Last Man Standing


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, Zephaniah 3:1-13, 1 Peter 2:11-25, Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus told a parable about a landowner who hired some men to work in his vineyard. He hired one group in the morning, another group around noon, and a third group late in the afternoon. Each of them agreed to the same payment of one denarius, an average day’s wages. The first group grumbled when they were not paid more than those who had worked only an hour, but the landowner reminded them they had agreed to a sum, and he was free to be generous with his money as he saw fit.

This parable is about how God’s grace is not something earned, but something given freely and equally. There’s a short bit in the middle that might deserve a little more attention than it usually gets. When the landowner asks the late shift why they stood idle all day, they answered “Because no one has hired us.”

There’s no indication they were less worthy of being hired. It seems the landowner himself had passed them over without notice earlier in the day. We don’t know why they were left waiting. The fact that they were demonstrates something we tend to minimize: not everyone is treated the same. It’s tempting to start rationalizing why they might not have been hired – what it was they might have done differently – but why is that? We are attracted to the prospect of getting what we deserve. Random unfairness offends us; it jars us when people who work less hard get more (though we’re less bothered by people who work harder and get less).

We assume idling is laziness, but the truth is many people through no fault of their own are left standing in life’s line while others are invited to skip ahead of them to participate more fully in life’s bounty. This line jumping is not always random; the invitations are extended by other people, and people are not without bias. Throughout history through the present day, ethnicity, gender, ability, and social standing have influenced who gets an invitation, but we’ve always wrapped those biases in a veneer of merit.  Any given individual might be an exception, but the trend holds.

When for decades upon decades bias has consistently left entire communities standing until late in the day, it is not just in a Biblical sense to insist they figure out on their own how to make do with a fraction of what others have had many more generation’s opportunity to earn. When real-world equivalents of the landowner seek to offer them what is just in the long term instead of what we seems fair in the short term, those among us who were hired early in the day (as individuals or as members of a community that’s been making the selections) ought not grumble like we’re the ones who’ve been cheated out of wages.

A full measure of grace is extended to all who show up to accept it. If we are to conform our hearts to Christ’s heart, shouldn’t we learn the first person hired is not more deserving of generosity than the one left to wait?

Comfort: Whether you are first or last in line, God offers the same grace.

Challenge: When you assume someone is lazy or undeserving, challenge your own assumptions. about their life experiences.

Prayer: I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. (Psalm 116:1-2)

Discussion: When has someone made incorrect assumptions about you? What were the consequences? Did you correct them?

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Dear Jesus … Define Rich


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, Obadiah 15-21, 1 Peter 2:1-10, Matthew 19:23-30

One of the favorite ornaments on our family Christmas tree is in the shape of a letter to Santa. Its message is short: “Dear Santa … Define good!”

“Good” is one of those terms which can seem eternally undefinable. Good compared to whom? When a rich young man asked Christ what good deed would guarantee him eternal life, Jesus replied, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.”  After pressing Jesus on the matter, the young man left grief-stricken because Jesus told him to sell all his many possessions and give his money to the poor. When Jesus then told the disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” they wondered if anyone could be saved. Jesus responded with a warning and reassurance that God made it possible.

“Rich” is another one of those words which seems to reside on a sliding scale. Most of us define “rich” in terms of wealth which definitely exceeds our own. How rich do we think the young man was? How many possessions is “many?” These concepts are skewed by the community and culture in which we live.

I consider my family to be solidly middle class, but compared to say the billions of people in the world without safe access to toilets, we are almost obscenely wealthy. During conversations about relative wealth, some friends and co-workers have suggested that it isn’t fair to compare first- and third-world standards. It’s almost as if they (and, I must admit, I) are reluctant to admit that in the overall scope of the human family, we are – as a fellow churchgoer described us in a way that was less than flattering – rich as $#!%. Of course to some other friends struggling to get by, that fellow churchgoer enjoyed a highly enviable level of comfort.

