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d e c e m b e r
2 0 0 8
The promise
of
God’s
presence
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®
December 2008
Features
6The Promise of God’s Presence
The existence of Christ in our lives is what brings comfort,
hope, and peace when our world is full of everything but.
12 God With Us
From His first cries as an infant, Jesus experienced the same
harsh conditions of humanity we face—and overcame them. 6
32 Early Light
Focus on the meaning of Christmas this month with the help of these devotions from Dr. Stanley’s sermons.
Departments
18
B y fa i t h
22
s o l v i n g p r o ble m s
26
f a m i ly r o o m
28
Don’t Say It Can’t Be Done
According to this young abolitionist, it’s time to have a
little faith—in the next generation.
12
Always Leave a Light On No matter how impossible it seems, you don’t have to give
up hope that your prodigal will come home.
Loving Your Ex-Laws
A broken family can still be a place of blessing, as long as
we’re willing to extend the kind of grace God gives to us.
No Canticle for Joseph
We sing about Mary, the wise men, and baby Jesus, but
there’s no song for the Savior’s earthly father.
mighty in Spirit
32
Cover photo by Charles
Stanley, ©2008.
Dr. Stanley portraits
by Debbie stratton
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a word from Charles F. Stanley
Jesus said,
“I Am...”
I
Though
Jesus is
often
portrayed
as the Infant
of Christmas,
He is
not simply
another
baby.
f someone asked, “Who is Jesus, really?” what would you say?
Would you begin with a story about a manger? Or quote something He said?
It’s a big question, but one way to answer is to consider what
our Savior said about Himself. The Old Testament gives an account
of God speaking from a burning bush. There, in Exodus 3:14, the
Lord identifies Himself to Moses as “I AM.” It’s an unusual name,
whose full meaning is somewhat hard to grasp—at least until the
New Testament, when Jesus completes the thought.
In John’s gospel, Christ describes Himself with seven “I am” statements. For example, “I am the bread of life” (6:35) indicates that He
is our spiritual nourishment and sustainer of true life. Because He is
the light of the world (8:12), His followers no longer walk in darkness.
And John 10:9 reveals that He is our door to salvation.
In John 10:11, we read, “I am the good shepherd . . . [who] lays
down His life for His sheep.” This tells us He protects and provides
for His flock. And Christ did give up His life for our sake when He
died on the cross to pay our sin-debt.
In the following chapter, just before raising her brother from the
dead, Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who
believes in Me will live even if he dies” (11:25). When Lazarus came
forth from the tomb (v. 44), Christ proved that His followers need
never again fear death.
Contrary to what the world thinks, there is only one path to eternal
life—and His name is Jesus. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and
the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).
Finally, He gives us the key to fruitfulness: “I am the vine, you are
the branches” (15:5). An abiding relationship with Christ allows His
life to flow through us.
So though Jesus is often portrayed as the Infant of Christmas, He
is not simply another baby. He’s the Son of the living God, who
left the glory of heaven to show us what the Father is like—and to
purchase our redemption with His precious blood.
The
promise
of God’s
presence
Our Savior is with us during even the coldest winters.
z
The Christmas season conjures up images of manger scenes,
carolers bundled in winter coats, festively decorated trees, and warm mugs of apple
cider. But despite all of the holiday bliss, many people find this season particularly
difficult. The close of another year reminds them how much life has changed, and
family gatherings underscore their loneliness. Loss of a job or a loved one or even
a dream leaves a deep ache within their hearts, and they don’t know how they will
recover. While this should be a joyful time of the year, for many, it is not.
If you are struggling with feelings of disappointment, I want to remind you that
Jesus came into a world of great conflict. It was not only a world of political unrest
but also one of emotional instability and frustration. The Roman government may
have touted its Pax Romana—“peace of Rome”—but few, if any, had a sense of
lasting peace within their hearts.
For many then, as now, peace and hope were conditional—things based on what
people had accomplished or could achieve. And like today, many placed their hope
in promises made by men and governments. But regardless of how detailed and
researched a list of goals and plans may appear, if they are not based on the truth
of God, they crumble under pressure.
The Roman government did not seem interested in an accurate understanding
of God. Even the Jewish leaders envisioned their Messiah as a military ruler; they
looked for God’s deliverance in terms of political freedom. But the Father sent
Jesus to free them from the bondage of their own sin. The Savior was born not in
a palace but in a stable. He did not lead a rebellion; He led the only way to eternal
peace, hope, and security.
b y C h a r l e s F . St a n l e y
6
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December 2008 In Touch
www.intouch.org
|7
He Is With Us
Matthew wrote, “‘Behold, the virgin shall
be with child and shall bear a son, and they
shall call his name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us,’” (Matt. 1:23).
This is a core truth that we need to keep
in the forefront of our hearts and minds,
because it is the one foundational principle
upon which everything else rests. The
truth: God is with you. This single fact can
and will stave off feelings of hopelessness
and anxiety. This thread of truth is woven
throughout the Old Testament—every
book written prior to
Christ’s birth points
to the hope of His
coming. And Jesus’
presence is something
we can personally
experience today—
it is life-changing.
Isaiah wrote, “For a
child will be born to us,
a son will be given to us;
and the government will
rest on His shoulders;
and His name will be called Wonderful
Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father,
Prince of Peace” (9:6). Most of us realize
that many of the names in the Bible have
certain meanings. The Hebrew word for
Jesus is Yeshua, which means “Jehovah
is salvation.” He was “God with us.” He
was called Jesus of Nazareth because many
others shared the name. But there is only
One who had the ability to redeem the
sins of His people—Jesus Christ.
The word “Christ” in Greek means
Messiah. This is the title the disciples gave
the Lord. They called Him “the Christ,”
indicating that they recognized Him as the
fulfillment of God’s promise to mankind
(Matt. 16:16). They believed the promise
of salvation was living and walking with
them each day.
Though their knowledge was limited,
they understood that when they were
in Christ’s presence, everything changed.
Difficulties were not insurmountable.
Problems were solved, often in miraculous
ways. They saw Him feeding the 5,000 and
witnessed Him walk on water. He was with
them, but He also was with those who were
hurting, lonely, and longing for healing.
I have known people who struggled
with disappointment, and I have come
face-to-face with this hardship myself.
When it seems there is no relief in sight,
the one thing that changes this line of
thinking is the reality that
God is with
us. We are not alone. He
loves us and cares what
happens to us. He believes
in us, even when we don’t
believe in ourselves. He
sent Jesus to save us—but
He also sent His Son to
be with us. Oftentimes, we
tend to think of this as a
New Testament principle,
but it’s not. From the
opening pages of Genesis through the closing words of the prophets, we discover one
constant theme: God is with us, and He
wants to make His presence know to us.
God walked with Adam and Eve. He
gave Abraham a covenant and Noah a
promise, and He appeared to Moses at the
burning bush. He strengthened Joshua
in the midst of battle with these words:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong
and courageous! Do not tremble or be
dismayed, for the Lord your God is with
you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). God
knew what Joshua was facing and realized
the young commander could easily give in
to fear. Moses was gone, and the weight of
leadership rested squarely on his shoulders.
But it was not Joshua’s burden to bear
alone—God was with him. This is the key
to our success, as it was for Joshua. It was
He is not
distant,
too busy, or
engrossed
in other
challenges.
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December 2008 In Touch
the Lord who granted him and the nation
of Israel victory.
Though many seek to change or dismiss
God’s truth, it cannot be altered. What He
has promised, He will do. And through the
coming of His Son, He is saying that He
is with us—He is not distant, too busy, or
engrossed in other challenges. He sees the
difficulties facing us and understands the
heartache we are feeling. He came to earth
to be with us. And if we will trust Him, He
will give us the guidance and support we
need to make it through our time of need.
The Inescapable Truth
At one particular point in my life, I
felt totally alone. The heaviness of this
thought gripped my heart, and I ended
up telling the Lord that I was overcome
with loneliness. As I spent time with
Him that day, I sensed Him saying to my
heart, “I am with you. I have not left. I’m
here and I’m not going anywhere.” These
words conveyed the reality of Christmas—
God with me—and filled my heart to
overflowing with a fresh sense of hope.
One of the most wonderful aspects of
God is the way He loves us. He listens to
the cries of our hearts—the ones we don’t
even know how to express—and hears
them perfectly. When we are hurting, we
need to know someone cares, and that
Someone is Jesus Christ.
So as you read these words, know that
God is with you. He is walking right in step
with you. Christmas is a reminder that God
was not satisfied to remain solely in heaven.
He wanted to come to earth. He wants to
have a personal relationship with you. He is
holy, but He desires your fellowship.
When you face intense fear or sorrow,
there is only one thing you need to know,
and that is this: God is with you. This truth
turns fear into bravery. When you are worn
out, weak, and battling with doubt, the fact
that God is walking with you erases exhaus-
tion and transforms it into unshakable
strength. When your faith is tempted, tried,
or tested, the encouragement of a friend
may lift your spirits, but the only thing that
will hold your heart steady in the middle
of a great storm is the fact that God is
watching over you. He knows your needs,
and He has promised never to leave you.
David wrote, “For You save an afflicted
people . . . For You light my lamp; the
Lord my God illumines my darkness. For
by You I can run upon a troop; and by my
God I can leap over a wall” (Ps. 18:27-29).
We don’t have to succumb to anxiety
or listen to the unreasonable voice of
loneliness telling us that no one cares. God
has shown His immeasurable, undeniable,
and unfailing love to us through the birth
of His Son. When we face discouragement
and have no idea which way to turn, we
can pray, “Lord, I need Your wisdom,
guidance, and encouragement, but most
of all, I need to know that You are near.”
Nothing cheers a discouraged heart like
the awareness of His presence.
In the person of Jesus Christ, God came
to live among us. And today, through the
presence of His Holy Spirit, we have living
within us the true sense of Christmas:
Immanuel—the promise of God given to
all who believe in Him. The awareness of
His presence is all the comfort we need to
face every problem with hope and unwavering certainty. Because He is with us.
The Reason
We Celebrate
This four-part series
of Dr. Stanley’s most
popular Christmas
messages will help get
your heart in the right place to begin
the Advent season.
Christmas With Dr. Stanley
CD | $25
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|9
{15-minute bible study}
A Promise Made,
A Promise Kept
L u ke 2 : 1 - 3 8
The minute a woman finds out she is
going to have a child, her whole life
changes. Plans for her new season of life
begin, and monthly doctor appointments
fill her calendar. The initial stages of preparation indicate that
child will arrive
It wasn’t until aeventually.
Only
Jesus arrived when the newborn
exactly as is nestled safely in
his mother’s arms
foretold that does the evidence
the world clearly announce
that the infant has
had confirma- been born.
In the same
tion of the
way, God gave
promise’s Old Testament
fulfillment. believers many
prophecies about
the Messiah who
would come to redeem mankind. Yet
it wasn’t until Jesus arrived exactly as
foretold that the world had confirmation
of the long-awaited fulfillment of the
Father’s promise.
Among the numerous prophecies that
Jesus Christ fulfilled during His earthly
ministry, the major promises about His
incarnation involve:
His lineage:
n Tribe of Judah (Mic. 5:2; Heb. 7:14).
n Line of David (Isa. 9:7; Matt. 1:1).
n Root of Jesse (Isa. 11:1; Matt. 1:6).
n Immanuel, God with us (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23).
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December 2008 In Touch
Details of His birth:
Born as a child (Isa. 9:6; Luke 2:11).
n Virgin birth (Isa. 7:13-14; Matt. 1:18-23).
n Born in the town of Bethlehem
(Mic. 5:2-3; Matt. 2:1-6).
