For the “sacredly troubled”

This is my grandmother’s prayer book. She received it in 1914. I knew it contained prayers for Christmas so I took it from the shelf this morning, and carefully began to read.

I found this prayer attributed to Rev. J.W. Nicely, D.D. : (I’m leaving it in its original form for now)

Our gracious Lord, in the rush of many duties, we would be quiet before Thee. Above the confusion of the world and the tumult in our own hearts we would hear the sweet Christmas message of peace. Unless our hearts be at peace with Thee through the Bethlehem-Born Prince, our lives will add to the discord and darkness of the world. This day, loving Father, we travel once again to Bethlehem beautiful location, but more beautiful because of the sacred and hallowed association. We descend the stairs in to the crypt and care not for mitered priest or soldier guard, but as spiritual travelers kneel before the silver star that marks the birthplace of Him who ever guides men to kindness, peace, brotherly love and the Father’s home. Come, O Christ, and be Immanuel to our beloved church. May Thy holy love enter with new joy and vitalizing power into the hearts of all our people, especially those who are ill, or bereaved, or sacredly troubled. Omnipotent God, purify “as by fire” the hearts of kings and the rulers of armies and let the Christ of Bethlehem rule in all our social, and industrial, and international relations. May the heaven-sent message first sung by angelic voices be heard this year above the roar of battle and the tramp of marching armies so that “Peace and Good Will” may as never before be established in the hearts of men. May the abundance of our blessings in America and the richness of our Christmas joy find grateful expression in unselfish service in behalf of those whom He loves. In His Name. Amen.

I love reading written prayers. I try to imagine the context the writer/pray-er finds themselves. Why would these things be their concerns, merit lifting to the Giver of life and peace?

In this prayer the phrase, “sacredly troubled,” stopped me. In all my years of ministry and through my faith journey I had never come across it. So, I looked it up and it is so incredibly timely for our current situation.

A quick survey of social media or overheard conversations in the local coffee shop reveals an overwhelming concern, even angst, related to questions about religion, faith and practice. Much of this seems linked to a lack of integrity and hypocrisy of those who have assumed roles of leadership within the Christian Church. Spiritual abuse, misogyny, legalism, and nationalism have usurped the message of scripture and teaching of Jesus. Those with questions don’t know where to go or to whom they should take their questions —so they leave. Leave the Church. Leave their faith.

And this breaks my heart.

So to those who are struggling, and sacredly troubled, I want to extend an invitation to come back. Bring your question, your hurts, your anger, your wounds, all the things troubling you. The most precious word in all of scripture is come.

Jesus made this invitation to “all those who weary and heavy laden” Come. Come learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.

This Christmas I invite you to come to the manger, with fresh eyes, open heart, and allow the Prince of Peace, Immanuel (God with us) to heal the hurts and restore your faith in ways that can move you forward and closer to the One who knows you best and loves you most.

Monday Mindset: Ready?

One of my favorite things on Mondays is to be asked the question: “Are you ready for some football?” To be sure: I always am!

During this season, the question is typically asked differently: “Are you ready for Christmas?”

When someone asks you if you’re ready for Christmas was is your response? What do you think of? Lights, cookies, snow, presents?

If being “ready” for Christmas only involves the trappings our attitudes might be influenced by frustration and exhaustion because we don’t feel like we’ve done enough, or there’s so much more to do. Then what could be a joyous season devolves into one big mess of negativity. It might look a little like this:

So how do we get from the image (and attitude) above to more of this:

I have one thought: First, get ready for the right things. A few years back I was in an ER waiting room on December 23. The conversations were enlightening and a bit sad. One man was grousing about how we couldn’t have Christmas without snow (it was an unusually warm December that year). Another woman had fallen and broken her ankle. She weeped when her husband came in, and through tears apologized for being such a klutz and ruining Christmas. I bit my tongue really hard to keep from telling her she was not that powerful; that her fall would “ruin” Christmas–her party plans maybe, but not Christmas.

We experience the sour faces of the “Negativity Scene” above when we get miffed at things not going our way. Imagine how sour Mary and Joseph could have felt. Not much was going their way: all that travel, unexpected/untimely pregnancy, and no place to stay. Yet they did not miss the wonder and awe of the birth of the Christ Child. Emmanuel. God with us.

