God Will Provide the Lamb

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, Genesis 22:1-18, Hebrews 11:23-31, John 6:52-59


Abraham was one hundred and Sarah was ninety when Isaac, the son God promised them, was born. How must Abraham have felt when God asked him to offer his son as a sacrifice? Abraham neither objected to this request nor delayed in responding; he set out with Isaac the next morning for Moriah. This is the Abraham who laughed when God told him Sarah would conceive a child. The Abraham who took down kings to free his people. The Abraham who challenged God not once, not twice , but six times to spare the citizens of Sodom. Yet when asked to make a burnt offering of his son, he complied without argument. Why?

On the way, Isaac asked his father where the sacrificial lamb was. Abraham replied: “God himself will provide the lamb.” We might read this as an attempt to deceive Isaac, but we must remember this is the Abraham who spent many years arguing with God about what was possible, only to be proven wrong time after time. Obedient as he had become, could this Abraham have believed for a moment God would renege on the promise Isaac represented? Tradition tells us Abraham passed God’s test because he was willing to kill his son. Is it possible he passed the test because he trusted his God not to take his child? That he finally trusted God enough not to argue, but to risk being wrong? If so, “God himself will provide the lamb” sounds less like a comforting lie and more like a prayer of self-reassurance. In the end, God spared Isaac and did indeed provide a ram. Abraham’s descendants formed a great nation.

How often have we hesitated to commit ourselves totally to God because we fear what we may be asked to sacrifice? God is not a despot demanding sacrifices out of cruelty or insecurity, but until we trust him enough to risk the annihilation of submission we keep part of ourselves from him. Whatever our faith strips away from us needs to go. Whatever our faith has in store for us is greater than we can imagine.

Comfort: God is faithful, always.

Challenge: Read through today’s passage from Genesis a couple times. The first time imagine yourself in Abraham’s place. The second time, imagine you are Isaac hearing the story for the first time.

Prayer: Pray the Prayer of Dedication below, thinking about what it might cost you.

Lord Jesus, I give you my hands to do your work. I give you my feet to go your way. I give you my tongue to speak your words. I give you my mind that you may think in me. I give you my spirit that you may pray in me. Above all, I give you my heart that you may love in me your Father and all mankind. I give you my whole self that you may grow in me, so that it is you, Lord Jesus, who live and work and pray in me.

Discussion: What have you given up – voluntarily or involuntarily – only to discover something better was waiting?

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Hagar and the Horrible

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 12; 146, Genesis 21:1-21, Hebrews 11:13-22, John 6:41-51


Ever see those Christian t-shirts, bookmarks, or mugs declaring: “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” It’s a comforting thought — if we don’t think about it too long. However, if we are struggling with chronic pain, the loss of a child, or any number of devastating life events, this sentiment not only rings false, but raises a terrible theological question: “How could God give this to me?”

Abraham and Sarah had a servant named Hagar. God had promised them a child, but in their impatience they forced Hagar to conceive. After Sarah gave birth to Isaac she was jealous of Hagar’s son Ishmael, and told Abraham to banish them both. He sent them packing with some bread and a water skin. After much wandering, a thirsty and desperate Hagar placed Ishmael under the meager comfort of shady bush and waited for him to die.

God didn’t single out Hagar for suffering: Sarah and Abraham did. Abuse and oppression are never part of “God’s plan” for us. Neither are disease nor loss. God may use trials to strengthen us, but God does not heap hardship upon us just to test our endurance or faithfulness. Hardship finds us nevertheless.

Before her son could die, God led Hagar to a well. She and her son survived, and surely they were both influenced for the better or worse — or both — by this trauma. Eventually, as God promised, Ishmael’s descendants formed a mighty nation, alongside the descendants of Isaac. Of course Ishmael’s success did not justify the sufferings of Hagar, but it also meant she did not suffer in vain. What lesson might we learn from this story? Perhaps that no situation is so bleak God can’t help us through it somehow. A God who meets us at our breaking point is very different than a God who pushes us there.

Suffering can force us into a spiritual wilderness where we must rely on God to find our way. When we are in such a state of surrender, God’s mercies can redefine our suffering to have dignity and purpose. God will always offer you more grace than you can handle.

Comfort: Your suffering is not meaningless because God suffers with you.

Challenge: Be cautious about attributing God’s will to humanity’s weakness.

