Wednesday Selah: Let Us Adore by Elevation Worship

Twinkling lights, cheery greetings and joyful parties often hide a truth about Christmas.

It can be a dark season for some, as the lyrics to Elevation Worship’s Let Us Adore remind us.

For the unclean, the unholy
For the broken, the unworthy ….

For the wounded, for the hurting
For the lost, and for the lonely ….

For the outcast, the defeated
For the weary, for the weakest ….

Ten years ago, our family had its darkest Christmas when my mother died unexpectedly just four days before what was her favorite holiday. As dark and difficult those days were, we had a hope and a light. It’s the light and hope that the song celebrates in its chorus.

You came, Jesus you came
O come all ye faithful
Bow before our Savior
Come let us adore
The one who came for us
Glory in the highest
Praise the name of Jesus
Our King has come

The presence of Christ doesn’t take away the sorrow of the hurting at Christmas, but it does give you the comfort and grace to make it through you know that the One who came as a baby in the manger is the One who suffered, died and rose again. And, he will come again as the One who will make all things new.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Revelation 21:3-5)

And that gives you the strength to celebrate anyway, to sing when the last thing you want to do is sing, to light a candle at the Christmas Eve service when you just want to be alone, and to give to others when you have little yourself.

This is what brings light to our dark world.

This is what honors and celebrates our Savior.

Advent Encounters: Elizabeth

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
(Luke 1:24-25 ESV)

Sarah laughed.

Hannah surrendered.

Elizabeth hid.

Three women to whom three promises were given exhibited three different reactions.

Sarah overheard the promise of an angel and laughed.

Hannah kept her vow to give her child to the Lord.

Elizabeth remained in seclusion, away from the public in a silent home with a husband who couldn’t speak and probably couldn’t hear because of his impertinent request for a sign.

In the silence, the worship was deafening.

Imagine living in a time when having no children was considered a disgrace. Think of the whispers among the townspeople as the years pass on and there’s still no baby. What thoughts run through your own mind when you know ― as Elizabeth and Zechariah no doubt did ― that those who fear the Lord will be blessed with a full house and there are still only two people at your table?

And now, God promises a child.

And one is on the way even though you’re considered too old.

Of course, you worship the One who made the promise and the miracle.

In the few words that Scripture devotes to her time in seclusion, Elizabeth echoes the words of her ancestor, Rachel, as she acknowledged God for showing her favor and taking away her disgrace from among the people.

Another promised son with a God-designed destiny.

Sarah’s son Isaac became the father of Jacob, whose sons became the leaders of the tribes of Israel.

Hannah’s son was Samuel the priest who anointed Saul and David, shepherding the nation through its early days under the rule of kings.

And Elizabeth’s son would have the greatest honor of all though he would never take it for himself. Years later, people would be drawn to him ― a prophet in the desert declaring the coming of the kingdom of God, calling on all to repent. He would declare the coming of the Messiah.

This Throwback Thursday post originally appeared on a previous blog.

Wednesday Selah: Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus by Meredith Andrews

What Israel anticipated has become our history – a history that is alive in Jesus Christ and awaiting another arrival. We wait in a different type of Advent, filled with anger, divisiveness, oppression, poverty, violence – all of which were present at the first Advent under Roman rule.

But then, as now, there were promises that brought hope. The Jewish people set their eyes on the prophecies of men like their great King David, and Isaiah, who spoke these words into the darkness of their times:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. (Isaiah 60:1)

And these words that promised a time of justice and righteousness:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

(Isaiah 9:6-7)

The light for which the Israelites hoped and prayed dawned in a Bethlehem stable.

Death could not extinguish the light. The crucifixion of Christ gave way to the glory of the resurrection, and the hope that lives today as we await His return in our own Advent season.

Meredith Andrews brings together the ancient Advent with our season of waiting today in her beautiful rendition of Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus. The added chorus of this song, featured in the graphic below, celebrates this more beautifully than I ever could.

Christmas can wait (a #TBT post)

Photograph taken by Michael Kappel

I had one of the coolest temp jobs ever in college. It was temp in every possible sense of the word, lasting only one night and paying pretty decently for the late 80s/early 90s.

The local mall contracted with the theater department at my college to put up the rather extravagant Christmas decorations. We would show up at the mall as the stores were closing and a mall employee would lead us through a maze of corridors behind the stores to a room that warehoused all the decorations.  A couple of pizzas and several hours later, the center stage area was transformed into a proper Santa wonderland with tall, tall trees and scads of faux snow.

