Thursday, December 29, 2016

In A Word: Reveal

Happy (almost) New Year! On the heels of moving through Advent and celebrating Christmas, comes the Christian holiday of Epiphany. Technically, this day lies on January 6, but since that is a Friday, we will be acknowledging it on Sunday together, which just so happens to be New Years Day.

Our Scripture readings this week are: 

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

I invite you to open your bibles and read these passages now, praying and/or taking notes as God leads you.

Around the last or first days of the year, it has become quite the custom to make "new year's resolutions." Mine is to pray the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer once a day. I have found it to be an important promise to God, as well as a graceful reminder of who God is for me. 

Here is the covenant prayer, which is attributed to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism (though the original has been lost:

 I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

This is a powerful prayer and covenant; repeating it daily is bound to have an impact on me. That is my hope.

This does not mean, however, that this prayer is perfect. Its language is dated, and its theology, I find, is problematic. For instance, it promotes the idea that God wishes to put us through hardship (‘Put me to what thou wilt, put me to suffering’ etc.). I hope someone would never suggest to me, during a time of suffering, that God is willing me to suffer. I hope you wouldn't say that to a friend, either. Instead, Methodists offer a theology that says "God is with you in your pain and suffering," rather than "God is making you suffer." Reverend Jeremy Smith, a minister at First Church in Portland, Oregon puts it this way: "God is the comforter in times of trouble, not the author of life's woes."

Rev. Smith (who blogs at offers a re-working of this prayer that addresses these concerns. It’s a paraphrase in common language, not a word-for-word replacement:

I am not my own self-made, self-reliant human being.
In truth, O God, I am Yours.
Make me into what You will.
Make me a neighbor with those whom You will.
Guide me on the easy path for You.
Guide me on the rocky road for You.
Whether I am to step up for You or step aside for You;
Whether I am to be lifted high for You or brought low for You;
Whether I become full or empty, with all things or with nothing;
I give all that I have and all that I am for You.
So be it.
And may I always remember that you, O God, and I belong to each other. Amen.

Whichever prayer you may pray, may it be one of renewal, promise, and commitment to God in this new year. May you, too, be "overwhelmed with joy (as the magi were, Matthew 2:10), when you find Jesus. May our gift to him be a heart willing to seek him.

Prayer (adapted from United Methodist Hymnal, 255.):

O God,
You hold us together by your grace and mercy. Long ago, by a star in the East, you revealed to all people him whose name is Emmanuel. Surely you are with us. Enable us to know your presence. Enable us to share your presence, so all may know your love and goodness. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, in union with your Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever. Amen.

My thanks to Rev. Jeremy Smith, and his most recent words at

Thursday, December 22, 2016

In A Word: Peace

Can you believe it is Christmas already? I myself have barely moved on from Halloween and Thanksgiving, yet here comes one of the holiest, important, and significant days of the Christian year. I love the season of Advent, but it hardly seems like it lasted for 4 weeks this year. I have been so used to the "feel" of this season, its patient waiting and quiet contemplation, that Christmas has snuck up on me this year.

In Luke 2, we here of this magnificent story of Jesus' birth. One of my favorite parts of the story is how the birth of Jesus was first told to the shepherd's in the field. The angels told them in the middle of the night that their Savior was born, and so they went on their way to Bethlehem to this "thing that had taken place." Jesus' birth was not first told to Emperor Augustus or anyone in power, but the lowly, poor, outcast, smelly, and dirty shepherds. That is good news. We can relate with the shepherds far more than an emperor or high official! 

We come to this time of celebration of Christ's birth with many mixed emotions and feelings. For weeks and weeks, TV commercials and programs have told us how to feel. We ought to feel warm and loving, especially if we are afforded the opportunity to spend a small fortune on our loved ones. I do hope that you do feel great peace and joy in your life, but honestly, I don't expect that everyone does. Even as a pastor, I don't always feel warm and loving during this time. Some come to this holy day dealing with awful health diagnoses, death of a loved one, financial problems, or struggling tensions in their relationships. Indeed, we still need a Savior to be born into our lives once again.

And God does it again. Each year, we are reminded by this day that God delivers us a Savior. Not some king with jewels and robes, but a baby boy, born to give us peace and restore our brokenness. Jesus was to be real King of Peace. The detail at the beginning of Luke 2, that this took place during the reign of Caesar Augusts, is significant. Caesar was praised as the great king of peace, as the one that would bring an end to war. Of course, he was not. Many wars were fought during his rule. 

But the Gospel announces the arrival of the real King of Peace, even if we come to this night with some pain in our hearts. In verse 14, the angels pronounce a blessing on those whom the peace of this new King will rest. This idea is repeated in this passage, and also later in the gospel in Luke 19, when a similar acclamation of peace is announced when Jesus enters Jerusalem ("Palm Sunday"). 

There is a literary device called inclusio, the repetition of an idea or phrase, that is used throughout the gospel of Luke. This idea of Jesus bringing peace utilizes this device. The great humorist Mark Twain was fond of pointing out that he was born when Halley's Comet appeared in 1835, and predicted that he would die when this same comet returned on its 76-year cycle. True to his promise, Twain died the day after the comet reappeared in 1910. Readers often allude to this celestial inclusio as a testament to Twain's special place within the literary community. Luke's artful use of his inclusio helps the reader, the believer, focus on the central message of this night; that Jesus is the true King who brings us peace. With all that Christmas brings, Luke wants to remind us that the King of peace is here.


Loving God, Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.
Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.
May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children,
and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

-- Robert Louis Stevenson

In Christ, 


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

In A Word: Dream

In Matthew 1: 18-25, Joseph had a dream. This dream was an encounter with God that preceded the birth of Jesus. It ends up being a pretty important dream, too, for it resulted in Joseph's care for Mary. Through this dream, Joseph shows profound trust in God.

I don't know about you, but I have a hard time remembering my dreams. Some times I wake up in the morning, knowing that I had a dream, but feeling the details of it slipping away from my memory. I remember having an assignment in my junior year of high school to keep a dream journal and analyze it. I was very frustrated, and I let my teacher know. I exclaimed to him that "some people just can't remember what they dreamed about!" Understanding my struggle, he encouraged me to, as soon as I woke up, write down one thing that happened in the dream and then how I felt when I woke up. I started this practice, and my dream journal began to fill with more and more details. Turns out, I did remember my dreams, just not for very long. Writing them down helped me to remember them.

Here, in this passage of Scripture, we get a lot of details about Joseph's dream: an angel appeared to him, told him that he should take Mary as his wife, and that the child she had was from the Holy Spirit, that they should name this child Jesus, and that this name meant that he was going to save the people, fulfilling the ancient promise of a savior. First, I am impressed that Joseph remembered this detailed dream, because I would struggle to. Then, I am amazed. God encountered Joseph, leading him to care for Mary, trust God, and know that what was about to happen would save his people.


What a dream.

It is interesting to me that God encountered Joseph in this way. There is no burning bush or parting clouds on a mountaintop, only a dream. And Joseph shows profound trust in this dream, in God, in himself.

Can we trust our dreams, those thoughts just outside of our consciousness or awareness? I dream even while I am awake...I dream about what God may do through me, what God is up to...I dream about who I really am, what brings me joy, what would make me happy. I dream about what we may see of God and each other if we trusted God and let God truly speak to us and lead us.

Joseph must have been asking many questions...what should I do about Mary? What does the law require? What does my heart tell me? The dream was enough for answered these burning, important questions. God cares about our details. God cares about you.

I invite you to dream with God...dream about who you are...who God is...what you may do in this world because of God...what God may do with you...God loves these details, and wants to show you. I invite you to ask these important, albeit risky, questions with God...and listen...dream...

