Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Third Sunday in Advent: Joyful Sunday!

Today is the Third Sunday in Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday ("Gaudete" comes from the French word for "rejoice").

So what exactly is Gaudete Sunday? Wikipedia informs us:
Gaudete Sunday (ɡˈdt) is the third Sunday of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western Church, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran Churches, and other mainline Protestant churches. It can fall on any date from 11 December to 17 December. 
The day takes its common name from the Latin word Gaudete ("Rejoice"), the first word of the introit of this day's Mass: 
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob. 
This may be translated as: 
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.— Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1 
The incipit for the Gregorian chant introit from which Gaudete Sunday gets its name. 
On Gaudete Sunday rose-colored vestments may be worn instead of violet which is otherwise prescribed for every day in the season of Advent. This tradition, previously informally observed in the Anglican Church, was formally noted as an option in the Church of England in the Common Worship liturgical renewal. In churches which have an Advent wreath, the rose colored candle is lit in addition to two of the violet colored candles, which represent the first two Sundays of Advent. Despite the otherwise somber readings of the season of Advent, which has as a secondary theme the need for penitence, the readings on the third Sunday emphasize the joyous anticipation of the Lord's coming. 

So with this Sunday being the Third Week of Advent, we light our rose candle in addition to our two purple candles as we celebrate Advent as a church this morning and as a family tonight after dinner. There is just something so elemental and sacred in gathering around candles to read God's Word and pray together as a family--it's why Advent is one of my favorite times of the year.

I am so thrilled with Pine Valley Community Church's practice of celebrating Advent. Last year, Pastor Joe Murrell, newly returned to Pine Valley with his lovely wife Jenny, preached on each of the themes of Advent each Sunday: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. His sermons were especially poignant as he and Jenny had just lost their home in Paradise, California, just before their move back to Pine Valley where they had served for a decade. 

This year, Pastor Joe is continuing his sermon series on Making Sense of Suffering while working the theme of Advent clearly into each sermon. In addition, families are lighting our church's Advent wreath (the one Keith built for Lake Murray Community Church) and reading Scriptures to the congregation during both services. 

The readings today in the Book of Common Prayer 2011 centered on the life and ministry of John the Baptist. And the Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent is as follows:
LORD Jesus Christ, at your first coming you sent your messenger to prepare your way; Likewise, may your servants  and the stewards of your mysteries prepare and make ready your way by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; So that at your second coming to judge the world, we might be found a people acceptable in your sight; Who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 
So I rejoice in the Advent celebrations at Pine Valley Community Church, grateful for the valuable traditions that lead us into the Presence of Our Lord and Savior and that His Word is always present to teach our minds and encourage our hearts as we seek to be conformed to the Image of the One who lived, died, rose again, and shall return for us.

Wishing you a blessed Advent,

Monday, December 9, 2019

Reviews of My Favorite Mystery Series

I have done a great deal of reading this fall. When pain levels rise, I medicate myself with excellent books, especially compelling mystery series. Since these reviews are all rather detailed and thus longer than usual, I'm only posting four rather than the six to seven reviews I usually post together. Three of the four reviews in this post are from my three of my favorite British historical mystery series of this year: the Daisy Dalrymple series (set in the 1920s) by Carola Dunn, the brilliant Maisie Dobbs series (starting in the Great War and now entering the Second World War) by Jacqueline Winspear, and the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries (set in the Regency era) by C.S. Harris.

I have read at least a dozen books of each series, and they are all very different yet exceedingly compelling. Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple series is more of the cozy mystery genre with humor and lightness in the midst of murders while Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries are deeper and more psychological in nature--very thoughtful and methodical and oh-so-intriguing.

Harris' Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries are by far the darkest of the three as they explore the underbelly of  Regency London with the crusading Viscount Devlin (Sebastian St. Cyr) solving murders, often in the slums of the city, and his equally noble and crusading Viscountess who writes stories depicting the life-and-death struggles of the poor of London. The Devlins are two sides of the same coin, born to the nobility yet with compassion for the poverty-stricken; it's all political and quite messy.

