Thursday, December 24, 2009


His parents were hungry, weary travelers…peasants…living under a corrupt government. He was born in a stable…a grotto…to a teenage mother. There was no medical care…not even a midwife. The birth announcement was made to shepherds.

And we call this the Christmas Miracle?

Yes, a miracle indeed: God has visited us in the person of Jesus.

But he came in humility. He worked through a devout, obedient couple. He connected with the poor and oppressed.

Claim the miracle this Christmas!

In our weakness…in our spiritual poverty…with a measure of trust and fidelity…God is present in our lives! Amen.

Top: Fresco by Botticelli, Florence, 1476

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve

Despite his generosity, Santa’s gifts won’t satisfy completely.

Despite his glowing red nose, Rudolph won’t light the way adequately.

But there is a gift that offers contentment, and there is a light for sufficient guidance: Jesus Christ, God’s gift to mankind for peace and illumination.

Thanks be to God - for Jesus,

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent - Week IV

We give thanks, Eternal God, for Jesus, with this memorable line from the Christmas carol:

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today!
(O Little Town of Bethlehem)

That is the Christmas story: Jesus removes the barrier of sin between man and God, and we have fellowship with God. Not a vague sense of God, but a rapport with God.

We give thanks, Dear Father, for Immanuel, for “God with us.” As Jesus said to Phillip:

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
(John 14:9)

That is the Christmas story: We see the love, the compassion, the mercy, the seeking heart, the purity of God. In Jesus we see what God is like and what God means for us to be. (William Barclay)

Thanks be to God - for Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent - Week III

St. Nicholas - Russian fresco - Patron Saint of Children

Dear God,

The Christmas gifts are piling up at my house. It’s an embarrassment of riches, but our largesse pales by comparison to your generosity.

“You can’t out-give God.” John 3:16 sums that up:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

From the wonder of the Nativity to the miracle of Easter, you give us your Son and He gives us eternal life.

And there are more divine gifts: Forgiveness. Guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Peace. Contentment. Joy.

Lord, I pray that we will take time during this Christmas season to carefully unwrap each of those gifts, to ponder their significance, to fully consider our salvation, that we may join in Mary’s canticle:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Luke 1:47

Thanks be to God, Amen.

St. Nicholas relief - Amsterdam

St. Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving and became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch language.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent - Week II

The Nativity ~ Gerard van Honthorst ~ 1622


I’m like a kid at Christmas. I want an Advent filled with Alleluias and angels “singing sweetly o’er the plain.” But I always encounter a few dark days. Stress at work. Family drama. What happened to the joy?

Maybe it’s part of the Advent program: We have to face the darkness before we can appreciate the Light of the World. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem)

Indeed, Mark’s nativity story begins with John the Baptist, the voice crying in our wilderness:

“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” And so John came…preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:3-4)

We have to face our flaws and failings before Christmas can come – face our need for a Savior before he can be born in our hearts.

I heard a great sermon line:

You have to wash your hands before you can hold the baby. *

So, Father, I wash my hands, confess my sin, profess my need of a Savior...and with gratitude and joy, I await the baby’s birth! Amen.

* - The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA,

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent - Week I

Lord, I’m ready for Advent!

Candles glow from every window.

1500 mini-bulbs twinkle on my shrubs.

...but I’m in need of illumination.

Help me, Lord, to answer St. Paul’s Advent wake-up call:

The hour has come…to wake up from your slumber…the night is nearly over; the day is almost here…put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)

Help me, Lord, to stand in that light, to stand still and quiet in the light of Jesus Christ. To feel peace and joy. To notice the angels, shepherds and wise men that you put in my path each day.

Help me, Lord, to reflect that light, to share that the Apostle John described it:

The true light that gives light to every man… (John 1:9)

Thank you, Lord, for our Savior, your Son...Jesus the Christ. Jesus the light. Amen.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. NRSV Matthew 6:21

Your words, Jesus, and they convict. You see my checkbook register and credit card statement. You know my finances. You know my heart.

What is it with me? It seems that material success is a form of heart disease.

You’re not holding back. You’ve given me great treasure. Indeed, I have a sense of gratitude, but I need a greater sense of contentment, a greater love for your Church and a much bigger heart for people in need.

