Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here.

The Kingdom of God is a party where everyone is invited. That's worth breaking into song.

Third Saturday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here.

O Lord, you have mercy on all; take away from me my sins, and mercifully set me ablaze with the fire of your Holy Spirit. Take away from me the heart of stone, and give me a human heart, a heart to love and adore you, a heart to delight you, to follow and enjoy you, for Christ's sake. Amen. (St. Ambrose)

I don't think I can say anything better than that. Amen.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Third Friday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here.

Like the author of today's devotional, I also had the thought, "How can burning with unquenchable fire be good news?" Today's author sees it as being warned that a hurricane is approaching, so that we can be prepared for it, but I disagree.

Knowing that a hurricane is approaching isn't good news. Yes, knowing ahead of time allows you time to prepare and to flee, but a hurricane itself isn't good news--it causes destruction. You might get out with your life, but your world, the place where you live, might be destroyed.

I wonder what the Jewish people heard when John proclaimed this message. I wonder if they identified themselves with the wheat, and their oppressors with the chaff. It would be good news to hear that an unstoppable force was on its way to sweep your enemies out of the way. But that isn't exactly what happened. What did eventually happen was that the people of God outlasted the mighty Roman empire, but that is a story too long for this blog!

I wonder how we could apply this scripture personally? Would it be good news to know that a power was available to burn away all the useless parts of your life, all the broken and messed up parts, and keep only the good? That's what one author believes it means to be "judged" by God. It's not so much about assigning guilt as it is about purifying, about being made righteous.

And righteousness, as we learned last week, has to do with peace in our lives, and peace in our world.

Maybe John's message is good news, after all.

Third Thursday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here.

I wonder how Christmas got to be so much about fighting in line to get stuff instead of focusing our vision on those in need.

I wonder if in our culture Jesus has become so much of a "celebrity" that no one has to pay any attention to him. I mean, everybody "knows" a celebrity, and everyone "pays attention" to what a celebrity says, but how many people order their lives around one?

Actually, I guess there are people who order their lives around celebrities, whether that celebrity is one person, or maybe a team of persons. Maybe the problem is that Jesus is considered one celebrity among a cast of millions. And knowing about Jesus might help you answer a question on Jeopardy or defeat some of the crowd on "One vs. One Hundred," but how many people, even "church people," have made Jesus the One they have ordered their entire lives around?

This post seems to be a little random, but maybe John the Baptist inspires such random thoughts in one! Maybe we should add a "John the Baptist" day to our Advent celebration. What would that look like?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Third Wednesday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here.

Eternal God, the light of minds that know you, the joy of hearts that love you, the strength of wills that serve you, grant us so to know you that we may truly love you, so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. (St. Augustine)

Knowing the love of God through Jesus seems to be Paul's deepest wish for those to whom he writes. I wonder why we don't hear that expressed more among Christians. I wonder if it's because we don't think it that important, or because we ourselves have experienced so little of it.

What would happen in USAmerica if every Christian made it their "mission" to communicate the love of God in every way possible in every possible situation? What would that look like? What would change? Do you think it would make the news?

I wonder why it seems so hard to do sometimes.

God of love, make a way for us to experience your love, so that we can share that with others. Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Third Tuesday in Advent

Hooray! I can get back to the "Following the Star" from my home computer now since downloading the Firefox web browser. It's good to have home access again! Kudos to Firefox; it's what we use at church, too.

Yesterday I noticed in these Advent readings a theme of God making a way through huge obstacles for the salvation of his people. Today's scripture mentions a path again, and this time, righteousness goes before God to "make a path for his steps."

Steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace. Four strands that flow together in salvation. Four qualities that seem very difficult to hold! But perhaps God can make a way for these four to grace our community. There are so many obstacles to this, but we've just been reading how those obstacles are nothing to God.

Lord, find a way!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Third Monday in Advent

I am still having problems linking to "Following the Star," so I'm going to use the revised common lectionary for today. "Following the Star" is using it too, I think, so I should be somewhat on track.

Isaiah 11:10-16 is the passage for today. It speaks of nations "inquir[ing]" of the root of Jesse and speaks of God creating a way for the remnant of Israel and Judah to return home. It seems there have been several passages of God creating a way in this Advent season. It's never about the people creating a way, it's always about God, and always about a way right through where there seems to be a great obstacle.

Lord, there seems to be many obstacles to your message in this place. Make a way for your people to show others the way home to you.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Third Sunday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here.

Tonight our youth group (and friends) went Christmas caroling through a new neighborhood. We had a few welcome receptions, had the door shut on us once, and had a Korean teen (who knew one of the youth) describe us as "a little creepy." I guess Christmas caroling through a neighborhood isn't as common as it used to be, and perhaps this Korean family hasn't been in the country that long.

