Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Back through the Wardrobe

. . . they departed to their own country by another way (Matthew 2:12)

They no longer recognized the lamppost that had marked their point of entry into Narnia.

In Narnian time, years had passed. The main characters – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy – had been ruling as Kings and Queens in Narnia. The White Witch and the land’s deep freeze were a distant memory.

So when the four rulers came upon the lamppost it looked to them like a “pillar of iron with a lantern set on the top.” As they investigated the unfamiliar sight they entered the woods where the lamppost stood. Almost immediately they no longer felt the scratching of tree branches, but rather the fabric of coats. Within a few steps they had tumbled out of a wardrobe and back into an empty room.

Back in England, it was the same day as when the Wardrobe had first led them to Narnia. Only minutes had passed. They were no longer Kings and Queens. They were children again.

Trying to explain why some coats were missing from the wardrobe, the children told the Professor (their caretaker and the owner of the wardrobe) about their adventure. He did not scoff or rebuke them, but believed the whole story. And then he spoke these words to them:

“I don’t think it will be any good trying to go back through the wardrobe door to get the coats. You won’t get into Narnia again by that route . . . of course, you will get back to Narnia someday. But don’t go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don’t try to get there at all. It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it.”
Don’t miss the treasures of this Christmas Eve by trying to re-create a Christmas from another time. Almost all of us can look back on a Christmas that was just right – or at least it seems that way to us now. Maybe we look back on years when death had not yet touched the family, the children and grandchildren were much smaller, the money was more abundant, the relatives were not too far away.

Things might be different now. By comparison, this Christmas doesn’t measure up.

Perhaps what C. S. Lewis wrote about getting back to Narnia is also true of finding the joy of Christmas. The same route that worked back then will not get you there now. Maybe we observe a true Christmas not by recapturing what was, but by embracing the presence of God with us in the life we have right now. Indeed, the treasures of Christmas may come to us unplanned and unannounced. Like finding Narnia again, it happens when you aren’t looking for it.

There are signs of God’s grace all around you on this Christmas Eve. God is with us. That’s the good news of this season. In the words of C. S. Lewis as spoken by a wise Professor, “Keep your eyes open.”

Gracious God, on this Christmas Eve help us to keep our eyes open for signs of your grace that surround us in the life we have right now. Guard us from finding the joy of Christmas only in our memory. Reveal your presence to us today, and in doing so draw us close to you in a fresh way this Christmas. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Exactly What We Needed

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son . . . to redeem those who were under the law (Galatians 4:4-5)

The good news was that the Atlanta Police car turned left from Habersham onto Valley Rd. within minutes after my call. The bad news was that the Atlanta Police car turned left from Habersham onto Valley Rd. within minutes after my call.

I would have preferred not to call at all. But after the fender-bender collision I had at Habersham and Valley it seemed like the right thing to do.

As it turned out the damage was so slight that there was really nothing for the APD to do. Still, I’m thankful for the timely response. And I’m also aware that what comes to us as good news (a timely response from police) often points to something gone wrong (the wreck).

A tumor is benign . . . but it’s there and it needs to come out. You are told you will not be laid off . . . but the company is in trouble and others still have to be let go. To us a savior is born . . . which means we need saving. We are not well. And what isn’t well is beyond our own capacity to make right.

‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua’ which means ‘the Lord saves.’ At Christmas time we hear this as a “glad tiding.” The angel’s announcement is good news; it reason for great joy and thanksgiving and glory to God for his favor to us.

But these glad tidings carry with them a quiet implication – a verdict on the condition of the human race. The announcement of a savior being born is only good news to those who need saving.

If I’m sitting in my house watching TV and eating Oreos and an ambulance randomly pulls into my driveway I will not be relieved. I might be confused and alarmed, but not relieved and thankful. But after too many years of watching TV and eating Oreos a day may come when I am not well. Something goes wrong. Maybe, by God’s grace, someone can call 911 and the ambulance will come. And when it does there will be relief and gratitude.

Christmas is not truly good news unless we understand that there’s bad news. Not surprisingly, that message doesn’t get much press in December. But it’s definitely there, plain as day, in the words of the angel. “You are to give him the name ‘Jesus,’ because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Jesus came to save us from our sins. We couldn’t save ourselves, so God did it for us in sending his son. And in doing so, God gave us exactly what we needed.

Before the season ends, O God, we need to get honest and make our confession to you. Our world is not well. We are not well. We need a savior. Thank you for sending your son. Thank you for loving the world so much that you sent Jesus to save us – to do what we could not do by our own efforts. May this Christmas bring us news that is truly good, because we have faced the truth about ourselves and turned to your grace through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shepherds and a Shoeshine

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field . . . (Luke 2:8)

His commute to work took an hour and a half and involved catching more than one bus.

For more than 30 years Albert Lexie made this journey twice each week, leaving his home in Monessen, Pennsylvania, and making the journey to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Arriving early in the morning he would begin his work for the day. For 30 years Albert has served the Children’s Hospital community by shining shoes.

This week Albert Lexie is retiring at age 71. Having faithfully tended his post for 30 years, he is being celebrated by a grateful hospital staff. In this modest role he has engendered the affections of the people who work at Children’s as well as many patients and their families.

A number of factors might explain his popularity: his long tenure there, the quality of his work, his likeable demeanor that endears him to others. All of those things could be said of Albert Lexie. But what is truly admirable is his generosity. Since 1981 Lexie has given $200,000 of his personal income to the hospital’s Free Care Fund.

For three decades the task of shining shoes has been incidental to Lexie’s true work: Making children well. His job was about shoes. His vocation was about changing lives.

Shining shoes and shepherding are nothing alike, but they share this in common: neither of them are careers to which we aspire. We don’t dream of seeing our kids shine shoes, and when Jesus was born no one thought very highly of shepherding.

At Christmas we tend to romanticize and sentimentalize the shepherds. When Luke tells us that “there were shepherds abiding in the fields at night” we could easily substitute “there was a DOT worker standing in a toll booth during the night shift.” The shepherds were working – and working a very mundane job at that.

Interestingly, once the shepherds had gone to Bethlehem and seen the Christ child we are told that “they returned praising and glorifying God.” Returned to what? They went back to same job, same flock, same fields – but they went back with more than a task. They had a vocation. They had good news to tell.

Some of you, perhaps many of you, are reading this as you get ready for a day of work. You might even be at work. As we reflect on the shepherds at Christmas and a man who shines shoes, this question comes up: What are you working for today? This is different than asking what your job is, or who your boss is. A better and deeper question is what is your work about?

The significance of what you do is not defined by a title you have or a position you hold in the organization. You don’t find a vocation by earning advanced degrees. Albert Lexi shows us that the most ordinary work can make a difference in the lives of people.

As you go back to work, return like the shepherds. Work like Albert Lexi. Even the smallest and most ordinary tasks have meaning when done by people who know they are called.

Be glorified in my work today, O God. And help me to find meaning in your call – more than title or position or income. Work through me to accomplish your work in this world, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Way Through

. . . though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel (Micah 5:1-5).

Few things are more painful than hitting a wall – over and over again – in a relationship that we care deeply about. Were it not for our desire to ‘get through’ to someone, we would just stop and walk away.

But walking away isn’t an option. And so our collision with the wall continues.

Maybe you know about this. The wall may stand between you and one of your children; they simply won’t listen to your counsel or believe that what you say you say out of love. Quite often the wall stands between spouses, built brick by brick with years of hurt; now it stands there high and insurmountable. Walls like this are found between managers and employees, teachers and students. What all of these walls share in common is their foundation in this nagging question: What will it take to get through?

We are prone to use direct assault against those walls. We argue, insist, plead, promise. Nothing gives. The direct assault proves useless, leaving us with tears and sleepless nights.

C. S. Lewis, the man behind the Chronicles of Narnia, is known to most of us as an articulate defender of the Christian faith. If he wasn’t defending the faith, he was often explaining it intelligently to its critics. Lewis was skilled and powerful in argument. He gained a reputation at Oxford for being ruthless in debate. The book most closely associated with his name is Mere Christianity, a volume that remains widely used in presenting the faith to sceptics.

Given Lewis’s legacy as an apologist and his gifts for razor sharp reasoning and argumentation, it is somewhat surprising that he openly cautioned others against theological debate and argument. Lewis once wrote, “No doctrine of the Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in public debate . . . we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only falling back continually . . . from apologetics to Christ himself.”

Thus Lewis, toward the end of his life, set aside the task of writing arguments for the Christian faith and turned to stories. In a 1954 letter Lewis stated that “the imaginative man in me is older.” The poet in Lewis was there long before the books of apologetics. And the poet was never entirely absent from him, even in those works.

Lewis was drawn to a vision of the Christian life, not simply arguments for it.

