Tuesday, November 29

Romans 13:11-14

A few years ago, author Brian McLaren spoke at a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship event. Over a thousand of us sat in a large dark room, lit by stage lighting and screens. 

McLaren addressed the supposed “slippery slope” of progressive Christian beliefs. As a young woman with an undeniable call to ministry, some labeled my very existence the “slippery slope.” But I didn’t fit on the non-slippery slope. My roles as a woman, wife, and mother didn’t remove the burning in my bones to teach everyone, women and men, serve with authority in the church, or…gasp, preach.

McLaren proclaimed the real “slippery slope” that threatens us: overlooking injustice, leaving privilege unexamined, and using God’s name to exact cruelty and exclusion against God’s children and creation. McLaren looked at the crowd of Christ followers, squinting into the darkness, and told us that we’d been singing ourselves lullabies, anesthetizing ourselves to the reality of sin dressed as religion. The time for lullabies was over; it was time to wake up. 

Hearing his message in a CBF setting was deeply meaningful for me. McLaren named and addressed my experience of facing barriers to fulfilling my call; he inspired my faith family in a way that they could hear and respect. The possibility of a hopeful future hovered in the room. In such moments, the invitation of verse 12 comes alive: Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Your community needs you to be fully awake to the light of Jesus. Today is an opportunity to set aside the darkness of injustice, cruelty, and arrogant pride and awaken to God’s hopeful future.

Consider

When has your faith felt most alive? What is God awakening in you today? What truth do you need to hear and speak within your community? 

Pray

God, we desire to put on Christ, realizing this requires humble honesty that makes us uncomfortable. Help us name our fear, powerlessness, and shame. May your light fill and claim us with your liberating truth. Amen.

Monday, November 28

Romans 6:1-11

In recent years, we’ve confronted enough life or death situations to last a lifetime. Viral surges, long ER wait times, rescheduled surgeries. Our phones constantly alert us to the reality that life is fragile. Is there a way to turn off these notifications?

Yet Paul leans into life-and-death language to describe what it means to follow Christ: dead to sin (v. 11), alive in God (v. 11), buried with Christ in baptism (v. 4), raised to walk in newness of life (v. 5). Discipleship involves a daily awareness of what leads to life or death.

For me, being alive in God involves certain things: regular breaks for rest, laughter, and play, feeling grounded, extending grace and compassion, and intentionally turning my anxieties into deep-breathing prayers. Grace always invites me to release what leads to soul-death and embrace what leads to soul-life. I don’t always take the extended hand that Grace offers. “Thank you, God. I’ll stay right here,” I say, then wonder why I’m stuck in the same worn-out place.

Yet Grace stays present, visible to us through Christ. Grace makes change, healing, and renewal possible. When we need raising, Grace raises us to walk in newness of life. Grace teaches me to put down my self-important work, to take my eyes off the soul-churning wind and waves of my phone screen, to release judgment and vengeance, to say “no” to worry. These divestments can feel like a kind of death.

Over the last thirty-two months, life and death notifications have filled our lives. How has Christ been present when they came? Have we discerned what leads us to death’s drudgery and to life’s hopefulness? Will we keep learning new ways that will lead us to life today? 

Consider

What is one life-and-death situation you faced over the past two years? What do you need to process with God about that experience today? 

Pray

God who brings us through death and raises us to walk in newness of life, help us notice what is life-draining and what is life-giving. Give us wisdom to discern the difference and grace to choose life with you. Amen.

Sunday, November 27

Isaiah 2:1-5

As soon as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began nine months ago, analysts began comparing this aggression to similar acts in history. Attempts to understand and predict how this particular war might unfold relied heavily on past military strategies. Commentators compared current leaders to past ones. While technological advances always alter the logistics of war, the mindset of nations raising swords against nations remains ancient and uninspired.

