Friday, November 30, 2007

Advent 1

This coming Sunday, Advent 1 – the first of four Sundays to pay attention, get ready … align our senses and open our hearts … that Jesus might again be born, and we be born anew.

With good reason, the date of Dec. 25 was settled upon for the birth of Jesus, though none know the date. But think about it.

In the darkest time of the year, the brightest work of God!

I don’t know how it all works, but the strange intermingling of darkness and light, despair and hope.

I think it has something to do with our coming to the wall, when we’ve expended our all, and nothing more to be done … now what?

The strange and wondrous love of God meeting us at the end of our rope.

St. John of the Cross, a 16th century mystic, wrote The Dark Night of the Soul for young monks who had lost their initial fervor and joy. St. John counsels: God is on the move doing His most important work, but for our sake, God conceals it in darkness, and only when ready, does God reveal it to us. If we knew what God was doing in such critical moments of our formation, we’d rush in and muck it all up with our opinions and our desires.

“Wait upon the LORD” is still the best advice. And that’s what the Season of Advent teaches us anew – the power of waiting, because we are waiting for God!

There is, for all of us, a Bethlehem – that little out-of-the way place in our soul, not much in looks or means, but just right for the Son of God.

Wait for the LORD … you will not be disappointed!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

To the Presbyterian Layman

Dear Friends,

I'm in my 37th year of ministry within the PCUSA and feel a confidence and hope greater than I've known in 25 years.

But after reading the latest Layman (which I've read for years), I'm inclined to suggest that Jesus just isn't real for us and our faith but an exercise in delusion - because we can't love one another as He loves us; it seems we can only love our own kind, and even that, at times, appears to be a stretch.

Are we any different than the local condo association squabbling over someone's flowerpots on the front walk?

Some will cry out: But the issues are so important! It's more than flowerpots.

Granted, but the greatest issue is love ... is that not what Paul wrote to the troubled Corinthian community? A community divided by the spirit of one-upmanship?

Until we can walk arm-in-arm, our witness to Christ is compromised. Cling to our confessions, stand on our version of the truth, site passages and quote authors, but our lack of love for one another reveals the breakdown of our inner character and belies our claims of salvation. In an anxious nation, increasingly isolated and angry, our own example is anything but "salt of the earth" and "light of the world."

I know the matters that divide us are serious, but I wonder if our own pride of claiming the high moral ground intensifies and distorts the reality. What will any of us say when we stand before Jesus with these terrible scars on our soul? That I believed rightly in the propositions of faith? That I picked out the gnat in the tea and swallowed a camel called pride? That I sang the name of Jesus even as I scathingly denounced sisters and brothers who also claim His precious name?

If love is "the greatest of these," then we have some work ahead of us. Wasn't it our Lord who asked, "What value is there in loving those who love you?"

I know that Paul and Barnabas separated, but is that not attributable to sin? In spite of Paul’s brilliant faithfulness, was he not "chief of sinners" in his own words?

Well, not much more to be said ... I guess the Lord of the Church will sort it all out, but I think those who are willing to pick up their marbles and play in someone else's backyard will find, in time, the mud there is just as muddy.

The snake is never in the grass, but in our heart.

With joy and hope, because Jesus remains Lord.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

We Need a Master

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Shoemaker … Episcopal priest, co-founder of AA and Faith at Work … one of the spiritual giants of the church, wrote:

“… man needs a master. If he is not to have a fellow-man for a master, with all the harm that comes both to tyrant and to slave in such a relation, he must accept a Master Whose lordship is always just, and always beneficent, while often running counter to human desires.”

Someone said to me years ago, “To be mastered by the Master is to be the freest of the free.”

To give our lives to Jesus … to utterly and forever surrender to Him … that He might master us, for He alone knows us truly, who we are, just as we are, and what we can be. And in surrendering to Him, we are no longer our own, but His, and in being His, our life is truly our own.

