Monday, February 6

Psalm 119:105-112

At my church, two children lead us into every worship service. One child carries the flame—a lit candle lighter to remind us of God’s presence—and another carries a very large Bible. Before the service, we negotiate who will carry what. Most kids prefer the candle lighter. (When else do they have the chance to be in charge of fire in a room full of adults?) But some children love bringing in the Bible, even though it’s heavy, old, and awkward to carry. The back cover is coming off because it’s been dropped a few times. You need muscles to carry the Bible.

The Bible is heavy indeed. We can open it as a lamp to find our next step. Or we can pick up that lamp and wallop someone with it. The Bible can be a plow to dig, plant, and nurture our faith or a weapon to tear others down. How can we best use this holy gift God has given us?

As people of Christ, I hope we read God’s word as Christ did, studying it prayerfully and compassionately, making sure that the spirit of the law always trumps the letter of the law. It’s a relief to me that our sacred stories are filled with people as weak and imperfect as I am. Yet God pursues and loves them, just as God loves and pursues us today. When Scripture shocks me with its violence and strange- ness, I try to resist the urge to put it away. Thankfully, we can pester God and our fellow travelers on the Path with our deepest questions. We can keep knocking on God’s door until we understand, even when it takes our whole lives.

The Bible is heavy but carrying it—holding it close and wrestling with it—makes our walk with God so much richer.

Consider

What part does the Bible play in your day-to-day life?

Pray

Dear God, help me read and understand scripture through the lens of compassion, as Jesus did. Amen.

Sunday, February 5

Psalm 112:1-10

Usually when I’m on Instagram, I can scroll right past the adver- tisements. I’m a proud cynic when it comes to a beauty cream’s promises to make me look twenty-five again, or a newfangled dog brush’s guarantee to keep my golden retriever’s hair from rolling like tumbleweeds across my living room floor. But when it comes to ads for writing classes that will help me transform my novel-in-prog- ress that’s so dear to my heart? I happily hand over my credit card number, full of hope. I want that so much!

When I first read this psalm, I’m afraid my cynic nose smelled something phony. Really, psalmist? You promise oodles of grand- kids and a fat bank account in exchange for following God? A life of being honored for doing justice and being generous? I’ve seen the truth for myself: the wicked don’t always come in last. They’re often strutting all over social media, with thousands of followers cheering on their hate with crosses around their necks.

But it’s in the Bible! What’s going on?

What if the psalmist is only speaking to us in the language we speak, in the way we think, in order to tell us something super important? Maybe its message about living merciful, gracious, and generous lives in God is really part of God’s holy path to inner peace, the kind of God-happiness that we’re meant for. Perhaps happiness won’t just get us through whatever tough circumstances we face but will help us get through them with joy. That’s what I really want, down deep, for my loved ones to be okay and for me to live each day with joy no matter what occurs.

Maybe I need to read the psalm again, this time with my hands unclenched and heart wide open.

Consider

How have I shown mercy or generosity this week?

Pray

Lord, help me slow down enough today to examine my actions in light of the happiness you want for me. Amen.

Saturday, February 4

Mark 7:1-8

Is the tradition of the elders always the same thing as the wisdom of God? (v. 3) When we read this story about Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Scribes, the obvious answer is, “no.” Still, many families choose to keep a matriarch or patriarch happy by following tradition despite the dysfunction it creates. Much of our entertainment and politics avoid needed change by trying to escape to a time when things seemed better. Often our congregations greet proposed changes from newer and younger members with, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Keeping the wisdom of our elders and our ancestors alive is good and healthy for us. I don’t think Jesus has any issue with the Pharisees washing their hands. But Jesus calls out their foolishness for elevating this ancient, outward act over the ongoing, inward wisdom- seeking to which their faith calls them.

When we follow Jesus, who often says, “You have heard it said… but now I say unto you,” he reveals that the wisdom of God is alive, a mystery that continues to be revealed over time in our minds, hearts, and our ongoing conversations within communities. The same Spirit that empowers Jesus fills us. It blows unpredictably like the wind in the trees but is also as close to us as the next breath on our lips.

Loud voices around or within us may tell us that the wisdom of the elders is the only way we are allowed to live. Sticking to “the way we’ve always done it” may feel easiest and most comfortable but keep your ears and heart open for Jesus’ invitations to draw near and follow more closely. Pray for the courage to honor and seek Christ’s always-emerging wisdom right here, right now.

Consider

When was the last time you changed your mind on something important? Could the Holy Spirit change your mind again?

Pray

Truth of the Universe, I give thanks that your wisdom is too wonderful for me to attain, too great for me to comprehend all at once. Holy Spirit, speak here, now, and draw my heart close to yours. Amen.

Friday, February 3

Luke 2:36-40

After encountering two prophets who speak about the great purpose their child will fulfill, Mary and Joseph step out of the temple. I imagine their eyes wide with wonder, amazement, and perhaps a little dread as they take their first steps toward home.

