The Blog

January 17, 2018

The Gospel of Mark is succinct, as it doesn’t start with Jesus’ birth narrative. It starts with Isaiah’s prophecy of the one crying out in the wilderness. John the Baptizer appears in verse four and Jesus, as an adult, in verse nine. By verse fourteen, Jesus has been baptized and driven into the wilderness, and John has been arrested. Out of breath, we hear Jesus call his first disciples, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Simon and Andrew immediately leave their nets and follow Jesus. Have you ever made such a quick decision?  The word “immediately” is a favorite of Mark’s and throughout his gospel it makes appearances often.  Yet, most of us respond to life more measured. We assess, we analyze, we seek counsel, we stew, and finally after serious thought we still may not make a decision, deciding the weight of the decision needs more time. Immediately Simon, Andrew, James, and John followed Jesus. What about you? What are you waiting for? Have you heard Jesus call and say, “Follow me?” Yet, you are still not sure if you want to go all in. Sure, Jesus can have Sunday mornings or evenings for worship. Yet, what about the other hours of the week? What does it mean to follow Jesus anyway? Simon, Andrew, James, and John didn’t know what it would mean to follow Jesus either, yet they did and their lives were adventures of grand portions.  They could have played it safe and said, “No thanks.”  Yet, they risked following Jesus. What about you?  Will you play it safe or will you risk an adventure?

Prayer

Calling God, I have heard your voice, but I often waver in my response. I don’t do immediately well.  I like to weigh consequences, before I disrupt my comfortable routines. I admit that following you scares me at times, because I don’t know where you will lead me.  Calling God, help me to follow, trusting that you will always go before me and go with me. Amen.

 

January 10, 2018

How have you experienced the voice of God in your life? In the Gospel of Mark, a voice came from heaven as Jesus’ head was breaking the surface of the waters where John had baptized him in the Jordan, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased.” The psalmist recounts that the voice of the Lord is over the waters, breaks the cedars, flashes forth flames, and shakes the wilderness. These images suggest as the psalmist said, “The voice of God is powerful.” Another psalm also suggests that we should be still to know that God is God.  The voice of God is expressed in many ways throughout scripture. Audible words from God descending from heaven have not been my experience, but I have heard God’s voice through the wisdom of others, through the language of the natural world and by stilling my mind and heart before the mystery I call God. How might we attune our hearts and minds to the cadence of God’s love for us? Is it possible that God is saying to us, “You are my beloved?”

Prayer

Speaking God, the noise in our lives often drowns out your voice. Distractions clamor for our attention. Attune our hearts and minds to your cadence of love, even if it shakes us awake and calls us into the world around us, for we are created in love to be your love into this world. Amen.

Saturday, January 6, 2018       Epiphany

This is the last daily post, until the Lenten Season, which begins Ash Wednesday, February 14th. These posts will be weekly in between, starting on Wednesday, January 10th.

“Arise, your light is come! The Spirit’s call obey; show forth the glory of your God, which shines on you today.” “Arise, your light is come! The mountains burst in song! Rise up like eagles on the wing; God’s power will make you strong. (Arise, Your Light is Come! – Verses 1 and 4)

As a church, Epiphany is the celebration of the encounter of Christ with the Magi, the wise ones bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. “Arise, your light is come!” Christ has been revealed to the Gentiles, to all. Arise people of God. Arise and shine. Arise and show forth the glory of God with your very life. As this New year continues to unfold, how will you arise and shine? How is God calling you to use your time, talents, resources or energy in bearing Christ’s light into the world? It might be in befriending an individual struggling with homelessness. It might be sharing your musical gifts in worship. It might be caring for your extended family as life presses in for them. It might be in the way you interact with those you encounter on a daily basis. It might be as a volunteer in a local elementary school, an assisted living facility, or on a local non-profit board or at Smiley library. The good news according to Isaiah is that God’s power will make us strong, as God goes with us wherever we go.  God actually goes before us, for God is already at work in this world. God paves the way for us to make a difference in the places where we are called to arise and shine! People of God, now is the time to arise and shine! 

Prayer

God of glory, on this day of Epiphany help me to realize with greater clarity that I am one of your beloved children. I am loved and therefore raised to arise and shine forth your love. Make me strong by your strength alone.  Shine forth from my life, O God, I pray. I will arise and obey the Spirit’s call on my life. Amen.

Friday, January 5, 2018

“Rejoice, Rejoice, take heart in the night. Though dark the winter and cheerless, the rising sun shall crown you with light; be strong and loving and fearless. Love be our song and love our prayer and love our endless story; May God fill every day we share and bring us at last into glory.” (Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn! – Verse 4)

What a wonderful charge for this New Year, “Be strong and loving and fearless!” It reminds me of God’s charge to Joshua as the people of God were poised to enter the Promised Land, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord God is with you wherever you go.” Do you feel strong? Do you sense God’s presence within you as you walk through life?  Is love your song, your prayer and your endless story? God tore open the heavens and love came down. “Christ is born,” we declared just days ago. Emmanuel, God is with us. Yet, are we fearless? The miracle of Christmas may already seem like a distant memory, yet we sang, “Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.” Jesus is Lord. God is Sovereign. Rejoice people of God, for the end of the story is already written, “Love conquers all.” This is good news, so take heart even though the winter may be dark and cheerless. Be strong and loving and fearless, O people of God!

Prayer

Loving God, I still marvel at the truth that you chose to enter into this world as a babe in Bethlehem.  Your love for me astounds me. Help me to fully rest in your love, as I enter into the everyday places and situations of my life that require fearless resolve to bear your love into this world. Help me be strong and fearless in loving others, as you love me. Amen.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

“Christ, eternal Sun of justice, Christ, the rose of wisdom’s seed, come to bless with fire and fragrance hours of yearning, hurt, and need. In the lonely, in the stranger, in the outcast, hid from view: Child who comes to grace the manger, teach our hearts to welcome you.” (Now the Heavens Start to Whisper)

This Child who comes to grace the manger sparks our imaginations. Christ as eternal Sun of justice. Christ as the rose of wisdom’s seed. Christ who comes to bless us in the midst of our yearning, hurt, and need. This New Year, what are yearning for? Where is hurt still raw? What is your greatest need?  What in your life needs to be blessed by a purifying fire? What blessing would be like a fragrant rose for you? Frederick Buechner writes, ““Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Each day heaven starts to whisper into our hearts, if only we will listen. Christ, teach our hearts to listen, so that we might welcome you ever more fully into the grace which life is.

 Prayer

Christ, the rose of wisdom’s seed, teach me to listen deeply to your movement in my life. Help me to see your abundant blessings. Help me to sense your presence when I feel lonely or hid from view. Restore to me the grace of life itself and sustain in me a willing and teachable spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

“How vast is our God’s dominion! How far truth and mercy extend. The zeal of the Lord will accomplish its purpose: justice shall reign without end. His name is Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Father forever, Prince of Peace.” (The People Who Walked in Darkness – Verse 5)

The New Year is only three days old, but I imagine the festivities of the holidays are already fading. The routines of life are already pressing in and the wonders of the season may have already been boxed and shelved.  So, how do we keep a sense of wonder all year, not just for a few weeks a year?  I suggest we mediate on the words of this hymn, “How vast is our God’s dominion! How far truth and mercy extend.” Take a moment to remember that the sun is 93,000,000 miles from us. The nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, is 25 trillion miles away from us. In the routines of our days, we forget the vastness of God’s dominion! We forget how far God’s truth and mercy extend, for the psalmist writes, “O Lord, our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” God’s dominion is vast, yet God is mindful of each and every one of us. This is good news for the day and for all days.

Prayer

God of the universe, how can you possibly be concerned about me? Yet, your love tore open the heavens and came down. I am humbled by your love for me. O God, set your seal upon my heart and live in me. Amen.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

“The people who walked in darkness awaken to see a great light. The people who dwelt in the land of the shadow rise to a star shining bright. His name is Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Father forever, Prince of Peace.” (The People Who Walked in Darkness – Verse 1)

In this hymn, Jesus is described as a great light and a star shining bright. Then the refrain from Isaiah rings out, “Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Father forever, Prince of Peace.” How would you describe Jesus?  What image, title or metaphor would convey the essence of who Christ is for you? How have you experienced Christ in your life? I attended my first Feast of Lights at the University of Redlands this past December. I now know why it is called the Feast of Lights! The chapel lights are dimmed and darkness descends, but there is One solitary candle aflame. From this One light, as words are read and beautiful music fills the spacious hall, candle after candle is set aflame. The sea of candles radiating light from the One is glorious.   Christ is the Light, the Perfect Light. Will we receive the Light into our lives? Will we bear this Perfect Light into the world?

Prayer

Dear Jesus, I am in awe of your many names, of the many ways in which you reach out to me and to all of humanity.  Help me to experience the breadth and depth, the height and width of your love, for you are the Good Shepherd, the light of the world, the true bread from heaven, and the resurrection and life. Amen. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

I danced in the morning when the world was begun, and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun, and I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth at Bethlehem I had my birth. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he, and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he. (I Danced in the Morning)

A new dance begins today, on this first calendar day of the New Year. I don’t know if you are glad that 2017 is now history or if 2018 is pregnant with possibilities for you. I only know that this song reminds us to “Dance, then, wherever you may be.” Wherever life finds us and takes us this year, the words of this refrain remind us to follow Christ’s lead.  This song takes us from the day the world began to the day when Christ conquered death singing, “I am the life that will never, never die.”  The fifth verse continues with these words, “I’ll live in you, if you’ll live in me.” This is our invitation for the year before us. Christ invites us to live in Christ. Christ doesn’t coerce or force us. Christ is the Lord of this Dance called life and when we dance together life is realized in all its fullness.  If you are in need of dance lessons, may I suggest you seek a spiritual friend. Someone who is willing to dance with you wherever you may be.  When two or three are gathered, Christ says, I am there with you. Let’s dance our way into this New Year!  

Prayer

Lord of the Dance, I admit I may need some dance lessons. Too often I like to go it alone or to take the lead. I forget that you offer to lead.  As this New Year unfolds bring people into my life that will help me see the beauty in my dance with your lead.  Amen.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

“Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and Life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die, born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth. Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King.’” (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Verse 3 with refrain)

“Light and Life to all he brings!” Do you believe this?  Do you claim this truth for your life on this last day of the year?  Do you trust that Christ will be your Light and Life for the New Year to come? We sang, “Born that we no more may die… born to give us second births.” Have you noticed that many of the carols include images of the cradle as well as the cross, Bethlehem as well as Golgotha. Even the empty tomb is present in this carol, “born to give us second birth.” The power of the resurrection is not limited to Christ. That same power is at work in the world. We can be born again with each new day, with each new year, for God’s mercy is new every morning. Let’s not waste our second births!  Let us be a healing presence in our world by sharing God’s love generously with others.