Loving God, thank you for dreaming with me, for leading me, showing me your presence and your love. Help me to trust you, to seek you, and to rest assured that you are with me, through Jesus Christ your Son, my Lord and savior. Amen.

In Christ,


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Old Saint Nick


Today, many Christians around the world celebrate the life and ministry of Saint Nicholas. His story and legacy is rich and has had an important impact on our culture here in the West.

Yes, Saint Nicholas is the inspiration for Santa Claus, but his story begins much sooner than the creation of this character. In Dutch, Saint Nicholas is Sinterklaas, so that is how we get our American version "Santa Claus." (Side note: my mom's family is 100% Dutch so this makes me very proud).

So, who was Saint Nicholas, you ask? Let me tell you! He was born around the year 280 in Patara near present-day Turkey. Both of his parents were Christians (that's saying something: Christians were not as plenty as they are now, and they were being severely persecuted) died when he was a young man, and he used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. He was raised by his uncle, the Bishop of Patara, who mentored him as a reader and later ordained him as a presbyter (think pastor or priest).

Soon after his ordination, an opportunity arose for Nicholas. A citizen of Patara had suddenly lost all of his money, and needed to support his 3 daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty. The situation was so dire, that the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. Nicholas became informed of this, so took bag of gold and threw it into an open window of the man's house in the night. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon married. At intervals Nicholas did the same thing for the second and the third daughter. The last time he did this, the father caught him! He recognized Nicholas and was overwhelmed with gratitude.

As it became time for the choice of a new bishop, Nicholas was chosen. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers.He was released by Constantine later on (around the year 304). He resumed his ministry of care for the poor and the falsely accused (he made sure that the Christians imprisoned with him were also released). He is notably admired for his love and compassion for children as well (this is where we get our gift-giving tradition on Christmas). He died December 6, 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th.

His legacy, merged with the English character "Father Christmas," helps us conceive of who we know to be "Santa Claus," a man who comes quietly in the night (like Nick did to help the poor man with 3 daughters), and give gifts to children. We can learn from and be inspired by his life story of compassion, mercy, generosity, faith, and love for the oppressed even today.

So today, as Christmas is fast approaching, I invite you to pause and reflect on Saint Nicholas' life, ministry, and story. During this season of Advent, of preparation for Christ, Saint Nick stands out as a person who followed Christ during his life and made a real difference.

To this day, Old Saint Nick is still remembered and celebrated around the world! His stories of goodness and generosity have been kept alive. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts.

Let's keep his story alive, too, by our mercy, compassion, generosity, faith, and care for the oppressed.


God of joy and cheer,
     we thank you for your servant,
     the good bishop Nicholas.
In loving the poor,
     he showed us your kindness;
in caring for your children,
     he revealed your love.
Make us thoughtful
     without need of reward
     so that we, too, may be followers of Jesus. Amen.

In Christ,


I had LOTS of help with this post, mainly from and

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hope of the Season

Advent is a time of preparation...John the Baptist's task was to prepare the way of Jesus, the Savior. In Matthew 3:1-12 (take time to read it now), we remember what that truly means: to repent, for the kingdom of God has drawn near."

So, we turn our hearts back to God, again, in light of Christ's coming into this world. And we hope that our repentance, in fact, means something. We hope that leaning back into God's love and grace offers us a life of meaning, more so than what we turn from.

Vinita Hampton Wright of Loyola Press shares this word about Advent:

"A driving dynamic of Advent is hope. If we had nothing to hope for,
there would be no point to this season. The original hope was for a
child to be born who would bring justice and peace to the world and
who would heal the rift between humanity and God. But that larger
hope is filled with smaller ones—daily hopes that can shape us as people.

"Some hopes will shape our relationships. The Christ Child grew to be a
man who embodied forgiveness and generosity. A life of hope sees
the good in others, is patient with their shortcomings, and tenaciously
envisions them at their best.

"Some hopes will shape our work. The promised Messiah proclaimed
God’s realm of justice and mercy. No matter what jobs we do or work
positions we hold, as hopeful people we maintain fairness and integrity
as short-term and long-term goals. We make our work matter for the
common good.

"Some hopes will shape our character. Jesus exemplified hope that cultivates
true freedom. A hopeful person cannot continue in anxiety, grasping,
need for control, and habitual anger.

"How is hope visible in your life?"

We carry a hope that is full of life, one that impacts how we live, how we handle things in our life, and how we relate to others. It is a visible thing that we carry around through our interactions and our work.

Personally, I hope that the fact I am trying to return back to God in some way has a meaningful impact on how I carry myself. I want my repentance to mean something worthwhile, because it's HARD. It is hard to give up the superfluous meaning of Christmas that we learn from our culture. It is hard to give up the pressure that comes with the season. For some of you, it may be hard to be without loved ones who have passed away during this time. Returning to God is costly; you give your hope in one thing and turn it back to God. And it is worthwhile.

One of the themes of Matthew 3:1-12 is wilderness. John the Baptist is preaching in the wilderness, and he dresses and eats like a wild man. But verses 5 and 6 give us license to think that the harshest wilderness is within us. This gospel tells us that people went out to John to confess their sins. This is something that we all deal with...we sin, we see sin, and we want it out of our life. And this sermon he is preaching does not tell of what God did in the past, but what God is doing now. Us modern readers tend to place scriptures' "now" in "the past," but God's activity never stops. God keeps doing the same things (albeit in different ways). Nor is this sermon about what God is going to do some day. The Kingdom of God is at hand. 

And it is God that is at work. John the Baptist's sermon points beyond himself and to God. It is God that turns us around. It is God that hopes with us. It is God who transforms us. It is God who changes things.

Our hope is in God, who is with us, even when we try to save ourselves. Thanks be to God.


Merciful God, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation. Give us grace to heed their words and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

*From the United Methodist Book of Worship, 250.

In Christ,

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

In A Word: Watch

Advent is here! This is the season in the Christian calendar where we wait with hopeful expectation for the birth of Christ, and it is my favorite one of them all. Christians observe the seasons of Christmas, Lent, Easter, and the Sundays after Pentecost, also called "Kingdomtide" or "Ordinary Time."

We begin with Matthew 25: 36-44, which encourages us to "watch out" for Christ's coming. Take a moment to read that as we begin the season of Advent together.

Until I became a pastor, I had no clue that this season was my favorite one. Now, I am reflecting on why that is the case for me. Why is Advent so meaningful to me? I love to be excited, and waiting builds the anticipation and energy for me. Advent is a time of waiting, and it is a hopeful, expectant waiting. For me, Advent is a metaphor for life with Christ. All my life, I want to hopefully wait for Christ to burst onto the scene, bringing about peace, joy, and love. I want to pursue Christ, to find Christ in the world.

Where this metaphor falls short, is that Christ is already here. We are no longer waiting for Christ, but expecting Christ to be here with us...and he is. We are no longer unsure if the prophecies are true, that God would send a savior to the world. It has happened. And it keeps happening, over and over again.

This season, Advent comes at a tenuous time for Americans. Coming off the heels of a divisive presidential election, we could use some hope, love, joy, and peace. We need this reminder that God breaks through this world, and all of the things that divide it, and gives us a Savior.

This Thanksgiving, we have so much to be thankful for...our freedom in this country and through Christ, our friends, family, health, and the gift of life.

At the same time, this is not a perfect world full of perfect people. We need Christ. Many people seek hope, joy, peace, and love in the form of justice. Right now, thousands of people are standing with the Sioux Tribe of Standing Rock in North Dakota to seek justice. Many Christians have gone to preservation to stand with the tribe, who face the depletion of their water supply through the proposed Dakota State Pipeline. So, on this Thanksgiving, as we have much to be thankful for, do not forget that these Native Americans, and their friends, are fighting for their life. We need Christ in this world.

