Saturday, November 26, 2016

First Sunday in Advent



Today is the first day of the Church Calendar: the First Sunday in Advent. The above Advent wreath was made by Keith a over a decade ago for the sanctuary at Lake Murray Community Church after Pastor Rollo Casiple left for Miami and took his Advent wreath with him. I hope that the church family at Lake Murray, where we worshiped for nearly twenty years, still uses it in their worship services. It is a lovely wreath, indeed.

Here is the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 which is to be prayed daily throughout the Advent Season:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now during this present life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, so that at the last day when he will come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to eternal life; Through him who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (References: Romans 13.12; 2 Timothy 4.1; Philippians 2.5-8; 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17)


Here's some basic information about Advent that I've gleaned from several sources:

The word “Advent” means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the four weeks before Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus in His First Advent, the Incarnation, and the anticipation of His return in His Second Advent, His Coming again to the earth. Thus, Advent celebrates the revelation of God in Christ whereby all people may be reconciled to God, a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate in the Second Coming.

Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of Christians as we affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. It calls us to holy living that arises from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful ambassadors of Christ’s gospel as His return is imminent.

Advent is richly symbolic. The light of the candles reminds us that Jesus is “the light of the world” and that we are also called to “walk in the light, as He is in the light.” The purple of the candles symbolizes the royalty of Christ, the Almighty who “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” The rose candle reminds us that hope, joy, and peace are near, available only through God. The large white candle, the Christ candle, recalls Christ’s holiness, purity – He who was without sin who died for the sins of all. The greenery, symbolizing abundant life, surrounds a circular wreath – never ending, eternal life. The red of the holly berries reminds us of His blood to be shed on the cross for us.

Advent takes place over the four Sundays before Christmas: today, the first Sunday, we light the Prophecy Candle, which reminds us of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. On the second Sunday we light the Bethlehem Candle, which shows us that Christ was born in the poorest of towns, in utter humiliation. We light the Shepherd Candle on the third Sunday, which recalls the shepherds watching their flocks by night when Christ was born, and also symbolizes Jesus Himself, the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep. On the fourth Sunday we light the Angel candle, which reminds us of the Heavenly Host, proclaiming the Good News in Bethlehem on that night long ago, and also that the angels rejoice when one sinner turns to the Lord. Finally, on Christmas we light the Christ Candle, which reminds us whose Light we are celebrating: the light of Him who rescued us from darkness and death and reconciled us to God Himself.

The primary focus of Advent is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as we wait together to celebrate His birth, death, and glorious resurrection. We anticipate His working in our hearts as we celebrate together Advent together as a church family.

And a beautiful prayer for the beginning of Advent that we used to pray together in Lake Murray's adult Sunday School:

O God,
rejoicing,
we remember the promise of your Son.
As the light from this candle,
may the bless of Christ come upon us,
brightening our way
and guiding us by his truth.
May Christ our Savior bring life
into the darkness of our world,
and to us, as we wait for his coming.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen

If your family has a special way to celebrate Advent, please let me know. I'm always on the lookout for new ways to celebrate this Holy time in which we remember our Savior's first coming as a babe in Bethlehem and anticipate His second coming as well.

A blessed Advent to you and yours!

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Day Late: The Feast of Christ the King


From the Archives...and a day late....

Today is the final Sunday of the Christian Year, the celebration of Christ the King.

And today's daily devotional at The High Calling was superb in explaining this observance. I have copied the devotional in its entirety:

Make a Joyful Symphony to Christ the King
by Mark D. Roberts
Psalm 98:1-9

Sing your praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
Make a joyful symphony before the LORD, the King!

