Tuesday – June 4, 2019
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. 1 Peter 4.10
A Word of Hope
I was speaking with a friend the other day about God, hell, and heaven. My friend’s background is Roman Catholic, so it didn’t surprise me that her belief tradition holds on to what I consider to be outdated. I consider my own original beliefs antique, too. I began my faith tradition as a child in the Southern Baptist church. I don’t remember much about it except that it was my first social experience. On the few occasions that I heard the preacher, there was a lot of ranting and screaming.
So, my first introduction to church was not that pleasant. Through all my other church experiences, I realized that my steps of faith leaned gradually to the more loving, grace – filled God, completely removed from the angry Hebrew Scripture version. I’m not surprised, however that a lot of troubled people of today want an angry, justice-demanding God. I’d have to say that it’s more appealing to my personality that there is a God of unconditional Grace and love many of us deeply desire. There seem to be lots of reasons to want instant justice to be given to those who wrong others, but, I’m saddened by some people’s cherry picking of their most despised category of sin; the cafeteria version of Christianity that says I choose to condemn this, not that.
I have come to realize that any love I feel for an ali-inclusive God may very well translate from my Universalist viewpoint that learning to love oneself is an inward reflection of how I feel about the rest of the world. As far as differences of opinion I experience with my Catholic friend as to whether heaven or hell exists, I rely on the golden rule to live and let live. It has changed my attitude many times to embrace the idea that parts of our humanness, our thinking, and our actions create a sort of internal perception of living in heaven or hell, regardless of those variations of afterlife concepts.
After dabbling for the last 30 or so years in various spiritual studies and living out my progressive values, it has never made sense to wish infinite torture on anyone’s afterlife. On the same note, I hold on to my personal ideas of eternal bliss, peace, and a healthy sense of safety and love in the afterlife. I’ve seen the evidence of transforming lives with grace and it is hard to ignore the evidence of the positive vibration field I like to call God; the One who is ultimately in charge, but through grace is not judgmental or controlling. I certainly understand the viewpoint of wanting justice for those who suffer. If I’m to be witness to the presence of something bigger and better, it seems only natural that I would want that for everybody else as well. So I consider every day an opportunity to offer a smile, say a cheerful hello to a stranger and try my best to be God’s grace to them. Judgment is just not part of daily duties.
May I perceive and practice your grace more diligently every day.
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Monday – June 3, 2019
‘’A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers the giver into the presence of the Great.’’ Proverbs 18:16
A Word of Hope
The Season of Pentecost begins next Sunday, the time of year when the Gifts of the Spirit abound and the gift of prayer is always available to each of us. The Order of St. Francis and St. Clare will be honoring the upcoming Season of the Spirit in our prayers at our reflect Service on Wednesday. Clare of Assisi had a very specific method of praying. Being a very visually oriented individual, she would first gaze intently on an object that somehow inspired her to pray. She would allow some time for gestation, and spend the rest of her prayer time allowing that original image to give birth to an action the prayer inspired. Many things invited her gaze and nurtured her prayer life; an icon, a cross, a child’s smile, or a small gift from a friend.
I often find myself living out Clare’s method when I gaze upon any gift given to me or donated to the Children’s Ministry. I have a good friend who makes a lot of out of town trips. On his return, I can always expect for him to drop by with some sort of inexpensive but meaningful little souvenir of his most recent visit. I keep them lined up on a shelf in my house and every time I glance at them I am moved to send a little prayer for my friend; for his well-being, for his safe travels.
A few years ago, the Children’s Ministry, along with the rest of our church family, started a campaign to collect shoes for children in Iraq. A church member with connections there had informed us of the Iraqi children’s desperate need. The congregation’s generosity was overwhelming to the point that I still notice the shoes of the privileged children in my life. Using St. Clare’s prayer method, I am inspired to remember the continuing urgent shoe needs of our neighbors around the world.
Another time, this generous congregation donated thousands of Beanie Babies or small toys to an orphanage in South Africa where the children were suffering with AIDS complications. Gazing on a Beanie Baby or any other small stuffed toy generates the same sort of prayers in me, reminding me of the gifts of thousands of toys and necessities our ministries have sent and are still sending to our neighbors in need both here and overseas
Who could use a gift from you today? In both the giving and the receiving, the Proverb reminds us, we can experience the presence of God.
Create a generous spirit in me this day, O God.
Minister for Children and Families
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Friday – May 31, 2019
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten people who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when they saw they were healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice, knelt at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—this one was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17.11-19
A Word of Hope
Something you might not know about me is that I used to be a smoker. Yes, it is true. By the time I was 17 I was smoking nearly 20 a day.
Now, before I go any further, please know that I have no judgement toward anyone who does smoke or vapes. Smoking was introduced to me at a very early age and I had just become so dependent on it and I considered myself an addict. I couldn’t live without my first cigarette in the morning and my last cigarette at night. It was just the way it was. I decided I wanted to stop!
Over my years in ministry I have come to understand how many of us become addicted. Addicted to cigarettes, love, control, power as well as to alcohol and drugs. I have come to a fuller understanding that often, our addictive behaviors can be mechanism through which we mask the pain of something in our past. They can also be linked to our self-esteem and lack of love for self.