"What do you want?" was the question the Korean family asked us. I suppose if you aren't used to it, the sight of a group of strangers serenading you at night with unfamiliar songs would be rather curious.

What we wanted was to share some joy. What might happen if more people got together and spent their time singing to their neighbors?

With all the controversy and "wars" going on with Christmas this year, I hope in some way we shared that Christmas is about giving, and not about "wanting" anything.

Second Saturday in Advent

Saturday's scripture is from Micah 5, and the devotional writer talks about how we must battle for our very identities.

That is so true. There are so many voices commanding us who to be. Be successful, be wealthy, be famous, be beautiful... or else be a loser.

And yet when we are secure in God's love, when our full identity is shaped by God's desire for our best, we become deaf to all those voices. We know Whose we are, and that has more power than anything else. We have it All, we have nothing to lose.

Second Friday in Advent

I've been experiencing computer problems the last few days, so I'm trying to catch up.

Friday's scripture reminds us that Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, who would bring us peace. I agree with today's writer that it's easy to let our worries and cares get to us, but when we seek God's Spirit, we have peace.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Second Thursday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here.

What I see in today's devotional is that Luke lists all these important people, a whole list of people in power. People who have power in government, people who have power in religion--but the "word of God" comes to John, a guy hanging out in the wilderness.

The wilderness is about as far away as you can get from power. In the wilderness you have no roads, no infrastructure, no connection with organized faith systems. It doesn't matter how much money you have, because in the wilderness, there is nothing to buy. It's just you and your wits, and maybe what you have prepared in advance to take into the wilderness with you. But it's here that the "word of God" finds John, and he takes the message of that word not to the people in power, but to the people on the edges of that power.

It's a little bit like saying: In the sixth year of the presidency of George Bush, when the world was focused on terrorism, and Viacom and AOLTimeWarner were posturing for even bigger market shares, and James Dobson and Jerry Falwell were commiserating about the fall of the Republican Party, the word of God came to _________. Fill in the blank. Maybe with your name. Maybe especially with your name. Maybe especially if you are a person with no power, and no position, and you feel like your life is lived pretty much in the wilderness.

Because back in the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberius, the most momentous thing that was going on was that the word of God came to John. A guy with no credentials was getting his backwater neighborhood ready for the greatest event of all. And when the people in power finally started paying attention, John wouldn't be ushered to the front of the temple to share his wisdom. He wouldn't be ushered into the board room or into the Oval Office. No. He'd be ushered straight to jail.

We who name Christ as our Lord should understand by now that position and power don't really have anything to do with the orchestrations of God, but we forget that a lot. This passage of scripture reminds us.

Lord, may the Word of God come to us today, in whatever wilderness we may find ourselves in. And then may we share that Word with our backwater neighbors, and help them get ready for the greatest Event of all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Second Wednesday in Advent

Tonight I can't get on the d365 site, so I'm reading the scripture from Sacred Space, which is Matt. 11:28-30.

Jesus says, "Come to me," when we are weary. Jesus says his yoke is easy, and when I see what the yoke of wealth, or the yoke of fame, or the yoke of success (name any area) does to people, it's easy to see that Jesus' yoke is completely different.

Jesus, help us learn how to wear your yoke, and to throw off all those other ones that only weigh us down.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Second Tuesday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here.

In Psalm 126, the ones who go out weeping don't go in complete despair. Even though they are weeping, they still carry seeds to sow. There is sorrow, but there isn't defeat. There is tragedy, but the door is kept open for hope. It's a powerful image.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Second Monday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent Devotionals here.

There is a verse in the Bible that talks about God's kindness leading to repentance. It's interesting that the message that John is supposed to preach to get people ready for the Lord's coming is forgiveness of sins. Not hellfire. Not condemnation. When we hear John say, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," it is not a threat, it is an invitation to participate in a new way of life made possible because of the forgiveness of sins.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Second Sunday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here. You are welcome to add your own reflections or prayers with the "comment" button.

Most of the time, I think, we emphasize one or the other. We either focus on peace and compassion, or we focus on righteousness. But peace and compassion without righteousness is merely sentiment, and to me, seems like it has no strenghth to withstand evil. Righteousness without compassion becomes judgemental self-righteousness, and excludes anyone who doesn't measure up.

Yet in Jesus we find both, the embracing warmth of compassion and the purifying fire of righteousness. It is the only context in which true peace, true shalom, can occur.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Festival of Lights

Last night we went to the Festival of Lights at the Grotto in Portland. We walked through the Nativity story, met St. Nicholas, and listened to the Tualatin High School choir in the church. It was great to hear such a talented group of young people!

First Saturday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" devotionals here. You are welcome to add your own reflections or prayers with the "comment" button.

Mabye the greatest hope is that we are never, ever alone.

Friday, December 8, 2006

First Friday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here. You are welcome to add your own reflections or prayers with the "comment" button.

