Tuesday, September 17

Genesis 18:9-12

This passage is, in theatrical terms, “the big reveal.” One of the strangers tells Abraham he’ll be back next year. And when he returns, he’ll see their son.

Ha!

Abraham and Sarah have always wanted a son. Theirs is the aching, painful, crushing desire to have a baby boy. But now, they’re old—as in, really, really old. Not. Gonna. Happen. We all know the desire to have something in our life that we are unable to make happen. One of my life’s crushing disappointments was accepting the fact at 19 years old that I’d never be over six feet tall. Now I just tell folks that I’m 6’2″ in a 5’7″ body. Funny now, but at 19, it was crushing. At some point, we all wish for something that will never, ever happen. 

Abraham and Sarah wished. And wished. But the opportunity passed. It wasn’t meant to be. Yet, when God told Abraham he would have a son, big Abe literally fell on his face laughing (previous chapter). Now Sarah hears the same prediction—and she, too, has a chuckle. 

Laughter is a release valve. Sometimes laughter is only a notch away from tears. We laugh instead of cry. Abraham and Sarah have grieved the lack of a son and have shed their tears. Now, this stranger rubs it in their face—“hey, a baby is coming”—and all they know to do is laugh.

Laughter is one of our gifts from God. But sometimes laugher is just a salve for our disappointment. A baby. Sure…that’s going to happen. Ha! 

Sometimes the news is just too much to take—so we laugh. 

Consider

When the news is too much to bear—whether it’s good, bad, or simply unfathomable—what’s your reaction? 

Pray

God, when I can’t believe, and I laugh—forgive me. When I do believe, and
I laugh—laugh with me. When I have no idea what to believe—thank you for not laughing at me. Amen.

Monday, September 16

Genesis 18:6-8

Abraham is a successful guy: big herds of animals, lots of money, plenty of servants, no shortage of people to do his bidding. But when God shows up as these three strangers, he doesn’t try to “staff it out.” Rather, he personally sees to their comfort. He asks (well, instructs) Sarah to personally bake bread—and not just bread, but cake with the best flour—and he personally goes to pick out the calf to be served, no doubt to ensure that the finest is chosen. Then Abraham becomes the servant, personally placing the meal in front of his guests and standing by while they eat—staying close in case they need something else.

No one should negate the value of delegating tasks, but there are times in our lives when the most important thing is for us to simply be present. Engaged. Aware. Listening. We need to “show up”—for our spouse, our kids, our friends…and sometimes, for a stranger.

The people who have the most impact in my life are those who choose to show up. And showing up is always a choice. It’s the intentional nature of it that makes it so meaningful. This person could be anywhere, and yet they have chosen to be here, with me. They show up for celebrations. For funerals, conversations, and meals. It is simply impossible to be present without first showing up. Showing up is a gift that is sometimes monumentally important, and sometimes just a drop of grace. 

Abraham is fully present for these three strangers. Even while they eat, he stood near them (v. 8). He is, it seems, keen on showing up.

Consider

How often do we miss opportunities to show up and offer the present of being present? 

Pray

God, thank you for those in my life who show up and give me the graceful gift of their full, undistracted attention. I pray for the awareness and courage that will allow me to be a person who shows up for others. Amen.

Sunday, September 15

Genesis 18:1-5

The LORD appeared to Abraham…in the heat of the day (v. 1). Revelations seldom seem to come when we’re comfortable. The Lord didn’t appear while Abraham was enjoying a cool dip in the lake, for example. 

God shows up as a trio—as three guys on a hot, dusty road trip. Abraham’s response when he sees them is hospitality. Did he know that these three guys were, you know…God? I have no idea. But he knew that they felt hot; that their feet were tired; and they likely needed a meal. Abraham is a veteran road warrior himself; he knows what it’s like to be in search of a decent dinner and a safe, comfortable place to sleep. 

Abraham does what we all hope a kind stranger will do for us when we’re wandering around on the road trip of life with no reliable cartography: he offers passing strangers a place to relax, a meal, a beverage. 

Hospitality doesn’t always have to occur in your own home. I’m a road warrior. 100K miles and 100 nights away is a typical year. Because traveling requires a lot of effort, it is (paradoxically, given the close quarters) easy to ignore others while in transit. Over recent months, I’ve endeavored to be less closed during my travels, more observant of others. Sometimes that means an offer to help with a bag, give directions, or provide a kind word and smile. Doing this has led me to touching and meaningful moments with an intrepid traveler from China, a confused lawyer from Italy, a new mom from south Texas, and a soldier returning from Afghanistan. Travelers all, in need of hospitality.

I love that Abraham doesn’t ignore these three and that, in the welcoming of strangers, he encounters God. 

Consider

How can I develop the awareness—and the courage—to help the stranger? 

Pray

Thank you, God, for the hospitality that strangers and friends have shown me. Help me recognize that the stranger who crosses my path may need my help. Amen.

Saturday, September 14

Mark 10:1-9

God offers us more creative possibilities than we realize. Opportunities to become creation’s caretakers and find purpose are open to us. Divine boundaries and rules can liberate us. Holy gifts of rest and companionship let us grow. When we struggle to see, God helps us envision. 

