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Daily Devotional

The Three Great Humiliations

“Then al the disciples deserted him and fled.”
- Matthew 26:56

The English playwright, Dorothy Sayers, once said that God went through three great humiliations.

The first was at the stable, when God surrendered deity to embrace humanity in the birth of Jesus.

The second was at the cross, when Jesus was mocked and beaten and killed.

The third is the church, when God decided to let us be Jesus’s representatives on earth.

Take some time today to ponder Jesus - his life, his death, and his willingness to identify with you. What words or images come to mind? Respond to God in prayer.

Blessed In The Doing

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
- John 13:12-17

This past Sunday we talked about the practicality of serving. This passage couldn’t be any more explicit. “You should wash one another’s feet,” he said. And he added, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” These were amongst the final words that Jesus spoke on earth, trying to help his friends see what it really meant to be his followers. It meant doing something. It meant using your body to put others first. It wasn’t enough for Jesus to know things about serving - he did actual, real, bodily things to serve others. Like washing feet. Like being nailed to a cross.

How about you today? What can you do to serve another human being or a community of people? What practical, bodily thing can you do? Perhaps it’s writing a check, or cooking a meal, or running an errand, or asking some good questions or folding the laundry or buying a plane ticket. Think about it. Pray about it. And DO it.

Serving Out of Rootedness

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
- John 13:2-5

During that original Holy Week, Jesus shows us what real service looks like by washing his friends’ feet. But did you notice what happened before he washed their feet? There was some KNOWING that went on.

Jesus knew that he was loved. Jesus knew he had authority. Jesus knew he belonged to God.

That means that his service did not come out of insecurity, people-pleasing, or duty. It came from deep within as an overflow of the rootedness of his own life.

Pause for a minute and seek to tap into your own rootedness in God’s love and power. Perhaps remind yourself a few times, “I belong. I am beloved.” And as you do this pay attention to any ideas that may arise of how to serve someone today. Does a name come to mind or a situation? Somewhere you could help or donate money? Check you motives as best as you can, and then get one with it and seek to serve someone else today out of your sense of being beloved.

Holy Week Events

Good Friday Service: Short 6pm casual service at Bill & Katy White’s home, 2490 Maine Ave Long Beach, followed by a potluck dinner. Bring a dish to share.

Neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt: 9:30am on Sunday in front of Lafayette. Feel free to bring some stuffed eggs by 9:15 if you’d like, or just bring some kids to enjoy the festivities!

Easter Breakfast: Bring baked good for a 10am light breakfast in front of Lafayette, and meet some neighbors.

Easter Worship Service: 10:30am (our regular time) we’ll celebrate the resurrection of Jesus together at Lafayette Elementary School Auditorium. Invite a friend if you’d like.

Freely Given and Received

Freely you have received; freely give.
- Matthew 10:8

In this particular passage, Jesus instructs his closest friends and followers about how to serve others in their day to day lives as they go about the world dong good. His core teaching then couldn’t be more relevant to us today. Jesus’s approach to serving others hinges on the monumental truth that we are loved, that we are blessed, that we are receivers.

Many of us need help calibrating how much to serve. We either serve too much (and get exhausted or feel resentful) or we serve too little (we get apathetic or selfish). Jesus’s remedy is simple - get in touch with how much you have received. There’s something motivating about really taking stock of all the gifts in your life - it helps you turn around and give to others.

Maybe today just start with physical things, like what parts of your body works well? That’s a gift that was freely given to you! And how about the air you breathe or the kindness of others or the color blue? You didn’t earn any of those things!

So what would it look like for you to give to others out of that sense of being filled up yourself with God’s goodness?

Practically speaking - take some time today to think about all the things that have been given to you that you didn’t earn; then, in that spirit of gratitude, think about a practical way to serve someone else today.

Serving Too Much or Too Little?

Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
- Luke 17:1-10

There’s a certain irony to these verses since Jesus is exactly the type of master who, just a few chapters after these verses, actually washes his disciple’s feet like a slave and who shares dinner with them, saying, “I do not call you servants but friends.”

One of the key things that stands out in these verses is that Jesus is not merely the Servant King who cares for our needs and comforts us. Jesus is also the Lord of All who is worthy of our service and sacrifice. Often at City Church the pendulum has swung away from themes like obedience, duty, and sacrifice because so many of us have come out of oppressive church systems that used fear, guilt, shame and pressure to get us to serve more and more and more. Jesus wants to heal us from those experiences, and he does so as the Servant King. And at the same time, Jesus wants to invite us in to a life of service, sacrifice and obedience - for our own flourishing and for the flourishing of the world.

