Sunday, November 29, 2015

1st Sunday of Advent ~ 2015

Jesus said, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." 
Mt. 19:26

God's shekinah glory, His presence manifested, comes to us full of wonder and mystery, full of wordless splendor, breath-taking and awesome. God promises His presence and glory to shine on all, uniting humanity and truth. This ADVENT celebrate the coming of Christ! ~dho

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Hope

But as for me, I will hope continually and will praise You yet more and more.
Psalm 71:14 NASB

In homes across America this week, preparations for Thanksgiving are in full swing - traditions requiring planning and grocery shopping for the annual gathering of family. So many decisions abound - to stuff or not to stuff the turkey, how much sage to put in the dressing, what kind of cranberry sauce to serve, and which desserts to include. Yes, it does sound a bit more like a celebration of indulgence than simple thankfulness. So, when did Thanksgiving become more about abundance of food rather than abundance of hope?

This past summer, my family took a great vacation to Maine. On our way we stopped in Rhode Island at Plymouth Rock. There is a complete replica of the Mayflower there; along the quaintdss streets there are souvenir shops, ice cream and t-shirt shops side-by-side historical markers. You see restaurants and lodging with iconic names like the Mayflower General Store and the William Bradford Inn. The view of the harbor is lovely, and old stone walls and churches tell a story of long ago. But the story of the first Thanksgiving reflects a people who endured great hardship on a long journey of hope.

Leaving Plymouth, England in September 1620, 102 people sail across the ocean for 2 months, some seeking religious freedom and some seeking prosperity in the New World, but all coming with hope. Only half of the original passengers would live to see Spring in New England. Within that first year, Native Americans would teach these pilgrims how to plant and harvest corn. While the Native Americans had a long tradition of celebrating the fall harvest, in 1621 they gather together in celebrating the pilgrims' first successful corn harvest. This merging of nations and traditions with a feast of thankfulness writes America's first Thanksgiving story. The hope of new beginnings, the hope of survival, the the hope of religious freedom, the hope of prosperity join together creating new traditions with new people. 

Pilgrim means a "person who journeys" or a "newcomer to a place". Some of the Mayflower pilgrims came to a new land looking for freedom to worship without mandates by the government. Some of these pilgrims came to make money. These settlers and many others would set the standard and endure the cost of these pursuits. There would be death and famines and wars and more than 150 years before the Declaration of Independence would be written and signed officially forming a new nation. When I think about those times and now, I see lots of similarities. We continuously find ourselves enduring uncertainties and often hardships (physical, emotional, or financial). We don't always get along with our neighbors. Sometimes, we are the newcomer and are not welcomed, other times the roles reverse. We constantly hear about death and famines and wars. Yet, we all need hope to pull us through; we need each other and need to gather together in feasts of thanksgiving.

We are still on a long journey but now live those very freedoms the hope of the pilgrims of 1620 brought to the New World. None of us are perfect; we are flawed and yearn for more. At times money motivates and differences divide and fears fetter our hearts. For more than 200 years after the first harvest feast, America found ways to celebrate the hope of freedom, but it would not be until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an official holiday with this proclamation:
Lincoln asking Americans to "ask God to command to His tender care on all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife." He called for an annual day of Thanksgiving, the last day of November to "heal the wounds of a nation."
We are all pilgrims on a journey of hope - a hope for better, a hope for more. Let us strive to be a brighter light and a kinder neighbor for there is enough darkness around us. Let us seek to love better and judge less for there is more than enough suffering already. Let us shout praises of thanksgiving for the freedom of America and freedom of our souls. Let us offer prayers of thanksgiving to God whose blessings of mercy and grace define our Hope. Let us gather together - with family or friends or whoever we meet on Thanksgiving day - and remember, we are pilgrims who are prone to wander...prone to leave a God who pursues us, loves us, rescues us. Jesus continues to seek the newcomers and the strangers and those who have simply lost their way. Let our Thanksgiving Hope rest in God's goodness! Let His goodness refine our HOPE! ~dho

**side note: In 1941 FDR signed a bill making Thanksgiving the 4th Thursday in November (rather than the 'last'); the purpose was to stimulate retail sales during the Great Depression. Hummm! -dho

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Praise in the Thankfulness

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good. His love endures forever.  Psalm 136:1

For our Lord God Almighty reigns.

While Hallelujah occurs many times in the Old Testament, according to Bible scholars, "Hallelujah" is used only 4 times in the New Testament and all can be found in Revelation chapter 19. Over the many centuries, time and time again, God's love replenishes His people. References to God as "Almighty" appear 9 times in the book of Revelation. The Hebrew title for God, El Shaddai, God Almighty, reminds us that God is sovereign, all-sufficient and all powerful. To the Creator: Give thanks to the God of heaven; His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:26)

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast 
of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine - 
the best of meats and the finest of wines.

The words of the Great Hallel (Psalm 136), which the Jewish people traditionally sing at Passover, likely fill the Upper Room at the Last Supper. With Jesus' obedience to death in Crucifixion and power over death in Resurrection, Grace rebirths us, gives us new life in Christ. No longer does tragedy or despair, homelessness or injustice define our destiny; rather, our inheritance comes from God Almighty - the One who remembers us, who chooses us. Christ, our Deliverer, invites each of us to the wedding supper, to His feast, to a future in Him. Give thanks to the God of heaven; His love endures forever.   

... Blessed are those who are invited to 
the wedding supper of the Lamb! 

God Almighty reigns! This feast will begin the celebration of Christ's Promise to return for His people. Hallelujahs rise! Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! From prophecy to testimony, Jesus reveals God's plan of eternal redemption. Our Redeemer lives! Perhaps as Christians gather around the banquet table at the wedding supper of the Lamb, we, too, will sing the Great Hallel and in unison respond: His love endures forever. 

