Life just keeps us hopping, doesn’t it? Even though we can establish a daily routine and settle into a comfortable pace, surprises develop.
Certainly the wreck, now over four weeks ago, was a surprise and life suddenly forced a change to daily routines. But, the days keep moving forward and new routines are established.
In the midst of all the doctor’s visits, nature handed a little more excitement. We had a major windstorm in our community that caused major tree damage. Our own huge silver maple last some branches, but no significant damage.
Just as the cleanup continues around town, another surprise storm blew through yesterday, too. Fortunately the damage was minimal compared to a week ago. Still, all these storms do create a sense of unrest in our lives.
How does this fit in with “praying the psalms”?
I trust that I am not stretching an idea too much, but I really am discovering just how much the ancient psalms still fit into our 21stcentury lives.
Regardless of the calendar year, life happens. As I studied literature during my college years, I had one idea drilled into me: great literature is timeless.
The Bible is literature and it is timeless.
I know that some may be offended or take issue that I boil down the holy words, the holy scripture, the sacred writings into one term, literature, but . . . the words still make sense today, in our global, 21stcentury, technology filled, science-explained world.
So I return to the psalms. There are 150 psalms and we all know there are more than 150 days in our lives, so reading through them does take time.
But by reading them and studying them in context, by the audience, and through the additional filter of continuing history, the pleas and the praise sung by these words continue to meet the needs of all humans today.
Sitting and reviewing my notes, I can find so many excerpts from the psalms that I have read these past few weeks (and still have almost 50 to go) that make so much sense for my daily prayers. I find it difficult to open the Bible and determine which fits today.
Today, though, the morning is fresh, the rainclouds are gone, the coolness of an early fall, and the sounds of kids waiting for the school bus grace my senses. Today, no pleas just praise.
Psalms 100has long been a familiar litany for me, and today I abbreviate it:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing. . . .
For the Lord is good;
His steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. –Amen.
May these words lift your hearts and bring you joy. And in the words of Psalm 121, a benediction is found at its conclusion:
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.
Thank you for all the prayers and the support you provide my husband and myself, but also for all the others for whom you pray.
Mom said, “There is no such thing as a coincidence, it is a Godincidence.”
Sadly today, I do not remember the exact circumstance when my mom told me this, but these words have echoed in my mind time and time again. These words have guided me in times that others would just toss off as a coincidence.
Just to make sure we are all on the same page (pardon the cliché), look at the definition of coincidence:
From Dictionary.com: a striking occurrence of two or more events at
one time apparently by mere chance
the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection
From Google search engine:
the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection
1. Noteworthy event of having the exact change during small cash transactions.
I apologize. I am fascinated by the variety of options available when googling a term or topic on line. The Urban Dictionary, of course, popped up something surprising in the first definition, but the other two add different perceptions to the word coincidencethat may flavor this particular essay.
Here is what happened this week that has lead to this consideration of Godincidenceversus coincidence. On the way to have my husband’s MRI after a serious dump truck accident, I grabbed a book to read: Debbie Macomber’s If Not for You.
I first read one of Macomber’s books a few weeks ago and enjoyed it. I knew she was known for knitting and writing, what I thought were romance novels, but then I discovered this year that she is a contributor for Guidepostswhich is my nightly quick devotional I have used for years.
I decided to give her a read and see if it offered me light, enjoyable, recreational reading. Soon I was binge reading the book. I could not stop reading it and I felt refreshed when it was finished.
Therefore, sitting and waiting, I opened up the second book. In no time, I was hooked. But more than that, I was hearing Mom’s words in my head—there is no such thing as a coincidence, it is a Godincidence.
Reading the prologue, something I learned while attending the Course of Study, I discovered that the book’s premise or setting begins almost immediately with a terrible accident.
Interesting. Here I was sitting and waiting for a diagnostic procedure due to an accident. Even more so, the accident was eerily similar—except the one we were dealing with was a truck not a car accident.
So I read on. Almost immediately I was binge reading again, and then I hit Chapter 6. While the main female character is in the hospital, she asks the male character to pick up her Bible and read her something from Psalms.
To make the story shorter, he had no idea even where Psalms was in the Bible, but she directed him with the age old directions, “Open the book to the middle and you should be in Psalms.” (p. 63)
And so begins Sam’s introduction to the Bible. He lands on Psalms 5 which I am inserting from BibleGateway.com from Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message:
Psalm 5: A David psalm
1-3 Listen, God! Please, pay attention! Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries? King-God, I need your help. Every morning you’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.
