Tag Archives: Evil

Constant Communion

Lent
February 17, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ –Mark 1:9-11

I am a nester. I like to keep my stacks of things in my immediate vicinity which requires me on occasion to shuffle through paper trying to find a specific document. The problem is that if I carefully file them away elsewhere, I can never remember how I filed them. Routinely, though I must face my stacks, organize them and in many instances throw several items away because they are no longer relevant. I am sure that is true of those things that I have transferred to a file cabinet.

We also collect a lot of clutter in our souls holding on to attitudes and opinions that were short-lived phenomena no longer having relevance but taking up space that could be put to better use.

The sequence of events in our scripture today suggests that Jesus faced the same problems. He is first washed clean in baptism after which the Spirit descends and he is identified as one with whom God is well pleased. He was in a sense cleared for takeoff when he is immediately challenged with temptation. The implication is that constant communion with God is crucial to maintaining our readiness for service in God’s kingdom. I think this includes routine clarifications as well as more in-depth times of examination and refreshing of our souls.

Prayer: Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true
And with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary, oh for you* Amen

*From Lord Prepare Me, to be a Sanctuary see at https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/29786117

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.

Evil and the God of Love

Ordinary Time
January 28, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:21-28
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

I do not have a great understanding of what were dubbed demons in the first century or the people who display similar behavior today with symptoms now given a psychological tag. I did read M. Scott Pecks book People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil several years ago, which explored similar situations.

I remember well sitting on suicide watch all night in a general hospital with a young teen awaiting his transfer to a psychiatric facility. Although heavily sedated, he cycled through stages of agitation looking at me wildly declaring he was Jesus Christ and he was to save the world, eventually wearing himself out until he collapsed on the bed and fell into a deep sleep. He would later awake proclaiming he had committed blasphemy by declaring himself the Christ and he needed to die for his sin. I even remember thinking this is like the demons in some of Jesus’ stories. There is so much we do not know.

I no longer question that evil takes many forms, and I am not sure if some type of mental illness is one of them. I am sure that humans can get so caught up in layers of self-deceit colored by many descriptors such as envy, greed, lust, hunger for power, violence that they alone cannot escape the chains those manifestations have on them. Jesus Christ can and does return people to wholeness when we let him.

Prayer: Spirit of the Living God protect us from evil, lead us to the empowerment of your love that heals the sin-sick soul. 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.

The Vistas of God’s Love

Lent
March 8, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
   from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
   who made heaven and earth.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
   he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
   your going out and your coming in
   from this time on and for evermore. –Psalm 121:1-2, 7-8

There is that word again, evil. Yesterday we discussed God bringing down evil on people by cursing them. Today we find the Lord keeping us from evil.  The Hebrew word translated here as evil* at its root deals with adversity. Humans have an interesting relationship with evil. I find myself in adversity trying to accomplish justice all the time. It is always a challenge to walk the fine line between standing for what one believes to be right while not being drawn into behavior that is not of God.

Thus, I find it comforting that the Psalmist ties lifting one’s eyes to the hills, turning to the Lord in times of trouble when dealing with adversity. I lived in Denver for two years and awoke each morning with the ability to turn my eyes to the west and gaze not only on the foothills but the mighty mountains in the background. It does give one perspective. I get the same sense of the presence of God watching an Oklahoma sunset. Using the beauty of God’s earth as a vehicle to see the world from God’s panoramic viewpoint, helps us to mesh our priorities with God’s. It enables us to discern a path forward toward justice while loving our perceived adversaries as children of God made in God’s image too.

I have found it helpful when seeking to do justice to search for the things on which all or most can agree and lighten up if possible on the things that tear us apart ending any conversation.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for the beauty of the sunset as it stretches endlessly across the sky much like your love embraces all your children. Let that image guide us as we seek to be champions of justice. Amen.

*http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7451.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.

Why Evil

Epiphany
February 28, 2017

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

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. –Genesis 3:1-7

Beware of the manipulators! Jesus put it this way, ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15) Snakes and wolves are predators. They prey on others to their own advantage. There seems to be a lot of that going around these days, but I guess it has happened since the beginning of time. If what people are saying it too good to be true it probably is not true.

What drives us to go against our better judgment or common sense when we are the creation of the Almighty God who is love? Why do we turn away from God in search of short-term delights which never meet our needs? What is evil and why is it so alluring? 1 Timothy 6:10 may help us understand the nature of evil: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. Is evil an attractive shortcut described as the way to our heart’s desires? Evil leads us around through darkness to emptiness keeping us so busy on the journey we lose sight of the One who is the source of all we need.

