Learning from the New Testament couple Priscilla & Aquilla

Growing up in the Methodist Church in Montgomery City, my world was expanded by the people with whom our family worshiped.  I would like to introduce you to Burt and Beth.  My mental picture of them is watching Burt open the car door outside the church, reach in for Beth as she stood up.  He then walked her into church with his hand cupped around her elbow.

[Insert slide of Burt and Beth.]

            Beth had polio as a young woman in the 1950s.  She was left with a limp, but she always stood up straight as an arrow with the brightest eyes penetrating you with her smile.  He was a dairy farmer, so his mornings began very early, even before church on Sundays, but he never missed church and he was always there beside Beth.  

            This strong couple demonstrated love of God, love of family, and love of neighbors throughout their life of personal challenges.  They were among my personal role models much like Pricilla and Aquilla were role models in the churches Paul established during his missionary trips around the Mediterranean Sea.

            I am Susan Smith, the associate pastor of the Warrensburg First United Methodist Church, and I invite you to make sure you have a Bible, a pen or pencil and paper handy so you can follow along with the scriptures, make notes or even jot down a reminder to share questions or stories of your own later on as a comment or post to our Facebook page.  Please join me in prayer.

            Dear Lord,

                 As we take this moment to pause and clear our minds,

                 We ask that you open our hearts and minds 

                 To the lessons we learn from your servants Priscilla and Aquilla.

                 May we, too, grow in our faith and our love for each other

     So our lives reflect your love for one another.  –Amen

            Then Paul arrives in their community.  

A group of people on a bed

Description automatically generated            Let’s meet Pricilla and Aquilla by stepping back into those first years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Life was so very different without all the technology we now have.  The business of living was labor intensive, and the needs of the community were met by skilled craftsmen.  Aquilla was trained as a tentmaker, and where he lived along the Mediterranean Sea, he filled a demand as people needed his skill to make and to repair the sails for the boats or the tents for their homes.  Priscilla joined him working as a tentmaker, too.

[Insert slide of the three working on tents]

The couple were faithful Jews, and they listened to Paul.  They heard the good news.  Soon they were devoted new Christians.  They quickly developed a special bond with Paul because he too was a trained tent maker, which we learn in Acts 18:1-3: [Insert slide of verses.]

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers.

            Even as a missionary, Paul would work in the community in which he was preaching.  The three of them became co-workers with Paul even living with them while in Corinth.  Can you imagine how close they became working, living and worshiping together?

A picture containing text, map

Description automatically generated            The book of Acts, written by Luke, shares the story of Paul meeting Priscilla and Aquilla on his second missionary journey.  

[Insert slide of Paul’s second journey.]

During Paul’s year and a half in Corinth, the Jewish people became upset over his teachings causing problems in the temple, so much so that the Jewish leaders took the issue to the Roman proconsul Gallio.  Gallio dismissed it saying it was an internal problem.  The turmoil becomes unsafe, so Paul decides to leave for Ephesus–Priscilla and Aquilla go with him.

            Consider this.  You are well-established in a community where there is plenty of work providing a good income.  Why would you suddenly decide to get up and leave it?  Priscilla and Aquilla were called to continue in ministry with Paul and they had protected him in the midst of the Jewish riots.  He no longer taught in the synagogue but began a house church next door to Priscilla and Aquilla.

A sculpture of a person

Description automatically generated            When Paul decided to leave Corinth, the couple decided to follow Paul to Ephesus.  What a decision to make!   But Priscilla and Aquilla, partners in life, did just that.  This decision exemplifies the qualities of the couple not only as disciples, but as a Christian couple who follow God’s call to serve.

[Insert slide of the busts.]

            Following Paul reminds me of today’s missionaries.  As I shared about Beth and Burt, we also had members of our community that went to India to serve as missionaries.  Even though I am struggling to remember their names, I remember wondering how in the world could they get up and leave for India.  Their boys were basically my age, they were residents in my hometown, and they were fellow church members.  But they, like Priscilla and Aquilla, left to serve God in ministry.

            And then there is Priscilla herself, one of the strong women listed in the New Testament as disciples of Christ.  The references to her always place her first and always with Aquilla.  Based on how she is always listed first, scholars believed she was from a higher social status than Aquilla which was out of the ordinary for ancient times; and another difference for the couple was that they had no children.  Priscilla does not follow the stereotypical roles for ancient women.  Yet Priscilla worked and worshipped alongside her husband as an equal, not in a subservient role.  She became a leading teacher in Christianity, a strong woman serving as a disciple.  Priscilla broke the stereotypes of her culture.