The purpose for Messiah’s arrival:
n A blessing to the nations (Gen. 18:17-18; Acts 3:25-26; Gal. 3:16).
n Destruction of the Devil’s work
(Gen. 3:14-15; 1 John 3:8).
n A redeemer from Zion (Isa. 59:16-20; Rom. 11:26-27).
n The way of repentance (Isa. 2:2-4;
Luke 24:47).
n
Questions f or Ref lection
1. Describe how God used prophetic
promises to prepare the world for
Messiah’s arrival.
2. How could you use this evidence of
fulfilled prophecy to share the promise
of a Savior with someone in your
family or network of friends?
3. Do you find it difficult to believe in
something that hasn’t happened yet?
4. In relation to your faith, how does
this proof of God’s trustworthiness
affect your perception of end-time
events and the promised return of Jesus Christ?
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| 11
12
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December 2008 In Touch
with
God Us
Identifying with the Baby in the manger
In
the last week of one fall semester during graduate school, I
was mugged at gunpoint. After sexually
assaulting me, my two assailants took
my bookbag and ran off into the dark.
It was a defining moment in my spiritual
history—my first direct confrontation with
evil—and it all but clinched the atheism
I had unwillingly succumbed to in my
teenage years, when the God who had
listened to my childhood prayers mysteriously disappeared. No wonder I can’t see
or hear or touch God, I subconsciously
concluded. He clearly doesn’t exist.
My assaulters had my keys and IDs,
so I couldn’t go home for weeks, and
had to live at a friend’s house until I
could get my locks replaced and windows
barred. I was further immobilized by a
crippling terror of going outside. But
I had classes to attend—the three I was
taking and the two I was teaching—and
grades to turn in. So, though I longed
for death in the days that followed,
I forced myself back into the business
of living.
That first week was miserable.
Everyone who heard my story said I
“should be glad” I hadn’t been killed
and was “lucky” to be alive. My students
were angry when I explained—while
crying in front of them—that since all
record of their semester’s work had been
|
by
P atty
K irk
lost, they would either need to show me
graded papers so that I could average
their grades or else retype their final papers
from their drafts, if they still had them.
They lined up outside my office, each one
with a dire account of lost papers, tossed
drafts, and enraged parents.
I, meanwhile, worried about my own
three papers: the 50-page final productions
that would largely determine my grades.
All my notes and drafts had been in my
stolen bookbag along with the finished
papers, which were my only copies in the
days before personal computers. Without
those three papers, I’d have little to show
for an entire semester’s work. When I went
to the first professor to explain what had
happened, he didn’t believe me. The paper
was due on its due date, he said, the last
day of the semester. The second professor
gave me an extension until spring semester,
effectively eliminating my travel plans
for the Christmas holiday.
The third professor—a pale, whitehaired emeritus who should long since
have retired but stayed on by popular
demand—taught Renaissance drama.
The class was huge and one of the most
challenging I’d ever taken; we students
all but despaired of writing anything
sufficiently original and smart enough to
pique his interest, much less impress him.
I approached his office with special dread.
www.intouch.org
| 13
But this old professor, whom I knew
ones that I’d hated as a child because
only as a scholarly personage lecturing
they sounded so un-Christmasy. O come,
at the faraway front of the classroom,
O come Emmanuel! I sang along in my
completely surprised me. When I told
head, unaware that the Emmanuel of
my humiliating story yet again, he cried— the song—“God with us”—was precisely
sobbed, actually— until I broke down too. what I lacked. Amy Grant’s song “Breath
We shared his box of Kleenex between us, of Heaven” was popular at the time.
not talking much. He wouldn’t hear of
Listening closely in spite of myself,
me rewriting the paper.
I considered the longing of Mary: for
“You have an A,” he told me. His eyes
God to be near her, for an end to her
were ringed with red.
uncertainty, for the child
“Just forget about it.”
she carried to be born.
God cries Every time I heard that
That, too, was a
defining moment for
for our song, I felt despair and
me, spiritually speaking.
hope struggling within
loss and me and unwillingly,
I considered myself
an atheist, but it never
suffering, wistfully, I cried.
theless struck me—an
And then, when I was
as that old a few years into marriage
idea surfacing from my
religious upbringing,
professor and had a toddler and a
as I explained it
newborn of my own, my
cried for mine.
to myself—that
longing evolved into the
this man was Jesus.
ever more certain hope in
Christ Himself was there with me and
Jesus Christ, as defined in Hebrews 11:1:
that dwindling supply of tissues, not tell“Now faith is the assurance of things
ing me that I was lucky or should be glad,
hoped for, the conviction of things not
but just crying for me, crying with me.
seen” (nrsv). Coming to rest in that
certainty was such a relief.
In the decade that followed,
The Christmas season remained a grim
I moved from country to country,
time for me, though, as an emotional
unwittingly trying out sensory solaces to
legacy of the assault; the Christmas of
supply the divine one I craved. Friends.
2001 was especially hard, coming as it
Adventure. My growing confidence
did on the ashy heels of September 11th.
that even without money or the ability
To my family’s dismay, I did little else
to speak the language of those around
all December but listen to sad songs and
me, I could survive anywhere in the
cry. Yet sometime during that wretched
world. These earthly pleasures were
month, it occurred to me that Jesus cried
good, but somehow they didn’t satisfy
too. Not only in front of Lazarus’ tomb,
me. Slowly during those years of wanderas John famously recorded in his gospel
ing, my frustration with God’s obvious
(11:35), but from the very moment of
absence in this evil world—or at least
birth. Indeed, the first utterance to
His imperceptibility—deepened into
emerge from the mouth of Jesus—whom
reluctant longing.
John referred to as the living Word—was
At Christmastime in those years,
a newborn’s cry.
though still faithless, I found myself
For the first time, I considered that
humming carols, especially the bleaker
in suffering the consequences of evil,
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December 2008 In Touch
we share the experience of Jesus—from
the very moment of His birth. Having
“emptied Himself” to become human, as
Philippians 2:5-11 attests, God’s Son
entered the human experience of suffering
completely. Born to parents unable to find
or perhaps afford a decent room, He was
cast into a world so unwelcoming as to
offer a woman about to give birth no more
comfortable shelter than a dirty stable.
His first whimpers and wails at the pain of
entry into this world were heard only by
His weary parents and the animals standing
around. His first bed was a crude feed
trough. From infancy, Jesus was already
the victim of a death threat so malicious
that other Jewish babies would be killed
in the process of looking for Him. One of
Jesus’ earliest childhood memories may well
have been fleeing to Egypt with his family,
refugees from violence.
Jesus knew firsthand what
it meant to be a “poor, wayfaring
stranger,” as the traditional spiritual
laments. He actually chose to be one (it
occurred to me the next Christmas season,
when I found myself listening over and
over to Natalie Merchant’s raw-voiced
recording of that song). Jesus suffered
from all the pains of human existence—
not simply the normal discomforts of
emerging cold and helpless from the birth
canal to take in His first lungfuls of harsh
air, but also the indignities of a harsh, cold,
and broken world. God’s first human cries,
I concluded, would have had that knowledge in them too: the wayfarer’s grim
understanding of this world’s cruelties.
I find odd comfort in knowing that
we worship a God who cries—as babies
do from the moment of birth. God cries
for our loss and suffering, as that old
professor cried for mine. He cries in frustration and love and hope for us, surely,
as Jesus later wept for the inhabitants of
Jerusalem. And Jesus, although He was
Himself God incarnate, cried in agony
and forsakenness on the cross.
As believers, we often focus on the end
of Jesus’ life on earth, perhaps because
His death and resurrection so succinctly
reveal God’s response to our dilemma.
Although created in our Creator’s image,
we humans soon became so brutal and
mean that, as He tells Noah, “the earth
is filled with violence because of them”
(Gen. 6:13). Nevertheless, God loves us
so much that He sacrificed His Son for
us. This sacrifice, we say, is the gospel—
the good news! And certainly it is
good news.
Overlooking the very beginning of
Jesus’ life shortchanges the full meaning
of the gospel. The good news that the
angels proclaimed to shepherds at Christ’s
birth was that God Himself was joining
us, becoming one of us, and sharing all the
suffering that goes along with that undertaking. From the very beginning of Jesus’
earthly existence—His entry into this
world as a crying baby—God was already
addressing the problem of human violence
and suffering. God Himself suffered not
only torture, crucifixion, and the weight of
all the world’s sins, but the ordinary pains
and humiliations of our earthly existence
as well. The newborn crying in that mucky
feed trough encapsulates the good news
in its entirety: God Himself is with us,
bringing us hope in our suffering.
He no doubt cries for joy too. The
Father likely cried at the birth of His Son,
as any parent would. And He may well
cry at the reunion we will one day experience when we finally return home, where
we belong. Perhaps He will sing with us
then—simultaneously remembering His
past pain and celebrating His present joy—
that sad-happy spiritual I listened to during
my season of sorrow: “I’m only going over
Jordan! I’m only going over home.”
www.intouch.org
| 15
Y
The Bells of
Henry
L o n g f e ll o w ’ s
Enduring
Poem
Christmas
You can learn a lot about people by looking at their things. The artifacts of daily
life reveal habits, preferences, passions,
faith. I visited the home of poet Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow on a cold, gray
day in November, when carolers dressed in
period costumes were already appearing on
street corners. Cambridge
is always festive, it seems.
One can easily imagine the
astute Professor of Modern
Languages making his
way through the snow
from Harvard to his stately
home on Brattle Street.
When I walked through the front door,
I was immediately struck by the impressive
collection of busts, statues, and paintings
scattered here and there, art acquired
during his visits abroad. The home is very
much the same as it was when Longfellow
lived there—the carpets, wallpapers,
drapes, furnishings, and even his books
and personal effects remain.
To the left of the entry hall is an ornate
parlor where Martha Washington held
sewing circles; she and other women
mended clothing for soldiers during her
stay there. George Washington resided at
the house for a year (1775-1776) before
Longfellow moved in, using it as the
first major headquarters of the American
Revolution—but that’s another story.
Though immense and rife with history, the home offers an intimate glimpse
into the person of Henry Longfellow. On
the other side of the entry hall is the study
where he wrote. It’s a cozy red room with
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December 2008 In Touch
B y
T o n y a
S t o n e m a n
dark furniture. A well-worn leather chair
bears witness to the hours he spent working at his desk—a table cluttered with
knickknacks and his kids’ drawings. His
humble writing box and inkwell exemplify
the solitary craft of 17th century poets,
who could not access the broader literary
world the way we can today.
A back door leads from
the study to the library, a
massive room with white walls
and red carpet. Expansive
bookshelves house thousands
of volumes: leather-bound
collections by French and Italian
poets, Dante’s complete works (which
Longfellow is said to have read countless
times in Italian), Goethe, Hawthorne,
Emerson, and myriads more.
This room was used primarily to entertain a distinguished assortment of guests.
Henry and Fanny Longfellow were very
successful people and obviously well
connected. Members of the upper-class,
they enjoyed life and influenced their world
in a way few can. Walking through their
home, I was struck by the accoutrements
of privilege: what must it be like to host
acclaimed politicians and writers in one’s
private library? The nanny would usher the
children off to bed. Servants with silver trays
would meander among beautifully dressed
guests. Conversation of literature and justice
would continue long into the night.
But Longfellow’s humility and ordinariness are a part of the home too. If you
exit the library and take the stairs to the
second floor, you will find the master
bedroom. It’s a simple space with a sleigh
bed and a few pieces of art. On the wall
opposite the bed hangs a portrait of
Fannie. She died tragically one day in July
when her dress caught fire from a candle.
