Lux Venit by Michael W. Smith

An appropriate song for the day after Epiphany:

“Lux venit lux venit [the light has come]
Lux venit sursum corda [lift up your hearts]
Lux venit lux venit arise
Shine for your light has come

By sword by flame
In death solemn ages passed
And voices young
Grow old weary
Holding fast
Hope for the dawning

Lux venit lux venit
Lux venit sursum corda
Lux venit lux venit arise
Shine for your light has come

In grace in might
The babe lay in stable stark
Redemptions’s light
Pierces through the shadows dark
Alleluia

Lux venit lux venit
Sursum corda
Lux venit lux venit arise
Shine for your light has come

Lux venit lux venit
Lux venit sursum corda
Lux venit lux venit arise
Shine for your light has come
Alleluia”

“Jesus did not shun our world and it’s poverty and conflict. He embraced it. And he desires to embrace us today, in this day. Right where we are. Right where we are feeling most distant. Right where we are feeling least “religious” or “ready”.”
Creighton University Advent

♦◊♦

“God’s gift at Christmas is relationship, not just another human relationship but relation to God the Father by standing where Jesus stands, standing in the full torrent of his love and creativity, giving and receiving.

“To come into that place and to be rooted and grounded there means letting go of our fear of dependence and opening our hearts to be fed and enlarged and transformed. And that in turn means looking at how we handle dependence in ourselves and others, how we accept the positive dependence involved in lifelong learning and growing, and help one another deal with it positively.

So the important thing is not that everyone gets to stand on their own two feet and turns into a reliable “independent” consumer and contributor to the GNP. What we expect from each other in a generous and grown-up society is much more to do with all of us learning how to ask from each other, how to receive from each other, how to depend on the generosity of those who love us and stand alongside us.”
Rowan Williams
[HT Alan Jacobs]

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

This is a standard Christmas hymn, but I am usually focused on singing it rather than focusing on the words. As we head into a new year, it’s worth praying this sermon/hymn.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
Refrain

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
Refrain

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Refrain

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Refrain

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Refrain

When the dawn is dark

December 28, 2016 — 1 Comment

I know we are in the midst of celebrating Christmas with tidings of comfort and joy, with treasured family visits, with the warm feeling of gifts and holiday glow. But while we live on this broken earth, there is always a ‘but.’

And today the ‘but’ is the commemoration of the Feast of the Holy Innocents [to say we are celebrating the feast doesn’t seem quite right]. The Holy Innocents were the children murdered by Herod after the Magi failed to return to him with news about Jesus.
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” {Jeremiah 31:15}

So three days after we celebrate our savior’s birth, we pause and remember those defenseless children who died shortly after, and the grieving parents they left behind.

As LaVonne Neff says about Christmas,
“And they all live happily ever after …except for those Bethlehem babies that Herod murdered, of course; and Jesus’s family, who were so afraid of the new king that they hid from him in Egypt; and Jesus himself, who was executed by a Roman puppet too timid to stand up to the mob; and most of Jesus’s best friends, who within a few years were dead, and not of natural causes…”

We hold on to the hope of Christmas that a light has come to shine in the darkness. But we also acknowledge the truth that sometimes the new day dawns dark. Sometimes thick clouds obscure the light. Sometimes joy is followed by great pain and agony.
dark 002

But– all is changed.
The ‘but’ has turned to ‘and’.

Now Immanuel has come.
And God is with us.
Christmas means we have received something even better than God’s power. We have received God’s presence. He is with us in the darkest dawn and in the longest night. He is with us in joy and gladness, and with us in suffering and sorrow. We are no longer alone.

11 21 10 thai 4 loi krathong 038

They will call Him Immanuel” (which means, “God with us”). Matthew 1:23

You came down

One of my favorite new Christmas songs:

“Oh Saviour of our fallen race,
Oh brightness of the Father’s face
Oh Son Who shared the Father’s mind
Before the world knew day or night
Oh Jesus very light of light
Our constant star in sin’s deep night
Now hear the prayers Your people pray
Throughout the world this holy day
You came down
You came down
To a stable and manger
Not a kingdom or a crown

Remember Lord of life and grace
How once to save our fallen race
You put our human vesture on
And came to us as Mary’s son
You came down
You came down
To a stable and manger
Not a kingdom or a crown

For from the Father’s throne You came
His banished children to reclaim
And earth and sea and sky revered
The love of Him who sent You here
Oh Christ redeemer, virgin born
Let songs of praise your name adore
And with the Father be adored
And Holy Spirit evermore
You came down
You came down
You came down
You came down
To a stable and manger
Not a kingdom or a crown”

From Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn’s album: Christmas

“…the most necessary conversion for those who have already followed Christ and have lived at his service in the Church…does not consist in abandoning what is evil, but, in a certain sense, in abandoning what is good! Namely, in detaching oneself from everything that one has done…

“This emptying of one’s hands and pockets of every pretension, in a spirit of poverty and humility, is the best way to prepare for Christmas. We are reminded of it by a delightful Christmas legend that I would like to mention again. It narrates that among the shepherds that ran on Christmas night to adore the Child there was one who was so poor that he had nothing to offer and was very ashamed. Reaching the grotto, all competed to offer their gifts.

