Carol of the Bells

Merry Christmas.

Today’s post comes to you in the form of music and video.  Below is a video of last night’s remarkable performance of “Carol of the Bells” performed by the Park siblings. ( Caleb-12, Aaron-14 and Emily-16)

Enjoy, and may you experience the reality of the incarnation wherever you are.

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Our God has Come

Our God, mighty and all powerful.

Did not come with pomp and pageantry.

His birth was not celebrated with feasts and extravagant celebrations.

Rather born in crude stable,

Attended by animals, his parents and some shepherds.

Yet here He was.  Our God had come.

As a baby, vulnerable and in need.

And as Mary comforted the one who came to comfort the world,

Heaven rejoiced.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Steve Dallwig

 

White as Snow

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When I worked for Lincoln Village Ministry in Alabama, I lived in the neighborhood I served.  It was an area where the houses and yards were a physical manifestation of the deep devastation of sin and hopelessness.  An area where pizza companies would not even deliver to during the day.

Mostly, I was honored to live there.  God blessed me with an almost instant trust among my neighbors – who became friends, and then family.  I knew I could walk the streets without fear because the word on the street was that I was a friend of the neighborhood, so they were good to me (and would seriously deal with anyone who didn’t share that opinion!).

But sometimes I got angry about what surrounded me.  Sometimes I hated to look out my window and see all the brokenness – all the messed-up lives.  Sometimes I couldn’t shake it or trust God with it.

Then one day, it snowed. And snowed. And snowed.  Our town was covered with 8-10 inches of snow and we were shut down for 5 days!  As the kids and I walked the streets, everything was so beautiful!  So clean!  So dazzling white and wonderful!  Our houses and yards were transformed into a picturesque turn-of-the-century village filled with joy and smiling faces. And these words whispered in my ears:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

This physical representation gave me just a glimpse of God’s mysterious spiritual truth.  He covers us. He has made us white as snow.  How can this be?  How can he look at my bad attitude, selfish motives, anger-ridden heart and see beauty?  I have no idea and sometimes I really struggle to walk in the freedom this promise brings.  But I’m thankful for snow.  Thankful that God, through Isaiah 1:8, gave me a picture to hold on to.

Naomi Moseley

God Works in Bizarre Ways

Matthew 1:3-6 (NIV)

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, [4] Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, [6] and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, . . .

The list of names in Jesus’ genealogy holds a few surprises.  Matthew makes it clear from the very beginning that the rescue mission now underway through the coming of Jesus, God’s anointed King, is going to happen in a way that is very strange.  He is about to tell the story of how Jesus’ mother became pregnant, not through her fiancé, Joseph, but through the Holy Spirit. Anticipating this, he adds the names of three women. These names would catch any Jewish reader’s attention, because women are almost never mentioned in a Jewish genealogy.

These women serve as reminders of the strange ways in which God works to fulfill His promises. Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law, whom he had treated as a prostitute.  Rahab, the mother of Boaz, was the Jericho prostitute who rescued the spies in the days of Joshua.  Uriah’s wife, the mother of Solomon, was none other than Bathsheba, with whom David committed adultery.

If God could work in these bizarre ways, we can only imagine what he is going to do in the story that follows. Matthew is announcing two things with his genealogical record of Jesus’ ancestors.  First, God is now fulfilling 2,000 years of his purposes and promises.  Second, something quite new and different is about to happen.

Thankfully, God continues to work in bizarre ways. Women like Rahab remind us that no matter how far we have fallen or what terrible things have transpired in our lives, we are never beyond the reach of God’s purposes and promises.  In a strange way they often become part of the story of his redemptive love coming to fresh expression in our lives.

Jim Mckee

A Lesson Learned from Mr. Grinch

grinch-2While driving home from a family trip to the grocery story, Mr. Grinch was playing on the radio.  At first, I sang along, missing every other word, laughing at the silly lines.  As I listened to the following line, there was a prick in my spirit.  It got my attention.  The line was,

“You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch.
You’re a nasty wasty skunk.
Your heart is full of unwashed socks.
Your soul is full of gunk,
Mr Grinch.”

