Sunday, December 5, 2010

Choose Wisely...

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Nine years ago, Barbra was pregnant with a little boy. In the ultrasound, we'd seen his little fingers and toes and little boy parts. Barb would have made a perfect Mary in a Christmas pageant that year. I really wanted her to dress up as a nun that Halloween - of course, she would have been a pregnant nun, and she respectfully declined….

Mary makes a conscious choice to follow God's desire in this passage for her to have a little boy. Sure, she questions the angel at first, but then she accepts the Grace of God. " 'I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.' " The story is about choice. It is not about divine rape or about someone who offers us an example of mindless obedient servitude. As people, we have the freedom to choose. We are not robots, blindly doing what we are told.

Almost ten years ago, I chose to marry my wife and be a dad to her little baby girl (who is now 12!). It was a choice that I deeply reflected on since we'd both just come through painful divorces, but it was a good choice. Our second marriage came about with the belief that hope can overcome experience. I'm so glad we both still believed in hope.

Life goes by fast, and we make too many choices without first reflecting. We lose hope. As I remember Mary's reflective response, I pray that I will make good choices this day and for the years to come.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hate What is Evil

Romans 12:9

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

I wrote this days after September 11, 2001. Images are seared into my mind of two huge towers toppling about 100 minutes after the initial attack with too many missing and too few found alive. How can I write about my faith, that aspect of who I am that is supposed to permeate every part of my living on this earth, and not address the horror and sadness I feel at this point?

This verse tells us to hate what is evil. Many of our national leaders are called this tragedy an evil act. We were told that these men who planned and carried out these attacks were/are evil. Should I hate these men or what they stand for? Should I live in fear that the next attack might target where I am? Were these attacks on America from people who are jealous about our standard of living? Were these attacks on our nation because we allow freedom of expression and do not condone an authoritarian government - at least one for the people of the United States? I certainly cannot think of a reason that would justify the slaughter of individuals.

I too often do not "hate" what is evil. I find that by simply drifting and not expressing concern for the evil acts I see around me I can live an easier, safer life. Why else would I not hate: "all-you-can-eat-restaurants" when so many people go to bed hungry at night; a tobacco industry that profits from people's addictions and slow deaths; those who destroy the ozone layer; those who abuse children. If I hated these issues that much, I am sure I would be actively involved in removing the establishments that allow these evil acts and working to make sure they are not repeated. Hating injustice helps create a better world....

A Faithful Response: Write a letter to your congressperson about a community issue you believe should be changed.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What Can I Control?

Genesis 1: 1

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

There are many things that I cannot control. I cannot control the path of hurricanes or zany drivers. Nor can I control the randomness of disease or heartbreak nor my genetically-tied balding head, but I can control some things.

I can control my weight. Living in the richest nation on earth does not exempt me from controlling what I eat. I know my eating less or more frugally will not send more to starving millions around the world. But I also know there is something innately profane about the words “All You Can Eat” when who knows how many people do not have enough to eat for one meal today. I can control my weight by how much I allow myself to eat and how much I exercise. Do you think Jesus was ever over-weight?

I can control my response to other people. When someone sounds off to me I often respond with a moment of silence,… I find that the absence of words can often diffuse a volatile situation. A soothing voice often subconsciously reminds the person that the person he or she is speaking with is not the enemy; more often the level of initial frustration arises out of a situation or miscommunication. While there are times when a passionate retort is needed, these outbursts are used far too often in our society. The toughest fight may be taking the initiative for peace in a relationship.

And while I cannot control my relationship with God, I can certainly strive to improve my christian faith by spending time listening and reflecting upon the living Word of God in my life. I believe my search for the Grace to distinguish between the things that I cannot control in my life and the things that I can control is foundational to anything that I seek to control in my life. For no matter how deep I think my relationship with God is: “In the beginning, God…” God is always my beginning.

A Faithful Response: Create a daily exercise plan if you do not already have one.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Matthew 21: 1-11

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away." 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' " 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" 11 The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."

“The whole city was stirred.” Jesus has that affect on people’s lives. He stirs up lives with ingredients of love and service. A dash of integrity, flavored with righteousness, blended with kindness and doused in grace. We all know that Jesus has stirred up our lives but do we hold the conviction to lay them right back down in front of his path?

“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” These people are spreading man-made cloaks and God-created branches. All of creation bows before him. That is exactly what Jesus wants from us: our lives yielded to his will and purpose. These items that the crowd brings before him symbolize the very lives that he desires. But what happens to this crowd just a few days later?

My little boy completely depends on his mom and I. He reaches up his hand when we walk in the parking lot or cross the street. He wants me to watch his latest video with him. He wants me to play with him. One day I told him, “I asked my class yesterday what was their favorite thing in the whole world to do. And you know what I told them? ‘I like playing with my son and spending time with my family.’” He seemed pleased for a second and then got this pensive look on his face: “Then why don’t you play with me more often, Daddy?”

