Join us daily (or whenever you can!) as we reflect on some of the choices life compels us to make

For this year's journey to the cross of Christ's crucifixion and the empty tomb of his resurrection, we're creating a collection of brief, daily devotional readings focused around the kinds of choices we all have to make in our daily lives. On this page, you'll find that series as it's created from day to day, with the first reading appearing on what the Christian calendar calls "Ash Wednesday" (February 22). For your convenience, we'll always post the most recent addition to the series at the top of the list. [NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this series will come from the New Living Translation.]

We encourage you to join us on this journey to the cross as often as you can -- daily would be great, but whenever you can join us would be good too. If you want to leave a comment on your experience of these readings, contact us via a Contact Us page.

us: be still and know

There isn't much to say today. Yesterday we remembered Jesus' death on a cross. Tomorrow we will celebrate his exit from a tomb. Today let us pause in reverence for the journey we have taken to get to this place, and in faith that our efforts will not have been in vain.

There isn't anything we can do for Jesus now. He's made the ultimate sacrifice for us, his sealed tomb evidence of his willingness to surrender his life for us. All we can do and all we should want to do now is to acknowledge our place at the cross and prepare our hearts to welcome God's gift of new life.

In the Jesus story, the Saturday between his death on Friday and his resurrection on Sunday presents a major challenge to the faithful. As has been the case throughout the daily adventure known as this series, how we respond to that major challenge is up to each of us. Choose wisely.

the criminals on either side of jesus: What to ask for

Today is the day Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus. “Good Friday,” the curious name we give to the day Jesus accepted death in obedience to God, invites us to pause long enough in our preparations for Easter Sunday to honor the love and sacrifice vividly displayed on a cross so long ago.

Several choices Jesus made are evident in the crucifixion story. For example, to accept his fate without resistance, to ask God to forgive those responsible for his execution, and to speak to family and supporters on the ground below him as death approached. But for today’s word we focus on the brief encounter Jesus has with the two criminals who died with him–one on either side–on the choices those men make from their cross-side locations.

The first criminal to speak challenges Jesus to save himself . . . and also them: “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” (Luke 23.39) In the next verses of Luke’s account, the other criminal rejects the focus of his cross-mate’s request: 40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” (Luke 23.40-42).

The first criminal skeptically asked Jesus for a demonstration of power and an extrication from the consequences of his actions. The second criminal confessed his guilt and asked Jesus for assistance in the future known as the Kingdom. Which choice seems wiser to you? The self-serving one or the confessional one? The choice to ask for special effects or the choice to ask for mercy?

It’s a good bet the criminals crucified on either side of Jesus deserved their fate, or at least deserved to be punished. On this reverent and holy day, let’s applaud the confession of the second criminal, a confession to which Jesus responds with great news: “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23.43). And today let’s also stand at the foot of the cross with a similarly confessional spirit. Let’s look up in wonder and gratitude that Jesus accepts an undeserved punishment so that we will receive an undeserved reward . . . in the Kingdom, where we’ll have a chance to meet and exchange confessions with a criminal who made an excellent choice.

jesus: his way or the high way?

The first words of the iconic hymn “In the Garden,” whose narrator is somebody like us, are, “I come to the garden alone.” When Jesus visits the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion, he’s not technically “alone” – his disciples Peter, James, and John are with him – but for all practical purposes he is since no one but he can make the choice that awaits him.

Jesus has two options: He can abandon his ministry and run from the garden to escape the snare closing in on him thanks to the assistance of the betrayer Judas, or out of trust in God he can accept arrest and death as his immediate fate, convinced that God controls his ultimate fate. We who have experienced the Gethsemane/Crucifixion/Resurrection cycle in the past know what Jesus does, but it’s the way Jesus expresses his choice that is the focus of today’s reflection: 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26.37-39).

Three observations:

  1. Jesus is honest about his panic. He doesn’t hide his despair from his friends. The choice he’s about to make weighs heavily on his spirit regardless of the amount of faith he brings to it.
  2. Jesus is honest with God. This is no well-practiced, neatly executed church service! Jesus asks God to change his fate, to create some other – perhaps ANY other – path for his future.
  3. Jesus chooses surrender over escape. It’s God’s will, not his own, that must be done. In spite of a paralyzing fear and an understandable desire to avoid a fate clearly planned in glory, Jesus submits his life to the hands of God. He chooses to trust the one who will not let him go.

We seldom face life and death choices. At risk most frequently in our challenging decisions is something fleeting such as personal convenience. Do we do the right thing even it if means disrupting our familiar patterns and practices? But there are choices in which the stakes are higher and the options more starkly in opposition. It’s in those moments that Jesus’ example is most helpful:

  • Do we do the right thing even though the right thing is also the hard(est) thing?
  • Do we sacrifice time, energy, and/or money in service to God and others even though we have many more personally beneficial uses for those resources?
  • Do we surrender to God’s will for our lives when we’re confident that our way is the better way?

Some choices are really, really hard. In those moments – when you and heaven disagree as to the best option – remember Jesus in the garden, then choose accordingly.


On the day before we walk with Jesus into the garden at Gethsemane, where he will make the most consequential choice of his life, we hear him tell us about the path that leads to the Kingdom of God:

13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it (Matthew 7.13-14).

Notice the chapter of Matthew’s Gospel in which those verses reside: 7. Jesus is still new to his preaching ministry’s trail. There are scores of momentous teachings and teachable moments to come before he will have to decide between life and death, between faith and self. And yet he tells us that the entrance to the Kingdom is narrow and the path to reach it is so difficult, only a few ever find it.

For us who follow Jesus, this week before Easter Sunday is rightfully one of hope and expectation. On Sunday we will announce to the world – and, of more parochial interest, to ourselves – that death in this life is not the end of all life; that the God who does not let us go in death will neither let us go in life. HOWEVER, before we celebrate what’s at and behind the gate into God’s Kingdom, we must first get there. And if we’re to get there, 

Jesus says, we must travel a challenging course.

We don’t know what your “difficult” road to the Kingdom looks like; it’s your road, after all. But we’re confident that “difficult” describes it. Loving people is difficult sometimes. Responding to others’ needs is difficult sometimes. Restraining impulses, controlling tempers, managing multiple responsibilities, raising kids, encouraging the discouraged, and living like Jesus, among many others, are all difficult sometimes. We must not lose sight of that, or the dependence on him such difficulty necessitates.

We’ve annotated many forms of choice we face as Jesus followers: all of them worthwhile; many of them a challenge. Today’s word is choose the path that leads to God’s Kingdom – just don’t choose to walk that path without company.

all of us: will we open our gifts?

In at least three New Testament locations, the Bible declares that we are gifted people. By God’s design and power, each of us has something – make that multiple somethings - that reflect a special ability, an innate, natural capacity for good. Said something might be an ability to teach, or a helpful insight into situations – somehow knowing the right thing to do. It might be an ability to tell others about the power and potential of faith, or to comfort others in their times of need.

There are other such somethings – what we call “spiritual gifts” – identified in the Bible, but for today’s word what matters about the gifts are these truths: 1) They come from God; 2) We all have some; 3) They are to be used.

Each of those declarations matters:

  1. Our gifts are not accidents of genetics or good fortune. Our special abilities and inclinations come from heaven.
  2. There is something special about you. God has adorned your life with abilities that are unique to you. No one in the history of humanity has ever possessed or will ever possess the gift package God designed for you.
  3. You are special, but so is everyone else. The biblical declaration is that we’re all gifted; God has anointed all of us with something.
  4. There are limits to your specialness. None of us has all the gifts, which means all of us are needed to create the communities of love and grace God intends.
  5. Unwrapped gifts look nice, but accomplish nothing. Our gifts report God’s intentions for our lives. When we choose not to use those gifts, we fail to live up to our potential, and those gifts remain proclamations of what might have been . . . or, thank God, what still can be.

This is how the Apostle Paul commanded the Christians in Rome to use their gifts:

6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly (Romans 12.6-8).

There IS something special about you. God has planted in you abilities to make a difference to the people of your life and to the world in which God planted you. There are instruments available to help identify your gifts, but you can launch a preliminary search for them simply by reflecting on what you like to do, what activities bring you joy and satisfaction, and the ways you most easily and naturally make a difference to others. As a rule, the more good a kind of action does, the more easily it comes from you, and the more satisfaction it brings to you, the greater the gift it is.

You ARE gifted! But surprise, surprise: What you do with your gifts is up to you. It’s another of the choices we must make.

god: "i choose you!" 

Moses wants to see God's glory. Not for the fun of it. Not to be able to brag to others in the camp of freed slaves headed to the Promised Land. But because he wants to know that the God who freed them and sent them toward that land will stay the course, will accompany them throughout the journey that lies ahead.

That's an issue for Moses because just prior to his request, God tells him that he and the company he leads will be traveling alone so that God won't be "tempted to destroy [them] along the way" as punishment for their ongoing disobedience. (Deuteronomy 33.3).

In a stunning display of urgency-inspired backbone, Moses then reminds God that they wouldn't be risking lives and limbs had God not called Moses to the journey by name, so God has no choice but to accompany them. In effect, the request to see God's glory is Moses's way of securing God's commitment to finish the job.

Before finalizing the arrangements of the display (e.g. God will cover Moses's eyes so that he won't see God's face), God reminds Moses of a basic rule by which God reigns: "I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose" (Deuteronomy 33.19).

The good news of our faith is that long ago God decided to show mercy and compassion on us. God's choice is evident in Jesus, the savior of the world, whose death and resurrection we're about to celebrate. That means YOU are among God's chosen ones – chosen not for your moral character or personal perfection, but as a product of God's great love.

In this series we've focused most of our attention on the choices we have to make. Given that human life is basically a decades-long stream of important choices, our attention has been wisely invested. But occasionally we need to remember God's choices, among which is God's choice to have mercy on us, to receive us into the Kingdom of God and to guarantee our eternal company with the angels. When we do so, all the choices WE have to make quickly seem so much more than worthwhile.

To close today, a bit of the Apostle Paul's word to the Christians in Rome:

6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God" (Romans 5.6-11).

Jesus is a choice God made, not we. Praise God!

remember the sabbath and keep it holy

Among the choices we've made as to the creation of this daily devotional series is not to publish a new devotional on Sundays in pursuit of the biblical command to keep the Sabbath holy (set apart from other days). 

We encourage you to set aside some time today - be it minutes or hours - to connect with God, restore your spirit, and renew your faith. Prayer, Bible reading, and meditation are among your options, but the choice is yours.

Peace and grace to you on this holy day.

god: god's choices matter too!

Deuteronomy 7 is a fiery, troublesome chapter thanks to God’s passionate commitment to the Israelites as they move toward the Promised and God’s stern battle plan presented to those same people. 

The battle plan sounds like this: 2 When the LORD your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. 3 You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, 4 for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you” (Deuteronomy 7.2-4).

