalent in my thoughts, words, and actions, every day of the year. May I be willing to be the servant of all, and pour myself out for the benefit of my brothers and sisters in Christ, love them the way you have loved us, which is one of the commands that you have given us. May I grow to the point that I am constantly pursuing this idea of intimacy with Jesus in my life, thinking more about him than I am anything else. Let this color everything I do every day, and may my heart be undivided toward worshiping, thanking, and serving you through Jesus Christ.

I pray for this day, that we would have a good time as we go out and about. May we get everything accomplished that we need to do. I pray for your grace to fill this family during this season, and the rest of the year, as well. As our celebrations approach, next week, I pray that we would do a good job of sharing the Kingdom with our friends, co-workers, and family members. Especially those who tend to annoy us more. May your grace rain on Stephanie during this Christmas. I pray for Rachel, in the aftermath of her accident, that she would be okay, mentally, and not be overwrought over it.

Do you want to be first? We might wind up being first in line, here on earth, but that won’t get us far in the Kingdom. Kingdom rules are different.

Grace and peace, friends.

Stay Thirsty, My Friends

Good morning. It is pre-Friday, December 18, 2014. One week until Christmas!

Did you know that cheerleading was originally an all male activity?

Today is Bake Cookies Day. Yes, please. Do that. Then send them to me!

Yesterday was a mixed bag. I didn’t do much in the morning, but went and had lunch with Christi. We went to the same place we went before, Aiyoki Steak and Sushi Bar, in Arlington. This time, I had their Teriyaki Salmon, which was delicious! For $6.95, I got a nice portion of salmon, several pieces of tempura vegetables and shrimp, two pieces of some kind of sushi, a salad, soup, and some rice. We also got an appetizer of fried calamari with ranch dressing for dipping.

After lunch, I headed home to wash dishes and put away laundry. Then I sat down to get caught up on some TV watching. During that time, I got a call from Rachel. She opened up by saying that she had done a dumb thing. It seems that she was driving, and sitting at a stop light, thought they were going, but they weren’t, and had hit someone. Of course, she was very upset, but physically, she was fine. The way she described things, the car in front was fine, but they still called the police for a police report, anyway. She handled things very well, calling the insurance company, herself (we are still paying for her insurance, probably until she gets done with school), and getting the appointment set up for the adjuster to come out and look at the car this morning. She was able to drive it home, so no towing was involved. Christi was all set to drive up straight from work to rescue her baby. 🙂 This is Rachel’s first such incident, so she is being rather hard on herself. We keep telling her to not do that, it’s okay, stuff like this happens to just about everyone. We have a reasonable deductible on our policy, so all should be well. Of course, we haven’t seen the damage, so we don’t know how bad it is, but she was, as I said, able to drive it home. We may go up and see her either this evening or tomorrow.

Oh, I forgot. After lunch, before I came home, we went to visit the guy in charge of the bowling balls at USBC (I met him at the party Saturday), and got our free bowling balls. We got Columbia 300 “Throw Down,\” balls. Christi got a 14 pound, and I got a 15 pound, which is a pound down from my old Columbia 300 “U-Dot.” We plan to go get them drilled at our local bowling alley, tomorrow.

This morning, Stephanie and Christi have doctor’s appointments (9:00 and 10:00), and then Stephanie has a dental checkup at 11:00. After that, who knows?

(Source: Christian History Institute)

On this date in 1666: “Covenanter minister Hugh McCall is brought into court, found guilty, and condemned to hang for his resistance to the authority claimed by the king over the Scottish church. The verdict will be carried out four days later and on the way to the scaffold, McCall will assure his father that his death will do more good for the cause of God’s people than twenty more years in the pulpit.”

Today’s birthdays include Brad Pitt, Christina Aguilera, Sia, Steven Spielberg, Joseph Stalin, Katie Holmes, Josh Dallas, Keith Richards, Casper Van Dien, Ty Cobb, Ray Liotta, Betty Grable, Franz Ferdinand, Rachel Griffiths, Ossie Davis, Charles Wesley, Saki, Alfred Bester, and Michael Moorcock.

What can be said about Keith Richards? One of the original members of The Rolling Stones, and still going strong. Well, going, at least. 71 years old today, and looking at least 90, Richards and the Stones are still touring. Here is a very nice live presentation of my favorite Rolling Stones song, “Gimme Shelter.”

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

I want to write a little bit about our Huddle gathering on Tuesday night, and its impact on me. I went into the meeting thinking about my devotional for that day (Who Rules Your Life?), and the struggle I have with allowing people and circumstances to dictate how I feel at any given moment. I came out with a new conviction that I am not pursuing intimacy with Jesus.

We have this list of questions that we were supposed to look at, and see if any of the questions stood out to us. I had picked out two that I was vacillating between, “Do I make enough space for prayer?” and “Do I pursue intimacy with Jesus?” I had settled on the intimacy question, but several other guys were marking that one, so I was thinking I would go to the other one. The guy sitting next to me, let’s call him Alex, said, “Hey, if that’s the one that’s on your heart, don’t change it just because we picked it, too.” He was spot on. So I picked that one, as well. Interestingly, the other guys who picked that question all discussed it from a standpoint of not being in the Word enough, and not praying enough. When it came to be my turn, I discussed it from the perspective of one who reads portions of Scripture and prays every single day! Yet I am still under conviction that I am not pursuing intimacy with Jesus. While to some, the key word in the question might be “intimacy,” to me, the key word is “pursuing.” Chasing after. I spoke of Brennan Manning’s writing from Monday morning, concerning what a mystic is. “A mystic is a person whose life is ruled by thirst,” Brennan wrote. Part of our exercise is to turn what we are thinking into a statement or question that we feel Jesus would speak to us, if he were physically in the room. So I said that, were Jesus in the room, he just might say,
Stay Thirsty
Yeah. I really went there.