            Finally, consider Priscilla and Aquilla as teachers.  Reading in Romans 12:6-8: [Insert slide of verses.] 

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

we know that Paul must have identified the skills that these two had, and especially Priscilla as indicated by the placement of her name in relation to Aquilla’s.  When the couple followed Paul to Ephesus, they resumed their trade as tentmakers and as faithful disciples.  Their home became a church meeting place.  They were leaders in the faith community, and there they met Apollos.

            Apollos was a gifted speaker and was spreading the news that he learned from John the Baptist’s preaching and prophesying, but he did not know of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Therefore Apolloa, while developing a following, did not know the fulfillment of John’s prophecy.  

            Luke shares the story of Apollos’ ministry and how it developed through the mentoring of Priscilla and Aquilla in Acts 18:24-26: [Insert slide of verses.]

24 Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.

            Priscilla and Aquilla were able to take Apollos and teach him the about Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection.  Their gifts transformed one man’s ministry and the growth of the church continued as is recorded in Acts 18:28: [Insert slide with verse.]

28 for he [Apollos] powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

            Priscilla and Aquilla are a team.  They demonstrate to us today that faith can bind us together enriching our lives, especially our daily lives working together.  Luke refers to strong women in his gospel and in Acts, emphasizing their strength for leadership in ministry.  The fact that this married couple are referenced repeatedly in Paul’s letters indicates the level of his friendship with them and that the different churches also recognized their leadership.

            Priscilla defied the stereotypical role of women in the ancient culture, but her strength and her spiritual gifts placed her in a leadership role within the early church.  Today’s culture may have lifted the social barriers for women leaders in faith, but Priscilla’s story is one for us to preserve and model.

            Consider the image I have of Beth and Burt growing up.  I can add others to the list of strong women of faith in my life; and when I do, I realize their spouses were important to their leadership, too.  I can add my own mom and dad to models of spiritually-focused leaders.  I can stop and look around me today, too, and know that here in Warrensburg I have been blessed with other models of faith:  Mary Belle and Paul, June and Tom, Ruth and Harold, Nan and Bill are just a few to mention.

            And what about today’s generations?  They are present, too.  Look around and spot the faith leaders you know.  I recognize several:  Beth and Bryan, Kim and Dan, Krystle and Brain are just three faith-filled couples.  The church continues thanks to the leaders of our church.  The couples gain strength together and we see the future of God in their lives.

Amanda, Kaylie, Neal, and Alyssa            In closing, today, I would like to share one more story of a strong couple leading in discipleship.  Just like I watched Beth and Burt growing up managing to put aside the trials of a pandemic, I am watching a new generation.  My cousin Neal married a young woman who also is a teacher.  They are living in quarantine just like the rest of us, but they have a vulnerable daughter who was born with Downs Syndrome just a few years ago.  Meet Amanda, Kaylee, Neal and Alyssa.  [Insert picture of family.]  

            Despite the challenges that all of us face in our lifetime, without faith we falter.  With faith, we strengthen.  Amanda has grown in faith and uses the platform of Facebook to chronicle the life of her daughter and her big sister growing in faith.  She testifies how God supports her and the family through all the medical and educational challenges they face.  She is Priscilla.  Neal is Aquilla.  

            Are you living your life in a manner that shares the good news?  Are you modeling your faith life and your daily life after Priscilla and Aquila?  Are others watching you and seeing that God has been with you, is with you, and will always be with you?

A close up of a sign

Description automatically generated            Just remember–you are strong.  During this pandemic, we live with uncertainty, but we turn to those strong teachers in our lives to discover our own strength.  My cousin sent a message through Facebook that I want to share with you: [Insert sidewalk chalk screen.]  Her daughter Alyssa is the artist: “God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.”

Let us close in prayer:

Dear Lord, 

Thank you for all the strong women

     you have shared with us through scripture

     and throughout our lives.  

Thank you for all the disciples,

     both men and women,

     who worked to teach us about Jesus.

Thank you for all the Priscilla and Aquilla couples

      you have placed in our lives

     so we may know you personally.  –Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Lifestyle, Religion

Surprising times challenge faith, Redefine today’s lifestyle, goals

How many times do we experience something in our lives and we cannot believe what just happened?  Maybe it was a near accident, maybe it was a health issue, maybe it was a work achievement.  Afterwards, we just walk away and marvel at the outcome.

Maybe we are in the midst of another amazing experience.  I know that the coronavirus has forced our daily lives to come grinding to a halt, wait a bit, and now we are trying to restart.  And that restarting process is almost more frightening than the shutdown has been.

