Altar Tables: Baptismal Reaffirmation and Holy Communion

In worship we encounter God through proclamation, hymnody, and fellowship.  But the encounter reaches its climax in the sacraments.  In baptism we experience living faith as the sign of initiation.  In Eucharist we experience living faith as the sign of continuation.  The Water of birth, followed by the Bread and Wine of life.- Steve Harper

The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church had their annual meeting recently. Every year representatives from across Florida gather for worship, workshops and the necessary organizational business. I bet you aren’t surprise to discover worship is my favorite part.

Ever year includes many worship services, but I was especially moved this year by the service where we had a chance to reaffirm our baptismal vows and the service of Holy Communion. So many elements came together to awaken us to God’s presence, including the altar tables. I was thrilled to receive permission to share pictures of them on the blog.

Both altarscapes were completed by Mr. Timothy Rounsaville, the Director of Worship Arts at Reeves Memorial United Methodist Church, Orlando Florida.

baptismal reaffirmation service altar tableFor the baptism scape he wanted to play with different flowy and multi-dimensional fabrics to represent water and how light is in them, catches them, how the wind moves them, and how the water flows in numerous directions. I thought his use of plastic wrap was really clever. The light caught it in beautiful ways, like flowing water. It was especially effective from a distance.

communion service altar table AC 2013For the communion scape he wanted it very organic, rustic, arid, and almost harsh with the use of burlap and dried wheat, driftwood, suede and leader. He wanted the burlap for it’s reference to sackcloth – how we come repentant to the altar to receive and leave a changed individual. Wow! I appreciate his vision for emphasizing the beauty and differences of each sacrament.

How are you preaching God’s Word visually in your worship services?

Worship Resource: Take My Life

Horsing Around by David Pasillas

Horsing Around by David Pasillas

This worship resource was inspired by a sermon on Jesus’ blessing in Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

When we hear the word meek, we tend to think timid, passive, wimp, doormat. In Jesus’ day, the word he uses for meek actually refers to a powerful, wild animal who is now trained for work. Think of a stallion and rider, a mighty force of perfect collaboration and unity. A meek person is one who follows Jesus in a disciplined way in order to join Jesus in his saving work. Thus meek means strength under authority, power under discipline, a teachable spirit desiring God’s greater good. – Lisa <><

Worship Resource: Take My Life
ALL SINGING
Traditional Setting: Take My Life, and Let It Be
United Methodist Hymnal #399, verses 1 and 2

Contemporary Setting: Take My Life
Arranged by Chris Tomlin (CCLI #4162843)
Verses 1, 2 and chorus

Instrumental music continues under the scripture reading.

VOICE ONE: Psalm 25:4-5 NIV
Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths;
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
For you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

VOICE TWO: Psalm 25:6-7 NIV
Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love,
For they are from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;
According to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.

VOICE ONE: Psalm 25:8-9 NIV
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

ALL SINGING
Traditional Setting: Take My Life, and Let It Be
United Methodist Hymnal #399, verse 3

Contemporary Setting: Take My Life
arranged by Chris Tomlin (CCLI #4162843)
Verses 3 and chorus

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Be sure to check out the beautiful photography of today’s featured artist David Pasillas at his blog iPhone Photographer. You will also find him on Facebook.

Worship Resource: Take My Life compilation © 2013 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia.
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

For more information on the art, scripture translation and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Being Present to God

If you know the name of this work or its creator, please let me know so I may give proper credit.

If you know the name of this work or its creator, please let me know so I may give proper credit.

Psalm 46:10 NRSV
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.

Honestly, I think I did feel God’s presence more clearly in Costa Rica. But it’s not because He was more present, it’s because I was paying more attention. I was lonely, scared, and anxious, and totally dependent on God to sustain me. So I looked for Him everywhere. – Jamie Wright, The Perfect Shade of Greige

If you refuse to be hurried and pressed, if you stay your soul on God, nothing can keep you from that clearness of spirit which is life and peace. In that stillness you will know what His will is. -Amy Carmichael

If I did not simply live from one moment to the next, it would be impossible for me to keep my patience. I can see only the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to think about the future. We get discouraged and feel despair because we brood about the past and future. It is such folly to pass one’s time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the heart of Jesus. – Théresè of Lisieux, quoted in A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People by Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck

It is living in the naked now, the “sacrament of the present moment,” that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us. Words by themselves invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is. When you can be present, you will know the Real Presence. I promise you this is true…. Presence is the one thing necessary for wisdom, and in many ways, it is the hardest thing of all. Just try to keep (1) your heart space open, (2) your mind without division or resistance, and (3) your body not somewhere else—and all at the same time! Most religions just decided it was easier to believe doctrines and obey often arbitrary laws than the truly converting work of being present. Those who can be present will know what they need to know, and in a wisdom way.
Richard Rohr, The  Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See

