Tag Archives: Loving God

Evil in Sight

Living in the Spirit
November 13, 2017

Scripture Reading: Judges 4:1-7

The Israelites again after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly for twenty years. –Judges 4:1-3

When will we ever learn? I wonder how many times the Bible records something similar to The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. While theologians may debate whether God rains punishment down on God’s people, there is no question that we all must suffer the consequences of our own actions even when God forgives us. Are our memories so short that when good times abound we forget what we did to cause the bad times?

God gave us standards from the beginning to understand how to thrive in the world God created. The overall primary standard is to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. God sent prophets to warn us of our misdeeds and ultimately sent Jesus Christ to redeem us. And still, our eyes glass over, only seeing what we want to see and doing only what we want to do. Many of us justify our actions projecting them as God-given. They may be self-righteous but do not meet God’s standard of righteousness. Racism will never pass God’s test of love.

We live in a time when some deep soul searching is needed. Some beautiful examples of sharing God’s love exist, caring for hurricane victims and the victims of recent gun violence, alongside some very ugly rhetoric. We need a lot more of the former and a lot less of the latter.

Prayer: Lord, guard our tongues to be uplifting now down-putting. Let the light of our love wash out the dark of hatred and bigotry. 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.

One True God

Living in the Spirit
November 7, 2017

Scripture Reading: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

But Joshua said to the people, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, we will serve the Lord!’ Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ The people said to Joshua, ‘The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.’ So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. –Joshua 24:19-25

Who can serve the Lord who is holy? Set apart* is the English translation of the word holy. The Hebrew word translated holy could also be translated sacred**. Either suggest the singular, monotheistic nature of God.  Thus, if we worship other gods, we are not suited to serve the Lord. God demands that we get and keep our priorities straight.

What compels us to search for other gods particularly after having a long and rich history of relationship with the one true God? Is it a bit of the “what have you done for me recently” attitude? Perhaps it is a desire to test the success of God? We do that all the time with material things as people steeped in the scientific process. I grew disenchanted with my cable system and am experimenting with cutting the cable with mixed results. My changes solved most of the problems I had but created a few new ones. Are we shopping for a god that is just right for us? Raised in a time when marriage was a forever ideal, I watched the change to serial marriage or no marriage at all become the norm. Have we lost the value of lifelong commitments regarding God? Probably it is a little of all of these ideas, which seem to share the common denominator of not being satisfied with ourselves so finding the right god might help us find ourselves. In actuality accepting the love of the one true God and abiding in relationship with the Lord is the source of learning to love ourselves so we can love our neighbors as God loves us.

Prayer: God who is Love, help us to rest ourselves in your abiding loving and never to stray from its blessings. Amen.

*http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/holy
**http://biblehub.com/hebrew/6918.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.

Let Love Be Genuine

Living in the Spirit
August 31, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-21

; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. –Romans 12:9-13

I find the praise translated Let love be genuine intriguing.  Admittedly, I may be grasping at something that is not there. I am more social worker than theologian. I am definitely not a Greek scholar. The phrase seems to imply that love is a natural phenomenon among humans around which we might construct barriers keeping love from being fully actualized. The word love used here is the Greek agape* often used to describe God’s love, which centers in moral preference. God chooses to love us without condition, which does not mean we do not have to deal with the consequences of our actions. God calls us to choose to love God, and to love one another.

I borrow M. Scott Peck’s definition of love, which shortened is wanting the best for another. God wants the best for us, and we likewise are to want the best for all people. The problem arises when we try to define what the best for another might be. Such an act on our part is not in our job description. We can ask God for wisdom in dealing with people who seem to be traveling a bad road, but my experience is that trying to prescribe another’s behavior rarely succeeds. Each of us must work out with God our own salvation*. Our unconditional love, like God’s, if we are willing to let our love be genuine may be a catalyst toward someone  identifying and implementing changes needed.

Paul continues the scripture giving examples of how we can let love be genuine. Most regard choices we make in our interactions with one another.

Prayer: God of Mercy, instill in us the desire to choose to love unconditionally and nurture us to love in such a way that others can see the path you desire for them. Amen.

*http://biblehub.com/greek/26.htm
**Philippians 2:12

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.

 

Politics of Jesus

Living in the Spirit
August 26, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. –Matthew 16:13-17

Why did Jesus ask the disciples how people perceived him? Was he checking to see if he was getting his message across? Was he testing his team’s understanding or fidelity? Preceding this scripture are stories of the religious leaders of the day asking for a sign from Jesus to prove who he is, and a warning from Jesus for the disciples to beware of these same leaders. I think Jesus was trying to address both questions. He cared that people understood his message. He cared that the religious leaders did not misconstrue who he was to further their purposes. Jesus dealt with politics.

