One True God

Living in the Spirit
November 7, 2017

Scripture Reading: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

But Joshua said to the people, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, we will serve the Lord!’ Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ The people said to Joshua, ‘The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.’ So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. –Joshua 24:19-25

Who can serve the Lord who is holy? Set apart* is the English translation of the word holy. The Hebrew word translated holy could also be translated sacred**. Either suggest the singular, monotheistic nature of God.  Thus, if we worship other gods, we are not suited to serve the Lord. God demands that we get and keep our priorities straight.

What compels us to search for other gods particularly after having a long and rich history of relationship with the one true God? Is it a bit of the “what have you done for me recently” attitude? Perhaps it is a desire to test the success of God? We do that all the time with material things as people steeped in the scientific process. I grew disenchanted with my cable system and am experimenting with cutting the cable with mixed results. My changes solved most of the problems I had but created a few new ones. Are we shopping for a god that is just right for us? Raised in a time when marriage was a forever ideal, I watched the change to serial marriage or no marriage at all become the norm. Have we lost the value of lifelong commitments regarding God? Probably it is a little of all of these ideas, which seem to share the common denominator of not being satisfied with ourselves so finding the right god might help us find ourselves. In actuality accepting the love of the one true God and abiding in relationship with the Lord is the source of learning to love ourselves so we can love our neighbors as God loves us.

Prayer: God who is Love, help us to rest ourselves in your abiding loving and never to stray from its blessings. Amen.

*http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/holy
**http://biblehub.com/hebrew/6918.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.

Who Do We Serve?

Living in the Spirit
November 6, 2017

Scripture Reading: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

‘Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’

 Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’ –Joshua 24:14-18

We, of course, are far too sophisticated to worship idols, graven images; or are we?  Cities are passing laws to make it illegal to cross a street while texting or otherwise accessing an electronic device. An opioid epidemic is killing people of all ages across our land. Greed is rampant as we want more and more and seem never to be satisfied. Gaining power over others entices many to sell their souls to the highest bidder.

We are called to Choose this day whom [we] will serve and get our priorities in order as individuals, as communities of faith, as the whole Body of Christ.

As frustrated as I become with the functioning of our government both at the state and federal level, I sincerely believe our government reflects well the desires of our population. We have turned away from our most basic values of assuring the Common Good and are pursuing self-serving gain at the expense of our neighbors. We seem to have grown collectively out of touch with reality apparently similarly to what was happening in Joshua’s day and time.

Joshua’s recommitment to the values that got him and his people to the Promised Land is a good place for us to start rebuilding our states and nation.

Prayer: Create in us clean hearts and right spirits so that we can truly declare but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord, for he is God. 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.

Walking Humbly

Living in the Spirit
November 5, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 23:1-12

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. –Matthew 23:8-12

The Lord calls us to walk humbly with God*. Merriam-Webster** defines humble as having a low opinion of one’s own importance or merits:  modest or meek in spirit, manner, or appearance:  not proud or haughty.

What does it mean to walk with God in humility? My Aunt Nancy was a master crafter. She could knit and crochet better than anyone I knew. It was rare to visit with her when her hands were not flying through the motions making a sweater or afghan. She shared that her young son was watching her one day and said he wanted to learn how to knit. She sat him on her lap and went through the first easy steps of knitting until he could do it by himself. He sat down next to her and began knitting one tedious stitch at a time when he finally stopped in frustration and said, “No Mama, I want to knit clicky-clack like you.”  She hugged him close and told him he would be able to knit fast one day if he practiced very hard and over time learned all the stitches. God is our master teacher. Walking in humility with God means intentionally freeing ourselves of distractions and learning the master’s craft.

Modest and meek do not mean we become doormats. They mean we get our priorities straight in alignment with God’s and we do not let ourselves get in the way of fulfilling our potential.

Prayer:

I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

 Refrain:
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

 Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.

 When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more;
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.***

*Micah 6:8
**http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/humble
*** http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Just_a_Closer_Walk_with_Thee/

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.

Ravenous Wolves

Living in the Spirit
November 4, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. –Matthew 23:1-7

Rarely does anyone speak the words “do what I say not what I do, ” but there are sure a lot of people practicing this philosophy. From politicians to church leaders, people speak righteously, perhaps more self-righteously, while conjuring deals in the dark that play to their power and personal interest. Like the first century scribes and Pharisees, they rant about causes that have limited if any impact on most people but do draw out strong emotional reactions and fears while missing the mark on major issues that affect millions of people with life or death consequences. How are we harmed by NFL players taking a knee at their games in protest of racism? How many people do you think will suffer from lack of healthcare when we implement proposed major cuts in Medicaid and Medicare? Such cuts do not just impact the recipients of these services. Many rural hospitals will close as a result of these cuts.

