Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!


They say home is where the heart is, but I reckon that wasn’t written by someone living in a sub-letted condo in downtown Atlanta that, as it turns out, wasn’t allowed to be sub-letted in the first place and would eventually force the occupants to move out under the cover of darkness for fear of being discovered as imposters in a condo with water coming up through the floor. At times like that, home is easily defined as any place where a knock on the door doesn’t bring a cringe with it.

Home is far deeper at times. Home is the place we return to when we need someone who loves us for who we are. Home is the place where we feel supported and loved, where we recharge and relax. Home is a blessing.

In our busy lives, home is more concept than reality. Home is a sense within our soul, a longing for something more, something deeper, than the transient times we often share with those we love in the midst of our turbulent, hectic lives. In the last month I’ve seen lines of cars stretched as far as they eye can see, each waiting to tour some department store in hopes of finding just the right gift, each driver with a wearied look, longing for home.
Christmas brings forth so many memories of home. We gather around a tree, around the table, singing old songs and telling the old, old story. We do so at home as well as here at church. We return to this familiar place, each of us changed by the previous year and longing for the constancy we find in the Christmas story. It is an old, beloved blanket we pull over ourselves on a cold winter night, and we are instantly warmed by its love.

In that first Christmas story, it was a time of searching. Mary and Joseph left behind what they had called home to travel to another home, the little town of Bethlehem, because that was the town of his ancestors. For three days they traveled, longing for home, Joseph and his pregnant bride passing the difficult miles with expectations of what was beyond the next rise. Would the baby come here? Could they make a new home? Would everything work out?
What was to come?

When they finally arrived, they didn’t even find a home to rest. There was no room in the inn, so home brought them to a manger, with sheep and oxen nearby, the scent of the farm heavy in the air as the baby came into the world, bringing them home in this homeless town.
We share the walk of Mary and Joseph, for we, too, are traveling home. We don’t always recognize the milestones between here and Bethlehem, but we know the call of the Savior, and our feet carry us homeward. Our lives are lived on the journey, somewhere between Nazareth and Bethlehem, and we mark the milestones on this journey, each of us going home, wandering together over difficult mountains and flat, broad plains. They journey is different for each of us, yet we all walk the same line, yearning for Bethlehem yet filled with so many questions on the journey.

For we are all headed toward Bethlehem, toward Christ, toward home. We’re all going home, to the only place where we are truly home, and we are following a path marked by those who have gone before us. We recognize many of the milestones, and we gather on evenings like this to celebrate the journey, to remember why we go.

We’re going because of the baby, because in Bethlehem all things are made new once again. Mangers become thrones, stables become palaces, unwed teenagers become treasured by God. If you look closely, you can see the twinkling jewels placed in the sky as the angels sing and shepherds, those lowly, uneducated shepherds, are suddenly seen as princes in the kingdom.
We’re going because of love, because of an infinite love we don’t understand yet recognize when we see it. A love that spoke the world into being and fell in love with its fertile grounds, a love that came into the world so that we might recognize those moments of home, a love that transformed us from lowly sinners into saints of God.

God is calling us home, and we hear the voice of the baby reminding us of the journey. We have spent so much time walking at we sometimes forget where we’re going, we forget that we’re not alone. The light dims as we turn our heads, wander astray, get lost in the mountains. So the church gathers to hold the candles high, to let light pour through us, to show the way home. We’re all going together, to the place we’ve always known yet never been, to the one place where, when the world has turned its back, they’ll always take you in. Home is waiting, calling to the soul.

This Christmas Eve, may we remember home, and remember that we never go there alone.
Let us pray.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday Morning

Holy God,

This world is covered with a layer of ice, tiny crystals, each unique in its beauty, making a blanket which the world has yet to shake. All is still, holy.

Your grace covers us like the dew, and we spend our lives shaking it off, trying to live on our own power, when you call us to accept your love and give our lives to you as your children. Teach us to be still, to be loved, to be treasures of God, holy because you are holy. Teach us to shake off those idols we turn into gods, so that we might worship you and you alone. You are love, pure and holy, and I love you.


Monday, December 21, 2009

God's Love is Like...

Wood Stain

Why? Well, I just used a bunch of it, and it occurred to me while I was staining that it has something in common with God's love. (Perhaps it was the fumes talking. The warning labels on those cans are pretty scary.)

See, wood stain changes the wood it's painted upon. It soaks into the grain and you no longer see the plain wood, but rather the wood as it has been changed by the stain. It's a new color, despite being the same piece of wood.

Christ does the same for us. Christ's love for us is so deep that, even in our sinful state, he came to earth and died for us. When we give our lives to Christ, he soaks into us, changing us, so that when God looks at us he sees not us, but Christ. Our sin is gone, broken by the power of Christ, and we are born anew through the blood of Christ. We can marvel at this miracle for every moment of our lives, and I believe we will still fail to understand the grace of it. We simply have to accept it--we are changed through Christ. We are no longer sinful, but rather covered in the grace of God, forever beautiful in God's eyes because of what was done on the cross. Sin has lost its sting, death has no victory--we are one in Christ, forever. Amen!


Interesting. That's not the first word that comes to mind, but maybe the best. I heard about this a few weeks ago. I wonder, if they stopped doing this, how many people would still come? I wonder how many people come solely because of it? I wonder so very many things about it...

Monday Morning

God of heaven and earth,

Speak in gentle voices,
through loved ones far and near,
that I may be inspired
And hold each one as dear.
May I treasure every moment
Whisper words of thanks
And offer up my daily bread
With an attitude of praise


Friday, December 18, 2009

Come Thou Fount

Come Thou Fount

Posted using ShareThis

Merry Christmas!

Why no, I don't have words to describe how awesome this is.

And this one's for Rachel


God of glory,

Come down. Be a blazing fire on the mountains, that we may see your presence and be awed by it. Invite us into your presence, that we may realize how great your majesty is and worship you. Be the voice within our hearts, calling us to live as your children, your hands and feet in this world. Surround us with your love when we weep, and may angels join in our songs of rejoicing. You alone are Lord almighty, and we give you thanks and praise.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Scots Confession, Chapter XIV

The Scots Confession, Chapter XIV

The Works Which Are Counted Good Before God

We confess and acknowledge that God has given to man his holy law, in which not only all such works as displease and offend his godly majesty are forbidden, but also those which please him and which he has promised to reward are commanded. These works are of two kinds. The one is done to the honor of God, the other to the profit of our neighbor, and both have the revealed will of God as their assurance. To have one God, to worship and honor him, to call upon him in all our troubles, to reverence his holy Name, to hear his Word and to believe it, and to share in his holy sacraments, belong to the first kind. To honor father, mother, princes, rulers, and superior powers; to love them, to support them, to obey their orders if they are not contrary to the commands of God, to save the lives of the innocent, to repress tyranny, to defend the oppressed, to keep our bodies clean and holy, to live in soberness and temperance, to deal justly with all men in word and deed, and, finally, to repress any desire to harm our neighbor, are the good works of the second kind, and these are most pleasing and acceptable to God as he has commanded them himself.

Acts to the contrary are sins, which always displease him and provoke him to anger, such as, not to call upon him alone when we have need, not to hear his Word with reverence, but to condemn and despise it, to have or worship idols, to maintain and defend idolatry, lightly to esteem the reverend name of God, to profane, abuse, or condemn the sacraments of Christ Jesus, to disobey or resist any whom God has placed in authority, so long as they do not exceed the bounds of their office, to murder, or to consent thereto, to bear hatred, or to let innocent blood be shed if we can prevent it.

In conclusion, we confess and affirm that the breach of any other commandment of the first or second kind is sin, by which God’s anger and displeasure are kindled against the proud, unthankful world. So that we affirm good works to be those alone which are done in faith and at the command of God who, in his law, has set forth the things that please him. We affirm that evil works are not only those expressly done against God’s command, but also, in religious matters and the worship of God, those things which have no other warrant than the invention and opinion of man. From the beginning God has rejected such, as we learn from the words of the prophet Isaiah and of our master, Christ Jesus, “In vain do they worship Me, teaching the doctrines and commandments of men.”


