Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."
(Galatians 4:4-5, ESV) 

Have a very blessed Christmas, focused on God's great gift of grace!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hymn of the Month - Creator of the Stars of Night

I love hymns.  The fantastic and diverse hymnody of the church is something to rejoice over.  It has been the study of scholars and laymen alike.  However, in an iPhone world (where people are continually wanting the next big thing), people are starting to lose out on this wonderful, scriptural hymnody that helps set the church apart from the rest of the world. So, in an effort to bring good hymnody back to the forefront, my goal is to highlight a different hymn each month.
Since we are currently in the season of Advent, I want to start with the hymn "Creator of the Stars of Night." This hymn is often attributed to St. Ambrose, however, there is little proof that he is actually the author.  What we do know is that is a Latin hymn written somewhere between the 5th and 10th centuries.  The most common English translation was done by John Mason Neale.
Light and darkness are a common theme in Scripture and appear frequently in Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany hymnody.  The apostle John wrote:

          In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.
          Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.
(John 1:1-4, NIV)

"Creator of the Stars of Night" refers to Jesus as the "everlasting Light."  The hymn also references the reason that Jesus came to earth in the first place - to redeem us from the curse of sin, death, and eternal condemnation.  This isn't always a happy thought or a joyful thought during this season where people want to think only of happy things.  But, after all, where is the joy of Christmas if not for the death of resurrection of Jesus?  Without that, Christmas is meaningless.  This wonderful hymn reminds us of this truth.
Here are the lyrics to this wonderful hymn (which are public domain, by the way):

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting Light:
O Christ, Redeemer, save us all
And hear Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom the death a universe,
Hast found the healing, full of grace,
To cure and save our ruined race.

Thou cam'st the Bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to eventide,
The spotless Victim all divine
Proceeding from a virgin shrine.

At whose dread name, majestic now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
All things celestial Thee shall own,
And things terrestrial, Lord alone.

O Thour, whose coming is with dread
To judge the living and the dead,
Preserve us from the ancient foe
While still we swell on earth below.

To God the Father and the Son
And Holy Spirit, Three in One,
Praise, honor, might, and glory be
From age to age eternally.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Weekend Update (without Seth Meyers)

I haven't made a post that simply updated everyone of what is going on in life for awhile, so, I am taking some time to do that now (without making this sound like a Christmas letter).
We had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  The day started with church.  Peter and I spent the rest of the day on our own, making a delicious turkey, my famous mashed potatoes, crescent rolls, and, of course, cranberry sauce.  (Yes, the cranberry sauce did come from a can.  If you can't see the can lines on it, something just feels wrong.)
Since we can't really go anywhere for Thanksgiving, nor did we have any family coming, we spent Friday buying a chest freezer (so we could freeze the venison that Peter shot) and going to Blue Man Group in St. Louis.  We ate dinner at a restaurant called Vito's.  I had an amazing lobster risotto and Peter enjoyed his  goat cheese pizza.  Blue Man Group was also fantastic.  I enjoy how they combine music, art, and comedy.  My only complaint was the woman and her son sitting next to me.  She did nothing but explain to her son what was going on and play on her phone.  If your son isn't old enough to understand it, he shouldn't be there.  (Frankly, there were a few moments that were a bit adult and inappropriate for small children anyway.)
This weekend I also got the outside Christmas lights up, including the new-to-us nativity set my parents gave us after they moved into their condo.  The inside of the house is not yet decorated yet, however.  Peter and I are both adamant that you cannot have Christmas without a real Christmas tree.  Because we leave the tree up until Epiphany, we don't want to put it up too soon.  As Advent begins next Sunday, we will probably put up our tree then.

Enjoy the rest of your November!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Joys of Reading

Reading is such a huge part of my life.  I know it sounds cheesy, but reading really does open the door to new worlds and ideas.  When I am reading a good book, I am completely transported out of my own world and into another.  This means I have a really hard time putting books down.  I read like a maniac over the summer.  Now that school has started, I will have a lot less time to read, but I still try to read as much as I can.  Today I checked out and read The Amazing Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick from the library.  (I had been waiting for awhile to see it on the shelves and was excited to find it.)  I am about to start reading Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman.  Yes, both of these fall in the range of children's/young adult literature.  While I certainly enjoy some adult literature (I reread Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte this summer as well), I find children's and young adult literature, frankly, often to be better written, with a better grasp of literary elements and style, as well as plots in which every element is purposeful.  So, I am going to include a list of some of my favorite works in the children's/young adult literature realm.  This list is by no means all-inclusive; however, I think it is a good starting place for anyone looking for something good to read, no matter what your age.  (These books are not necessarily in any order, either.  I have a hard time picking favorites when it comes to book.)

