Monday, December 28, 2009

“Snow-Bound” Advent Chat Transcript

Several of us had a Skype conversation on our snowbound Sunday (December 20th) and there were several excellent questions, a couple of which I thought I’d post here for others to see.

- [Ok john... (1) When was Jesus really born (2) Why is it celebrated on Dec. 25th?

Pastor John: Two good questions. First, by most modern accounts Jesus was most likely born between 3-6 BC. We get that date by using the dates we have for Herod's reign, Pilate's reign and then dating backwards using the best [information] we have for Jesus' age at the time.

Our current system of AD and BC was developed hundreds of years ago using the best data [available] at the time, but they didn't have a lot of archaeological stuff that we have now. We've only had independent (outside the Bible) confirmation that Pilate even existed for about 50 years or so.

Why is Jesus' birth celebrated on the 25th? A lot of answers to that one and the bottom line is - we don't know for sure. Here are some of the best answers we have.

In the 200's, one of the early church father's suggested that Jesus was conceived on the Spring equinox. That, more than anything, popularized the idea that he was born in December, specifically the 25th.

There's also a manuscript from the 350's that gives the date as December 25th.

December 25th also corresponds to some of the pagan holy day celebrations of the Roman period of the early church. There's a lot of speculation that the church settled on the December date so that Christians had a festival to go to while all the pagans were going to their festival. It served as a sort of "replacement" for early converts. Since the exact date really didn't seem to matter - they settled on one that worked in a more practical way.

- [Ok if's that's the case...then why are the pagans so damned and the Bible says in some verses that "do not do as the pagans do, when they have such similar relations taken from them....and yet shunned now a days???

Pastor John: Those quotes (and there are several) "do not do as the pagans do" are referring to the specific practices that took place during the pagan celebrations. The mystery religions were very popular in Rome during the time of the early church as well as the Saturnalia festival and Bacchanal. All of them had at least several things in common: public drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, and general overindulgence (especially eating).

When Paul says, "don't do as the pagans do" he's referring specifically to those things. Don't get drunk and run the streets like fools. Don't participate in the sexual immorality of the festivals, don't overeat until you vomit, don't overindulge the appetites of your flesh.

It wasn’t referring to the specific dates, but the specific practices of the pagan festivals.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Angel Tree 2009

Sunday was "Angel Tree" Day.  We delivered gifts to needy families in our community.  About 19 families, over 80 kids plus their parents, a couple-three gifts per child and a gift for the parents.

This is a huge effort that involves a lot of coordination and a lot of volunteers to buy gifts, wrap them, sort them and deliver them.  Even the blizzard of 2009 wasn’t enough to stop our Angel Tree leaders (thanks to all of you!!) from getting the gifts out to families this weekend.

Angel Tree 07 We moved all of the furniture out of the Chancel to make room for the gifts and we quickly started to run out of room.

Angel Tree 03 We had over a dozen bicycles and a  “power wheel” along with clothes, games, and other toys!

Angel Tree 04 I took these pictures on Saturday afternoon when a little over half of the gifts had arrived!  Once the rest of the gifts were dropped off, there wouldn’t have been much room for the pastor!  But that’s okay, I can’t think of a better picture – all of these gifts covering the chancel and surrounding the altar.

Angel Tree 08 Angel Tree is an amazing ministry at First Saints.  This is an opportunity to thank everyone involved and to give thanks for the privilege of serving people in our community. 

It’s also a good time to lift up the challenge to live this life of service all year round.  Christ came at Christmas to show us how to live each and every day!  May we continually respond positively to that challenge, as individual Christ-followers and as a Church.

Merry Christmas and Godspeed!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A “Snow-Bound” Advent Study for 12/20

All of our worship services were cancelled for today and many of you have e-mailed me that you wished there was a chance to worship or study at home.  -Wish granted!-

I’ve attached a short outline of a study that you can use for a personal study time, with your family, or even a small group of neighbors that wants to brave the cold and gather together.

I’ll be on Skype tonight between 9-10 if you want to have a conversation about this or any other Advent/Christmas topic.  Look for me at jmw3wookiee.




The traditional themes for Advent are: Love, Hope, Joy and Peace.

This Advent …


Luke 1:5-25


  • Consider that hope is born in barrenness not easy and prosperity.
  • For Elizabeth and Zechariah that was the case.


  • What do these verses say about Elizabeth and Zechariah’s character?
  • Luke 1:6.
  • Luke 1:8-9.

Hope always looks for light.

  • Read Luke 1:78-79.

Where have you seen hope this Christmas?

  • Is there something you’ve seen in the news that gives you hope?
  • Is there something that’s happened in your life during the last 3 weeks that gives you hope?
  • Check out


Isaiah 35:1,5-7 & Matthew 1:18-25


  • How do you define joy? How is it different from happiness? Is it different?
  • Consider how quietly the joy represented by God’s Son comes into the world.
    • A small town in an out of the way province of the Roman empire.
    • A peasant woman betrothed to an unknown laborer .
  • In Matthew there are no choirs of angels. Just an angel in a dream to Joseph.
    • Why did God choose to have Jesus born this way?
    • What does the setting of Jesus’ birth tell us about God? What does it tell us about ourselves?
    • Look up the story of the Joshua Tree. How does the Joshua Tree become a symbol of Jesus’ birth and life?
  • Where in Isaiah 35 do you see a message of joy?
    • What specific images in the chapter resonate with you the most?

In A Christmas Carol, Dickens said that Scrooge learned to “keep Christmas well.”

    • What do you think he meant?
    • What role do you think joy plays in keeping Christmas well?

Where is your joy this Christmas?

  • Where is God’s joy invading your life?


Isaiah 2:1-5; Isaiah 7:14 & Isaiah 11:1-10


  • Last week we sang the lyric, “Do you see what I see?”
  • As followers of Christ we are called to see what others cannot see.
    • Peace may be one of the most important things that we are called to see that others cannot.
  • Read these verses from the prophet Isaiah.
    • Isaiah 2:4.
    • Isaiah 11:1-7.
    • The coming of God’s kingdom is the coming of peace.
    • What does that peaceful kingdom look like to you?