I believe it's important to notice that in the section above, sin is defined not only as things we do but also as those things we fail to do, such as turn to God alone when we are in need. Sin is every instance in which we fail to rely upon and worship God alone. It is so easy for me to label and notice those things in my life which are definitely sin, but it can be so difficult to notice the sins of omission I commit, the times when idols stealthily replace the worship of God.

And so I begin again in grace, hoping that my feet might not find the edges of the path, trying to humbly walk in the light of Christ, moving forward on the paths of Truth and righteousness. Trying to love God, trying to love neighbor, always serving both before self. It is so easy to say, yet so hard to walk. As Paul says at the end of 1 Corinthians 12: But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

In God, there is always more. The depth of his love and the wideness of his mercy exceeds our capacity to test them. We live in the richness of eternal love. How great is our God!?!?


Lord Jesus,
As we draw near to Advent, draw near to us. There are so many reasons that previous baby should be first on our mind, but we seem to set out in search of other distractions, of other idols. We turn from you, not out of malice, but rather out of habit. We are a sinful people, dwelling in the darkness of sin, rather than emerging into your glorious light.

Teach us once more how deeply you love us. Remind us of your grace and mercy, so that this day might be a holy offering to you.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday Morning


Your beauty wins. Despite our attempts to ignore or destroy it, masking it with our handmade idols, your beauty shines through. It is so brilliant in its majesty and so perfect in its creation. From the sunrise this morning to the unfolding of the poinsettia's flower, your beauty is abundant and always points to you.

Remind me that I am your beautiful creation, also, and that my life is meant to point to you. May your grace sustain me, may your power uplift me, and may your Spirit ignite the passion I have for you so that the light of your beauty might shine through me.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Prodigal God

I keep meaning to read The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller, but simply haven't gotten around to ordering it yet. Instead, I found The Prodigal God, in which Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, uses the parable of the Prodigal Son to discuss our failings as younger and elder brothers, as well as our hope in Christ.

It is superb. I wasn't so sure at first. I didn't know what I was getting into, and at first I wasn't completely sold on it, but by the time I arrived at the end of the book I was thoroughly convicted not only of my sin but also of the grace of God.

In this book, Keller focuses on the shortcomings of both the elder and younger sons in the Prodigal Son parable. In most discussions, the author (or preacher) picks one to highlight, but here Keller is quick to mention that neither son is living in the fullness of grace the father offers. Each one spurns the grace. The younger does so by his pursuit of the pleasure of the flesh, but the elder does the same, only by pursuing a life lived by rigid rules rather than free grace. The Father loves each boundlessly, but they see that love in different ways.

Keller spends quite a bit of time convicting the elder brothers of their sins. It is easy to see the elder brother as the faithful one, but in the brother's response to the father Keller sees a life lived without a full acceptance of grace. Keller views the elder brother as the one who tries to earn grace by following all the rules to the letter, despising those who have failed.

Keller concludes with a discussion on grace. I kept reading portions out loud to Rachel, not simply so she could hear them, but also because I wanted to enjoy the sensation of reading and hearing ideas so packed with grace. An excerpt:

She had never heard the message she was now hearing, that we can be accepted by God by sheer grace through the work of Christ regardless of anything we do or have done. She said, "That is a scary idea! Oh, it's good scary, but still scary."

I was intrigued. I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: "If I was saved by my good works--then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace--at God's infinite cost--then there's nothing he cannot ask of me."

This book is full of tiny moments like this, when the grace I thought I understood is revealed to be deeper still. Thanks be to God for expanding my vision once more!


God of Every Moment,

You have held me in your arms all night long. I go to bed and trust I will wake up in the morning, uncertain of what the day holds but filled with faith that I will still be here in the morning. You have sustained me for one more day on this beautiful creation--today will unfold with chances to love and opportunities to serve. May this day be a day where I do not duck, but rather live with eyes open to the needs of the world and ears open to the voice of my heart, your Spirit, calling me to be your beloved disciple and child.


Monday, December 14, 2009


Holy God,
It is so very cold outside. The wind whips at my neck, reaching with icy fingers into my being and f0rcing its way into my heart. I wrap myself in you, but it still invades my life. I fill with despair, afraid of its wretched cold.

Surround me with your warmth, and create in me the peace to listen to your voice that is already speaking inside me. You have not abandoned me to the icy depths; you are with me, your love is inside me; I have merely chosen to ignore it in favor of other, louder voices. Be my wisdom and my true love, so that all of life will be ordered around you and your abiding presence.


Friday, December 11, 2009


Thanks, God.

You created a beautiful sunrise this morning, painting the morning sky with a brilliant hue to remind us of your artistry.

Thanks, God.

You gave me a good night's rest and sustained me for another day. May I live this day with gratitude.

Thanks, God.

You have surrounded me with wondrous people who love me deeply, even if I don't deserve it.

Thanks, God. I love you.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Scots Confession, Chapter XIII

The Cause of Good Works

The cause of good works, we confess, is not our free will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who dwells in our hearts by true faith, brings forth such works as God has prepared for us to walk in. For we most boldly affirm that it is blasphemy to say that Christ abides in the hearts of those in
whom is no spirit of sanctification. Therefore we do not hesitate to affirm that murderers, oppressors, cruel persecuters, adulterers, filthy persons, idolaters, drunkards, thieves, and all workers of iniquity, have neither true faith nor anything of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, so long as they obstinately continue in wickedness.

For as soon as the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, whom God’s chosen children receive by true faith, takes possession of the heart of any man, so soon does he regenerate and renew him, so that he begins to hate what before he loved, and to love what he hated before. Thence comes that continual battle which is between the flesh and the Spirit in God’s children, while the flesh and the natural man, being corrupt, lust for things pleasant and delightful to themselves, are envious in adversity and proud in prosperity, and every moment prone and ready to offend the majesty of God.

But the Spirit of God, who bears witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God, makes us resist filthy pleasures and groan in God’s presence for deliverance from this bondage of corruption, and finally to triumph over sin so that it does not reign in our mortal bodies. Other men do not share this conflict since they do not have God’s Spirit, but they readily follow and obey sin and feel no regrets, since they act as the devil and their corrupt nature urge.

But the sons of God fight against sin; sob and mourn when they find themselves tempted to do evil; and, if they fall, rise again with earnest and unfeigned repentance. They do these things, not by their own power, but by the power of the Lord Jesus, apart from whom they can do nothing.


My initial reaction is disdain for this selection. Surely I can choose to do good, right? Surely there is some part of my will that is not so stained with sin that I am constantly falling, constantly failing to do what the Lord wills. Right?

Then I come to the realization that I simply cannot choose what is right on my own. I look back on the history of wrecks caused by my poor decisions and recognize that sin, be it pride, greed or some other failing, indeed stains my decisions. I am not proud of it, but it is part of who I am.

I believe it is important to recognize this reality. Without the realization that sin is a part of everything, there isn't an accompanying need for grace. If we can choose to live correctly, what need is there for a Savior?

But we are stained by sin, and thus in desperate need of a Savior, Jesus Christ. Christ comes to save, to liberate, to illuminate. Christ sends his Spirit to strengthen us, to encourage us to fight the fight, to struggle onward, to choose the Spirit over the flesh. Christ does not remove temptation or sin from our lives, but rather promises a better way, a higher way, an eternal way. Christ promises true life, and the Spirit moves within us, imploring us to fight on.