Where do you fall on the scale between serving too much and not serving enough? Why is that? What is Jesus saying to you about that issue these days?

Holy Week Events

Good Friday Service: Short 6pm casual service at Bill & Katy White’s home, 2490 Maine Ave Long Beach, followed by a potluck dinner. Bring a dish to share.

Neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt: 9:30am on Sunday in front of Lafayette. Feel free to bring some stuffed eggs by 9:15 if you’d like, or just bring some kids to enjoy the festivities!

Easter Breakfast: Bring baked good for a 10am light breakfast in front of Lafayette, and meet some neighbors.

Easter Worship Service: 10:30am (our regular time) we’ll celebrate the resurrection of Jesus together at Lafayette Elementary School Auditorium. Invite a friend if you’d like.

Mother Teresa's Insight

“Confession is nothing but humility in action”
- Mother Teresa

“When there is a gap between me and Christ, when my love is divided, anything can come to fill the gap. Confession is a place where I allow Jesus to take away from me everything that divides, that destroys.”
- Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa knows a few things about humility and staying connected to Christ. Today, as you lean into that kind of humility in action, consider praying this prayer out loud. It’s from the Bible - Psalm 32.

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart!

When Confession Is Unsafe

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
- Luke 15:25-32

There are certain circumstances where confession is unsafe. Jesus’s most famous story, the Prodigal Son, climaxes with the younger son’s ‘confession’ opening a door of reconnection with the father. The verses above are what follow that grand reconciliation.

Note that if the younger son had run into his brother first, his confession would not have gone well. That’s because the older brother weaponized shame, distancing himself from his brother by calling him “this son of yours” and interpreting his brother’s actions in the least charitable way. But what makes the older brother most dangerous is his shaming of himself. He viewed himself as a slave, as a victim, as a martyr. No wonder he’s got no grace for his brother!

Like the older brother, there are some people who are simply not safe to confess to. Sharing vulnerably with them about your weaknesses, sins and failures will only result in more damage to your heart and soul. This is one of the practicalities of confession: namely, you need to start with safe people. Over time you may develop the skills and depth to be able to own your weaknesses with lots of different people, but that may not include everyone. For situations where you worry for your emotional and physical safety, consult a wise counselor/mentor first.

Today, think about the ugly parts of your life story and ponder who in your life is particularly safe and who is particularly unsafe when it comes to sharing your heart with them. Pray to God for wisdom about how to proceed forward wisely and well.

The Hard Work of Confession

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said…
- Luke 15:21-22

This is where the son’s confession meets its inglorious end. Imagine him practicing his confession over and over on his long journey home, only to have it be interrupted abruptly. If you go back to verse 18-19 you can see that the son’s confession was a lot longer, but the father wasn’t interested in him getting the words right or groveling. The father wanted him home. The father wanted him in his arms. And as much as the father wanted to close the distance between them, he also wanted to banish the unworthiness inside him.

So as you consider confession today, are you getting a sense of God’s heart? God’s ready to interrupt you as soon as you head down the “I’m unworthy” path!

So today, think through something you’re in need of confessing - some broken place in your heart that you’ve hidden away, some mess up from yesterday or last week, some selfish, prideful, mean-spirited moment. Name it and bring it to God. And here is the key - let God interrupt you when you start to tear yourself down. Be keenly aware of that verse, “But the father said…” and listen for what God is saying instead of what your shame is saying.

This is the hard, practical work of confession. Are you willing to do it today? Are you willing to put in the hard emotional work to name your sin, listen for your shame, and then listen harder for the voice of God reminding you that you are the beloved and that coming home is exactly the right thing to do? Go do the hard work of confession.

Confession As Embrace

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
- Luke 15:20

In yesterday’s devotional we looked at the famous story of the Prodigal Son, and how Jesus captures how confession most often feels like punishment to us. The verse above is the next small section of that story, and it captures how God really feels about it.

The father in the story is looking only for connection, and to the degree that confession leads to that end, it’s what the father wants. But notice, the prodigal son has not yet uttered a word of remorse. There’s been no hanging of the head, no muttered apologies. It’s simply the fact that the son has turned towards home that makes all the difference to the father.

