Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Blessed Pentecost to You!!

An Eastern Orthodox icon of the Christian Pentecost. This is the Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. At the bottom is an allegorical figure, called Kosmos, which symbolizes the world. (Source: Wikipedia)

A re-post from the Archives as I attempt to keep up with my wonderful Brave Writer families and students in Literary Analysis: Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing...

I just do not understand something. Why don't evangelical churches celebrate Pentecost? Because of a family emergency last night which meant I didn't get to bed until after 3:00 this morning, I was not able to attend church this morning. Thus, I have no idea if this year was different and our church, Pine Valley Community Church, celebrated Pentecost during the church service. I hope so! It broke my heart not to attend, but I really could not move until after church was over, and even past that. 

Scripture tells us that the Gift Jesus promised His disciples has arrived at Pentecost: the Holy Spirit. We read Christ's promise in the 14th chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, beginning at the 15th verse:
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.... 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you..." (ESV).

Then on the Feast of the Pentecost, with Jerusalem filled with Jews from around the known world, Christ fulfilled his promise fifty days after His Resurrection. We read in the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles:
2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.' 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13 But others mocking said, "They are filled with new wine” (ESV).

Peter then preaches to the astounded visitors to Jerusalem (also in the second chapter of Acts), quoting the prophecy of Joel hundreds of years past as well as passages from the Psalms of David while also relating what he and the other disciples witnessed of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection as well as the many sightings of Christ following His resurrection from the dead until His ascension to the right hand of the Living God. Peter concludes:
"32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing" (Acts 2, ESV).
And then we read the response of the crowd listening to Peter:
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2, ESV).

The events of this Pentecost are simply incredible, and it is from this amazing Gift of the Comforter, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit of God, that the Gospel of Christ first began to spread and the Church began to form. Why evangelical churches do not regularly celebrate Pentecost is a mystery to me. It always lands on a Sunday and thus it can be easily celebrated with Scripture readings, with praise songs and hymns about the Holy Spirit, with sermons focused on the Holy Spirit, and perhaps even with baptisms since approximately 3,000 people were baptized and added to the Church on the first Pentecost after the Resurrection in Acts 2. Pentecost is a Biblical holy day, and we can celebrate it Biblically, too, with "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [our] heart[s]" (Ephesians 5:19, ESV).

In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, one of the Collects (collective or public prayers) for Pentecost reads thus:

Almighty and most merciful God, grant, we beseech thee, that by the indwelling of thy Holy Spirit, we may be enlightened and strengthened for thy service ; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
And the Book of Common Prayer 2011's Collect for Pentecost (also in the sidebar of this blog):
"O GOD, you teach the hearts of your faithful people by sending us the light of your Holy Spirit; By your Spirit, give us right judgment in all things, so that we may rejoice forever in his holy comfort; Through the victory of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and rules with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen." (References: John 14.26; Acts 2.1-4; Philippians 1.9-10; Acts 9.31)
The Anglican Church has an interesting name for Pentecost: Whitsunday which comes from the white garments worn by those who are baptized this day, just as over 3,000 people were baptized on that first Pentecost in Acts 2. In the above hyperlink to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry of "Whitsunday," an interesting fact is given:
Whitsunday, as a Christian feast, dates back to the first century, although there is no evidence that it was observed, as there is in the case of Easter; the passage in 1 Corinthians 16:8 probably refers to the Jewish feast. This is not surprising, for the feast, originally of only one day's duration, fell on a Sunday; besides it was so closely bound up with Easter that it appears to be not much more than the termination of Paschal tide [Eastertide].

So why is this important Biblical Holy Day, celebrated from the very earliest days of the Christian Church, hardly mentioned in evangelical churches, including my own? I don't know. I simply don't get it. But I pray that the evangelical churches will indeed start to celebrate Biblical Holy Days more and more in the future, pulling on the rich, 2,000-year heritage of Pentecost/Whitsunday.

