Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I RESOLVE…

Resolution is no strange and extraordinary thing; it is one of the most common acts that belong to us as [human beings]. But we do not ordinarily apply it to the best purposes. It is not so ordinary for men to resolve to be good as to resolve to be rich and great, not so common for men to resolve against sin as to resolve against [their own] poverty and suffering. It is not so usual for men to resolve to keep a good conscience as to keep a good place.

-- John Tillotson (1630-1694)


#2222

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

WRESTLING IN PRAYER

Have you noticed how often Paul speaks of prayer as an integral part of the life of faith? In this epistle to Colossae, as in others of his letters, he frequently writes about prayer, with the assumption that prayer is already an integral part of their life of faith. Not praying was not even an option. “Devote yourselves to prayer,” he said, “keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2) Paul continues to encourage these early church members in their prayer life. For example, in the long list of greetings which are found at the close of this letter is one which I find especially interesting. It is from “Epaphras, who is one of you, [Paul tells them], a servant of Christ Jesus . . . And then there is a testimony by Paul to Epaphras’ prayer life. “He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf.” (4:12) How many of us wrestle in our prayers on behalf of others as we seek God’s will? Or do we sometimes tend to have the answers to our prayers all worked out ahead of time, and tucked away in our pocket to use as needed?

To try to be in control of my prayers and their answers is especially tempting for me when I am praying for a difficult situation, or for persons for whom I may prefer not to pray. The title of a recent article by Stephen Doughty, “How Do We Pray When We are Divided?” made me pause and think. How do we pray for the church ... for one another ... when harmony and unity seem to elude us? Am I willing to hold my desires for “harmony” in the light of God’s will through the Holy Spirit? When prayer is difficult because of my own feelings of distrust or fear or anger or bitterness toward others, I especially need to be reminded of the words of a Benedictine monk who said,“ Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” It is when I cannot pray because I do not have the words, or because there is less than perfect harmony in my own heart, or between myself and my brother and sister, that I need to be reminded of the promise in Romans 8:26. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Do we trust God enough to allow the Spirit to help us pray for the church not knowing what the answers will be, yet willing to receive the gift of God’s will through the Holy Spirit?

-- Harriet Finney in a message entitled "Perfect Harmony"

Monday, December 29, 2008

TELL SOMEBODY

Ask most people why they became Christians, and they'll likely tell you the story of other people whose witnesses were their inspiration. Ever since the shepherds and the wise men left the manger, telling what they saw to the people they met, Christians sharing their personal encounters with God have been the most important evangelism tools in the church.

It's no different today. On the job, in our neighborhoods, while running errands -- throughout our daily living -- we encounter people who are yearning for a deeper relationship with the living God. And our individual testimonies, told with humility, earnestness and gratitude (not pomp and self-righteousness) are often the stepping stones brothers and sisters need as they take that closer walk with God.

If Christ has made a difference in your life, you ought to tell somebody… Learn to share your story.

-- from Interpreter magazine, October 2000

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

THE GREATEST GIFT

Divorce shattered my family when I was eight years old. The first Christmas without my father being home to string up the lights was dark. We hung our stockings and left out sugar cookies as usual for Santa's late-night arrival. But on the night before Christmas all through my house, the only creature I longed to see stirring was my dad, not a mouse.

The next day we went to my uncle's home for Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. We arrived dressed up in our Sunday best, toting the toys we'd found under our tree. During dinner we heard a knock at the door, and in walked the skinniest Santa I'd ever seen. He said, "Sit on my lap and tell me what you want for Christmas." I thought, Santa can't give what I really want—my father's presence. As I climbed onto Santa's lap, his eyes twinkled as he pulled off his white beard. Underneath the disguise I discovered the loving face of my dad! My father's presence was the best present he's ever given me.

…God gave the world the gift of His presence -- in a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manager. God understood how empty and alone we were, so He visited our dark world, lighting our lives with His presence. He gave us the greatest possible gift -- Himself!

-- Lenya Heitzig and Penny Pierce Rose in Pathway to God's Treasure: Ephesians


#2219

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A CHRISTMAS PRAYER . . .

A CHRISTMAS PRAYER
FOR THOSE WHO DON'T GO TO CHURCH MUCH

Lord, I don’t go to church much.
I don’t go at all…well, I go at Christmas.
I’m home then.
I feel drawn to it.
I like the Christmas Eve service,
the coolness of the air.
I feel like a kid again…It’s surreal.

I know folks make fun of people like me.
What can I say? I’ve drifted…but there is a pull back.
Are You saying something to me?

I hear something in the sermon, sometimes,
but mostly it’s the music and the candles.
What is it about those candles?
And the darkness?
The darkness…it’s the light, I suppose.
Light and darkness.

