Lying

Kingdom Building

July 17, 2019

Scripture Reading: Psalm 52

Why do you boast, O mighty one,
   of mischief done against the godly?
   All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
   you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
   and lying more than speaking the truth.
          Selah
You love all words that devour,
   O deceitful tongue.  –Psalm 52:1-4

I was raised in a home where, in my perception, lying was indeed one of the top ten sins maybe even closer to the top than where it is listed in the Bible. Forgiveness and reparations were readily afforded when we told the truth. Failure to tell the truth resulted in greater sanctions. Standing in the corner of a room with my nose pointed toward the wall while I thought about the reason, I had lied was the normal discipline for not being truthful. A tearful apology usually was forthcoming with a promise that I would never lie again. I only remember having to do that a couple of times before the sinful nature of lying was forever seared into my brain. I was even trained well in avoiding those little white lies that might be harmful to others by evading a direct answer. “Do you think my nose is too long?” is answered with “Why would you ask that? You have such a beautiful countenance.”

I assume that all children are raised in the same manner and thus am stunned by the prevalence and even worse the acceptance of people not being truthful. It seems that some people almost prefer to lie rather than to tell the truth. I wonder why that is? Are they so lacking in self-confidence that they are ashamed of their truth? And if we are ashamed of our truth how can we love ourselves which is necessary for us to love others?

The healing of our souls starts with the understanding that we are children of God and thus innately people of worth. When and if our life stories differ from what we think are the acceptable values of our world, returning to the understanding that we are unconditionally loved by God is the foundation to learn to live into our truth and enable us to be truthful to others.

Prayer: God of Truth and Mercy, heal our souls so that we never feel the need to lie. 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.

Restore us to Your Words

Kingdom Building

July 16, 2019

Scripture Reading: Amos 8:1-12

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
   and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
On that day, says the Lord God,
   I will make the sun go down at noon,
   and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into mourning,
   and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
   and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
   and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
   when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
   but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
   and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
   but they shall not find it. –Amos 8:7-12

I think a famine on the land of hearing the words of the Lord may be upon us. Some of the hateful, harmful words I have heard recently particularly related to refugees are not of God. If we believe that God created the world and all that is within it including creating all humans in God’s image then if is hard for me to understand how we can tolerate using the separation of children from their families as an incentive to keep people away who are seeking asylum. People would not be leaving their homelands without reason.

If we no longer hear and apply the words of the Lord as our standard of living, what standard will we follow? Will we follow a despot who seems to know all the tricks to make us listen and follow that person’s ways of being primarily to that persons benefit? Where is the plumb line of God in a world where the words of the Lord are no longer relevant?

Prayer: Lord, do not take your words from us even as we run helter-skelter searching for you in all the wrong places. Help us to remove ourselves from the cacophony of noise that distract us and seek you first in the silence of your loving presence.  Put a new and right spirit within 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.

History Repeats Itself

Kingdom Building

July 15, 2019

Scripture Reading: Amos 8:1-12

This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. He said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’ Then the Lord said to me,
‘The end has come upon my people Israel;
   I will never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings on that day,’
says the Lord God;
‘the dead bodies shall be many,
   cast out in every place. Be silent!’
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
   and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, ‘When will the new moon be over
   so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
   so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
   and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
   and the needy for a pair of sandals,
   and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’ –Amos 8:1-6

I find it difficult to read the prophets of the Hebrew Bible these days because reviewing them makes me wonder if we ever learn from history. Greed and lust for power was the undoing of Israel even while prophets like Amos predicted well the consequences of the Israelites behavior.  We have the insight of the finished picture, exile and later the return to their ruined temple and lands, and still we do not take heed of our similar behavior.

