Make Time for Miracles

 

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 149, Proverbs 8:22-36, 3 John 1-15, Matthew 12:15-21


So often our faith is tangled in doctrine, politics, and other distractions. We rely on it in (or find it lacking) in times of difficulty or sadness. The church emphasizes sin, sacrifice, and the cross. When we focus on the glory of resurrection, it is inevitably linked to the suffering that led up to it. These are all realities in our life, but they are not the only realities.

God called the creation good. We are loved enough to be saved. There is beauty all around us but most of our busy lives permit so little time to appreciate it and draw spiritual sustenance from it. Scriptures like Psalm 104 are important because they remind us the story of creation is not all about battling the forces of evil and repenting of our own wickedness; it is also about the marvels God has showered on this world.

When we have the opportunity, we need to take time to simply appreciate the wonders around us. When we are tired or hurting, it strengthens us to understand there is something glorious happening. The seasons themselves are cyclical miracles of rebirth, growth, maturation, and rest. Winter snows melting into spring rivers; summer harvest yielding to autumn abundance; no matter what time of year, we are in the middle of a miracle.

In addition to the seasons, the psalmist writes about the diversity of life, from birds to fish to cattle to trees to flowers. He writes about valleys with rushing rivers, majestic mountains, and lush fields. Day and night and everything they each reveal has a purpose. Between the tiniest creature creeping on the ground and the moon illuminating us from high above, the world is full of beauty that exists because God is good.

This goodness is not always foremost in our minds. When we experience disease, poverty, oppression, or any of a host of ills, it may seem far away, even impossible. Yet it exists alongside us at all times. Finding time to find the good may not solve our problems, but ignoring the good makes God seem all the more distant.

Comfort: You have permission to take time out from everything else to find beauty in the world.

Challenge: Each day this week, write down three beautiful things you have observed.

Prayer: God of Creation, thank you for the wonders all around me. Amen.

Discussion: In places of war or extreme poverty, beauty may seem absent entirely. Can it be found there?

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Dear Jesus … Define Rich

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, Obadiah 15-21, 1 Peter 2:1-10, Matthew 19:23-30


One of the favorite ornaments on our family Christmas tree is in the shape of a letter to Santa. Its message is short: “Dear Santa … Define good!”

“Good” is one of those terms which can seem eternally undefinable. Good compared to whom? When a rich young man asked Christ what good deed would guarantee him eternal life, Jesus replied, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.”  After pressing Jesus on the matter, the young man left grief-stricken because Jesus told him to sell all his many possessions and give his money to the poor. When Jesus then told the disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” they wondered if anyone could be saved. Jesus responded with a warning and reassurance that God made it possible.

“Rich” is another one of those words which seems to reside on a sliding scale. Most of us define “rich” in terms of wealth which definitely exceeds our own. How rich do we think the young man was? How many possessions is “many?” These concepts are skewed by the community and culture in which we live.

I consider my family to be solidly middle class, but compared to say the billions of people in the world without safe access to toilets, we are almost obscenely wealthy. During conversations about relative wealth, some friends and co-workers have suggested that it isn’t fair to compare first- and third-world standards. It’s almost as if they (and, I must admit, I) are reluctant to admit that in the overall scope of the human family, we are – as a fellow churchgoer described us in a way that was less than flattering – rich as $#!%. Of course to some other friends struggling to get by, that fellow churchgoer enjoyed a highly enviable level of comfort.

Since it’s all relative, the question then becomes not do we think we are rich, but does Jesus think we are rich? If we can consider his conversation with the young man to be an indicator of that standard, the threshold seems to be whether we retain anything we could part with to better follow him. We should probably be pretty aggressive about answering that.

Do we need to part with absolutely everything? Jesus didn’t require that of everyone around him. Do we need to be willing to part with anything that stands between us and Christ? Absolutely.

We may not be able to agree on a textbook definition of “rich” … but valuing something more than we value Christ is a price too high for any of us to pay.

Comfort: The most valuable thing we have was given to us for free.

Challenge: Consider donating to WaterAid or similar charities which help deliver clean water and facilities to people living in poverty.

Prayer: Merciful and loving  God, teach me to appreciate what I have in terms of how I might spend it to help others in need. Amen.

Discussion: In your opinion, how rich is too rich?

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Childlike Wealth

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 12; 146, Nahum 1:1-13, 1 Peter 1:13-25, Matthew 19:13-22


The two stories in today’s passage from Matthew can be read independently, but taken together they provide a greater lesson. In the first, Jesus rebukes the disciples for preventing children from coming to him. He welcomes and blesses the children, and tells his disciples “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” In the second, a rich young man who believes himself virtuous because he keeps the law asks Jesus what he lacks to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells the man he needs to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. The young man leaves in shock and grief.

When Jesus speaks about being like little children, he does not simply mean we should be naïve or innocent. Children own nothing, and depend on their parents for everything. To receive as children, we must realize that all we have is from God, and that our lives apart from God are empty. This takes us to the young man, who has many possessions. To abandon them all is unthinkable to him. His body and actions conform to the law, but his heart belongs first to his possessions. Not only does he fail to recognize all he has does not truly belong to him, he has allowed his attachment to wealth to become a barrier between him and God.

Idealism is associated with youth for a reason: as we grow older and establish our lives, it becomes ever more difficult to stand up for principles that may cost us everything, because we have so much more to lose. As we mature, it’s easy to claim experience has made us practical about matters that threaten our livelihoods. Is it possible we are rationalizing (more than) a bit? It’s a lot easier to stand up for principles at your job or city hall when all you have to lose is a 1998 Ford Fiesta than when your new house and Lexus are on the line. Must we, like the young man, sell everything? At the very least, we must be willing to part with anything in our lives – wealth, reputation, pride – that stands between us and God. Only then will we have room to receive the kingdom of God, and all the gifts which lift us up instead of weigh us down.

Comfort: We are all God’s children.

Challenge: Pick out a children’s book to read, and ask yourself what lessons it has to teach that you may have forgotten in adulthood.

Prayer: How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.  (Psalm 36:7)

Discussion: When did people start seeing you as an adult? When did you start thinking of yourself as one?

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!