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Friday, December 25

Today, I start a much needed week's vacation. I will be taking some time away from my blog for a time of rest and renewal. I will use this time to think about potential changes I might make to my blog in the coming year. I wish you and yours a wonderful end to the year and a blessed start to your new year. I hope you'll check back on January 4th and see where this blog might take us. Til next time...

Thursday, December 24

Today’s Readings: Micah 6:6-8; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:46b-55

On this day before Christmas, it’s a great opportunity to stop and reflect what the coming of this Jesus means for all of us.

As I do that, I realize that I get a little nervous around this time each year because some folks use the holiday as a means of asserting their desire to be more aggressive in putting their faith out there. You hear, for instance, folks who are disturbed by the commercialization of the holiday saying it’s time to put the “Christ” back in Christmas. Others wage a personal campaign to get rid of interfaith-friendly public greetings like “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” with “Merry Christmas”.

I’m never sure exactly what these folks are trying to accomplish. I guess they are longing for the good old days when folks who identified as Christian didn’t have to worry about acknowledging the existence of people of other faiths/no faith.

Whenever I hear folks go off on those topics, a part of me becomes sad and wonders, “Why aren’t people worried about living out the values that Jesus stood for rather than focusing on words?”

And what sort of values did Jesus stand for?

Well, today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is one of the most succinct statements of those values: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8 from The Message).

Imagine how different the word would be if people took the energy they used to demand that City Hall put up a nativity scene and instead used that energy into acting justly. Imagine what might happen if people stopped insisting retail clerks say “Merry Christmas” and instead insisted on acting mercifully with each other. Imagine how it would feel if people stopped insisting that Christmas carols be sung at public school concerts and started walking humbly with their God. It just might usher in the dawn of a new area when people paid less attention to talking ABOUT Jesus and more attention to acting LIKE Jesus.

As we head into our Christmas celebration, may we focus on doing what Jesus did: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Til next time…

Wednesday, December 23

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 42:14-21; Luke 1:5-25; Psalm 113

I find an interesting theological tension lying buried within one of the verses in today’s reading from Isaiah. Let me take a moment and see if I can tease it out for you.

In the first portion of verse 16, the prophet quotes God as saying: “I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way, who can’t see where they’re going. I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take, make sure they don’t fall into the ditch” (Isaiah 42:16 from The Message). This portion of verse 16 makes it sound as if God is a puppeteer – driving the events of one’s life as they unfold. That is the approach many have taken for years in terms of conceptualizing God’s role in one’s life.

The second theological approach is a bit more subtle. It lies within the culminating words of the same verse – verse 16. In that portion, God is quoted as suggesting: “There as the things I’ll be doing for them – sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute” (Isaiah 42: 16 from The Message). There words stress a different way of understanding God’s role in one’s life – a way that stresses God’s presence over God’s control.

My life experiences have pushed me in the direction of the second theological perspective. I believe in a God that limits Godself by gifting us human beings with free will – while being with us/within us at every step of our journey.

So where do you come down on this theological perspective? Are you inclined to relate to God as puppeteer, are you drawn to God as an imminent presence within our lives, or some other understanding?

Til next time…

Tuesday, December 22

Today’s Readings: Luke 1:46b-55; Micah 4:1-5; Ephesians 2:11-22

I was talking with a friend recently about a situation half-way around the globe where armed conflict was taking place. The conversation centered on the possibility that American troops would become involved.

My friend suggested that such involvement would be necessary if we wanted to bring peace to the region. The comment raised a larger issue for me: what exactly is peace? Is peace simply the absence of armed conflict; or could it be something more?

The more I thought about that question, the more I realized peace is so much more than the absence of military conflict. True peace has its roots in justice. That’s something that most folks don’t like to think about. It’s much easier, for instance, for the United States to intervene in situations and stop the fighting than it is for us to first evaluate the circumstance and then systematically work to address the systemic issues that are fueling the violence (i.e. the unequal distribution of wealth, etc.).

I think Micah understood the importance of justice as a precursor for peace.

And why do I think that?

Because when the author begins to talk about God’s vision for the world, he begins by addressing the issue of injustice (i.e. “God will establish justice in the rabble of nations and settle disputes in far away places” (Micah 4:3 from The Message). Only then does he move on to the discussion of peace: “They’ll trade in their swords for shovels, their spears for rakes and hoes” (Micah 4:3 from The Message).

So what’s your perception about the role of peace? Are you trying to experience a sense of peace without addressing the issues injustice or inequity in your life? If that’s the case, you might want to re-think your approach. Til next time…

Monday, December 21

Today’s Readings: Genesis 25:19-28; Colossians 1:15-20; Palm 113

I have to say I was encouraged by the developments that occurred in Copenhagen last week. While the accords are certainly not perfect, I am a huge believer that most significant change does not happen overnight; it takes time. It’s the waiting that is often the hard part for us human beings. In the case of the planet, I pray that it has the ability to be patient with us as well.

So why would I start a blog entry devoted to spiritual matters with comments about what some would perceive of as purely the political event known as the UN Climate summit in Copenhagen? Because I believe the attitudes we hold about the care of the planet reflect our spiritual commitments to a HUGE degree.

Today’s passage for Colossians, for instance, gives me reason to think this way. “We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created,” the author stated in Colossians 1:16 from The Message). The author went on to add: “Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe –people and things, animals and atoms-get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies…” (Colossians 1:20 from The Message).

I love the notion that being reconciled to God is about more than human beings living in right relation with one another and God. I LOVE the idea that reconciliation implies human beings are called to live in right relation with ALL aspects of God’s creation. This for me is not a political concept; it is a deeply spiritual concept.

So what about you? How do you view humanity’s relationship with the created world? Are you concerned about the well-being of the planet simply out of self-interest (i.e. we human beings need a healthy planet in order to survive); or do your concerns for the planet reflect a larger spiritual dimension? Til next time…

Saturday, December 19

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 66:7-11; Luke 13:31-35; Psalm 80:1-7

Today’s Gospel passage from Luke uses wonderful imagery to speak of God’s desire. “How often I’ve longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, her brood safe under her wings…” (Luke 13:34 from The Message).

That imagery is especially poignant imagery for me today as I am especially feeling the pain of separation from my biological family. I often joke that one of the greatest challenges I faced in responding to my call to parish ministry was giving up the opportunity to watch my beloved Houston Texans compete on Sunday mornings. That sacrifice is truly nothing when compared to a bigger challenge: the challenge of being separated from my own family each and every year for the Christmas holiday. This year marks the 10th consecutive year that I will have been separated from my family at Christmas.


The irony is that a big portion of my call lies in helping enrich other families’ experience of the holiday.


So how do I and those of other clergy persons do this year after year? Well, in addition to burning up the telephone wires and sending lots of email, we draw strength from the images of our faith. Our faith communities become tangible expressions of God’s larger family for us. We also center ourselves in the beauty and power of images such as those found in today’s passage from Luke.

Today, if you are fortunate enough to be able to spend time with your family – take a moment and give thanks for this tremendous blessing. If you are not able to be with your family, find time to spiritually snuggle up under “the wing of God” with the other members of God’s brood.

Til next time…

Friday, December 18

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 42:10-18; Hebrews 10:32-39; Psalm 80:1-7

The past 14 months have been incredibly challenging months for many of us in the United States. We have seen economic challenges greater than any modern time since the Great Depression. Many of us have lost our jobs, our homes, and our pensions. In fact, the times have been so hard that some would say it would be impossible to find any silver linings amongst the clouds. Leave it to an eternal optimist like myself, however, to do just that.

So what’s the silver lining?

I can’t speak for others, but for me the economic collapse of our country helped me re-discover what is most important in my life. I no longer had the luxury of treating “wants” as “needs”. I had to carefully examine my life and develop a discerning spirit that helped me see the difference between my “wants” and my “needs”. That was a powerfully important learning for me from the experience.

I’d like to think my insight was clever – but truth be told it’s been around for at least two millennia.

And how do I know that?

Well, the author of today’s passage from Hebrews made a similar point. “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property,” the author wrote, “because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Hebrew 10:34 from The New International Version). Those hardships faced by his audience are exactly the sort of thing that helped them gain a sense of perspective as well.

If you are wrestling with a challenging situation, I would invite you to think about the possibility that there might – I repeat MIGHT – be at least one valuable learning buried within that hardship. If you have the courage to search for it, you too might get a new sense of perspective about the things that matter most.

Til next time…

Thursday, December 17

Today’s Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:10-18; Psalm 80:1-7

I remember my second real job like it was yesterday. I was hired to work in the kitchen at the local pizzeria after my junior year of high school.

Those of you who know me well should be incredibly amused by the idea that I was paid by someone to work in the kitchen of a restaurant. Given my lack of cooking ability it would seem more logical that someone would have paid me to stay out of the kitchen! But I digress.

Once I finally started, I made a point of keeping the cheat sheet that included the list of ingredients for each of the pizzas with me every second I worked. I was terrified that I would leave something out. Needless to say, my first several weeks on the job weren’t a lot of fun because everything was so forced.

