June 13, 2010
Every time I think of you, I thank my God. And whenever I mention you in my prayers, it makes me happy. This is because you have taken part with me in spreading the good news from the first day you heard about it. God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that God won’t stop before it is complete on the day that Christ Jesus returns.
Genuine words of appreciation seem to be in short supply at times. Words of thanks are thrown about carelessly or automatically, or they are forgotten altogether. So much seems to be taken for granted or expected as entitlement.
Yet the contributions that other people make to the success or pleasure of our own days and endeavors is enormous. It would not be possible for me to drive to work and arrive in one piece if several other people had not agreed to abide by certain rules for safe conduct. I would not be able to have milk on my cereal for breakfast if another person hadn’t gone to work, even on a day they didn’t feel like going. Yes, I realize they get something for their efforts as well, but so do I, and that something is not insignificant.
How much greater is what I get when another person offers to share something of their faith with me, either by way of their testimony, their prayer, or their presence with me in a time of need. So today I vow to thank somebody, and also to thank God for that somebody, for the contribution they have made in either my life, or the life of someone else. What a blessing I have had to witness their generosity. Join me in saying “THANKS!”
June 6, 2010
O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
These all look to you to give them their food in due season; When you give to them, they gather it up; When you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; And you renew the face of the ground.
Oh, Lord God, send forth your Spirit. We weep for your creation and all your creatures. Hold us accountable for our sins. Fulfill your promise to renew the face of the earth. Amen.
May 30, 2010
King Herod put Peter in jail and ordered four squads of soldiers to guard him. Herod planned to put him on trial in public after the festival. While Peter was being kept in jail, the church never stopped praying to God for him.
The power of prayer cannot be overstated. Whether we pray as individuals in private with just God and ourselves, or whether we pray gathered in the community of believers, the power of our prayers is unmistakable. When we pray, we know we pull power from a greater source than our selves, to ourselves, or to the situation over which we pray. When we know someone is praying for us, the knowledge that we are not alone is both strengthening and encouraging.
In answer to prayer not everyone experiences miracles like Peter did. His was certainly dramatic and remarkable, nearly unbelievable and such that we want to find a way to explain it. Most of us experience miracles of a less tangible variety. We do not feel chains falling off our wrists, nor do we follow angels out of jail. But we do find liberation from our fears, solutions for our dilemmas, and caring friends to accompany us on the way. Thanks be to God who hears our prayers.
May 23, 2010
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of the were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the spirit gave them ability.
Acts 2, 1-4
It is now 50 days after the resurrection! All the uncertainty that followed Jesus’ death and then startling appearances afterward remains. The Disciples are still not sure what was going to happen or what was expected of them. But they did know that sticking together was important. And when they gathered together despite their fear and uncertainty, they discovered that where two or more of them were gathered, there was God in their midst.
We often hear people talk about how worrisome things are these days with the economy in disarray, the war in the Middle East continuing, and other uncertainties in personal lives. But those who seek out the community of believers during such times find that the Holy Spirit is not only present, but also empowering. No longer does anyone face anything alone, nor are uncertainties paralyzing but gateways to possibilities.
May 16, 2010
And Jesus said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and the repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.
Jesus gave this little speech to the disciples just before he ascended to heaven following his death and resurrection. It is as if he is saying: I told you this would happen, the scriptures said it would happen—and now it has. I suffered, died, and was raised. I also told you to go and preach in my name—I meant it. Proclaim, announce, declare to the whole world that repentance is needed, and forgiveness is available! Truly. You know it, so tell them, too.
Finally, Jesus reminds them that God made a promise to them, and that Jesus was seeing that promise was kept: Jesus is sending power from God to equip them to do that proclaiming Jesus needs from them. Jesus even tells them to stay put—don’t go anywhere, until you have that power.
That word “UNTIL” is significant. It does not imply permanency. The disciples went back to the temple and worshipped. The scripture said “they were continually in the temple blessing God.” But nowhere does it say they stayed there permanently. Jesus instructed them to wait UNTIL they were clothed with power from on high—and then they should pick up the ministry to which Jesus has called them and head out!
Are any of us fully clothed-wth-power people hanging around? Or are we ready to go!!!
May 9, 2010
A man from the Levi tribe married a woman from the same tribe, and she later had a baby boy. He was a beautiful child, and she kept him inside for three months [to avoid the slaughter of Hebrew babies ordered by Pharaoh]. But when she could no longer keep him hidden, she made a basket out of reeds and covered it with tar. She put him in the basket and placed it in the tall grass along the edge of the Nile River. The baby’s older sister stood off at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Mothers do all kinds of strange things. Sometimes those actions are selfish, thoughtless, even cruel. Sometime those actions are confusing, distressing, courageous, and difficult. Certainly, mothers sometimes have to make choices or take actions that make no sense to the rest of us. And sometimes we judge them harshly for their choices.
