Friday, December 26, 2008

1 John 4:7

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7

Let us love one another, because love is from God. What a beautiful piece of scripture, this first day after Christmas. What a wonderful gift from God, to keep in mind as we move into a new year with the next Christmas as far away as it gets. What a fantastic group of words to keep in mind as we head out into a world more concerned about after-Christmas sales than loving one another.

I don't know about you, but it is somewhat of a let-down to be on the other side of Christmas. Even as I have aged and December is more about what must be done than about preparing to welcome the Christ-child, I have to tell you that on Wednesday (Christmas Eve) it was all I could do to contain my anxiety and expectation for the special day to come. And now that it is December 26th what comes next?

Maybe, just maybe, remembering that we are to "love one another, because love is from God" might be the spark to a tremendous New Year of living passionately as a disciple of our servant-Lord.

Loving God, grant us all the wisdom to remember your gift of love in Jesus Christ. May we faithfully and stridently accept and follow the gift of your love in our lives in all that we say and do. And now that we are moving into the season after Christmas do not allow us to be too downtrodden, but to persevere in faith and living our faith among all whom you call us into relationship with. Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Isaiah 9:2

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. -Isaiah 9:2

On them light has shined. A friend reminded me, just this morning, of a line from a wonderful movie; "The Spirit of Christmas lies in your heart." This piece of wisdom, from the movie "The Polar Express" echoes the prophet Isaiah's words to us this day. For no matter how blue you may be or to what degree cabin fever has set in or regardless of the holiday expectation game that may be weighing you down; on us the light of Christ has shone and that light burns brightly in our own hearts and minds and souls if we are only willing to tap into it.

So how will you let the light of Christ, the Spirit of Christmas burn brightly in your heart today? What darkness of of the Christmas blues will be banished by your looking within and letting Christ's light shine our? Where will you be led today?

O Light of the World shine your love brightly over us all who feel darkness and depression and dis-ease. Show us the way to live in your light and be illumined by your grace. May this day, come what may, be more about tuning into the true Spirit of Christmas, the Light of Christ in our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2 Samuel 7:16

Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. -2 Samuel 7:16

Sorry for those of you who have been wanting to follow daily Advent blogs, I have allowed the bah-hum-buggery of this time of year and the unexpected accumulation of snow we've had in Twin Falls to get the better of me. And then I was reminded of this passage of scripture for the fourth Sunday of Advent and I realized how easily we get tripped up by our own failures or sense of importance.

In the above passage God is speaking to the prophet Nathan who is charged with speaking God's Word to King David. What precedes this line of scripture is David's ascendancy to the throne of Israel after war, intrigue and much difficulty. Once David was placed on the throne he realized that the ark of the covenant, the dwelling place of God's Name, still resided in a tent and this cause David much consternation. So Nathan responded, prematurely, that David would be the one to build God's Temple. To which God promptly corrected Nathan and informed him that would not be, but that David's rule and the descendants of David would carry on forevermore.

This whole idea of anything lasting longer than the 24-hour news cycle or one season of time; be it "the holidays" or Advent or the recession or the end of another year-ecclesiastical or secular-speaks to our very human perspective of time. And when we get depressed, because there is too much snow or not enough or because we've done all that we can do or we know that we have let things slip through the cracks, it just might be helpful to ponder what it means for God to be ever before the kingdom of David and David's descendants, through whom we have Jesus who promises to be ever before us no matter what we are going through.

O God of Eternity grant us the wisdom to gain some perspective. Help us own our triumphs and defeats, yes, but bring us up when we fell down and humble us before we congratulate ourselves too much. In this season of high expectations allow us all to gain the perspective of your love for us, love strong enough that it became human and dwelt among us. Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blamelesss at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. -1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Sanctify. Now that's a "church word" if there ever was one, isn't it? What I mean by that is that it sounds mysterious and is definitely not a word that we use often, is it? In fact, I must admit that I had to pull out my copy of "Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms" to get a more accurate definition. For, within the context of the above passage of scripture it is easy enought to see that it is something good and not a threat, coming from the God of peace.

So what does sanctify mean? What is this great thing that God is giving to us to help us prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? Well, sanctify comes from the Latin sanctus, that is "holy", and is defined as "That which is regarded as being holy, sacred, or having divine qualities." Wow! Now that is quite a gift, isn't it? That God himself will make us holy as a means of preparing us for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What does such a gift make you want to do? If you really took to heart such a gift, how would you live differently? Where in your life would you see things in a whole new way?

O God of peace, help us all to live with the tremendous gift of your sanctification of us. Help us grow in our understanding of what it means to be holy as you are Holy. As we await the Nativity, may we remember not just the baby, but the man who lived, taught, healed, died and rose again so that your holiness may continue to flourish in us all. Amen.

Friday, December 12, 2008

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. -2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. What a great message for this time of year. I sincerely hope that you have been and are able to take these words to heart and live them out in many ways as you go about your day.

How has our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father strengthened you for life and ministry? In what ways have you shared the love of God in work and word with those God has brought across your path? Where have you been able to see the eternal comfort and good hope of God at work in others?

Gracious and Merciful God, we give thanks for your love and the miracle of Immanuel, your presence among us. Encourage us in work and word to share your love with others. Help us to be creative in how we go about the business of shepherding others into relationship with you. Grant us the wisdom to do so with true hospitality. Amen.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Luke 1:35-38

The angel said to [Mary], “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. -Luke 1:35-38

Here am I, the servant of the Lord. This passage of scripture between Mary and the angel Gabriel has so much good stuff in it, doesn't it? But, for this day of Advent I would like you to think about what it means for Mary to take on the responsibility of carrying the Christ Child. Remember Mary not as we might picture her, through either the lens of Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, but rather through the lens of any young teenage girl (13 or 14 years old) you know. What would it mean for that young girl to become pregnant? What kind of stress; what kind of pressure; what kind of heartache would the young girl you have in mind face as she broke the news to her parents, friends, family, neighbors?