I would look at how quickly and naturally my co-workers (who had been on the job for months) made their pizzas and feel incredibly inadequate. Over time, however, I got the hang of things and internalized the menu. By the end of the summer you could say I knew my around a kitchen pretty well.

In today’s passage from Jeremiah, the author notes the Israelites were a lot like me in the kitchen those first few weeks on the job – they felt it necessary to “set up schools to teach each other about God” (Jeremiah 31:34 from The Message). God envisioned a different way of being for them, however; a way whereby they could set aside the equivalent of their cheat sheets and find their way to God through their hearts: a time when they could rest easy in their relationship with God because they knew God “firsthand”.

So how would you characterize the dynamic of your relationship with God? Are you in a place where the relationship feels comfortable and easy, or are you in a place where it feels a bit forced? The good news is that – much like my experience in the kitchen of the restaurant that summer – the more you hang out together the more natural the relationship will feel.

Til next time…

Wednesday, December 16

Today’s Readings: Micah 4:8-13; Luke 7:31-35; Isaiah 11:1-19

Like many folks, I can be an incredibly fickle person. Let me give you an example of what I mean. When I lived in Denver, I had a few “complaints” about the housing situation in which I found myself. First, I thought the place was a little too big - it had 2,200 square feet, and I felt it was a little much for just two people with 2 dogs to live. Second, the physical arrangement of the place was awkward. It was a split level and – because it didn’t have stairs from the upstairs leading down to the backyard – we spent most of our time with the dogs trapped downstairs so we could let them in and out when necessary. Third, the house was almost entirely carpeted so we spent a great deal of time vacuuming. At times I felt as if we needed a riding vacuum cleaner.

Fast forward to our new home in Los Angeles. We found a place that isn’t as large (986 square feet to be exact) – and what do I do? Complain it is too small. We found a home with one level – and what do I do? Complain that Mike and I are always in each other’s space. We found a place that has no carpeting and what do I do? Complain about how we always have to sweep the hardwood floors and mop the time. There is truly no satisfying me!

Jesus picked up on this very human tendency to be dissatisfied in today’s Gospel reading when he wrote: “John the Baptizer came fasting and you called him crazy. The Son of Man came feasting and you called him a lush” (Luke 7:33-34 from The Message).

So where are those areas in your life where you are prone to being fickle? As you sit with that question and perhaps find an area where you are especially fickle, see if you can find a way to look at that area with new eyes that can help you appreciate it a bit more. Til next time…

Tuesday, December 15

Today’s Readings: Numbers 16:20-35; Acts 28:23-31; Isaiah 11:1-9

As I look back on my spiritual journey, I find it interesting that for many years I participated fully in the life of the church and yet didn’t have much of a spiritual life. I went to worship, heard hundreds of sermons, participated in the social activities in the church, and helped with the mission projects. I enjoyed each of the experiences for the most part, but I never experienced first hand a sense of spiritual awakening – that is until I was in my late twenties.

So what dramatic thing happened that helped deepen my experience?

That question isn’t so easy to answer. On the outside, very little changed. I continued attending the same church, I continued holding the same job, I continued to be surrounded by friends and family – all of those external things stayed exactly the same. On the inside, however, everything changed. I began to honestly face my limitations and sense of brokenness. Once I did that, my spiritual life took off!

In many ways, for the first 26 years of my life I was like those whom the prophet Isaiah addressed when he noted: “You’re going to listen with your ears, but you won’t hear a word; you’re going to stare with your eyes, but you won’t see a thing!” (Acts 28:25 from The Message). Thankfully, life eventually found a way to slow me down and help me hear and see.

From my own experience, I have gained a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for ministry. I figure if God can reach someone who is as stubborn and strong-willed as I, then God can reach anyone! The challenge for me in my ministry is to hang in there and be patient with others as they move along in their process.

So what was your transition from listening to hearing – from staring to seeing like? Did the transition happen slowing, or quickly? Was it painful, electrifying, or some combination of the two? Today I would encourage you to take time and think back on your own transition. Those memories might increase your patience with those in your life who aren’t yet ready to hear and see. Til next time…

Monday, December 14

Today’s Readings: Numbers 16:1-19; Hebrews 13:7-17; Isaiah 11:1-9

The decision President Obama announced recently to dramatically increase the presence of US troops in Afghanistan has presented me with quite a challenge. On one hand, a part of me feels compelled to support a leader who has taken courage steps to address issues like the economic recovery of the country, global climate change, and health insurance reform. On the other hand, as a strong proponent of peace who strongly agrees with Albert Einstein’s statement that “You cannot prevent and prepare for war at the same time” - I feel compelled to question the decision to escalate our military presence.

So how do I reconcile these competing commitments?

Well, as of right now I’m doing two things. First, in response to those who would suggest peace is not a practical pursuit, I’m holding on tightly to the vision lifted up in today’s passage from Isaiah: “the wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid; calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them” (Isaiah 11:6 from The Message). That vision may not be practical by earthly standards – but it’s one I hold near and dear to my heart. Second, I’m working extremely hard to stay focused on what I’m FOR (i.e. “peace”) and not what I’m AGAINST (i.e. a particular policy). My hope is by focusing on the positive and not the negative that I’ll be able to embody the principles of peace – even when I’m in dialogue with those I disagree. After all, what would I gain if I – an advocate for peace – resorted to the use of verbal and/or spiritual violence against those with whom I disagree? In other words, I’m trying first and foremost to practice the values I would espouse for others.

So how does the radical vision lifted up for us in today’s passage from Isaiah inform your way of being in the world? Do you see the vision as naive rhetoric, or is it a vision you feel compelled to grow into? Til next time…

Sunday, December 13

Today’s Reading: Luke 3:7-18

Like many folks, I had mixed feelings during my senior year of high school. There were pieces of me that was so ready to move on to the next stage of my life. I felt as if I had gotten about as much as I could out of high school and was ready for new challenges. I also was growing increasingly bored living in the small town (population 1,500) in which I lived. Those were the parts of me that were excited about the upcoming change.

There was another part of me, however, that was completely terrified. I had been born and raised in the town in which I lived – and most everyone I knew lived there. “Would I be able to make new friends?” I wondered. I was also moving across state to a new city whose population was close to 200,000 people. “How would I adapt to life in the ‘big city’?” I ask myself. I was so torn between competing emotions.

In many ways, this is the sentiment that John the Baptizer captured in today’s passage from Luke. In the passage, John talked about how Jesus will come and “make a clean sweep of your lives.” Change? Yikes! This same Jesus will “place everything true in its proper place before God – everything false he’ll put out with the trash”.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy language here.

Thankfully, the author of Luther didn’t leave us there with a one-sided sense of the new experiences Jesus would bring. He added that John “gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them.” (excerpts from Luke 3:16-18 from The Message).

As you move closer to the opportunity to once again affirm the coming of the Christ-child into your life, I imagine it stirs mixed feelings as well. Feelings of excitement for the change and transformation it will herald; feelings of fear as you anticipate what it might mean to surrender some of your sense of control. If that’s where you are today, I would offer these words. As I look back now on my transition from high school to college, I know this: while the transition might not have always been easy, it was absolutely worth it! May the same be true for you as well. Til next time…

Saturday, December 12

Today’s Readings: Amos 9:8-15; Luke 1:57-66; Isaiah 12:2-6

I learned an important lesson about control in one of my first leadership positions several years ago. The non-profit organization for which I was working decided to create small social groups to help individuals within the community connect with one another. One of my co-workers was designated to put the small groups together.

The individual who was assigned the task did not like children. So as he assembled the small groups, he decided to put all the members of the community with small children into the same group. The move was intended to punish the parents of the small children for insisting on bringing the children along. When I first heard of his plans, I thought it was awfully selfish for this individual to inflict his dislike of children onto the people of the community. I wasn’t sure how to confront him about this, however.

While I was mulling over the situation, the first small group (the one that consisted of the parents with small children) met. The next day I heard back from several individuals within the small group. “I don’t know who organized the small groups,” one of the parents said, “but I want to thank whoever it was. It was so thoughtful for them to put all the families with small children together so we could build a sense of community!”

I had spent so many hours worry about how I was going to “fix” the situation. I never once considered letting go of my control issues and trusting that things could work out.

In today’s reading from Amos, we hear words intended to remind the Israelites that they weren’t in control of the process of fixing things: someone else was. “In that day,” the prophet pointed out, “[God] will restore David’s fallen tent. [God] will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be…” (Amos 9:11 from The New International Version).

I wonder if there might be at least one area of your life that seems to be completely out of control: an area that you’ve long been wondering how you are going to make everything all right. If so, I would encourage you to entertain the humbling notion that perhaps you might not be able to fix everything yourself. Once you do that, you’ll create room for God to help repair those broken places, restore your ruins, and re-build things as they used to be. Til next time…

Friday, December 11

Today’s Readings: Amos 8:4-12; 2 Corinthians 9:1-15; Isaiah 12:2-6

One of the people that taught me a great deal about giving was a woman named Gretchen who belonged to one of the churches where I served as a student pastor during my seminary days.