Show them no mercy! TRANSLATION: Wipe 'em out, every one.

God’s commitment to Israel reads like this: 7 “The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! 8 Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt (Deuteronomy 7.7-8). 

TRANSLATION: Don’t get too cocky about it, but God has obviously chosen you.

For today’s reminder we take a small break from a lengthy succession of choices WE must make, to remind ourselves of the choice GOD made long ago. In the New Testament, that choice reads like this: 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (Ephesians 1.3-5). 

TRANSLATION: We didn’t choose God. God chose us.

In the midst of all the responsibilities we have as children of God and followers of Jesus, let it be a welcome breather to remind yourself that you are among God’s chosen people – not because you’re smart or wealthy or sophisticated, but because God loves you and keeps promises. God chose YOU! It turns out that God’s choices matter as well.

And at the end of each breather you take to refresh your spirit in that marvelous hope, read the rest of Deuteronomy 7, in which God reminds Israel that their role is to obey: God is God. They aren’t. 

TRANSLATION: The chosen are not the chooser.


David was the runt of his eight son family. Good looking, yes! But not sizable or muscular. So he’s the candidate anyone would have considered for the role of Goliath slayer in 1 Samuel 17.

Goliath announces himself as “the Philistine champion” to a “terrified and deeply shaken” army of Israel. Goliath proposes that Israel send a representative to fight him, winner-take-all. If the Israelite kills Goliath, the Philistines will become their slaves. But if Goliath wins, the outcome will be reversed.

Enter David, as a Door Dash driver who delivers cheese, bread, and grain to the army as it stresses out over Goliath’s challenge.

David volunteers to fight the giant - CHOICE #1. He then refuses heavy protective armor in favor of the protection he expects from God given his past experience with God’s protection – CHOICE #2. Finally, he enters the face-off with Goliath carrying only a sling shot and a few small stones – CHOICE #3.

David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied (1 Samuel 17.45).

David wins. He conquers Goliath with a single shot. But that shot would not have happened had he not chosen risk (agreeing to fight the battle in the first place), faith (that God would protect him), and courage (to move onto the battlefield).

Today’s reminder is brief but packs a punch (or a sling shot!): We don’t win consistently on the battlefields of our lives – the arenas of conflict, challenge, and stress that we face daily in some form – unless we’re willing to take risks, trust God, and take action. We can’t overcome unless we move. And we can’t move – at least not with confidence and hope – unless we turn to, depend on, and act because of faith in the God of every brave and courageous movement.

Choose faith today. Choose confidence. Choose to act, to move. Choose to face the giants looming large in your life, and believe God will provide your victory.

churches in the book of revelation: be encouraged?

The New Testament book of Revelation has a well-deserved reputation as writing that’s hard to understand . . . make that decode. John the Revelator employs stark, apocalyptic imagery to predict Christ’s ultimate return and the establishment of a “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21.1). Behind that fiery imagery, at least in part, is the author’s intention to encourage his readers in the face of what in some cases was persecution, oppression, or other forms of mistreatment from Roman authorities.

The first indication of John’s objective comes in letters to seven churches we find in his book’s opening chapters. For example, those who are “victorious” will . . .

  • receive “fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2.7)
  • “not be harmed by the second death” (Revelation 2.11)
  • receive “manna that has been hidden away in heaven” (Revelation 2.17)
  • be given “authority over all the nations” (Revelation 2.26)

“Victorious” over what? Persecution, oppression, and all other forces that threaten to undermine confidence and corrode faith.

The fifth of seven seals that the Lamb of God later breaks reveals the souls of people who had been martyred because of their faith. In the scene, the martyrs ask how God how long it will be before their deaths are avenged. The response from heaven is that they need to wait “a little longer” (Revelation 6.11). 

TRANSLATION: Stay strong. Don’t surrender. In the end, God wins and that means you win.

Revelation is a strange, surreal Bible book with a very down-to-earth mission: to encourage people in their times of trouble. We all know the power of encouragement, probably because we’ve both received and given it. 

Encouragement in the midst of hardship is survival fuel, it’s hope-filled power and a necessary nutrient if we are to endure life’s frequent challenges. 

But words of encouragement have little consequence if they are not accepted and believed. A friend’s optimism prior to critically important surgery, for example, won’t affect the spirits of a patient who refuses to embrace it. Supportive words from parents of students having difficulty mastering the concepts of a school subject have little impact if those words aren’t welcomed.

Encouragement is a powerful force that’s freely distributed throughout the Bible. The instruction, “don’t be afraid” appears 66 times, for example. Whether encouragement in the face of your trials and temptations has any effect on you is largely up to you; it’s your choice.

We can choose to welcome encouragement and believe God’s promises. We can hear Jesus tell us that he is with us “even to the close of the age” (Matthew 28.20b). Or we can choose to give power to the forces of despair and discouragement.

For John the Revelator there was only one right choice for the Christians to whom he wrote. The same is true for us today.

moses: work alone or along?

We’ve referenced the Old Testament hero Moses in multiple entries of this series, and for good reason. He’s a towering figure, the leader without whom there would have been no exodus out of Egypt or law from God to establish the difference between right and wrong, between God’s way and all the other ways. Moses performs miracles, splits seas, produces food from heaven, and speaks directly to God in a way permitted of no one else. His is an impressive resume; he is an impressive person. But Moses is not perfect and he is not tireless.

In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, visits Moses and engages him in at least two conversations – one in which he expresses praise for God’s provision to the freed people, and another in which he raises concerns about Moses’ leadership style. It’s the leadership issue that is our focus today.

Jethro has noticed that Moses spends much of every day adjudicating conflicts between community members. Little ones and large ones, important ones and trivial ones, every one seems to be Moses’ responsibility. As a result, community members stand in line around a chair-bound Moses throughout the day waiting for their cases to be heard, and Moses, the community’s leader, is otherwise unavailable from sunup to sundown.

Jethro points out the inefficiency and long term energy-sapping nature of this practice to his son-in-law and recommends that he train people to share some of the case load. In so doing, Jethro gives Moses a choice: Will he draw upon the human resources God has provided for his support network, or will he continue to live on his own, trying to do and be all things for all people?

Today’s reminder is simply that we’re not nearly as strong or effective as God intends us to be when we fly solo, when we refuse assistance and support from the people around us. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps sounds like laudable independence, but such independence has its limits.

In the Garden of Eden story God creates one person (Adam) then surrounds him with lush natural resources. However sufficient that provision, God decides it's not good for Adam to be alone. So God works to create “a helper who is just right for him” (Genesis 2.18), efforts the first results of which are the members of the animal kingdom (birds and ground-based animals). None of those is the “just right” companion God seeks, so God creates another person (Eve). That is, Adam will live his best life if he doesn't live it alone, but instead lives connected to other people.

Moses learned that lesson from his father-in-law. Have you learned it?

the children of israel: whom will they serve?

The slaves freed by God and led toward the Promised Land, first by Moses and then by Joshua, faced practical challenges common to such lengthy, arduous journeys (theirs would last 40 years!), but also spiritual challenges put them by God through their leaders.

In Deuteronomy 30, for example, Moses tells them, “19 Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! 20 You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the LORD, you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30.19-20). A simple but profound choice: life or death.

Later in the journey to the Promised Land Joshua presents a different but certainly related choice to the people: 14 “So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24.14-15). Another straightforward choice: Choose your god.

The iconic singer/songwriter Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Gotta Serve Somebody,” whose chorus is this:

    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

    You're gonna have to serve somebody

    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

    But you're gonna have to serve somebody

That’s essentially the choice both Moses and Joshua gave to their people. And it’s basically the choice every one of us has to make daily, perhaps moment-to-moment.

Life is filled with choices: between right and wrong, wise and unwise, good and not-so-good, for ourselves or for others, in defense of our faith or abandonment of it. Both Moses and Joshua reminded the liberated ones they led that all such choices bear consequences. The choices they made mattered. The word we offer to you today is that the choices you make today matter too.

In response to Joshua’s directive to choose whom they would serve, the people say, “We would never abandon the LORD and serve other gods” (Joshua 24.16), a commitment they make because God had both rescued them from slavery and provided for them on their way to the promised land. Joshua then pushes back on their stated allegiance to God, which produces from the crowd an even more passionate expression of loyalty. Ultimately the people say, “... we are witnesses to what we have said” (Joshua 24.22c). TRANSLATION: We know we just committed our lives to God, and now we need to keep that commitment.

All of us must choose between a life that matters and one that doesn’t, between service to God and service to the alternatives. More than ever, our choices matter.

esther: for such a time as this?

Esther is the one book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God. It mentions religion and religious people, but not God. Fortunately, even without divine references Esther is such a compelling story that it captures and keeps our attention.

The title character is a young woman who through an odd and dispiriting sequence of events moves from common citizen to queen of the ancient kingdom of Persia when ruled by a man named Xerxes. Esther is a Jew, a fact that becomes critical as the story unfolds. Her cousin Mordecai stands guard outside the palace gates to pass along to Esther both messages of support and calls to action, her response to one of which will forever decide her legacy.

But in the Old Testament book of Esther, Mordecai is more than a supportive family member; he’s also a principled rebel. When Haman, who is basically the kingdom’s second in command, passes by, Mordecai is the only person not to bow in respect, a refusal to which Haman takes exception so great that he convinces King Xerxes to order the genocide of all Jews.

Mordecai learns of Haman’s scheme and uses his leverage with the queen in an attempt to save his people. Mordecai tells his royal cousin that if his people are in jeopardy, so are her people. She must confront the king with news of the threat.

Esther isn’t unsympathetic to the plight of her people, but she’s more concerned about her own safety: “All the king’s officials and even the people in the provinces know that anyone who appears before the king in his inner court without being invited is doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter. And the king has not called for me to come to him for thirty days” (Esther 4.11), she tells Mordecai.

Mordecai isn’t unsympathetic to Esther’s fear, but he’s more concerned with a larger threat. He tells her that if she doesn’t step in on behalf of the Jews, they will get help from somewhere (a possible unstated reference to God?) but she and her relatives will die. Mordecai concludes his challenge to Esther with these immortal words: “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4.14b) 

TRANSLATION: This is your time to choose, Esther.

As is often the case in Bible stories, Esther’s options are not attractive: risk death or risk death. And as is also often the case in Bible stories, Esther does the right thing – she risks death by asking the king to intervene even though he has not called for her.

The story’s conclusion demands our attention, but in this devotional receives only this summary: The king receives Esther, but cannot rescind the order he issued in response to Haman’s request. So he issues another directive that authorizes the Jews to take whatever action is required to defend themselves. In addition, the king orders Haman’s execution, which brings justice to at least one dimension of the story.

For our purposes today, we focus on Esther’s choice. Does she do the right thing or the safer thing? Does she act to save others or herself?