In the case of Moses’ mother, we are somewhat more kind to her. Mostly we disregard her and focus on Moses’ sister. But imagine the choices facing this mother: let the soldiers kill her baby or find some other way. She chose to abandon her baby in a basket of reeds along the edge of a river known for insects and flesh-eating reptiles. She risked discovery by members of Pharaoh’s own household—and was ultimately discovered. Many years later we know that all this worked together for good, and that Moses became a great leader. Sometimes such decisions do not work out so well, and great tragedy strikes.
On this mother’s day, let us take the opportunity to encourage mothers who face tremendously difficult decisions, who have no choice but to take actions that feel too dangerous, but who, nonetheless, are striving to be the best mothers they can be in the situations in which they find themselves. And, let us give thanks to God for the guidance and strength which God gives them.
May 2, 2010
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Isaiah 55.1-3 NIV
What a great question the prophet asks us. Why do we spend money and resources on what is not bread, on what does not nourish and fill us. Why do we eat a steady diet of junk food, both for our stomachs, and our entertainment, and our relationships? Why is that stuff so much more appealing, even though it does not nourish us, sustain us, or satisfy?
Through the prophet Isaiah our God calls us back to wholeness and wellness. God invites us to drink of God’s spirit, to ingest the goodness of Christ’s love, to invest ourselves in wholesome living and then we will delight in the richest fare that God can and does provide. May that richness spill over in your lives that you may invite many to dine in splendor with you—and with God.
April 25, 2010
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Psalm 23 NRSV
There is nothing romantic about sheep or shepherds. Together they live slow and dirty lives, wandering from one grazing space to another, one watering hole to another. The shepherd depends on the sheep for the products of meat and wool, and the sheep depend completely on the shepherd for shelter, safety, and guidance for food and water. There is nothing romantic about sheep or shepherds.
Even so, Psalm 23 is read for comfort and reassurance by more people than any other. It is read at funerals, in fox holes, and at hospital bedsides. It is memorized by children, cited by preachers, and prayed by many. And interestingly, it does not contain promises of freedom from tribulations, nor even deliverance from difficulties. Instead, it is a confession of faith, that even though the difficult times come, even though dark valleys must be walked, still God is present and so are God’s blessings of providence, goodness, abundance, guidance, restoration, renewal.
April 18, 2010
The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was nailed to a cross. He isn’t here! God has raised him to life, just as Jesus said he would. Come, see the place where his body was lying. … The women were frightened and yet very happy, as they hurried from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples.
Matthew 28.5-6, 8
What conflicting emotions: fright and happiness! Fright--that what was happening was so strange. Happiness--that what was happening was so wonderful. Fright--that what was happening was too good to be true! Happiness—that they have a promise they will see the risen Christ! Notice that they did not let their fright get in the way of their happiness, nor did they let either emotion get in the way of responding to what was needed of them! They immediately ran off to share the good news with others—even though it truly was too good to be true, too good for others to believe.
Are you like me? Too often I find my emotions conflicting, and to be on the “safe” side, I deal with the down side. Why get my hopes up too high, and why not err on the side of caution? I certainly don’t tell anyone about those things too good to be believed, because I might be ridiculed or dismissed, or worse, proven wrong! But look what opportunity I miss—the chance to live high on excitement, anticipation, and possibility—and perhaps even reality. After all, God is incredibly capable of the most amazing things! Let’s go tell the others.
April 11, 2010
Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
That’s it. That’s the whole Psalm, and it is the last Psalm in the book of Psalms, the songbook of the Bible. It is like an exclamation point on all the other songs and prayers in the book. And it says, “Praise the Lord. Just do it! And do it with everything you’ve got”
I have been thinking of how many times I hear news about a piece of legislation lawmakers have been working on, and people’s reaction to the legislation. It seems that those people on the victory side of the argument dismiss the victory since the legislation “doesn’t go far enough.” Similarly, I observe people so focused on what they don’t yet have in life—the right career path, amount of riches, level of health or happiness, that they dismiss much that they do have as inconsequential, meaningless without the rest.
But what we have is remarkably huge and beautiful! All of creation is laid out for our pleasure. Death and darkness have been ultimately destroyed. Everlasting life is a gift given to us. God has drawn near to us in the Christ, offered us forgiveness for our shortcomings, both imagined and real, and claimed us as beloved heirs to God’s throne. Wow! Praise the Lord! Just do it, and not just with a timid little voice, but with every sound you can make! Just do it! Praise the Lord!
