July 11, 2018
As I stepped out of Temple Emanu El last Friday night, two eerie, reddish-orange lines glowed in the distance, as the Valley fire marched upward into the San Gorgonio Wilderness. As residents of California we know the destructiveness of fire all too well. Yet, life on planet earth would not be possible without fire – the intense inferno we know as the sun. You may wonder why I was at Temple Emanu El last Friday evening. I was in attendance at the Sabbath Prayer Service as an act of hospitality. I wanted to extend hospitality to their new Rabbi Lindy Reznick, hoping she will experience the wonderful welcome I encountered from other clergy in this community when I arrived. What a delight it was to be present with a congregation filled with such hope, as they welcomed their new spiritual leader. How do you offer hospitality to others? Are you open to welcoming those whom you do not know, especially those of different faith traditions or cultures? Rev. Esther Shin will be exploring our call to hospitality through two biblical stories this coming Sunday. Bending towards radical hospitality is our calling as people of faith. How will you offer hospitality to another, especially a stranger, in the coming days, weeks or months?
God of infinite welcome, I marvel at the diversity of your children. Yet, I admit my timidity at welcoming those who are different from me. Grant me the courage to extend hospitality to those I do not yet know. Soften my heart to those who hunger and thirst for your radical word of welcome. Amen.
July 4, 2018
As we pause today to celebrate our nation’s founding, let us remember how our constitution begins, “We the people.” If we read much further in either the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, we run across the words “men” and “mankind,” for at our founding these words were believed to be universal, although only men had the right to vote. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution granted African American men the right to vote on February 3, 1870. It was not until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920, that women were granted the right to vote. Much has transpired in this nation since its founding, yet there is much work yet to be done. How are we to live into the aspiration of “We the people,” given the diversity of our nation today? I suggest as followers of Christ we must remember that every single person represented by the phrase “We the people” is created in the image of God. San Francisco Theology Seminary just produced a new statement which says, “The Image of God is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” They continue stating, “We are committed to fostering a just community that embraces differences.” When I read their recent statement, I thought of us, as we work together to foster a community of faith that embraces our differences. Christ draws us together and sends us into the world, to engage and embrace the beautiful diversity of God’s world. On this day, I pause to give thanks for God’s continuing grace, as we seek to be “We the People of the First Presbyterian Church” and the United States in all our beautiful diversity.
Loving God, I thank you for this nation I call home. I know it is not perfect, yet I am thankful for the freedoms available, which allow me to give voice to my concerns, aspirations and hopes. Help me to see your image in others. Give me the courage to foster just communities which embrace our differences. Amen.
June 27, 2018
When is the last time you took a risk? Was it this morning? Was it last month? Was it years ago? In some ways, we could say getting out of bed every day is a risk, as we never really know how a particular day will unfold. Yet, I am wondering more about risks associated with our faith, like Jairus who came to Jesus and fell at his feet even though his actions might tarnish his reputation, or the woman who dared to transgress a whole host of societal protocols in order to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. These two people were compelled to encounter Jesus with the hope of healing and transformation for themselves or others. What about us? Are we compelled to encounter Jesus? Not just to know about Jesus, but to be known by Jesus in a healing and transformative way? As a church, are we willing to risk helping others encounter Jesus in a healing and transformative way? Geena Davis reminds us that if we risk nothing, then we risk everything. As a church if we risk nothing, then I believe fear and not faith will be leading us. Following Jesus is inherently risky, because Jesus doesn’t leave anyone, individually or communally, where one is found. Let’s take a risk trusting that we will be transformed by our encounter with Jesus.
O God, although it is risky to do so, I pray to have the courage of Jairus and the woman who had been suffering for twelve years. I pray that faith and not fear will guide my steps. Transform me from the inside out, so that I draw others to your healing and transformative presence, O God. Amen.
June 20, 2018
As I stood on a sand bar, the view before me was the vast and beautiful blue green Pacific Ocean. When I turned back to look up from whence I came, a rain swollen stream was rushing to greet the crashing waves. I stood in awe of the mystery we call God on Hanakapi’ai Beach one summer day, a spectacular two-mile hike from Ke’e Beach on the Island of Kauai. I stood in awe of the power of this place, knowing that powerful waves and rushing torrents of rain could wash the sand below my feet away in an instant. I felt small and insignificant yet filled with awe and gratitude, hearing the psalmist say, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them.” This memory reminds me of the power of the One I claim to worship and serve. This memory humbles my arrogant thoughts, when I think for a moment that I am worth more than someone else. This memory reminds me that God is God and I am not. The disciples experienced this moment when Jesus calmed the wind lashed waves on the Sea of Galilee. They feared death by drowning as they pressed Jesus to wake up and do something! Then Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind, the sea and there was dead calm. Do you have an experience of being awed by our Creator? An experience when God’s sheer power was palpable? Let us stand in reverent awe of the God whom we worship.
Holy God, I kneel before you this morning in reverent awe, for the breadth of your power never ceases to amaze me. You not only calm the seas, but you break open hardened hearts. You care for the least, the lost and even me. I stand in awe and offer anew my life in service to you. Amen.
June 13, 2018
Did you hear that the Miss America pageant is dropping the swim suit and evening gown competitions? It seems to me the organization is saying that it’s what on the inside that counts or as God said to Samuel, “I do not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but I look on the heart.” Yet, how many of us judge a book by its cover as the saying goes. We feel inadequate around someone who looks accomplished or put together. We choose another route, out of fear, when an unkempt individual, huddled by their worldly possessions, is positioned in our path. We make snap judgments just as Samuel did, “When Samuel looked on Eliab, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’” We judge and then rarely take the time to know the heart of other. Jesse had his seven eldest sons present at the sacrifice, yet even though Samuel assumed they looked like kings they were not chosen by God. Jesse’s eighth son, the keeper of the family’s sheep, was God’s choice. God looked into the hearts of Jesse’s sons and David’s hearts was purest, for “blessed are the pure in heart, they will see God.” The challenge of this text is, what do we see when we encounter others? Do we make snap judgments or do we take the time to know their hearts?
Choosing God, I am not sure I even want to be chosen. Yet, I pray that my heart is centered on you. Help me not to make snap judgments that devalue those I encounter. Grant me the grace to see others as your precious children, even if they themselves do not yet know it. Amen.
June 6, 2018
The Shema, found in Deuteronomy, is considered by some the most essential prayer in all of Judaism. It begins with an affirmation of God’s singularity, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, claim God as one, for collectively we are known as the monotheistic faith traditions with roots in Abram and Sarai. As Christians, the next part of the Shema is known as the greatest commandment according to Jesus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Notice the repetition of “all.” God desires our whole selves, not just part of ourselves. Yet, this is not easy. For example, we want God to show up as we pray, yet do we want God to meddle in our finances? We want our children to learn of God’s love, yet do we want God showing up when we are holding a grudge against a co-worker? We selectively invite God into part of our hearts, but not into every facet of our lives. Loving God wholly means welcoming God’s presence into every aspect of our lives. This is not a singular decision, but one we make again and again each and every day. Where is God waiting to be invited into your life?
Holy One, I hear the word all and it causes me to tremble, for I know that I hold back. I do not allow you into all aspect so my life nor do I always wholeheartedly love you. Yet, you meet me where I am at and assure me of your love. Thank you, God, for your steadfast love that never gives up on me. Amen.
May 30, 2018
There are times when I just can’t pick up a newspaper or listen to another newscast. My soul just doesn’t want to know what else could be wrong in our world. This has sometimes been referred to as compassion fatigue, as the weight of one more ill seems too crushing. Given the state of the world it is easy to understand how exhaustion sets in and people of faith become numb or paralyzed to all that is not right in this world. Yet, Jesus prays for his disciples and for us, saying, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world…I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them…as you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This prayer suggests that we don’t have the option to escape or disengage from all that is not right with world. Sure, we can’t tackle all the problems, but Jesus calls each of us to discern what in the world breaks our heart and then charges us with being engaged in the work of reconciling, healing, and making whole. Yet, how to we stay engaged when we are exhausted? How can we be energized for being sent into the world? With the assurance that God goes before us and God goes with us, for Jesus prayed, “Protect them.” Jesus says to us through John’s Gospel that we can’t escape the reality of the world around us, yet we don’t have to succumb to its values and pressures. How do you sense God’s protection in your life? How does your faith energize you to respond and address the things that break your heart in this world?
Ever protecting God, I realize that your protection is something deeper than mere personal safety, for whether I live or die I am yours. Yet, I pray for strength today to address those things that break my heart, for the reality of the world around me is at times overwhelming. I sometimes am exhausted, so renew and restore my soul, for I do want to be sent into the world for your glory. Amen.
May 23, 2018
Richard Rohr writes, “If you can’t honor the Divine Indwelling – the presence of the Holy Spirit – within yourself, how could you see it in anybody else.” The simple answer is you can’t. Unless we claim our own God given dignity, we will only see the deficits in ourselves and in others. So, what does scripture say? Rohr writes, “Apostle Paul restored humanity dignity at a time when perhaps four out of five people were slaves, women were considered the property of men, prostitution was a form of temple worship, and oppression and injustice toward the poor and the outsider were norm. Against all this, Paul proclaims, ‘One and the same Spirit was given to us all to drink!’ (1 Corinthians 12:13). ‘You, all of you, are sons and daughters of God, now clothed in Christ, where there is no distinction between male or female, Greek or Jew, salve or free, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:26-28). The problem though is that Paul also said, “If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” This unfortunately was translated by our ancestors of faith to mean the “flesh” is bad and the “spirit” good. Yet, how could this be, if Christ was incarnate – fully human, fully God? How can this be given that our human experience is enfleshed? How are we to reclaim our God given dignity, body and spirit, and honor the Divine Indwelling within ourselves, so that we can honor it others? Can you claim your God given dignity?
