Continental Divide


Today’s readings:
Psalms 102; 148, Isaiah 7:10-25, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5, Luke 22:14-30

A continental divide is a geological boundary which, simply put, separates rivers and streams draining toward one body of water from those draining into another. For example, the North American Great Continental Divide roughly marks the border between rivers flowing east toward the Atlantic Ocean and rivers flowing west toward the Pacific Ocean. “Going with the flow” has a different meaning on each side of the divide. If you want to navigate waterways successfully, you need to know where the divide lies.

To successfully navigate a spiritual life upstream we might want to think of it as having a similar divide, but instead of East versus West, it’s more internal versus external. When facing the internal – that is, ourselves and the things we can control – we should try to be objective critics of our own attitudes and behaviors. We progress by identifying where and how we can change, and accepting God’s grace and mercy to help us work toward that change. When we are facing the external – that is, other people and the world beyond our control – we instead need to reflect God’s grace and mercy, and withhold judgment.

Upstream isn’t always the easiest path. Isn’t it more pleasant to let the current carry us downstream? It’s less work. We can go with the flow and let our natural inclinations to excuses ourselves and to condemn others carry us downstream. But that’s the wrong direction.

Even at the Last Supper, Christ’s followers tended toward the easier, backward route.

After Jesus revealed that the one who would betray him was at the table with the disciples, he didn’t name a name. Did any of them (other than his actual betrayer, Judas) focus inward and ask “Could it possibly be me? Why or why not?”  No, each immediately denied the possibility it could be him and started trying to figure where to point the finger. This curiosity is natural, but if Jesus didn’t identify Judas, why did the disciples seek the right to condemn him?

After only a short time, the conversation devolved into an argument over who among them was the greatest.  We don’t get details, but judging from Jesus’s reaction, it was a lot of self-promotion. Nobody was arguing “No, I’m nothing; you’re the greatest.” The external focus was on dominating others rather than elevating them.

Jesus offers us rivers of living water (John 7:38). We need to learn to navigate them with inward humility and outward mercy to carry our faith where it needs to be.

Comfort: You are both the recipient of grace, and its reflection in the world.

Challenge: Though it’s almost cliched, be the change you want to see in the world.

Prayer: God of grace and mercy, I rely on you for all things in my life, and will share all things from you in the lives of others. Amen.

Discussion: Do you have any tendency to impose your faith on others when you should be asking questions of yourself?

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  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!

The Best Defense


Today’s readings:
Psalms 90; 149, Isaiah 4:2-6, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Luke 21:5-19

“He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
– Abraham Lincoln

“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ.
 – 1 Corinthians 4:10

Jesus warned his disciples about what difficulties to expect in the future. He talked about wars, natural disasters, and persecution. If they were dragged into court, he told them, “This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

How many of us would feel confident entering a courtroom as a defendant with no preparation? Our legal system is a minefield of technicalities few of us can navigate without years of education. We call it our system of justice, but the truth is “justice” can be largely a matter of wealth, influence, and privilege, a system that favors deep pockets and shallow empathy. Where in such a system does faith find a role?

If Jesus and disciples like Paul provide answers to that question, it becomes clear faith is not about victory, at least not in a legal sense – both of them were unjustly condemned! The wisdom Christ promises our opponents can’t “withstand or contradict” may not carry the day in court, but it expresses truths which are – over time – undeniable. In a courtroom, and really in all of life, the purpose of our testimony is not to save our own lives, but to transform the world by introducing – and, as many times as necessary, re-introducing – it to Christ. We don’t have to prepare, because the truth of Christ speaks for itself.

However, if we are living for Christ, we are not really without preparation. We are called to confront the injustices of the world on a daily basis. Seeking solidarity with people who are poor, oppressed, and marginalized teaches us the true meaning of justice. Being a witness for Christ is a lifelong burden, but it is a light and joyful burden because “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Comfort: God’s justice is for everyone.

Challenge: With your money or time, support a group that confronts injustice.

Prayer: God of Justice, I trust in you and not the world. Grant me wisdom to be your effective and loving witness. Amen.

Discussion: Is there an injustice you have seen righted in your lifetime?

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  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!