None of us can predict what the future will look like, but one thing for sure it is will never be the same.  And I am not sure, but I am betting we have learned valuable lessons and should not even consider returning to life as usual.

As an observer, I am witnessing major lifestyle changes that I believe demonstrate a hunger for healthier balances in our priorities.  In my neighborhood, I watch families out walking together.  Not just one family, but a variety of families, some walking through the neighborhood just to add more steps in their walk.   I see pets with their owners that I never recognized before.  

Having been an at-risk teacher, I knew broken family units and the resulting damage more than I saw family units who supported one another in all types of endeavors.  Watching the family units join together for time outdoors without all the fanfare associated with sports is a heart-warming experience.

This pandemic is forcing family units to redefine themselves.  The stay-at-home orders have made the decision for many that society seemed to want but battled against due to the cultural expectations of two adults working away from the home while the kids were in school or in a day-care setting.

A spinoff adjustment has been to the work force.  Maybe the first evidence of needed/forced change was in education.  All the sudden schools closed their doors.  With many schools that literally closed down the school year after just three quarters, not the typical four.

This abrupt change not only forced the students to stay home, but it forced schools to rethink how to teach.  It placed the onus on the parents to see that their children continued in their studies while the teachers scrambled to find ways to provide instruction away from the classroom.

Education must place the needs of the students before anything else.  I will never forget attending an ASCD regional meeting and listening to the head of Iowa’s state education department.  Instead of worrying about how to hold teachers and districts accountable to a process or a set of standards, he said they had only one guideline:  What is best for the student?

Notice, it is student, not studentS.  Education as we know it is education for the masses.  If a student could not fit into the norm, then they failed.  If they were excelling and failing, they likely were bored with school and needed to accelerate rather than ‘fit into the norm.’  

The stay-at-home directive has shifted the methods of education to one-on-one instruction.  The Zoom meetings can be refined to individual tutorials or small groups or to a full class.  The younger students seem to be adapting well as they sit in front of the camera and talk one-to-one with the teacher.  They are learning.

And between the Zoom sessions, the parents are there tutoring the kids.  They are providing the encouragement, connecting with the teachers right alongside their children.  Many parents are learning their students interests and talents for the first time and discovering ways to enrich their educational experience on their own.

Granted, for many young people, the stay-at-home directive has had the complete opposite.  They are forced into a home where abuse, addictions, and hunger exist.  For these students, there is no education, there is only fear and danger.

How does our culture handle the pandemic crisis for these at-risk students?  These are the students who need the daily sanctuary of school so now is the time to redesign the educational system to meet the critical needs of the at-risk who cannot depend on a family structure to nurture them into adulthood.

Where does a society turn to find new direction?  

The pandemic protocols are forcing all institutions to reassess their basic foundational beliefs.  The hospitals are rewriting how they treat patients–and they are treating them in solitude without the very critical emotional support of family and friends. 

Business are learning that work can be more productive if workers are at home, away from the office.  Work weeks are being redefined by work production.  Priorities are readjusted to support the families with children in the home.

Hopefully businesses are learning that the almighty dollar is no longer the guiding principle.  Now the guiding principle is protecting the human assets of the company.  Valuing the employees above the profit margin will lead to a healthier society.

Our society was at-risk when the coronavirus started its race around the world.  Our sense of elitism blinded us to the reality and the risks that were stretching across the oceans to reach us.  We were so busy finding the easiest way to amass wealth.  We were sacrificing the foundational principles that created our culture.

The one constant in my life, and I expect in many lives is my faith.  I know that the history of mankind has experienced pandemics before.  I know that change is a guarantee.  But as I have lived, experienced, and studied history, the one common thread throughout all cultures is faith.

My faith system is based on the principles of Jesus Christ who as the son of man and the son of God walked among the human race demonstrating and teaching how to live in harmony with one another.

One simple rule:  Love on another as we want to be loved.

Now, in the midst of stay-at-home directives, of social distancing, of economic crisis, this one principle can guide us through the storm.  Love one another as you want to be loved.

True, the sudden changes in our society even affect the way we do church.  We cannot open the sanctuaries to host a worship service in the same manner we were accustomed to doing.  We cannot sing our hymns together; now we must don a mask.  We cannot pass the communion cup or break off a piece from the main loaf of bread.  We cannot find our favorite seat next a dear friend.  

What the church can do is to teach, to worship, to serve one another in any way that it can so all may know Jesus.  We can give whatever we can to assure that others have the basic necessities in life–food, clothing and shelter.  We can reach out to one another through phone calls, hand-written notes, texts, emails, or any other viral means of communication.

