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