Gloria in Excelsis Deo


Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.Refrain:
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heav’nly song?
Come to Bethlehem and see
Him Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.
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This has always been one of my favorite Christmas carols to sing.  I love the movement of the melodic line and the harmonies, especially when singing the angels’ chorus:  “Gloria, in excelsis Deo!  Gloria, in excelsis Deo!”
(Glory to God in the Highest Heavens!)

Yet, if we think about it, the angels seem almost to be having a joke.  There is something ironic about hosts of angels praising the glory of God in His highest Heaven, when they are announcing that He is, at that moment, a wailing, helpless infant, wrapped in rags and borrowing a feeding trough for his bed, miles from the warmth and comfort of a home of any kind, let alone the glory of His rightful throne.

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And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 

Luke 2:8-18 (NIV)
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And this is how God chose to appear, and chooses to work– confounding the power of the powerful, the wisdom of the wise, and the goodness of the self-righteous.  God does not glorify that which is already a spectacle.  Instead he glorifies the lowly and unqualified things of the world by coming into them, working through them, and reshaping them for His use.

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And so, may we have eyes, ears, and hands to work in the same way–to raise up, encourage, bless, and honor those who cannot yet see the Glory around them, the Glory God offers to share freely.  May we be the host of God’s messengers to spread the Glorious news of Christ’s gift of life and salvation.  May we be like the shepherds, jubilant in our acceptance of His great news.  And may we be, like the babe himself–humble and kind–bringing Glory to the world around us, no matter how dark or unwelcoming it may appear.  Remember, God himself is with us!

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Gloria!  Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Everything We Need

2 Peter 1:3-8 New International Version (NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you ask most people what they need, you will not hear the items listed in this passage of scripture.  Most people view needs in very personal and concrete terms– food, water, shelter, safety, air…we need these to exist during our life on earth.  God cares about our physical and most basic needs.  But most people have other “needs” that they try to meet with what the Apostle Peter refers to here as “evil desires”.  We “need” to feel loved– but we end up in unhealthy relationships, or fleeting relationships that don’t meet our need.  We “need” to feel secure and worthwhile– but we end up feeling fearful and ashamed.  We “need” to achieve; to find fulfillment and worth in our actions, words, relationships, and legacy–but, too often, our efforts lead us to compromise the very dreams and ambitions we started with, leading us to mediocrity or even disaster.

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Jesus, through His divine power, has given us everything we need–everything!  His death and resurrection provided the way for us to find true forgiveness and new life.  We won’t find it in any of the things we think we “need”– a new job, or a new relationship; a new car or a new cause.

woman in maroon long sleeved top holding smartphone with shopping bags at daytime
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Over the years, I have returned to this passage many times.  There is a lot to unpack in just a few verses.  One of the things that always “gets” me about this passage is that I want to just leap from Faith to Love without the steps in-between.  The world needs love– I need love– and I want to spread love, reflect love, and be known for loving others.  God is Love, and showed His love through Christ– I believe in God and trust Christ.  Voila!– He has given me everything I need, so I should be loving.  But Peter writes what he knows very well.  Following Jesus, learning from Him, growing to be more like Him–it begins with Faith, but it grows through discipleship.  I “loved” people before I had Faith in Christ.  I may “feel” love for others, but if my thoughts and actions are not being  transformed by His Spirit; or if I continue to act out of habit or selfish impulse, my “love” will be corrupted and compromised by the world.   It will be “my” love and not God’s love working through me.  For that to happen, I need to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance and all the rest.

And adding these virtues requires that I humble myself to admit that I am not “good”, that I don’t already “know” everything…that I “need” to depend on God for any goodness, wisdom, discipline, strength to persevere, etc.

man wearing white sweater and black shorts about to run
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God is Good– He has already made provision for me to have everything I really need.  He will guide me every step of the way; giving me all that I need when and how I need it most.  I don’t “need” to worry or run myself ragged trying to earn God’s approval or favor.  But I do “need” to trust that God will continue to work in me and through me for His Glory.  And I need to come daily before His throne to listen and learn from Him, and reach out daily to go through the steps of turning Faith into Love in action.

All of Nothing is Still All

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe, gratitude, requests, confession, what’s on my mind, my heart…there are many things I can lay on the altar.  But what do I bring God that doesn’t originate with Him?  What do I bring that has value independent of God? Nothing.