Thursday Morning

Dear Lord,

You have created the sun and set it in the sky. It warms the earth and provides light for our lives. You have given us so many other people in our lives that do the same. Thank you for a community that gathers around us to love and support us. Thank you for others who have the courage to lead us, to speak the truth, to humbly serve. Thank you for Christ, who lights our path even when we aren't walking it, always working in us to guide us by the Spirit so that we might walk in Truth.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wednesday Morning

Dear God,

On this day, Lord, give me the strength to see light where I focus on darkness.

On this day, grant that hope may reign in places of fear.

On this day, God, may my words point to you rather than myself. May my time be an offering, rather than a hoarding. May my attitude be one of gratitude, rather than selfishness. May all the earth know that you reign as Lord and King.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

I finished up In the Sanctuary of Outcasts lately, a book with deep Biblical ties through the centrality of leprosy. Neil White's memoir revolves around the time he spends in a unique prison near New Orleans. He is there for bank fraud, but it is not only a prison, but also a home to lepers. For years they have lived there, dwelling quietly in this sanctuary. It is an odd combination, especially since no one is truly sure how leprosy is passed from one to another or who gets it and why.

White was a successful businessman, always chasing the next dime and self-importance. Fancy boats, houses, cars and offices were the objects of his desire, as well as the cause of his downfall. The check kiting scheme is too difficult for me to explain here, but he is sent away for 18 months in this unique jail while his family must deal with the debt and humiliation left behind. It is in jail his understandings of life and people begin to change.

There, in prison, he begins to overcome his fears and interact with the patients, in particular an elderly woman in a wheelchair named Ella. It is these people, voluntarily living in this sanctuary, hidden away from society while their bodies are often ravaged, who teach him what it means to be free. He evaluates his measures of success and the importance of family. He gains a new understanding of the sacrament of communion. He sees people who live simply, honestly, with integrity, and begins to ask himself difficult questions. He struggles with family issues, plans for success, and so many other core issues in his life.

I enjoyed White's book because it focused on the struggles we have. We all ask big questions; it doesn't take being arrested to do that. In a unique setting White uncovers true beauty in each of the patients as well as some of his fellow inmates. He looks deeper, beyond the first layer of fabric of ourselves, and realizes how much depth and beauty there is in each of us.

It's a quick read, and an entertaining one. Maybe it'll bring up some big questions you've been meaning to ask yourself...

Tuesday Morning

Dear Lord,

May I see your grace in those who surround me, and may I be a window to your cross. Your love is deeper than I can ever know, and yet I come face to face with it so many times through the witness of your children. May your Holy Spirit open my heart and mind on this day so that I will look for the best in every individual I meet. May my life today be a witness to your incredible love.


Monday, December 7, 2009

December 7

New WWII monument in Boynton Beach to honor the 'day that will live in infamy'.

I still remember sitting in the car on December 7, 1991, listening to the 50th anniversary ceremony on the radio. It was heart-breaking. I am not related to an individual who died in that horrific attack, but it is still tragic to think of what happened. For some reason I seem not to notice or observe this day as much anymore. Perhaps I am numbed by the recent wars. Maybe it has something to do with my recent focus on the European front. Maybe I am simply growing more insular everyday.

I don't know why I don't pay much attention to December 7. I am grateful for all those who serve in uniform, those who place their lives at risk. I am grateful for those who went to fight afterward. I am hopeful that such things will never happen again. May the peace of Christ wash us all clean, ridding us of our warring ways and our stubborn hearts.

Serious Christmas Lights

Amazing Grace Techno - Computer Controlled Christmas Lights from Richard Holdman on Vimeo.

We have four strands of Christmas lights up, thanks to Rachel's diligence. There is no music, but they do flash. We do not have anybody handling traffic in front of our house, except for the stop sign.

A Bear Named Winnie

I cried. (I know--big surprise, right?) I didn't expect to, but there we both were, at the end of the movie, wondering why animals get to us that way. What a great movie.

A Bear Named Winnie is the story of the bear that inspired the Winnie the Pooh stories. This bear's mother is shot at the beginning of the movie and is bound for the same destination when a young soldier from the vetinary corps of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on its way to France in WWI decides to save it. He brings it back on the train and proceeds to break every rule possible in order to keep this bear in his company.

The bear seems to have an endless amount of love and affection for everyone. It wins hearts I didn't expect it to win, and the love and devotion of this bear, and of the soldier, simply made me cry. It was heartwarming.

I think the wonderful thing about this movie is the depth of the love shown between a man and a bear. I was watching this with a cat curled up on my lap, and these examples of great love between humans and animals often bring out the best in us. Animals show us how they can love, simply and purely, while we get the chance to love an animal that wants nothing more than some food, water and our affection. It's a fun movie if you get the chance, especially if you are Winnie the Pooh fans. It doesn't discuss Winnie the Pooh, but it's neat to know the origin.

Monday Morning

Dear God,

You bring water from rocks. You transform cold, unfeeling, uncompassionate rocks into a life-giving source of cool refreshment. You plant hope in soil that once grew nothing. You breathe light into rooms that know only darkness. You create love where hatred once dwelled.

You are the God of wonders and creation, of redemption and transformation, of great love and tremendous mercy. You open our eyes to the wonders around us and love us even when we don't acknowledge you. While we were still sinners, you died for us.

Thank you.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Fun

Jacob Geerlings’ blog from Kenya

A Review of The Blind Side, which everyone has told me I need to watch

All Women in the Church

News on the elections in Honduras

I never knew bagel cutting was so risky

A Reading from the Confessions

The Second Helvetic Confession 5.112


Christian faith is not an opinion or human conviction, but a most firm trust and a clear and steadfast assent of the mind, and then a most certain apprehension of the truth of God presented in the Scriptures and in the Apostles’ Creed, and thus also of God himself, the greatest good, and especially of God’s promise and of Christ who is the fulfillment of all promises.

Text for Sunday, December 6

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

The Monastic Moment (from The Monastic Way.)

Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all alike to everlasting life. Rule of Benedict, Chapter 72


Holy God,

On this sweet day you have blessed the world with opportunity. On this day we have a choice: we can serve you or ourselves. Quiet every voice inside us but your own, that we may hear your Spirit calling us to be your children, to live with unbounded joy and hope for the kingdom you are establishing. May we be an Easter people, remembering the eternal hope we have in you alone, filled with the peace of Christ, and among our neighbors spreading the love of God through our humble words and actions.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Scots Confession, Chapter XII

Chapter XII

Faith in the Holy Ghost

Our faith and its assurance do not proceed from flesh and blood, that is to say, from natural powers within us, but are the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; whom we confess to be God, equal with the Father and with his Son, who sanctifies us, and brings us into all truth by his own working, without whom we should remain forever enemies to God and ignorant of his Son, Christ Jesus. For by nature we are so dead, blind, and perverse, that neither can we feel when we are pricked, see the light when it shines, nor assent to the will of God when it is revealed, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus quicken that which is dead, remove the darkness from our minds, and bow our stubborn hearts to the obedience of his blessed will. And so, as we confess that God the Father created us when we were not, as his Son our Lord Jesus redeemed us when we were enemies to him, so also do we confess that the Holy Ghost does sanctify and regenerate us, without respect to any merit proceeding from us, be it before or be it after our regeneration. To put this even more plainly; as we willingly disclaim any honor and glory for our own creation and redemption, so do we willingly also for our regeneration and sanctification; for by ourselves we are not capable of thinking one good thought, but he who has begun the work in us alone continues us in it, to the praise and glory of his undeserved grace.


Sin. It's not pretty, and we have covered ourselves in it. Our efforts are stained by it. Thanks be to God for grace and mercy. Thanks be to God for the Holy Spirit, which works in our hearts and awakens us to recognize not only our own sin but also the grace of God. We cannot save ourselves, but the Holy Spirit working through us can open our eyes to the salvation we have in Christ.

