Moving Faith

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Genesis 12:1-7 (NIV)

Relocating one’s life is never easy. A few years ago, my husband and I relocated to a different city and state from a state where both of us had lived most of our lives. We were leaving friends, family and familiar places due to a new employment opportunity. Packing and preparing for the move was stressful. Grief accompanied our stress because we knew we would greatly miss what we were leaving behind. However, we felt the Lord was blessing us and providing for us some amazing opportunities. We would have each other and our wonderful dogs. There was nothing easy about making the decision or going through the process of moving. We trusted that the Lord would be with us and guide us through it all. We were not disappointed and never felt abandoned by our Lord. God has definitely blessed us in all of the relocation.

As challenging as own move may have been at times, Abram’s move had to have been even more challenging. God told Abram to pack up all which was important to him and leave the country of his family and origin. He was told to go to a land which he knew nothing about. God promised Abram that he would be blessed in doing so, not just him but his descendants who would create a great nation. In addition, Abram would be a blessing to all people. Without a moving truck or any of our modern conveniences of travel, Abram packs everything and journeys over 7300 miles. An  amazing show of faith and trust in God.

Having the level of faith and trust which Abram demonstrated is almost impossible. I ask myself often if I could ever put into action that amount of faith and trust. Do I have that level to even claim? I also think the writers of Scripture tend to smooth out the rough edges of stories like this one. I am confident there was hand wringing, intense conversations with Sarai and Lot, and some periods of doubts before the group even began the journey. In addition, there most likely were feelings of regret and a desire to return to Harran along the way. The key is the faith which Abram, Sarai and Lot demonstrated even when the relocation may have made no sense or been extremely difficult. Following through was a true statement of faith.

The only possible way to have faith and trust at the level demonstrated in this story is receiving it from the Lord through the Spirit. Left to our own ability, we would be unable to demonstrate such faith. The Spirit is the one who gives us strength to build a level of faith. The Spirit places the seed of faith in our lives then nurtures it and guides it into maturity and growth. God provides all which we need, we need to commit to work with the Spirit in achieving the faith of Abram, Sarai, Lot and all their household.

A New Year Prayer

This New Year’s Day, I have chosen to share a prayer as today’s devotion instead of using my normal format. My understanding of the Gospel is that it all is about love. The problems between people can be traced to an absence of love demonstrated in action and not solely in emotions and/or words. So I found this prayer which shares my hope for this new year.

A NEW YEAR PRAYER FOR LOVE

Dear God, thank you that you are a loving, gracious God. Thank you that you’ve offered us forgiveness and the gift of new life in you. Thank you that your love is perfect, it never fails, and that nothing can separate us from your love.

We pray that our lives would be filled and overflowing with the power of your love so we can make a difference in this world and bring honor to you. We ask for your help in reminding us that the most important things are not what we do outwardly, it’s not based on any talent or gift, but the most significant thing we can do in this life is simply to love you and choose to love others.

Help us to love as you love. Fill us with your Spirit so that we can choose what is best. We are weak Lord, but we know also, that even when we are weak, you are strong within us. Thank you that it is not all up to us. Thank you that you equip us to face each day with the power of your love, your forgiveness, and your grace. We love you Lord, and we need you today, and every day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Source: Christianity.com

This is my prayer for each of you and the world. May 2021 be filled with the love from the source of all love, God.

A Refreshing Drink

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

John 7:37-52 (NIV)

As humans, water is a vital element in our lives. Scientists tell us that approximately sixty percent of a human adult body consists of water. They also state that a human is only capable of surviving an average of three days without water. After that point there will be a noticeable physical color change due to reduced blood flow. Within five days the organs begin to shut down, including the brain. Our bodies need regular intake of water. If you have ever experienced or known someone who has suffered dehydration, you can attest to the need for regular consumption of water.

Not only does our physical body have a need for water but our spirit also needs to drink. Jesus raises this need in the passage from the Gospel according to John. The Lord tells anyone whose spirit is thirsty to come to him. He promises those who do will drink from the living waters, the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is ever flowing and readily available to supply the soul. Jesus’s promise creates controversy among the people, even the Jewish leadership. They spend time arguing over whether Jesus is a prophet, the Messiah, or a fraud. Instead of coming to Jesus to drink from his Spirit, they argue about the source of the water which will satisfy their spiritual thirst.

