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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.

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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.

Lessons in Mission from the Man in Black

As I write this I am listening to a collection of Johnny Cash’s greatest hits, many of which were recorded from performances for prisoners.

Sometimes being a missionary does not mean doing anything different than you normally do. Sometimes it is even most effect when it just means changing the venue, and doing what you normally do anyway in a different place or with different people. The result is a spiritual transformation of your normal work into a gift from God for others to receive as a blessing.

Suggestions for a Palm Sunday / Holy Snow Day

It feels strange to kick off Holy Week with a snow-day, but many Kansas City area churches were forced to cancel worship services due to the unusually timed snow storm that hit the area last night, and continues to drop more, very wet snow onto the roads.  Even though our church is still holding services, it is a fairly long drive, and in my estimation is not worth the risk.  Besides, waving palm branches when you need a heavy coat and gloves seems … odd.

So, what to do on this Holy Snow Day?  I’ve got some suggestions, in case you are surfing the web, sipping your coffee, and pondering the same question this morning.

Worship Online

I’ll grant you that it doesn’t quite feel the same as being there, but it can be a good substitution on a day like today.  I will be worshiping online today at Church of the Resurrection, which will hold online services at 10:45 AM or 5:00 PM CT.

Read a Sermon

Reading a sermon can be a good exercise too.  You have the option to look at the Scriptural sources and go a little deeper.  Old Mission United Methodist Church cancelled services today, but their senior pastor, Dr. Michael Gardner posted the text of his sermon online.  Perhaps you would like to give it a read by clicking here.

Read a Devotion

Andrew Peterson wrote some wonderful devotions for Holy Week.  There are daily readings starting with Palm Sunday going through Easter.  Today would be a good day to start reading it.  (Click here.)  If you are looking for some good music to accompany Holy Week, Andrew Peterson’s Resurrection Letters Volume 2 is a good companion.

Read the Scriptures

Finally, you might want to supplement any of the above by reading one or more accounts of Palm Sunday in the Gospels:

Enjoy your snowy Palm Sunday, and remember: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Reclaiming Advent: Spiritual Disciplines

Advent will be upon us faster than I care to imagine. It always seems to move too fast, with the focus on the end goal of Christmas Day. I remember fondly as a child the anticipation of this season, as soon as the Christmas tree was in the living room. The time leading up to Christmas, at least in my memory, was often better than the event itself. I remember quiet moments in a dim living room, staring closely at the lights of the Christmas tree with a calm sense of meditation, although I probably would not have considered it meditation at the time.

This year I feel a strong desire to reclaim that peace in the otherwise hectic and chaotic season. Christmas is still the end-goal of our culture, but in the counter-culture that Christ would ask for, I want to instead focus on Advent, and focus on the anticipation, rather than the event.

To that end, I have a question: what spiritual practices/disciplines have you found that help you to focus on the season of advent, or the presence of God?

This morning, I woke up early, before sunrise, and sat on the patio of our back yard. To set the stage, I was hoping to see some of the Leonid meteor shower, but the sky was starting to lighten with the approaching dawn, so that was not going to happen. Instead of staring at the quickly disappearing stars, I prepared a percolator for the morning coffee, and sat it on a camp-stove on the patio table. This engaged three of my senses: the occasional sip of the coffee, the aroma emanating from the pot, and the gentle hiss of the stove making a background white noise on the otherwise silent morning. I read some blogs I had fallen behind on, explored some podcasts I might want to subscribe to, and before I knew it, nearly 90 minutes had passed and the sun was gentling kissing the tree tops.

I never consciously prayed during this time, but I feel like I was continuously in an attitude of prayer. I wonder if this is in some way what the Benedictines strive for when all activities and thought are done as a prayer, or in accompaniment with prayer? This was a good start to my day.

The reason for my question, however, is because I am looking for something more sustainable than 90 minutes each day. I am not sure I could commit to this routine and amount of time every morning. On the other hand, John Wesley asked those who would follow him in roles of spiritual leadership to be sure to start each day with prayer: at least 4-5 hours each morning. Maybe I need to reconsider what is sustainable in a daily spiritual discipline?

Discernment, Interviews, and Ordination

It seems fitting that the day before we head into the season of Lent that I should be reflecting on my calling to ministry. On Thursday, February 23, 2012 I make my first appearance before the District Committee on Ordained Ministry, DCOM for short. I like the acronym… it makes me think of the old DEFCON levels from the movie War Games. The DEFCON level equated to higher levels of military alert and preparedness for action or military strike. In a way, DCOM is not so dissimilar. The primary stated purpose is to make sure that candidates for ministry are fit, ready, and effective for ministry in the United Methodist Church.

Personally, I find this process another opportunity to discern my calling to ministry, to raise the DEFCON level a notch, and critically look at what God is speaking to me. In that manner, it is not a worrisome process, it is an affirming process reminding me that that I am unequivocally moving in the right direction, even if it feels like my progress is slow.

At this point in my journey, I am still full-time employed in my secular career, and do not have any immediate plans to leave it. I enjoy my career, but I recognize that it is a bit of a stumbling block, because I would rather spend my time actively engaged in God’s work more directly than I can in the corporate world. (As a footnote: I do not mean to undermine the importance of being a witness of Christ’s love in any workplace, only that it is not the calling that is tugging on my heart.)