If you’ve been following this series from day to day, you must certainly see the connection between Esther’s choice and many of the others that we’ve visited. Biblical characters repeatedly have to decide between the right and the safe, between serving self and serving others. And all of us identify with that small set of options because we all face it . . . basically daily.

You probably aren’t in a position to save tens- or hundreds of thousands of people today. But you ARE in a position to do the right thing, to make the hard but necessary choice. 

Consider this word from 1 Peter: 9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2.9) Accept your royal status in Christ, and in your next challenging moment, do the right thing.


Among the choices we've made as to the creation of this daily devotional series is not to publish a new devotional on Sundays in pursuit of the biblical command to keep the Sabbath holy (set apart from other days). 

We encourage you to set aside some time today - be it minutes or hours - to connect with God, restore your spirit, and renew your faith. Prayer, Bible reading, and meditation are among your options, but the choice is yours.

Peace and grace to you on this holy day.

john the baptist: whether to remove the star from his dressing room door

John the Baptist is an iconic figure in the Gospels, the messenger God appointed to announce the arrival of the Messiah. He’s the one who baptized Jesus (a real resume builder!) and who before that event had a robust prophetic and preaching ministry.

But at some point, the promised one became the present one and the predicted Messiah had a name and a growing following, both of which were outcomes that required John the Baptist to redefine his ministry. He would no longer be the herald of God’s forthcoming blessings. He would be the character of history who had drawn attention to and paved the way for those blessings.

To some people, such a job description change would have felt like a demotion, as if they were targets of an early phase of a corporate downsizing plan. So as Jesus rose in prominence, John the Baptist had to choose whether to accept his new role.

Jesus asks all of us to make similar choices:

  • To be a server rather than one who is served (Luke 22.27)
  • To be one who gives rather than receives (Acts 20.35)
  • To be one who is considered the least, rather than the greatest (Luke 9.48)
  • To give up our way of life for the way of the cross (Matt 16.24)
  • To give up control of our lives so that Jesus can be Lord

Each of those is a profound change in role and personal authority. Each surrenders responsibilities we might otherwise covet (e.g. who doesn't want to control their own life?!) But each is a choice we must make if we want to follow Jesus.

  • To become parents, previously childless people must give up free time and much more
  • To enter the workforce, previously unemployed people must sacrifce personal availability for other things
  • Those who want to lose weight must give up or reconfigure eating patterns

Sacrifice, surrender, and transitions to new life job descriptions are required of us who want to follow Jesus, but first we must choose them. In the Gospels, in response to Jesus’ ascendancy John the Baptist says, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3.30). He surrenders the stage on which he has been a star to the one whose birthplace a star lead wise people more than 2,000 years ago.

Today’s reminder is that in order for Jesus to be Lord of our lives, we can’t be. Are you becoming less and less to allow Jesus to become greater and greater in your life? 

THE MAN AT THE POOL: on the move

If someone told you that whatever was bothering you could be fixed in an instant were you to perform a risk- and cost-free task, would you do it? That’s the choice facing a man at the beginning of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John.

For 38 years this man has been sick. We’re not told the specific nature of his illness, only that he spends a lot of time by a pool others have used to secure their healing. Unfortunately for the man, those others have always beaten him to the pool’s bubbling waters, so he’s been unable to get better and is in a broken state when Jesus finds him at the pool’s edge.

The ensuing encounter begins with a simple and unexpected question from Jesus: “Would you like to get well?” (John 5.6). Duh! The man doesn’t respond that way, of course. He tells Jesus that he can’t get well because no one’s helped him get to the pool’s healing waters ahead of the many others who seek them. Evidently that answer convinces Jesus that the man wants to get better, so he tells him to stand up and walk . . . which is what the man does. Problem solved.

As is often the case in the Gospels when Jesus heals people, he gets in trouble with religious big shots for working on the Sabbath, a conflict which in this case results in Jesus’ astonishing and overpowering rebuke of those big shots. But for today, we stay focused on the man, who discovers his healing not in a pool, but in a person.

The miracle exhibits two components: Jesus’ command to get up and, before that, the man’s consent. Before Jesus can restore the man to wholeness, the man must acknowledge his need and declare his desire. Though he voices those two things in a less-than-ideal form, the man does do so, and in the next instant he’s on his feet and well for the first time in nearly four decades.

What can we take from this scene? There are lots of ways to read it, but for today’s reflection, let’s note the man’s involvement in his own healing. In response to Jesus’ question, the man must decide whether he actually wants to get better. Perhaps others have in fact kept him from the healing pool, but no one other than he can keep him from wanting to get better. Once he makes that choice, Jesus can help.

One lesson from this scene is that we have a role to play in our well being. Regardless of the mistakes or limitations of the past, we can choose to move toward healing in the present moment. Notice that word choice: move toward healing. In the Gospel story, the man moves up and is instantly free of three dozen years of infirmity. Such healings occur in our time, but most of our moves toward wellness are more gradual. 

The critical criterion is trajectory – direction – not quickness. Are we headed in the right direction, in the direction of healing (in health, in relationships, in personal attitudes, etc)? Such moves, regardless of our specific needs for healing, begin with a choice. Decide today to move toward your healing.

job: as the world turns

If there’s one book of the Bible that you ought to read, even if you’ve never read any other Bible book, it ought to be the Old Testament book of Job. Not because it’s a simple read. Not because you’ll immediately understand its teaching the first time you reach its end. But because its title character wrestles with some of the most profound and perplexing questions of human life, questions you’ve thought about, perhaps agonized over, whether for your own needs or another’s.

In the book’s opening chapters, on good authority – make that’s God’s authority – we’re told that Job is a good guy. He’s an ideal parent, employee, neighbor, and friend . . . whose goodness Satan believes will wilt under the pressure of hardship and loss. Satan convinces God – who calls Job, “... the finest man in all the earth . . . . blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil” (Job 1.8) – to allow him to afflict Job’s life with a series of ever-more personal harms and losses to his possessions, servants, children, and finally, his own body.

Job responds to the initial assaults with awe-inspiring faith. For example, he says this when he learns of the death of his kids: “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!” (Job 1.21). But when the proud and honorable Job experiences a breakdown of his body, he slides into somber reflection, much of his faith-fueled conviction on hold as he struggles to understand why so much bad has visited his previously good life.

The many chapter conversation with three friends that follows does nothing to resolve his questions, but it does reveal the chasm of difference between his views and theirs. They think the world functions by a simple rule: Good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Since that’s the rule, the inference they draw is that Job must have done something really bad to deserve all the bad things that have happened to him. Job objects strenuously to their “friendly” advice, declaring his innocence and demanding an impartial judicial hearing with himself and God as litigants, a hearing whose result Job believes will be God’s conviction on charges of unfairness toward Job.

Neither his conversation with the three friends nor the additional contribution of another character who speaks when that conversation ends brings closure for Job. And that’s God’s cue to engage Job in an astonishing soliloquy (chapters 38-41) the essence of which is that the world is chaotic – bad things happen to good people; good things happen to bad people – but God still reigns, God is the ONLY one who rises above the chaos. The choice Job must make after God’s powerful address is whether to accept and live in such a world.

OUR world is chaotic (a claim that’s been nominated for “Understatement of the Year”). YOUR world is likely chaotic. Life doesn’t always make sense. Doing the right thing doesn’t always turn out right. It’s a mess. But it’s the world we live in, and the only one who reigns above the chaos is the God we serve. Can YOU accept and live in such a world as ours? By faith you can, but as always, the choice is yours.

doubting thomas: iT'S MORE THAN DOUBT

Today we jump 18 days forward in the calendar of this season’s events to pay attention to the after-resurrection encounter between Jesus and his disciple named Thomas, he who by popular consensus over the centuries has carried the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”

And for understandable reasons! Upon hearing the testimony of his fellow followers about their personal encounters with Jesus raised from the dead, Thomas says, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side” (John 20.25). That sounds like doubt, doesn’t it? He likely doesn’t doubt that his friends are telling the truth. He just isn’t willing to embrace their truth as his own until he’s had the same experience they’ve had. . . . which is what happens next.

Jesus reappears to the disciples eight days later, this time with Thomas in the room. As if part of a pre-planned targeted operation, immediately following his greeting to the group Jesus offers Thomas the personal experience his doubts demanded: “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” (John 20.27) As a result, Thomas faces a choice, but not the choice we might have expected.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t direct Thomas to stop doubting; he tells him to stop being faithless. That distinction matters because for Jesus, faith can launch miracles and move mountains. Faith can make people whole and give them deeply rooted hope. Thomas’s doubts about Jesus’ resurrection are far more consequential than some run-of-the mill uncertainty over details because those doubts cut Thomas off from the confidence only available to him through faith, and because they will severely restrict his usefulness to the cause of Christ going forward. Hence, it is vital that Thomas makes the right choice.

Thomas does make the right choice, of course – “My Lord and my God!” (John 20.28) – but for today’s reflection, we focus on the doubt/faithlessness distinction Jesus draws. Doubt about Jesus’ resurrection is tantamount to faithlessness! Uncertainty as to his resurrected presence among the living severely limits faith, which is arguably the most potent force available. Doubt can be a hardship, but faithlessness is a disability.

The encounter between Thomas and Jesus highlights faith as a necessary power. It teaches that while doubts about all kinds of everyday matters are understandable, doubts about the resurrection – more broadly, doubts about the power of God to give us new life – are unacceptable because their effects are so far-reaching.

If you have doubts about God’s ability to raise you from your current situation, Thomas (along with billions of people after him) feels your pain. FAR more importantly, however, the same Jesus who offered up close and personal proof to Thomas wants to prove his life to you. Don’t doubt the power of God to raise you; reach out for it. Then once in receipt of that power, speak your faith clearly: My Lord and my God!

phillip and the ethiopian: GOOD CHOICES APLENTY!

In the eighth chapter of Acts, in an encounter obviously arranged in heaven, the Apostle Phillip meets an Ethiopian government official who’s sitting in a carriage, reading from the book of Isaiah. Phillip follows the Holy Spirit’s direction to talk with the official, a decision that results in the Ethiopian’s decision to follow Jesus.

It’s a scene filled with good choices:

  • Phillip chooses to follow an angel’s direction that ultimately leads him to the Ethiopian
  • The Ethiopian chooses to explore the book of Isaiah, despite the fact that, until Philip arrives, he doesn’t understand what he’s reading
  • Philip chooses, again in obedience to divine design, to introduce himself to the Ethiopian
  • The Ethiopian chooses to invite Philip onto his carriage, which opens for him a door to understanding
  • Phillip chooses to seize an opportunity to witness to the good news about Jesus
  • And finally, the Ethiopian chooses to accept Jesus as Lord of his life, a decision which, at the story’s end, results in his baptism and experience of joy.

Lots of good decisions, all inspired, we can claim, by an openness to the presence and leading of God. The actions in this story testify to the goodness of God, to the transformative potential of lives led in obedience to heaven’s direction.

