Thursday, January 16, 2020

Presence - 2020 Words to Refresh the Soul

All His glory and beauty come from within, and there He delights to dwell. 
His visits are frequent, His conversations sweet, His comforts refreshing: 
His peace passing all understanding.
Thomas Kempis

“The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” Exodus 33:14

From the beginning in the garden, God desires an intimate relationship and divine fellowship with His people. At 75 years of age, Abraham leaves Haran in obedience to God’s call to a Promised Land. His response in faith to God would be blessed many times over; witnesses testify, “God is with you in all that you do.” Joseph, sold into slavery by his own brothers, is imprisoned in Egypt, but Scripture recounts, “the Lord is with him in prison,” protecting and providing. Joseph becomes a ruler in Egypt, saves the people from famine, including his own brothers. Moses leads the Israelites from captivity in Egypt across the Red Sea, a miracle of God. Throughout the next 40 years, God repeatedly demonstrates His promise to Moses and to His people, “My presence will go with you.” Despite the separation of God and mankind by sin, He still longs to be in relationship with us.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can boldly enter the Most Holy Place. Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him. [Hebrews 10:22] Through Christ’s sacrifice, the intimate relationship between God and us is restored. How do we know our dwelling place is truly in God’s Presence? A genuine response to God must exceed our personal desires. Stepping out with faithful obedience to Christ’s example to love and encourage others will reveal our heart’s true resting place.

Philip Yancey, in his book Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, "keeping company with God involves two parties, and I have an important role to play in the relationship." There are those people who seem content with a superficial relationship with God, those who settle for less. Some people deeply desire a growing faith walk with God, some who long for more. God is waiting for those who want to experience an intimate relationship with Him. In God's Presence, the Believer is called by name, feels His nearness, and can hear Him speak, face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. In Christ, Unmeasured Grace and unspeakable joy fuse in unrestrained fellowship! I want MORE of this! What do you want?  ~dho 

Thursday, January 09, 2020

New Year, New Energy

The peace of God is perfection of energy; it is a healthy vigor of the soul. Oswald Chambers

A NEW year is here! Christmas memories along with decorations and last year's decisions are packed away. The Christmas tree has been repacked or recycled; the gifts received have merged into our routines. As a new year begins, the heart hopes that God's peace will be more than enough and desires God's love to become its deepest joy. Our prayers search for words to refresh the soul.

In the Union Prayer Book for Jewish Worship, I find these words:

Help us, O God, to banish from our hearts all vainglory, pride of worldly possessions, and self-sufficient leaning upon our own reason. Fill us with the spirit of meekness and the grace of modesty that we may grow in wisdom and in reverence. May we never forget that all we have and prize is but lent to us, a trust for which we must render account to Thee. O heavenly Father, put into our hearts the love and awe of Thee, that we may consecrated our lives to Thy service and glorify Thy name in the eyes of all men.
While energy is the capacity to do work, potential energy is energy that exists in a body as a result of its position or condition. Wisdom and grace fall gently from God reminding us of His generous provisions. His power and love exceed our capacity to understand. Letting God be the source of our energy is the only way we can truly prepare our hearts to know His peace and our hands to serve others. But how do we position ourselves to receive such awesome energy?
I will build an altar of the broken fragments of my heart, and will bow my spirit within me. My broken spirit - that is Thy sacrifice; let it be acceptable upon Thine altar. I will proclaim aloud Thy praise, I will declare all Thy wonders. Hymn of Unity, 12th Century
I search for words to refresh my soul in this new year, and I search His Word for the potential energy necessary to move my heart into position to do His work. These words from Romans 15:4 from The Message become my first calling this new year: God wants the combination of His steady, constant calling and warm personal counsel in Scriptures to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever He will do next. Will you seek God’s calling too? ~dho

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas!

So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:14 NLT

“Just as our Lord came into human history from the outside, so He must come into us from the outside. Have we allowed our personal human lives to become a “Bethlehem” for the Son of God?” - Oswald Chambers 
Be a "Bethlehem"... Merry Christmas! - dho/2019

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Advent 2019 - Love

“The Christmas story… begins with
the always coming of Christ.”
Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

In this season of welcoming Christ, we discover more than angels’ revelations or shepherds’ testimonies or magi’s offerings. The coming of Christ begins as a promise and ends with a promise. God promises a Messiah, prophets foretell of the coming of Christ, angels announce the birth of Christ into the world, and Christ promises His coming again. From before time begins and until time ends, the always coming of Christ seeks all peoples with indescribable love!

