Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 5

Isaiah 35

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
    but it shall be for God’s people;
    no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Exile + Transition by Tamasha

I am reading this passage after returning to Ohio from a visit home, to Pulaski, Virginia.  My trip was to see my grandmother, who is in the process of transitioning from this world to heaven.  My grandma, Miss Estelle to most, is who you picture in your head when you think of Mrs. Butterworth or Aunt Jemima:  a heavily-statured dark-skinned woman, never sitting still, mouth always full of laughter, cautionary tales of Appalachian superstitions, and what she thought the Bible meant, though she could not really read it for herself. Today, though, she cannot move.  Her mouth is silent and her body is barely skin and bones.  She is without expression, and looks altogether wilted.  Sitting by Grandma’s bed at night, I would listen to her labored breathing and the rattling inside her chest. Walking around her property, I could clearly remember the many summers of baseball and horseshoes in the backyard, and melting as I helped tend the multiple gardens, and having to use the old outhouse at the end of yard rather than running in and out of the house and “letting all the cold air out”.  That outhouse is now just a pile of gnawed wood, the broken window the only evidence of the prior structure that alleges that something else was once there.

Now, although this passage in Isaiah describes the exile of the Judahites and promises glory and paradise to those seekers of The Kingdom, I believe it is both literal and figurative.  Certainly, the exiles physically traveled from one place of desolation to another of abundance, and we see that multiple times throughout the Bible.  But I’m wondering here if the message is most powerful when applied to our own individual lives, in the present.  Every ailment and shortcoming is reconciled as the blind shall gain sight, the deaf shall gain sound, and the feeble shall gain strength.  But the environment is also changed as the wasteland becomes lush and flourishing, and the chaos of untamed wilderness becomes cleared raised paths – highways — that are without threat or menace, guiding even a fool that he will not go astray.  It’s about moving towards something else.  It’s about the growing pains of Becoming. It’s about transition.

As I drove back from Virginia in the rain, my heart was heavy as I considered I would not likely see my grandmother alive again.  But as I traversed the West Virginia mountains I found I could not escape the beauty of the changing leaves on both sides of the highway.  Even going through the long, dark tunnels, the view on the other side was even more magnificent than the former.  It dawned on me that the rattle I’d heard in my Grandma’s chest may just have been her humming the tune that she now hears as she nears her destination.  I cannot help but smile when I consider what Miss Estelle will look like and feel like and sound like when she has been renewed.

Lord, please replace our anguish with joyous anticipation.

Guide our steps.  Ease our footing. Settle our spirits.  Amen.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 4

Isaiah 11:1-10 

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Words + Pictures by Mike

Isaiah has news. The news is for everyone – those looking for news and those without a clue. Isaiah has words – wisdom, understanding, knowledge, equity, power, righteousness, faithfulness – To announce the news. Isaiah has pictures – wolf/lamb, cow/bears, children/snacks – images that evoke trouble, presented at peace, with no threat of pain. The news is for everyone – those who are familiar and those who are strangers.

It will be everywhere, ‘as the waters cover the sea’ – Is there such a place where water does not cover the sea? – Certainly not, the idea makes no sense.

Whoever this person is – everyone will know and Isaiah concludes with the obvious. ‘Gentiles (strangers) will seek him.’ But of course, the words and the pictures are clear and compelling to all. The response is instinctive – we need to be with this One. And so begins our journey this season, it is as natural a response as breathing.

This Advent, let us seek freely, like the strangers in Isaiah. Uncomplicated, simply responding to the compelling news – in words or images.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 3

Isaiah 9:1-7 

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The Messiah by Kristin

In 1997, I was starting a new phase of life, living in Victorian Village with my younger sister who was a newly transplanted undergrad at Ohio State. Neither of us were attending a church and I personally had no interest in doing so. We had grown up in a church-going family  —  Dad was a pastor. But I had lost all interest in attending church, worship, etc.

Then one December day, I was driving down Neil Avenue and happened to see the sign at King Avenue UMC proclaiming “Join us this Sunday for Handel’s Messiah.” In a moment truly orchestrated by God, my sister saw the same sign on her way home from class. So when I said, “Hey, that big church on the corner is doing Messiah this weekend. You want to go?” she replied, “I was going to ask you the same thing!” So we went to the service and thus began parallel, yet separate, journeys back into a faith community that has led us both to Stone Village.