As a follower of Jesus, what can you do (are you doing) to make peace a reality?

  • “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world at arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  • “Peacemaking requires a life of prayer. It demands ongoing resistance to the forces of violence. It necessitates true community. Peacemaking requires living and working among the poor and the broken.” – Henri Nouwen.
  • How would express God’s call to peace?

How are you experiencing peace this Christmas?

  • Are the people in your life experiencing you as peace?


Isaiah 9:2-7 & Matthew 2:1-12


  • Read Matthew 2:1-12.
    • Can you understand why the events surrounding Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Magi would have been surprising and troubling to Joseph and Mary?
    • How long do you think it took them to process and understand all that happened?
  • Read Isaiah 9:2-7.
    • Where is the love of God expressed in Isaiah 9?

How have you experienced God’s love?

  • Have you experienced it personally?
  • What difference has it made in your life?

Put these two Scripture passages side-by-side.

  • Together, what do they say about God’s love?
  • Where do they speak to you most clearly?

Can you define love the way God defines love?

  • How have you experienced that kind of love in the weeks leading up to Christmas?
  • How have you been the bearer of that kind of love?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Isaiah, Matthew, JFK and You

Sunday’s sermon pulled together four stories with a common thread. 

722 BC (Isaiah 35) – Isaiah’s prophecy of the exile’s return from captivity in Babylon.  During a dark time for Judah; their country overrun, their capital city destroyed, their people deported – it must have seemed like all of God’s promises would be left unfulfilled.  “How can we worship our God in a strange land?”  Conquered by Babylon: this was the darkest day for God’s people.  And yet, Isaiah speaks to them of hope and peace.  All is not lost.  God has not walked away. 

31 AD (Matthew 11) – Israel lives in the land that God had promised them, but they live their lives under the heel of a Roman boot.  Their political life, their religious life, all exist at the whim of a foreign emperor.  Any “peace” that they seem to enjoy comes at a very high and very violent price.  Those calling themselves “messiah” have risen up before, only to be killed by the swift and merciless Roman legions.  The violence of those times is still fresh in everyone’s minds.  John the Baptist is in jail and must know that he will never get out.  His days are numbered.  He sees Jesus’ ministry begin and wonders, “Are you the one?  Are you the one, because we can’t stomach another disappointment?  When those other pretenders got put down – all of us suffered.  Things are just too hopeless to tolerate another reminder that God has abandoned us.”  Jesus says, “Report what you see and hear.”  I am He.  All is not lost and God has not walked away.  True peace is coming to Israel.

October 1962 – The Soviet Union has moved nuclear warheads into Cuba and The US (led by President John F. Kennedy) is taking a hard stand.  No one budges.  No one blinks.  For two weeks, the people of the United States are truly frightened.  For the first time, the threat of nuclear war and the horror it could unleash become real and palpable to the American people.  Panic sets in.  The future that once looked so secure has evaporated overnight.  The prosperity that we had struggled for suddenly seems vacuous and futile.  Many people wake each day thinking, “This could be the last day of the world.”  Nuclear war seems like a certainty.

It was in these moments that a New York songwriter experienced a change of heart and decided that the time was right to cry out for peace.  That cry is remembered for us in the song “Do You Hear What I Hear?”  It is one man’s cry for peace and hope in a world that seemed void of both.  All was not lost.  God has not abandoned us.  Peace and hope are not just pipe dreams.  They are possible.

December 2009 – Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re not doing great.  We are struggling and things are looking a bit bleak.  For many of us, this is not the American Dream we signed up for.  Jobs, retirement funds, security – all disappearing overnight.  People are losing hope.  Iraq, Afghanistan, let’s not forget North Korea, Iran and those other “trouble spots.”  Peace doesn’t even seem like a realistic thing to talk about.  And yet, God is still God.  We have not been abandoned.  The hope and peace we find in Isaiah and Matthew are extended to us.  Even when its seems like all is lost – all is not lost

The message of this season is this: there is always hope.  There is always a chance for peace.  If we will keep our hearts and eyes open, we can find it.  If we “report what we see and hear” (Mt. 11:4) others will find it too. 

I pray that this Christmas you will “hear what I hear” and “see what I see.”


Thursday, December 10, 2009

NO Merry Christmas For Charlie Brown!

Did anyone else watch “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” on ABC on Tuesday night?  I sat down to watch what has to be one of the greatest Christmas cartoons ever and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

ABC cut the thing to shreds.  What was missing, you ask?

Only … Sally's letter to Santa, which ends when she says she will settle for 10s and 20s.

Only … Shermy’s only line.  He was complaining because he always had to play a shepherd in the Christmas pageant.

Only … Schroeder's multiple versions of "Jingle Bells" from his toy piano.

Only … the gang catching snowflakes on their tongues.

Only … Linus using his blanket as a slingshot to knock a can off the fence.

Why?  Why would you castrate a holiday classic that’s been running on television since 1965?  Simple.  ABC had to make more room for Advertising.

It is possible to more completely miss the point of Charlie Brown’s Christmas?  The irony of this is just amazing.  I think ABC needs to watching the (uncut!) version of the cartoon again and get a refresher course on what “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown” is trying to teach us about the commercialization of the season and how we obscure Christ in the process.

The highlight of the cartoon for me was always that moment when Linus walked to center stage and recited the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke.  Charlie Brown had asked, “Can’t anyone tell me what Christmas is really about?”  Linus walks to center stage, asks for the lights and begins, “It came about in those days …”  When he’s done, he turns to Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is about Charlie Brown.”

Somebody needs to remind ABC.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Word of Thanks …

I spent this past weekend with a small group of our students on a retreat at Summit Lake in Frederick County, Maryland.  I had a great time watching them bond and learn together.  It was pretty obvious that they’ve come to mean a lot to one another.

Watching them got me thinking of another group that meant a lot to me when I was in High School.  I was part of a youth group at our church that was a pretty tight knit group.  Most of them I haven’t seen in 25 years or more, but if I ran into one of them today I think we would pick up right where we left off.  We shared a lot together and they meant a lot to me.

