Make Yourself at Home

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 24; 150, Isaiah 5:1-7, 2 Peter 3:11-18, Luke 7:28-35


What do people mean when they say, “Make yourself at home?” You can almost certainly feel free to sit where you like, use the bathroom, and get a glass of water. Maybe you could comfortably grab a snack from the kitchen, select something on television, and use the phone. But it’s never really an invitation to explore the contents of a nightstand, rearrange a closet, or throw out that tacky figurine collection.

The author of Psalm 24 tells us “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it,” including the people. That means everything we touch – the land, the sea, the forests, the animals, and even other lives – is in a home where we are as welcome as we can possibly be, but still don’t own. What does that say about how we should interact with the world?

We wouldn’t want to have to tell a homeowner who’d graciously given us the run of the place that we’d trampled their flowerbeds, taken an axe to the furniture, ignored the smoke alarm, thrown trash over the fence into the neighbor’s back yard, and beaten their pets and children. Not doing these things seems like the common-sense bare minimum of respect … but are we as respectful of the things – and people – God owns?

A steward is someone who manages another person’s property or affairs. In matters of business a steward is ultimately accountable to the owner, and in matters of the world we are ultimately accountable to God. When we pollute air, water, and land, we pollute God’s garden. When the rich toss landfills and industrial waste into the back yards of the poor, we are ungodly neighbors. When we exploit people and bomb our enemies, we exploit and bomb God’s children.

It is impossible to do absolutely no harm and right every wrong in the world. We will make mistakes. But if God dropped in for a surprise inspection, we’d want to be able to say we made our choices not for our own whims and benefits, but to steward his treasures to the best of our abilities.

Comfort: As one of God’s treasures, you deserve dignity.

Challenge: Pay attention to what areas of your state, city, or neighborhood suffer from poor stewardship.

Prayer: God of all Creation, please grant me wisdom to care for the things and people of Your world. Amen.

Discussion: How is stewardship related to divine justice?

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The Best Defense

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 90; 149, Isaiah 4:2-6, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Luke 21:5-19


“He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
– Abraham Lincoln

“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ.
 – 1 Corinthians 4:10

Jesus warned his disciples about what difficulties to expect in the future. He talked about wars, natural disasters, and persecution. If they were dragged into court, he told them, “This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

How many of us would feel confident entering a courtroom as a defendant with no preparation? Our legal system is a minefield of technicalities few of us can navigate without years of education. We call it our system of justice, but the truth is “justice” can be largely a matter of wealth, influence, and privilege, a system that favors deep pockets and shallow empathy. Where in such a system does faith find a role?

If Jesus and disciples like Paul provide answers to that question, it becomes clear faith is not about victory, at least not in a legal sense – both of them were unjustly condemned! The wisdom Christ promises our opponents can’t “withstand or contradict” may not carry the day in court, but it expresses truths which are – over time – undeniable. In a courtroom, and really in all of life, the purpose of our testimony is not to save our own lives, but to transform the world by introducing – and, as many times as necessary, re-introducing – it to Christ. We don’t have to prepare, because the truth of Christ speaks for itself.

However, if we are living for Christ, we are not really without preparation. We are called to confront the injustices of the world on a daily basis. Seeking solidarity with people who are poor, oppressed, and marginalized teaches us the true meaning of justice. Being a witness for Christ is a lifelong burden, but it is a light and joyful burden because “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Comfort: God’s justice is for everyone.

Challenge: With your money or time, support a group that confronts injustice.

Prayer: God of Justice, I trust in you and not the world. Grant me wisdom to be your effective and loving witness. Amen.

Discussion: Is there an injustice you have seen righted in your lifetime?

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Keep Lighting the Candle

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 102; 148, Isaiah 3:1-4:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Luke 20:41-21:4


As we approach the end of this first week of Advent, let’s reflect on its theme of Hope. This coming Sunday anyone with an Advent wreath will light the second Advent candle, but they will also re-light the Hope candle, and keep lighting it each week until they light the Christ candle.

One of the joys of Advent is knowing exactly when Christ will arrive – the date is already marked on our calendars. Today’s scriptures from Isaiah, 1 Thessalonians, and Luke all focus on people awaiting their own day of deliverance, but waiting without a clear end date. Though time and circumstance differed, each of these writers warned that in the meantime, things would get tougher – maybe even terrible. Even through none of them could name a specific day, all were confident the day of reckoning would indeed come.

Still we wait. We watch things get better in some areas and worse in others. We know from the past that the future holds both glory and terror. Wars begin and end. Diseases appear and disappear. Hungry people are fed, and different people begin to starve. Nothing in the world is new, yet we are made new in Christ. How do we maintain Hope in Christ’s promises for a new and better kingdom in the face of such contradiction?

