Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mary Pondered These Things.

Faith in Christ is always a miracle.

Faith is a gift, pure and simple, from the heart of God to us. We didn’t choose Christ; Christ chose us!

John says so eloquently, Not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Only because God has acted favorably on our behalf, only because God has looked upon us with mercy, has the light of Christ dawned upon our souls, to push away the dark night of sin and fear.

This is a miracle.

Within ourselves, a sea of darkness.
In God, the light, the true light that gives light to everyone.

As the Psalmist says so beautifully, In your light we see light.

It is said of Mary, she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Oh Holy Spirit, Light Divine,
Open my heart and pour in the treasures of Christ.
Help me, I pray,
To slow down today.
To ponder the glory of Christ.
In the deep places of my heart! 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dealing with Fear

Ask yourself: "What am I afraid of today?"

I have to do this from time-to-time, when my stomach is churning and my soul is burdened. 

Facing our fears head-on reveals them to be a lot smaller, and a whole lot sillier, then they appear to us when we're looking at our fears out of the corner of our eyes, or over our shoulders - then our fears appear gigantic and powerful.

Sometimes the first answer doesn't quite get at it. Keep pushing closer, and keep asking, "What am I afraid of today?"

Remember this: your experience of fear is never accurate, because anxiety magnifies the fear. Like looking at an ant in huge magnifying glass; the ant looks like a monster. But remove the magnifying glass, and the ant is just an ant. 

Remove the anxiety and our fears grow smaller. And when fear grows smaller, love begins to flow. Fearful souls are not very good at love. Souls freed from fear become conduits of God's love.

And then next step: faith.

Putting our lives and our future into the hands of God!

Not everyone has had a good experience "with god" - I understand that, and as a pastor, I regret what the church has sometimes done with God.

But God revealed in the face of Jesus is always good, and when God says, "I am at work in all things for good," it's a great comfort to me, and helps me put my life into God's hands. "I'll be all right" I have to say to myself; God will see me through."

Two steps today:
1) Ask the question as courageously as you can, "What am I afraid of today?" Push hard at this point!
2) And then say to God, "I put my life into your hands, and I trust your love in all of this!"

A spiritual exercise to clear the air and free the flow of love.

To see faith and commitment 
in someone's face is
always a remarkable moment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Three Words

Three words for the day, three words for life:


And three questions:

To whom or to what are you devoted?
Does your devotion give your courage?
Does your courage make sense? Can you trust it?

As you ponder these questions, try this answer: Christ!

Devoted to Christ, we find a solid, godly, courage to live – to face what comes, to endure against the odds, to bear up under crushing defeat and to wait patiently for the LORD. In Christ, we trust God’s love in all things for good, leading us to the best outcome!

Three words for life!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sweat-Lodge Deaths

By now,  you’ve read the sad news about three sweat-lodge deaths in Arizona.

As sad as this story is, for me, there’s a greater sadness: that weekends with  James Arthur Ray could cost as much as $9000.

Now, that’s a lot of money to spend for a sweat-lodge weekend in quest of spiritual and financial enlightenment.

Anyone who could spend 9 grand for a weekend doesn’t need any more dough.

One Ray client noted, her sweat-lodge weekend  helped her conquer claustrophobia, and that’s good, but for 9 grand?

The sweat-lodge traditions of Native Americans provide a profound experience, and I’m confident that our Native American brothers and sisters would provide just such an experience for a whole lot less with a whole lot more insight and power.

But here’s my thought: people are desperate to find what’s seemingly missing from their life.

Whether it be pilgrims to a shrine or folks shelling out 9 grand for a sweat-lodge weekend, folks are desperate.

Two things I try to keep in mind:

  1. God creates empty spaces in our lives.
  2. And the moment we fill a space, God creates another.

Empty spaces are positive, good and energizing.
Empty spaces keep us on our toes and push us onward, as with Paul, striving for the upward calling of Christ.
Empty spaces keep us inventive and humble.

As I read the gospel, we can fill some of these spaces with prayer and study, kindly deeds, just causes and a simple appreciation of good food and drink and friends and family and blue skies and crashing waves  and frost-on-the-pumpkin and winter’s first snow-fall and the cry of a hawk riding the winds and a beaver building a lodge and artists and builders and engineers and doctors and nurses and police officers and fire fighters and bumble bees and ants on the sidewalk heading off to work and little children playing on the beach and opera and symphony and jazz and drama and tap water and tall buildings and forests and fields and poetry and love and laughter and grandparents and dogs and cats and gerbils and old friends and a new pair of shoes … and the list goes on.

Most of this costs nothing but a little time to pay attention.

The rest can be had for far less than 9 grand.

Pray for folks who are so desperate.
And pray that we who are the church of Jesus Christ will get our act together so that we really have something for the empty spaces in life, and a message about the value and importance of empty spaces, filled and unfilled.

And to have a gospel that reminds folks that charlatans and cheats and frauds and spellbinders and fast-talkers have always played loose and free with our empty spaces.

Only love can fill those spaces, and love isn’t expensive, though it’s utterly costly.

