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.