Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! "Love Came Down at Christmas"

For the third Sunday of Advent I've chosen this short poem by Christina Rossetti which was set to music as a Christmas hymn by several composers. The poem was composed and published late in the 19th century, and was one of many poems composed by this poet. Christina Rossetti began writing poems as a teenager, and religious devotion became a big part of her life after a nervous breakdown which caused her to leave school. Christina became well-known for her poetry, and her siblings were creative as well, one brother becoming a celebrated artist, and the other brother and her sister both becoming writers.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Christina Rossetti

This simple poem reminds us of the reason that Christ came to earth: as both the Word and the love of God manifested on Earth. The coming of this Love had been fortold for many centuries before He finally came to live among us. And this Love that came down at Christmas came for all, and is available to all. What an encouragement this is! To be reminded that Jesus came as our Saviour and the love of God incarnate.

Be blessed and shine in His Love!

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus"

This week's hymn is, once again by Charles Wesley! Charles and his brother John were founders of Methodism in the eighteenth century, and Charles was a prolific hymnwriter, writing many of the great hymns of the faith. This hymn of his is generally sung at Advent, which makes it a wonderful choice for today, the second Sunday of Advent!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season in the liturgical tradition which prepares us for the Christmas celebration. Thus for today I have chosen a well-known traditional Advent hymn, which dates from the 12th century. It is said that this hymn has several contributors, so there isn't a single author, but it was translated from Latin by John Mason Neale, an Anglican priest and hymn-writer in the 19th century. The versions of verses vary, especially for the later verses, so I have chosen the version most familiar to me. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! "We Plough the Fields and Scatter"

This week's hymn is one by German poet Matthias Claudius in the late eighteenth century. Matthias' father was a Lutheran pastor, and he originally went to university to study theology, but then changed his course of student to law and languages. He wrote many many poems, several of which were under the name Asmus. His work includes the poem Death and the Maiden, which was used in a composition by Franz Schubert. He turned to writing religious works after a grave illness caused him to return to the faith of his childhood. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! "Jesus Calls us o'er the Tumult"

Our hymn this week is the work of Cecil Frances Alexander, an Irish nineteenth century hymnwriter and poet. "Fanny" as she was best known, began writing at an early age, and wrote many many poems and hymns, including some well-known children's hymns. In fact, hymns for children was her specialty. This week's hymn is one of the few that she wrote that weren't for children.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Biweekly Bits #21: Let your grain die

After writing 26 bits, I realized that there is so much I could elaborate on with each of my bits. So I decided to turn them into a biweekly (i.e. fortnightly) series, for the next year.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24). Your greatest impact is found in dying to self. If you're just caught up in you, you can't bear any fruit. I'm pretty sure this verse will teach me many more lessons in life.
I never noticed this verse in John until a few years ago, but it has stuck with me ever since. These words of Jesus speak one of the greatest truths of Christ's life on earth and our responsibility as we walk with Him. This truth is that service costs us.

And serving does come with a cost. It requires us to put ourselves, our desires and wishes aside for the good of others. If each of us is a grain of wheat, it is only in allowing ourselves to be used by God, to be emptied of ourselves, that we can multiply and have impact.

Too often we have this individualistic view of service and ministry, which can make us lose sight of our goal, which is Christ, and spreading the Gospel throughout the earth. Too often we are afraid to take risks in our walk with God, not knowing that it is only by the death of that single grain that new life can come to many. Something must be sown for the harvest to be reaped.

So today I challenge you to focus on where in your life you've been afraid to let your grain of wheat die. I challenge you to allow the fruit resulting from your grain to be nourished and grown. Let us live a life of service to others, for it bears much fruit.

Be blessed and shine, bearing much fruit!

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! "O Happy Day"

This week's hymn is by Philip Doddridge, and eighteenth century writer, teacher and hymn-writer in Britain. Doddridge was the youngest of twenty (!) children, and a clergyman of an independent church in Britain.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Heart's Desires

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

I used to think that verse meant that if I loved God and if I delighted in Him, God would give me what I really wanted. I mean, that's basically what it says right?

But I have (slowly) come to realise that if that was all that I ever understood from that verse, I'd be missing out on a whole lot. And if I try to delight myself in the Lord because I want things or so that I can have my heart's desire, then I'm really not delighting in the Lord.

The entire psalm, one of the many written by David, talks about patience and trust in God. David's words came at a time in life where he was trusting God to make things right. His delight was in the Lord not so that the Lord would be on his side, but because he knew that the Lord was faithful to his people.

But David was a man who went all in (and all out) when it came to God. When he took delight in God, God became the desire of his heart. That's why David also wrote the words "my soul thirsts after you in a dry and weary land"(Ps 63:1) and "one thing...will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life" (Ps 27:4). In his wholehearted pursuit of God, his desire turned to God only. All the other things that might have crowded his heart, clamoring for his attention were silenced. Once his focus was on God, none of those things mattered, yet they were all taken care of.

AW Tozer writes this in The Pursuit of God: 
The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the "and" lies our great woe. If we omit the "and" we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing.

