Archives for December 2016

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Twenty


Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
2 Samuel 7:18-22
Galatians 4:1-7

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

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, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

This psalm is a fitting follow-up to yesterday’s glory, don’t you think? It’s a sober reminder that we’re not ‘there’ yet, are we? There is work to be done, there are divisions to be erased, there is gospel truth to be spilled out in gift and gratitude.

And as I noted yesterday, it is never easy to do that.

Thank God for the psalms of Lament! There are days — seasons, years, decades! — when we need them desperately. “How long, O Lord!” “Restore us, O God!” “Give ear!” “Stir up your might and come to save us!”

Yes! Yes! Come and save us . . . from ourselves, from those who would distort, even pervert, your truth, from the rigors of suffering and death all around us. Thank you, God, for giving us words to use when we feel overwhelmed and weary. Thank you for lament.

And now, let ‘your face shine, that we may be saved.’ Yea and amen!

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Nineteen


Psalm 80:1-7
2 Samuel 7:1-17
Galatians 3:23-29

Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Ah, yes! One of the sweetest passages of all! Paul does such amazing work in these few verses, honing down the gospel truth to this powerful statement. The law was necessary, Paul says — it served as a guard for us, a ‘prison’ of sorts, putting parameters around our behavior. But the law was imperfect. Until the Perfect came and lived among us.

The coming of Jesus brings a special kind of freedom to those who choose to pay attention. “In Christ Jesus, you ARE ALL children of God through faith.” There it is, plain and simple.

But never easy.

Taking in this truth is a lifelong process, learning to believe that we are now ‘clothed with Christ,’ that we are all one, that we belong. Do you catch the cataclysmic shift in thinking/behavior/worldview/attitude/disposition/rule of life that such thinking requires? 

So as I read these words today, in the second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century, I still have to ask the Spirit of God to help me make the transition from the discipline/guardedness of the Law to the remarkable freedom/unity/equality found by living the life of faith in Christ Jesus. 

This is revolutionary stuff, my friends. And if we believe it, if we live it, everything changes. Everything. We can no longer tolerate abusive and disparaging language about any group — any race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, religious persuasion. If those of us who believe in Christ are one, then every other person on this planet has the potential to be one with us in Him. Period. There is no room for racism/sexism/classism/xenophobia/snobbery/prejudice of any kind. None.

I don’t think we’re there yet. Do you? But I have hope! And I count on the power of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of God’s people to help us move toward this picture painted by Paul’s words in the glorious epistle to the Galatians!

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Eighteen


Psalm 42
Zechariah 8:1-17
Matthew 8:14-17

Matthew 8:14-17

When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

I love seeing the references to Isaiah in the New Testament. There are some glorious sections in the Isaiah collection of that are among the most lyrical words in the entire Bible — words of hope and promise mingled with the more usual prophetic words of despair and disdain. The entire large chunk known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant (chapter 49-53) can be found laced throughout the stories of Jesus in our gospels and is implicit in the apologetics and systematic theology of the apostles Paul and Peter and John. 

The reference in our passage for today — from Isaiah 53:5 — is one of the earliest ones in the New Testament, only eight chapters into the first gospel, and is an interesting way to apply that line in Isaiah. Most often, we tend to think of Jesus ‘taking our infirmities and bearing our diseases’ as he was dying on the cross. But here we have a strong, clear reminder that it was not only Jesus’s death that fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, but his life. His life.

Which is exactly why we celebrate this holiday every year. Jesus is God come to earth, to live a human life. Yes, he was God. But he was also a man. The Man. The Human Ideal. And that is a key piece, a crucial ingredient in our own journey of salvation and healing.

Jesus came not just to save us from our sins, as wonderful and life-changing as that is. He came to teach us about living as well as about dying. To show us how to ‘bear with’ one another, to bring hope where hope is hard to find, to move forward in peace and kindness, to restore us to our most whole selves so that we can be about the business that is ours to do.

Peter’s mother-in-law was restored to her work, did you catch that? She was a gracious host, welcoming a gaggle of strangers to her small home — a place many scholars believe became a kind of  ‘headquarters’ for Jesus and his gang of twelve. And she was one of a long list of women who cared for that gang, who provided food, shelter, clothing and funds and all the while, drank in the teachings of the rabbi. Then, when the time came for the church to be born, they were all ready to go: a trained set of teachers, leaders, hosts and hostesses, bearers of the Good News to a world that needed it desperately.

Are you ready to be one like her? Has Jesus borne your diseases and taken your infirmities? Perhaps not literally (although maybe that is true, too), but metaphorically? What is the work to which you have been called at this point in your own journey? Do you need a season of restoration before you can more fully enter in? If so, take the time to ask Jesus to ‘touch your hand’ today.

