The 2017 Advent Season  is Upon Us!

Begins Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent begins Sunday, December 3rd and this Advent season is shorter than usual with the 4th Sunday in Advent being on Christmas Eve.

Perhaps you would like to follow along on a daily online Advent devotional during this holy season and this listing might be helpful to you.

All of these are free, so take look at them all and see which fits you best.

The first two devotionals listed  are mine that I have written. The first one, Celts to the Creche is based upon some of the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints that I passionately study and write about. The second one is a Pilgrimage to Bethlehem with a variety of Biblical and “not so” biblical characters.

There are even several free Advent devotional apps available for the iPhone and one for  Android.

It is my hope you will find one or two of these Advent devotionals that will be meaningful to you this season.

May the light and love of the One born in Bethlehem fill your life this season and always.




Celts to the Creche. Devotional based upon the Celtic Christian saints. (My Advent devotional)


Pilgrimage to Bethlehem. Devotional based upon pilgrimaging with a wide variety of Biblical characters and not so biblical ones! The first day begins with George of the Jungle and the Star of Bethlehem (another of my Advent Devotionals)


Following the Star. From Passport, an ecumenical camping group.


Advent Retreat 2017: Messengers of Joy. From Sacred Space. (from the Irish Jesuits-I have read their devotions for years and they are very ecumenical.)


What is Advent? An easy to understand explanation of Advent and Epiphany.


Advent Worship for Families. From the United Methodist Church.


 Advent Devotionals by email. From the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Southwest.


The Advent Project.  From the Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts.


AdventWord.  A word to consider for each day of Advent. From the Anglican Community.


Advent Calendar for Adults. Beautiful Artwork along with a Devotional.


Children’s Advent Calendar. Each day there are fun and Christian helpful things for them to do.


Blessing an Advent Wreath. A Family Activity.


Advent Online.  from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Written and audio




AXt3’s Advent Calendar for 2017. An app available on the Apple store. From Catholic Communications.


Advent Retreat 2017: Messengers of Joy. From Sacred Space. (from the Irish Jesuits-I have read their devotions for years and they are very ecumenical.) Available from the Apple store for IOS and on Google Play for Android.


Devotions: Advent and Lent. Apple store.  From  Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.


D365 Daily Devotionals: Following the Star. Apple store.






NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine -- Sister Frances Carr, one of the last remaining members of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker religious community, died Monday at the age of 89. Carr had lived in the New Gloucester community since she was 10 years old. Photo courtesy of Brother Arnold Hadd.

NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine — Sister Frances Carr, one of the last remaining members of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker religious community, died Monday at the age of 89. Carr had lived in the New Gloucester community since she was 10 years old. Photo courtesy of Brother Arnold Hadd.

It is with sadness that I read that Sister Frances, one of the last three Shakers in the world died on January 2, 2107. Our hearts go out to her extended family, Brother Arnold, and Sister June.

Obituary from the Maineshakers.com website:

“Sister Frances Carr

March 13, 1927 – January 2, 2017

Dear All:

It is our sad duty to relate that our dear Sister Frances passed away at 1:35pm today after a brief battle with cancer. The end came swiftly and with dignity surrounded by the community and her nieces. We ask your prayers for her soul.

Visiting hours will be held at Shaker Village in the brick Dwelling House on Friday, January 6th from 2pm-4pm and 6pm-8pm. Funeral services will be held in the Dwelling House Chapel on Saturday, January 7th at 1pm.

En lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice in Lewiston, Maine.

In Peace,
The Sabbathday Lake Shakers”

Sister Frances from the Maineshakers.com website. photo by Steve O'Connor

Sister Frances from the Maineshakers.com website. photo by Steve O’Connor

I have been interested in the Shakers for many years and have read much about them. They hold a fondness in my heart.

About three years ago my husband and I had the joy to worship with the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. We met for worship in the multi-use space upstairs in The Dwelling House. Everyone in attendance sat on long wooden Shaker benches that faced each other with men on one side of the room and women on the other side. Sister Frances and Brother Arnold led non-instrumental singing of two or three Shaker hymns, they each read a scripture, and we had silent prayer.

