Preparing for the Passover

Feb. 25, 2012

Luke 22:7-10

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”

“Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.

He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters.

A big holiday was coming for the Jewish people. They call it Passover.

Every spring, the Jewish people remember how Moses became their leader and lead them out of slavery fromEgypt. Because Pharaoh was so hard-hearted, it took ten dramatic plagues affecting the Egyptian people but not disrupt the Israelite’s lives before he let the Jewish people go. The last plague was the most intense. God told Moses to instruct the Israelites to slaughter a lamb, dip a leafy branch in its blood and mark their doorposts with this blood as a sign to God. They were to roast and eat the lamb with bread made with no yeast and bitter herbs. The Israelites were to eat hurridly, with their sandals on their feet, staff in had, ready to leave quickly. God told Moses the Israelites would remember this night forever.

In the middle of the night, the Israelites heard terrible wailing from the Egyptian’s houses. In every family, the eldest child had died, including Pharaoh’s house. But the Israelites were safe. God had seen the blood on their doors and passed over their houses. Finally, Pharaoh allowed Moses to lead God’s chosen people out ofEgypt, away from slavery, back towards the land God had promised them.

It’s spring and time for Jesus and the disciples to slaughter a lamb and recall the first Passover. Jesus and the disciples are in Jerusalem. He sends Peter and John to make the preparations. First, they must find just the right place to hold the meal. Jerusalem was a big city. Where will they find a place? Jesus has already made arrangements.

Growing up, my sisters and I raised sheep. Every spring, a family fromChicagowould come to our farm and slaughter a lamb. The Dad would carefully butcher and skin the lamb, keeping it in one piece. He would collect some blood. My sisters and I would watch in fascination as he skillfully and intentionally prepared the lamb.

He came to our farm usually the weekend before Easter. I didn’t quite know why. My Mom said he was Jewish. Looking back, I now know what he was doing. He was preparing his family’s lamb for their annual Passover meal.

The Passover tradition is not always a part of the Christian tradition. We do remember the night Jesus and the disciples shared in this meal, known as a Seder Meal. We call this Maundy Thursday and celebrate it the night before Good Friday.

Lent is a season of preparation, a time when we take 40 days to prepare our hearts and minds for what Jesus endured for our sake. I can envision Peter and John carefully making sure everything was just right for their Passover celebration: the right room, food, dishes, linens, etc. May their preparations for this special and highly symbolic meal inspire us to carefully prepare our hearts and minds for understanding why Jesus became the sacrificial lamb that takes away the sins of the earth.

Let us pray: Your only Son, no sin to hide, but you have sent him from your side, to walk upon this guilty sod, , and to be called the lamb of God. O Lamb of God, sweet Lamb of God. I love the holy Lamb of God. O wash me in his precious blood – my Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Amen.

Blessings –


The Betrayer

Feb. 24, 2012

Luke 22:1-5

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money.

In this journey through Lent, I am going to use the story of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion from Luke’s gospel as our study text. Every day, we’ll study a couple verses of scripture and explore how these words fit into our daily lives today. On a few days, we’ll look at the words and phrases Jesus said from the cross from the other gospel accounts.

We begin at the beginning of the 22nd chapter of Luke. During the three-year ministry period Jesus lived, he called a group of guys to be his closest friends. We call them Jesus’ disciples. These are the guys Jesus ate with, traveled with and experienced life with. In return, these guys left their families, their businesses and their occupations to be with Jesus. It was always Jesus intention to share his life and teachings with this group so that the message of Jesus as the Messiah would continue after his death.

Each of the 12 disciples is unique and would be interesting to study. In the last hours of Jesus’ life, we see one of these close friends, Judas, move into a pivotal role. He is the one who arranges with the local religious leaders and temple guards a way for Jesus to be arrested … for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15), an average amount of money for the time. With friends like Judas, who needs enemies?

Biblical scholars debate how close Judas was to Jesus, his role in the betrayal, etc. Some scholars say Judas wasn’t the bad guy. Rather someone extremely close to Jesus had to turn him in. It happened to be Judas.

When we read this passage, often our thoughts go to naming a person who has betrayed us. Most of us know what it feels like to have someone we trust hurt us; sometimes so deeply that it is nearly impossible to speak about. Even if the incident happened a significant time ago, emotions often remain raw and just beneath the skin.