What would my life be like if I just stopped praying altogether? I mean, what if God promised me that things would stay the same regardless of whether I prayed or not: would I still continue to pray? That’s a hard question. But I’ve thought about it because on a whole other level I’m a little curious about why some of us feel compelled to pray, even when our scales of belief are tipped toward the negative. But even with a sporadic prayer life, I can’t imagine a life without prayer, without some effort to reach for God with all the cares and worries I drag with me wherever I go, and without some effort to invite God to speak to me in the times when I am sensible enough to just be quiet. Plus there’s a side of me that doesn’t really know how to express my love for God without prayer in my life. I’m not sure when or how I started feeling this way, but somewhere along the line, I’ve discovered that when I do pray, I am reminded of who God is and who I am. It’s hard to pray for anything without at some point naming God as one who is capable of all things. – Enuma Okoro, Reluctant Pilgrim

Exodus 33:12-14 NIV
Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian. ― Brennan Manning 

The spiritual life is a journey to the center, the center in which we come in touch with the pain of God as well as with the love of God, the pain of our world as well as the hope for our world, the pains of our own lives as well as the light that breaks into our darkness. It is a journey in which we resist the many distractions that pull us away from the center with an endless number of things that quite literally “occupy” us. And it is a journey of prayer in which we stand in the presence of God with a listening heart.
– Henri J.M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming

Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

The closer we wish to come to God, the more of our carefully constructed selves we must relinquish. We have to give up our illusions, our defenses, any selfish personal goals, our carefully designed sense of who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do. This sounds terrible, and it can be painful. However, as we give up these areas, we open ourselves, and God enters more fully.
– Sarah Parsons, A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent

The Word is God knowing us deeply. God’s Word is the act of paying attention, more like listening than speaking. The Word of God is a presence—indeed, a person— who knows you, who understands what moves you, who feels your reality form within you…
– For the rest of Steve Garnaas-Holmes’ powerful post, Piercing Word, click here

For a prayer by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled You Are Here, click here

Extended quote by Steve Harper from a blog post entitled See God in All Things.
I especially appreciate how Harper quotes so many well know Christians to remind us that God’s presence is a long standing Christian belief. – Lisa <><

We call God “sustainer.” That means there is not a split second or square inch where God is not present and active. Discernment is learning to look for God in every moment and every event of our lives.

In the Christian tradition this is called “ordinary holiness.” Jean-Pierre de Caussade called it “the sacrament of the present moment.” Oswald Chambers put it this way, “One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is revealed” (My Utmost for His Highest, February 7).

One of our best examples is St. Francis of Assisi, who expanded the vision of God beyond the monastery, convent, academy, and cathedral—and helped Christianity see God in Brother Sun and Sister Moon.

John Muir did similarly as he discovered the wonder of nature in lands “out West” that (thanks to his untiring advocacy) became National Parks. A Christian himself, Muir believed “God’s Cathedral” always surpassed human cathedrals.

Discernment means being on the lookout for God all the time and everywhere. As John Wesley said (borrowing from the Puritan tradition), “Every moment is a God moment.”

John 15:9 NRSV
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

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Prayer: Equity for Workers

Garments Factory in Bangladesh, photo by Fahad Faisal via Wikimedia Commons

Garments Factory in Bangladesh, photo by Fahad Faisal via Wikimedia Commons

This prayer comes in the light of the Bangladesh garment factory building collapse.

James 5:1-5 CEB
Pay attention, you wealthy people! Weep and moan over the miseries coming upon you. Your riches have rotted. Moths have destroyed your clothes. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you. It will eat your flesh like fire. Consider the treasure you have hoarded in the last days. Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your field hands. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of heavenly forces. You have lived a self-satisfying life on this earth, a life of luxury. You have stuffed your hearts in preparation for the day of slaughter.

