Active Recovery

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. (Matthew 14:23)

We have awakened to the week after the week after Easter.  After our Resurrection celebration, we church folk settle down to post-Easter life.  The Sabbath “buzz”of the congregation may diminish, the pews may be a tad or quite a bit less crowded.

Perhaps we experience a bit of a spiritual lull, our rapt attention to empty tombs and angels and the risen Jesus downshifting somewhat as we turn back to our activities of daily living.  After Easter, our spiritual awareness may subside.

Exercise trainers and fitness programs have instilled in me the concept of “active recovery,” movement and exercise of lesser intensity until I “ramp up” to a faster or higher level of effort.  In my daily exercise, I may tread slowly to recover before a short, intense burst of sprinting.

The truth is, even at my fittest, I need recovery, and active recovery keeps me engaged physically, even if the activity is slower, less demanding for a time.

For disciples of Jesus, the Holy Days and high points of our faith can be followed by a letdown.  After such times, a time and place of active recovery serves us well as we read and reflect on scripture, meditate, and pray.

As attested in the Gospels, Jesus was very intentional about his “active recovery” after more demanding moments.  After such moments, he withdrew to pray.

I often cite a provocative statement I overheard years ago:  “More is accomplished through prayer and rest than through personality and push.”

Prayer as an intentional attending to God, to open our hearts and minds to receive God’s presence and promise anew, may strike some as passive.  But prayer can bring needed and active recovery as the Spirit awakens us to a new season.

After showing the disciples his hands and side, the risen Lord stated “I am sending you,” and after this, he breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  In prayer we actively recover and gratefully receive as the Lord’s Spirit helps catch our breath.

Until the word comes… “Ramp up, get ready, prepare yourself, for I am sending you in my name.”

Picking Up Candy Crosses

Picking up a few items in a local big box store a few weeks ago, I heard a loud crash and groan one aisle over, on the store’s extensive candy aisle.

Store workers had cleared several shelves for Easter candy — marshmallow chicks, chocolate bunnies, cream-filled chocolate eggs — seasonal sweet stuff.  But one large box had toppled, spilling brightly colored seasonal boxes all over.

I came over to help the flustered employee pick up the scattered boxes and discovered we were picking up large chocolate crosses.  Another shopper nearby commented to me, “I’m not sure that’s what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Take up your cross!'”

I have since discovered there are a variety of candy crosses, even crucifix lollipops, but I had never seen or registered seeing a candy cross before.

No offense to chocolate lovers (I’m one of you) or to the confection industry (I’m a loyal customer), but chocolate strikes me as a peculiar way to commemorate Christ’s sacrificial death.

But then, the cross itself is a peculiar symbol for making a faith statement and on which to stake our lives.

The Roman Empire executed criminals and troublemakers by crucifixion to make a brutal statement:  Our empire holds the power of life and death over you.  We will inflict pain and take your life if your disrupt or displease us.

There was no more shameful, humiliating and inhumane death than being staked to the cross to slowly suffocate.

No wonder we prefer our crosses sanitized, sugar coated, fashioned into jewelry or some other accessory.  Often, our tendency is to take worldly threats, hard truths and harsh realities and sanitize or sugarcoat them.  We pretend that suffering and sorrow can be easily consumed and discarded, although leached of meaning.

For disciples of Jesus, the cross of our crucified, risen, and reigning Lord is the sign of God’s undying love.  The cross Jesus bears is worsened immeasurably by the entirety of human sin and inhumane disobedience heaped on him, yet we cannot kill the truth of God’s immeasurable love for us.  Scripturally, the Suffering Servant IS the Savior of all.

So when Jesus issues the call of discipleship (Matthew 16:24):  “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me,” he does not speak of candy crosses or fashion accessories but the path of self-denial, suffering, and sacrifice.  What a peculiar symbol for making a faith statement and on which to stake our lives.

What kind of cross do you pick up and carry into the day?





Our Halloween Anniversary

How’s this for a most fitting 2017 Halloween mask?

500 years ago today… All Saints Eve, 1517… for some entrenched and important people, this would become the face of a true bad boy, the “mad monk” of Wittenburg, an unholy outlaw.

On this very day, 5 centuries ago, this guilt-ridden, German monk Martin Luther publicly took issue with questionable and corrupt practices by Roman Catholic Church leadership of his day. He challenged these leaders, his Church superiors, to debate 95 theses he felt outlined needed reforms in the Church.

Thanks to the recent innovation of the printing press, Luther’s 95 statements of necessary Church change spread quickly and widely.  This one man’s ideas shook the world and helped a movement spring forth that still shapes our world — the Reformation.

Among his more outrageous theses:  “a simple layman armed with Scriptures” carried more godly power than popes or Church high councils. 

