Monthly Archives: November 2012

Anticipating the Anticipation

I am not, by nature, a patient person. That is probably an understatement. When I was delivering my second son, the obstetrician asked at one point, “Are you even having a contraction, or are you just pushing?” I was too busy pushing to answer. Delaying gratification is not one of my strengths. So here we are, two days before Advent begins, and the anticipation is killing me.
Yet, I have been invited to wait. Not forced to wait, but invited to wait. I have no idea what this means.

I have been invited to wait. For me, waiting breeds frustration and anxiety.
I have been invited to wait. But I don’t really know what I’m waiting for.
Yet, I have been invited to wait.

Waiting requires a lot of trust in the One for whom I wait. My impatience is a sure sign that I’m really not trusting God to show up, to make himself known to me.
Yet, I have been invited to wait.

Will you wait with me? How is God asking you to meet him this Advent season?

 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:7)

 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:14)

 But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. (Psalm 38:15)

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope (Psalm 130:5)




Getting ready to get ready…

Getting ready to get ready…

The O Antiphons are a set of medieval refrains originally used before and after the singing of the Magnificat (Mary’s song).  Each invokes the Messiah under a different title derived from the Old Testament.  This title is then amplified and followed by an appeal to “come” and save us in a particular way. Around the 12th century the antiphons were collected into a Latin verse hymn, which was later translated by John Mason Neale into the hymn we know as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  As you prepare your heart for the first Sunday in Advent, I invite you to ponder these verses:

O come, thou Wisdom from oh high, embracing all things far and nigh;
in strength and beauty come and stay;
teach us your will and guide our way.
Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

How have you seen God’s wisdom at work in your life?

O Come, O come O Lord of might, As to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times you gave the law
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.
Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

 How is God’s power evident in your life?

O Come, O Branch of Jesse, free your own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell your people save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

 Has death threatened you, or someone you love?

O Come, O Key of David, come, and open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

When has heaven come near to you? How did you know?

 O Come, O Dayspring, come and cheer our presence by thine advent here.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

 Where do you find joy?

 O Come, O King of Nations, come, O Cornerstone that binds in one:
Refresh the hearts that long for you;
Restore the broken, make us new.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

 How has the diverse beauty of God’s Kingdom become evident to you?

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

 As Advent approaches, how will you worship the Son of God?

Waiting to wait

This week is a gift, and I hope I do not waste it. Usually, the first Sunday of Advent falls on the weekend when Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. The holiday feasting pushes Advent’s sense of expectation aside. Black Friday and Cyber Monday scream for our attention, drowning out the stillness of waiting that Advent brings. Honoring the beginning of Advent with festive worship becomes a challenge when most of the choir has traveled over the river and through the woods for the long weekend.

Not this year.

The beautifully long week between Christ the King and Advent One has no other holiday cluttering its rhythm. The shopping season kick-off has settled down to a dull roar, and there is time, sweet time. Time to plan for festive worship. Time to clean house and take out the Advent wreath without feeling exhausted already. Time to read the Word slowly, to listen for new revelations in old, familiar words. Time to grow expectant, waiting for the Waiting to begin.
The temptation is to use this “extra” week for catching up on unfinished business. I am resisting that temptation with all my might. I want to savor these moments at the end of the liturgical year. This week is the hour or so after all the guests have left the New Year’s Eve party that was Christ the King Sunday, when the dishes are done and the house is quiet. How will you spend it, this luxury of time?


And now, a word from our sponsors…

Maybe you have to be a Baby Boomer for that phrase to mean anything, but I remember television announcers from the late 1950s and early ’60s introducing commercials as if they were part of the program. There was a clear connection between what we were watching and the companies that paid for it with their advertising dollars. Today, we are so overwhelmed with advertising that it has taken on a life of its own, and “a word from our sponsors” has become product placement within the program itself.

I am boycotting Cyber Monday today, just as I dodged Black Friday a few days ago. I’m cleaning house instead, preparing for Advent with a good dose of dusting and vacuuming. I know I will buy Christmas gifts for my family sometime in the next few weeks, but it will not be according to some advertising executive’s schedule. Meanwhile, there is plenty to do to ready my heart for Christ, to make the way straight and the crooked plain in preparation for the day of the Lord’s coming.