4-6 You don’t socialize with Wicked, or invite Evil over as your houseguest. Hot-Air-Boaster collapses in front of you; you shake your head over Mischief-Maker. God destroys Lie-Speaker; Blood-Thirsty and Truth-Bender disgust you.
7-8 And here I am, your invited guest— it’s incredible! I enter your house; here I am, prostrate in your inner sanctum, Waiting for directions to get me safely through enemy lines.
9-10 Every word they speak is a land mine; their lungs breathe out poison gas. Their throats are gaping graves, their tongues slick as mudslides. Pile on the guilt, God! Let their so-called wisdom wreck them. Kick them out! They’ve had their chance.
11-12 But you’ll welcome us with open arms when we run for cover to you. Let the party last all night! Stand guard over our celebration. You are famous, God, for welcoming God-seekers, for decking us out in delight.
Beth, the main character, finds relief from her pain and falls asleep. Meanwhile, Sam starts exploring the Bible.
Godincidence 1: Psalm 5 had a descriptor which seemed to connect that particular psalm to the situation at hand: Give heed to my words, O Lord, Consider my groaning. Remember, she was in extreme pain.
How many times do we face a life challenge and have no idea where to turn? We may seek professional help as an accident forces us to do with the injuries that occur. We may be struggling with a crisis at work and we look for specialists to help fix it.
Life is like that. One challenge after another. For those with a strong faith system, the tendency is to shrug our shoulders, attack the problem, and push through it. We sometimes forget to include God through prayer.
“Praying the psalms” is again a technique that is often overlooked. Even Macomber included “praying the psalms” in her story and introduced Sam to the Bible while healing Beth lying in pain.
Godincidence 2: Here my husband’s own confronted me groaning resulting from the accident and the book I picked spoke to me. Was this not a message that I should be praying the psalms, too?
Life is filled with godincidencesand we often overlook them. Is this not the Holy Spirit speaking to us?
Please join in praying Psalm 5 with me (these are the NLT version of the first and last stanza)1 O Lord, hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning. 2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I pray to no one but you. 3 Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
One week off from writing, and I struggle to focus on what words I should share. Words are powerful tools and they can also be powerful weapons. I pray that my words are tools for positive change in one’s life, not a weapon or hurtful to those who read/hear them.
Not only am I working through a year-long Bible study, I am participating in a study by two women who have created Bible studies for educators. Having been a classroom teacher, I relate to their focus and their unique style.
The study is Just Jamesand I am still working on week three. Yesterday I was doing Day 3 and the lesson focused on James 2:1-7 and how well we treat one another. I marvel at the timeliness of the lesson in light of the recent political arena.
In this reading, the focus is on how well we treat each person regardless of who they are, how they present themselves, or how we judgethem. The words clearly tell us notto judge, yet what we do and we say often reflect a judgment, often unflattering.
And sometimes our words hurt others almost as much or more than our actions. Sadly the words do mirror our hearts and may not reflect our Christian values.
Before going any further, read through this scripture from James:
My dear brothers and sisters,[a]how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting[b]dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes.3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well,4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?
5 Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?6 But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?7 Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name[c]you bear? [NLT]
I find it interesting to check various translations, and the NLT, which I used, places this scripture under the heading: “A Warning against Prejudice”. This pushed me to check other translations and I found these headings:
NRSV: “Warning against Partiality”
CEB: “Don’t Show Favoritism”
NIV: “Favoritism Forbidden”
NKJV: “Beware of Personal Favoritism”
MSG: The Royal Rule of Love”
ESV: “The Sin of Partiality”
(used by the Just James study)
My concern over the words we currently hear in the news are so focused on negative images, that I also spent time researching a variety of words that are synonyms: bigotry, racism, favoritism, xenophobia, discrimination—and other synonyms listed on the lexico.com website.
These are words that are related and they are hurtful. The words fill our headlines and mirror our society’s heart. This is not the reflection I like seeing. And it places the value of James’s words into my consciousness: Words hurt. Words mirror hearts.
Over the past two decades, the concept of hospitalityin our churches has been a major emphasis, especially during Bishop Robert Schnase’s appointment to the Missouri UMC. Hospitality mirrors our hearts. To honestly be hospitable, I see the importance of keeping judgment in any form out of my personal lifestyle.
“Open hearts, open minds and open doors” is part of who I am, especially as a Methodist. I do notwant to be someone who ‘judges’ others entering the church’s door nor when I meet them one-on-one. I want to accept each person for whom they are, not who I think they should be.
Do not get me wrong; I am human. I do read people, so to say, and enjoy the activity of people watching wherever I am. But, I want to be open to them, to love them as God asks us to love them. I want to accept them as they are and do all that I can to show they are loved as one of God’s children.
