Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Forever Mine

I taught Sunday school last Sunday. The theme of the lesson was the idea that Jesus is the light of the world.

I always think it is interesting when the discussion in a class goes in a direction that I don't predict. That happened two or three times last Sunday.

Once question we talked about was why the disciples believed in Jesus. Did he have something "extra?" Did they notice something special about him that clued them in that he was who he said he was?

The lead to the question from one of the members of the class: "He's coming back. Will we recognize him when he does?"

The best I could come up with at the time was that I felt like the second coming would be different from the first.

As I was driving home today, I was still thinking about it. At the same time, I was listening to Chris Tomlin's version of Amazing Grace (Want to hear it? Go to the web site for the upcoming movie, Amazing Grace.)

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures
As I thought about it today, I decided that perhaps it's not something that I need to worry about. God has claimed me; I am his child. This is not a game for him. It is not a test. The kingdom of God is in the future, but it is also in the now. We can trust him.

How about that? He has given us his word, and we can trust him. He has given us the Word. We don't need to worry.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be for ever mine.
He will be forever mine. Amazing, isn't it?

Image: It's an albino peacock. I have no idea where the pictures are from; they arrived in my email today.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The work of your hand

Psalm 138

All that is in me
My heart, my mind, my soul
Your spirit,
All that is in me
Is lifted to you in praise.

All that is before me,
All that I might be tempted to place before you,
Pales in comparison to you.
"You shall have no other gods before me."
Before all that might tempt me to disobedience,
I sing your praise.

I humble myself before you.
I surrender all to you.
You are my strength and redeemer.
Even your name is beautiful
The words of your mouth are a blessing unspeakable.

When I called, you answered.
In that realization itself I stand amazed.
You strengthen me.
You equip me.
You give me courage when I am fearful.
You give me strength when I am weak.
You know my every need.

The most powerful
The most honored
The famous, the respected, the heroes
All of them bow before you, Lord.
For in your light, all are nothing.

When we find you,
When we hear you,
May we all sing of your glory,
And magnify your name,
For you are God.

You find your joy amid those who praise you.
In the proud you are disappointed.
I walk in this world, O Father,
Surrounded by troubles.
My life is one problem after another.
Sometimes my worries are huge.
But in the midst of all of that,
You are there.
You never leave
You are God
You have claimed me as your own,
Allowed me to call you my God.
And held me in the palm of your hand.

You have a purpose for me.
You whisper it on the wind,
You lead me down your path,
And in your presence I find joy.
Your love for me is unending,
Your grace is beyond abundant.

Remain with me, my God,
I am the work of your hand.


Monday, January 29, 2007

What is our response?

For the past couple of days, I’ve been part of discussions about homosexuality. What does the Bible say about it? What is the response of our church or our denomination to it? Many questions are tossed around. Is it a sin? Is it a choice? Is sexual orientation a design of God – so that we are made homosexual or heterosexual?

What do I think?

I think each of these questions is the wrong question.

Steve and I were at Starbucks the other night with friends of ours – JtM and his wife, M. We were discussing something else entirely, but the conclusion of the story was this: When the rules and grace conflict, err on the side of grace.

Worth remembering. Worth applying.

How are we called to respond to a homosexual person in our church? We are called to respond to that person in the same way that we are called to respond to any person in our church…

Matthew 22:37-40: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
What does the Bible say about the way we should respond to homosexuals in our community or in our church? That’s it – the greatest commandment. Before we offer that love, are we asked to declare the sinful nature of another? Are we asked to judge whether his or her actions fall into line with what God commands? No, we are not. Jesus places no criteria on the love that we are to show, and we should be eternally thankful that he doesn’t place conditions on the love he shows for us.

We are all sinners. Whether you believe homosexuality is a sin or not, whether it is a choice or not, is not the question.

What was Jesus’ response to us? He loved us so much that he died for us. What more worthy response is there for us to make to that kind of love that to obey him and what he told us to do?

There is a song by Michael W. Smith called Come to the Cross.

Hallelujah, everyone
Everyone can come to the cross.
It doesn’t matter what you’ve done
Everyone can come to the cross.

Sinner, come today
Come today, at the cross there is room
Blessed thought for everyone
For everyone can come to the cross.
I thank God that there is room at that cross for me and for sinners like me. We are all sinners. When I try to push someone else away, judging him for what I perceive to be his sins, I find that I am farther away from God. I have denied someone else grace, and I find that I have denied myself grace.

It is our calling. It is our purpose. It is why we have been made, and what we were created to do. To love each other. No matter what. We are not given the job (thank God) of deciding who is worthy of love or acceptance – we are just called to love.

So the question becomes “How can I love this person?” It’s a heavy responsibility, but it’s all we are asked to do.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Joy of Yes

What are your gifts from God? Do you know? Can you list them? Do you think that they have changed with the passage of time?

We were talking in Sunday school today about the disciples. Was there something special about them that prompted Jesus to call them? Did they have “something extra?” Were they ready made disciples, or did Jesus call them and then God equip them? Were there some called who said “no?”

And if we believe and experience that when we are living in the will of God, answering his calling, using his gifts, that we experience joy, then how much joy must the disciples have felt in those three years, walking with Jesus and following him? Add to that how horrible it must have been for them after he was crucified – their friend had died, their God had died, and what were they supposed to do next?

Do you know your gifts? And do you find the joy of using them, of answering God’s call? And what is it like when you can’t answer God’s call? Or when what you want to do isn’t what you are being called to do?

Aren’t I full of questions tonight?

I think, if asked, I could list my gifts – at least a couple of them. To do that isn’t boastful – it isn’t arrogant – it’s declaring how God is working in my life. He’s working in all of our lives, so that doesn’t make me special or unique. It makes me God’s child, just as we all are. It also doesn’t mean that I always use the gifts to his benefit, or with sufficient skill to allow his will to be done.

I do know that when I do say “yes” to a calling from God that I feel joy. It’s that kid of joy that comes from working closely with God. It’s one of the great blessings of being a part of the Body of Christ.

What is it like when we don’t answer God’s call? I believe it’s frustrating. It has happened to me in the past; it happens to me even today. What do you do when you feel a pull, a need to do God’s will, but circumstances prevent it? I think God understands, but the urge doesn’t go away. The frustration remains.

Hearing a call is a complicated matter. Answering it is even more complicated. I’m blessed that in so many ways, I am able to say yes to what God wants me to do. For there lies joy.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


We talked in class two weeks ago about miracles. One of the purposes of the miracles of Jesus was that they were a "sign" -- a way to affirm his authority as one sent from God. Soon after that, I wrote a post about God-incidences -- those "coincidences" sent from God.

It brings to my mind a question -- How do we determine what is a "sign" and what is really just a plain old ordinary coincidence? How do we know that a happening is a way God is communicating with us or is just an ordinary event in an ordinary day -- chance?

I don't know the answer to that question. I do think, however, that at times we are tempted to view a chance meeting of circumstances as a "sign from God," especially if we feel that it is pointing us toward the decision that we want to make anyway. I think we need to be careful that we don't judge ordinary life around us through the eyes of solely our own preferences.

My own experiences with God-incidents -- the "happenings" I believe are sent from God -- are as confirmations, not decision makers. They say to me, "I'm with you. Don't forget that I'm right here." I'm working right now on our church's Lenten devotional. A member of our church sent me a devotion, right out of the blue. She had never written one before, and wasn't sure if she should, but did it. When I got it, I arbitrarily placed it on a date during Lent that was one of three empty spots, then I read the corresponding lectionary reading for the day. It fit right with her devotion -- just by "chance." I emailed her back and shared the "coincidence" with her. Her response -- "Now I know I was supposed to write it." Confirmation of God's presence.

Image from here.

Friday, January 26, 2007


We have a small grouping of nutcrackers in our entryway. Yes, they are still there. And, no, we haven’t put the Christmas decorations away yet. We will. But why are you worried about it?

