Category Archives: Uncategorized

Loving the God in Others

Christmas
December 27, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
   praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
   praise him, all his host! 

Praise him, sun and moon;
   praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
   and you waters above the heavens!

 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
   for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
   he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed. –Psalm 148:1-6

God created every human in God’s image. People use the Bible as their reference source to justify all kinds of bigotry and hate of others, but we can not explain away the understanding that God created every human in God’s image. When we hate or degrade any other human, we hate God. And, yes, that includes the bigots and discriminators.

How do we retrain ourselves to see the image of God in everyone and respect them for it? Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II answered that question way back in 1951 with their musical that eventually became the movie, The King and I. One of the songs, Getting to Know You, tells us all we need to know.

Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
Getting to like you
Getting to hope you like me *

First, we need to see people that we clump together as groups as individuals. Second, we must work to interact with people of different backgrounds, colors, cultures, and religions. Many of us live in places where most of the population is very similar to us. I grew up in a farming community that was as homogenous as the milk we produced and sold. My paternal grandfather’s first wife was Native American, and I thus had several aunts and uncles who were Native American. Seeing Native Americans as individuals was my normal, although later in my life  I did learn the hard way that different tribes have different cultures.

I remember the first African American I ever met. My mom was attending a college class required to get her Oklahoma teaching license. She took me with her to visit college one day and introduced me to a fellow student she had met in the class who was a rich shade of chocolate. I was six and probably stared at her, but she was gracious and said nice things to me in a moment that set the stage for my attitude about African Americans for the rest of my life.

As a child welfare worker, I had a greater challenge learning to love abusive parents. They often were abused children also. Some were mentally ill including addicts, people, most of us do not want to get to know. It is amazing the changes experiencing the love of God through others can make in even the most damaged people. Remember the story of Legion in both Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39? Jesus restored him to wholeness.

Prayer: God, of love, help us to see others as you see them. Help us to love those we at first consider unlovable. Amen

One part of the song, Getting to Know You see at https://www.google.com/search?ei=5UVBWtPZDKaN0wLh0q3IDw&q=getting+to+know+you+lyrics&oq=getting+to+know+you+lyrics&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0l8.359851.363527.0.365241.7.3.0.4.4.0.241.501.0j2j1.3.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.7.583…0i67k1j0i20i264k1.0.Ltx8VNGCbZo

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.

Love in Common

Advent
December 6, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 65:1-2, 8-13

Praise is due to you,
   O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
   O you who answer prayer!

To you all flesh shall come.
 Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy. –Psalm 65:1-2, 8

I believe that each person has a unique relationship with God and that we cluster together to serve God based on our similarities. I jokingly say, but it is true, I was born to be in a congregationally governed congregation because of my independent spirit. I have friends who are much at home in hierarchically governed churches. Some understand the Bible from a more literal sense; others glean more from its allegorical views. Is there no wonder there are more than 900 denominations? Is God not able to love each and all and to be present when any two or more gather together in God’s name (Matthew 18:20)? How else would it be possible for God to welcome all flesh that comes to God? All are called to love God and to love one another demonstrating that love can take many forms.

What about our Abrahamic relatives in faith? The Psalmist talks about all flesh coming to God not a select few. We share much good with our Jewish and Islamic cousins in faith. I was deeply disturbed by the recent release of a Twitter post of a man designated as a Muslim slamming a statue of Mary to the ground breaking it. While such an act offends Christians, it also offends Muslim. Did you know Islam venerates both Mary and Jesus? The Quran* mentions Mary more than the Bible. Whoever produced the Twitter video did not do their homework.

When all people work first toward the things upon which they can agree, we will all take a step closer to the love God envisions. When we center on our differences, our link to God suffers.

Prayer: God of Might and Miracles, make us whole, make us one. Amen.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_in_Islam

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.

Re-formation

Advent
November 28, 2017

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 64:1-9

We have all become like one who is unclean,
   and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
   and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
   or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
   and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
   we are the clay, and you are our potter;
   we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
   and do not remember iniquity forever.
   Now consider, we are all your people. –Isaiah 64:6-9

Cultural revolution is hard for everyone even the ones benefiting from the change. We no longer can tell who are the good guys and who are the bad ones. Attitudes and actions formed over centuries become the normal whether right or wrong. Change leading to justice is messy. Whether we are addressing white privilege or defining appropriate sexual behavior, we must deal with a range of emotions spilling forth on all sides. I remember reading in a book many years ago, a white man from the south described sitting on his porch as a youth with his friends and spitting balls of paper through straws at the younger black children walked by on their way home from school. I do not remember the name of the book. I do remember the author’s remorse as an adult. The youth were totally unaware of any wrongness regarding what they were doing.

