Friday, November 12

John 12:27-30

One of our kids is a planner by nature. She wants to map out everything, from summer vacations to college plans to her eventual career path. This tendency has been especially challenging and frustrating for her during the pandemic. She just wants to know when things are going to happen and how things are going to pan out. I think most of us are like that. We want to know what the future looks like so we can anticipate and plan.

When I read the Gospel of John, I don’t envy Jesus at all. Even though the Jesus of this Gospel knows everything, this information does not make anything easier. Understandably, the knowledge of his impending death weighs heavily on him. It preoccupies him. When he says that his soul is troubled, we know why. And yet, Jesus is clear that he will not ask God to save him from his suffering.

In this way, Jesus is the opposite of us. When we suffer or face the threat of suffering, we pray for God to take it away. If someone we love is suffering, we pray for that to be taken away. It helps me to know that even Jesus seems to worry about how he will face his future. Even knowing that his death is imminent, he still doesn’t seem to fully know how he will handle it. Surely we will encounter suffering in our lives. Though we may want to plan and map out our futures, the truth is that we can only know so much here and now. This year especially, the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday reminded me of both my transient space here on earth and my assured place of rest in God. Jesus shows us that our souls can be troubled and comforted in the same moment, in God’s time.

Consider

How do you handle the tension between needing to plan for the future and resting in God’s care?

Pray

God, you are the author of all of our days. Comfort and give us hope, even when our souls are troubled. Amen.

Thursday, November 11

1 Kings 19:14-18

At the beginning of the new school year, the bulletin board outside the school counselor’s office had just three words on it in big, bold letters: “Just show up.” When I asked her about it, the counselor said, “For a lot of students, especially those who suffer from anxiety, just coming to school each day is a brave act.” As the school year unfolds, this great message takes on all kinds of meanings. Just show up for volleyball tryouts and see what happens. Just show up for the play audition and see what unfolds. Just show up for the tutoring session and see if it helps.

At this point in his story, the prophet Elijah is ready to give up. He’s done everything God asked him to, striking down the prophets of Baal for the sake of Israel. He’s been zealous, courageous, and faithful, but now he’s running for his life. He seems disillusioned and depressed. This could have been the end of Elijah’s career as a prophet, as well as the end of his life. God could simply leave Elijah alone and move on to other prophets. Instead, God has a different message for him: Go back. Instead of allowing Elijah to give up, defeated and afraid, God gives him another assignment. In other words, even though Elijah has given up, God isn’t giving up on him.

God isn’t finished with Elijah because God still has work for him to do. It will take a lot of courage and positive self-talk for Elijah to get out of the cave and move down the mountain, and it begins here, with God telling him that his story is not over yet. He’ll have to keep showing up to see what unfolds.

Consider

How do you challenge yourself to “just show up” and see what God does?

Pray

God, when I am ready to give up, show me a small step I can take in your direction. Amen.

Wednesday, November 10

1 Kings 19:11-13

What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v. 13)

God asks Elijah this question twice, this time after coaxing him out of the cave on Mt. Horeb. It sounds more like a question Elijah could have been asking himself throughout his past 40 days on the run. “How did this happen to me?” “What have I done?” “What am I doing here?”

Have you ever asked yourself such a question? Maybe you asked it at a time when things seemed to fall into place and you found yourself happier than you could imagine. Or maybe you asked it in a moment that was exactly the opposite. God doesn’t give Elijah any answers to his desperate situation. In fact, God is the one who presents this question for Elijah to ponder.

Maybe God does this because Elijah needs to face up to the answer that he already knows deep down. Like that time you needed to make a difficult choice or face an uncomfortable truth, so you polled everyone you know to put off facing facts. Most of the time, we know all along, deep down, what it is we need to do. In those times, the hard but necessary thing to do is to stop, clear away the noise and distractions, and be quiet enough to really listen to your heart of hearts. Then pluck up the courage to follow through.

This story of Elijah’s encounter with God on Mt. Horeb is powerful because God is not in the spectacle and Elijah doesn’t need God to be. Elijah doesn’t need God to be in the wind, or the fire, or in any earth-shaking event. Elijah needs God to be grounded with him in the silence because it is there that Elijah knows, deep down, what he’s known since God called him: although the road ahead won’t be easy, it is his path to take.

Consider

How would you answer if God asked you, “What are you doing here?”

Pray

God, help me to clear away the distractions and noise that keep me from knowing the truth you’re trying to show me. Amen.

Tuesday, November 9

1 Kings 19:9-10

I alone am left,” Elijah moaned to God from the cave (v. 10). Never mind the 7,000 other prophets of Israel who have been kept safe, Elijah still feels utterly alone even though, in his own eyes, he has done everything right.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called loneliness a “public health epidemic, as over 20 percent of adults surveyed in America reported they feel ‘often or always lonely or socially isolated.’” Murthy wrote that we should treat our loneliness in the same way we treat hunger and thirst, as signals our body sends us to let us know we are in need of something we’re missing.

