Confessing–already: Only 10 days into the year & struggling

Hanging a new calendar and getting everything in order is like a breath of fresh air.  Last year’s stuff is gone and so much to anticipate with a new year.  

Notice I did not start with resolutions and that is quite purposeful.  I do not like making resolutions because my experience has demonstrated to me that they do not work—or at least I cannot makethem work.

Life inevitably gets in the way of maintaining one’s discipline or schedule or willpower to master a new year’s resolution.  As the year begins, there is no way to predict how the year will proceed so that translates into failed resolutions.

Therefore, I confess.  I did not make a new year’s resolution.  And I do not regret that decision because just 10 days into 2019, any resolve I may have had seems to be suspended.

I admit, I do want to accomplish something that I have not honestly ever done—read all of the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament.

This is my second confession:  I have never sat down and read the Bible from Genesis through Revelations.  Shocking, isn’t it?

Here I am a cradle Methodist, a lifelong Christian, and even a graduate of the Course of Study in the United Methodist Church, and I have never started with Genesis 1:1 and read straight through the entire Bible.

No excuses.  I just have never had the discipline or the drive to proceed through the Bible in that manner.  I have read it in all different ways:  New Testament, the Four Gospels, the Psalms, Genesis, the Torah, the minor prophets, the Letters of Paul, Revelations, and even through the lectionary (all three years at least two times).  Not just once, but repeatedly at all different times in my life.

Another confession:  I have a terrible memory.  All my life I have failed at memorization—at least beyond short term. This has been a lifelong challenge from grade school throughout my post-graduate work, even.

Therefore, I hesitate to admit that I am going to do my best to follow a reading plan that takes me through the Old Testament coupled with New Testament readings during the calendar year.

This is not a resolution.  This is a decision that I feel God expects from each of us who profess to be Christians.  

The plan began on January 1.  I did not begin trying to read until January 3 so that already put me behind.

This means one more confession:  I could just quit, but I decided I have to try a little longer.  One week is really not that bad, so I have continued.

As of today, I am only two days behind.  It is a struggle, but I want to do this.

All the years I have taught high schoolers about how to learn and how to study and how to set goals, I included many of the principles of Franklin Covey.  

One of the guidelines included in that successful program is that one should tell others one’s goals.  If others know your goals, then they can encourage you to reach those goals.  For me, that means they should also not interrupt my study time in order to accomplish this goal.

As you can tell, I am sharing these thoughts as part of sharing my journey through the Bible.  Maybe including some of the thoughts via the blog, readers can provide additional insight and depth into the reading.  

Therefore, here are a few notes from the readings I have completed these past 10 days:

Genesis 1-19(so far)

These chapters include not only the story of creation, but also of recreation following the story of Noah and the Great Flood.  Familiar narrative, but there are still some surprises for me:

  • As terrible as Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, God still invited Cain to “do well” so that he might be accepted; that he “must master it [sin]”.
  • Using the Wesley Study Bible, I found this note: “See how early the gospel [referencing Jesus Christ’s ministry, death & resurrection]  was preached, and the benefit of it here offered even to one of ‘the chief of sinners’.”
  • Geneaology is frequently found in the Bible, and in Genesis 5:24, the lineage reaches Enoch and in this verse it is stated that Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him.  The Wesley Study Bible states the phrase “. . . then he was no more. . .” indicates that even though death is inevitable it is not the last word or all.
  • The Great Flood is a story of recreation.
  • Noah was righteous so God worked through him to preserve his creation.
  • Genesis 7:13-16 has interesting phrase describing loading the ark:  “. . . and the Lord shut him in.”  Not exactly sure why I find this so interesting, but worthy of making note of it.
  • The lengthy genealogical lists are difficult to read, but they serve to push through the timeline efficiently.  When studying folklore, I was reminded that oral tradition strongly emphasizes reciting the linage accurately and repeatedly, too. The lineage of Noah carries us to Abram/Abraham.
  • A few months ago I read a novel based on the Biblical figure Sarah.  As I continued reading Genesis 12, I found myself mingling the details of the historical novel with the Biblical story.  The story defies our scientific understanding of age and reproduction, but the message is complete faith in God.
  • The story of Abraham & Sarah is no different than stories of committed Christians who remain faithful first to God, then to each other.  Life is not going to always be easy, but listen for God’s direction and remain faithful to him.  I have witnessed couples like this throughout my life.  Maintain one’s faith in God, and then all the details of earthly living are manageable.
  • The Biblical narrative of Lot is brief in comparison, but in that novel I read it was developed with fictitious details that added interesting twists; but In Genesis 19, the story of Lot again emphasizes the necessity of listening to God and to rely on him.  Lot escaped, but his wife looks back at Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26).

