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Lord's Prayer Tip

posted Mar 6, 2017, 10:10 AM by Tim Isbell

I'm continually on the lookout for tips to enrich my prayer life. Here's a personal example of one that I developed over the past few weeks. It comes from the first few lines of the Lord's Prayer, as in Matthew 6.9-10.

Our Father who is in heaven.  Reflect for a moment on the privileged standing God offers through Jesus. Here Jesus tells me that God, the creator, and sustainer of everything, wants me to address him with the familial name that Jesus uses: Father. That's big. I don't know of any other religion that offers such a thing. Dwelling on this thought speaks deeply to my identity in Christ and within God's family!

May your name be holy.  My kids call me "Dad," which was what I called my father. So, here I'm asking my heavenly Dad to help me show a snippet of his holiness through my everyday life. Further, I'm urging him to show his holiness to all nations and cultures. Letting this soak in impacts how I carry myself through the day.

May your Kingdom come soon.  Here, Jesus shifts the metaphor from family to the family business: building Dad's Kingdom. So I'm asking Dad to plant his values so deeply in my life that I will joyfully follow them as I live temporarily at an address in a kingdom of this world. And I'm asking Dad to continue extending his Kingdom to every corner of the world.

May your will be done on earth.  Such a statement affirms to Dad that I'll willingly accept adversity as part of my spiritual formation process - even though I may not understand it at the time. In the same way, I'm affirming that I will trust him as he extends his will throughout the whole world.

Sometimes I use this as a prelude to a longer prayer; sometimes it's enough by itself.

(Note: this perspective on the Lord's Prayer comes from my understanding and reflection on the first part of chapter 8 in Timothy Keller's Prayer - Experiencing the Awe and Intimacy with God.)

For more tips on prayer, check out Prayer-time Teaching Moments.



Christian Freedom is not an oxymoron

posted Feb 8, 2017, 8:30 PM by Tim Isbell

God invites Christians to live each day in the freedom and reality of sons and daughters of God, spontaneously responding to the challenges and call of God in every unforeseeable, concrete moment. The gospels describe Jesus living this way, unbound by the rules of religious experts. Instead, he acted out of the freedom of a trinitarian love affair with the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit helps mature Christians live and make choices in much the same way - in the context of a personal relationship with Jesus more than just adhering to a set of religious rules. As we live like this, we discover that we are keeping the 
essence of the Law without focusing on it. So why did God give us the Law in the first place? Because the Law is an essential tool that guards us as it leads us deeper into a relationship with Jesus.

For more on this, check out Freedom in Christ.


Advice for Christian dating

posted Dec 27, 2016, 6:33 PM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Dec 28, 2016, 11:03 AM ]

Sharon Rauenzahn is a good friend of mine over many years. Back in the 1990s, I was her pastor, and she led our youth group. A boy in the group asked her an important question, "What if I like a girl and she's not a Christian?" It's a classic question. Sharon prepared a letter to send to the boy and sent me a draft copy for my feedback. I remember thinking that it was the best response I had ever seen to that question. It still is.

So I got her permission to add it to my Advice for Couples resource. Here's a link to Sharon's Dating Advice letter. And though I retired in 2010, we still see each other every week in church. She's the same gal who writes many of the Advent Readings that I publish on my site.

Here's a link to the entire Advice for Couples set of resources. These resources are among the most visited web pages on my site, so feel free to drop in and give them a look. A few are for the very early dating season, many are for the serious dating season, and many are useful by couples throughout life. These are the same materials I select from when I do pre-marriage counseling.

And the price is right - everything on my site is always free.


A Thomas Merton Advent thought & another Advent Reading

posted Nov 25, 2016, 6:35 PM by Tim Isbell

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied status as persons, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.

- Thomas Merton

A few days ago I posted a new Advent Reading for 2016. Since then, our pastor asked Sharon Rauenzahn to write a shorter one for this year's use at New Life Nazarene Church (Cupertino, CA). So she did, it's titled "Hope, Faith, Joy, Peace" and is available with all the others at Advent Readings.

Blessings to all (and thanks to Sharon!),


Lectionary Preaching

posted Nov 21, 2016, 7:46 AM by Tim Isbell

I recently responded to a query from a young pastor who is planning to begin preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Scripture set on the first Sunday of Advent (this coming Sunday!). He was looking for resources and ideas, so I sent him a few. It's now an hour later, and just I realized that today there are probably many pastors considering the same transition. Since several ministers subscribe to my website, I decided to post my Lectionary resource list.

