Category Archives: Religion

I heard the peepers! Hope soars as spring eases in.

The truest harbinger of spring has to be the sweet, sweet sounds of peepers in the evening.  Last night as I took the dogs out, I heard them.  True it was faint, but that sound is undeniable.

Then this morning, just before dawn, I stepped outside and again I heard that glorious sound—peepers.  This has to be real.  Spring must be coming soon.  

I realize the sound is so faint, but the peepers’ home is a marshy area about a half-mile from our yard, over the ridge and around the lake.  During the day nature’s spring symphony is hard to hear, but in the evening and the dawn, life is not yet loud.

Is that not like hearing the Holy Spirit speaking to you?  Life is noisy here in our world.  We have the alarm clocks, the TVs, the machines to get us to and fro, the machines producing the goods we sell, the voices of the sales people that hound us around the stores, the life sounds of parents, kids, and even the retirees, can become so loud that we hear nothing else.

Granted this is not a new topic.  The issue of the noise in our life seems to be a popular topic in the self-help literature.  Discussions about stress also reference this life noise.  We allow the noise to step between one and another in conversation and even in relationships.  We need silence.  

Maybe I am writing this for myself.  I keep noise on in the background throughout the waking day.  I should make silence a priority, but I don’t.  The noise is worse in the winter because I cannot step outside into the natural world and listen to nature.  

Hence my excitement hearing the peepers.  I know that soon I can step outside and listen to the symphony of nature rather than the noise from the TV or machines. I will be able to step away from the winter capsule filled with noise.

Last week I referenced Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms, and in the chapter “Solitude” one is reminded how needing silence is part of practicing ‘solitude:’

Barton opens the chapter with a quote from Parker Palmer’s  A Hidden Wholeness:

“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy.  Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush.  If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.  But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance.”

Simply reading that quote triggered the desire for solitude.  I recognize that need for the silence of nature.  Notice that I do not mention quiet, I mean the silence of nature and all its natural sounds.  

Solitude from human-made sounds does not allow my soul to open up.  Even though I sit in the house with no other human, I tend to turn on background noise in the form of the TV.  I even turn the sound down just to a low sound that I really cannot make out the conversation.

Going on through the chapter I began to realize how come, even with my noise background, how I wanted solitude from other people and other noise.  And I thought I was an extrovert and who is fueled by contact with others.  Lately I am wondering if I really am an introvert and need aloneness to recharge.  If that is the case, it is directly opposite of how I have lived my life.

Barton develops her argument for solitude so well that I began wondering how I could find solitude in my world.  And then I heard the peepers!

Solitude may mean removing ones self from noise and allowing one to decompress.  And I am just now, after 7-8 months, realizing how many layers I must peel away in order to be decompressed enough to let God go to work through me.

Barton says, “One of the fundamental purposes of solitude is to give us a concrete way of entering into such stillness, so that God can come in and do what only God can do.” (p.41)

I am learning that working as I believe God asks me to work cannot be done while I am living in so much noise—noise that has developed from the years of working in education and then the pulpit, too.  

My noise is locked into my brain and I need it to be peeled away so God has a straight path back into my consciousness. I need to decompress.

As I have invested in a thorough study of the year-long Bible reading, I am hearing words I never have heard before.  I am realizing that I am ‘listening’ differently and that is due to the layers of noise slowly being peeled off.

My solitude practice is not complete, but I am making strides.  The long, harsh winter is making it difficult for me to step out into the silence of  nature and silence the noise of daily living.

Barton provides a ‘practice’ section in her chapters, and the one for silence provides these guidelines:

  • Choose a comfortable, safe place to be open and available to God,
  • Settle into a comfortable position, sit quietly, breath deep, become aware of God’s presence, and your desire to be present with God;
  • As you sit quietly, begin to notice what is true about you without rushing to make something happen;
  • Sit with what comes into your awareness, becoming aware of God’s presence with you; and
  • Regularly practice this way of entering solitude until it becomes routine.  (p.43-44)

Granted this is only a summary of the practice, but I can see how this could help me to decompress.  I can also see how it will allow me to hear God’s directions for me.

