Daily Devotional: Dying to Live

coffee-prayer-scriptureJohn 12:20-26.

Jesus puts loss into a new perspective. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”.  Our struggles, our waiting, our trials, our losses, so often cause pain.  This pain can lead to the death of ego, a laying aside of our self-centeredness and unhealthy pride.   It takes such death for us to open to our new possibilities, open to God’s guidance in our lives, and open to knowing ourselves and others in a deeper level.

Death and resurrection is pictured in this image as the pathway to real, meaningful life.   We must constantly be willing to put aside parts of who we are, aspects of our identity we have clung to which now are becoming barriers to true loving service, to building reconciliation with justice, or to humbly connecting more deeply with God, ourselves, and others.   Only in doing so can we discover the life with purpose for which we were made.

Daily Devotional: Being replanted by God’s loving hand

planting seedsJeremiah 31:27-34 describes God as replanting the seeds of humanity and all creatures that have been plucked up by the justice that naturally comes from our choice to reject God by sowing seeds of injustice and lack of compassion for each other.   This shows that God’s goal is never our abandonment or destruction, but rather restoring relationship with us and others, healing our communities, and healing the earth. Right now, in whatever ways you may be facing the hard realities that have flowed from your or others’ bad choices, hear the promise: This is not the end.   If you will allow God to work God’s healing, transforming work, things can be set right. This is not just true for you as an individual, it is true for our families, communities, nations, and world.

This is spoken of in Jeremiah as a renewal of covenant, covenant being the relationship God and humanity have made through promising love and faithfulness to each other.   The language that is later taken up by Jesus to describe “the new covenant” Jesus makes with all people by expanding this covenant beyond Israel to all nations, tribes, and peoples, is introduced here by Jeremiah.

Jeremiah suggests what will make this renewal of relationship possible is a change of heart, where the principles of God that have once been written into laws on paper will be written by Spirit into our hearts. This is not something that happens by magic. It happens through us choosing to open our hearts and minds to God, to others, to all life on God’s world.   It comes through saying “God teach me, God change me, God show me”. It comes through being willing to change your attitudes and ways of thinking. This is not easy. We get stuck in the ruts that promote the very daily acts of injustice, insensitivity, and selfishness that when sown reap the whirlwind Jeremiah has been warning of. But with God all things are possible.

Let’s examine our hearts, and open ourselves up to the transforming work of God the Holy Spirit within, so that we can be restored in every area of our lives where we have become hardened to God, to compassion, and to justice.

Daily Devotional: Sometimes You Have To Roll Your Sleeves Up and Fight

coffee-prayer-scripturePsalm 144 reminds us that it is the Lord who gives our hands strength to fight as men and women of war.

I don’t think I have to take from this that God is violent, literally a soldier in arms. Rather I think it can remind me there are times we have to stand for what is right, and silence is not called for. There are times we must fight for injustice, even non-violently like Dr. King, Sojourner Truth, Gandhi, and Desmond Tutu fought. They did not raise a gun but they were soldiers for justice.   To sit down and do nothing when other people’s rights are trampled on is to miss the call of God.

I cannot help but think as I write these words of ways here in my own blessed south-land, people are doing just this: trying to write into law rules that discriminate against the GLBT community, trying to discriminate against other faiths, setting up rules making it harder for minorities to vote, stripping programs to support those with disabilities. If we do nothing, we miss the call of this Psalm.   We must stand, in our own way. And that is not easy.

Yet Psalm 144 is also a word of hope. It is the Lord who trains our hands for the battle. Ultimately it is God who goes before us, ready to overturn oppression and bring freedom. We are called not to fight this battle alone but to work together with this God, participating with the One who brings liberty. We can know if we do this, victory is coming whether it takes days or decades.

Let us stand. Let us not give up in this fight for freedom.

Daily devotional: The Lord’s Song in the Land of Tears

by the rivers of babylon 2Psalm 137:1-6

This cry is the cry of every person in exile. How can we sing the songs of praise we sang in the place of comfort and certainty in the land of doubt, where we feel cut off from all that matters?   Quite literally Israel endured this experience, as did people of African descent in the early Americas, Native Americans in the Trail of Tears.

