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Daily Devotional

Welcoming the Foreigner

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
     - Exodus 22:21

I (Bill) don't know how to run a country or deal with things like national borders. It seems pretty clear from Jesus and the trajectory of scripture (like the above passage from Exodus) that he wants his people to be radically welcoming of foreigners. So, in honor of him, and with a request that we all pray for wisdom for our nation and for families not to be separated, I share with you this poem a friend from City Church shared this week in recognition of World Refugee Day (which was Wednesday):

Home, by Warsan Shire (British-Somali poet)

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.

your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won't let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.

it's not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did -
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.

you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side
with go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage -
look what they've done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child's body
in pieces - for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don't know what
i've become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Mercy Over Judgment

Mercy triumphs over judgment.
     - James 2:13

In four short words, James summarizes Jesus's approach to human beings. There's plenty in our lives, our churches, our communities, and our countries that is worthy of judgment. But that's not how Jesus approaches us. 

Instead, as he did in Nazareth (in Luke 4:14-30, which we've been looking at this week), Jesus leads out with the good news. He pushes people's buttons, challenging them to become as merciful as he was - but that backfired, and they tried to kill him (Luke 4:29). But even then, Jesus did not lift a hand against them. Mercy continued to triumph over judgment. Instead, Jesus would die for the very people in Nazareth who rejected him and tried to throw him off a cliff.

What might it look like for you today to practice mercy that triumphs over judgment? Talk with God about that (and thank God that mercy triumphs over judgment for you).

p.s. Please continue to pray for Kids Camp! It's been an amazing week - and a very tiring one!

You Might Make People Angry

 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

     -Luke 4:25-30

Jesus pressed hard on the people in his hometown to become as radically welcoming as God was. Jesus intentionally referred to stories in the Old Testament about God's love for people outside of Israel. 

As you can tell, there was some real pushback... which is an understatement since they tried to throw him off a cliff! 

If you start to act as inclusively as Jesus, it can make people furious. It can threaten their sense of identity because they want to be the 'in' group, they want to have all the answers, they want God for themselves... and by including others who are different, you are upsetting their system, their culture, their religion, and their whole way of seeing the world. But that's what Jesus did. Would you consider being that inclusive today? Pray about who you can bless and include in your life, your church, your friend group, your world.

Acceptance Can Be Unacceptable

The Spirit of the Lord is on me... to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.  Luke 4:18-19

Jesus continued, "No prophet is accepted in his hometown." Luke 4:24

The original words for 'favor' in 4:19 and for 'acceptable' in 4:24 are actually the same word, with a range meaning something like favor, welcome, acceptance, blessing. When Luke wrote this (in Greek), he captured one of the crucial insights of this moment by using the exact word with two very different responses. It's called irony.

Luke makes sure that we know how ironic it is that Jesus was not accepted precisely because he told people that they were indeed accepted. Jesus had this habit of being wildly welcoming - and those who thought of themselves as on the inside of the religious establishment did not like welcoming those they wanted on the outside. So they put Jesus on the outside.

How many times do we do that?  How many times do we miss out on getting close to Jesus because the kind of people he brings into our lives don't jive with who we want in our lives. We exclude people because of their personality, their class, their education, their skin color, their political views, the sexual orientation, or their religion. Jesus keeps on proclaiming welcome, even when we don't. Maybe it's time for us to confess how uncomfortable Jesus makes us with all the people that he wants to invite into his family with us! 

Take some time to confess the names of people or groups of people you don't feel comfortable with or whom you don't want to be in the family with you. Ask Jesus to forgive you, and to give you more opportunity to be with those people! (he loves answering that prayer).

p.s. Please keep on praying for kids camp - we had 96 kids show up today and had a wild, exciting, and exhausting time focusing on how Jesus meets us in our loneliness.

Good News

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
     - Luke 4:16-19

The poor, the prisoners, the bride and the oppressed were big fans of Jesus. What he had to say to them sounded a lot like good news - freedom and sight and favor. Let's pause and rejoice with those who so freely and naturally experience Jesus as good news.