And when we’ve filled one space, God sees to it that another takes it’s place, because it’s those empty spaces that hold great promise for truly finding ourselves, the God who made us, the Christ who gave up his life for us, and the Holy Spirit blowing fresh wind to awaken our deepest longings for fellowship with God and love for one another.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Sort of Poem - Happy to Be a Presbyterian

In our humility, we find greatness.

Greatness of spirit and impertinent hope.

Though our battles have been fierce and even final.

There is no rest for those who weary themselves in the Lord's work.

In the spirit of Calvin, we excel in vilifying one another:

Oh, the names we hurl, like silly children playing war, as if our words were killing grenades, and if we throw 'em hard enough, and often enough, we'll win ... and stand one day on top of some imagined hill, victorious ... such is our vanity.

Doubting intelligence and sneering at the other's faith.

Today, I'm happy to be a Presbyterian.

We have guts ... we tackle big ideas and dangerous concerns.

Like Calvin's sewer system in Geneva, we see needs and strive for remedies, to heal the broken bones left in the wake of human pride and the ceaseless tides of power, ebbing and flowing, as if we could control anything - making idols of our theology to provide some mask of comfort to a soul too afraid to see itself ... making enemies to despise and defeat, in our stilted imaginations ... to small in spirit to love the "enemy" - which is the test supreme of our true metal.

Yes, we're a tough and sturdy bunch. And we believe in God with a curious ferocity that demands a legacy of love from us. We believe that we can make a difference, and that's good to believe. For what else should we believe about this Christ of ours who dies for this bunch called humanity, because even God has to believe that God can make a difference.

We've taken our licks lately ... thousands have left our fold; ten-thousands have disappeared into the flood of time - some have gone elsewhere to seek a more perfect union ... huge, flourishing churches, once landmarks in great cities, mostly are uncertain now, about roofs unrepaired, and great organs that need tuning.

Like Gideon's army - 300 is enough. God's way surely isn't our way.

With God, all things are possible.

I am happy to be a part of this rowdy, striving, bunch of hard-heads and great hearts, name-callers and lovers, coffee-drinkers and booze-swillers, preachers and powerpoint, seminaries and missionaries, traditions and dreams, tears and turmoil, pushing and shoving, sinners all, forgiven all ... lovers of God, each in our own strange way ...

I am happy to be a Presbyterian.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Greater and the Lesser

One can be born into the church, and that’s a good thing, in and of itself.

But becoming a Christian is another matter, all together.

Being born in the church doesn’t make you or me a Christian any more than sitting in garage makes us a car!

I’m not sure we’ve always made this clear for one another.

We wonder, sometimes, why churches have more than their fair share of troubles, but part of the issue is simply this: lots of church members are a little foggy on the spiritual realities of following Jesus Christ, and, thus, we’re tempted by lesser concerns, like the color of the carpet and the kind of music we sing. Sure, carpet and choruses are important, but NOT that important. But if that’s all we have, then we make the penultimate ultimate, and that’s when church-folk are likely to squabble.

We’ve tended to accept, as good enough, involvement and service in the church, and plenty of good and decent folks have served the church well, but in so doing, we’ve substituted the bowl for the cereal and milk, and no wonder so many good, church-going, folk seem to be spiritually uncertain, and sometimes, even hostile to spiritual things.

To follow Jesus Christ brings us into the fellowship of faith, of course – the closer God draws us to Jesus, the closer we move toward one another, and that means the church.

But simply being a church member, and even serving the church in big ways does not make one a Christian, and, in fact, may even be counter-productive to our walk with Christ, as we substitute the lesser for the greater.

In so doing, we do our LORD a disservice, and we hurt one another, too, as we fail to help each other grow into Jesus Christ.

I know, I know – some of this sounds almost like a fundamentalist, because they’re always harping about following Jesus. But, ya’ know what, even a clock that has stopped is right twice a day.

I don’t know about the fundamentalist, but I do know about me, and the thousands of folks I’ve known over the years and the congregations I’ve served.

There is more to this thing called church, and it’s the more that only God can provide, and it’s God whom we have ignored some of the time – even as we do godly things.

But to use another metaphor – it’s one thing to hang an artist’s work, and it’s another thing to personally know the artist and the what and the why of the created image hanging in our living room. A great painting in our home might bring us prestige, but to know the artist brings us joy.

In these strange times of vast cultural change, it’s ever-more important for us to have the greater and not the lesser, to have the significant more of faith rather than the trappings of the church, even as the carpet fads and the music dies … because it’s the LORD who lives and reigns forever!

I think it’s tough to get a handle on this, and just because it’s tough, we might well nod our heads and then get back to doing our church thing.

But let’s see if we can push a little deeper into our faith even as we loosen our grip on the artifacts – buildings and pews and liturgies and styles and sounds and all the old and the comfortable things.

Let’s see if we can reach a little higher into the heart of God rather than settling for mere church work, as good as that is, and remembering that if we settle only for church work, we’re cheating ourselves and cheating others as well.

Sure, none of us are perfect in any of this. Yet as Paul writes so humbly and clearly, “I haven’t attained this as of yet, but I press on, forgetting what lies behind and stretching forward to the high calling of Jesus Christ.” The greater for the lesser; the future for the past; the living Christ for the artifacts of faith.