We do not know what tomorrow will look like, but I am confident that with faith in God and in living the life Jesus modeled for us, we will discover that life does not have to be what always has been.  We will find that being the church is doing all the good we can in any way we can for whomever we can, whenever we can.

Let’s keep the focus on the positives this pandemic can provide.  Let’s follow the recommendations of the scientists, the specialists, and the doctors.  Let’s allow families to be families first.  Let’s redesign our world so put God first, then we put loving one another like we want to be loved.

Schools will continue, but education will be different.  

Businesses will continue, but the design and the workforce will be different.

Government will remember that it is for the people and by the people.

And churches will be an active force meeting the needs of one another through one principle:  Love one another as you want to be loved.  

Let’s leave the past in the past and surge forward to a new and better world.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Lifestyle, Religion

Life during the pandemic: The pain of it all hits home But look at all the good, too

     Today is Palm Sunday.  And today I will sit in my living room and watch the service on Facebook.  I will be watching the work of our tech team, our pastor, our music team, and myself.  

     We worked this week, reporting to the sanctuary at different times, to video tape all the elements of the service to be pieced together and posted to our Facebook page this morning–scheduled to air at 9:30 AM.  

     We had to cancel the order for the palms that traditionally are handed out during the service, added to the kids’ time, and laid on the altar.  Not using them this year.  Granted there are several pastors and churches and craft-lovers who are finding dozens of ways to share the palms in new and different ways, but the pandemic protocols has taken away the traditions, the normalcy, the human touch. 

     There is pain in these days.  We are feeling the emotional pain of change.  We are feeling the numbing sense of loneliness.  We are feeling disheveled without the usual daily routines–not to mention the fear of even being infected by COVID-19.

      But as real as the pain is during this insanity, there are so many new and exciting experiences, changes, and inventions developing as a direct result of the forced restrictions in our lives.

     First, look at what is happening to our churches, switching almost instantly to streaming worship services through Facebook, the YouTube channel, or their own web pages.  The skills were not already in place for many, but we learn and grow.

     Second, schools suddenly lost the classrooms.  Teachers cannot depend on the one-on-one contact in person, now they are learning how to use the virtual resources to do the same thing.  This is probably more difficult for the elementary teachers, but I remember how I needed help with high school math.  Losing the contact with the teachers is forcing educators to rethink virtually every facet of teaching.

     Consider our family structures, too.  Our culture finds households dependent on two incomes, we encourage mothers to be professionals in the work force.  This has led our society to step away from the core family roles.  Now families are forced to restructure what their daily family life is, especially since so many have been sent home to work or forcing them into unemployment.

     The list grows of all the ways the pandemic is forcing us to create new ways to manage our lives.  Oddly enough, there is so much good that is developing from this crisis.

     Sadly, the forced changes do create pain.  Yesterday I felt that pain personally.  As our state shut down, I had to make a decision.  I had to decide whether I could do something I felt passionate about doing to support my own family, or whether I had to close the door and become one step more isolated.

     I am amazed how a virus can spread completely around the globe and affect me so personally even when I still have no contact with someone infected or have no health issues.  

     My roles clash–wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, and pastor–when decisions have to be made under these conditions.  It is personally painful today; but I am part of a community that has grown from the 1970s rural world of family farms to a global community where influences from the farthest reaches of the globe can be delivered right to your own door.

     This morning, after hours of tears and misery from submitting to another restriction separating me from the very grandmother, teacher role I loved, I have gotten up, fed the pets, taken a shower and dressed for a full day–makeup and hair, too.  The weather has improved, the trees are leafing out, and it is a new day.

     In a few moments, I will switch over from the news, open Facebook on the smart TV, and join in Palm Sunday worship.  The good is winning over the pain.  The changes are going to force new normal patterns in our life.  We witness the outpouring of love as our communities rally to support one another through the drive-by parades, the chalk talk on the walks, and the list grows.  

     The pandemic restrictions may be in place, but I believe the good will erase the pain. 

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

We may be in a winter of our human history,

But we are in the spring of your glorious world.

Let us look forward to the new world

As we struggle to manage under the virus.

Help us to see how we are all suffering 

And know we are never alone.

Thank you for strengthening our resolve,

For sharing in our pain,

For opening our mind to new ideas,

And for our family and friends

doing all they can to comfort and care for us.

Help us with our patience as this season passes

And a new season erupts before us.

Help us to join in the new and push aside the old.

Let us carry forth the lessons we learn

So the future remains welcoming and exciting.