I do not know God’s time-line for my career transition, but past experiences continue to teach me that patience will always yield the answer I need, just maybe not when I would prefer to know it. Note I said the answer I need, not the answer I want – one must be flexible when dealing with orders sent from above.

Please pray for me that this may be a time of discernment, affirmation of my calling, and perhaps lead to greater clarity.

Advent – Part 3: Peace on Earth, and machine guns for all?

Peace on earth, and machine guns for all?

When I first saw the article on NPR I was angry. A gun club in Arizona was offering pictures of your children with Santa Claus and a host of weapons. My gut reaction was that this was some sort of blasphemy to put a culture and climate of war and weaponry into what is supposed to be a season of peace and goodwill to all humankind.

To involve machine guns and Santa in a celebration in the birth of Jesus Christ is the worst kind of heresy I can imagine.

Arizona state Rep. Steve Farley

So I’m right there with Rep. Farley on this. Until… I stepped back and looked at his statement a little bit closer… Machine guns and Santa. Machine guns, definitely don’t have much to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. But… does Santa as the spokesperson for the over commercialized consumeristic side of the holiday season really have anything to do with Jesus either? Maybe my offense is misplaced. I will downgrade the concept from blasphemous to inappropriate. It’s still wrong to place an image of childhood innocence next to weapons of war.  But perhaps not an outright insult directed at God.

Had the scene for the holiday portraits involved Mary and Joseph wearing full camouflage sporting his and hers grenade launchers with baby Jesus in a flak jacket, that would probably cross the blasphemy line for me.

What does the peace of Christ look like this holiday season? Through birth, death, resurrection, and his many ministries with the poor, sick, and outcast of society, Jesus looked at taking down the barriers of society to show love to all humanity. There are many great ways this is carried out, but I just learned about one that truly goes against the machine gun toting Santa.

In Colombia, the military wanted to find a new way to turn guerrilla insurgents away from their violence. They chose to light up large trees in the jungle with Christmas lights with a message of amnesty if they would lay down their weapons and come home. The result was a significant response to their message, more than previous attempts.

The message of peace is powerful. No amount of violence can silence the victory of peace and resurrection.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

Advent – Part 2: Prepare the Way

Breeze Hill Winter Sunrise

(“Breeze Hill Winter Sunrise” by Vic Sharp on Flickr)

I usually find myself looking forward to the Christmas season starting in the hot summer months, usually sometime around July. Maybe it is in part because I don’t enjoy hot weather, and the thought of cold quiet nights sounds appealing. I think it has more to do with longing for the idyllic image of Christmas I have in my head: a time of peace, meditative reflection, and a sense of God-is-with-us.

Okay, that was July. Now fast forward to November and December. Christmas is fast upon us. The weeks of Advent seem to pass too quickly for all the shopping, baking, party going, family visiting, and so many other activities that go into our reality of Christmas. The image I had in my mind in July does not usually match up with the reality of December.

The antidote is preparation:

A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD…”

The words of the prophet ring out as a reminder. Though not necessarily the context in which Isaiah had in mind, the need to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord is no less urgent. We aren’t in the literal wilderness any more, but sometimes our daily lives feel like a metaphorical wilderness, removed distantly from the God we serve.

This morning I woke up very early to a still, small voice whispering beside my bed: “Daddy, I had a bad dream. There were ants in it.” My little boy crawled up in bed beside me and whispered to me the story of his bad dream and let me hold him in my arms. The clock said it was about 5:00 AM, an hour before my alarm would rudely force me out of bed. Eventually I realized I was not going to fall back to sleep, so I very gently tried to get out of bed, thinking I was being careful enough not to wake anyone else up, when I heard another whisper… “but this last dream was very funny” and a few giggles ensued.

Matthew had a great plan: eat breakfast and get dressed for school early so he would be all ready to walk out the door, then he could play without worry of being late to school.

By waking me up so early, he gave me an opportunity to enjoy the quiet of the morning, read some familiar Advent scriptures, and meditate on my own preparations for the coming of the Christmas season in my heart.  I am grateful for the opportunity, even if it was not how I planned it.

What steps are you taking to prepare the way of the Lord this Advent season?

Advent – Part 1

Moonlight

(“Moonlight” by ShironekoEuro on Flickr.)

I took the better part of two weeks off from my usual routine of bicycling to work.  My schedule was more chaotic than usual and the weather just was not entirely conducive to a positive cycling experience.  Last week I made an effort to get back into my usual routine.  All felt right with the world again, being back in my routine and getting some exercise in the process.

My first ride home I realized just how early the sun sets after the change from daylight savings time and this time of year.  The darkness of my surroundings accentuated the lights of cars, signs on buildings, and traffic lights.  The moon was full or close to it, creating a very unique lighting of my surroundings.  The trees overhead had lost most or all of their leaves and cast spooky shadows from the moonlight.  There was a chill in the air with a new combination of scents that seemed to say that winter is close at hand.

It was the lights that really grabbed my eyes. My mind was consistently drawn to the colors green and red, and for the first time this season I started thinking about Advent and Christmas.  The holy season snuck up on me almost unnoticed.  This sudden epiphany warmed my heart.  This particular night I worked late and the streets were very quiet allowing my thoughts to center on the meaning of this season.  A sense of peace washed over my heart as I pedaled my way home.

I find myself clinging to this peace, desperately hoping that I do not allow Christ to get lost in my heart this Christmas.


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