The Open Door

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. — Psalm 25:10

Read: Psalm 25-6-10


“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes… and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent. ” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer


During the frenzied pace of these December days, remember that God’s love for you is steadfast. The Hebrew word in this psalm is chesed, and its meaning is so much deeper than our English translations convey. Chesed is a concept rooted in covenant language, in the understanding that God will not let God’s people go. That is good news for all of us, especially in a the world that seems to chew folks up and spit them out.

We are created to be in relationship with God,and the hole at the center of our being that we so often try to fill with all manner of stuff and nonsense can only be satisfied when we trust and dwell in God’s chesed. The psalmist understands this need, this spiritual thirst that can only be slaked when we align our wills, our hearts, and our actions with God’s intent for us.

It’s a funny thing how we humans lock ourselves in prisons of our own frivolous construction, putting up barriers between the One who loves us beyond measure. Even as we desire God, we push against the bonds of this great love. Even though we build the cell, lock the door, and throw away the key of freedom, we are still dependent upon the mercy and chesed of the LORD.

The season of Advent reminds us that God is coming again to set us free. In the birth of Jesus we recall and experience how intimately we are loved by the Creator. God cares so much about every fiber of our being and each molecule of creation that the WORD put on flesh and lived with us. God comes again to open the door to our hearts.

That’s not the end. The good news doesn’t stop there. God writes on our heart, placing deep within us the teachings and instructions that lead to abundant life. The LORD again and again shatters barriers and breaks down walls.

Don’t let the frenzy of this season lock the doors of your heart and fog the windows of your soul. God’s steadfast love is here to wrap you in love,  mercy, beauty and light–a veritable patchwork of grace. Breathe in. Open your eyes and hold out your hands. God is near. The door is open.


Today take a few minutes to sit quietly and think about anything that threatens to separate you from living fully in the LORD’s chesed. Are you too frazzled, too busy, too stressed to be attentive to your covenant relationship with God? Resolve during this Advent time of preparation to remove one barrier so that the manger of your heart is ready to receive God again at Christmas.

Photo by jgurbisz. Thanks!

You Gonna Serve Somebody

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

                                                              — Bob Dylan

So I guess the question posed by a host of folks ranging from Bob Dylan in his classic song to Jesus of Nazareth in scripture is this: just who are you going to serve? I’ve been thinking about this question often this week while pondering, praying over, and writing this week’s sermon (based on Mark’s gospel, 10:35-45).

The sons of Zebedee, James and John, are jockeying for power and position in what they assume will be the earthly rule of their rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, the anointed one; in short, the one who will kick Herod’s behind and send the Romans packing. They have the חֻצְפָּה (or chutzpah, as we know it) ask for seats on either side of the throne.

What they don’t realize is that the reign of God and the Way of Jesus looks nothing like the traditional notions of power and glory. Notice that when Jesus asks them if they can drink from his cup, they respond like eager puppies that don’t take time to sniff for hemlock or sour milk. And even after they answer in the affirmative, Jesus tells them it’s not his call to dole out the prime real estate.

This little exchange ruffles the ego feathers of the other disciples. Clearly they don’t have Paul Harvey to give them “the rest of the story” or the record of scripture to fill them in. What they do have is Jesus, in the flesh, living with them and constantly trying to teach them. If you want to be great, Jesus says, you have to serve.

Not much has changed in 2000 plus years. We humans still have to serve somebody. Even Bob Dylan had that right. The question is who–or what–will you serve? Who–or what–will you put first in life?

If you intend to put Jesus (and thus, God) first, then you must be a servant to all. Funny how that kind of resonates with the great commandment in Luke 10:27 to love God with every fiber of your being and your neighbor as yourself.

Of course, I guess if it was easy to follow the Way of Jesus, everybody would be doing it and church pews would be full, and no one would be hungry or lacking the basics to live. No, it isn’t easy. That’s why people serve fame, fortune, consumer culture, alcohol, drugs, sex, power, and any other number of gods.

