The Longing…

The Hymns of Christmas can express the longing of our hearts in a deep, moving way.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus was another Charles Wesley hymn, and it expresses our desire that Jesus would come to the world…and to our own lives.

This time, just listen, take in the words, and pray as you are led afterward!

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! Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art! Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart!

Joy to those who long to see Thee, Dayspring from on high appear! Come, Thou promised rod of Jesse, of Thy birth we long to hear! O’er the hills the angels singing, News–glad tidings of a birth! “Go to Him, your praises bringing–Christ the Lord has come to Earth!”

Come to earth to taste our sadness, He who’s glories knew no end. By His life He brings us gladness–Our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend! Leaving riches without number, born within a cattle stall; this the everlasting wonder–Christ was born the Lord of all!

Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a King! Born to reign in us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring! By Thine own eternal spirit, Rule in all our hearts alone! By Thine all sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne! 

Consider and Discuss:

The implications of the last verse. What would it look like if we lived with Him “reigning” in our lives, and “ruling” in our hearts?

Hark!

Christmas Carols–one of my favorite parts of the holiday season!

In our family, we have a tradition that we can’t really start listening to them until after Thanksgiving. (I should say that I, MYSELF have grown up with that tradition, and like it…but many of my family like listening to radio stations that play ‘all Christmas music, all the time’ after Halloween, so…).

Anyway, I love the music of Christmas, and while it’s always fun to find an artist who has recorded an entirely new Christmas song, I think the old Christmas Carols–especially the Christmas Hymns–are the best.

One of my favorites is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”

For me personally, this was one of ‘The Songs’ that changed everything for me!

I was sitting in midnight mass one Christmas Eve, having been going through a difficult time during the prior months, but having recently opened myself up in faith on a much deeper level. I was excited to celebrate Christmas that year, because I felt like I finally ‘understood’ it.

When this song came up and we started singing, the words hit me like never before–how powerful! I especially loved the 3rd verse, “Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die; born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth…” I was excited because I was aware that I, myself, had experienced that ‘second birth’! I knew that it referred to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John, chapter 3. I sang that song that night with everything I had–not just as a celebration of Christmas, but as a real act of worship!

It wasn’t ’till later that I found out the story behind the song. Charles Wesley, a prolific church song writer, was a bit of a ‘reformer’ in the church, often irritating the leaders above him because he pushed for reform so much. One thing he believed was that the ‘theology’–the Biblical foundations of the Church–should be ‘accessible’ to the masses, and he liked to put his theology in song.

In “Hark the Herald”, we have, in essence, the Gospel of Jesus Christ in one song:

He was God “veiled in flesh”, He was born of a virgin, He came to reconcile mankind to God, and that happens in the human heart.

Interestingly, Wesley–being a serious theologian–never wrote that “Herald angels sing”. He knew that singing angels are nowhere in scripture and it irritated him that his song had been changed like this (by George Whitfield, a revivalist preacher in those days). Later, the poem of “Hark, How All the Welkin Rings” was changed by Whitfield, then merged with the music of  Felix Mendelssohn by a another songwriter, William Cummings. Wesley and Mendelssohn never met and neither gave permission for the changes, but in either case, the song took off then, and has remained popular today.

Read each stanza of the song and try to understand the meaning behind the words. I have provided some Scriptural support for you. Look the verses up! Celebrate not only a great song, but strong hymn of the faith!

Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King, Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; with the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”. Hark! the Herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (Luke 2:8-14; Luke 19:10, Romans 8:1-3)

Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord!  Late in time, behold him come, offspring of the virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased on earth with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel! Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King”! (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Colossians 1:15-20)

Hail, the Heav’n born Prince of Peace; Hail the Son of righteousness! Light and Life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth!  Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail the Incarnate Deity! Hark! The Herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (John 3:1-16; Philippians 2: 6-8)

Come, Desire of Nation, come! Fix in us Thy humble home. O, to all Thyself impart, Formed in each believing heart! Hark! the Herald angels sing, “Glory to the Newborn King! Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Hark!” the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (Colossians 1:19-22)

The song has several versions, all of which put the same words together, but in different order.

This Christmas, when you sing it, listen–really listen to the words, and enjoy!