In our story, the angel has met Elijah’s needs for food and drink, but the prophet is still lonely. God meets Elijah right where he is and listens to his complaints. Elijah lays out his story for God, saying that even though he has done everything right and in service to God, now he is running in fear of his life and completely alone in this struggle. What may be most striking here is what God doesn’t do. God doesn’t say, “Be not afraid,” like God often does in Scripture. God doesn’t immediately send an angel as a companion for Elijah, either. This is not an easy fix, so God doesn’t argue with Elijah or refute his story. God is simply present with him.

Roge Karma, “Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on America’s loneliness epidemic,” Vox, https://www.vox.com/2020/5/11/21245087/america-loneliness-
epidemic-coronavirus-pandemic-together (11 May, 2020).

Consider

When has someone shared their story of loneliness with you? How can you be fully present to them in such situations?

Pray

God, sometimes we are lonely in a way that cannot be fixed. Help us be open to telling and listening to stories of loneliness. Amen.

Monday, November 8

1 Kings 19:4-8

Hikers of the Appalachian Trail tell stories of “trail magic.” These are the unexpected, spontaneous gifts they encounter along their way, often when they need them most. The magic could manifest itself in the form of a cooler filled with iced-down drinks and a “Help Yourself” sign on a hot day. Or it might appear in a granola bar strategically placed within their line of sight.

One hiker tells of being on the trail for days and lamenting the fact that he had nothing but instant coffee to drink in the morning. During a particularly long hike, he stopped to sit by a lake. “‘Just then, a fellow hiker pulled up, produced a true French press out of his pack, and began to make me a real cup of joe. He had whole beans, the grinder, everything.’ It turned out that the fellow hiker was a barista. The first hiker said that looking out at the water while sipping a good cup of strong coffee was one of the highlights of his trek.” People like the lakeside barista are called “trail angels” for the kind, generous, and unexpected ways they attend to hikers on the journey.

After a long day on the run, Elijah is certain that his life is coming to a sad end. Just when he’s about to give up completely, an angel visits, fixing him a warm cake to eat and giving him fresh water. After Elijah sleeps, the angel feeds him again, and that is enough to sustain him for the next leg of his journey.

Ac Shilton, “How to Be the Best Trail Angel,” Outside Magazine, https://www.outsideonline.com/2325776/how-win-trail-magic.

Consider

Along your life’s journey, who has been a trail angel to you? When have you experienced trail magic?

Pray

God, thank you for the gift of (insert name of a trail angel here), who provided me with what I needed when I most needed it. Amen.

Sunday, November 7

1 Kings 19:1-3

Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear teaches the importance of trusting our gut instinct, especially when it comes to assessing dangerous situations. Long before de Becker’s publication date, the prophet Elijah was living out this message. In an incredibly short time span, he goes from being a violent warrior to a fleeing victim.

We may expect more from a biblical prophet like Elijah but remember that he too is human. If we are honest, we know what it is like to feel brave, self-assured, and confident one day, only to wake up the next morning feeling completely overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next.

Although Elijah seems certain of God’s presence and power as he slays the prophets of Baal, the moment he hears about Jezebel’s threats on his life, he flees into the wilderness, far away from anyone who could help him. He even leaves his servant behind. Yet the same God who is with Elijah in his battle is also with him as he flees from the person seeking to avenge that violence.

The truth is that sometimes we get scared and run away; and other times, we stand our ground and stare down our biggest fears. This is one reason why we continually need God, who always seeks us out and never leaves us alone.

Even though Elijah thinks he is running away from everything and everyone, God keeps showing up because God is not finished and neither is Elijah. Elijah is part of a bigger story that God is working out.

Consider

When in your life has your fear overwhelmed your trust in God? How did God show up for you?

Pray

God, in times of confidence and crisis, remind me that you are always there. Amen.

Saturday, November 6

John 2:13-22

Today’s reading jumps nearly a thousand years in time from yesterday’s reading. The Temple Jesus enters replaced Solomon’s Temple after the Babylonians destroyed it in 586 BC. King Herod had been renovating and enlarging it for decades using Roman money. Local animal sellers charged pilgrims, who had traveled great distances, high prices for their sacrificial animals. In addition, the priests decided they wouldn’t accept the empire’s coinage. This forced the pilgrims to convert their money—at a commission—into temple currency in order to buy the sacrifices. Jesus throws these moneymakers out of the Temple’s courtyard because they have turned the worship of God into a profitable business.

Despite the fact that churches in our society have to have bylaws, audits, insurance, and tax forms, churches should not be run like a business. Churches should be run like, well, churches. Yes, they need to use good accounting principles and sound investment practices, as they need to use proper English grammar for the weekly newsletter. But that doesn’t mean the church should be managed like a retail store.

How is the church ever going to transform society into the way of Jesus if we run our churches the way our society runs corporations? Rather than influence society with the way of Jesus, too often we let society influence how we run Jesus’ Church.