1) The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (If you know me, this was an obvious choice.)
2) A Wrinkle in Time (and the rest of the Time Quartet) by Madeline L'Engle
3) The Lightning Thief (and the rest of the series) by Rick Riordan
4) The Kane Chronicles trilogy by Rick Riordan
5) The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan (book 3 in the series come out in October)
6) Peter and the Starcatchers (and the rest of the series) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
7) The Kingdom Keepers series by Ridley Pearson
8) The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
9) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
10) Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
11) Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
12) Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
13) The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
14) The Giver by Lois Lowry
15) Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
16) The Little Maid books by Alice Turner Curtis
17) Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach
18) Holes by Lois Sachar
19) Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliiett
20) My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
21) Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
22) Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
23) Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
24) The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
25) Speak by Larie Halse Anderson
26) Ballet Shoes (and the rest of the "Shoe" books) by Noel Streatfeild
27) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
28) The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
29) Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
30) James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

There are many, many, many more books that I love, but I figured that I should limit the list to 30.  If I listed one book by an author, I probably love lots of other books by that author as well.  So, if you give one of these books a shot for the first time, let me know!  I hope I have opened up some new worlds to you.  (Also, if you have other children/young adult books to add to the list, feel free to comment on those as well.)
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Seek First

"Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you." Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

Today was the first day of school.  Matthew 6:33 is our theme verse for the year.  I think it is a timely and important one.  As a teacher, I sometimes fall into the trap of trying to win accolades from parents and fellow teachers.  After all, I want what I do to make a difference, and I admit that I sometimes want people to acknowledge that I am doing a good job.  No, not a good job - a great job.  Sometimes I have to stop and think if I am making teaching decisions based on what is truly best for my students or based on what other people will think about the decisions.  However, Jesus says to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness."  He doesn't tell me to seek approval of others.  As I go throughout the school year, I need to be constantly reminded of this.  After all, teaching is part of my vocation, and is meant to serve God. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison

I love the liturgy.  I love the order that it brings to worship.  In a world that is full of chaos and disorder, it is important for the Church to be a place of order and peace.  The pattern of the liturgy provides stability to worship.
The liturgy reminds me of my sin, gives me the opportunity to repent, and reassure me of God's mercy and grace for me as forgiveness is proclaimed by the pastor.  After all, isn't that why I come to church in the first place?
The liturgy is full of Scripture.  Is there a better way to praise God than to use the words God Himself gave us in His Holy Word?
The liturgy serves as common ground between people in the Church through time and space.  I once attended a service conducted completely in Arabic in Israel.  Even though I don't understand Arabic, I was able to follow along with the service and still left having received God's grace in the forgiveness of my sins.  The liturgy gives Christians a common language. 
That's why I love the liturgy.  That is why the timeless liturgy is worth saving instead of following the pattern of the world that is always looking for the next "new and exciting" thing. 
Now, don't even get me stared on hymnody... :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

This weekend, I will be heading back to my hometown for the first time in more than two years.  It is an odd feeling to be going home.  I love my hometown.  However, I will not be going back to my childhood home, as my parents moved into a condo about a month ago.  I am not sure that I will get a chance to see any of my childhood friends while I am there.  I will get to see my parents and my brother while he is on leave, which is part of the reason I am going "home" now.  Because we need to be back so Peter can be at church on Sunday, I will not even get to visit my childhood church. 
All of this makes me a bit homesick.  Homesick for my friends especially (both the ones from home, but also the ones from college, camp, and other areas of my life).  Living far away from those I care about most is quite challenging at times.  I think I feel it most during the summer, because that's when I have the most downtime.  So, for all of my friends, know that you are loved and greatly missed.  (And, if any of you want to make a trip to Southern Illinois to visit me, the door is wide open!)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Grace - For Real

