The Great Author

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 84; 150, Genesis 41:14-45, Romans 6:3-14, John 5:19-24


Joseph was a pivotal figure in the history of Israel. His brothers – angered by their father Jacob’s preferential treatment and by Joseph’s visions predicting his rise to power over them – sold Joseph into slavery and told Jacob he was dead. Though Joseph was respected by his master and made head of the household, the master’s wife framed him for assault and he was jailed. After years of imprisonment – where his talents  again put him in an unlikely position of leadership – Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams landed him a role as Pharaoh’s chief adviser. When a famine fell over Egypt and the surrounding lands, Joseph’s foresight kept the people from starving and he was able to save his long-estranged family by welcoming them into Egypt.

The story of Joseph is full of ironic turns.

The beautiful coat his father gives him to express love becomes falsified evidence of Joseph’s death.  When he refuses the advances of his master’s wife, Joseph’s integrity lands him in jail. Dreaming causes his family to cast him out, but eventually allows him to save them – and ultimately all of Israel. After his death, the Isralites fall out of favor with the Egyptians and become slaves, setting the stage for Moses and the Exodus.

Ferdinand Sabino said: “Everything will be fine in the end; if it’s not fine, it’s not the end.” Joseph’s story has a slightly different message: there is no end. What works against us today may work for us tomorrow. Yesterday’s triumph may be next year’s tragedy … and the following year’s triumph again. We never know how things will work out, and the end of our individual story is not the end of the greater story. Tying it all together is the presence of God inviting dreamers and kings, slaves and kidnappers to open themselves up to possibility and move the story of God’s kingdom forward. Whatever your situation is today, it will eventually change. Like Joseph, we do best in good times and bad when we hold tight to our faith while we wait for whatever unfolds in the Great Author’s next chapter.

Comfort: Change is inevitable, but God’s love is constant.

Challenge: God’s love is constant, but change is inevitable.

Prayer: Loving God, I will trust you always to see me through hardships and joys. May I be open to playing my part well in the endless story of your love and your kingdom. Amen.

Discussion: What have been some of the unexpected twists in your part of the great story?

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Celebrity Gossip

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 147:1-11, Genesis 37:25-36, 1 Corinthians 2:1-13, Mark 1:29-45


The fastest form of communication known to humankind may be … gossip. The most mundane fact becomes interesting if someone tries to keep it a secret. Celebrities and publicists take advantage of this quirk of human nature all the time by “leaking” information to stoke curiosity about a project or event that otherwise might have garnered little notice. Both giving and receiving such information produce a thrill of being part of an inner circle.

So why would Jesus – with his incisive understanding of human nature – bother to tell a man he had healed of leprosy to “say nothing to anyone?”

Maybe it was because he knew that the wrong kind of fame would attract the attention of his enemies sooner rather than later. Even for Jesus, fame was a difficult beast to tame. Like many modern “superstars,” he quickly became a victim of his own success. He wanted to control the spread of his message, but the more famous he became, the less he was able to travel and teach freely, or to find solitude to renew himself. Eventually he stayed put while the crowds came to him.

If the healed man is any indication, it seems that while God invites us to cooperate with “the plan,” its eventual success doesn’t hinge on our individual compliance. Our disregard may even be turned to an advantage. Jay Bakker, son of controversial televangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker, abandoned the church and turned to substance abuse as a reaction to scandals plaguing his family. Surely substance abuse is not part of God’s plan for anyone, but his experiences equipped him to co-found Revolution Church, a successful ministry reaching many people neglected or feared by more traditional churches.

It can be comforting to believe everything happens for a reason. Could it be even more comforting to believe that, no matter why something happens, even if it initially seems to go against the plan, God can turn it toward his purpose? From loose-lipped lepers to prodigal sons, we can all be instruments of the divine will. Who are you going to let in on the secret?

Comfort: You can be part of God’s plan, but it won’t be derailed when you are.

Challenge: Be sure information you pass along is true and necessary.

Prayer: Loving God, please help me to discern your will, and to trust you when I can’t. Amen.

Discussion: When have you seen seeming disaster turned around for good?

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… and the creeks don’t rise.

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 84; 148, 1 Kings 11:26-43, James 4:13-5:6, Mark 15:22-32


My paternal grandmother had a habit of concluding any talk about future plans with a “God willing.” As a kid I thought it seemed unnecessarily pessimistic and cast any life events more than a couple weeks out under the shadowy gloom of imminent death. At times it seemed almost superstitious, like tossing spilled salt over your shoulder – except it was a spill of hopes and dreams that needed protecting. Had I paid more attention to the Epistle of James, I might have felt differently:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.”

Grandma didn’t have an easy childhood, and knew hardship well into adulthood. She had more than her share of disappointments and regrets, of dreams and hopes which evaporated like mist, many of which I didn’t appreciate or learn about until I was an adult. Using “God willing” like ending punctuation was more than a superstition; it was a reflection of her life experience. The negativity I associated with it? That was on me.

