Sunday, December 31, 2006


Our Sunday school moderator read a sentence as part of the devotion today that really caught my attention -- Thanksgiving is the discipline that enables us to see the love of God.

The lectionary reading that I read this morning was Psalm 148. Verse 1:

Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights above.

I've mentioned before that part of what I do each morning is to take some time for prayer. I never really know where that prayer will lead -- there are certain concerns I take to God habitually during this time, but there are also sometimes items which rise from the quiet, that I don't expect.

After reading this Psalm this morning, praise seemed to be a natural occurrence, especially on this last day of the year. My thanksgiving turned to the many times this year that I have seen or experienced God. I've listed most of them before, so I won't do it here, but that's where my prayers turned this morning.

My heart was filled, and I can attest to the truth of Shelly's statement -- thanksgiving is the discipline that enables us to see the love of God.

I pray that I might be as blessed next year.

A quote from Ortberg's book:

Between what happens to us and how we respond lies our beliefs or interpretations of the events. Joy flows from a way of thinking.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

My Father's House

One of the lectionary readings for the week is Luke 2:41-52, which is the description of Jesus, as a 12 year old, staying at the temple while his parents were returning home.

I have always sympathized with Mary and Joseph. I think it's a gut reaction to the idea of not knowing where one's child is -- of physically losing a child. I've even written about it before (this link).

When his parents find him, Jesus says, "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (verse 49). Obviously, they did not know where he was; they had been looking for him for three days. If one of my boys said that to me, I would think he was being disrespectful.

The Disciplines devotion this morning, though, pointed out another viewpoint -- one that I had never seen before. Jesus didn't know he was lost. He was home. More than with his parents, he was in his Father's house. He is actually surprised that his parents didn't know where he was -- where else would he be? He is home.

It occurred to me that that idea -- of the temple being his home -- is quite lovely. I'm wondering how we can give the children of our churches a tiny amount of that confidence that their church is their home.
  • I think that it is important to make children and youth feel welcome -- not as guests, but as members of the family. Do we know their names? Do we speak to them? Are we interested in what they have to say? Do the children and youth of your church know YOUR name?
  • We should make sure that we never have the attitude that the church belong to ME more than it belongs to anyone else. The church belongs to God. As such, we are ALL welcome in it. When we make statements which create a second class of members -- children and youth -- we teach our children to think of the church as belonging to someone else. We teach them that it is NOT their home.
  • Just like in a family's home, members need responsibility. We need to make sure that our children and youth have a role to play in the working of the church. Our youth groups are not outside social clubs meeting in our basement. Our children's programming does not have the sole purpose of teaching our children about God. These members of our church need to feel included, and being included means having a place in the Body of Christ. The possibilities are endless. In addition to that, all members of our churches, including children and youth, need to have a voice in deciding what that role might be. It is not just assigned -- it is discovered.

How can we make sure that our children feel that the church is their home? It's a big question, and it's one which deserves some attention.

Image: From the web site Hermanoleon

Friday, December 29, 2006

Christmas Lights

Our family has an annual Christmas tradition. Each year we drive around a few neighborhoods in our town -- ones whose residents traditionally decorate their houses for Christmas with lots of lights.

We were late doing it this year, but we were able to get it in tonight.

We started our tour with a large light display in our city park. Each year, on the top of a hill in the park that overlooks the city, lights are arranged in a "tree-like" formation -- sort of. J called it the "spaceship." You can drive up to the hill, and drive under it, which is what we did. It's a great view of the city. All of the photos in this post are from the spaceship.

We then drove around about three neighborhood and enjoyed the decorations.

Images: The spaceship, the lights of the spaceship with the moon, and the view of the city from the "spaceship."

A Story

A story...

Twenty two years ago today, in a bookstore at the local mall, there was a girl. She was only twenty years old, still in college, and was standing at the beginning of her life. She had no expectations of a romance -- she anticipated finishing college in the next year and a half, finding a job, an apartment, and starting life as a brave, single woman.

Down the hall from the bookstore, there was a boy. He had just finished college a couple of weeks before; he was 22 years old, and was working at a One-hour photo development store (that was back when people knew what film was).

The girl and the boy had never met. She used to walk down to the store where he worked because there was a Coke machine there, buy a Diet Coke, and walk back to work.

The boy and the girl had friends in common -- one friend in particular who had worked at both the bookstore and the photo development store. The boy had noticed the girl on her Diet Coke runs and had asked their friend for her phone number.

A few days before, the boy had called her and asked her to go out.

She had said "No." The girl's father was visiting, and she was committed to picking him up at the airport. Luckily, the boy was tenacious, and called back again. This time she ignored the fact that her father was still visiting, and said, "Yes."

Today, 22 years later, is the anniversary of their first date.

They both took a risk -- almost what could be called a blind date. They ended up as best friends, and 2 1/2 years later, were married.

And today, he's sitting across the table from me. I thank God for the courage to take risks, for the tenacity of a 22 year old boy, and for the blessings of 22 years. I thank God for unexpected outcomes and for the man that the boy became.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


One of the lectionary readings for this week is 1 Samuel 2:18-20. I never really noticed verse 19 before:

Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.
Each year, Hannah would bring Samuel a new robe. She had given her child to God, but she never gave her child away. She still cared for him in the way that she was able.

Have you paid attention during an infant baptism? We had one this past Sunday, and once again I was struck by what our congregation promises to God:

With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that he may grow in his service to others. We will pray for him, that he may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.
Heavy words. Big promises. We say them, sometimes in the same way that we repeat the Lord's Prayer, in the same way that we pray the call to worship or the collect, in the same way that we declare our faith using the Apostles' Creed. By rote. Without thought. We just "say it."

Do we mean it?

If we mean what we say, if we truly mean it when we make the promise to help this child so that he will "walk in the way that leads to life," then we have actions to take. These are empty words unless we follow them up with footsteps toward the goal of nurturing this child in our faith.

It is one of the reasons that we are a church. We are not only meant to witness the baptism; we are to be witnesses to the one who has been baptized.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

O, God

Note: The italicized stanzas are from the song, "Here With Me" by Mercy Me. Thanks to JtM for pointing to the song.

I long for your embrace
Every single day
To meet you in this place
And see you face to face

O, God,
Sometimes I feel so far away.
Doubts and fear creep in,
Pushing the realization of your presence
Into the background.
Do you feel the distance, God?
Are you reaching?
Searching for me as I search for you?

Will you show me?
Reveal yourself to me
Because of your mercy
I fall down on my knees

O, God,
There are times when I wish
For a way to know you more.
To understand you more.
There are times, God,
When I want reality to be different
Than it is.
When I know that the way things are,
Are not the way that they were meant to be.
Do you feel the same way?
Do you, in your deepest heart,
Wish for different way?

And I can feel your presence here with me
Suddenly I'm lost within your beauty
Caught up in the wonder of your touch
Here in this moment I surrender to your love

And then, O, God,
There are times when I can feel you
Present with me.
Like a part of me,
Entrenched in my heart,
Like a gift,
Like a welcome heaviness,
A certainty.
Do you feel it?
Do you know I am close?
Do you smile, like I do
When my children are held close?

You're everywhere I go
I am not alone
You call me as your own
To know you and be known

O, God,
I know I never walk alone.
I am so full of gratitude for my life,
For the many blessings in it,
For the knowledge of you,
Do you know it?
Can you feel how thankful I am?
Does my worship in any way
Warm your heart,
You grace and love, God,
Set mine on fire.

I surrender to your grace
I surrender to the one who took my place

Image: Candle at our Sunday morning Christmas Eve service.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

What's Next?

It's the day after Christmas. The question which occurs to me today is "What next?" We've celebrated the incarnation of Christ into the world. As we have been talking about in at least one other post, then "So that..."?

One of the lectionary readings for this week is from John 1:9-14. I was particularly struck by verse 14a in The Message:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.

