Archive for November, 2020

Holiday Traditions

Close your eyes, breathe, and clear your mind. Be still. Center your scattered senses on God’s presence.

REFLECTION: Written by Nina Pope

Holiday traditions vary from family to family and add their own special joy to the Christmas season.  Over the years, some of our family’s traditions have been altered as one generation grows up and establishes its own traditions, some old and some new, in their own homes. One thing that remains a favorite at our house is a collection of Christmas books gathered and treasured over the years.  Some are by well-known authors, some written for children while others are more adult, some new and some so long a part of our collection that they are now out of print.  Some feature illustrations of great art and others have colorful artwork less well-known.  What they have in common is that they are all books about some aspect of what I call the real Christmas story.  One particular favorite offers the traditional Christmas story by a Venezuelan poet in a style reminiscent of   a Medieval manuscript; it combines Christian elements with drawings of toucans, cheetahs, monkeys and other animals in the perspective of South American culture. The books have been gently treated over the years and during the holiday season reside in a large basket in our family room where they are accessible to all for a leisurely or quick read depending on the moment.  Sometimes the books are enjoyed by a single reader or read to aloud to eager young listeners. When it is the moment to take them off the shelf and put them into the customary basket, it is like opening the front door to welcome in treasured friends and neighbors that you haven’t seen for a season and whom you cannot help but hug.

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 22:30-31

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Pause and meditate on the Scripture.

PRAYER:  Written by Kathleen Norris, a contemporary American poet and essayist.

Bless us, Lord, as we seek Christ in the lowly mangers of this world, bless us, as we seek to honor the mystery of the Incarnation in our midst, remembering always that you made us, and all humanity in your divine image. Help us to gladly welcome today and all days, your Wisdom, your Power, your Emmanuel, your Prince of Peace.

Click on the link to see and hear the music video.

MUSIC VIDEO:  King Digital Media: Mary Did You Know? 

IMAGE: Early 1904 Postcard

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First Sunday of Advent

Close your eyes, breathe, and clear your mind. Be still. Center your scattered senses on God’s presence.

REFLECTION: Written by Laura Metzger

Advent is a time for slowing down and remembering, We are in the process of preparing our hearts to celebrate the incarnation of our God – the day Jesus became God With Us. This remembering is a time for our own deep reflection on how God is here with us in our daily lives and  it is also a time of remembering to teach others about the God we love and worship.  What a wonderful opportunity to teach our children and grandchildren, our friends, and neighbors what it is we hold dear. Our faith has a deep history.  What are some interesting ways you can share your testimony, through both actions and words?

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 78: 1-4

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.

I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.

We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.

Pause and meditate on the Scripture.

PRAYER:  Written by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), a Scottish novelist, poet, and travel writer.

Loving Father, help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

Click on the link to see and hear the music video.

MUSIC VIDEO:  Joy Williams: Here With Us 

IMAGE: Sunset painted by Catherine Montgrain of our church

If using an advent wreath, light the first purple candle, which symbolizes hope and is called the Prophet’s Candle. The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.

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Point of View


Written by Hannah Whitall Smith  (1832-1911), a Christian lay speaker and author in the Holiness movement in the US and the Higher Life movement in the UK. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement and the temperance movement.

Things look differently to us according to our “point of view.” Trials assume a very different aspect when looked down upon from above, than when viewed from their own level. What seems like an impassable wall on its own level becomes an insignificant line to the eyes that see it from the top of a mountain. The snares and sorrows that assume such immense proportion while we look at them on the earthly plane, become insignificant when the soul has mounted on wings to the heavenly places above them. A friend once illustrated the difference to her friends in the following way. She said, if all three came to a spiritual mountain which had to be crossed, the first one would tunnel through it with hard and wearisome labor. The second would meander around it in an indefinite fashion, hardly knowing where she was going, and yet, because her aim was right, would get around it at last. But the third, she said, would just flap her winds and fly right over. All of us must know something about this. If any of us in the past have tried to tunnel our way through the mountains that have stood across our pathway, or have been meandering around them, let us now resolve to spread our winds and “mount up” into the clear atmosphere of God’s presence. There it will be easy to overcome, or come over, the highest mountain of them all.