The father has been waiting. Looking. Longing. And the father is willing to break with decorum and sprint out to hug the son - again, before the words of confession are even spoken. And the consequences for leaving in the first place are not even considered. As Richard Rohr says “Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God's own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to create with us.”

We’ll do some practical work in the next couple of days on confession, but it won’t matter at all if we can’t embrace the reality of God’s approach to confession - it’s a small step towards the ultimate endgame of restoring intimacy with God. Can you accept that? Pray about that today.

Confession as Punishment

This week we’re going to look at confession as a spiritual practice. As Brenna and Cody shared yesterday, so many times we view confession as a chore, an emotional drain, and as a necessary component of a punitive system of justice. Jesus knows that how we think of confession, so he told a story about us so that we could see the silliness of it all and how different confession really is.

Today, we’re going to try to get in touch with the reality of how crazy our idea of confession is by looking at the first part of the famous “Prodigal Son” passage. Ponder the younger son’s plan to confess; talk with God about how it''s similar to how you think of confession.

  • What’s helpful about his approach? What’s unhelpful?

  • Was it healthy to wait as long as hid did before his big confession? Why or why not?

  • What does it say about the younger son that his confession is aimed not at re-engaging him in the family, but rather as punishing him and stripping him of his position as son?

  • What do you learn about yourself?

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

Friday Poetry

In the late 1800s, the poet Walt Whitman wrote a rambling poem called “So Long” that included a little section that speaks profoundly to our journey this week with scripture. Ponder these lines. Let them speak to you about what it means for God to speak to you through is word.

So Long
Walt Witman

This is no book;

Who touches this,

Touches a man;

(Is it night?

Are we here alone?)

It is I you hold,

And who holds you;

I spring from the pages into your arms.

The Big Step (3 Options)

You are my son, whom I love.
- Mark 1:1

This is my son, whom I love.
- Mark 9:7

In the four Gospels, we do not hear the voice of Almighty God very often. Just twice. And God says the same thing both times - it’s a blessing on Jesus, about his belovedness.

We don’t have this information available to us, but it’s not hard to imagine that these words from Almighty God were spoken to Jesus throughout eternity as a sort of mantra that Jesus could hear and internalize, which would have shaped his soul thoroughly.

Our goal with learning scripture this week is to allow it to be that sort of blessing mantra for our souls. So we meditate on it (or, ‘interiorize’ it) - allowing it deep into the core of our being where we define ourselves. The past couple of days we’ve reflected on our need to be healed from the unhealthy mantras we’ve learned and have chosen into the path of healing. There’s no quick fix on this journey (those verses cited above were at least a couple of years apart, for example, demonstrating that Jesus’s process of receiving the blessing occurred over a long period of time), but there’s definitely ways to move forward.

Three Options

To move forward on this path of healing, these are three ways you might consider taking. You may start with one and over time add another. It’s best to start small and build on it.

  1. “Read the stories of Jesus” (These were the last words that Pastor Jason Brown spoke over City Church before his departure in 2016). Spend time each day in the Gospels - either reading or listening to the stories about Jesus in the Gospels. Let his character, his practices, his values, his power flood you over and over and over again on this journey of being formed to become more like him.

  2. Lectio Divina - this is the ancient practice of ‘holy listening’ when you allow time and space for God to speak to you through scripture. One of our favorite resources is the Pray As You Go App - download it and listen to their gentle, 10-14 minute devotion each day. There’s some scared music, plenty of quiet to reflect, and a couple of good questions to direct you.

  3. Pick a scripture or two to internalize. Ideally, it would be a passage that would dismantle whatever unhealthy mantras you’ve got running in the background of your mind. Plan some regular times (when you wake up/lunch time/sunset/bedtime) to reflect on those scriptures, letting them deep into your heart and soul.

You’ll probably want to practice each one of these intentionally for at least a year (yes, a year) before really evaluating whether it’s “working” or not. And it may be helpful to have a friend or two on the journey with you to share your joys and successes, your sorrows and failures.

The Next Step in The Healing Journey

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten… Never again will my people be shamed.
- Joel 2:25, 26

In yesterday’s devotional we looked at taking an initial step towards healing by assessing what is broken. Today we’re going think about a next step in the healing process.

The prophet Joel uses the image of a locust swarm to portray the shame and brokenness the people of Israel experienced in his day. These huge locust swarms would come and eat an entire year’s worth of crops, devastating a community. And notice that it was years of loss to the locusts. For many of us, the deep healing that we need in our lives is from the many years we’ve suffered under oppression, whether external or internal. For many of us there’s been abuse, and not just the acts of abuse themselves, but the associated mantras that then get repeated in our souls about us not being worthy of love, of us being a mistake, of us being damaged goods.