For no matter how tempting it is to say "Well, back then teenage pregnancy wasn't an issue" don't deceive yourself. An unwed, teenage mother, whom no one knew who the father was, is not accepted in any society. And yet, with all of that running through her mind, young Mary said in effect, "Here am I" send me.

So, if Mary could take on the task assigned to her, seemingly so easily, what stops us from living up to our full potential as followers of Mary's Son? I mean, we may face some peer pressure or some strange looks from acquaintances in our efforts to faithfully identify ourselves as Christ-followers. But are any of the stresses or pressures we face for faith anything compared to what Mary faced?

As you ponder these things in your heart throughout this Advent I hope you come to appreciate what an extraordinary model of Christian Discipleship Mary shows us through her acceptance of the angel's message.

Living God shine your love in our heart, soul and mind so that we may follow your will for our life down whatever path you lay before us. Show us all; Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Spiritual Seeker, the model for living presented to all humanity through the strength and courage of a young girl named Mary. Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Isaiah 61:1-3

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. -Isaiah 61:1-3

The Lord has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners. This and the rest of Isaiah 61:1-3 provide a stunningly beautiful image of what it means for the Spirit of God to descend upon us. And yet, it is also a real challenge to how we live and how we relate to others, does it not? It almost seems like too much, at least in terms of what one person could accomplish and certainly more than what spare change given to the Salvation Army Bell Ringers might accomplish.

Then again, when a group of Christians, seeking to follow the sacrificial love of Christ gather together with a purpose, such visions as Isaiah sets forth above, have real possibility of getting done. Just last evening I was privileged enough to sit in on one such gathering. The Deacons of our church, with the abundant generosity of our congregation were planning their annual "Christmas Basket" drive. What at one point may have been a basket given to those who need assistance has turned into an annual event of 50 to 60 pounds worth of good tidings going to people across the Magic Valley. What our congregation, through it's faithful Deacons are able to accomplish each year is very much part of Isaiah's vision of what it means to be caught up in the Good News of God's favor.

Abundantly Loving God, you present us with grand visions and we feel so small. Help us to work together and, as your early church did, to pool the resources only you have given to us so that others may come to grasp to power of your love at work in their lives. This we ask, and more, in Jesus' Name. Amen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Pray without ceasing. This has got to be one of the most difficult concepts of our faith, does it not? I mean, for most people who have been reared in North America, prayer is something that is done at specific times of day (before meals) and specific times of the week (Sunday worship). So when we are told that we are to "pray without ceasing...for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" how many of us really feel that we can measure up to it?

Throughout most of the year I would say this is quite a difficult task. But during Advent, or to say it a different way, from Black Friday through Christmas Eve; there are so many sensory helps that can lead us into prayer such as, sacred music played over the sound system of your favorite store, greenery and lights hung in city park and on your neighbors' homes, special delicacies being prepared by your favorite restaurants.

Granted, many of these things are being presented to us in an attempt to have us "shop downtown first" or get us in the mood to practice the art of giving, by buying first. But no matter how cynically we think about these things, God can use them to prompt us to be prayerful of preparing to welcome the newborn King. So next time you hear a jazzed up version of "Joy to the World" or take notice of the city's or your neighbor's decorations say a little prayer for the way we've been shown to live and love by our God who sent us Jesus and who sends us so many reminders, especially during December ... I mean ... during Advent.

Ever-faithful God, grant us the wisdom to start praying more. Show us the way to be reminded of your love through our neighbors' attempts at spreading good cheer. May we not give in to the bah-hum-buggery that our more "pious" siblings in faith would wish for this time of year. Instead let us rejoice with all of creation's attempts at bowing down to you, this Advent.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Psalm 85:10

"Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other." -Psalm 85:10

Righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Wow! What an image! Especially when you consider that Psalm 85 is the psalm that goes along with Mark 1:1-8, where John the Baptist calls us to repentance and to a baptism for the forgivness of sins. That such inflamatory words of self-reflection would be paired with such a beautiful image as "righteousness and peace kissing each other" is one of the great wonders of the lectionary for me.

That being said, what does such an image do for us in the midst of our Advent adventure? One way to look at it is if we have reflected on our need to come before God and repent, thanks to John's challenging words, then what do we have to look forward to? What else besides righteousness and peace kissing each other satisfies the longing of our hearts? How better to describe our desires for our own broken lives and the brokenness in those whom we care about the most than for the two attributes of righteousness and peace to come together in such an intimate way and restore relationship between God and us and then between us and those whom we love?

As we move even further into this season of reflection before we celebrate the advent of the Nativity, may we all take time to reflect on what it would mean for "righteousness and peace to kiss each other"; in our relationship with God, in our relationship with those closest to us, and in our more casual relationships with so many.

Mysterious and Wonderful God, we praise you for such challenging and seemingly contrasting images as John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness being paired alongside something as moving as righteousness and peace kissing each other. Grant us the wisdom to call upon both images in our lives of faith lived in the midst of a world where righteousness and peace are more often sparring partners than lovers. And as we see opportunities for your peace and righteousness to flourish in our lives with you and others help us grasp onto those moments with courage and strength. Amen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mark 1:4

"John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." -Mark 1:4

A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. What? Sin, forgiveness, repentance; why do these things come out in our Advent Bible reading? I mean, isn't December all about dreams of gum drops and mistletoe? Why must we put up with John the Baptist every year? Couldn't we just push him to the side like so much religious cobwebery? I mean, really; John is such a bummer, such a Scrooge, he just doesn't seem to fit in with our Martha Stewart or Norman Rockell Christmas preparations, does he?