Jesus would have none of that idea in the first century or now. He held the power brokers of the day accountable for their hypocrisy. We seem to admire people who can manipulate us to their benefit. Why is that? What is so beguiling about exploiters often when we are the exploited? Are we envious of their guile?

Jesus said in Matthew 7:15, Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. We would do well to follow that advice.

Prayer: Lord, enable us as doers of your justice for all your children. 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.

Do Unto Others

Living in the Spirit
November 3, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
–1 Thessalonians 2:13

I fear we put a lot of words in God’s mouth. Thank God for the prophets sent to set us straight! It is also comforting to know that not everything depends on us getting it right when we share our faith. The spirit works to support us and more importantly to provide for those whose lives we touch a still small voice to help them ferret out what is of God.

Recently I read where Christians are creating atheist because our attitudes and interpretations of our beliefs are not something many find inviting. We sometimes say one thing and demonstrate through our lives another. It is hard to sell a God of love when we set ourselves apart as being better than others.

An experiment might help. Spend a week writing down the ways you have treated other people. Just simple honest notes. “Held the door for a woman carrying a baby.” “Avoided check out with the store clerk with purple hair and many piercings.” “Locked my car door when stopping at a light where youth of another race were waiting to cross the street.”

The second week observe how others treat you and how it made you feel. “Car cut me off in traffic, scared me.” “Woman in Bible study group spoke with great authority about something with which I disagreed, but I just sat their wish I had said something.” “ I was seated at an empty table when someone asked if they could join me. Made me feel good.”

The third week practice what you learned from the experience. Be intentional about how you treat others.

Prayer: Lord, guide us in our work of serving you more nearly through our interrelationships with 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.

Filter Cleaning

Living in the Spirit
November 2, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was towards you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
–1 Thessalonians 2:9-12

Why do you suppose Paul felt the need to establish credentials with the Thessalonians by reminding them of things they already observed? Did he think they might lose sight of his work after an absence? Perhaps he knows what he is about to say needs to be tethered to whom they know he is? I must confess reading this brief remark makes me anticipate a follow-up sermon on what I am doing wrong, after all, Paul’s previous hard work. While some of Paul’s letters do go in that direction, his letters to the Thessalonians underline what they are doing right during difficulties.

What we say and what we write matters as we strive to be the Body of Christ in the world today. We all have filters built into our brains by our life experiences and cultures that interpret words and actions. Our filters may be like those of the writer or speaker, but at times they may be different. We see this played out every day regarding white privilege. Our white filters say our norms are the norms and we cannot understand why others have a problem with that. Honestly, most people think their norms are the right ones so for one set of norms to overshadow another’s norms requires adding a dose of power to the equation. At one time in the USA part of that power was sheer population numbers. As a left-handed person, I experience the right-handed norms of our society every day and am forced to accommodate them. Some are easier to adjust to than others. I have never been able to work one of those can openers that is clipped onto a can while twisting a gizmo on top.

Our population has grown more diverse, and we are now developing new sets of norms based on that diversity. Finding a new normal always takes time, energy, and a commitment to make it work. We base our commitment on the charge from Jesus Christ that we all be one. (John 17:21)

The Oklahoma City Thunder is showing us the way by melding together some outstanding players who have never played together before. They seem to be enjoying finding the rhythm needed to be a winning team. They have committed to making it work.

Prayer: Lord, help us review our filters and clean out any that no longer apply, add new ones we can adapt from others, and make us one. 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.

God’s Steadfast Love

Living in the Spirit
November 1, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
   those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
   from the east and from the west,
   from the north and from the south. –Psalm 107:1-3

In small groups or Bible studies, we are often encouraged to share what God has done for us. Psalm 107 implores us to do so. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, I think it is as important for us to say what the lord has done for us to ourselves as it is to share it with others.  Particularly living in a world fraught with divisiveness and the questioning of formally trustworthy entities, understanding what one’s real priorities are grows more important. Our focus needs to turn more on the endurance of the steadfast love of God and how that plays out in our everyday living.

Listening to what others are saying is important also. I grow weary of hearing or reading viewpoints that are foreign to me about how we are to be as a society. I must admit I sometimes need to turn it off and retreat from the constant barrage of hate-filled rhetoric. In my heart, My guess is those with differing opinions feel the same about me. I know I need to listen to the backstory in what others are saying. From where do those ideas derive? How can we bridge the gulfs that divide us and find the common ground etched in God’s Word?

Desperate people get caught in desperate responses. Greedy people do not care who they hurt to garner wealth. How do we seek out those living lives of desperation and work alongside them to ease their suffering? How do we awaken those caught in the addiction of greed to the wealth of God’s love that overshadow all worldly riches? How do we keep the principalities and powers of the world at bay as we grow a Kingdom ruled by God’s love?

