September 3, 2014 — resourceful

Generating justice and hope in our neighborhood must be at the heart of us.
We do not generally hand out resources; we extend a resourceful hand.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Luke 11:5-13

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

More thoughts to ponder

Sometimes you just have to carry people. They are never going to be OK enough to sustain themselves in our uncaring world. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.

But most of the time, people are a lot more capable than they give themselves credit for. Plus, their poverty or problem may not be their fault, it may be systemic. They may need help to figure out how to respond in creative ways to their situation. The real blame for their lack of self-sufficiency may be in the hearts of the people who blame them for not overcoming the impossible. So our friend says: “We give people fish. We teach them to fish. We tear down the walls that have been built up around the fish pond. And we figure out who polluted it.” ― Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical

Shane is talking about the old adage: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Generally, we want to give people a helping hand, not undermine their dignity by arranging for them to be unnecessarily dependent, in one way or another. Besides, we are often in a mess like the people we would like to help! Plus, we don’t have a bunch of resources to hand out, anyway. So we need to get together with Jesus and one another and work for peace and justice — and not get stuck in mere self-reliance. We need to work against the systemic injustices that keep people away from resources and that waste and destroy them — and not pretend we are all equally, individually capable of overcoming the impossible.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Thank you for the good gifts you have given me. Help me to receive and to give in the same Spirit.

We worry an awful lot about whether we are “throwing our help down a rathole” when we serve people who don’t seem to get better, or who don’t want to! We are so sure of our own importance and of the scarcity of our resources that we protect ourselves from being “spread too thin.” There is some truth in that. There seems to be a limited amount of “fish” to hand out. That is, they seem limited until they are in the hands of Jesus!

Spend a minute connecting with the endlessness of God’s grace. Bask in the generosity you have been shown in Jesus. See if it loosens you to act likewise with the needy and difficult people you might meet today or tomorrow.

September 2, 2014 — obliged

Generating justice and hope in our neighborhood must be at the heart of us.
We are obliged to speak out against unjust laws and practices that oppress people and ruin creation.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Micah 3

Her leaders judge for a bribe,
her priests teach for a price,
and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
“Is not the Lord among us?
No disaster will come upon us.”

More thoughts to ponder

Sometimes we just have to say what needs to be said about injustice and ruination. We must speak the truth in love. Just because we are speaking doesn’t automatically mean that what we say will be received like we intend. But that’s OK.

We have to take risks and speak up, regardless. Paul even spoke up about Peter when he noted injustice: “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (Galatians 2:11-14). We tend to think that having a dispute is not being pacifist enough. But God has a big dispute with evil, and Jesus is compassionate enough to have it!

In our era the “powers that be” own the means of communication. They are invasive, relentless presences in our lives. Their oppression makes it seem impossible that our passion could make any difference. In the face of the powers of his day the prophet Micah told the truth: “Your rich people are violent; your inhabitants are liars,” and called God’s people to be their true selves: “to act justly and to love mercy” (Micah 6).

We are obliged, like Paul and Micah, in situations personal and public, to be honest about how sin does violence and ruins the gifts God has given us.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Thank you for defeating what leads to death. Make me a prophet when I need to be one.

What is the injustice or destructiveness that moves you the most right now, personal or public? There is always a lot to choose from! In the face of it, what must you do to act justly and love mercy? It may seem like it is too small of a thing to even bother with. Bother.

September 1, 2014 — wisdom

Generating justice and hope in our neighborhood must be at the heart of us.
Whether rich or poor we are united in demonstrating the gospel through justice, not merely talking about it.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read James 3:13-18

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

More thoughts to ponder

Life in the Spirit leads to wisdom, and wisdom leads deeds of goodness. It does not matter if one is rich or poor. A transformed life comes to anyone who will receive it with humility.

“People who generate compassionate service don’t share love in practical ways merely so they can get a spiritual rush or have a better spiritual resume or have an experience they can make a speech about, or just because they have enough money to do something good (even though rushes or reputations and generosity may result when one shares). Compassionate people are through with “it’s all about me” – the headphones are off and they are hearing God. They are part of a community with a purpose – not living in a walled compound protecting “theirs.” They are moved with the world’s plight and have something to contribute – they are beyond themselves with love.” – Rod White in A Circle of Hope.

Showing our wisdom by our deeds often feels like we are “beyond ourselves,” maybe “in over our heads!” Doing justice, even in our small circles, often gets the attention of the rulers since it confronts them and their God-denying philosophies. So it takes some courage to be wise in the ways of Jesus and to practice them in the face of powers who are “protecting theirs” — they are very likely to threaten “ours!”

Suggestions for action

Pray: Thank you God for how you demonstrate your wisdom in Jesus.

See if you are among those who are wise. In today’s scripture, James said, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Does that describe you? What would be a good way to strengthen (through practice) any of those traits that seem weak today?

Bonus suggestion for Labor Day: watch a movie that brings up the right questions:

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

On the Waterfront (1954)

The Pajama Game (1957) 

Norma Rae (1979)

The real Norma Rae died of cancer ; her insurer delayed treatment. 

