Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day (Sacred Space-December 25)

Luke 2:1-14

When we began reading Sacred Space at the beginning of Advent, my hope was that it would be an awakening experience for many of the people at my church. That God would use these times of quiet study and prayer to touch the lives of our people and bring to new life a devotion to Christ.

I believe that for some that has happened. I saw it on faces during our Christmas Eve services yesterday.

It has also awakened something in me. It has been the calmest Advent in awhile. The same activities. The same “busy-ness.” Some unexpected challenges. But less hectic. Less frenetic. There’s been “sacred space” in the days this Advent. I give God thanks for that. I’ve enjoyed this Advent season more than many.

It’s proven to me that Christmas, True Christmas, isn’t lost and that its still possible to "keep Christmas well.” I’m already looking forward to Epiphany. 2011. And next Advent.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Constant Invitation (Sacred Space - December 24)

Luke 1:67-79

In a few hours our Christmas Eve services will begin. It’s a hectic time for pastors and the pace we set often doesn’t lend itself to a lot of time for introspection. So hearing Zechariah’s words are especially meaningful this morning:

“for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.”

In a very real way, that is the pastoral calling as well as John’s. To prepare the way, to open the way for knowledge of salvation so that all of God’s children can experience forgiveness of their sins. And each Christmas Eve is another opportunity to proclaim that message.

Unfortunately, Christmas Eve can become routine. Proclaiming the same story over and over again can become like listening to a broken record if your not careful with your heart. And careful with the Story.

Again, back to Zechariah. His words remind us that rather than a broken record, Christmas is a constant invitation! From Creation’s dawn God’s light has broken upon us to shatter the darkness of death and to guide us in the way of peace.

I haven’t always been careful with my heart. I haven’t always been careful with the Story. This Christmas Eve, I’m ready to invite Jesus into my heart and into my home. I’m prepared to seek his ways.

I pray that as others come to services today, they are ready to accept an invitation to do the same.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

We May Know Too Much (Sacred Space – December 23)

Luke 1:57-66

The Presence of God – One of the names given to Jesus in the Nativity story is Immanuel. It means God with us; God’s presence with us. Slow down and think about that for a second: God is with us. Not just in some abstract sense or some spiritual sense, but God is with us in the flesh. You could reach out and touch him. Hold his hand. Bump up against him. That alone should drive you to your knees.

Freedom – To think that there is freedom in being a servant of God. This walk of faith is full of paradoxes. Jesus is called Savior because he saves his people from their sins. But he is called Lamb of God because he is crucified for our sins. Lamb and Savior? Salvation and Sacrifice.

Consciousness – The King is almost come. Just another couple of days. And then we will hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.

The Word – All of these names for the Son of God in the Nativity story. Jesus. King. Lamb of God. Immanuel. Prince of Peace. Each reveals something to us about who Jesus is and what kind of Savior he will be. Names reveal so much. They become something of who you are. And at the same time something of who you will be. Jesus was King, Immanuel, Prince of Peace and Son of God. He lived into King, Savior and Lamb of God.

ConversationWe may know too much. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. It breeds unfamiliarity. I worry that because we know the story so well (or do we?) and because these names and titles of Jesus are so commonplace in Christian circles that they have lost their power. Is Jesus still King? Is he still Prince of Peace? Do we really understand what it means when we declare him Son of God? Perhaps our biggest problem isn’t our ignorance. Perhaps our biggest problem is that we have just enough knowledge to believe that we know enough.

Conclusion – Lord Jesus, May our heads and our hearts collide in a glorious collision.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Silent Night (Sacred Space – December 21)

This post is thoughtful words from a friend I wanted to share:

I had the distinct pleasure of getting a unit of blood today.  But really more exciting is that there were a number of friends that said they would donate for me, even asking if it were possible.  That’s astounding, and wonderful.

There are so many thoughts running through my mind at the moment.  I’m truly blessed to have anyone (and more to have many) willing to donate of themselves like that.

My mind wanders and thinks of the season, and that I’m glad I’m not in the hospital.  Is that just nonsense?  I don’t think so.  While a good portion of the world readies for the celebration of the coming of Christ, I wonder how many of us truly take in the meaning.  I mean, it’s just another Federal Holiday – right?  It’s just THE season for commercial gratuitous spending.  So, if I was stuck in the Hospital it’s just another day in another week.  Nope.

It’s not just another day, just watch the Peanuts Christmas.  A child was born to us, not just any child, but the embodiment of God, Christ Jesus, Lord with us, Emmanuel.  We celebrate this day, and season, because of the implausible way God chose to show himself to us.  A savior brought to earth as a baby, wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.

Of course Christmas is not a one act play.  The finale, should anyone forget, is Easter.  Easter is a beautiful word to hide the excruciating torture and death Christ endured and overcame to give each of us the chance to find our way to God and heaven.  Without Easter, Christmas has no poignancy.  All this leads me full circle to getting the unit of blood today.  It’s wonderful to know that someone will donate of him or herself to help me.  Think then, about the gift Christ offers, his blood shed for all our sins.

So, I don’t want to be in the hospital this season or on Christmas, I want to be with my family, friends and brothers and sisters in Christ singing Silent Night at a late service on Christmas Eve.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Anno Domini (Sacred Space - December 16)

These words are from Edith Lovejoy Pierce’s “Anno Domini.” A poet I, admittedly, know nothing about. I was introduced to this by a friend:

“If our blind earth has wandered far
From the pure orbit of the Star,
And interposed its own proud will
Between the Stable and the Hill,
May Truth's magnetic pull increase
Along the silver path of Peace."