You see, Paul is going somewhere, and that’s the point.

A lot of good folks are sort glued into their pews; they’ve been in the same pew literally, and figuratively, too, for a long time, going nowhere fast. But that only means the world is changing around them, and that’s a mighty uncomfortable feeling.

They haven’t gone anywhere, but the world has, and that’s why they feel as strangers in their own land.

So, let’s push on, let’s reach higher and deeper. Even as we rejoice in the work of the church, let us strive, with all our might, to see the face of God!

To be faithful is one thing … to be full of faith is another.

Let’s strive for the latter, and the former will take on a fresh beauty and a delightful vigor.
Nothing better than church work done with the glory and the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Life Is Too Short

Friend sent this to me ... a good read with a valuable lesson.

Life is too short

One day I had a date with friends for lunch. Mae, a little old "blue hair" about 80 years old, came along with them---all in all, a pleasant bunch.

When the menus were presented, we ordered salads, sandwiches, and soups, except for Mae who said, "Ice Cream, please. Two scoops, chocolate."

I wasn't sure my ears heard right, and the others were aghast. "Along with heated apple pie," Mae added, completely unabashed.

We tried to act quite nonchalant, as if people did this all the time. But when our orders were brought out, I didn't enjoy mine.

I couldn't take my eyes off Mae as her pie a-la-mode went down. The other ladies showed dismay. They ate their lunches silently and frowned.

The next time I went out to eat, I called and invited Mae. I lunched on white meat tuna. She ordered a parfait.
I smiled. She asked if she amused me.
I answered, "Yes, you do, but also you confuse me.

How come you order rich desserts, while I feel I must be sensible? She laughed and said, with wanton mirth, "I'm tasting all that is Possible.

I try to eat the food I need, and do the things I should.... But life's so short, my friend, I hate
missing out on something good.

This year I realized how old I was. (She grinned) I haven't been this old before."

"So, before I die, I've got to try those things that for years I had ignored.

I haven't smelled all the flowers yet.. There are too many books I haven't read. There's more fudge sundaes to wolf down and kites to be flown overhead.

There are many malls I haven't shopped. I've not laughed at all the jokes. I've missed a lot of Broadway hits and potato chips and cokes.

I want to wade again in water and feel ocean spray on my face. I want to sit in a country church once more and thank God for His grace.

I want peanut butter every day spread on my morning toast. I want un-timed long distance calls to the folks I love the most.

I haven't cried at all the movies yet, or walked in the morning rain. I need to feel wind in my hair. I want to fall in love again.

So, if I choose to have dessert, instead of having dinner, then should I die before night fall, I'd say I died a winner, because I missed out on nothing. I filled my heart's desire. I had that final chocolate mousse before my life expired."

With that, I called the waitress over.. "I've changed my mind, " I said. "I want what she is having, only add some more whipped cream!"

This is my gift to you - We need an annual Friends Day! If you get this twice, then you have more than one friend. Live well, love much & laugh often - Be happy.

SHARE THIS WITH YOUR FRIENDS including me if I'm lucky enough to be counted among them.

Be mindful that happiness isn't based on possessions, power, or prestige, but on relationships with people we love and respect. Remember that while money talks,

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Little Tea Cup????

Friend of mine sent this fable to me:

I'm a Little Tea Cup

Love this story or not, you will not be able to have tea in a tea cup again without thinking of this.

There was a couple who took a trip to England to shop in a beautiful antique store to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. They both liked antiques and pottery, and especially teacups.

Spotting an exceptional cup, they asked "May we see that? We've never seen a cup quite so beauthiful."

As the lady handed it to them, suddenly the teacup spoke, "You don't understand. I have not always been a teacup. There was a time when I was just a lump of red clay. My master took me and rolled me, pounded and patted me over and over and I yelled out, "Don't do that. I don't like it! Let me alone," but he only smiled, and gently said, "Not yet."

Then WHAM! I was placed on a spinning wheel and suddenly I was made to suit himself and then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked and pounded at the door. "Help! Get me out of here!" I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head from side to side, "Not yet."

When I thought I couldn't bear it another minute, the door opened. He carefully took me out and put me on he shelf, and I began to cool. Oh, that felt so good! "Ah, this is much better," I thought.

But, after I cooled he picked me up and he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. "Oh, please, stop it, stop, I cried." He only shook his head and said, "Not yet."

Then suddenly he puts me back in to the oven. Only it was not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I just knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. I was convinced I would never make it. I was ready to give up. Just then the door opened and he took me out and again placed me on the shelf, where I cooled and waited and waited, wondering, "What's he going to do to me next?"

An hour later he handed me a mirror and said, "Look at yourself." And I did. I said, "That's not me. That couldn't be me. It's beautiful. I'm beautiful!"

Quietly he spoke: "I want you to remember. I know it hurt to be rolled and pounded and patted, but had I just left you alone, you'd have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. I know it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn't put you there, you would have cracked. I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn't done that, you never would have hardened. You would not have had any color in your life. If I hadn't put you back in that second oven, you wouldn't have survived for long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. Now you are what I had in mind when I first began with you."