And David isn't the only place in the Bible where God shows us what our hearts desires should be. David's words here foreshadow those of Jesus which came several hundred years afterward: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt 6:33), and those of Paul years after that "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice." (Phil 4:4)

It is in taking our delight in God, pursuing God, making God alone the cry of our hearts that we can truly receive, or even understand the fullness of true prosperity, which is not limited by the extent of what our minds can perceive. Delighting in God, desiring God is a positive feedback loop where in wanting God and getting Him, we want Him all the more.

So truly take delight in the Lord, and make Him the desire of your heart. Pursue God, seek Him, for God has never yet forsaken the righteous. Let us work on changing the desires of our hearts

Be blessed and shine with new heart's desires!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! In the Cross

This week's hymn is another one by Fanny Crosby! I've featured a few of her hymns before, much earlier this year. Fanny Crosby was a blind hymnwriter from the nineteenth century. Called one of the most prolific hymnwriters ever, Fanny wrote over 8000 hymns.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Biweekly Bits #20: Sometimes, you have to say no

After writing 26 bits, I realized that there is so much I could elaborate on with each of my bits. So I decided to turn them into a biweekly (i.e. fortnightly) series, for the next year.

Sometimes, you have to say no. My mother always used to tell me when I was younger that I didn't know how to say no. As a consequence, I was always too busy, and my time was over-committed, so much so that I'd catch a cold and be sick for weeks because I didn't have time to get better. But gradually, I've learned to say no (or at least, "not right now"), because I don't have time to do all these things and do them well. (See also #10).

The Christian walk, in addition to being a relationship with Christ and a religious practice is a call to serve others. Thus, as Christians, Christian women in particular, we often feel like we can never say no to others who need our help, and we end up over-extending ourselves. (Anybody else feel that way?)

However, we forget that while Christ calls us to take up our cross, and to go into all the world, and to love others as He has loved us, he has also called us to find rest in Him. Yes, my friend, there is a place in Christ for his followers to take rest. And in order to rest, sometimes, you need to say no to all of the various things that pull us in seventeen different directions simultaneously.

Saying no doesn't mean that you aren't committed to your ministry, and it doesn't mean that you are not committed to Jesus. To take time to rest does not mean that you are failing in your walk with God. Instead saying no means that you recognize your limits as a person, and the necessity of taking rest in Jesus, and taking time to spend in solitude with Him, and/or to take proper care of the body that God has given to you. Just like we rest a part of our physical bodies that have been working constantly, as part of the body of Christ, we also need to feel free to take time to rest and recharge.

Sometimes you have no. Because you don't have the time, or you don't have the energy, or you don't have the expertise. Maybe the timing is just all wrong. And that's okay. Don't let having to say no to someone make you feel like you've done something wrong, even if they try to make you feel guilty about it. Pray for the grace and the discernment to know when (and how) to say no, because sometimes, you have to. Remember that even Jesus withdrew from the crowds at times to rest and recharge.

Do you have instances where you've had to say no? Share them in the comments below, if you would like to!

Be blessed and say no sometimes!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Life Happens and Seasons Change

Hello there!

It's been a while since I've really been here...but you know, life happens. And lately, so much life has been happening that I haven't had time to write about it, or about anything else. But I promise that I'm back, and I'll be sticking around!

Part of the reason that I haven't been here in a bit is because I've felt a little disconnected from God. I mean, we still see each other, and we chat and stuff, but we haven't had time to really connect recently. This is probably because I've been alternating between being busy and being exhausted, even though Jesus has been like, "but I'm your rest. Come to me." I'm still learning what that really means, to rest in Jesus as I walk through life with Him.

Life has a way of keeping things rolling, and sometimes, instead of a gentle current going along, it feels more like you're in an avalanche and you don't know which way is up. Or at least I do. But even in these moments God reminds me of His sovereignty and His love, be it through a beautiful sunny morning, or a breathtaking view of trees along the river, or the beauty of the fall foliage.  Through my busyness, God still calls to me to stop and consider His wondrous works.

I'm reminded through these little moments that even as I am tumbling along through life, God's hand is still in all of it, especially as I watch the seasons change in the leaves and trees, and the seasons change in my own life.

Every year the trees instinctively know what to do, their lives set on a cycle that continues through each new generation. The leaves change, and fall off the trees, but they do not despair, for they know that this loss has a purpose and new life will bloom again. I take comfort in these trees, in their beauty, and in the knowledge that the trees' lives have been planned and mapped out by my Creator, and so has mine.

Seasons change, and they should.

Be blessed and shine through life!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name

This week's hymn is one by Edward Perronet, a contemporary of John and Charles Wesley. Perronet was also and Anglican priest, and worked closely with the Wesley brothers during the eighteenth century revival.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Biweekly Bits #19: Don't Miss the Message!

After writing 26 bits, I realized that there is so much I could elaborate on with each of my bits. So I decided to turn them into a biweekly (i.e. fortnightly) series, for the next year.

Don't miss a message from God because you don't like the container it came in. God speaks through anything, and indeed, God speaks through everything. The Bible is filled with stories of the crazy things and messed-up people that God has used to get the attention of His people.

