Aligning with God

Living in the Spirit
June 25, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 10:24-39

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. –Matthew 10:34-39

I think God spends a lot of time figuring out how to work with what we give God when sometimes it’s not pretty. God’s work is always restorative. Even Abraham seeing all the stars in the heavens never saw the whole picture, nor do we who live where artificial light obscures the night sky. As humans, we have little bursts of insight of God’s purpose for this world and our roles in it. We praise God for patience with our blindsides and thank God for the few Aha! moments that bring new insights.

Jesus came to us to stir us out of our complacency and focus us toward being change agents in a world capable of self-destruction as well as fulfillment for all. While we may seek peace and escape from the realities of our world, Jesus modeled living in the world while restoring it to its full potential of light and life and love.

The poem Wind by Wind, wind – a reflection on the Spirit* by William Loader speaks to the varied roles of the Spirit as it works and wields its way into our beings. It is a scary poem, not for the faint of heart, but certainly worth the read. As we watch the principalities and powers of this world stumble through shaping the world to their favor, we would do well to remember that we follow a risen Savior who has overcome the world**. Our challenge is to let go of our priorities and align with God’s.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your loving patience with us. Prepare us for such a time as these. Amen.

*http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/wind.htm
** See John 16.32-33

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.

Trust in God

Living in the Spirit
June 24, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 10:24-39

‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:24-31

I do accept this teaching intellectually, but my inner-most being sometimes has trouble living into it. I read the book of Amos and see the similarities between those ancient times and now and understand that little has changed in human nature. Our weapons are more dangerous than theirs. Information travels much faster now. Our world is a universe, not some tribal settlements scattered about with a few strangers wandering through at times. Our idols are more abstract than theirs but, no, they too worshiped at the feet of greed and power.

How do we align so closely with God that we have no fear of Beelzebul (the chief evil spirit) or any of his minions? From where does trust come–experience perhaps? Having the fortitude to step out in faith to live and love the way Jesus taught us will be met with a full measure of God’s love. God had already taken the first step when God created us and loved us. We are next-step people. God never forces God’s self on anyone, but when we take our first step in his service, God is fully engaged in leading us out of the dark into the light.

Prayer:
Open my eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready, my God, Thy will to see;
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit Divine*! Amen

*First verse and chorus of Open My Eyes by Clara H. Scott see at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/807

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.

Nourished Souls

Living in the Spirit
June 23, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 6:1b-11

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. –Romans 6:5-11

Some of us have more “old self” to deal with than others, some because of the passage of time, and some from excessive misuse of time. At my six-month dental check, the dentist noted to the hygienist that my teeth showed a lot of wear. He wasn’t talking to me, but I responded, “They’ve had a lot of years of use.”  I did not mean to embarrass the young dentist, but he tried to soothe over any thought that he was suggesting I was old. His concern wasn’t necessary; I am comfortable with my age, and I do try to take good care of my teeth, but they have had a lot of use.

If we could examine our souls, we most likely would see wear, some more than others. The healing of the soul through the love of God and the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ restores our wholeness to a new life. God continues to nourish our souls in our continuing relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. Maintaining any relationship requires a commitment on both sides. Bad habits of life are hard to erase. Good habits are often hard to initiate. Being intentional about letting go of those “old self” characteristics and taking on the way of Christ will help.

Prayer: Lord, nurture our souls as we grow in our faith and our relationship with you. 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.

Newness of Life

Living in the Spirit
June 22, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 6:1b-11

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. –Romans 6:1b-4

The first time I walked after having my left knee replaced nine years ago, I was assisted by a young hospital staffer, I have no idea his job title. My immediate reaction was to say that my leg felt like it was turning inside-out. He patted my shoulder and said, “your leg has not been straight for a long time, you just do not remember what it feels like to walk with a fully functional leg.” He was right.

Life experiences, right or wrong, can change how we think, view others, and establish the belief systems with which we ground our faith. Changing the course of our life from poorly substantiated belief systems is hard whether those systems relate to faith or not. The strong arm of a patient young man enabled me to take one step at a time until I accepted the fact that my stainless steel knee worked.

