July 24, 2014 — peace

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Ephesians 2:11-18

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.

More thoughts for meditation

There seem to be few things as hard to come by in this world as peace. Peace between countries, peace between ethnicities, or even peace within us is illusive. War, violence and discontent thrive all around us. How can I be at peace when someone is shot at the end of my block? How can I be at peace when bombs fall over Gaza? How can I be at peace when I need to find the best job possible? How can I be at peace when I have no idea how my child will receive a good education where I live? The answer to all of these questions is probably “It is going to be difficult.” The world is full of worries that are legitimate and call for our attention.

The Christians in Ephesus probably had many things to worry about just as we do today. So when we read Paul’s letter to them it is saying something that was just as radical then as it is now:  Jesus is with you in your strife. In all of the turmoil of our world and day Christ is beside us. Jesus is calling us not to despair at the violence around us but to remember that his peace persists and that it is not a passive peace. It is an active peace that moves us towards God’s justice and love and that moves God’s justice and love into His creation.

In Christ we are free to act without the boundaries that politics, economics, ethnicity, or the law put around us.  This is the peace of Christ: the knowledge that no wall separates us from God or one another any longer. Even when we worry, God is with us. Even when we feel threatened, God is with us. Christ is our peace.

Suggestions for action

Pray: God, meet me in my exasperation. Show me the path to peace

Spend some time finding peace in the middle of difficulty. Invite Jesus into a stressful situation, whether it is in the future or right now. Where do you need God to give you peace?

 

July 23, 2014 — emancipator

Today’s Bible reading and and excerpt

Read Galatians 3:23-29

 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.  So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

More thoughts for meditation

Paul is worked up. The church in Galatia is being led astray by an unknown person who is seeking to subject it to the law of the flesh. Paul is not having it. He is not having it for reasons made clear in verses 23-29, though you would do well to read the whole book as if no chapters or verses broke it up. This is one long, hot, Spirit-filled argument about the freedom Christ has brought to the world.

That freedom is being threatened by people who insist that Christians follow the law of Moses as it was passed down to the Jews of 1st century Palestine. Specifically, followers of Jesus are being convinced they need to accept circumcision. Paul is incredulous for two reasons. The first is that it is not by acts, but by faith that Christians receive what is promised to them by Jesus. He states two or three times that being circumcised or uncircumcised doesn’t even matter. It is moot. Jesus has come, and through faith in him we are made heirs to God’s kingdom. The second reason is that followers of Jesus are now free and not subject to the law.

To live under the law is to live as a slave or as a small child. Paul goes back and forth between the comforting image of having a guardian and the more striking one of a person enthralled. Before Christ, Jews and the whole world lived in slavery to “the elementary principles of the world.” In Christ, through the Spirit, we receive a fuller understanding. We can live as people who have the law written on our hearts, acting as agents of goodness, not mere aspirants, engaging as fully grown heirs in God’s Kingdom.

An heir in a kingdom has responsibilities and the freedom to carry them out. Whereas before we lived under the law, we are now empowered through the Holy Spirit, as Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians, to be coworkers with God in his reconciliation work. We are free agents of God’s love, called to express it to the world and to welcome in as many people as we can. We were restrained from harm under the law. In Jesus we are freed to express the love of God to the world. Jesus is the actual great emancipator.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Thank you, Lord. Soften slavery’s grip on me so I can exercise my freedom to love like you.

Today, as you read this, you are free. You are not constrained by what others think of you, by the train schedule, or the deadline that looms over you. Rest in that freedom and act out of it. Love your coworkers instead of seeing them as necessary parts of a project. Be patient with the person walking slowly in front of you. You are an agent of God’s love.

July 22, 2014 — reconciliation

Today’s Bible reading 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).

