Category Archives: Religion

Prayer for our students

I cannot imagine leaving the latest school shooting out of Sunday’s service.  We may live have a nation away from Florida, but our schools are being shaken repeatedly by shootings.  The country needs to pray for healing and for answers about how to stop the violence.

When the UM News department posted the comments from Florida’s Bishop Carter, I could not ignore it and felt that it provides us the tool we need.  Please read and join in prayer:

The statement issued by Florida Area Resident Bishop Ken Carter, who is also the incoming president of the Council of Bishops, reads as follows:
On this Ash Wednesday, our services announced the biblical imperative to “repent and believe the gospel.”  In light of today’s shootings, we repent from our participation in a culture of death, we acknowledge the harm we do to others, and we claim the power of the cross that breaks the cycle of violence and retaliation.  We also grieve with the communities of Parkland and Coral Springs, Florida, in the deaths of seventeen persons and the wounding of many others on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A number of surrounding United Methodist Churches have students at this school, and our connection will support their healing ministry in the days ahead.

 

Using these words, let us pray together:

 

Dear God,

We accept the role of being your servants,

But sometimes we cannot be all that we want to be.

We hear the news and cry out for answers,

And we forget to turn it over to you.

We feel anger boil up within us and we scream,

As we try to renew our faith during Lent.

Let us begin with Bishop Carter’s words:

“In light of this week’s shootings, we repent

from our participation in a culture of death,

we acknowledge the harm we do to others,

and we claim the power of the cross

that breaks the cycle of violence and retaliation.

We also grieve with the communities

of Parkland and Coral Springs, Florida,

in the deaths of seventeen persons

and the wounding of many others. . .”

Guide us in our prayer life

To share our pain and to hear your words.

Guide us in our scripture reading

To find wisdom and encouragement.

Guide us in our fellowship

To love one another,

To make disciples of others,

And To transform this hurting world

So all my know grace and love

Now and forever through your son, Jesus Christ.–Amen

 

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The Family of Adam & Eve Today

Sermon given for the 1st Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2018. The Lenten sermons will be focusing on various families in the Old Testament. 

Opening scripture (in the New Living Translation):

Genesis 3:2-24, 4:1-2,8-10

     20 Then the man—Adam—named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live. 21 And the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.

     22 Then the Lord God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!” 23 So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. 24 After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

     4:1Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!” Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.

. . .One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

     Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”

     10 But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11 Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. 12 No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

. . . 25 Adam had sexual relations with his wife again, and she gave birth to another son. She named him Seth for she said, “God has granted me another son in place of Abel, whom Cain killed.” 26 When Seth grew up, he had a son and named him Enosh. At that time people first began to worship the Lord by name.

 

 

Reflection: The Family of Adam & Eve Today

 

In college, I learned an e. e. cummings’ poem by memory:

 

Fleas

Adam

Had ‘em.

 

Ok, I know, not a tough poem to commit to memory, but the thing is those four words have left an impression that has stayed with me to this day. The meaning of this poem is in the symbolic meaning of each word.

 

Fleas—one of the most basic irritations in our world

Adam—one name that represents all humanity, not one individual

Had ‘em—every body has the same basic irritations, now as well                                   as in the past as well as in the future.

 

The truth is that ever since time began humans–regardless of gender, nationality, age or any other qualifier–humans have problems. There is absolutely no doubt that everybody is going to have trouble at one time or another.

Just like a poem by a contemporary poet, the Bible is filled with stories, poems, prayers, hymns, lectures, or narratives providing readers guidance since it was first published. The Bible we read today was the result of over 400 years debate [Chronology accessed on February 16, 2018 at http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-43/how-we-got-our-bible-christian-history-timeline.html%5D:

  1. 1400–400 B.C.Books of the Hebrew Old Testament written
  2. 250–200 B.C.The Septuagint, a popular Greek translation of the Old Testament, produced

A.D. 45–85? Books of the Greek New Testament written

90 and 118 Councils of Jamnia give final affirmation to the Old Testament canon (39 books)

140-150 Marcion’s heretical “New Testament” incites orthodox Christians to establish a NT canon

303-306 Diocletian’s persecution includes confiscating and destroying New Testament Scriptures

  1. 305-310Lucian of Antioch’s Greek New Testament text; becomes a foundation for later Bibles

367 Athanasius’s Festal Letter lists complete New Testament canon (27 books) for the first time

397 Council of Carthage establishes orthodox New Testament canon (27 books)

  1. 400Jerome translates the Bible into Latin; this “Vulgate” becomes standard of medieval church

 

Obviously the process of translating and annotating the Bible has continued since the 5th century, but the chronology reminds us that the stories of the Bible began as oral tradition even before it was put into a written or published format.

