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December 2021

What Can Happen When Community Comes Together

Hunger fresno 2018CLICK

Eleven years ago, we came together and made a difference right from our homes.
Here is a reminder of what community can accomplish.
Eleven Years Ago - A diverse group of friends from Fresno County came together on Facebook to raise money from Walmart for hunger in our valley.
We had hoped to get one million dollars and came in second for that.
We did manage to win 2nd place and gained $100,000.
Many of us were up night and day clicking, forwarding, liking, sharing, and promoting the cause. My Toastmaster friend, Debbie Naranjo enlisted me.
I made some wonderful friends during this effort.
Alumni! Check in! It was a great moment of community.
And a continued congratulations to Salt Lake City who beat us by a hair!
Here is what I recorded at the time. I think some of it is still relevant because the struggle continues:

The Mending Wall

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“And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.” – Isaiah 54:12

Robert Frost, in “The Mending Wall,” declared that “good fences make good neighbors.”

Isaiah conveys a word from the Lord that seems to agree. He speaks of a day when there will be peace, righteousness, and freedom from fear. Security will be assured and life will be pleasant for the people of God.

One of the features of such a day will be clearly defined borders or boundaries. There will be no ambiguity, no argument, and no confusion over what is whose and where one stands.

I crossed over into a neighbor’s yard out of necessity this very day. Yet, as I did so, I knew that without permission and agreement, I was trespassing. I would have been crossing a line I had no business crossing.

Isaiah’s prophecy anticipates the day when no one crosses the line of violation of another person’s rights and dignity. As one popular Christian song of the sixties put it, “We’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

What God will bring about as naturally as the rain in the righting of all things, we work very hard at today. What will flow freely in the day of the Lord’s righteousness, we struggle for in this realm of time, space, and sin. Lines of what is appropriate are being crossed all the time by some while others frantically seek to preserve them and protect what they perceive is their own.

In God’s new day, no one will have to protect his property, dignity, rights, or territory. God will take care of it all and it will be lovely.



Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’


In All Their Distress and Sea Change

Photo by D Konishi on Unsplash
" all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old." - Isaiah 63:9 (NRSV)
This is the personal involvement of God in the distress of His people.
We continue to celebrate Christmas on the Christian calendar and in life, the message of the incarnation is one of God's personal involvement in the pain and passion of people.
It is our clarion call to be personally involved, with passion in the pain around us ... present.
We must be present for God is present.
We cannot stand back and gaze upon suffering and injustice with nods and sneers and detached prayers. Our prayers must be attached to our lives and the lives of others.
We will see this lived out as the homeless Jesus becomes a refugee in a foreign land, an alien among a strange people.
Personal involvement. 
Bonus - This Morning's Sermon 

Download Sea Change



This Day - Advent Gospels - Day 27

Advent gospel reADINGS

SolLunaCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons



Away in a Manger

Luke 2:7

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

 Everyone knew what a manger was, and it was no place for a king. Everyone knew what swaddling clothes were and that they were unfit garb for the Lord of glory. Nor should he have been relegated to a barn.

But they just didn’t understand, and we are still having a hard time “getting it.”

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed.”

This is His poverty, His willing emptying of Himself, His lowliness and love to identify with the least and the lost among us.

No crib - no bed – no amenities – no sanitized conditions – just a trough where the livestock were fed, just rough clothes to cover Him and keep Him somewhat warm. He became as the lowliest among us.

“The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.”

He was there, helpless, and sweet, all God and all man, emptied of all the riches and prerogatives that were rightfully His, poor and needy like us. Who couldn’t love such a baby? Who wouldn’t?

“The stars in the sky looked down where He lay.”

No one standing by would have known how all of creation that night was subject to that little bundle of new life. Humanity has no capacity to notice when millions of angels bow and worship. And yet, it was happening all around them.

 “The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.”

God grant that we do not miss Him lying there. May we not overlook Him, take Him for granted, or minimize His importance. He is so easily discarded and disregarded, but He cannot be ultimately ignored.  May your heart today become His manger, your flesh, His swaddling clothes, and your heart like the stars in the sky that bow before Him

Fear Not

 Luke 2:10

 And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings…”

 We live in a generation beset with fear where security has assumed a greater value than freedom. We want secure stocks, secure airports, and secure streets. We seek out secure jobs, secure families, and homes so secure that no one can get in or out.  The same bars that lock burglars out, entrap residents in the even of a fire. We are obsessed with safety, security, and fear.

It was an uneventful night when an angel invaded the darkness of complacency, security, and safety that defined the shepherds’ existence, Explosive light called them to attention. A voice they had never heard summoned them with these words, “Fear not!” Their restless contentment had for too longed masked their anxious resignation that things would always continue as they had been. They rested secure in the routine existence to which they believed they had been assigned until they were disturbed by a great light and an authoritative voice that called tem to revive their expectations and renew their hope.

Life would become delightfully dangerous and spontaneous again as they redefined peace and realigned their hopes with a promise, they could neither control nor verify. They were being called to a new kind of life where they would sneer at fear and move out in faith to a place they could never find on their own. In a few moments, they would receive all of the evidence they needed to say, “Let us go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

 And so, they would move out with a new kind of urgent haste – unlike the haste of other days. This urgency would have no root in fear or distress. It would be the haste of child to the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, the hurried pace of a soldier returning home from battle to his loved ones, the sprint of an athlete in the last lap of a race for Olympic gold. It would be the end of fear for the shepherds and for all who would embrace the promise given to them and to us that night: “Behold!”


Good Tidings

 “… I bring you good tidings …” -  from Luke 2:10

 Christmas is about good news. It is the gospel message delivered by God’s messenger to all who will hear.

There was nothing frightening or negative about the message the angel brought to these shepherds Nor was there any indication that they received the word because of any particular merit or worthiness on their part. It came to them by grace and God knew that they would respond with spontaneous, childlike faith, and inquisitive wonder.

God knew that they would receive the message as good tidings.

How do we receive words from God? To be more specific: How do we receive the Word of God that comes to us with great regularity and is always available to our eyes, ears, and hearts? Have we grown cold, indifferent, and spiritually grumpy in our familiarity with the good news?

It is no mere concession to secularity that we should say, “Merry Christmas!” It is the ancient wisdom of the Word of God that says, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine …” (Proverbs 17:22) God has diagnosed the essential disease of humankind and has sent forth His healing balm in the person of His only begotten Son.

The very presence of Jesus is good news. It is cause for celebration, merriment, and singing. It dispels fear and brings smiles to the faces of all that honestly and openly receive the news. It is good tidings in that it overshadows all the bad news of the day. It crucifies the curmudgeon inside each of us and wipes out our negativity. Even the Ebenezer Scrooges of the world have to confess that we live in the day that the Lord has made.

Receive God’s Word today as good tidings to your soul. Even if it brings correction, rebuke, and conviction, His good news is sent to bring you healing and grace.

Great Joy

 “I bring you good tidings of great joy.” - from Luke 2:10

 The literary giant, C.S. Lewis said that joy is the serious business of Heaven. There is no sadness, nor are there tears, or pain in Heaven. Every moment is an occasion for rejoicing and praise. Joy is, indeed, the serious business of Heaven.

The angel brought news, and it was good, but it was good tidings with a specific end in sight: Great Joy!

To continue the theme from the previous portion of the verse, there is an appropriate emotional response to the message of Christmas. It is joy!