Luther’s outlaw status was solidified with many Church and political leaders by his foundational belief that Scripture teaches that all people are justified (set right) with God ONLY on the basis of Christ’s self-giving, God’s gift of undeserved grace.

Not our traditions, not our merits, not our good works, not our rituals, but Christ Jesus alone saves the world. Scary stuff to some, a refreshing wind to others.

Only by trusting God’s grace in Jesus are we freed from sin’s hold and only through this unmerited mercy do we find true peace.  Luther insisted on this assertion even when excommunicated and threatened with death.

500 years ago, on All Hallows Eve, Martin Luther began inciting the world to debate and choose whether this idea of “justification by grace received through faith” was blasphemy or blessing, trick or treat.

Martin Luther’s legacy highlights a Scriptural truth for Halloween and always:

So maybe Martin Luther – earnest monk, tough guy, bad boy, hero of the faith  – is a most fitting costume for Christian disciples on this, our 500th Halloween anniversary.


Faithful Foolishness

I know that someone near to me is planning to “get” me. No question about it.

This is not paranoia — at least I don’t think so.  However, April 1 is days away, and there are those among my family, my co-workers, my circle of friends and acquaintances, even public figures or media presences who are hoping to fool me on April Fools Day.

A day just made for those folks who love to trick others into believing something unlikely or extremely outlandish — I won the lottery! (not).  Oh the joy they derive from yelling “April Fools!”  The satisfaction of making someone look foolish for the moment and in good fun.

“I can’t believe you fell for it!” the fool-ers shout as the fooled sheepishly nod and acknowledge.

No one likes to look foolish, whether the victim of a prank on April 1 or making a thoughtless – and very public – mistake any day. No one wants to be labeled a fool.

For disciples of Jesus, however, looking foolish can be likely, even an expectation.

For those who do not or will not see beyond themselves and their own powers and wills, the gospel of Jesus Christ, God embodied in human flesh, divine savior suffering the shame of the cross, risen and reigning Lord, is indeed foolishness.

When we profess, “He is risen!”, some scoff “I can’t believe you fell for it!”

For those who trust in Jesus and rely on his Way to guide and guard us, thankfully, there is new life.

From sacrificial love in Jesus Christ and in each of us, God creates new and true life, no matter how foolish our faith may appear to others.






Praying to Be Led


This morning, I stand at our church’s back door, which, in the way of church building extensions and add-ons, often functions as our church’s main entrance.  More than once, I’ve directed unsure visitors looking for our church office to this less obvious entrance.

From this out of the way main doorway, I watch the ministry of leading across our church’s campus this morning.

Toddlers are led by their preschool teachers to the playground.  Each child is holding a loop on their walking rope, the teacher slowly leading, her helper following and helping escort the children to their play.

At the same time, older adults, led by their children or spouses, slowly and carefully make their way to our church’s Family Life Center, where the morning respite program for those with early-stage dementia and their caregivers is underway.

Slow and steady, disciples young and old make their way.

There are times and places when and where I break down and ask someone for directions.  What a relief it can be when that person says, “It will be better if I just show you the way myself,” as I follow their lead.

I have friends with limited vision or faltering steps who take hold of my hand, as I and most of us may need to grasp a guiding hand at some point along the way.

Come the times and places, the promises to claim and the predicaments to overcome, when we all need reliable leaders and their leading.  And there are times when we must take an anxious or unsure hand and show the way, patiently and with no undue haste.

God may call on us to take the lead, and the goal of this ministry is not to “lead people on” but to help others onto the path of righteousness, a life lived well with God and one another.

This ministry of leading is central, crucial, to our walk in the Way.  Thus, disciples of Jesus Christ find themselves praying humbly and daily and earnestly:  Help us find our way. Help me/us/him/her/them find the Way, your Way, O God.

We all need leading, even our leaders.

O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me… Psalm 43:3





The Good Life


There is a ritual we observe in our household at the end of many days.

One of us asks the other:  Did you have a good day?  What follows from one of our family members can be a brief or lengthy recount of what made the day good.

What makes a day “good” for you?

  • I did well on a test at school
  • My blood test came back “good”
  • I got a raise
  • I did not lose my job
  • There was food on the table
  • My child was not picked on today
  • I stayed in my pajamas and binge-watched “Grey’s Anatomy”
  • She/he said “yes”!

How about this — Are you living a good life?  This question asks us to look beyond a few events in the waking portion of a 24 hour period. This is a much broader, deeper question we ask ourselves and others.  And some of our answers can be kind of shallow.  Is yours a good life?

This important question has been raised as long as there have been people.  Ancient and modern philosophers keep coming back to it:  What makes for a good life?