I want so badly to be able to take credit for salvation. I want to be able to say that it is my one pure thought, my one good deed, that enables me to serve my Lord and God. But it simply isn't. I am such a cauldron of greed and pride that if it were left to me, I would still be vainly clawing at the walls of the pit of death that Christ destroyed so many years ago. Thankfully the Holy Spirit is at work within me, opening my eyes to recognize the wonder of God, opening my heart to receive the work of Christ, opening my life to be a conduit so that God might work through me to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God.

Thursday Morning

Awesome God,

Upon the Israelites you rained down manna from heaven. There, under the morning dew, they found the nourishment they needed to survive the day.

Holy God, I am not wandering in the physical wilderness. I do not know the pain of hunger or the fear of starvation. But I need your food. I need the bread of life, the spiritual food, to survive the day. My daily bread consists of being fed by your Son, Jesus Christ, who nourishes my soul and strengthens me in my daily walk. Give me the strength, Lord, to look underneath the dew and find you waiting to nourish me with your Word.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Lord of Lords,

We know the wilderness. We know the walls of the shadow of death and the emptiness of vast deserts. We have trod paths that lead to nowhere and sat in the fading daylight and wept.

Still, you were there. How can you be a God of light and love and still wallow in the darkness with us? How can your grace and mercy penetrate and destroy the powers of death if only life exists in you? How are you able to sit with us in our pain?

You came to earth and joined with us in our walk. You sat in the same shadows we do, walked in the same valleys, and suffered the same death. And so you know our pain and our grief, and in the midst of our weeping, you promise us hope in you. Thank you.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday Morning

Holy Lord,

On this blessed day, may the sound of my heart beating be a reminder to me that you have set my life in motion and offered me abundant riches that I did not earn.

May the feel of my lungs expanding remind me that I am invited to take part in the expanding of your kingdom.

May the sensation of touch remind me how close you are to each of your beloved children.

May my very life serve as an offering in love to you, my Savior.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Sermon from Yesterday

Luke 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”

The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

Humble Beginnings

Who here has ever composed a Christmas list? It’s an active thing to do while waiting for the big day to arrive. It’s what we do while we’re waiting on Santa, waiting for those eight magical reindeer to appear and bring presents galore. I used to compose a Christmas list every year—the lego catalog was my particular guiding text in this activity, and it probably would have been easier for me to simply photocopy its pages and stick them in an envelope, but instead I dutifully copied down the list of desired items and stuck them in my stocking on Christmas Eve. I never considered giving Santa some preparation time, and perhaps that has much to do with the fact that I never received any of the items on my list. I read recently that those who give their time to answer letters to Santa Claus for the postal service have recently had to undergo extra training for privacy matters. The Postal Service had wanted to cut off the service due to privacy concerns, but vehement protests helped them see the light. As to what these privacy concerns are, I have no idea. Perhaps it is now a national security matter to divulge what legos I want.

Regardless, composing a Christmas list is an active way of preparing. When you think about it, the art of prayer often resembles a Christmas list. Our prayers usually do, and should, include a list of things that we are desperately hoping for. They are of far greater importance than the things on most Christmas lists, but they are desired things. Now there are many different ways to pray. The one that I follow is the ACTS formula—adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. My life tends to weigh far more heavily on the confession side of things, but I get around to supplication. We all have things we are praying for; for healing for some, guidance for others, peace, justice and a whole host of other worldly issues, as well as prayer requests for myself. We lay all these things down at the foot of the cross, before our Lord Jesus Christ, trusting that He will hear our prayers, hoping that He will answer some.

Zechariah and Elizabeth had a Christmas list. Well, they didn’t actually have a Christmas list, since they were on the early side of Christmas, but they had a prayer request, one from the depths of their aged souls. I don’t know how long they had been praying for this, but I suspect it had been for many years.

So one day Zechariah, a priest before God, was chosen to go into the temple to pray. He enters the sanctuary of the Lord, where God is supposed to be dwelling, and begins to pray. We’re told the whole assembly of the people was praying just outside the sanctuary, so we have this mass of people gathered to pray to God. I imagine each of them had different desires in the depths of their hearts, each different longings, different hopes and dreams. That day something extraordinary happened.

An angel showed up. Not to the entire crowd, but just to Zechariah. Zechariah is inside the sanctuary when an angel of the Lord shows up, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. Zechariah, who has been praying to the Lord for years and years with no answer, reacts with…

He’s overjoyed, right? He’s been praying and praying for this day all his life. This is the biggest thing he and Elizabeth have wanted, and finally an angel of the Lord is standing before him. What could be better? Surely he has prepared himself for the coming of the Lord, right?

Not in this story. In this story, Zechariah reacts with terror and overwhelming fear. I can understand this initial reaction, I am certain I would be afraid if an angel was suddenly standing before me, even I was in a place where that sort of thing was supposed to happen. We get caught in our routines, and anything out of the ordinary is a surprise.

But what surprises is what happens next. The angel of the Lord issues great news to Zechariah: his prayer has been heard, and it will be answered. They will bear a son, and they are to name him John. He goes on to tell Zechariah the details, but in all of this, Zechariah reacts the same way another man did when he heard similar news: Abraham struggled to believe the news the angels brought him. “How will I know that this is so?” is Zechariah’s question. Had I been the angel, my response would have gone something like, “Well, when your wife is nine months pregnant and can barely move, perhaps then you’ll suspect something.”

The angel senses what is going on beneath the surface. The angel hears Zechariah’s doubt. He realizes that Zechariah does not expect this prayer to be answered, even in the presence of Gabriel, an angel of the Lord.

As a response, as punishment for his doubt, Gabriel tells Zechariah that he will be unable to speak until the baby is born.

Zechariah then emerges from the sanctuary, trying to take all this in while suddenly standing before the entire assembly of the people. Perhaps that is the first time he tries to open his mouth and speak, but nothing comes out. Somehow he gestures, and what a mime he must have been, and each one of them realized he had seen a vision. For some unknown reason, he continues motioning to them, his pantomime apparently making up the remainder of the service. He then leaves to go home to his wife.

Zechariah’s tale is an odd one. I doubt that many of us know people who can share a similar story. An old priest goes into the sanctuary of the Lord to pray, encounters Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, learns he’s going to have a baby, then is punished for not believing, convinces the whole assembly of the Lord what has just happened, then goes home to a grateful wife.

The great news of this story is that Zechariah and Elizabeth have the child in spite of Zechariah’s doubts, in spite of his lack of preparation, in spite of his faith in his prayers being answered. John the Baptist still shows up, nine months later, beginning a journey that changes the face of the world. Perhaps Zechariah didn’t expect the angel’s words to be true, but his prayers are still answered.

Thanks be to God that the same holds true for us. In spite of our sin, in spite of our inability to prepare, in spite of our entire society focusing more on the commercial side of Christmas, God still shows up and gives us the greatest gift of all. Perhaps we’re in the sanctuary praying but not sure when, or if, God is going to answer our prayers. Perhaps we haven’t even made it this far because we’re too distracted by life and the thousands of things that seem to be crammed inside. Perhaps by the time we get to Christmas we’re simply ready for it to be over.

But God still shows up, and God still shows us lover greater than we have ever known.
So how do we prepare for this? Advent is a season of preparation, a time in which we are to cleanse our hearts and prepare our minds for the mind-blowing event of Christ’s arrival.

Let’s look at the punishment. Why? Not out of fear that the same might happen to us, but rather out of the realization that when we are not actively preparing ourselves with our hearts and minds focused on Christ, we are not able to live as a full people. We are not fully using our gifts because we are not living as the people Christ has called us to be.

