No Harm, No Foul

offense defense

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 145, Proverbs 3:11-20, 1 John 3:18-4:6, Matthew 11:1-6


As Jesus’s ministry was beginning to really take off, John the Baptist was locked up by Herod. Even from prison John heard of the impact Jesus was having, and so he sent his own disciples to find out if this man really was the messiah. They asked Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Rather than answer with a simple yes or no (did Jesus ever answer with yes or no?) Matthew tells us Jesus instructed them to remind John of the signs he was performing, and concluded by saying, “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Does simply lacking offense seem like a pretty low bar for blessings?  Later in Matthew 12 he will say of false prophets: “Those who are not with me are against me,” but in Luke and Mark, when the disciples complain to Jesus about strangers casting out demons in his name, he tells them, “Those who are not against us are for us.” People who look for reasons to draw lines between “us” and “them” may tend to favor the Matthew passage, but Jesus was addressing people prophesying falsely in his name, not neutral or uncommitted parties. Regarding people who aren’t actively condemning Christians, today’s scripture and the Luke/Mark passages seem to say: “no harm, no foul.”

So how is it Christianity has become virtually synonymous with trumped up outrage over things which don’t truly impact us?  Why do some of us insist an inability to impose our brand of doctrine on others is a form of oppression? If we’re going to own accessories branded with “WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)?” we better be prepared to answer “Root out hypocrisy in our own institutions and stop worrying about people who prefer ‘Happy Holidays!'” In some countries Christians are actually silenced, imprisoned, or killed. That is oppression. The local public elementary school celebrating an inclusive “Winter Festival” is peaceful pluralism. Besides, do you really want public schools teaching your children religion? What brand of Christianity would it be – if it were Christian at all?

Jesus and Paul spoke to and taught believers who would were part of a small, oppressed minority. Embracing that persecution mentality in a country where over 70% of the citizens identify as Christian can twist the good news into something scary.

Let’s opt out of outrage culture, and redirect that energy toward Kingdom work: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, clothing the naked. If we are not for them, we are against them.

Comfort: People are going to disagree with you, and that’s OK.

Challenge: Leave it for God to take care of.

Prayer: Merciful and gracious God, please help me let go of my own ego and insecurity so I may offer a glimpse of Christ’s love to all I meet.

Discussion: Do you ever mistake being persecuted for not being charge, or being censored for being challenged?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Babel to Pentecost

pentecost.jpg

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 150, Deuteronomy 16:9-12, Acts 4:18-21, 23-33, John 4:19-26

Pentecost readings:
Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, , Acts2:1-21


Genesis tells us the first people of the earth built a city named Babel, and in that city built a tower which aspired to reach the heavens. God was displeased with this development, for he said mortals would soon be unstoppable, so he struck down the tower and confused the tongues of the people so they spoke different languages. Humanity was scattered across the earth. This story of Babel is often told as an introduction to the story of Pentecost.

On the day of Pentecost, which scripture tells us was ten days after the resurrected Christ ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of flame descended upon the gathered disciples. The surrounding crowd came from many lands, and each person heard the disciples speaking in his or her native language. Some people assumed the excited crowd must have been drunk, even though it was only nine in the morning. Peter assured them no one was drunk, and this event was a sign of fulfillment of prophecy. The Holy Spirit (also called the Advocate or Paraclete) promised by Christ had begun to work among the people.

How telling that the Holy Spirit’s first gift to us was the ability to understand each other. In our largely monolingual culture we take that for granted, but in much of the world traveling from your home for a distance less than the breadth of Ohio can result in a language barrier. Yet even within our common language, we lack common understanding. Never take for granted that your frame of reference or your assumptions and inferences are the same as anyone else’s. The unspoken meaning of words like “love” and “family” and “God” can vary widely from person to person. We may share a common vocabulary, but communication – like jazz and poetry – is all about context.

We should continue to rely on the Spirit to help us understand each other, to teach us to listen before we speak. God’s kingdom does not require forced uniformity of speech and thought; it is a place where those once scattered by pride reunite in understanding.

Comfort: The Holy Spirit works among us to further the kingdom.

Challenge: Pray and work to free yourself from the biases and assumptions of your own language, experience, and culture. Understand how this is not a rejection of your heritage.

Prayer: Creator God, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit guide and teach me to live and teach with the compassionate heart of Christ. Amen.