Peace with God. Peace with one another. Peace with ourselves.

Peace would be nice.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nouwen (Sacred Space – December 15)

In the course of reading and meditating this week, I’ve come across a couple of poems that seem so suited to where this season is taking me. I want to share them with you.

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who taught for awhile and then left teaching to share his life with a community of mentally handicapped people in Canada. He wrote over 40 books on spirituality and is highly regarded by Protestants and Catholics alike for his profound insights on the faith.

An Advent Prayer by Henri Nouwen

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light & the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.

We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.

We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.

We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.

We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!

I feel like I’m getting prepared for the arrival of this King. There is more I can do and will do, but “Come Lord Jesus!”

~ Godspeed

Sunday, December 12, 2010

“Decorated?” (Sacred Space – December 12th)

Our Christmas tree went up on Friday night and we decorated it yesterday morning. That’s our usual way of going about this, gettree barre the tree one night and decorate the next day. It gives the tree a chance to “hang out” in warmer temps before the lights and decorations go on.

This year’s tree was looking a little “Charlie Brown-ish” when we first brought it home and during that hanging out phase there was a lot of conversation as to what it would look like when all was said and done. Too skinny. Not full enough. Not nearly enough room for all of the ornaments (and we have A LOT of ornaments). But there was really nothing for us to do but wait and see how things looked Saturday morning.

Well, things looked a lot better Saturday morning. Not perfect, but better. So the decorating began. We have a lot of ornaments to put on our tree – most of them handmade. Some from when Carol was a kid. Most from when our boys were small. All of those tree decoratedalong with a lot of Tigger and Pooh ornaments (long story) and the tree gets pretty crowded, pretty quick. Carol’s pretty meticulous about where all of those decorations go, but when its done … it looks amazing.

I wonder if this is at all what God does for us – takes us when we are bare and not much to look at and turns us into something shiny, amazing and glorious.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says that we are new creations. That all the old things have passed away to make room for new things. So in one sense the tree can represent what God has done for us. But in another sense it can’t express it entirely.

Because the tree is still the same tree underneath. In a few weeks we will take off the ornaments and lights to reveal – that same old, imperfect tree that we brought home Friday night. What God does for us in Christ is very different. We don’t just get “covered over” and made to look like something special. We get completely made over and made new from the ground up, from the inside out – that’s what a new creation is. Beneath the surface is a whole new you and a whole new me.

In Christ, we’re not just “decorated;” we are a new creation!

Friday, December 10, 2010

No winning! (Sacred Space – December 10th)

Matthew 11:16-19

The Presence of God – It’s been quiet around here for the last couple of days. How that works with two boys running around the house, I’m not sure. There have been some “loud” moments (God speaking) in that silence. Thank you, God.

Freedom – These verses say something about our freedom and the God who gave it to us. We’re free; even to make the wrong choices.

Consciousness – The reflection that follows the reading takes an interesting turn today; a challenge to consider people’s actions more than their words.

The Word – And yet, in Matthew 11, it was the actions of John and Jesus that were in question. Not their words. When I read these verses I see one of those “no win situations” that we often find ourselves in. John came without fanfare, not eating or drinking and they accused him of having a demon. Jesus came eating and drinking and they accused him of being a glutton and a drunk. Sometimes you just can’t win!

Conversation – What do you do in a “no-win situation?” You do what you know is right! There is really no such thing as a “no-win situation.” If you do what the Lord asks you to do, then you “win.” Regardless of what others may say. Even if you’re biggest critics are the good religious folks.

Conclusion – Going out to get our Christmas tree tonight. Cantata tomorrow. Will be a great weekend, I think!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

John (Sacred Space - December 9th)

Matthew 11:11-15

The Presence of God – I’ve had more time this week to “dwell for a moment on God’s life-giving presence.” A busy week but, a lot of time in the car and that becomes reflection time: listening to music or other preachers on my iPod. Amazing what you and God can talk about while you’re driving!

Freedom – Tuesday was the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s believed that there are only about 200 sailors who survived the attack still alive. They are in their 80’s and 90’s now. I had a chance meeting with one of them in Frederick a few years ago and spent an hour or so in a McDonald’s listening to him talk. It was fascinating.

“God is not foreign to our freedom.” He breathes life into us by the Holy Spirit and freedom is one of the first things he gives us: freedom to choose. Christmas is a choice; we have the freedom to embrace Christ’s Christmas or choose a cheap substitute.

Consciousness – Even in the middle of “busy-ness” there can be a sense of calm. It’s something to seek and out and enter into. It has to be an intentional creation.

The Word – I love John the Baptist - for obvious reasons! He plays the role of Herald in the Gospel stories. He prepares the way. I was reminded yesterday that I have the privilege of not only preparing myself, but of helping others prepare for Christ’s coming (thanks, Jim). How awesome is that?

Conversation – Yesterday, my conversation was mostly one-sided. I did most of the talking. I hope that  today’s conversation is also mostly one-sided. Where I do most of the listening.