This is a tough lesson that I've been learning over the past few years. I think it's human nature to discredit a message because we object to the person that the message came from. We may not agree with their theology, or their lifestyle, or their appearance, so we say that their words cannot possibly be true, God could not possibly have called them. We miss the voice of God sometimes because our pride does not allow us to listen when He speaks through things that may seem unholy or unworthy. But the truth is, God can and does speak through any and everything in all of His creation. 

He may use the lowliest of people, or the worst of sinners to teach us about his grace and love and sovereignty. [Similarly, because we hear words from a favoured preacher, or someone that we consider to be upstanding and righteous, doesn't mean that they are from God.] I think it's human nature to correlate the appearance of the speaker with the truth of the message. But when we do this, we tell God that He is only limited to speaking through things that we determine appropriate. We take the sovereignty from God and place it on ourselves. We forget that God spoke through a bush, and a donkey, and a child, and many, many, many sinners.

It is our duty then to develop and use our discernment so that we can hear God no matter how He may choose to speak to us. Let us rebuke the pride that tells us that God cannot speak through those that we think are less holy, less worthy or less spiritually mature than we are. Let us not miss his voice because we don't like the way it sounds.

Be blessed and shine!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! "O the Bitter Shame and Sorrow"

This week's hymn is by Parisian Theodore Monod, who wrote these words during a series of consecration services in England. Monod was the son of a pastor in the French Reformed Church, and became a pastor himself, serving in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Biweekly Bits #18: Wilderness and Growth

After writing 26 bits, I realized that there is so much I could elaborate on with each of my bits. So I decided to turn them into a biweekly (i.e. fortnightly) series, for the next year.

Everyone needs a wilderness experience. Seriously, at least one. College in Ithaca was mine. I was far away, basically in the middle of nowhere, and I knew no one when I got there. Ithaca has been the place where I've spent some of the loneliest days of my life thus far. It's also the place where I have grown the most, both as a person and as a follower of Christ. Some lifelong friends have also come out of that Ithaca experience. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I have often wondered what person I might have become without the wilderness experiences that have shaped me. To be honest, wilderness experiences are not pleasant. I remember when I went to college, I was alone, lonely and worried about surviving my first four years of adulthood, all on my own and more than two thousand miles from the warmth of my family. I was worried that I'd fail all my classes and waste the thousands of dollars that my parents had invested in my education. I was worried that I'd be friendless, since I knew absolutely no one on campus when I arrived there.

But even through my worries I knew that I had comfort in Jesus and that I could cling to Him through every challenge that I faced. I grew leaps and bounds in my relationship with God. I met people who mentored me and challenged me and supported me. I began to mature in my faith, choosing to love and serve God for myself, and not because I grew up going to church. And in this time I learned some important lessons about wilderness experiences, a few of which I will share with you.

1. The wilderness separates us from the things that distract us

This might be the biggest and the hardest of all the lessons I learned. Sometimes we get so caught up in all that we have, and the busyness of life, that we brush God off to the side. So he uses wilderness experiences to get our attention, to draw us away from all of the things that creep in between us and Him. In the midst of his trial, when everything had been taken away from him, when his wife advised him to curse God and die, Job was able to look to God and say "I know that my Redeemer lives" (Job 19:25). He turned his full attention to God in the midst of his trial.

2. The wilderness reminds us of our need for, and dependence on our Savior Jesus

There's nothing like having nothing to do but rely on God to remind us how dependent we are on Him. We see this in the life of David, when Saul was seeking after him, which caused him to flee all that was familiar and rely totally on God for his safety and security. Yet it is in the these moments that David drew close to God, speaking of God as his refuge and strength (Ps 46), or his light and salvation (Ps 27), or his rock (Ps 18). David knew that he was utterly dependent on God, who is the provider of all things, even when we face the wilderness.

3. The wilderness forces us to grow and mature

Wilderness experiences are places of growth. They allow us to draw close to God, deeper into our knowledge of who God is, and how we can be his servants. Part of this maturing process comes in community with other believers, but there is a stage where in order to grow in intimacy with God, we must spend time in intimacy with God. In our wilderness seasons we should take the time to know God through His word, to communicate with him through prayer, to spend time in quiet reflection. The growth that we experience prepares us to face even the strongest of temptations well-armed and well-prepared.

We see this in the life of Jesus, where during his time in the wilderness, he is tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1-11). No matter what approach the devil takes, Jesus is able to respond with the word of God, in its proper context. And in these responses we can truly understand why we need our times in the wilderness. "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Father" reminds us to focus on God. "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" reminds us of God's power and might, and our dependence on him, and "Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only" reminds us of our daily call to worship and serve God.

There is much to be learned from our wilderness experiences, even when we feel like life is falling apart. The wilderness strengthens us, because we are made to look only to the true source of our strength. But the wilderness is always temporary, and we should use these times to grow ever closer to God. Let us consider life's wilderness experiences as a gift from God, an opportunity for introspection and growth.

What are some wilderness experiences that you have had in life? What scriptures did you use to encourage yourself through them?

Be blessed and shine, even in the wilderness!