Since it’s all relative, the question then becomes not do we think we are rich, but does Jesus think we are rich? If we can consider his conversation with the young man to be an indicator of that standard, the threshold seems to be whether we retain anything we could part with to better follow him. We should probably be pretty aggressive about answering that.

Do we need to part with absolutely everything? Jesus didn’t require that of everyone around him. Do we need to be willing to part with anything that stands between us and Christ? Absolutely.

We may not be able to agree on a textbook definition of “rich” … but valuing something more than we value Christ is a price too high for any of us to pay.

Comfort: The most valuable thing we have was given to us for free.

Challenge: Consider donating to WaterAid or similar charities which help deliver clean water and facilities to people living in poverty.

Prayer: Merciful and loving  God, teach me to appreciate what I have in terms of how I might spend it to help others in need. Amen.

Discussion: In your opinion, how rich is too rich?

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Childlike Wealth


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 12; 146, Nahum 1:1-13, 1 Peter 1:13-25, Matthew 19:13-22

The two stories in today’s passage from Matthew can be read independently, but taken together they provide a greater lesson. In the first, Jesus rebukes the disciples for preventing children from coming to him. He welcomes and blesses the children, and tells his disciples “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” In the second, a rich young man who believes himself virtuous because he keeps the law asks Jesus what he lacks to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells the man he needs to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. The young man leaves in shock and grief.

When Jesus speaks about being like little children, he does not simply mean we should be naïve or innocent. Children own nothing, and depend on their parents for everything. To receive as children, we must realize that all we have is from God, and that our lives apart from God are empty. This takes us to the young man, who has many possessions. To abandon them all is unthinkable to him. His body and actions conform to the law, but his heart belongs first to his possessions. Not only does he fail to recognize all he has does not truly belong to him, he has allowed his attachment to wealth to become a barrier between him and God.

Idealism is associated with youth for a reason: as we grow older and establish our lives, it becomes ever more difficult to stand up for principles that may cost us everything, because we have so much more to lose. As we mature, it’s easy to claim experience has made us practical about matters that threaten our livelihoods. Is it possible we are rationalizing (more than) a bit? It’s a lot easier to stand up for principles at your job or city hall when all you have to lose is a 1998 Ford Fiesta than when your new house and Lexus are on the line. Must we, like the young man, sell everything? At the very least, we must be willing to part with anything in our lives – wealth, reputation, pride – that stands between us and God. Only then will we have room to receive the kingdom of God, and all the gifts which lift us up instead of weigh us down.

Comfort: We are all God’s children.

Challenge: Pick out a children’s book to read, and ask yourself what lessons it has to teach that you may have forgotten in adulthood.

Prayer: How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.  (Psalm 36:7)

Discussion: When did people start seeing you as an adult? When did you start thinking of yourself as one?

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Rewriting History


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 62; 145, Joel 3:1-2, 9-17, 1 Peter 1:1-12, Matthew 19:1-12

You’ve probably heard the phrase “History is written by the victors.” It means the winners of a conflict are generally the ones who get to define history by putting their spin on it. The winning side remembers and records its heroism and bravery, but downplays or outright ignores its own moral failings and shortcomings. History books may be biased, but history itself doesn’t change – and there are often people who remember what the winners would rather forget.

Evolving attitudes towards Columbus Day and Thanksgiving are relatively recent examples of how the parts of history we celebrate never quite bury the parts we’d rather forget. Indigenous peoples of the Americas have been working for years to raise awareness about the horrible price they paid for the European colonial dream. Every culture which subdues another portrays itself in a favorable light; nobody wants to be the villain of their own story.

This type of revisionism is not limited to military history. Without in-depth study, the history of the church can also be murky to us, and what we consider fundamental may be a more recent development than we’d like to admit. For example, when the Pharisees challenged Jesus on the legitimacy of divorce, Jesus responded with a more conservative answer than they expected, saying anyone who divorced and remarried committed adultery. When they argued Moses himself set up the conditions for divorce, he said, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” In this case divorce was the “winner” and people seemed to have conveniently forgotten it was not always so.