Mary did not know what to do to receive them all, having to hold the Child in her arms. Then, seeing the shepherd with his hands free, she entrusted Jesus to him. To have empty hands was his fortune and, on another plane, will also be ours.”
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa

[number five in our sparkling constellation of grandchildren

In the Bleak Midwinter, sung by King’s College

In the Bleak Midwinter

The last line of this hymn says “give him my heart”–because the singer is so poor he or she has nothing else to give. But the reality of my heart is not always a worthy gift. Sometimes it feels like the bleak midwinter: frosty, hard and stony. Other times, it is poor, devastated, weak and broken.

And yet the truth remains that this is what my heavenly Father wants most from me: my heart. He wants to be with me face to face. He wants me to bring the truth of who I am: my thoughts, my feelings, what I have done, what I hope to do, what I hope not to do. This is who He wants to love. And this the gift of my incarnation: bringing myself to God as He has brought Himself to me.

In the Bleak Midwinter
“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
For the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.”


I look to God because He first looked at me.
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

John 1:48

The Eyes of my heart
“Every day
I see more of Your beauty
Every day
I know more of my frailty, Lord
And I can only hope that I’ll be changed
Even as I look upon Your face
For the eyes of my heart
They’re on You for ever, they’re on You forever
Yes the eyes of my heart
They’re on You for ever, they’re on You forever
Every day
I see more of Your greatness
Every day
I know more of my weakness, Lord
And I can only hope that I’ll be changed
Even as I look upon Your face”
Tim Hughes

Preparing to prepare

November 28, 2016 — Leave a comment

Advent is a time of waiting and preparing. I tend to plunge into it thoughtlessly, in the post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas rush. So I found a reflection on preparing for Advent at Creighton University’s Online Ministries very helpful.

I’d encourage you to read the whole piece. Here’s a taste of it:

There is “a time of emotional complexity that is part of this holiday season – with all of the expectations and challenges of family and relationships:  who we want to be with and who we struggle to be with. So, our hearts are a bit tender, if not completely defended from experiencing anything deeply.”

♦◊♦

“We will re-enter the ancient tradition of a people longing for the coming of a Savior…we have to ask ourselves: “What is it I long for now?”  The answer won’t come easily.  The more we walk around with that question, and let it penetrate through the layers of distraction and self-protection, the more powerfully we will experience Advent.”

♦◊♦

“These are very precious days to come into intimate contact with our own need for salvation.  It is a time to make friends with our tears, our darkness, our hunger and thirst. 
What is missing? 
What eludes my grasp? 
What name can I give to the “restlessness” in my heart? 
What is the emptiness I keep trying to “feed” with food, with fantasy, with excitement, with busyness? 
What is the conflict that is “eating at me”? 
What is the sinful, unloving, self-centered pattern for which I haven’t asked for forgiveness and healing? 
Where do I need a peace that the world cannot give?

Coming to know where I need a Savior is how I can prepare for Advent”

from “Preparing for Advent” Creighton University’s Online Ministries

♦◊♦

IMG_9856

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Isaiah 35:5-7

In between American Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent, this song [another one by Andrew Peterson] speaks of the tension between good gifts and living in the ‘not yet’:

Can’t you feel it in your bones
Something isn’t right here
Something that you’ve always known
But you don’t know why

‘Cause every time the sun goes down
We face another night here
Waiting for the world to spin around
Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun
Burning through a silver mist
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall

Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he’s haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall

Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this

Now I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from prophets’ lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
Eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this

‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It’s howling in the snowy peaks
It’s blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning

Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on
And when the world is new again
And the children of the King

Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing
To be more than merely innocent

But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up

‘Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Come back soon
Come back soon

More on the theme of how to respond when bad things happen, this time from Marc Cortez:
“Trying to Make Evil Sound Good
There’s a fine line between helping people see that God is amazing enough to use even the worst situations for his good purposes and making it sound like those horrible situations are actually good things. Yes, God can use a bad situation for good ends. He does it all the time. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and God rescued people from famine. The Babylonians crushed Judah, and God demonstrated his awesome holiness. Jesus was executed on a cross, and God redeemed a sinful world. Our God is amazing, and he is always at work in the midst of even the most horrific situations.

