Follow the Star

A Devotion for Epiphany January 6, 2018
Read Matthew 2:1-12

“Going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” Matthew 2:11-12

Wise men, astrologers, magi – all names for those men who went searching for a king with only a star to guide them and a prophesy to direct their way. It seems a strange quest, this following a star, this search for a newborn king. Yet, follow they do. These magi, search where the star will lead. The journey will cover a thousand miles with an uncertain destination. Yet they set out in a search not only for a king, a promised messiah, but a search for meaning and purpose. They will be surprised as they discover their destination is not a palace, but a humble home in Bethlehem.

Arriving in Bethlehem, they lay their treasures down. Being warned in a dream – they return home in another way. There is a sense that all of us, having gone to Bethlehem and arrived at Christmas, dare not return by the route we have taken. Christmas ought to change us, ought to cause us to be like those who are wise and be different from whom we were before we met the Christ.

It ought to bring us to a place of changed lives. Christmas, encountered in all of its fullness does change us. It causes us to take stock of our lives. It asks us to look at the values we are living by and rid ourselves of those that have neither merit nor value. Christmas ought to cause us to return home a little kinder, more generous . . . less fearful and more faithful. For if it doesn’t we haven’t truly encountered the Christ

The star continues to lead seekers to God’s truth, to kneel at Bethlehem’s child and leave as new people . . . People who have been set free from yesterday’s sins, failures, fears and doubts. Set free to live and love more graciously with a generosity of spirit and with hope in their  hearts.  Brian Wren’s Christmas Hymn shares the message of a changed life.

There’s a spirit in the air,
telling Christians everywhere:
‘Praise the love that Christ revealed,
living, working, in our world!’

 When believers break the bread,
when a hungry child is fed,
praise the love that Christ revealed,
living, working, in our world.

 Still the Spirit gives us light,
seeing wrong and setting right:
God in Christ has come to stay.
Live tomorrow’s life today!”

Prayer: God of the Christmas Star, guide each of us as we follow the stars you set in our skies. Lead us again to the Christ, give us dreams to follow and the courage to follow them. Lift our spirits and our eyes to see more clearly your vision for us.  Help us to  trust you to take us where you want us  to be.  May our lives be a blessing.      In the name of the Christ Child we pray. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here – Advent and Christmastide Devotions.

A Dream and the Voice of an Angel

An Advent Devotion for December 23, 2017
Read Matthew 1:18-25

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20b

Joseph was confused and hurt. The woman he planned to marry was pregnant. In the first century, the act of betrothal was as binding a covenant as a marriage. Discovering that Mary was pregnant was devastating to Joseph. He loved Mary and didn’t want to hurt her, yet his own hurt was overwhelming. Agonizing over the right thing to do, he planned to set the marriage aside in the legal manner available to him.

Then in a dream, God’s word comes to him. It changes the direction of his life. Confusion was replaced by God speaking words of comfort, encouragement and promise. Often it is when we are most confused that God breaks in, causing us to look at our lives differently. When our plans are disrupted and our world falls apart, God speaks to our hearts. When we listen, we hear God telling us quietly that God’s plan for our lives may be very different from the one we’ve been pursuing. When we listen, when we really hear God’s plan and follow it, our lives take on a significance they did not have before. Joseph listens to the voice of the angel. As he does so he believes this child must be given a chance to be nurtured and loved.

A friend wrote this words, “So it is with all of us. Christlike understanding must be given a chance . . . Must be nourished until it’s big enough to cast a healing saving influence across the earth.” Joseph reminds us to make room both in our hearts and our homes for the Christ child to be nurtured and to grow within us.

Prayer: Loving God, We give thanks for Joseph, who in his confusion followed his heart, listened to your words of comfort and opened both heart and home to the Christ child and Mary. May we also open our hearts to the children you’ve put in our lives. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

The Trip to Bethlehem

An Advent Devotion for December 22
Read Micah 5:2-5

“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.” Micah 5:2

Bethlehem is called the City of David because the great King David grew up there. Another name is “House of Bread” for it’s fertile ground. It is the place where Jacob’s wife Rachel died and where Ruth found compassion ( see the Biblical book of Ruth).

