Friday, December 28, 2012

Fourth Week of Advent: God speaks to Unique People

Last Sunday was the Fourth Sunday of Advent. I meant to blog on Sunday, but Sunday blended into Monday, which was Christmas Eve, and suddenly it was Christmas, and now it's Christmas break...and I've just been enjoying the season--the time of the year and my situation of life.

We have young children, young enough to find Christmas exciting, but not so young that they wake us up at 6 in the morning. We were surprised to see a few snowflakes on the 26th, and all the children were able to put on their own warm clothing and rush outside, while I went back to bed. I like this stage of life. I liked the stage with cuddly little babies, and I'm sure I'll find things to love about whatever comes around the next calendar page, but for now, I am content.

And so, earlier this week, I wasn't blogging. I was enjoying just being me right here and right now. And that is what the Fourth Candle says to me, because Fourth Candle stands for John the Baptist.

John the Baptist lived a unique life, focused on God's calling. He didn't call others to live as he did, he just pointed them to Jesus. He looked odd, ate a limited diet, and lived in a remote location. I considered calling this post "God speaks to people who are weird"  because John the Baptist seems to be kind of a strange man, and I'm sure we can all identify with being a little odd in some way or another.

I chose the word "unique" instead, because what I see and admire most in John's life is that he was himself--the himself that God called him to be.

That is the message of the Fourth Candle. Be you. Be the you that God created you to be, in the place where God has placed you today.

Advent is all about God's Word--and now that you've heard it, He calls you to live it, in your own words and actions.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ten Christmas Hymns: Irish Christmas Blessing

Today's hymn comes from modern hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty. You can read the lyrics and download the recording here: This comes from their Christmas album, which I highly recommend you add to your Christmas collection!

An Irish Christmas Blessing

Now may the fragrance of His peace
Soar through your heart like the dove released
Hide in His wings oh, weary distant soul
He'll guide your spirit home

And may His love poured from on high
Flow to the depths of your deepest sigh
Oh come and drink from the only living stream
And on His shoulder lean

And may the hope that will not deceive
Through every pain bring eternal ease
There is no night that can steal the promises
His coming brings to us

So may His joy rush over you
Delight in the path He has called you to
May all your steps walk in Heaven's endless light
Beyond this Christmas night

Keith Getty and Kristyn Getty
Copyright © 2004 Thankyou Music/ Adm. by songs excl. UK & Europe, adm. by Kingsway Music.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ten Christmas Hymns: There's a Song in the Air

There’s a song in the air! There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a mother’s deep prayer and a baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
There’s a tumult of joy o’er the wonderful birth,
For the virgin’s sweet Boy is the Lord of the earth.
Ay! the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
In the light of that star lie the ages impearled;
And that song from afar has swept over the world.
Every hearth is aflame, and the beautiful sing
In the homes of the nations that Jesus is King!
We rejoice in the light, and we echo the song
That comes down through the night from the heavenly throng.
Ay! we shout to the lovely evangel they bring,
And we greet in His cradle our Savior and King!
—Josiah Holland, 1872

How are we echoing that song today?

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ten Christmas Hymns: O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
--Phillips Brooks, 1867

The hymnwriter speaks of Bethlehem's dark streets full of slumbering people, unaware of the party happening in the stable. While the heavenly host looked on, a mother, an adoptive father and a few shepherds welcomed the King. They knew the "great glad tidings”—and so do we!

Last year I attended a missions conference. I heard stories of Christians reaching out to victims of human trafficking in the United States. My friend Claudia talked about her ministry to local refugees from war-torn countries. Another lady told of a camp she is starting for troubled girls. We all sang praise choruses and hymns to the accompaniment of a local band of women known as the Chick Band. In the middle of a joyful song, I suddenly remembered where we were—a few blocks from the Las Vegas Strip. Vegas has a reputation as a very dark place (and we do have our share of darkness, as any city does), but here in the heart of Sin City we praised God and listened to reports of His work around the world. We celebrated the Everlasting Light.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, but I know this season may not as joyful and bright as you desire it to be. I pray that you will find a glimpse of the Everlasting Life.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ten Christmas Hymns: Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing:
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a Gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the Babe was born for you.
--Traditional Polish carol, translated to English by Edith M. Reed, 1921

Read the last two lines again, and imagine greeting the morrow—tomorrow—with that attitude. Jesus was born for You! God cares so much about you that He gave His son for You! 