I want my words to be a mirror of my Christian faith and I want them to mirror my love for them. I do not want my words to hurt others—and if I ever do I hope I can be honest enough to recognize the hurt and apologize.
Yet, in our 21stcentury culture this is becoming a challenge. We are constantly told to be alert to the strangers around us. Not to talk to strangers. Not to trust . . . well, you understand.
Our society is filled with such wickedness that we must be vigilant. We must be safe. We must teach our children how to be safe, too.
And then there is the political culture that permeates the news, too. How in the world can we maintain our Christian values when all the pressures in our society seem to weaken our resolve to love one another as we want to be loved.
Becoming political in a blog or a sermon is NOT wise. Yet as a Christian I am offended by the judgments being espoused by our society, especially by our elected officials. How does the very one Christian commandment that encompasses all other laws allow for any behaviors that are being exhibited by our own elected officials!
This morning I checked the KC Star Opinionsection and found this editorial cartoon and groaned once more.
What are we doing to ourselves!
Words hurt! Words mirror our hearts.
As a teacher, I worked hard to have students understand the values of the US Constitution. I walked the fine line of keeping church and state separate, but I also worked hard to show how our country’s values were designed to prevent favoritism, prejudice, partiality.
Today’s society is challenging the very values we as Christians have vowed to live and to teach.
Today’s society is challenging the very values the founders of our nation outlined.
I believe that my Christian values supersede all other legislation and I pray that I live them out loud. I pray that others agree and that together the value we place on each human being can heal the divides that continue to be perpetuated. We must eliminate words that hurt.
Plowing on through the year-long Bible study, I am now into Deuteronomy and Acts. I am struggling with remaining open-minded enough not to get bogged down by the minutia of the Old Testament laws.
But I also admit that I am doing everything I can not to frame the current national status within the context of the Old Testament laws. I do not understand why we have to make our lives so complicated by complex legislation.
You see, the New Testament law of loving one another supersedes everything else. As I read through the detailed explanations of the Old Testament Law, I see how even that one commandment encompasses all the initial ten commandments.
Therefore, I again implore all to use the Golden Rule as a litmus test for all decisions. Does the decision show love for one another? Is the decision something I want applied to myself? Can I apply this decision in my own life that I chose to love one another?
As I listen to the nightly news, I have a tendency to analyze what is going on along the rubric of the Golden Rule. How could the event or the person been different if the individuals involved really did use the Golden Rule.
I even find myself reviewing the personalities and wondering if they have stopped to consider whether or not they reflect the Golden Rule.
Needless to say that this is an over-simplification of any event I am sure, but if only we could live the Golden Rule as the one and only law that needed to be applied.
And this over-simplification probably will make many snicker, especially when our country is celebrating its independence. But, I fear that our founding fathers would not be impressed by the way our democracy is NOT using the Golden Rule.
Therefore, I invite all to join in prayer for the country, the leaders, and the people. . .
Dear all-knowing, all-powerful Lord, our God,
Forgive us for our narrow-minded thinking.
Open our minds that we honestly see and hear
what we say and do to one another.
Guide us to rethink our decisions and actions
using the Golden Rule as our guideline.
Move us to action to love one another in any way
that we can, whenever we can, at all the times
we can so your love reaches all. –Amen
[P.S. The holiday week has been gilled with grandkids, anniversary, and holiday—not to mention excessive rain. Next week will be busy, too, as I step away for a few days. I will see you after then.]
Sunday’s sermon was about sin. I know, that seems almost blasé doesn’t it. But let me be honest, sin makes me uncomfortable.
Now, I probably need to explain that statement. Sin in my mind is something one consciously does that is against one of the Ten Com- mandments. And I have long struggled with the philosophy that one can sin unconsciously and/or that one is born with sin.
Therefore, when Scott Griffith, associate pastor at Sedalia, Missouri’s First United Methodist Church, admitted that he was gong to be talking about sin, I put up my guard. But I listened.
And I was impressed. Sin should not be a topic that causes my guard to go up or to squirm in my seat. Sin, especially as a licensed pastor, should be something I can openly discuss. So I listened.
Sin does not have to be a topic that immediately sets off a minister into a hellfire and damnation style of sermon, and Griffith certainly did not do that. Instead, he calmly handled it and reintroduced the Ten Commandments via the Emoji characters that now dominate social media and our smartphones.
I quickly shot to the internet and found his graphic and copied it for future reference. Why? Think about how our society has become so focused on visual images. The emojis have personified emotions in such an open forum that they are immediately understood and even in a non-specific language manner.