The coming of Christ marks a permanent place in history’s timeline, marks the beginning of a spiritual transformation for humanity. He comes bringing salvation to all – for kings and outcasts, for rich and poor; Christ‘s love has no preferences for race or gender, for social status or cultural origin. He is not defined by person or place. On that mysteriously, miraculous night, the coming of Christ begins to change the people, one simple shepherd at a time. Good News of great joy for all people comes as a gift of Perfect Love.

This Christmas ~ listen for the peace of Christ in quiet whispers and simple laughter, find His joy in a friend’s embrace, celebrate the love of Christ with sacred songs, and experience everlasting hope in the always coming of Christ. In the New Year, may we live the Christmas story with greater love for others. ~dho

Monday, December 16, 2019

Advent 2019 - Joy

“And when [the shepherds] had seen [the baby],
they made know the statement which had been
told them about this Child. And all who heard it
wondered at the things which were told them by
the shepherds.” Luke 2:17-18

From generation to generation, from the secular to the sacred, traditions find their way into our families, even our hearts. From pagan Yuletide songs to Advent chants, Christmas music leads the way. Tradition, the Latin tradere, literally means ‘to hand over’ or ‘holding on to a previous time.’ Certainly in centuries past, the traditions of retelling the stories provide insights into history and cultures. Before the written Scriptures, people would keep telling the stories to every generation, remembering all God’s goodness and faithfulness. Today, lighting the Advent candles retell the familiar Christmas story with hope and peace and joy and love. Tradition.

What are your Christmas traditions? Perhaps decorating the Christmas tree with memories, setting up the Nativity, preparing well-loved recipes, lighting the Advent candles, or attending Christmas programs come to mind. Some celebrate on Christmas Eve while some wait until Christmas morning to open presents. My daddy always made ambrosia every Christmas Eve. I never liked to eat it but I do remember the joy he seemed to get from cutting the oranges and mixing the cherries and coconut together. Since 1979, our family has made special Christmas cookies, a favorite tradition! 

Traditions can change over time, replaced or revised for another time, a new beginning. While it’s often hard to let go of our most cherished customs, we continue keeping traditions. These special moments build foundations for our future generations. Even if our celebrations look different, we will remember seeing the outside lights flooding the trees, smelling fresh cut Fraser Fir Christmas trees, eating decorated cookies and marinated shrimp, loving Christmas Eve Open House after church, and feeling Christmas morning joy. Over time, we may gather in different places, coming and going as life demands, but we will always unwrap laughter and treasure time together, as we celebrate Christ! A Hallmark quote from the season echoes, “Traditions are the stories that families write together.” We must keep writing those stories because they will remember the joy!  dho

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Advent Thoughts 2019 - Peace

“Quietly, they bring God’s questions and proclaim to us the wonders of God, for whom nothing is impossible.”
Alfred Delp, German priest martyred by Hitler

The angels of Christmas bring messages of hope into a world full of contrasts, anguish and anticipation, wickedness and wisdom, disappointment and delight. Christ is born into a world of corrupt political powers, when unjust kings rule with selfish ambition, and religious leaders anticipate a different kind of Messiah. When deity merges with humanity, the wonders of God shout to the centuries before and to come, “Nothing is impossible with God!”

Ecclesiastes 1:9 reads, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Wars and poverty have never quieted the artists or inventors. Rulers or politics have never silenced rebels or crusaders. Fear and frenzy, however, always crowd Christ out of our hearts.

Every year we listen again as choirs of all ages sing the angels’ message of hope. Extravagant Love still reaches down into the world, reaches though hate and hypocrisy, through injustice and indifference, with unmeasured goodness and grace. God’s promises continue to transform our hearts one hallelujah, one whispered prayer at a time. God desires to be in a relationship with people who trust in His never-ending faithfulness.  In Luke 18:27, Jesus says, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” Let us continue to marvel at God’s unexplained wonders, and   wonders   of   His   Love!
Love is raining down on the world tonight,
There’s a presence here I can tell –
God is in us.
God is for us.
God is with us.
“God Is With Us” recorded by Casting Crowns

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Advent Thoughts 2019 ~ Hope

“…Pursue a righteous life – a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy… to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous… that is truly life.”
1 Timothy 6:11-19 MSG

The Man Who Invented Christmas, the movie about how Charles Dickens writes A Christmas Carol in six weeks, is both creative and delightful. In 19th century England, only 40% of the people attend church; organized religion is on the decline. Theology and science clash. An effort for Christian revival comes from London pastor, Charles Spurgeon, and an American evangelist, Dwight Moody, who preach revivals in Great Britain. At the same time Darwin’s theory of evolution and Freud’s psychology attack the Christian worldview. Dickens' story, A Christmas Carol, offers an enormous impact, bringing an optimistic and transforming message during this dark time.

