Merry Christmas. Pass it on.

As I watched the light passed from one person to the next as part of the candlelight service tonight, I was transported back in time. I remembered as a child, or perhaps a youth, receiving the light from the person on one side of me, watching the flame take hold of my candle, and then passing to the person next to me. I always looked around to other rows to see if there was someone else I could pass it to. I don’t seem to remember that ever happening, and it always felt disappointing. I really wanted to be able to share that light with more people.

The good news about Christmas is that Jesus, the real light of the world, gave us light that has no limits on how many times we can pass it on. We can pass it to the person on the other side of us, certainly, but we can pass it to everyone in all directions — even pass it back to the person who passed it to us. The light of Jesus is the hope, love, joy, and peace God shared with us — and God never intended us to hold on to it.

Merry Christmas. Pass it on.

Annie by Candlelight

The Irony of Thanksgiving

The holiday of Thanksgiving feels more ironic to me this year than I’ve noticed in years past. It is the time that we celebrate our European ancestors’ immigration to our country, at a time our country debates who should be let in. It’s a time we celebrate all we are thankful for, and follow it with the Black-Friday celebration of all the things we still want.

Take a few moments today to prayerfully consider what you are thankful for. Make it a long list. Remember that Christmas is not your birthday, so consider giving to the charity of your choice an amount equal to what you will spend on your friends and family this holiday season.

Seth Godin writes:

A modern Thanksgiving would celebrate two things:

  • The people in our lives who give us the support and love we need to make a difference, and…
  • The opportunity to build something bigger than ourselves, something worth contributing to. The ability to make connections, to lend a hand, to invent and create.


If you need a way to kick-start the conversation of Thanksgiving, consider Seth’s Thanksgiving Reader.  

Happy Thanksgiving.

Taking God For Granted

I’ve written about feeling disconnected from God before. I’ve tried to avoid it before, too. I feel it again. Here is the root of it, I think: every day is spent in service to God. That is not a bad thing, in fact, it is what I claim that I want every day to be.

So – why do I feel disconnected from God so much of the time?

I examined my weekly routine and arrived at what I believe may be the answer: I do spend at least a portion of each day in service to God, but if I am honest and reflect on the average day, I do not spend that time focused on God.  

During the week I spend time learning about God and the church for my seminary classes; but I do not learn with God.

I serve my church in part by working as the audio/video technician; but I am usually concentrating on the logistics involved and not fully in an attitude of worship.

I lead group classes on various topics; but my focus is more on making sure the class gets what the individuals need, not on what I could learn in the process.  

Through all of this, I usually find that I do not have (or, more accurately, do not make) the time to spend in personal devotion or focused worship.

I think in this context, I take for granted that by doing godly activities, I will experience God’s presence. That cannot happen unless I am doing those godly activities with my eyes focused on God’s presence in and through what I do.

Are You a Writer?

At a Christian writer’s conference that my wife, Dawn, attended this week, I needed to deliver something to her while she was in a group session.  Someone asked me a question that I have not been asked before, are you a writer, too?

I didn’t really know how to answer it, for some reason.  Well, am I?  While I was pondering this, Dawn answered for me: Yes he is. He goes to seminary.

Well … I guess by definition if you are a seminarian, you are a writer. I do spend a lot of time thinking and writing theologically, but my blog has suffered as a result. I learn a lot while writing for classes, but the best spiritual growth comes when I am writing for myself, either here or journaling.

As one of my professors says, sometimes you just have to sit down and start writing. I will try to do that more, and try not to over-think what I write here, and above all, try not to take myself too seriously!

Help hold me to that. If I’m too quiet, rattle my cage.

The Legacy of a Smile and a Generous Heart

My grandfather on my dad’s side of the family passed away several years ago.  He was an amazing carpenter, who could turn wood into works of art the way other artists work with clay, paint, or any other medium.

I love to work with wood myself, but I have only a small fraction of his knowledge, skill, and craftsmanship ability.  I also have several of his tools in my basement, including the bandsaw pictured here.

This year, as in years past, I invited Cub Scouts to bring their blocks of pine wood over, draw an image on the top and side, and I would cut it out for them, then leave the finish sanding, additional carving, and painting up to them.  After an afternoon of helping out these boys, and receiving many warm thank-yous from them and their parents, I took another look at the bandsaw, and for a split second felt a little bad about it.  It is an amazing machine, hand built by my great-uncle especially for my grandfather, his big brother.  I felt a little bit small in the shadows of these two great craftsmen: one who could make anything out of metal, and the other who could make anything out of wood … and here I am making a block of wood to roughly approximate the appearance of various kinds of race cars.

The sensation didn’t last long, because I realized that I was creating something using this tool, after all.  It wasn’t a wooden masterpiece, it was smiles on all those little boys’ faces.  The two things I remember most about my grandfather are his smile and his laugh.  … and knowing his generous heart, I can see him smiling ear-to-ear because of several happy cub scouts benefitting from one of his tools, and a small fraction of skill that got passed down to me.

