Friday, December 26, 2014

Day 26: "Boxing Day" (Bonus)

  I debated doing today, since it is technically not a true "carol". I added it onto the printable at the last minute, because I 100% adore this song (I'm a huge Relient K fan, and their Christmas album, "Let it Snow, Baby, Let it Reindeer" is my absolute favorite) but I couldn't decide if I wanted to write about it. Now, that the day is almost over, I have decided I will! So many people talk about the "after Christmas letdown" but it is actually one of my favorite times of the year. I love to take down my tree, usually the day after Christmas, it has never stayed up past the 28th. I have friends who think that is crazy, but there is something so alluring to me about starting the New Year with a fresh, clean slate. In my house *and* in my heart. There isn't anything magical about the 1st of January, but it is easy to use it as a turning point. I don't really make New Year's resolutions, but it just feels like such a lovely beginning. The craziness of the holidays are over, life returns to a more regularly scheduled program and it just feels like anything is possible. I love to use it as a point of renewal, reminding myself to focus on what is really important, continuing to work towards a stronger faith and love in Christ, and eliminating everything that isn't completely what He wants. Christmas *does* make way for spring-when all things are new. Don't despair because Christmas is over-it is just the start of love and light. This is the year to do whatever you do in word or deed for the Lord. That's a good thing!

Lyrics: "Boxing Day" by Relient K

Questions for thought and discussion;
1. What are some ways you can continue to channel the "Christmas spirit" through the New Year? Why do we limit our love for peace and joy to just one month?

2. New clothes for a New Year: what can you do *today* to put on garments of "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience...and love"? What about all year? Don't restrict the Christ of Christmas to December!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Day 25: "O, Holy Night"

   The day is finally here. All the holiday planning and preparing is about to come to fruition. Just like the night Christ was born. God carefully constructed His redemption story from the very beginning, and now He would set it all in motion. His lovingly wrapped Present didn't come in colorful paper or have a photo-worthy bow. But He had chosen it with the utmost care and He would give His very best...His One and Only Son. Don't skip today's song, please? I found out  an interesting fact: the original French version of the poem on which this song was based was written by a professed atheist. He was a noted poet and so the parish priest of his town asked him to write it to celebrate. That makes it clear: you can celebrate Christmas without celebrating Christ, you can give beautiful gifts, and sing lovely songs, and do all the right "things" and still not mean it. We can redeem this though by having hearts of true worship-we give the day its due value and meaning when we sanctify it by having our hearts and minds centered on Christ. Today of all days, the one the world has chosen to celebrate the Most Important Birthday Ever, we should take some time and add prayer and worship to the top of the list, don't you think? He gave His all, so that we can truly have all. Today is the day! Sing of His birth!

Lyrics: "O, Holy Night"
(You won't find this one in the 1991 Baptist Hymnal, either)

Questions for thought and discussion;
1. Why do you think a posture of kneeling or bowing is repeated so often in Scripture? Is there merit to that? Or is it just an ancient tradition we no longer need? Perhaps you would kneel in prayer today, maybe even bow down, face to the floor. Does that humble you?

2. Christmas night: when the Divine met the earthly as had never been seen before. Truly, the created had a first time opportunity (since Adam and Eve) to bow before the Creator. Do you see the beauty in this? What is your favorite character in the story? How did he or she demonstrate reverence and awe? How can that instruct your own worship.

3. Make plans to worship today, corporately or own your own. Expect to meet God the same way the  Magi did. I think you will be surprised.

Looking for the printable? Find it here. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Day 24: "We Three Kings"

   I remember loving this song as a child. It seemed dark and mysterious, exactly the way I pictured the Magi. There are only a few sentences about their arrival. And once I realized that pretty much they were *not* at the manger, I focused on correcting every nativity I ever saw. This was accomplished by placing all three "kings" as far away as possible from Jesus and His parents. The shepherds could be close by, but those impostors didn't belong at Christmas! I apologize now, because clearly I was caught up in my misplaced sense of justice. Those "kings" (who weren't really kings at all, they were an elite group of exceptionally learned men) definitely earned their spot in the Nativity story. And I love them so much more, now. They were the ultimate seekers, feeling their need for Jesus so strongly it drove them to leave everything they knew, their own wealth and stature, their homes and families, behind in search for the Greatest Gift. Those kings, they humble me, shame me with my insecurities and grasping at worldly treasures, when I already have everything, and the Only One I will ever need. So, if you are judgmental like I was, don't overlook this one. See what it is really saying.

Lyrics: "We Three Kings"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #113

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. The Magi recognized the kingship of Christ, in part because they themselves were in positions of authority. They could see the similarities in the prophecies of Christ's coming and the responsibilities their own jobs required. What "Kingly" responsibilities do we see in Christ's life? Are they all "high and mighty"?

2. We sometimes use the term "come to Jesus" when talking about a person's acceptance of salvation. How did the Magi illustrate that for us? When they "came to Jesus" what did it mean in terms of their posture and attitude? How can we continue to "come to Jesus" after we are saved?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Day 23: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

     This song should bring Scrooge to mind. That isn't because there is anything miserly or stingy about it, but because it is mentioned in the first chapter of "A Christmas Carol" by Dickens. We all love that quintessential Yuletide story. It is all about second chances and redemption, and well, God blessing all of the world and give us true joy, which does have a way of making one merry, doesn't it?  Scrooge reminds us the worst of scoundrels can see the light, that "when we were gone astray" "Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day"...Always there when we need Him most, isn't He?

Lyrics: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
(Another one not in the Baptist Hymnal!)

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. Jesus came as THE King- meaning He had (and has) all the power and prestige fitting the highest royal Person. He had the power to free us from sin, He was the only one. To deny Jesus' power is to, in a way, say that Satan has more control. Do you ever do that in your own life? When you doubt, or worry, isn't that in a way denying Christ's power over everything? "Let nothing you dismay" can you acknowledge that truth through Christ?

