Advent Devotion: No greater story of hope

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If this is the season in which we celebrate that God comes to us, then we must take some time to reflect upon the nature of such a revelation. Who is this one then that comes with the ultimate purpose to save? What was it like for Him to become one of us in order to redeem us?

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! -Philippians 2: 5 -8

The omnipotent became fragile; the omniscient one didn’t even know the “day or the hour;” the omnipresent one became a temporal being in history, time, space, and in a human body. This is living and stepping into mystery.

Dietrich Bonheoffer says, “The child in the manger is none other than God himself. Nothing greater can be said: God became a child. In the Jesus child of Mary lives the almighty God. Wait a minute! Don’t speak; stop thinking! Stand still before this statement! God became a child! Here he is, poor like us, miserable and helpless like us, a person of flesh and blood like us, our brother. And yet he is God; he is might. Where is the divinity, where is the might of the child? In the divine love in which he became like us.”

Indeed, God knows what it is like to go through struggle, pain, separation, and hurt. He feels our joys and sorrows for He became one of us in order to save us. There is no greater story of hope for us than this. Live in this reality, that God decided to save us by entering our world. Tell God what you feel and what you are thinking, for He not only knows, He understands. This is the message of Christmas.

Michael Smith is a camp alum who has worked on staff and served on the board at camp. He is the pastor of Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Erma.

Lent Reflection: Eat Your Tears

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My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? 
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, 
“Where is your God?” -Psalm 42: 2-3

One of the classic old school joints for praise and worship comes from Psalm 42. I am sure that most of us have sung “As the deer” for so many years that it has been filed away in the “songs to never ever sing again file.” (Other songs could also included “Lord I Lift Your Name on High,” and “Every Move I Make” – the motions also banned).

There are even some of you that when the song is sung, you shout BANG – after you repeat the first line about a deer. Classic. I love the things we do to Scripture in worship for the sake of our entertainment… but I digress. My point here is that with the familiarity of the song we can fall into the trap of losing the beauty of the message. The familiar fades the truth away, and when it is too familiar it is no longer relevant. The word of God, however, is that which desires to communicate to us the very grace and life of God.

Take a look at the following verses. Are there any songs that talk about eating ones tears or food all day and night? How can one set that in the key of G with an acoustic guitar to rock it out? With the hungering and thirsting for God comes often a physical response. Jesus promised that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness would be filled. The psalmist here is not after that; they are after the living God. Did you know that you can meet with God? For instance – I know that many of you may have a special place in your heart for Delanco Camp. But not just for Delanco Camp… there is probably a place at the camp, a special place where you have met with God. Perhaps it is on the bridge in the quiet of the morning, or in the chapel of the pines, or in the Tabernacle?

Often we hear of the altar stories from camp where the evangelist can point to the place at the altar and say it was HERE that they met God. One night for me, I couldn’t even make it to the altar because of the paralysis that came from my tears. I stayed in the pew eating and drinking my tears because God met with me and I surrendered my life to Him. It seems that even now as I walk by the tears are stained into the dusty floor. During this season of Lent, we are meant to take time to pray, reflect, and sacrifice. This is a time to eat our tears. Would you create some space in your life to meet with God? Do you thirst after the living God? He will meet with you. You do not have to worry or fear, He is not hiding from you. Seek Him out during this time of Lent and you will find Him.

Bon appétit on your tears during this season of Lent.

Stewardship redefined

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Jesus talked more about money than he did about love or grace. Jesus talked more about money than he did heaven. But when we think of Christ’s message to us, these are often the themes we tend to think of first. The kingdom of God was the only other topic that Jesus talked more about than money. For Jesus it was the kingdom of God, then money, in terms of what he wanted to convey in his teaching. Often we find Jesus talking about both of these subjects at the same time. This is because the two are closely linked.

Dave Ramsey, a New York Times best-selling author, is very helpful in lending a humorous definition and understanding of stewardship. He says that, ‘In church language, stewardship is code for building a building.” As funny as it may be, sadly it is also very true. The only time we really begin to get serious about financial matters in the church or other nonprofit organizations are when they need money. Unfortunately, these are all misuses of the word and overall concept of giving.

Steward or stewardship isn’t in my language today. I can’t remember ever using it as part of my daily conversations. When was the last time you mentioned stewardship? “Honey, make sure you put your money in your piggy bank so you use it later in your stewardship.” Stewardship needs to be redefined for us.