If we do not jump for joy at this news, we have somehow missed it. We cannot embrace the Word of God that came to the shepherds without an overwhelming experience of joy. If we refuse joy, we refuse grace; if we refuse grace, we refuse God. It is the harsh but simple truth of the matter. Joy is built into the equation and is as clear and compelling evidence of spiritual conversion as exists.

Christmas, though not biblically mandated on the calendar, is clearly a God ordained, ongoing response to the incarnation of Divinity into the realm of humanity. It is not a day; it is a frame of mind. It is not a season; it s an attitude of the heart. It is not an event; it is an emotional response to God with one’s whole being.

Joy to the world; the Lord is come!

Where do you get it? You receive it in the exercise there of. Confess joy and express joy and God’s joy will fill you. Like any act of faith, the sensation may tarry, but act in joy from the depths of your spirit and you will begin to experience its manifestation within. Fully engage yourself in the worship of Jesus Christ this season. Rejoice. We have some great news!

To All People

 “ … I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.” from Luke 2:10

 God’s joy is of universal application. There is much talk today about “inclusiveness.” We are told tat the church must use inclusive language and that inclusiveness means accepting certain behaviors as within the realm of “normality.” That is not what the gospel proclaims. The gospel declares that something outside of ourselves, outside of language and theology, outside of our political beliefs, outside of our self-worth and self-justification has invaded the world with good news.

The good news is that whoever you are, whatever you believe, whatever you have done, whatever your opinion of yourself may be, however you choose to identify yourself, you are the object of God’s love and grace. The news is that Jesus has come to and for you and that you are no different than anyone else in this regard.

The news is a call to respond in faith and obedience. It is a summons to come and worship, to bow down, to seek out the stable and the manger and the child and fall down before Him. It is a call to leave behind our false pride, self-sufficiency, and stubborn ways and follow the way of the cross.

Inclusiveness means, for the believer, a missionary calling. It means that this good news must be heard by every human being. It means that when we tell it, we are not condemning people, but affirming their value to God. When we tell it, we are not excluding them, but inviting them to the table of grace. When we tell it, we are not being obnoxious, but following the clear and gracious compulsion of love.

This kind of inclusiveness does not mean condoning sin, but seeing sin as a common condition that separates men and women from the God who passionately loves them and deeply desires their healing and restoration. There is no day on the calendar with any greater missionary relevance than Christmas. When God said, “for all people,” He meant it. Can we mean less? Let us reach out with joy to spread the good ness of joy to all people.

This Day

“For unto you is born this day ..” – from Luke 2:11

For the most part, Christmas is past. The season continues, even on the Christian calendar, the lights are still up, and the malls still resound with carols, but something has passed of the wonder, excitement, and joy. In fact, all artificial joy has faded and most of the world is experiencing an emotional letdown at this very moment.

But the Christian is not subject to deflation in the economy of joy. Real joy is something deeper and non-circumstantial.

A New Year is about to dawn. Assessing the old year may bring a feeling of disappointment, but tomorrow is filled with hope and promise. Resolutions for how this fresh opportunity will be embraced are even now forming in our minds. Our hearts are turning slowly to the promise of tomorrow.

But what of today? The psalmist declares that this is the day that God has made. Yesterday is passed. Tomorrow may or may not come as we expect it. Today is now. It s a new creation. It is full of promise and presence. God’s promises are eternal and His presence is a cause for celebration. It is still Christmas and will continue to be Christmas every day we awaken with a heartbeat. Then someday, we will awaken without a heartbeat and we will be in His perfect presence. That will be Christmas indeed.

In the meantime, we have one great task each new morning before any other is performed. We are called to rejoice and be glad, to offer up the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and to meet God in the day as if it were the only day He had ever made.

This is the day He has made.

Let us rejoice!

Let us be glad!


What Will This Child Become? - Advent Gospels - Day 26

Advent gospel reADINGS

SolLunaCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Luke 1:57-66

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." 

They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." 

Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John."

And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 

Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, "What then will this child become?"

For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.


It comes time for the muted Zechariah to speak and his words are simple and written:

"His name is John."

The question was on their minds before they uttered it.

John's name was his destiny and his destiny was what evoked the wonder of the friends and family gathered for the occasion.

What will he become?

Zechariah had begun to speak with his voice as it had miraculously returned. His tongue was freed and filled with the praises of God. The hand of God was upon little John the Baptizer.

We have often gathered for baptisms, baby dedications, baby showers, and celebrations of new life.

Nigerians gather the entire community to announce the naming of a new baby child. The parents choose the primary name, but grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and community members all chime in as well. 

Many people come to help give this child a very long train of names that are actually blessings.

On everyone's mind is the question, "What will this child become?"

This song, "What Child Is This?" is about Jesus, but parts of it may apply to any of us coming into the world with a purpose that is wrapped up in his eternal purpose.

The way John was born and the story of Jesus' birth all compel us to consider that each little boy or girl coming to life in this world is here for a reason.

God chooses this entry point for all of his prophets and for himself.

What Luke annotates  in closing the narrative is the key idea of John's life and of ours:

For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

What Did Mary Know? - Advent Gospels - Day 25

Advent gospel reADINGS

SolLunaCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


“Blessed Fruit”

“… Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” – Luke 1:42

Mary’s body was bringing forth precious fruit.

Her very life had become a vine from which God was about to produce something amazing.

The fruit of her womb was the result of her willingness to become the handmaid of the Lord. She was placing her life on the line. She was making her very body and soul available to God.

Remarkable fruit can come from such yielding to the will of God.

Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth understood what was happening in, to, and through Mary.

“And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” – Luke 1:41-42

She knew that Mary herself was special because she had been chosen by God to bear this precious fruit of His love for humankind.

“And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? - Luke 1:43”

Why did Elizabeth so honor her younger cousin Mary? Why was she so impressed and humbled by this visit from a young lady?

They had a common bond. They were both miraculously pregnant, Elizabeth in her old age and Mary without having known a man.

They were both instruments of God for greater things.

Beyond that, Elizabeth understood Mary’s sacrifice and submission to God’s will. She understood what it cost and had a notion of what it would mean for the world. There is no greater honor or privilege than to put your life and body totally at the disposal of God.

The fruit that is growing in your life will be in proportion to your submission to the One who made you and has called you to a higher purpose than your own ambitions.
Submit to Him today and watch the blessed fruit grow.

The Visit

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” - Luke 1:68-79 

One of the welcoming symbols of the Advent and Christmas season is a decorated tree. It is often visible from the street because it is carefully placed beside a window and, sometimes, outside the house. It is a reminder that an entire culture stops what it is doing to welcome Jesus and, in welcoming Him, to welcome each other into a circle of celebration and love.

We see trees in hotel lobbies, hospitals, parks, and even churches. Trees point upward. One might say that they are raised up like a horn of salvation declaring God’s redeeming power and love.

Christmas trees have roots in cultures that predate Christianity, but so do many other symbols of faith that have been incorporated into the message of the gospel. That is the nature of the message itself. Jesus’ coming is about redemption. He redeems people. He redeems symbols. He redeems entire communities. He redeems everything possible for His own purposes.

It is for redemption that He has visited us and it is because of that, we bless and welcome Him.

The Magnifying Soul

Luke 1:46-47 – “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”

Mary does a lot of singing after she hears from the angel. Her womb is filled with divinity and her heart is filled with praise.

The scripture says that, “Mary said,” but it is hard to her imagine that she did not say it in melody.