Conclusion“Lord, show me how to make this world better, to prepare myself and others for your Coming.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Green (Sacred Space–December 8th)

Stan Freberg is a comedic genius. “Green Christmas” was recorded in 1958. Fifty years later it seems even more relevant to a culture and a Christmas that escalates spending out of control.

Green Christmas–Stan Freberg (1958)

May this Advent and Christmas be a time when the “Spirit breathes life into our inmost desires, gently nudging us toward all that is good.”

~ Godspeed

Monday, December 6, 2010

Two Christmases (Sacred Space–December 6th)

Yesterday, I mentioned “Two Christmases;” an idea I borrowed from CS Lewis. He laid it out in more detail (He actually talks about three Christmases) in an Essay entitled “What Christmas Means to Me” published in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics first published in 1957. The complete essay is below (it’s a little long for one of my posts, but well worth it):

Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business.

I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.

1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out - physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.

2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?

3. Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself - gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?

4. The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.

We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

In My Blindness (Sacred Space – December 3rd)

Matthew 9:27-31

The Presence of God – This hasn’t been one of my better weeks and I can feel my heart calling out for some time alone. Not just a time separate from people, but a time to set aside responsibilities and refocus. Only a  few days into Advent and already I need to refocus! Tonight I have a two-hour drive alone in the  car; I’m looking forward to listening to some music – that will help bring me back into the Presence.

Freedom – This has been a week full of troubling world news: a lot of damaging information released by Wikileaks, North and South Korea are posturing. It makes me so aware of how precious and how fragile is freedom. And how precarious life becomes when we put our hope and trust in the wrong places.

Consciousness – How long does it take to get diverted from the things of God and distracted by this “Other Christmas?” For me, it takes about a day. One day without some time devoted to God, prayer and the Word is all it takes. And then my spirit gets restless.

The Word – The blindness of these men from Matthew 9 is something that in a figurative sense I have struggled with all week. If I really want something different from Advent & Christmas, I have to know where to find it. These two blind men knew that they wanted something different and they knew where to find it! “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Conversation – Today, as I meet Jesus I am saying, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!”

Conclusion – When Jesus asks me, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” I will say, “Yes! Yes, Lord, you can.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sacred Space – Readings for Monday, November 29 through Saturday, December 4.

Sorry, we ran out of books this Sunday! We’ve ordered more but until they get here we will post the readings for each day here. So even if you don’t have a book, you can find them online.

Please remember that all of this material is © 2010 by the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus (so no one can sue me!).

Each day roughly follows this format: The Presence of God, Freedom, Consciousness, The Word, Conversation, Conclusion. Walk through these in order each day and use the Thoughts and Reflections below during “The Word” segment each day.

For each day during the First Week of Advent (November 28 – December 4)

The Presence of God
Lord, help me to be fully alive to your holy presence. Enfold me in your love. Let my heart become one with yours.

Many countries are at this moment suffering the agonies of war. I bow my head in thanksgiving for my freedom. I pray for all prisoners and captives.

At this moment, Lord, I turn my thoughts to You. I will leave aside my chores and preoccupations. I will take rest and refreshment in your presence Lord.

The Word
Please see the daily Thoughts and Reflections for each day below.

Sometimes I wonder what I might say if I were to meet You in person, Lord. I might say, “Thank You, Lord” for always being there for me. I know with certainty there were times when you carried me. When through your strength I got through dark times in my life.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


Monday 29 November (read Matthew 8:5-11)
Thoughts and Questions for Reflection.

  • Along with the calm authority of the Centurion, there is an extraordinary feeling for his sick servant which leads him to forget his standing as an officer of the occupying power and respectfully be a favor. More than that, he respects the possible reluctance of a Jew to enter a Gentile’s house, and bows to the greater authority he senses in Jesus.
  • Are there any in my life, Lord for whom I would go to such lengths? Yet I am one of those you welcome, who come from east and west to eat with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. May I be worthy of that calling.


Tuesday 30 November (read Luke 10:212-24)
Thoughts and Questions for Reflection

  • What have I learned in prayer? What is it that is hidden from the wise and the prudent that I have learnt in the heart of prayer? Can I think over the mystery of prayer in my life and wonder what it has done for me?
  • How has prayer made me who I am? What have I “seen” and “heard” in prayer that I desired? Can I give thanks for all this?


Wednesday 1 December (read Matthew 15:29-37)
Thoughts and Questions for Reflection

  • Things happen around Jesus. People got better, physically and spiritually. In this scene they are healed, fed, and taught.
  • Things happen when we pray, when we journey to a new destination in ourselves, to the part of ourselves where we sing and dance, weep and laugh, cry and reach out to others.
  • Prayer is an adventure. My time in prayer each day is a venture into the uncharted land of love of self, others, and God.


Thursday 2 December (read Matthew 7:21,24-27)
Thoughts and Questions for Reflection

  • You see charismatic preachers who can rouse a congregation to wave their arms, pray with tongues, and chant in ecstasy. That is a blessing, a gift of God that lifts us out of ourselves. But if our lives do not reflect the Gospel, if we do not hear Jesus’ words and act on them, it is empty and false.


Friday 3 December (read Matthew 9:27-31)
Thoughts and Questions for Reflection

  • How could these men, who were blind, follow Jesus if they could not see?
  • How did they know what to ask for?
  • Their faith in him opened their hearts to appeal to him. Their faith opened them to the power in Jesus and they were healed. They knew their need – of God and of others – and did not hide their need and were healed.