Triangle Fire (PBS Documentary, 2011)

August 31, 2014 — notice

Generating justice and hope in our neighborhood must be at the heart of us.
We hope compassion is among the first things people notice about us.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Acts 10:34-43

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

More thoughts to ponder

Compassion was one of the first things people noticed about Jesus. It was not easy for Him, either.

“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to places where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.” ― Henri Nouwen

Even though it is hard, we aspire to be known for our compassion. Especially in the Philadelphia region where we are swimming in an ocean of injustice and need, we must go about doing good with Jesus. In an era in which our country has become the “haves” and “have nots” we must heal those who are under the power of the devil. In an age in which we are privy to all the info we might need about those who need compassion all over the world, it is important that Jesus-followers put their actions where their convictions lie.

Most people admire Christian convictions, but many of them think we rarely follow them. We can belie that prejudice by simply not resembling it as we go around doing good.

Suggestions for action

Pray: May people notice you are with me today because I go around doing good.

Our daily work may be devoted to doing good, but even if it is less focused, we can certainly be good as we do our work. We have many compassion teams through which we organize to do good, but even if we aren’t focused on a team’s work, every hour usually presents an opportunity to show compassion.

Spend a few minutes and sense your anointing. Gain some freedom to imagine what good you can do today. Your love matters.

August 30, 2014 — resurrection

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read 2 Kings 13:14-25

Elisha died and was buried.

Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

More thoughts for meditation

As we’ve witnessed the events of the latest news cycle – Michael Brown and Ferguson, ISIS and Northern Iraq and Syria, Palestinians and Israelis in Gaza – maybe you’ve wondered, “Where is the life?” This weird story about Elisha’s bones, Moabite raiders, and a funeral gone wrong (and then surprisingly right) reminds us that God is living and at work, even in death. He is renewing all things.

Ponder this poem from Wendell Berry (read it slowly) as you ponder the ways that our living God is bringing resurrection…

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it…
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides…
The river will run
clear, as we will never know it…
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields…
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality.

Suggestions for action

Pray: I am overrun by death, Jesus bring resurrection.

Create a list of three places in your life or in our world (or a combination of both) that seem ruined. They are dead and needing a funeral or perhaps they are simply overrun by raiders. Close your eyes and imagine each of those things coming into contact with the living God (as if they’d been thrown into Elisha’s grave). Picture what occurs when they bump into the resurrected Jesus. Hold that hope in your mind. Then open your eyes and next to each one, write a sentence or a phrase that represents what  you imagined could happen if those places came into contact with the living God. Pray for resurrection and expect it to happen today. It might happen because one of those areas comes into contact with God working through you.

August 29, 2014 — transnational

Jesus is best revealed incarnationally
We are “world Christians,” members of the transnational body of Christ; concerned with every person we can touch with truth and love.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—
so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.

More thoughts to ponder

world christian mapHere is one reason we are against warfare: it kills our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are all over the world, as the map shows. The kingdom of God is in and over all nations; it is transnational, transcultural and even transhistorical!

Jesus understands and operates within the arbitrary boundaries of nations, but he more fully transcends those boundaries. He is the Lord of all the earth.

We can’t be responsible for the whole earth, but we love it just the same, just like Jesus does. Wherever we can touch it with love or make a difference to people, we try to do it.

We are citizens of the kingdom of God and that “nation” is within all the nations and our Leader is over all leaders.

Suggestions for action

Pray: I want to reflect your grace and make your ways known to the nations. Bless us.

Read the international news in your newspaper or Yahoo News as an act of meditation and prayer. Listen to what God is revealing. Intercede for people and bless situations. Get at least one holy suggestion for action from God directly – it may be a new or renewed one.

August 28, 2014 — secular

Jesus is best revealed incarnationally
Life in Christ is one whole cloth. As we participate in and love “the world,” we bring redemption from the Kingdom of God to our society. Jesus is Lord of all, so we have repented of separating “sacred” and “secular.”

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read John 19:16-24

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

More thoughts to ponder

On the cross, Jesus embraces the whole world. For some it is a warm embrace, a place of rest. For others his embrace is a wrestling match, a threat to their hard-won security. But embrace he does, without distinction. Like his robe was seamless, his life was one whole cloth.

On the cross Jesus breaks down the walls of hostility between people and between the thoughts and feelings that divide them. The binary arguments that make up the narratives of the world are bridged, such as arguments pitting “sacred” against “secular.”

The cross is why we don’t try to hunker down in our building behind our theology and holiness. We are dispersed into our city in cells and into the whole world in many ways to embrace. We think of our places of work as sacred places, since Jesus is with us and was at work before we got there. We welcome people into our worship meetings even if they might be religionless, or “secular,” since Jesus has drawn them and we are predisposed to love them.

Like Jesus, we embrace the whole world with every person in it. We are dressed in a seamless robe now that we have put on Christ.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Thank you for your indescribable gift! Thank you for opening your arms to me and mine.

Where in your life does it seem most “secular?” Where does Jesus seem to be least welcome? How will you stay aware of his presence there? How might you resist the domination system that refuses the embrace of Jesus?

