Tag Archives: Called to Serve

Christ as Judge

Living in the Spirit
September 14, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. –Romans 14:1-6

I guess the reason we have denominations is that “birds of a feather flock together.” People have different ways of addressing the spiritual or for that matter various aspects of life. A problem arises when we think our way of being or doing is the only way and we try to enforce it on others.

Argument arises with the degree of importance some beliefs or practices are related to the authenticity of the faith. Believers baptism vs. infant baptism, immersion vs. sprinkling, communion every Sunday or once a month or once a quarter were each historical areas of fervent discourse. Who indeed are we to pass judgment? Jesus said,

‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Matthew 7:1-3

The problem becomes more pronounced when we try to use our faith as a means of approving bigotry or hate such as we see in racism, ethnic cleansing, or discrimination related to sexual orientation, all human contrivances, each designed to set people apart. In Matthew 25 Jesus outlines the actions by which he will judge us: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, restoring those in prison, and welcoming the stranger. All these actions are in direct contradiction to bigotry and hate.

Prayer: God of Love, help us simplify our lives by accepting that you do the judging while we care for all your children in whatever situation we may find them. 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.

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.

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.

Stepping Out in Faith

Living in the Spirit
July 4, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 24:34-36, 42-49, 58-67

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ She said, ‘I will.’ So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

‘May you, our sister, become
   thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
   of the gates of their foes.’
Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. –Genesis 24:58-61

Arranged marriages seem a little strange to us but they still happen in the world. I do not know how much of a choice Rebekah really had, but it seemed to be her decision. My guess is she and her mother had some long talks weighing the pros and cons. Marriage and bearing children were her culturally designation destiny.

I had wondered how my family members felt when they got on that ship to come to America aware they most likely would never see their loved ones who remained in the homeland ever again. I thought the same thing about family who traveled west in the USA until I found records where some aunts living in Pennsylvania visited Illinois in the 1840’s. We don’t think much about such a trip now. It was a major event then.

What Rebekah did was step out in faith to leave her family and travel to a new life. We are called in both small and large ways to step out in faith, move out of our comfort zones in service to God. It may mean interacting with strangers who become new friends, it may mean traveling to places far away or simply driving to the elementary school a few blocks from the church. It may mean learning how to use a saw, hammer a nail, or sack food. It may mean advocating for people whose voices alone are not heard. Whatever we are called to do, we must remember that we never do it alone. God is always with us and there are communities of faith ready and eager to join with us in a common cause.

Prayer: Grant us the courage of Rebekah to step out in faith when you call. 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.

Sent to Serve

Living in the Spirit
July 3, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 24:34-36, 42-49, 58-67

So he said, ‘I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has.

 ‘I came today to the spring, and said, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, ‘Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,’ and who will say to me, ‘Drink, and I will draw for your camels also’—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.” –Genesis 24:34-36, 42-44

“That’s a God thing.” is my normal response when something appropriate happens that results in wholeness, oneness, or justice. I usually say the phrase in hindsight. In the midst of life, I think most of us respond with instinct, although I too like Abraham’s servant send prayers for guidance.

Instinct should not be whatever will happen, happens. Paul talks about Christ’s followers being like well-trained athletes. When a player is on the court or the field, his or her body and mind must meld together instantly in response to the movements of the other person or team. Really good athletes usually possess natural talents, and they enhance those talents with hour after hour of intense workouts, the study of opponents, shared wisdom from a coach, and practice, lots of practice.

Christ followers are charged with similar tasks designed to hone our whole being with the goal of serving God with all our hearts, minds, strength, and souls. Such preparation allows immediate response when indicated. Someone caught and saved a baby dropped from the 11th floor of a burning building recently in England. Most of us are rarely required to respond to such a serious circumstance. All of us live in communities where children are falling through the cracks of poverty, hunger, and inability to take full advantage of available education. There is something each of us can do to catch these children before they fall. It may take dusting off some old skills or learning some new ones. Start now, for the opportunity awaits.

Prayer: Lord, help us to find our niche in serving others and when needed to hone our skills in preparation. 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.

Put to the Test, Now What?

Eastertide
May 17, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 66:8-20

Bless our God, O peoples,
   let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept us among the living,
   and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
   you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
   you laid burdens on our backs;
you let people ride over our heads;
   we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place. –Psalm 66:8-12

Every child is different, but the tests are similar from encouraging that first step to taking off the training wheels. Babies plop on their diaper draped bottoms more times than not learning to walk. Parents watch for signs when their child is ready for each milestone in their growth and development. The Psalmist tells us that God, our Parent, does the same. Parents must discern when a child develops to the point of knowing the difference between right and wrong and the ability to choose right.  My paternal grandmother died when I was five, so I must have been very young when she discovered me turning the gas knobs on her kitchen range. Her gentle fear wrapping her arm around me and pulling me away while readjusting the knobs probably cured me of playing with the range more than anything she said. As young as I was I remember the incident well.