I think it was the line about a soul full of gunk that really made me think.  Isn’t that really the sad truth about all of us?  Until Jesus steps in to rescue us, clean us up, and make us presentable to God, we’re all pretty much in the same shape as the mean old Grinch.

For a lot of us, the Christmas season seems to bring out the best in us.  We’re friendlier to strangers, we give more to charity, we feed the homeless more, and the list goes on. Underneath it all, we’re still the same “nasty wasty” messes we were before, but our focus is continually drawn to Jesus during this season.  I think that’s what makes the difference.  Just imagine our lives if we maintained this hyper-focus on Jesus throughout the year.  I believe it would make a big difference in the way we live our lives, the way we treat others, and in the way we view the world around us.  So that’s my new goal for the coming year, to live everyday like it’s Christmas.

Trisha Umanah

Missing Pieces

I miss my dad.

We had our last conversation on December 14, 2007 at the Christmas tree lot where I was working at the time. It was a 45-minute talk about everything and nothing that I will treasure forever. Afterwards he went home, put up the Christmas tree, went to sleep, and never woke up.

I tend to get melancholy during the holidays because he died so close to Christmas. Don’t get me wrong – I love this time of year. I love seeing my kids’ excitement build as we get closer to Christmas Day. I love the lights and the spirit of the season, but I also feel a deep sense of loss.

The song ‘Snow’ by Sleeping At Last says:

The table is set and our glasses are full

Though pieces go missing, may we still feel whole

Despite the losses we must deal with, we have the chance to be made whole because of the Savior who came to us at Christmas. He restores us, shares our broken hearts, and offers us tireless hope.

I recorded an arrangement of the song.  Take a listen…

‘Snow’ by Sleeping At Last

The branches have traded their leaves for white sleeves
All warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe
Scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees
Christmas lights tangle in knots annually

Our families huddle closely
Betting warmth against the cold
But our bruises seem to surface
Like mud beneath the snow

So we sing carols softly, as sweet as we know
A prayer that our burdens will lift as we go
Like young love still waiting under mistletoe
We’ll welcome December with tireless hope

Let our bells keep on ringing
Making angels in the snow
May the melody disarm us
When the cracks begin to show

Like the petals in our pockets
May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts

The table is set and our glasses are full
Though pieces go missing, may we still feel whole
We’ll build new traditions in place of the old
‘Cause life without revision will silence our souls

So let the bells keep on ringing
Making angels in the snow
May the melody surround us
When the cracks begin to show

Like the petals in our pockets
May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts

As gentle as feathers, the snow piles high
Our world gets rewritten and retraced every time
Like fresh plates and clean slates, our future is white
New year’s resolutions will reset tonight

Let our bells keep on ringing
Making angels in the snow
May the melody disarm us
When the cracks begin to show

Like the petals in our pockets
May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts

Chris Reid

Christmas Card

My kids are hugging and laughing on our family Christmas card this year. Based on the card, friends will see that I have picture perfect kids. They will see that happy moment. That picture is not our life though. It is a glimpse. It is a snapshot. It is a time when things were good. People won’t really know our story by looking at this Christmas photo. They won’t see the argument over what to wear or how to stand that day. They also won’t see the days in May when our house was in an uproar or the long night we had full of tears in October. They will just see that one, captured moment when there was joy, and be uninformed of all the turmoil that surrounded it.

This makes me think about the trials in our lives. When we are in the middle of a crisis, they are all we see. We lose focus of all the blessings that came before and all God has in store for us to come after. Just like that happy Christmas photo is not the “whole picture”, neither are our trials. God does not want us to find our identity in life’s struggles. Our hard times are just that, a time, a glimpse, a moment, a snapshot and one scene in a much greater story.

When we are in the midst of a crisis, we can’t let it define us. Doing that would be as inaccurate as letting that photo define my family. As you look at those beautiful Christmas photos this year, let them be a reminder that as you face hardships in 2014, those too are just snapshots in a much bigger picture that God is in control of.

