Tag Archives: Grace

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.

Life in the Spirit

Lent
March 30, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:6-11

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. –Romans 8:6-11

The Greek word for flesh used here is sarx* and means merely of human origin or empowerment*.

4561 /sárks (“flesh”) is not always evil in Scripture. Indeed, it is used positively in relation to sexual intercourse in marriage (Eph 5:31) – as well as for the sinless human body of Jesus (Jn 1:14; 1 Jn 4:2,3). Indeed, flesh (what is physical) is necessary for the body to live out the faith the Lord works in (Gal 2:20)*

Flesh is a technical word in Paul’s writings, referring not primarily to physical acts (i.e., sex or eating) but to the fallen nature of Adam, thus humanity apart from grace. The old written code refers to observance of Torah divorced from the intentions and Spirit of God.**

We let ourselves off too easily when we limit Paul’s discussions of flesh to misuse of sex or overeating or things like these. Humans tend to gravitate toward the world of “what’s in it for me”. If obeying a series of laws gets us a better seat at the table, then we are in the game. The Hebrew Bible calls us to obey a series of laws out of our desire to demonstrate our love of God and God’s desire for us to live in community with God and all his children. His rules provide guidance for such a way of being.

God continued this quest by sending Jesus Christ into the world not only to model the life God envisioned but ultimately to enable us through grace to become whole and partners in building the Kingdom God desires. Why is it so hard for humans to grasp the truth that what is good for me is good for you and what is good for you is good for me. God is glorified when we can accept and live God’s truth.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we rely on our human nature more than we rely on you. Makes us whole, make us one. Amen.

*http://biblehub.com/greek/4561.htm

**The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, Abington Press 2003, page 2019

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.

Faith Reckoned as Righteousness

Lent
March 9, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. –Romans 4:1-5

“Daddy, Daddy look what I did! I tied my shoes today all by myself. Watch see how I can do it!” This young girl is on the road to becoming fully the person God created her to be. God expects that of all of us and it has nothing whatsoever to do with earning God’s love. In our “what’s in it for me” world that is a little hard to understand.

Doing something because it is simply the right thing to do seems to be in short supply today. At times, it appears some feel they have a license to do whatever evil crosses their minds. I am sure most of us experience a flash of anger, perhaps based on fear, when someone cuts us off while driving but we do not chase them down and kill them for it. On the other hand, many are blessed while having a bad day by a saint who simply holds a door for us or picks up a package we have dropped. There is a bit of righteousness in both not responding in kind or worse to evil and in developing the art of kindness in everything we do.

There is a story of hell and heaven, The Allegory of the Long Spoons, where a person is given a tour of both. In hell, he sees people starving while setting before a banquet table full of food. The problem was their spoons were too long for them to bring the food to their mouths. In heaven, he sees the same scene where all are well fed. Using the same sized spoons, each person feeds the neighbor across from him or her.

God’s grace is not only a gift for all God’s children, it is a model for our way of being.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your grace. Infuse us with your love so that we can be graceful toward others. Amen.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_long_spoons

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 Caste Out All Fear

Lent
March 3, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 5:12-19

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. –Romans 5:18-19

What does it mean to be made righteous? Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word translated as righteous in our scripture above as just in the eyes of God—describes what is in conformity to God’s own being*. A word we use to foster comfort in personal salvation, grace, seems to be tied to our relationships with others. Can justice exist outside of community?

Laws exist to standardize structures and processes related to human interaction. The rightness or justness of laws is based on the impartial facts of a given situation which demonstrates whether the issue is fair; whether it possesses the qualities of equity—a free and reasonable conformity to accepted standards of natural right, law, and justice without prejudice, favoritism, or fraud and without rigor entailing undue hardship:  justice according to natural law or right**. Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) When we practice his way of being based on loving God and loving others the law is fulfilled because the very nature of love results in justice.

The law became brittle in various times in the history of God including in first century Galilee and Judea. Hardened and no longer malleable to the world’s growth and progress, the law became a path to self-righteousness for some and a stumbling block for others in search of God. Jesus reset the paradigm placing rules in their proper order joined with the imperative of always living one’s love.

