Tag Archives: Kingdom of God

What if We Are Wrong

Living in the Spirit
September 10, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:15-20

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
–Matthew 17-20

I wonder if we fully understand the partnership God calls us to in being the Body of Christ. I do not like to think about what I do now will be carried out in heaven. Even in writing these short devotions, I am amazed at how many little mistakes I discover when I proofread. Sometimes I do not see them and must rely on the grammar checker on my computer. I can understand the servant who buried the money his boss placed in his care rather than use it to grow the business*. But growing the business is what we are called to do. We may not always do it right, we may occasionally take one step forward and two steps back, but when we work together, we always do it with Christ in our midst.

We are observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the chapel door addressing concerns he had about the church. I believe his actions were a needed correction to the corruption that had infested the church. God uses some to apply a checks and balances system when we wander too far afield.

We are in the midst of such a correction now as we deal with our sins of omission regarding various justice issues that seem lost in a maze of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the 21st century. If what we do on earth follows us to heaven then heaven help us to get it right now. I for one do not want to spend eternity in the midst of hate and war and violence and racism and oppression of any kind.

Prayer: Lord, give us the courage we need to walk your walk. Amen.

*See the Parable of the Talents at Matthew 25:14–30.

It is a Small World

Living in the Spirit
August 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 15:10-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly. –Matthew 15:28

Is this an instance of Jesus’ modeling for us that all people are God’s children? Is he demonstrating the human ability to broaden our worldview even when our life experience is limited to a very small area? Except for his trip as a baby to Egypt, Jesus never traveled further than a hundred miles from his home. Visitors traveling through his land exposed him to other cultures, the Canaanite woman for example. He certainly got a taste of the Roman culture. My experience as a child was limited to central Oklahoma with an occasional trip to Springdale, Arkansas, my mother’s home. I am an avid reader, so I visited many cultures in books and TV exposed me to other ways of being.

My first trip to Europe was with my church choir where we toured and sang our way through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In a tiny village in Switzerland, early one morning I saw a small chapel up on the side of a hill that intrigued me. Hiking to the chapel, I peeked through the door and saw a local woman praying. I waited outside for her to finish. She was somewhat startled when she came out encountering me gazing off over her lovely little home town. She asked if I spoke her language and I nodded my head no. She nodded back shrugging her shoulders to indicate she did not speak mine and started down the hill when she stopped turned back and gave me a big hug. I hugged her back, and she continued down the hill as I entered the chapel. Two children of God had surpassed language barriers to share God’s love.

Our world grew a lot smaller since my childhood. We know in a ping on our phones when a hurricane strikes thousands of miles away or when a public figure speaks inappropriately. Is our world becoming more loving as it opens to more scrutiny? Our primary purpose as followers of Christ is to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In fulfilling that calling, we set an example for others as Jesus set an example for us. Everyone is now our neighbor in this communication revolution. God’s vision of a world ruled by love is as doable now as ever. We are the workers called to build such a world.

Prayer: Lover of Our Souls, bless us when we falter in our work of spreading your love so that your work may continue through the power of your love in spite of our weaknesses. 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.

Riding Out the Storm

Living in the Spirit
July 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:12-25

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 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 8:18-25

Christ’s calls us to make a positive difference in our world today. While we study to learn from the past and prepare for the future, our focus is on the here and now. A wise and experienced person once told me that it takes at least ten years of persistent hard work to initiate a new government program. For example, in the USA we have worked since the 1960’s on health care for all. The more complex the issue, the harder it is to make change. The wise person likened it to turning a giant ship around in a turbulent ocean and taking it in a different direction straight into the storm. In a similar thought, the scripture above speaks to Paul’s experiences at the beginning of the Christian era in the process of initiating the Kingdom of God following Christ’s resurrection.

Humans seek every way possible to have the abundant life Jesus promised without following God’s path to attain it. In so doing, we turn to lower tier gods such as greed and power and never experience satisfaction. Greed and power demand more and more greed and power and always end in a futile waste of energy.

God created an interdependent world, which requires all to participate fully sharing and caring for resources so that all God’s creation works together in love. Love always begets more love.

Prayer: Spirit of God, shine a bright light on the path to wholeness, oneness, and justice that we may one day see your Kingdom of love ruling our world. Grant us the gift of patience in large measure when we enter troubled waters on this journey. 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.