Paul is telling us in Romans that we can walk in newness of life because Christ rose from the dead. There are libraries full of theology packed in that simple statement. My guess is Paul was very capable of explaining it in depth, but he invites us to accept it on faith. I think he is saying try it and see how it feels and fits. Walking in newness of life for most of us means major change. Learning to love all people no matter what takes time and practice and a large dose of Holy Support. Living justice in all aspects of our lives, including going the extra mile to assure someone else’s justice, constantly challenges us. Resting securely in the love of God should not be difficult but it is. I do not know about you, I am stubborn and keep thinking I got this when I don’t. Practicing the presence of God is fundamental to newness of life.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for showing us the way to live in harmony with you and the world in which we find ourselves. Be present with us as we struggle to walk in this newness of life. 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 Bondage of other gods

Living in the Spirit
June 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
   for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
   save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
   for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
   for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
   abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
   listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
   for you will answer me.
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
   nor are there any works like yours. –Psalm 86:1-8

What other gods do we have? When we can identify them, we most likely will find the source of interference with our relationship with God. The ancients shaped gods from clay and stone and other materials. They were tangible representations of their desires such as fertility gods, war gods, and agriculture gods. The hope was that homage paid to these gods brought children, victory, and good crops. The desires of life are neither good nor bad unless our emphasis on them overshadows their worth. Children are the future, war disrupts everything, food is a necessity for life.

Whether we have a graven image before us or not, we do have other gods. I write a lot about the gods of power and greed as I see them as the primary evils of our times. We all can find ourselves caught up in either or both. Legislators in Oklahoma ended important criminal justice legislation by protocol not votes because they could. Democracy is still in its infancy in providing equal justice for all.

How do we as individuals and collectively order our lives toward our commitment to serve God first and foremost and use the skills and talents with which God gifted us to actualize God’s vision for the world? How do we speak truth to comfortable culture that does not mesh well with God’s intent? How do we resist the drive to project our desires as God’s? How do we discern the difference?

Prayer: Struggle with us as we consider what gods are crowding our service to you. Free us from the bondage of other gods. Order our lives. 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.

Hope

Living in the Spirit
June 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 21:8-21

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt. –Genesis 21:15-21

I heard a speaker once say that the difference between being poor and living in poverty is hope. Hope is what God planted in Hagar’s heart. Hope is the gift we are called to share with the hopeless. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs* states that humans must have their physical needs (food, clothing, and shelter) and safety just to survive. To thrive, we must know love and belonging, which are foundational to good self-esteem and finally self-actualization. Hope is a driving force in helping people sustain an upward climb through these levels of development.

The Save the Children organization recently released a worldwide study of the status of children and a separate piece on children in each state in the USA. They are both heartbreaking reports but provide important information we need to know. Oklahoma ranks 46th among states in tracked negative outcomes impacting the futures of children. Oklahoma’s bad rankings result primarily from its high teen birth rate and high infant mortality rate. They were the major problems in Oklahoma when I first became a social worker in 1969. We have made progress but far less than other states.

There are a lot of Ismael’s in the world today in need of necessities and safety and just as importantly in need of hope. We as followers of Christ are called to be distributors of hope. The many children in refugee camps around the world remind us of Ismael as do the children in classrooms in Oklahoma sent home on Fridays with a backpack of food because the school lunch program is believed to be the children’s primary source of nutrition.

Prayer: Lord, enable our ability to distribute hope as well as developing systems designed to help all become self-sufficient. Amen.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs
**http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.6115947/k.B143/Official_USA_Site.htm

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.

Purpose

Living in the Spirit
June 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. –Genesis 21:8-14

Does this story leave a bad taste in your mouth like it does mine? I wonder how the sudden loss of Isaac’s older brother, one he apparently enjoyed, impacted Isaac? For all the hubbub about Ismael and Isaac that surrounded Isaac’s birth, Isaac’s only accomplishment recorded for posterity was fathering Esau and Jacob, and Jacob tricked him.

God seems to work within human falterings and failures. At least I hope God does because I have made a few missteps along the way. We learn from our mistakes or we should. Paul says in Romans 8:28, We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

There it is again. We are called to be intentional about our purpose. What is God’s purpose for us? How do we know we are on the right track? There is an old ponderous hymn written in 19th-century language dealing with God’s purpose that says we must grow love in all people and work for the reign of the Prince of peace. I think those both are fitting for today.

God is working his purpose out,
as year succeeds to year,
God is working his purpose out,
and the time is drawing near;
nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

What can we do to work God’s work,
to prosper and increase
the love of God in all mankind,
the reign of the Prince of peace?
What can we do to hasten the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea?*

Prayer: Lord guide us in your prospering and increasing your purpose and when we go astray show us the way back to your path. Amen.

*First and third verses of God is Working His Purpose Out, Words by Arthur Campbell Ainger see at http://hymnary.org/text/god_is_working_his_purpose_out

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.