April 4, 2010
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Mary had known Jesus, and seen him minister, and heard him teach. She was close to him, and certainly her grief was real. Even so, she must have also heard him speak of what would come after his death, of how in three days “this temple“, meaning his body, would be raised again. From our perspective, looking back from the future, it is hard to understand how Mary “didn’t get it”, or at least was slow to get it. We want her to hurry up and move past the grief to the joy of Easter.
It is easy for those in the midst of pain to be unable to see the larger picture. When grief or pain threatens to overwhelm us it can be difficult to remember that joy comes with the morning, and that resurrection life triumphs over all manner of death. The angels in the tomb assisted Mary, tending to her in her grief, and gently reminding her of the promises of healing and new life that would be hers. Because of their tender care, Mary is able to be a witness to others of the promises of the risen Christ. When we are in grief or pain, may God’s angels minister to us. And when we encounter others in grief, may we be tending angels for them.
March 28, 2010
As he road along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Each of the gospel writers chose to write about the events of Jesus with their own focus or emphasis. In Luke’s telling of the “Palm Sunday” event, there are no palms or hosannas or crowds of strangers. Instead, Luke tells us that those who already claim to be Jesus’ disciples are the people who are gathering. Instead of hacking branches from the fields, they are taking off their cloaks, one of their few and major assets, and using them to visually say to both Jesus and anyone watching that someone truly significant is passing by. And then, instead of shouting “Hosanna”, which means “please save” or “save now”, the people cry out a call for peace, and blessings on the one who brings it.
Peace. Ironic when you consider the amount of blood that has been shed in Jesus’ name. Peace, idyllic when you consider the chaotic and frantic pace of our lives today. Peace. A blessing when you consider that ultimate beauty of what God through Christ offers each of us. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, and means more than an absence of conflict, but a wholeness and a wellness that is all encompassing—not just for me, or you, or some; not just one part of life or another; but complete. A true disciple of Christ would invest even their greatest asset in that. Will you? Will I?
March 21, 2010
The Lord heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power, Whose understanding is beyond measure.
Psalm 147.3, 5
Tragedy strikes and we want to know why. Why us? Why now? Why this? And as inadequate as the answer is, sometimes the answer is “because”, “Why not?”, or “I don’t know.”
And in the midst of that pain it is hard to hear the words of the Psalmist, the assurances that our God cares, when what we really want to know is, “Why, God, did you let this happen?”
Nevertheless, our God’s healing powers are at work within us, soothing our troubled spirits, offering healing to our hearts, and comfort to our souls. Sometimes in our anger and grief we resist everything that God offers us, but God offers it anyway. And given time, and our willingness to allow God access to our innermost self, healing will happen and peace will return. However, the journey is long and the company of friends and loved ones is essential, and so God calls to each of us to be God’s partners in offering consolation. May God’s peace work through you and me.
March 14, 2010
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
All of us know the church’s reputation for being full of rules, and that one of those rules is to forgive others for the horrible, careless, and sinful things they think, do, or say. Easier said than done! It is hard to forgive. We all know examples of people who seemed to have forgiven tremendous things quite easily, but for most of us this Christian requirement is difficult.
And it is a requirement. Jesus tells us to forgive, seventy times seven times. I think sometimes it takes that many efforts to manage to forgive, and sometimes we forget that we have forgiven and have to do it again. Then there are the times we just can’t—no matter what. At least not right now.
Do you suppose that might be why Jesus asked God to forgive his executioners for him? Because Jesus wanted to forgive, and knew that he would, eventually, but for just that moment, Jesus needed God to do it for him. God would do the same for us, if we asked.
March 7, 2010
Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
How often fear holds us paralyzed so that we don’t do what we really ought to do. In the Bible story the servant was afraid for himself and did not do for the master, but so often we are afraid for ourselves and do not do for ourselves. The doctor tells us to change our diet and add exercise or there will be consequences, and we do nothing differently. Scientists tells us we live over a fault line similar to that which caused the earthquake in Chile, and Emergency managers tell us to prepare our emergency kits and make a plan, yet many of us have none. If we bury our fears in the ground, perhaps we’ll have no need to be afraid, we think.
Usually when Jesus tells a parable he is speaking metaphorically, so when he speaks about the servant who did not invest his talents, we might hear Jesus talking about the resources we have been given to use toward the building of the kingdom of God. And when Jesus encourages us to invest them, earn interest on them, and use them wisely, perhaps he is warning us that we will be spiritually bankrupt if we do nothing. It seems to me that spiritual bankruptcy is the most frightening thing we might encounter, and spiritual riches the greatest payout we could imagine—well worth overcoming our fear of investing the kingdom resources entrusted to us.