Lately, I have been noticing the number of churches called "Grace Something-or-Other."  Now, I think that "Grace" is a great name for a church.  However, what I have also noticed is that a great many of these churches don't actually preach about grace.  This is, of course, not universally true.  I am sure there are plenty of Grace Churches that do preach the Gospel with all of its sweetness, and have even been to one.  However, there are at least an equal number that do not.  If you are going to call yourself "Grace,"  you had better be preaching about grace, and not just state it in a mission statement.  After checking out a variety of Grace Churches on the internet and listening to their sermons or reading sermon manuscripts, I am even more sure that these churches do not actually understand the concept of grace.  The sermons that I looked at from these churches were all about how to be a better person, live a better life, or the things that we must do.  They did not address the fact that we are poor miserable sinners, and, that no matter how hard we try, we will always be poor, miserable sinners who need the redeeming blood of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."  (Romans 3:23-24, NIV)

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. '"  (2 Cor. 12:9, NIV)

God's grace is sufficient.  Yes, I do need to hear the Law.  I need to hear about what a terrible creature I am on my own so that I can realize that I cannot save myself.  Then I need to hear the Gospel message of Jesus Christ crucified and raised for me.   I need to hear both of these things every week.  (Frankly, I need to hear both of these things every day.)  So, if you are going to call yourself "Grace Something-or-Other,"  please, please, please preach the Gospel.  Because, without it, everything else is meaningless.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Lamb Once Slain and Raised Again

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

I want to wish a blessed Easter to everyone.  Christ is victorious over sin, death, and the devil!  That is a reason to celebrate.  Besides spending a lot of time in church (at least, we do), another way people tend to celebrate is with food.  So, today I am going to verge a bit off the normal path for this blog (although, considering that my posting has been few and far between lately, nothing is really normal) and talk about Easter food.  And, how can I talk about Easter food without a recipe?
One long held tradition in the church is to eat lamb for Easter.  "Lamb?" you say.  "I thought the traditional food was ham?"  (Especially in Southern Illinois, where most people have never eaten lamb, and some think that is is gross, even though they have never tasted it.)  Frankly, in the scope of church history, ham is a newer tradition.  I'm not sure where the idea of eating ham on Easter came from, even.  However, the tradition of eating lamb has deep roots.  When the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt, God sent an angel to kill the first born son of everyone in Egypt.  Everyone except for those who put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts.  The angel "passed over" these homes.  This, of course, is where the Jewish celebration of Passover comes from.  Jesus also celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples.  At this meal, Jesus gave the disciples his own body and blood.  The next day, Jesus, the one and true sacrificial lamb, died on a cross to save all mankind.  On the third day, this Lamb rose from the grave.  Now we can say with Paul, "O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55, ESV)
On Easter we celebrate the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world and has victory over death.  What better way to do this than to eat lamb, the same way the Israelites did when the Angel of Death passed over their homes?

There are many different ways you could prepare lamb for Easter.  I love a good leg of lamb or rack of lamb, but, they are a bit out of our budget.  Plus, there are only two of us in our household.  We need something that is a bit more practical.  The recipe I am about to share comes mostly out of the cookbook For One or Two (Parragon Publishing, 2004).  However, I have made a few small modifications.  And, in tribute to my friend Dan over at The Narnian Chef (http://narnianchef.wordpress.com/), I have a couple of pictures I took while cooking this meal yesterday.

Roast Lamb and Tomato Packets (serves 2)

olive oil
2 large (or 4 small) lamb chops
8 cherry tomatoes (or 4 roma)
2 cloves of garlic (diced) (The original recipe calls for crushed garlic, but I like my garlic a little stronger, so dicing it helps with that.)
fresh torn oregano (about 4 tsp, but I never measure it)
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Salt and pepper the lamb chops to taste.
Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over high heat and brown the lamb chops on both sides.

Cut a large square of aluminum foil.  Drain the meat and place in the center of the foil.  Spread garlic over the lamb.  Arrange tomatoes on top of the meat and sprinkle with the torn oregano.  Fold the foil to seal the packet and transfer to a cookie shete.

Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes.
Opening the packet carefully, transfer the lamb and tomatoes to a plate or serving dish.  Spoon on the juices from the meat.

Next Easter, consider lamb a must-have for your Easter table.  Have a blessed Easter, everyone!