Fear is often the cause of the breakdown in the connection between rules and love. Fear of change is often the culprit. To be honest, it is probably easier to follow a whole book full of rules than engage with other humans toward living together in harmony. This is particularly true when we or our group believe we have the only correct interpretation of the rules. 1 John 4:18 assures us, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

Prayer: God of Justice who is Love, calm our fears, embolden our love so that your justice may rule our lives. Amen.

*http://biblehub.com/greek/1342.htm

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

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 Will Work

Epiphany
January 29, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. –Matthew 5:8-12

Jesus warns in the beatitudes that we must be very careful what we do in the name of God. What happens when we ascribe our actions as God’s plan when they relate more to self-interest? There may or may not be a problem with one’s self-interest. If self-interest takes away from the wellbeing of another, it is not of God. God created us to succeed; gave us a multitude of positive choices with which we might apply our talents and skills. I think God’s ultimate plan is that our talents and skills mesh well with our heart’s desires. The first rule of order in God’s world is that all our activities grace others with love. Anything we do in the name of God that does not grace with love is not of God. God is the ultimate judge of our behavior.

All people are children of God, created in God’s image. We cannot pick and choose among the world’s populations regarding who we are to love. We are even called to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), a tough assignment in a world caught up in terrorism and oppression. These Beatitudes make it clear that our task is not easy, but I am very sure love is the only way that will ultimately work.

Prayer: Lord, grant us strength and courage for the facing of this hour*. Amen.

*Derived from hymn God of Grace and God of Glory by Harry E. Fosdick see at http://www.hymnary.org/text/god_of_grace_and_god_of_glory

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.

Quid Pro Quo

quid pro quoLiving in the Spirit
August 28, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14

He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ –Luke 14:12-14

We live in a quid pro quo world. You scratch my back I will scratch yours. Apparently, first century Galilee and Judea functioned within the same system. Is it human nature? And then along comes this man who blows quid pro quo away.

Grace, Paul would say, supersedes anything this world can offer. Jesus says he will repay at the resurrection of the righteous. What do you suppose we might get? When the righteous rule justice results.

These two concepts fit very nicely together. Striving for justice is a messy business. Advocates for justice cannot even agree on what justice looks like much less how to attain it. Frustration begets prayer. Prayer welcomes God to the solution table. God’s grace fills the gaps left vacant by our human endeavors. The synergy forged through just attempting to find common ground becomes strength for the next steps.

Jesus radically changes the focus of all our efforts. He forces us to dig deeply into the wellspring of learning to love like he loves because it is the only way that works.

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!
Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me! 

All my heart to Him I give, ever to Him I’ll cling
In His blessèd presence live, ever His praises sing,
Love so mighty and so true, merits my soul’s best songs,
Faithful, loving service too, to Him belongs*. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, when I am discouraged help me remember your love is all I need. Amen.

*Chorus and Second Verse of Love Lifted Me Words by James Rowen. See at http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/l/o/v/lovelift.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 American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Perseverance

create-a-world-where-peace-is-built-with-justice-and-where-justice-is-guided-by-loveLiving in the Spirit
June 20, 2016

Scripture Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel. –2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

You will need to read all of 2 Kings 2 to feel the fullness of Elisha’s perseverance as this scene is played over and over again. The book of Hebrews also talks about perseverance: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1)

How do we love with perseverance? How do we cling to our calling to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves in a world filled with fear and hate? How do we love away hate and fear without alienating the ones we are trying to love? How do we let love cleanse our souls to the extent that there are no enemies just more people for us to love? And how can we chase after our call to love with the same perseverance that Elisha pursued his mentor for the last gift of grace he felt he needed to enable his ministry?

I wonder how the disciples felt as Jesus left them with a call and the gift of grace. We still stand today with the same call and the same gift of grace. Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Love is stronger than hate and fear. God is working God’s purpose out and we are a vital part of God’s work. We are not working alone.

Prayer: Lord, help us to feel your presence in the work we do in your name. Guide us and teach us your will and your way. Amen.

Illustration above from http://www.imagesbuddy.com/images/206/let-us-create-a-world-where-peace-is-built-with-justice-and-where-justice-is-guided-by-love.jpg

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.

Building Character

Throne-of-Grace-Hebrews_-4_16Living in the Spirit
May 20, 2016

Scripture Reading: Romans 5:1-5

…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 5:3b-5

How do we facilitate the building of resilient followers of Christ without creating rigid, fearful Christians wrapped in the stone of salvation-protection that may actually be self-protection? In our scripture today Paul describes that exact process, surely identified through the challenges of life he had faced.