2.  The 7th verse (Does this one have a crazy number of verses or what? EIGHT!) speaks of brotherhood, and the verses from Romans talk of how "we have received grace and apostleship". How can we exemplify those things through our unity? Why is that such an essential to the Christian life?

Looking for the printable? Find it here. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Day 22: "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night"

   I have fond memories of this song. I don't have the most pleasant of voices, it isn't like nails on a chalkboard or anything, but I can count on one hand the number of times I have sung in front of an audience that I wasn't hiding out in a choir. One of those was the illustrious performance of "Silent Night", and another was this song, which I performed with several of my sisters and my mother. That is the single time that I have done that as an adult. I had never heard this song before my mom suggested we sing it at a Christmas Eve service, and I immediately liked it. We did *not* sing all six verses, nor did we sing it perfectly. However, we did sing it joyously, as a humble homage to the King. I'm guessing that the shepherds paid their respects in much the same way-knowing they had little to offer, but giving all they had, confident He would make up the difference.

Lyrics: "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night"
(This one isn't in the Baptist Hymnal, either.)

Questions for thought and discussion;
1. It's pretty obvious throughout Scripture that God is pretty fond of shepherds. (Read about David if you need reminding!) However, He didn't elevate their status-sheep herding wasn't a plush job, they didn't make six figures, or have any status of which to speak. You would think if He liked them so much, He would have changed all that, right? Why do you think God chose to allow shepherds to maintain such a lowly position? What part did that play in the Christmas story?

2.  Our pastor spoke of the shepherds this morning and he pointed out something I had never noticed before: the shepherds were not commanded to find Jesus, they chose to go. That is such a great example of our own freedom to choose Jesus. How else do their actions concerning seeking Jesus, finding Him and sharing Him are a reflection of the experience of a believer?

Looking for the printable? Find it here.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Day 21: "Carol of the Bells"

Note: The tune for this song actually has several sets of lyrics. The version that I associated with this title is often called "Ring Christmas Bells", although it is also simply called "Christmas Bells". The version that is actually used with this name is here.  Either will work for the calendar, but I am specifically referencing the first one.

     This is one that isn't even in the good ol' SBC hymnal. However, when you are the author, you get to be "in charge", whatever that means! So, I decided to use my official power and put this one in, because it is one of my favorites. The repetition of the notes in the tune make it almost unforgettable, and then couple it with the simple, yet powerful, lyrics and it is perfection in my mind. The song is based on an old Ukrainian folk chant, and it pre-dated widespread Christianity there. It was a secular song with lyrics that spoke of the New Year. After the Gospel was shared there, it was "converted", and the lyrics were eventually re-written, well, because Jesus changes everything, right? That's the story of Christmas!

Lyrics: "Carol of the Bells" or "Ring Christmas Bells"

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. The bells are tolling the good news that Jesus is here! How does that reflect what we do when we sing? Do you really think that our music makes a difference?

2. "Every knee will bow and every tongue confess"...we think of this as a beautiful gesture of reverence on the part of the believer, but what will this look like for those that never acknowledged Christ? For a Christian, this is something we *want* to do, but we know that isn't true for everyone. Do you ever think about the time that Jesus will return as the conquering Hero and demand the place that has always been rightfully His?

Looking for the printable? Find it here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Day 20: "Tell Me the Story of Jesus"

   You may think that I am fudging on this one, since you may not think of it as a true "carol". However, it is definitely a song about the birth of Christ, so I am taking the liberty! Don't skip over this one because it isn't "traditional"! Also, I didn't realize, but it is by Fanny Crosby. If you don't know her life story, look her up. She wrote over 8,000 hymns in her lifetime.  That alone is astounding, but she was found to be completely blind when she was very young. Instead of allowing her that to make her bitter and angry, she instead believed that it helped her to focus and rely on God. I was fascinated by her story as a child, and read multiple biographies. I loved playing her songs on the piano. I think we are all drawn to tragedy that turns into triumph and a humility that plays out in working earnestly for the Kingdom of God.  Hmmm, seems to me you can also find those themes in the life of Jesus...

Lyrics: "Tell Me the Story of Jesus" (Read the accompanying blog post if you have time!)

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #122

Questions for thought and discussion;
1. The Bible has been called the "greatest story every told". Do you really believe that? What is so fascinating about Jesus? Do you think that planning a completely engrossing story was intentional on God's part?

2. We love a happy ending-truly, everyone does. The Bible gives us the opportunity to guarantee our own picture perfect conclusion: salvation through Christ means eternal life in heaven. Doesn't that make all this worthwhile? Why are we hesitant to proclaim that definite truth?

3. Stories of Jesus were told in Christ's own day! I love, love, love to think about that. What do you think they said? Was He a "celebrity"? Which story would you have liked to have witnessed?

Looking for the entire printable? Find it here.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Day 19: "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne"

          Wow, less than a week until Christmas. It's crunch time for real if you are a procrastinator (I am over-loader, not quite the same, but I still have plenty to do!) and this is the time when Jesus really gets pushed to the back burner in the hustle and bustle. This carol is the perfect remedy if you are wont to overlook the "Reason for the season" right now. This song is one of the few (perhaps the only, I haven't looked at every single one yet) that is by a woman. I couldn't find any information about it, but the lyrics really have a sensitive, feminine touch in the best of ways. The third verse is just stunning. Stop and take a few minutes to sing (or just read) this beautiful song. It will put your focus back where it belongs. Because if He could leave His throne for us, I think we can leave behind our busyness, stress and worry for Him. Sounds like a delightfully un-fair trade, right?

Lyrics: "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #121

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. Christ gave up His rights so that we might have mercy that we in no way deserved. Why then do you think we are so loathe to give mercy to others? He hears the afflicted, the fatherless and the oppressed. How have you done that recently? If you haven't done that, how can you?