Of course, I'm being a little silly, where would we be without John preparing the way for Jesus? After all, compared to the image of John in his questionable wardrobe and exotic diet, Jesus sounds so ... welcoming.

John's role in our unfolding Advent adventure points us to the need for a Savior; in some ways John is sort of like our twenty-four hour news-cycle: pointing out our failures, our misadventures, our shortsightedness, our missing the point on both a local and global scale. John is like so much bad news breaking over the airwaves and across our computer screens. But like two-thousand years ago we have an opportunity to respond today, just as the "whole Judean countryside" did in John's day. We too, whether personally or nationally can admit to how we have fallen short and how we need forgiveness and most especially how we indeed need a Savior: not from Wall Street or Washington D.C., but from a Servant King who shows us the way to live in this life and the next.

Gracious and Forgiving God, grant us the ability to admit not only our individual shortcomings but the misadventures of the great land in which we live. As we face dismal financial reports and challenging global issues help us face the truth that only you are perfect and we have a lot to learn. May we, in these weeks before we celebrate the wonder of the Nativity, find time to humble ourselves before you and seek the forgiveness only you can grant. Amen.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Isaiah 2:5

"O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!" -Isaiah 2:5

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! How are you going to walk in the light of the Lord today? Will you yell at your child, like I just did? Will you dismiss a coworker because you are too busy? Will you jump to conclusions about the state of a friend or family member?

Although these are all tempting and we may feel justified or "right" in the circumstances surrounding our first reaction to many different interactions with loved ones, acquaintances and friends; all of the above "natural" reactions lead to nothing but shadow and darkness. And although there may not be a bright shining comet in the day and night sky as what led the wise men to Bethlehem, we do know how the light of the Lord leads us into all the relationships--both deep and shallow--that we have with many different people.

The light of the Lord leads us to "count to ten" or swallow our adult-correctness when speaking to our children. The light of the Lord leads us to really listen to our coworkers, maybe even ask a clarifying question that lets them know we are really interested in what they are saying. The light of the Lord leads us to "walk a mile in the shoes" of both our friends and family members when they are acting out or exhibiting behavior that we don't want to deal with.

In this season of Advent as we await the light of the Lord, the Christ child, love incarnate; we should pause in all the interactions of our lives and look to see the light of Christ in all those we encounter.

Lord of light and love, help us all to see more clearly how powerfully the light of your presence can be in the midst of all our relationships. Grant us eyes to see how you shine your face, not only upon us, but upon so many of our family, friends and acquaintances. For when we catch a vision of your light in our midst we are all the more ready to receive Christ among us. Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mark 13:35-37

Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. -Mark 13:35-37

Keep awake! But, for what? This passage is from the first Sunday of Advent in year B, for all of you who follow the Revised Common Lectionary. It is an interesting passage for the first day of Advent; it speaks of "the Son of Man coming in the clouds" and of "heaven and earth passing away" but "of that day or hour, no one knows...only the Father." Like I said it is a strange passage to begin our preparations for the coming of the Christ Child, with it's talk of the end of the world and dark days and the world passing away, but also containing the warning that only God knows when it will come to pass.

So what are we to make of this reading for our Advent adventure? It is hard to know, really, what with Tim LeHaye & Jerry Jenkins' best selling books (The Left Behind Series) probably being conjured up by some of you. But for me this charge to "Keep Awake!" is a call to more intentional discipleship. What I mean by that is in this season of preparing for God with us--Emmanuel we are all a little more conscious of loving our neighbor, if not because we are somehow more spiritual then for the simple reason that it is hard to walk into any store without the persistent sound of ringing bells by Salvation Army ringers. Just as we are drawn out from our own selves, from our own thoughts as we walk into the store by those bell ringers, Mark 13 reminds us to keep awake, keep vigilant in our daily walk with Christ during Advent and throughout the rest of our lives.

Merciful God, wake us up not only through Salvation Army Bell Ringers, but also through the shocking and wonderful revelation that you come to us in many ways. Wake us up to your love at work in our lives. Wake us up so that we can see opportunities to serve you and love our neighbors as you have first loved us. Wake us up to the startling, amazing grace of your love found in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Psalm 80:6 & 7

For anyone out there who thinks that the Bible is nothing more than an out of date relic of antiquity, just consider these two verses:

You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. Restores us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. -Psalm 80:6 & 7

Restore us, O God of hosts.... Now God may not have caused the current financial meltdown or the fact that our nation is engaged in two wars or that there is a disturbing amount of residual election discontent. That is to say, with all that is going on in our nation, it is easy to see that the rest of the world might look in and laugh. And we too are having mixed feelings about our current state of the union. Even after a weekend that saw a 3% increase in consumer spending compared to the same Black Friday weekend in 2007; just yesterday even the word "Recession" being mentioned sank the Stock Market by a wide margin. How is it that we go from good news to bad news, from reason to hope to reason to fear so easily these days?

Surely in such uncertain times we, not just people of faith, but everyone cry out for a Savior, do we not? And with such uncertain financial markets, world crises and national politicians yearning for old fights, to whom can we turn? The only One to whom we can find solace in this season of so much doubt is our God who restores us, who saves us, by shining God's face upon us so that we might be saved.