Also included with these mystery series is Julie Klassen's The Tutor's Daughter, a rather Gothic tale that leans toward the mystery genre (as all great Gothic novels do). I've read a couple of Klassen's books before (she writes in the Christian genre, a subset of books I don't usually enjoy much since the writing often seems substandard to me), and they were enjoyable enough but not particularly noteworthy or compelling. However, The Tutor's Daughter, a British historical novel, was both compelling and much better developed than the previous books I've read by this author. I very much enjoyed it, and Klassen's mysterious tale holds its own in the company of Dunn, Winspear, and Harris.

So let the reviews begin!!

A Mourning Wedding A Mourning Wedding by Carola Dunn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The thirteenth novel in the brilliant Daisy Dalrymple mystery series finds Daisy at her former roommate Lucy's ancestral home, Haverhill, amid her very extended family of Lords and Ladies in preparation for Lucy's wedding to Lord Gerald ("Binkie"). But the murder of Lady Eva, who was a well-known collector of gossip on everyone in the family, causes Daisy to have to call Alec--Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher--up to Haverhill several days before he had planned to arrive. As usual, people flock to Daisy to tell her their innermost secrets--it's those guileless blue eyes, says Alec--which aid Alec and his team in solving not one but multiple murders and attempted murders.

I adore this series; it's light and frothy, filled with all sorts of British slang of the mid-1920s, and Daisy's somewhat loopy yet somehow correct insights both annoys and amazes Alec while Sergeant Tring and DC Piper both believe, as usual, that Daisy can do no wrong. After all, she has assisted in solving many cases for New Scotland Yard both before and after her marriage to Alec. Daisy is a delightfully human protagonist, smart in some ways and rather obtuse in others, yet as an "Honourable," she has access to the nobility (or "nobs," as Sergeant Tring calls them) that Alec often requires as he solves his cases. Overall, this series, and this particular novel in the series, is definitely "Right-O!"

  A Dangerous Place A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had taken a short break from the world of Maisie Dobbs; I could sense heartache ahead of her throughout the tenth book in the series, and with all that's going on in my life right now, I wanted something light and fluffy. And Maisie, although intriguing, is not light and fluffy.

I requested the e-book from the library, but then waiting until it was nearly due three weeks later before I started it...and with more than a bit of trepidation. And I was right about the heartache. I had thought that the heartache could go one of two ways, and it did go one of these directions, but with deeper repercussions than I had guessed. I won't say more; as River Song reminds us so often in Doctor Who: Spoilers!

This mystery finds Maisie on Gibraltar in 1937. Just across the Spanish border of the British protectorate, civil war brings great suffering as the Fascists attempt to rout the Nationalists. Britain is walking a dangerous tightrope of appeasement in their attempts to avoid another European war like the one twenty years previously, a war in which Maisie had worked as a nurse near the front in France (see Book #1). But appeasing Fascism and Nazism will not work, as those on the ground are seeing daily.

Maisie happens upon a man who had just been murdered on the grounds of the premiere hotel in Gibraltar. And despite taking an extended break from her work as a psychologist and investigator, Maisie jumps right back in, delaying her journey home to Britain from India. The man killed was a well-known Jewish photographer who supported two sisters, and Maisie meets many intriguing people in her quest to discover Sebastian's murderer, including one who is linked to a beloved mentor in Maisie's life; she also finds herself facing an old acquaintance and the possibility of soon seeing others she knows from her work in Britain.

It's a bit of a slow burn, as many of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries are, but I love the depth in which Winspear takes her readers, revealing much of Maisie and of life and reality and learning to face both after major changes have hacked their way through one's existence. Once I got through a couple of chapters, I was hooked again.

Maisie Dobbs may be one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, and for someone who reads close to 100 novels a year, that's saying something. I would love to have all of the series in hardcover lined up on my bookshelves so that I can dip into them at any time, but in the meanwhile, the library's e-book borrowing program works nicely, especially when I want to jump into the next book immediately.

I rarely give novels that are not classics higher than a "4," but this one deserves a "5" which I have only given to the first book in the series. After this book, I have only four more left in the series until Winspear pens another, so I may read some other books and then return to this series to savor my time with Maisie.

