What if We Are Wrong

Living in the Spirit
September 10, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:15-20

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
–Matthew 17-20

I wonder if we fully understand the partnership God calls us to in being the Body of Christ. I do not like to think about what I do now will be carried out in heaven. Even in writing these short devotions, I am amazed at how many little mistakes I discover when I proofread. Sometimes I do not see them and must rely on the grammar checker on my computer. I can understand the servant who buried the money his boss placed in his care rather than use it to grow the business*. But growing the business is what we are called to do. We may not always do it right, we may occasionally take one step forward and two steps back, but when we work together, we always do it with Christ in our midst.

We are observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the chapel door addressing concerns he had about the church. I believe his actions were a needed correction to the corruption that had infested the church. God uses some to apply a checks and balances system when we wander too far afield.

We are in the midst of such a correction now as we deal with our sins of omission regarding various justice issues that seem lost in a maze of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the 21st century. If what we do on earth follows us to heaven then heaven help us to get it right now. I for one do not want to spend eternity in the midst of hate and war and violence and racism and oppression of any kind.

Prayer: Lord, give us the courage we need to walk your walk. Amen.

*See the Parable of the Talents at Matthew 25:14–30.

Creation’s Care

Living in the Spirit
September 2, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:21-28

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ –Matthew 16:21-23

Are we setting our minds not on divine things but human? How do we meld the divine and the human into one? My guess, if you are like me, we invest much of our time in very human ventures: eating, sleeping, working, etc. and all of the things that make those activities possible like buying groceries and maintaining a car and cleaning our houses. From where do we derive the values that drive those mundane activities?

I spent the morning gathering up my recycling to take to Goodwill Industries. The result is an amazing car full of plastic, paper, aluminum, cardboard, and glass. I now wonder how many years worth of that stuff, I once tossed in the trash, is in a landfill somewhere and will be for generations to come. God charged us with taking care of the earth in the first book of the Bible.

What we do in every aspect of our lives impacts others. People living on coastlines routinely measure how much of their land is lost to rising waters every year. Just as we cannot separate our humanity from our divinity, we cannot separate our individuality from our interdependence on one another. God’s call to love one another is not just a pleasant platitude. It is the foundation of our existence.

Prayer: God of all Creation, forgive us when we separate ourselves into self-serving compartments of divine and human. Help us realize our responsibilities to ourselves are also responsibilities to all your creation. 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.

 

Common Ground, Common Good

Living in the Spirit
September 1, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21

I read an article recently acknowledging the fact that the USA has lost its mainstream values. We seem to want to take great pride (which by the way is one of the seven deadly sins) in being a Christian nation while we grow further and further away from basic Christian values. Paul list many of those values in our scripture today. Is it possible that our government works best not enforcing the tenets of a specific religion, but when our citizens live the tenets of their faiths and thus they are reflected in statutes?

In William Martin’s historical fiction work, Lincoln’s Letters, the lead character from the Civil War sections gained the help of free African Americans because he was known to tip his hat to all he met. In the mid-19th Century, gentlemen tipped their hats to other gentlemen and ladies but apparently did not deem it necessary or appropriate to recognize others similarly. When asked why she helped him, one woman said something in effect that she was a Christian and she could see the good in him.

The major religions of the world share many values. They can and do come together to find common ground regarding faith interactions. I do not doubt if our elected officials sought the Common Good rather than practice my way or the highway politics, the USA would stabilize and prosper for all its citizens and immigrants.

Prayer: Lord, help us, be doers of the Word. Open our hearts to living your values. 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.

Let Love Be Genuine

Living in the Spirit
August 31, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-21

; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. –Romans 12:9-13

I find the praise translated Let love be genuine intriguing.  Admittedly, I may be grasping at something that is not there. I am more social worker than theologian. I am definitely not a Greek scholar. The phrase seems to imply that love is a natural phenomenon among humans around which we might construct barriers keeping love from being fully actualized. The word love used here is the Greek agape* often used to describe God’s love, which centers in moral preference. God chooses to love us without condition, which does not mean we do not have to deal with the consequences of our actions. God calls us to choose to love God, and to love one another.

I borrow M. Scott Peck’s definition of love, which shortened is wanting the best for another. God wants the best for us, and we likewise are to want the best for all people. The problem arises when we try to define what the best for another might be. Such an act on our part is not in our job description. We can ask God for wisdom in dealing with people who seem to be traveling a bad road, but my experience is that trying to prescribe another’s behavior rarely succeeds. Each of us must work out with God our own salvation*. Our unconditional love, like God’s, if we are willing to let our love be genuine may be a catalyst toward someone  identifying and implementing changes needed.