It’s much easier to dwell upon those who have betrayed us rather than those people whom we have betrayed. In our defense, we think or say, “But …” as we rationalize our actions and position. Who really wants to admit that we’ve been fickle, short-sighted, self-centered or indignant in our dealings with close friends?

There’s one other way to look at these verses. Have we, like Judas, betrayed Jesus and his place in our lives? Ouch. We do it with no compensation of 30 pieces of silver, so it really isn’t so bad, we rationalize. We justify our actions, reducing the argument to the fact that at least our actions didn’t lead to Jesus’ crucifixion. So, we can’t be as awful as Judas. Our rebuttal is that if God hadn’t hung us out to dry, we would not have had to betray Jesus.

Isn’t it interesting the web our minds can weave?  Thank goodness that like Judas, Jesus is willing to overlook our betrayals. Jesus doesn’t hold forever grudges. Jesus can quickly move beyond our hurtful thoughts and actions. If you’re not sure about this, look at your hands. Do they have holes from spikes in them?

Let us pray: I was so lost, I should have died, but you have brought me to your side, to be led by your staff and rod, and to be called the lamb of God. O Lamb of God, sweet Lamb of God. I love the holy Lamb of God. O wash me in his precious blood – my Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Amen. 

Blessings –


“40 for 40” this Lent

Feb. 23, 2012

Galatians 5:313

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Traditionally, there are three aspects folks concentrate on during Lent: service, prayer and fasting. Today, we ponder service. For me, Christian service is always rooted in what God has already done for me. Christ Jesus took my spot on the cross. I receive the gift of grace freely, without any cost to me. This is offered to me simply because of God’s great love for me.

There’s no way I can adequately repay God. It’s impossible. Trying to re-compensate God is a futile act. Nothing I do or give would ever cover the cost of Jesus’ life.

I do choose how to react to what God has done for me. I can accept this great gift and appreciate it. Another way to express appreciation is to give and serve of myself to others. Jesus did this on the last night he was with the disciples when, as they gathered for the Passover meal, he removed their sandals. Then, he washed their feet. Typically, this dirty job is reserved for the lowliest servant of the household. Really – who wants to wash a bunch of dirty feet? It’s not on my bucket list.

Jesus modeled Christian behavior and service as he did this. Then he told his closest group of friends, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:14-17)

Lent is an appropriate time to wash other people’s feet; maybe not literally, but figuratively. I’m challenging the Midland folks to do a “40 for 40” campaign this Lent. Think of a way that you can spend 40 minutes a day in service for the 40 days of Lent. What can you do to show God’s love to your community and the world? How might you serve God for 40 minutes between now the Easter? Here are some suggestions:

  • Volunteer at school for 40 minutes
  • Read to school children during your lunch break
  • Assemble care packages for needy people
  • Volunteer at the food pantry
  • Call or visit someone
  • Run an errand for a shut-in
  • Take a meal to someone
  • Have coffee with a grieving person
  • Babysit for a young mom
  • Come up with your own ideas!

You do not need to do the same thing for all 40 days. If 40 minutes seems unrealistic, make it four minutes or 14 minutes. Just wash other people’s feet. Creatively determine how you can quietly show God’s love to others and be a witness of the love you’ve experienced from God. I look forward to hearing what you did during your “40 for 40” campaign.

Let us pray: Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you. Kneels at the feet of his friends, silently washes their feet, Master who acts as a slave to them. Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you. Amen.

Blessings –


Ash Wednesday 2012

Feb. 22, 2012

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Today is Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. This is a season of the Christian Year when Christians focus on simple living, prayer and fasting to grow closer to God.

For those of you who are visual learners, here is a video that explains Lent in a little over two minutes. The video goes fast. If you feel it goes too fast, I suggest taking 4.5 minutes and watch it a second time.

Lent is the 40 days before Easter, excluding Sundays. It begins with Ash Wednesday, where we recognize our need for forgiveness, ask for forgiveness of our sins and return to our loving God.

During Lent, Christians historically have focused on three spiritual disciplines:

  1. Service through giving to the needy – Serve God these next 40 days by doing something for Christ.
  2. Prayer – intentionally spend more time with God. One way to do this is to start a prayer rhythm. Say a prayer every time before you brush your teeth, check your e-mail or get out of bed. Before you have a conversation with someone (whether in person, via the phone, e-mail or texting), say a prayer for them.
  3. Fasting – eliminate something in your life that pulls you away from God. Historically, this is a specific food. It can also be limiting use of electronics, TV, etc. Another option is to give up an activity such as worry. Think about what you need to let go of or “fast” from to focus on God. What clutters your calendar and your life? How can you simplify your life for the next 40 days?