Mighty One
In your justice
In your mercy
bring equity to workers across your world
break the rod of oppressive business practices
free us from our addiction to low cost goods
raise up those who work in danger and discrimination
those who toil in the dirt, heat, and filth
those who care for the vulnerable
those who put clothes on our backs
food on our tables
roofs over our heads

Carpenter of Nazareth
You hear their cries and so do we
Fill us with courage and conviction
Make us instruments of your peace
your justice
your mercy
Amen

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Click here for a worship resource entitled Prayer for Labor Day

Prayer: Equity for Workers © 2013 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia.
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

For more information on the art, scripture translation and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

The Widow Meets the Lord of Compassion

Christ Raising the Dead, a watercolor by Louisa Anne, Marchioness of Waterford

Christ Raising the Dead, a watercolor by Louisa Anne, Marchioness of Waterford

Luke 7:11-16 NIV
Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out–the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”

Compassion lies at the heart of the authentic Christ-following life. Any spiritual experience – whether it be one of solitude and silence, prayer and fasting, or worship and celebration – that does not result in a deeper concern for our suffering neighbors can hardly be called Christian. The critical test of relationship with the Holy One always involves the quality of our love for those around us. If our communion with God isolates us from the painful realities of our world, inoculates us into an excessive preoccupation with our own well-being, it must be considered suspect. If, on the other hand, it finds expression in greater compassion and a willingness to show care, then it passes the test for genuineness. – Trevor Hudson, A Mile in My Shoes: Cultivating Compassion

Jesus disclosed that God is compassionate. Jesus spoke of God that way: “Be compassionate, as God is compassionate.” (Luke 6:36) Compassion is the primary quality of the central figures in two of his most famous parables: the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). And Jesus himself, as a manifestation of the sacred, is often spoken of as embodying compassion.
Marcus J. Borg, The God We Never Knew Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith

Excerpt of a prayer by Nadia Bolz-Weber based on this scripture
Lord of Compassion, who saw the Widow of Nain, we thank you for seeing us.
Seeing our loneliness and our bravery.
Seeing the times we can’t say what we need to.
Seeing the ones who suffer in silence.
Seeing the moments when we are more than we thought we could be.
Seeing what no one else can or will.

We praise you for seeing as beautiful what we call ugly
and that in your compassion you wipe away all tears.

Reach out once again and wipe our tears and raise us Lord of compassion.
Touch us as you did the wood on which the widow’s son lay dead
and speak those same words to us:
Young man arise.
Little girl, get up.

  • To those who think they are not worthy to be loved
    and medicate themselves with food and booze and shopping, say “rise up”.
  • To us who have been hurt by those who say they follow you say “rise up”.
  • To the proud at heart who think they are not dead say “rise up”.
  • To the ones who care for the least of these and who feel too burnt out to keep going, say “rise up”.
  • To we who are holding onto resentments like our own personal security blankets say “rise up”.
  • To those who hide their failings behind good works say “rise up”.
  • To the unloved child who has no idea that one day they will change the world say “rise up”.
  • To the one who has given up say “rise up”

And when again Lord of Compassion, you have raised the dead…
when again you have made whole that which is broken,
when again you have ripped out my heart of stone
and replaced it with a heart of flesh,
when again you have reached into the graves we dig ourselves
and loved us back to life…

help us, like the young man of Nain to sit up and speak.
Give us the words that are not empty praise or platitudes of piety,
but give us strong words,
as real as the very soil from which you raised us.
Give us the words to speak of you.
And then, as you did the son to his mother, give us one to another.
That when we speak others may hear
and know that you are without question
and without end
the Lord of all Compassion.
AMEN.

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I am grateful for the preaching ministry of Nadia Bolz-Weber. The raw honesty and beauty of her posts inspire and challenge me every time I read them. Click here to go to her blog, Sarcastic Lutheran: the cranky spirituality of a post-modern gal.

Nadia Bolz-Weber holds the copy write to this prayer, including this excerpt.

Good and Evil

If you know the name of this work or its creator, please let me know so I may give proper credit.

If you know the name of this work or its creator, please let me know so I may give proper credit.

Matthew 12:35 NRSV
The good person brings good things out of a good treasure,
and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure

3 John 1:11 NRSV
Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good.
Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

Recognizing “the world, the flesh, and the devil” as the classic three sources of evil (and also the source of the “spiral of violence”) —

  1. the world’s agreed-upon systems of self-congratulation and self-protection;
  2. our individual sin, which is then inevitable;
  3. the demonic legitimization of oppressive and destructive power by governments and institutions—

can be a primary tool to help you discern what is truly good and what is often evil. Without discernment, many of us end up calling good evil and evil good, just as Isaiah predicted (5:20) and the murder of Jesus revealed. – Richard Rohr

Romans 7:21 NRS
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.

