Moving to ThinkingChristian.ca

I’ve been semi-working on this blog here, my Church on the Couch Facebook page and my thinkingchristian.ca website.  I have recently done an extreme overhaul of the ThinkingChristian site and will be moving my blog activities over there now that it is easier to do so.

Please visit me at my new site, thinkingchristian.ca – I’ve even gotten brave enough to post some photos of me there!

I hope to see you there!

Jennifer.

Mother’s Day Prayer

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Our blended family…

I was asked to share a prayer with the congregation of Bridge Street United Church for Mother’s Day / Christian Family Sunday.  Here it is:

Mothering and Fathering God of All,
We bring before you all of our families
And the hurting, hard feelings and heartaches that come with them
Relationships strained so tight and thin that it seems they must break
Love that is stretched so far across the miles that it is hard to see
We ask that your shepherding spirit guide us to bring healing and wholeness to these relationships
Soften harsh words
Mend the heartaches
Renew frayed relationships

Bring closer in spirit and understanding those that are separated by great distances of geography or understanding
Be with all the mothers of our world
Those who are grieving the loss of children, through miscarriage, misunderstanding, war, feuds, kidnapping or any of the other ways our world has of separating mothers from children.
Hold in your gentle hand the mothers of toddlers in the “terrible twos”, the mothers of teenagers who are testing the limits of their world, the mothers of children who are having trouble of any kind, the mothers of children who are in hospital, children who are suffering, and the all the mothers who are worrying – no matter the age of the ones they once cradled in their arms as an infant.
We ask for your compassion and grace to be upon the stepmothers of our world.  They have a hard path to walk.

Give strength to those who have become mother-figures in the lives of those who need them.

Be with those mothers who are celebrating a new birth, a new milestone, or a new achievement.  Use this time of joy to renew and refresh them so they have strength for the more difficult times that might be ahead.

We ask that you be with all of the world’s mothers and those who are there to support them.

We are thankful that your idea of “family” is so much bigger than we can sometimes imagine.
We thank you for the families in our lives – our families by birth, the families of our own creation and the families that may not be at all traditional – but support and love us just the same.   We are thankful that Jesus has shown us that families are made up of people who love and are committed to each other, no matter how they might be related.  We are thankful to be counted among those who are in your family.  We ask that you be with all the families of your world and give them your love, grace, and the compassion of your holy spirit.

Amen.

Judging Christmas Sharing

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Every year Glenn and I donate to or shop for our local Christmas Sharing program. This organization collects money and food to provide Christmas hampers for families who need them. This way they can have a great meal for their Christmas dinner.

For those people who choose to shop, the group provides a shopping list.

(Here’s a link to this year’s Christmas Sharing Shopping List)

It’s fairly comprehensive. Turkey, veggies, Christmas cookies and so on.
When I’ve shopped I’ve tried to pick the best items I can for the family. I think about how hard it would be to have such a need for food and not have the means to get it. One of my worst fears is that some day one of my children would ask for food and I wouldn’t be able to provide it.

I was shocked to see people on Facebook today judging what was on the list. They had been asked to shop for one item on the list so their child’s class could donate a hamper. The comments were that margarine should not be purchased and that juice should be substituted for pop. The tone seemed condescending to me. That people receiving charity should not get any “treats”.

This upset me. I know that I will be looking forward to some special treats at my Christmas dinner this year. Why shouldn’t someone else? And are we all only going to eat what is perfectly healthy for us this holiday season? I think it’s unlikely.

Let’s take this idea if eliminating the pop even further – Why should we give them tea bags? They can just drink water. Take the cookies off the list, too, why don’t we? They aren’t healthy. Let’s take any enjoyment out of the dinner we can. Let’s make it all canned green beans and canned lunch meat. There will be a nice dinner to sit down to on Christmas!

I trust that the people who organize this challenging and worthwhile cause have carefully thought out the shopping list. There is likely a reason for everything on the list. There are lots of healthy things and a few (very few) treats on the list. It is not an extravagant shopping list by any means. It fills about four grocery bags.

I have to make a confession – when I shop I always add an extra box of cookies if there are children in the family and I buy the biggest tub of margarine I can so it will last longer. I wonder what kind of judging I will receive?

What do you think? Should the pop and margarine be substituted?

What charities do you support at Christmastime?

Advent Devotional Reading for December 10, 2013

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Scripture
Psalm 21
Isaiah 41:14-20
Romans 15:14-21

Written by:Bill Dohle
Pastor,  St. Paul Lutheran Church
Peoria, Illinois

Ever stopped to listen to the words of some of the Christmas carols we sing? Past familiar tunes and the memories attached to them, there’s usually a story involved. With or without Jesus in the picture, our Christmas carols say a lot about how we feel during the holiday season and how we think the story of Christmas should end.