As I think back, I wonder what my life would have been like without them.  One thing is certain, it would have been drastically different.  They were the ones who kept me from making a lot of stupid decisions.  They loved me when I made truly colossal mistakes (and boy, did I make them).  A lot of who I am today, I credit to them – their friendship, their guidance and their patience.  I’m so thankful that they were in my life and that they were my friends.

We’ve drifted apart over the years; hey, it happens.  Yet I still consider them my friends and I love ‘em.

So this is just to say thanks.  I hope the students from the weekend retreat will be friends for one another that are as awesome as you all were to me.  And that 25 years from now they will look back and be truly thankful to God for one another – as I am for you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dream a Little Dream

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about dreams – Big, Holy, Audacious, God-given dreams.  God has planted these dreams in each of us, but for a variety of reasons  we lose sight of them.  They get obscured by the struggles that life throws our way, but they never completely disappear.

I was excited about this series of sermons for the couple of weeks before we started it, but I’m even more excited now that we’re two weeks in.  What has me excited the most is hearing what is starting to emerge as people reconnect with those dreams that have been long buried.

The excitement and energy is starting to get contagious.  Every day I get another e-mail from someone who is discovering a dream, realizing that their dream is unfolding in front of them, or seeing that they are already in the middle of the dream God wants them to fulfill.

God has a dream for you, too.  It’s a dream tailor-made for you.  Seek it. Find it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Words Create Worlds

As of Wednesday we’ve spend part of the last six Church Council meetings talking about our church’s vision statement. And we’re not quite done; we’ll need part of next month’s meeting to finish up and come out of there with something that is workable and can guide our church’s work forward.

Why have a vision statement? Without one a church is largely reacting rather than acting intentionally. It is a church full of activity without motivation. Without a vision statement it’s too easy for a church to react each time the wind changes direction or each time a new fad strategy hits the street (anyone else remember those “Reaching the Baby Boomer” seminars?). A vision statement gives guidance and intention to ministry. And it’s not enough to say, “The Great Commission is our vision statement.” You have to tell me how you’re going to accomplish that great mission where you are, in your context, with your resources. We all have the same “great commission,” but we don’t all fulfill it the same way.

Even if you agree with me, I can understand how you might ask; “Is it worth dragging out over six months?” Fair question. I could talk about consensus and ownership. It would be useful to talk about prayerful discernment and developing visionary leadership. Instead, let me put it a different way.

Words Create Worlds.

The words we use create the world (and the worldview) that we live in. We shape the way we conceive of our reality – what is possible and what is impossible – with words. We create perceptions – of what will work, can work and shouldn’t even be tried – with words. A vision statement is comprised of words that create the world that a church lives in and ministers in. They are words that shape the reality of our corporate life together. If a vision statement truly functions, it is more than words. It becomes words that define reality for a church.

Words create worlds. Language has power. What world is our church creating with its words? What God-given vision are we speaking into reality with our words? We’ll find out next month.

Is it worth six or seven months of conversation? You bet.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Paralyzed by Grace

When I was a kid I memorized a lot of Bible verses as part of a Sunday school promotion. Whichever one of us memorized the most verses won a bicycle. Regardless of the motivation, I memorized a lot of Bible verse. One of those was Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (What can I say, we memorized in King James!)

I wish we would have kept going and memorized verse 10 – “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Just imagine. We were “created for good works.” Most of the churches I grew up in were “good works phobic.” We spent so much time making sure that we knew we couldn’t earn our salvation that we never talked about good works. Later, in college and seminary, along comes this guy John Wesley. In him I found this wonderful harmony between good works and salvation by grace that I had never heard before. And then (“wonder of wonders”) I discover that John Wesley didn’t think of this idea on his own – it was an idea that he borrowed from Jesus himself.

Think about it; we are reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. No doubt about it. We can’t work for it, earn it, or attain it on our own. But we were also created for good works. God planned for us to do them ahead of time. Our works aren’t meant to show how good we are, but how good God is. They aren’t what get us into the Kingdom of God; they’re supposed to be the things that show others the entrance into the Kingdom of God.

Has anyone else’s life changed because your life has changed because of Jesus?


“In most churches we’re not only saved by grace, we’re paralyzed by it. We’re afraid to do anything that might be a “work.” The funny thing is we will preach to people for an hour that they can’t do anything to be saved, and then sing to them for a half an hour trying to get them to do something. This is confusing. People need to see that action is a receptacle for grace, not a substitute for it. Grace is God acting in our lives to do things we can’t do on our own. Grace is not opposed to effort; grace is opposed to earning.” – Dallas Willard.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

How Much?

I read a number of blogs and over the last couple of weeks the posts I've read raise a question in my mind I'd like to pose. "How much honesty is a good idea?"

First, let me say that honesty and openness is a good thing. I value it in my friendships and relationships. I work for it when it seems as though we're willing to settle for less (which is far too often). I also believe that its something we have too little of; especially in "church world." In the church it seems that we are willing to be less than honest in an effort to preserve relationships and avoid the appearance of conflict in the church - often with disastrous results.

Having said that ... is there such a thing as sharing too much; too much honesty? Too much openness? How much do you really want to know? It's important that you understand that I'm a pastor and yes, I'm also human; but how far does that go? How open is too open?

If I'm ready to quit and join the circus, do you really want to know? If it's all going off the rails and I'm not sure what to do? If God's feeling distant and I'm struggling with my faith?

And if I don't share those moments of struggle and pain, does that make me dishonest? Does that mean I'm being disingenuous?

Understand, I will always put a big part of myself into this and everything that I do. I'm just not sure how to do it any other way. But I do wonder from time to time where to draw the line and (sometimes) whether to draw the line at all. There's a part of all of this that's wrapped up in others' expectations and much that's caught up in my own.

For good or ill I am who I am - how much of that you care to hear is the question.


[-- Important! BTW - I'm fine. It's all good. Not struggling. Not ready to quit or join the circus just yet!]

Thursday, July 23, 2009


It’s all in the numbers.

We had VBS this week and spent several hours each night at Crocodile Dock. It was great to see the church full of kids morning and night. A lot of people put a lot of work into making it an amazing time. It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year.

Whenever pastors talk about VBS we ask (and get asked) two questions: What curriculum did you use? How many kids did you have?