I close with this quotation (also in the sidebar of this blog) on the importance of Pentecost:

"Bethlehem was God with us, Calvary was God for us, and Pentecost is God in us."

~Robert Baer

Wishing you a blessed Pentecost,

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Blessed Celebration of the Ascension!

Updated from the Archives...

Today is the Sixth Sunday After Easter, also known as Sunday after Ascension Day which was celebrated on Thursday. Ascension Day is celebrated forty days after Christ's Resurrection when He gave His final earthly encouragement and directions to His disciples before Ascending to the right hand of the Father. The Epistle reading for the Feast of the Ascension is from Acts 1:

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (English Standard Version)

The Gospel reading relates the same event, also told by Luke at the close of his gospel account:

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.(ESV)
"Ascension" by Benjamin West
The Collect for Ascension Day from The Book of Common Prayer 2011 which Father Keith Acker of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity modernized and I helped to edit:   

ALMIGHTY God, as we believe your only eternal Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into heaven; Grant that we may also ascend into heaven in heart and mind until, at the last, we may dwell with him forever; Who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and always. Amen.

Father Bosco Peters, an Anglican priest in New Zealand who runs the amazing site, posted a wonderful reflection on Ascension can be read in its entirety here: Ascension Day.

On Twitter, Father Peters noted that Ascension Day is a holiday in several European countries, such as France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc. Yet we in America hardly even know of this Biblical holy day, at least among American evangelicals. Part of Eastertide which lasts until Pentecost (just one more week!), Ascension is obviously noted in Scripture as being forty days after Christ's Resurrection. 

This holy day has been celebrated since the early years of the Church, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
The observance of this feast is of great antiquity. Although no documentary evidence of it exists prior to the beginning of the fifth century, St. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time. Frequent mention of it is made in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles. The Pilgrimage of Sylvia (Peregrinatio Etheriae) speaks of the vigil of this feast and of the feast itself, as they were kept in the church built over the grotto in Bethlehem in which Christ was born (Duchesne, Christian Worship, 491-515). It may be that prior to the fifth century the fact narrated in the Gospels was commemorated in conjunction with the feast of Easter or Pentecost.... Representations of the mystery are found in diptychs and frescoes dating as early as the fifth century.
You may read the full article from the Catholic Encyclopedia here: Feast of the Ascension.

"Ascension" by Giotto di Bondone, 1305

I just don't really understand why American evangelical churches do not celebrate these Biblical festivals, or at least Pentecost if not Ascension. Pentecost lands on a Sunday every time, so there's really no excuse not to at least mention it...if not read the Scriptures recounting the gift of the Holy Spirit to the waiting disciples and perhaps even preach on the subject. Yes, every day of our earthly existence should be a celebration of what Christ has done for us, and every Sunday should indeed be a celebration of the Resurrection power and love of Jesus. But noting and celebrating these other Biblical holy days seems like a wonderful idea to me, one in which we can walk in the footsteps of our Risen Lord, glorifying Him who first loved us.

Enjoy a blessed Octave of the Ascension,

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Finally, Some Book Reviews!

I's been a long time since I have posted a set of book reviews; in fact, I think I've only posted one since the beginning of the year. I've been very busy with family and with work, but I have still been reading...but not always reviewing. Reading is my rest, my place to put aside everyday concerns and worries and allow myself to travel to times and places I've never experienced, to meet new people and, often, help solve a mystery or two. And I'm definitely a sucker for a good mystery series!! Here are some of the books I've been reading this winter and spring:

NOTE: I save "5" ratings for classics and such. How can one compare a modern mystery novel with Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice? So a "4" means that it truly was an absolutely enjoyable book and one that I definitely recommend...but it's not on the same level as Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, or the Brontë sisters. ;)

Piece of Work Piece of Work by Staci Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book un-put-downable!! I stayed up reading it until 2 AM despite having a very early alarm set for the next morning. The characters are compelling, the humor hits just the right tone, and the romance is beautiful. I loved the backdrop of art at New York's Met, a place I have long desired to see, and I know just enough art history to truly appreciate the research the author had to do in order to make this novel work well. In fact, art is practically a character of its own!!