The Old Testament readings are coupled with New Testament Readings.  So far the readings are all from Romans.  At first I thought that was a peculiar decision, but in the reading it becomes clear why.

  • Romans 2:  key point is that we are not to judge; only God does the judging.
  • Real circumcision is not a physical action it is a matter of the heart (Rom. 2:25-29)
  • Rom 3:22-24:  “. . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are no justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . . “
  • Rom. 3:28:  Paul says, “For we hold that a person is justified by faithapart from works prescribed by the law [the Law of Moses from the Old Testament].”
  • Yet Paul goes on to say in v. 31 that we are not to overthrow the law [whether speaking about the Law of Moses or civil law], uphold it.
  • Rom. 4 was a bit confusing for me as it goes back to the discussion of circumcision and reconnects to the covenant of the Lord with Abraham that established the practice of circumcision.
  • Rom. 5 is subtitled “Results of Justification”and really focuses on a John Wesley principle. 
  • Rom. 5:1—“. . . we are justified by faith. . .”
  • Rom. 5:3—“suffering produces endurance”
  • Rom. 5:4—“endurance produces character and character produces hope”
  • Rom. 5:5—“and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
  • Rom. 5:18-21—[paraphrased] “. . . just as [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all, so [Jesus Christ’s] act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all . . . where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
  • Rom. 6:12—“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. . .”  
  • Rom. 6:14—“For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law [the Law of Moses] but under grace
  • Rom. 6:20-23—“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification.  The end is eternal life.  Or the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  –For me, this is a WOW! Statement.

As I continue to read through the year’s plan, I am struggling to comprehend some of the pieces.  I am using the Wesley Study Bible this time (NRSV translation) and that helps.  Therefore, I will step away for now as I continue to work on my readings.  If you want to join me, here are the readings I have done followed by the ones for the next week:

Read to date:  Genesis 1-19 and Romans 1-7

To read from now through next week:

  • Jan. 8      Gen. 20-22 & Rom. 8:1-12
  • Jan. 9      Gen. 23-24 & Rom. 8:22-39
  • Jan. 10   Gen. 25-26 & Rom. 9:1-15
  • Jan. 11   Gen. 27-28 & Rom. 9:16-33
  • Jan. 12   Gen. 29-30 & Rom. 10
  • Jan. 13   Gen. 31-32 & Rom. 11:1-18
  • Jan. 14   Gen. 33-35 & Rom. 11:19-36
  • Jan. 15   Gen. 36-38 & Rom. 12
  • Jan. 16   Gen. 39-40 & Rom. 13

Dear Lord,

May we hear you through the words of scripture.  –Amen.

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Advent concludes. Christmas is over, too. One thing remains: LOVE

Hard to believe that the week is slipping away and I failed to continue reflecting on Advent.  The season swamped me and the hope, joy and peace of Advent almost got lost in the last minute push.

But, I cannot tell you how excited I am to share that the final message of Advent isLOVE

Consider this: Week 1—hope.

                         Week 2—joy.

                         Week 3—peace.

Those who walk through Advent season and acknowledge how the weeks guide us in a review of one’s belief, there is only one word that can add all these themes into one more–love.

Returning to the Oxford On-line Dictionary, the definitions of love, as a noun, helps us to understand the immensity of this final week’s theme:

1.  An intense feeling of deep affection.

2.  A great interest and pleasure in something.

3.  A person or thing that one loves.

But it is the definition of loveas a verb that pulls all of Advent and Christmas together:

1.  Feel deep affection . . . for

Once one experiences the three concepts introduced through Advent—hope, joy and peace—the need to act develops.  There is energy that comes when there is hope, joy and peace that begs to be used and when loveis a verb, that energy becomes the force that gives the noun love.