O Lord of All, as the headlines bring us down; as our financial outlooks seem dreary; as we wonder how many more youth will be committed to wars abroad; let your face shine upon us. Grant us the grace to see this shattered world as you see it. Help us to block up our ears against those who would laugh at us and let us love them still. May we accept your love so that we may love the world as much as you do. Amen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Psalm 122:8

"For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, 'Peace be within you.'" -Psalm 122:8

Peace be within you. As the Psalmist was penning those words, he was talking very specifically about peace within the city of Jerusalem. So what does that have to do with you, with me? Well the peace, the shalom, that the Psalmist was praying for was a peace that starts with all people turning to God and God in turn granting to all people those who have turned to God. Psalm 122 is a prayer for all people to look to Jerusalem, look to God who loves us and then receiving God's peace as a gift to share with our relatives, friends, and neighbors.

That's a pretty powerful Advent message, isn't it? What if in these weeks leading to the Nativity we were to pray for the peace of God to be not only in our own hearts, but within the hearts of all we encounter? What kind of peace would then spread throughout the community where we find ourselves? What kind of security would we achieve if we all turned to God for an everlasting peace meant as a gift for all?

O Lord, as we begin another workaday week, a week full of interactions with long-trusted friends, and passing acquaintances help us find the time and space to turn to you. And as we turn to you for grace, love and peace give us the courage and strength to share your peace, love and grace with all whom we encounter. May your peace flow through us at home, at work, at school, on the phone, in the car, in both our words and deeds this day and throughout all the days you give to us. Amen.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Isaiah 64:8

"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." -Isaiah 64:8

We are all the work of God's hand. That's a pretty good place to start as we head into the season of Advent, is it not? I mean, with all the expectations that the coming month can throw upon our shoulders and into our already busy lives; what if we could just keep in our mind, soul, and heart that "we are all the work of God's hand"?

How might that humbling, yet comforting phrase help us to clarify the priorities of this month? In what ways might we treat our siblings in faith, as well as all those with whom we come into contact, differently? Might remembering that we are all the work of God's hands help us stop from time to time throughout these next twenty-six days to pause and give thanks for being held in God's hands?

When and how will you work to better understand what it means to rest in God's hands even as the crush of Christmas bears down on us all?

O Lord, watch over us as we prepare our whole selves for the mystery and beauty of the Nativity. Guide us into a greater understanding of what it means for us to be the work of your hand. And with that understanding may we see both our siblings in faith and the stranger on the street in a whole new way. Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Family Visits

Today my in-laws arrived in Twin Falls. They are here for a short 48 hour visit. Don't get me wrong, its not that I'm complaining, I have been blessed with pretty good in-laws. What I mean by that is that when the visit the reconnect with their daughter and do an excellent job grandparenting, all the while being respectful of me.

The reason I'm posting this is that we are all entering the time of year when we will receive guests as well as being guests ourselves. And how we fulfill those roles is an excellent time for us to practice our faith. For as we move into what can be awkward or at least different situations we are presented with opportunities to choose to follow Christ by loving our family even if we feel as though they aren't always loving towards us.

I'd like to encourage you to pray and think about the family you've been given. Really take some time to count your blessings for those whom God has placed you in relationship through birth and marriage and do your best to love them with the love of God. For when you take that opportunity to work on the relationships that you have been given through marriage and birth then I believe that you will be better equipped to work on all of the relationships that you have been given in this life.

So, as you prepare for the holiday tradition of visiting and receiving family I encourage you to find the courage to love your family as much as Christ loves us.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Time to Heal

Ecclesiastes chapter three begins, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...." and for many of us there is great relief that the 2008 election is all but over; give or take a few thousand votes to be counted around the country. Even as a majority of Americans clearly backed Barack Obama, there are many others who did not. So, for all of us who call on the name of Christ, no matter which candidate we supported, today begins a time of healing.

For those of you who supported John McCain, my prayer is that you will embrace the central message of his campaign with a twist. I hope that you will not only be able to put "Country First", but as a follower of Christ, that you will be able to put your Lord and Savior into the midst of your relationships with those whom you disagree politically. For that is how the Body of Christ is healed and made one, and as Christians who live in America, once we heal our relationships with our siblings in Christ, then healing the country will be so much easier.

For those of you who supported Barack Obama, my prayer is that you will embrace the sober mood of his acceptance speech last night. All too often the temptation of victory is to gloat and to walk around with an "I told you so" attitude, but again for those of us who call on the name of Christ, such boasting is out of line. I hope that you will be able to put your Lord and Savior into the midst of your relationships with those whom you disagree politically as well, and take a moment to love your neighbor as you would want to be loved if you were in their shoes.

For all of us, this day after the election perhaps another Scripture passage that we should consider is Psalm 51:10 "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." Let us all seek to have a heart cleansed from partisanship and brought together as Christians first and Americans at a close second. Let us also seek a right spirit of building up the Body of Christ first, so that we are more prepared for the challenges and opportunities to reconcile with our family, friends, and sibilings in Christ with whom we disagree.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Arriving or Journeying On?

In our congregation's grand adventure of reading the Bible in one year a theme that comes up again and again is God calling people to set off on a journey. Whether it's Abram being sent to the Promised Land or Moses leading the people into the wilderness or the flights of the fancy that David endures before he finally becomes King of Israel or Jesus wanderings all over the Holy Land or Saint Paul's adventures on land and sea journeying on in faith is a constant theme in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

The question implied in the title, though, is whether our faith is more about arriving or journeying on. There are some who seem to think that being saved, accepting Christ into your heart is a matter of ultimate arrival. But if we consider the brought scope of scripture, it seems to me that accepting God's grace and love in Jesus Christ is just the beginning of the grand journey of faith.