Reading the Bible’s story provides us in the 21st century the guidance it takes to live a faithful life centered around the triune God. The Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window features a wide range of stories from the Old Testament and the New Testament around the images of the three trees. During the weeks of Lent, the stories of the Biblical Old Testament families are going to be considered. We are going to look at the life lessons that we can learn from even in this century, regardless of where the story is identified along humanity’s timeline.

Today, Adam and Eve are listed as the first family in the Bible. Their story begins in the Garden of Eden, but ends with the same challenges any family today may confront. After being cast out of the garden, they are forced to make a living for themselves and their children. They are just like us, even if the story begins in the Garden of Eden.

We all know the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but let’s concentrate on what happened next. The story in Genesis 4 tells us that they had two boys, Cain and Abel. The cultural expectations or traditions identified the roles society assigns to these two men, but the gift of free choice God provided humans creates the potential for making the wrong choices.

One thing leads to another, and Cain kills his own brother Abel. The family is sent into crisis. We know that conflicts between siblings often lead to a family imploding, and Adam’s and Eve’s story is no different than families today.

The news is filled with stories of families in crisis, and even this week as we hear the stories out of Florida, we know the harsh reality of families in crisis. Adam and Eve had to have questioned what they did or did not do that led to one son killing another son. They had to confront the pain of loss in two ways—death of a son and the exile of another.

What happened to Adam and Eve? For many, the story ended with Cain killing Abel. But the story continued. Looking deeper into Genesis, readers learn that Adam and Eve had a third son Seth—along with other sons and daughters.

Life continued for the father and mother just like life continues for all living parents after a tragedy. Nothing in the Biblical record says that they gave up; instead, it tells us that they continued living and the family grew.

Why, then does the story only include the name of Seth and then simply says that there were other sons and daughters?   Reading through study notes and Harper Collin’s Bible Dictionary, an answer developed: the names of children are identified when they contribute to their faithfulness to God.

Another words, the Bible identifies who should be models of faithful behaviors as well as those who are not faithful. All the other sons and daughters may be important family members, but they are not in the direct lineage of how the faithful continued the story forward to the birth of Jesus Christ.

That lineage connects the family stories that we will consider during Lent as we lead up to the story of Jesus during Holy Week. The story of Adam and Eve is the beginning and connects to Jesus as outlined in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Remember that Paul was well-educated in the Jewish history and religion. He qualified the relationship in Romans 5:

Closing scripture (NLT)

Romans 5

     12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. 13 Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. 15 But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16 And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. 17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

     18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

     20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. 21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

The most familiar story of Adam and Eve is filled with challenges that included murder within the family. Yet, God’s story continues as the family grew and a third son remains faithful. The next family story is that of Noah. He is a descendent from Seth, the faithful son of Adam and Eve.

Today, we must read the stories of the Old Testament families in order to find the lessons for our own lives today. We know the heartbreak of sons and daughters who are not faithful to God. We know the pain of loss in so many forms. These are the fleas of human life and the Bible tells us that even Adam and Eve had fleas. Our decisions as faithful followers depend on reading the stories and learning how to make the decisions, continuing to love one another as we want to be loved.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and patient Father,

As we enter into Lent,

We wonder what there is to learn.

We hear the stories

from the ancient scriptures

seeking new insight.

 

Adam and Eve shared

The same challenges

We do yet today.

They made mistakes,

They struggled with family,

And still they lived knowing you.

You never left them

Just as you never leave us.

 

This week, let us reflect

How even when we err

Or others in our family err,

You continue to offer forgiveness.

 

Forgive us, Lord,

For our doubts and mistakes.

Strengthen us to continue living,

Doing all the good we can

Not only in our personal family

But in our community

So that others may know

Your unending grace and love. –Amen

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Icy morning thoughts on the Tree of Life

IMG_2086Since we had to cancel church due to the thin, but dangerous ice coating, I am thinking about my message concerning the Tree of Life.  The more I read and study scripture, the more I realize the significance of the symbolism.

Today, we are confined due to the ice, but that does not confine our hearts and minds.  The Tree of Life symbolizes two concepts:  The Church that continues to carry Jesus’ teachings on through time and eternal life.