The answer to the first question is easy – and the subject for another day. The answer to the second question is a bit more complex than you might imagine. Churches always get hammered when we talk about numbers, as though a focus on numbers was somehow symptomatic of a neglect of people. Actually, if you think about it properly each number represents a real, living, breathing person that we had the honor and privilege of serving. Numbers are important because each number represents a person!

But as I think about VBS; I wonder which number is important.

250 – About how many kids we had at VBS last week. It represents 250 people that we had the opportunity to serve. We share with them and they share with us. We experienced Christ at work in them and hopefully they experienced Christ in us.

100 – About how many volunteers it took to pull VBS off. They were amazing too: youth, adults, craft people, game people, music leaders, registration people, tech team – and a whole lot more. Every time you turned a corner you ran into a volunteer in a purple shirt!

1,250 – Cans of non-perishable food we collected for the food bank/food pantry here in our area. It’s great that our VBS week can help support one of the ongoing ministries of our church that keeps us looking outward. It’s too easy to be a church that remains inside, looking at the world through our rose-colored stained glass windows.

1 – “If we only touch one kid; this will all be worth it.” I heard that sentiment a lot last week and they’re right. It’s not about volume (number of kids) it’s about significance – reaching one well.

But what if we don’t reach anyone? What if 100 volunteers work all week with 250 kids and we collect 1200 items of non-perishable food for the food pantry/soup kitchen and we don’t change the life of a single, solitary child? What then? Have we failed? Was it worth it?

A few days ago I asked some folks, “Why do we do it? For the kids? For us? For the fun? The energy it creates? The creativity it generates? The smiles it births? Why do we do it?” I got a lot of responses, none of which were necessarily wrong, but none were what I was really thinking about.

As followers of Jesus, why do we do what we do? For the results? Or out of obedience and faithfulness? I think we do VBS because someone once said, “Let the little children come to me and don’t stop them.” That’s it. It’s that simple. We do VBS (and a lot of things like it) because Jesus said to his followers, “This is what I want you to do.”

Results matter to God, but ultimately the results are God’s department. For us, the most significant number of VBS week may be = 0.

We do what only we can do so that God can do what only God can do.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Declaration of Dependence

IN MARYLAND, July 4, 2009.

The unanimous Declaration of my heart, my soul, my will and my conscience,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one man to dissolve the spiritual bonds which have enslaved him, and to assume the union to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God call him, a decent respect to the opinions of all requires that he should declare the causes which impel him to the union.

I hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are in need of God’s great love, that they are blessed by their Creator with certain unwarranted gifts, that among these are Love, Forgiveness and Grace.

--That to secure these gifts, We must need do nothing save believe,

--That these gifts are offered to us despite our sin and fallen nature, and that God pursues us as the great Hound of Heaven, ever relentless and ever hopeful of our turning. Wisdom, indeed, would dictate that God’s great favor should not be ignored nor rejected for light and transient causes; and yet all experience has shown, that we are more disposed to ignobly suffer, and revel in our sin, than to right ourselves by true heartfelt repentance. But when a long train of painful abuses and withering defeats overcome our spirits, it is only right, it is our only hope, to throw off the chains of sin and death, and turn in humility to the Author and Finisher of Faith.

--Such has been the journey of this Man; and such is now the necessity which constrains me yield my former Life to the Master. The history of the Great King of Kings and Lord of Lords is a history of repeated faithfulness and provision, all having in direct object the salvation of my soul.

To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world:
. God has formed the Universe at God’s command and by God’s Word all things came into being.
. God has created humankind and given them dominion over all of creation.
. God has saved Noah through the safety of the Ark and renewed the promise through Noah’s descendents.
. God has raised up Abraham and Sarah to give birth to a great and mighty nation that would be as numerous as the sands of the sea.
. God has chosen the children of Abraham to be the bearers of the message of God to all nations.
. God has saved God’s people from the tyranny and slavery of Egypt and led them to the Land that had been Promised them.
. God has sent the prophets to call all God’s children to faithfulness. Those prophets have convicted the hearts of the people and convinced them of the holy ways of the God of Israel.
. God has, in the fullness of time, begotten a Son through the Virgin Mary.God has sent this Son, Jesus, that all might know God’s love and experience eternal life through belief in Him.
. God has demonstrated victory over sin and death through the resurrection of Jesus from the Grave.
. God has given us power to live victoriously by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
. God has promised to faithfully guide and direct the lives of God’s followers so that they may dwell in wholeness, health and security.
. God has promised to return and claim those who call upon the Lord’s name and receive them into the Kingdom of God.
. God has promised that nothing in all of creation can separate us from God’s great Love in Christ Jesus.

I, therefore, John M. Wunderlich III, by Authority of the Holy Word of God, solemnly publish and declare, That I am, and of Right ought to be Wholly and Completely dependent upon God; that God alone is the source of my strength, the fount of my wisdom and the object of my unwavering devotion. And for the support of this Declaration, I pledge to him my Life, my Fortune and my Destiny.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Questions Without Answers

My Facebook status tonight seems to have caused some consternation. It said, "John - isn't too proud to admit that today I have more questions than answers and that God has some 'splainin' to do."

It's not a lack of faith or a lack of trust in God. It's simply an honest expression - "sometimes I just don't understand all that God is doing." That is especially apparent to me when dealing with people in crisis who are facing life changing circumstances. The easy platitudes and simple explanations don't wash in the midst of that kind of turbulence.

God's ways are far beyond my ways. My understanding is limited by my human finitude. Acknowledging that seems sensible. It seems reasonably "self-aware."

Today isn't a "crisis of faith." It's simply driven me to a place where I understand my need for God's wisdom and the understanding of the Spirit to a new degree. The answers that I want may never come. That's beyond my control, but I'm not going to be shy about seeking them. I want to understand God more and more as my life goes on. I want my walk to be steady progress in one "God-ward" direction. Seeking answers to difficult and troubling questions is an essential part of that.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Risus Paschalis

Easter could be looked at as God's "practical joke" on the devil.