And maybe, by investing those kingdom resources, we’ll also find the fortitude to conquer some of those other fears, too. Anyone want to walk with me to the farmers market for an apple?
February 28, 2010
“Only God’s Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.”John 3.8
These past weeks and months, as we’ve watched politicians wrangle about health-care legislation, and athletes train and prepare for the Olympics, it becomes easy to believe that if we work hard enough, try long enough, give enough of ourselves, that we, WE, will triumph. Then we feel the wind blow, watch how it moves the clouds and the tree branches, and the wave caps, and we realize that, however great our efforts, they are actually quite small when it comes toward accessing what truly counts. Life counts. New life counts, and it only comes as a gift of God’s Spirit. The source of new life is rooted in God, but is, never-the-less a mystery to us.
What we do with that life while we have it—that’s where our efforts matter. It is up to us to squander it, or abuse it, or celebrate it, or lift it high to soar on the wind like a kite. Will I keep my kite string wound up tight out of fear of what might happen, or will I trust God and let it unroll and see how high the wind will carry me, and try loops and dips that can be so exciting? What will I choose? What will you choose? I choose to soar, and let God’s spirit lift me high and carry me far. Will you come along with us—and soar?
February 21, 2010
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. ... When the devil had finished every test, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.Luke 4:1,2,13
In a conversation recently someone noted that the things the devil tempted Jesus to do were not, in themselves, bad things. After all, if someone could actually turn stones into bread there would be no need for food banks, soup kitchens, or emergency food drops into Haiti. The real temptation for Jesus is to take up a life of fame and fortune and power in the world, while forgetting his true identity and true purpose: to be the Son of God and to usher in God’s reign for all of humanity for all time.
God has given each of us our identity—we are children of God, forgiven, beloved, cherished, called to God’s work, sent out in God’s name. Yet, we risk having our identity stolen as we are lured by the values proclaimed by celebrities and fashion magazine, neighbors and family, even by friends at church who have, nonetheless, forgotten their identity in Christ. Christ declared himself to be the one sent to preach release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed. Christ lived his life as a generous person full of compassion and truth that challenged injustice. Don’t make it easy for identity thieves. Hang on to your identity as child of God, disciple of Christ, and live it fully.
February 14, 2010
Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.Matthew 25.23
This parable that Jesus tells begins with an obvious imbalance, rather like real life. One servant was given more resources with which to work than the second servant, and they both had more than the third. However, none of the characters question why one was given responsibility for more or less than the other. Rather, all three set about doing something, sort of, with their resources. Two of the servants worked with what they had and produced more, while the third merely buried his. Ultimately, the master in the story affirms the work, investment, and productivity of the first two servants. By implication, Jesus as storyteller also affirms this.
Whatever resources we have, whatever gifts, talents, or abilities at our disposal, we must do something productive and worthwhile with them, on God’s behalf. In doing so, we will please God and experience God’s joy. Many of us are very busy each day, working hard and staying busy. Perhaps the questions for us to ponder are these: How much of our busyness and our work is on God’s behalf? How much of our productivity is for God’s purposes? Have we yet been invited into the joy of our Master? What would we need to change for more to be about God and for that invitation to be more frequently ours?
February 7, 2010
Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that God may exalt you in due time.1 Peter 5.3-6
Since I am not a fan of either football or the Oscars, I have a rather detached observation post for watching these events unfold. I continue to be pleasantly amazed at the sense of community that surrounds the anticipation of the events. Folks who normally don’t cheer for the competing teams become devoted fans for this one game. People who rarely watch the games or the awards ceremonies celebrate the events with parties and friends. People who haven’t seen most of the movies being mentioned, set aside Oscar night to watch the glitz and glamour. Seeing these celebrities elevated and honored unites us as a people more than just about anything.
The nominations that intrigue me the most are for those who have been nominated to wear the crown of glory that God bestows. Those folks don’t usually have celebrity status, but rather great humility, which is their strongest qualification for the nomination. There are some who remember quite well who won the Superbowl last year, and the year before, and the year before that. Others easily remember which actors were given best actor awards and which movies were declared best picture. But the longest lasting memory is God’s, for God will never forget, and the crown of glory will never fade for the one on whom God has bestowed it. There is no way I will ever have a chance to win at the Superbowl or at the Oscars, but all of us are invited to become nominees for the Crown of Glory. I would love to qualify for that. With God’s help, perhaps I will.