Discussion: What do you think when you hear someone speaking a language you can’t understand?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Justice Evolution

heartofflesh

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 92; 149, Ezekiel 36:22-27, Ephesians 6:1-24, Matthew 9:18-26


“Slaves obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling.”

We can thank Saint Paul for that gem. Sure he also said “in Christ there is no slave or free” and instructed masters to be merciful to their slaves because they ultimately served the same master in heaven, but neither of those satisfactorily addresses the fact that at no time did Paul (or Jesus, for that matter) explicitly condemn slavery. For most of Christian history, slavery was taken for granted, and that verse has been used to justify it.

Once the idea of slavery became unacceptable to almost all mainstream Christians, we weren’t sure what to do with Jesus’s seeming acceptance of it. Some of us tried to differentiate the experience of Biblical slavery versus pre-Civil War slavery in the United States, but in the end all slavery boils down to owning human beings as property. Shouldn’t Jesus have a problem with that?

Of course that question implies Jesus is OK with the way most Christians do things now, and that can be a dangerous assumption. Every human system is flawed. America seems to all but worship capitalism, lumping it in with democracy and Christianity as a kind of US-bred holy trinity, but capitalism itself is amoral and by definition favors the rich above the poor. Not that communism has a fantastic human rights track record. Democracy is subject to mob rule and corruption, and monarchy to tremendous abuses of power. No earthly economic or government system has or can eradicate poverty, oppression, and injustice.

Christ’s message (and consequently Paul’s) transcends these human structures. As the church matures, each generation expands its concept of justice. The past does not invalidate the message, so much as prompt us to look at the present with a more critical eye. Christians led the fight against slavery. The church has evolved from feeding the hungry to tackling the systemic problems which starve them in the first place. What are the next steps in learning to love our neighbors as ourselves? Our job is not to perform theological contortions to explain away the inexcusable; it is to determine how we are to apply Christ’s message today.

Someone will always be waiting to be freed by the gospel.

Comfort: You don’t have to try to excuse the inexcusable things of the past…

Challenge: … but you can’t ignore the inexcusable things of the present.

Prayer: God of love, teach me to shine your light on injustice. Amen.

Discussion: What commonly accepted practices do you think future Christians will look back on in moral embarrassment?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Universal Precautions

righteous_sinners

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 148, Jeremiah 31:27-34, Ephesians 5:1-32, Matthew 9:9-17


“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” – Matthew 9:9

What does “tax collector” mean to you? In Capernaum where Jesus met Matthew, tax collectors were not exactly IRS agents. They were Jews who collaborated with the occupying forces of Rome to tax the Jewish people for the privilege of being oppressed. If you’re of a Libertarian bent you may not think that’s so different from the modern tax collector, but many Jews considered them traitors to the nation of Israel. The Pharisees lumped them into the same category as the other “sinners” Jesus frequently dined with and challenged the disciples about his choice of companions.

Jesus responded by saying: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. […] For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Paul warned the members of the Ephesian church not to associate with those who are disobedient to God. Paul named many kinds of disobedience – so many, in fact, that most of us have been guilty of at least one. Between Jesus dining and drinking with sinners, and Paul warning us to avoid them altogether, what example are we to follow?

When a physician or nurse tends to patients, s/he takes certain precautions to avoid infection. These universal precautions are applied equally whether a patient is obviously ill or not, because one never knows all the facts. Healers can do their work while avoiding contamination, but not while avoiding contact. Every sick patient deserves the dignity of being treated as a person, but boundaries are crucial. So it is with the gospel. We are called to share it with those who need its healing message. To do that, we need to go where they are. We need to share with them common human experiences such as meals, conversation, tears, and laughter. In no way are we permitted to treat them with less dignity than Christ would. We probably shouldn’t even think in terms of “them” as it only fosters dehumanizing division.

We can’t offer comfort to the sick without knowing them, or without recognizing it is only by grace – not our own superiority – that we ourselves have been healed. Faith is not a barrier to isolate us from them, but the protective gear that makes contact possible.

Comfort: No matter how sick you are, Jesus wants you to be well.

Challenge: Don’t shun anyone Jesus didn’t shun.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, thank you for the healing presence of Christ, and for the opportunity to share it with others.  Amen. 

