God’s Abiding Love

Living in the Spirit
October 23, 2018

Scripture Reading: Job 42:1-6, 10-17

And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived for one hundred and forty years, and sawt his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days. –Job 42:10-17

Job is a good morality play in which the protagonist after much misfortune lives happily ever after. We all long for such a state of being. The question ultimately is how do we work to make it happen?

God allowed Job to be tested and he stood firm in his righteousness as he took blow after blow. His friends functioned within the premise that bad things only happen to bad people. Although they knew nothing bad about Job, they encouraged him to confess for surely, he had done something wrong. Job eventually tried to understand why bad things happen to good people. Most of us have experienced that situation at one time or another. I wish there were a few more scenes in the play. I leave the theater with many unanswered, unsettled questions.

Farms and cattle and other riches can be replaced but any parent who has lost a child will assure us that that child can and will never be replaced. The loss of a child does often result in a deeper understanding of unconditional love and perhaps a keener understanding of the love God shared with us at the crucifixion of Jesus and a greater sense of hope resulting from his resurrection.

Prayer: Lord, abide with us as we struggle with life’s challenges. Turn them into lessons of how to love as you heal any bitterness and hate that flitter through our heart and minds in times like these. 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.

Dueling with God

Living in the Spirit
October 22, 2018

Scripture Reading: Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
   I will question you, and you declare to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
   but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
   and repent in dust and ashes.’ –Job 42:1-6

Job is an uncomfortable book to read. It requires us to face how our worldview sometimes gets in the way of our faith view. When Job asked the question: “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” He is quoting from an earlier question of God (38:2): “Who is this that darkens counsel without knowledge?” with one-word change as noted in bold. God’s chosen word has the connotation of dimming; Job apparently took in God’s word to mean conceal. God’s word suggests a lessening of consideration of counsel for no reason as not being prudent. Job’s word implies ignoring counsel for no reason. I think the author of Job changed the word to illustrate how our intake of information is filtered for good or bad by our culture, life experiences, and heritage. Our worldview impacts all our lives, correct or not.

Our quest in life is to become our fullest potential as we intersect with all other people and the world around us in loving as Jesus loved. We cannot change what we have already experienced or inherited; we can choose to offer that knowledge and those traits to God for help in restructuring negatives into positives and life lessons into examples of courage and hope as we strive to prevent our past negatives from being stumbling blocks for us or others.

Testing our worldview against the plumb line of God’s worldview is challenging and sometimes painful, but I have found it to be powerfully freeing as I strive to love like Jesus. I hope you will find the same thing happening within you.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see clearly as we examine ourselves and work to restore any brokenness and separation from you in our lives, so we can readily receive and accept your counsel. 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.

Servant-Leaders

Living in the Spirit
October 21, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:35-45

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’—Mark 10:41-45

Servanthood is a role of leadership. A leader’s task is to maximize the talents and skills of the people with whom the leader works whether it be in a business, a church, or the government. Jesus modeled the role of servant-leader well. I fear we have lost that role among leaders who are more concerned about their own aggrandizement or selfish gain. I fear the model of the self-serving leader is gaining ground.

When I was a child, granted I was a child a long time ago, we played a game called King off the Mountain. The goal of the game was for someone to climb onto some sort of risen area and have someone else try to push them off. If that person succeeded, he or she became King on the Mountain and the next persons attempted to push them off. The goal, of course, was to see how long one person could stay at the top. It is a game that can get violent and I hope it is no longer played. What it illustrates is important. People who invest most of their time in trying to be on the top of the Mountain rarely get anything of worth done and they may hurt a lot of other people in the process.

I do see the servant-leader in our world today sometimes in unusual places. People who play on sports teams to succeed must recognize the skills and help to grow everyone’s abilities if they wish to win games. Recently, we observed rescues from hurricane damage and floods that were totally dependent on highly skilled servant-leaders. Soldiers recognize the need for servant-leadership.

Most of us find ourselves in the role of leader at some point in life. Are we modeling the servant-leadership Jesus practiced? Do we support leaders who follow Jesus’ example or are we caught in the trap of seeking only what seems best for ourselves?

Prayer: Lord, help me be a servant-leader following in your footsteps. 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.

Prayer

Living in the Spirit
October 20, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
–Mark 10:35-40

This scripture perhaps should make us each reconsider how we pray. Are our prayers essentially our job assignments for God? “Here is what I want you to do?” Jesus does say in Matthew 7:7 ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.’ We must understand from our scripture for today that God knows how to say “No”.

