Tag Archives: repentance

A New Thing

Christmas
December 26, 2017

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61:10-62:3

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
   and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
   and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
   and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
   that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
   and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  –Isaiah 62:1-3

Love will prevail. No matter how much God’s followers mess up, God always, always delivers a message to us that Love will win out over any evil and we will do a new thing because of God’s response to our shortcomings. Like a parent seeing a baby attracted to and reaching toward a shining, wiggly candle flame, God’s strong hands whisks us up and sets us in a safe place. God’s salvation may scare the devil out of us, and we may cry out in fear, perhaps anger or disappointment at having to give up what seemed so enticing to us, but God will soon quiet us and turn us in a new direction if we let God.

The message of Christmas in 2017 is strong and sure. If we do not repent of our ways that differ from God’s ways and turn back to God, God will intercede, and we will pay the price for our negligence.

I was acquainted with the following scripture from Isaiah when I attended some years ago a retreat held by the Children’s Defense Fund targeted at helping people of faith learn new ways to do justice for children.

I am about to do a new thing;
   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
   and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

I had never sung it in song before. I fell in love with the following little chorus at that retreat and on returning home taped it to my bathroom mirror to remind me of God’s persistent will that we learn the act of loving one another as the best way of being. The paper yellowed or time and the tape stiffened so one day I removed it while cleaning the mirror. I am creating a new copy today and returning it to the mirror.  I invite you to join me in letting God lead us into a new thing in love.

“I will do a new thing in you;
I will do a new thing in you;
Whatever you ask for, whatever you pray for,
nothing shall be denied.”
saith the Lord; saith the Lord! *

Prayer:  Lord, forgive us for our failures to love one another. Do a new thing in us. Amen.

I Will Do a New Thing in You by Audrey Byrd see at https://hymnary.org/hymn/AAHH2001/568

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.

Avoiding Disaster

Advent
December 11, 2017

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
   they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
   the devastations of many generations. –Isaiah 61:1-4

More and more I find myself, like Isaiah in this scripture, thinking recovery from disaster rather than preventing disaster. While I do continue to work, hope, and pray for the avoidance of catastrophe, all our avoidance work seems fruitless. Isaiah was writing after the fall of Judah and the Israelites’ living in exile and returning to rebuild Jerusalem.

My pessimism probably proceeds from having been here before, more than once. I was born after the Great Depression, but it illustrates the pattern: greed that leads to cutting taxes resulting in depression/recession* followed by war. I worked for the Oklahoma State Department of Human Services in the 80’s when the USA initiated the trickle-down theory again resulting in a recession followed by the Gulf War. In 2000, we cut taxes again. The 9/11 attack happened in 2001 that sent us into a war we are still fighting and led to a recession that was very close to a depression. In these last two instances, our public assistance caseloads shot out the roof while our resources markedly declined. One of the USA’s greatest sins is paying our soldiers so poorly many of their families must depend on food stamps while millions of taxpayer dollars are funneled off to private war contractors who make huge profits from our folly.

We stand on the precipice of this cycle once more. Enacting massive tax cuts while already awash in debt as we spar with North Korea who now says war is inevitable and we stir animosity in the Middle East. We need to listen to the prophets of old, repent of our greed and lust for power, and learn to live within our means while we protect the Common Good particularly for the least of these.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for being blinded by the world’s temptations. Write your ways on our hearts and enable our climbing out of the hole we have dug for ourselves. Amen.

*https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/11/30/im-a-depression-historian-the-gop-tax-bill-is-straight-out-of-1929/?utm_term=.8233789a07da

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.

Spiritual Self-Examination

Advent
December 10, 2017

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:1-8

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
 –Mark 1:4-8

What is sin? Would we recognize its presence in our own lives if we saw it? Do we need to know our sins truly to repent of them?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sin as:

a transgression of religious law:  an offense against God
a serious offense:  a violation of propriety
a serious shortcoming:  fault
a vitiated [defective] state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God

 We find examples of all of these descriptors of sin in the Bible. The most common Biblical definition is not listed above. Scriptures talk about missing the mark and going astray. Jesus is quoted in Matthew 7:14 For the gate is narrow, and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The Oklahoma City Thunder had a major retooling of its roster the last couple of years which results in the need for seasoned players to change the way they have trained their bodies and minds to function. Old muscle memory dies hard. Learning to play with new teammates takes time and practice. On top of that rules of the game were changed increasing need for additional adaptation. They are learning to go through a new narrow gate while leaving their old ways behind. I am not suggesting that sin has anything to do with the Thunder’s playing. I am saying I think it is an excellent example of self-examination we all must continually do as we strive to follow God without going astray or missing the mark. These guys have several coaches whose job is to help them see their missteps so they can correct them. They record the change in their brain and keep reminding themselves of it until it becomes new muscle memory.

Our head coach is Jesus Christ who through his life, death, and resurrection shows us the way to life. He provided others to carry on his work through apostles and disciples, prophets and priest. Our task is to take his Word into our hearts and brains and let it infuse our entire being with its wisdom to guide our work and our journey.

Prayer: Open my eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready, my God, Thy will to see;
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit Divine!** Amen

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

**First verse and chorus of Open My Eyes by Clara H. Scott see at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/807

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.

Seeing Self in Seeking God

matthew-7_5-revised1Living in the Spirit
October 23, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 18:9-14

But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’ –Luke 18:13-13

The moment we see ourselves for who or what we uniquely are is life changing. It is also necessary for normal maturation as we transition from child to adult. It is equally necessary for spiritual growth. The tax-collector in our scripture today has apparently experienced one of those Aha! Moments, where he understands how what he does, impacts others. I can image him overhearing the gospel Jesus taught. He took it home with him, and he could not let it go. Perhaps he was one of the curious 5,000 Jesus fed. Maybe he witnessed a healing. Whatever happened, he had turned around suddenly facing a full-length mirror, and not liked what he saw.

