Watch Your Mouth What it Says

Living in the Spirit
August 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 15:10-28

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’ –Matthew 15:10-20

Words matter. Sometimes how we say something is as important as what we say. Once said words can never be taken back.  We filter everything we say through our own understandings, which our hearers, even our closest relatives or friends can never fully know. I broke my nose in high school playing volley ball resulting in a permanent bump below where my glasses sit. I broke it again in a fall last spring, and my bump got even bigger. I am again a little more self-conscious of it, not as bad as when I was a teenager. Sunday in Sunday school my class watched a DVD with a very handsome actor playing the part of Paul. As we began the discussion, I quipped, “For some reason, I thought Paul was not particularly attractive, had a big crooked nose or something.” I caught just the slightest reaction from one of the participants who was born with a crooked nose. I think she is quite attractive rather regal, but there is nothing I can say to make the results of my comment better now, and I could make it worse. God sent a messenger to redeem some of the damage I did. My friend and I sat together in church. An older gentleman walked by, patted her on her shoulder and said, “It is good to see you, beautiful ladies, today.”

We live in a world where we lay our instant thoughts out for display on social media uncensored. I think it is easier to do because we do not have a person looking back at us. Text messages to be brief may seem curt. There are some uncensored messages meant only for God’s hearing. We might want to take advantage of prayer as a means of cleansing our souls before we communicate with others. God knows us fully, can help us clean our filters, and make our communion with God’s other children more productive in both spirit and truth.

Prayer: Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
             keep watch over the door of my lips*
and my fingers or stylist on a keyboard or screen. Amen.

*Psalm 141:3

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Beliefs and Faith

Living in the Spirit
August 18, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-39

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
   Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him,
   to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen. –Romans 11:33-36

Paul celebrates God’s unmeasurable wisdom and knowledge as he ponders the fate of his fellow Jews. Is it too much for us to grasp that we may not fully understand the magnitude of God or God’s love? Do we think our way of being God’s children is the only way? People quote to me John 14:6, Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. I say I do agree with that but quote back to them John 10:16, I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. Probably a fruitless exchange, we are neither likely to stray from our positions.  Paul would tell us, For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12) This, of course, is from his famous chapter on love. Study and discernment is good unless it hinders our loving God and loving one another.

The older I get, the less important what I believe becomes. I do not know if that is true of others. Maintaining and building a firm relationship with God through Jesus Christ and following the command to love God and love as Jesus loves becomes paramount in my life. Perhaps when I attain perfection in those two actions, beliefs will be clear or unnecessary. Discerning how to live love is a challenge that requires exchanging ideas on faith with others guided by the written word as well as the Word that became flesh. In so doing our structure of faith forms and reforms as we learn and grow. The framework of the structure includes what we believe at the moment. The world was believed to be flat until it was proven round.

I am blessed to learn from people of many faiths, people who question faith, and people with no faith at all. Since I am called to love them all anyway, it is an added value that my understanding of God blossoms in the process of discernment.

Prayer: God, open our hearts and minds to your teachings from whatever source you deem appropriate. Protect us from false prophets. Let your truth speak clearly to us. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Restoring All Souls

Living in the Spirit
August 17, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-39

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. –Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

God’s restorative justice is a model for all to follow. God confronting Cain for his murder of his brother Abel, and restored him to being a productive member of society. Sent by God, Nathan castigated David for his involvement with Bathsheba which resulted in the murder of her husband and God restored David to being the leader he was meant to be. Isaiah and other prophets saw hope even in the midst of the destruction of Israel encouraging changed behavior while sharing God’s promise of a Savior yet to come. Jesus forgave and restored over and over again in his earthly ministry and ultimately offering his life as testimony to God’s restoring character. Paul recognized God’s great desire to make all things whole as he considers his fellow Jews and their future in God’s Kingdom.

We, humans, get caught up in the need to punish rather than restore. Yes, I can quote many scriptures that indicate God as a god of wrath. Perhaps it is from these scriptures we find the path to passing judgment and enforcing punishment on God’s other children. I do think we must all face the consequences of our own behavior. I can envision a time standing before God accounting for my own behavior. Jesus’ message is clear, we humans are not given the job of judging each other.

Humans must, however, create order to live together with all others. Such order requires protecting ones harmed from those doing the harm. Thus, civil judicial systems render judgments on crimes and other miscarriages of justice as defined by societies. Our people are our most valuable assets. Any person removed from society by imprisonment or execution is a net loss to society. Restoring people to productive contributing members is a net gain. People who are a danger to society may indeed need to be removed from society until restored, and some may never meet that test but not providing the resources for restoration is far more expensive in dollars but more importantly in the lost contributions each of the people involved might have made had they been restored.

Prayer: Lord, you have called us to initiate your Kingdom where all are whole, all are one and justice prevails. Grant us the knowledge and skills needed to restore those in our society who negatively impact such wholeness, oneness, and justice. Give us the wisdom and strength of character needed to bring restoration to our fragmented world. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Living as One

Living in the Spirit
August 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 133
How very good and pleasant it is
   when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
   running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
   running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
   which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
   life for evermore.

