Quantum Leap of Faith

Today’s readings:
Psalms 98; 146; Genesis 17:1-12a, 15-16; Colossians 2:6-12; John 16:23b-30


Birthdays. Anniversaries. New Years.

Certain annual events just seem to invite us to simultaneously reflect on the past and dream about the future. Other unexpected, less celebratory events such as the death of a parent or the loss of a job, may trigger similar feelings for us. Anticipated or not, these times leave us in a sort of “in-between” state when we are not necessarily in motion but contemplating where have been and where we are going. They can be fertile times for resolutions, plans and convictions – some which will stick, and some which won’t.

While periods of planning and intention often serve a purpose, sometimes we settle for intentions rather than actual change. If we are really going to grow as people, eventually we need to stop planning … and start changing.

Other than the TV show, what do you think of when you hear the phrase “quantum leap?” Many people think it means a large change, but it’s actually a term from physics that means an immediate change from one state to another with no intermediate phases – no “in-between” time. The phrase also describes a phenomenon in thought where we jump from Point A (perhaps a problem we are trying to solve) to Point B (its solution) without discernible steps and connections.

Spiritual growth can occur like a quantum leap. When Abram accepts God’s promise to become the father of the future nation of Israel, he is immediately transformed into Abraham. Paul tells the Colossians that when they were baptised they were raised from death along with Christ – a change in state if there ever was one. The psalmist tells us “The Lord sets the prisoners free” and “opens the eyes of the blind.”

Abram to Abraham. Dead to living. Imprisoned to free. Quantum leaps.

There’s nothing wrong with making plans, but often when we are called to act in faith, plans mean very little. Abraham’s wife (who leapt from Sarai to Sarah) planned to grow old and die childless, and laughed when God told her otherwise. We all should be careful not to let our plans become impediments to our faith.

The psalmist warns us not to place our trust in mortal plans that perish but in God alone. It may be wise to look before leaping, but if we can’t … maybe God is calling us to make a quantum leap of faith from blindness to sight.

Comfort: With God’s strength, you can keep moving forward in ways that may surprise you.

Challenge: Pick something you’ve been planning to change, and actually do it.

Prayer: Wise and Loving God, I will trust in your ways.

Discussion: Can you remember any times you had an unexpected shift in attitude, belief, or habits?

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Joy and Fear

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 147:1-11, Exodus 12:40-51, 1 Corinthians (15:29) 30-41, Matthew 28:1-16


When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary visited the tomb of Jesus on that first Easter morning, they found the tomb empty and the stone rolled away. A young man robed in white greeted them by saying “Do not be afraid!” He explained Jesus had risen and gone ahead to Galilee. Matthew tells us they left the tomb filled with fear and joy. They were overjoyed when Jesus met them on their way to find the other disciples and deliver the angel’s message. He greeted them and also said “Do not be afraid.”

Many of our most joyous life experiences also include a degree of fear.

Cold feet before marriage. The impending birth of a child. Graduating school and entering the adult world. Such events contain within them the promise of renewed life and hopes, but also an element of the unknown. The two Marys and the other disciples were overjoyed their messiah was alive, but his resurrection also created a change in their entire worldview and set them on a path of faith no one had ever trod before.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and first woman president of an African nation, wrote in her memoirs: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.” The power of the resurrection allows us to have enormous dreams, so if we aren’t a little afraid, we may not be embracing all things made possible through Christ.

Not often, one suspects. But that reassurance can prevent fear from paralyzing us. When the risen Christ tells us not to be afraid, he’s not a drill sergeant yelling “Suck it up, buttercup!” because we have to tough it out on our own. He is telling us we don’t need to be afraid because he is with us. Beyond death. Always.

Like the two Marys rushing down the road to spread the good news, joy and fear travel hand in hand. We have a word for that: Hope.

Comfort: Christ is with us always, ready to transform our fear to joy.

Challenge: Do something that scares you, but be sure to invite Christ to do it with you.

Prayer: God of Hope, give me strength in my fear, and hear my words of praise for you in my joy. In you all things are possible. Amen.

Discussion: How does fear hold you back?