“That doesn’t mean those horrific situations are actually good. It just means that God is good. And creative. And powerful. And redemptive.

“We don’t praise God for evil, we praise God in the midst of evil. Those are critically different responses. And we must avoid the former lest, in our hurry to comfort, we minimize evil and suggest that God is somehow culpable in the very sin he works so actively against.

“Discussing the sovereignty of God with someone struggling through a difficult situation is always a challenge. You have to be careful not to minimize their pain and make it sound like they should somehow be able to just “move on” simply because you’ve reminded them that God is in control. The sovereignty of God doesn’t make the pain go away, it just puts the pain in context. That is a good thing to do, but it must be done carefully.”
Marc Cortez

The Reckoning, a song by Andrew Peterson

“I can see the storm descending on the hill tonight
Tall trees are bending to your will tonight
Let the mighty bow down
At the thundering sound of your voice
I can hear the howling wind and feel the rain tonight
Every drop a prophet in your name tonight
And the words that they sing
They are washing me clean, but
How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?

“And I know you hear the cries of every soul tonight
You see the teardrops as they roll tonight
Down the faces of saints
Who grow weary and faint in your fields
And the wicked roam the cities and the streets tonight
But when the God of love and thunder speaks tonight
I believe You will come
Your justice be done, but
How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?
You are holiness and grace
You are fury and rest
You are anger and love
You curse and you bless
You are mighty and weak
You are silence and song
You are plain as the day,
But you have hidden your face—
For how long? How long?

“And I am standing in the silence of the reckoning
The storm is past and rest is beckoning
Mighty God, how I fear you
How I long to be near you, O Lord
How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?
And I know that I don’t know what I’m asking
But I long to look you full in the face
I am ready for the reckoning”

From time to time when there is tragedy in the world or in our lives, we hear a lot of how what perspective we ‘should’ take on it. The following passage from “How People Grow” by Henry Cloud talks about the different kinds of suffering we can experience in our lives, and the important distinction between destructive suffering and therapeutic suffering. Have you been mugged? Or have you been in surgery?

“Certain suffering tears down aspects of our character that need to be torn down and builds up new aspects that we need in order to live as we were designed to live. So suffering can be good. It can take us to places where one more season of “comfort” cannot.

“But suffering can also be terrible. Some suffering is not a “wound… to heal.” Such suffering inflicts evil on a person’s heart and soul and is totally outside God’s desire. Although God can bring good out of the experience, the experience itself is no good at all.

“I sometimes use this analogy when I speak: “If one of you walked out of this meeting and a guy with a mask walked up to you in the dark parking lot, took out a knife, stabbed you in the stomach, took all your money, and left you in an unconscious state, you would call him a mugger. Someone would call the police, and they would try to find the perpetrator.

” “But if you left this meeting, drove down the street to the local hospital, and a guy with a mask came to you in a brightly lit room, took out a knife, cut your stomach open, took all your money, and left you in an unconscious state, you would call him a doctor and thank him for helping you. One is a mugging, and the other is surgery.”

“Suffering is a lot like that. There is therapeutic suffering, and there is destructive suffering at the hands of evil people. The key is to be able to tell the difference between the two and to apply the right kind of experience to each. Too often in the church those who have been “mugged” have been told that God is trying to teach them a lesson or that what they are going through is a result of their own sin or that it is part of the growth process.”
Henry Cloud in “How People Grow” page 207

Evil destruction

Evil destruction

Eye of the Storm by Ryan Stevenson
“In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
And in the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm
When the solid ground is falling out from underneath my feet
Between the black skies, and my red eyes, I can barely see
When I realize I’ve been sold out by my friends and my family
I can feel the rain reminding me
In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm
Mmm, when my hopes and dreams are far from me, and I’m runnin’ out of faith
I see the future I picture slowly fade away
And when the tears of pain and heartache are falling down my face
I find my peace in Jesus’ name
In the eye of the storm (yeah, yeah), You remain in control (yes you do, Lord)
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me (Your love surrounds me) in the eye of the storm (in the eye of the storm)