So what does this have to do with you and your desire to ‘get through’ to someone you love? Maybe Lewis teaches us that whatever it is we want to say or tell to someone must also be lived and shown. Sometimes the way through is indirect, quietly lived rather than shouted, shown rather than explained. It is left-handed power.

What is your vision of how things would look if you could get through to the person you love? How can you begin living that vision today?

Merciful God, grant me grace to show what I’ve tried hard to say; to demonstrate what I’ve sought to explain. Grant to me a vision and help me to live it, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The 'Rat'

. . . though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel (Micah 5:1-5).

Pat Conroy’s book, My Losing Season, is a memoir built around the story of Conroy’s senior year on the Citadel basketball team.

A minor character who appears throughout the book is the team trainer, Joe Eubanks. Everyone on the team called him the ‘Rat.’ One of the most moving chapters of the book is the story of the Citadel’s game against in VMI in 1967. This grueling contest went into four overtimes before the Citadel secured a victory. When Conroy made it back to the locker room his body was so exhausted that he couldn’t undress himself. The Rat pulled the sweat soaked shirt over Conroy’s head and unlaced his shoes. He pulled off his rancid socks and helped him stand up from the bench to walk to the showers.

Just a few years later, the Rat was killed in Vietnam.

At the end of that chapter Conroy tells of visiting the Vietnam Veterans memorial in Washington. With his finger he traced the names that are etched in the wall, names of boys he knew. With each visit to the memorial the last name he touches is the name of his trainer, Joe Eubanks. At this point in the book Conroy writes:

“It is always here at this name that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial unhinges me and I weep as though I will never be able to stop. My weeping is so public and visceral that I always draw the attention of other visitors, and they put their arms around me and try to console me. Veterans ask if Joe was a member of my unit and I shake my head no. Women ask me if I lost a brother. The sons and daughters of men whose names are on the wall want to know why Joe Eubanks meant so much to me, and they all look disappointed, even dismayed, when I blurt out in a tear- strangled voice, “He gave me towels. The Rat gave me towels.” (p. 302)
The high impact moments of your day are probably not on your calendar. Your mental and emotional energy may be directed to the meeting you need to attend and the holiday tasks that still aren’t done. You may be facing a deadline or packing to catch a flight. All of those things matter – but the high impact moments of this day are moments you haven’t planned because they are small and ordinary.

Do not despise the small things: Getting your kids to school, conversation in the kitchen, interactions with co-workers, a compliment or affirmation, holding hands, a kiss on the forehead. Christmas reminds us that sacred things come in small ways.

Pay attention to small things today. What you do without a thought may last a long time in someone else’s memory.

Gracious and loving God, throughout this day grant to me the gift of your Spirit that I might embrace the small things, the unapplauded tasks, the people on the margins. Work through me to refresh the heart of someone else, in the name and strength of Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Shadow over Bethlehem

And a sword will pierce your own soul too (Luke 2:35).

Simeon had been dead for decades – but what he had spoken to Mary had lived on.

Mary had heard and seen many things about her son that she treasured in her heart, silently pondering and praying over them through the years. Time and time again the words of Simeon had echoed in her mind.

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

On this day, Simeon long dead, Mary remembered him. She saw again his wrinkled hands reaching for her son. She saw again his weathered face raised to heaven in gratitude. She remembered his peculiar and ominous words. “And a sword will piece your own soul too.”

On this day, standing on a hill not far from that Jerusalem temple, watching the agony of her child, she felt the sword pierce deep.

At this season of the year we love stories of the Christ child: Mangers and livestock, shepherds with their flocks and magi with their gifts, angelic hosts announcing the birth in David’s city. This is the story we love. This is what we gather to celebrate.

Simeon, however, reminds us where all of this is going. This child is the dividing line of history. Some will rise to new life because of him. Others will stumble and fall. He will be adored and spoken against, believed or rejected. Over the manger and the child the cross looms large. We cannot separate the incarnation from the crucifixion.

But we try. We much prefer a cross-less Christmas. We had rather not have that shadow lingering over our happy holidays. Nevertheless, all who are invited to adore the Christ child will also be invited to follow Jesus of Nazareth. And to follow Jesus is to take up a cross.

The same Isaiah who said that a child was born unto us also spoke of a man acquainted with sorrow, one by whose stripes we are healed.

This week, we’ve pondered the darker side of the Christmas story. If you’ve ever been inclined to think of Simeon as a sweet old man, benign and harmless, think again. Simeon speaks to us about a sword and stumbling and our hearts being exposed. Simeon readies us for the cross.

Like Mary, we would do well to treasure these things in our hearts.

Lord Jesus, we often celebrate your birth without the soul piercing reality of the cross. Remind us today of why you came, and give us power in this season of the year to be people who love sacrificially. Teach us what it means to take up a cross and follow you at Christmas time. And as we follow, make us truly joyful people, we pray. Amen.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

For all who 'Struggle' During Christmas

Now war arose in heaven . . . (Revelation 12:7).

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there is a scene in which Father Christmas makes an appearance, bringing gifts to the main characters of the story: Peter, Susan, and Lucy. As we saw earlier this week, younger brother Edmund has become cozy with the white Witch – only to become her captive.

The gifts were not what we typically think of as Christmas presents: For Peter, a sword and shield; for Susan, a bow and arrows; for Lucy, a healing potion and a dagger. These gifts are designed for warfare. As Father Christmas begins to present them to the children he cautions them, “These are tools, not toys.”

When most of us think of the Christmas story we hear in our minds the words of Luke’s gospel. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, these phrases capture the drama of Christmas: Shepherds abiding in the fields, no room in the inn, a babe in swaddling clothes.

There is, however, another and very different nativity story at the end of the Bible. In Revelation 12 there is a story of a woman who gives birth to a baby. A great red dragon awaits the birth of the child, intending to devour it. When the child is born he is taken up to heaven. His birth instigates warfare between the dragon and his angels, and the Angel Michael with his angel army.

The dragon is thrown down to earth. He is defeated but not finished. Knowing that he will not overcome the child who is born to rule all nations, the dragon wages a war against humankind. The scene is bizarre to us, but it is not hard to understand. In his book, Reversed Thunder, Eugene Peterson adds this helpful comment.

It is St. John’s genius to take Jesus in the manger, attended by shepherds and wisemen, and put him in the cosmos attacked by a dragon. The consequence for our faith is that we are fortified against intimidation. Our response to the Nativity cannot be reduced to shutting the door against a wintry world, drinking hot chocolate, and singing carols. Rather we are ready to walk out the door with, a one Psalmist put it, high praises of Gods in our throats and two-edged swords in our hands (Ps. 149:6).
Revelation 12 is without question the most overlooked Christmas story in scripture. There is nothing cuddly in John’s nativity scene. This Christmas story tells us that in the birth of Jesus the devil is defeated. He is defeated, but not done. He thrashes about even now wreaking havoc among humankind – and we are in a fight.

We can hardly be surprised the John’s visions are ignored in December. We don’t like talk of warfare. But all of us know people who “struggle” at Christmas. You may be one of those people. The ‘dragon’ takes the form of loneliness, illness, alienation, depression. The struggle may be silent, but it is real.

In Jesus, however, you are equipped. By the Spirit we receive what we need for the fight, “tools not toys,” as Lewis wrote. God gives what you need for this time, this season.

Where do you see someone struggling at this time of year? What gift or ‘blessing’ can you give to them today?

We pray today, O God, for all who struggle in this season of the year. Grant them what they need in the fight, and fill them with confidence in your victory through the child born in the manger. We ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

God on the Offensive

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).

Though their numbers are shrinking, there are still plenty of people around who remember December 7, 1941.

This past weekend marked 72 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor. The phrase “a day that will live in infamy” is widely known even by those who have no memory of the infamous day. The infamy does indeed remain, rooted in the stunning act of aggression aimed at our nation. Over the weekend we remembered those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor. Moreover, we remembered how that day, that act, changed our history as a people.

The opening chapters of the Bible tell us about an act of aggression. The biblical story begins with a good God and a good creation. We don’t get very far before an enemy appears to drive a wedge between humankind and the creator who provides all things for their good. Manipulative and cunning, this enemy attacks what God has done, changing the course of human history. The rest of the Bible is the story of God’s restoration project. God has long been at work to mend what the devil wrecked.

At this time of year we are often encouraged to remember the “Reason for the Season.” What we rarely hear is the very specific reason stated in 1 John 3:8. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

Most of what we see and hear in this season belies that truth. The sights are idyllic: Starlight spilling from a cloudless winter sky, snow fall that never seems to cause traffic problems or power outages. All of this is enhanced with the display of lights.

The vocabulary of love and blessing shapes our language. We speak of God’s love for the world and how we share that love by loving our neighbor. Words like ‘peace’ and ‘joy’ give expression to our deepest Christmas wishes.