She said that her soul magnified the Lord. Soul is life, the totality of life, all of it. It is one’s body and mind in complete integration with one’s energy, personality, motivation, and action. Mary gave everything she had and everything she was to magnifying the Lord.

Not only did her soul magnify God, but her spirit rejoiced in Him. Joy is the very heart and soul of the Christmas mood.

“Merry Christmas!”

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come!”

“God rest ye, merry gentlemen!!

Mary got it and she carried that spirit to Bethlehem and beyond as she kept her memories and pondered them in her heart.

Why the songs of Christmas in the heart of Mary? Why the magnification of the Lord? Why the rejoicing?

The Cradle and the Gift

"And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." - Luke 1:46b-47

My soul magnifies the Lord. Suddenly, in the darkest hour of the night, a candle was lit. Darkness retreated. Light appeared. At least one soul paid attention and magnified the Lord.

She was joined by another, her cousin, Elizabeth, and they sang together.
One spirit rejoiced in the God of salvation. One low estate was replaced by a high estate. One future legacy was secured. The whole earth was blessed with an unspeakable gift.

“Mary, did you know?” is the theme of a folk hymn and a very good question. What did Mary know?

Here is what she knew enough to sing.

God is the savior and so she named her son just that, Jesus, Yahweh Saves!

  • She knew that, “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48b)
  • She knew that “he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:49)
  • She knew about God’s mercy that is “on them that fear him from generation to generation.” (Luke 50)
  • She knew the strength of God and how God confounds the proud. “He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” (Luke 1:51)
  • She knew that God turns the tides on might and power. “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.” (Luke 1:52)
  • She knew that this God who was doing this remarkable thing in her was the kind helper of her people. “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy …” (Luke 1:53-54)
  • What Mary knew is a point of interesting discussion and meditation. What we know matters more. We know, through her experience, all that she knew and the rest of the story.

What is known is all just interesting religious trivia unless we choose to act on faith upon what we know. Let us, then, act in faith and allow our souls to magnify the Lord.

Home - Advent Gospels - Day 24

Advent gospel reADINGS

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“In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” – John 14:2

Home! Home, sweet, home! That’s where we are going. That is where we belong. Anything short of home is still part of the journey. Anything that is part of the journey is subject to dangers, toils, and snares. But after the journey is complete, those things will have no power at all.

Jesus went away to prepare a place for us, a place with plenty of room and place where He Himself will be present.

He promised to come to get us when He is ready for us to join Him. We don’t have to keep checking on our reservations and we don’t have to worry that we will miss the summons.

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” he said.

There is no room for fretting; just trusting. There is no way to become worthy; it’s all by grace.

I was lost once. I didn’t think I’d ever find my way home. I didn’t. Home found me. So, it is with grace leading us home. So, it is with Him coming for us. Wherever we are at the time, He will find us. We may feel we are buried under a mountain of ambiguity and complexity, but if we are His, He will find us. We may sense that we are not ready; our ducks are not neatly lined up in a row. Yet, if we are in the faith, it is not our preparation that counts, but his.

He prepares the place; we trust Him and follow Him wherever the journey leads, meandering through dangers, toils, and snares. We follow without certainty as to duration or difficulty. We follow and sometimes we get sidetracked, but He puts us back on the path.

Where we are, He is and where He is, we will be.

And grace will lead us home.


"Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." - John 14:5-6

Picture the upper room and the somber mood of twelve friends hearing the ominous words from their Master that He will soon die and that they will soon fail Him.

“Not I,” protests Peter.

“You will,” declares Jesus, “But let not your heart be troubled …”

And then He offers hope, that He is going to prepare a place for them, that He will come again to receive them to Himself, that He will ever be with them and they with Him, and that they really do know where He is going.”

At that point, Thomas interrupts, “No we really don’t know where you are going. How can we know? Show us the way.”

Thomas felt that in order to follow Jesus, he must become more of an expert in navigational theology to traverse the diverse paths leading to God. It was a frightening prospect.

“How can we know the way?”

Indeed, how can we?

Jesus simplified the answer. He would be their compass. He would be their guide. It was not necessary for them to know anything more that Him. If they would follow Him, He would provide the way, the truth, and the life within His own person.

The message of Jesus to us as we stumble in the darkness of uncertain ambiguity is, “Follow me.”

He will lead us through the darkness. He will lead us to our eternal home. We can trust Him and follow Him.


"How Will I Know?" - Advent Gospels - Day 23

Advent gospel reADINGS

SolLunaCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Luke 1:1-25

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.

But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Zechariah said to the angel, "How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years."

The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur."

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, "This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people."

I like surprises, at least the good ones.

I don't like making a Christmas list. I want to be surprised and I want to surprise the people to whom I give.

God is a master of surprise.

Elizabeth and Zechariah are in a succession of biblical characters who have experienced parenthood in their older years - Abraham and Sarah, Elkana and Hannah, and now, these two.

As Gomer Pyle would say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise, you are going to have a baby!"

We know people who have longed for children, but have not been able to conceive or bear them. There is great pain and loneliness. What is not is our setting today is the culture of disgrace. Beyond that, we now know that fertility is not just a mother's issue.

There are so many trails one might follow in this passage. So we must choose just one. There is also more than one miracle nd I will focus on just one of those.

Gabriel, on behalf of God, shuts Zechariah's mouth.

It is no time for negativity or for unbelief. God is about to do something mighty in the world and he does not need for those he is using to be speaking against it or openly doubting it.

So, he silences Zechariah and Elizabeth secludes herself and there is a five month preparation for a big surpirse. It is actually more, but Elizabeth emerges very pregnant after five.

God is the God of great surprises.

In the context of the larger surprise is the miracle of shutting Zechariah's mouth and opening it again. In fact, before he can say a word, it is Elizabeth who utters the praises of God for his redemption.

She, who was considered barren, gets to deliver the first sermon in the family on this matter.

Now that is a pleasant surprise.



My Soul Magnifies the Lord - Advent Gospels - Day 22

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“And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord …” – Luke 1:46

The Magnificat remains one of the most glorious expressions of praise in all of musical literature. Perhaps, someday, in Heaven, God will allow us to hear a replay of the day Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth or the day the angel visited Mary and announced God’s intentions to her. We would hear that conversation that altered history and sweet sound of her acceptance of God’s great gift of His Son to and through her. The music of absolute surrender would call us to worship and we would join her in exclaiming,

“My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior!”

No less significant was the day your heart responded to God’s grace and declared, “be it unto me according to thy word.”

That God would regard the low estate of His handmaiden and plant the seed of redemption within her womb is a magnificent thing indeed. That God would regard our low estates that Christ might be conceived and born in our hearts by faith is astounding!

We cannot help but sing His praise. We cannot resist the call the worship. We cannot feign to exalt His Name and rejoice in the miracle of His coming. As Mary conceived without human agency, so, that which is born in us of God is without human effort.

Welcome Him to your life anew today and join in chorus:

Prophets foretold Him,
Infant of wonder;
Angels behold Him
On the throne;
Worthy our Savior
Of all our praises;
Happy forever are His own.
(Mary Macdonald, 1888)


Daily Reading Bonus


“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever beleiveth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

It is the first verse we learned as children and the one that remains dearest to our hearts. It is the gospel in a verse. It is so familiar that it is tempting to treat it as trite. 

It is a glimpse into the very heart of God and it deeply informs our understanding of His purposes and ways.

We were taught to insert our names in place of “the world.” This morning, I would encourage you to insert your neighbors’ names.