Anyway, you can tell by the picture that at this point, they are not particularly artfully arranged. You’ll see why as I tell this story.

See the frog? He was one of those items I saw in the store that was so ugly that I had to buy it. Most people didn’t feel that way. JC Penney’s still had about 100 of them when I brought froggie home. I’m just sure he dances in his spare time. Steve wasn’t with me when I bought him – he probably would have stopped me. “Kim, he’s not cute; he’s ugly.”

“I know he’s not cute. But he’s a dancing frog! I know he is. And he’s half price!”

Apparently yesterday evening (I missed this event – Steve saw it all), Froggie had lost his footing (maybe in some wild dance move while we were at church) and had fallen down. J saw him, and said, “The frog fell over. I’ll fix it.” So as he leans over to pick up the frog, his backpack (full of books for homework) swings around off his back and bowls into all of the nutcrackers, and he got a strike! Every one of them crashed to the ground.

Life is like that sometimes. There are unintended or unanticipated consequences to our actions. It’s hard for a 10 year old to predict the future, and sometimes it’s just as hard for us adults to make decisions which take into account future consequences.

Could it be that that is one of the benefits of prayer and the resulting relationship with God? I’m sure that it is. According to Philip Yancey, in the book Prayer, the word prayer is related to the word precarious. Aren’t we often in precarious positions? When the outcome is uncertain? When we feel a little lost and unable to predict the future?

I would never have known this, but JtM looked up precarious today, and the first definition is “depending on the will or pleasure of another.” Prayer. It certainly functions as a means of communication with our creator. Here we are, in the world, and perhaps it’s when we realize that we are dependant upon the will or pleasure of God, that prayer becomes that very necessary vehicle of communication. Perhaps then it becomes the way that God can give us guidance through the unanticipated and unexpected consequences of what we do.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Pair of Psalms

One of the parts of the order of worship for our Thursday night Common Grounds service is a prayer request time. Members of the congregation submit written prayer requests which are then incorporated into the community prayer. It's a meaningful time; I imagine that most of the members of the Thursday night group, many of whom are homeless or very poor, don't have anyone else who takes the time to pray for them.

There is one gentleman, Fred, who routinely requests that Psalms be read during the prayer time. Tonight he requested Psalms 90 and 91. As they were read in the prayer, I couldn't tell where one stopped and the next one started, so they formed one larger prayer. If you read them, you'll see that the first one is a lamentation and the second one is a Psalm of faith. It struck me, as they were read, that together they were a prayer well designed for Common Grounds. The first part, a listing of the worries and problems the Psalmist was facing, then the second part, a statement of faith in God's protection. It seemed to me to be a prayer that someone from that particular congregation would pray.

I also like the beginning of Psalm 90 and the end of Psalm 91:

God, it seems you've been our home forever;
long before the mountains were born,
Long before you brought earth itself to birth,
from "once upon a time" to "kingdom come" -- you are God.

"If you'll hold on to me for dear life," says God,
"I'll get you out of any trouble.
I'll give you the best of care if you'll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I'll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I'll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I'll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Appropriate Love

I was working in the lab one day, a few years ago. A graduate student from the Medical school was also in the lab, using a piece of our equipment. (I hope I haven't told this story before -- if I have, I can't find it on the blog) He was young, but I believe he had been married and divorced before. He told me that he was ready to start looking for someone else. He then asked me if being a Christian had helped in my marriage.

I stumbled over the answer; I hadn't thought about it before, but I told him that I thought it changed the way we treated each other as husband and wife. I was kind of disappointed in that answer, and over the years, I've thought about it. I think it does make a difference, and while it's not the only way to have a successful marriage, I believe that putting your faith to practice in your partnership will strengthen it.

One of the lectionary readings for this week is 1 Corinthians 13. I've heard many times that that passage is used "incorrectly" at weddings. Many people seem to be of the opinion that weddings are not the "appropriate place" to read about agape love.

Why would people think that?

I do understand that we often associate eros -- romantic love -- with marriage, and why shouldn't we? It's a wonderful gift between two people. Why is it, though, that we think that it can be the only kind of love in a marriage?

We think of agape love as love modeled after the way God loves us. It is the kind of love that is expected when we are told to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (Mark 12:30-31)

Who is your neighbor? We think of Jesus meaning that our neighbor is the child in Indonesia who needs food, or the teenager living on the street, doing drugs. Why is it that we don't think of our neighbor as the person sitting at the dinner table with us?

Not only do I think 1 Corinthians 13 is appropriate for a wedding, but I think it ought to be mandatory reading.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Psalm 71

O Lord, the world is huge,
And I am not.
I run to you, I cling to you,
In you I find protection.
In your presence I find deliverance.
In your hands I find safety.
Hear me and listen.
You are my foundation, my rock.
Clinging to you, I find calmness
Amid the turbulent waters of life.

Rescue me, O God, from evil,
From the cruelness of the world,
From the unjust.
Rescue me, O God, even from myself.
In you I find my hope,
In you I place my trust.
From the beginning.
When I was young,
When I was a child,
Even, God, before I was known by the world,
You knew me.
Hear my praise.

Father, I surrender all to you,
My words, my thoughts, my deeds,
May they all be used for your glory.
I cannot live without your presence,
So stay with me, God.
Even when my strength deserts me
Even when my enemies surround me,
Stay with me, God.

In this huge world, in which I am so small,
I ask you to stay near.
Stay close enough to convince me
Of the certainty of your presence.
Stay near enough to comfort me
When I feel forsaken, lost.
Alone in the presence of those who seek to harm me.
Convince me of your love
When I am my own worst enemy.
I will never give up hope,
I will praise you forever,
I will tell your children of your grace.
May I be your messenger,
Delivering the news of your handiwork
The joy of your salvation,
Even though you are completely
Beyond my comprehension.

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
You have walked with me through my life.
I will honor you every day.
As my eyes grown dim,
And my hair turns gray,
As my steps turn from skipping to shuffling,
May you never walk away.
I will tell my children,
Their children,
And their children of your love and grace.
I will pass on to them this marvelous hope.

When my steps falter,
When darkness settles across my path,
You lift me up, and give me life.
You are my comfort and my God.

I will glorify you with whatever gifts
You have given me.
I will sing praises to you with my life.
As my lips proclaim your amazing glory,
My soul echoes my song.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Trusting in the WILL BE

I mentioned yesterday that we had a devotion at our officer's training about silence. It was a DVD, and the man who was delivering it was speaking about Elijah (1 Kings 19). Elijah is told to go to a particular mountain -- that God will be there.

What I particularly noticed about the way the speaker phrased it was the tense of the verb he used -- "God will be there." Not "God is there."

I don't often climb mountains. In case no one ever mentioned it to you, mountains are high. Great effort is usually required to climb to the top, and that is complicated by the idea that you can FALL OFF of a mountain side.

In effect, Elijah is told, "Go climb up this mountain. Risk everything, and climb to the summit. God's not there, but he will be, so wait. Trust. Be patient. He'll show up."

Truly, if I were to climb the mountain, it would take me so long that God would have been there, and already left, but we'll set that aside for a moment.

Isn't life like that sometimes? Do we find we are in a place where we thought God had sent us, and we stand there, waiting? How difficult is it to stand in faith, knowing that our response to God has been based on the idea that God WILL BE there?

I listened to a song by Barlow Girl this morning called "Never Alone."

I waited for you, today
But you didn’t show, oh, no.
I needed you, today.
So where did you go?

You told me to call
Said you’d be there.
And though I haven’t seen you
Are you still there?

I cry out with no reply
And I can’t feel you by my side.
So I hold tight to what I know
You’re here.
And I’m never alone.
So what do we do? It's easy to trust when God is present. It's easy to know we are on the right path when we can feel God holding our hands, but life's not always like that. Trust is cheap unless we have it when we can't feel God. Trust can't be based in how we feel; it has to be based in faith. It has to grow from a faith that says, "God has promised, and I believe that his Word is true."