Keep Lighting the Candle


Today’s readings:
Psalms 102; 148, Isaiah 3:1-4:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Luke 20:41-21:4

As we approach the end of this first week of Advent, let’s reflect on its theme of Hope. This coming Sunday anyone with an Advent wreath will light the second Advent candle, but they will also re-light the Hope candle, and keep lighting it each week until they light the Christ candle.

One of the joys of Advent is knowing exactly when Christ will arrive – the date is already marked on our calendars. Today’s scriptures from Isaiah, 1 Thessalonians, and Luke all focus on people awaiting their own day of deliverance, but waiting without a clear end date. Though time and circumstance differed, each of these writers warned that in the meantime, things would get tougher – maybe even terrible. Even through none of them could name a specific day, all were confident the day of reckoning would indeed come.

Still we wait. We watch things get better in some areas and worse in others. We know from the past that the future holds both glory and terror. Wars begin and end. Diseases appear and disappear. Hungry people are fed, and different people begin to starve. Nothing in the world is new, yet we are made new in Christ. How do we maintain Hope in Christ’s promises for a new and better kingdom in the face of such contradiction?

Our relationship with Hope must evolve. If faith maps our lives, Hope is no longer a pushpin marking some dream destination, but a bright road we must travel. When we light a candle of Hope – by visiting a sick friend, working for equality, feeding the hungry – God’s kingdom exists wherever the light of those candles shines. Like the light of a distant star, Hope is something we observe in the present, but also evidence of the past and the future.

The day we are waiting for is always today. If we are living in relationship with God, does it really matter when Christ returns? If knowing a date changes how we live, we live not in Hope, but desperation. It is in the act of lighting the candle – in letting the Hope of Christ illuminate our hearts – that Christ returns again and again.

Comfort: Hope exists now.

Challenge: We all have something (or things) we’re putting off until the time is right, when realistically it may never be “right.” Find a way to take action as if the time is right now.

Prayer: Eternal God, I place my Hope in you, right now and always. Amen.

Discussion: What are you hoping for?

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  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!

Puzzling It Out


Today’s readings:
Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Isaiah 2:5-22, 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13, Luke 20:27-40

Under ancient Jewish marriage laws, a widow was instructed to marry her late husband’s unwed brother. Theoretically, if that brother died, and there was another brother, she would marry him. And if he died … on down the line.

The Sadducees, who did not even believe in resurrection, tried to trip up Jesus with a hypothetical question about who in the resurrection would be the husband of a woman who’d married seven brothers. Jesus told them nothing as we understood it – including marriage – would be the same.

On one level he was specifically addressing the Sadducees, but on another (and when is anything Jesus says not multi-layered?) he was pointing out the futility of trying to cram God and God’s kingdom into the tiny fragments of human understanding that describe and limit our faith. If we treat them like pieces of a puzzle and try to force them into a single picture, we soon learn that not only are we missing countless pieces, the ones we have may be from different boxes. The only way to fit them inside our desired frame of reference is to tear off the inconvenient bits and pound them flat.

No wonder the picture of Christianity can often make so little sense, especially to outsiders. Not knowing is uncomfortable and scary, so we can waste time rearranging the pieces. This obsession disengages us from the “God of the living” – from life and all its blessed messiness.

An insistence on theological tidiness, especially about unknowable things, doesn’t make us better believers. Mystics of all faiths describe the moment of divine revelation as a surrender to mystery. The wisest people admit to knowing nothing.

Getting stuck in “head” religion ultimately leads to frustration. Thinking you lack spiritual wisdom because you don’t know the right terms or scripture quotes is just not true. God is found in living hearts, not dead paper. Christ is the Living Word not because he appears on Bible pages, but because he rewrites the world.

Rather than “bow down to the work of [our] own hands” by stuffing God into ideas we’ve created, let’s trust that God is present with us in the glorious chaos of life.

Comfort: You don’t have to understand everything – as a matter of fact no one does!

Challenge: Try to give up finding the answer to one question you wish you knew.

Prayer: Infinite God, Lord of all Creation, I am open to your mystery and majesty. Amen.

Discussion: What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a puzzle before giving up?

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  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!