God envisions better ways for humanity to live and is constantly teaching and inspiring us to learn those paths and walk them. This vision of God’s better way runs through Scripture. It includes the Ten Commandments offered on Mount Sinai. It leads Jeremiah to announce a new covenant written on human hearts. Jesus becomes the criterion for understanding Scripture and learning a new way to live. Paul reminds the Corinthians that love is the more excellent way and invites us to participate in this life made known in Christ.

And today Isaiah reminds us that God offers creative vision and instruction beyond what we know and understand. God draws us near that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths (v. 3). In God’s vision, the nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (v. 4). 

The first step in learning new ways to love is to draw near to God so that God may teach us those ways. Let this be the day for a new lesson with God. Let us say yes to the opportunity to leave behind stubborn mindsets and practice new possibilities.

Consider

Where are love and peace lacking in your life? What is one way you can actively participate in God’s work of love today? 

Pray

God of tender mercies, move within me, replacing violence with compassion, unrest with resting in you, and dulled imagination with expectant creativity that anticipates your hopeful future. Amen.

Saturday, November 26

James 4:1-10

“Perfect joy.” That’s what Francis of Assisi called the ability to be at peace in the face of whatever happens to you. Is that peace, that perfect joy, even possible in a culture devoted to making us crave what we don’t have? 

Living gratefully has been challenging for God’s people in every time and place. In this passage, James says that our discontent, our cravings for more, disrupts our peace and creates conflict. The first five verses lists the results of choosing greed over gratitude.

James writes to a deeply conflicted church. Some leaders have encouraged pursuing social status and have ignored Christian teachings about generosity and servanthood. David P. Nystrom says that this philosophy allows their former, pre-conversion prejudices to exist and even thrive within the church. Some members show favoritism and others exploit the poor. (Does this sound familiar?) Some give into violence because of their greed and only pray for things that give them pleasure. This is destroying their whole community.

But living gratefully is a possibility for God’s people in every time and place because God gives grace to the humble (v. 6).
I define humility as knowing that you have enough for your life—enough material, emotional, and spiritual resources. It takes humility, and grace, for us to experience the joy that Francis of Assisi described. In the second half of this passage, James instructs us to repent, to draw near to God…cleanse your hands…and purify your hearts (v. 8). Purity of heart rises out of gratitude. Acknowledging that everything we have is a gift from God will guide us to sense what is enough. Our gratitude can lead us away from pursuing those things that will never satisfy.

Consider

What could you do today to cultivate the humility that leads to perfect joy?

Pray

God, when we pursue status and pleasure, cleanse our hearts and hands. Pour out your grace so we may be loving, humble, and grateful. Amen.

Friday, November 25

Psalm 118:15-29

Not only do our stories matter, our storytelling does too. Congregations need to hear why and how they live out their faith between Sundays. We need times and places when we express gratitude for our experiences of God’s grace. When we know each other’s stories, our disagreements may continue, but our understanding and empathy may grow. We start realizing that God’s love reaches farther than we’ve extended it. Our hope in how God works among us deepens. We become more grateful and full of wonder. 

The psalmist knows the power of testimony. Psalm 118 sings of how God’s people experience divine help in trying times and long to tell of it. Their worship bears witness to their experience that “The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation” (v. 14). They live to recount the deeds of the LORD
(v. 17) and their words reflect a faith discovered and lived out because of God’s love. The faithful give thanks for how God answers them. They extol God for being the cornerstone of their story. Scholars William Bellinger and Walter Brueggemann note that after expressing their gratitude here for God’s deliverance through the Exodus, the psalmist invites the congregation to enter the narrative and join in the thanksgiving. The community receives this experience as a “marvelous act of hope.” 

This is what happens when we share our stories with each other. Storytelling is absolutely crucial if we are to maintain a true sense of community. When we share our pain and our joy together, we renew our hope and learn to live with gratitude. 

William Bellinger and Walter Brueggemann, Psalms, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Consider

If you were sharing out of your pain and your joy, what would you share? How would that give your community hope?