The theme of love is repeated in so often in Advent studies and other devotions putting a new twist on it can be difficult, but as we have done the past weeks of Advent, review the origin of the word:

Old English lufu, of Germanic origin; from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit lubhyati ‘desires’, Latin libet ‘it is pleasing’, libido ‘desire’, also by leave and lief.

Interesting that all three different origins still contribute to the understanding of the fourth week’s theme of love. The verb love takes the noun and moves it into action.

Traditionally Christmas becomes a time when love is visible through the practice of giving gifts to family and friends.  The action symbolizes the relationship that has developed between two individuals.  The relationship has so many different faces:

  • Spouse to spouse
  • Parent to child
  • Child to parent
  • Friend to friend
  • Work peer to work peer
  • Cousin to cousin
  • Grandparent to grandchild
  • Brother to Sister/Brother
  • Sister to Sister/Brother

And the list continues to grow. 

Gift giving is a tangible way society has identified to express the intangible noun definition of love.  No, the giving is not necessary, but it is a tangible way to say to someone how they fit into you life, how loved you are.

But gift giving is an event, the lovethat fills our hearts moves into action in so many ways.  As an operating system, love fuels our lives to do for others, to give to others in all types of ways.  

The verse so often referenced is I Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.  (NLT)

Even though this familiar reading is so often used in reference to weddings, think about how broad its scope really is if loveis translated into an action towards anybody.  No one would have an enemy.  No one would judge another person.  No one would . . . I am sure you can fill in the blank.

This leads us right up to the end of another calendar year and the beginning of a new year.  There is hope.  There is joy. There is peace.  And now there is love for one another.

During the coming year(s), move that hope, joy and peace into the energy to love others.  Love them just as you want to be loved.  

There is no better gift than to give love to others freely, with no strings attached.  Christmas as a traditional celebration is a spot on the calendars of our lives that remind us how to loveby giving.  But giving love is a verb that does not have a box around it with gift wrap and ribbons.  Love, the verb, is a lifestyle of loving others regardless of any distinctive, identifiable quality.  Loveis living life each and every day doing all that you can for all you can in any way you can at any times you can.  Love, the verb, is a lifestyle that exudes hope, joy and peace.

Text Box: May 2019 be fueled
by love
filling your life
with hope, joy and peace

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Loving God 

     the father, the son and the Holy Ghost,

Thank you for the greatest gift of love 

     you have given to each and every one.

You knew that we did not understand

     how to love one another

     so you joined us in the form of Jesus

     to teach us how to love.

The prophets tried to prepare us over and over

     keeping hope alive in the darkest of times.

The shepherds shared the news the joyously heard

      from the angels right out in the open fields.

The wise men came and saw, too, giving gifts

      leaving in peace not wanting to sound alarms.

Guide us to know that love is all that is needed

      To live in this world, 

      To experience peace,

      To be filled with joy,

      To fuel us with hope

      So we, too, may love one another as you love us.

In the name of you the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Common Lectionary Readings:

4thSunday of Advent:        Micah 5:2-5a

                                                      Luke 1:47-55

                                                      Hebrews 10:5-10

                                                      Luke 1:30-45

Christmas Eve:                      Isaiah 9:2-7

                                                      Psalm 96

                                                      Titus 2:11-14

                                                      Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Day                       Isaiah 52:7-10

                                                      Psalm 98

                                                      Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)

                                                      John 1:1-14

December 30                          I Samuel 2:19-20, 26

                                                      Psalm 148

                                                      Colossians 3:12-17

                                                      Luke 2:41-52

December 31                          Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

                                                      Psalm 8

                                                      Revelation 21:1-6a

                                                      Matthew 25:31-46

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What happens when hope and peace come together?

Looking at the date, I realize how tardy I am into the third week of Advent and I am just now settling into my week’s blog notes. This sets off a huge warning in my head that maybe I am letting the holiday hubbub overpower my days.

