Burying The Dead

burythedead

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 98; 146, 1 Samuel 16:1-13a, Ephesians 3:14-21, Matthew 8:18-27


One day, when Jesus was preaching on the shore, the crowds grew so large he told them to move to the other side of the lake. One of the disciples wanted to first bury his father. Jesus replied:

“Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.”

There are different opinions on the context and meaning of this odd phrase. One is that the man’s father was not yet dead, so the time until his burial was uncertain. Another is that “burying” him would have included acting as executor for his father’s affairs. The common theme across these theories is that to follow Christ is to pursue life, and that postponing our discipleship for the affairs of the world and tarrying among others doing the same is to wallow in death. When Christ calls we are to follow. Period.

If we are honest with ourselves, can we admit that deep down (or maybe not so deep) we know our lives will never be completely in order? Yet we use that reasoning as an excuse for putting off all kinds of things: starting families, launching new careers, jettisoning bad habits, getting in shape, going back to school, pursuing dreams, etc. We pretend there is a noble purpose of order behind our stalling tactic because it’s easier than admitting to laziness or fear. All too often the end result of our self-delusion is that we never get around to what we’d rather be doing, and our lives are still not orderly.

Your life will always be messy. There almost certainly will never be a “right time” – or even a better time – to walk away from the trappings of death and follow life. Voices – both internal and external – will tell you not to shirk your worldly responsibilities; these are the moans of ghosts who can’t move on and don’t want to be left behind and alone. Our true responsibilities are to the priorities Christ has taught us, and it is following him that makes us feel truly alive.

Christ does not cruelly demand we abandon our lives; he graciously invites us to find them.

Comfort: Christ has given you permission to let go of the things that keep you from true life.

Challenge: Egyptians pharaohs were buried with household goods, pets, servants, and even family members. They could not imagine life that didn’t look like what was actually holding them back. Pick one thing in your life that you could put down to lighten your load when following Christ. If it feels good, pick another…

Prayer: God of freedom, I will follow wherever you lead me. Amen.

Discussion: What do you need to put down before you can follow Christ unhindered? What’s stopping you?

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.

The Fine Line

1452988121799

Today’s readings (click to open in a new window):
Psalms 19; 150, Genesis 7:1-10, 17-23, Ephesians 4:1-16, Mark 3:7-19


The line between faith an insanity can be hard to identify. When Noah heard the voice of God telling him to build an ark, he must have questioned which side of the line he was on. His neighbors, friends, and family – the ones who didn’t scoff at him outright – surely had questions as well. How must it have felt to explain the enormous construction project going on in his back yard? Following God’s orders very likely ruined his reputation as a stable individual. At least until the rains started.

Not everything God would have us do will make sense to the outside world – and maybe not even to ourselves. Showing generosity to people who haven’t earned it, granting mercy to those who have wronged us, taking in strangers – these things seem scandalous by worldly standards. When God “asks” us to do something – through intuition, conscience, or other means – are we strong enough to ignore the mocking, sometimes hostile voices discouraging us? We probably won’t be asked to accomplish something as huge as 1.5 million cubic feet of boat, but when we open ourselves to ridicule the burden may feel almost as enormous.

When Noah and his family closed the door of the ark, they had no idea how long they might be afloat or what their final fate might be. Following God often means the faith that we are doing the right thing must be sufficient to carry us through dark and confusing times. We want to be sure we are on the right side of that line between faithful and crazy, but we often don’t. When it comes to leaps of faith we can pray, discern, and hope … but we can never be 100% sure. If we turn out to be wrong, or if things just turn out differently than expected, listening to that voice the next time may be difficult.

Not every little whim is a calling from God, but sometimes we need to risk looking a little crazy. That’s OK. We may turn out to be the only one with the good sense to get out of the rain.

Comfort: Faith may ask crazy things of us, but God will see us through.

Challenge: Is anything you have left undone nagging at your conscience? If so, pray and meditate on what’s holding you back.

Prayer: All-knowing God, I will trust you even when I don’t understand you.