God is still with us, still loving us, still welcoming us back into God’s arms, despite all that we do. God’s light illuminates darkness; God’s love fills emptiness.

Prayer: Lord forgive us when we get caught up in that which is not good for us nor is it beneficial for the development of your Kingdom. Keep us mindful of your purpose for our lives. Fill us with your love; fill us with your joy. 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.

Pass the Peace

Peace of GodAdvent
December 11, 2015

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It is an interesting image, the peace of God standing guard over our hearts and our minds. In a world that is rushing to buy guns for self-protection having peace be responsible for care of our hearts and minds is a hard proposition to consider, but doesn’t it sound inviting. Why do you suppose we so readily let the bad guys define our lives?

When I was a child the bad guys were the Russians who were going to come and overthrow us so we practiced bomb drills at school and some built bomb shelters and some stockpiled food. It is almost funny now when I think about it: Children sitting under their desks with their hands over their heads as a means of protection against a nuclear bomb.

Evil will never be overthrown by trying to out evil it. Violence only begets more violence. Evil will only be erased from this world when the peace of God overcomes it. That process starts when we each let the peace of God in to guard our hearts and our minds against impulsive responses to the evil that is among us.

Prayer: O Lord, let your peace that passes understanding flow through this world via all of your children allowing it to flow through 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 American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1Living in the Spirit
September 11, 2015

Scripture Reading: James 3:1-12

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. –James 3:10-12

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.* Could this “Thumperian principle” have been based on a reading of James? You remember, Thumper the little rabbit from the movie Bambi attempting to follow the instructions of his father. Try some time to go through a whole day without saying something negative about something. We move blithely through blessing and cursing every day. We may not perceive what we are doing as blessing or cursing but that in point of fact is the result of our words. James takes this idea even further. He is saying, if we are God’s people, we are as incapable of cursing another as an olive tree is of producing a fig. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

If everyone is made in the image of God, how can anyone be bad? Tough question to consider when we observe bad things happening all around us, isn’t it? We say, “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” but I don’t think it is possible. I do not believe any of us are capable of freeing ourselves from the clutches of sin unless we are loved totally for who we are at any moment in time. Unless we are touched by God’s grace. We are called to emulate Christ who is gracious always.

Freed from the ominous task of judging others, we have the holy opportunity to love each other toward wholeness. None of us has reached perfection. We are all on the same journey toward being one with Christ. The love that is God is more powerful than any evil. Our sharing such love among all of God’s children without regard to any of our behaviors can and will lead to peace and justice.

We also ignore evil’s presence at our own risk. Confronting the evil that is in our society is a part of doing justice. We will, however, never overthrow evil with more evil. Evil can only be defeated by love.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

 O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.** Amen.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thumper_(Bambi)

**Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace by St. Francis of Assisi see at http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=134

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 Synergy of Love

gods-love-cs-lewis-550x320Living in the Spirit
June 24, 2015

Scripture Reading: Psalm 130

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
   and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
   more than those who watch for the morning,
   more than those who watch for the morning. –Psalm 130:5-6

The families of the victims of the recent mass killing were apparently well practiced in waiting for the Lord for at the accused killer’s bond hearing several of them spoke, for example: “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” a daughter of Ethel Lance said. “And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”* Such an immediate response could have only come from much time committed in being in communion with God. It illustrates well the presence of the grace of God in Mrs. Lance’s life and that of her daughter. What a wonderful testimony to honor a mother!

It is extremely challenging to develop the practice of waiting on the Lord letting God guide and direct us as we respond to the issues of daily life. It is, however, a habit of the heart worth pursuing. Paul uses the example of athletes. In order to play a game, run a race, or perform a gymnastic routine, one has to be in really good shape, which comes from daily routines of practice. The patterns of their sport are so encoded in their brains that their reactions are automatic.

We live in a world where hitting back, road rage reactions, bullying, and put downs seem to be what is encoded in our brains. It is these little habits of discord that lead to general societal dysfunction. Evil can create synergy where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Christ calls us to build our lives around God’s love reflected in our love. The whole world will benefit from loves synergy.

Prayer: Lord, help us develop as spiritual athletes, exercising our loving until it is our well-honed automatic response to everything. Amen.

 *http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/19/us/charleston-church-shooting-main/
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.

