Day 27


Recall with me that God said:  5 So now, if you faithfully obey me and stay true to my covenant, you will be my most precious possession out of all the peoples, since the whole earth belongs to me. 6 You will be a kingdom of priests for me and a holy nation. These are the words you should say to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5-6 CEB


Now, it certainly could be argued that God is saying that we better obey him…or else.  But that’s not the way covenant relationships work!  So let’s look at the ten commandments and see if we might benefit from taking a less CONDITIONAL perspective.


Commandment one:  You shall have no other gods before me.


When my children were young, I was careful about who they hung out with unsupervised; I didn’t want my children exposed to unsavory elements.  My children have since shared stories that have taught me I didn’t filter as much as I SHOULD have!  But I tried.  I didn’t want my children confused about who the voice(s) were that I thought would offer them the wisest counsel.  I didn’t want my babies chasing after other gods.  I wanted them surrounded by adults who modeled responsible, loving, gracious and forgiving lifestyles.  (Of course, can it go almost without saying that sometimes their father and I were among the greatest offenders of this desire to model well?)


As a parent, I kind of get why God says “You shall have no other gods before me.”  He as our Creator understands best; he knows his desires are to bless, not curse us.  He is appropriately cautious about other influences.


From this perspective, God sounds less neurotic and narcissistic; he is more concerned about our well-being than having a loyal cheering squad.  Every commandment at its core is designed to create a safer, healthier, more loving community where the kingdom of God can flourish than would be possible without these commandments.
Can you see ways in which loving God protects you and others?

Day 26

5 So now, if you faithfully obey me and stay true to my covenant, you will be my most precious possession out of all the peoples, since the whole earth belongs to me. 6 You will be a kingdom of priests for me and a holy nation. These are the words you should say to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5-6 CEB


Here is how I think it works.  God made a covenant, which is a promise.  His covenant is all about what he agrees to do for us.  This is a God who gives us stuff.  Next up, we move on to the ten commandments.  They are not conditional clauses upon which God’s covenant depends.  The covenant is a sealed deal.  Obedience is NOT what provides us the promise of God’s love.  


Obedience is a by-product of believing the promise.  Let me say that again, obedience is a by-product of believing the promise.  The law serves as a guide for how we imitate God’s love and by doing so, participate in bringing the kingdom of God to earth.


My friend who has returned to the pipe as his god (the thing he is willing to die for, sell his soul for, rob from his children for)  has gotten all turned around and is looking to blame God for his current situation.  But here’s the deal.  


God’s covenant relationship with us teaches us that God does not do the same to us when we fail to obey the law.  His covenant is unconditional; my friend certainly has struggled to believe that unconditional love is possible even when he was sober as a judge.  It seems to me that this is quite normal.  We all are so accustomed to conditional relationships and it blows our mind to think that God’s love for us is unconditional.  This says so much more about who God is than it does about what he expects for us.  However, all that being said, understanding who God is and how he

loves us invites us to reflect that love.  The law helps us understand how to do that.  


My friend may be blaming God at the moment, but I wonder if what he is really struggling with his is fear that God is not who he says he is.  Do you ever worry about that?
To be continued….

Day 25

Yesterday I mentioned my relapsing friend who is giving me grief about God’s role in his homelessness.  I mentioned the challenges I have, as a pastor, responding to his lament.  In this particular situation, I replied to his text like this:  “I am sorry you are suffering; how can I support your recovery?”  Notice that I did not use our texting to talk about God, one way or the other.  But it did make me think.  


There are plenty of reasons for all of us to ask ourselves questions about God’s response to us when we are in the middle of a season of disobedience.  During my friend’s years of sobriety he often said things like, “I surely tested God’s love with my using; I was not the godly man he wanted me to be.”  Did my friend test God’s love?


I have never been comfortable with that perspective, but if we read the following verses, maybe we can see why he thinks that he put God to the test.


