Friday, November 27, 2015

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.” 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 lighting a wreath of five candles.

The Advent wreath is a circular evergreen wreath 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 evergreen wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of eternal life. The candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son. The four outer candles mark the four Sundays of Advent. They also symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.

The 1st candle is traditionally the Candle of Hope or the Candle of the Prophets. This candle anticipates the coming of an Anointed One, a Messiah who weaves his way through Old Testament prophesies. For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

The 2nd candle is called the Candle of Love or the Bethlehem Candle. “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NCV

The 3rd candle, is traditionally Pink or Rose, and is called the Candle of Joy or the Shepherds Candle. “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2: 9-12

The 4th candle is the Candle of Peace or the Angels Candle. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

The 5th candle is white and is called the Christ Candle. It is traditionally lighted on Christmas Eve after the other four candles are lit. It symbolizes the Holiness of Christ. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

Our first experience of the Advent wreath with marvelous Christmas hymns and music by the choir touched us. For four weeks prior to Christmas 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.

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. Jesus is the Reason for the Season!

Dear Father,
Thank you for this beautiful time of year – Your Advent to earth (Christmas) is often celebrated 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 around 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! We look forward to your second coming! We thank you and praise you.

In Jesus Holy name,


Friday, November 20, 2015


Q. We traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving Day dinner with every family member expressing their gratitude about the year. This year, however, we have had many problems - job losses, deaths in the family, and accidents. How can we be thankful in the midst of all these troubles? 
A.  Giving thanks in the midst of troubles or tragedy is a challenge. Many would consider it impossible or even irrational. Grieving is normal and essential to work through disappointments and losses. Tears and some depression are normal at these times. However, we can focus on grief and depression too much. We do this when we forget to count our blessings. 
The apostle Paul, who suffered beatings, shipwrecks, and even imprisonment wrote,  “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11). He didn’t say he was content about his circumstances but in his circumstances.
Joni Eareckson Tada was paralyzed as the result of a diving accident in her teens. She used the Bible verse “Give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians 5:18) as her anchor. She says, “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. The Bible verse doesn’t expect us to give thanks for the difficult times. We only need 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.
While attending a niece’s wedding years ago I took a serious fall which pushed two teeth up in my mouth and caused five stitches worth of damage to my upper lip. Though this was minor in comparison to the experiences of Joni Eareckson Tada or the writer of today’s letter, I found myself giving thanks that I was not knocked out, broke no bones, and was able to attend the wedding later the same day. I was very upset about what had happened to me but still thankful in many ways. 

Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book Simple Abundance recommends keeping a Gratitude Journal in which we write down five things we’re grateful for each day. Doing this on a daily basis for several months will change us. A gratitude journal helps us notice the small caring gestures of friends and family members. And we then thank them more. Thanking others for being in our life and for the things they do for us enhances our marriage and our family life as well as changing us, and making us contented. 

A gratitude journal will help you see that even in the midst of trouble or pain, there is this, this and this going well in your life. It will also help you recognize what the difficulty or tragedy has taught you. 

David, who wrote most of the Psalms in the Bible, wrote about his despairing inner struggles yet he also was grateful for every blessing. He very humanly describes his struggles, even wondering if God has abandoned him, yet he continues to practice gratitude.
When things go well we take our blessings for granted. Difficulties force us to recognize what’s important in life; that we need God and that we need each other. Gratitude helps us grow spiritually. It connects us with God, the source of our life and our hope. 

Give thanks on Thanksgiving Day in spite of your troubles. A gratitude journal will help you learn to be contented in any situation and Thanksgiving Day is a perfect time to begin one. Have a blessed and thankful Thanksgiving!

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”          1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB

Blessings, Dottie

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Discipline of Journaling

My small group studied a book about the Christian Disciplines. Toward the end of the book we came to a chapter on the discipline of journaling. The chapter on journaling included two quotes of interest: John Calvin said, “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.” And Scripture says: “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” Psalm 102:18 NIV

Journaling is not mentioned in the Bible but there are many examples of “journaling” in scripture, especially David and his Psalms. David wrote down his prayers, his laments, his confession, and his praise. What a legacy he left to help all seekers and Christians through the ages!

My small group knew I have a long time history of journaling and asked me to tell about it. This is what I told them.

I’ve kept many lists.
Pet Tales. One of my lists appeared on this blog near the beginning. I recounted the experiences of obtaining two white mice for our nine year old, two gerbils for our seven year old and a turtle for our five year old. The list recounts the trials that ensued in the early weeks of this. See Pet Tales here.