More thoughts for meditation

For Paul, Jesus was the literal reconciliation of God with all of humanity. This was the central truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection: we, as human beings, now had access to a relationship with God that was impossible under the old law. Through Jesus we became coworkers in God’s project, empowered by the Spirit to create the church and express God’s will to the world. The joy and affirmation of this are captured earlier in his letter when he writes that “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus].”

Being reconciled to God is fundamentally about saying yes just as God, according to Paul, has said yes to us in Jesus. We are not rejected because of sin or weakness; we are welcomed just as we are into the process of being made new. Christ did not die so that God could count our trespasses against us, he died so that we could be welcomed into God’s work of reconciliation with the world.

Understanding this can be difficult for modern, American Christians who have grown up in the turn or burn theology that dominated the public image of Christianity for the past century. In many people’s conception of Christ, his primary role was simply to save people from going to Hell and giving them access to Heaven. Heaven, of course, not being anything like the Earth we live in. The problem with this thinking is that it doesn’t address what Paul is saying in the actual Bible at all.

Christ’s resurrection was about empowering humanity in the here and now. Whether the here was Palestine ruled by Rome, or the right now when Israel continues its ground invasion of Gaza. We are called by Christ into the ministry of reconciliation because he has reconciled us to God. Our personal salvation may come along with this, but it is hardly all that God has in mind for us.

Suggestions for action

Pray: God, make me an instrument of reconciliation. Today, help me spread your peace

Be reconciled to God, today. That doesn’t just mean be holy, or sanctified, or any other loaded term. Before all those other things are possible, be reconciled to being loved by Jesus and to spreading his gospel of reconciliation. Where are there two sides needlessly in conflict? Where is there real conflict that needs Jesus’ presence? Bring Christ into the center of the divide and let him do the work with you, as he has promised to do.

July 21, 2014 — stone

Today’s scripture and an excerpt

Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-8

For I do not want you to be unaware brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

More thoughts for mediation

Sometimes it’s easy to relegate Jesus to an ineffectual corner of our life where we go primarily to daydream — to sit and think about how good the story of Jesus is and how good the teaching in the New Testament is and how good all of that makes us feel. Taking Jesus out of that corner and into the real world can be difficult because it is hard to believe Jesus will provide for us when we are truly in need.

In the passage for today Paul is referring to the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering through the desert in search of the land God had promised them. After leaving Egypt through the Red Sea,  Moses and his followers were provided for by God. One example of this was a stone that would produce water when Moses struck it with his staff. In his letter, Paul states that Jesus was that very stone.

There isn’t a more direct form of providence than providing water for people to drink in the desert. It is sometimes hard to imagine a Jesus that could meet us in such a real, direct way. It is far easier to imagine a Jesus who was just a teacher of morality and a radical ethicist who put together a philosophy for better living. If that’s the case, it is difficult to read something like what Paul is saying and not stumble over the Stone.

Jesus is alive, as he was in the desert with the Israelites, and as he was when he appeared to the Apostles to cook them breakfast after his resurrection. Jesus is with us in the desert of our lives: in our grief, our illness, in our confusion and all our suffering — even unto death. The promise he offers in the resurrection is that he will provide for our life. He is not just saying, “My teachings are good,” though they are. He is saying, “I will give you what you need to survive.”

Suggestions for action

Pray:  Jesus, meet me in the desert. Sate my thirst.

Where do you need God right now?– think about all of your needs not just your spirit. Invite Jesus into the parts of your day that are stressing you out. Let him come close to where you are and be with you in how you feel in the moment. Try to pray for something real, like a friend’s illness or your own need for employment. We’re in Philly, so you could just pray for the city. Lord knows it needs it.

July 20, 2014 — potter

Jesus in the epistles.

Today a new “voice” leads us through the New Testament letters looking for images of Jesus.