Discuss: What does the ‘second birth’ mean? Have you experienced it? Tell about your experience!

Prayer focus: Thank God for sending His Son to reconcile us to Himself. Thank Him for changing our hearts and lives. Thank Jesus for His willingness to come as a baby, live and die for us and to give Himself completely for us.

In either case

Don’t Sleep Through Christmas!

Do you ever wonder what it was like on the first Christmas night?

The town of Bethlehem must have been unusually crowded. After all, it wasn’t that big, but with the Decree of Ceasar Augustus, everyone had to go to the town of his ancestors to register for a census, and that meant that MANY people who had been born into the “house and line of David” would be in Bethlehem.

Joseph went there and he brought Mary, his soon-to-be-wife who was pregnant by a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. She had nothing to stay home in her own hometown of Nazareth for–she was being ostracized there, and wanted to be on the move.

Besides, as they would probably remember later, the Lord had prophesied that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem!

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you,
    one whose origins are from the distant past.” (Micah 5:2)

So, here they were–along with many other visitors, overwhelming the small town.

Joseph and Mary looked for a place to stay. It was especially crucial because she was “Great with Child”–she was about to have this baby! They couldn’t find anything, though, so they had to settle for a cave or barn–a place where animals were kept.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.  And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.  She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:1-7)

Hardly a great beginning for the Son of God!

But here they were–and it seems that virtually no one noticed!

The town of Bethlehem was asleep while their Savior came into their world!

They slept right through it.

Today, there are many right here in the United States of America who sleep through what God is doing also.

While we’re “Sung to sleep by philosophies” that exalt the self, and the here-and-now, we miss the work of God.

So, what about it America? If He comes again, will we miss Him? Will we be sleeping?

What about it, KCC?

Do WE need to ‘wake up’ this Christmas season? Do you?

Listen to the song from Casting Crowns, and consider whether or not you have been ‘sung to sleep’ by the philosophies of this world and missed what God is doing.

Consider and Discuss:

What are some evidences that our culture is ‘sleeping’ through the things that God is doing?

What do Churches that are ‘asleep’ look like?

What does it mean for you and your family to ‘Wake Up’ and experience God’s work this Christmas?

Gone Commercial!

In the Christmas Classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, the main character, Charlie, is having a tough time figuring out what Christmas is all about.

He gets very little help from his trusty dog, Snoopy, who finds a “Super-Colossal Lights and Decorating Contest’ to enter. Snoopy wants to win “money, money, money”, and who can blame him?

Wouldn’t it be easier to ‘celebrate Christmas’ and give the gifts we want to the people we want if we had more…”Money, money, money”?

Charlie knows instinctively, though: THAT is NOT what ‘Christmas is all about’!

He laments, “My own dog, gone commercial!”

A Charlie Brown Christmas was produced in 1966. I wonder what Charlie would think about how we’ve handled it ever since.

It used to be that we at least waited until Thanksgiving was over to blanket the stores, malls, and radiowaves with Christmas decor. Not any more!

Literally the day after Halloween stores were putting out their Christmas decorations. Radio stations began playing ‘All Christmas, All-the-Time’ music very soon after that. ‘Black Friday’ specials now start the week before Thanksgiving and this year, many stores have decided to open on Thanksgiving Day!

We are clearly a very ‘commercialized’ culture, and Christmas is no exception!

So how are we, as Christians, to push back from this and avoid ‘going commercial’, like Snoopy?

One thing’s for sure…if we passively let ourselves get caught up in it, we’re toast!

We simply MUST make a priority decision to do it differently. We MUST take time daily this season to make sure we’re investing ourselves in our worship of Christ, and in preparing our hearts to welcome Him in every way.

This season, I invite you to make these Devotional readings, discussions, and prayers part of your daily preparation. Prepare your hearts and minds. Ask God to help you appreciate Him anew.

Remember what this is about: Worship!

“When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-11)

Rise and Shine!

Unofficial poll: How do you feel about your alarm clock?

So many times I’m having a nice dream, snug and warm in my bed, and BAM! It goes off, 5:30am is here!

Even as a ‘morning’ person, I don’t want to hear it!

But it’s not the alarm clock’s fault…after all, I SET IT!

