Category Archives: Religion

Words do hurt! Words mirror hearts.

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?

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. 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, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? 

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? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?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.           

Text Box: https://digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODN/KCStar/get/KCS-2019-07-16/image.ashx?kind=block&href=KCS%2F2019%2F07%2F16&id=Pc0070400&ext=.jpg&ts=20190716081507

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. 

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Omniscient One,

Forgive my human weakness of judging others.

Strengthen my resolve to love one another

     without reservation.

Show me the way to accept each person

      for who they are and as they are.

And for those I meet who judge me,

     let me love them anyway..

Let my words not hurt others; 

     May my words mirror what you have taught.

In the name of you, Lord, our God,

      With the teachings of your son Jesus Christ,

          And with the power of the Holy Spirit within.

Amen.

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A few personal notes in lieu of holiday-focused rhetoric

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.]

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Let’s talk about one vs ten; Life is easier with just one.

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.

I suggest spending a few minutes reviewing the simplified version of the commandment and then study the emoji that is associated/assigned to that commandment.  They communicate the effect of the sin so effectively: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwje7OOwr4LjAhVKDq0KHWYGBF0QMwhTKAAwAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pinterest.com%2Fpin%2F70016969189628034%2F&psig=AOvVaw2nL2na3i5GQuMwTMe737LC&ust=1561474350157640&ictx=3&uact=3

Certainly I could now go into a long essay reflecting upon each one, but I want to shift to how much simpler life is when one has to only follow onecommandment rather than ten.

When Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question as to which commandment was the greatest, he replied:

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

–Matthew 22:36-38, NLT

In other scriptures, Jesus repeats the commandment in a range of simplified versions.  Look at this list found with a search on BibleGateway.com:

John 13:34

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must loveone another.

John 13:35

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Romans 12:10

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 13:8

[Love Fulfills the Law ] Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

2 Corinthians 13:11

[Final Greetings ] Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace

Galatians 5:13

[Life by the Spirit ] You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Ephesians 4:2

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

1 Thessalonians 4:9

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

2 Thessalonians 1:3

[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.

Hebrews 10:24

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,

1 Peter 1:22

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1 Peter 3:8

[Suffering for Doing Good ] Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

1 Peter 5:14

Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

1 John 3:11

[More on Love and Hatred ] For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.1 John 3:23

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

1 John 4:7

[God’s Love and Ours ] Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:11

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

1 John 4:12

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

2 John 1:5

And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.

So I ask you:  Wouldn’t you rather prefer living life simply following only one commandment rather than ten?

And If I could identify an appropriate Emoji for the one commandment, it would simply have to be . . . 

Please join me in prayer:

Dear loving Father,

You loved us so much that you sent your son

To teach us how to live with one another in love.

Forgive us for all the times that emotions flare up

Causing us to risk breaking the one commandment:

     Love one another.

May we fill our love for one another

into our hearts and minds so no sin creeps in.

And with our lives devoted to loving others

Let us share our love for you 

In as many ways as we can.

With the love and grace from you Our Heavenly Father,

     through our belief in your son Jesus Christ

          and the power of your Holy Spirit within us,

grant us peace and joy

that comes from loving one another.  –Amen!

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In life’s journey, death is only one of unlimited destinations

Here it is June, typically associated with summer vacations, weddings and Father’s Day. Death is usually not a theme for the month.

Yet death forced itself into my world twice during the week.  The first death was completely an accident.  The second death was inevitable.

Sometimes one must simply stop and address an issue that all too often is avoided.  Death is simply part of life.  Everyone of us will die.  It is unavoidable.

The reading I have done these past few months includes death as one of the themes, but still one must process how death fits into one’s perspective about life.  

The reading has forced me to review my personal outlook about death and I want everybody to know it is nothing of which to be afraid—from my perspective.

My understanding of death has not come from a near-death experience, nor has it come from academic research.  My understanding developed from my family’s upbringing, my Christian upbringing.

Possibly growing up on a farm has helped me to grasp the reality of birth, life and death.  I witnessed the life cycle of animals and plants, through the eyes of my parents.  Life is a cycle; and when one cycle finishes, another begins.