The church of today is very different than the church of a thousand years ago, which was very different from the church a thousand years before that. Even the church’s more fundamentalist branches, which style themselves as a return to the basics of Biblical faith and teaching, are a relatively modern phenomenon which approaches scripture and church community very differently than did earlier Christians. As the current “winners” of history, we are compelled to justify our present by reinterpreting the past. The danger in this is feeling the need to deny the truth when it returns to haunt us.

As important as tradition and doctrine are to understanding our faith, it’s just as important to understand the reasons behind them. Sometimes, like the Pharisees’ take on divorce, they are justifications for our failures. Not every change to how we understand faith and scripture – not every tradition we reevaluate – is a step away from “authentic” Christianity. Some of them may be a step back toward it. Those who define the church today are history’s winners. If the first really would be last, it might be a good idea to listen to the buried and forgotten truths we need to hear from the losers.

Comfort: Truth is a promise, not a threat.

Challenge: Do some research on how the Bible came to be.

Prayer: For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.  (Psalm 62:1-2)

Discussion: Have you ever learned something you thought you knew about history wasn’t correct?

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Investment Strategy


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150, Isaiah 19:19-25, Romans 15:5-13, Luke 19:11-27

Common wisdom in business says if an enterprise is standing still, it’s moving backward. This can refer to both innovation and revenue. A business that doesn’t keep up with current technologies and culture ceases to be competitive; even artisans producing boutique, traditional, hand-crafted products need to accept credit cards. A business which breaks even can’t invest in capital improvements necessary to stay competitive or to simply maintain its own aging assets.

Church, like government, isn’t a business but some of the same principles apply. Jesus told a parable about three slaves who were trusted with money by their master while he was away. One invested it and profited tenfold, another profited fivefold, and a third only buried his sum until his master returned. The master was displeased with the third who failed to do so much as put it in the bank to collect interest. This parable is about how we are to invest our own resources of time, treasure, and talent in growing God’s kingdom. A person or church who hoards them rather than risking them is not doing what Jesus says is pleasing to God.

Many Christian individuals and communities are content to take care of their own. Church growth is usually a goal, but it is too often measured only by how many people show up in the pews on Sundays. Since polling consistently shows overall church attendance is declining, any significant increase in the size of a congregation is more likely due to people changing churches than becoming new Christians. Attendance measures little more than the shift of a declining population. A church satisfied by the measures of its own congregation or – perhaps slightly more generously – in its specific denomination is effectively burying its talents in the back yard. If stewardship is defined in terms of the ability to keep the doors open (or to buy bigger doors), the church is moving backward.

Today’s passage from Romans describes a church which flourishes because it expands into territory which was unexpected and to some unacceptable: the Gentile world. The Jews were expecting a Messiah dedicated specifically to the Jewish people; taking him to the Gentiles verged on blasphemy for many of the original Jewish disciples. Yet Paul essentially built the church out of the unacceptable.

The prophet Isaiah talked about a future where Jews, Egyptians, and Assyrians worshipped the Lord together. To the Jews who had been persecuted, enslaved, and exiled by these nations this was equally unthinkable. Yet through Jeremiah God instructed the Jews to survive exile by promoting peace in the city of their captors until they were once again free.

The church does not grow – or fulfill her mission – by patting herself on the back about how holy she is. Yes in many ways we are directed to be a community apart from the world, but should that separation manifest itself in our physical and social separation or in our attitudes and values? Taking credit for poaching church members is like claiming to improve our cash flow by moving money from savings to checking.

The future of the church lies in the people we don’t currently appeal to – and who may not appeal to us. Real opportunities for investment are scary and may not pay off. We have to resist being tainted by the lure of the less savory elements of the world. But our master is not so fearful that we can’t risk what we value by taking it where it really has a chance of multiplying, and then we’ll know the reward of being trusted with more.

Comfort: Our Lord is invested in our future.

Challenge: Do something that scares you today.

Prayer: Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.  (Psalm 66:8-9)

Discussion: Is there any group you think the church is neglecting today?

