Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room


Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n, and heav’n, and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Joy to the World– words by Isaac Watts
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Advent is a time of preparation– joyful preparation. It is an oxymoron to say it, but it is a time when we remember with anticipation. It is a time to once again prepare our hearts for the arrival of an event that happened over two thousand years ago. Each year, we look backward to look forward! And we prepare as though it were all happening anew– the announcement of the angels, the travels of Mary and Joseph and their arrival in Bethlehem, the wise men following a star..

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And we prepare for this year’s festivities– the gifts, the food, the decorations, the invitations and greeting cards, programs and parties, caroling and shopping…But in the midst of it all, hopefully, we prepare our hearts to be rekindled, reawakened to the wonder– beyond the star and angels and virgin birth–the wonder that God would ransom the lost, break the chains of sin and death, redeem the fallen and weary world, and pour all of his Glory into the frail cries of a newborn baby. All the rest of the preparation is meaningless if we don’t prepare to be overwhelmed again by the “glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.”

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“Lord, may our hearts be prepared to accept the wonder and joy of this season. May we have new hearts for the wonders of your great Love for us– that you would humble yourself to live among fallen men and women, and die to set them free. That you would rise triumphant, so that we need not fear death. Thank you for this indescribable gift. Once again, let Earth receive her King with joy as all of heaven and nature sing!”

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day


I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play;
In music sweet the tones repeat,
“There’s peace on earth, good will to men.”
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’ unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep,
For Christ is here; His Spirit near
Brings peace on earth, good will to men.”
*When men repent and turn from sin
The Prince of Peace then enters in,
And grace imparts within their hearts
His peace on earth, good will to men.
O souls amid earth’s busy strife,
The Word of God is light and life;
Oh, hear His voice, make Him your choice,
Hail peace on earth, good will to men.
Then happy, singing on your way,
Your world will change from night to day;
Your heart will feel the message real,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with alterations and *additional text by Harlan D. Sorrell.

Some Christmas Carols are the joyous outpouring of Christmas cheer, filled with the laughter of wonder of the season.  Others are forged in pain and doubt that has been turned to the light of hope and renewal.  Such is the story behind this hymn. http://suvcw.org/mollus/art005.ht

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The famous American poet, H. W. Longfellow had lost his wife in a tragic fire just three years before he nearly lost his son in the horrors of the Civil War.  When his son was severely wounded in battle, Longfellow went to the military hospital, and, when he could, he transported his son home, knowing the journey would be painful and the outcome might not be a happy one.  (His son lived, but never recovered fully– see the article above.)
As he sat with his wounded son over the Christmas season, he could hear the bustle and chatter, and the bells ringing from the church steeples, announcing the good news of Christmas.  As his pain and bitterness churned, he wrote about it, and about how his heart was turned from bitterness to hope. (See the original poem here:   https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Poetry/christmas_bells.htm

Photo of C. A. Longfellow

Christmas is a time of warmth and good cheer for many–the ringing of bells, the singing of merry tunes, the tinsel and glitter of decorations–but for others, it is a time of deep soul-searching.  “My life is a mess.  I have suffered greatly.  There is no Peace On Earth!”  Yet, the hope and promise of Christmas rings out greater than the darkness and the blast of gunfire, the angry outcries and the weeping of those in grief.

How can this be?

Christmas reminds us that our circumstances, though very real and very painful, are confined to this time and space.  They are temporary– not in the sense that we will forget our pain or loss– but that we can still experience hope and joy  and healing in their midst.  “The Wrong shall fail”–there will still be evil in the world, injustice, hunger, abuse, sickness–wrong will still exist, but it does not have the power to define us, to enslave us and take away our ability to do good.  “The Right, prevail”–God’s promise of Messiah (among several hundred other prophetic promises!) has been fulfilled.  God is Faithful.  God’s word endures.  God’s Justice Will Be Done, and there will be “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.”

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Christmas also reminds us that it is just in those very small things– the tolling of bells, being able to hug your child,  to share memories of loved ones who are no longer here, being grateful for small gifts, giving a word of encouragement–that hope and joy are spread like ripples of water and echoes of sound.  Christ’s birth was humble, but it was heralded with the hosts of angels from the highest heavens. 

