Thursday, December 24, 2015


I read an unusual Christmas sermon about a group who tied the baby Jesus into a manger.  The Christmas pageant was being presented in a public area.  They would set the stage, go to change into their costumes; then discovered someone had taken the baby doll from the manger before the pageant began.  Their solution was to strap the baby doll into the manger.  The preacher reflected on how throughout Jesus' life people had attempted to tie or strap Jesus down.

People tried to tie Jesus down by demanding He ignore pain and suffering until after the Sabbath.  They tried to tie Jesus down by demanding He follow Jewish practices.  They tried to tie Jesus down when He reached across racial and gender lines to bring hope and healing.  They tried to tie Jesus to a cross when He refused to do things their way.  However, all of their efforts were futile.  Jesus couldn't be tied down, not even by death.

The good news of Christmas is that Jesus not only refused to be tied down; He also frees us from the things that tie us down.  Depression, failure, divorce, addiction, and bankruptcy cannot tie us down.  Hatred, jealousy, poverty, wealth, education, and illness lose their power over us.  Jesus Christ sets us free.  That Baby -- born in a stable -- is God with us.  Jesus breaks the forces that place us in bondage and condemn us to death.

No wonder the angels were singing!  The shepherds felt compelled to go and see for themselves.  They could not remain on the hillside keeping watch over their flocks.  The whole order of the universe was changed that evening.  The world could never be the same again.  God became a human being, and we were set free.

-- U. M. Bishop D. Max Whitfield, New Mexico Conference United Methodist Reporter, Dec. 20, 2002


Wednesday, December 23, 2015


But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as His very own children. And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”” (Galatians 4:4-6 NLT)

The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life, but a new way of living it.

-- Frederick Buechner


Tuesday, December 22, 2015


“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

God became [human] that [we] might learn to live in a Godlike way.  He took residence on the earth that earth might be more like heaven.  He showed us in His own Son that flesh need not be a devilish thing, but full of grace and truth.

This historic event is the symbol of a process.  It is ever God's purpose that the Word shall be made flesh, that the physical shall be filled with His glory, that truth shall connect with life, that virtue shall get into action and conduct, that the world shall be a continual incarnation of spiritual forces in human form.  God writes His truth not in flaming letters on the sky, nor does He cast them in bronze or chisel them in marble for the guidance of the race.  He writes His truth in human life.

-- Cynthia Pearl Maus in Christ and the Fine Arts


Monday, December 21, 2015


Grief is particularly difficult at Christmas, as the best memories can be the hardest ones. But the hope of Christmas is broad enough for joy and sorrow.

The strangeness and scandal of the season get easily lost in its familiar rituals. In Christian belief, the boundless, timeless God became, in J.B. Phillips’s phrase, one of those “crawling creatures of that floating ball.” …it is the central tenet of an enduring faith. Instead of setting out a philosophy to interpret the human drama, God joined it. He became “God with us” -- a God with a face. In the process, He both shared and dignified ordinary human life, with all its delight, boredom and suffering. The Christmas story revels in this blasphemous elevation of the ordinary -- a birth in second-rate accommodations under a cloud of illegitimacy.

The story is also shadowed by sorrow. In one of the odder moments of the narrative, a random stranger at the Jerusalem Temple predicts a mother’s grief. “A sword,” Simeon tells Mary, “shall pierce through your own soul also.” As it did. As it has for many mothers and fathers who have followed.

The point of Christmas is not a sentimental optimism about the human condition or even a teaching about the will of God. It is an assertion that God came to our rescue, and holds our hand, and becomes, at the worst moments, our brokenhearted brother. It is preposterous, unless it is true. And then it would be everything.

-- Michael Gerson in The Washington Post, December 24, 2012.


Friday, December 18, 2015


"And the greatest of these is love."  (1 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

If we could give but one gift, the greatest would be love. The writer of Colossians urges us, "And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues" (Colossians 3:14 JBP). Consider how you see your love reflected in others. It is true that you are not responsible for whether or not the love you give is received. Perhaps you have known of or personally experienced family dysfunction and estrangement. This is usually the result of human free-will choices and decisions. There are no perfect families. What you can do is determine the way in which you express and give love, regardless of how it may be received. When you love without expectation, you are indeed a durable saint -- needing little, offering much.