We can blame our difficulties on elected officials and there is plenty of blame to go around whether bluster or inertia. The simple truth is we elected them, and they are a mirror image of our greed and desire for power. Of course, many of us do not see the problem in the inequities that grow in our land. Our stock investments are growing well, like summer fruit.  We chose not to see the people working at more them one job to survive on inadequate wages, who may be able to afford rent or medicine but not both. We tsk, tsk about drug companies charging exorbitant prices for medicine like insulin but that is about as far as it goes unless it is us or one of our loved ones who will die without a drug that is basically the same today as it was a hundred years ago. Amos reports that the Israelites of his day were so impatient to make more money they wished for the sabbath to end so they could get back to the important thing in their lives–making money. While our stock market is closed over the weekend in a world economy, we can find some place to wheel and deal at any time or day of the week.

I guess my difficulty in reading the prophets results from feeling so helpless to do anything about what is wrong in our world. Truth is I am helpless, but I love a God who is not. A God who has a proven record dealing with evil, a God who can empower me and you to deal with evil when we are ready to follow God’s lead.

Prayer: Lord, forgive me when greed and lust for power or other forms of idolatry overcome me. Strengthen me to live your love and do your justice on this great planet you created. 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.

Who is our Neighbor?

Kingdom Building

July 14, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 10:25-37

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ –Luke 10:29-37

The lawyer seems to see his faith as a business deal. Rather than treat everyone as his neighbor, he wants to know the minimum requirement. “Tell me exactly who I must love as I love myself so I can have eternal life.” Jesus essentially answers the question with a story that asks, “Who is not your neighbor?”

For a few years a major dispute has been continuing in a neighboring city about converting a golf course into a place for more needed housing. Now I understand that avid golfers might want to live close to a club and would miss it when it is gone. I even understand that living next to a good golf course might increase the value of property. That said, are the people in need of housing our neighbors and are we responsible for assuring that they have affordable, accessible housing available? Probably the more important question is “Do I want to live across the street from housing that is classified as equal opportunity?”

What we do not recognize is the fact that if we loved our neighbors as we loved ourselves the value of our property would not be impacted by whoever moves in next door.

Prayer: Lord, help us understand that our values are constructs of our making and that it is our values and not yours that we are applying when we esteem our worth greater than any other persons worth. Forgive us and show us the way to place your values first in 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. Most of us would have no problem being kind to our neighbors because we choose to live in neighborhoods made up of people who look and live a lot like we do.

The Greater Good

Kingdom Building

July 13, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ –Luke 10:25-28

While I am no expert on the Hebrew Bible, my impression is that eternal life is not its primary focus. One source I looked at states Most Jewish ideas about the afterlife developed in post-biblical times*. The Hebrew bible plays with the idea of what happens after death, talks about the resurrection of the dead, leaves us guessing what happened to Moses, and describes Elijah being taken away into the heavens. In the NRSV translation the words eternal life occurs outside the New Testament only once at 4 Maccabees 15:3. There are 44 references in the New Testament. Is this the test the lawyer is presenting to Jesus?  Is he challenging Jesus to justify his teachings regarding eternal life? I also wonder about his use of the word inherit. If something is given by divine decision can it be earned by doing anything? Is an inheritance from God given by grace? Finally, the lawyers answer to Jesus when asked ‘What is written in the law? essentiallyquotes Jesus’ answer to the question which are the greatest of the laws as recorded in Matthew 22:36-40. It would be a whale of a coincidence if the lawyer independently drew together Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:9-18 as Jesus did in describing the greatest laws.

The conundrum here is that the lawyer seems to be concerned about self-preservation while Jesus is concerned about how we are relating one to the other. All four gospels quote Jesus as saying something to the effect that Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it**.

We live in a culture, world, where decisions are made most days based on what is in it for me? We follow a Savior who prescribes a way of being that demands we consider what is good for all.  

Prayer: Lord, help us short out the parts of our thinking that limits us to self-service and short in the part of our thinking that opens wide the whole world to the wonders of your love. Amen.

*https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/life-after-death/
**See Matthew 10:39, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, John 12:25

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.