The story of Phillip and the Ethiopian teems with joy produced by good choices. The specifics of those choices matter to the story – read Scripture; keep your heart open to the Spirit’s leading; witness to your faith when opportunities arise – but for today’s reflection, focus on the value of good choices: Good choices lead to good outcomes. Always? No. We are imperfect people who live in a world filled with imperfect people. But the rule proves true often enough to earn our obedience.

Today will present you with several opportunities to make good choices. Like the Ethiopian, may you find joy in the outcomes of the choices you make.

the rich man: where's your wealth? 

A scene reported by three of the four Gospels strikes with unexpected poignancy as it reports a man’s encounter with Jesus in search of eternal life.

“[W]hat good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19.16b) the man asks. Jesus tells him to obey Scripture’s commandments against murder, adultery, theft, and lying, and in favor of honoring parents and loving neighbors. The man tells Jesus that he already complies with those commandments; what else must he do?

And that’s poignancy part 1 in the scene. A man who’s obviously serious about his search for eternal life seems instantly to know that Jesus’ recipe for eternal life isn’t enough in his case – something’s missing. As we applaud the man’s candor, recall the iconic U2 song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

Jesus then advises the man to sell all of his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and to follow him – advice in response to which the man walks away “sad, for he had many possessions” (Matthew 19.22b).

And there’s poignancy part 2. Until his exit stage selfish, nothing about the man’s encounter with Jesus suggests that he’s anything but serious about his search for eternal life. That he’s lived obedient to the commandments suggests that he has a moral and spiritual core. That he knows there’s something missing in his life demonstrates commendable self-awareness. So when he walks away in sadness because he can’t part with his possessions, we feel for him. Yes, he’s an apostle of avarice, but don’t let that character flaw blind you to the integrity of the man’s search for answers.

This scene raises several interpretative questions. For example, the man wants to know what else he must do to have "eternal life," but Jesus tells him what else he must do to “be perfect,” which doesn’t sound like the same thing. But we put those issues aside in order to address the choice awaiting the man in his post-encounter with Jesus life.

We’re not told what became of the rich man – whether perhaps he modified his approach to material goods and began giving more to charities. But let’s hope he recognized that meaningful change to his ways was within his reach. Jesus’ responses had provided a roadmap to his personal growth. He was likely a good guy with lots to recommend about him, but he wasn’t perfect: he had flaws; there were ways for him to get better. The choice before him was whether he would be willing to change WHATEVER needed to be changed in his life in order for him to grow, even if those changes required sacrifice or affected what he deemed to be “no trespassing” zones.

In the March 18 entry to this series we referenced surrender as a prominent theme. Today our focus is sacrifice, giving up personal gain or possessions in pursuit of a higher good. Today’s reminder is that it’s not only rich people who are called to sacrifice. Jesus asks all of us to make that choice. Today’s question is, in response to Jesus’ question, who among us will walk away sad?


Among the choices we've made as to the creation of this daily devotional series is not to publish a new devotional on Sundays in pursuit of the biblical command to keep the Sabbath holy (set apart from other days). 

We encourage you to set aside some time today - be it minutes or hours - to connect with God, restore your spirit, and renew your faith. Prayer, Bible reading, and meditation are among your options, but the choice is yours.

Peace and grace to you on this holy day.

jonah: something's fishy

No Old Testament prophet is known to a broader swath of the age spectrum than Jonah, he of “big fish” fame (FWIW, the biblical text does NOT say that a “whale” swallowed Jonah). He’s a curious character – both selfish and principled; both willing and defiant.

He responds to God’s initial call by running away, a rebellion that lasts as long as it takes for a storm to overwhelm the boat on which he hitched a ride. After a few days inside a fish (a plot development few readers unaware of the story would ever anticipate!) Jonah accepts God’s call and delivers a death sentence to the city called Nineveh, the capital of Assyria: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” (Jonah 3.4b)

Jonah must have had one powerful delivery behind that message because the entire city, from the king to the “paupersphere,” repented and did so in such a convincing manner that God rescinded the city’s capital punishment.

At first hearing, that sounds like a good outcome: People heard the word and changed their ways. But for Jonah, God’s change of heart is a slap in the face, a direct assault on his credibility. “Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen” (Jonah 4.3).

The concluding scene of the book of Jonah describes God’s provision-then-removal of a plant that protects the prophet from scorching heat, a sequence that produces a new volley of protest from the prophet. God then wonders how Jonah can feel justified in raising a stink about a lowly plant that died quickly while simultaneously objecting to God’s mercy upon the 120,000 residents of Nineveh. . . . And there the book ends.

If you like beginning, middle, and end storytelling that introduces, develops, then resolves conflicts Jonah is not for you. The book of Jonah ends with God’s questions to the prophet; we’re left to speculate about his answers.

At its core, Jonah’s story is a test of wills, Jonah’s and God’s. Initially, God wants to wipe out the Ninevites in response to their wickedness, and Jonah accepts his prophetic assignment on the assumption that God will not change course. When God rescinds the proposed punishment, Jonah protests, in part because he values his personal reputation more than God’s authority. The book’s unresolved issue is will Jonah surrender control to God?

Surrender is a profound faith response, one without which our loyalty to God is purely situational: If God agrees with us, we’re on board. If God disagrees . . . not so much.

We’ll encounter the surrender theme later in this series, but there’s never a bad time to remind ourselves that we’re not God’s peers; we’re God’s children, God’s creation. Surrender to God’s will for our lives – even when we’re certain our ideas are “better” – is the ultimate show of strength, not weakness. No wonder the Apostle Paul wrote this to the Corinthian Christians:

“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it [a “thorn” in his flesh] away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 8.10-12).

May you be strong today.

daniel & company: lives on the line

The Old Testament book of Daniel inspires passionate discussions of its visionary assessments of the future. Some Christians rely heavily on the book for their understanding of what’s called “eschatology,” which essentially means what happens at the end of time. But for today’s entry in this series, we examine two scenes in Daniel that occur before the visions begin.

Daniel is a Jew exiled to Babylon in the early part of the 6th century B.C.E. He and three friends of his – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – have impressed their Babylonian captors with their wisdom and acumen to the point where each has been elevated to the service of the king: Daniel as a provincial ruler; the other three as managers of Babylon’s affairs.

Soon after their respective rises to fame, however, matters complicate for the four, first for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when the king orders all citizens to bow in worship of a 90 foot statue of him at the sound of certain instruments. Instruments sound, but the three refuse to worship the statue. Tattle-tale astrologers report the rebellion to the king who gives them one last chance to bow down or face a blazing furnace.

A few chapters later in the book, Daniel faces a similar threat to his life when people in search of something to hold against Daniel convince the king to issue a decree commanding prayers be offered only to the king, and that anyone who violates said decree should be thrown into a den of lions.

So first the three and then the one faces a life-threatening decision. If they refuse to obey the king’s rules, a furnace or a den of lions awaits. If they comply with the king’s rules, they violate their faith.

Few of us face execution if we exercise our faith, but all of us have faced difficult choices in which the right thing was not the easy thing – in fact, it was the really hard thing. Today’s word is a reminder that choices can be really hard. Nothing Jesus ever taught, no word God ever delivered through the Old Testament prophets, promised simple, pain-free lives of faith. Sometimes we have to make tough sacrifices, we have to give up one good thing in deference to an even better thing. Priorities matter, but they also set us up for hard choices.

That said, the right thing is always the right thing. God always blesses our righteousness. Loyalty to the cause of Christ is always a badge of spiritual honor, regardless of how difficult the binds in which such loyalty places us.

If you’re facing a difficult choice right now, hear a word of power and encouragement from the response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they rejected the demand to worship the statue of the king:

17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (Daniel 3.17-18)(And by the way, those three survived the furnace and Daniel survived the lion’s den because none of them was alone in either predicament. Neither are we ever alone when we make the right choice.)

KING AHAZ: a sign of the times

In biblical history, Israel was a united nation during the reigns of kings named Saul, David, and Solomon. After Solomon’s death, however, civil war divided the nation into two: Israel (north) and Judah (south). A bit more than 725 years before the time of Jesus, during the reign in Judah of a king named Ahaz, Israel conspired with Syria to invade Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, a threat that frightened King Ahaz and his subjects so much that they “trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm” (Isaiah 7.2). Enter the prophet Isaiah.

God directs Isaiah to take a simple message to the antsy king: “Tell him to stop worrying. Tell him he doesn’t need to fear the fierce anger of those two burned-out embers, King Rezin of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah” (Isaiah 7.4).

Later the prophet delivers another message to the king, who’s obviously unconvinced by what he’s heard so far: “Ask the LORD your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want—as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead” (Isaiah 7.11). Ahaz declines Isaiah’s offer under the pretense that he doesn’t want to test God, but that doesn’t stop the prophet from declaring a sign.

Before we reveal that sign, let’s make a couple of notes.

  • Ahaz is about to have another choice to make. He obviously chose not to believe the reassurance of God’s initial word, so whatever sign Isaiah presents will offer the king a second chance to choose freedom from worry and fear.
  • In the verse just before the scene in which Isaiah delivers the sign, God says, “Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm” (Isaiah 7.9). TRANSLATION: I can talk till I’m green in the face, but unless you believe what I say, it won’t matter.

In every transaction between us and God, there’s an offer and a response.

  • We pray, God answers
  • God commands, we comply . . . perhaps
  • We seek forgiveness, God provides
  • God promises, we believe . . . or not

God says to Ahaz, I offer you relief from your fear, but you must respond with faith or my offer won't matter. God says the same thing to us today: I’ll provide for you, but you must choose to believe and welcome my provision.

We live in worrisome times. A glance at the headlines, conversations with friends or family, or a brief review of our circumstances all give cause for concern and fuel for fear, doubt, and anxiety. From global peace to personal economic stability, everything is a potential victim of Ahaz-like uncertainty. So our choice, too, is whether we will have faith in God’s promises.

God says to you today, I can make you strong, but not without your consent. Your choice.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

Oh, and that sign Isaiah offered to Ahaz about the fate of the conspiracy against his nation. Chances are this won’t be the first time you’ve heard it: 

“14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). 15 By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating yogurt and honey. 16 For before the child is that old, the lands of the two kings you fear so much will both be deserted” (Isaiah 7.14-16).

the writer of ecclesiastes: surrender to pessimism and hopelessness?

Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most dreary of all Bible books because throughout the verses of his work, the author never shies from attesting to his deeply-rooted pessimism.

After empty pursuits of optimism from pleasure, possessions, work, wisdom, and youth, the author says, “So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2.17). 

His core thesis, repeated several times over the book’s twelve chapters, is that there are severe limits to the satisfaction available to us in our earthly lives, a disappointment compounded by the fact that this earthly life is the limit to our very existence: “I also thought about the human condition—how God proves to people that they are like animals. For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust. For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is our lot in life. And no one can bring us back to see what happens after we die” (Ecclesiastes 3.18-22). As a result, the author contends, the best we can do is to eat, drink, and be merry because, in the end, we’re dust.