Afterwards, the guests were invited to the kitchen and dining area downstairs where we had pastries, coffee, and fellowship. I asked Sister Frances if I could have my photo with her and she gently but firmly replied, “no, not on the Sabbath.” This visit was incredibly special!

Sister Frances and Brother Arnold. photo Sept. 13, 1995.

Sister Frances and Brother Arnold. photo Sept. 13, 1995.

Maineshakers.com. Official website of the Sabbathday Lake Shakers.

1 of the last remaining Shakers dies, 89, leaving just 2. (David Sharp, Associate Press).The Washington Times. January 3, 2017.

One of the Last Shakers Dies. (Richard Gonzales. America). NPR. January 3, 2017.

World’s Oldest Shaker Dies in Maine; only two remain. Bangor Daily News. January 3, 2017.

My son, James Warren won a gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in Denver last week. I am so proud of him! Following is an article about his win from the Dark Side Brew Crew blog. He is the second photo down on the post.


Among the six different New Mexico breweries who won medals at the Great American Beer Festival last weekend, Blue Corn and Chama River sit slightly apart from the rest. Both breweries brought in new head brewers this year, meaning for Blue Corn’s James Warren and Chama’s Zach Guilmette it was the first time either had taken the stage in Denver to receive a medal as the man in charge. Needless to say, “stoked” is probably an understatement for how they both felt when their medals were announced.

Chama River brewer Zach Guilmette poses with his GABF gold medal and Class VI Golden Lager. (Photo courtesy of Chama River) Chama River brewer Zach Guilmette poses with his GABF gold medal and Class VI Golden Lager. (Photo courtesy of Chama River)

“All I do remember is after we won, I didn’t hear anything about the next seven categories,” Zach said after hearing Class VI Golden Lager won gold in the Bohemian Style Pilsner category. “As they kept announcing winners I was in shock…

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I Was Wrong. OK…I have to admit it, I have misjudged the gigantic conglomerate of a church, Lakewood in Houston. As the former senior pastor of a  medium-sized mainline congregation, I would consciously try to hide the “roll my eyes in dismay” when someone would mention that they really liked a message they heard from Joel Osteen via the tv screen or that they went to his church and loved it. Really???!!!!

We Protestant and mainline church clergy types are a bit perplexed by this tidal wave of a church that seems to draw away our already dwindling memberships, particularly those in the Houston area who are able to attend this mega church in person. Even if our church members can’t attend Lakewood in person,  all over this planet anyone can tune into this worship experience by staying home and watching this phenomena on television or on their iPad in their pj’s and drink coffee or another preferred drink depending on the time of day. These stay at home and worship in the Lazy Boy with the pets say that they like Lakewood’s music (but discongruently disdain praise music in the local church) and they find hope in his messages that we consider to be prosperity gospel talks. So, to say that Lakewood makes many pastors and lay leaders grrrrr is to put it lightly. Nothing can set a pastor’s teeth on edge and send them into confession and repentance than to hear a congregant tell us how much they love to hear Joel Osteen’s messages.

Journeying to Visit Congregations: On April 28 of this year, I concluded my 11 year ministry at a very wonderful and awesome church that I adored. Since then, I have preached often in other churches and had the great joy of worshipping with various congregations. It has been an adventure. Yesterday, I told my husband, you will NEVER guess in a million years where I would like to go to church tomorrow….and since you will NEVER guess, I will tell you…Lakewood. He just about fell off his chair he was in such shock! Yep, he said, you are SO right, I would have NEVER guessed Lakewood. But, he is a good sport and agreed to go with me.

Whew, We Arrived. We left the house about 8:30 am on Sunday and discovered very little traffic on I-10 West. A miracle in itself. For small-town folks like us, we were delighted to exit onto Hwy 59 and find that it was trafficless also, an even bigger miracle. We were greeted by good signage pointing us where to park. The parking building was immaculate. The concrete floors were shiny like they had just been buffed. We parked amidst thousands of cars and walked a LONG way including up a couple of rather steep ramps to get to the church/coliseum/sanctuary facilities. Yet, I was immediately taken aback by this sense of The Spirit…almost like a glimpse of heaven. People of every nation leaving the early service and those of us heading in mass to the 11:00 service. Sort of like the veil pulled back and a little peak at the communion of saints. Tears spilled forth from my jaded eyes.