Flip The Mattress


Today’s readings:
Psalms 122; 145, Isaiah 1:10-20, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Luke 20:1-8

As a mattress ages, it slowly loses its ability to properly support us. Even as it grows less and less physically comfortable, it grows familiar – more emotionally comfortable – so we work with what we’ve got. And while we learn to avoid low spots and bad springs, we wake up a little less refreshed every morning. Eventually, we arrange ourselves to fit the mattress when it’s supposed to be the other way around. Very often we wait until we are physically pained before going to the trouble of getting a new one.

Religion has something in common with a mattress: the very act of inhabiting it, distorts it. During Advent we read from the book of Isaiah because it calls God’s people to look at how they twisted their religion until it no longer supported their once vibrant, living faith. The sacrifices they once made to honor God became an abomination, because the people managed to follow the rules without showing compassion and mercy to the least among them. Over time, the people contorted themselves to rest on the comfortable parts of the law and avoid the harder demands of mercy, all the while failing to realize how seriously they were damaging the backbone of their faith.

According to Isaiah, the Jewish people were driven into Babylonian exile, despite ample warnings, because God withdrew his favor. During Advent, which is a time of looking both backward and forward, the words of Isaiah should prompt us to reevaluate how we live out our own faith. Are we relying exclusively on rules and ritual? These are not bad things, but alone they do not meet God’s expectations for us to seek justice and rescue the oppressed. It doesn’t take long for us to settle into a routine and forget why we adopted it in the first place. Does our faith practice refresh us to live in love, or does it only equip us to sleepwalk through life?

We can settle for a slowly dilapidating mattress, we can flip it over a little to see if that does the trick, or we can invest in reinvigorating it entirely. Faith doesn’t need to be reinvented, but every so often it does need to be refreshed. We are, after all, a resurrection people.

Comfort: In the end, renewal is more refreshing than it is inconvenient.

Challenge: This Advent season, look at how you might renew your faith practices. Consider participating in a Reverse Advent Calendar.

Prayer: God of all that is, may I never forget you are the reason for all I do. Amen.

Discussion: What are some habits or practices (religious or otherwise) you have abandoned or reworked because they no longer served a purpose?

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  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!



Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Romans 10:14-21, Matthew 24:32-51

vigilant (adj.): 1. keenly watchful to detect danger; wary; 2. ever awake and alert; sleeplessly watchful (

Are we vigilant about our spiritual lives? What might such vigilance look like? Jesus offered various examples of vigilant (and non-vigilant) people. Regarding vigilance he was speaking specifically of the day of judgment, but the lesson is applicable to other important events that will occur at an unknown time – including our own deaths.

Two workers in a field, but only one taken at the end. Two women grinding grain, but one left behind. A homeowner unprotected against thieves in the night. Jesus gives no details about what separates the field workers and women who are taken from those who are not. The homeowner has no way of knowing which night to stay awake to catch the thief. These examples tell us why we need to be vigilant, but not how. In a longer parable, he tells us about a good slave who is performing his job admirably while awaiting his master’s return, and a bad one who is wasting time and money that do not belong to him.

In a nutshell, vigilance is doing what we’re supposed to be doing, every day. None of the vigilant people are making extraordinary “holy” efforts. None are busy trying to figure out when the big event is most likely to occur. None are in a worship service others neglect. They are working. Grinding. Living.

Perhaps this is how we are to exercise vigilance: do our best to discern how God wants us to live, and make it our daily practice to do so. Waiting for the “right day” to stop gossiping or to start caring for the poor is a dangerous gamble: like the bad slave, we don’t know when our time might be up.

Many of us assume (with either fear or hope) that God’s demands will require extraordinary effort, and therefore put off our attempts to fulfill those demands until everything is in place. Does a preoccupation with extraordinary efforts distract us from the true vigilance of daily living? Instead of being overwhelmed, let’s find comfort in Jesus’s use of common laborers, rather than prophets or priests, as his examples of the vigilant. We don’t need to be scholars, seers, or sages to be vigilant. We just need to be the people God created us to be.

Comfort: God has given us lives that prepare us for His presence.

Challenge: At the end of the day, make notes of when you were and were not spiritually vigilant.

Prayer: Gracious and Merciful God, thank you for your presence in my daily activities. Amen.

