Saturday, May 29

Luke 11:9-13

Baseball offers you a thousand ways to hurt your arm. If you want to protect yourself from injury, you must strengthen your muscles in the weight room. You also have to do what players call “long toss,” gradually throwing the ball to a partner further and further away, stretching out your ligaments each time in order to strengthen your muscles.

This game of catch may be my favorite metaphor for what happens to our spiritual life when we pursue God and spend time in prayer.

I think God loves a good game of spiritual catch.

We throw all kinds of things at God, trusting God will catch them: our worries, our pain, our sadness, our fear. We may toss our hopes, dreams, and well-wishes for others in God’s direction too. We throw all kinds of things at God, trusting God will catch them. 

And God does, every time, no matter how far the distance seems to be between us.

Even better, God always tosses love back to us. We throw our worries to God—God catches it and throws back love. We confess our sins to God—God catches it and throws back love.

When I read these verses in Luke, I imagine that what God really hopes we desire when we ask, seek, and knock is for us to go outside and play a good game of catch. 

Consider

What do you “throw” at God that you hope God will catch? In what ways has God responded to you by returning love? 

Pray

God of infinite love, help us recognize the love that you send our way. Help us learn to enjoy our divine game of catch. Amen.

Friday, May 28

Galatians 6:7-10

My daughter and I love the Disney movie Frozen II, with its great story and terrific songs. We particularly love “The Next Right Thing”:

Take a step, step again 

It is all that I can to do 

The next right thing 

I won’t look too far ahead 

It’s too much for me to take 

But break it down to this next breath, 

This next step, This next choice 

Is one that I can make.

When we’re given multiple options, focus on one step at a time. When faced with insurmountable odds, do the next right thing. 

Taking one right step at a time mirrors Paul’s words to the Galatians. Paul encourages a congregation that is learning how challenging church life can be to not grow weary in doing what is right and to work for the good of all (vv. 9-10). We hear this wisdom, which Paul declared 2000 years ago, amplified today even in popular children’s movies. Its message still matters. Could the Disney lyricists be Galatians fans? 

What would happen if you just focused on doing the next right thing? What if your coworkers, kids, and their friends did too? What would change if your entire church focused on accomplishing the next right thing—along with your city, state, country and world? Think of all the good that could be reaped at harvest time if we didn’t grow weary of doing the next right thing. 

Consider

Think about all the choices you made today (or yesterday). How do small, seemingly insignificant decisions add up to create the momentum of love? 

Pray

God, who always moves ahead of us, guide us on your path. Enliven us by your presence so we’ll have the energy to do the next right things. Amen.  

Thursday, May 27

Galatians 6:1-6

On a first read, this passage seems contradictory. Bear one another’s burdens, Paul writes
(v. 2). Then three verses later he says, For all must carry their own loads (v. 5). Which one is it? 

Every December, our church holds a Blue Christmas service. It offers the opportunity to sit in sadness as we remember the lives of those we have lost over the past year. We light a candle for each of them and say their names aloud. Some people give testimonies as to how difficult or tragic or painful the separation has been. We read Scripture, sing hymns, and weep. 

To sit in a space of sadness with friends and family is what I think it means to bear one another’s burdens. Gathering to name our sadness and not feel the need to mask it becomes holy ground for the participants. It also offers a communal reminder that we are not alone in our grief. 

But we also sit in individual seats and light individual candles that remind us that we are each carrying our own load. This worship service does not remove the pain of death from any one person. It does not lighten anyone’s load of sorrow. What it does, and what it reminds me of every year, is that it allows us to share the tension and the sadness we feel together in a loving community. 

Paul is telling the church that their individual pain is not going away. They will each carry its wounds through life. But church can curate sacred space, reminding us all that the pain we each carry can be shared together in love. 

Consider

When did you sit in sadness with someone to reflect on a loss or a death? Who sat with you, and why was that important? 

Pray

God who always stays with us, help us see that you remain, even in our sadness. Help us learn to bear one another’s pain. Amen.

Wednesday, May 26

Galatians 5:22-26

How do people recognize a Christian? What is it about your character or words or behavior that shows someone this is who you are?

I lived with those questions constantly during our difficult presidential election season last year. As a pastor, I interact with those on each side of the political spectrum. Each group declares that they—and the policies they support—are more Christ-like than the other. Since both sides claim to have cornered the market on Christianity, I can’t help but wonder what it takes to make authentic inner faith obvious on the outside.

When we look to Scripture for a response, there’s no better place to land than these verses in Galatians. People know we are Christian when they see the fruits of our spiritual lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (vv. 22-23).

At first glance, each word on this list made complete sense to me, except for one. 

