Thursday, December 31, 2009

LOOKING FORWARD AT YEAR'S END

It is a mistake to be always turning back to recover the past. The law for Christian living is not backward, but forward; not for experiences that lie behind, but for doing the will of God, which is always ahead and beckoning us to follow. Leave the things that are behind, and reach forward to those that are before, for on each new height to which we attain, there are the appropriate joys that befit the new experience. Don't fret because life's joys are fled. There are more in front. Look up, press forward, the best is yet to be!

-- F. B. Meyer in "Our Daily Walk", Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 1.


#2450

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

COMING DOWN

Isaiah cried out to God one day, "Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down!" And one day God did.

How could Isaiah have known – how can any of us know – what "coming down' would cost God? The story of incarnation is the story of love.

Father Damien was a priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers. He moved to Kalawao, a village on the island of Molokai in Hawaii that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony. For sixteen years he live in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He build two thousand coffins by hand so that when they died, they could be buried with dignity. Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope.

Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his finger in the poi bowl along with the patients. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close. For this the people loved him.

Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: "We lepers…"

For he wasn't just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward he wasn't just on their island; he was in their skin. First he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.

One day God came to earth and began His message: "We lepers…" Now He wasn't just helping us. Now He was one of us. Now He was in our skin. Now we were in it together.

The story of incarnation is the story of love. Many people didn't recognize Him as God, of course. They were looking for someone a little flashier. They expected more in the way of special effects, not someone who would take on all our limitations… Many people saw Him, but only a few recognized Him. Those who missed Him did not generally do so out of a lack of knowledge. What blinded them was pride.

-- John Ortberg in God Is Closer Than You Think


#2449

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

CARRYING THE LIGHT OF CHRIST

The greatest brightness of the whole birth narrative comes in the shepherds' response. You see, had the shepherds only heard the message and gone back to sheep tending, we would think they were foolish. Had they found a baby and then gone home with a satisfied knowledge, we might consider them extremely fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time. Yet, what they did was greater. They proceeded to tell everyone around them, everywhere they could go, what they had heard and seen; and then they praised and glorified God for it all. The shepherds took on the role of the angels themselves, new messengers of salvation and good news; and in doing so, they extended the light of God's loving Word far beyond where it might have gone otherwise that night. The light of this news, this new day, was carried far and wide; and all who heard it were amazed and still are.

As we hear the shepherds' story, we find our task as the followers of Christ this Christmas. That is, we are called to bear the light of the news of the coming of Christ to this world, to carry the brightness of this gospel… The extent of this light is only limited by our self-limitation and unwillingness to share the message, or lack of faith in believing that the message is that profound, that world-changing… Who do you know who needs the light of Christ's love offered to him or her?

-- Randy Cross in Born to Save: An Advent Study Based on the Revised Common Lectionary


#2448

Monday, December 28, 2009

ENFLESHING GOD'S LOVE

Don't try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explained than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy. It is love, God's limitless love enfleshing that love into the form of a human being, Jesus, the Christ, fully human and fully divine.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years to show us what we ought to be and could be. Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth, wholly human and wholly divine, to show us what it means to be made in God's image.

-- Madeleine L'Engle in Bright Evening Star


#2447

Thursday, December 24, 2009

NIGHT OF HOPE

The Night of the Child is the night of hope, all hopes. We await the coming of this Night with all our hopes bound up together somehow, both our hopes for ourselves as individuals and our hopes for others as well, both those who are known to us and those who are unknown....

We hope there will be things to treasure in our hearts, things to ponder, hold, and remember, and that we will be thoughtful enough to see those things and wise enough to hold onto them.

-- Robert Benson in The Night of the Child (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 2001, used with permission)


#2446

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NOT ALONE

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel" -- which means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:23 NIV)

God is with us!

This is the proclamation made visible to us in the brightness of Christmas Day. We are radically accompanied. There is nothing in human experience that is not touched and ultimately transfigured by divine life itself. Matter is suffused with spirit.

We are not alone.

-- Wendy M. Wright in The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ's Coming (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 1992, used with permission)


#2445

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

JOY BORN AT BETHLEHEM

Rejoice, you who feel that you are lost, your Savior comes to seek and save you. Be of good cheer, you who are in prison, for He comes to set you free. You who are famished and ready to die, rejoice that He has consecrated for you a Bethlehem, a house of bread, and he has come to be the Bread of Life to your souls. Rejoice, O sinners everywhere, for the restorer of the castaways, the Savior of the fallen, is born.

-- C. H. Spurgeon in Joy Born at Bethlehem


#2444

Monday, December 21, 2009

CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT

"The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." (John 1:9 NIV)

All humanity was created with a longing to be connected to God, to be children of the light. I want to walk as a child of the light, to drink deeply from God's living water, to allow God's light to illuminate all the shadows inside me.