The Church is not the denomination, The Church is the work of the faithful who see all the ways to love one another.  We were watching the news and caught an add from Massachuettes Mutual Insurance.  The entire ad clearly documented all the good that is done all around this country when one loves one another.  It was so impressive.

Sadly, the message had to be funded by a corporation, but the message is worth every penny spent in making and airing it.  Thank you to Mass Mutual for doing so.  We need a reminder of all the good that does exist in our world.

In the stained glass window now installed at Leawood, KS’s Church of the Resurrection, the Tree of Life is surrounded by all the saints that continued carrying Jesus’ message of loving one another throughout history.  The Church is alive and it is something that we are quick to forget or to overlook.

The Tree of Life also has a second symbolic message–eternal life.  This is a sticky subject for many, but as I step outside into the natural world of the ice covered yard, the birds singing, the sun trying to peak out, and the breeze (even when it is only 16 degrees), I am renewed with the knowledge that even in the depth of winter, new life does exist.

Eternal life is no mystery for me.  Eternal life is a life cycle.  There is birth, earthly existence, death and then eternity.  I cannot look up to the night sky and see all the possibility of life beyond my human understanding.  I cannot accept that when this human form dies, the spirit dies.  I believe.

The Tree of Life stands firm in my life.  I look at the Celtic images and see the unending knot woven into their designs and I feel a sense of peace.  I study the Celtic Tree of Life and understand how complex and promising the life cycle that it represents.  And I thank God for getting to live this life and for the promise that remains.

Lent begins this week and I find it difficult to see these next few weeks filled with depressive thoughts and sorrow.  I anticipate the renewal of life as winter ends and spring begins.  Still, I suppose, we all need time to reevaluate our lives and consciously reflect on how we have lived and how we can improve.  Therefore, I will work to prepare sermons based the Old Testament families who struggled to remain faithful and whose life experiences provide us today with lessons on remaining faithful to God and following Jesus’ teaching to love one another.

Winter has its grip on us today with the coating of ice, but the mind never has to be frozen.  Use today to add to your own understanding of God’s messages.  Look closely at the Tree of Life in all its visual representations shared on the web, and find hope.

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The Message of the Trees: The Tree of Life

Sunday, February 11, 2018 arrived coated in ice, therefore no service was held due to the road conditions.  We will resume next Sunday with a recap of this final sermon based on the trees of Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window in Leawood, KS.  As Feb. 18 begins Lent, we will also
begin a series 

images

based on Old Testament families.

 

Scripture connections: (using New Living Translation)

 

Genesis 2:9

The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Proverbs 3:18 and 11:30

                  3:18Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
happy are those who hold her tightly.

 

11:30The seeds of good deeds become a tree of life;
a wise person wins friends.

 

Revelations 22 (esp. 2, 14, 19)

Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit,[a] with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

                                    3 No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.

                                    6 Then the angel said to me, “Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true. The Lord God, who inspires his prophets,[b] has sent his angel to tell his servants what will happen soon.[c]

“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed are those who obey the words of prophecy written in this book.[d]

                                    8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw all these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me. But he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers the prophets, as well as all who obey what is written in this book. Worship only God!”

                                    10 Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

                                    12 “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

                                    14 Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. 15 Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.

                                    16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne.[e] I am the bright morning star.”

                                    17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. 18 And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.

                                    20 He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

                                    21 May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.[f]

 

Reflection:

 

Yes, in our community we are in the dead of winter and grasping for the seasonal change with spring breezes, warm sunshine, and glimpses of yellow and purple blooms of jonquils and crocus peeking up at us. The cycle of life is repeated every year, and yet somehow humans fear the cycle of human life. Birth and death are simply part of the life cycle, yet fear and trepidation develops between the two seasons.

Looking at the COR’s stained glass window and considering the messages of the trees might help us manage some of the irrational and emotional fears that develop as we journey through our lives. The first message we considered was that of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We accept that as humans we err; we fail to trust that God will provide for all of our needs; we fail to love one another in almost every way one might imagine.

The second tree, the Tree of the Cross, provides hope. God loves us so unconditionally he kept giving his people opportunity after opportunity to make the right decision. And the people failed. Not just once, but generation after generation after generation his people failed to trust that God would provide. Yet God never gave up and decided to join the human world in the body of Jesus Christ and teach and demonstrate the simple principle of “love one another.”

