Saturday, December 31, 2016

An Ever Rolling Stream

Since the hymn has six verses, the fifth one is not one that is always sung.  Somehow, it is that very verse that I have been singing the last few days.  It is an Isaac Watts hymn entitled, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past."  Though written in 1719, the church is still singing it.  The fifth verse begins with the words, "Time, like an ever rolling stream..."  It is not hard to figure out why those words have stuck in my mind like glue.  A long time ago, I stepped into this ever rolling stream and for almost seven decades now, I have been carried forward by it.  The shore has always been there, but for some reason, I have remained surrounded and overwhelmed by the waters of the stream. 

Having been in retirement now for over six years, I find myself more conscious than ever about the time that is flowing around me.   I remember as a young man that time was really not something I thought too much about and while I do not sit around counting the minutes and hours, I am so aware of the precious nature of each day.  Each day is truly a gift.  One of the things I resolved to do when I entered this season of my life was to be more aware of the present moment.  To the degree that I have been successful, my life has been enriched and when I have failed, it has surely been diminished.

Time is a not an enemy to oppose, but a friend who gives valuable blessings.  Those lines Watts wrote about time cause us to sing, "Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all who breathe away, they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day."  And it is true.  Some who waded through the waters of the stream are no longer with me.  They found their place on the shore.  I miss their presence and wonder why I have been blessed to go forward so long.  Each step forward is taken with thanksgiving as I remember I have not traveled alone and when it does come my time to go to the shore, the Savior will be there waiting for me.  Until then, I wade on with a grateful heart in this ever rolling stream.

Friday, December 30, 2016

One More Post Christmas Musing

This year was the first time I had heard of the Blue Christmas Service which the church is offering for those who find Christmas to be more tougher than joyous.  Hard times do not necessarily stay away from folks just because it is the Christmas season.  These hard and difficult moments can create scaring memories which seem to bring pain on each anniversary of the moment.  When I was seven years old, my father was buried on Christmas Eve.  No Christmas has passed through the decades of life that this painful memory is not remembered.  No matter how much joyous celebration is around, it never completely obscures the memory. 
Of course, I am not the only one who has such memories during the Christmas season.  It is good to see the church responding with sensitivity and care for those who find the Christmas season to be filled with a mixture of pain and joy.  The Blue Christmas ministry reminds me of other opportunities for the church to express special sensitivity for people whose experiences take them outside the normal response of a particular holiday.  For example, Father's Day and Mother's Day can be very painful for children who have lost one or both parents either because of death, divorce, or abandonment.  It is hard for such children to be in a church environment which gives them no room to deal with their own parental issues.  Also, on Mother's Day or Father's Day, there are Moms and Dads who desperately want to hear a child call them by that name, but it has never happened.
Caring for people is not always easy in the society of ours with such diverse needs, but how important it is that folks in pain do not fall through the cracks while everyone else is celebrating.  The special days will always have special meaning for us as they should.  The Blue Christmas Service speaks of a church stepping into a field of ministry where many people have been dwelling unnoticed.  May it give birth to other ministries for the ones who find their hurts amplified by the holiday.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Even More Post Christmas Musings

As one who grew up singing songs like "The Old Rugged Cross" and as one who has come to count as a favorite hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"  it just seems strange to see the cross decorated with Christmas lights.  It just does not feel right.  There is something about the sight that causes my sensibilities to flicker.  Yet, there it is, nonetheless.  A six foot cross planted in front of a church is no strange sight, but decorate it with red and green Christmas lights and it is something which does not fit together. 
One is a most sacred symbol; the other more a symbol which belongs to a secular culture promoting a commercial Christmas.  There was nothing pretty about the cross upon which Jesus died.  It depicts one of the world's most horrible scenes.  Like many others before and after Him, Jesus was hung on a cross to die a slow and terrible death.  But, unlike those others, His death spoke of God's undying love for each one of us.  It is hard to understand the kind of love made known to us from that horrid place so full of suffering and pain, but our inability to understand it does not diminish it in the least.  On that cross our Savior died, somehow taking upon Himself the consequences and punishments for all our sins so that we might receive something other than what we rightfully deserve.