Barton shares how even Jesus needed solitude and tried to make sure that the apostles also learned this practice.  We all need to find a way to step into solitude in order to stay in a close, personal relationship with God.

I am not there yet, but with the work I am doing with the Bible reading and the guidance from various recommended authors like Barton, I am peeling away the clutter in my brain.  I am getting closer to the practice of solitude (esp. with spring being announced by the peepers).

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Father, 

You are The Word.

You are found in scriptures.

You are talking to me, and I do not hear.

Lead me out of the noise.

Lead me to solitude.

Lead me to hear you speak.

Thank you for words of friends.

Thank you for the words of scripture.

Thank you for the words of leaders.

May I find the solitude to hear You

By the power of the Holy Spirit.  –Amen.

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I know. Ash Wednesday over, Lent begins. I’m not ready.

The long, cold winter has so consumed my psyche that I was unprepared to accept the arrival of March.  We seem so far away from the typical spring images that usually accompany March. 

And accompanying that, I was surprised when I realized that Tuesday was Mardi Gras, which meant that Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and today is the first day of Lent!  Oh my goodness, how the time flies.

This has caused me to struggle wondering why Lent has snuck up on me.  I suppose one reason is the weather, but a second is that I have not had to prepare for the season as I have the past 10 years.  This is a season as a parishioner, not as a pastor.

I admit to feeling a bit guilty because I have no plans, no identified fasting plan or any 40-day practice.  The 40-day period of giving up something or doing something as a spiritual practice has always been a challenge for me.  This places me in an awkward position:  Is it too late?

Committing to the year-long Bible reading plan, I have already implemented a very structured practice.  This is not just sitting down and reading a novel, this is study.  My 40-day challenge is realistically a 365-day challenge.

Therefore I should not feel so guilty, should I?

Add to this study, though, is an additional reading I have just completed.  Based on a friend’s recommendation I have read through Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms(2006).  

The nine chapters take one through a process to establish the spiritual practices that develop–or maybe a better word is enriches—one’s spirituality.

Barton offers a personal viewpoint on the practices while providing the rationale, the scriptural basis, and the encouragement needed to reorganize one’s life to be more mindful of one’s own spirituality.  

The chapters outline the various practices as solitude, scripture, prayer, honoring the body, self-examination, discernment, and Sabbath.  

John Wesley also identified the individual acts of piety as means to strengthen one’s spirituality, also.  The United Methodist Church’s website lists these as “. . . reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others” [Accessed on March 7, 2019 at umc.org].

There are differences, I realize, but Barton confronts the problems that our culture faces in this 21stcentury that Wesley could not have imagined.  Wesley’s acts of piety do still apply, but having Barton explain how today’s technological world and demanding family life do not have to interfere with these practices.

Therefore, as I continue working through the year-long Bible reading plan, I am going to reread Barton’s book with a pencil in my hand to make additional notes.  My Lent will be to review, release today’s world, and to work on developing a 21stcentury plan, or as she calls it, rule of life for myself.  

I may still be unprepared for Lent in the traditional sense, but I must forgive myself and acknowledge that whenever and however I work to improve my personal spiritual practices is the ultimate goal. Isn’t that what Lent is?

Please join in prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are my teacher.  

You are my healer.

You are my redeemer.

Forgive me for letting the world step in the way.

Forgive me for worrying that I am not perfect.

Forgive me that I procrastinate in growing spiritually.

Thank you for the words of others who teach.

Thank you for the words of those who help me heal.

Thank you for the words of scripture that are timeless.

Guide me in my understanding.

Guide me in making better time for scripture.