I had my share of pets and all too often one would disappear.  Maybe the most heart wrenching was the loss of our female collie.  Dad received a complaint that she was teaching her pups to kill piglets.  Out of respect, Dad took Lassie down to another location and shot her.  I was devastated and years later I learned he was too.  That was my first sense of absolute loss due to death and I was about 10 years old.

But, we had the puppies.  Buffy was mine.  He continued to be my life companion through those tough years of middle school and high school.  He followed me all over the farm; he sat with me when I went out on the front porch and cried.  And I went to college.

Life is a journey.  We begin in the arms of our parents—if we are gifted with loving parents who care and nurture us, and we learn resiliency.  We stumble and fall, we get back up and continue onward.  

The journey is never easy, but with each destination that we reach, we grow.  We discover joy, anger, passion, frustration, and any number of highs and lows. 

My perception of the permanence of death became just part of the life journey.  The experience with death as a child did not permanently damage my own life journey, I just continued.

Being raised in a Christian home did provide one element of teaching that may be missing in many homes: resurrection—being raised from the dead.

Never did I ever question that upon death, there was nothing more.  Death was only a destination along life’s journey.  The mystery of life after death, though, cannot be communicated in any definitive manner to eliminate the unknown, the mystery.  

Along our life journey, we must do all that we can to understand the cause and effect of our life experiences.  We must come to grips with our personal responsibility for each action whether good or bad.  We must evaluate those actions against the Golden Rule:  Does our action reflect that we honestly love one another as we want to be loved?

Fortunately, I did not have to grapple with that question very often as my parents and my church family did all that they could to make sure that I lived the Golden Rule until it became an automatic, internalized lifestyle.

And death was always part of the journey . . . 

One of my elementary teachers died during the school year.

My friend was accidentally killed when a train struck her car just six months after our high school graduation.

My grandmother died during my junior college year.

Yet my journey continued, and still continues. Death is woven in and out of the years, and I still do not know the answer to the mystery.  Instead, I have faith.

My readings support my awe over the mystery. The Old Testament is filled with death, yet not until the New Testament do we witness death as a destination, not an ending to life.

This week we follow our culture’s traditions that surround death.  We experience the tragic loss of family, friend, neighbor.  We recognize that our emotions are for our loss, not for the one who has reached that destination in their journey.

The scriptures, the books, the conversations, and the experiences I have delved have led me to anticipate the glory of this destination as I found reading Revelations 21:

The New Jerusalem

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Then one of the seven angels who held the seven bowls containing the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

10 So he took me in the Spirit[b] to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal. 12 The city wall was broad and high, with twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. And the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the gates. 13 There were three gates on each side—east, north, south, and west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 The angel who talked to me held in his hand a gold measuring stick to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. 16 When he measured it, he found it was a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles.[c] 17 Then he measured the walls and found them to be 216 feet thick[d] (according to the human standard used by the angel).

18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city was pure gold, as clear as glass. 19 The wall of the city was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve precious stones:[e] the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

21 The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass.

22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.26 And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. 27 Nothing evil[f] will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

[Accessed on June 11, 2019 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+21&version=NLT.]

Life is a journey, we have heard that analogy in so many different contexts; but this week I am convinced that the journey is far from over when death takes us from this earthly life and opens the door on life everlasting.

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An open apology to kids about knowing God, faith

I apologize.  

As I continue to study and to read the Bible, I realize I failed.  I failed to teach you faith.  I failed to practice the parenting principles that my own parents taught me.  I failed to share what I know to be my own life foundation.

I apologize.

As I grew up, both Mom and Dad lived a Christian lifestyle.  They modeled it by the very routines of our day and our week.  They never demanded that we participate, but then we would never have refused to follow their instructions.  It never even occurred to me that we should question the practices.

Therefore, why did I not follow those deeply entrenched practices on my own?  I did some, but some I did not.  Going to church each Sunday was a well-preserved practice and included attending Sunday school.

