So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy....
-1 Peter 1:13-16
The first frosts are finally coming in during these weeks. Have you noticed? In my twenties, I never really thought much about preparing for the cold season. I wasn’t particularly drawn to advance planning. Living in the moment was more valuable than the cost of time and energy of cleaning up things and considering the season ahead. I thought nothing of leaving the garden hoses outside and connected during the winter freezes and thaws. Inevitably, when spring came, the seal on the nozzle would be cracked and leaking. That wasn’t a very big deal. I could get a new hose and nozzle at Home Depot for less than twenty dollars. But there were more costly oversights as well. A grill left without a cover in the snow and ice would be rusted out when it came to summer grilling. That replacement would cost hundreds! And not closing up or sealing attic and window cracks would mean that we had to deal with freezing drafts and exorbitant heating bills.
I don’t know when it was (probably early thirties?), but I finally began to understand that the time and cost to repair and replace damaged items in my house was much more than physical and mental cost of preparing for the winter. Now my wife and I do a fairly good job of thinking about these things ahead of time. Buckets go over the fragile plants at first frost. Hoses get stored away and water lines get emptied. Patio chairs get stacked. It takes a little intentionality and planning. But we’re fairly ready when the harsh weather hits.
The winter can do a lot of damage if you’re not ready for it.
Winter isn’t just coming. It’s here. We’ve been in it for a while. And another storm is about to hit us hard. It’s only a few days away, but there’s still time to plan.
Is your spirit ready for the week ahead? Our country will once again be in a new surge of uproar. Anger will surface. Gloating will pass across your screens and through your ears. Accusations will be thrown, and people define what is true only in ways that are most convenient to them.
Regardless of your personal hopes for this election, the great divide will intensify and remain across our country in the aftermath. My question to you now is not one of candidate choice. I sincerely hope you honestly and ethically make decisions that reflect care and concern for all people as best you can. But the question I’m asking today is if you're prepared to weather this week as a Christ-follower. We don’t have much time left to get ready.
The Apostle Peter guides the early church toward wisdom for coming storms by reminding his fellow disciples of several things:
-They need to think ahead about how they want to behave as they encounter challenge.
-They need to exercise self-control, even when it’s hard.
-They need to keep their hope rooted in the kingdom of Christ that will one day come in fullness.
-They need to resist the urge to respond to situations using old habits that look nothing like Jesus.
And because they know Jesus, they know what God is like… so there is no excuse for not reflecting God’s character in attitude and action. We are God’s kids.
Sisters and brothers, let’s pray for God to give us grace and hope walking into this week. Our words and attitudes matter so much to those looking on. It’s time for us to clearly be a countercultural example, by using the coming days to act in ways that reflect God’s value of every life and God’s heart for justice, truth, humility, and enemy love.
This election will affect real lives. But we are followers of Jesus today, tomorrow, next week and beyond. This is our identity, this is our calling, and this will not change.
What’s the winterizing that you need to do to make your faith election-proof? What actions do you need to take to keep you compassionate? What do you need to turn off? Who do you need to show love to? Where do you need to keep a reign on your heart, your tongue, or your fingers?
Let me encourage you to prioritize some time this week to prepare. Do whatever is necessary to walk through next week not as others will, but clothed with love and compassion, as God’s beloved children.
Jesus, this is all exhausting and hard. Be my hope and my example today.
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two covenant tablets in hand, Moses didn’t realize that the skin of his face shone brightly because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw the skin of Moses’ face shining brightly, they were afraid to come near him.
I just realized that there is a huge untapped market for a Moses’ Face Plug In Night Light ®. It would be a little plastic Moses holding the ten commandments, with a light bulb for a head to help your little one sleep peacefully. First time Christian parents go nuts over that sort of stuff. Patent is pending, so don’t steal my idea.
Can we reflect on the things that others see, but we can’t?
I’ve been talking with people lately about the slow work of transformation, and how we often feel like we take one step forward and two steps back in faith. The more we work on ourselves, or should we say, the more we allow Jesus to work on us, the more we realize just how much we have to learn. It can be discouraging. And it can look to us like we’re not changing at all. But interestingly, we’re not always the ones who have the best view.
This story of Moses is so interesting. He’s been spending serious time with God on a mountain. Over a month straight, in fact. And he comes down and everyone knows that he’s different— his face is literally giving off the radiance of God— but he has no idea that’s the case. He can’t see the glow. Now I get that there weren’t mirrors readily available, but you would think Moses would have had more of a sense of just how much he had been impacted!