Today, spend a few moments praying for the 100 kids attending City Church's Kids Camp - a majority of whom live under the poverty level (statistically speaking, as determined by the % of kids at Lafayette who qualify for free lunch) and many of whom have significant struggles at home. Pray that they'd experience Kids Camp and Jesus as good news today.

Also pause and pray for the over 2,000 children who have been separated from their parents at the U.S. border, and are scared, alone, and vulnerable. Pray that Jesus's love would break through this horrible situation for them and bring hope, freedom, and light.

 

Raised from the Dead, Descended from David

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel. 
     - 2 Timothy 2:8
 

Paul gives his young friend Timothy a neat summary here of the gospel. It may not be how we usually think of the gospel, but it's still what Paul calls "the gospel." 

There are two parts to this gospel. The first is that Jesus is "raised from the dead." He's alive - death did not win. That's something only God can do, and is indeed a validation of his divine nature.

"Descended from David" is the other part of the gospel. I take that to mean that he was fully human. He was part of God's story of redeeming humankind that's been going on throughout history, and Jesus brought it to conclusion by being born in that stable in Bethlehem on Christmas morning. 

He Took on Flesh and Blood

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
         - John 1:14, The Message

This week we've been thinking about how Jesus is human and what that means for us. This verse in the Gospel of John gives such a graphic picture of Jesus's true character. He could have commuted from heaven on a fiery chariot, but instead he moved into the neighborhood. You could translate that word in the Greek, "He set up shop here." 

Jesus didn't keep his distance from humanity. He got up close and personal. He got his hands dirty, and his feet stank. He knew the back alleys of his own neighborhood in Nazareth; he attended the weddings for his extended family; and the funerals. He stepped into our world to make absolutely sure that we knew God was not far away and God could understand.

Take some time for this imaginative exercise (another form of prayer): What would it be like to have Jesus live on your street? How would that change how you thought of him? What does that say about how you might be able to grow in your relationship with him now?

The Human One

The Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people. 
      - Mark 10:45, Common English Bible

Jesus referred to himself regularly in his teaching. Some have translated those references as "the Son of Man" and others have translated them as "the Human One." Both are good interpretations of the original Greek. 

"The Human One" can be helpful in reminding us that Jesus was so much like us that he called himself "the  Human One" after all! And if we want to become more like him, all we need to do is become more human. That's because Adam, as the original "human one" (that could be a translation of the Hebrew word 'Adam') was specifically made in God's image. The scriptures teach that every human being since was made in God's image as well. Finally, with Jesus being 'the Human One' we get to see the full force of what it means to be human. It means to be like Jesus.  

The more like Jesus become, the more human we become (and vice versa). That's a good reminder about this journey we're on. It should lead us to be robotic, less like gears in a machine, less 'just a number,' and less like an oversimplified meme on social media. We're each a piece of art (Paul calls us each a poem at one point in Philippians) and this journey towards Jesus is an invitation to be formed by the Spirit into that masterpiece that God originally designed us to be and which he now is working towards creating through Christ.

Take some time in quiet today and ask the Human One to teach you how to be truly human today, and to teach you how to be yourself.

Son of Adam, Son of God

Jesus was... the son of Adam, the son of God.
      - Luke 3:38

Luke 3 contains the genealogy of Jesus - and it's a strange one. It's strange because it goes backwards and because it goes all the way to Adam. That's not how they did genealogies back in the day. So what Luke is doing here is making sure we don't miss something really important - namely, that Jesus is related to us all.

Jesus's human heritage went back to Adam, the original human being (and whether you take Adam literally or figuratively, Adam is still the original!). You and I also trace our heritage back to Adam. And EVERYONE else traces their heritage back to the same Adam. That means

  1. We're all related to Jesus.
  2. We're all related to each other.

If we could get the meaning of this into our head, just imagine how it would change the world. Because we're all related to Jesus, that means that we each have INFINITE value. Jesus dignified what it means to be human when he stepped into our story, into our skin. And because we're all related, that means that no one is better than anyone else, regardless of sex, race, culture, education, economic status, immigration status, orientation, or experience. 

