Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty

Good Morning Covenant on the Corner.

We’re in the flow of Advent … we’ve pondered things with Mary, we’ve wondered how it’s going to work out with Joseph; we heard from the Innkeeper last week, and this coming Sunday, we’ll be surprised with the Shepherds – surprised that the highest of angels would come to them, the lowest on the rung of human status, to announce good news to them, neither to prince nor in palace, but in the hill country, to no-accounts …

This morning, in the daily lection, this remarkable piece from 2 Peter, chapter 1:

Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

This is my 64th Christmas, and professionally, my 38th … I’ve never grown weary of the story, and every Advent and Christmas, there always something new, something clear and crisp in the air, some fresh idea, some energizing image that grips the mind and compels my spirit to praise and wonder.

I wish to all of you the joy and wonder of the season … as we all cut back a bit on our spending, let’s go full hog with our praise, for this is a remarkable story, and the Jesus to whom it points remains the power and the glory of human history.

His love and his work are for all the world, and wherever women and men of faith turn heavenward, he’s there. Wherever a tear is shed in sorrow for the untoward ways of humankind, he’s there. Wherever justice fails, he’s there beside the injured and the lost. Wherever justice is done, he’s in the doing of the deed.

I celebrate with you the joy of Christmas – a gift for all the world! Through the telling of the story all over again, we are, like Peter, “eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

Advent week 3, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

Advent 1

By the Rev. Robert C. Orr ...

Cast of characters Luke 1 and 2 -- Advent I

Luke, Theophilus, Herod, Zachariah, Elizabeth, Angel, Gabriel, Joseph, Mary, Caesar Augustus, sheep herders, baby Jesus, angelic choir, Simeon, Anna, teachers (in the Temple) and Jesus (age 12).

Is this a list of the usual suspects
or is this the most improbable
mix of humanity and divinity
ever to be mixed up?
a bit of this, a bit of that--
a touch of sheep, a taste of hay
an angel startling with a greeting
a prince with throne encountering--
a power greater than all thrones
a helpless baby
a helpless humanity
all searching
all looking
do we look East?
do we look West?
ahead?
behind?
or
in our heart of hearts?
is there room?
are we able to open the door
to let Him in?
wait and see
wait and try
wait

© The Rev. Robert C. Orr

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving


A simple exercise for Thanksgiving …

A slip of paper, a pen … maybe a computer … write the word Blessings on top of the page, and then begin your list …

Take your time … let it flow … if there’s a pause, wait a moment or two … more things will come …

The list doesn’t need to exceed 20 items … a dozen will do for the time being …

And for the next few days, read the list daily, and say at the end, “Jesus my LORD.”

Read slowly … like eating good food … slowly … to savor each bite, discerning the complex layers of flavor and texture.

It takes but a few moments of our time, but time taken for gratitude slows our pace and creates a small space of peace. There is soul-healing power in gratitude.

As the hymn puts it, Count your blessings, name them one by one; you’ll be surprised by what the LORD has done.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Interim Pastor Tom Eggebeen

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Changing Our Minds

Stay the course, but be prepared for the unexpected discovery.

Years ago, the Christian Century magazine published a series of articles entitled, “How I Changed My Mind” – written by a variety of top-notch scholars, preachers and church leaders.

For all of them, those critical moments when new data entered the stream of thought, when the unexpected discovery could not be ignored – so, they changed their minds.

Emerson noted: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”

What’s “foolish consistency”? A refusal to let new data enter the stream of thought. A consistent disregard for the unexpected discovery – as if Columbus might have sailed into the new world and said, “Nope. Doesn’t exist! The world as I knew it last week is still the world as it is.”

Life is a quest … a constant journey … and God is constantly introducing new data into the stream of thought, and as we walk with Jesus, we will see things never seen before, or we’ll see what we saw thousand times before in a brand new light.

It takes courage, I think to change the mind, and some humility as well – to admit that our former take on things can go in a new direction. “I used to think thus and so, but now I see it differently.”

It’s good to change … do it slowly, do it carefully - keep the windows of your mind open to new data and the unexpected discovery.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day


On the eleventh day of the eleventh year at the eleventh hour – the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front – World War 1, and today is the 90th anniversary.

The date was declared a national holiday in many nations to remember the 20 million who perished.

After Word War 2, it was changed to Veterans’ Day in the United States and to Day of Remembrance in the British Commonwealth. In many parts of the world, people pause for a two-minute period of silence at 11:00 AM.

At 11:00 AM this morning, I invite you to take a moment for prayer:

Eternal God, whose love is our peace, whose mercy is our hope, I remember the 20 million who perished in the fateful days of World War 1, and I gratefully remember when peace was declared and war was no more, though only for a season.

O LORD our God, my heart is distressed, because we are a warring race, easily taking up arms against one another, convinced that peace can be won through might. But war and rumors of war plague our world, and in this moment as I pray, soldiers and civilians are dying in gunfire and explosion, others maimed for life all around this lovely blue planet – and the sorrows grow deeper.

Help me, O LORD to be a person of faith and peace. To refrain from all expressions of violence and ill-will. To embody peace in my own life; to apologize and to forgive quickly, rising above dark thoughts. To be of good cheer and to lift up struggling souls. To stand with the oppressed and the excluded. To pray constantly for peace and to work hard for justice.

I pray for the leaders of the world, and I pray that women and men of faith will boldly bear witness to the tasks of peace.

Help me to stand with Jesus first of all, to lift up before my world the larger vision of the peaceable kingdom, when the lion shall lay down with the lamb. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is one of my all-time favorite hymns; the last stanza reads like this:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth. Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

And then the chorus:

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
I thought of this great hymn when reading Psalm 62 this morning.

The Psalm begins like this:

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

Dear Reader:

When the winds blow and the storms come, we are safe.
When our own failures overtake us, we are safe.
When the hurt and harm of others injures us, we are safe.
When our hopes and dreams come to naught, we are safe.
When life is more than we can bear, we are safe.

God see us through the storm …
God forgives our sins …
God uses our suffering to mature our soul …
God always has something new in store for us …
God carries our burdens, too …

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Yin Yang

Getting acquainted with someone of another culture is always an enlightening moment – not only do we learn of another way of living and thinking, but we gain insight into our own patterns of thought and life.

I’m reading a book about the Trinity written by a Korean Christian whose world and life have been shaped by Yin Yang thinking. In a nutshell, Yin Yang is a both/and way of thinking, inclusive of what we might call opposites. You’re probably familiar with the symbol:


Opposites not only intertwine, but they contain a bit of the opposite within them.

We see a lot of this in Scripture – Psalms 22 and 23; Genesis 1 and 2; 1 Kings 18 and 19 … the life of Jesus: Bethlehem and Calvary, joy and sorrow, silence and speech. Read Ecclesiastes 3 for a poetic grasp of Yin Yang.

Life is rarely clear-cut – mostly a little of this and a little of that, with most of our choices never totally clear, a downside, an upside, to everything.

We sometimes get trapped trying to make the “right” decision. In all likelihood, looking back on our days, it’s not about making the “right” decision, but making a decision, getting on with it, having weighed up all the factors with all the love for life we can muster, seeking someone’s counsel as well, and then, with prayer and hope, going for it, staying with it, modifying it as we go along, adding and subtracting from it as the process unfolds.

