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This is my first attempt at uploading audio teaching. This is being done through SoundCloud – so let’s see how it works. If you like what you hear, you may want to “follow” me on SoundCloud as Prayerlogue – or follow my blog where I will also post the teaching.

 

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How hard is it for you to see God at work in today’s culture?

Have you ever been discouraged about a turn of events? Not just when bad things happen to good people, but when very good things seem to be happening to very bad or immoral people? When it seems like justice will never be done, and the wicked get away with (sometimes literal) murder?

If you’ve ever felt that way (and who hasn’t), then you know exactly how the Psalmist felt in Psalm 73.

Psalm 73, verses 1-3, begins with what I’ve often called a “Yeah, but…” statement. The Psalmist says (to paraphrase), “Yeah I know that God is good to Israel, and especially to those with a clean and pure heart, but this is what had happened to me…” Then, he spends the next 13 verses despairing over how the wicked are getting away with everything, and, no matter how clean (pure) he tries to be, he still has problems!

“Until…” until verse 17 when we reach the “tuning point” in the Psalm.

In verse 17, we see the Psalmist’s “Ah-ha!” moment when he says, in essence, “I felt this way about what I saw, until I went into the sanctuary of God, then I perceived (or understood) their end.” Once he took his anguish to God, then his eyes were opened. Even though he was in despair, he knew enough, believed enough, to take (dare we say “drag”) his struggle into the sanctuary.  The Psalmist’s ultimate statement of faith in this Psalm is that God is good to Israel, as well as to those who have a pure heart, and when they seek God’s face, God will let them “see” Him. This is, in essence, the same thing that Jesus says in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

The Greek word for pure is kat-har-os. It means clear, pure or unalloyed. It carries with it a sense of being untainted or free from pollution. The one who is “pure in heart” will have no mixed emotions, no ulterior motives, and does not “serve two masters” (cf Matthew 6:24). When one’s heart is pure, they will be allowed to “see God.” They will not just “see God” to look at Him, or see God someday in heaven, but will see, understand, be aware, of God at work in the here and now.

They will be able to see God’s mighty hand in the circumstances of everyday life so clearly that, when others are saying “luck” or “karma” or “coincidence,” the pure in heart will be saying, “No, it’s God!” And they will know, because they will see!

 

Prayer: Almighty God, we ask that in our times of struggle You will lead us to Your sanctuary and open our eyes to see You at work. Amen.

 

 

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A poem written in the early 80’s when I was pregnant with our first child.

 

A Mother’s Eighth Psalm

The Psalmist said,

“What is man that Thou art mindful of him

for Thou hast made him

only a little lower than the angels.”

 

And I say,

What am I, that You are mindful of me?

For You have made me a woman

and capable of

creation myself.

 

And I have carried a child in my womb

and borne him into the world.

But today that child alone must choose

“Whom ye will serve…”

and only he can

“Confess with your mouth

and believe in your heart…”

for himself

I can’t do it for him…

 

Being a creator isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

 

God,

what did you feel

when You turned man loose

with Your creation?

 

 

 

 

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A friend and I were talking about fear and trusting God. I have had times of great fear when learning to trust God. I wrote this about 15 years ago – it has been a long and at times, hard journey getting here. And I still don’t trust like I should… but I’m getting there.

The Fear of the Lord

Solomon declared,

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”

And I do have fear.

Sometimes

to the point of despair.

For I know that nothing happens

without first passing through the Hand of God.

God calls forth the act, directs the act

or He allows the act.

And so I fear – What will be His Will?

 

My mind and my heart struggle for control

of the emotion.

My heart says “Love”

and my mind says “Sovereignty”

with “sovereignty” being a fearful word.

 

I’ve seen God act to spare His people

and I’ve also seen Jeremiah thrown

into a well,

And Hosea sent to marry a harlot.

How can such infinite Love

allow such personal tragedy?

