Tag Archives: Discernment

What is Just?

Eastertide
May 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: Acts 17:22-31

For “In him we live and move and have our being”;[*] as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ –Acts 17:28-31

The coming of Jesus initiated a season of human responsibility. At least that seems to be what Paul is saying. The time has passed when humans can blame gods of metal or stone for good or bad. We are responsible for our well-being and the well-being of one another. We are after all God’s offspring endowed by our Creator with abilities the Creator expects us to use but not use in any namby-pamby way. God sent prophets and teachers and finally sent Jesus Christ to share with us God’s vision of righteousness. We do not judge our work results ourselves nor are we assigned the task of judging others. Jesus drew the assignment of judge. The risen Lord enables our work toward righteousness or justice through the acts of the Holy Spirit. After reading our scripture today, we perhaps should sing Called as Partners in Christ’s Service with a little more seriousness if not fear and trembling.

Righteousness and justice are threatened all around us. In the first place, we cannot even agree on what is right and what is just. I fear in many instances our disagreements stem from the desire to reshape God’s definition of justice to fit our lifestyles. Thus each group has its particular set which they defend in discord with the other.

How do we bring God back into the picture?

Prayer: God of Justice, plant seeds of righteousness in each of our hearts make them flourish enabling our discernment of justice and making us seekers of its fruition. Amen.

*Quote from Aratus, (flourished c. 315–c. 245 bc, Macedonia), Greek poet of Soli in Cilicia

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.

Living into God’s Love

Epiphany
February 27, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ –Genesis 2:15-17

Is it human nature to want to do the only thing that you are prohibited from doing? I guess for me it depends on what the “thing” is. When I was told, I could never again wear spike heels after an ankle injury, I had no problems obeying the rule. I didn’t even consider it a loss. Trying to keep my salt intake under a heart-healthy level is a greater challenge. I love salt.

The stories of creation included in the Bible introduce us to God as Creator. Our scripture today suggests that God had to make the decision of whether to allow the ones made in God’s image to choose between good and evil and thus to face the consequences of their own actions. By introducing humans to discernment, our world became much less limited and much more dangerous. By instilling in each of us the essence of God’s love, we were given the tools for being successful discerners.

God wants the very best for each of us. God’s guidance is not arbitrary. The story of Job notwithstanding, I do not think God creates obstacle courses for us to see if we have the discipline to run them well. Just living in relationship with others provides stumbling blocks enough.  My discernment about eating healthy foods is connected to my imitating God’s wanting the very best for me. Just as my concern for feeding the hungry emulates God’s loving all God’s children. It is not complicated unless something obstructs our decision making by convincing us it is more important than loving God, loving ourselves, or loving all of God’s children. Ever tasted anything seasoned with too much salt? Evil is crafty. It is most successful one salty potato chip at a time.

Prayer: Lord, guide us to live into your love as we care for ourselves and one another. 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.

Discernment Guided by God

eisenhowerChristmas
December 27, 2016

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 63:7-9

For he said, ‘Surely they are my people,
   children who will not deal falsely’;
and he became their savior
in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel
   but his presence that saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
   he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. –Isaiah 63:8-9

I inherited being a news hound from both my parents who read the local newspaper every day and watched network news morning, noon, and night after we purchased a television. I do remember getting the TV; I do not remember listening to the news on the radio. I am confident my parents did. I sometimes wonder if it is worth the frustration that results in feeling helpless when taking in all the bad in the world. The news is a great source of information for intercessory prayer and does remind me that God is the only source of salvation.

We now must discern what is real news and what is fake. Such discernment is nothing new. I worked on a child abuse case in the 1970’s that resulted in the death of a child, knew the sordid details far more than I wanted. The evening news described the situation so incorrectly I did not recognize it until I heard the names. It was horrible enough in reality; there was no need to enlarge the story. Propaganda is an ancient form of warfare. At a time when media relies on profits to measure success, stories of great import land on the editors’ floor while, at least locally, we seem to thrive on car chases.

I suppose other generations have said what I will state now. There has never been a more important time for each of us to place our trust in the God of our salvation.

Prayer: Lord, guide my discernment to see the world from your eyes and target my life’s work toward your perspective. 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.

Discerning God’s Will

will-of-godLiving in the Spirit
October 21, 2016

Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
                                                                                                                                     –2 Timothy 4:16-18

One of the greatest challenges in life for all people of faith is balancing discernment on the three-legged stool of God’s will, our predispositions, and input from others, both fellow believers and culture. Most of us want to claim a position on the single pedestal of God’s will. What are the checks and balances to assure that we are not projecting our will as God’s will? We could strengthen our discernment by checking it out with other believers, but we must deal with the possibility that they share our predispositions. We do tend to flock with those who are like us. Think KKK.

