Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Romans first celebrated the New Year on January 1 in 153 B.C. An ancient Roman festival honored the god Janus, from whom we get the name “January.” Janus was believed to have two faces – one looking forward and one looking backward. He was known to be the god of doorways and of new beginnings.

Romans made resolutions during this time that had a moral tone like being good to others. Some made promises to the gods in hopes that they would grant a favor in return. The Romans also believed that breaking a New Year’s resolution brought bad luck. The Romans celebrated by decorating their homes and exchanging gifts.

The early Christian church was opposed to celebrating the New Year because of the pagan history. In the 1600s Puritans didn’t even say the name of the month January, instead saying, “First Month.” They encouraged their young people to skip the celebrations and meditate on the year past and the year to come. They once again adopted the practice of making resolutions by promising to make better use of their talents and gifts, and to treat others with Christian charity.

Whether we follow the revelry of the Romans or the practices of the Puritans, New Years is an obvious time to reflect on the old days and look toward the new ones.

The Bible doesn’t tell us about New Year’s Resolutions, but it has plenty to say about “newness.” In fact, God likes new things.

“Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:5
“Put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness...put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him…” Ephesians 4:24
“He is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Romans 6:4 reminds us that just like Christ rose from the grave to new life, we should “walk in newness of life.” As I look to 2009 I want to “walk in newness of life.” What a great New Year’s resolution! What a great new life purpose! What does this really mean though? There is a difference between “new” and “newness.” New things can quickly become old; however, the Greek word for “newness” in Romans 6:4 implies an ongoing quality. This verse declares that God’s purpose for us is to live an ongoing life of dependence on him, not one with fits and starts. Walking in newness of life means walking in step with God every day.

The activity of walking each day with Christ will need to become a habit. Experts say it takes about 21 days for a new activity to become a habit, and 6 months for it to become part of your personality. This is a reminder that habits take time to form, but as Colossians 3:23 & 24 state, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”

The true God of New Beginnings desires for all of us to resolve to walk in newness of life. It’s a resolution God expects us to keep!

For tools to help you assess your spiritual walk, you might check out the following resources.
Faith Assessment for Spiritual Health

Spiritual Growth Assessment Plan

To share your New Year’s resolutions or to comment on this article, click on the title “Newness” and then scroll to the bottom of the page to “Comments.”

Jesus' First 40 Days

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The number 40 holds special significance throughout the Bible. It rained 40 days and nights; Moses was on the mountain with God 40 days; the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness; Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness; Jesus was seen on earth 40 days after the crucifixion. These events always ended with renewed or extended rule. At Christmas time we talk a lot about the day of Jesus’ birth, but actually Luke 2: 1-38 tells of the first 40 days of Jesus’ life. We know well of the role Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds played, but we talk little of two other very significant, yet quiet, servants that God chose to be a part of the first 40 days of Christ’s life. It is awe inspiring to see how God chose ordinary people much like you and me to be a part of an event that would change the world. Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna were unlikely and little known participants in the greatest story ever told. They were all humble, obedient, and faithful to the call.

Joseph was an upright man but one of lowly means, a carpenter. When he learned that Mary was pregnant, maybe he thought of putting her away and avoiding public humiliation. Instead he listened to the angel, obeyed God, and took Mary as his wife.

Mary had a humble, quiet spirit. She must have felt frightened and alone when she learned that she would bear a son, the Savior of the world, yet Mary proclaimed that she was the Lord’s servant saying, “Whatever he says, I accept.” Mary and Joseph believed the angels that appeared to them, trusted God and were obedient to him. God chose this meek couple to be the parents of the King.

It’s remarkable that God chose shepherds to be the first to receive the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Shepherds were simple men of the field who could not even observe all the ceremonies of their religion because their time was spent tending the flock. Yet God invited them to visit the Christ child, and they were obedient and even hurried to see him. Isn’t it an awesome thought that God chose these unassuming shepherds who care for “sheep” to herald the coming of the “lamb” of God!