For Mary and Joseph the route to Bethlehem began when Caesar August decided that everyone needed to return the village of their ancestors to be accessed for taxes. Quirinius was given the job to make it happen. According to the structures in place at that time, Mary and Joseph both had to go and be accounted for.

Unknown to the powerful and mighty and clearly unknown to Augustus, his demand that all people return to their ancestral homeland, will bring about the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Micah
“But you, O Bethlehem . . ,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel”

The wise, proud and powerful make their plans. Yet it is God who works in the midst of those plans, bringing good out of evil, twisting dynamics till truth is born. Michael Perry’s Christmas Hymn reminds us of the prophets and the plans of God.

“Blest be the God of Israel,
who comes to set us free;
who visits and redeems us,
who grants us liberty.
The prophets spoke of mercy,
of freedom and release;
God shall fulfill that promise
and bring the people peace.”

Prayer: Gracious God, remind us that you are working in the world even when the powerful manipulate events for selfish gain, and when they resist the work of your love and compassion. Remind us, that you really are in control, especially when we doubt. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Favorite Quotes for Pastors

I keep some favorite quotes in my Bible to remind me of both my calling as a Christian and as a pastor. Some have inspired me, others challenge my attitudes, still other remind me that I can do nothing unless I’m attached to the vine of Jesus

“Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet whom you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say and
Keep me out of your way.”
This prayer was on a card that Father Michael Judge Chaplain had in his pocket the day he died, ministering to firefighters at the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001.

“Communicate God’s heart, character and will.” Adam Hamilton, comments about his prayer in his book “Making Sense of the Bible”

“To be unclean is to turn away from union and intimacy with Jesus.” Gail R. O’Day New Interpreters Bible, Commentary on the Gospel of John (pg 723)

“God, help me to see those who have hurt me not as enemies . . . but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.” Based on a prayer of Henri J.M. Nouwen

“God, I will guard my lips, my mind and my heart so that my language will not disparage, injure or wound another child of God. I must do no harm even while I seek a common good.” Rueben P. Job, “Three Simple Rules”

“Let me no more my comfort draw
from my frail hold of thee,
In this alone, rejoice in awe
Thy mighty grasp of me.”
This is from a poem of John Campbell Shairp, which I first found in a sermon by  Ted Loder.

“Ministers are like trumpets, which make no sound if breath be not breathed into them.” John Flavel

 “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5-6

Remembering to Remember the Sabbath

When the Israelites were on the way to the land of promise, God gave them Ten Commandments which would guide their life together. You can find the story of their journey from slaves in Egypt to the land of promise in the Biblical book of Exodus. I suspect that one of the least kept of the ten, is to “Remember the *Sabbath Day and keep in Holy.”  This commandment is the only commandment that starts with the word “Remember.”  (See Exodus 20) I wonder if it was because God knew we would be tempted to believe that Sabbath rest was unimportant.

Imagine how radical it was to ask people living on the edge to take a day off . . . to actually rest and pause in their busy lives . . . to spend time with their creator God. The Israelites were told not only that it was OK to take a break from their work, but that God commanded a day of rest. The day would be a day to reflect on life and one’s relationship with God. It created by, its very existence, time for family and friends.

There have been times when people have turned Sabbath rest into legalism, where the least activity brought offense and broke a rule. But, that was never God’s intention for the Sabbath. When Jesus was questioned one day about his actions on a Sabbath, he said to those who complained, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

God’s intention has always been that Sabbath rest would be an opportunity for us to take a break from life as usual, to allow ourselves time for something else. We would find in Sabbath rest opportunity  to ponder things of eternity and the things of God. It would allow us to renew our body, souls and spirits . . . it would offer space to heal our  wounds and for our souls to be restored.

Wayne Muller in his book “Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives,” writes “If we forget to rest we will work too hard and forget our more tender mercies, forget those we love, forget our children and our natural wonder. God says: “Please don’t. It is a waste of a tremendous gift I have given you. If you knew the value of your life, you would not waste a single breath. So I give you this commandment: Remember to rest. This is not a life-style suggestion, but a commandment – – – remember to play and bless and eat with those you love, and take comfort, easy and long, in this gift of sacred rest.”

*Traditionally, the Sabbath was thought of as the Seventh Day of the week (or Saturday by our calendar). Christians began to worship on Sunday as they remembered that Christ was raised to life on the first day of the week.