The Enemy thinks he has won. Jesus has been arrested, brought before the Sanhedrin and endured a mockery of a trial. On the flimsiest of evidence (being generous here) he's handed over to Pilate to be scourged, beaten and broken. He dies the death of a thug on a Roman cross. He is laid in a tomb and the stone is rolled over its entrance.

It's all over. He has won.

But there's something else to consider. There is Easter. God's biggest "gotcha." Something unexpected (at least from the devil's perspective) happens.

In the minds of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) God played a great practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. They called it the "Risus paschalis - the Easter laugh."

Tomorrow is the Great Easter Surprise.

Let the laughter begin!

Friday, April 10, 2009

He Has Done It!

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)
Jesus’ words from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

The most common way to refer to a specific point in the Scriptures was to quote the first line. From the cross, Jesus directs our attention to Psalm 22; not to express his pain and fear at being rejected by God, but in order to explain to the crowd at the foot of the cross (and to us) what they were witnessing.

Psalm 22 starts out with words that seem appropriate to the crucifixion. “Why are you so far away from saving me?” – verse 1. “All who see me mock me, they hurl insults, shaking their heads.” – verse 7. “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” – verse 18. This first part of the Psalm focuses on the pain and anguish of God’s servant.

But in the middle of the Psalm there is a shift to expressions of trust in God’s provision and God’s guidance. The change is complete by verse 30 – “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” The Psalm ends on this note of victory and triumph.

Which brings us back to Jesus on the cross. By directing us to Psalm 22, Jesus is trying to show us what is happening on the cross. It may look like a picture of defeat; but if you look closely at the cross – it’s a picture of victory and triumph. It may look as though Jesus is exposed as another Messianic pretender; but in reality the cross proves that Jesus is just who he said he was – “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Thursday, April 9, 2009

God With Us

The body and blood of Christ … made real to us in the bread and cup of communion. The message is simply, “God with us.” That’s the message that we begin the Christian year rehearsing. Emmanuel, God with us.

Today I shared communion with some of the members of my church who can’t get out and be with us when the community gathers. We shared some conversation and laughter together and God was with us.

I spent some time learning about the Seder meal and the passing of the Story from one generation to the next. It is the Story of the mighty ways that God acts throughout history on behalf of God’s people. The time was full of powerful symbols meant to reveal to us that God is with us.

In our worship time this evening, we washed each other’s feet as a sign of humility and service. We see that humility modeled for us by Jesus himself as he washes the disciple’s feet. Because of my knee surgery I couldn’t even kneel down to wash feet, but a friend stepped up and took the basin and towel from me. I was humbled as I watched him do for others what I could not do. The sense of God’s presence was potent; God was with us.

I don’t completely understand this simple truth that God is with us, but I know it to be true. I don’t have to understand everything to believe something. In humility and service, in the washing of feet; God is with us. Sometimes you just have to experience it in order to begin to understand it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

So, yesterday this thing happened ...

Here’s what I’m thinking …

I had surgery on my knee yesterday, but that’s not really what I want to say. It’s related, but the surgery, the recovery; all of that isn’t on my mind right now. It’s going to sound silly and maybe even non-sensical, but here’s the deal.

I wear a braided multi-colored wristband and a green F.R.O.G. band on my left wrist. Not something I talk a lot about, but it’s important to me nonetheless. I’ve worn the braided one for about 5 years, the green one for a few months. In the time that I’ve had them I’ve never taken them off. In fact, the braided one was sewed on and then super-glued so that it wouldn’t come off.

The green one was given to me by a family at my church whose son is struggling with some serious health stuff. I fell in love with this little guy and wear the band to remind me to pray for him. The braided one was a reminder to pray for a young lady in my previous church who was also struggling – very different but very serious stuff. I promised myself I’d wear them both and pray for them both until I knew I could “stop.” The girl’s doing great and has become an awesome Christian woman. The boy is doing well, but still going through treatments and doctors diagnoses. In both cases I don’t feel like I’ve been “released” to stop praying or to take the two reminders off my wrist.

Yesterday, before surgery they told me that I had to take them off or they would cut them off. It never occurred to me that they’d have to come off, but rationally it makes sense. (I’d already followed their directions and taken my wedding ring off and my earring out, which I wasn’t happy about!) I could take the one wristband off, but the other one had to be cut off. You wouldn’t think that would be a big deal, but to me it was. I’ve always felt that symbols have significant meaning. The two bands on my wrist are just one example of a bunch of ways that I’ve tried to mark moments or lift up personal commitments by finding symbols or “markers.” They become ways to remind me to keep commitments, encourage myself, or honor important moments.

Once both were off my wrist yesterday, I started to get a little agitated. Both bracelets-gone. Wedding ring-gone. Earring-gone. I know, I know. Sounds stupid. But all of these things have much more significance to me than jewelry or “decoration.” They mean something far deeper and they have an important spiritual quality to them. Being upset about taking these things off combined with the wait until surgery and I actually needed medication to calm me down. My wife thought I was crazy – maybe she’s right.

There are moments that are worth remembering; significant events that need to be marked and honored. That’s what my wedding ring is. That’s what my earring has become. And in a different, but also important way, that’s what these two wristbands represent to me.

My wedding ring was back on my finger as soon as I was home. The green band is back on my wrist. The other I’m going to try to put on and sew back together tomorrow. You could say they’re just jewelry, just reminders, just things – but you’d be wrong!

Responsive Reading for Palm Sunday

(from Sunday, April 5)

Men: Jesus enters the city and the people cry, “Hosanna!”

Women: Jesus enters the city and the Pharisees cry, “Blasphemer!” Jesus enters the city and the people cry, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Men: Jesus enters the city and the Pharisees cry, “We must rid ourselves of this threat!” Jesus enters the city and the people cry out, “Blessed is the Son of David.”

Women: Jesus enters the city and the Pharisees cry out, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

All: Jesus enters the city and says, “If the people keep quiet, the stones WILL cry out!”

Men: As the end nears, a woman kisses Jesus’ feet – anointing him with her tears and costly perfume.

Women: As the end nears, a friend kisses Jesus” cheek – betraying him for a sack of coins.

Men: As the end nears, Jesus says “You will deny me three times.”

Women: As the end nears, Peter says “Never.”