Written by Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Bishop of Geneva known for his deep faith and gentle approach to the religious divisions resulting from the Reformation.

Do not look forward in fear to the changes and chances of this life; rather, look to them with full confidence that, as they arise, God, to whom you belong will in His love enable you to profit by them.

He has guided you thus far in life, and He will lead you safely through all trials; and when you cannot stand it, God will bury you in His arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.

Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations. Amen.

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God’s Peacemakers


Written by Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), a Scottish Baptist minister and preacher.

If a man go and carry to men the great message of a reconciled and a reconciling God manifest in Jesus Christ, and bringing Peace between men and God, he will have done more to sweeten society and put an end to hostility than I think he will be likely to do by any other method. Christian men and women, whatever else you and I are here for, we are her mainly that we preach, by lip and life, the great message that in Christ is our Peace, and…there is no nobler office for Christians than to seek to damp down all these devil’s flames of envy and jealousy and mutual animosity. We have to do it, first, by making very sure that we do not answer scorn with scorn, gibes with gibes, hate with hate, but “seek to overcome evil with good.” It takes two to make a quarrel, and your most hostile antagonist cannot break the Peace unless you help him. If you are resolved to keep it, kept it will be.


Today’s prayer is a traditional Scottish blessing.  

Deep peace of the running wave to you,

Deep peace of the flowing air to you,

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,

Deep peace of the shining stars to you,

Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you, for ever.

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Written by Sergei Sosedkin, a contemporary ministry leader for Back to God Ministries from Moscow, Russia. This is from his devotion “To Be Content.”

As a teenager, I enjoyed going to a neighborhood grocery store. There, my friends and I would get a roll of bread and a few slices of cheese for a snack. An elderly lady who worked at the store would always say some kind and encouraging words to us, as she carefully sliced our cheese.

A few short years later the USSR was collapsing. Because of major economic disruptions, all cheese disappeared from the grocery shelves. Most other food items became scarce too. The store was still open, but it sold only bread. My memories of a kind lady who sliced cheese for us seemed almost unreal, but they still warmed my heart in those difficult times.

The Bible calls us to be thankful for and content with everything we have. Our family, health, meals we can share with loved ones, and of course life itself— all are precious gifts from the Lord. But discontent, greed, or fears don’t allow us to fully appreciate and treasure the precious gifts of life.

We don’t know what the future holds. We might have to go through difficult times of having “no cheese on the shelves”—or worse. But as the children of God we are assured of his continuous love and care. The Lord himself is our helper in this perilous life.


Written by Walter Raushenbusch (1861-1918), an American theologian and Baptist pastor.       

O God, we thank you for this earth, our home; for the wide sky and the blessed sun, for the salt sea and the running water, for the everlasting hills and the never-resting winds, for trees and the common grass underfoot. We thank you for our senses by which we hear the songs of birds, and see the splendor of the summer fields, and taste of the autumn fruits, and rejoice in the feel of the snow, and smell the breath of the spring. Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty; and save our souls from being so blind that we pass unseeing when even the common thorn bush is aflame with your glory, O God our creator, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

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Lead Me Not Into Temptation


Excerpted from the “Renewing Hope” First Place Bible Study Series.

A T-shirt slogan reads “Lead me not into temptation—I can find it myself.” Of course, the comment was meant to be amusing or perhaps even seductive, but the one-liner raises an interesting question: Do we really mean what we say when we ask not to be led into temptation? If most of us are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we seldom really want to be delivered from temptation, mainly because temptation promises us way too much fun. Temptation stirs the blood and inflames the imagination. As a matter of fact, if we were revolted by temptation, it wouldn’t be temptation at all. Occasionally we are given the grace to see where temptation will take us, and we cry out for deliverance before the fact. But usually temptation doesn’t seem all that bad because, rather than repulse us, it arouses our desire. If temptation brought chains to bind us, we might be able to resist it on our own. But on the surface, temptation does not appear to be an oppressive force. As a matter of fact, it entices us with promises of prosperity and unbound freedom. It brings flowers, candy, and perfume; it offers comfort and cheer. Temptation promises good times and satisfaction as it bribes us with wealth and popularity and the freedom to have it our way. Rather than resisting temptation, we dabble with it, debate with it, flirt with it—and in the process, we invite it into our lives. It is only after we are ensnared that we cry out to God for deliverance from the consequences of our disobedience. We fall prey to temptation because we did not pray for deliverance before the fact. Both prayer and planning are part of our commitment to balanced, healthy living. Praying and planning are the things we do so that God will honor our prayer that we not be led into temptation.


