Just Because

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 103; 150, Job 38:1-11; 42:1-6, Revelation 19:4-16, John 1:29-34


Some questions have no answers, or at least none we can understand. Job was a righteous man who’d been greatly blessed by God; he had a large family, lands and livestock, and good health. When Satan (not the devil we think of, but a member of God’s court known as The Accuser) claimed Job would lose faith if God revoked his favor, God took the bet. He killed Job’s family and livestock, struck him down with terrible disease, and left him a ruined man sitting on a dung heap.

Job’s friends tried to explain why these terrible things happened to him. Saying he must have sinned, they blamed Job for his own ills, but he knew he was innocent. Like well-meaning people at a funeral who tell bereaved family members “it’s part of God’s plan,” Job’s well-meaning friends didn’t manage to offer one comforting word. We all desperately want things to make sense, but sometimes they just don’t.

When Job finally gets to confront God, God’s response is pretty unsatisfying: “Where were you when I created the earth, the seas, and the heavens?” In other words: “know your place.” God doesn’t even feel obligated to disclose the wager. Sure God gives Job a new family and restores his fortunes, but can that ever make up for what was lost?

Is there any comfort to be found in this story? If we can let go of our need to explain everything, there is the comfort of a certain harsh wisdom. Sometimes disaster will rain down on you for no apparent reason. It won’t be your fault, and honestly there may not be a silver lining. Trying to assign it a purpose may leave you looking and feeling as ignorant as Job’s friends.

We. Don’t. Always. Get. To. Know.

However, we can know that in the midst of our worst times, and God is with us and rooting for us not to lose faith. If there’s a lesson to be learned, learn it. But don’t let your need to find one be more important than your need to trust God anyway.

Comfort: When bad things happen to you, sometimes it is the unknowable nature of the world, not a reason to believe you are being punished.

Challenge: When you can’t find meaning in tragedy, you may be called to make meaning from it.

Prayer: God, I will trust you always. Amen.

Discussion: What in your life doesn’t seem fair? If you stop insisting that it make sense, does that make it easier or more difficult to accept?

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Rod and Staff

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 23; 149, Exodus 13:17-14:4, 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10, Mark 12:18-27


Psalm 23 is arguably the most recognized psalm in the psalter. It chronicles the typical day in the life of a shepherd and flock, through danger and safely home again. The metaphor of Christians as sheep may seem less than flattering; author Russell Banks once observed sheep were only slightly more intelligent than lawn furniture. Critics of the faith have said it accurately describes mindless followers, but the metaphor is not so much about following as about the relationship binding a shepherd and his flock.

At the end of the day, a shepherd uses a rod to count and inspect each sheep for injuries, a practice known as passing “under the rod.” The rod can also be thrown in front of a sheep to startle it back on course. Although other images of rods, such as “spare the rod and spoil the child” and Proverbs 13:24 (“He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”) are more about discipline, the audience of this psalm knew the rod was not used to strike, but to tend.

Impulsive pursuits may leave us stranded in a spiritual bramble. We get caught up following other sheep and find ourselves in unfamiliar or even hostile territory. We tangle ourselves in gossip at work or church. We feel pressure to overspend in order to keep up appearances with friends and neighbors. As a result, we feel lost, overwhelmed, or out of control. At these times, depending on our relationship to our shepherd can literally save us.

To Jesus’ contemporaries the rod and staff were symbols of loving authority. When he called himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus was telling his listeners, “I have your best interests at heart, and often that will require a course correction.” Are we challenged when trying to integrate the ideas of “love” and “authority” into a unified whole? Have we learned to picture the rod in Jesus’ hand as an instrument of punishment or nurture?

We may not be immediately comfortable accepting the humility necessary to admit we need shepherding, but eventually we realize it is a true blessing that our God does not send us alone into the wilderness. Following Christ will always lead us home.

Comfort: Christ seeks to rescue every sheep, no matter how lost.

Challenge: If possible, visit a meditation labyrinth (or use a finger labyrinth). As you move to the center, meditate on a problem that has you feeling lost. On the way out, ask God to lead you home, and give thanks for Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Prayer: Merciful and loving God, always lead me home to you.

Discussion: How do you feel about being disciplined? How do you react to it?

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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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