Tag Archives: hope


An Advent Reflection for November 29, 2015, the First Sunday of Advent

votivesThis Sunday begins the season of Advent. Traditionally, Advent is the time that Christians revisit the story of the birth of Jesus. This story, though, doesn’t begin with Mary and Joseph and the angels. It actually begins in the book of Genesis and continues all the way through the Old Testament and is culminated in the stories that the Gospel writers share with us in the New Testament.

The back-story in the Old Testament unfolds through prophecies or foretellings that speak of a Messiah who will deliver the people of Israel from captivity to other nations and to the sins that continue to bring them down. These foretellings brought hope to God’s people throughout the ages. This hope was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as God with us. Now as we retell the story, we too can bring hope to those close to us that God is with us and will continue with us until all things are made right in Christ.

As we begin this Advent season, I pray that your hearts will be filled with hope as you experience the closeness of Jesus and are able to share that with those close to you!

Grace and peace,

Taken by a Sunrise!

Three days per week I get to drive my daughter, Lydia, to Fremont High School. As the days shorten, the sun is usually rising as we drive. The sunrise is at our backs as we drive to school, but when I head over to my office, the sunrise is right in front of me. It is always a gorgeous way to come to work! Most mornings the sunrise is brilliant oranges and yellows. This morning I was treated to a show of blues, grays, and pastel oranges. The photo doesn’t do it justice. I saw colors I’m not sure I have ever noticed before, particularly a blue that was like a pale robin’s egg blue with hints of aqua. There was also a pale peach color, warm, soft, and reassuring. As you can tell, I was taken by the morning sky!

Taken by a Sunrise!

This sunrise reminded me of a passage I read earlier this week.

Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
(Psalms 104:1-3, NIV)

Whether we acknowledge it or not, God is amazing! God’s handiwork is magnificent! God provides it for our enjoyment, encouragement, and as a vehicle for our praise. I already touched on the enjoyment piece above. The aspect of encouragement comes from the fact that we can hold these images in our minds as memorials to God’s greatness, faithfulness, and love. Even though we can’t see a sunrise at will, we can remember and gain confidence that the same God that created this glorious sunrise lives within us and through the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us. We just need to pause, remember, reflect, and allow God’s loving words to settle in our hearts. This is why the Psalmist reminds us to “Praise the Lord, my soul.” Praise opens our awareness to the beauty of God’s creation and the greatness of God’s love, setting us on course to receive the grace made available to us if we, again, pause, remember, and reflect.

Grace and peace,

The Lord’s Appearing

http://brookfonceca.vsco.co/media/560da23d4dfaf718a4ea9ba7I know it wasn’t much, but it rained in the SF Bay area this week! For me, rain is a significant image. It speaks to me of God’s presence and blessing. The thought of autumn rains got me thinking about some passages in the Old Testament, but all I could remember was the word “rains.” You know what it’s like. There’s a song that you heard a long time ago. You remember that you liked it. You even remember a few words of the chorus, but that’s about it. That’s how it was with me and rains this week. So I looked up “rains” in my Bible app. I found the passage I remembered. (I think!) This led me to other related passages, even one in the letter written by James.

Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises, he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
(Hosea 6:3, NIV)

This passage in Hosea speaks about God’s faithfulness, especially the faithfulness of God coming to us. We can trust that God will come when we call. There are times that we need God’s help, but are not aware that God is right here. The Lord’s appearing happens when we acknowledge the presence of God. The sun rises and sets. The seasonal rains come and go. It’s not much of a surprise for us, but then there are the moments when we appreciate a gorgeous sunset or stand out in the rain, just to soak up the refreshing environment. It just takes a moment to turn our hearts to the Lord, who is always here, and in that moment God appears!

Grace and peace,

All Things New!

By the weather we have been enjoying lately in SF Bay area, it would be hard to know that this Wednesday was the First Day of Fall!

sunset and fog

Sunset and fog, Half Moon Bay, CA

I love the equinoxes! They are the two days of the year that are in perfect balance. Equinox means equal night. We get 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. It is also the day when the sun rises and sets due east and due west, respectively.

What, if anything, does this have to do with us?! It is simply a reminder of God’s expansive wisdom, grace, and love. Wisdom within the cycles of balance and reset. Like the Sabbath, God knows we need things to be renewed, so we don’t lose heart. Grace through the truth that, “this too shall pass.” Love, because God created this universe for us to partner with God, and God with us in the gospel promise of making all things new.