I only give 5-star ratings to classics and absolutely outstanding new books that I find particularly compelling and that may become classics in the future, so I'd probably give this book a 4.5 if I could. A wonderful read indeed!!

Since the other books in this series may not have the same art history background, I'm not sure I will continue with the series. But we'll see!! Part of the next book is featured at the end of this one, and I may go back and read it to see what I think.... ;)

The Gilded Shroud The Gilded Shroud by Elizabeth Bailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A terrific mystery, the first of the Lady Fan series, which really kept me on my toes! I had my suspicions as to "whodunnit," and I was right, but the certainty didn't come until the reveal at the end. The future Lady Fan is an amazing character: curious, highly intelligent and logical, with a propensity to find humor at the oddest times and in the weirdest places.

The widowed Mrs. Ottavia Draycott starts as a "substitute" companion to the Dowager Marchioness of Polbrook, but when the Marchioness is found strangled in her bed, the Marquis, son to the dowager, who had left for France in the night, was suspected by all. Ottavia supports the family through the tragedy, revealing her keen insight into human nature and her sharp sense of humor.

The Marquis' younger brother, Lord Francis Fanshawe, becomes Ottavia's partner-in-crime-solving as they seek to clear the absent Marquis. A terrific mystery, steeped in the vagaries of human nature and the keen mind and compassionate heart of a new heroine who is to be admired by mystery-loving readers.

The Deathly Portent The Deathly Portent by Elizabeth Bailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful second book in the Lady Fan mystery series, this novel finds the newly-married Lord and Lady Fan stuck in a small village due to an incident with their carriage. They find that the blacksmith who could repair their broken axle was killed the night before. While the villagers accept the news without question, Lady Fan quickly sees signs of a deliberate death: murder.

Then Lord and Lady Fan discover that the villagers all blame one woman, unfortunately named Cassandra, for the death of the blacksmith, believing that "the witch" who had foretold the death must be the one who killed him. The new reverend, who arrived in town only the day before, tries to save Cassie by telling the villagers that there are no witches, but the backward community believes none of it.

Then when another murder occurs, also foretold by Cassie, the young woman's situation looks more and more precarious. Can Lady Fan discover the true murderer before the village burns young Cassie at the stake?

I'll definitely be ordering the next in this series...

Messenger of Truth Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another insightful mystery (the fourth, in fact) in the Maisie Dobbs series! Maisie takes on a new client sent to her by Inspector Stratton: a woman whose artist brother died accidentally while preparing to hang the secret piece d' resistance of his much-anticipated art show. The painting--or likely, series of paintings, are nowhere to be found, and Stratton, who declared the death an accident, sends the grieving yet questioning twin sister of the deceased to Maisie.

Maisie isn't certain that the death was a murder, but she quickly works her way into the family of the deceased, finding much pain from the Great War (as Maisie also experienced) in this very bohemian and artistic family. She quickly tracks down clues through her superior training and keen insight while also dealing with her personal life as well as the health of her assistant's family during these hard years of the early '30s when so many are without work and thus without the necessities of life-or even basic medical care.

Maisie follows the path to discover much amiss and several possible motives, unearthing some of her own motivations in her private life herself.

I am addicted to this series and will be ordering the next book in the series from the library as soon as possible! In fact, the next book is already here, sitting in my "to read" library stack. I imagine I'll be starting it later this week. ;)

The House on Tradd Street The House on Tradd Street by Karen White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A splendid first book in the Tradd Street mystery series, set in modern-day Charleston. Realtor Melanie Middleton goes to the centuries-old Vanderhorst home to speak to the aged owner, Nevin, about selling the home for him. While there, Melanie stifles the fact that she sees the figure of a woman pushing a swing in the garden-a transparent figure. Melanie finds out that Nevin's father and her own grandfather had been best friends in the 1920s but had fought and never seen each other again when Nevin's mother apparently ran off with another man, a known bootlegger.