The second suggestion I would make is to expect things to go wrong. Cookies will burn. Turkeys won’t cook. Cars will break down. Kids will get sick. You get the idea. Expect it. And when it does, what if it does? It might feel like there can’t be Christmas, but know this: God will show up! Don’t miss it. Don’t miss the miracle.

So, are you ready for Christmas? It will come, and it will go. Don’t miss it while you grouse about what might have been, or should have been. I like the words of the old hymn: How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of the heavens. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in. (O Little Town of Bethlehem, verse 3)

Be ready to listen, to watch…to receive.

Hopeful or Hope-filled

And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:5, NLT)

Yesterday began the new litergical Church year and the observance of Advent in preparation for Christmas. Around the world pastors went to before their congregations with a message of hope. My pastor was among them.

The question our pastor asked to consider was whether we are hopeful or hope-filled. The distinction he made between the two: hope is typically based in wishes, not certainty. While followers of Christ Jesus have a hope that is settled on the promises and provision of God. The very names we identify our God by should bring a stalwart and solid foundation for our hope: God the Lord (Adonai); God our Peace (Jehovah Shalom); God our Provider (Jehovah Jireh); and God the Covenant Keeper (Yahweh).

So as we face unknown and uncertain times in our lives, and prepare with hope for this season of Advent, I pray that we will face it with the confidence Paul describes in the text above: the hope we have from God will not disappoint us.

Now I’m already anticipating the questions and arguments–probably because I had them myself. “How can you be sure?” “God didn’t give me what I asked for.” “They still died and begged God for more time.” “I am still in pain.” “How can God expect me to wait longer for…” Disappointment upon disappointment.

And that’s where it could end, where we throw up our hands, and toss in the towel. Until we consider a concept that has been twisted and the distortions uplifted to support the disappointments. Ready? We don’t think like God.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that we don’t have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and in the Old Testament, Isaiah declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD (Isaiah 55:8, NIV).

Instead, if we allow God, believe God’s best is always for us, God will give us the desires of our heart (see Psalm 37:4). Believing this this truly enables us to echo with the psalmist, “The Lord is my provider, I have everything I need (Psalm 23:1).”

That’s the hope we build on and live into. That is the hope that will not disappoint. That hope is surely more than a thimble full of wishes.

A Prayer for Hope: Lord, I maintain my hope in You and I hold onto the assurance that what I am praying for is already accomplished in the name of Jesus. Your Word promises “no good thing does He withhold from those that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). I wait upon You for Your definition of the “good thing” You will not withhold from me. As David prayed in Psalm 18:1: “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (, 6/20/22)

Advent: Give Big


Day Eight: Go and Sell All…And Give

Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21, NLT)

One day a well-to-do young man came to Jesus. He wanted to know what good deed he needed to do to guarantee eternal life. In the conversation that followed the man was quick to point out his perfect keeping of the Law—I assume he was pretty proud of himself and expected Jesus to give a free-pass into heaven.

I wonder if Jesus was smiling…stifling a laugh at his arrogance and pride…and his self-absorbed confusion about what was truly important. The purpose of the Law is to make sure that we are loving God supremely and caring for our neighbor. To point out how clearly confused the wealthy man was, Jesus gave him an instruction that struck at the heart of his problem: he hadn’t done either requirement. 

Truth for the rich young man was that his amassed wealth was his god, and he wasn’t willing to part with it for anyone…even if it meant missing heaven.

Some of the saddest words in scripture (in my opinion) are attributed then to this man: he went away sad.

This Advent season we have looked into the scriptures to see  the “good thing” we need to do. We have thought about how God values small things. In a time when bright lights, sweet treats, cozy parties serve to cover our real need, we have taken time to focus on God’s valuing of honesty.  Finally, we have pondered the greatness of God’s gift in his son, our savior—and his invitation to be cheerful generous givers.

My prayer is that we have learned what “good thing” we have each needed to address, that we have made sure God is supreme, and our neighbor is cared for.

Because I don’t want any of us to go away sad.

PRAYER: O come, o come, Emmanuel. O come let us adore him…and share the joy he wants to bring to our lives, and to the world. Amen. May it ever be true. Make it true precious God. Make it true.

Advent: Give Big


Day Seven: Cups of Cold Water

And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” (Matthew 10:42, NLT)

I had been sick for days. The flu attacked me. I could barely lift my head off the pillow. I had moved to Kansas City with the girls to complete my Master of Divinity at Nazarene Theological Seminary. Nelson had stayed in Ohio to finish a building project. We knew very few people and had only a few Sundays prior started attending a church. I had no doctor. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get through this.