What gifts do you have that you’re not using? How has God blessed you, and how is God calling you to be a blessing to others? Zechariah lost his gift to speak. May we not lose our voices, but may we as the people of New Hope Presbyterian Church speak through our actions and through our love this Christmas season. May we be in prayer and in study so that we draw nearer to the God who comes to us on Christmas day. May we be in service, looking outward this Christmas season, looking for the chance to love and to serve those in need among us. There are thousands in Chattanooga who are hungry and in need; there are children who need someone to read to them at the Newton Center just as there are families working through Habitat who need help building a home. But those in need may not be that far away. The one sitting next to you in the pew may be in need of someone to ask, truly and sincerely, how they are doing. May we not forget that Christ calls us to love one another, and may we seek to mirror the love God shows in Christ by loving our neighbors, by loving the stranger, by loving our families and by continually giving our hearts and our minds to show our love and gratitude to God our Father in heaven this Advent.
Let us pray.

Monday Morning

Dear Lord,
We have spent the weekend giving thanks. We have set aside a day each year to give thanks for our unearned blessings. We gather together with family to praise your name, to recognize that every good gift comes from your hand. On this day, may we savor that attitude. May who we are and what we do be seen as a continued psalm of thanksgiving to you, our Maker and Redeemer, Savior and Friend.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Holy of Holies,

Thank you. For all you give, thank you. For the grace and mercy and peace you have poured out from your holy throne, thank you. You have defeated death and sin by your merciful power. You have given love greater than I can imagine. You have placed a lamp before my feet and shown me a better path. You have redeemed me, called me by name, and offered me hope greater than I deserve. For all the mercies you have shown, even in the face of my own sin, thank you.

I love you. Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday Morning

Great God,

What is my purpose? I know that it is to glorify you and praise your holy name, but I struggle to know how to do so. How does this life praise you? I have cried out to you, but I hear no reply. Speak to me, Lord, that I may hear and obey. May your voice ring out, calling me to be your servant, your disciple. I know that I am your beloved, and yet I seem to find so many ways to deny that on this day.

As the seasons change, one to another, may I recognize you as constant and proclaim that you alone are Lord of all. As I change and grow, may my foundation be built upon your holy name.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Morning

Thank you, Lord, for this morning.

You are the Creator of all things. From the sun in the sky to the millions of stars that dot the night, your hand has formed them all. I watch in awe as night becomes day and you have created anew, for you sustain our creation with your powerful right hand.

May an attitude of gratitude wash over me this day, and may I revel in the glory of each moment. May I live as a thankful child, aware of the wonder of it all and grateful for your abiding love.


Friday, November 20, 2009


Holy God,

If I understood the way the world worked, perhaps I would know you better. If I could explain how the earth was formed, perhaps I would begin to know a little about you. But you are shrouded in mystery.
Even in mystery, though, you came to be known. Through the prophets and apostles, through your Son Jesus Christ, you have longed to be known. You have given us so many opportunities to know you, to worship you, to thank you. May I see these opportunities today and give you thanks, give you praise, give back to you out of which I have been so freely given. Thank you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fair Trade this Christmas

One billion people live on less than $1/day.

Want to help life one mission families out of poverty this Christmas?

Let's spend less money.
Let's give with meaning.
Let's choose fair trade.

Just One.

The Scots Confession, Chapter XI


The Ascension

We do not doubt but that the selfsame body which was born of the virgin, was crucified, dead, and buried, and which did rise again, did ascend into the heavens, for the accomplishment of all things, where in our name and for our comfort he has received all power in heaven and earth, where he sits at the right hand of the Father, having received his kingdom, the only advocate and mediator for us. Which glory, honor, and prerogative, he alone amongst the brethren shall possess till all his enemies are made his footstool, as we undoubtedly believe they shall be in the Last Judgment.

We believe that the same Lord Jesus shall visibly return for this Last Judgment as he was seen to ascend. And then, we firmly believe, the time of refreshing and restitution of all things shall come, so that those who from the beginning have suffered violence, injury, and wrong, for righteousness’ sake, shall inherit that blessed immortality promised them from the beginning. But, on the other hand, the stubborn, disobedient, cruel persecutors, filthy persons, idolators, and all sorts of the unbelieving, shall be cast into the dungeon of utter darkness, where their worm shall not die, nor their fire be quenched.

The remembrance of that day, and of the Judgment to be executed in it, is not only a bridle by which our carnal lusts are restrained but also such inestimable comfort that neither the threatening of worldly princes, nor the fear of present danger or of temporal death, may move us to renounce and forsake that blessed society which we, the members, have with our Head and only Mediator, Christ Jesus: whom we confess and avow to be the promised Messiah, the only Head of his Kirk, our just Lawgiver, our only High Priest, Advocate, and Mediator. To which honors and offices, if man or angel presume to intrude themselves, we utterly detest and abhor them, as blasphemous to our sovereign and supreme Governor, Christ Jesus.


It fascinates me that the ascension and judgment are so closely tied in this text. It would have been far easier for this section of the confession to simply end after the first paragraph, but instead the authors wanted a theological statement to be made about what is to come based on what has been.

Isn't that who we are, as Christians? Aren't we always looking forward based on what has come before? We trust in God because we know that God is reliable. God has a great track record! We know that God will be faithful to God's promises, so we look forward to the day when those promises will be fulfilled.

Comfort, the confession says, should be found in the ascension. It says that we should take great comfort in knowing that the God who ascended to heaven will descend one day, and the very thought of that should give us great comfort in the face of every mortal danger. We have nothing to fear because we have a God in heaven who loves us.

That should change the way we live. Does it?


Great God of Heaven and Earth,

May my labors today glorify you. You have given each of us a calling, a task to complete as your chosen people. That task is different for each, and yet they are all the same: to glorify you. I have tried and tried to separate my life into the sacred and the secular, but you insist on being present in every moment of my day, in different ways.

May my worship of you be complete today. May every part of my body worship you in every way. May my thoughts and my words worship you. May my very soul bow before your holy throne on this day, O Lord!

Jack's Life

Jack's Life, by Douglas Gresham, was disappointing. I love C.S. Lewis and enjoy everything he has read. This book had received mostly positive reviews on Amazon and I found it in a bargain bin somewhere, so that made for a great combination.

It should have stayed there. While Gresham did live with C.S. Lewis for the last ten years of Lewis' life, you wouldn't know it until the last ten pages. It seems to be a compilation of other biographers with no special insight. Perhaps there are stories published here that are unique, but there is no spice to the story; it merely plods along, page after page, describing Lewis' actions.

This book seems to have been written in an attempt to get C.S. Lewis canonized, or at least to let us all know that Lewis was superior in every way to everyone else. All others in the book pale when held up to the light of C.S. Lewis. His brother is attacked constantly, as well as his father and adopted mother. The only other individual in this book who seems to hold a candle to Lewis is the author's mother, who enters the picture later in life. The author spends a good deal of time describing what must have been a remarkable woman even if the descriptions are only half-true. It didn't feel like, in reading it, that Gresham had a special angle or privilege.

This is basically a defense of C.S. Lewis. Surely there are other, better, more balanced biographies out there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I went to a funeral today. They are always strange to me. I will freely admit that I'm not always comfortable with death. For that reason I'm grateful to funerals--they bring me up close to something that often makes me a little uncomfortable. They force me to think about issues I don't like to think about. I stare death in the face and wonder.

The great thing about funerals is that I know who wins. I've read the story, and I know the end. I still have my questions, and I imagine I will have them until my end, but even though I have questions I know the story: light triumphs over the darkness of night, even if the darkness doesn't understand it.

At funerals, the two come crashing together. We have the darkness of night and those who are mourning, certain that their lives have more sorrow than they did the week before. There is so little comfort in funerals, despite the fact that those of us who conduct them offer the greatest comfort in the world. The hand of God catching our tears doesn't make us feel better until long after we've stopped crying.

I've sat on both sides of the pulpit at funerals, and I don't know which is harder: trying to explain death or waiting for someone else to do it. Both, I believe, are impossible, and yet we expect it regardless. In death there is mystery, and when faith is the only answer we can give, we will always wonder.

What we see now we see in part, and while one day we will see clearly, I still stand against the window, my nose leaving a smudge, hoping that I shall understand, and that in that understanding my tears will dry and I will beam with joy that God does indeed triumph in the end.

