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Living in Blessing

I come to the end of the year with a profound sense of being "blessed".
Over the last three weeks I have had the opportunity to celebrate three new grandchildren born into this world that I will, however long I have to live, have the opportunity to love and pass along the blessings of God to their lives.
It's not easy to live "blessed".
"On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"),
and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the cons…

Merry Christmas

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that wil…

A Census at Bethlehem

Pieter Bruegel painted in the 16th century. One of his paintings that I love because it's both biblically based and it's a bit of a "Where's Waldo?". The inn is crowded. In the mid-foreground, a woman is seated on an ass, in the company of a man with a saw on his shoulder, and he's leading an ox. Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem where Joseph's ancestors come from because of the decree of the Roman emperor for a census. The painting is from 1566 andis entitled:
"Christmas Census at Bethlehem".
The text in Luke reads: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
He went there to register with Mary…

A House of Bread

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own tons to be registered.
Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.
Luke 2:1-4 (NRSV)

Bethlehem means "house of bread", and so named that because it was a center of wheat and other grain production. Bethlehem had a long history in scripture. It was a place frequented in the Patriarchal period and when Rachel died (remember she was married to Jacob who was renamed Israel by God) she was buried in Bethlehem. In the story of Ruth, she and Boaz meet in Bethlehem, and in marrying they become the grandparents of King David. It is King David who is the most prominent figure from Bethlehem and Luke makes it clear that it is Joseph who is from the line of David.
I…

Advent Communion

Mary's Song of Praise in Luke 1 is often referred to as "The Magnificat". She prays in worship:
And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Ancient near eastern Judaism meant betrothal of a young girl by the age of 12-13. The year of preparation would have be…

Whispers of Love

The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
Luke 1:35 (NRSV)


Mary lived with Jesus for nine months before the world ever had the chance. Even Joseph, as all fathers must, had to wait to witness his son. It would be family and friends who first congratulated or "oohed" and "aahed" at this little baby. AND, perhaps no one, save Mary and Joseph, had a clue that this little one was not a mere mortal, but had the title "Son of God" because he was Immanuel, God with Us.
So, what do you do with a little new born? The scriptures give us little to know. It says they "swaddled him in cloths and laid him in a manger" after he was newly born. Yes, it makes sense that that little babies are cleaned up and then wrapped up to both keep them warm and to give them a similar sense of being in their mother's …

Advent - For Unto Us Children Are Born!

The text of scripture says, "For unto us a child is born, a son is given..." and it is the most wonderful news for all mankind.
Today, I'm rejoicing in three grandchildren being born on the same day. My Son and Daughter in law, Chris and Sarah's baby boy - Leo Andrew was born at 1:18 this morning in Milwaukee. He weighed in at a strapping 9 lbs, 5 oz. Then, 7 hours later, and across the big pond called the Atlantic, my daughter and Son in law, Lindsay and Peter Osborne had twins arrive. Raewyn Leslie was born first at 5 lbs 2oz, and Theo Harvey was born 2 minutes later at 4lb 15 oz.,
Moms and babies are doing fine!!!! Grandpa and Grandma are rejoicing like Shepherds on a hill side!
THREE in one day!!!

Advent With Joy

The Christmas Hymn says:
Joy to the World , the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Joy to the World, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.
I was reading this morning and in one of my Advent readings the writer expressed something that intrigues me - "Jesus delighted in being here on earth". For some reason that got me off guard, it made me stop and thi…

Joseph and George Bailey

Matthew 1:19-20 (NRSV)
19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Advent is about the great love of God...blah, blah, blah. Isn't that how it comes across sometimes. God so loved the world...yeah, I know that. God loves you...do I know that? Do I believe that? God so loves the world, that's true...but God love and care about me personally? I think we struggle with that.

Henri Nouwen wrote about this over and over again:
"To whom do I belong? To God or to the world?...As long as I keep running about asking, 'Do you love me?', I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with "ifs". 'Yes,…

The Art of Manliness

A few months ago in a casual conversation with a friend, I was directed to a web site called "the art of manliness". You can check it out at http://artofmanliness.com

Not a site necessarily directed to Christ, it is nevertheless filled with material, stories, and articles for men. What I like about it is that it has a moral foundation, and a gentlemen's approach to being a man...something I think that is largely missing in today's world.