All: In the end, Peter did. We, too, look at the events of that week and say, “Never, Lord.” Never would we be in the angry mob at Jesus trial. Never would we deny You. But, like Peter, we do not always live out our faith.

Men: In our words, we cry out–

Women: “Crucify Him!” In our actions, we cry out –

Men: “Crucify Him!” In our thoughts, we cry out –

Women: “Crucify Him!” And like those caught up in the crowd thousands of years ago, we cry out –

Men: “Crucify Him!”

Women: “Crucify Him!”

All: “Crucify Him!”

Lights off for final scripture reading by John - Isaiah

Be Like the Saints

“I am not a saint.” A lot of us could probably echo this same sentiment – I don’t feel much like a saint. In spite of the fact that believers are saints – people who have been called to holiness – it’s not a label we usually use. If we do use it, it becomes a colloquialism; “My wife’s a saint.”

We are saints. In spite of the way we feel, God’s work in us through Christ means that we are saints. We are people called to holiness, to live holy lives. We are set apart by God for spiritual purposes. I think it’s easy to lose sight of our “sainthood” because we fall into the trap of seeing sainthood as something we do – through our actions, through the way we live. In reality, it’s something we become by the grace of God – through the unmerited favor of a loving God. “Saint” is who we are and because we are saints, something about our actions changes. The way we live is profoundly affected.

Living like saints means living as though our relationship to Christ really matters. Before we act, before we move, before we speak out against injustice; we begin with a simple, trusting faith. It’s not what we do so much as whose we are that makes us saints.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Litany of the Lordship of Christ

(from Sunday, March 29th)

Let us pray together for God’s help in submitting ourselves to the lordship of Christ:

God, we confess that we often put so many things in our lives before you – our families, our friends, our dreams, our ambitions, even our entertainment and possessions. Help us to “empty out our house” of all of those things we hold onto and surrender them to Your will for our lives so that we may boldly claim You are our Lord and Savior.

Let us pray together for God’s help in never failing to claim Christ as our constant companion:

God, we know that Christ told the disciples, “I am with you always” but we often want to control when Christ is invited in and when He is not. At times we live our lives in a way that people would never recognize Christ is a part of it and, thus, denying that we know Him. Help us to see You as the solid foundation of our lives so that through our actions and words, we boldly claim You as our Lord and Savior.

Let us pray together for God’s help in always speaking boldly of Christ as our Lord and Savior:

God, we admit that sometimes we take the easy way out by closing our eyes to things around us, not speaking out against injustice, and apologizing for our beliefs as Christ followers. Help us to live our lives in a manner pleasing to You and to always claim boldly with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

"Here Endeth the Lesson ..."

I am passionate about the Church; I am called and committed to The United Methodist Church. I want “her” to be all that God is calling her to be. Sometimes she gets it. Sometimes she seems to be willfully wandering far afield. At other times, the church seems to be lacking direction entirely. Honestly, that pains me. We are called to so much more!

In my passion I sometimes react rather than prayerfully respond. Yesterday was my day to learn (another!) lesson about humility. Part of my personality is to process and think out loud. I will sometimes say things that lead people to believe I’ve made up my mind, when in fact I’ve just started asking questions and bouncing ideas around. Yesterday, I let myself get a full head of steam and opened my mouth and inserted my foot.

I read Jeremiah 23:1-8 this morning. It made me stop and consider something. There’s a kind of self-righteousness that can sneak into our hearts. It increases the risk that we become part of the problem and not part of the solution. We make snap judgments. We think we “know” and want to make sure that everyone else knows that we “know.” Our righteousness becomes rightness because we fall victim to the brokenness of our own spirits. When the prophet says, “woe to the shepherds …” God is, of course, talking about anyone except us. Really?

There’s a place for doctrine, but not dogmatism. It’s not about failing to lead. It’s about leading well. I never want to be so convinced that I’m right that I can’t hear the Holy Spirit convicting me when I need to be told otherwise. My Church is facing important decisions that will have a significant impact on her future. My local church is in a similar place – facing important decisions about vision and mission that will have a dramatic impact on ministry. Perhaps before I open my mouth to make pronouncements or express my opinions with such certainty I need to humble myself and make confession.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Detours on the Journey

“I know that God will not give me more than I can bear. I just wish he didn’t think so highly of me.” – Mother Theresa

In the middle of this journey through Lent, the wheels have come off the cart. Without going into a million details, it’s been a really tough couple of weeks personally, professionally and in just about every conceivable way. I’m so glad I’m in a good place right now. This Lent has been helpful – getting my head on straight, you might say. I wonder how I’d be doing right now without having taken that time to center myself.

Don’t get me wrong; I still have lots of questions and the answers seem pretty elusive right now. I believe the answers are there, but I just haven’t worked my way to them yet. Someone asked me earlier this week, “What is God trying to teach you in this?” I honestly don’t know. I know that God doesn’t send the crap our way, but God can (and does) use those times to teach us important lessons. There is a pearl of great price in here somewhere, waiting to be discovered.

Jeremiah (16:21) says, “I will teach them – This time I will teach them. Then they will know that my name is the Lord.” I’m ready to be taught.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Reading of Hearts and Stones

Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!

[If] you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

If your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is.

I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.

Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

(Deuteronomy 5:20, 4:29, 30:17-18, 10:16, 1 Samuel 17:28, 1 Kings 3:12, Psalm 4:4, 2 Corinthians 3:3, Ezekiel 11:19, Romans 5:5)

Sunday, March 15, 2009


from Friday, March 13

No one's better at compartmentalizing their life than I am. I've perfected the art of living life out of boxes. One box for this part of my life. One box for another part of my life. Another box ... another separate chunk of life. Family, Church, Marriage, Finances, Music, Career - each with their own box; each with their own distinct territory staked out in my heart.

While I believe I've made progress over time tearing down some of these compartments and opening up some of these boxes, there are times when it feels like there are just as many boxes as there always were. The same compartments are still there; I've just rearranged the boxes and lulled myself into a false sense of contentment.