Ecclesiastes 12:14 NRSV
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

The shadow self is not of itself evil; it just allows you to do evil without calling it evil. That is why Jesus criticizes hypocrisy more than anything else (eleven times in Matthew’s Gospel). Something that is shocking to many religious people is that Jesus is never upset with sinners; he’s only upset with people who think they are not sinners!
Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

It would be easy for us to think that all of those involved in dehumanizing Jesus were horrible people. If it were only the Roman soldiers, we might say, “Well, the Roman soldiers did terrible things like that.” Or if it were just the thieves on either side of Jesus, we could say, “After all, they were criminals. That’s what you would expect.” But the people who led the charge in dehumanizing and humiliating Jesus were considered the most pious people on the face of the planet in that day. – Adam Hamilton, Final Words

We don’t praise God for evil, we praise God in the midst of evil. Those are critically different responses. And we must avoid the former lest, in our hurry to comfort, we minimize evil and suggest that God is somehow culpable in the very sin he works so actively against.
– Marc Cortez, Three Mistakes We Make When Talking About the Sovereignty of God

In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.
– Deirdre Sullivan, Always Go to the Funeral

Extended quote by Steve Harper from A ‘Greater Good’
Our reactions to evil only make sense because somehow, somewhere, and by someone a “greater good” has been placed in us. In moments of tragedy and suffering, our souls express this “greater good” in a variety of ways…

…in anger that says, “This is wrong and should never have happened.”
…in grief that says, “Someone/something precious has been taken away.”
…in compassion that says, “I care that you are hurting.”
…in stewardship that says, “I will share with you what I have in hopes it will help.”
…in community that says, “We will not allow you to bear this alone.”
…in collective will that says, “We must find ways to insure this does not happen again.”
…in prayer that says, “Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!”
…in hope that says, “We will come back from this.”
…in worship that says, “God is with us.”

None of this, and more, would ever emerge unless somehow, somewhere, and by someone “a greater good” was put into the deepest part of us, waiting there like a well from which we can draw when evil acts like it has the final word.

Psalm 34:14 NRSV
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.

Romans 12:9 NRSV
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

Romans 12:21 NRSV
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Victorious One,
Every day
Every moment
I face the primal struggle between good and evil
You have overcome
Reveal that truth in me and through me
Every day
Every moment
Amen
– Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

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For more information on use of the scripture, art and this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page

The Beatitudes: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

If you know the name or photographer of this work, please let me know so I may give proper credit.

If you know the name of this work or its creator, please let me know so I may give proper credit.

Matthew 5:1-3
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Blessed are the spiritual zeros- the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of religion when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them. – Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

What does poverty of spirit mean? It is my awareness that I cannot save myself, that I am basically defenseless, that neither money nor power will spare me from suffering and death, and that no matter what I achieve and acquire in this life, it will be far less than I wanted. Poverty of spirit is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy more than I need anything else. – Jim Forest, The Ladder of the Beatitudes 

God sees all the many kinds of suffering in the world. The world tends to define poverty and riches simply in terms of economics. But poverty has many faces–weakness, dependence, or humiliation. Essentially, poverty is a lack of means to accomplish what one desires, be it lack of money, relationships, influence, power, intellectual ability, physical strength, freedom, or dignity. Scriptures promise that God will take care of such people, because they know they have to rely on God. – Richard Rohr

Why does the Bible, and why does Jesus, tell us to care for the poor and the outsider? It is because we all need to stand in that position for our own conversion. We each need to stand under the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God, and the grace of God— to understand the very nature of reality. When we are too smug and content, then grace and mercy have no meaning— and God has no meaning. Forgiveness is not even desired. When we have pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps, religion is always corrupted because it doesn’t understand the mystery of how divine life is transferred, how people change, and how life flows. It has been said by others that religion is largely filled with people who are afraid of hell, and spirituality is for people who have gone through hell. – Richard Rohr

An humble knowledge of thyself is a surer way to God
than a deep search after learning.
– Thomas a Kempis

Every aspect of Jesus’ mission (Luke 4:18-19) is restorative. His audience is comprised of the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. His actions are to transform these conditions of existence into abundant life, which he described as bringing good news and effecting release, recovery and liberation. The challenge (then and now) is for us to realize we are the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. As long as we think Jesus was talking about someone else, we will miss the invitation to transformation which launched his ministry and led him to the Cross. – Steve Harper

When you can get little enough, naked enough, and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect from other people. – Richard Rohr

Extended quote by Arthur W. Pink
from his book The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer

By nature every sinner is Pharisaical, desiring to be justified by the works of the Law. By nature we all inherit from our first parents the tendency to manufacture for ourselves a covering to hide our shame. By nature every member of the human race walks in the way of Cain, who sought to find acceptance with God on the ground of an offering produced by his own labors. In a word, we desire to gain a standing before God on the basis of personal merits; we wish to purchase salvation by our good deeds; we are anxious to win heaven by our own doings. God’s way of salvation is too humbling to suit the carnal mind, for it removes all ground for boasting. It is therefore unacceptable to the proud heart of the unregenerate.