2. Christ became poor for us, physically, so that we might be rich spiritually. Yet, we often demand earthly abundance as our due. Is that Biblical? Why not? If we truly seek to emulate Christ, can we have wealth? (Please don't see read a "right" or "wrong" answer from my perspective. I am just hoping to ignite a spirit of searching for God's answers, not man's)

3. If you were Jesus, what would be the most difficult part of leaving your throne? Christ was 100% human, so I am sure there were moments when He remembered, and perhaps even missed or longed for, His heavenly home. Have you ever thought about that?

Looking for the printable? It's here. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day 18: "What Child Is This"

    This is my husband's favorite carol, I think in a large part because he likes the tune. I however, like it because it falls into that melancholy, low, slow category. I'm not really sure why I lean towards those, but clearly they are my favorite. Also, I love the words. It seems that this carol would be one of those written in the 13th-14th centuries, but in actuality, it is much more recent. It is from 1865, and the author was suffering from a near fatal illness that resulted in a renewed interest in Christ. A spiritual awakening that came during a really dark time? Sounds a lot like Christmas to me!

Lyrics: "What Child Is This"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #118

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. We really tend to take for granted that we know who Christ is, and surely that was easily recognized by His contemporaries. However, that was probably not the case-most did not likely realize who He was. Which leads me to think if we are mistaken about that assumption, do *we* really know who He is? Who do you say He is? Why?

2. The verse from Luke is short but poignant. Mary was pondering all these things...she was probably trying to figure out exactly "what Child is this" herself! What do you think she thought in those first few hours? Days? Do you think she had the same thoughts most mothers do?

3. Why do you think "Jerusalem was [disturbed]" with Herod? Was it unnatural for them to side with their known, earthly leader? Do you think we ever do that type of thing today?

Looking for the printable? Find it here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Day 17: "Sing We Now Of Christmas"

    Christmas carols are absolutely essential to my celebration of Christ's birth. I can't think of many things that bring people together like music does, and when I sing songs, like this one, from the 15th(!) century, I can picture people all through the ages rejoicing in His arrival. It gives me a great feeling of unity, and really helps fuel that "love for my fellow man" thing that is so associated with this season. Music is often a catalyst for worship, and it isn't any different at Christmas. It gives us an ideal atmosphere for focusing on God, and while it definitely isn't the only way to worship, it is one of my favorites. I'm pretty sure God likes it, too-if you need more convincing than my humble opinion, spend some time in the Psalms and then let me know if you don't agree.

Lyrics: "Sing We Now Of Christmas"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #111

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. Why do you think God likes singing? He didn't give us all perfect pitch, but the Bible never says that should keep us silent. Why do you personally think music is a good way to praise God? Maybe you disagree-why?

2. The Magi came to "worship" Christ. Do you think that they sang to Him? What other forms of worship are there? Was it just their gifts? Do you really believe our tradition of gift-giving can be a form of worship? Why or why not?

3. Can you list at least five reasons why we should worship and praise God? What is your personal way of expressing yourself in worship and praise? Do that today.

Looking for the printable? Find it here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Day 16: "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly"

    This carol will probably be familiar, although it doesn't receive the air time that some of the most popular ones do. I actually really like that about it, and also, it isn't your typical carol. The couplets are fun, and they give it an unusual rhythm (I'm sure anyone musically inclined could say much more about that than I, and describe it much better!) . However, I really love that this carol focuses on the little details-the lowliness of Christ's birthplace, the animals that were likely there. It nicely juxtaposes both the height of His holiness with His absolute down-to-earth humanity. And I like a good comparison.

Lyrics: "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #106

Questions for thought and discussion;
1. The Isaiah passage focuses on Christ's physical appearance-nothing about it would have been anything other than commonplace, average. He did not use his looks to attract people to Himself! Why do you think this was important? Why do you think that we usually picture Jesus as being physically good-looking? Is it our own vanity? Because He certainly wasn't concerned with His outward appearance!

2. Christ was despised, rejected, and looked down on, yet He gave us the right to become children of God, joining Him in the true royal family. How does this help us to realize that all of the aspirations of the world are completely backward? Christ was not afraid to be "lowly". Why are we so concerned that we won't be given our proper due? What do we really deserve?

Looking for the printable? It's here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Day 15: "Angels We Have Heard On High"

  We don't know who wrote this carol, only that it is a traditional French one. This isn't the only common carol that has an unknown author, but it got me to thinking: if I wrote a song as famous as this one, I think I would want my name on it! Just being honest. But in reality, this song is such a perfect picture of what our lives should be as believers: continuous praise to our Savior, and His is the only name that need be made known. I can picture this long-gone poet proudly singing his song before his Maker, and he knows that is really giving credit where it is due. His name may be lost, but his song continues, prompting worship and praise for ages, and putting the focus squarely where it should be: on Christ.

Lyrics: "Angels We Have Heard On High"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #100

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. Both the passages list reasons why we should give "glory to God in the highest". As you think about those, what are some specific things in your own life for which you give God the glory?

2. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways." (Isaiah 55:8) How is this statement from the Lord made so obvious through the Christmas story? Truly, Christ's birth showcases God's skill as the ultimate Story Author. His creativity is boundless. What are some things in this world that make your breath catch? Your eyes water? What makes you want to break into "joyous strains" when you think about how perfectly God planned it? Take a few moments to be still in awe and worship.

Looking for the entire printable?  Find it here. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Day 14: "Away In A Manger"

      This is probably the first carol most children learn. It is short, and simple. Yet, it is so poignant-thinking of our precious Lord and Savior as a tiny, helpless Baby, it all becomes much more real when we picture Him as being so much like our own dear, sweet children. Our fierce desire to protect them and care for them, to see them accomplish great things is a direct reflection of how God surely felt for His very own Son. I can't imagine laying my own son in a hay-filled feeding trough, but I am certainly thankful that God didn't mind so much...

