November 29, 2009

Advent I--Here am I, November 29

As an author, it sometimes helps me understand the men and women of the Bible when I write about them. Throughout these Advent meditations, I will be sharing my ‘version’ of Mary’s thoughts about her Journey to Bethlehem, in the form of an interview between Mary and Luke. Scholars think that he probably did interview Mary as the source for the woman’s view in his Gospel. There are many insights in the Gospel of Luke that could only have come from a first person recollection. One of them is the Annunciation scene. (Luke 1:26-38) Mary lived in Nazareth, in the northern part of Israel. Below is a photo of the town.

LUKE: Mary, can you tell me what happened when you first learned that you would be mother of Messiah?

MARY: The day started out like any other. I remember going to the well in the morning. I walked with my friends Rachel and Tamar. They wanted to ask me about my upcoming wedding. They were amazed, as was most of Nazareth, when Joseph bar Heli asked my father if we could be betrothed. I don’t think anyone in Nazareth thought he would ever get married. (giggles)

LUKE: Did you know Joseph well?

MARY: (shakes her head) Not very well. He was older, of course. Nearly every girl marries a man older than she is. We talked about the wedding, even though it wasn’t going to happen for almost a year. Rachel asked me if I would be embroidering a new headdress. Tamar was more interested in the food preparation. She was already a good baker like her mother.

LUKE: Then what happened?

MARY: We went back to our homes. I finished my chores. (pauses and stares off toward the hills near Nazareth) The paths in those hills are my friends. I walked there whenever I could be spared from cooking or weaving.

LUKE: You went for a walk in the hills?

MARY: In the silence and the whisper of the leaves God feels very close to me. I never really feel that I am alone. It may sound strange, but I feel like God holds my hand when I am walking there. That day…(sighs and smiles dreamily) It was spring and the leaves were just budding. Everything seemed to shimmer in the light of the setting sun. I did think that it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had seen. A few clouds on the horizon made the sky turn to rose. Have you ever seen the sunlight radiating up from behind clouds?

LUKE: Yes.

MARY: It was like that. Only the light from the clouds didn’t just go up into the sky it seemed to reach out and embrace me. I stood still and breathed in the beauty. Then, oh then, the light grew even brighter. I knew God was very near and I fell to my knees.

LUKE: How did you know God was there?

MARY: (with a smile) I just knew. I felt warm, like the sunset was hugging me. In my heart I heard a tender greeting. “Favored one! The Lord is with you!” I think I nodded because there was no doubt that God was right there.

LUKE: What did you think?

MARY: (shakes her head) There was nothing to think about. I was lost in the wonder of the nearness of God. Then I heard, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

LUKE: You heard a prophecy of Messiah.

MARY: It is what every girl in Israel dreams of, without ever thinking that it will happen to her. We all want to be the mother of Messiah who will usher in God’s new reign. Even though my house and Joseph’s are of the line of David, we had never talked about the prophecy being fulfilled by our children. Really, we hardly talked to each other after the betrothal ceremony. He was busy building a house for us.

LUKE: What did you think when you heard the promise?

MARY: I said the first words that came to my mind. They were a whisper of confusion, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Joseph and I were not to be married for months.

LUKE: Did you think the angel was foretelling what would happen after you were married?

MARY: No, I knew that God’s word was immediate and the next thing I heard confirmed it. (pauses) It was almost too much to believe. “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” I think I held up a hand in denial and fear, because a moment later I felt a comforting warmth and the declaration of something almost more astonishing. “Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has conceived a son. This is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

LUKE: Why did it matter that Elizabeth was having a son?

MARY: (smiles) It was proof from God that what I heard was true and real. The Holy One gave me something tangible to confirm the Promise. My mind was spinning and my heart was pounding.

LUKE: Did you doubt the angel?

MARY: Hearing of Elizabeth’s pregnancy made me realize that what I heard in my heart was true and from God. It was not something I imagined. I knew that I had to go visit Elizabeth. I knew she was pregnant just as I knew that the Message was true. I would bear Messiah.

LUKE: It must have been hard to grasp.

MARY: In a way it was strange, but I had no fear. I heard myself say, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be as you have said.” Later I thought about all the reasons that my response was rash, but even then I was not afraid. God’s love held me secure. It was dark when I returned home. Mother asked me what happened. “You are late,” she scolded me. I was surprised she didn’t see anything different about me. I knew I would never be the same and that my life was changed forever.