Take the familiar carol: “Do you see what I see?” This year our Sunday School Christmas program is centered around this song. It’s a haunting melody that follows the news of Jesus birth from the lips of the Night Wind into the hands of a Mighty King. Though not technically biblical, it does illustrate how the news of Jesus birth can spread.

Unfortunately this carol, like many, fails to follow the Christmas story past the manger. In the song, the news of Christ goes from the shepherd boy to the mighty king who in turn announces it to the people everywhere. “A child, a child, shivers in the night. He will bring us goodness and light.” That is not what happens in Scripture. When the mighty king (i.e. King Harod) hears that Jesus is born, he does not announce his birth to the people as one who will “bring us goodness and light.” Jesus is renounced as a threat and sentenced to death. In fact, according to the Gospel of Matthew, many infants die because of the news of this child’s birth.
And yet we persist in our optimism. Why? Why do we insist on ending the story, not with the tragic death of the infants, but with the hope of a king who will announce the child who brings goodness and light?

I’m not sure why we remain so optimistic, even in the face of the tragedy in the story, but this isn’t new. It is the same optimism that King David has as he praises “the king” in Psalm 21. These words, written about the ruler of the land, describe a person who has been granted his heart’s desire. Whose every request has been answered. A person who is greeted with rich blessings and given the gift of long life. This ruler’s victories are great because he trusts in the Lord. This one is welcomed with blessings with a golden crown on his head.

Sadly, this optimism doesn’t hold true either. No king, including King David himself, was ever this fortunate. No king ever lived this way. Both King Saul and King David suffered tragedy after tragedy. One might wonder how these optimistic words ever came to David’s heart. All around him were signs of sadness.

Reading these words reminds me of our Christmas carols. Such optimism. And yet, even the infant king whom angels greeted and magi met was crowned, not with gold, but with a crown of thorns. He lived no long life, but died cursed and hanging from a tree. And yet this king meets us like no king of David’s imagination could. Because he knows tragedy and defeat, this king can meet us in the tragedies of life. Because he died cursed, he can meet us in the curses of our lives. Because he lived a humble life and not in a palace surrounded by blessings, he can meet us in our humble lives. Because of all of this, this king meets us where no one else can, becoming greater than even David could imagine.

This king is greater, even than the happy endings we sing, for this king meets us where we are.

Prayer
King of kings, you come as no one has before or since. Give us eyes of faith to see your presence, even in the tragedies of this world. Amen.

Advent Devotional Reading for December 9, 2013

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Scripture
Psalm 21
Isaiah 24:1-16a
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

Written by: Rev. Scott Alan Johnson
Pastor
St. Petri Lutheran Church
Story City, Iowa

There might be nothing lonelier than a Nebraska cornfield in December.
My father farms our family land in northeastern Nebraska, the same land his grandfather farmed almost 100 years ago. One December day, when we were trying to get more “natural fertilizer” spread before the ground froze, the tractor we’d been using broke down late in the afternoon and we had to leave it out there overnight. The next day Dad sent me out to drive it back to the farm so we could fix it.

It was the first really cold day of the winter – wind howling out of the northwest. It didn’t feel so bad as I walked out of our acreage into the field, but once I’d cleared the windbreak and got out into the open land there was nothing to stop that wind: even my coat offered little protection. Teeth chattering, I climbed the hill toward the tractor. Once I got there, I stopped to look around. It was eerie: I was less than a mile from our farmhouse, but in that moment all I could see was the remnants of the corn harvest and all I could hear was the wind. It was late morning in broad daylight, but I had a moment of feeling utterly alone all the same.

I could imagine the folks who first broke that ground for farming, doing so without electricity or protection beyond the shacks they’d raised with their own hands, the desperation they had to feel knowing that winter was coming on. If you’ve read Ole Rolvaag’s Giants In The Earth you know some of that despair that comes with winter on the Great Plains.

That’s the imagery I get reading these apocalyptic words from Isaiah 24, only it had to be worse because at least on our Nebraska farm we believed we’d done our work well and the fallow season was entirely expected. For the people of Israel, to whom Isaiah prophesied, the withering of the earth was not expected. Their pain and anguish were perhaps more like the aftermath of a tornado strike or a typhoon – or perhaps like that of the Dust Bowl, those awful years when reckless over-cultivation and an exquisitely ill-timed drought combined to bring about a plague of dust, death and destruction.

There is no word of hope from Isaiah in this text today. None can stand before the power and majesty of God. We will be exposed, surrounded by a world devoured and laid to waste. But in the very next chapter Isaiah does come with a word of hope: “On this mountain The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines…and he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples…he will swallow up death forever.” The Lord who lays to waste is The Lord who prepares the feast. Blessed be the name of The Lord.

