Advent Week-2 (2019): The Candle Of Peace

And then the angels proclaimed “Peace on Earth” when the Baby Jesus was born. Today we wonder as we listen to the evening news, is peace possible? We all need two kinds of peace in our lives. We need inner peace, but we also need peace with others. God addresses both. He tells us what to do to find that peace.

INNER PEACE

Inner peace begins with a relationship with God, and it continues as we focus on His strength and allow Him to fill us. We can exchange our weakness for His strength in any area of life. God’s Word says, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is focused on You because He trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3).

Personalize that verse with your own name in it: “God will keep me in perfect peace as my mind focuses on Him and trusts Him.” Inner peace hinges on your trust in God.

If inner peace is eluding you these days and anxiety is spilling over in your life, choose to trust God. You can choose to put your hand in His and draw from His patience and wisdom as you take each step. He will guide you through the maze of life if you ask Him. Choosing to trust God with those blind corners in your life will take you down the road to inner peace. Choosing not to trust Him will take you down the road to stress and worry. Inner peace is there for the choosing.

PEACE WITH OTHERS

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A Visit and a Song (Part 02/04)

The gift of blessing: Part of what’s so challenging about Mary’s story is its brevity. We know from the Gospel accounts that she’s perplexed by Gabriel’s announcement. We also know that she says yes to the angel’s request, anyway. But so much lies hidden beneath that seemingly quick and simple “yes.” So many questions. So many possibilities. So many occasions for doubt. Again, Luke doesn’t elaborate, but I can well imagine the questions I’d ask if I were in Mary’s place: Is Joseph going to stick around? Will my parents still love me? How will I survive the pain of childbirth? Who will help me when my time comes to deliver? Who will support this baby if my fiancé bails? Who am I to raise the son of God? Is any of this for real, or am I losing my mind?

Into this maelstrom of questions comes an outpouring of blessing: “Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth tells Mary, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Elizabeth astutely connects the dots in Mary’s story; she makes the connection between trust and blessing. In Elizabeth’s mind, Mary’s “favored” status has nothing to do with wealth, health, comfort, or ease. Her blessing lies solely in her willingness to trust God and to surrender to God’s will. To lean hard into God’s promises and believe that they will sustain her, no matter what.

I wonder how desperately Mary needs this blessing by the time she lands on Elizabeth’s doorstep, exhausted and scared. How badly she needs someone to remind her that even after the angel leaves, the light fades, and the vision recedes, God’s faithfulness remains.

My guess is, Mary carries Elizabeth’s blessing in her heart for the rest of her life. After all, her vocation as Jesus’s mother is not easy. It leads her straight from scandal to danger to trauma to devastation. How blessed can she feel when she delivers her firstborn in a smelly stable? When she becomes a refugee, fleeing to Egypt to prevent her son’s murder? What does blessing feel like for her years later, when her miraculously conceived child is arrested? Beaten? Mocked? Killed?

God’s call on Mary’s life requires her to be profoundly courageous and countercultural, to trust an inner vision few others understand or value. Elizabeth recognizes that Mary’s faith is precious — that faith alone will fuel the ongoing surrender Mary’s journey will require. So she names and blesses Mary’s capacity for deep trust as a gift worth cherishing.

We don’t live in a time or culture that encourages us to bless one another, and that’s a terrible shame. What would it be like to recover Elizabeth’s vocation of blessing? To cultivate spiritual attentiveness? To gaze long and deeply at each other, looking for glimpses of God? How would our churches change if we made a point of discerning, naming, and blessing the divine gifts we see in each other? Elizabeth “exclaims with a loud cry” when she recognizes God’s life-changing work in Mary. What a compelling image. Joy flourishes when we’re willing to humbly bless each other.

to be continued…

Advent Week-1 (2019): The Candle Of Hope

The Advent season is a beautiful reminder to prepare our hearts as we prepare our homes — to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus! At the start of this week, we light the first of the four candles in the Advent wreath: the candle of Hope.

Is your heart filled with hope? Do you have a confident expectation of your tomorrow? What happens when the road ahead is filled with loss and stress weighs your shoulders down? When confident expectation for tomorrow dwindles, what can you do? How can you walk in hope when you feel hopeless inside?

In one word, the answer to confident expectation is “JESUS” — the Jesus of Christmas.

Hope in Jesus comes from more than just a belief that He was once a baby in a manger. This hope in Him has been called “an anchor for the soul.” It is something deep within that secures you through the storms of life.