They would have to walk at least four days to get from Jerusalem to Nazareth. Did they talk excitedly about Jesus’ future? Did they imagine the great things that he would do to redeem Israel? Did they worry aloud about what it would mean for him to make people rise and fall? Did Mary ponder what it would mean for a sword to pierce her heart? Or did they keep their silence, not sure what to say as they swaddled their baby against the wilderness wind? All we know is that they put one foot in front of the other until they made it all the way home.

We know even less about what happened in the next 11 years, or in the next 18. The only thing that seems certain to me is that their questions and worries never left them. But somehow, they kept putting one foot in front of the other, and because of their faithful- ness, Jesus grew in strength, wisdom, and favor. And I imagine Mary and Joseph did too.

The road to redemption that we are on is also daunting. Sometimes we are excited. Sometimes we are scared. We often have more questions than answers about what lies ahead. But if we have the perseverance to put one foot in front of the other in faith like Mary and Joseph did, we might also arrive at wisdom.

Consider

What small step of faith might Jesus be calling you to take today?

Pray

Jesus, give me the strength to put one foot in front of the other, to do the next right thing even when I don’t know where my path will lead. Amen.

Thursday, February 2

Luke 2:22-35

Timeless wisdom gets Mary and Joseph out of bed and dressed, packed and out on the road early, walking toward Jerusalem with their newborn. They are traveling to the temple to obey the ancient law of Moses which says that this is the day they are to offer sacrifices to the Lord and present their son to be blessed.

But what could have been a simple story about Mary and Joseph’s faithfulness in checking off a religious requirement becomes a transformative story about their encounter with the lively wisdom of two Spirit-filled people. Our passage focuses on the first: Simeon.

Simeon erupts in worship when he meets them, praising God for the peace he receives as he sees this child. His response shows Mary and Joseph that their story is larger than the daily life of their little nuclear family; it will transform others.

Simeon blesses these scared young parents, not telling them what to do, but inviting them to open their hearts to the holiness and joy and heartbreak they will experience as they parent Jesus.

The ancient wisdom that forms our rituals and beckons us to return to worship again and again may sometimes feel rote, but our obedience to it can open us to the living wisdom we encounter in the other people who show up there to do the same.

I thought about that one Sunday as I heard our congregation speak their blessing over young parents and their baby, then share words of encouragement with them after the service. Baby dedications can seem routine, mere obedience to a tradition with a cute built-in photo op. But they can also be moments to discover a blessing in our midst and the wisdom that we need to keep us going.

Consider

What practices or traditions connect you with the living wisdom of others? In what places could you offer your wisdom to those who need it?

Pray

Holy Spirit, in our most everyday routines and our holiest rituals, interrupt our lives with your blessing and your wisdom. Amen.

Wednesday, February 1

James 5:1-6

As I watched Ukranian refugees weeping, wailing, carrying only what they could put on their backs, including their children, my heart felt beat up and flattened. I was sad and angry about what they were going through, horrified by the ways their homes had been destroyed, but I also felt fearful myself. “What if I lost everything?”

We all know stories about those who escaped fires, hurricanes, or abusive relationships. Almost universally they tell us that material belongings can be replaced, but that what is irreplaceable are their lives and those of their loved ones who escaped disaster.

I know they are right. I would probably say something similar if faced with catastrophe. But the pit in my stomach tells me I am too attached to my home, the clothes in my closet, and everything else I have that the poor might call luxuries and pleasures.

James warns those who have more than they need—probably most of us reading this—that a reversal is coming. A natural reversal will rust our jewelry and break down our linens, but so will a divine reversal wrought by the Lord of Hosts, who will not always tolerate our habits of consumption that steal life from others.

I also see that such habits steal the possibility of life from myself. Will the extra food and drink on my table really nourish my heart? Can those excess possessions really make me happy? Will I be any fuller after emptying the latest Amazon box?

The answer is no, and it comes at such a high cost. I pray for courage to replace the pursuit of earthly treasure with concern for my neighbor and this earth that sustains us. May we replace our attachment to things with relationships that nourish our hearts and our world.

Consider

What do you need to let go of?

Pray

God, help us release earthly treasure and give you our hearts. Make us mindful of those in need. Teach us to store treasures in heaven. Amen.

Tuesday, January 31

Psalm 37:10-17

One of my seven-year-old’s favorite phrases is “That’s not fair!” I always reply, “Life’s not fair,” continuing that ancient call and response heard between almost every child and parent, maybe David and Solomon also.

Teaching my son that life is not fair feels like passing on hard but necessary wisdom. I want him to have realistic expectations of life so that he can learn to be resolute in the face of arbitrary circumstances and cruel people.

But I also want my son to know the deeper, less obvious wisdom of the psalmist: Despite all the evidence we see to the contrary, those who bring down the poor and needy and kill the upright will not win. The Lord laughs at the hubris of those who think they can perpetuate injustice forever. In a little while, wickedness will be no more.

I find myself asking again, “How long, O Lord?” (Ps 13:1).

It’s been a few thousand years since the people of Israel first prayed this prayer and unfairness still reigns.

But again, the psalmist redirects our focus to the Lord, who upholds the righteous as they wait.