Good Spirits, Good Health

Living in the Spirit
June 18, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:35-10:23

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. –Matthew 10:1-4

Jesus called his disciples and gave them the power to cast out unclean spirits, and cure every disease and sickness. Does this call still apply to disciples today or just that laundry list of disciples? If you were one of them, how would you react? What would the world be like without any unclean spirits and no disease or sickness?

Spirit is the essence of life—breath. Unclean describes something that is properly, not pure (because mixed), i.e. adulterated with “a wrong mix” and hence “unclean” (because tainted by sin).* Recently, I find myself being disturbed by all the derogatory adjectives that people seem to need to say about others with whom they disagree. Those adjectives usually stop my reading or listening. I form more of an opinion about the author than the subject. They do not allow me to make a decision about the story or the exploration of ideology or theology. These adjectives, sometimes adverbs, are most prevalent in political dialogue. Their source gives the words a wrong mix. There are a lot of unclean spirits to cast out. We might start by casting them out of ourselves with God’s help. How otherwise do we discourage unclean spirits?

Medicaid and Medicare created in the 1960’s were baby steps to addressing health care for all. I attended meetings from 1970’s forward, designed to address this issue. We may be the only developed country in the world without some universal health care. Why? Health markedly impacts one’s ability to be self-supporting and self-sufficient. I believe adequate, accessible, and affordable healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Jesus seems to teach something like that in our scripture today. He calls us all to be a part of the solution. For more information about worldwide healthcare see the WHO** website referenced below.

Prayer: O Great Healer, enable us as healers too. Some of us are professional healers bless us in our work. Help the rest of us find and do our part to make the world whole and healed. Amen.

*http://biblehub.com/greek/169.htm
**http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs395/en/

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.

Lost Sheep

Living in the Spirit
June 17, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:35-10:23

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’ –Matthew 9:35-38

It strikes me that the church divided is like sheep without a shepherd. How can we possibly follow the same Master with diametrically opposing actions, attitudes, and beliefs? Each individual, each group thinks he or she or they are as right as right can be. Our battles with one another distract from Christ’s vision and our mission to attain it.

Sheep are by nature social animals. One of the first animals to be domesticated, they are often tended by youth. Jesus talks about one sheep going astray and the extraordinary steps the shepherd takes to bring it back into the fold. (See Luke 15) Our society seems to have lost the vision of the Common Good. We seem to have morphed into a mindset that if business profits are good, the economy will flourish and all will eventually benefit. Such theory does not take into consideration that businesses cannot thrive without a healthy, well-education workforce who live and work in a safe environment producing and nourishing the next generations.

Greed has become our shepherd leading us not into green pastures where we can thrive but into parched fields of weeds and thorns. While most of us will never experience great wealth or enormous power, we let their trappings dangle before us like forbidden fruit tempting us away from the loving Shepherd who wants only the best for each of us and all of us.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for turning away from you and wandering into deep darkness in search of wealth or power. Find us in our loss-ness and return us to your fold. 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.

Weak and Strong

Living in the Spirit
June 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 5:1-8

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. –Romans 5:6-8

The word weak* used here means without strength perhaps even ill. I know weak. My grip is not good. The small lids on salad dressing bottles are my enemy. Someone gave me a pair of adjustable pliers that I leave set in the groove for removing the lids from my salad dressing. It works amazingly well after I discovered its utility, I try once to open a lid, which occasionally works, but then I grab my trusty pliers. The thing about weakness is we must know and accept it before we find a way to the end we desire.

As much as we humans, particularly Americans, like to think and act individually we were created to live and breathe and have our being** in community as we are called to be the Body of Christ on earth today. We could all make long lists of outstanding individuals who have accomplished amazing things. Not a single one of them can take credit alone for their accomplishments. They each had a mother, father, teacher mentor, soulmate who enabled his or her work. We as the Body of Christ cannot take credit alone for anything we accomplish as Christ formed and commissioned us and dwells with us in all that we do.

Love does not require credits. I heard once again a policeman being interviewed on the news about saving someone’s life. He risks his life to save the other. His response was “It’s my job.” Loving is just our job. We do it better when our love impacts others to love. When we all love one another, the entire world will know wholeness. That is God’s love.

Prayer: Lord, we each have weaknesses and strengths. Enable us to work together so that all become strong in your service. Amen.

*http://biblehub.com/greek/772.htm
**See Acts 17:28

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.