Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Nine Lessons and Carols

After I wrote the poems to parallel the Nine Lessons and Carols, I thought I might have some fun placing them among hymns and carols, so that is what is included in this posts.

As you read this, you'll find some of the music which floated through my Advent and Christmas season, music that I just like, and music that I found for just this post. Not all of them are carols. I don't imagine that any congregation could actually sing all of these songs -- probably way to0 much, but I did have fun picking them.

Scripture and poems are hyperlinked. Some music is. Hymn numbers are from the United Methodist Hymnal unless otherwise specified.


Holy Creator, we come to the incarnation of your son as a people in darkness. We are broken, sinful and lost. We are in need of grace. Fill our worship this day with light and joy, inhabit our praises, encourage our confessions and affirm our forgiveness. You are the source of every blessing. Awaken our realization of your grace. In the name of the son you sent to bring us into the light, Amen.

Call To Worship:
Leader: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of Power and might, come to us today. We lived in darkness, and yet you have graced us with light.

People: Sing verse 1 of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing using tune Hyfrydol (Hymn 400 (Robert Robinson); tune found with hymn 196)

Come, thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of thy redeeming love.
Leader: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of Power and might, light for us your way. Teach us your Word, lead us in songs of praise.

All: Come, Emmanuel, joy of every longing heart.

First Lesson from Genesis 3: 8–15; 17–19 (Adam and Eve, hiding in the garden)

Poem: Walking into Darkness
Hymn: I want to walk as a Child of light (Kathleen Thomerson) (206)
Reading: Canticle of Light and Darkness (205) using Response 2
Second Lesson from Genesis 22: 15–18 (Abraham and Issac)

Poem: Can You Even Imagine?
Hymn: Lord of the Dance, Verse 1 (Sydney Carter) (261)
Hymn: Love came down at Christmas (Christina G. Rosetti) (242)
Transition: Sing verse 1, In the Bleak Midwinter (Christina G. Rossetti, Gustav Holst) (221)

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Third Lesson from Isaiah 9: 2; 6–7 (Light in darkness)

Poem: Could We Dare Dream of This?
Carol: O Little Town of Bethlehem (Phillips Brooks, Lewis H. Redner) (230)
Hymn: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Charles Wesley, Rowland H. Prichard) (196)
Fourth Lesson from Isaiah 11: 1–3a; 4a; 6–9 (Lion and Lamb)

Poem: Peace
Carol: Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (Theodore Baker +) (216)
Hymn: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (211)
Transition: Sing verse 2, In the Bleak Midwinter (221)

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Time of Prayer

Prayer Response from Congregation:

Emmanuel, Emmanuel (Bob McGee) (204)

Fifth Lesson from the Luke 1: 26–35; 38 (Mary’s dream)
Poem: Expectations
Solo Anthem: Breath of Heaven – Words & Music by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton
Carol: To a Maid Engaged to Joseph (Gracia Grindal, Rusty Edwards) (215)
Sixth Lesson from Luke 2: 1; 3–7 (the Birth of Jesus)

Poem: His Wife Slept
Carol: What Child is this? (William C. Dix) (219)
Solo Anthem: Joseph’s Song – Music and Lyrics by Michael Card
Transition: Sing verse 3, In the Bleak Midwinter (221)

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air
But his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
Seventh Lesson from Luke 2: 8–16 (The Shepherds and the Angels)

Poem: Light in a Manger
Carol: O come, all ye faithful (John F. Wade) (234)
Responsive Singing: Rise up Shepherd and Follow (Afro-American Spiritual) (TFWS, 2096)
Eighth Lesson from the Matthew 2: 1–12 (Wise men)

Poem: Star Leading to Light
Carol: Sing we now of Christmas (Traditional French Carol) (237)
Ninth Lesson from the John 1: 1–14 (Word)

Poem: Word With Us
Hymn: Go Tell it on the Mountain (Afro-American Spiritual) (251)
Offertory: Trombone and piano duet of Sing we now of Christmas/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Prayer of Dedication:

Response: Sing verse 4, In the Bleak Midwinter (221)

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can give him: give my heart.
Rise up, people of God. You are blessed beyond imagination. Christ is alive in this world and in you! You are a people transformed by Grace. Go forth, as one blessed by God, and be the light in the world. Amen.

