Thursday, December 29, 2005

Matthew 2

I'm amazed by how God speaks to Joseph in these dreams through angels. First of all, if an angel started talking to me in my sleep, I think I might just freak out. Second, why doesn't God speak to me so directly? Heck, I'll settle for an e-mail...something would be nice.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


I read the birth story from Matthew today. What really kind of struck me today was the scandal of it all. It's kind of surprising that Hollywood hasn't picked up more on the scandal in the Bible, for there's plenty of it. My goodness, the birth of our Savior is born out of scandal. Here are Mary and Joseph engaged to get married and suddenly Mary shows up pregnant. Now if I'm understanding church politics correctly, I'm pretty sure that if Dawn showed up for worship on Sunday pregnant I would be absolutely done for as a pastor and I would be the talk of the town, if not a wider region. Yet this is how God comes to us. Of course, it's scandalous simply for God to break into our world. God is God and was just fine in God's heavenly realm, there really was no reason for God to break into this world other than for God's great love for us. It is a scandalous, never ending, sort of love. It is a love for you and a love for me. It's beautiful.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Luke 1:39-80

Funny, isn't it, how when folks have an encounter with God it has a way of stirring things up and humbling a person. Perhaps you have experienced it in your life, in your own way. When has God touched your life? How was it changed?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Luke 1:1-38

Today, I decided to veer away from Romans for a while and head over to Luke as Christmas quickly rushes in. Today brought the prelude, or the beginning of the birth story. Here we had the angel Gabriel announcing to Elizabeth and Mary that they will have children. Once again we have God working through the unlikeliest of people: Elizabeth who is old and barren (kind of reminds you of Sarah a bit) and Mary who is a virgin. Yet we see that God is capable of anything. When we read these stories it is easy to see a tranquil seen off acceptance. As I read through this year I see fear, but acceptance and faith.

We read that Mary pondered these things. When we read this the temptation is to picture something like a monk or a nun pondering the greatness of God. Perhaps that is what she was doing. However, my hunch is the ponderings were more along the lines of, "YIKES!!! What the %@$&?!!!" First of all an angel has just spoken to her. I don't think angels are like the serene figurines we find in book stores, because every time they show up in the bible they have to start with, "Fear not!" These people were scared to the point of needing to clean their undergarments. Second, Mary was just told that as a virgin she was going to have a baby and on top of that this baby is the son of God. That sounds to me like a huge, impossible responsibility. Yet, through her fear she discovers that there is enough faith to accept this calling set before her by Gabriel, by God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Romans 9:25-33

Not much to say today... I was struck by how God comes to us, despite us. I suppose it's kind of like God sending his son to us. How God became flesh in that little baby child, born in a manger. We sure didn't deserve that gift, that saving grace, but we got it anyway.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Romans 9:14-24

I'm struck by the image of the potter and the clay. I suppose it's in part because I chose that image from Jeremiah for my ordination. Yet, with Paul's analogy we are the clay and God is the potter. So who are we to try and tell the potter how to mold us? Still, how often do we do that? I think sometimes it grows out of fear. We can see the right thing to do, but it's easier, or so it seems, for us to try and coax a different plan out than it is to do the right thing. I do it all the time. It's kind of like when I was a kid and I would see another kid getting teased viciously when we were out on the playground. I knew even then the right thing to do was to try and help the poor kid. Instead, it just seemed easier, safer, to join in the teasing. Often God seems to be trying to help me become more patient, compassionate, or loving, but it seems that instead of allowing God to mold me I fight back and try and tell God how I should be molded. I try and justify my impatience, lack of compassion and love. I pray today that God would mold me and give me the courage to follow that plan God has for me.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Romans 9:6-13

I don't really have anything profound to say today. However, I will share that I love how Paul shows here how God has a way of turning everything upside down. What we see in our worldly ways as the way to go about it, God turns those things on its head and goes about it in God's own way. Despite our best efforts to create rules and order God has a way of calling people despite what we might think would be best. It's kind of fun.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Romans 9:1-5

Truth, it seems to be a commodity in short supplies sometimes these days. Could they make the fine print any smaller? Or when making a major purchase you can't help but wonder if they were up front with everything and you're really getting the bargain it appears to be.