Discussion: When do you find yourself avoiding people instead of loving them?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Why I Stopped Posting Political Memes

batmeme

Meme by William Loring. Used with permission and encouragement.

Of course I have opinions on politics. They are many and they are strong. And like the opinions of most people, they are not in point-by-point synchronization with some monolithic party platform. They do not neatly fall to one side or the other of what is fast becoming a high and impenetrable wall on the border between Liberalstan and Conservatica. Partly because a) not every idea is at its core a partisan one no matter how hard we try to make it so, and b) thinking people realize the framework of any “-ism” gets increasingly bent and banged and in need of modification the more it is applied to actual living persons and events.

As a matter of fact, I am seriously considering backing away from any use of “liberal” or “conservative” to describe human beings as individuals or groups. Maybe ideas can be classified so, but the person who observes no exception to an ideology is hopefully as rare as I would like to believe. Tempted as I am to paint an entire population of voters with a broad red or blue brush, people I actually know don’t fit into those categories. Yet sadly, many of the same people who complain about being painted with that broad brush don’t see the hypocrisy in using it to paint “the opposition” with the enthusiasm of a majority shareholder in Sherwin Williams.

And that’s where the political memes come in. Once upon a time, in the heat of the last presidential election and slightly afterward, I found a certain satisfaction in sharing ones that seemed clever. Things changed. Maybe it was me; maybe it was the political conversation. I’m not naïve enough to think politics hasn’t always been ugly (and historically speaking even uglier than it is now). Until recently, however, bad ideas took a lot longer to travel. We couldn’t correspond instantly with everyone whose ideas we found offensive. Serious disagreement required effort and forethought. For that matter, so did agreement. I imagine Lincoln and Douglas could find a lot of common ground in being mutually horrified that days-long debate had been reduced to a couple hours of sound bites further reduced by commercial breaks. Twitter would have seemed like the apocalypse.

PREACHING TO THE PARTISAN CHOIR

Political memes as we understand them aren’t actually meant to communicate. We may think they are because the original concept of a meme was an idea that spread like a virus, but that kind of meme wasn’t intentionally created. Just as viruses spontaneously occurring in nature have been engineered and weaponized, so has the meme. Political memes are meant to whip up the base, not to inform the uninformed. Sure they often pretend to address the snowflakes or the fascists, but that’s so the sharer of the meme can get a little thrill out of feeling like he or she is sticking it to the (largely stereotyped if not outright imagined) opposition. If you were actually out to persuade someone, would you start by insulting their intelligence?

And for those who aren’t bright enough to understand why, the correct answer is “no.”

See how that made you feel?

DESIGNED TO DIVIDE

The virus comparison doesn’t stop with the rapid spread of memes. When we use our powers for good, viruses can be the source of life-saving vaccines. The political meme also inoculates us … but unfortunately the “disease” it protects us from is reason. See, to achieve reasonableness, we can’t just double-down on the ideas we already like. We have to weigh them against the ones that challenge us. Enough doses of the bad logic of political memes (we’ll get into that shortly) eventually trains us to think badly and call it smart. The (often poorly executed) “cleverness” of the political meme also reinforces the idea that sarcasm and irony are tools to be used by everyone. They’re not. Very few people can use them effectively as rhetorical devices.

Instead what we get most of the time is someone listening to a point of view not to fairly consider it, but to refute it in a way that gets in a zing. Doesn’t matter if said refutation actually makes sense, because it makes us feel briefly superior. And that’s what the memes are for: replacing reconciliation with the satisfaction of a cheap shot. Common ground is merely an obstacle.

LAPSE OF LOGIC

To me, one of the most troubling aspects of political memes is how easily they encourage people to forego critical thinking. We don’t want to fact-check anything that reinforces our existing opinions. And even if the facts are correct, how often are they used logically?

One popular style of meme is posting photos or quotes side-by-side to illustrate an implied contrast. For example, showing one politician reacting charitably to a disaster while another is one the golf course at allegedly the same time. Or maybe one person’s best words against another person’s worst. Photos and quotes have context, and in the digital age they are in infinite supply. Anyone can look bad or good for the split-second it takes to be exposed to a camera. Unrelated images and quotes tell us exactly nothing, but we’re willing to project a lot onto them.