The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. Psalm 19:1-4 (TLB)

I pray you take a moment this weekend to pause and receive God’s love letter to you through the beauty of creation.

Grace and peace,

God Is Here

“Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” – Jesus
(Matthew 28:20, CEB)

above the cloudsRecently I began listening to some teachings on mediation and mindfulness. One concept that I have found particularly helpful is that the goal of having a clear, bright, and restful mind always at reach. An illustration of this is knowing that above the clouds is a clear blue sky. It is always there, whether we see it or not. There are times in our lives that seem cloudy, even stormy. It’s hard to know that things will get better, or that the potential for things getting better is already present, but it is.
(I write these words with trembling faith!)

This morning I had breakfast with a friend, and he asked me if God was saying anything to me. My answer was “No. Not really. But, I am aware of God’s presence.” I mentioned to him that I am in a season of learning, and God is with me in the learning. Just like when your child is learning how to do something on her own. We often just stand back and observe. Our helping isn’t always helpful, but we are there all the same.

This reminded me of how Jesus concluded the Great Commission. “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” The disciples were definitely on the cusp of a learning season. God’s presence would be with them through the Holy Spirit. It just wouldn’t be the same as the previous three years of walking with Jesus.

Jesus’ words to his disciples are equally available for us today, since we enjoy the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. You may not be experiencing a learning season like I am. Your days might not be cloudy. That’s ok. Whether they are or not, the beautiful thing is that God is here.

Grace and peace,

Living with Weeds

This week I have been meditating on the Parable of the Weeds from Matthew 13. It is a story of intrigue and deception, and as well, patience and hope. After spending some time with it, I discovered that there is a valuable lesson to be found under the surface.

Woman walking through barley fieldAfter sowing his field with wheat he discovers that an enemy has contaminated his field with weeds. Instead of weeding the field, he decides to let them grow together, separating them after the harvest.

While not disregarding Jesus’ explanation of the parable, I found that it can be applied on a personal level as well as globally.

How often do we look at our lives and find aspects, characteristics, or personality traits that we just don’t like? These can even be areas of brokenness that seem to define us. We try to change ourselves. We pray for God to change us. Yet, we remain the same. Some of this is a product of our upbringing, culture, heritage, even DNA. Others are a product of the fall.

My understanding is that God loves us as we are. Yes, we are made new in Christ. Part of that newness is the grace to live in God’s presence, “warts and all,” allowing the Spirit to impart patience and instill hope that one day we will not only see Christ as he is, but also ourselves as we are.

Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face- to- face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known.
(1 Corinthians 13:12, CEB)

My encouragement is simple. Learn to live with the weeds. There are some that God will lovingly remove as we mature in Christ. Then there are some that only God can sort out in the end. Until then there is grace realized in the love of God and in the love of God’s people.

Grace and peace,

Faith and Faithfulness

Today I read the Parable of the Soils in Matthew 13. This is the story where the farmer scatters his seeds, and it falls on four different kinds of soils. Each soil produces differently depending on its condition. Much has been made about the condition of the soils and even what kind of soil best represents the condition of your heart. As I was thinking about it this morning, I realized that this parable is also about the farmer. He faithfully scattered his seeds and put his faith in God that they would grow. He knows that he can’t fully control how they will grow where they land, but he also know that they won’t grow if he doesn’t scatter them.

Jesus explained later in this chapter that this parable is about the message of God’s kingdom. We cannot control how that message is received, but what we can do is be a faithful expression of that message. When we love others it opens the door for them to receive not only our love, but God’s love, too. At that point we put our faith in God that God can and will do the rest. Faith coupled with faithfulness is how the God’s kingdom moves forward.

I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24, CEB)

Grace and peace,

The Easter Story

sunrise with rainbow effectEven though it’s evening on Resurrection Sunday, I still want to wish you all a Happy Easter. Below is a collection of scripture passages that tell the Easter story.*  I compiled it to be read at the Community Easter Celebration my church held outdoors this morning. I thought I would share it with you here. This blog post is dedicated to Giovanni Serrato and Stacey Hamilton for their willingness to read it before the gathering this morning with next to no advance notice.
Enjoy! He is risen!