 

Houses Divided

one-true-churchLiving in the Spirit
June 6, 2015

Scripture Reading: Mark 3:20-35 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. –Mark 3:23-35

A lot of people consider Abraham Lincoln the source of the phrase, a house divided against itself cannot stand, but he was paraphrasing our scripture for today. I, too, borrowed it for the title of my book but made the word house plural, Houses Divided. I wrote about the fractures that exist among the houses of God in our land today. I believe it is a source of great grief for God who called us to oneness.

Unless we figure out how to be one we will never overcome the world’s madness. I believe oneness is impossible without wholeness within each of us and wholeness within each and among all the houses of faith. So much of the strife in the world is the result of competition for the souls of people. Jesus calls it Satan in our scripture today, I think of it as evil. It is like a parasite that drains the energy from its hosts eventually destroying it even while making it appear full of life.

Jesus’ message to us in his coming to us is that the only thing that can overcome such a destructive force is the love of God. We cannot legislate evil away and we cannot kill it. We can facilitate its demise by loving God and loving like Jesus loved. The final verse (33) in John 16 which proceeds Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17 where he calls us to be one, gives me great hope: I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’

In Jesus Christ we have received the answer to the age-old mystery of what to do about evil, God’s love. We just need to live it.

Prayer: O Jesus, blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God; Hold us, who wait before Thee,Near to the heart of God.* Let your Spirit fill us and guide us in the ways that we are to live your love. Make us whole; make us one. Amen.

*Chorus from Near to the Heart of God by Cleland B. McAfee see at http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Near_to_the_Heart_of_God/
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 for Tomorrow

Hope for tomorrowEastertide
May 21, 2015

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:22-27

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. –Romans 8:22-25

If you live in Oklahoma, you get a real-time education in meteorology whether you want it or not. I know a whole lot more about hook echoes and super cells than I ever thought possible. Just yesterday evening I spent time watching as a huge super cell cross southern Oklahoma. Tracked for 27 miles, it destroyed much in its path, primarily in open country with few structures. The buildings lost in its path were just as important as the ones destroyed in urban areas, but there were not so many and so far no injuries have been reported. Living in tornado alley also provides real-time experience of hope as does living in the path of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.

 I love the third verse of Great is Thy Faithfulness, which I think captures the essence of our scripture today.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!* 

At times, it seems the whole world is in the path of super cells of evil not related to nature. Some are the consequences of our own actions or our ancestors’ actions. Some result in damage to people who are innocent but have the misfortune of being in the path of evil. Most are designed to shatter hope. We worship a forgiving God who has also willingly sent God’s son to show us how to do faith in the face of such evil and whose dear presence continues as our guide and advocate. Our hope is built on nothing less**. 

Prayer: Lord, give us the strength we need for today and the bright hope we need for tomorrow to serve you as you have called us to do. Amen.

*Great is Thy Faithfulness, words by Thomas Obediah Chisholm see at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/19

**First line from The Solid Rock by Edward Mote see at http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/The_Solid_Rock/

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.

Overcoming Evil

LionLent
March 22, 2015

Scripture Reading: John 12:20-33

‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. — John 12:27-33

It is hard to image Jesus’ having a troubled soul. The one who could turn water into wine, heal the sick, and raise the dead was facing failure. He had tried in every way possible to help people understand that the workings of the ruler of this world were not to their best interest. Yet as the prophets of previous generations had said, they listened but they did not hear. (See Isaiah 6:9, for example)

The twentieth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing is April 19, 2015. One of the things I heard on the news after that event was a comment form a local pastor that the first heart broken when the bomb went off was God’s. If we indeed are made in the image of God, then that comment makes sense. Just as it makes sense that Jesus’ soul would be troubled because he wanted the very best for all God’s children. It is sad that we seem, not only satisfied with something less than God, but we almost crave it. Evil saps us of our energy to love like God loves and we let it. We of course pay a high price for taking second best.

As we stand at the foot of the cross and remember the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, let us remember who made us and that we were made to love. By the grace of God though Jesus Christ, we have been empowered to love like Jesus, we just need to trust in the gift.

Prayer: Lord, sometimes I want to run away and hide from all the torment and tragedy in the world. I surely do not want to step into the quagmire and work toward a just world but that is exactly what you call me and all your children to do and we can only answer that call through the gift of your grace and the strength of your love. Strengthen our weak knees. (Hebrews 12:12) 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.