HOPE FOR HELP

We are invited to come to Him and confidently ask for help. Hebrews 4:16 tells us, “to come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

HOPE TO OVERCOME

Things that leave one feeling powerless and hopeless come in many forms. With Christ’s strength you can overcome great obstacles, and faith in Jesus gives hope and help to overcome: “and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

HOPE FOR POWER

Sometimes in life we find ourselves with a task that simply looks too big for us. We do not just need a cup of God’s strength added to our own; rather, we need His strength in us to do what we need to do. He will give it! 2 Corithians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Seeing our weakness as the entry point of God’s strength gives access to His power!

HOPE FOR ETERNITY

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A Visit and a Song (Part 01/04)

By Debie Thomas

The angel Gabriel leaves, and Mary runs. “With haste,” the Gospel writer tells us on this fourth Sunday in Advent, a newly pregnant teenager makes for the hills, not slowing down until she reaches the home of Elizabeth, her also-pregnant cousin. When her kinswoman welcomes her, she bursts into song — a song so subversive, governments twenty centuries later ban its public recitation.

love this Gospel story. I love it because it’s one of the rare narratives in the Bible that is female-centered. (The priest Zechariah — Elizabeth’s husband, and the man-presumably-in-charge — is literally silenced throughout.) I love it because its setting is domestic, intimate, and earthy. But most of all, I love it because it allows me to view the mother of Jesus as a whole person. To view her, in Nadia Bolz Weber’s language, “without sentimentality or cynicism.”

This is no small achievement, because we (the Church) have buried Mary under so many layers of theology, piety, and politics, she’s nearly impossible to excavate. Some of us pray to her. Others ignore her on monotheistic principle. Some call her “Theotokos,” the God-bearer. Others champion her as a model of holy femininity — ever sinless, ever virgin, ever mother. To some, she is a child prophet extraordinaire. To others, the victim of divine manipulation.

Would the real Mary please stand up? Well, I think she has. I think Luke’s account of the Visitation gives us a portrait of Mary that cuts through most of our assumptions and stereotypes. A nuanced portrait that balances fear with courage, doubt with faith, vulnerability with strength. Along the way, it gives us a portrait of ourselves — of what we, the Church, might become at our very best. Here, then, are three gifts I believe the Visitation story offers us for our Advent meditations.

The gift of community: As soon as Mary says “yes” to Gabriel’s astonishing request, she goes “in haste” to see Elizabeth. She doesn’t isolate herself. She doesn’t keep God’s revelation a secret. She doesn’t play Lone Ranger and attempt to go it alone. Instead, she seeks out a fellow-traveler

Although Luke doesn’t elaborate on Mary’s reasons for visiting Elizabeth, it’s easy to imagine why a girl with a story as crazy-sounding as hers might make such an urgent journey. Tradition tells us that Mary is only thirteen or fourteen years old when the angel Gabriel appears to her. In her cultural and religious context, her pregnancy is a scandal. At best, it renders her an object of scornful gossip. At worst, it places her at risk of death by stoning.

Needless to say, she needs safety, affirmation, empathy, and companionship. She needs someone to recognize, nurture, deepen, and celebrate the work of God in her life. Someone who will receive, not reject. Love, not judge. Nourish, not condemn.

Could there possibly be a better job description for the Church? A better prototype for Christian community? What would it be like if we sought each other out with the trust and openness of Mary? What would it be like if we (like Elizabeth) received with tenderness the marginalized and vulnerable people who dare to come to us, seeking refuge and nurture? What would it be like if our communal worship echoed the full-throated call-and-response of these two kinswomen who find themselves caught up in God’s bold, risky, world-changing work, and decide to find strength in each other’s company?

In this Gospel story, Luke essentially describes the first Christian worship service in history. Mary and Elizabeth — the young and the old, the unmarried and the married, the socially established and the socially vulnerable — finding common ground in their love for Jesus. As Henri Nouwen describes it, “God’s most radical intervention into history was listened to and received in community.” What a gorgeous and challenging example for us to live up to.

to be continued…

Let Your Light Shine

By Dr. James R. Miller

“Ye are the light of the world.” – Matthew 5:14

Every true Christian is a candle shining in this dark world. The Bible speaks of the spirit of man as the candle of the Lord. In the natural state, before regeneration, we are unlighted candles. We are candles, however, capable of being lighted; for God made us in his own image, though sin has put out the flame or left it only a smoking, smoldering spark. But a thousand unlighted candles in a dark room would not make the room light; so when we receive Christ into our hearts, the Holy Spirit touches these candles with the divine flame, and they begin to shine. Thus every believer becomes really a candle of the Lord.