Response: Sing Verse 4 of Hidden Christ, Alive for Ever to Hyfrydol
(Hymn 102 in Upper Room Worship Book (Brian Wren); Tune found with hymn 196)
Christ our hope, alive among us, take our love, our work, our prayer
We will trust and tell your purpose, braving evil and despair;
In your name befriending, mending, making peace and setting free,
Showing, giving, and acclaiming signs of joy and jubilee.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008


My husband attends a prayer/study group on Wednesday mornings called Andrew's Brothers. They have been reading and discussing the book The Shack.

At one point, Papa (God) (in the book) says that he doesn't want to make everybody Christian. The group spent much time discussing this idea. Is there only one way to God?

A recent survey found that 70% of Americans believe that religions other than there own could lead to eternal life. The survey is discussed in an article in the New York Times. You can read it here.

Check out this last paragraph:
Now, there remains the possibility that some of those polled may not have understood the implications of their answers. As John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said, “The capacity of ignorance to influence survey outcomes should never be underestimated.” But I don’t think that they are ignorant about this most basic tenet of their faith. I think that they are choosing to ignore it ... for goodness sake.

I do have an opinion on this matter, but that's not what I want to write about tonight. What really bothered me about this article is that John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, explains the results of the survey by saying that the respondents were ignorant.

Why do we do that? Why do we respond to ideas with which we do not agree by calling those who espouse them "ignorant."

If a group of men in a Bible Belt state, in the City of Churches can spend more than one week discussing this idea, then obviously there is more than one realistic opinion. It bothers me that there are those who would imply that an opinion other than there own is ignorant.

Rather small minded.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Believe it or not

There is a scene in the movie The Replacements when the football players are discussing the game that they just lost. The coach, Gene Hackman, asks them what they fear. There are various funny answers -- bees, spiders -- and then Keanu Reeves gets to the heart of the matter. He fears quicksand. He fears the point at which the game seems to reach a point when they are in quicksand -- loosing, with no hope of recovery. Bad things start to happen, and the players become convinced that nothing can be turned around.

In his Faith and Doubt book, Ortberg says that the critical value in healing is "whether the healer has faith that healing will happen." I was surprised by that. I would have thought that the critical factor is whether the patient believes that healing will occur. Not the case, says Ortberg.

But then, as I think about it, in a church situation, I think it might be important whether the leaders -- the pastors and the leading laity -- believe that growth is possible. Do you think that a church can reach a point when -- even though everyone is working hard to jump start a church to growth -- if those leading do not believe that the efforts will be successful that they have reached quicksand. Quicksand -- that point at which failure feels inevitable.

Do we have enough faith in God to believe that the work we are doing will be successful because of the involvement of God

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Sunday, December 28, 2008


Ortberg, in his book Faith and Doubt tells a story about a group of scientists and God. The scientists decide that they know everything and that they don't need God anymore. They select one from among them to go tell God their conclusions. "God, we can make it on our own. We know everything about life that we need to know. We can duplicate it; we can clone it."

God challenges them to a man-making contest. "Fine," they say.

He tells them that they will do it just like he did in the beginning.

The scientist says, "Sure, no problem." He reaches down and picks up a handful of dirt.

"No," says God. "Get your own dirt."

I think that's one of the reasons that I can believe in God and in evolution. Evolution is not creation. Evolution is change -- it is adaptation. It doesn't start with nothing and create something. Evolution just changes what already is.

Why are there those who do not accept that God has a physical means by which he has shaped the physical world?


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Simeon and Anna

My church sponsors a devotional ministry. The members write weekly devotionals all throughout the year, and then in Advent and Lent, we write daily devotionals. These are emailed to about 225 people. In Advent (through Epiphany) we publish an Advent Devotional booklet. I coordinate the ministry, and am blessed to hear how many times people forward the emails and how it has touched people -- people we don't even know.

I wrote the devotional for tomorrow, so I thought I would do a little advertisement on the blog and point you to the web site for the devotionals ( for the advent to epiphany devotionals, for the Lenten devotionals, and for the weekly ones.

Instant hot chocolate. Fax machines. Email. McDonalds. Remote controls. Jets. Federal Express – when it’s got to be there overnight.

We are a society that has grown accustomed to instant results – results that are in our control and are established according to our own time tables.

I was in a conference in November. One of the topics of conversation was the utility of email as a communication tool. The facilitator of the class warned that while email could be useful, we should be careful, because it could create difficult to meet expectations. If you email me, you might be waiting for an answer to arrive within an hour of two.

Consider the stories of Anna and Simeon as recorded in Luke 2:22-38. Simeon had been waiting in expectation of seeing the Lord’s Messiah. We are not told how long the wait had been, but I imagine that it was long and difficult. He waited and waited and waited until finally a young couple arrived in the temple with their infant son. His waiting had finally been rewarded; he was a witness to the Christ.

