Tag Archives: Loving God

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.

Reflecting God’s Love

John_1_5_picture, Hells_Canyon, Wallowa_CountyEastertide
April 7, 2016

Scripture Reading: Revelation 5:11-14

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,
‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!’ –Revelation 5:11-12

Our scripture today is another of those scriptures that I cannot read. My mind automatically sets it to music from my memory and thus rather than read it, my mind makes me sing it in my heart at least, if not out loud. Of course, it gets tricky sometimes, like with this one, when my mind primarily remembers another translation as I trip over the word “slaughtered” and plug in the word “slain”. As controversial as Revelation may be in understanding it does rise to the occasion in poetry.

There is a lesson in that. While longing for absolutes in this world, we can often only express the reality of God symbolically. The only absolute we can proclaim without question about God is God’s love. Paul fittingly places the phrase we see through a light, dimly (or a mirror darkly KJV) in his Corinthian discourse on love: For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (I Corinthians 13:12)

Truth be told, the only thing we often have to cling to is the absolute nature of God’s love as we seek to love God in return and to love others as we love ourselves in a world where light is often dim and mirrors reflect darkly.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the glimpses you give us of your love in the light of the ones who love with no conditions and reflect your way in all that they do. Help us to strive to be your light of love and reflect your love in our own 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 American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

 

Applying the Way of the Lord

directionLent
February 17, 2016

Scripture Reading: Psalm 27

Teach me your way, O Lord,
   and lead me on a level path
   because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
   for false witnesses have risen against me,
   and they are breathing out violence.

 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
   in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
   be strong, and let your heart take courage;
   wait for the Lord! –Psalm 27:11-14

The wisdom of this scripture lies in its plea for the Lord to teach us his way. While studying scripture is important, how we apply it is what really matters. Paul realized this is his words in
1 Corinthians 13:1-13:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I believe if we just do two things, we fulfill our call from the Lord: Love God and Love One Another. Of course, it helps to have the stories of our ancestors in the faith telling us how they did or did not do this and yes, I value the teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount to his parables. Yet they all condense to these two actions, loving God and loving one another.

How did Jesus love? He did not judge, he usually responded to people by asking “What do you want?” or “What do you need?”. He did not determine what was best for others, he helped them to see that for themselves. This was his way.

Prayer: Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path. 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.

Fundamental Love

MertonLiving in the Spirit
September 24, 2015

Scripture Reading: Mark 9:38-50

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. –Mark 9:38-4

I am sorry that the word “Fundamentalist” has been forever tied to a very specific group with very specific beliefs about Jesus and how his followers should be. Apparently there are also Fundamentalist Mormons and my guess is Fundamentalists in all the world religions fitting that description. Other words used to describe fundamental include basic, primary, formative, indispensable, irreducible.* Perhaps I simply see a shorter listing of beliefs as fundamental to being a follower of Jesus. For it seems to me we must rely on the basics that he gave us: Love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves and share that love throughout the world. With those three tenets as our foundation, we are not talking about a closed system that keeps people out but a system opened to all kinds of possibilities that draws people in.

The encounter described in this scripture from Mark describes just such a possibility. A man is casting out demons in Jesus’ name and Jesus said let him continue. If he is doing a good thing in Jesus’ name, does it matter that he doesn’t have his name on our membership list? The problem arising when what one thinks is absolutely imperative, others believe it to be a sin. Perhaps my three tenets are the easy way out but I see nowhere in the scriptures that any of us have been assigned the job of judging others whereas it is very clear that we have been assigned the job of loving others. It was certainly Jesus’ way and he was assigned the job of judging.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” — Mother Teresa

Prayer: O Love that will not let me go, enable me to be a source of your love for others. Amen.

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

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.

Borderless Living

life_perspectiveLiving in the Spirit
July 17, 2015

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 2:11-22

He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.
 –Ephesians 2:15-22

I have probably said it before, but I will say it again: there are no borders in the Kingdom of God. Paul talks a lot about the nations. In his day, as now, we must deal with the civil borders drawing lines of demarcation sayings this is ours and this is yours. I suppose it makes things easier to have many nations. The more unlike people who are involved in setting out rules for living in community; the greater the challenge. Although I must say, the artificial borders drawn years ago in the middle east in an attempt to settle disputes have perhaps come back to haunt the world today.

Jesus’ concept of a borderless kingdom is designed to focus its citizens on the more important aspects of life: loving God and loving one another. He seemed to realize without these overriding drivers of human interaction we would never be able to live as one in the abundance of which he spoke. Love first and everything else falls into place.

When I walked through the ruins of Ephesus last year and saw the various gods along the way, I marveled that Christianity ever got a foothold in such a place as this. My god is better than your god had to be played out routinely. It is blatant when gods are represented by elaborate statues, but our world is not much different than Ephesus was when Paul arrived. We, too, have other entities competing for our worship. Jesus was right, of course, loving God and loving like Jesus is the only way we can overcome that which compels us to lesser gods.

Prayer:
Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.* Amen.

