Archives for November 2014

An Advent Journey: When God Became Small – Day Four, First Sunday


1 Corinthians 1:3-9, NRSV

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I do believe that these highlighted words are at the heart of our story: GOD IS FAITHFUL.

When things are going well for us, that statement rings true and give us glorious cause for hallelujah and amen. When things are not going well, it’s a whole lot harder to hold onto and celebrate that truth.

And yet, that is precisely when we need it the most. When the doctor’s diagnosis is terrifying, when the kids are all sick and the house is a mess, when your spouse feels like a stranger, when you are buried in a pit of loneliness and sadness — believing that God is faithful can be a lifeline.

And the story of Christmas, the meaning of Advent, gives powerful testimony to that faithfulness. For me that is underscored by the simple beauty of the details: a young mother, a strange angelic visit, shepherds in the field, a sudden, lonely birth story — all of it seems cattywampus to what we might expect a story of God’s faithfulness to be .

And yet. . . aren’t those lovely words? And yet. . . the very smallness and humility of the story sings to me somehow. It sings of a God who is in it for the long haul, a God who longs to know us from the inside out. . . and so God becomes ‘inside out.’ For us.

Oh, thank you, Jesus, for showing me the heart of the Creator. The Creator, who is FOR US, and wishes to know us so well and to love us so madly, that bearing flesh and enduring hardship became necessary parts of the story. Help me to hang onto the truth of your faithfulness, even when I feel alone and frightened. Thank you.



An Advent Journey: When God Became Small – Day Three


Matthew 24:15-31, The New Living (TLB)

“So, when you see the horrible thing (told about by Daniel the prophet) standing in a holy place (Note to the reader: You know what is meant!), then those in Judea must flee into the Judean hills. Those on their porches must not even go inside to pack before they flee. Those in the fields should not return to their homes for their clothes.

“And woe to pregnant women and to those with babies in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter, or on the Sabbath. For there will be persecution such as the world has never before seen in all its history and will never see again.

“In fact, unless those days are shortened, all mankind will perish. But they will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen people.

“Then if anyone tells you, ‘The Messiah has arrived at such and such a place, or has appeared here or there,’ don’t believe it. For false Christs shall arise, and false prophets, and will do wonderful miracles so that if it were possible, even God’s chosen ones would be deceived. See, I have warned you.

“So if someone tells you the Messiah has returned and is out in the desert, don’t bother to go and look. Or, that he is hiding at a certain place, don’t believe it! For as the lightning flashes across the sky from east to west, so shall my coming be, when I, the Messiah,return.  And wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.

“Immediately after the persecution of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give light, and the stars will seem to fall from the heavens, and the powers overshadowing the earth will be convulsed.

“And then at last the signal of my coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning all around the earth. And the nations of the world will see me arrive in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And I shall send forth my angels with the sound of a mighty trumpet blast, and they shall gather my chosen ones from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.”

Such a nice, cheery text for Advent, don’t you think?

I’m not a big fan of apocalyptic writing/speaking, even when Jesus is the one doing the talking. But somehow, it seems good and necessary to include a few texts about the next Advent, when Jesus comes again.

The season of Advent is about waiting for that coming, too. And it’s good for me to remember that. What I do like about this particular text is the fact that Jesus warns his followers not to listen to any claims that the Messiah has shown up.

Why? Because the signs will be clear — we will recognize him, without any human intermediary making claims of ‘special knowledge.’

When the time is right, Jesus will be here, to claim us and to set things right, once and for all. ANYONE who claims to have the inside track is a charlatan, plain and simple.

Somehow, I find that reassuring.

O, Lord Christ! It is hard for me to picture you arriving in triumph. Everything about your first Advent was so decidedly humble, that I sometimes have trouble wrapping my mind around your coming glory. But help me to hang onto the truth of it, even though I struggle with it. Because your second coming offers us hope of a better world, a more just system. And for that I give you praise and thanks! Amen.


An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Two


1 Thessalonians 4:1-18, The Message

One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.

Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.

Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.

Don’t run roughshod over the concerns of your brothers and sisters. Their concerns are God’s concerns, and he will take care of them. We’ve warned you about this before. God hasn’t invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something holy and beautiful—as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

If you disregard this advice, you’re not offending your neighbors; you’re rejecting God, who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit.

Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it.

Stay calm; mind your own business; do your own job. You’ve heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts. We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders, not lying around sponging off your friends.

And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.

And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.


It’s just a small phrase, a few words carefully chosen by Eugene Peterson when he was doing his wonderful paraphrase (based on real knowledge of the languages) – a living spirited dance.

And what is he talking about with that fine phrase? Working together with God to bring God (and ourselves) pleasure — true pleasure. He’s talking about the life of faith. 

As a dance. 

My fundamentalist grandmother would roll over in her grave!

I, however, think it’s an absolutely perfect description of what God invites us to do when we turn our faces in God’s direction: to partner with God in this dance of life, to dance the kingdom in!

One of the most graceful kinds of dancing I know is the hula. About three years ago, I had the privilege of watching a lovely Benedictine nun do a hula of her own creation, set to a song of praise to God; I wept at the beauty of it.

It was the perfect picture of what this life of ours can look like — worship and work, faithfulness and beauty, offered in a spirited dance to the God who made us. 

Oh, Lord, help me to dance with you, to follow your lead and to enjoy the process. As I wait in this season of Advent, looking forward to celebrating that wee baby, give my feet extra measures of grace and freedom. Give my heart a new sense of commitment. Forgive me when I make our life together into a ‘dogged religious plod,’ trapped by expectations and guilt. Help me to inhabit your presence with joy and thanksgiving. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day One

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends.

It’s been quiet around here for a while; there have been very few words available to me for some reason. But as has been my custom, I am doing a daily Advent reflection this year. I cannot think of a year in which the spirit of Advent is more needed than this year. With the verdict in Ferguson coming on the eve of the season, and so many friends living with broken hearts and endless questions, we need to sit in this Advent space and intentionally ‘work out our own salvation,’ examining our hearts for ways in which we contribute to that sadness, those questions. May the Spirit speak to our hearts with hope and conviction. Most of these pieces were written in the early days of November, yet the breath of the Spirit is, as always, evident in the poignancy of the texts and the ways in which they have raised questions in me.

So . . . TODAY is the first day of Advent. Sunday is the first Sunday — the more familiar beginning marker in the minds of most of us — but today marks the beginning of the season, which extends through Christmas Eve. Each of these daily posts will include a photo, one of the scripture three texts from the Common Lectionary for that day, a brief reflection on a single phrase in the day’s passage, and prayer. That’s it. I so loved doing my October series on “Looking for the Little,” that I’m doing an Advent version of that — hoping to encourage myself (and maybe you, too?) to be intentional about keeping-it-simple during this crazy-making time of the year.


Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, NRSV

 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might, 
   and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
   the one whom you made strong for yourself.

Then we will never turn back from you;
    give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, OLord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

The picture at the top of this post probably should never have been taken. I was shooting directly into the light, something a professor in Photography 101 would say is a great, big no-no. But I loved what I was seeing and wanted to try and capture it.

Of course, it’s not possible to capture the sun. But this photo does capture some of its mysterious majesty and brilliance, I think. 

“Let your face shine,” the psalmist cries as we step into this waiting season of Advent. “Let your face shine that we may be saved.”

And here’s the truth of it: Jesus Christ is the shining face of God for us. He took the dive, made the leap. From the heavens to the womb of the virgin, from the cosmos to the molecular, from the divine to the oh-so-human. 

God’s face shines on us still, even though there are those days when it surely doesn’t feel like it. Over my life, I have learned that what it ‘feels’ like is never the end of the story and it is not always the truth of things. Because no matter how we may be feeling about life, God shines on us.

God shines on us in the face of that baby boy, the one who grew up to be a fascinating man, the one who gave his life away for the likes of us, the one who rose, victorious over death, the one who lives forever as Eternal Light in the heavenly places.

And also? In the smallness of our hearts. Alleluia.

Ah, Lord Jesus, light of the world. Illumine us as we take this walk again this year. As we move steadily toward the stable, help us to keep our focus on you, the one who became small for us. Amen.

Wait and See . . . A Deeper Story

I’m writing at A Deeper Story today, talking about waiting – and why it’s important. But also why it’s dang hard. You can start here and then click over to read the rest . . .