Life can zoom right by us. It seems the days and weeks fly by quicker each year. I’m glad there is a season of the year which encourages me to slow down, pace myself, reflect upon my inner and outer life. Lent is a gift for each of us.

We will choose how we embrace this season of the Christian year. Begin today, on Ash Wednesday, with some time to reflect upon how you might use this season. If possible, attend an Ash Wednesday service. Ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. I use ashes from last year’s palms of Palm Sunday as a symbol for reminding us how quickly palms waved in joy became ashes of sorrow.

Let us pray: Dear God, in praying ashes to ashes and dust to dust, we remember that you created us and all the earth. For the next 40 days, we want to grow closer to you. Bless me and my family. May we extend love to others. Forgive us for the ways we have hurt You, others and ourselves. Help us forgive each other. May we be encouraged by You to relish this special season and allow ourselves to be drawn closer to You, Lord God. Amen.

Blessings –


I invite you to journey through Lent in a daily devotional. You can sign up to receive this daily devotional in your e-mail inbox. Please share this link with others you think would enjoy journeying through Lent via this devotion. 

Shiverin’ Without the Spirit

Feb. 1, 2012

2 Timothy 1:7-8

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

About two weeks ago, the four-wheel drive in my Jeep began not working properly. Last week, my lovely husband took it to a Jeep dealership and was informed it would cost $2,000 to repair the differential kit. We weren’t sure we wanted to invest this much money into a seven-year-old vehicle with 150,000 miles on it. I know; we must take into consideration that Rick put a new tire on the Jeep before Christmas to eliminate the shimmy! And we can’t forget the $55 motor he put on the rear window a week prior to the four-wheel drive breaking down. This motor runs the wiper to clean rear window. Rick thought I didn’t need the motor and should train myself to depend solely on side mirrors, as he does. When I didn’t buy into his logic, he humored me and installed the motor.

With the Jeep now in for repair, my husband is letting me drive his “Grandpa sports car,” his prized two-door Eldorado Cadillac. He’s demonstrating his great love for me in letting me drive this car. It normally leaves the shed only on dry, clean road days during the winter.

Last week, we were gone overnight and had driven the Cadillac. It was a single-digit temperature night and the Cadillac had to sit outside. Rick informed me that the car would be shivering all night long. My sympathy ratcheted off the empathy scale.

In many ways, it seems that my spiritual life has been shivering lately. I just can’t quite seem to get things together. Everyone runs into bad patches. I’m not in a terrible place but just wanting to make sure I don’t get into a terrible place! I know there is room for improvement, but lack desire, drive and discipline. Nonetheless, I want to make sure is this patch is as short-lived as possible.

Yet, just on Sunday, I shared in worship that Christians ARE going to have bad patches and valleys. The challenge with life’s valleys is that most of us want to get out of the valley as quickly as possible. We look for shortcuts. Sometimes, God would prefer us to sit in the valley for awhile while we’re trying to hurry out.

Ultimately, we all must assume responsibility for our lives and our way of life. I read this week the importance of getting spiritual assurance and energy from the Holy Spirit through our relationship with God. I’ve written papers about this, taught it and preached it. Yet, why do I quit nurturing the Holy Spirit’s energy in my life as I should? It’s so much easier to teach these concepts than actually make sure they are lived in the daily life.

“No one should attempt to be a Christian … who is not cultivating daily touch with the Spirit of God,” writes Ronald D. Sisk. A seminary professor, Sisk’s words struck home with me this week. Too often, I try to do my life purely with my own energy rather than allowing the Holy Spirit’s energy to guide my path. I depend upon my own skills rather than letting my leadership come out of my relationship with Christ. My soul would shiver a lot less if I’d allow Christ to help me do what I need to do instead of depending solely upon myself.

Within the Christian church, we often talk of being a servant and servant leadership, using Christ’s model as our example. The apostle Paul speaks of this with his younger friend, Timothy. Here’s the challenge. Too often the truth seems to get transmuted into a kind of doormat theology, Sisk says. “A servant is seen as one who never sticks up for himself or herself but puts everyone else’s needs first. Or, even more dangerously, a servant leader is seen as one who takes charge and wears herself out for the sake of the ministry.” Ouch. Martha’s nose just got bent out of joint.