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Trickle Up Economics


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, Nehemiah 7:73b-8:3, 5-18, Revelation 22:14-21, Matthew 18:21-35

A slave owed his king more than a half a million dollars. Because he could not settle the debt, the king was going to sell off  the man and his family to recover what he could. The slave pleaded for some more time, promising he could come up with the money. The king showed mercy. On his way out of the palace, the slave ran into a second slave who owed him about a hundred dollars. When the second slave pleaded for patience, the first slave had him thrown into prison. The king, angered the first slave couldn’t show mercy in turn, had him tortured until his debt was paid in full.

Swap out talents and denarii for dollars, and this summarizes a parable Jesus told about forgiveness. The message is that we have been given a tremendous amount by God, so we should be able to muster at least a fraction of that forgiveness in kind.

This parable also gets at the heart of an important reason we find forgiveness so difficult: we don’t see ourselves reflected in other people as often as we should, and when we do we are likely to condemn them for the traits we hate in ourselves.

Sadly there is no shortage of “family values” advocates caught up in scandal for engaging in behaviors they declare immoral and campaign to make illegal. There are also plenty of people identifying themselves as progressive who turn out to be closeted misogynists and racists. And for some reason, rather than humbly reach across the aisle to establish a dialogue about how we can love and work through the human condition together, we continue to point at specks and ignore planks … all the while trading in actual morals for a sense of moral superiority.

And if right now anyone is thinking about someone else who needs to hear this, instead of how they themselves might be lacking in empathy and extrapolation, respectfully they are missing the point.

All the time we spend declaring and condemning is time we don’t spend listening and understanding. Maybe we can honestly look at someone and say we wouldn’t commit that particular sin or mistake, but when it comes to what we’ve been forgiven, a dime is as good as a dollar. Jesus didn’t leave the casting of the first stone to “he who hasn’t committed adultery” but “he who is without sin.” He didn’t die for some, but for all.

A lack of forgiveness – which necessitates a willingness to see ourselves reflected in our fellows – is a rejection of the forgiveness we have received. It can be difficult to see humanity in others when we are scared, angry, or ashamed but those are the times we need to try the hardest. The king could have said “it was smart of you to try to collect so you could pay me back” but he valued paying mercy forward more. Ultimately all debts are settled through the Prince of Peace, so let’s be generous with ours.

Additional reading: For more thought’s on today’s passage from Matthew, see Love and Forgiveness and Seventy-Seven Times. For more on empathy and extrapolation, see Invitation: Extrapolation.

Comfort: Forgiveness has more reward than cost.

Challenge: Talk with someone you are having trouble forgiving. If you can’t yet bring yourself to forgive, try to just listen.

Prayer: Merciful and loving God, may gratitude for your forgiveness fill my heart until it overflows into the world. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever condemned someone for something you were also guilty of? If so, how do you feel about that now?

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Tax Reform


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Nehemiah 9:26-38, Revelation 22:6-13, Matthew 18:10-20

Today’s passage from Matthew has been embraced by Christians as a model for discipline within the community. Jesus offers the disciples a model for addressing when a member of the church sins (or in some translations, more specifically “sins against you.”)

First, talk to the person one-on-one in a spirit of reconciliation. If that doesn’t resolve satisfactorily, have the conversation again but this time with the addition of one or two witnesses. If there’s still no repentance, take it before the church “and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” In Acts and Corinthians we can read about how this model plays out.

And yet…

Bible scholars are divided on the authenticity of this passage. It’s unusually prescriptive for a saying of Jesus. It refers to a church which, while Jesus may have foreseen it, did not yet exist. It takes a shot at tax collectors as worth shunning, yet Jesus and his disciples shared meals and went to the homes of tax collectors. And perhaps most tellingly, it is immediately followed by Peter asking Jesus if forgiving someone seven times (which seemed generous compared to the rabbinical standard of three times) was sufficient, and Jesus answering we should forgive seventy times seven times.