The header is the Chester Beatty papyrus codex of the Pauline Epistles, Romans 11: 13-22 and Colossians 1: 5-12. It was copied some time between AD 180-200 and is the earliest book of Saint Paul’s letters in existence. The pages were numbered in the upper margin, and enough page numbers have been preserved to establish the original formation of the volume. The entire codex would have consisted of 100 to 104 leaves, of which only 86 survive, 55 in Dublin and 30 in the library of the University of Michigan.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Romans 9

Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

More thoughts for meditation

God is the Potter. In his letter to the Romans, Paul is making a sweeping argument about the nature of humanity now that Jesus has died and been resurrected. No longer is the promise of God exclusively for the people of Israel. Through the person of Jesus, all the people of Earth are being reconciled with their creator. Furthermore, this reconciliation doesn’t have anything to do with the actions those people take, like following a law that justifies their salvation. Instead of a law that brings death, Jesus offers us a life that conquers death. All that we have to do to access this life is have faith that Jesus is truth and life and let this faith guide us.

Some people might say this is a washy way to have people follow God. Even today, we tend to be people of law. Just look at the to-do over the most recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. I don’t know what Paul or Jesus would have to say about the decisions themselves, but I’m sure both would point out that we, as followers of Christ, are being shaped by something other than the laws of a single country. Being guided by faith means being open to what God is doing in the world and in you.

In Romans 9, Paul is making a pretty bold claim: we are surrendering to God and allowing him to shape not just what we do, but who we are. It’s easy to gloss over doing something of this magnitude by superficially agreeing to it. We can be glib and say “sure, I’ll let God shape me” without really coming to terms with what that means. We want the freedom from the law that oppresses but we don’t necessarily spend time cultivating the faith that this requires of us.

In the verses for today Paul is calling us to consider what it means to be people who truly follow God and the nature of surrender. He isn’t just reminding us of the creation story in Genesis where humanity is formed from the very earth. Paul is calling us to remain the clay that God uses to shape the world. We are no longer subject to the law of sin and death because the creator is shaping us anew through Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our present lives. God did not stop creating with Adam. He has called forth a new humanity in Christ. We are being made into new vessels crafted for God’s use –new people meant to carry the message of life and freedom to the people of our region and the rest of the
world.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Lord, give me the faith to be shaped. Make me new.

What new thing is God trying to shape in you? In what ways are you living out the old law of relationships, job responsibilities, or old identities? How is God reforming you in these places? Remember that you are new in Christ. Be unbound and express God’s love and your faith.

July 19, 2014 — troubles

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read Psalm 25

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

O my God, in you I trust…

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.

Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.

Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.

More thoughts to ponder

This Psalm offers us a picture of the writer David’s humility and boldness. In its opening stanzas we see a picture of the neediness David experiences – he needs teaching, he needs guidance, he needs defense against his enemies, he needs forgiveness. Some of us likely identify with David’s needs – can we also identify with David’s humility? By asking for God’s involvement, David is admitting his lack of control over his situation. He isn’t conforming to the narrative that whispers that the ideal ME would be able to develop a well-lived life on my own, on my own wisdom, my own power. And David is willing to ask God directly for this teaching, comfort, forgiveness, guidance, redemption. David has a sense of his standing before God – he imagines a litany of sins could cloud God’s image of him. And yet he remains bold enough to ask for God to forget all that, for God to remember David “according to [God’s] steadfast love.”

Many of us imagine God as disappointed in us, worked up over our failures. In Christ God sees us differently. The Spirit that lives in us yearns for our redemption, and by God’s gracious miracle there is no condemnation for us.

Suggestions for Action

Make a short list of your troubles. Maybe David’s troubles will inspire you – his guilt, sins, loneliness, enemies, confusion, and fear. Jot a few down on a paper. Close your eyes and imagine yourself handing the list to God. Picture God – imagine God reading the list, and notice God’s facial expression. Are you able to see God remembering you, noticing you according to God’s love?

Allow yourself a moment of quiet. Invite God to respond to your troubles. Notice God’s reaction.

Pray: Be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Consider my trouble, and forgive all my sins.

Worldwide Voices guide

Pentecost — Worldwide voices!