But it made sense. And when we addressed the question of why we don’t seek Jesus to satisfy our thirst, I said, “Because I drink too much other stuff!” That became the basic theme for the rest of the evening. We try to slake our thirst with things that don’t matter, or with things that will only satisfy us for a few seconds, which is a characteristic of sinful behavior. We pursue something that appears, at least momentarily, more fun than Jesus, more satisfying, but then, a few seconds later, we’re thirsty again, and even less fulfilled than we were before.

The big question is, if we truly believe in Jesus the way we claim to, why is this such an issue? Reference was made to the man who said to Jesus, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” That’s the way we all are. We believe, yet we struggle with unbelief. So I’m struggling to embrace this pursuit of intimacy with Jesus and to shun the things that will not satisfy.

(From The Divine Hours)

Third Week of Advent

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
Psalm 51:15
Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me . . . Preserve my life, for I am godly;
Psalm 86:1-2
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Psalm 90:1-2
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.
Psalm 85:9
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Mark 1:1-4
Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.
. . . who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations— let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah.
Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip.

Psalm 66:5, 7-9
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are
sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and
deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
Matthew 20:17-19

There really isn’t much to say about this. Jesus is foretelling his death for the third time. This time, there is no record of any reaction from the twelve.

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “The Single Most Important Consideration.”

This reading seems to go hand-in-hand with my conviction concerning the pursuit of intimacy with Jesus.

“I wonder, if we were to stop people at random in the street on December 24th and ask them what they want most for Christmas, how many would say, ‘I want to see Jesus’?

“I believe that the single most important consideration during the sacred season of Advent is intensity of desire. Paraphrasing the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel, ‘Jesus Christ is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance.’ An intense inner desire is already the sign of his presence in our hearts. The rest is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

John 12:21

Father, I pray, no, I plead for you to cultivate within me this intense desire for intimacy with Jesus! I do believe that I began to notice a change yesterday evening. There was something, I can’t really describe it or explain it, different in my heart, yesterday afternoon. It was like there was a sudden resolve, a determination that this is going to happen. Now that there is a resolve or determination, I pray for wisdom. Teach me how to pursue this intimacy. I know that there has to be Bible reading, but I do that. I know that there needs to be prayer, but I do that. I think what is most missing from my regimen is meditation; contemplation; a mulling over or chewing on what you have said to me through Scripture or prayer. It also requires a lack of distraction when I am about the task. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. Only after my heart is united will I be able to move on to the next verse, I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.

I pray for this day, Lord, and especially for this time when Christi and Stephanie are at the doctor’s office. It’s just normal checkups, but I pray that it goes smoothly for them. I pray for these two days when Christi and I are off work. May we have some good times together, as we look forward to celebrations next week. May we experience the joy of this Christmas season as a family, together. I pray for Rachel as she shakes off the effects of yesterday’s accident. May you give her grace and mercy, that she will not be too hard on herself over the incident. Help her to know that all will be taken care of and that all will turn out okay. We trust your provision for us and trust in your care for us, Father.

What is your heart’s deepest desire, this Christmas? World peace? The newest technology? Harmony in the family? May we all experience a deep-seated desire, an intense desire, for intimacy with Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, friends.

He Is Able

Good morning. It is Wednesday, December 17. One week until Christmas Eve. (I switched it up there.)

Did you know that a single piece of spaghetti is called “spaghetto?” It is rarely used, however.

Today is Maple Syrup Day. Ever since our trip up to New England, back in 2000, I have been a huge fan of maple syrup.

I’m on PTO for the rest of the week. Christi is working today, but not tomorrow or Friday. Today, I’m going to go have lunch with her, over by where she works. We may also get our free bowling balls that she won from the Christmas party. We’ll still have to get them drilled somewhere, but there is a good pro shop in our local bowling alley, which is owned by a female pro bowler, who, in fact, also used to work for USBC.

We have thunderstorms predicted today. We need the rain, badly.

Tomorrow, Christi and Stephanie have doctor’s appointments, and Stephanie has a dental checkup. That’s all we have planned for the rest of the week. A work associate loaned me his copy of Guardians of the Galaxy, so we will be sure and watch that one of the days.

Oh, yes. Craig Wayne Boyd won The Voice. I was only slightly disappointed, as I favored Matt McAndrew. Both of them are very good, though. The problem I have with Boyd is that there is no fire in his eyes. If you watched any of the show, you might know what I mean. McAndrew had more emotion, and I liked his style better. Even when he was singing with Fallout Boy in the finale, his vocals were better than the lead singer of the group. I’m sure both of them, as well as the other two finalists, will have lucrative contracts, following this season. I’m a huge fan of The Voice. It is so much better than American Idol, and the talent this season was better than ever.

(Source: This Day In History)

It was on this date in 1843 that Charles Dickens’s classic tale, “A Christmas Carol,” was published.

Today’s birthdays include Pope Francis, Milla Jovovich, Laurie Holden, Chase Utley, Sarah Paulson, Eugene Levy, Ernie Hudson, Eddie Kendricks, Giovanni Ribisi, Bill Pullman, George Lindsey, Dave Madden, Paul Rodgers, Cal Ripken, Sr., Art Neville, Paul Butterfield, and Jack Chalker.