Sunday the worship service included the children’s program.  As a cradle Methodist, the traditional images that greeted me seemed so familiar.  I know the story, I know the characters, and I recognize the costumes.  

Sometimes it is easy to overlook the significance of the Advent season because we become so accustomed to the entire hubbub: decorations, music, store sales, food, and family routines.  Then there are those moments when the proverbial “reason for the season” slams right into the middle of everything.

That is how I felt Sunday as I watched the kiddos putting the 2018 twist to the ancient Christmas story.  It was joy-filled.

Advent readings take us through the biblical story and we learn that the ancient people maintained hope for the arrival of a messiah.  Their mindset might have been described in any variety of ways:  downtrodden, tired, exhausted, victimized (as we might call it today), depressed, perplexed, questioning.

For generations, thousands of years, they maintained hope that their plight would be relieved when some one man would step in and fix things.  They hadhope.  

Even today, we can identify with these ancient Israelites.  Not one of us can live day in and day out without times of feeling the very same: downtrodden, weary, depressed, and so on.  We struggle to manage the daily ups and downs.  Yet when one has hope, those days are placed into a perspective as one discovers the value of hope plays in finding solutions.

During the second week of Advent, the theme focused on peace.  As one discovers that hope makes daily life manageable, one begins to realize that accepting God’s grace and living within that framework fuels hope.  

But what does having hope have to do with peace?  When we accept the reality of God and the relationship we have with him, we develop hope to manage the daily trials.  Turning over our need to control to God and allowing our lives to center on God, we discover peace within our personal lives.

As the kiddos were singing and managing their time on stage, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles were filling the seats anticipating a performance filled with tradition.  A tradition that reminds us that when one has hope, all the rough times in life are of little concern and we are at peace.

But back to Sunday’s program:  The kiddos turned their backs on the crowd and as they introduced the various characters in the story, the audience broke out in a joyful reaction as the sound of the current kid’s hit, Baby Shark, became the refrain:  doo doo doo doo doo doo . . . Mother Mary, Father Joseph, Baby Lambs, Shepherds, Wise Men, and Baby Jesus doo doo doo doo doo.  [Check the You Tube video to get an audio-visual of the song:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqZsoesa55w]

When we discover that we have hope and peace, we also realize that our lives are joy-filled.  We see this world through the filter of Jesus Christ and when we suddenly see the ancient story set to the music of Baby Shark, we experiencejoy.

Week three of Advent focuses on the theme joy. The season of preparation is also teaching us what it feels to be joy-filled.  Joy is an abstract noun meaning there is no way to touch, feel, taste, smell or see what it really is, but joyis real.

Returning to the Oxford Dictionary on line, joyis defined as:

     A feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

1.1count noun A thing that causes joy.

1.2British informal usually with negative Success or satisfaction.

     Origin

Middle English: from Old French joie, based on Latin gaudium, from gaudere ‘rejoice’.

Obviously this is a noun with no shape or volume, no concrete form to pick up and carry around.  But how we try.

Joycomes in a wide-range of colors, and during Advent one might think it is red and green while others may think gold and silver and some pick all the colors as the trees get decorated with twinkling lights.

Joy comes in all different scents as the ovens back those cookies, stove tops fix cranberry relishes, and the turkeys and hams bake in the ovens as meals are prepared.

Joycomes in the sounds of bells and chimes ringing, carols singing, favorite performers add their unique sounds to hymns and holiday songs, and all the laughter watching the traditional holiday movies over and over and over.

Advent reminds us that life with Christ is one filled with hope, peace andjoy.  The kiddos shared the story in a new and different way, but the joythat they demonstrated with each “doo doo doo doo doo” of Baby Sharkfame unleashed joy in all those watching and listening to the ancient story once again.

Let the Advent season rebuild all those qualities of your life that get drained down during the calendar year as we face the daily challenges of life.  

Let you discoverhopein the story of Jesus Christ.  

Let you experience the peaceas you turn over your life to God.  