The tax-collector was most likely Jewish. The Romans like to hire Jews to collect their taxes from other Jews. These tax-collectors returned to the Romans the collections demanded, but the tax-collectors could take as much as they wanted above the Roman tax from their fellow Jews. As you might assume, they were not popular. They were often wealthy, living the good life, measuring their success by their cunning ability to get as much as they could for their own use. I wonder how much faith training he had received and applied as a Jew. Did the tax collector claim purity in the law, justifying his actions by narrow translations? Jesus quoted Hebrew scripture when he commanded us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. How could one rectify overtaxing families and follow that command?

Jesus picked an easy target for his example. He did not have to do a lot of explaining for his listeners to get the picture. He surely sent them home with the same nagging question the tax-collector had that eventually drove him to his knees. We each must search our hearts to find what is holding us back from fully engaging in our roles of service to Jesus Christ. He is rather like a mirror for all of us. Do we see ourselves when we look deep into his life and way of being?

Prayer: God be merciful to me, a sinner! Reflect back to me the things in my life that are limiting me from being what I am called to be. Lead me forward in your grace. 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.

Repent

matthew-25-40Living in the Spirit
October 14, 2016

Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
–2 Timothy 4:3-5

Does it seem like the time of not putting up with sound doctrine is now? We want to hear what we want to hear and if what we want is not being spoken we tune out. What causes this moral decay in our society? Why are we so intent on worshipping empty vessels? At least part of the problem is the co-opting of voices of faith. Some by divide and conquer processes shredded the oneness for which Christ longed. Some did it by identifying righteousness with wealth rather than justice. Both practices, as old as time itself, stem from evil, not love.

People of faith do need to repent, turn around. Those of us who call ourselves Christian need to recognize that the answers to our issues are available to us in the life and example of Jesus Christ. We seem to leave him out of our paradigms of life. The gospels never record Jesus as even addressing the major issues that divide us. He does admonish us about greed and the misuse of power.

Perhaps if we simplified our purpose for the next several years limiting our work only to those items Jesus named in Matthew 25, we could find Christ’s way again.

  • Feed the hungry
  • Provide clean water for the thirsty
  • Welcome the stranger
  • Cloth the naked
  • Care for the sick
  • Restore those in prison to productive lives

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for our foolish ways. Guide us to be your Body active in this world today. 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.

Our Journey with God

Perfect in WeaknessLent
February 27, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 13:1-9

Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”’ –Luke 13:6-9

Most young fig trees do not produce fruit for four or five years. Yet once they begin to bear they will bring forth fruit for many, many years depending on the weather. Is this scripture a discourse on patience? Is it a suggestion that it is wise to listen to one with more experience? Does it serve to discourage us from jumping to soon to judgment? All seem plausible.

It is interestingly set between a parable that in my study bible is headed “Repent or Perish” and one headed “Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman”. Are these stories included with it meaningful, or does it just capture random parables of Jesus to save them for posterity? I suppose both are possible.

It may be a bit fanciful on my part, but I tried to think what message having the three together delivered. The best I could do was this: If we know what we are doing is wrong, we should stop doing it, although that is easier said than done. We need to be patient with ourselves and rely on our “gardener” the Holy Spirit to nurture us and bring us to fruition. And even if we totally mess up and end up with a crippled soul God can and will, if we let God, heal our souls.

Prayer: God of Might and Miracles, bless us this day to living our lives to your glory, forgive us when we fail, nourish us on our journey, and accept our imperfect love until it is made perfect through 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 American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

God’s Got our Backs

Cleft of the RockLiving in the Spirit
Light a Candle for Children
October 14, 2014

 Scripture Reading: Exodus 33:12-23

 The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’ — Exodus 33:17-23

This must be my week for remembering old songs for as I read this segment of scripture, I thought of the song, He Hideth my Soul (in the Cleft of the Rock) by Frances Crosby*. I must confess, I was surprised when I pulled the song up on the Internet and saw the author listed as Frances Crosby. I have never heard her called anything but Fanny. I was also surprised that I actually remembered most of the words to this song because I haven’t sung it for years. Maybe children really do learn something by overhearing the gospel in worship, but I digress.

In my reading of this scripture today the words that struck me the most were, I will make all my goodness pass before you. This is the heart of the matter isn’t it? God’s goodness can be reflected in each of us.  There is a lot of discourse among theologians making sense of the various references in the Bible regarding seeing God’s face, but I wonder if there is another level of meaning here also. In context this story is a part of a plea for mercy on the behalf of the Israelites for their worshiping the golden calf.  It involves repentance which literally means to turn around. In this scene is the gracious goodness of God informing Moses and us, “I’ve got your back.”? Is the knowledge that God has our backs the very thing that makes repentance possible? We must do the turning, but it is far easier to turn around, go a better way when we know that God has our backs. I cannot image any back that is stronger than God’s.

Our world is in tremendous turmoil with war and contagion fueled by discrimination and greed. Our children are the ones who will ultimately pay the price, if we do not turn around and find the better way. It is scary considering the changes that we face, but we need to remember: God’s got our backs.

Oklahoma Fact: Almost half of the world’s forcibly displaced people are children. Between January 1 and August 31, 2014, 284 unaccompanied child immigrants were released to Sponsors in Oklahoma. **

 Prayer: God we thank you for your gracious goodness and for never giving up on us. Strengthen us to turn around and follow your better way. Amen.

* http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/He_Hideth_My_Soul/

 ** http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/programs/ucs/state-by-state-uc-placed-sponsors

 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.