(Psalm 98:5-6)

Today is a special holiday in the Christian year (sometimes called the liturgical year or the church year). It is Christ the King Sunday. This holiday is not as well-known as other celebrations such as Christmas or Easter. But it holds a unique place in the Christian year as the last Sunday of the year. On Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate the coming reign of Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. We delight in the fact that when Christ reigns, the world will be restored, peace shall reign, justice shall be established, and all people will live in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

In the providence of God, our chapter from the Psalms for today perfectly fits the themes of Christ the King Sunday. If you’re new to the Daily Reflections, I should mention that on the weekends I focus on the Psalms, working psalm by psalm through the entire collection of 150. Today “just happens” to be the day for Psalm 98. This whole psalm resonates with the victory celebration. God has won. It’s time to rejoice. Verses 5 and 6 focus our praise: “Sing your praise to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and melodious song, with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn. Make a joyful symphony before the LORD, the King!”

Every Sunday, Christians gather to celebrate the victory of God through Jesus Christ. The one who was crucified was raised on Easter Sunday, thus defeating sin and death. On Christ the King Sunday, we shout to Christ the Lord with gratitude for his sacrifice. We announce his victory to the world, inviting them to join us in our celebration: “Shout to the LORD, all the earth; break out in praise and sing for joy!” (98:4).

On Christ the King Sunday, we complete the cycle of the Christian year. It began almost one year ago with Advent. In that season prior to Christmas, we set our hope upon God, yearning for our Savior, as did the Jews so many centuries earlier. Today, we celebrate the fact that the Savior came, born in a manger. That he lived among us, proclaiming the kingdom of God. That he died, taking upon himself the sin of the world. And that he was raised from the dead, breaking the power of sin and death itself. Christ rules today as King of kings. This we celebrate, even as we look forward to the time when we will fully enjoy the life of his kingdom.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you live as if Christ is the King of kings? What would it mean for you to acknowledge his kingdom each day? How can you celebrate Christ the King in your life today? How can you celebrate Christ the Kind in your daily work this week?

PRAYER:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!
Amen.


An updated portion to this post:

In England, this Sunday Before Advent is called "Stir-Up Sunday" for two reasons. The first may be seen in the Collect from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 below as we pray for the Lord to "Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people...." The Collect from the British 1662 Book of Common Prayer which would have still been in use in Jane Austen's time, as well as the Collect from the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer, begin the prayers with "Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people...."

Secondly, "Stir Up Sunday" also marked the day that the Christmas puddings were stirred up and set to soak in brandy until Christmas Day when it was lit afire. We can read about this tradition in a fan fiction story written by Maria Grace from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in which the Bennet family (including the odious Mr. Collins) prepares the Christmas pudding with all of the various familial and religious connotations of each step at Austen Variations: Pride and Prejudice Behind the Scenes: Stir-It-Up Sunday. Enjoy!!!


Back to the Archives....

And from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

Propers for the Sunday Before Advent: Christ the King:

THE COLLECT:
ALMIGHTY and eternal God, who restores all things in your Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords; Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, so that we may abundantly produce the fruit of good works and be abundantly rewarded in your eternal kingdom; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

THE READINGS:
Jeremiah 23.5-8; John 6.5-14; Psalm 85; Hebrews 7.1-7

So we pray the old Christian Year out in thanksgiving and praise as we welcome in the new Christian Year beginning next Sunday with the First Sunday in Advent!!

Wishing you a blessed day of victory in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Praying by the Book....


Revised from the Archives...

Some Christians either look down upon or simply don't understand why other Christians find value in praying from a prayer book. Whether that book is a Book of Common Prayer from the 1540s or Baillie's classic Diary of Private Prayer from the 1940s or Stormie O'Martian's Power of a Praying Wife from the 1990s, or the Book of Common Prayer 2011, etc., praying from a book, or "by the book" can express the soul-language of our hearts.

I had never prayed from any book, except the Scriptures of course, until about ten years ago. Yes, I started with Stormie O'Martian's books which have been accepted almost without question in evangelical circles, but then online friends encouraged me to try Baillie's slim volume of prayers.

And I fell in love with praying all over again.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with extemporaneous prayer; it's what we do all the time. And praying "by the book" should never totally replace praying on our own; in fact, Baillie even advises in his book of prayers, "These prayers are to be regarded as aids; they are not intended to form the whole of morning's or evening's devotions or to take the place of more individual prayers for oneself and others."

But adding such written prayers to our prayer times has totally revolutionized my own prayer life.