 Prayer

Prince of Peace, prepare me to welcome the New Year with hope. Sun of Righteousness, lead me in right paths. Light and Life, call forth my commitment to live fully and faithfully, for with you all things are possible. Give me the freedom to dream dreams. Give me the courage to act on those dreams.  Thank you for your abiding presence this day and always. Amen.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

“All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace; Good will to all from highest heaven begin and never cease, begin and never cease.” (While Shepherd Watched Their Flocks)

In the Gospel of Luke, we read, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace.’” Children’s Christmas pageants always have plenty of angels, although the children are often more concerned with their wings and halos then singing! Yet, the heavenly chorus of angels sang exuberantly or least that is what I imagine as I read Luke’s gospel. As this calendar year quickly comes to a close, what words of praise would you like to offer God?  What good will has God brought into your life? How has God’s peace blessed your life this year?  Begin and never cease your praises, for all glory be to God on high!

Prayer

All glory and honor and praise are yours alone, O God. I give thanks for your presence in my life. Help me to begin and end each day in gratitude for your abiding presence.  Thank you for promising to always be with me. Amen.

Friday, December 29, 2017

O star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light. (We Three Kings of Orient Are – Refrain)

Every night my eyes are drawn to the night sky, as I marvel at the twinkling stars that fill the dark expanse. I look for constellations I know. I look at the moon and its orientation. I especially enjoy the nights when my location allows the Milky Way to be visible.  When I look skyward each night, the words of the psalmist almost always come to mind, “The heavens are telling your glory.” The star with royal beauty bright guided the men from the East.  The star of wonder led them westward to the perfect light, the Christ Child.  This child grows into a man and says to us through the Gospel of John, “I am the light of the world.” How is Christ the light of your world? What draws you to Christ’s perfect light? Is it the expanse of the night sky? As our celebrations of Christmas quickly fade, may we never lose sight of Christ’s perfect light, for Christ is the light of the world.

Prayer

Perfect Light, illumine the path that is before me as this year comes to a close. What do I need to leave at your feet? What do I need to release into your care? Help me to be guided by your perfect light. Place in my life people that reflect your perfect light.  Give me the courage to be your perfect light for others.  Amen.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

We three kings of Orient are; bearing gifts we traverse afar, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star. O star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light. (We Three Kings of Orient Are – Verse 1 w/ refrain)

I remember my first Advent Season as a pastor, for I was thanked by a retired pastor for singing Christmas carols before Christmas.  He shared with me that some pastors reserve Christmas carols for Christmas Eve and the days following! He also shared that some pastors wouldn’t even allow the Three Kings to show up for the Christmas pageant, as scholarship tells us that the wise men probably didn’t show up until Jesus was a toddler! And if this isn’t enough to tarnish your childhood memories of the beloved crèche characters, scripture doesn’t tell us how many wise men there were either!  The writer of this familiar carol chose three wise men, simply because there were three different gifts! How many wise men do you think made this journey? Does it even matter? And how far would you travel to bring gifts to a newborn child? I know that grandparents might say to the ends of the earth. These men traveled westward to bring gifts to the Christ Child. What gift will you bring to the Christ Child this day?

Prayer

Holy One, each new day is a gift from you. I pray that I will bring an awareness of my precious gift of life to this day.  Help me live fully and faithfully, as I traverse through this day.  Help me to see how I might draw others to thy perfect light through my words and deeds.  Amen. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

So, bring him incense, gold, and myrrh; come, one and all, to own him. The King of kings salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone him. Raise, raise the song on high. The virgin sings her lullaby. Joy, joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the son of Mary. (What Child Is This? – Verse 3)

What gifts would you bring a newborn?  You might consider gold, as a neighbor did when my twin sons where born. They each received a gold plated baby spoon. But, what about frankincense and myrrh? “So, bring him incense, gold, and myrrh.” These valuable items were standard gifts to honor a king or deity in the ancient world: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil.  Scholars also believe these three gifts have special spiritual symbolism as well: gold representing his kingship, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming. Did you receive a gift that had special meaning for you this Christmas? Did you give a gift with special meaning to someone you loved?  Come, one and all, to the one who gave us the most amazing gift of all.

Prayer

Son of Mary, I stand in awe of the gift you have given to me and to all. Help me to receive your gracious gift of salvation ever more fully. Give me the courage to make my life a meaningful gift, by your grace alone, to others. Amen

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Why lies he in such mean state, where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading. Nails, spear, shall pierce him through; the cross borne for me, for you. Hail, hail, the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary! (What Child Is This? – Verse 2)

The day after Christmas always seems to come as a bit of a letdown, especially as shoppers wrestle over the best afterChristmas bargains.  Tempers easily flare and the good will of the season dissipates almost instantaneously. The second verse of this beloved Christmas carol moves us from cradle to cross without hesitation, too.  The baby is no longer cooing, as the child’s future is foretold. Yes, “Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,” but don’t linger too long in the stable. The mean estate of the world is where we are to be Christ’s word made flesh.  We are called to incarnate the love of God with our very lives, even if nails and spears pierce us. The words of this Christmas carol remind us that following Christ will take us from the cradle to the cross.     

Prayer

Word made flesh, I admit I prefer the cradle to the cross. Even if the smells of your place of birth were fresh and ripe, at least it was a place of life and not death. Forgive me, if I prefer to linger at your cradle. Forgive me, if I fear taking up my cross to follow you. Give me the courage to be your word of love made flesh for the world today. Amen.

Monday, December 25, 2017

“What Child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping, whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; Haste, haste, to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.” (What Child Is This? – Verse 1)

 What child is this?  The angels knew who they were singing about.  They knew of the babe that was to be born in Bethlehem.  The shepherds on the other hand had no clue.  Chances are they had never even heard the prophecy from Isaiah, “O Bethlehem, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient of days.”  The shepherds did not know that a virgin would be with child or that this child would be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.  The angels sang while the shepherds stood, at first terrified and then amazed.  When the angels returned to their heavenly home and left the shepherds standing in the silence of the starlit sky, they made haste to Bethlehem to bring this child laud.  I wonder if we will make haste and bring him laud today?  Will we make haste and worship the Christ Child?  This child is the Christ Child who set us right with God. Alleluia! Amen!

 Prayer

Ancient of Days, God’s love is made visible through the gift of the Christ Child.  What a gift you are to my life.  Today, I surrender my heart again to your loving embrace.  Make your love visible through my life, I pray. Amen.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

“Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray.  Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with thee there.” (Away in a Manger – Verse 3)

 This is my favorite verse of this carol.  “Be near me, Lord Jesus.”  Yes, this is my longing.  My heart longs for an intimate, “Be near me,” relationship with Jesus.  I believe this is the universal longing of the human heart.  Throughout the ages we hear of this longing in the writings of our church fathers and mothers. Saint Augustine in the Fourth Century said, “My heart is restless until it finds rest in Thee.” Julian of Norwich in the Fourteenth Century wrote, “Our natural will is to have God, and the good will of God is to have us, and we may never cease willing or longing for God until we have him in the fullness of joy. Christ will never have his full bliss in us until we have our full bliss in him.” Although this carol verse is written from an individual’s perspective, asking Jesus to stay close by is also a communal longing.  Being near Jesus helps churches such as ours stay grounded in ministries that matter, ministries that touch and transform lives through God’s tender care. 

Prayer

Dear Jesus, be near me and stay with me each and every day.  I know you desire to be near me, but I confess that at times I fear being near you.  The way in which you walked among us challenges me to let go of my comfort. I am so thankful that you never give up on me when I settle for less than your heart’s desire.  You are always ready to be near me, and so I pray that I will always be ready to be near you. Amen.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The cattle are lowing; the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes. I love thee Lord Jesus, look down from the sky, and stay be my side until morning is nigh. (Away in a Manger – Verse 2)

When you hear these words what idyllic manger scene do you conjure up in your mind’s eye?  With the lowing cattle are there sheep and goats, too?  Does the drummer boy make an appearance or is it just the shepherds? Yet, versions of this manger scene seem more real to me when small children try to reenact it. An angel throws a fit and starts crying. A shepherd boy sits down and will not budge. Joseph and Mary are reluctant to hold hands, so they give each other a little too much room.  A wise one is more interested in the royal robe than processing. Why is it that we prefer the idyllic rather than the real? If truth be told, we do this sometimes in our own lives. We hide from others what is real; what is smelly and messy in our own lives. Fear overtakes us and we distance ourselves from others, only letting them see what is idyllic in our lives.  May the sweet words, “stay by my side until morning is nigh,” be our commitment to one another. Lord Jesus is with us. Let us be there for each other, even when our lives are smelly and messy.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, stay by my side until morning is nigh. Stay by side all the days of my life. Give me the courage to be real with you, by sharing what is smelly and messy in my own life. Give me the courage to stay by the side of those who do not yet know you. I love thee Lord Jesus. Thank you for loving me. Amen.  

Friday, December 22, 2017

“Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord, that hath made heaven and earth of naught, and with his blood our life hath bought. Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel.” (The First Noel – Verse 6 with Refrain)

What a beautiful prayer, “Let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord.”  Yet, whenever two or more gather, it seems that one accord is a challenge!  I recently ran across a list published by Pew Forum, an organization that tracks religious institutions in America. There are hundreds of religious institutions in America, with 70.6% of these institutions being Christian!  Imagine if all of the Christian churches in Redlands sang with one accord to our heavenly Lord.  I imagine that would shake the rafters of heaven! The angels would be giddy with joy. This simple carol reminds us that if we focus on our differences, then one accord is not possible.  But, if we focus on the one born to set us free, then maybe, just maybe we will join voices around the globe and across the street in one accord as we sing heavenly praises to our Lord.  Noel, Noel, Christ is born! 

