Daily Devotional: Know You are Held, Carried, Nourished, & Never Forsaken

mother holding baby 1Psalm 131 is an image of utter trust.   The child does not cry or raise a raucous for that newborn rests upon her mother’s breasts, wrapped tight in her arms.   She is surrounded by security, has all the nourishment she needs. She is held and protected.

Often what may appear like occupying ourselves with matters to great for us is us living as if it is all up to us, out of a kind of deep insecurity.   Yet in the center of our life is this same love.   The word for Spirit in both Greek and Hebrew comes from the word for breath. The Spirit (ruach, a feminine word in Hebrew) is closer to us than the breath in our lungs, the wind on our face. Like a mother holds her infant close, so God the Holy Spirit ever embraces us while God the Creator, the Christ, the Spirit say to us “you are my child, the one whom I love, in you I am well pleased”. Go through this day and all your days knowing whatever you face and whatever you go through, you are held. You are embraced. You are alove. Never alone you can face whatever lies before you.

And I sure ain’t whistling Dixie, your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Daily Devotional: Learning to Read Scripture with the Eyes of a Mystic

coffee-prayer-scripturePsalm 78

I find it interesting that, as the Psalmist begins to recount the events of the Hebrew Scriptures telling the history of God’s people found among Israel and Judah that the Psalmist begins by saying “Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2I will open my mouth in a parable; I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.”

Calling the story of Scripture “a parable” is suggestive.  This translation draws a parallel between the stories of the holy Scriptures often recorded as “sacred” history and the stories, extended metaphors, and imagery Jesus uses in his teaching ministry.  Though I am certain the Hebrew translated “parable” could be rendered in other ways, the fact the translators do so gives us some light on how our relationship with the stories of Scripture ought to be.

highland baptist bible studyGrowing up in a very conservative, almost fundamentalist faith, first in an Adventist group in the Adventist “Church of God” movement and then among the theologically conservative charismatics in which my own faith woke up personally, I was exposed to an approach to Scripture which treated these stories – even Adam & Eve with their snake, Jonah with his whale, and Moses with the Red Sea – as literally historically true.   I was told that the Bible contained all truth I needed to know to make sense of human history, of nature, and of my life.  In those churches very extreme, rigid applications of Scripture were justified based on this idea.   If what the Bible says is literally true, we need to follow it as literally as possible.

Yet if Jesus’ parables are our model for how to read Scripture, such an approach does not work.  Jesus’ parables are almost to a one not historical accounts but clearly Jesus using stories, rich imagery, and extended metaphor to imagine a world working by a different set of rules, with compassion, mercy, and justice at the center.  He constantly tells stories that everyone loves to hear because they are so different from the real world we live, yet they imagine a world as it could be and people as they ought to great cloud of saints behind preacherbe.   These stories, images, and metaphors are not actually literally true but they awaken us up to the ways in which our lives, our communities, our values both individually and as a society in the literal historical world we live in are out of joint with the rhythm at the center of life which causes life, people, nature, and communities to thrive.  Jesus calls this pattern of life “the kingdom of God”, saying it is already with us, within us, around us, and his parables are aimed at helping us begin to see it not with the eyes of flesh but eyes “born” (another metaphor) of spirit.

Read as parables, holy Scripture would not necessarily need to recount literal historical events or be interested in the laws of nature.  Instead like Jesus’ stories, the ways in which the story of God’s people found among Israel and Judah and found among the early Christian church are told aren’t focused on getting all the details of history, life, events lined up historically.  But, just like parables, they are aimed at being told in a way that shake up our status quo, uncomfortably push us outside of our expectations of how life ought to work, so we can see our lives and world with new eyes.    Read as parables, holy Scripture would not necessarily need to recount literal historical events or be interested in the laws of nature.  Instead like Jesus’ stories, the ways in which the story of God’s people found among Israel and Judah and found among the early Christian church are told aren’t focused on getting all the details of history, life, events lined up historically.  But, just like parables, they are aimed at being told in a way that shake up our status quo, uncomfortably push us outside of our expectations of how life ought to work, so we can see our lives and world with new eyes.   Reading Scripture in this way is mystical reading, reading Scripture to help us confront the truths of our own lives, our world, and how meaning exists in them we often fail to see.   As we let these stories call into question our assumptions about life, we are forced to change our relationship to how we have always lived.   Like Jesus’ parables, if we read Scripture mystically we let it challenge us, shock us, transform us.

That is the role of Scripture.