The song goes on to say:

And though I can not see you.
And can’t explain why.
Such a deep reassurance
You’ve placed in my life.

We cannot separate
Because you’re part of me
And though you’re invisible
I trust the unseen.
So we can climb the mountain with the firm knowledge that God WILL BE there, because he said so.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


We had an officer's training session yesterday at church. We began with a devotion about silence. Are we so distracted by the noises of everyday life that we fail to hear God?

I thought about that. There were a few questions asked in the devotion that warrant examination, so I'm going to take the time to do that here.

When was the last time you experienced silence? I need silence, and I have a need for solitude. Because I'm aware of that, I find the time to include it in my schedule, although it usually just happens naturally. When I haven't had it, I am grouchy and on edge. The devotion asked us to remember the last time we had experienced silence. For me it was my devotional time earlier that day, plus the hour before the training. I drove down to church with Steve, and spent an hour working on the blog in our conference room. Which brings me to a question of my own....

Does silence require emptying your mind? I suppose silence, in some cases, might mean a mind empty of thoughts and distractions. What worries me is that I think some people believe that God ONLY comes to us when we are very quiet. God pulls me closer when we work on the blog. He wanders through my mind when I turn off the radio in the car and just think about the challenges of the day. Sitting in the conference room yesterday morning before the training, next to the kitchen, working on the computer, I could hear the rumblings of conversation coming from the social hall as the men ate breakfast. It wasn't silence, but it was comforting and warm. God can speak to me in that kind of "silence."

Are we called to silence? Sometimes I think we are, but we are called to silence only temporarily. It is not to be our permanent home. Our calling from God -- our mission in this world -- is in the noise, not in the silence. The silence is preparation for our time spent in the noise. In the noise is where we find other people. It is where there are homeless people who need to be fed. It is where we find children who need to hear about God. The noise is where our community is found -- the body of Christ which nurtures and sustains us. Silence is only the launching point -- not the destination. The only one who is loved in the silence is God. In the noise, we find our neighbors.

Can God use the noise to further his work in the world? I'm sure that he can. The devotion listed several "noise factors" in our world. Can these be a means of ministry? Can noise-makers such as the phone, voice mail, email, TV and the radio be used for ministry? I know I minister and receive God's blessing through email. The radio (or the iPod) in my car is a means for God to speak to me through music. Ever been touched by God through the telephone? I have. Don't discount the role of the noise-makers in bring God into our lives.

Allow God to prepare you in the silence. Don't be so intent on silence that you miss the noise of God. Go from silence into the noise of the world to do ministry. And never forget that God can use anything to bring about his kingdom - even noise.

Image: Ice encased bushes near our home

Saturday, January 20, 2007


What is a coincidence? I went to, and found the definition listed as:

  1. the act or condition of coinciding : CORRESPONDENCE
  2. the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection; also : any of these occurrences
In other words, two events which are related by accident by seem to have a connection.

Do you ever look at two events, and believe that instead of being related by accident, they are connected by God? In his book, Prayer, Yancey calls these "God-incidents." He's certainly not the first person I've heard use that word.


  • A week ago Thursday night, dinner was being prepared at our church to feed our Common Grounds congregation. Hilda, our church hostess, felt a need to add more ground beef to the chili, so she did. The night before, there had been a fire in a business across the street from our church, and the firemen had been working around the clock to deal with its consequence. That night, our church fed the fireman, too. One volunteer told our class the next week that they had the exact number of sandwiches and the exact amount of chili to make that happen.
  • When we started our Wednesday night class, we ordered books for those who wanted them. JtM and I decided to go ahead and order a few extras so that if other people stepped forward to take the class, we would have books available for them. I "guessed" at the number of books to buy. Every book we bought found an owner, and no extra were required. We had exactly the number of books we needed.

If you read this blog with any regularity, then you may have noticed that I've talked about others. They happen all the time, and I think they are nudges from God to remind us that he is with us, and he doesn't want us to forget that.

We can't prove that they are God-incidents, and not just plain coincidences. C.S. Lewis says, "The impossibility of empirical proof is a spiritual necessity." Yancey goes on to quote Lewis, saying, "Only faith vouches for the connection. No empirical proof could establish it." We don't believe that what we see are God-incidents because of proof. We believe God intervenes in the world because of faith.

Does that have anything to do with prayer? I think it may have everything to do with prayer. We bring our concerns to God, and we have faith that he will act in the world. We have faith that he wants us to work with him to achieve his will in the world. Again, quoting Yancey, "Trusting God's character, we can see in the relation between our prayer and an event more than coincidence. We see a true partnership, intimate and intertwined."

Look at the definition of coincidence again. Notice the word "Correspondence." That word is defined as "the agreement of things with one another." A God-incident is a way in which we can know that we are in agreement with God -- that our method of communication for our partnership (prayer) is working, and that our will is aligned with his.

One more quote from Yancey:

A rabbi taught that experiences of God can never be planned or achieved. "They are spontaneous moments of grace, almost accidental." His student asked, "Rabbi, if God-realization is just accidental, why do we work so hard doing all these spiritual practices?" The rabbi replied, "To be as accident-prone as possible."

Image: Trees and winter sun at VA.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Purpose of Prayer

I've mentioned before that I'm reading Philip Yancey's newest book, Prayer. I'm a little over halfway through, and I like it.

What is the purpose of prayer. I can think of all kinds of reasons not to pray, but as you read the Bible, you will find numerous examples of prayer, including prayers of Jesus. Obviously, it has a purpose, and just as obviously, God expects us to pray.

Yancey says, "The main purpose of prayer is not to make life easier, not to gain magical powers, but to know God."

I was listening to a song my Mercy Me called On My Way to You. The lyrics:

Almost there, almost where I'm supposed to be
It's not all clear, but you keep showing me
With every step, the more my heart moves to your beat
Just like where I'm headed, there's joy in the journey

Teach me to think like you think
Show me the things that are true [ohh]
Finish the work you have started in me
As I'm on my way to you
As I'm on my way to you

Create in me a pure heart and make me new
Less of me, Jesus more of you
Here I stand, still I'm drawn down to my knees
It's not my strength, but Your's that carries me
It occurs to me that this is one of the purposes of prayer -- it is to engage in a relationship with God. We tell God what is on our mind, and he shares with us who he is. Relationship.

Image source: Free -- this link


Thursday, January 18, 2007

I still have that?

I’m wearing a cross today that I don’t often wear. It’s pictured in this post. It’s not that I don’t like it – I do – it’s just that I don’t often think to wear it.

I had a gold chain in my hand this morning, and I was rummaging though my jewelry box, looking for a pendant to hang from it, when I ran across this cross. Every time I see it, my thought is, “I still have that?”

Many years ago (many, many, many) when I was a member of the youth group at our church, we went on a summer tour, singing our way across the United States, from West Virginia to Texas. We spent a week in El Paso, teaching what I would call a vacation Bible school for young children, some of who were children of illegal immigrants. We had a free evening, so our pastor and youth leaders took us to Ciadad Jaurez – the town right across the boarder in Mexico. We spent the day shopping and walking around, then had dinner (a very hot chicken dish!) and went to a dog race.

Come on, J and M, can’t I convince you to take the youth out of the country, into Mexico, to a dog race? As we were getting ready to cross the boarder, our pastor, Jerry Wood, told us that if any of us smarted off to the boarder patrol as they came on the bus, we would be left at the check point until hours later, when Jerry would return with the rest of us to pick up the miscreant. It’s a wonder we all lived to tell the tale.

Anyway, while shopping, I bought that cross. The chain is long gone, but somehow I’ve been able to keep the cross for – good grief – almost 25 years.

Are we ever like that? Do we ever have an awful day – a day where we are so far away from God that we can’t feel his presence at all? Then, at some unexpected moment, his presence is felt, and we wonder, “I still have God in my life? How is it that he has hung around through this awful day?”