Of course, on the other hand we sometimes feel like Col. Jessup played by Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men" when he makes that famous impassioned speech that begins with, "You can't HANDLE the Truth!!" And he's right, sometimes the truth is too much, we don't want to hear it. Who wants to hear that a loved one has been diagnosed with terminal cancer or been killed in a car accident. Honestly, who can handle it? What if the truth is God wants you to love your gay cousin, despite you believing it is wrong and sinful? What if the truth is God wants you to love and support George W. Bush, even though you think our being in Iraq is despicable? What if?...

The truth is hard. The truth is often hard to come by. The truth is often hard to handle. The truth is God loves us desperately.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Romans 8:31-39

What great promise and hope!! This is one of my favorite passages. One of my favorite sermons. I can just imagine Paul getting all fired up like some fancy preacher we see on TV as we flip through the channels. It's incredible. I do so much in my life, often unintentionally, that ends up being attempts to place barriers between myself and God. I'm often my own worst enemy when it comes to trying to tell other people about God. I am often my own worst enemy when it comes to my own faith life. Yet Paul proclaims to us today that it doesn't matter. No matter what we do to try and get in the way, whether it be build walls or dig ditches, nothing is ever going to stop God from clinging to us with His love, with His grace. Now that is by far the best gift I can receive this Christmas!!

... Perhaps some of you parents know what Paul is talking about. No matter what your kids do to drive you nuts, to hurt you, and so on and so forth, you still can't help but love them. Hard to imagine anyone could love that much, but we do and God does so much more.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Shopper's Psalm

This is from a friend I met while in Nome.

"A Shopper's Psalm"

I'm weary, Lord.
Bone tired.
In spite of the fact that my shopping's half done I need to crash.
The crush
of the crowd has gotten to me.
So, too, the deafening sounds
of a pre-Christmas city
throbbing with incarnate greed.
I need to be reminded
that this season's more
than plastic Santas,
perpetual sales,
and Muzak.
I need back
on the track
of reflection.
I've derailed, Lord.
My emotional fuel is leaking.
I'm about to explode.
And then I see it.
A miniature creche
in a gift shop window.
A guardian father;
a grateful young mom;
a baby asleep on the hay.
A trio maintaining their harmony
despite the dis-chord all around them.
And with my nose pressed against the frosted pane my inner pain subsides.
At once I am rested,
renewed, and revived.
And I linger
and ponder
God's peace.

By Greg Asimakoupoulous

God's Grace at Work

Here is a fun story I came across...

"Anne Lamott, author of the wonderful book Traveling Mercies tells of how in her church babies get passed around the moment they're brought into the sanctuary - everyone takes care of everyone else's babies. Every baby instantly has more parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles than he ever knew.

Imagine what that teaches children about Christian community! What they learn about love even as infants! For the adults everyone gets a chance to remember the miracle of birth, God's hand in our human being.

If there is a heresy today it is that we're so preoccupied with other things that we fail to pay attention to the fact of God's spectacular grace at work in and through our humanity, God's miraculous unmerited love in evidence around us. God's Son born to bring us Second Birth while we labor under the assumption that we have to do it all ourselves."

Peter Buehler, With God Nothing Is Impossible

Romans 8:28-30

All things work for good. I must admit sometimes I wonder. There are days when I just can't imagine what good could ever come out of the current situation. Paul promises us that Good will come, that God is good all the time. I guess if it is of our own doing good is not going to come of a bad situation, but as long as God is in control...

I also like this notion that ALL are called and ALL are equipped for ministry. It's easy to come up with excuses as to why I can't be involved. When I was a kid at the top of the list was, "We have a pastor to do that." The truth is ALL of us are called to be ministers. The truth is God will, and does, equip you for the ministry to which you are called.

Thanks be to God!!

Romans 8:28-30

All things work for good. I must admit sometimes I wonder. There are days when I just can't imagine what good could ever come out of the current situation. Paul promises us that Good will come, that God is good all the time. I guess if it is of our own doing good is not going to come of a bad situation, but as long as God is in control...

I also like this notion that ALL are called and ALL are equipped for ministry. It's easy to come up with excuses as to why I can't be involved. When I was a kid at the top of the list was, "We have a pastor to do that." The truth is ALL of us are called to be ministers. The truth is God will, and does, equip you for the ministry to which you are called.