Prayer: Merciful and Loving God, I will trust in you and your grace at all times. Amen.

Discussion: What situations in your life are causing you pain, and how might God help you find a higher purpose for them?

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Strangers and Angels

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 62; 145, Genesis 19:1-17 (18-23) 24-29, Hebrews 11:1-12, John 6:27-40


God was determined to destroy the city of Sodom because its inhabitants were irredeemably wicked. Abraham’s nephew Lot was in Sodom, so Abraham bargained with God to spare it if even ten righteous people could be found there. When God sent his angels to the city, they stayed at Lot’s home. A mob containing every last man in Sodom demanded these strangers be surrendered to them, but Lot offered the mob his daughters instead. In the end, the angels helped Lot’s family escape Sodom, which was destroyed along with Gomorrah and two other cities.

The story is complicated because bronze age customs of hospitality meant protecting your guests even at the expense of your family’s safety. It’s complicated because prophets like Ezekiel clearly state the sins of Sodom were “pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door” (16:49), but many insist it was homosexuality. It’s complicated because we tend to think consequences are related only to the events immediately preceding them, when God had decided to destroy Sodom well before his angels were threatened by a violent mob bent on sexual assault.

When protests occur after a racially charged incident, do we reflect on whether the unrest is a result of not only that particular incident, but also of years of neglecting the needs of strangers? When we entertain calls to shut our borders to refugees – the very “least of these” – because of hypothetical dangers, can we point to the scripture where Jesus calls us to mercy … unless we feel threatened? When the average American consumes food and other resources at rates far exceeding the global average, why do we use words like exceptionalism and patriotism instead of gluttony and pride? Why do we point to the alleged sins of others instead of naming our own?

Sodom is complicated because Sodom is us.

Christ calls us to pick up our crosses and lay down our lives, not fold when we are afraid. Radical hospitality in our homes and communities can be scary, but when strangers and angels knock on our doors, it is Christ we welcome in.

Comfort: True hospitality can be intimidating, but God will see us through it.

Challenge:  Ask yourself what are the limits of your hospitality? Would Jesus ask more of you?

Prayer: Lord, help me to see even the least of my sisters and brothers as Christ in need. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever been aided by a stranger?

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Attitude of Abundance

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Today’s readings (click below to open in a new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Genesis 17:15-27, Hebrews 10:11-25, John 6:1-15


Our culture promotes irony and cynicism. These can be useful and enlightening, but many times they simply mask an underlying state of fear. When push comes to shove, we tend to hoard the resources we have rather than trust them to God’s abundance. Even in faith communities simple optimism is often characterized as simple-mindedness.

God told Abraham and Sarah, at 100 and 90 years old respectively, they would conceive a child. Abraham laughed in disbelief. When their son was born, they did as God had instructed and named him Isaac, meaning “he laughs.” With God in the mix, irony became hope.

When thousands gathered at the Sea of Galilee to hear Jesus preach, he asked his disciple Philip where they could buy bread to feed everyone. We don’t know if Phillip laughed, but it’s easy to imagine a dismissive chuckle when he told Jesus they would need more than six months’ wages to buy enough food. And it seems likely there might have been some eye rolling when Andrew mentioned a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. Yet from this tiny bit, upon Christ’s instructions, they managed to feed everyone with twelve baskets left over.

At first glance the common theme between these stories seem to be that God is most visibly present in the impossible. Unfortunately this idea pushes God outside our normal expectations into a realm where we can only experience his blessings through reality-warping events.

An important lesson in these stories is that God has created us not be starved by fear and doubt, but to feast on possibilities and faith. The approach we take affects the quality of our lives, and the lives of others. More than a simple “can-do” attitude, faith that God’s world is abundant opens us up to true generosity. If we stop worrying that what we have is not enough, we grow comfortable with being generous even in uncertain times. Individuals with this faith can have a positive impact, and communities that cultivate this attitude will find endless doors opening. Behind them is revealed God’s presence in our everyday lives.

The world teaches fear. An abundant faith – focusing not on scarcity and stinginess, but on hope and generosity – is countercultural and revolutionary. Live on the edge.

Comfort: You need less than you think you do. You can give more than you think you have.

Challenge: Embrace hope.

Prayer: Loving God, please help me to remember there is far more to your gifts in the world – seen and unseen – than I could ever comprehend. I will trust you. Amen.

