Tag Archives: Wholeness

Being Perfect

Living in the Spirit
August 24, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. –Romans 12:1-2

How do we not conform to the world? It takes effort! A friend and I were commiserating over how bad the traffic had become in Oklahoma City in recent years. New cars apparently no longer are equipped with turn signals at least they are rarely used, the fastest driver sets the speed limit, preventive driving requires vigilance in search of people with their eyes on their cell phones rather than traffic, and road rage is a norm. Driving manners are just a simple examples of how the world encroaches on our ways of being.  We get caught in it without even knowing it. The norms that seem acceptable regarding how we treat each other are frightening. Not conforming to aspects of society that fail to pass the test of love takes intentionality. It also requires a close relationship with God who guides us in discerning what is right and what is just.

Paul talks about our need to do what is good and acceptable and perfect in God’s eyes. The word perfect always concerns me. We might for a majority of our actions do or be good and acceptable to God, but what does it mean to be perfect? The Greek word translated perfect* means to be full grown, complete in all parts. It seems to me that someone full-grown: takes responsibility for his or her actions, maintains a broad and growing bank of knowledge,  and strives to demonstrate in his or her life the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness (Galatians 5:22) in all that they do.

Prayer: Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more**. Amen

*http://biblehub.com/greek/5046.htm

**First Verse of Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah by William Williams. See at http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/g/u/guideme.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.

Applying the Golden Rule

Living in the Spirit
August 27, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:13-20

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Matthew 16:18-20

We are all Peters called to build Christ’s church. We like Peter struggle to understand everything. Many perhaps are not as decisive as Peter or as bold in our pronouncements. He was born to lead; some are born to support.  Sometimes the roles reverse depending on the situations and the talents and skills we each bring to the building site. We all make mistakes, and from time to time we each get some things right. God is ultimately able to use all we contribute to the fulfillment of our call to build Christ’s church. We learn from our mistakes and gain confidence to continue the journey from the joy of love shared and received.

Raised on a farm, I am well acquainted with the problems that result when animals escape their fences. My brother and father tried to corral a cow once that was so determined to gain her freedom she swam the pond. Once caught, she continued to terrorize barns and milking stanchions and soon returned to the sale barn. Jesus in our scripture today calls us in our work of building the church to be careful what we loose on earth because what we loose on earth is loosed in heaven. It seems to imply that our calling to build Christ’s church is a partnership with God. God will indeed help us deal with the consequences of our actions, but God sure wishes we would consult with him first and carefully weigh our actions so that we are not investing more of our energy in chasing loosed problems than we are in productive outcomes.

We all need to routinely take a good hard look at how we deal with being the church, the Body of Christ in the world today, and apply the test Jesus gave us in Luke 6:31, Do to others as you would have them do to you. How would we feel if someone treated us the way we treat others? As we self-examine our behavior each day, it might be a good idea to role play in our minds how it would feel if we were the ones on the receiving end of that behavior.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see myself as others experience me. Help me to see others as they may need to be understood at certain time and circumstance. Give me the empathy to communion with others in such a way that work gets done as sharing in the task nurtures all involved. 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.

Beliefs and Faith

Living in the Spirit
August 18, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-39

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
   Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him,
   to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen. –Romans 11:33-36

Paul celebrates God’s unmeasurable wisdom and knowledge as he ponders the fate of his fellow Jews. Is it too much for us to grasp that we may not fully understand the magnitude of God or God’s love? Do we think our way of being God’s children is the only way? People quote to me John 14:6, Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. I say I do agree with that but quote back to them John 10:16, I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. Probably a fruitless exchange, we are neither likely to stray from our positions.  Paul would tell us, 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. (1 Corinthians 13:12) This, of course, is from his famous chapter on love. Study and discernment is good unless it hinders our loving God and loving one another.