What if we realized that God had moved into our neighborhood? Wouldn't that make a difference in what we do? Is our response different if we think that God became flesh and entered the world 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, rather than "moved into the neighborhood?"

I like the immediacy of it, and I think it calls us to action. Take a look at the rest of the verse. This is again The Message (although I like the poetry of NRSV better):

We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

So, what next? What is the response to seeing the "glory with our own eyes," in our own neighborhood?

I think the answer to that question might be different for each of us. I think finding the answer to that question involves listening for God.

Think of it, though, in the light of another lectionary reading for this week -- Isaiah 52:7-10. Following is verse 7:

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
"Your God reigns!"

In the book by Stephen Covey, he talks about Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of those habits is to "begin with the end in mind." Where are we going? And do we realize that it is the direction of our steps which take us to our destination? Beginning with end in mind means that as we order our world, as we take our steps each day, we do so with the realization that we have a goal, whatever that goal might be. We take each step so that we can reach the goal that God has set for us.

Image: Our Christmas tree.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Two Christmas Tidbits

The following conversation happened yesterday in our living room between my mom (C) and our younger son, J:

C: Do you know why we give each other birthday presents on Christmas?
J: They're not birthday presents. Its not our birthday.
C: It's Jesus' birthday so we give each other birthday presents since we can't give them to him.
J: But we give him a present every day.
C: We do? What is it?
J: We love him.

And I don't think I could write a better post than that.

I received an electronic Christmas card from one of the subscribers to our church's Advent to Epiphany devotional. I like what it said so much that I'm going to reprint it here:

Jesus humbled himself.
He went from commanding angels
To sleeping in the straw.
From holding stars
To cluthing Mary's finger.
The palm that held the universe
Took the nail of a soldier.


Because that's what love does
(Max Lucado)

The gift of God
The birth of Christ.
This is Christmas
This is love

Blessings to you.

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—
and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
(1 John 3:16)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Prayer

One final post for the day -- A Christmas Eve prayer writen by my husband, Steve:

Most gracious and giving God, we stand at the door of a stable, and we wait. To get here we followed a star brighter than anything ever seen in the heavens. You will come here over many miles carried by a young girl who knew only that God chose her. And she believed. We stand at the door, and we wait. We wait for your birth – the greatest gift we have ever known. Not able to fathom, at this miraculous moment in time, the gift yet to come that is greater still. When you come tomorrow, you will be the perfect Son of God, faultless in every way. And we will love you. We too are children of God, ‘faulted’ in every way, but you will love us no matter. You will teach us caring, humility, compassion, sacrifice, duty, honor, friendship. You will teach us to love and worship God above all else. Your life will unite, your life will divide, your life will split time. The world will never be the same again.

Tomorrow we will kneel by a manager. In the company of shepherds, kings and animals we will behold the miracle of life; your life on earth, God’s life made flesh, our lives made new. We will follow you, brighter than anything ever seen in the heavens. We pray this Christmas Eve that we may have the faith of Mary and believe: believe because God chose us. Knowing that no payment is required for your gift, may we still strive to do your work, teach what you taught and give all that we are to ensure that, truly, the world will never be the same again.


The Overlooked Innkeeper

Almost two weeks ago, I wrote a poem called A Better Place. It concerns the idea that perhaps the innkeeper was not the cold-hearted person in the nativity story that he is sometimes made out to be. After I finished the poem, it occured to me that perhaps I had seen that theme before -- that I had read a devotion which presented that very idea.

I mentioned to Jeff the Methodist the theme of the poem was not new to me -- that it had had its genesis in devotion that I had read before, and I asked him if he had written a devotion for our Advent booklet in years past with the same theme. He had; it had been published in 2002.

It's a great devotion, and with Jeff's permission, I'm posting it here as a Christmas Eve Extra:

Isaiah 64:1-2

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
Who is the most overlooked figure of the Nativity?

Speakers often ask a rhetorical question at the beginning of a sermon. Pastor Dale paused longer than usual, however, waiting for vocal responses from the congregation. Many, including me, answered “Joseph.” That was the expected response to illustrate his homily on the example of faith set by Jesus’ earthly father in accepting the unbelievable story of his pregnant fiancée, fleeing home with his new family to avoid Herod’s death threats, and raising the boy Jesus to follow in his own chosen craft of carpentry.

As much as Joseph’s story inspires me, though, I was taken aback by the lone reply of a gentleman on the front row to the minister’s opening question. Don’s words stood out in contrast to the nearly-unison “Joseph.”

Who is the most overlooked figure in the Nativity? “The Innkeeper!”

Until then, I had never thought much about the innkeeper. He is depicted in Christmas stories and pageants generally in one of two ways. Either he closes his door in the faces of the couple, or he shows them around back to the stables with the animals. What is the truth about the innkeeper?

None of the biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus even mentions the innkeeper. In fact, the only reference to a manger or an inn is in the Book of Luke. “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke.2:7 (RSV). On the basis of that single sentence, we convict the innkeeper of shutting Jesus out. Perhaps we have been too hard on him.

I think the innkeeper is an improbable hero. He had no reason to know that the strangers at his door were about to bring the Messiah into the world. Had he known, perhaps he would have made room for them, but that would have meant that some other weary travelers would need to be displaced. Yet, rather than making excuses, the innkeeper was resourceful, and gave what he could give—not a room or even a corner in his already crowded inn, but the stable that demonstrates that the King of the world is at home with the humblest of the humble.

The arrival of the long-expected Messiah stood out in contrast to peoples’ expectations. He did not come in a manner befitting of a king. No pomp and circumstance, no great earthquake, no thunder and lightning, no burning bush, but humbly and anonymously in a barn to a young unmarried woman. The Jesus born in those surroundings would grow up to teach us to believe the unbelievable, to be prepared for the unexpected, and that the poor and meek will occupy a prominent place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Less prominent than even the lowly shepherds and animals, the innkeeper is neither mentioned by the writers of the gospel nor placed in the crèches that adorn our mantels and tables during Christmastime. Rather, he was and is behind the scenes, humbly and anonymously playing a major part in God’s great plan. He serves as a reminder to us that God uses what we have. Perhaps we should be more like the innkeeper.

Dear God, Give me the compassion of the innkeeper. Even when circumstances indicate that I have used up everything I have to give, give me the courage to stand out in contrast to the status quo, and the awareness and the resourcefulness to make room for Christ. Amen

Jeff Taylor

Christmas Album


The chosen people
Preparing for the coming of a Messiah.
He would be a descendant of David
Bringing freedom
A return to glory.
Instead they found a baby,
born powerless by their standards.

Told that she would give birth
To a son, who would be great
Who would hold the thrown of his father David
Who would be called the Son of the Most High
Did she anticipate the tiny child?
Did you understand the horrible death?
Was she prepared for the truth?

Even the animals
Living in the stable
Found what they were not expecting.
In their manger
Was a baby.

Child for us sinners
poor, and in the manger,
we would embrace thee
with love and awe.
Who would not love thee,
loving us so dearly?

Today, what do we anticipate?
Do we stand on Thanksgiving day,
and anticipate a Christmas season with dread?
Do we look forward to December 26?
Have we made December a month so full
of schedules and to do lists,
that we miss the incarnation of Christ?
Incarnation in the hearts of our children,
In the words of our friends,
In the fellowship of Communion?

Today, do we plan our spending,
our investment in gift giving
with such unenthusiastic routine,
that we miss the homeless man on the street?
That we forget the child without a coat?
That we ignore the blessing
of the actual grace of a gift?

Do we see Christmas through the eyes of God,
or through our own eyes?
Do we see the rush,
the weight of tradition,
the heaviness of doing the expected?
Or do we see grace,
and thanksgiving?
Do we anticipate a Christ child in a manger,
Or do we anticipate when the season is finally over?

Italic stanza is verse #5 from O Come all Ye Faithful.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


A short story tonight.