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On The Dime

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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


Have you ever heard the expression “life turns on a dime?” It refers to the way our fortunes can change with little to no warning. When a new king who did not know Joseph or Joseph’s family rose over Egypt, he did not look kindly on the Hebrews. This new king viewed them as a potential threat, should they decide to align with his enemies. To preempt any uprising, he put harsh taskmasters over them and turned them into a nation of slaves. He went so far as to tell the Hebrew midwives to kill any male children at birth. The midwives were clever, and said Hebrew women were strong and gave birth on their own before a midwife could arrive. In a generation, the Israelites went from famine to favor to fetters.

In what must have felt like a mid-stream change of course to the disciples, Jesus began to teach them he would have to undergo great suffering, die, and rise again to fulfill his mission as Messiah. After all the miraculous healing, multiplication of loaves and fishes, and adoration of the crowds, Peter couldn’t believe his ears. He tried to tell Jesus it didn’t need to be so, and Jesus famously responded: “Get behind me, Satan!”

Psychologists tell us change –– good or bad – is an enormous source of stress, and sudden change even more so. In truth, life is nothing but change. Our bodies are machines of change, transforming food and air into blood and thoughts. As we sleep, our planet moves around the sun and our sun turns with galaxies and we wake unimaginable distances from where we laid our head. Change is unceasing; only our awareness of it flickers.

At the center of it all is God. He is the fixed point on which all else pivots. No matter our fortune, no matter where in the universe we stand, Jesus is the north star of our faith, guiding us toward the loving creator at its heart. Whether we are showered with riches or stripped of dignity, focusing on the center keeps us from spinning out of control.

Comfort: Focusing on God keeps everything in perspective.

Challenge:  Talk with a friend about their perceptions of your ability to handle change.

Prayer: God of creation, you are my center and my focus. Thank you for your constant love. Teach me to keep your ways in focus. Amen.

Discussion: What changes do you find especially difficult? What makes you dig in your heels and say: “Enough!”

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Sour Grapes

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 22; 148, Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Philippians 4:1-9, John 17:9-19


It’s a prophet’s job to tell us what we don’t want to hear. The more righteous or justified we think we are, the less we’re going to want to hear it … but the more we need to. The prophet Ezekiel told the Israelites in exile that God was banishing a particular expression: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” In other words: stop blaming your past for your current problems.

The Israelites liked to blame their exile on the sins of the previous generation. Ezekiel told them to stop making excuses and get right with God. Like children who d on’t want to be responsible for themselves, they replied: “It’s not fair!” God brushed off their protests. Maybe their parents had made terrible mistakes, but now these children were all grown up and needed to control the one thing they could: their own behavior.

Some people undergo years of therapy to unlearn the toxic habits of an unhealthy past. Others with less traumatic experiences grow on their own. Understanding the root of our problems is only ever a starting point. Unfortunately, many people who identify the origin of their unhealthy behaviors use it as an excuse to justify the poor choices they continue to make in the present. According to Ezekiel, God’s not having it.

As we live through Lent, let’s be honest with ourselves and God about our own shortcomings. After all, there’s nothing about us God doesn’t already know. He loves us anyway, and too much to let us keep fooling ourselves. When He tells the Israelites: “Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” He could be talking to us. Sometimes our hearts and spirits are like homes cluttered with junk we’ve inherited. Because we fear loss we cling to it long after it’s useful (if it ever was) when we need to be clearing out the old to make room for the new, or maybe just for some light and air. We must repent of it to follow Christ. In the words of Ezekiel: “Turn, then, and live.”

Comfort: With Christ’s help, you can clean your spiritual house and let in the light of God.

Challenge: Clean out a closet. As you decide which things to discard, also think about what things from your past you are allowing to hold you back.

Prayer: Gracious and merciful God, show me how to turn and live. As I face the dark corners of my soul, fill them with your light and make them new. Teach me to set my sights not on where I regret having been, but on where you would have me go. Amen.

Discussion: What changes you have already made give you confidence about the making the changes you still need to face?

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Climbing the Walls of Doubt

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 145, Nehemiah 6:1-19, Revelation 10:1-11, Matthew 13:36-43


Not all our best efforts at self-improvement will be accepted positively by others. Some people just have a knack for criticism and suspicion of things that don’t remotely affect them. Decline a cocktail at a party, and someone will suggest you “loosen up” without bothering to ask why you don’t drink. Stick with your portion control plan at a holiday meal, and someone will be miffed you passed on their thumbprint cookies. Withdraw from office gossip, and become the latest victim of side-eye.