 Prayer

Heavenly Lord, this carol reminds me of your desire for all of humanity to sing your praises.  Yet, I admit that this is not always easy.  It is hard enough in my own family and faith community to be of one accord, let alone across denominational lines or theological divides.  Help me focus on the simple truth that Christ lived, died and rose again for me as well as for all of humanity. Amen.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

“Angels we have heard on high sweetly singing o’re the plains, and the mountains in reply echo back their joyous strains, Gloria in excelsis Deo, Gloria in excelsis Deo.” (Angels We Have Heard on High” – Verse 1 with Refrain)

Glory to God in the highest!  When I am poised atop Cornice on Mammoth Mountain and the sky above me is crystal blue, and the horizon before me is filled with snowcapped mountains, my heart sings glory to God in the highest.  When the sun rises over the towering canyon walls of Lake Powell and the still water reflects its grandeur, my heart soars, as I thank God for such beauty.  Angels sweetly sang o’re the plains on that first Christmas. Glory to God in the highest, and the mountains echoed in reply!  What of God’s creation makes your heart sing like these angels?  What draws your attention to God’s glory?  Do plains or mountains, forests or canyons, a newborn infant, or a new believer cause, your heart to sing glory to God in the highest?  The gift of Emmanuel is worth singing about.  Let us join with the angels! 

 Prayer

Glorious God, I am continually amazed at your extravagant love for me.  When I rest, really rest in your love, my heart soars and sings Gloria in excelesis Deo!  I am so thankful for your generous gift of your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ.  May my life be a song of glory for you.  Amen. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

“He [Jesus] rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness, and wonders of his love, and wonders of his love, and wonders, and wonders of his love.” (Joy to the World! The Lord is Come – Verse 4)

 Jesus rules the world with truth and grace.  I so appreciate the pairing of these two words: truth and grace.  I believe truth without grace can become a weapon of mass destruction.  I have the truth, and you don’t.  Therefore, I am right, and you are wrong.  Grievous wrongs have been perpetrated throughout history when truth was separated from grace.  Truth with grace considers the other.  Truth with grace listens to understand.  Truth with grace respects differences.  Truth with grace is not coercive.  Truth with grace honors the sacred image of the divine in all of humanity.  Truth with grace is the wonder of Jesus’ love.   The wonder of Jesus’ love looked at those willing to stone a woman caught in adultery with these words, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Truth and grace met as the crowd left without throwing a single stone.  The wonders of Jesus’ love have and will continue to transform lives.  Let us be ambassadors of this wondrous love into the world.

 Prayer

Dear Jesus, I am thankful that your wondrous love pairs truth with grace.  Grant me the resolve to never stop singing the wonders of your love as long as I live.  Empower me to share the wonders of your love through your truth and grace with others each and every day.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.” (Joy to the World! The Lord is Come – Verse 3)

Imagine the difference in our news headlines if sin, sorrow and thorns were no more.  Would our news agencies know what else to report?  Sin, sorrow, and thorns permeate the airwaves, the internet, the printed page and even our conversations.  Listen in to conversations, and you will note that sin, sorrow and thorns often take center stage.  This is the curse that has infested the creation that God deemed good and even very good in the 1st chapter of Genesis.  I think it is fitting that this wonderful Christmas carol waits until the third verse to tackle sin, sorrow and thorns.  Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!  This joy had to take hold of us and inoculate us against the ravages of sin, sorrow and thorns.  It’s like getting a flu shot!  We all need a dosage of joy, joy and more joy!  Let’s give thanks that sin, sorrow and thorns are not the whole story.   Let us repeat the sounding joy and reclaim it for our lives again and again and again!

 Prayer

Loving God, this world is sin sick, and I am often mired in sin and sorrow and thorns.  My life gets infested with negativity, as it often seems as if the sky is falling.  Forgive me when I allow myself to forget the joy that burst forth in Bethlehem that holy night, as shepherds watched and angels joyfully sang.  Create in me a joyous heart this day.  Amen. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

“Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns; let all their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy.” (Joy to the World! The Lord is Come – Verse 2)

Repeat the sounding joy!  Maybe that is what we need to do as we start each new day.  When we first wake up, we need to repeat the phrase, “Our Savior reigns, our Savior reigns!”  Our Savior reigns, not the violence perpetrated down the street or around the globe.  Our Savior reigns, not unemployment; our Savior reigns, not the illnesses ravaging bodies; our Savior reigns, not the death of loved ones; our Savior reigns, not looming financial shortfalls; our Savior reigns over whatever is trying to dampen this joy in our lives. This joy is joy that transcends our circumstances.  Our circumstances are not the end of the story.  The end of the story is that our Savior reigns.  According to John’s Gospel, our Savior has gone to prepare a place for us, so that he will come again and take us to himself, so that where he is, we will be also.   Friends, our Savior reigns now and forever, and this is joy that deserves repeating!

 Prayer

Holy Savior, I am thankful that you alone reign.  Give me the strength to claim this truth for my life each and every day, because I know that I get bogged down in the muck and the mire of life.  Let the fields, rocks, hills and plains speak this joy into my life.  Lord, you are my rock, my refuge, my shield, and my stronghold.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation! Amen.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come; let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.
(Joy to the World! The Lord is Come – Verse 1) 

Joy to the world; the Lord is come!  This joy breaks forth in song from heaven and nature.  I hear echoes of the psalmist, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.”  Have you ever noticed that good news is hard to contain?  In today’s YouTube language, joy easily goes viral, igniting warm hearts and broad smiles around the world.  This particular joy has a very specific hope for our lives, asking us if we will make room in our hearts for Jesus.  This particular joy is to take up residency in our hearts and radiate from our very being, for the Lord is come!  As Isaiah proclaimed, “Arise, shine; for your light has come.”  Yes, arise and shine and let your life speak of the goodness of the Lord.  Arise and shine with joy that transcends life circumstances.  Arise and shine for God is with us!

Prayer

Precious Lord Jesus, your birth brought the world great joy. Help me to fully live this joy as each new dawn arrives. Restore within me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.  Don’t let my circumstances dampen this joy from radiating from my very being, I pray. Joy to the world for the Lord is come!  Amen

Saturday, December 16, 2017

 “Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born, And God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; Go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.” (Go, Tell It on the Mountain – Verse 3 with Refrain)

This carol gives us an imperative, “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere.”  You and I are to tell God’s story everywhere we go!  Yet, somewhere along the line we were taught, “Don’t talk politics or religion.”  Instead of telling God’s story, we have fallen silent.  This reminds me of a story during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.   The Pharisees ordered Jesus to tell his disciples to stop. Jesus replied saying, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out!”  If Jesus’ disciples were silent, stones would shout out!  We have to become silent to hear God’s voice, but once we do we are called to share it. Are we going to let stones tell the story of Jesus or are we?  God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn and this, my friends, is great news!  Let’s reclaim our voices and tell others how Christ’s story has transformed us.  Let’s tell others that Jesus Christ is born!

 Prayer

God of my salvation, I am ever thankful for the gift of Jesus Christ.  Through Christ, my sin has been forgiven.  In Christ, I am a new creation.  By the power of the Spirit, embolden my witness so that others may come to know your redeeming grace.  Amen. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

“Gentle Mary laid her He is still the undefiled, but no more a stranger: Son of God, of humble birth, beautiful the story; Praise his name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!” (Gentle Mary Laid Her Child – Verse 3)

“Gentle Mary,” I wonder what adjectives people would use with my name?  What adjectives would people use with your name?  Would gentle come to mind?  Or would other complimentary or not so complimentary adjectives come to mind?  Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger.  Being a mother, I can’t really imagine laying my newborn twins in a trough built to hold animal feed.  Gentle just isn’t the word that comes to mind when I imagine this stable birth.  Yet, we sing “beautiful [is] the story.” What makes this story so beautiful is God’s willingness to be in the humblest of circumstances.  God, the Creator of the heavens and earth, does not consider it beneath himself to be laid in a manger. I wonder what beautiful stories we fail to write with our lives because we decide some things are beneath us. What beautiful stories could our lives write, if we were as gentle as Mary and as humble as the Son of God?

Prayer

Son of God, your story is beautiful, and I know you want to write beautiful stories with my life.  Give me the courage to no longer be a stranger where there is need.  Teach me to walk into the humblest of circumstances.   As I trust you, gently lead me to write beautiful stories with my life.  Amen.   

Thursday, December 14, 2017

“He [Jesus] came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall; with the poor and meek and lowly lived on earth, our Savior holy.” (Once in Royal David’s City – Verse 2)

 Who among us that have homes, would voluntarily choose to leave our homes and live among the poor or lowly?  Would we be willing to live in a room, or dirt floored home with a corrugated tin roof, or under a freeway overpass? It is impossible for me to imagine what it would be like to live with the world’s poor and lowly.  Yet, Jesus left his heavenly home, which is obviously far grander than mine, to be born in a stable.  It is quite possible that in Nazareth, Jesus lived in a house that was hewn from rock, something akin to a cave.  Yet, Jesus did this willingly.  Jesus didn’t pitch a fit and go kicking and screaming to earth.  Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus didn’t regard equality with God as something to be exploited.  Knowing that Jesus came down to earth from heaven takes on deeper meaning, as I think about what it would mean to leave my home and live among those without homes in our city.  What are you willing to leave behind for the sake of following Jesus? What are you willing to do differently, so that the poor and meek and lowly will experience our Savior holy?

Prayer

Holy Savior, I admit I struggle with letting go of my privileges.  I like what I have.  I want to keep what I have.  Forgive me, when I grasp it so tightly that I fear being with those I consider poor and meek and lowly.  Give me the heart of Jesus and his willingness to let go and trust God fully.  Amen

 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 

“Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind; With Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind. To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior, When half spent was the night.” (Lo! How a Rose E’re Blooming – Verse 2)

 It sounds so simple, “To show God’s love aright.”  Yet, love is not easy.  It is not easy to love God, our neighbors or ourselves with love aright.  According to Apostle Paul, love is patient and kind, yet we often find ourselves impatient and not so kind.  Love is not to be envious or boastful, arrogant or rude.  Yet, who among us has not been envious of what our neighbor has and we don’t?  Who among us has not boasted in such a way that it hurt another person?  Who among us has not believed we were better than someone else?  Who among us has not been rude on occasion? To show God’s love aright is a lifelong endeavor, because God loves sacrificially.  God placed our needs above his as Isaiah foretold; God chose to be born among us.  God through Jesus Christ chose to empty himself, being born in human form; he humbled himself and became obedient. Christ’s obedience was possible because he willingly listened for God’s voice.  How might we willingly listen for God’s voice, so that we might show God’s love aright to the world this day?