Milestones do not end with infancy. We face them at each stage of our lives. I recently attended a retreat on Aging and Sage-ing dealing with the continuation of ministry in the fourth quarter of life. The Psalmists gives us assurance that God is actively engaged in our growth and development throughout our lives. What is God nurturing in us currently? Are we being called to the next progression of our faith work?

Prayer: God we thank you that you have brought us out to a spacious place which indicates the opportunities for our service are varied and many. Guide us to where we are most needed and can best help. 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.

Being Bold

becoming-like-christ (1)Living in the Spirit
October 9, 2015

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. –Hebrews 4:14-16

How boldly do we approach the throne of grace? Sometimes I think I lean toward Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild* and avoid the Jesus who called the Pharisees hypocrites to their faces. Part of my reaction results from my taking offense at people who speak in the name of Christ in language I can’t image him using, espousing tenets of faith alien to my perception of the One who called us to love. The truth is we need to be both as meek and as bold as he was. It actually takes a lot of courage to be either in our world today.

Hebrews is calling us to own the grace we have received. It is the relationship we have with God that will sustain us in our quest for a better world. It is God who can enables us to manifest patience and long-suffering** when faced with entrenched and generational challenges like racism and poverty. It is God who can give us the courage to stand up and speak out against the institutional realities of our culture that feed the injustice that causes racism and poverty.

Part of the motto of Star Trek was: To boldly go where no man has gone before. We are called to boldly go where Jesus, the Christ, has already trod and cleared the way for us and will walk with us still, if we approach his grace.

Prayer: Lord guide me in my meekness and my boldness. Let your love be the energy for my action. Amen.

*Title of hymn by Charles Wesley

**Definition of the word meek. See at http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/meek

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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Joy, Joy, Joy

FeastEastertide May 9, 2015

Scripture Reading: John 15:9-17 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.–John 15:9-11

I awoke this morning with an ominous feeling. We are in the season of tornados and the last thing I heard on the news last evening was a caution to be weather aware a bad storm is headed our way. I think this may be good advice for those of us called to ministries of justice. We need to be justice aware for as much as I am prudent about tornados, my ominous feeling was more likely caused by the injustice I see all around me and the lack of concern, will to address, or will to give up the things that are in our own lives that lie at the foundation of injustice. With that as the backdrop, what on earth was Jesus talking about when he says that he has joy and that he wants us to have joy. Where do you see Jesus’ joy in the gospels?

Jesus said:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)

Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’ (Luke 15:10)

He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. (John 3:29)

These three seem to say that Jesus’ joy comes from our answering his call and all answering his call resulting in the fruition of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. He invites us to share in the joy of the rule of love, and, I believe, that can only happen when true justice exists.

Prayer: Lord, help us experience the joy in loving one another in your name. 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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I Am What I Am

Paul PreachingLent
Maundy Thursday
April 2, 2015

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. — 1 Corinthians 15:3-11

Don’t you just love Paul? No truer words were ever written by anyone than when he wrote I am what I am. He proved it when he wrote in the very next sentence that he had worked harder than any of them. As far as Paul is concerned he is stating fact not failing the humility test. In all honesty, he might have been right. We do not know. He and Luke took the time to record Paul’s work in detail, writings we do not have from the other apostles.

Of course, Paul is quoting God here. Although he changed the “who” to “what”. There is only one God but many parts working together in God’s service.  As Moses received his assignment he 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.” ’ (Exodus 3:13-14) Through asserting his call, Paul strengthens his credentials for guiding the Corinthians as they blossom in the faith. Further, he attests that all who are made in the image of God are called by God to do God’s work. Paul asserts that he has and is answering the call. He can do nothing more and nothing less than what God has equipped him to do. This is true for all of us.

Today we remember and observe the Last Supper of our Lord. It is a reminder that we are to carry on Jesus’ ministry answering our call even in the face of adversity, even in the face of dejection, and even in the face of our own apathy. Prayer: Lord, make me aware today of being a part of the whole Body of Christ as I share in the loaf and the cup. 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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Follow the Leader

MosesEpiphany
Celebration of God
Manifested in the World
January 26, 2015

 Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’ Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. — Deuteronomy 18:15-18

 Our scripture today are words shared by Moses as he instructs the Israelites on God’s response to their petition. Moses stipulates that the prophet to come must be like Moses himself. What were the characteristics of Moses?

  •  Moses was well acquainted with more than one culture before he was called by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He knew the Israelites through his birth parents, the Egyptians through his adopted parent, and the Midianites through his wife and her family.
  • Moses was not afraid to approach the unknown.
  • Moses worked well with a team of people. He could lead when he needed to lead, could support when that was called for, and could delegate after receiving some sage advice from his father-in-law.
  • Moses cared deeply about the people over whom he was given leadership.
  • Most importantly, Moses worked at staying in synch with God.

These are just a few characteristics but it is a nice list to consider as we are called to serve in any capacity. Of course, many see Christ as the prophet about which Moses was talking, and we are encouraged to emulate him especially.

Prayer: Lord you have sent many great leaders and prophets into the world to help us find our way to a closer relationship with you and to the furtherance of your Kingdom. Give us the courage to follow their examples. 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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.