There are many artistic representations of this scene. From ancient icons to modern interpretations, we most often see Mary confronted by an angel, who usually looms over her. In some art the holds up a hand as if to say, “please stop.” However, Mary was simply a young girl, like any other in Nazareth and Israel.

Scholars postulate that Mary was likely just a young teen, probably 13 or 14 years old when she had this encounter. It takes a special person, of any age, to respond to such a vibrant call from God, esp. one that will change her life dramatically. Mary had a deep faith that would allow her to hear the angelic messenger and to respond with submission to God.

The Bible has many instances of others who encountered God and argued much more volubly against their call. Moses, for one, begs God to “send someone else.” Jonah tries to run away from God’s call. Elijah has to be reassured by the “still small voice” that he is not alone. Mary, on the other hand, expresses astonishment that she could conceive, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (vs. 34), but does not argue or present all the reasons that she cannot be mother to the One “called the Son of God.”

Mary of the Annunciation is a woman of strong faith, despite her age. She knows that the refrain of the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness is correct. “Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!" Without hesitation she believes when the angel says, “nothing will be impossible with God,” and responds, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (vs. 38)

What does her submission to the call of God have to teach us as we begin our Advent journey this year?
Is Mary’s strength and faith an inspiration for you?
Can we be as trusting as Mary, so that we can say, “Great is Thy faithfulness” no matter what we are called to do?

We can respond to any challenge or opportunity when we understand that God provides all we need, no matter what we are called to do or where we are in our journey. Let the refrain to the hymn be your prayer this week as you listen to what God is saying to your heart and mind.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Next week we will hear Mary tell how she informed Joseph of her news.

As promised, the book special this week (Nov. 29-Dec. 5) is get 20% off any of my books. You can only get this special by emailing me and noting Blog Special in the memo line. Check back next week for another special offer.  

November 22, 2009

Commitment to Christ

Today 5 young people will be confirmed into the church. Their action has me thinking about how we commit ourselves to our Lord and Savior.

Confirmation is a service whereby young people and adults accept their full responsibility as members of the Body of Christ. Many, if not most people in the Episcopal Church are baptized as infants or at least as young children. Baptism is initiation into the Body, when the child is “sealed as Christ’s own forever.” Confirmation is the sacrament that affirms that commitment as an adult member of the church.

I know that many denominations do not have a sacrament of confirmation, many wait until the person makes their own decision for Christ as a young adult or later. Baptism, then, is the one rite that both affirms their choice to serve Christ as Lord and Savior and testifies that they are an adult part of the community of faith.

However and whenever it happens, the act of taking the step of commitment to God is an important milestone in our Christian journey. What does it mean to say “yes” to Christ? In the confirmation service, both those being confirmed and the congregation reaffirm their baptismal promised that include: “Continuing in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; repenting for sins; proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; serving Christ in all persons including working for justice and peace.”

Each of those promises is part of our total ministry and can only be lived out with God’s help. How each young person today lives out their ministry as adult members of the church remains to be seen. They can be assured, and so can we, that as the hymn says,

“New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.”

I know my response to that love can be affected by outside influences. I can easily forget that each morning I am “Restored to life and power and thought,” in order to re-commit my life each morning to God. Fortunately my forgetfulness and distraction doesn’t change God’s love for me or for you.

I have modified the confirmation prayer to make it a little more personal and offer it to you as an aid and a reminder of the One we serve and Who we have committed our life to.

Almighty God, I thank you that by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ you have overcome sin and brought me to yourself, and that by the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound me to your service. Renew in me the covenant you made with me at my Baptism. Send me forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before me; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I invite you to join the Advent meditations here in an exploration of Mary’s story and the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness.

You can also be part of the Yahoo group study “Dancing in the Footsteps of God (with Miriam)” starting the beginning of December. (Go to: to join--you do need a Yahoo account.)

November 15, 2009


Ministry has been the topic recently. The word ‘ministry’ itself is from the Latin ministerium meaning servant. I think too often we forget that ministry is all about service. Recently I attended a breakfast honoring ‘servant leaders’ in the community. Many of the men and women have dedicated their lives to making a difference simply by the way they live their lives.