As I hear these words today I feel called to recognize my own ancestors’ complicity in these tragedies.   To remember the folks pushing for the exile and oppression of people of African descent and Native Americans considered themselves good people, probably went to church believing they were good Christians, yet failed to see the humanity of others. I feel a need to cry out to God calling for healing from the damage they did, which cannot be undone.   It is a reminder of the work I am called to do as a southern white man to heal the legacy of racism that still lingers here in my home, and also to help transform the ongoing legacy of racism in the systems of power I am a part. For this same cry reminds me of the cries “Don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” which were a way my neighbors of color acknowledged that in many ways they are still made to feel as if in exile, as if they don’t belong, as if oppressed here alongside me.   I hear a call to join against racism.

slave in bibleI also hear an acknowledgement that God is present with those experiencing the moment in which they feel they cannot praise or sing the songs of their experience of home due to feeling exiled. God is in that feeling of discontent and how it is expressed whether in silence before God, in questioning and doubting, or in creating new songs for the new experience – all of which this psalm represents. I can know that God is present with those facing oppression because as a Christian I believe each psalm was given inspired by the Holy Spirit, so their presence in the Scripture shows God’s presence with the author of the psalm as they were written. God is with you, if you face oppression, if you do not know how to sing, pray, praise. If the old songs and prayers are not sufficient and you feel you must sit in silence or find a new path of prayer or praise you have not journeyed before. Do not give up.

trail of tearsFinally, I also think that beyond the literal experience of oppression, this psalm speaks volumes to those feeling exiled by life. In times of grief, in times of loss, of depression, of trauma, we find our mouths stopped. We find it hard, even surrounded by what once felt home, to be at home in our lives. It is hard to pray, hard to praise, hard to relate to God as we always have, let alone others.   This psalm reminds us that in those moments, God is present with us in our doubts, our questionings, our silence, and our struggle to find words. Whether or not we yet have found words or not, we can know God sits with us, even if we sit in the ash-heap like Job. God’s arms is about us. And God weeps along with us, whispering words of comfort. Know, friend, if you face such days, you are not alone.

Daily Devotional: Jesus, You Sure Have Odd Timing!

coffee-prayer-scriptureJohn 11:1-27

What stands out to me in this text is Jesus saying, when confronted by Lazarus’ sickness, that the end of this will not be death, but God being glorified.   This is a phrase similar to what Jesus uses in John 9 when asked who sinned that a man would be born blind – the man, his parents or someone else? Sin has nothing to do with it, Jesus says. This happened so that God’s glory might be made known through this man’s disability and subsequent transforming into a seeing person.

sitting at tombSo Jesus stays, knowing full well that though this will not end in death, death will come for Lazarus. Jesus waits until Lazarus is buried, because he knows that at that point his healing of Lazarus will not just reveal him as a miracle-working prophet but as the Source of Life who makes all things live and breathe and have their being now taken on flesh among them.   Jesus waits until the time in which this healing is not just healing but at least in the eyes of the people a raising of the dead, so that they can know Jesus as Life-giver both in this world and the next and thus the One who reveals the path to life.

chaplain 1As I read this story I cannot but think of my work as a chaplain.   “Why did he have to get sick now?” “If she’s going to die, why must it drag on and suffer so long?” “Why did he pass so quickly and abruptly?” So often our grief centers on timing.

In things less serious than death and illness, we wonder too about timing. I am applying for work. Why must I keep waiting, searching, to find the right job? We keep trying to have children, yet none come.   Why?   I keep looking for that special someone, but keep missing the mark in the folks I date. Why?

Ultimately there is not one right answer to these questions, and sometimes there is no answer that assuages the pain and frustration we experience.

Yet Jesus’ example reminds me to be patient and open. It may be that God is working out a different plan, a plan bigger than me. Perhaps the sudden illness and passing that is so shocking saves me or the one I love heartaches that God can see along the way that I cannot. Perhaps the pro-longed suffering gives family members who have not yet made their peace either with the passing person who is sick, or themselves, time to do so. Perhaps the job does not come because God is giving me time to work through personal issues in my heart that need to be resolved first, or giving me time for education that prepares me or to be there for family and friends. Perhaps the loved one or child is not there yet so I can find time and energy to strengthen my own relationship with God or work on my own inner healing first so that I will be ready to be the person they need.

We cannot know always why things happen so differently in timing than we not, and I am certainly not suggesting every situation is as simple as this. But the example of Jesus reminds me to be patient with myself, with God, and with others. It calls me to trust that my life is held, safe in hands able to carry me.   It calls me to trust God has a bigger and better plan than me.

I believe it calls us all to reach for that kind of faith, even if we like the disciples and Lazarus’ family cannot muster it in this moment. For, after all, Jesus is able to carry us even when we cannot believe. He is trustworthy when our trust fails.

Daily Devotional: More Than Words

coffee-prayer-scriptureJohn 10:19-42 has Jesus give us a powerful challenge. When challenged to speak clearly who He was, our Lord answers, Look at my life. Look at my actions. Look at what I do.   They will show you who I am.

Sometimes we get caught up in words, trying to say “Look at what we believe. Look at what we teach”, or trying to convince others through our preaching, teaching. We might even try to wear what we believe on T-Shirts, or necklaces.   Our church might post who we are on banners or advertisements, as the church I attend in the Triangle does.