This Psalm seems to indicate that kindred living together in unity is rare. It is at least as rare as it is to anoint a new chief priest. It is not supposed to be rare; it is what we are called to do. Indeed, as children develop their unique identities, parents often find themselves trying to make teachable moments out of the chaos of everyday life: whose turn was it to take out the trash, who forgot to feed the dog, who is eating more than their fair share of the cake? It is a great hope that those teachable moments will lead to healthy adults who can negotiate their way through the challenges of life. Some parents are better than others at this; some children are more trainable than others. What results when we reach adulthood is a mixture of all kinds of folks at all stages of development that must learn to live together in unity.

When the nuclear family experience gets escalated to a church or the whole body of Christ and other entities at all levels, including governments, we participants as individuals carry with us the lessons, good or bad, that we learned in those training years. At that point, we also include a mixture of cultural norms that dictate what is considered to be harmony or unity. In many cases, we do not carry forward the sibling relationship in our dealings beyond the family.

How thus do we live as the Children of God in harmony without searching for and adapting to the teachable moments of God? While the prophets addressed then well, Jesus probably set forth the most succinct lessons on living with others in what is now called the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Matthew 5:9 is a good place to start, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Prayer:
Teach me your way, O Lord,
   that I may walk in your truth;
   give me an undivided heart to revere your name*. Amen

*Psalm 86:11

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Siblings

Living in the Spirit
August 15, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 45:1-15

Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.” And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.’ Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them, and after that, his brothers talked with him. –Genesis 45:9-15

I sometimes wonder about the changes in relationships after a family member suddenly become an NBA or NFL draft pick or anyone else who was one day one of the family and the next a household word everywhere. Most superstars dealt with some popularity even in grade school, but that is not the big stage. How do you think siblings would feel if they  tossed the now superstar under the bus and had not heard from him in years when they next encounter him? On top of that, he is in the position to save them from starvation. Awkward does not begin to explain the situation.

Then again, what if you were the superstar? Brothers and sisters are the people in the world who might know us best. They witness our defeats as well as our accomplishments. I enjoy listening in on my now grown nieces, and nephews tell the tall tales of together skirting their parent’s knowledge of their questionable antics from childhood. Being siblings is a special bond. I’ve shared a few of those tales with my own siblings.

My Dad and his best-friend brother fell out late in life. They did not see each other for a while. When Dad had a massive heart attack, all three of we children independent of each other called and notified our uncle of the grave nature of the situation. Dad was at the VA hospital, and my uncle knew the hospital well as a disabled veteran himself. The hospital had some of the strictest visitation rules I ever encountered, but somehow my uncle maneuvered his way into the critical care unit and saw my Dad before he died. Both reported they picked up where they had left off before the estrangement and had a good visit. God had a hand in making that visit a reality.

God enabled Joseph to see the broader picture of the good that came from his horrible experience. God heals broken relationships if we are willing to make it so.

Prayer: Lord, it is not good when familial brothers and sisters let the world get in the way of their love for one another, neither is it good for brothers and sisters in Christ or for that matter all your children everywhere. Heal our brokenness bring us to wholeness that we may serve you better. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

God in Mystery

Living in the Spirit
August 14, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 45:1-15

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

 Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. –Genesis 45:1-8

Funny how, often unpleasant, life lessons prepare us for future circumstances. I certainly cannot explain the workings of God witnessed in hindsight. Paul acknowledges the mysterious nature of God in Romans 11:33, O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Apparently, Joseph connected at some point with the God his great grandfather Abraham encountered at Ur and passed on to his son Isaac who told the stories of God to Joseph’s father, Jacob. Joseph most likely followed the family’s traditions of honor the God of Abraham. I wonder if Joseph’s first unique experience with God was in the water-less pit into which his brothers tossed him. Perhaps it was traveling with the strangers who bought him.

As a female working in a predominately male environment, I often drew the assignments no one else wanted making me stretch beyond my previous skills or training. Looking back, I realize such experience was invaluable to my career growth and development. Life puts us in challenging situations; God resources them through us for the building of God’s kingdom just as God used Joseph to save the Egyptians and his own people. We waste a lot of God’s good time in bitterness and resentment, and in accepting other people’s views of ourselves instead of God’s. If we give God our anger, self-doubt, and any chips on our shoulders, God can and will turn them into powerful positive energy for creating a world ruled by love where all are acknowledged and celebrated for their unique contributions.

Prayer:
Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.* Amen.

*First verse of Take My Life and Let it Be by Frances Ridley Havergal  see at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/445

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Walking on Water

Living in the Spirit
August 13, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ –Matthew 14:28-33

Is it human nature to doubt? Do we project our life experiences with other people onto God rather than see Christ in every human? We have all let someone down and we have all experienced the sting of being let down by a trusted other. Humans are not perfect. Our first insight about another is usually based on cultural norms. How often do we experience seeing the Christ in someone first?