Our relationship with Hope must evolve. If faith maps our lives, Hope is no longer a pushpin marking some dream destination, but a bright road we must travel. When we light a candle of Hope – by visiting a sick friend, working for equality, feeding the hungry – God’s kingdom exists wherever the light of those candles shines. Like the light of a distant star, Hope is something we observe in the present, but also evidence of the past and the future.

The day we are waiting for is always today. If we are living in relationship with God, does it really matter when Christ returns? If knowing a date changes how we live, we live not in Hope, but desperation. It is in the act of lighting the candle – in letting the Hope of Christ illuminate our hearts – that Christ returns again and again.

Comfort: Hope exists now.

Challenge: We all have something (or things) we’re putting off until the time is right, when realistically it may never be “right.” Find a way to take action as if the time is right now.

Prayer: Eternal God, I place my Hope in you, right now and always. Amen.

Discussion: What are you hoping for?

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Puzzling It Out

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Isaiah 2:5-22, 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13, Luke 20:27-40


Under ancient Jewish marriage laws, a widow was instructed to marry her late husband’s unwed brother. Theoretically, if that brother died, and there was another brother, she would marry him. And if he died … on down the line.

The Sadducees, who did not even believe in resurrection, tried to trip up Jesus with a hypothetical question about who in the resurrection would be the husband of a woman who’d married seven brothers. Jesus told them nothing as we understood it – including marriage – would be the same.

On one level he was specifically addressing the Sadducees, but on another (and when is anything Jesus says not multi-layered?) he was pointing out the futility of trying to cram God and God’s kingdom into the tiny fragments of human understanding that describe and limit our faith. If we treat them like pieces of a puzzle and try to force them into a single picture, we soon learn that not only are we missing countless pieces, the ones we have may be from different boxes. The only way to fit them inside our desired frame of reference is to tear off the inconvenient bits and pound them flat.

No wonder the picture of Christianity can often make so little sense, especially to outsiders. Not knowing is uncomfortable and scary, so we can waste time rearranging the pieces. This obsession disengages us from the “God of the living” – from life and all its blessed messiness.

An insistence on theological tidiness, especially about unknowable things, doesn’t make us better believers. Mystics of all faiths describe the moment of divine revelation as a surrender to mystery. The wisest people admit to knowing nothing.

Getting stuck in “head” religion ultimately leads to frustration. Thinking you lack spiritual wisdom because you don’t know the right terms or scripture quotes is just not true. God is found in living hearts, not dead paper. Christ is the Living Word not because he appears on Bible pages, but because he rewrites the world.

Rather than “bow down to the work of [our] own hands” by stuffing God into ideas we’ve created, let’s trust that God is present with us in the glorious chaos of life.

Comfort: You don’t have to understand everything – as a matter of fact no one does!

Challenge: Try to give up finding the answer to one question you wish you knew.

Prayer: Infinite God, Lord of all Creation, I am open to your mystery and majesty. Amen.

Discussion: What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a puzzle before giving up?

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Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Today’s readings:
Psalms 50; 147:1-11, Isaiah 2:1-4, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20, Luke 20:19-26


“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar, and unto God what is God’s.”

This well-known saying was Christ’s answer to some people who asked him whether it was lawful for Jewish people to pay taxes to the emperor – a controversial subject because rendering taxes implied the emperor was divine and therefore an idol. While this reply has spawned many deep theological discussions, there are some more mundane but important lessons to be learned.

In Luke’s version of the story, the people who asked the question were spies pretending to be friendly, but secretly intending to trap Jesus into saying something their masters could use against him. A straight up “yes” would have angered many Jews, and a “no” would have been treasonous. Did Jesus realize their intent? Whether he did or not, Jesus skillfully sidestepped the whole predicament by giving what was essentially a non-answer.

In our dealings, we should be alert to those who say seemingly innocent things to conceal sinister intent. During the Jim Crow era of American history, many states introduced literacy requirements for voting. They argued someone who could not read could not properly use a ballot. Absent other circumstances, it makes a kind of sense, right? Then they introduced a grandfather clause exempting people who were allowed to vote before 1866, because if you’d been a voter it didn’t seem right to take that away. Except, though not named specifically, only white people could possibly qualify for the exemption. The new black vote was effectively eliminated for a generation under “race neutral” legislation.

This phenomenon is not limited to race. Even in church, groups in power may create rules to ensure they stay in power. Instead of Caesar’s coin, the currency of acceptance may be based on gender, politics, income, etc. The more sophisticated the powerful, the more subtle their discriminations, so we must remain vigilant on behalf of our sisters and brothers in Christ. The message of the Gospel expanded from Jews to Gentiles to all the corners of the earth. It expands still. When we see it start to contract, it’s time to start asking our own bold and honest questions.