It is impossible to serve all and follow Jesus under our own steam and of our own volition. Do-it-yourself faith is simply not an option. The only way we are able to drink from the same cup as Jesus (aka the cup of suffering) is to rely fully and faithfully on Him. By faith through grace alone can we then walk through this world with open eyes, hearts, minds, and hands. Only by grace can we serve all and serve God.

So, who you gonna serve? I continue to echo the answer of Joshua and countless other faithful folk who have said: “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15b).

Photos by JuditK and F3LONY. Thanks!

$1.5 Billion Worth of “What If’s”

The question of “what if” and the slim prospect of sudden riches drove people to spend a collective sum of almost $1.5 billion on lottery tickets. Three people will split the $640 million jackpot and upwards of one billion people have one or more worthless pieces of paper spent chasing a dream. Click here for the complete story on

I have never bought a Mega Millions lottery ticket, and frankly I’m not sure how one goes about it. Because I am notoriously frugal, I don’t even like the idea of wasting money on a single ticket. My father is keen to remind me that you have to play to win, and he’s always saying “When I hit the jackpot…” Well, he’s in his mid-80s and has yet to collect the jackpot, much less any significant sum from his periodic ticket purchases.

On the other hand, I do have friends who won the lottery. They played very judiciously, and one week they got lucky. The exception rather than the rule, you’d never know it upon meeting them. They aren’t flashy with their money, and they are extremely generous. They have kept their perspective; the money didn’t change who they are as people. They serve, volunteer, give, and live just like they did before they won.

“What if” and a little piece of paper with a few numbers rarely change a life. You probably have a greater chance of dying in a plane crash or being struck by lightning than you do of winning the lottery. If you enjoy plunking down your hard-earned cash for a little hope and some dreams, more power to you. Go right ahead. Just don’t let it consume you or leave you disillusioned like many people are feeling right now because they weren’t one of the lucky three new mega-millionaires.

Go ahead and live your life, treasuring each precious minute. If you want to ask “what if’s,” consider these:

  • What if poverty could be eliminated in my lifetime?
  • What if everyone had access to clean water, shelter, and enough food to eat?
  • What if all children had the opportunity to go to school and learn?
  • What if all people had access to affordable healthcare and a job that paid a working wage?

Better yet, think up some of your own “what if” questions and then go out and do something to make them happen. Maybe it’s something in your own life.

  • What if you decided to start that business you’ve been dreaming about?
  • What if you finally started writing that novel?
  • What if you took a volunteer mission/service trip instead of a beach vacation this year?
  • What if you pledged to dedicate one night each week to quality time with your spouse, significant other, children, and/or parents?
  • What if you stepped out of your comfort zone and became a big brother or big sister to a child in need of mentoring?
  • What if you decided to find at least one thing for which to give thanks each day?
  • What if you gave up a meal out each week or month in order to give that money to an organization that would provide a scholarship to a child in Central America?

What if . . .?

You’ll never know if you don’t ask the questions. You’ll never realize the dream if you don’t do something about it. You’ll never make a difference if you don’t take action. Trust me–you have a much better chance of changing the world in your own small way than you do of winning the Mega Millions jackpot. Think about it.

What if . . .?

Photo by Swipp Inc. used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


Hooray for a Helpful Husband!

I’m thankful for all my family members–children, stepchildren, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, siblings-by-marriage, and second cousins twice removed–but today I am particularly thankful for my husband. I came home from a long day of continuing education, office work, and a good (albeit long) church council meeting to see that my husband had been quite busy being helpful and handy.

Our shared home office now appears to have twice the square footage, pictures have been hung, stuff taken to the attic, and other stuff hauled to the garage for trips to the rescue mission and a computer refurbishing ministry. Wow! The dishes were washed, the mail was brought in, the animals tended to, and he was outside cleaning camp stoves for a boy scout trip tomorrow. All that and he greeted me with a smile, a kiss, and a hug. It simply doesn’t get much better than that.