Saturday 4 December (read Matthew 9:35-10:1, 6-8)
Thoughts and Questions for Reflection

  • This seems to be a really outgoing gospel: we are to look at the big harvest, the sick, the dead, the outcasts; all the needs of people are part of prayer. It is in care and compassion that the kingdom of heaven comes near.
  • Prayer is one door into the kingdom of heaven, with a door outwards to the world of great need. Advent is a time to notice and to respond to the needs of people in our immediate circle as well in the wider world.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wake From Sleep (Sacred Space – November 28th)

Romans 13:11-2 – “Wake From Sleep”

The Presence of God – Worship today was filled with wonder (at least for me). The children helping to hang Crismons on the tree was a great moment, one memory that I hope to capture and hold onto this Advent.

Freedom – What does Advent (Christ’s coming) mean to captives and persecuted saints around the world? What hope is there in Advent for them? I’m reminded of Jesus words, “If the Son has set you free … you are freed indeed.” (John 8:36)

Consciousness – Advent CalendarWe put up the Advent calendar today.
It belonged to Carol’s family when she was a little girl and we’ve used it every year since John was born. When we gather around as a family it brings back a lot of memories. The felt “ornaments” for the little tree and the tattered pieces of paper with verses of Scripture on them would look tacky and worthless to a lot of people. To me, they are solid gold. It awakened Christmas in me.


The Word – The urgency in Paul’s words hit home with me this Advent. I’ve been praying for a Christmas season unlike any other I remember; for The Christ to invade my life like never before. I want something different this year.

Conversation“Suppose we take these advertisements as a call to pray rather than to purchase.”

I want to wake up to Jesus this Advent in new and powerful ways. I want to leave Advent & Christmas with a new perspective on Jesus, myself and life. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. But it won’t happen unless I walk through this season differently. That will start by focusing myself each day on Jesus – and seeing my entire day through that lens.

Conclusion – This Advent is full of possibilities. I can’t wait to look back in few weeks and see where God has taken me. I’m ready for some change this Advent.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sacred Space – Through Advent and Christmas

Beginning Sunday, November 28th (tomorrow) and lasting through thesacred space Christmas Season; First Saints Community Church will be reflecting on devotions from Sacred Space. We have copies available for free: you can pick one up at worship tomorrow!

As a church body, we’ve done Advent and Lenten devotionals together before and it was a great experience. All of us reading the same piece of Scripture and reflecting on the same themes has led to some wonderful moments. We’ve learned a lot about God and about one another as we’ve shared our stories and our insights from the readings. This Advent & Christmas devotional promises to bring us all together in the same way. It encourages us to find “sacred space” during Advent so that we can hear God’s voice. And any place can be sacred space with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Each day provides something to think and pray about: Invite the presence of God into your day; allow the Spirit to enter your consciousness; allow the Word of God to lead you into the Scriptures; have a conversation with the Creator.

Every other day or so, I’ll be posting my thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. Add your own impressions as God enters your life and makes sacred space.

Pick up the book at worship this week.

~ Godspeed

Friday, November 26, 2010

Grown-Up Christmas List

My 11-year old just gave my wife and I his Christmas list. He said he only included the things he “really needed.” Simply put: Best Christmas List Ever!

  1. 1. Star Wars Lego.
  2. 2. Motor Scooter.
  3. 3. Nerf Gun.
  4. 4. Mind Flex Game.
  5. 5. Anti-Matter.
  6. 6. Cash.
  7. 7. Avatar DVD .
  8. 8. New Bike.
  9. 9. Naruto Figures.
  10. 10. Cell Phone.
  11. 11. Laptop.
  12. 12. Nerf Bullets.
  13. 13. Air Soft AK-47 Machine Gun.
  14. 14. Night Vision Goggles.
  15. 15. New Bed.

Needless to say, I had some questions. And needless to say, he had answers.

  1. 1. “Star Wars. And. Lego. (‘Nuff said)”
  2. 2. “I need a motor scooter because my regular scooter and my bike are too much work.”
  3. 5. “It could be fun.”
  4. 10 & 11. “Everyone at school ….” [You know the rest.]
  5. 14. “They’re just cool.” [I figure he needs them to walk to the bus in the dark at 6:15 a.m.]
  6. 15. “Because the old bed is OLD.”

It’s been a long time since I put together a Christmas list. I don’t NEED anything and as each year passes I find that I WANT less. So much of what I WANT I already have.

It’s still a few weeks off, but what would your Christmas list look like? Full of things you WANT or full of things you NEED? Are there dreams on that list? Some wild visions? Some things that “could be fun?”


Monday, November 22, 2010

Christ the King

Thinking today about the Kingdom of God – on the day following the celebration of Christ the King Sunday …

“What we are watching for is a party and that party is not just down the street making up its mind when to come to us. It’s already hiding in our basement, banging on our steam pipes and laughing its way up to our cellar stairs. The unknown day and hour of its finally bursting into the kitchen and roistering its way through the whole house is not dreadful, it is all part of the divine lark of grace. It is not our mother-in-law coming to see whether her wedding present china has been chipped. He is a funny old uncle with a salami under one arm and a bottle of wine in the other. We do indeed need to watch for him but only because it would be such a pity to miss all the fun.” ~ Robert Farrar Capon.

