The following is an excerpt of a post that appears on the COMPASS blog.
In the United States many persons view December 31 as not only the end of the calendar year, but also their fiscal year due to income tax laws and other financial considerations. It’s a common and accepted practice for people to give one more year end gift to organizations and causes they value. Some organizations and non-profits depend heavily upon these gifts to budget and plan for the year ahead. Some giving gifts look for tax benefits by giving to a cause or organization they want to financially support.
As a person of faith, my year-end gifts are part of my offering and thanks to God and a way of stewarding some of my resources to help others and to make a positive contribution and difference in the world. I usually think about three possibilities for my gifts, in no particular order: alma maters; faith communities; and with the question “Who does your heart break for?”
During the season of Advent, I have been doing something new on the blog. I have tried to offer a daily reflection here as we journey through this season together. To help frame the devotions I have been using hashtags designed by a group with the Episcopalian church. For example, the hashtag assigned for today is #Birth. This series of daily posts will conclude on Christmas Day.
“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 towns 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
As we have journeyed through Advent, we pondered great questions, shared and reflected on deep wonderings. There will be plenty more time for this in worship later today, tonight and tomorrow. But instead of pondering today, I simply want to share this candlelight prayer meant for Christmas Eve night in the hope that the true light may shine in your life, and may illuminate more of those questions you have as well as what God might be leading you and calling you to do and respond to.
Let us pray. Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus’ presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through Your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
p.s.- If you find yourselves in Minnesota and without a faith community to gather with this Christmas Season, I warmly invite you here to join us. Christmas Eve services will be at 4pm and 10pm this evening, and Christmas Day worship will be at 10am. Each service is unique in it’s own special way.
During the season of Advent, I am going to do something new on the blog. I am going to try my best to offer a daily reflection here as we journey through this season together. To help frame the devotions I have been using hashtags designed by a group with the Episcopalian church. For example, the hashtag assigned for today is #Presence.
At the heart of Christmas for me is an act of God entering into the world and showing just how much God loves God’s creation. Christmas is about God being part of the world, breaking into it, and confirming (yet again) that God wants to be in relationship with it, and if that means God has to take on human form to make that possible, so be it.
Christmas is also something new. God breaking into the world in this way, is a new creation of sorts. But it also is a continuing of God’s promises and on-going promises.
When I think about these promises, what really comes to mind is presence. When we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” we are literally asking “O Come God (be) with us.” God is with us. God is present with us. Christmas then is an opportunity to remember that there is no bound to which God will not go to be present with us. That, in itself is the Gospel. Add in the fact that with Christmas also comes the birth of the Messiah, who comes “for us and for our salvation,” and that connection of Christmas and Easter is much clearer. None of these deep and important theological moves would matter though, if God was not or did not care about being present.
Today I’m not wondering about God’s presence. I’m wondering about how we can be most present this time of year- with each other, our friends, our family, our loved ones, those in our faith communities? How do you create intentional space to be with each other, especially during the Christmas holiday?
In thinking about presence, and especially God’s presence with us, I hear the words of the carol, “Your Little Ones, Dear Lord” in my ear:
“Your little ones, dear Lord, are we, and come your lowly bed to see; enlighten every soul and mind, that we the way to you may find.
With songs we hasten you to greet, and kiss the ground before your feet. Oh, blessed hour, oh, sweetest night that gave you birth, our soul’s delight.
Oh, draw us wholly to you, Lord, and to us all your grace accord; true faith and love to us impart, that we may hold you in our heart.
Until at last we too proclaim, with all your saints, your glorious name; in paradise our songs renew, and praise you as the angels do.”
As we are very close to the manger now on our journey through Advent, we pray:
“Oh, draw us wholly to you, Lord, and to us all your grace accord; true faith and love to us impart that we may hold you in our heart.” Amen.
