October 30, 2016

Wearing a Mask

Once again the circle of seasons brings us to All Hallows Eve or Halloween. Honestly this is not one of my favorite holidays. Too much craziness in the name of ‘fun’ can happen. Plus, I really don’t like people in masks because I cannot see their face. (I also have trouble with people wearing mirrored sunglasses for the same reason-I cannot see their expression or eyes.)
Don’t we all wear masks, though? We put on a persona based on what we think are the expectations of the people we are interacting with. I might put on the mask of educated author when presenting a talk about my books. In my family, I present myself as the ‘good mom’, ever ready to help with homework. At work, the mask might be ‘efficient worker’ and at school I might be the ‘diligent student’. Those are all parts of us, and they help us comfortably hide the parts of our personality we don’t want the public to see.
Even with God we sometimes try to wear a mask, forgetting conveniently that God sees right through and past any mask we might attempt. For God we can be the ‘faithful church worker’ or the ‘daily pray-er’ or the ‘efficient pastor’. Those may all be correct and parts of us. However, what God sees is “beloved child”.
In the First Letter to the church in Corinth, Paul says that all attributes of the church (and of each of us) is important. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians: 12: 15-26)
All of our personality parts are important and valid, and need to be affirmed. It is easy to try to hide the things about ourselves that we don’t like by constructing a mask that is ‘acceptable’. All Hallows Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day and All Souls Day (October 31, November 1 and 2, respectively) is a time to remember the ‘saints’ of the church. ALL the women and men who have gone before us in the faith, not just those who happen to have the title ‘Saint’ attached to their name. You are a saint of God, and I am a saint of God. Let’s celebrate the image of God in one another and try to put down our masks sometimes.

What is your favorite mask? Can you develop a mask that shows you as a beloved child, a saint, of God?

This week try to look beyond the masks others have constructed to see and love the real saint of God. 

October 23, 2016

The Spirit Who Gifts Us

Last time we considered how the Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, of God helps us to discern our path by guiding us when we ask. When we are directed by God’s Spirit, we will be given gifts to help us do the work of God and bring about the Kingdom. Jesus tells his disciples that “I do not call you servants…I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. So whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give you.” (John 15: 15-16)
As descendants of the disciples, we are inheritors of that same promise. You see lots of commercials on TV about getting your DNA tested to find out what ethnic background you are from. Our spiritual ethnic background is clear. We have the same DNA as our Father and Brother. That means we are royalty, and we have spiritual gifts. In fairy tales, often the hero or heroine is given something special which they must not lose. We also have been given something extra special, and we cannot lose it because it is an eternal gift from our loving God.
We are gifted by the Spirit in precisely the right way for our situation. The Holy Spirit gives us exactly the right gifts to do the service and act in the way that God created us for. As the 1 Corinthians citation notes, “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” Furthermore, the gifts we have right now are the ones we need right now! That’s a helpful thing to remember when it seems like we are in over our head or asked to do something we don’t think we can do.
In 1 Corinthians 12, we are told, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (I Corinthians 12:3-11)
Matthew Fox in his book Original Blessing reminds us that we are queens and kings in the Kingdom of God. We are direct heirs of the King of kings. Therefore, as Madeline L’Engle says, we are ‘co-creators with God’. It is the Spirit that works in us so that we are aware and so we can participate in the work of God. Recently I read Believing God by Beth Moore. She suggests that we remember 5 important things about God’s work in our lives:
God is who He says He is. 
God can do what He says He can do.
I am who God says I am.
I can do all things through Christ.
God’s Word is alive and active in me.

When we remember that we are daughters and sons of God, and that we are meant to work with God to bring about the Kingdom, it can change our attitude. If we are prophets, priests, royalty (and we are) then we ought to act in that way. We need not fear because God is in charge. The words of Jesus in Luke 12, “But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father’s is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourself with purses that will not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven” (Luke 12:31-33) take on a deeper meaning. Our Father is pleased to give us the kingdom. Therefore, we can work for the good of the Kingdom without worrying about what ‘people might think’, or that we could fail. We are assured that we have the Gifts necessary for doing the work right now!
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by what you feel God is asking you to do? Is it reassuring to know that the Holy Spirit has given you just the right gifts for the job?
How does the idea of being a co-creator with God to bring about the Kingdom make you feel?

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll take a brief break to look at the way culture and the church honor the saints, those who live and use their gifts, before concluding this series by considering some of the specific spiritual gifts and why they are needed in the church. 

October 16, 2016

The Spirit Who Gives Discernment

Over these past several weeks, we’ve looked at ways the Holy Spirit works in and through our lives. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity and is often rather brushed over in our western culture. In eastern tradition, the Spirit is related to Sophia, the Wisdom of God, which is from the beginning and infuses all life. That Wisdom helps us to make decisions and to discern what to do and say and be.
Discern is a word not used in every day talk. Yet it is something that we practice every day. The word comes from discernere, formed from two Latin words dis (apart) and cernere (to separate). Discernment happens when we look at all the pieces of a decision or an idea or plan in order to see if it will work. Mostly we do this unconsciously, without specifically listing all the pros and cons of something. I might discern that I want the red dress and brown shoes because I’ve decided/discerned in the synapsis of my brain that they would look better together than the orange dress and red shoes. Sometimes we do make lists of pros and cons to help us decide what to do about a major life change. In all decisions the Spirit of God is present, even if we don’t think about that.
In I Corinthians, we are reminded, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are discerned spiritually. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:10-16)
In this letter, Paul is telling the Corinthians that all things are revealed by the Spirit, “so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God”. How often do we really stop and think about our day to day actions as being inspired by God? We tend to think that we are autonomous and in control of what we do and where we go. With God’s free will that is true. On the other hand, when we offer our life to God in prayer we may discern that there is a different plan.
Have you ever looked back over your life and marveled at the way God has worked? I am constantly amazed at how just the right job came along at the right time, or how the exact amount needed to pay a bill arrived, or how a friend ‘happened’ to call or write and say just the right words.
Through the Spirit of God we “have the mind of Christ”, Paul says. That mindset helps us discern and see the hand of God in our life and to discern what we should do to further the Kingdom. We have “received…the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God”. The gifts given us by God may or may not be grand, and may not bring fame, but they are exactly the gifts needed by you and me, where we are on our faith journey.