Have you pressured yourself to make the “right” decision, maybe petrified of making the “wrong” one? Hoping something or someone will come along and say, “This is the choice to make.” I’ve been there many a time. But no one can tell us, not even God, and no event or circumstance ever makes it totally clear.

We just have to choose as best we can and trust the power of life and love, the power of God, and the goodness of those around us. And in all of it, we will find grace finding us.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Faith Moving Mountains

Everyone has faith, in some form or other – values, hopes, maybe even a sense of God, to carry them through the hard times, to encourage self-giving in the good times – to look upon others with charity and do their best however they can, whether they be a single-mom in ER worriedly waiting for a doctor to see her sick child, or a Wall Street CEO caught up in the financial tornado of recent weeks.

Faith is what God looks upon … faith stirs the heart of God.

But just how much faith?

Jesus said it well, “faith, the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain.”
It doesn’t take much.
Even the smallest piece will do.
The mountain may not move overnight, or in two weeks, or even ten years, but it is moving! And beside you, God’s shoulder pushing.

Give thanks for your faith today - it's moving mountains!

Monday, October 27, 2008

I Have a Dream


I remember when John Kennedy ran for President. Some Protestant folks were adamant: “If a Catholic becomes President, the Pope will run the country.”

Yesterday, on radio, I heard a lovely, elderly white woman say, “If a Black man becomes President, …”

I’ll let you fill in the blank. What she said was irrational and deeply troubling. She wasn’t proud of it – that was obvious - but there it was – this incredibly ugly thought.

I write as a Christian, a man of faith, who knows the power of deep-seated ideologies – like anti-Catholicism, or any of the various forms of racism and prejudice that mar our character.

None of it makes any sense, but somehow or other, our minds, our souls, are capable of harboring the senseless, and believing it to be true.

Our great nation is broad-minded and generous – we are America the Land of the Free … our Statue of Liberty stands witness to a universal welcome – that in this great Republic, every human being can find a home and a future, regardless of race, creed or color.

This is what makes America great.

I end with some lines from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his “I Have a Dream” speech:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

...

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pay Attention!


Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.

When my children travel, I always say to them: “Stop, look and listen; see, smell and taste, and tuck it away in your memories.”

Pay attention! Don’t be inward; be outward.

The disciples where weary and ready to hit the sack, but they stayed awake, and look what they saw: the glory of Jesus and the “two men” with him. A moment of profound insight and energy. They saw Jesus in a new light (that’s a pun – read the story: Luke 9:28-36).

Today, practice alertness; don’t be inward; be outward.
Really see the person next to you in the checkout line … pay attention to their face (don’t stare. Ha!).
Turn off your radio while driving to work, roll down your window and listen to the sounds of LA.
Look up and see the mountains (if it’s clear); look at a tree and study it’s shape.
Look at the folks waiting for the next bus.
Watch your hands type something.
Pay attention to the food you’re eating – flavors, spices, texture, temperature.

It’s said, “the devil’s in the details.” So is goodness and beauty, truth and wonder, joy and marvel. So is God!

Today, “Stop, look and listen; see, smell and taste, and tuck it away in your memories.”

Who knows? You may see Jesus and the two men with him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Don't Be Too Sure


They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened (Luke 8).

How certain they all were, that it was all over with, hope gone, no way through, or out.

Have you ever been “certain” about something only to discover later on that life was moving in another direction, with possibilities and options galore? If only you had been a little more alert, a little less convinced of your own take on things, a little more open, you might have gotten on board a little sooner.

Paul the Apostle writes of God: Who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do no exist.

It says they laughed at Jesus.

Cynical … scornful … the laughter of the “knowing” – “Who does he think he is?”

The next time you hear yourself saying, “I know for certain,” remember this little story from Luke’s pen, and remember that God has plenty of things up the sleeve, more than we can ever imagine, for helping us through life.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Holiness

To be holy - which is what God wants for us - is to be wholly devoted to God! Whole-devotion not the easiest thing in the world ("take up your cross and follow me"), but failing to try for whole-devotion is the hardest thing in the world!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Night Shift


Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
who stand by night in the house of the LORD!
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the LORD.
May the LORD, maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion.

Lots of folks work the night shift … the donut maker, the police officer, the fire fighter and the pilot; the nurse, the doctor and the bus driver.

Psalm 134 celebrates those who “stand by night in the house of the LORD” – specifically, those who said the nighttime prayers and maintained the various candles and incense offerings.

As I write, I hear a helicopter overhead … a Sig Alert on the 405? a police search for a suspect?

Do you know someone who works the night shift?

Send them a note of thanks.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Three Things ...

Amazing things happen when I meet new people.

Recently, an artist, a tai chi instructor and thinker-about-life (Tommi) gave me three things she teaches:
Let go
Keep it simple
Flexible

I grabbed a piece of paper to write ‘em down.

Let go … wow! … I sometimes hang on to old idea, memory, hurt … I turn it over and over again, examining it as if it were a piece of fine glass, when what I really need to do is wrap them it and throw it into the trash like fish gone bad.

Keep it simple … life can be reduced to some pretty basic things: love consistently, forgive quickly, remember God, you are always more than you think you are, and appreciate the world around you.

Flexible … change with changing circumstances. Nothing stands still, always something. I wonder how much time I’ve spent wishing things were different. Flexibility allows us to discover the good, the promise, the possibility, in everything, even the hard stuff. A good shortstop never waits for the ball to come to him, though it sometimes does, but is ready to go to the ball.

Thanks Tommi for putting these three things together for me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Luck and Work

I’ve know some wealthy people – two men stand out in my mind, both friends, both Christians, both members of churches I’ve served.

My thoughts on this were triggered this morning by something I heard on TV: “Ya’ know how to spell luck? W O R K.”

I’ve heard it before, and all around the town, and from one of the men noted above.

When he said, many years ago to me, I was uneasy about it, and hadn’t heard it for awhile until this morning.

I’m still uneasy about it, because it’s not true.

Millions, if not billions, of people work hard, from sunup to sundown, and then some. Year after year of grinding hard work, and nary a break to be had, and just a heartbeat away from abject poverty, and no hope of ever breaking free.

The family in Sudan … the beggar in Calcutta … the farmer in Nepal … and a lot of folks right here in the US of A.

The other rich man spoke at the Rotary Club one day and told of all the free lunches he’s enjoyed: the parents he didn’t choose, the intelligence bequeathed to him in his DNA, the spirit of the family, its faith and its love. The college professors who encouraged him. The first banker who believed in him and loaned him seed-money. And all along the trail, one free lunch after the other. Did he work hard? You bet he worked hard, but he was a man who understood grace and was himself a gracious man.

The other man, the hard-work-equals-good-luck kinda of a guy was a charitable man, but with an edge that revealed itself ultimately in an unrelenting self-centeredness that destroyed his family.

He didn’t understand grace, and thus no grace was given. Everyone and everything in his little world had to fit into the niche of personal achievement. And so it goes. Did he work hard? Yes, morning, noon and night and then some, and fabulously wealthy.

Two men, both super-rich. The one who turned it all on himself, and the other who recognized the free lunch.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 Remembered

Tragedy is always personal.

3000 lives were lost in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings ... a lot of families and friends were sent into the Valley of the Shadow Death.

For them, let us pray:

Eternal God,
To whom we all belong,
Grant mercy to the sorrowing.
Heal shattered souls.
Restore hope and rebuild faith.
Especially for the children, O God.
Amen!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mothers - First Life, Second Life


A friend of mine, Darren King, wrote this in honor of his wife, Deborah, a stay-at-home Mom now an artist.