My meditation this morning is on a man...Joseph. Luke shares very little about him in the days leading up to Christ Jesus' birth, but Matthew gives us a lot to think about. In Matthew 1:18-19 (NRSV), it says...
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly…

Advent Waiting Part 2

Zechariah's first words in months of time was framed in a prophetic prayer for his son's life. John the Baptist was born six months or so before Jesus, and he was to serve as the forerunner - the one who introduced God's purpose and God's Son to a world so unprepared to see him.

Zechariah prayed and prophesied..Luke 1:68-79 (NRSV)
68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, chi…

Advent Absurdity

The Story of Zechariah is a story of humanity in it's most usual form...myself included. The priest Zechariah (Zacharias) is part of a priestly division who come to the temple once a year for a two week period of time to perform the temple services. He is chosen by lot (straws anyone?) and he enters into the temple's holy place to burn the incense and take care of the candles and bread when suddenly the angel of the Lord appears at the altar. This angel's name is Gabriel which means "man, or person, of El" which was short for Elohim, one of God's names. He meets Zechariah at the altar of incense which was symbolic of the prayers of the people rising up before God's throne. And the angel gives him the news...
Luke 1:13 (NIV)
13 But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.

"Zechariah, God has heard your prayers and indeed a s…

A Forerunner's Christmas

This morning I read a bit of Luke 1 and the pronouncement of the angel concerning John the Baptist's birth.

Luke 1:12-17 (NIV)
12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.
13 But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.
14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,
15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.
16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.
17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

John's place in salvation history is to serve as a forerunner. Like Eli…

Peace on Earth

In my readings today, I came across this Advent theme of "peace on earth". It seems like peace evades so many people. We live in a time where darkness seems all around us. Yet, we must cling to this person of peace no matter what may be occurring. The prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before Jesus' coming proclaimed in Isaiah 9:6-7a,
"6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace..."

In Jesus we have the prince of peace. The one whose life brings a settled faith in God as the ultimate ruler and judge, and who is full of life and peace for those who are willing to cling to him.

In Luke 1, the Advent story begins with Zechariah, a priest, who was visited by the angel and the birth of John the Baptist who would be the "forerunner" …

How precarious it must have been

Sunday School and carols sing about the birth of Jesus and the role that Mary played as the mother of Jesus, and of Joseph, at first not only skeptical, but clearly hurt and wounded by the thought of his bride getting pregnant outside of marriage.
The nine months of Mary's pregnancy is more vivid for me today with two daughters - my daughter-in-law Sarah now in her 40th week awaiting our next Grandson, and my daughter Lindsay in her 34th week with twins, a boy and a girl.
Over the weekend we got word that Lindsay had to be hospitalized with high blood pressure and a concern for a condition called pre-eclampsia. She's being taken care of in a hospital, resting, and having tests done to see if there is unusual amounts of protein in the urine.
As a father, I'm concerned, and happy she's being taken care of. Our son-in-law, Peter, is keeping us abreast of what's happening, but being 4000 miles away with an ocean in between makes it all very anxious.

So, I've been…

2nd Sunday in Advent - Living With Tension

We live in the beautiful tension of the Holiness and Grace of God.
John 1:14,16-17 (NRSV)
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
John 3:16-17 (NRSV)
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

God's holiness leads us to the truth about ourselves, and about the world around us. We, and those around us, indeed the whole world, need a savior. We need grace to counteract the selfishness of our resident sinfulness.
We die to self in receiving the grace of God. It is that grace that relieves us from preten…

An Advent Saturday

I often wondered if I, and the people of God, prepared for Sunday as much as we prepare the setting for a day of football, would we get much more out of our worship experience?

Remembering how the Christmas story began is part of this: Luke 1:5-11
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth...
8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.

The setting was an angelic visitation during his worship. The visit of God's messenger frightened Zechariah, even as it would frighten…

White Christmas

I don't know why it is that there's such a desire for many of us for a white Christmas. Is it the sentimentality of it? It is nostalgic? It certainly is partly crazy!

We got our first real snow fall last night. It meant traffic jams and slippery roads, and gingerly walking from the parking lot to the building I teach in.

White Christmas? The movie White Christmas is classic...the song, I believe, is the most recorded song in all history. Bing Crosby's rich voice and Rosemary Clooney's accompaning...it doesn't get any better than that. Remember?


I don't think it's just White Christmas that has immortalized it. Who can forget George Bailey running through the snow on the way back to his house, or the snow blowing on the bridge, or the scene in which he plows his car into the tree?
There's so many movies that have played off of that theme. It's engrained within us.
Of course a white Christmas is limited to the northern latitudes; but did you …

Praying through Advent

A Scripture Reading from Luke 1:46-50,
46 And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
49 "For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.
50 "AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.