Today I understand “God willing” as a humble admission of our own limitations. A prayer even. Not a reflexive, superstitious prayer like knocking wood to stave off bad luck, or crossing yourself to ward off the malocchio. More a moment of deference to a God we love and trust whether or not our plans materialize – because our plans are frail things to stand on and our God is powerful and loving enough to catch us when they shred beneath our feet. A brief prayer approaching perfect contemplation when we are grateful and content with what we have in the present moment and expect nothing further.

As the future unfolds into the present, let us pray such prayers. God willing, of course.


Comfort: Whether or not your plans work out, God is with you. 

Challenge: Talk with a parent, grandparent, or other older relative about something they do which doesn’t make sense to you. Do this in a spirit of trying to understand.

Prayer: Thy will be done. Amen. 

Discussion: Are there any things about your family that make more sense to you now than they did when you were younger?

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Anointed, Appointed, and Appalling.

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David hands the Letter to Uriah, Pieter Lastman ca. 1583 – 1633

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, 2 Samuel 11:1-27, Acts 19:11-20, Mark 9:2-13


While we are one body, Christians disagree on many subjects. One of the more controversial topics is the nature of God’s will. Over the centuries the finer points of this argument have divided the church many times. Some of us believe God directly controls the universe down to its subatomic components. Others believe God exerts minimal influence over the creation. Most of us land somewhere in the middle, influenced by – but often uninformed on the specifics of – whatever denomination (or non-denomination) we belong to.

In the United States few things highlight the arguments about God’s will – as well as people’s inconsistencies in embracing and defending  those arguments – like the election of a president. When we like the person who is elected, it’s God’s will. When we don’t like the person, it’s a subversion of God’s will. And some of us accept either (or neither) result as God’s will.

Whichever camp we call home, we ought to agree on one thing: just because someone is chosen by God doesn’t mean they will be righteous in all they do.

King David had everything he could have wanted, but when he saw Bathsheba, the wife of his soldier Uriah, he decided he wanted her too. When David impregnated her while Uriah was away at war, he conspired first to trick Uriah into sleeping with her so the solider might believe the child was his own, then to maneuver Uriah into a vulnerable position in battle so he would be killed.

David was anointed by God. David was appointed King of Israel. David was appalling in his behavior.

The evil he did to Uriah was not God’s will – to the contrary, it angered God. Not only did Uriah die, but so did many other soldiers whom David either didn’t consider or didn’t mind sacrificing (and given his considerable strategic skills, it was probably the latter).

Great power amplifies both our virtues and flaws.  Accepting a monarch, president, or other leader does not mean accepting and defending everything they do. God’s will may be inscrutable, but Christ’s teachings will always help us find the way.


Additional Reading:
For thoughts on today’s reading from Acts, see Just One Bite.

Comfort: God does not will evil.

Challenge: Read a little about predestination and Arminianism.

Prayer: I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope. (Psalm 130:5)

Discussion: What do you think of when you hear the phrase “God’s will?”

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Where there’s a will, there’s a weighing.

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 149, 1 Samuel 4:1b-11, Acts 4:32-5:11, Luke 21:20-28


According to one anecdote about Abraham Lincoln, someone once said to the President he hoped that regarding the Civil War, God was on their side. Lincoln allegedly replied:

Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.

This quote, which can’t actually be sourced directly to Lincoln, distills many of his ideas about the role God did or did not play on the larger stage of human affairs. Lincoln was not convinced that because he sought the will of God that he knew or performed the will of God. Most of us will never carry the fate of a nation on our shoulders, but may we maintain the same humility in our conscience. There’s a difference between praying to do the right thing, and praying that the thing you do is right.

When the soldiers of Israel faced down the army of the Philistines, they couldn’t understand why they were losing since surely the God of Israel favored them. They sent for the Ark of the Covenant to be brought from the temple to their camp – literally placing God on their side of the battlefield. Not only did they lose, the corrupt sons of their high priest were killed, and the Ark was captured by the enemy.

We might easily assume that calling ourselves God’s people means what we do in good faith is God’s will. Yet time and again, God used foreign nations to further the plan when Israel failed to do so. Let’s always remain humble enough to consider that even people who seem bent on destroying us are not outside God’s providence.

But we need not despair from uncertainty. Thomas Merton famously prayed:

[T]he fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

Whatever we do, let us humbly fear and trust the Lord.

Read more on today’s passage from Acts in Mellow Harshed.

Comfort: God understands your intentions and inner conflicts.

Challenge: Read or listen to the whole version of Thomas Merton’s prayer.

Prayer: See the challenge.

Discussion: When have you realized you might have made some bad assumptions?

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!