Things That Make For Peace

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 84; 148, Song of Solomon 2:8-13; 4:1-4a, 5-7, 9-11, 2 Corinthians 12:11-21, Luke 19:41-48


Let’s consider these words from Jesus which he spoke as, weeping, he approached Jerusalem:

If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground […] because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.

This prediction came to pass about 40 years later when Rome crushed a Jewish rebellion and burned the temple. Interesting history, but history and prophecy also usually having something to say to us in the present if we really listen.

How are we failing to recognize “the things that make for peace?” Despite admonitions from Jesus to turn the other cheek and do good to those who persecute us, we remain adept at rationalizing violence, war, and revenge (masquerading as justice). Jesus said love your enemies and hate your family. When we decide which of his teachings were hyperbole and which he meant us to put into literal action, why don’t these ever seem to be the latter? The things that make for peace aren’t about correcting or controlling outside factors, but about making the personal sacrifices necessary for peace. If someone decides that means going off to war we write patriotic songs about it, but if another decides it means refusing to go to war (and risking imprisonment) we toss out slurs like coward and traitor. Following the Prince of Peace may not make us absolute pacifists, but we must face the emotional and physical violence we excuse – even celebrate – in our own lives.

Ignore the things that make for peace long enough, and when we need them they will be hidden from us in a blindness of our own choosing. The world has enough people, Christian and not, justifying why we don’t have to love self-sacrificially as Christ commanded. War and hate thrive regardless of whether we support or participate in them. Peace does not.

Comfort: Peaceful actions are a sign of strength.

Challenge: When you find yourself looking for reasons to justify violence, look just as hard for reasons not to.

Prayer: Prince of Peace, create in me a loving heart and thoughtful mind. Amen.

Discussion: When do you think violence is justified? How does that fit with your understand of Jesus’s teachings?

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Thorn In My Side

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, Song of Solomon 1:1-3, 9-11, 15-16a; 2:2-3a, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Luke 19:28-40


Have you ever heard the expression “thorn in my side?” It means a persistent, often painful difficulty. We get this phrase from the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the church in Corinth:

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

We don’t know the exact nature of Paul’s metaphorical thorn. His ailment could have been physical, spiritual, or emotional. Whatever it was, he had to learn to live with it. Paul chose to accept this thorn as an instrument of humility, one that kept him from becoming too full of himself.

We all suffer from something (or maybe several somethings) we’d rather be rid of. From ADD to sexual temptation to lumbago, everyone has a weakness. Paul provides an example of how we might approach such weakness in a positive way. Rather than become resentful or defensive about it, we can let it serve as a reminder to be charitable toward the struggles of others. When we see someone wrestling with the same demons we do, we can judge them (though we are really judging ourselves) or we can be empathetic and supportive. If someone struggles with an issue that gives us no problems at all, we should remember another person might easily pluck out a thorn that has rooted deeply in our own flesh.

“Power is made perfect in weakness” because it illustrates how God is never limited by the same things we are, but also because our weakness, properly considered, tempers our pride.

Our thorn – perhaps from the same branch that circled the head of Christ – is a sign that true love for the suffering is never pity, but solidarity. Though we don’t have to enjoy our weaknesses, let us give thanks for the blessings of humility and love that wouldn’t exist without them.

Comfort: You are not defined by your weakness.

Challenge: When you see others struggle, especially with something you’ve overcome, remember your own thorns.

Prayer: Thank you God for teaching me to rely on you in all things. Amen.

Discussion: How do you react to your own weakness?

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Failure is Not an Option

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, Deuteronomy 31:30-32:14, 2 Corinthians 11:21b-33, Luke 19:11-27


In the parable of the ten minas (a unit of currency worth about four months’ wages), Jesus tells the story of a wealthy land owner who entrusts one mina each to ten servants before he traveled abroad to have himself appointed king (an unpopular idea among his subjects). Upon his triumphant return, the newly appointed king summoned his servants to find out how they had handled his money. The first one had earned a tenfold return, the second a fivefold return, and the third had buried it and returned it without increase. The king gave the first servant ten cities, the second five cities, and took the mina away from the third to give it to the first.