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Ten Christmas Hymns: We Three Kings of Orient Are

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Chorus: O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshipping God on high.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.
--John H. Hopkins, Jr., 1857

Each gift was chosen for a reason—an illustration of the Messiah's identity and mission: He is a King, He is God, and He is our sacrifice. The Bible doesn't tell us how many men there were or who chose the gifts, but I love the idea this hymn suggests: perhaps each man choose a costly gift that he found meaningful. And then, though they each made a personal sacrifice, they shared the journey with each other.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ten Christmas Hymns: Awake, Arise Good Christians

Awake, arise good Christians, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born upon this day!
The self-same moon was shining as now is in the sky,
When a holy band of angels came down from God on high!

Chorus: Hosannah! Hosannah! To Jesus we'll sing,
Hosannah! Hosannah! Our Savior, our King.

Fear not, we bring glad tidings, for on this happy morn,
The promised One, the Savior, in Bethlehem's town was born!”
Up rose the simple shepherds, all with a joyful mind,
Then let us go in haste,” they say, “This Holy Child to find.”

And like unto the shepherds, we wander far and near,
And bid you wake, good Christians, the joyful news to hear;
Awake, arise, good Christians! Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born upon this day.
--Author Unknown

I love the phrase, "Let nothing you dismay, remember Christ..." When life is tough my friends remind me of Christ's promises and faithfulness. When life is great, we celebrate our blessings together.

If you're looking for a recording of this song, I recommend Kate Rusby and her album Sweet Bells. I bought it at Itunes.

Between now and Christmas Day, I'm posting the hymns I quoted in Practicing Glory. This is a book for any season, but all the hymns are Christmas carols. These are such beautiful songs--they deserve more than a once-a-year reading. I quoted "Awake, Arise Good Christians" in the chapter on Fellowship.

Breakfast on the Beach

In Margaret Feinberg's soon-to-be-released book Wonderstruck, she shares a special prayer in which she asked the Lord to show her His wonder. She uses a unique phrase as she asks for a new and childlike awareness of the wonder of God's presence. (You'll have to read the book to get the whole story!) As I read Margaret's prayer experience, I immediately understood.

Because I too have a simple prayer for an awareness of God.

Mine is "Please, Lord, make me breakfast on the beach."

In John 21, the risen Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples by the sea. They'd been fishing all night and they were weary. Jesus made their breakfast and they all sat on the beach and ate fish together.

I love the simple picture of companionship. This is what "Wonderstruck" means to me, because if I am constantly aware of God's presence and the flashes of wonder He scatters through my day, I will talk to Him and share every experience with Him.

Four years ago when we traveled North for my Dad's memorial service, I knew it was going to be a long trip. I knew there were lots of details to take care of, lots of people to see, and we would be a thousand miles from home with three small children in the minivan. So I prayed, "Please, Lord, make me breakfast on the beach." I was too tired to come up with an eloquent prayer. I knew what I meant. God knew what I meant.

And He answered. That was a joyful trip.

As I read Wonderstruck, I said, "Hey! I've prayed like that!"

And soon I said, "Why did I stop praying like that?"

Wonderstruck called me back to the practice of asking God for a greater wonder at the fact of His presence with me.

Learn more about Wonderstruck and Margaret's other books at

You can follow Margaret’s snarky, funny, and inspirational posts on TwitterFacebook  or her blog . You can learn more about this great book by visiting where she’s offering some crazy promos right now with up to $300 of free stuff. I’ve seen the book for as low as $7.57 ($14.99 retail) on Barnes & Noble  for all you savvy shoppers.  