-- Julie Yarbrough in Beyond the Broken Heart


Thursday, December 17, 2015


"What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:3b-5 NRSV)

What might happen to us and within us and among us if we were indeed to prepare our hearts and follow the star...?

We might begin to believe that the Light will indeed shine in the darkness and that the darkness will never overcome it. We might begin to know in our hearts that no darkness that we find ourselves in is too dark for us after all, that the One who made us will come searching for us again and again, choosing to come and be among us, choosing to share in that darkness and to burst it apart with light and life and hope.

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


Wednesday, December 16, 2015


". . . And He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:26-27)

How far will God go to reach those whom He has called? Consider the case of Kumiko, a young Japanese woman. Her husband was transferred to a small Wisconsin town to work in management. Kumiko looked forward to the move to America because she had read once that Christians were not afraid to die. She did not know any Christians but vowed that she would ask why this was so if she ever had the chance. She was terrified of dying and wanted an answer.

Kumiko did not realize how interested God was in answering her question. Shortly after she and her husband settled in, a missionary couple from Japan retired and moved to the same little Wisconsin town. Upon learning that there were six Japanese families living in the area, the missionaries decided to start an outreach ministry at the local church.

On the first Sunday morning of the ministry, the missionary asked the class a question that stunned Kumiko. "Many of us live with fear. Are any of you afraid?" There was a nervous silence. After a moment, the missionary turned to Kumiko, unaware of her need. "How about you, Kumiko, what are you afraid of?" Kumiko gave her life to Jesus two months later. Her husband soon followed. Together they named their new child, Grace, after the church where God had gone to such great lengths to answer her questions about fear and death.

How far will God go to accomplish His purpose with you today? He brought a young Japanese wife and a retired missionary more than 10,000 miles so that a seeking heart might find Him. And He'll go farther, even to the depths of your discouragement or despair to find you. He'll go farther than you can imagine because He is closer to you than you will ever know.

-- Joni Eareckson Tada in More Precious Than Silver, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015


And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment.  How many families whose members have been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggle of life, are then reunited, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual good-will, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight, and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilized nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first days of a future state of existence, provided for the blest and happy!  How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, Christmas-time awakens!

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle.  Many of the hearts that throbbed so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their luster in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstance connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday.  Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!

-- Charles Dickens


Monday, December 14, 2015


Two thousand years ago God spoke through a manger, and we still experience the mystery! The Christmas story is filled with it. Mystery is not in what we see and do not understand. Mystery is in what we know deeply and cannot see.

I recall a crisp, silent night during Christmastide when my children were teenagers, and we cross-country skied in the moonlight. The sky switched on its tiny lights above us, and the moonglow lit the way. Spruce limbs drooped with icy fingers and cast crooked shadows all around us. The swoosh-swoosh of our skis startled the silence. A stream trickled beneath the ice, heeding the call of the sea. The soil hid beneath the snow, and seeds slept deep below, trusting the green of spring. Leafless aspen gazed at us from the other side of the pond, singing softly with the spruce in antiphonal chorus "Il Est Ne'": "He is born, the holy Child." We stopped, glancing back at the twin scars trailing behind us marking clearly where we'd been. But where we would go lay open before us, unmarred. We grew quiet, sensing anew that the stillness of the universe is a dance of barefoot grace with the Creator, a silence alive with cosmic joy and mystery.

Emmanuel! God is with us!

-- Marilyn Brown Oden in Manger and Mystery: An Advent Adventure (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 1999)


Friday, December 11, 2015


The angel told us to expect joy, remember? On an ordinary night, the shepherds were gathered out in the fields, minding their own business and tending their flocks. And then the angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. Can you imagine? Imagine being at work one evening only to have the glory of the Lord show up right in front of you. Wow!

Then the angel speaks: "Do not be afraid; for, behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people." (Luke 2:10) Jesus, God's own Son and our Savior, has been born in Bethlehem. Great joy! For all people. The angel knew from the very beginning: Jesus's arrival in the world brings joy. So too does His arrival in your heart and in your life. With Jesus living in you, unspeakable joy takes root. The very same joy that the angel shared with the shepherds on Christmas evening.

