Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Rise

 God is so rich in mercy and he loves us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sin, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you are saved.  For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and sealed us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.

Ephesians 2:4-6, 7-10

Over and over I read about the generosity of God and the sacrifice of Jesus to deliver these riches to us.  These origins of the faith, I cannot forget.  My peace from His torture, my healing from His wounds.  Heavenly realms are spoken in the present tense.  It’s now.   “He raised me up” is the song by Josh Groban:

            He raised me so I can stand on mountains…

            He raised me up to walk on stormy seas….

What low place might we feel right now?  How might we “sit” ourselves in the heavenly realms with Christ?  Take 2 minutes and breathe that truth.

So God can point to us in the future as the example of his incredible wealth of his grace and kindness, to show what is available for those united with Christ.

A life of meaning comes from the design of God.  We are to be the example to a lost world of his incredible grace and kindness.  To allow His gift to us to flow out is a gift, an honor, a burden.  The world doesn’t always seem to welcome it, but we an do no other thing.  Consider how we can show grace and kindness in all the places we are.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Nourishing the Soul

 May the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit (pneuma) and soul (psyche) and body (soma-life) be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.  God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. 

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

It is an exercise in metacognition to be able to think about our feelings:  to step back from them and use vocabulary to name and describe them, which is more than just experience and act on them.  When a person can engage in such self-awareness, it causes them to be able to use their emotions rightly and not just be reactive.  This is a basic practice in emotions management.

Similarly, with that same kind of self-aware cognition, I can begin to think about my soul.  I wonder what is my soul, different from the whole of whoever I may be.  I wonder how I can recognize my soul, differentiated from my heart or spirit.  In teaching others about their spiritual selves, I realize we must grasp the greaterness of the depths of being.  To fail to do so is to live reactively if we cannot locate a language and understanding of the soul.

I realized my physical center--my heart-- gives me the metaphorical lesson for my soul.  My heart sustains my body.  Even my brain cannot operate without my heart.  And though my heart can function with minimal brain activity, it is also dependent upon my brain.  For my heart to be at its best, I must take care of my body by keeping it fit and active, or my heart fails.  The interdependence of my body, brain and heart is clear.

So, my soul. 

My soul sustains my life.  My spirit cannot operate without my soul.  And though my soul, which is my identity, can function with minimal spirit(ual) activity, it is dependent and enlivened by my spirit.  For my soul to be its healthiest/fullest/truest self, I must take care of the entirety of my life by keeping it engaged in righteous pursuits and relationships or my soul loses its fulfilment, its greatest capacity.  The interdependence of my spirit, soul and life is clear, especially in the pursuit of blamelessness, complete blamelessness, as Paul writes here.  The language here means to be preserved completely for a whole and righteous life.  To be blameless means to have no cause for disapproval and to be free from fault or defect.

The metaphor continues.  For my heart to be well, my doctors and medical community say I need to exercise and to be selective about what I eat (less sugar and fat, and more plants) and less gluttonous about what I eat.  Exercise needs to be regular (as in daily) and with enough exertion to raise my heart activity to what they call cardio. 

So, my soul.

For my soul to be well (and souls do become sick and damaged, unable to sustain a healthy life), I need to engage in spiritual activities and be selective and less gluttonous with intake of worldly activities.  What is the “sugar” of this world that sets up my lifestyle to damage my soul?  Maybe idolatrous practices of which I can’t get enough and which completely distract me from God, such as addictions to TV, social media, shopping, food, or other substance abuse.  And the gluttony:  those behaviors which are legitimate needs of the soul, such as relationships or service to God, in which I indulge to the exclusion of God and to the condition of my soul. 

The activities/exercise for my soul need to be regular (daily) and with enough passion and engagement to raise my soul activity to a level that engages the power of God and brings the energy necessary to strengthen and sustain my soul.

