Hearts Of Stone

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 27; 147:12-20, Exodus 7:25-8:19, 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, Mark 10:17-31


In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul tells the people the law under Moses (which he calls the “ministry of death”) was chiseled in stone, while the ministry of the Spirit is written on their hearts. He also distinguishes them as the ministry of condemnation and the ministry of justification.  For people who were used to having all of God’s requirements written down in an agreed-upon format, this was an understandably difficult transition.

The New Testament wasn’t compiled until well after Paul’s death. When he preached about Christ, Paul wasn’t beholden to specific texts, a situation with both challenges and advantages. He had to constantly meditate on what the will of Christ might be, since he was the first person bringing this message to most of the people he encountered. On the other hand, not being bound by chapter and verse, he was free to speak the language of the heart, which created opportunities for mercy often unthinkable under the restrictions of pure law.

The New Testament is a collection of testimony and letters of advice and encouragement, not a basis for hard and fast laws, no matter how much some might like it to be. So how do we know what to do? The challenge of the ministry of justification is that we can’t actually read what is written on anyone else’s heart. Because it’s our nature to prefer defined expectations, we tend to assume it matches what is written on our own, and build our expectations for them on that basis. If we begin to judge people for not meeting our own self-imposed limits and rules, we are back to the ministry of condemnation, and the living words written on our hearts harden like stone tablets.

Our job is to understand what God has written on our own hearts, and live accordingly. Paul’s ministry of justification assumes the law is on our hearts, and encourages us to assume the same of others. Christ invites and trusts us to fulfill the law of love, and encourages us to allow others the freedom to do the same.

Comfort: The ministry of death has passed. Christ offers us new life.

Challenge: We are responsible for discerning, through our relationship with Christ, what is right and what is wrong.

Prayers: Merciful God, thank you for the ministry of life made possible through Jesus Christ. I pray for the wisdom and discernment to follow your will, not my own. Spare me from judgment as I spare my neighbor. Amen.

Discussion: What hard and fast rules do you cling to that may be more yours than God’s?

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. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Good News / Bad News

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 34; 146, Exodus 5:1-6:1, 1 Corinthians 14:20-40, Mark 9:42-50


We’ve all seen them: evangelists who go Full Brimstone attempting to convert non-believers. From the classic “If you’re wrong you’re going to hell!” to the modern “God Hates Fags” tactics deployed at military funerals and on cable, someone is always telling someone else why God is damning them to eternal suffering. Fear-based evangelism is notoriously ineffective except for fundraising from believers, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt to its practitioners and assume they are fumbling to share the core message of salvation through Christ. Then let’s meditate on some teachings of Paul and Jesus.

Paul advised the Corinthian that speaking in tongues impressed some believers, but to non-believers it was gibberish that at best said nothing and at worst confused or repelled them. He told those with the gift of prophecy to keep it reined in; believers and non-believers alike could be overwhelmed by more than two or three speakers at time. Zeal is admirable, but leading with the big guns doesn’t exactly tell people you come in peace.

Jesus told people it was better to cut off a hand or foot or to poke out an eye if those parts presented stumbling blocks to the little ones following him. This passage follows Christ’s rebuke of disciples who were unhappy to see strangers casting out demons in his name. Attacking their fledgling faith would have accomplished nothing, and may even have destroyed the good work they were doing.

Our convictions in Christ remain firm, but how we share them with others is important. When Jesus told the rich young man he would have to give up everything he owned to become a disciple … the rich young man walked away. If it doesn’t work for Jesus, it’s not going to work for us. The good news we have to share is not that hell is our default destination and we have the exclusive ticket out; the good news is God loves everyone enough to offer them eternal life. If that seems like a distinction without a difference, remember that famed dog- and horse-whisperers succeed because they teach by understanding their students, not forcing the students to understand them.

Comfort: There’s always another way to share the good news of our faith.

Challenge: Before sharing the Gospel, decide whether you’re trying to win souls or just win arguments.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for the good news of Jesus Christ! Give me the courage and wisdom to share your word effectively with those who need to hear it. Amen.

Discussion: Are you comfortable speaking about your faith? Is any discomfort you have about what you believe, or about what you think you need to say to share 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. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Who Gives Speech to Mortals?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab / window):
Psalms 84; 150, Exodus 3:16-4:12, Romans 12:1-21, John 8:46-59


When God appeared to Moses from a burning bush and asked him to confront Pharaoh about freeing the Israelites, Moses was understandably hesitant. After all, the Egyptian king already wanted him dead, and Moses had spent the last forty years as a humble shepherd. How could he effectively present himself as God’s messenger? He wanted assurance the Egyptians would believe him.

To convince Moses that Pharaoh would listen, God commanded him to throw his staff to the ground. It became a serpent, and then a staff again when Moses grabbed it by the tail. The Lord then commanded Moses to tuck his hand inside his robe. When he drew it out again, it was white with leprosy. At God’s command he repeated the actions, and it was healed. Armed with these signs and more, Moses still resisted, insisting he was slow of speech and tongue. God, seeming almost exasperated by the this point, replied: “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.”