Any Christian world view must acknowledge how God sees lost humanity.  They are the objects of His relentless and unfailing love.  The extent to which He will go to redeem is shown in the life and death of Jesus.  If you and I have been invited to join Him in His work and vision, it must include such love of the lost.  We cannot pass it off as theoretical or poetic.  God’s love is gutsy, giving, and gregarious.  His call is to share His love with the open invitation to all to receive and believe.  Visualize an individual, family, or neighborhood where lost people live.  See the faces and view them through the eyes of Jesus.  Imagine their lives changed by His liberating love and grace.  Ask God what part you and your church play in actively and sacrificially loving them.

If we say that we desire the very heart of God to beat within us, we must love the lost. If we would be holy and consecrated people, we must filter our judgments and choices through that love. If we have any hope of becoming Christ-like, it will be as this love flows through us.


Ubi Caritas - Where Love Is - Advent Gospels - Day 21

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The Test of a Nation's Greatness
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: (Matthew 25:32 - Full Text in NRSV)

This is a dramatic and overwhelming scene that Jesus describes. As far as the eye can see, the nations are gathered before the throne. There are sheep and there are goats at a time when only sheep are truly welcome in the flock. There has been considerable blending up until this point, but now the shepherd is dividing them.

And there is one criterion by which He judges the nations. How did you treat me when I was among you?

He is not talking about His incarnation here, but His presence among His people many of whom were the poor, the lowly, the imprisoned, the hungry, and so forth. He is identifying with the powerless that He described in Matthew 5 and 25 and, from their perspective, evaluating the powerful.

What did you do with all your influence to positively touch the people I love?

That is His question. It is the test of a nation's greatness and the test of greatness for every institution or individual that has been entrusted with power.

Were you just?

Were you fair?

Were you generous?

Were you compassionate?

Were you righteous?

Were you aware that I was there in the midst of my brethren?

This is one dimension of judgment in the heavenly kingdom and Jesus gives us a preview. It is but a glimpse. We could not understand more, but we can understand this much: We must always be aware of Jesus and receive others as if we were receiving Him.

I live in the USA. The greatness of America has always been an aspiration expressed in her central idea: the dignity of every human being under God.

It is the basis for freedom, laws, and our system of government.

For the Christian, that means looking for the image of God in every person we meet and treating that person as we would treat Jesus.

Another Thought on Verse 32

Seeing Jesus: Sheep and Goats – Matthew 25:31-46

There is a question for self-examination emerging from this passage.  Such examination is painful, but the process is necessary for our growth.

Am I among the nation of sheep or the nation of goats? 

How do I align myself with what God values and those with whom Jesus identifies?

Leo Tolstoy spun a tale about a cobbler who was given to believe that Jesus would visit him on a particular day.  He made simple but elegant preparations.  One by one the poor came to his door and he served them, but he came to the end of the day without the visit for which he longed.

Then he realized what had happened and he heard the voice of Jesus with the words of this passage. 

So the real question is this:

Am I seeing Jesus where Jesus is?  That question separates the sheep from the goats.

Invest Wisely- Advent Gospels - Day 20

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“For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods…. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. “ – Matthew 25:14, 29

In the matter of resources, be they material or spiritual, we have choices, but not all choices are equal. 

There is no place in the halls of faithfulness for those who play it safe with God’s blessings by hoarding and hiding what He has given.  It demonstrates a lack of trust in Him and a misunderstanding of His character to avoid risk at all costs. 

This does not negate the value of wisdom but elevates investments that may not carry the world’s guarantees. 

We must be willing to accept the possibility of failure in every venture of faith.  Our trust, our hope, and our every expectation are in God. 

Good and faithful servants must exercise faith.  Whether our talents are abilities, as we use the word today, or currency, as Jesus used the term, they come from God and must ultimately return to Him. 

Let us invest in His kingdom without hesitation.  May we seek what is of greatest value and invest everything in it.

We are living between the two great Advents. How are you making this time count?

Keep Awake - Advent Gospels - Day 19

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Be Watchful

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

When I had to learn memory verses as a child, “Jesus wept” was a wonderful standby. That was simple and was only two words to remember.

Here is another, more to the point: As a Boy Scout, our motto was as easy, “Be prepared.”

The Marines have “Semper Fidelis”

We do not know the day when the Lord will come and settle all accounts.  But He demands that we live in a state of watchful expectation rather than fanciful speculation.  We are to be ever looking unto Jesus. We are to be ever watchful, ever faithful, and ever ready for His return.

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith …” (Hebrews 12:2)

That is the great challenge of our lives.  It is with seeking wonder and faithful awareness that we stand on tiptoe as watchmen in the night. 

His coming, whenever it will be and however, he will manifest himself, will be a joyous and awesome occasion and our privilege is to be at a state of present readiness. It will be a grand party, like a wedding feast.

 Every challenge in our lives comes down to this great challenge: To be found faithful when He come again.

But that future hope must not obscure the present reality that He is here now, present with us and that our call to readiness involves listening for His voice and observing what He is doing in our midst.

It summons us to be ready for His call in every life situation and prepared to act upon His command at any moment.

Let us be watchful.

Let us be faithful.

Let us be expectant.

Let us be hopeful.

Let us be standing on our tiptoes.


Insiders and Outsiders - Advent Gospels - Day 18

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Matthew 24:45-51

"Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives."

"Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions."

"But if that wicked slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed,' and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Again, in a parable, Jesus targets people in spiritual and political leadership.

One kind of leader takes care of his or her fellow servants. That leader provides adequate wages, food, and fair treatment.

The other leader serves only self and mistreats the other servants.

The parable begs a question: How does a human, earthly master respond to such a situation? He rewards the fair and faithful and punishes the other.

He cuts them up and throws them out. They end up on the outside with weeping and teeth grinding pain and anguish.

One gets left with the impression that some of the present insiders will find themselves as outsiders because they aligned themselves with the wrong values. Those who place their own comforts and pleasures over the will of God and well-being of God's people never really were on the inside.

The people in the story are all employees. There are two kinds of leaders who are both entrusted with the business owners responsibility and possessions. One treats what the master owns as his or her own. The other recognizes that human leaders are merely stewards and treats all that belong to the Master with dignity, respect, and integrity.

In this Advent which points to a final Advent, we are reminded that our calling as earth-citizens and Kingdom citizens is to be wise and faithful stewards of God's people and God's stuff.

In His coming, Jesus gives us a visual representation of some of what that looks like and calls us to participate and be real insiders.


Enjoy some unrelated music.


Mighty Oak Rising - Advent Gospels - Day 17

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Matthew 24:32-44

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place."

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."


Transience and Permanence
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.


Life can change quickly.

Things that seem so set for all time, can be disrupted, can tumble, and can disintegrate.

Towns can be leveled by a storm.

Mountains can explode in a volcano.

Systems can be shaken to the core by the shifting sands of ideology.

When I was a child, I believed that our house was the most solid reality in my life. I could not conceive of a time when it did not exit. I certainly could not imagine it ever ceasing to exist. It was so strong, so firm, and warm inside. It was a world unto itself, a place removed from the larger, more threatening environment. It was real.

There was an old oak tree in our back yard, majestic oak, reaching upward beyond any heights I believed I would ever scale. To be as tall as that oak, or at least to sit in its highest branches and look out over creation would have been the grandest of human elevations. When I lay on my back under the summer night sky, gazing into the stars, it was in the shadow of our old oak tree which I believed had much in common with those distant stars.