Take some time today to thank Jesus for being fully human, and pray for yourself and your world to be able to value the dignity of our shared humanity.

He's Not Ashamed Of Us

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
            - Hebrews 2:11

Sometimes we can forget that Jesus is FULLY human and what that means. One of the things that stands out to me from this verse is that we are of the same family. We are sisters and brothers with Jesus. Our issues don't cause him to be ashamed of us; he's glad to be identified with us. (That's more than I can say, sometimes!).

My kids often are embarrassed to be identified with me (and, for good reason on occasion!) - but Jesus is not. That means we don't have to put on a happy face or be a 'good religious person' to get his attention or to be acceptable. We've been welcomed into his family. He wants us. He claims us. He's not ashamed to be family with us. We are his and he is ours. Period.

So ponder that today - that Jesus is for you and with you and not embarrassed by you in any way.  You are loved and honored by him (and it's not like he doesn't know your dark side either!). He just plain accepts you and cherishes you. Rest in that though for a few minutes (that's another way to say, "meditate on that").

You're About to Come Alive

“I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you... The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you." - Jesus, in John 14: 18-20, 25

Through the Spirit, Jesus says, we'll know deep down in our bones that he's in his Father, and we're in him, and he's in us...  We're not just observers of the Divine Dance, we're meant to dive in, to link hands with our amazing three-in-one God and kick up our heels and move!  God is inviting us to come alive in a whole new way.

Here's one last image of the Trinity for us to wonder over this week, an image of God's threeness seated at a table to feast and enjoy each other, with a spot left open, waiting just for you.  Take a few moments to close your eyes and imagine this scene, its sounds, scents and textures.  Now ask yourself where you are in picture - at the table, some distance away, eating, serving...  What invitation does Jesus have for you in this moment?

The Dance of Giving & Receiving

After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized. As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” Luke 3:21-22

The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you. - 2 Cor. 12:14

Yesterday we looked at understanding God's triune nature as Divine Dance - a never-ending movement of mutual relationship, a fullness of both individuality and community.  Today let's imagine it also a ceaseless flow of love within God's self and pouring out toward us -  love constantly given, constantly received.

It's often even harder for us to receive love than to pass it on - hard to admit we're needy or to believe we're worthy.  But that's what Jesus models for us.  Before his public ministry begins, before he's done anything to "earn" it, he literally soaks in the love of God - it flows over him in words, water, and movement of the Spirit during his baptism.  2 Cor. 12 reminds us that we're invited to experience this same drenching through our three-in-one God.

Could I suggest a simple prayer for you today?  Find a quiet spot to close your eyes and ask God, as many times as feels helpful to you: "Jesus, would your love pour over me like water?" Then just sit and quietly wait.  You don't need to do anything, and there's no right way to feel or experience God in this moment.  Just wait and be - you are loved.

The Dance of Me and We

Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.  We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord... this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. - Eph. 2:20-22

We took time yesterday to wonder over a bunch of different ways to imagine and try to understand, however imperfectly, God's three-in-oneness as Father, Son and Spirit.  Another is that of Divine Dance, often represented by this Celtic image.

Richard Rohr explains it this way: “The fourth-century Cappadocian Fathers tried to communicate this notion of life as mutual participation by calling the Trinitarian flow a 'circle dance' (perichoresis) between the three. They were saying that whatever is going on in God is a flow that’s like a dance; and God is not just the dancer, God is the dance itself! ... We are invited to join in the dance and have participatory knowledge of God through the Trinity."

