Thursday, December 18, 2003

This comes from today's daily e-mailed inspiration by my colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot. If you'd like to subscribe to this uplifting daily e-mail, contact Glen at

A Thought for the Day

A television interviewer was walking the streets of Tokyo at
Christmas time. Much as in America, Christmas shopping is a big
commercial success in Japan. The interviewer stopped one young
woman on the sidewalk, and asked, "What is the meaning of Christmas?"

Laughing, she responded, "I donĂ¢€™t know. Is that the day that Jesus died?"
There was some truth in her answer.

SOURCE: Donald Deffner, Seasonal Illustrations

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Bible Verse
Luke 4:43

But Jesus said, "People in other towns must hear the
good news about God's kingdom. That's why I was sent."

Contemporary English Version


Lord, help me to make sure that the Christ child is the center of my Christmas
celebrations. Lead me to share with others the good news of Christmas.
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A Christmas Statement of Belief
I believe in the God Who sent His Son, the very reflection and embodiment of Himself, to our world on the first Christmas. Long centuries before, God had fashioned the world and created the human race in His image. When sin had overtaken us, God reached out to His fallen children and called the people Israel into being. Israel became the cradle in which the Son, the baby Jesus was laid. At the right time, Jesus called the world to repentance and promised new life to all who would turn from sin and follow Him. Offended by Him and His claims on our lives, our human race rose up against Jesus and killed Him on a cross. But the love that imagined the universe into being and that created the first Christmas could not be so easily thwarted: Jesus rose from the dead, promising a share in His triumph to all who confess Him as their Lord. Today, the Holy Spirit lives in the Church and all who follow Christ, proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus and reminding us of the Good News sung to the shepherds by the angels on the first Christmas night! Amen!

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Advent: God Sends a Servant
Luke 3:7-18

(shared with the people of Friendship Church, December 14, 2003)

Many years ago, on a cold morning, a newspaper boy in a large city was out on the street, selling his papers. He stood barefoot, warming his feet on a grating that had a bakery below. A woman came along and, seeing how the boy was shivering, asked him if he owned any shoes. No, he said. She then asked if the boy would like a pair. Yes!, he replied enthusiastically. So, the woman took him to a nearby department store and bought socks and shoes for the boy. The kid excitedly ran out of the store and resumed selling his papers. He didn’t even take the time to say thank you. The woman was a little disappointed by this ingratitude. But just as she was leaving the store, the boy ran back into the store and asked, “Lady, I wanna ask you a question. Are you God’s wife?” The woman didn’t know what to say and finally stammered, “No, but I am one of His children.” The boy replied, “Well, I knowed you must be some kin of His.” People can tell when we have a relationship with the God we meet in Jesus Christ!

In today’s Bible lesson, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, is doing his special ministry of preparing people for the entry of Jesus into their lives. John calls the people to repent, that is, to turn away from their sin so that their hearts will be emptied of evil and they can receive the unconditional love and forgiveness that comes to all who receive Jesus as the God and Lord of their lives. To signify their changed lives, John calls the repentant to be baptized in the Jordan River. Crowds show up in droves to hear John’s preaching and to be baptized.

John should have been pleased. By the standards of the world, he was a great success. He set up shop to preach and lots of people were taking the Interstate to the desert suburbs of Jerusalem to hear him. He called people to be baptized and they lined up by the hundreds. But John was suspicious. He didn’t want to be the latest fad. John wanted people’s lives to be changed as they surrendered themselves and their sins to God.

So, John starts chastising the crowds:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits that are worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor.’ [It isn’t enough to say, “My mom and dad always went to church.” Or, “I’m a member in good standing of Friendship Church.” John goes on to say...] for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham...”

It’s all very good for us to repent, expressing sorrow for the ways we’ve hurt God or others. But, John says, unless we change the direction of our lives, our repentance is nothing more than a hollow religious act. When we truly repent, we become like the woman who bought the shoes for the newspaper boy. By our changed lives, others see that we’re kin to God. That’s why to one group of people after another in today’s lesson, John says, “Live your repentance. God has planted the seed of love and forgiveness in your life. Now bear fruits of repentance.”