5 So now, if you faithfully obey me and stay true to my covenant, you will be my most precious possession out of all the peoples, since the whole earth belongs to me. 6 You will be a kingdom of priests for me and a holy nation. These are the words you should say to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5-6 CEB


Before I share some thoughts, let me ask you:  do you believe that the only way you will ever be precious is if you are constantly obedient to God?
To be continued….

Day 24

One of the things that I find difficult to respond to as a pastor is the number of times people come to me to talk to me about how disappointed they are in God.  Please.  No emails telling me that a decent pastor would have better answers for struggling people.  I never said I was decent.  But in all honesty, our capacity to blame God for stuff is amazing.  Here’s a text I received this week from a guy who is in active addiction after a sustained period of sobriety.


“I don’t know how you can talk about God loving us; if he cared I wouldn’t be homeless.”  


Yeah, well, I think maybe that crack addiction has SOMETHING to do with this current state of affairs.  


Noted “theologian” George Costanza from Seinfield had a similar perspective.

George Costanza: God would never let me be successful; he’d kill me first. He’d never let me be happy.

Therapist: I thought you didn’t believe in God?

George: I do for the bad things.


When God makes his covenant with Noah after the flood, he’s telling us plain and simple what we can expect from him.  God is saying, in essence, that he is choosing to be for us, not against us, even if we are prone to all sorts of aggravatingly ungodly ways.  The covenant is God’s way of teaching us that although bad things will continue to occur, none of these bad experiences are founded in God’s aggravation with us.  He is not nor never will be the enemy of his people.  I know sometimes we wonder what God is up to in this world of chaos and craziness.  There are so many questions and I notice that God doesn’t seem particularly pressured to constantly fill us in on the details of his plan.  
But one thing we can discipline ourselves to do is remember that his comes as friend, not foe.  He comes as advocate, not adversary.  We may doubt the execution of his plans, question all sorts of things, doubt and wish for an easier way – but try to remember God’s promise to us.  He is for us; not against us.

Day 23

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  Luke 24:30-10


In the gospel of Luke we read one of seven post-resurrection stories.  It’s a strange one.  Luke is the sole reporter of the road to Emmaus.  The disciples were deeply disappointed.  This seven mile walk gave the two disciples plenty of time to ruminate over past events.  So focused were they on their speculations that they failed to recognize Jesus when he joined them on the journey.  Who can blame them?  They thought he was dead!  These guys were blind as bats; they could not see what was right there in front of them – the risen Lord.


Even in their blindness, we find hints that all is not lost.  They treat the stranger with kindness; their hearts respond to the message even if their eyes are unseeing.  And then this happens.  They recognize Jesus.  And then he vanishes from sight!


Arggghhhhh!  Can you relate?  Moments, glimpses of God and then “poof”, our awareness of his presence evaporates.  Happens to me all the time.


So many times events in my life only make sense with the passage of time.  


Today, can you grant yourself the grace and patience to accept this?  No matter what “is”….no matter what the present suffering or disappointment….could you take a moment and remind yourself that two disciples have shown us how to walk along the road of life.  


Treat everyone with kindness (even the folks you think are crazy); be confused, discouraged, whatever AND anticipate the possibility that at any moment you might be encountering Jesus.  Don’t expect spiritual awakenings to last for long periods of time, but do use them to inform your steps as you continue to navigate life.  
Luke has a LOT to say to us about hope, suffering and carrying on.  I pray that today is one of those days when you have vision to see God’s presence in your life!

Day 22

I have traditionally thought of hope as a perky feeling filled with trust that all will be well.  If so, it is a very limited perspective.  Thomas Merton’s perspective is a bit different:  “Hope . . . is a gift. Like life, it is a gift from God, total, unexpected, incomprehensible, undeserved. It springs out of nothingness, completely free. But to meet it, we have to descend into nothingness. And there we meet hope most perfectly, when we are stripped of our own confidence, our own strength, when we almost no longer exist.” —THOMAS MERTON, “THE NEW MAN”


