Make a Joyful Noise


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 98; 146, Exodus 15:1-21, 1 Peter 1:13-25, Gospel Reading John 14:18-31

How do you express your joy in the Lord?

After the Red Sea closed up behind the nation of Israel, forever freeing from the slavery of Pharaoh and Egypt, Miriam (the older sister of Moses and Aaron) took up a tambourine and began to dance and sing the Lord’s praises. Other women soon joined her.

The Psalms speak of many ways to express our joy: with song and praise; with trumpets, horns and harps; with dancing and joyful noise. The Psalmist describes the earth herself praising the Lord through the roaring sea, clapping floods, and singing hills.

Can’t sing well? Sing joyfully anyway! Got two left feet? Dance joyfully anyway! Can’t play the harp or drum? Clap your hands, stomp your feet, hum a crooked tune … joyfully!

Spontaneous expressions of joy aren’t something we see a lot, at least not outside of church. And if we do see them, it’s often through a cynical lens. When a stranger at the gym greets us with: “Jesus wants to you have a blessed day!” (true story), do we mumble “Thanks…” or do we shout “Amen, sister! You too!”

Maybe you’re an introvert, and such overt expressions seem more stressful than joyous. Let your joy erupt through poetry, kind deeds, or deep whiffs of spring blossoms. Your joy is between you and God, so don’t let anyone tell you there’s a right or wrong way.

The important thing is to express it when you feel it. Let it settle into tapping fingers and swinging hips and smiling lips. Do this often, and when you don’t feel it – when reasons for praise seem far away – you’ll have the muscle and soul memories to draw on to help you get through tough times. The body, the spirit, and the mind can all influence each other. It’s no cure for clinical depression or anxiety, but choosing to act joyfully can often bring us closer to feeling actual joy.

We are joyful because Christ has redeemed us. We are joyful because God is still moving through the world. Every day there is a new song to sing.

Comfort: You aren’t just allowed to be joyful … it’s encouraged!

Challenge: Make time every day to express joy. See if it changes you.

Prayer: God of Joy, thank you for all you do and all you are. My joy is complete in you! Amen.

Discussion: How do you express joy?

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.

Joy and Fear


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 147:1-11, Exodus 12:40-51, 1 Corinthians (15:29) 30-41, Matthew 28:1-16

When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary visited the tomb of Jesus on that first Easter morning, they found the tomb empty and the stone rolled away. A young man robed in white greeted them by saying “Do not be afraid!” He explained Jesus had risen and gone ahead to Galilee. Matthew tells us they left the tomb filled with fear and joy. They were overjoyed when Jesus met them on their way to find the other disciples and deliver the angel’s message. He greeted them and also said “Do not be afraid.”

Many of our most joyous life experiences also include a degree of fear.

Cold feet before marriage. The impending birth of a child. Graduating school and entering the adult world. Such events contain within them the promise of renewed life and hopes, but also an element of the unknown. The two Marys and the other disciples were overjoyed their messiah was alive, but his resurrection also created a change in their entire worldview and set them on a path of faith no one had ever trod before.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and first woman president of an African nation, wrote in her memoirs: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.” The power of the resurrection allows us to have enormous dreams, so if we aren’t a little afraid, we may not be embracing all things made possible through Christ.

Not often, one suspects. But that reassurance can prevent fear from paralyzing us. When the risen Christ tells us not to be afraid, he’s not a drill sergeant yelling “Suck it up, buttercup!” because we have to tough it out on our own. He is telling us we don’t need to be afraid because he is with us. Beyond death. Always.

Like the two Marys rushing down the road to spread the good news, joy and fear travel hand in hand. We have a word for that: Hope.

Comfort: Christ is with us always, ready to transform our fear to joy.

Challenge: Do something that scares you, but be sure to invite Christ to do it with you.

Prayer: God of Hope, give me strength in my fear, and hear my words of praise for you in my joy. In you all things are possible. Amen.

Discussion: How does fear hold you back?

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.

Jesus, Life of the Party

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 51; 148, Genesis 6:1-8, Hebrews 3:12-19, John 2:1-12

Christianity is serious business. The language of our faith uses words like sacrifice, atonement, sin, repentance, blood, and crucifixion with alarming regularity. We often speak of love as a demanding experience. We revere saints who deprived themselves of all earthly pleasures and martyrs who died in horrible ways. Suffering and death are undeniable parts of our collective story. If we are supposed to be willing to follow Christ to the cross, why do we ever sing songs like “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart?”