The reality is, if someone threatens the well-being of a community from within, we may need a loving yet firm way of dealing with it. Forgiveness is not a blank check for endless tolerance of the unjust. The process described in Matthew gives multiple opportunities for repentance and reconciliation – and also allows for the chance the accused might actually be the wronged party. It discourages overreaction and public shaming. Like an employer’s performance improvement plan, it’s not primarily intended to be the way of driving someone out, but of finding a way to keep them in the fold. But like an improvement plan, it can be misunderstood, misapplied, and abused – especially when expulsion is the predetermined outcome.

What about more personal disputes? We like having an option to take people to task; Jesus is more about curbing that than endorsing it. We are less fond of forgiving them more times than we can count (OK yes, one could theoretically count to four hundred and ninety, but it’s a symbolic number). Just because a disciplinary process is available to use doesn’t mean we are required to use it. Shy of physical danger, it is entirely conceivable for two people who don’t get along, even if one has been wronged, to peacefully coexist in the same congregation. That’s pretty much the definition of forgiveness. And it seems most of Jesus’s teaching put the responsibility on us to make the sacrifice of peace rather than demanding it of someone else.

When someone owes you a sin tax, you are within your rights to follow the collection process to the bitter end. The whats, whys, and hows of it are between you, your debtor, and God. Just keep in mind that Jesus taught us to pray to be forgiven our debts as we forgive our debtors. There will be an audit.

Comfort: Forgiveness has more reward than cost.

Challenge: Being within your rights is no guarantee you are right.

Prayer: Merciful and loving God, teach me to focus more on what I owe than what is owed me. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever experienced someone being ostracized from a community? How did it make you feel?

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Step Into The Light


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Nehemiah 9:1-15 (16-25), Revelation 21:22-22:5, Matthew 18:1-9

Revelation is a complicated book. Some people read it quite literally, others symbolically, and still others as a mixture of both. Whatever your take, the following passage paints a beautiful picture of eternal life.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day — and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

In this world, shadows and darkness hide a great deal of evil. The shadows may be literal like those providing cover for thieves in the night or muggers in a dark alley, or they may be more figurative like secret meetings in boardrooms and halls of power. They can even be psychological and cultural, like the lies we tell and the cover we provide to ignore and excuse exploitation of all kinds of people.

In God’s presence, none of these shadows exist.

In this world we will never know the absolute light of eternity, but we have a choice between reflecting the light or the darkness. We are complicated mix of both, and we can’t always tell the difference in ourselves or others. One of the most important criteria in making that distinction is truth – even when it contradicts what we’d rather say or believe. If we feel it’s our job to pad God’s resume by overstating claims about our faith and church or by ignoring and denying inconvenient information, we aren’t letting the light shine through us. Covering something up – be it scandal, doubt, failure, or mistake – only casts a deserved shadow on our reputation. Being truthful about who we are doesn’t diminish God; it demonstrates how much we need God.

Anyone who’s left a movie theater mid-afternoon knows stepping from the darkness into the light can be a painful transition. Yet we eventually must leave behind the pleasant fictions and enter reality. The highest reality, illuminated by love and truth and mercy and righteousness, strips away all shadows. Let’s do our best to step through its always-open gates with nothing to hide.

For thoughts on today’s reading from Matthew, see Faith Like a Child, Speechless, or Hands, Eyes, and Butterflies.

Comfort: Truth is the light which drives out darkness.

Challenge: Inventory the words and behaviors you keep secret, and ask yourself whether they should be revealed or discarded.

Prayer: Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. (Psalm 116:7)

Discussion: Twelve-step programs have a saying: “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” What do you think that means?

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Fish Story


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Ezra 10:1-17, Revelation 21:9-21, Matthew 17:22-27

When Jesus and the disciples stopped in Capernaum, one of the temple tax collectors asked Peter whether Jesus paid the temple tax. Peter said he did, but when he got home Jesus posed the following question before Peter could speak:

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?”

This question cut right the heart of who Jesus was. If, as he claimed, he was the son of God, he was no more obligated to pay taxes for the temple than a prince was to pay taxes for the king’s castle. Peter replied “From others” so Jesus continued:

“Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”

The passage establishes Jesus’s identity and authority while promoting the model of servant leadership.