God’s 1st century Christmas story brings the same message of transformation - possibility of change, potential to be more, and a plan of redemption. In Dickens' story, the main character gets a glimpse into his past and sees the realities of his present and gloom of his future if he chooses to continue living a life of greed and selfish disregard for others. One certain truth with any life review is this: The past is gone, but the choices we make in our present moments greatly determine our future. At Christmas we celebrate the day when Grace comes into the world, when Perfect Love rescues you and me.

Our world today is sadly very much like England in the 1800’s, with a decline in church attendance, with clashing world views between Christian theology and science. We are more modern, with infinitely improved technologies; yet, the world tells us the same lies –power and greed and social status matter most. Most of our cities struggle with increased homelessness, recurrent violence, and spiritual darkness.

The ending of the movie reminds us that the joy of living is found in “kindness, friendship, and generosity.” In Christ, we have been given an “indescribable gift”! These thoughts reflect Paul’s words about righteous living. Let us live Christmas every day, live righteous lives for Christ, live in wonder, faith, and love, live doing good, helping others, being extravagantly generous! Let us live with great Hope! ~dho

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Why Have a Thankful Heart

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

This is the time of year “giving thanks” causes our hearts to pause, reflect on blessings. Other translations of this Scripture simplify desired spiritual posture: Rejoice more; pray more. Be more thankful. To be joyful and thankful in all circumstances seems counterintuitive while “never stop praying” essential, especially in difficult times. These verses remind us of characteristics that define those who belong to Jesus.

Psalm 100:4 tells us to come into God’s presence with songs of praises, thanksgiving, and blessing. Verse 5 explains why: For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations. The Source of our blessings, our gifts, our peace, our love is the Lord. God’s unchanging goodness and mercy and faithfulness is everlasting. Despite the struggles we find ourselves inside, the questions we cannot answer, the dreams we lose, God remains full of mercy and peace, compassion and love, wisdom and strength, grace and joy! Let’s try harder to be more joy-full, more prayer-full, more thank-full, because God exceeds all our needs. - dho

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 6 (final)

This is the last post on our review of the Gospel of Luke. Unique in many ways, Luke gives enormous details to events that help us better understand the experiences of Jesus. While all the Gospels retell parables, Luke offers 24 parables, more than any other Gospel, and 18 of them are unique to Luke’s writing. We understand a parable to be a simple story that illustrates a moral or spiritual lesson. In Luke’s account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, we see a “living parable” which is to act out at lesson as a teaching tool. 

Besides parables, Luke recounts events such as the Last Supper. The Jewish people celebrate Passover every year, to remember God’s redemption in freeing them from Egyptian bondage. Based on Exodus 6:6-7, these are the 4 things they are to remember at their Passover Seder (or meal): I will bring you out; I will deliver you; I will redeem you; I will take you as My people. Passover is also called Feast of the Unleavened Bread. They retell the Exodus story, eat bitter herbs and unleavened bread, and sing songs of praise ending with the Great Hallel (or Hallelujah). The 4th cup of wine is then consumed after the Great Hallel, representing grace as “fruit of the vine”. In the New Testament, the Last Supper is, also, a Passover meal, but Jesus offers only 3 cups of wine, ending with singing but no 4th cup, because through crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus becomes the 4th cup - Grace. Today we still celebrate the Lord’s Supper, taking the bread and the cup to remember Jesus, a Living Sacrifice for all.

It is good to refresh our memories of Paul’s Missionary Journeys and ultimate arrest and return to Rome. During his second journey, Paul meets Luke. From then on, Luke travels with Paul, interviewing many people, some eye-witnesses of Jesus, as he writes the Gospel account. Luke also writes Acts. This is a fascinating approach to study Luke, looking for whom he must have interacted and interviewed. The “Luke-only” inclusions give us insight into people and places in the life of Jesus on earth, to include His arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.

In conclusion, there is much more we could study and explore in the Gospel of Luke. An abundance of details, special circumstances, numerous points of contact, and historical and political influences make Luke’s retelling of Jesus’s story an outstanding historical account. One of my favorite events that only Luke recounts is the “Road to Emmaus” (Luke 24:13-35). These two discouraged followers of Jesus head home, assuming the arrest and crucifixion and burial of Jesus is the end. Unrecognized, Jesus walks with them, teaching them many things about the meaning of the Scriptures. They invite Jesus to stay for a meal and in the breaking of bread “their eyes were opened and they recognized” Jesus. 