"I have not experienced everything God has to offer." Wow. That line from today's devotional really hit me. I know so many people who believe that they have experienced everything God has to offer. "I tried Christianity once for awhile, but it wasn't for me." "I went to church when I was a kid, but I grew out of it." "My (dad, mom, friend, co-worker) says he/she is a Christian, but I don't see it making much of a difference."

Experiencing everything God has to offer takes time (and even then, it's not everything). It also takes commitment. And all too truly, the people who claim to know God many times don't act in ways that help others experience more of God.

I wonder if there are ways that I can hold out hope to those who believe they've seen all there is to see, who believe they've experienced all there is to experience.

Lord, give me what I need to experience more of you, and show me ways to share that with others.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

First Thursday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here. You are welcome to add your reflections or prayers with the "comment" button.

Sometimes it seems like a lot of time has to go by in order to recognize signs. It takes time to see how something has changed. And it takes a lot of attention!

Lord, help me pay attention.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Merry Sinterklaas Day!

Today the girls woke up to find chocolate letters, chocolate coins, speculaas (Dutch spice cookies) and candy in their wooden shoes!

For the Dutch, Sinterklaas (the predescessor of the American Santa Claus) doesn't come on Christmas Day, but today. Years ago we met a Dutch family that kept the Sinterklaas tradition, and liked it because it separated gift-giving from Christmas and because the holiday celebrates St. Nicholas, a bishop in what is now Turkey who generously gave to the poor. They felt the holiday and the St. Nicholas story did a better job of communicating giving.

You can find out more about Sinterklass here.

First Wednesday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here. You are wellcome to add your own reflections or prayers with the "comment" button.

It's very good to know that people are praying for you. Perhaps more of our prayers need to have the wide sweep of this one of Paul's.

I hear the words "clear the way" in this scripture. There can be so many obstacles between those who hope to share their faith, and those who need to be strengthened by it. Lord, clear the way!

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

First Tuesday in Advent

You can find the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here. You are welcome to add your own reflections or prayer with the "comments" button.

Today one thing that hits me in this Psalm is the idea of shame and being ashamed. Whether or not it's connected, the other thing that I notice is that God "instructs sinners" because of his goodness, and that he leads and teaches the humble. I think it's necessary to have a posture of humility before you can learn. Those who are proud won't listen to anyone else, including God.

"All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness." Let me walk in the paths of the Lord.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Open the book

This is going around, so I thought I'd play, too.

Here are the rules:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog, along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest!

The book by my computer monitor was The Search to Belong by Joe Myers, and the quote is:

Every planner and lender gradually learned the
rules. With the establishment of the General Housing Authority in the
mid-1930's, planning and lending practices standardized, eliminating many of the interesting quirks of the traditional city....

Beyond basic safety regulations, the justification for expanding codes was usually the protection of property values. The pessimistic view of society maintained that people had to be protected from one another. In residential ares, it was thought that, given the chance, some
people would immediately paint their houses hideous colors and find abandoned trailers to put in weed-filled front yards.

This is actually a quote from a book by Larry R. Ford called The Spaces Between Buildings. The quote comes from a chapter in Myer's book called "searching for a front porch" which examines how we have lost that middle space in our culture.

What I understand by this quote is that neighborhoods are designed with the focus of profitablity. I wonder what our neighborhoods would look like if building relationships were the focus. I'm guessing someone is doing that somewhere, but I don't know where.

First Monday in Advent

You can read the "Following the Star" Advent devotionals here. You are welcome to post your own reflections or prayers in the "comment" space.

Today's reading from Zachariah is certainly an interesting one. The image is of a huge rift being created right through a mountain. A huge obstacle now becomes a way of escape. It's like the parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River, only now it's through rock, not water. I wonder if this image from Zacchariah was in Jesus' mind when he talked about faith to move mountains.

God who splits mountains,
Help us to remember that you can carve a path through the greatest of our obstacles.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

First Sunday in Advent

You can read the "Following the Star" Advent devotions here. You may add your own thoughts on this devotion or prayers in the "comment" space.

God of Grace,

Sometimes what we hope for is so very far from what is. Yet you call us to hope, and you keep your promises. But the real Messiah was an unexpected way to keep a promise. Keep us open to you in the unexpected.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Thoughts on blogging

OK, I know I'm a newbie at this, but blogging is a little odd. You have to think enough of yourself that you have something worthy to say to the world, and have enough ego strength to be OK with the fact that not that many people are listening, anyway. Or maybe the ones that are listening think that you really don't have much to say. Or something like that anyway.

But however odd it is, I have a lot of company. :-)

Friday, December 1, 2006

Anticipating Advent

Beginning Dec. 3, I plan to blog through the website devotional "Following the Star." I invite anyone, especially OHP Youth, to include their thoughts and prayers here in response to each day's reading. You can link to "Following the Star" here.