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. NRSV Luke 12:48

Your words again, Lord. Inspire us to do more with all that you have entrusted to us. We need to be about greater purposes, looking to greater ends for you and your kingdom. Amen.

~ ~ ~ ~

It's cold and flu season. Have you been vaccinated against affluenza?

Consumer warning:
The recession does not provide complete protection.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What's More Precious Than Life?

Chapel at Versailles Palace

Max Lucado writes about “family partings”…it could be a move, going away to college or a funeral:

Question: what kind of God would give you families and then ask you to leave them? What kind of God would give you friends and then ask you to say good-bye?

Answer: a God who knows we are only pilgrims and that eternity is so close that any “good-bye” is in reality a “see you tomorrow.”

That’s what I call developing a heavenly perspective. It’s born of unshakable faith, of confidence in one’s salvation and His promise of eternal life. Solid trust in God.

I have yet to achieve that perspective with consistency, but I certainly aspire to it.

In that vein, I’ve written a contemporary Psalm - based on my daily Bible study. I’m borrowing words from Alastair Campbell, a Baptist Minister and teacher in Jamaica. (Writing for Scripture Union USA)

What is more precious than life?

Could it be the love of God?

Not a passing emotion
Given and withdrawn at will,
But a steady, deep commitment.
A slow-burning fire
That our sins cannot break,
And death cannot quench.

The love of God!

A love that made us,
Called us,
Believes in us,
Weeps over us,
Forgives us,
And saves us
From the power of sin and death.

But how can it be more precious than life?

Because it lasts! For eternity!

Praise God!
…for his love revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lawncare Prayer

Dear God, I’ve been working in my yard - preparing the lawn with aeration, seed and fertilizer. We’re pruning and planting, too. Father, you prepare our hearts in much the same way.

Break up the ground around my negative thoughts.

Use the pruning shears on my selfish and stubborn ways.

Your Word and worship are good seed.

Fertilize it with your Holy Spirit.

Lord Christ, it’s fall in my yard. Things are dying or dormant, but I pray this is a growing season for me. You are the master gardener. Bring forth new growth that I may bear fruit for your Kingdom. Amen.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Under Armour


Given my macho inclination, I reach for your armour: the sword, the helmet, the shield. But St. Paul gives us the entire outfit - the under-armor so to speak. He says to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

I’ve heard it said: “You cannot claim to belong to Jesus yet wear dirty clothes.” (Valson Thampu, writing for Scripture Union in India)

So, I pray that we clothe ourselves with these qualities of Jesus - spotless, immaculate. And that our armour is polished and shining for you.

In His name and the Spirit’s power, Amen.

Photo credit: Metropolitian Museum of Art, NYC

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A King Prays to THE KING

Lord, I offer David's words from the Fifth Psalm:

Thank you, Father, for the example of David - king and military leader - who begins the morning in prayer.

The King who brings his sighs and cries to You.

The King who bows in awe of You…who recognizes your steadfast love…who prays “make your way straight before me.”

I pray for David's deep, direct, very real connection to You:

As it was for David, may it be so for us. Turn our sighs to joy. Be our refuge and shield. Be our reality.

Through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Credits -
Top: King David, St. Martin's, North Yorkshire, UK
Statue of David, Michelangelo

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thirsty for Righteousness, Hungry for God's Presence

The word righteousness gets a bad rap. I think we confuse it with self-righteousness. Everybody knows what that means and nobody likes it…except for self-righteous people.

Righteousness can be defined simply as virtuous, but in the spiritual genre it has a deeper meaning: absolute faith in and commitment to God (according to the Holman Bible Dictionary.)

And that brings us to Matthew 5:6, Beatitude Number Four. Let's pray:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

Your words, Lord Christ: Blessed are those who seek your presence…those who seek an abiding relationship.

I have wondered about your expectations for that relationship. What do you want? The answer seems to be every aspect of our lives.

You want us in traffic…in the tough spots…when we stumble into someone we don’t like...when we face hostility…when a confrontation looms…when we encounter temptation.

That’s where your Holy Spirit will temper, guide, heal and transform - if - if we will give you the entire package.