Scouting the Divine

Margaret Feinberg's Scouting the Divine is a novel of pursuit, a tale of a woman chasing after the meaning of texts more than a thousand years old, in hot pursuit of the passion and love of God that is woven into texts that had once been covered with dust but now shimmer in the afternoon warmth found in the depth of God's love.

In this book, Feinberg describes the time she spends with a shepherdess exploring the meaning of Christ as the Good Shepherd. What does a shepherd do? What can we learn about God from knowing what a shepherd is? We don't spend much time in the fields watching over our sheep; how might a conversation with a shepherd shed light on this dusty old metaphor?

She does the same with a beekeeper, exploring the idea of a land flowing with milk and honey. A farmer sheds light on the numerous agricultural references of God and Christ. A vintner in California reframes what it means for Christ to be the vine while we are the branches. Each interaction opens Feinberg's eyes a little wider in awe of God's love and infinite wisdom.

What's the first thing I learned? Loving God takes work. Not simply in the work we do in reaction to God's amazing love, but also the work we must do in studying the text. We are all called to spend time in the Word, but Feinberg shows the importance of truly studying the text, of digging deeper and getting dirty, finding morsels of wonder that we skip over when we simply skim the text so that we might check another item off a to-do list.

What else did I learn? I learned that a sheperd knows the voice and needs of every sheep and loves them more fiercely than I might have imagined. The sheep are to be protected, even when it means doing something the sheep might not like. I learned about the importance of community in farming, about how important it is to focus on the task at hand or else begin to suffer inconsistencies in the result. I learned about how we all must work together in order to be a faithful hive so that the land might flow with milk and honey. I learned that pruning a vine requires tiny shears, not a weekwacker.

Each of these things I learned was based on Scripture interpreted through hard work. Each of these things brought me this much closer to God. Each of them makes me stand in wonder at the incredible God we worship and adore.

Thanks be to God for those who love the text and open our eyes to its wonder in our lives.

Wednesday Morning

How majestic is your name, O Lord of heaven and earth! The banner of your glory is stretched from horizon to horizon, and we cannot contain your greatness. You have reached down from on high and given us more good gifts than we can know. You alone are God, and we rejoice that we are your people.

How majestic is your mercy, O Lord! We turned from you in sin and weakness and were startled when you forgave. We don't know the depths of your mercy, for every time we try to test them, you are there to forgive, to renew and restore. Your love is wondrous, O God!

How majestic is your name! May it be on my lips this day and forevermore!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Excited Dog

I guess this is old news, but new to me. Wish we all got that excited whenever our troops come home.

Uncommon Carriers

No, I have no idea why I bought this book. I know it was on sale. Beyond that, I haven't a clue.

But I'm glad I did. It was fascinating for many reasons. It definitely worked a different part of my brain than most of my books. Uncommon Carriers, by John McPhee, is the tale of different modes of transport in this country that most of us are unfamiliar with. McPhee spends time riding with a trucker, learning the art of watching 'bears' (police). He visits a school in Europe where ship captains are trained to navigate difficult harbors on a miniature version of the watery world. He recreates Thoreau's adventure up a river in a canoe, travels with a coal train and visits UPS's headquarters in Louisville, where packages of every shape and size are sorted and delivered.

I never expected to read a book like this, but now know far more about trucks and trains, tankers and UPS. It was a delightful, well-written read, and for anyone looking to mentally escape for a few days while picking up a few tips on how best not to be run over by a semi, I'd highly recommend it!

Tuesday Morning

O Lord,
You know my every movement. From the moment that I wake you are surrounding me with your grace, even when I am unaware. Your goodness is before my first step, and I inhale it with my first breath.
If only my day were filled with such knowledge of you, perhaps it would be too wonderful to bear. Instead I go about my hours filled with thoughts of self and self-interest, wondering how I might best serve myself. You alone are worthy of my time and my passions, and yet I am consumed with my own life.
As I take a deep breath and am filled with your peace, prepare me for a day of glorifying you rather than self. You alone are God, worthy of my praise!

Monday, November 16, 2009

God's Love is Like...

God's Love is Like...

A Tree

Have you ever run into a tree? You've been out walking in the dark and you can't see which way you're going and all of a sudden you hit something solid and immoveable, you get that weird feeling in your nose and pain shooting through your body, and you know exactly how real that tree is no matter whether or not you could see it? God's love is sure like that, some days. Even when you can't see it, you turn a corner and then, bam, it hits you right in the face. It was there all along, though. You just didn't see it.

Tree roots also turn up in the strangest places. A sidewalk thirty yards from a tree will start buckling, and it turns out that a root from the tree has gone all the way out there to find water. It's changed the entire landscape. God's love does that. Ends up in completely different places than where we thought it was, and all we can do is marvel. It's changed our lives forever, even if we didn't expect it to show up.

Trees change through the seasons. From the promising buds of spring to the beautiful canopy of shade to the full palette of colors to empty limbs in winter, the tree is in constant flux. But the tree is always there, always present, never moving. Sounds like God to me! Always moving, never predictable, always there. Sometimes in the winters of our lives we wonder if God's love has left us, just as perhaps in the long winter nights we wonder if the leaves will come back, but spring comes, and we discover the tree is alive and well, just as it has been all summer. It was just in a different form.

Trees grow slower, often beyond our ability to comprehend it, but then we walk out the door and notice that the tree has grown three feet! God's love often moves in imperceptible ways until we look back and notice how much we've changed.

Trees also plant other trees. Some use pinecones, other use nuts or acorns, but each tree plants little seedlings around itself. God's love does the same for us, inspiring us to plant little miniature versions of God's love in our world. All of our love points back to God's love, showing the true beauty!

Trees can be cut down. Sometimes they're burned in fires or just die of disease or old age. God's love never dies. In fact, its stronger than death. My analogies aren't perfect. God's love is perfect. Thanks be to God for that! (And for trees, because most of them are beautiful!)

Monday Morning

Great God,
On this new beginning, may my day honor you. May I not be consumed with petty quarrels, caught up by greed and self-focus, pulled away from you by mindless distractions. May this day be lived as though it is the greatest gift of all; may I remember that it is holy, because you are holy. May my words and actions, my very thoughts, focus on you and your Son, Jesus Christ, who fills me with such joy and gratitude that any other thing I focus upon is a distraction. May this life glorify you, God.

Exodus 12:43-13:2

43The LORD gave Moses and Aaron the following instructions for celebrating Passover:

No one except Israelites may eat the Passover meal.

44Your slaves may eat the meal if they have been circumcised, 45but no foreigners who work for you are allowed to have any.

46The entire meal must be eaten inside, and no one may leave the house during the celebration.

No bones of the Passover lamb may be broken. 47And all Israelites must take part in the meal.

48If anyone who isn't an Israelite wants to celebrate Passover with you, every man and boy in that family must first be circumcised. Then they may join in the meal, just like native Israelites. No uncircumcised man or boy may eat the Passover meal! 49This law applies both to native Israelites and to those foreigners who live among you.

50The Israelites obeyed everything the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron to tell them. 51And on that same day the LORD brought Israel's families and tribes out of Egypt.

Exodus 13

1The LORD said to Moses, 2" Dedicate to me the first-born son of every family and the first-born males of your flocks and herds. These belong to me."

I love the passion that is displayed by God for his people. There are no questions as to how God feels about them: he wants them to worship him first, before anything else. He wants to see them live faithfully, with lives structured around his holy Word. He wants the people to be passionately in love with him.

Of course, they, like every generation since, don't quite get it. They put so many other priorities first, choosing their own health and wealth over the abundant life found only in God.

But still God pursues them, just as God pursues us, seeking a relationship that will live on for all of eternity.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday Morning

Holy God,

Cover this day in your grace, so that as I move through it I may leave footprints that others might see the presence of your love.

