Carpenter’s Son

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 93; 150, Leviticus 8:1-13, 30-36, Hebrews 12:1-14, Luke 4:16-30


How do you feel about high school reunions? Your answer probably depends on how much you enjoyed your high school experience. The older we get the less we are like our high school selves, but stepping into those locker-lined hallways and through those gymnasium doors shifts a part of our brain back into those teenage dynamics. Some part of us expects people to be like they were then, and they expect the same of us. When we know someone as a youth, we can have trouble seeing how they are different as adults. All of us are both victims and perpetrators of this phenomenon.

Jesus had the same problems. His ministry began with a big splash in Capernaum, and then he returned to his hometown of Nazareth. In Nazareth people wanted to see the signs he’d performed in Capernaum. Part of this might have been excitement over the hometown boy made good, but some of it was because they couldn’t imagine the son of Joseph the carpenter as the Messiah. Anticipating their doubt, Jesus told them: “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” After he got warmed up and started doing what prophets do – namely telling them what they needed to change – “all in the synagogue were filled with rage.” They drove him out of town and tried to push him off a cliff.

In the end, Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” as though they weren’t there. Now there’s a lesson in maturity. Jesus did not surrender to the outdated expectations of people who couldn’t see him in the present. It can be tempting to lower ourselves to expectations (“I cheated because I got tired of you accusing me of it!”) and blame others. Jesus knew what he was about, and also knew Nazareth would hold him back. At one point even his own family called him crazy, but he just kept doing what needed to be done. What only he could do. Don’t settle for the expectations the world places on you; graduate into the person God has prepared you to be.

Comfort: Other people may not see you for who you are, but God does.

Challenge: If you are tempted to blame someone else for your failings, spend some time in prayer about it.

Prayer: Thank you, loving God, for allowing me to grow into the gifts you have given me. Help me to see others as you see them, not through the lens of my preconceptions. Amen.

Discussion: Do you react maturely in the face of low expectations?

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Faith in the Familiar

teach me your ways

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 34; 146, Genesis 45:1-15, 1 Corinthians 7:32-40, Mark 6:1-13


Can you imagine any of your childhood friends becoming the Messiah? Neither could the people of Jesus’ hometown. When we have known someone since before they were toilet-trained, or have endured their adolescent moodiness, or have witnessed other personal (all too humanizing!) traits, our ability to see her or him as truly extraordinary can evaporate. Executive washrooms are exclusive for a reason. Familiarity may not always breed contempt, but it doesn’t often promote reverence.

When Jesus tried to teach in Nazareth, people took offense at his attempt. They asked: “Isn’t he just that carpenter? You know, Mary’s kid?” Their unbelief amazed him, and limited his abilities. Like a nightmarish high school reunion, his peers’ preconceptions negated all he had become. We may judge in hindsight, but how would we react if the neighbor kid started telling us we needed to rethink our concept of God?

Though none of our neighbors, children, siblings, parents, or friends are likely to be the second coming of Christ, the reaction of the people of Nazareth serves as a warning. We don’t always want to hear challenging truths from someone we know well. We may brush off legitimate criticism from friends by reminding ourselves (and them) of their own faults. We might ignore good advice from Dad because “he always worries too much.” After watching our children make mistakes we warned them about, we may have trouble learning to see them as capable adults. Companies often bring in consultants to point out obvious truths not because consultants are smarter, but because strangers lack the baggage we use to discredit our peers when we don’t like what they have to say.

What damage do we cause our relationships when, even unknowingly, we dismiss people because they are familiar? Maybe we’re not preventing them from performing miracles, but how much might they accomplish if shown a little faith? One way to try seeing the face of Christ in everyone is to define them by their potential, and not by their shortcomings. Sometimes they may let us down, but how we can rejoice when they lift us up!

Comfort: No matter how other people see you, God sees you as He created you to be.

Challenge: Be discerning, but don’t fall into the trap of cynicism.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for giving me space to grow. Please help me to live into the potential you have created for me. Please help me support and foster the potential of others. May we develop all our talents to serve God and neighbor. Amen.

Discussion: Is there anyone in your life – children, parents, friends, etc. – you are seeing through outdated eyes? How can you change that?

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Hitting the Mark(et)

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, 2 Samuel 5:22-6:11, Acts 17:16-34, Mark 8:1-10


Some churches approach evangelism like a marketing campaign, while others consider this tactic crass. Demographic analysis and ad campaigns may not seem spiritual, but they can get butts in the seats. Prayer groups and one-on-one meetings may seem more spiritual, but risk becoming insular activities which impact only existing members. Trite as it sounds, a healthy approach lies somewhere in the middle.

Paul knew a thing or two about marketing. When he spoke to the Athenians, he used familiar phrases from Greek poets and philosophers to support his position. When modern churches try to appear relevant by co-opting current trends, they aren’t as far from Paul as we might think. In Paul’s Greece, a person’s choice of philosophy was a social statement as much as a system of thought, so Paul knew to keep his references culturally savvy. He chose to “speak their language.”

When churches speak a lot of “Christianese” their insider language is meaningful to members, but leaves outsiders feeling excluded. Think what “slain in the spirit” sounds like to a non-Christian.  A church should not resemble a club with a secret password.

Critics of Christian culture – including many Christians – often point to “relevant” marketing efforts as a sign of desperation or insincerity. If Paul is our example of effective evangelism – and if he isn’t, who could be? – such critics might want to temper their judgments. On the other hand, a packed house does not necessarily indicate spiritual success. A large congregation means nothing if its members are not challenged to fully live the Gospel because its leaership fears doing so might negatively impact the collection plate or the head count. Conversely, a small congregation is not by default virtuous or successful, especially if it isn’t reaching out to the greater community.

A successful congregation is one that shares the Good News in ways people can understand and are attracted to, without compromising its message. The primary goal is never numbers-driven. If we follow Paul’s example, we will see that presenting the unexpurgated Gospel message in a sincere but relatable way is the only marketing plan we need.


Additional Reading:
For more thoughts on today’s passage from Acts, see The Unknown God.

Comfort: Some of the best evangelism is simple truth, plainly spoken.

Challenge: Check your church’s promotional material for “Christianese.”.

Prayer: Compassionate God, teach me to share Christ’s message. Amen.

Discussion: What kind of evangelism do you best respond to?

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!