All of this is wonderful and I’d be the last person to dismiss any of it. But let’s not forget the combative edge that Christmas represents. The scriptures are clear that we have an enemy who actively seeks to diminish or destroy our faith. Jesus said that this enemy is a liar who will stop at nothing to ruin what is good and beautiful in this life (see John 10:10).

If you want to know the reason for the season, take a moment and look closely and what most of us try to ignore at Christmas. The devil’s work is seen in broken homes, addictions, violence in streets and schools, abuse behind the closed doors in our own neighborhoods, estrangement between races and nations. All of this is why Jesus came. He came to destroy the devil’s work.

Christmas is an act of aggression. It is God on the offensive. Jesus came to destroy the devil’s works, and this is why we must never separate the manger from the cross.

Where are you most aware of the ‘devil’s works?’ Is there anything you can do this Christmas to undo what the enemy is doing?

“Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in thee; Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” Amen (Charles Wesley, 1744)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Staying Awake at Christmas

 Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (Ephesians 5:11-17).

I still shudder at the words “some assembly required.” But there was a time when they sounded especially onerous to me at Christmas.

One year when my children were very small I nearly renounced the faith over my labors with a ‘Playskool’ kitchenette set for my daughter. While I’m not very adept with tools, it wasn’t so much the actual task of building the kitchenette that caused me to wonder whether God is a benevolent being. What really did it was being up late on Christmas Eve night, after Christmas Eve worship, after the bedtime routine, after waiting for children to fall asleep. As the night wore on the more it seemed like the instructions for assembly required an advanced degree from Georgia Tech.

That stage of life was a time when the preparations for Christmas morning kept you up late on Christmas Eve night when all you wanted to do was go to sleep. And then, almost immediately, the eagerness of young children woke you up early on Christmas morning when you would have loved sleeping in. Being fully “awake” at Christmas in those years was often a challenge.

C. S. Lewis loved the image of being “awake” as way of understanding the life of faith. To be far from God was to be asleep, walking through life unaware, senseless. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the four main characters becomes friendly with the White Witch only to soon discover she isn’t friendly at all. He soon realizes that he is in fact her prisoner, not her friend. As his misery grows he reaches a point where “the only way to comfort himself now was trying to believe that the whole thing was a dream and that he might wake up at any moment.”

Lewis biographer Alan Jacobs quotes Lewis as having written, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”

Our struggle to stay awake at Christmas goes far deeper than late nights with gifts that require assembly, or early mornings with children whose excitement cannot be contained one moment longer. We sleep through the season as we go through the motions of ‘the holidays’ dull to the stunning realities of a true Christmas.

As Lewis wrote, the world is crowded with God. To us – especially in malls and in traffic – the world just seems crowded. We make our way through it as best we can. As we do, we may ignore God’s presence, but we cannot evade it. Our task is to pay attention. To wake up and to stay awake. One of the effects of sin in this world is not to make people bad, but to make them groggy.

What will it mean for you to stay awake this Christmas? As you go through this day, where and how will you attend to the incognito presence of God?

We give you thanks, O God, that while we may sometimes ignore you, we can never evade you. Wherever we look or go, you are there. Wake us up today to your presence. As we learn to see it, grant us grace to point others to it as well, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Thaw

For the creation was subjected to futility . . . (Romans 8:18-25)

Almost a year ago, for my son’s 15th birthday, Marnie had planned to make a special meal featuring fried chicken - something she ventures to cook only for the most special of occasions.

Planning ahead, she gathered everything she would need to make this meal. The following day she would get home from the office and go straight to work on her culinary birthday gift. That was the plan. Until I stepped in. She had asked me to take the chicken and put it in the refrigerator we have in the basement. Without thinking things through I simply assumed that chicken belonged in the ‘freezer’ part of what she was calling the ‘refrigerator.’

The following evening Marnie came home ready to cook only to find the center-piece of the much anticipated meal frozen solid. She was forced to come up with a back-up plan (which was still very good). We’ve all heard of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. But there’s just no way to go from the freezer to the frying pan.

A true thaw takes time.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis introduces us to the land of Narnia. It is a land held captive by a tyrannical ruler, the oppression visibly portrayed in a deep freeze that has Narnia in its grip – “always winter but never Christmas,” we’re told.

But we’re also told that Narnia has a true King and this true King has not abdicated his rule. “Aslan is on the move.” As the magisterial Lion Aslan makes his presence known in the drama we see Narnia slowly thawing. Rivers begin to flow full as ice becomes water; green grass penetrates the white shell of ice and snow.

None of this happens quickly. A true thaw takes time, and the land of Narnia has been waiting for a very long time for the day when its lifeless freeze would yield to the warmth of its true King.

There is a line in O Holy Night that says “long lay the world in sin and error pining.” These words capture the deep freeze of Narnia. They describe the world we see around us. They may even say something about the coldness of your own heart during this Advent season.

Aside from the rogue 70 degree day we had last week in Atlanta, December typically arrives with a chill. For many people that chill goes beyond the weather conditions. Our hearts are cold: the pain of grief is exacerbated, money pressures feel intensified, relational fissures can be pushed to the breaking point. By itself, the annual arrival of December does little to mend the broken places of life.

Next week we’ll look more at how the breath of God gives life to what is frozen solid. But for today be encouraged by this. A true thaw takes time. Be patient with what seems cold and lifeless within you. Advent tells us that there is a true King who is on the move.

Where is the deep freeze in your life these days? Pray. Wait. Watch.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel; who mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” We ask this in the name of the long awaited one, Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Things are going to Change

In the past he humbled the land . . . but in the future he will honor Galilee . . . (Isaiah 9:1).

At its core, Advent is a restless season.

This restlessness is characteristic of a life that is neither here nor there; it cannot be content with what is, but what will be has yet to fully take shape. This restlessness is stirred in that disconnect between our seasonal vocabulary of peace and joy and good will, and the undeniable absence of those things in our world. Advent restlessness is rooted in the conviction that something has to change, and that someday it will.

To those who had been brought low, Isaiah promised a future exaltation, a coming honor. In their past God had humbled them. Isaiah’s hope-filled message announced that God would not leave them that way. The darkness in which they walked would yield to the gift of God’s light. He spoke his message, however, to a people living between the times, between yesterday’s humiliation and tomorrow’s coming honor.

If this time of year finds you between the times, looking back on something that brought you low and waiting on something that will lift you up – then you’re in the true spirit of the season, whether it feels that way or not.

Maybe the economy has already done its worst to you. The job you loved isn’t there anymore and now you’re wondering about what will come next. Maybe the relationship that seemed to hold so much promise never came to fruition in something that would last. Maybe your suspicions about the persistent fatigue you’ve lived with have been confirmed. Test results have revealed what you’re up against.

Advent is the in-between season. It is a restlessness that refuses to draw conclusions about life too soon, too quickly. Advent people live between the humbling past and the future with honor, confident that things are going to change. That confidence is not mere positive thinking. It is grounded in God’s character. Things are going to change, and the zeal of the Lord will do it.

God is zealous for his glory and for your good. That might sound strange to you, but it’s true. Isaiah makes repeated references to God’s zeal. This is a part of God’s very nature, God’s personhood. God burns with zeal.

We survive the waiting season because God’s determination is far stronger than our own.

The zeal of the Lord will bring about all that the prophet sees: lifted burdens, ended wars, bourgeoning hope. God will do this in his zeal. It is his work to do, not yours. And that zeal is how you can know that things are going to change.

So don’t draw conclusions about your life right now. Wait. Wait on what our zealous God will do. Love between the times . . . and enter the spirit of the season.

Grant us grace, O God, to live between the times. Sustain us in that place between being brought low and being lifted up again. We yearn for things to change. We yearn for light, and we look to you to bring it to us. Rise up in your zeal and do for us what we could never do for ourselves, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One Road, Two Ways to Travel

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side . . . (Luke 10:31)

If I leave my house to go to Charlotte, NC I’m probably going to end up driving north on I-85. There may be some alternative routes, but around here it is widely understood that the best way to get from Atlanta to Charlotte is on 85. That’s the road for all points north and east.

In the place where Jesus lived the same kind of thinking was at work when it came to making a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. The primary route, perhaps the only route, was a seventeen mile stretch of road that snaked through a gorge known today as the Wadi Kelt. From Jerusalem it was a downhill journey, taking you from 2500 feet above sea level in Jerusalem to 800 feet below sea level in Jericho. The craggy landscape provided good cover for criminals. It was a risky trip – especially if you were alone.

But if you wanted to get to Jericho, that’s the way you went. It didn’t matter who you were. Very religious people walked this road. Thieves walked this road. Samaritans, despised by Jews, made use of this same road. Business travelers also navigated the Jericho road.

For all of them it was the same road. But in Jesus’s story the Religious types and the Samaritan walked that road in very different ways.

