Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Firsts" in our lives

We all have a number of "firsts" in our lives. The picture is of Sierra's first time driving, sort of. The car was on a track which made dad a lot more comfortable.

"Firsts" are important, to both us and to those around us. First steps. first time on a bike, first time behind the wheel, first love, first heartbreak, ... and the list goes on and on.

Firsts are significant milestones and there are times that they help to influence different aspects of our lives for years to come.

In today's gospel lesson from Mark we hear Jesus performing his first miracle. Now when I think of the first miracle from Jesus, I think of something big, maybe even Moses-style big. But what Jesus does is not what I expect. Jesus' first miracle is an exorcism, the casting out of a demon from a possessed man in the synagogue.

Now this is significant, because as we read through Mark's gospel we see that at the heart of Jesus ministry is the removal of all things, all boundaries, that separate us from God, and turn our focus away from God. This first does set the tone for the rest of Jesus ministry.

So what are some significant firsts in your life and how have they impacted you?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Free Book Friday

To celebrate the official release of my book, tomorrow will be Free Book Friday. What I am going to do is give away two books, signed and mailed to you.

So how do you qualify for such a great gift? It's easy. All you need to do is "like" the "Blessed in the Midst of Trial" fan page on Facebook. Do this and you are qualified. Tomorrow at noon I will randomly pick two people who "like" the page and I will send books to them.

So there you go - Free Book Friday is tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

52 Weeks of Joy - Medical Tests

I know, viewing medical tests as a joy is a little odd, but hear me out :)

Back on January 1 the vision in my left eye started to get a little distorted. Things looked smaller and darker than they had before. So within 24 hours I say a doctor and he didn't see anything wrong.

Things did not get better, so by the end of the week I saw another doctor and he thought I had an edema in the back of my eye, but with my cancer history he wanted to run more tests.

So the following week I saw an expert and he said that yes, it was probably Central Serous Retinopathy, the edema in the back of my eye. But, with my history ... you can see where this is going.

So today I was in Madison at an eye clinic having more tests run. By the end of all the tests it  appears to be Central Serous Retinopathy. It should heal itself within three months, and there does not appear to be a tumor. All good things.

So here is the joy - it is because of the doctors and the tests that they ran that I am able to sleep better at night. What I have is something that will heal itself, and if it wasn't there would have been treatments available.

So how about you - ever had a medial test turn into a time of joy?

Sunday, January 22, 2012


What is your daily routine like?

For me, I have a number of habits. Three days a week I try to get to the gym by 5:00 am, come home, have a little breakfast, get the girls up and ready, then shower, shave, and head off to work. Pretty much the same thing, the same routine, every day.

Do you have a similar routine?

And isn’t it curious that we call this routine “life?” Sure, there is something reassuring about life as routine. We enjoy our rituals, habits, and the continuity – knowing what is coming and what to expect. And sometimes the routine is the only thing that keeps us going, the sameness of it all.

But you know, there is other life out there. Life just beyond the horizon. Life we may not know much about, but we might be curious what it is like. Life that is moving, that is becoming. Life that has change in it.

Yes, we may be creatures of habit, but sometimes, just sometimes, there comes a word, an invitation. Yes, we hear our name called out, we come forward, and our world begins to change.

I was thinking about this and how it related to the story of Jonah today. You see, the last thing Jonah wanted to do was to go and preach at Ninevah. These were his enemies, and he had no desire to be anywhere near them.

Yet, God very clearly said “Go.” Well, Jonah fought against God on this. He fought so hard that wound up in belly of a big fish. After three days, he finally relented to God’s calling and off he went. He does what God wants, preaches to his enemies, and probably hopes that they won’t change. All he says is “Forty days more and Ninevah will be overthrown.” That’s it, no illustrations, no poems, just those few words.

And then something amazing happens. The response of the people to the world’s shortest and worst sermon is the greatest in Scripture. The people repented, turned around, changed their ways. Yes, everyone, including the king, repents.

I knew this would happen, pouts Jonah. I knew you were a God who was merciful and forgiving, a God who loves to change the world, even our enemies.

And that is what God does, changes the world, and does so in amazing ways.

How has God changed your world?

Friday, January 20, 2012


So, have you ever been stuck?

I remember once when I was hunting with a friend of mine in eastern Montana. We had spent the day chasing the elusive white tail and decided to give it one more shot. We were in a nice big 4x4 and saw a muddy little road that looked like it led into a great place for deer to bed down. So down the road we went, sort of. We started down the road, which was narrow and had a creek on both sides of it, and the truck started to slip. We threw it into 4x4 and kept going, and the truck slipped even more. After about 5 minutes of this we hopped out of the truck and saw that the rear half of the truck was starting to slide down the embankment. At this point we finally got smart and hiked a couple of miles to the nearest farm house and found a wonderful farmer who pulled out his John Deere and came to the rescue. I have no doubt he was laughing at us most of the time as well.