I think, we need to revisit the gift of grace poured out in full measure by God. It is pretty incomprehensible to humans, particularly those of us who are strong adherents to the theory that we must pull ourselves up from our own boot straps. In reality I do not thing there has ever been a human born who has accomplished that. Even Jesus knew the total dependence on loving parents. Yet, there it is, God has covenanted with us to love us not because of what we do and often in spite of what we do.

Some years ago I heard a son interviewed on the evening news after learning that his parents had been killed on a trip apparently by a man to whom they had offered assistance. While the death of his parents was a tremendous loss to him, his reaction was striking, he said something to the effect that his parents lived with the presence of God all the time. They died doing what they thought God would want them to do and he was sure they were at peace with whatever happened.

We are called to live the love of God within the framework of God’s abiding grace and in so doing let God mold us into hope-filled characters working to bring God’s freeing love to every human.

“Lord, we are able.” Our spirits are thine.
Remold them, make us, like thee, divine.
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
a beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.*

Prayer: Lord, we have trouble grasping the enormity of your grace. Let it fill in the gaps until we are whole and able to bring hope to a fragmented world. Amen.

*Chorus from the hymn, Are Ye Able, words by Earl Marlatt see at http://www.hymnary.org/text/are_ye_able_said_the_master

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.

A God of Grace

cropped-my-grace-is-sufficient-wordpress-blog-header-06-04-2013Lent
February 16, 2016

Scripture Reading: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him….

 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, –Genesis 15:7-12, 17-18

The image of Abram working frantically to keep the birds of prey from eating his burnt offering reminds me of my futile attempts to stop something I deemed to be an offense to God and could not. Abram tried his best to honor God in the way that God had instructed and outside forces threatened to destroy all his work. We do not know what happened, because Abram, being a human, fell asleep. God spoke to Abram in his sleep, in a dream perhaps, telling him that he would have many offspring and that they would eventually become slaves for 400 years and they would escape and prosper in the land that God was giving Abram at that time and place. Did Abram want his descendants to face such oppression? He appears to have no choice. From where did the smoking fire-pot and flaming torch come? Were they also a part of a dream? Is this story a Hebrew taste of God’s grace?

Truth is we cannot predict the outcomes of any of our offspring. We can only give them the best that we have to offer and trust then to God’s loving mercy. God’s grace is sufficient.

Most of my lost efforts relate to justice issues and the impact is still the same. Outside forces seem to win the day despite my best efforts. Where would we be today, if Abram had not opened himself to a relationship with God, if Joseph had not overcome adversity to save his people from famine, if Moses had not led those same people out of slavery into the promise land, if Jesus had not come to show us what justice looks like? These are names we remember well, but God’s work requires the best from all of us.

Prayer: Help us discern the difference between faith and fate. Grow our trust in you to help us be the tools we can be to hasten your dominion over all the earth. 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.

Not What We Want to Hear

Make Crooked StraightEpiphany
January 30, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 4:21-30

Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” –Luke 4:21-23

Jesus was not sent by God to say what the people wanted to hear, he was not sent to bring fame to his fellow citizens, or take sides in their disagreements. Truth be told, he should not have needed to have been sent at all. Jesus was sent to make the crooked straight (Isaiah 45:2), to clean up the messes that seemed to be beyond the people’s control. We still long for a superhero to come and make everything the way we want it to be today. I think we would be as surprised or disappointed or angry as Jesus’ neighbors were, if he walked in the door right now. Jesus came to change the hearts of God’s people, to restore our souls.

Thank God for the gift of grace Jesus provided, for we still find ourselves unable to walk the walk even with a straight path to follow. We try to bend God’s way to our own conventions. It is time for us to open our hearts, minds, and souls to God and welcome God’s mercy. Until we each and all allow God’s love to rule our lives and our interactions we will continue to spiral downward as a society.

I believe the political fiasco in the USA today is a mirror reflection of the attitudes of the collective American population. We are getting exactly what we want. Until we deal with our own sins of greed and entitlement we will lose ground as a nation. A reading of the Bible book of Amos might be a good Lenten observance. I think it will sound familiar.

Prayer: Lord convict us of our sins, forgive us of our sins, and journey with us as we strive to follow the path you have set before 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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.