Discussion: What’s the most outlandish thing you’ve done on intuition? How did it work out?

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!

Love Dangerously

1449898213207

Readings: Psalms 90; 149, Haggai 2:1-9, Revelation 3:1-6, Matthew 24:1-14


Love hurts.

More than a pop song cliche, it’s a truth which is unpleasant and unavoidable – unless we opt out of love altogether. Whether we cause the pain or feel it, every relationship is eventually tested. Marriages struggle. Children leave home. Children fail to leave home. Friends let us down. The songs are usually about romantic love, but it’s true even of the agape love practiced by followers of Christ.

How many times heard someone say (or said ourselves), “I just don’t want to be hurt … again?”  Maybe they were cheated on. Maybe they were taken advantage of. The reasons for hurt are endless but here’s the thing: we already hurt, because we are already broken people in a broken world. There is no “again;” there is only “still.”

The pain of love is different from the pain of brokenness. The pain of love is like a bone being set, a wound being drained, or the pain of pouring out our secrets to a therapist. It is a productive pain and if we choose to avoid it, healing eludes us.

When Christ asks us to love God and to love one another, he promises us a spiritual comfort but does not promise us a life free of pain or danger. To the contrary, he warns us our choice to follow him into a life of agape love will cause many to scorn us and possibly put us in harm’s way. That harm isn’t always physical. Sometimes it is an injury to the spirit that occurs precisely because we have chosen to help others. Loving leaves us vulnerable.

Like our bodies, our spirits have an instinct to recoil from that which hurts us. As the Great Physician, Jesus tells us the remedy often means taking a greater risk and putting ourselves in danger of more pain – not to become victims or masochists, but to improve our spiritual health. Eventually love mends the breaks and wounds in our spirit, but we must take risks.

Love hurts. Not loving hurts more, because improperly set spiritual bones leave us as hobbled as physical ones.

Comfort: It may take a long time, but loving others heals our own brokenness.

Challenge: For an example of love that valued risk over comfort, read this perspective on Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Prayer: Loving God, give me the courage to love, even when doing so is dangerous. Amen.

Discussion: Different people have different methods of expressing love and recognizing when they are loved. What are yours? (If you’re not sure, maybe take a look at the The 5 Love Languages site of Dr. Gary Chapman).

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!

Investment Strategy

piggy-2889044_1920

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?

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!

Failure is Not an Option

boards-2040575_1280

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, Deuteronomy 31:30-32:14, 2 Corinthians 11:21b-33, Luke 19:11-27


In the parable of the ten minas (a unit of currency worth about four months’ wages), Jesus tells the story of a wealthy land owner who entrusts one mina each to ten servants before he traveled abroad to have himself appointed king (an unpopular idea among his subjects). Upon his triumphant return, the newly appointed king summoned his servants to find out how they had handled his money. The first one had earned a tenfold return, the second a fivefold return, and the third had buried it and returned it without increase. The king gave the first servant ten cities, the second five cities, and took the mina away from the third to give it to the first.

This parable was about how Jesus’s followers should invest their time and talents while they waited for the eventual arrival of the Kingdom. We hear about the results of three servants, but what of the other seven? Specifically, what do we think would have happened to a servant who made an honest effort to increase his or her mina but lost it all? The king says that those who have nothing will lose even more … but is he talking about money? After all, this is a parable about faith.

We might find a clue in the master’s response: “I will judge you by your own words.” If we, like the third servant, live timidly because we believe in a tyrannical, petty God, that is the God we will experience. But if we trust God and the gifts given us, and use them boldly, we will find they increase. And in the event of failure, we must continue to trust. Trust approaches failure like a comma that gives us pause to gather our thoughts, rather than a period that completes our sentence. Trust in God means failure, even unto death, is never the final state.

Let’s make confident, risky investments of the gifts God has entrusted to us. We will inevitably experience failures, but if we are to be judged by our own words, let us speak of a merciful, loving Lord.

Comfort: Faith in action is faith multiplied.