There was also a widow, Anna, living in the temple as a widow of 84 years old – quite old for her time in history. She spent her time in fasting and prayer, but when Jesus and his parents arrived at the temple, she was drawn to see them. Her life of waiting had been interrupted by a moment of worship and praise.

Anna and Simeon could not control the timing of what happened. They certainly did not see instant results to their prayers. What they did find, though, was the light of the world – the salvation of the gentiles. Their lives were changed by what they witnessed.

Can we do the same as Simeon and Anna? Can we give up our desire for control and instant results and learn to trust God? If we did, can we even begin to imagine the transformation that would occur in our lives when we witnessed the Christ?


Friday, December 26, 2008

Actions and Faith

  • The church is serving dinner to homeless people on Christmas Eve. You know that you should go and help, but you don't want to.
  • Morning worship is at 10am, but it's Sunday, and you really want to sleep late.
  • The person in front of you in line is taking forever at the grocery store. You would like to tell her to stop asking the clerk about the freshness of the broccoli, and just move along.

What is your response? Do you do what you believe to be "right" even is you don't feel like it? Is there value in doing "good" when you don't want to, and are only doing it out of guilt or obligation? Do you wish sometimes that you felt more spiritual and faithful so that when you are confronted with these kinds of situation, you are motivated by joy instead of guilt

I was reading Ortberg's Faith and Doubt. He explained that as the disciples followed Jesus, they found that when they did what Jesus did that his teachings actually made sense.

As I read that passage, I wrote in the book, "Will our actions help to increase our faith? Can faith be made more alive through actions?"

I think that perhaps it can.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

And him, too?

We had a discussion in our Bible study class last week. As we read the nativity story in Matthew, we noticed the number of dreams which directed the actions of Joseph and the wise men. The question was asked, "Why go through all of the trouble and risk of these dreams to avoid Herod? Why allow him to murder the two year old son? Why did God just get rid of Herod?"

It would have been less trouble and less risk to the child to just eliminate Herod from the equation. Why not?

My first reaction -- and still my reaction to the question is that God doesn't work that way. God doesn't "eliminate people" to protect his plan. It's kind of a knee jerk reaction, based on my understanding of God.

Later, I was thinking about it, and I had another thought. God sent his son to save us.

God sent his son to save Herod, too.

Amazing, this grace.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christ comes

It's Christmas Eve.
Actually, it's Christmas Day.
I just haven't been to bed yet.
It's 3:01 am.

Are all the packages wrapped?
Stockings stuffed?
Is the house ready?
Cards signed and sent?
Am I sure they are signed
before they were sent?
Breakfast ready to be fixed tomorrow?
Did I get everything done?

Christmas comes anyway,
ready or not.

Cookies baked?
Gifts given?
Out of town presents
sent out of town on time?
What about her?
Did I get a gift for her?
Piano teacher?

Christ will come
Granting forgiveness and peace
even if we haven't prepared.

Oh, what about batteries?
Floors swept?
Bows taped in place?
Wreathes hung -- no.
Tree up -- finally.
Dinner dishes running in the dishwasher?
Breakfast dishes ready to use?
What about the dog?
Does she need a treat?
Stockings stuffed?
What if the hook falls out of the mantle?
Will I get ready in time?

Thank God that I'm not in charge
of the arrival of God in my life.
Thank God that it is a gift of grace.
Thank God that there is nothing I need to do
to earn the right.
Thank God that Christmas comes,
ready or not.
Packages wrapped or not.
Floor clean or not.
Cards mailed or not.
Christ comes.
Thank God.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christ with us always?

Read this passage from 2 Peter 3:
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation (verses 11-15a)
Do we hear fear at the discussion of end times? Is that the right response to this passage? Do we miss the command to live our lives in a way which demonstrates our conviction -- our core belief -- that Christ lies and reigns in our lives. how would we live if we believed he might walk in our door -- tomorrow? Today, even? Shouldn't we be living a life that says that Christ is with me always? We say we believe that, but do our actions demonstrate -- provide a witness -- to that belief?

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Mary's song

In the sermon on Sunday, Jack talked about Mary. We took a look at the Annunciation and the Magnificat from the book of Luke. He said that she is the model of modern discipleship -- submissive to God and yet standing up for justice. Her beautiful poem is not one that would have been written by a young girl who wasw only quiet and subdued. Take a look at a few of the lines:
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Luke 1:51-53
Can you imagine this young girl being the mother of Jesus? She would have spent time teaching him about justice and righteousness. I wonder how he saw her? Obedient to God and a wonderful example of a child of God.