Paul Butterfield, born on this date in 1942, was a blues singer and harmonica player. His band was very influential in the careers of other blues artists. He died in North Hollywood in 1987, at the age of 44. He died of an accidental drug overdose, brought about by an addition to pain killers, due to chronic peritonitis.

Here is a live performance of “Walking Blues,” from 1978.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

(From The Divine Hours)

Third Week of Advent

My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
Psalm 145:22
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace.
Agnus Dei
Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Psalm 36:5
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
Psalm 145:1
I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.
On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.
All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.
For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Psalm 138
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are
sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and
deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Matthew 20:1-16

I love this parable! Of course, were this to happen in our modern society, the “master of the house” would be sued and forced to pay those who got there first more money. But that’s not the point. The point of this parable is that God is free to do whatever he chooses with whomever he chooses. There are a lot of Christians out there who seem to think that God “owes” them something. I believe that they may be totally surprised when they see people in heaven who they don’t expect see. And can we truly believe that those who experience the “deathbed conversion” will get just as much heaven as those of us who have been Christians for most of our lives? And how often do we find ourselves jealous of the gifts that God has given someone else? There is no place for that (fingers pointing back at me, as well). There is no place at all for us to be jealous of God’s gifts to others. We should celebrate them all. We are all totally dependent on the grace of God.

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “Hope In My Savior.”

“The Christmas contemplative knows that hope is a gift, an undeserved gift of peace, but that it is also a call to decision–the decision to trust . . . ”

Hope challenges the idea that our lives will consist of nothing more than, as T.S. Eliot said, “an asphalt driveway in front of our home and a thousand lost golf balls.” Hope flourishes in difficulty. “Hope convinces us that in clinging to a miserable sense of security and status quo, the possibility of growth and greatness is utterly defeated. Hope says that I no longer need be dismayed over my personal dishonesty and self-centeredness and feeble life of faith. That I no longer need to feel defeated, insensitive, and superficial.

“Because the question no longer is: Can I do it? Am I able? Can I overcome my moodiness, my laziness, my sensuality, my grudges, and resentments? The only question is: Is Jesus Christ able? Can my Savior, the Lord of my life, revive my drooping spirit and transform me at Christmas as he transformed the world through his birth at Bethlehem?”

I am consistently amazed by the writings of Brennan Manning. Almost every day, my world is shaken by the things I have read in this devotion. Today is no different. Is Jesus Christ able? He most certainly is!

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Father, there are many things going through my head and my heart, right now, some of which I did not mention in today’s blog. I pray that this hope will challenge me today, and for the rest of this Christmas season, that my life will be changed by the hope that is in Jesus Christ, who is able to overcome anything that I am going through, or anything that challenges me. May my thirst for you and for intimacy with Jesus Christ ever grow stronger, and may that thirst unsatisfied by anything other than Jesus! My contributions to this world may never amount to much. But to have known you in Jesus Christ is all I need. I don’t need to feel superficial, because the Creator of the universe is my friend and my Lord. May I stop trying to satisfy my thirst with things that do not matter.

I pray for this day. May Christi and I have a nice lunch today. I pray that her work day is going smoothly and that her many meetings are going well. I pray for Stephanie, that she will know your great love for her. I pray that I will at least be a little productive this afternoon.

I pray for all of my brothers in our Huddle. May you bind us together and draw us closer to you as we learn how to be disciples and how to make more disciples.

He is able. Jesus Christ is able.

Grace and peace, friends.

Who Rules Your Life?

Good morning. It is post-Monday (that feels like Friday to me), December 16, 2014. Nine more days!

Did you know that Michael Jackson is the highest earning dead musician? That’s right. He makes more than Elvis. 😀

Whoohoo!! Today is Chocolate Covered Anything Day!! Now that’s my kind of “holiday!”

Not a lot happened yesterday that is worth writing about. It was a good day, and it went by fairly fast, which is nice. Today is my last work day for this week, and I have my men’s Huddle group tonight.

Oh, we also will find out who this year’s winner of The Voice will be. Christi and I are both pulling for Matt McAndrew. He performed an original song, that he wrote, in last night’s final round, and Adam Levine said it was the best song he’d ever heard. I think Adam exaggerates a lot, but still . . . Of course, I won’t be able to watch live, because I will be at Huddle. 😦

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

(From The Divine Hours)

Third Week of Advent

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Psalm 95:1
Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down! Touch the mountains so that they smoke!
Psalm 144:5
My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.
Psalm 71:23
I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 89:1
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 103:10-14
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are
sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and
deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Matthew 19:16-30

This passage is so full of riches! Right off the bat, the “rich young ruler,” as some translations call him, asks the wrong question, indicating that he does not understand the means of having eternal life. Many people, to this day, still believe that eternal life is based on “good deeds” that we must do. Jesus immediately takes off on the word, “good,” indicating that there is only one in all of the universe that is worthy of being called “good.” But he breezes right by that, and simply tells the man, “Keep the commandments.” I can almost see Jesus saying this with a tiny smirk on his face. If you pay close attention to Jesus’s response when the man asks him, “Which ones,” you will notice that Jesus leaves one out!

“You shall not murder,
You shall not commit adultery,
You shall not steal,
You shall not bear false witness,
Honor your father an mother,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Yes, there are six, but the last one is not from the “original list” of Exodus 20. Which one did Jesus leave out?

