Doubt, Pray, Love

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 26; 30, Ecclesiastes 11:1-8, Galatians 5:16-24, Matthew 16:13-20


No matter how strong our faith, we eventually have a day – or perhaps an achingly long series of days – when God seems far away. We don’t talk about those days much. Rather, we feel pressure to put on a brave face. Expressions of doubt during a Bible study prompt our friends to offer arguments for belief which are probably more about their reassurance than ours. A minor breakdown during prayer time is viewed as unseemly and inappropriate, maybe even fodder for parking lot gossip.

Loss and weakness are fine to discuss if we’ve already overcome them, but no one likes to watch the sausage being made. A story of beating a gambling addiction? Testify! A confession about how your ongoing blackout drinking leads to promiscuity? Better save it for the 12-step meeting. We talk a good game about brokenness, vulnerability, and healing but we really want to skip right to the “after” photo because the “before” mugshot is too upsetting.

The Psalms tell a different story. Many of them describe how we can be simultaneously faithful and in a wretched state. The author of Psalm 130 is crying out to God from the depths of despair. He recognizes his own failings and shortcomings. He finds himself unable to do anything but wait for the Lord and hope for the best. He still puts his trust in God but he’s not putting up a brave front.

Questions, moments of weakness, and despair do not demonstrate a lack of faith. They are the times that tell us whether we had any faith in the first place. Like the psalmist, sometimes the best we can do is beg God to get us through the darkness while we hunker down and hang on until daylight.

A healthy faith community will offer a safe space to rail against injustice, struggles, and the seeming distance of God. It will face darkness head on but shine a light into it. Since communities are made of people, the responsibility of creating such space then falls on each of us. We can be ourselves when we allow others to do the same.

Comfort: God is big enough to love you through your anger and doubt.

Challenge: It can be difficult to navigate when to express our pain and when to keep it to ourselves. Read this piece on how not to say the wrong thing.

Prayer: Loving God, my source of strength and security, thank you for weathering my doubts and fears. I will trust you to see me through this and all days. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever found relief after sharing something you had been keeping to yourself?

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Thorn In My Side

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, Song of Solomon 1:1-3, 9-11, 15-16a; 2:2-3a, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Luke 19:28-40


Have you ever heard the expression “thorn in my side?” It means a persistent, often painful difficulty. We get this phrase from the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the church in Corinth:

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

We don’t know the exact nature of Paul’s metaphorical thorn. His ailment could have been physical, spiritual, or emotional. Whatever it was, he had to learn to live with it. Paul chose to accept this thorn as an instrument of humility, one that kept him from becoming too full of himself.

We all suffer from something (or maybe several somethings) we’d rather be rid of. From ADD to sexual temptation to lumbago, everyone has a weakness. Paul provides an example of how we might approach such weakness in a positive way. Rather than become resentful or defensive about it, we can let it serve as a reminder to be charitable toward the struggles of others. When we see someone wrestling with the same demons we do, we can judge them (though we are really judging ourselves) or we can be empathetic and supportive. If someone struggles with an issue that gives us no problems at all, we should remember another person might easily pluck out a thorn that has rooted deeply in our own flesh.

“Power is made perfect in weakness” because it illustrates how God is never limited by the same things we are, but also because our weakness, properly considered, tempers our pride.

Our thorn – perhaps from the same branch that circled the head of Christ – is a sign that true love for the suffering is never pity, but solidarity. Though we don’t have to enjoy our weaknesses, let us give thanks for the blessings of humility and love that wouldn’t exist without them.

Comfort: You are not defined by your weakness.

Challenge: When you see others struggle, especially with something you’ve overcome, remember your own thorns.

Prayer: Thank you God for teaching me to rely on you in all things. Amen.

Discussion: How do you react to your own weakness?

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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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Holy Underdog!

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150, Judges 6:1-24, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Mark 3:20-30


Like many heroes of Israel, Gideon had a humble beginning. Because the Israelites had begun to worship foreign gods, for seven years the Lord allowed the Midianites and other peoples to raze the crops and livestock of Israel: “They and their livestock would come up […] as thick as locusts; neither they nor their camels could be counted; so they wasted the land as they came in.” Gideon’s family threshed their wheat in a wine press to hide it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared and told him he would be Israel’s new champion, Gideon was skeptical: “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord assured Gideon that – with the Lord at his side – he would be victorious.

Gideon came from a long tradition of underdogs chosen by God (Abraham, Joseph, and Moses to name a few) and many more would follow. What is it God loves about an underdog?

Underdogs are humble. Life has taught them personal strength isn’t always enough. It takes real humility to submit ourselves to God’s will; a person who is used to success on their own terms can find that submission difficult. We have to recognize and admit to our “weaknesses” before they can really become opportunities for God’s strength to shine.

The victory of an underdog is a real testament to faith in God’s power. Had the roles of David and Goliath been reversed, and Goliath been Israel’s giant champion, it would have been just another story of might makes right. When we follow God, right makes might.

Over and over scripture teaches us God has a love of the disenfranchised. The Mosaic Law has numerous rules about treating widows, orphans, and foreigners with compassion. Jesus taught constantly about loving the poor. The prophets tell us Israel fell from God’s favor when the people became satisfied with themselves and ignored the needy. Holy underdogs are a continuous reminder that God’s justice is not about acquiring what we deserve, but about serving others in need.

Comfort: Whether you feel like a champion or not, God loves you as one.

Challenge: In the coming week, watch the news for examples of true underdogs who have accomplished something important of noble. Can you see the Lord’s influence in their lives?

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for the strength that sustains me even when I am weary and afraid. Amen.

Discussion: Do you have a favorite underdog story?

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