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My prayer today is that we would listen for the true message of Christmas, and that we would echo and repeat the message– even if it seems that we are being drowned out by sirens and protests, or silenced by those who are hurting and cannot hear the sweetness in the music of the season.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

During this season of Advent, we often sing this ancient hymn.  It dates back nearly 900 years, and continues to be sung and/chanted in Latin.  https://hymnary.org/text/o_come_o_come_emmanuel_and_ransom

The hymn is a contrast of weary longing and hopeful prophecy.  The promised Messiah has not yet arrived, but his coming is sure, and cause for great rejoicing.

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The hymn is also a prayer– pleading for the coming of Messiah, even as it comforts with the reminder that he WILL come.  And it reminds us of the power of prayer– not just the power of approaching Almighty God, but the power of acknowledging our longings, our needs, and our dependence on God.  Even in our darkest hours, even in captivity and oppression, we can have hope in God’s timing and wisdom.  He DOES see our struggle; he DOES care, and he WILL send hope and rescue.

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But the song also points out a pitfall–in the first verse, the prayer is for Emmanuel to rescue Israel from Roman Occupation; to end its immediate plight of being politically and economically oppressed.  There were many people who saw Messiah, heard him speak, even felt his touch, who rejected him because he did not do what they were expecting.  There are many today who cannot believe in Jesus Christ because he doesn’t take away their current circumstances of pain and suffering.

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In their narrow focus, people miss the greater miracle of what Messiah is all about.  Jesus did not come to free us from temporary troubles and trials; to make us comfortably apathetic or arrogantly victorious over personal poverty or sickness.  He came to free us to be able to overcome our circumstances to offer hope where there seems to be no hope.  He came to show us that our circumstances don’t define us or cut us off from God’s love; that our past is not more powerful than His forgiveness and power to heal; that even suffering and oppression can be endured with joy, even as we work together to overcome them.

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This season, as we sing this hymn, I pray that we would see the continuation of this prayer.  Emmanuel HAS come– Jesus not only came and won the victory over sin and death on Calvary; he has commissioned US to be the bearers of the Good News.  There are dark places in the world praying for hope and rescue to COME.  Will we share the love of Christ in our own neighborhoods?  When we bear the name of Christ, we should be on mission to rescue those who are captives, not of Rome, but of Sin and the tyranny of Death.  So that we all can  know the reason to Rejoice! Rejoice!

Go, Tell It on the Mountain


Go, Tell It On The Mountain

While shepherds kept their watching
O’er silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light


Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.



The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed our Savior’s birth;


Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.



Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born;
And God sent out salvation
That blessed Christmas morn.


When I was a seeker
I sought both night and day
I sought the Lord to help me
And He showed me the way.


He made me a watchman
Upon the city wall
And If I am a Christian
I am the least of all.


Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

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During the Christmas season, we often focus on giving.  And it’s certainly appropriate.  But there is another aspect of Christmas that sometimes gets overlooked– Telling.

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Christ came to earth humbly, but he didn’t come secretly.  Angels announced his arrival to the shepherds; stars aligned and shone brightly as a signal to the wise men.  Prophets had foretold his coming for centuries.  John the Baptist even went ahead of Jesus, baptizing and preparing his hearers for the good news yet to come.  The earliest followers of Christ were eager to tell of his words, his deeds, and his glorious resurrection.  Many lost their lives doing so.

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If the birth of Christ was reason to fill the night sky with songs and wonders,  reason enough to send angels and stars, prophets and messengers; what about the news of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension?  Why do we allow this amazing news to sit on a dusty shelf, unopened and unshared?  Or treat it like a secret, good news for only the few, the righteous?

We have the greatest news in all of history– more important than any political scandal, more amazing than the latest technology, more joyous than any other announcement imaginable.  Emmanuel– God WITH US–He came, he lived, worked, spoke, laughed, shared, loved, cried, ate, slept, and died, WITH US.  And he died and rose so that we could continue to live WITH HIM!

