Looking out or looking in?

20161130_084120Wed., Nov. 30, 2016

 Luke 2:7: And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manager, because there was no guest room available for them.

What is your favorite symbol of Christmas? A Christmas tree? Presents? Wreath?

My favorite symbol is easy: the nativity scene. It was my favorite long before I was a pastor. I have always just loved looking at different nativity scenes.

Many years before I was a pastor, my Mom asked what I would like for Christmas. I told her a nativity scene. I was specific about the kind of nativity I wanted. I didn’t want a high-gloss version. I didn’t want the fancy ones. As nice as these are, they aren’t me.

I wanted a more realistic version. Simple. More real life. When I saw the scene that I liked, it was at a store far from my Mom’s house. I think she asked my sister to go and get it for me. It was a surprise when I opened this particular nativity on Christmas Day. It has moved with me many, many times. Each year, I enjoy having it out during Advent.

I’ve noticed something interesting about nativity scenes. When adults arrange them, we have the figurines looking out; at us. When kids arrange them, everyone is looking into the stable at the baby. Why the difference? I think adults want to see the faces of the figurines. The kids understand more appropriately the nativity is about baby Jesus and have them looking in.

Yep, I have my guys facing out right now. Before Christmas, I’ll make sure they get turned around, facing the baby. More importantly, may my heart be looking in towards Christ this Advent and not outwards, looking for recognition of something I do or acknowledging my achievements.

What is your favorite symbol of Christmas? Why? How do you use this symbol throughout Christmas to help you prepare for the birth of a king? How can it help you keep looking towards the baby?

Heavenly Father – Sometimes, I imagine you cringing as we too often commercialize Christmas and the events around them. Yet, I know that you also see the many things we do to help us remember the birth of Jesus. Place in our hearts the connections of the Christmas story. Help this story come alive for us this Advent season. Amen.

 Today’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: ketchup.

 Blessings –


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We have the same name?


Tues., Nov. 2, 2016 

Luke 1:31: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”  

A recent conversation between our 5-year-old grandson and myself. We were talking about his 4K class at school.

5-year-old       Do you know my teacher?

Me                   I don’t think so. What is her name?

5-year-old       Mrs. Kelly

His 6-year-old sister interjects and tells us her name is Ms. Kelly because she isn’t married.

5-year-old       Her name is Ms. Kelly because she isn’t married.

Me                   No, I don’t know your teacher.

5-year-old       Hey, what’s your last name?

Me                   Vielhuber

5-year-old       (His eyes get very big.) You have the same last name that I do?

Me                   Yes, I do.

5-year-old       How did that happen?

Me                   Am I married?

5-year-old       Yes.

Me                   Who am I married to?

5-year-old       Grandpa.

Me                   What is Grandpa’s last name?

5-year-old       Vielhuber (of course, he has his own special way to say this awful German


Me                   So what is my last name?

5-year-old       Vielhuber. Did you know we have the same last name?

The realization that we have the same last name. Rather shocking to this little 5-year-old.

Names are a big deal. When the angel Gabriel visited a young teenaged girl named Mary in her village of Nazareth, the angel not only told her that she would be giving birth to the Messiah, the angel told Mary what to name the baby. Just to make sure everyone got the same memo about the name, the angel also tells Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, what the baby’s name will be.

In Hebrew, (the language the Old Testament was written in) “Jesus” is the same name as “Joshua” and means “Savior.” Jesus is given this name because he will save the people from their sins. The New Testament is written in Greek. “Jesus” in Greek can be “Savior” or “Messiah.”

It’s no accident that Gabriel tells Mary and Joseph what to name the baby Mary is carrying. His name explains Jesus’ purpose on earth. From before Jesus was born, his purpose on earth was already identified.

Names are a big deal. Over lunch, we then proceeded to continue the name conversation. The 5-year-old’s middle name is Richard. Grandpa’s first name is Richard. Wow! Two big revelations in one day! This Advent, can we be as amazed by the meaning of Jesus’ name as our 5-year-old grandson was that he and I have the same last name?

O Jesus – we may not have the same name as you do. It’s the meaning of your name that should stop us in our tracks and amaze us. Thank you for coming to the be the world’s Savior. Thank you for coming to be my Savior. Amen.

Today’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: a can of green beans.

Blessings –


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Preparing Jesus’ Birthday Present

Mon., Nov. 28, 2016

Matthew 2:11: On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Presents are a HUGE part of Christmas. Did I say huge? Yep.

Over the years, my view on Christmas presents has changed. After living overseas for a year and seeing many people who truly had needs, Christmas gift-giving often seemed extravagant to me. Let’s be honest. How many people will you be challenged to pick out a present for because they have everything they need? And what do you buy someone who has everything?

This Christmas, let’s look at gift-giving differently. Let’s prepare a present for the One whose birthday we celebrate! At other birthday parties, we give gifts to the birthday person. Why should Christmas be different?

