In that day the people will proclaim, “This is our God in whom we trust, for whom we waited. Now at last he is here.” What a day of rejoicing! [Isaiah 25:9 (TLB)]

Come, Thou long expected Jesus Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee. [Charles Wesley]

giftMy daughter has become quite adept at hiding Christmas gifts from her husband. If she doesn’t, he will find the presents and open them early; patience is not one of his strong suits. It wasn’t one of Sarah and Abraham’s either. Although they’d been promised a son and many descendants, they grew impatient waiting and took matters into their own hands. Sarah gave Abraham her maidservant Hagar with whom to make a child. Although she made the offer, he didn’t have to accept—but he did. The boy Ishmael was the result of their rashness and the rivalry and strife that continue today in the Middle East came from that impatience. Like Sarah and Abraham, when my son-in-law knows a gift is coming, he just can’t wait until the correct time to receive it. Fortunately, while his wife may get annoyed when he takes matters into his own hands, his impulsiveness hasn’t resulted in centuries of international conflict.

Consider the people of Judah—they’d waited centuries for God’s promise to be fulfilled with the Messiah and most of them completely missed their gift. Tired of waiting, some lost faith and hope; they stopped looking for Him. Having anticipated royalty rather than an itinerant preacher, others didn’t recognize Him. Wanting someone to conquer Rome rather than sin, still others didn’t accept Him. Fortunately, my son-in-law isn’t like that. Even when he’s unsuccessful in his search for the gift, he never gives up. He knows it eventually will appear. Moreover, unlike the Judeans, he won’t ignore the package if it isn’t wrapped in fancy paper with an elaborate bow or reject it because it doesn’t fit his expectations.

David had to wait for God’s promise to materialize but, unlike Like Sarah, Abraham, and Judah, he waited patiently and never gave up hope. After being anointed by Samuel, he had to wait about fifteen years until being crowned king. He didn’t spend that time trying to force his kingship to happen nor did he sit idly and twiddle his thumbs impatiently. He wisely trusted God. The shepherd boy used his waiting time to prepare for the challenges of kingship by growing physically, intellectually, and spiritually so he was ready to receive his crown when God gave it to him.

Unlike David, Sarah, Abraham, and the Jews, my son-in-law knows exactly when his Christmas gifts will arrive—December 25! Unfortunately, when waiting on God to act, we rarely have a calendar marked with His delivery date and we certainly don’t know the date of Christ’s return. Needing patience, we can’t be like Sarah and Abraham who tried to make things happen before the appointed time. Needing faith, we can’t be like the Jews who stopped looking and believing in God’s promised provision. Instead, we must be like David who waited with patience and faith while readying himself for the receipt of God’s promised provision.

When He returns is not as important as the fact that we are ready for Him when He does return. [A.W. Tozer] 

Don’t be impatient. Wait for the Lord, and he will come and save you! Be brave, stouthearted, and courageous. Yes, wait and he will help you. [Psalm 27:14 (TLB)]

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Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven. [Mark 13:26-27 (NLT)]

advent wreathIt’s less than a month until Christmas. This Christmas will be vastly different from past ones for us as I imagine it will be for you. Traditionally, our holiday season has been a busy and festive one of concerts, friends, church, fellowship activities, volunteering, entertaining, and family but being in the midst of a pandemic has changed all that. In an attempt to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in what has been a dreary and disappointing year, I’ve started decorating for the holiday and playing Christmas music. Christmas, however, is more than decorations, carols, presents, parties, and peppermint bark. Perhaps not having all of the fun-filled extras of this season will help us focus on its true meaning.

When I was young, I always had a special Advent calendar with a nativity scene and 24 little numbered “windows.” Starting December 1, I opened a window every day to find a special picture or Bible verse that helped tell the Christmas story. Advent, however, isn’t just a way to count down the days until Christmas. In the 4th and 5th centuries, the season of Advent wasn’t about Christmas at all. Lasting 40 days, it was a season of penance, prayer, and fasting in preparation for the baptism of new believers on the Feast of Epiphany (January 6). By the 6th century, Advent was tied to the coming of Jesus—but not His first arrival in Bethlehem. Coming from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming,” Advent was about Christ’s second coming—when the one who arrived as a lamb would return as a triumphant lion. It was not until the Middle Ages that four Sundays became Advent’s length and the season was linked to both Christ’s first and second comings along with His presence among us through the Holy Spirit.