My relationship with God is completely uneven.  God is the provider of everything I need.  I owe Him everything, and have nothing to give that can begin to “repay” Him.  What a blow to my pride, my self-sufficiency!  What is the point of pretending I have anything to bring before an all-knowing and all-powerful God?  All of nothing is still nothing.

person holding plastic bottles and hose
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But wait…

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe for the beauty and power that inspires and uplifts me; gratitude for the blessings He has poured out so lavishly– life, health, family, joy, peace, grace, love…  I bring requests, not idly, spewing them out to the wind or to random passers-by, but purposefully, to a God who hears.  Confession, not coerced through torture, not met with unbearable punishment, but given freely in the knowledge that there is forgiveness and restoration on the other side of confession and repentance.  I can bring thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, joys, pains, disappointments, and frustrations and lay them on the altar–not as a reluctant sacrifice of a servant, but as the outpouring of love from a child to her beloved Father.

blonde haired girl wearing pink sweater
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I can’t out-give God.  But that’s not a fault or a lack.  Instead, it is the mind-blowing reality that God is able to GIVE abundantly above all that I can hope or imagine.  And even though He needs nothing, He eagerly desires to share with me all the awe and wonder, all the beauty and grace, all the majesty and power of who He is, and to accept from me the joy and humble acceptance of His gifts–nothing more, and nothing less.

adult back view bald crowd
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I could give God nothing– no time, no credit, no joy, no love.  Instead, I want to choose to give all.  Because even all of nothing is still ALL, thanks be to God!

I-Bug

It started out small– a glItch, really.
Every tIme I began to type, the same thIng would happen.
At fIrst, I barely notIced.

After all, It wasn’t lIke I couldn’t read my own wrItIng.
It wasn’t In every lIne or word;
It was a sIngle letter.

But then It began to spread.
As tIME passed, It becaME more dIffIcult.
I notIced a theME.  I could stIll read the words,
But theIr MEaning was gettIng lost In
SoME way I couldn’t quIte deterMINE.

It was begInnIng to spIll Into MY speech;
IMpossIble to MEnd; MEldIng Into MY mInd’s
NIches, MErgIng wIth MEdIocre comMEnts
And MYsterIous MEltdowns.

I I I I I,

ME ME ME ME ME.

As I and ME took over, yo_ went mIssIng.
ThIngs were s_ddenly less peacef_l…
Even Jes_s seemed sIlent In the dIn of ME and MINE.
SIn and prIde– I co_ld always be fo_nd there.

It was a fast-spreadIng vIr_s– s_rely leadIng to MY r_In:
_ntIl I lIstened to a stIll, small whIsper…
A Holy breath of fresh, clean, wholesome change.

AAAHHH!

Exhaling the I’s and ME’s, and breathing in YOU–
Brought hope and healing; renewal,
Perspective and life.

The Prayers of the Righteous

James 5:16 Modern English Version (MEV)

16 Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.

 

Romans 3:10-11 Modern English Version (MEV)

10 As it is written:“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 there is no one who understands;there is no one who seeks after God.

adult back view bald crowd
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Anyone can pray.  God hears our prayers.  God answers prayer.  But He doesn’t answer all prayers equally.  That doesn’t mean that God is unfair or unjust.  It means that God listens beyond our words and prayers– He knows our thoughts, He perceives our motives and inmost desires.  He also knows the consequences of all that we ask.

James 5:16 (above) is sometimes misused by Christians to boast in their “effectiveness”: in essence, saying “If God answers my prayers for a comfortable lifestyle or good health, it proves that I am righteous.”  But this is putting the cart before the horse.  The last phrase is contingent upon the first– “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  It is the effective (prayers designed to effect others), fervent (heart-felt, committed) prayer of a righteous (cleansed, renewed in spirit and mind and heart) man (or woman) that accomplishes much (for the kingdom, for healing, for grace, unity, or renewal).  The effectiveness comes after the confession; after the renewal, and through the Holy Spirit.  If we are boasting about our effectiveness, we’re missing the point.

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It is the humble seeker who prays for and with others, pours herself/himself out for “one another” who accomplishes much.  Such men and women spark movements and revivals, not in their own power or wisdom, but in allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives, and in their prayers for others.  Which is more “effective”– getting what I want for myself, or bringing lost souls to new life?

lion sleeping beside rock
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If your prayers seem to lack power, consider the following:

Who am I praying for today?  What am I praying for myself?  For others?  For the Glory of God?  Am I praying fervently?  Diligently?  Righteously?  In confession and gratitude, as well as supplication?

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Next, consider what it means to be “effective.”  Are you praying for a healing that doesn’t happen immediately or completely?  God may be using your prayers to great effect in ways you do not expect.  God can bring spiritual and emotional healing even in physical suffering.  He can also bring healing to others as they see our faith and hope at work in difficult circumstances.