When Nevin dies just a few days after meeting Melanie, she is astounded that he has left the famed Vanderhorst home to her as he had no other family. Thus Melanie inherits a haunted house that is falling down around her ears, enough money to restore it to its former splendor, and several mysteries, including the disappearance of Nevin's beloved mother. In addition, her alcoholic father returns to her life, and a true crime author researching Nevin's mother's abandonment of her son and husband ends up getting involved as well. It's a terrific mystery with many twists and turns and quirky characters--and I've already ordered the second book in the series from the library. :)

The Girl On Legare Street The Girl On Legare Street by Karen White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And here's that second book I mentioned above! It's a terrific continuation of the Tradd Street series. In this second book, Melanie is now confronted with the presence of her mother who abandoned her when Melanie was only seven, and Melanie, now approaching 40, has not seen or heard from her mother since. But when her mother seeks to repurchase the ancestral home of the Prioleau family, one of the centuries-old Charleston families, Melanie is drawn in as both realtor and reluctant daughter to assist. But mysteries seem to abound in this house and its past, powers even stronger than the vanquished spirits at Tradd Street. And Melanie's relationship with Jack becomes even more complicated with the arrival of Rebecca, a reporter and one of Jack's old flames. But is Rebecca working with them or against them? How can Melanie work through her complex feelings about her mother after just doing so with her alcoholic (but now sober) father? Lots of great puzzles and complexities in this tale are tinged with romance and definitely with the paranormal as this mystery unfolds.

I'm nearly halfway through the third book in the series which I just checked out this morning from our library. I love downloading e-books straight from the library onto my Kindle!! It's magic!! :D

* * * * *

So these are some of the books I've been reading. I've still been making my way through several Austen variations, continuations, etc., but I haven't yet taken the time to review them. I'm definitely on a paranormal mystery bent right now, and I'm loving it!!

Happy reading!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Christ Is Risen! The Lord Is Risen, Indeed!! Alleluia!!

"Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people, and hallelujah is our song." 
~Blessed Pope John Paul II

Icon of the Resurrection of Christ, Eastern Orthodox
"On Easter Day, the veil between time and eternity thins to gossamer."
~Douglas Horton

"Resurrection of the Christ" ~Fra Angelico

"There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that His might could render void:
Thou--Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed."
~Emily Bronte
"Resurrection" by Carl Heinrich Bloch
"No pain, no palm;
No thorn, no throne;
No gall, no glory;
No cross, no crown."
~William Penn

"Resurrection" by Van Dyke

      "Christ is risen! We are risen! Shed upon us heavenly grace,
Rain and dew and gleams of glory from the brightness of your face;
That with hearts in heaven dwelling, we on earth might fruitful be,
And by angel hands be gathered, and be ever, Lord, with thee."
~Christopher Wordsworth

ALMIGHTY God, who through your only eternal Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life; Grant that, by your mighty power going before us, we may die daily to sin and live with him forever in the glory of his resurrection; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Acts 2.24; John 9.25; 1 Peter 1.3; Hebrews 2.14-15; James 1.4)

Wishing you all a joyous Resurrection Day and a glorious Eastertide!!

Soli Deo Gloria,

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Halfway through Lent

This week marks the halfway point through this Lenten season, the 40 days (not counting Sundays which are always celebrations of the Resurrection) in which we focus on the life of Christ, culminating in the events of Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. 

In our Anglican tradition, we hold a Messianic Seder during Holy Week, usually on the Tuesday after Palm Sunday. We observe a non-kosher Passover with lessons on how Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the disciples, including the Messianic significance of many of Christ's words and actions as read in the Gospels. 