Thanks be to God!!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Romans 8:26-27

I know, I'm a preacher. Word's really ought to be a gift. Yet, here's the problem. Word's often fail me. This is particularly true when it comes time to pray. Sure, I encourage others to just pray what's on your heart, tell God what you're thinking about, etc. Sometimes it's just not that easy. It seems particularly hard when there are lots of things weighing on you. Where do you begin? What do you say? This is the beauty of these two verses for me.

"The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words." What a wonderful turn of phrase that is. I get a vision of the Spirit that looks almost like a deep sea diver, plunging to the very depths of my heart to discover what is truly there only to plunge even further into the depths of God's heart to plant those worries, concerns, and cares. While there I see the spirit mining bits and pieces of God's immense love to bring back and deposit in my heart. This brings great hope and reassurance for me. The Holy Spirit is able to communicate with God those things that are just beyond words, the Spirit speaks when I am simply unable... What a blessing!!!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Romans 8:10-25

Some things I think I think about this passage:

How can you read Paul and still think it's all about you?

Because we wait with Hope during this Advent season, we can do so with patience. Paul even says so.

I've recently had a couple of friends have babies. One had terrible long labor pains. Somehow, because of that, this section sounded a little different to me today.

Verse 18 reminds me of our reading from 1 Thessalonians this coming Sunday and our call to be thankful IN all things.... note that is IN all things and not FOR all things.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Romans 8:1-9

What do you think about this section? I get a sense of "Monkey See, Monkey Do". Where is your focus? Where are you looking? To the spirit or to the flesh? Far too often I think I look towards my own fleshly abilities to solve challenges instead of to the Spirit. I think this is a fun challenge.

Romans 8:1-9

What do you think about this section? I get a sense of "Monkey See, Monkey Do". Where is your focus? Where are you looking? To the spirit or to the flesh? Far too often I think I look towards my own fleshly abilities to solve challenges instead of to the Spirit. I think this is a fun challenge.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Romans 7:14-25

I think this section is a real tongue twister. It seems whenever I try and reference this section when I'm talking to someone I end up saying, "What I don't want to do I do do" and that just makes the 8th grade boy in me giggle.

That aside, I think Paul is getting at something kind of juicy here. I've had a notion for a while that sin is kind of like an addiction. Just like an alcoholic knows that more drinking is going to be bad for him, will destroy the liver, etc., we also know that continuing to act in sin is bad for us. Yet both of us end up doing what we shouldn't. It seems we just can't help ourselves. Part of the problem is in many ways it feels good in the moment. To cuss out the car that cut you off on the road feels good at the time as it relieves stress. To have sex outside of marriage feels good in the moment. To pass on some juicy gossip about a neighbor feels good at the time. To dig into your job to the point of neglect towards family and/or worship feels good as you see how much your accomplishing. Of course sin feels good, or else I don't think we would be tempted by it. The problem is the price you pay later. Is it really worth the price? No! Do go ahead and do it anyway? Quite often.

There is good news from Paul, though. He reminds us that this "addiction" is really only of the flesh, the earthly portion of us. One day that will die away. Yet, when it comes to eternal, spiritual, matters God is fully in control of that portion of your life. Gracias a Dios! Thanks be to God!!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Romans 7:7-13

I'm struck by how Paul writes about the law being a good thing. It sounds to me kind of like a spiritual vaccination. I'm not sure how doctors figured out that if you put a little bit of something like polio into the body you could become immune to polio. Somehow, by pointing out this wretched disease your body is able to recognize it and therefore fight it properly. Paul seems to be suggesting something similar here, I think. By introducing the law into your life you are made aware of the sin that is present and you are better able to confront it. So in a way, I guess, the law allows us, or helps us, to live in God's grace. Now that sounds like a good thing.

What do you make of what Paul is saying here in Romans 7?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Prepare the Way

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' " John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. ~Mark 1:1-4

Prepare the Way

Do remember your first date? Do you remember how you primped and preened to look absolutely perfect for that night? I love how girls work to get every hair and every piece of clothing perfectly in place and matching just so, while boys have a way of working it so everything is perfectly out of place. Either way we make sure everything is just so for that big night and then we wait with eager anticipation.

Prepare the Way

Holidays like Christmas are often not only about the presents, but they are about having guests over. If you grew up like I did that meant getting ready. There was food to be prepared, exquisite food. There were rooms to be cleaned. There were mountains of laundry to be leveled. We needed to prepare for the coming of our guests. I realize now that it was not all so much about making us look good as the family hosts, but it was about honoring those guests that were coming with the best we had to offer.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

We find ourselves in the season of Advent, a time to prepare for the coming of the Christ child, a time to prepare for Christ’s return here on earth. So we prepare our homes. We prepare ourselves. John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord and to call us to do the same. How? We clean our personal houses through repentance and forgiveness. When we confess our sins and repent, we are forgiven.

"Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! ~Matthew 7:7-11

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Romans 7:1-6

Yesterday I attempted to talk some about our being set free from this crazy rat race that the world has us sucked into. We keep moving about life faster and faster. Why? We feel more and more of a need to keep up with our neighbors, pushing many into unbelievable debt load. Why? I don't quite understand it, but that doesn't mean I'm free from it. Frankly, I'm just as guilty as the next guy. However, we have been set free and we can listen to Nancy Reagan and "Just Say, 'NO!'" We don't have to be sucked into this world of speed and greed. I love the way Paul talks about it today. He compares us to a widow. The law no longer applies to her, in terms of commitment to her husband, any more because he is dead. In the same way through baptism, through Jesus' death, we too are free from the laws of the world that once bound us. We are free to commit to something else, to someONE else.

What is binding you today? Where do you find freedom? What do you think about Paul's analogy?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Romans 6:11-23

Paul talks today about being free from sin. I believe we are. Although, I must admit there are a lot of times I don't know if I really feel it. Oh sure, I'm nice and well behaved when I know people are watching. What about when I get in the car by myself? Or the thoughts of frustration, to near rage, that I feel when I'm stuck in a check-out line at the store and something isn't working right and it seems that only idiots are allowed to work on the current problem. Or the subtle ways I take out a tough day on family and friends. Sometimes, even, I just "lose it" for no apparent reason. It's these sorts of things that make me feel like I'm a slave to sin. I don't mean to scold that other driver under my breath, become impatient at the store, take out my frustrations on my family, or to get mad about silly little things. However, I do all of those things, even though they feel out of my control.

What I appreciate is that Paul appears to suggest this is perhaps normal. My impression is that what Paul is saying is that while we are now slaves to righteousness doesn't mean we don't slip over to our old sinful habits every now and again. In the end, because of Jesus, we are forgiven. That sounds good to me. Something, most certainly, to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Just a Minute

It is hard for us to understand Jesus' delay in his coming. God's time clock is certainly out of sync with ours as Little Jimmy learned one day as he was laying on a hill in the middle of a meadow on a warm spring day.
Puffy white clouds rolled by and he pondered their shape. Soon, he began to think about God.

"God? Are you really there?" Jimmy said out loud. To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds. "Yes, Jimmy? What can I do for you?" Seizing the opportunity, Jimmy asked, "God? What is a million years like to you?"

Knowing that Jimmy could not understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jimmy could relate. "A million years to me, Jimmy, is like a minute."

"Oh," said Jimmy. "Well, then, what's a million dollars like to you?" "A million dollars to me, Jimmy, is like a penny."

"Wow!" remarked Jimmy, getting an idea. "You're so generous... can I have one of your pennies?"

God replied, "Sure thing, Jimmy! Just a minute."

Romans 6:1-10

WOW! What timing. Today is the funeral of one of the patriarchs of this congregation. What a wonderful reminder, then, to read today about being baptized into the life of Christ, which also means being baptized into his resurrection. There is hope and joy, the angels are dancing as Harry joins them in songs of praise. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Romans 5:15-21

I've just got two quick thoughts today:

1) Looking at verse 18, if sin came into the world through one person and one person brought justification into the world, how much can my actions (just one lowly person) effect the whole world? I'm not saying that I'm any where near the level of Jesus, or eve Adam for that matter. However, if God worked both of those things through just one person, How much might God work through me? Or you?

2) Verse 20 is something that really struck me today. It is so easy to see what goes wrong that we often miss the good that comes along with it. It's kind of like watching the news at night. We get plenty of images and stories about what went wrong, but what about all of the good things that happened today? This summer the youth are traveling to Lynn, MA (rough part of the Boston area) for a service trip. What we hear about Lynn is the crime, the poverty, the gangs...the things that are bad, we hear about sin abounding there. What about all of the good people that live there that are raising families, that are loving their neighbor no matter what? What about those families?