Gretchen was a woman in her 50s who had a wonderfully loving and open spirit. She had been born with Downs Syndrome, and had had remarkable parents who encouraged her to develop her talents to the fullest. Consequently, Gretchen had spent years writing poetry and painting.

There was only one thing that Gretchen loved more than writing poetry and painting. That thing was sharing her poetry and paintings with others. Whenever she had the opportunity to share with others, Gretchen got the biggest smile on her face. Not once did she ever worry about whether or not her poetry or her art was good enough. She simply knew that she was sharing the things that mattered most. That brought her a great deal of joy.

While I wish I could say that it was easy for me to give of myself with that same sense of joy, often I get very self-conscious when it comes to my own giving. I sometimes worry about if what I am giving to God and to others is good enough. Consequently, I often cheat myself out of the opportunity to give from a place of joy.

Thankfully, I have individuals like Gretchen in my life – and passages like today’s from 2 Corinthians – to get me back on track. In today’s passage from 2 Corinthians, for instance, Paul wrote: “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 from The Message). So how would you characterize the place from which you give? Do you give from a place of inhabitation, obligation, or duty; or do you give from someplace else – a place of delight like Gretchen? Til next time…

Thursday, December 10

Today’s Readings: Amos 6:1-8; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Isaiah 12:2-6

I was talking with a retired clergy friend of mine a few weeks ago when he asked me what it was like to do ministry these days.

“What do you mean,” I asked – not sure of what he was getting at.

“Well, we are living in some of the most challenging economic times our country has faced since the Great Depression. Don’t you feel overwhelmed by the challenge of maintaining a church in the face of this?!”

His question stopped me dead in my tracks because I had truthfully not slowed down and thought about great the challenges we are facing these days was.

“And why not?” my colleague asked.

“Because I haven’t experienced a sense of overwhelming negativity within the churches I have served. In fact, I’ve been impressed by the can-do spirit I’ve seen alive and well in these churches in spite of these hardships.”

Those words might have sounded a bit corny to my friend, but they make perfect sense when held up in light of today’s reading from 2 Corinthians. In that passage Paul noted: “Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected,” Paul observed. “An outpouring of pure and generous gifts” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3 from The Message).

Those words reminded me of a powerful truth that periods of hardship can reveal when experienced communally: that truth is “we are all in it together”. That truth can produce an amazing strength within a community and help members of the community reach down deep and tap into an abundance of blessings it never realized it had before. It can inspire folks to find creative new ways to contribute to the life of the community. Most importantly, it allows members of the community to re-examine their lives and see what things are essential and must be held on to - and what things are extraneous and can be let go of. In other words, hard times can help us develop clarity about our identity and purpose in the world.

Perhaps you have been facing a period of hardship in your life. Maybe its relational, maybe it’s financial, or maybe it’s spiritual. Whatever the case, I would invite you to find some time today and reflect on what insights this hardship has produced for you. Those insights may not entirely make up for the pain of the losses you might have experienced– but those insights can help you connect with a spirit of abundance that you might have lost touch with: a spirit that will help sustain you through the remaining challenges that may lie ahead. Til next time…

Wednesday, December 9

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 35:3-7; Luke 7:18-30; Psalm 126

During my seven and a half year ministry at my previous parish, I made a practice of visiting an amazing woman named Dolores every 3 weeks or so. Dolores was a wonderful woman who had a rich personal history. She was an African-American woman in her 80’s who was the third generation of college educated women in her family. Her grandmother had been among the first group of African-American women admitted into college in the part of the country where they lived. Dolores herself had had a wonderful career as an educator and had found time to raise two talented children.

Once Dolores entered the nursing home where she lived, however, the way Dolores was perceived by others changed greatly. Those who had called her a friend suddenly dropped out of Dolores’ life simply because they were uncomfortable visiting her in the nursing home. Over time, her sense of social isolation grew; as a result she began to question her worth.

Of course Dolores wasn’t alone in wondering this. Many folks in our society come to a similar place where they wonder if they have anything left to give. They feel as if their life has become barren.

Thankfully, the sacred readings of our tradition provide us with wonderful words of encouragement like those from today’s passage from Isaiah to keep us going at times we may feel like this. “Energize the limp hand,” the passage begins, “strengthen the rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, ‘Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here…Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, streams will flow in the desert” (Isaiah 35:3 & 6 from The Message).

If you are in a place where you are battling feelings of low self-esteem and wondering if your best days are behind you, grab hold of these words and hold on tight. These words can remind you there is so much more for you to give. The springs of water are waiting to break forth from what might feel like the wilderness of your life. Til next time…

Tuesday, December 8

Today’s Readings: Psalm 126; Isaiah 19:18-25; 2 Peter 1:2-15

Back in 1995, I started working in the local health department doing HIV prevention. I worked in an innovative peer education program that was designed to do three things: (1) identify community opinion leaders; (2) give those community opinion leaders information about how to eliminate and/or reduce incidents of risky behavior; and (3) send those community opinion leaders out into their community to engage in conversations with their peers.

I served as an educator in the program for two years. During this time, I learned an important lesson about human beings. Increased knowledge – at least the way it is traditionally defined – does not always lead to changed behavior.

Because of that experience, I have taken a different approach about how I view education. I’m less worried about the degrees a person possesses or the number of books that a person has read, and more concerned about how a person leads his or her life. That’s how I gauge how learned a person is.

The author of today’s passage from 2 Peter plays around with this notion when he talks about the qualities to which a person of faith should aspire. After talking about a laundry list of qualities to which a person of faith should aspire, the author concluded: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8 from the New International Version). The notion here is that if you possess those qualities – qualities such as goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love – they will make your faith two things: effective and productive.

So where are you at with all this? Do you prefer to think about faith simply in the abstract; or are you comfortable with the notion that your faith should take concrete form as well? Til next time…

Monday, December 7

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11; Romans 8:22-25; Psalm 126

[After a few months exploring another denomination’s daily reading schedule, I have decided to return to the daily lectionary reading plan offered by the United Church of Christ.]

A few months into my first pastorate, I met with a trusted colleague of mine to process how things were going. While things were going well for the most part, there were a couple of things that were causing me some pain and frustration – so I spent a good deal of time exploring those areas.

At several points in the conversation I asked my mentor what I could do to make the pain go away. My mentor said, “Craig, you need to realize that not all pain is bad. Some pain is necessary if you are ever going to let go of the old and embrace the new.”

I didn’t appreciate my mentor’s words at the time; later, however, I realized my mentor was right. I had failed to appreciate that the pain involved was actually a positive thing – because it meant that we (the congregation and myself) were finally letting go of unhealthy ways of being. And any time we let go of something familiar - even if that something is incredibly destructive - it’s always uncomfortable.

I was reminded of that conversation by today’s reading from Romans; in that passage, Paul wrote: “The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs” (Romans 8:22-23 from The Message).

Perhaps there is an area in your life where you are experiencing pain. Before you try to simply eliminate the pain, ask yourself a crucial question: “Is the pain I am feeling a natural part of the process of letting go of unhealthy ways of being and embracing a healthy new way of being; or is it simply an unhealthy, destructive pain?” If you find that the pain is the kind associated with birthing a new life-giving way of being, perhaps it will make living through the pain a little easier. Til next time…

Sunday, December 6

Today’s Readings: Luke 3:1-6

In my article for the church’s monthly newsletter FOCUS, I talked about the various ways we prepare for the arrival of Christmas. I talked about our tendency to focus the bulk of our energy on things that are not necessarily spiritual. For example, we can spend the bulk of our time decorating our homes for parties, baking goods for social gatherings, and shopping for presents – all the while neglecting our spiritual lives. My invitation was for individuals to devote more time and energy getting spiritually ready for the arrival of the Christ-child. I even made a few suggestions for how they might do that.

Most of my suggestions involved activities individuals could “do” in order to get ready. In reflecting on the article, however, I realized I made an important mistake: I forgot to encourage folks to create times of silence in their lives that can be used for times of prayer and meditation. This is some of the most important work we can do in terms of preparing our hearts for the arrival of that Christ-child.

During our worship experience this morning, we are blessed to have a professional artist from within our community use a piece of her artwork to invite us into this quiet, contemplative place. I’m anxious to see how folks respond to this heartfelt invitation from the artist.

Today, I would encourage you to think about doing the same thing in your spiritual life – increase your times of silence in the days leading up to Christmas. May this time of silence slow you down and create room in your life for that still small voice that is encouraging you on your Advent journey toward that humble manger in Bethlehem. Til next time…

Saturday, December 5

Today’s Readings: Psalms 90; Amos 5:18-27; Matthew 22:15-22; Jude 17-25

Some folks probably wonder why it is that I feel so compelled to speak as truthfully as possible at most times and name the so-called “elephants in the room”. If they were to ask me that question to my face, I would say, “It’s because there is a long established tradition of such an approach in our faith that encourages me to do so.”