In another context he says this about analogies like the one above: “It is, I grant you, a crass analogy; but crass analogies are the safest.”

~ Godspeed

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stomping on the Promises

Are you committed to the Promises of God or to the Person of God?

The answer to that question is an important one. It reveals much about our relationship to Christ and how we approach our day-to-day life as a disciple. The difference between the two commitments is huge!

If you are committed to the Promises of God, then you are focused on God fulfilling your purposes. The Promises of God are true and dependable but, they aren’t the focus. If they are  then you’re focused on what God can do for you – and that’s the wrong focus. They aren’t the reason to follow. They aren’t the driving force behind discipleship.

If you are committed to the Person of God, then you are focused on fulfilling God’s purposes. The focus shifts away from you and toward God (where it belongs!) – that’s the right focus.

Acts (13:36) says that David “served God’s purpose in his own generation.” That’s our calling, too. Yours and mine. We are to “serve God’s purpose.” God isn’t here to serve ours and when we put God’s promises above God’s person we get a lot of life confused.

A lot is happening right now in my life and my family that I don’t like; things that I’d prefer I not have to deal with. At times, I’ve found myself waving God’s promises in His face – not “standing on the promises,” more like "Hey, God you owe me!”

It’s good to be reminded that its not about me – a lesson I’ve learned before but one that’s easily forgotten. It’s about God and God’s purposes. When I get that right a lot of others things find their right place.

So life can bring whatever it wants to bring.

~ Godspeed

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Gaps & Silences

I’ve been wondering why its so hard for me to get into any kind of rhythm with the postings on this blog. It’s not for lack of anything to talk about! There are plenty of things that cross my mind throughout the day and I think, “What a great post that would be.”

In fact, that may be a large part of the problem right there. There are lots of ideas, but I’ve observed over these last couple of months that opinions and ideas aren’t really welcome. We’ve just come through an election cycle that’s been as ruthless as any since Andrew Jackson’s. But even on a personal level, things are venomous. The simplest Facebook status or posting can quickly degenerate into a howling, screaming mess. I’ve been as guilty of this as the next person.

Opinions and ideas are fine as long as they meet one of two criteria. 1-They are the same as the person who reads them or; 2- You keep them to yourself. We’ve lost any sense that we can have different opinions about important things and still be friends, still be brothers and sisters in Christ, and still love one another (in the best sense of that word).

So, read into that what you will. For lack of courage … for lack of energy … for lack of a desire to join the fray … for all those reasons and more, I’ve backed way off on the posting.

Reminded of the words of Proverbs 18:2, I still find myself posting. Hopefully with a bit of humility. Hopefully with a bit of passion.

… you’ll hear from me again soon.

~ Godspeed

Friday, September 17, 2010


Tomorrow I am officiating a wedding at Pax River Naval Air Station. Going through the gate this afternoon, showing ID and passing through security made me exceptionally nervous! It took me a couple of minutes to figure out why.

[Insert *back in time* sound/video effect here]

In February of 2007, I helped put together the examination retreat for our Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Part of my responsibility was to set up at the hotel so that everyone knew which meetings were in which rooms. So, I had signs made up that I hung outside of each room. At the conclusion of the retreat I put all the signs in a cardboard box, closed the box, labeled it so I knew what was inside and threw it in my trunk.

In late March of 2007, my son Joshua and I were on our way to his first baseball game of the Spring. It just so happened that the game was scheduled to be played on base at Fort Detrick in Frederick, MD.

When we pulled up to the gatehouse that Saturday morning they were on high alert. Following directions we opened all the doors, popped the trunk and exited the car. Everything was fine until the security officer looked in the trunk.

Inside was my box from February clearly labeled B.O.O.M.! A rather unfortunate abbreviation that we use for the Board Of Ordained Ministry. Needless to say security went from high alert to HIGH ALERT.

It was a long, tense few minutes while I tried to explain.


I can laugh about it now, but it wasn’t very funny at the time. Two lessons looking back. One: always check your trunk! Two: we have to come up with a better abbreviation than BOOM. We just have to.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Hinge Events

Historians call them “hinge events.” Events that become so pivotal that major movements of historical importance hinge upon the moment of their happening.

For America, there have been a number of such hinge events. The American Revolution. The Civil War. The Great Awakening. These are examples of hinge events that extended over years.

The assassination of JFK or Abraham Lincoln. The bombing of Pearl Harbor. The resignation of President Nixon. These are hinge events that happened in a moment. A single moment in time that had tremendous consequences.

Its hard to tell what its long term (100-years from now) effect will be, but in the short term 9/11/2001 has all the earmarks of a hinge event.

I had only been at Christ United Methodist Church a few months. I heard the news of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center on the radio as I drove to the church. We spent the morning getting as much information as we could online – when the ‘net wasn’t crashing because everyone else was doing the same thing.

The rest of the day was spent counseling worried family members who couldn’t reach loved ones working in DC. Answering questions that none of us had the answers to. Trying to think of some way to respond as people of faith that made some sense in the face of tragedy.

That evening the church had a community time of prayer. People from the neighborhoods around the church crowded into our fellowship hall to draw strength from one another.

Nine years later, some of the same questions remain. How do people of faith find meaning in the face of tragedy? How do we remember those who’s lives ended far too soon? How do we “celebrate” (If that’s even the right word) Patriot’s Day?