Here’s the Prayer of Surrender: “LORD Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, I give myself to you in faith and obedience.”

For a little more info on Rev. Shoemaker, please visit:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ten Rules

Bible Reading – Ten Rules of Thumb

Rule of thumb #1 for Bible reading: Keep it simple, and stay on the easy side of the text.

Most people set their goals too high.

By easy side of the text, I mean what you can understand and take to heart. If something is difficult or perplexing, see Rule of Thumb #2.

Here’s a question: Can you faithfully set aside five minutes a day to read?

Just five minutes - don’t go beyond five minutes, even if you have the time. Exceeding the limit one day subtly sets the bar higher for the next day, and Satan uses high bars to discourage us.

Rule of thumb #2: don’t stumble over a difficult passage, leap over it and keep on reading.

Rule of thumb #3: don’t read to understand, read to get acquainted. Sort of like your spouse or best friend. Ha! We never come to a complete understanding of our spouse, or even ourselves, but the name of the game is to spend time with the one we love. Sooner or later, there’s a hint of understanding.

Rule of thumb #4: let God take His time with you. Sometimes “greed” gets in our way – by greed, I mean the desire to know and understand RIGHT NOW! God reveals to us, but all in God’s own time. Some things will have to wait until eternity. Refer to Rule of thumb #1 and 2. Stay on the easy side of the text and celebrate those things that bless the heart.

Rule of thumb #5: if something in the Bible frightens you, you’re misreading it. Put it down, and repeat the first verse of Psalm 23.

Rule of thumb #6: use a pen. Underline things that seem important. Some code their reading: a heart for things that bless; a star for things that seem important; a question mark for those things that seem odd or make no sense.

Rule of thumb #7: flip open your Bible anywhere rather that tackling a single book.

Rule of thumb #8: begin and end with the “Jesus my LORD” prayer.

Rule of thumb #9: when five minutes are up, close the Bible! That’s part of the discipline, too. Not only picking up the Bible, but knowing when to put it down for another day.

Rule of thumb #10: God makes clear to you your “daily bread” – just enough for the needs of the day. No more, no less. God be praised.


As for a translation, The New Revised Standard is a very good, but if you want to have “fun," try Eugene Peterson’s “The Message”.

By taking just five minutes a day, it all adds up. At the end of the week, 35 minutes (although you may want to give yourself a day off on Sunday) – so, 30 minutes a week; four weeks, two hours. 11 months – 22 hours – some moths have five weeks – oh well - (I’m taking December off of this schedule). Think of it, 22 hours a year – that’s good time.

Like dieting, it’s not a crash course that works, but a steady program over the long haul.

Set your goal small, keep it there, and let it add up.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Knowledge of God's Kindness

How does one acquire knowledge?

Attend a workshop, read a book, go to school, talk to someone who’s an accredited source.

It’s good to know certain things … like … stop when the light is red … too much salt spoils the soup … wash your hands before eating and look both ways before crossing the street. Knowing such things, life is easier and safer.

Faith is knowledge, too … a “sure and certain” knowledge writes our theological granddaddy, John Calvin.

A God-centered, Christ-focused knowledge … acquired much like any form of knowledge: time well spent with a primal source (e.g. the Bible), study in the company of others, conferences, workshops & worship, and lots of conversations with reliable folks.

Through our steady deployment of these resources, faith, like a seed, grows in the deep crevices of the soul, and lo and behold, one day, the little root produces a plant, the plant fruit, and the fruit is good: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Here’s what Calvin wrote: “Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

Look at the anchor words: God’s benevolence, freely given promise, revealed and sealed.

Many years ago, a teacher said to me: “Salvation is too important to be left in our hands. God assumes the burden, the task and the outcome. In Christ, we are utterly saved, once and for all, now and forever more.”

Wow and Amen!

“Thought for the Day” – Nov. 5, ’07 – Pastor Tom