 Prayer

O Rose, foretold by Isaiah, I admit that my love is not always sacrificial.  Often my love does not resemble your love at all. You did not grasp at power and glory.  You humbled yourself and became obedient even though it cost you your life. O Rose, foretold by Isaiah, grant me the discipline to listen for God’s voice, empowering me to show God’s love aright. Amen.

 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

 “Silent night! holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.” (Silent Night! Holy Night! – Verse 3)

 Every morning, brave souls wind their way up the switchback roads to Haleakala Crater on the Island of Maui.  The souls that gather never know exactly how the sky will be painted as the darkened sky welcomes the dawn. What shades of yellow, orange and pink will mingle with the varied hues of blue?  The photos on Google images are simply breathtaking, and I can only imagine the communal silence as the gathered brave souls welcome the dawn.  As I sing this third verse, I imagine the radiant beams of love’s pure light painting each dawn in silence with redeeming grace.  As the writer of Lamentations penned, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”  Whether we make the trek to Haleakala Crater or rustle ourselves out of bed while it is still dark, each new dawn holds the gift of redeeming grace for us.  In the silence of each new dawn, may your heart sing with gratitude for the gift of God’s redeeming grace.

 Prayer

Love’s pure light, I allow the chaos of my life to overshadow the truth of your redeeming grace.  I admit that each dawn is often filled with gloom. I worry about all that is to be done or complain about what is wrong. I forget that your radiant beams paint each new dawn with redeeming grace.  Fill my heart, each new dawn, with gratitude for the gift of your redeeming grace. Amen.

 

Monday, December 11, 2017

 Silent night! holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight, Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing Alleluia; Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.” (Silent Night! Holy Night! – Verse 2)

 What a descriptive line, “Shepherds quake!”  Yet, who wouldn’t?  Listen to Luke tell the story, “Then an angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” These shepherds were enjoying a nice quiet evening, gazing at the stars.  The sheep were sleeping around them and they were hoping for some sleep as well. Then behold, an angel appears.  Terror is how the text describes their reaction.  An angel has never appeared to me, but simply imagining what the shepherds experienced makes my heart beat faster. Imagine a messenger from God, shining brighter than the sun, standing in front of you right now!  Would you quake?  My hunch is that all of us would be struck speechless, silent before the messenger of the Lord.  What might we learn in this silence?  Christ the Savior is born, yet has he been born in you?

 Prayer

Holy God, the noise of my everyday life drowns out your glories that stream from heaven afar.  I often refuse to hear the heavenly hosts sing Alleluia, for I have allowed Christ’s birth to become ancient history. Help me to hear anew that Christ the Savior is born!  Yes, that Christ the Savior can be born anew in me today!  Amen.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

“Silent night! holy night! All is calm, all is bright ‘round yon virgin mother and Child, holy infant so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.” (Silent Night! Holy Night! – Verse 1)

 Every Christmas Eve as long as I can remember I have sung “Silent night! holy night!” This silent and holy night personifies sacred silence for me.  Each Christmas Eve, I close my eyes and sing these words, trying to imagine the mystery of the holy infant so tender and mild, God with us, in such a vulnerable way.  Have you ever allowed your imagination to run wild by placing yourself in that Bethlehem stable on the night when all was calm, all was bright?  Have you imagined beholding Jesus’ tiny chest rising and falling with each new breath?  Have you imagined your finger tracing around his perfectly sculpted ear or letting his fingers curl around yours?  In the sacred silence of each Christmas Eve, I stand in awe of this God we worship, this God who was willing to come among us as a newborn babe.   I am in awe of this God, praying that I learn to entrust my life to God as Jesus did.

 Prayer

O Jesus, I am filled with wonder, as I imagine you setting aside the glory of heaven to be born among us as an infant so tender and mild.  In the silence of this moment, renew my commitment to walk through life with you.  Show me how to fully entrust my life to God, the Triune mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Now the heavens start to whisper, as the veil is growing thin. Earth from slumber wakes to listen to the stirring faint within: Seed of promise, deeply planted, child to spring from Jesse’s stem! Like the soil beneath the frost line, hearts grow soft to welcome him. (Now the Heavens Start to Whisper – Verse 1)

Hearts grow soft to welcome him. How soft is your heart? Is it soft enough to welcome the one who said, “The last will be first, and the first will be last?” Is it soft enough to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?  Do you remember Mary’s words of praise as she visited Elizabeth? “God brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; God filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” The child to spring from Jesse’s stem is not the Savior we expected. As Walter Brueggemann writes, “We find you moving, always surprising us, always coming at us from a new direction, always planting us and uprooting us, and tearing all things down and making all things new. You are not the God would have chosen had we done the choosing, for you call us to places we would rather not go.”  The heavens are starting to whisper, “Will you welcome him?” 

Prayer

Child of Jesse’s stem, my heart is often hardened, not softened.  I want to welcome you, yet I admit my fears.  Will you really ask me to love my enemies?  Will you uproot and surprise me? Will you call me to places I would rather not go? Child of Jesse’s stem soften my heart and calm me fears, for you also promise to be with me always. Amen. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

 “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.  Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.” (Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus – Verse 1)

 How long are you willing to wait for something you desire?  Are you willing to wait until Christmas?  The people of God had been waiting for their desire for hundreds of years! Isaiah foretold their story, “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Look, the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”  Isaiah lived nearly 700 years before Christ was born.  Many in our society can’t even imagine waiting until Christmas, let alone waiting for something we desire that will not happen in our lifetime.  If our desires will not be realized this side of heaven, should we give up hope?  Should we abandon our efforts to work towards what we desire?  Thankfully, the people of God didn’t abandon their hope.  Jesus was long expected.  Jesus is the joy anticipated by every longing heart.  Sing aloud, “Come, thou long expected Jesus… let us find our rest in thee!”

 Prayer

Joy of every longing heart, you were born to set me free.  Take away my fears and my sins.  Let me find my rest in thee.  Give me the courage to never lose hope in your strength and consolation for my life, even though my desires may never be fully realized.  Help me to never give up hope that all people can be set free by your love. Amen.

Thursday, December 7, 2017 

“O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; fill all the world with heaven’s Peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!” (“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – Verse 7 with Refrain)

 In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says to his disciples, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars…[as] nations rise against nations do not be alarmed.”  Indeed, we do not have to be alarmed for the Desire of nations – Emmanuel – has come.  Even though all hearts and minds are not at peace with one another, we have the assurance that God is with us.  Even though envy, strife and quarrels still abound, we have the assurance that God dwells among us.  As people who claim this truth, let us work towards filling all the world with heaven’s peace, if even one relationship at a time.  As people who claim this truth, let us rejoice and rejoice again for each person who accepts Emmanuel into his or her heart.  O come, Desire of nations, and bind us together in heart and mind by your love.

 

Prayer

O come, Desire of nations, bind me to you in heart and mind.  Give me the courage to end every envy, strife and quarrel present in my life.  Let your peace fill me and flow through me to bless others.  Emmanuel, I am ever thankful that you chose to come and dwell among us.  I will rejoice in you this day.  Amen.

 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 

“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.  We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide in us, our Lord Emmanuel.” (“O Little Town of Bethlehem” – Verse 4)

 Christmas angels and glad tidings seem to go together during the month of December.  I love hearing the joyous carols with their alleluias and glorias.  It is so much more enjoyable to focus on angels than the reality of our own sin.  Yet, this verse reminds us that in order to experience the full joy of the holy Child of Bethlehem abiding in us, we must confess and repent of our sin.  We must lay our lives bare before God and plead as King David did, “Have mercy on me, O God. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”  Facing the reality of our sin is never easy.  Yet each and every day, our actions or thoughts, our commissions or omissions, fall short of the glory of God.  We fall short, yet the holy Child of Bethlehem is ready to be born in us again and again, each new day.

 Prayer

O holy Child of Bethlehem, wash me thoroughly and cleanse me from my sin.  Come to me and abide in me.  Create in me a clean heart.  Put a new and right spirit within me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation.  Sustain in me a willing spirit, ready to be born anew each day by your love.  Amen.

 

December 5, 2017

“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” (Hymn #121, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” – Verse 3)

Oh, our world is stained with sin.  Horrendous acts of violence damage and destroy the beauty of God’s creation almost weekly.  Natural disasters wreak havoc around the globe.  In the midst of the chaos of life, anguished cries reach heavenward.  A human soul frees herself of the bondage of self-sufficiency and then, my friends, the dear Christ enters in.  Christ stands at the door of our hearts and knocks.  God stands ready to impart to our human hearts extravagant love.  Our dear Christ enters in, as we open the locked doors of our hearts.  Yet in the raucous noise of everyday living, we often miss this wondrous gift that God has given.  We miss Christ entering into our own lives.  We miss Christ entering in those around us.  How silent, how silent, we must become to hear the precious knocking of Christ at the doors of our hearts.

 Prayer

Dear Christ, forgive me for filling my life with incessant noise.  Give me the courage to stop, to listen, and to behold the blessings of heaven.  Open wide my heart, so that you may enter in and transform my life for your glory.  How silently, how silently, I have been given the wondrous gift of grace through Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

December 4, 2017

“For Christ is born of Mary and gathered all above, While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love. O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth, And praises sing to God the King, and peace to all on earth.” (“O Little Town of Bethlehem” – Verse 2)

It seems so simple, “For Christ is born of Mary.” Yet if we remember Mary’s story, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was fraught with twists and turns.  Mary’s story starts when an angel greeted her saying, “Greetings, favored one!”  Her story almost was derailed as Joseph resolved to dismiss her quietly.  And then a long journey, from Nazareth to Bethlehem as she was ripe with child, finding no room in an inn.  Seems simple, but her story is profound.  She willingly offered her life to the mystery of God, and angels kept watch while stars offered their praise.  I wonder if we are willingly to offer our lives as fully as Mary did for God’s purposes by saying, “Here am I.”   Are we willing to step outside of what is known, trusting that God will direct our steps?  Mary’s story isn’t so simple after all.  She is a woman who demonstrates for us what total surrender for God’s purposes entails.  Are you ready to follow in her footsteps?

 Prayer

Most Holy God, I can’t really even imagine what it was like to be Mary.  She put her life at risk, saying “Yes” to the mystery of Emmanuel.  Forgive my timid nature, always wanting more information, so that I can be fully informed of the potential outcome of saying “Yes.” Give me the courage to say “Yes,” trusting in your provision for my life. Amen.

