To a new blogging home.

This blog is continuing over at WordPress.  You can find me now at www.epistleofjim.com.

Looking for an Epiphany

Gifts for the Infant King

I am looking for an Epiphany today.  That seems like a pretty good request, seeing that it's Epiphany and all.  Epiphany is celebrated today, January 6th and is the time we remember those wise guys, the magi, coming from afar and worshipping at the feet of Jesus...if not necessarily at the same time as the shepherds.  Epiphany means "manifestation of God" and the folks here at Girdwood Chapel are very used to me driving that point into the ground on Epiphany Sunday, which we celebrated last week here.

I have always found it interesting, indeed surprising, indeed scandalous how the Lord God Almighty chose to manifest himself.  Baby.  Manger.  Animal stall.  Poor shepherds.  Really the only ones with any means that make an appearance in that early story are those magi...and they show up a bit later.  Everyone else is dirt poor or at least on the low end of the social-economic ladder. 

Jesus comes into the mess...the muck...the brokenness of our world.  It's as Paul says in Philippians 4:6-8:

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

God comes to us in the stuff of life.  It has been said that, because of the incarnation there nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred.  God enters here.  He is manifested and revealed in the dark areas of our lives.  He is the light of the world who comes to us.

And so the prophet Isaiah proclaims:

"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." (Isaiah 60:3)

Good stuff.

And while I'm not one to go on and on about how my spiritual life is a mess (which, one could say it is) or how life is terrible (which it isn't) there are some areas I'm looking for an Epiphany, a little manifestation from the Lord...areas where I need God's light to shine.

I could use a little epiphanizing (?) or a little manifestation of God as I struggle with how to work with the church I serve to make some financial progress.  We just went to a 3/4 time pastoral role and we (both the church and I) would like to be back on our financial feet in a year.  There's a lot of work to do here.  I could use a little epiphany (or maybe a big one).

I could use a little manifestation of God as I tackle a Bible reading plan for the year.  While I've read t all of the Bible for various classes, both those I've attended and those I've taught, I'm hoping and praying for some new revelations as I make it through over 12 months.

I could use a little light in the darkness as I try to get a new blog up and running.  This blogging thing has actually been wonderful for my spiritual life and the things I've read and reflected on have had a profound influence on me.  I'd like to "step it up" a bit.

I don't look at my life, my family, my job, my health and feel like the world is crashing in around me.  I'm aware of God's presence.  I feel the love of family and friends.  I do enjoy what I do.  But, I'm praying for an Epiphany today.  I would like to have "The Star" guide me into the presence of Christ in a new way and then return by a new way myself.

And then I'll just have to figure out what gift I should lay at Christ's feet.  I'm plum out of Gold and Frankincense and Myrrh.   I'll probably need to pull the verse from "In the Bleak Midwinter" out of my memory...

What canI give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb:
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

And that would be enough.


Bring it on.

The Difference Between Successfulness and Fruitfulness

Dewberry flowers. Note the multiple pistils, e...
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There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another's wounds. Let's remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.
 Henri Nouwen
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My Person of the Year

Time Magazine's PERSON OF THE YEAR is "The Protester."  I guess I can understand why "The Protester" was chosen and not Steve Jobs...although I have more of an affinity towards Steve Jobs.  I assume that their "person of the year" is the person who has the most influence on the year, was most newsworthy, and will have the most lasting influence.  And, while Steve Jobs did some great stuff in 2011 and his passing was definitely newsworthy, one can argue that much of his work and influence covers the last decade, not so much the year.  The protesters, in contrast, were quite a phenomenon for 2011.  It is clear that their influence on "The Arab Spring" will be felt for years to come as the dust settles throughout the Middle East.  On the home front, it has been the Occupy Wall Street protestors, from coast to coast, trying to confront the social and economic inequity that affects our nation greatly. 

So, yes, "The Protester" makes sense.  Impact on the calendar year.  Lasting impact around the globe.  Newsworthiness.  How they will impact history.

That, and we'll put Steve Jobs in second place.

Well, what about my PERSON OF THE YEAR.  I decided I'd go with some of the same qualities that I think Time Magazine uses.  This person would be newsworthy to me...the focus of much of my time and attention.  This person would need to have made an impact on the year...there were changes or movements that this person was intimately connected with.  This person would be someone whose actions or choices would have a lasting impact on myself, my family, or my job.

This narrows things down dramatically and there are some runners up who didn't come out on top:

Gail Grossman (my mentor) -- Gail is a layperson I met with 10 times over the course of the first half of the year.  All of our meetings were by phone.  While her help was enlisted to address some of the financial difficulties at Girdwood Chapel, what she ended up doing with me is helping us figure out a long-term ministry plan and get the ball rolling.  It's because of her that our small group ministry is taking root.  She was also influential in the start of our "Friday Night Live" youth nights and our Tween Group.  I can't thank her enough.