My house and my oak were sources of strength in my young life until one day the neighbor's house was struck by lightening and burned. Later, our Governor's daughter (and the cousin of my classmates) was struck by lightening on the beach and killed. That year, I watched my father build a room in the attic and with fascination and disappointment I came to know that houses were built with hands and were thus, somewhat artificial, and profoundly vulnerable to forces like lightening, as were people.

But the oak continued to shade us in the summer and shield us in the winter. It was the mightiest oak on our avenue. One day, the old oak was struck by lightening also. It too was vulnerable to the forces of nature. One of its most noble branches was severed and fell upon our house.

Concerned that the old tree might give way in another storm and destroy our house, my parents made plans for its removal. Little did it matter that the oak had been there long before us and had reigned over the neighborhood before it was a neighborhood. It was old and had grown too tall and brittle..

I learned some lessons about transience and permanence through that old tree. Nothing of this earth is permanent. All stability and strength are in God alone.

Jesus was a mighty oak and they chopped Him down, but He stood up again, alive and thriving. His words last; His promises endure; His truth prevails. Nothing can silence Him. He is the temple that was destroyed and rebuilt in three days. He is the Word and He is the only permanence in a transient world.

The Final Beginning - Advent Gospels - Day 16

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Matthew 24:15-31

“So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat."

"Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short."

"Then if anyone says to you, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'There he is!'-- do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand."

"So, if they say to you, 'Look! He is in the wilderness,' do not go out. If they say, 'Look! He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."

"Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see 'the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven' with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."

God's ultimate redemption of the earth is unmistakable.

There are countless imitations and temptations to panic or settle for less.

Don't fret.

When it comes, you cannot mistake it for anything else. You cannot miss it. Do not be led astray.

No one will be able to fake the real thing successfully. The Son of Man is coming in the clouds of heaven and will come in magnificent power and undeniable glory.

He will not be so easily unnoticed as he was in his Bethlehem coming. He will not come quietly.

You will not have to find him. He will find you and gather you.

This is often called the Second Advent. I call it the Grand Advent and the Final Beginning!

Until then, expect trouble, insults, desecrations of what it holy, and abominations that rattle the brain and offend the senses. But do not loose heart or hope.

The angels are tuning their trumpets and their sound will be clear and compelling.


Being and Doing - Advent Gospels - Day 15

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Fruits of Life Change

Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. Luke 3:7-8

From the fruitless, John required fruit. From a brood of vipers, he demanded an answer. From complacent religionists, he called for a willingness to get real. Just because they had enjoyed the benefits of covenant, it did not mean that could not be replaced. Everyone is dispensable – even those who think they are not.

Multitudes had come to be baptized. John was not impressed with his own ability to draw a big crowd. Crowds filling space do not equate to revival. Something more was necessary.

If he had had a headquarters to report to, his report might have been quite impressive, but as we said, he was not impressed. He was looking for something more because God is looking for something more.

John was preaching the possibility and necessity of life change.

Why did they come? Was it a curiosity? Was it a desire to follow the crowds? Was it a fad? Or was it fear of being left out or worse – wrath?

Some come out of wrong fear and some out of right fear. If you do not know the difference, read the book of Proverbs or visit the Grand Canyon. Right fear is awe and reverence; wrong fear is manifested in fight or flight reflexes. It is concerned only with self preservation and avoidance of trouble.

John knows there is something more and so should we. Fruits of repentance are those changed attitudes and deeds that reflect faith in the possibility of life change. They grow out of lives that have been moved by a deep desire for a more fruitful life.

Abject terror will not change our hearts. Judgment is real, but fear of judgment will not, by itself, bring us to repentance. God can do that inside of us and He is ready and willing to do so, but we must desire it and believe that it can happen.

Showing Up 

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. - Luke 3:9

Once a thriving industrial plant, the factory had ceased to be productive. Chaos was the order of the day. Supervisors could not predict who would show up for work and when. Even the unions were in a state of panic.

The problem was attendance. It was the first time I’d ever heard of an adult business with an attendance committee. People were not showing up for work; but neither were they quitting or getting fired. Because of contractual clauses, they were remaining on the company and union roles and bleeding both dry in benefits.

They wanted to be employees, but they didn’t want to show up for work. They wanted the benefits of employment, but none of the obligations. They didn’t even show up.

That is the way John viewed the “generation of vipers” who came to be baptized. Some of them wanted the benefits of association with God and the symbols of covenant relationship, but they did not see the relationship between that and being useful.

Fruit trees exist to bring forth fruit. That is their nature and that is their function. God’s people exist to bear fruit as well. It is both the nature and function of covenant people to be useful in the kingdom of God.

John was harsh. He knew what orchard owners did with barren trees. They cut them down to make room for more productive crops. He considered it presumptuous of people to think that they should be allowed to continue being useless and not be replaced.

Remember that John was preparing the way for the Lord. He was the voice that God used to flatten hills and make crooked roads straight. And he was telling it straight. He, like the law, was a schoolmaster to prepare the way of the message and messenger of grace. His role was to amplify the need for repentance and make it plain that God was not pleased with the status quo.

We need to hear this word today. God wants our lives to bear fruit. If they don’t we are simply occupying space on Heaven’s roster. Show up!

Asking the Question

And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? - Luke 3:10

John got the response that he must have hoped for. It was the right response. It was the only logical response from a people who had been touched and pierced by the penetrating Word of God:

“What shall we do?”

It is a word of hope and desperation. It is a word that reflects sincerity and contrition. It agrees with The messenger of God that all is not right and needs to be made so.

What shall we do when we look at our lives and see no fruit? What do we do when we realize that we are part of the problem, obstructing rather than constructing, reaping benefits without bearing responsibility, failing to live out the true purpose of our lives?

What do we do when it becomes clear that we are keeping our names on the roles, but doing nothing to be productive?

We ask the question.

When we ask the question, we take a giant leap forward because it is pregnant with contrition and intention. The question opens us to what God wants to do in us and through us. It expresses repentance and prepares us for adventure.

We can be more, do more, experience more, receive more. When we ask the question, we are on the verge of discovery that the real benefits of covenant relationship are intertwined with its obligations and opportunities for service. The real privileges come with embracing our calling.

What we must do is ask what we must do.

God loves the question and has an answer prepared, but He cannot or will not deliver it to us until we ask because we will not receive it.

The application to the Christian life is the call to serve – more so, to BE servants, available, cheerful, ready, willing, even eager to be co-opted into His program.

The good news is that God wants you. The questions is: Are we ready to ask the questions?

Live Simply and Share

He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.  - Luke 3:11

Sometimes we are ready for a really complicated answer to the big questions and all we get is something like this.

It’s like Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

Live simply and share what you have.

We’d really like it to be more complicated than that – and in some ways it is. But this was a start. It would certainly be a major change for the folks John was addressing as it would be for many of us.

God always starts where we are. He doesn’t try to overwhelm us. He gives us small bites first and eases us into complexity and difficulty.

For instance, when Thomas wanted to know where Jesus was going and to understand the way, Jesus simplified it for him as if He was saying, “Thomas, you don’t have to figure it all out – All you need to know is that I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. If you want to get to come, just come by me and only by me.”

He was simplifying things for Thomas and for all of us.

John is saying that he would like to see some small indicators that folks meant business – indicators of a change of heart and mind which he could call repentance. “Show me,” he declares.

What must we do? We must do something in character with heart change. Somehow, our lives, once moved by a new relationship with God, must reflect a transformation of values.

Suddenly, there is something more important than having more than we need. Maybe one coat is enough – or one car per driver or a few less toys.