And I like how she is not portrayed as a young girl with no mind of her own or thoughts that matter. She is singing her own song of action for God.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yet to be done

The Friday Five at RevGalBlogPals last Friday asked this question:

Tell us five things you need to accomplish before Christmas Eve.

At the risk of depressing myself, here goes:

  • Finish shopping for Christmas presents. I know we're not finished shopping, although I'm not sure yet what we need to pick up. I think a list needs to be written.
  • Wrap. Sure would be nice to finish this before the 11pm Christmas Eve service so that we can go to bed when we get home at midnight, rather than staying up to wrap.
  • Hang ornaments on the tree. Yes, JtM and MT, the tree is actually up, although it doesn't have ornaments. Just lights. But that is a step in the right direction. Of course, it is a pre-lit tree!
  • Finish cleaning the living room, clean the kitchen, bathroom and hallway. Shut the doors to the other rooms.
  • Shop for groceries for Christmas Eve dinner.
Don't wreck my day and tell me it can't all be done. Christmas is coming, and it will have to be done. So there.

Image: In the front of the altar at church.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Image for the day

Too tired to write -- I keep falling asleep with the lap top on my lap.

This is an image of the sky as we drove home on Friday.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Time for change

The communion meditation at our Emmaus Gathering this evening was about changes. God comes into our life, and changes us. That shouldn't be surprising -- there are times when we know that we have been changed. There are times when our transformation -- or our journey through transformation is obvious. Even to us.

God brings about changes in us, but he also equips us for change. He enables us to be flexible instead of rigid. In him we find that we are secure enough to accept and to even be excited about change.

Or so we say. Or so I say.

I am challenged by change. Sometimes. There are times when I can face change and find it exciting -- never looking back. Other times, not so much.

Over the past several months, there have been many changes in my life. Some of them have involved my work at church. I was telling a friend the other day that there had been many things at church that I had stopped doing. Change. I wasn't sure if I were still using my gifts as well as I could be or not. And I wasn't sure if there was something else that I should be doing.

I still haven't answered that question. I have very often found joy in doing the work that I do at church. I have seen God working through it. Now there is much of it that I am not doing anymore. At times I have wondered if there are other things that I should have picked up or if this is just a time that I am supposed to hang back. Sit on the sidelines.

Daryl said tonight that God doesn't love us and then throw us away. Don't get me wrong. I haven't felt thrown away -- not at all! As my role has changed, though, I have wondered if God had something new waiting for me or not.

It all sounds very strange coming from someone who has recently been employed by the church. I wonder if my "church work" has just changed focus, and I'm not seeing that. Perhaps this isn't a time of sitting out of using my gifts, but of adapting to a change in what and where I am using them.

I still don't know.

Image: Sky on the way home today.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obligation vs Grace

In the book Faith and Doubt, John Ortberg talks about a poem by Robert Frost. A husband and wife are arguing about whether to take in a homeless man. The husband says that "home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." The wife disagrees and says, "I would say, rather, home is what you don't have to deserve."

Everyone has probably heard the first quote, by the husband. It is often said as a phrase to offer comfort to people. It says to people that you will always have a home, even if no one wants to provide it for you.

Why do we never quote the second phrase? Why don't we talk about grace? I wonder if we don't take comfort in that second phrase because we don't really believe in grace. We don't really believe that we have a home, but we don't deserve it -- we don't find security in grace.

Isn't that amazing? Isn't it odd that we will say on one hand that God never breaks his promises, and say that we believe that, and yet we won't trust grace. We don't believe that God will love us even when we don't earn it.

We'll believe that someone will provide us a home out of obligation, but not out of grace.

Image: Our tree last year.

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Is joy an attitude?

I attended an Advent Luncheon today. The message concerned the idea of joy. The lay leader of the church where the luncheon was held delivered the message, and he did a great job. I wonder, though, about one of the thoughts he expressed. Is joy an attitude?

I think of joy as the emotion we feel when we are convinced of the presence of God. When we are close to God, we feel joy. It's not happiness -- it's not giddiness. If it were, then we would only experience joy during good times. We know, though, from watching people, that there are those who are joyful even in tragedy -- even when they are far from happy.

That seems to be an impossible task -- beyond our abilities. And perhaps it is. Perhaps joy is a gift of grace from God. Could it be that without God's help we would not experience joy? And if it takes God intervention, then can we say that joy is an attitude? Saying that it is an attitude implies for me that it is something that we can do on our own. If we just try hard enough, if we just keep watching for God hard enough, then we will bring about joy on our own.