In his attempt to rescue Fannie, Henry
was severely burned, as well. He was too
ill to attend her funeral and wore a beard
from that day forth to conceal his scars.
He spent the rest of his life a widower
and died in that same bedroom where his
wife had passed. He wrote poems lamenting her death and raised his five children,
ages 6-17, with the help of a nanny. It is
said that they played in his study while he
composed the famed “Children’s Hour”
about his three daughters.
Every December, people all over
the world sing the words of Longfellow’s
poem “Christmas Bells.” He wrote it in
1864 during one of his darkest hours—
the Civil War tore his country apart, he
mourned the loss of his beloved wife,
and he faced the lonely days of struggle,
discord, and immense responsibility alone.
The poem begins with the author hearing old familiar Christmas bells and carolers
singing, “Peace on earth.” He writes, “And
in despair I bowed my head. ‘There is no
peace on earth,’ I said. ‘For hate is strong
and mocks the song of peace on earth,
good will to men.’” But during his poem,
Longfellow experiences a transformation.
Apparently inspired by the faith of slaves,
who knew sorrow greater than his, he
writes, “Then pealed the bells more loud
and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He
sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail
with peace on earth, good will to men.’”
Although he never found love again,
Henry continued hosting weekly book
readings in his library and blessed the world
with inspiring poems. His house is filled
with the trappings of a passionate man and
busy father. He always thought George
Washington’s tenancy there had made the
place sacred. That may be what gave him a
sense of modesty and reverence.
He’s been gone for more than a century
now—I like to think he’s in a heavenly
reading room enjoying a good book with
Fannie—but his poems endure. It is ironic
and almost paradoxical: In our sophisticated
contemporary world of endless technology, we can download century-old words
from the quill of a lonesome poet and sing
of peace.
Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
www.intouch.org
| 17
byfaith
How one teen fights an evil
of global proportions
Z
Sandy
ach Hunter describes himself
as a “painfully normal teenager”
with a messy room to prove
it. And while he may qualify as normal
according to certain measuring sticks, the
16-year-old has a résumé impressive for
a person of any age. Already a published
author of two books, the high school
junior is the national spokesperson for
Amazing Grace, the 2007 film about
William Wilberforce’s successful crusade
to dismantle Britain’s slave trade.
As a middle schooler, Zach first learned
about slavery in history class. He recalls,
“It made me really angry to think that
people could own other people, and I was
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|
December 2008 In Touch
Feit
kinda wishing I had been born earlier.”
When his mother, Penny Hunter, was
working for International Justice Mission,
he discovered that such exploitation
still exists. He remembers thinking,
Oh! I wasn’t born too late. I can still do
something. And “do something” he did—
Zach created Loose Change to Loosen
Chains, a campaign that has raised
awareness about human trafficking as well
as many thousands of dollars to fight it.
Boosted by exposure on the Internet,
LC2LC caught on and grew quickly as
students around the globe became aware
of the teen’s efforts.
A few years later, Mrs. Hunter served
Photo courtesy of Tom Sapp
By
as director of The Amazing Change,
a social justice campaign inspired by the
movie Amazing Grace. An executive
at Walden Media had heard about “a
kid named Zach who calls himself an
abolitionist” and, not realizing the connection, asked Penny to try and locate
him. Zach notes with irony, “So that
worked out nicely.”
The film introduced him to the work
of William Wilberforce, whose victory for
human rights further fueled the teen’s
zeal and confidence. It also launched
his speaking career, which subsequently
led to book deals with Zondervan. 2007
saw publication of Be the Change—Your
Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing
the World, an outgrowth of the LC2LC
campaign. Drawing on biblical and
historical stories of oppression, the book
poses questions to stimulate a mindset
of courage, influence, and leadership;
each chapter concludes with practical
suggestions, such as showing compassion,
identifying personal strengths, and visiting
Web sites to learn more about ending
exploitation. Zach’s second literary effort,
Generation Change, was released in April,
and he’s currently writing a third, on the
topic of passion.
A Worldwide Evil
The young abolitionist has done his
homework and is knowledgeable about
modern-day slavery—from causes, history,
and manifestations to “hotspots” and
networks battling for its demise. The
problem is vast. Zach cites estimates that
27 million people are currently enslaved,
whether kidnapped for the sex trade,
“recruited” into rebel forces, or sold to
pay for medical needs. And, while many
people assume the issue is limited to faraway locales, Zach’s hometown of Atlanta
is actually a hub for human trafficking.
Regardless of the specifics, every
instance of slavery is dreadful. To
emphasize the point, Zach holds up
iron restraints much like those used
in our country 200 years ago. He
points out, “They’re not an historical
relic. Somebody actually earns a living
making these today. It’s hard to believe.
You think it’s the free world, but you
can go in and say, ‘I need shackles for
my slaves’—in 2008.”
Today, children as young as five wear
these restraints while rolling cigarettes
for their owners. Too large to be physically effective, the chains are nonetheless
psychologically effective. Even if they
don’t lock, they tyrannize simply by
reminding that there is someone more
powerful. According to Zach, the slave
rebellions showed that “when victims
discover freedom is a possibility, that’s
the greatest weapon against oppression.”
Despite the enormity of the challenge,
the teen believes that human rights abuse
can be eradicated in a reasonable time
frame. But he qualifies his conviction: “I
don’t think I can do it; I think that we can
do it. It would be ridiculous to think that
one person or even a few people could.
But if everyone set aside their differences,
a lot of people with a few unlikely leaders
could end slavery in my lifetime.” Asked
to describe his plan, he says, “Using
my influence to get other people to use
theirs—and their resources.”
And in fact, LC2LC has been influential
in directing people to support four of the
organizations that fund the grassroots
efforts in various countries (www.ijm.org,
www.freetheslaves.net, www.love146.org,
and www.rugmark.org). Funds raised
through LC2LC are used to educate and
inspire abolitionists, emancipate slaves,
provide for aftercare, and prosecute slaveholders. The campaign’s financial impact
is clearly significant. One organization
recently reported receiving $90,000 in a
www.intouch.org
| 19
three-month period—donations that were
directly attributable to Loosen Chains.
Children as young
as five wear
these restraints while
rolling cigarettes
for their owners.
Too large to be
physically effective,
the chains are
nonetheless
psychologically
effective.
20
|
December 2008 In Touch
Influencing his generation
Zach is in demand internationally as a
speaker, and it’s no wonder: his generation
is inspired by one of their own who’s
proven that idealism can be compatible
with realism.
In addition to speaking in Australia and
Germany, he has crisscrossed the States,
addressing schools and youth groups of
various religions. Urging peers not to let
anyone dampen their zeal because of age
(1 Tim. 4:12), the young activist is proof
that date of birth makes zero difference
when you’re about God’s business.
But as much as Zach is an inspiration to
his generation, he is also inspired by them.
“There are a lot of teenagers out there
doing things—not just about the cause
that I’ve been associated with. That’s what
Generation Change is about.” Through
story, statistics, and a comfortable, easyto-read style, the author writes about
what he considers today’s major issues,
including poverty, justice, truth, kindness,
gratitude, and patience. The book also
offers practical suggestions, based on
what young people are already doing
to make a difference in the world. In fact,
though his age group is often referred to
as “Generation Y,” he prefers to call them
the Peace, Love, and Justice Generation.
“But,” he says, “instead of doing it
without God, as the youth of the 60s
tried, this time we’re doing it with God.”
Emulating Christ
Zach notes that, while people of all faiths
are obligated to help the oppressed, “especially followers of Jesus need to be carrying
out the mission of Jesus—helping the
poor.” A Christian since the age of four,
he recognizes the authority of Scripture:
“God wrote this book called the Bible,
and that’s a great way to hear His voice. It
talks about everything you need to know.”
Not all believers, however, see God’s
Word as a mandate to join the cause—
some interpret verses like Colossians 3:22
as condoning slavery. Zach disagrees:
“The Bible talks so much about freeing
slaves. It’s God’s Word; He never contradicts Himself. If you look at the context
[of that verse], it’s saying that because
there was slavery at the time, if you were
a believer in Christ and you happened to
be a slave, you needed to be the best slave
you could be. In other words, if you are
a bricklayer, an accountant, a writer,
whatever you are, be the best you can
be. It’s as simple as that.”
Christians also frequently challenge
him on why he focuses on emancipation
over evangelization. In response, the
young abolitionist holds up Christ as his
example. “The Bible,” he explains, “talks
about how we’re supposed to serve the
oppressed and the poor and the hurting
and the hungry. Jesus met people’s physical needs before meeting their spiritual
needs. Just picture this: If a lady walked
through a soup kitchen where you were
volunteering and asked for food, would
you hand her a Bible? Or would you meet
her physical needs first? [Evangelizing] is
about earning the right to be heard and
showing what Jesus was really like. Then
you will have credibility when delivering
the gospel through words.”
Another biblical principle Zach models
comes from Ephesians 5:16: “Make the
most of every opportunity in these evil
days” (nlt). Working for the cause leaves
few hours for leisure activities, so he must
be selective: “For me, there’s no time for
bad literature, bad music, bad movies. If
you’re going to do anything, do it right.”
He’s purposeful in other ways as well.
For example, he often wears a whistle
around his neck. When asked about it,
he can describe Falling Whistles, an organization that raises awareness and support
for children kidnapped into the Congolese
army. The smallest—usually those under
the age of 7, who are too weak to carry
a machine gun—are placed on the front
lines and given whistles to startle the
enemy and absorb the first round of
bullets. He explains, “Their only choice
is to feign death or die.”
A Message for His Elders
Zach’s primary audience is his own age
group. However, when asked if he also
has a message for the older generation, he
replies, “There are a few things I would
say—respectfully. People think of teens as
selfish and materialistic, which we are, but
we can make a difference. And there’s a
lot of good happening.
“There are those who are cynical about
the new justice movement, saying it’ll burn
out. If you really want to encourage my
generation to do something, don’t say that
we’ll fail. I don’t know if that’s supposed to
be some kind of ‘reverse psychology’ thing,
but it doesn’t work. It doesn’t motivate us.
“Set high expectations for us. Whether
you’re a youth pastor or a parent or
teacher, if a teenager comes to you with
a crazy idea for doing some good, don’t
act as if what they’re doing is impossible,
even if it sounds impossible. I’d like to
encourage the older generation to really
believe in us and work with us.”
Zach Hunter offers
inspiration and
practical ideas to help
you make a difference.
Generation Change
Softcover | $12.99
See order form or visit
www.intouch.org.
www.intouch.org
| 21
solvingproblems
always
leave a
light on
What we can
do to bring our
prodigals home
by
Rob Parsons
Sometimes life ambushes us. Ten years ago I
was asked to speak at a local event in England
called Bringing Home the Prodigals. I knew it
would be a day of prayer, but apart from that,
I had little idea of what awaited me.
Thousands of people came, and each of
them had a prodigal on his or her heart—a
child, a husband or wife, a sibling, friend, or
even a parent.
A huge cross had been erected at the
front of the auditorium. After a time of
worship, all were invited to write their
loved one’s name on small cards and lay
them by the cross. I made my way forward
to pray for those standing there and saw
before me hundreds of cards. Some were
written neatly, others scrawled, and some
had several names. It seemed to me that
the pain of the world was at the foot of
that cross. My eyes filled up as I read one
after the other. I wondered what story lay
behind the line, “Bring my son William
home, Lord” or the note that simply said,
“My husband.”
At the time, my wife Dianne and I
had heavy hearts for our two children—
I wrote Katie and Lloyd’s names, placed
them side-by-side beneath the cross, and
began to weep. I couldn’t stop.