Turning our lives over to God is not rocket science. It is not a burden that none can bear. The Christian ethic is simple: Live simply and share what you have. Do the right thing.

Zeroing In and Meaning Business

Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?  And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. - Luke 3:12

There are different things that different folks must do – but it is always very simple to take the first step.

Stop doing the most blatant thing you are doing wrong. In the case of the hated publicans/ tax collectors: Stop cheating.

To receive this message meant that they had to agree that they had been cheating – even extorting from their own people on behalf of a foreign power for their own enrichment. To do so would have been to come clean and mean business with God.

Life change for the publicans would be a radical departure from the norm. As simple as the command was, it was not easy. They had valued profit above all else like the “Ferringis” in Star Trek – a race of humanoids who were the most cunning and ruthless merchants in the galaxy. They lived by “The Laws of Acquisition,” one of which might be paraphrased, “Love is good, but money is better.”

The publicans had to learn that love is best and everything else is a distant second.

Part of repentance is to recognize that you are doing wrong and stop doing it. But we say, “I just can’t; It is too hard; it is too engrained into my identity; it is who and what I am.”

John says, “Hogwash! You can change. Life change is possible. Repentance is the norm. Stop cheating people.”

Every sector of society has its own inherent temptations to sin. Every individual has a unique set of hot buttons that create pitfalls and weaknesses of the flesh. For each of us, fruits of repentance take on a different color and flavor, but they all share one thing in common – Possibility.

We can do with God’s help and by His grace.  The salvation that He wants all to see comes with the possibility of change. If we mean business, and zero in on our own vulnerabilities, we can embrace it.

Life Change in Public Life

And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, and what shall we do? And he said unto them, do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. -Luke 3:13-14

There were men of influence and power who came to John to be baptized, men who wielded authority over common people, who carried the sword and were authorized to use it to subdue, torment, and enforce.

These men also had the capacity to abuse their power, to punish their enemies, to extract unfair compensation, to be bribed, to extort, ad to oppress. No one would challenge them. They had free reign to inflict violence and abuse people.

John tells these soldiers to be very careful how they used their power. They would need to humble themselves and realize that they were called to live by a higher power than that of their captains or their swords. Having power would no longer be a license for them to misuse it to their own selfish ends.

It is an awesome responsibility to have authority. It takes more grace to carry greater power. To be a covenant man or woman in a position of great influence requires fruits of repentance reflected in a servant’s attitude.

One’s coworkers and fellow soldiers/officers may not be willing or able to reinforce such life change. Only God can and he will.

We all have arenas of temptation that are unique to our stations in life. The same call is present for each: Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance: Stop doing what is wrong; live simply; share what you have; live for God.

In Conclusion

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. – Luke 3:15-18, NRSV

See the message below on Being and Doing


Praying for Peace Amidst the Sounds of Canon Fire - Advent Gospels - Day 14

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Advent Prayer for Peace in Days of War


“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled …”  - Matthew  24:6a,

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” – Philippians 4:6

When I first wrote this, our nation was at war. In fact, we are Still involved in many ongoing wars.

Perhaps, by the time you read this that war will have paused, and we will be between conflicts. We are always working for these pauses for peace.

Each time we go to war, there are some who feel it will be the last, but Jesus reminds us to expect more and not to be troubled because the time may not be yet.  Paul admonishes us that the cure for anxiety is prayer.

The whole counsel of scripture gives us lessons on how to pray during times of war.

None of Jesus' predictions point to the notion that war is the will of God. Rather, he tells us that war cannot ultimately thwart his will or the forward march of his Kingdom of peace.

So, we pray.

And we sing to pray in his will for his will to be done.

There has always been a war somewhere and it does not stop for Advent.

Without endorsing wars or war itself, we can pray for and with those who fight. We can pray for the cessation of conflicts. We can pray for righteousness and justice to prevail

  • Pray for policy makers and military commanders that they will be guided by God and by truth.
  • Pray for the sergeants and chiefs that they will be able to maintain discipline and morale.
  • Pray for the soldiers, sailors, and airmen that they will be strengthened by God's grace and protected from harm.
  • Pray that we will have our understanding of what God's blessing is tempered by God and accept His definition of His blessings to us.
  • Pray for a minimum number of casualties on all sides and that civilian populations will be protected from harm.
  • Pray for righteousness, justice, and peace and for the success of every righteous cause including an end to terrorism and that many will turn to God, for worldwide revival.
  • Pray for our enemies that God will bless them. This is a non-negotiable command from Jesus. This includes praying that terrorists will voluntarily submit themselves before the bar of divine mercy and human justice and that they and others will be saved - this is what blessing ultimately means.
  • Pray for the will of God to be done in every dimension of human affairs and for His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven, for repentance and forgiveness regarding our individual and corporate offenses against God and other human beings.
  • Pray for oppressed people wherever they are to be liberated and dealt with in a just and merciful manner.
  • Pray for comfort and healing for victims and their families and for families that are sending their sons and daughters to war.
  • Pray that we will hear whatever God may be saying to us in this hour.

Pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God when God’s will shall be done and all war will cease.

Pray for the final Advent of  God’s full reign to be visible on the earth as it is in Heaven.

Our Mother Hen - Advent Gospels - Day 13

Advent gospel reADINGS

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Matthew 23:27-39 NRSV

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers!"

"How can you escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar."

"Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Jesus is predicting his own rejection and tying it to a history of rejection.

It is not just Jews who have rejected the prophets, but that is Jesus' context. He is born to and among a favored people who possess the law and seek to keep it. But, like in all human history, there is a legacy of rebellion and injustice.

This grieves Jesus' heart.

He focuses his lament upon the leadership who have confused earthly, temporal power with spiritual authority.

Again, this is very consistent with most cultures and, all too frequently, religions. It is evident in Christian history as well. There are power grabs and there is rejection of the messenger who brings fresh and old truth to a new generation.

I wanted to gather you!

That is his message.

I am a mother hen!

It grieves me that you do not hear me.

That is the heart of Jesus who also observes that for things to continue on their present course, at that time, disaster and destruction would come.

And it did in 70 AD under the tyranny and brutality of the Romans.

But he ends in a hopeful note. You will not hear from me for a while, but I will show up again:

"... you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

That will be the great day of welcome after the hard times,

Hope will prevail, but for now, like a mother hen with scattered chicks, he grieves. 

The heart of Jesus is to gather his people.

Clean the Cup - Advent Gospels - Day 12

Advent gospel reADINGS

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Clean the Cup

Matthew 23:13-26

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves."

"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.' You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, 'Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.' How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it."

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!"

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean."

Rituals follow meaning.

Religion follows a search for meaning.

Regulations are servants of both.

Teachers of the law, the prophets, the writings, and of our rituals and religious traditions are also servants of the greater meaning. They are called to be ministers of ultimate concern and messengers of God.

God's spokespeople were never appointed to lock people out of the Kingdom of God or destroy their lives and potential. And yet, it happens today and happened in Jesus' time.

We can play games with language and law and get around the truth to which they direct us. We can, but we should not.

We can pick out some peripheral matter of disputation or element of our scripture and make an idol of it. When we do so, we are often in danger of neglecting the weightier matters.

Yes, Jesus does weigh in to say some things are weightier than others. And he identifies them:


Without these our cups are shiny on the outside and filthy on the inside.

Justice, mercy, and faith are inside jobs. They cleanse and transform us from the inside, inside our hearts and lives and inside our communities.