Flesh to Spirit

Living in the Spirit
July 15, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:1-11

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. –Romans 8:9-11

Congressman John Lewis in his Note to Self* for CBS News, said to his younger self following a violent police response to a peaceful sit-in: “You got arrested the first time, and you felt so free. You felt liberated. You felt like you had crossed over,” he added. While he was still physically alive, he made the move from the flesh to the Spirit. Most of us dwell on the cusp of the Spirit, having never faced such a decisive threat to freedom, even life itself. Jesus Christ calls each of us to cross-over to the Spirit-driven life as we work for the actualization of the Kingdom of God.

While it may seem a paradox, it is harder at times for those of us who live in relative privilege and safety to answer Christ’s call to give up the flesh and become Spirit-led. What was it Jesus said in Matthew 19:24? Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’  We are cutting ourselves short. We too can know the liberating facet of God’s love when we see past our privilege and open our hearts to love all our neighbors. When we have a world where everyone has enough and is enabled to become fully the persons God created them to be, the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Prayer:
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me**. Amen.

*http://www.cbsnews.com/news/note-to-self-congressman-john-lewis-civil-rights-leader/

**Spirit of the Living God by Michael Hawn see at https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-spirit-of-the-living-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 America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Aligning with God

Living in the Spirit
June 25, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 10:24-39

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. –Matthew 10:34-39

I think God spends a lot of time figuring out how to work with what we give God when sometimes it’s not pretty. God’s work is always restorative. Even Abraham seeing all the stars in the heavens never saw the whole picture, nor do we who live where artificial light obscures the night sky. As humans, we have little bursts of insight of God’s purpose for this world and our roles in it. We praise God for patience with our blindsides and thank God for the few Aha! moments that bring new insights.

Jesus came to us to stir us out of our complacency and focus us toward being change agents in a world capable of self-destruction as well as fulfillment for all. While we may seek peace and escape from the realities of our world, Jesus modeled living in the world while restoring it to its full potential of light and life and love.

The poem Wind by Wind, wind – a reflection on the Spirit* by William Loader speaks to the varied roles of the Spirit as it works and wields its way into our beings. It is a scary poem, not for the faint of heart, but certainly worth the read. As we watch the principalities and powers of this world stumble through shaping the world to their favor, we would do well to remember that we follow a risen Savior who has overcome the world**. Our challenge is to let go of our priorities and align with God’s.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your loving patience with us. Prepare us for such a time as these. Amen.

*http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/wind.htm
** See John 16.32-33

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 Bondage of other gods

Living in the Spirit
June 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
   for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
   save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
   for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
   for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
   abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
   listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
   for you will answer me.
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
   nor are there any works like yours. –Psalm 86:1-8

What other gods do we have? When we can identify them, we most likely will find the source of interference with our relationship with God. The ancients shaped gods from clay and stone and other materials. They were tangible representations of their desires such as fertility gods, war gods, and agriculture gods. The hope was that homage paid to these gods brought children, victory, and good crops. The desires of life are neither good nor bad unless our emphasis on them overshadows their worth. Children are the future, war disrupts everything, food is a necessity for life.

Whether we have a graven image before us or not, we do have other gods. I write a lot about the gods of power and greed as I see them as the primary evils of our times. We all can find ourselves caught up in either or both. Legislators in Oklahoma ended important criminal justice legislation by protocol not votes because they could. Democracy is still in its infancy in providing equal justice for all.

How do we as individuals and collectively order our lives toward our commitment to serve God first and foremost and use the skills and talents with which God gifted us to actualize God’s vision for the world? How do we speak truth to comfortable culture that does not mesh well with God’s intent? How do we resist the drive to project our desires as God’s? How do we discern the difference?

Prayer: Struggle with us as we consider what gods are crowding our service to you. Free us from the bondage of other gods. Order our lives. 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.

Continuum of Caring

Eastertide
June 3, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 7:37-39
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Yom Kippur, also called the Day of Atonement, is the high holy day in the Jewish faith a day of repentance, a day of forgiveness. The day Jesus chooses to speak of living water flowing out of believer’s hearts. If we get nothing else from reading the Gospels, we get the message that we are called to nourish the whole world. Go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19) Go into all the world (Mark 16:15) Love your neighbor (Matthew 22; Mark 12; Luke 10; John 13)  Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10) there was a Samaritan (Luke 10) Serving the least of these (Matthew 25)

I think there is a need for a Continuum of Caring to address the needs of the world. I spent many years working in government based human services. Though there are those that like to denigrate anything done by the government, it is the most productive means of meeting the Common Good from building and maintaining roads, to protecting our nation, to meeting basic needs when necessary. The government is not good at providing one-on-one loving support to individuals and families caught in the challenges of life. Loving one’s neighbor is a God thing. There are many other players between these two points of my continuum, both for-profits and not-for-profits some, religious others not who fill the gaps between the broad brush approach of government and the one-on-one of loving our neighbors. All are important and need to work together in positive ways to create a world where justice prevails for all and charity is no longer necessary*. Jesus called it the Kingdom of God.