We tend to tie politics to civil government, but everything we do involving groups of people includes some form of politics. We even try to influence one group’s politics with another group’s. Politics is a branch of ethics concerned with the state or social organism as a whole rather than the individual person:  a division of moral philosophy dealing with the ethical relations and duties of governments or other social organizations*. Much of the Gospels include reports of Jesus’ handling the politics of his faith community. He was a threat to the power of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He called for the formation of a kingdom that was vastly different from their concept of God’s Kingdom. Many of them, not all, were certain their understanding of the Kingdom of God was God’s understanding. Sound familiar? Are we following the path of the Pharisees and Sadducees rather than Jesus’ way? How do we know Jesus’ path when we seek it?

Jesus was a minimalist. He had two basic rules love God and love one another. He illustrated both with lots of stories and lots of examples that passed to us through the ages. His message was not a new one. It was one his faith community were called to follow very early in its formation. The lesser gods of lust for power, greed, pride, envy, and sloth continually play their political viewpoint against God’s all the time wooing us away from the basic rules. If love is wanting the very best for everyone, then these lesser gods cannot be a part of God’s Kingdom.

Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
   and do not take your holy spirit from me**. Amen

*http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/politics
**Psalm 51:10-11

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.

Covenant

Living in the Spirit
July 24, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 29:15-28

Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. –Genesis 29:15-20

Arranged marriages seem strange to us although it is still practiced in some cultures. We might learn something from arranged marriages in that they deal with the realities of living and raising families more than our romanticized version where falling in love sometimes exceeds common sense. On the other hand, sharing life with someone, we never learn to love, might be worse. Someone once told me that the best marriages result in marrying someone with whom we fall in love and that we learned to love with our whole being continuing to grow that love over the years. Falling in love is wanting the best for ourselves; truly loving someone means we want the best for them too.

Marriage in the eyes of God is covenantal. A covenant is more than a contract. It is binding and is often the word used to describe our relationship with God. I fear we too experience the falling in love and loving conundrum regarding our relationship with God. The interesting paradox regarding our relationship with God is that what is best for God is always best for us also, although, at times, it is hard for us to accept that reality. God commanded us to love God and love one another. In so doing we will thrive.  Temptations suggest to us that there are short cuts to obtaining that end and that God’s definition of thriving may differ from the world’s definition. God also envision that thriving occurs in community. God calls us to want the best for everyone, which implies working together in love.

Of late, we seem more divided than ever. We invest in weapons of war rather than the nurture of love. If climate change is not affecting us directly, we cannot worry about those areas of our world already suffering from its impact. We are more interested in making a profit from prisons than restoring our neighbors to wholeness. If someone is hungry, he or she should get a job even though they already have one or even two. To the sick, we say no one dies from lack of health care.

What is it going to take for us to fall in love with God again and practice the ongoing art of loving God and loving our neighbors, wanting the best for God and all of God’s children?

Prayer: Lord, teach us to thrive in your love not seeking to thrive in the ways of the 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 America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved

O Love that Will Not Let Me Go

Eastertide
April 26, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. –1 Peter 1:17-20

If God is an impartial judge what are God’s expectations for us? Are our ways in sync with God’s? Do we ascribe high priorities to the same things God does? The Hebrew Bible tells us that the Israelites routinely fell into bad habits of placing priorities on things that did not matter while letting slip the things that did. Idol worship was offensive to God where God’s people were putting their trust in carved images. We think we are way past that sort of nonsense, but are we really? Where do we place our trust? Certainly, accumulation of wealth seems a source of salvation in our society. Power is another. Neither are guaranteed even in our own time much less for eternity.

God apparently thought we needed help in sorting out our priorities and sent Jesus to live among us, one human being modeling being human for the rest of us. He simplified priorities by having only two: loving God and loving each other with no strings attached, no tests for us to administer to determine who deserves either God’s love or ours. The job of judging was reserved for God only.

Loving God and loving each other is an impossible task for humans unless we are plugged into our relationship with God. We might tiptoe around the edges of truly loving another but all others, I doubt it. The potential for loving all others is in every human as we are each made in the image of God who is love. God can and will enable our ability to love like Jesus, when we open ourselves to the fullness of God’s love.  Let it be so.

Prayer:
O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.* Amen

*First verse of O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go by George Matheson (1882) see at http://hymnary.org/text/o_love_that_wilt_not_let_me_go

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.

How Do We Love God?

Eastertide
April 25, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

What shall I return to the Lord
   for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
   in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord
   is the death of his faithful ones. –Psalm 116:12-15

We are called, commanded to love the Lord. How do we love God? The Psalmist guides us in loving God. Thanksgiving is always a good place to start. A toast is offered in God’s name to recognize the gift of God’s abiding love. I am a terrible card sender. I have a drawer full of cards I have purchased for people special to me that I have yet to send to anyone. But the lesson of sharing thanksgiving is not one to be ignored.

Keeping our commitments to God is another way of expressing our love for the Lord. What vows have we made to God? Worshiping and following God is always a choice. That may come as a surprise to some whose concept of God stems from others trying to cram faith down their throats choking them from knowing a loving Sovereign.  When we choose to accept Christ as our Savior we commit to a life-changing way of being. Some of us have taken the additional step of committing our lives to full-time Christian service as a means of loving God. Many exchange wedding vows before God to solidify the sacredness of the institution of marriage. Parents dedicate their lives to taking on one of the most important jobs anyone can have raising new generations of God’s children.

