Tuesday, December 31, 2013


If you and I want the coming year to be marked by a very real newness within, we would do well to review some of the ancient practices which good people have found to be helpful over the centuries.  I pastored in Green Bay,Wisconsin during part of the period that Vince Lombardi was coaching the Packers to football immortality.  Mr. Lombardi was often asked about trick plays and the secrets of coaching; he always answered that it was simply a matter of blocking and tackling.  There were no new, clever ideas that really mattered unless one mastered the fundamentals of the game.
I've concluded that the same thing is true of the spiritual life.  Books, retreats, and religious conferences are constantly promising us some new formula for spiritual vitality.  Some of them may stimulate us for a time.  But in the end, we'll need to come back to "blocking and tackling" -- such basic matters as Bible reading, prayer, group worship and sharing, and good devotional reading.
-- J. Ellsworth Kalas in Reading the Signs

Monday, December 30, 2013


In spite of the many benefits God has blessed us with, how many times do we complain about little difficulties and trials? We lose sight of the big picture and fail to appreciate the really important things. Just as we cannot benefit from a wrapped gift under a Christmas tree until we open it, so gratitude can be seen as our way of opening the gift of God's love intended by all the small and big positive events of our lives.

-- Ronda De Sola Chervin



Friday, December 27, 2013


If there is no cross in the manger,
there is no Christmas.

If the Babe doesn’t become the Adult,
there is no Bethlehem star.

If there is no commitment in us,
there are no wise men searching.

If we offer no cup of cold water,
there is no gold, no frankincense, no myrrh.

If there is no praising God’s name,
there are no angels singing.

If there is no spirit of alleluia,
there are no shepherds watching.

If there is no standing up, no speaking out, no risk,
there is no Herod, no flight into Egypt.

If there is no room in our inn,
then “Merry Christmas” mocks the Christ Child,
and the Holy Family is just a holiday card,
and God will loathe our feasts and festivals.

For if there is no reconciliation,
we cannot call Christ “Prince of Peace”.

If there is no goodwill towards others,
it can all be packed away in boxes for another year.

If there is no forgiveness in us,
there is no cause for celebration.

If we cannot go even now unto Golgotha,
there is no Christmas in us.

If Christmas is not now,
If Christ is not born into the everyday present,
then what is all the noise about?
-- Ann Weems in Kneeling in Bethlehem

Thursday, December 26, 2013


Each year the Child is born again.
Each year some new heart
finally hears
finally sees
finally knows love.
And in heaven
there is great rejoicing!
There is a festival of stars!
There is a celebration among the angels!
For in the finding of one lost sheep,
the heart of the shepherd is glad, and
Christmas has happened once more.
The Child is born anew
and one more knee is bowed! 

-- Ann Weems in Kneeling in Bethlehem


Tuesday, December 24, 2013


“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.” (Titus 2:11)

Theologically speaking, grace is a shorthand way of talking about God’s unmerited favor, God’s love, patience, forgiveness, and peace offered to us as gift that appeared in a manger in Bethlehem. That gift was a voluntary offering of God who, in Christ, “gave Himself for us” (Titus 2:14). Grace is not only a theological concept but a God-embodied example that enables us to be redeemed from the guilt of our sin and embrace the hope of salvation that God has promised us…

God’s grace is not just a nice gift to be opened and then shelved until we need it; instead it is designed to be used, to transform us so we can in turn transform the world. God’s grace comes to us as a gift, but it is a gift we also pass on to someone else.

-- Robert Kaylor in Come to the Manger


Friday, December 20, 2013


"[The world's in] darkness,'' said Pastor Knute Larson. "But Christ came to bring light. He doesn't make us accept the light. He just offers it to anyone who honestly calls out for a Savior."

Larson said without Christ, our motives tend to be selfish, darkness lurks, and sins haunt us. We long for forgiveness, for hope, but we don't know where to look…

Most historians agree there was an actual Jesus. The debate is about His deity. Was He just a man, or was this the Son of God?

"It's the question we all face,'' said Larson. "I talked to a guy who recently gave his life to Christ. For years, he thought Jesus existed -- sort of like George Washington. But that it had nothing to do with him today. Jesus has everything to do with today, tomorrow and eternity. He came to rescue us spiritually. That's what [Christmas] is all about.'' 

-- Terry Pluto in the Akron Beacon Journal


Thursday, December 19, 2013


Often I stand on the edge of the light, afraid to believe, afraid to act, afraid that this story is too good to be true.

But then in my better moments, when I listen closely to the story, move closer to the light, my fears seem to evaporate like an early morning mist, and I can believe again.