Let you break out with joyas you experience God in your life, especially in these weeks of Advent.

Then be prepared for the last week of Advent to discover the next quality that the season unleashes in your life.  God’ gift is opening in your life as we return to the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Dear God,

As we move through this third week of preparing for Christmas, help us to rediscover the joyof the season in our lives.  

As we learn to manage our lives with hopethat you are will never abandon us through all our earthly challenges.

As we turn over our lives to you, the gift of peacesettles in, and we strive to share that gift with others so personal peace can lead to worldly peace.

Be with us as we move closer to Jesus’ birth so that we may join with the shepherds, the wise men, and the host of angels in celebrating a birth that created a world, changed a world, and continues to change the world.        –Amen

Common Lectionary readings for Week 3

  • Zephaniah 3:14-20
  • Isaiah 12:2-6
  • Philippians 4:4-7
  • Luke 3:7-18

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What can Advent teach us? Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.


Sunday began the second week of advent and all the traditional trappings are present for the season.  Christmas carols fill the air, decorations are full of red and green, glitter, lights, and so much more.  No one can escape the trappings of the season.

Yet, in all the hubbub of the holiday season, the purpose of the season becomes buried.  That triggered a question:  What can Advent teach us?  

Four weeks on the Christian calendar are to prepare one for the birth of Jesus Christ—as known as the Messiah, the Savior, Emmanuel, Son of God. The story is old and has been told and retold for over 2,000 years—according to our calendar.

So, what can Advent 2018 teach us?

I have thought about that this week and realized that maybe, just maybe we work so hard to celebrate Christmas, we ignore the significance of the four weeks before Christmas Day.  

This pushed me to think about the typical labels used within The Church for each of the weeks:  hope, peace, joy, and love.  One theme for each week, and last week I talked a little about hope; therefore, this week—if I follow expectations—I should talk about peace.

But, maybe I need to review this and think about the whole four weeks a little broader.  Why hope, peace, joy and love?  What makes these four abstract nouns so essential to the entire story?  What do these four themes teach us?

Looking at the common lectionary, the themes are woven through readings from the Old and New Testament.  Remember that reading the Bible is reading literature that deals with all the reality of human existence—the strengths and the weaknesses, birth and death, health and illness.  

So what can Advent 2018 teach us?

The answer lies in the big picture—Christ in the center of our lives makes life manageable.  Even more: 

13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NLT):  

This scripture has carried me through many rough days.  As I look at the lectionary readings, I am reminded how the scriptures simply repeat themes.

Last week I referenced “hope” as the theme, but I am seeing how hope is a foundational piece to Christian faith.  Of course hope would be the first theme of Advent because without hope one becomes distraught, disillusioned, lost.

Without hope, one becomes frozen into a life pattern that is without purpose or focus. If life is identified as a color, life without hope is grey.  And as tradition has it, that is not an Advent color.  (I know, silver and white are popular right now, but dull grey just does not light up one’s eyes for decorations in my opinion.)

So what can Advent 2018 teach us?  

Hope becomes a driving force in our lives.  We need hope to keep us living life to its fullest.  Living with hope places us in the position to do or act. We are turned loose to live.  

Now think about peace.  Some churches celebrate peace as the theme for the second week of Advent, but again it takes understanding what peace really is. 

Consider the definition, according to the Oxford On-line dictionary:

PEACE (mass noun)

1. Freedom from disturbance; tranquility.

     1.1 Mental or emotional calm.

2  A state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.

     2.1in singular A treaty agreeing peace between

           warring states.

     2.2 The state of being free from civil disorder.

     2.3 The state of being free from dissension.

With such emphasis on global news in our current culture, an outside observer might think the second definition is the most common use of the word; but Advent focuses on the first definition as a foundation for Christian living.

Consider this:  with hopewe are living with the expectations that trusting God will give us the strength to manage all the highs and lows our lives encounter.  Having that trust is the level of hope that leads us to peace.

Peacein the Christian context is not a political arrangement; it is tranquility—personal tranquility.  The lectionary’s gospel reading for this week is about John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus:

     Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
    and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
    and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
    the salvation sent from God.’”