Because Dad always went with us each Sunday, I never thought that my own husband would miss church.  I thought that was just part of the agreement in a marriage.  When I first had to go to church alone, I ached. It was so wrong, yet I failed to make an issue of the change.  I just went—alone and alone with the kids.

I apologize.

Another practice that I failed in was maintaining the practice of the meal’s blessing.  We had three meals a day growing up and that meant three mealtime graces.  

I admit that the practice weakened during the college years because prayer is private and mealtime in the dorm’s cafeteria was far from private.  The meals’ grace disappeared.  Oh, I could have said the grace privately, but I don’t remember doing so.  And when I moved into an apartment, I could have resumed the practice then.  But I didn’t.

Then came marriage and meals were often in front of the TV.  No table grace then.  

And then came kids.  I should have known that I needed to add in the meal’s prayer, but I did not and did not even approach the subject with Dad.  I failed.

Then life changed with the divorce, and the opportunity to add in open prayer was there—but I hesitated.  It was not until the preschool grace developed and later remembered that the simple table grace resurfaced.  I failed to do so in a timely manner, but now it seems so important, so routine, and so simple.

I apologize.

Now the two practices of church attendance and table grace are just two small, concrete pieces to the Christian lifestyle that one can wear openly, but there is more about which I need to apologize.

Faith education is a critical failure.  I know that many argue that as children develop, they need to learn about God on their own, along their own timeline, in their own way or by their own experiences.  But how does that work?

Having been a teacher for 30 some years, I know that learning is developmental.  I know that all individuals can learn.  I know that we all learn differently.  I know that we learn by seeing, by hearing, and by doing.  

Yet, did I teach faith in my own home. No.  I realize now that I counted on the kids learning via other people’s teaching.  I delegated the task to others and did not take my own initiative to teach the very foundation of my own life.  I failed.

For some reason I thought that I was doing enough, and I was not.  I thought that since my kids lived in my home they would be able to figure out the importance of faith by osmosis.  

I did not figure in what would happen when outside influences or the divorce would create an entirely different learning environment than I felt I was maintaining.  I neglected my kids’ faith education.

I apologize.

How easy it would be to just ignore the issue, but I cannot stand seeing what life without God does to people.  I see so few who seem to have an internal fountain of joy shining from within them; and I know they are missing the joy I experience knowing God in my own life.

What I should have done is been verbally open about how God is part of the daily world in which I exist:

I should have spoken about how God created this universe and we are to care for it.  

I should have shown how all the different birds are part of God’s creation.  

I should have shown how farmers are key to feeding God’s people and for protecting this world that supplies all we need to grow crops and to nurture the livestock that feeds us.

I should have explained how important it is to treat each and every individual with love, just like we want to be treated.

I should have shown them that good leaders do care about their subordinates making any business or organization work smoothly.

I should have . . . and the list continues.

I apologize that I failed.

But, today, I want to put a stop to the failures and speak out—directly—to my kids.  God is good.  Whether you can ever fully understand the concept or not of an omniscient God, a creator, a spirit, a being, or whatever, I know that you must know what a difference God makes in my life.

More than anything I want you to experience the joy of this life experience that we are given.  I want you to demonstrate to all those you interact with that the power of loving one another is priceless.  I want you to share the love of life that you have because God loves you so much that he provides it.

And, I want you to know firsthand the value of studying the literature of the Bible.  We use words as a tool, and the Bible is filled with words to implement in your lives to manage all the ups and downs.  

As human beings, who do have the freedom to chose right and wrong, who do have the mental capabilities of analyzing history, science, social science, and experience, and who face all the challenges of living among believers and non-believers, we must learn all that we can about God.

Knowing God personally makes it possible to manage the evil forces that co-exist in our world. 

Knowing God personally makes it possible to live a joy-filled life even when we are confronted by a life challenge whether physical, mental, financial, or even a natural disaster.  

I apologize that I did not arm you with the knowledge of God that makes life good now and on into eternity.

I apologize that it has taken this many years to speak up.

I apologize that I did not teach you how to pray so you can always feel the reality of God with you, by you and for you.

