Made to be Broken


Today’s readings:
Psalms 119:73-80; 145, Jeremiah 16:(1-9) 10-21, Romans 7:1-12, John 6:1-15

You’ve probably heard the saying “Rules were made to be broken.” The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, phrased it a little differently: “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” It seems like wonderful news that the law, fulfilled in Christ, no longer condemns us. Isn’t that the kind of freedom we desire?

One might think so, yet we seem eager to impose new laws. Over the years Christians have forbidden everything from dancing to haircuts. We’ve twisted religion to enforce cultural traditions as though they were divine rules. Why do this? Maybe because it’s so much easier to understand and navigate a system of laws rather than a commandment to love.

But this isn’t the only reason it’s harder to accept living under grace than living under the law. Accepting grace means accepting a God of unconditional love. That means God is willing to forgive people we’d rather He didn’t: ex-spouses, people who’ve wronged us, terrorists, etc. In the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet wanted God to withhold forgiveness so badly that God had to deliver him to his enemies in Nineveh via the belly of a giant fish. There’s a little Jonah in all of us. Knowing God will forgive people we can’t (or won’t) rubs us the wrong way, so we return to the law even if God hasn’t.

It’s not like we’re any easier on ourselves. If we were eager to believe we could be unconditionally loved and forgiven, therapists would go out of business. The world teaches us we must prove ourselves in order to be valued. Jesus tells us we are already valued, and asks us to live lives that prove it. Sometimes we have to untie a lifetime of spiritual and psychological knots before are free to believe that. But once we are able to embrace it, we want it for others as well.

Maybe rules were made to be broken, but we were not. God desires wholeness for each of us. Christ teaches us how to mend our souls – to sand down the jagged edges and mend the cracks – by tending to each other’s brokenness. When the law is love, the penalty is more love.

Comfort: God’s love is unconditional.

Challenge: If you can’t bring yourself to forgive someone, at least pray for them.

Prayer: Gracious and Merciful God, I am humbled by and grateful for your love. Amen.

Discussion: Do you really believe God loves you unconditionally? Why or why not?

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 dog ate my excuse.

Image result for dog ate my homework meme

Today’s readings:
Psalms 22; 148, Deuteronomy 10:12-22, Hebrews 4:11-16, John 3:22-36

In the letter to the Hebrews, the evangelist writes:

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Isn’t that a comfort? Our high priest, Jesus, knows exactly how difficult temptation is. After forty days in the wilderness before his ministry began, he resisted the devil’s promises of power. On the cross, he forgave those who crucified him. In between, he faced every manner of temptation the rest of us do. His triumph over temptation could seem intimidating since none of us can hope to live up to it, but it is an assurance  of sympathy, mercy, and grace.

On the other hand, it gives him an excellent baloney detector.

Certainly he was tempted to make excuses just like we do. To pretend having no pleasant choice is the same as having no choice. To write off the difficult as the impossible. To blame other people for our own behavior. To dismiss those who opposed him as wicked.

Jesus chose the cross; we choose the bottom line. Jesus turned Paul the Christian-hunter into his greatest evangelist; we won’t hire an ex-felon. Jesus entered enemy territory to share bread and salvation; we create an economy dependent on foreign laborers then vilify them for accepting our invitation. Jesus showed grace to his executioners; we legislate against those who don’t share our dogma “for their own good.”

Grace and mercy aren’t granted because we cling to convincing excuses; they are available when we humbly admit no excuse is good enough. It is impossible to seek forgiveness while justifying our sin. When we fail to the love the poor, the sick, or the alien among us – even if we feel they persecute us – we must not blame them for our failure.

Grace is ours for the asking. We just have to stop explaining why we deserve it.

Comfort: Jesus understands your trials.

Challenge: For one week, don’t justify your mistakes to anyone. Just own them.

Prayer: Merciful God, boldly I approach you, humbly I lay my sins before you. Shine your merciful face upon me. Amen.

Discussion: When are you prone to make excuses? How do you react when others make excuses?