It’s seems we’re even more susceptible to doubts if we drank too much, ate too much, or gossiped too much in the past. And just mention that you want to lose weight or value your virginity in the wrong forum and you’ll find out you are fat-shaming or slut-shaming when you were only talking about yourself.

When the citizens of Jerusalem decided to rebuild the wall that protected their city, the surrounding people grew suspicious. They started rumors that the wall meant the Jews intended to rebel. They tried to stop the work from being completed by distracting Nehemiah, who led the effort. When distraction didn’t work, they tried discouragement. But the citizens of Jerusalem persisted, and after fifty-two days the wall was complete.

What happened to the doubters and naysayers? According to Nehemiah, “they were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem.” The successful completion of the wall told them the Jews had something driving them that the rest of them didn’t: the Lord. Like many people who feel the need to express discouragement and doubt, their actual motive was to disguise their own emptiness.

Let’s be conscious of not becoming one of the naysayers. If we experience an urge to criticize or belittle someone’s efforts, let’s ask ourselves why. Are we trying to help them? Should it matter to us? Does it hit a little too close to home? If we can’t encourage, we can keep silent.

If, when embarking on an effort to make positive changes in ourselves or our communities, we don’t get the support we’d like, let’s remember Nehemiah working atop that ever growing wall. His enemies thought it was the wall they feared, but it was the possibility of Nehemiah’s success. If someone can see our improvement only in terms of their (real or projected) failure, we don’t need to defend our choices to them – our choices will defend us.

Comfort: Good choices are their own reward.

Challenge: Examine what your urges to criticize say about you.

Prayer: Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:4)

Discussion: How do you handle discouragement from others?

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The Real Thing

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 103; 150, 1 Kings 12:21-33, Acts 4:18-31, John 10:31-42


Do you remember New Coke? It has a reputation as a huge marketing miscalculation. In 1985, to address a decrease in market share, Coca-Cola rolled out New Coke, a product closer in taste to rival Pepsi. Consumer enthusiasm was lackluster. Within three months the company reintroduced the longstanding previous formula as Coca-Cola Classic. By the end of 2002 New Coke was off the market, and in 2009 the “Classic” tag was dropped. Essentially, Coca-Cola spent nearly 25 years reestablishing a product that didn’t need a change.

New Coke’s biggest problem wasn’t its taste – it was brand identification and loyalty. Unlike iPhone customers who expect innovation, Coke drinkers valued consistency. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Jeroboam, who became king of Israel after the Lord – and an army of dissidents – deposed  Solomon’s son Rehoboam, subscribed to the “fix it anyway” school of marketing. Jeroboam had support from ten of Israel’s twelve tribes. But because Rehoboam still ruled Judah, home of the temple, Jeroboam feared the people would abandon him. He commissioned two golden calves and established places of worship in competition with all the Lord had ordained.

Like New Coke, Rehoboam’s rebranding was an impulsive, fear-driven change no one – particularly the Lord – had asked for. Unsurprisingly, it ended poorly.

When we plan to change something people are used to – be it a product, worship style, family recipe, or tradition – we should make sure the change is necessary and, if possible, welcome. Change for the sake of change is confusing and even frightening to some people. Like the taste of New Coke, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether it’s a change they will like if the process itself puts them off.

Some traditions – like great hymns – are classic for a reason. Others – like excluding women from full participation in the church – are best retired. When we are called to lead change, let’s seek first the will of the Lord, and then seek to understand how best to help people accept it. When we are faced with change, the Lord’s will – not our own comfort – is still the first priority.


Comfort: During periods of change, the Lord remains constant. 

Challenge: Look at your daily routine. Pick one thing that needs to change, and make it happen.

Prayer: God of Life, I will follow where you lead. Amen. 

Discussion: Are you comfortable or uncomfortable with change? A mix of both? What helps you handle change?

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Fresh Start

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 54; 146, 1 Kings 1:32-2:4 (5-46a) 46b, Acts 26:24-27:8, Mark 13:28-37


It’s not unusual for a new CEO to clean house and hire in a team better suited to their vision. Outgoing pastors traditionally steer clear of the congregation for months or years so the new minister can get as fresh a start as possible. There is often unfinished business the outgoing leader, for whatever reason, did not resolve. Sharp transitions open a psychological door for change to enter.