Jesus came to break the power of those curses, to end the shame, and also to dismantle the systems that cause brokenness. This process is most often years long, because, just like the harvests that the locusts destroyed could not be repaired in a day or even a month, our hearts and our world need a long time to heal.

One of the vey simple (yet powerful) things that Jesus often does in this healing process is to help us reimagine who we are. He wakens our hearts and minds to listen to mantras that are different than the curses we’ve internalized. To break us free from the negativity, he uses the power of blessing to slowly shape our souls to be well, to embrace our belovedness.

Tomorrow we’ll think more about some of the practical steps towards interiorizing what God says about you. Today, the goal is to embrace the journey.

Today, Jesus is asking you the question that he asked back in his ministry in first century Palestine of a man who couldn’t walk: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:5). The first step for the man took only an instant, but no doubt the deep healing of his heart took years. What will you say to Jesus as he is asking you, “Do you want to get well?”

The First Step Towards Healing

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
I will bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
- Isaiah 61:3

This week we’re focusing on internalizing (or interiorizing) scripture - letting it shape the insides of us. The purpose of that process is to play a role in exactly what the prophet Isaiah promises that the Messiah would do: in the very places of our brokenness, that we would experience healing. So, instead of ashes we’d find beauty, instead of mourning we’d experience joy, and instead of despair we would be able to give praise.

Scripture is one of God’s crucial tools in accomplishing this process of reversing the curse, of flipping the script.

So today our spiritual work is to focus on one thing: where is the curse in our lives? Listen to your heart to figure out what is the sad, condemning sound track playing in the background of your life? Tomorrow we’ll work on figuring out the antidote, so to speak. But today we’ve got to diagnose the disease.

Today, do the hard work of getting acquainted with your ashes, with your mourning, with your despair - this is crucial to take the step (tomorrow) towards letting God’s word address those things directly. So today, work on these questions. And as you do so, ask God’s Spirit of Truth to guide you and to reveal things to you that need to be healed:

  • What words were spoken to you that haunt you today? (like, “you’re so fat” or “you’ll never amount to anything” etc.)

  • What mistakes have you made that you just keep thinking about every day? (like, not being there enough for a friend or some ‘terrible sin’ you committed, etc.)

  • What negative mantras do you say to yourself often? (like, “I’m so dumb” or “I’m a bad daughter” etc.)

Being Shaped by God's Word to You

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:20

All of the promises of the Bible - and the whole Bible itself - find their fulfillment in Christ. They all point to him. That’s why, as we go on the spiritual journey, the Bible can be such a gift. 

This week we’re going to seek to practice letting the Bible get inside of us. Some old saints have called this ‘meditation.’ Some new ones call it ‘interiorization.’ The idea is to let the words of Scripture shape our internal world, laying tracks for us to know Christ and to become more like him.  

Today we’re going to start with a very short and simple verse. (And if this verse is all you focus on for the entire week, that might be fine as well - because it’s a deep one). We’re going to take the shortest verse of the Bible and meditate on it - interiorizing it. That verse is:

Jesus wept. - John 11:35

It’s not hard to memorize that verse. But that’s not what meditating/interiorizing is. What we want to do is to ponder it; to let it speak to us; to allow our heart to be shaped by it. Practically that might look like 

  • Taking 5 minutes now to imagine it - to let it play out in your imagination

  • Setting a timer on your watch to remind you to revisit the verse at different times in the day, 

  • Writing it on a post-it note and putting it on your dashboard, bathroom mirror, work desk, etc.

  • Or something else that works for you.

Beyond the practicality, the pondering is really important. These questions are deep (and potentially painful) - but that’s the purpose of letting Scripture get inside of us and have its way with us. Think/feel/ponder questions like these:

  • What keeps you from weeping over things that are truly sad?

  • Is there grief or loss that you are hiding from because you don’t want to weep?

  • What is there that’s worth weeping about in your life? The world?

  • Is there something in your past that Jesus might weep over?

May God meet you, heal you, love you, and shape you today as you let these words get inside you.

Someone to Move In

As we finish off our week focusing on justice, would you grab a pen and a journal or piece of scrap paper and spend 5m listening to a spoken word by Propaganda, Justice and the Gospel? As you listen, keep your pen in hand to jot down any phrases or words that stand out to you.