Sisk offers an alternative. “A minister will indeed be a servant of the church and will also be a servant of Christ who maintains a healthy sense of integrity and personal boundaries. He will know what he is about and why, and that internal clarity of purpose will inform the specifics.”

Some of you may think, “Oh, those words aren’t really for me. I’m not a minister.” Personally, I use a much wider definition of minister than limiting this to someone in a clergy role. Substitute the word “disciple” for “minister” and, the statement covers anyone who desires to have God as a part of his or her life.

Sisk’s words reminded me of the great daily need to practice daily my journey with the Lord. I can skip exercise for several days and the world won’t end. I can eat a piece of cake today and promise myself to avoid sugar tomorrow. But pushing through on my own volition gets exhausting. Thanks, Mr. Sisk, for reminding me once again how absolutely necessary the Holy Spirit’s power in my life really is.

Let us pray: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is peace; where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is love. There is comfort in life’s darkest hour; there is light and life, there is help and power in the Spirit, in the Spirit of the Lord. Amen.

Blessings –



When Martha Takes Over Your Life

Jan. 24, 2012

Luke 10:38-24

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It’s not a good sign when, on Jan. 24th, the only Christmas decorations that have been taken down are the tree and the outside decorations that the hubby took down. I’ve carried some things downstairs to a building pile in the basement. Rick’s gently put a few bags of things there also. I keep thinking one little bump to something in the pile will create a cascading of Christmas decorations. They still are less conspicuous than the decorations in plain sight when someone comes into the house.

Yes, I’ve taken some time here and there to get a bit more rest, spend some time with family and even have had some time with my husband. But I desperately want to put the brakes on life, if even for two days. I want to relish life and not feel like I’m constantly running from the most immediate need to the next. There was the Thursday night when a church meeting was cancelled because of the weather. The Men’s Badger Basketball team was playing on TV. I made a big batch of homemade soup and Rick pleaded with me to just sit on the couch, eat soup and watch the game with him. Everything else waited.

Just once, I’d like to be able to ask Jesus how he kept all the balls in the air and at the right height. Sure, he wasn’t distracted by the constant barrage of e-mail, phone calls and messages, Facebook and the never-ending flow of paper. Seriously: when did Jesus decide to make one more pastoral call or choose more prayer time?  When did he stop futzing with his next message and get an extra hour of sleep?

Yesterday, my Mom had knee replacement surgery. Knowing that I wanted to be at the hospital throughout the day, I took a vacation day. Nonetheless, I lugged an overflowing workbag with me, used the free wireless at the hospital multiple times for e-mail and read over 200 pages of a book for church. On a vacation day? After things went haywire with Mom’s blood pressure and it took too long to get it within an appropriate range, I stayed overnight with her in the critical care unit. I moved some of those vacation hours to this morning and didn’t officially work until this afternoon. But seriously. Could not I stop for one day?

I have struggled with the Martha versus Mary passage for years. I know that I’m cut out of exactly the same cloth as Martha yet privately long to be a more relaxed Mary. We have vacation planned for Feb. 6 – 15. I have already made the long “Things to do before Vacation” list with high expectations of getting everything crossed off the list by Feb. 5. Since our flight is not until Feb. 7, technically, I have one wiggle-room day. How is that for advance planning? What I long for is Feb. 6 to be a wonderful day of packing, exercise and dinner with friends with maybe a load or two of laundry. We’ll see how that pans out. Martha will be looking at the list, deciding what absolutely has to be done and what can wait.

Do you join the band wagon and make New Year’s Resolutions? I haven’t broken any yet, as I haven’t made time to officially name them yet! This is the way to avoid feeling awful about not accomplishing them! High five, Martha!

Unfortunately, the 2012 “strict” exercise schedule still remains elusive. I’ve had “post a blog” on my weekly to-do list for three weeks running. The only way Martha is getting something posted this week is because she is lamenting her unorganized schedule and over-packed life. Way to go, Martha!

I hear myself and others say things like, “When it slows down next week,” “We don’t have much planned for this weekend,” “I’ll try to squeeze it in ____.” I know that I am suppose to be spending 80% of my time doing the 20% of the things that mean the most to me. I’ll do that when I have time to figure out the 20%. (Actually, I pray that I have the 20% figured out.)