Back then, we didn’t put them up before Halloween. It may not have been the week before Thanksgiving break, but it certainly wasn’t as early as election day. Of course, the commercial Christmas season was shorter back then. This year, I saw Christmas trees in the stores in mid-October when my nephew and I were looking for a new shirt for his high school homecoming. Twitter friends reported hearing Christmas music on the radio as early as Nov. 1.

The increasing length of the consume-athon that has become Advent in America is beginning to turn me from Bob Crachit into Ebenezer Scrooge.

I want to reclaim the wonder of Christmas.

I want Christmas decorations to magically appear in the stores after a proper Thanksgiving in which we have paused to remember all our blessings before we run out asking for more.

I want the Christmas music to start being played on the radio on Black Friday morning.

I want to see sparking lights adorning houses the weekend after Thanksgiving – not competing for space with the mums and carved pumpkins of Halloween.

I can only control so much of my exposure to the trappings of Christmas before the traditional start on Black Friday, but still I try, keeping my favorite scene from my favorite Christmas special firmly in mind.

This Throwback Thursday post originally appeared on a previous blog on November 16, 2010. Posting it before Christmas made it a bit more relevant, but the sentiment remains as we’re only a week into December.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel by Matt Maher

Let’s not move too quickly into the season. Advent is to be a time of anticipation, of waiting for the promised One. It’s easy to want to skip ahead to the celebration, but there is much to learn and to experience in the anticipation that makes the celebration all the more joyous when it comes.

That’s what I remember most about Christmas as a kid. The month of December passed so very slowly. It seemed the weeks would drag on from the time I watched Santa arrive at the mall until Christmas Eve. The anticipation continued to build day after day.

Now, I wish I could bring back those days. Now, any longing for the celebration of Christmas proper can get lost in the daily grind to which is added all the preparation for the holiday. Instead of anticipation, we’re burdened with a sense of time slipping through our fingers.

So, what do you do?

Simplify.

Paper plates instead of fancy place settings.

Old decorations that have been in the family for years instead of poring over Pinterest for the newest and brightest.

Limit time on social media for time in the Scriptures (particularly those prophesying the coming of the Messiah) and a good Advent devotional.

Take time for cookies and dinner and adventures with the family. The house cleaning can wait until January.

And above all, no matter how tired, how weary I get … rejoice! Help is on the way. Christ has come.


This is post in the ongoing Wednesday Selah series. After diving back into the work week on Monday and racing through all the tasks that Tuesday brings, let’s take a pause on Wednesday and lift up the name of the only One who matters – Jesus. Find out more about the word, selah, and its use in the Psalms here.

God is not dead nor doth he sleep (a #TBT post)

No one remembers – or is alive who remembers – if it was cold in New England on Christmas Day in 1863, but the country itself was in the cold grip of the Civil War. Long years of war had taken its toll on homes both Union and Confederate. This Christmas, sons were at war or imprisoned or dead or injured or ill.

Henry’s son, Charley, had been one of the injured and the ill, surviving both a bout of malaria and a bullet wound in the back.  A single father of five who lost his wife when her clothes accidentally caught fire a few years earlier, Henry had been heartbroken but resigned when Charley ran away to join the Union Army.

“I shall not send for him,” Henry wrote in his journal. “He is where he wants to be, in the midst of it all.”

Nonetheless, he crossed through army lines to reach to his son’s bedside when he  was wounded in late November 1863 and brought him home.

Henry may have recalled the pain not only of his own grief and concern, but also that of a nation when he penned his poem, Christmas Bells on that Christmas Day.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Henry was famed American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Years later, two stanzas were removed from his poem as it was set to music and became the carol we know as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

The carol first came to mind when evil walked into a shopping mall in Oregon, killing two people. It played loudly through my mind on Friday when evil walked into a Connecticut elementary school.

For some time, I was stuck on the line about hate being strong and mocking the song of peace on earth.

Then, I remembered the triumphant final stanza. God is not dead. He’s not sleeping. Wrong will fail. Right will prevail. There will be peace on earth.

Longfellow saw that. His son recovered from his wounds. A long-awaited peace finally came after years of war.

But he didn’t see it right away. He didn’t know it when he put pen to paper that Christmas morning.

We don’t see it either. We don’t know why things happen as they do. We just mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.

And God’s not dead. He’s not sleeping.

In that we place our hope as Christmas comes.

 

These Throwback Thursday (#TBT) posts are some of my favorites from previous blogs presented here with only the slightest editing. This post originally appeared on an older blog on December 20, 2012.

Wednesday Selah: The Thrill of Hope (Advent Hymn)

The season is upon us.

Stores have had their Christmas goods out for weeks now, competing with both Halloween candy and Thanksgiving decorations, but now the season begins in earnest. Some have already been battling crowds for Black Friday bargains, and others have been glued to the screen for online deals.