Like many leaders, David was entirely aware of what he’d left undone. Before he died, he advised his son and successor Solomon on the unfinished business of the kingdom. Most of it was in the form of disloyal advisors and rivals who had thus far been spared punishment. Solomon, in what could be considered a pretty hostile takeover, had them all executed within three years.

We can’t go around executing those who hold us back from a fresh start, but we may need to make some seemingly brutal decisions.

The biggest impediment to change is not a lack of will, but lack of understanding how change happens. Recovering addicts and paroled criminals who return to the environments where their troubles began are significantly more likely to relapse than those who find somewhere else to go. Those are extreme examples, but when we are ready to take the next step on a spiritual journey, we first need to identify what’s kept us from taking that step so far. Friends? Comfort? Habit? What rewards us for staying where we are instead of going where we want to be? We must change that first.

It’s important to remember that’s going to be different in tone and purpose than a typical career-minded change. We aren’t trying to promote or exalt ourselves, but rather to grow more humble, more servant-like. That may cost us relationships and status. It will certainly cost us comfort. These changes are difficult and scary, and therefore easy to avoid or backslide. We can set ourselves up for success by making it more difficult to remain or go back than to move forward. If you can’t get off the couch, give it away.


Comfort: Change is possible…

Challenge: … but you have to make it possible.

Prayer: Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary. (Psalm 28:2)

Discussion: What’s the best change you’ve ever made? How did you do it?

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The Person My Blog Thinks I Am

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A week or so ago, the 600th daily devotional posted to Comfort and Challenge. Because we were camping with family, it was scheduled in advance and went live while I slept. A couple days ago I remembered I’d reached that milestone, with that same mixture of bewilderment and amusement I get when I pass my exit ramp because I’m singing along to the radio.

Putting up a celebratory graphic seemed less urgent than it had at 500 or 100 posts. I settled for being happy to have not yet faltered in this little project, and getting that much closer to number 735 at the end of this liturgical year.

But something seemed different. Reflecting on whether or not I should bother noting what’s really only another number made me realize that all this blogging has had an effect on me. Have you ever heard the JW Stephens quote, “Be the person your dog thinks you are?” Well somewhere along the line I’ve become invested in being the person my blog thinks I am.

All this writing about peacemaking, forgiveness, judgment, generosity, community, and hypocrisy is actually being read by a few people. Some I know personally, some I know via social media, and some I can’t say I know at all. But it matters to me whether they think I actually try to live out the values I write about. Not because I’m worried about their opinion of me (well, not primarily – I’m only human), but because I have foolishly been bold enough to imply my character has been improved by my faith. If that influence is all words and thoughts and bears no fruit, I’m not doing right by God – like a fig tree that won’t produce figs. That didn’t end well for the tree.

The changes have been subtle, but real. So what’s changed?

I’m more restrained on social media. I certainly have my political and social beliefs and like everyone else think they are obviously correct, but reconciling has become more important than convincing. If I feel I should contribute to the conversation, I’m more interested in telling you my story and asking about yours than preaching about what the right story should be. I won’t tell you why you can’t be a Christian and support Issue X or Candidate Z, but I’ll explain why I can’t. And I’ve also just become a lot less opinionated, at least in forums that are about spreading division.

I’m learning to forgive faster. Forgiveness as a process differs for everyone, but the rancor of the last election and its fallout really hit home. For the first time in memory, our family is not all on the same political page, and it feels personal (it wasn’t). It’s a stark example of how people with equally good intentions can come to radically different decisions. Let’s just say I wasn’t on the winning side, and it was really tempting to wrap myself in the comforting blanket of victimhood. But thinking about what I’d read and written over the first year of the blog didn’t allow for that. It didn’t allow for thinking I should push until other people budged. It only allowed for figuring out how to live in love.

I need a church. A few years ago I left the church I was attending and became part of a home church. That peacably ran its course a few months ago, and I’ve been without any formal Christian community since. What’s odd to me is all this delving into scripture has left me far less interested in selecting a community based on its creed or denominational theology but on how it lives the Gospel. My theology is decidedly progressive, but I’ve learned even progressive congregations can be protectionist and more about theory than practice. I’m not all that interested in formally joining a denomination or even signing on for membership in a congregation. But I’m not good at finding ways to spread the gospel and feed the hungry on my own, so I’m willing to make some theological concessions for a local community that guides me in clothing the naked and visiting the sick.