Of course, that can be a little scary, can't it? I mean, if there is not arrival are we just wandering aimlessly through life? To which I maintain that we aren't so much as wandering, if we have and can rely on Jesus as our constant traveling companion then, no, we are not just wandering but rather its more like we are engaged in a wonderfully fantastic road trip. With Jesus as our co-pilot and sometimes allowing him to take the wheel for us, we can enjoy the scenery, we can know that the stops and detours and forks taken are, if not always guided by him, then at least we won't find ourselves too far off course in the journey.

So where are you in your journey of faith? Have you arrived and you are just going to sit back and watch life pass you by? Or have you loaded up with the resources and companions for the journey ahead? Or are you at a rest stop waiting for just the right moment to get back into the flow of things? Or are you in some faith-based airport terminal waiting for just the right flight to get on board?

Wherever you are on your journey, I hope and pray that you will rely on the love of God that we can know most clearly through God's Son, Jesus Christ, as our ever ready road trip companion.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Single Parenting

Well, Eric and I are nearly through in our adventure of being without Kathy/Mom for half the month of October. She is in Orlando and will be home late on Friday, October 24th! Being without Kathy has made me appreciate the overwhelming responsibility and need to acknowledge, pray for, and seek to reach out to those whom we know who are parenting without the benefits of a spouse.

Typically Kathy gets Eric up and my responsibility is to put him to bed, when I am at home. Not to mention, that when he is not in Kindergarten, every afternoon, Kathy is there to parent while I am being a pastor. Then on weekends I typically spend more time with Eric while Kathy gets a little "time off", but she is not far if my skills become insufficient. All in all--it works!

But for the last three weeks, minus a few days and twelve hours, it has just been
Eric and me AND I AM POOPED! Not only do we both miss Kathy/Mom, but I find myself in awe of single parents and have been moved to be more mindful and prayerful on behalf of those single parents that I know. For no matter how good of a kid Eric is, he is still quite a handful by myself with no relief.

All of this is to say or to reiterate, if you know someone who parents alone, give them a call, offer them a helping hand, or just offer a prayer to God for their patience, sanity, and love.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Higher Loyalty

Yesterday morning I continued my odd calling in life to stand up, just about every Sunday, and share a few words about what God says to us through the Bible. Yesterday's reading was Matthew 22:15-22, the story about Jesus being asked whether or not taxes should be paid to Rome. The line that Jesus speaks, that stuns his listeners probably as much today as two thousand years ago is, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."

As yesterday's sermon was delivered on Stewardship Commitment Sunday, the focus of the sermon was on our financial commitments for the year to come, both as members of FPC, Twin Falls, as well as in our lives in the wider world. Another way to pursue the same wisdom of Jesus would have been to speak about the quickly heightening negative rhetoric being splashed over the various media outlets covering the national election. That is, by giving to God the things that are God's we are called to a higher loyalty than merely our own opinion of who is right and who is wrong in any election.

What I mean to say is, if we take seriously the need to give to God the things that are God's, then we have to remember that the greatest commandment, at least according to Jesus, is to love God and then love our neighbor. And in the current political environment where accusations of socialism on one side and being out of touch with reality on the other side are being thrown around by both campaigns, perhaps a healthy dose of Christianity should be thrown into our considerations of these issues. For, if you are a Christian, and you engage in such damaging rhetoric with your friends, family, and acquaintances, then you are not living up to the higher loyalty to God of loving God first and because of God's love, in turn loving your neighbor even if they don't agree with you politically.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that you can not have a robust political opinion or even an uninformed political opinion. Rather, if you are a Christian and call on Jesus Christ as your guide in life, then how you express those opinions does matter. It is not a matter of political correctness, instead it is a matter of correct living as a follower of Christ and a beloved child of God. That is, no matter who is elected 15 days from today, if your ultimate loyalty is to God, then you are going to have to think and pray long and hard about how you are going to be in relationship with those friends and family and complete strangers with whom you disagree.

Why? Well, my guess is that from God's perspective, none of us are perfect or completely correct or as loving as we ought to be and yet God loves us still. And maybe, just maybe, its time to treat those with whom we disagree with some of that amazing grace and love as well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Second Home

Granted, the title of this blog might speak to a dream home at the beach or one in the mountains, somewhere where an individual or a family can escape the trials of life. And those certainly are nice for those who can afford them, but I'm thinking about a second home that many families and individuals can find right in their own communities. I'm speaking about church as a second home.

Last night while I was at LOGOS, after a busy day and trying to get a lot done, a feeling came over me of contentment that some might find in a second home which is an escape from daily life and gives them the energy to go on with the rest of the week. Yes, I had seen many of the same people on Sunday morning, but as pastor, and I suspect for most church goers, the Sunday morning event does not allow for the same depth of relationship that a meal or common task affords.

But mostly, for me, the sense of a second home came after dinner when I sat down with two senior high boys for Bible study. We are watching the "Lord of the Rings" and then talking about how ideas in the film connect with the Bible and life. While we were settling into a clip about Loving Relationships, a dad and his preschool daughter joined us for some movie watching and then consideration of how the Bible and a popular film talk to us about being in relationship with God and one another.

It struck me in that space: how different, how removed from regular life, and yet how valuable it was, what an opportunity for relationship building to have two senior high boys, two thirty-something dads and a preschool daughter listen in on a conversation that God started a long time ago, about what makes for loving and lasting relationships.

Having that time apart from the crush of deadlines and expectations and goals and concerns is vital for the life of both the individual and the family. And it is a joy to be part of forming a second home for the people of First Presbyterian Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. I hope you, too, will continue to join me in building this second home, as well.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

30 Days

I've just finished watching my weekly dose of "Meet the Press" and it is hard to imagine, that after 18 months of candidates, debates, ads (negative & semi-truthful) that we are about a month away from this all being over--we can only pray.