We all have what Ezekiel would call a "divided heart" (Ezekiel 11:19). We may not like it, but we've lived this way so long that it functions reasonably well. Except for this nagging thought that there's so much more to being fully alive than living out of these boxes. Perhaps when the boxes are gone we will discover life; but until then - it's the boxes. They offer us familiarity if nothing else.

In Romans 2:29, Paul says that we all need a "circumcision of the heart." He means that something needs to change inside of us. Something so dramatic and so life-altering that we could only compare it to circumcision. Circumcision was done on the 8th day after birth and was a sign of being ushered into the fullness of the covenant that God made with the People. From that moment on there was no turning back.

The compartments and boxes persist because we are trying to hide some part of ourselves from our Creator. We are trying to bargain with grace. "I'll give you free reign of this much of my life, but I'll keep this box for myself. I'll keep it over here in the corner. It won't be in the way. You won't even know it's here." And the little compartment in the corner dominates and directs the entire space.

We need to be circumcised again; as painful as that image may sound. We need to be renewed and receive a new spirit. That will remove the boxes. It will open us up to wholeness and move us away from a life lived in pieces and compartments. We will no longer live in our own strength, but in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Almighty God, reveal to me my sin that I may turn away from it.

A Litany of Confession

Lord, we confess to you the stones that we have thrown – the stones which have wounded hearts and crushed spirits. Lord in your mercy …
Hear our prayers.

Lord, we confess our indifference and neglect of the plight of the needy. Lord in your mercy …
Hear our prayers.

Lord, we confess that we do not love one another the way we were created to love, because we do not understand what loving means. Lord in your mercy …
Hear our prayers.

Lord, we confess that by our silence we have built up walls and allowed prejudice to take root and grow. Lord in your mercy …
Hear our prayers.

Lord, we confess that by ill-considered word and thoughtless speech we have failed to be one people united in our love for you. Lord in your mercy …
Hear our prayers.


Holy Spirit, speak to us. Heal us with your words of forgiveness. Free us from the sin that keeps us hurting one another. Lord in your mercy …
Hear our prayers. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Dayenu. It would have been enough.

What does it take to satisfy me? How much does God have to bless me before my appetite to fill my own desires is sated? Is it ever enough?

I’m so focused on my wants that I lose track of all that God has already done to bless me.

If God had just preserved my family through difficult years and not brought us to faith – Dayenu.

If God had only led me to a church and not surrounded me with people who loved me and discipled me – Dayenu.

If God had left me where I was and not called me into ministry – Dayenu.

If God stopped watching over me today and I lived the rest of my life without another blessing – Dayenu.

Can I pray those things with integrity? Can any of us? When I can, I’ve reached that place where faith takes over and my strivings become insignificant. Dayenu is a word I want to remember this Lent. Truly, if it all ran aground today … Dayenu.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Prayer of Confession for That Which Has Been Torn Down

From Sunday's Journey of Stones; Rejected Stones (Mark 12:1-12)

Architect of the Universe, from whom new possibility springs. We call out your name; for we are a people built upon your firm foundation.

Make a way for us where there has been no way. Quench the thirst of our spirits that we may sing your praise.

You are the cornerstone – upon which all else stands. You are a Rock that shall not be moved.
You are the Endless One in a world where all things end.

During this Lent, we come face to face with your love. We cannot escape your justice. We are so aware of our sinfulness and our brokenness that we fall before you in repentance.

Hear us now, as we confess our need for your mercy and your forgiveness:

We acknowledge our rejection of you, in our thoughts, our words and our deeds. While we confess with our mouths that you are our true cornerstone, we live as those who have rejected you. We do not obey your commands. We do not abide in you. We do not seek to become more like you each day. In our frailty and our inadequacy, we find it hard to seek after you with a whole heart. We need you to re-establish yourself as the cornerstone of your church and of our lives. Forgive us for rejecting you.

As a result of rejecting you, we have rejected others. We overlook their needs and ignore their suffering. We exclude those who need so desperately to hear your Good News. What possesses us to act as we do? Forgive the suffering we have caused others because of our rejection of you.

Forgive us for the malicious comment or hasty word that can’t be called back. For the violence we bring to our enemies. For ignoring the poverty of our neighbors and keeping the poor on the margins. Forgive us, because we have become so enamored by the abundance of our lives that we blot out your call to live simply. We have abused your creation and abandoned our responsibility to be stewards of all that you have made. For all of the ways we make rules more important than people and expediency more important than integrity, we need your forgiveness.

In spite of our rejection of you, will you once again become our cornerstone? Will you become the foundation of all that we are and all that we hope to be? Please begin again to build us up into your temple. Amen.

Words of Pardon: The Lord is God and he has made his light shine upon you. Give thanks to God, for his love endures forever.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Finding a Balance Between Rules and Freedom

As a pastor, people often come to me looking for answers. Specifically, the want me to tell them what to believe, what to think, what to do. "Just tell me the answer, Pastor!" But I've always had the sense that my job isn't to provide all the answers. If anything, my job is to make sure people are asking God the right questions!

Providing the answers makes people dependent on me for their direction. Helping people ask the right questions makes them dependent on God. A far better situation for all concerned!

One of the great things about following Christ is that there are pretty clear expectations. For the most part, I don't think its a great mystery what God requires of us in the situations we face each day. God wants to reveal a clear and straight path for us. But providing easy, canned answers doesn't do much to reveal that path or help a person grow in Christ.

I think our desire for answers and rules makes sense; there's safety in rules. If you know what the rules are and you know what the expectations are -- you can find a lot of security by staying within those boundaries. At the same time, as the rules become more and more important - freedom starts to disappear.

Can there be a balance between rules and freedom? How can we tell when the rules become so important that the reasons we have them are obscured? It seems to me that whenever Jesus was faced with the need to chose between people and "the rules," he chose people. The rules were made for people. People were not made for the rules.

When God is ready to do a new thing - to bring us new wine - we have to set some things aside in our pursuit of God. Familiar rules and rituals may be one of those things. You can't always do a new thing the old way. There are times when old wineskins just won't do.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Litany of Broken Promises

Sunday at the Refinery we talked about the "stone" of broken promises. We shared a responsive reading called "A Litany of Broken Promises."