The Tutor's Daughter The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Christian novel/mystery that isn't too preachy. Miss Smallwood accompanies her tutor father to the home of two former students who used to stay at their academy as the younger brothers require instruction, and Mr. Smallwood needs a change after the death of his wife two years previously.

Emma Smallwood had become friends with the younger Weston brother, Philip, but the older brother, Henry, had antagonized her constantly during his years at the Smallwood Academy. While her father is refreshed by the sea breezes of Cornwall, Emma finds herself in the odd position between servant and guest as she assists her father in teaching the 15-year-old twins, Julian and Rowan.

But their arrival is met with surprise as Lord Weston had forgotten to inform the rest of the family regarding his invitation to Mr. Smallwood and his daughter. Lady Weston, stepmother to the two older sons and mother to the twins plus ward to seventeen-year-old Lizzie Henshaw, is immediately suspicious of Emma's motivations, thinking that she seeks a husband of one of her older sons. Her rudeness dims Emma's usually positive attitude.

In addition, soon after their arrival, mysterious events begin to occur. The north wing of the house is forbidden, but Emma hears strange howls from its empty hallways. Someone enters Emma's room at night to steal her journal, then later returns it with a page torn out. Exquisite pian music wafts from the music room in the middle of the night, but Emma finds no one present when she seeks the mysterious musician. Philip suddenly returns home from Oxford with a garbled explanation, while Henry continues to be aloof; he also seems to be running the house instead of Sir Giles...and he never stops needling Emma just as he did when a boy. The twins are resentful and disrespectful, but Mr. Smallwood starts getting them in hand.

The Cornish coastline has long been the site of many a shipwreck, but the poorer people treat the cargo recovered from shipwrecks as their own, which they can do legally if there are no survivors. When Henry seeks to assist in the rescue of sailors as well as warning ships away from the rock-lined coastal beaches, he finds himself at odds with many villagers, including a sly, read-headed man named Teague who steals from survivors and seems to have an odd relationship with the Weston family.

When the threats become both more personal and dangerous, what will happen? And will Emma's faith, grown cold after the death of her beloved mother, finally find its way back, especially when confronted by the very real chance of death at sea?

This was a much better book than the other series I read by Julie Klassen. The characters were better-developed, and the faith elements were woven naturally into the story rather than being awkwardly forced. Overall, this was a mysterious tale with Gothic elements, a bit of romance, tons of suspense, and some thrilling excitement!!

Why Kings Confess Why Kings Confess by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This ninth book of the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries was amazing!

More people from Sebastian's past seem to be making appearances as the most propitious time in his life is about to occur. He finds himself a target as some of the French emigres from the French Revolution remain in London, including the Bourbons who are hoping to take back their throne from that Corsican upstart, Napoleon.

When a young doctor is murdered just before Sebastian happens on the scene, he feels drawn to solving the murder--and several more that occur, all seemingly focused on discouraging a small delegation from France who hopes to gain English support for a return of the royalists to France. The man who would become Louis XVI remains in England as well as the daughter of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XIV, both hoping to be restored to their "rightful" place in Paris.

In the middle of all of this drama is Paul Gibson, a one-legged Irishman and Sebastian's best friend. He does autopsies for the police and brings home the sister of the murdered man. She was badly beaten but left alive when her brother was killed and his heart ripped out. Her life also seems to be in danger from the same ones who killed her brother, plus because she testified against a man for killing his wife and the man died in jail, the man's brother is stalking her and threatening to kill her.

Sebastian finds himself embroiled in the story of the possible escape from the Bastille by the young Dauphin and the possibility of his existence is a question that seems to be at the heart of the murders being committed on the wet streets of London while France is once again undecided between a republican government or the "return of the King."

Sebastian must also face the very real fears regarding what frightened many a young man in this time: the coming birth of a child and the dangers inherent for both mother and offspring during this time when the best specialists in delivering children are men who still believe in "balancing the humours" by bloodletting and basically starving pregnant women to keep them calm. With pregnancy complications, things do not look good...and if the mother dies, her father promises to kill Sebastian.