Here is a summary of all the voices we have heard. It is like another Hebrews 11 listing the heroes of faith! Thanks to all our own “voices” who gave us this delicious summer fruit to savor. May the Holy Spirit help us all find our voice to speak the truth about Jesus in love.

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Europe and Russia/Northern Asia past and present

6/8/2013            fire Lydia
6/9/2013            safety Columba of Iona
6/10/2013          pilgrimage the pilgrim
6/11/2013          jubilee Andre Trocme
6/12/2013          new Clare of Assisi
6/13/2013          ambition Batjargal Tuvshintsengel
6/14/2013          guts Della Waghiyi
6/15/2013          haste Teresa of Avila

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Middle East and Northern Africa past and present

6/16/2013          courage Mark
6/17/2013          humility Anthony of Egypt
6/18/2013          purity Mary of Egypt
6/19/2013          unity Isaac of Nineveh
6/20/2013          known Charles de Foucauld
6/21/2013          persecution Baba Shenouda III
6/22/2013          peace Salim J. Munayer

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Central and South America past and present

6/23/2013          voz Oscar Romero
6/24/2013          milagro Jim Elliot
6/25/2013          ambiente Dorothy Stang
6/26/2013          justicia Antonio Montesino
6/27/2013          alma Jorge Bergoglio
6/28/2013          anhelo Dorothy Kazel
6/29/2013          predicacion Francisco Penzotti

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South/East Asia past and present

6/30/2013         suffer Samuel Lamb
7/1/2013            tienzhu Lee Sung Heun
7/2/2013            love Lottie Moon
7/3/2013            allegiance Takuma Sawabe
7/4/2013            sacrifice Hudson Taylor
7/5/2013            persecution Brother Shui
7/6/2013            gospel Li Chouzi

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Sub Saharan Africa past and present

7/7/2013            burn Soweto Gospel Choir
7/8/2013            mender Festo Kivengere
7/9/2013            anywhere David Livingstone
7/10/2013          good Desmond Tutu
7/11/2013          imitate Katie Davis
7/12/2013          fallen Helen Roseveare
7/13/2013          transforming Wallace and Mary Kamau

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Australia/Oceania past and present.

7/14/2013          turn Maretu
7/15/2013          connect John Flynn
7/16/2013          stand William Cooper
7/17/2013          gather Douglas Nicholls
7/18/2013          fruit Rawiri Taiwhanga

July 18, 2014 — fruit

Today’s Bible Reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 13

“This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or more.”

A voice from Aotearoa/New Zealand for meditation

 It took a long time for Rawiri Taiwhanga to grow into faith.

Rawiri, a leader of the Ngati Tautahi hapu of Te Uri-o-Hua section of Nga Puhi at Kaikohe (a hapu is a clan or sub-tribe of Maori people), was one of the first “Maori of note” to convert to Christian faith. Like most Maori men, Taiwhanga had gone to war with other tribes before he met missionaries from England. Rather than being impressed with the muskets that colonizers had to offer, Rawiri gravitated towards the agricultural practices of the missionaries that had come to live in his region.

Along his journey, missionaries had arranged for several trips to different areas to help Taiwhanga learn a variety of agricultural techniques. His first trip was to Australia, where he lived for 18 months with a chaplain in Parramatta, New South Wales in 1822. After one last battle, Taiwhanga abandoned warfare for gardening. As a Nga Puhi leader, Taiwhanga’s green thumb attracted the attention of many around him. He worked in farming alongside missionaries for years. Over ten years of working alongside Rawiri their efforts came to fruit. On February 7th, 1830 Taiwhanga became the first Maori leader to convert to Christianity. Rawiri’s faith would spurn him on into ventures other than farming as well. In later years, Rawiri would leave his thriving farm to travel with missionaries to other areas in New Zealand.