All of them came upon a man who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead. The Priest and the Levite “passed by on the other side.” That phrase is used in the story twice. Fearing they would be made unclean they kept their distance.

The Samaritan traveled the road by holding his own plans loosely. When he comes upon the beaten and half-dead man he responds with both emotion and action. He feels compassion and draws near.

Passing by on the other side, and drawing near with compassion are two very different ways of traversing the same piece of earth. Which way will you choose today?

“Passing by” is what we do when we refuse to be interrupted. We’re in a hurry. We’ve got so much to get done. Quite often, we accept passing by as the best we can do when it comes to sharing our world with people we don’t understand. Since it is not overtly hostile, passing by can appear to be polite.

But being polite is not the same thing as being merciful. Mercy must respond to the wreckage it sees. There is an inner response of compassion coupled with the outer response of action.

How will you move through your world today? There’s a good chance you share office space or a neighborhood or a grocery store or a school with people you do not understand or do not like. You may find it easiest to steer clear of them; you’ll stay out of their way and they’ll stay out of yours. But there is a better way to live in this world.

See who is broken. Feel compassion. Draw near. Start a conversation. Invite a story and stick around to hear it. In other words, show mercy. Be a neighbor.

Walk with me through this day, O God, and make me ready for interruptions. Help me to grow dissatisfied with keeping a polite distance from those around me – especially those least like me. Fill me with mercy and help me to love my neighbor, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Avoidance Strategy

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27 He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" 28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"  (Luke 10:25-29)

Sometimes we make things harder than they have to be.

We complicate things that ought to be simple. We delay and procrastinate. We overthink, mentally gnawing on every possibility and every consequence. You could be doing this today with a relationship that hasn’t been right for while or a decision that has serious implications for your career. Maybe at some level, deep within yourself, you know what needs to be done. For now, however, you’re finding ways not to do it.

In most areas of life careful deliberation is wise. Knee-jerk responses are rarely a good way to handle things that matter most to us. But sometimes our careful deliberations are a mask for dragging our feet. Next thing we know, we’re not moving at all. We’re stuck.

An expert Bible scholar sought to engage Jesus in a discussion about ‘eternal life’ and how to get it. He did this by posing a question, the answer to which he already knew. God’s law was fairly straightforward as to the way that leads to life: Love God. Love neighbor.

Love God with all that you are, every aspect of your being: your thoughts, your emotion, your will. Yield yourself entirely to God. and along with that – actually, because of that – you are to love your neighbor with the same kind of love you show to yourself.

End of discussion. Do this and you will live.

But the Bible scholar couldn’t leave it at that. He had a follow-up question. He wanted to split hairs, pressing Jesus for precision on the word ‘neighbor.’ And this set the stage for one of the greatest stories Jesus ever told. A story about mercy.

This week we’ll be thinking about Jesus’s story and what it means to live as people who show mercy to those around us. Let’s not make this harder than it is. Showing mercy doesn’t demand that you make a journey around the globe or get a piece of legislation through congress. The neighbor is close at hand and the needs are there to be seen if we’ll pay attention.

Is there anything in your life today that you’ve complicated to the point of doing nothing at all? Don’t let careful deliberations or thoughtful questions become a strategy for avoidance.

Very often, O God, your word is clear. You guide our steps but we are hesitant to go where you lead. Forgive our tendency to make things hard, to overthink and under act. Grant us grace to live a merciful people in the places you lead us this day, by the power of your Spirit, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tomorrow's Troubles

Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow . . . (Matthew 6:25-34).

Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” (Exodus 16:16-21)

So many of the worries we live with today aren’t about today; they are about days yet to come. Jesus said tomorrow would take care of itself – but it doesn’t hurt to get a jump on things, or so we think.

When God provided manna in the desert he gave his people some clear instruction on how it was to be gathered. They were to collect only what was needed for that day, no more, no less. The manna could not be stored overnight; they could not carefully ration out one day's allotment so as to be sure that there would be breakfast the next morning. The story is thousands of years old, but little has changed. God still does what he said he would do. And we still do what God told us not to do.

As for God, he has forever been and always will be our provider. God knows what you need. God gladly listens to what you want – but he knows perfectly what you need. And what you need will not be withheld. Quite often we express our wants with impatience. We speak of our lack with resentment. Nevertheless, God graciously provides. That’s the way it was in the wilderness. That’s the way it is right now.

And as for us, we cheat. With our worry we scoop up tomorrow’s bread. Gratitude for what we find on the ground today quickly withers in the heat of our anxiety over next week, or next month. We pray on Sunday as Jesus taught us: “Give us this day our daily bread.” But on Monday we break the rules. That’s the way it was in the wilderness. That’s the way it is right now.

God gave these instructions to his people in order to teach them. With every new morning they would learn something about God. Their boldness in his goodness would grow with each sunrise as the dew lifted and the day’s provision lay on the ground. They were learning to trust, to let go.

One can easily imagine that in the darkness of the night, after the day’s manna had been consumed at supper time, after the children were sleeping, some fathers were lying awake and wondering if it would be there again in the morning. Could they depend on what they were learning every day about their God? Could they let go of their anxieties about feeding the family and know that God would provide? Could they sleep?

Surrender is what your soul does in the dark of night that allows you to sleep, at rest in the care of God. We spend a lifetime learning to do this. Every new morning is a chance to learn again or perhaps to learn more.

Next Steps:
Read Exodus 16:16-21. Are any of your worries focused on tomorrow or beyond? What will you learn about the goodness of God today?

Gracious God, you have always been faithful to provide what we need. And yet, we brood over tomorrow as if, for some random and unknown reason, you will forget us. Forgive the fear that keeps us awake at night and the pride that drives us to gather as much as we can each day. Teach us trust you more with every new morning, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Pride of Worry

Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life . . . (Matt. 6:25-34)

Why do we worry like we do?

Jesus could not have been more direct in his instruction to us about this. His meaning was plain. Do not worry about your life – about what you’re wearing or where your next meal will come from. God clothes acres of wildflowers and lilies. God feeds birds and chipmunks and every wild creature. God will care for you.

But still . . . we worry. We may be fine with our wardrobe and the groceries that fill our pantry – but our hearts are endlessly creative in finding ways to do the very thing that Jesus told us not to do. We worry about our children and our health. Grown children worry about their aging parents and their health. We worry about the economy and whether we’ll survive another downsizing. Jesus told us not to do this. We really don’t want to do it. But we do it anyway.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls us to a life of confident trust in God. And yet, we seem determined not to live that way. Jesus tells that our worrying won’t add a single hour to our life, but we seem to think it will. Perhaps the reason we worry, strangely enough, is that we are proud.

Anxious people don’t look proud. To the extent that anxiety is visible at all, we don’t expect to see the visage of a proud person. What we expect is quite the opposite of that. Anxious people look fearful and fidgety; they seem shrouded in a kind of sadness that shows itself in a preoccupied look or presence. Whereas the proud seem to boast in their strength, the anxious seem burdened in their weakness. But push beneath appearances and what we find is surprising. Consider for a moment the words of 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Humble yourselves therefore under God’s mighty hand so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Notice first that the simple command of these two verses is that we humble ourselves under God’s hand. Of course, humbling ourselves is the exact opposite of pride. Pride wants to be above everyone and everything.

Notice further that this humbling is done in a very specific way. As we cast our anxieties on God we are humbling ourselves under his mighty hand. Knowing that we are loved by God, we cast our anxieties on him and in doing so we humble ourselves before him. When we insist on clinging to and feeding our anxieties, constantly gnawing on what-ifs and maybes, we are not being fearful as much as we are being proud.

Next Steps:
This week we’ll get honest about our worries as we listen to Jesus words in Matthew 6:25-34. For starters, read the text and identify the specific reasons Jesus gives us for not living anxiously. What specific worry do you need to throw off today, casting it on your loving and powerful God?

Forgive us, O God, for living our days as if the things that truly matter depend upon us. Grant to us the humility that works hard while worrying less, casting our cares on you because we know you care for us. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Father Issues

Our Father in heaven . . . (Matt. 6:9)

Craig Barnes opens his fine book, Searching for Home, by telling the story of his father’s funeral.

Barnes shares that he rarely, if ever, heard from his Dad. His father had left the family years ago and they never knew for sure where he was. One day someone called to tell them that the father they didn’t really know had died. He had been living in a small trailer in Florida.

After the funeral, Barnes recalls, he and his brother were asked if they cared to look through the trailer to see if there might have been anything that belonged to their father that they wanted to keep. Barnes recalls finding something that he remembered from childhood: a three-ring leather notebook that held his used-to-be-preacher Dad’s sermon notes and assorted reflections. At the back of the notebook Barnes made a stunning discovery.