Lyrics: "Away in a Manger"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #103

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. Jesus, who had all the power of God, did not consider Himself equal with God-even though He was! Every step of His life here on earth was marked with humility. Why does that make His message even more powerful? Why is humility also an essential to our own testimonies?

2. Have you ever really considered how lowly Christ's beginnings are? Even if you have, really reflect on that now. Perhaps you will weep when you think of how our SAVIOR came to earth. If it doesn't move you in some way, keep looking until it does.

3. In my personal opinion, God directed Christ's birth in such a manner to eternally remind us that He came as a servant, but there was nothing "normal" about Him. What specific parts of His birth story highlight that for you? Which parts were ordinary?

Looking for the entire printable? Find it here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Day 13: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"

   So, today I can redeem myself with my mother. She may not care for "Go, Tell It On The Mountain", but today is her favorite. I don't know if she is familiar with the story behind it, but I know it will only increase her fondness for this beautiful carol. The short version: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (yes, the same famous American poet) wrote this in the thick of the Civil War, after his son had joined the Union Army against his father's wishes,and was gravely injured shortly thereafter,  and Longfellow's wife had died in a tragic accident. He surely bowed his head in despair many times during those black days. But rather than allowing Christmas to increase his sorrow, Longfellow realized that the true meaning of that day is hope-for salvation, for love, for forgiveness, and for restoration, if not here on earth, than definitely in heaven. Isn't that just wonderful?

Lyrics: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #98

Questions for thoughts and discussion:
1. The strongest recurring theme here is peace, in both the songs and the verses. It is easy to see why Longfellow craved peace, but don't you, too? Why do you think Jesus is called the "Prince of Peace"?

2. Peace and reconciliation are both mentioned in the passage from Colossians. Can you have reconciliation without peace? Or peace without reconciliation?

3. "God is not dead, nor does He sleep"...sometimes when life is hard, the opposite seems true, even to a believer. We have so many promises from the Lord that He will never leave us, and yet we still struggle. What are some practical things you can do to counteract those lies? How can you remind yourself that He will "reign...forever"?

Looking for the entire printable? It's here. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Day 12: "Good Christian Men, Rejoice"

   This may surprise you as much as it surprised me, but this is probably the oldest carol in the bunch. I haven't studied them all yet, but this one was believed to be written (in Latin) in 1328! I think that is one of the things that I love the most about Christmas carols-how enduring they are. They have united people in the shared language of music for centuries, and I hope that tradition continues. This is one of my top five favorite carols, (its really hard to choose just one favorite!) and so it makes me happy to know that it has stood the test of time. I hope that if Jesus hasn't returned by then, that people are still singing it in 700 years!

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #96

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. What do you think: do we "rejoice" because we are "good Christian men (and women)" or are we good Christians because we rejoice? Maybe both?

2. The verses from Acts are quoted about Christ, but they can also be applied to Christians. Isn't it lovely to think that there are Scriptures that talk about Christ, but also about us? It makes me rejoice that through Christ's sacrifice I am worthy of so many wonderful blessings! What are some of the things that make you rejoice about your salvation?

3. We "need not fear the grave" according to the song, and Hebrews 2:15 tells us that Christ has freed us from the slavery that the fear of death has over us. Does that mean it is wrong to be afraid of dying? Why do you think that so many have such great anxiety when it comes to death? How can we conquer that fear through Christ?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Day 11: "Go Tell It On The Mountain"

 First of all, can I just say, "I'm sorry, Mom, I had to do it." This carol is my mother's least favorite of them all, and she must have passed that on to me. And for years, I haven't been particularly fond of it, either. Until David Crowder. It is on his "Oh For Joy" holiday CD, but I had never heard it like that before. And as with all things DC, I loved it! And now, after studying it, and finding so many Scriptural connections, I am even more taken with it. So, even if this one isn't on your top 10, give a few minutes. You may find it grows on you!

Lyrics: "Go Tell It On The Mountain"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #95

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. The entire theme of this song is the telling. Can you share the Gospel story without telling of Christ's birth? Is that part essential to fully understand Christ's sacrifice? How?

2. The Isaiah passage says that the feet of those who share the "good news" are "beautiful". Those shepherds, those lowly, hard-working, *smelly* shepherds...did they have beautiful feet? Do you?

3. We often think of the angels as the primary "heralds" in this story, but their message was only to the shepherds. The shepherds, however, are the ones who "spread the word" (Luke 2:17). God uses people as His chief manner of proclamation. Ordinary, everyday, even "boring" ones. Are you ever guilty of expecting angels to share the story God has given to you to tell?

Looking for the entire printable? It's here. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Day 10: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

  This is one of the "newer" carols in the list, it was first published in 1849. It is also an American carol, but it uses the same beautiful language that many of the older European songs do. This is another song focusing on the angels-they seem an irresistible muse to many writers. Maybe because they are the central thread tying all the groups of the story together?

Lyrics: "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #93

Questions for though and discussion:
1. Not everyone listens to the angels (or believes them) right away. Zechariah didn't! He received a sign all right: muteness. I think we like to believe that if an angel appeared and spoke to us, that is all the convincing we would need, but can you think of some reasons we are tempted to ignore the Holy Spirit's voice? Isn't He greater than the angels?

2. At some point in the future "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea" will praise God. This is the basis for the 4th verse. What do you think that will look like? Sound like? Do you think it will just be singing? 

Looking for the entire printable? It's here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Day 9: "Angels from the Realms of Glory"

   This song takes us back to where it all began-literally, the first verse mentions the wonder of the creation of the world. Angels, shepherds, wise men, even a nod to Anna and Simeon (Did you catch that in fourth verse?) it seems the gang is all here! Besides a specific reference to Mary and Joseph, James Montgomery was very thorough. No matter the status, though, the refrain (literally and figuratively) is always the same, as it is for us: "Come and worship!"