Decorating that symbol which speaks of so much suffering on the part of Jesus simply seems a bit odd.  The old rugged cross speaks of the death of Jesus for me and you.  It became a necessity because of our disobedience and sin.  Jesus went through a hell of suffering to make a way for us to once again be right with our Father God.  It can stand alone.  It needs nothing else to cause men and women to be drawn toward it.  A Savior raised up to die is enough.  No red and green Christmas lights are needed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Still More Post Christmas Musings

Even with a great big and very bright heavenly star to guide them, the men from the East needed direction.  Finding Jesus who was wrapped in obscurity and poverty was apparently no easy task.  When they got close, they went to Jerusalem and asked King Herod, "Where is this child who has been born king of the Jews...?" (Matthew 2:2).  Maybe the men from the East assumed one they knew to be a king would surely be born in a place of prominence.  If so, they were surely wrong for Bethlehem was no Jerusalem and the animal stall was no hotel room.
Those traveling men were not the first to have difficulty finding the poor, nor are they the last.  Those of us who travel the journey of our life often need directions as well.  Not long ago while visiting another town noted for its upscale lifestyle, I drove through some of the communities which were not gated but could have been.  As I looked at million dollar homes on lakes and golf courses, I could not help but wonder if some of these pseudo rich, owned by the bank folks knew where the poor lived in their community.  I wondered if they ever saw them. And while their extravagance is not mine, there is enough in my own life to cause me to wonder how in touch I am with the fact that the world around me is filled with those living in a poverty I cannot comprehend.  And, perhaps, it is also a poverty I do not want to see.
Certainly, during the Christmas season it is fashionable and appropriate to lift the cover of obscurity from the poor of the community so they can be showered with the gifts of the seasonal "well-meaners," but then after a moment, they will be allowed to disappear again.  Unlike Jesus who seemed to attract the poor and the broken, there seems to be so little about our own lifestyle that invites the downtrodden of the world to seek us out as those who can surely be counted as one of the compassionate and caring ones of the world. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

More Post Christmas Musings

When I was pastor at the Vidalia United Methodist Church, a much younger preacher came to serve a church in one of the adjacent small towns.  Even though the congregation was nowhere near large in numbers, he planned a traditional three hour Good Friday service during that first year.  I remember asking him, "What will you do if no one comes?"  I also remember his answer, "I will read the scripture lessons and pray the prayers.  Some things are important enough you just do."  It has been over twenty five years and as is obvious, that young preacher left a lasting impression and taught me a lesson at the same time.
This year the calendar put Christmas Day on a Sunday.  As I noted the response of some to that uncomfortable dilemma, I remembered my old friend.  In response to Christmas being on Sunday, some churches made the decision to adjust schedules, have worship on Saturday, or not have any services at all.  The rationale is understandable.  "Everyone will want to spend time with family on Christmas morning," or, "No one is going to come so we might as well make the best of it."  While the message being sent to the church members is supposedly a family friendly message, I wonder if it might not also be a message that says, "We don't expect folks to say that the celebration of the Christ event is going to take precedence over all the other stuff of Christmas."  I fear it is the message of lowered expectation, the message of accommodation, the message of finding the easy way.
Maybe all of this speaks of being  old fashioned and out-of-date, but I would rather think it speaks of being out-of-step which is more where the church should be than where it often seems to be.  Jesus said, "...the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life..."  (Matthew 7:14)  The gospel has always been the message of sacrifice, the message of the hard way and there is always something sad about the message being compromised for the sake of expediency.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Post Christmas Musings