In this imagery and in the image of a house we find in Eph. 2, the whole includes distinct parts - our individuality, our ME-ness - but the whole, the WE, is more than the sum of those parts!  Valuing both the ME and the WE is a necessary and tricky part of the dance - our tendency is to put higher priority on one than the other, putting us out of balance.

Take a few minutes this morning to reflect on your dancing partners - first, your connection with God, and then the people who matter most to you.  How are you doing at allowing God to move in your individuality and meet you at your core, at sensing God's voice calling you beloved?  How are you doing allowing God to move in your relationships and weave love and connection and joy into your life?  Talk with God about these things.

In a Mirror Dimly

After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized. As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” Luke 3:21-22

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth… God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. God spoke: ‘Light!’” - Gen. 1-1-3a

God's three-in-oneness is a mystery we see in Scripture but don't fully understand.  As the Apostle Paul confesses, "now we see in a mirror dimly, but then [eventually] face to face."  In the service on Sunday, we explored a variety of images and metaphors that helped us wonder about this God we love.

  • Notice the similarities between Luke 3 and Gen. 1, the God who speaks reality into being, the Spirit hovering over the waters like a bird, the Son spoken by the Father, sent as Light to the world...
  • Look for a moment at the Trinity as represented by an artist commissioned for the Lakota people and as imagined by writer Madeleine L'Engle and then director Ava DuVernay. 
  • Church father St. Augustine meditated on the community of God as Love, Lover & Beloved.
  • St. Ignatius of Loyola understood the Trinity through the fullness and resonance of three notes creating one beautiful chord.

Is there an image that would be helpful for you to sit with today, an image that seems to invite you in more strongly than the others in this moment?  Imagine yourself sitting with this God, knee to knee, face to face, and just be for a few moments.  What emotions does this bring up for you?

Imaging Love

After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized. As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” Luke 3:21-22

God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature…" Gen. 1:28

Lately a favorite activity of the toddlers in my house has been trying on other people's shoes. On the surface it's just a game, mostly cute, occasionally inconvenient for the true owners.  But on a deeper level, they're trying out what it will mean to be big - to grow up like their brother, sister, parents.

What does it mean to be made in the imago Dei, to grow up into the image of God?  From the very beginning, God reveals that an essential part of God's nature is "us-ness," relationship, love.  And as Jesus prepares to launch his public ministry, this is the most important thing for him to remember - it's divine love that marks him and shows him to be his father's son.

Let's take a few minutes to talk with God about being marked by his love.  Maybe it would be helpful to imagine God speaking those words of blessing and affirmation over you - “You are my child, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”  Or maybe it would be more helpful to, like a child trying on her parent's shoes, take people in your life to God in prayer, one by one, and ask God to help you grow into the divine image in your love for them.

Good News

And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. Luke 3:19

When I think of the invitation to allow Jesus into every corner of my heart, to uncover both the beauty and the brokenness (the grain and the chaff), I realize that this is really good news. It’s good news because Jesus is the only one who can handle my sin. After all, as this passage shows, it’s the wind that blows away the chaff, not us. I just need to allow it to be exposed to him, and he’ll handle it. And along the way, Jesus also uncovers the grain in me – the best part of me. This he gathers up; he recognizes it as precious, as useful, as nourishing. Jesus sees the best in me and that’s what he’s after.

No wonder this is called the good news. It’s not just about allowing Jesus to go through this process with us. Isn’t this the very thing that your families and friends and classmates and coworkers need? Don’ they need a Savior who cherishes the best part of them and helps it come out? Don’t they need someone to set them free from their hardness and the things that prevent their goodness from coming out?

If we love someone, how in the world could we not share this great news with them – that there is indeed a Savior who sees them for who they really are and who will rescue them and heal them and bring out the best in them? Pray for an opportunity to share that news with someone today.

Good People vs. Bad People (2)

His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Luke 3:17

Although the people got all riled up at John’s radical ideas and thought of them as politically subversive, I think they missed something. The problem is that John’s message was more subtle and disturbing than the people originally thought. 

