And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)

I got a fun gift for Christmas that put a huge smile on my face. Being known as Polyanna among some of my co-workers for my belief that good will be in or come of all things, I was given a book. It’s not a religious book, but I love the idea: Evidence the World is Basically Good (A Logbook for Optimists). I have exercised poetic license and used a Sharpie to revise the title, which now reads Evidence God is Always Good. And I am already recording my observations.

Our Ugandan friends love to exchange greetings, and a popular one in church goes like this:

Pastor: God is good.
Congregation: All the time.
Pastor: All the time.
Congregation: God is good.
Together: Because that is his nature.

That’s essentially what Paul is telling us in this reassuring verse. In other words, as we close this year, we can look back at mistakes, problems, or hardships of the past year (or years) and hand them over to God with anticipation for his redemption. In fact, those very concerns that could otherwise have finished us can become a spiritual investment for future growth. How will his Spirit work to transform me through this learning? We can embrace failure, even regard past personal sins as reminders of how much we need God’s keeping power and how insufficient we are without him. This is just another opportunity to actualize humility and his grace.

And throughout the coming year, we can trust God to work in our lives as we abide in him, serve him, and love him. Ahead of us lies glorious possibility as we move into the New Year with Christ.

Father, in your presence is fullness of joy, and there are pleasures forevermore at your right hand. Thank you that you have the power to transform circumstances and situations so that good does come from them. You can even change us for good through the circumstances. We look forward to what you will be doing in 2016. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.


None of us lives to himself [but to the Lord], and none of us dies to himself [but to the Lord]… Romans 14:7 (Amplified)

Christmas is over, and we’re between holidays. The New Year is coming up, but there’s already a sense of flatness. We’ve spent months preparing for Christmas – shopping, cooking, decorating, and planning surprises for our loved ones. And we’ve enjoyed the special Christmas concerts and services portraying Jesus’ birth as we’ve awaited the Advent of our Lord. Now it’s over, and there’s a letdown.

It’s at just such a time as this that we can sharpen our spiritual senses. Instead of indulging nostalgia (that can sometimes lead to depression), here are a few things that can make this “between time” a gift:

• As you write those thank you notes (You will do that, won’t you?), thank God for the giver and pray for him/her and their particular needs.
• List the blessings and lessons of the past year. (A journal is a good place to record God’s faithfulness.)
• Prayerfully consider those disciplines the Spirit has been nudging you to undertake (and that you’ve been avoiding) and commit to practicing them in the New Year.
• Make calls and write notes of reconciliation. (End the year with a clean slate.)
• Adopt a Bible study plan for the New Year and commit to implementing it.
• Determine to live joyfully.

This is already too much to do in such a short time, but here are a few ideas to take us out of ourselves and into God’s Kingdom of righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. If the year was good, thank God for his blessings. If it was challenging, thank God for his grace and strength to walk through it.

Now, get busy on this list so that you can move into 2016 with anticipation for the good things God has ahead.

Loving Father, you’ve brought us to this time of contemplation and reflection. Open our minds and hearts to our deep need of your Spirit as we close out this year and move ahead into what you have planned for us. Give us strength to grow and obey as you reach out to us in your love. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.


Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns…” Revelation 19:6

I love all the symbols of Christmas – the Baby around whom our season revolves; the lights pointing to the Light of the world; the gifts reminding us of the Wise Men who followed the star and found the Savior; the visitors who came from every strata, age group, and nation; and the music. I especially love the music. What other season evokes such glorious expressions of wonder, love, and majesty?

Years ago, our choir studied the setting of Messiah and the astonishing manner in which Handel was Spirit-anointed to compose the masterpiece in just twenty-four days. His powerful oratorio sweeps broadly from prophecy in the Old Testament through the birth of Christ and into worship of him as King in eternity. The Hallelujah Chorus had such an impact on our family that we couldn’t leave it at church.

With the approach of Christmas, we ordered copies of Hallelujah for each family member. My brother sang bass; my husband sang tenor; Momo sang alto; sister-in-law Linda and I sang soprano; while my dad and the children wandered around all the parts. This continued for years, and we still sing smidgens of Hallelujah when we gather.

In my imagination I see this small family choir as a preview of what’s to come when people of all skills levels, all ages, all experiences gather in eternity to praise with joy and wonder that King of Kings and Lord of Lords. HALLELUJAH.

Father, thank you for all the ways you’ve given us to remember and experience the birth of your precious Son. Help us to open our hearts to receive him and may our song continue to bring him praise throughout the year and ages to come. AMEN.