Prayer
God your power and majesty are greater than we can fathom. Before you we stand exposed and alone, and we find welcome and solace only in your grace and mercy. In this winter season, as we look to the coming of your Son, be gentle with us. For we are afraid, and the wind is cold. Surround us with your warmth and love. Amen.

Advent Devotional Reading for December 8, 2013

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Scripture
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Written by:Pastor Keith Fry
Christ the Lord Lutheran Church
Elgin, Illinois

Today, my congregation is celebrating our 50th anniversary. We’re going all out: guest organist, trumpet soloist, the bishop coming to preach and preside, big cake. It’s going to be a festival of gratitude, of remembrance, and of looking toward God’s future. As I sat with the Anniversary Committee and went through boxes of archive materials, I found the bulletin for the charter service 50 years ago, and read a note extending sympathies to the Kennedy family. In total innocence, I asked, “Who were the Kennedys?”—thinking it was a family in the congregation. One of the women looked at me over her glasses in utter disbelief. It dawned on me as I blushed deeply that the family in question was that of Pres. John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated just two weeks before the congregation was chartered. (And yes, I was alive then, so it’s not as though I am too young to remember!)

I tried to imagine what it must have felt like for those folks in my congregation on that charter day. Here they were, mourning a terrible, earth-shattering loss, one that had unsettled certainties, one that had caused the future to be called into question. Yet at the same time, they were launching something new and exciting, celebrating what God was already doing among them and anticipating in great faith what God would be doing next. Deep sadness and mourning mixed with excitement and hope. What an odd, mixed-up, paradoxical thing!

Then I read these words from Isaiah about green shoots growing out of a chopped-off stump, and realized that this is always God’s way. The people Isaiah is speaking to have been hauled off into exile, their homeland laid waste, their temple destroyed… They’re grieving an enormous loss, and everything about their existence seems to have been chopped off. Yet the prophet speaks of this tender, green shoot that is going to appear, this great and powerful and just and gracious king who will usher in an era of peace—and not just ordinary peace, but peace in which the whole order of things will be turned upside down and restored to wholeness.

Many of us have experienced disorienting, hope-stealing loss. We know what it feels like: It feels just like a part of us has been cut off, like we’ve been left as a withered stump. The loss can come in many ways: the death of a spouse or child, loss of a job, the devastating diagnosis… In our congregations, it can be the loss of treasured members, or buildings and programs that can’t be sustained in the way they once were because of dwindling resources, or changes to beloved traditions. But whatever has been “cut off” from us, God speaks Good News to us: Life will spring up anew out of cut-off, dried-up stumps…and that life can give us new hope for a glorious future. That is the way of the Cross. Christ meets us in the cut-off places of devastation and hopelessness, and from that wood of despair, suddenly new life and resurrection can spring forth. That is the hope of Advent.

Prayer
God of new life, come to me in my cut-off places, and cause the green shoot of your hope to spring up in me. Remind me that you are the God of resurrection and new life, and that you hold the future. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent Devotional Reading for December 7, 2013

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The face of John the Baptist.
A sculpture by Auguste Rodin in Glenkiln.

Scripture
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Isaiah 40:1-11
John 1:19-28

Written by: Rev. Matthew D. March Associate Pastor
Mount Olive Lutheran Church Lake Havasu City, Arizona

I Think I’m Just A…

When I lived and worked in Ohio I volunteered with the local fire and EMS departments as a firefighter/EMT-B. In EMS there are different levels of Emergency Medical Technicians. At the time I served there were three—EMT-P or Paramedic, EMT-I or Intermediate, and EMT- B or Basic. Each certification level filled a specific role in an ambulance.

Paramedics are the “doctors” of EMS. It is the certification that requires the most training and carries with it responsibility beyond the other two certifications. Many times people would mistakenly call me a Paramedic and I would correct them, “No, I’m just a Basic.”

Until one day a Paramedic corrected me. He told me, “There are no ‘just-a’s’ in EMS.

The Pharisees didn’t know how to classify John the Baptist so they priests and Levites to him with a long list of titles. Each of those titles carried high expectations and responsibilities. They also carried great honor. John denied each of them.

Finally, it comes down to the real question: Who are you? John places himself as a servant of the one who came after him, Jesus, but he did not diminish the importance of his work. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare for the coming Messiah.

We are also called to prepare the way and to baptize with water to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. We are not the prophet, we are not the Messiah, and we are not Elijah: we are the voices crying in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of the Lord. We are not just a voice. We are the voice that someone will hear proclaiming the Good News of freedom Jesus Christ.