And so I fear…

 

But fear of the Lord

is the beginning of knowledge.

And with knowledge comes wisdom,

and with wisdom comes faith.

And with faith comes assurance

that sovereignty is not a fearful word

but is indeed Love.

 

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newman-lane-winter

That “Thy Will Be Done” Thing

Sometimes “life” just blindsides you, doesn’t it? You think you have a plan – and then things change. It’s that way for all of us, I think. I recently had a situation arise that was completely unexpected – and I’ll admit – it sorta knocked me off my feet for a moment. (Ha! “Moment” nothing – for a good while!)

But – on the farm – chores still have to be done, regardless. So, as I was walking up the road toward the barn, I was praying. “Lord! How’m I gonna do this? How can I…” and I began naming off the things that I was (am) responsible to do. “What do You want me to do”? I cried. “I thought ‘this’ was what I was supposed to be doing… and now there’s ‘this’ added on… And I don’t see how I can do it all!”

But as I walked, head down and hands in my coat pockets due to the cold, the phrase “Thy will be done” came to mind and I looked up and said, “It’s that ‘Thy will be done’ thing, isn’t it?”

God’s will, will be done – the only variable is – what is my reaction to it. How will I say, “Thy will be done…”

In a Lenten study I wrote a few years ago we come to the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. You know the story – Jesus enters the garden and takes Peter, James and John with Him – and as Jesus agonizes in prayer, Peter, James and John immediately fall asleep. But what we study in that lesson is how do we learn to say, “Thy will be done”?

William Barclay puts it this way:

“It makes all the difference in what tone of voice a man says, “Thy will be done.”

  1. He may say it in a tone of helpless submission, as one who is in the grip of a power against which it is hopeless to fight. The words may be the death-knell of hope.
  2. He may say it as one who had been battered into submission. The words may be the admission of complete defeat.
  3. He may say it as one who has been utterly frustrated and who sees that the dream can never come true. The words may be those of a bleak regret or even a bitter anger which is all the more bitter because he cannot do anything about it.
  4. Or, He may say it with the accent of perfect trust. That is how Jesus said it. He was speaking to one who was “Father”; He was speaking to a God whose everlasting arms were underneath and about him, even on the cross. He was submitting, but he was submitting to the love that would never let Him go. Life’s hardest task is to accept what we cannot understand; but we can do even that if we are sure enough of the love of God.

This morning, standing in the cold as I prepared to do “farm chores” I had to decide just how I would say, “Thy will be done…” and I choose to trust.

God is perfect. He is Omnipotent – He is all powerful. He is Omnipresent – He is everywhere – and He is with me… He is Omniscient – He knows every single thing – and He knows what is best in my life and He knows what will bring Him glory. And so I choose to trust Him. But now, that’s not to say that I didn’t feel every single one of those other emotions. It’s just that at this point in my life I know that the only answer is to trust. I know that to “trust and obey” is truly the only to be “happy in Jesus”.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy – it just means that I choose to trust because it’s that “Thy will be done” thing.

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Finishing Up Christmas

It’s just different – having Christmas on Sunday. Personally, I like the idea of being in church on the day that we celebrate our Lord’s birth, but there are a lot of other things that it changes, too. Not only does it mean that you’re in church two days in a row (and sometimes very late Saturday night as well as early Sunday morning) but, it also means that Christmas Sunday is the last Sunday in the month.

When Christmas falls on any other day of the week – there is one more Sunday left in the month of December. This allows for – well – closure. We’re allowed to “have Christmas” and still have one more Sunday to reflect on the year – and one more Sunday to hear a concluding Christmas sermon before taking down all the decorations and jumping into the New Year. Many pastors start new sermon series on the first Sunday in January, but there’s just something abrupt about starting something new, immediately the Sunday after Christmas.

I will be preaching on New Year’s Day this year and I’m going to “finish up Christmas”. My sermon will revolve around Simeon and Anna and their response/reaction to the Christ Child. But perhaps, that is a perfect New Year’s sermon. Just how will our response/reaction to the Christ Child direct our new year?