The Tree of the Cross reminds us that even as God walked beside us, we failed. The gospels share the story and show how evil forces tried to destroy God’s message by destroying the human body. Yet, God’s message delivered through Jesus Christ is alive and that leads us to the third tree in the stained glass window: The Tree of Life.

Introduced in Genesis 2:9, the Tree of Life is mentioned as planted in the Garden of Eden alongside the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet the significance of the Tree of Life is more fully explained in the last book of the Bible: Revelations 22, the final chapter in the final book of the Bible.

And that leads us to ask, “What is the message of the Tree of Life?”

The Tree of Life is personal to me. Certainly being raised on a farm with a mother who loved nature has contributed to my passion for trees, but I also feel drawn to the Celtic image of the Tree of Life. There is no logical explanation for my love of the image, but maybe, just maybe it is because my grandpa was born on March 17 and was Welsh-Irish. At least that is how I was raised and have not found anything to repudiate that understanding.

Still, the Celtic image of the Tree of Life explains visually what I understand developed in scripture. The Genesis verse simply mentions it, and not until reading the adages in Proverbs does the phrase return:

 

                  3:18Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
happy are those who hold her tightly.

 

Wisdom goes back to the message of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Wisdom is knowing what is good and choosing to make good choices in our lives. The result of growing in wisdom leads to a happy life—remember the Christmas gifts that won’t break: hope, joy, peace, and love. Living life making wise choices results in a life filled with hope, joy, peace and love. That is a complete formula for happiness and in this proverb wisdom is a tree of life.

The second proverb that refers to the Tree of Life shows that those who are wise, who have found true happiness, are to share that wisdom:

 

11:30The seeds of good deeds become a tree of life;
a wise person wins friends.

The meaning of the Tree of Life in these proverbs creates an understanding that living a wise life, choosing and sharing good deeds, creates a happy life filled with hope, joy, peace and love. The message of the trees could end there, but look at the last chapter of Revelation and the significance of the imagery extends beyond our human experience. And this brings me back to the imagery of the Celtic Tree of Life.

Googling the Celtic Tree of Life, the explanations all say the same thing (and when searching the web, one must be diligent not to be misled). One of the most straightforward explained the symbolic drawing:

Celtic knots are known as endless knots because they don’t have a beginning or end. They represent how nature is eternal. Celtic Tree of Life knots represent the roots and branches of a tree woven together without end, showing the continuous cycle of life on earth. [Accessed on February 8, 2018 at http://www.astrologyoftheancients.com/celtic-tree-of-life/

]

Even Wikipedia and other sites defined the symbolism of the Celtic Tree of Life like this.

Study the image included in the bulletin/post today. The artist draws the Celtic knot even in the roots of the tree. The knots remove time. In fact, as the explanation shares, the Celtic knots represent how nature is eternal—there is no beginning or end.

The Tree of Life in Revelation 22 continues God’s promise that if we trust in him and live life loving one another, life continues even after our worldly life journey:

1Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

                  3 No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.

 

Reading prophetic words can be difficult; and John, who wrote Revelations, understands this as he continues this final chapter:

 

10 Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

 

As Christians, the Bible repeatedly tells us that we are to not only live faithful lives, but we are to actively share God’s message and love one another as we want to be loved. Following the Bible’s instruction is how we “sow seeds of good deeds that become the tree of life.”   Sowing seed of good deeds continues the life cycle as visually represented in the Celtic’s Tree of Life images.

Returning to the COR’s stained glass window, the vitality of the Tree of Life is clearly contrasted to the wilting, yellowing leaves of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the harsh, dead wood that is used in the Tree of the Cross. The message of the Tree of Life, first introduced in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and included in the adages of Proverbs is the concluding message of the Bible in Revelations.

Being disciplined to read the Bible is key to finding the wisdom for life in this crazy evil-filled world. Joining in conversation with others reading the Bible and making life decisions of good versus evil makes our life journey easier. How this is done is revealed in the images surrounding the Tree of Life in the stained-glass window—the church lives in the works of faithful who are planting the seeds of good deeds.

Together we are the church spreading the good news of God’s unconditional love for all of us and as we spread the good deeds, The Church as the Tree of Life flourishes.

John writes in Revelations

. . . let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

                  12 “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

                  14 Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.

 

The message of the Tree of Life concludes with the promise of eternal life along side God and his lamb, Jesus Christ.

Closing prayer:

Dear patient and loving Father,

 

We see your message

as shared in a magnificent window

teaching us about living faith.