-- Allen R. Hunt in Nine Words


Thursday, December 10, 2015


Jesus articulated the purpose of His ministry when He said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) Another version (NEB) translates it as "life… in all its fullness."

There are two aspects to this abundant life. The first is in the sense of "eternal life." Sin causes death. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." There is no escaping death, but Christ came to offer us, as a gift, abundant, eternal life. We simply need to reach out to God and accept the gift by believing in Christ.

The second aspect of this abundant life, or life in all its fullness, is what Dr. Howard Clinebell in Anchoring Your Well Being calls "spiritually empowered 'well being,' 'wholeness,' or 'wellness'… The fundamental purpose of the Christian life is to enable people to develop lifestyles of spiritually empowered wholeness throughout their life journeys and to help create a society in which life in all its fullness is possible for all members of the human family."

First we receive through Christ the gift of eternal, abundant life, then, in Christ we give the gift of spiritually empowered wellness to ourselves and others as we proclaim the Good News.

-- Rev. David T. Wilkinson


Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Advent is a season of preparation.  During Advent, we know that we are about to celebrate Christ's birth, which is cause for joy.  But we may also feel a little nervous, wondering if this event is more than we can handle.  This seems natural; after all, we are about to celebrate a life-changing, world-changing event.  Christ's birth is no easy thing to understand.  As we anticipate an event of such mystery and magnitude, perhaps we sense that we need some time to prepare.  Thankfully, Advent offers us this gift of time.

-- Sarah Parsons


Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Our life is full of brokenness -- broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God's faithful presence in our lives.

-- Henri Nouwen


Monday, December 7, 2015


"All right then, the Lord Himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a Child! She will give birth to a Son and will call Him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us')."  (Isaiah 7:14 NLT)

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.


Friday, December 4, 2015


"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end,…"  (Isaiah 9:6-7a NKJV)

A Nigerian woman who is a physician at a great teaching hospital in the United States came out of the crowd today to say something kind about the lecture I had just given. She introduced herself using an American name. "What's your African name?" I asked. She immediately gave it to me, several syllables long with a musical sound to it. "What does the name mean?" I wondered.

She answered, "It means 'Child who takes the anger away'."

When I inquired as to why she would have been given this name, she said, "My parents had been forbidden by their parents to marry. But they loved each other so much that they defied the family opinions and married anyway. For several years they were ostracized from both their families. Then my mother became pregnant with me. And when the grandparents held me in their arms for the first time, the walls of hostility came down. I became the one who swept the anger away. And that's the name my mother and father gave me."

It occurred to me that her name would be a suitable one for Jesus. He certainly knew how to sweep anger away.

I guess I would also like to be known as a person who sweeps anger away. Being a reconciler is pretty worthwhile personal mission. I recall Garrison Keillor once reflecting on the church of his youth: "We had a surplus of scholars and a deficit of peacemakers." That ratio needs to be reworked.

-- Gordon MacDonald in Leadership Weekly


Thursday, December 3, 2015


God's ultimate answer to suffering isn't an explanation; it's His incarnation. He isn't some distant, detached and disinterested deity; He entered our world and personally experienced our pain.

Jesus is there in the lowest places of our lives. As philosopher Peter Kreeft says: "Are you broken? He was broken, like bread, for us. Are you despised? He was despised and rejected of men. Do you cry out that you can't take any more? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Did someone betray you? He was sold out. Are your most tender relationships broken? He loved and was rejected.

"Jesus is much closer than your closest friend. Because if you've put your trust in Him, then He is in you. And, therefore, your sufferings are His sufferings; your sorrow is His sorrow."

So when tragedy strikes, when suffering comes, when you're wrestling with pain – and when you make the choice to run into His arms, here's what you're going to discover: peace to deal with the present, courage to deal with your future and the incredible promise of eternal life in heaven.