O Christ, the Gospel of John makes it clear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Help me to reclaim the dignity of my God given body and spirit, my whole being, and help me to honor your Divine Indwelling in all others. Amen.
May 16, 2018
The scene is a battlefield. Dry bones picked clean lay scattered as far as the eye can see. Into this valley of dry, desolate, long dead bones Ezekiel finds himself. Ezekiel is lead around these bones and then hears God speak, saying, “Can these bones live?” How would you answer this question? When the situation before you looks like the remains of a battle field, where all parties involved seem devoid of life, are you able to see the prospect of new life? When a relationship has been severely damaged, can reconciliation be breathed into the situation? In the throes of a physically ravaging illness, can the breath of life bring deeper meaning? When a church is struggling to survive, can the Spirit blow through it and renew its life? “Can these dry bones live?” asks God. I love Ezekiel’s answer, “O Lord God, you know.” Ezekiel defers to God. Ezekiel knows his limitations. He can’t cause these bones to live, but God can, for with God all things are possible. So, when God puts the ball back in Ezekiel’s court, he picks it up and prophesies as God commanded. The bones rattle and they come to life. What is God commanding us to do? How are we to partner with God bringing forth renewed life in us and in our community? It doesn’t take much effort to see the valley of dry bones all around us, but will we listen to God’s voice and participate?
Bone rattling God, you do not settle for dry and brittle lives. You call me to life. You call me to call others to life. Give me the courage to listen to your voice. Give me the courage to partner with you in bringing forth life, by the power of the Spirit, from places of dryness, brittleness and even deadness. Amen.
May 9, 2018
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” said Jesus to his disciples. Do you have a working definition of love? Apostle Paul uses a lot of “nots” to describe love, “Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing.” Paul also give us some concrete examples of what love is. Love is patient and kind. Love rejoices in truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. Jesus says another thing about love, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Love is patient, kind, and self-giving. Love is humble. Love is able to look to the interests of others. Love, as demonstrated through God’s story from Genesis to Revelation, never gives up. Love continues to give and give yet again. This commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us is demanding. It requires us to love and then love some more. Loving those who love us is easy. But, loving those who don’t is more challenging. Yet, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” This is the love to which Jesus calls us. This is our call.
Loving God, the extravagance of your love is overwhelming. You simply, yet profoundly love me just as I am. Yet, my love is not so pure for others. I put all sorts of conditions on my love. I know that my love for others falls short of your love for me. Forgive me and never stop reshaping me to be more loving. Amen.
May 2, 2018
Do you remember the saying, “April showers bring May flowers?” We didn’t have a lot of showers in April, but we still have plenty of flowers gracing our neighborhoods. My neighbor’s bougainvillea is in full bloom, as I see it peeking over our shared fence. On my early morning walks, I have enjoyed the lovely fragrance of orange blossoms. Wildflowers, especially those that close up shop as the sun goes down and then open wide as the new day dawns always make me smile. There is wisdom in their pattern of wakefulness and restfulness as well as their willingness to always turn towards the sun. There is also wisdom in the words of Jesus who said to his disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” I know we all enjoy the beauty of fresh cut flowers, yet we know that it is only a matter of time until they wilt and the beauty of their blossoms fade. Once the flower is cut from the vine, it dies. Jesus says the same about us, “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” The beauty, vitality and fruitfulness of our faith with fade and die, unless we abide in Christ. As spring continues to carry us towards summer, what spiritual practices nourish you? How do you receive the life-giving nourishment the True Vine has to offer you? Spiritual practices come is all shapes and sizes – silence, prayer, music, bible studies, journaling, exercise, companion circles, devotionals, art, nature, spiritual direction, scripture – so, experiment with what makes your faith come alive and be fruitful. May the words of this song bear fruit for you, “Water our lives, O God, with living streams of your grace. Bear in our lives creating God, the living fruits of your love.”
True Vine, I hear the wisdom of abiding in you. I know that there is beauty, vitality and fruitfulness in my life when I do. Yet, I confess that I often forget to abide in you. Busyness fills my days and demands overwhelm me. Forgive me and instill within me a deep hunger and thirst for the nourishment that only you can provide. Amen.
April 25, 2018
“O sing to the Lord a new song,” said the psalmist. Of course, songs in scripture happen long before we get to the psalms. The first song recorded in scripture is the Song of Moses, “I will sing to the Lord, for the Lord has triumphed gloriously.” Miriam’s Song follows with tambourines and with dancing, “Sing to the Lord, for the Lord has triumphed gloriously.” When is the last time you sang to the Lord? Was it in worship or maybe just yesterday? I know I often break into song when the majestic mountains that surround us come into view, “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Or when life is overwhelming this song speaks deeply to my soul, “Peace be still, peace be still, though the storm rages, peace be still.” Or on my early morning walks this song from my youth group days still breaks forth, “Give ear to my word, O Lord. Consider my meditations, harken unto the voice of my cry, my King and my God. For unto to thee will I pray, my voice shalt thou hear in the morning. O Lord, in the morning when I direct my prayers unto thee and will look up.” How has music been a part of your faith journey? I know music has touched me deeply. As Hans Christian Andersen once wrote, “Where words fail, music speaks,” and that has held true many times throughout my journey. This coming Sunday an abundance of music will fill our time of worship, as we celebrate the gift of music among us. As Victor Hugo wrote, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Music will express our love for God as we gather together this week. Invite a friend to join us at 10:00 A.M. for our all church worship.
O Lord, I will sing a new song to you with my life this day. I will make a joyful noise to you, the rock of my salvation! O Lord, you have done marvelous things in my life and I give thanks. Give me the courage to sing the song that only I can sing, for I am beloved. Amen.
April 18, 2018
In the Gospel of John Jesus says decisively, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus continues saying, “No one takes it [my life] from me, because I lay it down on my own accord.” Jesus was not coerced into laying aside his preferences or plans. Jesus does this voluntarily for the sake of others. What about us? As Apostle Paul said to the Philippians, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” I wonder how a church would look, if it placed the interests of those not yet within the church above its own interests. What would we be willingly to yield, so that others might come to know the good shepherd as we do? I’ll be the first to admit that it is not easy to lay down our interests. We all like what we like! Yet, I imagine that we all have experienced the strife that occurs in relationships and organizations, when no one can lay aside his or her own interests. In our culture of deep divisions based on preferences, what might Jesus have to teach us through John’s Gospel? Spend some time between now and worship on Sunday, reflecting on Jesus’ willingness to lay down his life for us. What might Jesus be calling us to lay down individually and communally?
Shepherding One, thank you for demonstrating the profound power of yielding, for your love has made me whole with God. Help me to be more aware of how yielding might bring others into your fold. Give me the courage to lay aside all that gets in the way of sharing your amazing grace with others. Amen.
April 11, 2018
What I love about scripture is its honesty. It doesn’t sugar coat stories. It tells it like it is and once again we find Jesus’ disciples terrified and frightened. This time the account comes from Luke’s Gospel. The disciples are not only terrified and frightened, they also have doubt. The text even says, “In their joy [in experiencing the risen Christ] they were disbelieving and still wondering.” The disciples stood filled with questions, as Christ said to them, “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” I imagine the disciples rubbing their eyes and maybe even pinching themselves to see if what they were experiencing was really happening or just a waking dream! When you experience the miraculous, what do you do? I remember a sermon years ago at the contemplative retreat I attend annually. It was preached on the night of a service of wholeness [a healing service]. The pastor recounted a story of one of her parishioners who had experienced a miraculous healing according to her doctors and the pastor’s response was, “Really?” In her joy over the healing of her parishioner, she was experiencing disbelief and was wondering if maybe things had just been misdiagnosed. I hope we can place ourselves in the text and empathize with the disciples’ terror, fright, doubt, disbelief, and wondering. I imagine, not unlike the pastor or the disciples, we have all had trouble wrapping our minds and hearts around the miracle of the resurrection, even though Jesus talked about it repeatedly before his death. In preparation for Sunday’s worship, spend some time reflecting on the resurrection and get in touch with the feelings that arise within you, trusting that even if terror, fright, doubt, disbelief, or wondering surfaces, Jesus will stand ready to show you his wounds.
Thank you, Jesus, for your willingness to meet my needs, for not giving up on me even though terror, fright, doubt, disbelief, or wondering sometimes erupts within me. The reality of the resurrection is hard to grasp, even though I see evidence of its truth in my own life. Your love has brought forth life from places of deadness within me. Give me the courage to bear witness to the resurrection, trusting that I can always pray, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Amen.
April 4, 2018
Have you ever heard an incredible story only to doubt the facts? When the story seemed beyond reason or even possibility? Then we shouldn’t give Thomas the disciple such a hard time for saying, ““Unless I see the nail holes in Jesus’ hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” What will it take for you to believe in the risen Christ? What will it take for you to believe that you have access to the resurrecting power that brings forth life from death this very day? It is one thing to say, “I believe,” but it is another thing altogether to be transformed by that belief. I witnessed a story of resurrection in the life of a colleague who was terminated during a corporate downsizing. The despair was overwhelming and suicidal thoughts surfaced, yet the individual grasped a shred of his faith and remembered that resurrection was possible. Over the next few months, his despair turned into dancing and then he confessed, “Termination was the best thing that ever happened to me, for my life has been made new.” When life crashes in and despair, destruction or death clamor to overwhelm you, remember the women at the empty tomb struck with terror and amazement, remember the disciples locked behind closed doors and remember Thomas demanding the proof he needed to believe, and then remember their resolve to spread the good news of great joy “in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the world.” We are recipients of their transformed belief, which literally changed the course of history. What proof do you need to participate in the power of the resurrection each and every day?
