Showing posts from 2016

Why we love Christmas traditions

Why do we love the Christmas season so much?

This morning I head a short interview of Bob Richter, author of A Very Vintage Christmas. I haven't read the book, but I connected with his comments. Richter says the reason we love the Christmas season is that it allows us to pause and become sentimental. It's like our whole culture gives itself permission to look into one another's eyes and tear up just a little.

Christmas traditions are like historical connective tissue. An old glass ornament knits together childhood and adulthood. Grandma's plastic Santa reminds us of her sugar cookies and what the house smelled like when she was baking.

The spirit of Richter's interview was this: go ahead and indulge yourself in the sentimentality of Christmas. Gifts are only a springboard for the real treat: having a heart-to-heart connection with others. And the theology of Christmas is just as simple: God dwells in those connections!

So, what's your favorite Christmas traditi…

"Think Advent" and the joy of the season

This is the season of Advent. 'Advent' means "arrival, appearing." It's one thing to say "Advent" in a religious way, like you might say "independence" on the Fourth of July. But what happens if you think Advent? That means paying attention to how God is appearing today, in this moment. It means practicing EAT -- "Enjoy-and-Thank."

"Think Advent": How is God arriving or appearing in your day right now, especially in the simple things you might otherwise take for granted?
For instance, in this morning's devotional readings, there was a sentence, "He causes me to dwell in safety." "Thinking Advent" helps me to stop and pay attention to elements of life I would normally take for granted.  So I took the thought from the devotions and combined it with Advent. "Dwelling in safety... Advent... How is God appearing in ways that give me safety?" ImmAdvent!
ediately I thought about having a safe, wa…

A way to deal with life's trials: "enjoy-and-thank"

Sometimes it feels like life is one long wrestling match against a stronger opponent. Very few things come easily. How we come through life's many challenges is a matter of having a biblical perspective and some practical steps to take.

Our family bought a house this summer. The inspector said, "For a 60-year-old house, this place is in great shape." He went on to say those magical words: "it has really good bones." Well, no sooner did we move in than things stopped working and we discovered all sorts of problems. One morning Susan was turning on the shower, and the shower handle came off in her hand. You know, stuff like that. On the more serious side, when Sacramento got its first good rain of the year, I came home to find water dripping steadily from the ceiling in the living room onto one of the television speakers we had bought five days earlier. Living in this house has felt like a wrestling match in which I'm being outpointed rather badly.

At times, …

Inside the head of King David: "Get out of bed!"

Ever wish you could get inside the head of King David? It's not too hard. Of all the biblical writers, King David is the most open about his self-talk. But I particularly love this one: "Come on, self. Get out of bed! Sing!"

Here's the scene. King Saul has been chasing young David around the countryside. Saul wants to run a spear through David's gut. Psalm 57 takes place in a cave where David has taken refuge. 
With the terror of having a bounty put on his head by the most powerful man in the land, can you imagine how exhausted David must be? It's about 5:00 in the morning -- not quite light yet. All is quiet except the sounds of David's companions sleeping. Here's what he says to himself: "Awake, my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn." (verse 8) It's basically a pep talk to himself. "Come on, self. Get out of bed! Sing!"
Inside the head of King David: The greatest worshipper of all time had to discipline himself …

When you don't understand the Bible

We are free not to understand everything in the Bible. There's no need to stress when we come across something we don't get. Sure, do a little historical homework. Read the notes in your study Bible or some other resource. But sometimes there just aren't any clear answers. I am reminded of that as I prepare to preach this Sunday on a passage I'm not sure anyone really understands (Matthew 8:28-34 -- a story that involves Jesus, two violent men, a mob of demons, and a herd of pigs). I've consulted three biblical scholars, and there is no clear consensus about all the aspects of this story. But here's the good news. We don't have to force the Bible into categories or expectations we construct -- as if we were trying to reshape jello with a hammer. We can let the Bible be what it is. And it is sometimes a mystery.

So in our puzzlement, we are encouraged to read on. Read consistently. And read with a loose grip. Even with the mysteries, there is enough clarity i…

The man who took eight years to learn one Bible verse

A long time ago there was an illiterate monk named Pambo. He was young and new to the monk's life in the desert, so he went to an older monk for advice. The old man began reading a Psalm: "I said, 'I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin...'" (Ps 38:1). Young Pambo stopped the master, saying, "My father, if I haven't learned the beginning of the text, I won't learn the rest." So he went away. For the next eight years he concentrated on obeying this one verse of Scripture. This meant being silent until he learned to speak only after considering whether what he would say would be life-giving or not.

When Pambo returned, the old man said, "Where have you been? I haven't seen you for eight years. Why didn't you come back to hear the rest of the Psalm?" Pambo replied, "Since I hadn't learned the first verse, I didn't return to you to get the second, since God had not given me the grace until now to learn it.&qu…