This Lent I am reading Show Me the Way by Henri Nouwen, a collection of his readings designed for the 46 days of Lent (Sundays included), each of which begin with a Scripture verse, one or two short selections of Nouwen's writings that relate to that verse, and then concludes with a prayer written by Nouwen. I am filling up page after page in my commonplace book with quotations from this book; it's simply amazing!! It's also out-of-print, so I am using a library copy, but I will definitely invest in my own copy when I can; this one's definitely a keeper! 

From the "On Lent" page of this blog...

Lent, which comes from the Germanic word for “springtime,” can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking a spiritual inventory then cleaning out those things which hinder our relationship with Jesus Christ and our love and service with Him. Lent is really a time of revival in liturgical churches as God's people prepare to celebrate the Resurrection with depth and significance. Our Lenten disciplines are to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit and help us become more like Christ, not in our own power, but in His. Eastern Christians call this process theosis which Saint Athanasius describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.” 

For the first 300 years of the Church, the Resurrection was the only feast Christians celebrated. So spiritual preparation for this special Feast was and is very important, especially as the Resurrection Celebration was (and remains to this day in liturgical churches) a time to prepare Christians for baptism. During these first centuries of the Church, just a day or two of prayerful preparation for the Church as a whole was set aside; the full 40 days of Lent was not practiced until the early fourth century. The focus of Lent is spiritual renewal through the disciplines of fasting and prayer, study and giving. 

Fasting – Fasting can be not only from certain foods but also from activities that may distract us from our relationship with Christ, including television, computers, video games, etc. The time spent on these activities should be turned into time with God: in prayer, in His Word, in reading spiritual books, in fellowship, prayer, and study with other believers. Lent represents a time of spiritual training that can aid us, with Christ's help, “to overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). In Lent, we are able to learn, examine, and get under control our material excesses that can lead us away from God. Remember, Lent is not a diet; Lent is about spiritual results, not material ones. While losing a few pounds may be a nice side benefit, all fasting should be done for the glory of God and spiritual growth. 

Prayer – Lent is an excellent time to develop or strengthen a discipline of daily prayer. Focus not only on intercession but on the ACTS model of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. I like praying through the Book of Psalms during Lent, praying two in the morning and two at night (and using Psalm 119 as a whole day's worth). I also like praying through the Gospel of John during Lent – not just reading it but truly, truly praying it and about it. 

Scripture Reading – When facing temptation in the desert (the basis for the 40 days of Lent), Jesus relied on Scripture to counter the wiles of the devil. As we well know, God's Word is also a formidable weapon for us as well – it's the “sword of the Spirit,” the only offensive weapon mentioned in Ephesians 6. If you aren't in the habit of daily Scripture reading and meditation, or if your children are not yet, Lent is an excellent time to develop the discipline and joy of reading God's Word daily. It is said that it takes 21 days to develop a good habit, and Lent provides us with almost twice that amount of time to develop godly habits of daily prayer, daily Scripture reading, memorizing His Word, and listening to God in His Word and in prayer. If you have already established this discipline, perhaps use Lent to deeply study a certain book of the Bible would be an excellent idea.

Giving – Lent is not just about “giving something up”; it's about putting something positive in its place. The best way to remove a vice is to cultivate a virtue. Lent has been a traditional time of helping the poor and doing acts of love and mercy. While as Christians, we have this calling to giving all year long, Lent is a good time to examine ways to get involved and to make resolutions to actually do them. Perhaps Lent is time to get involved with God's Extended Hand if you aren't already. Or do something as a family to raise funds for a missionary or a Christian charity helping in Haiti like Samaritan's Purse. 

Obviously, Lent is NOT the only time we can practice these spiritual disciplines; we should indeed be practicing them all year long. But Lent presents us the opportunity to do a “deep cleaning,” to focus more fully and completely on weak areas of our spiritual walk. Prayer before Lent begins is very important, asking God to reveal to us where He wants to work on our hearts during this year's Lent. 