The older I get, the less important what I believe becomes. I do not know if that is true of others. Maintaining and building a firm relationship with God through Jesus Christ and following the command to love God and love as Jesus loves becomes paramount in my life. Perhaps when I attain perfection in those two actions, beliefs will be clear or unnecessary. Discerning how to live love is a challenge that requires exchanging ideas on faith with others guided by the written word as well as the Word that became flesh. In so doing our structure of faith forms and reforms as we learn and grow. The framework of the structure includes what we believe at the moment. The world was believed to be flat until it was proven round.

I am blessed to learn from people of many faiths, people who question faith, and people with no faith at all. Since I am called to love them all anyway, it is an added value that my understanding of God blossoms in the process of discernment.

Prayer: God, open our hearts and minds to your teachings from whatever source you deem appropriate. Protect us from false prophets. Let your truth speak clearly to us. 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.

Restoring All Souls

Living in the Spirit
August 17, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-39

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. –Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

God’s restorative justice is a model for all to follow. God confronting Cain for his murder of his brother Abel, and restored him to being a productive member of society. Sent by God, Nathan castigated David for his involvement with Bathsheba which resulted in the murder of her husband and God restored David to being the leader he was meant to be. Isaiah and other prophets saw hope even in the midst of the destruction of Israel encouraging changed behavior while sharing God’s promise of a Savior yet to come. Jesus forgave and restored over and over again in his earthly ministry and ultimately offering his life as testimony to God’s restoring character. Paul recognized God’s great desire to make all things whole as he considers his fellow Jews and their future in God’s Kingdom.

We, humans, get caught up in the need to punish rather than restore. Yes, I can quote many scriptures that indicate God as a god of wrath. Perhaps it is from these scriptures we find the path to passing judgment and enforcing punishment on God’s other children. I do think we must all face the consequences of our own behavior. I can envision a time standing before God accounting for my own behavior. Jesus’ message is clear, we humans are not given the job of judging each other.

Humans must, however, create order to live together with all others. Such order requires protecting ones harmed from those doing the harm. Thus, civil judicial systems render judgments on crimes and other miscarriages of justice as defined by societies. Our people are our most valuable assets. Any person removed from society by imprisonment or execution is a net loss to society. Restoring people to productive contributing members is a net gain. People who are a danger to society may indeed need to be removed from society until restored, and some may never meet that test but not providing the resources for restoration is far more expensive in dollars but more importantly in the lost contributions each of the people involved might have made had they been restored.

Prayer: Lord, you have called us to initiate your Kingdom where all are whole, all are one and justice prevails. Grant us the knowledge and skills needed to restore those in our society who negatively impact such wholeness, oneness, and justice. Give us the wisdom and strength of character needed to bring restoration to our fragmented 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.

Siblings

Living in the Spirit
August 15, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 45:1-15

Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.” And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.’ Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them, and after that, his brothers talked with him. –Genesis 45:9-15

I sometimes wonder about the changes in relationships after a family member suddenly become an NBA or NFL draft pick or anyone else who was one day one of the family and the next a household word everywhere. Most superstars dealt with some popularity even in grade school, but that is not the big stage. How do you think siblings would feel if they  tossed the now superstar under the bus and had not heard from him in years when they next encounter him? On top of that, he is in the position to save them from starvation. Awkward does not begin to explain the situation.

Then again, what if you were the superstar? Brothers and sisters are the people in the world who might know us best. They witness our defeats as well as our accomplishments. I enjoy listening in on my now grown nieces, and nephews tell the tall tales of together skirting their parent’s knowledge of their questionable antics from childhood. Being siblings is a special bond. I’ve shared a few of those tales with my own siblings.

My Dad and his best-friend brother fell out late in life. They did not see each other for a while. When Dad had a massive heart attack, all three of we children independent of each other called and notified our uncle of the grave nature of the situation. Dad was at the VA hospital, and my uncle knew the hospital well as a disabled veteran himself. The hospital had some of the strictest visitation rules I ever encountered, but somehow my uncle maneuvered his way into the critical care unit and saw my Dad before he died. Both reported they picked up where they had left off before the estrangement and had a good visit. God had a hand in making that visit a reality.