I have missed writing the daily blog because this was the one hour a day that I would force myself to pause and reflect upon something meaningful. It allowed me to discover something personally meaningful. If someone else benefited from my writing, this was a bonus. Unfortunately, I have caught myself thinking, “Thank goodness I didn’t commit to continue writing the blog every day! I would not have had time to do it!” Ugh. Martha – can’t you ever take a break?

My jealousy meter registered this afternoon when I called Rick. Grandson Waylan answered the phone and asked where I was. Why wasn’t I at Rick’s parent’s house, playing Bingo with Grandpa, his sister Ellie and Great-Grandma Vielhuber?

What was Martha doing? Not calling Bingo numbers. Oh, how I wanted to be a Mary, play hooky from my afternoon and evening commitments and place dried seeds of corn on faded and slightly curled fifty-year-old Bingo cards. Wonder what the prizes were …

Yesterday, I was always confident my Mom’s blood pressure would stabilize and she would get through those few difficult hours. Nonetheless, it’s almost inhuman to not let your mind wander and remember the memories that captivate your life in those unsure moments. Helping me buy the only sewing machine I’ve ever owned. Making ebleskivers, little Danish popover’s that are a long-standing tradition from my Mom’s family. Teaching us how to decorate the fancy Santa Claus cookies my friend Pam still wants every Christmas.

I know just where I got my Martha blueprint from. Honestly, it’s not the most awful trait she could pass on to her children. As the elder Martha recuperates from surgery these next few weeks, I pray she can indulge and appreciate more Mary time in her life.

But what to do with my Martha tendencies? I’ll deal with that next week, when I have more time, right after I get my “before vacation” list done.

Let us pray: As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after You. You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship You. You alone are my strength, my shield. To You alone may my spirit yield. You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship You. Amen.

Blessings –


A 2-Year-Old’s Crisis of Faith

Jan. 7, 2012

Philippians 2:5-11

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

A Midland UMC mom shared this story on Facebook this week. It is just too good not to share with you. The story includes her 2-year-old daughter Rae:

Rae woke up sad this morning, missing Fasa (our cat that died in November) and wanted to hold her. Let Rae know Fasa was in heaven with God and Jesus, to which her eyes got really big and she yelled, “You mean baby Jesus DIED too!” Oh, this is not good, I thought. So, now I’ve upset her even more. 😦 Trying to explain Easter can be confusing to a 2-year-old!

Have to love it when innocent children force us to make our faith not just something we “believe” but some that we “live.”

This is what is called “practical theology.” Theology is the study of religion and how this influences religious truths. We most often think of theology as what someone studies at a seminary or university.

Personally, I think there is much more to theology than this. Each person, ultimately, decides what his or her personal theology is: what is at the core of your faith, what negotiable tenants of your faith are and what are non-negotiable.

In the end, theology must be practical. If we can’t actually live our theology, then theology fails us. If what we believe does not fit situations in our daily lives, then it’s probably time to re-examine our theology.

And so, we go back to Rae. Her mom and I would both like to know where Rae thought Jesus was before she discovered that he too, like Fasa, died. When death happens, we’re forced to ponder if there is something beyond this earthly life. Do we have souls and do they live beyond our physical bodies? Where do our souls go? Is there more than one option?

Of course, these topics are way too complicated to discuss with a 2-year-old. Rae’s mom used the wonderful approach of getting out a kid-friendly Bible and using this as a learning tool with Rae. Her little story forces me … and hopefully you … to ponder the underlying lessons from Rae’s experience.

  • I’ve frequently been asked, “Just tell me the basics of what I need to know.” Too many folks want a 2-year-old understanding of God and do not want to move any further than this. We want the basics. We want the dumbed down version. This may work OK for awhile, until we have a “practical” experience like Rae that no longer fits our 2-year-old theology.
  • Your personal beliefs, your personal theology, will be highly influenced by the practical things that happen in your life. I use experiences from my life as examples for how faith does and does not work. When something challenging happens in our lives, does what we’ve been “told” or “believed” helps us? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. When clichés like “Faith can fix anything” or “Everything happens for a reason” no longer fit your personal experience of God, people hit spiritual roadblocks. This is quite often when people give up on God.
  • As discerning, smart and educated people, somehow we must bridge the gap between personal life and a theological understanding of God. Our beliefs must be influenced by the long-standing beliefs and traditions of the church. Our beliefs must also be fit into our daily lives. There is a tension between the two that is real and must be lived. Without this tension, there are no appropriate answers for 2-year-olds who just discovered that the baby in the manger whose birthday we celebrated on Christmas really did die.
  • Finally, this little story shows the importance of connecting the whole life of Jesus together. The Christmas story ultimately cannot be separated from the Easter story. Without both stories, we loose the value, the importance, the symbolism of how and why Jesus came into this world with what happened at the end of his life. What started out in a manger ended up on a cross, which then became an empty tomb.