Challenge: On scraps of paper, write down things you are afraid to do, but think you should. Put them in a bowl, mix them up, and commit to doing the one you pull out at random.

Prayer: My Lord and Savior, I will trust you with all my mind, heart, and soul. Amen.

Discussion: What fears stop you from doing the things you want to?

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!

Invest Wisely

20161124_232048-01.jpeg

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, Zechariah 13:1-9, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 19:11-27


Jesus told a parable about a rich man who traveled out of town to secure a royal title. He gave ten of his servants equal sums of money to manage in his absence. The man was not popular, so the town sent messengers to ask that he not be made king, but he received his title. While he was away, one servant doubled his sum and another increased it by half. The new king was pleased and rewarded both with proportionally greater responsibilities. A third servant had buried his sum. Because the king was displeased, the servant explained he feared punishment had he invested the money and lost it. The king took the sum and gave it to the servant who had invested most wisely. The moral is that those who are trustworthy with a little will be given more, and those who are untrustworthy will have it taken away, so use your time and talents to the best of your ability to further the kingdom of God.

Most discussions of this parable focus on using our talents wisely, but let’s ask what it means that the servant buried what was given him, instead of banking it as his master would have preferred. The man was gambling on the hope that his master would not return a king – and maybe not return at all. Banking it left it in his master’s name; burying it in secret gave him a chance to claim it. If we devote our time and talents only to personal gain, and not to the greater purposes of God, we are in effect stealing what has been entrusted to us; we are betting against the ultimate righteousness of God.

Christ drives this point home in more than one parable. No one’s gifts are too meager to be put to good use. While taking a chance with them can be scary, these parables don’t condemn those who try then experience setbacks – they demonstrate disfavor toward those who do nothing. What you have to offer will be multiplied when you put it to use. Trust God to trust you.

Comfort: Your gifts and talents are meaningful when you give them meaning.

Challenge: One talent most of us have is the ability to encourage others in the use of their talents. Be generous with your encouragement.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the many gifts and talents you have given your people. Guide me to use them to glorify you. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever been surprised to discover a talent 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!

Things Get Real

wher_it_isnt

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Hosea 11:12-12:1, Acts 26:1-23, Luke 8:26-39


Sometimes there is a large gap between what we say we want and what we actually want. Presenting his case before King Agrippa, Paul explained that he was a faithful Jew; like many of his accusers he was a Pharisee, and he’d actively persecuted Christians. His encounter with the risen Christ was unexpected and life-changing. By preaching the Gospel, Paul asserted, he was dutifully acknowledging the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah: “I stand here, testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place.”

The Pharisees said they wanted Paul jailed for violating the law, but they actually wanted to preserve the status quo which allowed them privilege under the oppressive Roman regime. Waiting for the messiah demanded nothing, but his arrival was dangerous and uncomfortable.

Christians say we want to love the poor and the sick, but too often we actually want to express that love in ways that don’t make us too uncomfortable: nothing that messes up the sanctuary of the church, or threatens our safety, or makes us feel icky. We say we welcome strangers, but we don’t want them be too strange. Like the Gerasenes who ran Jesus out of town after he purged a man of many demons, we don’t want to be the kind of holy that attracts the wrong kind of attention – the kind that makes us look dirty and maybe unbalanced, rather than freshly laundered and pressed for the Thursday evening hymn sing.

The business of the church is not beautiful building s and respectable congregations. These things are fine; they simply aren’t the point. Filling up the pews is nice, but it’s also meaningless if we’re only playing a numbers game by poaching existing believers from “rival” congregations. We need to take the Gospel where it is not, which is often exactly where we don’t want to be. The good news is not that we bring Jesus to people, but that he is already with them and waiting to be embraced. When we don’t go to them, we don’t go to him either.

Comfort: It’s okay for your faith life to be messy.

Challenge: Same as the Comfort, but for the other half of the room.

Prayer: God, grant me the courage and strength to be an effective part of the life-altering Body of Christ. Amen.

Discussion: What chances do you regret not having taken?

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!