Across the top of a fresh page was written “Daily Prayer List.” The first two names on the list belonged to my brother and me. A bit further down he even included the name of our mother, his long-divorced wife. I had assumed that Dad has forgotten us, or that when it came to the mental file marked ‘family’ he had somehow found a way to press ‘delete.’ But we were there in his prayers on his last day. (Barnes, Searching for Home, 9-12)

Barnes’ powerful story reminds us that we need to do some work and clear the ground before we can truly pray the words Jesus gave us – especially those opening words: “Our Father in heaven.” There are some ‘Father issues’ that we need to deal with.

First, we’re reminded that the word Father does not always evoke pleasant and endearing thoughts. Father can be a pain-laden word spoken by pain-laden people. The word gets caught in the throat and becomes a block to prayer rather than a help in drawing us to God. But we don’t define God by our life experience. God defines us and helps us make sense of our life experience, both the blessed and the not so blessed.

Second, there are some who hear “in heaven” and think that God is distant and aloof, unavailable and uninterested in us. This isn’t so. Granted, there will be times when we feel that way, but our feelings are not always reliable in matters of prayer.

When you have no idea where God is in your life, when you can’t remember the last time you heard from God, when your efforts to find him seem to come up empty, you can be sure of this: God knows exactly where you are. God will not abandon his children. Your name is in his book and your life is held firmly in his hand.

The word Father may give rise to gratitude. It may give rise to grief. But in the end we only know the Father by looking at the Son. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Gracious God, we thank you for fathers who blessed us. We ask you to fill us with grace toward fathers who didn’t. And we pray that you will teach us what fathers and mothers are meant to be as we look to you and your son. Teach us to pray with our eyes on Jesus, coming to you as our good and faithful Father, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Thinking Well

We must break ourselves of the habit of thinking of the Creator as we think of His creatures. It is probably impossible to think without words, but if we permit ourselves to think with the wrong words, we shall soon be entertaining erroneous thoughts; for words, which are given us for the expression of thought, have a habit of going beyond their proper bounds and determining the content of thought. "As nothing is more easy than to think," says Thomas Traherne, "so nothing is more difficult than to think well." If we ever think well it should be when we think of God.

(A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 22)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Smoldering Embers

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment (Matt. 5:22).

Tragedy and heartache do not recognize holidays; they do not take vacations. Inexplicable pain always seems to make an ill-timed arrival.

So it was on Christmas morning 2011. In Stamford, Connecticut a rambling and impressive home, aged and under renovation, went up in flames in the dark of early morning. On a day when little girls should have been thundering down the stairs to discover what was under the tree, two seven year old twins and their nine year old sister perished in the fire along with their grandparents. Many of us were probably buffered from the grief of the story by the noise and busy-ness of our own celebrations. If we heard of it, we couldn’t dwell on it – not on Christmas day.

We ask but never get an answer as to why such things happen. In the days that followed this event, however, investigators did discover an answer as to how it happened. Smoldering embers from the fireplace had been shoveled out and placed in a container in the mud-room of the house. The fire was dormant, but not extinguished. Eventually what was unseen and smoldering came to life with a flame, and the flame became a conflagration.

The anger we carry within our heart is like smoldering embers. The danger is unseen, no smoke, no obvious threat. But the fire is there nonetheless and if left unattended those smoldering embers will soon become a flame. Our deceptive hearts are capable of masking anger while at the very same time stoking it and feeding it. We smile at the world and perform pleasantries with our neighbors while harboring bitter thoughts and painful memories.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus connects words spoken in anger with the act of murder. The sharp and abusive tongue has its roots in the same soil as the violent hand. Both come from a heart that carries anger. James 3:5 likens the tongue to a small spark. A careless word can do great damage.

The hot glow of embers will usually go undetected unless we look deep beneath what seems to be harmless in order to discover the fire that is truly there. That’s what Jesus is inviting us to do. We can’t get too comfortable in the knowledge that we will never be prosecuted for the crime of murder. When Jesus takes this well-known commandment and makes us culpable of breaking it with our anger, we are being forced to look deep into our own heart.

Next Steps:
Smoldering embers need to be doused in order to no longer be a threat. Does this work with anger? Along with masking our anger and feeding our anger, we are also capable of simply denying our anger. Which of those are you prone to do? Read Ephesians 4:25-27. How do these verses help you understand the words of Jesus about our anger?

Gracious God, help me to be honest about my anger – and then grant me wisdom to know what to do with it. Help me to discover the smoldering embers in my own heart, and keep me from hiding my anger while feeding it at the same time. Guard me and others from the harm that a divided and angry heart can do, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Most Important Thing About You

"What comes to our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us . . . For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God."

(A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

Friday, September 13, 2013

Blessed are You

Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . (Matthew 5:1-12)

I was trying to figure out what to do with my life and I needed some help.

I attended church, but I really didn’t know my pastor. Right about that time Mercer University, where I was a student, had brought on a new Pastor to the University and he seemed to be a very thoughtful and trustworthy man. I made an appointment to talk with him.

Looking back, I don’t remember the details of my conversation with Dr. C. Welton Gaddy. What I remember now is the way he listened, his comfort with my angst and his counsel that didn’t tell me what to do. Years later during my doctoral work I came across a book he had written. That in itself wasn’t such a big deal. He had authored several books by that time. However the title of this one provoked my curiosity: A Soul Under Siege: Surviving Clergy Depression.

A quick glance at the back cover summarized the story. This man whose counsel I had sought and whom I admired for his wisdom and pastoral sensitivity had hit a wall in his personal and professional life. He had admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital to get help with his depression. He tells of a public “pastor” persona that didn’t square with his deeper inner realities.

Thankfully, he was willing to share the story.

Far too many of us spend our energies working hard to keep up the persona. In the Beatitudes we hear Jesus’s invitation to stop living that way. Jesus names things in us that we might be inclined to hide, the things we don’t admire in others, and he names them blessed. Everyone finds a place in God’s Kingdom. It took a hospital, not a seminary, for Welton Gaddy to understand this. He writes:

"Strange. Who would imagine that ‘equality under the law’ lauded by our most basic civil documents and the ‘equality under grace’ commended and commanded by Jesus Christ would be implemented most dramatically among people considered ‘not quite right.’ Yet here in the mental-health unit of a hospital, among people sometimes labeled as aberrations of society, was the realization of one of our society’s most elusive aspirations" (p.114)
Gaddy then makes a direct application to the church. He notes that “no person is a member of the church because of superiority to other persons . . . In any community of God’s people two certainties persist – life can be put right for anybody and something is wrong with everybody.”

When we read the beatitudes let’s stop asking “who is Jesus talking about.” Let’s give up on trying to identify with “them.” The best response is simply gratitude, thankfulness that we too are included in this God–ruled reality because of Jesus and his grace.

Next Steps:
Jesus speaks ‘blessed’ over you. The real you. All of you. Live this day in that confidence and be thankful. And show the gratitude by blessing someone else.

We give you thanks, O God, for the kindness that includes us in the community of your people. We give you thanks for the freedom that comes with knowing that something is wrong with everybody and that life can be made right for anybody. We thank you for the gift of your blessing, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The First Word

Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . (Matthew 5:1-12)

The one word of the beatitudes that we all know best is perhaps the one word we understand the least.

The word Jesus uses over and over in an almost rhythmic fashion is ‘blessed.’ When the beatitudes are read aloud this word provokes a slight discomfort. Are we to pronounce it as a two syllable word as in ‘bless-ed’ or do we end it with a ‘t’ on the end?

Beyond the minor issue of pronunciation there is the deeper question of meaning. Jesus is telling us who is blessed, but it isn’t clear exactly what their state of blessedness means. Some translators have used an alternative and equally acceptable rendering of the Greek word and given us ‘happy’ in place of blessed.

As for the question of pronunciation, let’s agree that it really doesn’t matter. And as for the meaning of ‘happy’ as compared to the more familiar ‘blessed,’ we’ll come back to that later in the week. What we will observe today is the simple placement of the word in the beatitudes. Nine times ‘blessed’ is used and every time it comes first.

Inevitably, the beatitudes draw us into discussions about who is blessed: Who are the poor in spirit, the merciful, the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted? These are important discussions because the ‘who’ truly does matter. But each of those designations is preceded by the word ‘blessed.’ Enjoying the favor of God comes first, and in this we see the heart of our good news to the world.

In The Divine Conspiraccy, Dallas Willard carefully and persuasively cautions us against treating the beatitudes like a list of goals, as if by cultivating a particular quality of character we will thereby enjoy blessing. Not so says Willard. “Whatever the point of the Beatitudes, it cannot be that they state conditions that guarantee God’s approval, salvation, or blessing” (p. 115).

We do not become poor in spirit or meek or merciful or pure of heart and then find favor with God. In other words, God’s favor or blessing is not something we achieve or earn. We do not show ourselves worthy of receiving it. It is simply given – and it is given to these who seem least likely to be included among the recipients.