I think that may be one of the uses of a physical reminder of God as we walk through our day. I mentioned before that I was given a set of prayer beads at the beginning of the year. So far, since I’ve received them, they gone with me, in my pocket, to every meeting at church, every class I’ve taught. A reminder. A reminder to pray; a reminder that God walks with me; a reminder that other people are praying for me; and a reminder of whose I am, and why I’m at that meeting or teaching that class. We wander so far away sometimes that a physical “touchstone” can be a blessed assurance that God isn’t lost, and neither are we.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Special Occasion

Years and years ago, a gentleman in our church, who I think is a wonderful man, came up to me and told me that he thought we served communion too often. I'm not sure how often that it was served then, but now we have communion once every two months. It may have been the same then; I'm not sure. He was telling me because he thought the committee that I was chairing at the time might be able to reduce the frequency of the sacrament in worship.

Contrast that to a story told in class tonight about a pair of twin boys in our church. They were at the grocery story with their grandmother, and wanted to know if she would get some of that fizzy grape drink that they had on New Year's Eve. She told them that that was only for special occasions, and one of the twins responded, "Oh, you mean like communion."

I love that he thought communion was a "special occasion." He's so right, and we could all learn from him.

How do we look at communion. Do we see it as a slow moving, depressing church obligation that takes time away from lunch? Or do we welcome this means of grace into our faith experience?

Perhaps it was (and is) the Emmaus experience that has given me an appreciation for the sacrament of communion. We're going to have to miss our monthly Emmaus gathering this week to go to a band concert that G is playing in, and I already regret that we will not be able to celebrate communion with our Emmaus community. I will miss it.

An invitation to join God at his table. It is certainly a "special occasion."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Baking bread

Tonight I'm baking bread. It's an interesting and somewhat challenging procedure -- yeast needs a certain amount of heat to rise -- too much and it dies, too little and it doesn't rise at all. I tried cinnamon rolls tonight, which I've never done before. Let's not mention them again, OK?

The process has gotten me thinking about yeast. Jesus told a parable about yeast:

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with hid in three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’ Matthew 13:33
It's a short, little parable, isn't it? What does it mean?

I looked around on the internet and found some conflicting interpretations, so who knows if what I'm going to say is right or not, but it's an interpretation that I like:

  1. Three measures of flour is about 40 pounds. Forty pounds of flour is a lot! Yeast could easily be hidden in forty pounds of flour.
  2. One source said that yeast was considered unclean in the Jewish society. Remember unleavened bread? Women weren't thought of very highly, either.
  3. Yeast is a living organism. Through fermentation, yeast metabolizes sugar to release ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. The gas is trapped in the matrix of the dough, and causes it to rise.
  4. This parable comes right after the 'mustard seed' parable.

Looking at these tidbits, and thinking about baking bread tonight, I think the parable says much about Christianity.

First, I think it speaks to the idea that Jesus took what was once considered unclean (yeast) or of little value (women) and placed value on them. He transformed them.

Many interpretations will call the yeast "the church" and the flour, "the world." The yeast (church) is to mix with the flour (world), but should not loose it's yeasty characteristics. I'm not sure I like that. If you think of bread baking, it is the flour which is the main ingredient in the bread. The whole story is about the flour. What's important? The flour.

What if the yeast is grace? What if the yeast is Christ? What if the power -- the rising power -- is the power of God? The woman is mixing a very small amount of grace into a large amount of flour. The flour is transformed by the yeast into bread. In the process the yeast dies -- it is heated to inactivity by the baking process.

In the parable, the woman is transformed from worthless to an agent of grace -- she is the one who brings the yeast to the flour. The power of God -- Christ -- the yeast -- enters the world because of the woman, and transforms the world -- changes the flour into bread.

I like that it follows the mustard seed parable. A tiny amount of faith is all that is needed.

What do you think? Am I way off track?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Water into Wine

You may have noticed that the graphic I loaded with yesterday’s post was six clay jars. One of the weird-nesses I have found with using Blogger – especially in the last six months or so – is that in order use Blogger’s servers to store my images, I have to load them prior to typing any words in the post. If I type first, then the image pretends to load, but never appears. Why is that? Does anybody know?

Anyway, so I had intended to write about John 2:1-11 yesterday, which is the description of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. I loaded the image, and then just stared at the screen. Nothing. Nada. Not a single thought. I can only sit with the computer on my lap for so long before I decide that the topic will have to wait for another day. I liked the image, though, so I left it.

This morning I spent some time re-reading the Miracles chapter of The Jesus I Never Knew for class this week. Maybe now I have my thoughts in order enough to write this post.

I was reading a post by the Cheesehead in Paradise, a Presbyterian minister, who called the incarnation of Christ “the great do-over” – our second chance. I kind of like that metaphor. Joe preached about this miracle yesterday, and he called it “Out with the old and in with the new.” He compared the water in the clay jars, which was to be used for ceremonial cleaning to the Old Testament laws and ritual. Jesus, by turning water into wine, changed the burden on the laws into the new covenant, symbolized by the wine of communion – the blood of Christ.

It’s good symbolism. Yancey used it as well, except he equated the wine with celebration. I think I may like that, too. Jesus changed the heavy burden of the laws and rituals to a celebration – JOY. There is now JOY to be found in our relationship with God through Jesus. It’s the great do-over. It’s the coming of Grace.

The question which always occurs to me when I read this passage, is why Jesus changes his mind. At first he tells his mother, in effect, not now. It’s not his time, and she doesn’t need to be concerned with the wine at the wedding banquet. And yet, he performs the miracle. Why is that? Why does he change his mind. Yancey says that this was the first, but surely not the last time in Jesus’ public life that “he changed his plans to accommodate someone else.” Is it as simple as that? She asked him to do it, so he changed his plans, and did it?

This action was not just running down to the nearest WalMart and restocking the pantry with extra wine. This action would reveal Jesus to his disciples and to the servants who helped him. Surely rumors of the miracle would leak out? This was the launch of a series of events which would eventually lead to crucifixion. Did he change his plans just because she asked him to?

It does illustrate to us a particular point, however. How often are we so set in our ways and dug deep down in our own plans that we fail to hear God speaking to us? Do we recognize that sometimes God’s guidance comes to us from other people? Do we even notice that the words or advice coming from someone else might be God’s leading?

And then there’s Mary (thanks to Jeff for pointing this out). She just hands Jesus her concern. She has faith that he can do something to fix the problem – she never questions that he CAN. She just hands him the problem and walks away. She doesn’t question him, she doesn’t come back and check on him. She surrenders what is wrong and never picks it up again. Do we do that? No, not usually.

It’s the great do-over. The difference is that this time, we have grace. This time, God is only waiting for us to listen – to trust and obey.

Image: From Hermanolean, as was yesterday's image.


Sunday, January 14, 2007


Last Wednesday, during the book study that JtM and I teach, we had a "side" discussion about gifts. It wasn't the main point of the class, but a few minutes were spent on the topic.

One woman, who has found her ministry in the church, serving food to our Common Grounds congregation, was speaking passionately about the Thursday night service. Someone else in the room mentioned that her own gifts did not lie in that area.

This evening, I was reading this post (that's a hyperlink) which is the main points of a sermon concerning 1 Corinthians 12. She called the post "Like Fingers Need a Thumb." We all have gifts from God. All of us. Gift discernment is important; we need to be self-aware and "God-aware" enough to figure out what God's gifts to us are. We also need to listen carefully to those around us who can see our own gifts better than we can at times.

The idea which worried me from the Wednesday class is that sometimes we look at what someone else is doing in church, and we say, "I can't do that -- that's not my gift." We forget, or we ignore, that we all have gifts. Just because we are not gifted to do one particular thing, doesn't mean we get a "pass" on doing anything at all.

The point of the sermon to which I linked above is that we need each other. We are a body of Christ. She writes:

The truth is, we do God no favors when we try to ignore/downplay/deny either our own giftedness or the reliance we have on the giftedness of others. And it doesn’t work anyway, not in the way God intends for things to work together for the goodness of all. In doing so, we deny the very inbreaking of the Spirit that we are promised in the gospel, and we attempt, albeit feebly, to subvert God’s plan for the church.
We need to find our gifts and put them to use. We also do no one any favors by denying that we have gifts. We NEED each other -- we need each other to use our gifts.