Hear my prayer oh Lord, 

I am just a child of yours

     always learning of your vastness.

I am a child who has wasted time

     sharing what I value with my own.

I am a child who whines to you

     that my kids may not know you on their own.

Forgive me, Lord, 

     for my failures to teach my kids of You.

Forgive me, Lord,

     for wasting time in sharing faith out loud.

Forgive me, Lord, for whining

     rather than doing as much as I can.

Guide me to speak out loud 

     the truth of your love for us.

Guide me to live out loud

     my faith that so others may see.

Guide me to love my kids

     and all others as you commanded.

Thank you for the words of the faithful

     that share knowledge of faithful living.

Thank you for the open communication

     through our prayers.

Thank you for your guidance

     through the Holy Spirit within us.

May I be the parent unafraid 

     to love not only my kids but all your kids.

May all your children experience your great love

May they know the joy of loving you, 

         of loving life, and         

of loving one another.  –Amen

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Old Testament books, I & II Kings: Easier reading but why read it?

Midway through the second book of Kings, I am finding that I can understand the reading without being totally dependent on study notes.  I really was unprepared for the ease of reading these two books after struggling with so much of the ancient literature.

Still, I maintained my discipline by reading the Wesley Study Bible’s notes.  And then I began wondering why was it necessary to consider these two books for permanent inclusion in the Bible.

You might wonder why question such a decision, but just in case you are not familiar with the books of Kings, I will provide a bit of a spoiler.  These two books are written as a historical narrative (a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end in chronological order).

The narrative style makes the reading more familiar for me, at least.  I can understand going from point A to point B and on to point C.  It makes sense.

But one of the challenges continues to be the lineage.  For one thing, not being schooled in Hebrew or the ancient languages, I struggle with the spelling of the names.  The list of fathers, sons and a few wives (notice no daughters) visually seem so similar—maybe one letter difference such as Amaziah and Ahaziah.  

Now add to the lineage, there is the geography of the narrative.  The ancient Middle Eastern setting is not a strength for me; in fact it is challenging even knowing the 21stcentury geography.

Remember that the chosen 12 tribes have split into two ‘countries’:  Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern kingdom.  Mix in the lineage of the various names and trying to remember whether that family was from Judah or whether it was from Israel further complicates the comprehension of the narrative—which, as you may remember I stated, is easier reading.

The narrative itself tells of all the acts that these leaders did, not only to their own people; but to those that they battled and conquered.  The list of killings is extensive, but add to the basic killing some of the violent and horrible behaviors used by the kings and their protégés and one might think the ink used to write the narrative is actually the blood of victims.

Woven into the battle-filled narrative are the evil behaviors that separated the faithful tribes from God.  There is trickery.  There is worshiping foreign gods.  There is “doing what is evil in the eyes of God.”  And that brings me back:  Why is this narrative part of the Bible?

Maybe one reason is the stories of Elijah and Elisha. The prophets’ stories are woven into the narrative of the leaders (and notice the similar spelling) and are stark contrast of those who remained faithful to those who ‘did evil in the eyes of God’.  

As a brief refresher, and to simplify what I have been reading, here is how Elijah is identified on Britannica.com:

Hebrew prophet who ranks with Moses in saving the religion of Yahweh from being corrupted by the nature worship of Baal. Elijah’s name means “Yahweh is my God” and is spelled Elias in some versions of the Bible. The story of his prophetic career in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Kings Ahab and Ahaziah is told in 1 Kings 17–19 and 2 Kings 1–2 in the Bible. Elijah claimed that there was no reality except the God of Israel, stressing monotheismto the people with possibly unprecedented emphasis. He is commemorated by Christians on July 20 and is recognized as a prophet by Islam.  [accessed on May 27, 2019]

Needless to say the entry on the website Britannica.com is somewhat simplified, but it helps explain the importance of including him in the narrative of Kings.  