Faithful and Loving God, you claimed a people and made covenant with them to be their God.
They embraced you and said you would be their one and only God.

You led Israel through the wilderness and brought them to the foot of Your Mountain.
You gave them the covenant of your Law to guide and protect them.

They sinned against you and made an idol for themselves to worship.
What was written on tablets of stone was broken.

You ruled over your people, but they wanted to be like the other nations.
So You gave them the king that they so desired.

They removed their trust from you and placed it in an earthly king.
What was written on tablets of stone was broken

You sought us out and made with us a new covenant.
Once we were no people; but now we were your people.

You rescued us from the slavery of sin and death through the new covenant in Jesus Christ.
One not of stone, but written on our hearts.

But we have not loved you with an everlasting love.
What was written on our hearts has been broken.

We have failed to be obedient to your Law.
What was written on our hearts has been broken.

We have neglected the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed.
What was written on our hearts has been broken.

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
What was written on our hearts has been broken.

We have neglected your will and your ways.
What was written on our hearts has been broken.

Forgive us for our broken promises.
Forgive us for we are broken people.

Free us from our hearts of stone. Confirm your covenant within us.
Until what was broken in our hearts has been healed.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I spent a lot of time with Titus 2:1-15 yesterday, particulary verse 2. "It teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled upright and godly lives in this present age."

[It teaches us ...] Its necessary for the grace of God to teach me. It's not going to come naturally and its not intuitive. Its not going to happen because I will it to happen. The growth of a disciple is not a given; its not automatically bestowed upon us. We learn it. We are taught what following Christ means by the grace of God.

[... in this present age.] All of this is God's gift to me so that I can live today. As concerned as God and the Bible are about our eternal future with God in heaven, God is just as concerned about right now. We have to live (at least for a little while) right in the here and now. God knows that and leads us so that we can live in this moment. Our future is secure; but our "right now" is important to God too.

In the middle of "stuff," can I still be taught? Can I hear God's voice? Am I able to exercise the self-control I need to live a Godly life? While the problems and struggles swirl around, God wants to show me how to live in "this present age."

When I say things like, "I can't handle this," it reveals just how much I still need to learn. I need the grace of God to continue teaching me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lent begins ...

In a couple of hours, Lent begins.

I know a lot of people hate Lent. It seems depressing and overly self-flagellant. Like we need a formal 40-Day reminder that we fall so far short of expectations -- others, God's, our own. I know I don't need help beating myself up; I'm pretty good at that already.

But, I really need this Lent. I need a time to re-focus, pray, reflect and seek God. I need to find the reservoir that is God's love and sink deep into it for awhile. I need living water. The good news is that I know where to find it ... I just don't take advantage of the invitation often enough to satisfy the deeper longings of my soul.

That's what I'm searching for this Lent. I need a "refresher course."

At my church, we've put together a Lenten Devotional book. It contains reflections for each day between now and Easter that were written by members of our church family. I'm beginning those readings tomorrow with the prayer that God will speak through those daily devotions and that I will come to know God deeper.

Lent's not about giving up something ... for me its about adding something. Adding this time of devotion. Adding this prayer for renewal. Adding this reminder of whose I am. Right now, I don't need to be diminished further by "giving up" something. I need to be filled to over-flowing by one who says "all these things shall be added to you."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

This week's sign . . .

Since I've moved (last July) I have noticed that I'm not in Kansas anymore. Things move a little different, feel a little different - are a little different. For the most part, I like it here a lot. But there are times when I find myself saying, "hmmmm." For instance, when I notice that there's a hitching post in the parking lot at my bank. Not something I was used to in the Baltimore/Washington suburbs. But here ... hey, the Amish and Mennonite have to park the buggy somewhere!

I have noticed that there are places where English seems to be a second language. From time to time I'm going to post proof of that assertion. For example, this is a sign that was hanging on the gym door in a local elementary school. I was there for a basketball practice and noticed it as I was leaving. Please, remember - this is a school. You know, one of those places where they teach English.
I took the picture with my phone and its a little blurry so here's a transcription: "No one is allow in hallway unless they are using the restroom/water foundtion."
Please tell me their kidding. Please?
BTW, I took the picture about 6 weeks ago. It's still there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Prayer

No ... not my first prayer, but a prayer after the Inauguration ceremonies yesterday. This prayer was written by Rev. Dr. Ianther Mills, my District Superintendent.

God of mercy and grace, as we stand at the threshold of new leadership for our nation, we pause to give thanks to you O Lord for the one who has led us; and we pause to ask that your grace might rest upon the one who will lead us forward!

We give thanks for President George W. Bush ... for his years of committed service. We give thanks for that which was accomplished under his leadership. Knowing that we are not only defined by what we have done but also what we will do, we give thanks for what he is still becoming in your hands. Bless President Bush and first lady Laura Bush as they bid farewell to this time of service and prepare to begin another season of their life journey.

As one leaves and another assumes the office of President, we are mindful that this is a turning point in the history of our nation. Mindful that this is a defining moment, mindful that the road may not be easy, mindful that this President takes office at a time when the nation faces many challenges! But, for many, hope is in the air! Expectations are high! And, the bar has been raised!

Therefore, we pray for President Barack Obama and his term of office. May he lead this nation with wisdom and insight, with courage and perseverance, with mercy and justice, with passion and compassion, with clarity of purpose, and with the fear of God! May he be a leader for all people! May he be a leader of integrity and conviction! Let his "No" be "No"; and let his "Yes" be "Yes"!

He is one who dared to have the audacity to hope ... to hope for change. We too hope for change! We hope for change in turbulent times. We hope for change in economic uncertainty. We hope for a change in disparate treatment. We hope for peace in a time of war. But most of all we hope for the reign of God! May that hope be born! May that hope be realized! May that new day come!

And now, O God, lead and guide your servant Barack Obama! Lead and guide us as a people by your grace! May we all be the change we want to see, created, recreated, transformed, strengthened and sustained by your Holy Spirit! Amen

Regardless, of where you may be on the political spectrum, any of us who profess to be apprentices of Jesus Christ have a responsibility to be in prayer for our leaders. At the very least, may we cover our president in our prayers during these next four years.