One of the gentlemen in the class that I taught this morning was discussing the benefits of a life lived with God compared to what society describes as a good life. What he was hinting at was that when we find our gifts, and use them for the benefit of the body of Christ, and to glorify God, we will find joy. We will be blessed beyond our imagining.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

John 5

I'm working on finishing the notes for a Sunday school lesson that I'm teaching tomorrow. The scripture is John 5:19-29. The key verse for the lesson is:

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life (verse 24)

The purpose of the lesson is to explore the connection between faith, judgment and eternal life.

I've had some trouble working through the "logic" of the lesson, so I'm going to outline it here, just to see if it flows:

  • The authority of Jesus comes from the Father. Jesus is doing what God is doing. Because of that, Jesus is able to heal the paralyzed man on the Sabbath -- God is working in the world all the time, so Jesus is, too.
  • Jesus is doing amazing miracles, but because the father and the son are one, Jesus knows that even more amazing, astounding actions are about to happen. Miracles are not just a sign of the power of Jesus through God. They are signs that Jesus is carrying out the redemption of the world - the same redemption that God is doing. God is working to change a world that is living in sin -- he is working to overcome the effects of a fallen world, a world which includes sin and death.
  • Jesus has the power to give life, and that power comes from God.
  • Jesus has the power of judgment, given by God. Think for just a moment of judgment in a different way. We have the power to decide between a life of light and darkness. We make that judgment ourselves -- it is our choice.
  • To acknowledge the son means to recognize him as Lord. When we do that, since they are one, we are also acknowledging the Father as Lord.
  • When that judgment is made, we move from a life in darkness to a life in the light. We move from to eternal life. That eternal life begins now -- it is not something we are waiting for -- it is something that we experience beginning now. A life with God.
  • Instead of thinking of the "dead" in the passage as those who have experienced a physical death, think of it as spiritual death. Jesus has the authority and power to confer spiritual life on his hearers.

Eternal life begins as soon as we make the judgment to chose the light over the darkness. It is grace -- a gift. God doesn't make a judgment that we have done enough to earn it. He gives it to us.

We experience divine judgment as grace -- guidance from God. It is the presence of God, working with us to discern what is right and wrong.

I think. Maybe.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Prayer

I just opened my email, and found a gift. I am honored that its writer has consented to allow me to post it on the blog.

I am convinced -- convinced -- that my husband has been given a gift by God -- the ability to pray heartfelt and authentic prayers, guided by the Holy Spirit and sent to the heart of God.

This is what I found in my email this evening -- a prayer written by Steve:

Dear Heavenly Father; “We Worship You”. Standing together, almost as if on the tip of a wishbone, we, with our Christian brothers and sisters, shout our beliefs and testament of faith. Then, while the words are still warm in front of our faces, we begin our separate journeys along our separate sides of the wishbone, staring across a chasm so wide and so deep, never to agree again. Each side taunts the other and we dare each other to come up with the winning piece when the final break occurs. How can we be so far apart in our mission when our goal, at the beginning, was EXACTLY the same? Our mission takes on our own agenda and ceases to focus on you. We don’t agree on when to worship. Sunday morning early, Sunday morning late, Sunday evening, Wednesday, Thursday, everyday? All or none of the above. How do we worship? A formal sermon from the pulpit, a moving minister, costumes, organ, piano, brass, and, oh yes, do we dare clap with praise and enthusiasm and joy at what has just moved us? Who should worship? Clergy, laity, children, men, women, the homeless? To feed or not to feed. Can we truly nourish our souls when the only sound heard is the groaning of a hungry body? ‘Where’ is a monumental question. Are you, God, only in the beautiful sanctuaries? Are you in the kitchen, the parking lot, the wooded camps? Have we offended you by carpeting our floors, padding our pews or enhancing our experience of your message by projecting a computer generated image onto a freshly painted wall or pull down screen? The count of your followers also represents the number of opinions to all the questions asked here. We know we have choices. Our ability to think and reason and agree and discuss are among our greatest gifts from you. But when we use those talents and gifts to only outwit other Christians for our own end, wow, have we missed the point. When we bully a friend with our size, age, church position or community position then WE have become the mission and you aren’t even invited to the meeting. Lord, don’t let us rise above our station. We are servants. You are the Master. Every fiber of our being should be to glorify you. Line us up as if at the mouth of a mighty river, flowing swift and true. We move as one. When we encounter a rock, an obstacle to our progress, we flow around it and come back together on the other side united as if never divided. Spare us from becoming as the single drop that splashes on the rock and is evaporated in the noon day sun.
In your Son’s name

And Amen!

Prayer Expectations

I’ve started reading Philip Yancey’s new book, Prayer. I’m five chapters in, and so far, I’m liking it. I’m writing all over my book – stars, underlines, comments. I’ve only been reading it for two days, so 1/5 of the way through is a pretty good indicator that I like it.

He ends chapter 5 with a discussion of the differences between men and women. I wrote the word "stereotypes" in the margin of the book (OK, actually, if anyone comes after me and reads my copy of the book, I wrote more than that – but let’s stay on topic). I have a real problem with assuming we know people by looking at them through the lens of a stereotype, but for the sake of argument, let’s follow through with this one, because I think it brings up an interesting question.

Understand that Yancey is describing the discussion that occurred at a class he was attending. The class was engaged in conversation about the book You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen.

The theory is that women "lament." Tannen actually uses that word as a kindler and gentler form of another, harsher word. In comparison, men are more likely to be “fixers.” Women want sympathy or empathy, and men either want to fix the problem or be silent about it (Right – men NEVER lament). This particular part of it sounds suspiciously like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus to me.

Tannen explains that women bond through suffering – that we connect through the affirmations gained through lamenting. Men, on the other hand, see no purpose in complaining if the problem cannot be fixed. If it can be fixed, then they feel an instinctual need to fix it.

I’m not going to argue the validity of this theory, except to say that I know that men complain, and that I also know women have the need to 'fix' things (just ask my mother). To be totally honest, I do both. There are times when all I want is an ear to hear my problems – I have no need for anyone else to fix them (the problems, I mean, not my ears). Other times I have a real need to FIX a problem, and grow impatient with the lack of action that I sometimes see.

Ignoring the lack of universal truth in the stereotype, let’s carry it forward into the idea of prayer. Do men pray with an expectation that God will fix the problem? Do women pray with only a need for God to hear their lamentations? If that is the case, then do we look at how God answers prayers differently? Do men generally expect an action from God while women do not?

What do I think? I think that Yancey would tell me that I’m looking at prayer from the wrong direction. I like how he defines the purpose of prayer in the earlier chapters. "The main purpose of prayer…is to know God." To quote Tim Stafford as mentioned in Yancey’s book, God "already cares about the things we pray about…He has simply been waiting for us to care about them with him."

So the question might most effectively be asked, "What are God’s expectations of prayer?" Is he disappointed in our approach to communication with him? One more quote, this time from Abraham Joshua Heschel, "Contact with Him is not our achievement. It is a gift, coming down to us from on high like a meteor, rather than rising up like a rocket."


Image: Sunrise over interstate this week.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sliding on ice

I was driving the boys to school on Tuesday. It was kind of early, the sun was just beginning to rise, and there were patches of ice on the road. Nothing major, just patches here and there. As we came to one of them on Norway Avenue, I let my foot off the gas, and we just coasted over it. G said, "Hey, Mom, do you know what you do when you come to a patch of ice when you are riding a skateboard."

Well, I NEVER ride a skateboard, but I am Mom, so I said, "Get off your skateboard and carry it?" adding in my mind, "So that you don't break your leg?"