Resurrecting God, I just celebrated with joy the resurrected Christ, yet I admit that some days this is harder to believe than on other days. I also struggle to practice resurrection in and through my own life, by calling forth the possibilities of life in the midst of deadness. Help me to see and experience your resurrecting power at work in my life and in the world around me. Amen.
Sunday, April 1, 2018
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were coming to the tomb for the ritual of preparing Jesus’ body for burial. Given the start of Sabbath on Friday at sundown they were not able to do this until the rising of the sun on Sunday morning. They came anticipating the reality of death, not the miracle of life. Is it any wonder that they were terrified and stunned with amazement, when the young man, dressed in a white robe said, “Jesus has been raised; his is not here… Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee.” When have you be rendered silent in the face of life, when you anticipated death? Every time I walk with a family through the death of a loved one, life emerges in ways that render me silent, as I take in the miracle of life that is really life, because death cannot extinguish it. We will exclaim with exuberance this day, “Christ is risen!” Christ is alive, not dead. Christ goes before us to where we need to be! On this Easter, where do you see the miracle of life, which has conquered death? Where is God calling you to bring forth the miracle of life, in the midst of this world that is bent towards death? The power of the resurrection was not just a historical event; it is a daily occurrence! Yet, will we live into its miracle each and every day?
Resurrecting God, give me the courage to claim the power of resurrection for my own life and in this world. In places bent on death, help me to see the possibility of life. By the power of your Spirit at work with in, grant me the resolve to call forth and claim life that is really life! Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
Saturday, March 31, 2018
I remember house hunting here in Redlands. It was not only the house that I was looking at, but also the outdoor space. I decided that I wanted outdoor space that was quiet rather than noisy. My Cerritos home was not far from the freeway and when you step outside the constant hum of the freeway is ever present. I didn’t want that here in Redlands. So, with my parameters and my husband’s parameters we looked at over 40 homes before we settled on the one we purchased! Shirley Harry deserved a medal for being our realtor. Of course, all outdoor space has sounds, whether it is the birds that greet each morning with their songs or a lawn mower manicuring a yard. But, what I have come to appreciate is deeply sinking into the silence of whatever nature has to offer, without the clutter of human made noises. On this day of silence between the crucifixion and the resurrection, what is your experience of silence? Does silence nurture your soul or is the silence frightening? The disciples were behind locked doors in fear for their lives, what about you?
O God, you were not in the great wind or the earthquake or the fire. You were in the sheer silence. Give me the courage to slow down the outer noise of the world and inner noise of my life, so that I may hear your voice ever more clearly. Speak to me in the midst of the sheer silence of this day. Amen.
Friday, March 30, 2018
What is so good about Good Friday? Jesus was nailed to a cross and hung between two common criminals. The cross upon which Jesus hung was a brutal instrument of torture and death used by the Roman Empire to deter its enemies. The day was marked with blood and punctuated with an earthquake, darkness and death. Yet, in the midst of this day of death, Jesus already points to signs of new life. Jesus said to his mother, “Here is your son,” and to the beloved disciple he said, “Here is your mother.” Jesus said to those who hoisted him upon the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” To one of the common criminals Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Even though Jesus cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” he commended his spirit to the very God he felt forsaken by. In the midst of dying, Jesus was still bearing witness to life and pointing to the truth that death would not be the final victor. Could this be what is good about this day? “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” Life in Christ so fully demonstrated by Christ’s self-emptying love for all of creation has the final word.
Loving God, this Friday doesn’t always seem so good, for it reminds me that brutal tortures are still a present reality in this world. Principalities and powers continue to silence voices that advocate for justice, compassion and love. Forgive me, when I cannot bear witness to the life that conquers death in the midst of the darkness of these days. Grant me the vision to see what is good about this day and every day through the lens of Christ’s love. Amen.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
In the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – Jesus institutes what we have come to know as the Lord’s Supper. In reading these accounts, we can imagine the smell of freshly baked bread as Jesus tears off a piece and gives it to his disciples saying, “Take, eat this bread.” The pungent odor of deep red wine fills the air as it poured and Jesus shares the cup with his disciples saying, “This cup is poured out for you.” The simple elements of bread and wine take on a deeper meaning around this table. At this table we hear the echoes of Jesus’ proclamations, “I am the bread of life,” and “I am the true vine.” Jesus is the life source as John’s Gospel declares, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Jesus is the vine and we are the branches; apart from Jesus we can do nothing. We are dependent on this source of life named the Christ, the true vine. Do you acknowledge your dependence on Christ? How is Christ your sustenance? Every time we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, says Apostle Paul, we proclaim the Lord’s saving death until he comes again in all glory. Every time we gather at table together, whether it’s the communion table or dinner table, the coffee table or patio table, the picnic table or side table, let us remember the source of our lives. Let us remember that we are part of a greater whole and apart from it, we can do nothing.
Source of life, give me the courage to remain firmly engrafted into you, the true vine. Feed me with your sustenance, your living water and living word, nourishing my body and soul. As your branch, use me to produce bountiful fruit for the kingdom of God. Thank you for the simplicity of bread and cup, and the metaphor for my life of vine and branch. Amen.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
“This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in the Lord’s salvation.” Through the prophet’s words we have feasted at the Lord’s table and been given the assurance that death is not the final word. “This” declares Isaiah, “is the Lord for whom we have waited.” Who is the God you wait for? How has God been present in your life? Have you dined at God’s feast? Has God wiped away your tears? Have you experienced the joy of God’s salvation? This journey called life is filled with so many twists and turns for all us, yet if there is only one thing to be gleaned from our scriptures it is this, “God never gives up on us.” From the beginning of Genesis through the final words of Revelation, the arc of God’s story is present in God’s persistent, insistent, tenacious outpouring of love. God loves us and invites us to be in communion, this is our salvation. When we realize that God-with-us through Jesus Christ is an invitation to another way of being, the joy of our salvation is realized. We are crafted by God for communion, not separation. Let us risk communion with the one who laid down his life in love for all peoples.
Your insistent persistent love never ceases to amaze me, O God. I certainly have given you plenty of reasons to give up on me. Yet, you do not. You continually beckon me to commune with you and in turn commune with others. Help me to experience the joy of your salvation in community. Amen.
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
God’s gracious feast in Isaiah is followed by a declaration, “The Lord will swallow up death forever and will wipe away the tears from all faces.” We hear similar declarations in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and in the Revelation to John of Patmos, “Death has been swallowed up in victory,” and “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more.” Yet, we know that death is still very much a part of life. We know the reality of hot tear stained faces ourselves. The pain of death has pierced our lives in ways that often defy words. Yet, we have these declarative words of God. How are we to interpret these words in light of experience? I remember the first Easter following the death of my dad, twenty months after the death of my mom. I was struggling with whether or not I could even preach on Easter. And so, I went to their graves on Saturday. Hot tears ran down my face as I argued with God about the sting of death. As I sat on the grass in the presence of their graves it didn’t feel like death had been swallowed up in victory. But, then my words ran out and my tears ran dry and I just sat in silence. Into this deep silence a joy erupted, as if “in the twinkling of eye,” and I knew in the depths of my soul that love had conquered death. Love poured into my being through my parents, through the long line of saints that had gone before me. God has swallowed up death, for it does not have the last word.
Holy mystery, thank you for meeting me where I am. Thank you for sparing with me when I have doubts or arguments. Thank you for your declaration that reminds me that death is not the final word, for your love conquers all. Amen.
Monday, March 26, 2018
Isaiah paints a wonderful picture of God’s gracious hospitality, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a rich feast, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” A feast is laid before the people of God, welcoming them into God’s presence. This picture reminds of another table, “Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles with him,” and then he broke bread and poured a cup of wine. The table that is present as we worship each Sunday is a reminder of God’s gracious hospitality. Although, the institutional church throughout the ages has made restrictions as to who has access to this table, the table really belongs to God. It is a feast laid before the people of God. As Sara Miles wrote in her book entitled, Take This Bread, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep, feed my sheep. He didn’t say, ‘Feed my sheep after you check their ID.’” Sara Miles experienced the gracious hospitality of God at an open communion table, where all peoples were welcomed whether they believed or were baptized or had doubts. Isaiah paints an inclusive banqueting table saying, “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a rich feast.” How gracious is our hospitality to all peoples as a church? How gracious is your hospitality to those you encounter in your daily routines? May it be as gracious as God’s.
Gracious and loving God, I am so thankful that you welcome me to your table prepared with a feast. I have feasted in your presence. Now shape my heart and my will to your gracious hospitality, so that all peoples will be drawn to your welcome. Amen.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
When is the last time you were swept into a crowd of spectators at a parade? Or when was the last time you participated with a crowd of people for a cause? Yesterday, crowds gathered in cities across our country in support of March for our Lives, which was initiated by the kids and families of victims of the Parkland school mass shooting. The crowds walked in solidarity to address gun violence in our society. Yesterday, members of our church along with others gathered at the VA Ambulatory Center in Loma Linda for the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Walk for American Veterans, too. We walked to bring awareness to the reality of suicide among those who have served our country. When crowds gather there is always a reason. The crowds gathered on Palm Sunday around Jesus were filled with hope. They shouted, “Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” They hoped the long-awaited Messiah was entering into Jerusalem to reestablish the splendor of the Davidic Kingdom. Yet, Jesus didn’t come into town as a conquering king on a war horse with a military entourage. He came into town humbly on the back of a colt that had never been ridden. It’s apparent from the Gospel story that Jesus and the crowds didn’t have the same expectation. What is your expectation of Jesus?