Whatever 9/11 holds for you, I hope there are at least a few minutes when you stop and remember those moments nine years ago. It was certainly a hinge moment. In significant ways, I think it continues to be.



Friday, August 27, 2010

Doing Our Own Thing

Churches I’ve pastored have been a part of World Vision’s 30-Hour Famine for over ten years. Every Winter, usually in February, our youth group has raised money and gone hungry in an effort to make an impact on poverty and malnutrition around the world. Sometimes we’ve raised thousands of dollars, sometimes only a few hundred; but the knowledge that you are joining with other youth groups all across the United States deepens the sense that your small contribution means something in the grand scheme of things.

I was a bit surprised a few months ago to learn that The United Methodist Church, of which I am a part, has started a campaign called “B1: One Being, Being One” that looked very, very similar to 30-Hour Famine. It’s described as a 24-Hour fasting event that raises money to empower the poor and disempower unjust systems sustaining poverty. Sounds a lot like 30-Hour Famine.

I thought, “Can’t be the same thing. There must be something I’m missing.” So I sent an email to the folks at the General Board of Global Missions asking how the B1 Campaign differs from 30-Hour Famine.

I received a response fairly quickly. The big difference? The B-1 Campaign is United Methodist and 30-Hour Famine is not.

So … rather than approach World Vision and seek to partner with them on a successful endeavor that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the elimination of poverty world-wide; and rather than work with World Vision knowing that many United Methodist churches already participate in 30-Hour Famine – The United Methodist Church has decided to “do their own thing” and launch another program - like the church needs more of those.

I’m disappointed, to say the least, that The UMC has decided to compete rather than seek partnership with others in the body of Christ. Sadly, this is only the latest example of The UMC imitating rather than innovating or partnering in ministry (nationally and locally).

My church will be participating in the 30-Hour Famine this winter as we have in the past. The B-1 Campaign does not give us a compelling reason to change. Playing in our own Methodist sandbox just isn’t enough motivation to do so.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I was reminded today of a trip several years ago to the York County Fair. My wife and I decided to spend a few dollars and tour the sideshow, just off the carnival midway. It was painted with the typically sensational murals – the bearded lady, the world’s smallest woman and the like.

Having never been to what used to be rather cruelly called a “freak show” before I didn’t know what to expect. My experience that evening was so excruciatingly uncomfortable it remains a vivid memory: people on display, to be looked at like specimens in cages, oddities behind glass. Except that they weren’t behind glass! They were on display and in most cases in little more than cages and boxes – and as I looked at them, they looked at me. Nothing separating me from them; and as I looked into their eyes I realized that they were people – living, breathing creations of a Loving God. And it was wrong. Just so starkly wrong that I couldn’t stay and complete the “tour.” I was ashamed of myself for having gone in to begin with.

I was reminded of this by a movie we watched tonight called “The Butterfly Circus.” One scene takes place in a circus sideshow and as the barker prepares to throw back the curtain he says, “a man [so deformed] that even God has turned his back on him.”

The group I’m with talked for a few minutes tonight about that single line; “even God has turned his back.” I was excited to be able to say to them, “That is not the way God works!”

We may feel worthless and insignificant, but in God’s eyes we have infinite value. Humanity looks on the outward things. God looks on the inward things and examines our heart. Our worth is not determined by the value that others place upon us, but by the value that God places upon us. There is nothing about us that’s accidental or insignificant. Because of Christ, we are  filled with promise and purpose. That makes all the difference in the world.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mission Trip Reflection – Wilmington NC

The week of June 20-26th was spent on a mission trip with youth and adults (mostly youth) from my church in Wilmington, North Carolina. We repaired homes in the area with Group Work Camp. In the middle of serving and working all week I found it difficult to get time to think and reflect on my experience there, but as I look back – even from just a few day’s distance – there are some things I am struck by and want to share.

1. The power of faith in action is tremendous. As a person who spends a significant amount of time every week stringing together words to communicate the message of life with Christ, its easy to get lost in those words and forget the power of our actions. Faithful living has a different kind of power to affect people than do words and its a power that can too often be overlooked. I’m not advocating an either-or approach; I’m saying I’ve been reminded that, at its heart, life with Christ is words and actions (all of life really) united together.

2. Students have tremendous potential and impact. I can’t possibly convey here how touched I was and how impressed I was with the students from our group. They worked hard. They chased hard after the things of God. They made a difference last week. As they were serving, I hope they got a glimpse of their power and the potential they have. They really could change the world. If they put themselves wholly into it, with the help of God, they could make an impact that no other generation could  rival.

3. When you serve you always get more than you give. That’s not why you serve, of course, but its still true. I experienced that first hand this week in the kindness and grace of the woman in whose home we worked. She would be genuinely embarrassed for me to mention it, but she was one of the most valuable gifts that God gave me last week. She renewed my soul.

4. Too much ministry happens inside our church buildings. The more we are in here the more we miss the opportunities out there. And again, its not an either-or proposition. It’s about something more balanced. But for too long the life of the Church has been out of balance. The lives of many believers have been out of balance. We spend too much time looking at the world through rose colored stained-glass windows. It’s long overdue for that to begin changing.