Advent is about birth and new life. When I read Isaiah 9:6 I cannot help but hear a church choir in my mind, proclaiming in every note the coming of Christ, the Savior, who came to show us a new way of living, of loving. What a beautiful way to be reminded during Advent that we can be born to new lives in Christmas — in Christ.

Come be born anew in me, Savior. Be the new life in me that my soul cries out for as I am lost and alone in the wilderness. Show me a new way to live and to love. Amen.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 2

Isaiah 7:10-16 

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

The Signs We See by Mark

God wants us to see signs. God wants us to continually prepare and look for the good news. I often wonder if missing a red light, making me 3 minutes later than I had planned to be, is a sign from God. If I consider a traffic stop a sign, which seems trivial in the context of bees and honey, what other signs am I missing that are much more meaningful? Maybe we should consider each and every day of the year an Advent day, a day of signs from God that Christ’s love will be entering the world. With that in mind, what should I be aware of today and every day that could prepare my heart for Christ’s coming? Moving beyond red lights, maybe the signs I should pay attention to are the encounters I have with others. God brought them into the world as well. For this season of Advent, I want to consider every encounter, greeting, passerbyer, and gathering as a sign of blessings and of Christ’s love in this world.  I pray that I receive everyone as if they are a sign from God.

As you go about your day, look at each person and see the message they could bring from God. See the good news they possess.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 1

Isaiah 2:1-11

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
    Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
    and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
    come, let us walk
    in the light of the Lord!
For you have forsaken the ways of your people,
    O house of Jacob.
Indeed they are full of diviners from the east
    and of soothsayers like the Philistines,
    and they clasp hands with foreigners.
Their land is filled with silver and gold,
    and there is no end to their treasures;
their land is filled with horses,
    and there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is filled with idols;
    they bow down to the work of their hands,
    to what their own fingers have made.
And so people are humbled,
    and everyone is brought low—
    do not forgive them!
Enter into the rock,
    and hide in the dust
from the terror of the Lord,
    and from the glory of his majesty.
The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low,
    and the pride of everyone shall be humbled;
and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.

A Prayer for Preparation by Joey

Lord,

Let us be drawn to your house.

Let every child of every nation flow toward your love.

May every weapon of war be destroyed in your name.

Help us redirect our energies to be thoughtful stewards of your creation.

Let us invite all of our neighbors to join us on the mountain.

Prepare us to be witnesses of the majesty of your birth.

Humble us, Lord. Make us ready.

Amen.

Stories From A Village Podcast: Letting Go

By Ivy Lamb 

Money, influence, expertise — Mark let it all go when he decided to leave a toxic work situation and embrace the uncertainty of unemployment at age 63. In this episode, he shares the insights he’s gained, including learning to take joy in the small things. He also dives deep into his relationship with the Catholic church and his journey reconciling his faith with his sexuality. Continue reading “Stories From A Village Podcast: Letting Go”

Stories From A Village Podcast: Faith in Action

By Ivy Lamb

Keith was raised Catholic, but drifted away from the church as an adult. But he never lost the commitment to service his parents instilled early on. In this episode, Keith talks about his journey back to Christianity, what drives him to volunteer his time to different causes, and how that volunteer work has deepened his relationships — relationships that became even more meaningful when Keith found himself in need of help and support.

Continue reading “Stories From A Village Podcast: Faith in Action”

Stories From A Village Podcast: Recovering my Faith

By Ivy Lamb 

From childhood through adolescence, Claudia’s Quaker faith was a fundamental part of her life. But as she got older, she lost touch with that part of her identity. In this episode Claudia talks about the process of reclaiming her faith, dealing with the stigma around divorce, working on self-compassion and discovering a new church community. She also reflects on how her Quaker upbringing continues to influence her values and actions.