The moral of this story is this: God knows what He's doing for each of us. He is the potter, and we are His clay. He will mold us and make us and expose us to just enough pressures of just the right kinds that we may be made into a flawless piece of work to fulfill His good, pleasing and perfect.

So when life seems hard, and you are being pounded and patted and pushed almost beyond endurance; when your world seems to be spinning out of control; when you feel like you are in a fiery furnace of trials; when life seems to "stink", try this.

Brew a cup of your favorite tea in your prettiest tea cup, sit down and think on this story and then, have a little talk with the Potter.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rainbow Run

I started the copy machine, walked away and promptly forgot. Two days later, I asked Michelle, “Did you see some copies I made? Forty-Days of Prayer forms?”

“Yes, she said, “I put them on the folding machine,” so I looked, and there they were, in bright orange, brighter yellow and a few stray purples. “Color,” I thought. Why not? Why always black and white?

I’ve been thinking about it – not that it’s so all-fired important, few things are, but maybe life, on the grand scale, consists of a million little moments, many of which are serendipity, which could well be the hand of God, for what do we know about such things? And when stuck in the rut of black and white, lo and behold an errant copy machine does a rainbow run.

From now on, I’ll do it in color!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Filled with Scripture, Filled with Christ

Had tea in Venice this week with a good friend from Harbor Springs, Michigan, who was here for some work – he and his partner are doing a documentary on President Reagan.

During the 16 months of my interim there, I joined a group of men every Tuesday morning at 7:30 for a hour of Bible reading, sharing and prayer led by my friend. For me, it was the best, and I came to love that fellowship of faith – an amalgam of liberals and conservatives, working guys and retired, men of wealth and men with so-so incomes, but in that special place, we were all joined together in Christ, humbled by his grace and hungry for his instruction.

I think again and again of a life filled with Scripture. Filled with its message, the big picture; a life filled with Christ.

I ask myself questions:
Is my life filled with Scripture?
Is my life filled with Christ?
Am I surrendered to him?

Much of my life IS filled with Scripture, but not a week goes by without a fresh discovery, and as for being filled? There’s an ocean of room in my life for even more. And if it’s not filled with Scripture, it’s just plain empty, or worse, it’s filled with junk.

Much of my life IS filled with Christ, but much of me remains stubbornly and foolishly unrepentant. But Christ is greater and Christ is gracious.

I AM surrendered to Christ, as well. That happened a long time ago. But every day, I pray the Acts 16:5 prayer, for an elder-prayer partner and myself, a part of which reads: “LORD, grant _________ and me the grace today to commit our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ without reservation….”

Dear friends in Christ, work on this with me.
To fill our lives with Scripture.
To fill our lives with Christ.
To surrender to him every day, and every day, make the good effort!

Blessings in Christ, and in Christ, peace and goodness!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blessed Assurance?

Blessed assurance, we sing, Jesus is mine.

All that he has is ours, freely given, for this life and for the life to come.

Such is the heart and soul of God’s mighty plan of salvation, set in motion from before the beginning of time, to create a world and a creature endowed, unlike any other, with a special responsibility and a vast capacity to build and to love.

And when that creature (you and me) turned away from the Creator and chose the forbidden fruit instead, a new chapter had to be written in the mighty plan of salvation.

Over the ages and through the hills, the plan unfolded until the cry of a child was heard in Bethlehem’s cradle, a cry to be echoed again upon the cross of Calvary.

The joy of being a Christian is know Christ, and to know something about this mighty plan of God, and to know and trust that nothing in this life, or in the life to come, can separate us from the love of God, for Jesus is mine, and Jesus is yours – because of God’s mighty plan and God’s ceaseless love.

John Calvin writes of Christ: He alone is the fountain of life, the anchor of salvation, and the heir of the Kingdom of heaven [3.24.5).

He is, as Paul the Apostle writes, our all-in-all.

Set your mind and heart on Christ today … and sing with gratitude, Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine … oh what a foretaste of glory divine.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Large Warehouse in Canton

From my colleague and good friend, the Rev. Robert Orr, Canton, MI ... in response to my poem, "LA Soup Kitchen" - Robert writes eloquently of his own recent experience with his son, Caleb ... with his permission, of course.


I was very moved by your poem and could feel my way with you into the soup kitchen experience. Thank you for writing it. I hope you go again. Hunger in America has an ugly face but it's a face we need to stare into, pray about, and work to alleviate. I have always admired the ministry of the Catholic Worker movement and the legacy of Dorothy Day as she and her people lift up the least, the lost and the last.

Caleb and I went yesterday afternoon to a large warehouse here in Canton and helped out as we have before with a food distribution program. Every Wednesday the trucks come to the location. They're from Gleaners and Last Harvest (?) and others . .who are "saving" food from being thrown away because of expired dates or too ripe fruit and vegetable conditions. Then every Thursday folks bag it up in smaller sizes and around 5 o'clock the cars start coming. They have registered before this so the size of their family is known and an appropriate amount is given. The carts start rolling with the groceries on them. Hundreds of families in car after car come through the parking lot for their food pick up. Hunger in America. It shouldn't be. Is this the kind of country we're proud of? Is this the "united" states under the waving red, white and blue? What country am I seeing? Who are these people? Who am I? What's going on here? What sad commentary am I seeing? What documentary am I part of? I don't stare, but I want to look into the passing cars, pausing ever to collect their bags of groceries. I want to meet these brothers, and sisters and children. Aren't these my family? But we seldom see one another. We seldom speak. I do look from time to time. I have to see their faces.