Lent is a season that reminds us to repent and ask God to re-center our lives around Him, with our priorities straight and our hearts forgiven and cleansed. Yes, we should do so each day of the year. But sin is an insidious thing, slipping in here, taking a little ground there, and, wrapped up in our busy lives, we often do not notice the darkness creeping further and further into our souls. Ash Wednesday and Lent provide us with a time set apart to present ourselves before God, asking His help and guidance in doing a “spiritual spring cleaning,” a fresh chance to say “Yes” to the Lover of our Souls who created us, who made us in His own image. Lent is the time for a restoration project that will reveal the beauty of God's design for us, demonstrating yet again for us, a forgetful and leaky people, the scale, proportion, and priorities intended for us by our Maker. 

Wishing you all a Holy Lent,

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Celebrating Saint Patrick, Missionary to Ireland

Art © by Marcy Hall at Rabbit Room Arts
Updated from the Archives...

I have often written about Saint Patrick, one of my favorite saints, on this blog. Rather than rewriting, I thought that in remembrance of this amazing man of God I would direct you to some of my posts of years past. 

So feel free to join me in remembering and celebrating Saint Patrick, Apostle to Ireland, with these posts:

Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick, British Missionary to Ireland

The Breastplate Prayer of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick's Prayer for the Faithful

One of my favorite sermons ever was one by our former youth/worship pastor, now Pastor of La Vina Community Church in Miami, Rollo Casiple, who preached on Saint Patrick during Advent, of all times. But he helped us to visualize so clearly Saint Patrick's relaying of the Gospel to the pagan Irish king that I almost felt that I was there at Slane Castle myself on that Resurrection Sunday 1500+ years ago. Of course, having just watched U2's Slane Castle concert on DVD earlier that week aided my visualization greatly, but that's another post... ;) 

In today's Life for Leaders online devotional, Tim Yee writes this about Saint Patrick:

"Though much of St. Patrick’s life has a legendary quality, his manuscript The Confession of Saint Patrick does give us a glimpse into the man’s life and character. One aspect becomes clear: his humility. He opens with, 'I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many….' Even though Patrick could take credit for bringing thousands of former pagans into the Christian family, he did not embrace a 'savior' mentality. Instead, he knew that only the true Savior, our Lord Jesus, can bring powerful transformation that lasts."

Although Saint Patrick lived more than 1500 years ago, he provides a powerful example of a missions-oriented leader for us all, even today.  

From the 2011 Book of Common Prayer, a Collect for "A Saint's Day":

Almighty God, who calls us to faith in you and has surrounded us by so great a cloud of witnesses; Encouraged by the good examples of holy Saint Patrick, grant that we may run with perseverance the race that lies before us and at the end reach your eternal joy; Through him, who is the founder and perfecter of our faith, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and rules, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Hebrews 12.1-2)
So I wish you all a blessed remembrance and joyous celebration of the life, ministry, and prayers of this incredible missionary. May we serve our Lord with similar devotion, submission, courage, and bravery as we walk in the footsteps of Saint Patrick and countless Christians along the Pilgrim Pathway that leads to eternal communion with Christ our Lord.

God's blessings be upon each of you this Saint Patrick's Day, my friends,

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Sunday Before Lent

From the Archives...

Today is the Sunday preceding Lent, and it's the time I set aside to ponder and pray for God's direction for me this Lent.

Although I've attended evangelical churches for the past twenty-five years, I've practiced Lent in one form or another since college. Even though they had both been raised Nazarene, my former roommates had taught me quite a bit about Lent in college, and for my first Lent I gave up my prime addiction: soda. Diet Coke was my coffee; I was drinking my first can at seven in the morning and downed them throughout the day to keep myself alert during classes and the long drive home as a commuter student at the Nazarene university I attended. The wonderful thing was that after Lent, soda upset my stomach, so I've pretty much been on a soda fast since college--drinking water and tea is far healthier!