Continue reading “Stories From A Village Podcast: Recovering my Faith”

Stories From A Village Podcast: Finding Hope In The Trenches of Life

By Ivy Lamb

Chris is a father, an artist, a business owner and a Christian — but he’s not likely to tell you about it. For Chris, being Christian is more about how you treat people than anything else. In this episode, he shares his journey in and out of church, dealing with the death of his parents, and his decision to embrace sobriety. Continue reading “Stories From A Village Podcast: Finding Hope In The Trenches of Life”

Stories From A Village Podcast: You’re Not Broken

By Ivy Lamb

Tamasha grew up in a former coal-mining town in Virginia with her deeply religious grandmother. She knew she wanted her life to be different than what she saw around her in her childhood, and she succeeded in realizing her vision for her life. But everything, including her faith, came crashing down when she started struggling with her mental health. In this episode, she shares openly about how her faith has shaped her life choices, her parenting, and her experiences with her mental health.

Continue reading “Stories From A Village Podcast: You’re Not Broken”

Stories From A Village Podcast: How a Straight, 50-something Southern Baptist Came to Affirm LGBTQ Christians

By Ivy Lamb

Steve spent most of his life in what he now describes as a state of spiritual apathy toward LGBTQ Christians. In this episode, he recounts the journey that took him from a traditional Southern Baptist view of homosexuality to feeling called to stand with and fully affirm LGBTQ Christians. Steve’s story shows how that shift can be grounded in compassion, experience and a close reading of the Bible.

Continue reading “Stories From A Village Podcast: How a Straight, 50-something Southern Baptist Came to Affirm LGBTQ Christians”

On The Table: That Bible Story You Always Ignored…Until You Saw Yourself In It

By Steve Flowers & Jordan Flowers

The 5th installment of the periodic series studying through The Gospel of Mark. Steve and Jordan discuss their favorite Bible story– The Gerasene Demoniac in Mark 5:1-20. They share how an impressive but seemingly difficult-to-relate-to exorcism is simply the background of a very rich story in which everyone can find themselves.

Continue reading “On The Table: That Bible Story You Always Ignored…Until You Saw Yourself In It”

On The Table Podcast: Jesus Never Had To Raise A Kid! (Part 2)

By Steve Flowers & Jordan Flowers

The conclusion of Jordan and Steve’s discussion of specific episodes from Jordan’s growing-up years in order to ask Steve’s thoughts behind his parenting decisions to help Jordan work out his own questions. Sometimes funny, sometimes raw, it’s an earnest discussion of lessons learned by both father and son.

Continue reading “On The Table Podcast: Jesus Never Had To Raise A Kid! (Part 2)”

On The Table Podcast: Jesus Never Had To Raise A Kid! (Part 1)

By Steve Flowers & Jordan Flowers

Jordan becomes a father in 2019 while Steve is an empty-nester (and soon to be G-pa!). Jordan brings up several episodes from his growing-up years in order to ask Steve’s thoughts behind his parenting decisions to help Jordan work out his own questions. Sometimes funny, sometimes raw, it’s an earnest discussion of lessons learned by both father and son.

Continue reading “On The Table Podcast: Jesus Never Had To Raise A Kid! (Part 1)”

A Brighter Path #8: Loving Others

By Steve Flowers

In the previous post we noted the two foundational skills to move from being a successful-based follower/church to a faithful-based one are our abilities to submit to God and to love others and then briefly examined what submitting (surrendering) to God means.  In this final post of A brighter path, we will briefly examine the second skill of what loving others actually means.   Continue reading “A Brighter Path #8: Loving Others”

A Brighter Path #7: Submitting to God

By Steve Flowers 

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?  I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.  That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.  But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.” (Luke 6:46-49)

Continue reading “A Brighter Path #7: Submitting to God”

A Brighter Path #6: Four Other Forks To Avoid

By Steve Flowers

Some years back, a popular Christian movement centered on the acronym WWJD, asking, “What would Jesus do?”  It is a great question that evokes the centrality of Jesus. The question implies that our discipleship journey today should reflect Jesus’ actions in the Gospels.  I would love to see it make a sweeping return in a thoughtful manner but I would call it WYRTGWPDEPOJ (yeah, I know, my branding needs work).  Because I think the better question is asking, “When you read the Gospels, what portrait does each paint of Jesus?”  Asking that is a great litmus test to expose beliefs of successful-based communities, those practices not found in the Gospels which hinder and undermine bringing about the “kingdom of God” on earth that Jesus came to establish.

Continue reading “A Brighter Path #6: Four Other Forks To Avoid”