Paul continues the scripture giving examples of how we can let love be genuine. Most regard choices we make in our interactions with one another.

Prayer: God of Mercy, instill in us the desire to choose to love unconditionally and nurture us to love in such a way that others can see the path you desire for them. Amen.

*http://biblehub.com/greek/26.htm
**Philippians 2:12

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 Wonderful Works

Living in the Spirit
August 30, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 46b

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
   make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
   tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
   let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
   seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
   his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
   children of Jacob, his chosen ones. –Psalm 105:1-6

I spent much of my career planning for the future, trying to foresee changing issues, matching shrinking resources with growing need, and buffering for the unexpected. From time to time it was important to remember accomplishments of the past. History is a great teacher when we learn from it.

We should take heart in the history of God’s intersection with God’s people. A quick read of Hebrews 11 might be in order. We do not need to limit our exploration of the acts of God to the Bible. Just in my lifetime, God’s hand was surely in

  • The amazing restoration of Germany and Japan following World War II
  • The Civil Rights Act in the USA
  • The mothers’ movement in Ireland
  • The end of apartheid in South Africa
  • Reductions in Child Mortality particularly deaths caused by unsafe water
  • The Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS

What can we add to this list from small acts of God’s love to great?

After reading Hebrews 11, the above list, and the items we add consider the Hebrews 12:1-2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Our work is not finished: countries still fight, racism routinely raises its ugly head, the Child Mortality rate is still unacceptable, and new and different health problems demand responses. God’s loving nurture is needed throughout the world, and we are its conduits.

Prayer: God of Might and Miracles, strengthen us so that when needed, obstacles are moved keeping the world safe from war and environmental disaster; children and adults healthy in body, mind, and spirit; and justice prevails. 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 The Oppressed

Living in the Spirit
August 29, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 3:1-15

But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”:
This is my name for ever,
and this my title for all generations. –Exodus 3:13-15

What did Moses know about God or even the Israelites? Did he know who Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were? Raised in an Egyptian palace, probably educated in Egyptian schools, was his history of his people complete? He apparently knew he was Israeli, but what did he know of Israel? Note Moses is not asking how to identify God to the Egyptians. His concern was acceptance by the Israelites. The stories of Moses’ birth and adoption by an Egyptian were possibly well known throughout the community, but that did not mean he was to be trusted or followed. He needed a sponsor, and he needed to prove his relationship with the sponsor.

How do people who are not being oppressed help those who are? How is confidence gained? How do any of us prove we are of God? I loved the book Hawaii and the movie created from it. The story of the missionaries was telling. Julie Andrews playing the missionary’s wife fell in love with the people of the island when she met them. She accepted them as they were and they welcomed her. She learned from them, and they learned of God’s love from her. Max von Sydow played the missionary, stern and unbending seeing evil everywhere. He was a scary and sad character dressed in his proper woolen suites on a tropical island.

There is much truth in the song titled; They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love.

Prayer: Lord as we attempt to do your justice, help our lives reflect our relationship with you. 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.

Awakening

Living in the Spirit
August 28, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 3:1-15

Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’ –Exodus 3:7-12

The above scripture is preceded by the story of Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, what I consider to be an awakening experience. How long had Moses chewed on his earlier life and what was happening to his people before the dawn broke and he felt the call to make a difference? Do we all experience moments in our lives when we too understand an issue but ask the question “Who and I to go and address this problem?” The answer in Moses case was self-evident. He knew well the workings of the Egyptian government; he knew well the oppression of his people. No one had greater motivation or was better prepared than he. God did not answer his question with this sort of logic. God said I will be with you and furthermore when you complete the task and are worshiping me back here on this mountain hindsight will tell you that it was I who sent you.

How many of us are feeling the tug of God to get on with the business of being the Body of Christ in the world today and not be distracted by principalities and powers tossing our way of being about like rag dolls? Who are we to go and address the problems of our world?  We serve a risen Savior who is in the world today working in and through us as God worked in and through Moses and Miriam and Peter and Mary Magdalene, and Paul and Pheobe and all of God’s other children who share God’s vision of a world ruled by love. If not us who?

What life experiences do we bring to the table? Are we retired teachers; can we tutor? Are we working in health care; what solutions do we see to cut costs and continue to provide quality care? Are we scientist; can we find ways to curb global warming? Are we citizens; can we remind our elected officials that they work for us, not the lobbyist?

Prayer: Lord, if our backs are to the burning bush, turn us around. Awaken us to your call for oneness and justice throughout our lands. 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.