Before we rush to condemn the people in the temple courts on that day, let us realize how often we behave the same way. Jesus continues to daily extend the invitation for a drink from the Spirit. Instead of rushing to receive, we in the church argue over the source and nature of the source. As individuals, we can even have the argument with ourselves. How many times do we miss out on the refreshment of the Spirit because of our own disagreements and doubt?

Just as our bodies require regular and consistent drinking of water in order to survive, our spirits require drinking from the living waters of Jesus Christ. Failure to regularly come to and receive from the Spirit will result in a change of our own. The most drastic outcome could be the death of our spirit.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” – Jesus

Shocking News

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

With the introduction of streaming news sources, experts tell us that we are becoming numb in regard to news which would have shocked us in the past. There is no longer a barrier to obtaining all types of news. We hear of violence and disaster from every corner of the world in very visual and graphic detail. This has even entered mainstream television shows such as all the CSI series, the FBI drama shows, and case file shows like Dateline or 20/20. The bizarre and brutal seems commonplace to many of us. Being shocked by news of the world around us is now a rare occurrence. The only time when we are shocked and tempted to call something impossible is when it seems to not fit our scientific and world understanding.

At the time in which Mary and Joseph from the Bible would have existed there was more of a shock factor. Their shock factor was different than ours because it was not based on scientific knowledge but on observation. They understood their world based on what they had observed. Spiritual understanding and acceptance was more common then than in our time period. Aspects which they observed but could not explain often were credited to God’s work, or in other cultures the work of many gods. Even with this acceptance though, Gabriel’s words to Mary were initially shocking. The angel announced to her that she would conceive a baby, not just any baby but the Son of God. The English word used in Mary’s initial response may be misleading. Mary asks Gabriel how this can be since she is still a “virgin.” When we hear the word today, we associate it with not having sexual intercourse yet in a person’s life. However, the Greek word translated here can mean “young woman”. Either understanding still lends itself to seeing that Mary was shocked by Gabriel’s news. If the second translation is preferred, the shock may be caused by Mary’s view that she was too young and immature to be the mother of the Son of God. This was going to be a huge responsibility which she may have felt was more than she was prepared to assume. Though initially shocked, she accepts this duty as a servant of God.

When the Lord calls on us to do something, the news may be shocking. We easily can come up with many reasons why we are the wrong candidate, just like Moses did (see Exodus 3). The responsibility can seem to us to be too great for our abilities. We may not see how whatever God’s request could ever work out. Fear and a sense of inadequacy may lead us to attempt to decline. But we need to remember Mary’s story. Remember the promise that “the Holy Spirit will come upon (us) and the power of the Most High will overshadow (us).” We must recall Gabriel’s words, “no word from God will fail.” Then, like Mary, we should respond as the Lord’s servant, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

No Division

22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

29 “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.

30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Matthew 12:22-32

On June 16, 1838 after accepting the nomination to be the Republican candidate for the United States Senator from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech addressing slavery. Lincoln said in the speech, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” The speech became known as the “House Divided” speech which would later be published and quoted often. Lincoln lost that particular election.

It is clear that Abraham Lincoln knew his Bible. The words he used as part of his speech were the exact words Jesus used in his response to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were accusing Jesus of using the power of Beelzebul to cast out demons. Jesus points out the absurdity of that claim because if true, Satan’s house would be divided against itself. He even goes on to imply that the Pharisees words could be seen as blasphemy against the Spirit which is the only unforgivable sin.

Today we live in a world of great division, especially in the United States. We are in the process of electing the leadership of our nation. I think that all current and potential leaders in the government and in our churches would benefit from examining Jesus’s and Lincoln’s words once again, or maybe for the first time. A divided house, country, or church cannot stand long. Division breeds hate and hate leads to destruction. As absurd as the claim of the Pharisees which would mean division in evil’s house, division in our homes, nation and churches is equally absurd. Division breeds all things contrary to the love of God. We need to commit to healing the divide and demand it of our leaders.

The Wind

Yesterday, my home state was devastated by a storm which they are now calling a derecho. I had no idea that there was even a storm classification such as this one but my understanding is that it is like an inland hurricane. Wind gusts in the city from which we moved were 100 mph or higher. The pictures which people are posting of the damage is amazing. I am used to tornadoes having lived a large portion of my life in Iowa and the damage seems to me to be as bad as a tornado. Many people continue to be without power and limited cellular service. The power of wind is truly amazing.