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:
Psalms 57; 145, Isaiah 48:1-11, Galatians 1:1-17, Mark 5:21-43

“Worthiness” is a concept that gets thrown around lot in certain Christian circles. When we thank God for loving us despite our sinful nature, we call ourselves “unworthy” of that love. That may be true in the sense that God’s love is not something we can earn. It may even be necessary to keep our egos in check.

But the world already does too good a job of convincing far too many people they are without worth, so the wrong type of focus on our “unworthy” nature can cause yet more damage. In some cases, it can be exploited in very un-Christ-like ways. Christ taught people who thought they were forever outside of God’s love that God loved them too. Shouldn’t that be our focus also?

Every one of us feels insecure about something. Our physical appearance. Our weight. Our ability. Our love-ability. Our faith. Secrets we keep. Secrets we can’t keep. Things we’ve done. Things we’ve left undone. Sadly, human beings have an infinite capacity for reasons to feel insecure. Left to fester, such feelings can quickly grow into feelings of unworthiness. We all know people who feel unworthy to be loved by themselves, by others, or even by God. Deep-seated feelings of unworthiness, left unaddressed, can result in destructive and self-destructive behavior.

In today’s gospel story, a woman who suffered with a hemorrhage for twelve years touched Jesus’s robe and was healed by her faith. Under Levitical law, this woman was unclean, and therefore unworthy of touching a rabbi like Jesus. Societal norms might have kept her from being healed, but Jesus had no words of rebuke for her – only words of praise for her faith. Jesus demonstrated unworthiness is a concept we use to hold each other back but it places no limitations on God’s love for us. We must never let anyone tell us differently.

Feelings of unworthiness may also spring from actions we have taken and lives we have led. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul reminds them that before he evangelized for Christ, he was a destroyer of Christians – surely a matter of no small regret. He also points out that once God chose him, he “did not confer with any human being” but set directly about his calling. We learn at least two things from his experience. First, we are worthy because God tells us so, not because we or someone else decides it. Second, we don’t have to wait for approval from others to behave as though we are worthy: if that were the case, Paul would never have gotten started!

If God felt a notorious persecutor of Christians was worthy of being their greatest evangelist, how much ego does it take to believe our own offenses make us unworthy of God’s love? When we don’t have faith in our own worthiness, let’s remember our God has faith in us!

Comfort: You are no more or less worthy of God’s love than anyone else.

Challenge: Meditate on how we must not equate our human worthiness with the worthiness of Christ.

Prayer: Creator of all, thank you for creating me to love and to be loved. Amen.

Discussion: “Worthy” can be a loaded term if we use it with pride instead of humility. Often we emphasize our unworthiness before God to reinforce that humility. What do you think are healthy and unhealthy ways to think about our worth?

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!

Heroes and Villains


Today’s readings:
Psalms 33; 146 , Isaiah 1:21-31 , 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 , Luke 20:9-18

Have you ever seen those online quizzes with names like “Which Seven Dwarfs character are you?” or “What comic book figure are you?” Generally they ask silly questions (while secretly gathering marketing information) then reveal why you are most like Bashful or Batman. Although meaningless and generic, the results never seem to be especially surprising. Most of us have a pretty good idea of who we are.

Parables are a different story. We think we know which character represents us because we want to identify with the lost sheep or the repentant sinner, but maybe that’s because we know which characters are “supposed” to be admirable. Take the parable of the Wicked Tenants, for instance. An owner leased his vineyard while he was out of the country. When he sent a slave to collect his share of the harvest, the tenants beat the slave and sent him back. They did the same thing to the next two slaves he sent. Finally he sent his son, whom they killed. The owner would come to destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. With (very) little analysis, we can conclude the owner is God, the wicked tenants are the religious leaders He entrusted with His people, the beaten slaves are the prophets, the slain son is Jesus, and the new inheritors of the vineyard are Christ’s followers. Easy, right?

Not so fast. We don’t always get to be the hero.

Twenty centuries later, it’s the Christian establishment’s turn to work the vineyard of the Western world, and the powerful – or at least those who like to think they own everything – don’t tend to fare well in parables. On the whole, the church isn’t kind to prophetic voices of dissent. We declare them apostate or stop carrying their DVDs in our bookstores. When they demand too much inclusiveness, we’d rather leave them spiritually bruised and empty-handed than consider we may have erred by trying to assume ownership of the grace that is only God’s to claim. Today we are the tenants running amok. Whom are we beating?