January 31, 2010
“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” … Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.John 6.27, 35-36
Living with teenagers, as I do, it doesn’t take much for me to hear a lot of attitude in this conversation between Jesus and the crowd of disciples. The crowd is demanding and challenging, not willing to do much themselves but expecting a lot for their little trouble and less faith. Jesus, on the other hand, sounds both weary and frustrated, as if wondering how he will ever make them understand what he is trying to say, what good news he is trying to deliver.
I see at least two things going on with the crowd of disciples. One is laziness—how much easier it is to complain and object and demand than it is to step up and do our part, or in scripture language, to take up our cross and follow Jesus. That leads to the second thing: what if we find, when we pick up that cross, that we can’t actually do what Jesus has asked of us? What if we end up failing, or feeling like we fail, and wishing we had never tried at all?
Jesus tells us the one thing that is needed: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one God has sent.” (John 6.29) Everything else will follow. This is still not an easy task, to be sure. However, we shall never hunger or thirst for what we need to accomplish it. (John 6.35)
January 24, 2010
The rainbow that I have put in the sky will be my sign to you and to every living creature on earth. It will remind you that I will keep this promise forever. When I send clouds over the earth, and a rainbow appears in the sky, I will remember my promise to you and to all other living creatures. Never again will I let floodwaters destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the sky, I will always remember the promise that I have made to every living creature. The rainbow will be the sign of that solemn promise.
Genesis 9.12-17 CEV
The story of Noah’s Ark is a favorite Bible story and known by many, even by those who do not know God. But many forget that the story is about more than lots of rain, animals going in by twos and coming out by threes, and a rainbow as an exclamation point to the story. The story is actually about a covenant relationship between God and the people God created.
Covenant, a promise of mutual responsibility and accountability. Covenant, an understanding that both parties bring something essential to the agreement, and with faithfulness to the covenant, the outcome will be worthwhile. In this case, the agreement is not an “if you do, then I will do” agreement, but a “we’re in this together so let’s do it together” agreement.
In this covenant God created and gave life; God provided food, first plants, and now also meat; God promises never to destroy all life again. In this covenant, God asks of the people a return commitment to God: a promise to treat fellow humans with kindness and respect, a promise to avoid violence and to care for creation, a promise to love the God who created and provided for them. The rainbow is a reminder of this mutual agreement, reminder to God for God’s part, and a reminder to us for our part. Does God need a rainbow today to remember God’s part? Do you? Do I?
January 17, 2010
For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. …For all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
In the church we sometimes talk about Christian baptism as the removing of something old, and the putting on of the new that is Christ, that we clothe ourselves in Christ. Wouldn’t it be nice if changing something about ourselves that we didn’t like would be as easy to accomplish as changing our clothes. Generally that is not the case, and change is much more difficult.
Even so, baptism has advantages that other changes do not have. While clothes are put on over the skin, baptism goes all the way to our core. While most of us dress in private, baptism is done in the midst of the community, so we are surrounded by others, for support and encouragement along the way. While clothing is temporary and can get ragged or worn out, putting on Christ is eternal—when God’s spirit descends on us in baptism it comes beautifully and perfectly the first time. How fine it feels to be clothed in Christ!
January 10, 2010
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!
The New Year stretches out in front of us, and the old year behind. The clutter of Christmas decorations and presents is gradually being put away, winter weather settling in to stay awhile, and the daily realities away from the festive season seem like too much again. The hope we thought we had such a strong hold on before Christmas feels slippery and fleeting. How can we hang on to those promises and the joy that we sang so much about just a few short weeks ago? How can we persevere as we trudge through the winter days?
The Psalmist reminds us of the greatness and the magnificence of our God. While God may have chosen to visit us in the form of a tiny babe at Christmas, God’s reality is still larger and more dependable than anything we know. Even as the Christmas lights are unplugged and the trees placed at the curb, God continues to be the source of love, and light, and salvation, and God’s doors remain wide open to us. So let us go up to the house of the Lord, take refuge in the shadows of the mighty one’s wings, and feast from the river of God’s delight.
January 3, 2010
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the c hild who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
In this era of jet travel and crossing continents in less than an hour, it is difficult for us to imagine the efforts the wise men made in their efforts to find the Christ child. Caravanning was an expensive endeavor, and travel of any distance was dangerous and time consuming. These seekers of the Christ child were literally putting their lives on the line for the most important discovery of the ages.
We like more than our travel to be convenient. While we are busy writing a traveler’s bill of rights we are eating microwave dinners and drinking drive through coffee. We buy faster computers so we don’t have to wait for information to download, and shake our clothes out of the drier so we don’t have to iron. I wonder how much effort would be too much for us, if we were to search for the Christ child, not for what he had to offer us, but for the worship we have to bring? Would we recognize the majesty of the one whom God sent? Would we celebrate the gift offered to all? Would we be among the first to come bearing gifts of value, including worship, and ourselves?