Even before yesterday’s storm and the impact it has had on my friends and family, I had thought about writing a post on the wind and the Holy Spirit. Yesterday’s news seemed to make such a post even more relevant. There are many characteristics which wind and the Spirit share. It is little wonder that in both the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible the word used for Spirit is the same word used for wind or breath.

In the story of the creation found in Genesis. The second verse in the first chapter states that, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Hebrew word here translated as Spirit of God is ruha which is the same Hebrew word for wind, breath, and life. In the story of Pentecost found in Acts 2, it states in the fourth verse, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” The word translated here as Spirit is pneuma the original Greek. Again, this Greek word can also mean wind or breath. Clearly, both the Hebrews and the Greeks saw the Holy Spirit as having the characteristics of the wind.

Our experience with the Spirit can be as varied as our experience with the wind. Currently in Texas, we are in our hot period of the year. We typically are very dry in August and our temperatures quickly reach the high 90s and low 100s. Wind is a positive when it arrives on days such as these. We cherish the movement of the air which provides relief from the relentless heat. We see the wind as a blessing and our experience with it is very positive. The Spirit can be the same way in our lives. We can find refreshment and relief from the heat of life through the Spirit.

Sometimes the wind is just a quiet breeze which provides movement of the trees creating a beauty for us to enjoy. Other times the wind can be violent and life changing as the people of Iowa and other Midwestern states have experienced this week. The Spirit is the same. At times in our lives we experience the Spirit to be gentle and our eyes are opened to the beauty which surrounds us. Another time in our life the Spirit can be overpowering, almost violent, and bring about a radical change in our lives.

I am sure you can find other examples of how the wind and the Holy Spirit share characteristics. I encourage you to think about those experiences in your life which you have had with both. Like humanity has attempted to do with the wind in harnessing its power to generate energy, I challenge you to harness the power of the Spirit in your life to generate life itself.

Please keep all those affected by the wind in Iowa and other states in your prayers this week. May this life changing experience offer opportunities of new life and growth. May your experience of the Spirit also create life changing results.

An Oasis

With everything going on in this world, life can seem a bit chaotic and out of control. In addition to the events surrounding us, the summer heat is beginning to set in. All of this has led me to desire an escape, a place of quiet and peace. I am in need of an oasis.

If you look up the definition of the word oasis, you will find that it refers to a fertile spot in the desert where water can be found. Life can right now feel a bit barren and more energy draining each day. The pandemic has kept us isolated from others for quite some time. We cannot go about our normal activities or those things which recharge us. We are not even able to worship with others and share in fellowship. The unrest due to the racial injustices have only added to these feelings. It is easy to see life as barren and unrelieving, much like a desert.

I have an oasis for my physical and mental well-being. My backyard provides a wonderful place of retreat for me. I can sit on my patio which is covered so I do not have to experience the heat of a summer sun. The wonderful landscaping which was left to us and to which we have added provides beautiful flowers, flowering bushes, and lush green grass to remind me of the life and beauty by which I am surrounded. The pool provides a refreshing and energizing place for me to swim and cool down from the heat of life and summer.

I also have a spiritual oasis. While I cannot physically attend a worship service currently, I am able to attend a virtual worship service. I am able to continue to study Scripture and enjoy an ongoing daily devotional with my husband. My music collection contains plenty of refreshing songs and hymns to remind me of God’s love and care. Daily I am reminded of the presence of the Spirit which encourages and recharges me.

As I thought about my spiritual oasis, my mind was drawn to the words found in an older hymn, “In The Garden.” These lyrics encapsulate all my thoughts about the oasis which I, and likely you, need today.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

He speaks and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

I'd stay in the garden with Him
'Tho the night around me be falling
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

Songwriter: C. Austin Miles
In the Garden lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Is It In There

One of the areas of confusion among people which I encounter frequently is the number of items individuals accredit to the Bible but are not actually written in Scripture. An example is, “God helps those who help themselves.” This phrase is recorded nowhere in Scripture but instead is a popular statement based on the interpretation of various passages. Some Christians argue that it even stands against the concept of grace which is prominent in our understanding of God. As a line from Kermit the Frog’s song, Rainbow Connection, reminds us, “Somebody thought of it, and somebody believed it, and look what it has done so far.” Unfortunately, because this type of confusion prevails, too often people get a very inaccurate perception of God and God’s expectations.