The author of 2 Timothy finds himself in just such a situation. We do not know what the issues were that caused him to lose all support. There are times when each of us may take the lonely stance of standing against either our fellow believers, our culture, or both when we attempt to stand with God. People of faith must train like a good athlete. We must work to maintain a constant relationship with God, which includes turning all those personal predispositions over to God. God’s healing mercies can and will return us to wholeness when events of the past cloud our perceptions.

I am so glad those who canonized the Bible included the story of Gideon. (Judges 6) Gideon, who was not a warrior, felt called by God to lead and army. Gideon asked for a specific sign from God to assure that leading an army was in his future. He received the assurance. He then practiced the philosophy of believe but verify and asked for a backup sign and got it also. Gideon led the army to a successful conclusion. We all need to hear this story and understand that when our perceptions of ourselves or situations are getting in the way of our doing what we are called to do, God will help us through the dilemma as long as we trust the Lord to guide us.

Prayer: Lord of Mercy, strengthen our weak knees and give us the courage to do the things you are calling us to do. 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.

Hope and Direction

love7-300x189Living in the Spirit
June 15, 2016

Scripture Reading: Psalm 42 and 43

O send out your light and your truth;
   let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
   and to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
   to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise you with the harp,
   O God, my God.  

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
   and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
   my help and my God. –Psalm 43:3-5

How is it that people with very similar backgrounds can understand the world so differently? We have been coached by a society that says: if you just have enough information or knowledge everything will be OK. Yet in our world we neither trust information nor knowledge. It is all suspect most often because it does not pass our own litmus tests for truth. I usually want to know who paid for the research before I bother to read it. The same is true of polls. I took a whole three-hour psychology course in college learning how to construct polls with the least possible bias because it is truly impossible to develop a poll with no bias. I have noted recently that the media reports on a variety of polls targeted at addressing the same issue. I guess they hope it will open the door for us to glean some sense from the diverse results.

Don’t get me wrong, I think information is crucial and knowledge is important. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus is quoted as saying: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Before we examine information, before we drink deeply from the well of knowledge, we need to meld our hearts with the heart of God, the provider of spiritual and eternal truth, who brings hope and direction to our lives and establishes the foundation of love on which all our thoughts and actions are to be based. If something doesn’t pass the test of love it is not of God.

Prayer: Lord, hone our discernment so that when we act, we act out of love and when we react, we react in love. 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.

 

Throwing Jesus Over the Cliff

Cliffs in holy landEpiphany
January 31, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 4:21-30

And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. –Luke 4:24-30

“He doesn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain” is a saying that I heard on occasion when I was a child. Of course I come from a state that must deal with drought at times and I have seen adults run into the rain with arms opened wide turning circles and throwing their heads back to catch the precious liquid in their mouths straight from the hands of God. Our common sense may not be the common sense of another living in other circumstances and may not even be right for anyone.

I have always thought of Jesus as a seer, one who takes in not only the evident, but also the realities of life not available to all or even most. He always seemed to see the potential in the people that he encountered even when they did not. He was well acquainted with what we call human nature. I can see him now looking down on Jerusalem when he said, How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37) yet he never quit trying. I don’t think he quit trying in Nazareth either, neither do I think he has given up on us.

That said, I think he would enjoy our surprising him by demonstrating through our lives Christ Sense, letting Jesus know that we get his message as we try to live life to the fullest in his way not as we design it for our own purposes, but as he meant it in the first place. I think he might enjoy playing in the rain and splashing through puddles of water, but his wings are always there to protect us from the storms of life. We need to turn to him to discern what is healthy nurturing rain and what are storms from which we need shelter and stop trying to throw him off a cliff when his way is not necessarily our way.

Prayer: Lord, I can be really stubborn and self-centered at times. Forgive me when my attitudes get in the way of walking close to you. Heal my soul, make me whole. 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.

Prophets

Jesus-washes-the-disciples-feetLiving in the Spirit
July 28, 2015

Scripture Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.’ David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan said to David, ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. –2 Samuel 11:7-13

Where was my Nathan when I needed him, when I opened my mouth to pontificate wisely about things of which I truly had no wisdom? Where was he when I failed to speak when silence gave credence to injustice? Where was my Nathan when I turned a blind eye to my own sin? The remarkable thing about Nathan’s confrontation with David is David’s response. He recognized his sin and repented. While he still faced the consequences of his own action, the Lord forgave him.

Would I recognize a real Nathan, if I met one? There is so much chatter in our world today finding truth is difficult. Pilate’s question to Jesus at his trial “What is truth?”* echoes in my mind. When I seek guidance in all the clutter of absolutes available, many seem to lack the seasoning of God’s love. For Pilate, the politician, truth boiled down to expedient self-interest. David recognized the real Nathan when he hear the sound of God’s love in Nathan’s words.