The image to the right is entitled "Good Water" and can be found at her blog - Indigo Jones Studios.

There's the first life you live -
the one where you help
your little boy clean himself
after with limited success
he's used his big-boy potty seat
and then you wipe up the
cat puke in the foyer
you swiffered the night before
after Letterman.
It's the life where
piles of laundry rule your space
but you've grown to ignore
them as a strong-hold defense
against insanity.
Make the beds, wash the dishes,
vacuum the floors, you're too
busy to make lists and by evening
you're waiting for your husband
so you can start dinner.
And when, finally, he arrives he's late
and smells of his lunch he ate
peacefully in a nice restaurant
with his colleagues -
all of whom are over the age of four.
He comes in through the front door,
unscrews the top of his head, places his brain
on the table in the hall and asks,
"How was your day?"
Your second life
is the one where you imagine yourself
among your artists acquaintances
on a sunny Thursday afternoon
in a University town,
the streets have been blocked off,
you're in a white tented-booth
with your name on the outside,
listed above the town you're from,
your artist booth number.
You sip vendor lemonade as
your shoulders pink over the day
and you talk with attractive,
culturally-sensitive people who
upon approaching your work
ask you many interesting questions -
none of which have to do with laundry,
the best swiffer or pet vomit.
You love your children.
You love your husband.
But at least once a day, every day,
the possibility of your second life
will see you through
the reality of your first.

- Darren King

Friday, September 5, 2008

Problem Solving


I just solved a problem.

Not a big one … had to do with TV, DVDs, programming, etc.. You know, the kind of stuff that drives ya’ nuts.

But with some googling and experimenting, I got it. And was I happy!

People are problem-solvers; it’s our nature, and I’ve learned the three Ps pathway to problem solving: Persistence, Patience and Prayer.

Persistence – stay with it; try alternatives.
Patience – don’t lose your cool; there IS a way, and you will find it.
Prayer – a simple “Jesus my LORD” to stay in touch with God.

My “problem” was a small one, but it taught me a lesson I’ve learned and had to learn so many times.

There IS a way.
You WILL find it.

Maybe not today, or even tomorrow … and some problems require months and years – ask a scientist or an engineer working on a satellite launch.

Anyway, no big deal for me, but I’m happy to have solved the problem.

Whatever your problems might be today – and some of them are huge – you WILL find a way through … you WILL work it out … you WILL succeed.

Persistence, Patience and Prayer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Person of Courage

Gerhard von Raad – an Old Testament professor at Jena, Germany during the terrible years of WW 2 - an opponent of Hitler, when most of the faculty signed on the dotted line, with medical students being trained in pathology at Buchenwald.

His colleagues quickly became Nazi sympathizers – aiding and abetting the effort to “nationalize” the Christian faith, to make it an instrument of the state, and most pointedly, to deny the Jewish ancestry of Jesus and eliminate Hebrew words like “hosannah” and “halleluja” from creeds and hymns – thus ridding the church of everything Un-German.

Jena became the first to eliminate the study of Hebrew for theology students.

When key colleagues “retired,” von Raad stood alone. He taught and wrote, but with fewer student – his Psalms course, only four.

The Confessing Church (author of the Barmen Declaration in our Book of Confessions) responded by sending students to Jena to make certain von Raad would have a classroom audience.

He survived the war and went on to finish a distinguished career, leaving a permanent mark on Old Testament studies and a witness to courage.

Over the years, I’ve met the quietly courageous.

A husband who visits his wife in a nursing home every day for years … a mother caring for a brain-damaged child. A corporate executive who leaves a high-paying position because of disagreement with corporate policy … a pastor who loses his pulpit because he addressed issues of racism in his deep-south church.

History will never record their stories, but they’re written in the annals of heaven, and if not influential for the many, then maybe just for you or for me.

Your story, too.

The daily courage to get up and get going, to keep on loving, to be prayerful and faithful, loving and kind.

The courage:
To face yourself and try to change.
To think long and hard about life, political issues, our nation and the candidates.
To forgive someone who’s hurt you deeply.
To read widely and ponder much.
To live with questions rather than settle for shoddy answers.
To believe that life is sacred and all creatures are of God.
To dream large and imagine a better world for all.
To embrace peace rather than war.
Love rather than suspicion.
Openness rather than fear.

No one is courageous all the time, but everyone I’ve known has been courageous some of the time, and mostly at just the right time – such is the human heart!

Remember, you are a person of courage!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Doing Good Today


Are you doing good today?

Questions like this intimidate us. We tend to think of everything we’re not doing. Or maybe we’re practicing some form of humility – “Oh no, I would never speak too highly of myself.”

But I like to think small on this question.

Think about it.

You let someone cut in front of you, and you didn’t explode.
You were patient in the checkout line.
You said your prayers today.
You were kind to a stranger.
You wrote out a check to a charity.
You read your Bible.
You read the newspaper and prayed for the poor and the sad.
You searched your heart and found God there.
You said a gentle word to an irritating co-worker.
You asked yourself some good questions.
You forgave someone.

To miss the good is to miss God!
Pay attention to the Spirit at work in your life.
Shaping you.
Forming you.
Expressing God’s love through you.

At the end of the day, make a mental list of the good you did.
And sleep well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Travel Well

One of life’s greatest temptations – backwards travel.

Sure, we have regrets – the kick-me-in-the-butt kind of regrets, the shoot-me-now-please kind of regrets, the missed-opportunity-what-a-dingbat-I-was regrets, the opened-my-stupid-mouth kind of regrets. Who doesn’t?

We have sad memories of wrongs, real or perceived, done to us.

We’ve got drawers full of memories.

Have you noticed, the top drawers of memory are usually filled with dark socks, and they’re the first drawers we open in the morning. Easy to get stuck wearing the same ideas, and rehashing the same memories.

Like Jesus, we try resurrecting our Lazarus-memories from the grave, but the memories we raise mostly stink – Jesus raised Lazarus to life, but our memories are best left in the grave of time.

How to deal with a memory that won’t let go?

Face it for what it is: it’s ugly, smelly and dysfunctional.
Confess it (your share in it).
Then give it up to God with deep and consistent surrender, trusting the promise of God to be at work in all things for good.

Then get on with the rest of your life. Put the car in gear, head forward, because the windshield to see where you’re going is a whole lot larger than the rearview mirror.

By God’s grace, there’s always a new adventure just around the corner – a new person to meet, a new book to read, a new faith-dimension to explore, another prayer to lift up, and always Sunday in God’s House.

And on the deepest level of all, heaven … something I cannot conceive of right now, but the essential promise of Jesus – the journey never ends. There’s always one more adventure ahead of us.

Travel well my friends … wave goodbye to the best and the worst; let God deal with all the unresolved stuff of life. God does a far better job it then we ever could. In the end, I pray, we will lay our heads down one last time, and awaken in the bright and warm light of God. The journey never ends!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sunday Adventure

We love to explore, and I love to take my wife on adventures, especially when she hasn’t a clue.

Sunday, we had such an adventure.

I write because our adventure involved something important for Los Angeles. Something found in good cities around the world and here in the US of A.

Our adventure began with a quick drive to the LAX/Aviation Blvd. Station and a ride on the Green Line to the Imperial/Wilmington Station, the transfer point to the Blue Line. Then on to the city, enjoying the city landscape – homes and warehouses, stores and soccer fields; kids with their bikes and skate boards getting on the train to meet friends and check out one another; mothers with children – families out for the day - then arriving in downtown LA at the 7th Street and Figueroa Station.