Sometimes random thoughts just pop up as if out of the blue.  It is a mental phenomena not always understood.  As I listened to some unwanted Christmas music on the car radio back in the early days of Advent, I found myself making some comparisons between Christmas and Easter.  As we all know, Easter is the chief celebration day on the Christian calendar.  If such celebrations were given a numerical value, Easter would be number one.  As the Apostle Paul reminds us, throw away the resurrection and the gospel is an empty thing.   After putting Easter firmly on the top of the totem poll, I would place Good Friday and the crucifixion just below it.  And then, Christmas would show up as a number three.
But, have you ever noticed that there is far more Christmas music than Easter music.  Check out that church hymnal.  Listen to the Christian radio stations announcing that Christmas music will begin on December I and imagine the same thing happening three weeks before Easter.  Not a chance!  By the time we get to Christmas, we are worn out, wishing it was over, but with Easter, there is truly holy space to anticipate it and then to relish the joy of the moment.  It is not just the secular community which does such a number on Christmas that its arrival is greeted more with relief than joy for the sacred community jumps on board that ship as well.  The church just cannot seem to do the waiting of Advent and chooses instead to jump pre-maturely into the celebration of Christmas.

So, what change do I think might come as a result of this post Christmas musing?  Actually, none.  Any hope of change on the part of the church seems impossible to consider given the way the church of our day seems so willing to take its marching orders from the secular community around it.    Common consensus gives legitimacy to all sorts of stuff which the written Word of scripture would never do.  Who knows?  Maybe, this is more lament than musing.  Or, maybe it is just regret that the secular society around the sacred community of the church is not being shaped and influenced by the powerful message given by the Holy Spirit to the church brought into being by the Christ. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Then, and Only Then

A baby born in Bethlehem,
     but first,
         sweating and stretching,
         strength given up to straining,
         silence broken by screaming,
Then, and only then,
      a baby's low cry,
      a mother's whispered love.

A Sonrise in the garden,
     but first,
         sweating and stretching,
         strength given up to straining,
         dying done in darkness,
Then, and only then,
      trumpets sounding,
      great victory won.

Christmas Day, 2016

Conceived inside imperfection
     was He.
Born into sin's possibilities
     was the plan.
All with a woman,
     as holy and flawed
     as Rahab and David,
     Peter and Paul,
     you and me.

Living midst Satan's evil
     did He.
Drawing the sinful heart
     ever closer.
Everything with purpose,
     cradle to cross,
     birth to death,
     a work of mercy
     now complete.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Nazareth, a small forgotten place,
    no patriarch graveyard there,
    no history changing battles,
    not even a well like Jacob's.
Just an ordinary "no good" place,
    a few common folks,
    an abundance of poverty,
    a stop in the road,
And nothing more.

Nazareth, a God-watched place,
    visited by a famous angel,
    the Power of the Most High,
    the very Son of God Himself.
Not forgotten, an extraordinary place,
    the spear point of salvation,
    favored from heaven,
    the beginning of our eternity,
And so much more.

(Luke 1:26)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Impossible Stuff

The Agent of the impossible,
    another name for the Spirit,
    check it out, if you doubt,
    once in the womb,
    once in the tomb,
    same Agent, different results.
One made Jesus human flesh,
     fragile and mortal.
One made Jesus resurrected,
     death's boasting done.
Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!

This Power of the Most High,
    the name given by Gabriel,
    worked, but no one saw,
    once in the womb,
    once in the tomb,
    but secret no more.
One brought needed salvation
    to every sinful heart.
One brought eternal life,
    to every dying soul.
Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!

(Luke 1:35)

Thursday, December 22, 2016


When You were there,
    like all of us have been,
    awash in the water of a womb,
        tiny and small,
        so vulnerable,
No host of angels hovering over You,
No band of warriors guarding You,
    just a mere woman,
    actually, just a girl,
Who protected You from harm,
    giving You room
    inside of her.

When You were there,
    like all of us have been,
    afloat in a sea of darkness,
        not seeing,
        not knowing
You were in the only place of safety,
No angry words, no foes, no harm,
     because of a mother,
     the Father's provision,
The one place nothing could reach,
    but, only for a moment,
    the cross still coming.