 

We read The Word

in the books of the Bible

seeking wisdom to live faith-filled lives.

 

We join in Christian fellowship

through study and worship

working to strengthen our faith.

 

Open our hearts

to see evil

but choosing good.

 

Open our minds

to hear you speak

guiding our deeds.

Open our doors

to welcome others

seeking unconditional love.

 

May our lives

demonstrate our faith

accepting your grace,

sharing your story,

leading others to you

so they may know

hope, joy, peace and love. –Amen

 

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Time for updating Snicker’s Doodles

Maybe you noticed a change in my post.  I am going to phase in the change from Snicker’s Doodles, originally Snickerdoodles, to a less anonymous image and use Susandoodles.  I am entering the world of Twitter under that name, so it only makes sense that I match with the blog.

Thank each of you for following me.  I find myself becoming more confident with each blog and am shifting to add more of the multitude of thoughts running rampant in my brain.  My role as a licensed local Methodist pastor is only one facet of who I am, so the additional topics will share a little more of who I am.

Cooking is fun and sense retiring from teaching, I am finding that I am more inventive in cooking.  Growing up as a midwestern farm girl, I learned to cook through 4-H and with the supplies from our garden and the cattle Dad raised.  My world has greatly expanded and sense retiring, I have discovered how healthier diet is really connected to taste.  I try to make subtle changes that make food healthier and tastier.

I also enjoy knitting, and that activity lets my brain run unchecked.  As I knit, I think and there are so many random thoughts to share.  I also use that time to pray and have realized that the knitting really is “knitting prayers.”  Do not be surprised if future blogs spin out of the knit and purl stitches from my needles.

As I mentioned a bit ago, I retired from teaching.  My teaching credentials include lifetime certificate in language arts and journalism (my first degree is journalism from MU).  During my professional career, I taught English and journalism but ended up specializing in  dyslexia after being trained in the Orton-Gillingham methods.  As my experience evolved, I shifted to alternative education and stepped away from traditional textbooks.  My curriculum focused on multi-sensory, multiple intelligence, and real-life teaching.

Maybe the evolution of my teaching can be contributed to my personal learning style which I have learned is lateral or also known as “out of the box” thinking.  I, too, am dyslexic and in all likelihood, attention deficit and hyperactive.  Learning is exciting even though challenging.  I refuse to believe that just because a student can be challenged in learning, there is no reason that each student cannot learn.  For sure, I turned my own experience into a passion for teaching others how to learn.  Therefore, some blog entries may be passionate entreaties on education.

During the final years in alternative education, I added teaching social studies to my repertoire.  During my MU experience, I discovered constitutional history and journalism law.  I never would have considered a law degree, but I became interested in how the legal system work.  Add to that my personal love of reading historical novels.  This has created a foundation for my opinions on our country’s history and government. Even though I may not be a trained political scientist, I am educated and part of the American culture.  There are a variety of topics that are leading to blogs along these topics, too.

Naturally I could continue explaining who I am and my areas of interest, but I should consider the reader.  Please stick with me and let the blogging begin.  Let me hear from you and share these ideas with others.  We live in a world that is open to ideas and the geographic boundaries are being erased.  Thank you for understanding the shift in the blog title and I hope the connection established as “snickerdoodles” continues.

 

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The Message of the Trees: The Cross: A man-made tree

This is the second of three sermons spinning off the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window as seen below.  The website is https://sacredspaces.cor.org/leawood/

images

Scripture connections:

 Old Testament: Isaiah 53:7-12 (NLT)

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.[a]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.[b]
But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

 

Gospel: Luke 23:44-49 (NLT) [also found in Matthew 27:45-56, Mark 15:44-49 & John 19:18-27]

44 By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”[a] And with those words he breathed his last.

47 When the Roman officer[b] overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.[c]” 48 And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow.[d] 49 But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.

New Testament (from Paul’s letters)

I Corinthians 1:18-21 (NLT)

18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”[a]

20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.

Galatians 3:1-3 (NLT)

Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

Reflection:

As I started working on the images of the three trees in the COR’s stained glass window, I struggled to understand how the cross could be identified as a tree. Trees are living, breathing organisms, and a nature-loving mother raised me to respect them. The cross was not a living organism so the only correlation I could make was that it was made from a tree.

Last week we talked about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The image in the window is surrounded by the visual representations of the Old Testament stories. The Tree of the Cross is surrounded by the images that tell the story of Jesus Christ, from his birth in a manger through his crucifixion on the wooden cross.