I know about light and darkness.
I live in both.
I’ve got some of both in me.
I’m basically a good person, but I struggle…
I know about light and darkness.
But I want to be closer to the light.
I want to light that candle and sing those songs.

And in the dark street shineth, the everlasting light.

I would like to live in that light, Lord.
I would like to meet Jesus.
Maybe what I’m saying is that I would like to be born again...
maybe that’s what Christmas really means.

-- Ken Carter, Senior Pastor of Providence United Methodist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina. With acknowledgement of authorship, this poem may be reprinted in church bulletins and newsletters.


#2218

Monday, December 22, 2008

IN AWE AT GOD'S COMING

God doesn't want us as a business partner, as a distant relative, even as a close friend. God wants to live with each one of us, as one of us. That is the miracle of Christmas. God takes on flesh. It sounds impossible. Do we choose to believe it anyway?...

God's coming doesn't depend on us, on the depth or steadiness of our believing. This miracle depends on God, whom we cannot understand or contain, who reaches out to us at Christmas and every day of our lives...

Finding ourselves slightly puzzled and in awe before this mystery is a faithful response.

-- Mary Lou Redding in WHILE WE WAIT: Living the Questions of Advent (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 2002, used with permission.)


#2217

Friday, December 19, 2008

CATHEDRAL FATIGUE

Ministry involves a lot of building -- building a community of faith, building programs to serve people, and even building and maintaining physical buildings. We typically plunge ahead into that work, doing everything that seems good because we are ostensibly doing it for God. We think that a high level of activity and productivity is what God expects from us, so we work harder and go faster from Sunday to Sunday, program to program, and mission to mission. The result is often a deep and pervasive sense of [what I call] cathedral fatigue. We want to do a lot of things for God, but here is the question: Have we bothered to ask God what God wants us to do?...

Someone once said that if you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans. God must get a kick out of all the grandiose plans we make for our lives and for our churches. We are so busy making plans for God that we often fail to listen for the plans that God is making for us. In many ways, prayer is more important that productivity. That is the cure for cathedral fatigue.

-- Robert Kaylor in Come to the Manger, published by Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. Used with permission.


#2216

Thursday, December 18, 2008

ACCEPTANCE

"To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God..." (John 1:12 NIV)

Christmas decorations are in place -- holly, trees, red ribbons, lights. We spend so much time, money and energy dressing things up at Christmas. But the irony is that the meaning of Christmas is not in our dressing up for God, but instead about God's dressing down, coming "down" to earth in human form and being born in a rough stable. No matter how dressed up we try to make ourselves, our homes, and our lives so that God will accept us, it pales in comparison to the way God dressed down for us so that we might accept Him.

-- Rev. David T. Wilkinson


#2215

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

“What Child is this who, laid to rest,
on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch are keeping?” (William C. Dix)

From the Gospel writers to the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) on through the centuries to present theologians, the fundamental questions (and claims) of Christian faith are centered in the doctrine of the incarnation. It is crucial that the church in every time and place attempt “with fear and trembling” to answer as clearly as possible, “What child is this?”

-- Randy Mark Miles in “The Wonder of the Incarnation,” Chalice Hymnal Worship Leader’s Companion



#2214

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

THE GIFT OF PRESENCE

God comes to the woman who feels in exile in her own marriage, for the man who grieves the loss of life dreams. God comes to the child who lives on the street, for the parents who struggle to feed and clothe their children. God comes to the one whose loneliness or depression intensifies every Christmas. ... Emmanuel -- God-with-Us -- is coming to us, to meet us wherever we are -- happy or sad, joyous or grieving, God comes to stand with us, whatever our condition. And we thank God for that promised gift of presence.

-- Beth A. Richardson in Child of the Light: Walking through Advent and Christmas (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 2005. Used with permission.)


#2213

Monday, December 15, 2008

HOLY STILLNESS

Deep restfulness, even amid outward activity, is one of the most beautiful marks and aids of the life of faith. Cultivate that holy stillness that seeks to abide in God's presence and does not yield too much to things around.

-- Andrew Murray


#2212

Friday, December 12, 2008

HONORING LIFE

When I grieve, when I stand by others as they grieve, even in the midst of seemingly unbearable sorrow, grief becomes a way to honor life -- a way to cling to every fleeting, precious moment of joy.

-- Cortney Davis

#2211

NOTE: A Worldwide Candle Lighting, in memory of all children who have died, is held annually the second Sunday in December, this year December 14. The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting unites family and friends around the globe as they light candles for one hour to honor and remember children who have died at any age from any cause. As candles are lit at 7 p.m. local time, hundreds of thousands of persons commemorate and honor children in a way that transcends all ethnic, cultural, religious, and political boundaries.

Believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe, the Worldwide Candle Lighting creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone. Hundreds of formal candle lighting events are held and thousands of informal candle lightings are conducted in homes as families gather in quiet remembrance of children who have died, but will never be forgotten.

To learn more, visit The Compassionate Friends national website at http://www.compassionatefriends.org/. We invite you to light a candle at 7:00 p.m. on December 14 in your time zone "...that their light may always shine."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A LOST PASSION

We have all been inoculated with Christianity, and are never likely to take it seriously now! You put some of the virus of some dreadful illness into a man's arm, and there is a little itchiness, some scratchiness, a slight discomfort -- disagreeable, no doubt, but not the fever of the real disease, the turning and the tossing, and the ebbing strength. And we have all been inoculated with Christianity, more or less. We are on Christ's side, we wish Him well, we hope that He will win, and we are even prepared to do something for Him, provided, of course, that He is reasonable, and does not make too much of an upset among our cozy comforts and our customary ways. But there is not the passion of zeal, and the burning enthusiasm, and the eagerness of self-sacrifice, of the real faith that changes character and wins the world.

-- A. J. Gossip in From the Edge of the Crowd


#2210

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A CERTAIN HOPE

And thus I understood that any man or woman who deliberately chooses God in this life, out of love, may be sure that he or she is loved without end. This endless love produces grace in them. For God wants us to hold trustfully to this: that we be as certain, in hope, of the bliss of heaven while we are here as we will be, in fact, when we are there. And always the more delight and joy we take in this certainty, with reverence and meekness, the better it pleases God.

-- Julian of Norwich, as quoted in Alive Now, May/June 2002, published by The Upper Room, Nashville, TN. Used with permission.

A CERTAIN HOPE

And thus I understood that any man or woman who deliberately chooses God in this life, out of love, may be sure that he or she is loved without end. This endless love produces grace in them. For God wants us to hold trustfully to this: that we be as certain, in hope, of the bliss of heaven while we are here as we will be, in fact, when we are there. And always the more delight and joy we take in this certainty, with reverence and meekness, the better it pleases God.

-- Julian of Norwich, as quoted in Alive Now, May/June 2002, published by The Upper Room, Nashville, TN. Used with permission.


#2209

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

CONTRASTS

An artist paints so that people might see.

You share beauty, elevate the imagination, inspire and challenge the senses – and seek to do it all without being blatant or obvious. The good artist will let the viewer discover truth for himself…

God, too, is a Master Artist. And there are aspects of your life and character – good, quality things – He wants others to notice. So without using blatant tricks or obvious gimmicks, God brings the cool, dark contrast of suffering into your life. That contrast, laid up against the golden character of Christ within you, will draw attention… to Him… You are the canvas on which He paints glorious truths, sharing beauty, and inspiring others.

So that people might see Him.

-- Joni Earkeckson Tada in Glorious Intruder


#2208

Monday, December 8, 2008

SLEEPY DEVOTION

If you are weary of some sleepy form of devotion, probably God is as weary of it as you are.

-- Frank Laubach


#2207

Friday, December 5, 2008

COMFORT MY PEOPLE

Isaiah's words of preparation [Isaiah 40:1-11] close with a… tender and gracious vision of God's action in our midst.

"He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in His arms;
He will carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the mother sheep."

When the preparations seem long and demanding, Isaiah reminds us that God also comes in tenderness, as a shepherd who cares for those most vulnerable and in need of care.

For too many in this season of Advent, the future holds little hope or promise. The death of a loved one, estrangement within family, depression, illness: any or all of these issues can conspire to close off life from its possibilities. Before repentance can be sounded, comfort must be given. "Comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem."

That comfort also bears Advent's word of preparation. It declares that hope is still possible. It affirms that grace awaits.

-- John Indermark in Setting the Christmas Stage (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books. Used with permission.)


#2206

Thursday, December 4, 2008

DOWNRIGHT PURPOSEFUL

Rumors of another world sneak in even among those who restrict their view to the world of matter. Scientists who dare not mention God or a Designer speak instead of an "anthropic principle" evident in creation. Nature is exquisitely tuned for the possibility of life on planet Earth: adjust the laws of gravity up or down by one percent, and the universe would not form; a tiny change in electromagnetic force, and organic molecules will not adhere. It appears that, in physicist Freeman Dyson's words, "The universe knew we were coming." To those who know it best, the universe does not seem like a random crapshoot. It seems downright purposeful.

– Philip Yancey in Rumors of Another World


#2205

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A GREAT GIFT OF LOVE

Ever-loving God, who came into the world clothed in our garment of flesh and who willingly gave Yourself to the cross, clothe us in Your own Spirit, that persons will recognize You in us and receive Your great gift of love. In the name of Jesus, Your greatest gift. Amen.

-- Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck in A Guide for all God's People (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 2003, used with permission)


#2204

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

THE SHOCK OF THE INCARNATION

"The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-14)

We’re in Advent, that time in the church year when we attempt to prepare for the shock of the Incarnation, the shock that God Almighty refused to stay above us but got down and dirty with us, in the flesh, moved in with us. Jesus Christ, Lord of Lords, has chosen to be a people, a family, this people, this church.

[Dietrich] Bonhoeffer, before he went willingly to be hanged by the Nazis was forced by God unwillingly to hang out in the church. There he discovered the power of a God incarnate. Bonhoeffer, put it this way:

"A truth, a doctrine, or a religion need no space for themselves. They are disembodied entities. They are heard, learnt, and apprehended, and that is all. But the incarnate son of God needs not only ears or hearts, but living [people] who will follow Him. That is why He called His disciples into a literal, bodily following, and thus made His fellowship with them a visible reality. Having been called they could no longer remain in obscurity, they were the light that must shine, the city on the hill which must be seen."

-- Will Willimon in "A Message from Bishop Will Willimon" dated 12/10/07


#2203

Monday, December 1, 2008

THE WISDOM OF GOD

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I recently read an article called "178 Seconds to Live." It was about twenty pilots who were capable pilots in clear weather but who had never taken instrument training. Each was put in a flight simulator and instructed to do whatever he could to keep the airplane under control as he flew into thick, dark clouds and stormy weather. The article stated that all twenty pilots "crashed" and "killed themselves" within an average of 178 seconds. It took these seasoned pilots with skilled intuition less than three minutes to destroy themselves once they lost their visual reference points! …

When the writer of this proverb tells us not to lean on our own understanding, he is making the point that no matter how smart we are or how many life experiences we have under our belts, we still need to realize that human judgment is always limited and sometimes wrong. Sometimes our best notions about what ought to be said or done are ill-advised, dangerous, even destructive. When it comes to the key decisions in our lives, we almost always need deeper insights and a broader perspective than mere human wisdom can offer us.

What we desperately need is God's mind on the serious matters of life. He offers it to us through the teaching of His Word and the inner guidance of His Spirit. Our job is not to question it or to assume that we know better, like an overconfident pilot second-guessing the instructions of his instruments, but to trust that God does know better how to make our lives work. A helpful spiritual rule of thumb might be "When in doubt, always, always, always, trust the wisdom of God."

-- Bill Hybels in Making Life Work: Putting God's Wisdom into Action


#2202

Welcome to SOUND BITES Ministry

How it all began

Over the years I have collected quotes that pertain to the Christian faith and life in general. As I have read or studied what others have written, I have been struck by the profound thought that is captured in their few short words. I have accumulated these quotes and categorized them. I have used these short quotes in sermons I have preached, in free devotional booklets I have published for our congregation, in small-group studies I have led, and in articles I have written. It has been a great resource to me.

During Lent 1999 God prompted me to think about a new idea as to how I might share these thoughts with a broader audience. At the same time, our family was experiencing the first anniversary of the death of our son, Dustin, who died at the age of sixteen from a brain tumor. So, beginning on that anniversary, March 29, 1999 we began an e-mail ministry in memory of Dustin that we call "SOUND BITES: Something to chew on that is good for the soul." Five days a week, Monday through Friday, I share one of these quotes with subscribers. Hopefully recipients find something of faith and life to think about and chew on, which feeds their soul and helps them grow spiritually. Since its inception, over 2200 daily quotes have been sent out. The subscriber list continues to grow numerically and geographically with subscribers in every state in the U.S., and also in Canada, Mexico, and numerous other countries around the world. Currently over 1850 subscribers receive SOUND BITES directly and many others second hand. Now SOUND BITES is available through this blog, as well.

What's in a name

The following definitions from Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary provide some understanding of the name chosen. SOUND: solid; logically valid and having true premises; agreeing with accepted views, orthodox; showing good judgment or sense. BITES: (vb) to take hold of; to take in; to grip and impress deeply; (n) morsel; a small amount of food; a keen incisive quality; a sharp penetrating effect.

The first quote I sent out was by John F. Kavanaugh from The Word Encountered. "If our faith is something that really does not make a big difference, if it is actually not crucial that we or others believe, no wonder it seems boring to some of our young. Anything we don't care about can't be very interesting. The things we do care about, however, we inevitably talk about... If faith is real, it seeks expression. It will communicate and profess. It will have the energy of passion."

SOUND BITES originates from
First United Methodist Church of Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA. "The world is our parish."