The calendar is filling with concerts, services at church, opportunities to serve at holiday events to help others, and all types of gatherings.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I want to take it slow this year. A little shopping here and there. Making cookies with the family. Planning our Christmas Eve dinner.

But I’m not going to allow myself to get overwhelmed with what the world tells me we need to do during the season.

I’m going to pull out a good Advent devotional, make a cup of tea each evening and remember why we celebrate. I want to settle into that place of anticipation that went before the coming of the Messiah and can live in our hearts again if we are willing to slow down.

The title song from Christy Nockels’ Christmas album is the perfect place to start the soundtrack for my season.

 

This is post in the ongoing Wednesday Selah series. After diving back into the work week on Monday and racing through all the tasks that Tuesday brings, let’s take a pause on Wednesday and lift up the name of the only One who matters – Jesus. Find out more about the word, selah, and its use in the Psalms here.

Wednesday Selah: Because of Your Love by Chris Quilala

 

When Chris Quilala released his solo album, Split the Sky, last year, this track became my instant favorite. The first lines of the chorus still pop randomly into my head from time to time:

Because of Your love
Hallelujah, I’m forgiven
The shadow has been lifted
You rescued me

Take a break from a busy Wednesday full of Thanksgiving preparations, and rest in this reminder of God’s immense love for us.

The Bookshelf: The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon

Unlike perhaps many of the people who will flock to this book, I am a relative novice in the world of famed 19th century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I know of his revered Morning and Evening devotion book, but little of the prolific writer and speaker behind it.

Yet, even to a such a novice, The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon there was much to appreciate about the volume.

As beautiful as it is with full color reproductions of Spurgeon’s actual notebooks, it is not conducive to reading through from cover to cover. It is precisely as it states, “outlines and sermons.” Some of these outlines are more complete than others, but there are many that contain incomplete thoughts that would have been filled in during the actual delivery of the message.

Edited by Christian T. George, the volume contains plenty of footnotes to help guide the reader to other materials – such as Spurgeon’s autobiography and collections of his lectures and sermons – that help fill in the blanks left by the outline format. The notes also help to guide readers through the potential thought process of the great preacher as it notes places where words were added to the outline or where words and phrases were stricken.

The introduction to the book is truly an asset in establishing the setting into which Spurgeon was writing and delivering the sermons he outlined. It also contains colorful charts, graphs and even a word cloud to illustrate the content on which Spurgeon concentrated during this season of his ministry.

While beautifully presented, this book is best considered as a reference work for scholars, pastors and students looking for more insight into the world of Spurgeon. Casual readers or newcomers to Spurgeon’s writing may be better served by starting with one of his more accessible volumes.

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854 in exchange for my unbiased review.

The Bookshelf: Sing! How Worship Transforms the Church

Put aside for a moment the arguments over the style of music in churches. Why do we sing in the first place?

Hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty guide the reader in an exploration of this question in Sing! How Worship Transforms the Church, a short book that incorporates Scripture with personal experience and the words of classic hymns.

As international worship leaders and conference speakers, the Gettys have written songs in a variety of genres which all teach sound doctrine. They bring to the book their experience not only as members of a local church but also as musicians who have led worship in congregations around the world.

The first three chapters build the Scriptural case for congregational singing. In these chapters we are reminded that we are created to sing, commanded to sing and compelled to sing. The next three chapters offer suggestions on incorporating singing into your personal devotions, into your family time and into the life of the church.

A powerful chapter near the end of the book speaks of our singing as witness to an unbelieving world. It is here that the Gettys powerfully drive home their point by sharing how their most familiar song, “In Christ Alone,” has been means of proclaiming the gospel of Christ through its clear message. The chapter reminds us, “As you stand and sing in your church this Sunday, you do not know who is listening, and you can never imagine what the Lord might be doing.”

The book concludes with a short section of practical suggestions for pastors, musicians, worship leaders and song writers.

Singing has, for some in the church, become a tradition that has lost its meaning. We sing the words by rote without contemplating their deeper meaning or even the reason why the Church has always been a singing Church.

In their clear, simple way, the Gettys remind us that singing should incorporate mind, heart and soul – as should all of our worship. Their suggestions for different members of the church body are valuable for focusing the attention of the congregation where it rightfully belongs with the God who created us to sing.

Sing! would be an excellent resource to use within the local church to not only encourage its members to sing, but also to approach our worship in song joyfully no matter how skilled our voices.

 

Disclaimer: Thank you to B&H Publishing for providing me with a copy of Sing! in exchange for my unbiased review.