Two years ago our son G was in sixth grade. All students at his middle school are required to take either band or choir; G chose band.

When he started 6th grade, he had never played an instrument -- in this case, trumpet -- before in his life. When I told Steve the date of their first Christmas concert, he couldn't believe it. "They're going to have a concert? How?

Amazingly enough, the 6th graders, when the time comes for the concert, have learend to plat their instruments, and the 6th grade band does a great jo.

At he end of his first concert two years ago, G looked at my mom, and said, "Before I'm done, I want to join the jazz band and play a solo for a concert. Last week, as an 8th grader, he did just that. He played a trumpet solo as a member of the jazz band.


Friday, December 22, 2006



Is it wrong to call communication a type of ministry? I don't mean proclamation or teaching - I mean basic information transfer -- such as "Hey, we're having a luncheon after the bazaar on Wednesday -- be sure and come."

What would happen if Steve and I didn't communicate regarding the plans over the holidays? He knows when his parents are coming to our house, when his brother and his family are coming over, when we're headed out to other places. I know the same thing about my side of the family. What if we never communicated? What would happen? Chaos. There are time in a church when communication just doesn't happen. Committee chairman fail to talk to each other. No one keeps the congregation informed. Just a general failure to communicate.

Our older son, who is a teenager, ordered dinner tonight. The waitress just looked at him, unable to understand what was being said. He mumbled. Sometimes in a church we mumble at each other. We speak so softly and with such a muted tone, that no one can hear us. It's an attempt at communication, but it doesn't get the job done.

Take a look at the image to the left. It's a sign from a town not far from here. What does it mean? Does it mean that no one must fail to hang signs on the pole? Or does it mean that no one is allowed to hang signs on the pole. Somestimes in church life we think we are communicating when really we are tranferring incorrect or misleading information.

These are only three examples -- I'm sure that there are more. Sometimes we just fail to communicate all. Sometimes we just quietly mumble, and then get upset when no one is listening. Sometimes, we can be heard, but we are providing the wrong information. Effective communication -- making sure that the members of the Body of Christ are connected with each other IS ministry. Without it, much of the rest of the church's ministry will be ineffective. If we don't talk to each other, if we don't maintain connections, then the "job" just will not get done at all.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I found me!

At the beginning of this month, J was in a Christmas program in our church. His role in the play was that of The Drummer. If you know the Little Drummer story, then you know that the drummer, as his gift to Christ, plays him a song.

Most nativity scene don’t feature the drummer. He’s certainly not literally biblical, so he’s not one of the “major” stars of the show. We have one nativity set whose designers must have been trying to win a “how many pieces can we include?” contest. This set even has two trees. Among its many figurines is a drummer boy.

Each of the many, many pieces is stored in its own little plastic bag. As we were assembling the nativity display shelf, I asked J to “de-bag” each piece. All of a sudden I heard, “I’m so happy! I found me!” He had found the drummer boy.

J is the one who arranged this set on the shelf, and the image with this post is of the drummer, Jesus and Mary. The drummer is front and center, playing his song for the child. I find the way he arranged all the pieces to be interesting as well. All umpteen figures are approaching the Christ, as if they have traveled a great distance, and are converging. Even the sheep, even the trees, are rushing forward.

Why did I ever think that my arrangements of these figures was better? J has brought God into even their placement on the shelves. A gift for me, born of the decision to surrender Christmas to God. No stress – no worries. Put the nativity figures however you like; I’m not worried about how they look. J did it, and I see God in it.

There is a teaching technique that many people like to use. Take a biblical account or a parable, and ask the students to examine each character. Which one is more like you? If you were a character in the story, which one would you be most like? This examination teaches us about ourselves, and helps us to see the story with eyes of depth.

So let’s do that for just a moment with the nativity story. Know that as I list the “players,” most of what I am going to say is from my imagination. Your own descriptions of them would be different.

When would you say, “I’ve found me!”

Are you Mary? Are you obedient? Are you willing to ignore your fear, your questions, your doubt, and just say, “Let it be for me according to your word.”?

Are you Joseph? Are you caught so tightly in the grip of what is honorable that it takes a visit from an angel to free you for service? Can you then, as Joseph did, find the grace to step beyond your own dreams for what might have been and accept the adventure of what God wills?

Are you a shepherd? Are you alone in a field, uncertain of your own worth, clinging to the one thing that gives you an identity – your job? Can you, when an angel appears and tells you that God is at work in the world, leave behind all that you value and follow a star to a child?

Are you a wise man? Are you so convinced of your own abilities and wisdom that you trust only in yourself? Can you place that to the side and greet God, certain as you do that you will find that your self-confidence was a sham, and that you truly do need God?

Are you an angel? Are you available to leave the wonderful comforts of heaven and travel to the sinful place called Earth? Do you take advantage of the opportunities you find to proclaim God’s word to those who must hear it in order to live?

Are you the drummer? Will you come to understand that you – yes, even you – have gifts that God has given to you? Will you trust God enough to share them?

Are you Mary’s parents? Are you heartbroken with disappointment when the dreams you had for your child seem to be shattered? Will you listen for God enough to trust him when you can’t possibly understand what is happening?

Are you Joseph’s parents? Are you willing to set aside your own certainty that you know what is right for your loved ones, and trust them enough to hear the angels on their own? And then watch with fear as they act on that knowledge?

Are you one of the villagers in Bethlehem? Are you standing in your house, going about your daily routine, missing the most earth-shattering event to ever occur in the history of mankind – the incarnation of God – right outside your window?

Are you John the Baptist? Did your tiny, young heart start to beat with a stronger rhythm when the first cry of the savior was heard to break into the noises of a stable?

Are you the stable-boy? Are you standing in your domain, regretting the mess that has been made by the new young family? Or are you willing to see past the dirty straw and trampled hay to find God at work? Do you joyfully pick up a pitchfork and prepare for service, or do you grumble?

Who am I? Sometimes I am all of them. Sometimes I am none of them. At times, I miss the Christ all together, and at other times, I stand, rooted to the spot, afraid to move, because right now, at this moment, God is breathing life into the world. Sometimes I am so certain of it that I can feel the warmth of his exhalation.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Surrendered

For the past three years, we have cleared a bookshelf in our living room at Christmas and replaced all of the normal pictures and miscellaneous objects with nativity scenes. Currently, there are about a dozen of them set up on the four shelves.

Among the items that regularly sit on the shelves is a Precious Moments angel ornament. I have no idea why it has been left on the shelves all year, but I had moved it last weekend to set up the nativity scenes. It was sitting on an end table, with other "dislocated" shelf items. J found it, and asked if he could add it to the shelves.

"Sure. Go ahead." I’ve been very relaxed this Christmas about where decorations are placed – whatever works has been my policy. In fact, J set up a few of the nativity scenes himself. One of them, one with many pieces, is so sweetly arranged that I may have to make it a blog entry of its own.

Anyway, I didn’t pay any attention to what he was doing with the little angel. I came back the next day, and noticed where he placed it. Take a look at the photo. He placed the little angel right in front of Jesus, staring at the Christ, with his back to the room. I haven't and am not going to touch it. It stays right where he put it.

Focused on Jesus.

Where is our focus this Advent season?

Early this December, I surrendered Christmas to God. I haven't done such a good job spiritually with Christmas in the past few years, and I decided that it was time to let go of it. Let go.

One of the devotions in our JM book this year says, "We have to trust that in the surrender of our hearts and our being, God will come in. When we surrender ourselves, God fill us with all we need." She goes on to say, "I don’t have control. You don’t have control. We have something much better – we have all we need."

This December I have been focused on items other than my To Do list for Christmas. My tree went up late, I'm not finished shopping, but I'm trusting that all of that will get done. It will get done. Instead of worrying, I have had a wonderful, wonder-filled advent season in preparation for Christmas -- thanks to my family, thanks to my friends, thanks to my God.