Despite the bloody reality of the cross and the traditional fire and brimstone sermons we have heard, suffering is not the default position of the Kingdom of God. Christ did not suffer and die just so we could continue suffering and dying. In the book of John, his first public sign is turning water into wine at a wedding banquet. That’s right: he made his public debut at a party, and performed a miracle so the party wouldn’t have to stop. It wasn’t just any party though – it was a celebration of life recognizing a joyous bond between two people, and the bond between each of them and God.

The Cana story does not appear in other Gospels, but in Matthew Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as a wedding banquet where outcasts feast. In this life suffering may be inevitable, but we don’t need to wear it like a uniform to be good Christians. To the contrary, Jesus had little regard for people who put their suffering on display as a show of piety. We are to confront head on the suffering of the world and help where we can, and to rely on God when we ourselves suffer, but we are never to be resigned to misery. While suffering is sometimes the cost of staying the course on the way to the feast, it is not God’s desire for us. The ultimate purpose of the crucifixion was eternal life. Jesus came to heal us, to teach us to forgive, and to celebrate with us. Let’s not forget to RSVP.

Comfort: God wants us to be joyful.

Challenge: Best as you can, don’t run away from people’s suffering; confront it with them without being consumed by it.

Prayer: Lord, lead me to those whom I can help, and open my hearts and hands to them. Amen.

Discussion: Suffering is part of life. Is there a way to make it useful?

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!

The Joy of the Unexpected


Readings: Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Isaiah 60:1-6, Galatians 3:23-4:7, Matthew 1:18-25

Every year at Christmas time we revisit the Nativity story in scripture readings and carols. The words and melodies bring us comfort and joy in part because they are so familiar and meet our expectations. This comfort in the familiar is kind of ironic considering the Nativity story itself is one of upended expectations and surprises.

First we have Mary, the mother of Jesus. Of everyone in the story, she has the most to be surprised about. No one expects a visit from an angel who announces God will create a child in your virgin womb. Then there’s Joseph, Mary’s betrothed. He doesn’t expect Mary to become pregnant, and he doesn’t expect divine intervention in the form of a dream telling him to stay with her. In an important subplot, we have Mary’s relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah. These two are both surprised by Elizabeth’s late-in-life pregnancy. All of these people have a trait in common (though Zechariah took a little while to come around): they all adapt to the unexpected. Every one of them had reasons to be doubtful, frightened, or resentful. Instead they chose to alter their plans to reflect their new circumstances, and thus ushered into life John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ.

The message of the Nativity is this: God enters the world in unexpected ways. If we insist on our own plans rather than God’s, we may never notice opportunities to share in the greater plan unfolding across history.

The unexpected can be frightening, but it is both inevitable and constant. When confronted with the choice to resist or embrace the unexpected, the former limits us, and the latter unlocks our potential. The quick decision to befriend a stranger we might have avoided may be where we both see Christ in action. An invitation to lead or serve in unfamiliar ways may reinvigorate a flagging ministry. An unplanned job termination may result in a meaningful vocation we never considered. It seems God rarely calls the prepared, but prepares the called. Let us joyfully meet Christ where he shows up, instead of missing him because we insist on looking only where planned for him to be.

Comfort: The unexpected is often a blessing waiting to be claimed.

Challenge: Ask yourself which of your plans are in conflict with God’s plans for you.

Prayer: God of mystery and grace, I will seek you wherever you lead. Amen.

Discussion: What unexpected event or encounter has influenced your life?

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!

Joy of the Ordinary


Readings: Psalms 50; 147:1-11, Jeremiah 31:10-14, Galatians 3:15-22, Matthew 1:1-17

What does “joy” mean? For many people the word conjures heightened emotions like euphoria or ecstasy. Such emotional intensity is not sustainable for very long. Eventually mundane concerns like bathing and eating will pull us back down to earth. Joy in the Lord, as described in the readings from Psalm 147 or Jeremiah 31, can certainly have its ecstatic moments, but it is more about a state of existence in which the Lord’s justice is a constant presence in our lives.

The world needs extraordinary people: thinkers, creators, and innovators who lead us forward … but it depends on ordinary people. Some would claim wealth, fame, and other worldly successes are the result of favor from the Lord. The psalmist teaches us the Lord does not delight in extraordinary speed or strength (and by extension wealth or power), but in those who fear him and hope in his love. The world claims to admire those who lead lives of humble service, but in practice we rarely aspire to be them, because they resemble what the world calls failure. Jesus tells us the world will be turned upside down, and the last will be first. The world constantly tempts us to measure ourselves against “the first” so that our sense of whether we are happy becomes comparative and competitive. If our joy instead rests in being a delight to the Lord, and that means hoping in his love, then joy is available to everyone regardless of status.

