Category Archives: Lifestyle

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.

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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

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Traveling the Spiritual Journey

After more than a year out of the pulpit, I returned this week to fill in for our senior pastor. So as the new year starts, I start a new phase, too. I pray this message helps you. Thank you for reading.

Remember playing hide & seek?  The rules are simple: one closes their eyes and counts while the others run to find hiding places.  Then when the count is finished, the counter must go off and find the hidden ones.  

Posssum with me on the Missouri River at Portland, MO.

Now my buddy Possum has a little twist to the game.  When we brought him home, he loved to be chased.  He would look at me, then take off running and I was supposed to run after him.  He ‘hides’ under the bed, but his tale always sticks out so it is easy to ‘find’ him.

The game continues when I tag him, and he takes off running again.  My job is to chase.  And to add to the picture, he likes to run with a toy or a plastic bottle.  If I throw it, he takes off, grabs it and heads right back under the bed where I ‘find’ him.  

Fortunately, Havanese puppies love to run and play in short spurts.  After about three or four times down the hall and up and down the stairs, he suddenly just stops.  Game over. 

Here is my question:  Is our spiritual journey like a hide and seek game with God?  

Let us begin with prayer:

Open our hearts, Lord, so that we see you in our faith journey and help others find you in their lives, too.  –Amen.ˆ

            We all have a story about our life journeys, and mine landed me in Warrensburg when the Johnson County school districts inaugurated an alternative education program.  This professional move dropped me into a new community where the one thing I knew would be familiar was the Methodist church.  I joined choir, something I had long missed.  I started attending Sunday school and gradually moved into teaching the MeMarCo class.

            The professional move did not begin my spiritual journey, but this church nurtured me and has been instrumental in God finding me.  You see, I had been playing hide and seek with God’s calling and it ended here when I was asked one simple questions: “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”

            Throughout my Methodist life, I have known many ministers, but I had never sat down and shared my story; but something sent me to sit down in this church’s office to share my story.   That conversation led to one simple question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”  I was startled and realized I had only one answer, “No one had ever asked me.”  

Each one of us has a story filled with people, circumstances, challenges and successes, but how many of us still are in a game of hide and seek with God.  My story is probably very similar to yours, and I have been blessed that I was raised in a faith-based family.   Still, I know that for years, I played hide and seek with God.

After completing the discernment process, my spiritual journey became more formalized attending the Course of Study.  And what I had suspected about spirituality developed into a clearer picture, especially in understanding John Wesley’s means of grace.

A person in a black shirt

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Our spiritual journey begins with our birth; and for those raised in a Christian family we have the advantage of knowing that God loves us from the  very beginning.  We are born with the Holy Spirit drawing us to God; this is Wesley’s prevenient grace.

As we grow up, our spiritual journey begins.  For myself, I was nurtured by my family and I am thankful for the teaching because it helped me learn how God loves us and forgives us when we make mistakes.  For Wesley, the ability to understand that our sins are forgiven is the means of grace called justification.  

Our spiritual journey develops through the four levels of grace.  For those raised in a Christian environment, the transition from one phase to the next is logical, but for others God uses his disciples (which can be us) or experiences to reach out to them.  Yet we do learn that God is beside us through all the earthly challenges that confront us.  We learn that even when we make a mistake, God is there waiting for us to ask for his forgiveness and return to a faithful relationship with him.

Still, life keeps racing forward and we have a tendency to return to that game of hide and seek with God.  We may walk through the practices of being faithful, but we may not consciously seek him.  Learning to ‘hear’ God speaking to us is often difficult.

            Despite how different our spiritual journeys began–whether born into it, married into it, or forced into it by life experiences bringing–we find God and discover he is speaking to us.  

            When we reach the third level of Wesley’s means of grace, we hear God more clearly.  Sanctification is the point in our spiritual journey that we know God personally and have a love for him that translates into love, unconditional love, for one another, our neighbors. We reach a new level of spirituality that sends us seeking God rather than hiding from him.