Sometimes it’s not the things that we do or make that are significant; instead, it is the love that we pass on through what we do.  That is the legacy that my grandfather, among others, have left for me to pass on to others.  It is a legacy with a deep faith tradition from our Creator who taught us to share love with everyone we meet.

Welcome to a new year.  Share your inheritance of Christ’s love with everyone you meet.

What Makes a Miracle?

I read an article that looks at debate surrounding the virgin birth of Jesus.  Quite a few different viewpoints are made, looking at Scripture, culture, and the very nature of the divine.  It is an interesting read, but it raised a different question for me: what makes a miracle?

Was the virgin birth in and of itself the miracle?

… or was the fact that God demonstrated to us first hand what it means to love God and love our neighbor no matter what the real miracle.

… no matter how much the consumer-driven world tells us that God is not relevant.

… no matter how difficult our neighbor might be.

… no matter how difficult it is to focus on God in our noisy world.

… no matter the violence around us and directed to us.

Putting love ahead of everything else is the miracle I see displayed in the Gospels.  Gospel, after all, means “good news.”

For your Christmas present this year, take the love that Jesus demonstrated for us and share it.  In so doing, you will be a miracle for those you meet.

Merry Christmas.  

Working with my hands … for the sake of my mind

I’ve often noticed that my favorite hobbies are ones that involve using my hands to build, shape, repair, or re-make something.  When I am too busy to make time for these hobbies, I find that my mental faculties just aren’t as sharp as they might otherwise be.  When I read this quote below, it put some things together for me that I was missing:

There’s something about the rhythm of the hands being busy and then your body falls open to absorb and concentrate on what you’re listening to, but not completely, because you have two concentrations. And then from that, that sort of cultivates a kind of attention.
—Ann Hamilton, in Making, and the Spaces we Share.

I’m familiar with kinesthetic learning, but Hamilton’s concept of “two concentrations” seems to go beyond that.  It is more like “kinesthetic attention” (if such a term is defined anywhere).  This is engaging the body in movement, and aiding concentration in the process — even if it is concentration on something not directly related to the physical task at hand.

If I need proof for myself: some of my best “thinking” and “ah-ha” moments happen while I am mowing the lawn.

Why I consider myself an inclusive Christian

When I first interviewed with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry, and every year since, I’ve discussed the controversial topic of same-sex partners in the church.  The first time it was a question directed to me, and I didn’t have a solid answer, other than to confess that I was firmly planted on the proverbial fence as it related to the issue.  I felt like I could see valid points to the arguments in either direction, but could not make an opinion that I could call my own.  I was unsure and fearful of taking my own stand on the wrong side of the debate.

Every year since, I’ve volunteered to speak on where my soul-searching and Scripture-searching has led me on the topic with the Committee.  I feel as a Christian, and especially as a candidate in ministry, I have a responsibility to research, discuss, question, and pray on sticky topics until I have some place to put a stake in the ground and say “this is what I believe.”  … even if I have to put a footnote that indicates that this is subject to change without prior written notification.

A few months ago I felt I finally reached the point where I am ready to put a stake in the ground as it relates to who should be “in” the church.  I recall the exact moment the thought came to me, almost as an epiphany:

When I stand before the throne of judgement to give an account of my life, I would rather answer the question of “why did you let these people in?” than answer the question “why did you keep these people out?”

For me, after that thought entered my head, things looked a lot clearer on the issue that previously felt like nothing more than a gray fog.

If you have an issue you can’t decide right from wrong, please don’t give up.  Keep wrestling with it until you can take a stand on it.  Once you’ve taken a stand, keep listening and wrestling.  We must remain humble in our judgments because we are mortal and finite beings, trying to understand the will and direction of an immortal and infinite God.

Faith as Wesley Lived It

Attending a Methodist seminary and studying on the deacon track in the United Methodist Church means I have read a lot of and about John Wesley.  What draws me to Wesley’s theology is that whenever I read it, it feels as though it was written for the times we are living in right now, not two hundred years ago.  The timeless relevance makes me look at my life differently.

Adam Hamilton has an upcoming book titled Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It.  On August 7, at 2:00 PM CT, Ministry Matters will be hosting a webinar with Hamilton to discuss this new book.  Please consider yourself invited to join in.

The webcast will be available at this link:

Christmas in July

This summer I have found myself in a bit of a spiritual funk. That’s the technical term when you feel like you’ve just spent thirty nine and a half years wandering in the desert following Aaron and Moses and feeling as spiritually dry as the forsaken desert surrounding us.

I selected some music to help move me out of the funk and into the promised land. The music I picked: Christmas music. Seasonally it seems inappropriate, but for the purpose of turning my mood around, it is just what the doctor ordered. It helps remind me that my faith is the birth of something new in me, and it is constantly being re-born.

Merry Christmas. Don’t get too hot outside…

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