I keep saying, "I will not be stressed." What I'm really saying is that God is doing a great job with this Christmas season, and I'm not going to take it back. It's His, and He can keep it. I surrender all.

It will get done, but it will not do me in. God is in control, and I have all I need.

Christmas Trivia About Me

I've got something more serious in mind for my post today, but while I write it, here's something light. It's a MEME I found on another blog:

  1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? -- Hot chocolate. I don't like egg nog. I especially like hot chocolate with something on top -- like marshmallows or cool whip or frozen cool whip or whipped cream. Hot chocolate with something yummy on top.
  2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Santa wraps presents. Even it he/she has to do it after the midnight Christmas Eve service, Santa wraps presents. Unless it is a bicycle. Santa puts bikes in large white bags with bows. And then hides them in the garage.
  3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? The inside trees gets colored lights. The outside decorations are white lights. I have no idea why.
  4. Do you hang mistletoe? No, but I think it would be cool.
  5. When do you put your decorations up? Usually, in years past, the weekend after Thanksgiving is when I start getting the "itch" to decorate. The tree is usually up by the second weekend after thanksgiving. This year? It went up on the 17th. I will not be stressed. I have had the best Advent season in recent memory, and it didn't depend on having the tree up.
  6. What is your favorite holiday dish? The one right in front of me.
  7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child? I don't know. I had great Christmases, but I'm not sure I could pick out one favorite. It was always a big experience, not a set of independent memories. I remember that Christmas meant my grandparents visiting, and still, each holiday, I have a moment of missing them intensely. This year it happened while J and I were putting up the tree. I was very unstressed about it -- "hang that ornament anywhere you like!" We have "name balls" on our tree (a tradition stolen from Days of our Lives). Every member of the family -- those still with us, and those gone -- has a Christmas ball on the tree with his/her name painted on it. When J hung up my grandmother's ornament, which says "Lillian," he asked about her. We talked about her and my grandfather, I showed him a picture, and I missed them.
  8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I knew the truth about Santa before I told anyone I did. Why would anyone share that she knows Santa isn't real!
  9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? We did when I was a kid, but we don't now. I want to enjoy the suspense -- delayed gratification.
  10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? It has colored lights, and a mix of different ornaments. It has ornaments from my grandparents' tree, ornaments from our tree when I was a kid, ornaments from the first tree we had when we got married, ornaments that people have bought us, ornaments that we have bought over the years. Almost every one has a story, so decorating is a trip back in time. And, yes, it has garland. Old fashioned, tacky, garland. Gold. No icicles, because they are messy, and too difficult to deal with. And it has lots of lights. Lots. No, more than that. Lots and lots. Lights are important. It has been many a year that we have had to stop decorating and go out to buy more lights. Must have lights. No, more than that. Also, I don't like ornaments that are only heads. I don't want to hang Santa's head on my tree. Where is the rest of Santa? Why is only his head here?
  11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Dread it. I dread it because it curtails my freedom of movement. We live on a hill, and getting off the hill or up the hill in the snow is a worry. Snow is pretty, but I dread it.
  12. Can you ice skate? I tried once. My ankles weren't strong enough -- they kept twisting. It's ice, you know. It's slick. I can roller skate! Not on ice, though.
  13. Do you remember your favorite gift? The first year Steve and I were dating, he gave me a heart on a chain. It shaped like a heart someone would draw. One side of the heart is set with seven diamonds, the other side is gold. It is now 21 years old, and I still wear it every day.
  14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Spending them with family -- always. This year, spending time with friends has also become important (an unexpected blessing).
  15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? The one in front of me.
  16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Holiday desserts. No, not really. I don't know. We have lots. I'm not sure I could pick a favorite. It all adds up to one big experience.
  17. What tops your tree? An angel. Amazingly enough, after the big deal that I make about Christmas lights (see #10), she is unlit.
  18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving -- giving gifts to other people, and giving them thanks when they give me a gift.
  19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? Carol of the Bells. What Child is This. This year I've come to like O Come O Come Emmanuel.
  20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? They taste fine -- I like mint. They are just too labor intensive. Candy should not take so long to eat.

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Rule of Life

    I'm getting close to finishing John Ortbert's book The Life You've Always Wanted. I haven't had much time to read lately, but perhaps today I'’ll get to the end (one more chapter).

    The second to last chapter is called Life with a Well-ordered Heart: Developing Your Own Rule of Life. Ortberg defines a "well-ordered heart" through Augustine's words: To have a well-ordered heart is to love the right thing, to the right degree, in the right way with the right kind of love. It is to be transformed -- it is not that we "are not only increasingly free from sin, but also increasingly free from the desire to sin." He then goes on to say that we need a plan to reach a well-ordered heart. He calls this a "rule of life." This is not a set of laws, but is instead a set of something which is done regularly. A plan.

    Ortberg gives a strategy for transformation which involves asking ourselves a set of questions for the develoment of a "rhythm of living" that will draw us closer to God. I liked the questions, but as I was reading them, I thought that, in addition to being questions that we should ask ourselves in our development of a rule of life, that they are questions that we as a church should be asking of the Body of Christ of which we are a member:

    I've paraphrased the questions so that they will be applicable to church life, but I hope I've left Ortberg's intention intact.

    How and when will we pray as a church? Do we pray as a body of Christ? I don't specifically mean the morning prayer in the Sunday worship service. I think we need to examine the prayer life of our churches. Do we lift up the idea of prayer as important? As a church, do we pray about what we need to do, how we need to do it? Do we ask God, as a church, to be involved and present in his house? One church I visited has a prayer table in the sanctuary. As the acolyte came in to light the altar candles, he stopped at this table, and lit the candle that was placed there as well. It brought light to their prayer effort; it brought their prayer effort to light. Do we pray for the programs in our church? Do we prayer for our members? Do we pray for our pastors? Do we pray for our children? Are we communicating with God at all as a Body of Christ?

    How will the church handle money in a way that draws us closer to God? One way to determine the priorities of a church is to look at its budget. If we are serious about what we are doing as a Body of Christ, then the way we plan to spend God's money should reflect our perceptions of how God wants us to be at work in the world. Our spending plan for God's offerings and gifts should be guided by His vision for His church. The church's budget should be a tool of ministry -- one which enables the Body of Christ to be doing God's work in the world. Whose priorities are reflected in the church's budget?

    How can we approach work in a way that will help Christ be formed in the members of the church? If our mission is to go forth and make disciples of Jesus, then how is it that what we DO as a church makes that happen? The Director of Leadership Formation and Spiritual Support of our Annual Conference, JF Lacaria, wrote a column for the November issue of the WVUM newspaper in which he explains that the phrase "so that..." will make fruitful change in the ministry of God's church. What we do as a church -- our work, our actions -- should be done with an eye to the "so that...." For example, our church has a Thursday evening service with a meal so that the homeless and marginalized in our neighborhood will be fed, both body and spirit. What we DO should be in accordance with the vision God has for His church -- so that Christ will be formed in our members.

    How are we involved in Christian Community (such as corporate worship, fellowship and confession)? I see many ways in which we could examine this question as a church, but the one which first comes to mind is whether we are CONNECTED as a Body of Christ. Does our worship create a relationship with God for our members? Are our members connected to each other through fellowship? Do we hold the Body of Christ accountable to God? Does the church act in such as way that it is evident that we love God and that we love each other? Do we communicate with each other? Do we strive to forgive each other, enable each other, support each other. Are we a Body of Christ at all?

    How can the church fill its daily tasks with a sense of the presence of God? If we are a Body of Christ, then how is it that our daily life as a church reflects Christ to other people? I think this particular question calls us to examine the details of our life as a church -- the "small stuff" (which so often is the building blocks of the "big stuff"). How can people tell, just by watching us, that God is with us -- that we even care what He has to say or that we are willing at all to humble ourselves as a church to his will? Are we welcoming, even in small ways, even to those who are different than ourselves? Do our steps through life as a church -- one by one -- carry us to the destination that God intends? Is our church life filled with words of gratitude or are we colder than that? Do we see our daily tasks through the eye of scarcity or the eye of abundance?