This parable was about how Jesus’s followers should invest their time and talents while they waited for the eventual arrival of the Kingdom. We hear about the results of three servants, but what of the other seven? Specifically, what do we think would have happened to a servant who made an honest effort to increase his or her mina but lost it all? The king says that those who have nothing will lose even more … but is he talking about money? After all, this is a parable about faith.

We might find a clue in the master’s response: “I will judge you by your own words.” If we, like the third servant, live timidly because we believe in a tyrannical, petty God, that is the God we will experience. But if we trust God and the gifts given us, and use them boldly, we will find they increase. And in the event of failure, we must continue to trust. Trust approaches failure like a comma that gives us pause to gather our thoughts, rather than a period that completes our sentence. Trust in God means failure, even unto death, is never the final state.

Let’s make confident, risky investments of the gifts God has entrusted to us. We will inevitably experience failures, but if we are to be judged by our own words, let us speak of a merciful, loving Lord.

Comfort: Faith in action is faith multiplied.

Challenge: On scraps of paper, write down things you are afraid to do, but think you should. Put them in a bowl, mix them up, and commit to doing the one you pull out at random.

Prayer: My Lord and Savior, I will trust you with all my mind, heart, and soul. Amen.

Discussion: What fears stop you from doing the things you want to?

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The Sarcasm Chasm

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 12; 146, Deuteronomy 30:11-20, 2 Corinthians 11:1-21a, Luke 19:1-10


Do you have any friends who describe themselves as “fluent in sarcasm?” It’s a popular phrase. Some people describing themselves this way  do indeed understand the definition and subtleties of sarcasm, but others use it to excuse a general attitude of – for lack of a better term – meanness. Sarcasm, irony, and snark seem to have become the default mode of communication for many people, often as a substitute for wit – which itself has become more of an end than a means. All these tools can be used to make effective points and observations, but only when they are used strategically. We may enjoy rough and tumble banter with our friends, but constant, almost competitive sarcasm erodes actual communication and civility. Sincerity has almost become countercultural.

Paul was not afraid of employing sarcasm, but he did it sparingly and effectively. When members of the church in Corinth started falling for flashy and gimmicky preachers claiming to represent Christ but really representing their own self interests, he sarcastically referred to himself as a fool.

For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

Imagine how the people of Corinth must have sensed his frustration in these biting words! Paul can get away with it because most of the time he is sincere – almost painfully so.

Proverbs 15:4 tells us “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” Ecclesiastes 10:12 says “Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips.” Perhaps the key to effective sarcasm is recognizing the difference between using it to make an actual point, and using it to make ourselves seem clever at another’s expense.

The capacity for language is a gift from God. So is humor. Let’s use them both in ways that build each other up.

Comfort: You don’t have to be clever to be loving.

Challenge: Go on sarcasm fast for a day. Or, if you are not prone to sarcasm, think about constructive ways to respond to it.

Prayer: God in my mind, God in my heart, God on my lips. Amen.

Discussion: Do you have any thoughts on the use of sarcasm in our current culture?

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Speak No Evil

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 62; 145, Deuteronomy 30:1-10, 2 Corinthians 10:1-18, Luke 18:31-43


The Apostle Paul was well aware that, despite evangelistic success, he could be unlikable. In his second letter to the Corinthians – a church he was persuading to give generously to a cause they did not totally support – he preempted their objections.

I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present.

In stark contrast to his fiery letters full of conviction, many people found the man himself physically unimpressive and not especially eloquent; less a butterfly treasured for his charisma than a gadfly to be endured or shooed away. People of passion – today we might call them activists or missionaries – can often seem annoying. Their dedication (or single-mindedness, if we are less kind) chips away at our comfort and conscience. Perhaps it is their indifference toward popularity and appeal that makes them more effective at changing the world for the better.

There may also have been some truth to the accusations that his letters were stronger than his tongue. It’s human nature to be a little bolder when we are separated from our audience by time, space, and the written word. Browse almost any online forum to see just how bold it can get. Paul and his contemporaries certainly didn’t have social media as we think of it, but in their own way his letters went viral as they were read multiple times to entire congregations.