Lyrics: "Angels from the Realms of Glory"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #94 (This version only has the first four verses, the original version, linked above has SEVEN!)

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. Angels are often thought of as being pretty and feminine. Do you think that is the image presented in these verses (note the mentions of wind and fire)? Why or why not?

2. Angels are often presented in the Christmas story as exceptionally prominent. However, they are really servants of God, and they are only a glimpse of His glory. If they are completely awe-inspiring (Everyone was clearly afraid of them!) can you begin to imagine how truly *awesome* God is? Contemplate that for a while-let it give you chills. Can you worship the way the angels do?

Looking for the rest of the printable? It's here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Day 8: "Silent Night"

   I will be honest: this is not one of my favorite carols. I will say I have fond memories of singing it as a solo in church when I was about 8. However, it is one of the most widely known carols, so well known, that during the 1914 Christmas truce of WWI it was sung simultaneously by French, German, and English troops in their respective languages, as it was one carol with which they were all familiar. A song that can bring together warring nations (even if only for a short while)? Sounds a little like a Savior I know. I think a song like that deserves a bit of appreciation and respect.

Lyrics: "Silent Night"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #91

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. This carol gives us one of the most "romantic" views of Christmas, pictures of a peaceful night, and tranquil Mary, and physically glowing Infant. Do you think this is a negative thing? Should our view of Christmas be more "realistic"? Or is it acceptable to rose-tint it a little because it was such an amazing event?

2. This song specifically refers to Mary's virginity. Why was this so important? Mary's response to the angel's proclamation was simple, but it should really inspire all of us. Seriously think about her obedience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Is that kind of faith inimitable?

3. Jesus was the "Son of God", but He was also Mary's son. Do you think that ever caused conflict for her? Jesus was completely human (also, completely God). How do you think He felt about His mother?

Looking for the entire printable? Find it here.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Day 7: O Come, All Ye Faithful

    So, I found an interesting little tidbit that may not be so well known as this song: it has been rumored that it was a coded ode to Bonnie Prince Charlie at his birth. Due to the disagreement over right to the English throne, the Jacobites were purported to have used this song to honor him in secret. Interesting to think of this song being about the birth of a King no one recognized, huh? I sincerely doubt anyone is thinking about Charles Stuart when they are singing this-but we definitely can contemplate how it would be for Jesus to have come to take a throne that *was* rightly His and not have anyone acknowledge that....

Lyrics: "O Come, All Ye Faithful"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #89

Thoughts for questions and discussion:
1. The Isaiah passage talks about what will give us "joy" and "triumph" as believers. What is that? Why do you think that particular commandment is so important? What could that possibly have to do with Christmas?

2. The Word became flesh...what does that really mean? How was Jesus "the Word" before He was born? Why was it so important that He become flesh?

3. What is something you can do to show your adoration for Christ? What would truly adoring Him really look like?

Looking for the entire printable? It's here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Day 6: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

    This is another o-l-d carol, as in, its first publication was in 1739. That gives it excellent phrases from a bygone era, as well as intentional use of the word "ye", which was current to the vernacular of the time. You've sung this one literally your entire life, but have you really thought about what it truly says? If not, before you sing it, take the time to read through all the lyrics. They are just amazing, and the second verse is my particular favorite. 

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): 87

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. Reconcile. This is one of those "Bible" words. We say it, we don't really know what it means. What does "reconcile" have to do with you? How does reconciliation with God *have* to change your life?

2. In the Luke passage, peace is promised to those on "whom His favor rests". Who is that? The Jews? Christians? Humans? You?

Extra credit: Figure out what "mild" means in this 18th century context. Wesley uses it in both the 1st and 3rd stanzas. And I don't think he meant like salsa. ;)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Day 5: Joy to the World

    "Joy to the World". A perennial Christmas classic. As familiar as it is, it still retains its completely exuberant nature-it stands in stark contrast to many of the more mellow, lower key carols. So, I have to say, I learned this after I had already put the printable together, but this song is directly based on Psalm 98. Please, please, will you include that in your Scripture reading? I love how beautifully the author tied together the Old Testament and New Testament themes. It speaks directly to the unity of the entire Word. I could go on and on, but I will let you marvel over this one yourself.

Lyrics: "Joy to the World"

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #87

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. How did the "he", John the Baptist, of Luke 1:16-17 help people to "prepare Him room"? Why do you think it was important to God's plan that John come before Jesus?

2. We often think about Jesus coming to bring us salvation, but how does He also bring us joy? Does your salvation make you joyful?

3. This song has a lot of themes of creation praising the Lord (rocks, hills, plains, nature sing,etc.). How do you see the "harmony" of the physical world? How does this praise the Lord? (Maybe that's why we love snow at Christmas...)

Looking for the printable? Its here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Day 4: O Little Town of Bethlehem

    This classic always conjured up a sleepy, peaceful little town of pueblo-style buildings under a starlit sky. The reality was that it was a tiny town, ill-equipped to handle the influx of travelers that the census caused. Bethlehem (this is a brief, but interesting article) was the birthplace to another famous Jewish king-David. That lineage led Joseph, a Davidic descendant, back to the "House of Bread"-the literal meaning of Bethlehem. Pretty fitting name for the birthplace of the "Bread of Life", huh?

Lyrics: "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (extra credit: tidbits on the story behind the song!)

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #85

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. Why do you think it was important that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, rather than Joseph and Mary's native town of Nazereth?

2. Ruth was from Bethlehem (bonus points if you know how she was related to David). How does her story in some ways foreshadow Christ?

3. We tend to think of Bethlehem as a quiet, dark town. With all the travelers, that very well might not have been the case. Do you think that perhaps all the hustle, bustle and noise somewhat masked that most important birth? Is that an accurate reflection of Christmas in the world today? How?