So yes, suspense fills this novel from the first chapter to the last, and it's a difficult book to put down. It's wonderful to see Sebastian in love again even if he fears the outcome of the pregnancy that he both hopes for and dreads. He's rather a changed man in some ways but not at all in others, but I find him and the other main characters to be fascinating characters with depth and breadth. A very well-written series!

* * * * *

Three of these books, as I mentioned before, are titles from my three favorite mystery series of the year. I read these earlier in the fall and have read additional books in all three series since I read these. In fact, I have only one book left in the Maisie Dobbs series, and only two left in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. I'm currently reading The Bloody Tower, the 16th book of the 23 titles in the Daisy Dalrymple series, so I have a few more delightful Daisy mysteries ahead of me. I'm saving the final Maisie Dobbs for the week between Christmas and New Year's, and I'll likely finish the Sebastian St. Cyr series in January.  

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Joyous First Sunday in Advent!!

I am overjoyed that Advent has been celebrated at Pine Valley Community Church in the past, so when I asked Pastor Jeff about continuing the tradition last Advent, he was all for it. And Pastor Joe, returning to PVCC after serving up north (and he and Jenny coming off the loss of their home in the Paradise Fire), gave a thought-provoking and heart-provoking sermon series on Advent that I will never forget. 

 A year later, and PVCC is gearing up for another celebration of Advent, and I couldn't be more thrilled!! Yes, we celebrate Advent at Blessed Trinity Anglican Church, my other church home, but somehow it feels even more special to celebrate a holy season whose tradition dates back to the sixth century in an evangelical church!

The Propers, which includes the Collect (a prayer prayed for the whole First Week of Advent by all Anglican Churches) and the Scriptures read in the Sunday service from The Book of Common Prayer 2011:


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)

Romans 15.4-13
Luke 21.25-33
Psalm 25.1-6
Psalm 85.4-7
Micah 4.1-7

Our kind church family at Lake Murray Community Church allowed us to "borrow back" the Advent wreath Keith made about 15 years ago when Pastor Rollo was the worship pastor. So we have resurrected the wreath and the tradition now at PVCC, and I'm so thrilled! So we will light the indicated candles each Sunday of Advent, including the large white Christ Candle on Christmas Eve, and read Scriptures aloud as we celebrate Advent this month at Pine Valley Community Church. 

Here's the post I wrote for last year's PVCC Blog: What Is Advent?

Ever since we moved to Pine Valley in 2001, our family has celebrated the season of Advent. Keith made a simple wooden Advent wreath for our kitchen table, and every Advent season we have darkened the room, lit the candles after dinner, and read and prayed aloud together from one of the many Advent devotionals we’ve used as the kids grew up, focusing our minds and hearts on the coming of Christ in His Incarnation and looking forward to His Second Coming.

The term "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival" and refers to the first Incarnation of Christ as well as the expected second coming of Christ. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve. If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.

Advent also marks the beginning of the Christian Year for most churches in the Western tradition. The season of 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, lit on the third Sunday, reminds us that hope and peace are near, available only through God. Lit on Christmas Day, the white candle which is called the Christ candle, recalls Christ’s holiness, purity: He who was without sin who died for the sins of all. 
The central location of the Christ Candle reminds us that the incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the worldThe 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.

The Advent wreath Keith made while we were at Lake Murray and now are using at PVCC

The origins of the Advent wreath are found in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who, during the cold December darkness of Eastern Europe, gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light. Christians kept these popular traditions alive, and by the 16th century, Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols to celebrate their Advent hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. From Germany, the use of the Advent wreath spread to other parts of the Christian world.

The purple theme of Advent is also the color symbolizing suffering which is used during Lent and Holy Week and points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death: The Nativity--the Incarnation--cannot be separated from the Crucifixion and Resurrection. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the "Word made flesh" and dwelling among us, is not only to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through His suffering, death, and resurrection.

The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in His First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in His Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000-year-old event in history; it is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. This is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture readings for Advent reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment of sin, and the hope of eternal life in this double-focus on past and future. 

Our family's Advent "wreath" which has been used for many, many years. 
Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power and glory. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live "between the times" and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. 

