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.

How to Love God

Living in the Spirit
October 28, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:34-46

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ –Matthew 22:34-39

What does it mean to love God? Strong’s Concordance* describes the Greek word, agapaó, used here for loving God as meaning to prefer God. It derives from the Greek word for God’s love, Agape. Loving God also speaks of wishing God well which I believe refers to supporting God’s purposes. Other descriptors of this type love include taking pleasure in God, longing for God, and holding God in esteem. It also denotes the love of reason as loving God.

The same word is used to describe how we are to love our neighbors. Here is where the rubber meets the road. We can extol God in word and song, but the way we love our neighbors demonstrates how we serve God’s purpose.

I liked the idea of loving God meaning preferring God over all others. The other ideas made sense to me. I was, however, surprised with the love of reason describing loving God. It makes sense. God created us in God’s image and gave us brains with which to reason. I wonder if the greatest sin in our world today is forgoing reason for selfish ends?

Prayer: Lord, help us discipline ourselves to using our power to reason to effect a world that reflects your purposes. Amen.

* http://biblehub.com/greek/25.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.

Caring for the Gospel

Living in the Spirit
October 27, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1Thessalonians 2:1-8

As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. –1 Thessalonians 2:4-8

What an interesting example of taking the story of God to others, Paul compares it to a nurse tenderly caring for her gospel of God. I worked as a nurse’s aide in one nursing home when in high school and another in college. Working the day shift, I was responsible for bathing my assigned patients. Frail elderly persons often have dry paper-thin skin that required the gentle touches. For most patients, the feel of the warm washcloth brought them comfort and renewal. Throughout the day, I fed many patients who could not feed themselves. Feeding another is an art, learning to understand what they like and do not like when they cannot tell you. Different from feeding a baby who is learning new taste, the elderly already know what they like and have lost control over their choices of eating unless the person doing the feeding cares enough to grasp the reactions they have to the food offered.

Church experiences earlier in some people’s lives left them scared. Others glean opinions of faith from the diversity of practices they observe from the outside, which in our world today is bound to confuse. Loving the other enough to take the time to get to know them and let them get to know us is crucial as we attempt to share the love of God with them.

Prayer: Lord, make us gentle nurses tenderly caring for the gospel of God as we share it 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.

 

Empathy

Living in the Spirit
October 26, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1Thessalonians 2:1-8

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully maltreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.
–1 Thessalonians 2:1-4

The quote, Preach the Gospel always and when necessary use words*, is needed as much now as ever. Our deeds matter and often speak louder than our words. Words are important too. Words can tear down, and words can lift up. Those of us who identify as Christian define Christ to others through our words and deeds just as Paul did. Empathy seems a lost art. In a diverse world we must invest the time to learn how what we do and what we say impacts the other. What might be comforting to me might cause pain to someone else.

When I arrived at an elder Pawnee woman’s home to update her case information many years ago, I found her making the most beautiful beaded baby moccasins. She said they were for her new grandbaby. There were beads across the toes that extended the length of the bottom of the tiny booty. I commented on the quality of her work and wondered if she would make some that I could buy. She was silent for a moment, finally replying, “You do not want moccasins like these. The beads on the bottom tell that my grandson will never walk on the earth. These are for his burial.” She was kind and understanding of my ignorance and she taught me the importance of empathy.

Prayer: Lord, open our hearts to glimpses of the world from the viewpoint of the people we encounter. Help us be conduits of your love as we serve in your name. Amen.

*Often attributed to St. Francis, but the author is unknown. Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/u/unknown109569.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.

 

Prosper Our Work

Living in the Spirit
October 25, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Turn, O Lord! How long?
   Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
   so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
   and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
   and your glorious power to their children.
   and prosper for us the work of our hands—
   O prosper the work of our hands! –Psalm:13-17

“It’s a God thing” is a phrase often used to describe what some would call a coincidence that has a divine conclusion. In a world seemingly in a downward spiral, we hunger for a glimpse of God at work saving us from ourselves as well as from the perils that surround us.

God’s presence manifests most often when God’s people are doing God’s work. Moses leads the Israelites from Egypt. Elijah takes on Ahab and Jezebel. John baptizes Jesus. The tomb is empty, and a new dawn arises. Jesus’ disciples huddled together in grief decide it is time to get on about the business of building the world Jesus envisioned and they experience violent winds and tongues of fire to empower and shepherd them on their journey.

God meets us on our paths to justice and peace. My grade school playground had a merry-go-round that was low to the ground and divided into equal segments by metal tubes that rose from the outer sides and connected in the middle. Each child would grab one of the metal tubes, and we would run as fast as we could to get it started and then jump on for the ride. Smaller children got on at the start; the runners worked together to maintain a constant speed until all were riding.  I think God manifests God’s presence most often when we commit full steam ahead to work in God’s service and join God who adds power to the ride.

Prayer: Let your work be manifest to your servants.
             and your glorious power to their children.
            and prosper for us the work of our hands—
           O prosper the work of our hands!  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 Knows our Names

Living in the Spirit
October 24, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 33:12-23

The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’ –Exodus 33:17-23

I am terrible at remembering people’s names.  I might be able to tell you someone’s whole life story but not their name. Oh, their name will come to me in the middle of the night when I do not need it but not when I am trying to introduce them to someone. Yes, I have tried all the association tricks and other memory aids.

Remembering names is important, I think. It says, “This person is of worth to me.” God knew Moses by name indicating to Moses that he was of worth to God. Moses wanted to know more of God. When Moses asked, “Show me your glory” he wanted insight regarding the very Godness of God. (If I can make up a word here.) God would not reveal his face to Moses.

I take a couple of things away from this. First, God knows all his children by name including you and me. We were each uniquely created an are each a key component of the Kingdom of God. Second, we are not God and should never presume to play God. We need to let God be God and we be the people God created us to be.

Prayer: Omnipotent Lord, forgive me when I fail to answer when you call my name. And forgive me when I mistake my role with yours. 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.

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.