Like a heart which can get injured through accident or attack, the soul can be harmed, too.  And like the heart, which can be healed with the intervention practices of a doctor, so can the soul be healed by the practices of spiritual healers and guides who use prayer, companionship and coaching into wellness.  The Greek word for soul is psyche.  Those spiritual guides and healers could be called psychologists, but they could also be called prayer warriors and partners, sponsors and mentors, and friends. 

Jesus would call us brethren, which means “of the womb,” those who are born into new life by His work on the cross and the Holy Spirit’s engagement in this new life. To know and nurture your soul, you must be born again, Jesus would say, into a community of reborn souls and sustained by a soul-healthy lifestyle and a soul-fitness community.  I would call it the Kingdom of God.

To use the metaphor shamelessly, when the heart is strengthened for exertion and endurance, it can stand the rigors of a demanding life; it can bear the physical burdens of caring for household and community well into old-age; it can lead the rest of the body into wellness if injured or attacked.

So, the soul.

The soul, strengthened, will respond and enable a strong lifestyle on a parallel level to my heart responding to the care and exercise it receives.  The soul then can be equipped to bear the demands and burdens of the struggle with sin.  It can then carry the heavy load of loss and grief of self and others.  The soul can forge new paths and develop a life that serves the greater good and bears the glory of God into a hurting world.  Only a strong soul can carry that weight. Then the entirety of what is life will be preserved (taken care of, guarded; specifically from external attack).  It will be a fortress.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Reconcile 2

So, we have stopped evauating others from a human point of view...anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  This is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.  And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them.  And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.  So, we are Christ's ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.  We speak for Christ when we plead, "Come back to God!"

2 Corinthians 5: 16-20

I began thinking about reconciliation's purpose, including my own reconciliation with others.  My motivation for reconciliation has been only because of my own hurting heart.  What if my motivation was another's reconciliation with God or, better yet, for the glorification of this intent for reconciliation:  to return people back to him.  Would I proceed differently?  Would I see the stakes as higher than just my own relief?  More importantly, how could I do this without seeming high and mighty, but, instead, humble and lowly?

How do I get over my hurting heart?  Did I have the wrong expectations of my relationships?  I do I make sure my motivations are God's?  

My confession would be, Lord, change me.  Help me to facilitate reconciliation of others to you and not just to me.  Not for me.  Not even for them, but for you.  Because you paid a high price.

For God made Christ, who never sinned to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right (reconciled and righteous) with God through Christ.  2 Corinthians 5:21

This reconciliation effort is not to assuage my guilt when my conflict with them has created barriers.  I need to push through the hurt I hold due to our differences.  Instead I administer the same grace that was offered me, the only avenue which allows redemption to flow.  Amen. 



Friday, February 19, 2021

One Master

 No one can serve two masters.  If you try, you will end up loving one and despising the other.  You cannot serve both God and money - You must choose.

Matthew 6:24

Here the word for money in the King James is "mammon," which means wealth or treasure and, specifically, riches when it is personified and opposed to God.

What is wealth personified?  

When our interaction with wealth becomes a relationship, to which we answer and serve.  This happens when we have an intimacy with wealth, preferring it and being ruled by it,  rather than seeing it as a tool.  This relationship becomes a barrier to our relationship with God when it becomes a master relationship - where we serve wealth and its purposes.  

What is wealth's purpose?  

To love it (and not God), to let it be an idol (main focus) to the point where other parts of life are sacrificed to its pursuance is sin's purpose for wealth.  When we use wealth to dominate and influence others, thus proving its high status in our lives, this demonstrates that it has gotten out of place.  

What is God's purpose for wealth?

Wealth's purpose is to serve God and to take care of others with it.  Our time is not to be overused simply in the accumulation of wealth.  We are to balance our time, God getting preference over all.  Most of all, we are to remember who we are to serve with our being and our efforts - the God of the universe.  He provides.  He may use us to provide for others.  We must remember that wealth is a tool and not a toy. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Optimism

 The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eye is well, then your whole body will be filled with light.  But if your eye is clouded, then your body will be filled with darkness, and the darkness that takes over the body - if this is how you "see" - then it is a deep darkness.  