Although the custom of an Advent wreath began with Lutheran and Roman Catholic families in 16th century Germany, it didn’t spread to churches until three centuries later. The wreath is a circle of evergreen branches; its circular shape, with no beginning or end, symbolizes the immortality of the soul and God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Four candles, representing the four weeks of Advent, are arranged around the wreath; sometimes, a fifth candle is in its center. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas with the fifth candle lit on Christmas.

The season of Advent begins this Sunday and, while COVID-19 keeps us from our liturgical church and its Advent wreath ritual, it can’t prevent us from observing Advent at home. We will read the pleas for a savior found in Isaiah 60 and Psalm 80, Jesus’ words about His return in Mark 13, and Paul’s assurance that Jesus will return in 1 Corinthians 1. While it doesn’t seem Christmassy to read about Jesus’ return before He’s appeared in Bethlehem, these readings are reminders that ours is an in-between time—a time between Jesus’s first arrival and His final return. After the readings, we’ll light the first candle on our Advent wreath: the candle of hope, often called the “prophecy candle.” We’ll say a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of hope that came with the Messiah. This first candle will remind us that we wait with hope for His return: for the time when Satan is defeated, God’s final judgment occurs, all things are made new, and all of God’s promises come true! May the candle of hope stay lit in our lives!

Let us be alert to the season in which we are living. It is the season of the Blessed Hope, calling for us to cut our ties with the world and build ourselves on this One who will soon appear. He is our hope—a Blessed Hope enabling us to rise above our times and fix our gaze upon Him. [A.W. Tozer]

However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert! … Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. I say to you what I say to everyone: “Watch for him!” [Mark 13:32-33,36-37 (NLT)]

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Naples FL sunsetDon’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. [Isaiah 41:10 (MSG)]

The minute I said, “I’m slipping, I’m falling,” your love, God, took hold and held me fast. When I was upset and beside myself, you calmed me down and cheered me up. [Psalm 94:18-19 (MSG)]

In 1939, on the eve of World War II, the British government produced three posters to be used in the event of war. Printed with the goal of reassuring the public of the nation’s ultimate victory, the posters featured a plain background, a small crown logo on top, and simple block lettering. The two posters that were distributed said, “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might” and “Your courage, Your cheerfulness, Your resolution will bring us victory.” The third poster, with its message to “Keep calm and carry on” was only to be issued in the event of a German invasion. Fortunately, it never was needed. In 1945, most of the “Keep calm” posters were destroyed and forgotten until some were discovered and popularized sixty years later. In spite of the unsettled political climate in our nation, freedom doesn’t seem to be in peril but, if there ever were a time we need, pluck, optimism, determination, and composure, it is now!

Since we’ve been invaded by COVID, I’ve seen several memes with variations on the “Keep calm” posters. They suggest everything from keeping calm and washing our hands, quarantining on, masking up, and staying home, to drinking wine, baking brownies, eating chocolate, blaming someone else, and calling Batman. One simply said “Now panic and freak out!” When faced with a disaster, misfortune, or major mess up, I admit to having done nearly all of those things (except call Batman) but none did much to calm my troubled soul. Perhaps the Christian’s versions of the original poster would have a cross on the top and include suggestions to keep calm and pray on, remember God loves us, or trust in the Lord and His plan. At least, those suggestions would work!

Let’s remember: Jesus stilled the water and waves on the Sea of Galilee with just a word! If He can do that, He is more than capable of calming our troubled hearts and quieting every storm in our lives, even a global pandemic! In the face of life’s predicaments, troubles, uncertainties, and calamities, let us choose to carry on with courage, cheerfulness, and resolution by keeping calm and praying on!