We left the train and headed to the surface. Strolling past the famed No. 28 Fire Station, now a restaurant (Bill, remember our lunch there last August?), we made our way to the Westin Hotel, which much have been designed by the same architect who the did the Renaissance Center in Detroit, formerly a Westin Hotel and now GM Headquarters. After a drink and a hors d’oeuvre, we returned to the Station and got on to the Red Line to Universal City, at which point, my wife asked, “Are we getting off in Universal City?”

Along Hollywood Blvd., with station stops at Vine and Highland, we picked up speed to pass under the Santa Monica Mountains, to arrive quickly at the Universal City Station.

Across the street from the station, we boarded the free Shuttle to take us up the hill to Universal City. There, we strolled this bustling tourist attraction, hearing all kinds of languages and seeing the world in all of its relaxed delight. At every turn, a restaurant or a store – and children by the ton, with lots of giggles and smiles, and a few tears when Mom or Dad had to say No!

For dinner, we settled on the Hard Rock Café and a huge plate of Nachos. On the wall, a guitar from one of our favorite performers, Willie Nelson.

Satisfied and in high spirits, we retraced our steps back home.

Throughout our ride, stations were clean and folks friendly; cars well-kept, comfortable and mostly crowded. No doubt, thousands of folks use the trains, and likely more these days in view of oil prices.

I hope LA can expand the system, including the Subway to the Sea.

For thousands of people, public transportation is vital to their wellbeing, and I believe vital to the wellbeing of an entire metropolis. I think of the “L” in Chicago, the subways of New York City, Boston, Toronto and Washington D.C. where the poor and the wealthy “ride the rails” together every day.

Thanks LA – we had a great Sunday adventure.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Our Part of the Bargain

From Psalm 63:8

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Throughout the story of our faith, a partnership with God. Though God remains the “senior partner” (the Presbyterian, or Calvinist, side of the story), we, too, have a genuine role to play (the Methodist, or Arminian, side of the story).

God’s right hand – the ruling, governing, caring and comforting, hand of God upholds us – through thick and thin, sick and sin. “I will never let you go” (Romans 8:37-39) is the love of God for us, in life and in death, now and forevermore.

God’s hand upholds … our soul clings – our follow-through.

Daily I learn that my faith in Christ, my walk with God, my journey through life, is enriched when I’m following through.

The follow-through of faith: in some ways, simple: prayer, Bible reading, devotional/theological reading, faithful in worship, fellowship with believers, striving with all our might to love one another as Jesus loves us.

But then the follow-through grows a bit more complex: being a witness to others, in word and deed. Striving for justice and the wellbeing of our neighbor. As a Christian recently put it – “I’m tired of feeding and clothing the poor; I want to do something about the conditions that produce hungry and ill-clothed people.”

Yet even as I strive to fulfill my part of the bargain, I realize time and again “how far short of the glory of God I fall” (Romans 3:32).

So I’m glad to be a Presbyterian, because this much of it, I believe, we have right – a solid and unyielding reliance on grace … and it’s Biblical to boot – So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy (Romans 9:16).

See ya’ in God’s House tomorrow, and we’ll hear a little more about Romans and the Apostle Paul – a man passionate for God!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Proud to be Presbyterian

While at Zephyr Point (Lake Tahoe) for Week Two of interim training, several of the Lutheran pastors said, "Presbyterians do this better than anyone else."

My heart swelled with gratitude and pride. Yup, I'm glad to be a Presbyterian.

We do this interim training well, and we do lots of things well.

When Donna and I lived in Detroit and we'd visit our son in Chicago, and if we were there on a Sunday, we'd go to Fourth Presbyterian Church across the street from the John Hancock Center - a vital church pastored by John Buchanan, also editor of The Christian Century.

Our denomination has weathered many a storm since it's founding in the United States.

The first Presbytery was founded in 1709 in Philadelphia, and the first General Assembly was held in the same city, 1789. Our most recent Assembly, the 218th, was held in San Jose.

Through thick and thin, sick and sin, we've come a long way - with great missionaries, colleges and seminaries, hospitals and schools, here and around the world ... and thousands of congregations, just like Covenant, holding forth the Gospel, teaching children, providing fellowship and hope, engaged in community ministries, and lifting up the name of Jesus.

Sure, we have our work cut out for us these days. But I’m proud to be a Presbyterian

Our new Moderator, the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, a 39-year old San Franciscan, represents a new day dawning for all of us.

Let me ask each of you to pray regularly for the Presbyterian Church - say the name, and then the Name above every name, "Jesus my Lord."

Would you do that?

Thanks and God's Peace to all.

Pastor Tom

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gardening

I’ll tend Covenant’s expanding herb garden a couple of times this week – everything is growing well, and you might want to stop by to see it. I planted one of my favs – Nasturtiums: a peppery tasting leaf and a beautiful/edible flower for garnish. It’s takes about ten days for the Nasturtiums to appear – as of today, it’s been six days since planting … will they come up? Will all of them take root?

Seeds are an amazing thing – that little piece of hard-shelled life sends down a root (how does it know to do that?) and a shoot upward, reaching for the light. A little water and sunshine, a little fertilizer further down the road – and it grows into what it should be.

Most every word we say, most every deed we do, most every thought we have, is a seed.

This week, we’ll plants a few seeds – seeds of love and hope – we’ll encourage our children through a tough time, we’ll help our spouse face a challenge, we’ll bless a friend along the way, and we’ll enliven our own spirit with the seeds of trust and love, planted with prayer and nourished with faith.

We’re all gardeners in God’s Garden of Life.

Have a good week, and keep your eye out for your seeds sprouting to life.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Alive!


Found this in a friend's email:

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come
alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have
come alive." -Howard Thurman

Monday, July 21, 2008

Waiting

This morning, I read from Psalm 5 - "a Psalm of David" - and it begins like this:

1 Give ear to my words, O LORD;
give heed to my sighing.
2 Listen to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
3 O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.

Waiting is hard for a 6-year old on her way to Disneyland ... waiting is hard at any age.

David was waiting for deliverance ... when would God "hear" his prayers? when would there be a positive answer - deliverance from hard times?

Why would God delay?

Is there a blessing in our waiting?

A strange blessing?

If you're waiting today, know that you have an understanding friend in David.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Compliments

Ten thousand pieces of advice – ho hum and oh well.

But let someone say, “You’re terrific!” and the energy begins to flow.

Our spirit thrives on compliments – and though I often forget to offer them – after all, I’m too busy with really important things, right?

There’s nothing more important than offering a compliment to someone – just to say thanks.

Pay attention today (oops, there’s some advice) and be quick to offer a compliment.

Watch them stand a little taller and walk a little more boldly.

And by the way, thanks for being You!

P.S. check out my friend’s blog – she’s terrific! The Blankie Chronicles – insights from parenting.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Love in Action

Good Morning Genesis.

The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:2)

Look at the verbs.

Today, some of you will build up your community.

Some of you will gather today … you will reach out to include the one whom others are likely to ignore.

Some of you will heal a brokenhearted co-worker or family member.

Some of you will be involved in “emergency room” care – you will bind up a wound, stop the bleeding or set the bone.