December 20, 2009The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.
The longest night of the year is nearly here. In that 24-hour period there will be more minutes of darkness, fewer minutes of daylight, than on any other day of the year. In ancient times the people would worship the god of the sun and beg him to return the light to the earth. Today, in these dark times of violence, war, economic hardship, and grief over many things we, too, pray to our God for glimpses of lightness in a world that seems overwhelmed by dark events.
Such a light our God has promised and delivered. God sent the Christ into the world to be that light. Christ is a light that shines hope and possibility even into the darkest corners, even into the deepest dark places of our lives. That light has the power to chase away the shadows that can overwhelm us or paralyze us. That light is so powerful the darkness can never overpower it. That light has the power to give us life. O come, let us adore him. Gloria in excelsis Deo!
December 13, 2009
The angel went to Mary and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.”
Mary does not yet know what the angel will tell her, but she is pretty certain she is not going to like what she hears. She is right to be cautious. We know from position as outside observers that her life is about to change dramatically. In the next ten years she will become pregnant, endure the scandal associated with that pregnancy, be married, move to Bethlehem, give birth and present the baby at the temple, receive some remarkable visitors, flee to Egypt ahead of Roman soldiers, and return to Nazareth. By then she must have been ready for a significant break, but even more was in store for her as Jesus grew in wisdom and stature.
Of course, the angel doesn’t tell her all this, but that God is asking something significant of her. Although the angel gives her a few details, most is left a mystery. Nonetheless, Mary is ready to go along with whatever God has planned without many more assurances than that. In our day we would never agree to anything with so few guarantees or warrantees of what we would be getting out of the deal. Yet that kind of trust is exactly what God invites us to have. God has assured God’s people over the centuries that God’s plans for us are for good, and God has shown us how faithful God has been even to the most unlikely candidates of God’s chosen emissaries. Consider a teenage mother, and a baby born into poverty and living as a refugee by the age of four. Perhaps it is when we trust God the most that God is able to accomplish the most through us.
December 6, 2009
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “Look, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel—which means, “God is with us.”
At times it feels as if God were very far away. Our lives seem beset with challenges we did not seek and for which we feel ill equipped. Evil seems to roam our streets sucking life out of individuals and communities. We are not sure which direction to turn or how to move forward with hope. God feels very far away, and we need someone to save us from this mess.
The ancient Israelites were in similar need. Their history had been riddled with promises made by God and by unfaithfulness of the people. Captivity was followed by exile, followed by the Maccabean revolt, followed by the Roman army moving in and occupying the land that they had understood God had given them. God felt very far away, and they needed someone to save them from the mess.
God was, and is, in fact, not so very far away. And God heard the cry of the ancient Israelites, and God hears our cry today. And if we open our hearts and our lives to the possibilities of God, then God will be born in us anew, and feel closer than ever.
November 29, 2009Look down from heaven and see from your lofty throne, holy and glorious. Where are your zeal and your might? Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us. ....Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
Isaiah 63:15, 64:4
Isaiah was a prophet, or perhaps several prophets writing under one name. A prophet is one who teaches, preaches, or acts in a way that holds people accountable to their faithfulness to God. Prophets have heard Gods voice through visions or are given insight through study and experience. A prophet brings a message on Gods behalf and delivers Gods message to Gods people. We are prophets when we vote in favor of certain legislation. We are prophets when we advocate for people who have limited or no voice of their own. We are prophets when we refuse to buy certain products because we believe that our buying participates in the maltreatment of workers or our planet poorly. When we claim the name Christian, all our actions and our words become prophetic on Gods behalf. We might wonder how we know God is worth waiting for? What do we expect from God? What does God expect from us? How can we serve as prophet for God?
November 22, 2009Then Jesus asked, Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?
Luke 17. 17-18
Thanksgiving is an ironic holy day in the church. Many churches offer extra worship services to celebrate Thanks-giving. Others claim that extra times of worship are not needed, as every day is a day for giving thanks to God.
Even so, most of us would agree that there are many more who forget to return and give thanks for Gods activity in and through their lives. Perhaps we even sneer a bit at those who do stop to give God any credit for the blessings they have known.
How joy-filled would our lives be we took the time to acknowledge some of the simple things that make our lives so blessed, that we take for granted but others so wish to have: the sound of tires on wet streets that means the rain has fallen and is feeding the grass and trees; the smell of fish that remind us the salmon have returned to lay eggs in the streams; the ability to dress ourselves in the morning, perhaps in clean clothes; the knowledge that when we feel hungry there will be some place that we can get a meal; that we are not required to go to one specific church and worship in one specific way, but can choose. What more can you add to the list, and for which you can give praise to God?