The cross is a man-made shape used to hang a man. Man destroyed a living tree to destroy Jesus Christ. This tree represents all the evil that God tries to teach us to avoid—and it was man-made rather than God created.

Why, then is the Tree of the Cross the central figure of the three trees? Turning to scripture, references to the cross are buried even in the prophecy of Isaiah:

But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.

 

Even though the verses do not use the word ‘cross,’ the typical method of sentencing a criminal, especially if considered a rebel, was crucifixion—a horrible, cruel death meant to serve as a deterrent to others who might encourage rebellion against authorities.

And all four gospels describe Jesus’ death in almost the very same words. The description of the actual crucifixion is minimal, but the method is not as important as the purpose Paul outlines in I Corinthians 1:18-21:

 

18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.

 

The message, as we prepare to come to the table today, is that those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior will be saved—granted eternal life.

Paul continues to explain the meaning of the cross to the Galatians:

For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.

 

The cross is our symbol of God’s effort to keep humanity from self-destructing. The cross is a constant reminder that God loves all so much that he joined us—all humanity—by stepping into human form as Jesus to teach us how to love one another.

The cross triggers us to remember the stories of Jesus’ teachings and his efforts to model how to love one another. The cross, man-made from a tree, carried the weight of Jesus as the body of God died.

Do not leave worship today without keeping image of the Cross with you. Look around in our community and in our homes to see where the Cross is visible. Reflect upon the cruelty that God endured as he completed his work in the body of Christ.

Yes, the Cross was man-made from a tree. In fact a tree had to be destroyed in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. The Old Testament tells the stories of how the ancient Israelites failed to remain faithful to God or failed to follow the Law of Moses beginning with the story of Adam and Eve failing to follow God’s rule. The stained glass artist demonstrated the destruction of the Garden of Eden as God created by the choice of yellowing, withering leaves from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Tree of the Cross symbolizes humanity’s failure to remain faithful. Even legends have developed about the choice of wood used for the cross. The choice the ancient Romans used cannot be proven because the ancient crosses deteriorated and there is no archeological evidence of the wood used. Possibly it was olive wood, cypress, or cedar, but as a native Missourian, I am familiar with the Legend of the Dogwood Tree.

Googling the legend, I found the story:

In Jesus’ time, the dogwood grew 
To a stately size and a lovely hue.
‘Twas strong and firm, its branches interwoven.
For the cross of Christ its timbers were chosen.
Seeing the distress at this use of their wood
Christ made a promise which still holds good:
“Never again shall the dogwood grow
Large enough to be used so.
Slender and twisted, it shall be
With blossoms like the cross for all to see.
As blood stains the petals marked in brown,
The blossom’s center wears a thorny crown.
All who see it will remember Me
Crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree.
Cherished and protected, this tree shall be
A reminder to all of My agony.”

 

[Accessed on February 2, 2018 at https://www.gotquestions.org/legend-dogwood.html]

 

This legend helps me remember the message of the Cross, especially when the dogwoods bloom in the Spring. But, I was curious:  Did dogwood trees grow in Jerusalem? No. I learned that the dogwood is native only in the United States.

The Legend of the Dogwood was created to help remember the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Other cultures have different legends, and one of them includes a connection to Seth, a son of Adam and Eve. The story is complex, but it challenges our sense of chronology that our human minds comprehend.

In a doctoral thesis by Nicole Fallon from University of Toronto, Canada, legends share that the wood on the cross came from the trees in the Garden of Eden:

The notion that wood was taken from paradise goes back to Jewish tradition . . . [when] Eve and Seth bring herbs back from Eden; another tale recounts how Adam and Eve took wood with them at the time of the expulsion, which was later used as a rod by Moses and was eventually incorporated into the Tabernacle. A third account tells how Moses went to paradise personally and cut his staff there from the tree of life.

[Accessed on February 2, 2018 at https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/19188/1/Fallon_Nicole_A_200911_PhD_thesis.pdf%5D

The Cross represents the story of God as the man Jesus Christ. As we continue to study the Bible and work at hearing God talk to us, it is important to remember that the Bible, like the stained glass window, is filled with stories to guide us in living the very principles God taught us and continues to teach us. In the window, the New Testament images revolve around the Cross, a man-made tree.

We must be disciplined to read The Word as John Wesley instructed the earliest Methodists. Sometimes the scriptures do not make sense based on our personal experiences, but if we study the scripture together in small groups we can help each other find God’s message.