According to the organization Servant Leadership: “may grow out of a calling to help those in need, to live out one's faith in day-to-day work, or to mentor and influence others to a life of leadership focused on outcomes that are above and beyond one's own self-interest.” Doesn’t that sound like the Golden Rule that we looked at earlier this fall? — “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Taking these two thoughts together, I think we can say that Christian Ministry is being a servant to one another out of love that comes first from God and then flows through us as we live in obedience to God’s call on our life and hearts. It is living what Christ modeled to his disciples at the Last Supper. “After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (Jn. 13:12-17)

Many people think of Advent as the ‘church’s new year.’ It’s when we start the cycle of church seasons again by focusing on Jesus birth and on the Second Coming. As we move toward Advent, how can we more fully live into the ministry we are called to? I hope you have found insight in these mediations that will encourage you to “let go and let God” be in control of your life.

Next Sunday we will be almost to Thanksgiving. I've taken on a Facebook challenge to post one thing I am grateful or thankful for from now until Thanksgiving. It's always good to find something to be thankful for because no matter how dark the day, there will be some glimmer of grace to be found.

After Thanksgiving we enter Advent on December 29. I invite you to join the Advent meditations here in an exploration of Mary’s story and the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness. You can also be part of the Yahoo group study “Dancing in the Footsteps of God (with Miriam)” starting the beginning of December. (Go to: to join--you do need a Yahoo account.)

November 8, 2009

Me? Do what? Now?

Are you feeling that God is urging you to do something new? Are there opportunities for new ministry opening up? Do you feel like Moses, asking “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” (Ex. 4:11) or like Jonah who “rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3)?
This week I came across a series of questions (thanks to Called Magazine) that help focus us on whether it is me or God doing the calling. Their questions made me stop and ponder and I would invite you to do the same.

Do I feel a gentle, but persistent, tugging at my heart? A burning desire? Does it refuse to go away, even when I ignore it?

God loves us so much that He urges us toward our best efforts and the perfect ministry, even when we try to do something else or ignore the “still small voice” that says “this is the way, walk in it.” (Is. 30:21) The Bible has many stories of people who tried to ignore God. Jonah is the most famous, but there are others. Amos believed his life work was to be a “herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees,” (Amos 7:14) until God called him to be a prophet. Paul was an avid Pharisee, until God turned his life around and made him the so called “apostle to the Gentiles.”

The most comforting thing for me to remember is that when God calls, he also gives the gifts and talents and strengths needed. (Not that I don’t hesitate and say, like Moses, ‘who me?’ or ‘send someone else’.)

When other people say I should go into ministry, does it feel right? Does hearing it satisfy my soul or my ego?

This is a very important question. It can be very easy to allow our ego to get in the way of the real, humble, self-effacing ministry God is calling us to. Paul had to abandon all the things that made him important in society to become God’s evangelist. “In Philippians 3:4-7, he brags, “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” In the next sentence though, he say, that this is all worth nothing compared to “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

When you are hearing God’s call, through prayer and patient waiting, it won’t matter if any fame or fortune comes with it. All that matters in true ministry is that we “love God and love our neighbor.”

Do I associate status and power with ministry? Is this my desire, fueled by ambition? Am I wanting to serve or to be served?

The third question ties to the last one because it makes you really look at the motivation for ministry. We have all seen and read about men and women who started out with the best intentions and let the fame and status and power go to their heads until their ministry was compromised.

It isn’t a new problem. In the Bible, we find David, “a man after God’s own heart” who slipped when he started thinking he was in charge instead of God. He let his desire for what he wanted get in the way of being a true servant to his people and God. When he saw Bathsheba, he took her and had her husband killed. (See 2 Samuel 11)

When we do find our ministry becoming a power trip, we can repent and turn back to God, like David did. Then we can reevaluate our ministry and the direction so that once again we are servants of the Living God. Jesus tells his disciples, “You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servantsare not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” (John 13:13-16). Our ministry needs to be humble enough to wash each other’s feet.

Am I listening for the calling with an open heart? Or does “selective hearing” keep me from seeing either my gifts or my own limitations?