Grace and peace,

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning.
Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being.
What came into being
through the Word was life,
and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.
(John 1:1-5, 14)

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
(John 3:16)

This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love:it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.
(1 John 4:9-10)

Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8)

That evening a man named Joseph came. He was a rich man from Arimathea who had become a disciple of Jesus. He came to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission to take it. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had carved out of the rock. After he rolled a large stone at the door of the tomb, he went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting in front of the tomb
(Matthew 27:57-61)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.
(Mark 16:1-7)

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “ Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “ Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
(John 20:19-22)

After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom.
(Acts 1:3)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “ I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
(Matthew 28:16-20)

All scripture passages are from the Common English Bible.

* I am completely aware that this collection of scripture passages deals very little with Jesus’ earthly life and is thus not fully narrative. For the sake of time and poetic/literary license, I moved quickly from the pre-incarnate logos to death on a cross with only a quick glance toward Jesus’ earthly life. Thank you for understanding, and I hope you enjoyed the reading.

Trusting Jesus

This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday or what is also known as Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. I remarked to a friend that this is one of my favorite Sundays of the year for two reasons, the narrative drama and how Jesus calls us to follow him beyond our expectations of him. Jesus clearly disappointed the people in Jerusalem. They were expecting him to lead a revolt against Rome as their new king. His actions clearly stated that his kingdom does not work that way, and that he was going to go about it differently. This reminds me of a song lyric that says, “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.” There are times when we walk happily along with Jesus, and times when we are clinging to him for every step.

weather_playingPalm Sunday is the beginning of the reversal that leads to Good Friday, which makes Easter possible. Like we discovered in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from death, some things need to die in order for them to be resurrected and restored. The same goes for our expectations. What I know about Jesus is that he seeks to lead us into alignment with him that we can then fully follow him wherever he may go. This doesn’t mean that we check our expectations in at the door, so to speak. Since our expectations are established through past experiences, they may not always serve us well as we make ourselves present to God in the now which leads into the future. With each new experience our expectations can continue to be reshaped, updated, or let go of completely in order to be restored, or we can find ourselves disappointed with God, because God didn’t meet our expectations. The choice is ours. Just as the nature of the kingdom of God is counterintuitive, so it is that we may experience a few surprises along the way as we follow Jesus. It is not to disappoint us but to teach us that the way of Jesus just may be different than we expect.

Grace and peace,

Matthew 21:1-11
Mark 11:1-11
Luke 19:28-44
John 12:12-19

Embracing the Next Step

Over the last few years I have utilized annual themes in writing these devotional articles. It started in 2011 by focusing on Community. From the theme of Community came Building Bridges in 2012. This last year was focused on Embracing. These themes put together create a long trajectory. When we begin to understand ourselves as a community and as individuals within a community, we can then begin to build bridges to that community, understanding that we are actually the bridges themselves. A bridge is a connection between two places that do not immediately meet. A bridge touches, or better yet, embraces both sides of its span. An embrace is an introduction, a discovery, and the beginning of what possibly lies ahead. The embrace leads to a next step.

Sacagawea by Robert Schoeller

Sacagawea by Robert Schoeller

Recently, my family was listening to an audio book chronicling the adventure of Lewis and Clark as they set out to discover a water way from the upper Midwest to the Pacific Ocean. Some distance into the journey, Sacajawea, their Native American guide, introduced them to her people, the Shoshone. The Shoshone had a custom of greeting one and all with a hug. Lewis and Clark humorously referred to this greeting as the “national embrace!” Sometimes this ritual would last for hours.

Lewis and Clark, and as well the Shoshone, discovered that after their embrace there were decisions to be made. Would they continue together or not? To what degree would they support one another? Would they share resources materially, socially, or politically? As they discovered, the embrace was only the beginning. As it turned out, the Shoshone became a vital part of the success of the expedition. This success was based on each party choosing and sticking to the next step.

2014 is a year of next steps. A year of making decisions and taking action. This trajectory we are on is a continual trajectory. Community, bridge building, and embracing will happen concurrently with and will even be the grace to empower us in our journey into the next steps. There is much that lies before us, but we are not alone on this expedition. God has given us the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and one another. Just as Sacajawea introduced Lewis and Clark to the “national embrace” that led to a successful alliance, may we as a community continue in the love that chooses to embrace and takes the next steps of loving God by loving one another, so that the influence of God’s kingdom would extend beyond our wildest dreams.

Grace and peace,