And the Academy Award for most pessimistic performance in a biblical role goes to . . . the writer of Ecclesiastes!

Is he right? Does life consist of nothing more satisfying than occasional moments of consumption and pleasure, in between which lie countless reminders of the fruitlessness of the human experience? As followers of Jesus, we boldly declare, NO! Jesus said he came so that we could have life and have it more abundantly (John 10.10). He also spoke of a life beyond this life, a life among the “many mansions” in which he has prepared a place for us (John 14.2-3). Satisfaction in this life, Jesus taught, is not about personal success or satisfaction, but rather about service and provision to others, and love for God who provides for all our needs when we live accordingly.

Jesus called the source of this satisfaction “the Kingdom of God,” an outcome worthy of our life-long and passionate efforts, a final reality our attainment of which is worth selling everything we have (see Matthew 13.44-46). As important, he said the Kingdom was already within our reach (Luke 19.21)Any life in which God’s kingdom is within reach is worth living – worth the struggle, the frustration, the disappointment, and even the futility – because God’s Kingdom is forever, as are our hopes and lives.

If in the current season of your life you identify with the pessimism expressed in the book of Ecclesiastes, know that you’re not alone. But know also that you have a choice. For Jesus offered an alternative vision – of a life that matters, one that’s not dependent on personal gain, but on godly connections. You don’t HAVE to live with the burdens of hopelessness. The Kingdom of God counts YOU among its citizens and waits to cheer the next time you demonstrate your residence.

lot's wife: you don't want to know what's gaining on you

The death of Lot’s wife is one of the strangest, most surprising events in the Bible:

Lot reached the village just as the sun was rising over the horizon. Then the LORD rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, wiping out all the people and every bit of vegetation. But Lot’s wife looked back as she was following behind him, and she turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19.23-26).

Lot is a nephew of the Old Testament’s iconic character Abraham. He, his wife, and members of their family live in the doomed city of Sodom (of Sodom and Gomorrah infamy) when angels of the LORD arrive in human form to announce the city’s imminent demise.

Following an ugly incident in which city residents sought to sexually abuse the angels, Lot and company are rushed out of town in protection of their lives. Among the few instructions the angels give the family as they exit is not to look back. Unfortunately, Lot’s wife – whose name is not given – violates that command, which results in her being turned into a pillar of salt.

As we said, a strange and surprising event.

We’re not told why she’s punished in such an odd and severe manner. In non-biblical Jewish writings, she’s turned into salt because it was by asking neighbors to borrow salt that she tipped off townspeople to the guests she and her family hosted, which then permitted them to seek to abuse the angels; but the account in Genesis gives no explanation whatsoever. So we have to figure out what to do with the story without crucial information as to its details.

And that’s hard to do.

Perhaps the best we can do if we want to remain within reach of the content of the biblical narrative is to say that we need to take our life choices seriously, particularly when God’s vision for our lives is among the options. Recall that angels – God’s representatives – gave the directive not to look back, so the instruction had heaven’s imprimatur. All who heard it should have . . . could have . . . responded accordingly, even if they had no reason to believe any form of horrific outcome would result from Lot’s wife’s innocent-appearing violation.

In your childhood, chances are good that on occasion your parents gave you a directive you didn’t understand or thought was unfair or unnecessary. If you then asked why you had to obey, chances are also good your parents on occasion told you some form of, “Because I said so.” Had Lot and family asked the angels why they weren’t supposed to look back, they might have received a similar response. When God directs our steps and Jesus is Lord of our lives, on most occasions it’s best to conform our ways to their commands. ... And by “most” we basically mean “all.”

It’s a developing theme in this daily series: Choices matter.

potential disciples: excuses, excuses!

They had such good reasons to ask for a little extra time before they followed Jesus.

One asked to delay his journey until he could bury his father. The other asked only to say good-bye to his family before he started. Who could object?

To the first Jesus said, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God,” (Luke 9.60) [and BTW, that’s a soft-serve translation of the original Greek verse, which reads, “Let the dead bury their own dead.”] To the other potential follower – the one who wanted to say good-bye to his family – Jesus declared, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9.62).

Overreact much?

This scene, found at the end of Matthew 9, is hard to understand . . . and more puzzling still when the third potential disciple in the scene – the one who actually initiates the interactions with Jesus – is added. Prior to the candidates identified above, a different prospect tells Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9.57), to which Jesus responds with what reads like an attempt to throw cold water on the guy’s enthusiasm: “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head” (Luke 9.58). TRANSLATION: You want to follow me? You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

At another point in the Gospels, Jesus speaks a similarly distressing command: “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26). Notice he doesn’t say we have to hate everyone else. Only that in comparison . . . i.e. nothing can come before him.

Today’s odd moment is about choices and priorities and the commitment needed to demonstrate the value of either. Its message is that while there are lots of important matters in life (Jesus never says burying a parent or saying good-bye to family isn’t important!) some important matters are more important than others, and our priorities ought to reflect what’s most important to us.

Jesus has no objection to grief or to close-knit families. [For an alternative ending to comparable scene, read 1 Kings 19.19-20, in which the prophet Elijah permits his successor, Elisha, to kiss his mother and father good-bye before going on the road with him] Jesus does object, however, to muddled priorities, to followers unaware of or indifferent to the priority he wants in their lives.

If you have “more important” things than your relationship with God to attend to today, go do them. But don’t stay away long. The Kingdom of God isn’t the same without you.


Among the choices we've made as to the creation of this daily devotional series is not to publish a new devotional on Sundays in pursuit of the biblical command to keep the Sabbath holy (set apart from other days). 

We encourage you to set aside some time today - be it minutes or hours - to connect with God, restore your spirit, and renew your faith. Prayer, Bible reading, and meditation are among your options, but the choice is yours.

Peace and grace to you on this holy day.

THE WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY: you're good; now go do better

The eighth chapter of the Gospel of John opens with the story of the woman caught in adultery, the story from which we draw the age-old request for the one without sin to cast the first stone. Whether the story even belongs in the Gospel has long been hotly debated. Your Bible likely contains a note that John 7.55-8.11 is not found in the earliest original language manuscripts. Controversial though the passage’s literary history surely is, its details, particularly its conclusion, deserve our attention.

Jesus is teaching at the temple when a group of religious leaders brings to him a woman alleged to have been caught committing adultery, which in the law of Moses was a capital offense. The story’s narrator informs us that the leaders aren’t actually interested in justice for the woman’s conduct; they instead want to trap Jesus into saying something they can use against him in future proceedings.

Perhaps sensing the ulterior motive of the woman’s accusers, Jesus silently writes in the dust, breaking his silence only after the leaders’ repeated requests. The “cast the first stone” thing is Jesus’ response, to which the leaders respond by leaving the makeshift courtroom in single file, a series of departures that leaves Jesus and the woman as the scene’s remaining relevant characters.

Jesus then breaks the silence by engaging the woman in a two part conversation, both parts of which have massive, ever-relevant implications:

  • ABOUT HER PAST: Neither any of the accusers who brought her to Jesus nor Jesus himself had condemned her for her past behavior.
  • ABOUT HER FUTURE: Jesus told her to change her behavior going forward.

Note that Jesus chooses compassion and mercy for the woman rather than judgment. It’s reasonable to assume that the woman had engaged in some form(s) of morally suspect behavior, that she was more than an innocent pawn in the religious leaders’ schemes against Jesus. So condemnation WAS an option for Jesus, but not one he chose.

We live in divisive and caustic times. Judgment and condemnation fuel much of today’s rancorous political and cultural interaction in which combatants magnify small- and mid-level mistakes into reputation-destructive memes. What difference to our social environment could it make were we to choose mercy and compassion over judgment and condemnation? How different would our culture be were our first inclination to forgive rather than fight? 

Choices matter.

But note also that Jesus doesn’t allow the woman to escape accountability for her actions. He hasn’t and won’t judge or condemn her, but he will call her to live differently. As a result, the accused woman walks away from the scene freed from the scorn of her accusers, but also faced with a choice of life paths – one that leads back to her former failures, the other that leads to new life.

Our lives are filled with similar choices. None of us is perfect. We either learn and move away from our mistakes, or we repeat them. From today’s story, we know Jesus’ choice. From the way we live from this day forward the world will know ours.


Old Testament prophets had hard jobs. God called them to say things that people didn’t want to hear to people who didn’t want to hear them - messages filled with doom and gloom, with pessimism and despair. Here’s an example from the opening verses of Isaiah:

    2 Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth!

      This is what the LORD says:

    “The children I raised and cared for

      have rebelled against me.

    3 Even an ox knows its owner,

      and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—

    but Israel doesn’t know its master.

      My people don’t recognize my care for them.”

    4 Oh, what a sinful nation they are—

      loaded down with a burden of guilt.

    They are evil people,

      corrupt children who have rejected the LORD.

    They have despised the Holy One of Israel

      and turned their backs on him. (Isaiah 1.2-4)

Just enough time for a greeting before lowering the “sinful nation” boom!

And here’s a bit from Jeremiah:

    20 “Long ago I broke the yoke that oppressed you

      and tore away the chains of your slavery,

    but still you said,

      ‘I will not serve you.’

    On every hill and under every green tree,

      you have prostituted yourselves by bowing down to idols.

    21 But I was the one who planted you,

      choosing a vine of the purest stock—the very best.

      How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine?

    22 No amount of soap or lye can make you clean.

      I still see the stain of your guilt.

      I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken! (Jeremiah 2.2-22)

You, Judah, are hopeless!

Such is the gig the prophets signed up for. Sometimes, such as did Jeremiah, they try to escape their calls (see Jeremiah 1.6-10), but God does not relent; ultimately, the called comply.

There are many so-called “call stories” in the Bible, scenes in which God calls people to specific missions, most of which include challenging tasks. Today’s reminder is that God rarely gives easy assignments, a fact that makes our choices whether to accept God’s calls in our lives all the more challenging.

Don’t expect God’s invitations to you to be limited to requests for you to have nice days and offer prayers of thanks for the abundance you receive. The prophet Amos declared God’s command for “a mighty flood of justice, [and] an endless river of righteous living” (Amos 5.24). Not easy outcomes. God says, pursue them anyway.

The good news is that when God calls, God provides. In response to Jeremiah’s request for an underage exemption, for example, God directs him not to be afraid and offers him presence and protection. Those two provisions – presence and provision – are God’s central rationale for overruling our objections. The life God has in mind for you is one you CAN live – you CAN do those seemingly hard things – because you live in the company and under the protection of God, who will not let you go.

Isaiah and Jeremiah had to decide whether accept God’s tough assignments. So must we. Our choices matter, but we never make them alone.

the disciples: coME ON DOWN!

For today’s reflection, we turn the clock ahead several weeks, not just the hour mandated by the weekend’s launch of Daylight Saving Time. Our focus is the meeting between the resurrected Jesus and his disciples on a mountain near Galilee as reported in Matthew 28, a scene that introduces us to three made choices and one offered one.