 

December 3, 2017

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.  Yet in thy dark street shineth the everlasting Light; The hopes and fear of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  (“O Little Town of Bethlehem” – Verse 1)

 One evening, while on a retreat, I remember being perched atop a hill overlooking the South Bay and its sea of lights.  The lights danced as the cool of the night air met the warmth of the earth.  The noise of the city fell away as I nestled into my hilltop perch.  I thought, “How still the city looks,” yet I knew that this was not so.  Someone was arguing below.  Another was lovingly embraced.  A new life was entering the world.  Another life was taking its final breath.  Sitting silently above this sea of lights, my hopes and fears met God that night.  The Spirit whispered a word of assurance, saying the everlasting Light still shines.  O little town of Bethlehem, speak to our hearts today as we begin our Advent journey.  Speak a word of hope into the midst of our own darkness and the darkness of this world.  Receive our hopes and fears, and show us the truth of your everlasting Light.

 Prayer

Everlasting Light, draw me ever closer to your extravagant love.  Take away all my fears, and place upon my heart your steadfast hope that does not disappoint.  Journey with me this Advent, as I pray twice each day through song.  O little town of Bethlehem, touch me deeply, I pray.  Amen.

 

November 29, 2017

Has your heart rate quickened given that December 1st is just around the corner? Can you feel the pressure rising, as commercials inundate us with reminders of just how soon Christmas Day will be here?  I suggest we take to heart the chorus of Just Breathe by Jonny Diaz: “Breath, just breathe. Come and rest at My feet and be, just be. Chaos calls but all you really need is to just breathe.” A simple deep breath can lower stress. “Breathe, just breathe,” as Diaz sings. Taking a deep breath, stilling our racing minds and hearts, brings to mind some other lyrics, “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie… How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!” Notice the stillness, the silence, of these lyrics and how taking them to heart creates space to just be in the midst of the chaos swirling around us. This is a very busy and stressful time of the year for all us. I know I feel the pressure of the season. Yet, that is why I intentionally focus on stillness, silence and just breathing at this time of year, otherwise I would not have the inner resources to serve as needed. I don’t know how this season impacts your spirit, but let’s remember to just breathe this season. Let’s enjoy the gift of stillness as well as silence, listening expectantly for the Christmas angels who remind us that our Lord Emmanuel abides with us.

Prayer

O holy child of Bethlehem, come to us we pray.  Help us to just breathe in the midst of all that is pressing in. Help us to find moments to be still and to be silent, so that we can hear the brush of angels’ wings. Fill us with the awe and wonder of this season as we just breathe. Amen.

 

November 22, 2017

Tomorrow our nation pauses to give thanks. Families and friends will gather at table to share a meal. Have you created a gratitude list yet? If not, why not start one today? Why not challenge those you sit at table with tomorrow to speak aloud something that they are grateful for? Even in the midst of the chaos and suffering of our world, we can find one thing, if not many things to be thankful for.  I’m thankful for the sun that faithfully rose to illumine the day and awaken me to the wonder of life. I’m thankful for the enduring promise of Christ Jesus to his disciples, “Lo, I am always with you.”  I’m thankful for the ability to write these devotions, which stirs my own faith as I write.  I am thankful for the liturgical seasons of the church year, which help us mark time meaningfully through our story of faith. This coming Sunday the liturgical year ends, as we recognize Christ’s reign. “God has put all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and made Christ Head of the Church, which is his body.” * I am thankful for this particular body of Christ and for all that God is stirring within us as we joyfully participate in Christ’s ongoing life and work. What are you thankful for this day?

*The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity F-1.0201 

Prayer

God of grace, we have been so richly blessed by your steadfast love and enduring faithfulness. Stir within us a deep sense of gratitude for your presence and power in our lives.  Stir within us a passionate desire to be your people of love, hope and faith in and through this church for our community. Amen. 

 

November 15, 2017

When you woke up this morning, what were you grateful for? What if your first thoughts each morning were thoughts of gratitude before your feet reached for the floor? Would your day start on a lighter note?  When I practice gratitude on a daily basis its seems to brighten my spirit. A smile often breaks across my countenance, as I give thanks and remember the wondrous gifts of God in my life. I notice the tiniest flowers that reach sunward. I remember the goodness of those who love and care for me. And the moods of the mountains visible from my home never cease to amaze me.  “Our God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” says Apostle Paul to Timothy. Did you notice the word enjoyment?  Yet, how many of us get buried in our daily to do lists, or are overwhelmed by news that spews death and destruction?  Some days it is harder to remember that God’s design for our lives is enjoyment.  Yet, according to the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Man’s [Humanity’s] chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” We are to enjoy God and God’s design for our lives is enjoyment. What if gratitude is the fuel that makes enjoyment possible? Gratitude that leads us to be “rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.” Today and in the week ahead, I challenge you to start making a list of what you are grateful for and to notice the enjoyment possible that is fueled by gratitude.

Prayer

Holy one, help us to claim this truth penned by hymn writer Robert Edwards, “God, whose giving knows no ending, from your rich and endless store.” Instill within us a deep sense of gratitude for your giving which knows no ending in our lives. Thank you for the gift of this day, may we use it to glorify and enjoy you! Amen.

 

November 8, 2017

When you woke up this morning, what were you grateful for? What if your first thoughts each morning were thoughts of gratitude before your feet reached for the floor? Would your day start on a lighter note?  When I practice gratitude on a daily basis its seems to brighten my spirit. A smile often breaks across my countenance, as I give thanks and remember the wondrous gifts of God in my life. I notice the tiniest flowers that reach sunward. I remember the goodness of those who love and care for me. And the moods of the mountains visible from my home never cease to amaze me.  “Our God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” says Apostle Paul to Timothy. Did you notice the word enjoyment?  Yet, how many of us get buried in our daily to do lists, or are overwhelmed by news that spews death and destruction?  Some days it is harder to remember that God’s design for our lives is enjoyment.  Yet, according to the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Man’s [Humanity’s] chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” We are to enjoy God and God’s design for our lives is enjoyment. What if gratitude is the fuel that makes enjoyment possible? Gratitude that leads us to be “rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.” Today and in the week ahead, I challenge you to start making a list of what you are grateful for and to notice the enjoyment possible that is fueled by gratitude.

Prayer

Holy one, help us to claim this truth penned by hymn writer Robert Edwards, “God, whose giving knows no ending, from your rich and endless store.” Instill within us a deep sense of gratitude for your giving which knows no ending in our lives. Thank you for the gift of this day, may we use it to glorify and enjoy you! Amen.

 

November 1, 2017

On this All Saints Day, who are you remembering? A smile breaks across my heart and face, as I remember my mom and dad. I remember celebrating my dad’s life for he was the consummate Doubting Thomas, his name sake. My dad was always seeking tangible experiences of the mystery we call God. My mom, well, she was an extraordinary Proverbs 31 type woman.  Two people who lovingly shaped my life in powerful ways. Of course, there are others that come to mind this morning – spiritual mentors, dear friends, authors that compelled me to reflect more deeply and choir directors. The cloud of witnesses, the saints that have gone before us are innumerable. Therefore, this All Saints Day, I challenge you to pause and give thanks. Increase your thanksgiving as you remember the powerful and subtle ways those who have gone before you have shaped your life and encouraged you to seek the ways of God. As the psalmist proclaimed, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” We are all treasurers in clay jars, as Apostle Paul said to the church in Corinth, “…so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power [resurrection power] belongs to God and does not come from us.” “We know,” said Paul, “that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us into his presence.” May each of us sense Christ’s presence among us even now, and trust in Christ’s presence for the saints that have gone before us.

Prayer

Our hearts are spilling over with thanksgiving, as we remember the saints who have gone before us. Yet, we confess that at times we struggle with the mystery from physical death to life eternal. Grant us the courage to trust that the power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, is at work in us even now and will be for all eternity. Amen.

 

October 25, 2017

What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ Jesus? Merriam-Webster defines the word disciple this way, “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.” Yet, Jesus really never espoused doctrines, which are defined as the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief. Jesus taught a way of living using stories and parables to illustrate one’s love of God and love of neighbor.  In the Gospel of John Jesus says to a gathering of Jews, “If you continue in my word [which comes from God], you are truly my disciples [and will follow the way of God]; and you will know the truth [love God and love neighbor], and the truth will make you free.” Yet, as people of faith we often get tied up in knots deciding what is right belief and what is wrong belief or who is right and who is wrong. What Jesus says should free us, we use to actually enslave us.  So, how are we to live into this freedom that Jesus declares in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel? I would suggest that we worry less about what others believe and as the prophet of Micah said, focus on “walking humbly with our God.” Humble spirits will help us love our neighbors just as they are, for God does not coerce us into loving God. God invites us into a relationship and then through a relationship of love God teaches us the truth that will set us free. Is it possible for us to love our neighbors in this way, through relationships? This is an invitation for us, as disciples, to assist in spreading the truth that will make others free.

Prayer

Unconditional loving God, you meet us where you find us. You accept and love us just as we are, inviting us through your love into relationship. Open our hearts to your loving presence, so that we may open our hearts to others. Give us the courage to live the truth of your love which will set us free. Amen.

 

October 18, 2017

Have you ever had to make a choice between attending one event over another?  I remember that once I had invitations to be in three places at the same time: a wedding, an ordination and a ski weekend. I wanted to clone myself and accept all three invitations for every invitation was heart felt, but in the end, my heart chose one place to be. As we continue exploring the Gospel of Matthew this week, the Pharisees and the Herodians, who are unlikely bedfellows, approach Jesus with a question concocted to entrap him, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” This may not be an invitation to multiple events, but it is a question that determines the heart of the matter. Jesus responds to his questioners bluntly calling them hypocrites. He then proceeds to turn the table as he so often does, saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Now Jesus is not bifurcating the universe into two realms, rather he is making a declarative point: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” The heart of the matter is, “Where does our loyalty lie?” My loyalty on that auspicious weekend of multiple invitations was with my sons on the slopes of Mammoth.  My loyalty to God, though, is challenged daily as I seek to live faithfully as a follower of Christ. Do I give to God what is God’s, recognizing that all of who I am and all of what I have belongs to God?

Prayer

Living God, we are ever thankful for your living word that challenges us to recognize your call and claim on our lives. We admit it is not easy to remember that all of who we are and all of what we have belongs to you. Focus our hearts and our lives on what matters to you! Amen.