I am so glad I went to North Carolina last week. God had a lot of special people and important lessons waiting for me in Wilmington. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss them.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Uncaging a Lion

Jesus is described as the Lion of Judah. He appears in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia as the lion Aslan. Something about this image resonates with us. It’s an image of a God that is big, powerful and in command.

But, in the words of Shane Hipps, we have to be careful because a “lion does not make a good house cat.” A lion can’t be domesticated. A lion in a cage is somehow diminished irreparably. A lion needs wide open spaces. Churches, though, often try hard to cage their Lion.

Why do churches try to put this Lion in a cage?

Sometimes we do it because we’re afraid that something will hurt The Lion. I think The Lion can protect itself. This Lion doesn’t need us to defend it.

Sometimes we do it because we try to control The Lion. But a caged lion can cause a lot of damage.

Sometimes we do it because we are afraid of The Lion. We believe we need to be protected from The Lion. Even though we are in awe of The Lion; the very thing that brings on awe also makes us fear The Lion.

C.S. Lewis had one of the characters in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe say this when asked if that Lion (Aslan) was safe. “Of course he’s not safe.”

I wonder what our life in community (read: Church) would be like if we uncaged The Lion?

~ Godspeed

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Great Question

Speaking at an Annual Conference in the Mid-West, one United Methodist Bishop asked this question: “What are the fundamental activities that are so critical to your congregation's mission that failure to perform them in an exemplary way results in congregational deterioration and decline?"

I think that’s a great question. Lately I’ve been asking myself whether churches try to do too much. And in trying to do so much, we do most of it in a mediocre way. The question I’ve been asking is “What should churches stop doing?” I think its the same question asked in a different way.

Someone once said that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Stands to reason that in order to keep the main thing the main thing – you better know what the main thing is!

Spend some time thinking about what activities are “mission critical:” – certainly in your home and in your life. But more particularly for this conversation – for the church.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Top 10 Things You Never Want to Hear Your Pastor Say

Sunday night at the Refinery, we shared the “Top 10 Things You Never Want to Hear Your Pastor Say.” Without further ado …

10. Today we’re going to mix it up a little … for communion, we’re having Mentos and Diet Coke! (everybody be careful!)

9. I’m kind of surprised that I am even here this evening … I have the WORST hangover. (those trustees really know how to throw a party.)

8. You’re mom died? Oh, that’s too bad. My niece’s parrot died a few week’s ago – and I’m still pretty broken up about it.

7. I want to share a few vacation pictures with you … I was hesitant about the Tuesday shots, since it was “Speedo Day” on the beach, but I decided to go ahead and ‘share it like it is!’

6. I know that Paul “just says NO” in the NT, but after serious theological reflection, I think its time for all the men in the congregation to be re-circumcised as a sign of the new covenant.

5. We’re out of communion bread, but we did find this cheesy bread back there in the youth room. (when did they have pizza night … Wednesday, right?)

4. I really want you to get this point I am making, so here is a clip from ‘The Exorcist.’

3. I’ve been thinking the Mormons might have it right … so next week, we’ll begin sign-ups to schedule interviews to find my second wife!

2. I had an exciting sermon prepared for today, but I think I am just going to get started here and see where the Spirit leads us, I mean, who doesn’t have plenty of time for the Spirit?

And the number 1 thing you never want to hear your pastor say is …

1. I’ve been assessing your situation and … you really might be going to hell.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


This is a re-post of part of a column called “The Next Pitch” by Scott Couchenour. It’s part of his blog Serving Strong. See the entire entry by clicking this link. Given present circumstances, too relevant not to share.


The score is tied 3 to 3. It’s the bottom of the ninth. Two outs. The count is 3 balls, 2 strikes. The pitcher has just received the signal from the catcher and is winding up to throw the next pitch.


Look into the eyes of the batter. Notice what’s going on. Everything around him fades away. It’s just his bat and the next oncoming ball. He has no idea how the ball is going to come at him. It could be high and outside, fast, slow, knuckle ball, changeup, or curve ball. But everything about the batter is completely still.

We must be ready for what comes our way when working with the needs of people. One of my former coaching clients (a great thinker) put it well,

“There is a ‘right time’ to rest and a ‘right kind’ of rest – not based on the need to recover from a recent sprint or marathon, but based on the need to be prepared for the next pitch coming my way. There is a stillness, a single-mindedness, a centered calm that can be chosen, adopted, breathed into my heart and mind, as the key element of physical, emotional, and spiritual preparation for the next task to come.

“As I sit by the stream in my back yard on a cool, windy spring day, I am aware of coming storms. Some people only know how to prepare for storms by getting busy (batten down the hatches, stow away the patio furniture, stock up on batteries, and check the flashlights.) I am learning how to prepare for a storm – by being still.”

Saturday, April 17, 2010

FORWARD, week 1

Tonight we ended the first week of FORWARD with a prayer vigil from 8a.m. to 8p.m. in the Chapel on the St. Paul’s campus. It was a great ending to a full week.

I’ve been reading through a daily (Monday-Friday) devotional book that will last for these first four weeks. A couple of the days readings (especially Tuesday) spoke to a lot of us in very powerful ways. Evidently, “Gratitude in the face of disappoint” is something a lot of us could relate to.

Tonight I was part of the group praying during the final hour of the vigil. Spending an hour in prayer may seem like a long time, but it went so quickly I ran out of time before I ran out of things to pray about. It was a great way to begin this capital initiative at our church.