The first made choice is that the remaining eleven disciples have accepted Jesus’ invitation to meet (recall that Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, is no longer available due to his suicide). They didn’t have to go. They could have decided that all the talk of his resurrection was nothing but hype and hysteria produced by grief for his crucifixion. They could have decided that, but they didn’t.

The second made choice reported in the Matthew 28 encounter is that the eleven worshiped the resurrected one. This one’s not hard to understand. A guy they saw hanging on a cross a few days earlier is now standing in front of them very much alive. In the same circumstance, most of us would fall to our knees, if not to worship, then in search of strength for our freshly buckled joints.

The scene’s third made choice is that some of the disciples also doubted. Perhaps telling is the New Living Translation’s use of an exclamation point to close the sentence that reports both outcomes, as if to identify the oddity of simultaneous worship and doubt. 

Most of us Christians are experienced doubting worshipers. We’ve sung worship songs and prayed prayers that declared our genuine praise of God ... behind the scenes of which laid our equally genuine stress, fear, and doubt about God’s ability to do anything about our circumstances.

The offered change in the mountain encounter is for the disciples to step down from the mountain: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you... (Matthew 28.19-20a). TRANSLATION: Don’t stay up here in this glory and glow. You can’t be my disciples from a mountain. The people I want you to talk to aren't here and don’t know about this mountain or the one you met here. I want you to tell them, but you can’t do that from here. Walk down the mountain, then walk out into the world in which you live. The choice the disciples must make is obvious: Will they?

Or perhaps we need to ask, will WE? It’s one thing to worship with friends on Sundays, or to stay current with a devotional Bible reading plan (a GREAT practice, by the way!). It’s quite a different thing to live our faith OUTside our circles of personal comfort and satisfaction, to participate in efforts to tell the world about the resurrected one we’ve met. There are lots of ways to do so, of course, but before we can choose which ways will be our ways, we have to choose to come down from the mountain. Happy trails.



Philemon is a name we encounter only in the New Testament book that bears his name. He’s the recipient of a letter the Apostle Paul wrote from his prison cell and then sent to him in the hands of the one who is the book’s third major character, Onesimus. Because Onesimus was once a servant/slave to Philemon but had apparently escaped, at issue in Paul’s letter is Onesimus’s fate once he delivers it.

Paul doesn’t explicitly identify any wrongs Onesimus might have committed before his separation/escape from Philemon, but Paul’s offer at the end of the letter to make good on any debts Onesimus owes suggests there were some.

But Paul wants more from Philemon than a change of names in his accounts payable files. Paul wants Philemon to set Onesimus free, to liberate him from his previous bondage. And that means Philemon will have to make a choice.

As followers of Jesus, we might think Philemon’s choice was simple: Onesimus had been a slave. Slavery is wrong. So set the guy free! ... and accept Paul’s offer to pay you back anything Onesimus owes you. But in New Testament times, slavery - at the very least, certain forms of slavery - was not viewed negatively (e.g. Ephesians 6.5-9; Colossians 3.22-25). Slavery in various forms was part of the culture and economy of the times, so there was little societal pressure for Philemon to accept Paul’s request. AND Philemon had probably benefitted from Onesimus’s service. As if that weren’t enough, Onesimus had wronged Philemon - by his escape, for sure, and perhaps in other ways (e.g. by fraud or theft before his escape) - so the choice Paul laid before Philemon was not an easy one.

Forgiveness rarely is, but it’s part of Paul’s ask of Philemon: Forgive Onesimus’s past actions, including his escape and any harm he inflicted before he ran away. But Paul wants even more! He also wants Philemon to elevate Onesimus to the status of a brother in Christ: "He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord" (Philemon 16). BOTTOM LINE: Philemon, forgive and restore to the status of your spiritual equal one who has wronged you.

We don’t know from Paul’s letter what choice Philemon made once Onesimus returned, but the nearly-unanimous conclusion of scholars is that he set Onesimus free; Philemon made the hard but correct choice.

Forgiveness can be a hard choice. Reassessing our opinions of people can be a hard choice. Admitting mistakes can be a hard choice. Changing jobs/careers can be a hard choice. Doing the right but difficult or unpopular thing can be a hard choice. Lots of things can be hard choices! However difficult the choice, remember: It’s never wrong to do the right thing.

PETER: Time to step up . . . our out


It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was as Peter and his fellow disciples traveled in a boat across a lake in the middle of the night. Matthew 14 recounts the story of a rescue-at-lake by a water-walking Jesus, the sight of whom produces terror among the boat’s passengers.

Curiously, it’s their master and lord, not the surrounding storm, that scares the disciples, but that’s evidently because they don’t see him for who he is: They think he’s a ghost. Sensing their fright and confusion, Jesus tells them to find courage in the fact that he is with them, and in so doing presents a choice, first to the group of boat residents, then specifically to the disciple named Peter; it turns out their choices are basically the same: courage or fear?

The Matthew 14 story provides no information about any disciple other than Peter, who reacts to Jesus’ invitation to courage with a challenge: If it’s really you - if you’re not the ghost you seem to be from our vantage point in this boat - then call me to come to you. Peter accepts Jesus’ invitation onto the water, and in so doing displays his choice of courage over fear. 

In that dark and dangerous scene, it took a measure of courage for Peter to ask Jesus to ask him out of the boat (e.g. What if he says yes?!), but it took far more courage to leave the shaky but still-connected confines of that vessel so as to walk atop the storm-riddled lake’s surface.

So let’s give Peter some credit. Yes, he quickly chickened out: “But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted” (Matthew 14.30). But before he lost courage he had to have possessed it. So, props to you, Pete!

Notice that his loss of courage compelled him into another choice: Sinking into the threatening waters as he was, what would he do? Would he surrender to his fate or cry out for help? From the quoted verse, we know the answer. Let’s give Pete more props for recognizing his limitations and crying out in faith to the only one who could save him. We can criticize him for being spooked by a storm when he was within reach of the master of all storms, but instead let’s credit him for his candid self-assessment. He needed help and asked for it. That took courage, too.

Sometimes the storms of life can be scary, the waves they produce can seem like too much for us to handle on our own. Rather than expecting ourselves to just “handle it,” there are times when the right choice is for us to acknowledge that we’re in over our heads and need help. If that’s you right now, know that self-care takes courage. Cry out for the help you need, starting with but not limiting yourself to the one who's really good at calming storms and rescuing the sinking.

PETER: Pick an audience

In a troubling scene during his earthly ministry, Jesus made clear to a Gentile (non-Jew) woman that the Jews - the people of Israel - were his mission field (see Matthew 15.21-28), so it shouldn’t surprise us that after Jesus’ earthly ministry, some of his disciples believed their mission field was similarly limited. But within a short period of time, the New Testament makes clear, the disciples expanded their evangelistic efforts into the Gentile world. But before they expanded, they had to choose.

In Acts 10, while in a trance the Apostle Peter experiences a vision of a large sheet that falls from the sky, a sheet atop of which rests a collection of animals, birds, and reptiles. Once the sheet lands, a voice instructs him to kill and eat from the collection, but Peter refuses on the grounds of Jewish dietary laws. Four times the vision recurs to Peter, each time directing Peter not to “call something unclean if God has made it clean” (Acts 10.15b).

What the vision means or why it matters isn’t clear to the disciple until he’s called to the home of a Roman officer who has experienced a vision of his own, a vision whose instruction was to invite Peter to his home. It is then that Peter identifies his vision’s command to eat from the once-off limits animal collection as a veiled announcement of a course change for his ministry: Gentiles were now a targeted market; those once thought unclean, by God’s command were now clean.

According to the story as reported in Acts 10-11, Peter made this course change effortlessly, but the transformation writ large wasn’t that simple. Acts 15 tells of a conference among believers held in Jerusalem at which the core issue was whether Gentile converts to Christianity had to be circumcized as had been the first Christians prior to their conversion from Judaism. That is, an entire conference was needed to decide a single entrance requirement. You can bet there were people who wanted to discuss the market expansion question as well. 

But Peter and company made the choice and the change. For a period of time they perceived their mission one way, but then accepted the Spirit’s invitation to a different vision. Gentiles were now in.

This transition story reminds us of our need for flexibility, for openness to new points of view and plans of action. It can be hard to change. We get comfortable with, even confident about, our beliefs or plans. But then life happens, and over time, to willing observers, it can become evident that God is calling them away from what they once thought was certain, to a road previously untraveled.

This is not to declare that Peter’s example is proof YOU need to make major course corrections! You might! But that’s not today’s point. Today’s point is to remember who’s in charge and who will provide for you, whatever road you’re on.


Among the choices we've made as to the creation of this daily devotional series is not to publish a new devotional on Sundays in pursuit of the biblical command to keep the Sabbath holy (set apart from other days). 

We encourage you to set aside some time today - be it minutes or hours - to connect with God, restore your spirit, and renew your faith. Prayer, Bible reading,  and meditation are among your options, but the choice is yours. 

Peace and grace to you on this holy day.

Peter and John: Do what you’re told

Once convinced that God had raised Jesus from the dead, the disciples acted boldly and defiantly to pursue their mission to preach, teach, and baptize the world. Along with that assignment came the gift to heal people of their diseases and disabilities, a gift Peter and John use to great noteriety in Act 3 when they heal a man who has been lame from birth. Obedient disciple that he is, Peter leverages the crowd’s awestruck reaction to the healing in order to create an opportunity to tell people about Jesus – about his identity as the Messiah they had crucified but God had raised from the dead.

Proving that no good sermon is left unpunished (!), a collection of authorities both religious and secular arrest the pair then place them on trial the next day, asking them at the outset of the proceeding to identify the power or name in which they had accomplished the healing. Obedient disciple that he remained, Peter leverages the group’s question in order to create yet another preachable moment, a fresh chance to talk about Jesus to a new group of potential converts. 

Such enthusiasm for a slain religious leader posed real threats to the power wielded by tribunal members, so after discussion among themselves they direct the disciples “never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4.18), which sets up an important decision for the disciples: To whose direction will they submit, the authorities’ or their Lord’s?

Whatever the magnitude of your familiarity with the Bible, there’s likely little mystery for you about which choice Peter and John made. But before confirming the obvious, let’s reflect on the moment’s magnitude for them. The “authorities” have ordered them to cease and desist. No longer may they pursue the mission Jesus had assigned to them. They are disciples who must, for all practical purposes, stop being disciples. Do they obey Jesus and face imprisonment? Or the dictates of the authorities and face the objections of the one to whom they committed their lives?

It’s a choice reminiscent of one put by Joshua before the freed slaves on their way to the Promised Land: “But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live?” (Joshua 24.15) Who’s your God, people? Joshua asks. Peter and John must decide whom they will serve.

