On the 7th Day of Christmas…
Seven of my favorite memories of 2015 - in pictures (it was VERY hard to choose just 7!!!)
March 1 - as a representative of several baptisms in the year - always a favorite time of worship
A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes—and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside—is not a bad picture of Advent.”There can be such a sense of darkness in the season of Advent, even as we prepare to celebrate the birthday of the Savior of the world. We can get so caught up in the preparation we miss the joy and hope in God becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ.
We're not entirely sure why Mary chooses to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Neither of them had expected to become pregnant until angels showed up, bringing news of what was to come. Mary is younger, Elizabeth is older, but they both are experiencing the disruption of this life-changing event. The bonds of love between them include not just blood relation, but this shared experience. This is a joyous yet uncertain time for them both. God's love is shown to us in many different ways. Sometimes it comes in the form of the love and support of others who know a bit of what it's like to face what we are going through and walk in our shoes. Mary and Elizabeth are able to lovingly walk with one another through this time. Who has been that type of person in your life? Who around you is now going through something you've faced or are still facing? How might the two of you be able to help one another?I have been fortunate to have countless folks in my life who have walked with me through good times and bad. Sometimes they are folks who experienced something similar - sometimes they are just empathetic folks who show they care - not by giving advice or fixing things, but by just being there to listen and care.
God of Love, thank you for the gift of others to walk with me through the journey of life. May both my joys and struggles help me be a better friend to others who face similar things. Amen.Blessings.
Today, may you experience the relentless, faithful love of God entering your world. May it change you. May that same love send you out into this world to relentlessly, faithfully love others as you have been loved.To know deep in my being the depth of God’s love for me has transformed me in ways I could never have imagined. My hope is the same for others. And that this love will surely transform our world!!!
Today, take time to cry out to God about the pain in the world and even in your own life. Ask God to bring healing and set things right. But be prepared: one of the ways God might want to do this is by working through your hands, feet, and voice.Perhaps there are no truer words - for God does need our hands, feet and voice to bring healing and set things right. How we act, what we say, and where we go makes a difference. Are our actions ones that promote peace and build relationships, or are they doing the opposite?
God, it’s so easy to make surface level changes, but I know that the changes I make from within are the ones that matter the most. Help me to know what needs to be cut away in order to create space for new life to be birthed within me. Transform me from the inside out. Amen.Something to consider, however: the prayer mentions changes I make from within, but can I really change myself from within in any way? Just like, can I actually figure out what needs to be cut away? For example, we can know that a short temper isn’t healthy and needs transformation from within. But, can we really change any of our feelings on our own? Certainly we can learn ways to deal with feelings, maybe through what can be a very long process of learning. But transformation, I believe, really comes from God.
Thirty days of being intentional about noticing things for which to be thankful - and the reminder that every day there is something worthy of being thankful for. Every day - all year through!Blessings.
Thomas G. Long and his book, Preaching from Memory to Hope, as he quotes (and I summarize) Richard Dawkins: God isn't an object we must prove exists. By God's very nature God is transcendent and invisible, thereby unable to be proven. And that ultimately God chose to be revealed in Jesus Christ, who we also cannot unequivocally prove existed(s). Proving God exists is like proving love exists. It's not about proof, it's about faith, experience, and the hope that love does exist. Long goes on to talk about "subtraction theory." This is the notion that in order for civilization to move forward, all ideas and understandings of old must be completely let go. For example, if science disproves the Genesis creation theory, people must let that understanding go completely, or risk looking foolish and backward. I'm thankful that through Long’s words I am reminded that what we Christians truly need to share is God as being love and grace. Of course, we know that love and grace cannot be proven, but we also know they have the power to transform. I suppose in the end for me, I realize proving my faith isn’t necessary, but then worrying about looking foolish isn’t either.Blessings.
The words of Anne Lamott: “Grace always does bat last, and the light always overcomes the darkness--always, historically. But not necessarily later the same day, or tomorrow, after lunch. Wendell Berry told me 25 years ago, in Advent, the darkest shortest days of winter, “It gets darker and darker and darker, and then Jesus is born.” But it is only November 13! It gets even darker.” She goes on to say: “So after an appropriate time of being stunned, in despair, we show up. Maybe we ask God for help. We do the next right thing. We buy or cook a bunch of food for the local homeless. We return phone calls, library books, smiles. We make eye contact with others, and we go to the market and flirt with old or scary unusual people who seem lonely. Tom Weston taught me decades ago that in the face of human tragedy, we go around the neighborhood and pick up litter, even though there will be more tomorrow. It is another blessed sacrament. We take the action and the insight will follow: that we are basically powerless, but we are not helpless.” I am thankful that folks like Anne Lamott can say the thoughts in my mind with words that help me have hope in the midst of darkness - for France, certainly, but really for all parts of the world where people live with fear and uncertainty. Lord, have mercy, we cry - and the Lord does!