Just recently, someone who I have known for nearly 20 years was found in a hotel, unresponsive. He has been addicted to Crystal Meth for many years and, over the years has tried to stop. He has relapsed many times. This is a powerful drug. His story is a very familiar one to many, far too many these days, and it breaks my heart and, as always reminds me the “but by the grace of God, go I”.
Thankfully, while he was unresponsive, the paramedics got to him in time and he survived this last relapse. I was able to visit with him and spoke with him about what he was going on in his life.
My prayer is that he will seek out the help that he needs and, of course I will do everything I possibly can to assist him, to find long-lasting recovery. However, there is some work that only WE can do. I can find the resources, but each person must make a personal decision about what they will do with them.
This was a similar decision that was to be made by all those that Jesus healed in the healing stories of the New Testament.
I have often wondered why only one of the lepers returned to show Jesus the completeness of their healing. Perhaps it was because the other nine went back to their old patterns of living and never put in the work that was required of them to make healing a life journey. Perhaps they relapsed and at another time came to try again.
Wherever we are in life’s journey, it is never too late to do the work necessary to heal the past and to step into a new day fully committed to work at our wholeness, our healing.
As you begin this new day, begin today committed to never allowing the past to determine your future and find the resources necessary to do the hard work of living into a new day – a new life, promised through our faith in the Great Physician, Jesus.
Healing God, hear my cries this day as I commit to this day, whole and complete to the work of healing in my life which will ultimately assist in bringing healing to others and the world.
Rev. Dr. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas
Senior Pastor, Cathedral of Hope UCC, Dallas
Thursday – May 30, 2019
“Rising Above It All”
Luke 24:44-53 reads “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so, stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ NRSV
A Word of Hope
I remember a time when my mother told me that I could not go with her out of town to visit our relatives. She wanted me to stay home and study because I would be better prepared for a major test on that subsequent Monday morning. I was disappointed because I knew that everybody would be having a good time without me. I knew that this situation was temporary, but I felt left behind.
In today’s scripture, Jesus tells the disciples that “…they must stay in the city until that have been clothed with the power from on high.” You can tell from the scripture that they did not totally understand why they needed to stay behind. They did not know why they needed to study to prepare for the prophecy to be fulfilled. Jesus wanted them to open their minds to understand the scripture, so they would understand completely what it meant from Him to rise from the dead after the third day and help His followers recall important facts about Jesus’ life including the miracles, the prophecies, and the resurrection. He wanted them to remember everything He had told them as well as what they had witnessed while He was on this earth. He wanted them to be able to tell the stories vividly with accuracy, passion, and enthusiasm.
Well, my mother was right to have me stay home and study because I would not have been focused on memorizing terms, concepts, and facts. I would have played with my cousins and would not have wanted to study for the test. Jesus knew what was best for the disciples just like my mom knew what was best for me to rise above the chaos. Jesus knew telling the men and women what to do would benefit everyone for centuries. Jesus prepared them for the Holy Spirit, so they would be empowered to evangelize after His ascension. Taking time to pray, study, and learn prepares us all for spiritual success and to be knowledgeable messengers of God’s extravagant grace.
Dear Creator of the Universe: Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for the Holy Spirit. Thank you for wisdom, knowledge, and courage to rise up and live our best lives. May it be so in Your darling son Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen!
Minister Winner Laws
Wednesday – May 29, 2019
“There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment.”
1 John 4:18
A Word of Hope
I think many people have heard this famous verse that perfect love casts out fear, but I don’t think as many people know the second half of it: that the reason perfect love casts out fear is because fear has to do with punishment. I think this is profoundly insightful, and helpful. Psychologically, emotions are beliefs about the world. Excitement is a belief that something good is about to happen. Love is a belief that something or someone valuable is in front of us. Sadness is a belief that something isn’t quite right or that something I once had is gone. And of course it is far more complex than this, with a million different kinds of love or sadness and just as many beliefs.
Fear is the same, John seems to tell us in Christian sacred text. Fear is a belief that punishment is impending. And John seems to believe that a part of love is a belief that punishment is not just around the corner.
I can’t tell you how deeply I wish I could feel this all the time. How often I am scared. How often I anticipate punishment even from God. Here I am, so many years into this journey, and I still feel sometimes, in this gripping way, that God is dangerous, that God would punish me if I ___________.
What would life look like without fear that God will punish us? What would we do? What would we be?
I often think things like, “I want to be more loving” or “I want to know God’s love more.” But that can be so vague. One of the things I think John is offering to us is a way to be more loving and to know God’s love more: counteract the voice of fear inside your own mind. Speak comfortingly and assuringly to yourself when a voice tells you that punishment is around the corner. And in so doing, feel more love, feel more freedom, feel more of that holy kind of power.
So many of us have been taught to believe that fearing God is morally good, that being afraid of punishment is necessary and important. But here, John is telling us, “No, my beloved ones: love is a belief in a God who would never punish you.”
Mother of us all, teach us to trust you. Teach my heart to feel safe in your embrace. Soften the hard edges I’ve cut to survive. Bring greater peace to my heart. You are the safest of Parents. You would never punish me. You would never punish us. It’s utterly against your nature. Let me believe it is so. Let me feel your love. Amen.
Tyler James, LPC, MA
5910 Cedar Springs Road
Dallas, TX 75235
Toll Free: 800-501-HOPE (4673)