When we fight our battles on our knees, we win every time. [Charles F. Stanley]

You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan. [John Bunyan]

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (MSG)]

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I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. [Isaiah 46:4 (NLT)]

If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself. [Anonymous]

Grandpa J

Several years ago, a friend’s spry 94-year old mother emailed the family about having forgotten her elbow brace on the way to the exercise room in her senior residence. After returning to her apartment and donning the brace, the woman took an inventory of the other pieces of hardware she needed to get through each day. Along with the elbow brace, she wore bi-focal glasses, two hearing aids, a knee brace, two sets of dentures, two orthopedic shoe inserts, and one doe-skin support for three toes. Even without inventorying the number of medications that were part of her daily regimen, she observed that “it’s not a simple management situation” to keep track of it all. Feeling blessed that she didn’t need a cane and walker as did many her age, she closed her message by reminding the younger family members to take care of themselves. She continued her optimistic outlook and daily exercise routine until she went home to the Lord just a few months before her 100th birthday. Her light-hearted email remains a serious reminder that time takes a toll on our bodies.

Within my circle, many have reached the age when God has started to recall some of their parts. A few are nearly  bionic with their titanium plates, pacemakers, implanted cardioverter defibrillators, replacement heart valves, intraocular lenses, artificial hips and knees, or portable oxygen concentrators. As my mother-in-law observed in her 102nd year, “Old age is not for sissies!” Indeed, it presents a fair number of challenges. Nevertheless, as long as we’re still breathing, we should be in good spirits and thankful. Old age is a gift from God and one denied to far too many of our friends and family. It is a privilege not a punishment, an opportunity rather than a misfortune, and a blessing not a curse.

Even though we slow down and start wearing out as the years progress, God (who is older than time itself) remains the same and is constant in His care for us. He doesn’t stop working in our lives because parts of our bodies have ceased to function properly. He doesn’t put us out to pasture because we can no longer carry a load, consign us to the trash heap because we have some broken parts, or scrap us because we’re out of date. In God’s eyes, no matter how old or run-down His children are, no one is considered unusable or obsolete! He is as close to us now as when we took our first breath and He’ll be right beside us when we take our last one. God carried us as children and He will continue to carry us until He recalls our worn out bodies and takes us on our final trip home.

Before we take that last journey, however, there is still work to be done in God’s earthly kingdom. As long as we are breathing (even if we need an oxygen concentrator to do it), there is someone somewhere with whom we can share God’s love and good news. Just don’t forget your elbow brace or cane on the way out the door!

But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!” [Psalm 92:12-15 (NLT)]

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. [2 Corinthians 4:16 (NLT)]

Today’s picture is of my father-in-law—a man who never grew obsolete. Even though his physical strength waned, his spiritual strength never did and he continued to bear fruit until he went home at age 96.

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On that day life-giving waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half toward the Dead Sea and half toward the Mediterranean, flowing continuously in both summer and winter. And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. [Zechariah 14:8-9 (NLT)]

Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free! … Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. [Isaiah 55:1,6 (NLT)]

from hanging lake, coloradoLiving in a country where clean water readily flows out of a faucet, we don’t fully understand the concept of “living water” or mayim chaim. Ancient Israel was an arid land where fresh water was precious. Because it only rained a few months of the year, rain was stored in cisterns and grew stagnant. In contrast, living water came directly from God either by rain or a natural spring. Unlike sea water and the hypersaline Dead Sea, which looked refreshing but were poisonous and made the surrounding land barren, mayim chaim brought life. Throughout Scripture, “living water” was associated with God.

During the harvest festival of the Feast of Booths (Hag Sukkot), the Jews were called to remember God’s providential care for them during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness before coming to the Promised Land. God commanded Israel to observe this festival by leaving their homes and living in temporary shelters (sukkot) as they had done during the exodus.