August 27, 2014 — disciple

Jesus is best revealed incarnationally
Like any healthy organism, we grow. So we are always preparing to birth a new cell, plant the next congregation and generate the next venture of compassionate service.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read 2 Timothy 2:1-13

[B]e strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

More thoughts to ponder

This is an excerpt from one of the Cell Leaders’ “thinking together” pages. The author wants everyone to get back to an organic expression of the church so we makes disciples in real life, not in “school:”

“Jesus didn’t explain in advance everything His disciples would need to know; instead He gave them His Holy Spirit to continue their training after His departure (John 16:13). With the Holy Spirit’s guidance and empowering, the disciples then trained others to follow Jesus just as He had trained them—through modeling, practice, transparency and discussion.

Consider these essential components of what Jesus gave the disciples:

• Being a living example of what complete obedience looks like.
• Real time training in working alongside the Holy Spirit.
• Guided experience to develop appropriate skills.
• Group obedience to overcome individual hesitance.
• Clear assignments, feedback and correction.
• An example of empowering disciples to make other disciples.

 The Church in Acts had no written record of Jesus’ teachings, and Jesus drew others to Himself so quickly that there were soon too many followers for most to have direct contact with the Twelve. Yet despite the unavailability of the tools we depend on today, explosive growth continued as Jesus-followers received Spirit-led ministry from one another in small groups (1 Cor. 14:26). This reproducible group process resulted in multiplying, Spirit-led, loving obedience to Jesus which rapidly drew yet others to follow Him.”

Circle of Hope, thrives, or not, if we maintain that organic sense of who we are and let the Holy Spirit cause our growth. It is very tempting to give up and let ourselves be re-colonized by people who control us with procedure and hierarchy in order to manage the “disciples” we’ve got. We are resisting the temptation.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Make me strong in your grace. Empower me to entrust others with the life with which I am entrusted.

Why don’t you read the 2 Timothy passage again and read it like it is not “the Bible,” but is a tool Paul gave his disciple Timothy who was learning to follow Jesus on-the-job.

Who is one of your disciples (or the closest thing you’ve got)? What if you were writing them a letter to encourage their faith? What would you write? Maybe you should write it and give it to them. They might like being taken so seriously.

August 26, 2014 — countercultural

Jesus is best revealed incarnationally
In an individualistic age, being the church is a counter-cultural statement.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read 1 John 4:7-21

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

More thoughts to ponder

God loves us individually. God became an individual and a rather heroic one, at that! Christians are not anti-individual.

But we are anti-individualism. Individualism ended up being a philosophy that Ayn Rand promoted with her writing. It is the assumption that life is all up to the individual and that depending on others is a trick played by the domination system. Individualism is kind of a summation of the “survival of the fittest” interpretation of evolution meeting the “invisible hand” of capitalism. Much of evangelical Christianity adapted to it and made one’s salvation happen in one’s heart according to one’s personal decision. So presidents say their faith is “very private.” And we sing songs like “You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley by yourself.”

Meanwhile, the Bible writers seem to assume that God who is revealed as a family — Father and Son, and who incorporates saved ones into a family is, by nature, not alone. Our teachers assume we are not alone; we are by nature and by salvation interdependent. We love each other. So John says that the one who lives in love, lives in God.

The world gets to see the alternative offered by Jesus when we, God’s family, are “like him” in this world.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Make love complete in us so people can see Jesus.

Loving with self-giving love casts out fear. Reconsider how you are building an alternative society as Circle of Hope. What is your part? Who do you love? What is God’s vision for the new community we have become?

August 25, 2014 — demonstrate

Jesus is best revealed incarnationally
People should be skeptical if our message does not originate from a community that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read 1 Thessalonians 2:3-13

[W]e were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

More thoughts to ponder

Christians sometimes look (and talk, and broadcast) like they think they can just give people information about Jesus and the information will convert them. It is often easy for unbelievers to see that their message does not inform their life, even while the message-givers are saying that someone should conform their life to the message they are preaching! The incongruence has kind of become a cliche people talk about it so much! Lots of people say, “The church is full of hypocrites!”

The cliche makes a good point and the stereotype of Christians did not come from nowhere. Many Christians rely on “the word” rather than being doers of the word. The fact is, the Bible records that preachers need to be incarnational. How we give the message and what we are like as people makes a big difference. Paul reminded the Thessalonians: “We dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God.” He defended his message by defending his behavior!

It might seem easier to some people if God just provided people data, but God provided people a person.

If we are trying to be powerful, if we are manipulative, if we are secretly greedy, then people will be skeptical about the truth we tell — and they should be! If we tell people about God, who is love revealed in Jesus, and then our community is not living in love, then people will be skeptical about the love of  God — and they should be!

We admit that our individual lives and our life as a community are elemental to the message we bring, whether we like it or not.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Fill us with your truth and love — and empower us to show it, Lord.

Don’t worry about whether people are skeptical today. Don’t try to be good enough to achieve an “A” grade from people who think they have the right to judge others (even Jesus!). Be yourself in Christ and let whatever good you have to give be made evident by the Holy Spirit.