[Thanksgiving and Prayer ] We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
For some reason this question just keeps circling through my head: How does one explain the kingdom of heaven? Of course to answer, one has to define that term, also referred to as the kingdom of God.
A simple starting point needed to be found, so I turned to my Life Application Study Bible. The kingdom of heavenis not defined per se, only kingdom: rule or realm; dominion of a king.
I admit that was not a very satisfying result. I wanted more information and that pushed me to another resource, HarperCollins’ Bible Dictionary. No simple answer here, but I did find some clues.
In the Old Testament, the kingdom of heavenkingdom of heavenkingdom of heavenwas considered to be a political kingdom. Ancient rulers were identified as a king who dominated a specific geographical area. The kingdom of heavenwas only a vague concept.
In the New Testament (NT), the first book of the gospel is Matthew and he refers to the kingdom of Godnot kingdom of heaven. Apparently Matthew, whose audience were the Israelites/Jews, wanted to make it clear that God was the king. The other three gospels and other NT books use the term kingdom of heaven. According to the dictionary, the definition and/or references throughout the NT, some references tend to imply that the kingdom of heavenis an earthly realm (geographical area); yet in other references, the kingdom is a celestial location—a place outside of the earthly world we humanly know.
Finally, another statement details the understanding of the concept more definitively and I had footnoted it previously as a “post-modern view”:
“. . . new era of peace and blessing for all creation: humans and other animate beings will enjoy life together without hurting or destroying one another in that transformed world sometimes known as ‘the peaceable kingdom’.” [p. 568]
Admittedly all these formal definitions or descriptors is not helping put together a better understanding of what the kingdom of heavenmeans in today’s common language.
Therefore, let me present my own perception:
The kingdom of heaven opens up to each one who accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, the son of God and son of Man, who came to teach how to live the Christian lifestyle following just two rules:
(1) Love God.
(2) Love one another.
Living in the kingdom of heaven is living out those two rules day in and day out regardless of the physical location in which one lives—while our bodies are alive on the earth and after our bodies die our spirit continues living with God in a mysterious existence upon which we can only speculate.
Following those two simple rules transforms our mental state regardless of the environmental circumstances of our lives. Making the disciplined decision to join in the Christian lifestyle removes all the angst of factors that we really cannot control.
Think about how differently one can even perceive the weather events that affect our daily lives. We make decisions about where we live, but we cannot make a difference on the weather that effects our address. We live in four seasons, we know that we will have rain, snow, wind, drought, cold and hot conditions. We know that at times there will be major weather events such as tornadoes, hail storms, or floods.
We cannot change the weather, we can only change our mental management of the weather. I know that the weather is outside of my control, but that does not mean I ignore it. Rather I embrace it.
I am a weather nerd, so to speak. I love a good summer thunderstorm, even though I do not like the mud that it creates. I get excited when the alerts go off that we are under a tornado watch. And who does not love a snowstorm as it comes in and blankets our world.
Yes, I know there can be very negative results from major storms, but by letting go and letting God be in charge means I am free to experience the positive and disregard the negatives—even if I am doing the snow shoveling.
For me, the kingdom of heavenis a marvelous mental state that comes with believing and living my faith in God. I can see the world so differently when I use the lens of Jesus Christ. I can see the values even in the negatives. I can live in the kingdom now while looking forward to the kingdom yet to come when I leave this earthly life.
My disappointment is that so many I know have not come to a conscious awareness of the kingdom of heavenas a real concept that is attainable right now, right here.
When I stop and evaluate the individuals I have known within my own lifetime, I can see how living in the kingdom of heavenis real. I can see it in their eyes, their smiles, their actions, and their love.
Despite all the trials and tribulations that they experience, there is an internal joy and enthusiasm for life that transcends the negatives.
These are the very ones who do not ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
These are the ones who accept their own limitations and flaws and do all that they can to live differently within the context of Christ-like living.
These are the very Christians that I want to surround myself with as I look for any way that I can to do all that I can for anyone I can.
Yes, I want to live like John Wesley wants us to live. I want to live in the kingdom of heavennow and on into infinity! I love God. I love life. I love one another. Amen.
Please join me in a prayer:
Dear loving, infinite God,
What a thrill it is to discover your kingdom.
What joy fills our hearts to live knowing
your unending love.
What relief we experience knowing the freedom
our faith provides.
And, Lord, we know we are likely
to make mistakes along our journey;
But we know you are with us
patiently waiting for us to call.
For those times we slip, thank you for forgiving us
and keeping the door always open.
Guide us to share the wonderment of life with you.
Guide us to demonstrate the joy in living with you.
Guide us to invite others to life in your kingdom.