Where do you see grace abounding in your life today?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Romans 5:1-5

I used to have coaches use the mantra, "No Pain, No Gain!" To a certain extent they were right. I needed to push myself just a little bit further each day so I could get stronger, so I could build my endurance. They were right. They were also wrong. Sometimes pain is your bodies way of telling you to stop, "No Mas!" Pain alerts you to injuries or things that can be even more damaging.

In verse 3 Paul encourages us to rejoice in our suffering. Perhaps this is even where, "No Pain, No Gain" started. In some ways this section sounds to me like a rehashing of the beatitudes. I hate when character is being built. It's usually painful and difficult. Yet, when all is said and done I'm grateful for the hope that it has produced.

So it seems when suffering, difficult times, come along in our life we do have a choice. We can ignore it or run away, but it's still there. We can fight it, but that seems only to irritate it and make the suffering worse. We can embrace it, like Paul encourages us and in so doing we find hope. So go ahead and embrace your suffering, and those who are suffering around you.

QUESTIONS: How do we embrace our suffering while avoiding to seek suffering? (I think there are those who read a passage like this and then try and find ways to suffer. I don't think that is what Paul is encouraging.) How do you tell the difference, especially in the heat of the moment, between a good suffering (pain) and a bad suffering (pain)? Where have you seen suffering produce endurance produce character produce hope in your life?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Animals in Heaven

This is a poem given to me by a student of mine at a former church, her name is Amanda. First she gives us a definition for the cross:


and the poem:

The Animals in Heaven
The animals in Heaven never fight
The animals in Heaven don't bite

The animals in Heaven roam wild and free

And when humans come near they don't need to flee

The animals in Heaven would never hurt me!

The lion and lamb graze together

The people that sinned are healed forever

Back on earth, animals will roar and people will sing


When Jesus Christ becomes the King.

Romans 4:15-25...a prayer

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Father, reconcile my faith as righteousness. Strengthen and renew my faith just as you strengthened Abraham in his old age and Sarah in her barrenness. Jesus, may it be your faith working through me today, and not mine. Amen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Romans 4:1-14

Promise, that's the word that stuck out for me today. Paul talks about Abraham and his circumcision. When was Abraham chosen? Before the circumcision! The circumcision was a sign then, simply, of what God had already done in his life. Abraham was chosen regardless of his actions. Is that not the case for us as well?

I pray today that I might live those promises given to me by God at birth, through my baptism. That I might know them in a real way. That we all may know them in a real way. That we may no longer be bound by the law, but be free to live beyond the law.

My question for today is, what does this say about our baptism? Has God chosen us before our baptism, just as God chose Abraham before his circumcision? If that is the case, how does that challenge our understanding of what is happening in the sacrament?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Romans 3:19-31

I can't say that I had a lot of thoughts today. One thing that certain stuck for me was Paul's comment, or perhaps I should say question, about what then do we have to boast about? We live in a very boastful society, culture, etc. I watched both the Vikings and Packers play yesterday and there was a lot of dance and celebrating. They weren't celebrating all so much what others had done, but crying out to the nation to see what they had done. Yet wouldn't Paul suggest that they have nothing to boast about, but it is Christ (God) working through them instead? It's an amazing thing to recognize Christ working through you. See, one of the traps of humility is falling into despair, or a lack of self-confidence. However, when you recognize Christ working through you then you can boast like Paul, that you are capable of accomplishing anything. There is a confidence, a confidence in self even, but it is a recognition, a humility that says, that it is Christ doing the heavy lifting.

All that being said, my prayer today is that I, we, would know the kind of faith that Paul is talking about here in Romans. That we would know a faith that frees us to live unencumbered by the law. That we would know a faith that frees us to live life rich and to it's fullest. I pray that we would know it in such a way that we would live it.

Flight Plan

Last week Dawn and I went to see "Flight Plan". I thought it was a fun movie. I think we both enjoyed that it had several twists along the way to keep us on our toes as viewers. If you haven't seen it, I would recommend it for your holiday viewing.

As the week has gone on there is something about it, though, that has kind of struck me. If you haven't seen it you may have at least seen that the basic plot of the movie is that a mother and daughter enter a plane and somehow during the flight the little girl goes missing. It is amazing, really, with what tenacity the mother continues to search and hunt for her daughter. She is unwilling to let anything stop her. It is a powerful testimony to the kind of love a parent has for a child. How much more is our heavenly father willing to search for us when we go missing, when we wander away spiritually speaking? It reminds me a little of Luke 15. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty cool.