Skin in the Game

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 92; 149, Exodus 17:1-16, 1 Peter 4:7-19, John 16:16-33


Though the nation of Amalek shared a lineage with the nation of Israel, they were bitter rivals. When Israel was encamped at Rephidim, Amalek attacked. While they fought, Moses stood on a hill and held his staff in the air. As long as he kept it raised Israel prevailed, but when he tired and let it drop Amalek prevailed. Growing weary, Moses sat on a stone and  his brother Aaron and companion Hur held his hand steady. The whole incident is a little strange, as it paints Moses almost as some sort of magician casting a spell over the battlefield. If God wanted Israel to claim victory, why not just destroy the Amalekites like He had the Egyptian army? We can learn some valuable lessons from this story.

First, it seems God wants us to have some skin in the game. He gives us our freedoms, but they are ours to defend. When enemies storm the camp, we can’t assume God will take care of it all like a superhero. Of course we depend on Him for our strength, but actual effort is required. For example, if our enemy is hunger, we might remember words attributed to Pope Francis: “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”

Second, we have to be willing to receive and give help. Our leaders aren’t superheroes either. Aaron and Hur didn’t stand back and criticize Moses for failing to keep that staff aloft; they offered moral and literal support for as long as it was needed. They took turns because they were invested in the outcome, and leaders can’t do things alone. There was a measure of risk to getting involved: the people of Israel were fickle and quick to turn on their leaders, and if the battle had been lost Moses’s comrades would likely have paid a price. Like them, we need to shore up each other’s faith in difficult times, even when the outcome is uncertain.

Faith is not a miracle factory. It is a source of strength that grows stronger as we share it with others.

Comfort: Not only do you not have to carry every burden alone, it’s a sign of strength to share it.

Challenge: When you can, be part of a solution instead of an observer of problems.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the community of believers who supports me in my journey. May I pass on the strength you share with me to others who need it too. Amen.

Discussion: In what areas of your life are you passively waiting for God or some earthly leader to solve a problem? What could you be doing to help with it right now?

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Building The Neighborhood

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 92; 149, Deuteronomy 32:34-41 (42) 43, Romans 15:1-13, Luke 9:1-17


Elementary and middle schools typically provide remedial math and English classes for students who struggle in a traditional classroom. High schools and colleges provide tutoring programs for student-athletes who face academic challenges. The tutors are often fellow students. Has anyone heard of a reciprocal program? Not to artificially divide students into athletic or academic talents, but there is surely at least a subset of the academically gifted who are athletically challenged. Where are the sports and strength tutors returning the favor? There are coaches and trainers, of course, but outside of gym class they spend their time with students already comfortable with athletics.

Paul wrote, “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.” He was speaking of the spiritually strong and weak, but deciding to see the “weak” of any kind as people we have an opportunity to serve, rather than to mock, discipline, or leave behind, applies in many ways. Do we make an effort to help build up our neighbor, or do we find reasons to blame them for their weakness?

The division between the strong and the weak permeates our culture. It’s practically inescapable – even  our romantic vocabulary includes “conquests.” It affects how we view and treat each other, and not for the better.

Part of the Good News is that Christ frees us from the burden of determining who is strong and who is weak. Instead he teaches us to serve each other no matter what. When he sent the twelve apostles to spread the Gospel, he instructed them to take nothing. This vulnerability put them at the mercy of the towns they visited. Why would he have done this, if not to show the strength that is present in willing vulnerability?

Let us put our strengths to service. Let us see weakness as an opportunity to serve. Let us remember that we are all as God has created us, which is reason enough to build up one another.

Comfort: Your weaknesses are opportunities for God to build you up.

Challenge: Pay attention to instances where movies, television, magazines, etc. artificially or unnecessarily divide between the weak and the strong.

Prayer: Loving God, show me where I may serve. Amen.

Discussion: What “weaknesses” particularly bother you?

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Blue Christmas

20161210_170325-01.jpegI cross-post from here to Facebook, and have never gone the other direction, but these thoughts seemed meaningful to people so I thought I’d share. If you feel similarly, please share or re-blog so those you love who struggle with the holiday season may feel some support. Peace to you!


I’ve read  several posts about how difficult the holidays can be for people who are grieving, living with depression, or struggling in some way. I don’t know what your personal pain is like right now, but I believe you that it is real.

So if I post about Christmas and family, please remember you are in my thoughts too. I don’t need you to pretend to be happy or festive for me. If your mood goes from light to dark, you don’t owe me an explanation, but I do owe you some compassion. I can take a break from the festivities to lend an ear, a shoulder, or a hug. My love for you is not conditional upon your mood. And if I ignorantly say something unhelpful or hurtful, please tell me; my feelings are not more important than yours.

In a season that celebrates Jesus arriving in the world, how can there be any excuse not to offer room at the inn for the weary travelers of life? Peace to you, my friend.

 

Two by Two

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 54; 146, Micah 3:1-8, Revelation 7:9-17, Luke 10:1-16


As Jesus prepared to expand his ministry, he selected 70 disciples to travel in pairs to the places he planned to visit. Today we might call them street teams. Each pair traveled simply; they carried no purse, no sandals, and no bags. They kept to themselves until they reached a destination, then where they were welcomed they stayed to cure the sick and where they were rejected they left promptly. Either way, they let the place know the kingdom of God had come near. If we assume three successful stops per pair, that’s 105 towns along a route of approximately 3,100 miles. Quite a grueling tour schedule when it’s mostly on foot.