We must remember that we never can shine of ourselves; that we are light only as we are lighted by the life of Christ in us. We are to let our light shine — that is, we are to keep the wick trimmed, so that the flame shall be always bright; and we are to keep the windows of our life clean, so that the beams may pour out without hindrance. We are also to be sure always to have reserves of oil to replenish our lamps when they burn low; that is, we must live in constant communion with Christ, abiding in him, that we may draw always from his fullness.

Then, each one in his own place, we must give light to other lives, and make the one little spot in this world that is close about us brighter and happier with love and grace. The great lighthouse lamp pours beams far out to sea, but it does not lighten the space around its base. Some people send brightness far away, working for the heathen and doing deeds which benefit the world, while they fail to brighten their own homes and the lives close beside them. We ought not to be such lights as these: while we send our influence abroad as far as possible, we should live so that we shall be benedictions to those who are nearest to us.

From “The Vine”.

‘The Value Of Gratitude’ as explained by a CEO who writes 9,200 employee birthday cards every year

An Alabama CEO has been inspiring a compassionate work environment for over three decades by writing his employees birthday cards – all 9,200 of them.

It’s not uncommon to see Sheldon Yellen of BELFOR Holdings, Inc., a disaster recovery company, walking through an airport carrying a stationary with him on each trip he takes.

While others on VIP class may spend that time watching an in-flight movie or reading a novel, Yellen can spend that valuable time drafting handwritten letters for his employees.

According to Business Insider, Yellen has been penning personalized cards to his growing number of workers every year since 1985 when he was chief executive.

‘I am constantly calculating that in my mind rather than “What is the EBITDA [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization]?”‘

The thoughtful gesture began after he was hired because many employees felt Yellen was being handed the job due to nepotism.

‘When I was hired by my brothers-in-laws, their employees perceived me as a guy who just got a job because it was a family-owned company,’ said Yellen.

‘This could not be further from the truth — but I needed to prove it.’Read More »

How well do we know God?

Why do some people avoid sins that I so easily commit? Why do any of us fall prey to temptations that others say no to without a struggle?

In the reading (1 John 2:29 — 3:6) points out that those who belong to God base their actions on righteousness, and those who don’t know him choose lifestyles of sin.

How well do you and I really know God? Consider the sins you’ve already overcome. How did you stop being vulnerable to this particular temptation? If you remember it well enough to analyze it, you’ll notice that you learned something about God that rendered the temptation powerless.

For example, many years ago I knew a Catholic prayer group leader who was actively involved in witchcraft. Since she did not give me the opportunity to help her see the error of her ways, I was tempted to strangle her with her rosary beads. Whenever I saw her, I did not remain in God; my thoughts did not stay pure and I did not behave like a child begotten of the Father.

Then at a Catholic Charismatic conference, which we both attended, I finally heard God reminding me that he loves her. And if he loves her, so should I, for a child learns by imitating the parent.

I ran to Confession for the grace that God would provide through this Sacrament, the supernatural help that would empower me to love her. The priest gave me an easy penance, but I felt God giving me an additional penance: “The next time you see her, give her a hug and tell her that you love her.” My knee-jerk reaction: “What? Are You nuts, God?” (Knee-jerk reactions mean that we’re a jerk when we should be on our knees in prayer.)

Reluctantly, I promised to obey. I spent the rest of the weekend looking for her. Oddly, I never saw her again. All God had wanted from me was my willingness to love her regardless of her sins. Since then, it’s been a lot easier for me to resist this same temptation, not just with her, but with others, too, who are difficult to love.

We will never fully know God on this side of the gate to heaven. When we sin despite a genuine desire to be holy, it’s because there’s something we still need to learn about how good God is and how helpful he wants to be.

Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.” The more we know what God is really like, the more we understand what’s holy and what’s sinful, and the more horrified we feel about doing a sin. Temptations become powerless.

In the Gospel passage (John 1:29-34), John the Baptizer describes how he came to know that Jesus is the Son of God. The same thing happens to us. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to see and recognize Jesus. The Holy Spirit empowers us with understanding so that we can imitate Jesus. The Holy Spirit enables us to behave as true children of the Father.

© 2017 by Terry A. Modica