Sometimes we can. But in those deepest, darkest moments, can we rely on our attitude for joy? Or must we rely on the grace of God?


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Word With Us

The ninth lesson is John 1:1-14.

In the beginning there was God
Before anything else
There was God.
In the beginning there was the Word
The Word was God.

God spoke
And the world came to be.
Created. Imagined.
Life, born of light.
Light, more powerful than the darkness.

God sent a man named John
Who spoke of the Word.
John was a witness to the light.
God had prepared a way
And John pointed to the path.

God sent the Word.
Creator of the world.
And yet the world did not know him.
Those who believed what was spoken,
Those who had faith by what was seen,
Those who followed what was done,
Became children of God
Heirs of his power,
Born of his Word.

The Word became man
And walked among us.
From him we learn the nature of God.
Through him, we can see the glory of God.
Because of him, we know truth.
Grace is given to us,
So that the Word can dwell within us.
Light, so that we can have life.

Image: Nativity scene in my office.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Star Leading to Light

Lesson Eight among the Nine lessons is Matthew 2:1-12.

Searching for the light
Wise men always seek it
Wise women always open their eyes to find it.
In the darkness,
In the absence of God,
We search for the light.

Wise men from the East,
Keeping watch over the skies,
Turned seeking into action
And followed the star.

Trusting logic,
They stopped in the accepted place to find a king
In the most obvious location,
A king they found,
Although not the one for whom they were searching.
They found a king,
But not the Light.

They asked for news
Of the one to be born of the Jews.
The question,
instead of the yearning
Felt by the wise men
Created fear among those who would be threatened.

Those who knew the prophecy
Knew that the Bread of Life
Would be found in Bethlehem.
They knew that from the least,
Would arise the King of All.
The Son of God.
Shepherd to Israel.

“Find the light,”
Said the king.
“Find the light
And bring me news
That I might worship him, too.”
Lies spawned from fear.

The wise men followed the light
That led to the light.
They found Mary and Joseph
Obedient to God.
They found the baby,
And worshiped him.
They brought treasures
Gifts which they valued highly
Doing homage to the most high.
Precious gold for royalty
Fragrant tears of frankincense
Holy, portentous myrrh.

The joy was overwhelming,
The moments spent with the child
A treasure unequaled.
Wise men, fooled not by lies,
Obedient to their dreams,
Returned home on a different path,
Their lives changes
By the light.

Image: Rev. Brown of St. Marks UMC in Charleston places wise men in the hallway near his tree. As Epiphany approaches, he moves the men closer and closer to the nativity tree.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Light in a manger

The seventh of the nine lessons is Luke 2:8-16.

It was dark.
The hillside was shrouded in black
As the shepherds slept with their flocks.
Smelly, noisy sheep.
A charge to keep.

Suddenly, without warning,
An angel of the Lord stood before them
Light surrounded them
Frightening. Terrifying.

Do not be afraid
An impossible command.
Followed by impossible news.

News of great joy
News for all people
News of the birth of a child
In Bethlehem
A child of David
A child who is Messiah, Lord

Who could believe it?
The angels told them
That they would find the child
Wrapped in cloths
Lying in a manger.

Before they could grasp what this meant
They were surrounded by angels
Praising God
Singing of the birth of the Lord
“Glory to God in heaven
Peace on earth
Peace among his children.”

After the angels left
And silence surrounded them in the darkness
They yearned for the light.
So they went in search of it.
They found the light in a stable
Shining forth under a star
Shining from a manger.

Untouchable angel light
Had led them to a baby
A savior
Light of the world
“Glory to God in heaven,
Peace on earth
Peace among his children.”

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Saturday, December 13, 2008


I'm reading a book by John Orberg called Faith and Doubt. In one chapter, he is talking about faith. He says that there are three kinds of faith (he credits these to Michael Novak, a philosopher):

  1. Public convictions -- these are the beliefs that we want other people to think that we have, even if we don't truly believe them. Sometimes they may not be true, but they sound true.
  2. Private convictions -- these are the beliefs that I that I believe. Sometimes they are things that we want to believe.
  3. Core Convictions -- these are the beliefs that shape our actions.
We cannot act contrary to our core convictions. Our actions are always congruent with our core convictions. In this way we can explore our core convictions by examining our actions.
The Epistle of James tells us that faith without works is dead. Think about faith when described as core convictions. If we cannot act in a manner contrary to our core convictions, then our actions will be evidence of our faith. If we believe that God is always with us, and yet we act as if he is not, then do we truly believe that God is with us -- is it one of our core convictions?