Celebrating one year since we arrived in this city. What a wonderful first year!
An unexpected "just thinking of you" phone call from a mentor/pastor/friend!Blessings.
A little bit of down time - and accomplishing some tasks around the house.
A very patient husband who understands that when I need to go to/for someone, I need to go. And he never complains. I am so thankful for him!Blessings.
Delightful visits with the elderly. So gracious, so sweet, so thankful to be visited. A joy!
Accomplishing tasks - ones that have been hanging around on the "to do" list for a while. Also a joy!Blessings.
Colleagues with whom I can discuss scripture, laugh, be honest, and dream about ministry.
Creative folks who share excellent ideas.
Grace and forgiveness from someone when I forget something I promised to do. (And prayers that doesn't happen too often!)Blessings.
The generosity of folks - yet again - who are being hugely generous in bringing canned food to donate to local school food banks. It’s amazing the number of cans so far.
Friends who read this blog - and send encouraging comments.
Talking with parents about baptizing their child. Holy ground!Blessings.
Folks who work very hard to help others, cooking and serving lunch to raise funds to give away. Awesome! And the generosity of those who attend!! Awesome, too!
The honor to hold worship at a retirement home.Blessings.
Seeing members out and about in town and having a chance to do ministry through conversation. Even if it’s only for a couple of minutes and a brief sharing of a concern, it’s still an honor to have folks share their life with me.Blessings.
Good news for those who are sick that I love and care about. Especially that the growth of cancer appears to have stopped!! Also, for good surgery and for good healing. So very thankful!Blessings.
Bible Study – and the two groups of folks who will discuss and wrestle with what scripture readings might really mean! And who also challenge me to learn better how to articulate faith and understanding!Blessings.
Colleagues in ministry. I have the opportunity/honor to serve as Chaplain for the First Call Theological Education retreat. This three-day retreat is specifically for new pastors in the Synod (within three-years) who meet in order to get to know one another, learn, share ideas, and share laments. They are an awesome group of folks! I am thankful for the honor to be among them, and to worship.Blessings.
And yet sometimes it’s all we can do to take that love in. Last night as I struggled to sleep, behind on a deadline and face broken out, head pounding and stomach hurting, all I could do was cry out for that Love.
I let myself breathe deep, imagining God whispering my name, “I love you.” And me saying back, “I love you too.” Sometimes that’s all we can muster. We matter to God.Have you ever been awakened in the middle of the night with something on your mind that wouldn’t let go? Boy, I sure have. So I needed to read this - and be reminded that everything about us matters to God.
I hear with some regularity that church is only a place people go to feel good for a time. I guess that when we are in the presence of the promises of baptism and communion this is probably the case, but I think there is much more to it than that. I think something happens when we are welcomed into the presence of our shepherd even while the stench of our sin is on us. God's promise takes hold of us and transforms us. No doubt this ought to make us feel good. And when we get back to our everyday lives we can rest assured that we are not on our own. God does not abandon us. We have been cleansed and set free. That is a promise I hold close.
Loving shepherd, thank you for wiping away my sin. Transform me to be your loving presence in this world. Amen.I especially like the prayer at the end. Church IS more than just going to feel good for a time. No, church (or I would say worship, study and prayer) is a place to go to be transformed. God has work for us to do, and we need the community of others in Christ to be strengthened for that work.
In my younger days I was far from being faithful to living as the child whom God had claimed and sealed in baptism. Later, I felt I owed God so much. How could I ever repay? What must I do? But as I continue to live by faith in Christ I continue to grow into a new mindset. I am coming to realize that faith isn't so much about what I must do, but what I do to benefit others because of the influence of God's grace at work in me. Life flows not from doing, but from being a child of God.