Within the Christian church we celebrate Christmas and Easter annually to help us connect the two events. I cannot imagine only celebrating one of those events each year. Doing so would not give us “the rest of the story.”

Like Rae, we are going to and have had little faith crisis’s throughout our lives. Where do we go back and get information to help us sort through this? I pray we challenge the Bible and a good Christian mentor to help us make our faith practical, livable and reality driven.

Let us pray: God sent his Son, they called him Jesus; he came to love, heal and forgive; he lived and died to buy my pardon, an empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives. Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone; because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives. Amen.

Blessings –


PS — So, I added one post beyond Epiphany; I just wanted to incorporate Rae’s story. At this point, I’m thinking I’ll continue to post something once or twice a week. I hope you’ll continue to check for posts and/or share posts with others you think might enjoy them. Thanks for going along on this Advent/Christmas devotional adventure. I pray these simple words of faith have brought a little joy to your life, as well as maybe even a little pondering on your part. Happy New Year!

What is January 6th in the Christian Church?

Jan. 6, 2012

John 1:18

No one has ever seen God, but the only and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

In theWesternChurch, today is the day we celebrate Epiphany, or the “vision of God,” the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Christ. It’s the understanding that God has become a human being in Jesus the Christ.

Most often in practical application, Epiphany is the day the Western Church celebrates the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem to see Jesus. We do not know if they arrived a mere 13 days after his birth. My guess is that Jesus was older. More importantly, it’s picking a day to recognize this important part of Jesus’ story.

For the Eastern Church, January 6 is celebrated either as Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. Eastern Churches or Orthodox Churches, such as the Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and others, use the Julian calendar. The Western Church uses the Gregorian calendar. There is a 13-day difference between the two calendars. Thus, most Orthodox Churches celebrate today as Christmas Eve and January 7 as Christmas Day. There is one exception. The Armenia Orthodox Church celebrates Jan. 6 as Christmas Day.

Are you all now confused?

I’ll share a quick church history lesson. Basically, there was one Christian church until 1054 AD when the Eastern Church split from theWesternChurch. The Eastern Church was centered in Constantinople as part of the Byzantine Empire. The Western Church was now centered out of Rome and the Bishop claimed supremacy. The Eastern Church is also known as the Orthodox Church. Many church practices within the Eastern Church have not changed since before 1054 AD. For example, instruments are not part of worship, icons are part of the church embellishments, no chairs or pews are generally within the sanctuary and the accepted language was Greek.

The Western Church, which also became known as the Roman Catholic Church, was originally based out of Rome and used Latin as the accepted language. This church remained basically one entity until Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church with the Protestant Reformation in 1517. This was the beginning of the eventual creation of a whole host of Christian denominations: Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc.

As a Protestant American, I was unfamiliar with Orthodox Church until I went overseas as a missionary. I went to a country that was part of the Eastern Church. There was a Russian Orthodox Church just a couple blocks from the apartment where I lived. Quickly identified by their onion-shaped domes, I was exposed to some Orthodox traditions, which were very interesting for me.

Three years ago today, I was in Bethlehem– the birthplace of Jesus. We visited the Church of the Nativity, a church built at the supposed site of Jesus’ birth. Three churches – the Roman Catholic, Armenia Orthodox and Green Orthodox – share custody of the building and property. When walking through the building, it’s impossible not to notice three very distinct architectures; each representing the space oversaw by that particular church.

Because we were there on January 6, half-dozen Armenian priests were celebrating a Christmas Day service in their section of the church. Icons surrounded their worship space and incense was a significant part of their worship experience. The priests did not want us walking through their section of the building to get to the Grotto of the Nativity, the actual cave that is honored as Jesus’ birthplace, during the service. Fortunately, they knew our Palestinian Christian tour guide who was able to scoot us through without having to wait for the service to be completed.