Looking for the printable that contains all 25 days of songs and Scriptures? Its here!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Day 3: Emmanuel

      This is probably the simplest carol of them all. A single verse, and very few words. However, it is beautiful in its simplicity. And it still manages to evoke all those feelings of wonder that thinking of the birth of Christ should. Perhaps you can find time to sing this one twice?

Link to lyrics: "Emmanuel" (by Bob McGee-there are several songs by this title)

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #82

Questions for thought and discussion:
 1. How is "God with us" now?

2.If Jesus birth signaled "God with us" (since He was called "Emmanuel") had God not been there before? What changed about His presence with Jesus birth? How did that change again after Christ's ascension?

3. What specific events in your life have proven to you that "God with us" is really true?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Day 2: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus


    This is one of those carols that isn't *quite* as common. It is still heard fairly frequently, but it isn't up there with "Silent Night". I love all the ones that are a little more melancholy, and this one fills the bill. Not only that, but this one is so old it is overflowing with just the most poetic wording. Lovely!

Link to lyrics: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus"
or try this one: "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus"
The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #77

Questions for thoughts and discussion:

1. Do you know how long Jeremiah and Isaiah were written before Jesus' birth? The Israelites had been waiting a long, long time.

2. What would you expect if a king were coming? How would you get ready? Are some of those things that we do to prepare for Christmas?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Day 1: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

     What could be a better beginning to the Advent season than, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"? The greatest longing of Israel, a Redeemer, would soon be fulfilled. All of the ancient prophecies would culminate in Him. This is a rich, old carol, and even I wasn't aware of all the verses!

Link to lyrics: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel". (Take a minute to read the top paragraph!)

The Baptist Hymnal (1991): #76

Questions for thought and discussion:
1. What does "ransom" mean?

2. Why did Israel need to be ransomed?

3. Are we included in Israel?

4. The song mentions both the "Rod of Jesse" and the "Root of Jesse". That speaks of King David's father. Why would this lineage be important to the Israelites?

Find the printable for the entire devotional series here. And be sure to check back for each day's review!

"Sing Of His Birth"-An Advent Devotional

   If I had to choose only one thing about Christmas, between food, decorations, celebrations, and music, music would win hands' down every time. Nothing puts me in the mood more than a good carol. I add to my Christmas music selection every year, and I love all kinds of songs: old and new, traditional and contemporary, originals and covers. I love looking through the hymnal at all the "unknown" verses.

    As I was thinking about singing at Christmas this year, I decided that I would love to find a devotional that has all the excellent old carols-the kind we always sang in church when I was little. I searched and could never find what I was looking for, so of course, at the last minute, I decided to create my own! I have chosen 25 carols-most will be intimately familiar but some less so. I didn't realize how so many of them are founded so strongly in Scripture! When researching, it was fascinating to discover that many of the writers must have been thoroughly acquainted with the Word.

   I'm pleased to share this with you in printable form. This is a 25 day devotional, each day starting the first of December through Christmas provides you with a different carol and Scripture readings. My hope is to share a link to each song's lyrics and also some thought questions here in a new post every night in preparation for the next day's selection. This devotional can be used several ways, for yourself or with your family! The carols are all songs that I want my children to learn and love, so I plan on using it for family time each day.

    I encourage you to sing each song (or at least listen to it online!). Sing all the verses if you can-the first one is always the most common, but many of the later ones are even more beautiful and meaningful. Also, several of the Scripture selections are coordinated to the later lines. Read the accompanying Scriptures and talk about what the carol means, and if you are using it with your kids, talk about any unfamiliar words or phrases. Then, as time (and desire) allows, use the discussion prompts I will be providing here on the blog each day.

   I am praying that this will make your celebration of Christ's birth even more special and meaningful. Rather than focusing exclusively on the "Christmas story" I've included a variety of passages from all over the Bible to show how these songs are based on Scripture and also how Christ's coming and God's plan for salvation is the central thread to the most amazing Story of all! May your Christmas be filled with song and joy.
Right click to save and then go to saved location to print.

Right click to save and then go to saved location to print.

Lyrics and Discussion Prompts:
Day 1: "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
Day 2: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus"
Day 3: "Emmanuel"
Day 4: "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
Day 5: "Joy to the World"
Day 6: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
Day7: "O Come, All Ye Faithful"
Day 8: "Silent Night"
Day 9: "Angels from the Realms of Glory"
Day 10: "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"
Day 11: "Go Tell It On The Mountain"
Day 12: "Good Christian Men, Rejoice"
Day 13: "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day
Day 14: "Away in a Manger"
Day 15: "Angels We Have Heard on High"
Day 16: "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly"
Day 17: "Sing We Now Of Christmas"
Day 18: "What Child Is This"
Day 19: "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne"
Day 20: "Tell Me the Story of Jesus"
Day 21: "Carol of the Bells"/ "Ring, Christmas Bells"
Day 22: "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night"
Day 23: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
Day 24: "We Three Kings"
Day 25: "O, Holy Night"
Bonus Day 26: "Boxing Day" by Relient K

 Linked up:
"Craft Frenzy Friday" at the Craft Dictator
"Thrifty Thursday" at Living Well, Spending Less

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Little Bit of Fasting in A Season of Feasting


      I love Thanksgiving. I was talking to a friend about it yesterday and realized that has been true since I was a child. There is something so warm and comforting about that holiday-and even when I was young, I was intrigued by the concept of contentment: being thankful for where you are and what you have, not longing for more, or better, or different. My parents did an excellent job of helping us (I'm one of eight) see that "every good and perfect gift is from Above" (James 1:17), so it was always easy for me to attribute any blessing in my life to the Lord.