It’s too easy to think that ‘evil is out there somewhere’ and that we just need a new political leader to defeat it. The problem with evil is that it’s inside of each of us. The Russian author and political dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it this way:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? 

Talk with Jesus about the evil you see in your own heart. What if that’s where the real problem is?

Good People vs. Bad People (1)

His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Luke 3:17

A lot of times we think of this as “the bad people are the chaff; the good people are the wheat.” We have to understand the image of wheat and chaff to get this scripture right. 

Key insight: each individual grain of wheat contained BOTH the outer protective husk and the inner nutritious kernel. 

In ancient Israel, threshing the wheat meant throwing the ripened stalks up in the air and the wind would catch the lighter husks of wheat and blow them away, while the heavier kernels of wheat would fall to the ground to be gathered up. What’s crucial here is to realize that this was not about good grains of wheat and bad grains of wheat; each grain of wheat had both husk and kernel.

This insight is really helpful when thinking about what John the Baptist is saying here. In the preceding passage John challenged everyone to repent, and he showed what that looked like when he interacted with the worst of the worst – a tax collector and a roman soldier. He did not tell either that they were chaff – that they were bad. Instead, he challenged each of them to let go of the chaff in their own lives (he pushed them not to misuse their power and not to live for their own pleasure). 

So what if the invitation here is not to see the world as “good people” and “bad people” but rather as “people loved by God who have both good and bad in them”? Wouldn’t that free you up to love people (including yourself!) better? Ask Jesus to help you see people the way he does.

Unworthiness vs. Shame

But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. Luke 3:16

John seemed to think he was unworthy to untie Jesus’s sandals. That was a role fit for a slave, and John didn’t feel he was even good enough for that. 

Theologically, it seems that John is right. Jesus is God after all, and compared to God, we are nothing. God is infinite, we are specks of dust; God is eternal, we are the tick of a second; God is omnipotent, we can’t even get the can opener to work half the time. 

And yet, there’s a sense of unworthiness that’s not helpful, because it can turn to shame. We can feel more unworthy than is appropriate. Or perhaps it’s best to say, we can feel shameful – and that’s never appropriate. 

You see, Jesus had no problem, ever, with people loving him – even when that came to his feet! Just a few chapters later, a woman “began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” Jesus described that action as an act of love, and he welcomed it. In fact, Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace”(see Luke 7:37-50). I suppose if John, in love, had sought to untie Jesus’s sandals, Jesus would have been just fine with it!

So as you think of God’s awesome power and God’s infinite being, don’t forget that what God is really after is your love. Sure, you’re not infinite and not all powerful – but, because you are made in God’s image, you can love. And in that sense, you are indeed worthy. Pray about these things today.

What Do We Expect of God?

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.  But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison. Luke 3:15-20

John the Baptist was fiery and loud, unafraid to cause a ruckus. He spoke out against the corruption of the political leaders. He definitely did not promote the status quo. No wonder the people thought he might be the long awaited Messiah – the one who would overthrow Rome and Make Israel Great Again.

A lot of people in John’s day would have resonated with this description of what the Messiah would be:

How beautiful are the eyes of the King Messiah who is to arise from the House of Judah! He girds his loins and goes out to war against his enemies, and kills kings and rulers, reddening the mountains with the blood of their slain. (Palestinian Targum, Codex Neofiti, 1st century AD)

They wanted a Messiah who would give them victory over their enemies and who would give them political power again. They saw in John one who looked like he might have what it took to do that. 

But John disappointed them. He got thrown in prison – and then beheaded. And the Messiah they were waiting for disappointed them as well – he was arrested and crucified. 

Many times it seems that God does not fulfill our expectations. Perhaps that doesn’t mean that God’s not there or that God’s not at work. It might just mean that we’re expecting the wrong things. Ask God today to show you where your expectations are misplaced, and ask God to help you have appropriate expectations of the spiritual journey and of his involvement in your life (and in this world.)