For the next four weeks, I encourage us to daily prepare Jesus’ birthday present. It’s really simple. Just take a box or a basket and this becomes the box that will hold the birthday present. Then, take a look at the Advent Devotional I shared yesterday. On every day between now and Christmas, there is an item listed. Yesterday was tuna. Today is mac and cheese. Each day, put that item into your box or basket. Along with food, some hygiene products are listed. If you don’t have an item in the house, be creative! On Christmas Eve, take your basket to Christmas Eve worship or the local food pantry. This becomes your family’s present to Jesus.

I’m so excited to see the boxes of food appear at the churches I serve on Christmas Eve. I can’t wait to see all the boxes be presented in honor of Jesus’ birthday. And truly, I believe these are the kinds of gifts he loves.

Dear Jesus – We’re sorry that too often we forget your birthday present on Christmas. Forgive us for not making this a higher priority. Inspire us to think creatively in preparing a present for you this Christmas. We know you will take the presents we present, bless and anoint them and use them for your kingdom.  Amen.

Blessings –


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Today Advent Begins

advent-devotion-calendar-2016Sun., Nov. 27, 2016

Isaiah 11:1-2: And there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

Contrary to popular belief, the holiday season didn’t officially begin with Black Friday shopping. Officially in the church, it begins today with the first Sunday of Advent. For hundreds of years, the church has practiced a season of preparation for the Christ Child in the season of Advent.

Why Advent? Well, just like it takes time for a baby to grow and develop before being born, Advent is a time when we grow in our faith and prepare for the Christ child. It’s a season of anticipation. Luckily for us, we know the end of the story. And while the Christmas story doesn’t change from year to year, getting our hearts ready for the arrival of the baby is just as important.

For myself and many others, Advent is a busy time of the year. Decorating, baking cookies, sending cards, shopping and wrapping presents … extra things that take time. It easily can become a time when we get so caught up in the activities around Christmas that we forget why we celebrate Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong. I love many Christmas traditions. I may even blog about a few of them this Advent. But I pray that I all do somehow reminds me of and takes me back to the first Christmas. And helps me remember why the birth if the Savior was such a big deal.

To help us be mindful of the reason for the season, I’ve put together an Advent Devotional Calendar. Every day, there is something suggested for you and your family to do this Advent. Most of these suggestions do not require lots of preparation. Many can be done every easily. In the morning or even dinner, the night before, read the suggestion for the day. As a family, think of ways you can do this. Then prepare how you will do it if advance planning is required. The following day, share your experience. And then do it all over again until Christmas Day!

I pray these little suggestions can help us be a bit more mindful this Advent Season. Please check the blog daily. I plan on sharing some ideas through Advent.

Lord God, we thank you for this special time of the year to prepare for the coming of the Christ child. May we be encouraged and find ways to daily point us back to You. Amen.

 Blessings –


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To Everything There is a Season

Fri., Nov. 18, 2016

Ecclesiastes 3:1: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Have a mentioned that we’ve had a simply outstanding fall in Wisconsin? Here it is, mid-November and some places have not had a killing frost yet. A few frosty mornings but the flowers on our covered front porch are still blooming. That’s right. BLOOMING.

If the weather forecasters are correct, the change will come this weekend. Highs in the 30’s, strong winds and a chance of flurries. Old Man Winter is ushering in true Wisconsin Thanksgiving weather just in time for deer hunting and crisp weather on Thanksgiving morning.

I worked from home one morning a few weeks ago on one of those tremendous fall days. When I heard some noise outside, I looked out the front windows. About 15 3-and-4-year-olds were parked on the front lawn. From the nearby daycare, the kids were escorted by a teacher. Several kids clutched plastic grocery bags which held their favorite leaves. How I would have loved to hear the conversation between the teacher and kids as they hung out. I noticed the teacher pointing out various things. While I couldn’t hear what he was saying to the kids, they sure were interested.

Maybe he was sharing why the leaves are changing. Maybe he was reflecting about what he likes about fall. Possibly he was sharing some little antidote with the kids. What amazed me is how quiet the kids sat and listened. It was not a long little sermon. They sure were intrigued with what their leader said.

To everything there is a season, a time for everything under heaven. The next few verses of Ecclesiastes shares a variety of contrasts: life and death; plant and harvest; tear down and build up; weep and laugh; mourn and dance; keep and throw away; silent and speak; love and hate; war and peace.

In our lives, we go through many seasons. The literal changing of the seasons is just a sampling of the variety of seasons in our lives. I pray that when we experience seasons in our lives, we can remember the little kids sitting on the lawn, attentively listening to their leader. May we call upon our leader, our God, to guide us through the season we are experiencing. May we be as intrigued by what lies ahead of us and rely on God to guide us through this time in our lives.

Seasons are simply that: seasons. As fall winds down and we enter winter, we know there is another season after winter: spring. When we’re in one of those challenging seasons of our lives, let us experience hope of another season to come.

Almighty God, we know the promise of many seasons in our lives. Some of those seasons are much easier to enjoy than others. May we see your presence with us in every season of our lives. Amen.

