Bethlehem is characterized as a sleepy little town. Our favorite carols sing about a silent night, a baby sleeping in a manger with gentle animals hovering over his sweet face. All is calm. Yet the birth of Jesus was no small thing in the spiritual domain of our world. You can bet the incarnation of God sent shock waves throughout Satan’s kingdom. What might seem quiet and even dull to our eyes might be quite the opposite in the heavens. So, it is in the churches around the world today. It is hard not to be discouraged by shrinking numbers and drowsy Christians in our churches today. But do not be fooled by such misperceptions. Steve Hawthorne of reports that more Christians are praying now than at any time in history. At least 200 million believers pray every day for the advancement of world missions and 15 million groups around the world pray weekly for missions in their communities. There is a massive surge of prayer in the Christian church going on right now. God is on the move. Just as a quiet baby in the manger was the redemption of all humanity so the church today thunders with God’s movement when she humbles herself and prays. “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” Colossians 4:2 new living translation.

December 24, 2017

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In this blackness,

In this midnight of my soul,

God, I must know that you are there,

Loving me still,

Redeeming the lost,

And gathering broken remnants of my smile.

Echoing silence

pressing hard on starless night,

Winged prayers, in due haste, take flight

these ragged dreams,

with gentle passion lay

neath sacred chords

of angel’s whispered celebration.

Sky fills with dancing.

Tear-stained laughter plays with light

darkness relents to Royal Birth.

Mystery of Light,

soft light, and gentle,

Love’s lullaby,

God’s voice in a baby’s cry

. . It was a cold night, starless and the hope of dawn was bleak. I found myself bracing against time as I might press against a prairie storm. Head down, clutching my coat close to my body and leaning at a 45 degree angle I cursed the storm that held me back from all that I imagined life might have been. I am not sure which steps were made out of a determination to beat the darkness and which steps were made in a fainting hope that I would see the light of dawn again. A sudden blast of icy snow stung my cheeks mocking my efforts to stay alive. But there was an ember, ever so dim and nearly cold that whispered of a hope that this darkness would relent to the dawn.

Is this the song of advent? Icy storms and cruel nights? Wondering if we will see the light again? Is this the preparation we make for Christmas? Indeed it is. For how can we know the Light if we do not recognize the darkness. Israel knew this darkness and sought the dimmer lights of other gods. It is a frightening thing to stand in the dark and to wait for the light when dimmer lights of this world taunt us. Advent teaches us to wait. Christmas celebrates the Light.  

“ The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:4-5 (NLT)

December 17, 2017

Advent Traditions

Advent is a time rich with traditions. Many families bake cookies. My family made things. Every year we tried our hands at some new craft. It was my 7th Christmas. Grandma and I had our Christmas task spread out on the bed between us. I sat cross-legged, head in hands as she showed me the amazing project of the year. It was a red felt chimney with a pipe-cleaner Santa climbing out of the top. I carefully glued red felt around a styrofoam block and painstakingly drew lines on it to make bricks. Puffs of cotton created snow. I fashioned a Santa from pipe-cleaners with a small wooden bead for his head and cut out felt triangle for his jacket and hat and placed him into the chimney. Our art was given a place of honor that Christmas. The artwork met its demise decades ago but the message inscribed in my heart remains today. It was a message of belonging. I know who I am because of the connections that have been made throughout my life. I have held the hands of my grandmother born in the 19th century and cradled my grandchildren born in the 21st century. I am part of a lineage and a link to the next generation.

A more important connection was made over 2,000 years ago. A baby born in a barn, sleeping in a manger in a small town may have seemed mundane. The manger decayed but the message of that night remains in the hearts of every human being. We know who we are by the connections that have been made. The birth of this baby means we are part of the lineage of Abraham and David. And we are links to the world around us spanning generations and circling the globe.

Let the traditions of advent become physical reminders of the spiritual connection that last forever. Remember that we are the links to the world around us. Pray for the compassionate hearts and willing hands to make connections in our world today. Let Advent be a time of prayer.

UPCOMING PRAYER VIGIL January 2nd, 3rd and 4th. The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ urges us to participate in a world-wide prayer vigil on January 2nd,3rd, and 4th of 2018. Whether this is in your home or at the church plan to be part of this time of churchwide prayer. Pay attention for more details on how to be part of this important event.

December 10, 2017

Advent prayer focus

An almighty God, a small baby boy, and prayer

Mary did you know that that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod and when you kiss your little Baby you’ve kissed the face of God? These words to the familiar Christmas song, sung by Clay Aiken among others, grab me every time I hear them. I visualize Mary as she held Jesus, caressed and nurtured this baby. She knew the true identity of her baby boy. Can we comprehend that baby Jesus was the face of God? The thought that the baby Jesus was the Almighty God is more than the human mind can embrace and yet it is because of this baby that we have access to God. The death and resurrection of Jesus opened the doors to our hearts which became the dwelling place of God. It is in this place that God hears our prayers. Let the contemplations of this baby born on Christmas day be an invitation to energize your prayer life. God invites us to come. Just come. Come and pray.

Three Days of Prayer

The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ urges us to participate in a world-wide prayer vigil on January 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of 2018. Whether this is in your home or at the church, plan to be part of this time of church wide prayer.

December 3, 2017

prayer focus

Like a running back with the ball held close, head down and stiff arm rushing head \long into the defense, so we seem to enter the season of Advent. The greeting, “Hi, how are you” is replaced by “Are you ready for Christmas” in conversation. Certainly, Advent is a time of preparation, but not the frantic activity of consumer gluttony that seems to be the hallmark of this season. Advent is a time to quiet our minds, and slow our pace, to prepare our hearts to embrace the mystery of Christmas sung in the words of a familiar carol,

“Hark! the herald angels sing

Glory to the new-born King

Peace on earth and mercy mild

God and sinners reconciled…

Here are some ideas to slow yourself down this Advent Season

1. Practice waiting. “Lord unrush me” Lysa Terkeurst

Waiting is a radical act in the month of December. Resisting the sprint towards Christmas requires us to go against the grain of popular culture, which is more consumed with unceasing activity than the long and slow journey to Bethlehem. Waiting demands we slow down, open our distracted hearts and make room for the sacred in the middle of the frenzy. It means not rushing to the manger, but absorbing the unfolding story of Scripture that leads us to the birth of the Christ child. Waiting can also mean not singing Christmas hymns the first few weeks of Advent, keeping the tree in the box for a while and setting up the Nativity scene on Christmas Eve. In the end, those who wait are rewarded with the deeper satisfaction of growing closer to God rather than the empty feeling associated with holiday exhaustion.

2. Develop a discipline of daily scripture reading

5 minutes a day of faithful bible reading will change your life through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within you. Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

3. Develop a discipline of daily writing

Record the bible verses from your daily discipline of scripture reading. Write a few words of your experience. Even the word WOW could be enough to capture your experience.

4. Join a small group (new advent study begins this week!)

Sharing Advent with others is a meaningful way to experience the season. Try joining a small group during Advent that will give you a place to connect with others and travel the advent journey together. An organized small group focused on the themes of Advent can take you to a place that cannot be reached on your own. A small group experience builds relationships that enrich and sustain your spiritual life. A new group study, “Awaiting the Already”, begins today at Gloria Dei. Join us as we explore the advent message presented in each gospel.

Some material borrowed from Pastor Mark Altrogge and Pastor Billy Doidge

November 26, 2017