It is never easy when my expectations don’t match yours, Jesus. You came as the Prince of Peace, yet I admit at times I wish you had come as a conquering king. It is so hard to face all that is not right in this world – gun violence, suicide, human trafficking and so much more. It is hard to face, yet even harder not to resolve through force. Humble my heart and strengthen my convictions to work towards resolutions peacefully. Amen.
Saturday, March 24, 2018
I remember walking along the cobbled route that history suggests Jesus took from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. Between the Mount of Olives and the Lion’s Gate into the Old City of Jerusalem were acres and acres of stone tombs, some which predate Jesus. As I made the walk and envisioned being swept into the crowd accompanying Jesus into Jerusalem, the presence of death was very real. I wonder if Jesus felt that presence, too, as he descended into Jerusalem. In the midst of the shouts of hosanna, did the whispers of “crucify him” began to murmur within him?” As Easter people, it is hard to isolate our feelings about Palm Sunday, because we know what happens between the two Sundays. We know that death will enter in a gruesome way. We know that the silence of Saturday will be deafening. Yet, we also know that the tomb will be found empty, even though the Gospel of Mark doesn’t leave us with a particularly joyous ending, “The women said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” How can we stay connected with the joy and anticipation of Palm Sunday in the midst of tombs? Will we bend toward life and joy, savoring each and every precious moment, even though we know that death is a part of life?
Holy One, sometimes my fears overshadow my experience of joy. Yet, help me to stay present to the expectant joy so alive in the crowds shouting, “Hosanna to the highest heavens.” Don’t allow the reality of death to overshadow the joy of living. With joy, I give thanks for the gift of my life this day! Amen.
Friday, March 23, 2018
Two questions show up in our Gospel text this week, “Why are you doing this?” and “What are you doing?” Biblical Commentator Jill Duffield writes, “These are reasonable questions for anyone unfamiliar with what this Sunday is all about.” If we were stopped on the streets of Redlands and asked by a bystander, “Why are you doing this,” with this being processing with palm branches, would we have an answer? Why do we adorn the sanctuary with palm branches and recount this story each year? Would we be able to answer, “What are you doing,” in relation to our weekly practice of worship? In Peter’s first letter to the exiles he writes, “Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are.” Are you willing to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you are a Christian, why you are living the way you are? Duffield writes, “We are waving palms and singing Hosannas, welcoming the Lord, who is coming into our streets on the way to the cross, to turn the current world order upside down.” And why are we doing this? Duffield responds, “Because we want to follow Jesus and be part of the new, life-giving, creation-redeeming thing God is doing through Jesus.” Spend some time reflecting on how you would answer these questions today.
Loving God, I admit that I am not always willing to speak up or speak out about my faith. I am not even sure I can articulate why I live as I live. Forgive, my timidity and equip me to be able to share my answers to these questions with utmost courtesy. I want my words to be invitational, not confrontational, when I share of my faith. Amen.
Thursday, March 22, 2018
The text for Palm Sunday from the Gospel of Mark records that Jesus sent two of his disciples into the village with specific instructions, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden.” Have you ever wondered what the disciples were thinking given Jesus’ instruction? Especially when Jesus said, “If anyone asks you anything, just say that the Lord has need for it.”
Why would Jesus have need for a colt that has never been ridden? Think about it. It doesn’t matter whether it was a colt, a horse, a donkey or a mule, because none of these animals take naturally to weight being placed on their backs. The term “broke” is used when a saddle or a harness can be placed on the back of one of these animals. I wonder if the disciples imagined that Jesus was actually going to ride on the colt’s back? Scriptural stories often become so familiar and so flat that we forget that these stories represent real people and real places. The iconic images of Palm Sunday have tamed the possibilities of what actually happened that day. How do we tame the possibilities of our faith through familiarity?
God of all reality, forgive me when I allow my familiarity with the stories of faith to become flat and lifeless. Help me to realize that these ancient stories involved real people with real thoughts and questions, just as I have. Thank you meeting me where I am. Amen.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
My New Revised Standard Version of the Bible titles Psalm 118 a Song of Victory. This psalm begins and ends by giving thanks to the Lord and repeatedly confessing that God’s steadfast love endures forever. In its ancient Jewish context, it was most likely an entrance liturgy to the Temple, used at the festival of Passover, for it proclaims God’s deliverance from Egypt as well as from the Exile. Again, and again the psalmist proclaims that the people of God have experienced God’s goodness. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that this psalm is often used on both Palm Sunday and Easter! Especially given these lines of the psalm, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” On Palm Sunday the crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord…Hosanna in the highest heaven.” On Good Friday, Jesus is clearly the stone rejected by the people of God as he is sentenced to be crucified, but then on Easter morn, Jesus becomes the chief cornerstone of our faith. How have these two lines been influential in your journey of faith? Have you shouted loud hosannas, only to cry out in a matter of hours, “Crucify him?” If we are honest with ourselves we can all recount times in our lives when our enthusiasm turned sour, when our praise turned to criticism. Take the time to read the whole Psalm today and see where you find yourself in the story.
Ever patient God, I am so thankful that you never give up on me or anyone else. Although, my fervor for you often wanes with the circumstances of my life and the conditions of the world around me, your fervor for me never wanes. You are ever patient, extending your gratuitous and gracious love always. I am thankful that your steadfast love endures forever. Amen.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
The psalmist has called the people of God to rejoice and be glad, yet the next words out of the psalmist’s mouth are “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!” But the psalmist just doesn’t say “save us,” but also give us success or prosperity. When we hear these words we might immediately think of material wealth. The psalmist’s desire to make life more comfortable for the people of God. Yet, scholars suggest that the psalmist’s request was far more basic. The psalmist is hoping for basic provisions to sustain life in the midst of an imminent threat. This petition for God’s help is nestled in the middle of ten verses suggestive of public worship. The people have gathered to give thanks, but they also recognize that they need God’s help.
What about us? Do we recognize our need for God’s help? Or do we consider asking for a help a sign of weakness, as some of us might have heard as we were growing up. I would like to suggest that asking for help is actually a sign of strength, for it means we understand our limitations. All of us need help along life’s way, so cry out to God when the need arises.
Listening God, it is not always easy to ask for help from you, but especially from others. Give me the wisdom to understand my limitations and to receive the blessing of being in community by crying out when I need help. Thank you for responding to my heart cries, O God. Amen.
Monday, March 19, 2018
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I invite you to say this phrase over and again this morning, until the truth sinks in and causes you to rejoice. What causes you to rejoice today? Every morning I open my eyes I rejoice, for everyday is a gift to be unwrapped and enjoyed. Sure, some days are more prone to rejoicing than others. But, even when illness confines me to a bed, I can rejoice that I have a bed inside a house and a loving family that will care for me. Many in our city are not so fortunate. What makes you glad about today? Does the creativity of the Lord so beautifully displayed in the natural world around us make you glad? I know the mountains that surround us here in Redlands make me glad whether they are snowcapped or just majestically pointing skyward on a warm summer day. Of course, spring blossoms make me glad too. Take a few moments today to rejoice and be glad for what God has made.
Creating God, thank you for the gift of this day and for the gift of my life. When I stop to think about the diversity of your creation from the humming bird to the grizzly bear, from the great blue whale to a clown fish, from sweet orange blossoms to a towering California redwood I stand in awe. Help me to remember to rejoice and be glad each and every day. Amen.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
“The hour has come…my soul is troubled.” Have you ever come to a crossroad in your life that was troubling? Jesus was troubled by what was next for him. The cross loomed larger than life, yet Jesus didn’t turn and run. What kept Jesus on a collision course with the principalities and powers that orchestrated his execution, was his clear sense of purpose. When your soul is troubled what do you do? Do you have a clear sense of purpose that keeps you focused on what is most important? I remember an incident from my corporate days, when it was suggested by powers above me that I should not report an environmental violation to the appropriate authorities. I clearly remember my response because, if I had followed the suggestion, I would have compromised my core values as well as the core values of the company. To report had monetary consequences, but to not report had even greater consequences. When the hour comes and you find yourself at a crossroad, what will you do? Will you run? Will you violate your core values? Or will you face what is to come as Jesus did?
Holy God, crossroads are never easy, especially when they trouble my soul. Give me the courage to stay firmly rooted in your word and your way. Grant me insight for the facing of the hour, so that your name might be glorified through the way I live and move and have my being. Amen.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
I have a habit of reading multiple biblical translations when I prepare each week to write my message. The standard scholarly version I use is the New Revised Standard Version. A contemporary translation I often read is entitled, The Message. If a text comes from the Hebrew Scriptures than I turn to a scholarly Hebrew translation. If you go to Biblegateway.com you will find many more translations. Of course, word studies help too, but that is another subject! This is the sentence that sent me elsewhere, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Well, I love my life and gave thanks daily for the gift of life. So, this translation, if taken on face value, obviously causes me some concern. I also don’t particularly like the word “hate”. So here is another take on this verse, “Anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” This makes more sense, for if I am stingy with my life and only use it to satisfy myself, then I destroy the true purpose of life. But, if I let go of my life and use my life to love others, not just myself, then I’ll have life forever! So, love life, but use your life to love others as Christ loved us.