Guide me in adding scriptural practices

     that work for life eternal.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit,

With Jesus Christ your son,

And you, our Lord, I Am.  –Amen

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Rules, rules, and more rules: Understanding OT rules makes NT rule even more significant

Surely you know the feeling when you read something and it strikes you as such an evident piece of truth you wonder why in the world you haven’t realized this before.  I certainly am finding this as I continue working through the Bible reading plan.

This morning the statement was buried in the study notes of the Wesley Study Bible.  Right there on page 96 in reference to 21:23-24:

Jesus turns this negative formulation into a positive way of living through his principle “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you: (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31).

Of course that statement does not jump out to you without an understanding of the context.

The reading for today is Exodus  chapters 21-22, and this was 21:23-24:

23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

That particular section of the day’s reading is one I have struggled to rationalize in my own mind.  I just could not understand how that form of restitution made any sense, but I have heard so many people reference it in a wide range of circumstances—not just today but throughout history and throughout all cultures.

Well, my reading did cover much more of the context, and I really think it helps to read more, Exodus 21:12-27:

The Law concerning Violence

12 Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. 13 If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. 14 But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.

15 Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.

16 Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in possession, shall be put to death.

17 Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death.

18 When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, 19 but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery.

20 When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.

22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

26 When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. 27 If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth.

Now, that reading expands the broader picture, but the study notes still play a major role in better understanding and as I read through them for the chapters 20-23, I realize again the purpose of the OT study.

In the Judeo-Christian culture, the Ten Commandments are familiar as the Law of Moses and the commandments are recognized as they have been taught, retaught, published in written form and in artistic form in all types of mediums.  But here is the proverbial rest of the story. . . 

The Ten Commandments are followed in Exodus by a set of laws.  These laws are referred to as The Book of the Covenant.  These statutes were written to tell the Israelites how they were to live, but in the study notes there is another key statement on page 96:

These laws specify what it means to live corporately in faithful obedience to God’s covenant in response to God’s gracious acts of deliverance, guidance and protection (Exodus 1-18). 

Today as we read the OT and the NT separating our current culture from ancient culture is difficult.  I challenge anybody that reads the Bible literally, as though it was written for the global community in which we now live, to explain how the examples and the specifics can possibly be appropriate today.

Last week I researched a bit about reading ancient literature.  I had another epiphany in my understanding as I read through an article on the website, http://www.ancient.eu, that popped up when I googled ancient literature.

Consider a few of these statements from the section subtitled “The Truth in Literature”:

  • “. . . [tales regarded as myths today, such as Homer’s work]were then considered as true and sacred as any of the writings contained in the Judeo-Christian Bible or the Muslim Koran are to believers.  Designations such as fiction and non-fiction are fairly recent labels applied to written works.
  • “The ancient mind understood that, quite often, truth may be apprehended through a fable about a fox and some unattainable grapes.  The modern concern with the truth of a story would not have concerned anyone listening to one of Aesop’s tales; what mattered was what the story was striving to convey.

What I am learning through the study, using study notes and other research, is that the rules of the OT were made to guide the Israelites to develop into a model community of faithful people who were in the midst of a chaotic world filled with all kinds of myths and religions.  

Remaining faithful was a major effort.  Think about how we often discuss the effect of peer pressure in today’s society.  Peer pressure is a force that can be used for positive, but all too often is a negative force.

Parents work hard to raise their children to be independent of negative forces often presented to them by peers.

Adults find themselves swayed into opinions and/or behaviors by the peers around them.  The results could be positive, but what gets reported are the times that the negative results of peer pressure cause damage—especially violent damage.

When Jesus Christ began his ministry, the world was filled with all the negative influences that existed throughout ancient history and continue yet today.  When I read that particular study note:

Jesus turns this negative formulation into a positive way of living through his principle “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you: (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31).

I finally understood the necessity of the OT list of rules after rules after rules.  I am so thankful that the simplified version that Jesus presented is the one law that I need to evaluate my actions.

With the problems I have in memorization, I find Jesus’ law manageable.  If I had to memorize all the OT rules, and the additional rules that continued to be added by all the religious leaders throughout human history, I am afraid I would have failed or at the least would have been afraid to leave my home for fear I would mess up one of the laws—especially since punishment could be so severe.