What happens next is captured as Luke writes, “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen...” Every day I hope to find my heart burning in the Presence of God and pray that I am willing to tell others the Lord is risen. To find passion in the Holy Spirit fuels our telling the story of Jesus and defines Believers! On the cross, Jesus becomes “broken bread and poured out wine”, and His resurrection becomes our Grace. If Luke could interview you, what would your story about Jesus be?- dho

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 5

One of the most well-known parables of Jesus, The Good Samaritan, is found in Luke 10:25-37. One commentary calls it one of the best “illustrations of human kindness”. Our familiarity with the story rarely overlooks its theme that all people are our neighbors; yet, we may not see story itself as a revelation of human weakness and frailty, of fear and prejudice. Luke’s retelling of this parable of Jesus captures the essence of servanthood, of showing love to others. 

Before we start the story, let’s look at the geography. The rough, steep, and dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho, known as The Way of Blood, is historically known to be a place of robbers. Jericho, the City of Palms, is located some 17 miles from Jerusalem with a decline in elevation of about1500 feet. Rebuilt by Herod the Great, Jericho is a wealthy city where many well-to-do Priests and Levites live. They frequently travel from Jericho to Jerusalem to attend to their duties in the Temple. So, it would not be uncommon to find robbers or Priests or Levites or a myriad of travelers along this road.

Our story recounts a man who is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Both a Priest and a Levite going down from Jerusalem pass by him, but neither offer any assistance. A Samaritan, who is on a journey, sees the hurt man, has compassion on him, and comes to his rescue. We know from Luke that this Samaritan cleans and bandages his wounds and takes him to an inn, giving the innkeeper enough money to care for him for “24 nights”, promising to check on him when he returns. This Good Samaritan even tells the innkeeper he will cover any other expenses that may occur. This “mercy” shown to the unknown hurt man is called “hesed” in Hebrew, meaning “beyond what is expected.”

The characters in this story reveal their hearts. The Priest probably uses the law as a reason not to help, for it the man is dead, the Priest would be considered unclean if he touches him and then would be unable to perform his duties in the Temple. Scripture, however, tells us the Priest is heading home, his duties complete. The same may be said for the Levite, who may have completed his duties, or perhaps he just didn’t want to get involved. We are often like both of these characters, using excuses or ignoring the need or just too focused on our own busyness to get involved. Maybe they are afraid that what had happened to the hurt man might happen to them. Fear frequently interferes with doing what Jesus desires from us.

Why does Jesus use a Samaritan as an example of someone willing to see the hurt man, to have compassion and provide for his needs? Hostility between the Samaritans and Jewish people had long been known, and during Jesus’ day, it is especially bitter. Considered a “mixed-race” of people, Samaritans are known for worshipping idols and having different beliefs about God. Yet, this is the unlikely person who stops to help, who takes the risk. Jesus is teaching us still today to see the broken, to look beyond our own differences.

As for the hurt man, we may wonder about him, too. Who is he? Where is he going? Could he be another Priest or Levite heading home? Is he a good man who encounters robbers, or is he just another robber, weaker than his attacker? Jesus does not give us any information about the hurt man probably for the very reason He tells the story. The one who shows mercy toward the hurt man, this person demonstrates loving our neighbors. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” - dho

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 4

The most familiar story in the Bible is found in Luke 2, the birth of Christ. Each year at Christmas, it is read in services and homes throughout the world. Luke records this historical event in Luke 2:1-38, giving us specific details outlining the birth and dedication of Jesus. Because Luke is not an eyewitness of these happenings, he gathers information from others, likely Mary in particular. It is Mary who ponders these things in her heart, who will one day stand at the foot of the cross of Jesus.

At the time of Jesus birth, Caesar Augustus is the Emperor of Rome and political chaos is redefining Rome from a republic to an empire. No longer is the power of Rome decided by the people, this new empire is governed by a “single, supreme authority”. Herod the Great, appointed by Rome, is king of Judea and known for murdering both his brothers-in-law and his wife and mother. Herod's reign is full of slaughter. Christianity’s beginnings will always be woven into the culture and history of Rome during the first century. Luke is the only Gospel writer who relates his narrative to dates of world history.

With such familiarity, it can be difficult to keep a fresh view of the account we call the “Christmas story”. This year, in a few short weeks, the season of Advent will be here. Take the time this year to look at these words again, to imagine the culture and scenes, to visualize the manger and Mary, the angels and the shepherds, and the tiny baby born Luke records. Keep the beginnings of Jesus life on earth full of hope and infinite possibility. After all, we know the ending of this story! - dho