I cannot read the Messianic prophecies, nor the announcements by angels in Luke and Matthew, and not see that the only response that makes sense is prayer.

I have a confession to make. I have always struggled with prayer. Early on in my walk with Christ, I approached the pastor of the church and asked him, "Why do I struggle so much to pray?" You would think that after 40 years, 37 of them as a Pastor myself, I'd be able to laugh and say that was those days when I was young and not very spiritual. Well, I'm older, and although I can…

The Root of Jesse

Christmas for most people involves a tree. There are many historic reasons for the inclusion of the evergreen tree in the Christmas season, and I may share one or two of them as the season goes along. Perhaps the most basic idea is that in Autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere that is) the leaves fall from the deciduous trees and the days of light grow shorter, darkness more and more invades the earth, and the cold weather drives us indoors. I personally love winter, but the symbolic part of "life" retreating can't be missed. Along comes the evergreen tree and reminds us that life continues in the midst of the darkness, the cold, the winter season.
2800 years ago a prophet looked all around the land of Israel, and all he saw was "darkness, gloom", a foreboding sense of trouble that would lead to war, captivity, exile for his people, Israel. Isaiah prophesied faithfully to a nation that had lost hope, and forgotten it's heritage. He spoke truth into the …

Christmas memories

I have some vivid memories of Christmas past. Born in 1949, Christmas was a grand affair filled with Hallmark kinds of memories. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin called Fox Lake. I was one of 7 kids - a twin and my parents were blue-collar hard working folks. I remember going with my Mom to the town near us that had a Sears and J C Penney's dept store for Christmas shopping. The stores were decorated to the hilt with Christmas fan-fare and Christmas hymns and music was pumped through the store. The city I grew up in hung decorations from the street lights, and banners across the main street declaring "Merry Christmas". We were a German immigrant community (by and large) and so almost everyone was either Lutheran or Catholic. Even in public school Christmas was recognized and celebrated. We actually had "Christmas Vacation"!

I remember hymns and carols on television. Every year the city would put on a Christmas party at the city's community bu…

Advent 2009, Day 2

I love celebrating Advent. With apologies, I am writing on Day 2 as I begin this time of Advent reflection.
What is Advent? It is the celebration of the "arrival", the "coming" - from the Latin word, "Adventus". It is that time of the year that the church around the world comes together to proclaim together Jesus' advent into the world. He who was equal to God "emptied" himself and came as an infant male child, born of the virgin Mary and of Joseph his father...WHY? Because "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son..."

The Advent season begins with festive preparation. The day after Thanksgiving Linda and I venture out into the country to a favorite farm and go Christmas tree "hunting". We talk every year of "what kind" of a tree do we want? The space we have is partly the issue, but we're looking for that "perfect" tree to decorate the space.



Along with the tree, the village…

So, I turned 60 today

It's an ironic feeling that I am going through today. It's my 60th birthday and I don't feel any different at all from the day before when I was still in the 50's decade.
My brother is turning 60 today also. He's a great brother, and a good friend, even though he whines too much. That's him...he's not too bad looking for a 60 yr. old.
And so is Tom Watson, of Professional golf fame. We all came into this world on Sept 4, 1949...so did a lot of other people I'm sure.
My siblings are mainly older, so they are enjoying my coming into their decade. I have three older sisters, and one younger...and oh yeah, a brother who has gone on to be with the Lord along with my mom and dad. I was born in 1949...Harry Truman was president...bet you don't know his vice-president...shoot, most people don't even know who the current one is. [By the way, in 1949, Alben Barkley was the VP]. In 1949, Sara Lee introduce her cheesecake, and "silly putty"…

New Beginnings are Exciting

Hi Folks,
Tomorrow Christian Life College - Madison launches into existence. The registration and orientation for the first semester's first class has gone well. Like all new beginnings there is a bit of excitement mixed with "oh, I hadn't thought of that yet".

Christian Life College-Madison is going to be an off campus program of CLC in Mount Prospect, IL. You can check out CLC's web site at http://www.christianlifecollege.edu/
I am going into this as the school's Academic Dean and as thus am taking the challenge of academic integrity seriously.

I've been asked a couple of times, "Why do this?"

I have been a pastor for almost 35 years. I went through seminary training and although there were value differences I've always held on to my academic training in that Christian worldview as an invaluable part of my own formation.