Two women whose blogs I follow, and whose ideas inspire me, are Mary Hunt, the Everyday Cheapskate, and Rachel Held Evans, author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Both of these women posted great articles today, so I”m sharing the links with you here. They offer you some great options for getting through the next few weeks without breaking the bank, while making a difference in the lives of others.

Here is Rachel’s, and here is Mary’s. Read and enjoy! And please don’t feel guilty about taking advantage of great savings today on things you really want or need. Just remember that Jesus doesn’t really care how much you pay or how trendy your gift is. All Jesus wants for Christmas is you.

Good Grief

Within the past 48 hours, tragic death has touched three members of my far-extended family. These weren’t people I know, for my relationship to them is very tangential – a cousin-in-law’s step-daughter’s cousin, for example – but their deaths on or near Thanksgiving Day are stark reminders that life itself is something to be cherished, something for which to thank God.

Death doesn’t ever wait for a convenient time, and the number of tragedies connected to holiday celebrations seems to climb each year. Or maybe I just notice them more as I grow older. But this connection between joy and sorrow is nothing new. The Psalmist often combined lament and sorrow with praise and thanksgiving. The paradoxical connection between expressing personal pain and giving glory to God in all circumstances weaves its way throughout the biblical narrative. Grief and rejoicing are not such strange bedfellows. This is why a New Orleans funeral dirge turns into an amazingly joyful Dixieland dance when the saints go marching in.

As your holiday weekend draws to a close, as the shopping spree ends and the turkey leftovers move into smaller containers in the refrigerator, please take a moment to look around the room at those who share your day-in, day-out routines, and thank God for them. Show them how much you love them. Show them how much God loves them. Take nothing for granted. Life is precious. Thanks be to God.


I have successfully managed to stay in the house all day today. No Black Friday shopping for me, thank you, not even online. Watched some football, some old movies, played some Solitaire, ate some leftover turkey … it’s been a great day so far. I have escaped the madness of Consumerism for one whole day. Or have I?

The truth is that there wasn’t really ever any chance I would go out on Black Friday to see how many bargains I could find. I am not really into shopping for shopping’s sake. So it might be an overstatement to say that I have escaped from a trap that wasn’t set for me in the first place.
No, the trap set for me is this: worrying about stuff instead of seeking God’s Kingdom. And avoiding the worry by watching football, playing Solitaire, or eating turkey doesn’t help me at all. I haven’t really escaped anything, have I? Unless I’m ready to actively seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, I am no better off than the guy who pulled a gun on another shopper or the two women who had a fist fight in the comforter aisle at Walmart earlier today.

One trap or another, it really doesn’t matter. Which trap has your name written on it? How are you avoiding the Kingdom of God?

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:28-34, ESV)

Who You Gonna Thank?

I have seen a lot of gratitude on Facebook during the month of November, as many of my friends participate in 30 Days of Thanks, writing about the first thing for which they are thankful each day. It’s a great exercise, and it warms my heart to see so much gratitude expressed. But something bothers me about this little meme.

At first, I thought it was the limitation of thirty days. What, you aren’t grateful the other 335 days of the year? You have to save up your gratitude for the month of November, only? But that wasn’t it.

Then, I pondered that it might seem just a bit self-congratulatory to announce to the world how wonderful one’s life is every day.  Isn’t this a bit like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, who prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men…” as he stands in the temple? But that wasn’t it, either.

Today, it hit me as I read Psalm 105, which begins, “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” All this “I’m thankful for…” floating around Facebook is missing something really important: a direct object.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 106, among many others). Being thankful all the time is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. It helps us stay humble as we recognize the many blessings we experience in life, blessings for which we can take no credit whatsoever. That is important.

But even more important, I think, is remembering that being grateful is all about me and how I feel, while giving thanks is all about the One to whom I owe gratitude.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thirty years ago today …

… we rode in the back seat of a huge old car, to an empty church. My husband’s brother and his wife stood beside us as we exchanged vows on a Saturday morning. There was no music, there were no flowers. The pastor’s wife sat in the back pew and knitted, and my four-year-old son played with a bottle cap he’d picked up from the street. After the ceremony, we ate quiche. I had learned from my mother to roll out the unused piecrust dough, smear it with butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar, and bake it with the pie, so that was our “wedding cake.”