Tuesday on the blog means that I get to share some of what I have read and found interesting over the past week with all of you. Given today is the day before Christmas Eve, many of the posts are Christmas related. To help navigate all of these great pieces of food for thought, I have broken the links into different topic areas. This week’s topic categories are: Church & Ministry Thought & Practice; Cross-Sector Collaboration; Leadership Thought & Practice; Millennials; Neighbor Love; Social Media & Blogging; Stewardship; Vocation and Miscellaneous. I hope you enjoy these links.
Church & Ministry Thought & Practice
Bishop Michael Rinehart shares some thoughts and ideas related to the lectionary appointed readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Take a peek at these if you are looking for last minute ideas for worship this week, or if you are looking for some more Christmas themed devotionals and reflection pieces.
Jen Bradbury reflected on and explained about “How to set the church of the future up for success.” Jen writes and concludes, “As a youth pastor, I’m convinced that teens aren’t just the future of the church. They’re the church of today. That said, make no mistake. We set the church of the future up for success when we empower our teens to lead our congregations today… And continue doing so as young adults.” I’m definitely with Jen in this. Are you?
Recently Consumer Reports released their grades for non-profits and NGOs. Rev. Dr. David Lose shares the news that recent reports hailed the work of Lutheran World Relief. If you are looking for an organization to contribute to as part of year end giving, LWR definitely gets my recommendation.
John Brandon shared, “28 Inspiring Quotes on Leadership in Business.” Included among the list of quotes is one of my favorites from Peter F. Drucker: “Leadership is not magnetic personality that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’–that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”
With Advent and Christmas in perspective, friend and pastor Diane Roth reflected in “Worship on the Streets.” Within this Diane wrote powerfully, “I am still not sure what I experienced last night. Was it a worship service or a performance? Or was it a demonstration? We were out in public, walking the streets, shouting ‘We come seeking shelter!’ just as surely as others, earlier in the day, had shouted, ‘No peace! No Justice!’ For a little while we walked the streets, cold, homeless, seeking welcome, seeking shelter. ‘Bienvenido!’ was the sign. It was a sign from God, the lowly God, the one who walks the streets, the homeless one who provides shelter, the disturber-of-the-peace who is our only peace. Meanwhile, come Lord Jesus. Give us courage to join the procession out on the streets, to be rejected and turned away, to be disciples of the lowly God, our only hope, our only peace, in the darkness.”
Diane also shared, “Don’t Make the Gift Too Ethereal.” Within this she shares some personal reflections especially related to Advent. She writes, “I am thinking about laying off the deeper meanings of Advent for awhile, and just holding on to the ordinary things, the things I can touch: a simple meal, a few words, a small gift to use as I see fit. Instead of straining toward a far horizon, I will touch, and look at what is right in front of me. And I will say that somehow, God is right here, at the table, in the simple mess, not ethereal at all. Take and eat. Taste and see. The true meaning of Advent.”
Friend and intern pastor Chris Michaelis continued sharing wonderful Advent Devotionals. I especially appreciated the one he shared yesterday, “O Dayspring.”
The news about torture and United States policies that were used to interrogate and try to gain information regarding terrorism continues to be digested. Today, the New York Times‘ Editorial Board wrote, “Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses.” I’m sharing this because I think it’s an important ethical, neighbor love, and justice perspective. What do you think?
I came across this helpful post from June by Andrew Jennings that shared, “Five Questions To Ask About Social Media ROI.” The questions to ask include: What are our organization’s objectives for the next 4-6 months? How well are we currently serving our customers? Are we confident about how we measure the results of our current sales and marketing efforts? What is our organization’s readiness to adopt social media and the associated responsibilities and performance measurement processes? Are we prepared to be wrong?
Friend Trip Sullivan shared “Read This Before You Buy Another Holiday Gift (or Goat)” by Christine Bader with me. There are good thoughts about giving, and it’s timely given Christmas and year-end charitable gifts and donations. I especially appreciate the author’s concluding question: “How do you use your year-end giving to start conversations about how you live for the rest of the year?”