This idea illuminated the James passage for me in way it hadn't been before.

What matters to your? If you check our chestbook and our calendar, then we will come to understand what we really believe. ki

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Friday, December 12, 2008


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Thursday, December 11, 2008

His wife slept

Lesson Six of the Nine Lessons and Carols is Luke 2: 1; 3–7

His wife slept.
He was grateful that she could
He could not.
His mind was overtaken by crowded thoughts
As he sat near the manger
Watching the newborn fitfully sleep.

He struggled with the weight of what had happen
In the past year of his life.
His betrothed had been found to be pregnant,
And he knew the child wasn’t his.
He was angry.
He was heartbroken.
A visit by an angel?
Who would have imagined?
Marry her anyway.
Hadn’t he struggled to accept that?
To obey?
To believe that this child was of the Holy Spirit.

Then, of all times, in all places,
After his world has turned upside down,
Caesar changed his plans.
Go to Jerusalem.
Take his betrothed across country,
To the home of his ancestors.

He wasn’t even surprised
After everything else that had happened
That the child would come as they arrived in the town.
No room, no place to stay, no plans, no help.
At least the innkeeper had offered them a stable.

He had found a clean place for her
Clean straw, clean water.
The manger was falling apart,
So he had taken nails from his pack,
And hammered them into the wood.
As he struck the blows,
His wife had cried with the labor pain.

Finally, both of them slept
She in the straw,
He in the manger, carefully wrapped.
And Joseph sat keeping watch,
struggling to catch up with his life.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Where I worked before, I put up a tree each year around Christmas. I made sure that the tree was "secular." I worked with a group of people who were religiously diverse.

I decided that my best witness to what it means to be a Christian wasn't to hang Christian symbols on my tree or to play hymns and carols in the lab. It was to try to be helpful, compassionate and friendly to those with whom I worked, no matter what their faith.

Now I work in a church for the church. I put up my tree today and realized that it didn't have to be secular anymore; no one would be "offended" by religious symbols hung on the tree. I still believe that my best witness to who I am as a Christian is to try to live the life of Christian, but now my tree can also reflect my faith.

So today I hung a nativity scene on the tree. As time goes on, I'm sure that the tree will be transformed. Hopefully, as time goes on, I will be transformed, as well.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Banana bruises

I read a story today on Everyday Theology about bananas. The United Methodist pastor who writes this blog wrote about a bunch of bananas that he and his wife have been sharing. They were gorgeous fruit on the outside, but each one of them were bruised internally. The last of the bunch, with a nasty look to it on the outside, was perfect inside.

We can't judge people by what we see. People are bruised and scared internally, in their spirits. Ignoring that, and judging them, thinking we know them, is a mistake.

God knows our hearts. He knows about the bruising and the dark spots in our souls. He places us in community, and tries to teach that community to love God, love ourselves and love each other. Love is the ultimate treatment for soul-bruising.


Monday, December 08, 2008


The fifth of nine lesson in the Nine Lessons and Carols is Luke 1:26-35, 38.

Timing is everything.
In the right time,
In God's time,
In the sixth month,
Gabriel came to visit a young girl.

To say the visit was unexpected
would be underestimation of the truth.
Who expects a visit from an angel?
Mary was just beginning her life.
Engaged to Joseph,
her expectations were marriage, children,
Nurturing her family,
Scraping out a living,
Growing old.
Cared for by her family,
she would die.
Instead, an angel visited.

Her plans were interrupted.
Her life was transformed
by an angel's visit.

He told her startling news.
She had found favor with God.
Who expects that kind of news?
She would bear a son, named Jesus.
He would be Great,
Descendant of David, king like David.
King unlike David.
Reigning forever.
Of his kingdom there would be no end.

The news was impossible.
And yet Gabriel was not done.

She would be visited by the Holy Spirit.
God would overshadow her.
Her child would be holy.
Son of God.
She was told of her cousin,
Who was expecting the impossible.
Planning for the unexpected.
Nothing is impossible with God.
A child born to a virgin.
A child born to a barren woman.

And then, what might be the most surprising of all.
I would never expect it from myself.
Mary says, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord.
Let it be with me according to your word."

Here am I.
Let it be as you say.
Not as I expected.
Not as I planned.
Not the way that is safe and easy.
Let it be as you say.
Here am I.
Send me.