Do you realize that a month from now we will wake up and one ticket or the other will have won? Regardless of your partisan feelings, we all can pray God that there are no recounts with their hanging-chads and court cases, don't you agree?

Won't it be a little strange to turn on the TV or go online or talk to your friends, family, and acquaintences and realize that the spectre of partisan politics will be relieved, if but for a few weeks?

Can't we all, in spite of our personal politics, pray that the campaigns of both respective tickets remain respectable? Can't we all pray that Republicans and Democrats, both, remind themselves to think before they (or their surrogates) speak? Can't we all, call on the name of God Almighty to bring a little civility and reality to this national contest?

Hopefully--prayerfully--we can all look back on these 30 Days between October 5th and November 5th and see that we all prayed; we all spoke truth in a spirit of love; we all loved our neighbor and considered not only what to say--but just as importantly--how to say it, before we opened our mouths. Hopefully--prayerfull--we will be able to look back on these 30 Days to come and see not just victory, but more importantly a coming together, that is worthy of the American Spirit and the Spirit of God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pooped, but Proud!

Our first night of LOGOS is complete and I am pooped, but proud!

I am pooped because it takes a lot of energy to get ready for LOGOS. Personally, I am involved in three of the four areas of the ministry: Worship Skills, Family Time and Bible Study. And, although I am not involved in Recreation I did a lot of running around the building last night. Between taking pictures, and running errands for teachers and leaders, and making sure kids were in the right place; I nearly got to every corner of our 30,000 square foot church. But it was more than worth it!

Why was it worth it? Well, seeing children, youth, and adults growing in their relationship with Christ and because of His love, they in turn were growing in their relationships with one another, makes all the energy spent well worth it. That and seeing upwards of two-dozen adults making a similar effort in their preparations certainly makes a pastor proud. And even though being prideful can be a sin, I do believe that the pride I feel towards our congregation, towards those who are working and praying to make LOGOS ministry a success for Christ, is a forgivable and understandable kind of pride.

May God bless our ministry with children and youth and help us grow in our understanding of the love of Christ and the compassion of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anticipation, Joy & Hope!

In a little over 24 hours we will again launch our congregation's LOGOS ministry. Now for those of you who know a little bit about Presbyterians, you will know that we love the alphabet soup of acronyms. But in this case, LOGOS does not stand for anything other than the Greek word for "word" (logos) as in, "In the beginning was the word (logos)".

LOGOS is a midweek ministry for Children and Youth to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ as well as with Christian adults. It is also an opportunity for the adults involved to come to know Christ at a deeper level by entering into relationship with the young people God has called them to serve as well as their peers who are serving alongside of them.

So why have I titled this Blog post "Anticipation, Joy & Hope!"? Well, simply put, that is how I feel about our start-up scheduled for Wednesday, October 1st. I am feeling a lot of anticipation as I think about all that needs to fall into place, between my own responsibilities as well as the adults involved and of course the kids who have some idea of what to expect, but for whom new beginnings can be a challenge.

Then again, I am feeling a great deal of joy that this ministry is launching off on a second year. This summer 11 people from our church went to training, including me, and we got so excited and recommitted to this ministry of bringing children, youth and adults into a more intimate relationship with Christ. That and it is a heck of a lot of fun in the midst of a week of pastoral ministry.

Which brings me to the hope: Hope that this year to come will be filled with all the laughter, insights, and growth that last year saw. LOGOS is an incredible time, not only for our children and youth, but for adults who may see each other in the sanctuary on Sunday or out shopping in the community, but who come together on Wednesday evening and make a difference in the lives of young people as well as within their own lives in more fulling comprehending what it means to be loved by our gracious God.

So I hope you will pray for us as we, at FPC, Twin Falls, once again head down the path of LOGOS.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

God Is Here!

It is Saturday morning and my cup of Starbucks Home brew is starting to kick in as I sit here at church readying my heart, body and mind for part two of "God Is Here! Taking Worship to the Next Level" a Consultation/Seminar on Presbyterian Worship led by the Rev. Dr. Mark Smutny, here at First Presbyterian Church of Twin Falls, Idaho.

Last night we had about thirty people gather to consider what makes Presbyterian worship distinctive--not better--just distinctive from other traditions. At it's heart, Presbyterian Worship is centered on God, in contrast to a "Jesus and Me" approach. Also, our worship has at it's center God's Word Proclaimed, usually by a pastor delivering a sermon based on a Biblical text that conveys the good news of the Gospel--God's love for humankind found in Jesus Christ.

There was some give and take, but mostly the group was attentive to Mark's compelling case that Presbyterian Worship has something to offer, not so much as a niche in our consumerist culture, but because, in a world hungry for God--hungry for something more than self--a regular order of worship that attributes awe, honor, and glory to God is something worthy of our time and effort and when done with those things in mind will be of benefit because people of all stripes are looking for excellence.

Today we enter more into a discussion of what the implications may be for how we at FPC, Twin Falls manifest our regular worship of God. So we will remember that, as God was with us last night, so too will God be with us as we gather this morning for prayer, scripture, and an understanding of how God is directing us to worship and into deeper relationship with God who loves us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

10 Years

Wow! I can hardly believe it, this past Saturday, September 20th marked my 10th year of ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)!

I have so much to be thankful for over those years; Executive Presbyters and Presbyteries that ushered me through to this point, Church members and sessions who granted me the privilege of serving them, my wife and son who have patiently walked by my side from Kentucky to Colorado to Idaho, a wonderful God who has given me gifts for ministry and has humbled me along the way to learn many lessons for the betterment of Christ's church.