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


#2443

Friday, December 18, 2009

GOD'S SHALOM

God will bring peace… When God decided to act in the fullness of time for redemption, God did not send down an announcement written on stone or paper. God did not stand aloof in the heavens, raining hellfire and damnation down on the heads of sinners. God acted and came in human form. In Bethlehem.

And if God chooses to fulfill promises by an incarnate Messiah, who is to say that God will not bring the promised peace, not by manipulating history at a distance but by acting today through persons and institutions of faith?…

When the day of God's shalom does dawn, may it be said that the Child of Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace, was alive and well in our shalom-bringing, peace-making lives -- even on the West Bank, even in all the other places where peace remains far more promise than fulfillment. For there, God's shalom awaits our trust, our hope, and our making of peace with one another as God has made peace with us in Jesus Christ.

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


#2442

Thursday, December 17, 2009

THE GREATEST GIFT (Expanded)

Note: A SOUND BITES subscriber replied to yesterday's quote (in bold below) wondering what parts of it meant. I have inserted Scripture (in dark red) to help explain what I thought the authors were referring to. Hope this helps. -- DW

Jesus is sheer, absolute gift of God. ["For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…" (John 3:16)] He is not a mere product of human history; ["In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." (John 1:1-2)] He is the humanity of the God who graciously identifies with us and shares our human condition. ["But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…" (Galatians 4:4)] No less human for that, for God's solidarity with us requires His full humanity. ["For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily…" (Colossians 2:9)] But human as God's self-gift to humanity, as "Immanuel." ["'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' -- which means, 'God with us.' " (Matthew 1:23)]

-- Richard Bauckham and R. D. Williams in Jesus--God with Us


#2441

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

THE GREATEST GIFT

Jesus is sheer, absolute gift of God. He is not a mere product of human history; He is the humanity of the God who graciously identifies with us and shares our human condition. No less human for that, for God's solidarity with us requires His full humanity. But human as God's self-gift to humanity, as "Immanuel."

-- Richard Bauckham and R. D. Williams in Jesus--God with Us


#2440

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NO ROOM FOR HIM

The entire human race had a place, and the Lord about to be born on earth had none. He found no room among men. He found no room in Plato, none in Aristotle, but in a manger, among beasts of burden and brute animals, among the simple, too, and the innocent. For that reason, the Lord says in the Gospel: "The foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

-- Jerome in Homilies on the Psalms


#2439

Monday, December 14, 2009

THE PROMISE OF JOY

Jesus said, "I've loved you the way My Father has loved Me. Make yourselves at home in My love… I've told you these things for a purpose: that My joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature." (John 15:9,11 The Message)

Joy is promised to me. Do I have it? If my relationship with Christ is right, I do.

To me, joy is perfected in the full belief in the total sovereignty of God. Doubt dilutes joy.

For five years I… have attended a church that gave me one great blessing -- a firm belief in the sovereignty of God. I now totally believe that God doesn't need me, He loves me; and I don't work for Him to earn His love, I work for Him as a result of His love. He lets me work in order to mature me. That brings joy.

-- Fred Smith, consulting editor of Leadership


#2438

Friday, December 11, 2009

GOD'S PROMISES

Read Zephaniah 3:14-20

God promises to bring us to holy living. God promises to save us and to renew and restore us in our lives of faith. Sometimes that promise means that we will have to go through a painful and life-changing experience, but our faith is never a matter of only happiness and roses. Our faith is an invitation to live in God's presence through Jesus Christ. Our future expectation, our hope, should always look to God's willingness and promise to be in charge of our lives, restoring them and putting away all that would keep us from God.

-- Randy Cross in Born to Save: An Advent Study Based on the Revised Common Lectionary


#2437

Thursday, December 10, 2009

PATIENT TRUST

Waiting on the Lord requires patient trust. Will I trust that God has good reasons for saying "wait"? Will I remember that things look different to God because He views things from an eternal perspective? . . .

The story goes that an economist once read these words and got very excited. "Lord -- is it true that a thousand years for us is just like a minute to you?"

"Yes."

"Then a million dollars to us must just be a penny to you."

"Yes."

"Lord, would you give me one of those pennies?"

"All right. Wait here a minute."

Too often we want God's resources, but we do not want His timing. We want the penny, but not the minute. We forget that His work in us while we wait is as important as what it is we think we are waiting for. Waiting means that we give God the benefit of the doubt that God knows what He is doing.

It may be patient trust -- trust that is willing to wait again and again day after day.