(Luke 1:31)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Twice Mary pondered,
    maybe more,
    but, at least twice.
    Once when the angel came
    again, when the shepherds came.
So, pondering is what she did,
     at the pointed intersection
     of sacred and profane.

'Tis always a risky place
    to stand,
    this holy crossroad,
    the sound of God's voice,
    the cry of human need.
Much to ponder there,
    everything changes,
    nothing stays the same.

With heart still pondering
    she went,
    needed to see
    the spoken sign,
    something impossible.
What pondering started,
    faith finished,
    a thing hoped for, now seen.

(Luke 1:29)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Strange Sign

Have you ever seen a sign?
    Not a road sign,
    not a billboard,
Not made with human hands.
    One sent from God,
    sometimes strange,
    yet, often ordinary.
Sign crafted by God,
    a puff of a cloud,
    a worm eaten bush,
    marriage to a whore,
    buying land at Anathoth.
Strange, but ordinary,
    also, often missed.

Two signs came to Mary,
    one full of holy mystery,
    an angel named Gabriel.
A second, quite ordinary,
    as simple as time,
    six months, it says,
    then, the angel came.
The sign in the hill country,
    an old woman,
    wrinkled and worn out,
    expectant joy,
    swollen belly.
Strange, but a promise,
    what God says will be.

(Luke 1:26, 36, 38)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Setting His Mind

When God sets His mind
      to do a thing,
Some will always say,
So, don't be afraid,
      with an open mind,
      a searching heart,
ask around and see.

When God sets His mind
     and begins to move,
He looks toward folks,
     He figures can help.
Just ordinary souls,
     sometimes doubters,
     sometimes skeptics,
folks like you and me.

When God sets His mind,
     He calls, not coerces.
The old and worn out,
      like Zechariah.
The very young,
      "it can't be Mary,"
      "no way, Joseph"
regular folks everyone.

(Luke 1:18, 34; Matthew 1:19)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Impossible, You Say

From glory to Galilee,
   so went the angel Gabriel,
   looking for Nazareth,
   the young girl, Mary.
Impossible, you say.
   Not really.

From heaven to earth,
   sent by the Father,
   announcing holy work,
   the greatest work of all.
Impossible, you say.
   Not really.

From God to man,
   the child was born,
   that all might believe,
   and never die.
Impossible, you say.
   Not really.

(Luke 1:37)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Voice

What if you were "the voice"
     as John was "the voice?"
Would you speak the Word
     with such boldness,
     with such courage,
     with such authority?
Would your word be like his?
      Selfless, single minded,
      no thought for self,
Willing to disappear and die,
      so that others see Him?

Or, like so many other voices,
     the pretenders and imitators,
Would yours be a watered down word,
     full of self,
     empty of God,
     mostly about "me?"
Would people's ears be tickled,
     your skills praised,
     your head growing?
To whom would your voice point,
     the speaker or the Savior?
     (John 1:23)                                                                                                                                                                  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Standing Among Us

There, but not yet,
    talked about, but hidden,
    visible, but not seen.
Anticipated, expected
     by the man at the River,
     always looking out there,
Figuring soon He would come.

Making the way ready,
    a way not yet walked,
    only purposed by God.
A long time in the making,
    the man at the River
    caught up in the vision,
Knowing soon and not later.

Proclaiming the not yet One,
     though unseen and coming,
     already standing among us.
Still no one sees Him,
      His voice still silent,
      His power still leashed,
But, surely here and coming.

(John 1:26)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Keep Flowin'

Keep flowin' River Jordan.
Needy souls are coming,
Some with broken bodies,
More with broken hearts.
Beaten down by life,
Stained with sin,
Looking for healing, all.

Keep flowin' River Jordan.
A heavy load you bear,
So many have come,
More are still to come.
Seeking God's gifts,
Mercy and forgiveness,
Getting washed clean, all.