The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14 (NIV)

Early Christmas carols were sung in Latin, and since most of the people didn’t understand Latin, the practice fell out of favor after a few hundred years. (Imagine singing words you don’t understand at the church service.) But then St. Francis came along and introduced the Nativity Play in the Thirteenth Century along with songs that were sung in the language of the people. This was the beginning of the annual Christmas pageant.

Our family initiated a Nativity pageant when my children were small. Out came blankets for cloaks, scarves for headpieces, bathrobes for Joseph and the Wise Men, and my dad fashioned a manger from his shop scraps.  We made sets from packing boxes.  Momo played the piano as the cast sang and performed the Christmas story for the little ones.

The children have grown older and now have children of their own. We’ve done adaptations of Amahl and the Night Visitors, improvised versions of the Nativity story, revised traditional tales, and this year we will have an original story based on the characters’ preferences. (When five-year-old Caroline said she wanted to be a lamb in October, we knew this was important.) William has decided he will be a dog. The two teen-aged cousins, Mckenzie and Kassidee, have graciously accepted roles as the Two Wise Men. (The Third Wise Man had an undisclosed ailment which kept him from joining them.) Sam (now a young adult) is always the moving/flexible player. This year he will be a shepherd.

Putting together a skit with designated/determined characters is a little like cooking with the ingredients you have on hand. My little ones are set on being a lamb and a dog; the other three are fitting in. We have begun rehearsals with a story line that varies from practice to practice. Improvisation has been taken to a new level.

The whole point of this family tradition, like Francis’ ministry, is to make the story real, to allow the children to be part of the story and to connect with the Baby and his holy family. They are not just observers; they are the story. They experience a sense of Mary’s awe when Gabriel visits; of the holy couple’s rejection in Bethlehem; of the wonder of the shepherds (and lambs and dogs); and of the quest of the Wise Men. And as they participate, the Word becomes Flesh and lives with and in them.

Father, thank you for all the creative ways you’ve given us to share your story in word, in deed, and through our lives. Especially this season, help us to show Jesus to those we love best. AMEN.


In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4, 5 (NIV)

Come with me to one of my favorite spots at Christmas. We proceed through streets with houses that have been handed down from generation to generation and where the tree branches form a beautiful canopy as we pass. We circle the roundabout with its three lighted Christmas trees proclaiming the season, and then we make a right onto a commercial avenue.

In a few more blocks we make a left, and there we are. Just this side of the railroad tracks is a collection of tiny homes that are resplendent with lights—colored, white, flashing, steady—speaking of the Light that came into the world more than two thousand years ago. It only happens once a year in this sweet neighborhood, but it is worth the drive to experience the joy, the hope, and the love found in the tiny community.

I first saw it the night I was driving home from the hospital where my husband lay dying. Intellectually, I knew the promises and the gift of eternal life that would soon be his, but my emotions were in a different place. And then I turned onto Dora Street. There in the middle of an economically marginalized neighborhood, the Life that was the Light of all mankind shone brightly for me. The darkness of the deep December midnight could not obscure it in any way, and I was assured that the Light would guide my husband home and would be with me forever afterward.

Sweet Jesus, you told us that you are the light of the world. You never leave us, and when we walk with you, there is no darkness. Thank you for shining into our lives. AMEN.


But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Micah 5:2 (NIV)

Several years ago, I participated in a pilgrimage to Israel where I saw the major sites of Christendom and rubbed shoulders with Jews, Muslims, Druze, and Kurds. In this complex smidgeon of real estate about the size of Rhode Island, one can drive from one side of the country to the other in less time than it takes to get from San Antonio to Austin. And yet, so much of our faith was birthed in this tiny land.

At Bethlehem I waited inside the crumbling Byzantine Church of the Nativity with throngs of pilgrims to see the spot where Jesus was welcomed into the world by his mother Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. There was a large group of Japanese faithful who waited with us for a glimpse of the holy site. Down the narrow stairway amid flickering candlelight, I spoke with Romanian Christians who had come thousands of miles to sing hymns and worship the One who had been born to take away the sins of the world. There were Orthodox believers who gathered in another corner to venerate a beautiful icon representing Mary and the Christ Child.

We were a potpourri of wayfarers at the same sacred spot at a unique moment in time.  We looked and dressed differently from one another and were a polyglot of persons, but we were united in our longing to ponder and be present at the place of his incarnation. And outside, a few of us lingered to visit with the radiant little Muslim schoolgirls who had come to greet visitors and to practice their English. “What is your name?” they asked and giggled at our responses.

What will it be like on the day when “a great multitude that no one [can] count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” gather together for worship?

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

Father, at Advent our hearts wait in anticipation for the day you will bring your children together and when we all will be one in you. Let your love flow out of us to embrace those who do not yet know you, and may we gently invite them to join us in your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Emmanuel. AMEN.