An open heart is a key asset for anyone who will be a leader in ministry. This is a heart that listens to God and waits for God’s guidance. An open heart looks for open windows when the door appears to be closed. A heart open to God sees opportunity where some see a dead end. Respond to God with an open heart. As Psalm 37 says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act…Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him.”

False humility, or alternatively hubris, can keep us from knowing if a ministry is right for us. “Oh I couldn’t do that” is a cop out. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) is a true statement. We have to remember the important part of that citation is not ‘I can do all’ but that anything we do is ‘through Christ who strengthens’!

What strengths will help me in my calling? What weaknesses will need special attention?

The final question to consider when looking at a ministry is an honest look at your personal strengths and weaknesses. None of us are perfect but each of us has gifts that can be used to “build up the body.” Paul’s analogy is one that we all need to keep in mind as we discern ministry. “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body…that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (I Cor. 22-27)

It may see nice to be the eye or the ear, but it is the “members of the body that seem to be weaker [who] are indispensable.” Even if your ministry is being the tiniest cell inside the entire organism that is the “Body of Christ”, you are important and necessary.

Jesus promises, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples…lo, I am with you always.” (Mt. 28:19) We each do this in our own way and all our ministries work together for the glory of God. In I Cor. 12:8, we are reminded that God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” It doesn’t matter if we think we are weak or unprepared, if God is in your ministry, if will not fail.

See you next week for more fall thoughts on ministry.

November 1, 2009

In Control

Through October we’ve looked at ministry. We considered how to start to identify our ministry, and ways to live out our ministry, and what it means to be involved in ministry. Undergirding all this is God. It is the Living God who invites us to participate in sharing His love, His story, His grace with others. It is our Father God who gives us the gifts and talents we need to accomplish our service.

Jesus reminds us that we are like the servants of a household. In Matthew 25:14-29, we read the Parable of the Talents. The householder gives three servants talents/money (a talent is worth about 15 years wages) to use wisely until he returns. When he does return the householder finds that two of the servants have used their talents and earned more. One however says, “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” (Matt. 25:25)

Like the householder, God expects us to use the gifts—our natural talents—to the Glory of God. Our lives are to be lived so that everyone we meet knows that we are stewards or ambassadors of God. An ambassador or a steward is someone who acts on behalf of someone else. As God’s ambassadors we act as God’s representatives—an awesome responsibility.

Lest we begin to think that we are important because we are God’s ambassadors, we are to remember that God is in control. It is God who gives us responsibility (ministry) and it is God who gives us the gifts, strengths, talents to accomplish our ministry. We are like this child, in God's eyes. The planting of a seedling by this child is what our greatest ministry is in comparison to God's glory and power. Yet, planting of the seedling of Love that we are called to do.

The Epistle to the Philippians is filled with exhortation to minister on behalf of our Lord. Paul reminds us that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6) We are all given many opportunities to do ministry. And each is an opportunity to glorify God--like Christ, to step aside and "take the form of a servant" (Phil. 2:8)

When we feel that we cannot go on, encouragement can be found in Phil. 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Like the first disciples, Jesus calls us to follow. Below is a poem I wrote several years ago. Maybe you will find yourself in the words.

Follow Me

(c) Cynthia Davis

“Follow me,” the man said.
Do I want to be led?
Who does he think he is
To ask for change in lives?
But still, there he stands
Holding out his hands.

“Follow me, for lives you’ll fish.”
Is this the pathway I wish?
I do want to do God’s will
But to stay as I am still.
To follow will mean a turn
And at his hand new ways learn.

“Follow me,” I wonder why
He asks me to give a try
At new ways of faith and trust.
Leave behind the old, I must.
The way is hard, I can tell
Yet his hand & eye compel.

“Follow me,” where will we go?
There is so much I want to know.
But it’s one step at a time
Not knowing what hill we’ll climb.
And he will lead the way
Yes, is all I have to say.

“Follow me,” this, of life the word
Of calling by the Lord I heard.
And the life of this Love is ever new
I will live and follow what is true.
In trust, not fear I will freely stand
Choosing to be guided at His hand.

See you next week. If you are interested in participating in the upcoming Dancing in the Footprints of God study check out more info on my website
(Those in Albuquerque are invited to the ReadWest Book & Craft fair on Nov.7 at the Rio Rancho Inn--lots of books and crafts by NM Authors and crafts-persons--do your Christmas shopping early!)