The Tree of the Cross reminds us of God’s promises. This week as we think about the message in the visual images of crosses that surround us in our churches, in our homes, and even around us in our community, we remember God’s promise that those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior will be granted eternal life symbolized by the Tree of Life, the third tree of COR’s stained glass window.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father,

We look at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

And know we must be disciplined to read scripture

So we can choose good over evil in our lives.

Yet today we know there is much we do not understand.

 

Today, we consider the Tree of the Cross

And remember Jesus Christ is your son

Who died to pay for our sins.

Yet today, we know there is much we do not understand.

 

As we come to the table for the bread and the cup.

We recommit ourselves to be disciples

Who strive to live the life you give us

So that others, too, may understand your love. –Amen

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The Message in the Trees Series: 1. The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil

The Messages Found in the Trees:

  1. The Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil (January 28, 2018)
  2. The Cross: A man-made tree (February 4, 2018)
  3. The Tree of Life: Eternal Life (February 11, 2018)

 

Let’s begin with a foundational statement:

The Bible is literature. God has gifted all with unique talents; and the Holy Spirit is God’s presence alive within human beings. In no way does this message challenge anybody’s belief in the holiness or sanctity of the Bible. The faithful have preserved The Word in these books, broken down into Old Testament and New Testament. The Bible is the foundation for all faithful followers of God, regardless of the denomination, the translation or published language. The Bible is literature, it is a historical record, it is a textbook, it is a hymnal and it is God speaking to each individual who decides to pick it up and read The Word.

This is the image of the stained glass window now installed at the Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS.

 

The Messages Found in the Trees:

  1. The Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil (January 28, 2018)

 

Today’s reflection spins off from the artistic expression of The Word presented in stained glass. Leawood, Kansas’s Church of the Resurrection commissioned the window for its latest worship center and includes three different tree images: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, The Cross, and The Tree of Life. Today, we review the message behind the Bible’s story of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

 

Scripture: Genesis 2:9-17, NLT

     The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

     10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

     15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

Scripture: Proverbs 1:7, NLT

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.

 

Scripture: Psalm 111:9-10, NLT

He has paid a full ransom for his people.
He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

 

Looking at the stained glass image of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil does not match my personal image created in reading the creation story in Genesis. In the window, the tree has yellow leaves and dots of red, supposedly representing the fruit. The yellow leaves troubled me, but in the Church of Resurrection’s explanation, the yellowing leaves indicate the withering or dying of the tree.

The verses from Genesis 2 introduce the image of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

The Tree of Knowledge establishes a basic life rule for us, but understanding the significance of the tree is difficult. The rule simply is follow God’s law, avoid evil’s temptation and he will take care of us. The problem is that such a simple rule becomes complicated when evil forces battle for control in our life. Good versus evil takes a disciplined lifestyle that begins with The Word.

Reading the Bible is essential to hear God speaking to you personally. God speaks to each one of us in his own way and in his own time. What we hear depends on the filters of our own lives. These filters include our upbringing, our nationality, our experiences, and even the people who interact with us. Reading the Bible is a discipline necessary to manage the ever-changing face of evil and to hear God’s timeless wisdom even today.

For instance, the artist’s representation of a wilting, dying Tree of Knowledge (TREE OF KNOWLEDGE) does not match my image, which is of an apple tree like that of my childhood orchard or those in the commercial orchards along Hwy 24 in Lafayette County, MO. The childhood story of Eve eating the apple from the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE created the visual image of a healthy, vibrant, fruit-filled apple tree.

What happened after Eve ate that first apple/fruit was the story of Adam caving in to temptation as he bites into the fruit, too. The symbolic meaning of this bite teaches us that giving in to evil’s temptation is destructive. Nothing written in the scripture states that this human decision destroyed the tree itself, but as an adult I can see the artist’s interpretation of how giving into evil temptation destroys.

Today’s world now includes the visual language of emojis. Today, we use emojis to openly express our feelings. Therefore, I wanted to introduce the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE to the kids through the happy face and the sad face emojis—just the two emojis, not the myriad of emotion images available through our social media. Why? The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE is defined as simply the knowledge of good and evil—the happy face and the sad face.

How simple life can be if it can be boiled down to just a simple decision of whether something is good or evil. There would be no grey zone of emotions, of right or wrong, of good or evil. Unfortunately our world is far more complex, and as we look at the full color version of our stained glass windows here and in the COR’s window, we know life cannot be just good or evil.