God enabled Joseph to see the broader picture of the good that came from his horrible experience. God heals broken relationships if we are willing to make it so.

Prayer: Lord, it is not good when familial brothers and sisters let the world get in the way of their love for one another, neither is it good for brothers and sisters in Christ or for that matter all your children everywhere. Heal our brokenness bring us to wholeness that we may serve you better. 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.

God in Mystery

Living in the Spirit
August 14, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 45:1-15

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

 Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. –Genesis 45:1-8

Funny how, often unpleasant, life lessons prepare us for future circumstances. I certainly cannot explain the workings of God witnessed in hindsight. Paul acknowledges the mysterious nature of God in Romans 11:33, O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Apparently, Joseph connected at some point with the God his great grandfather Abraham encountered at Ur and passed on to his son Isaac who told the stories of God to Joseph’s father, Jacob. Joseph most likely followed the family’s traditions of honor the God of Abraham. I wonder if Joseph’s first unique experience with God was in the water-less pit into which his brothers tossed him. Perhaps it was traveling with the strangers who bought him.

As a female working in a predominately male environment, I often drew the assignments no one else wanted making me stretch beyond my previous skills or training. Looking back, I realize such experience was invaluable to my career growth and development. Life puts us in challenging situations; God resources them through us for the building of God’s kingdom just as God used Joseph to save the Egyptians and his own people. We waste a lot of God’s good time in bitterness and resentment, and in accepting other people’s views of ourselves instead of God’s. If we give God our anger, self-doubt, and any chips on our shoulders, God can and will turn them into powerful positive energy for creating a world ruled by love where all are acknowledged and celebrated for their unique contributions.

Prayer:
Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.* Amen.

*First verse of Take My Life and Let it Be by Frances Ridley Havergal  see at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/445

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.

Walking on Water

Living in the Spirit
August 13, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ –Matthew 14:28-33

Is it human nature to doubt? Do we project our life experiences with other people onto God rather than see Christ in every human? We have all let someone down and we have all experienced the sting of being let down by a trusted other. Humans are not perfect. Our first insight about another is usually based on cultural norms. How often do we experience seeing the Christ in someone first?

It is rare, but I had that happen recently. I was having trouble with my phone, had sat on hold once for 40 minutes waiting for the “next available” customer service rep, and was thus very frustrated. I decided to drive to a store that related to my phone company to solve my problem. I was not happy. The first person I encountered was a very nice young man who immediately agreed to see what my problem was as he took the phone and started punching buttons. Suddenly, I noticed that his attention was drawn to looking down at my side where a frightened five or six-year-old little girl stood. He said to her, “ Do you need something?” She said, “I can’t find my mother.” He asked her what her name was and said, “Let me see if I can help.” He then looked at me and said, “Excuse me just a moment” and called someone in the store to announce over the speaker that this girl needed to meet her party at the electronics desk. He said to the little girl, “ I’m sure your mother will be her soon.” As she looked around furtively, he continued to work on my phone, and in a few moments a worried mother rounded the corner and reunited with her daughter. The young man said to the mother, “Your daughter did everything right, she immediately came to me for help.” I did see Christ in this young man before I could ever see anything else.

Peter saw the Christ in Jesus as he stepped from the boat then doubt grabbed at his legs, but he reached up his hand in faith again recognizing God in Jesus who saved him. Our challenge as Christ’s followers is to let the world see Christ in us relying on Christ to fortify us when doubt strikes.

 Prayer: Lord, forgive me when I cave to doubt, restore me to wholeness, and help me see the Christ in all others by looking past my preconceived judgments. 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.

Stepping Out in Faith

Living in the Spirit
August 12, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
–Matthew 14:22-27

Time alone with God is important for everyone including Jesus. There is a scene in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar where the crowds are grasping at him barely allowing him to move. I cannot remember which song the cast was singing, Superstar maybe; but it gave me a moment of understanding his ministry on earth. The gospels often describe him as being in crowds seeking him. I am sure his time spent with his disciples was special, and he still needed to withdraw from them.