This Thanksgiving, let our celebrations sing Hallelujah! In one chapter of his book Finding God in Unexpected Places, Philip Yancey contrasts Genesis with Revelation, the garden with the New Jerusalem, and he writes, "We live out our days between memory and foretaste." In our hallelujahs we linger in remembrance of God's indescribable gift and wait with joy for the wedding supper of the Lamb! RSVP @ Romans 10:9-12. Infinite Love never ends! ~ dho

[hallel, Hebrew for 'praise']

Thursday, November 12, 2015

God's Goodness

Then Moses said, "Now show me your Glory." And the LORD said, "I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
Exodus 33:18-19 NIV

Four years ago our family prayed its way through a journey of brain cancer, surgery and radiation; we asked God to heal, to strengthen, to comfort Thomas, my nephew then 9 years old. Our prayers and the countless prayers of family and friends and friends of friends also asked for encouragement and energy, for patience and peace, for calm and courage. Holy praises were offered to the Lord for joy in simple things, for small victories, and for laughter. We had not asked God like Moses, "Now show us Your Glory", but He did! God's great goodness passed in front of us! His Glory evidenced in moments and minutes and memories of His never-failing Presence during the journey.

The question of why suffering exists and who is healed or not healed will never be adequately explained or understood by earthly minds. Soon after the beginning, human weakness invited sin to stand between mankind and God. Only through Christ can we ever find a way back into a relationship with God. Even then, we will wrestle with uncertainty and chaos and questions. However, when Christ returns for His people, Certainty and Peace and Truth will reign. For now, we can find this possibility within the heavenly realms, in God, the Creator himself who has all authority. Not bound by time or distance or circumstance, God constantly remains omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. God's ways will always exceed my understanding.

Neither knowing why nor understanding His Ways, I can say for certain that we felt God's mercy and compassion, that we witnessed God's mercy and compassion, that we will continue to tell of God's mercy and compassion. As every petition would rise like incense to this Holy God, each one overflowed with thanksgiving for such undeserved, unmerited mercy and compassion. Truly the Goodness of God passed in front of us, too, during this difficult time. God's goodness and glory still surrounds us - even now in the ordinary, everyday moments of doubt or minutes of disappointment or memories of difficulty. We continue to marvel that God let His goodness pass in front of us. We choose to see God's infinite goodness embracing us each day, especially when we do not understand.~dho

Thursday, November 05, 2015

His Tender Mercies

"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end." (Lamentations 3:22 ESV) In even the smallest details, God reveals what is necessary as He continually gathers each of us into His Love. 

In November, 1989, my parents come to visit us in Ohio; my father never leaves. During this time, he suffers a seizure that reveals a more grave health issue. My father is diagnosed with lung cancer that has spread to the brain and other areas throughout his body. His prognosis gives him six months to live. Because of the medical care we could provide and the assistance that he would need, he agrees to stay in Ohio. At first, he seems fine. A series of palliative radiation treatments to his brain did cause some hair loss, but even at Christmas he remains strong. A time to breathe.

One day he tells me about a song that he wants to have at his funeral. I make a mental note and assure him I will do this. As expected, his health declines over the next few months. Weakness and some confusion lead to decreased activity and responsiveness. On May 10, 1990, we celebrate his 70th birthday, which I believe is more for us than him. May 20, 1990, daddy dies. At his service, the song I prearranged with the funeral home plays. The next couple of months pass quietly, with remembrances and reflections of time together. Despite the difficulties, this season has been full of laughter and honesty, joy and truth, tears and hugs. A time to cherish.

In August of that year, I take my daughter to Mississippi for a few weeks to visit family and friends. For some reason I need to go back to my heart's home. On Sunday morning I rest in my home church, this church whose familiar walls witnessed so many spiritual moments for me. We stand to sing the hymn of commitment, softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for meTears rush forward, my heart is beating so fast. Come home, come home; you who are weary come home. Thoughts are pounding inside my head. Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home! THIS is the song my daddy had asked me to have played at his funeral. How could I have made such a mistake! I realize that the song I had requested for his funeral was the wrong song! A time of regret.

"What a Friend We Have in Jesus" had never been a favorite of mine and was not the song my father requested; yet, that was the song played. Disappointment in forgetting the one thing he asked burdened me. For a number of years, every time I would hear What A Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins a griefs to bear I immediately felt remorse. Ironically, its humdrum tune gradually captures my attention; its words emphasizing my privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. With each line ending in prayer or some common word that rhymes with prayer, its simplicity begins to teach me about what peace we often forfeit and what needless pain we bear when we neglect prayer. Weaving trials and temptations with refuge and solace stands the Weaver, Precious SaviorThroughout the hymn a theme evolves. Jesus knows our every weakness; in His arms He'll take and shield you if I will simply take it to the Lord in prayer. The greatest promise lies within the rhetorical asking can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus is my most faithful Friend. A time of growing.

In the fall of 2005, I am sitting at a women's conference at Trinity on the Hill UMC in Augusta, GA, listening to Amy Breitmann, talk about The Lydia Project, of which she is Co-Founder. Then I hear "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". As the song continues, the presence of the Holy Spirit seems to cover me and overwhelms my heart. In this moment my soul hears His holy whispers this song was not a mistake; this song was for you! All those years agoGod had chosen this simple song ~ for me. Knowing all my needs, He kept reminding me to bring all my troubles, all my disappointments, all my weaknesses to Him. Jesus kept proclaiming His friendship, weaving simple words and rhyme into teachings about prayer and promises. Jesus is a Friend of mine! A time of healing.

Blessed SaviorThy mercies how tender, how firm til the end; our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and FriendFaithful Friend, You hear my prayers of praise and petitions of pain. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. ~ dho