Forgiveness

Kingdom Building

July 12, 2019

Scripture Reading: Colossians 1:1-14

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. –Colossians 1:9-14

The Greek word, hamartia*, translated sin above basically means missing the mark or failure. It is the brand of sin that emphasizes its self-originated (self-empowered) nature – i.e. it is not originated or empowered by God. Most humans do not like to fail and often experience shame when they fail. Shame can lead to giving up.

Using terms like missing the mark or failure implies that we are trying to reach some goal. This definition of sin demands an objective, demands that we have identified behaviors we want to change. Loving God and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves are goals which we are agreeing to pursue actively with intentionality. Learning from our mistakes is key to our learning to love like God. God enables that through God’s forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness of sins in a very real sense is a freeing from the bondage of shame and any other self-deprecating response we may have to missing the mark.  It is not that God is saying our failure is no big deal. It is God’s recognition that missing the mark/failure is a great learning tool when we can get passed our embarrassment or our loss of self-worth if we do not measure up to our own expectations or societies. Think how many times infants fall before they walk. Think how many three pointers a basketball player misses in practice before he or she figures out the best form needed to hit a shot. Think about how many attempts it takes to love someone who may not know what love is. God’s forgiveness allows us to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and try again.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for forgiving us of our sins. Help us invest ourselves in learning from all our failures. Amen.                                                                                                               

*https://biblehub.com/greek/266.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.

Bearing Fruit

Kingdom Building

July 11, 2019

Scripture Reading: Colossians 1:1-14

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit. –Colossian 1:3-8

Kingdom building is all about bearing fruit. Someone prepares the ground, someone plants, someone weeds and waters, and someone harvests. The cycle then repeats itself from one generation to another. One of my nieces recently bought a home and has recently discovered what she got as fruit trees in her backyard began to produce abundantly. She is now the nurturer and the harvester for the work of those who went before her. Although she grew up on a farm she did not have much experience with fruit trees and thus her first act was to contact the Home Demonstration services to learn how to care for those trees.

This same type cycle exists for growing the Kingdom of God. Our ancestors in faith plowed and planted and we now are called to grow and nurture. That requires us to seek all the knowledge we can to guide us on out way. It also requires us to maintain well our contact with the Source of the seeds which is Love.

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. — John 15:4-5, 7, 16

Prayer: Lord, help us together grow abundant quality fruits of your Spirit. 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.

Faith Maturing

Kingdom Building

July 10, 2019

Scripture Reading: Psalm 82

God has taken his place in the divine council;
   in the midst of the gods he holds judgement:
‘How long will you judge unjustly
   and show partiality to the wicked?
          Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
   maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;   deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’ –Psalm 82:1-4

I am known for saying that my mother was a true egalitarian—no one person is greater than another- and that shaped my life. I had to eventually decide whether I agreed with that viewpoint or not. I do.

I was called on once to give expert testimony in court regarding a 13-year-old being tried for auto theft where the prosecution wanted to process him as an adult. The question put to me was did he know right from wrong. His father was a notorious car thief having spent time in prison for grand theft auto. My answer was no he did not know the difference, he was following in the family business. Part of becoming an adult is learning the difference between right and wrong and incorporating God’s rightness into our lives. I do not know if the 13-year-old’s days in juvenile detention helped him learn the difference between right and wrong or not.

In the same manner we grow in faith maturity as we ferret out the things that are of God and those that are not. It really does not matter what the world thinks or what others think or what we might have learned in childhood, God is who ultimately judges our judgement.

God calls us to do justice and whatever we may have learned in the past to make exceptions to that we must purge from our lives as we strive to answer that call.

Prayer: Lord, it is a great challenge for those of us who have lived in privilege to see the parts of our lives that may not be in sync with your righteousness. Open our hearts and minds to identify anything in our lives that is limiting any other person from being treated justly. 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.