Cover this day with your wisdom, that as I speak my words my be transparent and others might see you through me.

Cover this day with your love, that my actions might testify to a love far greater than I am capable of.

Cover this day with the light of your Son, that all my efforts might go towards His glory, and His alone.

I love you. Amen

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Presbyterian Youth Minister from Kenya

Veterans' Day

While one day certainly isn't enough to say thank you to our Veterans, I am glad that we have such a day, for those who have served and those who are now serving deserve our gratitude.

I certainly can't imagine the reality of standing on that wall, offering yourself as a target, as a defender of this country. I can't begin to fathom traveling to distant lands that were once little more than fantasies on a globe and being shot at. I simply can't understand the terror and danger those men and women face, but I am grateful they do it.

I am grateful they do it because the sacrifice of so many has made my way of life possible. I am grateful they do it because their sacrifice means I do not have to sacrifice. I am grateful they do it because without them, this country would be a far different place.

I don't know what the best way to honor the Veterans' is. Thank you seems so trite in the face of so many who have lived and died, been wounded and forever scarred, for the freedoms this country enjoys and often takes for granted. It doesn't seem big enough, but it's important to offer.

So to all the vets--thank you.

Wednesday Morning

Holy God,

Your beauty lingers in the air like the sweetest fragrance. We only need to take the time to inhale it to appreciate it.

Your goodness wanders into the pages of our lives, rearranging our schedules in the hopes that we might notice your presence, your love, your blessings that are a constant presence among us. We only need to read a little closer to appreciate your love.

Your mercy stretches from one horizon to the next, always bigger than we had once imagined, grander than we could think, nobler than we could design. Thank you, Lord, for love bigger and greater than we.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday Morning

Holy God,

May your gifts open our hearts this day. Your grace astounds; your majesty is proclaimed from one horizon to the next. Your love echoes from the treetops to the valley floor. How great is our God!

Questions abound, O Lord, about war and famine and loss. We ask them all, and still you remain faithful. We cannot understand your ways, O Lord, and your wisdom is not our own. We humbly ask that you guide us along our road of life, leading us on a path that brings us closer to your son, Jesus Christ, day by day.

May all we do bring honor to your name.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Religious No More

I have been reading Religious No More by Mark Baker as a guide through the study of Galatians on Wednesday Night. I just finished it the other night, and thought about how much it has to teach us, despite it focusing on religion in Honduras.

Mark Baker lived in Honduras for years, interacting with the local churches there and learning how legalistic many of them were. Some even went beyond what we would consider extreme, threatening damnation to those women who might cut their hair or wear makeup. Baker interviewed many who had found church communities where grace was the central focus and found they were far more excited about the church.

It got me to thinking about how we portray the Gospel. Do we truly focus on the grace first, and then deal with our need to respond to the grace? Or are we too focused on the little things that we feel like we need to do in order to display our love and devotion to God? Are we too caught up in trying to prove our love for God, or trying to earn God's love? Do we still feel like we can make God love us more?

I know that I often fall into the category of thinking 'grace plus_____'. The plus is usually something different, but I seem determined to earn the grace of God, despite my overwhelming inability to do so. To simply fall back and thank God for grace seems too....easy? I don't know the answer, but I thank God for grace and pray for the strength to stop trying to earn my way into heaven.

Monday Morning

It was early on the first day of the week that you rose from the dead.

It is early on this first day of the work week that I come in humbleness to whisper words of praise. Something within keeps me from shouting them from the rooftops, so I whisper a word of thanks from time to time.

Thank you, Lord, for all that you have done, for all you are and promise to be. You sustain this life with your mighty hand, and you hold me, safe and sound, within your glorious salvation.

Thank you.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday Morning

O Lord,

In your Word I find comfort. I am reminded of the depth of your love and the wealth of your wisdom. I know I am written in the palm of your hand and loved more deeply than I can imagine. I am treasured, safe and beloved.

In your Word I find challenge. I am confronted with the image of Christ, calling me to leave the trappings of the world behind and follow him. I come face to face with prophets throughout the ages who speak a difficult word to my comfort and ease. I am a follower, asked to pick up my cross.

In your Word I find community. I am not alone in my struggles to rise to your challenge. I am not the first to need comfort. Peter and Daniel, David and Paul all had their struggles, and you blessed and loved them still. Their stories are a part of mine, and I praise you for your infinite wisdom, endless mercy, and compassionate love.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Jacob Geerlings’ blog from Kenya

The Pope lets a thousand liturgies bloom

Atheist vs. Theologian

Boldly humble: discussing our dependence (or lack thereof) on God

Squeezed between misery and hope

How viruses invade

Queensland has just been added to the list of places I won’t be visiting anytime soon

Monastic Moment

October 28 (From The Monastic Way)

Prayer is a heart that overflows with joy, thanksgiving, gratitude and praise.

It is the abundance of a heart that is truly awake. […]

But [our prayers] can only bear fruit when, much deeper within us, our heart comes to awakening and they, fed by the flame of this spiritual fire, themselves begin to glow. (Andre Louf OCSO)

The Scots Confession, Chapter X

Chapter X

The Resurrection

We undoubtedly believe, since it was impossible that the sorrows of death should retain in bondage the Author of life, that our Lord Jesus crucified, dead, and buried, who descended into hell, did rise again for our justification, and the destruction of him who was the author of death, and brought life again to us who were subject to death and its bondage. We know that his resurrection was confirmed by the testimony of his enemies, and by the resurrection of the dead, whose sepulchres did open, and they did rise and appear to many within the city of Jerusalem. It was also confirmed by the testimony of his angels, and by the senses and judgment of his apostles and of others, who had conversation, and did eat and drink with him after his resurrection.


It fits that I'm preaching the resurrection this coming Sunday, which also happens to be All Saints' Day. You'd think I planned it that way...

In the resurrection we find our life and our hope. Without it, and the conquering of death, there would be no hope, only a tomb waiting to swallow us.

However, because of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the Author of Life, we have hope. Love that sacrifices itself on a cross is powerful beyond words; love and power that defeats death so that we might have life is beyond our understanding. God had been trying to help us understand His gracious will for centuries; in Jesus Christ we see His power revealed among us in the most jaw-dropping way. It was indeed witnessed to by many, and we are left in awe of what God has done.

What of our doubts? How do we understand this? How do we grasp such an action?

I'm not sure we truly can. I think we have to leap forward in faith, trusting in God. "I believe, help my unbelief" was the father's cry in Mark. I, too, often utter that statement, unsure of how to grasp such a strange and wondrous event. It is through faith, not knowledge or certainty or any other thing, we are saved and transformed. Through faith we recognize the resurrection as an event we join with in our baptisms, as Christ defeats death for all who believe. Thanks be to God!

Too busy?

What are you missing because you're too busy?

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Want to be cheered up? Feeling down? Don't read A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini's follow up to The Kite Runner.

Hosseini again transports us to Afghanistan, where two women with different backgrounds, both of their lives laced with tragedy, find themselves sharing a household, a husband. The story of each of their lives has heartbreak so deeply woven into the fabric of their beings it is hard to expect anything good.

This novel certainly opens one's eyes to other worlds, where violence is not a surprise but rather a surprise when it doesn't touch you or your loved ones. It isn't always easy to turn the pages and often you don't want to discover what is on the next page, but the strength of the human spirit in the face of suffering is inspiring. Love will take us places we never thought possible, and this book shows us what life looks like with and without love. An interesting read, and a book that will broaden one's horizons, but have some Calvin & Hobbes available afterward!

Wednesday Morning

Holy of Holies,

Your throne is too majestic for words. For years I have been trying to come up with the proper words, and my efforts will not end here. Words are a craft, but they simply cannot contain you. For thousands of years we have been trying to define you, and we are no closer despite the advances of our society in technology and medicine.