Closely related is the meme that forgets we can do two things at the same time. Support good police officers and check bad ones?  Both things can – and should! – happen. Yet any critique of unnecessary police violence must mean you hate law enforcement, and any expression of support for law enforcement must make you a racist. At least according to the poor logic of political memes. Neither stance should be a partisan issue, but too often we express one as reaction and negation to the other because we equate challenging viewpoints with censorship and react disproportionately. Kids, we improve when we think critically about our own positions, not when we start shouting about who’s rubber and who’s glue.

Then there’s good old Double Standard, and its second cousin Whatabout. Notice how people’s definition of “too much time on the golf course” tends to change with the party of the president? Or for what the first lady wears? Or moral lapses? And when people criticize us for letting Double Standard sidle up to the table, we invite Whatabout for reinforcement. He’s really distracting, constantly yelling about how your guy (or gal) did the same or something worse. We don’t let our kids get away with two wrongs making a right, but we let our politicians slide if they’re on our team. How about this idea: both of them can be wrong, or maybe the offense wasn’t really an offense at all. Hypocrisy is the oxygen feeding the flames of illogic.

Finally we have the presumed offense. In politics, for every action there seems to be an equal and opposite preaction. What’s that mean? Think about school shootings. Anymore after one happens, the memes start flying about what we presume the other side is saying. We don’t even wait for them to actually say it. Fortunately for us, this puts them into the position of either confirming our preconceptions (if one is right mustn’t they all be right?) or defending their position. We win either way without ever having to actually engage people of different viewpoints. Almost anything that looks like policy debate on television is merely the preaction reaction. And what happens on Facebook should stay in Vegas.

Only when we return to logical thinking, instead of defensive memery and one-upsmanship, can we hope to actually communicate instead of shouting over each other. The danger of memes isn’t just the momentary reaction as we scroll by them on our timeline, it’s how they retrain us to see each other as opponents instead of companions.

IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S MEME

At this point some readers will undoubtedly think I’m telling them to stop posting political memes. Nope. I’m telling you why I did. If you assume expressing my opinion means I’m telling you what to do, please re-read the previous section. That’s part of the big problem: the breakdown of logic has taught us to hear an argument or an opinion as a threat to our own freedom. “Snowflakes” come in red, white and blue. I am darkly amused when someone who posts about how people are too easily offended by mere words … then get offended by different words. Everyone is offended by something. The trick is not to justify your offense while minimizing someone else’s. Do that enough, and you’ll handle offense like an adult.

SO WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

So why write about all this on a Christian blog anyway?

Nobody keeps their politics and their faith (or at least their moral beliefs) separate. If we think we do … Surprise! We’ve put faith second.

But if we put faith first, specifically faith in Christ, we are committed to being humble voices of reconciliation and justice. Humble voices often don’t feel like they’re accomplishing much. One at a time, maybe they aren’t.  So we need to stick together and see Christ in each other and be Christ to each other. That means offering dignity and peace even when – especially when – it costs us. Peacemaking is a slow, relentless business. It requires listening more than speaking. Giving more than defending.

Humility isn’t fun. Tribalism and smugness are fun. Terrible, but fun.

Love your enemy. Don’t mock them. Don’t belittle them. Don’t make sport of their feelings and well-being. Love them.

If you can do that in a meme, let’s hope it goes viral.

Peace to you.

Word Power

1463002415138.jpg

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 47; 147:12-20, Zechariah 4:1-14, Ephesians 4:17-32, Matthew 9:1-8


Speech has the power to build up or to tear down. We might claim words are only words, but they impact the world around us and inside us in real ways. The words our parents speak to us in childhood can enhance or undermine confidence throughout our lives. Gossip can destroy reputations. Journalists can topple empires and poets can terrify dictators. As people following Christ, we are called to use our words constructively.

As Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

Gossip may be the low-hanging fruit of evil talk, but it is a bumper crop. Not every truth needs to be spoken to every person, especially uninvolved parties. On the occasions we find it necessary to share a harsh truth, our words can be direct without being vindictive. A message that shames or belittles for our momentary satisfaction is not necessary to offer correction or guidance. As rhetoric grows more divisive in this age of anonymous internet comments and confrontational “reality” television, we are encouraged to have an opinion about everything. In matters where we lack knowledge or have no stake, it’s perfectly acceptable to have no opinion at all and stick with it. When we “tell it like it is,” consequences be damned, we reveal more ignorance than wisdom. Bernard Meltzer advises us to ask ourselves if what we are about to say is true, necessary, or kind; if it’s none of these, perhaps we should practice silence.