When I finally stood to speak, I was a
different man from the one who’d walked
in earlier. The message I delivered wasn’t
the one folded up in my pocket—the tidy
one with all the answers. Rather, it was
forged from my own brokenness and
a sense of utter dependence on God.
That night, my heart was captured with
a message of hope, reconciliation, and healing, and it has become my passion. Since
that day, we’ve taken Bringing Home the
Prodigals events around the world. Over
the years, I’ve witnessed the heartache
of those who long to see their loved one
come home—and I will never tire of
offering them hope. If you’re in this place
right now, I want to encourage you to
do a few important things.
let go of
false guilt.
Parents of prodigal children often stagger
under a load of all-consuming guilt. I
received a letter from one such mother:
We were brought up in Christian families and tried to bring our children up in
the same way. That worked for two of them,
but Peter seemed to rebel against it. One
day he got in trouble with the police. We
were so ashamed that we decided to move
because we were concerned about what
people in church would say. In 1992, he left
home, and we haven’t seen him since. I hope
and pray he will get in contact again, and
if he does, we will not ask where he has been
or what he has done; we will just welcome
him with open arms.
When we hear people in church boast
repeatedly about how all their children
are “walking with the Lord,” we wonder
where we went wrong. Whether our
children are age six or sixty, we feel
responsible for them. But often we carry
guilt needlessly. It’s important to realize
that our children make their own choices
in life. Adam and Eve had the only perfect
Father and began their lives in the only
perfect environment, but they chose a
path He didn’t want them to take. Much
of the Bible reveals God grieving over His
children and saying, “Why are you turning
your back on everything I’ve taught you?”
None of us can make our children
“godly.” There are parents who’ve got
it more right than most but whose child
nevertheless has turned his or her back on
everything they hold dear. I’m not insinuating that any of us are perfect parents,
but regardless, we are called to live godly
lives and lead by example.
It’s true that Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train
up a child in the way he should go, and
when he is old he will not turn from it”
(niv). But that’s not a guarantee—it’s a
principle. If you follow it, you will give
your children a wonderful foundation in
life, but they will still make choices.
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| 23
Too often, we want our children to do
well because we want to be well thought
of ourselves. One church leader told me,
“My boy is going through a hard time
right now, and at first my main concern
was, What will my congregation think? But
I have only enough emotional energy to
deal with the real issues, so I’ve decided
that I have to set myself free of what
others think. The greatest need is my
son’s well-being, not my reputation.”
a home, not a battlefield. The opposite
image is a beautiful one: prodigals streaming from the four corners of the earth
towards the Father’s house, where there
is grace, forgiveness, and genuine love.
And when our prodigals do come
home, we must pray that they meet the
father from Jesus’ parable before they
There is many a young
person who has been branded
a prodigal
keep the
because of his hair
church doors color, the cigarettes in
open.
I passionately desire to see hurting family
his pocket, or the
members released from false guilt, but I
music venues he visits.
also want to challenge the church about
the part we’ve played in “creating” prodiNever mind the fact
gals. There is many a young person who
that he might care
has been branded a prodigal because of his
for
the
poor, have a
hair color, the cigarettes in his pocket, or
wonderfully forgiving
the music venues he visits. Never mind the
nature and, in his heart, fact that he might care for the poor, have
a wonderfully forgiving nature and, in his
love God.
heart, love God. We may be satisfied with
We may be satisfied with an outward conformity, but God isn’t.
I wonder whether the real problem the
an outward conformity, church faces with regard to its prodigals is
but God isn’t.
that half of them are still in the pews, not
realizing how far from the Father’s house
they have wandered. Perhaps one day we
will discover that our bitterness, judgment
toward others, and putting down church
leaders in front of our children were what
God actually considered offensive.
And if we have made it easy for
“prodigals” to leave, we’ve also made
it hard for them to return. I once heard
an elderly man say, “When the father’s
house is filled with the Father’s love, the
prodigals will come home.” How true this
is. They need honesty and acceptance on
their journeys toward God, not demands
to keep up a certain image. They need
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December 2008 In Touch
meet the elder brother (Luke 15:11-31).
The older sibling will be waiting with his
list of rules and his record of wrongs. But
the father will be patient, understanding
that when a prodigal comes home, he will
still smell of the pigsty. In the story, the
father doesn’t tell his servants, “Quick!
Run a bath for my son!” and then say to
the boy, “As soon as you’ve cleaned up,
you can come into the house.” The return
of a prodigal is not the end of a journey
but a beginning—and it will take patience
and love to see a recent wanderer through
the healing process.
don’t give up.
Those of us who pray for prodigals
have broken hearts; we have learned that
no person, book, or event is going to
singlehandedly bring about the answer
to our prayers. We are thrown completely
on God’s grace and know that we must
surrender everything to Him. Then, as
we come
before the
Lord with
humble
hearts, we
acknowledge that
we have no
answers—
only our
memories
and a
little faith.
But as
I have
witnessed
firsthand,
there is
no better
place to
lay down
your prodigal than
at the
foot of the cross, where Christ laid down
His life for us. The cross is the greatest
of mysteries: it is a place of apparent
defeat and yet unassailable victory; it is
a place of tears which ultimately water
the seeds of unbridled joy, bringing them
to bloom.
Our prayers may not be answered in
the way that we want. But I do know that
when we believe God is our only hope,
we are in the best place possible for Him
to move.
I’ve heard countless stories of prodigals
coming home. One mother told me:
With no warning, Carla, our only child,
left home on her 18th birthday. My husband
and I were devastated; we’d brought her up
in a caring Christian home. We didn’t hear
from her again for four years, and during
that time never knew whether she was alive
or dead. But before going to bed each night,
I would turn the porch light on. I’d look
at its glow, and often tears would stream
down my face. I missed my daughter so
much. Every Christmas, I put a little tree
with lights in front of the house for her.
Carla finally returned home, and she told
me of the importance of that porch light.
Unbeknown to me, she had driven past our
home many times late at night, and sometimes just sat there in her car. She said,
“Every house was dark, apart from ours: you
always left a light on. And at Christmas I
would do the same: just sit in the darkness
and look at the Christmas tree you had put
outside—I knew it was for me.”
My daughter is now happily married,
and we have two beautiful grandsons. My
heart goes out to anybody waiting for a
prodigal to come home. Please tell them
never to give up hope.
I believe that something is stirring.
When I see the wind in the tops of the
trees, I wonder if God, in His mercy, is
turning the hearts of hundreds of thousands toward home. You may have prayed
long and hard for your prodigal, who may
seem farther away than ever. But don’t
give up. Keep on praying.
And always leave a light on.
The Power of Hope
If you know what it’s like to love
a prodigal, you’ll be encouraged
by Rob Parsons’ powerful and
practical message of healing.
Bringing Home the Prodigals
Softcover | $9.99
See order form or visit www.intouch.org.
www.intouch.org
| 25
familyroom
T
How to Keep Love Alive Within Fractured Families
by
R ebecca
The family picture, framed in walnut,
hangs over the fireplace: parents, children,
and grandchildren. Three generations of
smiling faces—but now my face doesn’t
belong. I’m the daughter-in-law who
no longer fits, because the son and I are
divorced. Yet as surely as my image once
hung above the mantel, my heart still
resides there.
How do you give up an entire family
of loved ones when you’ve shared life with
them for so many years? Is it possible to
keep that love thriving when you don’t
still belong?
Treasure Family History
You may no longer be in close relationship with your former spouse’s family,
but if you have kids, they’re still your
ex-laws’ grandchildren, cousins, nieces,
and nephews.
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December 2008 In Touch
J ay
After decades together, we can’t forget
the memories we’ve made. It’s important
to remember the good times, to cherish the photographs, to keep the gifts.
Although some memories will be painful,
even that pain is a treasure. It reminds us
how much we loved.
Make a concerted effort to share that
history with your children. They need
to know about family vacations they
were too young to recall, favorite rituals
or Thanksgiving recipes handed down
through generations, stories about the
other side of the family. Our kids need
to value the legacy of their grandparents
and be proud of who they are on both
branches of the family tree.
Remember the Dates
While I was married, it was my job to
send cards for birthdays, anniversaries,
and other important dates. Each month,
I searched to find just the right card for
a nephew, a niece, or my father-in-law.
I haven’t forgotten those dates.
Even as I marched through therapy
and grieved the losses, I still sent cards.
As I stamped and sealed each one, I
said a prayer for that ex-family member.
Sometimes the cards were acknowledged. Sometimes the silence hurt. But
as the months became years, those cards
kept our connection alive. When we saw
each other again at funerals or weddings,
we weren’t complete strangers.
Share Your Children
Regardless of the circumstances, your
children need to be part of the ex-family’s
life. Those were the cousins they played
with, the grownups they called Auntie or
Uncle. Just because you and your spouse
no longer share a home, that’s no reason
to keep your kids from engaging with
family. Grandparents grieve deeply when
they can’t see their grandchildren. Don’t
be the cause of that grief.
Make sure you include holidays,
weekends, and special gatherings in the
custody papers. This will keep a sense
of normalcy in your child’s life, and it’ll
keep you from wallowing in thoughts of
revenge. Sometimes it will be difficult to
share your son or daughter, but everything about divorce is difficult. No need
to penalize your children by keeping
them away from familial love.
Stay Positive
Correspondence with ex-laws should
remain positive. Whether you phone or
e-mail, that’s not the time to trash-talk
your ex. He or she is their child, and just
as you love and protect your children,
they must support theirs. It’s not your
place to justify your side of the battle.
Divorce by definition has two sides. No
matter how much you want ex-laws to
know the truth, it’s not your job to prove
it to them against a former spouse’s word.
Your ex has responsibility to come clean
with his or her own family, and whether
that happens or not is between them.
Even if something wasn’t your fault,
loving your ex-laws includes taking that
blame with grace, entrusting your reputation to God, and leaning on His grace to
forgive and continue loving. It isn’t fair,
but then again, divorce isn’t fair. Making
the choice to stay positive no matter what
happens will help keep communication
open so when you see ex-laws again, you
can meet without regret.
Continue to Pray
As I prayed for them when they were
family, I pray for them still. On important
dates, I pray. Unwrapping Christmas
ornaments brings memories and another
chance to pray. When a niece or nephew
is facing a decision, I pray.
Prayer for your ex-laws is the highest
form of love you can show them. It
forms a triangle between you, them, and
almighty God. Prayer creates a spiritual
bond that can never be damaged by the
termination of a marriage.
The apostle Paul gave us the best instruction for loving ex-laws: “[Love] bears all
thing, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
As we continue to nurture our ex-family
connection, we choose to live in hope.
We learn to persevere and bear the
consequences of divorce with dignity.
And we experience God’s amazing grace,
which covers and heals our wounds,
making it possible for us to extend grace
to our ex-family and receive it as well.
Although I no longer belong in the
picture on the mantel, I continue to love
the family left behind. And in that act of
loving, I begin to heal.
www.intouch.org
| 27
mightyinspirit
No Canticle
for
Joseph
Celebrating an
Unsung Hero
by Tom Allbaugh
’Tis the season for singing.
We sing of angels and trees. We sing of shepherds and of cattle “lowing,” of kings
with gifts and a little drummer boy.
We sing of merry gentlemen and eight famous reindeer. And though Jesus probably wasn’t born in a cold season, we sing of holiday snow in a “winter wonderland.”
After all, Christmas is celebrated in various climates throughout the world.
What is peculiar, however, is that though Joseph, husband to Mary, appears along
with the angels, shepherds, kings, camels, drummer boys, and even snow in nativity
scenes, we don’t sing of him. The man who led Mary and the baby Jesus out of
danger from Herod is a man without a canticle.