(when Dorothy Day was a college student) "She has also undergone a kind of preconversion; and though she is nowhere within shouting distance of the church, she has taken its measure, she knows where to find it. She knows what he church looks like; or, infinitely more to the point, she knows what is should look like."

"Our best and truest memories are invariably suffused with gratitude. I am grateful beyond words for the grace of this woman's life; for her sensible, unflinching rightness of mind, her long and lonely truth, her journey to the heart of things. I think of her as one who simply helped us, in a time of self-inflicted blindness, to see."

--both quotes are from Portraits Of Those I Love, Daniel Berrigan, 1982

"The group of followers all felt the same way about everything. None of them claimed that their possessions were their own, and they shared everything they had with each other." Acts 4:32


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

LA Soup Kitchen

An experience of heart and body.

Hard work, for sure.

Gallons of milk poured.

Bread buttered by the ton.

Bags of bagels sliced.

Tomatoes and diced onions served up.

On top of

Salad and

Hearty lentil stew and

Scrambled eggs.

Homemade by folks

Who know their way around hot stoves

And boiling pots.

Met a lot of people.

Teared up a few times.

Heart moved with the pageantry of

The long slow line:

Folks receiving what is given,

Folks giving what they have.

Donated food, for sure, and thank God.

Dated, but good.






And maybe, even the corner of a

Depleted soul.

Twice we prayed … start of the day … and before we served … “not food,” said Jeff; “we serve people.”

O God, when I have food,

Help me to remember the hungry.

Catholic Workers ...

Volunteers ...

Two lovely ladies from Westchester ...

Know some folks I know.

Sweet … they know how to

Stack the buttered bread in the blue

Laundry baskets, just so, and just right.

I could imagine them fussing in

Their own kitchens, for Christmas Dinner or

Someone’s birthday.

That’s how careful they were.

Two young girls – one from Ohio; her friend from Virginia.

The father of the Ohio girl, a marine weapons' instructor ...

Jeff the manager ... he runs a tight ship.

Cooks and bottle-washers ...

Maybe 15 volunteers in all …

A virtuoso piano player …

Playing from memory …

Gosh, he was good – concert-hall level, or so it seemed to me.

I think he used to live on the streets.

He lives in the Worker House now.

Catholic Workers …

Sons and daughter of Dorothy Day.

A tough woman

Who smoked and




Tough problems, with a

Deep love for Jesus … the Jesus of

The Bible …

The One who loved folks so profoundly,

To remind us of the Father’s love so unconditionally.

For the street people:

Folks down on their luck ...

Part-time workers …

Struggling to make it ...

Words float through my mind:

Homeless …

Unwanted …

Used up and

Abused …

Young and strong.

Old and senile.

Women of the street … you know what I mean.

Men of the street, too …

What one does to make a few bucks.

Anything to survive.

A mélange of the streets:

The mentally challenged ...

Dazed and weary ...

Singing and mumbling …

Staring off into some world unseen by me.

The old woman shuffling through the day …

Cheerful and cordial … polite and soft-spoken.

“Thank you, thank you – could I have one more tomato slice, please?”

“No thanks, uh uh … to much acid.”

The young man with the sparkling eyes …

Who believes he’s going to make it.

Like a box of crayons,



Color and size and shape ...

Some hardly used at all,

Some just bits and pieces ...

“Our task,” said Jeff, “is to see

The Face of

Jesus in every face

We see.”

Yes, now I remember, Matthew 25 …

LORD, everyone of them, tattered and tired

As they may be … are





© The Rev. Dr. Thomas P. Eggebeen, Los Angeles, CA

We Believe

 A Confession of Faith written for August 23, 2009

© The Rev. Dr. Thomas P. Eggebeen, Los Angeles, CA

We believe:
That heaven and earth are created and
Sustained by God’s unfailing love.
That life is sacred and all creatures, great and small, are
Precious in the sight of their creator.
We believe that sin emerged and took hold in the human heart.
Something dark and deadly.
A relentless self-interest.
Blinding us to God and dividing humanity against itself.
We believe that God is at work to undo the power of sin.
To set things right and make all things new.
We believe that God’s love is universal and unconditional.
That God is determined:
To save all of creation;
To stand against death in all its many forms;
Until death is no more.
We believe there is a wideness in God’s mercy, greater than our greatest dreams,
And brighter than our highest hopes!
We believe that Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us.
That Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God.
That his cradle and cross set the pace of our faith.
It is Jesus who invites to:
Follow him and learn his ways.
To help women and men know their true identity and live in peace with one another.
We are grateful:
For our calling in Christ.
Our baptism and the LORD's Table.
The Holy Spirit.
The love of God.
The saints who’ve gone before and live in the pure light of Christ.
And for the Bible that tells us so.
These are some of the things we believe and live.
For the glory of God, now and forever more.
Amen and Amen!