That will conclude this week’s edition of the links. Given Christmas and New Year’s, I may not be posting any links next week, we’ll see. Until the next time, thank you so much for reading and being part of the conversation. If you have any ideas for blog post topics for me to write about, or types of things to include in the links, please let me know. Merry Christmas to all of you! -TS
During the season of Advent, I am going to do something new on the blog. I am going to try my best to offer a daily reflection here as we journey through this season together. To help frame the devotions I have been using hashtags designed by a group with the Episcopalian church. For example, the hashtag assigned for today is #Fearless.
Today’s word for reflection is “Fearless.” I’ve been a bit stumped all day about how to reflect about this, because I’m anything but fearless. With all of the uncertainty, trials and challenges that we all face in our daily lives, to say anyone is fearless might be a stretch.
My unofficial aunt has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s pretty hard to be fearless with that diagnosis. I am hopeful and trusting in the promises that God is present, and healing will come. But it’s obviously rather scary and uncertain.
As Allison and I find ourselves in ongoing discernment of what’s next, we lose a little sleep here as well. That’s not necessarily fear causing, but dwelling in and on the question, of “What is God up to in our lives,” and other such questions certainly leaves us far from certain as to what life will look like six months from now. I’m not afraid of this, so much as just hoping for a little longer sense of clarity.
Like thousands and millions of people, my wife and I are looking forward to being able to travel back and spend time with loved ones after Christmas. However, like many of those thousands and millions we are not exactly fearless of this either. It’s always a little scary and nerve wracking to go back into family systems, traditions, expectations, etc. It’s not that we are not grateful, but we do worry about letting family and loved ones down.
We worry about the awkward questions that many people our age get from families like: “When are you moving back?” “When are you going to have a baby? I’m not getting any younger.” We’re used to these questions, but that does not mean that we don’t lose a little sleep about them either.
In thinking about being fearless, I am thinking again today about the passage in Matthew 1:18-25, where an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. I wonder, if an angel appeared to me in a dream like they did to Joseph would I have that kind of faith to do as I was told by the angel? Would I have that sense of fearlessness? I would love to say I would, but deep down I really have my doubts. Do you?
The redeeming thing about Christmas and our fears though, is that we don’t have to dwell in them alone. We can hand them over to God, and that’s perhaps the biggest point of all. At Christmas, God chooses vulnerability and to break into the world in the lowly and fragile form of a human baby, just like you and I. If God is wiling to do that for us, and literally be Emmanuel, “God with us,” we can release the rest of these fears. God’s with us and we’re not alone. And with all these things in mind- health, discernment, family, other questions you may have, that’s the most important thing. God is with you and God loves you, even when things might seem bleak and you have more questions than answers. Know, you aren’t alone. You are loved.
What fears are you wrestling with and worrying about right now?
If you have some fears, join me in this short prayer:
Gracious God, you know what worries us, what we’re afraid of, who we are and what we are facing. Please be present with us, reassure us, ground us and open our eyes, hearts and minds to your love and peace. Let it wash over us this Christmas season, and let us be renewed in you. In your holy name we pray, Amen.
During the season of Advent, I am going to do something new on the blog. I am going to try my best to offer a daily reflection here as we journey through this season together. To help frame the devotions I have been using hashtags designed by a group with the Episcopalian church. For example, the hashtag assigned for today is #Angel.
Angels are a rather important part of the Christmas story. They appear at least six key times within the birth narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Their roles generally involve sharing good news and good tidings, though they also appear to warn the family to flee from Herod after Jesus’ birth as well. Their very presence signifies that God is up to something big here.
In taking stock of the different angel appearances, in Luke 1:11-20 an angel appears to Zechariah foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist. A little later in the first chapter of Luke, an angel appears to Mary in 1:26-38 foretelling of the birth of Jesus. In Matthew 1:18-25 we hear how an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph, and that kept Joseph engaged to Mary and he did not abandon her because she was with child.