    As a young teenager, I wrote a children's book (complete with my own horrible illustrations, my drawing abilities have not improved since second grade) about the history of Thanksgiving. There was something absolutely fascinating to me about the Pilgrims. The horrible trials they suffered, and their intense gratitude when they were saved. Of course, that gratitude was placed squarely at the feet of that same God from James 1:17. They knew He had given them the opportunity to continue to live and serve Him. And they were thankful. I learned that "Thanksgiving" as a the holiday we know it, was many years in coming (it was proclaimed a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863), but those seeds were planted by those first humble settlers at Plymouth in 1621.

   However, I was fascinated to discover that in 1623 there a series of events (a drought, the unexpected arrival of more settlers that had no provisions) that again left those poor immigrants absolutely devastated.  In July of that year, they fell prostrate before the only One who can truly save and they fasted and prayed-for relief from the drought and hunger. And the Lord answered, as only He can. He provided rain, the crops grew and the people were nourished-in spirit and body. And so they again celebrated a holy day of giving thanks.

    I was struck by how periods of fasting-whether intentional or not, preceded these forefathers most heartfelt celebrations of thanks. What? Is that really so far-fetched?

   I remember as a child, my mother encouraged us to fast before Thanksgiving. One year in particular, I remember having a bowl of plain oatmeal (quite the trial to a brown sugar, cinnamon, loving girl) and then fasting solid food the remainder of the day-until Thanksgiving morning. Once I woke (I was probably 11 or 12 at the time) and I remember thinking that the breakfast we had was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. Who cared about turkey and mashed potatoes? I didn't need fancy-I just needed filling!

  See, the thing is, sometimes we get so caught up in "more" we don't take the time to feel the emptiness. the longing. And then we never get that amazing warm feeling of "enough" -of being filled from a point of emptiness. And that's why I think that sometimes a little fasting is what we need most in this season of feasting.

   Fasting is all over the Old Testament. It preceded many important events (the Day of Atonement, Esther fasted before seeking the relief of the Jews). But it is also in the New Testament. We are all aware of Jesus' fast in the desert. 40 DAYS! Good grief. There are times when I feel like I can't fast for 40 minutes. But isn't that the beauty of fasting? It isn't really supposed to be about what I can do at all. It is about signifying that with my heart and with my body, that I fully trust that the Lord can provide-that He can do what I cannot. Jesus says in Matthew 6:16, "When you fast..." Not, "if" but when.

  Now, I am not proclaiming myself a Biblical expert of any kind. But I have grown up in church, and my understanding is that the true meaning of fasting is abstaining from something, usually something that you do or consume every day. It is meant to be a little trying. And in that difficulty of the wanting and maybe even the needing, you will be reminded that much more than any food or drink, we need Jesus.

"Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35
   Fasting isn't to be done to see what I can obtain from God-it is to remind me that everything I need has already been obtained through Jesus. It is to remind me of my humanity, and my failings.

  I have been fasting, for about five weeks now. I won't go into detail, but it has been harder than I thought it would be. I chose a specific category of food to fast and I mistakenly thought it wouldn't change my routine too much. That wasn't probably the best mindset for starting a fast, but the Lord has used it to remind me that I don't have as much self-control as perhaps I would like. I have definitely been reminded how frail I am. Every time I want that thing-I have to remember that He can help me conquer all things (Romans 8:37) and that has inspired an intense gratitude in me.

   I can't really remember the last time I was without something I needed. And so, because I live in the land of plenty, I am glad that I can fast-that little pinch of desire unfulfilled gives me the tiniest taste of the gaping hole of hunger that I would be suffering from constantly without the power of Christ. It renews my desire to only be filled by Him and refreshes my belief that only He can truly fill.

  And that fills me with gratitude beyond expression. To know my Savior loves me and lives in me-what more could I desire?

"Many, Lord my God, are the wonders You have done, the things You planned for us. None can compare with You; were I to speak and tell of Your deeds,    they would be too many to declare." Psalm 40:5

    Nothing can compare. All my gratitude must be to Him-and if doing without for a little while, just a blink in the span of time, reminds me how deep my thankfulness is, isn't it worthwhile? Perhaps, in this season of feasting, you will take a little time for fasting. Because the stark comparison of lack with enough is just the right way to remind us to say, "Thank You, Lord" in the way we really should.
So, at this time of the year when excess seems to be unavoidable, would you be willing to truly have less in order to have more? I think a little bit of fasting makes the feasting that much sweeter!

 Looking for a place to start? Here are some ideas to "dip your toes in the water":

1. Choose a set time period for your fast- a meal, a day, a week. Start small so that you won't be overwhelmed.

2. Choose what you will fast. Some ideas:
-a beloved food item (soda, desserts, fried foods)
-a technological item (TV, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, your phone. Or the internet all together!)
-a specific meal each day
-a pastime (reading, knitting)

3. Choose something that will alter your daily routine slightly. The point of fasting is to remind us of our reliance on God, and that leads us to prayer. You want to be provided with opportunities that remind you to pray. Reaching for that can of soda? Or just really craving it? Fill that time with prayer-thanking God for your blessings and for His ability to provide for all your needs. Choosing something that you would do several times throughout the day is always a good way to incorporate more "praying without ceasing".

4. Don't run around bemoaning your "loss"- the hypocrites were chastised by Jesus for "disfiguring their faces" (Matthew 6:16-17). They wanted to ensure that everyone was aware of their great sacrifice. Your fast needn't be completely private (sometimes you need accountability, or it is just impossible not to reveal what you are doing) but you don't have to proclaim to everyone you meet or put your chosen restriction on Facebook.:) Also ask the Lord to humble you through this time.

5. When you have completed your fast take some time to record your thoughts and feelings. It is easy to forget what you have learned or been shown even a few days later, so writing it down will help keep those insights fresh.