Pray

God, our help in ages past, our hope in years to come, we give thanks for  and find hope in the many ways you have cared for us. Amen.

Thursday, November 24

Psalm 118:1-14

We might be tempted to make our focus too narrow today. If we limit our gratitude to whatever’s on the table before us, in terms of food or circumstances, we’ll settle for a lesser experience than this day offers. But if spend Thanksgiving looking through the wider lens that God gives us, we’ll remember to spend our lives living gratefully. 

Today’s psalm comes from an ancient song of thanksgiving used during the Feast of Tabernacles and the Passover Seder. It includes the song of Moses in Exodus 15:2: “The LORD is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him.” Martin Luther reportedly called this psalm his favorite, saying “This is the psalm that I love…for it has often served me well and has helped me out of grave trouble, when neither emperors, kings, wise men, clever men, nor saints could have helped me.”

The psalmist repeatedly prompts us to give thanks to God by saying, “His steadfast love endures forever” (vv. 1, 2, 3, 4). Then we hear a story of deliverance, as God answers a cry for help. This encounter with God’s unchanging love brings thanksgiving. Telling this story becomes an expression of gratitude. 

Our culture sets aside this day of the year as a day to give thanks. As we observe it, we should remember the history of our faith as well as our own lives. Remembering the steadfast love of God, both in God’s work in the history of our community and in our lives personally, brings thanksgiving. In the midst of our gratitude, remember that we are called to be part of God’s continuing story of love and deliverance, so that others will also experience reasons to give thanks.

Consider

When have you been hard pressed and surrounded by difficulties, then felt the deliverance of God? Remember those stories today as you name why you are grateful.

Pray

God of deliverance, we thank you for your steadfast love. Help us to always remember that you love us and help us to love others in the same way. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23

Revelation 22:11-17

How do you comfort a church that is experiencing severe persecution? When Roman emperors Nero and Domitian persecuted the Christian community, leading to some of the worst suffering in church history, John responds by writing this book of Revelation.

As chaos surrounds Christ’s followers, they hear this glorious description of the city of God and the beautiful invitation from Christ and his church to partake of the water of life: The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift (v. 17). Anyone. Everyone. 

Often, when ministers at funerals acknowledge the abundant grief that their congregation is feeling, they will also say, “But we do not grieve as those without hope.” 

In the throes of grieving and the painful experience of loss, we still have a vision to hold onto that gives us a future, that helps us see a way forward. The early church learned this truth and leaned on this gift from God. We can learn it and lean on it as well.

Whenever we witness or experience the worst that life can offer, we can still bring our grief and pain to God, who will meet us with a way forward, a hope beyond our sorrow. God invites us to “come,” to enter God’s presence and embrace this reason that we have to live gratefully.

Consider

What grief and pain do you bring to God today? Listen for God’s comfort and God’s words of hope for you.

Pray

God who welcomes us, help us to hear your invitation and repeat it to all who need the water of life. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22

Revelation 22:1-7

In the song “Corner Drugstore Jesus” on his Kingdom in the Streets album, Ken Medema sings, “The world is a scary place to live in, and living is a scary thing to do. In the darkness of the night, we are called to be the light, so let the flame become a torch in you.” Medema’s lyrics endure. We still live in a frightening world and those who know God’s hope are still called to gratefully share it.

Scripture helps us envision this hope God offers. Today we read a glorious description of the city of God, the final culmination of God’s works. The river running through it and the tree of life are recurring biblical themes. The river that flows in four directions evokes memories of Ezekiel’s visions, as water brings healing to the whole earth. The tree of life reminds us of the garden of Eden, only this tree is not forbidden. This is a new era of abundance and light. 

Descriptions like this give us hope. We read that the future will hold peace and prosperity, healing and light. Remembering these promises keeps us from getting bogged down in our world’s present darkness, where we quickly forget who we are and whose we are. Too often we allow the world’s chaos to consume us. We do it repeatedly. 