Inauguration – Changing Visions – Changing Dreams

The Domes, Milwaukee Mitchel Park“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”              I Samuel 16:7

Change is always difficult. When it comes unbidden by us, the changes created are more difficult to accept. Today, our country changed hands. President Obama stepped back and President Trump took the oath of office. We have a new president, which one segment of our nation is thrilled is here. Meanwhile, another segment feels a deep loss and fear. In our divided nation we’ve grown tense and uneasy. We do not trust each other or what motivates those whose values are different from our own. We no longer believe in the good intentions of people whose political views are not like ours. Distrust breeds alienation, false assumptions, division and fear.

On this inauguration weekend, it is good to remember that God sees us all so differently. God doesn’t see blue states and red states, Republicans or Democrats. The color of our skin, the place where we live and our wealth matters little to God. No, God looks inside us. God understands what we are made of. God looks into our hearts. God sees into the very center or our being. God knows our dreams, our hopes, our aspirations. God sees the goodness in us and in those we disagree with.

On our coins are printed the words, “In God We Trust.” Today, in the changing of presidents, is a good day to begin praying for our nation and all it’s leaders. For in some way that none of us really understand, God does work through our prayers. Our hearts are touched with the love of God. We find ourselves being changed in our praying. Divisions between people are bridged. Mountains move, in spite of logic, reason and common sense.

So let us pray for the unity of our nation and wisdom for its leaders. Let us pray for integrity, compassion and justice to rule the hearts of all our leaders. Let us pray for minds open to hear another viewpoint, patience to understand another heart and light to see God’s vision for our nation. Let us live the words on our coins and truly trust in God.

Sometimes, the Answers We Need are Already Within Our Grasp

The Hertz 800 emergency number fell out of my purse four weeks late. I needed it back in Crescent City CA where my rental car refused to start. I had an almost new Volkswagen Jetta that should have been the perfect car. But from the beginning the steering column locked which made it difficult to turn the key. I once had a car like that, so I figured I could handle this. On my third day of vacation, I drove to a Safeway store to pick up a couple of items, leaving all my rental car information at the hotel. In the store parking lot, I discovered the steering column was locked tight on the car. No matter how much I jiggled the steering wheel or the key, I simply could not get the key to turn over.

So there I was in the Safeway Customer Service counter, calling Volkswagen – the only number I did have. They offered to help me out if I would just stay on the phone, go to my car and try a few things. But, that would mean my Virgin Mobile phone worked in Crescent City CA, which it did not. Given the problem, their next solution would be to tow the car one hundred and ten miles to their nearest dealership, in the opposite direction I was traveling. I’d already tried the local Hertz Rental agency which was closed. I still had Triple A though. They promised to have someone there within ninety minutes. As I talked with the Triple A contact, I did get the 800 emergency number for Hertz.

That night, the rental car company was staffed by a kind and helpful man. He told me how to unlock the steering column, by pressing the brake to the floorboard. And wonders of wonders, it worked. That would be two hours after I discovered I couldn’t turn the key in my beautiful blue Jetta. A couple of days ago, my purse tipped over. Cards spilled out of pockets. One of them was a Triple A card I’d tucked into my purse before heading out on vacation. On the card was the Hertz Rental Car emergency 800 number.

Sometimes, the answers we are looking for are already within our grasp. We may simply need to dig a little deeper inside ourselves, or spend time with a trusted friend. The answers may surprise us as we journal about our concerns and our fears. A solution might appear in our reading of scripture or in the words of a familiar song. It may simply be that we are at a place where we need to take those first steps we already know we need to take.

God has as many ways of guiding us as there are people on this earth. Look around today. Where have you felt God nudging you to explore, risk or dare? Who in your life are you feeling a need to reach out to? What problems are burdening your heart and who have you thought of trusting them with? God leads a single step at a time. Is it time for you to take that step in front of you?

Even though I didn’t find the card the day I needed it, I was blessed by a young woman at the customer service desk at the Safeway store who showed extreme patience with me . . . while I used her phone for most of two hours. The Triple A service truck arrived just as I was ready to leave. Turning the car off for a moment, once more, the steering column locked solid. I needed the Triple A driver to get it started that time. In the morning I traded the Jetta for a more seasoned Honda. The next thousand miles went without a hitch.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.” 

Proverbs 3:5-6