The Word begins with the story of the Garden of Eden where Eve picks the fruit and convinces Adam to take a bite. The result symbolically unleashed the forces of good versus evil in all human lives. The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE in the window towers over the images of the Old Testament stories so familiar to readers. These stores serve as lessons about all the different ways humans must battle the forces of evil. (And even the images in the window are only a few of the Old Testament stories.)

Reading the Bible is a critical element in being a faithful Christian.

In the words of Proverbs 1:7:

 

 Fear (and remember this means ‘respect or revere’ by 21st century understanding) of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

 

We are reminded how important it is to read The Word so we develop wisdom and discipline. The stories develop our skill to determine good and evil. We will make mistakes; but God is forgiving, and each story we read shows us how God forgives over and over. We have the ability to make our own decisions; but if we live randomly, putting our personal selves in the center, we fail:

  • We fail to keep God at the center of our lives.
  • We fail to love one another, as we want to be loved.
  • We fail to choose good over evil.

The Bible is our “how to” manual for life. It guides us in how to take care of our world, our families, our communities, and yes, ourselves. But we must be disciplined in reading The Word.

As we step away from the heightened awareness of Christ’s birth, the excitement of Christmas diminishes as we face the reality of daily life—the bills, the broken water pipes, the extreme cold, the work world, the loneliness, and the uncertainties swirling around us: we need God. It is so easy to lose our self-discipline.

The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE of Good and Evil is the opening message of the Bible. It is the first story humans need to know and to understand in order to be equipped with the skill to journey through life. Evil lurks around us all the time. Evil begins when the eyes open. There is the temptation to ignore everything and stay in bed because it makes us feel safe–warm and cozy.

But evil lurks even in the safest places in our lives. We need God all the time to guide us in good versus evil. Learning good and evil begins with one’s first breath; therefore, parents need the knowledge of good and evil to provide the best environment possible for their children. Sadly, even then evil lurks around our homes as we all too often learn from the news.

The Word must be part of our lives so we can develop the knowledge of good and evil and be able to defend ourselves from evil. The symbolic representation of the dying TREE OF KNOWLEDGE reminds us that without The Word we, too, can wither and die. Our responsibility to God is to read and to teach The Word. The Bible is our tool. The stories create the inner knowledge of good and evil. The stories equip us with the knowledge necessary to defend us from evil in virtually every setting imaginable, in every relationship we develop, and in every transaction we make.

The Psalms are examples of hymns written to help the faithful maintain their worship discipline. In Psalm 111, The Word looks ahead and tells us that God, even when we make the mistake and get tangled up with evil, forgives us as long as we continue to ‘fear’ or as we would now say, respect or revere The Word:

He has paid a full ransom for his people.
He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

 

As Christians, we accept God’s role in our lives, but we also accept the responsibility to share the story with others. True, that begins in our own families as we teach our children the knowledge of good and evil, but it also continues in our lives’ journeys. We are to teach in our churches, in our communities, in our work places, in our recreation, and in our choices as citizens—not only as national citizens, but as global citizens.

Knowing how to identify evil is so very important, but it must be taught by our words and our actions so evil can be rebuked, confined, and hopefully ended. Our work is never done, and we are reminded that by the visual image of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE in the stained glass window. We are reminded that in the books of the Bible. We are reminded that when we are in Christian fellowship with each other.

Today, we can see the damage that evil causes in the image of the withering, dying TREE OF KNOWLEDGE of the stained glass window. We can see the emoji-dressed tree our kids have created. We can read the story of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE from the Bible, and we can hear the story told over and over in so many different ways. But do you understand the importance of the story? Do you accept the responsibility to continue telling the story? Do you need to re-read and study the stories of The Word to reinforce how you live a good versus evil life in God’s world?

Each week, join your church family to do just that. Keep the mental picture of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE present in your mind. Talk about it with others. Evaluate your decisions whether good or evil. Read The Word and find God talking to you. Your life will be a window to others so that they may see God in their own lives, too.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Protect us in our daily lives from the evil

that swirls around us.

Teach us through your words and works

to understand how good wins over evil.

Thank you for sharing The Word through gifts

you granted faithful artists and writers.

Thank you for giving us the ability

to understand The Word in all forms.

Guide us to use the gifts you gave us

to share The Word in our own ways.

May we be the model of disciplined, faithful Christians

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