A number of people in our community are doing an 8 week journey toward emotional and spiritual health that requires them to pause twice daily and sit with Jesus for several minutes. The goal is to be changed simply by learning to delight in the presence of God. It’s not easy to learn. And some are feeling like it’s not making much of a difference. But when I talk with them, I can see otherwise. Because as we change, we aren’t always able to sense it. The process of discipleship is slow growth. It’s incremental, moving by inches and not by yards as the days go by. And just like it’s hard to sense that a plant is actually growing by sitting in front of it and staring for hours on end, it’s also difficult to notice our own slow growth toward Jesus when we are in our own bodies every minute. We need to trust that change is happening as we lean into God, even it’s hard for us to pinpoint ourselves.
But here’s the lynchpin to the whole idea: we have to actually be present with God to be transformed into something. That doesn’t happen from wishful thinking or good intentions. It happens when we have spent enough time in the presence of Jesus for Jesus to rub off on us a little. We may not always notice the change ourselves, but others will. They’ll notice that we play less by the rules of the world around us and more according to the rules of freedom, grace, and compassion. They’ll notice that we are quicker to think before we speak, that we are slower to pridefully throw stones at another, and that we can handle setbacks and hardship with patience rather than bitterness. They’ll see our glowing faces. But unlike with Moses, they won’t be afraid. They’ll be refreshed. They’ll be surprised. And they'll be invited into a world that is not devoid of goodness as they fear, but full of the grace and beauty and redemption of the living God. The light of God that shines from our faces will illuminate the dark places of despair, injustice, hopelessness, and sorrow.
Luke writes that when James and John are questioned by the Temple priests, that the priests were astonished at how these uneducated guys were able to speak their faith, and they took note that “they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). I just love that. I wonder if the disciples felt like transformed people all the time, or if they just felt like normal guys who were trying to do their best to be faithful to Jesus.
Let’s continue to sit with Jesus even when it doesn’t feel like we’re changing, because we are. Let's continue to pursue God and faithfully walk with God even when we can’t tell a difference. If we do so continuously, not out of a sense of obligation, but with a desire to know nothing more than the love of God and be nothing more than an imitator of Christ, then our faces will show God’s light to neighbors and enemies alike. And then we’ll realize that it doesn’t always matter if we see it or not, because it will still be seen by the world we are called to love to and serve.
Jesus, slow me down to patiently receive your transforming love today.
Catch for us the foxes,
the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards,
our vineyards that are in bloom.
-Song of Songs 2:15
About once a week, I see a fox. Usually they are on the edges of a field or forest, gliding smoothly as if on wheels rather than legs. To me they are a beautiful sight, with their red coats and fluffy tails. I catch a glimpse of them before they quickly disappear into the nearest thicket. And I thank God for a glimpse of nature’s beauty.
Foxes are not always a delight, however. There’s a reason they are known as crafty. They can sneak into yards and kill chickens and birds. They dig up plants, flower beds, and lawns searching for insects and worms, or to bury their prey. They can really be a pain.
Foxes are also notoriously difficult to catch because they can run and hide so well. If they weren’t, there would have been no adventure for the upper class fox hunts that dominated the English landscape in the 18th and 19th centuries.
All of that leads us to this rarely noticed passage.
Christians never know quite what to do with Songs of Songs because it’s so hot and heavy. I mean, if you can’t read a book of the bible with your grandmother without blushing, maybe you should just avoid it altogether? So we miss out on some of the best imagery the scriptures have to offer. In addition to being a celebration of the wonder of romantic love, Song of Songs has also been interpreted for millennia as an allegory about Gods’ love for us, and book of wisdom about love and intimacy in all sorts of relationships. That’s why this one little sentence is something we all should be familiar with:
Catch for us the foxes,
the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards,
our vineyards that are in bloom.
There are these little foxes, and they are running wild. They may look cute, but they’re doing damage to vineyards that took time and work to cultivate. These little foxes are trampling the blooming plants, making it impossible for them to bear the fruit that they were growing toward. They need to be caught before they destroy the entire season’s crop!
Of course, there are no real foxes in this story. The "vineyard" is the relationship that is forming. There is something beautiful possible, but these hard-to-catch little “foxes" are threatening to destroy the relationship. I wonder, what were their foxes?
I wonder, what are yours?
The excruciating season we’re in right now has fox dens popping up everywhere. Little stealthy rascals running around and trampling things that could be blooming.