Please join in prayer:

Dear forgiving and faithful Father,

Thank you for making the ancient laws so much easier to understand—not only by sending your son Jesus Christ, but by all the work of scholars throughout history.  

Thank you, too, for opening my mind to learn from the OT and the NT so that I may also live a life that models faithfulness.

Guide me in my words and my works so that I can live and share with others the truths of your unending love.  –Amen

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At least the winter weather won’t interfere with a journey through ancient scriptures

I know, I just could not resist that we are still in the midst of one of the craziest winters here in the middle of the US: snow, ice, more snow, spring temperatures, fog, even freezing fog (I call frog), rain, snow, and more. 

During the past several years, we have had extraordinarily mild Midwest winters.  In fact the meteorologist this week said for three years the total snow accumulation of those years is now less than we have had in the past two months.

Still, these cold weeks has kept me to my itinerary of reading the Bible over the course of the year.  I have now completed Genesis, Romans, Isaiah, and Mark.  This week I added Exodus and tomorrow I Thessalonians.

Earlier I mentioned that it is interesting how the Old Testament and the New Testament books are being paired.  Genesis is the beginning of the Israelite story and Romans is the beginning of the Christian church.  I began to understand.

The second pairing has been Isaiah and the gospel of Mark.  In my understanding, Isaiah is the Israelite’s manual of prophecy, which tells of the coming Messiah, a savior of the faithful people.  Mark was written to the Jewish people as an argument that Jesus is that expected Messiah.

Now here is another issue.  This winter weather has prohibited me to join in a conversation with others.  The planned Bible study with others making this same journey had to be canceled due to the road conditions. (I suppose I am lucky that I can post my ideas as I read and others can react.)

I have to admit that reading Isaiah was challenging.  I am realizing that I need tour guides and find them in the pages of the study Bibles. 

For years I have used the Life Application Study Bible (NIV), but this time I am using the Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). And I have even turned to the Archeological Study Bibleas I believe I mentioned previously.

Reading through Isaiah, though, is must more difficult for someone who has limited knowledge of ancient history.  The study notes are my tour guides!  

Not only am I learning the history of ancient people, I am learning more about John Wesley and how he read these same scriptures. I am ending up getting two journeys in one.

(For another side note:  I take notes.  Not just a few, I take lots of notes that include what I am learning, what I am thinking, and now what Wesley is thinking.  Sometimes I wonder what I am going to do with the volumes this is going to create.  Still, I have discovered I do go back once and a while to check on something that struck me as interesting, confusing or even profound.)

Reading scripture takes one back in time.  I am reminded how different life must have been in ancient times.  

For instance, this morning in the early chapters of Exodus, the plagues that God delivered upon Egypt are being listed. As often as I have heard about the plagues, I did not realize that there is a line in many referring to the Egyptian sorcerers or magicians.

According to the scriptures, found in Exodus 7-9, the plagues could be re-created through the arts of the sorcerers and magicians. But then, as the list of plagues continues, these arts fail.  The sorcerers and magicians begin to see the plagues of “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:16-19).   

Even though the Pharaoh continued to deny the power of God as demonstrated through Moses and his brother Aaron, his own sorcerers and magicians had to admit they could not duplicate the powers.

Reading the scriptures is not a leisurely trip, but one that challenges one.  I am so glad that I have the study notes to help, but it is also making me wonder what I might still be missing.

I have resources, but I am thinking about all the classes I took in literature.  The truth is that I never did have a course on reading ancient literature.  Now I am wishing I had more skill in ancient literature.

As I was growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on in our small elementary school.  I remember getting hooked on mythology and read everything I could about mythology.  

Admittedly, that was maybe 55 years ago, and my memory for details is not good.  And in all that reading, there was nothing about the Egyptian gods or even other ancient cultures—it was Greek and Latin mythology.