And the good news is that Christ has come. Not to make everything perfect, but to stand with us. Even as many stand with the Sioux tribe. Christ has come to show us this sort of love...a love that seeks hope, joy, and peace. As God has loved us by providing us with Christ, offering us salvation through relationship, we, too, may share in love with others.

So, we watch out for Christ...we follow Christ, letting God lead us into those places that need hope, joy, peace, and love.


O God, whose will is justice for the poor and peace for the afflicted, let your urgent voice pierce our hardened hearts and announce the dawn of your kingdom. Before the advent of the One who baptizes with the fire of the Holy Spirit, let our complacency give way to conversion, may oppression give way to justice, and from conflict may there be acceptance of one another in Christ. We ask this through the One whose coming is certain, whose day draws near: your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

*Adapted from the United Methodist Book of Worship, 252.

In Christ,


Tuesday, November 15, 2016


This Sunday, we enter into our 3rd week of our focus on stewardship. Using the book "Earn. Save. Give.," this week's focus is on saving.

I have learned a lot about stewardship from the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25" 14-30. I invite you to read that parable, too. (Stop reading this for a moment, if you wish, to do so.)

Everything we have is a gift from God. Everything: the car you drive, the place you live, the job you have, the jobs you've had, the family you were born into, the friends you have, the shoes you are wearing...everything!

One of the dictionary definitions of a steward is “a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs.” In the parable of the talents, a man asks 3 servants to steward his property. Each one responds to this request according to their character. Two servants increase their master’s investment, bringing him greater wealth and honor, and the master rewards them. But one servant acts foolishly and hides the master’s money. He is rebuked and punished. The little he was entrusted with is taken back, and he is abandoned.

Stewardship takes the idea that everything we have is a gift. If all that I am and all that I have is from God, then how should I care for and use it? Psalm 24:1 says, “[t]he earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” Therefore, I ought to consider why God gave me what I have and use it to those ends. We have been given body, knowledge, resources and relationships, not to squander as we wish, but to glorify God. “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

So I invite you to consider how you use what God has given you for the glory of God. For example, I have shoes to wear, and I wear them outside to run and walk, enjoying God's creation. I have a car to drive to someone's house to be with them and share time with them. How do you spend money so that it honors God? How do I steward friendships? How do I take care of the body God gave me? How do I use knowledge and education in the best way possible?

Here is the good news: everything you do can honor God, because everything you have is God's. God is asking you to steward all you have, to manage all that you have. What a gift it is to glorify God!


Almighty God, we thank you for all the gifts You have given us: our lives, our loved ones, all that we have and all that we are. Most of all, we thank You for Jesus, your Son and our Redeemer, who came among us to show us the way to eternal life. Jesus was the perfect steward of your gifts, showing that complete trust in You is necessary. May the offerings of our time, our talents, and our material resources be made in the same spirit of sacrifice that Jesus taught us by His life and death for us. Amen.

In Christ,


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Prayers for Election Day

Last night, I attended a prayer service for our country here in Tallahassee. We prayed for unity, that Christ remains our leader, and for the officials we elect in various offices across our country, state, and county. I was once again reminded of the power of prayer. This has been an intense, divisive, and challenging year for us in this country. It has caused me much anxiety, stress, and worry. That all went away as we prayed together to God.

We read John 17: 20-23 together:

 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in usso that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

We read Ephesians 4: 1-5 together:

(Paul writing) "I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

and we prayed together:

Out of gratitude for your many gifts, O God, and trusting in your abiding faithfulness…

We pray for our president elect, that they will lead our country with strength and compassion; that they may represent the very best of the United States around the globe; that they may be committed to justice and peace, and bringing our nation together to address our challenges.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for our governors and legislators, that they will be responsive to their whole constituency and enact laws that ensure the wellbeing of all the people they represent.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for all others elected to public office, that their service to their people would be just and beyond reproach; that where ever they serve in local government, schools, or law enforcement, they would treat all people with dignity and serve the common good.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for our nation, our cities, and our neighborhoods, that together we can create a place where all people are respected and safe, where difference of opinion does not lead to violence, and where our combined creativity heals brokenness of all kinds.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray also that regardless of the outcome of this Election Day, we would remember that we are called by Christ to care for our neighbor, pursue peace and work for justice in our communities.  Inspire us to work together, across divisions and difference, to create beloved community where ever we can.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray all of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

We concluded with a prayer that our very own Bishop Carter wrote 8 years ago. I sent this prayer out to the congregation here at Gray Memorial, and offer it once more:

Creator of us all:
you are the source of every blessing,
the judge of every nation
and the hope of earth and heaven:

We pray to you on the eve of this important and historic election.

We call to mind the best that is within us:
That we live under God,
that we are indivisible,
that liberty and justice extend to all.

We acknowledge the sin that runs through our history as a nation:
The displacement of native peoples, racial injustice,
economic inequity, regional separation.

And yet we profess a deep and abiding gratitude
for the goodness of ordinary people who have made sacrifices,
who have sought opportunities,
who have journeyed to this land as immigrants
strengthening its promise in successive generations,
who have found freedom on these shores,
and defended this freedom at tremendous cost.

Be with us in the days that are near.
Remind us that your ways are not our ways,
that your power and might transcend
the plans of every nation,
that you are not mocked.

Let those who follow your Son Jesus Christ be a peaceable people
in the midst of division.

Send your Spirit of peace, justice and freedom upon us,
break down the walls of political partisanship,
and make us one.

Give us wisdom to walk in your ways,
courage to speak in your name,
and humility to trust in your providence.



With hope, joy, peace, and love, through faith in Christ,



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Earn. Save. Give.: Wisdom

The month of November begins our focus, here at Gray Memorial UMC, on stewardship. To help guide us through this important focus, we will be using Jim Harnish's book "Earn. Save. Give." This is a resource that seeks to uncover and contextualize John Wesley's concept of stewardship: “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” (John Wesley, The Use of Money, 1744). This concept guided John Wesley's life; he was a great steward of what God had given him. This led him to be very generous with his money; he died with almost nothing to his name.

Harnish begins his book with a statement: "we don't need more money, we need more wisdom," and highlights the book of Proverbs 3:


"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths."


"Happy are those who find wisdom,
    and those who get understanding,
 for her income is better than silver,
    and her revenue better than gold."

From these words from Scripture, I think we can understand how Harnish can say it's not about how much money we have, but how wise we are. It is wise to trust God with what we have. Wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold. This reminds of me of the stories of squandering money we hear from those who win the lottery. Folks get tied up in greed by over-investing their money, gambling it away, or by being such a target with their wealth that it gets stolen away. Wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold.

This is good news for anyone! Stewardship is not about how much money you give, but how wise you are with your resources (that goes beyond finances, by the way---your time and talents are also resources we must be wise with, for example).

I love the Christian concept of stewardship. God has asked us from the beginning of creation to be good stewards of what we have: "And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it" (Genesis 2:15). God has asked us to be thankful for what we have, and understand that it comes from God. That means we can trust God with what we have. We can be generous with our resources because they are not really ours, because they can serve a greater purpose than serving ourselves, because we can offer them up in such a way that gives honor and glory to God. It is wise to do so: I believe that taking care of what you have, giving generously, and honoring God all help us to remain thankful and joyful. This strengthens our walk with Christ as we trust God with what we have.


Oh Lord, giver of life and source of our freedom, we are reminded that Yours is “the earth in its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it.” We know that it is from your hand that we have received all we have and are and will be. Gracious and loving God, we understand that you call us to be the stewards of Your gifts, the caretakers of all you have entrusted to us. Help us always to use your gifts wisely and teach us to share them generously. May our faithful stewardship bear witness to the love of Christ in our lives. We pray this with grateful hearts in Jesus’ name. Amen.