–Luke 3:4-6 referencing Isaiah 40:3-5

The verses do not speak specifically to peace,but reading the Life Application Study Bible’s study notes adds a new perspective:

To “prepare the way” means clearing aside the baggage of the past and the doubts of the present in order to let the King come into your life.  He’ll take it from there.  

Consider the tranquility that one will experience if Advent truly “prepares the way” for a life that centers on God, the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  That tranquility is in deed PEACE.  

And yes, the color blue is tranquil, it is the clear blue skies of all four seasons.  It is the blue of the Eastern Bluebird another symbol of happiness.  

What does Advent teach us?  

  • Advent teaches us the very foundation of a faith-filled life with God.  
  • Advent teaches us hope.
  • Advent teaches us peace.

Christians take four weeks to “prepare the way” for the celebration of God’s arrival as the baby Jesus Christ.  One learns hope and one finds peace as Advent continues.

Dear Giving God,

We turn to scripture to read the story once again.

We practice all the traditions of Advent

     hoping to experience Christ with us.

We mark off the weeks of Advent 

      learning a new peace because you are with us.

We anticipate learning even more 

     from the ancient words shared in scripture

     and from those who teach us understanding.

Through the week we thank you

      for being present with us

     as we anticipate the joy of Christmas.  –Amen

Common Lectionary readings for week of Dec. 9, 2018

  • Malachi 3:1-4
  • Luke 1:68-79

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Advent fills hearts with hope; Open your heart to be filled

Today the window above my desk is filled with beautiful snowflakes drifting down with a cedar tree in the background.  The visuals match the traditional images on so many Christmas cards.  

Yes, Advent is here and Christians begin the journey to the manger—all sounds familiar to those who have been raised in the church and celebrate the holiday focusing on the story shared in the gospels and prophesied for thousands of years.  

But what about Advent season for those who are unfamiliar with the Christian tradition of Advent and Christmas?  Are they excited about a season or just about what the secular world has decided is a holiday tradition?  Are their hearts filled with hope?

Admittedly this is a simple line of thought from one who has lived a lifetime wrapped in the Christian tradition; yet, I am wondering why I have discovered how much more exciting Christmas is for me this year versus all the other years.  I think it may be from discovering the true secret to Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace.

This is the first Advent in over a decade that I have not focused on creating a series of worship services that lead a congregation to Christmas day.  I thought I would really miss the process and the excitement that the work has entailed over the past 10 years.

But as I sit here watching the snowflakes swirling ever so gently around the house, I must admit that I am not missing the work that Advent has meant for these past years. Instead, I am experiencing Advent a bit differently.  I am sensing hope.  

Let’s consider what hope really is:

NOUN mass noun

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

  • 1.1count noun A person or thing that may help or save someone.
  • 1.2 Grounds for believing that something good may happen.

2  archaic A feeling of trust.

VERB

Want something to happen or be the case.

  • 1.1with infinitive Intend if possible to do something.

This definition comes from the Oxford dictionary on-line that is my go to dictionary because it also offers the origin of the word, too:

Late Old English hopa (noun), hopian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hoop (noun), hopen (verb), and German hoffen (verb).

Looking closely at the various entries for hope, I see the value of opening Advent with the emphasis on hope.  For four weeks, we create an atmosphere of expecting something huge to happen.  

For Christians, that big thing is the birth of Jesus Christ.  At least that is the design of the traditional Christian season.  Sadly, the secular world has invaded the spiritual world and the hope appears to be more for a day of gift giving.

If one can lessen the emphasis on gift giving as the “big thing” of Christmas, the desire or hope shifts from fancy packages under a Christmas tree to the givingof love from one person to another.

I was saddened to notice the second definition of hopeis listed as archaic:  a feeling of trust.  Advent should still focus on that definition.  

For thousands of years, the Israelites had waited, trusted, that God would provide a messiah to “fix” the mess they were in.  They had hope.  

Do we, in the 21stcentury still have hope?  

Advent is a time to re-evaluate that idea.  At times we all experience feeling lost, depressed, alone, guilty, stranded, and the list continues.  At those times, we lose hope.  Turn hope into the verb, not the noun.

