Friday, November 28, 2014

Celebrating the Birth of Christ with an Advent Wreath

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Many churches observe Advent on the four Sundays before Christmas. This is a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus. Advent means “coming.” The Latin word “adventus” is a translation of the Greek word in Scripture “parousia.” Both mean “coming” and usually refer to the second coming of Christ. Advent celebrates the coming of Christ as a babe in Bethlehem and also anticipates the second coming of Christ. In many churches Advent is observed by the lighting a wreath of four candles. Here’s how it’s described by the Christian Resource Institute:

The Advent wreath is an increasingly popular symbol of the beginning of the church year in many churches as well as homes. It is a circular evergreen wreath (real or artificial) with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center....

The circle of the wreath reminds us of God Himself, His eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life. Candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son. The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ….

The first candle is traditionally the candle of Expectation or Hope (or in some traditions, Prophecy). This draws attention to the anticipation of the coming of an Anointed One, a Messiah, that weaves its way like a golden thread through Old Testament history….

The third candle, usually for the Third Sunday of Advent, is traditionally Pink or Rose, and symbolizes Joy at the soon Advent of the Christ… 

The center candle is white and is called the Christ Candle.  It is traditionally lighted on Christmas Eve
My husband and I have been blessed by the Advent celebration. Our first experience of this was in 1990 when we returned to faith. I noted in a letter to our Pastor that our family celebration of Christmas now recognized its holy meanings. The celebration of Advent with marvelous Christmas hymns and music by the choir touched us. Each week the choir processed into the sanctuary led by child acolytes who lit the altar candles. Each week a family lit another of the candles in the Advent wreath. At the Christmas Eve service all five candles were lit including the center Christ candle.

Since then in our present church we’ve been similarly touched by the Advent Wreath candle lighting with Scripture readings noting the holy reason for the Season. Come one and all to church during this beautiful and holy season!

Dear Father,
Thank you for Your amazing love. Thank you for Your Advent to earth (Christmas) which we celebrate. Forgive us that we often celebrate Christmas without recognizing you. It is a time when your light shines in the dark of winter. We wear bright colors and buy gifts for one another. We go to musical performances, we sing carols, we send cards to relatives and friends, and we are more generous. Open the eyes of our hearts – all across this nation and all over the world – so we will know You, honor You, worship You. Open the eyes of those who don’t believe in You. Comfort those in pain or distress. Help us all see the Eternal purposes that conquered death and give us everlasting life. We celebrate your coming to earth as a baby – to become our Lord and Savior. What a surprise gift! And we look forward to your second coming! We thank you and praise you.

In Jesus Holy name,

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Giving Thanks is an Act of the Will

Q.  I know that you encourage people to think positively, count their blessings and be grateful. In other posts you have talked about the benefits of gratitude - that it helps us physically, mentally and spiritually. 

How can anyone do this in the midst of a very trying time ln their life? Also, how can someone learn to do this who has a life time habit of negative thinking?

A.  You ask two very important questions about learning to think positively and be thankful. We all face some dark times in life. We face marital or family problems, disability, illness, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one - to name a few common experiences. In these situations it’s normal to go through a variety of emotions. 

We feel out of control. Our life has been turned upside down. The rug has been pulled out from under us. Grieving is normal and essential to work through our disappointment and loss. Tears and some depression are normal at these times. 
However, like the person who has a life long habit of being negative, we can wallow in our grief and depression too much and too long. We do this when we paint everything with a black brush. We do this when we forget to count our blessings. We do this when we take our good fortune for granted. We do this when we’re wrapped up in ourselves and think life owes us only good times. We do this when we forget to trust and thank God.

Joni Eareckson Tada was paralyzed as the result of a diving accident in her teens. Yet she has gone on to lead a life that has touched and helped many others though she is still confined to a wheel chair. She says that the Bible verse “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is her anchor. “I gritted my teeth, pushed aside feelings of despair, and willfully gave thanks for everything from the hospital breakfast of cold cornmeal mush to the grueling hours of daily physical therapy.” 
When she began this she didn’t feel thankful. She notes the difference between feeling thankful and giving thanks. Feeling thankful involves our emotions. Giving thanks is an act of the will. Also, the Bible verse doesn’t expect us to give thanks for the difficult times. We’re only supposed to give thanks in them. Joni Eareckson Tada says that months later a miracle occurred. She began to feel thankful. Her despair lifted and her attitude brightened.

To learn from Joni Eareckson Tada, we must make a habit of counting our blessings. This is not easy for someone to do who has a habit of pessimism. For any of us it will require a decision to do this, an act of our will, that over and over again we will keep track of our blessings. 

As I’ve noted before, a gratitude journal is very helpful in disciplining us in this habit.  Write down in a notebook five things you’re thankful for each day. Look for simple pleasures - seeing a cardinal in the snow, the laughter of a child, the smile of a friend. 
To change a constant habit of pessimism requires moment by moment attention to our thoughts. We change our negative mindset by an act of the will, over and over again stopping the negative thoughts and focusing on the pluses in our lives. Prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit can help you. With practice we can make giving thanks a habit and soon we will really feel thankful.
This Thanksgiving Day let’s all thank God for our blessings and let’s begin a written gratitude journal and give thanks to God every day of the year. Doing so will bless us.

Give thanks in all circumstances.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Blessings, Dottie

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Promises of Jesus

Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 18:20  Where two or three come together in my name there am I with them.