Politics of Jesus

Living in the Spirit
August 26, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. –Matthew 16:13-17

Why did Jesus ask the disciples how people perceived him? Was he checking to see if he was getting his message across? Was he testing his team’s understanding or fidelity? Preceding this scripture are stories of the religious leaders of the day asking for a sign from Jesus to prove who he is, and a warning from Jesus for the disciples to beware of these same leaders. I think Jesus was trying to address both questions. He cared that people understood his message. He cared that the religious leaders did not misconstrue who he was to further their purposes. Jesus dealt with politics.

We tend to tie politics to civil government, but everything we do involving groups of people includes some form of politics. We even try to influence one group’s politics with another group’s. Politics is a branch of ethics concerned with the state or social organism as a whole rather than the individual person:  a division of moral philosophy dealing with the ethical relations and duties of governments or other social organizations*. Much of the Gospels include reports of Jesus’ handling the politics of his faith community. He was a threat to the power of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He called for the formation of a kingdom that was vastly different from their concept of God’s Kingdom. Many of them, not all, were certain their understanding of the Kingdom of God was God’s understanding. Sound familiar? Are we following the path of the Pharisees and Sadducees rather than Jesus’ way? How do we know Jesus’ path when we seek it?

Jesus was a minimalist. He had two basic rules love God and love one another. He illustrated both with lots of stories and lots of examples that passed to us through the ages. His message was not a new one. It was one his faith community were called to follow very early in its formation. The lesser gods of lust for power, greed, pride, envy, and sloth continually play their political viewpoint against God’s all the time wooing us away from the basic rules. If love is wanting the very best for everyone, then these lesser gods cannot be a part of God’s Kingdom.

Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
   and do not take your holy spirit from me**. Amen

*http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/politics
**Psalm 51:10-11

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 Our Niches

Living in the Spirit
August 25, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-8

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. –Romans 12:3-8

God created each of us with a unique set of skills and abilities. I view the Body of Christ as an organic jigsaw puzzle with each piece differing, and all pieces being essential to reveal the whole picture. We have at least a three-fold mission as the Body of Christ, one to find all the pieces, two to welcome them as a part of the picture, and three to help them find their niche while nurturing their growth in fulfilling it. For an individual, a niche is a position suitable for the capabilities or merits of a person*.

My church a few years ago started posting the newsletter online and emailing it to those with an email address who request it. We have some people who prefer a hard copy, and they pick it up at the church. Others, primarily shut-ins and some who have moved away but like to keep up with our work, are mailed a copy through the postal system. One retired gentleman takes very good care of those who get copies mailed. I think it brings him joy, and I know it fills an empty spot in the lives of the recipients. He has found a great niche in the ninth decade of his life. There is not enough space to list all the other niches he has filled over the years. The one I hear the most about is sponsoring youth events. I’ll bet he is even surprised at some of the things he has done that brought great joy.

Be open to the leading of God and try some new things in your service to God. You might be very surprised at some of the gifts you discover.

Of course, the final results is the Kingdom of God vibrant in love across the whole earth. Let it be so.

Prayer: Lord, open windows of opportunity for all who seek you as we commit to being your Body in the world today. Amen.

*http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/niche

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

Being Perfect

Living in the Spirit
August 24, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. –Romans 12:1-2

How do we not conform to the world? It takes effort! A friend and I were commiserating over how bad the traffic had become in Oklahoma City in recent years. New cars apparently no longer are equipped with turn signals at least they are rarely used, the fastest driver sets the speed limit, preventive driving requires vigilance in search of people with their eyes on their cell phones rather than traffic, and road rage is a norm. Driving manners are just a simple examples of how the world encroaches on our ways of being.  We get caught in it without even knowing it. The norms that seem acceptable regarding how we treat each other are frightening. Not conforming to aspects of society that fail to pass the test of love takes intentionality. It also requires a close relationship with God who guides us in discerning what is right and what is just.

Paul talks about our need to do what is good and acceptable and perfect in God’s eyes. The word perfect always concerns me. We might for a majority of our actions do or be good and acceptable to God, but what does it mean to be perfect? The Greek word translated perfect* means to be full grown, complete in all parts. It seems to me that someone full-grown: takes responsibility for his or her actions, maintains a broad and growing bank of knowledge,  and strives to demonstrate in his or her life the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness (Galatians 5:22) in all that they do.

Prayer: Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more**. Amen

*http://biblehub.com/greek/5046.htm

**First Verse of Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah by William Williams. See at http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/g/u/guideme.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.