 

October 11, 2017

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Be careful what you ask for, as you may get it?” Sometimes what we think we want is not what we need at all. The chief priests and elders just wanted simple answers to their questions, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority.”  Well, Jesus makes it pretty clear that his authority is not from them or the temple hierarchy, but from God. He tells one parable after another that demonstrates that those who fancy themselves in power are not. He even goes on to say some ominous things, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you,” and “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you!” Have you ever asked for something, only to have the tables turned on you?  Jesus has a way of teaching us what is really important and it is rarely what our culture says is important. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “God has not called me to be successful.  God called me to be faithful.” And faithfulness produces the fruit of the Spirit in and through our lives individually and communally.  Henri Nouwen provides some insights for us as well saying, “We have been called to be fruitful – not successful… Success comes from strength, stress, and human effort. Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our own weakness.”  The chief priests and the elders were focused on success and not fruitfulness, therefore Jesus said, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you.” These are words that warn us of the peril of relying on ourselves and our own efforts, rather than on God alone.

Prayer

Holy One, it is so easy to get wrapped up in what is important to be successful or at least to be perceived as successful. Forgive our reliance on our efforts alone. Humble our spirits producing a willingness to be vulnerable to your will and way for our lives. In you alone we trust. Amen.     

 

October 4, 2017

        Do you remember saying to your mom or dad, “Sure, I will do that!” And within minutes you would forget to do what you said you would do. You might have done this with a boss or a spouse or a friend as well.  We often make commitments and then fail to follow through, especially when life presses in and is over full.  Yet, the parable Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew has more to do with intention than forgetfulness.  As David Platt said, “Everything in all of creation responds in obedience to the Creator…until we get to you and me. We have the audacity to look God in the face and say, “No.”” I know that I start each day with good intentions, to love others as God loves me. Yet, a recent experience reminds me that my “yes” is not always a “yes.”  I’m preapproved with a significant security clearance for air travel, so when I was selected for a random check on my last trip I was slightly annoyed. But, when I had to wait almost 10 minutes for a TSA employee to randomly check my luggage, my annoyance had escalated. The young man who checked my IPad for explosive residue looked at me with a smile and a bit of enthusiasm and said, “Just think, if you had not been selected for a random check this morning you would have never met me!” What a wakeup call to make my “yes” a real “yes!” Yes, God, I will love others as you love me, even when I am inconvenienced. What wakeup call do you need to be obedient to your commitment to walk with God ever more faithfully day in and day out?

Prayer

Loving God, you have a way of keeping us honest with ourselves. Open our hearts ever more fully to your power and presence in our lives, so that our “yes” will mean “yes.” Thank you for teachable moments, which draw us daily into your presence. Thank you for never giving up on us. Amen.  

 

September 27, 2017

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, shares these words with the church in Ephesus, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason, I do not cease giving thanks for you.” Yet, a little further into the letter Paul is talking about hostility and a dividing wall. It seems to me there must have been some disagreements within the body of the Christ at Ephesus, given Paul’s emphasis about being one in Christ. “Christ is our peace,” says Paul, “for Christ has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”  Yet, hostilities seem to easily boil over these days.  What do you do when you disagree with someone within the church?  Do you seek to see Christ in him or her?  Do you remember that the one whom you disagree with is a member of the household of God? The challenge of this passage for us is this: What image of God is made visible through us? Is the God others see through us gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love?  Is Christ our peace or is  our understanding of Christ something that we fight over?

Prayer

Compassionate and loving God, forgive our desire to be right at the expense of relationships with others. Humble our spirits and reconcile us one with another, so that those who do not yet know you will come to know of your love through us. Amen.

 

September 20, 2017

We return this Sunday to the story of the healing of a blind man by Jesus on the Sabbath found in the Gospel of John. The principalities and powers of the synagogue want to know who is responsible for the healing this blind man. Their understanding of Sabbath Law is specific for they say of Jesus, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” I remember standing in the sacred square of the Temple Wall in Jerusalem on a Friday evening as Sabbath, which begins at sundown, was about to begin. I was taking photos, when someone softly touched me on the shoulder and said, “You need to stop, for the Sabbath has begun.” Healing a blind man, taking a photo, all considered work which was a violation of Sabbath Law. Yet, is the letter of the Law what God intended with this commandment? What is the spirit of this commandment, which we first find in Exodus, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.” Jesus leaned into “keep it holy,” whereas the scribes and the Pharisees made a long list given this directive, “You shall do no work.” What does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy?  I would suggest it might mean to see the Christ in the other, to see Christ among us bringing healing and wholeness. Seven days a week, even on the Sabbath, Christ is at work among us, keeping all of life holy, for the Lord God said, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

Prayer

Holy One, help us not to get tripped up by the letter of your law. Help us to be holy, to see Christ in the other. Help us to work towards healing and wholeness for all people, not just some people. Holy One, shape our hearts, so that we will walk the way of Christ Jesus seven days a week. Amen.

 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Peter is obviously fed up with someone in the church. Jesus had just taught the disciples to work things out, when disagreements or hurts happen. Yet, the individual in Peter’s mind has pushed his buttons once too many times and he just wants to be done with the individual.  But, Peter has second thoughts and gets up the nerve to ask Jesus a question, “But, how many times should I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven times?” You have probably heard this before, “You hurt me once. Shame on you. You hurt me twice. Shame on me.” Peter obviously believes forgiving seven times is generous.  So, Peter’s breath is probably taken away when he hears Jesus say, “Seven! Hardly! Try seventy times seven!” Really?  Jesus, are you really asking us to keep forgiving, even if the offense is repetitive? Jesus then goes on to tell a parable that we will explore through worship this coming Sunday about a servant who received extravagant forgiveness, only to turn around and not forgive a debt owed him. Seven? Hardly! No, four hundred and ninety times at the very least! What’s your gut reaction to Jesus’ teaching? Are you ready to forgive and forgive again?  Forgiveness is not an easy road, but Lewis B. Smedes gives us some insights as to why forgiveness is helpful to our souls, for he writes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Prayer

Forgiving God, your mercy is extravagant and your grace is given freely, not once but again and again and again. We confess that forgiveness does not come naturally to us. We would rather hold grudges and exact revenge. Yet, you call us to learn the way of forgiveness. Give us the courage to heed Jesus’ admonition to forgive and forgive and forgive, yet again. Amen.

 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Why would anyone want to follow Jesus when he describes discipleship this way, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”? What about denial of self is attractive to you? Why would you set aside what you want for what someone else wants? Why would you choose to carry the weight or experience the pain of a cross? The simple, yet complex answer is love.  Discipleship is choosing “the risk and reality of pain and loss for the sake of Christ’s love for the world,” writes commentator Susan Johnson.  Christ undeniably loves the world, for he willingly laid down his life to show us another way, the way of love. What about us? Do we love the world? Are we willing to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and risk following Jesus into the world, even if it means we will experience the reality of pain and loss? Contemporary Christian artist Brian Johnson sings, “Love came down and rescued me. Love came down and set me free.” We have been rescued from the very small package of self. We have been set free to love others, as Christ loved the world.  There is no doubt that discipleship is costly, for we have to deny our wants for the sake of Christ’s love for the world. Yet, the way of love is our only option as a human family, for God’s envisioned future: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Prayer

Envisioning God, we are in desperate need of help, for wars and rumors of wars are more prevalent then the way of love in our own lives and on the world stage.  Help us not to be overwhelmed by the reality of pain and suffering in our world. Help us to simply, yet profoundly love others in the everyday places of our lives. Amen.

 

Wednesday August 30, 2017

Have you tried your hand at gardening? My husband and I recently planted a few new plants in our backyard around our pond. Our timing was not impeccable though, as we planted the week we had temperatures over a 100 on consecutive days.  One plant didn’t take kindly to the intense summer heat that burnt its leaves and limbs. We also had neglected to loosen the soil and the roots around this particular new plant. “Some seeds fell on the path… some on rocky ground… some among thorns… some on good soil,” said Jesus. Only one of our plants didn’t make it and I’m sure the tangled roots, the inhospitable soil, as well as the intense heat had something to do with its demise. I wonder what type of soil your faith has been planted in?  Is the soil of your life loosened and cleared of rocks and debris so that faith can take root?  Is there ample water to nurture the growth of your faith? Is there shade as well as some sunlight? Are there signs of new growth or is there only deadwood that needs to be pruned? Seeds of faith that fall on good soil bear much fruit.  As we explore this well-known parable, found in the Gospel of Matthew this coming Sunday, come prepared to do some gardening in your own life.

Prayer

Sowing God, till the soil of our lives so that our faith can be firmly rooted in your love. Water our lives with your grace. Cultivate our lives with your living word.  Sowing God, thank you for being an attentive gardener, constantly challenging us to produce abundantly with our lives. Amen. 

 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

You are standing in a crowd and all of a sudden you see someone who is literally parting the crowd with her presence, yet you do not know her.  You quickly turn to your friend and ask, “Who is she?” Jesus had parted crowds with his presence over and over again. Yet, in our text for this coming Sunday, Jesus takes his disciples away from the crowds to Caesarea Philippi, which is a place of pagan worship. In this place of competing gods, Jesus bluntly asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  How would you answer this question? Who is Jesus to you? In Matthew’s Gospel Simon Peter answered swiftly, saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” What about Peter’s declaration catches your attention? What catches my attention are the words “living God.”  The adjective “living” before the noun “God” affirms my experience of the Triune Mystery I call God. Jesus the Christ is dynamic, very present in the midst of my daily experience. I may take notice of Jesus, the Son of the living God in the breathtaking moment of a total solar eclipse or in the simple gesture of a stranger allowing me to go first. When life is awakened within me, in simple and extravagant ways, Christ is very present. As a version of Saint Patrick’s Celtic prayer reminds me, “Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ within me.” Can you hear Jesus asking you, “Who do you say that I am?” 

Prayer

Living God, you go before us even as you reside within us. Open the eyes of our hearts to see you ever more clearly in the midst of our daily lives, for you are a living God, dynamically present here and now! Amen.