History teaches us Paul’s deeds backed up his words. Our own Christian commitment should direct us to keep our attitudes in check even when we feel emboldened by distance or anonymity. Do our comments on the internet, or the tone we direct at customer service representatives, reflect what we would say in person if Jesus was listening? We know they ought to. Let’s try to be as self-aware as Paul, dedicating our words and actions to Christ with equal conviction.

Comfort: Angrier words are not always more effective words.

Challenge: For a few days, pretend Jesus is in earshot of everything you say.

Prayer: My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord. Amen.

Discussion: What prompts you to lose your composure?

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10,000 Reasons: Christafari

Psalm 103 inspired Matt Redman to write 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord). Here’s a fun cover from Christafari. Enjoy!

Psalm 103: Steadfast

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 103; 150, Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (10-15), Ephesians 4:1-16, John 1:1-18


We all need reassurance sometimes. On days when we seek to be comforted, there aren’t many resources better than Psalm 103. The psalmist blesses the Lord for all the goodness that is part of the Lord’s nature. When we trust in the Lord, this goodness showers down upon us in countless ways. Today, let’s enjoy some reassurance courtesy of Psalm 103.

Our God forgives, heals, and redeems (vv 3-4). So many messages seem to say God’s default attitude toward us is one of damnation until we choose to be saved, as if God locked a door between us and wishes us luck finding the key in the person of Jesus. The Lord’s desire is that we all be saved. God puts no barriers in our way; we may do that ourselves, but God provides the tools to tear them down.

The Lord works justice for the oppressed (vv 6-7). Hope in an eternal afterlife may be comforting, but it does little to relieve suffering in the here and now. God is also concerned with justice on the earth, particularly for those who are marginalized and exploited. When that process seems excruciatingly slow, it’s not because God doesn’t care.

The Lord’s compassion is far greater than humankind can understand (vv 8-14). We are incapable of conceiving emotions and attitudes beyond human ones. We fear the limits of God’s love and compassion do not exceed our own. Yet the psalmist assures us that God, understanding we are frail and temporary as dust, forgives us based not on our merits but on his mercy – mercy like but greater than that of a parent for a child. The only thing we need to fear is the Lord, and that fear ultimately offers a peace beyond understanding.

The Lord is steadfast (vv 15-18). Unlike mortals, who flourish and perish like flowers, God’s love, mercy, and affections are not subject to whims, and don’t sway back and forth like grass in the wind.

The Lord loves us, wants what is best for us, and is there for us to reach out to … always and all ways.

Comfort: Take comfort in God’s love for you.

Challenge: For the next week, when you stress or fear turn to Psalm 103.

Prayer: Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Discussion: Where do you go – a place, an activity, a person – to find comfort?

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Sow Bountifully

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, Deuteronomy 29:2-15, 2 Corinthians 9:1-15, Luke 18:15-30


“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth to encourage them to give generously to the church in Judea, which needed much assistance. He told the Corinthians that God, who was the ultimate source of all they had to give, would reward them for their faithful generosity. What the audience of Paul’s letter may have missed was Paul’s generosity toward them. The generosity Paul exhibited toward the Corinthian church was not one of pocket, but of spirit. We can see this in his words:

Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints, for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that [you have] been ready since last year; […] But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be.

Paul simultaneously praised them for their generosity and gently nudged them to fulfill their promise. He could just have easily written “I’m not sure you’re keeping up your end of the bargain, so I’m sending some heavies to follow up.” This blunt approach has a certain appeal, and it may even get results, but it is not relationship-oriented. In the long run it leads to giving that is more fearful than cheerful.

Do we sow our seeds of faith in others as bountifully as we sow material seeds? Would you rather hear “I’m counting on you; I believe you can do it!” or “I’m counting on you; don’t let me down!” One may ask what the difference is, but the first implies an expectation of success and the second an expectation of failure. People’s behavior is influenced by the expectations we set for them. Intentionally and bountifully sowing seeds of high expectation, even when we doubt, is a sign of a generous spirit.