We are challenged by this Psalm not to cast aside the old, old story as irrelevant but to read it for what it is – an invitation to consider what life looks like when we see its relationship to the rhythm at the heart of existence, a rhythm which believers feel is a heartbeat that echoes due to the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit who is with, in, through, and under all things as the One who breathes life into every creature.    We are invited to see ourselves in these stories, and enter a living conversation in which the Sacred One can open our hearts, our eyes, our ears, our mind to a new awareness.

Read in this way, the stories of Scripture are like a floodlight upon our world, helping reveal things hidden in our hearts, our relationships, and communities.

I for one have grown as a person by reading Scripture in this way.  I invite you to find yourself in these Sacred stories and let them speak to your life, challenging you to a deeper level of humanity, one centered on compassion, lovingkindness, justice, and deep connection with the One at the center of all things, through whom you can discover a deeper harmony with all living things, all people, and all of creation.

And I ain’t whistling Dixie here,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Seeing What is Hidden in Plain Sight

in front of youMark 4:21-34

Jesus’ parables in this section focus on the hiddenness of the kingdom. It grows like tiny seeds that when planted in the ground grow up into great plants in which the birds of the air shade themselves. It grows like seeds which grow unseen beneath the earth, sprout up, and grow to be ready to harvest through the ongoing cycle of life.    It is made visible through what is within us that, like a lamp, we may be tempted to hide under a barrel.

These parables invite me to consider how easy it is to overlook the working of God around me. It is easy in our culture to rush ahead to the next task whether at work, at home, at school with blinders on. I may not see the people around me and their needs. I may not see what is happening even in my own heart. I can overlook the whispered wooing of the Spirit within me. I can overlook the struggles toward new birth all about me.   This text calls me to slow down and see.   To see myself as I really am, to listen to that voice within. To see others for how they are, to really look at their lives and hear their stories. To not just push through overlooking what is not screaming above the din of my busyness for attention. Helping the invisible become visible and the unconscious conscious is a part of the work I have if I want to participate with the Spirit’s work in all things. She is like a woman working to give birth and our work is to be like midwifes, partnering with the Spirit as new life breaks forth in our lives, communities, and others.

TheMidwife_byLorenEntzWhat helps you do this in your life?   How can we slow down to see?

I also am called to not be afraid of letting myself, as I truly am, shine. So often we hide our true selves, afraid of vulnerability and exposure to a world that constantly tries to push us into pre-made molds.   Yet that true self is the light which, when cultivated by the Spirit, can shine if you don’t put it under a bushel-basket. It can light the way for others to find their life’s passion, calling, and healing.

I am reminded of the words of Christian author Marianne Williamson: ““Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

A final lesson these parables teach me is to be patient. I can become frustrated that I am not yet where I want to be, whether in my personal life or in my career, in work for social justice.   Yet change happens over time, it grows and seedlingevolves like plants. I can help this process, cooperating with the Spirit who breathes the life, freedom, healing, and comfort into all things. Yet ultimately any process takes time.   You cannot raise a crop in a moment.   Life comes in its time, and so does change.

I’m called by this text to focus on this moment, to embrace its gift, lest I miss the hidden presence of God creeping right outside my vision, underneath the obvious.   In it are gifts, lessons, blessings, which will help me get to my destination but only after some journey.   Focusing on my destination so much can cause me to lose the joy and lessons in the moment.

Let’s open our eyes to the light all around us and within us.

And I’m not whistling Dixie,

Your progressive redneck preacher

Micah

Daily Devotional: Sometimes the Seeming Obstacles and Distractions are the Point of the Journey

Acts 16:6-15

obstaclesI am struck by the fact the apostles sought to go to Asia and the Holy Spirit “forbade” them.   I have had the experience of asking, pleading, begging God to be able to do certain things in my life and having every door to that direction slammed in my face.   It can be such a discouraging thing. This was particularly bad when I felt certain there was only one thing God called me to do, and it seemed like it was not an option.

I see a different picture of calling and Christian life here. The doors are shut where the apostles feel called to go – and shut by the same One they feel called by.   Yet they remain open. And they encounter Lydias, people along their journey they would have not encountered without their delays.

I find that in the midst of seeming delays in my journey if I remain open to the Spirit She can show me people I would otherwise overlook, situations I otherwise would be plunging forward blinders on to my surroundings so that I didn’t notice. Yet God slows the apostles down and they encounter Lydia both sharing with her that of God in their lives and experiencing that of God in her own.

detoursSometimes we get wrong-headed about our callings, thinking they are destinations to arrive at: pastoring, working in the inner city, getting married, becoming parents. When we have that outlook we can become frustrated and fuming about how many barriers we have to what we feel in our bones are who we ought to become.