"I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous! I have conquered the world." (John 16:33)

-- Lee Strobel  in The Case for Christianity Answer Book


Wednesday, December 2, 2015


"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"  (2 Corinthians 5:17 NRSV)

The primitive Christians were accustomed to speak, in a language which was older than Christianity, of being "in the Spirit" -- as though Spirit were an ethereal atmosphere surrounding the soul, and breathed in as the body breathes in the air.  Paul, too, used this expression, but he placed alongside it a parallel form of words, "in Christ" or "in Christ Jesus".  Where we find these words used we are being reminded of the intimate union with Christ which makes the Christian life an eternal life lived in the midst of time.  The deeper shade of meaning would often be conveyed to our minds if we translated the phrase "in communion with Christ". But, Paul's Christ mysticism is saved from the introverted individualism of many forms of mysticism by his insistence that communion with Christ is also communion with all who are Christ's.

-- C. Harold Dodd in The Meaning of Paul for Today


Tuesday, December 1, 2015


The approach of the Christmas season is a time when the yearly routine of life often changes. Even before Thanksgiving is past, we begin to see signs of the approaching holiday. It is interesting to remember that the term "holiday" has its origin in "holy day." A basic meaning of holy is that which is set apart; that which is different from the ordinary. Thus, a holy day or "holiday" is meant to be a time set apart for a specific remembrance or celebration...

Christmas, however, is more than a day; it is a season. The season before the day is called "Advent." This is a religious term that refers to having a season of preparation for a special, holy day. Therefore, the time prior to the actual day of Christmas has become the season that is filled with special meaning; not the least of which is the symbolism of Christmas...

Too often we look at things and fail to think about what they can mean to us. Life is full of symbols... The more we understand the symbolic meanings, the more we will be able to strengthen ourselves, and others, in the faith.

In 1906, Helen Keller was quoted in the December issue of Ladies' Home Journal as saying, "The only real blind person at Christmas is he who has not Christmas in his heart."

-- Rev. Kenneth A. Mortonson in the introduction to The Advent Instructor: Reflections on Christmas Symbolism


Monday, November 30, 2015


Teresa of Avila reminds us in the opening pages of her autobiography that the best way to know and love God is to live in the company of God's friends. Those who have befriended God through the centuries have much to teach us about Jesus Christ. Their view of history is rooted in the conviction that the true turning point of time is the birth and life of Jesus Christ, and that life in every age can be understood only from the perspective of Emmanuel -- God is with us, now and forever.

In the two thousand years since Bethlehem, the presence of the living Christ has transformed human lives and transformed history. The same Christ is now transforming us and our time.

-- Janice T. Grana, adapted from 2000 Years Since Bethlehem


Wednesday, November 25, 2015


"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NRSV)

Be thankful that you don't already have everything you desire. If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don't know something. For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times. During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations. Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge. Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes. They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you're tired and weary. It means you've made a difference. 

It's easy to be thankful for the good things. A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks. Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings. 

-- Unknown 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


"The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving."  (Psalm 28:7 NLT)

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant,

to enact gratitude is generous and noble,

but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.

-- Johannes A. Gaertner 


Friday, November 20, 2015


When it comes to prayer, despair makes one eloquent… Sometimes our prayers lack eloquence because prayer seems to us, in truth, to be rather incidental, or perhaps a kind of convenience.  After all, if prayer doesn't work we can always invest more of our hopes in those remedies that money can buy, or that logic can contrive.  I hate to say it, but our comparative abundance may get in the way of greater skill in our native tongue, prayer.  Mind you, despair and faith are not the same, but sometimes despair impels our search for faith.

I want so much for you and me to understand the importance of being bilingual.  I want us to realize that a person who can talk only in the dialects of business, sports, sex, literature, philosophy, and the news of the day is fatally disadvantaged.  Because you and I must eventually, some day, do business with God -- in this world, and in the world to come.  How pathetic to think that we might have to stand before God, eloquent in business, sports, and gossip, and babbling like an infant when it comes to the divine tongue!

Here's the good news -- Divine eloquence is within every person's reach, because it involves the language all of us are equipped to speak.  But -- as with any other language -- you have to care enough to spend some time learning the fundamentals of the language and then expanding your vocabulary and your ease of expression.

Now is the time to be at it.  Not when you're facing surgery the next day, or when your family is falling apart, and certainly not when you're dying.  Now is the time, the ideal time, to become eloquent in our native tongue.  Prayer -- the language that works in both time and eternity.

-- J. Ellsworth Kalas in New Testament Stories from the Back Side


Thursday, November 19, 2015


"Put on, then, garments that suit God's chosen and beloved people: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience." (Colossians 3:12 REB)

[We] call it gentleness, but the Greeks called it praotes. Aristotle said that praotes was the perfect mean between too little anger and too much anger.