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Seventeen


Psalm 42
Ezekiel 47:1-12
Jude 17-25

Jude 17-25

But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

So how is it that some of the most glorious words in the entire New Testament — that closing blessing in the last paragraph — should be preceded by the weird words of the first paragraph?

Well, I remind myself, these early Christians really believed that Christ’s return was imminent, so they gave warnings to one another. “Get ready!” “Be blameless!” “Watch out for the bad guys!” 

And whoever the writer of this tiny letter may have been, he/she did want to pass along those words of caution! But sliced right into the middle are some pretty good suggestions for how to live well in a time of uncertainty, don’t you think? ‘Build ourselves up on your most holy faith,’ ‘pray in the Spirit,’ ‘keep ourselves in the love of God,’ ‘look forward to the mercy of Jesus Christ,’ — the mercy that leads to eternal life.

Oh, yes, I’d say that list is a humdinger! 

So, I’ll take the warnings to heart, but not too deeply. I actually haven’t a clue in the world what that last one means — ‘have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.’ Youch! What I’ll take from that strange statement is the idea of mercy, I think. Mercy even for those who frighten us, those who are different, whose lifestyles seem highly questionable. Even those.

After all, if we’re doing the things on that great list, there should be no room for hatred or judgment, should there? Yes, care should be taken . . . always. But, mercy wins in the end.

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Sixteen


Psalm 42
Isaiah 29:17-24
Acts 5:12-16

Psalm 42

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

If I had to pick a favorite psalm, this would be very near the top of the list. The beauty of the words, the images, the rhythm, the admission of uncertainty, the questioning of God’s presence and action, and then the gentle acceptance of whatever it might be that God would will for the singer. 

Have you ever been thirsty for God? It’s been a while, but I have. And this psalm was my go-to resource during those seasons. I’m sure there will be others, times when I will wonder where God has got off to, when my own soul will feel ‘cast down.’ 

How I hope that I will remember to ask that soul of mine, ‘why?’ ‘Why are you cast down? Don’t you know that God is the rock, that God has been right there with you through every previous difficulty in your life? ‘

Yes, I want to come back to that.

And it seems to start with two things: remembering and singing. Only this time, the remembering part falls on the psalmist . . . and the singing is God’s. Did you catch that? Right after those glorious words, ‘deep calls to deep,’ comes this beauty:

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me. . .

‘His song is with me!’ If I listen very carefully, and if I do my part by remembering, then I can just catch the faintest glimpse of a melody, wafting by on the evening breeze. The Lord’s song is with me!

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Fifteen

Because I chose to focus on Sunday’s readings for yesterday’s essay at SheLoves, the readings for Saturday will be listed here. Don’t want you to miss any of them!


Psalm 146:5-10
1 Samuel 2:1-8
Luke 3:1-18

Luke 3:1-18

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Again, with the Baptizer!

But this time, I’m getting a deeper glimpse into why he was so appealing to the people who followed after him in droves. Read what he says very carefully and to whom he says it. Now think about that for a minute.

Here is a very odd man, wandering in from the desert, clothed fur, skinny as a rail, speaking words that are alternately harsh and life-giving. And all kinds of people are attracted to him, including tax-collectors and Roman soldiers. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that before, have you?

And he gives every group a very specific response. And every response consists of a proposed action, doesn’t it? To the tax collectors, he says, “Be just! Collect only what is required.” To the soldiers, he says, “Do not practice extortion or intimidation, do not charge innocent people with wrongdoing, be content with what you’ve got already.” To everyone, he says, “Share whatever you’ve got with those who don’t have as much.”

Sounds a whole lot like social justice to me, doesn’t it? Do what is right, look out for the less fortunate, be generous. I wonder why I’ve never seen all of that before. Generally, I remember the image of that ‘winnowing fork’ above all else. And of course, the never-ending cry to ‘REPENT!’

But here’s the real deal about John — he knows that that verb means. It means to turn around, to change direction. And that is exactly what his advice boils down to. Let your life show the change inside you — turn and face into what is right and good and just and kind.

Sounds a whole lot more like Jesus than I ever realized.


Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Fourteen

This is my scheduled day to write for SheLoves Magazine, and the theme for the month of December is, “Pause.” So you can start today’s reflection (which is in a very different format than usual, and is longer!) right here and then follow the link to finish it over there. Thanks for being flexible.


Tomorrow is the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of joy. All of the assigned readings for the day reflect that spirit, that ineffable whatever-it-is, that deep-down sense that all is right with the world, even when things may not be objectively right in any way.

I can’t think of a better Sunday to take a . . . pause. A deep breath in and a deep breath out; a re-setting of the old internal clock/barometer/gut-sense/compass; a deliberate step away from the noise, the hustle and bustle of shopping, decorating, baking, planning.