            When I was asked that one question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”, I had to stop and examine my own spiritual journey.  Hear Paul speaking to the Corinthians in his second letter:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed. But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. –2 Corinthians 13:5-8 (NRSV)

I challenge you to examine yourself.  Are you still playing hide and seek, or are you in the process of growing in love with God and one another?  The spiritual journey never stops; there is no retirement or aging out along one’s spiritual journey.  We must continue to grow in faith moving toward the final level of grace:  perfection.  Wesley defines perfection as “growing in love for God and our neighbors, and he believed that the kingdom of Heaven could be reached even before death. 

Our earthly journey can challenge us in so many ways that our spiritual journey gets sidetracked or overpowered.  At those times, we need a support system or spiritual practices to weather the storms along the journey.  A Christ-like life takes discipline.  

God challenges us to use our gifts to serve one another in love, unconditional love:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  –1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NRSV)

            God gives us these gifts so that we can serve as his hands and feet.  It takes all of us using these gifts to help each other along the spiritual journey support ing one another through relationships, experiences, and learning.  We help discipline each other.

Through my spiritual journey, I can list the people who have guided me in developing my faith.  I can also list experiences that filled my developing years:  the 3rd-grade gift of a mustard seed necklace, a summer youth minister, the United Methodist Women sending me to their mission school, and even being assigned to the religion page in journalism school.  The landmarks in my spiritual journey just kept popping up and I did not ‘see’ them.  I kept playing hide and seek with God.  

Consider the Magi, the wise men of the East.  They saw a star and it called them to follow it to find the baby Jesus in a manger.  They were not Israelites.  Yet they saw the star and decided to go and see what it was calling them to learn.  They were ‘seeking’ God, no longer ‘hiding’ from his call.  They listened; and they followed what God told them, leaving and not returning to Herod with their new knowledge.  

Preparing to lead Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose campaignI came to that one chapter, the one I call the Wesley chapter (I believe it was chapter 33.).  There was the quote from John Wesley:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. 

The words stopped me cold.  I was a cradle Methodist and I was so surprised that Warren was using it because he was a Baptist minister!  I was preparing to lead the church’s 40 Days of Purpose campaign, and there I sat on the front porch in awe of what God was telling me.

            I knew the scriptures, I attended church regularly, I felt like I was doing what I was called to do—teach alternative education.  I was doing all the good that I could—or least I thought I was.  And then came that question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”

Each one of us has a spiritual journey.  We live our lives growing up in families who do or do not attend church.  We go to work at jobs that may or may not be fulfilling.  We go in and out of relationships with family and friends that can be hurtful or enriching.  We can get in our cars and drive from one destination to another without incident or we become entangled in an accident.  

Our lives are journeys, but how we live them makes such a difference in the quality of that journey.  When I finally had to stop and review the journey that I was living, I had to realize that I had been playing hide and seek with God.  He had been calling and I had not heard him.

Today we are closing out the Christmas holiday season with Epiphany tomorrow, January 6.  Our journey continues much like the Magi.  They chose to return to their homes knowing they had met the Messiah.  They listened to God’s direction, not to Herod’s.  

As we continue our own journeys, we must make sure that we no longer play hide and seek with God.  We need to turn around and realize God sees us and is asking us to follow him.  I challenge each of you to seek God rather than hide from him. Examine your practices to see what needs improving in order to move from one type of grace to the next. 

Today, make the decision to improve your spiritual journey.  Decide what you can do so your spiritual journey moves you on to perfection?  Are you able to use your gifts to help others along their spiritual journey as part of sanctification?  Or do you want to improve your own understanding of God’s grace through study and Christian conversation?  

As Paul told the Philippians, in chapter 4 verse 13:

13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (NRSV) 

Do not be afraid because God will make sure you can do all that you can for all you can in any way you can.  God has loved you, loves you, and always will love you.  It is your turn to seek him.

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Believe it or not, it’s ADVENT!

And I feel like celebrating.  I admit there are some Advents that I have not felt like diving into the Christmas madness, but this year I am ready.

Why?  Maybe it is the cold, but also maybe because I have invested the full year in that year-long Bible study and am so excited to be nearing its conclusion.  

As Christians, and especially if we have been raised as a Christian since birth, Christmas has always been so important.  Sadly, though, we can often fall into such a rut that it loses significance.

Maybe that is what happened.  I also know that with kids it is part of the parenting role to be excited, but then the kids grow up and have their own kids.  Christmas develops its own pattern and you must readjust yours to meet the season of your own life.