Being blessed is not an achievement; we neither earn it nor deserve it. And yet we spend so much energy trying to do just that. Could it be that it is our striving for blessing, the drive to prove ourselves worthy, that often keeps us from experiencing true blessedness?

Next Steps: 
Who do you typically think of as the ‘unlikely’ or ‘unimpressive’ in your world? Be specific. Who will you encounter today that strikes you as one of the world’s benchwarmers in the game of life? Make a plan to bless them – to show them favor and dignify them with your kindness for no reason at all. Make ‘bless’ the first word in what you do today.

Gracious God, your blessing and favor are given to us freely. Grant that we might give it to others, without regard for their status or smarts or skill, without calculating how we might benefit from the kindness we show. Help us to bless as you have blessed us we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Who Gets In?

 Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . (Matthew 5:2-12)

For at least one more year I’m still driving carpool in the mornings.

Next year my son will be eligible to drive to school and park on campus. The key word in the sentence is ‘eligible.’ Whether he’ll actually have anything to drive and park there remains to be seen, but the possibility exists nonetheless.

What I’m noticing this year is that my route to the carpool line takes me past the other carpool lines of years gone by. I drive by the middle school line, always lengthy and slow, and I’m thankful to no longer be a part of that. After a right hand turn I drive by the lower school line, somewhat amazed at the years that separate me from that experience and how it only seems like weeks now. The final stop is at the upper school where both of my kids are now students.

Having two ‘high school’ students means that the college horizon looks much closer than it used to. Within a year we’ll be making real college visits, something we’re already talking about. With every such conversation there is an underlying theme, constantly present though not always verbalized: “Who gets in?”

What will it take for my child to be a part of that community (name the school)? Do they have the grades to get in? Are schools looking at test scores or leadership potential or personal initiative – and will they find those things in my son or daughter?

Who gets in? This much can be said with certainty: Not everyone.

Living with this reality may explain why we have a hard time with the way Jesus opens his Sermon on the Mount. He begins by pronouncing a series of ‘beatitudes’ or expressions of blessing, telling us what it takes to be a part of a God-governed community. Jesus is telling us that this community is for everyone; those with the least impressive transcripts can get in.

Dallas Willard explains, “The religious system of his day left the multitudes out, but Jesus welcomed them all into his kingdom. Anyone could come as well as any other” (Divine Conspiracy, p. 116)

That sounds nice, but the longer we think on it the less we like it. Deep down we know that this isn’t the way the ‘real’ world works. So we tend to take Jesus statements and make them goals to achieve. As if we get in by being poor in spirit or merciful or meek or pure in heart. But Jesus is not giving us goals or providing us with a checklist for admission.

Jesus’s beatitudes leave no place for our craving to achieve and the pride that comes with it. The doors to this community are opened wide. The hard question: Does that sound like good news to you?

Next Step:
This week we’ll focus on the beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12. Take time to read them now. Which of Jesus’s statements least stir your admiration or aspirations? And which do so the most?

By your grace, O God, teach us to see others as you see them; help us to bless those whom you bless; make us willing to embrace all whom you have embraced. And remind us that we ourselves have been included in your blessed community only through Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Thursday, September 05, 2013


Therefore, everyone who hears these word of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Matthew 7:24).

A few months ago one of my neighbors came over and asked to take a look at my basement.

Years ago the previous owners of our home had had some waterproofing work done by a certain company and my neighbor was interested in seeing a sample of their work. His needs, however, went beyond waterproofing. He had known for some time that the basement wall in his home was bowing in. What was once a slight curvature had become a protrusion that needed to be addressed.

Fixing a foundation problem like this is expensive. Ignoring it can be catastrophic.

Experts in foundation repair advise us that problems with a home’s foundation are often indicated by relatively minor clues. A slope of the kitchen counter or floors, more than an inch over 20 feet or so, could suggest a problem. A door that sticks when it is shut or a crack in the drywall – these little things may be pointing to a deeper problem. They may be telling us to look beyond the floors and doors and walls to the condition of the foundation.

Our fear is this: if we look closely we may see something we’d rather not know. Fixing it may be difficult, but ignoring it will be disastrous. Every structure we see is built on some kind of foundation, and the soundness of the structure depends upon the soundness of that foundation. The part that is never is seen is the critical piece to the whole, holding it up and holding it together.

Every life you see is built on some kind of foundation. There are no exceptions. Every person you know and every stranger that walks by you in an airport or on the street is an engineer. Every one of us wakes up each day to an ongoing construction project called “life” and every one of us has chosen something upon which to build.

Jesus, a master teacher, concluded his Sermon on the Mount with a timeless word picture. Contrasting a foundation of rock with a foundation of sand, he invited us to consider the foundations of our lives. Upon what have we chosen to place the weight of our lives? Is the foundation solid, sound, worthy of the life we’ve been given?

Next Steps: Consider the following:
1. What have you chosen to bear the weight of your sense of well-being, your confidence that the life you’re building is strong?
2. And have you ever detected a small indication that the foundation may not be sound? What might these be in your life?

Grant us your wisdom, O God, as we seek to build our lives. With each day’s decisions and actions help us to build well. And give us courage to examine the ways in which we have placed the weight of our lives on something other than you, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Know Excuses

Therefore, everyone who hears these word of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Matthew 7:24).

The city of Atlanta is ringed by a massive interstate highway known in these parts as ‘the perimeter’ – I-285. This highway was supposedly completed in 1969. As best I can tell, they’ve never stopped working on it.

These days along the part of I-285 that is closest to my house mobile electronic signs are constantly flashing a familiar warning: some variation of “Weekend Road Work. 3 Lanes closed.” Interpreted, the sign says “Do not dare come this way between Friday night and Monday morning.” At the very least, the flashing sign is an invitation to do some creative driving. What route will I choose to avoid that stretch of highway? Sadly, the alternative routes I choose are often no better than the highway, but that doesn’t keep me from trying.

In his highly regarded book on the Sermon on the Mount, The Divine Conspiracy, the late Dallas Willard states that “Jesus seemed to understand that we would do almost anything to avoid simply doing what he said” (p. 274). The words of Jesus are widely admired. To a lesser extent, perhaps, they are believed. But the degree to which they are practiced is another matter. Indeed, the believers are often most adept at avoidance strategies.

This isn’t surprising. Before concluding his ‘sermon’ Jesus acknowledged that the way of life he was describing was a “narrow way.” When it comes to the weekend road work near my house, I would do almost anything to avoid the narrow way. That’s why Dallas Willard’s statement gets my attention.

Believing what Jesus says isn’t the problem. Practicing what Jesus says is where we run into trouble. Willard is calling us out, naming our tendency to look for alternative routes. We are good and finding reasons why we cannot do what Jesus has said.

The life to which Jesus calls us is a narrow way – but ‘narrow’ does not mean ‘blocked.’ We are prone to admire the Sermon on the Mount while at the same time dismissing it as unreasonable; rather than discipleship, we practice ‘dismissal-ship.’ Admiration without application.

Here on the threshold of the Sermon on the Mount we would do well to know our excuses. Let’s name them for what they are. Don’t forfeit the game before stepping on the field. Take a step on this narrow way and ask for grace to walk it. That’s the only way this way can be traveled.

Next Step:
As you read through Matthew 5-7, are there specific teachings that seem beyond your capacity to follow or practice? Why do you think so? Be honest about where you’ve come up with avoidance strategies.

How easy it is, O God, to admire the things you say without believing that we can actually live according to your word. Forgive us for our excuses, our quest for alternatives to your narrow way. Help us to obey, living in your power, doing what we could never do on our own. Live your life through us today, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Where Did He Go?

After leaving them he went up on a mountainside to pray (Mark 6:45).

Jesus told us to seek and we shall find, but there are days when it doesn’t work that way.

Our failure to find God in the rhythms of the everyday isn’t for lack of trying. The seeking doesn’t lead to finding, or perhaps the seeking and finding are separated by long waiting.

Belief is not the problem. We readily affirm that God is at work every day in the everyday. We acknowledge that God is present with us. But in the contour of our everyday living there are barren stretches where God is not found. We conclude that God has left us.

We wouldn’t be the first to come to such a conclusion. Many centuries ago this same kind of experience led the Psalmist to ask “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). In his dying anguish Jesus picked up the line and prayed it from the cross.

Mark’s gospel provides us with story after story that show us the different ways that Jesus shows up, making appearances here and there, revealing God in the everyday. There are however at least two instances when Jesus absents himself from the scene of what is happening.

He isn’t showing up. He’s taking off.

In one instance, Jesus gets up early and leaves the house where he and the disciples are staying and goes away to a solitary place to pray. Mark uses the same verb twice in the sentence. He tells us that Jesus “went out” and “went away” (Mark 1:35).