Let’s consider for a moment the assurances God gave Moses. He didn’t arm Moses with magical amulets or enchanted weapons. Instead he said: show them your staff; show them your hands. God was telling Moses: “You are already equipped to do my work. Trust me.”

We often feel unwilling and ill equipped to do what God asks. Excuses come fast and easily. We lack finances. We lack time. We lack talent. But who gives us talent? Who makes us smart or senseless, rich or poor? When we answer the Lord’s call, he will equip us. This isn’t to say things will be easy. Moses experienced many trials both before and after his people left Egypt, and never entered the promised land himself, but God equipped him each step of the way.

Our gifts may seem completely ordinary until we trust God to use them, but when we do … who knows what miracles may happen and souls may be freed?

Comfort: You have been created with everything you need.

Challenge: Meditate on what you have to offer, no matter how small, that God could use.

Prayer: God of Creation, thank you for the many gifts you have given me. Teach me to see myself as you do: a child with limitless potential inspired by your love. Amen.

Discussion: What excuses do you use to avoid what’s asked of 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. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Rocks, Thunder, and Dough

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 119:73-80; 145, Genesis 41:46-57, 1 Corinthians 4:8-20 (21), Mark 3:7-19a


Our faith assures us that God knows us intimately inside and out. Psalm 119 declares: “Your hands have made and fashioned me.” All through our lives God actively shapes and reshapes us body, mind and soul. All who encountered Jesus were changed, usually spiritually, sometimes physically — and occasionally by name. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say Jesus revealed their true selves.

When Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (“the rock”), he predicted Peter would be the rock upon which the church was founded.  But Jesus was not without a sense of humor. Being rock-like also implies stubbornness, and Peter had that quality in abundance. At the beginning of his journey with Jesus, Peter was not particularly self-aware, but over time  Christ transformed Peter’s character flaws into some of his greatest strengths. What other than faithfully applied stubbornness could have seen the Christian church through its early stages?

Then we have the disciples (and brothers) James and John, or as Jesus called them, “The Sons of Thunder.” They were outspoken and quick to action. These traits didn’t always pay off as intended, but once the brothers learned to temper them  with wisdom, they became central to Jesus’s mission both before and after his resurrection.

Paul is another example of repurposed character. As Saul he zealously persecuted Christians, but after his conversion he was even more dedicated to  spreading the Gospel. Such single-mindedness is not within most people’s grasp, but it equipped Paul especially well for his calling.

What character traits would you change about yourself? Is it possible God built them into you for a reason, and what really needs to change is how you understand and use them? Justice is often fueled by anger, and success by stubbornness (masquerading as “persistence”). God did not create you to be someone you’re not. When we feel convicted to change something about ourselves, it’s worth asking Christ how he might reshape that thing toward a better use. Raw dough is inedible but has the same ingredients as delicious bread. Sometimes we only need to bake a while longer to rise to our potential.

Comfort: God knows and loves you, for he created you just as you are.

Challenge: Make a list of what characteristics trouble you. Pray about how you can look at them differently to serve God.

Prayer: God of creation, thank you for making me in your image. Help me to understand what that means for my life. Help me to shape my gifts to best serve your Kingdom. Help me appreciate the gifts you have given others. Give me ears to hear the new name you have for me. Amen.

Discussion: What about yourself have you had to learn to love (or are still learning to)?

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Just Deserts and Just Desserts

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 43; 149, Ezekiel 39:21-29, Philippians 4:10-20, John 17:20-26


Have you heard the term “food desert?” A food desert is generally understood as an area – usually urban, usually economically distressed – where circumstances limit people’s access to affordable, nutritious food. Picture an inner city neighborhood loaded with overpriced convenience store snacks, but no groceries with fresh produce. Because the available food is junk, people living in food deserts are commonly both overweight and undernourished.

Paul had never heard of food deserts when he told the Philippians he had “learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need” (Phil 4:12).  He did recognize that we never have so much abundance that we don’t still need Jesus. We can grow fat on the riches of the world, but they will never give us true life. Yet even a small taste of the Bread of Life will leave us satisfied. Like Paul, we will “[learn] to be content with whatever [we] have” (v 11).

We’re all familiar with the practice of giving something up for Lent, a symbolic fast demonstrating our solidarity with Christ’s forty days in the desert. An equally important but less frequently observed tradition is almsgiving, or giving to people in need. Our Lenten sacrifice has more meaning when these practices go hand-in-hand. It’s not our business to judge anyone’s sacrifice, but there is a qualitative difference between giving up chocolate because it dovetails with weight loss goals, and giving up a daily five-dollar latte and donating the money to a food bank instead.

Our wilderness fast with Christ is a time of spiritual growth. The deeper we sink our roots into that desert, the more Living Water we will find.  Desert plants are biologically efficient and waste little energy on unnecessary processes, yet when resources allow they produce stunning blooms. Which of our resources could be put to better use in deserts both spiritual and nutritional? What sacrifices can we make so others might blossom in the love Christ calls us to share? Time and again the prophets remind us God loves mercy above sacrifice, but sometimes we must sow sacrifice to reap mercy.