Read this passage again, but this time, say “I” – add the place where you live, where you work:

I build up Westchester, the YMCA or the local school.
I gather the outcasts at the office, or the nephew everyone hopes doesn’t show up at the family reunion.
I heal the brokenhearted,
And bind up their wounds … I pay attention, and I’m available.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Forgiveness

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” so goes the LORD's Prayer.

Jesus elaborates – that our forgiveness of others seals God’s forgiveness to us. To not forgive another is to reject God’s forgiveness for ourselves.

This morning, a picture: a young man in northern Uganda, staring at the camera, his disfigurement apparent. Kidnapped by a warring faction that cut off his ears, nose, hands and part of his lips, he says, “I was angry about what happened to me and bitterly against any amnesty. But now I know we’ll never have peace if they [his kidnappers] don’t come out of the bush. And they won’t do that unless we forgive them.”

Coming from anyone else, I might dismiss such words as armchair blather, but John Ochola speaks out of the depths of his suffering and anger.

A handsome young man disfigured by tragedy – speaking words of forgiveness to those who hurt him.

Amazing!

Amazing Grace!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day Poem

Susan Ager, Detroit Free Press Columnist, offers this delightful poem in honor of her father.

It'll bring joy to your heart and a smile to your face.

Just click HERE.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Gift of Praise

The gift of praise.

Praise the LORD from the heavens.
Praise Him in the heights above.
Praise the LORD from the earth.

From Psalm 148 … take a look at it if you can today … and let the Holy Spirit lift your mind and heart to praise.

I find in my own life a strange darkness about this. There are times when I don’t want to praise the LORD because I KNOW that it’ll take me out of myself, and there are times when I don’t want to leave!

But I find the words of praise, like Psalm 148, to always work their grace. My heart is lifted, if only for a moment; my mind is soothed and refocused, and it’s enough.

Remember - the LORD is at your side.
His eye is on the sparrow … and He knows the number of the hairs on your head … the God of the smallest detail, infinite and intimate … who one day took up a cross and crawled to Calvary for the sake of the world.

His name alone is exalted.
His splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

The gift of praise!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A New Song

“Sing to the LORD a new song” (Psalm 149).

Try a new idea today, read a different book, look at people and things from a different angle. I don’t know about you, but my mind and heart easily slip into a routine. But that’s when things go stale and I start getting bored. The new song can be simple. Drive home a different way. Prepare an unusual recipe. Go to a movie you wouldn’t otherwise see. Find a new restaurant.

When God gave Adam and Eve the Garden, every tree in it was theirs. It’s a big garden, and lots of things to see and do. Though I love the comfort of routine, it doesn’t do my spirit any good. When I find and do something new – even a simple new idea from a book or something I’ve heard on NPR, freshness is added and something grows a little larger.

“Sing to the LORD a new song."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Everything Is Okay

“Everything is okay in my life.”

Pretty radical idea, wouldn’t you say?

I heard a speaker say that recently. “Wow!” I thought. How that might revolutionize the way I approach life.

How much of my time is spent in dissatisfaction, grumping and griping, waiting for another day, letting the moment slip by, while looking to the horizon for that something which never seems to get here anyway.

Could I give thanks a little more often?

Would a second look at things, even the darker, harder, things make a difference.

I wonder … maybe everything is okay in my life … Wow!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Surprising Text


The Text never ceases to surprise me … the richness of the modest … the little throw-away phrase that would otherwise escape my attention.

God commands Noah to build and ark and take within it every creature, “to keep them alive.”

I think also of how the little story of Jonah ends: “and also many animals” as God expresses her concern about Ninevah.

As I ponder these little words, I think of the Polar Bear, the Peregrine Falcon, the Elephant and the Rhino, the Gorilla and the Lynx, Butterflies and Frogs – “many animals” … “keep them alive.”

After the Ark and the Flood, comes the Tower of Babel – made of hard brick and built to bring fame and recognition. Within these two stories, a contrast: Noah feeding the animals, up close and personal, and the powerful men of Shinar building a tower to make a name for themselves.

Whatever our take of things might be, the Text, in just a few little throw-away verses, gives a high priority to the Animal Kingdom. After all, the Text reminds us that we named all the animals, and to name something is to claim responsibility for it.

It’s said that the Devil is in the details. Maybe it’s not the Devil, maybe it’s God!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Miscellany

Came across this hymn phrase this morning:

Day by day, day by day,
O, dear Lord, three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day. (St. Richard of Chichester)

And then from the Apostle Paul:

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Then from Isaiah and Matthew - Isaiah speaks of the Messiah to come, and Matthew writes of Jesus:

He will not break the bruised reed or
snuff the smoldering wick.

Grace ... kindness ... love ... the stuff to keep on keepin' on ... to face today's junk with deep convictions:
1) This is always my Father's world,
2) My heavenly Father is at work in all things for good,
2) I don't have to be perfect - sometimes all I am is a bruised reed and a smoldering wick - I bring so little to the Table, but His grace preserves me in the turmoil,
3) And maybe I will "see thee a little more clearly" today, manage to "love thee more dearly" and even "follow thee more nearly."

Today is Memorial Day - say a prayer for peace, and remember the women and men fallen in battle - it is their day, and for them, no better words then those penned by Lincoln at Gettysburg:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

A blessed and joyous Mother's Day to all our Mothers.

Not the easiest thing in the world, this biz of being a mother ... as far as I can see, having never been one!

Mothers, enjoy the day ... yours is quite an achievement.

Sons and daughters, you wouldn't be here without her!

Remember your mothers ... give thanks for the life they gave to you ... and if you can, take 'em out to eat, give 'em a call ... and say a prayer for them.

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Details


Today’s Daily Lectionary includes a reading from Zechariah 4 – densely packed stuff full of complicated imagery – even Zechariah can’t figure it out and has to repeatedly ask, “What does it mean?”

Within this mélange of images, a simple reminder from God: “Those who might have despised the day of small things will rejoice when they see where it’s headed.”

Several weeks ago in a Sunday message, I said, “God is in the details” … at work in ALL things for good, including the tiniest details of every-day life.

Look today at all the small things in your life …
The egg salad sandwich for lunch – crisp lettuce and whole wheat toasted just right ...
The young man clearing the tables – wonder where he lives and what he’s dreaming about …
A stranger’s friendly smile …
The computer on which you’ve just sent an email to a grandchild, or any angry email venting your ire about the war …
The grudge that never seems to go away …
Seeing “Iron Man” in the afternoon all by yourself, with a box of buttered popcorn and a coke …
The woman in the car next to you putting on mascara …
A wad of wet tissues on the coffee table holding your tears …
A fleeting thought of generous emotions for a friend in trouble …
A “Jesus My LORD” prayer hurriedly said in a moment of fear … or a moment of gratitude …
A decision to read the Bible a little more often …
The first page of a new book …
The first day of a new week …
The hymns we sing …
The prayers we read …

A million, billion little things … each one holding a miracle of some sort – a world of wisdom and wonder, mystery and majesty, grace and hope … because “I am with you always.”

God in the details!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Animals, too?

Animals, too?

In the kingdom of God?

You bet.

A friend of mine recently made this post about animals - from the preaching of John Wesley.

Check it out ... this is important.

http://conversationinfaith.wordpress.com/2008/04/25/god-and-dog-and-genesis/

Grapes

I was going through a bunch of grapes this morning. Some had to be tossed out, but the bunch was good and the grapes sweet.

Sort of like life.

Some of it has to be tossed out ... but the rest is good.

