Tuesday, December 23, 2014

So That...

I have a good friend who recently tweeted out a question that I have been pondering in the back of my mind.  "Would love to see a statistic revealing how much people spend at Christmas ON THEMSELVES.  Wondering if it might be MORE than on others."  @nathanoates 

It so easy at Christmas (or perhaps more easy) to allow the influence of this world to cloud our Christian hearts and minds to think that all of these blessings are for us.  We spend time being grateful and celebrating the beauty of gift giving, but we forget that Emmanuel was never intended to just be for us.  God's plan has always been to create a people He could use to bless the whole world by bringing salvation to it.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us— so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. (Psalm 67:1-2 NIV)

These verses from this morning's Psalm reading, and in particular that little phrase so that, are a powerful reminder to us of this plan.

May I recognize this Christmas that I am never intended to be the end recipient of everything God's pours out for me.  I am simply designed to be a conduit of that grace.  I receive, so that I may share.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Light Dawns

Yesterday I preached from Isaiah 9:1-7.  One of the things I didn't take too much time to highlight was a phrase in verse 2.  "For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine." (NLT)

What I discovered when I looked into the original language of that phrase is that Isaiah uses the same word that David uses in Psalm 23 - the land of "the shadow of death."

For those who are living in the land of the shadow of death, light will dawn.

Allow me to simlpy use my strength of Connectedness (from Strengthsfinder) to go from dot to dot.

I led my 15th funeral in 2014 yesterday afternoon.


It has been raining almost non-stop here for weeks.  (For which I am grateful!)


That means we haven't seen the sun in weeks.


The sun came out today!


Light is dawning.  


Hope is coming!


Death and despair don't get the final word!


Thanks be to God, for those who are living in the land of the shadow of death, light is dawning!

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The God Who is Here

For today's Advent reflection, I offer this quote:

Father God,
Why is it that I think I must get somewhere, assume some position, be gathered together, or separated
       apart in the quiet of my study to pray?
Why is it that I feel that I have to go somewhere or do some particular act to find you, reach you, and 
       talk with you?
You're presence is here
       In the city - on the busy bus, in the factory, in the cockpit of an airplane; in the hospital - in the 
       patients' rooms, in the intensive care unit, in the waiting room;  in the home - at dinner, in the 
       bedroom, in the family room, at my workbench;  in the car - in the parking lot, at the stoplight.
Lord, reveal your presence to me everywhere, and help me become aware of your presence each 
       moment of the day.
May your presence fill the nonanswers, empty glances, and lonely times of my life.  Amen.
                                                                  From A Thirty-Day Experiment in Prayer by Robert Wood

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Waiting With

I spent a lot of alone time in the car yesterday (had some district meetings), which can often be fun because it means I can catch up on some of my favorite podcasts!  (I know, total geek!)  However, one of those podcasts yesterday reminded me of a nuance of Advent that is really powerful.

Because we live in the time of the "in-betweens" - in between the first coming of the Christ and His second coming - we have a very unique perspective.  Theologians often refer to this time as the-already-but-not-yet.  We already have the presence of Christ with us through the Holy Spirit, and yet, we know this world is still hurting and broken, longing for Christ to return and make everything new.

During Advent we are a people who are waiting, but because we are celebrating Advent during the in-betweens, we actually wait for God, with God!  We already have God with us - He is Emmanuel.  And yet, we are still waiting for Him to return in all of His fullness and glory.

This is the in-between Advent.  We wait with God, for God!  

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

(And thanks for waitng with us!)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Call Waiting

Youu know the drill.

You're on the phone and that little noise chirps in your ear - another call coming in.  On my phone, a menu pops up offering me choices of how to respond.  End current & answer new?  Ignore new?  Hold current & answer new?

Most of the time the way I respond has to do with who the new caller is.  Either boy or their schools in the middle of the day - hold & answer.  Unrecognizable number - Ignore!  The person who is watching vigil with someone in their final hours here on earth - End & Answer.

But what if there is always someone calling?  What if they are just relentless?  Where's the block option?

"The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this. (1 Thessalonians 5:24 CEB)"

This verse got me thinking about this call waiting idea this morning.  God is always faithfully calling us.  Relentless.  And He is determined to grant us the power to accomplish all that He is calling us to do.

His relentless pursuit of us isn't to bug or cajole us, but to meet us, to walk with us, to fill us so we can live into the fullness of who we are in Him!

Thankfully, Advent is a reminder that He's calling, and waiting, for me to answer.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Friday, December 12, 2014

We wait...with hope.

"All you who wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage." (Psalms 31:24 CEB)

We are people who wait with hope.  In this world of pain and brokeness that is so very obvious, we are people who live hopefully in Advent.  

Our Lord is coming.

