Friday Favorite – Take Heart YZ Prayer (Arranged by Bill Senyard)

God, my shame and guilt are pretty deeply rooted. I messed up again. I am a mess. What is wrong with me? I don’t feel right. I have given You a thousand reasons to be disappointed, or to turn Your back on me. However, 2000 years ago You poured out Your anger, and justice, and disappointment, and criticism upon Jesus, Your own Son, in my place. So now, You can’t be critical of me, or disappointed in me, ever again. Make me really get that in my head and heart so that my guilt has less power over me right now.

I see again that Jesus’ record of doing everything right is now, for some crazy reason, put into my biography, my resume – and everything His life earned- heaven, eternal life, Your love, forever. You can’t ever love me more than You do, as much as You love your Son and He loved You. You can’t love my any less, ever. You have to like me, no matter what I did or didn’t do last week, no matter what I suspect that others feel toward me. It may feel like it. Yet the messiness is on my end, not yours.

Give me power to undo my fear that I am unlovable, or likeable. Give me, through the Spirit of Christ in my inner being, the power to be able to overcome my shame, guilt, and fear. Quick, before I go and mess up some other relationships again. Simply put, make me feel loved by You. Make me see Your smile and hear Your voice. Fill my beat-up, emptied cup. Now please.

(2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 3:14-21)

What Day is It? A Joyous Christmas Memory

What do you look forward to the most about Christmas? Gifts? Seeing your family on Christmas day? Is it seeing your friends and community members at parties and concerts that continue all through December? Christmas brings a feeling of joy, community, and hope. During college I worked at a restaurant called Bob Evans. One night, I was washing dishes until late at night. We had been very busy that day and had to work extra late to clean up. Most of the staff were tired and ready to go home. As I was nearly done washing dishes, I heard the voice of our manager, Cliff. His tone sounded different from the rest of us. The rest of us were exhausted. We just wanted to go home and go to bed. But not Cliff. Cliff was exuded joy as he went about his work. As he approached me, I turned around and inquired, “Why are you so happy?” He replied, “It’s Christmas.” In the busyness of the night, in the lateness of the hour, I had completely forgotten that it was the night before Christmas Eve. The next day, we would close early to enjoy a Christmas Eve service with our families. And then, Christmas Day would come. Our families would gather. We would celebrate the coming of Christ.

Does that ever happen to you? Think of everything you must get done this holiday season. The Christmas tree and decorations need to go up. The gifts need bought and wrapped. Christmas cookies need to be baked, decorated, and delivered. The meal needs to be planned, purchased, preserved, and prepared. The kids need to be taken to their school concerts and Christmas parties. The list gets longer and longer. The stress builds. I am reminded of the story of Mary and Martha. In Luke 10, Jesus is visiting their house. Martha is rushing around the house preparing the meal for Jesus and the other guests. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Imagine the frustration and stress that must have been building up in Martha. There was so much to do. Food needed cooked. The table needs set. Meanwhile, Mary is simply listening to Jesus. I feel like our culture pulls us toward the Martha side of the equation. Get the to do list done, then use the dregs of our cup to hear from Jesus. The realization hit me when my manager walked up that in my stress and busyness, I had completely forgotten the reason that we had been so busy. People were doing their last minute shopping. They were enjoying time with family and friends from out of town. We had served people who were enjoying their Christmas holiday, just as we would be doing the next two days. When Cliff reminded me of this, it lifted me up and helped me to refocus on the reason for what was going on all around me. I pray that for you as well. In the midst of the busyness, remember the Christ of Christmas.

Friday Favorite – God in in the Manger

Wisdom at Christmas, a forgotten love story, and the hope of Christ’s birth at Christmas. You will find all of these in “God is in the Manger,” a devotional based on the story and writings of renowned Christian author, pastor, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Our current Christmas series is based on this devotional.

The Wonder of Christmas from the Eyes of a Child

Do you remember the wonder of the world when you were a child? I remember learning from my parents about thing that would today be very mundane. But back then, they were fascinating! How does a phone let you talk to someone on the other side of the world? Why do I go to school five days a week, Sunday one day, and my parents try to sleep in the other day? How does food go from the cow to my plate?

Harvey Mackay writes, “Throughout the holidays, a lot of emphasis falls on children. Why? Because children bring such a marvelous perspective to events that many of us take for granted. Kids get excited about life in general. They see everything with fresh eyes, knowing they will find something new and different every time they look. Adults, on the other hand, look for things they know and expect. Imagine what we grown-ups are missing.”

I often wish I could go back and read the Bible for the first time, all over again. Think about all the wonders of Christmas that we have grown far too used to. Angels surprising Mary and shepherds. How would you react if you were surprised like this? Or, a star that suddenly appears to show the Magi the way to Jesus. Or God becoming man in the form of a baby to seek and to save the lost. Wow. Do you remember the feeling that you used to have on Christmas Day as a child? It felt like a day that was different from all other days. A day of wonder. A day of family. A day of faith. And yes, a day of gifts. And yet, these gifts remember the greatest gift humanity has ever received. This Christmas, set aside all of the times you’ve heard this story before. Set aside your preconceived notions of what is happening. Simply experience Christ with the child-like wonder that we had lost. And experience the promise of Christ at Christmas all over again.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions, please comment below!

“In Everything, Give Thanks”

As we look towards Thanksgiving, we tend to think back on this past year. The events that stood out to us. The events we celebrated. The events that drove us to tears. There’s a delightful woman here at Buffalo Prairie EPC who commonly gives thanks for the weather. She gives thanks for the warm sunshine of summer, the colors of the fall, and the beautiful snow of winter. In everything, she finds something to be thankful for. Unconsciously, I believe that there’s a decision embedded within the way that she views life. Anytime something happens, good or bad, we decide whether to react positively or negatively to it. When we get stuck on hold with customer service for an hour, do we get mad that we are there waiting, and waiting? Or, do we find a way to make the best of it? This is the difference that gratitude makes. And this is what the holiday of Thanksgiving is all about.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul is writing about what he is thankful for. He says, “ in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The statement is pretty self explanatory, but the background behind it is fascinating. Paul had founded the church in Thessalonica. He started at the Jewish synagogue, then the house of Jason became an important meeting place for the church. As Paul started to gain momentum within this town, the Jews and officials started to take note of it. In Acts 17, you can see that the Jews started a riot in reaction to Paul. The rioters stormed to Jason’s house. When they couldn’t find Paul, they grabbed Jason instead. Then they took him off to the authorities. While Jason and the Jews were pre-occupied, Paul got out of town. Here, he is writing to this church that he had loved. This church that he had founded. Despite the rough ending, he reminded them to give thanks in everything. Give thanks when you get hauled off to the authorities. Give thanks when you have to sneak out of town. In everything, give thanks.

For us, this can mean that Paul is telling us to give thanks when we get home from a tiring day at work and find out that the kids have made a mess. Give thanks even when finances aren’t balancing. Give thanks whether it is raining, snowing, or the sun is shining outdoors. In all things, give thanks. Is that your attitude of gratitude today? Give thanks.