In Christ,


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Season of Harvest: Don't Lose Heart!

Our gospel text this week, Luke 18:1-8, is another parable, which tells a story about an unjust judge and a persistent pray-er. In the end, the woman who is praying is heard by the judge, because she just didn't give up; didn't take "no" for an answer. Her persistence paid off! The possible moral of the story: God will definitely listen to you, because God is just, whereas the judge was unjust and, although it took a lot of energy and annoyance, listened to the woman.

Like with any passage from the Bible, we read and investigate it's meaning through our own situations and world-views. It is always helpful, in my view, to investigate the context in which the text is surrounded closely. I think we want to be able to relate to this woman, but can we, really? 
Hear what professor Bill Loader has to say; he offers us a chance to dive into the context of this passage, and our temptation to limit it's message to us. He uncovers a grace-filled message of hope:  

".. it is missing the mark if we treat the passage as a general teaching about intercessory prayer. It is primarily about the yearning for change. It was very appropriate that the story told of a poor widow. She represents a behaviour, but she also represents the poverty and vulnerability which is the point of the parable’s message. The story has been shaped in the cruelty of exploitation and the arbitrary abuse of power. It belongs in the world which Jesus is addressing. Jesus is reading the signs in the wounds of the people. The contours of their devastation shape the structures of his thought, because this is where he belongs and these are the people whose cries he hears.

Take some heart, even from the behaviour of a corrupt judge who has no respect for anyone!...We know such corrupt figures exist. Does God? Does a God exist who cares? The paralysis of hope can occur at many levels. For many it plummeted with the towers of the World Trade Centre. Faith then retreats into survival mode or fences itself within petty concerns, loses its political and social edge in a sweet jellied peace of mind, or surrenders to the demagogues and demigods of hate.

People do not need to avoid pain. It is our role to be there with them in it and not to collude with the alternatives. It means being in touch with the struggles, with the poverty, with all that makes people cry out in our world. It also means living with the affirmation of a God who cares, even though, unlike the promise of 18:8, the solution does not come speedily. In that sense we are to be building supportive communities where people can sustain the crying day and night and not lose heart, where we do not tune out, but live in hope and with a sense of trust that does not make us feel we have to carry the whole world on our shoulders. For facing the pain of the world is, indeed, a crushing experience which most of us cannot bear and which, without support and acceptance of our own limitations, we will inevitably either deny or ourselves become part of the hopelessness. Finding a glint of God in the grey of corruption is a way of affirming we do not have to be God; we are not alone; faith and hope are possible."

For many, our hope continues to plummet today. I see it everyday, especially during this election cycle here in the U.S. Many people cry out in despair. What we face now is the opportunity to join hands in this challenging time together. The cause of the loss of hope is not limited to the election, but is fed by corruption, illnesses, tragedy, and personal occasions of pain and suffering that can be caused by any number of things. Our opportunity is to listen, to care, and remain patient with other each other as we seek healing together. We must trust God, sometimes it's all we have. We have to trust that God is using us, and each other, for this sake. 

We yearn for change, and it begins by joining hands in a community of healing, companionship, and grace. This is hope in action.  

We meet You, O Christ, in many a guise:
Your image we see in simple and wise.
You live in a palace, exist in a shack.
We see You, the gardener, a tree on Your back.
In millions alive, away and abroad;
Involved in our life You live down the road.
Imprisoned in systems, You long to be free.
We see You, Lord Jesus, still bearing Your tree.
We hear You, O Christ, in agony cry.
For freedom You march, in riots You die.
Your face in the papers we read and we see.
The tree must be planted by human decree.
You choose to be made at one with the earth;
The dark of the grave prepares for Your birth.
Your death is Your rising, creative Your word:
The tree springs to life and our hope is restored.

*"We Meet You, O Christ," United Methodist Hymnal, 257.

In Christ, 


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Season of Harvest: A Time for Gratitude

This week, we turn to Luke 17: 11-19, where there are 10 lepers that Jesus makes clean. "Your faith has made you well" is one of those verses from the Bible that may do as much harm as it does good. There are all kinds of people, even this day, praising God for being present in their lives, for healing, blessing, and making the presence of God real. But there as just many people, perhaps, who are praying to God for healing, and seemingly coming away empty-handed. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been sick, or had a loved one receive terrible news of an illness, and prayed to God for healing...only to remain in your current state? You may have felt that your prayers were inferior to those who were healed. I do not think that is the case. Many Christians understand faith to be all about cause and effect---you pray for something, and it either happens or it does not; the prayer is either answered with a yes or no from God.

Jesus points to a much deeper meaning of faith, here in this gospel lesson. Jesus heals here without much attention being drawn to it. It is almost as if this is only a subplot to the story. I have no idea where nine of the ten lepers go, but the Samaritan comes back to Jesus to bow at his feet to thank him. Jesus asks where the other nine went, and we can imagine his tone. How did Jesus feel? Sad? Angry? Confused? What Jesus is certain about, is that this "double outcast" (Kimberly Long, Feasting on the Word), this person was a leper and a Samaritan, has been embraced by the love of God. And Jesus tells them to "get up and go, your faith has made you well."

This grateful leper's healing "runs beyond the physical." The gospel tells us that all ten lepers were rid of their leprosy. This past Sunday, Bishop Ken Carter preached on the parable that precedes this passage to listen to his sermon, click here), about "the faith of a mustard seed." Jesus is teaching about what faith really is. We learned on Sunday that Jesus does not talk about faith as if his audience does not have it. He is speaking to them as if to say "you have the faith...what is lacking is action." Here, he doubles down on his message. It is not about the quantity of your faith, but the quality. For this leper, it drove them to their knees in gratitude and worship. Their healing went beyond the physical. To "have faith" is to live it, to act on give thanks. "It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith---this is the grateful sort of faith that has made this man from Samaria truly and deeply well." Prayers of thanks are part of the healing of this leper. The physical outcome of our prayers don't matter as much when we live a life of gratitude. It is the thanking that truly saves this grateful person, and this life of gratitude is available to us all, no matter what we are facing. What can you be thankful for?


Thank you God for giving me another day, another chance to become a better individual, another chance to give and experience love. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving me so much, that you sent your Son, Jesus Christ, not only to die for me, but to live for me. Thank you for his example, his compassion, his love for all people. Help me to live a life of gratitude, to see You at work in this world and in my life. I love you, I praise you. Help me to have the faith that will heal me from all things, a faith that leads to thanks for who You are. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

In Christ,


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Season of Harvest: Contrasts and Reversals

The gospel reading for this Sunday, Luke 16: 19-31, is full of contrasts and reversals. As we continue our Fall series, "A Season of Harvest," we know that there are also sharp contrasts between autumn and its counterpart, spring. Although these seasons are somewhat "opposite" of each other, they also complement each other: there can be no spring without autumn, and vice versa (same goes for summer and winter).

Spring happens between the seasons of winter and summer (it begins on March 20 for us in the Northern Hemisphere). The temperature lies in between the winter cold and gradually heats up towards the beginning of summer. In the spring trees, flowers and plants can be seen in full bloom. This is also the time of year that many baby animals appear, and spring is known as the season of new beginnings.

Autumn happens between the seasons of summer and winter (it beings on September 22 for us in the Northern Hemisphere). The temperature in the beginning starts out rather warm and gradually cools off to get ready for winter. In the autumn, plants begin to die, leaves change colors and fall off of trees, plants begin to wilt and many animals prepare for winter hibernation. Autumn is known as the cooling-off season.

Temperature, time of year, length of day, the physical appearance of plants, and the name(s) of these seasons are in contrast---in reverse of each other, so to speak.