Arriving Early and Perusing the Facilities: As the sanctuary/coliseum had not opened yet, we milled through a huge nicely arranged gift and bookstore with lots of people buying Bibles along with children and grandparents waiting patiently in line to pay as they snuggled adorable stuffed animals to remind them of God’s creation.  Down the humongous hallway, we noticed a line of parents with their children registering to enter the children’s area and there were resource and information booths all over the place. After a long ride from Beaumont, of course, we stopped in the restrooms, that were immaculate and had seat covers (I notice those things). And by the way, my husband and I were in the minority at Lakewood, most we saw were at the minimum of 20-30 years younger than us.

Joel Osteen greeting guests and members

Joel Osteen greeting guests and members, August 17, 2014

We saw a long line of people snaking through the 2nd floor, only to spy THE Joel Osteen meeting his members as they waited patiently to greet this man who was their father in the faith. In another part of the great foyer area there was a “Welcome to Lakewood Church” sign in which people of all nationalities with huge smiles were having their photos taken to send back to China, Japan, India, and Africa.

The signage in this place was excellent, except there was not one to instruct you where to enter this huge coliseum/church, so I finally asked at a 2nd floor Resource booth what time we could enter the church and she said, you can right now. I responded, no you can’t, there is strapping blocking the doors. She said, oh, you have to go downstairs, we fill that up first. So, we went down some stairs and entered into the former coliseum, now church and received a shiny 3 fold bulletin that was just advertising their ministries, heard soft music streaming, and saw jumbo screens placed strategically throughout the church displaying information on their ministries. It is interesting, they do not have hundreds of ministries/events. They seem to focus on just a few and concentrate on those.

Lakewood Church Bulletin, August 17, 2014

Lakewood Church Bulletin, August 17, 2014

Wow, Now This is A Really Big Church: Since as first timers, we were fairly early into the worship center. As soon as we entered this really huge and almost overwhelming place, we were greeted and seated by a group of dark-suited men who  carefully chose where they wanted us to sit. It was über organized…a machine. We ended up being about 10 rows back from the stage and pulpit area. Then a stunningly attired woman in her African long dress and turban and her young daughter were brought into our row and seated beside us. She immediately folded her hands and bowed her beautiful turbaned head in prayer.  Her long dress and turban were of gorgeous aqua blue raw silk with flowers embroidered all over it. She did not speak any English, but I tried to make some conversation with her by a sort of sign language. I asked her which country she was from in Africa and she said, “no, Hong Kong.”  Wow! Yes, communion of saints from all over the world!  As the downstairs began to fill up, one of Joel’s relatives, maybe his sister, was out greeting the people seated in a section in front of us with a sort of guard with a restrained smile beside her in a dress suit.

The sanctuary has super comfy theater type seats and gee, I have no idea how many thousands this place holds. But the decorations in this place of worship are very symbolic….there is a gigantic revolving golden globe in the center of the chancel/stage area that you have likely seen on tv and on either side of the chancel area are matching gigantic stacked stone empty tombs. I did not see any crosses in the sanctuary, but these globe and empty tomb symbols tell us that they are ministering worldwide and that their message is based on resurrection, new life, and fresh new starts.

Lakewood Church service, August 17, 2014

Lakewood Church service, August 17, 2014

The Service was Rockin’!: The service got started with super professional, loud praise music which I had never heard before. (Note to self: No wonder the young people in our churches don’t jive with us, our 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s praise music that is destroying our churches fighting over organ vs. outdated praise music is just plain passé).

The massive stage was filled with guitars, drummer, trumpet, trombone, violin, electric organ, piano, and about 5 praise team members  of various ethnicities plus two rockin’ choirs. It was an hour and ten minute long concert  in which we stood the entire time with people raising hands and dancing by their seats. It was heart-pounding, just like at regular concert, just toned down a notch or two. In between every couple of songs, Victoria Osteen gave a mini-sermon on being a good parent and Joel gave a short welcome. Throughout all this praise time and later during the message, there were video cameras draped over the stage and men dressed in black with black video cameras on black rolling chairs filming worshippers throughout the first floor. It was all very innocuous and in good taste.