Is gentleness really on the same spiritual level as peace, love, and joy? I questioned that until I studied its deeper meaning. The word doesn’t mean soft; it’s easily translated forbearance. Gentleness allows us to hold our differences with others in a spirit of love. 

Being gentle with those with whom we have friction is a truly Christian response. When we engage one another in a spirit of forbearance, we demonstrate the visible spirit of Christ. This characteristic I questioned may be the most important fruit on the whole spiritual tree.  

Consider

Who do you struggle to treat gently? How do they know you are a Christian?

Pray

Gentle God, give us the ability to hold one another in love, even those we struggle with, don’t understand, or simply dislike. Amen.

Tuesday, May 25

Galatians 5:16-21

Growing up I worried about sin . . . a lot. I was constantly haunted by the thought that what I was doing might not be good enough for God. A Sunday school teacher told me that every time I sin, a mark is carved into my heart, and when I die, I will stand before God and answer for each mark. 

I’m sure she was just doing what she thought was best, just trying to give her time and talents to the church. But she did a number on me. As a kid, I would draw pictures of myself with deep marks on my heart. Think about that.

If we’re not careful, today’s verses can send us into the same panic and horror—especially the jarring verse 21: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Perhaps the only way we think we can manage this fear is to keep a tally of rights and wrongs and hope the right column ends up longer. 

While this is a Scripture verse, it’s important to remember that it’s not an isolated sentence. It’s part of a larger conversation. Don’t make the mistake that many Christians do and pull it out of context, assuming all other verses say the same. 

Paul is setting up a dichotomy for a specific group in a specific location at a specific time. He wants the Galatians to know that Christ-followers should exhibit the fruits of the Spirit and not the sins of the flesh. If trying to manage our sins becomes the primary form of our faith, we need a better focus. Paul begins his instruction in today’s passage by encouraging us to Live by the Spirit (v. 16). We can invest our energy in pursuing and seeing all the beautiful ways in which our life births, shares, and enjoys the fruits of God’s Spirit.

Consider

What were you taught about sin growing up? In what ways have you now re-authored that in your own spiritual journey? 

Pray

Forgiving God, you hold our sins and forgive them. Give us the ability to forgive ourselves. Amen.

Monday, May 24

Galatians 4:1-7

This past year, my wife and I became foster parents. To become foster-eligible, we had to complete ten weeks of intense training that primarily focuses on the effects that trauma has on children. After the first few weeks, I realized how woefully ignorant I was about the difficulties that these precious children endure.

I was mostly clueless about what a great degree of difference it makes when children have been raised in a safe home and a church environment which constantly teaches them that all people are made in the image of God, and that they are loved by the Creator of life. Not every child is fortunate enough to grow up with that awareness. 

It tears at my heart for a child to not know and feel God’s love for them because they haven’t been shown or taught that they matter and are loved. This is why my wife, Noelle, and I feel called to foster care. When I read today’s verses, I think the Galatians must understand this agonizing sentiment acutely. 

Paul addresses a powerful truth here that every parent and every church needs to teach every child. Despite our family status on earth, we are, by the immeasurable love of God, a part of another family. We are heirs to the Kingdom of God.

Imagine what could happen when children who have been tossed from one foster home to another hear an adult tell them with words and actions that they matter and that they belong to God. Imagine what could happen when a church surrounds them and amplifies that message. It would change everything for them. 

Consider

How do you demonstrate and instill the deep truth that we all belong to God to the children in your care or congregation? 

Pray

God our heavenly parent, help us claim and reclaim the truth that we are your children. Help us share this wonderful news with others. Amen.

Sunday, May 23

Acts 2:1-4

On cool, crisp evenings, our family often builds a small fire in our fire pit to roast s’mores. On cold, dreary mornings, you can find us in our den with the gas logs flaming. There’s nothing quite like a good fire. 

And by good, I mean comfortable. Roasting s’mores or turning on gas logs provides comfort as long as we maintain a dedicated distance and follow necessary safety precautions. Assuming we’re in control of it, “there’s nothing like a good fire.” 

What scares us is when a fire gets out of hand. A loosed fire is anything but comfortable. Its wild nature grows dangerous, as we’ve seen in news stories about uncontrollable wildfires in the western US. So, given our experiences with fire, how will we approach today’s story of the first Pentecost? How close should we get to this account and what it might mean for today’s church?

Many of us want our religion to feel as comfortable as gas logs on a cold morning. We maintain so many rules and boundaries to ensure our safety that sometimes that seems to be our sole focus. But should safety be the church’s primary goal? 

The earliest Christians learned on Pentecost that while God’s Spirit cannot be controlled, it gives life rather than destroys it. When we try to limit where God’s Spirit might burn, we fail to see and celebrate how God unleashes the Spirit so the world will experience new life. 