I like this framework so much better than the one I labored under for years.  It doesn’t sound particularly sellable to a large audience – this idea that hope springs up as a gift from God in our most desperate moments.  But I believe this is true.  A few months ago I took a call to go meet a man in a local Emergency Room who had overdosed  and decided to accept the police officer’s suggestion of treatment versus incarceration.  As a volunteer,  my work is to take those “yes” responses to recovery and turn them into a tangible treatment program.  When I arrived on the scene he was asleep, his body battered and worn out from his near death experience.  Just hours before this man had literally died, was revived and returned to the land of the living.  I sat in a bedside chair to wait.  The chair was positioned at the foot of the bed of cubicle 28.  As I sat vigil, I became distinctly aware of his feet clad in mud caked work boots.  Sturdy but worn, these shoes served this homeless man well during the cold winter Richmond nights.  I imagined he didn’t work in the traditional sense; all evidence indicated he scrambled on a daily basis to find the resources to feed his drug habit.  I sat.  He slept.  I watched the boots.  
Within a few minutes I could imagine these boots walking into a treatment facility where he would be safer, warmer, better nourished than he had been in years and given the treatment he needed.  I felt a surge of hope.  But this hope was not the equivalent of optimism, for the chances that he would stay were slim.  The chronically homeless sometimes resist living in a group environment like a treatment facility.  My hope wasn’t the hope of a naive early comer to the field of addiction recovery.  I sat and asked myself why I was hopeful in light of all I knew about this man’s chances and I realized that my hope was so much bigger than this one pitiful, wretched soul.  I had a renewed sense of hope by watching all the individuals who had come to this man’s rescue even though he didn’t much look like there was much to save.  The police, the ER staff, the many people who make it possible for our team at the Virginia Recovery Foundation to provide treatment for anyone who asks – even if the addict is out of funding.  I thought about the donors who fund projects like this and our other ministry efforts, my fellow recovery advocates who take these calls, and yes, even the possibility that these boots might walk right into treatment and come out eventually on the feet of a changed man.

Ultimately, that is not how the story ended.  He did find shelter from the cold, a few days of good nutritious meals, hot showers and a warm bed to occupy.  But after a week of treatment he left to take up his place on the streets.  Hope for me realizes that one week is better than none and no effort is wasted.  He knows now where help is located and could choose to return.  


Hope is a gift.

Day 21

Humility is hard work, requiring us to look for and acknowledge the kernels of truth that may be present even in the quotes of people we fundamentally disagree with in many areas.  I personally found hope in both men’s position as presented in Wear’s book.  


Sometimes we Christians over sell hope; I wonder if that is part of what Coates is saying.


Truth is, I am not one who is gifted with the capacity to carry large buckets of hope with me when faced with harsh realities.  But here is what I dare to dream and pray that I might do in those moments.


When God chooses to work in and with and through me, my hope is that I will be a woman of courage.  Truth is, I am uniquely equipped to live with large buckets of fear that overflow the bucket’s brim on a regular basis.  But as an aging woman, I am able to acknowledge with the beauty of hindsight that there have been a couple of crucial moments in my life when I rose up out of my fear and stood up against bullies and badassess who were mistreating the marginalized, the hopeless, the homeless and the despairing.  Ok, listen.  It was just a couple of moments in the span of a lifetime.  But in those moments, I felt not only God’s pleasure but a bit of authentic self-acceptance as well.


What is your “worse” self like?  Angry?  Fearful?  Ashamed?  As my friend Suzanne Stabile says regularly and with great conviction, “The best part of you is also the worst part of you.”  So the angry might find a way to defend the rights of those who have none in righteous holy indignation.  The fearful can rise in courage to do the same.  And the ashamed?  They can perhaps hold our hope better than most for they can find an acceptance of others that provides compassion, empathy and acceptance. Who better than the ashamed to recognize and accept the possibility for redemption in another?  And as we angry, fearful, ashamed people rise from our self-pity and move towards justice, courage and empathy – we become part of the kingdom of God.
May God grant us the gift of his presence, so that we might rise up and fly on wings of eagles; perhaps growing weary, but never fainting in the face of chaos, danger and misguided despair.