Our scripture today speaks to such a time as ours occurring over 2000 years ago. Isaiah challenges the Israelites to see that their way of being was not God’s. God’s people needed remolding, a process requiring recognition of the problem, repentance, and re-formation. Isaiah prays for God not to remember iniquity forever, but we must remember enough history of our iniquities never to repeat them again.

Prayer: Lord, our souls are discontent and restless. Our minds search for answers that do not come easily, and our hearts struggle to love all your children as we are called to do in our work of building a world ruled by love. Reform us show us the better way. 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.

Finding God in the Dark

Living in the Spirit
November 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Now considering the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say ”There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. –1 Thessalonians 5:1-5

I do not feel like I am light. I sense darkness all around that I am unable to lessen. I have an emergency light that requires no batteries. A windup crank creates just enough energy to power the light for a very short time. I grow weary of cranking and re-cranking when required to rely on it, but the light always shines forth from my efforts if just for a little time. When depending on such a tool one grows more assured that darkness is not as powerful as we make it. In fact, knowing that that little light will always be there when needed, I can even take comfort in seeking God in the darkest of darkness. Why else do I close my eyes to pray? Closing my eyes shuts out the world and allows me to be alone with God. Do the principalities and powers that use darkness or opaqueness as a tool of fear not know they are enabling my relationship with God?

As a fan of The Screwtape Letter, I must assume that cosmic battles pitting darkness against light are a constant reality that ebb and flow. We, followers of Christ, struggle to maintain consistency in being the Body of Christ opening gaps in love allowing darkness to penetrate. Our one constant which we must hold to again and again is that Christ is the light of the world over which no darkness can prevail. We must keep turning the crank of service to God in love.

Prayer: Lord set our feet on the higher ground that defines our perspectives and lights the way to our service in support of your Kingdom coming. 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.

Growing with God

Living in the Spirit
November 9, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

 I do not invest a lot of time wondering what happens after death. My pat answer, when asked about my ideas about life after death, is to say that I believe I will be with God and that is all I need to know. I do strongly believe that my emphasis must be on how I can make a difference now and eternity will take care of itself. As a part of the Body of Christ, I am already with God. I do not see eternity as a reward of some kind so much as a continuation of a long-held relationship under different circumstance. The building of that relationship every day is key. I love the hymn Are Ye Able that describes this growth with God.

“Are ye able,” said the Master,
“to be crucified with me?”
“Yea,” the sturdy dreamers answered,
“to the death we follow thee.”


Refrain:
Lord, we are able. Our spirits are thine.
Remold them, make us, like thee, divine.
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
a beacon to God, to love, and lo*

 Prayer: Lord, grow us as people who catch your dream and strive to make it real for all your children so that one day your Kingdom comes and your will is done. Amen.

 *First verse and chorus of Are Ye Able word by Earl Marlett see at http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh530.sht

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.

Intercessory Pray

Living in the Spirit
October 23, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 33:12-23

Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.” Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’ –Exodus 33:12-16

My Bible labels our scripture today as Moses’ Intercession, his prayer for his people. We have a service of intercessory pray each Sunday accompanying the pastor’s prayer where participants are invited to call out the name or names of persons or situations in need of prayer. These are usually brief with no detail, Bill, The Smith Family, those recovering from the hurricane. They are always heartfelt and thus important. After each name or situation is named the congregation responds, “Here our prayer O, Lord,” a community of faith joining together to asked God’s presence in the lives of others. Intercessory prayer is at least as old as the time of Moses while being just as relevant today. God already knows the detail of the need for prayer; we just want to join our prayers together to build the synergy of love that is needed to heal an individual, a family, community, or the world.

The interesting thing about intercessory prayer is that just by naming the ones in need we commit to working harder to bring into fulfillment the type of community and world God envisions for us. It is when we turn our eyes away from God and from our neighbors’ needs that paths open for evil to intervene.

Prayer: Here our prayers O, Lord and in the process of sharing in prayer open our hearts and minds to your service. 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.

It is a Small World

Living in the Spirit
August 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 15:10-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly. –Matthew 15:28

Is this an instance of Jesus’ modeling for us that all people are God’s children? Is he demonstrating the human ability to broaden our worldview even when our life experience is limited to a very small area? Except for his trip as a baby to Egypt, Jesus never traveled further than a hundred miles from his home. Visitors traveling through his land exposed him to other cultures, the Canaanite woman for example. He certainly got a taste of the Roman culture. My experience as a child was limited to central Oklahoma with an occasional trip to Springdale, Arkansas, my mother’s home. I am an avid reader, so I visited many cultures in books and TV exposed me to other ways of being.