May this be the day we put down the poker stick and stop trying to control the gift of God’s life-saving warmth. May we start helping the world understand the new life God unleashes among us. Let us recognize the yearning for truth that burns within us and name its source. This is God’s Spirit, which is anything but controlled. 

Consider 

In what ways do you try to tame or control God’s Spirit? What would it look like to let it loose? 

Pray

God, teach me to see and celebrate the Spirit’s presence in the world. Amen.

Saturday, May 22

Luke 1:76-80

I don’t recall receiving a prophesy about my children on the days they were born. But I assure you that not even John the Baptist’s parents could have had bigger plans for their son than I did for mine. Isn’t it a universal phenomenon that parents invest all of their hopes and dreams in their offspring? The next generation represents our faith in the future, our belief that these children will hold the vision and opportunity to surpass anything we ourselves have done. While there may be no atheists in foxholes, I suspect there aren’t any in delivery rooms either.

By the tender mercy of our God (v. 78) tells us how this prophesy about John will be accomplished. All the other verses in the passage revolve around this phrase. The tender mercy of God will help Zechariah and Elizabeth parent their son as they guide him to become who God means for him to be. 

The labor of love called parenting involves a blend of art and science. But helping our children to grow strong in spirit (v. 80) also involves an act of faith. If we are wise, we take the faith that we felt in the delivery room with us when we leave the hospital. Because our offspring are more God’s children than our own, drawing on God’s tender mercy is essential for the work of being a parent. God does not coerce, intimidate, legislate, or force anyone to believe—no matter what dreams God has for the futures of those God loves. And whether we are parenting or not, those of us who live by God’s tender mercy give light to those who need it and guide our feet into the way of peace
(v. 79). 

Consider

How do the tender mercies of God guide you to become who God wants you to be? 

Pray

Have mercy on me, Lord, as I guide your children. Guide me when I fail you and let me try again. Amen.

Friday, May 21

Luke 1:67-75

As a college freshman, my father saw the attack on Pearl Harbor in the newsreels. He left the movie theater, abandoned a football scholarship, and enlisted in the US Army. My grandmother sent her four sons to World War II that year. Dad and his brothers served two tours across Europe and the South Pacific. Thankfully, all of them returned.

My father swore a soldier’s oath, under God, to the United States of America. He later kept a roll of film showing jolly GIs posing by monkeys in banana trees, doing KP duty, and standing with their tank, the “Flaming Fanny,” but he never talked much about the wounds of war, the toll of firing that big gun or of taking another life.

After he died, I found amongst his papers drafts of a poem he’d written. He struggled to reconcile his commitment to fight in as just a war as seen in a century with what he believed was God’s law and Jesus’ promise, as detailed in the metal-jacketed New Testament he carried. In “I Remember,” Dad details an instance of deadly hand-to-hand combat between his young Appalachian farm boy self and an equally terrified Japanese soldier just as far from home.  Dad may have won that battle, but his promise to serve God after being delivered from an enemy in a mortal conflict was a struggle that he endured for the rest of his days. 

This prophesy in Luke is complicated. It’s often unclear to us what is righteous, what is hatred, and who our enemies truly are. Yet in our darkest moments, Zechariah offers light. God shows him in the infant Jesus the mercy promised to his ancestors. Jesus is proof that God remembers their covenant. And God continues offering proof of God’s mercy and remembered promises. We are being rescued (v. 74), even now. We are not alone; we’re before him all our days (v. 75). God’s mercy and promise guide us. 

Consider

During your darkest times, how do you turn to God?

Pray

God, when I struggle, may your mercy and our covenant be my guide. Amen.

Thursday, May 20

Galatians 3:23-29

My two sons were not only raised by their parents, but also by Clavia. Her infectious joy and humor filled our Brooklyn home. And her Caribbean accent and delicious curries carried us all (not just our children) into adulthood with grace and love. 

When I was in the hospital delivering our second son, our three-year-old asked Clavia what color his new brother was. He had no understanding of ethnicity or ancestry. He just looked around our multi-cultural neighborhood, saw a rainbow hue of skin shades and hair colors, and assumed we could choose his brother’s skin color like he chose a crayon from his box. 

Clavia explained that the baby’s hair was bright red and his skin was a creamy beige, similar to his brother’s and his parents,’ but not as brown as hers. She loved telling this story, and clearly so do I. In telling it, we celebrated this child who appreciated the beauty of each skin tone and who, at 24, still does. 

I remember that conversation with Clavia when I read Paul’s words in this passage: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (v. 28).

We are heirs to this promise of our faith, that in Christ we are all one. May we claim that promise and live out its truth each day. 

Consider

Who helps you realize that we are all one in Christ Jesus?

Pray

God, lead us into your presence and make us one in you. Amen.