Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-15,Galatians 2:11-21, Matthew 14:1-12

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t at least once held their tongue or behaved, if not contrary, not quite in alignment with their beliefs to keep the peace? Maybe we didn’t want to ruin Thanksgiving dinner by responding to inappropriate comments from our racist cousin. Maybe we didn’t want to alienate a boss and agreed to a decision we knew was unethical. Maybe we grabbed a cigarette behind the elementary school with friends. Young or old, in large ways and small, peer pressure impacts all of us throughout our lives.

Though they had little else in common, Peter and Herod both found occasion to sacrifice their principles on the altar of appeasement.

In the years after Christ’s death, church leadership was up for grabs. Peter may have been Jesus’s rock, but many disciples considered James, the brother of Jesus, a more natural successor.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes a confrontation with Peter, who “lived like a Gentile” and was not overly concerned with observing Jewish laws until the arrival of some representatives from James (Paul calls them the “circumcision faction”). Suddenly Peter put up a good Jewish front in an attempt to please James and preserve unity in the fragile young church. Paul did not feel the same need for deference – since it bowed to the exclusion of Gentiles from the faith – and accused Peter of betraying the spirit of Christ’s teaching.

King Herod didn’t make good decisions. Contrary to Jewish custom, he divorced his first wife to marry his sister-in-law. John the Baptist publicly spoke against this arrangement. At a drunken party, Herod foolishly promised his step-daughter anything she wanted. At her mother’s urging she asked for the head of John the Baptist. Herod didn’t want to kill John and feared the consequences, but he was more afraid of losing face with his guests.

Giving in or going with the flow may feel easier in the moment, but it doesn’t sit well with our consciences later. In some cases it backfires and delivers trouble on a silver platter. Even with the best intentions, we must be careful how we compromise. Turning the other cheek is not an excuse for being two faced.

Comfort: You don’t have to make everyone happy.

Challenge: When you are torn between speaking your mind and keeping the peace, ask yourself what will be sacrificed if you say or do nothing.

Prayer: Loving God, guide me at all times in the balance of being faithful to you and loving toward your children. Amen.

Discussion: Is there a situation where you regret not sticking to your principles because you didn’t want to cause trouble?

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My Own Worst Enemy


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 22; 148, Exodus 2:1-22, 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3, Mark 9:2-13

Identity is a funny thing. We think of it as an internally generated sense of self, but in large part it is externally imposed upon us. The world’s opinion of us does not change who we are, but it does change who we are allowed to be. Take Moses, for example. As a male Hebrew infant, he was considered a potential enemy and targeted for death by the king of Egypt. When the king’s daughter pulled him from the river where his mother had set him afloat in a basket, he became part of the royal household. Scripture doesn’t say how or when he learned he was Hebrew, but by adulthood he was sympathetic to the plight of his people. After he killed an Egyptian taskmaster for beating a Hebrew, his position in Pharaoh’s house no longer mattered, and the king wanted him dead again.

Moses fled to Midian, where he met his wife Zipporah. Upon their first meeting she assumed he was Egyptian. His accent and clothes told the world he was one thing. Inside he was another … but what exactly? Never a Hebrew slave under the Egyptian whip, never a fully privileged Egyptian, always conflicted. How long was it – if ever – before he felt like a Midianite? Moses had to do the hard work of being an authentic person with no real example to follow.

To some degree, outside expectations limit us all. Culture, economic status, and other forces categorize us without regard to our true selves and needs. It’s easy to internalize those expectations and never challenge them, but there’s more power in growing from the inside out. Able to see both Hebrew and Egyptian culture up close but with an outsider’s critical eye, Moses was uniquely qualified for the service God would soon call him to. Unable to conform to any labels, he was able to transcend all of them.

Your life experiences – especially those that don’t meet expectations – prepare you for a unique role. Moses was the key God turned to free the Hebrews. What blessings are locked behind a door only you can open?

Comfort: Your differences are a gift to the world.

Challenge: When you feel like an outsider, find a constructive way to use that perspective.

Prayer: God of creation, thank you for the good and bad times that have shaped me. Help me to understand my gifts so I may use them in service to your kingdom. Amen.

Discussion: Have you suppressed any of your natural traits and tendencies to fit in better with a group?

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Breaking the Law


Today’s readings (click below to open in a new tab/window):
Psalms 54; 146, Genesis 15:1-11, 17-21, Hebrews 9:1-14, John 5:1-18

The fourth commandment is “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.” For most Christians Sunday is the Sabbath but after church is over it’s not much different than the rest of the week. We are free to go shopping, eat out, and do as we please. Therefore we may underestimate the enormity of Jesus’ decision to perform a healing miracle on the Sabbath. This wasn’t someone declining an opportunity to “take it easy” – it was an act of defiance punishable by death.

For observant Jews, the Sabbath is a day of rest and worship, beginning at sunset on Friday and ending with the appearance of the first three stars on Saturday evening. Sabbath is rich with traditions, prayers, obligations, and rules. One key Sabbath concept is that no work is to be done: even candles must be lit and food prepared in advance. Today it is a strictly religious tradition observed more closely by some Jews than others, but among Jesus’ contemporaries there was no distinction between religious and secular law.

What might have been important enough to Christ to merit this act of disobedience? Mercy.

Could he have waited to heal the ailing man? Possibly. People had walked past and over this lame man for decades. Jesus didn’t break rules just for the sake of breaking them: by choosing mercy over law on the Sabbath, he demonstrated that mercy is always God’s highest priority. No excuse – our own need to be “holy” or even the threat of punishment – justifies withholding it.

For all our claims to be a people freed of legalism, Christians have developed plenty of rules to stand between us and mercy. From baptisms to funerals and everything between, we have our own unclean persons, our own restricted privileges, and our own inviolable traditions. Conscience tells us when mercy is the right response, but fear of breaking the rules and being punished by our social group may keep us from exercising it. When the Spirit prompts us, let’s be brave enough to break a rule or two and touch that “untouchable” person with our hands, hearts, and words.

Comfort: The Lord wants us to love mercy – that means receiving as well as giving.

Challenge: Critically consider whether  rules you have set up for yourself get in th way of being merciful to others.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Discussion: What does our willingness (or unwillingness) to show mercy say about our relationship with Christ?

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Innocence by Association

Today’s readings: Psalms 46 or 97; 147:12-20, Deuteronomy 8:1-3,  Colossians 1:1-14, John 6:30-33, 48-51


When we talk about peer pressure, we are usually talking about school age children. We worry their friends will pressure them into drugs, alcohol, sex, or smoking. We offer them overly-simplistic methods of dealing with peer pressure, such as “Just say no.” We repeat advice we heard from our parents (“If your friend jumped off a bridge …”) even though it had little if any effect on us in our own young lives. Peer pressure concerns us not only because so much of it happens beyond our sphere of influence, but also because in our hearts we know it is something we never escape. Continue reading