Loving God, you have generously poured your love into my life. Do not let me hoard your love. Give me the courage to love others as you have loved me. Give me the courage to love, even recklessly at times, so that my life will bear the living fruit of your love. Amen.
Friday, March 16, 2018
“Time’s up,” said Jesus. “The hour has come.” Jesus knew that his earthly ministry was coming to a close. He didn’t have much time left to teach his disciples or anyone else the way of faith. So, he tapped the wisdom of his agrarian society and said, “Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.” Even those of us who are far removed from an agrarian society understand the latent power of a seed. Yet seeds need to be buried. Seeds need to be willing to risk the dark damp moisture of soil. Seeds also require patience, as growth takes time. “Time’s up,” said Jesus, and in order to bear fruit as my disciples you are going to have to risk darkness, risk being buried in places you would rather not go. When time seems short, are you more willing to take risks? Are you more willing to go places you would rather not go? Are you more willing to die to your comfort, so that your life may be used to bless others? The hour has come for us to risk following in Jesus’ footsteps, even if it means the way forward may seem dark and uninviting. Unless we are willing to do so, how can God bear fruit through us?
Holy One, I hear these words of a song in my heart, “Water our lives, O God, with flowing streams of your grace; bear in our lives, creating God, the living fruit of your love.” Give me the courage to risk discomfort for the sake of the gospel, so that my life might bear living fruit of your love. Amen.
Thursday, March 15, 2018
As we turn to the Gospel passage from John for this week, it begins with these words, “There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?’” There is a contemporary Christian song and these very words are sung, “I want to see Jesus.” Here are the first few lines of that song, “Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus to reach and touch him.” Biblical Commentator Mary Hinkle Shore writes that in the Gospel of John, seeing and hearing are the ways people come to know Jesus, to believe or trust in him, and to recognize his unity and singleness of purpose with this mystery we call God. This desire to see by the Greek worshippers takes us back to the opening chapter of John’s Gospel, when Jesus himself said to Andrew, “Come and see.” This also reminds me of the psalmist who wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Come and see. Come and touch. Come and taste! Our understanding of who Jesus is more than an intellectual ascent. Our understanding involves our whole being; our understanding is to be embodied in who we are. How have your senses helped you to know Jesus and his singleness of purpose?
Holy God, I have seen your beauty in the sunlight dancing off dew laden leaves. I have been embraced by your love as I beheld a newborn. I have tasted your sweetness in a ruby ripe strawberry. Involve my whole being in sensing the majesty and wonder of your love made known to me most fully through Jesus. Yes, I will taste and see that you, O God, are good. Amen.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
“With my whole heart I seek you,” writes the psalmist. What about you? Do you seek God with your whole heart? I know from a recent week of study leave that it is easier to seek God with my whole heart when I am on retreat. When the daily demands can be set aside, it is easier to seek you with my whole heart. Yet, we all live in the midst of daily routines and demanding schedules. Priorities clamor for our attention and before we know it God takes a back seat. I remember a friend of mine sharing that she used a simple practice throughout the day to bring God into her awareness given that the school she worked at was close to a fire station. Whenever she heard a siren, she paused to give thanks and to pray for those on the other end of the siren. This simple practice punctuated her day as she remembered and gave thanks to God with her whole heart. What practice do you have or might you initiate to seek God with your whole heart more regularly throughout the day? When you hear a bird sing? When you stop at a red light? When the telephone rings? “Seek God with you whole heart,” says the psalmist.
Gracious and merciful God, you know that I do not always seek you with my whole heart. I get so easily distracted in the midst of my busyness. Help me to seek you with my whole heart whenever and wherever I may be. Amen.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm. It contains 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And each of the 22 stanzas has eight lines of poetry beginning with the respective letter. Imagine writing a psalm using each letter of the English alphabet and then writing eight lines of poetry with the respective letter. I might be able to write 8 lines of poetry about God with words that begin with “A” or “T,” but I doubt I would be very successful with “Q” or “Z.” Could you write 176 verses about the delight you have in God’s decrees and commandments, and statutes and precepts? We miss the complexity of this psalm in English, because the acrostic nature of the psalm is lost. Yet, I hope we don’t miss the beauty of God’s guidance through God’s commandments. As the psalmist suggests, we must fix our eyes and meditate on the ways of God to keep our ways pure. What spiritual practices help you keep your ways fixed on God?
Loving God, I appreciative the creative genius of Psalm 119, as it reminds me of the importance of your ways given to me through your commandments, statues, ordinances, decrees and precepts. Help me to meditate on the beauty of your word, I pray. Amen.
Monday, March 12, 2018
The psalmist begins with a question, “How can young people keep their way pure?” Of course, this isn’t a question just for youth. It is a question for all who chose to follow God. The psalmist has an answer for us, for he says we can keep our way pure “By guarding our way according to God’s word.” To do this we have to know God’s word. To be guided and guarded by God’s word we must be in the word. How well do you know scripture? Do you spend time reading scripture, even though you may have more questions than answers as you read? I once read in a survey that even pastors don’t spend time in scripture, outside of sermon prep! Ouch! We are people of the word and in order to be guided and guarded by the word we must be in it. A few years ago I read the bible once again from Genesis to Revelation. Each time I do this I marvel at God’s tenacity. God just doesn’t give up on us. A contemporary translation of a psalm sums up God’s tenacity this way, “God chases after us all the days of our lives.” May you come to know this truth by immersing yourself in scripture.
Guiding and guarding God, give me a hunger and thirst for your word. Open my heart and broaden my vision, as I delve into the biblical text more regularly. Help me to exclaim as the psalmist does, “I will delight in your way.” Amen.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
“For God so loved the world,” is part of Jesus’ response to his encounter with Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of darkness, for he was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. He was part of the established power of the church that was most threatened by Jesus’ signs and wonders described in the Gospel of John. Yet, Nicodemus said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Nicodemus witnessed the power of God at work in and through Jesus, so much so that he was willing to risk his power and position. I wonder how you recognize the power of God at work in and through you or others. What would be signs that point to power beyond yourself? I see God most clearly at work in things that are beyond my limited abilities or even beyond our collective abilities. When a ministry prevails that has limited resources God is at work. When fractured relationships are healed God is at work. When someone says “Yes” to life even in the midst of dying, God is at work. When someone who has suffered tragic injustices forgives the perpetrator, God is at work. There are signs all around us that God is work. Yet, do we perceive them?
God of power and might, you are at work in this world. Please forgive me when I doubt your ability to work through others and even through me. Help me to trust that you are with me and can do through me far more than I could ever ask or imagine. Amen.
Saturday, March 10, 2018
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” These two sentences are packed with theology that theologians have spent a lifetime dissecting. Yet, what do these words mean to you? How do you understand the gift of Jesus in your life? Is eternal life the goal? Are you thankful that Jesus is not sent to condemn? I was fortunate to experience God’s love as child through my family and the church I attended. Sunday school was a delight, although I had friends that had different experiences. They experienced God more like a police officer trying to catch them doing wrong or a judge that was ready to hand out a punitive sentence. I remember sharing with my friends the God I experienced, a generous and loving God. I am so very thankful that “love” was the operative word for the God I came to know as a child and continue to experience as an adult. I respond to God’s love with gratitude because I want to, not because I have to. Who is God for you?
God, who so loved the world, thank you for your generous and extravagant love. The scriptures record your steadfast love and faithfulness, for you never give up on humanity. Help me to receive the love you so generously offer and to respond gratefully. Amen.
Friday, March 9, 2018
As we turn to the Gospel lesson this week, we hear words that are familiar to those both inside and outside of the church, “For God so loved the world.” This passage found in John 3:16 is painted on buildings and placards, displayed on billboards and church signs, and quoted frequently by street preachers. How do you perceive God’s love for the world? Is it through those who love you? Is it through the beauty of the natural creation that surrounds us? Is it through the answered prayers of your heart’s cry? How do you experience God’s love, not just for you, but for the world? When we gather as a whole church and we sing or pray in our many different languages, God’s love for the world is palpable. God doesn’t just hear my prayer or song, but all our prayers and songs. God loves not just some, but all; and I see demonstrations of that daily in my life. And God doesn’t just love people, God loves all of creation as God declared creation good, even very good in the opening chapter of Genesis. Hear also Apostle Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” God loves the world, shouldn’t we?
Holy One, forgive my love which is often conditional and myopic. Remind me daily that you so loved the world, not just me and those whom I love. Remind me of the expanse of your love and the responsibility of your love, which has been generously poured into me. Amen.
Thursday, March 8, 2018
“And let them (the redeemed) offer thanksgiving sacrifices.” When you hear the word “sacrifice,” what comes to mind? Merriam-Webster defines the word this way: an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure. With the inclusion of the word “person” the definition is jarring. It might even bring to mind the biblical story of Abraham and his long-awaited son Isaac. This type of offering is first mentioned in the 7th chapter of Leviticus. It could be either a cereal offering or an offering of flesh (animal) that would then be eaten by the one offering the thanksgiving sacrifice. The sacrificial system outlined in Leviticus has not been in use for nearly 2,000 years, since the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E. So, what might it mean for us today to offer a thanksgiving sacrifice? Leviticus reminds us that offerings of any kind are to be done at our own will, that is, not as a requirement or somehow coerced by another. I hear the words of Leviticus echoed in Apostle Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Whenever we offer a thanksgiving sacrifice, whether it is words or actions of deep gratitude, may they be given with cheerful reverence to God.