Advent is the perfect time to try viewing yourself from a different perspective. If it turns out you’re The Evil Queen or The Joker, with grace you just might be able to turn that around before Jesus gets here.

Comfort: There’s time to change your story.

Challenge: Ask yourself who might see you as the bad guy, and whether they have a point.

Prayer: Oh Lord, teach me to be humble and help me to be kind. Amen.

Discussion: What fictional character do you relate to, and why?

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!

Present Imperfect


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Numbers 16:1-19, Romans 3:21-31, Matthew 19:13-22

The story of the rich young man is generally reduced to the beginning when the man asked how to be good, and the end when he left grieving because Jesus instructed him to sell all his many possessions and follow him. We commonly interpret this story to mean discipleship requires abandoning everything but Christ. This understanding is consistent with parables like the pearl of great price, but the middle of the story is the meat in the sandwich which provides more insight to sink our teeth into.

The man’s original question was: “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus responded: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.” In other words: wrong question, buddy. Jesus followed with: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” When the man asked which commandments (the full Mosaic law had hundreds), Jesus named a few common sense ones under the general category of “love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said he kept them all, yet asked what he still lacked.

Sense a theme? The man sought a formula for salvation. He persisted in insisting his salvation would be his own accomplishment. We are saved by grace and not deeds, but the rich young man couldn’t comprehend a system where he was not in control of his own destiny.

Jesus’s final words to the man begin with: “If you wish to be perfect …” Ouch! Now the man had a completely avoidable burden of perfection laid on him. No wonder he grieved!

What if the man had been satisfied with “Love your neighbor as yourself?” If he could have accepted there wasn’t a salvation equation, but instead unearned grace, Jesus could have stopped right there.

Like the rich young man, we struggle to let go of that one last possession: a need for control. We claim grace, but insist on formulaic rules that give us an illusion of power.

“If you wish to be perfect” is not an introduction to advice on attaining perfection, but an indictment of any belief that we can or need to be. Faith is not an excuse to sin, but life under the law leads to grief. Life under faith leads to grace.

Comfort: God doesn’t expect perfection.

Challenge: Neither should we.

Prayer: God of Mercy, thank you for the gift of unearned grace. Teach me to extend that love to others. Amen.

Discussion: What rules do you have trouble letting go?

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.

Universal Precautions


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 148, Jeremiah 31:27-34, Ephesians 5:1-32, Matthew 9:9-17

“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” – Matthew 9:9

What does “tax collector” mean to you? In Capernaum where Jesus met Matthew, tax collectors were not exactly IRS agents. They were Jews who collaborated with the occupying forces of Rome to tax the Jewish people for the privilege of being oppressed. If you’re of a Libertarian bent you may not think that’s so different from the modern tax collector, but many Jews considered them traitors to the nation of Israel. The Pharisees lumped them into the same category as the other “sinners” Jesus frequently dined with and challenged the disciples about his choice of companions.

Jesus responded by saying: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. […] For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Paul warned the members of the Ephesian church not to associate with those who are disobedient to God. Paul named many kinds of disobedience – so many, in fact, that most of us have been guilty of at least one. Between Jesus dining and drinking with sinners, and Paul warning us to avoid them altogether, what example are we to follow?

When a physician or nurse tends to patients, s/he takes certain precautions to avoid infection. These universal precautions are applied equally whether a patient is obviously ill or not, because one never knows all the facts. Healers can do their work while avoiding contamination, but not while avoiding contact. Every sick patient deserves the dignity of being treated as a person, but boundaries are crucial. So it is with the gospel. We are called to share it with those who need its healing message. To do that, we need to go where they are. We need to share with them common human experiences such as meals, conversation, tears, and laughter. In no way are we permitted to treat them with less dignity than Christ would. We probably shouldn’t even think in terms of “them” as it only fosters dehumanizing division.

We can’t offer comfort to the sick without knowing them, or without recognizing it is only by grace – not our own superiority – that we ourselves have been healed. Faith is not a barrier to isolate us from them, but the protective gear that makes contact possible.