“You shall not covet . . . anything that is your neighbor’s.” You can see the answer when the man erroneously proclaimed that he had kept all of these. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Whoa!! What?? That was too much. It is said that the man went away sorrowful, because he had a lot of stuff. You see, I believe that Jesus left out the “coveting” commandment on purpose. He already knew how this was going to play out. This results in Jesus telling his disciples how difficult it will be for rich people to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Now before you get all confident and say, “Well, that’s not a problem, I’m not rich,” remember what our pastor told us during his sermon series on “Treasure.” If you make $10,000 a year, you have more money that at least 85% of the world. Sure, there are cost of living equations, and so on, but I don’t have time to go into that. The bottom line is that most people in the U.S. are, indeed, “rich,” by the world’s standards. And it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. That is a serious statement, and it really has nothing to do with any camel crawling through a city gate. Jesus is referring to a literal needle. The whole point, though, is this: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” We cannot save ourselves. It is impossible for us to enter the Kingdom of God without God doing something for us. Even the poor man cannot enter the Kingdom of God without God first doing something for/to him. There are no “good deeds” that we can do in order to inherit eternal life. Nothing is good enough. That is why the Christian life is not hard . . . it is impossible.

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “My Most Intimate Relationship.”

My relationship with Jesus should be “the most intense and intimate of all my relations.” Is that really true? “In gut-level honesty, what rules our lives as we prepare for Christmas? What has power over us?” How many “Black Friday” You Tube videos do you have to watch to answer that question? What Brennan says next is chilling.

“First, I suppose, it’s people. Those who speak to me; the men and women whose words I read. Those with whom I associate or would like to associate; those who give to me and those who refuse; those who help and those who hinder; those whom I like and those whom I do not like. Such people occupy my attention, fill my thoughts, in a sense, rule in me.

“Jesus Christ? Well, he counts, but only after I have finished with the others. Only when they and their claims leave me time for him. Sometimes these others occupy so much of my time that the whole day slips by without a thought of the Lord of my life. Even at worship, I can be so distracted by my friends and enemies that I forget to lift up my mind and heart to him. Oh, I may recite a few mechanical prayers, but my thoughts are somewhere else.”

Who rules my life? I’m afraid to ponder this for very long. It is as if Brennan has taken a chunk out of my own heart and put in on this page! Truthfully, how much of our time and energy is taken up by other people? Time and energy that should be given to our Lord, our King. Remember, there is no Kingdom without a King. If we plan to enter the Kingdom of heaven, we must remember that we have a King.

Isaiah wrote of a people who give lip service to God, but their hearts were far from him (Isaiah 29:13). And in the words of King Claudius, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

The descendants also are impudent and stubborn:
I send you to them, and you shall say to them,
‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’

Ezekiel 2:4

Oh, Father, these words leave me speechless, and, perhaps, even breathless! Who rules my life? How can I say that Jesus Christ rules my life when I am so easily swayed by people around me? How, when I spend so much of my day being irritated by someone or some other, can I ever learn to obey Paul’s command that I “pray without ceasing?” How can I effectively pray when my thoughts are consumed by who is doing what and who is saying what and how someone is acting and . . . and . . . and . . .

Help me, Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!

I pray for this day, as always, praying for safe travel to and from work. I pray for Christi, as she is continue to have bad headaches. I pray for relief for her. I pray for Stephanie, that you would give her peace and grace, showing your great love for her. I pray for myself, that you would help me to ignore the temptations to focus so much on other people, and focus on you through Jesus Christ. May your Spirit fill me, that I might truly pray without ceasing and that Jesus might truly be my most intimate relationship.

I pray that our Huddle gathering tonight will be a good one, and that we will, as a group, draw closer to you and closer to being true disciples.

I pray for the joy of Christmas to fill everyone.

Who rules your life?

Grace and peace, friends.

Aglow with Passionate Longing

Good morning. It is Monday, December 15, 2014. Only ten more days! I think we have most of our shopping done; just a couple more things to figure out, plus the ubiquitous stocking stuffers, you know.

Did you know that left-handed people are usually excluded from scientific tests? It appears that their brains work differently. How about that for discrimination?

Today is Cat Herders Day, a day that recognizes the “frustration of trying to manage the unmanageable.” So if whatever you are faced with feels a lot like trying to herd cats, this is your day!

We had a very nice day of rest and relaxation yesterday. The only time we left the house was to take a book on CD back to the library, after which we stopped at Sonic for our daily drink. Christi was thoroughly and overwhelmingly surprised by the generosity of our Church family. The lights went up without a hitch (other than the fact that several of the bulbs that I had checked the night before weren’t working), and it looks beautiful! Stephanie was equally surprised and overwhelmed.

While we were out, we stopped at two different Red Boxes, trying to get a copy of Guardians of the Galaxy, but they were both sold out. So we kept watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. What a horrible, horrible show. Yet so funny. I was surprised to pick Rob McElhenney out of a group on The Mindy Project last week. It seems he plays Morgan’s brother, Lou. I was all, “Hey, I know that guy! That’s Mac!!” Sure enough, it was.

I did not get the oil changed yesterday, because I decided that, since I have three days off this week (Wednesday-Friday), I can do it Wednesday. A couple more days shouldn’t hurt.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

(From The Divine Hours)

Third Week of Advent

Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Psalm 103:20-22
Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you; over it return on high.
Psalm 7:7
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Psalm 115:1
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:14
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Luke 1:39-45
O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!