Prayer: Lord, help us to find the tiniest areas on which we can agree, work together on them, and like the mustard seed let them grow and spread to reshape our world in your oneness. Amen.

*While we do our good works, let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary. -Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic

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.

Unbind Us, and Let Us Go

Lent
April 4, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 11:1-45

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ –John 11:38-44

Was Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth to unbind us, and let us go now? It is often said upon the death of a person who has suffered grave illness or severe disability, God has freed them of their pain or disability. The Robe was the first movie I remember seeing. It is the fictional story of the Roman who won Jesus’ robe at his crucifixion.  The Roman is haunted by the robe and travels through the Christian world trying to be freed from its powers. In one scene, he comes upon a beautiful young woman playing a harp, although she could not walk because her legs were crippled. The young woman is at peace and joyously proclaims her faith in Jesus Christ. The Centurion challenges her that Jesus did not heal her for she was still crippled. To which she replied that he healed her of her bitterness and self-pity.

Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand. He does not see the world as others see it. Present at the creation, he knows the potential of the world and all that is in it, including we humans. His is a now and future Kingdom of which we are called as partners to bring it into full fruition. We see evil all around and grow discouraged from its power. John’s gospel does not let us get away with shaking in our boots. Jesus Christ not only unbound Lazarus to return him to his calling, he unbinds us still today if we open ourselves to following in his footstep.

Each day let us lay before God those things that are holding us back from being fully the persons God created us to be and open ourselves to God’s healing mercies as God unbinds us and sets us free.

Prayer: God thank you for your continuous presence with us. Fill the gaps in our lives that limit our responses, clean the filters in our minds that limit our love. Amen.

*See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Robe_(film)

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.

World Ruled by Love

Lent
March 12, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 3:1-17

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. –John 3:16-17

John 3:16 was probably the first verse I memorized. We did a lot of memorization when I was a child. Of course, my memory work was from the King James version of the Bible. To this day, I have trouble reading the 23rd Psalm from another version stumbling over what seem to be misplaced words. I grew up in the heyday of individual salvation, the need to publicly profess my belief in Jesus as the Christ the son of God and win other souls to Christ. I readily accepted him as my personal savior following the example of my parents, siblings, and neighbors. I meant it then and still believe in the constancy of God’s love as manifested in Jesus Christ. I was schooled in a tradition that recognized that accepting God’s love and returning it should be professed not only in words but by deeds. What Paul refers to as works. It was not until adulthood that I began to understand that Christ had a much broader vision for his work. Funny, it is right there in the next verse. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Or as Russell Westbrook says, it really does not matter to me how many triple doubles I get, what matters is winning the game. It takes a whole team to win a game and it takes a whole team to foster love throughout the world.

While there is nothing more valuable to me than my personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, it is as important that you and I are part of the team Jesus started building with the first disciples and continues to develop toward the creation of the Kingdom of God in our world today. I believe that Kingdom has two primary objectives, to Love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves including those who were once strangers that we accept as our neighbors. Eternity began with Jesus Christ.

Prayer: thank you Lord for your saving love that made us whole and continues to return us to wholeness when we forget to love ourselves as you love us. We accept your challenge to build a world based on love and ask your guidance in making it a reality. 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.

Christ is with Us

truth-1Living in the Spirit
November 5, 2016

Scripture Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. –Matthew 24:36-39

I am perplexed, perhaps more mesmerized, by the conversation between Jesus and Pilate at Jesus’ trial recorded in John 18:36-38.

Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?

We live in a world requiring fact checkers who nuance accuracy by degree: mostly true, somewhat true, somewhat false, mostly false. Was truth first identified as flexible via Pilate’s statement? Probably not, most likely people manipulated truth from the beginning of time. Perfectly reasonable people, as I assume the people of first century Rome and Israel alike were just like us today, could clearly be presented facts and deny that they existed. Truthfulness is a keystone of our election this year, and everybody seems to define their own truth with an underlining understanding that everybody lies.

What does that have to do with the return of Christ? What if all the pundits are wrong waiting for Jesus to come back and save us from the mess we are making of God’s world? What if Jesus is waiting for us to get our act together because he never left, is with us now, and, with his abiding guidance, expects us to become the Kingdom he taught us to be. When that happens, we might realize he has already pitched his tent among us.

Prayer: Lord, be present with us as we return to your way and work toward your vision of this world. 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.