We can do this with all the grace and mercy

You show us as modeled by your son Jesus Christ,

It is in your name, God our Father,

And in your son’s name, Jesus Christ,

And through the Holy Spirit, we pray.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Lifestyle, Religion

Guess What I Saw!

Today is truly spring, and yesterday I discovered it at a time I really needed to find a breath of fresh air:

A picture containing grass, outdoor, sitting, small

Description automatically generated

I did not plant this jonquil here.  It is actually coming up with some wild onion that I have had before and cannot seem to get rid of.  

So I was genuinely surprised to discover this flower blooming in the midst of the cedar mulch under the deck. 

I needed this harbinger of spring because earlier that morning I had made the trek to Walmart in order to get my usual supplies.  I knew there were issues with stocking, but still what I found was a shock.  

There was no cereal except for less than a case of a couple of brands.  Only one box or two of instant oatmeal.

There was no rice!

There were very few cans of vegetables.

There was no toilet paper as I had heard and discovered from other outings the weekend before.

Finding items was a challenge because not only is our local Walmart managing the pandemic, it is also going through a major remodel, so everything is everywhere.

I left shaken.  

Throughout history humanity has faced crisis; we are not different.  And there really is no reason we should feel protected from a global pandemic as the world comes right into our homes if by no other means than videos. 

Then today, we took a long drive down to Truman Lake because it was sunny and pleasant.  We would not interact with other people just by taking a drive, so why not?

The fishermen were still out on their boats despite the near freezing temperatures.  The Sonic was delivering meals to the car windows as always.  And there were cars, well more pickups and SUVs, on the road.

The small towns were ironically the same as they always appear.  Even the little mom & pop restaurants seemed to be doing their normal lunch hour business.  I almost felt like we were outside of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) parameters.

We all need to look for the little reminders that God’s world is filled with his glory.  We need to see all the spring flowers popping out from the mud and grime of the wet, cold winter.  We need to see the families outside in their yards–together.  We need to hear the peepers as they announce spring.

And we all must realize that humanity is going to continue even though the going is extremely trying right now.

We must return to God’s scriptures and the story of how he joined us on earth as Jesus Christ, son of man and son of God.  

Easter may not be what we expect this year.  There may not be any worship service to attend.  The Easter outfits may not get to be worn on April 12 as planned.  The Easter Bunny may have to wait a bit before families and friends can get together.

But the good news is that God is good all the time and all the time God is good.  We just need to look for the good.  We need to hear how all the communities are finding new and inventive ways to love one another.  We need to consider what we can do, too.  

This Sunday, March 22, and the coming Sundays our churches are joining forces to fill the social media with church services.  There may be more people “in church” this week than ever before thanks to the technology and the social media that has developed.

Sharing the good news will be a breath of fresh air along the airwaves right alongside the news broadcasts.  Share with others in any way that you can the story of Jesus Christ.

Open up the computers, the tablets, the cell phones, and even the smart TVs and find the worship service of your own church or maybe someone else’s.  You can visit as many as you want this week and during the coming weeks.

I think the on-line church service and devotionals is much like finding the jonquil blooming in the most unexpected place in my yard.  May the services open up your heart and you experience the renewal of faith this first spring Sunday.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear God, 

Thank you for the gift of spring.

Be with your children around this world

     struggling with the angst filling today’s world.

Let us join together in worship

     in any way we can, wherever we can

     so we may experience 

     the joy of Christian community.

Guide us as we continue to move forward

     through these uncertain times.

     heal those who are sick;

     protect those who rush to their aid;

     and show us new and wonderful ways

     of loving one another 

     so all may experience the transformation 

     that comes when we accept Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Lifestyle, Nature, Religion

Living in midst of pandemonium

Our pastor’s Lenten series is titled “Confronting Evil” and each week he covers a specific topic.  First was bitterness, then betrayal, and third cynicism.  

As we experience the flood of information and the dramatic changes that the coronavirus has created, I am realizing how those individual topics can be translated into this very experience.

Though I have not experienced the virus yet, nor know anyone personally who has, I have to admit that I could understand that this virus is a 21st century evil–or at least can spiral us into a mindset that stirs up the very characteristics we might identify as un-Christian responses.

This week the series subtitle is “Putting Satan behind You.”  We cannot put the temptations or the emotions behind us in dealing with evil, we must address it.  We live in community, not isolation, therefore we confront a wide range of evils.