Discussion: When do you feel like you’re living as God would have you live? How do you struggle with that idea?

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!

Doubt, Pray, Love


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 26; 30, Ecclesiastes 11:1-8, Galatians 5:16-24, Matthew 16:13-20

No matter how strong our faith, we eventually have a day – or perhaps an achingly long series of days – when God seems far away. We don’t talk about those days much. Rather, we feel pressure to put on a brave face. Expressions of doubt during a Bible study prompt our friends to offer arguments for belief which are probably more about their reassurance than ours. A minor breakdown during prayer time is viewed as unseemly and inappropriate, maybe even fodder for parking lot gossip.

Loss and weakness are fine to discuss if we’ve already overcome them, but no one likes to watch the sausage being made. A story of beating a gambling addiction? Testify! A confession about how your ongoing blackout drinking leads to promiscuity? Better save it for the 12-step meeting. We talk a good game about brokenness, vulnerability, and healing but we really want to skip right to the “after” photo because the “before” mugshot is too upsetting.

The Psalms tell a different story. Many of them describe how we can be simultaneously faithful and in a wretched state. The author of Psalm 130 is crying out to God from the depths of despair. He recognizes his own failings and shortcomings. He finds himself unable to do anything but wait for the Lord and hope for the best. He still puts his trust in God but he’s not putting up a brave front.

Questions, moments of weakness, and despair do not demonstrate a lack of faith. They are the times that tell us whether we had any faith in the first place. Like the psalmist, sometimes the best we can do is beg God to get us through the darkness while we hunker down and hang on until daylight.

A healthy faith community will offer a safe space to rail against injustice, struggles, and the seeming distance of God. It will face darkness head on but shine a light into it. Since communities are made of people, the responsibility of creating such space then falls on each of us. We can be ourselves when we allow others to do the same.

Comfort: God is big enough to love you through your anger and doubt.

Challenge: It can be difficult to navigate when to express our pain and when to keep it to ourselves. Read this piece on how not to say the wrong thing.

Prayer: Loving God, my source of strength and security, thank you for weathering my doubts and fears. I will trust you to see me through this and all days. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever found relief after sharing something you had been keeping to yourself?

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.

Washing Our Hands of Mercy


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, Ecclesiastes 5:8-20, Galatians 3:23-4:11, Matthew 15:1-20

Christianity has existed for almost two thousand years. Over the centuries it has evolved in some ways into something Jesus might barely recognize. Or maybe it evolved into something he would find all too familiar: an institution whose highest priority is too often its own preservation;  an institution that claims a scriptural basis but predictably twists that scripture to justify human preferences and biases. If that criticism sounds harsh, consider today’s reading from Matthew.

The Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus and his disciples for not performing the traditional hand-washing before meals. Jesus countered by condemning them for using man-made conventions to help people shelter their money through the temple when they didn’t want to “waste” it taking care of their aging parents. The letter of the law permitted this practice, but undermined the spirit of the commandment to “honor thy father and mother.” When the disciples later expressed concern he’d offended the Pharisees, he said:

Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions […] These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.

Twenty centuries have accumulated a lot of traditions which obscure the message of Christ. Many of them were intended to guide us, but often we have let them come to define us. Rules and practices specific to a time or culture are revered like commandments not because they honor God, but because they honor our self-righteousness.

“We take communion the proper way. We baptize the proper way. We say the proper Sinner’s Prayer. We don’t do X, Y and Z…” Jesus does not ask us only to avoid sin, he asks us to love proactively. What good is not taking the Lord’s name in vain if we don’t speak that same glorious name in love to others? How well do we serve God by condemning abortion but neglecting the hungry children of single mothers?

Law and ethics are separate fields of study partly because you can observe the first without having any concern for the second. Our duty as Christians is to love God and our neighbors. Often our disagreements about how to execute that duty are based more in traditions and biases than in love. When we are quick to discipline or enforce in God’s name, but slower to demonstrate mercy, we disrespect God’s character. As Psalm 103:8 tells us, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.”

Let’s demonstrate our love for God – and by extension each other – with both our lips and our hearts.

Comfort: God’s love is bigger than our traditions.