Blessings –


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God’s Natural Sanctuary

Tues., Nov. 15, 2016

Psalm 96:6: Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

Fall 2016 in Wisconsin has been simply superb. The days have been unseasonably warm, the sun has shown a lot and the fall colors have been long-lasting. This has continued for several weeks until now, mid-November. In celebration of this fantastic weather, Eric, who works at my part-time job, wore shorts to work on Monday!

Last Saturday was another of these gorgeous days. Late afternoon, Rick and I took the three youngest grandkids for a hike in the woods. The idea began with 9-year-old Waylan wanted to take his miniature horse, White Rock, for a “hike.” The 85-pound, 6-month-old puppy couldn’t be left behind. So, Anna tagged along. Sometimes the kitten, Checkers, also joins us. On Saturday, I think she was sun bathing.

Our hike included walking on the road, through the corn and CRP fields and into the woods. As we neared the woods, the neighbor’s nosey cows crowded the line fence, checking out our menagerie. Grandpa convinced us that we should go to a little collection pond in the woods. Of course, this meant fighting the thorny brush, dodging fallen trees and trying to find a path that White Rock would find acceptable. She wasn’t interested in going quite that far. Fortunately, Grandpa found a path out of the woods with less thorny brush to contend. By now, almost 5-year-old Dylan’s little legs were done in. My Saturday work-out involved carrying him back on the return trip.

Thank goodness little Ellie had planned ahead and made snack bags for everyone. The sun was rapidly falling behind the western horizon as the kids used a round hay bale as a table. Anna begged for a snack also. She got what was inadvertently dropped while the rest of us nibbled on nutty bars and vanilla wafer cookies.

When we think of God’s sanctuary, we most often think of the worship space inside of a church. God’s first sanctuary was created in the beginning when God created the earth and all of its beauty. My prayer is that today we can all find a little window of opportunity to celebrate God’s beauty and strength in God’s original sanctuary. Breathe in the fresh air. Stomp on a few lingering leaves. Gaze at the clouds. Celebrate God’s glory.

Lord God, what a beautiful and unique first sanctuary you created for us to enjoy. I pray that we see your presence in all of nature around us. May we truly appreciate and celebrate your beauty in this sanctuary today. Amen.

 Blessings –


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Remembering Dad’s Service


Fri., Nov. 11, 2016

 2 Kings 19:34: For I will protect this city to save it, for My own sake and for the sake of David My servant.”

Today is American Veteran’s Day. Nov. 11 is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice which ended World World I between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918. On Veteran’s Day, vets are thanked for their service as we honor those who have served our country.

The picture with this post has special meaning to me. It’s my Dad, a vet from the Korean conflict. After basic training, he was stationed in a post-World War II Germany. Germany had divided into East Germany and West Germany. Soldiers like my Dad were involved in trying to keep peace in Europe. While my Dad spoke very little of his time in the service, I do remember him speaking of how hot the conflict during the Cold War was.

My Dad served in the Army overseas for about 18 months. He came back to the US on a three-week leave in June 1955 when my parents married. He returned to West Germany and my Mom continued to live in rural, central Iowa. Towards the end of his original enlistment period, my Dad re-enlisted. Some of the guys he served with didn’t re-enlist. They went to California for a short period of time, waiting to be sent to Korea. The Korean conflict ended and their time of service was completed. My Dad remained in Germany another year.

About a year ago, I was going through some things from my parents. When we moved my Mom into an apartment two years ago, I brought home some boxes of things to be sorted. In the meantime, I had also moved and hadn’t gotten through the boxes. Last fall I began going through these boxes and found a journal from when my Dad was in the service. At Christmas time, my family has a white elephant gift exchange of sorts. I wrap up various items collected from our family history. Family members open the gifts and have a chance to “steal” an item from another family member. I knew my Dad’s journal would be the most highly sought after item at last year’s Christmas. And it was. One of my nephew’s has this book proudly in his possession. It’s a history lesson on my Dad and his time of service.

Today, I don’t want to debate whether war is justifiable or not. I don’t want to reflect upon appropriate use of military power. I think we’ve had enough American history this past week to ponder and reflect upon. What I do want to do is honor and respect those who have protected my family, friends and country over the years. It is something we can easily take for granted.  Honestly, I never had a conversation with my Dad about how he felt about war and military power. When he was drafted, he understood this was his responsibility. And he fulfilled it.

What is our responsibility as U.S. citizens today? To love our country and encourage our elected leaders and those charged with protecting this country. While we often may not agree on what is appropriate military action, I pray we can see the necessity of having it in place.

Unfortunately, war has been a part of humanity from early on. Many people read the “fighting” parts of the Bible and question how a loving God could allow or be a part of such awful things. Simply put: for protection. Time and again, God chose to protect the Israelites from enemy neighbors. As long as there is evil in this world, protection will be needed.

Can we all take an extra minute and thank a veteran this day for protecting us? Unfortunately, evil continues in this world and therefore, protection is necessary.

Thank you, Almighty God, for protecting us even when we were not aware we needed protection. We ask that you provide a cloud of protection for those scattered around the world trying to protect vulnerable people. We lift them up to you this day. Amen.

Blessings –


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