Then there was a knock on my door.

I pulled myself out of the bed, and padded to the door. I peeked around the curtain and saw a lady from church standing there with a casserole dish, and huge smile.

I opened the door a crack. Told her I was very sick and didn’t dare invite her in. She quickly apologized for waking me, and went on to say someone from church had mentioned how sick I was, so she brought over a “kid-friendly” tater tot casserole that could be warmed up in the microwave. She then issued her second apology: “It’s not much. Just a casserole.”

Maybe to her, but to me, it was pure gold. I thanked her profusely and received her gift. 

We may look at the things we do as small and insignificant—no more than a cup of cold water. But they are life-giving to ones receiving. Paul picks up on this in his letter to the Corinthians: Little is much when God is in it. 

Don’t be concerned about how small your gift may seem to you. That casserole fed my girls for two days. And in two days I was strong enough to get up and make their meals. 

Never minimize the gift God invites you to give. He’ll make it be enough. And bless you in the process.

TO PONDER: Think of a time when someone showed up right on time with exactly what you needed—shared a cup of cold water with you. Ask God to show you how you can pay that gift forward.

TO DISCUSS: What small gifts can you do, offer, give, to someone around you? A cup of cold water may end up looking like a casserole, or a ride to the doctor, or an offer to clean someone’s home. Our gifts of time and talent are just as valuable as the monetary offerings that someone else might give.

PRAYER: God, thank you for the times when someone has shone up right on time with the cup of water I needed. Thank you for the ways you are moving in people’s lives to make those gifts arrive right on time. Help me to respond when you lead me to give, how you lead me to give. Amen.

Advent: Give Big


Day Six: God Gave

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.“ (John 3:16, NLT)

You see today’s verse on signs at sporting events. Children earn stars and badges for memorizing it in Sunday School and VBS. Many a funeral message has been drawn from its truth.

Why is it so popular?

Because in one sentence we find out who God is, how much he values us, and the message he wants us to share. 

According to one of the early church fathers, each of us was created with a god-shaped hole, an empty spot only God can fill. The good news is everything we need now and for eternity has been provided by the One who can fill that hole. His love for us is that great. He proves it in the manger…and on the cross…and in the empty tomb.

God so loved the world. All inclusive. There is no person you will ever meet—no matter badly you want to judge their actions—for whom this gift was not given. 

And to receive this gift, all they—we—have to do is believe it is really for us. That God is really for us…all. 

Now that’s good news!


TO PONDER: ls there someone in your sphere of influence, where you live, or work, or do business who needs to hear this good news? What keeps you from sharing God’s love with others? Have you asked God to help you overcome whatever is holding you back?

TO DISCUSS: Not everyone is open to hearing this good news. What are the barriers holding people back from believing and receiving? How will you speak this truth, in love, into their lives?

PRAYER: God, imagining the cost of this gift…the immensity—that you love the world! I confess I’m not always that good. Forgive me when I judge others unworthy: because of what they’ve done, or how they live. Help me remember I stood on the outside wishing for this great gift. Show me how to live and love with your great big kind of love. Amen.

Advent: Give Big


Day Five: When It’s In Your Power to Give

Whenever you possibly can, do good to those who need it. (Proverbs 3:27, Good News Translation)

Many years ago I went to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game with a friend. We had so much fun. When the game was over we entered the slow moving hoard trying to escape the stadium and head home. 

As we moved toward the escalators there was disheveled, dirty beggar with a sign seeking for any donation that could be thrown his way. Our slow inching forward gave me a very sad perspective. The mob split and gave wide berth to the man…and no one dropped anything in his bucket.

Each time I remember this, my heart aches. There wasn’t a person scooting by who lacked the means to help in some way. We had all spent an enormous amount on our entertainment and treats…but we couldn’t help someone else?

Recently, a man who had been released from jail stopped by church for help. I had no cash on hand, but I had a few fast food restaurant gift cards in my wallet. They weren’t full, but between the three, he could probably get a few meals. His gratitude seemed real as he took them from my hand.

Many people hold the opinion that giving in these kinds of situations only enables people to not learn to do for themselves. Maybe. But when we have the means, shouldn’t we give? God has blessed us to be a blessing to others.

TO PONDER: Have you ever been the recipient of the generosity of others? Have you ever felt like you were begging, or depending on the favor of others? 