So, as the church celebrates God’s in-breaking into history in the Incarnation and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself." The primary focus of Advent is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as we wait together to celebrate His birth, death, glorious resurrection, and imminent return. 

Here is a prayer we’ve prayed together each Sunday in Advent:

O God, rejoicing, we remember the promise of your Son.
As the light from the candles fills this room,
may the blessing of Christ come upon us,
brightening our way and guiding us by His Truth.
May Christ our Savior bring light and life into the darkness of our world,
and to us as we wait for His coming. Amen. 

Wishing you a holy and joyous Advent season,

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Christ the King Sunday!!

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

And this daily devotional at Life for Leaders is 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 holy day 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?

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 forever and ever,
Forever 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!

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 VariationsPride and Prejudice Behind the Scenes: Stir-It-Up SundayEnjoy!!! 

And from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

Propers for the Sunday Before Advent: Christ the King:

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.

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,

Monday, November 11, 2019

New Release: Prayer and Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional

I am beyond excited to be a "stop" on the blog tour for the release of Shannon Winslow's Prayer and Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional!!

I first "met" Shannon Winslow at one of my favorite Jane Austen websites, Austen Variations, where Shannon is one of the featured authors of works based on Austen's novels. I fell in love with several of her books, including The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, The Darcys of Pemberley (which continues the story of Darcy and Elizabeth), and an intriguing novel with a more modern twist on Pride and Prejudice, A Leap of Hope. I have also been a devoted follower of Shannon's lovely blog, Jane Austen Says... 

So given my love of both Jane Austen and of the Anglican (Church of England) mode of faith, you can well imagine my excitement and enthusiasm when Shannon announced that she was writing a devotional based on the prayers of Jane Austen!! Once I finished fangirling all over poor, bemused Shannon, I offered any assistance needed from a devoted Austenite who also was familiar with Anglicanism and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer Austen had used. 

Shannon kindly sent me a few of the early devotional entries, and I was even more excited; the devotions come line by line from Austen's written prayers, point readers to various Scripture passages, and discuss the topic of each devotion with Austen's characters as illustrations. Theologically, this devotional went much deeper than the other Austen devotionals I have seen, and I found myself both inspired and a little convicted by the entries Shannon shared with me.

The plan was for me to read through the whole book and comment on anything that may need a tweak here or there, but my chronic pain condition reared its ugly head, putting me out of commission for a few months during which I could barely keep up with my Brave Writer classes. I felt horrible (and sooooo disappointed!) at not being able to assist more with this wonderful book, but, really, Shannon didn't need my help. She writes truly and deeply regarding our daily walk of faith with wise insight and profound grace, using Austen's prayers and characters to illustrate her points beautifully. Shannon has struck a truly wonderful balance of all the aspects I had hoped for when I first learned about this project.

Shannon tells us:

Out of my sincere respect for Jane Austen and her legacy, I have always felt a certain weight of responsibility to do justice to the words and spirit of her novels as I write my sequels and spin-offs. How much heavier that responsibility becomes when the right handling of God’s words is at stake!
So I certainly didn’t take lightly the idea of writing a scripture-based, Austen-inspired devotional. After all, who was I to presume to teach the Bible? It’s true that, through years of study, I had accumulated considerable knowledge about the subject matter – Jane’s Austen’s work as well as scripture – but it’s not like I was either a genuine scholar or a model Christian with all the answers to life’s struggles.

God is gracious, however, and He often chooses to use very ordinary people for His purposes. I trust that’s what I experienced as I wrote this devotional because I never lacked for inspiration.

My goal for this devotional was simple: that in some way readers would be blessed and God glorified. With that, I began, taking one small bite at a time – one small section of one of Austen’s prayers for each segment. Then I waited expectantly to see where inspiration would take me. 

Sometimes a related scripture reference would next come to mind, and then an Austen illustration would follow. Sometimes it happened the other way around. Occasionally it was something else and altogether surprising!