 

woman wearing sleeveless dress
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Finally, ask if there is something else you should be doing in addition to praying about the situation.  Are you ignoring a clear call from God to do something (or stop doing something) in obedience to His Word?  Are you harboring a grudge against someone?  Do you need to make things right with someone?  With God?

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person WILL accomplish much more than we can imagine.  What would our neighborhood look like if we spent more time on our knees than pointing fingers or shaking fists?

prayermotherdaughter 

How’s My Serve?

“Life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving–
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon…”
(Be Our Guest from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast)

woman preparing christmas table
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Philippians 2:3-8 King James Version (KJV)

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

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1 Peter 2:13-19 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,[a] whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. 17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

[a](or,  every institution ordained for men)

  

man in black coat carrying a rifle walking in straight line during daytime
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The English word serve has at least seven different definitions, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary see here, and that’s just the intransitive verb form!  The concept of service and serving is often misunderstood and denigrated.  Our culture (especially American culture) in general has a low opinion of servants.  Value is placed on independence– neither needing service nor being required to give it to others.  But service is much broader then “servitude”, and good service requires that we place our value on interdependence, rather than independence.

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Good service requires a lot, but I think there are three key ingredients–obedience, humility, and love.

I don’t normally recommend Disney as a source of moral instruction, but just in the short two lines of lyrics above there is a great example of a servant’s heart.  A good servant isn’t reluctantly or resentfully dragged into service.  (Oh, there are days or circumstances that are trying and tiring, but that’s the exception, not the norm.)  S/he is eager to serve, and even restless when unable to be of service.  A good servant is also personal.  Their service is not given by rote, but with attention to the individual “soul” they are serving.  It’s hyperbole, of course, but the verve and giddiness found in the singing and dancing dishes of a Disney movie should be reflective of the kind of service we provide at work, at home, and at church– “Be our Guest!”

silver spoon and forks beside vegetables
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As followers of Jesus, we should also look to His example.  Paul reminds us that Jesus did not seek fame or attention or demand respect or recognition during His time on Earth.  Instead, He gave up all the glory of Heaven to become a man– and not just a man, but a helpless baby born in obscurity and growing up without entitlements and comforts; the child of a working-class family  in a small town under foreign occupation.  He lived as a homeless itinerant teacher, and died as a common criminal under shameful circumstances– naked and bloody, displayed in public, to be mocked and used as a warning for others.  But Jesus wasn’t a doormat–he was humble, he was meek–he CHOSE to submit to the pain and humiliation and even the injustice of a rigged trial and a death sentence by mob rule.  He had opportunities to grab the glory, to turn the tide, to escape his unfair fate, and/or to become a great political or military leader.  He didn’t take those opportunities– instead, he was obedient to the Father.  He showed love and compassion even to those who mocked him, betrayed him, and murdered him.

ancient art black and white close up
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It’s frightening to serve with that kind of abandon.  It’s not humanly possible to let go of one’s life with joy for the sake of those who have taken it from you.  My human desire is to grab hold of life and get as much out of it as I can.  Even when my intention is not to hurt anyone else, it is not in my nature to put someone else’s needs and comforts ahead of my own.  But it needs to become part of my nature.

I want to serve like Serena Williams–slamming my passion at the speed of a bullet train and earning trophies.  (And this is not meant to be disrespectful– I am a great admirer of Serena’s talent and drive, and I think there is much to learn from her perseverance and excellence.)  But tennis, while fun to watch and good for exercise, does not teach good “service”.

person woman sport ball
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I’d like to serve like a CEO– guiding a company to greater success and huge profits.  I might even help hundreds of people by creating more jobs and increasing their wealth.  But in the end, this is not the kind of service that has everlasting consequences, or “soul” benefits.

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I honor those who have served in the military; those who work in service industries, or provide emergency services.  And those who have served in government, whether local, state, national, regional, provincial, or other.  Many have served selflessly and given their lives, willingly, in combat or rescue missions.  For every story of someone who has abused their office, or fled in the face of personal danger, there are many more stories of courage, compassion, and sacrifice.  Such service should also “serve” as an example to all of us.

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I enjoy serving customers at work– helping them find something they want or need, or answering questions.  But that’s my job.  I get a certain gratification, and a paycheck, that help motivate such service.

various containers in store
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God wants me to learn to serve from the pure joy of service– pouring myself out with abandon to help others succeed– rejoicing with them when they reach their goals; grieving with them in their loss.  And, like Jesus, God wants me to do it, not in my own limited strength and wisdom, but in obedience to His will– not becoming a dupe or a doormat to anyone who wants to step on me, but discerning what is best for others and cheerfully doing what I can to bring it about.

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That’s a tall order, and it requires that I take time to ask God and trusted friends– How’s my Serve?

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