I know this because as a fourth grader, I played him in our school Christmas program. The role didn’t take much acting. Like all Josephs everywhere, I wore a white
robe and stood in a prayerful pose while classmates sang carols stitched together with
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December 2008 In Touch
a narrative read by one of our more gifted
classmates. Not a single song mentioned
the character I was playing.
Why no canticle? Why no mention of
Joseph? Mainly, he’s remembered as a
husband and common laborer. He was a
carpenter or builder, not a great preacher
or someone dramatically stoned to death
for his testimony.
And why is it that certain people at
my church, who serve in public roles
such as singing, teaching, or preaching,
are admired while others, whose service
is done out of faith during times of
personal tribulation, pass unnoticed? Like
them, Joseph stands innocuously in most
manger scenes near Mary as she receives
gifts from the wise and the simple.
The narrative in which Joseph appears
differs in the gospels, but Matthew
seems to have the most to say about
him: “When his mother Mary had been
betrothed to Joseph, before they came
together she was found to be with child
by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her
husband, being a righteous man and not
wanting to disgrace her, planned to send
her away secretly” (Matt. 1:18b-19).
These words, in their quiet, understated
references to privacy—especially when
the alternative option isn’t spelled out—
may cause him to blend into the familiar
crèche setting.
But Joseph’s response to Mary’s pregnancy was anything but ordinary. As
some commentaries note, it was lawful in
that day for men to publicly denounce a
fiancée found unfaithful, to expose her to
ridicule and shame. Many men, perhaps
most, would have chosen this course to
avoid caring for another man’s offspring.
In first-century Israel, Mary’s disgrace
would certainly have been a hardship for
Joseph—but it would have been worse
for Mary and her child. A public spectacle
would have followed her throughout life.
Joseph, we learn, had no desire to
take part in this.
Matthew’s gospel notes that Joseph
was righteous and merciful. His thoughts
and feelings inclined him to protect
Mary at great sacrifice to himself.
Thus, he chose to keep the pregnancy
a secret. Joseph’s tenderness and genuine
concern for Mary, whose life would surely
have been horrible after her dismissal,
are a poignant example of God’s grace.
But this isn’t the end of his story.
Joseph’s character is revealed in the
dreams he experienced after planning to
send Mary away: “But when he had
considered this, behold, an angel of the
Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying,
‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid
to take Mary as your wife; for the Child
who has been conceived in her is of the
Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you
shall call His name Jesus, for He will save
His people from their sins’” (vv. 20-21).
The message in Joseph’s dream is
the central theme of Christmas—and
of the church for the last 2,000 years.
According to Matthew, “Joseph awoke
from his sleep and did as the angel
of the Lord commanded him, and took
Mary as his wife” (v. 24).
Joseph, acknowledging the supernatural
dimensions of his circumstances, acted on
his dream. Though the term “Savior of
the world” would probably not have
had the familiar ring to him that it has for
us, he recognized his fiancée’s faithfulness
and was willing to no longer see the child
within her as a mistake. Joseph took Mary
as his wife, becoming her shield and
guardian, even though it seemed that
the child had little to do with him. He
accepted his role with willing obedience,
an outward expression of his inner belief.
None of this is discernable in the Joseph
of a thousand nativity scenes where angels,
wise men, cattle, sheep, and a dog crowd
www.intouch.org
| 29
Joseph was
faithful in
the role
to which
he was
called.
around him. Surely as foster father to the newborn Savior, he’s
worth a line or even a verse or two in a song.
And yet, the fact that Joseph isn’t celebrated today is
strangely appropriate for this man, who reacted to his trials
with grace and humility. I suspect that perhaps the deepest
trials most Christians face—the ones that really lead to God’s
fuller formation in our lives—are those that do not lead to
fame or praise from others.
C.S. Lewis underscores this notion beautifully in The
Great Divorce. The story’s narrator has been allowed into
the afterlife, where he is startled by a parade of creatures
who dance with great celebration. In contrast to the gnarled,
bitter spirits he has seen choosing their own way over God’s,
the members of this parade are full of energy and light. The
narrator says, “If I could remember their singing and write
down the notes, no man who read that score would ever
grow sick or old.” He sees a woman following the parade
and being honored by everyone around her. Her transformed
nature impresses him.
The narrator asks George MacDonald, his guide, if the
woman is famous. “Is it . . . is it?” he asks. McDonald’s answer
is emphatic. “Not at all. It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of.”
When the narrator remarks that she seems “a person of
particular importance,” McDonald replies,“She is one of the
great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame
on Earth are two quite different things.”
I suspect that Lewis has captured something scriptural here
about both heaven and earth. “Many who are first,” as Jesus
taught, “will be last; and the last, first” (Matt. 19:30).
As one of the first, Joseph soon takes a back seat in the
story of Jesus. Perhaps Joseph’s obscurity results from his
receding into the background so early in the story. After he
guides Mary and Jesus to safety, thereby earning his reputation
as protector and guardian, the gospels fall silent about him.
Unlike Mary, he does not appear later at Jesus’ crucifixion.
What happened to Joseph? We do not know. The gospels
don’t always fill in the details we’re used to seeing in novels
and movies. What we do know is that even in the face of
pain, when it appeared that his fiancée had been unfaithful,
he did not respond with vengeance. And when it seemed
that he would have to face slander, Joseph was faithful in the
role to which he was called.
We might say the same of the circumstances in which we
attempt to live out God’s call to us. They are not easy or
peaceful. Yet, when we obey God, we accomplish great things.
The lessons from Joseph’s life strike a chord with all of us.
{spotlight}
Mark Hall:
Christmas
Music Redux
Casting Crowns’ frontman Mark Hall
likes to look at old things in new ways.
In fact, one of the band’s most popular
singles, “While You Were Sleeping” (which
reappears on their Christmas album), came
about by lookThe point ing anew at
an old story.
of the song
Back in
1996,
Mark
dawned on him:
arrived early
Bethlehem for a class at
missed the the Baptist
College
greatest event of Florida.
of its history. So he sat
down at the
nearby piano,
opened a hymnal to “O Little Town of
Bethlehem,” and starting improvising on
the melody. Midway into the first verse,
the point of the song dawned on him:
Bethlehem missed the greatest event of
its history—Messiah’s arrival.
Even though Mark knew the song well
from childhood, “it was as if I heard [it]
for the first time,” he says. “[Jesus] is
going to come again, and we’re going to
miss it if we don’t do something,” the
singer adds, which is why he included the
message in “While You Were Sleeping.”
“That experience is what changed
Christmas music for me in general,”
Mark says. Now he wants to rediscover
the worship within classic carols.
Interestingly, it was such a rediscovery
that inspired the first single on Casting
Crowns’ Christmas album: “I Heard the
Bells on Christmas Day.” Mark hadn’t
heard that one much as a kid, but he knew
about the song and remembered his dad
mentioning it. After learning the lyrics’
tragic meaning relating to the life of Henry
Longfellow, he realized the piece was still
relevant for today’s world, which remains
a place of pain and suffering.
Mark explains, “Here’s a man who is
struggling with what he knows as truth
and what he sees with his eyes.” And
those eyes had seen some horrific events:
Longfellow’s wife died tragically of severe
burns, and his son sustained serious
wounds in the Civil War. But at the
same time, those eyes had read the truth
in God’s Word: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have
peace. In the world you have tribulation,
but take courage; I have overcome the
world” (John 16:33).
That’s the truth Casting Crowns wants
to share today through the words of a
poem written a century ago. It’s a message
always worth revisiting.
To purchase Casting
Crowns’ new Christmas
album Peace On Earth,
see the order form or visit
www.intouch.org.
Peace on Earth CD | $9.99
See order form or visit www.intouch.org.
www.intouch.org
| 31
1
Monday
Jesus—Keynote
of God’s Plan
READ | Luke 2:6-11
esus’ genealogy may not seem like exciting
reading, but the context of His lineage is
important (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). The
Bible outlines His family tree to reveal God’s
handiwork throughout history. Everything
from Eden to Bethlehem to Golgotha and
beyond was planned.
In the garden of Eden, disobedience ushered sin into the world, corrupting mankind’s
nature. So God provided immediate as well
as long-term solutions. He shed an animal’s
blood so that its skin might cover Adam and
Eve’s nakedness. In addition, He set into
motion events that would culminate in His
Son becoming the sacrificial Lamb of God.
As part of His plan, the heavenly Father
promised to bless the human race through
Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 26:4), a people
whom He set apart to serve Him. Despite
periods of enslavement, wandering, and
exile, the Israelites grew into a prominent
community with a radical belief in one God.
Later, the Macedonian Empire’s mandatory language (Greek) gave far-flung peoples
a common tongue. In addition, Jews long
separated from their homeland once again
had access to Scripture, thanks to translation
efforts. In another development, the Romans
built 50,000 miles of highway, facilitating the
gospel’s distribution throughout the world.
| The timing of Jesus’
EARLY LIGHT
birth was no accident. His ancestors’ lives
were woven into the redemption plan that culminated in Christ’s triumph over death. God
used both good and bad events to create the
perfect environment for maximum impact.
J
Jesus had to die
because God accepts
Christ,
onlyJesus
a perfect
sacrifice
the
Son
of
God,
as payment for sin.
willingly
leftreceived
heaven,
Have you
came
to
earth,
and
Him as your Savior?
took on human flesh
in order to be
our Savior. What a
reason to rejoice!
THE BIBLE IN
ONE YEAR
1 Corinthians 10-12
2
Tuesday
An Adoption Story
3
Wednesday
When God Is Silent
READ | Galatians 4:4-7
doption. The very word will cause an
orphan’s heart to swell with hope—
the hope of belonging, sharing a common
name, and receiving love. No wonder Paul
used such an engaging metaphor to illustrate
the importance of Jesus’ birth. The world was
then and is still filled with people desperate
for the intimacy of Father and family.
New Testament writers used a lot of imagery
about kinship. For instance, they wrote about
sons, heirs, and brothers and sisters of Christ
(Matt. 12:50; Gal. 4:7). The words remind
readers that those who have received Jesus as
Savior are set apart. No longer are believers
“sons of disobedience” or “children of wrath,”
but rather, they have been given a new name:
children of God (Eph. 2:2-3; 1 John 3:1). And
with that distinction come special privileges,
such as the right to call upon the Father.
God loves every person ever created, but
like any parent, He offers His children “familyonly” benefits. He responds to their prayers
(Luke 18:1-8). He provides for their needs
(Matt. 6:31-33). He holds a protective hand
over them (Prov. 18:10). In a word, He is
perfect. And this amazing Father desires to
build a personal relationship with each one
who is willing to be part of His family.
E A R L Y L I G H T | An orphanage is frequently a place of little hope, since only a
few kids receive adoption offers. Not so with
God. His family is open to all. The process is
simple—no forms to fill out and no waiting
period. Believe that Jesus Christ died for your
sins, and choose to surrender your life to His
will. Welcome to the family!
hen Lazarus was dying, his sisters
urgently called for Jesus. Imagine how
their grief must have compounded when He
didn’t instantly respond to their request.
God’s silence is difficult to accept. We want
Him to leap into action when we call, particularly if we are hurting or afraid. But since He
promises to meet our needs, we can be sure
that a silence from heaven has purpose.
Silence grabs our attention. The disciples
knew that Jesus could heal, so they must
have wondered why He delayed instead of
rushing to His friend’s bedside. But the Lord
wanted them to witness something even
greater: His power over death. They had been
confused by His statements about conquering death, and they needed to understand
that He could fulfill His own resurrection
prophecies (Mark 9:31-32). The miracle at
Lazarus’ tomb was part of their preparation.