That was thirty years ago, and I have learned a lot from walking beside this amazing man through three decades. For instance,

  1. It really is better to bite your tongue than to give your partner a tongue-lashing (even when I deserve one)
  2. The marriage comes first. Kids grow up and move away, but we promised to be together until death parts us. Invest in that.
  3. Give up the fantasies. There is no such thing as a perfect spouse. I can’t be one, and I’m not married to one. What we have may not always be pretty, but it’s real, and it’s ours.
  4. Decide that this is what you want, and do everything in your power to keep it strong. This decision is closely connected to giving up the fantasy that there is such a thing as a perfect mate. The day I decided to want what I have was the day I knew this marriage would last.
  5. Look for the good stuff. This person by my side has so many amazing qualities. He has integrity. He’s patient. He is utterly dependable. He’s curious. He likes my cooking. He reads. He listens. He is as determined as I am to keep growing. I could go on and on. The truth is, every person on earth has some good in us somewhere. A spouse is the one who keeps reminding us of the good in us, and the one whose goodness we need to keep bringing to light.
  6. Keep the bad stuff in perspective. Yes, he snores, but it’s good to know he’s still breathing in the middle of the night. I find his snoring rather comforting, actually. There was something else… hmm, I can’t think of it right now. (Get my point?)
  7. Make the big decisions together, but trust each other for the small stuff.
  8. Make a budget. Keep it.
  9. One bookkeeper in the house is plenty, but that person needs to know all the data. Don’t hide expenditures from each other, and don’t hide income from each other.
  10. Be honest. Your spouse is not your confessor, but your spouse deserves the truth from you, even when it’s bad news.
  11. If you have children, always be united in your approach to raising them. Do not ever let your children play you against each other. (See number two, above.)
  12. Whoever cooks doesn’t have to do the dishes. Whoever doesn’t cook cleans up the mess.
  13. Someone has to fold the stupid socks. Someone has to clean the stupid toilet. Someone has to take out the trash. Someone has to mow the lawn. Someone has to change the toilet paper roll. Someone has to unload the dishwasher. Someone has to buy groceries. It doesn’t really matter who does it, but it has to get done …
  14.    … Do not keep score.
  15. Find a way to talk through your disagreements. If you are too angry to talk reasonably, go for a walk to get yourself reasonable, then talk.
  16. Listen, listen, listen. With your heart as much as your ears and brain.
  17. Remember that you promised to uphold this person no matter what, so uphold this person no matter what.
  18. Pray for your spouse every day. Give thanks to God for the person who shares your life.
  19. Do something spontaneous every once in a while, just to prove to yourselves that you still can.
  20. Be dependable.
  21. Your spouse is not a mind-reader; ask for what you need. Be specific.
  22. Read aloud to each other.
  23. Spend time together doing nothing, saying nothing. Just be together.
  24. Take turns being the leader, the bread-winner, the main parent.
  25. Discover anew the person who first attracted you all those years ago.
  26. Hold each other every day.
  27. Say, “I love you” every day.
  28. Laugh together every day.
  29. Pray together every day.
  30. Love one another.

Hoarding God

We used a prayer of confession yesterday in worship that comes straight out of The Covenant Hymnal. I should probably mention that we do not, as a rule, include a prayer of confession in the order of worship. Confession might be part of the monthly Communion liturgy, or a regular feature of Lent, but it isn’t a weekly element of worship in our church. Sometimes I wish we did, but we don’t.

We added it this week, because the preaching text was Isaiah 6:1-8, in which the prophet Isaiah had a vision of God in his temple, and Isaiah’s reaction to this experience is to cry out, “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips…” A seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal from the altar, and the passage concludes with God asking “Whom shall we send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah answers, “Here am I! Send me!” Pastor Ryan wanted to draw a parallel between our order of worship and Isaiah’s worship vision, which moves from praise/adoration to confession, then forgiveness, and finally commissioning. It was good worship, and many people commented on how well it flowed, how meaningful it was to them, and how all the elements worked together.

But there was one line in that prayer, #909 in the hymnal, that stuck with me through both services, and I’m still grappling with it as I prepare an early Thanksgiving feast for my son (who will not be with us on Thursday, when we travel to his grandmother’s house).