None of these are necessarily bad in and of themselves, but Jesus suggest that the real question is not who do you say you are, what do your clothes, or necklaces, or advertisements say about you. The real question is: What does your life speak about you? What does it teach?

Ultimately that is what you and I will be remembered for.   Jesus’ life clearly demonstrated him to be one representing God, and calling us to a new way of living in the world.   Does ours do the same?

A Week in the Word: Becoming God With Skin On

In this season between Easter Sunday and the celebration of Pentecost, I’m continuing to share from my 2013 Series at Diversity in Faith church, “Discovering Your New Life in Christ”, from this same time period.

I hope it helps renew and strengthen you in your walk with Christ.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

micah in hat thinking

New Life In Christ, Part 3: Becoming God With Skin On

easter iconHe is risen! He is risen again!

For those who are just joining our series, we are continuing to look at the accounts of the forty days Jesus appeared to the disciples, risen from the dead, and the lessons they teach us about the new life possible for you and me because Jesus is risen.

This week will be continuing with a passage in John 20.19-23.

As you turn there let me set the context:

Have any of you ever felt you were at a point that is hopeless, helpless, and without a future?

I know I have. I remember a time a little after the first church plant I worked with in southern CA. This was church plant and had begun because of encountering transgender people who desired to know God and had no place to go to hear about Jesus and be welcomed. We poured our heart, soul, and life into that ministry. We probably spent every waking moment working on it.

This was because I forgot. I forgot Jesus’ example to take time to go out to our quiet place and be. I forgot to make time for myself.  I forgot to make time for my marriage.  I didn’t plan out how to provide for ourselves in that ministry, being so swept up in the call of God I at least didn’t count the cost.

I remember everything hitting the fan. Finances ran out and we couldn’t pay the bills. We were offered a place to stay with family, but it meant leaving the ministry in the hands of another minister.  Heart-broken, not knowing where to turn, we began again.

brokencarOn the way there, I hit another snag.  A tire popped on the freeway in New Mexico.  There, physically stranded, it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember the heartache when, as our car was hauled away by a tow truck, it looked like everything was over.  Dark shadows seemed to fall like a solid sheet over me, and I saw no light ahead.

Have you been there?

That is how Jesus’s disciples were at the moment we join them in this text. For them, their world is ending. Their hopes and dreams lay shattered. They know Jesus lies dead, buried, killed as a traitor.

If you would, lets now read this together.

19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were

behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus

came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this,

he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they

were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the

Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said,

“Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you

don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Would you pray with me?

mother-and-childHoly Spirit, mother of all living and light of life, embrace us with your love. As you came on these men and women giving them new life, fall upon us. As we discuss your work and Jesus’ words, help us be made new by your presence. Show us your will. Help us hear your call. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Does anything stand out to you about the new life Jesus brings in this passage?

I have four aspects of the new life that stand out to me here.

First, we find in this story that at their darkest moment, when God seems far away and they have shut themselves off from everything, they find Jesus is already in their midst. In that moment sitting in my car alone, tear-filled and broken, in New Mexico it seemed to me that I was all alone. I wanted, like them, to shut myself into some cave, lock the door, and hide from the world. When they do this, what do they find? That Jesus appears, standing beside them.

jesus resurrection appearance 1Now some scholars will sit and wrangle over science and metaphysics to try and explain how Jesus walked through a shut door. I think they get this story all wrong. You see I read in Ephesians that when Jesus ascended he rose to fill all things. To me that means that because Jesus is risen, because each and every one of us now share in new life through Jesus, we no longer have a place we can go or a thing we can do where the risen Jesus is not present.

You see Jesus didn’t have to do a magic trick to walk through the locked door to where they were. No, Jesus was already there. As Jesus tells them later in Matthew 28 — “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. All Jesus did was open their eyes so that they could see he was present, though they faced their darkest night and locked the world out for fear.

Friend, do you face darkness? Do you have your moments when you see no hope, and want to lock the doors to the world and its pain. Know that Jesus is already present with you. Jesus is already standing beside you. Always, ever, Jesus is saying to you “lo I am with you always even to the end of the age”.

jesus-park-benchTurn to someone and say “Your new life in Christ means you are never alone”. Turn to someone else and say “Jesus promises I am with you always, even to the end”

Secondly Jesus shows us that our new life brings peace with God.

What are some barriers to peace with God? How does Jesus’ resurrection help us find a new life at peace with God?

You don’t have to wait until you’ve become religious enough, worked hard enough, obeyed enough commandments, or begun to fit another’s image to have peace with God. Peace with God is offered to you and me as a free gift, something we can experience simply by faith, which is trusting God with your heart and life. Have you done that? Will you trust God and accept God’s friendship?