Days of Our Lives. From our marriage on I’ve kept a running list of major events in our lives including vacations – listing the dates, where we went, and who or what we saw. This is handy to look back at and recall when things happened.

Lists of Goals or Priorities. These were usually at the beginning of each year.

A Gratitude List.  I began this when I read The Gratitude Journal which advocated writing down five things each day you’re thankful for. I did this for a year and discovered many blessings. It helped me be positive even on a difficult day. One experience of note I still remember. In a worship gathering I looked down at my red sweater and realized I love colors. I thanked God for colors right then and for days afterward.

Random Acts of Kindness. One Lenten season someone suggested that we could do a random act of kindness every day – instead of giving up something we could give something. I did this writing them down to be certain I kept at it.

Much of my journaling has been on scripture or a prayer and has been life changing.

Twelve Steps to Spiritual Growth.  In 1992 my pastor did a sermon series on the 12 Steps. These steps are steps to spiritual healing. They were life changing for me. Of course I wrote it all down. And some years later I journaled the twelve steps again using the Life Recovery Bible.

Psalm 51.  A Bible teacher suggested journaling Psalm 51 one phrase at a time during Lent. I did this and spent the forty days confessing sins new and old and seeking God’s forgiveness. I repeated this during lent this year. And it’s on my blog.  Psalm 51 part 1 is here.

Commands of Jesus and the Promises of Jesus. At a week long conference the main speaker said she was on the remedial path in Christianity until she journaled the Commands of Jesus and the Promises of Jesus. I proceeded to do this and have posted some on my blog. See the Red Words in Scripture or the Commands of Jesus and the Promises of Jesus. Here's the first one.

Mostly I journal prayers to Father God about whatever is on my mind. Although he knows all it helps to put it into words and tell him about my yearnings, my trials big and small, my hopes and dreams and the daily activities of my life. This also gives me a reference for looking back to remember the past and to see patterns in my spiritual growth. Often I don’t know what I want to say until I take pen in hand. Sometimes when I pick up the pen I start to cry. I discover inner pain that I need to acknowledge.

How should you journal? Journal in whatever way fits you. I journal during my quiet time. I use a spiral hard bound journal. Some people like to journal on their computer. I write at least once a week and some times every day. I write a few words some times and a few pages other times. It’s best to journal at least weekly to establish the habit.

Journaling is therapeutic. In his book Opening Up, James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D. describes research on the therapeutic value of journaling. Three blogs on journaling start here.

Writing prayers is more than therapeutic. It connects you with the living God.

“Depend on the Lord in whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3

Blessings, Dottie

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Promises of Jesus

Matt 24:14 And this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

John 20:21 Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. 

Acts 1:8 You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

Jesus is speaking to his disciples in these verses. The first one is prior to his death and resurrection. The other two are after his death and resurrection. A witness is one who tells what he knows to be the truth as in a courtroom. We witness to something that we have experienced; that we know and believe. We are made in the image of God and we are to bear witness to God by reflecting Christ’s image in all we do and say. We need the power of the Holy Spirit in order to do this. And it is a great privilege that he calls us to. He doesn’t need us but he chooses to use us.

John MacArthur on Matt 24:14 says: “Despite all the tribulations that would come – the deception of false teachers, the wars, persecutions, natural disasters, defections from Christ, and all the obstacles to the spread of the gospel – the message ultimately penetrates every part of the globe. God is never without a witness, and he will proclaim the gospel from heaven itself if necessary.

On Acts 2:8 MacArthur says: “The apostles’ mission of spreading the gospel was the major reason the Holy Spirit empowered them. This event dramatically altered world history, and the gospel message eventually reached all parts of the earth. The apostles had already experienced the Holy Spirit’s saving, guiding, teaching and miracle working power. Soon they would receive his indwelling presence and a new dimension of power for witness.”

Dear Father,
Thank you for the promise that you will use us as witnesses to spread the good news. We read of the apostles Holy Spirit empowered lives. They were fully surrendered to You. They were in the grip of your glorious will for them. Help us be as radical in our surrender to you. Forgive our failures to abide in you and our failures to risk all for you. Fill us with your Holy Spirit. We want to be your witnesses in our world. We want to do your will. Help us be bold yet graceful witnesses to You – to your glory.
In Jesus Mighty Name we pray, Amen.