Mark Scandrette (author/Christ-follower) -- I read his book this year...and it changed the way I think about discipleship.  It's not that any of what he said, as far as the individual pieces are concerned, was new to me.  However, the way he put it all together was exceptionally helpful.  I just want to jump in and put it all into practice and once and need to take a breath as I realize that it's a marathon and not a sprint.  I think this book is something I'm going to have to take out again and again and again.

Jon Stewart (TV Personality) -- OK, so Jon was probably not really in the running for PERSON OF THE YEAR for me.  But I want to take a moment and recognize that, The Daily Show is one show that I catch 3-4 times a week...and it's only on 4 times a week. This year, perhaps more than any other, I have gotten totally frustrated with the world of politics. I know many accuse Jon of firing his shots from the left, but I seriously believe he's frustrated any time politics is put ahead of people and he tries to shine a light on it.  He recognizes the lies that this world tells us through the media.  Some of it is painful to watch.  Much of it is uproariously funny.  But his show has made me want to live into the notion that all politics is local.  It's about people.  It's about the people I know and meet and eat with and love.  This year, more than any other, I've been shaped by this.

Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple) -- I am an Apple fan boy.  I type this on a MacBook Pro.  This year I got an iPad and and iPhone.  Much of my time is spent on a device that this guy thought up and brought to production.  He has had a lasting effect on how I communicate and the ways in which I use technology for my job...for pastoring people.  This year I mourned his death.

But with those three finalists out of the way, it's time to introduce my PERSON OF THE YEAR.

Drumroll, please.........


Here's how it is. 

This year we celebrated our 20th anniversary.  She's been instrumental in what I do and think and who I've come to be over those 20 years.  Moreover, this year was a big year for her.  Not only did she complete her hours of education for her teaching certificate but she performed her student teaching and jumped through hoop after hoop of administrative requirements.  This was a Fall fraught with turmoil and conflict as we navigated the rough waters of her job...much of it related to a killer schedule.   Together we struggled and made decisions about what was best for us as a family. 

Over the last four months in particular, Julie has been "newsworthy."  Her work and her education, the struggles and the great joys, were what we spent time talking about.  She got up early to get to work.  She worked after everyone else had gone to bed.  She was a focus of our family and the rest of us rallied to enable her to complete the job before her.

All the while she managed to mother our five kids and be a wife to me and be an active member of our church community and the Girdwood Community as a whole.  This was no small task.

And it will have a lasting effect on all of us.  She exhibited both strength and humility...a fine example for me and our kids.  Her choices in her job will have a positive effect on our economic situation...especially important as I move from full time to 3/4 time employment in the church.  Almost always, she was an example of grace under pressure...and Lord knows we had enough pressure.

I thank God for her.

So, with that in mind, I declare that JULIE DOEPKEN IS THE PERSON OF THE YEAR...at least "my" year.

(And she should be pleased as can be that she, too, beat out Steve Jobs.)

"The Incarnation of the Piper"

The Pied Piper Of Hamelin

I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. 

Sydney Carter

The Pastor's Wife

The Pastor’s Wife

by Judy Bowling

She’s a Godly woman, she has such grace
Always a warm greeting, a smile on her face
She’s always encouraging, she knows her place
She is – The Pastor’s Wife

She has to always look just right
Always on time, though the schedule’s tight
From early morning, till late at night
Always – The Pastor’s Wife

She’s such a Lady, everyone’s friend
She serves with love from deep within
All of the rifts she tries to mend
Oh she’s – The Pastor’s Wife

She carries your burdens, she prays for you
Sometimes she cries the whole night through
But you won’t know when she’s feeling blue
‘Cause she’s – The Pastor’s Wife

At church as she starts to walk up the aisle
So many needs to stop and talk for awhile
Though she is tired, she has her own trials
She’s patient, she’s – The Pastor’s Wife

Her life, her time is not her own
There’s always a need, they go on and on
With a knock on the door or a ringing phone
That’s the life of – The Pastor’s Wife

Her husband she shares with a whole congregation
She humbly accepts his intense dedication
In loneliness she kneels to seek consolation
God Bless – The Pastor’s Wife

She will someday reach the end of her race
As she meets her Master, face to face
Surely our God had a Special Place
In heaven for – The Pastor’s Wife

I post this in recognition of my lovely wife, who has been a "Pastor's Wife" for 18 out of our 20 years of marriage.

While the poem can be found here, I found it via Tony Jones' blog.