But, when we remember God’s promises, these scriptural litanies of how life is meant to be, we re-enter a place of gratitude. This doesn’t mean forgetting what is happening in the world, for we are commanded to respond to injustice and need. It doesn’t mean that our Christian life should center around some kind of “pie in the sky,” as people often say. It means that we express gratitude for God’s promises and beauty by bringing hope to others. 

Consider

When your heart is burdened by world events, how do you remember God’s promises? What can you do to live gratefully in light of those?

Pray

God of the perfect city, the chaos in our world sometimes overwhelms us. Help us remember that we are your people, the heirs of your promises, and that, with your help, we can bring hope to the world. Amen.

Monday, November 21

Colossians 1:15-23

The first time I took on a 40-day quest to keep a gratitude journal, I was astounded at the result. It rewired my brain. Those 40 days held a good many difficulties and even grievous losses, but in the midst of them, I was always able to find healing events, loving people, or encounters with beauty every day. 

Today’s verses start with a glorious hymn about the world and all creation being reconciled to God through Jesus. Most scholars agree that the writer is taking an old wisdom hymn and adapting it to proclaim the cosmic Christ, who reigns over all. The hymn sings of Christ’s role in creation and reconciling the cosmos. It sings of the universal love of God and the triumph of God’s grace. 

When we read these verses without sensing our hope rise and our hearts lift, we are truly bereft. The words help us remember all that God has done for us and the world through Christ. The hymn reminds us to continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard (v. 23). I contend that we can only continue in the faith and hold onto this hopeful vision of Christ reconciling the world to God when we practice being grateful and establish a discipline of gratitude. 

I try to keep a 40-day gratitude journal once a year, but I have found that I now automatically notice those gifts of God whether I’m keeping the journal or not. There are many ways to practice the discipline of gratitude. All of them will help us resonate with the great hymns and litanies of God’s goodness.

Consider

What is the best way for you to keep a discipline of gratitude? Consider opening a new note on your phone, or grabbing a journal that still has some empty pages and write about at least one thing you are thankful for today. Do this over the next 40 days and you will finish before New Year’s Eve.

Pray

God of triumphant grace, help us recognize all that you have done to reconcile the cosmos to yourself. And help us offer you our thanks. Amen.

Sunday, November 20

Colossians 1:1-14

Gratitude undergirds an authentic Christian life. Responding gratefully to God’s love is the persistent rhythm of the faithful. Scripture cues this call and response, by declaring God’s life-giving love for us, then inviting those who receive it to live in gratitude for God’s gift. From the beginning, God says to the liberated Hebrews, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery….” We can almost hear the “Therefore” cue just before the ten commandments appear in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

The first 11 chapters of Romans tell the story of Christ redeeming the world, then chapter 12 begins, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice….” 

In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches the crowd to be like the poor by recognizing that all of life, everything, is a gift. If we grasp that, we will sense God’s presence in our lives and world and become grateful. 

The writer of Colossians builds on this theme today. The letter begins with heartfelt gratitude for the church, reminding readers that they have been liberated by God in Jesus and urging them to be thankful. Undergirding this prayer for their growth is a desire that they will persist in being grateful: May you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father (vv. 11-12). Without gratitude, it’s unlikely that any of us can grow as Christians. 

When we realize that God has liberated us in a marvelous way, we respond gratefully. As our gratitude overflows into service, we begin living out a more authentic faith. When that happens, our actions are born out of true joy, instead of a lifeless sense of duty.

Consider

When does your Christian life flow from a sense of gratitude rather than duty? How could you begin to practice a discipline of gratitude?

Pray

Liberating God, forgive us when we forget the abundant life you give us. Help us to recognize your gift and learn to give thanks with vibrant hearts and lives rather than with words alone. Amen.