Training Wheels

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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?

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Investment Strategy

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150, Isaiah 19:19-25, Romans 15:5-13, Luke 19:11-27


Common wisdom in business says if an enterprise is standing still, it’s moving backward. This can refer to both innovation and revenue. A business that doesn’t keep up with current technologies and culture ceases to be competitive; even artisans producing boutique, traditional, hand-crafted products need to accept credit cards. A business which breaks even can’t invest in capital improvements necessary to stay competitive or to simply maintain its own aging assets.

Church, like government, isn’t a business but some of the same principles apply. Jesus told a parable about three slaves who were trusted with money by their master while he was away. One invested it and profited tenfold, another profited fivefold, and a third only buried his sum until his master returned. The master was displeased with the third who failed to do so much as put it in the bank to collect interest. This parable is about how we are to invest our own resources of time, treasure, and talent in growing God’s kingdom. A person or church who hoards them rather than risking them is not doing what Jesus says is pleasing to God.

Many Christian individuals and communities are content to take care of their own. Church growth is usually a goal, but it is too often measured only by how many people show up in the pews on Sundays. Since polling consistently shows overall church attendance is declining, any significant increase in the size of a congregation is more likely due to people changing churches than becoming new Christians. Attendance measures little more than the shift of a declining population. A church satisfied by the measures of its own congregation or – perhaps slightly more generously – in its specific denomination is effectively burying its talents in the back yard. If stewardship is defined in terms of the ability to keep the doors open (or to buy bigger doors), the church is moving backward.

Today’s passage from Romans describes a church which flourishes because it expands into territory which was unexpected and to some unacceptable: the Gentile world. The Jews were expecting a Messiah dedicated specifically to the Jewish people; taking him to the Gentiles verged on blasphemy for many of the original Jewish disciples. Yet Paul essentially built the church out of the unacceptable.

The prophet Isaiah talked about a future where Jews, Egyptians, and Assyrians worshipped the Lord together. To the Jews who had been persecuted, enslaved, and exiled by these nations this was equally unthinkable. Yet through Jeremiah God instructed the Jews to survive exile by promoting peace in the city of their captors until they were once again free.

The church does not grow – or fulfill her mission – by patting herself on the back about how holy she is. Yes in many ways we are directed to be a community apart from the world, but should that separation manifest itself in our physical and social separation or in our attitudes and values? Taking credit for poaching church members is like claiming to improve our cash flow by moving money from savings to checking.

The future of the church lies in the people we don’t currently appeal to – and who may not appeal to us. Real opportunities for investment are scary and may not pay off. We have to resist being tainted by the lure of the less savory elements of the world. But our master is not so fearful that we can’t risk what we value by taking it where it really has a chance of multiplying, and then we’ll know the reward of being trusted with more.

Comfort: Our Lord is invested in our future.

Challenge: Do something that scares you today.

Prayer: Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.  (Psalm 66:8-9)

Discussion: Is there any group you think the church is neglecting today?

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Christian Community

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 62; 145, Judges 6:25-40, Acts 2:37-47, John 1:1-18


How would we react if our pastor suggested we take all our money to church, throw it into a big pile with everyone else’s money, and let people take what they needed when they needed it? In most churches, we’d start the search for a new pastor. However, Acts 2 tells us that’s how the earliest Christians chose to shape their community.

When our church plans a mission trip, our preparation includes reflection on Acts 2:43-47. We do indeed pool our resources, eat and pray together, and gain the good will of the people by serving them. So far we haven’t sold all our possessions, but members of some Christian communities – often called the New Monastics – have done just that to better serve each other and their neighbors. Some commit to this way of life permanently, and others do it for a season. Mission trips usually last for a short season, but living this way only for a little while can have a profound impact.

The Christian community of Acts functions very differently than today’s mainstream Christian communities. When we hear from people who want to define America as a “Christian nation,” how often do they suggest we divest ourselves of possessions and pool our resources? When someone expresses a desire to do so, do we take them seriously or call them communists or radicals? American culture is based on capitalism and democracy. As Christians, we recognize these are not ends in themselves, but means for building a society. When they are used as tools for injustice and exploitation, as any government or economy can be, we must be the voice of justice – the voice of Christ. When we value ideologies above the values taught by Christ, we must examine and adjust our priorities.

Should we all sell everything and live in communes? Probably not. But we should embrace the underlying values of the early Christians: community is more important than personal wealth; trust is more important than certainty; and time spent in service transforms us in positive ways. What changes can we make to reflect those values in our own lives?

Comfort: Each small step toward community make the next one easier.

Challenge: For each nine dollars you spend on food this week, spend the tenth on donations to a food bank.

Prayer: God of hope, thank you for the gift of community. Amen.

Discussion: What do you think are the positives and negatives of communal living?

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!