God does love us unconditionally and desires the best for us. I guess the question is do we always know what is the best for us? Do we know what is the best for us within the context of what is best for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom? How do we distill what is best for all people in conjunction with what we perceive is the best for us?

It seems we have an epidemic spreading throughout our world and particularly in the USA that what is best can be measured in dollars and cents. Nothing could be further from the truth. Until all have enough to survive and thrive none of us are thriving. A great example of that is the ravages of climate change which can be directly associated with our insatiable desire for using fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse emissions.

We often relate the Serenity Prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to addiction, but it applies to all of life’s realities. Asking for wisdom in times like these and courage and serenity makes sense.

Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference. 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.

Run and Not Grow Weary

Living in the Spirit
October 19, 2018

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. –Hebrews 5:7-10

Scriptures tell us that Jesus routinely took time to pray. Being guided through constant communion with God through the Holy Spirit is the most important action we can take as we advocate for the oppressed and others, such as children, who cannot speak for themselves. God’s presence with us in our advocacy provides hope when there seems to be none, opens doors that may have been sealed shut for years, and gives energy when mental and sometimes physical fatigue otherwise would overcome us.

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
   they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
   they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Prayer: In the quietness of this moment, we invite you to fill our souls with your love as you enable us to love others through our advocacy. 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.

Picking Leaders

Living in the Spirit
October 18, 2018

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
‘You are my Son,
   today I have begotten you’;
as he says also in another place,
‘You are a priest forever,
   according to the order of Melchizedek.’ –Hebrews 5:1-6

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.“*

Referring to the scripture above we might ask what is in a title? Christ as High Priest is an example to emulate as is Melchizedek. Other High Priests are not considered good role models**. The same could be said for the title “politician” in our times. Politician is not a derisive title. Having served many years as a politician does not mean one is corrupt. Listening to the adds on TV during this campaign season we are fed a negative opinion of politicians. Abraham Lincoln was a stealthy politician holding the USA together when it was nearly severed. Franklin Roosevelt too was a seasoned politician guiding our country out of the depression and World War II. They neither were perfect but they both dedicated their lives to the Common Good and moved our country forward despite its dire situations. Both men in very real ways gave their lives for our country. Lincoln was assassinated, and Roosevelt finally wore himself out.

Titles do not define people; people give credence to titles. Christ set a high standard for all who serve in the ministry he began with his life, death, and resurrection. Just as we desire that all who follow Christ add value to the coming of God’s Kingdom, we want all our political leaders to add value to the governance of our cities, counties, states, and nation. Christ is a reflection of God who sent him unto us to be our High Priest. Are our political leaders a reflection of us, since we are the ones who select them?

Prayers: Lord, guide our discernment as we select leaders for our country in our upcoming election?

*From Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2) by William Shakespeare
**See Jeremiah 5:31 or Hosea 5:1

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.

Non-violent Wholeness

Living in the Spirit
October 17, 2018

Scripture Reading: Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
   O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
   you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
   fire and flame your ministers.

 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
   and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord! –Psalm 104:1-4, 35

The scriptures included in this week’s lectionary selections seem to be on a theme related to the awesomeness, omniscience, powerfulness of God. I think that is an important idea that we sometimes lose sight of as we get muddled down in the daily grind of life and see fee immediate signs of improvement. The lectionary creators left out the first two segments of verse 35, I assume because they seem to diverge from the full scripture and away from that theme.  Those two segments are what caught my attention as I read them.

The segments were most likely left out because they suggest a violent response to sin and wickedness, but I do not think that is necessarily what the phrases are addressing. When I pray, create in me a clean heart* am I not inviting God to consume the waste that I allowed to build up in my being thus limiting the space I have available for God’s goodness? And could the phrase let the wicked be no more be asking that all wickedness be cleansed from us and all who practice wickedness be restored to wholeness in God’s love? Do we expect God’s kingdom to come, if we are not willing to let go of the things in ourselves that are hindering its arrival?

Sometimes, I fear, our attempts not to judge others get in the way of our self-examination and the self-examination of our communities of faith. Our relationship with God is a daily, lifelong journey traveling toward what Paul refers to as perfection, what in today’s language I think might better be received as wholeness. Our movement toward wholeness as individuals, as communities of faith, moves our cities, states, nations, and world toward a greater wholeness which eventually with God’s helps fulfills the vision of Christ for a world ruled by love.