In this passage, the names of these individuals are also in contrast: the poor man and the rich man. The reversal is such a surprise here: the poor name is named: he is Lazarus (not to be confused with another Lazarus, the one who was raised from the dead by Jesus in John 11). The rich man is not named. This is very significant: saying someone's name is an acknowledgement of who they are; it's as if this parable is putting the spotlight on Lazarus, rather than the rich man.

As these seasons are "dressed" differently, with their varying outfits of blooming or turning plants, so too are the rich man, dressed in purple, and Lazarus, "dressed" in sores.

The rich man feasts sumptuously, while Lazarus, looking up, longs to be satisfied with what falls from the table.

What happens next after these seasons is different: after spring there is summer, and winter follows autumns. So is the case with the rich and Lazarus: the rich man has a proper burial, while Lazarus is carried away by the angels.

By the end of the story, Lazarus is looking down from heaven, and the rich man is the one looking up, begging. This a reversal from their earthly life.

Human beings have a knack for comparing experiences. If you are feeling "good" one day, it's because you have felt "bad" before. Whatever "season" of life you are going through, you naturally relate that to another time in your life. I have felt hope before, because I have felt despair. I have felt joy because at a different time I have felt pain. They are seasons, similar to the ones we find in nature.

Right now, in our time and place in the world, it is the season of Fall, of autumn. It is a time for harvest. It is a time to gather our "crops," that is, to take notice of all that God has given us, in order to keep on our spiritual journey with God. Consider this parable as a crop to be gathered in. Take it, learn from it, and let it be sown in your life. The lesson that I am hearing from this parable is that the Kingdom of God looks a little "backwards." It is not those with extravagant clothing or other riches that inherit this Kingdom (this doesn't mean that they are exempt from the Kingdom, but that this is not what "seals the deal"). What Jesus is looking for is for people who would love their neighbor, no matter how they are "dressed."


O Lord,
  open my eyes that I may see the needs of others;
  open my ears that I may hear their cries;
  open my heart so that I may help others;
let me not be afraid to defend and serve the weak or the poor.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
  and use me to bring them to those places.
And so open my eyes and my ears
  that I may be able to some work of peace for You. Amen

*United Methodist Hymnal, 456, adapted.

In Christ,


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Time of Harvest:Learning through Dissatisfaction

Luke 16: 1-13 tells a story of a dishonest manager. At the end of this parable, the scoundrel wins. I am left dissatisfied with how things turn out, even if there are lessons to glean from it. His clever plan succeeds, and his former boss, the one whose estate he has previously mismanaged, now praises him for being ingenious. If your like me, you sigh in disbelief that the manager does not get his due.

This parable screams "LIFE ISN'T FAIR." I'm not OK with that being the lesson of this parable; there has to be more to it! The lesson Jesus is trying to teach is explained in the last 4 verses of this selection:

10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,[d] who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

But how in the world does Jesus go from "scoundrel winning" to "no slave can serve 2 masters"?? I don't have an answer to that except that it's a good question. There are more lessons to glean from this parable, though, even if Jesus does not state them explicitly here. 

True Dishonesty

This parable is called " The Parable of the Dishonest Manager" (in the NRSV, at least) because of the phrase "And his master commended the dishonest manager" in verse 8. However, when Jesus talks about dishonesty here, he may be doing so tongue in cheek. In Jesus' context (time and place), there was hardly any middle class; the vast majority were either very wealthy or very poor. The very poor were oftentimes at the mercy of their wealthy landlords who required the best of their crops and the powerful (Roman) government who demanded unreasonably high taxes from them every chance they got. The landlord in this parable accuses his manager of wrongdoing on mere hearsay. So, knowing he is going to be fired, the manager acts "dishonestly," or "shrewdly" (or "cleverly") by reducing the debts owed to the landlord. By describing this situation, Jesus may be pointing out the harsh reality that there is no way to be honest in a system that is inherently dishonest and unjust. Telling this parable may in fact be Jesus' clever way to unveil this crude system of people who robs and cheats the poor on a daily basis. The manager acted shrewdly by showing judgment of a system that would have left him out in the cold had he not been so clever. His master praises him not for being dishonest, but clever. The manager in the story received no monetary gain from his dishonesty, so Jesus' comment in verse 9 is directed to the wealthy in the crowd listening to him. This approach and lesson of the parable begs the question: how do our economic systems make life difficult for some people (both for the poor, and for those who want to act ethically)?

The Master's Tools

In this parable, the manager forgives the amount of the debts by diminishing them, an action that would be unthinkable to the landlord. In some way, the manager is not only watching out for himself and his family, but he is also at the same time tearing to shreds the system the landlord operates in for gaining wealth. By reducing the debts, he is exposing the fact that the existing payment structure is unjust. He uses ehtically questionable methods to help break down a system built to receive debts by diminishing them and making friends and allies for himself. "He separates himself from a system of repression by cleverly undoing the system in a Robin Hood-like fashion" (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, p. 95). 

Many of Jesus' parables are written in order to portray what the Kingdom of God is like. In this realm, "tools" of oppressive systems are proven to be ineffective and flipped upside down. In this realm, debts are forgiven and slaves are set free. 

Resources and Relationships

In this parable, we are given an inside peek to the manger's motivation. He is attempting to make allies and friends, so that if and when he is fired or otherwise becomes unemployed, someone else will take him in. One theologian, Christine Prohl, puts it this way: "Jesus does not commend the manager's practices, but rather his insight into the connection between resources and relationships. When we consider our wealth and economic practices---even the means we employ to accomplish good ends--- as peripheral to the kingdom, we are ignoring Jesus' warning that it is impossible to serve God and mammon (money)." 

Loving and serving God, following Jesus ways, means that loving people is always the bottom line, So, Jesus' final words in this passage are fitting: you cannot serve God and money at the same time, for love of wealth has the potential to put loving others aside. 


O God, just as the disciples heard Christ's words of promise and began to eat the bread and drink the wine in the suffering of a long remembrance and in the joy of a hope, grant that we may hear your words, spoken in each thing of everyday affairs:

Coffee, on our table in the morning;
the simple gesture of opening a door to go out, free;
the shouts of children in parks;
a friendly tree that has not yet been cut down.

May simple things speak to us of your mercy, and tell us that life can be good. And may we remember those who do not receive as much as we do:
who have their lives cut every day, in the bread absent from the table;

in the door of the hospital, the prison, the welfare home that does not open;
in sad children, feet without shoes, eyes without hope;
in deserts where once there was life.
Christ was also sacrificed; and may we learn that we participate in the saving sacrifice of Christ when we participate in the suffering of his little ones, the children of God, our neighbors. Amen.

from The United Methodist Hymnal, 639, slightly adapted. 

In Christ, 


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Season of Harvest: Losing to Gain

As the month of September comes upon us, that means that the season of Autumn is also (almost) here! OK, so technically the Fall Equinox is September 22nd this year. That is the date when the "Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s Equator – from north to south...On the equinox, night and day are nearly exactly the same length – 12 hours – all over the world" ( So, this day has not quite to us, but the season of fall is also marked by other things: Labor day (this coming Monday), the beginning of the school year, the college football season, and the slight change in weather from the kind of heat that requires 3 shirts a day, to maybe not such an unbearable level. We can at least say together that the season of Fall is upon us.

Fall is a season of harvest. Some etymology (where the word comes from) says that the term "harvest" is a noun meaning, in Old English, literally "autumn" or "season of gathering crops." This includes the activity of reaping (to cut a crop for harvest; to obtain a reward), gathering, and storing grain and other crops.

In our spiritual lives, we go through seasons, too. There are times when life seems to be getting the better of us; where we suffer the chilling winter or scathing summer. There are also times in our lives where things are going well: we benefit from our hard labor in ways that prove our efforts worthy of the sacrifice. We heal from things that pain us; we learn from struggles that life gives us; we reap what we sow. We benefit from the challenges of life, and this gives us hope to continue along life's topsy-turvy journey.