We can spend a lot of time lamenting the lousy grapes that come our way.

But with the smallest adjustment, we can put our mind and heart on all the rest that's good and sweet.

Be assured: you're a capable person. You've come through a lot, and you'll manage the day, and in the end, you'll be able to breath a sigh of relief and pat yourself on the back.

Where will your eyes be today?

Look to Jesus often during the day; you will find a way through whatever lousy grapes come your way, and you will find your life ... and don't forget to pat yourself on the back now and then and remember what a remarkable person you are!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ascension Day

Did you know that today is Ascension Day? It’s never going to make it to the secular calendar – I mean, bunnies and babies are a big hit (Easter and Christmas), but what do you do with the Ascension?

The ascension of Jesus into heaven – seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty who has bequeathed to the Son all authority in heaven and on earth (See Mattthew 28:16-20).

Jesus came to be one with us, so that we could become one with God.
He took upon Himself “our flesh” – the way it is, our hopes and dreams, our sorrows and our griefs … to give us grace that we can live all of it and then some, and still come out on top, on our way to God!

When Jesus ascended, he took us to heaven in His the flesh … as a promise that “all flesh” is headed in the right direction, that just as we are, loved and being made new by the Holy Spirit, we’re going to make it.

His life is our life.
His future is our future.
His grace is our courage to get up in the morning, take a deep breath, face the day and give as much as we can, be of good cheer when the chips are down, hold on to one another, because God is at work, too, in ALL things for good!

Happy Ascension Day!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Extravagant!


The parable of the sower (Matthew 13) – a parable of extravagance and hope. The sower casts the seed liberally – the image of a farmer reaching into a sack to grab a handful of seed, and then, with joyful abandon, casting the seed here and there. Extravagant!

Some of the seed doesn’t make it, or makes it but for a few days only to be scorched in the hot sun, but lots of seed falls on good soil and produces an extravagant harvest. When Jesus says, “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown,” farmers in the audience would have smiled with delight – no grain returns that kind of harvest, but Jesus is clear: love given away always produced an abundant crop.

Yes, some of the love we give won’t make it, but Jesus says: “Be extravagant! Cast your love far and wide, and know that much of the love you give will take root and produce an extravagant harvest.”

Look not at the seed that doesn’t make it. Look rather at all the seed that does!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Daily Thoughts - Jesus

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing?

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:25-34

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Praise


How good it is to sing praises to our God.
How pleasant and Fitting
To praise Him.

Psalm 147:1

Today, take some time – not much – to praise God.

If you’re not sure how to do this, here’s a phrase to use: God of Grace and God of Glory.

When you find your mind stuck in a rut of worry and fretting, stop and say this several times.

Write it out and put it on your desk … God of Grace and God of Glory.

Say it aloud of if you can, or at least quietly to yourself if you’re worried that your co-workers might think you’re a little unbalanced.

But say it with breath, slowly … and think about these powerful words: God, grace, glory!

And here’s a prayer to end the praise time: LORD Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, I give myself to you in faith and obedience.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Church-History Thoughts

As the Pope bid farewell to the United States, he reminded Roman Catholics that obedience to the authority of the church is the foundation of their religious faith.

That’s true in all respects for the Roman Catholic; their faith is determined by the official positions of the church as defined by the Pope and the Magisterium.

But Protestants see it differently.

When Luther and Calvin engaged in reforming the church, this very “authority” is what they sought to shift – from church to Christ; from the teaching of the Magisterium to the text of Scripture, from an institution to a personal God.

At the heart of the Reformation, a new authority located in the heart of every believer through the fellowship of faith and the work of the Holy Spirit.

At the heart of this new authority, the Bible!

Luther was instrumental in reforming education so that children could learn to read, because reading the Bible in their own tongue was essential to his efforts.

Calvin wrote commentaries and instruction manuals to help believers learn the faith and make it theirs.

The Roman Catholic Church said to Luther, “It’ll never work. You’ll end up in chaos.” In some respects, they were right. The Protestant experiment is still an experiment, and the Protestant world is chaotic even on a good day.

As a pastor for 38 years, I’ve devoted myself to the Protestant experiment – teaching the Bible and helping every believer make personal decisions about the faith, finding the “authority” within their own soul, founded upon and fed by the Bible.

God bless the Pope and our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. They have a lot on their plate right now, and so do we.

There are differences, and those differences are instructive, yet we’re all in this together.

Just a few church-history thoughts today.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Close to God's Heart


"You are close to my heart."

God says so to you and me (Psalm 148:14).

Jesus reminds us that His Father's eye is on the sparrow and even the hairs of our head are numbered.

Today, the fiery arrows of the Evil One will assail your heart and mind with feelings and thoughts designed to drive you into a lonely corner. You may well say and do things of which you're none too pleased, and the Evil One will throw it back in your face, "See, that's the way you really are. You're not so hot. You're not what you think you are. Give it up. You're hopeless."

Not so!

We ARE good and loving, we ARE kind and compassionate, we ARE thoughtful and generous. We ARE followers of Jesus and servants of the Most High God! THIS is who we are!

There will be exceptions, of course, and they are all covered in the love of Jesus, and His grace makes up the difference.

You are close to the heart of God! That's where you live, and that's who you really are! Jesus my Lord!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Happy Pope Day

The Pope has arrived!

For millions of American Catholics, it's a great day, and I rejoice with them.

Sure, there are plenty of issues, and lots of Catholics are deeply concerned: women as priests, married priests; sexual abuse and the millions paid out in settlement; birth control and dozens of smaller questions and issues revolving around liturgy, doctrine, other religions and other Christian traditions.

Though I have many serious questions for Pope Benedict and the direction in which he's moving the church, I have been to his birthplace in Bavaria, toured the home in which he was born, and walked by a bakery featuring Pope Bread and Pope Beer.

Yet here's a man who can single-handedly influence nearly a billion people around the world and many billions more by moral and intellectual persuasion.

Pray that he'll be able to guide his church to peace and justice, to build bridges everywhere, and help his church recreate itself, even as it moves away from its Medieval images of power and control.

We're all in this together, and it's a good thing to pray, and pray fervently, for one another.

Hats off to our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters ... God's peace to them and the blessings of Christ.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A New Song



“Sing to the LORD a new song.”

From Psalm 149, I’ve read it dozens of times, but this morning something anchored me in the adjective “new” – sing a NEW song to the LORD.

A NEW song … how can I do that today?

I don’t have to invent a new song; there’s a song in the air …
Written and sung by millions of people,
The books they write, the films they make – and
The birds and the flowers, the sunshine and the wind.
Watch a young boy skillfully skid his skateboard around the corner …
Watch a young family playing with their children on the beach …
Scan the faces of a crowd at a busy bus stop; say a little prayer for everyone of them …
Listen to a different radio station on your way to work …
Watch someone you love when they don’t know you’re looking …
Stand by your child’s bed when they’re asleep …
Tomorrow in church, look around and in your heart, wish everyone good cheer;
Listen to the music – someone wrote it, someone's playing it.
With your hands, touch the pew, feel the wood, it's strength; sense the shape of it; someone fashioned it.
Everything’s a wonder.

Sing a new song to the LORD!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Putting the Day Together

Putting the day together …

Every morning a new puzzle …
Pieces given by circumstance,
Pieces chosen with care …
Beautiful pieces,
Dark pieces …
Pieces we’re delighted to add,
Pieces we wish weren’t there.
Pieces of tears …
Pieces of laughter …
Pieces that make no sense,
Pieces that shine like the sun.