-- John Ortberg in If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat


#2436

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A TIME TO REJOICE

"Always be joyful, then, in the Lord; I repeat, be joyful. Let your good sense be obvious to everybody. The Lord is near. Never worry about anything; but tell God all your desires of every kind in prayer and petition shot through with gratitude, and the peace of God which is beyond our understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)

Advent is not only a time of promise and preparation; it is a time to rejoice. The rejoicing we do is in great part a celebration of the initial fulfillment of the promise made; it is a living into the unspeakable mystery that has already occurred and which is at the heart of the season. The mystery is this: that God is born.

Not only does this mystery speak to us of the inexpressible compassion of our God, who has entered intimately into history in order to participate fully in all that is most human, but it recalls for us that creation itself, especially the human person, has become the sacred locus of the encounter of the finite and the infinite. It is in the womb of the world that the radical promise of a new creation has been conceived, gestated, and born.

-- Wendy M. Wright in The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ's Coming (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 1992, used with permission)


#2435

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

CONSOLE MY PEOPLE

When Jesus was born, the voice of God became flesh and dwelt among us. And what the voice said was, "Console, console My people." The consolation that God's anger is past… the consolation that our Heavenly Father has a tender affection for us in our weakness… the consolation that our sins are pardoned and "cast into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19).

-- John Piper in Looking for the Consolation of Israel


#2434

Monday, December 7, 2009

CLEANSED AND PURIFIED

"For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. (Malachi 3:2b-3 NRSV)

There are few who will believe in and accept the forgiveness of God so completely as to let God bury their sins in God's forgiving mercy; or who, having once accepted that forgiveness, will leave their sin with God forever. They are always reopening the vault where they have deposited their sin, and are forever asking to have it back in order to fondle it; reconstruct, query, or worry over it; wear it inwardly. Thus their sin ties them to the past and finally dooms their lives in both the present and the future…

Forgiveness… can only be received by those who will accept its conditions.

To be cleansed and to accept the cleansing, then to move on into the present and the future as a forgiven and restored one, is the gift of the deepest prayer.

-- Douglas V. Steere in Dimensions of Prayer, published by The Upper Room, Nashville, TN. Used with permission.


#2433

Friday, December 4, 2009

PREPARING FOR HIS COMING

Read Malachi 3:1-4.

This passage tells us three things: First, God is tremendously concerned that the people of God be as fit and as holy as they can be, so concerned that God will send someone to get them ready for worship and for offering gifts to God…

Second, the passage tells us that we cannot simply anticipate and look forward to what God will do on our behalf. We are not mere spectators in this drama of salvation and the coming of Jesus Christ to this world… We are called to go to the core of our faith, especially during this season of preparation, and to ask for help in refining and purifying our lives, in living our lives as righteous and acceptable to God…

Third, in all of this talk about preparation and refining, we must infer from Malachi's words that, indeed, God is coming. We would have no reason to go through all the work of getting ready if there would not be a day in which we would enter into the presence of God in worship and offering. God is coming to us, so let us prepare properly for that coming.

-- Randy Cross in Born to Save: An Advent Study Based on the Revised Common Lectionary


#2432

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A FELLOWSHIP OF FORGIVEN SINNERS

“But if we walk in the light as [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7 NIV)

Author Phillip Yancey tells a story of a man in his church that can’t help comparing being late for church to being late for his regular Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. When he’s late for church, he says that he has the distinct feeling from everyone around him that he’s not as responsible or he would get to church on time. When he’s late for an A.A. meeting, however, the meeting stops, everyone jumps up to hug him because they realize he almost didn’t make it, and they are so glad his need for them won out over his need for alcohol.

What’s the difference? The whole truth. The people who got to church on time may have gotten that one thing right, but they have a bunch of other things wrong with them, making them just as needy as the alcoholic. Fellowship isn’t going to mean anything if we don’t tell the whole truth about ourselves. Real fellowship means stepping into the light of God’s truth where everything is revealed, and when we bring ourselves to the light, we discover we are not alone. There’s a roomful of other believers all struggling with something too, and that sense of shared need is part of the bond that holds us together.

Yes, we’re people following Christ, but we’re all a bunch of forgiven sinners, too, who wouldn’t have a chance at life were it not for what Christ has done for us. So grab someone and let’s walk into the light together, where the blood of Jesus purifies us from all of our sins. Isn’t that the group you want to be in?

-- John Fischer in The Purpose Driven Life Daily Devotional


#2431

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

PRAYER REGULARITY

Whatever time of day we set aside for prayer, whatever place we select, whatever forms of prayer we use, it is important to understand that regularity is more sustaining in prayer than intensity or length. We are spending time with God, learning who God is and who we are, learning to love God and God's world. This happens over a matter of years. If we miss some days, we should simply start again and think small.

-- Roberta C. Bondi in Communion, Community, Commonweal


#2430

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

THE HIGHEST PLAN

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

People who believe they are a key part of the highest plan are people who have the key to behave on the highest plane.

-- Joel Hunter


#2429