I need to hire tour guides that specialize in ancient literature.  The Archeological Study Bibleis a major help, but it does not fully develop my understanding of the symbolism that is buried in the ancient scripture.  

(I welcome any suggestions for websites or resources that I can locate to improve this journey.)

Needless to say it is too early for me to draw any conclusions about this journey at this point, but I know that I am finding surprises in the stories and I am seeing the timeless truths of humanity.  

What I do not understand is how we do not directly teach or share the literary themes of the Bible and parallel them to the literature of our own culture.  

Humanity has a tendency to repeat behaviors that complicate our lives.  The timeless themes of the scripture just reinforce the simplicity of Bible’s good news:  “God loves us so much that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him has eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Add to that the commandments that Jesus taught us in Matthew 22:  

36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being,[a] and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Life can be so much simpler if we could just accept the truths Jesus taught us with these two commandments.  I cannot stop but to frame so many horrors in our lives thought that one primary thought:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

Just think about some of the worst human experiences and test it against that parameter:  What if we loved each other like we want to be loved?

  • Would there be gun violence?
  • Would there be homophobic attitudes?
  • Would there have been one neighbor arguing with another over a fence?
  • Would there be a bully in school?
  • Would there be road rage?

The list goes on into infinity.  Why even looking back through ancient history, if the Israelites could have demonstrated that love for one another above all else, would there have been all the legendary battles, the vicious treatment of slaves or even slaves at all?

My journey through the ancient scriptures is not anywhere near over, and the wild winter weather is helping me stay on my itinerary for the journey.  The side trips through the study notes are adding new understanding to my experience.

And, as I resume my daily routines, the stories, and the lessons I discover are like snapshots that I look at over and over. I am finding surprises and I am finding truths that enrich my earthly journey.

Please join in my prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the scriptures

In which your faithful people

Mapped out the directions

For life eternal.

May the ancient words 

Reveal universal truths

So your love survives

Despite the detours people take.

May the stories of old

Guide today’s people

In ways to guide others

To love one another, too.

And as our journeys near completion

May the snapshots of our lives 

Serve as guides for future generations 

That they may know love always wins.

In the name of you the Father, the Son,

and the Holy Ghost, amen.

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My confession: Valentines Day makes me cringe

     Before anyone clicks off and does not listen to my reasoning, let me say that this is strictly my opinion after years and years living through all the hype that comes with Valentines Day—from teen years, through college years, through dating, marriage and parenting, as a teacher, as a wife, as a mother, and as a parent and now as a grandparent.  

     Valentines Day is a commercial creation but it has so colored our world with the demand that everybody has someone to which they are romantically connected and should honor with some tangible manner that one lovesanother.

     In a way, Valentines Day has diminished the all-powerful concept of love that God has deemed we should demonstrate to one another.  Love is a lifestyle for me.  Love is a driving force for my day.  Love is living.

     Years ago I adopted a mantra for myself:  Love God.  Love life. Love one another.  Love is the fuel that gives me energy, moves me into action,  filters the world that I observe day in and day out whether in person or through the various screens that brings the world into my frame of knowledge.

     God loves us.  We are to serve as his arms and feet here in this earthly world in which we live.  God shows love to all that lives and breathes in this world.  Therefore, we are to do all that we can to share that love in any way that we can whenever we can with all we can in all the places we can—yes, John Wesley’s mantra, I know.

     Each time I sit down to compose another blog entry, I do it because I love God, I love life, and I love others.  This is unconditional love.  I may not love the actions or the situations or the manner something is handled, but I love the people, the living beings, the earth and all it houses for us—mountains, rivers, plains, deserts; weather of all kinds; flowers and trees, birds, animals and so much more.

     Valentines Day says, “I love you.”  But all too often Valentines Day narrows the focus of love into one small definition—romantic love for one other person.

     Therefore, Valentines Day makes me cringe.  