When Jeremiah talks about joy in the Lord, he speaks of gathering the outcasts, healing the brokenhearted, and lifting up the downtrodden. The Lord intends ordinary lives to be joyful. Unfortunately God’s justice  is not the standard of most of the world, so when we hear “ordinary” the implication is often “less than good.” Advent reminds us that, while the world is a fallen place, we look forward to the time when it is restored. When God’s justice finally becomes our standard, ordinary will no longer mean uneventful, boring, or miserable, but full of peace and plenty. You are built for joy; don’t let the world talk you out of it.

Comfort: The joy of the Lord is available to everyone, including you.

Challenge: If something blocks your joy, it usually also stands between you and God. This coming month, identify and work to remove one roadblock between you and God.

Prayer: In you alone, O Lord, will I seek my joy. Amen.

Discussion: Do you think there is a difference between happiness and joy?

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!

The Joy of Being Wrong


Readings: Psalms 33; 146, 2 Samuel 7:18-29, Galatians 3:1-14, Luke 1:57-66

Zechariah was a learned priest who kept God’s commandments. When an angel told him his elderly wife Elizabeth would have a baby, Zechariah was too smart to believe him. Displeased, the angel struck him mute. When the baby was born, Elizabeth named him John. This was a break from tradition, as there were no Johns in the family. The household looked to Zechariah to make the call. The “right” thing to do would have been to pick a family name, but Zechariah was no fool. He wrote down “John” and was once more able to speak. He had learned the pitfalls of having to be right.

Generally speaking, we are not rewarded for being wrong. To the contrary, we usually suffer some penalty, even if it’s just loss of face. Employers, children, friends, and church exert an enormous amount of pressure to be right. Of course “wrong” is never our goal, but being afraid to be wrong prevents us from taking chances – pretty much the opposite of faith.

In science, negative results provide good information, yet there is a bias against publishing them. Valuable lines of communication are cut off when we hide our mistakes. How much richer the world is when, instead of having to be right, we are open to learning! The need to be right – politically, morally, spiritually – closes us off from the insights of others, and those others are children of God with equally valid perspectives. We don’t always have to agree with them; abandoning the need to be right is not the same as always being wrong.

Perhaps the greatest downfall of having to be right is how it limits our vision to only the things we can conceive. Zechariah’s rejection of the unknown relegated him to the sidelines of the most important story in history. His decision to risk being wrong in the eyes of others put him back in the game. How many angels have we rejected? How many traditions have robbed us of faith? Sometimes being wrong is not an occasion for shame, but for joy!

Comfort: Only God is always right; the rest of us are allowed to be human.

Challenge: The next time someone offers an opinion you disagree with, listen to understand, rather than to argue.

Prayer: Loving God, I will seek to lean on your wisdom more than my own understanding.

Discussion: Have you ever been pleased to discover you were wrong about something?

The Joy of Possibility


Readings: Psalms 24; 150, 1 Samuel 2:1b-10, Titus 2:1-10, Luke 1:26-38

“For nothing is impossible with God.”

So concludes the angel Gabriel when he tells Mary she will be the mother of the long-awaited messiah, and that her cousin Elizabeth, thought to be barren, will give birth also.

Do we believe Gabriel’s claim?

It’s easy to doubt. We don’t always get what we pray for, even when those prayers are frequent and fervent. We are witnesses to terrible tragedy. People we love get sick and die. Addictions destroy lives. Anger destroys families.

And yet…

People forgive loved ones for doing terrible things. Submission to a higher power restores sobriety to the hopeless. Terminal diagnoses are defied. Survivors of terrible tragedies make peace with their enemies, rebuild their lives, and inspire others. Each of these things at some point seems like an impossibility, but they all happen. Certainly not every time, or even as often as we would like, but they do happen. And only through God’s grace.

Advent reminds us that in the darkest times, our God creates possibilities. Jerusalem had been under Roman occupation for over 60 years at the time of Christ’s birth. Several self-proclaimed messiahs had already died trying to win the freedom of the Jewish people. Then an angel appeared to a young girl of no significance, and announced the impossible. Even if we aren’t sure about the whole angel-virgin-manger story, the truth of a Messiah who upends expectations and continues to free us until this very moment seems impossible.

The impossible is not just the highly improbable. The impossible is something our minds and spirits can’t even conceive. A messiah who conquers his enemies by being crucified? Not on the radar. A kingdom where the last are first and the first are last? Not something we’d plan for.

Our God is a God of inconceivable possibility. He is with us in the midst of our suffering, which itself is a seeming impossibility. Mary did not wait to rejoice until God’s promise was fulfilled – she began when the possibility was revealed to her. Surely this joy was not without its own terrors for a young girl whose pregnancy would raise questions and even hostility. Even in the face of fear and suffering, let us rejoice because God is creating possibilities beyond our imaginations.