Peter and John’s example in Acts 3-4 isn’t a blank permission slip for us to disregard secular regulations in obedience to our religion. We can’t do whatever we want then excuse our conduct on the grounds that we’re Christians. But there are times when the ways of the world around us conflict with the way of the faith within us. At those moments - when the choice is whether to remain faithful - we have to decide.

Peter and John respond to the authorities’ demands by saying, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard” (Acts 4.19-20). The next time you face a choice between your faith and its alternatives, remember their answer.

jesus: don't tempt me!

We’ve all been tempted: to eat too much; to respond in nasty, hurtful ways; to procrastinate; to disregard the needs of others; to value possessions more than people; and more. Today we focus on the temptations Jesus faced early in his ministry, just after the empowering joy of his baptism.

Its timing is one of the temptation scene’s most troubling characteristics. Immediately after Jesus receives God’s Spirit and hears heaven’s affirmation as he rises out of the waters of the Jordan River, the same Spirit drives him into isolation in a wilderness where Satan poses to him three potent temptations:

  • Prove that you’re the Son of God (turn stone into bread)
  • Rely on God’s protection (jump off a high place and let an angel catch you)
  • Pursue personal benefit (worship Satan and the world is yours!)

Each of those temptations seeks to upend God’s intended order for the world:

  • Jesus’ place as the Son of God would not be proven by miracles; his disciples performed many of those without claims to that role.
  • God’s protection and provision would not be proven by on-demand safety nets; if Jesus had jumped from a high place, he would have landed... hard... on a surface below.
  • God directs that others – not we – should be our first concern.

Temptation seeks to redirect our attention, our concern, our thoughts, our priorities, and our actions. Temptation argues that there is a better way to live, usually one which for bait relies on flawed promises of personal gain.

To each of the temptations offered to him Jesus responds with Scripture whose principal message is that God is to be worshiped and served, not tested and used as if a prayer request vending machine. That approach to temptation worked for Jesus; we’re told “the devil went away, and angels came and took care” of him (Matthew 4.11). It can work for you too.

The next time you’re tempted away from the road that in your heart you know God wants you to travel, remember that your purpose in life is not defined by how much you have or want, or whom you know or conquer, but by the God who made you and provides for you. Remember that you are a creation unique in design and purpose, that God has set you apart to bless the world in ways of which only you are capable. Anything that distracts you from either your purpose or the one who defined it is a temptation you shouldn’t accept and CAN reject.

HEZEKIAH: no surrender!

Today’s word, as did yesterday’s, comes from the time after the end of the nation of Israel in 721 B.C.E. but before the exile of the Judean population about 120 years later. In today’s scene, the Assyrians threaten King Hezekiah of Judah and the population over which he rules. Their basic threat is, we’re coming for you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Oh, you can run to this god or that god. You can even run to your own God, but you cannot escape your fate, so don’t try. “What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the LORD can rescue Jerusalem from me?” (2 Kings 18.35), the Assyrian king asks.

It’s a classic strategy employed by bullies since the dawn of time, isn’t it? You can’t beat me. If you try to fight back, you’re going to suffer more than if you simply surrender. So, simply surrender.

In the previous entry of this series, we noted the necessity of accepting our circumstances, of not denying reality. In today’s entry, our focus isn’t the acceptance or denial of reality, but rather surrender to it.

  • If the glass we dropped on the kitchen floor shattered into a dangerous debris field, we have to accept that reality... then clean up the mess.
  • If a loved one is moving through the process of dying due to a terminal illness, we need to accept the reality he or she faces - we can’t deny facts - then do what we can to our provide our support and love.

But accepting reality is not surrender it! King Hezekiah of Judah received the Assyrian threat with fear and dread, but not surrender. He turned in prayer to God: "Now, O LORD our God, rescue us from [the Assyrian king’s] power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O LORD, are God” (1 Kings 19.19). In response, God speaks to Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah and says, I got this.

The rest of the story is quite gruesome in that it reports the deaths of the Assyrian king and 185,000 of his soldiers, so we’ll leave its details to your review (see the 18th and 19th chapters of 2 Kings for the whole story). Instead we focus on the moment of decision King Hezekiah faced. His options were to surrender or fight back. Fighting back militarily was not an option given the relative weakness of his forces. But he had a power on his side that was instantly accessible and he chose to use it: He fought back in faith.

What challenges in your life have you yet to turn over to God? In the battles of your daily grind are you using all of the power available to you? Have you fallen to your spiritual knees in search of God’s provision as did King Hezekiah? If not, today’s a good time to do so. God will hear your prayer not as surrender to your fate, but as an expression of your faith in God’s ability to do all things well.

You’re a child of God. Don’t give up! Accept reality, of course, but don’t EVER give up!

the exiles in babylon: now what?

Sometimes we have to make hard choices, between unappealing options.

In biblical Israel’s history, after the death of King Solomon the previously united kingdom split into northern and southern domains called Israel and Judah. Because of its unfaithfulness to God, the northern kingdom of Israel suffered political annihilation and the physical exile of its citizenry at the hands of the Assyrians around 721 B.C.E. A century and a quarter later, the Babylonians imposed a similar fate on the southern kingdom of Judah, taking most but not all of its population into exile. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah conducted his ministry before and during Judah’s extradition from its homeland.

Perhaps the most quoted section of the Bible’s book of Jeremiah is the prophet’s advisory to the Babylonian exiles found in chapter 29, in which he offers profound hope, but not before commanding the people’s surrender to their circumstances. They must accept the fact that God has sent them into a foreign land, and that they will be there for awhile (70 years, to be precise). All predictions of an earlier end to their exile are false, he says. 

Because God is the author of their fate, the exiles are to... “[b]uild homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare” (Jeremiah 29.5-7)

TRANSLATION: Bloom where you’re planted. That had to have been a hard word for the exiles to hear: Accept the consequences of your past behavior. Instead of rebelling against reality, make the most of it. 

All of us, at times, have had to make difficult choices; we’ve had to accept difficult circumstances that were perhaps, but not necessarily, of our own making.

  • A loved one’s serious illness
  • Financial uncertainty created by an unexpected layoff
  • The consequences of our own or others’ mistakes

In such instances, a pivotal question is often, what now? Which unattractive option will we choose? Or instead will we deny or otherwise try to hide from the truth? Jeremiah’s counsel to the exiles in Babylon is that they accept their present difficulties, in their case created by their own action. By extension to our lives, his seeming counsel to us is to live in the present, whatever its challenges. Make the most of both bad and good situations, convinced that there’s more to any given moment than its difficulties.

Later in the same chapter Jeremiah quotes God’s assurance to the exiles that "exile" will not be their ultimate fate: “For thus says the LORD: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29.10-11) 

TRANSLATION: Face the moment in front of you convinced that God will bless the moments ahead of you.

If at the moment you're living in a difficult season, perhaps the prophet’s advice to the exiles is a word you need to hear. Accept your challenges. Stand on the promises of the one who is God of your today AND of the tomorrows that await you.

the slaves liberated from egypt: COMPLAIN OR COMPLY?

After their liberation from slavery in Egypt, God’s chosen people created a bipolar relationship with the God they served. Bipolar not in the psychiatric sense, but in the sense of having good days and bad days – days when they were welcome in God’s presence, and days when God wanted nothing to do with them. Many of the latter kind of days resulted from their recurring grumbling about their conditions: 

  • Not enough water. 
  • Not enough food. 
  • Not enough variety in their food. 
  • Not enough of whatever they believed they lacked to justify having taken the risk of leaving the imprisoned-but-stable lives they led in Egypt. 

In the fourteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of Numbers, the conflict between God and God’s chosen ones reaches a dramatic zenith.

A dozen spies have just returned from a reconnaissance mission in Canaan, the so-called “Promised Land” to which Moses is leading them. Two of the twelve spies voice excitement about and counsel immediate departure for the lush and fruitful destination. But the other ten urge an end to their journey based on the strength of the forces they would have to defeat in the new land: “We can’t go up against them!...The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” (Numbers 13.31b-33)

Numbers 14 opens with community-wide protests against continuing the Promised Land Express. The two glass-half-full spies plead with their peers. It’s a great place, they contend, and if God is with them, they’ll succeed. “Do not rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the LORD is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14.9) It’s time for the people to choose.

Let’s acknowledge the importance of the choice facing the people at this point in the narrative. Their options are to allow their fear of the unknown and their doubts about God’s provision to keep them rooted in the past, or to trust God and take on the formidable challenge God’s call has placed before them. It’s something of a binary choice, one reminiscent of what Joshua, who is one of the two optimistic spies, will present once they cross into the Promised Land (see Joshua 24.15)

So the people have to choose. The truth is we all have to choose.

The future often looks foreboding. How am I ever going to get through THAT?! Confidants may encourage us, but others’ confidence isn’t always contagious. As people of faith we turn to God, who asks us to trust – to have faith – to choose God’s way rather than our own.

The good news of our faith is that there are no scary giants in God’s company. Scared people? Yes! But by faith, we don’t have to be among them.

Things don’t go well for the scared and doubting people of Numbers 14. Go read the chapter for yourself, then choose to trust God in the matters that concern you in this season of your life’s journey.

Elijah: Pursued, Pampered, and Pressed

Elijah is quite the character, a prophet of strength, determination, and obvious allegiance to the God who called him. He’s also an active prophet, which in turn results in a lot happening to him.

We meet Elijah in 1 Kings 17, when he predicts a years-long drought. In short order he then creates a sustainable food supply for a widow whose son he raises from the dead, confronts a king named Ahab about his worship of a false god named Baal, defeats 450 prophets of said false god in an unusual barebque contest (then kills those prophets for good measure), and successfully prays for the end of the drought.

Displeased that Elijah has both embarrassed and dispensed with those prophets, King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, commits to killing Elijah, an action that sends Elijah into hiding in a wilderness. At least for the moment protected from Jezebel’s threats Elijah prays for a permanent end to his prophetic appointment: “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died” (1 Kings 19.4c,d)

Elijah reminds us that we can choose NOT to serve God just as easily as we can choose TO serve God. All followers of Jesus have experienced doubt, frustration, disappointment, and/or disapproval as in good faith they tried to live as God wanted them to live. In this Christianity profession of ours, success is not guaranteed, and that’s a reality in response to which it’s tempting to give up – in modern lingo, we call it burnout.

Elijah is burned out and wants out... for good.

Importantly, God doesn’t punish the prophet for his choice to rebel; God provides for him. In the wilderness, an angel makes bread and water available on two occasions, and in so doing provides Elijah with enough energy to travel for 40 days, to Mount Sinai. There God appears and draws out from him an explanation for his choice: “Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too” (1 Kings 19.10). Translation: I’m doing what you want me to do, God, but it ain’t workin’!

Importantly (again!), God doesn’t punish the prophet for his rationale; God provides for him. God makes Godself known to him in a “gentle whisper,” not some grandiose display of sound and fury; and that whisper is enough to return Elijah to his mission.