Jesus does not come to obliterate our rituals and religion. He wants to bring it back to center, anchored in its meaning, and focused on its truth.

Advent is a perfect season for remembering and reexamining the core values of our faith and recommitting to them.



The Humble Exalted - Advent Gospels - Day 11

Advent gospel reADINGS

The way up is always down. The servant is the greatest of all.

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Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father-- the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."

Paul says, of the Advent of Jesus, in Philippians, that the Christ humbled himself and took on the form of a servant.

Humility before God and man does not come easy to us. The grip of pride is strong upon our hearts. We may be convinced that there is no escape. There is. God is our helper. He will deliver us from pride as surely as He forgives and redeems. He can impart the humility of Christ into our lives. It is, after all, His purpose to express the life of His Son through us

It is not easy to describe humility, but we know it when we see it. At the core of a generous heart is the seed of humility. In the soul of a servant, a humble man or woman lives.

The admonition to humility is phrased as a promise. The humble will be exalted.

The sanctified irony of the matter is that is exaltation is your motive for being humble, then you are faking it and your humility is not real. But if it is based upon a genuine assessment of your life in the light of God’s glory, it is very real and that reality brings dignity. .

Father, since I have no humility of my about which to boast, I come in the humility of Jesus Christ. Purge me of pride and enable me to walk in the steps of Jesus as He walks this path again through me.

Chew That - Advent Gospels - Day 10

Advent gospel reADINGS

This is the Advent of a new way of thinking.

What is the greatest commandment?

Who is the Son of Man?

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Matthew 22:34-46

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?"

They said to him, "The son of David."

He said to them, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet" '? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?"

No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Finally, someone asks Jesus, whatever their motive, a pertinent question? I speak of motives, because the question comes from a lawyer and because Matthew chooses to mention it. Lawyers never ask questions unless they know or suspect the answers. On the other hand, this one might have slipped because Jesus' answer silenced everyone.

In Mark, Jesus is recorded as reciting the Shema:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."  — Mark 12:28-31

In Luke, the question is put back to the inquirer who gives the correct answer:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." — Luke 10:25-28

None of this is new. Leviticus 19:18 says:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

And Deuteronomy says:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. — Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Everything hangs on love. The ethic of the Kingdom is simple and all-encompassing. All elese is commentary. It is about love.

Matthew records Jesus making the connection in conversation to Messianic hope and his Messianic identity. The Son of Man. Who is he? Whose son is he?

Of course, they say, David's, but Jesus throws them for a loop and reminds them that David calls him "Lord" and refers to him as sovereign. How can this be?

They scratch their heads, turn away, and stop asking questions. He stops answering them.

I think Jesus is turning the tables. If they think they can trip him up by asking trick questions, he will give them one that they have to work on themselves.

He answers a complex question with the simplest and most profound response: Love.

Then, he throws out something for them to chew on: Who is Lord?

This is the Advent of a new way of thinking.

Chew that!


Alpha and Omega

Alpha omega shroud

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. “ -Revelation 1:8

Everything is wrapped up in the babe who was wrapped in swaddling clothes. In a tiny bundle of newborn humanity is the sum total of all truth and meaning. In that crude cradle of creation lay the Creator of the universe. His Incarnation condensed into one representative human life the start and finish of history and the cosmos. Though He presented Himself in time and space as a participant in our history, He is beyond history. He is the Lord of eternity, the Almighty. And we knew it not.

The grand spiritual, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” says it succinctly, “We didn’t know it was you.”

But it was Him and is Him and always will be Him? What child is this? Oh, so much more than we could ever imagine. He is Alpha and Omega, the A and the Z. He starts things and finishes them. He always was and yet, is present. And He always will be. Divine mystery is flesh. John wrote that we could touch Him, the Word of Truth.

“What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss” to come and live among us?

We didn’t know who He was and John, in the Revelation of Jesus Christ allows us to see what He saw, and He conveys to us His vision of the risen and exalted Christ, the Eternal One.



Art Credit: The Greek letters alpha and omega surround the halo of Jesus in the catacombs of Rome from the 4th century

Your God Is Too Small - Advent Gospels - Day 9

Advent gospel reADINGS

He is the God of the Living!

Stupid Questions

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Matthew 22:23-33

Be Astonished!

The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, "Teacher, Moses said, 'If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.' Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her."

Jesus answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is God not of the dead, but of the living."

And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.

I have heard it said and I have said it, "The only stupid question is the one you do not ask."

I need to revise that.

The only stupid question is the sincere, honest, and relevant question that you do not ask.

There really are stupid questions in this world. Here is proof. It is a convoluted, irrelevant, distracting, and argumentative question about a realm which we can barely conceive of and a reality that is beyond our understanding and our rules of operation. It does not even comply with the laws of nature.

In narrowing Heaven and the Resurrection to their definitions of reality and relationships, Jesus shows that they were also limiting the potential of temporal and eternal life in the present.

They were defining truth and meaning by their disputations on the law when the Torah was silent on the matter they were raising. They were wrong about God because they were ignorant of the scriptures and their meaning. Worse than that, they were wrong because they failed to know the power of God.

Their God was too small.

They were wrong about the resurrection because they failed to comprehend the meaning of real life itself. Human relationships on this planet in time and space are indicators of something deeper in the eternal realm where God is the God of the living.

Jesus confronts the stupidity of the question and calls the questions out of the stupor, the haze they renders us stupid in our disorientation. He offers an alternative way of thinking that is life-orientated rather than death-obsessed,

Jesus comes in the Advent season in history and year after year to announce life. Eternity invades time to lift mankind to an eternal persopective that changes how we think and live in the here and now.

God is the God of the living. Be astonished.


Removing the Barriers - Advent Gospels - Day 8

Advent gospel reADINGS

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Removing Impediments


Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. – Luke 3:5-6

God called John to be a smoother and a “straightener”. In many ways, John’s role was nothing more than to clear away the obstacles that might impede the message of the one who would come after him.

He was a voice.

He was a voice in the wilderness.

And he cried out with passion and conviction removing excuses and uncovering facades.

He was the one to come before Jesus who could really move some mountains and clear some paths. John was a co laborer with God as we are called to be and His mission was simple:

To be an agent through whom all flesh might see the salvation of God.

God has no desire to hide His salvation. He wants all to see it. He wants all to receive it.

We have the task of removing the impediments.

What kind of impediments are there? Sometimes mountains are too high, valleys are too low, and roads are too crooked and rough. We can cooperate with God to change that.

One impediment to people seeing God’s salvation is our tendency to speak religious jargon that no one understands. We mask the grace of God in a jungle of theological language and church talk.

Another is our insistence on traditions that have lost their meaning. Or it may be our own negativity or the contradictions of our lives – the dichotomy between what we profess and what we practice.

We have to remove the obstacles that keep people from coming to Christ or even hearing the Word of God. The problem is not so much that people don’t want to hear as much as they sometimes cannot hear over the irrelevant chatter. Remove the impediments and let everyone see the salvation of God.


God’s Delight


Gambian girl smiling

“For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people...” – Psalm 149:4a

Again, God cares for your soul, Do you care for the souls of others? Do you care for your own soul?? Sometimes the way we treat our physical, emotional, and spiritual health is an affront to God. The soul is the totality of a person and God takes pleasure in all that you are. For you to decide that some aspect of your life is not worthy of being nurtured is not an act of sacrificial worship but of negligence.