Comfort: No matter how sick you are, Jesus wants you to be well.

Challenge: Don’t shun anyone Jesus didn’t shun.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, thank you for the healing presence of Christ, and for the opportunity to share it with others.  Amen. 

Discussion: When do you find yourself avoiding people instead of loving them?

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.

East, West, and In Between

always north

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Joshua 1:1-9, Ephesians 3:1-13, Matthew 8:5-17

One of the great things about being a Christian is knowing your salvation is in the bag.
Or is it?

A Roman centurion once approached Jesus and asked him to heal an ailing servant. Jesus offered to come and cure the servant, but the centurion said it wasn’t necessary to go there: he had faith that if Jesus said it would happen, it would happen.

Jesus was amazed (the Bible’s words, not an exaggeration) at the faith of the centurion. He told his followers:

“Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Mind you these followers were all Jews, and therefore considered heirs of the kingdom. The centurion was an integral cog in the Roman machine which oppressed them. That had to chafe.

There’s a saying that being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. We don’t inherit the kingdom by being born into a Christian family; we enter the kingdom through grace and faith. If the centurion is any example, our assumptions about what makes a faithful Christian may not be the same as Christ’s – and his is the opinion that counts. Is it possible that agnostics from the east coast and new agers from the west coast might find their way to the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before we middle of the road Christians do?

The lesson here is not “it doesn’t matter what you believe.” It’s more like “don’t be too quick to make assumptions either way.” In a kingdom where the first are last and the last are first, discipleship can be a balancing act; humility is the narrow beam we must walk. Rather than insist we already know each twist and turn leading to Christ, let’s unfold the map together.

Comfort: You are officially relieved of the duty of deciding whether someone is Christian enough.

Challenge: Listening to people who disagree with your beliefs is not a threat.

Prayer: Gracious and merciful God, set my feet on the path toward salvation. Amen.

Discussion: What can you learn from other faith traditions? What do you think Jesus might say about it?

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.

Sunshine and Rain

Jun02 031

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 92; 149, Exodus 40:18-38, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Matthew 5:38-48

Turn the other cheek. When sued for your cloak, offer your coat too. If forced to go one mile, go a second one. Give to everyone who begs from you. Loan to anyone who asks. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. In these teachings, Jesus is telling his followers, I know you know the minimum legal requirements, and that’s fine, but actually loving involves so much more

Who actually does these things – all or any of them – all the time?

Would it be unfair to say “Nobody?”

We spend a lot of effort justifying why we don’t  do them, and throw around words like “enable” and “systemic” and “accountability.” We make our giving conditional on the perceived worthiness of the recipients. In the same passage Jesus tells us God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” If God is not doling out sunshine and rain based on merit, maybe we aren’t as qualified to make those distinctions as we’d like to believe. Resenting that our generosity is “wasted” on someone says more about our ego and need for control than it does about their worthiness.

Of course we should steward our resources wisely when battling systemic poverty and need, but that is not in opposition to the individual acts that Jesus promotes. Loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, and parting with our money are not just about helping other people: they are about perfecting the state of our hearts. Love is sacrificial. If our every act of generosity involves an intake evaluation and a cost-benefit analysis, we’re simply swapping one set of rules for another, creating divides between the clean and unclean. Since we are as dependent on God for our own gifts as we are for the sun and rain, should we really be acting as if we know better than God who does or does not deserve them? Love is humble. Jesus says so.

Ironically, selfless love has selfish benefits. As we learn to love unconditionally, we better understand just how much God loves us – worthy or not.

Comfort: You have God’s love, regardless.

Challenge: God expects you to love others, regardless.

Prayer: Loving God, may my love for others reflect your love for them also. Amen.

Discussion: Is your generosity ever tinged with resentment?

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.

Expectation Management


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window): 
Psalms 84; 150, Reading Genesis 48:8-22, Romans 8:11-25, John 6:27-40

How often does life unfold the way we expect? It’s a question without a truly quantifiable answer, but one suspects: far less than we’d like.