Comfort: Like Paul, you can learn to be content under all circumstances.

Challenge: Learn more about food deserts and how you can help. What sacrifices of time and money might you be able to make to help people with little access to nutritional food?

Prayer: Gracious and merciful God, I thank you for all things you have given me. Help me understand which are mine to use, and which you have entrusted me to share with others in need. When my hunger for food is satisfied, may I feel even more strongly a hunger to share the Bread of Life with the world. Amen.

Discussion: On what do you spend a lot of time and energy which gives you little to no nourishment in return? Do you think it would be possible to reprioritize that time and energy?

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. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Mercy in the Middle

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 102; 27; 147:12-20, Habakuk 3:1-10 (11-15) 16-18, Philippians 3:12-21, John 17:1-8


One of singer Amy Grant’s most powerful songs is “Ask Me,” the true story of a young girl who experiences sexual abuse in her home. The arc of the song is hopeful, but not naive. Ms. Grant follows in the footsteps of psalmists and prophets struggling to understand where God could be in the middle of terrible trials. Lent is the perfect time for us to ask these questions, to mourn the state of the world. This season reminds us why we need the savior to enter God’s creation again and again.

Psalm 102 uses striking images to illustrate its author’s misery. He eats ash and drinks tears. His bones burn like a furnace. His heart withers like grass. His enemies taunt him until he is helpless as a little bird on a rooftop. Psalm 27 is the plea of someone whose enemies devour his flesh and exhale violence. The prophet Habakuk has visions of war and famine. Yet in the midst of these terrible events, all these writers cry out to the Lord. Habakuk says despite all the horrors around him, “I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”

Faith does not require us to pretend we are okay with everything in our lives. When parents or children fall seriously ill, when civilians are bombed, when we lose a job, when we struggle with depression, when natural disasters destroy communities … God does not require us to meekly accept it. We can rant and rail to God about injustice and pain because – as Ms. Grant sings – “He’s in the middle of [our] pain, in the middle of [our] shame.”

Sometimes life stinks, and God knows it. Psalmists, prophets, and terrified little girls survive not by pretending God makes everything OK, but by finding the peace that comes through suffering authentically in God’s presence. Christ is God’s incarnate presence in a grieving world. He doesn’t come to meet uncomplaining cheerleaders, but to share in our suffering and redeem it through his own. Embrace the brokenness of yourself and the world, for that is where peace begins.

Comfort: God is always with you, even when your suffering makes him seem far away.

Challenge: Throughout Lent, look for opportunities to let someone share their struggles with you. Don’t try to fix it – just be present.

Prayer: Gracious and merciful God, thank you for suffering with me through my struggles. Please help me to lean on your mercies when my difficulties seem overwhelming. As I bare my soul to you, share your peace with me so others may see it also. Amen.

Discussion: This reflection is on specific readings, but chances are no matter when you read this you are aware of some unfolding tragedy. How are you responding to 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. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Invitation: Locker Room

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Earlier this week, while changing in the locker room, I heard a guy repeatedly cursing repeatedly and making a barking sound which may have been a laugh. Another guy was on his cell phone calling off work. I thought the first guy was rudely interrupting the second, until I turned around and saw they were the same guy. This man was having a particularly bad flare up of Tourette’s Syndrome, and needed time off. A few minutes later I was on my usual elliptical machine and working out with music pumping into my ear buds. When the first song ended, I could hear the barking sound echoing through the gym. Continue reading

Invitation: Prodigal

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Today’s Sunday readings include the parable of the Prodigal Son. In case you’re not familiar, it is a story about a rich young man who demands his inheritance and squanders it on “dissolute living.” In other words: booze and prostitutes. It didn’t take long until he was broke and starving. He returned home, ready to apologize to his father and beg for forgiveness he knew he didn’t deserve. To his surprise, when he got home, rather than tear into him, his father ran to the gate, tossed a robe on his shoulders, and threw him a party before he could even get the apology out. His brother was unhappy about this turn of events and complained that in all the time he’d dutifully minded his father, he’d never gotten a party. The father told the brother: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Which brother are you? Continue reading

Master Plan

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 27; 147:12-20, Exodus 1:6-22, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, Mark 8:27-9:1


The story of Joseph, his many brothers, and his father Jacob is very near its end with today’s reading. The journey to Egypt for Jacob (also called Israel) and his sons has been a long and twisted one.While Joseph and Pharaoh’s favor allowed the fledgling nation of Israel to settle freely in the Egyptian land of Goshen with all the food they needed, the other residents of Egypt were not so lucky during this seven years of famine. After giving Pharaoh all their money one year and their livestock the next, they had nothing left but their land and bodies. In exchange for food, they offered themselves up as Pharaoh’s slaves and had to pay a tribute of a fifth of all they harvested. Continue reading