TO DISCUSS: How we decided who, when, and how to give to those in need? Is God seeking more from us?

PRAYER: Jesus, you had to depend on the generosity of others. They housed you. They fed you. You told us that when we do for others in need, we are doing for you. Help us to see you in the faces and lives of those in need and show us how our means can meet their need. Amen. 

Advent: Give Big


Day Four: Try and Outgive God

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” (Malachi 3:10, NLT) 

Did you know that money is one of the most frequently mentioned topics in the Bible? It is. And that poses a delicate dilemma for pastors: how to bring messages to the folks in the pews that open their eyes…and their wallets.

Why is it so difficult? People don’t like to be told what to do with their money. But even more than that, I think we cling to our cash for a sense of security. Try living without, and wondering if we’ll be able to make the ends meet…or just at each other from a distance. What’s that about?

Fear. Fear that there won’t be enough to pay the bills. Fear of having to go without. Fear of having to do with less.

Our verse today is one of my favorite challenges in scripture.  Set in the context of giving offerings, the message was as difficult to receive to the original hearers, as we find it today. 

TO PONDER: What could you do that would like you were trying to outgive God? Have you withheld your gifts out of fear? Our you more concerned with using your means to increase your sense of security and comfort? 

TO DISCUSS: Accountability enables growth and progress. Is there someone whose help you could enlist in this challenge? What ways has God poured his blessings into your life? Beyond monetary offerings, what ways could you return a tithe of your time and talents to him?

PRAYER: God, you are so generous. Forgive us for giving into the fear of what might be and show us not only how to be wiser stewards of your blessings in our lives—but show us  how we could never outgive you. And help us to know how we can be more faithful and generous. Amen.

Advent: Give Big


Day Three: Blessed to Give 

And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35, NLT)

I remember pouring over the “Wish Books” that came to our house from Penney’s and Sears. Years later, our daughters did the same thing.Watching them page through those catalogues, I began to wonder if it would be easier for them to just cross out what they didn’t want.

Things changed for me when I began to earn an allowance, and was able to purchase gifts for others. I never had much money, but thankfully things cost a lot less.

I’ll never forget the first gift I bought for my brother. I spent less than a quarter on a box of paper clips. I’m not sure why I chose those, but I couldn’t have been more proud. In that gesture a seed was planted—the giving seed. I would rather buy for others. I want to watch them open their gifts. I have been so blessed and I want to pass it on.

Oh, please don’t get me wrong. I love getting gifts. Gifts from family and friends that demonstrate their love and generosity. And while my heart is always touched by a thoughtful gift, giving to someone else still trumps receiving.

TO PONDER: What brings more joy to you during the holidays: giving or receiving? How can you surprise someone this season with an unexpected gift?

TO DISCUSS: There are so many charitable organizations who go above and beyond during this holidays to bless others who are hurting and in need. What organizations would you consider partnering with? Other than a gift wrapped in shiny paper with a bow, are there other ways to give of yourself to bless others?

PRAYER: God, thank you for understanding that we like to receive—but show us the greater joy comes in giving. Giving of our time, our talents, our finances. Help to reach out and bless others, as we have been blessed. Amen.

Advent: Give Big

Day Two: All I Need

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)

Do you ever repeat yourself? As a wife, mom, and grandmother, I repeat myself a lot. I’m not sure it’s always the most effect method of getting my message across—but that hasn’t stopped me.

I love passages in the Bible where words are repeated. Today’s is one of my most favorite. 

Repeating the word “all” over and over in this verse emphasizes the completeness of God’s blessings in our lives. We have everything that we need. This is a true established from long ago (see Psalm 23:1–we have everything we need). 

But God’s blessings are not to merely flow into our lives: we are blessed to be a blessing. We are given so we can give. We will not only do good things. We will ABOUND in them.

TO PONDER: Having recently come through the season of Thanksgiving, you may have your blessings fresh in your mind, but take some time to count your blessings again. Consider some things or occurrences that didn’t seem like blessings at the time, but worked out for the good.

TO DISCUSS: Talk with a friend or family member, write a letter, or send an email thanking someone for the blessing they have been in your life.

PRAYER: God, you are so abundantly generous. Sometimes we take your blessings for granted, or we hoard them unto ourselves. Show us how the completeness of our blessings, of your provisions, equips us to bless—and how we can abound in working for you.

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