Tag Archives: God’s Love

The Wonder of God

Living in the Spirit
September 13, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 114
When Israel went out from Egypt,
   the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
   Israel his dominion. 

The sea looked and fled;
   Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
   the hills like lambs.

 Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
   O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
   O hills, like lambs?

 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
   at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
   the flint into a spring of water.

I thought of Pippa’s Song by Robert Browning when I read Psalm 114. Poetry or other artistic forms may be the only way even to begin to express the power and majesty and, yes, love of God.

THE year ‘s at the spring,
And day ‘s at the morn;
Morning ‘s at seven;
The hill-side ‘s dew-pearl’d;
The lark ‘s on the wing;
The snail ‘s on the thorn;
God ‘s in His heaven—
All ‘s right with the world!

The people recently rescued from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey might begin to understand the wonder of the Israelites as they stood on the safe side of the Red Sea. Cecil B. Demille’s notwithstanding, we have no clue what really happened as the Israelites fled the oppression of the Egyptians. Getting the facts right is not nearly as important as understanding God love them, desired for them to be freed, and they were.

What we need to comprehend is that God loves us, desires the very best for us, and is actively engaged in working with us when we are willing to work with God.

Prayer: Thank you for poets who give us a glimpse of your wonder. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your continuing presence. 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.

Taking Sides

Living in the Spirit
August 23, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
   —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
   when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
   when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
   the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
   the raging waters.

 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
   who made heaven and earth. –Psalm 124:1-5, 8

Rabbi Harold Kushner explores well the issue of faith in the midst of tragedy in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. We are called to pray for all kinds of disasters and illness, and we do. As much as we try to grapple with God’s presence in the face of tragedy, it remains a mystery cloaked in our very human reactions.

I believe that God is love and is present with us in all of life’s challenges. I also believe that God does not favor any of God’s children over any of God’s other children. I do not remember who said it, but someone was reported to say something to the effect that God was the first one to cry following the Oklahoma City bombing. I believe that to be true.

Matthew quotes Jesus as saying

 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

The last phrase of this scripture is the most familiar. I think it important that we read the full saying. The Lord is always present and is always on the side of love no matter what. Our faith in that plays out in our worldview and our response to others. As part of the Body of Christ we are called to be instrumental in refocusing our world toward the rule of love.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your patient love. Let it flow through each of us to all of us. 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.

There is no Such Thing as Acidic Love

Living in the Spirit
July 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’ –Matthew 13:1-9

I grew up on a farm and hated working in the garden. I did develop a great appreciation of fresh vegetables which remains. When I bought my house in Oklahoma City and transitioned from apartment living to a home with a yard, I decided to plant just a few things primarily tomatoes. My plants grew strong and well flowered. Soon little green tomatoes appeared that grew bigger as they turn red. It was with great expectations that I plucked the first fruit of my endeavor, washed it and took a big juicy bite from it, only to spit it out as quickly as I could. The tomato was so acidic; it burned my mouth. It seemed my soil’s pH* balance was not conducive to producing quality tomatoes. Thus, my gardening adventure ended, and I located the closest farmers’ market.

Our scripture today is often used to describe what results when bringing in new followers of Christ, but it also may draw our attention to the ongoing process of being the Body of Christ engaged in the world today. We all have experienced such things as the observation that 20% of the workers produce 80% of the result**. Something more seems to be going on in our world today. There is too much acid in our quest to love. Hate speech is common and hurtful. Outright discrimination exists. Groups of people find it harder and harder to conduct civil discourse. Those of us who claim to be the Body of Christ are some of the worst perpetrators. If we do not set a good example, who will?

The balance of love comes from its very source, God. Our love is the outward projection of our being in sync with God’s love.

Prayer: God of Mercy and Justice, forgive us when we slip away from your nurture. Restore our souls so that our love reflects Yours. Amen.

*Soil pH is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity in soils.

**Known as the Pareto Principle, it is the observation (not law) that most things in life are not distributed evenly. See more at https://betterexplained.com/articles/understanding-the-pareto-principle-the-8020-rule/

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.

Brotherly Love

Eastertide
May 28, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 17:1-11

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
–John 17:6-11

Brotherly love meets agape love. Jesus’ concern for those whom you gave me weaves through this scripture. I get a sense Jesus is saying “I am really going to miss these guys—and gals. I have been glorified in them.” Jesus gained value from his interactions with his disciples. The love of God is mutually synergistic. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (Matthew 18:20)

As Christ’s disciples, we are called to continue melding brotherly love and agape love as we strive to be the Body of Christ in the world today. We close our Congregational Council meeting each month with prayer including updates on member-related issues. Most often this list of concerns relates to health concerns. Someone is in the hospital, someone just moved to assisted living, someone was able to return to church for the first time in two and a half years. Sometimes we celebrate a new birth, and sometimes we mourn the loss of a dear friend.

For Christ’s disciples, the coming together of brotherly love and agape love extends beyond the local congregation. It takes us just down the street to a school where we fill backpacks with food for 14% of the students to take home for the weekend because the school lunch program is believed to be their only source of nourishment. It takes us to the City Rescue Mission where we provide steel-toed boots for job seekers who must have these shoes to work at construction sites where day jobs are available. It takes us to the halls of the state legislature and Congress to help assure that the least of these are not disenfranchised. It takes us to the Dominican Republic where children learn skills that lead to employment removing them from exploitation.

Where does brotherly love and agape love come together for you?