Comfort: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Challenge: Jesus advises us to “be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.” Know when to be loving and when to be skeptical.

Prayer: Lord of Love, use me toward the justice of all your people. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever been subject to unjust discrimination?

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Heroes and Villains

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 33; 146 , Isaiah 1:21-31 , 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 , Luke 20:9-18


Have you ever seen those online quizzes with names like “Which Seven Dwarfs character are you?” or “What comic book figure are you?” Generally they ask silly questions (while secretly gathering marketing information) then reveal why you are most like Bashful or Batman. Although meaningless and generic, the results never seem to be especially surprising. Most of us have a pretty good idea of who we are.

Parables are a different story. We think we know which character represents us because we want to identify with the lost sheep or the repentant sinner, but maybe that’s because we know which characters are “supposed” to be admirable. Take the parable of the Wicked Tenants, for instance. An owner leased his vineyard while he was out of the country. When he sent a slave to collect his share of the harvest, the tenants beat the slave and sent him back. They did the same thing to the next two slaves he sent. Finally he sent his son, whom they killed. The owner would come to destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. With (very) little analysis, we can conclude the owner is God, the wicked tenants are the religious leaders He entrusted with His people, the beaten slaves are the prophets, the slain son is Jesus, and the new inheritors of the vineyard are Christ’s followers. Easy, right?

Not so fast. We don’t always get to be the hero.

Twenty centuries later, it’s the Christian establishment’s turn to work the vineyard of the Western world, and the powerful – or at least those who like to think they own everything – don’t tend to fare well in parables. On the whole, the church isn’t kind to prophetic voices of dissent. We declare them apostate or stop carrying their DVDs in our bookstores. When they demand too much inclusiveness, we’d rather leave them spiritually bruised and empty-handed than consider we may have erred by trying to assume ownership of the grace that is only God’s to claim. Today we are the tenants running amok. Whom are we beating?

Advent is the perfect time to try viewing yourself from a different perspective. If it turns out you’re The Evil Queen or The Joker, with grace you just might be able to turn that around before Jesus gets here.

Comfort: There’s time to change your story.

Challenge: Ask yourself who might see you as the bad guy, and whether they have a point.

Prayer: Oh Lord, teach me to be humble and help me to be kind. Amen.

Discussion: What fictional character do you relate to, and why?

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Flip The Mattress

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 122; 145, Isaiah 1:10-20, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Luke 20:1-8


As a mattress ages, it slowly loses its ability to properly support us. Even as it grows less and less physically comfortable, it grows familiar – more emotionally comfortable – so we work with what we’ve got. And while we learn to avoid low spots and bad springs, we wake up a little less refreshed every morning. Eventually, we arrange ourselves to fit the mattress when it’s supposed to be the other way around. Very often we wait until we are physically pained before going to the trouble of getting a new one.

Religion has something in common with a mattress: the very act of inhabiting it, distorts it. During Advent we read from the book of Isaiah because it calls God’s people to look at how they twisted their religion until it no longer supported their once vibrant, living faith. The sacrifices they once made to honor God became an abomination, because the people managed to follow the rules without showing compassion and mercy to the least among them. Over time, the people contorted themselves to rest on the comfortable parts of the law and avoid the harder demands of mercy, all the while failing to realize how seriously they were damaging the backbone of their faith.

According to Isaiah, the Jewish people were driven into Babylonian exile, despite ample warnings, because God withdrew his favor. During Advent, which is a time of looking both backward and forward, the words of Isaiah should prompt us to reevaluate how we live out our own faith. Are we relying exclusively on rules and ritual? These are not bad things, but alone they do not meet God’s expectations for us to seek justice and rescue the oppressed. It doesn’t take long for us to settle into a routine and forget why we adopted it in the first place. Does our faith practice refresh us to live in love, or does it only equip us to sleepwalk through life?

We can settle for a slowly dilapidating mattress, we can flip it over a little to see if that does the trick, or we can invest in reinvigorating it entirely. Faith doesn’t need to be reinvented, but every so often it does need to be refreshed. We are, after all, a resurrection people.

Comfort: In the end, renewal is more refreshing than it is inconvenient.

Challenge: This Advent season, look at how you might renew your faith practices. Consider participating in a Reverse Advent Calendar.

Prayer: God of all that is, may I never forget you are the reason for all I do. Amen.

Discussion: What are some habits or practices (religious or otherwise) you have abandoned or reworked because they no longer served a purpose?

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Blink and you’ll miss it.

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 24; 150, Isaiah 1:1-9, 2 Peter 3:1-10, Matthew 25:1-13


The world ended today. Did you notice? Probably not … if it wasn’t your world. But someone’s did. Someone’s divorce was final. Someone received a terminal diagnosis. Someone’s home was bombed to the ground with loved ones inside. The world ends every day.