     This morning I am home bound thanks to the nutsy weather (yes I do love the weather even when it can be scary); so I watched my Sunday morning worship service on line.  Thank you to Rev. Jim Downing, Sedalia’s First UMC, for his Valentines sentiment to me—and all the others who were able to hear his message today (it can be heard on line at http://firstsayyes.com/worshipand search for today’s sermon, February 10, 2019).

     God’s love is the ultimate Valentines Day sentiment, but Downing artfully spelled it out through his explanation of the expansive term of love through C.S. Lewis’s four types of love (which can be further explored at http://www.cslewis.com/tag/the-four-loves/) and then took it even further by reviewing and even demonstrating Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages(located at https://www.5lovelanguages.com).

     For those who reading a printed version here is a very brief summary of these two views of love:

C.S. Lewis’s four types of love:

  • Affection
  • Friendship
  • Romantic
  • Charity

Gary Chapmanthen develops the five languages of love to help us understand how we perceive love from someone or how we demonstrate love to others:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

     Downing also returned to one of the most recognizable scriptures concerning love. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he provided a definition of love (I Corinthians 13:4-8, CEB):

 4Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

     The full chapter I Corinthians 13 is often referred to as “The Love Chapter” and often used in weddings, but looking at these four verses through the filter of Lewis’s four loves and Chapman’s five languages of love, the full extent of love is much more than the simple expression of saying “I love you” on a Valentines card.

     After listening to Downing’s sermon and reviewing the types of love and the languages of love, I can better articulate why Valentines Day makes me cringe.

     God asks us to love one another and the fact that for one day a year we are socially pushed to demonstrate that love through some tangible manner just makes me cringe.  We should not be limited to how we share love as Chapman reminds us; nor should we be led to think that only gifts are the way to demonstrate love.

     And another point that causes me to cringe:  love is not just romantic.  Love is so complex that it colors every relationship that we experience—even relationships that are in passing, that are work-centered, that are random, that are outwardly established by forces that we have no control over.

     God has established only one commandment that he personally demonstrated through the life and ministry of his only son Jesus Christ.  That commandment is a Valentines to all humanity:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

     I cannot express a better sentiment to the world in which I live.  I love you!  I love you as a friend, as a mother, as a spouse, as a grandmother, as a teacher, as a pastor, as a human, as a pet owner, as a bird feeder, as a gardener, as a neighbor, as a fellow Christian, or as any other identifying label that I can fill.

     I love God.  I love life. I love one another to the very best of my ability.  I want to share whatever I can with anyone else that I can so they can experience the joy of living in this glorious world with all its crazy weather, all its various climates, with all the nations.  

     Maybe I cringe at the cultural hype of Valentines Day, but I hope that through this you know that I love you—each and every one of you.  I hope that you know I want to do all that I can in all kinds of ways to make sure you know that you are loved.

     Thank you for being part of my world and for letting me love you.  I pray you know love.

Please join in the prayer:

Dear loving God,

Thank you for loving each and every one of us.

Thank you for all the emissaries through which you send messages of love each and every day.

Guide us in finding ways to love one another each and every day including Valentines Day.

Guide us in accepting sentiments of love from you: 

–like the crystal world of ice shining in the

   warming sunlight;

–like the sounds of the birds as they gather the

   sunflower seeds put out on top of the ice;

–like the warmth of a puppy placing a chin

   on a knee in complete trust;

–like the taste of a warm cookie cooked with love.

Open our hearts as we walk through these crazy, earthly-bound days so we experience your love.

Open our minds to all the ways we can say love to one another.

Open our doors so we can welcome love in to stay.

May we share your love by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is You within us, when we accept your love, sent us in the form of your son Jesus Christ. –Amen

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Bible reading challenges: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

     I know. Those are the standard journalist’s questions and I live by them (remember my first degree was in News Ed from MU).  I go back to them with each new learning task and reading the Old Testament, especially, challenges my basic knowledge.