Then talk these things over with God. Where did you feel comfort? Where did you feel grief, challenge, invitation? How do you sense God moving, and how will you follow?

A Picture of Just Community

On Sunday, we looked at this picture of biblical justice, of community wholeness, of Cornel West’s “what love looks like in public.” Read it over again today, looking for traces of these three markers:

(1) Justice is basic and required, not optional or “extra credit.”

(2) Justice doesn’t just address symptoms, it goes for the root of social issues - greed and hoarding v. making sure everyone has access to the good stuff of life.

(3) Justice creates a community of mutuality, where everyone has equal status - everyone gives and everyone receives.

“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.” Deut. 24:19–22

Where have you experienced community like this, even in a small way? Thank God for those glimpses of lived justice. One at a time, pray for your church, neighborhood, and country, that they would embody justice more and more. Ask God to show you how you can be even a small part of that movement, today.

Our Original Sin - A Lament

Racism has been called America’s original sin, and heartbreakingly, the church hasn’t just been affected by this sin - it’s been complicit. Read this prophetic word from former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass:

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference--so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.

We bear today the legacy of a Christianity corrupted into a religion of slaveholders, which can’t talk about biblical justice without declaring itself guilty. For some of us this has meant the ongoing pain and anger of being part of marginalized communities; for some of us this has meant constant confusion over how to follow God’s call to justice when we’ve been taught so thoroughly in words, deeds, and institutional forms over the years to neglect it.

Read over these words from Amos 5:7-9 and notice your feelings - anger, sadness, hope… Lament this legacy and how it’s affected you and people you love. Ask God to show you his heart for justice and to make your own heart more like God’s.

“There are those who turn justice into bitterness, and cast righteousness to the ground. He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land—the Lord is his name. With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin.”

Lamenting Our Original Sin

Racism has been called America’s original sin, and heartbreakingly, the church hasn’t just been affected by this sin - it’s been complicit. Read this prophetic word from former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass:

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference--so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.

We bear today the legacy of a Christianity corrupted into a religion of slaveholders, which can’t talk about biblical justice without declaring itself guilty. For some of us this has meant the ongoing pain and anger of being part of marginalized communities; for some of us this has meant constant confusion over how to follow God’s call to justice when we’ve been taught so thoroughly in words, deeds, and institutional forms over the years to neglect it.

Read over these words from Amos 5:7-9 and notice your feelings - anger, sadness, hope… Lament this legacy and how it’s affected you and people you love. Ask God to show you his heart for justice and to make your own heart more like God’s.

“There are those who turn justice into bitterness, and cast righteousness to the ground. He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land—the Lord is his name. With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin.”

Be Faithful to Your Place

Bill and I had the opportunity to learn recently from Jonathan Brooks, pastor in a Chicago neighborhood and man who embodies commitment to place and practicing presence in community. (Check out his recent book, Church Forsaken, HERE.)

This morning, take a few minutes to read slowly through the passage that’s been formative for Pastor Brooks, and hear God’s invitation to put deeper roots into your community, however you’ve ended up there, and however long you plan to stay. (Notice God was talking to exiles transplanted to Babylon against their will, and he asks them to become a true part of their new community, even though he’ll be taking them home to Jerusalem eventually.) What could you do today or over the next few days to get to know a neighbor better, or to seek the peace and prosperity of your neighborhood? What if in a week or two you could fill in a few more names on yesterday’s block map? Talk with God about these things.

Jeremiah 29:4-7

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 

Ideas to Spark Your Own

  • Spend time daily or weekly in a common space (neighborhood park, neighborhood walks, apartment common area, front yard) so conversations with neighbors can happen naturally.

  • Support local business and get to know the owners and other regular customers.

  • Sign up for a neighborhood newsletter or social media page.

  • Find out when the next neighborhood association meeting is & commit to going.

  • Decide on a loop to walk regularly and pick up trash, chatting with people as you go.

  • Invite a neighbor you already know a little bit over for dinner or coffee, or out for a drink. Invite them to share their story.

  • Partner with a neighbor you’re already friendly with to host a neighborhood gathering - from a potluck dinner & game night, to cookies and juice out where all the kids play anyway.

  • Google a social issue on your heart and your neighborhood (ex. “homelessness Long Beach”) and see where you could volunteer, meeting people and contributing your gifts.

Bonus Thought from Pastor Brooks:

“Can you remain faithful to your place when the only thing changing is you?”