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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