The house is quiet tonight. And that feels right. I am tired and more than a little bit anxious, wondering if a long-planned vacation is going to happen. Inclement weather may well force cancellation of our flight and we truly need a break about now. A break in the weather, a break from the routines of surgical recovery, a break.

So, we wait. We wait for weather updates, we wait to hear from the airline, we wait to decide if we should re-schedule.*

We wait.

And as we wait, I’m reflecting on how much of life is spent doing exactly that — waiting.  Waiting for all kinds of things, from the trivial to the sublime. We wait in traffic, we wait for school to be out, we wait for the bread to rise, we wait for the doctor to call, we wait for a baby to be born or an elderly, ailing loved one to die. We live in the middle of all kinds of waiting — small kinds of waiting and terribly L O N G ones, too.

We wait.

And I guess we’re in pretty good company with all this waiting — at least, if we take our Holy Book (even a little bit) seriously. EVERYBODY waits in the pages of our book, some of them a dang long time, seems to me.

And so much of the time, that waiting is marked by hope. Perhaps God begins it all when he waits for Adam and Eve to show up for their usual evening stroll, patiently calling them to come out from hiding. I wonder, do you think God hopes? One of the things that I love about our creation story is this picture of God looking for his loved creatures. I know nothing about the workings of time and eternity, but it somehow makes me happy to think that God always hopes good things for us, that God imagines a different ending, one of reunion and reconnection.

Surely the characters whose lives mark the pages of Our Book are regularly on the look-out for a different ending. Noah waits for it to rain — and then for it to stop raining. Abraham waits for lots of things — a word from the One God, and for a final landing place, one marked with beauty and abundance. But most of all, Abraham and Sarah wait for an heir, an answer to a promise. They wait beyond hope, those two. . .

Just click on this line and you can finish this piece over at A Deeper Story. . .


We Are What We Do — SheLoves








I’m over at SheLoves today, with a small story celebrating how well my parents did marriage. You can begin the piece here and then just click here to read the rest . . . .

All my life, my parents lived out what it means to be married well. Each of them came from homes that were dysfunctional in different ways and they worked hard to create a life that made space for one another, and for each of their three children. They provided room to grow and flourish, to laugh and cry, to ask questions and to live without finding all the answers, a space in which to live out the faith that brought them together and kept them together.

They were, however, very different people. My mother was (and is, even in her increasing confusion) highly social, quick to speak, and emotionally more volatile. Dad was quiet, almost to the point of shyness, very slow to speak and he usually kept his emotions to himself So, of course, they adored each other! And they brought out the best in one another, too. Most of the time.

No marriage is perfect and theirs certainly was not. But they worked at it, with a deep sense of commitment and a daily decision to hang in there, even when things got difficult. I will be forever grateful that theirs was the home into which I was born and that theirs was the marriage I got to see up-close-and-personal during the twenty years I lived with them.

I don’t use words like ‘devotion’ very often. Something about it feels old-fashioned, maybe? But as I think back on their 63 years together, that is the word that rises to the top: they were devoted to one another. In many ways, I think they saved one another. I know my father felt that way about my mom’s vivacity, her beautiful laugh and her sharp sense of humor. And my mother was astounded by dad’s deep intelligence, his musical skills and his genuine kindness. Somehow, they filled the holes in one another’s personality and together, they built something beautiful.

My father has been gone for almost ten years now, and when she remembers that she was married, my mother misses him very much. In fact, I would say that she never quite got over his death.

The last three years of dad’s life were difficult, and as he spiraled downhill from Parkinson’s disease and chronic atherosclerosis, I watched as my mother tenderly cared for him. Yes, she was impatient at times and she was exhausted most of the time. But she completely embraced her role as caregiver, helping dad to bathe, change clothes, eat. It was both painful and beautiful to watch.

They lived about three hours away from us during those years and I drove down as often as I could to visit. Ten days before he died, my father had to be taken to the nursing facility at their retirement community and I stopped by to see him on the way home from a pastor’s conference. If there is one thing making pastoral calls helps to teach you, it is what death looks like. When I walked in that door, I knew he was not long for this earth. . .

Please join the conversation over at SheLoves today . . .