I can believe that God who made all that is became clothed in our human flesh so that we might become clothed in God. I can believe that God claims me as a beloved child.  I can believe that my days are in God's strong and tender hands. I can believe that life is good, beautiful, and eternal. I can believe that not only my days but all days are in God's good and able hands.

I can believe, rejoice, and wait trustingly and expectantly for the unfolding of God's promise given in so many ways and most clearly in the Advent story.  Thanks be to God! 

-- Rueben P. Job in A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God  (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 2003, Used with permission)


Wednesday, December 18, 2013


According to Charles Wesley, reconciliation is… the message of Christmas:
            Hark the herald angels sing,
            “Glory to the newborn King;
            peace on earth, and mercy mild,
            God and sinners reconciled!”

Jesus came that we might be reconciled to God, and Paul states explicitly that God has called us to share in this ministry of reconciliation. However, there is a word of warning to all would-be reconcilers. True reconciliation is hard work. It takes commitment. It takes unswerving tenacity. The cost to God’s only Son was high. We should refuse to settle for cheap imitations. As Curtiss Paul DeYoung puts it, “Cheap reconciliation is unity without responsibility, forgiveness without repentance, equal treatment without restitution, harmony without liberation, conflict resolution without relational healing, peace without God.”
-- Kevin Baker in Hail the Heaven Born

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


“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 with us’).”  (Isaiah 7:14)

The sign given to Ahaz was a mother who would give birth to a child named Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” Contemporary ears hear “Immanuel, God with us” so often this time of year that we forget its import. One should never assume that “God with us” means “God is on our side.” As the verses following verse 16 point out, “God with us” can mean “God coming with judgment as well as salvation.” The presence of the living and holy God is nothing to treat lightly. God’s holiness exposes our sin and disobedience. God’s light shines in our darkness and illuminates our frailty. God’s righteousness stands in stark contrast to our wickedness and rebellion.

-- Kevin Baker in Hail the Heaven Born


Wednesday, December 11, 2013


In spite of the many benefits God has blessed us with, how many times do we complain about little difficulties and trials? We lose sight of the big picture and fail to appreciate the really important things. Just as we cannot benefit from a wrapped gift under a Christmas tree until we open it, so gratitude can be seen as our way of opening the gift of God's love intended by all the small and big positive events of our lives. 

-- Ronda De Sola Chervin


Tuesday, December 10, 2013


To encounter Jesus is to take on the name of Christ. During a sermon preached at our congregation, Dr. William B. McClain, Professor of Preaching and Worship at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., told the story of meeting a South Korean tailor in Itwaewon, Seoul, named Smitty Lee. Dr. McClain asked whether the name "Smitty" was Korean, and the tailor told the story of his life being saved during the Korean War by an American soldier from Virginia who was called Smitty Ransom. The tailor further explained a rather familiar custom in that Asian culture, and summed it up in two simple sentences: "He saved my life. I took his name." That is indeed what happens when we encounter Jesus; He save our lives, and we take His name.

-- Zan W. Holmes, Jr. in Encountering Jesus


Friday, December 6, 2013


"When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'" (John 8:12 NIV)

A candle gives light only by consuming itself. In this way, it becomes a vivid symbol of the sacrificial love of Christ. By giving of Himself and His own substance, Christ brought light and hope into this world.

-- Katrine Stewart


Thursday, December 5, 2013


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

If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: "God with us." We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ. The greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a baby in the manger is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth!

-- John F. MacArthur, Jr.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013


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 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 than productivity.  That is the cure for cathedral fatigue.

-- Robert Kaylor in Come to the Manger


Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Thus says the LORD:
Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom,
do not let the mighty boast in their might,
do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth;
but let those who boast boast in this,
that they understand and know Me,
that I am the LORD;
I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth,
for in these things I delight, says the LORD.

-- Jeremiah 9:23,24 NRSV


Monday, December 2, 2013


One of the more puzzling and abnormal aspects of the Christmas season, at least to me, is that people seem to be over scheduled. Just try to put together a meeting or work on a project in December, and people have a ready response: “I’m just swamped getting ready for Christmas,” they say. “Let’s do that after the holidays.” I hear this from people who are church members as well as from people who are not. Apparently, Christmas is an equal opportunity exhauster.

Maybe people feel that way because we have not collectively done Advent well. Advent is supposed to be a time of waiting, reflection, and penitence. It is a time for us to sort through what is most important as we prepare for the coming of Christ. Rather than rushing around, Advent calls us to stop and consider who we are and what we are to be about.

-- Robert Kaylor in Come to the Manger