Follow the Star

William Law (1686 – 1761) was a Church of England Priest.  I found this quote in my daily devotional, Joy and Strength by Mary Wilder Tileston.

“When therefore the first spark of a desire after God arises in the soul, cherish it with all they care, give all thy heart into it.  It is nothing less than a touch of the divine loadstone, that is to draw thee out of the vanity of time into the riches of eternity.  Get up, therefore, and follow it as gladly as the wise men of the East followed the star from heaven that appeared to them.  It will lead thee to the birth of Jesus, not in a stable at Bethlehem in Judea, but to the birth of Jesus in the dark centre of thine own soul.

William Law

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Prayer

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters from Prison

For more on Dietrich Bonhoeffer see these posts:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Advent

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Praying For One Another

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Time

God’s Light

In a previous quote I mentioned that God is light.  That made me think about all the ways that God provides light to His people.

The Holy Spirit “enlightens” us.  When Jesus was about to leave the disciples, He told them:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” John 16:12-12

It is the Spirit that opens the Scripture to us and allows us to understand God’s Word.  The Word itself is described as light is this passage:

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path ” Psalm 119:105

When we read God’s Word and the Spirit enlightens us, we will be guided into a way of living that is righteous and helpful to us and to others.

Finally God “lightens” our load.

‘Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

When we rely upon God, when we trust Him to do what is best for us, it lifts our spirits and gives us hope.  We feel lighter because our sins are forgiven.  We know that whatever difficulties we face, they will not last forever (This Darkness Will Not Last).  In the end, we will bask in the light of His countenance and experience His light forever.

 

The Light of His Countenance

 

The Bible tells us that God is light.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 3:5

It also speaks of the light of His countenance, or face.

“Many, LORD, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’ Let the light of your face shine on us.” Psalm 4:6

When we want to experience God’s light, we only need to turn to Him.  I’m reminded of a hymn written by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1922.   It was inspired by a pamphlet entitled Focused, written by the missionary Isabella Lilias Trotter and composed for use at Billy Sunday’s evangelistic meetings.  Today it is a standard found in many hymnals.

 

 

Who Me?

 

We all know that Jesus is the light of the world– He says this very plainly in the book of John.

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

However, in Matthew something more surprising is recorded:

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16

Here He is speaking to His disciples.  They are also to be the light of the world.  People should see Him through them.  That same verse applies to us today.  We are the disciples;  we are the light of the world.  Do people see us and know who we are?  Do they learn to obey and glorify God through our example?  This is a daunting responsibility.

How do you feel about yourself when you apply these verses to your daily life?  Do you live up to them or come even close?  Do most of the people you come in contact with even know you are a Christian?  Does your behavior match your mission as a follower of Jesus?  Do you realize how special you are to Him?

In the Via de Cristo Pilgrim’s Guide this statement is at the end of the examination of conscience:

“Understand that from now on, I consider you one of my faithful ones… and the infidelities of the faithful, these are the things that wound my heart most deeply.”

Christ is counting on you to be His light in the world.  He has no other plan.  It’s up to you (and me).

The Lights of the City

I assume that this song by Michael Murphy refers to these verses from the book of Revelation:

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.” Revelation 21:23-24

Following the second coming of Christ, the New Jerusalem will be established.  At that point, believers will need only the light of God.  We can look forward to that day and even now, we can almost see it.

I learned this song on a Lutheran Via de Cristo weekend.  Listen and enjoy imagining that city of heavenly light.

 

 

Why the Shepherds? Part 2

This post is a continuation of yesterday’s and was originally published in the Lutheran Ambassador, December 2008.

There is an analogy about God’s grace that goes something like this:  we poor sinners are like swimmers drowning in a pool of sin, and we can only be saved by the life preserver of God’s grace that He throws out for us to grab onto.  My husband, a pastor, like to take that example a step further.  He maintains that we should not fool ourselves — we are not swimmers, we are drowned corpses lying on the bottom of the pool, unable to lift a finger to help ourselves.  We are saved by grace alone.  As Lutherans we hear it over and over again, but we still need to be reminded.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8).

The baby Jesus was the ultimate gift of grace.  God chose an isolated, unimportant spot to reveal this plan.  He chose shepherds, some of the most marginalized people in society, to witness His glory.  They had nothing to boast about.  They were not rich or intelligent or particularly religious.  They had no resources for spreading the word.  They weren’t the kind of folks people would listen to.  But God was not looking for the most influential or the most deserving to experience His grace.  He was looking for those who needed it the most.