We have seen that God cares for our souls and that we must exercise care as well – for our own lives and for the lives of others. Now we see the reason: God takes great delight in His people. He receives pleasure from His relationship with His children. It is had to fathom, but it is true.

Have you ever given someone you love a precious gift, something that you have received from another generation and a passing on through that person to subsequent generations? That gift is not really the possession of the person holding it as much as it is the heritage of the family line. You expect the recipient to care for it, protect it, and pass it on with care. You delight in seeing it displayed and honored. You are offended when it is treated with careless disregard for its significance and handled with common contempt.

It is a very imperfect example, but it points to some truth. We are not our own, the scripture sys, but bought with a price. We belong to God and have been made trustees of our lives in time and space. God’s purpose is to enjoy us and have a love relationship with us. He expects us to care for our own lives and nurture our souls with His Word, with fellowship, with healthy food and habits, and with life affirming relationships.

It grieves the heart of God when we do not take care of ourselves.

It also grieves the heart of God when we do not nurture and take delight in His other children. He expects us to see the loveliness other people. When we find that difficult, He promises to help us and to love them through us.

Let us worship God by taking pleasure in Him, in our own lives as consecrated to Him, and in His children.

God's Stuff - Advent Gospels - Day 7

Advent gospel reADINGS

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Matt. 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?"

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax."

And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."

When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

We have read and written much on this passage. Today's meditation will be laser focused. It will not be about taxes, citizenship responsibilities, how-to-shut-up critics, hypocrisy, or money. Those are all part of the context and backdrop scenery of the lesson, but our focus today is, "What Do We Owe God?"

What indeed?

There is a sense that, in Advent, we are recognizing that Jesus claim to reclaim what belongs to God.

We owe God our "stuff" because all stuff belongs to God.

When we recognize God's ownership over our "stuff," we are liberated from our "stuff owning us."

Those are really the only two choices. God owns it or it owns us. When it owns us, it controls our thinking, our living, our choices, our anxieties, and our vision of the future. It defines and defiles our purpose in life.

Let's look at "stuff" as an acronym for breaking down what God claims in us and from us in the coming of his Son into the world.

  • S - Self. The first claim of God that i owe God is me. I owe God my life, my love, and my loyalty.
  • T - Time. What defines my priorities most is my calendar and my clock, my time and how I spend it.
  • U - Undefined everything. If you can name it; if you cannot; if you can conceive it or not; it's God's.
  • F - Faith and faithfulness. We owe God a mutual trust for Him and trustworthiness in response to Him.
  • F - Future - We owe God our futures and, in response, God gives us a bright and beautiful future.

Living this way foes not negate our freedom; it expands it. It does not limit our blessings; it brings them meaning. It does not deprive us; it enhances all that we receive as gifts from God's hand.

When people sought to sidetrack and detract Jesus, he went back to the basics. It is all God's stuff and we must render to God what is God's.

It is not about a competition between Rome's taxes and Temple taxes.

The Kingdom of God movement is about God.

Come to the Feast - Advent Gospels - Day 6

Advent gospel reADINGS

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You Are Invited to Be Chosen!

Matthew 22:1-14
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, 'Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."

κλητοὶ or ἐκλεκτοί, Invited or Selected

It is a party.

The host is the father and the guest of honor is the son. It is his wedding.

Invitations have been sent far and wide. The whole community is encouraged to come. Food has been prepared. Tables have beenb set. All that is necessary is to dress in the appropriate clothing, accept the invitation, and show up.

Some heard and ignored in Jesus' story. They were certainly and thoroughly inivted, wanted, and encouraged, but they were not among the select because they did not elect to accept.

Others were more hostile in their refusal to show up.

Still others came, but did not appreciate the importance and majesty of the invitation, the privilege of being welcomed, or the need to dress for the occasion. They were expelled and felt more than just left out. They anguished as if they had missed the event of their lives. They had been invited, but in their own way, had not really accepted the invitation for what it was.

The rest celebrated and it was a joyful time.

Jesus is talking about those who reject his invitation to the the great feast of his kingdom of love, righteousness, peace, andjoy. They were called, but in that they chose to reject the call, they were not chosen.

There is a rule of thumb among those who invite people to various sorts of meetings:

"A 'no' is a 'no' all of the time.
A 'maybe' is a 'no' 95% of the time.
A 'yes is a 'no' half of the time."

And there are the 'yes' folks who show up late or half-heartedly..

You have all heard of the professors who locked the classrooms after the time of class start. latecomers were not welcome.

Jesus is saying that God is a welcoming and inviting Father, but God will not coerce or compell people to come. He is calling all, but only choosing those who choose to show up dressed for the party. He loves all, desires all, and invites all, but leaves the ball in our courts.

Do we prefer to live on the outside of the banquet hall or might we consider walking inside?

This is also the message of Advent.


Cornerstone - Advent Gospels - Day 5

Advent gospel reADINGS

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Matt. 21:33-46

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country."

"When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another."

Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'"

"But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.'"

"So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time."

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

What is Jesus trying to teach in this unusual parable that appears in all three of the synoptic gospels?

There are some hints in the context. He has arrived in Jerusalem and the reactions are mixed.

The crowds consider him a prophet and the leadership of the religious establishment considers him a threat to their power, peace, and stability. Maybe he is.

For the leadership to remain in power and for the rituals to proceed without interruption, a delicate balance had to be maintained. The local powers among the Jewish establishment had to appease the interests of their Roman occupiers. Anything that hinted at upsetting Rome or that balance was surely a threat.

Jesus peached the Kingdom of God and the masses considered him anything from a messenger of that kingdoms to a messiah to a king.

That sort of talk could be perceived as political, though Jesus declared that his kingdom was not of this world. Yet, to be thought of or heard as political is to rattle cages, offend, ignite, incite, and invite angst.

Jesus is a lightening rod in all that he is and says and does. He identifies himself as a rock of offense. Rocks do not bend. His sort of rockiness does not crumble. Everything that throws itself against him crumbles.

The parable reminds us that God is at least a bit like the landowner who, within his rights, sends servants and a son to collect what is his from people who resist him Jesus declares that people can resist him all they like, but he will not crumble or go anywhere.

He is the cornerstone.


By What Authority? Advent Gospels - Day 4

Advent gospel reADINGS

SolLunaCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Matt. 21:23-32

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?"

Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?"

And they argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet."

So they answered Jesus, "We do not know."

And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

"What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ’son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not' but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir' but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him."

The chief priests nd elders were looking for a good argument. To be more specific, they were setting a trap for Jesus so that they could "win" a public argument and score points in the court of public opinion.

Jesus tested them and found them calculating and insincere in their inquiries. They are not asking questions in order to seek, learn, and know. They were positioning themselves.

Moreover, he suggests that they were all talk.

They were interested in disputing matters of faith with no concern for applying them. That is what he illustrates in the brief parable, They are the sons who say they will go work in the vineyard, but never do. Tax collectors and prostitutes, on the other hand, had been coming to Jesus fo some time without any theological presuppositions or arguments. They were hungry for truth they could put into immediate practice.

They were the sons who initially refused to go, but then, changed their minds and believed. The word for this mind change is "repentance."

Repentance is what happens in the lives of those who desire to seek, learn, know, and follow.

Jesus did not come to earth to prove his authority, argue his philosophy, or accumulate points on a scoreboard. he came to change lives and systems through the reign of God and the redemptive reality of the cross. His Advent is an announcement, not an argument.

Those who followed Jesus and those who follow him today, are seekers who have been sought by the one who came to seek and to save those who are lost.