Image: Animal Kingdom

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Sunday, December 07, 2008


Today, our Sunday school teacher for the day hadn't checked his email. He came to Sunday school unaware that he was the teacher for the day. As the moderator for the class lead the class through a time of announcements, he read through the lesson and decided what he would do.

God can use us, even when we are unprepared and unorganized. God can use whatever we turn over to him.

We spent the class time discussing some of the questions in the lesson. It ended up being a time of witness -- when have you seen God active in your life? We shared moments of witness with each other. It was a terrific lesson.

God used the class time to strengthen our faith through our stories of witness to each other. The teacher was unprepared, but open to the movement of God. God was not unprepared, and he was and is always ready to receive whatever we will offer to him in service.

Image: Water and stones at Disney World.


Saturday, December 06, 2008



Friday, December 05, 2008


The fourth lesson in the Nine Lessons and Carols is Isaiah 11: 1–3a; 4a; 6–9

What is it that God can see
and we cannot?

A peace which we cannot understand
Cannot imagine.
Cannot achieve
by ourselves alone.
A peace we are offered
like the rain of grace
upon a parched and dry soul.

A peace which began as word with word.
A son of Jesse
A branch from fertile and kingly roots.
Upon him rested the spirit of the Lord.
Upon him rested our salvation.
Wisdom and understanding
were his way.
Are his way.
Counsel and might
Knowledge and a fear of the Lord.
He delighted in the presence of his Father.
He delights in the presence of our God.
Word with word.
Word of word.

Unexpected relationships.
Wolf with lamb.
Calf and lion.
Homeless man and pastor.
Enemy and friend.
Unexpected relationships.
Word among them.

Cow and bear, grazing together.
Babies, left among those untrusted before.
Nursing child and snake.
Weaned child amid danger.
None will hurt or destroy
because the peace of the father has come.
The earth will know the full knowledge of the Lord.
And there shall be peace.

Image: Tree in Animal Kingdom

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A Light in the Darkness

I may have mentioned that my church has a devotional ministry. One of my poems went out today as the devotional for Saturday. I publish it here because I like to keep the poems all in one place.

The darkness surrounds us.
It threatens to smother us
As we battle against the strength of our own sin.
We find that we cannot win the battle
On our own power.
Despair coats the darkness
Like slippery oil.

And then a light appears.

My whole being shall exult in my God
For he has clothed me with the garments of salvation
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.*

We center our whole being on the light.
Hope comes
The light seems to fight away the blackness
We are rescued.
We are saved.
We begin to believe that the impossible is true
And that we are not alone.

But when the fullness of time had come,
God sent his Son,
Born of a woman, born under the law
In order to redeem those who were under the law
So that we might receive adoption as children.**

Could the news be true?
Could the light be strong enough
To make our hope in grace
As we focus on the light
We see that it grows and fills our spirits
We live in the light
The light lives in us.
And we are children of the Living God.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise him in the heights.
Praise him, all his angels;
Praise him, all his host.
Young men and women alike
Old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord
For his name alone is exalted
His glory is above earth and heaven.***

Alleluia. Amen.

*Isaiah 61:10a
**Galatians 4:4-5
***Psalm 148:1-2, 12-13


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Could we dare to dream of this?

Lesson #3 in the Nine Lessons and Carols is Isaiah 9:2, 6-7. this lesson was followed by the song O Little Town of Bethlehem. Both of these inspired this writing.

Cold, silent loneliness.
We walk in darkness.
Above us, the stars are silent
In their wandering across the sky.
Unmindful of us.
The streets are dark,
With no echo of hope.

Of what do we dream?
What impossible thought walks with us?

We walk in a land of deep darkness
And we can barely believe our eyes
We are startled by the light,
Shining onto us.
Shining into us.
Shining through us.

In a small forgotten village
Among a people never forgotten by their God
Was born a savior.
A baby.
A child of man born to save the children of God.
How can it be?
Could we dare to dream of this?

We sleep, while angels watch
We doubt, while heavenly hosts praise the glory of the birth.
Even the stars sing of this holy appearance of hope.
We dare not hope,
And yet we pray,
That our sin would be removed.
That light would enter into our lives
As the baby was born into a stable.

For a child is born
Unto us, a people in darkness.
His son is given to us.
How can it be?
Could we ever dream of this?

We dare not speak his name,
And yet it whispers in our hearts,
And explodes from our mouths.
Wonderful Counselor
Mighty God
Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace.
Tiny, tiny baby.
Savior of the world.

The light shines.
Born of Mary,
Born of God.
And with him peace is born
Peace beyond our understanding
On his shoulders rides
Justice and righteousness
And we are brought into eternal light
By his love.