Various veins of the Christian church celebrate specific noteworthy events within our faith tradition at different times and in very different ways. Some of these traditions are extremely important for some people and have been passed along for so many generations. What I find personally meaningful may not resonate with another person and vice versa. Certainly our Western Church traditions look very different from our Eastern Church cousins. Protestant traditions differ greatly from Roman Catholic traditions.

Just yesterday, I was part of a discussion about biblical authority and how we interpret this within United Methodist Churches in Wisconsin. Believe me: there are wide opinions about this. Add to this a variety of denominations and this becomes even trickier.

Understanding the culture of the time in which these historical events happened is very important. Many American Christians, in particular, wrongly think that the first Bible was written in English for people of our time and place. Oh my, I quickly discovered at seminary that this is not how it happened.

We may not all interpret the Christmas story exactly the same. I’m OK with this. What I hope is that I can respect others views, as I pray that my view would also be respected. This is venturing into one of the many sticky places of Christianity. It saddens me how many folks have been turned off and away from the Christian church because we simply can’t agree. This was a problem when Jesus was alive within the Jewish tradition. It continues to be a problem within Christian circles today.

I provide no answers here. Whether we celebrate today as Epiphany, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, my deepest prayer is that we honor God the Son in human form as the person we called Jesus the Christ.

Let us pray:

A Russian Orthodox Church

Star of the East, oh Bethlehem star, Guiding us on to heaven afar, Sorrow and grief and lull’d by the light, Thou hope of each mortal, in death’s lonely night. Fearless and tranquil, we look up to Thee. Knowing thou be m’st through eternity. Help us to follow where Thou still dost guide Pilgrims of earth so wise. Star of the East, thou hope of the soul. Oh star that leads to God above, whose rays are peace and joy and love. Watch o’er us still till life hath ceased. Beam on, bright star, sweet Bethlehem star.

 Blessings –


The Church of the Nativity

Simple Faith?

Jan. 5, 2012

Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Yesterday, I lead a worship service at a local nursing home. This is one of those things that I do nearly every month. With the residents, we sing a few songs, I share a message and then we celebrate with the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Because we are still in the season of Christmas, I picked all Christmas carols. One of the things I’ve learned in leading worship at the nursing home is to pick songs the folks are very familiar with. The people may not be able to read very well or know all the words. But many folks will know the words to the first verse and/or chorus of well-known hymns. They can join in as they know the words.

The message is usually something I’ve done as part of a children’s message of late. This Christmas, I’ve used a little lesson of making homemade “snow globes” of sorts as a way to remember the three gifts the wise men brought to baby Jesus. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this little lesson. Last Sunday, I sat on the floor with grandkids Waylan and Ellie and made “snow globes” on the living room floor while the adults watched the Packer’s game. They “oohed” and “ahhed” as I poured water into the globe and it turned color, based on the couple drops of food coloring they’d chosen for their snow globe.

After the message, one of the nursing home staff and I offered communion to the residents. As we approached one woman with the bread and the juice, she asked, “What is this for?” This is a woman who not too long ago recognized and appreciated receiving holy communion.

I know it’s not her fault that she didn’t recognize what we had before her. In situations like this, often dementia or Alzheimer’s clouds a person’s ability to grasp reality. Having had a grandmother who suffered for several years with dementia at the end of her life to the point she couldn’t put two words together, it’s difficult to understand why such a disease must be present.

I gently explained to the woman that we were offering communion and assisted her in receiving it. This brings forth potential questions regarding whether this woman understood what communion really is and whether or not she should have received it. I’ve had this discussion several times in relationship to young kids receiving communion, people who may or may not fully understand who God is and whether or not they should participate in a sacrament.

My intention today is not to discuss each of these situations and what is “right.” It is not my intention to start a discussion that could become very passionate with a variety of opinions.

One of the great challenges of the Christian faith is that very few aspects are what I’d call black and white. Personally, I see a lot more grey in how I interpret our so-called rule book, The Bible, than specific mandates. For me, there are two mandates, as stated by Jesus: love God and love your neighbor. Outside of this, wow, it gets sticky very quickly.