Monday, August 17, 2009

My Dance with the Bible

I remember buying my first Bible, sometime in late high school – a huge thing it was, a Thompson’s Chain Reference, King James Version, of course and leather bound, all nice and black – took a front-end loader to carry the thing.

I remember pouring over the indices, with all of their numbers and cross-references – it was my first dive into the cool and murky waters of Scripture, and Acts 4:16 was the first ever Bible verse I memorized. Well, not exactly the first. You see, in Vacation Bible School, we all had to memorize a daily Bible verse, and all the boys, of course, “memorized” the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” – we relied on that one to get us through the day.

Over the years, we’ve danced – sometimes cheek-to-cheek, at arms’ length sometimes, and even in separate rooms sometimes.

We’ve been lovers, some might say … and in the worst times, I’ve turned to its pages for solace and healing, and it’s always been given. I’ve not always understood everything, and sometimes I’ve misunderstood. But that’s like any relationship in life, isn’t it? And there’s always more to discover.

As of late, I’ve been doing a series of Sunday messages on King David; I’ve been diving deep into the remarkable stories that lay out for us the life and times of David, and like most any biography anywhere, this is no fairy tale. It’s filled with everything the human drama can serve up – love and lust and loyalty; betrayal and bitterness; forgiveness and healing; tears and treachery and torment and terror; darkness of soul and despair of spirit; loneliness and longing; hatred and murder; war and wantonness, and then some.

And a still quiet voice woven into the stained and tattered fabric of life: God is present; God is at work; at work within the world we manage to give to God; at work for good; our good, and the good of all the world.

Over the years, it has weighed heavily upon my spirit – the life it calls me to, a life of trust and radical reliance on God; a life devoted to love and the reformation of soul and the healing of the nations; a life lived in Christ, for Christ and with Christ; a life of compassion and mercy and kindness and gentleness for the down-and-out; and a life willing to stand up and be counted when the powers and principalities of darkness assert their will and way – the ways of death and war and poverty and disease; the ways of Babylon, Revelation 18.

To be covered in the dust of the rabbi – to walk so closely with Jesus, that the dust of the pathway upon which he trods covers me – that his words soak into my soul like beet pickling juice, coloring my soul with his passion for the crowds wandering aimlessly in the wilderness of plenty and prosperity.

So, here I am tonight. I spent a good deal of time of today reading a Jewish New Testament scholar, Amy Jill Levine – about a good Jewish boy named Jesus and a faithful Jewish Pharisee named Saul, later to become Paul the Apostle.

Dancing with the Bible.

Sometimes I lead, but most of the time, she leads … as it should be. For who am I to set the pace for a life I barely understand, a world that seems mostly beyond my grasp, issues that defy analysis, intractable sin and the deepest, darkest mysteries of love and death and hatred and beauty.

It took me a long time to learn that much of the Bible is simply a mirror of life – this is the way we are, and this is the way it is – sometimes glorious and sometimes so ugly we’re surprised it’s in the Bible.

But that’s the point, I suppose – I’m in the Bible, and so are you, and sometimes I’m beautiful, and sometimes I’m ugly, and much of the time, I’m somewhere in between, and not a day passes without the grace of God holding me close and getting me through and guiding me over, as the days of my life race onward to whatever the end will be, an end I can only dimly sense, as it makes my stomach churn from time-to-time when I really think about, an end that will really be the end of me, at least here and now …

But a promise in its strange and obscure pages – a promise of life beyond life, life beyond death, and even life beyond life beyond death, as the love and wonder of God unfolds the yet untold glories of who we are in Christ, and what we shall become.

Well, that’s about enough for now.

That’s the news from Lake Wobegon, and the news from your town and mine … because every town belongs to God, and to God, we all belong … like Willie Nelson singing now as I write, “Livin’ in the Promised Land.”

To God be the glory … and to this remarkable book we call the Bible, a blessing – thank you God for every bit of it, and thank you for your amazing grace.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Chipped Plates

This morning, putting the dishes away, I clunked one dish into the other, and pop, there went a chip a-flying.

Shucks and dadgummit all … but the plate is still good, and we’ll continue to eat off of it … though if we have guests, Donna or I will get the one with the chip missing.

That’s life, I guess.

You and me included.

A couple of hard nocks, chips a-flying … but we’re still intact. You are you and I am me … and who cares if some bits and pieces are missing!

A friend said to me a few years back, “if you make it to heaven without scars on your back, you haven’t lived a faithful life.”

I guess we could buy plates and put ‘em away, neatly wrapped. “Here, look at all these wonderful plates – see how neat and clean they are? The secret to beautiful plates? Never use ‘em.”

But plates are for using, washing and using again, and sooner or later, the fateful first chip, and then another, and then another …

Let’s it hear it for chipped plates!

Lets it hear for one another, chipped and cracked as we are, for we are loved by God just as we are, and we’re lovingly used by God to feed a hungry world. Chipped and cracked, we can still serve up a good portion of food – after all, no one eats the plate, just the food on it.

Heap up your plate with good food – God’s love and a boundless hope. You will feed a hungry world, and no one will notice the chips and the cracks.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Keep It Simple

Keep it simple.
Keep it light.
Keep it true.
Keep it kind.