Arrogance. Disdain. Jealousy. Complaining. Gossip. Tribalism. Judgment. Unspoken hurts. Assumptions.
Little things running around inside us that can wreck relationships.
In the exhaustion and pain that so many of us feel, the opportunity is incredible for supportive and caring relationships to blossom. We need each other. But these things get in the way.
Are we looking for the foxes and catching them before they ruin our relationships? Before they destroy the good that Jesus is always at work to do in us? The way of Jesus is one of self reflection and other-oriented love. Jesus walks with us as we honestly identify the attitudes and actions that pull us away from his kingdom. And then, Jesus empowers us with his spirit and with others in community to catch our foxes before they do permanent damage.
At 9pm nightly, my wife and I both stop and take a few minutes for silence and prayer. That time of quiet has been leading to little spontaneous conversations about catching the foxes in our lives (though we’ve never called them that). It’s no shock that those little minutes of conversation are exceedingly more valuable than simply turning on a show or opening another app on our phones.
And I know this may sound a little sadistic, but catching foxes really can be an adventure. Honesty with others about what we’re feeling, what things could be blooming, and what is getting in the way of growth— those sorts of conversations are what God made us for. It’s what Jesus designed the Church for. We don’t have to go fox hunting alone. And when we do take real steps to help our relationships flourish, God gives us a sense of hope and perseverance that keeps us moving through the tough times. We shouldn’t be afraid of naming the foxes in our lives. How else will we be able to catch them?
And let us heed the advice to catch them while they’re young. The longer a fox stays around, the more damage it will cause. We need to be proactive in getting to the roots of anger, selfishness, pride, and despair before they get a death grip on our souls. Thank God that we're in this thing together.
Jesus, I need your help to identify the things that keep love from flourishing in my life. Lead me to fresh insights and meaningful conversations today.
He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
-Jesus, Luke 10:2
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
I love officiating weddings, and this past weekend I led my first Covid-era ceremony. Congratulations, Keith and Robin! It was beautiful.
And it was no ordinary wedding! The ceremony took place on the deck of a riverboat, just behind a riverside restaurant, with those in attendance standing spread out on the dock so that they could still join the celebration while distancing. As you can imagine based on the rehearsal picture, we had to think creatively about many things. That’s the part of the fun of unique weddings!
On the wedding day the DJ didn't have a chance to connect the sound system until immediately before the ceremony, so we got the speakers set up facing the shore (and the outdoor section of the nearby restaurant) with no time to test anything. The wireless microphone was not working for my first few sentences of my welcome. But right when it came time for the prayer, it connected…..
"FATHER GOD, WE ARE GRATEFUL FOR YOUR GOODNESS” all of a sudden came thundering off my microphone at a volume that could have made it across the Chesapeake. I’m pretty sure every single person at the restaurant 50 yards away turned and looked at us.
I quickly softened my voice and pulled the microphone away a bit, hoping to balance things out and not cause too much of a scene. And in a split second decision, I realized that this could be really rough, or really beautiful. Everyone who came for the wedding was just fine. But those sitting at the restaurant would either be bombarded with a loud wedding ceremony that forced its way into their dinner experience, or subtly invited to share in one of God’s beautiful moments if they leaned in just a bit. It was possible to hit a volume and style that invited but didn’t impose.
I see in our world different ways of how Christians express their faith and lives. Some use any chance they get to loudly insert themselves into the lives of others, whether it has been asked for or not. They are difficult to ignore, talking over others and assuming that the louder they speak the truth, the more faithful and brave they are, regardless of if others have any interest in hearing. Unfortunately, this often coincides with a lack of self awareness or sensitivity to others. As a result, those listening get annoyed, upset, or combative. On the boat I realized that too much volume (to quote the groom later) “might lead to some unwanted (and inebriated) hecklers at our wedding!”
But there is another way to use our voice. If we lessen our power a bit, we can still proclaim what is good and beautiful and worth sharing, and others can decide if it’s worth it to listen in.
I backed off the microphone as we continued on through the wedding, but I decided it was ok if we were still audible enough for outsiders to listen in…. if they chose to. And I have no idea, but I wonder what sort of impact this little wedding had, celebrating the beauty of human love and the wonder of God’s faithful love, on those who were unexpectedly leaning in to hear a bit more.