Yes we must speak up to confront injustice. To share the gospel. To teach each other. But always – always – we are speaking to other children of God.

Words matter because they are manifestation of thoughts, and therefore ignite action. Let silence be a dam between your thoughts and your lips. Release their power in a controlled fashion so as not to leave chaos in your wake. What you hold back represents potential; what you spill can not be reclaimed.

Comfort: Your words have the ability to give grace to those who hear.

Challenge: This week, be especially mindful of when you are silent and when you speak.

Prayer: Loving God, be present in my thoughts, on my lips, and in my heart. Amen.

Discussion: How many of your unnecessary, unhelpful, or unkind words could be replaced with better words or silence?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Body(building) of Christ

off the couch

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 147:1-11, Isaiah 4:2-6, Ephesians 4:1-16, Matthew 8:28-34


One of Paul’s favorite descriptions of the Church is a body with Christ at its head. In his letter to the Ephesians, he explains how all the gifts of the community work together, just as all the parts of the body work together. He also says the Body of Christ needs to grow into maturity and unity. This growth requires exercise.

Why do we exercise our bodies? Is it just to look good, or is it to keep ourselves fit to accomplish more important tasks? Smart bodybuilders never sacrifice fitness for appearance. Lazy bodybuilders – and churches – do. It’s nice to show off our muscles – be they big biceps or beautiful buildings – but we should never prize them above the overall health of the body. Like healthy bodybuilders, healthy churches achieve results through hard work and good choices; shortcuts result in unsustainable outcomes and dangerous consequences. A body that serves no purpose but to promote itself is not a healthy one.

Bodybuilders are acutely aware of proper proportion. It is easy to focus efforts on areas that respond quickly, don’t tire us, or attract attention. Doing so exclusively, however, leaves key areas neglected. The boring parts are just as important. A church can have a dynamic and popular worship experience, but if it sucks away the energy that could go into mission, the body is out of balance. For bodybuilders such imbalance doesn’t just lose them tournaments, it increases their risk of injury. If the efforts of our Christian body are imbalanced, in the long run we hurt ourselves.

Prevention is the best way to manage injury and illness, but even the most diligent of us may get sick. When that happens, the worst thing to do is ignore it. Far too many people avoid the doctor because of embarrassment or fear. The body of Christ has the same tendencies. We often choose to protect our reputation rather than admit to real problems. Such behavior can be fatal. But it doesn’t have to be. Let’s be sure to take care of the Body in all the right ways!

Comfort: Flex the spiritual muscle you’ve been given – it’s important to the health of the body!

Challenge: Sometimes we think the things that are important to us need to be important to everyone. Try to understand what other people bring to the table that you can’t.What gifts might you undervalue or belittle?

Prayer: God of all good gifts, teach me to make choices to promote the health of the Body. Amen.

Discussion: What gifts – whether yours or someone else’s – might you undervalue or belittle?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Burying The Dead

burythedead

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 98; 146, 1 Samuel 16:1-13a, Ephesians 3:14-21, Matthew 8:18-27


One day, when Jesus was preaching on the shore, the crowds grew so large he told them to move to the other side of the lake. One of the disciples wanted to first bury his father. Jesus replied:

“Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.”

There are different opinions on the context and meaning of this odd phrase. One is that the man’s father was not yet dead, so the time until his burial was uncertain. Another is that “burying” him would have included acting as executor for his father’s affairs. The common theme across these theories is that to follow Christ is to pursue life, and that postponing our discipleship for the affairs of the world and tarrying among others doing the same is to wallow in death. When Christ calls we are to follow. Period.

If we are honest with ourselves, can we admit that deep down (or maybe not so deep) we know our lives will never be completely in order? Yet we use that reasoning as an excuse for putting off all kinds of things: starting families, launching new careers, jettisoning bad habits, getting in shape, going back to school, pursuing dreams, etc. We pretend there is a noble purpose of order behind our stalling tactic because it’s easier than admitting to laziness or fear. All too often the end result of our self-delusion is that we never get around to what we’d rather be doing, and our lives are still not orderly.