November 15, 2009You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.
2 Corinthians 9 11-12
As a child I lived in a culture of whats mine is mine, whats yours is yours. You can be assured that people kept careful accounting, and most of what was given was carefully repaid. Imagine my surprise, and my delight, the first time as an adult that I experienced someone giving just because they felt like giving. In response, many of the phrases that I heard as a child came spilling out of my mouth. Oh, but I dont have anything for you. Or, What did I do to earn this? The response to my response was as much as gift as the original. I thought of you and just wanted you to have this.
These givers that I had encountered were significantly God-like in their generosity. They gave, not out of strategy for receiving back, but out of love, especially out of their love for God. They love God, so they give to Gods work: their time, their money, their labor, their patience, their talents, their joy. For me, now is the time to re-gift, both what I have received from so many of Gods servants, but also from God. May I give generously and with joy.
November 8, 2029Jesus looked up and said, Zacchaeus, come down from there. Im eating at your house today. Zacchaeus hurried down and welcomed Jesus.
Even though he had so much, there was something Zacchaeus wanted more than anything and yet he didnt feel he had the right. Some of us would have given up, but not Zacchaeus. Even though he was shunned by all of his peers because of his collaboration with the occupation Roman government, he wanted to see this Jesus fellow everyone was so keen about. And if he didnt legitimately have the right to see Jesus, he thought, then he would see Jesus by stealthand he climbed a sycamore tree to create his opportunity.
What he hadnt counted on, and perhaps most of us dont, is Jesus understanding and compassion, and especially Jesus love and forgiveness. Even though Zacchaeus had cheated his neighbors through the collection of taxes, Jesus forgave Zacchaeus, and demonstrated that forgiveness to everyone by going to dinner at Zacchaeus house that night. This was such a life-changing event for Zacchaeus that Zacchaeus repented. He turned his life around, returned four times the amount he had unethically collected in taxes, and set his life on a path of serving God even more.
Jesus offers that kind of forgiveness, compassion, understanding, and love to each of us. We just need to climb down out of the trees where we are stuck and let Jesus into our spiritual homes. Perhaps Jesus will eat at your house today. Or mine.
November 1, 2009
To All Gods beloved in Rom, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Just how many saints were there in Rome when Paul was writing that letter to the church in Rome? Certainly there couldnt have been very many since the faith was so new. Besides, the practice of canonization, or officially declaring them saints, didnt start until much later in history. But Paul was not using so narrow a definition of saints and I suspect God does not either. If we read further we discover that any person who was faithful in their work toward the building up of the church of Christ and toward the encouragement of those seeking to be disciples of the living Christthose were the saints of the early church. Today, the first day of November, is All Saints Sunday. Today is the day we remember those saints of ancient times. But today is also the day to remember the saints we have and still do know. Perhaps there is someone today for whom we can give thanks because they have been faithful to God, and in doing so have been a role model for us in our own faith lives. Perhaps there is someone looking to us to be such a role model, and we have been called to be a saint. Certainly God will equip us for such a lofty and beautiful task.
October 25,2009Jesus and his disciples went to the villages near the town of Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, What do people say about me? The disciples answered, Some say you are John the Baptist or maybe Elijah. Others say you are one of the prophets.
Recently I was at an event where people tended to watch carefully who was hanging with whom. The reason is that some folks were a known quantity and others were unknown. Therefore, if someone knew one person, often they would feel justified in assuming they knew the other, whether or not they had other data with which to back up their assumptions.
When Jesus asked his disciples the question, What do people way about me? he was trying to understand the assumptions people were making about him. While many leaders thought he was a rabble-rouser trying to stir up trouble, many others ascribed to him higher status and importance, ranking him among some of the most important people in the history of their faith.
If someone were to make a statement about who we are, you or I, based on what we say, how we act, and the full range of people we hang with, would they ascribe to us the status of disciple of Christ? Would they assume we are compassionate, even to our enemies? Would they see us standing up for the least, the last, and the lost? Who do people say that I am? Who do people say that you are?
October 18, 2009Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurementssurely you now! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
Enough is enough. Job was going straight to the source and ask God outright why all those terrible calamities were happening to him: children killed, house and crops destroyed, livelihood and health lost! Why would these things happen to a man as faithful as Job. Gods response to Jobs demanding questions is defensive yet profound.
God tells Job that he, nor we, cannot possibly understand all the workings of the world, including how things will continue to unfold in the time ahead of us. But certainly the one who puts the pilings in place on which the foundation of the world rests is rock solid and dependable. Certainly the one who envisioned the greatness of the world can lead us toward a vision of a time past our own trials.
