Author Archives: WOJ@deborahsdescendants.com

Spiritual Weeding

Living in the Spirit
July 22, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ –Matthew 13:24-30

One thing learned from gardening; it is a continuous process: preparing the soil; planting the seeds; watering, if needed; protecting plants from bad bugs and encouraging good insects; weeding; keeping critters from eating the plants or their produce, and harvesting. One cycle ends the next begins. All the things designed to get good plants produce a wealth of weeds.

Weeds need removing when they are small. Left to develop, weeds rob plants of vital nurture including water. If weeds are allowed to grow, their roots become entwined with plant roots. Their removal most likely results in killing the plants as described in our scripture today. Much like the garden with plants and weeds, we live in a world of both good and evil. We are free to choose which path we take. We pay the consequences or reap the rewards of our choices.

Individual choices are important, but what responsibility, if any, do we have regarding the negative impact evil inflicts on others? It seems that creating a world where evil is plucked early in development would not only benefit each of us individually but also all of us together. Evil rarely, solely resides in an individual. Evil’s continuing existence is as dependent on transmission to others as is Love’s.

Failed education systems are pipelines to prison, and our prison systems tend to turn out harder core criminals rather than people restored to wholeness. Our outlandishly expensive health care system makes some rich but limits the availability of affordable, accessible care. Those who cannot afford it often wait to seek help until it is too late and much more costly. We pay a heavy price for our greed as we reap its consequences.

Prayer: Lord, instruct us in the way we should go. 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.

Riding Out the Storm

Living in the Spirit
July 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:12-25

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
–Romans 8:18-25

Christ’s calls us to make a positive difference in our world today. While we study to learn from the past and prepare for the future, our focus is on the here and now. A wise and experienced person once told me that it takes at least ten years of persistent hard work to initiate a new government program. For example, in the USA we have worked since the 1960’s on health care for all. The more complex the issue, the harder it is to make change. The wise person likened it to turning a giant ship around in a turbulent ocean and taking it in a different direction straight into the storm. In a similar thought, the scripture above speaks to Paul’s experiences at the beginning of the Christian era in the process of initiating the Kingdom of God following Christ’s resurrection.

Humans seek every way possible to have the abundant life Jesus promised without following God’s path to attain it. In so doing, we turn to lower tier gods such as greed and power and never experience satisfaction. Greed and power demand more and more greed and power and always end in a futile waste of energy.

God created an interdependent world, which requires all to participate fully sharing and caring for resources so that all God’s creation works together in love. Love always begets more love.

Prayer: Spirit of God, shine a bright light on the path to wholeness, oneness, and justice that we may one day see your Kingdom of love ruling our world. Grant us the gift of patience in large measure when we enter troubled waters on this journey. 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.

Fear Not

Living in the Spirit
July 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you. –Psalm 139:7-12

We should each take great comfort in this scripture. The Spirit of God is with us even when our attention may be elsewhere. Why then is everyone so afraid? If people are not afraid then why is there so much discontent around, even violence? Are we, the people of God, not doing enough in sharing the good news of God’s abiding love with those who either were never introduced to God or are disengaged from God, perhaps because their introduction missed the mark? Do we live lives of substance exemplifying God’s love in all that we do and say? Are we doing more harm than good for God when what people see of us in not love in focus?

We are human; we each make mistakes which we must rectify in the best way possible.  We need to be very sure that how we live and what we say is of God. Does what we do and say align with what Jesus would do or say.  God forgives when we seek God’s forgiveness. We also need to forgive.  With all the vitriol in our world today, it is easy to get caught in the crossfires. As children of God, we must put our trust in God and not in the principalities and powers of the world. Evaluating what we read and hear by whether Jesus would author or say it also might be a good practice to adopt.

We must accept the world just as it is and do all we can as the Body of Christ to make this fragmented world whole through the Love of God, the power of the Living Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Calm our fears, O God, let your peace be in us and radiate from us to others. 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.

Abide with Me

Living in the Spirit
July 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. –Genesis 28:16-19a

Of course, God by nature is with us all the time; we are the ones who lose sight of God’s abiding presence. God surely desires our company on a regular basis, not just when something bad happens, we find ourself in trouble, or even when we are celebrating. I am a strong proponent of preventive health care. Eating right, exercising, getting adequate sleep, keeping my vaccinations current, and getting recommended tests and check ups. Can’t say I always practice what I preach regarding preventive health, but I do work at it. Continuously working at being at-one with God is preventive care for our souls.