Jacob was a very old man when he met his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. The lives of Jacob and his family, particularly his son Joseph, were full of twists and turns, deception and separation. Many of these familial wounds were self-inflicted, such as when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and faked his death. They didn’t like his predictions that one day he – the youngest – would rule over them, and ironically their actions set him on a convoluted path to power over not only themselves but all of Egypt.

When Joseph presented his two sons to Jacob for a blessing, the surprises continued. Joseph had positioned them so the older boy, Manasseh, was at Jacob’s right hand, traditionally the hand of greater blessing reserved for the oldest son. Jacob crossed his hands and – despite Joseph’s protests – instead gave the greater blessing to Ephraim, who was destined to father a “multitude of nations.”

Hard to believe the prophetic Joseph didn’t see it coming. After all, he was the youngest when his brothers betrayed him. And Jacob was a younger son who’d stolen the blessing of his older brother by deceiving his blind father. Down the line, Jacob’s great-great-grandson Moses survived to lead the Israelites back out of Egypt and slavery because of deception surrounding his birth. The nation of Israel survived and thrived because God isn’t limited by human expectation.

Christ upended expectations as a messiah of peaceful submission rather than bloody revolt. He taught us God loves and forgives all the “wrong” people. Could it be that the thing standing between us and the fully realized kingdom of God is our own expectations? Perhaps God waits to meet us around those twists and turns we fear and avoid. Those apparent flaws we condemn in ourselves and others could be keys to grace. Some days the map of faith is nothing but detours. When we stop placing expectations on God, we learn to expect God everywhere.

Comfort: You don’t have to know God’s plan.

Challenge: You just have to be open to it.

Prayer: God of creation, I seek to meet you where you are, and not where I would demand you be. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear your presence wherever you would have me encounter you. Thank you for the wonder of life, and its countless unexpected blessings. Amen.

Discussion: What expectations are frustrating you right now? Are they necessary expectations? Is anything but ego making you hold onto them? If you let go of them, would your life be better?

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!

Go In Peace


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 119:73-80; 145, Genesis 44:18-34, 1 Corinthians 7:25-31, Mark 5:21-43

During pre-flight safety instructions, attendants tell us that in an emergency we should put on our own oxygen masks before helping others. As Christians we learn to put others before ourselves. We love to repeat stories like the one about Mother Theresa, who suffered deformed feet because she always picked for herself the worst shoes out of the donations. Some of us are taught to be ashamed of asking for prayers for ourselves. Are self-mutilation and shame really part of the “good news” of the gospel?

A crowd was following Jesus to the house of Jairus, whose daughter was ill. Along the way a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years pushed her way forward to touch his cloak.  According to the religious voices of the time, her gender and affliction made her too unclean to touch him. When he asked who in the crowd had touched him, she bravely confessed. Someone less merciful could have demanded her punishment. Instead her faith healed her immediately, and Christ bade her “go in peace.”

Despite the interruption, Jesus was able to travel on and heal Jairus’s daughter. We need to stop treating grace as if: a) there’s a limited supply to be doled out to the most worthy, b) it’s for other people but not ourselves, and c) it’s for ourselves but not other people. If the woman had not acted on her own behalf, she might have spent the rest of her life miserable and shunned; instead she became a powerful witness for Christ.

Without doubt we are called to sacrifice our wealth, time, reputation, and even safety if it means staying true to our faith and loving our neighbor, but putting others before ourselves does not equal pointless humiliation or self-destruction. Christ brings healing, not damage; hope, not shame. If the shoes that fit you poorly could fit someone else well, your show of piety harms two people and helps no one. If you don’t put on your own mask first, you won’t be alive to help anyone else. It’s OK to push forward once in a while; Christ also wants you to “go in peace.”

Comfort: God loves you just as much as he loves everyone else.

Challenge: Learn to be fine with loving yourself as God loves you, and understand how this can be compatible with a life of service.

Prayer: God of grace, thank you for your steadfast love. I know I can serve you best when I accept all the love you have to offer me. Please help me understand how your love for me can help me love and serve my neighbor. Amen.

Discussion: Many people find this Mother Theresa story inspirational. What’s your take on it, especially if it’s different from the one in this post?

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!