In every piece, a Jesus-promise: “I am with you always.”

So we pick up the first piece this morning ... then another ... some will fit readily, others will be laid aside for another day ... but at the end of day, progress ... puzzle pieces fitted together, and when the light is turned off tonight and we snuggle into bed, we've done our work in partnership with God!

Jesus my LORD!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Today is the Day

"Today is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Enjoy the day as it unfolds; count your blessings. Name them one-by-one!

Pay attention to the details:
the hands of someone you love,
the flight of a dove across the sky,
the um-um-good taste of a hamburger
and the mustard on your chin ...
a well-told joke that makes ya' laugh
throughout the day ...
the exuberance of a child,
the faithfulness of a friend,
the delight of creativity,
your intelligence and wit,
the sunshine on your face,
the Bible, your church,
and Jesus your Lord.

Today is the day ….

Thursday, March 27, 2008

To a Seeker

I've been a mainline (Presbyterian) pastor for nearly 40 years and have searched for the Holy Grail much of the time, finding it here, finding there, only to discover that I hadn't found it yet.

Perhaps it's the Adam and Eve syndrome - "See that tree? Looks good, doesn't it?"

The American consumer mentality sets us up to be "seekers" and never finders.

We come to expect how levels of whatever, but withhold our commitments. We fail to see that we're just as goofy, unexciting, foible-laden and self-serving as everyone else.

For myself, the simple words of Jesus, "Love one another as I have loved you ... and wash a few feet now and then” continue to hold me accountable to the community of faith, “just as it is without one plea … though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt; fightings and fears within, without.”

I know that communities of faith differ and it’s good to search, but sooner or later, we have to settle for and settle down. If we’re looking for home, we look for it in the new heaven and the new earth, because “this world [presently] is not my home.” Yet here is where we live, and here is where grace abounds.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Faithfulness

An unexpected dimension to faithfulness …

Say your prayers, go to church, read your Bible, etc., are aspects of our faithfulness to Christ, but there’s an unexpected dimension to faithfulness that I’ve considered only as of late – our faithfulness saves others!

When we pray, go to church and read our Bible, we are adding salvation to the world. We are joining our will and our love with that of God; we are adding our light to the Light of the world; we are “completing the suffering of Christ” (Colossians 1:24).

Today, in the midst of whatever joys and laments come your way, say “Jesus my LORD” when you think about your family, a co-worker, a friend or a foe. Say the LORD's Prayer several times if time permits; add to it the Apostles’ Creed, or a Scripture verse.

You are saving someone somewhere by your faithfulness … someone maybe on the other side of the world, someone you will meet only in heaven … someone who needs the grace you offer up today to your Father in heaven.

Remember, it’s a mutual thing … for the grace offered up today by others will come your way via the Holy Spirit. Such is what it means when our LORD says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” What we do, we do for one another.

March 26, 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Blessings and Hope


"Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:14-16

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Miracle

Psalm 148
Praise for God’s Universal Glory
1 Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!
3 Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for he commanded and they were created.
6 He established them forever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
7 Praise the LORD from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
9 Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
13 Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the LORD!

Today is Good Friday ... when a miracle occurred: The Lamb of God took away the sins of the world!

He did it with a cross ... there was no other way to pry loose the death grip of sin on the soul of the world. There was no other way but utter sacrifice - the perfect Lamb of God - without fault or failing, neither sin nor the stain of sin marred His life - the pure love of God wiping the slate clean and giving everyone of us a fresh start!

It took a few days ... "He descended into hell" ... not even God could snap His fingers and make it go away. How different creation. All God needed to do was say a word, and it came to pass. But sin was something else. It took everything God had and then some.

And when those few anguished days were done, the Son who descended into hell rose from the dead and gave life to the world.

Amen and Amen!

~ Pastor Tom, Good Friday, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Psalm 147

1 Praise the LORD!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
6 The LORD lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.
7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.


Fill your heart and mind with powerful thoughts of praise and thanksgiving, for the Evil One is determined to flood your spirit with complaint and disappointment. If there is anything good and beautiful, think on such things, and then look about you with eyes cleansed by faith, to behold the wonder and the joy of life - the greening of the trees, the budding of flowers, the face of a child with an ice cream cone, the sound of a rumbling V8 (if ya' like cars) and the simple wonder of a cloud in the sky.

Holy Week, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Place Within

At the center of every life is a place pure and beautiful, untouched by sin or sorrow, yet shaped and conditioned by both, a place wherein God dwells, found in every human being, a portal to heaven, and a passageway to every other human being.

Every prayer nurtures this place – every act of kindness enlarges it – every intention to do good, every vow of faith made, every piece of Scripture read, every pilgrimage to worship, every moment of sacrifice, and every sigh yearning for God sustains this remarkable place.

Created by God, this place is the center of our life. Here is where our humanity is made, the high mountains from whence flows pure love. Every time we enter this place, but for a moment, we enter into the presence of God.

Be of good cheer in your journey … this place of beauty and purity is established and defended by Christ your LORD. No enemy enters therein; no hatred, no fear; no guilt, no anger. Only peace and goodness; your real and eternal self.

It’s your place, given to you by God … trust it, and every time you look upon a human being with charity, every time you forgive, every time you say the name, Jesus, you visit the sacred place within.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Perspective Is Everything

Food for the Journey …

The story is long and the details important, but it’ll have to wait for another day; so let me at least offer this – the greatest loss contemporary Christianity has suffered is the loss of perspective.

Sadly, we live only now! Without the greater reference point: Eternity.

Without the winds of Eternity to fill our sails and send us out onto life’s high seas, we’re stuck in a very small port called Now! We puddle around the harbor, we tie up at one dock and then another, load and unload the various cargos offered by a million vendors.

Without the strong winds of Eternity blowing fresh, we never leave port.

Just this morning, I read from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians:

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

The winds of Eternity fill our sails. We venture forth upon the winds of God, and yes, we return to port now and then, bringing a fresh cargo of life for all the world – a cargo gained only in trade with The Eternal.

We learn afresh that our time here, though ever so brief, is filled with faith, hope and love, because the winds of Eternity fill our sails and send us forth on the high seas of life.

Perspective is everything!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Attitude is Everything

From Psalm 94:

When I thought, “My foot is slipping,”
your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.

Attitude is everything.

Every hour - a challenge to choose - is the glass half-empty or half-full?

My sinful instincts go with the half-empty stuff - that was the "original sin" - I'm missing something, something is lacking, and it's up to me to get it.

But Christ would have it otherwise for us. To live with thanksgiving and gratitude, to count blessings and trust our Father in Heaven whose eye is even upon the sparrow.

The glass is half-full ... and perhaps more, for the Psalmist writes elsewhere: "My cup overflows."

Attitude is everything.

Pastor Tom

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Keep your eyes wide open ...

A few thoughts for the road ...

Keep your eyes wide open, you’ll see something of God.
Keep your hands wide open, you will receive kindness and love.
Keep your heart wide open, there will be opportunities to give.

March 5, 2008

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Spiritual Habits - Spiritual Reading

Hat’s off to our Session for a thoughtful and honest review of “Spiritual Habits for Presbyterian Elders.”

Because there is a deep and direct link between our spiritual habits and the life we lead in the world.