Keep flowin' River Jordan.
If your waters dried,
Ceased to fill your banks,
Needy souls become dying souls.
Your waters may be low and dirty,
But God uses every ounce,
Ridding hearts of sin, all.

(John 1:28)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Baptizer

No newspapers,
No internet,
Just people talking,
Changed hearts talking,
Skeptical minds talking,
Talking about one man,
The Baptizer at the Jordan.

No cars and trucks,
No public transportation,
Just people walking,
Some casually curious,
Some serious seekers,
All wanting to see
The Baptizer at the Jordan.

No baptismal fonts,
No heated indoor pools,
Just dirty river water,
Hardly deep,
But deep enough
For washing sins away,
The Baptizer at the Jordan.

No heavenly angels,
No resounding trumpets,
Just God at work,
Announcing something new,
The Lamb of God has come.
Pointing everyone to Him,
The Baptizer at the Jordan.

(John 1:28)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

True Light

Shine, True Light.
   Bring your rays to bear
   on darkened places,
   emptied of reason,
   filled with fear.
Shine, shine, shine.

Shine, True Light.
    Penetrate the darkness
    that seems too deep,
    hearts past hoping,
    life with no dreams.
Shine, shine, shine.

Shine, True Light.
   Light up the deep recesses
   of the darkest hell,
   where evil reigns,
   goodness forgotten.
Shine, shine, shine.

Shine, True Light.
    Go to the blackest hole,
    showing forth glory,
    touching sinful hearts,
    mercy for the needy,
Shine, shine, shine.

(John 1:9)  

Monday, December 12, 2016


I used to say,
   faith is like
   sitting in a chair.
Before sitting,
   the question,
   "Will it hold me up?
The matter is decided
    in the sitting,
    or the falling.

Some say, "Just believe,"
   it matters not,
   but is it true?
They say "in anything,"
   human ingenuity,
   or a pocket full.
Try it and see,
    expect little,
    never more.

The Word says
   believe in Jesus,
   One sent from God.
Forget the chair,
   One to count on,
   no one better.
No worry here,
   turn loose,
   no falling.

(John 1:7)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sent from God

A scary thing it is
to be sent by anyone,
    especially God.
Going not for self or gain,
but for Him, His purposes,
     a heavy weight indeed.

With hands off the controls,
you get in and go,
      wherever, whenever.
Not always knowing why,
only His bidding in front,
      an uncertain way for sure.

A journey of twists and turns,
mostly surprising and unexpected,
      just hanging on.
Only God knows what's ahead
a thing most kept to Himself,
      just sent and signed on to go.

(John 1:6)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Center Stage

For a moment he stands
    on the biggest center stage
    under the brightest spotlight,
    a place for him, but not for him.
Standing, waiting, watching.

Another act off stage waiting,
     a greater than any Character coming,
     coming soon, but not just yet,
     what's left is still to be done.
Standing, waiting, watching.

The Director watches the stage,
     closes the curtain on the old,
     raises it on the new,
     the cue given
     the One waiting comes forth.
Standing, waiting, watching.

(Mark 1:2-3)

Friday, December 9, 2016


Here, but, not here.
   Coming soon, not today,
   maybe tomorrow,
   and if not,
   then the next day,
   or maybe the next.
But, surely soon.

Not then, but when.
    Not if, but surely,
    the hour unknown,
    but known by Him,
    the One who sends,
    and waits.
Soon will come soon.

Delaying, but coming.
    Those waiting wonder,
     even guess,
     still in the dark,
     waiting on that day
     when the Light shines,
On that day, but not today.

(Mark 1:7)


Thursday, December 8, 2016

At the River

Quietly he stood,
words of the Baptizer
still hanging in the air.
Thinking, deciding, wondering
about walking into the river,
yet, still he stood.

What the prophet asked
was actually unnecessary.
No one like him
needed waters of baptism,
already a Jew, and
already one of God's chosen.

Only those who wanted
what he already had
needed the cleansing waters.
Unlike them, righteous,
needing nothing more
than birth to prove it.