Consequences

Kingdom Building

July 9, 2019

Scripture Reading: Amos 7:7-17

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,
“Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
   and Israel must go into exile
   away from his land.” ’

And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’ –Amos 7:10-13

The primary thing we learn from all prophets is what we sow we will reap. This scripture follows Amos’ discussion of God’s plumb line, the guideline by which we are to live. The Israelites clearly were not following the plumb line and God sent Amos to tell them that. He is telling them the natural conclusions of bad practices. Prophesy is essentially religious instruction, with occasional predictions* of outcomes.

Greed is most often the sand in which humans bury their heads to avoid facing the real results of their behavior. Greed is often accompanied by lust for power. We in the USA are caught in the web of both and like Amos’ Israel if we do not pull our heads out of that sand and see the harm we are doing, we will face the consequences.

I am so tired of hearing what a great economy we have. For whom I must ask?

A full 43 percent of Californian voters, and an astounding 61 percent of those aged 18 to 34, feel they can’t afford to live in the state, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. And over three-quarters of voters agree that there’s a “housing crisis**.”

The U.S. economy is enjoying nearly a decade of expansion since the Great Recession. Yet food insecurity — a lack of money or resources to secure enough to eat — still grips almost one in eight Americans. That’s roughly 40 million people. While slowly improving, that figure remains stubbornly higher than before the recession, when more than one in 10 U.S. residents had difficulty knowing when and how they might eat next, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Until all have enough to eat, a place to live, affordable and accessible health care, and adequate education to maintain self-support and self-sufficiency, we will not have a good economy much less a great one.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for our greed and lust for power. Help us to find the plumb line to follow that assures all will have enough. Amen.

*https://biblehub.com/hebrew/5012.htm.
**https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/08/43-percent-of-california-residents-say-they-cant-afford-to-live-there.html

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.

Discerning Plumb Lives for Living

Kingdom Building

July 8, 2019

Scripture Reading: Amos 7:7-17

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb-line.’ Then the Lord said,
‘See, I am setting a plumb-line
   in the midst of my people Israel;
   I will never again pass them by;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
   and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
   and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’ Amos 7:7-9

I cannot say I have a favorite scripture; I have favorite scriptures for specific issues. This scripture from Amos is probably my favorite scripture regarding guidance for living. I think of a plumb line as a vertical level. A plumb line establishes a straight edge by which a builder can set bricks or stones or wood planks even to make sure they are in line one with the other. That is significant because well aligned building materials are stronger and more able to withstand violent forces like the weather or invading armies.  I read a book* recently that said Rome fell from power primarily because it was not able to withstand the earthquakes and disease that besieged it even though, Rome by most accounts, had the strongest army in the world. That is certainly a lesson from which the USA might learn.

We know a lot about ways of being that are good for us as individuals and better for our society, but we do a haphazard job of following them to our detriment. For example, Oklahoma is a major oil producing state which undergirds our economy. In Oklahoma, which has the most induced earthquakes in US, only 1-2% of the earthquakes can be linked to hydraulic fracturing. Disposal of waste fluids that are a byproduct of oil production is the primary cause of the recent increase in earthquakes in the central United States**. It took a while for officials to accept this as fact but once they did regulations were changed to address the problem. The chart above shows the results. We made corrections based on a plumb line. Of course, that does not solve all the issues related to dependence on fossil fuels, but it is a beginning to address one. What may come as a surprise to some is that Oklahoma has ranked in the top four states in producing wind energy for the last ten years***. I guess Rogers and Hammerstein were right the wind does come sweeping down the plains.

The thing about plumb lines is new ones are needed from time to time as societies change. I think some stand the test of time like the Ten Commandments. Jesus identified two plumb lines, loving God and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-4), as ones overriding all others. We need to prayerfully discern our plumb lines and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit use them wisely.

Prayer: Lord, grant us wisdom to objectively identify plumb lines of living and guide us in adjusting to them. Amen.

*The Fate of Rome by Kyle Harper
**https://earthquake.usgs.gov/research/induced/myths.php
***https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_Oklahoma

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.