It is rare, but I had that happen recently. I was having trouble with my phone, had sat on hold once for 40 minutes waiting for the “next available” customer service rep, and was thus very frustrated. I decided to drive to a store that related to my phone company to solve my problem. I was not happy. The first person I encountered was a very nice young man who immediately agreed to see what my problem was as he took the phone and started punching buttons. Suddenly, I noticed that his attention was drawn to looking down at my side where a frightened five or six-year-old little girl stood. He said to her, “ Do you need something?” She said, “I can’t find my mother.” He asked her what her name was and said, “Let me see if I can help.” He then looked at me and said, “Excuse me just a moment” and called someone in the store to announce over the speaker that this girl needed to meet her party at the electronics desk. He said to the little girl, “ I’m sure your mother will be her soon.” As she looked around furtively, he continued to work on my phone, and in a few moments a worried mother rounded the corner and reunited with her daughter. The young man said to the mother, “Your daughter did everything right, she immediately came to me for help.” I did see Christ in this young man before I could ever see anything else.

Peter saw the Christ in Jesus as he stepped from the boat then doubt grabbed at his legs, but he reached up his hand in faith again recognizing God in Jesus who saved him. Our challenge as Christ’s followers is to let the world see Christ in us relying on Christ to fortify us when doubt strikes.

 Prayer: Lord, forgive me when I cave to doubt, restore me to wholeness, and help me see the Christ in all others by looking past my preconceived judgments. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Stepping Out in Faith

Living in the Spirit
August 12, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
–Matthew 14:22-27

Time alone with God is important for everyone including Jesus. There is a scene in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar where the crowds are grasping at him barely allowing him to move. I cannot remember which song the cast was singing, Superstar maybe; but it gave me a moment of understanding his ministry on earth. The gospels often describe him as being in crowds seeking him. I am sure his time spent with his disciples was special, and he still needed to withdraw from them.

Our world is a scary place right now. Not so much from outside forces terrorizing us but from our anemic responses. We shake in our boots because we have forgotten whose we are. We need to withdraw to a quiet place ourselves, give all our fears to God breathing in the words below of the Psalmist and breathing out all that is holding us back from being fully God’s instrument of love.

‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’ (Matthew 46:10)

I never know what to think about supernatural events; even ones I have experienced or witnessed. So, I have no explanation of the story of Jesus walking on water. Apparently, Jesus took for granted Philippians 4:13 before it was even written, I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Wise counsel for us today.

Prayer: Lord, strengthen us to do the many things within our grasp to be the Body of Christ in our fractured world stepping out in the faith you will make us conduits of your love in all situations. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Spreading Good News

Living in the Spirit
August 11, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 10:5-15

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ –Romans 10:14-15

There is a big difference between bringing good news and assaulting people with my personal beliefs. Working together with diverse viewpoints to find the best way to the Common Good is not the same as working to legislate my perception of morality for everyone. Religious freedom is not the same as religious privilege.

As I walked through the ruins of Ephesus, I could almost feel Paul’s presence. Our guide indicated a worn pillar standing in front of the ruins of a building. He explained that the writings circling the pillar were the names of the elites who followed one of the many gods worshipped by the Ephesians. Not included were any names of people who followed Jesus Christ. Following Jesus Christ was the reason for their names’ exclusion. The guide suggested that perhaps the experience of facing such cultural scorn was the reason the writer of Revelation made reassuring references to the names of followers of Christ written in the book of life.

Followers of Christ do not present an accurate picture of him when we use oppressive techniques or assume elitist attitudes. We make him appear like the idols of old for whom we have such disdain. The truth is we can do nothing to improve or protect God or Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. God is omnipotent—all-powerful, omnificent—unlimited, omnipresent—always present. We need to let God be God and work with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength to share the good news that God loves us—all of us and wants us to love one another.

Prayer: God of Love, help us follow the teaching of St. Francis of Assisi who said Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.  Let our love reflect your good news. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Knowing What Matters

Living in the Spirit
August 10, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 10:5-15

because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ –Romans 10:9-13

When I was a child, we had a massive blow up at my little hometown church over whether the new chairs at the communion table should be upholstered or not. Christians get all bent out of shape over many things about which Jesus never even spoke. I cannot help but think that if Jesus thought something was important, he shared it.  Paul tells us in our scripture today accepting Jesus as Lord of our lives is what matters. Such acceptance is not just an intellectual act; it is a life transforming process that helps us get our priorities straight and gain productive focus for our lives. Jesus got impatient with religious leaders who argued over what Jesus probably considered trivia.

He did advise us that his way is not burdensome as some like to make it. Matthew 11:28-30, Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ He also told us not to worry about judging other people; he would take care of that. John 5:22, The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son.

We need to hear carefully and understand Paul’s words, the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. All to Jesus meant everyone. He seemed to have a special place in his heart for those we denigrate. There is a lesson in his role modeling.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we see others through the eyes of the world and fail to see your image in each of them. Help us lighten burdens, not heap on more. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.