"No." (I beg to differ. I still say I'm right.) He then went on to explain what "you" do when you and a skateboard meet ice. I would quote him for you, but I didn't understand a word he said. It involved something about reversing the direction of something else and turning the wheels....I have no idea. When he described the results of this maneuver to me, in my head it translated as "Next, you spin around and around on the ice."

He obviously thought this was mega-wonderful. Not me. To me it sounded like skating on ice on a skateboard -- essentially out of control, and risking the wrath of one's mother when one falls down and breaks one's leg!

Out of control. Sliding on ice.

So we turned the corner to go up the hill to his school, and the car fishtailed slightly on ice, which just sealed my opinion.

Ice is bad. I do not want to be out of control, especially on ice, especially on wheels.

It all about trust and skill. G trusts himself on a skateboard. He knows how to "throw his weight around" and control what those little wheels are doing. He doesn't care if he falls down; it's part of the skating. He is coordinated, he has practiced, he's good at what he does.

Does God ever throw us onto the ice? Does he ever ask us to risk falling down for his sake? I think he does. I think in times like that he is asking us to trust him. He is pointing to the relationship that we have developed with him, and asking us to rely on it.

At the beginning of this month, I became the lay leader of our church. Every time I type that, my fingers stop moving when I get to the 'l.' I think I've only said it out loud once, to a friend who isn't a member of our church. (Hi, MB!) It used to be, last year, when I sent out emails on "church business" that I needed to "sign," (for people who don't know me), I would include my name, my "job" name (Nurture Chairman), and our church's initials (JMUMC). This year, it's been my name and JMUMC. I've left off lay leader.

I'm not sure that I know what it means to be lay leader. Don't get me wrong - I know that I'm learning what it IS. I've read the book; I talk all the time to our outgoing lay leader. It's just that it's going to take some time to figure out where the wheels are, and where they are supposed to go, and how I'm supposed to steer them in that direction. I'm not surprised by this; I expected it to be this way, and there is some joy in figuring out the moves of the dance.

I do kind of feel like I'm sliding around on ice, but I'm not walking into this unprepared. I learned a few things last year, and one of them is that God trumps fear -- every time. So I'll trust, as best I can. An hopefully, I'll obey. And hopefully, one day, instead of being only grace-filled, I'll be graceful as well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Can you imagine?

The scripture reading that was the basis of today’s Disciplines devotion was Isaiah 62:1-5. It talks about Israel being given a new name by the Lord. “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married, for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.” (verse 4)

This is a word for exiles. They are being told that God is reclaiming them, redeeming them, bring them back to himself, back to the land that had been entrusted to them. It is a time of joy.

How big is your imagination? When you look at your child, when you see him as he is today, can you imagine what he will be like in 10 years? Can you look at your child, and imagine what her child will be like when you hold your granddaughter in your arms? Can you imagine?

Maybe we can. We are made in the image of God, and he has gifted us with the possibilities that our imagination can create. How big is your imagination?

When Steve and I were walking the dog last night, he said, “I know if I can’t imagine it, I can’t have it.” He was talking about something very concrete, but is that true of us?

Can we imagine what God wants us to become? The new names that God gave Israel speak to His divine imagination – they speak to what he hopes and wishes for his people to become. Delight. Committed to him.

The author of the devotion says:

The new names, here and anywhere, offer a glimpse into the divine imagination. They help us know what Love sees in us. And like guides in the wilderness, lights in the dusk, or a long-forgotten scent in the air, they help lead us back to our best and truest selves.
If holiness is a reflection of God’s character, and that transformation to holiness is a gift of God, then can we imagine what he wants us to become? Is our imagination big enough? Can we possibly know what perfect Love sees in us?

Somehow, even though some of us have wildly creative minds, I don’t think that even we can possibly create in our thoughts what he has in mind for us. I don’t think it’s true that if we can’t imagine it, we can’t have it. In this case, we have to trust the one who can imagine it for us, the one who created us with a thought and a word, and who has given us a new name – “child of God.”

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

God touches

There is a concept in the Grace chapter of Yancey's book -- the one I discussion yesterday -- that I really like. The Jews in the time of Jesus were very afraid of becoming unclean. By following the ritual food laws, by maintaining their distance from those they considered to be untouchable (as I talked about yesterday), they were attempting to make themselves acceptable to God.

What was interesting to me was that the way in which Yancey described that Jesus turned this concept upside down. When Jesus touched a person with leprosy, that person was healed instead of Jesus becoming unclean. When Jesus touched the dead body, instead of becoming unclean, Jesus resurrected the body. Yancey quotes Walter Wink, who said, "the contagion of holiness overcomes the contagion of uncleanness."

I read a post today by Brian Russell, who defines holiness as "refecting the character of God." The journey to holiness is transformational. God touches us and changes us.

Isn't that an interesting and important difference? The Jews of Jesus day were attempting to become acceptable to God by what they could do. On this side of the cross, Jesus touches us, God touches us, and transforms us into a holy people, acceptable to God.


Monday, January 08, 2007

The Beauty of Grace

I've mentioned before that I'm team teaching a class based on the book The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. We've had a break over Christmas, but we start back up again this Wednesday. As part of the preparation for teaching, I re-read the chapter that we will be discussing; I did that today for chapter 8, which is called Mission: A Revolution of Grace.

As I read the chapter, I was struck by how much it sounds like the Beatitudes chapter that I talked about in the post linked here. One of the premises of that post, which discussed chapter 6 in the book, was that the Beatitudes are a reversal of what we would expect from life in general -- that life in Christ is backwards. I came to the conclusion, as I looked at the Beatitudes, that they are ultimately about grace.

It is interesting to me that this chapter about grace reminds me of the Beatitudes. According to Yancey, "grace introduces a world of new logic. Because God loves the poor, the suffering, the persecuted, so should we. Because God sees no undesirables, neither should we. By his own example, Jesus challenged us to look at the world through what Irenaeus would call "grace-healed eyes."

I am reminded of the song by Relient K -- Be My Escape, which has the line, "the beauty of grace is that it makes life unfair." Who do we consider to be "untouchable?" Who do we think are the "undesirables?"

We have a church service on Thursday nights called Common Grounds. It is attended by the poor, the addicted, the lost, and the hungry. I think there are many who would consider this congregation to be composed of the "undesirables" of our city.

I was struck by a sentence in this chapter -- we are "brought back to common ground, as sinners equally desperate in our need of God." What is our common ground -- it is that we are all sinners, and that none of us is considered untouchable, undesirable, or unlovable by God. Grace makes life unfair, and we should thank God for it.

So what do we do to allow God to work through us to bring grace to those around us? I think it is important that we realize that we all matter to God. Sometimes we have trouble believing it of ourselves. Sometimes I think we have trouble believing it of other people, like those who attend Common Grounds.

We need to offer our best. We need to give of all of our gifts to the Body of Christ -- surrendering them all to God's use. We need to remember that we are blessed by God, and because of that, we are able to be a blessing. That's grace. That's the reversal. It is in loving that we becoming lovable. It is in forgiving that we find forgiveness. It is in the act of following God that we find Him.

Image: Tree at VA, converted to grayscale


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Common prayer

At our Thursday evening service last week, the seminary student from our church, who was in town on Christmas break, preached. Her topic was liturgical prayer.

How do you feel about liturgical prayer? I've spoken to people who call the prayer we do in unison in worship "a script" for a "show." Do you feel that way about it? Do you believe this prayer has any power?

What about "pre-prepared" prayer -- prayers in a common worship book or prayer written by someone else to be prayed by us? How do you feel about those?

I see possibilities for grace to enter our lives through all of these.