So I offer you today a few small Advent gifts — a brief reflection on rejoicing, in response to the scripture readings for the day; a list of appropriate hymns and songs for this week of the liturgical year; and a few suggestions for small intentions or actions that you might incorporate into your day. All of it is designed to help us learn more about living in joy, even when the craziness of the season, or the frustrations and worries of our everyday life, conspire to push us in the opposite direction.

The readings for this day include a beautiful song from the prophet Isaiah (35:1-10), Mary’s Song from the gospel of Luke (1:46b-55), some encouraging words on how to live well as a Jesus-follower in James (5:7-10), and the powerful words of Jesus when questioned by an imprisoned John the Baptist in the gospel of Matthew (11:2-11).


Please join us over at SheLoves to read the reflection, see the song list and try out one of the practices suggested. Just click here.

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Thirteen


Psalm 146:5-10
Ruth 4:13-17
2 Peter 3:11-18

2 Peter 3:11-18

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Seems like it might be a good idea about now to reflect on a scripture that centers on that ‘third’ Advent I mentioned earlier in this series: the end of days, when Christ will come in triumph.

Peter describes it graphically as a time of cleansing by fire, the creation of a new heaven and a new earth — and I LOVE this phrase: “A place where righteousness is at home.” Isn’t that we all long for, truly? It’s one reason I titled this year’s Advent Journey, ‘Longing for Home.’ I do believe there is a deep yearning within us all for a place where righteousness ‘is at home.’ 

So Peter asks the right question here, I think. If that’s what we’re waiting for, how shall we live in the meantime? And I like his answer. (I especially like his comments on Paul, don’t you?? Love this tiny insight into their personal relationship and Peter’s ‘take’ on some of Paul’s more convoluted writing!) 

First of all, we are to live lives of holiness and godliness — and apparently, doing so might actually hasten that great day for which we wait. That’s a remarkable thing to say, isn’t it? And then he goes on to a more detailed description of the kind of people we should seek to be: 

    at peace
   without spot or blemish
   regarding the ‘patience of our Lord as our salvation’ (that’s a new idea!)
   not carried away with the ‘error of the lawless’
   not losing our stability
   growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

That’s what I call a list! I don’t begin to understand all of what this list means, much less how we are to accomplish it, but I like it. A lot. These are all qualities I think any serious follower-after-Jesus wants to see grow within them. Which one stands out to you?

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Twelve


Psalm 146:5-10
Ruth 1:6-18
2 Peter 3:1-10

Ruth 1:6-18

Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”

When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Oh my goodness, how I love these words! I love this story. I love these characters. There are lots of reasons for my abiding love for the story of Ruth — there is the obvious one — my mother’s name and my middle name match the title of this book. It’s a story about women, and those are few and far between, especially in the Old Testament. It’s a story about family commitment on many levels, Naomi and Ruth to one another, Boaz to Ruth and Ruth to Boaz. And it’s a story with a beautiful, fulfilling ending after a painful beginning.

Most of all, however, I love this story because I believe it’s given to us as a picture of God’s immense loyalty and love for his human family. And the character of God is female — who knew?? The character traits exhibited by Ruth throughout this tale are ones that the Old Testament frequently uses to describe the character of God. Chesed,  faithfulness/loving-kindness/loyalty. Ruth has that in spades. 

And these particular words are famous anywhere the Bible is read. I suppose they are most often used in wedding ceremonies, which is a little bit odd, when you come to think about it. After all, they were spoken by one woman to another, by one generation to another, by one homeless wayfarer to another. There is nothing traditionally romantic about them at all. They are fierce words, aren’t they? They show grit, determination, conviction and commitment. Maybe that’s why they show up in weddings, eh? The whole idea of commitment over a lifetime is in exceedingly short supply these days. Maybe it’s time to dust them off and use them in as many settings as we can think of! What do you think?

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Eleven


Psalm 21
Genesis 15:1-18
Matthew 12:33-37

Matthew 12:33-37 (the words of Jesus)

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

An admission here. An admission of a fear-based spirit of judgment with which I am currently dealing. I read these words of Jesus and thought immediately (and I mean immediately) of our president-elect. Yes, I did. His words have undone me these past months, discouraged and frightened me, to tell you the truth.

But then. Well, but then . . . I had to admit that Jesus is not speaking these words to Donald Trump, all by his lonesome. Nope. Jesus is speaking these strong words to EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US, ME INCLUDED.


So then. What shall I do about that? Particularly during this season of Advent, this time of intentional waiting and watching. It’s that last line that is yanking my chain today — “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words, you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Every careless word? Aw, come one, Jesus! Really?

Yes. Really. 

Ouch. I don’t know about you, but I am immediately repentant for hundreds, no, thousands, of careless words over the course of my lifetime. Most of them, I will not remember, even if I try. But careless they were, and some of them hurtful, too. I think maybe now is as good a time as any to be more intentional about what I say, about what words I choose, about how those words might have an impact on people around me, about what my carelessness might do to someone else. 

Lord, have mercy!