Here’s the opening to a segment entitled Eye on the Sparrow – a line from JA’s prayer and what follows:

…we know that we are alike before Thee, & under thine Eye.
For each of these devotional segments, I look for inspiration in the day’s prayer petition. I ask that God would direct me about which truth to illuminate and what Austen illustration to use. This time, the phrase “under thine eye” immediately jumped out at me. But then I wasn’t sure I heard the rest correctly because what came to mind amounted to drawing a parallel between God and Lady Catherine de Bourgh!
Are you shocked? Believe me, so was I. But it has to do with that line in Pride and Prejudice that says that nothing was beneath this great Lady’s attention. For now, you’ll just have to take my word for the fact that it all makes sense in the end!

In some ways, this style of working isn’t so very different from the way I write a novel. Rather than having a fully developed outline like some writers do, with every scene carefully plotted and all the questions answered ahead of time, I normally start with a general idea and just see where the creative process takes me – a thrilling but risky way to proceed. Although it’s never happened yet, I realize that I could get close to the end only to discover the story doesn’t work at all. Then I’d have to throw out weeks or even months’ worth of work.

But in the case of this devotional, I knew I was in good hands. God is faithful, and when He calls, He also equips. He never left me dangling in midair with no way to finish. My safety net was His Word and the Holy Spirit my guide. When I put in the work, the elements of the devotional fell beautifully into place. With such good material (I used all 6 of Jane Austen’s novels and passages from 31 books of the Bible!), I couldn’t go far wrong. I hope you agree and that you’ll enjoy Prayer & Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional.

Prayer & Praise is available at Amazon in Paperback, Kindle, and KU. The introduction and 2+ segments of the devotional are available there to preview with the “Look Inside” feature.

The back cover blurb reads:

Did you know that Jane Austen wrote prayers in addition to her six classic novels? She was not only a woman of celebrated humor, intellect, and insight; she was a woman of faith.

Prayer & Praise is a treasure-trove of thought-provoking messages inspired by the lines of Austen’s three preserved prayers. Atop a solid foundation of scripture, these 50 devotional segments (each finishing with prayer and praise) enlist familiar characters and situations from Austen novels to illustrate spiritual principles–in creative, often surprising, ways! 

Which one of Austen’s characters developed a god complex? Who was really pulling Henry Crawford’s strings? Where do we see examples of true repentance, a redeemer at work, light overcoming darkness? With a Biblical perspective, Austen’s beloved stories reveal new lessons about life, truth, hope, and faith.

* * * * *

I hope that you all will enjoy reading, pondering, and praying through this devotional half as much as I plan to!! 

Thank you, Shannon, for sharing your latest release with us!! 

Soli Deo Gloria,

Friday, November 1, 2019

A Joyous All Saints' Day!!


Revised from the Archives...

Aaaah, one of the most joyous holy days of the year -- All Saints' Day! On this day, we celebrate all of the holy people who, for the past two thousand years, have followed Christ with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. This pilgrim pathway we walk in not an untrod road; Christians have walked this path, this Way, for two millennia and have given us encouragement, warnings, exhortation, and, most of all, the example of a beautifully Christ-led life. As Saint Paul taught the Church in Philippi, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:9, my emphasis). As Saint Paul exhorts the Church to follow his human example as a follower of Christ, so may we also look back through the ages to the examples of other saints, other holy people, and draw encouragement and lessons from their lives. 

The term "Saints" seem to raise the hackles of many evangelicals -- but it doesn't have to be that way. The Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and the "High Church" Anglicans seem to have the corner on the Saints of the Church, and many, if not most, of the Protestant community (especially evangelicals) misunderstand the concept and importance of Saints. Many believe, as I used to, that mistaken Christians pray *to* the Saints rather than praying to God. We'll get to that idea in a few minutes.

First of all, what is a "saint"? The Oxford Dictionary of Current English states that a saint is: 1) a holy or good person whom Christians believe will go to heaven after death. 2) a person of great goodness who is declared to be a saint by the Church after death. 3) (informal) a very good or kind person.

So, basically, if we love the Lord and have asked Him to live in our hearts, then we are saints! We see this use of "saint" often in the New Testament, especially in Saint Paul's Epistles.