Victoria Osteen at Lakewood Church, Aug. 17, 2014

Victoria Osteen at Lakewood Church. August 17, 2014


Then there was a 15  minute or so invitation to prayer in which people who wanted/needed prayer were invited to come down the aisles. When I saw the masses of people coming forward, I thought, oh, no, we will be here until time for supper. But, just as everything else, it was well-organized with  men and women who were prayer ministers praying with these who came forward.

The Surprising Prosperity Talk that Became a Message/Sermon: Then Joel, stood to bring his talk/message…I had always considered what Joel does, as a sort of “health and wealth,” “God wants you rich” talk or message, not a sermon.  But, I was wrong once again. He had everyone hold up their Bibles and then in unison the congregation read some sort of covenant about what they believe about the Bible. Then the very slim Joel Osteen with his beautiful head full  of curly dark hair and his sparkling white teeth and his even bigger smile stood in front of his pulpit and began to preach. He does seem to be very good at knowing where to turn towards the camera…of course, in a worldwide tv/internet ministry, you would have to be more aware of this. And his talk/message became a sermon to me as he used multitudes of scripture passages to teach that God works in ways beyond our dreams or imaginations. It was a really good sermon that spoke to me and actually brought tears to this pastor who has gotten a bit thick-skinned over the years. He spoke of how God can make things happen without us having to knock down doors and I remembered how The Spirit had brought me to the church I pastored in a very miraculous way. His sermon was longer than I expected, but kept my attention the whole time.

Joel Osteen preaching. Lakewood Church. 081714

Joel Osteen preaching. Lakewood Church. August 17, 2014

Offerings and Prayers of Salvation: Then Victoria called for a time of tithes and offerings and very rapidly, ugly utilitarian gray plastic buckets were passed down each aisle.  I would estimate that the offering was taken in about 5 minutes flat. Then Joel brought forth a shortened plan of salvation and prayed asking Jesus to come into relationship with them. He then asked who prayed that prayer of salvation with him and some stood throughout the gigantic sanctuary that now seemed a bit smaller and a little more intimate. A young couple seated in front of us stood with their arms wrapped around each other and  they sobbed into each other’s shoulders. In the same row, a young father with his two sons stood. Booklets were quickly passed out informing these new followers of Christ how to live this new life. Joel encouraged these new believers to get involved with the “New Beginnings” classes that are offered, to commit to come to church for a year, and to visit with him after the worship service at the “meet and greet.” Then he thanked all the visitors for coming and invited us to come sit in the same seat next week and call this place their home.

Blessing a Baby: As the masses of Lakewood members and guests were trying to leave at the same time, a beautiful African American lady with her baby dressed  like an angel was behind me in this crush of people.  I turned around and that sweet baby with old-soul eyes looked at me and as a pastor I instinctively placed my hands on her precious white satin-bowed curly head and blessed her. She smiled the biggest smile and I teared up big-time.

Returning Home: After this worship high, then there is that inevitable return home to the real world. This return to reality begins with the really long walk back to the parking garage with the throngs of saints of every color, cultural, and financial background. What joy it was that there were many more people of color than anglos in attendance at Lakewood!  Not only was the walk long to the garage, I also dreaded the extended wait to get our car out of the parking garage, but once again, I was wrong. It went fairly quickly. This is a well-oiled machine and I appreciate all the work/time/organization/contemplation it takes to get this many people to church and back home with a smile still on their face and a sweet song still in their spirit.

I see why people attend Lakewood. Your soul is filled with good words of hope and faith in God’s unconditional love and care. The music and message make your spirit swell and helps you make it through another tough week at work, at school, at home until you  can come back and get renewed and refreshed again. Lakewood is not for everyone for sure, but there are obviously thousands and millions who do need this type of church. Who am I to say that God is not in this? The Spirit was evident. The people’s hearts were touched. Lives were transformed. I only wish there had been communion also.

