Advent Devotion: A Child Born For Us

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“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” -Isaiah 9:6

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah a word of hope. God’s chosen people are being threatened from within and without. Enemies surround them and the threat of invasion and defeat are ever before them. Inside their borders, corrupt leaders and spiritual apathy create an expectation that all is not well. In the darkest of hours, hope and promise appear—God will continue to walk with and deliver His people.

Sometimes we miss the historical context of the Incarnation and the Messiah’s birth on this side of history. We are keenly aware that Christ came to save and redeem us but He is also the hope of the nations, the hope of generations, the hope of the entire world. He is described as one on whom the government rests—He is Lord. He is described as a wonderful counselor—one who walks with us and journeys with us. He is described as Mighty God—the all powerful King of Kings. He is the everlasting Father— the one who loves us and calls us His own. He is the Prince of Peace—the one who brings hope and rest in the midst of difficulty.

Who is He inside of your life today? Sometimes we’re content to know Jesus in a limited way…He died for my sins…Or perhaps, He lives in my heart. But there is a richness and a vastness to who He is…indescribable, Word made Flesh, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Beginning and the End, Lion of Judah, Son of God, Redeemer, Savior, Friend of Sinners, God with us.

Will you open your life this Christmas season to the fullness of who He is? Beyond the cute pictures of an infant in a manger, will you open your heart to the one who came to make a difference in your life, my life, and the whole of human history. Charles Wesley’s famous Christmas carol says this of Him:

Hail! the heaven-born Prince of peace! Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

In light of all that He has done and still desires to do, will you give Him glory this Christmas season and you seek His face. Merry Christmas!!

Michael Bill is the incoming president of the camp’s board of directors and is a pastor at Sharptown Church.

Lent Reflection: Just a touch

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Mark 5:21-43

The second half of Mark 5 contains two remarkable stories. Jairus, a leader in the Synogogue, comes to Jesus out of desperation after his daughter is found to be gravely ill. Jesus immediately responds and sets out for Jairus’ home. While on the way, a woman reaches out and touches his cloak. She herself had been suffering for years and thought that just a touch of his cloak would make her well. Jesus turns and identifies the woman and she is healed! By the time they reach Jairus’ home, the little girl has passed away and all appears pointless. However, Jesus goes into her room, takes her by the hand, and restores her life and health. Two stories of healing…two stories of Jesus’ power…two stories of Jesus’ compassion…two stories that involve touch.

We are people who need touch. Even those of us with personal space issues! Even those of us who aren’t very “touch-feely.” There is something inside of each of us that cries out for physical interaction: a handshake, a high-five, a hug. As we read the Gospels, we find that Jesus is very “high touch.” He doesn’t just “do ministry” from a distance with miracles, words, and gestures…he gets up close, personal, and communicates his love and compassion through touch. It’s a constant challenge, in a society that is very skeptical and “anti touch,” to find appropriate and meaningful ways to communicate care and concern. But, in the end, we all need a touch from somebody who cares…

Another thing I notice in these stories is that Jesus is willing to be touched. You see, we tend to keep the most valuable things in life behind glass. Try and touch a Monet in a museum and see what happens. Jesus’ coming in the manner in which He did was puzzling, even distasteful, for many to consider—that God Himself would enter into a human body, would walk amongst common people, would surround Himself with so much that was unclean and would allow Himself to be held, touched, bruised, rejected, mocked and eventually killed. What kind of God does that? Doesn’t that lessen and degrade who He is? Doesn’t it profane the very name and nature of God? Not at all! For Jesus, redemption wasn’t something to be done from afar, neat and orderly, disconnected from the sin and struggle of His people. Our God entered in and allowed Himself to be touched!

As we approach the cross and the empty tomb, do you know His touch? Not just His touch to awaken and save you but His daily walking with you, comforting and guiding, confronting and challenging, leading and directing…His entering into your world! Don’t reduce Him to being a distant bystander in your life, confusing distance for respect and irreverence—Allow Him to enter in!

Mike Bill is the Associate Pastor at Sharptown UMC and dean of Junior High 2 at Delanco Camp. Image credit: Aaron Watt, via CreationSwap

Advent Devotion: Are you ‘Inside Out?’

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Jesus encounters in Matthew 23 what you and I encounter every day—skin deep religion. You know what I mean – people who want to appear righteous yet do not live in integrity; those who flower their language will all sorts of spiritual phrases and yet do not cultivate time in their day to know God personally; people who serve and lead in ministries but are primarily concerned only with their Christian reputation. Now before you start ranting about those “shallow” or “hypocritical” Christians in your life, first take a look in the mirror! Each of us have this tendency. Each of us are faced with this temptation. Even when we KNOW the right answers, it is always difficult to live in the reality. It’s so easy for vital piety to become church performance. It’s so easy for morality to only go as deep as the habit we want to kick or the outer levels that others see.

I think that one of the main reasons that Jesus came to earth was to remedy this dilemma and to model what it looks like to live fully human. Jesus did not live from the “outside in” but from the “inside out.” Jesus’ entrance into our world came not with fanfare, music, and confetti but rather in simplicity, humility and obscurity. Into a culture preoccupied with religious performance, elitism and ritual came a baby, born to a poor family, in a small town, in a barn! What does that suggest to us about what it means to live the Christian life?

As we celebrate the birth of Christ during the next several weeks, allow me to remind you of a few things:

As easy as it is to do, we cannot evaluate our spiritual life based on or compared to those around us. In what ways do you do this? How can you break this pattern?

In the midst of the chaos of this season, what are some tangible ways that you can move from “fanfare to obscurity?” In what ways today can you carve out time for quietness, reflection, and simplicity?

What are the “whitewashed tombs” in your life that appear holy but only contain death and decay?

Remember this: as hard as you work to keep them painted and polished, they will eventually corrupt and infect your spiritual life. Is it possible today that the one who was born amongst animal refuse can attend do a work in your life as well?

Hail the Heaven born prince of peace, Hail the Sun of Righteousness
Light and Life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Mike Bill is the president of the Delanco Camp Meeting Association and a pastor at Sharptown Church.