I have come to follow what I call the test of love. If some action or policy or way of being does not pass the test of love it is not of God. When love is present God is present also.

Prayer: Help me to discern the true prophets within my world today. Let your words pour through them into my heart. Protect me from the false prophets saying what I perhaps want to hear, but is not sourced through love. Amen.

*John 18:38
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.

Living in an Ever Changing World

Fearof GodLiving in the Spirit
July 22, 2015

Scripture Reading: Psalm 14

Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’
   They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
   there is no one who does good.  

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
   to see if there are any who are wise,
   who seek after God.

 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
   there is no one who does good,
   no, not one.  

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
   who eat up my people as they eat bread,
   and do not call upon the Lord? –Psalm 14:1-4

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center.* While this statement is probably not news to most of us, it somehow becomes more real when etched in black and white statistics.

What may be more alarming are the number of people who are using God as their weapon of choice in political battles. How do we discern who has called on the Lord or not when we see God’s people being oppressed in God’s name? Is it any wonder people turn away from what they perceive to be wrong? I find myself totally discounting people who quote chapter and verse out of context to prove a point. Yet I, too, struggle to understand the application of ancient scriptures in today’s world. Indeed, people have been human since their beginning and we human’s do tend to fail to learn from our past mistakes. The truth in those ancient scriptures matter and we must seek their truth.

We seem to be driven by the fear of rapid change, and forget one of those oft repeated phrases running throughout the Bible in a wide variety of contexts, “Fear not, I am with you.” While we run around being scared of every little shadow that seems to move, we fail to remember that we serve an awesome God full of wonder and grace worthy of our fear.

Prayer: Lord, we do call upon you now to guide us and undergird us with your love enabling us to be productive participants in your work. Amen.

*http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/
 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.

 

The Sign

Feeding the 5000Lent
March 8, 2015

Scripture Reading: John 2:13-22

The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. — John 2:18-22

Discernment of God’s will has always been a challenge. The ancients often look for a sign as do we today. I am afraid though that we sometimes look for any sign that shows the easy way out. As I review the history of God and God’s people, it is rare to find any instance that could be classified as easy. Perhaps the story of feeding the 5,000 might be considered easy, but then if you have ever tried to feed even 500 people at one time when there is already an abundance of food, you know that feeding 5,000 people would never be easy.

In actuality, my experience has been that dedicated attempts to carry out the work of the Body of Christ in the world today is usually down right hard. There is always something or someone blocking progress. It rains the day of the Habitat build, the contractors didn’t show up to fix the leak in the baptistery, or the biggest marathon in the city is on Sunday morning and just getting to church is a major undertaking. Of course, there are far more serious obstacles to overcome: terrorist closing off the way to get humanitarian services to hungry, homeless, and sick refugees; or local people just simply wanting to bury their dead when their loved ones are the source of contagion.

The only sign we need to prove we are doing God’s will is Christ reflecting back to us through the faces of our neighbors that we love. We have already received the only sign that matters, the resurrected Christ.

Prayer: O God of Wonder and Grace, run the race with us every step of the way helping us meet and overcome any obstacle on our path that is keeping us from doing your will. 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.

 

Discernment

TeamLent
March 6, 2015

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. — 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

We spend a lot of time trying to discern the will of God. Small groups meet about it. Books are written about it. Particularly when working together as a congregation or a committee in a congregation, we prayerfully consider everyone’s views, discuss pros and cons, and even quote scripture. In general, I think such discernment is good unless it becomes the end unto itself.

I am a basketball fan. If a basketball team operated like a church, they would never win a game. Players individually and collectively must stay in great physical and mental shape. They must eat right, exercise, get plenty of rest, learn how to handle the barrage of pundits attacking them one day and almost worshiping them the next. Most importantly they need to practice, individually and collectively. Basketball games move so fast that players must function instinctively, automatically knowing where their teammates are at any given time, being attuned to when a teammate needs a block or to be bailed out of a tight situation. One of the phrases most often heard from an unhappy coach is, “You guys are just standing around.” They must be engaged every minute they are on the court. In all honesty, players must be engaged when they are sitting on the bench, because they have to be ready to pick up in the midst of play the minute they hit the court. It works when they share a common goal, winning, and when they are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team to win.

I think Paul may be saying something similar to the Corinthians. “You guys are just standing around. Have you forgotten why you are out there in the first place?” We serve an awesome God who is with us every step of the way, whose weakness is stronger than our greatest strength. God sent his Son with the game plan, to love God, to love our neighbors, and to tell all of God’s children about God’s love by word and by deed. This is our goal and nothing should be allowed to get in the way of attaining it.

Prayer: Lord, help us be doers of the word. 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.