Tag Archives: Oneness

Righteous not Self-Righteous

Living in the Spirit
September 22, 2017

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:21-30

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. –Philippians 27-30

When we profess to be followers of Christ, how we live and treat one another, good or bad, is interpreted by the other as representing Christ, a responsibility we must take very seriously. How many people turn away from Christianity after being negatively impacted by the behavior of those claiming to be Christian? Much of such behavior appears to be more self-righteous than righteous. If God’s followers are set apart, it is for special service not because they are better than anyone else. White privilege grows from self-righteous seeds and self-righteousness stems from feeling unworthy.

I watched the PBS Program Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World, recently that described Luther’s early life of never feeling he could live up to the expectations of God. He tried everything he could including beating himself and confessing for hours every action he felt was sinful. He finally experienced an epiphany of grace leading him to understand the loving, forgiving nature of God. He went on to usher in the Reformation challenging the status quo of Christianity that had moved away from the basic tenets of Christ.

It is time we examine our ways of being and to ask God for our own moment of grace making us whole so that others can learn of the wondrous love of God through us.

Prayer: Lord make us whole and make us one with you. 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.

Thanksgiving leads Progress

Living in the Spirit
September 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 105;1-6, 37-45

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
   make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
   tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
   let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
   seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
   his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
   children of Jacob, his chosen ones. —Psalm 105;1-6

We are reminded regularly by Psalmist and others to give thanks to God for God’s fidelity in love and fulfilling all that the Lord has promised. Why do we say or sing praises to God in the short term while quickly moving to an attitude of “What have you done for me lately?’ Those of us who claim to be partners as the Body of Christ in effecting the Kingdom of God are particularly vexing when we get caught up in such an attitude. Shouldn’t our perspective be “We have reach a plateau where do you want us to go next.” Until the Kingdom is complete our work is not finished.

I love Romans 8:28:  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. There was certainly nothing good about the Oklahoma City bombing but the good this city has experienced since then is amazing. The bombing helped us see what was important. Helped us get our priorities straight. We have a lot more work to do and we must continually remind ourselves of what is important.

The same is true of our work toward the Kingdom of God. We should not rely on tragedies or natural disasters to bring us together to find the oneness we need to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants. There is no place in the world for greed or lust for power. There is a place for wise investment of resources and skills, and leadership through servanthood targeted at God’s vision for God’s creation.

Prayer: We do give thanks to you, O Lord, for your steadfast love as we take the next steps to further your vision for all. 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

Being Church

Living in the Spirit
September 9, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:15-20

 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. –Matthew 18:15-17

The above scripture is tough. If sin is separation from God, how does that play out in relationships between humans? If sin is missing the mark? Who establishes what the mark is? If the way we treat one another classifies as a sin against God, what is our responsibility to the other member of the church involved whom we are called to love? Does this scripture indicate that the church is a closed, exclusive organization with no concerns about people beyond its walls? How does that mesh with Jesus’ teachings about loving our neighbors? It probably is not fair to separate verses 15-17 from verses 18-20, but I fear that is what happens in the everyday functions of any church.

Christ calls us to be one, and that requires us to figure out how to get along and work productively with one another. Becoming one is a challenge when we cluster with people who are very much like ourselves. Becoming one with people of markedly different cultures is much harder even impossible without the abiding presence of God’s guiding our way.

I cannot imagine what it was like carving out a new religion in the first century bringing together peoples from various other faith experiences or none at all. We see snippets of frustration with melding diversity throughout the gospels and the writings of Paul. One of the most difficult parts surely was moving from a predominantly exclusive system honed by years of oppression by outside forces to a fully inclusive system opening the doors to former oppressors.

With these considerations aside, the advice in verse 15 is sound. When there is a problem between two church members, it is best to discuss it calmly and privately. The inability to resolve the problem amicably resulting in involving others opens a different can of worms. History tells us when such situations lead to positive or negative outcomes. For good or bad, our many denominations are the result of such disagreements. It is very important that our actions are not missing the mark with God.

Prayer: Lord, grant us the gift of discernment that we may know how to deal with one another within the context of your rule of love. Help us to comprehend when we have sinned against another and guide us to seek forgiveness from the one we have harmed and you. When we feel someone has sinned against us grant us the wisdom we need to deal with the issue in a way that will bring you glory. 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.

 

Washing Feet

Living in the Spirit
September 7, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. –Romans 13:8-10

The lead into our scripture today is a much-debated segment advising Christ’s followers to obey authorities and pay their taxes among other things. The people Paul targeted did not live in a democracy; most had no input about laws or taxes. While the Romans tolerated various religious sects when they did not cause problems, Roman expected obedience to its laws and financial support of its governance.

Paul takes his instruction further in this scripture where he says we should owe no one anything but love and we owe love to everyone. We owe love because we receive and know the love of God through Jesus Christ. How are we to make a positive difference in the world, if we follow the same paths as the world? I recently watched with keen interest the clergy arm in arm forming a wall of love in Charlottesville standing against hate and violence. I watched a white man carrying two black children out of the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey. I watched our Mexican neighbors bring much-needed supplies and help to Texas in response to the hurricane. They simply loved their neighbors. I saw no fear in any of these faces only determination.