     Thank goodness for study Bibles.  I decided to use the Wesley Study Bible (NRSV) for this year-long challenge of reading the entire Bible.  The study notes add the background information that helps me understand the who, the what, the when and the where of the scriptures.

     Admittedly I am not educated in ancient history.  Sadly, when I first tested the world of ancient history in high school, the subject matter did not hold my interest (nor did the method of teaching either which was lecture, read, test).  

     In college I avoided it like the proverbial plague.  The closest thing I took was a class on the synoptic gospels, and that was strictly New Testament.  Now, though, I am finding myself looking for understanding of ancient history.

     Therefore, another study Bible to use is the Archeological Study Bible.  The notes in here align with the readings, true; but another aid is the sidebar articles that explain the culture, the locations, the art, and so many other extras that are not in other study Bibles but help get a better mental image of the times.

     In the Methodist tradition, John Wesley created a quadrilateral approach to studying scripture:

The phrase which has relatively recently come into use to describe the principal factors that John Wesley believed illuminate the core of the Christian faith for the believer. Wesley did not formulate the succinct statement now commonly referred to as the Wesley Quadrilateral. Building on the Anglican theological tradition, Wesley added a fourth emphasis, experience. The resulting four components or “sides” of the quadrilateral are (1) Scripture, (2) tradition, (3) reason, and (4) experience. For United Methodists, Scripture is considered the primary source and standard for Christian doctrine. Tradition is experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures. Experience is the individual’s understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discerning and cogent thought. These four elements taken together bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian faith and the required response of worship and service.

[Accessed on February 7, 2019 at http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/wesleyan-quadrilateral]

Reading the scripture cold is perfectly acceptable, but using the quadrilateral keeps one’s understanding balanced.  I find the study notes in my various Bibles greatly increases my understanding—especially of the who, what, when and where of the scripture.

     Therefore, how I read the scripture is a process that is adding time to my studies, but the depth of understanding is greatly improved and answer one of the major challenges in following the reading plan that I am currently using:

Why are the Old Testament books paired with the specific New Testament books as the plan outlines?

     I am sure that there are Biblical experts and theologians who have a proper academic answer to this, but in my reading I am discovering the answer—at least from my point of view.

     The first pairing has been Genesis and Romans.  I was not quick to figure it out, but I think now the connection is that Genesis is the beginning story of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, (now known as the Jewish faith) while the letter to Paul’s letter to the Romans is the story of the Christian church.

     The second pairing is of the book of Isaiah and the gospel of Mark.  Again, this is my conclusion not a Biblical expert, yet paring these two books serve as teaching manuals.  

     Isaiah, the book, becomes the literary link between the Old and the New Testament. The historical references provide a timeline of what happened to the people that are in the genealogical lineage of Jesus, from the King of David.  

     Why is this a key to linking with Mark?  Again, study notes help, but remember that Mark’s audience is those faithful who continue to follow the Law of Moses, the Old Testament Law of the Israelites.  The gospel of Mark is almost like reading a concise story of Jesus’ teachings and ministry. 

     The stories are not filled with overly descriptive language and the words attributed to Jesus are clearly identified and very straightforward.  

     The parables and the lessons to the twelve disciples are divided into separate subtitles and there is very little room for confusion.  For beginners, the gospel of Mark is an excellent starting point for understanding by the novice Bible student.

     Of course following any Bible reading plan can be challenging, but so far so good (pardon the cliché).  I have read and re-read so many scriptures that reading following this plan is enriching my understanding.

      Typically the readings from the Old Testament are twice as long as those from the New Testament, but the real challenge in reading the Old Testament is understanding the historical and the cultural background.

     Again, using the study Bibles is so helpful to fill in the historical background. This covers Wesley’s concern that scripture reading should be read within the context of history or tradition.    

     The study notes also adds in a better understanding of the literature, too.  In the reading for today, Isaiah 41:1-10, is described as a courtroom drama.  That made reading the passage much simpler.