So really – maybe it’s actually the perfect way to begin the New Year after all!

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, what is my response to the Christ Child? Have I been waiting in anticipation for His coming? Am I waiting in anticipation for His second coming? As we take our first steps into this New Year, I pray that they will be made with a hope and eagerness that expresses our faith and trust that You, and You alone, hold this New Year.

Father, the world around us is in turmoil. As the hymn writer said [there are] “fightings and fears within and without…” How do we walk faithfully in such a time as this?

We turn, Father, to Your Word. Simeon and Anna lived in an equally fearful time and they walked faithfully. May we hold to their example as we face this daunting new year. We wait in eager anticipation for Christ’s glorious return, and every day we pray “Maybe today, Lord. Maybe today. But as we walk daily in the presence of our Savior we also sing with the hymn writer, “O Lamb of God, I come… I come”.

Thank you Lord for faithful writers who fill our hearts with courage, peace and joy! In the precious name of our Savior we pray – Amen.

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first-umc-desplaines-il

First UMC DesPlaines, IL

 

There are many questions surrounding the Shepherds and the Wisemen. Why did God choose them to spread the Good News? Perhaps this will help a little. (I also have this is a Bible Study format with questions. If you’d like a copy please e-mail me).

 

The Shepherds

The orthodox Jew often despised the shepherds. Due to the very nature of their occupations they could not always participate in the rites and ceremonial rituals. It made no matter that the Jews’ greatest ancestors, Moses, Abraham, and David, were all shepherds and were idolized. It is much like an ancestor of ours who, though somewhat of a “rascal” or an “outcast” might be idolized or spoken of with thinly veiled price. “We wouldn’t do what they did, but…”

How much easier it is to romanticize life than to actually live it.

Therefore, the shepherds were looked upon with disgust, although they were greatly needed, because it was they who raised and cared for the “unblemished lambs” that were used for all the temple sacrifices.

They were the “blue color service industry.” All these people we greatly need, but never “see…”

 

The Wisemen

The Magi, also known as “The Wisemen” were learned men and scholars, most likely descended from the Medes. They were also skilled in astronomy and astrology, which was the study of the stars, as well as their meanings. (God said in Genesis 1:14 that the lights in the heavens were to be for “signs and seasons and for days and years.”) Astrology and astronomy were not mutually exclusive, but mutually explanatory.

The Wisemen, in addition to being a priestly tribe, were men who spent their time in study. Anyone who comes into a study (of any kind) with an open heart is prepared (however unknowingly) to hear God’s voice. (As God is over all things, He speaks in all things.)

“How do we begin to understand without study?

And how do we study without desire?

And how do we desire without seeing a need?

And how do we see a need without beginning to understand that we need to study?

It is completely God’s Calling.”

The Wisemen were called and prepared, and sent. And then they proclaimed. All without ever having known that they were used of God.

 

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manger-scene

You can find this in front of Thorngrove Christian Church on Carter School Road in East Knox County.

 

This poem was written in the late 70’s – long before our sons were born – but I just imagined how it might be…

 

A New Understanding of Christmas

 

It’s probably all been said before,

and I really don’t want to be a bore,

But, Christmas to me

and what I feel,

is so very, oh, more real

than anything that could be said.

 

Being a woman, I think of Mary,

bearing the Babe

and having to carry

the responsibility and all the while,

she was little more

than a child herself.

 

Was she afraid, so far from home,

and knowing no more

than she must have known?

Was she afraid that silent night

bearing her child with only the light

from the star for assurance

that God was there

in person and prayer

Father and Son as one?

 

I guess I’m a dreamer, but I tend to see,

how things would be

if it happened to me.

 

I wonder if

I could endure

the pain, and then still be as sure

that this was God’s plan for my life

to be a mother before a wife,

I wonder if I could.