Silence teaches us to trust. Mary and
Martha sent word of Lazarus’ illness because
they anticipated that the Lord would heal him.
But would their faith waver if that expectation
was not met? Martha answered the question
by stating, “I believe that you are the Christ”
(John 11:21-27 niv). The Lord rewarded the
women’s trust with a stunning miracle: their
brother’s return to life.
E A R L Y L I G H T | At times, the only thing
we can hear when we pray is our own breathing. That can be frustrating and frightening.
But Scripture says God is always with us, and
His silence will not last forever (Job 23:8-10;
Heb. 13:5). Cling to those promises as you
seek the purpose behind His silence.
THE BIBLE IN
ONE YEAR
THE BIBLE IN
ONE YEAR
A
1 Corinthians 13-16
READ | John 11:1-6
W
2 Corinthians 1-4
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| 33
4
Thursday
Persevering
Through Silence
5
Friday
Brokenness—
The Protest
READ | Job 23:16-17
esterday we noted that God always has
a purpose for being silent. I learned this
lesson—and its corollary—in college.
One day during my senior year, I prepared
to pray over a situation that would impact my
future. But as I got on my knees, I felt as if God
was suddenly gone. For three days and nights,
His presence seemed miles away. The fourth
evening, some friends gathered to intercede
on my behalf, but to no avail. Nearly defeated,
I was headed back to my room when I saw
my buddy Don’s light. I climbed through his
open window (the dorms were locked), and we
prayed until dawn. Still nothing.
I beseeched the Father all week. Then, at
last, He dramatically intervened in my life to
clearly dictate my next steps. The corollary is
this: When God is silent, keep on praying!
Far too many times, I have heard people
say they quit praying about a need because
there was no answer. Matthew 17:20 says
that faith the size of a mustard seed is able
to move mountains—then imagine how tiny
our trust must be when we give up on the
Lord! Believers cannot treat prayers like
quarters fed into a vending machine, which
gives an instant response. Talking to God
is a long-term investment in the intimate
friendship we have with Him.
E A R L Y L I G H T | Though God may be
silent for a time, He never ceases working
on our behalf. When the time is right, He
provides an outcome that aligns with His
perfect plan. Giving up before the Lord
responds to your call is a grave mistake. So
pray on, friends. Pray on!
READ | Jonah 1
he children’s story about Jonah and the
whale presents the prophet in a rather
rosy light: After three days in the fish’s belly,
he relents and goes merrily on to Nineveh.
End of story.
The Bible narrative has the same components (storm, big fish, repentant Ninevites) but
a totally different context. From the moment
Jonah chose to flee till the end of the book, his
heart was in rebellion against God.
The inhabitants of Nineveh were Assyrians,
a people known for their aggression and
cruelty. Since they were the sworn enemies
of Israel, Jonah had good reason to despise
them. However, God loved the Ninevites and
desired their repentance. The challenging task
of ministering to them carried an additional
purpose: breaking Jonah’s unloving spirit—
an attitude so strong that he preferred to die
rather than see the enemy saved (Jonah 4:3).
God longed to mold the prophet’s character
to reflect His own—He wanted a willing,
loving servant, but Jonah resisted at every
turn. Pride and hatred drove him ever deeper
into rebellion. Note that while he agreed to go
to Nineveh, he didn’t repent (Jonah 2:9). The
Lord wasn’t fooled; He knew Jonah’s heart
remained hard. So as the Ninevites rejoiced
over deliverance, their minister stewed in his
bitterness. Emotional and mental anguish
were high prices to pay for resistance.
| What keeps you from
EARLY LIGHT
serving the Lord fully? You probably already
know the area of your life He is trying to
break. The process is painful, but it’s done
for your good and His glory. Give in to Him.
THE BIBLE IN
ONE YEAR
THE BIBLE IN
ONE YEAR
Y
34
|
2 Corinthians 5-9
December 2008
In Touch
T
2 Corinthians 10-13
The Weekend
Abandoning
the Self-Life
8
Monday
A Prayer Burden
READ | Jonah 4
he believer’s self-life is composed of the
habits, attitudes, and relationships he or
she is unwilling to surrender. Keeping those
things from the Lord gives people a sense of
independence, which is highly prized in our
current culture. However, by following “self,”
we interfere with God’s purpose. He wants
every aspect of our life submitted to His will.
Jonah mistook rebellion for freedom.
The fourth chapter of his story paints a vivid
picture of the prophet sweltering in the sun—
and in the heat of his hatred. His blood boiled
when God showed mercy to the Ninevites. “I
have good reason to be angry, even to death,”
he ranted (v. 9). God had used him to save
more than 120,000 souls, but he was angry
because he desired their destruction.
Freedom is not the same as autonomy.
There is only one true liberty: walking in full
obedience to the Lord. Jonah obeyed with his
body but not with his heart. And his bitterness
shows that stubbornly clinging to our self-life
is a snare for the spirit. Unhealthy routines,
like thick weeds in our path, prevent us from
moving forward. So God is determined to
break us loose from any hindrance.
E A R L Y L I G H T | Sadly, Jonah resisted
the Lord’s every attempt to crack his pride.
Believers have the right to choose self over
submission, but the cost of doing so is high.
We may steep in emotional turmoil like
the prophet. Or God might deny us ministry
opportunities. Whatever the consequences,
one thing is certain: autonomy will cause
us to miss the blessing of intimacy with the
Lord—and nothing we value is worth that.
READ | Nehemiah 2:1-8
hristians use the word burden in an
unusual way. Instead of referring to a
physical load, believers speak of a spiritual
weight placed on their heart. In essence,
“I have a burden for her” means “I feel an
intense urge to pray for her.”
God makes a believer’s spirit heavy when
He wants his or her attention focused on a
certain matter. For example, He motivated an
exiled Israelite, Nehemiah, to intercede for the
Jewish remnant left vulnerable by Jerusalem’s
crumbling walls. The Lord already knew the
Israelites’ troubles, so He certainly didn’t need
this one man’s prayers. The burden was for
Nehemiah’s good. Allowing God to use him
as a conduit to help others boosted his faith.
Nehemiah tapped into a reservoir of compassion while on his knees. So great was his love
for his countrymen that he swallowed his fear
and revealed the need to the Persian king.
Calling us to bear each other’s burdens is
one way the Lord strengthens His church.
Human nature is such that we feel connected
with those we have helped. In a similar way,
an invisible thread ties us to the people for
whom we pray, even though they may never
hear of our intercession. God knits these
strands together so that many believers make
up one whole, which He calls “the body of
Christ” (Rom. 12:5).
E A R L Y L I G H T | Our heavenly Father is
looking for people willing to be burdened
for their brothers and sisters in the Lord.
I challenge you: make yourself available to
intercede on behalf of someone else. Blessing
the body of Christ is an awesome privilege.
THE BIBLE IN
ONE YEAR
THE BIBLE IN
ONE YEAR
T
Galatians 1-6
C
Ephesians 1-6
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9
Tuesday
Nation Builders
READ | Nehemiah 1
n Touch magazine makes its way into many
countries. So I am thinking globally when I
write this: Your nation needs your prayers.
Before a single stone was laid to rebuild
Jerusalem’s walls, Nehemiah began the work
on his knees before God. He fasted and
mourned over his motherland’s vulnerability. The soon-to-be construction foreman
then offered up a three-part prayer. First,
he confessed Israel’s sin; next, he reminded
the Lord of His promises to the faithful; and
finally, he requested success for his plans.
Like Nehemiah, all of us are to be nation
builders. His response to Israel’s situation
should be our template for fighting threats of
evil to our homelands. Perhaps you’ve never
thought to fast over a national crisis. Or you
may not know that you can intercede about
your countrymen’s disobedience to God. But
taking action to protect and serve others is a
believer’s responsibility (Matt. 25:35-40).
Some people argue that one individual’s
prayers or activities cannot make a dent
in a country’s problems. Nehemiah proved
otherwise. God used him to gather supplies
and organize the Jewish people to rebuild
Jerusalem’s walls in just 52 days (Neh. 6:15).
E A R L Y L I G H T | The effect of your intercession will likely be subtler than Nehemiah’s.
In fact, until you reach heaven, you may not
even know the impact. Countries are always
in flux, but steps of change are often so small
as to be imperceptible day to day. If we are to
build nations where the innocent are protected
and justice prevails, then we must begin as
Nehemiah did—on our knees.
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Wednesday
A Revolutionary
Announcement
READ | Acts 2:38-47
od raised [Jesus] up again,” declared
Peter in his first sermon (Acts 2:24).
Imagine what a revolutionary statement that
was. The assembled crowd knew of the Lord
and the miracles He’d performed. Some may
even have joined in shouting, “Crucify Him!”
(Matt. 27:22). Yet here was one of Jesus’ own
followers, claiming that the Christ couldn’t
be held down by death’s power.
The disciples’ early accounts of the Lord’s
resurrection were treated as idle tales told
by desperate men. But Pentecost was a new
day. The crowd witnessed something historic
as each person heard the gospel in his or
her own language (Acts 2:11-12). God visited
mankind in a way He’d never done before.
The revolution sparked by the Holy Spirit
that day spread across the world and into
the modern era, transforming cultures as
well as individuals. Revival began in 3,000
hearts smitten with remorse at the news
of the Messiah’s death. Those new believers
underwent baptism—a public “statement”
that Jesus was the Savior, who died for their
sins, rose again, ascended into heaven, and
took His place at God’s right hand. Their
conversion also caused change within their
communities, as they lived out the gospel
message of compassion and love. E A R L Y L I G H T | The revolution continues.
God sees to it that all people who are open to
the gospel will receive it in a language they
can understand. Are you a changed person
because you have heard that Jesus is alive?
If not, now is the time to let this truth transform you.
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Thursday
Preaching Like Peter
12
Friday
The Virgin Birth:
Does It Matter?
READ | Acts 2:14-36
eter’s first sermon takes less than three
minutes to recite. Sharing the gospel
doesn’t need to be complicated or lengthy.
In fact, Peter’s message contains a formula
we can use to outline our own testimonies.
Preparation. The disciple relied heavily
on the Scriptures to make his case for Christ.
But Peter knew there was another important
element—after being miraculously enabled
to proclaim the gospel in multiple languages,
he must have realized the significance of the
Holy Spirit. No matter how persuasive a man’s
message is, only the Spirit can open the door
to unbelieving hearts and minds.
The Savior’s Credentials and Purpose.
Peter identified Jesus as God’s Son. He cited
the “miracles and wonders and signs” that
validated Him as the promised Messiah
(Acts 2:22). Then the disciple made clear
Jesus’ foreordained mission on earth: to die
for mankind’s sin. Christ willingly submitted
to the task assigned by His Father.
A Personal Invitation. Peter wasn’t shy
about convicting the hearts of his audience.
“This Man . . . you nailed to a cross,” he said
(v. 23). The new preacher made sure listeners knew their responsibility in the Messiah’s
death, but then gave the exciting news that
Christ was alive. Those who believed were
invited to repent and be baptized in Jesus’
name. No gospel message is complete without
telling people how they, too, can be saved.
E A R L Y L I G H T | Witnessing to others can
be intimidating. But if you are prayerful and
prepared, sharing your faith will be rewarding, regardless of the outcome.
READ | Isaiah 7:14
he virgin birth—like Jesus’ resurrection
from the dead—ranks as one of the
Bible’s more amazing miracles. Many people
reject the idea outright, while others shrug
it off as nonessential to their understanding
of the Savior. But a person can’t believe the
Word of God while rejecting its claim that
the Lord was born to a virgin.