    What is our church's rule of life? If we summarize these questions, then to approach a closer relationship with God, we need plan to pray, incorporate God's priorities into our budget so that we plan to spend His money the way he intends, order our activities so that each thing we do will be an instrument of God for our transformation as a church, strive to be connected as a Body of Christ, to God and to each other, and incorporate God into each detail of our church life.

    Why would we do this?

    And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

    Note: Think about G today -- it's the school band concert tonight, and he's playing his first solo.


    Monday, December 18, 2006

    Three Wise Men

    Matthew 2:1-12

    Three men,
    Old in wisdom,
    Wise in years,
    Stood together.
    They studied the stars,
    The arrangement of the planets,
    Comets that shot across the sky.

    None were married.
    None had families.
    Knowledge was their love.
    They gathered together each day,
    In a room full of manuscripts and scrolls.
    It had a musty, old smell
    That hung in their clothes,
    Trapped in the folds of the silk in their robes.

    They were hungry,
    To know more
    To understand more
    To fill themselves to completeness,
    With all that they could discover.

    The men saw a star in the East.
    It was unprecedented,
    And their souls longed to understand it.
    They dug through the prophecy,
    Hunting with unquenchable thirst,
    For the answers to their questions.
    They had to KNOW.

    A king was to be born.
    A great king of the Jews,
    And this was a sign of it.
    A star, shining brighter than any before.
    It would lead them to what they desperately needed.

    Together, they traveled, across desert,
    Riding camels,
    Carrying gifts.
    They followed the star,
    Past an angry king
    Full of deception.

    Finally they arrived,
    And found the baby.
    Each man fell to his knees,
    Presented a gift.
    Each one realized that what he sought,
    And what he needed,
    Were not the same at all.

    This tiny child,
    Who cried when he was cold,
    Who found trusting comfort in the arms of his mother,
    And who was vulnerable in every way,
    Was a king, like no other.

    The wise men could not comprehend it,
    They abandoned their quest
    To be made whole
    Through what they could know.
    Instead, they found
    That they were made whole
    Through what they could not understand.

    Life changes
    When Jesus is met
    Face to face.

    Notes: The last three lines, "Life changes when Jesus is met face to face" is from a devotion written by a father of one of the members of our church. Go read the entire devotion at this link (Validation). The first time I read the devotion, that line in particular struck me. When I was lying in bed this morning, thinking about this poem, it was connecting it to that line in particular that got me out of bed at 5:30 am to write it.

    The image is from
    this link.

    Sunday, December 17, 2006

    A Further Look

    I wanted to take a moment and give a further explanation of the poem "A Better Place."

    Most of us, most of the time, picture the innkeeper as a "bad guy" who couldn't find room for a pregnant young girl and her betrothed in his inn, so instead he sent them to a horrible place, a stable.

    But is that the way it really was?

    I think one of the over riding themes of the poem is that we need to keep our eyes open -- that sometimes we need to look at biblical passages or even people in the world around us, with the eyes of grace. We may not always know all of the story. We may not always have all of the information. God does.

    There is a twist to the poem that is so subtle, that it may only exist in my mind. I did write parts of this twist into the plot of the poem, but I wanted to take a moment and point to them. Did you notice that the younger daughter of the innkeeper and his wife is named Mary? She stands at the doorway, eyes wide open, listening to what they were saying (Luke 10:39). We don't know the name of the older sister from the poem, but we do know that she is carrying blankets, helping to make the young mother comfortable. I'll tell you that her name is Martha. The sister's mother is pregnant with a third child, who will be a son, and they will name his Lazarus.

    The main idea of the poem is to help us to see another viewpoint of the innkeeper -- could he have been an agent of grace to a couple out on their own in a place that was not home? By having him presented as the father of children who will become friends of Jesus, we find that we want to meet him -- we like him already because he is the father of people we already know.

    I don't write poetry. Have I said that before? Even as I say that, I know that I have written over 60 poems. Whether the poems are good or not, I do think that, when I am blessed, God spends some time with me, and we write them together.



    Two verses for this evening:

    May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galations 5:22-23)

    I am on an email list from a minister in Charlotte, NC -- his church is Providence UMC. Ken sends out regular Advent emails. Each week in Advent I have received a text of his sermon. Last week he told a story about his daughter. She is "politically interested and active," and brought home a bumper sticker which says, "Peace is Possible." She asked him if he would put it on the bumper of their car. I liked his answer: how about we put it inside the car.

    Sometimes driving around with my boys, a reminder that "peace is possible" might be a good thing!

    Is peace perhaps multidimensional? Is there peace with oneself which is based largely on peace with God? Is there, in addition, peace with others? And is there a link between the two?

    Ken writes about Luke 1:79: " shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." I like Ken's phrase, "How we walk defines who we are, as people, and determines where we are going. " How we walk defines where we are going, and God will guide our feet in the path of peace.

    Promises from God -- a promise that peace is a fruit of the spirit, and that God will fill us with joy and peace as we trust in him. Peace is possible. We hear so often that peace begins with us, but perhaps our hope for peace begins and ends with God.

    Image: From HermanoLeon

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    How Long Does a Song Last?

    The devotion I read this morning used one of the lectionary readings from this week:

    Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known this is made known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

    The writer of the devotion, Heather Murray Elkins, begins her text with the question, "How long does a song last?"

    Have you ever had a "brain worm?" Sometimes a song can seem to last FOREVER.

    Seriously, though, I was intrigued by the question. How long can a song last?

    When Christ was born, and the angels gathered to tell the shepherds what had happened, they sang praises to God:

    And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
    How long has that song lasted? It seems to still echo in our ears -- angels, singing praises to God to shepherds, but still heard by us today.

    What about Christmas carols? Hark! the Herald Angels Sing was written by Charles Wesley in 1739. How about Good Christian Men, Rejoice, which was originally written in Latin in the 14th century? I imagine that you have sung, or will sing, both of them this month. The songs keep echoing across the generations. How song does a song last? As long as we will sing it.

    I really like Elkins' phrase, the songwriter's "task is to restore their memory." He writes songs that will remind them of the many things that they might forget -- the incarnation of Christ, God's saving power and his amazing grace.

    Why sing Christmas carols? Because they remind us of what we might otherwise forget. Because it is our job -- our mission -- to make sure that the songs are sung, so that all will remember.

    Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

    Image: Trees and sunshine on the VA hill yesterday morning.

    Friday, December 15, 2006

    Open my Eyes

    The sunrise this morning was wonderful. I was driving downtown, and had to stop at the ice cream store to take a picture – not the best picture, but it was the parking lot of Baskin Robbins, so what do you expect? Look how beautiful it was.

    What? Are you distracted by the stop lights, the traffic, the school in the foreground? It would certainly be nice if I could remove all of those things which block the way to seeing the whole beauty of the morning sky.


    Perhaps that is what Advent is all about? Preparing the way? Clearing out the distractions – those things which block our way from seeing or experiencing God.

    Open my eyes, that I may see
    Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
    Place in my hands the wonderful key
    That shall unclasp and set me free.

    Silently now I wait for Thee,
    Ready my God, Thy will to see,
    Open my eyes, illumine me,
    Spirit divine!

    The sunrise on my way to work, on my end of town, turned into breathtaking sunshine here at the VA, which is the second picture.

    Driving today, parking, taking pictures, I felt close to God. Do I think God made the sun rise in such a spectacular way, just for me? No, I don’t. Do I think he opens my eyes, taps me on the shoulder, and says, “Look. Notice. See how beautiful my creation is!” Yes, I do believe that.

    Open my ears, that I may hear
    Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
    And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
    Everything false will disappear.

    Open my mouth, and let me bear,
    Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
    Open my heart and let me prepare
    Love with Thy children thus to share.

    Look at that. Voices of Truth.