Psalm 116:16-19
The Cry of the Church
Let us praise the Lord, whom the Angels are praising,
whom the Cherubim and Seraphim proclaim:
Holy, holy, holy!
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are
sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and
deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.
Matthew 19:13-15

Jesus’s disciples viewed children as an unnecessary distraction, and tried to keep them away, but Jesus rebuked them. Children, in their “innocence,” embody the very spirit that we should have as we approach our Father in heaven. We are told that, in order to enter the Kingdom, we must become like children. The old Sunday School song is true: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world . . .”

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “The Authentic Mystic.”

“In our technological world the word mystic has fallen on hard times. Used mostly in a pejorative sense, mystic has come to mean someone who is spaced out in a dreamy metaphysical fog.” But a mystic is not someone who “engages in unusual forms of prayers accompanied by visions, ecstasies, and levitations.” A mystic, rather, is simply someone who has “experienced God for real” (Karl Rahner). “A mystic is aglow with passionate longing for Jesus Christ, who is sought, loved, and worshiped for himself alone. A mystic is a person whose life is ruled by thirst” (Brennan) This thirst is satisfied by prayer, “in the knowing-loving-and-delighting in a person.” And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

“The contemplative at Christmas grows quiet before ‘the light [that] shines in the darkness’ (John 1:5). He stills his soul and becomes tranquil like a child in its mother’s arms. He interiorizes and appropriates to himself the mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love that are embodied in the Child of Bethlehem. He surrenders to the grace of the Word made flesh. He accepts acceptance.”

He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Psalm 107:29

Father, in this season of Christmas, I pray that I would be more contemplative and quite before this light that has shined in our darkness. May my soul be still and tranquil during these days, as I ponder the wondrous gift that was given. May I know and appropriate that which has been given, that which is sufficient for life and godliness, this mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. May I surrender to the grace of “the Word made flesh” and accept the acceptance that you have granted. May the mystic in me embody the grace of Christ while maintaining the childlike, wide-eyed wonder.

I pray for this day, that our travel to work and home will be smooth and safe. I pray for our work day, that it will go well. May Christi’s day be great, and may her headache from yesterday not return. I also pray for relief from her constant joint pain. May you grant Stephanie understanding today, and show your overwhelming love to her. Again, I thank you for the wonderful generosity of our church friends, who put the lights on our house, yesterday.

May you be, by Brennan’s definition, a mystic today, one who has really experienced God.

Grace and peace, friends.

Oh, How He Loves Us!

Good morning. It is Sunday, December 14, 2014. Eleven more days (close enough that I start spelling out the numbers)!

Do you know why night vision goggles are always green? It’s because the human eye can detect different shades of green more efficiently than any other color.

Today is World Choral Day. Being a musician, myself, I couldn’t help but highlight this “holiday” (there were a couple other choices). Uhoh. I just looked at their website, and it turns out that World Choral Day was actually last Sunday. Oh, well. So, instead, today is Worldwide Candle Lighting Day. I checked it out. It really is, so light a candle at 7:00 PM, this evening, in memory of children who have died.

We had an amazing time, last night, at the USBC Christmas party. It was probably definitely the best company Christmas party I have ever attended. The food was delicious, and we had a great group at our table. Oddly, they put all the IT people together. 🙂 Maybe that’s not so “oddly.” The DJ did a great job of keeping people involved, at one point bringing four guys up to the dance floor to mimic “YMCA,” by The Village People, and then, later, he called ALL the men up to the dance floor. After we were all lined up, he asked us to roll our sleeves up to our elbows, after which he had our ladies come up. He asked the ladies to bend down and roll our pant legs up and our socks down. What this was setting up, then was a dance line, to the tune of “Macho Man,” also by The Village People. We all hammed it up pretty good. Between that and the earlier “Party Train” that circled the room about six times, I believe I’ve gotten my cardio for the rest of the month. During the final round of door prizes, Christi won a free bowling ball and an hour at the USBC training center, at the same facility where she works. As we were getting ready to leave, we talked to the guy who is in charge of getting the free bowling ball, and he indicated that he would get one for me, too! Bonus!

During the party, I started getting some odd text messages from some of our old Huddle group. It seems that one of the other ladies got this idea to surprise Christi by enlisting some of the guys to come over and put our Christmas lights up on our house, which we were unable to do, this year. So, I had to stay up later than Christi, after we got home, so I could get into the garage and put the lights and ladders out in front of the garage, without her knowing about it. So far, she is still clueless. She knows something is up, but I haven’t let on what it is. At least a couple of them are here, right now. Tessie keeps barking, so I figure she will eventually look out there and figure it out.

Today, nothing is planned, except that I need to take my car in for an oil change, which I will do this afternoon. I was planning to get it washed at the same time, but we have thunderstorms predicted for late morning, early afternoon. We’ll see how it all plays out.

(Source: This Day In History)

It was on this date in 2012 that a lone gunman shot and killed his mother at their home in Newton, Connecticut, after which he drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he gunned down 20 children, six school employees, and, finally, himself. Adam Lanza, the gunman, was known to have “significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others.” However, it was stated that no one had seen anything that would have predicted this behavior. In the fall of 2013, Sandy Hook Elementary School was demolished. A new school is planned on the same site.