Generous and loving God, I am ever thankful for your provision in my life. I will tell of your wondrous deeds in my life and in the life of others. I will sing for joy, giving thanks to you alone, O God. Amen.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble.” Although this may not be easy, remember a time when you cried out to the Lord in a time of trouble. What were the circumstances? Was it an illness or an accident? Was it a betrayal or a termination? Was it the crushing stress of a monumental expectation or loneliness so deep that it felt as if you were adrift on a raft in an ocean of water? The psalmist is recounting the desperation of the people of God, for the palmist writes they were sin sick, they endured affliction, they loathed any available sustenance, and they even drew near death. Their outlook was dismal and dark in a land not their own. I remember a land not my own when the “C” entered my life. The word “cancer” caused me to cry out in ways to God that I don’t think I ever had before, for the diagnosis was disorientating as it reframed my future with survivability statistics. When trouble enters your life trust that the very same God who delivered the people of Israel is ready to hear your heart cries. Freely rage and wail at all that is not right or fair, while trusting that God is as near as your breath and ready to deliver you in ways that you may not be able to even fathom.
Ever present God, when troubles overwhelm me make yourself known to me. Usher in your angels to save me from my distress and to deliver me from destruction, while giving me the courage to trust in your sufficiency for whatever the future holds. Amen.
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
“O give thanks for the Lord, for the Lord is good; for God’s steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those the Lord redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and the south.” I wonder if the redeemed mentioned in this passage had forgotten about God? Now settled, secure and comfortable, did they forget whose provision gathered them from the east and from the west, from the north and the south? When life is going well, we sometimes forget that God’s provision brought us to this place of goodness. Yet, when life turns sour, God is usually the first one we call upon. The psalmist says that the people were near death before they finally cried out! Is your relationship with God dependent on the condition of your life? Do you remember God on your good days? Do you give thanks to God for God’s goodness and steadfast love when all is well? Or do you like the redeemed gathered people of this psalm, only cry out to God when things are dire? “Let the redeemed say so, God is good!”
Gracious and loving God, I do not always give thanks, especially when all is well. Yet, I am thankful that when I cry out your steadfast love greets me. Help me to practice a steady rhythm of gratitude throughout all of life. Amen.
Monday, March 5, 2018
“O give thanks for the Lord, for the Lord is good; for God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Throughout scripture we hear echoes of these words. Multiple psalmists remind us that God is good and that God’s steadfast love endures forever. All 26 verses of Psalm 136 end with the acclamation, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Does this acclamation resonate with your life story? Do you perceive that the Lord is good? Has God’s steadfast love endured for you? How would you describe God’s goodness to someone who doesn’t know God? The psalmist has an experience of being saved from troubles and gathered into God. The psalmist experienced God as the one who sustained life. How do you experience God? In case you didn’t know answering these questions makes you a theologian! Theology is simply the study of God and God’s relation to the world. Your thoughts about who God is and how you have experienced God in your life is the practice of theology. Theology doesn’t take a seminary degree! As you go through the day, reflect on your experience of who God is for you. Is God good? How? How is God’s steadfast love present in the midst of life? Enjoy doing theology!
Holy God, my finite understanding of you is eclipsed by the majesty of your divine mystery. Words fail as I attempt to describe your power and presence in my life and in this world. Words fail, yet I sense deep within your goodness and steadfast love. Be ever present in my life, I pray. Amen.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
The religious leaders demanded an explanation from Jesus the day he over turned the tables in the temple. Jesus’ actions were authoritative and threatened those in power. The religious leaders didn’t like that their systems and structures were being challenged and so they demanded a sign. Jesus answered their demand saying, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up!” Jesus, as he so often does, deepens the conversation. While the religious leaders where thinking bricks and mortar, Jesus was talking about his body as a temple. How often do we miss the deeper conversation when we gather as the church? How often do we focus on bricks and mortar, rather than tapping into the transformative power of the resurrection for our own lives and for others? When we gather it is so easy to get distracted from the deeper work that needs to be done among us. Sure we have to care for the bricks and mortar, but the church is not the building it is the body of people who gather together to worship and serve our living God.
Jesus, I admit that I am often like the religious leaders, wanting to be in control and wanting to keep everything the same. Yet, you change the game and invite me to see things in a new way. Help me to see what you see, so that I will do the deeper work and tap into the transformative resurrection power for my life. Amen.
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Jesus said, “Stop making my Father’s house a market place!” When I think of a market place, I think of options and plenty of them. What epitomizes options and plenty of them is the Mall of America in Minneapolis-St. Paul Minnesota. Their website encourages quick visits or multi-day Mall experiences. There are not only shops, but attractions like a roller coaster and plenty of hands on events like Toddler Tuesdays put on by St. Paul Ballet. Their website has a page dedicated to helping you find a nearby hotel, so you can make the Mall your travel destination! This is a marketplace extraordinaire. And the lure to make our churches a smorgasbord of options is tempting, too. So, maybe we need to hear Jesus words as fresh, “Stop this.” Stop trying to be all things to all people. I hear Jesus saying, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” We gather to worship and to pray. We gather to remember that God is God and we are not. We gather to remember that our main purpose is to be God’s loving presence into this broken and hurting world. The church is not to be marketplace, but a way station where we are fueled and equipped for the work that is yet to be done.
Merciful God, I admit that I sometimes act like a consumer in a mall when I come to church. I want what I want and if I don’t like what is being offered I stay way. Help me to understand that church is a way station where I am to gather with other weary travelers to be fueled and equipped for the journey ahead. Thank you for your persistent love which never gives up on me. Amen.
Friday, March 2, 2018
“Jesus found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength.” The temple, a place of worship, looked more like a market place than a house of prayer and worship. This is one of those moments when Jesus’ humanity comes into clear focus, as in righteous anger he overturns tables and chases the money changers out of the temple yelling, “Stop this!” Stop making this house of prayer and worship something it is not. Yet, isn’t that what we do in our churches sometimes, when we pander to the needs of those we don’t want to upset. Or when we tiptoe around the gospel, because we don’t want to cause discomfort. We might be good at doing church, but are we the church? I wonder if Jesus would have to overturn any metaphorical tables in our church? We may not have people selling cattle, sheep and doves to worshipers for sacrificial purposes or money changers accepting Caesar’s coins in exchange for temple coinage, but I imagine if Jesus were among us today he would have something to say to us. What do you it would be?
Loving God, I am good at doing church, but at times struggle in being the church. I get wrapped up in going through the motions, rather than doing the soul work to live as you lived. Give me the courage to be the church, to be your compassionate loving presence wherever you take me each and every day. Amen.
Thursday, March 1, 2018
Psalm 19 concludes with this prayer, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” One of my all-time favorite children’s message is a tube of toothpaste. You simply ask the children, “Will the toothpaste in this tube draw a line that is shorter or taller than you?” Of course, lots of answers will come forth and then the fun begins, you squeeze the tube in a straight line until it is all gone. With giggles the children think the message is done, but then the point comes. You hand a spoon to one of the children and ask the child to put the paste back in the tube. The child will look at the pastor like she is crazy and then the child will easily explain why you can’t don’t that. Well, “Let the words of my mouth… be acceptable to you, O Lord.” Words cannot be taken back or stuffed back in a tube once they are out. Are the words of your mouth acceptable to God? Are the words of your mouth life giving to others?
Merciful God, I confess that my words are not always acceptable. I know this doesn’t mean that I cannot be honest with you, but it does mean I should pay attention to my words. Engraft a spirit of humility within me, so that I will be mindful of the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart. Amen.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
During Lent some people give up something they like to consume, like chocolate or lattes, meat or alcohol. The practice of giving up reminds us that God is the source of life, not the things we consume. Yet, we forget this truth in the strain and chaos of everyday living. We forget that the law of the Lord can revive our souls. Listen to the psalmist’s description of the primacy of God’s way over the ways of the world, “More to be desired are they then gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings form the honeycomb.” Yet, in all honesty, we probably have many desires that take primacy over the ways of God. Our taste buds are tempted by the sweetness of privilege. Our wallets are lured by the promise of savings if we buy now. Yet, the law of the Lord reminds us not to make idols of anything. What worldly promise or sweetness vies for primacy in your life rather than God? How might this season of Lent be a crucible of deeper faith for you whether you give something up or not?
Gracious God, forgive me when I neglect my relationship with you. Forgive me when I fill up my life with things that do not satisfy. Awaken my hunger for the sweetness of your will and way, for you revive the soul. Amen.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Did you know that the law of the Lord is reviving to the soul? Yet, what do you think of when you hear the word law? Do you think of a list of dos and don’ts? Do you think of laws that you bend like the speed limits on freeways or stop signs in neighborhoods. From a biblical perspective, I imagine the psalmist was referring to the Ten Commandments. Yet, how can a list of “shall nots” revive the soul? The commandments were a blueprint for God’s people, helping them be holy as God is holy. The first four commandments dealt with the peoples’ relationship with God – don’t have any other Gods, don’t make idols of anything, don’t use the Lord’s name in vain and set aside time for our relationship. The next six deal with the people’s relationships with others – honor parents, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness and don’t covet someone else’s stuff. So, God’s law – decrees, precepts, ordinances and commandments – give us guidance to be in right relationship with God and with all others. Doesn’t this sound reviving to the soul?
Loving God, I give thanks for your law which helps me live rightly with you and with others. Enlighten the eyes of my heart and my mind, so that I might live ever more faithfully in response to your love for all of creation. Amen.