Comfort: Generosity is its own reward.

Challenge: Treat people as if you believe in their willingness to do well, even when you doubt.

Prayer: Create in me a generous heart, O God! Amen.

Discussion: What’s the difference between being optimistic and being gullible?

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Saying Grace

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 2 Corinthians 8:16-24, Luke 18:9-14


Jesus told a parable about two men praying at a temple, one a Pharisee – a citizen of high standing – and the other a tax collector – a Jew who worked for the occupying Roman empire. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like sinners such as the tax collector, and reminded God that he fasted twice a week and tithed a tenth of his income. The tax collector humbly asked God for mercy. Jesus said the tax collector was the one who went home justified.

This parable is a bit of a paradox. We probably do want to try to live a life that looks more like the Pharisee’s than the tax collector’s. Avoiding sin and practicing spiritual disciplines – such as tithing and fasting –are good choices. Helping exploit the oppressed is not as good a choice. Yet according to Jesus, the state of our heart is at least as important as our actions.

Exalting ourselves is a good indicator we’ve forgotten to be grateful. The Pharisee could tithe and fast because he was in a comfortable position, yet he thanked God for nothing but his own (self-) righteousness. Someone without enough food or money would not have had the luxury of tithing and fasting. We don’t know anything about the tax collector’s circumstances, but we do know he was grateful for the mercy of his creator.

When the Jewish people reached the promised land, they began sacrificing the first fruits of each harvest to the Lord. As they did so, they recited the story of how God liberated them from slavery in Egypt and delivered them to the land of milk and honey. No matter how hard they toiled in the field, they did not take credit for their own well-being, but expressed gratitude to God for making it all possible. Somewhere along the line, the Pharisee seemed to have forgotten this important lesson.

Let’s remember where we came from. While we rejoice that God loves us, let’s also remember God’s love is a gift, not a reward for good behavior. We say grace before we eat, not after.

Comfort: Remember that God loves you.

Challenge: Remember that all you have comes from God.

Prayer: God, be merciful to me, a sinner!

Discussion: Are you ever tempted to compare yourself to other people? If so, how does it usually make you feel?

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Justice isn’t blind yet.

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Deuteronomy 16:18-20, 17:14-20, 2 Corinthians 8:1-16, Luke 18:1-8


As the Jewish people prepared to settle into the promised land, God laid down some rules about who might be their king. The king could be rich, but not too rich. He could have wives, but not many wives. And quite specifically, he could have horses, but not too many horses, especially if he had to get them from Egypt, where the people were forbidden to return. These conditions were meant to keep the king focused on God and to prevent him from “exalting himself above other members of the community.”

The wealthy and powerful have always lived by different rules than others, not only because they can afford to buy their way out of consequences for their actions, but because we make different assumptions about the wealthy and the poor. And since we have not yet untangled our nation’s historical relationship between race and poverty, that disparity becomes even more pronounced across racial divides. Add to that mix the prosperity gospel which teaches God financially rewards the faithful – and conversely implies the poor are lacking faith and morality – and the down-on-their-luck are perceived as unworthy of luck. Outcomes of the supposedly blind justice system are more predictable by economic status and race than by similarity of crime. From health care to education to housing loans, many systems are designed – often through lack of understanding but sometimes intentionally – to give further advantage to the already advantaged, and more insidiously to make us believe that’s just and fair.

What’s the remedy for this? In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells the church a “fair balance” is not based on what you’ve earned, but on what needs you can help relieve. He reminds them, “It was written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’” Moving money around is relatively easy. Moving social capital around is more difficult, is more time-consuming, and requires more intentional education, effort, and sacrifice. Jesus invites us to develop a deeper sense of justice more concerned with who we can serve than with what we deserve.

Comfort: We are all equal before God.

Challenge: Read this article about racial disparities in criminal sentencing.

Prayer: Merciful God, may Your justice transform our land and lives. Amen.

Discussion: What can you do to promote justice in your community?

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