     An additional study note explained that the same verses are “classical salvation oracle” which included the signature phrase:

“You are my servant, I have chosen you, and not cast you off, do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

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Needing sunshine, true; but that is no comparison to needing SON-shine


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No doubt that when the meteorologists are warning us that life is “brutal out there” as NBC’s Today Show’s Al Roker just said; we look for any help we can.

Today we are in the midst of the Polar Vortex that is slamming our country with bitter cold.  Here in Missouri, the cold is bad and only to be much worse tomorrow, but we have hope—sunshine is also predicted.

These are the days that I just want pure sunshine coming in the patio door warming my dining room table.  I watch the birds, feel the warmth on my skin, and anticipate the first signs of spring.  

I thrive in sunshine.

The meteorologists tell us that we have not had a polar vortex like this in 20-25 years.  I had to stop and think about that and try to remember what I remember from 20-25 years ago.  

The memory that floats to the top is moving from one house to another in bitter cold.  The snow was cleared from the drives and walks, but it was cold.  So cold in fact, that the water line was frozen to my new house—and we were moving in.  Not a good start.

But in spite of the negatives of that winter day, I realize that there was sunshine, especially in the form of my cousin. My cousin had driven across the state with a stock trailer to help me make the second move in four months.  

Now here is the metaphor:  a polar vortex is just one more example of real-life challenges and the warmth of the sunshine makes it possible to get through the roughest cold times to be rewarded with the warmer temperatures on the other side of the vortex.

Our lives are filled with challenges that can freeze us up as quickly and completely as the polar vortex.  We need sunshine to keep us warm, to thaw us out, to lighten our days.

I realize now that Jesus Christ is our “SON-shine” for managing our lives on a daily basis—regardless of the weather forecast. In the darkest and coldest times of our lives, we need to turn our face to Jesus, the Son of God.  He is the link to weathering our life storms.

Where do we find this “SON-shine”?  The typical answer our preachers might say is in scripture. Certainly the Bible is filled with examples of how faith carries one through all kinds of storms, but I add another answer:  turn to our Christian peers.

My cousin did not have to give up his time, tow a trailer across the state, and then physically help us load and unload all my goods making the move from one house down the block to another house. But he did.  He and his family did.

My cousin and his family were the arms and legs of Jesus helping me to warm up in his “SON-shine.”  Loving one another is God’s ray of “son-shine” in the polar vortexes of our lives.

I continue to read the scriptures and this week I have been reading Isaiah and Mark.  The prophecies in Isaiah certainly provide examples of polar vortexes in the lives of the ancient faithful who were still waiting for the Messiah. 

Then Mark shares how faith in Jesus healed so many facing life challenges, too.  Remember the story of the religious leader’s 12-year old daughter who died?  Remember the story of the woman who was healed of a life-time of hemorrhaging?

These are the verses from Mark 5:21-43 from the New Living Translation:

Jesus Heals in Response to Faith

   21 Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. 22 Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, 23 pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.”

   24 Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him. 25 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. 26 She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. 28 For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” 

   29 Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.

   30 Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”

   31 His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

   32 But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”

   35 While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”

   36 But Jesus overheard[d] them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

   37 Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James). 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing.39 He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

   40 The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying.41 Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” 42 And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. 43 Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and thenhe told them to give her something to eat.

Yes, it is cold outside.  But with the warmth of sunshine coming in our windows, we can manage the bitter temperatures.

With Jesus Christ, though, we have “SON-shine” that goes beyond the physical warming of the sun and reaches into all the storms of our lives.  All we have to do is to have faith and to love one another in all the ways we can at all the times we can for all those we can.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear God, father of Jesus Christ,

Thank you for sending your son

     to shine in our lives.

Thank you for those who believe and serve

     as your Son’s ray loving one another.

Give me the strength to face 

     the polar vortexes in our lives

     with the faith of those who walked with Jesus.

Guide me in doing all that I can 

     to be your “Son-shine” in someone else’s life

     so they are warmed by your love, too.  –Amen.

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