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Advent, Humility, and Team Playing December 5, 2018

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Advent, just like Lent, is a time of waiting and preparation. Yesterday’s and today’s devotional readings from the first chapter of Luke refer back to the old prophesies of the messenger who prepares the way for the Messiah.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.                                                                   

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

I woke to a text from a friend about her daughter’s volleyball championship game that we are going to tomorrow afternoon, so today’s devotional reading spoke quite clearly to me and I share this with the hope it speaks to you as well:

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5 ~ Read Luke 1:76-79 

I love volleyball. After the serve, each team has three touches to get the ball over the net to the opponent’s turf. At the competitive levels, the three touches have the same pattern: first, the reaction hit that simply gets the ball into the air after the other side sends it over. Then there’s the second touch: the set. This light touch is an easy-up that “sets” up the third touch: the spike, the light tap, or whatever play that will send the ball to an unprotected part of the opponent’s turf. The cycle repeats until one team misses. 

So often we get stuck in the belief that we are the first or third touches. We really want to be the third touch: the one who gets things done, achieves a goal, has the final word. So often we are the first touches: the light tap to another, the quick response to the ball as it comes to us. I believe the most important touch is the second: the one who sets up what comes next. There’s incredible power in this role, but it comes from a place of humility, a knowledge that you aren’t going to be the one who scores a point. 

In this passage, the long-awaited son of Zechariah and Elizabeth is born into a priestly family. Zechariah has been instructed by God to name the child John—not a family name. Zechariah, unable to speak since questioning the news of the birth, writes the name John—but John will not be a priest. He will be a prophet setting up the final touch for the one who will follow him: Jesus of Nazareth, soon to be born in Bethlehem. 

John won’t score the point, but John will be the one who sets up the One who is to come. 

– Jeremy Smith, Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Seattle, Washington.

My friend’s daughter would like to be the player who spikes the volleyball back, but her coach knows she’s a good setter and has put her into that second touch “set” assignment. Her team plays in the finals tomorrow and I’m sure her set-up work has been a big part of getting the team there. We all have been in that position and know lots of others who do the hard work with little recognition for what they have done. 

Jesus taught us servanthood through words and humble example. As we prepare for Christmas let’s not make it only about the presents, decorations, food, and parties. Let this time be like Lent – a time of spiritual renewal and character building, a time when we not only speak of Peace and Love but when we actively work to bring it to reality, if only for one person at a time, maybe only for moments. 

Let’s each of us take the humble setter’s position and through teamwork, bring a little light to the darkness.

Heeding Isaiah 58:1-12  February 15, 2018

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Note: I started writing this the morning of Ash Wednesday but wasn’t able to finish since we were packing and then traveling home yesterday. Since I’ve been using my Kindle to read and occasionally comment here, no internet – no blogging. (There are currently close to ten unfinished posts from the last year I never finished that I hope to return to someday, but I’m glad I have the time to finish this thought today.)


More and more these days, it is suggested that rather than giving something up for Lent, we adopt a change of behavior or do some type of activity that will be beneficial to others. I have to confess that I have never given up anything for Lent; it just wasn’t something my church did as I grew up, nor something I adopted later. I can understand the concept of self-denial as a method of focusing on spiritual growth, on improving one’s relationship with God, but I am quite attracted to a more active response to the Lenten season.


Reading the scripture used for today’s meditation through my daily devotional book, The Upper Room Disciplines 2018, the ancient prophet’s words ring uncomfortably as true in today’s world as it did so long ago. Our nation, our society, absolutely needs a change of heart, a change in how we relate to each other. I quote the most convicting words attributed to God’s reaction to people’s fasts:

. . .Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God . . . Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.  . . . 

 While I am honored to know several people who work tirelessly on behalf of justice, mercy, and the welfare of others, who have empathy and who put other’s needs before their own, I can use this season to work on my self -centeredness, my selfishness, my standoffishness. 

. . . Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?  

If you are currently fasting for Lent and you are doing it because you know less alcohol, red meat, sugar, or whatever you are giving up is better for your health, keep it up! If temporarily giving up something you really enjoy helps you focus on the sacrifice of Christ, continue your effort! 


But there’s another option that will repair not only our relationship with God, but go a long way toward healing our nation.