If you look back to the times of the prophets, for instance, they made a point of speaking God’s truth as it had been revealed to them. Today’s passage from Amos is a great example of this. In this passage the prophet points out a painful reality about how their spiritual lives have degenerated to the point where even their rituals and traditions are empty.

“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religious projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making” (Amos 5:21-22 from The Message). Ouch!

So what might those words say to us in the context of our daily lives these days? Well, it just so happens that we are in the midst of a season in the church called Advent: a season designed to prepare our hearts for Christmas. This is a season that is full of traditions and rituals – both in our private lives and in the church. These traditions take many forms in our private lives: when to put up the Christmas tree, who gets to put the star on the top of the tree, when to send out the cards, where to eat Christmas dinner, etc.

Today’s passage from Amos challenges us to look at how we are engaged in those seasonal rituals and ask ourselves, “Am I participating in these traditions and rituals in such a way that they are life-giving and drawing me closer to God; or am I simply going through the motions and doing what’s expected of me – trying to simply survive the holidays?

If you find that you are simply going through the motions, it might be time to let go of those empty rituals and traditions. Til next time…

Friday, December 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 102; Amos 5:1-17; Matthew 22:1-14; Jude 1-16

Some passages of Scripture are warm and fuzzy; others clearly are not. Today’s passage from Jude would be a great example of a passage that is NOT warm and fuzzy.

In reading the author’s words, I can certainly understand what emotions and experiences lie behind them: feelings of betrayal, for instance, bubble just below the surface of the author’s harsh words. Those issues are not what have been at the core of my spiritual life so I decided to re-read the passage a couple of times and see what else was raised for me. When I did that, an issue that I have grappled with for years shot to the surface. Here’s that issue.

Lots of folks will read the passage and focus in on a few verses (verses such as verse 7 that is paraphrased in The Message as reading “This is exactly the same program of these latest infiltrators: dirty sex, rule and rulers thrown out, glory dragged in the mud”) and define the offenders of which Jude is speaking rather narrowly. I’ve heard this passage to denounce LGBT folks, promiscuous folks, those who have terminated a pregnancy, and such. I have never heard folks quote parts of the passage that occur later that address different offenses. “The Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of [God’s] holy ones… to convict all of the ungodly,” the author begins. “These [people] are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (Jude 14-16 from The New International Version).

When was the last time you heard a religious extremist stand up at a political rally, for instance, and condemn the grumblers, the faultfinders, the arrogant, or the flatters? I’m guessing the answer to that would be never.

So why is that? Why are some of us so tempted to single out particular groups for condemnation and completely ignore other groups?

My experiences tell me that we tend to single out those who belong to groups of which we don’t belong and look the other way when biblical words describe groups of which we are a part. That’s why it’s so common, for instance, to hear some divorced persons quote scripture that, on the surface, would seem to condemn gay and lesbian people and never once quote scripture that, on the surface, would seem to condemn divorce.

So where are you with all of this? Do you have a relatively consistent way of engaging the materials that inform your spiritual life, or do have you adopted a selective process whereby you use the things that fit you and ignore those things that don’t? Til next time…

Thursday, December 3

Today’s Readings: Psalms 18:1-20; Amos 4:6-13; Matthew 21:33-46; 2 Peter 3:11-18

For many, many years I have lived with a coping mechanism that I became very comfortable with and dependent on. That coping mechanism was my perfectionism.

My perfectionism served a variety of purposes in my life. When I was struggling to come to terms with my sexual orientation, for instance, my perfectionism told me that if I was perfect then people would have to love me – even if they would otherwise be homophobic. In other words, my perfectionism pulled me through my coming out process. When I struggled to live in a world that was out of control at times, my perfectionism told me that by seizing control of things around me and doing them “right” I could restore order in the world (or at least my little corner of the world). By this, I thought my perfectionism brought order into a chaotic world. It served me in other ways as well, but I think you are starting to get the gist of what I mean.

One of the reasons I continued to on to my perfectionist tendencies for so long (and the reasons I continue to challenge myself to leave them behind to this very day) is that our society rewards perfectionists. Sure, we perfectionists may be hard to be around at times because we are incredibly controlling. In the bigger picture, however, let’s be honest: perfectionists get things done. Because of this perfectionists often rise through the ranks at shocking rates.

It’s took me many years to confront myself and be honest about the fact that for several years my perfectionism was the rock or fortress in my life – the thing I thought I could depend on. Sure, I would read passages like today’s Psalm, and think they were nice words. But I wouldn’t live by them. I’m just now starting to realize – I mean REALLY realize - what it means to take those words seriously: “I love you God – you make me strong. God is my bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight” (Psalm 18:1-2 from The Message).

My question for you to consider today is this: what is your bedrock? Is it God, or is it something else? Til next time…

Wednesday, December 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 50; Amos 3:12-4:5; Matthew 21:23-32; 2 Peter 3:1-10

I was blessed by the opportunity to have a conversation with two folks yesterday about some of the challenges of living out one’s faith in the context of a faith community/church. One of the greatest challenges, I shared, is dealing with the issue of change.

It took me a while to learn that when it comes to organizational/systemic change, there are at least two different kinds involved (there are actually many more than just two, but for the sake of time I focused on two). The first kind of change is what I would call cosmetic change. This is change that occurs on the surface of an organization. It’s the easiest type of change to live through because the ramifications of it are relatively minimal. The second type of organizational change is what I call cultural change. This is change that touches the core values of an individual and/or an organization; therefore, these changes are incredibly loaded and tend to elicit strong reactions.

The hardest part about living in a faith community/church is that you can’t always predict what sort of change category an action will fall under. Let me give you two examples of what I mean. Let’s say a pastor comes in and changes the song that is sung in response to the offering (traditionally called the Doxology). On the surface this might be read as touching on a deeply held value and therefore be seen as a cultural change. The congregation, however, might not think it that big of a deal and actually like the melody of the new song better than the old. It could therefore end up being a cosmetic change. Now let’s say a new person steps forward to chair the faith community’s/church’s Nominations Committee. This person nominates Steve (a person who arrived in the faith community/church six months ago) to serve as chair of the Membership Committee. The new chair might think this is a cosmetic change since its simply attaching a new name to a leadership position. Others in the church might violently react against Steve’s nomination to the leadership position, however, because his nomination violates a deeply held (but often unspoken) value of the community – that only people who have been in the church over a decade are qualified to lead. You can see why leading a faith community can be so dicey. It’s hard to predict how changes will be seen.

So what does all of this have to do with any of today’s readings? Well, as I read some of the words from 2 Peter today, the issue of time – and our expectations about how things are supposed to unfold – is placed in a challenging light. “With God,” the author noted, “one day is as good as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8 from The Message). I find the reading challenging because it reminds me that things often won’t occur according to the timelines I would expect. Things I perceive as cosmetic changes (in either an organization or in my own life) seem to end up taking FOREVER while things I perceive of as cultural changes can surprise me and end up happening overnight. The lesson in all this for me is to let go of my expectations and live into a less temporally bound/driven place (at least by my own standards).

So how do you deal with the issue of time? Do you expect things to unfold on your timeline, or are you open to the idea that things may unfold on a radically different timeline – one that is not your own? Til next time…

Tuesday, December 1

Today’s Readings: Psalm 33; Amos 3:1-11; Matthew 21:12-22; 2 Peter 1:12-21

There are lots of folks these days who struggle constructing their Christology. By Christology, I mean articulating one’s understanding of who Jesus was/is. Was he human? Was he divine? Was he both? And if so, to what measure?

Folks who have a high Christology articulate their understanding of Jesus by primarily talking about the ways he represented the Divine; folks who have a low Christology articulate their understanding of Jesus by emphasizing his humanity.

Like many progressive pastors, I would be described as having a low Christology. The way that I got there, however, differed markedly from some of my peers. You see many of my peers arrive at a low Christology because of their head. They look at historical and cultural data of Jesus’ day and use that information to explain why divine attributes were foisted upon Jesus.

My head isn’t what I led with when it came time for me to formulate my Christology. No, it was my heart that led me to this place. Let me tell you why I say that. You see it’s stories like those contained in today’s Gospel reading that help me feel especially connected to Jesus via his humanity. When Jesus encounters the money changers in the Temple who were using religion/spirituality for personal gain – Jesus reacted much like I would: he lost it. And when Jesus encountered the barren fig tree, his decision to curse it is one that I can relate to entirely. To extend this line of thinking a bit further into his life, it was Jesus’ humanity that made his decision to pay the ultimate price in order to follow his call all the more powerful. These are just some of the heart-felt things that draw me to relate to Jesus via his humanity.