We all long for a day when things will be just and fair and simply … better. We’ve never been patient about it either. Today’s letter from Peter dealt with both those who used the promise of Christ’s return for their own gain, and scoffers who said if it hadn’t happened yet it wasn’t going to – and only a few decades had passed since Christ was physically among them. Was the author’s response that to God “a thousand years are like one day” any more satisfying then than it is centuries later? It seems we are left to conclude that Jesus and those who claimed he would return are simply wrong. But if the world ends every day … maybe Jesus returns every day too.

Parables about the kingdom of heaven, like Matthew’s tale of the bridesmaids and the oil lamps, are never only about some future “rapture” or judgment; they also instruct us on what the kingdom is like right now. Unlike the foolish bridesmaids, we prepare for the groom’s return not just because we fear being excluded from the banquet, but because delays and midnight arrivals are par for the course. Jesus returns when someone accepts a 3 a.m. call from an abused spouse and offers a safe place to stay. Jesus returns when a Hospice volunteer sits with someone who is afraid. Jesus returns when combatants choose reconciliation over revenge. Our lamps must be filled with the oil of compassion and ready to light when the phone rings, the stranger cries, or the enemy uncurls a fist. Otherwise when Christ comes calling we – like the foolish bridesmaids – will be left in our own darkness, having missed the opportunity to join the groom and represent him to the world.

Today the world ended. Today Christ returned. If your lamp is full, you’ll get to see it all again tomorrow.

Comfort: Jesus returns every day.

Challenge: Look out for opportunities to show the Christ’s love to people in crisis.

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, I thank you for daily renewal. Amen.

Discussion: When have you felt like the world ended?

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Advent: A time for returning

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Hello. We haven’t heard from each other in a while. That’s my fault – for various reasons I haven’t been keeping the blog up for a while. I was contemplating resuming the blog as an Advent practice, but wasn’t sure. Advent is an important season for me – I love the idea of a season devoted to the idea of both commemorating and anticipating Christ’s arrival. Observing this season always deepens my relationship with God and Christ.

I wasn’t sure I was up to resuming the blog though. Then just today I received a notification that a blog I admire – Christianity 201 – had re-posted me and said nice things about the blog. I’m not 100% sold on the whole idea of “God moments” but that sure had the ring of one for me.

So for at least the period of this Advent, I’ll be revisiting the daily lectionary and reworking past devotional pieces. I’m excited to be returning to the blog to rework some past devotional for our Advent journey, and hope you find some meaningful time spent on the reflections offered here.

Peace and blessings to you this Advent season!

Moving in the Direction of Justice

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 42; 146, Joshua 2:15-24, Romans 11:13-24, Matthew 25:14-30


Have you ever heard anyone label a certain type of thinking or theology as “Old Testament” or “New Testament?” Sometimes we like to believe there’s an easy distinction, a clean break between the people of the law and the people of grace. However, many Old Testament prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, etc. – foreshadowed Jesus’s teachings by commenting on the need for justice and mercy over sacrifice. Conversely, we can be tempted to soften Jesus’ language to make him seem less OT and more WWJD.

Many, if not most, translations of the Parable of the Talents refer to the characters in the story as “servants,” but a more accurate translation is “slaves.” This is true for many Biblical passages in which the word “servant” appears. Some critics of Christianity use these passages as evidence Jesus condoned or even promoted slavery, especially since some Christians have made the same mistake.

Though we accept his teachings as universal, we understand Jesus was speaking to a specific culture at a specific time. So what can we make of problematic passages like Jesus’s casual references to slavery? First, many of the people in his audience were slaves. Using them as examples of righteousness elevated them spiritually beyond their societal stations, and was a revolutionary statement of their worth as children of God.

Second, Jesus is an example of a faithful life in the world as it is. When we acknowledge what we can do for the poor and oppressed today, we are not condoning or promoting poverty and oppression, nor are we foolish enough to pretend these conditions will cease to exist. Though Christ did not actively speak against slavery, the abolitionist movement sprouted from Christian churches. Third, as Paul says in several of his letters, in Christ there is no distinction between Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female, etc. We are all slaves to each other and to Christ. Softening the language diminishes its radical message.

Slavery is certainly not the only difficult topic in the Bible. If we are willing to understand scripture in the larger context of the world and tackle its more challenging texts head on, our faith only deepens.

Comfort: God is present even in the most unpleasant places and times.

Challenge: Find out if there are an resources in your community to combat human trafficking. You may want to start at traffickingresourcecenter.org.

Prayer: God of the Known and Unknown, let me know you as you are and not just as I’d like you to be. Amen.

Discussion: What Biblical passages make you uncomfortable?

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