Ultimately Job declares his loyalty to God anew, and declares his faith in Gods loyalty to him. God is faithful and true. May you experience that, too.
October 11, 2009Jesus asked the disciples, What do people say about the Son of Man? They answered him. Then Jesus asked them, But who do you say I am? Simon Peter spoke up, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
For more than 2000 years people have been trying to under-stand who Jesus is, and theyve been using words that have been used and have evolved for another 2000 years. Look in the back of many hymnals and one will find codified statements of understanding dating back to the first several centuries of the Common Era, just a few hundred years after the ministry of Christ.
As usual, Jesus continues to remind us of the most salient point: who do we say that he is? Without a relationship, without a personal friendship with the living God, all the rest is no more than words on a page and notes in history. It is when we encounter the living Christ, when we hear his words in our hearts as well as our ears, and when we get to our feet to follow where he leadsthen is when we know who he is and can answer the question. And our answer will truly count, for even Jesus wants to know.
October 4, 2009
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
On those days when I have so much to accomplish it is so easy for me to put my head down and charge ahead with my todo list. Even when those tasks require interaction with other people, sometimes I am so focused on what I must accomplish that I fail to be fully present with the people with whom I am working. I am wrapped up in my own little world, isolated and out of touch, and somehow ok with that.
How remarkable it is, then, when we gather on World Communion Sunday, to find ourselves called out of our own preoccupation and, not only into Gods holy presence, but into an intimate awareness of the Body of Christ around the globe in every direction. There are those who worship in secret with just a handful, and those who gather in sanctuaries filled with ten thousand people. There are those in grand cathedrals, mud shelters, and victims on the edges of earthquates and floods. For a few minutes we are in solidarity with each other, and Christ whispers that Gods kingdom has come for a moment. This, Christ affirms, is what Gods people are called to build always.
September 27, 2009You show me that path of life.
I love pictures of pathways. They are like an invitation to come see what more lies beyond the frame of the picture. In real life, unlike in pictures, we can actually follow those pathways. Recently my husband and I were exploring a town where we had never been, and found a pathway leading in one direction, obviously along a river bank, and in the other direction to someplace unseen. Would it go someplace mundane, like a parking lot, or someplace more intriguing?
The path of life the Psalmist mentions could contain both the mundane and the intriguing. The Psalmist also affirms that God will show us those paths, and in a later Psalm that God leads us on those paths. I imagine I would have enjoyed my walk without my husband, but with him I had the delight of someone to share the discovery of a dam on the river, and a doe eating her dinner just 20 feet from where we passed. And God takes special delight in showing us the paths of life, and the marvelous discoveries to be had along the way. Try a walk with God today and see where it leads.
September 20, 2009
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
When you read Mark’s gospel you always have sense that Mark is in a hurry—because he uses words like “immediately” a lot. At the time Mark was writing there was a sense of urgency about the message he had to share. The world was in need of the good news that Jesus brought, and no amount of waiting would improve the situation.
Throughout the last couple of decades our American culture has lived with a sense of urgency, but it hasn’t been for the good news of the Gospel of Jesus, but the news that our stocks have increased, our status is heightened, and our experiences expanded. But with the financial and employment woes of the past year has come the realization that good news of that sort does not have the lasting value that the Gospel news has: that God so loved the world, including each one of us, that God would do just about anything to be sure we know it, and that God’s love is so immense that there is nothing in all the world that can overcome it, and that we don’t have to be concerned with earning or deserving it, because it is a gift given freely to each of us.
Seems to me that when there is a deal this good we all should be urgently about it.
September 13, 2009You have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal Christ is all and in all!
Often when we think of new beginnings we think of the New Year, or we think of rebirth in spring. September is another time of new beginnings, obviously so for students, but also for all of us in a culture that somewhat revolves around the school year. New classes, new teachers, new notebooks and crayons, and most especially new opportunities to make new friends, put into use newly acquired maturity from our summer adventures, and new efforts at doing our best in the studies ahead of us.
We long for new starts, for renewal, and we look for it often. The Good News for us is that God promises renewal for our spirits, for our souls, for the core of who we are. When writing to the church at Colossea, the apostle Paul tells us that we are renewed in the very image of the one who made us. We are renewed in the beauty and goodness that God saw in us when God created us. The errors or trials of yesterday need not mar our outlook. Sure, we might need to take some corrective action if we have sinned against God, or others, or even against the creation God made in us, but we shall be renewed and revitalized through Christ.
Sounds like a perfect new beginning to me.