While my intentions may be good to spend quality time with my family, I probably do not do it as often as I should. This story can be a direct analogy of our relationship with God, our Father. Our intentions may be good, but we get so caught up in our lives that God may ask: Why don’t you spend more time with me?

A Faithful Response: Play with your child – or, if childless, volunteer to play with someone else’s child.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Faith Examples

Isaiah 50: 4-9

4 The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. 5 The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. 6 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. 7 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. 8 He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! 9 It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.

Too often I am rebellious. Too often I do draw back. Too often I do hide my face from the presence of those who would mock your name in word or in deed. Too often I run from my accuser. There are some times when I realize I am more than what I have become. The son-ship is mine for the asking. Do I dare step out in faith and grasp it?

As I write this devotion, I remember some older saints of a church where I served as a professional minister whose faith was an example to my own: Fern Boswell, whose Christian commitment had her tottering in to a senior adult bible study with a walker less than a month before her passing; Bea Tanner, whose steadfast faith allowed her to teach for over 40 years; Marie Benton, whose tireless devotion to the poor always seemed to outlast her 90+ year-old body; Rex and Pearl Chambers, who live with integrity and share much love. To see them arrive week after week after week despite their physical ailments and to know that the reason the offering was so high on the first Sunday of each month was because the senior adults had just received their checks and were tithing their ten percent. I always felt like I had many parents and grandparents in that church. But more than that, I always had plenty of Christian examples who lived these verses of rising with the Lord day after day.

As I grow older I realize that other people see my example. I need to recommit my life to wake with the Lord “morning by morning.” I will not be rebellious. I must “not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” I steadfastly look to the future. I will remember, “He who vindicates me is near…. It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.”

A Faithful Response: Visit a home-bound member of your church community.


Saturday, May 15, 2010


Isaiah 44: 21-28:

21 "Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you. 22 I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you." 23 Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the LORD has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel. 24 "This is what the LORD says — your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, 25 who foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense, 26 who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, 'It shall be inhabited,' of the towns of Judah, 'They shall be built,' and of their ruins, 'I will restore them,' 27 who says to the watery deep, 'Be dry, and I will dry up your streams,' 28 who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, "Let it be rebuilt," and of the temple, "Let its foundations be laid." '

I completed the work to earn my PhD in 1998. The process took five years to complete – the first three with class work, the last two with a dissertation. During this time, my older son grew up too fast, I did not have a second child with my first wife, I borrowed money to help with expenses, and I was not working full-time for the first four of those years. Was it worth it? Yes. No. I do not think I am smarter than many people who do not have a doctorate, but I passed the educational endurance test. I half-agree with those who say PhD stands for Piled Higher and Deeper.

While I work at a state-supported college, I appreciate a Christian liberal arts school that incorporates Christian beliefs with a liberal education. Christianity in higher education has often been relegated to campus clubs or irrelevancy. But on a Christian campus, Christianity is merged with education. Understanding all of life from a Christian perspective creates an interaction, rather than a disjunction, between faith and learning.

A liberal education (college instruction that provides broad, general knowledge) offers an excellent learning experience. With many graduated students not working in fields directly related to their majors, students must be able to think through solutions rather than simply regurgitate answers. Technology is increasing exponentially and students need to learn which questions to ask in a transforming job market. A liberal education teaches students how to think for themselves.

God is not against all education in this passage. In fact, we are told in another passage that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our mind. The writer of Isaiah is reminding us that God still needs to be number one in our lives. Idolatry occurs when the creature imagines himself or herself to be the creator:

A Faithful Response: Help your child with his/her homework (or someone else’s child if you have no children).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Hebrews 5: 7-10

7 During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Obedience. Boy, do I often fail here. Don’t worry, I’m not going to list my many sins to offer satisfaction for voyeurs of the souls. But I often fail to do the things I know that I should. Why is that? One reason is probably because, in the midst of my most important busy schedule, I do not sit and reflect on God’s word often enough. This passage tells me that Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries…” If Jesus, God’s Son, spent time in prayer, then why don’t I?

A friend of mine’s wife recently had minor surgery. He called me the night before and asked, “Can you sit with me for the two hours?” I said “Sure” and was immediately humbled by his request. What could I offer him? I had never sat with another man in the hospital and did not know what to say. But then I began to realize that he was seeking my presence more than anything I could say. We sat and we shared and I began to realize the strength in having another present in the time of one’s need. I hope that I have the courage to ask a friend to come and sit with me in my time of need.

That Great Myth of Self-Sufficiency. We just can’t make it on our own resources. Jesus cried out to God his Father to sustain him through his time of trial. Would he have made it had he not cried out? I do not know. Can we make it if we do not cry out? I doubt it.

A Faithful Response: Visit someone in the hospital.