The words of Charles Wesley help us express this hopeful waithing:

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
Rulle in all our hearts alone,
By thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to thy glorious throne.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Flowing Grace

This morning I was explaining the season of Advent to a young man, describing how it is a season of anticipation - that our King is coming.  But we live in a fascinating time (the in-betweens) when we know He has already come, and yet, is still going to come again.  As a result, if we are willing to have open eyes and hearts, we can actually see evidence of His coming already.

This year our church community has been full of grief.  My wife said just the other day, "I feel like this has been a year of death!" As a result, there are a number of people who have been, and are walking through the "valley of the shadow of death." This morning I heard a story of Flowing Grace between some of these grieving people.

One member of our church family who has just recently entered the valley, shared with me that another member of our community who is a little futher into that valley (but not much!), brought over a meal!  Grief reaching out and ministering God's grace to grief.  I was blown away!

But I suppose I shouldn't be as surprised as I am, after all, this is the essence of Advent.  In coming to our world, Christ changed everything, including the grieving process, and has blessed us with each other to be tangible instruments of His flowing grace between us!

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

And help me not miss the evidence that you are already here!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An Advent Prayer

We are constantly praying for you for this: that our God will make you worthy of his calling and accomplish every good desire and faithful work by his power. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored by you, and you will be honored by him, consistent with the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 CEB)

Today, this is my prayer for you.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ironic Body Armor

As I was reading today's scriptures from the Daily Office (Psalm 25, Isaiah 5:8-23, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Luke 21:20-28), a phrase from the Epistle (letter) stood out.

"Wear faithfulness and love as a piece of armor that protects our body...." (1 Thess. 5:8 CEB)

The verse goes on to also mention wearing salvation like a helmet, so my immediate reaction was to think about Paul's (the author) more extensive use of this metaphor in another letter he wrote (Ephesians).  Paul wrote this letter (1 Thessalonians) several years before he wrote the other one (Ephesians), which means this description was an early version of his thinking on these ideas, and the Ephesians passage is a much more detailed, more fully developed thought.  But in that description he doesn't use the term love in his descripition of armor.  

Put love on as armor.

That seems like an oxymoron to me (which may be why he didn't use it later).  Wearing love doesn't seem like protection.  In fact, it seems like just the opposite!  When we love, we open ourselves up to risk, because real love requires vulnerability.  

But the fact that love is described here forces us to think.  

Which makes me think of a deep reservoir and my marriage.  

After almost 25 years of loving Jo, I have developed a very deep reservoir of love for her.  As a result, when bumps in the relationship road come along (which they do, because this is real life), there is a lot of depth and grace from which to draw.  The depth of our love actually serves as a protector for us - almost like armor.  It softens the blows of life.  It deflects the hurts that get hurled.  And it quickly serves as salve in the wounds.

Maybe love can be a powerful protector.  I just have to be willing to risk and love enough!

Thankfully, Advent is a reminder that Love has come and is coming!

Sunday, December 7, 2014


So yesterday I didn't post an Advent blog because I ended up at the hospital with a dear friend.  Her husband died rather unexpectedly early in the morning and we were starting the journey of grief together.  As a result, I just didn't think about posting.

But this morning as I opened my Bible to today's lectionary texts, I was greeted by these words...

"'Comfort, comfort my people!' says your God." (Isaiah 40:1 CEB)

Having walked through this experience with countless families now, including my own, I am so thankful that one of the reminders of Advent is that Jesus is our greatest source of comfort!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Spare Change

One of the texts that is a part of today's Daily Office Advent readings (for more info on that, check out www.crivoice.org) is Luke 20:41-21:4. At the end of chapter 20, Jesus warns his disciples about the religious leaders who are making a show out of following God.  As we turn the page to chapter 21, Luke provides an illustration centered around the offfering buckets.

The scene opens with Jesus observing the people coming and bringing their offerings and placing them in the coffers.  Luke first describes those who are rich coming and casting their money in, followed by a poor widow who casts in her two leptas (the smallest coin that existed at the time - basically two pennies).  In response Jesus says, "She has given more than everyone else because they gave out of their abundance, but she gave all she had."

In the CEB it reads, "All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she...has given everything...."


Sometimes when you read the scriptures, it's appropriate to say, "Amen!"

Sometimes the best response is, "Ouch!"  And most of the time that is true with the words of Jesus.

It's so easy to give to God out of our spare change - and I'm not talking just about money (but in our culture that can often be the focal point).  The larger principle Jesus is pointing us to, calling us out on, is that we tend to give to God out of our leftovers, our srcaps, not from the best of who we are and what we have.

Advent is a reminder to us that God gave us His everything, and His desire is for us to give Him our everything in response.  After all, is spare change the best response to everything?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Expanding Hearts

One of the texts from the daily lectionary for today is from 1 Thessalonians 3:

"May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone...." (v.12)

This past Sunday in our Faith Family we recognized that in coming to our world and becoming one of us (Jesus in the Inccarnation), God demonstrated as powerfully as possible that we truly matter to Him!  As a result, we are called to allow His love for us to flow in us, and through us, to those who are in the world around us, so that by embracing them, we are an extension of His love.

