Dream of Wheat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today’s readings:
Psalms 34; 146, Jeremiah 15:10-21, Philippians 3:15-21, John 12:20-26


Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

The above words from Christ should be intimidating, even to devout Christians. When push comes to shove, most of us would rather not have to literally lose our lives to live our faith. We’d probably prefer not to lose anything else either – why would we? – but Christ calls us to do so. Very few face actual martyrdom, but all of us are called to die to ourselves. Short of actual death, what does that sacrifice look like?

In dying to ourselves, we release the death-grip we’ve had on the stalk because we’re afraid of hitting the ground. We sacrifice our own interests to embrace what God desires, not what we desire. Our essential self – the self that God created us to be – must surrender to holy and fertile soil to germinate into its full potential.

Does letting go sound like a scary proposition? When the grain of wheat falls into the earth, it is doing what it was created to do: bear abundant fruit. Specifically it provides more wheat. No one expects an olive tree or a grape vine to sprout from the wheat. The Apostle Paul – arguably the greatest example of conversion and repentance in scripture – remained himself even after he committed wholeheartedly to Christ. Paul’s intelligence, devotion, and ferocity weren’t destroyed; they were redirected and multiplied. Whatever your gifts are, God gave them to you to be used for His glory. Dying to ourselves means following the Christ who points those gifts in the direction of worship, mercy, service, and love.

A dream of material success, while not wrong in and of itself, does not lift us to spiritual satisfaction. Better to let the gravity of faith pull us toward God, where our dreams are redirected away from avoiding a solitary death toward embracing eternal life.

Comfort: Dying to self is rising to life.

Challenge: Ask yourself what gifts you are letting die on the stalk.

Prayer: Holy and Living God, I offer all that I am and I have to you. Amen.

Discussion: What gifts are you hoarding out of fear?

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!

Carpenter’s Son

Rabies 008

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 93; 150, Leviticus 8:1-13, 30-36, Hebrews 12:1-14, Luke 4:16-30


How do you feel about high school reunions? Your answer probably depends on how much you enjoyed your high school experience. The older we get the less we are like our high school selves, but stepping into those locker-lined hallways and through those gymnasium doors shifts a part of our brain back into those teenage dynamics. Some part of us expects people to be like they were then, and they expect the same of us. When we know someone as a youth, we can have trouble seeing how they are different as adults. All of us are both victims and perpetrators of this phenomenon.

Jesus had the same problems. His ministry began with a big splash in Capernaum, and then he returned to his hometown of Nazareth. In Nazareth people wanted to see the signs he’d performed in Capernaum. Part of this might have been excitement over the hometown boy made good, but some of it was because they couldn’t imagine the son of Joseph the carpenter as the Messiah. Anticipating their doubt, Jesus told them: “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” After he got warmed up and started doing what prophets do – namely telling them what they needed to change – “all in the synagogue were filled with rage.” They drove him out of town and tried to push him off a cliff.

In the end, Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” as though they weren’t there. Now there’s a lesson in maturity. Jesus did not surrender to the outdated expectations of people who couldn’t see him in the present. It can be tempting to lower ourselves to expectations (“I cheated because I got tired of you accusing me of it!”) and blame others. Jesus knew what he was about, and also knew Nazareth would hold him back. At one point even his own family called him crazy, but he just kept doing what needed to be done. What only he could do. Don’t settle for the expectations the world places on you; graduate into the person God has prepared you to be.

Comfort: Other people may not see you for who you are, but God does.

Challenge: If you are tempted to blame someone else for your failings, spend some time in prayer about it.

Prayer: Thank you, loving God, for allowing me to grow into the gifts you have given me. Help me to see others as you see them, not through the lens of my preconceptions. Amen.

Discussion: Do you react maturely in the face of low expectations?

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.