Max Lucado writes that we must let you into the “mire and muck of our world.” Only then can you pull us out.

Lord, we hunger and thirst for righteousness. Amen.

Top photo: The Paraportiani Church, Mykonos, Greece (15th Century) | Bottom: Church in Oia, Santorini | Melissa Habel

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

World Communion Sunday

Blessed Sacrament

World Communion Sunday was observed on October 4th. To support the global theme our church provided seven different breads including rye, pumpernickel, French, pita – even hush puppies.

What if Jesus had walked the shores of the Neuse or Cape Fear Rivers rather than the Sea of Galilee? Our minister suggests that the Eucharistic symbols might have become hush puppies and sweet tea!

“Down East” or Middle East, what do the symbols mean to you? And let’s pray:


The minister gave me a surprisingly large portion from the Communion loaf on Sunday - sort of a sacramental chaw. You must have been sending a message.

Was it representative of the sin I brought to the alter? A major offense.

Was is about mercy? A major pardon.

Was it about blessing? Far more than I deserve?

Was it about love? Far more than I can fathom?

Something to chew on as they say…but I think the answer is “all of the above.”

At communion…
I ask your forgiveness.

At your table, I celebrate…
Abundant mercy, blessing and love – a very large portion!

In the name of the one who makes it possible, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Jesus is crystal clear about his principles for personal outreach - for the mercy, compassion and service we are to extend on his behalf:

Today’s buzz word is social justice, but simply put, it’s care for your neighbor, on the cul-de-sac or the neighboring continent. I’ve taken Biblical standards for loving your neighbor from the Old and New Testaments and woven them into a prayer:

Dear God, I take note of a most compelling question that comes just four chapters into Genesis - not a command or a law - but a question:

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9

It’s Cain’s feeble attempt to duck responsibility for his brother, but intuitively, we know the answer is “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper.” Brand our hearts, Lord, with your words from Zechariah:

Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.  
Zechariah 7:9-10

Father, we can be pretty “choosey” when it comes to the aliens and poor people we might be inclined to assist. I pray that we show greater mercy and compassion…as the 82nd Psalm directs:

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy… Psalm 82:3-4

Lord Christ, you have given us a clear, concise command in:

Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39

Let our love be transformed from sentiment into action - into deeds, good works, service - as James so eloquently set the standard:

Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead…I will show you my faith by what I do. James 2:17-18

All this we humbly pray in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Praying for Peace - Personal & Planetary

My Bible study group at church is working on the Adam Hamilton book "Seeing Gray" about the intersection of politics and religion. It's a difficult space...given the adage that the two subjects don't mix. As an example - in the very first week - our church held a prayer vigil for the International Day of Peace on September 21st. Certainly, that's a worthy endeavor, but I have long held reservations about the less-than-noble organizer - the United Nations. What to do? PRAY!


Faith and politics collided for me on Monday
At the International Day of Peace,
An event promoted by the United Nations.

Do I ever have misgiving about the UN,
But I came down on the side of faith.
I joined in the prayer vigil at our church.
Peace trumps geo-politics.

The UN web site encouraged praying
for personal and planetary peace.

So, let us pray for peacemakers…

For world leaders and diplomats,
For missionaries,
For aid and relief workers,
For the peacemaker at the office
or in the neighborhood association.

Let us pray for peacekeepers…

For our service men and women,
For their families,
For law enforcement and the judiciary,
For the peacekeeper in our families.

And the web site posed a poignant question:

Where should I declare a cease-fire?
Where can I disarm suspicion,
a quarrel, a pet peeve or a grudge?

I pray for insight about that
And for inspiration from the Prince of Peace,
Jesus Christ.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Trinity

Holy, Holy, Holy,
Merciful and Mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

I don't quite understand it. It's a Holy mystery. Still, I offer my limited explanation and resounding affirmation.

God…is GREAT! God is love.

Jesus…connects us with God. He is our path
and shield.

The Spirit…is our Holy conscience
and inspiration.


God is near. With love. With Guidance.
With inspiration.



Painting: Rublev (Russian)
Holy, Holy, Holy - UMC Hymnal, No. 64

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

His Hands Stretched Out the Heavens

The way I see it, NASA has incontrovertible evidence of God's existence. Simply examine the NASA photo gallery and the Astronomy Picture of the Day. You will sense deeply the hand of our Creator God. This is a very worthwhile government service!