Fall is a season of harvest, where the grueling heat gives way to a bountiful harvest.

During this season of Fall, we will be exploring this theme as we worship together, learn together, and grow together. Our first message "Losing to Gain," will focus on Luke 14: 25-33.

In this passage in the gospel of Luke, Jesus talks about the cost of discipleship, even going as far to say that whoever does not hate their family, carry their cross, or give up their possessions, can follow him as a disciple. It is my opinion that Jesus does use hyperbole here, speaking to a mass crowd, admonishing them to take his words seriously and examine what it means to follow him. There are costs to discipleship. While our allegiances and loyalties most of the time do balance out, in times of crisis, certain relationships take precedent. When a family member becomes ill, sometimes other friendships take a back seat, as our attention is devoted to them, for example. That does not mean that the person does not love their friends, but that we are only human beings with limited time and attention; we have to choose when crises come about.

This passage from Luke tells us that in order to follow Jesus into a life of discipleship, it must take precedent. There are costs to it, and most of them relate to the idea of security. The road of discipleship is bumpy, dirty, there are turns and hills and climbs...and it takes sacrifice.

In order for crops to harvest in the season of Fall, they must withstand the bitter cold of winter and the grueling heat of summer. They must sacrifice. Trees must lose their leaves in order to prepare for the upcoming cold weather. Sometimes weak plants will wither and fade away. Sometimes they keep their roots in the ground and see the harvest of the Fall, staying true to the process of growth. Will you? Will you remain faithful to God, trusting the process of discipleship and growing in Christ? That is your invitation. May we all walk faithfully together.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

We Believe in Resurrection and Life Everlasting

This Sunday, continuing with our "We Believe" sermon series, which explores the Apostles' Creed, we come to the Scripture readings Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Luke 24:36-49. Ezekiel tells the story of the valley of the dry bones, and Luke tells us about one of Jesus' appearances to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. The final statement of the Apostles' Creed is "(I believe in) the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting." Both of these passages, I believe, relate to this statement.

Both the resurrection of the bones in Ezekiel 37 and the resurrection of  Jesus demonstrates that death does not have the last word. That last word belongs to God, who continues to redeem and shape this world to the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed.

Ezekiel 37: 1-14 tells a remarkable story:

One day, Ezekiel is by a river in Babylon when he sees a remarkable vision that reveals the glory of God.  He hears God’s voice speak to him.  God tells Ezekiel that he will speak God’s Word to his fellow exiles, fellow Israelites (they were in the foreign land of Babylon).  God says, “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear.” And then, the most bazaar thing happens.  God hands Ezekiel a scroll with the Word of God on it.  And God tells Ezekiel to eat the scroll; to literally consume it; to put it in his mouth and swallow it.  Then God says, “Go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them.” What an image, huh?  It is as if Ezekiel will be regurgitating God’s Word for his fellow exiles/Israelites.  Friends, God’s word was never intended to lay dormant on a page.  God’s Word needs to get inside of us; we can consume it. Why?  Because they are words of life; words that bring life.

That’s what Ezekiel experiences in the valley of the dry bones.  God tells Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” Ezekiel preaches the Word of God to a valley filled with nothing but dry bones (talk about a tough audience).  But that Word has an immediate effect.  Something happens: bones join together; muscle and tissue and flesh form around those bones. They have been resurrected.

And Jesus, as told in Luke 24: 36-49, is also raised from the dead, making appearances to his friends. He offers them peace, proves that he's not a ghost (by showing them his wounds and eating fish with them). After this, he tells them that they are witnesses to these things. That he died and was raised and came to be with them. And we are, too. Though Jesus hasn't shown up in bodily form for us, his presence through the Holy Spirit is with us. God has provided a way for us to have eternal life through him. God has given us new life, showing us that death does not have the final word.

And its not just death that we worry about, its the things that death represents. It's the evil in this world. I'ts the injustice, the fear, hate, prejudice, racism, poverty, sickness, and negativity. There is no doubt that these are powerful forces in this world. And they matter. They really matter. These things hurt people, contributing to the state that our world is in. All this means that we are in need of a savior, a loving God that would do something as drastic as provide a way out. And that is Jesus. That is embracing God's love and grace for you. These dry bones will cry out. We are witnesses to these things, and what God has done.


Lord, help me to accept your invitation to live a new life, full of grace and peace. When life gets most difficult, help me to keep seeking you. Stay close to me, O God, for you are my comfort. In you, I receive life everlasting. Thank you for laying down your life for me, so that I can live life abundantly with you. In your Son's name I pray, Amen.

In Christ,


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

We Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins

Last week, I jokingly called the last paragraph of the Apostles' Creed a "junk drawer." You know, that drawer in your kitchen or bedroom that you just throw everything that doesn't fit anywhere else in. The first two paragraphs talk about God and Jesus in excellent detail and description, but the last paragraph simply "throws in" a bunch of other beliefs:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic (universal) church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

This past Sunday, though, we determined together that this is not just the junk drawer of the Apostles' Creed. These last few sentences contain such rich beliefs, though, that they deserve some more attention.

So, this week, we come to the statement "(we believe in) the forgiveness of sins." Not coincidentally, we focused on forgiveness as we explored the Lord's Prayer as well. And here it is again. Forgiveness is so essential to our Christian values and beliefs, that it shows up in almost every statement of belief we have (we confess our sins and seek pardon from God, too, when we gather for Holy Communion).

God is not the only one doing the forgiving; we could be forgiving each other, too.

To help guide our focus on forgiveness, read  Romans 5: 12-21 and Matthew 5: 38-48

And remember, the Lord's Prayer says:

Forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us

Likewise, if we believe in the forgiveness of sins, we have the opportunity to treat one another as forgiven people. God uses us to be the hands and feet of God in the world; God could be using you to forgive someone else!

I like to look at this last paragraph of the Apostles' Creed as a sort of staircase. The Holy Spirit has given birth to the Church, so the Church can be the entity in which we commune, receive forgiveness, and ultimately have our lives transformed and receive eternal life. All of these beliefs work together that way, and the Church is where/how it happens.

Now I don't mean the physical church building, but we receive things from God through the Holy Spirit. This happens relationally with God and others as we seek God together.

And forgiveness has so much to do with this. We are not perfect, and God loves us anyway. We can treat each other that way, too. Let's be the Church, practicing forgiveness...with God's help,

To read my previous post on Forgiveness, click here

In Christ,



You who are over us,
You who was one of us,
You who are:
    Give me a pure heart, that I may see you;
             a humble heart, that I may hear you;
             a heart of love, that I may serve you;
             and a heart of faith, that I may abide in you. Amen.

* Adapted from the United Methodist Hymnal, 392.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

We Believe in the Holy Spirit

Through the first two weeks, we have focused on what we mean when we say "I believe in God" and "I believe in Jesus Christ." This week, we turn our focus to the Holy Spirit. This hymn, "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine," is a great one of praise and prayer to the Holy Spirit. Take a moment to consider and reflect on the words of this hymn

Holy Spirit, Truth divine,
dawn upon this soul of mine;
Word of God and inward light,
wake my spirit, clear my sight.

Holy Spirit, Love divine,
glow within this heart of mine;
kindle every high desire;
perish self in thy pure fire.

Holy Spirit, Power divine,
fill and nerve this will of mine;
grant that I may strongly live,
bravely bear, and nobly strive.

Holy Spirit, Right divine,
King within my conscience reign;
be my Lord, and I shall be
firmly bound, forever free

I love this hymn because it talks about who the Holy Spirit is (Word of God and inward light, King within my conscience) and it prays to the Holy Spirit (wake my spirit, clear my sight, kindle every high desire, fill and nerve this will of mine, be my Lord). Finally, it declares our relationship to God through the Holy Spirit...that we may be firmly bound forever.