Using the Wesley Study Bible, I often read the sidebars.  Today as I read about Jesus confronting Satan during his 40 days in the wilderness, I noticed that one of Wesley’s core terms is ‘temptation’:

“. . . Wesley knew that temptation more often comes to us in subtle ways.  Our bodies are frail and subject to pain, which inevitably brings temptation.  The human environment in which we dwell is also a wellspring of temptation, and our character is constantly being formed and reformed by the influences, both moral and immoral, around us.  Sadly, believers who fall 

short of perfect love are also a source of temptation, for they are still in the grip of inward sin.  Their pride, jealousy, and other “unholy tempers” can provoke the same tempers in others. . . “(p. 1166)

As I read through this explanation, I realized that right now, today, in the midst of the global battle against a virus, we confront evil in how we manage even this event.  

As we confront the virus, be alert to the emotions that we must manage:  bitterness, betrayal, and cynicism.  We are humans who must rely on God even in the midst of a pandemic.

I close with verse 10 from Matthew 4:1-11 reading:

“Away with you Satan! for it is written,

     ‘Worship the Lord your God,

          And serve only him.’”

Even Jesus had to confront evil, but he lead by example and we should follow his model.  Let’s face the reality of a pandemic, but rely on God.  Serve one another in love in all the ways that you can following all the medical advice that you can.

Dear God,

Heal our bodies, minds, and souls

so we can fend off evil

and love one another

 with total abandon.   Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Lifestyle, Religion

No, I didn’t fly south for the winter . . .

I live in the Midwest, and I live through the four seasonal changes for better or worse.  In fact, I think if I did not live those cycles, I might not fully appreciate those wonderful days of late Spring, Summer and early Fall.  And what about those picturesque Winter snow days?  There is something about living through the seasons that enriches our lives.

Still, I have had to acknowledge that this winter, my season did not follow the typical ‘at rest’ pattern that often develops in the heart of winter.  This winter the days have filled to overflowing with a new direction.

I have shared that I needed to take a year off for rest, but I also know that during that year I was refueling for the next phase whatever it might be.  Resting was difficult and I filled time with the full year-long Bible study.  I did my best to maintain weekly blogs and connections.  And the year passed quickly.

How easy it is to fall into the classical use of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up 

what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

The passage is referenced often as we make transitions in our life and remains a staple in our Bible library.  Its wisdom is timeless and reminds us that we all do go through various seasons in our lives.  We are human and the Bible repeatedly reminds us that all of humanity experience the same patterns in our human lives.

I am just one more who has to be reminded that I am human and that I, too, must experience life transitions.  I must admit that I have my limits and how I live my life revolves around the priorities I establish–and those priorities change from season to season.

You, too, know this truth.  You, too, must realign your lives based on the seasonal changes that you experience.

Therefore, I must forgive myself for the lapse in writing a blog for the last month.  I must ask your forgiveness for not reaching out to you personally.  I must realign reality with my priorities.

My first priority is to God, true, and he expects me to worship him, to serve him, and to do all that I can to make disciples of him for the transformation of the world–more importantly for the personal transformation that occurs for those who come to know God through the life of Jesus Christ, his son.

With that understanding, I returned to an active pastoral role in my home church.  The work is a passion and I want to do all that I can for this community of faith.

At the same time, I know God expects and understands that my family is a priority and for seven months that has included the emotional and physical support needed as the result of a tremendous accident.

Therefore, I must balance my passion for ministry with passion for my family.  The pause in blogging is the result; and the reality is that I have no idea how I will balance these three elements on into the seasons ahead.  

I did not fly south for the winter, which is in our country a phenomenon that happens when winter hits the Midwest and the North and individuals reach retirement–or now can work remotely during the winter-ravaged months.  

I make no promise to the regularity of my posts, but I want all to know that God is present in my life and in your life.  I pray that all who read these words know they are part of my faith family and that I love them as God loves them.  May your seasons be filled with God’s glory and for us in the Midwest, may the sun shine, the daffodils pop up, and spring begins to creep in.

Dear Patient Father,

Thank you for your everlasting, ever

     present love in our lives.

Thank you for the words of Scripture

     that guides us in the transitions of life.

Thank you, too, for the community

     of believers who love one another.

Guide us in accepting our humanness

    and grow into our faith.

Guide us in loving one another,

     so they, too, may experience your love.

Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Lifestyle, Religion

Path to Spiritual Health

Nothing can be more exciting than jumping in the car and taking off for a trip.  Even planning for the trip can be exciting as you map out where you want to go.  Maybe you have a bucket list destination or maybe it is time to visit family or maybe you just want to follow the wandering roads that crisscross the country.  