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent, Week Three: People who say "Yes"

It's the Third Week of Advent! Christmas is right around the corner and I can't figure out how the weeks have slipped away so quickly. Yesterday I gave in to the season and finished my shopping. I'm always in denial for awhile about how close Christmas is.

On this Third Week of Advent, I am thinking about Mary. I often think of her huge "Yes!" to God, and today I am applying that to all the little events that require a "yes." My days are not filled with huge life-altering announcements from angels, but there are little things that interrupt my plans. Today my hot water tank is leaking. I think while I am talking with my rental agency I really should mention the dripping bathroom faucet--and that will require some cleaning in the master bath. I am rather blind to clutter at times, and the bathroom counter is full of makeup and jewelry cleaner and essential oils.

Advent reminds me that God speaks to me. Mary reminds me that I should answer.

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Ten Christmas Hymns, Day Four: Who is He in Yonder Stall

Though this hymn is located with the Christmas carols in my hymnal, it has only one line about Jesus' birth, and then goes on to tell the story of Jesus' entire earthly life. 

Who is He in Yonder Stall?

Who is He in yonder stall
At Whose feet the shepherds fall?
Who is He in deep distress
Fasting in the wilderness?

'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! crown Him, Lord of all!!

Who is He the people bless
For His words of gentleness?
Who is He to Whom they bring
All the sick and sorrowing?

Who is He that stands and weeps
At the grave where Lazarus sleeps?
Who is He the gathering throng
Greet with loud triumphant song?

Lo! at midnight, who is He
Prays in dark Gethsemane?
Who is He on yonder tree
Dies in grief and agony?

Who is He that from the grave
Comes to heal and help and save?
Who is He that from His throne
Rules through all the world alone?
--Benjamin Hanby, 1866

This hymn shows us the unexpected Savior. The King of glory became a baby, born into poverty. He was a man, hungry and tired and tested. The Mighty Messiah did not live the life we might have expected, but He did His Father's will.      

   photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ten Days of Christmas Hymns, Day Three: Once in Royal David's City

Every December we attend a service called "The Nine Lessons and Carols" at a local Anglican church. The choir is small, the organ is loud, and the program is simple: classic Christmas carols and the Christmas story Scriptures. This carol is always on the program, its stately organ music contrasting with the words that tell us of Jesus' humble earthly life. Though originally a children's song, the message is appropriate for all of us: follow Jesus' example of self-sacrificing surrender.
The carol reminds me that Jesus, though a descendant of King David, lived His life in far from luxurious environments, and He was a humble person in attitude and action. It's interesting that God chose Mary, a humble person herself, to be His mother.

Once in Royal David's City

Once in royal David’s city 
Stood a lowly cattle shed, 
Where a mother laid her Baby 
In a manger for His bed: 
Mary was that mother mild, 
Jesus Christ her little Child.

He came down to earth from Heaven, 
Who is God and Lord of all, 
And His shelter was a stable, 
And His cradle was a stall; 
With the poor, and mean, and lowly, 
Lived on earth our Savior holy.

And, through all His wondrous childhood, 
He would honor and obey, 
Love and watch the lowly maiden, 
In whose gentle arms He lay: 
Christian children all must be 
Mild, obedient, good as He.

For He is our childhood’s pattern; 
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless, 
Tears and smiles like us He knew; 
And He feeleth for our sadness, 
And He shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see Him, 
Through His own redeeming love, 
For that Child so dear and gentle 
Is our Lord in Heaven above, 
And He leads His children on 
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable, 
With the oxen standing by, 
We shall see Him; but in Heaven, 
Set at God’s right hand on high; 
Where like stars His children crowned 
All in white shall wait around.
—Cecil Alexander, 1848

Singing the hymn gives me an opportunity to surrender my thoughts. I don't like the concept in the third verse that children are all supposed to be as perfect as Jesus. He was perfect. We aren't. And then I am very distracted by the last line and the words “wait around.” This phrase makes heaven sound very boring. I'm sure the author's idea was that we will spend eternity serving the Lord, but why didn't she say so? I have a choice to make. I can either spend a few moments annoyed at a long-deceased author, or I can focus on her intended meaning and move on to the next hymn.