The joyous message of the angels was “for all the people” (Luke 2:10).  It still is.  The angels appeared to the shepherds in a cold, lonely place, in the midst of their daily lives.  They appeared during the night when the shepherds were tired and dawn seemed far away.  Into this darkness, the glory of the Lord and the fulfillment of His promise shone out like a flare at the scene of an accident.

Most of us sometimes feel like the shepherds:  forgotten, unimportant, worn down.  The glitter and bustle of the secular Christmas season may depress us if we are alone, grieving, or without resources to celebrate in a worldly way.  At these times, we need to remember what the shepherds learned that night:  God is with us wherever we are.  He breaks into our messy lives when we least expect it with a promise of hope and peace.  Jesus says, “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.  I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

This Christmas season, and throughout the year, take time to remember the shepherds.

The Darkness of Death

This quote is from my devotional reading this morning. It was particularly moving because a dear friend and prayer partner Loving Prayer Partners recently lost her spouse, and his memorial service is today.  It’s taken from the book Joy and Strength by Mary Wilder Tileston.  In her preface she says,

“This little book… is a selection from writers of many countries and centuries, of thoughts of courage, faith, hope and love, to cheer and inspirit the pilgrim in his daily journey ….”

I love quotes, so I love this book.  Have you ever thought of death this way?  The anonymous author sees it as passing from darkness into light.  May the thought comfort and inspire.  Remember This Darkness Will Not Last.

 

“Death to a good man is but passing through a dark entry out of one little dusky room of his father’s house into another that is fair and large, lightsome and glorious.”

Anonymous

 

Are You Busy?

You may think the title above is a crazy one during the Christmas season.  After all, isn’t this just about the busiest time of the year? If you’re anything like me you’re  busy buying and wrapping gifts, addressing cards, baking cookies, attending holiday parties with family and friends, decorating the house and more.  Of course, you’re busy.

The more important question is, what are you busy with?  In the Bible, the apostle John writes:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”  John 3:19-21

Are you consumed with parties, shopping and cooking, or with celebrating the miracle of God’s incarnation?  Are you making time for advent services, ministry to others and Bible study?  When you have to cut out a Christmas tradition, what goes?  Cookies or worship?  Spending time with friends, or with Jesus?  Giving a gift to a family member, or giving your life to the One who made you and saved you?

I’m not trying to be a spoil sport.  There is nothing wrong with most of these “Christmas” activities and we needn’t think of them as “works of evil.”  However, when we allow them to distract us from the light, which is Christ, they become evil.  They become idols.  Instead of worshipping God, we are often worshipping our own status, and how other people will view us.  Were our presents expensive enough to impress?  Do our holiday decorations strike envy in the hearts of our neighbors?  Do we throw the most sought-after Christmas party?  (Remember the devil loves to make sin look good!)  It’s a question of priority.  When Judgement Day arrives, will you be proud of how you spent your Christmas time this year?  Are you celebrating the light with godly works or just shiny tinsel?  Do you love the true light?  Or are you still walking in darkness?  Where is your heart this Christmas season?

 

Are You Missing Something?

In a recent post, I talked about the sermon my family heard the Sunday after Thanksgiving in South Carolina.  It was a good one.  However, there was something missing in the service itself.

It was contemporary — not my favorite, I love the liturgy.  However, I can enjoy a contemporary service now and then. But this one was missing some key pieces.  First of all, no confession!  To me, this is crucial.  We can’t appreciate the light if we don’t understand our own darkness, which is sin. Without sin, all the darkness around us is reduced to bad luck, or something we can blame on another person.  Worse yet,  if we don’t acknowledge our sin, there is no need for the good news of the gospel.  We can save ourselves by becoming better people.

Also, no recitation of the Lord’s Prayer of the Apostle’s Creed.  Because we are sinners, we constantly need to remind ourselves of just who God is and what He has done for us.  Advent is a time, like Lent, when we should be pondering these things.  When we rush too quickly into Christmas, we forget the message of Advent– the anticipation, the meditation, the true joy of knowing that Christ came in human form to die for each of us.

So, don’t leave out the important stuff.  Don’t leave it out of the church service or out of your life.  Take time to appreciate the real meaning of Advent– confess, give thanks, remember Who you believe in and why. Christmas will mean so much more when you realize why we needed it so much.

For another post on a similar topic:

“Hello – It Is Not Christmas Yet”