Many of our traditional readings of the Christmas story end at Luke 2:20 after the shepherds visit Jesus. However, there are two more witnesses that played significant roles in the birth story: Simeon and Anna. Simeon met Joseph and Mary at their temple presentation 40 days after Jesus’ birth. Known for his righteousness, Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before seeing the Christ. This devout Jew blessed the baby and then prophesied about his future.

Anna was another quiet witness in the early days of Jesus’ life. She was an elderly widow who spent her days and nights worshipping and praying in the temple. When she learned of Jesus’ presence in the temple, she began giving thanks and telling of the good news to all who were there. The first 40 days ended with Simeon’s blessing and Anna’s sharing. What an inspiration for us during this season! We too can share with others the blessing of the Christ child.

God chose to use humble, righteous, and devoted servants as the first witnesses to the birth of our Savior. They were unknown outside their own finite worlds. They were like many of the forgotten or invisible people in our own worlds. Yet Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna were all picked by God. They were faithful; they were obedient; and they were witnesses to the world. They accepted the call and each one chose Jesus.

God wants each of us to be witnesses to the world about the good news. All he asks is for us to be faithful and obedient servants. He leaves the choice to us. During this Christmas season, let’s choose to be like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna. Let’s choose Jesus.

Blessing Tree

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Many years ago during a rough time in my life, I learned to focus on blessings and made the habit of praying this prayer each morning: “God help me to be open to the giving and receiving of your blessings today and help me to do all things pleasing in your sight.” So last Christmas morning the devotional I read really struck a chord with me. The story was about a couple whose business had failed leaving them with little money to spend at Christmas. Not wanting their spirits dampened, they decided to throw a party. When the guests arrived, they saw a simple lighted tree with rolled up pieces of paper tied with ribbons for decorations. Each paper described a blessing the couple had received during the year.

This Christmas I decided to have a Blessing Tree too. A small tree in my bedroom is decorated with a strand of lights and rolled paper tied with gold ribbons. Each slip contains a blessing I have received this year. It was interesting to note that my blessings are centered on the many wonderful relationships that I enjoy and the great experiences that I’ve had throughout the year. I hope to make the Blessing Tree a tradition in my home.

The words of one of my favorite hymns, “Make Me a Blessing,” encourage us to seek ways to bless others.

Make me a blessing,
Make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing,
O Savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

To be blessed means to be favored by God. The first blessing in the Bible came when God sent Abraham from his homeland with the promise, “I will bless you… and you will be a blessing.” Genesis 12:2. He makes the same promise to us each day. He will bless us and we will be a blessing to others.

Let’s look for ways to be a blessing and in return be blessed.

Advent - Waiting

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Advent, meaning “coming” or “arrival,” is the beginning of the Christian year and starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, November 30th this year. The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King. It is marked by the spirit of longing, expectation, and preparation. As Christians, we look back, forward, and inward during this period.

We look back to the Israelites who longed for God to fulfill his promise of salvation. We imagine what it was like to wait upon the Lord. During this season let’s thank God for sending his son into the world. We rejoice in the first coming.

We look forward as we anticipate the second coming of Christ. God fulfilled his promise to send a Savior, yet we still live in a broken world. We await the time when God will renew his creation in the second coming.

We look inward as we examine our lives and prepare our hearts for Christ. Advent is a time to renew our minds to his “good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). This season is a reminder for us to long for God and to make him Lord of our lives.

The Advent season is one of waiting. The Christmas season is also a time of waiting – waiting in traffic, waiting in line, waiting for service, waiting at the airport, on and on. Life is full of waiting. We wait for a baby to arrive, for Mr. or Miss Right, for good news, and for the weather to change. And according to John Mayer’s lyrics, we’re “waiting on the world to change.” Waiting challenges me! Yet, it is through our waiting that our character is tested and shaped. Spiritual waiting is an even greater challenge. Waiting on God – whether we are waiting for answered prayer or the second coming – challenges our faith because we have absolutely no control over the timing.

This Advent as we wait to enjoy our favorite Christmas traditions, let’s also wait on the Lord to guide our thoughts, words, and actions. Let’s celebrate Christ’s presence in our lives by living a life of longing, expectation, and preparation for his return.