Today’s birthdays include Vanessa Hudgens, Nostradamus, Patty Duke, Cliff Williams, Justin Furstenfeld, Craig Biggio, Spike Jones, Charlie Rich, Lee Remick, Morey Amsterdam, Tycho Brahe, Shirley Jackson, Bill Buckner, and Chelsea Noble.

Bill Buckner is a retired MLB player who played first base for the Boston Red Sox. He received a lot of blame for the Sox losing the World Series in 1986, but, truth be told, he contributed heavily to their victory in the ALCS that year. One play does not lose an entire series. The very fact that he was in game six of that series was a managerial error. Buckner was injured, and shouldn’t even have been playing. But this video of him throwing out the season’s first pitch at Fenway in 2008, shows that, yes, there is forgiveness in baseball. Happy 65th birthday to Bill Buckner!

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

(From The Divine Hours)

Third Week of Advent

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
Psalm 66:16
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Psalm 17:6
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
Psalm 118:14
Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah.
God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!

Psalm 47
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are
sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and
deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading

Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Matthew 19:1-12

Talk about a tough passage!! Jesus “lays down the law” about divorce in this passage. The Pharisees, again trying to trick Jesus, set him up against Moses. But Jesus explains that it was the hardness of man’s heart that the law was making provision for, not just so that men could divorce their wives for any cause. In fact, Jesus states clearly that, if a man divorces his wife for any other reason than sexual immorality, and then marries another, he, himself, has committed adultery. The disciples, perhaps being cynical, expressed that it would be better not to marry at all. Unexpectedly, Jesus seems to agree with them, but states that if one abstains from marriage, it should be for the sake of the Kingdom.

All this being said, we must be careful not to make divorce and adultery “unpardonable sins.” According to Jesus, there is only one “unpardonable sin,” and that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Even for people who have divorced and remarried, there is grace and forgiveness, and the Lord can certainly bless such a marriage. I even know of couples who divorced and remarried the same spouse again, which is expressly forbidden in the very passage that the Pharisees were alluding to! The beauty of salvation and grace is that God can take the biggest mess and make something beautiful out of it. Let us never forget that. At the same time, let us never take the subject of marriage lightly. God takes it very seriously, and this is indicated by the words of Jesus, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “Making Time to Listen.”

“It is one thing to know Jesus Christ loves and and another thing to realize it. In prayer we slow down to a human tempo and make time to listen. In prayer we discover what we already have.” Truly, we have everything we need, but seldom fail to realize it. A couple of my favorite verses, that I “discovered” back in 1984, are 2 Peter 1:3-4, which says, His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. We have everything we need for “life and godliness,” through Jesus Christ! “All we need now is to experience what we already possess.” Part of this process can and should be the precious experience of alloying ourselves to be loved by God, which can happen during prayer times.

“During the Christmas season we don’t have to seek after God in prayer.” We already have him. In fact, we would not be “seeking” at all, had we not already “found” him. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been there all along, “and if we create the opportunity in prayer, God will make himself known to us.” Said Thomas Merton, “We learn to pray by praying.”

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

Psalm 141:2

Father, may my future prayer times include times of listening and honing in on your love for me! As I experience the joy of this Christmas, may I know your love for me; and not just know, but experience it, realize it, embrace it! That’s it! May all of us who call your name embrace your love for us! We can all easily say, “Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so.” But it’s another thing altogether to embrace this love and feel it down to the very core of our existence. I pray for this, Father! And let this knowledge, this realization, this embracing, come during those times of prayer, times when I stop talking and let you “speak” or act. And let my times of prayer not be hurried. This happens to me, frequently, during my drive time prayers. Let me not be so concerned about finishing that I fail to experience you. Let that be what prayer is all about!

I pray for the remainder of this day. I give you thanks and praise for brothers and sisters who would sacrifice their Sunday morning to put Christmas lights on our house! Christi was moved to tears, Lord, and it was a beautiful thing. May we, in turn, be willing to sacrifice in other ways, when our brothers and sisters need us. This is what Church is about . . . caring for one another, loving each other as Christ has loved us! I pray that I will be able to get the oil changed in my car today, as it badly needs this. It’s currently raining lightly, so the car wash is probably out. I pray that you would give us good rest for the rest of the day, that we can be well-rested for the week ahead.

Thank you for the joy of Christmas.

I know I’ve shared this video numerous times, but I can’t emphasize it enough. Oh, how he loves us!

Grace and peace, friends.

Celebrate His Presence

Good morning. (Or afternoon, as was the case by the time I finished this.) It is Saturday, December 13. 12/13/14. There are some who say that this is the last sequential date for this century, the next being 01/02/03 (2103). But if we cheat a little bit, the next one could be 1/2/34, only twenty years from now. I guess it just depends on how much of a purist you are.

Did you know that there are 328 people in the United States named “ABCDE?” I swear I am not making this up. It is pronounced “AB-si-dee.”

In keeping with the holiday festivities, today is Gingerbread Decorating Day.

Tonight, we are going to the USBC (United States Bowling Congress) Christmas Party. It’s at a hotel in south Arlington, with catered buffet dinner, door prizes, and a DJ with dancing. All for free! We will be missing church to attend this, but we decided that it would probably be a good thing for Christi to be there, since she has only been working there for a few months. They really like her, and she got a very nice review yesterday. It’s not all about appearances, however, as we think it should be a pretty good time, as well. We don’t miss church that often, and the pastor understands. It is one of the downsides of having church on Saturday evening.