Could we ever have dreamed it?
Could we ever have imagined such a hope?
Come to us,
Abide with us
Our Lord, Emmanuel

Image: Elephant in Animal Kingdom

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Can you even imagine?

The second lesson in the Nine Lessons and Carols is Genesis 22:15-18. This is where the angel speaks to Abraham after he is stopped as he is about to sacrifice his son. And, no, I didn't want to write about it.

He stood on the mountaintop
His clothes drenched with sweat.
He was angry.
Furious with God,
who had demanded that he take his son.
the son of his heart,
the son of the promise,
to the top of the mountain,
and offer him in sacrifice.

It had been an unbelievable, unfathomable request.
God did not offer answers.
Abraham had obeyed,
against all of his will,
against all of his beliefs,
he had obeyed.
He had lifted the knife,
ready to plunge it into the chest of his beloved son,
on the whim of his God.

And now he stood before an angel,
sweating what felt like blood,
and felt dead inside, himself.
As if the knife had plunged into his own heart.
And the Lord said,
"I will bless you,
because you have been faithful.
You have withheld nothing from me,
not even your son.
Your offspring will outnumber the stars
will outnumber the grains of sand
in the desert.
Your offspring will be a mighty force,
and from them shall spring nations.
You will be a blessing to the earth
because you have heard and obeyed my voice."

Abraham hung his head,
afraid to look into the eyes of his son,
afraid to see the knowledge of betrayal there.
He croaked,
"Why would you ask this of me?
Why would you test me like this?
Don't you understand?
Can you see?
Can you even imagine what it would be like
to give you only son in sacrifice?"

And God said, "Yes, I can imagine."

Image: Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Nine lessons

I was reading the other day about the Christmas tradition of Nine Lessons and Carols. The nine lessons remain the same each year when it is presented by the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge.

I thought it might be interesting to play around with the nine lesson. The first one, Genesis 3:8-15, 17-19, is presented in poetic form in the post found below.


Walking into darkness

What had once been paradise
Was now a frightening, lonely place.
Where once they had walked with God,
Shared their lives in harmony,
Known his close and loving presence,
Was now a broken, gray place.
So they hid themselves,
Guilty in their sin.

They heard the sound of their creator
Walking through the garden.
What was once a welcome, joyful sound to them,
Was now ominous.
Fear beat in their hearts.
Sin had come into their lives
Planted by their disobedience.

God called to the man,
"Where are you?"
The man answered,
sharing his fear.
The knowledge of his nakedness
uncovered his sin and his guilt.
"Have you done what told you not to do?"

In his sin, he shifted blame to the person
created to be his companion.
Of his God and his wife.

God's children learned the lesson
That sin had consequences.
Mistrust between creatures,
each of the same God,
but disobedience separated them
From each other
From their God.
They would learn the pain of struggle.
Sin would lead to death.
They were lost,
Sinking in the mire of pain and toil.
Lost, but never forgotten.
Dust to dust,
but still beloved children of God.

They were now hopeless.
Hidden in darkness.
Without light.

Inspired by Genesis 3:8-15,17-19
Image: Fish at Rainforest Cafe

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Beginning with Thanksgiving

We were talking at work today about how quickly we seemed to have landed in the "Christmas season." We all wondered if it was because Thanksgiving was so late.

I shared that because we were out of town for Thanksgiving, and hadn't shared the "normal" or routine holiday, I was feeling a little bit like I had skipped Thanksgiving, and moved right into Christmas.

As I was thinking about advent this evening, I wondered, as we prepare for Christ, as we listen for his incarnation into our lives, if we shouldn't begin with thanksgiving.
  • In this busy shopping season, what if we were to begin with a realization of our many blessings, and with thanksgiving to God for them?
  • In this season of making lists of family and friends for gift giving, what if we were to begin by thanking God for the presence of our family and friends in our lives?
  • In this time of cleaning house, what if we were to thank God for the messes in our lives, and for the activity of loved ones (and ourselves) who create the activity that leaves the mess?
  • As we wrap and beribbon packages, what if we were to remember our gratitude for the joy of surprises and making people happy?
  • As we decorate our trees and hang our lights, what if we started with thanksgiving for the beauty of that which is around us?
  • As we send our greeting cards, what if we did it in the joy of being a witness to Christ?
  • As we set up our nativity scenes, what if we remembered the gratitude in our hearts for the gift of Jesus in our lives.

Perhaps it's not coincidental that Thanksgiving precedes Advent.

Image: Flower at Disney World

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