In this season when we celebrate the Incarnation, I would ask you to consider what role Jesus’ humanity plays for you. Til next time…

Monday, November 30

Today’s Readings: Psalm 122; Amos 2:6-16; Matthew 21:1-11; 2 Peter 1:1-11

In today’s passage from 2 Peter, there is a wonderful listing of qualities to which we are called as people of faith. I particularly love the wording of these qualities as given in the Message. The passage from 2 Peter 1:5-6 reads: “So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love..” (The Message)

As I looked at this list of qualities, I spent some time discerning where my greatest strengths and weaknesses lie. I would say the quality that represents my greatest strength would be my warm friendliness. As an extrovert, I have found that I not only LOVE people – I also draw the most energy by being around them. That makes it incredibly easy for me to exude the quality of warm friendliness.

My greatest weakness? Well for years I would have said that I have little – if any – capacity to embody passionate patience. Over the years, however, I have grown in my ability to be patient and accept life on life’s terms. If I were honest, however, I wouldn’t exactly call my patience “passionate”. It would better be described as emerging.

The quality on the list that I least exude these days would be alert discipline. Most of the discipline I exhibit these days is related to my own interests. This means I have enough discipline to watch what I eat (unless sugar or salt is involved), get regular exercise, and get enough sleep. I have a LONG way to go before I could consider myself alertly disciplined when it comes to my spiritual life. Sadly, that area of my life is much more haphazard than I would care to admit.

Now that I’ve been honest and opened up with you in terms of my self-assessment, I would invite you to do the same. Look at the list of those qualities listed and see where your greatest strengths and weakness lie. That exploration could spark some important work within you in these remaining days of this season of Advent. Til next time…

Saturday, November 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 63; Micah 7:11-20; Matthew 20:29-34; 1 Peter 4:7-19

Have you ever noticed there are some skills you have that benefit you greatly in some situations but are a hindrance in other situations? I have one of those skills. That skill is my natural tendency to be a problem solver.

When I’m working with groups, for instance, my ability to solve problems can be incredibly helpful. The skill is also helpful around the house as I tend to take on challenges right away and bring them to resolution. There is one area in my life, however, where that can be a problem. That area? My service extending pastoral care to those in need.

You see one of the greatest mistakes I made in my first few years of ministry was to assume those who came to me in my role as pastor expected me to be a problem solver and “fix” their problem. Over time I learned two things about what people hope for when they seek me out. First (and foremost) they want a sensitive and compassionate person who will listen and genuinely care about their plight. And second, they want a helpful resource person against whom they can bounce off ideas. Rarely – if ever – do they come expecting you to simply “fix” the problem for them. Once I learned those lessons, my life got a lot easier (and my ministry became much more effective).

If I had paid closer attention to the examples from Jesus ministry in the Bible, I would have learned much earlier effective ways to facilitate the healing presence of God. Take today’s story from Matthew as an example. When Jesus encountered the blind men sitting by the roadside, he set a good example for us to follow in dealing with individuals in need. When Jesus first encountered the men, he didn’t force himself into the situation; instead, Jesus stepped back and waited to be invited in. Once he was invited in, Jesus didn’t make any assumptions about what the men wanted of him. He asked an open ended question (“What do you want me to do for you?”), and then waited for their response. It was only then that Jesus went the next step and facilitated healing for the two.

I’m sure you have instances in your own life where others seek you out for advice and/or counsel. If so, I would encourage you to remember Jesus’ powerful example, and resist the urge to “fix” the situation on your own terms. Instead, use the tools toward which Jesus pointed us and see what sort of healing you might be able to facilitate for your loved one. Til next time…

Friday, November 27

Today’s Readings: Psalm 84; Isaiah 24:14-23; Matthew 20:17-28; 1 Peter 3:13-4:6

I learn all sorts of interesting stuff via my participation on Facebook. This week I learned that there was a document unleashed on the world called The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. You can find a copy of the document at

While there are certainly many perspectives contained in the document with which I disagree; I would certainly defend the right of those who participated in the formation of the document to take their stand of conscience. I would expect they would defend my right to disagree. If not, they would be hyprocrites since their third truth they seek to defend is “the rights of conscience and religious liberty.”

There is aspect of the Declaration, however, that disturbs me greatly. In referencing their support of their three foundational principles, the creators of the document wrote: “[the fondational principles] are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture…” Here’s what that piece of the statement raises for me.

Since Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the 4th Century, Christianity has enjoyed a place of power and privilege in most Western societies. Sadly at times this power and privilege has caused us to lose sight of the very principles Jesus espoused (see an overview of Christian history ranging from the Crusades and Inquisition to the establishment of the slave trade). We have developed such a sense of entitlement that we have come to confuse honest dialogue with “an assault from powerful forces in our culture”. In other words, we have confused the sort of suffering that was referenced in places like today’s passage from 1 Peter with the loss of one’s sense of entitlement.

Even more so, there seems to be a hidden notion that suffering/loss of entitlement is always bad and must be done away with. I would disagree. As the author of 1 Peter noted: “Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14 from The Message).

So what does this mean in everyday terms?

Lots of folks would interpret the ramifications differently. For me here’s what it means. As a Christian, I feel compelled to actively respond to the issues that are important to me first hand – rather than simply make broad pronouncements to others. When it comes to issues involving unplanned/unwanted pregnancies, for instance, I have spent a good deal of time over the years working to ensure individuals had access to information and resources that would prevent those pregnancies. When it comes to issues involving the health and vitality of marriages, I provide pre-martial/pre-holy unon counseling to couples I join and make sure I make myself available to couples in crisis seeking spiritual support. When it comes to issues involving “the rights of conscience and religious liberty”, I work to defend those rights by speaking my conscience and encouraging those around me to do the same – even if they disagree with me. Each of these actions has brought about some degree of personal suffering/risk.

I would be the first to admit it takes a lot longer to approach issues this way. In the end, however, I have found such an approach to be immensely gratifying as I have seen it change attitudes and lives (including my own!).

So how do you perceive what it means to suffer for what is right? Does it mean enduring a loss of power and privilege, or does suffering involve other things for you? Til next time…

Thursday, November 26

Today’s Readings: Psalm 116; Zephaniah 3:1-13; Matthew 20:1-16; 1 Peter 2:11-25

During the Lenten season eight and a half years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a Bible study led by the interim pastor of my home church at the time. The study was a series exploring the parables of Jesus.

In that Bible study, the pastor commented that Jesus is sneaky in the way he set up his parables because he was always giving us details that – in the larger scope of things – weren’t relevant to the point he was trying to make. Those details were given as a sort of test to see if you could see beyond the details and grasp his larger point.

In today’s parable from Matthew, for instance, Jesus gives lots of details about the times of day the various workers started working. Those details are given to set us up to assume those who worked longer hours would get paid more. Jesus point, however, is that in the end everyone got the same payoff - regardless of when the individuals started working.

The parable is one more example of how the values Jesus’ points us toward often don’t make sense by human standards. The values he calls us to contain more grace, more mercy, and more compassion that we dare imagine. That’s why we so often get caught off guard by the lesson of Jesus’ parables. So how do Jesus’ expansive values affect you? Do they put you off because they don’t seem “fair” according to human standards; or do they excite and motivate you to further explore the radically inclusive values which Jesus embodied? Til next time…

Wednesday, November 25

Today’s Readings: Psalm 96; Obadiah 15-21; Matthew 19:23-30; 1 Peter 2:1-10

When I was in high school I had an experience like virtually everyone on the face of the earth. There was a kid who was in the grade behind me who got on my nerves more than any other human being on the face of the planet. He was the most conceited person I had ever met. He was convinced, for instance, that he was God’s gift to women. He was also the most condescending person I had ever been around. He thought he was smarter and wittier than anyone else. Oh, and did I forget to mention he was incredibly two-faced. He would pretend to be one of your best friends to your face, and then berate you when he hung out with others.

For the first couple of years after I graduated, I would check in with friends to see how my former classmates were doing. Whenever I did this, I always made a point of asking about this individual. I hate to admit it now, but there was a part of me that was hoping he would fail (i.e. drop of college, have a troubled relationship, etc.).

I know, I know – I was being incredibly small and petty. Eventually I got over it. In an odd sort of way I’m thankful for having had that experience, however, because it allows me to understand some of the sentiments contained in passages like today’s passage from Obadiah.

As I read the opening words from the passage – “God’s Judgment Day is near for all the godless nations” – I can almost feel the adrenalin rush that felt when I would be around my nemesis in the halls of my old high school. “As you have done, it will be done to you” – the passage continues... As I read those words I’m almost tempted to stick out my tongue and say, “Neiner, Neiner, Neiner”. Needless to say, they reflect that very human part of us that wants to see those who have wronged us fail miserably (especially if they have caused us pain or done us wrong).

Thankfully, today’s passage from Obadiah doesn’t leave us there – in a place where we could be content to simply gloat over the downfall of an enemy. No, the passage ultimately reminds us what’s really important – that a rule (or way of being) be established “that honor’s God’s kingdom” (Obadiah 21 from The Message). That bottom line helps get my thinking back on track.