Discussion: In what areas of your life – money, time, affection, etc. – do you take an approach of scarcity? How can you become more generous?

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Body of Work

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Today’s readings (click below to open in a new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Genesis 16:15-17:14, Hebrews 10:1-10, John 5:30-47


Circumcision can be a divisive topic. Parents don’t always agree on whether it’s right for their sons. In some circles its medical benefits and risks are hotly debated. Many men –circumcised and not – find it a barbaric and abusive practice and actively work to abolish it. Others, such as those who incorporate it into tribal rites of passage, defend it just as vigorously.

When God made his covenant with Abraham, he required that all males of Abraham’s family and household – even slaves – be circumcised as a sign of that covenant. The practice was so important to the Jewish people that many early Christians thought Gentile men could call themselves followers of the Jewish Christ only if they were willing to be circumcised. Paul eventually declared Gentile fidelity to Christ a “circumcision of the heart” – that is, being bound to Christ through the Spirit, not the law.

Among Christians today decisions about circumcision are more about cultural and personal preferences than religious significance. Losing this requirement has expanded the idea of who belongs to God – Gentiles, women, and other groups can all be “marked” in their hearts without altering their bodies. It is symbolic of movement away from legalism toward grace. But in making the practice irrelevant to faith, have we also lost something else?

Circumcision was a constant, intimate reminder that a person had been dedicated to God. Does anything serve this purpose for Christians today? Physical sensations reinforce our experience of the world. From the immersion of baptism, to the bread of communion, to ashes on the forehead, to wedding rings on our fingers, we use physical means to express spiritual truths.

There is ancient wisdom in the spirituality of the body. Modern Christians dwell in a lot of mental space, often downplaying or even degrading the body. Each body is a work of art: God can sign it in many ways. Let’s be aware of how our bodies can help us connect to God through breath, music, dance, prayer, and even pain. Your body houses the spark of life God has granted you; furnish it with sacred intent.

Comfort: God loves you, body and soul. Always.

Challenge: If you are able to, try different body positions when you pray – kneeling, sitting, arms raised up, palms pressed together, head thrown back, face down on the floor – and notice how each affects your attitude of prayer.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the gift of life. 

Discussion: How would you describe your relationship with your body?

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Cast and Crew

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Today’s readings (click to open in a new tab/window):
Psalms 57; 145, Genesis (14:1-7) 8-24, Hebrews 8:1-13, John 4:43-54


Do you stay to watch the credits at the end of a movie? It can take hundreds of people to see a film through from beginning to end. Writers, producers, directors, stars – these people have the name recognition to get the project off the ground, but without gaffers and grips the production would falter or fold. Every name buried in that scrolling list provides a vital function.

As we follow the story of Abram and his wife Sarai, it mostly unfolds like the story of two stars and a few lesser roles. In today’s passage, however, we get a feel for the large number of people who depended on them, and on whom they depended. Every time Abram and Sarai move, in their wake is an entourage of hundreds, including family, herders (with their wives and children), slaves, trained solders, and sundry others – enough to fill two separate communities.

When we think of Abraham as “our father in faith,” it’s easy to overlook the hundreds of unnamed people who contributed to that title. When he knocked at Egypt’s door seeking entrance, he was more than half a married couple: he represented hundreds seeking sanctuary. When he was forced out, hundreds had to follow. When he was plundered by neighboring kings, he had to recover not just goods, but people as well. He and his people were interdependent: as their patriarch he led them wisely, and they made sure the show went on. A leader is the hub, but without spokes a hub is meaningless.

When we believe we see God acting through a leader, let’s look at the bigger picture – the spokes that define the hub, or the crew that supports the star. God’s touch is not limited to the elect few, so we need to actively support such leaders and understand the scope of their responsibilities. We aren’t an audience passively waiting for leadership to happen to us; we are a vital part of the production. By the time the credits roll, we want to be able to point to our name with pride in the job we’ve done.

Comfort: Even if your role in God’s plan feels small, it is vital.

Challenge: Don’t let your faith, church, or community happen “to” you – take part.

Prayer: Thank you, O Lord, for the responsibilities which are mine, and thank you that not all of them are.

Discussion: We tend to judge religious leaders (or managers, or civic leaders) on how well they meet our specific needs, but their responsibilities are often greater than we know. Our leaders can’t do everything that needs done; when appropriate how can we support them?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!