This does not feel fair to me, but I am so glad that it’s not up to me! I know that the wickedness I abhor also lives within me, and that in the judgment of the psalm, my arm is just as likely to be broken as held in the Lord’s embrace (v. 17).

I long for the day that justice will come, when the meek shall inherit the earth, and I pray that I will be found in their number.

Consider

What “unfairness” or wickedness do you see in the world? Within yourself?

Pray

Uphold us in your mercy, O Lord!

Monday, January 30

Psalm 37:1-9

Outrage gets the best news ratings, creates the most viral social media posts, and sends the most voters to the polls.

Yet the psalmist argues that outrage is ineffective in bringing about true solutions. The poet is even more concerned about its effect on our souls, pleading “do not fret” (v. 1). Other translations say: “do not be annoyed,” “do not be bothered”, “do not get upset.”

I don’t think these injunctions are meant to silence our dissent or stop our resistance to the evil things that we encounter, but to invite us to pay attention to ourselves. To invite us to examine the rage and fear and judgment that remain lodged deep within us. To let go of these feelings that will erode our mental and spiritual health if we carry them too heavily and too long.

The psalmist tells us that we don’t have to fret because the Lord sees the same wickedness and wrongdoing we see and will render justice soon. How can I stop fretting when so many people suffer so needlessly because of the life-taking words, actions, and inactions of others? I pray, “Lord, I see who’s responsible! Are you going to do anything about this? You seem to be taking your sweet time while your beloveds perish!”

The psalmist pleads with us to shift our focus away from what our enemies are doing to what we are doing. However, I resist this because I enjoy having targets for my outrage. They make me feel superior. But the psalmist redirects us: Trust in the LORD (v. 3). Delight in the LORD (v. 4). Commit your way to the LORD (v. 5). Do good (v. 3).

What if God wants to use the fire in our bellies to kindle real hope and healing in our outraged world, as we wait for God’s justice?

Consider

What are you fretting about? How might you redirect your energy toward God and God’s good for the world?

Pray

God, you see the injustice around us and it breaks your heart. May we trust that you will take care of us, and bring the world to justice. Amen.

Sunday, January 29

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

A series of television commercials a few years ago featured the punchline, “Just say you don’t know!” In each 30-second bit, a man was asked a question, and instead of admitting he didn’t know the answer, he strung together a guess on the fly. For some reason, my wife laughed a little too hard every time one of these ads came on. She would look at me and say, “Just say you don’t know!”

I got her not-so-subtle point. Her plea for a little more honesty and humility still rings in my ears every time a question I don’t really know enough to answer tempts me. Her words help me confront the fact that admitting I don’t know something makes me feel vulnerable and out of control.

But maybe this is the beginning of wisdom?

Paul calls Christ’s vulnerability and choice to surrender control and submit to death on a cross the wisdom of God (v. 24).

This sounds like the opposite of everything our world calls wisdom. We know that we need to show the world that we are living our best life to get likes and be loved, so we edit our true selves for social media. We know that the other party and their president is to blame for all of our problems, and that our side is always right, so we vilify and refuse to try to see other perspectives and work together to find solutions. Frankly, this foolishness is killing us and our communities from the inside out.

The wisdom of this world is self-preservation at all costs, but the salvation of God is trusting in the one who made himself vulnerable and out of control to love us. Can we let go of having to know it all and believe in the wisdom of self-giving love?

Consider

What makes you feel out of control and vulnerable? What would it be like to trust God with that?

Pray

Wisdom of Love, there is so much that I do not know. But you know it all, even as you know me. Guide me in your way. Amen.

Saturday, January 28

John 13:31-35

If Jesus had simply said, “Love one another,” this passage from John might seem a little easier. Instead he adds as I have loved you to the charge (v. 34). To love as Jesus loves calls us to a radical, countercultural embrace of all who are made in God’s image. Suddenly, loving one another feels much harder to live out.

Nearly 20 years ago, my husband pastored in northeastern North Carolina, and we became partners with two other churches in our town. One was a small African-American church in a location that had a long history of generational poverty. Our predominantly white downtown church had not always been responsive to the needs of this community. Brenda, the pastor of that loving church, patiently helped us along. In the early days of our partnership, she invited us not just to pack backpacks in August or donate turkeys in November, but to spend an evening at Christmastime in her community. One December night, led by Brenda’s larger-than-life personality, her booming alto voice, and her unwavering spirit, our three congre- gations walked arm in arm through the blocks of their church neighborhood singing “Joy to the World.” We were met with some surprised looks and skeptical faces, but they were not the only ones. Many of us were also well out of our comfort zone as we entered a new part of town. The experience changed us and led us to love our neighbors a little closer to the way that Christ loves us all.

Brenda’s embrace was instrumental in opening us to experiencing Christ’s love in new ways. Being loved by Christ is always the key to loving as Christ does.

Consider

Who is God’s love giving you the strength to love? How can we be the radical presence of Christ in a divided world?

Pray

Patient God, we find it easy to love those within our comfortable orbit. Push us beyond our routine boundaries to discover your bountiful table where all are welcome. Amen.