Lakewood and All Churches are Needed: Yes, Lord, I was wrong to judge this Lakewood  Church that is ministering in ways that mainline and Protestant churches cannot. Forgive me. Continue to bless them. They are needed.  ALL of our churches are needed on this planet. For some reason, The Spirit has chosen and anointed Joel and Victoria Osteen to lead this super professionally run organization of a church that reaches millions throughout planet earth. May the Lord continue to bless the work of this colossal congregation and also the work of the tiny flocks throughout the world led by faithful shepherds/shepherdesses.

Let us not be envious of each other’s place of service, but hold each other in prayer, respect, and good hope that one day, all the world will not only love and worship God, but will also love each other and be at peace. I often ponder and wonder what The Spirit is doing with The Church right now. Something is happening before our very eyes in our generation. It will be interesting to see how The Church is renewed and resurrected under the transformative power of The Spirit of our living God. Will all churches be gathered into mega churches like Lakewood? Gee, I have no idea. But I do trust that the God whom I love, worship, and serve who created The Church, will breathe new life and resurrection. Will the future Church still look the same as it does today?  I doubt it. Jesus looked a little different and sounded alittle different after resurrection. It’s likely The Church will also. Amen.

Smurfs, Sons, and Second Half of Life

I wrote this  article 3 years ago on another blog of mine, but I still muse about the Smurfs and my inept parenting in the 1980’s…which in spite of, my two sons are awesome

Smurfs...those little elf-looking blue men with white caps and their blue wives named Smurfettes were invented in the late 1950’s, but they were born into American culture in 1981, the year that my first child was born. Those little blue people became an iconic symbol of the 1980’s and a thorn in my flesh.

I wanted to be a good Mom and I was told by my religious culture at the time that Smurfs were dangerous for children…they had a MAGIC flute,  they lived in a commune of mushrooms that “symbolized” getting high and they had a sorcerer/sage for their lead character. So, of course, as a good mother, I did not let my sons watch the Smurfs. To this day, I still often hear my sons tell their friends…”My Mom didn’t let me watch the Smurfs” and everyone looks pitifully at me like either I was a really right-wing Rush Limbaugh soccer Mom or like I was a controlling wacked-out psycho Mom.

So, as I stand before the universe and before my sons…I was wrong.  I should have let you watch the Smurfs at home instead of having to sneak off to watch them at your preschool friends’ homes. You are the greatest guys in spite of your Mom’s quirky ways of parenting. 

The second half of life changes a person significantly. Most of us either become more mellow or more bitter. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk and the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM,  has a great book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.  He says that in the first half of life, we are naturally and rightly preoccupied with establishing our identity-climbing, achieving, and performing. We eventually need to see ourselves in a different and more life-giving way. Rohr goes onto to say that the first half of life religion is almost always about various types of purity codes or “thou shalt nots” to keep us clear, clean, and together like good Boy and Girl Scouts. We are building a strong container in the first half of life to hold our deepest and fullest life.

One of my dear friends once said that she had changed her theological, cultural, and political views so radically over her life, that she was afraid to say anything in too dogmatic of language anymore and I know what she means. Life changes us. We start out with idealistic expectations of life, that one plus one always makes two, and discover through living, that things don’t always turn out like we expected…sometimes one plus one makes one or three or five. Sometimes life is  difficult and we discover that the answers to life are not always black and white, that there are some gray areas where answers don’t come easy. Sometimes life is way better than we ever dreamed and we rejoice in those blessings and we dance and sing and jump for joy at those good times. We come to realize that we need the good times and the times of bewilderment, wilderness, and suffering to make us into people with deep soul.

Sometimes we just need some blue people to come along and play their magic flute, embrace us in their commune of love, and speak their special language to us. It’s too bad that I did not know in the first half of life what I have learned from the ups and downs  of living. I am much more mellow and a free spirit in the second half of life…hopefully I won’t get “too out there” for my sons in their first half of life!

Oh and by the way, my beloved awesome sons…when you are home next…let’s download all the episodes of The Smurfs and sit down with some grown up drinks and watch them together…yes…we have come a long way baby!

hоt уоung wоmаn осеаn оf lоvе sех уоu саtсh hеrе.

www.mattx1.xwxl.ru/ -- hоt уоung wоmаn осеаn оf lоvе sех уоu саtсh hеrе.

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