*Chorus from Higher Ground by Johnson Oatman, Jr. see at: http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Higher_Ground/ 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.

Caring for All of God’s Children

Jesus and the lost sheepEastertide
May 7, 2015

Scripture Reading: 1 John 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. –1 John 5:1-6

I believe that everyone is a child of God because all were created in the image of God. Is there a difference in being created by God and being born of God? What does the sentence mean, everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God? Is it simply saying that through our relationship we actually know and can celebrate that we are children of God? And what about the second item, everyone who loves the parent loves the child? Does that mean that we love all of God’s children or just the ones who believe that Jesus is the Christ? All indications from Jesus the Christ is that he expects us to love all of God’s children—love them enough to introduce those who do not know him to him through our word and our deeds.

These great theological questions are being discussed and debated throughout Christendom but they were not the first thought that cross my mind today as I read this scripture. While I enjoy a deep theological discussion at times, I usually end up reading scripture as it relates to the practice of faith. As we proclaim loudly that we love God we do not demonstrate well our love for all God’s children. How can we abide living one more day in a world where children are trafficked as slaves or worse as pawns in the sex-trade industry? How can we not respond to reports that children growing up in some of our own cities are already counted as lost to success because of the culture in their communities*? How can we send the parents of young children to prison for non-violent crimes when their lives might be turned around with community based services not only allowing parents to care for their own children, but hopefully shutting down the pipeline to prison for their offspring? How can we let hundreds of thousands of children die each year because their water is not safe**?

‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? –Luke 15:4

Prayer: Lord, it is good to study your word, but help us not only study it but understand it and live it in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.

*http://www.iasc-culture.org/research_thriving_cities.php

** http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs330/en/

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.

Pleasing God

loving selfLiving in the Spirit
October 23, 2014

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully maltreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. — 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4

Scholars believe that the letters to the Thessalonians are the earliest of Paul’s letters that have been identified. It appears that even though this correspondence dates from the first century, it describes quite well the state of our world today. No one knows who to trust so we didn’t trust anyone. We use every means possible, good or bad, to sway people toward our way of thinking as do others. One only has to listen to a few of the political ads on TV right now to see this in action. Paul thought the situation so tenuous in his day that he felt the need to explain his credibility by saying he was not trying to please anyone but God. In our world so many bad apples have tied themselves to God, God now has a bad name among some.

Skilled athletes, dancers, and singers continuously practice the fundamentals of their trade until they become automatic for them and then they practice some more. We, as followers of Christ, must practice the fundamentals of our faith working together as the one Body of Christ in the world today. No I am not talking about the Fundamentalism of the 19th century. I am talking about the fundamentals set forth by Jesus Christ in the first century: loving God and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. For most of us those words roll easily off our tongues, but practicing them until they become automatic is a very different experience. To love God first requires us to discern how we love and who and what we love in general. Where does God fit into that laundry list of our priorities? And that is just the first step.

In our world today, loving our neighbors is way out of sync. Of course, in God’s eyes when we are not loving our neighbors we are not really loving God. In all honesty if we read the whole verse from which that phrase is quoted (Matthew 22:3 records Jesus quoting Leviticus 19:18) we will see that it says You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Perhaps loving God also requires loving ourselves enough to be the people God created us to be and not to sell ourselves out to lesser Gods like greed and power and pride that are often at the core of how and why we treat our neighbors as we do.

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.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)

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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Rule One: Love God

Living in the Spirit
July 10, 2014

 Scripture Reading: Romans 8:1-11 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death….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 8:1-2, 6-8

I have never once questioned Paul’s sincerity; I have at times wished he could express it in fewer words or perhaps shorter sentences and that the words he used had the same meaning for us today as they did for him. (As a writer, I could probably learn from that advice also.) Flesh for most of us is another word for skin. Indeed skin is the largest major organ in our bodies, but we view it in a more functional way than the word Paul sought to describe the state of people without Christ. “Human nature” might today come closer to describing what Paul meant by “flesh”.

Neither flesh nor human nature is a negative term or phrase but both can get us into trouble at times. We are told today that vitamin D is important for good health, and a really good source of vitamin D is the sun. We also know that too much sun on our skin can result in cancer. Just like our desire for the world’s greatest tan, under the guise of getting vitamin D, may have dire consequences, our human nature can otherwise lead us down paths of self-destruction. The people of God in the first century got so caught up in obeying the letter of those laws they failed miserably at living the spirit of the law, where loving God is the most important rule in their lives. The law had become the god they worshipped. If a little obedience to the law is good for us just think what a lot could do, no matter who it hurt or who it causes us to ignore.

We do that still today. God’s answer to them is the same answer for us.  God sent God’s Son to strengthen our bond with God, to let us know that God will always love us, and to again stress with us that our relationship with God through Jesus Christ is the way to an abundant life. Everything else will fall into place when we commit to that level of loving God.

Prayer: O Love that will not let us go, draw from us the love that you planted in us at creation and make it radiate throughout the world 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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.