Our world is a scary place right now. Not so much from outside forces terrorizing us but from our anemic responses. We shake in our boots because we have forgotten whose we are. We need to withdraw to a quiet place ourselves, give all our fears to God breathing in the words below of the Psalmist and breathing out all that is holding us back from being fully God’s instrument of love.

‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’ (Matthew 46:10)

I never know what to think about supernatural events; even ones I have experienced or witnessed. So, I have no explanation of the story of Jesus walking on water. Apparently, Jesus took for granted Philippians 4:13 before it was even written, I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Wise counsel for us today.

Prayer: Lord, strengthen us to do the many things within our grasp to be the Body of Christ in our fractured world stepping out in the faith you will make us conduits of your love in all situations. 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 Gives You Joy?

Living in the Spirit
August 7, 2017

Scripture Reading:
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.

 Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. – Genesis 37:1-4

The story of Joseph is the story of how not to parent an exceptional child. I do not know if I have any natural skills in math or not. I made good grades in arithmatic but invested minimum effort in doing so. As the youngest in my family with an older brother and an older sister who both excelled at math, I gravitated toward history and English to carve a unique path. Being the youngest of 12 did not leave much room for Joseph to find his niche. He did have time to spend with his dad who was probably turning more and more responsibilities over to his grown sons. Joseph by all accounts was exceptional and it took misfortune to help him channel his gifts appropriately.

What gives you joy? We will find what God is calling us to do or be when we identify what gives us joy. Joseph dreamed big dreams; was a visionary; saw the big picture. Later in the story we learn he had the administrative skills to implement his visions.

The newly installed General Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Rev. Theresa Hord Owens, worked for several years in business before she realized that ministry was what gave her joy and she changed careers. The background in business was not wasted as she assumes an administrative role.

A woman in my church loves to crochet. She spends the entire year making afghans, hats and mittens, bedspreads, and Christmas tree ornaments to either provide for the needy directly or increase our mission fund through sales of her work.

Joy is different from happy. Joy often comes at the expense of many long hours at hard work and the investment of resources, even danger. A local group is dedicated to provided self-sustaining water wells in countries desperately in need of not just water but safe water. Many of these countries are caught in strife making it difficult for this group to do their work.

What gives you joy?

Prayer: Lord, if we have discovered our source of joy, help us to hone it well and dedicate our work to your glory. If we are still searching for our source of joy, open doors for us to experiment, we might be totally surprised by what we find. 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.

Rights not Privilege

Living in the Spirit
August 4, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. –Mathew 14:13-14

I believe that affordable, accessible health care is a right, not a privilege and I think Jesus believed that too. He spread wholeness wherever he went both physical and mental to rich and poor and everyone in between. The provision of affordable, accessible health care in the USA is a major public policy debate today that began seriously with the Great Depression. What is government’s responsibility regarding the health and well-being of its people? Fifty-eight countries have some form of universal health care*; the USA does not.

The United States of America is a representative democracy that portends to be of the people, by the people, for the people according to Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. The phrase, initially coined by John Wycliffe, is in the prolog of his 1384 translation of the Bible where he stated, “The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People”** I did not know that until recently. I knew Lincoln said it; I did not know its origin. I think what Wycliffe means is that the Bible’s support of the love of neighbor can best find expression in a government of the People, by the People, and for the People. Some of our founders might have also made that connection.

I like Martin Luther King Jr. do not believe we can legislate morality, and that is not the purpose of a government designed by its citizens. The purpose of such government is to provide for the Common Good of all. Such government protects rights not privileges and allows its citizenry the right to free expression of religion.

Prayer: Lord, show us the way we can love our neighbors as we love ourselves through the mutuality of a government of the People, by the People, and for the people.Amen.

*Data from 2009 see at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_universal_health_care
**https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/who-coined-government-of-the-people-by-the-people-for-the-people/2017/03/31/12fc465a-0fd5-11e7-aa57-2ca1b05c41b8_story.html?utm_term=.aa50cc91249f

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.