I read daily news and social media postings bemoaning the lack of concern for the poor, the immigrant, those among us with little to no power, while those in power are overly focused on getting and protecting their corner of the goodies. The United States is a dysfunctional country. 17 students were killed at a Florida school yesterday by a 19-year old with an AR15 semi-automatic rifle. Yet another mass shooting. Thirty mass shootings so far in 2018, 1624 in 1870 days. We again hear calls for gun control; we again see politicians sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims’ families. Nothing changes and we all wait until the next mass shooting. And both sides call each other names, debate the time/appropriateness for debate, and we are at a frustrated stalemate. The population needs a change of heart, a metanoia.

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.  

What if we all fed the hungry, helped the homeless, fought for equality, justice, and mercy; practiced “random acts of kindness”? Whether just during Lent or all the time, practiced by many, all our lives could be like a “watered garden”. God’s kingdom on earth, with a level playing field for everyone!


I’ll finish by quoting Tommy Watkins, Jr., Associate Rector and Assistant Chaplain at Canterbury Episcopal Chapel and Student Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is also a graduate faculty member of the University of Alabama School of Social Work:

Today’s reading presents a new type of fasting: one that God initiates and appears to practice in perpetuity. God’s fast derives from God’s ubiquitous love for all humankind and is exemplified by the Christian values of equality and equity. God makes clear that fasting from material things is not enough. Rather we might fast from our innate internal manifestations of “isms” that block God from our lives and prevent or pervert our carrying out justice. 


God’s fast, which is particularly interested in loosing, undoing, breaking, sharing, housing, covering, exposing, enlightening, healing, vindicating, and glorifying, yields fruit. What would happen if we adopted God’s type of fasting; if we ceased practicing racism, classism, sexism, and exclusionism? What if we, as this passage notes, refrained from pointing fingers or blaming or pursuing our self-centered wills and instead pursued God’s will? 


Perhaps that is the metanoia God invites us into during Lent. This season we can turn our will and eyes from judgment of one another toward love and tolerance for all people in pursuit of deep spiritual change in our lives. 



Living the Spirit of Christmas December 14, 2017

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From The Upper Room Disciplines 2017, a wonderful reminder of how to celebrate the season by Frank Rogers Jr., Professor at Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California:

Mike hated the commercialism of Christmas. When forced to retire early, he checked out altogether. “Get me nothing,” he grouched, “until people understand what Christmas is all about.” That year, his wife, Nan, gave him a white envelope, which she nestled into the tree. Inside, Nan pledged to sew uniforms for an underprivileged wrestling team. Once she started, Mike decided to help. Together, they sized the children, cut the fabric, and befriended the school kids. By year’s end, Mike was ready for another envelope. Nan left another that Christmas, and each year thereafter. The acts of kindness they shared together sprouted throughout their city: birdhouses for a refuge, a playground for a children’s home, a community garden from a vacant lot. Those became the best years of their lives.

One year, Mike passed away three days before Christmas. Friends and family gathered to share Nan’s grief. On Christmas Eve, Nan placed, for Mike, one last envelope into the tree. She awoke Christmas morning to squeals downstairs. As she came down, she surveyed her loved ones. Then she saw the tree. It was covered in white. Dozens of envelopes—from every child, grandchild, nephew, and niece—pledged acts of kindness in honor of Mike, the man who loved Christmas.

How do we wait faithfully for God in the wilderness? The prophet Isaiah says, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” We pave a straight path for God through acts of kindness, justice, generosity, and compassion. When we love, God will come. “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me,” John says. As sure as a baby’s birth in a manger, as abundant as Christmas envelopes multiplying into the future, God will walk the path laid out. Love will encompass our world.

However you celebrate Christmas, whether you believe in the Christ child or celebrate this time of year with your own faith or cultural community, share the love and spirit of giving. Happy Holidays!

Psalm 146 June 5, 2016

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Verses 5-9 Respond to the Trumps of the world:

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Heidi Grogan, this week’s devotion writer, notes that we should never stop praising God, who has “lifted us and restored us when we were bowed down and has empowered us to do likewise.”

She points out the psalmist refers to God nine times in verses 6-9, showing God’s concern for the oppressed and God’s presence in their suffering. We are all blessed when we look to God as the source of help. She asks where we need wise leadership translated into concrete compassionate action today and prays,

God, we thank you for being our strength. Give us wise leaders who have compassion for people who need protection and help. Loving God, may we stand with you, whose concern is for the bowed down. May we embody your compassion and action to relieve the suffering of the oppressed. Amen.