A good starting point is identifying and rejoicing in the everyday instances of God with Us.

Prayer: Lord, open doors of opportunities for us to share your steadfast love in our world today. 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.

 

God is Always at Work

Living in the Spirit
October 31, 2017

Scripture Reading: Joshua 3:7-17

When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing towards the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan. –Joshua 14-17

Many of us read with skepticism stories recorded in the Bible of extraordinary events saving people. Some even invest time and energy trying to explain them as naturally occurring events. Some like me think it may be a little of both. The Battle of Dunkirk in World War II perhaps involved both. German soldiers had Allied troops backed up to the waters’ edge with no place to go when the German commander decided to slow their push down until supplies could catch up with them. I wonder how much this commander felt the sting of killing enemy soldiers as if they were sitting ducks. A still small voice perhaps peaked his conscience.

The small break in action coincided with the allies’ desperate attempt to rescue their soldiers by way of the sea. The main problem was the Germans had superior air power that could destroy the rescue ships either coming or going. The allies decided to proceed, and as they headed for the beaches of France, it rained so hard the German planes could not take off, and the fog over the water was so dense the ships were not readily visible. While many gave their lives in this rescue, the people on those ships and boats saved 330,000 soldiers.

What strikes me about both stories, the Israelites crossing the Jordan and the Battle of Dunkirk, is God’s presence among God’s people who seek solutions to the situations in which they find themselves. While God calls us to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God  (Micah 6:8b), God is present with us and supports us as we seek to do God’s will.

Lord, listen to Your children praying,
Lord, send Your spirit in this place;
Lord, listen to Your children praying,
Send us love, send us pow’r, send us grace!**

Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to step out in faith and act when needed and the faith to accept your guidance in our actions. Amen.

*https://www.deedsofgod.com/index.php/31-1940-ad–gods-weather-the-evacuation-of-dunkirk-mainmenu-169
*Chorus of Lord, Listen to the Children Praying by Ken Madema see at http://crossingsmusic.wikidot.com/lord-listen-to-your-children-praying

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.

Presence of God

Living in the Spirit
October 30, 2017

Scripture Reading: Joshua 3:7-17

The Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, “When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.” ’ Joshua then said to the Israelites, ‘Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.’ Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.’—Joshua 3:7-13

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel His mighty power and His grace.
I can hear the brush of angels wings.
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.*

 I was surprised to see that Lanny Wolfe wrote this song in 1977. I seem to remember singing it all of my life. It is a good song reminding us of whose we are.

We tend to recognize the presence of the Lord in crises and at times of big events like the Israelites crossing into the Promised Land. I think we need to work a little harder at practicing the presence of God in all that we do. I am a strong believer in prevention first. I was a child welfare worker and supervisor. Guiding young people to recognize having children should be a decision, not an accident would be a good starting place. Providing parenting education for all youth as early as junior high would make a difference. Early identification and intervention to help current parents improve their skills would be beneficial.

Most areas of human endeavor could develop a similar listing of ways to prevent bad situations. Joshua prepared the Israelites for the next major step of their journey. He underscored the role of God in each segment of its development. Building and sustaining our relationship with God is the key to living the abundant life God provides for us. Stumbling alone finding our way until we get into trouble rarely turns out well.

Prayer: Lord, be present to us as we make ourselves present to you. Amen.

*Chorus of Surely the Presence by Lanny Wolfe see at https://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Music/Hymns/Presence-of-the-lord.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.

Making Disciples or Not

Living in the Spirit
October 29, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:34-46

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
 “The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
   until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. –Matthew 22:41-46

Those of us who center on Jesus’ commandments to love God and love one another might want to take a deeper dip into how Jesus dealt with his fellow believers. Throughout the gospels, the Pharisees challenged Jesus trying to catch him up in what they deemed “bad theology” apparently in the hope of discrediting him. He challenged them right back and knew his faith’s history and scriptures as well as they did. Do we?

I just read a blog* by John Pavlovitz where he asserts that some Christians are doing a better job of creating atheists than they are making disciples. Are we driving people out of the church because we may say the right words but do not live them or because we pick and choose our Biblical quotes as a means of supporting our bigotry and privilege?

Soul-searching, a quest for greater understanding of the ways of Jesus, and repentance of our ways that may differ from his all are indicated in such a time as these. Follow-up actions may include learning to dialogue across Christianity to try to understand how such divisiveness in our faith has occurred and how it can be healed.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us if our actions have driven anyone away from knowing you. Help us find ways to build bridges of understanding rather than putting up roadblocks. Amen.

*https://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/06/04/the-christians-making-atheists/

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.