Tomorrow we’re entering week 2. The specific goals of FORWARD will be laid out in our six services and then in the evening I’ll spend additional time answering questions for people at the Refinery campus and anyone else who wants to come. I’m honestly looking forward (no pun intended) to the questions because I think they show genuine interest.

I’m convinced God’s up to something huge here; I can’t wait to see what it is.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Snow-Bound, But God Unbound

It’s been an interesting couple of days, guess that’s no surprise to anyone on the East Coast who’s experienced the snow storm of the last couple of days.  Should have guessed it was going to be a different kind of weekend when I saw this snowman who mysteriously appeared outside the church late Thursday evening.Snowman Not sure who’s responsible, but it brought a smile to my face on Friday morning just as it started to snow.

Life doesn’t stop just because of the weather, even a storm like this.  Our church family has been pretty active over the last couple of days.

We participate in a ministry called WARM and for a week at a time a group of about 15 homeless people are guests at our church.  Tomorrow night was supposed to be the beginning of our week, but because of the storm we started on Friday.  The call went out for volunteers  and within a day we had all the volunteers we needed. As a result all of our guests are warm, safe and dry.

We’ve had people at the hospital, people under Hospice care, people needing rides to work – and our church manages to rally around them like a church at its best.  One of the reasons I’m excited about 2010 is because I see all of the ways the people of First Saints answer God’s call to be the children He created us to be

The snow has shut some things down, but God just can’t be contained.  I’m snowbound at my house, but God is unbound!

Morning worship tomorrow has been cancelled, but we’ve got a couple of things in the works.  First, there is a Bible Study on Spiritual Gifts that we’re posting with a link on the First Saints Home Page.  If you would like to gather as a family or in a small group with some neighbors, we’re encouraging you to do that. 

Second, worship is central to our church community and it’s been a couple of Sundays since all of us were together.  So we’re having a “make-up” service on Tuesday night at our St. Paul’s campus at 7:30 featuring music, the Word and communion.

We won’t have the opportunity to gather together for worship tomorrow, but I thought I’d take the chance to thank the people of God at First Saints for being the people of God.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sage … It’s Not Just For Cooking Anymore.

Borrowing an idea from a colleague, I took the Spiritual Type Test.  It’s a quick way to see where your spiritual temperament falls.  I’m a “Sage.”  ………. Once you stop chuckling, the description of a sage is below.

You are a Sage, characterized by a thinking or head spirituality. You value responsibility, logic, and order. Maybe that's why you were voted "Most Dependable" by your high school classmates. Structure and organization are important to you. What would the world be like without you? Chaos, that's what! Your favorite words include should, ought, and be prepared. What makes you feel warm and fuzzy? Like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof it's tradition! tradition! tradition!

Because you love words, written or spoken, you enjoy a good lecture, serious discussions, and theological reflection. Prayer for you usually is verbal. You thrive on activity and gatherings of people, such as study groups. Sages on retreat likely would fill every day with planned activities, leaving little time for silence or solitude.

We need Sages for your clear thinking and orderly ways. You pay attention to details that others overlook. Sages make contributions to education, publishing, and theology. You often are the ones who feel a duty to serve, give, care, and share with the rest of us.

On the other hand, sometimes you seem unfeeling, too intellectual, or dry. Can you say "dogmatic"? You may need to experience the freedom of breaking a rule or two every now and then. God's grace covers Sages too, you know!

Other people with this spiritual type are: Mr. Spock, Dilbert,Elrond, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Maya Angelou, Linus (Peanuts), Yoda (Star Wars), Andy Griffith, Mr. Miyagi, The Buddha, Rodin's The Thinker, Moses, Ross Geller, Matthew (the Gospel writer).

Interesting.  I’d love to hear your feedback.  Does that description fit?  I have my own idea, but I’d love to hear yours. If you would like to find your own spiritual type, go to


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My “patient” Star

This past Sunday was Epiphany Sunday.  Every year on Epiphany, the Refinery (one of the campuses of the church I pastor) has a tradition of drawing stars from a basket.  Each star has one of the Fruit of the Spirit written on it (from Galatians 5).  Everyone picks a star without looking and whatever star you pick, you assume that God has something to teach you or say to you about that particular Fruit throughout the year.

Last year, I picked faithfulness.  I spent most of the year wondering what that was about; not sure I ever really discovered exactly what God was up to.  Still …

If there was one “star” out of the nine that I would have chosen to stay away from it was patience.  Simply because I think that one’s dangerous!  There’s the old adage that if you pray for patience, God puts you in situations where you need to develop and have patience.  So what would it be like if God gave you a star as a way of saying, “This year is going to be all about patience?”

So when I picked my star?  Patience!  [Of course.]

Wasn’t too happy about it, honestly.  Wasn’t looking forward to it.  And then last night a friend said something that reminded me of an important truth.  These are gifts!

The Fruit of the Spirit are gifts, given to us by God so that we can live a life of freedom by the Spirit.  They aren’t given to us as punishments or as correction.  They are given to us as gifts to enjoy.  In them we get a glimpse of what a Spirit-consumed life is like.

If you were there Sunday night and you’re wondering what’s up; whatever your star - it is a good thing.  God has a gift in store for you!  The gift God has for me is patience. Not because circumstances will dictate that I need it, but because a loving God has graciously chosen to share it with me.