“Wait thou only upon God, for my expectation is from him.” Psalm 62:5

Positive Attitude

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Research Project on Gratitude and Thanksgiving was a study of 300 people to determine the role gratitude plays in a person’s life. The participants were divided into three groups. The first group kept a diary of daily events. The second group recorded their unpleasant experiences each day. The third group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful. The researchers found that those who were grateful experienced greater life satisfaction than those who recorded neutral or negative events. Those who kept gratitude records exhibited higher levels of energy, were more generous, and experienced less stress than those who didn’t focus on the positive aspects of each day.

Focusing less on the negative aspects of our lives and more on the positive aspects can help us to better cope with daily living and bring constructive changes into our lives. Helen Keller serves as role model for positive living and is known for her courage against overwhelming odds. Despite her handicaps, frustrations with learning, and numerous setbacks, she chose to move forward by focusing on what she could do instead of what she could not do. Keller chose to re-frame her negative situations and focus on the positive. As a result, she’s recognized for a life devoted to helping others and always looking forward. She said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened before us.”

Her inspiring attitude is powerfully expressed in these lines from her poem, “On Herself."

They took away what should have been my eyes
(But I remembered Milton's Paradise)

They took away what should have been my ears

(Beethoven came and wiped away my tears)

They took away what should have been my tongue

(But I had talked to God when I was young)

He would not let them take away my soul---

Possessing that, I still possess the whole.

Let's remember to have an attitude of gratitude as we approach the hectic holiday season when our patience will be tested. A positive attitude changes everything!

“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24


Thursday, November 20, 2008

In early fall of 1621, 53 surviving Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest. A traditional English custom, the celebration was a time to thank God, who had made possible their survival and provided the bounty of their harvest. It was not just a secular occasion; it was a religious observance.

Americans have officially celebrated Thanksgiving as a national holiday since 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared a Thanksgiving Proclamation. This day is not just a day to give thanks (we should be doing that every day!), but it’s a day when we give corporate thanks - thanks as a nation, as a community, as a family. I recently reviewed Lincoln’s Proclamation and was struck by the boldness with which Lincoln urged the country to show thanks to God. In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln still expressed gratitude for the many ways God had blessed the nation. In his concluding statement Lincoln implores God to heal the wounds of the nation and restore it according to God’s purpose so that America would find “peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”

Isn’t that sentiment appropriate for us today? Our nation has just concluded a harsh presidential campaign. Many families are feeling the effects of the struggling economy. Nevertheless, God has blessed our nation and us as individuals in many ways. He has promised us that he will provide. His name Jehovah-Jireh means just that - The Lord will provide.

Let’s take some time this Thanksgiving season to count our blessings and name them one by one.
Let’s use Lincoln’s words as inspiration to pray for God to heal our wounds and restore us to his purpose so that we all can find “peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”

The Message version of Psalm 100 calls us to be active in our expressions of thanks to God. You might want to read this at your Thanksgiving table as you and your guests share expressions of gratitude.

Psalm 100 - A Thanksgiving Psalm

On your feet now - applaud God!

Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence.

Know this: God is God, and God, God.

He made us; we didn't make him.

We're his people, his well-tended sheep.

Enter with the password: "Thank you!"

Make yourselves at home, talking praise.

Thank him. Worship him.

For God is sheer beauty, all-generous in love,

Loyal always and ever.

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation is found below:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,Secretary of State


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Last weekend Christ Church’s Open Door Singles Ministry, along with First Centenary’s Positive Christian Singles, held a singles conference with the theme Wholly Single. We were blessed in two general sessions and three breakout sessions with music, messages, and presentations that focused on being whole in body, mind, and spirit.

I was fortunate to deliver the afternoon keynote address and shared my journey of faith. I spoke about our search for wholeness by examining our brokenness.

The word brokenness can mean fractured like an arm or incomplete like a broken set of books. It also means that something is not functioning or out of order like a broken dishwasher. When words are spoken with gaps and errors, we call it broken English. A broken cell call is one that has conversations with intermittent starts and stops. For the most part, we know whom to call on to fix these broken things.