The Holy Spirit, God's Wisdom can help us discern what the next step is on the the path. All we need to do is ask. As the graphic from Jude 1:20 advises, we should Pray in the Spirit in order to build up our faith. 
Consider asking God to help you understand and discern the work of the Spirit in your life.

Take time to look back over your life and see where God has acted. One way is via ‘stepping stones’. Break your life timeline into 5 or 10 year segments and note the God highlights of each period. You will find that God has been providing discernment for you all along. 

October 9, 2016

The Spirit Who Comforts

For the past month we’ve been talking about ways the Holy Spirit of God works in our lives. It is the Spirit that Regenerates our souls, Acts in our lives to Empower and Sanctify our work. The Holy Spirit also comforts and gives us joy as we go about our day-to-day lives, which sometimes seem to be filled with troubles.
It can be easy to get trapped in the cycle of looking at everything from a negative viewpoint. “Government is corrupt”, “School is too hard”, “The world has gone crazy with violence”…the list goes on and on. It can get longer each time we watch the news, too. We can start to believe “Nobody cares about me or my problems”. This is not the attitude Jesus promised to his followers.

If we are able to look at life through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, we might discover that there is a silver lining to all those clouds. Jesus says “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:16-21)
Notice that Jesus repeats that we are not ‘orphaned’, not left alone in this world to fend for ourselves. He goes on to say that “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them This raises the question with Judas (not Iscariot), and with us “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14: 21-26)
It is the Holy Spirit that will be with and within us to teach us, comfort us, and bring us joy as we live our lives in relationship with God. In fact Paul’s Letter to the Romans tells us that For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
Since we have these promises from the Lord of Life we can be free from the fears and sins that try to drag us down. In Hebrews 12:1-2, we are encouraged by the promise that we are not alone. Not only do we have the Holy Spirit, we also “are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
With the Holy Spirit and other witnesses of the work of God, we can allow the comfort and joy of the Holy Spirit to live in us and overflow in our interactions with each other. God’s promise is that the Spirit of God will live in us and that can offer comfort in troubling times.
Sometimes there are pieces of music or special verses that help remind you of the promises of God. The coloring panel is one of my favorite ones. It would make a nice bookmark for your Bible or devotional. One of my favorite songs is I Will NeverForget You My People, which repeats the promise to ‘not leave you orphans’.   
What is your favorite Bible verse or song that reminds you of the promises of God?
Is there something you can do today to remind yourself of the presence of God’s joy and comfort in your life?

October 2, 2016

The Spirit Who Sanctifies

Last time we looked at how the Holy Spirit Empowers us to live free of fear through discipline and through the advocacy of the Spirit in us. As we are gradually transformed into a deeper relationship with God, we are sanctified for God’s service.
Paul tells the Roman church that he was empowered “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God.” (Romans 15:16-17) He says his work is ‘priestly service..sanctified by the Holy Spirit’. Only in Jesus can he ‘boast of my work for God’.
We also are sanctified. To be sanctified is to be made holy and consecrated and set apart for the work of God. It is awesome that God takes each of us frail bits of dust and is willing to sanctify us by God’s Spirit so that we can do the work of God in the world.
To live a sanctified life, we need a strategy. In the 2015 movie The War Room, Miss Clara explains that she has a special closet dedicated to praying, which she calls her "War Room". She says, "In order to stand up and fight the enemy, you need to get on your knees and pray."

Probably we could all do with a bit more prayer in our lives. Whether we can dedicate a completely separate place, or simply a corner of a room, it is important to have a place and time to meet with God so that we can be sanctified to the priestly service of the Living God. The graphic gives an example of a checklist for connecting with God. You might want to come up with your own (this is sometimes called a Rule of Life).
God takes the moments we give him and sanctifies them. God makes holy the time we spend in conversation with God. As we spend time we learn to more fully live into our ‘priestly service of the gospel of God’.
The 12 apostles spent a lot of time with Jesus and in that relationship learned to carry the Good News into all the world. Certainly they weren’t perfect, and obviously they didn’t know that they could do the work of sharing the Gospel. (All you need to do is look at the first chapter of Acts to see how unsure of themselves they were!) Then the sweeping wind of the Holy Spirit came and sanctified their work. That wind of God’s Spirit gave them courage and strength to go out into the streets and beyond to tell about Jesus and about God’s redeeming work.
As we spend time with God in prayer conversation, we will discover that we are also sanctified to do our work in the world. Your job may be bagging groceries or it may be overseeing a financial empire, but either way, you are ‘minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God’. We come in contact with lots of people each day, and we are charged and sanctified to serve as our ‘work for God’.
The ‘Gentiles’ you minister to are the people you come in contact with each day. How might you change the way you interact with people if you see yourself as in the priestly service of God?

Do you ever think that what you do doesn’t make a difference? Does thinking of your work as part of priestly service to God change that idea?