Still, he paused wondering
about the prophet's words.
God's doing something new,
"Repent, be ready!" he cried.
So down he walked,
water rising up over him.

(Mark 1:5)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


An unwelcome guest
in today's sacred spaces,
too smelly,
    camel hair clothing,
    locust breath,
    matted dried honey.
No pew companion for me.

An unwelcome preacher
in today's high pulpits,
too radical,
    wild eyed fanatic,
    Bible thumper,
    calling out sinners.
No word from God for me.

An unwelcome messenger
in today's religious circles,
too unsophisticated,
    nothing held back,
    in your face,
    up close and personal.
No man of God for me.

An unwelcome servant
in a very long line,
too God focused,
    out of step,
    one message,
    faithful to call.
A front man for Jesus.

(Mark 1:6)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Only Grace

Under the water
    the sunlight fades,
    darkness rises up,
    cold and murky.
    Bouncing on toes,
    flailing, kicking,
    now suspended,
    stretched out.
None of me
    holding me up,
only the water.

Under the water
    earth slips away,
    kingdom draws near,
    first dimly,
    now more clearly
    Holy mystery all around,
    old going, new coming,
    sins forgiven, washed away.
God at work,
    not about me,
just His grace.

   (Mark 1:5)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Under the Water

Under the water,
     but not for good,
     just long enough
     to wash sin away.
Downstream they go,
     never seen again,
     so far, forgotten.
Undeserved, but grace given.

Turning away,
    not just a bit,
    but completely,
    never to turn again.
With face set in stone,
    the old behind,
    the new coming,
Faith now a living choice.

Shaking it off,
    but only the water,
    not the change,
    a new heart now.
In Christ transformed,
    now set apart
    to live like Him.
Not for a moment, but eternity.

(Mark 1:4)

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Name him after his father
    they said in the Temple,
    but a name sent by an angel
    from the heavens prevailed.
John would be his name.

Call him prophet or messiah
    they said at the river,
    but one who lived before
    had already given the name,
the voice in the wilderness.

"Great among those born of women"
    said Jesus outside of Nain,
    first known as childhood playmate,
    later faithful servant,
messenger of God.

(Luke 1:59-63, John 1:19-23, Luke 7:28)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Your Time

Time we measure
    in minutes and hours,
    days and weeks.
Still, never content,
     our here and now
     defined by "when" and "if,"
Making watching impossible.

Time You measure
     in ways unknown,
     uncounted moments.
Like an everflowing stream
     You watch,
      paying attention,
Calling us to do the same.

Our measured time,
     like Yours, unnumbered,
     will one day end.
Gathered by eternity,
     and us with it,
     ready or not,
You will come!

(Mark 1:3)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Come Quickly

Lord, it's dark 'round here,
     pitch black,
     can't see my hand,
     before my face.
Lord, it's really, really dark,
     what's out there
      makes me afraid.
Are You out there?

Lord, there's no way out,
       trapped, overcome,
       not going to make it,
       giving up,
Lord, forever feeling let down,
       needed You,
       and still do.
Are You coming, Lord?

Lord, nothing's like before,
       nothing left now
       but blind faith,
       un-defendable hope.
Lord, like You said,
       going to wait,
       staying ready, but
Please, Lord, come quickly.

(Mark 13:32-37)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Always the Same

They say, this land
    beneath our feet
    was once, long ago
    the very ocean floor.
Home to Creek and Cherokee,
    roamed by conquering conquistadores,
    settled by cast out English folks,
    served as bloody battlefields,
    filled food laden tables,
    provided final resting places,
Never the same, always changing.

Another says, heaven and earth
    will indeed pass away
    and nothing will be as it was
Except for the Word of God
    which spoke creation into being,
    led Abraham on a great journey,
    changed the world on Mt. Sinai,
    proclaimed a Kingdom not yet seen,
    and told us again and again, "Fear not!"
Always the same, never changing.

(Mark 13:31)