Prayer: God of Love, thank you for the opportunities to share the wealth of your affection with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. 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.

Imperishable Love

Eastertide
April 27, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23

Through [Jesus] you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. –1 Peter 1:21-23

I saw a news report recently regarding the storage and care of ancient crop seeds so that their contributions to our society will not be lost. Apparently, scientists are working to take from them the natural goodness of the taste and find a way to meld those properties with the stamina and disease and insect resistance of our modern vegetables and fruits. I recently bought some slicing tomatoes that tasted much like the tomatoes of my childhood grown on our farm under the tender care of my mother. Trust me there is a big difference.

Just living in our world requires us to adapt our ways of being to survive and thrive. It can get out of hand when the push to success becomes our only purpose. I believe that God gave us brains to use and God rejoices with us when we use them wisely for the betterment of the world and all that is in it. From creating music to ending wars, we are blessed with much potential. The gift of the spirit is like the melding of those ancient seeds with our progress making our outcomes align with God’s purposes.

Prayer: Lord plant the Spirit’s seed in every aspect of our lives so that we may taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8) 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.

New Birth in Christ

Eastertide
April 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. –1 Peter 1:3-5

I wear a fitness bracelet designed to make me aware of how much exercise I get each day and how much sleep I get with options of also recording how much food I eat and how much water I drink. It is helpful, particularly for one who does not come by exercise naturally. Last night I went to bed about 11:00 pm. This morning my bracelet tells me I went to sleep at 12:13 am. I have no clue how it knows these things, but the minute my head met my pillow my brain started racing through several things that were bothering me most over which I had little or no control except how they affected me. The bracelet was probably right; I lost over an hour of sleep stewing. It made me wonder how one could develop a spiritual fitness measurement tool.

As with physical fitness so also in spiritual fitness keeping our bodies well nurtured and awash in the cleansing power of the spirit is essential. Practicing routinely the spiritual disciplines of study, prayer, service, and worship among others prepares us well for what life throws at us. Nothing surpasses the love of God in the gift of God’s son Lord Jesus Christ who is able and willing to give us newness of life whenever we seek it.

Prayer:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen. (Psalm 139:23-24)

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.

Fear and Joy

Easter
April 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:1-10

Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ –Matthew 28:7-10

Fear and joy are an interesting combination of reactions. These two emotions come together in anticipation of something happening that is more wondrous than can be imagined. How do we respond when the unimaginable appears before our very eyes?

God calls us to be and do things beyond our human expectations. I was in college when the Broadway show, Man of La Mancha opened and I saw it in my senior year 1968-69 as it traveled across the country. Remember the world was falling apart in 1968. The Vietnam War was ablaze, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, and Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 6. Hope was in short supply among my generation. And then I am introduced to a song, titled The Quest that put in prospective for me the call God made to all of us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have been a pragmatic optimist ever since.

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star*

So it was with fear and joy that the women raced from the tomb to deliver the message that Jesus was alive and ran smack into him on the way. The truth is he is waiting for us on the track as we run the race he has called us to make. As bad as things may seem, faith, hope, and love can overcome any barriers in our way. Jesus is calling, let’s go.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the gift of Jesus Christ, thank you for his mercy and his grace, and thank you for his strength when we experience fear spiced with joy. Amen.

*From The Quest See at http://www.reelclassics.com/Actors/O’Toole/impossibledream-lyrics.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.

Love

Lent
April 12, 2017

Scripture Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

So, if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

I wish that I could wave a magic wand over the earth and in one swipe make everyone whole, including myself. How many of the problems in our world today can be traced back to a gap in someone’s self-worth? How many wars happen because of the need for some to prove they are better in some way than others?

The source of wholeness has come. There is no magic wand; there was a cross. There is a man, we call him Jesus, who came to show us the way to wholeness and then took the additional, extraordinary step to fill the gaps in our relationship with God by giving his very life for us. Some call it atonement, making us at one with God. Some identify it as salvation. Some know it as the gift of grace. He called it love.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?

Prayer: Thank you Lord for your unconditional love. Thank you Lord for enabling me to love others. Amen.

*First verse of What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul Author unknown. See at http://www.hymnary.org/text/what_wondrous_love_is_this_o_my_soul_o_m

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.

We all Need a Shim

Lent
March 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 5:1-11

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. –Romans 5:1-5

My house was built in 1923 with a crawl space foundation. Slabs were apparently not in vogue or perhaps even possible then, and basements are rare in Oklahoma. Several years ago, I bought two tall bookcases and when there were set up along a west wall in my living area they immediately formed a V. My floor had apparently shifted. I learned a new word in this process. I was told I needed shims. A shim is a thin piece of wood, metal, or stone that is often tapered, used to fill in the space necessary to make something that is leaning level. Having been a waitress in high school and college, I was well acquainted with the process. Table legs are notorious for magically attaining differing lengths resulting in the table rocking a bit. The “shim” most often used in restaurants to correct this problem in an emergency and in my experience, is a well-sized and folded paper napkin.

Faith is the shim in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Being justified by faith through the grace of God, we are enabled to share the love of God with perseverance and hope. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.  I do not disagree with him. Enthusiasm is important and there are other factors too. I think Paul illustrates his life experience well in our scripture today. Nothing great ever gets done without a lot of hard work, taking two steps forward and one step back, and a total commitment to the mission while not sweating the small stuff.

Prayer: God of Justice and Mercy, enable us to do the work of your love with enthusiasm but also with a commitment to seeing it through to completion. 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.

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.