Your life will always be messy. There almost certainly will never be a “right time” – or even a better time – to walk away from the trappings of death and follow life. Voices – both internal and external – will tell you not to shirk your worldly responsibilities; these are the moans of ghosts who can’t move on and don’t want to be left behind and alone. Our true responsibilities are to the priorities Christ has taught us, and it is following him that makes us feel truly alive.

Christ does not cruelly demand we abandon our lives; he graciously invites us to find them.

Comfort: Christ has given you permission to let go of the things that keep you from true life.

Challenge: Egyptians pharaohs were buried with household goods, pets, servants, and even family members. They could not imagine life that didn’t look like what was actually holding them back. Pick one thing in your life that you could put down to lighten your load when following Christ. If it feels good, pick another…

Prayer: God of freedom, I will follow wherever you lead me. Amen.

Discussion: What do you need to put down before you can follow Christ unhindered? What’s stopping you?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

East, West, and In Between

always north

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Joshua 1:1-9, Ephesians 3:1-13, Matthew 8:5-17


One of the great things about being a Christian is knowing your salvation is in the bag.
Or is it?

A Roman centurion once approached Jesus and asked him to heal an ailing servant. Jesus offered to come and cure the servant, but the centurion said it wasn’t necessary to go there: he had faith that if Jesus said it would happen, it would happen.

Jesus was amazed (the Bible’s words, not an exaggeration) at the faith of the centurion. He told his followers:

“Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Mind you these followers were all Jews, and therefore considered heirs of the kingdom. The centurion was an integral cog in the Roman machine which oppressed them. That had to chafe.

There’s a saying that being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. We don’t inherit the kingdom by being born into a Christian family; we enter the kingdom through grace and faith. If the centurion is any example, our assumptions about what makes a faithful Christian may not be the same as Christ’s – and his is the opinion that counts. Is it possible that agnostics from the east coast and new agers from the west coast might find their way to the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before we middle of the road Christians do?

The lesson here is not “it doesn’t matter what you believe.” It’s more like “don’t be too quick to make assumptions either way.” In a kingdom where the first are last and the last are first, discipleship can be a balancing act; humility is the narrow beam we must walk. Rather than insist we already know each twist and turn leading to Christ, let’s unfold the map together.

Comfort: You are officially relieved of the duty of deciding whether someone is Christian enough.

Challenge: Listening to people who disagree with your beliefs is not a threat.

Prayer: Gracious and merciful God, set my feet on the path toward salvation. Amen.

Discussion: What can you learn from other faith traditions? What do you think Jesus might say about it?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Burn

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 93; 150, Exodus 3:1-12, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 10:17-24


Burnout is a reality of modern life. We can experience burnout at work, at church, and even with our family. When we become burned out, our motivation, dedication, and productivity all suffer. More than fatigue which saps our physical and emotional strength, burnout saps our spiritual strength. Exhaustion is the inability to go on; burnout is the unwillingness to.

In Exodus, Moses first encounters God when he notices a bush that is burning but is not consumed. From the flames, God speaks to Moses about how He plans to use this exiled Egyptian Jew to free the nation of Israel. In the decades that followed, Moses might have felt a lot like that bush. Igniting him to a higher purpose, the power and will of God infused him with a spiritual fire that led the people out of Egypt and through forty years in the desert, yet he was able to endure it all without being consumed. Sometimes an exhausted Moses might have wished for it all to be at an end, but God sustained him.

When we suspect we are beginning to burn out, it is time to reevaluate what we are doing. Is it really our job or family that is burning us out, or is it our attitude? If it’s the former, we can seek an external change. If it’s the latter, we must work on internal change. Either way, let’s consider one of the first things God said to Moses: “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” It’s not enough to simply stop what we’re doing. We need to find a way to make contact with the holy ground God would have us walk. We need to strip bare not just our feet, but our souls, emotions, fears, and desires until we hear God’s call again. Maybe he will start us on a new journey, or maybe he will fortify us for the next forty years.

Every place we stand is holy ground, if we are listening for the voice of God. Let us hear. Let us burn.

Comfort: When you are tired or unsure, bare yourself to God for renewal.

Challenge: Where in your life are you most subject to burnout? Work? School? Home? Pray about what you can do to transform your situation from an out of control wildfire to a burning bush.

Prayer: Ever loving God, grant me the wisdom to find the path you have laid out before me, and the strength to follow it faithfully. Amen.

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.