But we as human beings experience brokenness too.
When vows aren’t kept, we experience broken promises.
When we become weak or ill, we experience broken health.
When we are crushed by grief, we experience broken hearts.
When life seems to overwhelm us, we cry in broken sobs.
When we are torn apart by divorce or separation or desertion, we have broken homes and broken marriages.
When our finances spin out of control, we are “broke.”
When we don’t take special care of our bodies, we feel broken.
When we don’t feed our minds with positive thoughts, we act in broken ways.
And when we are totally humbled, we have a broken spirit.

I think we’ll agree it’s hard to fix human brokenness. Our brokenness comes in two primary ways: by choice or by circumstance. Sometimes we make bad choices that lead to our brokenness. Sometimes other people’s choices lead to our brokenness. And then finally, sometimes the circumstances of lives over which we have no control cause our brokenness.

The only real healing is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He alone will make us truly whole. He takes our brokenness and our weakness and gives us strength as Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

To listen to the audio recording of me speech, click on this link


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Last weekend a friend and I enjoyed a drive to Raccoon Mountain to see the beautiful fall colors. The state-designated Wildlife Observation Area on the mountain is home to deer, foxes, and raccoons, of course. A beautiful whitetail deer allowed us to drive right next to her before she leisurely trotted to the edge of the woods. While the trees were not yet at their peak color, we were still able to see some rich and vibrant hues. The maples were starting to turn golden, and the dogwoods were already a vivid red. The farewell summers, a small wild flower, offered a delicate contrast of purple and white amid the autumn shades of the fallen leaves.

Raccoon Mountain is the home to a Pumped Storage Plant, TVA’s largest hydro facility. At night, water is pumped into the reservoir while electrical demand is low and then released during the day when power demand is higher.

Peering over the observation deck at the facility, we viewed the waters of the Tennessee River where we saw several boats cruising the waterway. I also noticed some large cylindrical shaped concrete structures lined up along the river’s edge. I learned that these are baffles that prevent turbulent water from entering the main channel of the river during power production. They serve as a safety net to keep boats from being swept away by strong currents when the water is released. It is reassuring to know that these sturdy, immoveable structures provide protection for boaters as they traverse the river commercially and recreationally.

We too have a baffle to protect us. God is our baffle. When we fear that troubled waters are about to overtake us, we can turn to him. He promises to be with us as we navigate the currents of life. We learn of God’s faithfulness in Isaiah 43:1-3. God promised to be with Israel when they passed through the “fires” and “waters.”

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3

Let’s be careful to note that God doesn’t say that he will prevent troubled waters from coming in to our lives and he doesn’t promise to make them less terrible. He does promise us companionship throughout the journey.

Thank you, God, for the beauty of autumn.

Thank you for being our baffle.

Thank you for your gracious assurance that in all the experiences we face, you will be with us. Amen.

Wilderness Tabernacle

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Last week I enjoyed visiting Messiah’s Mansion, a replica of the Wilderness Tabernacle, with the ladies in my Bible study. As the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, the portable tabernacle served as the heart of worship. The tabernacle was always placed in the center of camp, and the twelve tribes of Israel would set up their tents around it according to tribe. This temple was where the Israelites believed God dwelled and where they came together to worship and offer sacrifices.

Constructed to God’s precise specifications, the Tabernacle consisted of three main divisions -- Holy of Holies, the Holy Place and the Outer Court. Entering the courtyard through only one gate, the head of the family offered an animal sacrifice to atone for the sins of him and his family. Then the priest would make atonement and intercession for them inside the tent.

After washing his hands and feet at the basin, the High Priest would enter the Holy Place twice daily. There he would go before the Altar of Incense to offer prayers of atonement for those who had brought their sacrifices.

It was only the High Priest who could enter the Holy of Holies. Once a year he would move beyond the veil that separated sinful man from God to offer sacrifices for the nation of Israel. The only way to God was through the priest.

Jesus’ death changed forever the Old Covenant. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil that divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple was split from top to bottom.