When we think about that idea in light of this passage, it reminds us that we are called to do more than just love in a static way.  What we are actually called to do is allow our love to grow and expand further than it already has.  Our hearts shoulc continue to expand!

One of the most tangible moments I experienced this was when my second son, Seth, was born.  Since his older brother had been around for a few years already, I had already experienced a depth of love in my heart I didn't even know existsed.  Now that Seth was about to arrive, I was actually apprehensive because I thought there was no way I even had any more room in my heart with how much I already loved his mom and older brother.

But much to my surprise, when he arrived and I was able to hold him, it was like my heart actually expanded and my capacity for how much I could love grew.  It had to have grown, because I actually loved Seth as much as his older brother, which I didn't think was going to be possible!

Now, it's easy to love your kids and to allow your heart to expand with love for them, but it's a whole other matter to allow your heart to expand for rest of the world around you!  Oh I might be able to muster an expanded heart for someone I deeply care about all aready and I relate to very well.  But what about the person who absolutely just bugs me?

"May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone...." (v.12)

But what about the person I don't agree with?

"May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone...." (v.12)

Ok.  How about the person I know is a total sinner and is clearly not even wanting to walk with God?

"May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone...." (v.12)

And maybe that's why this blessing says, "May the Lord cause...."  Yep.  He's going to have to do it, because I know I certainly can't make that happen without some Divine intervention!

"Come, Lord Jesus, Come!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Changed Hearts & Lives

Yesterday we saw John the Baptist born and his father's powerful reaction at the coming promise of God.

Today, that little boy is all grown up.  

In Matthew 3:1-12 (CEB), John is on the scene "preparing the way for the LORD."  He's quite a picture actually, in his ancient prophet clothes and strange diet.  Despite his craziness, his message is consistent, "Change your hearts and lives." (v.2)  

At first he is speaking to whoever will listen, but soon some of the "religious right" show up, apparently to see if he is just a nut or what.  Most likely they want to make sure he isn't going to threaten the way of life they belive to be right, namely theirs!

He doesn't waste much time jumping on them, and says the same thing to them he was saying to the masses, "Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives." (v.8)

In anticipation of the Advent (literally "coming") of our LORD, this season is a great time to reflect on what needs changed in our hearts and lives.  This materialistic, individualistic, consumer-driven world has a tendency to push it's way into our lives, so much so, that we can easily begin to think that it's "right." 

Thankfully, John's message during this Advent season is a powerful reminder that anything which doesn't line up with the Kingdom of Heaven is ready and waiting for change!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Bottled Up Praise

Yesterday I reflected on the encounter Zechariah had with Gabriel in whch Zechariah was required to exercise his faith muscles. (Again, see Luke 1 for the full story.)

As that story unfolds, Zechariah is rendered speachless for the duration of Elizabeth's pregnancy.  When the boy (John the Baptis) is finally born and welcomed into the Lord's covenant, Zechariah confirms his name is John.  In that moment, we read, "Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God."

On the surface it might seem like Zechariah was just full of praise because he could speak again, and while that may have been his initial burst of praise, we see from what he says (Luke 1:67ff) that this is more than just relief he can talk. 

Can you imagine everything that got bottled up during that nine months of waiting that isn't recorded?

"I can talk!  Praise the LORD!"

"Elizabeth, you're a mom!  I love you so much!  Praise the LORD!"

"I have a son!  His name is John!  Praise the LORD!"

"God's promises are true!  He fulfills His word!  Praise the LORD!"

Nine months of bottled up praise come pouring out of Zechariah.

This nine months of anticipation is the essence of Advent.  Expectant waiting, filled with hope, that will eventually result in an opportunity to let loose with praise - for our Promise has come!

How can I be sure?

One of the stories of Advent is the encounter between Zechariah the priest, and Gabriel, the Lord's angel.  Zechariah is on duty in the temple burning incense for the people when he is visited by Gabriel. Of ccourse, Zechariah is a bit disturbed, but manages to listen to the Divine message being delivered that he and Elizabeth will conceive a son in their old age, who becomes John the Baptist. (See Luke 1 for the full story.)

In response to this shocking news, Zechariah's first words are, "How can I be sure this will happen?"

In many ways, that feels like the honest cry of Advent.  We want to believe one is coming!  We want to be filled with hope!  We want to see deliverance!  But how can we be sure?!?!

After all, look around.  This world is broken, and we all know it.  We may have already encountered the Divine and are doing our best to follow Him, but there are still times when our hearts (if we are honest), cry out, "How can I be sure?!"

And that's the thing about Advent, it requires our trust.  Gabriel may have responded to Zechariah's question as if he couldn't believe he would have any doubts ("I've been sent here directly from God's presence!"), but we don't have that perspective.  So we must exercise our faith muscles.

"Lord, this Advent season help me to trust You, even when I don't feel sure!"