So yes, I have been stuck, but that is not the kind of stuck I am thinking about today.

Today I am thinking about getting stuck in our minds.Getting stuck in the past. Getting stuck in what has happened and not being able to move into the future.

I have been there before too. Sometimes I live in my mind way too much and I get stuck.

So the question is, how do we get unstuck?

Going back to my initial story, sometimes we need that gracious farmer to come and give us hand. A person who has a different perspective, who has worked that land before and knows some tricks to help get us unstuck. These people are wonderfully helpful in getting us unstuck.

Another thing that I do is get out and do something totally different, put myself in a different place with a different focus. Then when I come back to where I am I have a new view of things and that helps as well.

And, of course, there is the calling out to God for help. With my times of prayer and devotions, when I am stuck, I often am asking for guidance and support. I am asking for my eyes to be opened to a way to get unstuck in life.

So how about you? What do you do to get unstuck?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

52 Weeks of Joy - Creation

Okay, I went way back with this picture. That is Sierra when she was Scarlett's age.

Today the snow is pouring down, the roads are icy, much shoveling will need to be done, and I am celebrating the joy of creation and the seasons.

I love the seasons, all of them, and I love to spend time out in the great gift of creation in each season doing different things. So as the snow falls I am starting to think about the forts that will be made, snowball fights that will take place, and ski tracks that will be laid.

Yes, I love creation and just going out for a walk no matter the weather. It is during that time that I reminded of the great power and beauty of this God who created all and the awesome responsibility we have to help care for it.

The reason I chose the picture above for today wasn't to serve as a reminder of the joy of summer (and props to my mother-in-law for taking the picture), but rather it is because of the beauty of the picture itself. A child immersed in nature, smiling and enjoying the blessings of all that she is surrounded by.

Yes, my joy today is the joy of creation. What are you celebrating today?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Morning - Come and See

In our gospel lesson for today, from John 1:43-51, we hear how Jesus calls two disciples into ministry with him. One of them he invites to come and join him, the second is invited by the first.

I love this story because it reminds us that God works in and through us. We are the ones who are blessed with gifts and are called to go out into the world and use those gifts to invite others to come and see Jesus.

In essence, we are God's hands in the world.

That's one thing our Sunday School kids have been learning more and more about over the years. They not only learn the Bible stories but they also find ways to live out their faith by serving others.

By being God's hands in the world.

So today I invite you to take some time and reflect on the gifts with which you have been blessed. It may be the gift of cooking, visiting others, praying for people, have a green thumb, be able to fix things, and the list goes on and on. What are some of your gifts, and how can you use those gifts to share God's love with others?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Coming to the Altar

" Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him."  Genesis 12:7

In Genesis 12:1-8 we hear the call of Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah). God calls them to leave everything they know, including their family and home, and go wherever he leads them.

As they answer this call, they realize that they cannot take everything they have with them. So they choose what is important and leave the rest behind. As they travel they have conversations with God. They then mark the places that they have these conversations as hole and build altars there. In doing this they giving God an offering – an offering of themselves, an offering of all they have and all they are.

Through the waters of baptism, you too have been claimed and called by God. You have been washed and marked as one of God’s own children. As you have grown over the years, God has continued to call you by opening opportunities to you to grow in your life of faith and share it with others.

So today, I invite you to build an altar for your offering. Take a moment and envision an altar, your altar, in your mind. What does it look like?

After you have this image of an altar in place, ask God if there is anything you need to put on it, anything you need to offer up to him. It could be something that may get in the way of your journey of life and faith – a habit, desire, time, or sin. Is there anything you are doing that is keeping God at a distance?

Now, with these things in your mind, put them on the altar. Hand them over to God where he will deal with them and grant you freedom from them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

52 Weeks of Joy - Aha Joy

"When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy."     Matt. 2:10 NRSV

The season of epiphany is the season of aha moments. It is the time when the magi realize who the true king is, Jesus. It is the time when the world is opened to the amazing gifts that God is bringing to us. It is the time when we our eyes are opened to God, once again, acting in our lives.

So as I was thinking about joy during this epiphany season, I started to think about joy in the "aha" moments. You know those moments, those times when you are just struck and go "aha, I got, I understand, I see."