If dissatisfaction with the results of living for God has led you to walk away from your faith walk, lots of us understand your choice because at various times we’ve made it too. The encouragement from Elijah’s example is that God doesn’t give up on us when we choose to suspend spiritual operations; God waits and provides for us until we’re ready to resume.

When you’re ready, get back on the road ... and expect company.


In order to create a Sabbath for these daily reflections, we will not post new content on Sundays until Palm Sunday, April 2, the Sunday before Easter Sunday.

It can be argued that the commandment among the ten Moses received on Mt Sinai that has been subject to the most disregard over the last half century or so is the fourth one: “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20.8)

The Old Testament, particularly its first five books, witnesses to the commandment’s importance. For example, those who work on the Sabbath are to be executed (Exodus 31.15; 35.2). No one today expects Sabbath day workers to be put to death. We are a 24x7 global community, some significant piece of which is always powered on. Modern life can’t and won’t stop for a day, even if the cause is a sacred one, so we have to create a new application of the fourth commandment: Perhaps as a personal choice, not a societal mandate.

Think about the Sabbath as a season within your week, a period subject, at least in part, to your control. What you do with and in that season is your choice, and not in the control of your congregation, denomination, pastoral leaders, or fellow congregants. Whether your Sabbath is holy is up to you.

So what does “holy” mean? It means set apart, distinct from. It doesn’t mean perfect, angelic, or otherworldly. It means intentionally different from its surroundings.

  • Israel is God’s “holy” people NOT because they’re better than everyone else (see Deuteronomy 7.7; 9.5), but because they had been uniquely chosen by God.
  • The Old Testament’s many dietary commandments set Israel apart from its neighbors; that is, they make Israel holy.
  • In the New Testament, 1 Peter 2 declares the Church to be “a chosen people,” “royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.” That makes us “holy,” but because we’re different, not because we’re better.

So in the new application of a “holy” Sabbath we’re creating, let’s not think about a day imposed by the calendar or ecclesiastical decree, but rather about a season WE set aside by personal choice. Let the Sabbath not be a designated day of the week, but a chosen period of time we set aside to be different from the other periods of the week.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently completed a four day stay in a 300 sq ft isolation chamber devoid of light in southern Oregon, a time of both self-care and focus on his future as an NFL player, he said. Those four days were surely different from his other days. Think about the Sabbath as the time you set aside to focus on the things of God, the life of Christ, and God’s vision for your life. Prayer. Meditation. Bible reading. Quiet solitude. The specifics of your Sabbath are yours to choose. It doesn’t have to be a full day, but it does have to be different... holy.

The old hymn directs us to “take time to be holy.” Do so today, even if for only a small bit of time. Then repeat the process tomorrow and the next day and .....

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NOTE: In order to create a Sabbath for these daily reflections, going forward, we will not post new content on Sundays until Palm Sunday, April 2, the Sunday before Easter Sunday.

abram: “With the first pick in the XYZ draft....”

An old joke describes the dinner table interplay between two siblings. Two pieces of the meal's entree – one obviously larger than the other – remain on a platter when one of the siblings removes the larger one to his plate. With the smaller portion remaining for the sister's consumption, the following exchange transpires:

     SISTER: Why do you get the biggest piece?

     BROTHER: If you had picked first, which piece would you have chosen?

     SISTER: The smaller one.

     BROTHER: So you got the one you wanted. What are you complaining about?!

A scene analogous to that one unfolds between Old Testament characters named Abram (that is, prior to the change of his name to Abraham) and his nephew Lot. They, their families, as well as their herds and herders have moved back toward their homeland following a famine-forced stay in Egypt. Both Abram and his nephew have become wealthy, each owning large flocks that require lots of grazing land. Tensions rise between the herders of the two relatives as they struggle to provide for their animals from the accessible land. Abram suggests to Lot that they go their separate ways and invites Lot to choose his territory first, after which Abram will take his people and possessions in the opposite direction.

Lot must choose between what the 13th chapter of Genesis calls "the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley" (Genesis 13.10) and the land called Canaan in the other direction. Lot assesses his options and chooses the Jordan Valley, leaving to Abram a territory in which "the people... were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the LORD" (Genesis 13.13).

Many of us will grumble at Lot's choice. He could have deferred to his uncle out of respect or in furtherance of family loyalty. We might conclude that he chose selfishly, putting his interests above Abram's – akin to the sibling who chose the larger piece of entree. But equally if not more instructive is Abram's choice. That he surrendered the first choice to Lot deserves applause. He could not have been blind to the lush goodness of the Valley his nephew ultimately selected, or to the likelihood that Lot would choose it. That Abram accepted the land left to him without protest testifies to his character... and his faith. 

After Lot and company leave to settle in the Valley, God in effect blesses Abram's new land via a simple proclamation: "I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession." (Genesis 13.15) This land is your land, God tells Abram, because I'm giving it to you. Size, lushness, and crime rates don't matter; but the identity of the landlord does.

So Abram leans on faith, puts another's interests in front of his own, and receives God's provision. Goodness. With such a mind set, we might be satisfied even if we don't get the largest piece of entree at dinner tonight.

MOSES: Easy choices are... easier!

Our focus today is the Old Testament hero named Moses. So central to the Old Testament’s witness is he that without his (ultimate) choice in response to God’s call, there would never have been an Old Testament. The exodus of an enslaved people from Egypt is the organizing event in Israel’s history, a process and outcome through which Israel discovered both God and its identity as God’s chosen people. But those discoveries didn’t come easily.

In the third chapter of the appropriately-titled Bible book of Exodus, God directs Moses to go to Egypt to secure the captives’ release: “You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt” (Exodus 3.10b), God says. In the astonishing dialogue that follows, Moses offers a variety of delays and denials of God’s directive.

  • He first questions his capacity and standing for the task: “Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3.11b).
  • Then he’s uncertain as to what to call the God who has called him to lead the exodus: “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” (Exodus 3.13)
  • Next he fears that people won’t listen to him: “What if they say, ‘The LORD never appeared to you’?” (Exodus 4.1b)
  • Then he declares himself to be inarticulate, not a good spokesperson for the almighty: “I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled” (Exodus 4.10.c)
  • Apparently out of other excuses, Moses finally pleads with God to choose another representative: “Lord, please! Send anyone else.” (Exodus 4.13)

God drives past each of the exit ramps Moses proposes – even past the final one, which prompts divine anger - in response to each, offering support and encouragement – effectively, a promise that things will work out... if Moses just cooperates!

Moses represents a special kind of choice: the choice of whether to accept God’s direction when that direction might lead us into conflict, discomfort, uncertain outcomes, etc.

  • It’s easy to approve when God says, “Be nice to people today.” It’s not so easy to approve when God calls us to reconcile with a person whose words and actions landed hard and inflicted hurt.
  • It’s easy to approve when God commands us to support the work of the church. It’s not so easy to approve when God calls us to do so sacrificially.

How did you respond the last time you felt God calling you to do something you really didn’t want to do? If it’s been awhile since you felt such a calling, you might want to check your hearing. Such choices come with the territory. Just ask Jesus... in the garden of Gethsemane... on the night before he was crucified.


As far as we know, Abram had a good life – family, possessions, prestige – when God told him to leave it all in pursuit of a future whose description highlighted final results but not the process by which those results would be achieved.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12.2-3), God promises, in imagery that sounds a bit like the sales pitches employed by commercials that sell weight loss powders or vision correction gadgetry. No specifics. No money/life-back guarantees. Just an invitation to a better but ill-defined future. In modern vernacular, this is the stuff of Internet popup ads, clicks on which land us in wordy, image- and video filled commercials for products never advertised on more conventional media.

We skeptical moderns might expect Abram to ask for more information before deciding whether to accept God’s invitation:

  • Exactly where are you sending me, LORD, and what can I expect once I get there?
  • How long will it take for me to achieve the “great name” and “blessing” you’re talking about?
  • And why should I care whether all the other families on earth will be blessed?

The only explanation for such unrestrained consent is trust, what Scripture calls “faith.” God asked Abram to pull up roots, to abandon the comfort and security of his present life, in favor of... whatever future God had in store for him. Abram had no basis for accepting the offer except for his unflinching confidence in the offer’s maker. For Abram, the choice wasn't really whether to become what in a verse later in Genesis God calls “the father of many nations” (Genesis 17.5), but whether to trust the God who tendered the offer. Does he believe God keeps promises?

We rightly applaud Abram’s choice... while under our cheering breaths asking whether we could ever exhibit such confidence in God’s provision:

 ● Will you ACTUALLY provide for my needs if I say yes to you, God?

 ● If I agree to live for you, Jesus, will you REALLY be with me in every circumstance?

 ● What happens when (not “if”) I make mistakes? Will I still have your promise?

 ● And if I give financially to support the work of your Church, Lord, do you PROMISE to provide?

Making good choices in life is often hard. Accepting God’s offer of new life in Christ without faith is really hard. Use this journey to the cross to assess your level of trust/faith in God. Commit to deepening that trust, and in the process, growing your willingness to accept the daring, magnificent future God has waiting for you.

adam and eve: to eat or not to eat, that is the question

The second chapter of the Bible's first book (Genesis) introduces us to earth's first humans, which makes Adam and Eve the first people who face a choice.

God designs the Garden of Eden as a winner-take-all buffet of options for earth's inaugural couple, which in this case meant that Adam and Eve could eat from any of its available trees... EXCEPT one. (There's always one, isn't there?) "You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden — except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die” (Genesis 2.16-17)God says to the new tenants. That divine directive is fodder for a tempter serpent's mischief, which sets up the choice Adam and Eve must make.

"You won't die!" (Genesis 3.4) exclaims the serpent, arguing that the only reason God had commanded them not to eat from the good/evil tree was that God didn't want competition from others who knew the difference between those forces. The problem for the couple is that in the world as God's designed it, serpents don't decide the authority of God's instructions; in fact, no one other than God does so. When tempted by the serpent to eat of the forbidden fruit, therefore, Adam and Eve must choose whom to obey -- essentially, they must choose their deity: the God who created them... or themselves.

That's a choice we all must make on a daily, make that moment-by-moment, basis. In our present circumstances, will we conform our lives to God's intentions and desires, or will we choose from among the countless available alternatives. At the root of each of those decisions -- as rudimentary, for example, as whether to hold the door open for the person moving toward the entrance behind us -- is our choice of deities. Who reigns, who has the final say, over how we live? Adam and Eve ate the wrong fruit -- they chose themselves as their gods -- and in the process reminded us that it's one thing for God to rule in the pages of Scripture, and quite another thing for God to rule in the trenches of our daily lives.

Within the hour from right now, you will face options: what to do with your time; how to respond to a friend in need; whether to do the right thing or the convenient thing. In way(s) little and/or large, you will be tempted to stray from the vision God has for your life. Your choice will matter. Our choices always do.