…they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

It’s that time of year—when we’re all thinking about the gift that will bring a smile to a co-worker’s face or warm the heart of a loved one.

I fondly remember when my children were small and excited to do their Christmas shopping. We went to the five-and-dime store so they could make their secret purchases with money saved from their tiny allowances. And every year, my son would sign his card to me with, “Love always.” All of those little gifts—nutcrackers and angels and wooden figures—became the basis for a rather large collection that fills the secretary desk in our central hallway every Christmas.

When my daughter went away to college and got a part-time job, she came home bringing me a Christmas gift in a jeweler’s box. I opened it to find a delicate gold ring with a miniscule diamond. The note said, “This was the biggest diamond I could afford to buy for you. Love…”

These gifts from another time are among my greatest treasures, not because of their material value but because they came from my children. To me, they represent precious hearts who gave sacrificially to express their love.

I wonder what my Father think about my gifts? Does he cherish them? Do they show him how much I love him and that I’m giving him my best? Or am I trying to squeeze worship in with everything else that occupies me at Christmas-time? Can I turn off the TV or put aside the paper or my current interest to spend time with him? Am I giving him my finest or does he get the leftovers of my time, my attention, my energy, or my love?
Father and giver of all good and wonderful gifts, I love you with my whole heart. But I need your help. There are so many distractions and chores that draw me aside. Please, stay at the forefront of my thoughts, my words, and my actions so that everything that flows from me reflects my love for you and yours for me. Help me to bless you more this year than ever before. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.


For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (KJV)

Almost ten years ago my son and daughter-in-law walked into my house and said they had something to tell me. This wasn’t a casual visit, I could tell. I sat down on one of the sofas, and they sat across from me. They had come to tell me that my daughter had just been diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Without pausing to think, words popped out of my mouth: “God isn’t surprised.”

And with that announcement our family launched the support mechanism that springs into place in crisis. Some began researching for best doctors and hospitals, others made provisions for her two little girls, and we all put together a prayer campaign that spread around the world.

I sat with family members for the twelve-hour surgery that was part of Tish’s treatment regimen. With us was a sweet rabbi who read to me a Psalm that was used every day at his synagogue to pray for Tish. Each of us passed the time in terse conversation and responding to calls and emails for updates. And then I received a beautiful message from a clergyman in Rwanda: “This cancer may have a name, but we know the GREATEST NAME.” He had joined us in invoking that powerful name above all names, foretold by Isaiah, asking for healing.

That was ten years ago. This week I will accompany my daughter to M. D. Anderson for her regular check up and to celebrate the prayers that were answered by the One whose birthday we celebrate during this season. The greatest name, Emmanuel, God with us.

Father, all praise and glory be to you for your wonderful gift of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May this season of celebration be centered on Emmanuel who came to meet all our deepest needs. In his name. AMEN.


Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Today in Bible study I speculated that the holidays present us with a final exam for this semester’s learning. The extra stresses and pressures of packed schedules, family demands, heightened sensitivities, unkind memories, or the consequences of procrastination, plus a variety of ongoing issues, can make it almost impossible to joyously navigate this season without God’s grace and presence. (Someone jokingly said that Christmas comes at such a busy time of the year.)

But, thankfully, our resources are limitless. We have everything we need for life and godliness (II Peter 1:3) and only have to access those resources. Need a little grace for that “prickly” person? Ask Jesus. Need patience to deal with misunderstandings? Ask Jesus. Need forgiveness for someone who hurt you? Ask Jesus. The list goes on and on. (Even though my office makes automatic deposits to my bank account, if I don’t write a check, I can’t access that money. I have to ASK.)

For example, my husband, my father, and my uncle all died in December. God sent along a sweet hospital nurse who gave us this perspective as my uncle was leaving, “Looks like he’ll be home for the birthday party.” I still smile when I think of that. What a beautiful image. I can access comfort and remember God’s promises for those who die in the Lord. Instead of grieving as if I had no hope, I hold fast to good memories (I Thessalonians 5:21) and thank God for the blessing of those precious men. I will honor them by living joyously and remembering their godly influence.

Let’s not be robbed of the deep significance of this season. All history was altered by the Advent of a tiny baby, and you and I can live out our lives in hope because of Jesus. He really is the reason for the season—not the multitude of things we sometimes allow to distract us from worshiping him. There’s joy for the world. The Lord has come.

Father, forgive us for our self-indulgences when we behave as if Christmas never happened. Make us joyous in remembering your wonderful Gift and help us to live out that blessed hope in gratitude for your unspeakable generosity. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.