Sunday Best


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 123; 146, Isaiah 63:7-14, 1 Timothy 1:18-2:8 (9-15), Mark 11:12-26

Like much of the world, church has become more casual. Not long ago it was a place most people dressed up for. People attended in a tie, a fancy dress, shined shoes, or a beautiful hat – their Sunday Best. Dressing well was a sign of respect for the house of God. Yet in his letter to Timothy, Paul instructed women not to wear anything gaudy to worship: no braids, jewelry, or expensive clothes. He didn’t mention men’s clothing, but he did tell them to pray “without anger or argument” – behavior they could put on as external signs of exaggerated, manly self-righteousness. He wanted people to practice modesty and humility rather than displaying the sort of religious spectacle Jesus had so clearly denounced.

in Mark’s Gospel, a hungry Jesus spied a fig tree that had sprouted leaves, a sign that it was bearing fruit. Upon closer inspection, the fig tree bore no fruit at all (which wasn’t terribly surprising since figs weren’t in season), so Jesus cursed it and it withered. This story bewilders a lot of people who wonder why Jesus would hurt an innocent fig tree. Perhaps it makes more sense if we remember the tree was representing itself as something that it was not – a valuable resource to the community. Jesus cursed the tree right before he cleansed the temple of money changers – people who pretended to be working in the service of the temple but were really in it to exploit the faithful for their own gain. The money changers and the fig tree both promised something good but delivered only physical and spiritual starvation.

Both passages point to a trait Jesus emphasized many times: authenticity. Only by being our true selves before God and humanity can we hope to bear healthy fruits of the spirit. Pretense is like a fig leaf out of season and doesn’t survive close inspection. Whether in a three piece suit or a sackcloth, each of us should present ourselves as a humble servant. Our Sunday Best is not what we put on our bodies, but what pours forth from our hearts.

Comfort: Your authentic self is your best self.

Challenge: Look beyond people’s appearances to the fruits of their spirit.

Prayer: O God my creator, teach me to love your creation as it is, not as I would have it be. Amen.

Discussion: When do you feel most authentic? Least authentic?

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Brand X

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Esther 7:1-10, Acts 19:11-20, Luke 4:14-30

Has American Christianity turned Jesus-the-Savior into Jesus-the-Brand? In a time and place where Christian is the default spiritual setting, and mentioning Jesus invites applause instead of danger, it’s easy to wear his name like a logo. Think that’s harsh? Consider the phenomenon of the “Christian” business. Not faith-based bookstores or religious goods shops, but carpet cleaners, dog groomers, and truckers. How exactly does a travel agency have a relationship with Christ? There’s no evidence they perform better, behave more ethically, or give more charitably. That’s troubling, since once we slap Brand Jesus onto our product, we ought to consider living up to it. More and more, the public perception of Christian businesses is that they are less interested in how to serve than whom not to serve.

While Paul was in Ephesus, some wandering exorcists tried casting out evil spirits in the name of “the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” They weren’t really followers, but attached themselves to his reputation because it was good for business (yes, many exorcists charged for the service). A spirit replied: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” The exorcists fled the encounter naked and wounded.

When we push Brand Jesus onto the world, do people believe they’re encountering the genuine article … or a intelligent-designer impostor? Are we rightfully called out by people saying: “Jesus I’ve heard of; who are you supposed to be?” Even if we don’t feel personally stripped and bruised by that reaction (and why not?), the reputation of our faith community certainly takes a hit.

Jesus is someone with whom we are meant to have a personal relationship, but too often we settle for being fans and all the tribalism and trash talk that accompany fandom. Putting on the jersey doesn’t convince anyone you are a member of the team. Isn’t it better to live and conduct business and humbly share our faith in a manner that lets people see Christ reflected in us? When a product is good quality, people will seek it out. Try pushing a cheap knock-off, and they may never come back.

Comfort: You don’t have to market yourself as a Christian; you just have to follow Christ.

Challenge: This week note discrepancies between people and entities (including yourself) who call themselves Christian and any un-Christ-like behavior they exhibit. Don’t judge them (including yourself), but pray for them.

Prayer: Holy and Loving God, may my words and actions point to you. Amen.

Discussion: Many Christians object when Christmas is shortened to Xmas, yet the X comes from the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Christ’s name, and has been used for centuries. Some use this and other manufactured offenses to shine a spotlight on the Christian “brand.” Can you think of other examples?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  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!

Our Shepherd’s Voice


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, Job 22:1-4, 22:21-23:7, Acts 13:26-43, John 10:1-18

In his book Imaginary Jesus, author Matt Mikalatos provides many humorous examples of our tendency to re-create Jesus in our own image. From Liberal Social Services Jesus, to Truth Telling Conservative Jesus, we populate our spiritual lives with images of Jesus that reinforce our own inclinations. The apostles walked, spoke, and broke bread with Jesus every day, yet even they could misunderstand him; let’s not be too hasty to be sure we’ve got it right.

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me.” Sheep are safest when they stay within shouting distance, where the familiar voice of their shepherd can call them away from danger. Sheep are not especially bright however, and can be lured away by thieves and distractions. In our modern world, we must discern among the many competing voices claiming to speak for our shepherd. Jesus-peddlers who promise prosperity, bigots who preach hate of the “other,” legalists who reduce faith to a simple formula of do’s and don’ts – these types and more falsely appeal to our baser nature in the name of Jesus. Are we listening for our true shepherd, or are we listening for voices that tell us what we want to hear? A voice that never tells us we’re going the wrong way, that never causes us discomfort or inconvenience, that disapproves of all the people we do, is not the voice of a loving shepherd.

Through prayer and study we become familiar with our shepherd’s voice. We learn to trust him when he calls us away from pastures that seem lush but are prowled by wolves, and when he calls us down paths that seem treacherous but lead to abundance. Abraham followed the voice of his shepherd God even when it asked him to do the incomprehensible. Jacob recognized the voice of his shepherd even though it spoke to him in a dream. If they hadn’t been attuned to listening for their true shepherd, they could have missed these important messages. The voice of Jesus speaks words of both safety and challenge, of love and correction.

Comfort: Our shepherd is always calling us home.

Challenge: Many voices – sometimes even our own – falsely or mistakenly claim to speak for Jesus. Listen carefully.

Prayer: Creator and Shepherd, thank you for the safety of your fold. I will listen for your voice and yours alone. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever realized the voice you were following was the wrong one? How did the true voice call you back home?

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!

Something To Chew On

Today’s readings: Psalms 46 or 97; 147:12-20, Deuteronomy 8:1-3, Colossians 1:1-14, John 6:30-33, 48-51


Bread gets a bad rap. The carbs, preservatives, bleached flours, and chemicals it contains fill our media and magazines with articles about how they are slowly killing us. We see it on a restaurant table and know it’s there to fill us up before the real food arrives. Baking it ourselves is better, but in most homes that is a rare and indulgent occasion. If Jesus called himself the “bread of life” in the United States today, some disciple would try to substitute a lettuce wrap Continue reading