Lent is a time for spiritual housecleaning for me. I pray over what has a hold on my life in a possibly unhealthy way, and I ask God to loosen this thing's hold on me so that I can live a more balanced life, one devoted to loving and serving Him. In past years I've fasted from television, desserts, gluten, Facebook, fan fiction stories, reading novels, and other often non-traditional items. During each Lent, I don't share here what I am fasting from, but the idea is to not only practice self-denial and to free up time for spending with God that would be spent on less God-centered pursuits, but to offer up something I really enjoy to God as a sacrifice, allowing me to focus on Him and on how He desires to mold me into the image of His Son.

Renovare is a wonderful group that focuses on growing and maturing our relationship with God, and they sent out an article entitled "Why Lent?" which I have copied in part below:
"Why Lent" by Kai Nilsen - More than a decade ago, I gathered with a group of local pastors, representing many denominations, to discuss a worship service we would offer to galvanize our community around a specific outreach initiative. As we were agreeing on a date for the worship service, one of my pastoral colleagues reminded us that the date we had selected was on a Wednesday night in the season of Lent. He wondered if that would be an issue for some of the liturgical churches. 
The Senior Pastor of the local independent Baptist church was quick to respond. “Lent? What’s that? Are you talking about the fuzzy stuff I often find in my belly button?” (Lint!)
We had quite a laugh. Yet, his comment exposed the gulf that lies between the current streams of the Christian tradition when thinking about and practicing the rhythms of the church year. Ironically, ten years later, this same Baptist church created a daily Advent devotional for their congregation in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Liturgical Renewal? Possibly. I would suggest that many parts of the modern church movement, having sold out to the heresy of “new is always better,” are awakening to the beauty of ritual and the recurring rhythms of the church that embed the life of God deeply within our souls. The season of Lent is one of those recurring rhythms that ritualizes the beauty of God’s life-giving, redemptive work in Jesus’ death and resurrection. 
Though the concept of Lent, a season of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, was being articulated as early as the second century, the liturgical season of Lent seems to have taken form in the 4th century. The Council of Nicea (325) called for two gatherings of the synods, one of which was to be held before the forty days of preparation for Easter. By the end of the 4th century, the forty days of Lent had become integrated into the yearly rhythm of the Christian community as they prepared, primarily through the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer, for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. 
The number forty has both biblical and spiritual significance. We recall the forty years of wandering in the wilderness for the people of Israel. Moses communed with God on the top of Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, eating no bread nor drinking water, as he inscribed the words of the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Exodus 34:28). Elijah journeyed to Mount Horeb for forty days and forty nights without food nor drink (I Kings 19:8). We also remember Jesus being led by the Spirit, following his baptism, into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:1-2). In each case, whether forty years or forty days, the number forty spoke not only to a span of time but also a span of God’s ongoing presence experienced in trial and temptation, through accumulated wisdom and insight, and by God’s sustaining grace and love. 
This is the forty day journey of Lent. It is marked in days but lived in grace. 
For much of the Christian community, the forty days begins with Ash Wednesday (though the Eastern Orthodox church counts forty days back from Palm Sunday) and continues through the Holy Week stories of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Sundays are not included in the forty days since they are always, even in the season of Lent, a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. 
The image of Ash Wednesday, ashes marked in the sign of the cross on our foreheads, invites us into the season with the proper attitude: humility. The ashes recall God’s words to Adam following his transgression of the boundary around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) 
For all our railing against it, our mortality is uncovered once again. We cannot deny. We are dependent on the God who breathed life into the dust of the earth and created humanity. We are not the masters of our universe. We have and will continue to fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In humility we are marked with the cross — the symbol of violent death and the gateway to victorious life, and humbly say to God, “In life and death, we are yours.” 
So what about today? Culturally, we are distracted by many things. If we do not pay attention to our souls, our capacity to be open to God’s creative work in our lives is diminished. The season of Lent presents an opportunity to reflect on the state of our souls before God, the contour of our lives with others, and, above all, the prevailing promise of Jesus’ resurrected life as it breathes new life, new courage, new hope in us and through us, for the sake of the world. 
It is no coincidence that the Anglo-Saxon root word for Lent means “spring.” Pressing in to the season of Lent is a creative exercise in God’s possibility of re-birth for you, for the neighbor, for the whole of creation.... 

