July 1

Galatians 6:11-16

“For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” vs. 15

Some of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem didn’t get what the new life in Christ was all about and they drove Paul to distraction. Their representatives had followed him into the cities of Galatia and were telling new believers that they needed circumcision–baptism wasn’t enough. This conflict within the ranks of the newly formed Church provoked real anger in Paul and he didn’t mince words in addressing his adversaries. It wasn’t just that they were wrong about a doctrinal issue, they didn’t really understand what had happened in Christ Jesus. His crucifixion and resurrection had been a total new beginning. This wasn’t just a continuation of Judaism, this was a new creation. From now on nothing would be the same. It seems to have been Paul’s hope that this new faith would not be a new religion, but an experience of life in the Spirit, one that would be constantly evolving and changing as it encountered new challenges and opportunities. To some extent this is what happened through the centuries, but such a vision is tough to pull off. The tendency is to codify and build hierarchies just like every other religion. But we can’t tether the Spirit. And because we can’t, people across the globe are beginning once again to experience religionless Christianity. Of course it’s hard to explain what that means, but when we see it, the blessings are unmistakable.

Thought for the Day: What is religionless Christianity?

June 30

Galatians 6:7-10

“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” vs. 7-8

Paul’s words to the Galatians were not rocket science. They are exactly the sort of thing that parents have been saying to their children from the beginning. We reap whatever we sow! This is God’s own truth, and it applies to every human under the sun. No one is exempt! It would seem that when things are universally true there would come a time when we would catch on. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Without proper nurturing, without parents and teachers who bore us to death with their relentless admonitions, we would be forced to discover God’s truth by trial and error, which is what a lot of us do anyway. And in a time when moral instruction has fallen into disfavor more and more people have been left in that position, i.e. trying to find God’s truth on their own. At first exploring the ways of the flesh, indulging the self, does have a certain appeal and we see many wandering down that way. The problem is, as Paul says, God is not mocked, and there are escalating consequences. The good news is that some come to themselves, see the mess of their lives, and remember that there is another way. And as the Spirit leads them home, they are received into the arms of love.

Thought for the Day: Who provided my moral training?

June 29

Psalm 66:1-9

“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.” vss. 8-9

From a practical or realistic standpoint Israel’s survival as a people didn’t make much sense to the psalmist. They weren’t a powerful nation and had somehow managed to survive through the succeeding reigns of a series of superpowers. For him there was only one logical answer: their God had not forgotten them and had managed to keep them intact as a people. Despite military defeats and humiliating exile they were still alive, and this was God’s doing. And so he encourages them to bless and praise the Lord in every circumstance. We in the Church who consider ourselves to be the successors of Israel in so many ways, are still called to offer regular songs of praise to God in our worship. It is right for us to do this. The Church does not have a stellar history and at times has borne little resemblance to the living Body of Christ in the world. We’ve wandered into grave error and abandoned the gospel of grace. The stains of our sins persist to this day–we’re still dealing with their consequences. But because the Holy Spirit is the heartbeat of the Church, its sustainer and advocate, the Church is still alive, and being the Presence of Christ to the hurting people of the world. And for that reason we continue to give to our God glorious praise.

Thought for the Day: How do I feel when I sing praises to God?

June 28

Isaiah 66:13-14

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” vs. 13

When we get older and start learning new things in school, it’s not unusual to do an assessment of what we’ve been learning in Sunday School. And sometimes the old familiar stories don’t stand up to our scrutiny. We reject entire portions of scripture as being archaic and unscientific, and decide that we are no longer believers. Usually that also means a rejection of worship except on the cultural holidays like Easter or Christmas when family trumps faith. And then we go off to find our own ways to answer life’s perplexing questions, and decide that atheism or agnosticism is more logical and satisfying to our minds. Occasionally that works, but sometimes it doesn’t, and after further exploring we might decide to check out Church again. Of course the old stories are still there–the bible doesn’t change–and they still don’t satisfy the rationalistic literalism that drove us away in the first place. But if we return to the stories as a little child might we realize what Jesus meant when he used children as models of faithfulness. In this approach, which we might call embracing “a second naivete”, questions drop away and we encounter the pure truth that has been there all the time. And our Mother Church gives us the comfort we’ve remembered and been yearning for. We drink deeply and faith can be restored.

Thought for the Day: What’s my favorite bible story from childhood?

June 27

Isaiah 66:10-12

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her— that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast;” vvs. 10-11a

When Israel returned from captivity, Jerusalem was a mess–the walls were destroyed and the temple was a wreck. And the people who greeted them, those who had remained in the land, were not at all friendly. The prophet, instead of lamenting, tells the people to rejoice–even though they were sad, they had been born again, and now Jerusalem would be their mother, they could nurse and be satisfied. That’s what it’s like for us in our born again moments. We can wander far from faith, be taken captive by the world, and be pummeled by our adversaries–and when for some reason we are delivered and wander back to Mother Church, there is reason to rejoice. Because as bad as the Church may have become in our eyes, as sad as her situation may be, she remains for us the Body of Christ and from her consoling breast we still receive nourishment and satisfaction. From her bosom we can drink deeply of forgiveness, mercy, and love, all the things we need to begin growing again. Even when things look really bad and we despair at the prospect of any future at all for humanity, we can be confident of God’s presence. God and creation are inextricably linked.

Thought for the Day: How has Church been Mother to me?