Between now and Christmas Day, I'm posting the hymns I quoted in Practicing Glory. This is a book for any season, but all the hymns are Christmas carols. These are such beautiful songs--they deserve more than a once-a-year reading. I quoted Once in Royal David's City in the chapter on Surrender.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Ten Christmas Hymns--Day Two: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

This hymn blends remembrances of the Lord's first coming with anticipation of His second coming.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

—Edmund Sears, 1849

The fourth verse holds one of my favorite carol quotes: “Rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.” It speaks of taking time to rest, time to notice, time to listen.

Everything in my life is easier when I am rested. I am a nicer mom. I make wiser choices about food and finances. I am more alert to read my Bible. Of course sometimes I am tired due to things I can't control, but other times I am tired because I make the choice to stay up later than I should. Practicing the discipline of stillness means doing what I can to be rested, and trusting the Lord to be my strength when my circumstances do not allow me to be physically rested.

Between now and Christmas Day, I'm posting the hymns I quoted in Practicing GloryThis Bible study explores ten spiritual disciplines, what the scripture says about them, and how we can put them into practice. Think of the disciplines as a gift guide--gifts of worship you can offer to the Greatest Giver of all. I used "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" in the chapter on Stillness.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ten Christmas Hymns--Day One: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

This medieval hymn expresses the longing of those who hoped for the Messiah during the four hundred years between the last prophecy and Christ's arrival on earth. The somber tune captures the tone of those long centuries of waiting. Notice the titles of Jesus, quoted from prophecies about Him.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Chorus: Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
--translated from Latin to English by John M. Neale, 1851.

Between now and Christmas Day, I'm posting the hymns I quoted in Practicing GloryThis Bible study explores ten spiritual disciplines, what the scripture says about them, and how we can put them into practice. Think of the disciplines as a gift guide--gifts of worship you can offer to the Greatest Giver of all. I used "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" in the chapter on Confession. Confession means "agreeing with God" -- about Who He is and who I am.

Confession—agreeing with God, taking Him at His word even when we can't feel His presence—can help us hang on in the dark and chilly seasons of the spiritual life when we don't feel God's presence. One way to agree with God is to use His Name.

Listen closely to me; rescue me quickly.
Be a rock of refuge for me, a mountain fortress to save me.
For You are my rock and my fortress...(Psalm 31:2-3)

David asked the Lord to be his rock because He is his rock. Isn't the repetition fascinating? I love to do this with other names of God. “Lord, You are my strength; be my strength today” or “Lord, be my peace because You are peace.” This expresses my need and my faith. 

Look back at the names of Jesus in the hymn. Which one is meaningful to you today?

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Second Week of Advent: People who share the Message

Last week I shared with you my phrase for the First Week of Advent: God Speaks to Flawed People.
My second Advent candle represents the Prophets--the Biblical messengers who shared God's great promise of the Messiah.

What do we have in common with the Prophets? We too have heard a message. We know that the Messiah came and He will come again. We are deeply flawed people, made whole by His sacrifice. Jesus asks us to share that message:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

It sounds a little overwhelming--discipling and teaching and reaching all the nations--but we have the promise of Emmanuel: "I am with you always."

And because He is with us always, He gives us stories to tell. The prophet Isaiah said:

He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

When was God wonderful to you?
When was He your Counselor?
When did you see a mighty work of God in your life?
When was He your Father and Your Prince of Peace?
Share those stories.

The season of Advent calls us to look back at the Prophets who foretold Jesus' coming,
 to look forward to His coming again, 
to live aware of His presence in our today
and to share His message.

I'm collecting links on Advent themes at Storify. This week's list is here and I'll be adding to it all week.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Issues are not My Identity

My women's Bible study is reading an Angela Thomas book called Brave. Angela Thomas is a delightful speaker, and many women at church are finding this a helpful hopeful book. I am enjoying our discussions.