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God didn’t send all the signs and wonders– he didn’t come into the world to be a guilty secret.  And though there is still a risk involved in proclaiming the gospel, it is no less good, and no less NEWS now than it was nearly 2000 years ago.  Let’s TELL it!  SHOW it!  POST it!  SING it out!– Everywhere!

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Father, Thank you for this wonderful news. Thank you for the Greatest Gift–Yourself.  Give us hearts filled with joy and courage, and lips eager to share your grace and love with those we meet.  Help us to be faithful messengers of that grace and love; transparent and true in word and deed.  May every mountain and valley, forest, meadow, desert and ocean ring with the hope and glory of your nativity, your ministry, and your death and resurrection.

A Brief Word About Shoes

I’m really sick of hearing about shoes in the news lately.  But, surprisingly, I think it’s time for a brief word about shoes— from a Biblical perspective.

man reading a book
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The Bible has a lot more to say about shoes than most of us realize.  Way back in Exodus, when God called Moses from the burning bush, He commanded Moses to take off his shoes.  Later, in Deuteronomy, the Israelites are reminded that during their years of wandering, their shoes did not wear out– God took care of even the smallest and lowliest of details in providing for their needs in the wilderness.

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Boaz secured the right to marry Ruth through an old ritual involving an exchange of sandals.  The prophets used shoes to indicate the coming exile, and the need for people to be prepared to leave their homeland.

 

 

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In the New Testament, John the Baptist declares Jesus’ superiority by saying that he (John) is not worthy to latch Jesus’ shoes!  And the Apostle Paul includes shoes (or sandals or boots) in his list of spiritual armor, asking us to wear on our feet the readiness of the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15).  A Christian’s shoes are to be used to bring good news and peace– not anger, protests, and divisiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shoes are meant to serve a useful purpose.  They protect our feet from surfaces that are hot, cold, wet, dusty, or rough.  They provide traction, allowing us to start and stop moving on pavement, gravel, rocks, and flooring.  Some shoes even provide arch support so we may stand and walk for hours with minimum damage to our bones and nerves.  Shoes allow us to walk farther, run faster and with more confidence, and stand firm.

man person street shoes
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The most ridiculous thing about all the fighting over a shoe’s ad campaign is that it’s not about the SHOE–and no one is entirely clear on what it IS about– is it about race, police, injustice, patriotism, lack of patriotism, residual guilt over slavery, respect (or lack of respect) for military and/or rescue personnel, the NFL, Black Pride, White Privilege, income inequality, all of the above, something entirely different?  Mostly, it seems to be about anger, hurt feelings, hatred, and generic outrage.

None of that seems like a shoe I want to wear.

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Lord, from my head to my toes, I want to bring peace, hope, and love to this world in YOUR NAME.  Help me not to be blinded or distracted by all the world’s empty substitutes.  Let me wear the shoes that make my feet ready to bring your gospel of peace and reconciliation to others.  May I walk and run and climb and stand in Christ’s name and for His sake.  Amen.

 

Why “Good” Friday Matters

Good Friday is a stumbling block for many people who would be Christians.  Some get angered at the mere mention of “Good” Friday.  They see nothing good in it, and no reason to celebrate.  They mock Christian celebrations and practices throughout Holy Week.  They ask, “What could be good about being arrested, beaten, tried in an unfair court, mocked, and condemned to death?”  “What could be good about celebrating someone’s final meal, and following the gruesome details of his humiliating crucifixion?”  “Why remember someone being tortured by his enemies and abandoned and even betrayed by his friends?”  I know someone who uses the crucifixion of Jesus as “proof” that God is neither omnipotent, nor holy.

Yet the Bible chooses to focus time, detailed description, and several varying viewpoints to make this the pivotal event (along with the resurrection) of history.  The Crucifixion does not come as a sudden and inexplicable episode in Jesus’ ministry. He predicts it; not just once, and not just in one account–he doesn’t hint vaguely at some “future trouble,” or potential danger–he gives a detailed description of what will happen to him:

Mark 10:33-34 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

33 saying“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be [a]delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will [b]hand Him over to the Gentiles. 34 They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.”