Calling isn’t a destination though. It is a journey. It is a way of walking in the world.   It may be that the work or relationship you are supposed to have isn’t as set in stone as you think. It might be you are exactly right at what you should do. But ultimately God isn’t calling us to become this or that job, join this or that ministry, have this or that relationship. God is calling us to become as certain kind of person, one whose life reflects the love, humility, service, joy, and justice of Jesus.   The kind of person who sees the Lydias, the Lazaruses, the many others on our paths. For it is really more the connections like those ones we foster that are the point, the moments in which God’s realm breaks out into this world in tangible ways, not the specific roles or titles we take on. If you are to be a pastor, or spouse, or parent, or CEO, or… you name it … it is so that in that role you can foster such moments in the lives of those that role enables you to which only you can do.

To become the person who can do that requires learning, before you get into that role, when and how to stop so you can truly see the people along your path. It means learning before hen how connect with the Lydias, the Lazaruses, Zacchaeuses along your way.   When we become single-focused – and I know I do – we may need God to allow some barriers to be thrown up to our goals, so that we do not miss this journey.

I am challenged by this text not to get so caught up in where I think I need to be and what I think I need to do that I do not have time to connect with those God has placed along my path, both to let that of God within me shine to them and also to encounter that of God within them   I am challenged to be open to my future not being as set as I think, and to realize God’s goal is for me to become a certain kind of person not a certain role or job. Only in remembering that and becoming the kind of person I need to be will I ever be ready for the roles God may call me to play.

And I sure ain’t whistling Dixie here,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: What if I stumble? What if I fall?

coffee-prayer-scriptureLuke 22:31-38

What stands out to me in this passage is love in the midst of tragedy.   Peter’s love of Jesus makes him want to promise never to give up on Jesus, never to fail, and never to leave his side. Yet Jesus sees what Peter cannot.  Jesus sees the power of the forces of oppression Jesus has chosen to stand against and knows it will seek to sift his friends like wheat. He knows, despite their love for him and their well-meaning words, that they lack the strength to stand against that pressure.   So Jesus warns them of what is coming, including their rejection, to let them know of his love for them. Aware of what they will endure, Jesus lets them know his love for them does not waver nor will it ever. I believe Jesus does this in order to let them know that his love for him will remain strong no matter how far they fall. Jesus plants the seed for them which will blossom into their realizing reconciliation with him is possible when they encounter him through the experience of the resurrection. In my mind Jesus’ resurrection appearances are scenes not just of hope beyond death but also dramatic depictions of the disciples’ discovery that God’s love transcends death, running out to pursue their reconciliation with God relentlessly.

As I think on this story, I cannot but think of times I failed to live up to what Christ was leading me to do because my ability to remain strong against the world’s pressure to conform just simply wasn’t enough.

falling-into-a-black-holeI remember in college having been friends with a fellow student who was horribly put down and harassed at my Christian college for being different. I never put him down, but I remember pulling away from him even when I felt “he needs support right now” deep in my soul out of being afraid of how others in school would view me.   Deep in the pit of my soul, when I prayed, I felt I was going down the wrong path. I would make good intentions to not leave him in the lurch, but I still ended up doing so. Though our college was a “Christian” one, none of us were living up to the way of Christ in how we treated this young man.   Though I can’t confess anyone else’s failings, I can confess my own sorrow and shame about letting the crowd influence me in the way it did.

I could list other points of shame where I know I did not live up to the high call of Christ-like love and I’m sure you could too from your own life. Because of these experiences I can relate out of those moments with the sorrow the disciples later share at abandoning Jesus.   The feelings I felt in those moments help me relate with the haunting words of this old DC Talk song –

The reality is, though, that all of us shall fail. We all will have areas of our life in which we lack the strength of spirit and courage of our character to live with consistency. We like the disciples and the words of this DC Talk song, will face into the reality that we stumble, we fall, and we lose the path.

Jesus’ promise to the disciples before their stumbling of a love from him that will not give up even as they falter should remind us, too, that God’s love will not waver to us in our stumbling. It will remain firm.

One day early in my Christian walk, feeling certain I’d stumbled beyond rescue through a failing I now cannot understand how I thought would be beyond forgiving, I read the following words from 2 Timothy 2:13 – “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself”. In some mysterious way God has cast God’s lot with us, so that God will not give up on a one of us, even when we falter, fail, and are faithless. To do so is as if God were giving up on God’s self.