There is nothing odder or more appreciated than the life of a person genuinely changed by the love of God, somebody who is bearing the fruit of genuine repentance. Just this past week, I was talking with an acquaintance. They told me about a habit they have. These days you know, it seems that young people are so dependent on calculators that many are flustered by having to count out change at retailers’ cash registers. This person says that often, a young person working at register will give them too much change. This person will say, “Excuse me. I think you’ve made a mistake.” And just as the young clerk is about to get defensive, they’ll explain, “You gave me a dollar too much.” When this happens, the mystified clerk will say something like, “Thank you so much. If I had been off, I wouldn’t have made my bank and been here all night long trying to figure what went wrong.”

I really do wish that those of us who follow Jesus would confound and mystify the world like that all the time. I wish that I would! Can you imagine the positive impact we could have on people if, with any consistency, we did as John the Baptist suggests today: bore the fruit of repentance, lived as people grateful for Jesus?

Little Marty Rayner had returned from a secret mission with an unexpected item, a gift for his friend Kenny. Marty’s mother, Diane, watched her son wrap the gift in bright Christmas paper. Because Kenny’s family was poor but too proud to accept gifts they couldn’t reciprocate, Marty snuck across the pasture, under an electric fence, and up to Kenny’s front door. He pushed the doorbell and then, ran like the wind.

The two boys were like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, always getting into little adventures together. Marty was deaf in one ear, but never complained about it. Kenny never seemed to mind his friend’s problem. Marty had bought a compass for Kenny with his own money and after Diane had explained about Kenny’s mom’s “admirable pride,” Marty decided that nobody ever needed to know who had left a Christmas present on Kenny’s front porch.

Diane was proud as she watched her eight year old son share a gift with no expectation of being rewarded. She thought to herself, “This must be what Christmas is all about!”

But when Marty came back from his errand, he was wobbly, his eyes filled with tears. What was wrong?, Diane wondered. As Marty came into the kitchen, Diane saw it: a bright red welt emerging on his face. In a hurry to escape from Kenny’s house undetected, Marty had run straight into that electric fence. It had knocked him down and stunned him. As Diane hugged her sobbing boy close, she wondered, as I suppose any parent would, how God could have let a boy doing something so wonderful be hurt like this.

Christmas day came. Diane and her family opened their Christmas presents. She could see that happily, the burn on Marty’s face, extending from his mouth to his ear, wasn’t serious. But even then, she wondered how God could allow such a cruel thing happen to somebody who was so giving.

Later on Christmas morning, Kenny came to visit Marty. Kenny showed off his new compass and Marty just smiled and congratulated his friend. He never did tell Kenny that he’d been the one who gave this Christmas present Kenny so cherished.

“That’s when Diane noticed it. As the boys were talking closely with one another, Marty seemed to be hearing with the ear that was totally deaf. [There had been a Christmas miracle.]...the school nurse confirmed that Marty had full hearing in that formerly deaf ear. The doctor could only guess at what had happened—when Marty hit that electric fence, the doctor surmised that somehow the electric current had shocked that ear into hearing.”

I wish that I could tell you all this morning that if we live our faith the way Marty did, then miracles of healing and provision will come our way. But that’s not the way things work in this imperfect world. We bear fruits of repentance—we perpetrate acts of love and kindness and service—not so that we can earn heavenly miracles or get dibs on God’s love. We serve others because of the incredible service God has done for us. We’ve learned that God isn’t a miserly old coot from whose clenched fists we have to pry love or blessings. As followers of Jesus Christ, we live our faith because on the first Christmas day 2000 years ago, God already gave us the best Christmas present ever: His love and the possibility of new life through Jesus Christ. Jesus loved us enough to bear a cross for us. He loves us enough to share His victory over death with everyone who will genuinely turn from sin—repent—and follow Him. Little Marty had no thought of his deaf ear when he gave that compass to Kenny. His eyes and his thoughts were on one thing only. He was thinking of the baby in the manger. He was thinking about Jesus.

This Christmas season, I hope and pray that all of us—including me—will put our focus on Jesus where it belongs. When that happens, we might find ourselves doing odd and amazing things—maybe even volunteering a day each week at the new Boys and Girls Club in Amelia. But however we respond to Jesus’ love, may this Christmas season find us all moving from feeling our faith to doing it...from believing to living...from being blessed to being blessings. Two thousand years ago, God came to us as servant born in a barn. By our service in the Name of Jesus, let’s show the world that we really are kin to God. Amen!

[Marty Rayner's true story is told in a message dealing with this Bible lesson by Pastor Mike Foss.]