The second instance followed the feeding of the five thousand when the disciples were getting in a boat to head to Bethsaida. Jesus didn’t join them. Mark tells us that “after leaving them he went up on a mountain to pray” (Mark 6:45).

Both instances result in anxiety and fear for Jesus’ followers. In the first instance they are searching for Jesus because so many people have needs and want his attention. In the second instance they are caught in a storm and fighting the elements of nature.

And in both instances, while the disciples are in angst, Jesus is at prayer.

To the followers of Jesus it seemed that Jesus had left them to themselves; he isn’t where he’s supposed to be; he isn’t there when they need him. But in both times Jesus is exactly where is supposed to be. He is praying. He was praying then – and he prays even now.

When it’s hard to find God in the everyday these stories are God’s gift to encourage us. Jesus has not abandoned us, even when it seems that he has. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that even now Jesus prays for us. “He always lives to intercede for them.” That includes us and all who come to God through him. (Hebrews 7:25).

Our efforts to find God in the everyday sometimes leave us perplexed. “Where did he go?” He goes to God for you, intercedes for you. Jesus is praying for you right now – and that knowledge can change the everyday of any day.

Lord Jesus, we give you thanks that when we don’t know how to pray for ourselves you pray for us. You have promised never to leave us or forsake us, and we claim that promise today. When we struggle to find you in the midst of our days, strengthen us with the knowledge of your eternal intercession on our behalf. Amen.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rest . . . A Learned Behavior

Take my yoke upon you . . . and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 11:28-29)

Jesus told us that his yoke was easy and his burden light.

Perhaps at some point in your life you believed him. You looked to his grace. You took his yoke upon you just as he said to do. But having taken his yoke you find you’re still plowing your own row. You feel the tension when Jesus moves in a direction you’d rather not go, when he plods along at a pace that feels far too slow.

You’ve taken his yoke, but it hasn’t been easy.

When we were children summer was naturally a time for play. Then we grew up and the play became far less natural. Adults have a way of turning their play into work. Our summer pace is often as relentless as it is at any other time of year. To rest takes effort; we have to re-learn what we once knew instinctively.

In our spiritual life we are frequently dismayed when we discover that the rest to which Jesus calls us has to be learned. We are not naturally inclined to move with him as we walk in his power. Taking the yoke is followed by learning the way; rest is found in both the taking and the learning.

In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus possibly borrowed language from rabbinic and wisdom sayings in Judaism. He knew about the “yoke of wisdom” and the “yoke of the law.” His words bear some similarity to these words of Jeremiah.

This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls (Jeremiah 6:16).

Jeremiah seems to be telling us that the paths that lead to rest are not obvious. These ancient paths need to be sought out. We have to ask about where they are and how to find them. In other words, we have to learn to walk in this good and ancient way. The learning leads to the walking and the walking leads us to rest for the soul.

When it comes to the Jesus way, we are always learners. Jesus uses the raw material of your life to teach you the ancient paths and led you to rest. That includes every detail of this day that has yet to unfold.

Enter the day with an eagerness to learn. Be patient with yourself. Risk making a mistake, and lean hard on God’s mercy and grace. Don’t dismiss anything you have planned or anything that comes up today that didn’t fit into your plans. God is using it all to form the likeness of Jesus in you.

Do just what Jeremiah said: ask for the ancient and good paths that lead to rest. And do just what Jesus said: learn from him. In the asking and learning you will find rest for your soul.

Lord Jesus, my prayer today is a quest for the ancient paths. I’m asking you to show me the way that is right and good. By the presence of your Holy Spirit, be my teacher today. Help me to learn your ways as I take your yoke and walk with you. Lead me to the rest you so freely offer. Amen

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Not So Great Expectations

So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them (Acts 3:5).

I am married to an optimist. After seventeen years you might think that some of that optimism would have rubbed off on me. It hasn’t happened, much to the chagrin of my dear wife.

My problem doesn’t merit a diagnosis. As far as I know I’m not depressed. But there’s something in the wiring of my brain that predisposes me to see what won’t work, what might go wrong, what won’t happen according to plan.

On most days this sour inclination is simply annoying, to both me and my wife. But there are times when the knee-jerk woes are more than irritating. They are an affront to God. Pessimism is a nest that allows faithlessness to hatch into other things like anxiety and bitterness and lack of trust. None of these make for a life of robust faith.

In Acts 3 we’re told about a man who took a beggar’s post every day near the gate called Beautiful. The story says nothing abut his internal world – hopeful or desperate, optimistic or pessimistic. All we know is that he can’t walk. Never has walked. He lives by the pity and generosity of others. Carried by others, he is placed near the gate and waits for those moving about on two good legs to notice him and be moved to part with their spare change.

His expectations don’t appear to be high. As Peter and John make their way to the temple to pray, the beggar asks for money, but he doesn’t ask with real anticipation. He mouths his request but doesn’t really take notice of Peter and John. Peter has to get his attention. “Look at us,” Peter says.

The beggar looks, and here we get a glimpse into his expectations. He turns to Peter expecting to get alms. He hears Peter’s summons as a call to extend the hand and receive the only income he can manage to collect. The beggar expected a few more coins, but he received so much more than he expected. Peter has no coins to give, no silver, no gold. But what he does have is power, and he gladly gives it. With authority, in the name of Jesus, Peter tells the beggar to walk.

Our expectations, it seems, are often defined by our experience. Faith is not. Faith has veto power over repeated experiences that breed low expectations.

Jesus confronts our low expectations and invites us to live by faith. Perhaps we live far too many of our days like the beggar, content to get what we need to survive, but never dreaming that anything more than mere survival might be possible. Our expectations get conditioned by a handful of coins, but God in his power makes us stand up and leap about and worship. Is this day already defined for you by all your yesterdays? What would it mean to live this day by faith?

Lord Jesus, any and every day can bring the unexpected. Give me the kind of faith that is ready and attentive for whatever you might be doing around me. Raise my sights above the routine and familiar. Let the miracles that unfold in ordinary things move me to worship and praise you. Amen.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Cost of Hurry

The fruit of the Spirit is . . . patience (Gal. 5:22)

Mark Buchanan’s fine book The Rest of God relates a story handed down through several generations of his wife’s family. This piece of lore tells about his wife’s grandmother Alice, who lived in a part of the Yukon known for luring gold-hunters willing to take great risks for the sake of great riches.

Grandma Alice had a garden in which there sat a massive stone. In as much as the stone would never be moved, Alice worked hard to beautify it and make it the natural centerpiece of the garden. She regularly polished the stone, rubbing it down to a smooth shine.

On one such occasion, as she polished the stone, she noted a fine caking of gold colored flakes. Pressing her moist finger to the stone she discovered a powdery gold-dust. Whatever it was that seized men and threw them into the raw elements to strike gold seized grandma Alice that day. She began to rub the stone feverishly, “like it was a bloodstain,” seeing the powdery gold accumulate with every stroke.

As weariness caught up with her she paused to wipe her brow, and then noticed with horror her left hand. Her wedding band was nearly as thin as a wire on the underside of her finger, thick and normal up top. In her eagerness, she had been grinding away her wedding band, chasing a treasure which wasn’t there at the expense of a treasure that was.

Buchanan reflects on the episode this way:

I’ve squandered treasures in pursuit of dust. I’ve eroded precious, irreplaceable things in my efforts to extract something that’s not actually there . . . Here are a few: all the times I never swam in a cool lake with my children, made a snowman or baked sugar cookies with them, lingered in bed with my wife on a Saturday morning, or helped a friend in need all because I was in a hurry to – well, that’s just it. I don’t remember. I was just in a hurry . . . I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things lie in the wake of all that rushing. Through all that haste, I thought I was making up time. Turns out I was throwing it away. Sanding away my wedding ring. (The Rest of God, 43-45).

To live with patience means to live at a pace that allows us to truly experience life. A hurried life, a life lived anxiously, frenetic and impatient, has a price tag. We grind away our treasures as we chase what we think we must have, only to find we haven’t truly lived.

How does Buchanan’s story speak to your life? What treasures are you sacrificing because of hurry? What would it take to break that pattern?

Lord Jesus, I am too often in a hurry. I feel the push of expectations and demands, of schedules tightly packed. Grant me the kind of patience that resists hurry, and teach me to live the abundant life that you came to give, threough Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Help Wanted

From where does my help come? (Psalm 121:1)

Sooner or later we all need help.

All of us know this is true. Some of us are slow to admit it. And when it comes to actually asking for help, that’s a different matter entirely. I have known good people who would do anything thing for me. If their presence was needed, they’d be right there. If something else was needed, they’d give it if they had it.

But the last thing in the world they would ever do is ask for help. To do so would be a violation of some unspoken code of honor. It would be an imposition on others and an embarrassment to themselves. They will give you the shirt off their back, as the saying goes. But they’ll freeze to death before asking for the same.