Too often, I think we try and put faith into nice, neat and square boxes. We want to categorize right from wrong, good from bad, better from worse. Yes, there are times when we need to draw lines and uphold the basic tenants of our faith. But when the basic tenants become more important than faith, we begin to loose what I feel basic faith is about.

There are many aspects of faith, God and belief I cannot adequately explain. Try as I might week in and week out, there are times when I simply must stutter and admit that I do not have adequate words or understanding to speak on behalf of God. Does this mean I stop believing or give up on faith? I pray not.

When the shepherds arrived at the stable, they certainly did not understand everything that was going on. Why would sane, highly educated men travel for months following a star? Only because they had faith this journey would enrich their lives.

Sometimes, we will be challenged to rely only on faith that there is a God who had a son Jesus who lived and died as our Messiah. We see this lesson over and over in the Christmas story. Faith is what granted Mary to say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word.” Faith is what Joseph kept in mind as he went against culture and did not leave his fiancé. Faith is what allowedElizabethto know that there was a special baby growing inside Mary’s womb. Faith is what beckoned Joseph to take his little family out of Bethlehem and into Egypt in the middle of one night after he’d been warned that King Herod would try to have his way with the Holy Child.

When have you had to let faith carry you along? I’m quite confident there has been at least once in your life when it would have been easier to abandon your faith … but for some reason you did not. Or maybe you did give up on God for awhile but now you are trying to redevelop that trust and or confidence in God again.

Is the journey of faith worth it? As my friend and artist Bonnie Mohr wrote and put on one of her prints, “Have faith, it fosters hope – it make the difference. Believe, with God all things are possible.”

Let us pray: O come and sing this song with gladness as your hearts are filed joy. Lift your hands in sweet surrender to his name. O give him all your tears and sadness; give him all your years of pain, and you’ll enter into life in Jesus name. Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs. Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  

Blessings –



“Doing” versus “Being”

Jan. 4, 2012

Matthew 28:16-20

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

One of the aspects of Christianity that I’ve struggled with is the “doing” versus the “being” roles.

Here is how I view the difference. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he clearly told the disciples that it was now their responsibility to carry on the things he had taught them. They were to become the voices and doers of the ministry he had laid out before them. Jesus couldn’t remain on earth forever. Now, the disciples were instructed to make disciples, baptize and teach other folks.

This is the “doing” part of the gospel.

Yet, Jesus was very clear about how important it was to “be” with God. That’s why he regularly set aside time to just “be” with God. This is also what he tried to get Martha to focus upon. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha was upset because Jesus and the disciples came to her and Mary’s house unannounced. We see Martha scurrying around, getting her guest’s feet washed, a meal prepared, making sure they are comfortable and have something to drink.

She gets very irritated with her sister, Mary, who makes no effort to help out. In pure disgust, Martha asks Jesus to instruct Mary to help her with all the household work! Jesus simply laughs at Martha. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” In essence, Jesus tells Martha to forget about everything and simply “be” like Mary – sitting at his feet, taking in all that he is sharing.

This is the “being” part of the gospel.

For me, there is a big tension between the two. When do I do? When do I be?

Most people tend to be either more Martha or more Mary. I am a self-defined doer. I was raised to be a Martha. I live this way and will probably be this way until I die. I make no excuses for this. The problem is that too often I focus on the doing and not enough on the being.

The last few days, I have tried to not be so driven by what I do. Yep, I’m not getting the work done that I feel I should be. But it also feels good to let my soul rest. I haven’t had any great revelations about my spiritual, professional, emotional or mental being. I did not really expect it. What I need is a little time to be in God’s Spirit; to move at a slower clip; to not get so caught up in “doing” and ignoring my need to “be.”

There is always plenty to do. If we wait for the clear spots to suddenly appear on our calendars to “be,” I’m not sure they will appear. We are the ones that adjust the tension between the two. I clearly know there are times when I need to be in high production. These times must be countered with spaces of “being” or I loose focus on Who I’m doing this for. Without the “being,” the “doing” becomes a lot more about my abilities and talents and successes than why I’m even doing the doing.

How do you manage this tension? If you’ve discovered a secret or two about balancing the “doing” with the “being,” I’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, I ask Jesus to guide my “doing” and my “being.”

Let us pray: O let the Son of God enfold you with his Spirit and his love. Let him fill your heart and satisfy your soul. O let him have the things that hold you, and his Spirit like a dove will descend upon your life and make you whole. Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs. Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  

Blessings –