My 1928 Book of Common Prayer, Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours, my ESV Bible, prayer journal, prayer beads, candle, and cross.

For me, written prayers often express my heart more thoroughly and deeply than I can in extemporaneous prayer. I find this especially true in using the Book of Common Prayer and Baillie's Diary of Private Prayer. Baillie's little book presents page-long prayers for Morning and Evening for thirty-one days, plus Morning and Evening prayers for Sundays; thus, each prayer is prayed once per month. The prayers become familiar over the years (and I've been using Baillie's book off and on for well over fifteen years), but for me, they are never rote. Nope, never ever rote.

Instead, they become beautiful expressions of the love and faith in my heart, expressed far better and with a more global outlook than my own private prayers.

One of my favorite prayers is the Twelfth Day, Evening:

O Thou in whose boundless being are laid up all treasures of wisdom and truth and holiness, grant that through constant fellowship with Thee the true graces of Christian character may more and more take shape within my soul:

The grace of a thankful and uncomplaining heart:
The grace to await Thy leisure patiently and to answer Thy call promptly:
The grace of courage, whether in suffering or in danger:
The grace to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ:
The grace of boldness in standing for what is right:
The grace of preparedness, lest I enter into temptation:
The grace of bodily discipline:
The grace of strict truthfulness:
The grace to treat others as I would have others treat me:
The grace of charity, that I may refrain from hasty judgement:
The grace of silence, that I may refrain from hasty speech:
The grace of forgiveness towards all who have wronged me:
The grace of tenderness towards all who are weaker than myself:
The grace of steadfastness in continuing to desire that Thou wilt do as now I pray.


And now, O God, give me a quiet mind, as I lie down to rest. Dwell in my thoughts until sleep overtake me. Let me rejoice in the knowledge that, whether awake or asleep, I am still with Thee. Let me not be fretted by any anxiety over the lesser interests of life. Let no troubled dreams disturb me, so that I may awake refreshed and ready for the tasks of another day. And to Thy Name be all the glory. Amen.

So I pray, with words not wholly mine, but with a heart that, I pray, is wholly His.

And I find great comfort in praying in this way, especially when the exhaustion and brain-fog and pain of my illness makes praying extemporaneously a challenge.

For me, my private prayers were becoming rote. I felt as though I were praying the same things each day, almost as if I were ticking off a grocery list of requests. So the prayers I pray from books have often been more heart-felt than my private, extemporaneous prayers.

I think that God doesn't look at our words in prayer so much as at the heart attitude behind the prayer.

"For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." --1 Samuel 16:7, ESV

With God, it's always the heart that counts.

Praying by the book with heart,


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Blessed All Saints' Day

Adoration of the Trinity by Albrecht Durer, 1511
From the Archives...

Today, November 1, is the Feast of All Saints. On this day we remember all of the saints who have walked the Pilgrim Pathway before us, living the Christian life in a God-pleasing manner.

The Collect for All Saints from the 2011 Book of Common Prayer 
ALMIGHTY God, you have woven your disciples into one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son, Christ our Lord; Give us grace to follow your Saints in righteous and holy living, and to come to the joy beyond words which you have prepared for those who truly love you; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 

From AmericanCatholic.org's Saint of the Day e-mail:
The earliest certain observance of a feast in honor of all the saints is an early fourth-century commemoration of "all the martyrs." In the early seventh century, after successive waves of invaders plundered the catacombs, Pope Boniface IV gathered up some 28 wagonloads of bones and reinterred them beneath the Pantheon, a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods. The pope rededicated the shrine as a Christian church. According to Venerable Bede, the pope intended "that the memory of all the saints might in the future be honored in the place which had formerly been dedicated to the worship not of gods but of demons" (On the Calculation of Time).
But the rededication of the Pantheon, like the earlier commemoration of all the martyrs, occurred in May. Many Eastern Churches still honor all the saints in the spring, either during the Easter season or immediately after Pentecost.