I have reason to be thankful for my husband every day. We’ve only been married for a little more than five months, but we’ve been friends for a decade. That means we know each other pretty well–the good, the bad, and the less than perfect. One thing I can say about my husband is that he is the epitome of a servant leader. He is generous with his time, his gifts, and his skills. He bakes amazing bread, shares cooking and cleaning duties, and he knows how to change the oil in our vehicles. In short, he can fix almost anything, including turning a frown to a smile. He writes poetry and prose, gives amazing back rubs, and takes his faith and vocation seriously. He shows his love for his spouse and children through acts of service and affirmations. We know how much he cares! Oh, did I mention he’s handsome and almost always happy, too? He has this awesome laugh and dry wit. Yep, I’m a lucky woman. I am thankful to be married to this man–not just today but every day of the year.

How about you? Do you have a spouse for whom you are thankful? Do you take time to tell your spouse each day how much you appreciate him or her? If not, or if you’ve fallen out of the habit, there’s no time like the present to give thanks for your relationship.



Thankful for the Gift of “WE”

What  do you get when you turn the “M” in “ME” upside down? Yup…you get a relationship in the word “WE.”

Today I am thankful I am for the gift of “WE.” This gratitude really started yesterday with a wonderful discussion group, followed by an uplifting worship service, and a productive Worship and Music committee meeting at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (where I serve as pastor with a fine group of folks). Then I drove home, spent some good time with my spouse and daughter, followed by a youth spaghetti supper and church auction at Trinity Lutheran Church (where my spouse serves as pastor with a fine group of folks).  We were both exhausted by bedtime, but it was a good tired–the kind that leaves you smiling and reflecting on the joys and blessings of the day.

Then, this morning I received a “Voice of the Day” quote in my e-mail in box from Sojourners that fit perfectly with my current thought of thanks-living. Let me share it with you:

“It has been said that there is no true person unless there are two entering into communication with one another. The isolated individual is not a real person. A real person is one who lives in and for others. And the more personal relationships we form with others, the more we truly realize ourselves as persons.”

–Kallistos Ware

Ware, born in England and raised in the Anglican tradition, is an Eastern Orthodox theologian who lectured at Oxford and is the author of many books and articles about the Orthodox Church. I find this quote compelling in its truth that we cannot truly realize ourselves through only our contact with our own self. We are created to be in relationship, and in the Judeo-Christian tradition we serve a relational creator. All one need do is read scripture to experience story after story of YHVH’s interaction with ordinary folks like us. It’s pretty cool stuff if you take the time to think about it.

It is so easy in 21st century North American culture to think primarily of “ME” and what constitutes one’s own needs and desires. Yet that is such a limited view of life. Consider the letter “M” itself. The openness is closed and downward. The “v” shape at the top pulls one inward and downward. The letter “W” is open and the “v” shape is inverted lifting upward and outward. Truly, “WE” is the “upside” of “ME.”

Likewise, when we are in relationship with others–be it family, friends, faith communities, or other groupings–life’s possibilities are wider and fuller. In recognizing, honoring, and interacting with others, real growth is possible. Life takes on rich meaning, layers, and textures. Not all relationships are pleasing or healthy, but all can be instructive and help foster greater understanding our ourselves, others, and the world.

Technology makes it possible to expand our relationships and broaden our horizons even more. Tonight, for example, I attended a church evangelism committee meeting via Skype. I also saw my mother’s face and heard her voice via the same technology. I connected with other friends, colleagues, and family members through e-mail, cell phone, and social networking. Oh, and I also spent good quality time with family members and friends face-to-face, too.

A solitary life may be a spiritual discipline for a few hearty souls called to such an ascetic life, but for me (and for most of the world) the “WE” of relationships is a gift for which we may truly be thankful. I am grateful for the gift of community, relationship, and the possibilities of moving from simply little ‘ol “ME” to wonderful “WE.”

What about “WE” do you value? What challenges are present in the experience of “WE”? What interaction with another person or people added meaning to your life today?

Photo by opensourceway used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!