Matthew 6:22-23

In reading the Greek, I imagine this is a metaphor like seeing the glass half-full or half-empty.  The "cloudy" or "unwell" view can keep one from seeing positiveness and possibilities.  Could this be about pessimism which can lead an entire body (soma = life in the Greek) down a "dark" path where nothing is ever good or good enough?

If so, then having a "clear" eye makes it possible to see all opportunities and make choices which can enliven and enlighten a whole life: for a lifetime, including a whole/well life.

While much is said about having a positive mind set compared to having a negative one, Jesus makes it even more clear that attitude is everything with this metaphor.  It will affect an entire life.  What is our attitude about life?  Do we see clearly?  Or is our vision clouded with the negativity of the day or of my mind?

Lord, give me your eyes!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Swear Not!

 Jesus seems to be always pushing the envelope of righteous behavior.  Torah's ten commandments were honed - fulfilled, by Jesus' words - into a set of standards held by no other religious practice.  "You heard it said, 'Do not murder,' but I say, don't even call a person a fool..."  Egad!  There are so many fools!  

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refines and fulfills the truest meaning of many commands, including the command not to take the Lord's name in vain.

You have heard it said to those of old, "You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord."  But I say, do not make any vows!  Do not say, "By heaven" because heaven is God's throne.  And do not say, "By earth" because the earth is is his footstool... Do not even say, "By my head!" for you cannot turn one hair white or black.  Instead, let your YES be YES and your NO be NO.  Anything beyond this is from the evil one.

Matthew 5:33-37

Here, the vow (or swear in KJV) means "as my witness."  There cannot be any outside validation of the meaning of our words.  I can be my only witness.  I have to be good for my word; I must be true to my own words. My actions must follow.   Today we would say, "Walk the talk."

The original commandment means using God's name in such a way that it is emptied of its value by assigning it to our behavior.  Our behavior is our own.  We are the only ones who can prove ourselves.  Jesus wants us to be a standard bearer of our own actions, to take responsibility for what we say and do.

The use of hyperbole of needing to back our words or actions with an external source only proves two things.  The first is that we are not good for our word.  The second is that any attempt to do so is not of the godly order - it is from the evil one.  

This fulfillment by Jesus is to push our definition of integrity, of righteousness.  We are to be true to our nature and honest about it.  We might call that transparency today.  I say what I am and I am what I say.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Reconcile

 You have heard that the law of Moses says, "Do not murder.  If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment."  But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!  If you say to your friend, "You idiot," you are in danger of being brought before the court.  And if you curse someone, you are in danger of hell fire.  

So, if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there.  Go and be reconciled to that person.  Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

Matthew 5:21-24


Jesus is always clear that our faith expression, our desire to serve God is directly tied to our relationships with others.  Relationship with others is the hinge on which our relationship with God may have its most meaning. You cannot come to God with your gift/service/offering unless your relationship with your brother is right.  Every time, our faith has a horizontal component as well as a vertical component.  

And this is much more than "tolerance," which is a false/fake version of reconciling in modern culture. While Jesus is dealing with anger and bullying, he is asking for more than just a ceasing of hostilities.  To reconcile is to renew a friendship with someone and to change thoroughly.  I'm almost sure it doesn't mean to change them, but to change ourselves.  Given the following set of verses, Jesus references a specific example of consequences relating to debts owed...and we know the debts owed due to love.

What a challenge!  This is a serious piece of getting ready for heaven for me.  I do not want to be on my death bed wanting to get things right with my brothers, near and far.  So, I have to rid myself of hate-prodders.  I have to spend more time with the Lord on that sacred ground of prayer in order to look for leads and opportunities and a change of mindset.  My part lies in the practices of prayer, love, and kindness.