In announcing the birth of Jesus as detailed in Luke 2:8-20, the angels appeared to the shepherds in the field calling them to take notice and go and see. After Jesus’ birth, the angels are the ones in Matthew 2:13-15 who warn the family to flee to Egypt, and then about when it is safe to return to Israel in 2:19-23.
As Advent begins to close, and we journey to the manger this week, it’s good to reflect on the angels and the role they play in helping show what God is up to. Reflect on these passages above, and take some time with the text of another of my favorite carols, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn king; peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.’ Joyful, all you nations, rise; join the triumph of the skies; with angelic hosts proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’ Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn king!’
Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord, late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see! Hail, incarnate deity! Pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel! Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn king!’
Hail the heaven born Prince of peace! Hail the Sun of righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die, born to raise each child of earth, born to give us second birth. Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn king!’”
What comes to your mind about the angels?
Source: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley; Felix Mendelssohn, arr. William H. Cummings.
During the season of Advent, I am going to do something new on the blog. I am going to try my best to offer a daily reflection here as we journey through this season together. To help frame the devotions I have been using hashtags designed by a group with the Episcopalian church. For example, the hashtag assigned for today is #Soul.
There has been something wearing on my soul this year. I think I finally figured that out yesterday. It finally hit me what’s been wrong with me. I have been spiritually sick in a sense because I have been unable to forgive. I have been holding on to pain, chips, regrets, fears and worries that I wasn’t even really fully conscious of until yesterday morning.
I figured out why Allison has been asking me so much this Advent season why I haven’t seemed as excited as I usually am this time of year. For the first few weeks I just sloughed it off. Then she brought it up again the other night. I knew she had a point. In year’s past, I couldn’t wait to decorate and get our apartment all festive to celebrate and feel a bit warmer as the nights draw longer and colder. This year though, I was kind of slow in the decorating process and sadly in some ways it was more of a “have to” than a “want to.”
The realization hit me yesterday though; my heart has been heavy in part because I have been unable to forgive. I have held on to some things that I should never have- I have worried about our monthly budget, about being able to treat Allison to a Christmas gift or two, I have felt like we were let down this year by some opportunities and friends, that others in our family were mistreated too. Unaware of this, I let these worries and feelings build up inside of me. Their building up has gotten to a point where it was blocking my ability to experience the fullest sense of hope, joy and peace that comes this time of year.
Well, no more. I know it is not going to be easy to do this, but I need to forgive.
These words from Matthew 11:28-30 ring in my ears, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I need to forgive myself for feeling like I haven’t yet become who I am fully called to be, and for the feeling of not being enough or earning enough. No more am I going to let the fears of scarcity weigh on my soul.
I need to forgive those possibilities that never panned out. They were great conversations and sounded wonderful, but they weren’t meant to be in this time and place. I trust (and know) that other doors have and will continue to open in their place bringing wonderful adventures and possibilities.
I need to forgive those people and systems whom I feel have mistreated friends and family (and myself) this year. There’s no use in wondering the “what if’s,” and regretting choices, but rather, to say, thank you for the opportunity to grow and then move on in hope and trust.
I don’t write this to sound ungrateful. I am very grateful of all the different roles and opportunities that we are in now, and have been in. But for some reason, lately I have lost sight of my own ability to be present by giving room to some regrets, “what if’s” and even self-created grudges.
For all that I may have disappointed this past year, hurt, or not done when I ought to have, please forgive me and help me to forgive as well.
God, please help me. Please forgive me for these feelings and self-created hurts. Bring me out of these feelings, and grant me back the smile which I know fits best upon my face. When thoughts like these arise again, help me to remember to forgive this day and every day. You created me to love, and often love first starts with the ability to forgive ourselves. Help me forgive myself, and help me to forgive others. In your name I pray, Amen.
Today, I am choosing to forgive myself and others. I hope for whatever challenges you have faced or face today, that you can as well. I pray that your soul may feel light and full of joy this Christmas season.
Have you ever found it hard to feel the fullest sense of joy in your life because of a hurt or regret you have carried? What do you seek forgiveness for this week before Christmas? What is weighing on your soul today?