 

I try to grasp how it must have been

in the cold damp barn

when a bunch of men

shepherds they were

reverently knelt

and quietly beheld their Savior.

 

And later then the wise men three,

coming, oh, so far to see,

the Mother and the Child

The King

the Promised One

The Messiah.

 

I’m sure then Mary softly smiled

and looked down gently at her child

The Savior of the world to be

but right now so tenderly,

He was her baby.

 

Somehow, looking out through Mary’s eyes

brings a new understanding of Christmas.

 

 

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wpumc

This is my own church Washington Pike UMC

 

Such a Simple Word (A Christmas Meditation)

 

There was a commercial several years ago where a man taught three guinea pigs to row a little boat while another one cried “row”. And the man said, “Such a simple word, ‘row’.”

I thought about that recently as I was thinking about Paul’s words in Philippians 2:5-8 where he tells of what some have called Jesus’ “7 steps down from Glory.” It can be broken down this way:

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God,

  1. did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
  2. but emptied Himself,
  3. taking the form of a bond-servant,

 

  1. and being made in the likeness of men.

 

(Then) Being found in appearance as a man

  1. He humbled Himself
  2. by becoming obedient to the point of death,
  3. even death on a cross.”

 

The first three steps take place in heaven, and the last three take place on earth, but it’s that 4th step that creates the transition between heaven and earth. The last part of verse 7 says, “…and being made in the likeness of men.” That little word “made” is the key word here.

Such a simple word… “made…”

The word literally means “to come into being.” This… is… the Incarnation. Jesus was “made in the likeness of men.” He was born. He came into the world through the birth canal. He was attached to His mother by His umbilical cord… but He had His Father’s sinless blood. His birth was for real. He didn’t “just appear.” He was born, just like you and I were. He didn’t come into existence in Bethlehem, but He was “made” in the likeness of men. And you know what? He still has that body.

Such a simple word, “made…” but oh what significance!

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nativity-beulah-umc

Nativity Scene – Beulah UMC – Knoxville, TN

 

Think About It – Mary and Joseph

Have you ever wondered why, that if “all the world should be taxed” (Luke 2:1), and that “there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7) once they got to Bethlehem, why is it that every picture, every drawing, every depiction of Joseph and Mary that we see, shows them traveling alone? Why is that?

Did Joseph know some back road to Bethlehem to avoid the traffic? Did he evade the crowds by traveling when everyone else was stopped? And where was the rest of his family? If he was “of the house and linage of David” (Luke 2:4), where were his parents, and his brothers? Well, maybe he didn’t have brothers, but where were his cousins? And what of Mary’s family? She too, was “of the house of David” through David’s son Nathan (Luke 3:31). Where were all her kith and kin?

The fact is they were surrounded by people! It was like rush hour on a Friday afternoon. Everyone had to get to their “home town” to be registered and counted for the census. So, where were Joseph’s and Mary’s parents?

What we (Bible readers) have to realize, is that this wasn’t the first census to ever be taken! No, “counting people” was a way of life in this culture… well… in any culture! How else would the government know how many people lived where? And of course there had to be a way to calculate taxes!

So what about Mary and Joseph’s parents? Most likely they were “registered” the last time there was a census, and now that Joseph was his own “head of household” he, along with his wife, Mary, had to go to Bethlehem themselves. I know (being a mother) that their parents surely worried, and wished they could go with them, but in that day no one traveled “just because they wanted to…” And so, Mary and Joseph set out alone…

No, they were not “alone” in terms of the sheer numbers of peoples traveling along the same road, but they were “alone”, nonetheless…

Have you ever felt all alone in the midst of a crowd of people? Surely that’s how Mary and Joseph felt. It had been nine months since they’d had a Word from God, at least an “audible” word… But, in a few hours that would change.

The God who said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b and Joshua 1:5), will truly “never leave you nor forsake you” either! Think about it, and count on it!

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