Do you ever get a song stuck in your head? Most of us do, at one time or another. Colloquially, this is sometimes referred to as “having an earworm.” More scientifically, it’s described as involuntary musical imagery; the experience of having lines of music come spontaneously to mind and repeating without conscious control. If you’ve ever had this happen, you know how random it can feel (why that song?) and how hard it can be to get an unwanted tune out of your head. Sometimes the music and lyrics that show up in our heads can be comforting and encouraging; other times, they can simply be annoying.
Years ago, I started taking note of the hymns that come unbidden to my mind. I figure there’s a reason those hymns come to mind, even if I’m not consciously aware of what the reason may be. If I don’t know all the words, I go look them up, to see what the words say. If it’s a familiar hymn, I figure the words must be in my memory somewhere, and something (the Holy Spirit?) is trying to call them forth.
A few days ago, the hymn that just wouldn’t leave my head ended with “Jesus doeth all things well.” I could hum the whole hymn, but those were the only words I could remember; “Jesus doeth all things well.” I had to look it up online to learn the title. The name of the hymn is, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.” Because I keep old hymnals, I was able to find it in both the hymnbooks I grew up with, so it’s likely that I heard this as a child and a teen, growing up.
Perhaps it’s for you, today. Perhaps, it’s for all of us.
All the Way My Savior Leads Me
All the way my Savior leads me; what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy, who through life has been my guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.
All the way my Savior leads me; cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial, feeds me with the living bread:
Though my weary steps may falter, and my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me, Lo! a spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the Rock before me, Lo! a spring of joy I see.
All the way my Savior leads me; oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised in my Father’s house above:
When my spirit, clothed immortal, wings its flight to realms of day,
This my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way.
With prayers for your journey,
As I write this, I’m in the midst of doctoral classes at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. One of our assigned readings for this term is a book by James K.A. Smith called, You Are What You Love. Perhaps you’ve read this book, or at least heard of it. Smith is a philosophy professor at Calvin College in Michigan. He has authored a series of books about Christians in culture, but this particular book is about the power of habit in shaping what we love. A basic premise of Smith’s book is that our rituals – our habits – both shape, and reflect, what is most important to us. Smith’s simple assertion is that if we examine what we aim for in life, and how we spend our time, we might realize that we don’t actually love what we think we love.
Smith’s book got me to thinking about what I’ll call “essential relationships.” By that I mean the relationships you or I might identify as most important in our lives. If I were to ask you what are your most important relationships, what would you say? You might say it is with your parents or your children, or with your spouse or your siblings. If you’re a person of Christian faith, you’d probably say that your relationship with God is your most important relationship. If pressed a little further, you might even say that your relationship with a favorite household pet (or horse!) is among your most important.
Nobody is going to argue with you about the primacy of these relationships in your life. But a question to ask is, “Do my habits – the way I spend my time and my thoughts – actually reflect what I believe are my most important relationships?” How would you answer that question? If I say that I love my spouse, do my time and thoughts actually bear that out? If I say that my relationships with my children are among my most important, is that actually reflected in what I think about and in how I spend my time? If I claim to love God above all, how do I actually make time and space for that relationship?
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s often tough to correlate the use of our time and our mental energy with the things and the people we claim to love the most. The practical aspects of living place demands on our time and our thoughts. We work in order to support those we love; or, so that those we love won’t have to support us! We give of our time and energy to those outside our immediate circles of concern because this is what Christ calls us to do. We do as much as we think we can to strengthen our relationship with God, but we often feel that it’s not enough. Sometimes just getting to Sunday worship feels like an accomplishment!
Smith says in his book that when we worship in meaningful ways, it restores our loves. Isn’t that a beautiful way to think about worship? Worship should reorient us to our essential relationships; our relationship with God in Christ, and all our other relationships that flow from that primary relationship with our Creator, through our Savior. When we make our relationship with God our top priority – with time and thought devoted to the reading of Scripture, and to prayer and worship – God helps order our habits so we can truly love what and whom we say we love. When Jesus said in Matthew's gospel, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be, also;” he was talking about more than money. He was talking about the way we are to order our lives, so that we can build our “treasure” where it really matters.
With prayers for your journey,
"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death." 1st Corithians 7:10, NRSV
As I write this, we are in the days of transition between the hectic and lovely Christmas season, and the contemplation of a coming “new year.” The church year actually begins with Advent, but our own calendars say that the year begins with January 1st. It seems almost obligatory to speak of “New Year’s resolutions,” though most of us who’ve launched lofty plans in the past have found that resolutions made because of the new year don’t usually last past the first few weeks.
It’s certainly a worthy pursuit to think about goals for the coming year, both our own personal goals and those we might hope to see accomplished in our work places or in our church congregation. God created our spirits to be dynamic, rather than static. As our best selves, we are always seeking to understand how God is moving and working around us and among us, and to step into that work and movement. Our hitch in this process is our human frailty, and one way that exhibits itself is in our tendency to focus on regret.