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
(Psalm 19:1)

Lord Christ,
You are sovereign over all,
over the heavens, this planet, over me.
Shape and direct my life.

Almighty God,
Who made the earth…
Created mankind…
Whose hands stretched out the heavens…
(from Isiah 45:12)
Forgive my shopping list prayers,
half-hearted service and token offerings.
Transform my missteps into greater faith and obedience.

There is no rock like our God.
…the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s
Upon them he has set the world.
(from 1st Samuel 2)

Creator God,
As you set the stars and planets in place,
set my priorities, set aside my resistance,
and place your purposes first and foremost
in all areas of my life.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

THY WILL...or my will?

“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

Lord, I have a lot of trouble with that concept.

Mine runs ahead of Thine.

Give me this or give me that, I pray.

Bless this plan for me, I pray.

It’s the George-centered life, not the God-centered life that I pursue.

It’s not only selfish. It’s incredibly presumptuous that I ask you to follow my lead.

So, I pray again, straining to follow Christ’s example:

Not my will, but thy will. “Thine…not mine.”

Place me on your path, in pursuit of your priorities, through the example of Jesus and the inspiration of your Spirit. Amen.

T-shirt photo:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


The words of Jesus from Luke 8:16
(The Message translation)

No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a washtub or shoves it under the bed. No, you set it up on a lamp stand so those who enter the room can see their way.


It may be that I’m too energy conscious with my lamp.

I’ve been known to use a forty-watt bulb when you specified a hundred.

I substituted a fluorescent bulb and turned everything blue.

I’ve turned off my lamp to save energy - to save my energy, that is.

…but I know better. When it comes to my lamp the only “sustainability” program is sustaining the Kingdom of God.

To use that church phrase, we are “in mission” - every day. Throughout the day the lamp is lit. How will my conduct attract others to the Faith?

Father, I aspire to be a bright lamp - high on a stand - so that others see your light.

Photo: Sunset at Kaanapali, Maui

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


The Last Judgment, Michelangelo

Lord Christ,

I have been studying Revelation.
Earthquakes. Plagues. Dragons. Beasts.
Very difficult stuff.

But I’m reminded of your words in the first chapter:
Do not be afraid.

And John’s very last line of the book:
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.

God's grace. No fear.
And where Revelation eludes me,
I will focus on praise.

Chapter seven describes a great multitude that no one could count...from every nation, tribe, people and white robes...angels, too. And they fell down on their faces before your throne in worship:

Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

Father, you reign in nature,
you reign across history.
Reign in our hearts, our minds, our souls.

Let that be our revelation! Amen.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

God's Attention to Detail

Dear God,

Thank you for this day.
May we find reason for celebration
And thanksgiving as it unfolds.

Praise from the 139th Psalm:
I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Father, I read that…
We inhale 150 million air molecules in every breath,
We make 2 million red blood cells every second,
We have 10 trillion cells in our body,
That every cell contains a trillion atoms.

And we have your perspective, Lord Christ, from Luke 12:
Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

That speaks to your attention to detail,
To the detail of our lives.

May we trust in your sovereignty,
Your power, your care. Amen.

photo: Currituck Sound, NC, late afternoon

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On Miracles

Jesus quieted a storm, restored a dead girl to life, healed the mentally and physically handicapped and fed thousands of people from an almost bare picnic basket. Yet his closest associates, his disciples, didn’t quite get it. Are we any different? Do we have hardened hearts? Why is it that we resist his presence despite so much supporting evidence?

Lord Christ,
The headline in my Bible reads:
Jesus Walks on the Water
But the back-story is equally important.

Mark reports that the disciples didn’t recognize you,
That their hearts were hardened.
Is this story about miracles or our failure to notice them?

The Bible says
You went out to them,
Joined them,
And the wind died down.

The next time a squall forms over my life,
I pray for that dialog from the Gospel
Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.

Let us claim that promise
in the name of the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit.