  1. I think that the spirit can move through a congregation when they pray the same prayer, in unison. There is something special about the unity that can be felt when a group of people pray the same prayer. It can be liturgy written by someone in a congregation, or it can prayers written by someone long ago. Do you feel continuity with Christians from the past when you prayer the Lord's Prayer -- prayed by Christians for hundreds of years?
  2. When the prayer is written well, or when God transforms it for us, do you feel the "Amen?" Do you want to say, "Yes! That's exactly what I wanted to say."
  3. One of the most personally effective uses I have found for pre-written prayers is to create in myself an attitude of prayer. Have you ever heard of prayer beads? I've found them on the web over 1 1/2 years ago on the site Full Circle Beads. Using the information on that web page, I made myself a set of them. The design of the beads matches the prayers that go with them. If find the use of the repeated prayer to be a great way to leave behind the rush of the world and to draw up a chair with God.

I received the very special gift of a new set of prayer beads today. They are beautiful, and I will always treasure them. The beads have a tactile quality and a weight that makes them special.

Images: Last Friday, when we took J to his skating party. The two pictures in the post are of the sky -- same sky -- one ot the West which shows a fansastic sunset. Turn around the other way, and see a rainbow.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Surprise Me

You agonize over the choice of just the perfect gift. You spend weeks trying to decide if the gift is the right one or not. Finally, you go to the store, and pick up your choice. You buy paper, bow and ribbon, for surely a gift this special deserves the best "clothes" you can find for it.

The wrapping takes time -- each corner must be perfect, each piece of tape hidden from view. The bow is perfectly centered atop of the perpendicular ribbon. It is finally ready.

You present it to your loved one, and wait in anticipation as it is opened. This is the moment you have been waiting for -- that moment of surprise when the gift is revealed. Your biggest hope is that the recipient will somehow, from the gift, understand once again that the most important part of the package is the love which was wrapped all through it. You'll know the person understands when you see the look on his or her face -- surprise, delight, wonder.

Part of what I do at the church where I am a member is to work on our devotional ministry. These devotions are written by members of the church, and are distributed to anyone interested through a written booklet and through an email subscription.

One of the devotions which was written last week sparked a response from one of email subscribers. That reader, who lost her husband a year ago December, wrote to tell me how much a particular reading about new beginnings had touched her. When I read her email, I was convinced, once again, that God works through this ministry of our church to deliver grace upon grace to his children.

I forwarded the message on to the author of the devotion. She wrote back to me, saying, among other things, "...we expect God to use us and I guess we shouldn't be surprised when it happens."

For over a year now, I've been trying to walk around with "Open Eyes." I've been attempting to be open to the workings of God - to notice when He is at work. I've seen Him everywhere -- all around me. Each and every time, I am surprised. At this point, I expect to find him -- and yet every time I do, I find myself amazed by his presence, standing in wonder at his continued incarnation in the world. I don't ever want to NOT be surprised.

It is in the surprise, in the joy of his gifts and his presence that I find myself worshipping him.

The prayer at the end of today's Discipline devotion is this, "God of unexpected surprises, may we walk in the light of your promises this day. Amen." And Amen.

Note: The prayer was written by Amy Laura Hall, and published in Disciplines 2007.

Light Leading to Light

Matthew 2:1-12 Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14 Isaiah 60:1-6

Included texts (Italics and indicated by asterisk)
* Matthew 2:6 (from Micah 5:2)
** Isaiah 60:1-3
***Psalm 72:12-14

Three men,
Wise in years and
Old in wisdom
Stood in front of King Herod.
Their surroundings were opulent,
Rich in the most extravagant of ways.
The tones of the ones in the room were hushed,
And the king was secretive.

“I have been told,” he whispered,
“That in the small town of Bethlehem,
A child has been born.”

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel. *

“Tell me, if you know,
Tell me, if you can,
What about this baby?

This wonderful baby who has been born
And will be king of the Jews?
I want to worship him.
I want to pay him proper homage.”
The king’s words were slick,
Almost seductive in their tone.
These men had been following a star.
How can a star be a secret?
Not trusting the king,
And yet not seeing any danger,
They told him of the star they had been following.
This star that had become an obsession,
A quest.
They told him how they were searching for the child,
And how they believed that this star would lead them to him.

The king smiled,
A smile of maliciousness masked in patronizing approval,
Pleased in their cooperation.
He told them to stay on their quest
To let no obstacles deter them.
To find the child.
To send word to him. “
I am as anxious as you are.
I await your news with uncontainable anticipation.”

The men set off,
Not easy in their visit with the king,
But determined to follow the star,
And find the baby.
Once again, the star led the way.
Light pointing the way to light.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
And thick darkness the peoples:
But the Lord will arise upon you,
And his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your dawn.**

Their guidelight, the star
Stopped in a surprising place
The antithesis of where they had been.
A humble dwelling, bathed by starlight,
Containing the light of the world.

Their search had ended
They had found the baby
Held gently on the lap of his mother.
A king, above all kings.
Son of David.
Son of God.

For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.***

Overcome with joy,
Overwhelmed with awe,
They offered him gifts
Fit for the king that he was
Or at least the best that they could bring
Gold, frankincense and myrrh

His mother watched.
Nothing escaped her notice
Not even that one of the gifts
Was for use at a death.
She held the baby closer,
And gave thanks to God for this gift.

Men, wise and perceptive
Listened to their dream
Another gift from God,
And departed,
Traveling a different way
And avoiding the danger of Herod.

A quest completed
A quest for Jesus.
A star followed
A light found.

The men, wise in their years,
Left behind their gifts,
And took with them
A gift beyond price.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Be My Voice

Psalm 29

I depend on you, God’s many angels.
I count on you, His heavenly creations,
To praise his name,
When my lips fall silent,
When I stand here, a creature of dust,
Made silent in amazement at his glory.
Fill the heavens with His praises,
Glorify his name with your sweet songs,
For there are times when my throat closes,
And my tongue falls silent.
There are times when his majesty is too great
For my feeble songs and my useless words.

His voice is never silent.
It echoes across the waters
Lifting waves in its wake.
His voice is powerful,
Mighty and glorious.
His voice is majesty.

The bass of his voice makes mighty trees tremble.
Even the most towering,
Even the ones which seem to reach all the way to heaven.
The tenor strains lift me to my feet,
And give me wings to skip like a child.

His voice has the heat and flash of fire,
It shakes the wilderness,
It thunders across empty land,
Land not seen by anyone.
His voice even reaches to the wilderness of my heart,
His breath warms my coldness.

His mighty voice,
His powerful exhalation,
Stirs the leaves of the trees
Whips them around as if a mighty storm were passing.
His exhaled breath,
Strips away the leaves,
Strips away my pretenses.
Leaves us all bare,
Until all that we have left
Is to glorify his name.

Our mighty God sits high in heaven,
Enthroned as a king
A reassurance for all of eternity.
He gives me strength.
He gives us strength.
He creates in us a mighty and powerful ability
To do His work in the world.
He rules from heaven,
And he gives us the wonderful blessing of peace.

Praise His name and His mighty works,
Be my voice, all you angels,
For when I stand here speechless.


Thursday, January 04, 2007


I work my way through CD’s. I listen to one song for a while, move on to another, move on to another…. So, lately, here on the blog, Mercy Me has been, and probably will be a focus, because that’s where my mind is. Oddly enough, I’m working my way through two different CDs at once – "Almost There" and "Undone." I can do that through the magic of an iPod – no CD switching.

Anyway, this morning, I’m listening to Unaware.

Forgive me if I stare
But I am taken back
That you would let me here
Regardless of my past

My hands are shaking now
But I catch my breath somehow
I am free at last.

Unaware of my fears
Unaware of my shame
Nothing else matters to you
But glorifying your name.

I’ve written a couple of posts about what heaven might be like (here and here). Could it be that this is another glimpse? To stand in the presence of God, wondering at the grace of being allowed to set foot in His kingdom? Standing in the presence of God, and finding that one is free – free of the feelings of guilt, of fear, of shame. Transformed by God, by his own choice.

Heaven must be standing in the presence of God, feeling the full force of his love, undiluted by distance or by sin. It must feel a little bit like standing in front of a furnace, with the door open, and the fire burning inside so strongly that the color of it is white.

Consider this. If heaven is then, if the kingdom of God is then, it is also now. We can’t feel that full force of God, undiluted, but we can be in God’s presence. Have you ever found yourself in the presence of God, and wondered how it happened?