My first trip to Europe was with my church choir where we toured and sang our way through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In a tiny village in Switzerland, early one morning I saw a small chapel up on the side of a hill that intrigued me. Hiking to the chapel, I peeked through the door and saw a local woman praying. I waited outside for her to finish. She was somewhat startled when she came out encountering me gazing off over her lovely little home town. She asked if I spoke her language and I nodded my head no. She nodded back shrugging her shoulders to indicate she did not speak mine and started down the hill when she stopped turned back and gave me a big hug. I hugged her back, and she continued down the hill as I entered the chapel. Two children of God had surpassed language barriers to share God’s love.

Our world grew a lot smaller since my childhood. We know in a ping on our phones when a hurricane strikes thousands of miles away or when a public figure speaks inappropriately. Is our world becoming more loving as it opens to more scrutiny? Our primary purpose as followers of Christ is to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In fulfilling that calling, we set an example for others as Jesus set an example for us. Everyone is now our neighbor in this communication revolution. God’s vision of a world ruled by love is as doable now as ever. We are the workers called to build such a world.

Prayer: Lover of Our Souls, bless us when we falter in our work of spreading your love so that your work may continue through the power of your love in spite of our weaknesses. 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.

Refugees Named Joseph

Living in the Spirit
August 8, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

[Joseph’s brothers] saw [Joseph] from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him. . . But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’. . . and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
–Genesis 37:18-20a-21, 24-28

How do we turn bad life experiences into good? I watch at least once a week news stories about refugees fleeing oppression in some instances certain death. These are human beings just like you and me with families they love. Some caught in the chaos of war, teach their children how to take shelter from bombs while trying to teach them to read because all the schools are gone. In Syria, a group of people* have formed to save as many of their neighbors as they can following a bombing. Some of these brave souls have lost their lives in the process, but they hold on to the sacredness of humanity in a world turned upside down.

I remember the shame I felt several years ago when I learned the United States turned away from our ports shiploads of Jewish refugees escaping Hitler’s regime. I feel the same shame as we turn away refugees or watch then die from the futility of escaping certain death if they stay in their homeland.

Joseph was a refugee sold into slavery who proved his worth to Egypt by saving them from famine. Jesus, Mary, and another Joseph also were refugees in Egypt. Jesus became our Savior who commanded us to follow the long tradition of the Israelites and welcome the stranger. When we have, we have most often been blessed. Yet, we hunker down in fear of terrorist while we watch refugees die. Whether we like it or not, ours is a country of immigrants and Native Americans, and we thrive not in spite of but because of our diversity.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”**

Prayer: Lord, when we turn away refugees, we turn you away too. Forgive us; strengthen us O Lord to follow the example of The White Helmets and save those who flee oppression. Amen.

*See The White Helmets on Netflix or http://www.newsweek.com/white-helmets-new-netflix-documentary-follows-syrias-heroes-training-rescue-496633

**Words on the Statue of Liberty from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

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.

Rights not Privilege

Living in the Spirit
August 4, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. –Mathew 14:13-14

I believe that affordable, accessible health care is a right, not a privilege and I think Jesus believed that too. He spread wholeness wherever he went both physical and mental to rich and poor and everyone in between. The provision of affordable, accessible health care in the USA is a major public policy debate today that began seriously with the Great Depression. What is government’s responsibility regarding the health and well-being of its people? Fifty-eight countries have some form of universal health care*; the USA does not.

The United States of America is a representative democracy that portends to be of the people, by the people, for the people according to Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. The phrase, initially coined by John Wycliffe, is in the prolog of his 1384 translation of the Bible where he stated, “The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People”** I did not know that until recently. I knew Lincoln said it; I did not know its origin. I think what Wycliffe means is that the Bible’s support of the love of neighbor can best find expression in a government of the People, by the People, and for the People. Some of our founders might have also made that connection.

I like Martin Luther King Jr. do not believe we can legislate morality, and that is not the purpose of a government designed by its citizens. The purpose of such government is to provide for the Common Good of all. Such government protects rights not privileges and allows its citizenry the right to free expression of religion.

Prayer: Lord, show us the way we can love our neighbors as we love ourselves through the mutuality of a government of the People, by the People, and for the people.Amen.

*Data from 2009 see at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_universal_health_care
**https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/who-coined-government-of-the-people-by-the-people-for-the-people/2017/03/31/12fc465a-0fd5-11e7-aa57-2ca1b05c41b8_story.html?utm_term=.aa50cc91249f

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.