[You] thought anger was always bad?

Not at all.  No reform movement would ever have happened if someone hadn't gotten angry about the state of things as they found them.  It was when people grew angry about slavery that its death knell was sounded.  So, too, with child labor.

But the problem is to harness that anger.  That's where praotes -- gentleness -- comes in.  Anger destroys even in the name of great causes; without restraint, anger will defeat the very matters it endorses.  And our usual brand of self-control won't make it.  As William Barclay used to say, we need to be God-controlled.  That’s gentleness.  Because gentleness is power under purposeful direction.

-- J. Ellsworth Kalas in New Testament Stories from the Back Side


Wednesday, November 18, 2015


[My husband] said something… that's really stuck with me, "Joni, if I met all of your expectations, you wouldn't need God."

There's a lot of truth in that, isn't there?  If our spouses were all we expected them to be, we wouldn't feel much inclination to depend on the Lord.

The Bible talks about expectations in Micah 7: "Put no confidence in a friend.  Even with her who lies in your embrace… But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord." (vv.5, 7)

Elsewhere God's Word talks about not putting our trust in horses or chariots or princes. It's so easy to do that, to let expectations build.

But God doesn't want us to substitute anything or anybody for Him.  Not pastors or teachers, boyfriends or girlfriends, or even husbands or wives.

So if your expectations have been crushed recently, and you're disappointed, fearful that this person just isn't all you had hoped he or she would be, maybe it's just God's way of reminding you to put your confidence in the Holy One.

He is able to meet your expectations.  And unlike your husband, wife, or close friend… [God is] perfect.

-- Joni Earkeckson Tada in Glorious Intruder


Tuesday, November 17, 2015


"They lie awake at night, hatching sinful plots. Their actions are never good. They make no attempt to turn from evil."  (Psalm 36:4 NLT)

Genuine outrage is not just a permissible reaction to the hard-pressed Christian; God Himself feels it, and so should the Christian in the presence of pain, cruelty, violence, and injustice.  God, who is the Father of Jesus Christ, is neither impersonal nor beyond good and evil.  By the absolute immutability of His character, He is implacably opposed to evil and outraged by it.

-- Os Guinness in The Dust of Death


Monday, November 16, 2015


When Jesus saw His ministry drawing huge crowds, He climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to Him, the committed, climbed with Him. Arriving at a quiet place, He sat down and taught His climbing companions. This is what He said: "You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are -- no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. You’re blessed when you get your inside world -- your mind and heart -- put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Not only that -- count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit Me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens -- give a cheer, even! -- for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble."

-- Matthew 5:1-12 by Eugene Peterson in The Message


Friday, November 13, 2015


(NOTE: Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas, longtime pastor, author, and teacher, passed away yesterday. He was an inspiration to many. He lived and died with A FULL AND SURE HOPE of eternal life through Christ Jesus.)

Here's the good news about Easter.  The tomb was now full.  And it has been full ever since.

[Full of] victory, for instance.  One of Charles Wesley's great hymns challenges the domain of the tomb by a series of questions: "Where, O death, is now thy sting?... Where's thy victory, boasting grave?"  ("Christ the Lord Is Risen Today?")  Tombs have for so long declared themselves the ultimate winners; after all, no mortal escapes them!  But no longer.  We do indeed die, but with a sublime confidence that we will rise again.  We will win!  Our Lord has taken conquest of the grave, turning its emptiness into a habitation of victory.  The game we humans have been losing since Adam and Eve is now turned into victory.

And hope too.  The tomb is now full of hope.  During my nearly forty years as a parish pastor, I stood many hundreds of times at the open grave, speaking the words of committal, and knowing that as soon as our gathering left the cemetery, workers would lower the vault into the ground and would begin to throw dirt upon it.  But I conducted such "final rites" with hope.  As a fellow human being, I wanted often to weep with the mourners, and sometimes I did; I felt for their loss, particularly in those instances where death seemed to have come earlier than was its right.  But my tears were of sympathy, not of despair.  The tomb is now full of hope.  I remember my father pausing for the last time at the casket of my mother and saying quietly, "I'll see you in the morning, Mother," and I knew he was right.  Such is our hope.  Simple, yes; but full and sure.