Perhaps you have someone in your life who pushes all of your buttons – someone whose downfall you are secretly even hoping (dare I say praying) for. If that’s the case, I would encourage you to quit personalizing the situation and let go of your simmering animosity. Re-channel your energies into praying for something far more important: the establishment of a world “that honor’s God’s kingdom”. Til next time…

Tuesday, November 24

Today’s Readings: Psalm 12; Nahum 1:1-13; Matthew 19:13-22; 1 Peter 1:13-25

Like many progressive Christians, I struggle with knowing what to do with the traditional language of atonement theology. By that I mean I struggle to know what to do with words that suggest Jesus was a blood sacrifice offered in order to make up for humanity’s sin - language such as that contained in today’s passage from 1 Peter that reads: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19 from The Message).

I struggle with the “blood” language because I can’t help but resist the notion that the only way God could take God’s relationship with humanity to a new level was through such an act of sheer brutality.

As I sat with my resistance to atonement theology today in my time of centering, I began to experience the word “blood” in a new way. I began to think of it not as a ticket meant to be cashed in to purchase one’s redemption but rather as the ultimate expression of Jesus’ love. It is that love that takes me to another level of awareness/being in my relationship with God.

That means I read the culminating words of 1 Peter 1:18-19 as: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the previous [love] of Christ”. That’s where I can find value in such words.

Enough of my ramblings about this thing called atonement theology. How do you view it? That’s a question that should keep you engaged throughout the day. Til next time…

Monday, November 23

Today’s Readings: Psalm 62; Joel 3:1-2, 9-17; Matthew 19:1-12; 1 Peter 1:1-12

It would be nice if the most meaningful lessons from life came during easy times. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the most important learnings we live into are those that happen during the tough times. I learned this during my sophomore and junior years of high school.

You see I had been born with a condition called club feet. That means that in my case both of my feet were bent virtually backwards. I had a series of corrective surgeries at the Shriner’s Hospital during my first year of life. The surgeries went well, and I was soon able to do the same things as the other kids. I loved sports and participated in football, wrestling, and tennis from the time that I was in the third grade on. In addition to the fun I had playing the sports, I also got to experience what it was like to be in the popular crowd.

Then, during my sophomore year of high school, the doctors told me I needed to undergo another series of corrective surgeries. These surgeries interrupted my participation in sports during my sophomore and junior years of high school. I went from being one of the insiders because of my identity as an athlete to being pushed out to the outer rings of some of the same social circles.

Through the experience I learned that popularity usually isn’t just about who you are as a person – your degree of popularity is also linked to your access to things like money, power, and social status. It was a tough – but helpful – lesson for me to learn at the ripe old age of 15. I was able to become a stronger, more empathetic person because of that difficult experience.

I was reminded of that experience as I read the author’s words from 1 Peter today when he wrote: “Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:6 from The Message). Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience – a time of difficulty when the content of both your character and faith was forged. If so, I would invite you to sit back and reflect on how that experience allowed you to come through it with a better understanding of yourself and your faith. Til next time…

Saturday, November 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 122; Nehemiah 7:73b-8:3, 5-18; Matthew 18:21-35; Revelation 22:14-21

Last night we had the second session of our young adults’ confirmation class at Woodland Hills Community Church. We spent our time together talking about the nature of the Bible.

As we were finishing a part of our discussion on the New Testament, one of the participants asked, “So does God’s revelation end with the last book of the Bible or is God continuing to say more?” What a profound question that was!

There are certainly those who believe that once the biblical cannon was closed and the Bible as we know it today was finalized that that meant God was absolutely done speaking. Those who understand the Bible that way would point to today’s passage from Revelation in order to prove their point. “I warn anyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book,” the author wrote, “if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book” (Revelation 22:18 from the NRSV).

There are others such as myself, however, who do not believe that God stopped speaking/communicating with us when the biblical cannon was closed. We – many of us who are members of The United Church of Christ – would counter by saying, “God is still speaking.” By this we mean that the Holy Spirit continues to be active and speak to us in new and exhilarating ways.

My question for you today is this: what is your take on all this? Do you believe that the fullness of God’s revelation to us was fully captured once and for all within the pages of the Bible, or do you believe that God’s truth continues to reveal itself outside the bounds of a printed page? Til next time…

Friday, November 20

Today’s Readings: Psalm 88; Nehemiah 9:26-38; Matthew 18:10-20; Revelation 22:6-13

Every once in a while I stumble upon a piece of advice or a statement of life-principle that seems really good on the surface. Once I start digging into it and try applying it, however, I discover things are much more complex than I first realized.

Take today’s passage from the Gospel according to Matthew. In that larger passage, there is a short statement attributed to Jesus that reads “If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t [the person] leave the ninety-nine and go after the one?” (Matthew 18:12 from The Message).

On the surface that sounds like a wonderful statement of love and concern on behalf of One that passionately cares about each and every one of the sheep in the flock. When it comes time to live that out, however, it becomes a logistical nightmare. For instance during the course of my lifetime I have led several groups where one sheep comes along who is so focused on his/her own needs that they couldn’t care less about the rest of the 99. They consistently create situations where pursuing the one could bring into question the continued health and well-being of the 99. This is what I mean by creating a logistical nightmare.

While my heart instinctively wants to send me out after the individual sheep in each and every instance, I have come to realize that I must strike a balance between care and concern for the one and care and concern for the 99. My attempt to reach this balance is something I re-visit on a regular basis.

So how do you grow into seeking a sense of balance between the one and the 99 in your own life? Do you intuitively go after the one in every instance and let the 99 fend for themselves; or do you find ways of striking a balance between the interests and well being of both the individual sheep and the flock? Til next time…

Thursday, November 19

Today’s Readings: Psalm 143; Nehemiah 9:1-15; Matthew 18:1-9; Revelation 21:22-22:5

As some of you who have read my blog for awhile know, the previous church I served was an ecumenical church. This meant that in addition to being affiliated with my own denomination (the United Church of Christ) it was also affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and The United Methodist Church. Because of its ecumenical nature, I went to great lengths to include elements of each tradition whenever possible.

One of the things the Presbyterian tradition regularly includes in its worship services is a prayer of confession – so I included a prayer of confession each week. At first, the spiritual practice was challenging for me since I tended to be someone who was drawn to the spark of the Divine contained with individuals and preferred to focus on the possibility for good that lies within human beings. Over time, however, the prayer of confession opened me up and helped me see the tremendous value of acknowledging our limitations as well. Ironically, the practice of confession helped me accept and embrace every aspect of myself – not just the pieces that I thought were praiseworthy. Over time I personally came to value the practice of confession greatly.

The author(s) of today’s passage from Nehemiah understood the value of confession as well – for in the passage we are told that as a part of their process of restoration the Israelites “stood and confessed their sins” (Nehemiah 9:2 from the NRSV). My question for your consideration today is this: what role does confession play in your own spiritual journey? Til next time…

Wednesday, November 18

Today’s Readings: Psalm 65; Ezra 10:1-17; Matthew 17:22-27; Revelation 21:9-21

At last night’s Sacred Grounds conversation group, we were discussing some of the tensions that are contained within the scriptures themselves. One of these tensions are between those passages that speak of God in universal terms (passages such as today’s passage from Psalm where the psalmist says of God “You are the hope of all the ends of the earth” – Psalm 65:5) and those passages that speak of God in exclusivistic terms (passages such as today’s passage from Ezra where Ezra instructs the people to “separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives” – Ezra 10:11).

So which way is it? Does God love and embrace all people, or does God like some better than others?

A person could certainly pull particular texts out of the Bible to prove one’s point on either side of this debate. Rather than look for a particular text to make my point, I look for what some call the meta-narrative - the larger theme that transcends any particular text and consistently runs throughout the Bible. When I do that, I personally come down on the side of the God who loves and embraces all people.

So where do people get the idea that God is exclusivistic? Often, following situations portrayed in scripture where things have gone horribly wrong and individuals and/or communities feel the need to produce a scapegoat. I can certainly relate to that human tendency since often my first instinct is to blame someone else when things have gone wrong.

So where do you come down in this great debate? Do you see God as one who embraces all, or do you gravitate toward God as One who plays favorites? Til next time…

Tuesday, November 17

Today’s Readings: Psalm 54; Ezra 9:1-15; Matthew 17:14-21; Revelation 21:1-8

There are some passages in the Bible that are incredibly loaded in their meanings. As a result, some people love those passages and some people dislike them greatly. Take Jesus’ culminating words from today’s Gospel reading from Matthew as an example.

After chiding the disciples for their shortage of faith, Jesus is quoted as saying: “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 from the NRSV). Folks who love the passage point to it as a vehicle of inspiration that has carried them through some of the toughest times of their lives by giving them hope that truly anything is possible. Those who dislike those words would say, “When I was diagnosed with cancer, I prayed and believed I would be cured but I’m wasn’t. I had much more faith than a mustard seed and it got me nowhere!” I’ve certainly heard both takes on the passage more than once during my eight years of ministry.

So how do I personally read this piece of Scripture?