Very often we gage the largeness of a soul by its capacity to give help. We recognize depth of heart by its willingness to feel compassion and be present to someone who is in need. But perhaps this isn’t an entirely accurate way to assess the health of the human soul. A willingness to receive help may reveal just as much about a person as their willingness to give it.

Here’s the danger: Just as a willingness to give help speaks to our benevolence, the refusal to accept help from others may point to a subtle pride. We love to play the hero, though never overtly seeking applause. But we dread being seen as needy and insufficient. Thus, we gladly go to the rescue. We never call for help.

Psalm 121 begins with the assumption that we need help. The Psalm opens with the Psalmist looking for help – looking around at the hills. Eugene Peterson argues that this ‘looking to the hills’ actually refers to places of idol worship, the site of shrines and Ashera poles that tempted God’s people to faithless disobedience. The sight of these false places of worship gave rise to a question: “Where does my help come from?”

That we need help is never questioned. The only question has to so with where we will find it. The answer is given immediately. “My help comes from the Lord.” This kind of help is constant, faithful, never failing, life-long. This isn’t simply help that we need. This help we want. We seek it every day because we need it every day.

What do you need help with today: A decision, a relationship, a circumstance in your life that will not change, or a change in your life you didn’t want? There is no simpler prayer than “help me.” And the God to whom we pray is an “ever present help in trouble.”

We give you thanks, O God, for your faithful help. Grant us grace that we might humbly seek it, knowing that your sufficiency is demonstrated in our need. Help us today, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


The Lord is your shade on your right hand (Psalm 121:5)

During August in Southern Oklahoma a light breeze is an epiphany, evidence that there is a God in heaven and that this God is good. Add some shade from a decent sized tree, and you’ve got something akin to the parting of the Red Sea and water from the rock.

On more than one occasion I’ve mentioned the congregation I served in Oklahoma during my seminary days. In this church a “building program” meant more than raising money. It meant that we actually built the building, as in hammering things together. We started our “building program” in August, a time of year in Oklahoma in which the sun can work on your flesh like a convection oven.

Thankfully, the front part of our property was graced by the presence of a rather large tree. That may not sound like such a big deal, but trees of respectable size in southern Oklahoma are a treasure. A small rise in the ground served as a kind of pedestal for the tree, and this is where we would sit when it was time to stop work and enjoy the sandwiches and fried chicken that had been brought to us for lunch. And occasionally, just every now and then, that rise in the ground would catch a breeze, a gift of grace. Whenever I think of the way God guards us and the grace that sustains us I remember that tree. Never in my life have I been so thankful for shade.

However, the presence of that tree and the shade it gave us did not change the reality in which we lived and worked. The tree gave us shade but it did not drive away the heat or diminish the intensity of the sun. The shade gave us a refuge in the middle of the day, but it did not exempt us from the conditions of late summer in Oklahoma.

Psalm 121 says that “the Lord is your shade at your right hand.” Connected to this image is the promise that the sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. But these dangers and the threats they represent are still very real. In his commentary on Psalm 121, John Calvin takes pains to explain that the Psalmist does not “promise the faithful a condition of such felicity and comfort as implies an exemption from all trouble.” We are not exempt, but we are covered.

On those blistering days of work in the flat wide-open spaces of Oklahoma, all it took was one tree. That one tree gave us refuge. Whatever conditions you’re living in today, remember that there is always shade to be found. There is a place to rest and regroup. “The Lord is your shade at your right hand.”

We give you thanks, O God, for the shade you provide when conditions are too much for us. You do not always spare us the pain of what they bring – but you cover us with grace to endure. You are indeed a refuge for us, and we find our strength in the shadow of your wings. Cover us with your grace in all that this day may bring, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Your Next Move

He will not let your foot slip . . . (Psalm 121:3).

Some people are always looking for the next thing. You may be one of those people. You may be pondering the next trip, the next deal, the next semester, the next date. You may see exactly where you’re headed and you’ve got a pretty good idea of how to get there. Or maybe not.

You may have no idea what’s next. A lack of clarity may have you stuck. Maybe even a lack of courage. Maybe your next move is confronting you with some equally attractive or equally dreadful options. Which one to take?

The movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is the story of a young chess prodigy, Josh Waitzkin. The film follows Josh’s rise to national prominence, culminating in the match for the national title – a match played against another young genius who, in a previous match, had caused Josh to doubt himself and his abilities.

At one point in this national title match Josh loses a key piece, the queen, to his opponent. Josh is clearly rattled. He turns his gaze intently to the board, imagining in his mind a blank playing surface. Everything around him seems to vanish as he calculates his next move and the likely responses from the player seated opposite him.

With each move captured on a TV monitor, Josh’s coach and parents watch nervously from another room. At this critical moment in the match, the coach sees the path to victory. He whispers to monitor: “It’s there Josh. It’s only twelve moves away. Don’t move until you see it.” Josh gazes at the board until those twelve moves unfold in his mind, and then he sees it. You can probably guess how the story ends.

At times, I’ve tried to look at my life the way Josh Waitzkin looked at that chess board. I’ve wanted to see the next twelve moves unfold, a clear path to the win or at least the best outcome. God does grant to some a visionary gift, but most of us cannot see the next twelve moves. Typically life is lived one move at a time. The chess coach urged Josh not to move until he could see the win. By contrast, God asks us not to stand still. We make the next move and trust God for the one after that.

Psalm 121 gives us words to pray when we’re pondering the next move. We are reminded over and over that God will “keep” us. The Psalm makes no promises as to what will come our way as we move ahead. Threats and risks are real. We don’t get twelve moves to the win in Psalm 121.

Take time to look carefully at the blank board. See as deeply as you can into what lies in front of you. But do not expect to see every move. At some point simply make the next move. Step into this day trusting God to do what he has promised to do. He will not let your foot slip.

What next move are you pondering and praying about today?

Guide us, O God, to whatever comes next. Give us grace for the next move, knowing that you make our steps firm. We ask you to confirm the right direction and correct what is misguided. We trust you to do this work in us as we seek to follow you and serve you with our lives. Let our next move – and every move – bring us more in line with your will, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, June 10, 2013

He neither Slumbers nor Sleeps

He who keeps you will not slumber . . . (Psalm 121:3).

The things that matter most to you matter to Jesus.

Let that sink in for a moment as you begin this day. Remind yourself of this as the day unfolds. What you care about, Jesus cares about. Every concern is noted, every restless thought registered. There is not a detail of your life today that escapes the notice of the living Christ.

And yet, while Jesus stands with us in our storms, but he doesn’t share our fear. Whatever it is that keeps us up at night doesn’t have God pacing the heavens, wringing hands that formed the earth and sky and sea.

Psalm 121 tells us that “the God who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121:4). The same can be said of your life. In this Psalm of eight verses, God is spoken of eight times as a guardian or one who guards. God watches over your life with a constant vigilance. This confident Psalm will be the focus of our attention this week.

God may never slumber or sleep, but sometimes we wonder. There is a story in Mark 4 where Jesus – the word-made-flesh – took a nap. He dozed off just as the threat of a storm was approaching. The disciples couldn’t understand this. How can he be sleeping? Doesn’t he care?

We don’t understand it either. Their questions are our questions. Jesus may be present, but that doesn’t mean much if he isn’t paying attention to what’s happening.

If every good story has some element of tension, Mark creates this by highlighting the contrast between the fearful disciples and the sleeping Jesus. Waves are slapping the boat, pounding with a spray that stings; curling up high and spilling into the craft.

So many details are left out. What did they do to help themselves? No doubt, they did what they could to manage the situation. Maybe they bailed water or pulled at the riggings. We do this kind of thing in our storms. “Why bother Jesus with this?” But as our anxieties escalate the sleeping figure of the Christ eventually begins to bother us, even anger us. We reach a point of exasperation where we cry out, “do you not care that we are perishing?” Ever prayed a prayer like that?

But here’s the gospel – good news! Jesus does now what he did then. Just as he spoke peace to the elements of nature, he can speak peace today to broken hearts and fractured homes and war-torn nations. We are sometimes tempted to despair because it seems that Jesus is sleeping, out of touch. He isn’t. We see and feel a threat. Jesus does not. We see catastrophe. Jesus speaks command. We’re eaten up with anxieties. Jesus exudes peace. And he brings that peace to bear on the storm itself.

Our reflections this week will be aimed at putting some steel in your faith. Our God is ever vigilant. He will not let your foot slip. So what is it that robs you of peace today? Whatever it is, Jesus has it firmly in hand. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he who watches over you “neither slumbers nor sleeps.”

Merciful God, at times the storms overwhelm me. The storms seem powerful and active, while you seem distant and sleepy. Remind me today that you command the elements of every storm. Give me a fresh vision of your power, and with it grant peace through Christ our Lord. Amen.