A wooden table

Description automatically generatedGrowing up on the farm, road trips were far and few between.  I remember four, to be honest:  two to Minnesota, one to Colorado, and one to Albuquerque by way of Colorado.  And making those trips meant following a map.  I am not sure when I became fascinated with maps but check out the map pockets in our vehicles or this map basket and you will see I still depend on them. 

Now we have the maps on our phones and even built into the dash of our cars, but I want a paper map to hold in my hands.  I need to see the big picture.  I want to see the point on the map to which we are heading, and I want to see all the ways to get there.  The map puts me into an interactive relationship with the final destination. 

Our faith journey needs to be mapped out, too.  We need the Bible, we need advice, we need worship, and we need prayer to stay in close relationship with God.  Please join me in a prayer:

Open our minds, Lord, so we may learn to walk in relationship with you by walking with one another.  –Amen

Everybody has lots of advice when they discover you are planning a trip:  Go see this.  Make sure you do that.  Don’t forget to eat at that restaurant.  Take this road for spectacular views.  The advice is abundant and difficult to ignore.  The same thing happens along our spiritual journey.

Spiritual journeys are not always well planned; sometimes they seem to just happen.  Life comes at us and we just go with the flow.  Such unplanned journeys do not always go smoothly and may end up in disasters; spiritual journeys that follow a road map to God’s kingdom equip us with the skills to manage the wrong turns and roadblocks. 

The first map for our spiritual journey was provided by word of mouth and is available to us through scripture, our Bibles.  Today we can find those same words in a wide range of formats.  We can even download an app on our phone, or we can click on a website on our laptops.  The words are easy to find, but sadly, we do not even think about reading them.

Why is it so hard for us to acknowledge that we need to read scripture?  Just like our own children, we can be told over and over what to do or how to do something, but we ignore the advice our parents gave us and just drive on.  Jesus read scripture.  He knew it so well that when his family left Jerusalem after Jerusalem after Passover, he remained at the temple talking to the other learned scholars:

45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

As much as I like using road maps when we are on a journey, I admit that reading scripture was not always a daily practice for me.  Stepping into the pulpit came with the unwritten expectation that I knew the scripture.  I knew it casually, not formally; therefore, as I began preparing sermons or taking the courses, I began reading more formally.

When my spiritual journey took another turn and was advised to take a year off to rest, I suddenly found myself at a loss.  I had no structure during those first few months and I felt lost.  I still followed my daily devotional practice, but the practice of reading lectionary and studying the scripture to prepare for Sunday service was gone.  I was missing something and just could not find the direction I needed.

Then as the year closed, I heard God’s nudge.  I do not have a formal bucket list, but I always wanted to read the Bible cover to cover in one year.  I almost felt a sense of guilt that I had never done that even though I had read the lectionary for several years.  (The lectionary is designed to read through the Bible every three years.) Starting with Genesis and reading straight through Revelations was not a route I had taken.  But during the transition from 2018 to 2019, I was presented with the possibility.

A picture containing text, table

Description automatically generatedI picked up the one-page list of readings designed to read the entire Bible in one year. I looked it over and was surprised to find that it paired an Old Testament reading with a New Testament reading.  I needed that map in order to check off one goal from my bucket list.

Reading scripture is a practice that is like following a road map. There are so many options today to make reading scripture easy to add into one’s daily schedule.  There are devotionals like Upper Room, Guideposts, or The Daily Word which include scripture references to read.  One can even subscribe to a devotional that is delivered to your email’s inbox daily.  

Of course, you can turn to your favorite translation of the Bible itself and simply pick it up and read a few verses or a few chapters.  I used to randomly open the Bible and just read a bit–a practice sometimes called Bible Roulette.  No real plan, just something said to pick it up and read (another God nudge). 

A close up of a book shelf filled with books

Description automatically generatedNow I have quite a selection of Bibles that I turn to for deeper insight. They include study Bibles, different translations, and one is even a chronological Bible.  The Bible is our road map for living faithful lives.  We must include them along the path to spiritual health.

No trip planning is complete without consulting others (i.e. small groups).  Even if you decide to make a trip completely on your own, it is wise to ask others for suggestions.  Where did they go?  What roads did they take?  Which stops should be included?  Do you know good places to stay and to eat?  

If the journey includes others, you talk among yourselves to lay out a plan.  Your itinerary includes choices for all those going along.  Decisions are made that involve give and take, compromise, putting others’ wishes ahead of your own.  The journey is mapped out carefully to meet the wishes of all involved often providing unexpected experiences and memories.