 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Has someone you know ever done something you did not expect them to do? A hurtful word from a dear friend. A word of encouragement from a perceived enemy.  Our passage this coming Sunday finds Jesus doing something we would not expect him to do. He ignores the cries of a desperate mother seeking help for her child. It’s as if the woman is invisible to Jesus and we certainly don’t expect this behavior from him. What happens next seems more disturbing though, for Jesus insults the women using derogatory slang.  What are we to do when Jesus does not show up or act the way we expect him to act? My sons prayed like crazy for a girl in their youth group who was battling leukemia. They prayed for healing, just as the whole church did.  I will never forget their question to me shortly after we heard that she had died, “Mom, how come God didn’t answer our prayer?” God didn’t show up as my sons expected God to do. I’m sure God has not done everything you expected God to do either in your life or in the life of this church. I hope that when this happens, we will all “stay in the game” and wrestle with God, so that we might come to a deeper, fuller understanding of the Holy One we worship and serve. God is with us, yet as Isaiah reminds us the Lord says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”

Prayer

Sovereign God, we admit we struggle when you do not show up as we expect.  This passage in Matthew doesn’t seem like the Jesus we know.  Jesus doesn’t ignore or insult. Jesus attends to the least, the lost, the outcast with mercy and compassion.  Give us ears to hear and wisdom to interpret Jesus actions, as he encounters the Canaanite Woman. Amen.

 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What I love about scripture is that it is a living word. It is not stagnant or static, but constantly a breath of fresh air. This held true for me, as I received the sermon title for this coming Sunday, for Kristi Van Nostran entitled her sermon, “Get Back in the Boat!” The text is Matthew 14:22-33 and the boat carrying the disciples is being battered by the waves. Into the midst of this chaos, Jesus walks up to the boat standing atop the waves. He reassures his disciples saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid is a refrain that reverberates through the whole of scripture. Yet, we all struggle at times with fear. I believe that is why preachers often focus on the willingness of Peter’s risk to get out of the boat, while the other disciples stay in the boat. What brought a new twist, a new living word to this story for me was Kristi’s title! Get back in the boat! Get back in the boat where your fears reside! Get back in the boat and face the chaos of the world around you. I don’t know exactly where Kristi is heading, but I trust we will all hear a new living word that will meet all of us in the midst of our fears.  In preparation for this Sunday, you might want to practice getting into your boat and assessing the crashing waves all around you that are causing fear to take root in your life.  Who knows what word God will have for you this coming Sunday!

Prayer

Reassuring One, you do not want fear to take root in our lives. Yet, we admit that it does, especially when we look out at the chaos all around us.  Give us the courage to trust that you are with us whether we are in or out of the boat. Amen.

 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Jesus spat on the ground and made a little mud with his saliva and spread the mud on a man’s eyes. What happens next is nothing short of miracle. A man blind since birth washes his mud caked eyes in the pool of Siloam and miraculously receives sight.  Have you experienced a miracle such as this in your life or in the life of someone you know? It may not have been the gift of physical sight, but maybe the gift of a new insight or a deeper truth that opened vistas you had never experienced before.  Sue Bender reminds us, saying, “Small miracles are all around us.  We can find them everywhere – in our homes, in our daily activities, and, hardest to see, in ourselves.” Of course, Albert Einstein suggested that “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I lean towards everything is a miracle, as I see God at work all around us and even within us. I see miracles in the way that God’s natural creation continually surprises me, like the beautiful orange dragonfly that graced my new pond the first day it was filled! How did it know? I see miracles in the way God connects us to each other, like the pastors of this community who reached out to me when I first arrived. “Where is Jesus,” asked the Pharisees of the man given the gift of sight. I suggest Jesus is wherever we are manifesting everyday miracles in and through our lives. “Bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.” These are the everyday miracles we are to be about!

Prayer

Healing, restorative God, put some mud on our eyes and wash us in your pool of living water, so that we will begin to live our lives, as if everything is a miracle. Give us the courage to make Jesus visible to others through our lives and the life of this church. Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

When is the last time your temper flared? Do you remember the circumstances? Was your response out of portion to the issue at hand?  As we conclude our four-week sermon series on the Book of Jonah, we find Jonah so angry that he wishes to die. Just as he suspected, God was gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love towards the murderous and violent people of Nineveh. Jonah had hoped for Nineveh’s destruction, yet God did not do it.  The people of Nineveh repented and God’s grace and mercy prevailed. Have you ever been upset with God? Especially, upset with God’s grace and mercy for someone who deserved damnation? Jonah considered the sins of the people of Nineveh too great to forgive.  I wonder, do you have a list of those you believe don’t deserve God’s grace?  If we are honest with ourselves, we all have at least a few names on a list, if not those we know now, those we know from the pages of history. Yet, thankfully God is gracious and merciful to all who repent, not just to some.  How have you experienced God’s grace in small and large ways? What about God’s mercy? How can we prepare our hearts to be as gracious and merciful as God’s?  This week practice extending grace, such as inviting someone to step in front of you in a line. Be merciful to a child or an employee that has broken a rule. Our tempers will flare, yet will we have the capacity to extend God’s grace and mercy to each other and even ourselves?

Prayer

Steadfast loving God, we stand in need of your mercy. We have not done as we ought to have done. We have left things undone that needed to be done.  Give us the courage to repent, to turn back and to follow you.  Give us the desire to extend to others the grace and mercy you extend to us. Thank you for loving us still. Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” A couple of years ago my devotional practice was to read the bible from cover to cover again. Every time I have finished reading the bible in this fashion, I stand amazed at the breadth and depth of God’s persistence. We the people, like Jonah, are often found running in the opposite direction of God’s call. Throughout scripture God’s people continually turn away from God or even deny God, only to have God extend yet another chance to be in relationship. Apostle Paul defines God’s second chance this way, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”  Not only does God forgive our rebellion, but God invites us to participate as ambassadors for Christ, entreating others to be reconciled to God. Jonah was given a second change to be God’s ambassador to Nineveh.  Yes, God is a God of second chances. God just doesn’t give up on us. Not on Jonah. Not on you. Not on this church. This is incredibly good news, because I know that rebellion will happen.  The word of the Lord will come to us, but at times we will be too comfortable or too scared to respond. The good news is when this happens God will not abandon us.  God’s Plan B will spring into action in hopes that we will grab hold of God’s second chance for us!

Prayer

Holy God, we are ever thankful that you are a God of second chances. We are thankful that you do not give up on us. Give us the courage to listen and to respond to your claim and call on our lives and on this church. Use even us as your ambassadors, we pray. Amen

 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

 

“Then Jonah prayed.”  When does “then” occur for you?  Do you pray as your day begins or as it ends or both? Do you pray before meals, giving thanks for the provision of food?  Do you pray more often when life seems out of control or when life is smooth sailing?  When does “then” occur for you? As you consider your answer, know that prayer is more than words. Will McGill suggests that, “The value of consistent prayer is not that God will hear us, but that we will hear God.” So, prayer is about listening as much as it is about speaking, otherwise how will we ever hear God?  Apostle Paul reminds us that at times we don’t even know how to pray, but he assures us that the Spirit will intercede for us. Then in First Thessalonians 5:17 we read this succinct instruction about prayer, “pray without ceasing.” This suggests that our very life is to be a prayer! As we explore Jonah’s prayer this week through worship (Jonah 1:17-2:10), pay attention to your prayers. Spend some time reflecting on the when, the why and the how of your prayers. Also, what is the prayer your life is speaking? As Maria Boulding writes, “Prayer moves us from knowing about God to knowing God.” May your prayers move you from knowing about God to knowing God ever more deeply!

Prayer

Loving God, you desire a deep and abiding relationship with each of us, yet we are often distracted or just too busy.  Give us the courage to listen as we pray, so that we will come to know you, your voice and your ways for our lives and for the life of your church. Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I distinctly remember my brother-in-law saying to me, “You should be in seminary not me.” My response was quick and certain, “Never!” He calmly responded, “Never say never to God.” Have you ever said, “Never to God?”  Have you ever run in the opposite direction of God’s leading for your life? From my vantage point today, it certainly seems like my brother-in-law’s words were the Word of the Lord to me! I may not have boarded a ship to Tarshish like Jonah all those years ago, but I certainly couldn’t fathom leaving my chemical engineering career and the abundant opportunities that still lay before me. I had just come to spend a weekend with my sister and her husband and certainly didn’t expect God to speak a Word to me! Yet, “Never say never to God,” took root and grew into a longing and a call to serve God through full-time ordained ministry.  I believe the Word of the Lord comes to all of us in various forms, calling us to respond with our very lives to a need within our community, to a passion that will just not let you go, to a way of life we might never anticipate for our lives.  God has a way of chasing after us all the days of our lives, albeit not with a large fish for most of us.  God calls us to life that is really life and this life requires us to leap first, while trusting that God will give us wings. God gave Jonah the words he needed to speak to the people of Nineveh. God will be your provision as you step out in faith and respond to the Word God is speaking into your life. A good question for all of us this day: “Are we anticipating God’s Word for our lives?”

Prayer

Holy God, we want to say, “Speak, for we are listening.” Yet, fear often wells up within us. What if you call me to do what I don’t want to do, like Jonah? This day we offer our fears to you, grateful that you understand. Please don’t ever stop chasing after us in love, for we desire life that is really life and know that this is possible only in relationship with you. Thank you for never giving up on us. Amen

 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Our nation will soon be celebrating its Independence Day on July 4th, yet, “What is true freedom?” writes Eugene Peterson as he translates a portion of Romans 6. He writes, “I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing – not caring about others, not caring about God – the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?” I wonder how you experience this freedom Apostle Paul is talking about as translated by Peterson? Is your life healed and expansive in holiness? Living in God’s freedom has led me to things I didn’t know I would ever do – like being a volunteer police chaplain for thirteen years. Although, there were many very intense experiences along the way, the freedom I experienced was losing myself in the moment, so that God could be palpably present through me to the officers and citizens involved.  Living in God’s freedom has led me to places where I never expected to go – like Redlands, California and the First Presbyterian Church! Yet, what freedom there has been for me, as I have opened my life and ministry to all of you and this new community. Living in God’s freedom paradoxically comes from letting go and letting God take the lead, as Apostle penned two millennia ago and as the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. and Dr. Bob rediscovered in 1935. My experience has taught me that true freedom comes from letting go and letting God. What’s your experience?