Monday, February 26, 2018
I often write these daily devotions in the quiet of my home office, which has an incredible view of the mountains. As I wrote this particular devotion, the mountains were shrouded in dark heavy grey clouds. I am hoping to be greeted by the beauty of a fresh dusting of snow when the clouds lift. The natural world often causes my heart to sing praises to God, whether a vista filled with snow capped mountains or the delicate yellow blossoms of the Lantana creeping around my backyard pond. Listen to the psalmist’s heart sing, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” What makes your heart sing? What reminds you to tell of the glory of God? The psalmist tells us that all day and all night long the world around us declares God’s knowledge. Or as Apostle Paul reminds the church at Corinth that ever since the creation of the cosmos, creation has been telling of the glory of God. As you walk through the day notice what you notice. Notice what draws you to tell of the glory of God. Notice what makes your heart sing!
Creating God, the world around me is full of wonderful surprises from a dancing butterfly that alights on a fresh blossom to the majestic mountains that rise around me. Help me to see your handiwork in the everyday places of my life. Make my heart sing, so that I might tell of your glory to others. Amen.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Jesus turns his attention from Peter to the crowds who are with the disciples. Then Jesus makes it plain that setting our minds on divine things is going to disrupt the status quo. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” said Jesus. What? We don’t like to deny ourselves and we certainly don’t want to pick up an instrument used for death, the cross, and carry it. Yet, Jesus doesn’t stop teaching for he continues saying to the crowd, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” I imagine that the crowds following Jesus were thinned that day. Losing life to gain life isn’t a very attractive marketing program. Yet, losing in order to gain is exactly what it means to follow Christ in our personal as well as our communal lives. I remember employees desperately clamoring to save their jobs in the frenzy of corporate reorganizations. They were usually the first to go. Churches do the same thing. They cling to institutional survival rather than the gospel. They are often the first to die. “In order to live, we must die,” says Jesus. What needs to die in your own life, so that you may live more fully? What needs to die in the life of our church, so that we might more fully reflect God’s love into this world. I’ll be the first to admit that losing to gain is not easy, yet this is our paradoxical faith.
Loving God, I hear Jesus clearly, but confess that I am not always eager to follow. I know your ways are not the ways of the world, but the world is where I live and move and have my being. It is hard to realize that somethings in me may need to die in order for me fully live. Give me the courage to heed your call, trusting that as I let go, you will be there to lead me. Amen.
Saturday, February 24, 2018
Jesus continues saying to Peter and the disciples, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Duh! We are human, Jesus! We can’t help but have our minds on human things. We are concerned about whether or not we will have enough to see us through our retirement years. We are concerned about whether or not we are liked by others. We are concerned about whether or not our church will flourish and grow. We are concerned about human things, Jesus! Yet, Jesus says to us set your mind on divine things and then, and only then, will you have what you need to be most fully human. What does it mean to set our minds on divine things? I hear the words of Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi in response to that question, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” This is one of the paradoxes of our faith. If we are only concerned about ourselves, then we are not setting our minds on divine things. Setting our minds on the things of God changes our focus from self to others, from inward to outward. Where is your focus this day?
O God, the imperative to set my mind on divine things is not easy. I confess that I am often preoccupied with human things. I want to be liked. I want to have enough. I want what I want, often to the exclusion of others. O God, help me to reframe my focus from earth to heaven, while giving me the courage to bring heaven on earth each and every day. Amen.
Friday, February 23, 2018
Jesus’ rebuke of Peter was short and to the point, “Get behind me, Satan.” It should be noted that this rebuke follows shortly after Jesus commends Peter at Caesarea Philippi for confessing Jesus as the Messiah. Have you ever experienced a wonderful compliment, only to receive in what feels like the next breath a criticism or rebuke? If Mark were the only Gospel we wouldn’t know that Jesus complimented Peter in Matthew saying, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah… You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Can you imagine Peter’s head swelling just a bit? I certainly can. It happens to all of us when we receive a compliment. Yet, how easily our confidence is dashed when a rebuke occurs. What is poor Peter to do? What are we to do, for compliments as well as criticisms are likely to occur in our lives? My suggestion, which is easier said than done, is to not take either compliment or criticism personally. Instead, notice the cause of the compliment or criticism. Peter was commended for confessing Jesus’ true identity, where as he was rebuked when he denied it. How might understanding the “why” behind the compliment or the rebuke help us walk ever more faithfully in the footsteps of Christ?
All knowing God, I hear you remind me through the prophet Isaiah that my thoughts are not always your thoughts, neither are my ways always our ways. When my ways are not your ways, I pray that I would be open to your rebuke and correction. Help to walk in your ways step by step all the days of my life. Amen.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
As we turn to the Gospel Lesson for this coming Sunday from the Gospel of Mark, we find Jesus teaching his disciples about his suffering that is to come. Jesus speaks about rejection, great suffering and death. He also says that after three days he will rise again. Yet, Peter’s attention is focused on the rejection, great suffering and death. Like the news headlines, all that Peter heard was bad and he wasn’t going to allow the bad to happen. The text tells us that Peter actually rebuked Jesus! He took Jesus aside and said in no uncertain terms that this would not happen. We are not privy to the whole conversation and certainly don’t have the details of Peter’s rebuke, but we do know Jesus’ reaction. He rebuked Peter! Have you ever been told the way forward is going to be tough? What was your reaction to the news? I can recall many that have said in response to a declaration such as Jesus’, “Oh, it is not going to be that bad,” or “It doesn’t have to be that way, as we can find another way.” Yet, Jesus is clear. There is no other way. The powers and principalities of both church and state will fight against the kingdom that has come near through Jesus. I wonder if we are willing to follow in the footsteps of Christ, even if we meet with resistance by the powers and principalities of both church and state?
Dear Jesus, I confess that I am more like Peter than I care to admit. I certainly did not want you to suffer and I don’t want to suffer for the sake of the gospel either. Yet, as Apostle Paul said to Timothy, “You, O God, did not give a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and self-discipline.” Help me claim your spirit of power as I follow you. Amen.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Jesus said as he began his ministry among us, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” How would you describe the kingdom of God? We have a couple clues from the psalmist who said, “The poor shall eat and be satisfied… all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, all families shall worship before God.” Yet, the psalmist isn’t in a holy huddle. The kingdom of God is not just about gathering together to worship. The kingdom that has come near is concrete and actionable. The poor, those without resources to satisfy their own needs, will be satisfied in the kingdom of God. In Psalm 22 we hear echoes of Mary’s Song, “the lowly will be lifted up,” and “the hungry will be filled with good things.” We also hear Jesus reading from the prophet Isaiah as he began his public ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor.” Are you good news to the poor? Are we, as a church, good news to the poor? Or are we just good news for ourselves? The psalmist reminds us saying, “Turn to the Lord.” May we turn and turn yet again to the Lord and remember that we are to usher in the kingdom of God with actions and not just words.
Prayer: Loving God, I admit that I enjoy gathering to worship you. But, don’t let me forget that worship is to inspire action. You call me to be good news to others, especially to others who are struggling with the basic necessities of life. Use even me so that the poor shall eat and be satisfied. Amen.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
“You who fear the Lord, praise the Lord!” This repetitive phrase, “fear the Lord,” found in scripture often raises questions. Are we supposed to be afraid of God? Are we supposed to quake in our boots and worry that God is going to get us? What does this phrase mean for you? Jeff Benner writes, “The literal concrete meaning of yara is a ‘flowing of the gut,’ which can be applied to ‘fear’ or ‘reverence.’” The feeling is the Hebrew meaning of the word. This phrase is a feeling for me as well. It is the feeling I get when I look into the vastness of a blackened night sky littered with sparking lights and realize how immense this God is that I claim to worship. It is the feeling I get when a mother sobs uncontrollably over the senseless death of her child, for I recognize her anguish as God’s anguish over God’s dream that is not yet realized. It is the feeling I get when a precious little finger of a newborn instinctively wraps itself around mine and I realize the wonder of the divine Creator that made this life possible. The fear of the Lord is a feeling of awe, wonder, amazement, reverence, and deep empathy, for it reminds me of the connectedness of my being to the grandeur of the cosmos. Where does the phrase, “fear of the Lord,” take you?
“Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel; will I dance or be still; will I stand or fall to my knees?” Holy God, fear is a real emotion when I imagine being face to face with you. So, give me the courage to reverently trust you, for you said of creation, which includes me, “It is very good.” Amen.
Monday, February 19, 2018
We are more familiar with the opening line of Psalm 22 then any other line, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” But the psalm quickly changes tenor as the psalmist confesses, “Yet you are holy.” There is a realization by the psalmist that God is something more than our feelings of abandonment, anger or anguish. Although, in the midst of these emotions we might feel abandoned and alone, deep down in the recesses of our being the divine presence still resides. God is with us even when we cannot perceive God’s presence. Yet, how many times have we heard the anguished cries of those suffering traumatic loss, “Where were you God?” This is when I hear the psalmist’s deep sigh , “Yet you are holy,” which translates as the truth that God is in the midst of all of life. Although, we have not mastered the art of being in two places at once, God permeates all of creation. God is with all 7 billion humans, with every living creature and with all of the cosmos. There is no place where God is not. As we move towards the cross this Lenten Season, explore the honesty of the psalms for God’s unconditional love is not deterred by our anger or anguish.