    Open my eyes, God, that I may notice you.
    The beauty of your creation all around me
    The wonder of your creation inside of me.

    Open my ears, God, that I may hear you.
    Your Voice of Truth
    Please send it clear.

    Open my mouth, God,
    And let me speak your Words.
    And prepare my heart
    To be a-gape.
    To share agape.


    Note: The hymn is Open My Eyes, That I May See by Clara Scott.

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    A Better Place

    This is a cross post from our JM Advent blog, but I like to keep the poems all in one place, so I'm posting it here, too.

    Luke 2:1-7

    The bed wasn’t that comfortable,
    But it was HIS bed.
    He lay in it
    Listening to the snoring,
    The kicking and shifting,
    The sounds of men trying to sleep.
    He lay in it,
    Grateful to be curled around his wife,
    His hand resting on her slightly swollen belly,
    Covering the child inside.

    Some would call his house an inn.
    He called it his home,
    Nightly he opened the door
    To allow strangers access,
    To sleep on the floor of the next room.
    Warmth away from the cold.
    Just now, lately
    As Caesar counted heads,
    His home was more crowded than usual.
    It smelled worse than usual.
    The sounds were more offensive that usual,
    But his pocket was a little more full than usual.

    As he shifted and tried to sleep,
    A loud banging sounded on the door.
    He pulled his wife closer,
    Buried his face in her hair,
    And closed his eyes.
    The banging continued.
    He felt her shift,
    Her hand touch his thigh.
    “It’s cold outside.”
    A groan echoed the knocking
    As he threw off the blanket
    And left his warm bed.

    He could hear the man outside the door
    As he crossed the outer room.
    Stepping over sleeping men,
    “Please, please, my wife!”
    He reached the door,
    And pulled it open, just the width of his hand.
    “Please, my wife,
    Our child is coming!
    Do you have room for us?”

    The man turned away,
    Looked at his home.
    The floor was covered in sweaty bodies,
    In the corner, two men glared at him
    Playing a game of chance,
    Not wishing to be interrupted.
    The air was full of the smell of stale wine,
    Road filth,
    Donkey odors buried in clothes.
    He tried to imagine his wife
    Bringing their third child to life in this room.
    He turned back to the door,
    “No, it’s full here.”
    He reached for his cloak on the hook beside the door.
    “Come with me, I have a better place for you.”

    Outside, the starlight was brighter than he could ever remember.
    It illuminated the way to the stable.
    The man helped his wife,
    Supporting her, almost carrying her,
    As they made their way behind the house.
    The path was made smooth by the light.

    The stable had smells all its own,
    But they were fresh, wholesome odors.
    Horse and cow, slightly soured milk,
    Hay and manure.
    He and the man worked together,
    Cleaning an area for the man’s wife.
    The innkeeper spoke to his guest,
    Trying to calm his nerves.
    He found out that the man’s name was Joseph,
    That they were in Bethlehem for the census,
    And that his wife’s name was Mary.

    She was young and quiet.
    This was her first baby,
    And the pains of it were visible on her face.
    They settled her on clean straw,
    And the innkeeper turned to go.
    He found his wife at the doorway
    Along with their oldest daughter,
    Who stood with her mother holding blankets.

    “Why did you come out here?
    It’s cold.”
    His wife replied, “It’s cold.
    They’ll need these blankets.”
    Their young daughter, not yet seven,
    Carried the wool blankets to where Mary lay.

    The innkeeper gathered his family
    And turned them toward the doorway,
    He took one last look at the couple in the straw.
    One, a young girl, bringing the light of life into the world.
    One, her worried husband, holding her hand,
    Wishing the pain could be his.
    Starlight washed across them,
    Making them appear white, almost gossamer.
    Innocent and pure.

    As they left the couple alone,
    His wife spotted their younger daughter at the doorway,
    Her eyes wide and staring,
    Curious, entranced,
    Listening to what they were saying.
    Her mother turned her away,
    “Mary, it is time to go.
    Come with me.”

    On a night like no other,
    One family welcomed the birth of another.
    Gifts were given,
    Grace was shared,
    God smiled at the birth of His son.

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    A Story of Redemption

    If you know me, or if you've read the blog in the past, you may have noticed that I have a pretty strong opinion regarding women in ministry. God calls women, and they answer that call. He wouldn't call them if he didn't want them to use the gifts which he has given them.

    The topic has been discussed on the blog before:

    Paul on a Shelf (January 26)
    Membership (July 20)
    What is our Role (August 26)
    What is our Role, Part 2 (August 28)
    The Challenge by Jeff the Methodist (September 2) -- (Go read that one; it's terrific!)

    You would think that I had explored this topic more than enough (never). Thanks to the blog 42, I found another post that I really like that discussed this topic -- Women in Ministry: Can we Change? by Stan Gundry. It is the story of one man's transformation from a believer in a hierarchical structure in a church, where women "know their place" to an egalitarian structure. Go read the post if you have time. It's long, but it's honest. It's well written, and I love the list of questions his wife had regarding his original beliefs.

    What I really like about it is how Stan examines the question from a "whole bible" view, rather than from a single scripture view. Most of the ideas that I'm going to present here are from Stan's story, but I want to convey what struck me about what he wrote.

    Let's start at the beginning. Let's take a look at Genesis (3:16). This verse occurs as Adam and Eve are leaving the Garden of Eden.

    To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."
    This is after the Fall. The Fall turned creation upside down -- it altered the creation from what the creator had meant it to be.

    But the Bible -- the entire Bible -- is the story of God's redemption of his children. He does not leave us in sin. He does not leave us in our "topsy turvy" world (as Stan calls it). We were created as children of God -- both male and female in relationship with God, both granted stewardship of the earth, both with responsibility to follow and obey God, both loved by God. The fall changes that into a hierarchical relationship -- a patriarchal society. But God does not leave us that way.

    The Bible is the story of transformation. Transformation from our broken, sinful, state to that which God created us to be.

    Look at this verse, (also written by Paul) (Galations 3:28):
    There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
    That verse in Galations is a statement of the ideal -- a return to life before the fall -- a return to how God imagined that we would be.

    When the Bible is seen in this way, as a movement toward redemption, and when it is understood that part of that redemption is a return to the ideal stated in Galations, then verses like the one in 1 Timothy 2 (women be silent) can be seen as just what Stan calls "ad hoc," or what JtM calls a verse in which context matters. When we see the Galations verse as one of goals of redemption, then women such as Priscilla, Deborah, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, and Junia are not embarrassing exceptions to the rule, but are steps toward redemption. As Stan very eloquently states it:

    When the Old Testament and Old Testament history are viewed from the perspective of this big picture, the Old Testament women who break the patriarchal paradigm -- Deborah, Jael, Abigail, Huldah, Esther, and the wise and virtuous business woman of Proverbs 31 are not embarrassing exceptions to some divinely instituted patriarchal creation order, as hierarchicalists are compelled to say. Instead, each of these women is an affirmation that the Fall is not the end of the story, that patriarchy is not the divine ideal, and that restoration of what originally was is coming once again.
    As JtM states in the Challenge post, there are pitfalls to supporting one's view using a singular Bible passage. He's absolutely correct! Doesn't it make much more sense to view the issue from a total Bible view? I said before that when faced with 1 Timothy 2:8-15, my response is often "No No No." I think that is because it seems so contrary to me to the rest of the story --to the story of redemption, to the life of Christ, to God as I am in relationship with him.

    Image: The sky from the VA hill one morning.

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    The Big Deal

    We have a movie premier happening in our town this evening. The movie We Are Marshall is premiering at our very own Keith Albee -- stars in attendance.

    I was downtown after work this evening to pick up a box at our church. All of the nearby streets were closed. Lots of couples were walking to the next avenue, dressed in their gowns and tuxedos. People were lined up on the corners near the theater. It is a Big Deal.