From the Mozarabic Breviary, a liturgical rite of the Latin Church once used generally in the Iberian Peninsula (Hispania), in what is now Spain and Portugal.  Developed during Visigoth (Arian Christian) rule of the Iberian peninsula  in the 500s AD.      

Grant us, O Lord, to pass this day in gladness and peace, without stumbling and without stain; that reaching the eventide victorious over all temptation, we may praise Thee, the eternal God, who art blessed, and dost govern all things, world without end. Amen.

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Quiet Lives


Written by Michael Wittmer, a contemporary ministry leader, pastor, and professor of theology. This is an excerpt from his  book “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”

Paul concludes his first letter to the Thessalonians by giving his readers something to shoot for in their Christian life. Paul commands these new believers “to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, earning a decent wage while tending to your vocations? How utterly ordinary! Paul, is that really all you expect from Spirit-filled believers? Pretty much. Paul confides to Titus that “our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.”  Why were such ordinary duties important to Paul? Because they alone made the gospel seem credible. Paul could preach all day long about the life-changing power of Christ, but he would convince few people without firsthand evidence that it really works. So he encouraged his followers to become good neighbors, responsible citizens who faithfully serve society by minding their callings and caring for the needs of others. No one and no job was too insignificant, for even slaves—the least influential people in Roman society—could still “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” when they quietly and swiftly carried out their master’s orders. These common Christians apparently impressed their friends and family, for their new faith spread so swiftly through the empire that in just a couple of centuries it had conquered the entire Roman world. Come to think of it, maybe a community of normal Christians doing ordinary things for Christ can change the world. It happened once. It just might happen again.


Written by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), an American Quaker poet and abolitionist.                                                                                                                      

Dear Lord and Father of humankind,

Forgive our foolish ways;

Reclothe us in our rightful mind.

In purer lives Thy service find,

In deeper reverence, praise.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,

Till all our strivings cease;

Take from our souls the strain and stress,

And let our ordered lives confess

The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the hearts of our desire

Thy coolness and Thy balm;

Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;

Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire.

O still, small voice of calm.

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Written by Valerie Hess, a contemporary Christian author, speaker, and musician. This is an excerpt from her book “Spiritual Disciplines Devotional.”

When I teach about worship, I often ask the question, if corporate worship were likened to a football game, who represents the players, who represents the cheerleaders and who represents the fans? Many people see God in the role of the players and the congregation in the role of the fans, but that is a false view that can affect the way we worship.

In reality, God is in the stands watching us, the players on the field, worship. We are being cheered on, so to speak, by worship leaders. When we view ourselves as sitting in the stands watching, we may not be motivated to do our part. We may think we need to sit in the pew and watch while the pastor and the choir worship for us, or worse, entertain us. In truth, God is sitting in the pew watching as we worship. (This analogy is imperfect because God is also there in Word and Sacrament, hosting us in the Eucharist, inviting us closer to him in the Scripture readings; but for now we will focus on the other side of this worship reality.)

The root of the word liturgy means “the work of the people.” The liturgy is meant to be done by the people, not for the people. This concept destroys the notion that worship is to make me feel good. True worship of God may actually make us uncomfortable if we are honest.


From the Daybreak Office of the Eastern Church, prayers said at dawn in the Byzantine Rite of the Eastern Orthodox Church                                                                                                                              

Lord God of our salvation,

we thank you

for all good things you do in our lives.