-- J. Ellsworth Kalas in New Testament Stories from the Back Side


Thursday, November 12, 2015


"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ..." (Ephesians 1:3 NKJV)

Have you ever gotten one of those "too good to be true" sweepstakes envelopes in the mail…?   What do you do with the envelope?  If you're like me, you throw it in the trash even though it says you may have already won $10 million.  I've figured out the scam -- I've read the fine print and learned my chances of winning are slim to none.

Ephesians reminds us that God has given us (past tense in the Greek) every spiritual blessing, and there is no catch.  The tragedy is that some of us merely underline, quote, or frame the promises in the Bible, treating the treasures of God the same way we would treat a sweepstakes letter.  Are you throwing away God's blessings?  Today learn how to make withdrawals from your benefactor's heavenly bank account.  It's all there waiting for you!

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


Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Our culture is inundated with time management tools: from daytimers to seminars on how to save, spend, invest, maximize, and catch time before it flies away!

What if time was not the fleeting, tyrannizing resource we are taught to believe it is?  What if we chose instead to view time as an expression of God?  God's speed.  God's gift to us.  A part of His very nature.  Would we so anxiously live by deadlines, join the morning rat race, or grab a minute and run with it?

Wouldn't we, instead, be moved to rethink and perhaps reshape the way we use time?  Perhaps our goal would be stewardship rather than management.  As stewards we might be more open to the purposes set down by the Chief Steward -- to give and receive, to serve and be served, to work and to rest without feeling busy or lazy.

-- Karen O'Connor in Basket of Blessings: 31 Days to a More Grateful Heart


Tuesday, November 10, 2015


"The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.
The eyes of all look to You in hope; You give them their food as they need it.
When You open your hand, You satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in everything He does; He is filled with kindness." 
(Psalm 145:14-17 NLT)

If we close ourselves off from the pain, from the experiences that life sends our way, we will be closed off not only from the pain of life, but also from much of what is good about life, too. It's only with an accepting attitude --with our hands outstretched -- that we can not only receive things we sometimes don't want, but also receive all the blessings God wants to give us, too.

-- Copyright Eric Folkerth 2000. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission


Friday, November 6, 2015


"For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit with the things of the Spirit. The concern for the flesh is death, but the concern of the Spirit is life and peace."   (Romans 8:5-6)

When your heart and mind are set on the flesh and on the world, there is nothing but unrest and strife. There is no peace. Your heart is unsettled, and your relationships are too. But set your mind on the Spirit and on the things of God, and soon your heart finds peace and life itself.

Remember the simple prayer of Saint Augustine: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O Lord."

-- Allen R. Hunt in Nine Words


Thursday, November 5, 2015


"Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray."  (Proverbs 10:17)

Our critical day is not the very day of our death, but the whole course of our life; I thank him, that prays for me when my bell tolls; but I thank him much more, that catechizes me, or preaches to me, or instructs me how to live.

-- John Donne


Wednesday, November 4, 2015


We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there's nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.

Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don't want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of 'good time' is seldom in sync with ours.

-- Oswald Chambers


Tuesday, November 3, 2015


At the end of his great book Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev describes a village graveyard in one of the remote corners of Russia.

Among the many neglected graves was one untouched by man, untrampled by beast.  Only the birds rested upon it and sang at daybreak.  Often from the nearby village two feeble old people, husband and wife, moving with heavy steps and supporting one another, came to visit this grave.

Kneeling down at the railing and gazing intently at the stone under which their son was lying, they yearned and wept.  After a brief word they wiped the dust away from the stone, set straight a branch of a fir tree, and then began to pray.  In this spot they seemed to be nearer their son and their memories of him.  And then Turgenev asks, "Can it be that their prayers, their tears, are fruitless?  Can it be that love, sacred, devoted love, is not all powerful?  Oh no, however passionate, sinning and rebellious the heart hidden in the tomb, the flowers growing over it peep serenely at us with their innocent eyes.   They tell us not of eternal peace alone, of that great peace of indifferent nature; they tell us, too, of eternal reconciliation and of life without end."

-- Billy Graham in Unto the Hills