I am human with normal human dreams and desires. Their power waxes and wanes in their influence in what I do in my life. But I give praise for the love and word of Christ that comes to me new each and every day. For it seems that every day I can see the Lord's loving glance at me as he says, "Hurry up and be done with those things. Then come, and follow me."
Lord Jesus, may I continually feel your loving gaze and hear your words of love. Amen.2. An article from Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry’s “Special Partner Update” about the Pope’s recent United States visit. HuffPost Religion studied the text of all of his speeches and homilies to see which words were used most frequently. They captured this image about the essence of his message.
Blessed Christ Jesus, you have our eternal thanks. You understand our deepest needs and present them, with love, to God. May we choose to be living witnesses, to present our hearts in prayer, and to gratefully celebrate the lives we’ve been blessed to have. Amen.AMEN!!!!
“When I was in trouble, Jesus lifted me.” No reprimand, no advice, no carefully worded email, but a God who reaches down and takes you by the hand and lifts you from your knees and causes you to stand. It is not the dusty miracle of yesterday. It is today’s grace.”Are there still miracles? You bet! God’s grace itself is a miracle. A miracle gift. And really, after that, all else in life is gravy.
A pastor in NY began their ministry in 2008, just before the “economic downturn.” As things progressively got worse, the mantra of meetings became, “what will be the next shoe to drop?” After weeks and months of living in fear of what might be next, the pastor left a meeting one day and collapsed in their office chair. Please God, they prayed, no more shoes!
Not seconds later there was a knock on the door with the words, pastor, you need to come downstairs to the clothing pantry right away. Oh no, thought the pastor. What now!? Waiting were two police officers. Pastor, they said, we just raided a counterfeit shoe factory, and have 70 pairs of boots we were wondering if you could use.Yep, God never ceases to surprise or amaze. How can those of us who preach do a better job at conveying the message? Looking forward to hearing more!
Often, when life isn’t working out the way we imagined or hoped, our impulse is to pray for God to change things.
We think, “if only” things were different, “if only” people were better, “if only” our needs were met, “if only” the pain went away, “if only” the choices were simple, “if only” temptation disappeared, “if only, if only…”
Sometimes God does transform situations, but more often, God changes us...if only we ask.It’s true that sometimes folks ask me to pray with them as they hope for an “if only” moment - in hospitals that “if only” healing would come, in meetings that “if only” good decisions would be made, with friends that “if only” things would go a certain way.
“I think there are a lot of things about church that aren’t working for a lot of people right now, but people will never stop wanting to get together to talk about the important things in their lives.”Wow!!! This really made me think. We do enjoy getting together as people, don't we? Look at the popularity of FaceBook, for example. It may be a new way of getting together to “talk” about the important things in our lives, but it surely does help keep people connected. And what about the groups that meet each week - or even daily - for a meal or just for coffee. It’s a chance to get together and talk about the important things in our lives.
At birth we boarded the train and met our parents, and we believe they will always travel on our side. However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone. As time goes by, other people will board the train; and they will be significant i.e. our siblings, friends, children, and even the love of your life.
Many will step down and leave a permanent vacuum. Others will go so unnoticed that we don't realize they vacated their seats. This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, goodbyes, and farewells. Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers requiring that we give the best of ourselves.
The mystery to everyone is: We do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So, we must live in the best way, love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are. It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to step down and leave our seat empty we should leave behind beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel on the train of life.This is how I replied to my friend:
This Train of Life has some wonderful scenery, some joy-filled ups and some crashing downs, doesn't it?! A perfect read as I near another station (birthday), wondering what the next year will bring. This last one certainly saw some changes.Yep! Certainly! And the next year is off to a good start, with a little help from friends and family!
“A colleague of mine put it this way: “When you see a house on fire and direct the firefighters to that house, you’re not saying that all the houses in the neighborhood don’t matter, you’re saying this one especially matters because it’s on fire.” My colleague is an African American pastor, I should add, who lives in a predominantly white neighborhood and has on various occasions been pulled over, though not for speeding. When he asks why, the police officers say they’re just doing their job. “Right now,” he added, “our house is on fire.””His writing got me to thinking. I suppose supposed favoritism can translate to many things: Do the lives of people in one country matter more than others? Does the contribution of young people’s (or old people's) ideas and needs matter more than others? Do those who contribute more, time or financially, matter more to the church than others (this one I thought of especially since the reading of James 2: 1-17 will be heard Sunday about acts of favoritism)?