The Church has unwittingly, or at least I hope it has been unwittingly, propagated this confusion. What I mean is that the Church has established rules which the leadership has determined are beneficial for the well-being of humanity. These rules are based upon the Church’s interpretation of Scripture at a specific time and place within its history. Some of these rules truly are beneficial and should be followed to the best of one’s ability. However, some rules over time have changed as the Church reexamines Scripture and determines a change in interpretation is in order. Since we understand that the Bible is the Living Word, and we know that the Spirit continues to reveal God’s truth in the world, this change of interpretation is in order. Just as science continues to discover new understandings of creation, the Church discovers new understandings of what God’s message was and is now.

The key here is that people take the time and make the effort to differentiate between what is in the Bible and what is a rule that the Church has established because of an interpretation of the Bible. It is also very important to understand the context in which the rule is adopted. The reason that all this is important is because we know that our interpretations of Scripture are not absolute. They are the best understanding of God’s humanly recorded interaction with humanity at a certain time and place. These interpretations give us some insight into the nature of God and how we are to respond to God. Yet as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and other great reformers of the Church have shown us, these interpretations need to be reviewed, revisited, and reformed.

Next time someone tells you that you should or should not do something because this is what God wants, make sure that you clarify whether it is truly in the Bible or if it is someone’s interpretation of the Bible. The Spirit will guide you in your interpretation at that given moment and your response to God.

Awakening The Force

I am a huge Star Wars fan. I vividly remember when the first movie came out (Chapter 4 – A New Hope). It was the summer before I entered Junior High School. The first time I saw it was with my sister, brother-in-law, and infant nephew at a drive-in theater. That same week my brother-in-law and I would go to see it again but this time in an indoor theater. Chapter 4 through 6 will always be my favorite of all the Star Wars films. I have all the films on DVD except the most recent one which came out last year.

For my birthday this year, my youngest son gave me The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. So during this period of isolation, my husband and I decided to watch both of these movies. I love seeing some of my favorite characters once again, although they look a bit older. I was sad when Han and Luke died. As I watched these movies, I was reminded of the connection which others have made between the “Force” and the Holy Spirit. You can find endless books and articles which discuss the connection of themes between the Star Wars movies and the Christian faith. Intended, or not, they are strongly visible.

The title of Chapter 7, The Force Awakens, triggered in my thoughts the awakening of the Spirit in our lives. In this movie, we see one of the main characters becoming aware of a power within herself. The Force is always present. It runs through everything in the universe. Some individuals have an ability to harness the power of the Force and are trained how to understand it and use it. These individuals became known as the Jedi, an elite group which is called upon to overcome the evil actions of some leaders who take over the universe’s governing system. The Force has two sides, the good (or light) side and the dark (or evil) side. Here sets up the continuous battle between good and evil.

The character which I mentioned above, always had the power of the Force within her. In reality, the Force does not awaken but instead her awareness of the Force is what awakens. She is confused by the newfound abilities which she seems to possess. Only by conversations with one of the rebel leaders who has this awareness and with one of the Jedi Masters does she begin to truly understand this power and how she can use it to fight against the evil leaders.

Looking at this from the perspective of Christian faith, there are similarities between the Holy Spirit and the Force. But there are also some dissimilarities. Like the character from the movie, we must become awakened to the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Unlike the Force in these movies, the Spirit’s power is not limited to an elite group. Instead, the Spirit’s power is available to all people. Another similarity is that our awareness to the Spirit’s power must be awakened. This awakening can occur in a variety of ways but most common is through discussions with others who are aware of the power. Often the characters who are called upon to use the Force in dramatic ways are resistant at first and tend to want to rely upon their own abilities and the traditional methods. Individuals usually respond the same to the power of the Holy Spirit because the reality of this power is unnerving to us.

I wonder what would happen if more people were awakened to the power of the Holy Spirit. What if we had a group of individuals who used this power to strive for good within the universe? What if a group used this power to change the lives of others in a positive direction? Would we call them Jedis, or would we give them a different name? Would there people who would take the time to train them to use this power effectively and trust in it? Wait….. this may already exist. Could it be that we call this group of people, the Church? Could it be that there already exist individuals who we call pastors, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, vacation Bible school leaders, and elders instead of Masters?

It is time that we awaken the awareness of the force, the Holy Spirit. Are you aware of the Force within you? How are you utilizing the Spirit’s power in your life? How are you sharing this awareness with others?