However, this book reminds me that I am a lazy disorganized fearful person and I have not found that pleasant.  I don't like to think about my issues!

 A few days ago I began reading Lysa TerKeurst's Unglued and a paragraph jumped out at me.

"There is a big difference between labeling ourselves and identifying our tendencies. Labeling says, 'I am a sum total of my difficult issues.' ...This isn't healthy or productive. Identifying, on the other hand, says, 'My issues are part of the equation but not the sum total.'"

I applied this to what I've been studying in Brave, and I said, "I have an issue with fear, but I don't have to be a fearful person." So I decided to tackle a burden that's been causing me fear and anxiety. And God removed the burden in the most amazing way. 

You are probably going to hear this theme from me quite often.

I have an issue with ________________, but I don't have to let that define me. I am a Child of God. That is my label and my identity.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Don't pack up the wonder

Wonder. It's everywhere at Christmas.
It's a sparkle in the eyes of a child.
It's a cactus wrapped in lights.
It's a ring of candles on the dining table.
It's the aroma of seafood chowder in a china bowl.
It's little things that make me pause and savor them.

It's even in the carols.
"Star of wonder..."
"I wonder as I wander..."
"My soul will magnify the Lord; I rejoice in God my Savior,

And then January comes and I pack away the tree
--well, to be honest, February comes and my husband packs away the tree--
and I make my resolutions and I try to lose weight, and somehow I lose the wonder too.

What if I could keep a sense of wonder all year?
What if it wasn't just a sparkly holiday attitude but a conscious decision to be sensitive to God's presence?

In her new book Wonderstruck, Margaret Feinberg writes:

God is not merely at your fingertips but within your grasp. Live each day like a child digging through a treasure chest, rifling for the next discovery. Open your arms and your eyes to the God who stands in plain sight and works miracles in your midst. Look for Him in your workdays and weekends, in your meeting-filled Mondays and your lazy Saturdays. Search for Him in the snowy sunsets and Sabbaths, seasons of Lent and sitting at your table. Pray for--and expect--wonder. For when you search for God, you will discover Him.
Live awake and aware because the wonder awaits.

When I read Margaret's words, I get that shiny Christmas-is-coming feeling--an anticipation that good things will arrive soon. I want to capture that feeling and revisit it every morning when I read my Bible and gaze out at the mountains. I want to hear it in my children's songs. I want to taste it in my afternoon tea.

The wonder of Christmas is that God is With Us. But He doesn't go away when we put the ornaments in boxes in the garage and vacuum up the last piece of tinsel. God came to dwell with us every day--the holidays and the everydays and the stormy days and the stifling hot days. I want to live awake and aware of Him.

Margaret's book will be released on Christmas Day. I pre-ordered it, planning to dive right into it when it arrives, but now I think I'll wait til January. When the holidays are over, I will need re-awakening. And I know Wonderstruck will do that. Margaret has a gift for expressing truths that point me to God.

Learn more about Wonderstruck and Margaret's other books at

You can follow Margaret’s snarky, funny, and inspirational posts on TwitterFacebook  or her blog . You can learn more about this great book by visiting where she’s offering some crazy promos right now with up to $300 of free stuff. I’ve seen the book for as low as $7.57 ($14.99 retail) on Barnes & Noble.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

First Week of Advent: Flawed People

Tonya Marlow at Thorns and Gold wrote an Advent post today and invited other bloggers to link up their own posts. What a great idea! 

This year I'm using this simple outline for Advent:

First week--Patriarchs
Second week--Prophets
Third week--John the Baptist
Fourth week--Mary

Today, during this first week of Advent, I'm thinking about the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob's twelve sons. These are giant figures in Biblical history. I remember them in flannelboard pictures in Sunday School. Abraham the Friend of God. Joseph in his coat of many colors.

Yet for all their historical significance, these men were far from perfect. Abraham lied about his wife's identity and had a baby with his wife's maid. Isaac followed his father's example and lied about his wife. Isaac loved one son more than the other. Jacob was tricky, had a favorite son, and was more than friendly with his wives' maids. Ten of Jacob's sons sold their brother into slavery. Even Joseph in that colorful coat was a boastful kid.