How do you suppose Jesus paired people up? He could matched people who were already friends, or maybe they were random assignments, and people had to figure out how to get along with each other on the journey. Assigning people with similar personalities could make things easier or more difficult, depending on the personality. People with complementary personality types or experiences, while surely having to overcome some initial conflict, might be able to bring different strengths: introverts and extroverts; rich and poor; somber and playful; intrepid and cautious; cut-to-the-chase and touchy-feely. Perhaps he used all these criteria and more to build the most effective pairs possible.

On our own Christian journeys, we will find ourselves working alongside all kinds of people. We will like, respect, and enjoy each of them to different degrees. When, by example or intent, they expose our weaknesses, we can embrace an opportunity for growth. When we see them stumble where we stride easily, we can offer a steadying hand. We can hold each other accountable for getting the job done, and for grace. God has drawn us together, and it’s our job to work it out so we can credibly tell people the kingdom of God draws near. How we treat each other is a defining feature of that witness.

We are one body in Christ. A body isn’t walking unless one foot is on the ground and another is in the air.

Comfort: You are an important part of someone else’s journey.

Challenge: Pick a trait of yours that you think could use improvement. Talk to someone who is strong in that area about ways to improve.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the many people you who support and guide me on my journey. Amen.

Discussion: Without mentioning names, is there a person you don’t particularly like but do respect?

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!

The Ledge

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, Esther 9:1-32, Acts 20:1-16, Luke 4:38-44


Eutychus is famous for being the first Christian who was bored to death by a sermon. Seated on a window ledge, the young man was listening to a long message from Paul. Sometime after midnight, sleep overcame him and he fell three stories. Eutychus was “picked up dead” but Paul went downstairs, he put his arms around the youth, and said: “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Everyone including Eutychus returned upstairs and Paul continued to preach until dawn.

Determination and willpower are not always enough. Like Eutychus we struggle to be faithful, but the demands of life overwhelm us and we find ourselves falling off the ledge. Maybe we fall into sin. Maybe we fall into addiction. Maybe we simply fall away from the church. For all intents and purposes we may appear dead to the life and loved ones we knew. But the Pauls of the world – those people who understand Jesus is all about resurrection – see life is in us, waiting to be reclaimed.

Therein lies the beauty and importance of Christian community: we pick each other up. When someone stops attending church, they are often waiting to see if anyone notices. A card, call, or visit may be the thing that says: “I see life is in you” when they can’t see it themselves. A loving embrace, when all others have left them for dead, may be what lifts them to their feet and returns them to the community.

What might Paul have learned from this event? Maybe that pressing relentlessly forward with the business of church – in his case preaching; in our day, board meetings, fundraisers, choir practice – without regard for its flagging members can be dangerous. If Eutychus was fading, it’s likely others were not far behind. Offering rest or refreshment to those about to fall may be less an interruption of church business, and more the necessary action to keep everyone vital.

Each of us is a potential Paul to someone’s Eutychus. Let us pray for the wisdom to see life in someone when others have given up hope.

Comfort: A good church is there when people need it.

Challenge: Who haven’t you seen in a while? Call or visit them so they feel acknowledged.

Prayer: God of Life, teach me and Your church to see Your life in those who have fallen. Amen.

Discussion: When has a faith community lifted you up?

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!

How dusty is your head?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56; 149, Job 3:1-26, Acts 9:10-19a, John 6:41-51


Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, having heard of his tragedy, arrived at his home to console and comfort him. They did so by acknowledging Job’s grief: “They raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads.” Afterward, and more importantly, “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”

Then Job, who was faithful but not superhuman, cursed the day he was born. Anger, grief, and confusion poured out of him. He did not reject God, but he was not afraid to demand an accounting for the injustice of the world. After this his friends thought they could best help by trying to make sense of it for him. If they had been as smart as they thought they were and kept silent, Job would have been about thirty-seven chapters shorter.

When we have a friend whose suffering is great, what is our first instinct? Many of us try to make the person feel better as quickly as possible. Others want to offer advice on how to solve or get past the problem. A smaller number suffer in solidarity. And a gifted few are willing to be present but silent. A wonderful ecumenical organization called Stephen Ministries trains people to be present for other people in crisis. Stephen ministers do not fix, and do not counsel. They listen and love.

In the next chapter, Eliphaz will offer Job some unsolicited advice. Like we might, he does this as much to reassure himself as to comfort his friend. The other friends will follow suit. This helps move along the book’s exploration of the nature of suffering, but it does more harm than good for Job. Listening is a gift anyone can give, even without formal training. When someone shares their suffering with us, sometimes the best thing we can do for them is to sit in the road next to them, and let the dust settle on our heads.

Comfort: Each of us can listen, and be listened to.

Challenge: The next time you have the urge to fix someone’s problem or give them advice, spend time just listening to them instead.

Prayer: God of renewal, thank you for ears that help others heal. Amen.

Discussion: Are you a fixer? Are you frustrated by people who try to fix? Both?

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!