    As I drove away from church, I was struck by the contrast. Here I was, going about my regular life, my routine business, as were most of the people around me. Real life continued, while the Big Deal was happening a block away.

    It occurred to me that the same thing happened on the night Jesus was born, and on the days following. The Big Deal was happening -- the Biggest Deal in human history. The innkeeper sent the soon to be parents to a stable for the birth of the son of God; the innkeeper went on with his daily routine.

    Some people noticed. The shepherds listened to the angels, and left their flocks in the fields, traveling to Bethlehem to see the Christ child. Life, interrupted.

    The wise men left what we would consider to be Iraq and traveled across harsh territory to a tiny village. They did it because they believed in a prophecy and in the prophetic nature of a star. Life, interrupted.

    What do we do in life during this Christmas season? I was emailing a friend today; we were talking about how busy this season is. We are both in a state of "when will all of this get done?" I was telling her that I have had a great Advent -- worship, communion, fellowship, friendship -- all of it combining to lift me up this season -- but that nothing else had been accomplished yet. No tree. No gifts. She was wise enough to point out to me that what had made my Advent so great so far was what it is all about.

    My friend, M, was right. It's life, interrupted. Stopping to see the Big Deal. Stepping out of the rush and routine to recognize the Christ in our lives.

    Note: Along the same lines, check out the JM Advent devotion for today. It came to mind as I was thinking about this post.

    Monday, December 11, 2006


    I taught Sunday school a few weeks ago. The lesson was based on 2 Chronicles 36: 22-23 and Ezra 1:5-7. I was interested in the verse 7 from Ezra:

    King Cyrus himself brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods.
    The lesson material that I used discussed how Cyrus had not only allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple, but that he went above and beyond that decree. He also returned to them some of the temple treasures. These physical pieces of their history were to the Jews a reminder of their links to the past -- their history and the continuity that they had with their ancestors.

    I asked our class: "If JM were torn down, and your job was to rebuild the church, what would you want to have available to you that would maintain the continuity between the old church and the new church?"

    It was a loaded question, because it presupposed that they would answer with some physical aspect of our church, and that is what they did. The class members mentioned our stained glass windows, our organ, the altar and the cornerstone of our original building (which is housed in our present narthex). We all know that none of that makes a church. The church is created by God, and his building blocks are his creation -- his children -- us. The rest is unimportant. He will build a church, if we allow him to, in our hearts, our minds and our souls, with love as the mortar.

    That said, the pieces of the temple -- the vessels that Nebuchadnezzar returned to the Jews were important to them. As the lesson material states, returning the treasures meant that Cyrus went above and beyond what was required of him for the temple to be rebuilt. Could the Jews have rebuilt it without the gift of the artifacts? Of course, but the vessels linked them to their past.

    When I thought of the question in the preparation of the lesson for the day, the answer which came to my mind was our cornerstone. I wondered later why I thought that might be important in the rebuilding of our church. It must have been important to those who rebuilt our church in the 30's after the fire which destroyed the original building because they built this stone into the actual walls of the narthex. It is not just on display -- it is a piece of the building -- built into the structure.

    I've come up with a couple of reasons why I think it would edify the building of a new church to include the cornerstone.

    • I did not grow up in our church; I came to it in high school. As I became a part of the church (and it took a few years), I began to feel that I have been entrusted with a legacy. Literally, generations of members have preceded me in this church, working to serve others, to bring the word of God to our community, to try to BE a church. I feel a responsibility to them to continue that work. Don't jump up and down and protest -- I know that I do what I do for God, and that He is the motivator, the equipper, the sustainer, the entire reason for what we all do in the church, but when I think back, I believe that the same motivation can be said of those who came before. The cornerstone reminds me that we have a history -- it is flawed, it is as filled with humans as our present is, but the efforts of those people are part of why we are here today.
    • Look at the cornerstone. Prior to becoming a United Methodist Church or even a Methodist Church, we were a Methodist Episcopal Church, South. That is a sad reminder, to me, of our past. The ME Church, South separated from the ME Church, North over the issue of slavery. The Southern church refused to continue John Wesley's opposition to slavery. We need to reminded of that corporate sin, and the cornerstone does that.
    • I read somewhere that we are one generation away from the failure of the mission of the church. If we do not do our "job," the church will stop with us. I think the cornerstone reminds me of that responsibility.
    The cornerstone is only a piece of rock. God doesn't need it to build a church, but just as he gave us rainbows to remind us of his promises, tassels to priests to remind them to pray, and just as he gave the Israelites the physical reminders of freedom that are present in the Passover, we need physical touchstones of our faith. It isn't the cornerstone, or the windows, or the organ, or even the altar that are important -- it's the message that God speaks to us through them that is important.

    Image: The original cornerstone of our church building.

        Sunday, December 10, 2006

        Prepare our Hearts

        The boys (Steve, G and J) and I lit the second Advent candle today in the worship service. We've done it a couple of times before, and it's always a special event. Today we lit the second candle for Celebration.

        The lectionary reading from the gospel today was Luke 3:1-6, which includes a passage from Isaiah. Verses 4b-6:

        Thunder in the desert!
        "Prepare God's arrival!
        Make the road smooth and straight!
        Every ditch will be filled in,
        Every bump smoothed out,
        The detours straightened out,
        All the ruts paved over.
        Everyone will be there to see
        The parade of God's salvation."

        I see the most obvious interpretation of the scripture. Use this time to prepare your hearts to receive God. Be open and receptive to his coming.

        As I read it this week, I wondered if there were other ways to look at it. Because of grace, we have help preparing for God's arrival. Isn't that what part of prevenient grace is all about? God preparing a path so that he can reach us?

        Perhaps another way to look at it is that because of grace, because of God working within and THROUGH us, we are able to help each other to prepare a path for God to reach us.

        All of that is reason to celebrate.

        Today our church celebrated communion, and Steve and I were asked to help serve. Our associate pastor had a cold, so she stepped back from serving, and her place was filled by another lay member of our congregation. Because of that strange twist of events, Steve and I served communion together -- he the bread, and me the juice.

        I've helped to serve communion before, but for some reason it was special today, and I experienced it in a whole new way. There is a blessing to be found in being the person who serves the juice, and says, "The blood of Christ, shed for you." That blessing is intensified when you can add the person's name to the sentence. To look at a friend, to hand him or her the communion element, and then to say,"Friend, the blood of Christ, shed for you," is a grace I never expected to find today. One particular youth came through our line, and I was able to remember his name (sometimes that doesn't happen), and call him by name as I handed him the cup. I pray that his spirit heard God speaking in what I said. Grace.

        It is all a reason to celebrate this Advent Sunday.

        Saturday, December 09, 2006


        We took J with some friends to go see The Nativity Story this week. J likes to ask questions -- all through the movie.

        Nobody really likes to sit next to J during a movie. You either answer questions the whole time, or sound like you've sprung a leak, "Shhh. Shhh."

        On the way home, J asked, "Why did God make it so Zechariah couldn't talk?"

        I think that's a good question. Why did God do that?

        I've always thought of it as punishment, and I've never liked that answer. It seemed out of character for God.

        One of the devotions this week in Disciplines talked about this question in a way. The author is John Copenhaver, a professor at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia. He says that Zechariah is our model of waiting in Advent. He waited nine months for the birth of his son -- for the arrival of a child promised by God.

        Silence. Time spent not speaking. I've only ever practiced the deliberate discipline of silence for an extended period one time (anyone on an Emmaus walk has) -- if you can call an hour an extended period of time. I think perhaps that God didn't place Zechariah in silence as a punishment, but perhaps as a preparation for what was about to happen. Perhaps God knew what was best for this particular child of his -- Zechariah -- and gave it to him.