Tell me how I got here
I couldn’t make it on my own
Just tell me I can stay
Cause it feels so much like home

And I lose all track of time
When I look into your eyes
Your love is all I know.

"Your love is all I know." The key is love. The key is always love, I think. A minister I know once asked a class I was in, "Why are we here? What is our purpose?" Her simple and truthful answer was, "To love." To love God and to love each other.

When we do, we find ourselves closer to God. Standing in his presence. We are so aware of him, that we forget to focus on our fears, our shames, and they are lifted away.

I’m aware I’m in a place I couldn’t be
If you weren’t there to call my name and rescue me.

Unaware that I still breathe
Unaware of everything
Knowing you’re aware of me

That’s grace. That’s what God does. He lifts away what keeps us apart from him, makes us aware that he is aware of us, and gives us freedom.

Heaven. Here on earth, and it’s because we love him and because we love each other.

It’s because we are a Body of Christ. It’s grace, and it’s in big things and small things – around us all the time, reminding us that He is aware of us.

Image: Sky at the VA this morning.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Isaiah 43:1

One of the verses I read this morning was Isaiah 43:1

But now thus says the Lord,
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

I was struck as I read it and thought about it by how much is encapsulated in those five lines – it seems like almost an entire theology.

But now thus says the Lord

Do you remember the old commercial, "When EF Hutton speaks,..." and everything would get quiet? God is speaking. He is God, and we need to stop and listen. Those few words should speak to us about the order in life. God is God, and we are not. We need to stop and pay attention. I was listening to a song today (another one by Mercy Me, called In the Blink of an Eye). In it is the line, "How can I further Your kingdom when I’m so wrapped up in mine?" Our focus is sometimes on our own kingdom instead of on God. God is talking; we need to listen.

He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel.

This passage is from Isaiah and was directed to the Jews – God's chosen people. I am reminded that we are outsiders. We are "gentiles." We began this quest into Christianity with the women who Jesus told, "First let the children eat all they want for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (Mark 7:27). We were the outsiders. We have been taken into God's care, accepted as children! We need to remember that when we look upon someone else as an outcast.

He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel.

Look at those lines again. We aren't children adopted by God. We are his creation. Doesn't it remind you of Psalm 139? "My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance." (15-16a). Imagined by God. Designed by God. Created and formed by God. We are known completely and thoroughly. He created us by speaking us into being.

Do not fear…

He tells us not to fear, and yet we fear anyway! We fear so many things. Is fear the opposite of trust? We even fear letting go of our fear. There are many things which God does not promise to us, but one of the promises he does give us is that we can trust him. He is trustworthy. So, do not fear…

For I have redeemed you,

What does it mean to be redeemed? There are lots of definitions of redeem, and I think many of them apply (from

  • To buy back, to win or get back
  • To free from what distresses or harm
  • To free from captivity by payment or ransom
  • To extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental
  • To release from blame or debt
  • To free from the consequences of sin
  • To change for the better
  • To atone for
  • To make worthwhile
We have been redeemed by God, and it means that we are freed from harm, given aid, released, freed from sin, we have been atoned for and changed for the better. We have been made worthwhile!

I have called you by name; you are mine.

Who knows your name? Your REAL name. The name that describes who you are. The name that you call yourself. Every once and a while someone will call me Kimmy. Kimmy is SO MUCH NOT my name. Someone who calls me Kimmy might as well call me Jane. My name is Kim, and God knows it. He knows we well enough to use my name.

I am terrible with names, and I hate it. I would much rather have a memory for names. There is something special about being called by your name. Use my name, and I know you are talking to me. You have me in your mind. You are not talking to just anyone, or whoever happens to be standing in front of you; you are talking to me.

When we are baptized, we receive our names. We are called Christian. We are given the blessing of carrying our redeemer’s name. It is one of the ways that God says, "You are mine."

God knows our names, and he claims us as his own.

Image: The moon came down out of the sky this morning and visited us in Huntington. It was round and huge as I drove to work.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What is Worship?

The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.
Isaiah 29:13

What is worship? How do we define it? How do we know if we are worshipping? How do we avoid the pitfalls described in the above Isaiah passage?

My iPod has been playing one particular song all day long. It is the song "I Worship You," written by Peter Kipley and Reggie Hamm and sung by Mercy Me on their CD Almost There.

I've been walking with a big grin
Singing with my eyes closed
Lifting up my hands
I've been lost in the moment
Sending up praises
Now I think I understand
When I open up and let it flow
I feel your touch and then I know

Does worship depend on lifted hands? On the emotions of the moment? We spend a lot of time in church talking about worship style -- traditional vs contemporary vs emergent. Does any of that make a difference? Are any of those kinds of worship more "holy" than any other? How do we know if our worship is pleasing to God? If it is truly worship? How do we know if we are "getting it right" or only going through the motions?

I like the final two lines of the verse, "When I open up and let it flow, I feel your touch and then I know." Is part of worship accepting the invitation of God to draw closer? And can we tell if we are worshipping if we "feel his touch?"

I'm standing on the edge now
Looking to a new place
Going deeper still
The feeling is electric
The power and the glory
Just move me where you will
Cause you take the song and make it fly
Into my soul

I do understand that worship cannot be measured by our emotional response. I think, though, that maybe we can judge the authentic nature of worship by our communion with God. Do we feel closer? Do we feel moved? I love the line, "You take the song and make it fly into my soul." When we began the natural church development process, our coach told us that we should leave worship feeling joy. I balked at that, at first. But if joy is that resultant response to what we do coinciding with God's purposes and needs, then I think he may have been right. It doesn't mean happy - it means that the spirit in me is dancing because God is pulling me closer. That's electric.

I can never live without it
And I'm never going to doubt it
Everyday it's new, yeah
There's nothing any better
I'll be singing it forever
I worship you

What is our response to authentic worship? Do we leave worship knowing that we have been in the presence of God? And do we have the certainty that we "can never live without it?" I think being in the presence of God results in the need to be there again. "There's nothing any better."

I think that we can determine if our worship is authentic -- if it has been pleasing to God -- by its fruit. Does worship change US? If we are close to God, and brought closer through worship, then I can't help but think that we will be changed.

Really, the kind of songs we sing, the structure of the service, and the appearance of the room are all basically immaterial. What is important is that we bring God the best we have -- we give him all of what he has given to us. Do we do that? Is our worship the best we have to offer?

I just want to dive into your grace
I want to feel your presence,
seek your face
I just want to be where you are

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Beginnings

Heavenly Father;

It's the first day of a new year -- a day the brings us the hope of new beginnings. Help me to remember, each day of this new year, that because of your son, each and every day is a new beginning.

Help me to remember, God, that forgiveness is not only something that I receive, but is also something which I give. This year, help me to set aside grievances and anger. Help me to pick up grace, and help me to give it away.

I come to you in gratitude today, Father. I am thankful for all of the times you have walked with me this past year -- in unexpected and unpredicted ways. As I stand at the threshold of a new year, I pray that you cross through the door with me. Having seen you, I do not wish to ever continue without you.

I thank you for the comfort of hope in this new year -- for the realization that you are a God of new beginnings.

In your son's name, Amen.

This year, God, may


It's New Year's Day -- it's time for some housekeeping around here. There are three new posts on the blog to help me to do that.

First, I've removed the poems written in 2005 and 2006 from the sidebar and replaced them with links to each year's group of poems. The poems are now indexed in posts for each year, and I've included in the index scriptural references or events which inspired the poem. They are listed in order from newest to oldest.

Do you see what I'm doing? I'm making room for poems to be written in 2007. Is that anticipation or hope?

Secondly, my devotional plan has evolved over the past few months, so I've updated that in the sidebar and with a post.

All this housekeeping is putting me in the mood to take down the Christmas tree.

No, actually, it's not.

Have a happy New Year!

Poetry -- 2006

Poetry from 2006