Pentecost Sunday May 15, 2016

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This is so spot on that all I can do is quote the whole thing:

If you have ever dropped a rock in water, you know what happens. The impact creates changes. Ripples spread out from the point of contact. Many factors determine the size, extent, and duration of the ripples. Imagine what could happen if all the created order were impacted by a reality greater even than creation. How far from the point of impact would the effect be felt? We don’t have to imagine. We know. We know because of Pentecost. The reality that entered the world that day.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit entered the world in a new way and began a new creation. Greater than the whole of creation, timeless and eternal, powerful enough to spread the skies with the stars and the oceans with countless schools of fish, loving enough to lead us through Exodus and out of Exile, confident enough to come to us as a newborn baby, God comes with infinite love and compassion to birth the new creation. This is the size and force of the reality that entered our world.

We see the ripple effect immediately. The words for wind and breath and Spirit are all the same in the Bible. So the wind that sweeps the disciples out of hiding and into the public is the Holy Spirit, moving them and moving in them. The curse of Babel is reversed. Everyone can understand God’s word once more. The new beginning is announced with creative power. The ripples spread from Jerusalem, Samaria, and Judea to the ends of the earth. They spread still today. Spirit-bearing waves sweep away human failing and timidity and wash creation in the baptismal waters of new birth.

Creating God, wash me anew in the power of your Spirit that I may continue in your work of restoring creation. Amen

– Brad Gabriel, Upper Room Disciplines 2016

Revelations 7:9-17 Work Those Spiritual Muscles April 16, 2016

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I don’t pretend to understand much of the Bible’s Book of the Revelation to John, but these verses, thanks to Handel’s Messiah, are very familiar. Even though that section of the piece is not the easiest, I always enjoy singing:

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

This morning a different part stood out to me in a section of verse 14 where there is a reference to “they who have come out of the great ordeal . . .”

I wondered about what was meant as the”great ordeal”, whether the writer was trying to rally the troops and referring to the martyrs and others who, in that century were enduring persecution and torture for spreading the new Christian faith, or anyone – then and now – who is simply living life with all its ups and downs.

I prefer the latter interpretation, especially after reading the devotional reading in my Upper Room Disciplines book. Besides commenting on diversity and how open to everyone God is (heaven – whatever that is – is open to everyone; no one but God gets to decide who is or isn’t welcome), Roy M. Carlisle, this week’s writer states, life, particularly spiritual life, is difficult.

We will struggle, experience dark times, and suffer, but if we have exercised the muscle of faith we will join that throng before the throne to say, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

I like the concept of a spiritual muscle. Since the beginning of last month, I have become more intentional about my physical being. I took on a challenge which involved a dietary change (including a daily protein shake and eliminating fast food from my daily diet) and a daily dance workout. I had to get up earlier in order to fit the exercise in and ran out of time for my morning devotional/meditation routine. By the end of the second week, the dance routines had become too stressful on my knees and ankles, I wasn’t getting enough sleep, and I stopped doing them. But the new way of eating had won me over and I went back to my old wake-up time, spending more time prepping my meals to take to work. I missed my morning devotions, however!

Eventually, I found new ways to exercise (I haven’t given up my first love, zumba, but my work schedule doesn’t allow it often enough.) Dance workouts that are less intense are available and can be done after work, a quick morning walk is great if there’s time, and food prep can be done in batches or prepped at work. I finally was able to feed my spiritual need again! New routines take time to assimilate.

Last week, I started a new challenge – a 7-day “detox” aimed at eliminating salt, refined sugars and other toxins by eating “cleaner”. No dairy products, alcohol, processed foods, or red meat – while drinking a gallon of water every day. This isn’t a diet for losing weight, but to cleanse naturally. It also addressed the mental part of us through relaxation, Zen, yoga, and walking. Light exercise while cleaning out the physical body.

It has been six weeks since I started my new physical routine. As we Methodists like to say, I’m still on that lifetime journey toward perfection! This past week has solidified the need for balance – physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Work the body’s muscles: take care of that “temple of the Holy Spirit” that has been given you; work that muscle known as your brain; stretch yourself out to help others and love all you meet; stretch your muscle of faith.

I realize I have rambled far longer than my usual posts here, but it has helped me process the process. I’m reminded of the sprinters who write “Hebrews 12:1” on their shoes, let us run with perseverance/endurance the race marked out for us . . .
I’ll finish with this short prayer at the end of Mr. Carlisle’s meditation.