From Mark 6:45-56
Scripture Union USA,
Encounter with God, 7/24/09
Sylvia Collinson, Morling College, Sydney Australia

This is a storm that formed on the Rockies at sunset in the vicinity of Gunnison CO. Perspective means a lot here. If you were under those clouds, there was a pelting rain, thunder and lightening. From a wider view there’s rich color and strong light. When you’re in a storm can you see beyond the thunderhead?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Breaking Barriers III


I’ve taken a fresh look at the beginning of Peter’s ministry.
(Acts 9-10-11)

He was a very quotable preacher, but his cross-cultural outreach got my attention.

Early on, he stayed with Simon the tanner.
The man and his occupation were despised by Peter’s people.

Then he visited and baptized Cornelius, the centurion.
The soldier commanded an occupying force.
He was a despised enemy of Peter’s people.

…but Peter exclaims: God does not show favoritism.

The Message translates it this way:

“It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from - if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open…he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.” (Acts 10:34-36)

The challenge persists for “reluctant missionaries” like me:

What boundaries will I break for the Gospel?

Help me, Father, to put prejudice and suspicion aside.
Help me, Father, to see the world through your eyes.

In Jesus’ name,

Credit: From Scripture Union USA’s Encounter with God, 6/24/09, David Smith – International Christian College, Glasgow

Art: Trevisani, 1709

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Independence Day, follow-up...

On Independence Day
I offered thanks for freedom.
In today’s America
that’s “the pursuit of happiness” -
What a blessing!

But in 1776,
it was about freedom from oppression.
That’s still in the headlines,
in Iran, China and North Korea.
Will I pray for those people,
often viewed as the enemy?

And there are other facets of freedom,
like freedom from guilt.
Will I be quicker to forgive,
or to put someone at ease?

And there’s freedom from
poverty, abuse or addiction.
Will I share my
"time, talent and treasure"
for someone else’s freedom?

The pursuit of happiness,
will I confess
that it’s not about me?

I will, with the power
of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

All Saints' Chapel, University of the South
Sewanee TN (photo credit: Melissa Habel)

Friday, July 3, 2009

the Fourth of July: Dependence Day

I'm thankful to be a citizen of the USA. It's a marvelous and complex nation. Founded by religious zealots, adventurers, entrepreneurs and a few criminals, they held freedom and faith in high regard.

...but I'm convinced that faith is the duct tape that holds it all together!

In the Virginia statute for religious freedom, an underpinning of the first amendment, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.

Where did tolerance run amok? Why don’t we feel free to profess our faith? What’s wrong with a lively, respectful discussion about religion?

Thank you, Lord,
For the freedom we enjoy in the USA.
It would seem to compliment
Your grant of “free will.”

We are free to pursue our dreams,
Free to pursue our faith.
In that tandem,
Life has meaning and purpose.

But it’s not a perfect system.
Freedom turns selfish,
Culture coarsens.
Free will rejects the things of faith,
Values and community.

Here’s where the evangelist shouts:
And it’s spot on.

On this Independence Day
Let’s make a Declaration of Dependence,
On God Almighty, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Let’s profess our belief, reliance and trust in You.

Freedom without faith
Will not prosper or satisfy.


(Steven Curtis Chapman gets credit for the Declaration of Dependence theme.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Breaking Barriers II

Michelangelo, Saul's Conversion

LordI read Saul’s conversion story this week…with a new perspective. 
(Acts 9)

At first, it was shocking. A contemporary commentator* compared him to a Muslim radical.

…but Saul encountered Jesus. The fanatical, violent opponent of the new Jesus movement was transformed into Christianity’s greatest evangelist, St. Paul.

Who do we consider beyond redemption? Can I pray for enemies of my nation, the difficult neighbor or the coworker I mistrust? Could they become brothers and sisters in Christ?

Help me, Father, to love those who are different from me. Help me, Father, to see the world through your eyes. Use me to bring someone beyond hope into your family, that we both may encounter Jesus.

In His name, Amen.

* - N.T. Wright, Bishop, Church of England
Credit: From Scripture Union USA’s Encounter with God, 6/20/09, David Smith – International Christian College, Glasgow

~ ~ ~ ~

Was St. Paul's experience unique?
I believe God makes regular appearances, even house calls!

A tear in the heavens as a storm forms over our neighborhood.

The light in my backyard.