Comfort: Nothing is impossible with God.

Challenge: Watching the news and hearing about world events can be very disheartening. Try to spend as much time looking for news about possibilities as being fed news about tragedy.

Prayer: Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit. From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right. (Psalm 17:1-2)

Discussion: Have you ever experienced something you would have thought impossible?

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!

Flaming shots for everyone!


Pentecost, Jean II Restout, 1732

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 150, Isaiah 11:1-9, 1 Corinthians 2:1-13, John 14:21-29

Readings for Pentecost:
First Reading Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b,  1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, Gospel John 20:19-23

Blessed Pentecost!

The Sunday of Pentecost is affectionately known as the birthday of the Christian church. Today we commemorate the day the Holy Spirit descended on the gathered disciples in tongues of flame. As this happened, they began to speak in many languages, and members of the crowd – who came from many places in Europe, Asia, and Africa – heard them in their own native languages. Many were “amazed and perplexed” while skeptics suggested the crowd was drunk at nine in the morning.

Now that’s a party.

Birthdays and anniversaries are important events for many people. On those dates, we acknowledge the past and look toward the future. Can we imagine a future when we are once more so full of the Spirit that some people can’t help understanding what it’s all about and others think we’re intoxicated (not in a barroom brawl sort of way but more in the vein of “I love you, man!”)?

We may not have tongues of flame dancing over our heads, but Jesus promised the Spirit would be with us always. How can we live fully into that promise every day? We can speak with and listen to people where they are. The gathered crowd did not suddenly all speak the same language; the Spirit transcended language. Living into the Spirit doesn’t compel us to make everyone the same; it helps us bridge the spaces that were once walls. Strangers cease to be objects of concern, and become objects of love.

We can also let go of worrying about how our attitudes and actions appears to others, and surrender to joy. People may call us naïve, foolish, and weak. Let them. Sacrificial love and forgiveness are not languages everyone is willing to hear, and to them it will sound like gibberish and nonsense. Our joy comes not from how much we receive, but from how much we give. Don’t let other people’s lack of understanding keep you from unwrapping your gifts.

Nine in the morning may be a little early for a drink, but when it comes to the Spirit it’s always five o’clock somewhere.

Comfort: The Holy Spirit is with us always.

Challenge: Meditate on what it means to listen for the Spirit.

Prayer: Holy God, I am open to hearing you however you will speak to me. Amen.

Discussion: When does your faith feel most like a celebration?

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!

Are we having fun yet?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Jeremiah 30:1-9, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 6:1-11

The opening paragraphs of Paul’s letter to the Colossians are nothing short of joyful. He is thankful for the love they show one another. He commends them for the good fruits they bear. He encourages them to continue growing in strength, patience, and all the blessings found in the glory of God. And he celebrates with them the redemption and forgiveness found in Christ.

Contrast this with our passage from Luke. The Pharisees in the temple condemn hungry disciples for simply plucking a few heads of wheat to crush between their fingers and eat, because these actions break the strict interpretation of some Sabbath prohibitions. When, on another Sabbath, a man with a withered hand appears in the temple, Jesus practically dares them to stop him from healing the man. In their midst the miraculous power of God is revealed. How do they keep from shouting in wonder, applauding, or singing praises? Somehow they manage. And what’s more, they resent it so much they further their plot against him.

Faith is joyful, but religion can suck the joy right out of it.

It seems like every church has a person or clique who appoint themselves to the Corrections Committee. The Corrections Committee is sure to tell us when we improperly pass the collection plate, when we volunteer for a duty that belongs to someone else (because it always has), or when we’ve mowed the grass in the wrong pattern. Typical members of the Corrections Committee complain about how they seem to have to do everything themselves, yet refuse to give anything up.

For your own peace of mind and spirit, resist all urges to join the Corrections Committee. It will never lack members waiting to pounce on a misplaced sugar bowl. Instead, seek reasons to find the joy in your faith community. Celebrate the history of the Spirit in your fellowship, but don’t chain it to the past. Most importantly, don’t deny people a place at Christ’s table because they don’t know which fork to use. Life and faith are hard enough. Don’t keep the joy under lock and key.

Comfort: Christ’s burden is light!

Challenge: So don’t make it unnecessarily heavy for yourself or others.

Prayer: God of Grace and Mercy, I will seek the joy you offer. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever found yourself serving on the Corrections Committee?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group  or visit 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!

Joyful Joyful!

After a post about suffering and celebration, I really wanted to re-visit one of my all-time favorite interpretations of a classic piece. If you want to see some 90’s fashions, or really young versions of Lauryn Hill and Jennifer Love Hewitt, or just a truly joyful celebration of the Lord, this is for you!