Matthew 24:13 He who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Matthew 28:20b Surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Luke 12:6-7 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 14:1-3  Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

John 14:18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I grouped together many similar promises. It’s inspiring to read these and trust the God of all Comfort will lift every burden and be with us in every trial.

But do we trust him? I find myself worrying or fretting over the minor details of life. There’s too much to do especially at this time of year. Every little detail that doesn’t go the way I expect sends me into worry/fret mode. I must learn to trust him more.

He says we have rest for our souls, we can rest in his peace – unlike the world’s peace. He loves us so much he gave his Son to live and die for us, to ransom us, we will not be orphans. He is preparing a place for us in his Father’s house. He will come back and take us with him so we will be with him. We must learn to rest in his comfort.

Dear Father,
Your love and grace are amazing. We don't deserve to be your children but you love us so and give us your tender love and comfort. You “forgive our feverish ways” and you “drop your still dews of quietness ‘til all our strivings cease.” Oh how marvelous, Oh how wonderful! We thank you, we praise your holy name. We love you.
In Jesus name, I pray. Amen

Monday, November 10, 2014

Avoiding Divorce

Q.  My husband and I have been married for 25 years. We can’t resolve an issue that we’ve struggled with many times. We work it out for a while and then it pops up again. I love my husband but I’m not sure I can stay in our marriage any longer unless we resolve this. What do you suggest?  

A. You sound frustrated and upset about your marriage - at your wit’s end. Do you know that most couples feel this way at times? Your marriage may seem hopeless, but it probably isn’t or you wouldn’t have stayed together twenty-five years. No matter how long you’ve been married it’s never too late to work on your issues. Couples of all ages now seek help through counseling, reading books on marriage, watching marriage tapes, or attending marital groups or seminars.  A twenty-five year marriage should not be thrown away – at least not easily.
Read The Case Against Divorce by Diane Medved  and Married People - Staying Together in The Age of Divorce by Francine Klagsburn. Medved, who has been divorced and remarried, says “Leaving a marriage without exhausting its potential [for change] should be called running away.” She also says you can’t go through a divorce emotionally unscathed. Marriage isn’t easy but divorce will hurt more - in spite of what our popular culture says.
A marriage of 25 years lasts, in part, because of the positives in the relationship, because of the loving or exciting times. Are you focusing on this one problem and forgetting many other areas or times in your marriage that have been good? Most couples stay married in spite of difficulties. They struggle with differences, work out some of them and live with others unresolved. As a result they grow and mature as individuals and as a couple. They love each other and are generally content though they know they may have new struggles in the future.
Someone has said, “Commitment means a willingness to be unhappy for a while.” Commitment also means we’re willing to work on the relationship; we’re willing to put time and effort into resolving issues, even 25 year old issues. At times marriage may feel like an ordeal because it forces us to give up some of our self-centeredness and face our own flaws. We can’t always have our own way. We aren’t always kind and loving. Sometimes we control and manipulate. Life is a learning process. We learn not when things are easy but when they’re difficult. Perhaps God designed marriage to force us to grow rather than to make us happy!  Look at the differences and difficulties in your marriage as opportunities to learn and grow.

I recommend Christian counseling. Educational programs such as The Third Option or the A Weekend to Remember can also help you get unstuck and can help you regain a contented, growing love for each other. For possible counselors or marriage programs contact a local church and ask for resources.  Also check out

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you.” Proverbs 3:3

Blessings, Dottie

Monday, November 3, 2014

Books about Homsexuality and How Christ Helps

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality

By Wesley Hill

This book is a memoir written by a young man who has struggled with homosexual desires for many years. He reviews the biblical reasons for celibacy and agrees this is the standard he must keep. He struggles to change his desires and talks with a philosophy professor, a psychologist and two pastor/counselors as he goes through college and later. He clearly depicts the emotional, psychological and spiritual struggles he endured. He also includes accounts from two other Christian men with similar struggles.

I had trouble with this book because the counseling experiences seemed very shallow. As a counselor I doubted he received adequate help. If he wanted to change, why was there no discussion of how to do this? There was no social history and little information about his background even though he seemed to be a very lonely, anxious child and teen-ager with low self-esteem. I wanted to know his family relationships. I wanted a counselor to help him sort out all the influences and difficulties of his childhood and even search for major issues such as rejection or abuse. I wanted a counselor to tell him many teen-agers are lonely and uncertain of their sexual identity. I wanted a counselor to teach him to focus on thoughts from scripture rather than on his negative thoughts and feelings (desires). All Christians need to learn this. Feelings and desires come and go. We need to recognize them and let them go. To put Christ first we focus on him and let go of or ignore our feelings and desires, our self will.

It took a lot of courage and commitment to his faith for Wesley Hill to stay the course and publish this memoir. Hopefully this book will help the church affirm and connect with gays and understand their struggles.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith

By Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is an incredible, biblically sound book on a difficult subject. Rosaria Butterfield tells her story with wit, passion and transparency. As a tenured English professor in a top university she was deep into the liberal, feminist, gay agenda. When she met Jesus her life seemed “like a train wreck.” She faced chaos in every aspect of her life.

The lessons Butterfield offers are numerous. A pastor listened and did not invite her to church. He spent many, many hours with her and became her friend. Others also mentored her. She details her conversion, her lengthy repentance, followed by her sanctification and public worship. The final chapter is as amazing as the rest of the book. She marries a pastor, they adopt four black children whom she home schools. This chapter will be of interest to all home school parents. I will be rereading this book.

“This high priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.” Hebrews 4:15-16 NLT

Blessings, Dottie