When the test comes in and the doctor says I’ve only got a few months left
It’s like a bitter pill I’m swallowing; I can barely take a breath
And when addiction steals my baby girl, and there’s nothing I can do
My only hope is to trust You
I trust You, Lord
In the eye of the storm (yeah, yeah), You remain in control
In the middle of the war (middle of the war), You guard my soul (yeah!)
You alone are the anchor (ooh), when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me (yeah!)
In the eye of the storm, You remain in control (yes you do, Lord)
In the middle of the war (in the middle of the war), You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor (ooh), when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm, oooh
Oh, in the eye of, oh, in the eye of the storm
I know You’re watching me, yea, ay
When the storm is raging (when the storm is raging)
And my hope is gone (and my hope is gone, Lord)
When my flesh is failing, You’re still holding on, oh whoa
When the storm is raging (the storm is raging)
And my hope is gone (and all my hope is gone)
When my flesh is failing (my flesh is failing), You’re still holding on, oooh
When the storm is raging (when the storm is raging)
And my hope is gone (and my hope is gone)
Even when my flesh is failing (flesh is failing), You’re still holding on, holding on
The Lord is my Shepherd
I have all that I need
He lets me rest in green meadows
He leads me beside peaceful streams
He renews my strength
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His Name
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid
For You are close beside me”

“The story of Jesus is the story of love personified.
We miss the point when we simply try to do what he tells us to do.
And we miss the point when we merely try to follow
the pattern of his life. His life points us back to his
own Source. His life is intelligible only when it is
understood as the personification of divine love.

But genuinely encountering Love is not the same as
inviting Jesus into your heart, joining or attending a
church, or doing what Jesus commands. It is the
experience of love that is transformational. You simply
cannot bask in divine love and not be affected.”
David Benner

John-reclines-on-Jesus-chest
John reclining on Jesus

The Beauty of Broken

November 2, 2016 — Leave a comment

I read Elisa Morgan’s “The Beauty of Broken” a few years ago–and thought I posted about it. But I can’t find it in the archives. It’s an excellent memoir about the gap between dreams and reality in parenting. The Kindle version is on sale for $2.99. Definitely worth it. And maybe some day I’ll get the post in my head onto the screen!

The only problem with “Alive,” a song from All Sons and Daughters [on their Season One album] is that it is too short! This video clocks in at 2:17 minutes–and it’s a wonderful complement to the music and lyrics.

“Alive”

“This is a call to all the dead and disappointed
The ones who feel like they are done
This is a word to all the ones who feel forgotten
But you are not
Oh you are not

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shakin’
We’re alive alive alive alive in You

We are soaked in all the grace that we’ve been given
Unchained from all that we have done
Your mercy’s rising like the sun on the horizon
And we’re comin’ home
We’re comin’ home

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shakin’
We’re alive alive alive alive in You

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shaken
We’re alive alive alive alive in You”

usa sept 09 139

Most of the time

October 25, 2016 — 1 Comment

Sometimes [like most of the time], I want to have everything wrapped up. I want to get an answer from God in a neat little package, instead of having an ongoing conversation with Him.

However, sometimes, [like most of the time], following Jesus means living with the unanswered and the unfinished. The ‘answer’ is not to figure life out. It is looking to Jesus, and listening to Him. It is following His lead and not the often warped and distorted movement of my broken heart. However I am feeling, Jesus wants me stay with Him.

Sometimes [like most of the time], it will be messy. But Jesus invites me to draw closer to Him–and not listen to the accuser. Because although there are lots of good, honest questions to ask God, the accuser’s questions are designed to get me to turn away, such as:
“Where is your God?”
“Did God really say…?”
“How long will He make you suffer?”
“Really??”
“Aren’t you tired of trusting?”

So when I can’t put it all together, and when I can’t find that neat answer I want, I’ll remember this:
Sometimes [like most of the time], the question isn’t something to be figured out. It is something to be lived. Because really it’s not an answer I seek. It’s a person, Jesus.

And He invites me to come.
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Speaking of trusting God

October 18, 2016 — 1 Comment

In our Instagram, instant-Facebook, instant-Twitter world, it is helpful for me to remember that growth cannot be hurried. It takes three years, not three days for a grape vine to begin bearing fruit. It takes 180 days, not 180 minutes for the grapes to mature.
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“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.

Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time…

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that His hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser. Amen. ”
Pierre de Chardin

♦◊♦

“My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Thomas Merton
rope-bridge

A wonderful hymn about the triune Lord

Wonderful, merciful Savior
Precious Redeemer and Friend
Who would have thought that a Lamb
Could rescue the souls of men
Oh You rescue the souls of men

Counselor, Comforter, Keeper
Spirit we long to embrace
You offer hope when our hearts have
Hopelessly lost the way
Oh, we’ve hopelessly lost the way

You are the One that we praise
You are the One we adore
You give the healing and grace
Our hearts always hunger for
Oh, our hearts always hunger for

Almighty, infinite Father
Faithfully loving Your own
Here in our weakness You find us
Falling before Your throne
Oh, we’re falling before Your throne

[perhaps I should retitled this series ‘songs from Sunday’–this is another song we sung at church]