Five things I learned writing daily Lent devotions

A week before Ash Wednesday (February 14 this year), I cast a line via my weekly email into the congregation announcing that I would be writing daily devotions on Mark’s version of the passion of our Lord during the forty-six days of Lent (I included the Sundays). About twenty replied and received a daily early-morning email devotion. This was a new project for me, and here’s what I learned from the experience. Continue reading

Sounds of heaven

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Photo by Fab Lentz on Unsplash

A couple of days ago I waded into the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. From previous readings, I knew there would be much I wouldn’t understand. But as always happens, something would capture my imagination. Something would resonate.

In the very first chapter, Ezekiel’s visions include creatures with faces and wings within earshot of the voice of God. “As they flew, their wings sounded to me like waves crashing against the shore” (Ezekiel 1:24 NLT). I’ve heard that sound lots of times. Could it mean that  I’ve heard some of the sounds of heaven?

That would be awesome. Heaven always seems so far away, so remote, so distant. Yet if some of its sounds echo in our world, it might not be so far away after all. Are there any other sounds? Sure there are: thunder, a mighty rushing wind, a river, silence. Those are some that immediately come to mind. I’m sure there are more. I’ve heard all these. I’ve heard the sounds of heaven.

Maybe we should spend more time just listening.

Five ways to stay close to God during a busy holiday season.

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Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash

It seems like a no-brainer. The holiday season, spanning Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and New Years is rooted in Christian tradition, filled with special music and worship services, and fills our view with many Christian themes. The busyness of the season, whether it’s planning for guests, getting ready for travel, scheduling worship, buying and wrapping gifts or practicing for performances, we may discover that there isn’t a whole lot of room for Christ himself, a problem dating back to the birth of our Lord.

So, how do you stay close to God during this fun, amazing and busy time of the year?

Put him on the calendar. There’s worship at your church on Sunday mornings and maybe some midweek services during Lent. Ink them in and be there. Our Lord promises to join our worship gatherings of two, three or more, speaks to us as His Word is proclaimed, and brings His gifts of grace in the sacrament. These worship moments provide an anchor when you find yourself being pulled in many different directions.

Do a “plus one.” OK, you already have a morning quiet time or evening devotion. Grab a seasonal devotion and give him an extra five minutes. Our church gives them out. Many are available online. Here’s a great one from Lutheran Hour Ministries. Just like that first cup of coffee, jump start your day with His word rather than all the other things going on. It makes all the difference in the world. (Bonus points: get or make a little Advent wreath and burn the candles.)

Play a little sacred seasonal music. You can listen to non-stop Christian music every day beginning well before Thanksgiving. Much of it, however, will be secular rather than sacred. You can find it on Pandora, Spotify, YouTube and Amazon if you look. Most of your favorite artists have a Christmas album. I like “All I Want For Christmas is You” and “Sleigh Ride” as much as the next person, but you can do a whole lot better.

If you send Christmas cards, send one with a Christian message. You would not believe how many member of my church send me secular Christmas cards featuring cardinals, snowmen, and Santas! It’s usually around 50%! There are so many amazing and affordable cards that creatively capture the birth of Christ. Pick up a box of those to send out, for your sake and theirs.

Serve. Help out at church, help out a neighbor, help at a local ministry. Don’t just give something or send something. Be there. Jesus said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Jesus came and spent time with those who seemed furthest away from the kingdom. That’s where you’ll still find him in this world.

If those don’t work for you, I’m OK with that. If gingerbread, Burl Ives, Kris Kringle, mistletoe and the Hallmark Channel do it for you, go for it. If not, why not try something different this year?

Brownies, beagles and badmouthing: This and That (for February 28, 2015)

Here are a few things I’ve run across this week.

This is a tough one (but a good one) to read for those who are of a different political persuasion: Why you should think twice before badmouthing Obama.

browniesFood news! (My weekly this and that apparently now needs a “food” section.) From the UK, a grandmother finds a Monopoly piece in her cole slaw. You’ll soon be able to get edible coffee cups in Great Britain and butter-flavored Kit Kats in Japan. And I’ll let you know when I’ve whipped up a batch of Pinot Noir Brownies.

BeagleBayleePurebredDogs8Months1Now that a beagle has won the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, some may be thinking about getting a beagle of their own. My family had a beagle when I was growing up in Ridley Park, PA. His registered name was Sir Richard of Hastings, my dad called him Schnitz (short for Schnitzle),  but we mostly called him Bo. (Why? It’s a long story for another post.) Anyway, he had all the characteristics of the breed mentioned in Beware the Beagle. Before he fattened up, he would bolt the minute the front door was open a millimeter too wide or a millisecond too long. He would search out the most minute crumbs of food throughout the house. And he never tired of guarding the yard from squirrels.

Wait for it – Matthew 1:24-25

“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:24-25).

If anyone ever underestimates Joseph's part in the story of Christ's birth, they just need to read these two verses. Some honeymoon, huh? I know, I should be a little more reverent, but the whole idea of getting married is so that you can “know” your wife (and I know you know what that means!). Obedient, patient, self-controlled — if you ask me, Joseph is one heck of a husband!

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Matthew 1:22-23 Fulfillment and a sign

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I find it very interesting that Matthew draws on so much Old Testament prophecy to tell the story. Here, he quotes Isaiah 7:14 and links it to Jesus’ birth. I can’t imagine anyone at the time of Isaiah had the slightest clue what these words would later mean.

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Matthew 1:20-21 A name

sleeping“…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). 

As an angel unveils what God has done, Joseph discovers he’s right in the middle of it. God’s plan includes him. He is to marry Mary, name her son and be his father. Just a few moments before, Joseph was ready to walk away. Not so fast, Joseph! You’ve got an important role. You’re the connection with David. You’ve got a wife to take care of. You get to name the Savior. Continue reading

Matther 1:18-21 Doing the right thing

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins'”(Matthew 1:18-21).

Here are a couple of people who are just trying to do the right thing. They plan to get married, have children, start their life together. God shows up and upsets their plans. (After all, his plans aren’t our plans and his ways aren’t our ways.) So, Joseph tries to do the right thing with a quiet divorce, adhering to the law while sparing his fiancee some very severe consequences. But then Joseph learns in a dream that the right thing is indeed marriage, children and a life with Mary. He received the assurance, “It’s OK. And it’s going to be OK.” Continue reading

Matthew 1:17 Fourteen?

“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17).

Lot of numbers in the Bible have significance: six days of creation, twelve disciples, forty days and nights of rain. But what about fourteen? Why does Matthew make us notice the three sets of generations in the ancestry of Jesus Christ? Actually, Matthew skips a few names so that it will fit this pattern. Why? Continue reading