Be forgiving.
Listen carefully.
Hold your tongue.
Look up now and then.
Listen to the birds.
Feel the wind on your cheek.

Don't underestimate your silliness.
Or, your sin.
Relentless self-interest is all too real.

Say, "Jesus my Lord" a lot.
Keep the compass of your soul pointed to God.
If you swing away, that's okay.
You can always come back.
God will help you.

Serve God in small ways.
But if something really big comes your way, think about it.
Don't say yes too quickly.
But if you need to say yes, say it clearly.

If you're in jam, you will find a way out.
Be patient.
Google your first name in quotes.

Today is but one day among them all.
It really counts, but not that much.
Don't be too serious.
Just try to be consistent.
Know when to let up.
When to bear down.
When to forget it.
When to try again.

Think of something really funny that happened to you.
Where and when?
Who and what?

And if you feel like crying, that's okay.
Go ahead.
Tears cleanse more than the eyes.

Take a deep breath.
You're doing fine.
You've made your share of mistakes; who hasn't?
But you've won the game a good many times, too.
You've got trophies in your heart.
Maybe even in a room.
You're a good and decent human being.
Every day, you give it a good try.

If you're just surviving, that's something.
Be proud.

If you're on top of the game, well, there ya' are.
Feel good.
Buy something beautiful.
Don't get uppity.
Remember when you weren't.
Help someone else along the way.
Say, "Jesus my Lord."

And go to bed tonight in peace.
You did your best.
Yup, you really did.
Maybe tomorrow, it'll be different.
Maybe not.
But you did it.
You made another day.
And just because you showed up, it counts.
It really does.

Sleep tight!
Don't let the bedbugs bite.

© Tom Eggebeen, July 13, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Calvin's 500th Birthday - July 10

It's helpful to know where we come from (okay, you grammar mavins, "It's helpful to know from where we come" ... or for those who love the cadences of the King James Version, "from whence we cometh").

Anyway, like our biological family of origin, we have a spiritual family of origin located in Geneva, Switzerland. Though we can trace our faith-roots all the way back to Abraham (we are the children of the promise made by God to Abraham - see Romans 4:16-16 - Jew and Gentile alike), our immediate "church" history begins with the Reformation and specifically with John Calvin, a Frenchman who was converted to the Protestant way of things under a Paris Law School professor who had been reading Luther's tracts (Calvin was trained as a lawyer).

Both Calvin and his professor fled Paris in the night when Roman Catholic authorities mounted a fierce campaign against the Protestant movement, and by fierce, I mean, the possibility of being executed.

Ultimately, Calvin goes to Geneva, a city of refuge and freedom; there, he begins to write and teach, ultimately framing his "Institutes of the Christian Religion" or commonly called, "The Institutes" (1536-1554, in its various editions).

A Scottish gentleman by the name of John Knox fell under Calvin's teaching and upon Knox's return to Scotland, formed what would come to be termed "the Presbyterian Church."

In turn, Scottish immigrants brought the Presbyterian Church to America, and the rest is history.

In the way we think about God and the way we govern ourselves (with Elders), we are descendants of John Calvin - and can rightly be called Calvinists, though what this means exactly varies widely among his descendants.

In sum, Calvin's greatest contribution is "peace of mind and heart" with regard to God - that is, in Jesus the Messiah, we have a clear and perfect representation of Yahweh, the Lord Almighty, and we see God favorably and lovingly dealing with us - to forgive our sin, to overcome the snares of death, to help us fulfill the original mandate to Abraham (to be a blessing to the the nations, to creation itself - see Romans 8:20) with eternal assurance, as well. God's perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

In his extended discussion on "Justification" - that is, "God putting us right with God," Calvin writes:

Here, indeed, we are especially to note two things: namely, that the Lord's glory should stand undiminished and so speak, in good repair, and that our consciences in the presence of his judgment should have peaceful rest and serene tranquility (Book 3, Chapter 13, Sections 1).

In a world where fears run high, it is a good thing to be anchored in Calvin's grasp of God's goodness and faithfulness to us! For body and for soul, in life and in death, for this life for the life to come. In Jesus the Messiah (our spiritual location - "we are in Christ"), we are safe! Though this life has its share of perils, "we fear no evil" (Psalm 23), and though death awaits all of us, Christ has conquered death in his resurrection from the dead. In Christ, we make our journey through time with confidence, liberated from the spiritual craziness of a desperate world and freed from the material consumption of a frightened world.

In Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, we are right on track!

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, I give myself to you in faith and obedience.

Amen and Amen.

Happy 500th Birthday to John Calvin

Pastor Tom

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Live for Christ Today

Live for Christ for today.

Live in his grace, that we might be gracious.
Live in his love, that we might be loving.
Live in his forgiveness, that we might be forgiving.
Live in his peace, that we might seek peace in our time.
Live in his awareness, that we might truly notice others around us.
Live in his compassion, that we might seek the welfare of our neighbor.
Live in his sorrow, that we might feel the pain of the world.
Live in his cross, that we might not be afraid of spiritual burdens.
Live in his death and resurrection, that we might face the end of our life with hope.

