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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.

Loving on Auto Pilot

Living in the Spirit
July 12, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:105-112

Your word is a lamp to my feet
   and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
   to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted;
   give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
   and teach me your ordinances. –Psalm 119:105-108

I wonder how many times I have sung Psalm 119:105 the first sentence of the quote above. The truth is I can no longer read it without the tune popping into my head moving the prose to song. Actually, the first word from the NRSV, “Your” causes me some confusion. I sing it, “Thy word” the way I originally learned it. I probably sang it before I could read it.

Learning to live like Jesus was an important part of my upbringing years before the phrase, “What would Jesus Do?” became popular, although that phrase applied then as it does now. I am glad I have these reminders of how I am to live forever etched in my memory banks for they have stood the test of time and are very helpful when life situations require us to respond from automatic pilot mode.

The Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City started an entrepreneurial program for their participants. They sell a magazine on the streets, which some help write. The first set they sell is subsidized, but they must buy the next set with those first dollars earned and learn to handle the profit they make as income after reinvestment for the next set. It is a teaching tool as much as a source of income. It is also a teaching tool for those of us who purchase the magazines as we learn about the struggles of those on the street. My problem is I never have the two dollars ready when I encounter them at the intersections and thus can not get my purchase made before the light changes. The answer, of course, is to keep two dollars within arms reach. Like those scriptures we learn throughout our life, our application of them needs to become a way of life too.

Prayer:  Lord, help my service to you become a natural way of being for me. Amen.

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

Living in the Spirit
June 29, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 6:12-23

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. –Romans 6:12-14

Civility starts with me. We choose whether we get caught up in the improprieties of our society even in the heat of the moment. I find myself ignoring articles that not only express a different way of thinking from mine but are peppered with words that denigrated people, like me, who share my opinions. I must say regarding any materials; I am disappointed when I see offensive labeling and descriptors that shed no light on the subject under discussion but disparaged those with a different viewpoint. Personal attacks deliver the message that the speaker does not have evidence to support his or her ideas. I now filter out material with which I probably agree, if the author feels it necessary to destroy the source rather than address the content.

Paul speaks to this issue in our scripture today. We are responsible for self-examining our hearts and minds so that we do not get caught in the hurtful and non-productive ways of the world that reduce our ability to be good disciples of Christ, following his way.

Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. –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.

We Have a Savior

Living in the Spirit
June 27, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1-14

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’ –Genesis 22:9-14

‘The Lord will provide.’ The Lord did provide the earth and all that is in it, our very lives, and knowledge and talents to use the resources wisely if we so choose. Some believed over the centuries that after creation God stepped back to observe how we humans handle such gifts. Abraham, I think, felt a partnership with God and  from the beginning, sought and received God’s guidance through all of his life as did Moses, David, and the prophets. Jesus introduced a more particular understanding of God with us. Jesus’ followers seek to fulfill the vision of a Kingdom, the world, ruled by love, as a calling to be a part of his purpose.

‘The Lord will provide.’ Abraham speaks in the future tense. Was this event the point at which Abraham realized that the Lord’s provision is eternal? I must say in times like these when the world teems with fear and hate and divisiveness; we need a touch of such faith. We need the provision of hope when our personal and communal resources feel stretched to the breaking point. We need a Savior. Thank God, almighty, we have one.

Prayer: We thank you God for the gift of Jesus Christ who dwelt among us and dwells with us today and forever. 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.

Journey of Faith

Living in the Spirit
June 26, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1-14

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together. –Genesis 22:1-8

Several years ago, I toured Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Virginia. One of the things I saw was his Bible from which he had extracted all the parts with which he did not agree or like. I do not recall how he treated the above scripture, but if I were to edit a Bible, it would be one scripture I would leave out. I, however, do not see that as an option so I must deal with it. I have read several viewpoints and heard a fair number of sermons on Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. One I recall suggested that God’s stopping Abraham from committing the act was the example that leads to ending child sacrifice prevalent in ancient times. Others build on Abraham’s passing God’s test, while some are sure that God does not put people to such tests.

As a former child welfare worker who encountered a parent who held her toddler’s legs and feet in boiling water to make her mind causing permanent damage and another parent who drown her child trying to wash the devil out of her, I have visceral, preconceived opinions related to such stories. Most related to mental health issues for which our society is not well prepared and does not seem to have the willingness to address.

That said, here is my take: Faith for most is a journey with low valleys and straight plains and high mountains. Our relationship with the Holy on that journey increases our ability to love one another, not only our neighbors but our parents, children, and spouses. Sometimes we have to prove our faith to ourselves. Sometimes we do have to change cultural norms. I take great hope in Abraham’s from the beginning having faith that ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’

Prayer: Lord, we live in a complex world filled with pain and suffering. Help us create a society where our love commingled with your love enables wholeness. 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.

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.