Whatever the case is, Advent has arrived, and I have decorated more than I have in years—probably thanks to my daughter’s push.  And I still have more to do.

But why, again?  As I have continued the study this year, I feel like I have been given new insights into the entire development of Christianity.  It is a gift that will just keep on giving.

Therefore, as we begin the process of saying farewell to 2019, look forward to 2020.  Consider adding a Bible/scripture reading plan into your life on a daily basis.  It is the gift you give yourself.

Just in case you have none available to you, check a few different ones I found by googling “Bible reading plan 2020”:

One of my favorite websites is BibleGateway and they provide a variety, too, at this link:

https://www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans/?version=NIV

I could go on, but this is a starting point for you to prepare for January 1, 2020.  If you try to read the entire Bible in one year, be prepared to allow 45+ minutes a day.  If you add in study notes, it can take more.  I was on a year of rest so I had time to focus on the reading.  At this point, I do not know what I will do for 2020, but I am beginning to ‘shop’ around.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Lord, 

We know you are The Word, but we so often fail to read your words.  Thank you for speaking to me through scripture and for speaking to those who turn to your words.  Speak to them, renew them, and guide them in loving one another.  –Amen

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Thanksgiving Words of Wisdom

Stopping for a few moments to consider the blessings of the year, I cannot escape that no year is free of problems. Nor is there any individual who escapes some form of pain and is in need of some form of healing.

For myself, I read a daily devotion as I complete my day. I use the annual devotional book provided by Guideposts. This year, after my husband’s truck accident, the challenges for healing are real. Therefore, I am taking the liberty of sharing from a reading from November 26:

Words of Wisdom

(Excerpted from Guideposts 2019:  Walking in Grace, for November 26)

“The Best Six Doctors are . . . 

Sunshine

Water

Rest

Air

Exercise

Diet.

I read the list again.  It was all there.  Simple gift from God.  Everything I needed to feel better.  The six best doctors.  And, of course, time to heal.

. . . Sunshine, water, rest, air, exercise, and diet.  I decided I needed to add ‘patience’ to that list.  But the fact remains, nearly everything we need to be healthy is simple, easy, free, and available.”

Closing prayer:  

Lord, remind me when I get discouraged to step back, take a deep breath, and remember that all I need has already been given to me.

[This excerpt was written by Patricia Lorenz and if framed through her own need for healing after knee surgery. Thankfully she shared this so we, too, may remember to trust God.] 

Thank you for sharing, Patricia Lorenz, because your words have reached us and I am confident reaches so many others.

This Thanksgiving we count our blessings that not only are we whole, we are healing. Nothing can protect us from the accidents in our daily lives, but what we do to maintain our mental health–and for me, my Christian health–is essential.

Always remember that God does provide, and the six best doctors are his gift to us each and every day, every year. Thanksgiving reminds us to celebrate our blessings, and for the words of those who share their faith.

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Sometimes one needs reminding in order to move forward

First, let me restate that I am a Christian and that my denomination of choice is United Methodist. 

Also, let me include the framework of my personal study—a year-long Bible study that pairs an Old Testament reading with a New Testament reading. 

For my study, I am using the Wesley Study Bible (WSB) which is a ‘new revised standard version,’ that is considered the basis for Methodists even though I often read other translations like the New Living TranslationThe Message, and the New International Version.  

Why is this important?  Because I want to share a quote from the WSB notes that has stuck in my brain for a couple of weeks:

As individuals, families, and congregations evolve, growth entails finding meaningful ways to integrate the present with the past, to connect new members with those who have a long record of faithfulness, and to honor history while embracing change.  The weeping of the elders carries a moving double significance.  Their disappointment with the new construction is at once a sad refusal to welcome the future and an important challenge to a new generation that they have much to achieve to rival the community’s former glory.  Only the elders carry with them the historical memory of the community.  They are the only ones who can raise this criticism.  The combination of joy and sorrow reflects the multifaceted nature of the community, old and young, Jews of Babylonian and Persian origins, along with those from Jerusalem; lay and clergy, along with their differing hopes, fears, and expectations.  Out of this group characterized by difference more than similarity, once again, God will fashion a faithful people.  As Wesley notes, “The mixture of sorrow and joy here, is a representation of this world.  In heaven all are singing and none sighing; in hell all are wailing, and none rejoicing; but here on earth we can scarce discern the shouts of joy from the noise of the weeping, let us learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”  (p.573)

The context for this study note is Ezra 3, especially verses 12 and 13:

But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many should aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish

the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away. (NRSV)

Reading Old Testament scriptures can be confusing as they are not necessarily written in a chronological order and the texts are written by different authors.  Therefore, reading the text takes discernment, especially prayerful discernment.