I look forward to another ten years and many more beyond that to be privileged enough to officiate at baptisms, weddings and funerals; to watch over the spiritual growth of young men and women in confirmation classes; to share insights with adults who explore the depths of the Bible and consider theological implications of the world around them; sit at the bedsides of those who are sick; work with others in bringing about the kingdom of God among us; growing in my own sense of the presence of God and God's glory in the here and now.

May God watch over me and all those whom God has called me to serve. Amen.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Fullness of Time

"The Fullness of Time". I just love that phrase. For Presbyterians, we hear it mostly in our communion liturgies which outline the mighy works of God from Creation through the lives of the Prophets. And then, so the liturgy goes something like, "Then, in the fullness of time, God sent His only Son, Jesus."

I guess I like that idea so much because it helps us remember that God's concept of time and our own are so different and yet, "fullness of time" makes the difference sound so poetic, instead of condescending.

We see this idea of the "fullness of time" in our own lives when we have an idea and then it takes years to come about. Just last week, for instance, I was taking a walk with Rev. Chris Erdman of Fresno, California and he was talking about seeing an installment of origami peace doves at a conference or some other place he had been, about a decade ago. He told me that he had always wanted to have something similar in one of the churches he served, but it was not until he was in Fresno and shared the idea with the right person, some nine years after he had first seen the original installment, that it actually came about, so to speak, in "the fullness of time."

Recently I have had a similar experience. About half a dozen years ago, while I was the associate pastor at Church of the Hills in Evergreen, CO. I was either surfing the net or looking through a magazine when I saw a Prayer Labyrinth on the floor of a church--it may have been at the famous Episcopal Church in San Francisco--and I thought that would be a great thing to bring into a Presbyterian Church. However, the church in Evergreen was not the place. When I came to Twin Falls I shared the idea with a group that were exploring different prayer practices and they got the conversation started and in Fall 2007 a simple Cretan Prayer Labyrinth was installed in one of the rooms. Recently the Cretan one was upgraded to a 6-Circuit Neo Medieval Prayer Labyrinth that is simply beautiful and it came about through the "fullness of time."

So where and how is God at work in your life, bringing about something through the "fullness of time."

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Novel of Divine Politics

If you love God and you love politics then consider picking up a copy of "American Savior" by Roland Merullo.

In just over 300 pages Merullo tackles a very interesting subject, that of Jesus coming back again and this time choosing to enter the world of politics as a third party candidate. I hope you will agree that it really is a fun read.

Merullo's Jesus doesn't seek to be a James Dobson wannabe or a Jim Wallace wannabe for that matter. Instead, Merullo does an admirable job of portraying Jesus as a twenty-first century version of the Lord and Savior portrayed by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Granted, there are points at which trained theologians and biblical scholars will call into question Mr. Merullo's take on Jesus, but all in all it was a fun book in this season of bickering and ad wars.

Although the book starts off a bit wooden, it quickly develops into a story that is difficult to put down. I hope you will agree that this is a book that seeks to call into question assumptions of both the left and the right.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Too Busy for a Haircut

Wow! I can hardly believe the Lord's Day is finally here. And as I sit here with the hair on the back of my neck pushing over my starched collar I can't help thinking about the wide range of responsibility that kept me from going to the barber this past week.

From worship planning and sermon writing to retreat attendance and presbytery meeting to webinar watching and ministry planning to pastoral responsiveness and the joy of discussions with the Deacons this has been one full week. Too full, in fact, to find a time to visit my Barber Tom at the Varsity Barbers. And even as I sit here and wonder if anyone will ask, "When are you getting that hair cut?" As church folk have done in previous calls, I can't help but give thanks for the many responsibilities entrusted to my care and the wonder of God's blessings in my life.

For no matter how busy I get, ministry in Twin Falls is never boring and that is truly a gift that I give thanks for every day. And, in the midst of all the planning and meetings and conversations, I at least found the time to schedule a haircut for Tuesday morning. So thank God for small miracles!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Moving Day

Often, we Presbyterians along with other Mainline/Oldline Christians (Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists), are labeled the "Frozen Chosen". Well, this past Sunday, September 7th, a few Presbyterians thawed out somewhat.

The occassion for our thawing came with a response to a family in need in our congregation. The family had returned to the area after an extended absence after some difficult family issues. And they were in the process of moving into a rental home and starting life anew. So the congregation responded, first and foremost, by each pitching in and bringing baking supplies, cleaning supplies, non-perishable foods, and other goodies, enough to fill a minivan full on their way into Sunday morning worship. And then, later in the day, this same congregation full of the so-called "frozen chosen" descended on the returning family as they moved into their rental home. Several women helped clean out the kitchen. Another group help with finding just the right place for furniture. Several children of the congregation helped their old friends get to know Twin Falls again. One group of men moved furniture while another figured out how to get the appliances into the house and yet another group of men removed a large decorative cactus from their backyard so that the small children of the resettled family would have some place to play.

As the pastor of this congregation it should be noted that they had done something similar with at least two families in need of moving and resettling. But, seeing it first hand, was an amazing and humbling experience. Between restocking a family in need's pantry to helping get the house in order so that a family could settle in, chocked me up several times throughout the afternoon and nearly brought me to tears, when I stopped to think about it.