Thirdly we see that Jesus’ new life is not something we experience alone.

This is pointed to by Jesus breathing on the men and women gathered in front of them and saying “receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus is actually acting out a scene from the Bible:

Master Potter in Genesis 2 when God creates the first person Adam. There God gathers up clay and dirt, shaping it into a statue of God, and breathes into it the breath of life. Jesus does the same thing but instead of gathering clumps of dirt Jesus gathers the men and women who have followed him, and breathes on them.

He shows that this new life is not something we can experience on our own. Alot of times people have this idea. They say “I can just worship God at the fishing hole; I don’t need to be around other believers”. But when Jesus breathes the breath of the Holy Spirit on them, it is on them when they are together, gathered remembering Jesus.

Turn to someone and say “I need you, You need me, we are all a part of God’s family”. Turn to someone else and say “You are important to me. I need you to survive”.

You see, you can’t experience this new life all alone but need others to help you grow. How can other people, at church, in our small group Bible studies, who we foster spiritual friendships with, help us grow in the new life Jesus gives us? How can we be ones that help others grow?

Not only is it other people we need but we need God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is God as God comes to holy spirit 1live within your life, within the lives of others around you like aid filling your lungs, even flowing through your blood. God the Holy Spirit’s presence brings life to the plants, animals, and newborn babes. We need to be open to the presence of God the Holy Spirit within our own life, within the lives of every living thing. And important to remember, we need to learn to look for the Holy Spirit to be at work in the lives of those around us — because in any person, friendly or hateful to us, Christian or of another faith, even hardened atheist, if we look with eyes of faith we can encounter God the Holy Spirit in their life.

My friend Bob McLeod puts it like this, in his commentary on the Gospels:

“A Christian should always be trying to communicate with that bit of [God] that resides in every person. ‘Don’t just talk to that individual personality … don’t just look at that person as someone full of ambition and selfishness and personal strategy. If you try to negotiate with that, the job is far beyond you. Remember instead that in that other person’s heart [God] is trying to reach out to the [Holy Spirit] in you.’ .. [the Holy Spirit] is everywhere and in everything, and if we wish to attach ourselves primarily to [the Holy Spirit], as opposed to a tradition or personal interest, Christ will unlock doors for us in some very surprising ways”

So you, I, all of us, cannot thrive in our spiritual life alone. We need the Holy Spirit and each other to thrive in this new life.

There is a final part to this message is probably best pictured by an exercise a friend from school shared with me. What I am going to do is start with this person here. I am going to whisper something in their ear. Then they will act it out to the person beside them. Then that person will whisper the message to the next person’s ear, who acts it out … until we come to the last person in the room. If anyone has ever done this example, you know how

We have been sent forth by Jesus as He was sent by the Father.

We have been sent forth by Jesus as He was sent by the Father.

by the end the message is oh, so different.

I share this example because it illustrates the final message about the new life this story gives. After miming shaping them into a statue of God like Adam was, Jesus says “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. How was Jesus sent? John 1 tells us that Jesus came as God -with-skin-on. We are sent like Jesus to be God with skin on, so that when people encounter our life it is like they are seeing God in a way they can touch, they can feel, they can hear.

Obviously we can’t do this perfectly — because unlike Jesus we screw up. But we can be someone through whom God appears with skin on for others. Have any of you had people whose lives radiated God’s love, goodness, compassion, or mercy in your life in such a way that for you they were like God with skin on?

I know some in your life who brought the presence of God with skin on to you may not have quote a Bible verse to you at all, or even mentioned God directly. I bet if I asked too you probably have some people who sent mixed messages in their life. Maybe they voiced they were about “God” but their lives sent messages of rejection, condemnation, selfishness, abuse.

We can send send the wrong message, failing to be God with skin on — or embrace our new life in Christ and be God with skin on to others.

How can we be God with skin on ourselves?

body-of-christ.independencemochurchJesus points to one key word in his words on forgiveness — by radiating forgiveness to others, showing them by how we live that God has forgiven and loves them; showing them God’s forgiveness and mercy. This is a part of what we mean when we say in our church’s mission statement that our mission is to welcome all people to join in healing our world.

In closing I want to give you a few minutes to reflect on what image of God you are presenting. I have put some pla-do on the corner table. As you prepare to come to communion, take some of the pla-do and shape something — maybe a heart for loving, a hug for forgiveness — of some aspect of God you feel called to put skin on more in your life. When you come to communion, if you are comfortable share what it is before we pray and break bread together.

Remember here at Diversity in Faith you don’t have to be a member of this church or any church to take communion but simply come open to God, ready to experience new life. All are open at Christ’s Table.