Man wants to have a hand in his salvation. To be told that God will receive nought from him, that salvation is solely a matter of Divine mercy, that eternal life is only for those who come empty-handed to receive it solely as a matter of charity, is offensive to the self-righteous religionist. But not so to the one who is poor in spirit and who mourns over his vile and wretched state. The very word mercy is music to his ears. Eternal life as God’s free gift suits his poverty-stricken condition. Grace—the sovereign favor of God to the hell-deserving—is just what he feels he must have! Such a one no longer has any thought of justifying himself in his own eyes; all his haughty objections against God’s benevolence are now silenced. He is glad to own himself a beggar and bow in the dust before God. Once, like Naaman, he rebelled against the humbling terms announced by God’s servant; but now, like Naaman at the end, he is glad to dismount from his chariot of pride and take his place in the dust before the Lord.

Humility, that low sweet root,
From which all heavenly virtues shoot.
-Thomas More

From the original meaning of the word humility (from the word “humus”—earth), it means that our first encounter with God is to come to the realization that God is God, and I am not! I am creature, not Creator. I am of the “earth.” … Humility is the sign that we have moved into a “for” mentality— a life for God. It is what Jesus meant when he spoke of “denying ourselves”—which does not mean a cancellation of the self, but rather a consecration of the self. It’s what E. Stanley Jones meant when he said, “Your self in your own hands is a problem and a pain; your self in God’s hands is a power and a potential.” Humility is allowing God to have you in His hands.
– Steve Harper, A Life of Humility

Revelation 3:17 NIV
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

A “poor spirit” is an authentic spirit because it has nothing to claim or cling to but itself.  When we are poor in spirit, all we can say is, “i am”—not “i have” or “i do.”  But it is in the moment of “being” that we are in alignment with the “I AM” of God.  Jesus said this is where the spiritual life begins–in the paradox of nothingness, which turns out to be everything.  For there is nothing more holy or precious than a living soul who offers to God and others the purity of itself. – Steve Harper

Isaiah 64:6 NIV
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Can we surrender the mantle of trying to be, as someone has described us in our driven-ness, “General Manager of the Universe?” Many of us are so accustomed to trying to be good – doing what is right, covering everything on our to-do list – that we live our lives, even our spiritual lives, at a frantic pace. We cram every minute of every day with activity and achievement, measuring our worth by what we earn or what good deeds we have done. But this beatitude says that approach is all wrong. When we offer to God what we cannot be or do – our weaknesses – then the kingdom is ours. God says in this beatitude, “When you give up your illusions of control and power and acknowledge your absolute need for me, all that I have opens to you.”
– Mary Lou Redding, The Power of a Focused Heart

Luke 18:10-14 NIV
Jesus said, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

As long as we relate primarily to each other’s wealth, health, stability, intelligence, and soul strength, we cannot develop true community. Community is not a talent show in which we dazzle the world with our combined gifts. Community is the place where our poverty is acknowledged and accepted, not as something we have to learn to cope with as best as we can but as a true source of new life.
-Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

The following quotes and prayer are from The Beatitudes, by Charles H. Spurgeon

  • It is worthy of grateful note that this gospel blessing reaches down to the exact spot where the law leaves us when it has done for us the very best within its power or design. The utmost the law can accomplish for our fallen humanity is to lay bare our spiritual poverty, and convince us of it. It cannot by any possibility enrich a man: its greatest, service is to tear away from him, his fancied wealth of self-righteousness, show him his overwhelming indebtedness to God, and bow him to the earth in self despair.
  • The cause for placing this Beatitude first is found in the fact that it is first as a matter of experience; it is essential to the succeeding characters, underlies each one of them, and is the soil in which alone they can be produced. No man ever mourns before God until he is poor in spirit, neither does he become meek towards others till he has humble views of himself; hungering and thirsting after righteousness are not possible to those who have high views of their own excellence, and mercy to those who offend is a grace too difficult for those who are unconscious of their own spiritual need. Poverty in spirit is the porch of the temple of blessedness.
  • “Poor in spirit;” the words sound as if they described the owners of nothing, and yet they describe the inheritors of all things.
  • Lord, keep me low; empty me more and more; lay me in the dust, let me be dead and buried as to all that is of self; then shall Jesus live in me, and reign in me, and be truly my All-in-all!

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This is the first of eight posts based on the Beatitudes, Jesus’ short pronouncements of blessing at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:1-12) In these scriptures, Jesus reveals the present and future reality of God’s kingdom and that the kingdom is available for all people.

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