Some Pharisees with limited vision try to test Jesus. They ask him if divorce is lawful. After some back and forth, Jesus says, Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment for you (v. 5). When Jesus shares God’s vision for marriage, his words move beyond legalism and flow like poetry. Those who test him want more rigid, less lofty insight. 

I hear Jesus say, “Because you couldn’t understand God’s imaginative possibilities, you received the hardness of the law.” Is this Scripture about marriage? Sure. Is it about more than marriage? Of course! Marriage is one of a myriad of relationships we face, perhaps the one most stigmatized, scrutinized, and marked by the glitz of a big party. 

Marriage is a covenant. I harp on this when I officiate weddings (perhaps to the dismay of those lovebirds). If marriages were only legal contracts, they would break when the terms go unfulfilled, or be voided when one party fails to uphold their end of the deal. Not so with covenants that cover better or worse conditions, like sickness or health, wealth or poverty. The grace built into our covenants reflects the grace we experience in our relationship with God. 

So, rather than approaching this Scripture with the Pharisees’ limited vision, let’s envision what Jesus tells us through it. Our relationships with God and each other need not be reduced to laws chiseled in stone. They could be grace-filled covenants through which God shows us possibilities we would otherwise miss.

Consider

When has God’s grace helped you see possibilities that you had overlooked? 

Pray

God, you enter into covenant with us, being present even as we falter. Teach us your ways. May we grow to be more and more grace-filled. Amen.

Friday, September 13

Mark 1:16-20

Yesterday’s Scripture reading ended with these words: “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame” (Gen 2:24-25, Christian Standard Bible). Just before the serpent comes on the scene, the creation account concludes with a unifying bond and no shame, even in the humans’ most vulnerable state. 

I see a connection between yesterday’s Scripture and today’s verses from Mark 1. 

Follow me, Jesus says in Mark (v. 17), and those first followers do. They join him to become part of the body of Christ. Simon, Andrew, James, and John immediately leave their occupation and their parents behind. They bond with Jesus, Word made flesh, God in human form. 

Both passages, which describe how God’s creation process ends and how becoming a new creation begins, have the same outcome: a unifying bond forms without shame, even in someone’s most vulnerable state. 

Our individual creation stories each begin with our response to Jesus’ call, Follow me and I will make you fish for people (v. 17). In those moments, we have a choice. Will we leave behind what we know to become unified with Jesus? Perhaps this is why so many of our ancient texts refer to Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church as the bride of Christ. Something about being a new creation in Christ begs us to look back and find our roots in the first creation. Maybe if we do, we will see ourselves as part of God’s creative work and finally be without shame. 

Consider

What does being a new creation mean to you?

Pray

Jesus, call to us again. Give us the opportunity to be fishers of people. Show us how to unite with you and become one in your Spirit. Wipe away all of our shame. Amen.

Thursday, September 12

Genesis 2:21-25

According to “Project: Time Off” the number of vacation days that Americans take has declined dramatically since 2000. For decades, they took 20.3 days off per year. The trend ticked slightly upward from below 16 in 2014 to 17.2 days taken in 2017. Reportedly, 52% of the workforce has unused vacation from the last year. In a 2018 report by CNBC, 49% of Americans interviewed said they were not taking a vacation this year. Non-vacationers point to reasons such as not having enough money, family obligations, and feeling like there’s too much work to do. 

Even when we do go on vacation, we are constantly “on.” This has severely affected the travel industry, leading some locales to incentivize “no cell phone zones.” For example, if you agree to lock up your cell phone during dinner at one hotel, you’ll be entered in a drawing to receive a $500 voucher. (I am not making this up.)

Statistics show that the number of goods and services a worker can produce in an hour’s time has increased 127% between 1947 and 2002 (mostly because of new technology). Yet, Americans on average work almost one month more each year than they did in 1964. 

I imagine that these statistics might resonate with you. Maybe you didn’t take a vacation last year. Maybe your employer doesn’t pay for time off. Maybe you take your cell phone with you everywhere, answering emails on your day off. 

When was the last time you really rested? It took man falling asleep for a helper to emerge. This tells us more than the fact that giving anesthesia before surgery was first a divine idea.  It reminds us that humans had to let God do the work. Having a helper also means you must give up something of yourself; you cannot do it all alone. 

Consider

How would you describe the quality of your rest? How is your rest related to God’s work in you?

Pray

God, you repeatedly remind us that we need rest. Teach us to take your Sabbath. Help us welcome those who lighten our load along the way. Amen.

Wednesday, September 11

Genesis 2:18-20

God recognized, It is not good that the man should be alone (v. 18). What does that mean? We remember the refrain in the Genesis 1 creation story, “And God saw that it was good.” This is the first time in Scripture that God sees something that isn’t good. And the first not good thing is loneliness. We do know that being alone sometimes is plenty good—introverts remind extroverts like me that time alone is imperative. What is not good, however, is being utterly alone. 