I remember one of those aha moments from a few years ago. It was the week after Easter the year I had been diagnosed with cancer. We were going to meet Jennifer’s family in Florida. They make an annual pilgrimage to a place on the panhandle and we had gone with them a few times in the past. This year was different though, because we had decided to drive – the four of us: Jennifer, the two girls ages five and one, and myself. It was going to be an interesting trip, to say the least.

It went well. We drove through the night so that the girls could sleep in the back of the van. We tried to sleep when not driving, but that did not go quite as well. Jennifer has trouble sleeping in vehicles, and I had a mind that was racing – is this the last family vacation I will go on? How can I make it memorable? What is there for me to do in order to make this the best vacation ever?

I actually put a lot of pressure on myself, but as the drive progressed, once again I was hit by the Spirit, I was hit with that aha moment.

It doesn’t have to be the perfect vacation. It doesn’t have to be the most memorable event ever. All it has to be is what it is: a vacation with family, a time to relax, and an opportunity to spend time with people I love without the pressure of work, meetings, and doctor’s appointments.

The aha moment that gave me so much joy was the moment of celebrating that moment, that time, that blessing of family and break, and not putting so much pressure on myself and on the vacation that it turned into all stress and no fun.
So what aha moment has brought you some joy?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Baptism of our Lord

Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Below is an excerpt of today's sermon

“And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him”

Today is the celebration of the baptism of our Lord. It is the day we walk with Jesus into those waters at the river Jordan, the day we gawk wide eyed at John as he submerges Jesus in that running water, and the day when Jesus explodes out of the water that the heavens are ripped apart. Yes, in our reading for today we hear that the heavens are ripped apart, and they are ripped in such a way that they can never fully be mended. There will always be that rip, the tear, that change that has taken place, and it means that as of that very moment, things cannot go back to the way they were.

You see, with God coming to us, with Jesus’ baptism and the rending and ripping of the heavens, with God loose in the world in a way he never has been before, things have changed, and there is no way to put that genie back in the bottle. Because the heavens are ripped, and once something is ripped, it will never go back to the exact way that it way. And honestly, once something is ripped in such a way, will be different, may even be better.

Take a moment and think about that in your own life. I think about my own health life.I have this surgery scar, a place where I was ripped apart with a scalpel, and I will never the same. But, I am better for it.

And I bet you can come up with examples in your own life. I bet you can come up with times when things were ripped apart beyond your control. But as things progressed, able to see the blessings, able to see how things were better in the long run.

That is what is happening at the baptism of Jesus. The heavens are being ripped apart and things will never be the same. For God is actively getting his hands bloody and dirty, literally, and restoring his relationship with his children, with you. And God does this by entering into the world and ripping apart boundaries to seek us out

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


One of the resolutions I often hear about almost every January is that people want to improve their prayer life or their devotional life as a whole. And I do have to admit that there are times that my prayer life is like a roller coaster as well - times I am very active in prayer and other times that it slips to the side.

One of the tools that I use to help get myself back on track or enhance where I am is called TAPS prayers.  TAPS prayers are a fairly simple way to think about who we are prayer for and how we can be involved in this conversation with God that is called prayer.

Here is what it stands for:

T - Thanksgiving - Giving thanks to God for the blessings in our lives
A - Ask - Asking God for what we need in our lives
P - Praise - Praising God for being the God of grace, forgiveness and love that he is
S - Supplication - praying for others

Then, after going through the TAPS prayers you would take some time in silence to listen to what God has to say to you.

Do you have any favorite ways to pray?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

52 Weeks of Joy - Sacred Home

"A river and its streams bring joy to the city, which is the sacred home of God Most High"  Psalm 46:4 CEV

As I start this journey of looking at and celebrating the joys in our lives, I want to start with the joy of the city. Our congregation is in the inner city part of Beloit. It is a city with a very high unemployment rate and there are many needs in the area, especially right around the church.

So one of the joys that I see is the way that this congregation, and the community at large really, is working to help meet those needs. We have a day house for a homeless shelter on our grounds and we host a weekly lunch where we will feed anywhere from 50 to 150 depending on the week.

For me the true joy here is in the way the people of this congregation are being the hands of God in the world. They see a need, they see something that has to change, and they make it happen.

So there is Joy #1 - the joy of being in this city and celebrating the work of the people here.

So what is joy #1 for you today?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome 2012

As it was for many of you as well, 2011 was a year filled with ups and downs. Through all of what came I was continually reminded of the major blessings we are showered with and how it is so easy to miss these blessings. So my prayer for you in 2012 is that your eyes may always be opened to the blessings of God in you life.

God Bless.