There’s more, but this is long enough. I am grateful to everyone who has read and/or commented, because that’s encouraged me to keep going. I am a better person because of you – because of God working through you. It’s said that writers ultimately write for themselves. Before I write, I try to remember to pray to find words that honor God and benefit readers. Though I hope it’s not the case, if the only reader I’m benefiting is myself, this is totally worth the effort.

Peace and thanks!


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Justice or Just Us?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Malachi 3:1-12, James 5:7-12, Luke 18:1-8


Jesus told a parable about a widow who kept asking a judge for justice against her opponent. This judge neither feared God nor respected people. He refused her for a long time, but eventually relented so she would not wear him out with constant bother. Jesus said if such an unjust judge granted justice, God would surely be swift to grant justice to His children when they cried out to him.

Justice doesn’t always seem swift. Like the widow, we keep asking but it eludes us. Why would a God who acts swiftly make us wait? Danish philosopher and Christian theologian Søren Kierkegaard said “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” When justice seems slow, perhaps it is because we are slow to change. If our prayer for justice remains unanswered, could it be time to examine what we’re asking for, why we’re asking, and whether we need to change to make it happen? Or maybe we are changing, but don’t feel it. We don’t know how many times the widow approached the judge, or what she said, but in her persistence she one day became the person he didn’t want to be bothered by again. Even if her demand never changed, what she represented did and that could only happen over time.

When Pope Francis said: “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works,” he was very much in line with Kierkegaard. If our only hope for justice is outside ourselves and our relationship with God, we will be forever disappointed. Despite what you’ve read on bumper stickers, Gandhi never actually said “Be the change you want to see in the world,” but it resonates with us because it is a universal truth. Justice begins on the inside. We can point fingers all day long, often with good reason, but ultimately that fixes nothing and persuades no one.

Prayer is what we say, but also what we do and how we live. If you feel like justice isn’t being served, maybe it’s waiting for you to whip up a batch.

Comfort: Prayer will change you if you let it.

Challenge: Be open to being changed.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, and your justice. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever realized you were the solution to a problem?

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A Bigger Pan

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Job 8:1-10, 20-22, Acts 10:17-33, John 7:14-36


A young bride wanted to make a roast just like her mother. To her husband’s dismay she cut off the ends – what he called “the best part” – because that’s what her mother did. When asked why, the mother who replied: “That’s how your grandmother taught me.” So she asked the grandmother who replied: “So it would fit in the pan.” Variations of this joke span many cultures, because it tells a truth about human behavior. One version isn’t so funny: the one where we cut away people who don’t fit in our church.

Peter’s action of eating a meal with Gentiles in a Gentile home – after the Lord sent him a vision about clean and unclean food – scandalized his Jewish contemporaries. Peter didn’t shatter this taboo to be outrageous; he did it because God made it clear the old traditions no longer served God’s purpose. How often do we run into this problem in our own faith communities? From the arrangement of chairs to the arrangement of the liturgy, we stick with what we’ve always done without examining whether it still serves God’s purpose. Sometimes our reluctance to change keeps people out or drives them away.

Jesus laid a firm foundation for this upheaval of tradition. For example, when Jewish leaders attacked him for healing a man on the Sabbath, Jesus pointed out they themselves performed circumcisions on the Sabbath to uphold Moses’ command. We should note he never broke tradition just to shake things up, but to serve a compassionate, higher purpose.

Traditions are an important part of faith and life. We shouldn’t change them merely to be popular or current. The church must be wise enough to offer people what they need, not just what they want. We should, however, periodically examine our traditions to ask why we observe them. If we don’t know, maybe a change is needed. If we realize a tradition – for example, sexist roles – excludes people from the faith community, are we willing to sacrifice some of the best parts because someone in the past used a smaller pan? Challenging ourselves: it’s a Christian tradition!

Comfort: Many traditions exist for a good reason.

Challenge: When the reason is not so good, we must be willing to listen for God’s new direction.

Prayer: Loving God, we live in an ever-changing world. Help us to value the things you value, and to embrace the changes you would have us embrace. Amen.

Discussion: What changes  – at church, home, work, or school – really bugged you? Which turned out to be better after all?

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