The context of the book of Ezra is summarized in the introductory notes of WSB helps:

Written sometime in the early period of Greek occupation of Israel’s land (after 332BCE), [the books of Ezra and Nehemiah] tell an idealized story of a reconstituted but small Jerusalem community threatened with obliteration by imperial rule, interethnic strife, and the abusive excesses of an elite class. (p. 569)

Therefore, the scripture is talking about the rebuilding of Jerusalem as the religious center of the faithful Israelites.

John Wesley believed that they study of scripture needed to be done with attention to four elements or, as we might refer, filters:

  • the scripture itself, 
  • the tradition of Christianity,
  • reason (or logical reasoning), and
  • human experience

Using these four filters is considered Wesley’s quadrilateral.  

For some, this structure for Bible study may seem weighty, or maybe even unnecessary; but for myself, I think it is important because it helps me understand how the scriptures can speak to me in the 21st century just as it did in the ancient centuries.  The themes are timeless.

(I understand that is a great deal of background information about studying scripture, and how I personally study.  If I did not do that, then how would anybody understand the significance of the study note I shared in the opening?)

Today, as churches have to reshape themselves; it is difficult to manage the old with the new.  It is difficult for people to let go of what “has always been” in order to embrace the possibilities of “what can be.”

As I read Ezra, I understood how the elders of the faith community were thinking, yet the challenges of ancient society caused things to change.  Being allowed back into Jerusalem to rebuild the temple was critical to the elders, yet the circumstances could not possibly be the same as it was when it was first erected.

The very same circumstances exist today.  In each faith community, the shifts in one’s culture, the wear and tear on a building, the elders versus the younger generations force the church to evolve.

As I read through the study note included in the opening, I was reminded how difficult it is to take a long-standing faith community symbolized by its very structure in the heart of a community, must change.

Read again the first lines of the note:

As individuals, families, and congregations evolve, growth entails finding meaningful ways to integrate the present with the past, to connect new members with those who have a long record of faithfulness, and to honor history while embracing change.  

No process of rebuilding is easy.  The elders will weep.  The youth will cry for change.  But, in God’s world, the constancy of grace and love should bring the generations together.  It will not be easy, but God’s timeline only sees one goal—to love one another as one wants to be loved.

The faith communities today are struggling, but the more I study scripture, the more truth of God’s world becomes evident.  We are gifted with the opportunity to live in this world, and to do all that we can to experience earthly life to its fullest.  

Today’s faith communities are struggling, and the goal is to find ways to carry God’s grace and love forward to others.  The culture changes, it merges with different cultures, technology creates new ways to communicate.  

Change is a constant, but God’s grace and love do not change.  We are taxed to do all that we can in any way that we can to share God’s love with one another; and that means love one another in any way we can.  The faith communities must then accept change within its own parameters in order to grow God’s kingdom any way that we can.

What we must remember is that this earthly life we live is just a human experience and the promise of life eternal guides us in living Christ-like lives now.  Hence the emphasis I added to the study note via underlining:

. . . let us learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Life is what we make it during our earthly journey, but it is just a hint of the glory that awaits us.  Please join in me in prayer:

Dear Lord, our God,

As we continue our earthly journey, growing in faith,

   fill us with the grace and love you show us

   so we may share that grace and love with others.  

Help us to find ways to join the generations

    with compassion and empathy

   in order to lead others to know you personally.  

We want to rejoice with those that rejoice

   and weep with those who weep

   as members of your family, always.  –Amen

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Yesterday is today while old is new—and vice versa

No, this is no riddle I propose. Rather, it is a reality when studying literature; and for me, the literature I have been focusing on is Biblical as I continue the year-long Bible study.