The verb places each one of us in an active state:  we want something to happen or something to be.  The Israelites continued to hope.  As bad as things got, they trusted God to provide an answer to their demise. 

Do we, in the 21stcentury hope—actively hope?

Maybe I am not in a pulpit right now, but I am discovering hope again in a new light.  I am making subtle changes in how I celebrate the entire season and finding hopealive in surprising ways.

For instance, I was reading the lectionary reading for this week and discovered an emphasis on trust.  Psalms 25 opens

O Lord, I give my life to you.

     I trust in you, my God!  . . .

No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,

     But disgrace comes to those who try to deceive              others.

Living in a society filled with all kinds of distressing concerns—personal, health, financial, governmental, global—we need to trust in God.  We need hope that God is with us, that he hears us, that he wants what is best for us.  

The traditions that have developed around our secular celebrations during Advent and on Christmas Day may be well-intentioned, but is in God?

Evaluating the secular traditions through the filter of my Christian faith forces me to redefine the traditions.  My hopeis that the “reason for the season” is more important in my life than the hope that I find packages under the tree just for me.

This Advent, I want to emphasize how trusting in God provides me a hope that extends beyond the worldly scope of my life.  

My hope is the traditions that demonstrate love for one another creates a joy that expands beyond a package wrapped under a tree.

Read the scriptures for Advent’s first week and see if your heart opens, too, finding how those who trust in God have hope that leads to joy:

Lectionary readings for the week of December 2:

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Psalm 25:1-10
  • I Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • Luke 21:25-36

Dear God,

Give me the strength

     to trust in the ancient words of scripture.

Give me the determination 

     to keep Advent a time of expectation.

Open my heart to be filled with hope.

Guide me in celebrating the birth of your son

     with traditions to reflect your love.

Guide me in sharing the story of Jesus’ birth

     with words and actions to share your love.

Open my heart to be filled with trust.

Thank you for the words of the ancient faithful

     that help us open our hearts to trust.

Thank you for the work of the faithful

     who open our hearts in hope of Jesus’ birth.

In the name of you, the Father, 

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ,

In the name of the Holy Spirit, amen.

P.S. Friends, the snow is still falling outside my window.  What a joy it is as I experience the excitement of the season!  I hope your days are full of the joy we feel as Christmas Day nears.

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Happy Thanksgiving: Thoughts, tasks & thanks

Only two more days until Thanksgiving Day and my thoughts are a jumbled up mess.  Why?

Well, I could just start a list and it would get terribly long and complicated, but maybe I can give you a picture of what is flooding my brain.

First, I missed last week’s posting because I was focused on the annual weekend with my college friends. Therefore, last weekend my time was filled with all the planning and packing that it takes for such a weekend.

But, the tasks are part of the weekend and I am so thankful that I have such close friends who fill my life with joy and tears, with support and honesty, and with love.  The unconditional love that God gives each of us to experience, but also to provide for one another.  

Yet, returning from the weekend leads to more tasks—especially the laundry.  I could not believe how high the loads had piled up when everything was unpacked and added to what kept growing while I was gone. 

Laundry, you know, is one task that just does not seem manageable in any other way.  You still have to sort it, wash it, dry it, fold or hang it, and put it away.  And in the meantime, you are still wearing clothes that will soon continue the cycle.

Thank goodness I am equipped to do the task.

The laundry task is just one that faced me upon returning home.  While gone, I stopped at one of my favorite markets to restock my cooking supplies.  When I unloaded them, I realized I was facing another task—cleaning out the cabinet.

Thank goodness I am blessed to have a home with kitchen and cabinets, so I started.  I ended up having to clean out two cabinets in order to reorganize, clean and store all that I had purchased.  

As I do this, I cannot help but think how fortunate I am to be able to do this.  In doing the task, I found time to think about how thankful I am for my own home but also how difficult it must be not having all that I have.  Thanksgiving is easy for me, but what about those who struggle to have even the most basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.