Prior to Elijah’s death, Elisha enters into the narrative.  He was a student of Elijah and in the end became his successor.  To summarize his role in the narrative, it is helpful to turn to Britannica.com again:

Elisha, also spelled Elisaios, or Eliseus, in the Old TestamentIsraelite prophet, the pupil of Elijah, and also his successor (c. 851 BC). He instigated and directed Jehu’s revolt against the house of Omri, which was marked by a bloodbath at Jezreel in which King Ahab of Israel and his family were slaughtered.

The popular traditions about Elisha (2 Kings 2–13) sketch a charismatic, quasi-ecstatic figure, very similar to Elijah. Like his mentor, Elisha was a passionate exponent of the ancient religious and cultural traditions of Israel, which both felt to be threatened by the ruling dynasty of Omri, which was in alliance with Phoenicia. (King Ahab’s wife, the Tyrian princess Jezebel, was then trying to introduce the worship of Baal into Israel.) As a prophet, Elisha was a political activist and revolutionary. He led a “holy war” that extinguished the house of Omri in Jerusalem as well as in Samaria (2 Kings 9–10).

Though Elisha recruited Jehu to revolt against and succeed Ahab, it was Elijah who was instructed to anoint Jehu as Israel’s king (1 Kings 19:16). This is characteristic of the relationship between the two prophets; in popular estimation Elisha always remains partly in the shadow of his master. The story of the beginning of his apprenticeship (1 Kings 19:19–21) and the account in which he becomes Elijah’s heir and successor (2 Kings 2:8–18) both feature the prophetic “mantle.” In the first, Elijah casts it upon his pupil; in the second, Elisha picks it up. The mantle, cultic garment of the prophet, carries connotations of power and authority.  [accessed on May 27, 2019]

Why am I including all the background on the two prophets when I first stated that it was much easier reading the narrative of the books of Kings?  Return to the second part of the title/headline:  WHY?

As a 21stcentury Christian who has both the Old Testament and the New Testament to read, the narrative of the kings does not line up well with our understanding of the law as taught by Jesus Christ.  The violence, the evil, and the bloodshed in the narrative seem counter-productive in understanding God’s law since the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I believe that the story of the prophets that is woven into the kings’ narrative is needed to grasp the significance of God’s effort to maintain the relationship with the twelve tribes of Moses. As the narrative creates the timeline, the lineage, and even the geography of the tribes history, magnifies a few important points:

  • God maintains his promise to David despite the generations separating the kings/ people from David;
  • God’s time certainly does not match our time; He is eternally patient;
  • God sends messengers into our lives, but we have to be alert to them or even to the possibility that prophets and/or angels are trying to be heard yet today;
  • God is with us even at our worse; it is up to us to become aware of this and ask forgiveness—even if it means more than once.

Finally, buried in the Wesley Study Bible (p. 469) is a quote from John Wesley’s own notes on Kings:

Wesley argues that such divine actions should be understood in terms of divine mercy rather than in terms of the failure of divine justice (Notes,13:23). 

That statement caused me to stop and ponder again how easy it is to think that when bad things happen, it is God’s judgment for something we did wrong.  As I visit with others who struggle to understand their own relationship with God, I discover that if life has not been easy or there is tremendous illness and/or pain with which they must deal, there is a real fear that these maladies are due to God’s divine judgment.  This then leads them to fear they have not been good enough to join God and Jesus in eternal life.

Wesley’s note places an entirely different light, so to speak, upon the reason why we read the narrative in Kings. We need to realize that the generation after generation that God waited for the faithful to return to him is a picture of God’s divine mercy, not divine judgment.

Now I can answer the question:  “Why do we read the narratives of Kings?”  

We read the narrative because we learn what divine mercy is.  We read the narrative because humanity has done wrong over and over and over again yet God continues to wait for us to return to him.  God is patient.  God is willing to forgive us when we learn that he waits for us.  

Bad things do happen to good people.  Life is full of reasons why, but God does not send bad things while he waits on us.  He patiently waits for us to accept his love, his grace.  He is divinely merciful.  All we have to do is accept his presence and his love.  He is waiting.

Please join me in a prayer:

Dear merciful God,

Time and time again we behave poorly.

We ignore all the lessons shared in the Bible.