Help us always to look to you,

the Savior and Benefactor of our souls.

You have refreshed us in the past night,

raised us up from our beds,

and brought us to worship your glorious name.

Give us grace and power

that we may sing your praise with understanding,

pray to you without ceasing,

and continue to work out our salvation

with fear and trembling;

through the aid of your Christ. Amen.

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Unity in Christ


Written by Max Lucado, a contemporary Christian pastor and author. This is an excerpt from his book “Outlive Your Life.”

The cross of Christ creates a new people, a people unhindered by skin color or family feud. A new citizenry, based not on common ancestry or geography, but on a common Savior. My friend Buckner Fanning experienced this firsthand. He was a marine in World War II, stationed in Nagasaki three weeks after the dropping of the atomic bomb. Can you imagine a young American soldier amid the rubble and wreckage of the demolished city? Radiation-burned victims wandering the streets. Atomic fallout showering on the city. Bodies burned to a casket black. Survivors shuffling through the streets, searching for family, food, and hope. The conquering soldier, feeling not victory but grief for the suffering around him.

Instead of anger and revenge, Buckner found an oasis of grace. While patrolling the narrow streets, he came upon a sign that bore the English phrase: Methodist Church. He noted the location and resolved to return the next Sunday morning. When he did, he entered a partially collapsed structure. Windows shattered. Walls buckled. The young marine stepped through the rubble, unsure how he would be received. Fifteen or so Japanese were setting up chairs and removing debris. When the uniformed American entered their midst, they stopped and turned. He knew only one word in Japanese. He heart it. Brother.” “They welcomed me as a friend,” Buckner relates, the power of the moment still resonating more than 60 years later. They offered him a seat. He opened his Bible and, not understanding the sermon, sat and observed. During communion the worshippers brought him the elements. In that quiet moment the enmity of their nations and the hurt of the war was set aside as on Christian served another the body and blood of Christ.


Written by Max Lucado, author of today’s Meditation, and from the same book.                                                                                                                                            

Lord, in how many ways does my foolish heart make false distinctions among your people? Reveal them to me. How often do I judge someone as unworthy of you by the way I treat him or her? Rebuke me in your love. Where can I blast a wall or remove a barrier that keeps your children apart from one another? Give me some dynamite and the skill and courage to use it for your glory. What can I do in my sphere of influence to bring the love of Christ to someone who may feel ostracized or estranged from you? Lend me divine insight, and bless me with the resolve to be your hands and feet. May I be a bridge and not a wall. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

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Written by Barbara Johnson (1927-2007), an American Christian author. This is an excerpt from a book she co-authored, “Outrageous Joy.”

Someone once said, “There are no hopeless situations—only people who are hopeless about them.” Bonnie St. John Deane learned that truth firsthand in the 1984 Disabled Olympics. In the first run down the slalom course, she soundly beat her closest competitor, a skier from Austria. She confidently expected to finish first again on the second run and win the medal. Instead she fell on a patch of ice. Greatly disappointed, Bonnie halfheartedly stood up and finished the course. The Austrian won the gold medal—but not for skiing a flawless course. In fact, she too, slipped and fell. She won gold, “not for skiing faster but for getting up faster,” Bonnie wrote in her book, Succeeding Sane, “From that experience Bonnie learned that ‘winners aren’t people who never make mistakes. Winners are those who get up and finish. Gold-medal winners get up the fastest.’ ”

What a powerful analogy of the difference hope makes in our lives! Hope gives us a confident attitude that helps us get back up if we should fall. It injects us with a healthy dose of joy that assures us that no matter what happens to us on the course of life, we do not “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” [1 Thessalonians 4:13].


Written by Ambrose of Milan (339-397), a bishop of Milan who contributed to theology and doctrine of the early Christian Church and influenced Augustine of Hippo.

Merciful Lord,

Comforter and Teacher of your faithful people,

increase in your Church the desires you have given.

Strengthen the hearts of those who hope in you,

and show them the depth of your promises.

Lead all your adopted children to see with the eyes of faith,

and help them wait patiently  for the light that is now hidden;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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