Obviously one task leads to another and my thoughts just keep leap frogging from one thought to the next.  The chores I had to do after being gone for the long weekend continue, but now a shift from cleaning to planning ahead.  

Thanksgiving is a time filled with traditions—at least in our world.  There is the menu:  turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and gravy accompanied by all the special dishes family members bring in.  The tasks turn to cooking.

Yet the task of preparing a Thanksgiving meal is a time for reflection and prayer.  Each dish seems to come with a face that loves it.  So the time on task turns into prayer time for the face (individual).

The jumbled thoughts that accompany daily life tasks sometimes quiet down, but at other times it leads to screaming.  No one else hears it, but I do.  What screams? 

Naturally some screams are from the actual work that has to be done, but what about the screams from the past.  

I can’t help but think how the Psalms are filled with the trials and tribulations that frustrate even the ancients.  Yet, in the midst of daily tasks, God is with us.  The Psalms are also filled with words of thanksgiving and praise.  I turn to Psalm 100:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

How easy it is for our thoughts to become so jumbled as we do the daily tasks.  The work is necessary, and the thoughts that ramble through our minds in the midst of it can distract us.  But today, as Thanksgiving Day nears, I find the jumbled, leap-frogging thoughts tend to turn to words of thanksgiving—serving the Lord with gladness.

May your holiday thoughts and tasks find a way to lead your thoughts to words of thanksgiving.  God knows we struggle, but we need to take time to talk with him.  As we think of all we have for which we are thankful, we need to make sure we tell him thanks.

And, as we realize how much we have, let us all share words of supplication to God for those without even the basics of food, clothing and shelter.  He is with them, too, and we can do all we can for them including wrapping them in prayers.

Dear Gracious God,

In the midst of the mental fog, the myriad of tasks, and the traditions of a holiday, we thank you.

In the madness of travels and the joys of family reunions, we thank you for our kin.

At the table filled with turkey, dressing, and more, we feel blessed to have food, clothing and shelter for which we say thanks.

Yet we know many who have mental fog of addictions, of hunger, of pain, of loss, and more. 

so we lift them in our prayers.

We are aware that you call us to serve

one another in love today and everyday,

so we ask you to guide us is doing all that we can.

This week we echo the psalmist’s word

knowing that we are God’s children

and your love endures forever

and you are faithful to all generations.

We are blessed and we give thanks to you.

In the name of you the Father,

the son Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

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Prepping for holiday baking

Over the weekend I stopped at a favorite baking source.  The Dutch Bakery in Tipton, Missouri carries so much more than most stores.  When holiday baking is around the corner, I knew it was time to restock–and did I ever!

Then I discovered a new spice store, Prezy’s Spices at Boone’s Landing in Chesterfield, Missouri.  More supplies came home with me.  Admittedly a few items were on my daughter’s shopping list, too, but obviously I am ready: 

Holiday baking supplies.

Picking up the supplies did not seem like such a big idea until I got home and started trying to put them away.  Prepping for holiday baking suddenly added a new task–cleaning out the cabinet.  You can see what I mean:

Prepping for baking means cleaning out the old for the new.
The only way to do it right is to empty it first.

Funny thing about tasks like this it that it seems to multiply.  After getting one emptied and restocked, I realized that some were too old to keep and others needed to be moved to a new location.  That meant cleaning a second cabinet out.  But, the end result is always worth the effort:

Everything put away, and now I am really ready for the baking season.

As much as I enjoy working in the kitchen and have fun trying out something new, the sense of accomplishment when a task is done is tremendous.  I wonder why we tend to put off and put off a task like this when the end result is so rewarding.

I admit the table still has a few things left on it for my daughter to look through, but I am ready for the holiday baking.

Holiday baking is a gift.  It smells delightful while something is cooking.  The taste is a delight–usually unless something interrupts and you fail to hear the timer go off or forget to keep stirring a pot that sticks easily.  

Then there is the delight when others get to enjoy that special recipe that reminds them of years past or a recipe made by a grandmother or mother who no longer is present.  These are the priceless rewards for the effort of holiday baking.  

So I am ready.  Bring on the holidays and prepare the taste buds.  Holiday baking begins now.

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