Why? Because I need it to do a job for me.

I need it to wake me out of my sleep and slumber, so that I will start the day and do whatever it is that I need to do.

Alarm clocks have an important function. If they don’t ring, we will probably oversleep, and regret it.

Spiritually speaking, there are times we need an ‘alarm clock’ also.

Maybe we’re playing too closely near the ‘sin’ line.

Maybe we’re headed for spiritual disaster.

Maybe we’re just nice and cozy in our spiritual slumber, and need to WAKE UP!

We need to consider–again–the kind of person we are–what are we about? What do we stand for? Where are we headed, and–very importantly–what are we pointing others toward?

If it’s anything other than Jesus Christ, then we are missing the mark. We are setting for other things–not eternity.

“Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” (Romans 13:10-14)

“Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,

Awake, O sleeper,
    rise up from the dead,
    and Christ will give you light.”

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.  Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” (Ephesians 5:10-17)

May I suggest that it is time?

You and I have ‘settled’ for being comfy/cozy in our beds too long!

WAKE UP!

The Lord wants us to WAKE UP! Arise and shine, so His light will shine on you (and through you).

THAT it the pathway to Real, Eternal Impact…AND the pathway to the glory of God in your life!

We are SURROUNDED!

I hope you had a great Halloween! I saw lots of great costumes, cute kids, and parents spending time with them–which is a good thing!

Today is historically called “All Saints Day’ in the Church, and I was thinking about that recently.

Let’s be honest…there are some ‘special days’ in the Church that seem questionable…like the leaders of the Church throughout history were sitting around a room saying “We need a special day in November.” and someone else said “Yeah! And let’s put it right after Halloween! Yeah, that’s the ticket!” (Now, I’m not sure, but that may not have been historically accurate.)

But I was thinking about ‘All Saints Day’, when we celebrate the Believers who have gone on to be with Jesus before us, and Hebrews 11 came to mind. If you’ve never read Hebrews 11, you should…today!

It’s a ‘Who’s Who’ of Bible history, and it reminds us of what some of them went through for their faith.

(Incidentally, it’s a great chapter to start your Bible reading plan in–just look up the chapters for each person mentioned, and you’ll get to know a lot of God’s movements in history!)

It also reminds us of how their FAITH is what drove them, and their FAITH is what enabled them to be used by, and to please, God!

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.” (Hebrews 11, vv.1-2)

The author then goes through Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah…and it reminds us how it was BY FAITH that they did the things they did…and that their FAITH enabled them to step forward and endure hardships, following God’s call faithfully in spite of them. And despite lifetimes built on that faith, they never really saw the ‘payoff’.

In fact, vv. 13-16 say…  “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

They had their ‘eyes on the prize’, and it enabled them to endure hardship, inconvenience, difficulty…and even persecution.

The chapter goes on to list many more examples, some of which experienced great power and victory because of their faith…but some who paid for their faith with their lives…

“others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.  Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.” (vv.35-37).

Question: Does your faith drive you? Does it lead you onto the adventure that God is calling you to, or have you stopped listening?

These people all had an awareness of God’s higher call, and it enabled them to experience many things–great and victorious, and difficult and treacherous.

Be clear about this though: They were NEVER defeated! They may have lost their earthly lives, but they were driven by something much more powerful! They were driven by their FAITH in God, and in the Eternal Promises with Him! This faith was not mere ‘intellectual belief’, rather it was a driving, hopeful faith in God’s plan for the future.

The author reminds us:

“They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.” (Hebrews 11:38-40)

…and what is the ‘something better in mind’ God has for us? It’s a compelling, powerful, real and intimate RELATIONSHIP with Him, through our faith in Jesus Christ.

These people did all of these things with just a ‘whiff’…a mere ‘taste’ of the relationship what we can have…

So, how should that impact us? Well for that, you need to read Hebrews 12:1-3, but be sure of this: It SHOULD impact us!

God still has great things He wants to do in this world, and He is still calling out to His people. Many of us are simply not listening.

So, as you celebrate ‘All Saints Day’ (whether you realize it or not), reflect on those who’ve gone before, and how their faith influenced them…then ask God to stir your faith, and wake you up the the call He’s been giving you!

Dave

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