Well, I read it with this thought in mind: my faith doesn’t necessarily alter the events that happen to me; rather, it alters the way I respond to those things that happen to me. By this I mean that my faith gives me a nearly endless supply of optimism that – no matter what happens – I’ll have the strength to see it through one way or another. Sometimes it means enduring the bad times until the good times come again. Sometimes it means having the strength to live through the difficult goodbyes and agonizing separations – believing that the loss won’t be the final word in the situation.

So how do you receive those controversial words “and nothing will be impossible for you”? Til next time…

Monday, November 16

Today’s Readings: Psalm 57; Ezra 7:27-28 & 8:21-36; Matthew 17:1-13; Revelation 20:7-15

One of my favorite classes in seminary was a course called Ritual & Worship. It was taught by a tremendously gifted professor by the name of Thomas Troeger. The class explored a variety of topics which were all related to the worship life of our faith communities.

One day in class we talked about how difficult it can be for individuals to respond to moments that feel especially holy. At such moments, Professor Troeger noted, people often try to mask their discomfort by doing things like making jokes or pushing through the moment, rather than simply acknowledge the moment for what it is.

In other words, we respond in much the way Peter responded to the Transfiguration in today’s reading from Matthew. For just after manifestations of Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, Peter tried to respond to the holy moment in a rather random way - by offering to build a dwelling for the three individuals. The absurdity of his offer was the result of Peter’s unwillingness to simply be in the holiness of the moment.

Today I would invite you to consider how you respond to those holy moments in your life. If you encounter one such moment today, I would encourage you to resist the urge to do something in response – and instead, simply be in the moment. Til next time…

Saturday, November 15

Today’s Readings: Psalm 56; Nehemiah 13:4-22; Matthew 16:21-28; Revelation 20:1-6

Lot of folks have rather romantic notion of what it means for a person to receive the call into ministry. They think it has to do with a beam of light striking one, hearing a deeply resonate voice issue the call, and the immediate response of the individual involved.

The truth is that a call to ministry is a lot more complicated than that. There is a lot of fear and pain that goes with responding to one’s call. When I received my call into ministry, for instance, it meant – among other things - moving away from my biological family that had been a key piece of my support network for my first 31 years. When I realized that call was to parish ministry, it then meant I had to leave behind things like my ego and agenda in ways that terrified me. And when I realized that my call into parish ministry meant going to communities engaged in the process of transformation and renewal, it meant that I would be around two things that I had avoided for the bulk of my life – fear (as in fear of change) and conflict (as I helped move groups away from an individualistic to a more communal way of being). My call to ministry has consistently taken me out of my comfort zone and asked me to do things I would have otherwise thought impossible.

It’s this same sort of point that Jesus was making in today’s passage from Matthew when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 from the NRSV).

So why would anyone in their right mind respond to a call if it’s so difficult?

The answer is given just one verse later: “those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 from the NRSV). That’s certainly been my experience. While I stepped away people and things that were comfortable and convenient, the things I have gained from the experience of responding to my call (i.e. the deepening connection with/reliance upon God, the new friends and family of choice I have met, and the heightened sense of peace in my world) have made it the best thing that has ever happened to me. Oh, what things I have gained from my earlier series of losses!!

Of course pastors aren’t the only ones who have calls; I believe each person has their own call as well. My question for you to consider today is twofold. First, what is your understanding of call; and second, how would you characterize the effect of that call on your life. Til next time…

Friday, November 13

Today’s Readings: Psalm 130; Nehemiah 12:27-31a, 42b-47; Matthew 16:13-20; Revelation 19:11-16

If you were establishing a group of people to carry on important work for you after you were gone, what sort of adjectives would you use to describe the individuals you would select to do so?

If you are like most people, you would pick individuals that could be described with words such as “loyal”, “dedicated”, “courageous”, and “bold”. It would make good sense to pick people like that since so much is riding on the selections.

When it came time for Jesus to choose a leader to carry on his efforts, Jesus’ picked someone who didn’t exactly fit those descriptors. In verse 18 of today’s reading from Matthew, we are told Jesus said: “You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church” (Matthew 16:18 from The Message). Through his selection of Peter, Jesus choose someone who did things like started to sink when he was called to step out onto the turbulent waters by Jesus; was rebuked by Jesus with the infamous, “Get behind thee Satan” when he refused to accept the way things were to unfold; and denied Jesus not once – not twice – but three times in the courtyard just hours before Jesus’ death!

Jesus chose a flawed human being with many weaknesses as well as many strengths. In other words, Jesus chose someone much like us. If Jesus can use someone like Peter to build his church upon, it makes me wonder what amazing things God might accomplish through you.

Today I would encourage you to resist your impulse to underestimate your ability to change the world. Instead, I would ask you to consider the transformative things God might work through you. Til next time…

Thursday, November 12

Today’s Readings: Psalm 36; Nehemiah 6:1-19; Matthew 16:1-12; Revelation 19:1-10

When I was in high school, I was friends with several individuals who belonged to a religious tradition much different than my own. One of the biggest differences between the tradition in which I was raised and my friend’s tradition was that my friend’s tradition had no ordained clergy persons leading the faith community.

When I questioned them about this one day during my junior year of high school, they said, “We aren’t like you because we don’t have to pay someone to tell us things we want to hear.” That comment stuck with me – obviously - as I still remember it over 25 years later! The comment struck me because it raised what I believe is an essential element of ministry: integrity.

The author of the book of Nehemiah had a similar conviction about the role integrity should play in one’s ministry – for in the story from today’s passage the author noted of Shemaiah: “I sensed that God hadn’t sent this man. The so-called prophecy he spoke to me was the work of Tobiah and Sanballat; they had hired him” (Nehemiah 6:12 from The Message).

So how did Nehemiah discern Shemaiah’s lack of integrity? By comparing his words with reality. After all, talk is cheap. The fact that the wall was rebuilt in just 52 days helped prove “that God was behind this work.”

As people who live in a culture that frequently values style over substance, I would encourage you to carry the message from today’s passage from Nehemiah with you. Don’t let others’ predictions of doom scare you off. Follow your heart in response to God’s leading and you’ll do amazing, unexpected things! Til next time…

Wednesday, November 11

Today’s Reading: Psalm 15; Nehemiah 7:73b-8:3, 5-18; Matthew 15:29-39; Revelation 18:21-24

Today’s passage from Nehemiah is a difficult one for many of us Protestants to resonate with. That’s because the passage presents the law in a way that seems very foreign to us.

We are told, for instance, that after the people heard the reading of the law “all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing” (Nehemiah 7:12 from the NRSV). It’s hard to relate to since most of us Protestants have been raised to think of the law as something that limits or restricts us. Consequently, the last thing we would think of doing after hearing the law read is rejoice!

One of my Jewish friends in seminary gave me a new way to think about the law that helped me better understand how the law could be viewed in a positive light. “When you struggle to think about the law in a positive way,” my friend said, “think of the text you Christians are so fond of – John 3:16.”

“Okay…” I replied.

“Good,” she said. “Now go in and take out the words ‘his only begotten son’ from the beginning of the passage and replace them with ‘the law’ so that it reads, ‘God so loved the world, that he gave the law.’ That’s the way many of us Jews think of the law. That’s why the Scriptures can talk about us rejoicing in response to the law!”

My friend’s suggestion was helpful. It helped me get over my bias against the notion of ‘the law’, and embrace it in a healthier manner. So how do you see “the law”? Do you see it negatively - as something restrictive and potentially punitive; or do you see the law as a tool that can draw us into closer relationship with God? Til next time…

Tuesday, November 10

Today’s Readings: Psalm 123; Nehemiah 9:26-38; Matthew 15:21-28; Revelation18:9-20

Today’s group of readings contains the piece of Scripture that has been most formative to me over the years. That piece of Scripture comes from today’s passage from Matthew.

The passage tells of an encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus to request healing for her daughter.

So what’s so powerful about this healing story that sets it apart from other healing stories?

The power lies in what the encounter reveals about Jesus when he fir refused the woman’s request for healing. Traditional readers of the story would say that Jesus refusal was meant as a way to test the woman’s faith. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not a traditional reader of texts  I read the story very differently. I read the story as an example of a time when Jesus’ own cultural bias (and hence a piece of his humanity) was revealed.

Here’s why the story is so powerful for me.

The story tells me that Jesus was not afraid to confront his own biases in life and move beyond them whenever he encountered them. As someone who professes to follow this Jesus, I am compelled to do the saame. As much as I would LOVE to think I have no biases whatsoever, each day I am reminded there are growing edges for me. Perhaps you are in the same boat.

If that’s the case, I would urge you to draw strength from Jesus’ example and open yourself to overcoming those biases whenever you encounter them. Til next time…

Monday, November 9

Today’s Readings: Psalm 135; Nehemiah 9:1-15; Matthew 15:1-20; Revelation 18:1-8

From the time I was very young, I was an incredibly verbal person. I thought quickly on my feet and had (at least by my own standards) a good sense of humor which I used frequently.