I have found that outreach is the necessary move.  Jesus does say to leave your gift and go.  You can't wait for them to come, or the consequences come with them.  Go in prayer.  God in love.  Go in kindness.

I must!


Saturday, January 02, 2021

Kindness in Me

 The New Testament provides a proliferation of verses about kindness, especially what it should look like in us.  The Old Testament teaches about God's love and the New teaches us.  When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, she will produce fruit easily recognizeable as traits of kindness...goodness, gentleness and kindness.  Here is where we see that definition in the Greek - chrestotes - moral goodness, integrity with gentleness. 

A myriad of verses demonstrate how to gain kindness, develop the character trait in us:

  • Apply the benefits of God's promises in your life...which will result in kindness.
  • Have an eagerness, real zeal, towards love, favor for others and mercy for anyone.
  • Wear the garment of compassion and kindness.
What is in God, we must be deliberate to bring to ourselves.  His promises provide proof of his eagerness to give.  Wear the qualities of compassion and kindness - put them on and get comfortable.   When you have these promises, when you are familiar and easily portraying kindness, an eagerness will develop for favor and mercy for all.

Then, we are given practical directives for acts of kindness...and they are not random, but rather deliberate:
  • Be especially kind to those who are loyal.
  • Help the sick.
  • Be ready to provide an immediate response to need.
  • Provide companionship and sustenance.
  • Be welcoming.  
And then the news gets deep:
  • Be slow to avenge a wrong.
  • Love your enemies!  Do good to them.  Lend to them and don't be concerned that they might not repay.  (Then your reward in heaven will be great...)
If you are not sure how to dig that deep, remember that God's kindness is your lead.  His kindness extended to us even while we were sinners ourselves.  Digging deeper includes being kind to ourselves in that truth:  seek to stay in God's kindness.  Seek the kindness of correction and realize that the rebuke of a friend is a kindness. 

Most of all and, finally, Love is Kind.  Kindness is an expression of love.  I do want that character trait in me.  


God's Kindness

 About ten years ago, I did a deep exploration of kindness because I had decided I needed to be more kind to the world.  I had been defending myself  heavily for years and could have an unkind disposition.  I made some changes and hopefully some people might have noticed.  

Now I face 2021.  Each year I have a Word of the year.  I don't do resolutions, I just have a theme.  One Word.  Almost always, I don't have to search for one.  God brings me one and he brought me Kindness...again.  I could go into the reason why, but this year brings a new application for Kindness of which I am sure he wanted me to be cognizant.  So, I went to my last study, still in my prayer book.  That one is a page of "studying in color," which I often do, but I decided to transfer it into some logical order.

In the Old Testament, the word used exclusively is checed, which is often translated as lovingkindness with overtures of mercy, goodness, or pity.

In the New Testament, there are two words translated as kindness.  One is philantropia - you recognize it - which means benevolence, love acted toward people.  It is used only once or twice.  The word most used for kindness is chrestotes, with an expanded meaning of moral goodness, integrity; gentleness.  This makes kindness a character trait.

This is step one:  focusing on God's kindness.  I cannot do it God's way without a deep exploration of his example for us.  So God's kindness is in his nature.  It's qualities are as follows:

  • it endures forever
  • it preserves our lives
  • it provides opportunity even when we are in bondage
  • it binds us to God
  • even in the midst of sin
  • thus, God's kindness leads us to repentance.
God wants to demonstrate the incomparableness of his grace to us, which is demonstrated by providing Jesus incarnate and allowing us involvement with Christ's reign.  It's a kindness for us to be included in his plan, in his Kingdom development on earth.

Can we keep our own awareness of God's example of kindness?  Can we develop kindness as a character trait for ourselves?  We are to seek to stay in God's kindness.  If you want to let kindness take a hold of you, stay in these truth's about God.  You cannot give what you have not received.  Let God's kindness develop in you.  And be changed.