        Do we ever do that? Do we ever fast from speaking? I can see a few different applications:

        • An extended period of silence and solitude can remove us from distractions. Ortberg in The Life You've Always Wanted, says that the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith, but that we will become so distracted/rushed that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim through life instead of living it.
        • What about silence during prayer? What about if instead of listing wants and desires to God, we were to sit and listen for God. Instead of deliberately composing prayer, let your prayer muscles be silent, and just sit and think. God will work his way into that, and will start leading us in our silence.
        • Sometimes, I think the discipline of silence just means listening. Stop talking, stop planning your next conversation contribution, and just LISTEN to the person in front of you. We have such difficulty making what the other person is saying more important than the thoughts we want to express. Sometimes we just need to stop talking, and to listen.

        Image: Zechariah from the Nativity Story.

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        Friday, December 08, 2006

        God the Invisible

        Sunday school last week centered around the scripture Colossians 1:15-23. The verse I want to focus on today is this one (verse 15):

        He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (NRSV)

        We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. (The Message)

        What interests me about this is that someone in class (P) said that she didn't believe that God is invisible. Is God invisible? What does it mean that God is invisible?

        I'm not sure what P meant when she said it, but I think I can guess. To her, God is not invisible. He has form, substance, a body, a visible essence that if we were with him, we could see. To us, though, here on Earth, he is not visible -- he is invisible. So a few questions:

        What does it mean to us that God is invisible?

        I like that the student book for Sunday school said, "To say that God is invisible is to proclaim that God is infinitely greater than all things, including "thrones or dominions or rulers or powers." (1:16)

        Compare God to the idols of the time -- physical representations of God. We don't have that. I wonder if that makes it harder for us to understand God -- to get a handle on what he is like or not like. Of course, nothing we could create would come close at all to representing him -- he's bigger than anything we can imagine. So, even in our imagination, God is invisible. We can't see him because he is greater than what we can create.

        Immortal, invisible, God only wise.
        In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes,
        Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of days,
        Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise

        How does Jesus make God, the invisible, visible to us?

        To quote the student book, "Jesus, in person and in action, is the revelation of God. Jesus makes visible the one true God." John states the same in his first chapter, "No one has ever seen God; the only son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known." I also like John 1:14 (The Message): The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son.

        Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
        nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
        thy justice like mountains high soaring above
        thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

        God, who is visible in the kingdom
        Is invisible to us.

        He made us in His own image,
        So we see his reflection when we look at each other.
        But only in a mirror, dimly.

        Jesus, the son,
        Makes the invisible to be visible.
        For he is the perfect reflection of the Father.

        Notes: Hymn is obviously Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (Words by Walter Chalmers Smith (1867) set to a Welsh melody). I love the line, "silent as light." Now here's a weird thing about me. I always find it interesting what hymn is opposite on the page from the one at which I am looking. Know what is opposite Immortal, Invisible?

        Now Thank We all our God. Appropriate.

        Thursday, December 07, 2006

        What's in a word?

        When I was in second grade, my teacher told us that the usage of the word Xmas as a way to represent the celebration of Jesus' birth "took the Christ out of the Christmas. I was appalled. I certainly did not want to be guilty of taking Christ out of Christmas, so I promised myself not the use the word Xmas again.

        Little did I know that the X, which is the Greek letter Chi, was probably closer to the original word Christ than my English representation of it was.

        We do this to ourselves all the time -- we focus on tiny, inconsequential aspects of religion to the detriment of our faith.

        Take, for instance, the hullabaloo last year regarding the use of the phrase Happy Holiday vs Merry Christmas in the department stores. I realize that some people see this as a symptom of the general "de-Christianization" (I made that word up) of our society. Maybe it is, but if it is, do we solve anything by crying foul at the symptom? When our children have colds, do we fuss at them for having a runny nose, or do we try to find relief for them by giving them cold medicine? Which is more effective?

        I received an email the other day. It was an image of a Christmas tree. Below the picture was the sentence, "It's a Christmas Tree! Say it with me --> CHRISTmas tree, CHRISTmas tree, CHRISTmas tree." OK, I understand. It's a Christmas tree. It is not, however, Christ himself!

        What needs to be our priority during this season? If our mission from God is to go and make disciples, do we do that by boycotting stores which use the phrase Happy Holidays? Is there anything about that that convinces those who need to be brought to Christ that God is waiting for them? If we are trying to love God and to love each other, do we accomplish that by sending grumpy emails which proclaim that a holiday decoration needs to have the word Christ in its name? Shouldn't we be more concerned with spreading the Word than we are with the wording of sales signs and the label on a decoration?

        If our goal to to work with God for the transformation of the world, then aren't we doing it backwards?

        Images: First two are my CHRISTmas tree in the lab. In the first one is proof that I don't always pay attention to the things that I should. See the calendar? See the year on the calendar? I print those out each year, altering the ones from the previous year. I changed everything from 2005 to 2006 except the year. And I've lived with it wrong all year. The last image is an evergreen tree on the VA hill.

        Wednesday, December 06, 2006

        Gifts Given

        J was in a program at church last Sunday called The Drum. His role was that of a boy who was very worried that he didn't have a gift to take to baby Jesus. J played opposite of a peddler. The peddler said my favorite line of the entire play: "If Got wants you to have a gift, he'll put it in your hand." The peddler then handed him a drum, not knowing that the gift to be given to the Christ Child would be a song played by the boy on the drum.

        Have you ever wished you had been given a gift by God that you did not have?

        I was sitting at my desk yesterday, looking at an old email that I had written to VBS volunteers last summer, searching for something. In the middle of reading the email, the song Voice of Truth came on the radio across the room. It's one of my favorites, so I got up to turn up the volume (The remote's battery is dead, and don't get me started as to why the radio is across the room). Instead of going back to my desk, I stood there, with the radio, and listened to the rest of the song. I found myself wishing that I could sing; I would love to be able to share God's word with our congregation through song. I am so blessed by music; God speaks to me through music, and I would love to be able to share that gift.

        I know that God has given me gifts, and there isn't one that he has given me that I would TRADE for some other gift, but if he were to give me one more, I would love to be able to sing.

        Once the song was over, I went back to my desk and looked at the email. There, right on my screen, were these words from that old VBS email.

        Never has there been and never again
        Will there be another you.
        Fashioned by God's hand
        And perfectly planned
        To be just who you are.
        And what he's been creating
        Since the first beat of your heart
        is a living, breathing, priceless work of art

        It's a verse from Steven Curtis Chapman's song "Fingerprints of God." If God wants you to have a gift, he'll put it in your hand.

        About an hour later, I left the lab to go take care of something. When I came back, guess what song was on the radio? Fingerprints of God. Just in case I missed it the first time.

        You and I were created by God, imagined by Him, to be "just who we are."

        And then I read this at lunch in Ortberg's book:

        The voice also whispers, do not despise your place, your gifts, or your voice, for you cannot have anothers, and it would not fulfill you if you could.
        I'm not crazy about the verb -- I'm not despising anything -- I love my gifts, but I get it. All I have to do is to be who I was created to be. To use the voice I have been given. To nurture and serve with the gifts I have been given. I will be who I was created to be. No more, no less. Isn't that a beatitude?

        You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought. (Matthew 5:5 -- The Message)

        Tuesday, December 05, 2006

        Three short thoughts

        A few odds and ends.

        First, if you open the dictionary, and you look up the word "brave," you will find a photograph of our son, J. Tonight was the Christmas program at his elementary school. He sang "I'll be Home for Christmas" as a solo. It was innocent and wonderful and brave. Bravo, J.

        I ran across a blog today called realmealministries. Brian has posted four prayers to be used in conjunction with scripture reading that I though were especially eloquent. I'll post one here to tempt you, but go read them all:

        Lord, as I read the psalms let me hear you singing.
        As I read your words, let me hear you speaking.
        As I reflect on each page, let me see your image.
        And as I seek to put your precepts into practice,
        let my heart be filled with joy. Amen.
        Gregory of Nazianus

        Last, our church publishes an Advent devotional each year. In conjunction to the print version, we produce an email version (JMAdvent at yahoo dot com to request) and as a blog (