Scripture is emphatic about the nature of
Jesus’ unusual conception. It is mentioned in
both the Old Testament and the Gospels.
In Genesis 3:15, God warned the serpent that
enmity would exist between Eve’s seed and
his. The choice of words is meant to catch
the reader’s attention, since a woman does
not have “seed.” Later, through Isaiah, God
speaks a clear prophecy: “Behold, a virgin will
be with child and bear a son” (Isa. 7:14).
When Matthew recorded Jesus’ genealogy,
he crafted a sentence that paid tribute to
Mary—not Joseph—as Jesus’ biological
parent (Matt. 1:16). Then, Luke’s gospel
relates Mary’s encounter with the angel
Gabriel, who explained that the Holy Spirit
would place God’s Son in her womb (1:35).
The heavenly Father saw to it that the biblical writers gave an accurate account of this
awesome event.
E A R L Y L I G H T | Simply stated, rejecting
the virgin birth is the equivalent of calling
God a liar. The Bible is His revealed Word
(2 Tim. 3:15). Suggesting one portion is false
places the whole document under suspicion.
Therefore, in answer to the question posed
in the devotion’s title, yes, belief in the virgin
birth does matter.
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A Perfect Sacrifice
15
Monday
God-Pleasing
Generosity
READ | Leviticus 22:17-21
n the Law, God gave the Jews strict rules
about sacrificial animals. Each was to be
without defect, or He wouldn’t accept it—in
fact, when the Israelites offered blind, lame,
and sick animals, the Lord angrily called them
to account (Mal. 1:8). The early system of
spilling blood to cover sin foreshadowed the
Father’s ultimate redemption plan: He gave
His Son to die in the place of corrupt men and
women (John 3:16).
To be acceptable, the final sacrifice had to
be perfect too. The Father’s plan required that
a man be sacrificed; however, only a member
of the Trinity could remain sinless in life on
earth. The other dilemma was that a being is
either divine or not—divinity could not be
bestowed on a child after birth. That is, the
sacrificial Lamb had to be both God and man
from the moment of conception (John 1:29).
So Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
since His earthly father could not be human.
The virgin conception and birth preserved
Jesus’ divine nature. His shift from heaven to
the womb happened in an instant and was
done without human intervention. Therefore,
unlike every child born of a woman and a
man, Jesus was not corrupted by Adam’s sin.
E A R L Y L I G H T | Jesus was the perfect
Lamb, unblemished in every way. Therefore,
God accepted Christ’s sacrifice. The way we
lay claim to the offering made on our behalf
is by trusting in Him. Denying that Mary
was a virgin is not an option for believers.
Our salvation depends upon Jesus’ flawless
nature because, as God made clear to the
Israelites, only a perfect sacrifice will do.
READ | 2 Corinthians 8:1-7
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aul’s second letter to the Corinthian
church praises the Macedonian believers
at Philippi for their generosity. Despite deep
poverty and great troubles, they desired to
bless others materially. From their example,
we know God is pleased when we give . . .
1. According to divine revelation. The Lord
has revealed in Scripture how we are to live.
He wants us to base our decisions on biblical
principles rather than on our own thinking.
Looking solely at a paycheck or bank balance
before determining the size of a donation is
relying on “self,” not trusting God.
2. Out of our need. The Macedonians were
poor, but they didn’t let that keep them from
contributing. They gave out of the little they
had. The widow who gave her last two copper
coins was praised for her offering to the Lord
(Mark 12:42-44). We don’t need to have extra
money in order to give.
3. To those who spiritually nourish us.
The Bible tells us to bring our gifts to the
local church, where it can be used to further
God’s work. The apostle Paul and others
were able to evangelize because of the support provided by the church in Jerusalem.
Recognizing that they owed those believers a
debt, the Macedonian Christians desired to
give something back. E A R L Y L I G H T | Human reasoning tells
us that we cannot part with our funds when
debt seems too large or income too small.
But the Scriptures tell us to trust the Lord
to provide for our needs (Phil. 4:19)—and to
give generously. Are you living according
to these principles?
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Tuesday
God’s Way to Give
17
Wednesday
Consequences of
Unforgiveness
READ | 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
ur heavenly Father knows what our
income is and how He would like us to
spend it. He also desires that we demonstrate
certain heart attitudes in our giving. These
include faith, compassion, and generosity.
It takes faith to give before our own needs
are met. The Macedonians at Philippi were
experiencing deep poverty, but they still
longed to contribute. Their behavior revealed
a deep trust in the Lord’s provision.
Compassion is also vital. This heart attitude
cares about others and wants to bless them.
The Philippian church saw Paul’s situation
and longed to help (Phil. 4:16). The Lord is
pleased when we love one another and share
from what we have.
The Macedonian believers were also generous. Though in great need themselves, they
begged for the privilege of contributing to the
collection for the Jerusalem church.
Consider how greatly we have benefited
from the generosity of our heavenly Father.
He provided His Son Jesus to take our sins
upon Himself and die in our place. He has
adopted us into His family, made us co-heirs
with Christ, and prepared for us a permanent
home in heaven with Him. And in this life,
His Holy Spirit provides everything we need
for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). As we
make our Christmas plans, let’s be generous
towards others, just as God has been to us.
E A R L Y L I G H T | As we study biblical
principles about how to handle money,
God’s Holy Spirit will help us put them into
practice. Obedience to the Word will bring
spiritual blessing (Luke 6:38).
READ | Hebrews 12:14-15
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cripture stresses the importance of pardoning those who have offended us. While
it may feel natural to pull away from hurtful
people, refusing to forgive has consequences
far worse than the pain of being wronged.
Unforgiveness . . .
• Harms family interactions. Have you
ever tried to maintain a growing relationship
with an individual who’s rooted in bitterness?
You can’t do it, because that person is fixated
on his unhealthy feelings about someone else.
Moreover, it’s hard to spend time with anyone
consumed by bitterness, because such people
simply cease being likable.
• Hinders prayer life. Unforgiveness is sin,
and unconfessed sin creates “static” in our
relationship with God. So we must forgive others before prayer or worship (Matt. 5:23-24).
• Damages one’s personal witness. The
highlight of your testimony is salvation, which
centers around the truth that the Lord has
forgiven all your sins. How can you stress the
importance of this if your listener can’t see
even a hint of forgiveness in your own life?
• Thwarts spiritual growth. God will not
bless sinful actions. And so, if you are living a
life mired in unforgiveness, you cannot expect
Him to shower you with His blessings. By persisting in disobedience, you disrupt intimate
fellowship with the Lord and put yourself in a
dangerous, weak position.
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| Is there anyone you
need to forgive today? Don’t let another
night pass without granting that forgiveness.
There is more at stake here than you may
have realized.
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18
Thursday
How to Deal With
Unforgiveness
READ | Matthew 6:9-15
19
Friday
Giving Thanks
in the Midst of Trials
cripture clearly teaches that we are to
forgive those who hurt us. So let’s identify
practical ways to confront the matter of unforgiveness head-on. You may want to keep this
list in your Bible or close by for easy review.
1. Take it seriously. Unforgiveness is a major
issue that shouldn’t be casually dismissed.
2. Assume full responsibility. Don’t blame
anyone else for your feelings or actions.
3. Confess it honestly. Be specific and direct
with God about what you feel, and acknowledge that unforgiveness is sin. Don’t “soften”
the matter or let yourself off the hook.
4. Lay down your anger. Unless you deal
with your resentment, bitterness can re-enter
your life later on.
5. Pray for the other person. This may feel
impossible or unnatural, but do it anyway.
Praying is a choice to act lovingly, regardless
of how you are treated. This will impact your
entire relationship.
6. Ask that individual to forgive you. If the
other person knows that you’ve been harboring bitterness, you need to ask for his or her
forgiveness.
7. Do something nice for that person. Let
a loving gesture demonstrate your desire to
restore the relationship.
8. Don’t allow Satan to throw you back
into unforgiveness. Once the matter is resolved,
watch out for stray thoughts that could stir up
memories of how the other person hurt you.
E A R L Y L I G H T | This process isn’t easy,
but it works. If you go through these steps
every time you are hurt, God will truly work
miracles in your relationships.
READ | Romans 8:26-27
s the apostle Paul sought to spread the
gospel, he experienced suffering, unjust
treatment, and deprivation (2 Cor. 11:24-27).
But that didn’t stop him from giving thanks
to God in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18).
In Romans 8, Paul gave us some powerful
reasons for being encouraged in hard times.
We have the promise of divine . . .
Intercession. In times of weakness, when
we are overcome with weariness or unsure
of what to do, the Holy Spirit speaks to the
Father on our behalf. Our indwelling Guide is
committed to supporting us, and His prayers
always fit God’s will. What’s more, our Savior
intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25). We’re never left
on our own or forgotten.
Intervention. The Spirit acts as a supernatural
shepherd who watches over us and directs us
in the way we should go. He always works in
accordance with God’s plan to transform us
into the image of Christ. His efforts focus first
on our inner life so we will develop the same
attitudes that Jesus had. Once we have these
new patterns of thinking, He teaches us how
to respond to people and crises in ways that
both glorify the Lord and benefit us. Learning
to meet life’s trials with a peaceful heart and
a worry-free mind are of great value.
E A R L Y L I G H T | Do your circumstances
seem like too much to handle? Remember: As
believers, we live under the umbrella of our
Father’s constant watchful care, regardless
of what life may throw our way. Jesus is continuously praying for us, and the Holy Spirit
is working all things together for our good.
These are excellent reasons to give thanks.
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The Weekend
When Life Seems
Out of Control
22
Monday
Immanuel—
God Is With Us
READ | Romans 8:28-30
e all have experienced seasons when
life just seems to spin out of control.
Sometimes people don’t cooperate with us
and become an obstacle to our goals. At other
times, we are squeezed by overcommitment.
Perhaps an illness interrupts our plans or an
unexpected situation throws us off balance.
None of these things take God by surprise.
Our all-knowing heavenly Father will use
the events of life to shape us internally and
externally (Ps. 147:5).
Let me give you an analogy to show how
the Father works. Imagine a chess game in
which one contestant is a master and the
other is an amateur. The champion chess
player wants to teach the other person how
to play. But he never forces the beginner to
move a particular piece. Instead, he allows
the amateur to make his own decisions and
then responds accordingly. The inexperienced
player knows only some simple strategies
and lacks the experience to see several moves
ahead. He makes many mistakes along the
way. The champion understands the game
so well that he can anticipate the result of
every move. In this way, he is able to guide
the game to the conclusion he has chosen.
E A R L Y L I G H T | In our case, the Father
desires to transform us into the image of
His Son Jesus. He knows we are beginners
who will make some right choices and some
poor ones. But He is the master with the
knowledge and ability to work all things
together for our good. Because of this, we
need not be discouraged. The Lord is always
at work for our benefit.
READ | Matthew 1:18-25
ames have great significance in the Bible.
Jesus was called Messiah in Hebrew,
which is translated as Christ in Greek. The
terms both pointed to Him as an anointed
One who would become King. Immanuel was
another important name He was given. It
means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).
To understand the difference it makes to
have God with us, consider how this blessing
affected three biblical leaders. First of all,
the Lord’s presence was the reason Moses
repeatedly approached Pharaoh to demand
the release of the Israelite slaves—God’s
promise enabled him to overcome his fear
(Ex. 3:12).
Second, after Moses’ death, Joshua was
appointed to take Israel into the Promised
Land. Imagine what it meant to this new
leader to realize that the Father was always
near. As commander, Joshua would face
many challenges, including travel, combat,
and rebellion. He could be a courageous
leader because he knew that the Lord would
never leave him.