Relationships

Living in the Spirit
June 8, 2017

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Paul was not acquainted with “Yours truly” or “Sincerely.” He ended his letters with extended admonishments and blessings. General in nature, his closings are good for most of us at any time. I particularly like his phrase Put things in order. A lot of our problems today result from us blowing things out of proportion. How much time do we spend trying to soothe ruffled feathers because we may not have communicated something well? How often do we ignore a small sore point letting it fester until it becomes a major issue? Barney Fife put it well; we need to nip those things in the bud.

I concur that we need to work on finding agreement with one another, and sometimes I think it is important we learn to agree to disagree deciding to work together on things about which we do agree. We certainly need to live in peace with one another.

When we do disagree or are even angry with another, we need to practice the art of praying for them and our relationship with them. Inviting God into any relationship eventually, brings healing and wholeness even when it may result in a parting of ways. Paul’s closing prayer is a good model to follow.

Prayer: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

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.

Dominion

Living in the Spirit
June 5, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:4a

So God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. –Genesis 1:27-31

Growing up on a farm, I inherited a certain reverence for the land. It was the source of our livelihood. We all farmed: father, mother, and children. I was in charge of chickens and helped to milk cows. I traded working in the garden for housework every chance I got. My dad also was an oil well pumper running the machines that extracted oil from the earth. I laughed when I heard someone on the news recently complaining about the noise wind turbines make as a reason to discontinue building wind farms. Most nights as I child I went to sleep to the pumping of oil wells.

My dad grew up fast in the midst of the depression. His father died when my dad was ten in 1928. The wall street crash and the dust bowl followed shortly after that. Tough times led to learning better land conservation measures.  Rows of trees planted during those years still appear along the way while driving across the prairie. Recycling was a way of life as every tobacco can was used for such things as closing off mouse holes and feed sacks were the primary fabric for dresses. When the dresses wore out, salvageable sections were used to make quilt blocks. My mom used to drive me crazy washing the paper plates and plastic utensils I purchased for my Christmas dinner specifically to keep from having to wash dishes. If I said anything, she would just answer, “these can be used again” and kept washing.

When did our culture decide the ability to waste things was a sign of progress? Did we have to suffer the consequences of losing the best top soil in the Dust Bowl, before we learned how to take care of our farmland? What are we missing now that will come back to bite us hard in the future? What is our responsibility in the world we have today regarding our assigned role of having dominion over the earth?

Prayer: Lord, help us conserve your world for future generations. Forgive us when we bask in waste at the expense of nature. 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.

Spiritual Gifts

Eastertide
June 1, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3-13

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. –1 Corinthians 12:4-11

Similar to the fact that many of us do not know what to make of the Holy Spirit, we are also confused about the gifts of the Spirit. Some flaunt their gifts, “I am the world’s greatest athlete, movie star, doctor, lawyer, mother, dad, truck driver, or whatever.” Some hide them under a basket*. I like Russell Westbrook’s approach. I know of no one who questions his gifts, and his goals are personally to get better every day and to help each of his team members improve. Personal accolades do not mean as much to him as team wins. These are good aspirations for the whole Body of Christ.

Do you know what your gifts are? Books and other tools exist to help us identify our gifts. While they are helpful, learning to know ourselves is just as important. I think seeking justice is in my DNA, but I was surely also influenced by my egalitarian mother. Anymore, I exercise that gift using a keyboard rather than my feet and posters because I now accept that I am more an introvert than extrovert and I have bad knees.

It is important that we take the time to identify what brings us joy or any of the other fruit of the Spirit. The fruit or produce of the Spirit as spelled out in Galatians 5:22-23 is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Backtracking from an experience of joy, for example, you may be surprised to find its source. Most likely it stems from one of your gifts. I am talking true joy, and it most likely occurs after a lot of hard work and perhaps meeting many challenges. I felt it when I heard the Governor of Oklahoma had vetoed an onerous bill designed to increase the interest rate on payday loans in our state.

Prayer: Lord, help us to trace our gifts and to hone our crafts together with all our fellow members of your Body engaged in the world today. Amen.

*See Matthew 5:15

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.

Breath, Wind, Spirit

Eastertide
May 29, 2017

Scripture Reading: Numbers 11:24-30

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. –Numbers 11:24-25

The Hebrew word for spirit is ruach, which is used interchangeably for breath and wind. In Biblical literature, the Spirit of God is as ancient as the creation stories. The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.(Genesis 2:1). We should not be surprised to find it in the book of Numbers. The mysteries of the nature of God abides with us always.

I fear we Christians may limit the beginning of the history of the Spirit of God to Pentecost or the book of John’s report of Jesus breathing the Spirit on the disciples after the resurrection. The book of Hebrews (13:8) proclaims Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Surely this description includes the Spirit.

What does the foreverness of the Spirit mean to us today? What does a relationship with the Spirt mean? I write this to a symphony of wind gales in the background the aftermath of damaging winds and tornados that ravaged the Plains about 100 miles west of my home last night. Many homes were destroyed, people were injured, and one man was killed. We do not take wind lightly in Oklahoma. We should not take the Spirit of God lightly either. A power able to form the earth from chaos can shape us into a powerful Body carrying out the work of Christ in the world today. Let it be so.

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, move among us making us each whole, together one, and advocates for your justice. 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.