Divine mystery, give me the courage to cry out what I need to say in the midst of all that is not right in this world and possibly in my own life. Help me to trust that you will not abandon me, for you are as close as my breath no matter where life takes me. Amen.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
When you imagine a wilderness, what images come to mind? As a native of Southern California, I always imagine the landscape that borders Highway 395 on the way to Bishop. The landscape varies from long stretches of barren and dry land to volcanic rock on either side of the highway, even though mountains rise up to the east and west. When my imagination runs wild, I wonder what it would be like to have a 40-day wilderness experience in this type of landscape. Yet, some of us don’t have to imagine an actual wilderness experience, as our own lives feel like a wilderness experience. When we struggle to make sense of our circumstances or when resources seem scarce temptations abound. We may blame God for all that is not right in our lives. We may blame others for the circumstances that we find ourselves in. We may try quick fixes to ease the pain. Although, the Gospel of Mark doesn’t elaborate as to how Satan tempted Jesus, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to know that temptations would be very real in the wilderness. When you find yourself in wilderness places, know that even wild beasts may be your companions. Also, trust the angels that will come alongside in a variety of disguises. Jesus made it through his wilderness experience and so will you.
O Lord, when my life feels like a wilderness place, give me eyes to see that you are with me and that angels are attending to me needs. I am not alone, help me to claim that truth each and every day. Amen.
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Jesus had just heard these amazing words of affirmation, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” I wonder if Jesus’ chest puffed up or if he stood a bit taller. I wonder if he leaned over to John and said, “Boy, am I special.” What do you do when you receive affirmation? Do you broadcast it? Do you think more highly of yourself than others? I imagine we have all taken an affirmation a bit too far and shared it a bit too wide. Yet, Proverbs 16:18 provides a word of caution for us, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” After Jesus’ moment of acclamation, the text tells us that the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. Jesus didn’t have a chance to bask in the acclamation he received, instead he experienced a significant detour. When have you experienced a significant detour in life? What was your detour, your wilderness experience like? Where you tempted to rely on yourself or the ways of the world to get you back on track? Or did you trust that God’s provision would be enough? The Gospel of Mark’s account of Jesus’ wilderness experience is brief, but we do know that Jesus was not alone. Jesus was with the wild beasts and was waited on by angels.
Loving God, may I take to heart my own belovedness, for I am your precious child. With this assurance, give me the courage to stand firm in your love in the face of temptations. Help me to trust that your provision in the wildernesses of my life will be enough. Amen.
Friday, February 16, 2018
Near the end of Psalm 25 we read these words, “God leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” The operative word in this verse is “humble”.
Yet, it is a word that doesn’t get very good press in our culture. Some cultural synonyms for this word might be pushover or wimpy. Yet, a definition from the pages of scripture might be, “put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.” Apostle Paul continues saying, “Think of yourselves the way Christ thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.” What if we didn’t think more highly of ourselves than of others? Can you imagine how different our society would be? Can you imagine leaders setting aside their opinions to genuinely listen to others? God is willing to lead us, but humility of spirit is a prerequisite. In order to have a teachable spirit, we must humble ourselves before God and think of ourselves as Christ thought of himself with others. As you move through the day, pay attention to how God might be asking you to “put yourself aside, and help others get ahead”.
Leading God, humble my spirit and make it teachable this day. Give me the courage to admit that I don’t always know what is right for myself, let alone for someone else. Grant me the wisdom to set myself aside in order to help others see you rather than me. Amen
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Listen to the words of the psalmist, “O my God, in you I trust.” Immediately after this declaration of trust there is a litany of pleading prayers that begins repeatedly with “do not let.” I wonder if the psalmist’s trust in God will continue even if his prayers are not answered as the psalmist desired.
Do we only trust God when God’s answer is “Yes” or do we trust that God’s provision will be enough even if God’s answer is “No”? We don’t know whether or not the psalmist’s prayers were answered, as hoped. But, we do know that the psalmist ended with an affirmation of faith, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast and faithfulness, for those who keep God’s covenant and decrees.” The psalmist trusted that his commitment to staying the course with God would see him through. I wonder if we have the same conviction? Do we trust in God’s goodness no matter what happens along the way? In this question I hear Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s declaration of faith: “Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if God doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” With hope that we will be able to stay the course and declare, “O my God, in you I trust.”
God of my salvation, give me the courage to put my life in your hands, trusting that no matter what you will be with me. I know at times I struggle to perceive your presence, but help me to remember when that happens, and there is only one set of footprints in the sand it is because you are carrying me. Amen.
February 14, 2018 Ash Wednesday
We begin our walk towards the cross today, as Jesus turns towards Jerusalem. With the marking of ashes, we are reminded of our mortality with these words, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words come to us from the third chapter of Genesis, as the man and the woman hide from God after eating fruit from the forbidden tree. In the cool of the evening breeze, God can’t find them in the garden, so God calls out to them saying, “Where are you?” I believe this is a wonderful question for us to ponder this Lenten Season. Our answer to God could be as simple as “Here, I am Lord,” or as evasive as “Who’s asking?” Of course, answering God’s question, “Where are you?” may cause us to confess, as the man did, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked.” Are we afraid to stand before God? If so, what makes us afraid? What are we hiding or what are we hiding from? Are we unwilling to be our truest selves before God? As we begin our journey through Lent, let us ponder our answer to God’s question, “Where are you?” Where are you this day in your relationship with God?
Holy One, I pray for the courage to be present to your presence wherever I am. Forgive me when I hide from you. Do not let fear take hold of my life. Help me open my truest self to you and to others. Amen.
February 7, 2018
The view from the top of the hill named Mt. Tabor was magnificent, although the winding switchback road was not. Yet, that was the only way to the top, unless you were willing to scale Mt. Tabor by foot. We originally planned to hike, but alas we didn’t have enough time. When Jesus lead Peter, James and John up this mountain there was no road, so they made the summit by foot. Mt. Tabor is steeped in history beginning in 12th century BCE when a battle was fought under the leaders of Deborah. By the 4th century CE, the hill was believed to be the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The Franciscans built an impressive church on this hill in the 1920’s on the ruins of a 5th and a 12th century CE church. Spiritual pilgrims, like the group of pastors I was with, would make the trek up the hill to stand in the place where Jesus may have been transfigured. On the day I visited, Mt. Tabor was a thin place for me. A place where heaven met earth or as the Celts say a place where the separation between this world and the eternal world is thin. During my pilgrimage to Israel, thin places were plentiful, as I imagined walking in the footsteps of Jesus again and again. Yet, thin places are not just in Israel were Jesus walked or in sanctuaries around the globe. Thin places happen when we notice something more than what is, something more than just the present reality. As Richard Rohr writes, “You cannot not live in the presence of God,” for we are totally surrounded and infused by God. The question for us is do we notice? Are we aware of the something more that permeates our world? God is with us. Let’s take notice!
Loving God, you are with me, yet I struggle to claim this truth for my life. I easily fall into the habit of only expecting you in sanctuaries or when I gather with others as the church. Help me to see that you are present in the everyday places of my life. Give me eyes to see you ever more clearly, I pray. Amen.
January 31, 2018
“The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news,” said Jesus as he began his ministry. Yet, what is the good news? According to Isaiah’s the anointed one was sent to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to the prisoners; to comfort all who mourn. The good news happens when our words of faith are enacted. Notice the action words – bring, bind up, proclaim, release, comfort. As James says, “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” There is no discrepancy between Jesus’ words and Jesus’ actions. Jesus walks his talk. What about us? Are we agents of healing for those who are sick in body or soul? Are we willing to come along side and walk with those who grieve, meeting them in their desolation? Do we go to the well of living water to pray and be strengthened for the ministry before us? Are we willing to venture into new neighborhoods or communities, to pursue new relationships with those we don’t know or do we find ourselves staying with what we know? Jesus said, “Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the good news; for that is what I came out to do.” Jesus didn’t settle for what was, for he knew what he came to do: to manifest the kingdom of God here and now.
O God, come near. Come near and give me the courage to believe in the good news. Give me the courage to repent, for my faith often lays dormant and not enacted. Help me to enact the love that I have so generously received and experienced through you, O God. May there be no discrepancy between my walk of faith and talk of faith. Amen.
January 24, 2018
When a hiking guide book writes, “This is really an adventure, rather than a hike,” one should take note! Paul and I decided to heed the warning and start the 4-mile adventure through the jungle of fallen trees, and a bamboo forest beside a stream with car-sized boulders, early. The goal, as it always is, on the Island of Kauai, was to reach a water fall. It took us until almost noon to make our way upward to the spectacular waterfall, which was worth the adventure. Yet, as we made our way back down we couldn’t find the trail markers. Was it on the other side of that huge boulder or over those fallen trees? Our only guide was the water. Even though we lost the trail, the pathway through this wilderness of boulders and trees, was the cascading stream. We never ventured from its sight or sound. Hours later we emerged at the trail head, exhausted but triumphant. We had made our way through this Hawaiian wilderness! As we make our way through the bewildering wilderness of the 21st century, what will guide us? Will it be the living water offered by Christ? Will it be the sound of God’s voice ringing true in our hearts? “I am about to do a new thing through you,” Isaiah proclaims. “Thus says the Lord, I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Will we trust God to make a way where there appears no way?
Leading God, I admit I often lose my way. I not only miss the markers you have so clearly placed in my line of sight, but I often chase after things that lead me astray. Be like a cascading stream, whose life voice beckons me to follow. Give me the courage to trust in your lead, even when you call me to do a new thing. Amen.
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?
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?”
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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 after–Christmas 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.
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 star–lit 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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?”
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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?”
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.”
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!
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!
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?
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!
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!
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?”
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?
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!
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?
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.