Prayer

Loving God, if we are honest with you, we must confess that it is never easy to let go and let you direct our steps. Our egos have a strong need to maintain control, even though in reality control is an illusion. Give us the courage to unfurl our clinched fists and offer our lives to you anew, for we long for life that is really life that only you can offer us! Amen. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Do you have a list of scriptures you wish were not in the biblical text? I know there are more than a few for me.  I have various reasons for wanting some verses excised, but I especially detest those that make God sound petty, mean or vindictive. I also get annoyed with some verses that are used to declare some in and others out of the church or some worthy of service and others not. These verses are often conveniently used to support one’s own bias and to maintain one’s own power over and against another.  Well, this coming Sunday, come prepared for one of those verses we probably all would like excised, for Jesus says to us, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” What?  Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the Prince of Peace! What could Jesus possibly be saying to his disciples and to us? Jill Duffield,Outlook editor, makes plain why we struggle with this particular text, for she writes, “We find this reading from Matthew hard to stomach because we’ve taken our discipleship too lightly and our context hasn’t pushed us to question our cushy Christianity.” Ouch! What does discipleship look like for you?  Are there risks involved for you in following in the footsteps of Jesus? Is your Christianity a bit too cushy? I am glad this text did not end up on the cutting room floor. How about you? Wrestling with the text keeps our faith alive!

Prayer

Sovereign God, we prefer the picturesque manger to the stark reality of the cross, and the image of Jesus as the Prince of Peace rather than as the bearer of a sword. We confess that your living word unsettles us. Give us the courage to stay with the text and wrestle with its meaning for discipleship. We want to follow in your footsteps, even if the way forward is not cushy. Amen.

Wednesday,  June 14, 2017

Schools are out for the summer, but I wonder if you have a memory from your childhood of being sent out of the classroom?  Maybe you were sent to the principal’s office.  Maybe you were sent out to participate in a school play. Being sent out can be frightening as well as exciting; just ask the disciples! They had witnessed Jesus “teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news, and curing every disease and every sickness,” but now it was their turn. The crowds were just too large. There were just too many people to reach, so Jesus commissioned his disciples saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” The disciples were ordinary everyday people – not a celebrity among them, unless you count the notoriety of Matthew as the dreaded tax collector. Ordinary people sent out to do the extraordinary – “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.” Moved by compassion, Jesus enlisted and commissioned his disciples to help meet the extraordinary needs of the people.  Moved by compassion, where will Jesus enlist and commission you to meet the needs of people in our community or around the globe? We are not to remain in holy huddles safely within the walls of the church. We are to be ready and willing to be sent to people and places in deep need of God’s healing love. Where will you be sent?

Prayer

Loving God, we give thanks that you had compassion on the crowds and commissioned your disciples to respond to the needs around them. Although, we admit we have fears, send us out to be your hands, your feet, and your eyes, which compassionately look out into the world and then go about doing good in word and deed to bless others.  Amen.

Wednesday,  June 7, 2017

I love the honesty of the biblical text, “When they saw Jesus they worshipped him, but some doubted.” I know we have all heard the idiom, “Honesty is the best policy,” but is it? Was it a good thing that the biblical text was honest?  I believe so, for doubt is a crucible of faith, leaving room for questions and deeper understanding. In our particular text this coming Sunday, Jesus gathers his disciples to give to them what is known as the Great Commission (Matthew28:16-20): “Go therefore… make disciples…baptize them…teach them.”  “Go,” goes against our desire for comfort. “Go,” requires us to venture into places and into relationships that we would rather not. Yet, unless we “Go,” we certainly won’t stand a chance of “making disciples, baptizing them or teaching them!” As David Platt once wrote, “God has not redeemed you to dwell in a Christian bubble.” I know it feels far safer in the Christian bubble, yet this is not the great commission.  I know that many doubt their ability to share the gospel with others. If honesty is the best policy, then I need to confess that I don’t believe I have the spiritual gift of evangelism. Yet, that doesn’t get me a pass. Jesus said, “Go,” to all the disciples, not just to those with the gift of evangelism, like Peter.  Where is God calling you to “Go,” so that others might learn of the gospel through you?

Prayer

Commissioning God, if honesty is the best policy, we admit that the “E” word (Evangelism) implied by your command, “Go therefore,” intimidates us. We fear that we will not know what to say, if somebody challenges us. We fear what others will think of us.  Quell our fears and instill within us a confident trust in your presence, freeing us to share our stories of your goodness in our lives. Amen.   

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Have you ever been jealous? Jealousy seems to seep into all of our souls at one time or another. Your first memory might be from childhood, when a friend possessed a toy you knew your parents could never afford.  Maybe jealousy happened along the way, when a colleague received a promotion that you thought you deserved more. It even seeps into the church, for jealousy sprouts when someone feels overlooked, while others are called to lead. Moses asked if Joshua was jealous of Eldad and Medad, for they prophesied even though they had remained in camp. Eldad and Medad did not follow the rules. They broke rank. Yet, the Spirit descended on them, just as it did on the seventy who accompanied Moses. The Spirit blows where it wills, sweeping away our preconceived notions! As Apostle Paul says to the church at Corinth, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Where is there freedom needed in your own life from preconceived notions? Where does the forceful wind of the Spirit need to clear away the debris of jealousy?  How will the dancing flame of the Spirit ignite your passion for listening to God and responding with your very life? Oh, that all of God’s people would be prophets!

Prayer

Come, Holy Spirit, come! Yet, even as we read these words our hearts begin to race, for we know we cannot control the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! Free us from our preconceived notion. Free us by igniting our passion for your voice. Free us by sweeping away our fears.  Come, Holy Spirit, come! Come and live in us and through us, so that we may be your witnesses! Amen.

 

Wednesday, May 28, 2017

Have you ever had an experienced an aha moment? When something you thought you knew suddenly had a deeper meaning? Or when you had a fresh perspective on something that seemed tried and true? Jesus had been appearing to the disciples and the crowd of believers for forty days. Then we read Luke’s narrative on the day Jesus was carried into heaven, “Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” Jesus retold his life’s story through the lens of scripture and reminded the disciples that they were witnesses of his story. Imagine Jesus lovingly looking the disciples in the eyes, while passionately saying to them, “You are witnesses to these things.” You, not them! You! How have you witnessed the things of God?  What do you do with what you have witnessed? Do you keep the things of God to yourself or do you tell others? On this day, Jesus told the disciples to stay in the city until they have been clothed by the power from on high. The disciples, by the power from on high, became the conduit of faith for future believers. What about us? Are you a conduit of faith for those who do not yet know God? I can’t imagine being an eyewitness to Jesus’ ascension, but I can imagine being an eye witness to the things of God that happen all around us. Where have you witnessed God at work?  Share what you have seen with others.

Prayer

Power from on high, open our minds and our hearts to your palpable presence all around us. Break open deeper meaning and gift us with fresh perspectives on the Christ in each of us and in everyone we meet as we go through our days. You, O Christ, are with us. Help us to see with your eyes and give us courage to bear witness to your work of love. Amen.

 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I don’t know about you, but conditional statements always catch my eye and Jesus starts our passage from John 14 this week with the conditional word “if”. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” What commandments is Jesus talking about? The famous ten outlined in Exodus and Deuteronomy or the greatest two Jesus gave to his disciples: love God and love neighbor? What does keeping commandments have to do with love anyways? It seems to me that Jesus is saying to his disciples and to us that if we love God, then our lives will be lived in a particular way. If we love God, then our lives will be shaped by the abiding presence of Christ’s love and like Christ, the embodiment of love, we are to be love with our very lives.  Love that crosses human constructed boundaries, like Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman. Love that breaks unjust laws or rules that are rigid without reason, like Jesus healing on the Sabbath in order to stop suffering. Love that forgives even when everyone else is ready to condemn, like Jesus intervening on behalf of the woman caught in adultery. If you and I love Jesus than our lives will be lived in a particular way, not by our own power, but by the power of the Spirit of truth at work within us and through us. If we love Jesus, then we are to be about the work of love.

Prayer

Loving One, you tore open the heavens and came down to make plain the depth, breadth, height and width of your love for us. Your love for us never ceases to amaze us. Help us to abide in your love, so that your love will abide in us and flow through us to touch the deep needs of this hurting world. Spirit of truth, empower us to love as Jesus loves us. Amen.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet and foretold of his betrayal by Judas, as well as Peter’s anticipated denial.  The disciples were experiencing dislocation for their imagined future was evaporating. Jesus is talking about leaving, but where?  Jesus is talking about the way, but how? In the midst of their confusion Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  When life is not as we expect, it is hard for our hearts not to be troubled. We worry incessantly, wasting the preciousness of now. We lose sleep and wake in a fog. swirl in our minds and disrupt every waking moment. When life is not as we expect, we focus on all that seems chaotic, confusing or down right wrong.  The disciples could only come up with questions, “Where are you going? Or how will we know the way?” What do you do when life is not as you expect?  The prophet Isaiah reminds us to put God first above all, even when chaos rules or enemies of all varieties press in. “When we do,” writes Mark Roberts, “the rest of life will fall into its rightful place.” Could this be why Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled?”  If we focus on God – “believe in God, believe also in me,” said Jesus – then maybe we will have the courage to stay present to the moment and trust in God’s provision for our lives.  “You know the way,” said Jesus to his disciples.  The way is trust God with our very lives.

Prayer

Sovereign God, it is hard to always trust in your provision for our lives, even though you have been faithful in our past. When chaos reigns in our lives, we often forget to open our clinched fists and our slammed-closed hearts to your mercies which are new every morning, to your love and faithfulness which is steadfast, and to your hope which does not disappoint. Do not let our hearts be troubled, we pray. Give us the courage to trust in your provision for our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

 You probably all recall that infamous cell phone commercial, “Can you hear me know?” In the Gospel of John this coming Sunday, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, as they are challenging a man who claims he was blind but now can see.  I can almost hear Jesus saying to the Pharisees, “Can you hear me now?” The answer by the Pharisees is an emphatic, “No!”  It’s obvious that the Pharisees don’t know the Shepherd’s voice. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that the Shepherd calls his own by name and then leads them out, going before them and showing them the way. The Pharisees refuse to hear and they fail to claim the miracle of healing for this man who can now see. What about us? Are our ears stopped, preventing us from seeing God’s miracles all around us? How do you listen for God’s voice in your own life? I listen to God most often through the practice of journaling, silence and worship in community. What about you?  How do we as a church listen for God’s voice?  Often the cacophony of sounds clamoring for our attention on a daily basis, drown out God’s still small voice. That is why I find silence to be helpful. Until I quiet myself, I find it hard to hear God’s voice.  How might we learn to listen more deeply for God’s voice in our lives and in the life of this church? Maybe, God needs to keep asking us, “Can you hear me now?”

Prayer

Speaking God, help each of us to discern how best to hear your voice for our lives, so that we may connect with your life giving presence. We confess that our busyness often gets in the way, for we are more comfortable doing, rather than being.  Forgive us when we drown out your voice and help us attune our ears, hearts and lives to your ways.  Amen.

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