Seneca, a contemporary of the Christian apostle Paul, resonated somewhat with Christian ethics.  He even was claimed as “our Seneca” by many early Church leaders.  Here is what Seneca said about life:

Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if life is all well invested.  But when it is wasted in heedless luxury, and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.  So it is:  We are not given a limited life, but we limit it, and we are not ill-supplied, but wasteful of it… Life is full if you know how to live it.

Good stuff — life is good when you know how to live it, when you are “well invested.”

By some accounts, Seneca’s contemporary, Paul, baptized Seneca.  In the sixth chapter of his letter to the Romans (did Seneca perhaps read this?), Paul says of baptism with Christ Jesus… just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Paul rejoices in baptism and what it signifies.  The good life — glorifying and enjoying God forever — has begun in Jesus Christ.  Baptism means that we are new creations, empowered by God’s Spirit to live new lives.  The good life is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

In the holidays ahead, we will be flooded with images of “the good life,” many of them urging conspicuous and beyond-copious consumption.

Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate seconds on turkey and dressing as much as the next person.  However…

Jesus Christ gives himself fully for the world.  Our risen Lord makes possible the indwelling Spirit that fills us and overflows from us, blessing others.  The best life possible is made possible not by what we ingest or acquire but by the outpouring of our lives in love.

Simply put, following Jesus gives our lives purpose.  His purpose makes life good.


“Giving” Our Children

Our church, like many, hosts Trunk-n-Treat as All Hallows Eve (Halloween) draws near.  We share a meal and then hand out treats to church and neighborhood children.  In fun, my wife and I gave children a choice this year — candy or carrot sticks?


(Yes, the halo and horns are store bought.)

What IS the best we can hand on to our children?  What do we want to give our children, grandchildren, the upcoming generation?

Soon comes Christmas and for more privileged families the question of what to give focuses on presents and shiny packages.  As Christmas approaches, many of us also will give thought to deprived children and their families.  We look for ways to “assure Christmas” for a child in need.  These efforts involve secret Santas and gift stockings and angel trees and extra offerings.

Do our children connect these gifts with God’s gift?

In every season, people of good will, acting on their faith and values look for ways to give the best to all the children entrusted to us.

As he teaches us about trusting God always, to pray constantly, Jesus asks, Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? (Luke 11:11-12)

Our faith community partners with orphanages in Haiti and the Urkraine, sending education and health supplies, builders, medical caregivers, recreation leaders, children’s Bible story books, our love and prayers.

We want to give our children near and far an abundance of joy and hope.  We pray that they can have what they need to live well.

To that end, the family of Christian disciples set sacred times when we dedicate, consecrate, present, baptize, confirm, teach and establish programs to “raise and nurture children in the admonition of the Lord Jesus.”


(Our Christian font of “new birth”)

It is no small thing to “give” our children to God.  To entrust our lives and those of our children to the Way of Jesus Christ is to declare what we believe is best.

How may our children receive and relish the God-enriched life?  How will all children trust that God calls them blessed and beloved?  How can all children become themselves holy vessels for God’s treasure?

With God’s help and commitment to a community of trusting faith, we can help them to trust the One who entrusted them to us:

If you then, who are not righteous, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask? (Luke 11:13)











Guarding the Good Treasure Entrusted to Us

Do you automatically break out in car Karaoke the minute you get behind the wheel?  Do you sing in the shower to start or end your day?


What moves you to sing?  What so captures your heart and mind that you burst out in song?

Judging from country music, we are moved to song by trucks, heartbreak, beer, boots, men, women, children, and, of course, dogs.  There are just not any country songs about cats, however.  Bluegrass music, a personal favorite, adds trains and mountains to the mix of inspiration.

What is worth singing about?  Popular music today fixates on love or the lack thereof, dreams, and ideals, but also lust, money, partying, drinking, one’s looks, another’s body parts, men, women, and cars.

An anthem can stir pride in national values or spark protests of injustice.

Why do disciples of Jesus sing?  What moves us to burst out in song?

How about the a gift “far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20)? How about treasure lavished on us extravagantly and graciously?  Now such treasure is worth singing, even if we are not in the shower.

In his second letter to young church servant Timothy, an apostle and mentor opens with a reminder and recitation of God’s gifts, the “good treasure entrusted” to Tim and his church family.  What God gives us through sheer grace and abundant love is worthy of songs, melodies, harmonies, praise, crooning, croaking, and all the joyful noise we can offer:

Testimony… the power of God… a holy calling… God’s own purpose and grace… grace given in Christ Jesus… the appearing of our Savior… life and immortality brought to light… sound teaching… guard the good treasure entrusted to us… (from II Timothy 1:8-14).