Recycled

glass-garden-2-1200905-1600x1200

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, Genesis 27:30-45, Romans 12:9-21, John 8:21-32


When Esau discovered his brother Jacob had tricked their father into giving him the blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau, he was overcome with rage. This “blessing” was not a religious one, but a method of passing on rights to the land and possessions of a patriarch to his heir. The lands, wealth, and armies that Esau was sure he would inherit instead would go to the younger brother who had plagued him all his life. Esau would get the leftovers and move to a foreign land. Jacob would continue the line that would lead from Abraham to Jesus.

History unfolds in unexpected, often unwelcome ways. We might expect Jesus would come from a long line of noble, respectable, gracious ancestors. While they included royalty and priests, his family tree was shaky from the roots up. Abraham lied and tried to do an end run around God’s plan for him, fathering the Ishmaelites in the process. Isaac, like his father Abraham, lied about his relationship to his wife in order to secure business arrangements. Jacob stole his brother’s inheritance and lived in hiding for years. His son Judah sold his own brother into slavery and impregnated a woman he thought was a prostitute. And on, and on, and on …

The history of Jesus’ ancestors isn’t just a little suspect – it’s out-and-out tawdry.  From one perspective it could undermine his authority and credibility; people are judged by their families all the time. But from another point of view, it could be considered encouraging or even liberating. If God could work through families like these, imagine the potential in boring old us? So many of us waste that potential because we are waiting to feel worthy. We talk about what we could or will do if and when we were better, more organized, more stable, healthier, or “holier” people. We look at others who do the things we wish we could do and assume they are smarter, better connected, and generally “have it together.” After considering where Jesus came from … still think so?

God meets us where we are, warts and all, and offers to lead us beyond where we hoped to be. When we spend more time trusting God and less time doubting that we could be useful to God, no part of us is wasted, no talent unused. Our creator pulls us from the trash heap and turns us into something beautiful. No one is ever “ready” for that.

Comfort: God doesn’t throw anyone away.

Challenge: For one week, up your recycling game. Is it something you can stick with?

Prayer: Thank you God for loving me beyond my comprehension. Amen.

Discussion: What’s something you’ve found a new use for that someone else might have thrown away?

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 Mix

1478225850637.jpg

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, Zephaniah 3:1-7, Revelation 16:12-21, Luke 13:18-30


Potential energy is “energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position relative to others, stresses within itself, electric charge, and other factors.” Such bodies include batteries, tightly coiled springs, and a boulder balanced on a high peak. Until these things interact with the rest of the world in some way, the energy remains dormant – a potential which may or may not be realized – within them.

When Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a tiny mustard seed that grows into a great tree, or a pinch of yeast that leavens an entire loaf of bread, he is talking about releasing the potential energy of the Spirit into the world through his followers. He describes something small – say a group of twelve people in the outskirts of the Roman empire – transforming the world.

Such potential is released when its bearer interacts with its environment. The mustard seed must be sown in the earth and exposed to the elements; the yeast must be kneaded into the dough and allowed to rise. Leave a packet of either on the shelf, and eventually it expires. You can read about gardening and baking, or sing songs about them, but in order for the mustard and yeast to meet their potential, they – or rather we – have to be in the mix.

We may not know whether we are mustard or yeast until we’re given a chance to grow in the right environment. Throw yeast on the ground or mustard into the dough, and you won’t get the desired results. Some of us will grow until the birds nest in our branches, and some will toil unseen alongside countless others to feed the hungry. Both are equally important to the kingdom, which is also like a banquet, a pearl, a field, a faithful servant, etc. There is no one right way to be part of the Kingdom.

Maybe you’ve already found the way to unlock your potential. Maybe you’re still waiting. Trust the gifts God has instilled in you, and you could be amazed by them. You’ll never know until you get into the mix.

Comfort: You already have everything you need to be part of the Kingdom.

Challenge: Make a list of your talents, and your suspected talents. Think about how you could best use them to serve God.

Prayer: God of Potential, help me discover all the ways I am yours. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever been in a situation that revealed a gift or gifts you didn’t know you had?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. 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!