God chose these men to begin the nation that would eventually host the Messiah. God made great promises to these flawed men.

Isn't that the message of Advent? God makes great promises to people who have big flaws.

Because God knows us and loves us anyway.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His faithful love
toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed
our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He knows what we are made of,
remembering that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass—
he blooms like a flower of the field;
when the wind passes over it, it vanishes,
and its place is no longer known.
But from eternity to eternity
the Lord’s faithful love is toward those who fear Him...
(Psalm 103:11-17)
For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

God's faithful love is toward those who...
...remembered to buy candles for their Advent wreath?
...saved all year to have a big Christmas shopping budget?
...sent out 85 handwritten Christmas cards?
...can recall the name of that Advent devotional that introduced her to this outline?

Well, yes. And the rest of us too.
God's faithful love reaches out to ungodly people--people with flaws.
Advent speaks to us of God's promises and God's message to us.
God speaks to flawed people.


Next week: God speaks to People who will share the Message

I am keeping track of my favorite Advent blogposts on Storify. Here's my collection for this first week. I'll be adding to it.

photo credit: Per Ola Wiberg ~ powi via photopin cc

Awaken to the Nearness of God

Last week I needed a few things from the store to prepare a light lunch for a couple of friends. I planned to drive to the store about ten o'clock -- after I'd had two cups of coffee and the kids had done their math and we'd done a few chores.

But at 6:30 while I was just beginning my first cup of coffee, my husband reminded me that he would need the car all day. I finished my coffee quickly, threw on my clothes and rushed to the store.

I bought the things I needed, thankful for the self checkout lane because it was simply too early in the morning to converse with strangers. As I walked to the car, I looked toward the mountains that surround our valley and I saw a beautiful rainbow.

Rainbows are rare in the desert. I see a rainbow every year or two. This was a special gift! I drove home, expecting the rainbow to fade quickly, but it remained until I reached home and called the children to come outside and see it.

The rainbow was placed in an area I cannot see from inside my house. It didn't rain at our house that day, and I wouldn't have thought to go looking for a rainbow. If I hadn't made that rushed trip to the store I would have missed it. And my children would have missed the beauty too.

 When I posted the photo I realized something about that rainbow. It was very faint against the blue sky, but vivid against the dark gray cloud.

Sometimes within a dark time, I am very aware of God's presence with me (like the rainbow, vivid against the darkness), but in the sunny seasons I am not always quite so conscious.When I remember to pray for an awareness of God's presence--I like to use St. Patrick's words "Christ beside me on my left and my right"--God opens my eyes to a rose or a rainbow or a robin.

Margaret Feinberg's book Wonderstruck calls us to "awaken to the nearness of God." Margaret says, "Asking God to unleash his mercy and grace and goodness and love is like boldly looking into the eyes of God and saying, 'Surprise me!' The wonder is that he does, if we have eyes to see. Whether in the shining eyes of a baby, a sunset that stops our conversation, or an eight-day trek culminating in holy goose bumps, God reveals his grandeur. And those revelations beckon us to go deeper with him."

I've been enjoying a sneak peak of Wonderstruck, and I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the entire book. Wonderstruck is an invitation to toss back the covers, climb out of bed, and drink in the fullness of life. Wonderstruck will help us:

· Recognize the presence of God in the midst of your routine
· Unearth extraordinary moments on ordinary days
· Develop a renewed passion for God
· Identify what’s holding you back in prayer
· Discover joy in knowing you’re wildly loved

Learn more about Wonderstruck and Margaret's other books at

You can follow Margaret’s snarky, funny, and inspirational posts on Twitter, Facebook  or her blog . You can learn more about this great book by visiting where she’s offering some crazy promos right now with up to $300 of free stuff. I’ve seen the book for as low as $7.57 ($14.99 retail) on Barnes & Noble  for all you savvy shoppers.