There are numerous books describing spiritual disciplines that can help facilitate relationship growth with God. My favorite is Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. The most important lessons I have learned over time is that there are as many ways of communing with God as there are people on the earth. We certainly can learn from each other, but we must search out the ones that are most meaningful to us. We benefit from attempting practices that are outside our comfort zones ways that are most meaningful to us. Journaling is oft recommended as a spiritual discipline. I love to write but when I tried journaling, what I wrote grew more and more morose. Putting my thoughts in writing in response to daily scripture reading has had the opposite impact. It helps me see myself more clearly and envision ways I can better serve God.

Another recommendation I discovered once was reading scripture, picking a character in the scripture, and putting myself in that character’s place imagining how I would react in the same circumstance. I must confess, I thought this was a somewhat bizarre idea, but when I tried it, I found it to be a most meaningful experience. What did it feel like to be in Mary Magdelene’s place when she encountered Jesus alive at the tomb?

The older I get, the more comfort I take from inviting the presence of God to just rest with me for a while, I am learning what the song Abide with Me teaches.

Prayer:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me. 

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

 I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me *. Amen

*First three verses of Abide with Me by Henry F. Lyte see at http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Abide_with_Me/

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.

Being a Blessing

Living in the Spirit
July 18, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ –Genesis 28:10-15

Jacobs is running away from the wrath of his brother Esau after he and his mother tricked his brother out of his birthright. Esau and perhaps his father, Isaac, were not happy. Facing the consequences of our actions is one of the hardest things we will ever do. The murky stuff is always the most difficult to discern. Was it fair that the oldest son gets the lion’s share of his father’s wealth? This common Biblical practice did not survive in the USA. Was it right that a mother helps one son cheat another? There is much to unpack in this story. There was much running through Jacob’s mind as he settled down to sleep apparently a safe distance from danger.

God is faithful to God’s children. The Lord came to Jacob in a dream and renewed his hope. The saving grace of God seems to always come with the admonishment to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. We skip over that part sometimes. Jesus put it this way in Luke 12:48,

 But one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Prayer: God of Justice and Mercy, thank you for loving us enough to forgive us. Show us the way to care for and nourish others on our faith journey. 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 Great Physician

Living in the Spirit
July 17, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’ –Matthew 13:18-23

It is amazing how many times I can read a scripture and suddenly see something new. Scripture opens to us when we most need it. I think that is particularly true as we pass through the differing ages and stages of life but it is also true in relation to what is happening in our world at a given time. The phrase that caught my attention today is the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart. Recently, I became disheartened by the mean spirited comments made about providing health care for all. A friend just quoted back to me something I said in the past and still believe today, “ Americans for all their short-sightedness, really do not want their city streets marred by sick and dying people begging for help.” Comments I am hearing and reading seem to indicate that I am wrong.

I believe that access to affordable basic health care is a right, not a privilege, which places health care in the Common Good category. We are all better off for many reasons when our society is healthy. I support Medicare for all as the best and most cost effective way of meeting this need.  For those who want a higher level of care and can afford it, supplemental insurance is available.

Health care policy notwithstanding, what is wrong with us, if we can so easily say, get a job if you want health care when the vast majority of non-disabled adults do work and when the health care they need may cost more than they make. I have also heard dying is more cost effective for some cancer patients and some disabled. Jesus healed the sick and commanded us to care for them also. It is a heart thing, and we need to understand that things of the heart must be protected from evil. There is an old song my mother used to sing; we might want to think on it now and then:

The great Physician now is near,
The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer,
Oh, hear the voice of Jesus.

Refrain:
Sweetest note in seraph song,
Sweetest name on mortal tongue;
Sweetest carol ever sung,
Jesus, blessed Jesus*.

Prayer: Lord, grant us the gift of shared responsibility for the care of our loved ones, the loved ones of others, and particularly for those who seem to have no one who loves them. Amen.

*First verse and refrain of The Great Physician by William Hunter see at http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/The_Great_Physician/

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.

There is no Such Thing as Acidic Love

Living in the Spirit
July 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’ –Matthew 13:1-9

I grew up on a farm and hated working in the garden. I did develop a great appreciation of fresh vegetables which remains. When I bought my house in Oklahoma City and transitioned from apartment living to a home with a yard, I decided to plant just a few things primarily tomatoes. My plants grew strong and well flowered. Soon little green tomatoes appeared that grew bigger as they turn red. It was with great expectations that I plucked the first fruit of my endeavor, washed it and took a big juicy bite from it, only to spit it out as quickly as I could. The tomato was so acidic; it burned my mouth. It seemed my soil’s pH* balance was not conducive to producing quality tomatoes. Thus, my gardening adventure ended, and I located the closest farmers’ market.