Luke 24:6-7 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

He is not here, but He has [a]risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”

Why do we need Good Friday?  Why, my acquaintance posits, does a loving God make salvation contingent upon the death of himself in human form?  Is it that God is incapable, or unwilling to offer “unconditional” grace?  After all, does he not offer “unconditional” love?  Why must salvation be achieved only by the unjust death of a perfect being?  Why must reconciliation and new life be forged in suffering and death?

These are not unreasonable questions, but I think they miss the broader picture.  Before the cross, before the scourging and the betrayal, let’s look at the life of Christ.  Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, the author of creation, could have stepped out of Heaven at any moment, and arrived in all his glory, surrounded by angels, to walk in pomp and dignity through the world he created.  He could have swept the entire Roman Empire off the face of the planet, healed every disease with a whisper, and lived in the Temple in Jerusalem as the Ruler he is.   Instead, he came as a helpless child, born to a teenage mom and her fiance during a grueling tax season.  He grew up in relative obscurity, never attended college, and is lost to history until he begins his second career as an itinerant rabbi at age 30.  He never held political office, never owned a home of his own, never wrote a book, or produced a piece of art work, never led an army into battle, never married or had children, never became wealthy, never did anything to make himself famous by worldly standards.  He was not crucified because he posed an actual threat to the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, but because he was accused of blasphemy by not denying claims that he was the promised Messiah of Israel.  His only “claim to fame” was that he was a dynamic teacher and had performed miraculous healings.  By almost every worldly standard, his life was a failure and a lesson in wasted potential.

His death is in keeping with his humble life.  It strikes us as a failure– humiliating, unjust, anti-climactic.  A life of servitude, poverty, being misunderstood, and making all the “wrong” friends and enemies.  Why would God live such a ridiculous and unfulfilling life?  Except he didn’t– it wasn’t a failure; his life and death stand as examples of how to live at peace, and how to change the world!  Hundreds of people flocked to hear him teach; hundreds more to see him heal the sick and raise the dead.  But he never charged a single coin, never demanded accolades or even thanks.

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This is the paradox of the Gospels.  God’s ways are not our ways.  His humiliating death on the cross was necessary for the ultimate triumph of the resurrection, but it was more than that– it was a vindication of justice over injustice and service over selfishness.  Good doesn’t always triumph over evil in a power play.  God has the power to obliterate every one of his enemies, but more often than not, he causes them to fall by their own arrogance and blind ambition.  The Chief Priests, the Roman Soldiers, the agony and torture of death– they were no match for God’s love.

Good Friday showed us that God can ALWAYS make even our most difficult circumstances, even the worst situations, into something VICTORIOUS.  Jesus still had to suffer and die, because we will still have to face betrayal, hatred, injustice, unanswered questions, and even taste death.  An Easter without Good Friday is a happy ending without the story.  Only an omnipotent God could have given us the triumph; only a loving God would have walked the Via Dolorosa to fight in the trenches with us.

 

The “Fake” Good News

I keep hearing about, and seeing reports of “Fake” News.  Even the term “Fake” News is somewhat misleading–is it news?  Is it False News?  Is it “fake” because it never happened, or because it has been exaggerated or taken out of context?  Or because it doesn’t say what I want it to say?  How do I know what is “real” news anymore?

The biggest problem with “Fake” news is that it “feels” real, true, and important.  In reality, it may be none of those things.  Yet there if often a kernel of fact, or a dusting of truth that makes it hard to disprove or dispel.  And, if it had already been accepted as legitimate news by thousands, it’s even harder to stop it from being spread.

But the more insidious problem with “fake” news is the time wasted trying to sort truth from fiction, and plain fact from exaggeration and distortion.  If my friend sends me an article, or a video, or a photo, I may accept it as true on the strength of my friendship.  But what if they’re just passing it on from another source?  What if I see it from a recognized news source?  Do I dare question it?  And if so, where do I turn to verify it?  There are several fact-checking websites, but even they have biases that cause them to weigh facts differently in various situations.  Whatever assumptions we used to hold about “neutral” reporting have been proved wrong.  We are being conditioned to trust none of what we hear and less than half of what we see!