Do you have things in your life that you regret? Many of us do. It might be something “big,” such as the loss of valuable things or choices made that have changed the trajectories of our lives or the lives of others in undesirable ways. Other regrets can be small things that dog us, like the tendency to be impatient with people, or to be unkind or judgmental. If we’re self-aware enough to realize when we’ve exhibited such tendencies, then we’ll experience regret over these things. I have known people who have been held hostage to their regrets, whether large or small, and who’ve been unable to move forward in life or relationships because of their focus on regrets of the past, rather than on the promises of their future. Their lives have literally been “arrested” by their regrets, and they are “in prison” to things of the past that they cannot change.
I am convinced from the testimony of Scripture and of the Holy Spirit that God wants us to move beyond our regrets. Certainly, God calls us to repentance, and to restitution where possible, but to be held hostage to regrets about our past is a tool of evil and not of good. Even people who are incarcerated for crimes find ways to accept forgiveness and move forward with their lives in the best possible way, to bring good out of the circumstances in which they find themselves. Can you and I do as much?
The verse quoted above comes from a chapter of 2nd Corinthians that reflects the complicated relationship between the apostle, Paul, and the Christian community at Corinth. As with any of Paul’s letters, we have just half the conversation. But we can see how much Paul loved this community, and we can infer from this verse that he understood that regret in the life of a Christian should produce something different than what might be expected by the world. Being able to give God our regrets and let God redeem them and bring about something good from them, is what allows us to move forward.
With prayers for your journey, and for your New Year,
How about that snow, yesterday?! It was beautiful, wasn’t it? I watched from my office window as those big snow flakes fell on the church grounds, and it was indeed a lovely sight. Even more perfect was the fact that it didn’t stick around very long and that our travel on the roads was not impeded! It was just a preview of things to come in these winter months, a reminder that our view of the world can change from day to day, and even from hour to hour. Sometimes it’s our physical surroundings that actually change, and other times it’s simply our view of the world based on our thoughts and feelings at the time. Have you ever had the experience of suddenly noticing how beautiful the world is, or how beautiful people are, when your attitude or your thought process has been adjusted?
Seasons like Advent are meant to adjust our attitudes and our outlook on life. It’s unfortunate that in our culture, the weeks the Church calls “Advent” can be one of the most stress-filled times of the year. Rather than being a time of reflection and devotion as we wait to celebrate the coming of the Christ child, these weeks can be filled with worry about getting everything done and having enough money to do it. So many of the things we try to get done at Christmas are “good things” – expressions of love and fellowship through gift-giving, card-sending and gatherings with family and friends. But too many “good things” can crowd out the better, or the excellent things.
Years ago, a book was published called Unplug the Christmas Machine, by Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli. I think it’s out of print, but you can find a used copy here or there, or order one via Amazon. I have the 1991 paperback edition, which I encountered when my children were small. It contains a suggested “Christmas Pledge” which includes: “Examine my holiday activities in light of my deepest values.” I believe that’s one of the purposes we as Christians can claim for the season of Advent. More than any others who are putting up a tree or filling a shopping bag this time of year, those of us who are celebrating once again the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ at Bethlehem, ought to be able to look the Christmas season straight in the eye and ask the question, “What really matters right now?” Are the “good things” I’m trying to do just crowding out the more excellent things that I as a Christian am called to, during Advent?
Easier said than done, right? I’m right there with you. I’m frequently in need of an “attitude adjustment” during the Christmas season. Some of the greatest blessings can be things that force us to slow down or stop, as we’re careening through this busy season. Like snow, maybe. Or an unexpected change in plans that gives us a little extra time on our hands. Or, like gathering for worship on Sunday mornings with others who also want to remember what this season is really all about.
I hope that as our celebration of the Nativity of Christ approaches, you can find ways to make room for the excellent things this season has to offer; such as reflection on who you are as a child of God, and on what really matters in your life, and on the boundless blessings and promise offered to us in the birth of a tiny baby so long ago.
The sermon text this Sunday, December 9th, is Luke 1:5-25. The sermon title is “A People Prepared.” On Sunday evening at 5 o’clock, we’ll have our annual tree-lighting service. We’ll gather for a brief time of worship in the sanctuary, then head outside for the lighting of our big “Christmas tree” outdoors. All are invited to attend, and to head to Holman Hall after the tree-lighting to enjoy refreshments.
NOTE: We are aware of the possibility for inclement weather on Sunday afternoon and staff will be watching the forecast closely in case any changes should be needed in our plans for the tree-lighting service this Sunday at 5 o’clock.
On Sunday, Dec. 16th, you’ll have an opportunity to join your friends at Hebron for some community Christmas caroling! Gathering time at the church is 5 o’clock.
Christmas Eve is a special time at Hebron Church. On Monday, Dec. 24th, we’ll gather for worship at 5 o’clock, and enjoy celebrating once again the coming of God in Jesus Christ at Bethlehem. This service of “lessons” (Scripture readings) and carols is appropriate for the whole family. It’s a great way to spend part of your Christmas Eve!
As the Advent season continues, remember that you can access free online devotional resources by going to our church website and clicking on the link that’s provided under “News & Events.” Our thanks to Lori Alford for locating and suggesting this Advent resource from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Here’s the link to the page on our church website: .
On Sunday, December 30th, we’ll be worshipping in Holman Hall with a light, continental breakfast provided and a time of fellowship prior to worship. If you would like to bring a breakfast item to share that morning, you are welcome to do so, but we want this to be a stress-free time of fellowship and worship at the end of what is so often a stress-filled season.
See you Sunday!