I know I have shared before about my personal study, and it is not always easy.  I just completed reading the two books of Samuel.  To be honest, I should have read them after completing a course in ancient history that included the sociology and the geography of the Middle East.  These books were not easy.

Add to the historical, geographical, and the social-political intricacies of these books, the filter of Christianity that has been my upbringing and continued adult life.  The content seemed so distant, until I stopped and realized the above truth that I know is literature:  Yesterday is today; old is new.  This then translates as Today is yesterday; new is old.

While studying literature in college, the emphasis that any story, poem, essay that can withstand the test of time can be defined as classic literature.  The themes, regardless of the style, the plot, the setting, and the characters (aka the elements of literature), are as time-appropriate today as they were when first written—and anywhere along the timeline of humanity.

Therefore, the books of Samuel, continue to be literature which teaches today’s generations the themes of how to live within our earthly, human context.  The book is filled with human drama, political battles, jealousy, adultery, and more.  These are the very same conflicts that exist in our world today.

So what does one learn?  Over and over again, the lesson is to follow the Golden Rule:  Love one another as you want to be loved.  And love being an attitude between one and any other human (and dare I add, species).

But there is one other commandment that all need to remember.  We are to love God.  Not only that, we are to love God above all else. 

Remaining in a long-term relationship with God is not easy, especially with all the temptations that humanity has created throughout history.  And we all tend to be weak in the face of temptation or in the face of peril.

This week my thoughts have focused on the health needs of close friends.  One had bypass surgery and the other has been in chemo treatment for a rare cancer.  Recovery is not easy for either of them, and what can I do?

Pray.  I can on holy conversation with God.  The prayers are for them to have the strength and the resolve to do whatever they, their medical team and primary care providers can do to battle the health issues.

But maybe the most important prayers is that God uses these trials to reach into their own lives and let them experience his loving presence. 

Over and over the Old Testament stories share that bad things happen to good people.  We cannot explain this as humans, but there are the words in scripture that can advise us.

Today, the reading was Habakkuk, not a common book and one of prophecy.  But today, I heard God’s message that helps me to manage the earthly experience.

In the first chapter, Habakkuk asks two questions:

–v. 3 “Why do you make me see wrong doing and look at trouble?”

–v. 13 “. . . why do you look on the treacherous and are silent when the wicked swallowed those more righteous than they?”

Habakkuk has four more sections:  

  • “God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint”
  • “The Prophet’s Prayer”
  • “The Woes of the Wicked”
  • “Trust and Obey in the Midst of Trouble”. 

It takes reading through them and the study notes to make God’s answer clearer:

Under “God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint” is verse 2:5: “Moreover, wealth is treacherous, the arrogant do not endure.”

Under the section” The Woes of the Wicked”, there are a series of ‘alas’ statements, but hear v. 20:  But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!”  What a reminder to have no other god before him.

Then Habakkuk prays in v. 3:16:  

“I hear, and I tremble within;

   my lips quiver at the sound.

Rottenness enters into my bones,

   and my steps tremble beneath me.”

Even the prophet speaks honestly to God.  We can do the same.  Go to God in prayer to defend yourself from despair.  

Habakkuk ends with these words from v. 3:18-19:

     “. . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

       I will exalt in the God of my salvation.

   God, the Lord, is my strength;

      He makes me feel like the feet of a deer,

      and makes me tread upon the heights.”

In the introductory notes for Habakkuk, there is more clarification in understanding why bad things can and do happen.  In referring to Habakkuk 2:4 “. . . the righteous live by their faith”.  The notes continue, “The prophet’s vision emphasizes trust in God despite circumstances.”

John Wesley spoke to the same them in Sermon 119, as referenced in the introductory notes:

“. . .  judgments concerning good and evil, not to visible and temporal things, but to things invisible and eternal.  . . .hope [is] based not on visible circumstances but in God.”

These words from the Old Testament and the Wesley Study Bible are guiding me to fuller understanding and appreciation of how valuable my faith is in managing life in our earthly world.  And with that, I pray:

Dearly God,

Guide me along my journey.

Speak to me through scripture.

Teach me by the words of your faithful.

Then, let my words be your words

Sharing your grace, your promises

    and your love with others so they, too,

    feel your love and live to love others.  –Amen

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