We chose to act in ways that do not follow

     the greatest commandment ever taught:

     “Love one another.”

Forgive us of our doubt, disbelief, or denial.

Forgive us for hurting others,

     physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Forgive us for our own self-judgment

     separating us from your love.

May we find peace knowing your divine mercy.

May we shine in the light of knowing your love.

May we offer grace to one another so they too

     experience the joy of faithfulness.

In the name of you, our Father, 

     In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,

          And through the Holy Spirit, God within us,

Amen.

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Prayerful thoughts on closing 2018-19 school year, summer

Certainly I have not kept it secret that I am a retired educator, and also there is no secret that I served in the pulpit for 10 years in a bi-vocational role.  Therefore surely there are no surprises that my thoughts for this week are closely connected to the ending of the school year.

The postings on Facebook are flooded with graduation notes, and I cannot help reflect, especially on the ones that are students of my former students graduating.  

I have been watching one whose sons are graduating one from college and entering into the world of professional football, and his brother graduating from high school moving into college football. Oddly their dad was a basketball player, not football; but the pride he shows and the quality of athletes he and his wife have raised is evident.  And I admit a sense of pride seeing the postings.

Another graduation I watched via postings was a former student from an entirely different program who walked across the stage getting her masters degree.  I feel so privileged to be part of her academic journey.

I could continue listing graduations for all levels:  from pre-school to kindergarten, from kindergarten to elementary, from elementary to middle school and middle school to high school and the list goes on.

Each graduation marks the end of one set of struggle,s but also notes the beginning of the next challenges.  The resilience of our young people can be amazing, but there are those who may never experience the emotional high of moving from one transition to another for any number of reasons.  

Consider all the children who live in settings where there is no Christian foundation.  The values outlined in the Bible are unknown to these young ones and there may be no sense of being valued as an individual.  They may not even experience positive child-parent relationships.

The children who escape from negative home environments rely on school for a sense of safety, for being valued as an individual, to receive unconditional love, not to mention the physical needs of clothing, food and shelter that are provided during through school systsems.

And then comes the end of the school year and the students begin acting out when for months they have been doing so well. Educators know; and dread what is ahead for these students.  They must find ways to let go of their students with prayers for their continued well-being.

Today, I encourage all Christians, all people of faith, to join in concentrated prayers for the young people who are closing another school year.  

  • Pray that they may be safe in their homes.
  • Pray that they will have food.
  • Pray that they have an adult who mentors them.
  • Pray that there are programs that can provide positive experiences.
  • Pray that they are safe.

The list could be continued, but prayers are also needed for educators.  They too, have reached the end of a school year and the demands on them have worn them out.  

Even though they are adults, they too may struggle with the shift to their routine.  They may be highly gifted with interpersonal skills in the classroom, but the demands of the students—academically and emotionally—drain them and they need prayers too.

  • Pray that educators find mental rest.
  • Pray that educators have time to enjoy their own families.
  • Pray that educators can find ways to expand their professional growth.
  • Pray that educators can prepare for the upcoming year with enthusiasm.

Finally, there are others, too, who are critical to the education of our students.  These are the supporting teams who work along side the educators making sure that the entire system works smoothly.  

The secretaries, the maintenance crews, the technology teams, the kitchen staffs, and even the groundkeepers have so much to do when the students and educators are not in the buildings.  These individuals are essential and need prayers, too.

  • Pray that they have the energy needed to work long days to repair, to improve, and to prepare for the coming school year.
  • Pray that they are trained to do all that they can for the success of the students.
  • Pray that they are valued for all the extra effort that provide for the well-being of the students.

Undoubtedly the calendar is guiding my thoughts today, but how easy it is to forget the needs of our students, the educators, and the support teams working diligently through the school year.  How easy it is to forget they need our prayers now as well as during the school year.

And I know, summer vacation brings summer schools, advanced degree work, and vacations.  Maybe those of us who are not educators tied to the school calendars, should remember John Wesley’s principle:  Do all that you can in any way that you can for all students and educators that you can when ever you can–prayers and even more if you can.

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