Among various spiritual habits, the following are vital:

1. Christian Books for soul-nourishment and skill-enhancement.
2. Scripture Discipline.
3. Prayer Habits
4. Small Group Fellowship
5. Service to Others
6. Corporate Worship
We decided that #5 is the easiest and a likely substitute for the others. We noted that more work is needed for #4. #6 is bottom-line!

Regarding #2, we just concluded a well-attended, three-week Lenten experience entitled, “How to Read the Bible Successfully.”

For #3, we will begin an April four-week experience entitled, “Forty Days of Prayer” – a simple and basic prayer discipline for everyone! See sign-ups in this week’s bulletin.

Christian reading: I recommend:
- Anything by Thomas Merton – Roman Catholic.
- Anything by John Ortberg, a pastor at the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church.
- Anything by Rob Bell & Bill Hybels (progressive Evangelicals).
- Anything by N. T. Wright – Anglican Bishop.
- Krista Tippett’s new book: Speaking of Faith – progressive mainline.
- Anything by Frederick Buechner – progressive mainline

Additionally, I like Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer (Evangelical) – both offer an abundance of insights into Scripture, the grace of God, and what it means to follow Jesus. Charles Stanley (Evangelical) can also be read with much profit.

Books by Dallas Willard (Ethics) and John Piper (traditional Reformed theology) will put some meat on your bones.

For elders and deacons, anything published by the Alban Institute (Google them).

But remember, it’s not quantity but quality. One book, well-read, carefully chewed upon and thoroughly digested, will yield great results.

If you want to improve your SQ (Spirituality Quotient) and need a little help, give me jingle, stop by or email me.

Stay with it, keep on growing, keep your eyes on Jesus, and I’ll see ya’ in the LORD's House this coming Sunday.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Look At the Audience

Trying to follow
In the footsteps
Of the masters,

But it’s a lot harder
Than it looks because
Even though they had
The same size feet
As us, they weren’t
Looking down
The whole time,
While they walked
To make sure
They were
Doing it right

(From Brian Andres, Traveling Light)

When my daughter, Rachel, was in dance, we’d go to the recitals. I was fascinated to see which dancers looked at the audience and who looked at the other dancers.

Those who looked at the other dancers were always a few beats behind, waiting on others for their cue. But those who looked at the audience stayed on tempo. They didn’t worry about how others were doing it; they just did it!

It’s so much easier to do life without looking right or left to see what others are doing. Getting our cues from others puts us a few beats off tempo.

Comparison is risky: we can find folks with less money then we have and those with more. We can find folks with unkempt appearance and those with killer looks. Folks who weigh more and folks who weigh less. Comparison is risky. And we’re always a few beats off tempo.

So, keep your eyes on the audience, and the audience is none other than the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and all of heaven’s angels.

And their conclusion at the end of the evening? “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Dance your heart out. And keep your eyes on Jesus!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Simple Realities

Simple Realities …

1. I’m a sinner in need of grace.
2. I’m far from God and need reconciliation.
3. I’m at odds with my created self and need healing.
4. The world is ruthless with its infatuation with self-help.
5. The world cannot find or offer what the soul needs.
6. The help I need is found in Christ.
7. And Christ is utterly generous!

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand!” Romans 5:1-2

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Early Easter

Not since 1913 have we had an Easter as early as March 23 and that is before most of us were paying attention. Easter can happen as early as March 22, but that hasn't happened that early since 1818 and won't again until March 22, 2285. Even this year's date of March 23 won't happen again until March 23, 2160.

Pay attention to time ... it's precious and full of grace. "Time is money" someone once said, but I'd rather say:

Time is love.
Time is hope.
Time is peace.
Time is service.
Time is sacrifice.
Time is Christ our Lord!
Time is Life with one another!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wheelchair Backflip?

A backflip in a wheelchair?

You bet.

I just saw it.

A young man, in a wheelchair, decided to stop by a skateboard park and try a few things. Convinced that a backflip was possible, he went to work.

With a lot of spills and tumbles, he finally did it.

Here’s the video link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=656193898147576910

Enjoy!

And whatever you do, and whatever you dream, stay with it, take your tumbles, and try it again!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stress Relief

Stress relief … anyone interested?

Stress is life … Adam and Eve were stressed, so was Abraham and Sarah … so was Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Is there a pattern here?

Of course … it’s all about clear-headed choices for God.

Adam and Eve were confronted with a choice for the self. So was Abraham and Sarah, and so was Jesus in the Garden when He prayed, “Father, is there some other way?”

But in the end, Jesus says, “Not my will be done, but yours.”

A firm and clear decision for God and God’s Kingdom.

All of my ministry, I’ve heard 10 million reasons why someone can’t do something like Bible study, prayer groups, teach Sunday School, or attend worship regularly – it all comes down to the same thing: “I’m too busy!”

And hell’s cheering is deafening!

“Seek first the kingdom of God,” said Jesus, “and life’s other concerns fall into place.” God knows our need for bread and clothing and will provide, but anxiety compels us to make them our priority, turning it all into dust, leaving us in a heap of stress.

Jesus wants us involved in the world, of course! How else can we be “the light of the world” or “the salt of the earth”? But involved with clear intent, bringing to our work and schools a vital spiritual energy growing out of “first things first.”

Give it some thought. Give it some prayer.

Stress comes from completing loyalties. Peace comes from a clear-headed commitment to Christ!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Prayer Advice

Eleanor Roosevelt offered the following advice for a president's wife.

Always be on time. Do as little talking as humanly possible. Lean back in the parade car so everybody can see the president.

Good advice for prayer:

1. Always be on time ... make prayer a daily discipline, and always around the same time.

2. Do as little talking as humanly possible ... keep it simple, keep it brief.

3. Lean back in the car ... relax!

4. So everybody can see the president ... so that everybody can see Christ in us!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Heart Open

Been reading the script for “The Bucket List," starring Jack Nicholson (Edward) and Morgan Freeman (Carter) and came across the following:

Carter: “Everyone’s scared to die alone.”

Edward: “I’m not everyone.”

Carter: “Than you kidding yourself.”

We are everyone, and everyone is us, too.

I like that! It’s the bond that ties us all together, and makes it possible for us to love one another.

We are everyone, though Satan works tirelessly to convince us otherwise - that we are unique. Not only unique, but deserving of special benefits and favored status – the mindset of entitlement that divides and conquers the soul and isolates us in deep loneliness.

And it’s loneliness that fuels the consumption frenzy and leaves us stressed and sad at the end of the day.

In the end, both Carter and Edward find life even as they’re dying, because they dare to love one another and dare to love those around them, finding the grace to forgive themselves and the grace to forgive “life” for the way it’s come to them.

Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly!”

Life, as God created it – loving one another with grace and kindness, sympathy and gentleness, mercy and comfort.

In a voice over comment about Edward, Carter says: “I know that when he died his eyes were closed, and his heart was open.”

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Morning Thoughts

Sunday morning thoughts …

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

To pray for the increase and spread of God’s kingdom … to make such a prayer the foundation of all other prayer – Jesus my LORD!

Every prayer hastens the day … every prayer strengthens the spiritual ligaments of creation … every prayer saves someone somewhere.

I find my soul too often ambushed by “practical” questions – “How does this work?” “When will it happen?” “What difference does my prayer really make?” and so forth.

Are these not the questions of Hell? Are these not the whispered doubts of the Snake in the Grass?

To pray for the increase of God’s kingdom … “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” that “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).

“And all these other things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Jesus my LORD.