Your power and your majesty are simply too great. You are beyond us, before us, behind us and sustaining us. We cannot describe you who are completely other.

All we can do is offer our very selves, our souls, our time and our thoughts, our actions and our words, so that you know how grateful we are, how much we love you, and how much we long to serve you.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

From Baghdad, With Love

I recently picked up this one on sale without knowing what to expect. Puppies and Iraq are not the most strongly connected images in my mind, so I was curious as to what was going to occur in the story.

From Baghdad, With Love is the story of Jay Kopelman and how his heart was stolen by a puppy this marine found in an abandoned building while on patrol in Iraq. It's a story that broke all the rules of the Marines about keeping animals found on the streets. It's a story about finding some way to remain human, to stay sane in the midst of war, which drifts farther and farther from sanity the longer soldiers are exposed to it. It's a story about the strength of love and how far people will go to ensure that love wins.

I'd love to be able to say this book is all heart-warming goodness, but it's a book about war, so the reader is confronted with some difficult images. Iraq is a long way from here, georgraphically and in the way everyday life is lived. Life and death are each constant realities, and the line that separates the two comes far too close for comfort. Lava (the puppy) is under constant threat--if detected, Lava would be shot. Jay Kopelman cannot let that happen, but sneaking a puppy from Iraq to southern California is quite an adventure, and this book is well worth the read to join in that adventure.

Catalyst Video

Catalyst 2009 Compassion Moment from Catalyst on Vimeo.

Some of you may wonder what I do with my continuing education time and allowance. This year I spent part of it at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. This incredible moment happened, and I never thought I would be able to describe it to anyone. Fortunately, I don't have to. I will freely admit that I cried. I'm not sure anyone in the entire arena had a dry eye. Simply amazing

(At four minutes the interview about ten minutes the crying begins)

Tuesday Morning

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

Speak in the yellows and reds painted in the trees. Speak with hushed tones of wonder and brilliant moments of majesty.

Speak in the soft embrace of a lifelong friend. Speak with compassion and love beyond words.

Speak in the joyful art of meaningful work. Speak with quiet devotion and gratitude.

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening, hanging on every moment to hear.

And Lord, please open my ears so that I may hear
the words you are already speaking clear.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Dead? I Don't Think So

John 11:28-44

28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Dead? I Don't Think So

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I hear that line all the time. Before jokes and stories, usually. But I never actually stopped someone. I always feel like it would be rude to actually stop someone, even if I’ve heard the joke. Besides, by the time I realize it’s repetitive, they’re too far into the joke or story for me to say something in a way that’s tactful and polite, so I just let the story or joke go on, even though I know the ending. Usually it’s funny, so I laugh, although not quite the same way I did the first time, because I know what’s coming. It takes some of the fun out of it.

In my family, it was a high crime, akin to stealing, if you flipped to the back of a book. We’re all pretty big readers, and it was sacrilege only to read the final few pages of the book. This week I read Dan Brown’s latest thriller, The Lost Symbol, and even though I had a pretty good hunch of how it would end, I refused to flip forward despite every temptation to check my intuition. It just seems wrong, like it spoils everything.

Someone asked me once if I would want to know the future. I don’t think I would. Wouldn’t it take a lot of the fun out of the present if we knew how it all turned out? Can you imagine living in dread of something for years, simply waiting for a terrible thing to happen? Even a great thing would be difficult to wait on—we’d simply be waiting and waiting, letting so much of life pass us by until we got to the good part. Our joys and heartbreaks wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic, because we would know it was coming and wouldn’t be able to do a thing to avoid it.

I can’t imagine what God feels like. God is all-knowing. We have to be careful how we draw this line—we can say that God is all-knowing, that God knows the choices we will make and, even though they may break his heart, allow them to happen. Or we can say that God controls the future, that God has his hands in our daily world and is the one steering us in the directions we choose. I believe that God knows the choices we will make and the outcome of them, and lets them happen, even if they are the wrong choices. I don’t think God ever makes any of us sin, but simply works to redeem our sin.

So we have Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God, here in John’s Gospel. Jesus, because he is fully God, is all-knowing. He knows what is going to happen and knows he has the power to do it. So why does he weep?

Here it is, right in the middle of our reading—the shortest verse in the Bible. He wept. Or Jesus began to weep.

Why does he weep?

He knows he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, right? There is no doubt that every tear Mary has shed will be turned into rejoicing with a word. He is not hoping that Lazarus will be raised from the dead—he knows it! So why does he cry?

He weeps because he is watching his beloved cry. He weeps because that’s what we do at funerals. He weeps because he sees the raw emotion pouring forth from raw wounds. He weeps because he loves us.

Let us not skip over this short verse and jump to the conclusion, the raising and the unbinding. Let’s sit a minute, here in the weeping, and marvel at what is happening.

Jesus Christ, the one who can make all things new, is about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knows how his children will react. He knows the fear and pain they are in is about to be transformed into rejoicing; he knows that this funeral site will soon become one big celebration.

But when he sees the pain and the anguish on the faces of those he loves, he weeps. Jesus is so deeply connected to each one of the mourners that he cannot help it but shed tears with them in their agony. Jesus knows us so well that he cannot imagine standing by while we weep, waiting for us to notice the miraculous presence of Jesus with us. Jesus sheds tears with them, and those around notice how deeply he loves. The miracle here is not that Jesus wept; it’s that he didn’t weep every day he was alive.

It’s easy for us to read this story and recognize that Jesus should cry when Lazarus dies, when he sees the pain on Mary’s face. But do we take the time and place ourselves in Mary’s shoes, understanding that the Lord of the universe weeps with us? Do we truly recognize the love of our Savior as a deep reality in our life, that we are worthy of Christ weeping with us, or do we believe this only happens to other people, more holy people?

Jesus weeping with us is just as important as what happens next. “Take away the stone,” he announces.

We might say, of course the stone must be rolled away—how else would Lazarus get out? It wouldn’t be a very good miracle if all we got at the end is Lazarus beating on the inside of a stone, hoping someone will let him out!

But remember what we talked about last week. This is the Jesus who walked on water. This is the Jesus who rules all of heaven and earth. This Jesus could have simply commanded the stone to roll itself away.

But instead Jesus invites the disciples to join in the task. Jesus asks them to play a part in revealing the miracle that is unfolding before their eyes. Jesus could do this on his own, but he wants the assistance of the disciples.

Did you get that? It’s not that Jesus needs our help—it’s that he wants it.

That’s how deep the love of God is. God will come and walk among us. God will stop and join us in our pain and our suffering, even though God knows that it will all be healed. God doesn’t leap forward to the end of the story and leave us struggling on our own in the valleys. God also gives us a task. God invites us into the story, asks us to play a role in revealing God’s glory and power here on earth. God could do this on his own, but chooses to involve us. Why? Because he loves us and wants to see us live as a faithful people. Because he wants us to be busy serving him. Because when our hands and feet are busy serving him, they can’t be put to use by the devil.

God mourns with us, but then God gives us something to do. God has a task for each of us, a role in helping to reveal the glory of God here on earth. Have you discovered it? Have you spent the time in prayer and meditation listening to the voice of God? If you have, bless you. I pray that each and every day of your life is directed to fulfilling the task God has placed before you. Continue to pray for strength and focus so that you may fulfill God’s calling for your life. If you haven’t, you, too, have some prayers to say! You have some meditating to do! There is some silence that needs to happen in your life! I cannot say what the task is for each of us, but I can say that God invites each of us into the task of revealing God’s glory here on earth. For some it may be as close as comforting a co-worker, while for others it may involve mission work in far off lands. God invites each of us to a different task.

Never forget that God abides with you in these tasks, just as God abides in the depth of our sorrow and our pain. God’s love is thicker than we can imagine, and we spent our lives wading through it, covered in it, only to discover there is always more, an infinite pool in which God invites us to dive and swim for the rest of eternity.

Let us pray.