King Incognito

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 84; 148, Genesis 24:1-27, Hebrews 12:3-11, John 7:1-13


Many cultures have folk tales about a king incognito, that is a king (or sometimes a prince or more unusually a queen) who disguises himself and roams his kingdom. The results of his secret adventure depend largely on whether he is a just king or an unjust one. For example, a just king may uncover plots against him and so prevent them from hatching. An unjust king may be discovered and suffer – even die – as a result. The tone of these stories generally reflect the people’s feelings about their current ruler.

Near the end of his ministry, Jesus arranged such an outing.

The Festival of Booths (Sukkot) was happening in Judea. He sent his disciples without him, saying: “I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” After they departed, he went to the festival alone and disappeared into the crowd. In an era without cameras, not having a group of disciples around him was disguise enough. He was the talk of the festival, and many Jews were looking for him. Some said he was a good man, and others said he was deceiving the people.

Have you heard the phrase: “What someone thinks about you is none of your business?” Knowing what the people thought about him had no ultimate effect on Jesus’s mission. Can we imagine he was surprised to hear both good and bad news? Realistically, what else could we expect? In the verses that follow today’s reading from John, Jesus reveals himself to the crowd and begins preaching. His time had come, and in the end the king must reveal himself.

Other people’s opinions do not matter when we are carrying out the work of the Kingdom of God. While we remain open-minded and listen to what people tell us about their needs, we are to respond as Christ calls us to, whether it makes us popular or not. Some people may love us for it, some may hate us, and some of each may be fellow Christians. When we are following Christ, God’s is the only opinion that matters.

Comfort: You are accountable to no one but God.

Challenge: Do not let other people’s opinions and reactions inflate your ego or deflate your spirit.

Prayer: Breath of Life, help me to learn to rely only on you. Amen.

Discussion: Think about how other people’s opinions have influenced your behavior, for better or worse. What would you have done differently if you didn’t care?

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Stupid and Senseless Controversies

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, Isaiah 60:1-22, 2 Timothy 2:14-26, Mark 10:17-31


“Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” – 2 Timothy 2:23

In our age of instant global communication, Paul’s advice to Timothy is more valuable than ever. The boundaries between social media, entertainment, marketing, and journalism  have eroded to almost nothing. Constantly connected to this content stream, we feel personally involved in local, national, and even international controversies created solely for the purpose of getting us to watch, click, and share.

With endless information coming at us from infinite directions, and with that information digitally curated to tell us what we’d like to hear, it is easy to be fooled into thinking we are feasting on a banquet of ideas when we are really being force fed slop. The opinions we form, based on this non-information, are little more than products we didn’t consent to buying. When it comes to trending stories and controversial “news,” it’s almost always a safe bet to assume we know less than we think we do.

It’s perfectly acceptable – even desirable – not to have an opinion on everything, particularly things that don’t involve us. Whether in person on online, we should resist the urge to quarrel about with equally uninformed friends and family. We are also free to not respond in kind (or at all!) when provoked. Humble uncertainty injects peace into situations where others are more invested in finding offense than common ground.

We have only so much physical, emotional, and spiritual energy to expend. A juicy scandal may offer to entertain us, but in the end will leave us diminished.

The world has always schemed to distract us from our own best interests, but we don’t have to let it succeed. There are real controversies and injustices – the kind Jesus spoke about and addressed and which still exist today – that merit our attention. Poverty. Hunger. Violence. Distancing ourselves from celebrity gossip, fake news, partisan spin, and topics that are simply none of our business also frees up our resources for these worthier pursuits.

Controversy is an unavoidable part of an authentic life. Let’s engage wisely.

Comfort: Feel free to not have an opinion.

Challenge: When someone says something you disagree with, pause before reacting and decide whether you need to react at all.

Prayer: God of peace, teach me to be a peacemaker. Amen.

Discussion: What’s the last stupid quarrel you were in?

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The Art of (Non) Persuasion

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, Joshua 8:30-35, Romans 14:13-23, Matthew 26:57-68


Almost all of us have engaged in a dispute – friendly or heated – which ended with: “Let’s agree to disagree.” It sounds like a civil way to exit an impasse, but is it at all satisfying for either party?  Rarely is it as short and simple as “I believe X” and “I believe Not X” so “Let’s A2D.” By the time it becomes necessary to drop this conversational guillotine, both parties have probably been building a case for a position that matters to them – no one “agrees to disagree” chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla. The unspoken message is: “I believe you’re wrong, but it seems impossible to convince you otherwise.”

Members of the early church in Rome seemed to have trouble agreeing on a lot of things. The flagship issue was about food. In simplest terms, Gentile converts to Christianity did not feel the need to observe Jewish dietary laws, and many Jewish members of the church held fast to these laws. Paul directed his response to the Gentiles, whom he characterized as stronger in their faith:

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love … Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

In other words, we don’t have to impose, defend, or even share every belief we have, especially if doing so undermines someone’s faith or the peace of the community. Surrendering our need to be right is a legitimate spiritual discipline. Here’s a modern example for consideration: some people believe Gospel miracles are metaphors, and other people they are historical; does trying to convince someone miracles are or aren’t “true” help build their faith or just reinforce our own?

These days mutual upbuilding is a countercultural attitude. Rather, we are encouraged to shout over each other and refuse to give an inch. We don’t have to settle for agreeing to disagree … if we can agree to listen.

Comfort: You are not responsible for changing the minds of the world.

Challenge: For one whole day, try not to offer any unnecessary opinions. Can you go two?

Prayer: God of peace, grant me the wisdom to know when to speak and when to hold my tongue. May I do both these things to the glory of your name. Amen.

Discussion: What do you think are the practical limits of keeping your opinions to yourself? When does this type of peacemaking cross the line to appeasement?

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!