Monday, November 24, 2014

To Jocelyn, On Your 9th Birthday

Dear Jocelyn,
           Today, you are nine. And, as you are delighting to tell everyone, it is your "last year in single digits". I'm in no hurry for double-digits, and honestly, I don't think you are, either. I'm glad, too. You are really finding your way, and you haven't lost your joy and zest for life. Everyone always loves to be around you because you are just so happy!

     Don't get me wrong, you have had some blue times. Our move from Colorado this year has been pretty tough on you. You had lots of great friends there, and you especially miss our old church. Sometimes it doesn't seem like it was worth it. But, you have already made so many good memories here, and you asked a lot of great questions about why we thought it was God's will, and I think you are really starting to understand that.

   You are so interested in learning and sharing about God. You were so excited to invite everyone in the apartment complex to VBS, and you could not have been more delighted when the neighbor boy came as your friend to Awana. You love the Lord so much, and you just want to tell everyone about Jesus. You fought your way through the Awana silver AND gold review in T & T, and you made it-it was tough! I am so proud of how you are hiding God's Word in your heart-and also sharing it through your words and life.

    You have matured so much, and it makes me so proud of who you are becoming. School has really been fun this year. You love history and reading, and you attack your subjects and get them done. It is all clicking! You have loved experimenting at co-op and have taken all kinds of things: acting, DIY & problem-solving, science, secret codes...and you are starting to make new friends, even if it doesn't feel that way.

   And the crafting...where do I start? Everything is a creative challenge in your see a project everywhere! You created an entire nativity out of *trash* during service one Sunday. It cracked me up! Crayons, paint, glue, sewing, taping...and scissors...

   Can I not mention how you sliced your hand two days ago while "creating" and needed FOUR stitches in your pinky finger?! But you took it in a stride, even smiling and joking with the doctor while the anesthesia was injected. You cried some, but you were so brave. And now you are happy to display your "cat's whiskers" for all to see. You don't let much get you down!

    In all, you have had quite the year. You learned how to swim, you stayed a week at Grams', you have become great friends with cousin Autumn, you are learning cursive, you are typing, you are reading so much, you sold all the baked goods at the youth yard sale, loved on Billy and George and you have endeared everyone to you with your cheerfulness and happy smile. And you made me love you even more than I thought was possible.

    So here's to another wonderful year: of learning, of loving, and as always with you, laughing. May you grow to love Jesus even more (if that's possible) and continue to spread your Josie-happiness everywhere you go. I love you so much.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

To My Sister, That Time Your Baby Needed a Heart Transplant

I so appreciate you, dear readers, for coming alongside me during this time. Your prayers mean more than you will ever know. I feel so vulnerable sharing these things, but I also feel compelled to-sometimes just because it seems it is the only way to keep from completely breaking down...

Dear Robyn,
              We've been sisters a long time now. My whole life, really, since you are the oldest. You never let me forget that fact growing up. And secretly, that made me glad. Glad that went things went wrong *you* were the responsible one, when our parents tried out new disciplinary tactics, you were the guinea pig, when chores needed to be done, you had the lion's share.

    And once we became "adults" (whatever that horrid word means) I liked it even more, and not so secretly. You had the first boyfriend, and I learned how to interact with guys, you got the first job (and then got me a job), you got married first and I was the terrible maid of honor, you had the first baby, and made me a little less afraid to be a mom. And then, we were in it together, new moms, military wives, far from our family. But we had each other. Through babies and deployments, and moves, and crises big and small. We talked for hours on the phone, about everything and nothing.

   And I have never stopped looking up to you. You have always been the put-together one, the organizer, the mother-er, the planner. You do everything with such amazing finesse. And you have always been so strong. I knew you would be there for me any time I needed you. And I took advantage of that, for sure!

   And now, this. Who knew that the Lord had a such a thing in life for you as a sweet, tiny, helpless baby who would need a *heart* transplant? You have always loved babies-for as long as I can remember. When I haplessly tossed my Cabbage Patch kids on the bed, you would tenderly rescue them and chide me for my lack of caring. You loved to babysit, and did it for the chance to love on other people's babies. I was the childcare mercenary-anything for the money. And when you finally had your own sweet little ones, you had reached Nirvana-achieving your lifelong dream of motherhood.

   And now, your maternal instinct is screaming at you, relentlessly. This tiny thing, it needs you, but you can't be everything. You can't heal her with anything you possess. And I know it is the hardest thing you've ever done-to stand waiting. I know because watching this mercilessly pound you is the hardest thing I've ever done. You're my big sister, and I can't make it go away the way you have so many times for me. I can't fix it-like the many times you have remedied things for me.

   I don't know how to make this better. Pretty much because I can't. I say, "I'm sorry" and I quote Scripture and I pray. Oh, how I pray! And pray! And pray. I have become intimately aware of what 1 Thessalonians 5:17 really means. But only God can fix this, only God can see you through it. And I am learning, because of you, what it really means to trust God.

    And so, in this too, you are still going ahead of me. Showing me what grace in the face of great tragedy looks like, what fully relying on an unseen God means. How to give glory while suffering, and do so in a way that draws others closer to the One who deserves all the glory. You claimed these verses for little Gracelyn, but *you* are the one making Scripture true with your life:

"Yet I am always with You;     You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel,    and afterward You will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?    And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,    but God is the strength of my heart    and my portion forever."
                                                                                    Psalm 73:23-26 (NIV)

  And there is no way that you could be setting a better example for me in this, my dearest "big" sister. You are hope, faith, love, and patience-even though I know there have been many days that you haven't feel that way. You are strong-not of yourself, but because of Whose you are. I wish that I could make this go away... oh, I don't think even you could comprehend how my heart longs to fix this all, not just for sweet Gracey, but for you. I believe, though, that my prayers are reaching the Throne of Grace, and I know that He who began this work in you, He is the One who will be faithful to complete it. And in the meanwhile, know that I am here-however you need me, whenever you need me. Because no one knows like a sister knows, right?


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