Third, as a young shepherd boy and later
as king, David knew the Lord’s presence well
(1 Sam17:37; 2 Sam. 7:18). In Psalm 23, he
wrote that in his darkest times, he would not
fear evil because God was with him.
E A R L Y L I G H T | Our Father has pledged
to be with all those whom He has redeemed
(Isa. 43:1-2). If you have received Jesus as
your personal Savior, then His Holy Spirit
dwells within you. No matter what happens in your life, God remains with you to
strengthen, guide, and comfort.
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Tuesday
Immanuel—
Christ in You
24
Wednesday
Divine Joy
READ | John 14:16-20
hen Jesus Christ was born, God in
human flesh dwelt among mankind.
The long-awaited Messiah had come into the
world. Immanuel was here.
The news was given first to the shepherds,
who hurried to see this God-man for themselves. From there, they spread the word that
a Savior has been born (Luke 2:20). What a
momentous day! God had sent His Son into
the world to live among the people.
For 30 years, Jesus lived in obscurity—till
the Father’s appointed time for Him to begin
His work. Then for three years, He ministered among Jews and Gentiles, teaching and
preaching to whoever would listen. In the end,
His message and His person were rejected;
He was crucified on a cross and buried in a
tomb. It appeared that Immanuel was gone.
However, the resurrection proved that was
wrong. And then on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit
was given to all believers (Acts 2:1, 4) just as
Jesus had promised. The Lord’s Spirit would
now live within them forever, guiding them
into all truth and leading them in the way
they were to go. The promise was not just
for the disciples but for every person who
chooses to trust in Jesus.
E A R L Y L I G H T | If you’ve acknowledged
that you are a sinner and accepted Christ’s
payment for the penalty you owe, the Spirit
now lives in you. Through Him, you have an
intimate connection with God. Take time to
dwell on the divine mystery of Christ in you.
Let the knowledge of His constant presence
transform loneliness into comfort, fear into
faith, and weakness into strength.
READ | John 15:5-11
n John 15, Jesus described our relationship
with Him as branches connected to the true
vine. In a vineyard, grapes are produced when
the plant’s sap runs through its branches.
As Christ’s life-giving Spirit flows through
us, spiritual fruit will develop. This includes
divine joy (Gal. 5:22-23).
To experience this deep spiritual contentment, we must stay closely connected with
the Lord. Jesus often slipped away so He and
the Father could have intimate communion
(Mark 1:35). He was able to endure much
because of His fellowship with God and the
joy He knew was to come (Heb. 12:2). In a
similar way, the apostle Paul overflowed with
joy even when he suffered (2 Cor. 7:4). He
described a Christian’s connection with God
this way: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in
me.” (Gal. 2:20 niv).
Joy will increase when we follow Paul’s
example and focus on Jesus rather than on
ourselves or our circumstances. The more
we abide in Him, the greater our spiritual
happiness will be. Our initial reaction to
hardship may be discouragement or overwhelming pain. But if we fix our attention
on Him and commune with His Spirit, our
sense of peace will return. Remember, the
Lord promised that His joy would be in us
fully when we rest in Him.
E A R L Y L I G H T | What a powerful witness
we’ll have when the Lord’s joy flows in and
through us. It’s not an earthly happiness but
a divine contentment that the Holy Spirit
produces in us. Let spiritual joy permeate all
you do and say.
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1 John 1-5
25
Thursday
Good News
of Great Joy
26
Friday
Brokenness: The Way
to Blessing
READ | Luke 2:8-14
hen an angel of the Lord appeared
to the shepherds in the field, he gave
them good news of great joy for all people:
The long-awaited Savior was born! Then the
angel was suddenly “joined by a vast host
of others—the armies of heaven—praising
God” (Luke 2:13 nlt).
The good news they proclaimed that day
had to do with much more than Jesus’ birth.
It anticipated His sinless life, which qualified
Him to be God’s sacrificial lamb. It looked
ahead to His crucifixion on our behalf and
His resurrection, which signaled the Father’s
acceptance of Christ’s payment for our sins.
The announcement also encompassed the
idea of His ascension into heaven (Ps. 110:1).
And it envisioned the day of Pentecost, when
the Spirit would indwell believers (Joel 2:28;
Acts 2:17), as well as the time Jesus would
return as King. The angels rejoiced because
the day of salvation was here (2 Cor. 6:2).
Jesus spoke about spiritual joy because He
wanted His followers to experience the deep
satisfaction that derives from a relationship
with God. Such divine contentment is not
dependent upon outward circumstances but
overflows from the Spirit’s presence. Earthly
happiness is externally produced and temporary. Divine joy is internally generated
through the work of the Holy Spirit.
E A R L Y L I G H T | The angels in heaven
rejoiced at the announcement of Jesus’ birth,
and the shepherds praised God. Have you
thanked the Lord today for your salvation?
Are you experiencing the divine joy that
overflows from a Spirit-filled life?
READ | 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
o one enjoys heartache. Yet God uses
pain to mold His children. Although
wonderful, happy times feel great, times of
suffering tend to produce growth.
Brokenness is God’s way of dealing with
the part of us that wants to act independently
of Him. He targets areas that hinder His purposes. Then skillfully and lovingly, our Father
arranges circumstances that will allow us
enough discomfort to realize our dependence
upon Him.
The apostle Paul experienced this. After
being saved on the road to Damascus, he still
needed spiritual growth in order to be most
effective for Christ. Therefore, God allowed
some type of affliction, which the apostle
termed a “thorn.” Three different times, he
pleaded with the Lord for its removal, but the
thorn remained. Remarkably, Paul’s response
was gratitude. Even more, he wrote, “That is
why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses,
in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in
difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am
strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Like Paul, we can dislike suffering and yet
still be confident that God is growing us. His
purpose is that we walk in intimate oneness
with Him and serve effectively according to
His purpose and will. To accomplish this, He
has to break us of our rebellion, resistance,
and self-will.
E A R L Y L I G H T | If you truly desire to live
for Jesus, trust Him enough to pray, “Lord,
more than anything else in life, I want to live
for You. Please break me of any areas that
are not in complete submission to Your will.”
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Monday
A Realistic View
of Life
READ | 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
esterday we learned about brokenness
as a tool the Lord uses to mold us into
His likeness. As believers, we should desire
this outcome, and yet the process is a
painful one. That’s why our heavenly Father
gives encouragement in a number of ways.
First, the Lord breaks us in love. Believers
are His children; as parents lovingly redirect
their sons and daughters, God does so with
us. He never allows suffering out of anger.
Second, He sets a limit on our suffering,
controlling the pressure to be sure it’s never
more than we can bear (2 Cor. 4:8). Our
Father knows exactly what is needed to
break our stubbornness, rebellion, and selfishness, but He will never break our spirit.
Third, God brings clarity through difficult
times. As we learn that His ways are higher
than ours, we gain greater understanding of
His amazing attributes. At the same time,
our self-awareness starts to sharpen, and old,
unproductive thought patterns begin to fade.
Fourth, God promises that He will never
desert us. Brokenness can feel lonely and
empty, as we are losing the things that once
captured our loyalty. But our Father replaces
those with Himself—and He is vastly more
satisfying and dependable.
Fifth, the Lord is always patient. He knows
our background and deeply rooted thought
patterns. Yet He also sees the end result and
knows that the journey is worth it.
E A R L Y L I G H T | When you face hardship, remember God’s promises and keep
your eyes fixed on the goal. He has your best
interest in mind, so seek His lesson for you.
READ | 2 Timothy 4:6-8
ur culture desperately tries to postpone
death. Vitamins, exercise, and wise diets
are ways we try to live as long as possible.
Not that these things are bad! Our motive,
however, is key. For instance, knowing that
our bodies are God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16), we
should take care of His dwelling. And since
He has good works for us to do (Eph. 2:10),
we should stay fit to complete His tasks.
On the other hand, prolonging life for
fear of dying isn’t of God. Because Jesus died
in our place, those who have faith in Him as
Lord and Savior need not fear death. Once
saved, we have assurance of a real place
where we will live eternally in His presence.
The Bible teaches that fear isn’t from God
(2 Tim. 1:7). In fact, the apostle Paul assures
us that, far from being a dreadful change,
physical death actually leads believers home
to be with the Lord forever (2 Cor. 5:8).
God already knows the duration of each
person’s life. With this in mind, how can we
best prepare for what’s next? The first step is
to receive Jesus as Savior through faith. Next,
we should live a surrendered life and strive
to walk according to His will. Furthermore,
it is vital that believers fight the tendency to
view this world as “home.” If we become too
comfortable here, finding our security and
worth in earthly success, we won’t be able to
maintain an eternal perspective.
E A R L Y L I G H T | It is an inescapable fact
that life on earth is temporary. It would be
foolish not to prepare for something inevitable. How can you best live so that you are
ready when God decides it is time?
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Revelation 5-9
December 2008
In Touch
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Revelation 10-13
30
Tuesday
Ending Well
31
Wednesday
The Bible: God’s
Voice Today
READ | Luke 12:15-21
oday’s passage is about a rich man who
made poor use of his days. Incorrectly
assuming that his life would last for many
years, he not only left God out of His plans
but also allowed materialism to guide him.
The apostle Paul, on the other hand, knew
his time was short and yet made the most of
His life on earth. For one thing, his priority
was to give to others until his final days. His
letters from prison illustrate this—despite
knowing he would soon face death, Paul
devoted his time and energy to instructing
fellow believers and praying for them.
Paul also recognized the value of time
spent encouraging Christians to do everything as if for the Lord (Col. 3:23). This
is important even when one’s task seems
unrelated to the church. Our Father’s work
isn’t just for missionaries and pastors; He
calls all His children to different fields and
assignments.
The apostle also knew that the Christian life
encompasses struggles. And he was realistic
about acknowledging his own imperfections
(Rom. 7:5-25). This meant that to make the
best use of his time, he needed to persevere,
keep faith in God’s promises, and rely on
divine power for victory. And indeed, at the
end of his life, Paul was able to say, “I have
fought the good fight, I have finished the
course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
E A R L Y L I G H T | Life is a gift. Every one
of us has a limited number of days on this
earth. How will you utilize your time so you
can look back and, with Paul, confidently say
that you ended well?
READ | 2 Timothy 3:16
n biblical times, God spoke in many dramatic ways. Although He still speaks today,
His methods have changed. Therefore, we
can’t expect Him to speak in an audible voice
or send an angelic messenger every time He
has something to say. We must learn how to
perceive His voice today.
Today our Father speaks to us primarily
through His written Word—we have His
complete revelation within this Book. There
is not a single thing missing that He needs to
add. Why? Because He has already revealed
His Word perfectly to those whom He inspired
to write it down. This is not a book written
by human beings; the Holy Spirit of God
literally breathed His truth upon the minds
of certain men so that they could record it
(2 Tim. 3:16).
The Bible is God’s way of speaking to our
pressing needs, concerns, heartaches, and
worries. So often when trouble strikes, we
turn here or there, talking to some friend
or counselor. All of that is well and good,
and the Father does indeed speak through
godly men and women. But the first place
we should turn is to His Word.
The Lord has given us this Book so that
we might know His mind—which requires
consistently spending time in the Word. If
you pick up the Bible only when you have a
question or emergency, then you’ll never get
the big picture of what God wants to say.
E A R L Y L I G H T | Scripture is a treasure
trove of God’s thoughts. Spend time there
every day—starting today—mining it for
new truths and insights.
THE BIBLE IN
ONE YEAR
THE BIBLE IN
ONE YEAR
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Revelation 14-17
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Revelation 18-22
www.intouch.org
| 45
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