1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love. But perfect love cast out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

Jesu, Jesu fill us with your love,
Show us how to love the neighbors we have from you.

Silently washes their feet,
Master who acts as a slave to them.

Jesu, Jesu fill us with your love,
Show us how to love the neighbors we have from you*.

Prayer: Lord, let your love free us from our fears enabling us to love like you. Amen.

*Chorus and first verse of Jesu, Jesu, words by Tom Colvin see at https://hymnary.org/text/kneels_at_the_feet_of_his_friends

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

We Go High

Living in the Spirit
September 6, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 149

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
   his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
   let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
   making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
   he adorns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
   let them sing for joy on their couches.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
   and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
   and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters
   and their nobles with chains of iron,
to execute on them the judgment decreed.
   This is glory for all his faithful ones.
Praise the Lord!

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people. We are a source of God’s happiness. If you are a parent or aunt in my case, it is easy to imagine. I take pleasure in seeing my nieces and nephews thrive and success using their God given talents. I apparently inherited that trait from God. So did you. God loves each human and thus wants the very best for each of us. We need to share in and support each other’s growth and development.

We all recently watched people rescuing people in the recovery efforts related to Hurricane Harvey’s hitting the gulf coast. A horrible disaster, yet the love that poured through that area surely gave God pleasure. Long-termed restorative care is now needed. An extension of letting our love pour through our everyday lives seems appropriate too. Disasters tend to remind us of what is important.

Ultimately, we are responsible for our behavior, and it is important that we take that responsibility seriously. As we live in community,  we meld our ways of being with others for good or for bad. Our goal is to maximize the good and minimize the bad, which means we must find common ground on which to build our society that requires the patience to understand one another and not take for granted what is reality for me is another’s reality. Finding common ground is hard work requiring us at times to leave our comfort zones and move to higher ground.

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

*Chorus to hymn Higher Ground words by Johnson Outman Jr. See at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/396

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

Taking Up Our Crosses

Living in the Spirit
September 3, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:21-28

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

 ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ –Matthew 16:24-28

Our lives stream with choices some simple some complex. We forget that choosing not to choose is a choice. I love the scene in the Jungle Book movie where vultures perched on naked tree branches are caught in a circular conversation, “What do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” How many times have we had similar conversations? Choosing to deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Jesus is a life altering decision touching every aspect of who we are and what we do with our lives. We no longer can sit on the fence and watch the world go by saying “isn’t it a shame, somebody ought to do something about that.” We are the somebody.

The world often casts love as a role we simply fall into; make no mistake, love is a choice, as is indifference and hate. Choosing to love is a commitment that takes all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength leaving no room for indifference or hate. I fear our gravest departure from Jesus’ example comes in the form of indifference. How we act as we present ourselves as followers of Christ is how others who observe us understand Jesus. If we project an attitude of indifference, we present an inaccurate picture of Christ. If we caste hate-filled judgment on others in the name of re-creating them in our image, we may drive a wedge between them and the One in whose image they were created.

We have a choice right now in our society whether to live God’s love completely for all of God’s children. When the world tells any they are not welcomed, we must welcome them in the name of God just as they are. If they are hungry, we feed them if they have no clothing we dress them, if they are sick we work toward their healing, if they are in prison, we restore them, and if they are strangers, we recognize them as strangers no more but as our brothers and sisters in Christ. And if any of these realities are the result of systemic injustice, we do justice.

Prayer: God of All, make us whole, make us one. 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.

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.

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.

 

Finding Our Niches

Living in the Spirit
August 25, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-8

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. –Romans 12:3-8

God created each of us with a unique set of skills and abilities. I view the Body of Christ as an organic jigsaw puzzle with each piece differing, and all pieces being essential to reveal the whole picture. We have at least a three-fold mission as the Body of Christ, one to find all the pieces, two to welcome them as a part of the picture, and three to help them find their niche while nurturing their growth in fulfilling it. For an individual, a niche is a position suitable for the capabilities or merits of a person*.

My church a few years ago started posting the newsletter online and emailing it to those with an email address who request it. We have some people who prefer a hard copy, and they pick it up at the church. Others, primarily shut-ins and some who have moved away but like to keep up with our work, are mailed a copy through the postal system. One retired gentleman takes very good care of those who get copies mailed. I think it brings him joy, and I know it fills an empty spot in the lives of the recipients. He has found a great niche in the ninth decade of his life. There is not enough space to list all the other niches he has filled over the years. The one I hear the most about is sponsoring youth events. I’ll bet he is even surprised at some of the things he has done that brought great joy.

Be open to the leading of God and try some new things in your service to God. You might be very surprised at some of the gifts you discover.

Of course, the final results is the Kingdom of God vibrant in love across the whole earth. Let it be so.

Prayer: Lord, open windows of opportunity for all who seek you as we commit to being your Body in the world today. Amen.

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

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.

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.