I have written many posts on Lent; check out these links to some of my posts if you'd like to read more about this practice--and how I personally have practiced it. I also gave a talk on Lent for a ladies' Bible Study at Lake Murray Community Church several years ago; it's also linked under the header as well as right here: On Lent

Shrove Tuesday 2018
Ash Wednesday and Lent 2018
Keeping a Holy Lent 2016
Lent Begins Wednesday! 2014
Quotations for the Week and Lent 2012
On the Road to Calvary: Lent 2011
Ash Wednesday Retreat: Lent 2011
Lenten Reflection: Part 1 (2010)
Ash Wednesday: 2009
Evangelicals Seeking Ancient Paths (including Lent!)
Why Lent? Act 3 Ministries Article: Lent 2008
Ash Wednesday: 2008 (co-written with Pastor Stephen Sammons)
Lenten Reflections: 2007

The Collect from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 for this Sunday before Lent:
O LORD, you have taught us that all loveless actions are worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit to pour into our hearts the most excellent gift of love, which is the true bond of peace and all virtue, for without this love we are dead before you; Grant this for the sake of your only Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I find this quotation on repentance rather thought-provoking, and I thought I'd share it with you as our Quotation of the Week:
"Repentance is not some negative, life-denying gesture. In fact, repentance doesn't mean turning to a past way of thinking or doing at all. Repentance means turning to a new way. Repentance does not mean to change from what we are to what we were. It means to change from what we are to what we are going to be."  
~Mark Trotter, "A Lenten Reflection"

So as we prepare to enjoy our pancake dinner on Shrove Tuesday (otherwise known as Mardi Gras), we also pray for God's leading in this Lent. These forty days each year are difficult but precious as I do battle against myself with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, clenched firmly in my hand. But the Good News is this: we never have to battle alone once we are His. Christ our Brother fights with us and for us...thanks be to God!

Wishing you a blessed and holy Lenten season,

Monday, February 18, 2019

My Favorite Artist!!

Deposition from the Cross by Fra Angelico

Updated from the Archives...

Considering that my Master of Arts in English from Catholic University of San Diego was in Medieval Literature (with many courses taught by an amazing nun with a Harvard Ph.D.), it's not surprising that my favorite artist would also be from the medieval period.

Fra Angelico was born approximately the same year in which Chaucer died: 1400. Although he only lived fifty-some years, he produced an incredible body of artistic work.

Today the Church celebrates his Feast Day, and the following is from the "Saint of the Day" e-mail from

Monday, February 18, 2019
Blessed John of Fiesole
(c. 1400-1455)

The patron of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master. He joined the Dominicans at about age 20, taking the name Fra Giovanni. He eventually came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities or maybe the devotional tone of his works. 

He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, vivid colors and generous, lifelike figures. Michelangelo once said of Fra Angelico: “One has to believe that this good monk has visited paradise and been allowed to choose his models there.” Whatever his subject matter, Fra Angelico sought to generate feelings of religious devotion in response to his paintings. Among his most famous works are the Annunciation and Descent from the Cross as well as frescoes in the monastery of San Marco in Florence.

He also served in leadership positions within the Dominican Order. At one point Pope Eugenius approached him about serving as archbishop of Florence. Fra Angelico declined, preferring a simpler life. He died in 1455.

So let's take a look at some of his more famous works:

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
The Visitation by Fra Angelico
Madonna and Child by Fra Angelico
The Crucifixion by Fra Angelico
The Resurrection of the Christ by Fra Angelico

The last painting here was the one and only wallpaper I ever used on my first laptop computer. The colors, especially of the first three paintings, are still so vivid, and his figures are pre-Renaissance in their three-dimensionality versus the usual flat, two-dimensional work of the medieval period. 

So I hope that you will enjoy the work of this amazing medieval artist as much as I have and continue to do!

Artistically yours,


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