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Matthew 27: 50-51a

Jesus’ death meant that the boundaries to God had been removed. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice and through his blood we all have redemption. We no longer rely on a High Priest to approach God each year. We can go boldly before God with our repentance, our petitions, and our praise as often as we choose.

After touring the Wilderness Tabernacle, I am even more in awe of God. He gave instructions for every detail of the temple. Every component of it was designed to symbolize God’s relationship with his people. He designed a clear path to approach him. Then he provided the ultimate symbol of God's relationship to his people - his son. God’s divine plan was accomplished when Jesus died to atone our sins forever. He ended the Old Covenant and began the New Covenant.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Hebrews 10: 12-21

Dear God, thank you for sending your son to atone for my sins and redeem me. Amen.

Wailing Wall

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is a coming of age book set in the South in 1964 with strong themes of love, redemption, and racism. After reading this book that celebrates female characters, I couldn’t wait to see the film adaptation. Last week my dad treated his women (my mom, sister, and I) to the movie based on the book we had all enjoyed reading. One of the female characters, May, resonated with all of us.

August Boatwright, with the help of her sisters May and June, runs a successful honey business. Since the death of their sister, April, the simple-minded May has become extremely sensitive and is given to bouts of depression. At the mention of anything sad, May begins to sing and removes herself to the “wailing wall” that she and her sisters built outside the house. May finds solace at the wall by writing her griefs on slips of paper and inserting them in the wall.

May’s "wailing wall" reminds me of the original Wailing Wall or Western Wall outside the Old Temple of Jerusalem. The temple is where the Jews believed that God resided in the Holy of Holies. The wall became a center of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and Israel’s exile. Jews and tourists of all religions go to pray at the sacred wall, where it is said you can immediately have the “ear of God.”

When I was privileged to visit this sacred site in 1999, I became both an observer and participant in the prayer ritual. I watched as hundreds of Jews, mostly men, approached the wall to offer prayers of thanksgiving and lamentations. Most read scripture, chanted Psalms, moved back and forth, and kissed the wall. Many stuffed their written prayers into the cracks of the blocks in the wall.

The most common prayer recited at the wall is from Psalm 79. Note these two verses that we could all pray.
Help us, O God our Savior for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake. v. 9

Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. v. 13

Wanting to offer my own petitions to God, I moved to the extreme right of the Western Wall to the spot reserved for women. There I tucked my written prayer of thanksgiving and supplication into the cracks. It was a solemn and momentous occasion to prayer to our Father just outside the wall that had housed Solomon’s temple.

While that prayer experience is etched in my memory, I’m really comforted by the fact that I can pray to our Heavenly Father anywhere and anytime. I can take him my sorrows and joys. I can write my prayers, speak my prayers, or even just utter a thought and God hears me.
Like May, many of us find a special place to go to talk to God in prayer. Whether it’s in a church, a room in our house, or a quiet spot outside, many of us find our own “wailing” spot. Do you have a sacred spot for prayer? Where is your “wailing wall?”
Click on the image below to visit the Wailing Wall through a live cam.

The Little Chapel That Stood

Sunday, October 19, 2008

St. Paul’s Chapel in New York City serves as a historic landmark and a symbol of America’s unwavering spirit. Built in 1766, St. Paul’s Chapel is Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use. The Revolutionary War brought violence to New York in September 1776 when the city was in flames. Although a fourth of the city’s buildings were destroyed when the fire was fueled by great winds, St. Paul’s survived.

In 1789 George Washington was inaugurated in our first capital, New York City. After being sworn in at Federal Hall, he walked a few blocks and worshipped at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Located directly across the street from the site of the World Trade Center, the chapel survived the greatest tragedy of its history on September 11, 2001. When terrorists attacked the Trade Center, St. Paul’s should have been destroyed or at least severely damaged. Instead, not even a window was broken as a large sycamore tree absorbed the impact of the debris. The church is now known as “The Little Chapel That Stood.”

