Human Tensions and God’s Good Intentions

September 24
Genesis 50:15-21

Notice how Joseph’s brothers sin, even while asking for forgiveness! They lie, putting words in their dead father’s mouth. But it works. Their wronged brother forgives them. Young Joseph could have become a bitter, mean man. But to his brothers, Joseph was tender and kind, acknowledging God’s sovereign plan to save them. Not everyone received his magnanimity. The Egyptians become enslaved to Pharaoh as Joseph trades provision for land, livestock, and a fifth of all their crops in perpetuity. Scripture makes no moral judgment on this harshness. Once again, the Bible does not hide the ambiguities in its sacred story, nor explain why some receive good gifts while survival costs others much more. Soon the tables will turn, and Israel will be the ones crying for freedom.

Omniscient One, you know what we do not. Give us patience in our difficulties and humility in our victories. Let us not fear the future you have planned for us. Provide bread for your whole world, that none may go without. AMEN.


Refusing the Judgment Trap

MONDAY, September 25
Romans 14:1-12

Covenanters have a deep commitment to “the reality of freedom in Christ.” It is one of our Affirmations. We don’t allow opinions that could divide us to claim power over unity and mutual love. God’s welcome surpasses our opinions and judgment of each other’s faith. Fighting about nonessential issues brings death to the body. We live and die to the Lord, and the Lord has more important things for us. Covenanters do not divide on baptism, divorce and remarriage, women in leadership, or forms of earthly governance. As many denominations, we now look closer at sexuality, with diverse opinions. Yet we agree that our posture is to be one of mutual love and unity. We will be held accountable for how we love one another, most of all.

Jesus Christ, you offer us freedom from death and division, and you hold us accountable to your teachings. Show us what is of eternal importance and what, like chaff, will blow away, that when we bow before you, we will bow together. AMEN.

Weighted Down in the Spiritual Outback

TUESDAY, September 26
Matthew 18:12-14

I enjoy YouTube videos of sheep who wander off and avoid capture. “Baa-rak” lugged around 77 pounds of dirty, debilitating wool in the Australian outback before being caught and sheared. Five years of noncompliance had weighed him down, covered his eyes, and left him barely able to stand. “Chris” sported a record-breaking 89 pounds of Merino wool and was afraid of people, unable to sit, malnourished. His wool is on permanent display in a museum.

Wandering off is hazardous to our health. Matthew isn’t just talking about scampering away from God for the day; he’s addressing the long-term effects of ongoing disobedience that weigh us down, rob us of community, blind us, and steal our humanity. Our Shepherd wants more for us. We all need to be sheared.

Good Shepherd, thank you for seeking us in the woods where we hide and in the thickets where we get stuck. Shear away all effects of sin and disobedience that we might breathe again, walking strongly in your ways. AMEN.


Forgive, Forgive, Forgive, Forgive…

WEDNESDAY, September 27
Matthew 18:21-35

Can we agree that our Lord will not torture us? Hebrew storytelling exaggerates to make a point. Still, God holds us accountable. We are called to forgive, not grudgingly but from our heart. I can attest to the corrupting effects of unforgiveness on the soul and the congregation. We see people who are self-righteous, easily offended, churlish, spiritually destructive. Beware of grudges and unhealed rifts!

Jesus did not proclaim, “I’m dying for everybody out there, except that guy who cheated on his wife and that woman who insulted that other woman.” Unforgiveness is a sign of wounds we refuse to put down. Who do you not want to forgive? Pause now and put that ugly burden down.

Lord, we can never repay our debt to you. Thank you for your unmerited gift. Convict us of any self-importance, thin skin, or fear in facing what has deeply wounded us. Walk through these scary paths with us as we try to be more like you. AMEN.

There Is No Sulking in the Kingdom of God

THURSDAY, September 28
Jonah 3:10–4:11

Does God relentlessly chase down your sin? Jonah sulking after the Ninevites’ repentance wasn’t going to get past God. Jonah didn’t want those “other people” to get the goodies from God that he himself enjoyed. They were unworthy, powerful, and cruel.

I can understand why Jonah shunned that particular mission field and why he would not want God to let them off so easily. Who do you want God to punish rather than embrace? Condemn rather than forgive? Who do you assume God is “against”? Consider the Black man who protected a neo-Nazi who was under attack, or the small town embracing refugees. Think of Christians embracing Muslim neighbors after September 11. God wants to use us to offer hospitality in unlikely places. If we don’t sulk, we may just find joy.

God, change our hearts that so often resist your goals. Show us who is in need of your love and acceptance. Open us, that we will serve you willingly and joyfully. AMEN.


God’s Vineyard, God’s Rules

FRIDAY, September 29
Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus’s parable of the laborers in the vineyard reads differently to different people. The hard worker is offended when “slackers” get as much pay he does. I can hear the landowner’s wife exclaiming, “Pushover! Wasting our money on those lazy people!” Or perhaps the landowner with a ripe vineyard needing to be picked now is frustrated because he does not have the laborers he needs. How relieved he must be to find more hands. And the unemployed, who for whatever reason couldn’t come earlier or had no luck at town A so they went to town B—how grateful they are to work, eat, support their families!

As one who has too often been unemployed, I celebrate the generosity of God who sees our need and doesn’t play favorites. That’s how God accepts all people—latecomers are just as welcome.

God, we know you don’t love some people more than others. Thank you for that. Remind us to love like you, looking for those who need you most. Take the chips from our shoulders. AMEN.

The Arduous Path to Glory

SATURDAY, September 30
Psalm 149

Have you ever played that game asking, “Which of these things is not like the others?” Psalm 149 tells us to “Sing! Praise! Be glad! Make melody! Exult! Avenge! Punish! Bind kings in fetters! Execute judgment! Praise the Lord!” Hmm. Let me think. What starts out joyous turns pretty dark, doesn’t it? On top of that, the psalmist declares that the “avenge, punish, binding” part “is glory for all his faithful ones.” How is God’s judgment of the nations glory for the faithful? The coming kingdom of righteousness will be completed only when sin is bound forever. No shadows will obscure God’s glory. The roaring of earthly nations will be stilled. What we now see dimly we will finally see face to face. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

Ascended Christ, return in power to claim your kingdom. We await you. Show us the difference between citizenship in your kingdom and our citizenship in human societies. Remove the tarnish that dirties us and compromises our worship and praise. AMEN.



  • Beth Ernest

    I am a retired pastor, transitional pastor, and spiritual director attending Thornapple Covenant Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I write short stories, nonfiction articles about ministry, essays, poetry, and am working on a novel. I will receive my doctor of ministry degree in the sacred art of writing from Western Theological Seminary’s Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination next year. I am enjoying this shift in calling during my early retirement from church ministry. I also serve as a supply preacher and edit the Covenant Quarterly. I am married to James, a book publisher, and we have two adult children, Miriam and Samuel.

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