Jesus, help us run the race and fight the good fight and do it for as long as we live. Amen.

John 20:19-31: Jesus Appears to the Disciples April 2, 2016

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The disciples are hiding behind locked doors in case the authorities try to arrest and execute them like they did Jesus. But locked doors are nothing to one who has conquered death, so Jesus appears to them inside the house, greeting them with the comforting and traditional, “Peace be with you.”

Peace is the gift we are all given by Christ Jesus. His greeting was and still is a traditional form of greeting, but the intention of His words are the promise and hope that belief in Christ With Us brings. With Christ, we are strengthened and made less fearful. The Creator and Sustainor has conquered death and is holding each one of us. There is no need to fear!

Clothed in Love April 2, 2016

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image (View from the window, Kings Beach, California, Christmas Eve Morning, 2015)

(April 2, 2016 – just discovered this was never published. It was written just before Christmas, yet a week after Easter, it is equally fitting.)

This week’s devotional is based on the theme of Love: God’s love for us and that same love we can share with everyone we encounter.

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 tells us of Hannah’s love for her son, Samuel, who was such a precious and long-awaited gift himself, that she dedicated him to be a priest. Every year, she made him a new robe and gave it to him the one time a year she got to see him. It was made with love and prayers, and the devotion writer, Nicola Vidamour, reminds us to accept gifts given us by everyone who makes the effort. If someone we know gives us a handmade gift, appreciate the time and love that went into it. Appreciate kind actions wherever they come from and try to be kind and loving to every person you encounter.

Colossians 3:12-14 reminds us

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

That’s the message for everyday, but it’s a good reminder in case we get too caught up in whatever stresses us during the Christmas season. As Rev. Vidamour writes, ” Colossians 3:14 tells us that love is the most important gift to clothe ourselves with. Love is the perfect accessory for every outfit since love binds everything together in perfect harmony.

We take a sidetrack to the traditional verses of Luke 2:1-20 on December 24:
The Christmas Eve story of Mary and Joseph and the baby born in Bethlehem. Wrapped in swaddling cloths as a human baby who would later be wrapped in burial cloth, only to leave them as risen Christ! This is the ultimate form of love: to give up godhood to live among your creation, not only to teach and mentor, but to die horribly in order to get the point across!

Hebrews 1:1-12 reminds us of that exactly:

LONG ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

In a later verse, a comment is made about his earthly life set aside like his earthly clothes, “But you are the same, and your years will never end.”

Psalm 148 reminds us, “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.”

All that is beautiful and awesome and good is due to God’s creative powers. That little manger baby was also He who created the heavens and earth. What incredible love for us humans, we who are also God’s creatures, to have come to teach and die for us! Let’s forever praise him!

Easter Sunday is Over; Time to Restart March 31, 2016

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I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

John’s declaration in Revelations 1:8 of God’s might is our reminder to get to work if we really believe in this Easter story of death and resurrection. If we follow Him who came to live, teach, heal, and die among mere mortals so we could glimpse God’s kingdom, Easter is our New Year every year.  It’s our reminder and motivation to love more, care more, and share more. We are both children of God and part of God’s priesthood. We are to BE Christ to others so that others can share in living that glimpse of the kingdom here on earth, TODAY. Let’s make it so.


Philippians 4:4-7 Happiness or Joy? December 29, 2015

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Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Martha C. Highsmith writes that happiness is situational, that it is fleeting and often based on getting something material. Joy comes from a feeling deep inside, often from gratitude. Joy lasts as we remember and experience events and kind acts. We share joy by passing on or sharing joyful feelings.

We are happy to have something to eat when we are hungry but we will be hungry again. We are happy to have a car that we like and can depend on. We feel joy when we watch a beautiful sunrise, knowing we are alive with a roof over our heads and means to provide food, clothing, and transportation for our loved ones, that we a.

I finish this entry nearly a year after Sam finally came off the ventilator and sedatives that had kept him unconscious while he recovered from a terrifying illness. I will never forget the tears of joy I sobbed when I got the news that he was going to be alright. I still feel that joy whenever I think back on that moment. Happiness is fleeting but joy is something like what Mary kept in her heart. Remembering, pondering, reliving and relishing that feeling – and continuing to give thanks to God for the joy!