So how about this for a counter-intuitive Christian belief?    Our joyful noise and heartfelt praise protects, preserves, and implants true treasure in us and others “with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”

This past Sunday, October 9, as our local church family sang God’s praises, Haitian communities coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew sang and sang with thanksgiving, too.  Christian brothers and sisters in the poorest nation in our hemisphere, devastated by storm, are guarding the good treasure entrusted to us.



So, are you standing guard and raising your voice?


The Dining Hall Mural

Our newly built high school building opened into a commons area that served as cafeteria.  Shortly after the first day of that school’s very first year, art teachers and students proposed a grand plan — filling one entire wall of the large common space with a mural fitting for our new school.

Scaffolding in place, painting began and proceeded slowly — very slowly — until the grand plan for our school’s lunch room mural was abandoned for a much simpler artistic vision.

One very old dining hall features along one wall the most famous mural ever painted.  Stretching about 30 feet long and nearly 15 feet high, a portion of this painting was removed long ago to create a door to the kitchen.

This mural, painted 520 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci, graces a monastery dining hall in Milan, Italy.  This mural is an acclaimed masterpiece, revolutionary in technique, loaded with Trinitarian and Scriptural symbolism, and brilliant in artistic balance, visible and moving even in its faded and frequently restored state.

This mural is a masterpiece, depicting Jesus at table with his disciples just as he reveals that one of them will betray him.


A masterpiece.  A shame that this mural’s familiar title is SO unfitting — “The Last Supper.”  Perhaps we can see why some might consider “The Last Supper” a fitting title.  After all, the crucifixion and death of Jesus occur merely hours after the scene Leonardo depicted.  This is a last significant moment before our world is changed forever by Jesus.

However, a few days after this meal, the risen Jesus breaks bread and stuns disciples along the road to Emmaus.  Shortly afterward, Jesus serves and shares breakfast with Peter and others on the beach.  His communion with his disciples goes on and on.

Actually, the meal Leonardo portrayed is when Jesus institutes a new communion with him, a meal the living Lord Jesus has hosted and shared with his disciples from that time until now.

You will not find any reference to a “last supper” in the New Testament. Jesus’ communion meal is not the last anything.  What Jesus serves and shares with us is the LASTING Supper.

Jesus provides the divine meal deal Isaiah prophesied long ago in a time of spiritual drought and famine:

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and expend your efforts for that which does not fill or fulfill?  Instead of empty calories, eat what is truly nutritious… so that you may abide with me in everlasting covenant.  (paraphrase of Isaiah 55:1-9).

This is THE Psalm refrain:  The steadfast, sure love [hesed] of God is from everlasting to everlasting.

When we partake and draw in our living Lord’s gifts, we are united with him and one another in new and renewing ways.  In John 15:16, Jesus promises that when we abide in him, we will bear fruit that lasts. Jesus urges us to draw from his loving Spirit so that we will no longer hunger or thirst.

Julian of Norwich wrote:  “I witness no kind of vindictiveness in  God, not for a short time, nor for long. For, as I see it, if God were vengeful, even for a brief moment, we would never have life, place, or being. In God are endless friendship, space, life, and being.” [emphasis added]

With all appreciation for Leonardo’s artistic genius, for disciples of Jesus Christ, there is no last Supper but the endless giving of God for the people of God.  In Jesus Christ, God pours out everlasting love and thereby sustains for the long haul, strengthens us in hard time, and shows us the way to life everlasting.

Not last, but LASTING, thank God.








When Storms Close In (Charmaine Smith Miles guest blog)

(Written prior to yesterday’s shooting at Townville Elementary School in our county.)

News of riots ripping through city streets, of gunshots claiming yet another child of God, and another round of seemingly empty promises from politicians.  It all seems overwhelming. We — God’s people — are waiting.  We ask:  Why and what next?

We pray, Lord, have mercy.  Maybe some of us have given up on prayer.

Is God still at work?  Is God there? Is God even listening?

Yes. God is.

This is the promise that comes to us in the Word, in God made flesh.  God is at work, has been and always will be.  Even when our noise, our violence, our brokenness threatens to drown out the work of the Almighty.  God is there. In Psalm 23, we are not assured of a peaceful, easy life.  We are assured that even though we walk through the “darkest valley,” God is with us.  Over and over and over again, God tells us through the Word that God will not be without us.  The whole of Scripture testifies to this one truth.

Lutheran pastor and Nazi resistor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this in the wake of what he knew to be true about Adolf Hitler’s regime:  “I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil.  For that purpose, God needs men and women who make the best use of everything.  I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us resist in all times of distress.  But God never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone.” [emphasis added]

God is indeed at work — in the world and in us.

The question is, can we see it?  Are we looking?  Are we listening?  Or are we letting the noise and the fear that comes with it overtake us.