As for tomorrow . . . I don’t know of any plans at all. So, probably just a day of relaxing and rest. I’m only working two days next week, as I have three more PTO days to use for 2014. I really wish our company would allow us to roll vacation days over. While I would always rather be at home than at work, I would rather not just take random PTO days just because I have to use them or lose them.

(Source: Christian History Institute)

In January of 1948, Jim Elliot would begin a journal that would become “among the most famous spiritual records of the twentieth century.” On this date in 1948, his entry read, “O Jesus, my Immanuel, how grateful I am that Thou art no less with me in common places than in elevated ones. He who stooped to babyhood in a stable will not defer stooping to abide in this poor, dark, stable-like heart of mine, I know!” In 1949, on December 13, he wrote of nineteen different words that Paul used to describe the sinfulness of men, recorded in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. “Aphilagathoi: not regarding good as a thing to be cherished.” In 1950, Elliot corresponded with Elisabeth Howard, with whom he was in love, but waiting for God’s timing to marry. On December 13, 1950, his journal entry recorded a trip to Chester, Illinois, and some prayer requests that would appear, to the outsider, absurd. “I think God is to be glorified by asking the impossible of Him,” he recorded in his journal. He was also desiring to go to the mission field in Ecuador, which he was finally able to accomplish in 1950. Two years later, he and Elisabeth were married. He began attempting to make contact with the reclusive Waodani Indians, in Ecuador. His last journal entry would be on December 31, 1955, “describing a month of temptations.” Eight days later, Jim Elliot and four missionary associates were martyred by the Waodani.

Today’s birthdays include Taylor Swift, Jamie Foxx, Amy Lee, Dick Van Dyke, Steve Buscemi, Ted Nugent, Rickie Fowler, Cristopher Plummer, Mary Todd Lincoln, John Davidson, Morris Day, Ferguson Jenkins, Phillips Brooks, Carlos Montoya, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Kathy Garver, and Ben Bernanke.

Hmmm. . . Amy Lee or Taylor Swift? Amy Lee or Taylor Swift? It really shouldn’t be that much of a contest, for me. But I do like one of Taylor’s latest songs, “Blank Space.” She is 25 years old today. After seeing her as a guest mentor on The Voice, I gained a new level of respect for her. She’s a pretty smart kid. 🙂

Amy Lee is the co-founder and lead singer of the rock group Evanescence. They haven’t released an album since 2011, but still claim to be a band. Amy turns 33 today. Here she is, singing with Korn in a very different arrangement of “Freak On A Leash.” Don’t worry, it’s safe. They don’t sing the bad words. 🙂

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

(From The Divine Hours)

Second Week of Advent

May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.
Psalm 104:34
Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.

Psalm 141:3-5
I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.
Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.

Psalm 119:174-175
O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
Psalm 71:17
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
Ezekiel 34:11, 15-16
The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.
For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.

Psalm 37:23-24, 28-31
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare
the way for our salvation: Grant us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Concluding Prayer of the Church
O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth your unending day upon all of us who watch
for you, that our lips may praise you, our lives may bless you, and our worship may give
you glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35

Chapter 18 ends with this rather lengthy parable, but not after Jesus probably stunned Peter with the answer to a simple question. I’m sure Peter thought he was being very generous when he offered to forgive his brother up to seven times. Jesus, however, increased that number, exponentially, by saying either seventy-seven times or seventy times seven, depending on the translation. It is my opinion that by using this number, Jesus was indicating that there is no limit to the number of times we should forgive. Then he tells the parable. In the parable, the first man owed the king ten thousand talents. At first glance that doesn’t seem like much. We immediately try to insert dollars there. $10,000. It’s a lot of money, but less than most of us make in a year’s time. But we must consider how much it really is. A denarius is about a day’s wages for the common Jewish laborer. A talent, on the other hand equals about 6000 denarii! That’s sixteen years worth of wages!! (Almost 16.5, actually.) Ten thousand talents??? If my math is correct (and it frequently is not), that’s about 160,000 years of wages! In other words, Jesus has thrown out a number that is unheard of, pretty much impossible. But his hyperbole is to make a point. The king forgives this outrageous debt, after which this man goes out and threatens a poor fellow who owed him a mere three months’ wages. He refused to forgive him. He had just been forgiven an impossible amount, which he would not live long enough to repay, yet cannot see fit to forgive another for just a few months worth of debt. When this got back to the forgiving king, he was furious, brought the first man back in, and put him in debtor’s prison.

The point that Jesus is making is that we have, all of us who call the name of Christ, been forgiven something pretty much equal to the ten thousand talents. We have been forgiven an impossible debt. We had better show the same mercy to others.

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “His Presence At Christmas.”

“The crisis of Christmas in the Christian community is truly a crisis of faith. Many of us will continue to ignore the invitation, dodge the truth, evade reality, and postpone the decision about Jesus–which is a decision itself.”

At Christmas, we celebrate the birthday of the Son of God. Doesn’t matter when it really happened, this is when we celebrate it. Get over it. It doesn’t matter that it aligns with the date of a pagan ritual celebration. We are celebrating the birth of the Son of God, our Savior. “What will separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the mystics from the romantics this Christmas will be the depth and quality of our passion for Jesus. The insensitive will eat, drink, and be merry; the superficial will follow social customs in a religious setting; the defeated will be haunted by ghosts from the past.

“And the victorious minority who are not intimidated by the cultural patterns of the lockstepping, anonymous, and unbelieving majority will celebrate as though he was near–near in time, near in place, the witness of our motives, our speech, our behavior. As indeed he is.”

But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.