But I also realize that many of you are not pastors and may be wondering what is the Lectionary! So here's a link for you: Lectionary Basics.

And for you pastors, here are some resources that you can use immediately: 


Another new Advent Reading

posted Nov 18, 2016, 11:04 AM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Nov 19, 2016, 9:18 PM ]

The first Sunday of Advent is upon us and we've just posted a new
Advent Reading: Call to Action, Call to Faith! This one joins six others from previous years. 

Like some of the others, Sharon Rauenzahn wrote "Call to Action, Call to Faith," with an option to include a child with a non-reading part each week.


President Trump - perspective from a Hillary supporter

posted Nov 9, 2016, 10:09 AM by Tim Isbell

It’s the morning after the election which surprised many Americans and people around the world - including me.

I am deeply disappointed in the outcome and apprehensive of virtually all roads ahead. I am brokenhearted for women, for those at the low end of the economic divide, for people of color, for the LGBT community, for young adults enslaved by student debt, for those who are bullied on any pretense, for those of Islamic and other non-Christian faiths, and on and on. Regardless, I will support President Trump and pray that he’ll lead us forward in a different spirit than we’ve seen from him so far.

I’m also concerned for all who put their hope in America and its politics and woke up this morning facing a host of shattered dreams.

As for me, my primary citizenship is in God’s Kingdom, while I live and work as a resident alien in a kingdom of this world. I am not disappointed or brokenhearted with God’s Kingdom because I trust his promises. He says my path will take some troublesome turns and pass through some dark valleys. But throughout the journey, the Spirit of Jesus accompanies, guides, strengthens, and opens doors for me to share some part of the Good News of God’s Kingdom with other travelers. If that’s you, take a look at The Alternate Life. Or just contact me. Or visit a church this Sunday.



Smart donation strategy for retirees

posted Oct 5, 2016, 7:04 PM by Tim Isbell

Do you know that people above age 70.5 can directly transfer up to $100,000 from a traditional, tax-deferred retirement account to charity every year, have it count against their Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for that year, and not have to pay taxes on the money they contributed?

Here's why this makes sense: A typical retiree pays her bills using money from defined benefit retirement programs, withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement accounts (IRA, 401k, 403b), dividends and capital gains from investments in the taxable accounts, and Social Security. All these sources are subject to some taxation. Whether she needs the money or not, every year from when she turns 70.5 they must withdraw at least the RMD from her tax-deferred retirement accounts and pay ordinary income tax on every dollar withdrawn.  

Further, suppose she wants to donate $6,000 to her church for the year. If she draws money from any of the sources and writes a check to the church, that money adds to her adjusted gross income and gets taxed. But if she arranges to donate the $6,000 directly from her tax-deferred retirement account to the charity, it counts against her RMD for the year, and she doesn't have to add it to her adjusted gross income. This works whether she itemizes or not, though if she itemizes she can't also claim a deduction. For retirees with sufficient money to pay all their bills and also contribute to charity, the smartest dollars to donate are RMD dollars going directly from your account to the charity.

I expect she can accomplish this direct transfer in a week or two, but it's even better to think about donating from an RMD early in the year before deciding to take the RMD in monthly or quarterly installments.

For more on this, including the details of how to make the transfer directly from your retirement account, check out this Kiplinger article.

For more strategic ways to donate money, check out Tax-smart Donations.There you'll find tips on donating appreciated stock, creating a donor advised fund, and others.

Blessings, Tim

Abortion - the Alternate Kingdom view

posted Sep 30, 2016, 5:36 AM by Tim Isbell

This post is for the many conservative Christians who vote primarily, or wholly, on the issue of abortion. I am a retired, ordained pastor in a Christian tradition slightly right of the political center. Earlier, I posted three articles 
on the upcoming election and thought they were enough. But I feel prompted to post one more: Let's Consider Abortion. Hope you'll find five minutes to consider it.


Fascinations with God

posted Sep 25, 2016, 7:00 AM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Sep 25, 2016, 8:24 PM ]

I'm fascinated with who God is and what he does in our world, so I'm building a list. I'm learning to plant one item from the list in my mind at the start of each day - or at least a few days each week. I can use that item as the praise part of any prayer, even such as for a meal. It is a way of escorting Jesus to the center of my life, and keeping him there all day, which is my only hope for holiness - because there is no store or state of holiness. Even when I miss for a couple of days, I don't kick myself. But when I sense (or the Spirit prompts) that I've drifted, this Fascination List and practice helps me reset.

Hope you'll take time to have a look.

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