Another hymn that I love is "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," which says: There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place, and I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord." This is a popular hymn in United Methodist Churches, and its writer was Doris Mae Akers. She was a choir director, and here is some of her story, as told by author Lindsay Terry:

"[S]he related to me that one Sunday morning in 1962, while directing the Sky Pilot Choir, she said to her singers, 'You are not ready to go in.' She didn’t believe they had prayed enough! They were accustomed to spending time with her in prayer before the service, asking God to bless their songs. She said, 'I feel that prayer is more important than great voices.' They had already prayed, but this particular morning she asked them to pray again, and they did so with renewed fervor.

"As they prayed, Doris began to wonder how she could stop this wonderful prayer meeting. She said, 'I sent word to the pastor letting him know what was happening. He was waiting in the auditorium, wanting to start the service. Finally, I was compelled to say to the choir, We have to go. I hate to leave this room and I know you hate to leave, but you know we do have to go to the service. But there is such a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.'"

May this sweet, sweet Spirit, who lights your path, kindles your passions, fills you, and is your Lord, be with you now and always.

In Christ,


"Holy Spirit, Truth Divine, United Methodist Hymnal, 465

Doris Mae Akers,

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

We Believe In Jesus

This week, we continue our focus in worship on the Apostles' Creed by considering the second statement: "I believe in Jesus Christ..." John 1:1-14 can certainly be read alongside this statement, and it will be on Sunday as we worship God together (but really, you could read it now if you wanted, of course).

On the website for the United Methodist Church, under the "What We Believe" section, it is explained what we mean we say "We believe in Jesus..." I have found this to be a helpful way to think about it, because saying this can be really confusing. Jesus was and is so awesome and so complex, that I find that I need all the help I can get when trying to share about what this means. I mean, for crying out loud, how in the world can someone be fully divine AND fully human. Doesn't that make Jesus 200%? Not quite...

Here is what our website says about what it means to say "We believe in Jesus..."*

Jesus is...

Son of God
We believe in Jesus as God's special child. We call this the Incarnation, meaning that God was in the world in the actual person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel writers explain this in different ways. In Mark, Jesus seems to be adopted as God's Son at his baptism. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit. In John, Jesus is God's pre-existing Word who "became flesh and lived among us" (1:14). However this mystery occurred, we affirm that God is wholly present in Jesus Christ.

Son of man
Paradoxically, we also believe that Jesus was fully human. One of the church's first heresies claimed that Jesus only seemed to be human, that he was really a divine figure in disguise. But the early church rejected this. It affirmed that Jesus was a person in every sense that we are. He was tempted. He grew weary. He wept. He expressed his anger. In fact, Jesus is God's picture of what it means to be a mature human being.

We say "Jesus Christ" easily, almost as if "Christ" were Jesus' surname. Yet this name is another way of expressing who we believe Jesus to be. Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means God's Anointed One. For years before Jesus' time the Jews had been expecting a new king, a descendant of the revered King David, who would restore the nation of Israel to glory. Like kings of old, this one would be anointed on the head with oil, signifying God's election; hence, the Chosen One = the Anointed One = the Messiah = the Christ. The early Jewish Christians proclaimed that Jesus was, indeed, this Chosen One. Thus, in calling him our Christ today, we affirm that he was and is the fulfillment of the ancient hope and God's Chosen One to bring salvation to all peoples, for all time.

We also proclaim Jesus as our Lord, the one to whom we give our devoted allegiance. The word Lord had a more powerful meaning for people of medieval times, because they actually lived under the authority of lords and monarchs. Today some of us may find it difficult to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives. We're used to being independent and self-sufficient. We have not bowed down to authority. To claim Jesus as Lord is to freely submit our will to his, to humbly profess that it is he who is in charge of this world.

Perhaps best of all, we believe in Jesus as Savior, as the one through whom God has freed us of our sin and has given us the gift of whole life, eternal life, and salvation. We speak of this gift as the atonement, our "at-oneness" or reconciliation with God. We believe that in ways we cannot fully explain, God has done this through the mystery of Jesus' self-giving sacrifice on the cross and his victory over sin and death in the Resurrection.

As you consider who Jesus is, I hope that this helps. Still, words may fall short...if you have a relationship with Jesus, you have known Jesus to be a part of your life, even though you might not be able to put it into words (Jesus' nature is a mystery, after all). Trust your heart, your experience, and your relationship with Jesus, as you ponder what it means to believe in him.


O Word of God incarnate,
O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth unchanged, unchanging,
O Light of our dark sky:
we praise you for the radiance
that from the hallowed page,
a lantern to our footsteps,
shines on from age to age.


**"O Word of God Incarnate," United Methodist Hymnal, 598.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

We Believe in God

Continuing with the theme of "What we Say and Do," for the next 6 weeks we will take a closer look at the Apostles' Creed. Some of you remember growing up and memorizing this creed, others not so much (me...). My first time really spending any significant time with it was in seminary in my History of Christian Thought course. Whatever the case may be, it is worth taking a more in-depth look at. In these words, we declare our faith and trust in God:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic (universal) church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

When we are saying this together, whether in our local contexts, or broadly as the body of Christ, this becomes a "we believe..." statement. And we join Christians across the globe who claim this creed to be a fundamental statement of faith and history.

The next 6 weeks, the messages will be organized the following way in this "We Believe" series:

In God
In Jesus
In the Holy Spirit
In the Church---The Communion of Saints
In the Forgiveness of Sins
In the Resurrection and Life Everlasting

The Apostles’ Creed is a framework for Christian belief. The creed is not a checklist of things that one has to agree with in order to be a Christian. Rather, it is the place where we begin our conversation about what we believe God has done in Jesus Christ and explore what that means for the church and us as disciples in our own day and time.

As we begin this time together, I want to invite you to think and pray about (maybe even journal, if that is something you do) who God is to you. This week, we will use Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 85, and
1 John 4:7-13 to guide us as we think about "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth." I invite you to consider these texts this week and ponder the question "who is God to you?"

I think of God sometimes as a Father or Mother, provider, sustainer, forgiver, redeemer, a shoulder to cry on and the One who is always with me...Who is God to you?

I hope to see you Sunday!


Holy God,
you have given us grace,
  by the confession of faith of your holy church
  to acknowledge the mystery of the eternal Trinity
  and, in the power of your divine majesty, to worship the Unity
Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship,
  and bring us at last to see in your eternal glory
    One God, now and forever. Amen

*United Methodist Hymnal, 76.

In Christ,


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Lord's Prayer: The Kingdom, The Power, and the Glory


For the last 5 weeks, we have studied, learned from, and have been transformed by taking a deep look into the Lord's Prayer. We have pondered what these words mean, and what they can mean, for our lives and the world around us. This week, we conclude with the final piece of the prayer: "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen."

These words serve as the "doxology" of the prayer, meaning it is a way to wrap it up as a liturgical piece in a place of worship. It is not original, meaning, Jesus did not actually teach the original audience to say these words. Rather, it is used for the purpose of corporate worship, and also personal prayer/devotion. The first known use of the doxology, in a less lengthy form ("for yours is the power and the glory forever"), as a conclusion for the Lord's Prayer is in the Didache, which is a brief early Christian text (1st century) that includes Christian ethics, rituals such as baptism and Eucharist, and Church organization.

A doxology can be any expression of praise to God. “Doxa” in Greek is “honor” or “glory.” “Logy” is from “logos” meaning “word.” So a doxology is a word of honor or glory.The doxology is a way of saying "I really meant what I just prayed." It is an extended "Amen." And it also brings the prayer full circle: it begins with "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name" and ends with this similar tone of honor and glory given to God.