On many visits to Ground Zero as I have looked back and forth between St. Paul’s Chapel and the site of Twin Towers, I am always amazed. You see everything else surrounding the towers experienced devastation, yet the church not only survived but also thrived to be host of an extraordinary eight-month volunteer relief effort. St. Paul’s became the site where Ground Zero relief workers went for food and rest. Volunteers served at the church around the clock. Hundreds of volunteers provided food, prayers, and encouragement to the weary crews.

Seven years later, “The Little Chapel That Stood” continues to remember the fallen through its “Unwavering Spirit” exhibit of memorabilia from the rescue effort. At 12:30 p.m. each day the church holds a “Pray for Peace” service commemorating those whose lives were lost on 9/11. Click on the link below to read St. Paul’s “Prayers for Peace” program, which includes peace prayers from 12 major religions.

What lessons can we learn from the 100-year-old sycamore tree that protected the chapel? That old tree had roots deep enough and strong enough to help a little chapel withstand a violent terrorist attack. Roots. As Christians, we find our roots in Jesus Christ. How deep are our spiritual roots? Are we rooted in scripture and prayer? Are our spiritual roots strong enough to withstand attacks on our faith?

What lessons can we learn from “The Little Chapel That Stood?” The church, surrounded by debris, opened its doors at a time of great need and provided a refuge for the weary. Its members recognized an opportunity to show love and acted on it. Who in our world is hurting and needs for us to provide spiritual food, prayers, and encouragement? Are we willing to act when opportunities arise?

This week let’s strengthen our roots.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

Unwavering Spirit

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One of my favorite stops on a recent trip to New York City was St. Paul’s Chapel, which is located right across the street from the World Trade Center site. For eights months after the tragic terrorist attack, this little Episcopal church was home to an impressive volunteer relief effort. Hundreds of volunteers worked around the clock making beds, counseling, serving food, and praying with fire fighters, police, and others who aided in the rescue efforts. The church has recently opened an exhibit called Unwavering Spirit that chronicles that history of St. Paul’s unique volunteer ministry in the weeks and months following September 11th. I remember visiting the church in the spring of the next year and was moved by the many loving memorials that surrounded the church. Banners, wreaths, teddy bears, letters, and many other items filled the iron fence surrounding the church. Now the church has displayed many artifacts sent by strangers from diverse backgrounds and faiths.

Aptly titled Unwavering Spirit: Hope and Healing at Ground Zero, the exhibit demonstrates the steady resolve of thousands of people who reached out in love to both those who were hurting and those who were helping. Isn’t that what Christ expects of all of us? He wants us to reach out to a hurting world and offer love and compassion.

Let’s think today about tangible ways we can express the love of God. What comfort a note of encouragement, a prepared meal, or a kind word can bring to a troubled friend. Consider a random act of kindness for an unsuspecting stranger. A loved one may need to hear a word of praise. Or a co-worker could feel a special boost with a pat on the back. In other words, let’s be ministers with an unwavering spirit in Jesus’ name.

If anyone ministers; let him do it as with the ability which God supplies.
1 Peter 4:11

The 9/11 rescue and recovery volunteers were surrounded by a fence filled with expressions of love; let’s surround our brothers and sisters with expressions of love.

To browse the artifacts or view the chronology of St Paul’s, visit their website at

Setting Sail

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters is a series of short biographical poems about the people who lived in the fictional town Spoon River. One of the characters, George Gray, looks back over his life and compares it to “a boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.” George was offered many opportunities during his lifetime and was hungry to find meaning in life. In reflecting, he knew he should have left the harbor and set sail in order to fully experience life. However, George was afraid. He feared becoming disillusioned, and he dreaded taking chances. So…George never set sail. He longed for the sea yet was afraid.

George Gray’s life describes the life of many Christians. Let’s imagine that we too are like ships in the harbor. What are the destinations, the opportunities, that Christ has for us to explore? In what ways does he want to use our spiritual gifts, our skills, and our passions? Are we sitting in the harbor or have we set sail?

You might consider these questions –

What is the next step in my spiritual growth?
What area of service or study or support should I consider?
What is preventing me from "setting sail?"
What do I need to do in order to “launch?”