Prayer: Lord, create in us clean hearts and right spirits and let our individual quests toward these outcomes spread together toward the wholeness that was modeled in Jesus. Amen.

*from Psalm 51:10

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.

Integrity

Living in the Spirit
October 16, 2018

Scripture Reading: Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

‘Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
   so that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go
   and say to you, “Here we are”?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
   or given understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
   Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
   and the clods cling together? 

‘Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
   or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens,
   or lie in wait in their covert?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
   when its young ones cry to God,
   and wander about for lack of food? –Job 38:34-41

One of the candidates for a statewide office in my state is running on a platform of transparency in government, pledging to post all of the financial records of the state online for everyone to see. Having worked for one of the largest most complex agencies in the state for many years, when I first heard that I thought, he has no idea what that would be like. Millions of bits of information that would take pages of accompanying information to even begin to understand. While I do believe in transparency in government, I do not believe this would be a way to attain it. Most people get glassy-eyed just trying to read the pages of legalese attached to a new electronic device or app.

Government works most transparently when it has so much true integrity it can be trusted. The quote from Job above describes exactly such a reality between God and humans. God who is uniquely and completely in relationship with all God’s creation assures Job that God relates to him with true integrity and can be trusted. God sets the example for each of us and all of us together to respond to God with our intentional and continuous drive toward true integrity with God. God’s desire is for us to strive each day for true integrity with God and with all God’s creation.

We certainly should consider the measure of measure their integrity and trustfulness of the candidate for whom we vote, but that requires us to make sure we measure up to God’s desire for us to be trustworthy, responsible people.

Prayer: Lord, forgive me when I allow lust for power or greed interfere with my values and my integrity. 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.

The Bigger Picture

Living in the Spirit
October 15, 2018

Scripture Reading: Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
   I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
   Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
   Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
   or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
   and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? –Job 38:1-7

We humans thought the world was flat until we discovered it was not. The world is an amazing reality. Although we have come a long way in understanding it, I think we have just scratched the surface. Even the things we do know about our world do not seem to matter much to us in our role of having dominion over the earth. We take the world for granted until the world spews forth its displeasure with our behavior in fulfilling our role of being responsible caretakers rather than pillagers of its resources.

The writer of Job has God asking Job the breadth of Job’s understanding of his world and how it functions. How do he and each of us fit into the workings of the world about us. God is calling Job to look at the bigger picture. I hear that happening in interviews with people who have lost all their material possessions following a recent hurricane. “We survived, that is all that matters, the rest is just material that can be replaced.” Each speaker clearly understands how much toil and tears await them in the recovery and it is that bigger picture that provides them the strength to continue.

Of course, in the story of Job, his family was lost. The final count of lives lost is yet to be determined in the hurricane as rescue and recovery search through the debris left behind. Some may have lost their families like Job. Like Job, though they are finding themselves in the broader family of God as people they did not know before, love them enough to care for them as they start the hard road back from severe loss.

Just as God charged us to care for the earth, he calls us to care for all that is within it including all God’s children.

Prayer: Lord, make us mindful of our role as caretakers of the earth and its peoples. 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.

Give Him My Heart

Living in the Spirit
October 14, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:17-31

Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’ –Mark 10:28-31

Jesus’ response to Peter regarding those who had left everything to follow him follows the story of the rich young man who could not walk away from what he had. Jesus asked for a total commitment as a part of his plan to reshape the world. In general, our commitment requires us to use fully the talents and skills God instilled in us at our creation. The key element needed is to become the very best we can become for the right reason. I am reminded of these words:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart*.

You may recognize this poem as the last stanza of the Christmas hymn, In the Bleak Midwinter. It is one of my favorite carols usually sung during epiphany. The author came from a well-educated artistic family. While they suffered a financial setback when the father contracted tuberculosis and depression, her background was rich in the classics and she became a popular poet.  Christina Rossetti understood clearly the driving force of her work: the furtherance of God’s love.

Prayer: God Who is Love, keep my focus accurate, forgive he when I stray toward things of little consequence that get in the way of my loving you and loving like you. Amen.

*What Can I give Him, Poor as I Am? By Christina Georgina Rossetti see at https://hymnary.org/text/what_can_i_give_him_poor_as_i_am

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.