The New Oxford American Dictionary has three ways of expressing the definition of a steward or stewardship:

1. A person who looks after the passengers on a ship, aircraft, or train…
2. An official appointed to supervise arrangements or keep order at a large public event…
3. A person employed to manage another’s property, especially a large house or estate…

All three definitions reference the concept of looking after or supervising something that does not belong to the individual steward. They are, as the third definition states, called to manage another’s property. To be a good steward is to be a good manager. So when the King James Bible was being translated in feudal England, this was a concept that would have been understood by the readers. God is the giver of all good gifts; we do not own anything, so we are the stewards of God’s resources. Fast forward to today… we do not own anything, but we are God’s managers. God owns it all, so we should be good managers for God’s glory and purpose.

For example, the parable of the talents expresses several truths, but one of the most forthright is the concept that the servants were called to manage the talents that were given to them by the owner. They did not own the talent, but were given talents according to their ability. The owner’s approval or disapproval was not based on their worth as individuals, but the judgment is based on what each servant did with their talents. The one who earned five more is not necessarily a better steward than the one who earned two. This is not the message from Jesus. The point is made in the one servant who buried the talent and earned nothing. This individual in the parable is supposed to be for us a clear example of what not to do. If we do not get the point, then Jesus has some hard-to-hear statements about the servant being cast out. But let us not be so hard on this one servant.

We are all created in the image of God. As part of being created in that image is the understanding that we can share God’s character. God is a tremendous giver. You remember one of the most popular verses you learned as a child, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only son…” We are created to give, and tempted to keep. Rev. Adam Hamilton says that there are two voices that tempt us away from our God-created purpose of giving- the voice of fear and the voice of self-gratification.

The voice of fear is something inside of us that causes us to worry or doubt our source of security. It is a voice that says, “What will happen to you if you give this money?” We begin to hold and hoard the resources that God has given to us. But like that servant, our hoarding does not truly provide us with any true security. The voice of self-gratification is a recapitulation of the voice from our culture that tells us that we are defined not by who we are but by what we have. It says, “If you give, there will not be left for you to get this or that.” It is a voice that drives us toward obtaining the treasures on earth, while the voice of truth speaks for us to obtain treasures in heaven. Both of these voices impact our lives in different ways. We hear them throughout the day and in different places. The big game is coming up and even though we have a decent TV, it would look so much better if we had a larger screen. The voice begins to whisper. We are out shopping and the voice of self-gratification begins to work its magic as we convince ourselves that this item that we want quickly turns into an item we so desperately need. We are living in fearful times.

The financial consequences to our actions are coming to fruition. The house we couldn’t afford, the car, (with payments) we just had to have, the items we put on credit have caught up to us now with high interest payments. We are afraid because for many of us, there is, “too much month left at the end of the money.” We hear the voice of fear every time we may watch the news or read the newspaper.

The only way these voices can be silenced in our lives is through trust. When you give your life to Christ, and put your life in God’s hands, you begin a journey of trust. You live your life in a different way. Your life is no longer lived for yourself, but you begin to lead a life that is pleasing to God. Your life is an act of worship. You begin to put into perspective what you truly value and what your priorities are. So when the voice of fear begins to pop back up, (and it will), you are exercising faith when you trust in God. You align your life with God’s word and finally realize that God has some interesting things to say about how we handle our resources.

When the voice of self-gratification begins to whisper again, you can remember that you are seeking things that are above and you have learned how to live a generous and self-giving life. This is a life that is Christ-like. If Christ was a giver, then we ought to be givers. The true joy found in giving occurs when we make a difference in the life of someone else. Wesley further encouraged us to:

“Render unto God, not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God’s, be it more or less; by employing all, on yourself, your household, the household of faith, and all mankind, in such a manner that you may give a good account of your stewardship… Brethren, can we be either wise or faithful stewards unless we thus manage our Lord’s goods?”

Today let us become good managers of all that God has entrusted to us. Let us love God by how we give. Can you continue to trust God as you give to the ministry of Delanco Camp? We are anticipating and expecting another great summer of ministry out at camp and we encourage you to become financial partners with us. As you give, would you prayerfully remember Delanco Camp?

Go to delanco.org/support for more information about how you can support the camp with your gifts, offerings and talents.