This Sunday, we will be singing this hymn:

"God of Love and God of Power"

United Methodist Hymnal #578

God of love and God of power,
grant us in this burning hour
grace to ask these gifts of thee,
daring hearts and spirits free.

God of love and God of power,
thou hast called us for this hour.

We are not the first to be
banished by our fears from thee;
give us courage, let us hear
heaven's trumpets ringing clear.

All our lives belong to thee,
thou our final loyalty;
slaves are we whene'er we share
that devotion anywhere.

God of love and God of power,
make us worthy of this hour;
offering lives if it's thy will,
keeping free our spirits still.

This hymn will be sung at the beginning of worship. It is a prayer in and of itself. There are many similarities to the Lord's prayer in this hymn as well--can you find them? Ultimately, this hymn gives God glory and honor, and asks God for healing and guidance in our lives. I look forward to singing it with you.


Teach us, good Lord
to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not count the cost;
to fight and not heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labor and not to ask for any reward,
except that of knowing that we do your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

*Prayer of Ignatius of Loyola, United Methodist Hymnal, 570

In Christ,


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Lord's Prayer: Save Us

One of my favorite movies is "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" And one of my favorite scenes is when Delmar is baptized. This is a movie "about three stumble-bum convicts who escape to go on a quest for treasure and who meet various characters while learning where their real fortune lies in the 1930s Deep South." One of the "real fortunes" is salvation through baptism for Delmar.

Here is a bit of the dialogue around the event (excuse the language):

Everett: Where the hell's he goin'?
[Delmar runs out to be baptized]
Pete: Well I'll be a sonofabitch. Delmar's been saved.
Delmar: Well that's it, boys. I've been redeemed. The preacher's done warshed away all my sins and transmissions. It's the straight and narrow from here on out, and heaven everlasting's my reward.
Everett: Delmar, what are you talking about? We've got bigger fish to fry.
Delmar: The preacher says all my sins is warshed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.
Everett: I thought you said you was innocent of those charges?
Delmar: Well I was lyin'. And the preacher says that that sin's been warshed away too. Neither God nor man's got nothin' on me now. C'mon in boys, the water is fine.

Delmar fully acknowledged that God saved ("warshed him clean") him from his sins. This is what we are asking God to do for us when we pray this portion of the Lord's Prayer. We are telling God "I am sinner, can you help me be clean?"

We pray for God to save us, because only God can. We turn to many things besides God to "save us" from our sins...whether it is entertainment, competition, even our own religious practices and spirituality. There's nothing wrong with these things, of course, but this prayer asks us to do something else: to turn to God for forgiveness and for salvation.


Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River
Jordan did proclaim him the beloved Son and anoint him
with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his
Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly
confess him as Lord and Savior; who with thee and the same
Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.

*Book of Common Prayer, Collects, Traditional 162

In Christ,

Jack Ladd

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Lord's Prayer: Forgive Us as We Forgive


This is one of the greatest things God ever does for us. How beautiful forgiveness is from God...though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool (Isaiah 1: 18, NRSV). Forgiveness is life-giving, liberating, and graceful. And the thing about grace, is that it has nothing to do about us (except that we receive it), and everything about whoever is giving it (earning forgiveness is a myth)

Forgiveness is defined as:

To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.
To renounce anger or resentment against.
To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).

More strictly, to forgive “is to grant pardon without harboring resentment.”

Why Forgive? Because forgiveness transforms! People consistently become more loving, friendly and compassionate after deep forgiveness. Emotional pain is released. Depression departs. And, healing can even occur in the body. Joy returns. Laughter is found again.

Why forgiveness transforms the mind’s functioning is open to speculation, yet we do have the easily observable fact that it does. We can observe that when the bitterness, grudges, and resentments of the past are let go of, life energy becomes much more available to that person. How much life energy depends on how much energy has been put into holding resentments and bitterness?

People who say they have done complete forgiveness of all the people and situations in their life, live a life with much joy in it. They get sick much less often and people are more friendly to them than before their forgiveness transformation. Some say they don’t get sick anymore as long as they hold no upsets with people. This, though, is not an easy state of mind to attain. But, the pay off is great.

Some have deeply religious experiences after their forgiveness and reconciliation experience and say they have a deeper understanding of life and love. Their relationships with people, in general, get better, and their friendships deepen. They are less stressed and angered by daily personal and world events. They find it easier to get over upsets. Forgiveness has tremendous potential, but it must be used.

We have some major myths and lies about forgiveness, which may get in the way of actually doing it, which is another big problem I think we have. When we forgive, we are un-burdening ourselves, we are lifting a weight off of our shoulders. Holding on to grudges is not healthy for us, and it is letting something someone else did to you control your life. Here are some myths about forgiveness:

Forgiveness is not the condoning of a bad behavior or the justifying of an offense.

It is not dependent on apology, or whether the person will ever be talked to again.

Forgiveness does not imply turning the other cheek to allow the offense to occur again.

It does not demand reconciliation. Reconciliation, which is the coming together again of two upset parties, is not necessarily the outcome of forgiving. A person can forgive and choose to never see the person again to protect themselves from abusive behavior. However, for effective reconciliation to occur, forgiveness of the offense or offenses must have occurred.

It is not dependent on the person being alive or ever seeing them again.

Forgiving is not losing. Losing is having to deal with the stress of anger and hate in your body that ruins relationships, and can even cause physical problems. What kind of winning is that?

Forgiving is not the easy way out. It takes more courage, authenticity and integrity to let go of a justified upset and find peace. It takes courage to go through the wall of anger and resentment to the other side, the side of our highest possibility as a being.

The offenders apology is not necessary. In fact, they might not ever apologize because they have a different perspective of what happened.

Whether the person deserves forgiveness is not the question, they might not. Though forgiveness can be an act of compassion for another, it can also be mainly for the forgiver so that they are no longer burdened by hate and anger.

Even though they keep doing the offense, forgiveness can still occur, because forgiveness wipes away the effect of the past even if it was only 15 minutes before.

Out of sight out of mind or forgetting about it might not always be forgiveness but can be denial of the effect of the offending act. Forgiveness acknowledges what was done and chooses to let it go, but not through avoiding its impact on us. Avoiding just keeps the negative effects occurring below the surface of the mind.

These myths and misunderstandings about forgiving keep it from being done.

Jesus encourages us, by gifting us the words of the Lord's prayer, to pray for forgiveness as we forgive.  As we forgive others, we are set free. I believe that being forgiven prompts us to forgive others. Sometimes we are unable to forgive someone for what they have done, because we have done something similar, and we can't forgive ourselves for it! Jesus tells us that we are forgiven, so that we can forgive others. If God can forgive us, we can forgive others. Think of the possibilities forgiveness allows! Initially, forgiveness allows us to be set free from anger, hate, and resentment, which could lead to less stress and better personal health---healing. It may also help us to forgive ourselves for what we have done. At best, forgiveness can help to restore relationships through the process of reconciliation (although we have learned this is not always the case).

Forgive us, Lord, as we forgive.


'Forgive our sins as we forgive,'
you taught us, Lord, to pray,
but you alone can grant us grace
to live the words we say.
How can your pardon reach and bless
the unforgiving heart,
that broods on wrongs and will not let
old bitterness depart?
In blazing light your cross reveals
the truth we dimly knew:
what trivial debts are owed to us,
how great our debt to you!
Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls,
and bid resentment cease;
then, bound to all in bonds of love,
our lives will spread your peace.


In Christ,


*Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive, United Methodist Hymnal, 390.

I learned the majority of what I expressed on this post from Jim Dincalci of The Forgiveness Foundation. Their website is and his book is "How To Forgive When You Can’t"