One day when I was in my sophomore English class, my teacher - Mr. Wilson - commented that I was an incredibly sarcastic person. I didn’t know what the word sarcastic meant, so I said, “Thanks.” When I got home, I looked up the word and found out it meant things like “biting”, “cutting”, “bitter”, and “derisive”.

I was surprised to hear those words used in relation to me – so I started to pay more attention to the way I spoke. And you know what? Mr. Wilson was right. Much of my humor was at the expense of others. As I moved forward, I made a conscious effort to be more aware of the words I used and how they might affect others.

Jesus was clued in to the importance of words. That’s why he’s quoted in today’s passage from Matthew as saying, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matthew 15:11 from the NRSV). Today I would invite you to be more aware of the words that come out of your mouth. Do those words encourage and uplift others; or do those words berate and diminish others? And what do those words suggest about the condition of your own heart? Til next time…

Sunday, November 8

Today’s Reading: Ruth 3:1-5 & 4:13-17
I find it fascinating how the author handles the culmination of the story of Ruth in today’s reading. Rather than putting Ruth front and center, the author chose to put the focus on Naomi. The women of the community, for instance, responded to the birth of the new baby by observing Naomi (not Ruth) now has a son. And when Ruth’s name is mentioned by the women of the community, she is mentioned as being a blessing to Naomi. This reminds me that the focus of the storylines of our lives often don’t turn out the way in which we expect.

So what does Naomi do that’s so extraordinary and that makes her worth of mention?

In her commentary on the text titled “The Story of Ruth: Moments of Loss & Faith”, Sister Joan Chittister noted that in the midst of her grief Naomi asked herself a central question that shaped the storyline for both Ruth and herself: “what is it in [me] that lies unfinished and [begs] to be done if the will of God is ever to be completed in [me]”. That question drew her (and Ruth) back to Judea.

Today, I would invite you to ask yourself the same question: what is it in me that lies unfinished and begs to be done if the will of God is ever to be completed in me. Then open yourself to the possibilities that will unfold before you as you contempt the answers. Til next time…

Saturday, November 8

Today’s Readings: Psalm 104; Ezra 9:1-15; Matthew 14:22-36; Revelation 17:1-14

If you were like me, growing up you probably had many a conversation with your parents/guardians about who your friends were. The adults in your life went to great lengths to monitor whether or not you were hanging around with the right kind of people. They paid attention to those you hung out with because your parents/guardians knew that the people you spent time with often play a huge role in determining the choices you make in life.

Today, we hear a variation on that them as Ezra spent time chastising the Israelites for hanging out with/marrying whom he considered to be the wrong kind of people (i.e. the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites). He did so because he feared folks from other backgrounds would draw the Israelites from their own faith.

On one hand I can understand Ezra’s fear that “the other” would threaten the spiritual well being of the Israelites by exposing them to different ways of being. On another hand, I think Ezra was using “the other” as a convenient scapegoat to blame for the Israelites’ own choices. Those individuals who have a mature and deep faith are generally not threatened by the presence of “the other”. I wish Ezra would have spent some of the time and energy he devoted to railing about “the other” calling the Israelites to redouble their commitment to their own faith.

Perhaps there is an area of your own life that you are wrestling with: an area where you might be tempted to succumb to Ezra’s approach and point toward “the other” as the root of your problem (who or whatever form “the other” might take for you). If that’s the case, resist the urge to scapegoat the other and instead focus on your own life. You might be surprised at the spiritual growth such a shift in perspective might spur. Til next time…

Friday, November 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 51; Ezra 7:27-28, 8:21-36; Matthew 14:13-21; Revelation 15:1-8

As someone who is an extrovert, I draw a huge portion of energy from being around people. I feel most alive when I am meeting and interacting with others. While this can generally be a positive trait, I’ve learned over the years that it can also get me into trouble.

I find being around people so invigorating that I often do it too much and find myself completely drained to the depths of my soul. By just the fourth year of my ministry, I had given so much to others that I began to wonder if I could continue in parish ministry..

So how did I reverse that trend and find a way to continue in ministry?

I began to take seriously Jesus’ example in today’s passage from Matthew. In that passage we learned that when Jesus found himself completely exhausted from the demands around him, Jesus did something critically important: “he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself” (Matthew 14:13 from the NRSV).

The time I have learned to spend in silence over the past four years has become the thing that allowed me to continue in ministry. It allows me to recharge my battery and strengthen my connection with God. It is only then that I can find the energy I need to give a portion of myself to others.

So what role does silence and solitude play in your spiritual life? Are they annoying intruders that infrequently push their way into your life when you have nothing better to do; or are they some of your closest friends that keep you spiritually grounded?

Til next time…

Thursday, November 5

Today’s Readings: Psalm 97; Ezra 7:11-26; Matthew 14:1-12; Revelation 14:1-13

When we are reading the sacred texts of our tradition, it is easy to receive the words at face value and draw conclusions that may not be in line with the author’s original intention.

Take, for instance, today’s passage from Revelation. In that passage there are two references to the number 144,000. Revelation 14:1 reads: “Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” Revelation 14:3 reads: “… they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth”.

Some folks in the Jehovah’s Witness tradition interpret those words literally and suggest those words mean there will only be a total 144,000 individuals who will be redeemed. Others interpret such passages metaphorically and think the importance of the number is more symbolic than literal.

The challenge in our faith walk, it would seem, is to have a discerning spirit and know when to engage material at face value and when to engage it metaphorically. My question for you to consider today is this: how do you decide how to engage the material in the sacred texts? Do you chose whatever method seems most convenient for you on any given issue, or do you have other ways of discerning this? Til next time…

Wednesday, November 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 89; Nehemiah 13:4-22; Matthew 13:53-58; Revelation 12:1-12

Last night was an exceedingly difficult night for me. It was difficult because there were ballot measures before the voters in two states that dealt with the rights of members of my own community: the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender community. I can’t put into words how helpless one feels when you are a member of a minority community and the majority gets to decide whether or not you will get the same rights others.

As the results trickled in from Maine, I was moved to tears as I thought of how my friend Holly and her partner were losing their legal rights as a couple. Some of the grief was temporarily offset, however, when I learned that voters in my home state of Washington had protected the rights of same-gender couples. As I dug into the electoral map of Washington State, however, my joy was tempered when I saw that the voters of Eastern Washington (the place where I was born and raised) were strongly opposed to the recognition of such rights. It served as a brutal reminder that my family and I will probably never be welcomed back into the area in which I was raised.

Needless to say, I can totally relate to Jesus’ words in today’s passage from Matthew: ““‘Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” The words from the next verse are even more poignant for me: “And [Jesus] did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:57-58 from the NRSV).

While Jesus would have loved nothing more than to be in ministry with folks from his hometown, he was unable to. Jesus did not let that painful reality hold him back. He moved on to other areas that could receive his ministry. Jesus gave me a powerful example to follow as ten years ago I had to acknowledge the attitudinal limitations of the area in which I was raised and move on to other areas of the country that could receive my ministry.

Perhaps you are wrestling with a similar dynamic in your own life. Maybe there’s a group of people you would desperately love to reach that are not open to you. If that’s the case, I would encourage you too to follow Jesus’ example and move on to those who can receive the fullness of your gifts. Til next time…

Tuesday, November 3

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 42; Nehemiah 12:27-31a, 42b-47; Matthew 13:44-52; Revelation 11:1-19

I spent most of yesterday attending an event at Pepperdine University called “Finding Common Ground: Reconciliation Among the Children of Abraham”. The day was spent in a series of panels that addressed a variety of issues from three different perspectives: a Jewish perspective, a Muslim perspective, and a Christian perspective.

One of the more interesting moments of the day didn’t occur in a panel presentation; it occurred over lunch. After having explored various tools for interfaith dialogue during the workshops, a group of six of us was eating together when the topic of the conflict in the Middle East came up. In the course of the conversation, it was clear that several of the individuals who came from one side of the conflict were absolutely unyielding when it came to assessing the situation. They defined those persons on the other side of the issue as the sole source of the problem. One individual went so far as to say he could not imagine any scenario under which peace would even be a possibility!

With that conversation about land in the back of my mind, it was interesting to read today’s passage from Matthew, for the passage starts with a parable about land. “God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic,” the passage reads, “- what a find – and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field” (Matthew 13:44 from The Message).

There was a part of me that felt sad that individuals from all sides of the issue in the Middle East are so focused on the land that they are willing to sacrifice generation after generation to perpetual violence and death. It makes we wonder if they’ve lost sight of the treasure whose value exceeds that of the land itself. It would be wrong for me to make that judgment, however, as I (a person of another faith tradition from another part of the world) have no clue about what the land truly represents for folks on each side of the issue.

This issue challenges me to examine my own life and see if there are areas where I have become more focused on the equivalent of the land and lost sight of the hidden treasure. Perhaps the passage will invite you to explore those places in your own life as well. Til next time…