Challenge: Sometimes to love, we must unlearn.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me the humility necessary to follow your will instead of human laws.

Discussion: Have you had to discard any traditions or customs to better follow your faith?

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.

Training Wheels

all things

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, Galatians 3:15-22, Matthew 14:22-36

After the feeding of the multitude, Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat, and retreated to a mountain to pray in solitude. A storm broke, and great waves pushed the disciples far from shore. In the morning they saw Jesus walking across the water toward them, but mistook him for a ghost. When Peter realized who was coming, he climbed out of the boat and started walking toward him. A strong wind frightened Peter and he began to sink. Jesus reached out to save him, and asked: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Who exactly was Peter doubting? Was it Jesus … or himself? Only a few hours earlier he and the other disciples had fed a crowd of thousands with little more than the makings of a few fish sandwiches. Jesus had blessed the food, but he told the disciples to do the feeding. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was preparing the disciples to carry on his mission after he was gone. That meant teaching them to trust themselves to do the work. Of course all they accomplished was through Christ, but they would have to do the actual work; losing confidence when the winds turned against them would sink the mission entirely.

How many miles and hours do parents spend running behind bicycles once the training wheels have been taken off? Their steadying hands at first provide balance, then only the illusion of balance, and finally they let the child ride alone. The Law was like a set of training wheels – for a while it kept the people upright, but over time it outgrew its usefulness, and the people relied on it for the wrong reasons. During his ministry, Jesus was removing the training wheels and teaching his followers to find their balance.

Our growth follows a similar path. When we doubt we can count on him to reach out that steadying hand, but eventually we must act. Faith is not believing Jesus will do what we ask of him, but believing he has already prepared us for what he asks us to do.

Comfort: When our faith feels wobbly, Christ stands ready to steady us.

Challenge: It’s easy to confuse what we want with what God wants.

Prayer: Powerful and ever-loving God, grant me strength and faith to do the work you ask of me. Amen.

Discussion: Has doubt or fear been holding you back from something you feel called to do?

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.



Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-15,Galatians 2:11-21, Matthew 14:1-12

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t at least once held their tongue or behaved, if not contrary, not quite in alignment with their beliefs to keep the peace? Maybe we didn’t want to ruin Thanksgiving dinner by responding to inappropriate comments from our racist cousin. Maybe we didn’t want to alienate a boss and agreed to a decision we knew was unethical. Maybe we grabbed a cigarette behind the elementary school with friends. Young or old, in large ways and small, peer pressure impacts all of us throughout our lives.

Though they had little else in common, Peter and Herod both found occasion to sacrifice their principles on the altar of appeasement.

In the years after Christ’s death, church leadership was up for grabs. Peter may have been Jesus’s rock, but many disciples considered James, the brother of Jesus, a more natural successor.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes a confrontation with Peter, who “lived like a Gentile” and was not overly concerned with observing Jewish laws until the arrival of some representatives from James (Paul calls them the “circumcision faction”). Suddenly Peter put up a good Jewish front in an attempt to please James and preserve unity in the fragile young church. Paul did not feel the same need for deference – since it bowed to the exclusion of Gentiles from the faith – and accused Peter of betraying the spirit of Christ’s teaching.

King Herod didn’t make good decisions. Contrary to Jewish custom, he divorced his first wife to marry his sister-in-law. John the Baptist publicly spoke against this arrangement. At a drunken party, Herod foolishly promised his step-daughter anything she wanted. At her mother’s urging she asked for the head of John the Baptist. Herod didn’t want to kill John and feared the consequences, but he was more afraid of losing face with his guests.

Giving in or going with the flow may feel easier in the moment, but it doesn’t sit well with our consciences later. In some cases it backfires and delivers trouble on a silver platter. Even with the best intentions, we must be careful how we compromise. Turning the other cheek is not an excuse for being two faced.

Comfort: You don’t have to make everyone happy.

Challenge: When you are torn between speaking your mind and keeping the peace, ask yourself what will be sacrificed if you say or do nothing.

Prayer: Loving God, guide me at all times in the balance of being faithful to you and loving toward your children. Amen.

Discussion: Is there a situation where you regret not sticking to your principles because you didn’t want to cause trouble?

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.