The spiritual journey is no different.  We do not travel the path alone, we travel together.  Jesus selected twelve disciples to join him along his journey.  Certainly, he was there to teach them, but he laid out the path for their spiritual health and that model continues to serve us today.  We do not take our journey alone, and when we come to a roadblock or hit a chughole, we need others.

For some, the family is the small group that supports each other along the spiritual journey–going to church together, saying grace at meals, and joining in mission together.  For some, the small group may be neighbors who watch after each other–greeting each other over the fence, walking their dogs together, or picking up the mail when needed.   For some, working partners become a small group that help each other through challenges–they gather in the workers’ lounge, go to lunch together, and sometimes include each other’s family in special events.

Yet, in today’s society, these traditional groups are ever shifting.  Families do not necessarily live in close proximity or attend the same church.  Neighbors often do not know each other’s names especially in mobile communities like ours near a military base as well as a university.  Today, thriving churches serve as the hub for small groups who meet together and grow in spiritual health. 

Being in a small group of fellow believers is a practice that leads to 20/20 spiritual health.  Jesus modeled the importance of being in relationship with other believers.  It is where we learn.  It is where we are held accountable for our decisions.  It is where we find support for the wrong turns, the potholes, and the roadblocks in our lives.  The small group is where we grow and enrich our spiritual health.

The path to spiritual health takes us to the church.  We read scripture, we join in small groups, and we meet one another at worship each Sunday.  Think a bit about Jesus’ ministry.  The Jewish faithful were expected to participate in Sabbath practices each week.  The rules were clearly laid out–and followed.  The spiritual journey was defined, and all were kept to that path.  To not follow the law lead to negative consequences, even banning from the community.  

Moses assembled all the congregation of the Israelites and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do:  Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the sabbath day.  –Exodus 35:1-4 (NRSV)

Jesus changed the rules.  Love one another.  Pure and simple, even when judging one another use love as the filter which leads to forgiveness.  Jesus’ message spread through the region by word of mouth.  Those that heard, joined the crowds sitting and listening to his sermons.  They were in worship with one another.  The path to spiritual health was paved by the message of loving one another.

Joining with one another in worship strengthens us for the week in a world filled with challenges.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment, we find his answer in Matthew 22:37-38: 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (NRSV)

Worship is the practice of publicly loving God.  Certainly, it is easy to stay home when the weather is bad, or we feel exhausted from a stressful work week, or family decides to visit, or . . . the list of excuses multiplies.  Maintaining our spiritual health needs to include attending worship.

Worship is where we join together in fellowship.  We sing, we pray, and we learn–it is a rest stop each week along our journey.  No one requires us to attend; no one is going to punish us for not being in church on Sunday morning.  But God knows whether we are there or not.  No journey can be enjoyed if we fail to take care of our health–spiritual and physical.

Attending worship each week is a practice that assures us that our spiritual health is strong enough for the journey we are on.  Preparing for a journey, one checks the fluids, the tire pressure, and other details before loading the car and climbing in.  Attending worship is that same type of preparation for our spiritual journey.

Today, you are here worshipping God and preparing for the week’s journey ahead.  The path to spiritual health takes effort on our part, but the work we do provides us the successful journey to reach God’s kingdom.  

One more essential in the path to spiritual health is prayer.  Prayer is our personal conversation with God.  As we get into our vehicles and begin our journeys, a simple thought prayer may be “God, protect us and guide us.”  God is with us always and he hears our words whether uttered aloud or simply formed in our minds.

The thoughts we form while reading scripture is a conversation or prayer with God.  The discussions we have in our small groups are heard, too.  The table graces we speak, the bedtime prayers we say our children, the final thoughts that we share as we fall to sleep, the words of joy as we watch a morning sunrise or an evening sunset. 

Prayer is the glue that pulls all our pieces together into a relationship with God.  We find ourselves struggling through a day and we call out to God for help.  Our bodies ache and are racked by fever, and we plead with God for healing.   Good news such as the birth of a child or grandchild arrives, and we thank God for the gift of life.  We hear the songs of the spring robins and thrill with God’s gift of the new season.

The path to spiritual health is not always easy, but if we discipline ourselves to follow the maps God has given us, the journey is amazing.  We must read scripture, we must be in relationship with one another, we must join together in worship, and we must pray.

Without these, the path to spiritual health becomes unclear.  We falter and take wrong turns.  Thankfully, God remains steadfast even handing us the very tool to use when lost, The Lord’s Prayer.  As we close our morning together, let us join in the timeless words Jesus taught us:

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, the power,  

   and the glory forever.        –Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Lifestyle, Religion