For a congregation that has as part of it's mission statement "being living examples of Christ's love" they sure lived up to that goal on the first Sunday of September 2008!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Our hometown newspaper, The Times News (through an AP wire story), in this morning's edition ran a story on Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin's religious views as a Pentecostal. And whereas the article itself was pretty normal stuff, there was a throwaway line in the article that was pretty shocking. The line read something to the effect of one of her pastors while in Wassila wondered in a sermon whether or not people who voted for John Kerry in the 2004 election could get into heaven! I hope that VP candidate Palin was not in worship on that particular Sunday, because what does it say to have someone running for one of the highest offices in the land, for them to be o.k. with a question of damning Americans? I mean, if Rev. Jeremiah Wright was criticized and by extention Barak Obama was criticized for Wright's damning of America, why not be just as upset at Sarah Palin's pastor for damning Americans (suggesting that they would not have access to eternal life for a particular vote, instead of their devotion to following Jesus Christ, God's Son)?

Is that really where we've come to as a nation? That one pastor is thrown into the outer darkness for damning an idea, America; whereas another pastor who damns American is not questioned? Where is the media bias in this story? Where is the outrage from Fox News? Where is the indignation from so called America Firsters?

Hopefully this will all blow over and we will find out that Sarah Palin was not worshipping God on that particular Sunday at that particular church or we will find out that, that sermon drove her to reconsider her membership with that particular church. It is really amazing to me to find such a similar story in the media and no reaction at all. It really makes me wonder what is going on in this great and blessed nation in which we live.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Perinne Bridge Festival

It is a beautiful day in Southern Idaho! There is a slight breeze, high thin clouds, and plenty of sun with temperatures in the mid-70s.

The Perinne Bridge Festival got off to a great start today with an amazing meal of either steak or salmon at the Outback Steackhouse out by the Snake River Canyon Rim. Then about 1:15 p.m. Miles Daisher announced to a full restaurant of Festival goers that he and several others were going off the bridge soon and to come out and watch the sheer joy of BASE jumpers doing their thing.

Kathy, Eric and I got out to the rim and there were about two dozen people already there eagerly awaiting the jumpers to make their way to the midpoint on the Perinne Bride for jumping. It wasn't long after that, over the course of about twnety minutes that about a dozen BASE jumpers made successful jumps and landings. Some did unpacked jumps while others had their chutes neatly packed away for the few second free fall. Others did back flips off of the handrails while some gingerly straddled the rail with one leg and then another and jumped from the deck of the bridge. Everyone who was watching from the edge of the canyon cheered and watched in awe as the jumpers made their way from the bridge to the canyon floor below.

It ought to be a wonderful weekend for the festival and for all the money raised to help children and families in need!

Coffee Filters & the Kingdom of God

This morning started off like any other Friday. I had the week's preaching assignment in mind and every intention of getting to the office, settling in and then getting to work on the sermon by now.

Instead, I lit my candle asking God to guide me through the day. I cleaned off my desk so that I would be in a good space for listening to God's inspiration as I snapped at the keys on my laptop. And then I went out to the work room to make coffee. It was then that I remembered, that I needed to buy more coffee filters.

I realize that shouldn't be all that big of a deal, but I am someone who like's his routine and so breaking that routine to run out to Albertson's doesn't really get me in the mood for being inspired by God in preparation of a message for Sunday morning. So I got my keys and locked up the office and headed out to the store, granted that I have a job, a car, and the ability to run off and buy what I need should make me feel content; but like most of you I simply took all of those things for granted and headed out.

Once I finally located the filters and paid for them with every intent of getting back into my routine as quickly as possible. It was with that in mind that I noticed that a woman in the parking lot was focussed on me in an uncomfortable way, I mean she was staring right at me. Not that I was too terribly disturbed by this, after all her car was parked right by my own. As I got closer she asked if I had a minute, which I felt that I did not, but said "Sure." What she called my attention to was that she had purchased a case of Arizona Iced Tea which was heavy and wedged into the bottom of her grocery cart. She wanted me to help her get it into the car.

It turned out to be a pretty heavy case and it didn't want to budge. So I put my coffee filters down and got down on one knee and pushed and pulled and moved the cart and finally, after a few minutes liberated the case of tea and placed it into her van. She thanked me and I got back in my car and came back to settle in for the day.

So what do coffee filters have to do with the Kingdom of God? Well, I believe that God's Kingdom isn't just something that exists in the life after this. It is also, for followers of Christ, something that we are to try to create in the here and now. It's not that I believe my liberating the woman's tea is going to make that big of a difference, but stopping and helping someone out is a witness to the Gospel, a witness that even though I wanted to be about my day, that another child of God was just as deserving of my time and effort. And so, maybe coffee filters can help bring about the Kingdom of God, even in some small way.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Settling in for the Day

Settling myself for what may come, as a pastor of a medium sized Presbyterian Church, is something that I am working on but that I don't always achieve. For the past ten years this month I have been an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(U.S.A.) and you might think that means I am always centered in God, but I'll tell you it takes some practice. One thing that I almost always do is to say a brief prayer while I light the vanilla scented candle that sits on my desk, it is a prayer that goes something like, "God watch over me this day, help me to be about your work this day. Amen."

In the last year or so I have also incorporated the practice of keeping the hours, that is saying Morning Prayer when I arrive at the office, then saying Midday Prayer before I head home or out for lunch and then saying Evening Prayer before the multitude of evening committee and board meetings that keep a Presbyterian Church going about the business of Christ. And I have to say, if you have never tried keeping the hours it can be a truly rewarding experience.

I use our Presbyterian "Book of Common Prayer: Daily Prayer" edition to lead me in my efforts to "pray without ceasing." Each hour of prayer is full of Scripture as well as promptings to pray not only for what is on my mind and heart, but reminders to pray for the Body of Christ across the globe and for many people that I might forget in my day to day responsibilities.

So, in a nutshell, when I can, when I take the time to be with God and settle in for the day, one of the best ways for me to give God the glory is by turning to God with prayer and pray throughout the day.