When Jesus said, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!
(v. 16), he was trying to tell us that God operates with a different bottom line. When churches make decisions about budgets, buildings, and bottom lines, Jesus invites them to see those decisions through the lens of his ministry.

Consider

In what ways do you think Jesus’ bottom line might be different from and similar to a corporate bottom line?

Pray

God, forgive me when I get my priorities mixed up. Give me courage to make decisions based on faith in you and in myself, and not on fear. Amen.

Friday, November 5

1 Kings 9:1-5

After Solomon finished building the Temple, the king’s palace, and all he desired to create, the Lord appears to him a second time in a dream. Solomon thinks his work is done; the Lord states otherwise.

God promises faithfulness in response to Solomon’s prayer. The divine presence will be known in the Temple for all time (though not only in the Temple). Then, God reminds Solomon about his commitment to be faithful, saying, “If you will walk before me . . . with integrity of heart and uprightness . . . and keeping my statutes and ordinances, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever” (v. 4). The Lord will establish Solomon’s legacy not through these buildings that will stand for generations, but through his faithfulness. The integrity of his heart, manifested in how justly he governs his people, will establish his legacy.

Buildings, bylaws, and bureaucracies help churches, schools, colleges, institutions, and governments thrive over generations to some extent. They are not, however, their legacy. A church in my city was once a thriving congregation, but when its neighborhood changed, its parishioners moved to different parts of town. They still commuted to church on Sundays, but as they aged their children’s families attended different churches. In time they were down to a couple dozen members. Then they decided to open their doors to community ministries all around them. Soon, a multi-cultural group of people asked if the church would accept them. A decade later it is an eclectic, diverse, thriving congregation.

For a long time, they had taken care of a building and almost died. They found their legacy when they faithfully ministered to people who had long been their neighbors.

Consider

What is your church’s legacy? What is yours?

Pray

God, give me the faith this day to grasp what is truly important, to see what can be and not only what is, and to recognize strangers as future friends. Amen.

Thursday, November 4

1 Kings 8:14-21

King Solomon’s ceremonial speech takes place in the Temple’s main sanctuary. It expresses what should be said at graduations, ordinations, installations, and dedications. Solomon reminds Israel of their history, how the Lord brought them out of Egypt, gave them a covenant, and made his father David ruler over the kingdom.

The Temple is not just a grand building. It changes worship in Israel, making it more centralized, requiring Israelites to travel to Jerusalem a few times a year to offer sacrifices there during annual festivals. Solomon reminds them of their shared history to encourage them to embrace these changes.

President Lincoln did this during the Gettysburg Address. Reminding the country of its shared history, he pointed to the Declaration of Independence to challenge the nation to finish the war and unite so “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Likewise, Martin Luther King, Jr. did this on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, proclaiming that the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were a promissory note, documenting a legal relationship between country and citizen, which every American inherits. He brought the crowd to Washington to cash that check and share his dream that one day all children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Creating lasting movements in churches, communities, and nations always involves reaching back to find the core values that make our life together worth living. We must do this to set a course for living into the changes that the future always brings.

Consider

How have you kept your most cherished traditions, customs, and values fresh and responsive to the challenges and needs of today’s world?

Pray

Lord, make me grateful for all that has made me who I am, and give me courage to change in ways that prepare me for what lies ahead. Amen.

Wednesday, November 3

1 Kings 8:10-13

As soon as the priests set the ark of the covenant in its place and leave the holy inner chamber, God reminds them why the Temple was built.
A cloud fills the sanctuary, so thick that the priests cannot lead worship. King Solomon tells them that the Lord dwells in such mysteries. When Moses received the Ten Commandments, a thick cloud surrounded the mountain. When the Israelites traveled during the exodus, the Lord led them with a pillar of a cloud by day. The cloud was not God, but God’s hidden presence moved in the cloud.

The day had been one long celebration: a parade across Jerusalem, sacrifices that couldn’t be numbered, and the ceremonial placement of the ark. The cloud fills the main sanctuary as if to remind the people that the Temple itself is not the purpose for such a grand occasion. God’s presence in the Temple is the reason they celebrate.

What happens in church buildings makes them sacred: baptisms and weddings, food pantries and after-school programs, youth group sleepovers and senior adult Bible studies. God’s presence working in the midst of faithful communities makes a building a church.

Buildings and institutions turn devoted movements into generational communities. They are necessary and vital because they embody lasting connections. Sometimes we spend so much time and money maintaining and protecting them that we forget that they are not the purpose of our gatherings. They only host the purpose. The building is only as important as the ministry it houses.

There are moments, at baptisms or funerals, in Christmas Eve candlelight or an Easter morning hymn, when you know that “surely the LORD is in this place”. That’s when a building becomes a church.

Consider

How does your church’s ministry define the importance of your building?

Pray

God, give me the awareness to help my church be an inviting host to your people and your presence. Amen.