Then there are the extraordinary saints, those who have lived lives of exemplary obedience to God, often to the death. The Church has designated these special people as "Saints." I find their stories extremely interesting and valuable in my own Christian life. In fact, I purchased a beautiful coffee table book called One Hundred Saints. The text is Butler's Lives of the Saints (1759), and it is gorgeously illustrated with artwork depicting each particular Saint's life. Some of my family and friends have wondered at my having such a book, but when I tell them that I purchased it at Bob Jones University, their objections are usually quelled. (Few people know that Bob Jones University has the largest collection of Christian art in the world outside of the Vatican, including room after room full of depictions of Saints and an entire room devoted to Byzantine icons, my favorites!) Although the artwork is breathtakingly beautiful, it is the text of the Saints' lives that captivate me most.

When I read about a particular Saint and their devotion (and often martyrdom) to Christ, I find that I am encouraged in dealing with my own difficulties. These Saints faced far more treacherous problems than I will likely be called upon to face, yet they demonstrate their love for Christ in remarkable ways through the strength of His Spirit. The stories of the Saints point me to Jesus, where my attention should be, and away from myself. Their examples glorify God and encourage me in loving and serving others in His Spirit.

Many believe that Catholic and Orthodox Christians "pray to the saints." In fact, some of their prayers sound very much like they are doing exactly that. But when I asked my Catholic friends about praying to the Saints, they gently corrected my misunderstanding. They replied that when Catholics "pray" to a Saint, they are asking that Saint to pray FOR them, just as we evangelicals might ask a close friend or a pastor to pray for us.

Then I asked, "Why would people in heaven pray? Aren't they in eternal bliss, not to be disturbed by sorrow, etc.? My Catholic friends replied with a Scripture reference: Revelation 5:8 which shows Saint John watching the Saints offer up their prayers to the Throne of Heaven. Well, for whom are the Saints praying? They can't be praying for people in heaven as they have no need of prayer. So the Saints must be praying for those still on earth, right? Yes, we pray to the Father and to the Son, but we also marshall our prayers by asking friends to pray for us, right? So why not ask someone (such as a Saint) to pray for us when they are right there in the Presence of our Father?

It makes sense to me, at least.

So the Saints inspire us to love God and others, and to show that love in ways that glorify Christ. If we want to, we can ask them for prayer, just as we would ask a dear friend or leader.

The Collect (a prayer to be prayed collectively, not only by a congregation but throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion) for All Saints' Day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is as follows (and is to be prayed daily throughout the Octave (for eight days, through next Thursday):

O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And here is a more modern rendition of 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. 

The Epistle Reading for this Holy Day can be found in seventh chapter of the Revelation to St. John, starting in the second verse. (Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17) 

The Gospel Reading for All Saints' Day is written in the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, starting in the first verse. (Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes).

All Souls' Day (November 2)

As I read in Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest

"There is no such thing as a private life -- 'a world within a world' -- for a man or woman who is brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ's sufferings. God breaks up the private life of His saints, and makes it a thoroughfare for the world on the one hand and for Himself on the other." ("Ye Are Not Your Own," November 1)

And as I also read in The Crozier Connection, the newsletter of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Mid-America Diocese of the Anglican Communion of North America for November of this year a letter from our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Dr. Ray R. Sutton: 

"Hebrews 12:1 specifically says, 'Seeing we also are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.' Clouds are obviously in the sky. Yet these are clouds in another world. They are heavenly clouds. These clouds are filled with 'witnesses,' those who have died in Christ. They are there, but they are not dead. They are alive through faith in the Resurrected, Living Jesus Christ. And significantly, we are surrounded by them, which means somehow we who believe in Christ in the present, are with them; and they are with us.... We are together in the present in a mysterious way. As such they of old are our contemporaries."

For Christians, all of our lives entwine around each others'. No one is separate; no one is alone. And today, All Saints' Day, is one day in which we can formally and joyfully celebrate our union as brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages. 

And, as the daily Saint-of-the-Day e-mail from reminds us, this Solemnity doesn't just mark those Saints who have gone through the long process of being proclaimed "Saint" by the Roman Catholic Church; rather, "Today’s feast honors the obscure as well as the famous—the saints each of us have known." Amen and Amen!

A blessed All Saints' Day to you!

Soli Deo Gloria,


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