Tonya Cherry

Stories to Tell

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Every family uniquely expresses their story in their customs and culture. I was fortunate to have grown up having both sets of my grandparents within a two-hour drive from the city of Atlanta, both of whom have very different values. Being so close made juggling different family obligations and expectations incredibly difficult. To help ease the tension my parents devised a system. As a family we would spend Christmas Eve with my dads parents in Cobb County, which was about 40 minutes away from our house in Decatur. That part of my family is massive, with over 25 people at any given gathering. As a family we decided long ago to forgo normal gift protocol to instead exchange white elephant gifts. The stories that came out of those exchanges still make me laugh to this day. Christmas day was almost always spent at my mom and dads house. There we would exchange gifts as a family waiting, and watching every child open their gifts with excitement. Afterword’s my mom and dad cooked an amazing feast for the family. The day after Christmas wewould load up our car and head to my moms parents home in Columbus, Georgia. Those were always sweet times for my family. My moms parents house was filled with the warm and inviting smells of homemade fudge, Christmas Cookies and other awesome treats that my grandmother put together for us. Inside their house was also this manger scene that was built by my great grandfather in Germany. This manger had an almost magnetic effect on us as children, because there was just something so beautiful about it. These are some of the best memories I have of Christmas growing up, and the stories came from us being together as a family. It’s been almost 10 years since I lived anywhere close to my parents and grandparents and in that time, Becky and I have started our own traditions taken from the best of both families. As our kids get older those stories and customs will undoubtedly change again, and yet one thing never changes.

As I reflect on Christ’s coming this morning I am reminded that all of us have a unique story to tell. For some of us Christmas is about a favorite tradition, a gathering moment, a song celebration, or the Savior. For others Christmas can be an incredibly difficult time with reminders of loss and grief all around. Wherever you find yourself this season Christmas was meant to lead us to the resurrection and the reminder that as followers of Christ we have been written into a beautiful story that is larger than ourselves. It’s a story of hope for those who feel hopeless. It’s a story of peace for those who feel anxious. It’s a story of fullness for those who are hungry for something more. It is a story of forgiveness for those who struggle like me. This story is rooted in Christ’s redeeming work. Our King has come, rejoice! I had the chance to re-read Luke 1 with fresh eyes this past week. In the passage Mary beautifully expresses this same hope of what would one day be.

Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Patrick Allen

Christmas Contemplation

What are you hoping for this Christmas?

wool coats, thick scarves, hats and gloves

crackly wood fires, soft twinkling lights, pretty ornaments hanging from the tree

laughter of loved ones and the clink of silverwarenoses pressed to the window pane, anticipating snow…

What are you looking for?

What are you longing for?

I long for stillness

for space to simply be

I’m so weary

I long for a heart that’s soft

soft enough to be captured by little-child wonder –

to marvel once more that God let His own son be held in human arms

Mary and Joseph held God.

Stunning

Unthinkable

creation cradling the Creator

He would make himself so vulnerable

to reach us?

Lauren Bauman

Alone and Anxious

People tell me what it’s like during the first holiday season following a loss. Whether it’s the loss of a spouse through death, the loss of a marriage, or the loss of a relationship, I hear similar things. The thought of being alone for the first time in years was frightening. Not having an arm to hold at holiday festivities leaves them feeling incomplete.

Making matters worse, everywhere they look, from television commercials to the shopping malls, they see happy couples doing happy things together. These images only serve to reinforce their feelings of anxiety and loneliness.

And if they are divorced there is nothing quite as anxious and stressful as having encounters with relatives during the holidays. Having to talk about things that are personal and painful.

The holidays can indeed be very painful, especially when we desire to spend them with someone special. So it’s easy to feel incomplete, lonely, and anxious. It can be overwhelming.

One of the great messages of the incarnation is that God is near, very near. Jesus is now with us, even in us.

The Christmas message is a celebration of God’s love toward man. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is nothing if it is not personal. God loves you individually. He knows you better than you know yourself, yet He loves you. He entered this world, took on human flesh, and died on a cross to bear your sin, and to remove your guilt. He did it so you might enter into His presence.

The God of the universe has come very near. Could there be a more profound answer to our aloneness and anxiety?

Rich Starsoneck