Consider this:

“O Lord, we have conserved the bounty of your love as though it could be exhausted, and we have wasted the bounty of your universe as though its resources were imperishable.”

We have conserved the bounty of your love as though it could be exhausted. Conserved, saved, put away in a dark cupboard like jam and jelly … hoarded. And I realized, to my dismay, that this was true. I have been trying to hoard God.

Just like those folks wandering in the desert who thought they’d better collect a little extra manna “just in case, you know, we run out or something,” I try to save a little extra experience of God’s love for some time when I don’t feel so loved. And just like those folks wandering in the desert, I find that whatever I thought I was saving cannot be held in reserve. God isn’t something you save for a rainy day. God is here and now.

When the Apostle Paul was feeling sorry for himself, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  There is no need to hoard that grace. It is sufficient.

How do you hoard God? What will it take to let go, and depend on that all-sufficient grace he so willingly offers?

Ground Rules and A Clarification

Thanks to all of you who read yesterday’s inaugural post, and especially to those of you who offered encouragement for this endeavor!

Now for some ground rules as we move forward:
1. I promise to post regularly, but never on Sunday.  Probably not on Wednesdays, either.  I’m a part-time worship pastor, and these two days comprise 70% of my workweek hours.  In other words, I’m kinda busy on Sundays and Wednesdays, and that ministry is my first priority.

2. Yesterday’s post was an anomaly: I won’t be using old material, as a rule. “God sings!” seemed a good introduction to my personal theology of music and worship. It tells you a lot about who I am, and who I think God is. I wanted to get that foundation laid right away, but now it is my hope to build on that foundation with new bricks.  One by one.

3. This blog is not about me.  I have avoided creating a personal blog (until now) because I know how easily I can be sucked into narcissism, and expounding daily about my personal inner life seems oh-so-narcissistic to me.  But this blog is really an invitation to conversation, so I invite you to leave me comments and interact with what you see here.  I especially invite you to disagree with me – we all need more frank discussion in our lives, I think.  “As iron sharpens iron… (Proverbs 27:17).” I promise to respond.

4. That said, let’s keep our discourse civil, shall we? I am blessed to serve in the Evangelical Covenant Church, and one thing we affirm is something called “Freedom in Christ.” You can learn more about it here. That freedom allows us to differ on non-essentials while we agree on this fundamental belief: Jesus Christ is Lord. (We agree on some other stuff, too, but this is enough to get the conversation started.)

Four Rules is plenty.


Yesterday I mentioned that Luther Seminary had “announced that it is eliminating it’s graduate program in church music next year.” That was a mistake.  They are not eliminating the Master of Sacred Music program, but they do plan to suspend it while they figure out how to move forward after Paul Westermeyer retires.  Here is what they posted on the Luther Seminary Facebook page on Thursday:

Luther Seminary’s Sacred Music program has been very influential in equipping excellent leaders for worship, music and the arts. We are proud of this contribution. In recent years, we’ve seen significant changes. Churches tell us their worship and music needs are changing. We’ve also experienced a decline in the number of students coming to Luther Seminary’s Master of Sacred Music (M.S.M.) program. And, Paul Westermeyer, our respected colleague and leader of the Master of Sacred Music program at Luther Seminary, has announced his plan to retire in June 2013.
Given the changing congregational needs and Paul’s upcoming retirement, we have decided to not recruit new students for our Master of Sacred Music program for the 2013-2014 school year. We will, of course, ensure that our current students continue to receive an excellent education at Luther Seminary and complete their degrees in the M.S.M. program.
The faculty at Luther Seminary is committed to establishing a vision and moving the study of worship, music and the arts forward at Luther. As part of our overall curriculum revision work, we will take this next year to explore ways to proceed and build on the excellence we’ve established in equipping leaders to meet the critical needs of worship and music in the church.
Please keep this process in your prayers as we seek God’s guidance for how we can best respond to the changing needs of the church.

Please do keep this fine program in your prayers, and pray especially for those who have worked so hard to build it into an exemplary training ground for church musicians.  I lament that Bethel Seminary, where I received my MDiv, offers no courses related to worship planning, worship elements, or music in worship.  I hope Luther recognizes its important role in the broader faith community, and handles this transition well.

What should be included in a pastor’s musical training?  What is the best way to teach pastors how to lead worship? Please share your thoughts!