Live for Christ today!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Prayer

I'm chuckling as I read a poem by early 16th Century poet, Sir Edward Dyer:

My mind to me a kingdom is,
Such perfect joy therein I finde
As farre exceeds all earthly blisse
That God or nature hath assignde.

Yes, all the spellings are correct, for the 16th century.

Might have been written by most anyone of recent times - Ha!

How different the Kingdom of God - thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Let our prayer be:

O Christ my Lord,
Help me to live within your world,
That I might be a light to my world.

While others try so hard to love themselves,
Help me to love you all the more.

Remind me daily that I am yours,
And none other can suffice for the needs of my soul.

Help me to see that my hunger is nothing less than a hunger for you.
That my thirst is assuaged by the Living Water you gave to the woman at the well.
That my life makes sense only in your grace and love.
That life consists of all the duties of equity - to love the neighbor as I love myself.
And that such love is You ...

For love is God, and God is love ... and to abide in you is to live the grace of daily love.

Help me be this, O Christ.
Help me do this, O Christ.

Help me, I pray, O Christ.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ten Thousand Graves

Ten thousand graves ...
Tended with care ... lush grass precisely trimmed.
Crosses mostly ... and Stars of David ...
Young men and women cut down in the prime of life.
They were brave and they were afraid ...
Their pictures reveal that haunted look ...
Of soldiers too tired to be afraid,
And too frightened to find sleep.

Seasick and wet,
They hit the beach …
Under the cover of …
Steel and smoke.
Death and tears abound …
Ahead, my friends, ahead.
There’s no going back now.
No stopping for any of us.

A continent enslaved awaits the charge.
Nations, yes, and then some, to be unshackled …

And the years pass us by quickly …
Memories roll beyond the reach of words …
Silent tears still shed …
By those who made it home.

Slowly, now, they join their comrades,
As we all do … with the passage of time.
Hand-in-hand; arm-in-arm … a band of brothers …
A chorus of sisters …

Smoke and steel …
And a victory in hand.
And may those
Ten thousand graves remain ever well-tended!

Copywrite: Thomas P. Eggebeen, 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sense, Sight and Spirit

I took a shower this morning and thought, “Wow, this is amazing.”

Drove around the city yesterday with some errands and thought, “What an incredible city – life, culture, buildings, song and dance – the whole nine yards.”

Moderated Session last night and thought, “So many good and decent folk, servants of the most high God, working hard to be faithful.”

And, then I thought about my thoughts – and what it is to have eyes that see, senses that feel, and a heart for the things of God.

Pray that my eyes remain good, my senses appreciative and my heart devoted to the things of God.

I’ll pray that for you, too.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Count Your Blessings ...

As the hymn puts it:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Ordinarily, we “count our blessings” by noting what God has done for us … and they are many, of course: from the breath of life to the hope of eternity, from the smell of freshly brewed coffee to the delight of a pepperoni pizza – and the gift of the church of Jesus Christ, the Bible, pastors and missionaries; sun rise over the mountains, the crash of ocean waves; the arc of gull’s wing, the buzz of a bee, and a couple of billion other things, great and small.

But I’d like to take this notion of counting on a slightly different tact.

Count the good and decent things YOU’VE DONE over the years, and will likely do today: kindly words spoken to a friend in need; a more than generous check given to the LORD's work; every prayer you’ve said for family and friends; a smile given to the young lady behind the counter; a dollar bill given to a homeless man on the street; the mission trip you went on; a time when your shared your faith with a friend; all those times when you walk humbly with God, when you do just things for the folks on the other end of the stick, when you stand tall for Christ and let his light shine through your life; when mercy and love and tenderness pour out of your heart – these and a couple of million other things, great and small.

So, count your blessings today, name them one by one, and it will surprise what the LORD hath done THROUGH YOU!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Praying for One Another

The Acts 16:5 Initiative offers a prayer that we can use for one another.

For some months now, Session members have been doing this. At the end of every Session Meeting, we pair-up and promise to pray for our prayer-partner until the next Session Meeting, when the pairs are rearranged.

This morning, I prayed for my prayer partner and he prayed for me.

But whether said in partnership with someone, or simply prayed for another, the Acts 16:5 Initiative Prayer reflects the heart of our faith.

So, if you’d like to say a prayer for a friend or family member, here it is:

LORD, grant (name) and me
The grace today to commit
Our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ
Without our reservation, and grant
(name) and me further the grace
To know your strength and your
Guidance this day. Amen!

You can cut this out and put a copy in your purse or billfold. You can tape it on to your computer or put it in your Prayer Journal as I have done.

If your friend is Buddhist or Moslem, or of some other faith, you might want to offer this version of the prayer:

LORD, grant (name) and me
The grace today to commit
Our lives to the faith we hold and
The love we seek
Without reservation, and grant
(name) and me further the grace
To know your strength and your
Guidance this day. Amen!

If in your spirit is seems right and good to pray for a friend to come to faith in Jesus Christ, you might want to use the following:

LORD, grant (name) the grace today
To commit his/her life to the Lordship
Of Jesus Christ without reservation,
And use me as a channel of your grace,
And grant (name) and me further
The grace to know your strength and your
Guidance this day. Amen!

It is a good thing to pray spiritually for one another.