There are plenty of people in our lives who know who we are and what we’re about. And then there are others a little further out. They are within earshot of us, metaphorically speaking. They see and hear us in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and digital space. What we say and how we say it could either draw them closer or push them away. We do not have ultimate control of that, but we have some control, without question.
So disciples of Jesus ask ourselves:
What kind of message are they hearing?
What is the attitude that they are hearing in it?
Jesus told his disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. According to Jesus, there are many out there longing to move toward this God whose rule embodies grace, hope, forgiveness, justice, compassion, and eternal life. People are ready to be invited in. But that’s far different than imposing our voice on them and drowning them out. And often, the message we're giving doesn't even sound a bit like Jesus.
How can we be humble yet still bold in our invitation? Every one of us has someone on the dock that is within earshot. People are listening in, watching our social media presence, and watching how we respond to the innumerable challenges of this exhausting season. They’re noticing how we parent and how we talk about people who are suffering. They see what we criticize and what we celebrate.
Does the way we present our message make them want to lean in a bit closer to the kingdom of God? Or are they wishing for a mute button?
Jesus, give me wisdom to express your message of hope with gentleness and humility to those who are listening.
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.
In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.
-1 Corinthians 12:12, 22-25
My wife had to get some routine blood work done last week. Every time she’s ever had to do this, I’m always eager to hear the story when she gets home. There’s always a story.
You see, when it comes to needles, Bethany is what’s known as “a fainter."
Each time a needle is in play, the blood already starts draining out of her, even before she’s been touched. I think she’s gotten better though the years, but every time is most definitely still an adventure. (I'm allowed to share this!)
Apparently there's a whole group of people who identity with this reality. So many, in fact, that the medical office has spent considerable time and energy to help out all the fainters who walk among us.
When Bethany mentioned to her nurse that she was a fainter, the nurse knew exactly what to do. She ushered her down the hallway to a special designated area, with a sign on the door calling it the “Comfort Room.” As a non-fainter, I had no idea this room existed.
According to her, this place is pretty special. She walked into a peaceful atmosphere, with a comfortable and welcoming massage chair in the center. It was surrounded by other chairs, possibly for the dozens of friends and family members the fainter needs for moral support. The nurse made sure that she had all that she needed, because she was especially vulnerable. Therefore, she had to be treated with special care.
You might be a bit more vulnerable than others? Come to the front of the line. We've got the best place to take care of you.
Let’s compare that to a different experience I had with comfort in January. I was traveling back from a trip to India, and one of my travel partners was a frequent flyer and businessmen. This gave us special access to one of those airline lounges. We had hours to wait before our flight home from Delhi, which we were able to do in a deluxe lounge with couches, soft music, endless complimentary food and drinks, and televisions showing every cricket match you could imagine.
Every one of our needs was attended to beautifully— because we had paid up. Comfort Room to the extreme! Unfortunately, I saw no sign of the most exhausted and vulnerable travelers in that lounge.
Which of these looks more like the way of our world? Which of these looks more like the kingdom of God that Jesus taught about, where the poor and downcast are the guests of honor?
Bethany’s experience in a Comfort Room is a reminder to me of the upside down beauty of God’s kingdom, where those who feel weakest and vulnerable are the ones given special care, honor, and compassion. Most often, the places of comfort in our world are given to the wealthy, the powerful, and the skilled. The ones struggling the most among us are ignored, mocked, or even judged for that very struggle.
Father Gregory Boyle has spent his life creating micro-business opportunities for former gang members in California, many of whom have also been incarcerated. He has lived his life among people who have been surrounded by violence, substance abuse, and relational brokenness. He once wrote that Christians need to seek a compassion "that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” As disciples of Jesus, we do not criticize those carrying burdens. We comfort them. We create places for rest and care. We see them as the honored ones.
Let us continue to learn the truth of this subversive kingdom, where we seek to honor and learn from the poor and the poor in spirit, rather than overlooking them. Let us continue to give voice to the ones drowned out, and be lavish in our inclusion and care.
I cannot recall a time in my life where I was so aware of so many people experiencing pain, need, and weakness. And I cannot recall a time where I was aware of so many people adding to the pain by words of anger and judgment toward those who are vulnerable. What might Jesus be inviting you to do to create spaces of comfort for those at risk of fainting right now? How can you give special honor and rest to the ones who feel weak? We all have a role to play.
By the way, Bethany didn’t faint this time around. I think the Comfort Room did its job.
Jesus, help me be a person of grace and mercy today, creating spaces for those around me to experience your love, value, and comfort.