This Advent you are not a “just-a.” You are a servant of the Incarnate One who came to set the captives free. You have an important job in proclaiming this truth. You have a story and a message to proclaim. You proclaim it every time you open your mouth and every day you live your life.

Prayer
Tell the story again this advent. You are a voice crying into the wilderness of the lives of your community this Advent. You are the one to share the Good News. Lord Jesus, you created no “just-a’s.” Help show me the way to proclaim your Good News of freedom and new life. I am your servant; use me for your will. Amen.

Advent Devotional Reading for December 6, 2013

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sinterklaas
Scripture
Isaiah 30:19-26
Acts 13:16-25
Psalm 72

Written by: Rev. Cindy Johnson
Pastor
St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church
Carroll, Iowa

Psalm 72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

Today is Sinterklaas Day! If you are from the low countries of the Netherlands and Belgium you know that this is the day that good boys and girls find a gift and candy in their shoes. On Sinterklaas eve, children place their shoes by the door and go to sleep with dreams of good things coming in their shoes. The next morning would be the fun of running to check your shoes and see what had been left there.

Sinterklaas Day, in honor of St. Nicholas, is a fun day that commemorates a serious saint. Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas who is said to have died on this date in 343. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, was known for his generosity towards the poor. The legend of St. Nicholas begins with his giving three poor young women a sack of money to ensure their dowry so they could marry. He gave the sacks of money secretly during the night.

Sinterklaas – a contraction of Sint Nikolaas in the Netherlands, is the beginning of the American Santa Claus tradition. It is quite easy to be distracted by the clamor of commercial Christmas and we may wish to blame Santa, but in reality we can enjoy the thought of giving that lurks behind the Santa Claus figure while actually practicing the Christian action of giving as St. Nicholas did. Nicholas understood the words of Jesus to take care of the “least of these.” Nicholas understood that God defends and delivers the poor and needy and crushes the ones who oppress the less fortunate.
During Advent, we can think about Nicholas being the patron saint of children and enjoy the wonder of having a child-like heart. We can enter into the joy of God’s lavish love for us poured out in Jesus Christ.

Prayer
Gracious Lord, we thank you for saints who understand your command to help the needy. In this time of Advent, may we help those who are needy and care for them as St. Nicholas did. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Advent Devotional Reading for December 5, 2013

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Scripture
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Isaiah 4:2-6
Acts 1:12-17, 21-26

Written by: Rev. Leslie K. Welton
Associate Pastor /Director of Discipleship
St. John’s Lutheran Church
Sacramento, California

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet…All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”

People are going to disappoint us. From the time we are small we learn from experience that folks do not always do what they promise. Friends go back on their word. A co-worker gets the promotion when we are certain his or her work is not up to standard. Our children do not put forth their best effort in school or embarrass us at dinner. The list goes on, and we are disappointed with each other time and time again.

Yet, undaunted, we continue to expect that our friends will come through, that our work will be rewarded, that our children will turn into competent and decent adults. Our expectation is that the end will be better that all that in-between disappointment.
There is so much disappointment, expectation, and humanity is this reading from the book of Acts. The disciples and followers are waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. They pray constantly, expecting that what Jesus said would happen would indeed come to pass. But as readers, we are left waiting. And then enter the gap formed by Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

I have often wondered about Matthias. He had been with them from the beginning. He knew Jesus. He knew Judas. Not only was he a witness to the resurrection of the Lord, but he had seen the whole story play out, and we are left to wonder what he thought of his former colleague. It probably is not helpful to ponder why Judas was chosen to play the role he played, but it is interesting to think Matthias might have wondered about that very thing. Yet in the end, Matthias was still chosen to be witness with the disciples, to be a part of the twelve. It was not about Matthias; it was about what God was doing.

The story didn’t play out for Matthias like he thought it would. Why do we expect things to go our way? The way of our Lord is not an easy one. Matthias lost a friend in this story, saw his Master die a cruel death and then depart after a glorious resurrection. But the vision of those disciples, men and women gathered together in Jerusalem, expecting that Jesus would keep his promise reminds us that our expectations are worth setting high. Remember, our God keeps promises to a people who are always disappointing.

As we journey into the second week of Advent, we repent with the expectation that we will be forgiven. We pray with the expectation that our prayers will ascend to our heavenly Father. We look to the future redemption of creation knowing that the God who created heaven and earth is continually working to redeem that creation until that final day of glory – a day we long for with expectant hope.
Yes, people disappoint, but our God is faithful when we are not. Come, Lord Jesus!

Prayer
God of fulfilled expectations, as your children once gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem to await your promised Holy Spirit, so we also wait expecting your presence among us. Give us the patience of a community waiting together for the fulfillment of your promise. May our prayers be constant and our love for one another like the love you show your children each and every day. Amen.

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