June 26

Luke 9:57-62

“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’” vs. 57

As the preaching and healing ministry of Jesus gained momentum occasionally he would ask people to follow him, and sometimes there were even volunteers. Some folks were wanting to jump on the bandwagon, but Luke tells us that Jesus wasn’t very welcoming. He told one man to let the dead bury their own dead, and another that he couldn’t go home and say good-by to his family. It’s impossible to know exactly what he was up to but he seems to be saying that being his follower isn’t a calling for everyone. In fact it may even be that those who think they are following Jesus really aren’t following him at all. Certainly not all those who call themselves Christian are followers of Jesus. To follow Jesus means the denial of self and the embrace of the other. It means standing with those who are suffering and working for justice, speaking truth to power, and being passionate advocates for those who are oppressed. Not everyone will find that kind of life appealing or comfortable. It’s a lot easier to adopt the ways of the world, get good-paying jobs, raise a family, and make sure we have a good retirement plan–and maybe even go to church once in a while. And those aren’t bad things–they just aren’t part of the job description for followers of Jesus!

Thought for the Day: What’s the benefit of being a follower of Jesus?

June 25

Luke 9:51-55

“When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” vs. 54

When the Samaritan villagers refused to receive Jesus as he made his way to Jerusalem, James and John were filled with indignation. They wanted to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them–they wanted to kill them all. Jesus of course rebuked them, and simply went on to the next village. But the idea broached by James and John did not die. Centuries later, once Christianity and the Empire joined forces, so-called disciples of Jesus burned thousands of people for bucking the system and holding contrary views. The desire for vengeance and violence, though rebuked by Jesus, developed into the fallback position of countless people of faith. Even now Christians battle Christians in the Ukraine–political candidates claim God and guns as major planks in their campaign platforms. Good people are trolled and demonized on social media. The whole idea of praying for one’s enemies is dismissed as being quaint and out-of-date. But not all followers of Jesus feel that way. Many are looking for ways to put aside those feelings of righteous indignation and revenge and some have discovered that the Way of peace and forgiveness walked by Jesus brings amazing joy. The Peaceable Kingdom does exist and its gates are wide open for all who want to enter.

Thought for the Day: How do I deal with thoughts of vengeance?

June 24

Galatians 5:18-25

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” vs. 22

Paul’s picture of kingdom living is timeless and seems too good to be true. How is it possible to live in community and experience such extraordinary fruits in ourselves and in others? He makes it sound so easy–all we need to do is become love-slaves of Christ, and the Spirit will produce a cornucopia of blessings. This isn’t a series of nine new laws for us to obey–this is just what happens when the Spirit of Christ merges with our spirits. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control will abound–and it happens all the time. We see it again and again as we walk with Jesus in our communities of faith. Why doesn’t it happen in everyone all the time? Paul says it’s because we misuse our freedom by giving license to the instincts of self-indulgence. When that happens sexual desires run amok; there is impurity and immorality; relationships are marked by jealousy, envy, anger, quarrels, and strife; drunkenness and carousing take over our weekends; and even loving becomes self-serving. It’s not a pretty picture, and sadly, such behaviors have become normalized in our society. We see it every day on our social media! The good news is that life doesn’t have to be this way. As people turn again to Christ, the Spirit takes over, and life is transformed.

Thought for the Day: What does it take for people to turn to Christ?

June 24

Galatians 5:1, 13-18

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” vs. 13

The freedom that Paul was talking about to the Galatians had little to do with the ordinances and rules of the Jewish Law. And for us it has nothing to do with escaping the strict moral and ethical codes of a pietistic upbringing. Our experience of freedom in Christ might begin with such a release, but we quickly discover that it’s ever so easy to fall captive to a myriad of other forces. Paul calls those enemies the flesh and believes that they lurk on the fringes of every human heart just waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Some dismiss his language as primitive, but the self-indulgence that he speaks of is as present to us as it was to him. We see it happening every day in our culture, and sometimes friends and family are among the victims. In fact, every one of us is vulnerable–there’s probably not a person alive who has not dabbled in self-indulgence and honestly, it feels really good! True freedom, Paul says, comes only when we commit ourselves to following the one commandment lifted up by Jesus, that we love our neighbor as ourselves. That may seem like just one more rule to follow but for Paul loving is the key to opening up the treasures of kingdom living. As we become slaves to one another in love, we find contentment and joy.

Thought for the Day: What has self-indulgence done for me?

June 22

Psalm 16:7-11

“You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” vs. 11

We wouldn’t know it from the television and streaming programs we watch in our leisure time, but there is a good and decent way to live, and it is possible to find joy and pleasure in daily living. We don’t have to have one crisis after another and be so afraid that we isolate ourselves in our homes. Of course ugly things happen in our world, they happened in the days of the psalmist too. But the psalmist had a close connection to God, not just occasionally, but always. His every day was full of God’s presence and he reveled in the blessings of the universe. There were wonders at every hand, and inside he felt enormous peace and serenity. God is every bit as present to us as to the psalmist–the Divine Presence fills the universe. And as we open our hearts and minds to that Presence we learn to see the goodness of our lives. In fact, when we’re tuned in to God we discover that every cloud has a silver lining, and as our lives play themselves out, with day following day in an endless progression, we will regularly be surprised by joy and contentment. The key is gentle, selfless living and loving every day, and not the relentless pursuit of power and riches. Once we learn that, life is extraordinarily beautiful!

Thought for the Day: What gives me joy and pleasure every day?