Our scripture today is often used to describe what results when bringing in new followers of Christ, but it also may draw our attention to the ongoing process of being the Body of Christ engaged in the world today. We all have experienced such things as the observation that 20% of the workers produce 80% of the result**. Something more seems to be going on in our world today. There is too much acid in our quest to love. Hate speech is common and hurtful. Outright discrimination exists. Groups of people find it harder and harder to conduct civil discourse. Those of us who claim to be the Body of Christ are some of the worst perpetrators. If we do not set a good example, who will?

The balance of love comes from its very source, God. Our love is the outward projection of our being in sync with God’s love.

Prayer: God of Mercy and Justice, forgive us when we slip away from your nurture. Restore our souls so that our love reflects Yours. Amen.

*Soil pH is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity in soils.

**Known as the Pareto Principle, it is the observation (not law) that most things in life are not distributed evenly. See more at https://betterexplained.com/articles/understanding-the-pareto-principle-the-8020-rule/

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.

Flesh to Spirit

Living in the Spirit
July 15, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:1-11

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. –Romans 8:9-11

Congressman John Lewis in his Note to Self* for CBS News, said to his younger self following a violent police response to a peaceful sit-in: “You got arrested the first time, and you felt so free. You felt liberated. You felt like you had crossed over,” he added. While he was still physically alive, he made the move from the flesh to the Spirit. Most of us dwell on the cusp of the Spirit, having never faced such a decisive threat to freedom, even life itself. Jesus Christ calls each of us to cross-over to the Spirit-driven life as we work for the actualization of the Kingdom of God.

While it may seem a paradox, it is harder at times for those of us who live in relative privilege and safety to answer Christ’s call to give up the flesh and become Spirit-led. What was it Jesus said in Matthew 19:24? Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’  We are cutting ourselves short. We too can know the liberating facet of God’s love when we see past our privilege and open our hearts to love all our neighbors. When we have a world where everyone has enough and is enabled to become fully the persons God created them to be, the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Prayer:
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me**. Amen.

*http://www.cbsnews.com/news/note-to-self-congressman-john-lewis-civil-rights-leader/

**Spirit of the Living God by Michael Hawn see at https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-spirit-of-the-living-god

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.

A Tapestry of Love

Living in the Spirit
July 14, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.                                                                                                                                                  –Romans 8:1-5

What does it mean to be in Christ Jesus? I think to explore this question; we must delve into why God sent Jesus in the first place.  Was Jesus sent for humans to interact more closely with God? Was Jesus sent as a model of humanness demonstrating our potential to create a world ruled by love? Was he sent to lay out a plan to attain such a world, if we learned to work together and share our diverse gifts becoming one? Paul talks about being a part of the Body of Christ. Is this what it means to be in Christ Jesus?

What is freeing about being in Christ Jesus? Having purpose is freeing. Knowing what we are and whose we are give us the courage to pursue the vision set before us without fear and with the full assurance that we have our Creator’s support. Living free of condemnation opens doors to exploration and development. A life filled with learning from our mistakes as well as our successes is crucial for progress.

Two thousand years ago Jesus charged us with feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, restoring people to wholeness in both health and behavior, and welcoming the stranger. God’s Kingdom when fulfilled is a place of abundance where all have food and clothing, all experience wholeness, and all are welcomed. We have come a long way; we have a long way to go. We are promised the freedom to make such a world as we work together as one toward God’s righteousness.

Prayer:
Weave, weave, weave us together.
Weave us together in unity and love.
Weave, weave, weave us together.
Weave us together, together in love*. Amen.

*Weave by Rosemary Crow, 1979, Chalice Hymnal page 495, Copyright Chalice Press 1995, St. Louis, Missouri

Our Lives are in Our Hands

Living in the Spirit
July 13, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:105-112

I hold my life in my hand continually,
   but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
   but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your decrees are my heritage forever;
   they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes
   forever, to the end. –Psalm 119:109-112

Our lives are in our hands; sometimes we do not like to admit it but we have been given free will. We choose how we respond to life’s challenges whether caused by the wicked or the result of our own mistakes or perhaps because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We do need to learn from being on the losing end of other’s greed and lust for power and from our mistakes and even learn when possible to avoid wrong places.

There is a lot of greed and lust for power going around right now. Both ebb and flow but are always present in one form or another. Our response must involve not allowing those sins to catch us in their snares. How envious are we of those with wealth and power? Do we assume they know more than we do because of their status? They do not. My Dad would say, “They put their pants on just like we do, one leg at a time.” Some know more some less because they are human just like the rest of us. Some use their wealth and power for good; others squander it as in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Jesus warned us about money when he said, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Prayer: Lord, order our lives and guide us in your ways so that we may be filled with the joy of living your love. 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.