Suggestions for Action

It took years of patiently working alongside Rawiri until he pursued the Christian journey. Likewise, we might love someone intentionally for years before it even registers that our love comes from Jesus’ love. As you pray today, think of a person that you are walking a long journey of faith with. Take heart that sometimes good crops need a lot of tender care. Amen.

 

July 17, 2014 — gather

Today’s Bible Reading and an excerpt

Read Ephesians 4

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.”

A voice from Australia for meditation
Douglas nicholls.jpg A champion for reconciliation, Douglas Nicholls was the first Aborigine to be knighted…by the same government that took away his sister.

Born on Cummeragunja Reserve in New South Wales, Douglas Nicholls lived a life of firsts.  He was the first Aborigine to be knighted, and the first Aborigine to serve as a vice-regal. Nicholls was even one of the first to play Australian rules football professionally for Fitzroy. Enduring brutal racism at virtually every stage of his life, Nicholls succeeded in organizing Aboriginal peoples to stand for their rights in government. Throughout his life, Nicholls always championed reconciliation between Aborigines and European Australians.  This is astonishing when one considers that he witnessed first-hand his sister’s kidnapping and removal to a government-run school for Aboriginal women.

His most important “first”, however, is that Nicholls served as the first pastor for the first Aboriginal Church of Christ in Australia. Aboriginal Christians had almost no Christian leaders from their people before Nicholls’ ordination. Nicholls didn’t always set out to be a Christian minister however. In fact, he came to faith later in life after his mother passed away. Quickly, Nicholls became a lay minister who stood out to church leaders for his ability to care for those trapped in cycles of alcohol abuse, gambling abuse and trouble with the law. As Aboriginal people were drawn to him due to the love that he shared with them, a church of indigenous people naturally formed around him.

Suggestions for Action

Pray: Jesus, help me show your sacrificial love for those who need it most. Use that love to gather others to your world redemption project. Amen.

 

July 16, 2014 — stand

Today’s Bible Reading and an excerpt

Read Psalm 34

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

A voice from Australia for meditation

 The last of his family to become a Christian, William Cooper was one of the first to organize Aborigines against systemic oppression.

Born at the confluence of the Murray and Golburn Rivers in Victoria, Australia, William Cooper seemed destined to work on someone else’s farm for the rest of his life. His father was a “white” laborer and his mother was a Wollithica woman who spoke Yorta Yorta. His family worked for farmers for most of his childhood. When they relocated to a mission devoted to building the church among the Australian Aborigines, Cooper began to learn to the alphabet and was exposed to the Bible.

After one church meeting, when he was twenty four, Cooper told the missionary “I must give my heart to God.” As a Jesus-follower, he began to understand and protest against the oppression of his people. He intimately saw how his story was connected with the stories of oppressed people in the Bible.

While working as a general laborer for years, William Cooper relentlessly stood up for the rights of Aborigines across the continent. He demanded land reparations from the government of Australia in order to foster independence for Aboriginal peoples. After retiring and becoming a pensioner, Cooper founded the Australian Aborigines League, a political group that advocated for direct representation of Aboriginal peoples in Australian Parliament. This group, in concert with others, hosted the first Day of Mourning alongside Australia Day to protest against the European domination of the continent and callous treatment of Aboriginal peoples.

Cooper didn’t limit his faith-rooted activism to his own people though. Famously, Cooper led an Aboriginal delegation to the German consulate in Melbourne, Australia in 1938 to condemn the cruel persecution of the Jewish people under the Nazi regime. While many of Cooper’s goals weren’t met in his time, he is now seen as a visionary and catalyst for justice for Aborigines across the Australian continent.

Suggestions for Action

Cooper saw the story of his people, oppressed by colonization, as intimately connected to the story of the Bible. For Cooper, it “nourished” his life’s work of activism, for his own people and other’s that were oppressed.

Pray: Help me see my oppressed neighbors and myself in the story you’ve written. Keep giving us strength to resist oppression and restore a fractured world.