I recently attended the memorial service for one who indeed was a good and faithful servant. I thought of my own mother as I listened to the service. My mother died at the age of 98. She had served as a Deaconess in the Methodist Church during the depression in the mountains of West Virginia working with people in abject poverty before she met and married my father and raised three children. Even then her church work continued, teaching Sunday school, serving as secretary of the board, working with the quilters. She, unlike her youngest daughter, was an excellent card-sender. She spent the last year of her life unable to walk in a nursing home but her ministry continued as she prayed for everything and everyone.

The Psalmist says loving God is through thanksgiving, promise keeping, and loving others. It is a simple formula but tried and true.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for saving our souls, let your love poor through us as we keep our commitments to you loving others all along the way. 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.

Jesus Wept

Lent
April 3, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 11:1-45

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ –John 11:28-37

I loved The Waltons TV show. One Christmas show is still seared in my mind. The wife of the local mercantile owner organized a charity to help the poor little children in the village. She gathered donations of toys and announced the date and time when the families could come and get their gifts. If you remember the show, you know that she thought she was a cut above her neighbors. A rather ridged woman, she required each child to recite a Bible verse before they could get a toy. The older children did well but the younger they got the less likely they were to know a verse. John Boy, the lead character, standing in the background started whispering short verses that the young ones could remember just long enough to get their toy. For the youngest and the last, he saved the shortest verse taken from our scripture above, Jesus wept (King James Version).  It was most appropriate for after proving their worthiness by reciting a verse, the children opened gifts of broken and worn out toys.

Jesus’ final days were filled with the irony of one whose only desire in life was to love and enable others to love caught in a world where everyone must prove their worth based on human judgment. I do not know why Jesus wept at Lazarus tomb. Perhaps it was because Mary and Martha were in such grief, perhaps he deeply regretted the pain and suffering that Lazarus had experienced in his final days. Both are probably true but I also think he wept for all those who were missing out on the fullness of God’s love by chasing after lesser gods of pride or greed or whatever.

Lent is our time to examine ourselves and see if we have any of those lesser gods distracting us from the love that passes all understanding.

Prayer: God of Mercy and of Grace, help us to see ourselves more clearly. Free us from the chains of idolatry, great or small. Fill our lives with your love so that we can be conduits of love to all your children. 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.

Mary’s Song

magnificat0002Advent
December 9, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:46-55

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ –Luke 1:52-55

Called Mary’s Song and The Magnificat, it is a young woman’s song of expectation about the child she carries. Mary conceived Jesus during hard times in Galilee. There was a Jewish uprising against Roman in a city near Nazareth and Rome dispatched the malcontents quickly. Rome made every effort to assure all the Jewish people of who ruled them. Mary’s Song defies reality. Mary’s Song expresses her sure and certain faith that God was in control. I doubt that any Roman heard the song or even if they did put too much thought into the power a teenaged girl and the baby in her womb. One should never question the influence of a loving mother or the power of a loving God.

What is our song today? Are we even singing? How do we envision our future? Whose control do we recognize? What is God calling us to do about the hungry and the powerful?

Read all of Mary’s song, prayerfully consider it, and take some time to compose your song about how God is working through you and the causes God calls you to champion.

Prayer: Lord, here I am. How can I serve you today in making a word ruled by love? Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Pitching Tents

tent-camping-imageLiving in the Spirit
October 18, 2016

Scripture Reading: Joel 2:23-32

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,    and praise the name of the Lord your God,    who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,    and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again    be put to shame. –Joel 2:26-27

I confess I do not have an easy working relationship with the Book of Revelation for a lot of reasons, but I learned to glean positive thoughts from it over time from a good teacher. One such idea are words similar to the ones written in Joel. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself with be with them; .. (Revelation 21:3) The word translated home here is actually the word tabernacle which is a tent. I rather like the thought of God living among us.

Has God become so far removed from us that we lose a sense of God’s presence? What difference would it make in our lives if God were our next door neighbor? It would be great in times of trouble. God most likely would share a storm shelter or allow us to run an extension cord to an outdoor plug if our electricity were off. Is this how we perceive God now?

It occurs to me that God longs to be a part of every aspect of our lives. For that to happen, we must recognize God’s presence continually. A lot of hate speak spews through our airways in the midst of a, particularly ugly election year. How much of that is going to continue after the election? What does a God who is love think of hate speak or actual hate actions? How does God feel about our wasting the talents invested in us on unproductive interactions that result in gridlock or worse? I wonder at times if God has not taken the tent out of the package yet because our growth in love as the source of a better world is not ready for God living next door.

Prayer: Lord, if ever we have needed you we need you now*. Forgive us for getting caught up in fear of change, fear of strangers, fear of loving the other. Embolden us to pitch our tents among all your children so that we can find you. Amen.

*See Hymn I Need Thee Every Hour lyrics by Annie Sherwood Hawks with chorus by Robert Lowry see at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/371

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.