Psalm 73:28

Father, I pray that this Christmas season will find me celebrating the nearness of the Son of God, as I celebrate his birth. May my celebrations be full of joy, yet serene and peaceful, knowing that Jesus is near to me, both in time and space, and that he observes my every motive, word, and action. While I will, no doubt, participate in some jollity, eating, drinking, and merriness, my heart will know the presence of Jesus in the season, and worship him as I celebrate. May these thoughts and actions influence just one person during this season, Father.

I pray for this day, that we will have safety as we travel around, that Christi will find peace, somehow, as she serves her mother and step-dad. Give her (us) wisdom to know how to help them in the endless drama that is any kind of relationship with her mother. Christi’s mother is the most selfish person I know, Father. I pray that you would break her and give her a new heart, a heart of love and compassion. I pray that we will have a fun time at the party tonight, and, at the same time, somehow display our faith in you through Jesus. May our travel to and from there be safe. I pray for Stephanie, while we are gone, that she would know your love for her and, in her own way, begin to see the presence of Jesus in the season.

Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for everything.

How will you celebrate this season? Will you celebrate with the insensitive, the superficial, the defeated, or the victorious?

Grace and peace, friends.

The Essence of Faith

Good morning! It is Friday, December 12, 2014. Only 13 more days!

Did you know that the last man to be executed by firing squad in the US asked for a bulletproof vest for his last wish?

Today is Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. Oddly enough, I do not own any of those. I do, however, take exception in referring to them as “ugly.” I’ve never thought they were ugly. A little “over the top,” perhaps, but certainly not ugly.

Not a whole lot to write about, on a personal level, this morning. Christi had her Huddle group last night. I spent the time, putting laundry away and playing WoW.

We did have a “town hall meeting” at work, yesterday. It wasn’t exactly encouraging. We were told that the company is lowering the number of “errors” we are allowed. Errors (this could be wrong quantities, wrong PO line item, part number, and so on, for receiving) are tracked on a rolling 12 month period, dropping off whenever they hit the 12 month mark. However, since the new policy is starting up on January 1, they said that no errors would drop off until 2016. But they aren’t going to start us off with zero. This means we will be carrying errors from this year for over 12 months. Also, the number that they lowered the allowable errors to means that, for people like me, who put out an average of around 10,000 goods receipts a year, I could have an accuracy percentage of 99.9% and still be in danger of termination from too many errors. Not exactly fair, from my view.

Ah, well . . . moving on.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

(From The Divine Hours)

Second Week of Advent

Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Psalm 100:2
Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness . . . make your way straight before me.
Psalm 5:8
Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!

Psalm 118:25-27
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.
Psalm 69:6
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
Luke 3:15-18
Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28:6-9
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare
the way for our salvation: Grant us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Matthew 18:15-20

This is another tough passage that ends with a couple of verses that are probably taken out of context more than just about any other verses in the Bible (with the possible exception of Revelation 3:20). Jesus hands out some very clear instructions on “church discipline,” here. How sad it is that we seldom abide by these instructions. We must also not be confused and think that this contradicts his teachings on forgiveness. You can forgive someone for sinning against you, but if they have not repented and changed their ways, the church should follow these instructions. Yes, the church is for broken people. But it is for broken people who have a sincere desire to be “fixed.”

The two verses at the end of the passage are horribly taken out of context, frequently. Time and time again, I have heard people generically apply these verses to prayer, and while they may apply, the larger context of these particular verses is still that of church discipline. Verse 20 should be taken to show that Jesus will be present to validate the judgment of the church.

In all things, however, we must never let go of grace. We must be sure that the “sins” we are dealing with are truly sins. Let us never be guilty of “unfellowshiping” someone because they simply disagree with us about something.

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “The Practice of Faith.”

“We are saved through faith–an unflagging, unwavering attachment to the person of Jesus Christ.”

What is the depth of my faith commitment? Is it just a language that I speak, or even the way I think? Or is it my way of living? Maurice Blondel is quoted as saying, “If you want to know what a person really believes, don’t listen to what he says but watch what he does.” I’ve even heard it said that the true test of a person’s faith is what they do when no one is watching. “Only the practice of faith can verify what we believe.” Does it permeate my whole existence?

“Does it form your judgments about death, about success? Does it influence the way you read the newspaper? Do you have a divine sense of humor that sees through people and events into the unfolding plan of God? When things are turbulent on the surface of your life, do you retain a quiet calm, firmly fixed in ultimate reality? As Therese of Lisieux said, ‘Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God alone remains.’ Does your faith shape your Advent season this year?”

. . . in whom we have boldness and access
with confidence through our faith in him.

Ephesians 3:12

Father, I confess that my faith doesn’t always permeate my very existence. While it does seem to affect the way I look at world events, it doesn’t always come through when I’m dealing with people on an individual level. It doesn’t always come through when I’m driving in traffic. And I am certainly not always retaining that “quiet calm” that Brennan asks about. May I attain the words quoted above, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God alone remains.” Grow my faith, Father. May it mature, as the mustard seed grows into a large tree.

I pray for this day, that our travel to and from work will be safe. I pray that our work day will be good, that we will be productive, while at the same time, displaying your Kingdom in all that we do. I pray that Stephanie will know your great love for her.

I lift up my friend and sister Jana, today, who will be visiting a neurosurgeon to see results from her MRI. I pray that things turn out good for her.

May we recognize that faith is more than just words we say; it should affect our entire lives.

Grace and peace, friends.