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What about the “Good” News that Christians carry into the world?  Is it like the “Fake” news we see on TV or read about on our tablets?  And if someone challenges our faith in God’s word, how can we prove that the Gospel is not “Fake”, and that our Faith is not just more hype with smoke and mirrors?  If we are pursuing prayer, shouldn’t we be confident that our prayers are not in vain and that our faith is sound?

The claim of “Fake” news makes an assumption that there is such a thing as “True” news.  Similarly, saying the Gospel is “Fake” assumes that there is an alternate truth.  But the real burden of proof is on those who want to push for the alternative.  The truths of the Bible have been time-tested, and shown to be real.  The challenges I hear most often are to the exceptions, not the rule.  I don’t hear anyone saying that “Thou shalt not steal” is a “fake” morality.  Instead, I hear that, “Christianity is fake because I know Christians who cheat and steal.”  I don’t hear people claim that “it is not morally wrong to kill.”  Instead I hear them justify exceptions.  “I’m not promoting abortion as a good thing.  I don’t think it’s right to kill another human being, but this is just a fetus, and anyway, I’m just protecting a woman’s right to her own body.”  “I don’t think it’s ethical to force someone to stay alive if they are in pain and they want to die.”  “You can’t go around just killing anybody, but I think it would be better for everyone else if ___________________ (insert the name of a group– Down’s Syndrome children, Jews, Sunnis, Hutu/Tutsi) didn’t exist.”  “I don’t believe the morals found in the Bible are wrong.  I just don’t think you need to believe the rest of it to “be moral.”

People point to single passages, single verses, even single words to “prove” that the Bible is racist, sexist,  intolerant, and promotes violence.  The Bible includes many examples of people NOT following God’s laws, and yes, the results are grisly.  And there are difficult passages when God calls for a wicked city to be destroyed completely.  Critics are not wrong to point out that the Bible is not about perfect people behaving perfectly.  And the same Loving God who frees the slaves from Egypt is the God who destroys Jericho, and Sodom and Gomorrah.  Taken out of context, these few examples may seem to cast doubt on the authority of God’s word.  Yet the same critics who pound away at the same few examples in the Bible discount hundreds of instances of  historical events that highlight human sacrifice, genocide, mass infanticide, slavery, torture, and all sorts of other evil that occurred without the Bible’s influence.  Moreover, I hear a lot about claims against “Christians” who fought in the Crusades or owned slaves–I hear a lot less about Christians who worked to end slavery and the slave trade, or Christians who founded universities, charitable institutions, or brought revivals that sparked decades of social progress throughout countries and continents.

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I don’t hear many people claim that there was no such person as Abraham, or King David, or Solomon, or Nebuchadnezzar, or Pontius Pilate or Caesar Augustus.  But they want to deny the historical reality of Adam and Eve, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Apostle Paul, who are found in the same Bible.  Why?  Because if Adam and Eve are real, there must be a creation and a creator.  If Jesus really lived and said the things that are attributed to him, we must deal with the claim that he was Messiah.  If the Apostle Paul really lived and wrote his letters to the churches of Asia Minor, we must deal with his claim that he encountered the risen Christ and his life was dramatically and eternally changed.

However, there is a “Fake” gospel– Good news that doesn’t match the Biblical account–a “Fake” Christ that only said or did or “would do” what we want him to say or do; a Christ that isn’t holy or righteous, but just loves us because it’s the “zen” thing to do; a Christ who is without power to save or to sanctify; a Christ who is without mercy and loves only those who look the part or say the right things.  How do you spot a “Fake” Christ and a “Fake” Gospel?  Get to know the real ones of the Bible.  You’ll soon be able to spot an “imposter.”

“Fake” News will always fail the test of time and the challenges of real evidence.  Good News will transcend the test of time and the challenges of faulty evidence.

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Christ Has Died, Christ Is Risen, Christ Will Come Again!  THAT’s the Good News!

 

 

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