How the Western Church came to celebrate this feast, now recognized as a solemnity, in November is a puzzle to historians. The Anglo-Saxon theologian Alcuin observed the feast on November 1 in 800, as did his friend Arno, Bishop of Salzburg. Rome finally adopted that date in the ninth century.
Comment:This feast, first honored martyrs. Later, when Christians were free to worship according to their conscience, the Church acknowledged other paths to sanctity. In the early centuries the only criterion was popular acclaim, even when the bishop's approval became the final step in placing a commemoration on the calendar. The first papal canonization occurred in 993; the lengthy process now required to prove extraordinary sanctity took form in the last 500 years. Today's feast honors the obscure as well as the famous—the saints each of us have known.
Quote:“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.... [One of the elders] said to me, ‘These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9,14). 
All Saints of Scotland Icon
And from The High Calling's Daily Reflection:
Today is All Saints Day, a holy day recognized by the Catholic Church and, in various ways, by various Protestant denominations. Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate the Sunday of All Saints on the week after Pentecost.
Some Christian traditions focus on remembering special Christians on All Saints Day or bringing to mind believers who have died and gone to be with the Lord. This day offers a fine opportunity to thank God for those whose lives have honored him and made a difference to us. Yet, it's important to remember that the biblical sense of "saint" includes all of God's people, not just those who have excelled in discipleship. I thought it might be helpful for us to review what we learned about saints from Ephesians 1:1.

In the opening verse of this letter, Paul addresses the letter's recipients as "God's holy people." Traditionally, the Greek word hagioi, translated here as "God's holy people," is rendered "saints." Thus, the King James version reads, "To the saints which are at Ephesus." In fact, the English word "saint" comes from the Latin sanctus, which means "holy." So, saints are holy people, by definition.
But what does it mean to be a holy person, a saint? From a biblical perspective, something is holy when it is set apart for God and God's purposes. So, an animal to be sacrificed to the Lord is holy because it is designated for this special function. In Exodus 19, God set apart the Israelites as his own "treasured possession" (19:5). They would be a "holy nation" (19:6) through which God would make himself known to the world. In the New Testament, believers in Jesus Christ are referred to as "saints" or "holy people" because they have inherited Israel's divinely conferred status as people set apart by God for him and for his saving purposes.
If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are a saint. You are a holy person. This does not necessarily say anything about your worthiness to receive this title or your exemplary lifestyle, however. I wouldn't recommend that you go around putting "Saint" in front of your name. Rather, you are a saint because God has chosen you to belong to him and his people. He has set you apart so that you might participate in his redeeming work in the world.
Remember, you are not a solo saint. There is no such thing from a biblical perspective. Rather, as a saint, you have been joined to the family of all saints, including those who live around the world and those who have gone to be with the Lord. Therefore, on All Saints Day, it is a perfect time to remember that God has made you special for him and his purposes, and that he has joined you into the eternal, worldwide fellowship of all his saints. Moreover, it's a good day to take seriously the fact that God wants to make himself known in this world through you as a member of the family of all saints.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you hear the word "saint" or "holy person," what do you envision? Do you believe that God has set you apart for himself and for his mission in the world? Who are some of the "saints" who have encouraged you in your faith? Why not thank God for them today?
PRAYER: Holy God, it is amazing to think that you have set me apart for you and for your mission. Thank you for choosing me to enter into a relationship with and to serve you in the world.Help me, dear Lord, to live out who I am as a saint. May I see my whole life in light of the fact that you have set me apart for you. May I live distinctively, reflecting your presence and values in all that I do. And may I do so as part of your family of saints.
Thank you, gracious God, for those saints who have meant so much to my discipleship. I thank you for those I have never met, like the Apostle Paul, or J. S. Bach, or C. S. Lewis. And I thank you for those who have nurtured me in a personal way, for my parents and grandparents, for my Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, for my pastors and mentors. Thank you, dear Lord, for these wonderful saints! Amen.

So as we focus on the amazing men and women of the Faith, those who are now the "great cloud of witnesses" who cheer us onward as we run the Race, may we look to His Holy Word which encourages and helps us:
Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
May we indeed run the Race for God's glory as so many of his Saints have done for the past two thousand years!!

Wishing you a blessed remembrance of All Saints,




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