NOW, I have a huge concern for this generation's ability to relate Christianity's values and principles - …

Prayers for my friend Mari

Sometimes we run up against life...and frankly it sucks! My young friend Mari Day, who is the daughter of one of my dearest friends, Dave and Rhi Day, is going to have to endure another round of chemo after months of hoping they had gotten it all the first time around.
I can't help but feel so sad to think of this beautiful young woman fighting off an enemy within her own body...but that is what she will need to do, once more.
If anyone can do it, Mari can. She's a fighter...tenacious and lovely.
All I'm asking is that any of you who read this remember to pray for Mari Day... let's pray that the cancer disappear quickly, that the treatment not debilitate, that the medicine do it's job once and for all, and for God to be glorified in Mari's body!
Amen.

The Presence of the Kingdom

The Christian lives in the strange place of neither/nor. There is a positive to state, so don't take the neither/nor as the ultimate reality; but for a Christian to truly live in the Kingdom of God, there is of necessity, a recognition that the world that surrounds -- wherever that world might be -- is material, and always ruled by that which is destructive. The world is filled with a self-destructive bent and no matter the political, national, or ideological championing the world is not evolving into something better.
There is neither a better world ahead -- regardless of the voices that champion their goals -- nor is there a reason for the Christian to escape. We live in the strange place of this neither/nor. The Christian lives in the presence of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God brings life in the place of death; light in the place of darkness, salt in the place of staleness and spoiling, prayer in the midst of despair, life in the place of death. We don't love the wo…

No more Facebook, only the blog!

I came to a decision to eliminate my Facebook acct. It wasn't a difficult one to make since I rarely use it anyway. I've struggled with the desire to stay linked to people, but one of the chief concerns I've had is the propietary nature of what goes onto my facebook page. I don't like the fact that so many of the photos and personal information -- while share with only those I say yes to -- is still property of facebook. I work in a sensitive area of life and can't take the risk that someone might use it improperly. So, it's no more Facebook...you can read this blog if you want to find out what's happening in my world.

The Demise of Religion in America?

Just in the last few weeks a couple of news outlets have published material on the demise of Religious Christianity in America. One was Michael Spencer’s “The coming evangelical collapse” published in the Christian Science Monitor, and the second was Jon Meacham’s “The End of Christian America” published in Newsweek. Meacham discusses the decline of Christianity in America in general while Spencer discusses what he believes is the soon and inevitable demise of Evangelicalism in particular.

I think it important to make some distinctions in what each are saying, and to perhaps even "feel good" about the conclusions they are making. What each is saying is that American faith life-styles is going through serious revisions from the past. In the past, a vast majority of Americans identified as being "Christian" -- but we know from some fairly strong research/data that many people in our country identified with Christianity only from a cultural position; in other words,…

Some things to Read

The time between Easter and Pentecost is from Spring to Summer here in Wisconsin. For me, it's a time for golf, yard work, and reading!

The golf game is a life-long work in progress. Yesterday I watched The Masters with Linda and got caught up in the drama that was Phil and Tiger, as well as the three way playoff that Angel Cabrera won. I felt really bad for Kenny Perry who is one of the few pros who has come to Milwaukee to the Bank Championship. All that being said, it is the game of golf that I love. I haven't made my first round of the year, but Friday this week looks good!

Yard work is also a life-long work in process...but I do enjoy the outside work. My job has too much desk time attached to it, so the chance to get outside and do the work of making the yard, garden, etc...look decent is a great diversion.

With lots of outdoor times, the indoor times are less and less; but at least when I do, reading is a better time spent than t.v. I've got several books on m…

Easter For Those Along the Way

Easter is a Joy-filled and mysterious event. The picture comes from Rembrandt's collections. He captures really well (even if Renaissance people play the parts) of the scene that first morning. And it was morning that it all began. Just imagine the women's and men's surprise that Sunday morning when the grave was empty and the angel of the Lord delivered the news to them that day. And, it was to women that they first appeared. It's amazing...God chose to use those who weren't even credible in a court of law... amazing - and like most Kingdom things - upside down!

But, it is evening as I write this and I am thinking of the journey of Jesus to Emmaus that first day and the companion's along the way that he reveals himself to. Here's a story written on that journey.

A Companion Along the Way: Easter Sunday on the Emmaus Road
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

The gleaming cloud tops and fragrant spring air would have
invigorated most travelers leaving Jerusalem that S…