By the time of Jesus, several rituals had been added to enrich the celebration. As a way of remembering the water God supplied when Moses struck the rock with his staff, the Hoshana Rabbah (meaning “please save”) was performed on the last day of the feast. With great ceremony, the priests filled a golden container with water from the pool of Siloam, brought it to the Temple, and circled the altar seven times. Prophecies from Ezekiel 47 and Zechariah 14 were read and, after three trumpet blasts, the priests poured out the water.  The water spilling onto the ground signified God’s salvation through water and the prophets’ promises that, in the time of restoration, rivers of living water would flow from the temple and Jerusalem. As the water poured down, words from Psalm 18:25-26 were chanted: “Please Lord, save us …. Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

It was on the last day of Sukkot, when the courts of the Temple would have been packed with people, that Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds: “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”[John 7:37-38] Whether Jesus spoke while the priests poured out the water, during the chanting of “Save Us,” or while people dismantled their shelters, we don’t know but the connection between this ceremony and Jesus’ declaration that He was the living water caused a tremendous disturbance. Referring to the Spirit and eternal life rather than drinking water, Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah.

Some of those who heard Jesus’s words thought Him to be the Messiah. Others, knowing the prophecies but not knowing His birthplace, argued Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah since He wasn’t born in Bethlehem. Some believed Him to be a prophet and others wanted Him arrested for blasphemy. Indeed, if Jesus hadn’t been the Messiah, His words would have been blasphemous.

When Jesus spoke that day, He was repeating God’s invitation to salvation found in Isaiah 55. By saying that rivers of living water flowed from Him, Jesus’ words fulfilled all that the Festival of Booths signified. As the mayim chaim, Jesus would satisfy people’s thirst for God.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life. [John 4:13 (NLT)]

With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation! [Isaiah 12:3 (NLT)]

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So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. [1 Peter 5:6-7 (NLT)]

Humility is the proper estimate of oneself. [Charles Spurgeon]

silk floss tree“Haven’t they ever seen this show? They’re sure to fail!” I exclaimed as we watched the two chefs attempt to make panna cotta in the final round of Chopped. An Italian dessert made of sweetened cream, gelatin, and flavorings, panna cotta usually requires a minimum of four hours to set. In spite of chefs using quick process gelatin, liquid nitrogen, or the blast chiller to speed things up, I don’t think there’s ever been a successful panna cotta on the show. In fact, Chopped judge chef Alex Guarnaschelli calls panna cotta “Chopped suicide!” Nevertheless, these two chefs were sure they would be the ones who could pull it off in the allotted 30-minutes. As expected, instead of ending up with a dessert resembling a Jell-O mold made with cream, they both served something more like melted ice cream. I wondered what made them think they were that much better than any of the other chefs in the twelve years the show has aired. Apparently, competitive chefs tend to be a little short in the humility department!

We may not be chefs who think they’re more skilled than everyone else but, sometimes, we think we’re more skilled than God! As unwilling as the chefs were to accept that gelatin needs time to set, we’re often as unwilling to wait for God to do His work, His way, in His own time. So, rather than humbly admitting that God knows best, we try to be God and make things happen our way and in our time.

“Pray as if everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you,” often is attributed to St. Ignatius and that advice may be wise in some cases. Nevertheless, there are times when we must humbly step back and leave it all to God. Just as it’s impossible to make a panna cotta in thirty minutes, we can’t make other people change. We can’t make them reconcile, forgive, love, heal, believe, or get sober but, sometimes, we act as if we can! Instead of using the blast chiller or extra gelatin, we try to nudge things along with intimidation, meddling, prying, interference, or concealment. Take it from one who’s learned the hard way, when we think our way is better and faster than God’s, the result is far worse than a runny panna cotta.

A certain amount of arrogance probably is necessary in cooking competitions. The chef needs to think he can achieve the impossible and, someday, a chef may prove victorious over 30-minute panna cotta. Prayer, however, is not a competition; it is a lesson in humility. It is admitting our powerlessness and handing the challenge to God for Him to deal with in His own time and way. Victory alone comes from Him!

We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of “good time” is seldom in sync with ours. [Oswald Chambers]

I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. … Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. [Psalm 62:1,5-7a (NLT)]

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