The way I have come to understand this is picturing Jesus’ Incarnation like a mother becoming pregnant. When Jesus entered this world, God cast God’s lot with all of humanity – taking on our flesh, blood, bone, limitations, feelings. In doing so God cast God’s lot with you and me.   God wove together God’s future with our own so that God’s future is intertwined with our future, God’s life with our life. God cannot get to God’s future without us and us to ours without God.

pregnant motherIt is like a woman who chooses to become pregnant, chooses to become a mother. Now a new life is in her body, and forever afterwards her life is intertwined with that life, her future with its future. “I will always be your mother,” my mom once told me and it is true.  As any loving mother knows, once that life enters into your body, and especially once you hold that child in your hands, no longer can you imagine a future as it ought to be without also imaging a future for your child.   Your life, your future, and this new life’s future are intertwined.   You cast your lot with this child’s lot. You cannot abandon this child without in some sense abandoning a part of yourself.

Of course God’s casting God’s lot with us in Christ’s coming is even more unbreakable, for mothers do for various reasons, though it go against all that is natural in the mother-child bond, abandon their children either as little ones or when they disown them as adults for their choices. Though rare, it happens. But our God shall never disown a one of us, always keeping room for us like the Prodigal Child in Jesus’ parable to come back home again.

This gives me hope, and I hope it gives you hope. I will let myself down.   I will fail myself and others. I will let God down. But God will never give up on me.   God will never give up on you. God’s love has no limit.

The relentlessness of God’s love for us to me is beautifully pictured in the song “Mercy Came Running”. May its words remind you of the relentless love of God that will not let you, me, or a one of us go.

And I’m sure not whistling Dixie here,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Not Alone On Life’s Journeys

walking-with-jesus-pms-j7p1Psalm 118

In beautiful poetic language the Psalmist reminds us that in life’s journeys, we are not alone. God stands at our right side. The image of God at our right side stands out to me in Scripture because so often God is pictured as going on ahead to prepare a path for our journey, as in the story of the Exodus when God went ahead as a fire by night and pillar of cloud by day to show Israel the steps ahead of them or when Jesus says in John before his crucifixion that he goes ahead of his disciples to prepare a place for them. Instead of going ahead of us, God joins us at our right hand, like a friend or a brother or sister walking beside us. It is beside one you must stand when their legs are faltering, so standing hip to hip with your arm around them, you can help them stand and walk by walking together with them.

This reminds me that when I look ahead and do not see a clear path ahead of me, which sometimes I do not, I do not need to fear. Perhaps God now, as always, also stands beside me. I may feel my legs faltering but need not give in to my trembling and fear. Instead I can know that God is alongside of me, walking in step with me, and helping me as we together determine my future.

May that knowledge buoy you through life’s storms and uncertainties. You are never alone. God walks beside you, God’s arm around you, ready to carry you and lift you up.

Daily Devotional: Gratitude for Your Gifts

coffee-prayer-scriptureDeuteronomy 8:11-20

This text reminds us to take time to honor God and remember the role God has played in our journey to liberation, recovery, deliverance, or success. It is so easy to cry out for help in trial, yet forget to recognize God in good times.

Particularly this text recognizes how easy it is to choose to take credit for our material success, our job or education, our family. We can begin to talk as if we pulled ourselves up by our own boot-straps. Yet if we forget to show gratitude for the gifts that made success possible.

The Biblical picture of life is that the gifts of wisdom, of strength, of opportunity, that we experience come from God. God opens the door, offers the strength, and we choose to participate with God. God invites us to healing, to recovery, to wholeness, and we choose to participate in the journey to each of these outcomes.

Ultimately God makes where you arrive possible.

As I write these words, I realize that taking time to recognize the way in which God has helped you arrive to this better outcome, whatever it is, necessarily includes taking time to recognize those agents of God that God uses to help make it possible.   Each of us have people God uses to teach us the lessons that make our successes possible, or that make our failures become learning moments. We have institutions that God uses to open up opportunities. We have people who show us God’s trust in us by believing in us.

Taking time to remember God and thank God for these gifts includes taking time to also recognize those God has used to help you come to the point you are at today.

How do you do that in your own life?

In my life, two practices are helping me to do this better. One is regular gratitude lists.   When we pray as a family, Kat and I have begun to each list at each five things we are grateful for which we say aloud, and which we then thank God for when we pray. I’ve started out of this to do this in my personal prayer time. Doing so keeps before me the many ways even in the most frustrating days I am given grace. It also helps me realize the many, many times God answers my prayers.

The second is taking time to write “thank you” notes, whether in a card or just an email.   This is a small practice, but one my wife helped me begin as she had been raised to write “thank you” notes for almost everything in her family as a child. I find taking the time to write thank you notes to others when I realize they’ve helped me out helps keep before me the sense that I am where I am because of the blessings of others who cooperated with God as agents of grace.

What are your gratitude practices? How do they help you stay centered?