After a short time in the harbor reflecting the direction God would have us go, we must then set sail. Often this means we will feel like George, afraid of taking chances and afraid of becoming disillusioned. However, we should always remember that a ship must be in motion to be guided. How can God guide a ship that stays in a harbor and never sets sail?

In our spiritual walk, we must set sail. We must be in motion. Then we should look to our Captain to guide us. He is waiting for us to leave the harbor.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

To view the poem, "George Gray," click here

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Hurry Sickness

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Have you ever heard the adage, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get?” Coined back in the 1950s, “hurry sickness” describes the discomfort of a person who feels chronically short of time. He typically performs tasks faster and faster and then gets flustered with any kind of delay.

You might suffer from “hurry sickness” if you…
Try to put on your make-up, drink your Starbucks, and answer your cell phone, all while driving to work.
Consistently play the game, “Who can get into the car and buckle your seat belt the fastest?” with your kids.
Repeat the word “hurry” four times in a row to each family member every Sunday while getting ready to go to church.
Usually drive 10 or more miles per hour over the speed limit.
Get really impatient with people in the checkout line who wait until the cashier has rung up the last item before digging into that bottomless purse to find the checkbook and finally write the check. (Why isn’t everyone using a check card by now anyway?)
Dart around in traffic passing everyone going slower than you even though it will only get you one car length ahead at the traffic light. (Well at least you get a little ahead.)
View “hanging out” as a total waste of time.

I suffer from “hurry sickness.” Unfortunately, I actually choose to hurry because I think I can get so much more done if I hurry. Can’t I get more done for the kingdom if I hurry? (Note my rationalization.) I often get caught on the treadmill of life by over planning, over scheduling and over committing when I need to be overcoming. I need to overcome the temptation to speed through life and spend more time abiding in Christ. Ultimately, the constant need to hurry can become an addiction and rob me from what I really need to be doing – abiding in Christ.

Abide in me, and I will abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:4

This verse is a reminder that we must abide or “remain” in him and he will “remain” in us. In order to “remain,” we need to be “still” in him. And how can we avoid the exhortation in Psalm to be still? It’s hard to be in a hurry when we’re still, isn’t it?

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10

The Greek word kairos refers to the moments when you let go of time and become totally absorbed in what you’re doing. I know I need a little more kairos and a lot less hurry. Fellow sufferers, let’s unite and try to find the balance between seizing every moment and dwelling in the moment.

Have a kairos day!

Check out the this site for suggestions to overcoming “hurry sickness.”

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hummingbirds fascinate me. They are able to fly in all directions – even backwards - and can reach speeds up to 60 miles an hour. When in flight, their heartbeats can reach up to 1,260 beats per minute. Imagine how high their metabolism must be! And oh what thrilling air shows these feisty fliers provide with their swoops and dives! A great deal of energy is spent flying, and they spend most of their time feeding (not a bad life!). When not searching for food, they conserve their energy by perching. As the world’s smallest bird, their struggle for sustenance is hard. Fortunately, their keen senses help them to key in on their food source. They typically consume half their weight in nectar each day, so they must visit hundreds of flowers in order to survive. If they’re lucky, they can feast off of sugar water in a feeder left by a caring bird watcher. Fiercely determined, they work hard to survive.

Let’s review some of their characteristics. Clearly these smallest of birds know their goal and stay focused on it. They spend their energies working toward their goal and know the importance of rest as a way to replenish their bodies. They show perseverance by going from flower to flower or feeder to feeder in order to meet their needs.

Erlanger Hospital has chosen the hummingbird as their symbol for the fight of the cancer patient. As cancer patients lie in their beds and gaze toward the ceiling, they view the images of hummingbirds beautifully painted on the tiles. What an appropriate symbol for their valiant fight for life.

What inspiration can we as Christians get from the hummingbird? First of all, let’s see what Jesus said about our goal as Christians.

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)

What does scripture say about staying focused on our goal and persevering?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Like the hummingbird fixes his sight on his source of life, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, our source of life and run with endurance whatever race is set before us.

Grapple Questions....
What energies do you have that should be spent living a Christ-centered life?
What hinders you from living that life?
How do you remain fixed on Jesus?

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