Today’s Scripture reminds me of the hymn “In the Garden,” which begins, “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses.” 

God tries everything. No animal helper is suitable for the man. Eventually, God creates woman because a human companion was needed.

I suppose, then, it makes sense that God came in human form through Jesus. No other form would do. In Jesus, God becomes the ultimate partner, an eternal helper for our loneliness. It is not good for humans to be alone. Hear the chorus of the hymn, “And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own; and the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.” 

In relationship with Jesus, we are connected as ligaments of the body of Christ, helped by the Holy Spirit, in the communion of the saints. It is not good for humanity to be alone; God made sure that we don’t have to be anymore. 

Consider

What does loneliness feel like to you?

Pray

Jesus, thank you for walking with us and bestowing the Holy Spirit upon us. Teach us how to be in communion with you and one another. Cast away our loneliness. Amen.

Tuesday, September 10

Genesis 2:10-17

This summer my husband Michael and I took a road trip to the Grand Canyon and back. All in ten days! We made the most of it, stopping at some incredible places.

One such place was Horseshoe Bend, located less than a mile off the road. Seeing it requires a short walk through soft sand and desert winds that lead up a steep hill. The land plateaus a bit as the sand gives way to rocks and scrubby green bushes. Then you come upon the mighty blue-green Colorado River slithering around a hairpin turn. This cavernous boundary, shifted and shaped over thousands of years, is nothing short of magnificent. It is a gift in itself, and discovering it is one as well.

The boundaries that God places in Eden are meant to be gifts. Just as those mighty rivers shape the landscape, the boundary that God places around the tree from which they could not eat shapes the divine-human relationship. Being God’s people means acknowledging that humans are not God. We need guidance and perspective that we cannot create for ourselves. 

Boundaries keep us healthy and help us avoid the temptations of overextending ourselves. They keep us humble while providing a structure that frees us to pursue our own creative work. God’s boundaries are not created to trap or confuse us; they are meant to inspire, guide, and give us purpose. The life God wants us to experience is a gift we do not want to miss. 

Consider

What boundaries do you need to embrace as gifts from God? 

Pray

God of rivers and guidelines, shape me into the person you want me to be. Erode from my life whatever holds me back from your intentions. Amen.

Monday, September 9

Genesis 2:8-9

I own a small, simple hammock that fits snugly into a bag about the size of a coconut. It’s lightweight, easy to throw into the back of a car or clip onto a backpack. It’s no trouble at all, really, until you take it out.

As simple as the product is, it requires something that cannot fit into its bag. You need two trees to string it between, but not just any trees. They must be strong enough to bear the weight, small enough that the straps will fit around the trunks, and spaced far enough apart so that the hammock can be stretched taut. 

Today’s verses let us glimpse the garden’s luscious greenery. Life for the new human will be framed between two kinds of trees in the middle of Eden, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In a sense, God invites Adam to stretch out his hammock and exist between these two trees. The trees are strong, small enough to fit the straps, and just far enough apart to stretch the hammock until it’s taut. Adam could kick up his feet, relax, and swing. 

Our gifts, skill sets, and attributes create the hammocks of our lives and make each one of us unique. What fulfills and pleases me may not do the same for you. We carry these hammocks with us, but to fully utilize them, we need what only God can offer us. God provides places where our gifts and talents, our truest selves, find a home. 

Consider

Where do your gifts and talents find a home? How do you sense God’s involvement in that work?

Pray

Stretch us, God, and use us. Make clear to us the place where we are to be. Show us how to be our truest selves. Amen.

Sunday, September 8

Genesis 2:4b-7

After God forms the heavens and earth, and after a rising stream nourishes all the greenery until it sprouts, then the Lord God forms humanity from the dust of the ground. 

Humans often forget that we came after everything else. In both versions of the creation story, in Genesis 1 and 2, God creates humanity after amoebas, mosquitoes, poison ivy, all the creeping things, and dust. Dust! And even after being formed from the dust of the ground, humans need God’s breath of life to be breathed through our snotty nostrils. 

Why, then, do we act as if our lives are so disconnected from this world that God so loves? If the dust mattered significantly then, surely it matters now. 

When I think of dust, images of the 1930s Dust Bowl come to my mind. I draw on Dorothea Lange’s famous photographs and John Steinbeck’s vivid descriptions in The Grapes of Wrath. In the 1910s and 1920s, Americans plowed up 5.2 million acres of grasslands. When the drought came in the ’30s, nothing was left to hold down the tons of dry topsoil. Huge dust storms became the norm rather than a rare phenomenon. 

When farmers were trained in conservation techniques, millions of acres were reclaimed as national grasslands. The Midwest hasn’t experienced massive dust storms since the 1950s, but we still witness environmental changes caused by human overextension. When it comes to creation, we often forget our place in it.

Consider

What environmental changes have you seen in your lifetime? In what ways have we forgotten the dust of God’s created world?

Pray

Creative God, remind us that we are only part of your world. Remind us that we need your life-giving power to thrive. Show us how to embrace humility and protect your world around us. Amen.