But what’s up with that fish?

Several commentaries refer to this incident as the Miracle of the Coin in the Fish, but there’s no actual miracle recounted. There’s talk of a miracle, but unlike most of the other ones (walking on water, water into wine, multiplication of loaves, curing diseases) it happens off-screen. It’s notable this story appears right after one where Jesus told the disciples their lack of faith was the reason they couldn’t cure a demon-possessed boy.

So did Peter find the fish and the coin or not?

The gospel is silent on the outcome, but Jesus said it was going to happen. Peter, very likely still stinging from having the size of his faith compared unfavorably to a mustard seed, didn’t question it. Apart from a few scholars who think this may have been Jesus making a joke or speaking symbolically, most Christians speak and write about it as if it did.

Before becoming Christ’s disciple, Peter made his coin as a fisherman. Suddenly that mundane act was imparted with meaning beyond the ordinary. That’s a big part of faith: trusting that the Lord can transform the ordinary acts we perform into something greater than we can understand. We don’t always see or know the outcome. It may seem a little weird. It can be physical or metaphysical, literal or symbolic, convoluted or simple … or any and all of these things and more. The seed of faith, without a little mystery mixed in to nurture it, doesn’t grow. Faith is not trusting what we know, but trusting when we know not.

Comfort: Faith doesn’t mean you have to have the answers.

Challenge: Look for Gospel stories about fish and meditate on what they have to say.

Prayer: By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. (Psalm 65:5)

Discussion: What unanswered questions have you learned to live with?

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When in doubt…


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 54; 146, Ezra 9:1-15, Revelation 21:1-8, Matthew 17:14-21

Doubt is an inescapable factor of the human condition. From checking an iron we aren’t sure we unplugged to wondering whether a God could possibly exist, we all experience doubt, most of us on a fairly regular basis. Many of us fall prey to the false choice between doubt and faith. In a world that emphasizes an “either/or” mentality, we can find it difficult if not sometimes impossible to sustain a “both/and” perspective. It is entirely possible to balance both doubt and faith in our lives.

After her death, Mother Teresa became a famous example of the embodiment of both doubt and faith. The publication of her private papers revealed her inner struggle with God and faith. For some people, this revelation confirmed their skepticism of faith. But rather than undermine her previous image, perhaps it really served to make her more accessible: if such a revered religious figure struggled with the same doubts we do, our faith also has the potential to be as great as hers.

Jesus worked mercifully with doubters. Matthew describes how one day a man brought Jesus his son, a boy who would fall into the fire and the water when convulsed by seizures. In Mark’s version of the story, the man claimed a demon had also struck the boy mute. When the man asked Jesus to help “if you are able,” Jesus replied all things were possible to those who believed. The man replied “I believe; help my unbelief!” Could there be a more desperate, humble and honest response? Jesus went on to heal the boy through prayer. Yet this man, while his belief was bolstered in the moment, certainly continued to experience doubt throughout his life, just as the rest of us do.

Both Matthew and Mark tell us the disciples asked why they hadn’t been able to cure the boy. Jesus blamed it on their lack of faith. How could the disciples, who lived with Jesus day in and day out, lack faith? It seems neither faith nor doubt are determined by what is  right in front of us, but by our spiritual state. When we allow doubt to make us feel guilty, it only gains a stronger hold.

We are built to juggle contradictory emotions and ideas. At a good memorial or wake, we grieve loss and laugh at memories. Sending a child to the first day of kindergarten or college is often bittersweet. Our relationships with loved ones are a complicated mix of love, anger and countless other simultaneous feelings. These conflicting emotions do not invalidate each other or the experiences that drive them. God has given us the ability to harbor both faith and doubt, so let us use each wisely.

Comfort: Doubt is not failure.

Challenge: When you doubt, don’t try to cover it up. Work through it with trusted friends and advisers.

Prayer: Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God. (Psalm 146:5)

Discussion: How are you affected by other people’s doubt or faith?

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