Sometimes one needs reminding in order to move forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using these four filters is considered Wesley’s quadrilateral.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read again the first lines of the note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Lord, our God,

As we continue our earthly journey, growing in faith,

   fill us with the grace and love you show us

   so we may share that grace and love with others.  

Help us to find ways to join the generations

    with compassion and empathy

   in order to lead others to know you personally.  

We want to rejoice with those that rejoice

   and weep with those who weep

   as members of your family, always.  –Amen

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Yesterday is today while old is new—and vice versa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the first chapter, Habakkuk asks two questions:

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

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

Habakkuk has four more sections:  

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

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

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

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

Then Habakkuk prays in v. 3:16:  

“I hear, and I tremble within;

   my lips quiver at the sound.

Rottenness enters into my bones,

   and my steps tremble beneath me.”

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

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

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

       I will exalt in the God of my salvation.

   God, the Lord, is my strength;

      He makes me feel like the feet of a deer,

      and makes me tread upon the heights.”

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

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

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

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

Dearly God,

Guide me along my journey.

Speak to me through scripture.

Teach me by the words of your faithful.

Then, let my words be your words

Sharing your grace, your promises

    and your love with others so they, too,

    feel your love and live to love others.  –Amen

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‘Doodling along’ much like literary stream of conscience

I like color and design.  I am not particularly good at it, but I like it.  There is something pleasing about seeing a design come together and then adding in the color.

Growing up, I used to draw these random patterns and then color them. And for some reason I really liked colored pencils rather than crayons or markers.  (Of course markers came later in life.)

Oddly, now I find doodling with words as you may have guessed with the blog’s title of ‘Susandoodles.’  Using words can sometimes be challenging as the idea just escapes capture.  One can sit down with a pencil and doodle until something develops, but words do not always do that.

Maybe that is one of the reasons I used stream of conscience writing exercises in my classroom.  I would have students just start writing whatever came into their mind and I would time them.  They earned points based on how many words or lines they could fill in the time allowed.

So today, I am word doodling.  My last two weeks have been overflowing with new ideas, continued Bible study, presentations and training.  

I have covered Song of Solomon, finished the gospel of John, and now starting I and II Samuel and Ephesians.  

And I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by Sue Nilson Kibby on her specialty, breakthrough prayer.  Inspiring.

The truth is that I feel like I am filled to the brim and overflowing with ideas about how God is alive in our lives each and every day, every hour, every moment.  We literally doodle our thoughts into a prayer life with God and we may not even consciously realize how close he is.

The one hiccup in my conscious awareness of God’s presence in my life is hearing God speaking to me.

Really the hiccup is that I get so busy with my earthly life that I do not allow quiet time to listen to God.  Why can’t I accept what I hear as God really talking to me?

I suspect the problem is trusting what I hear.  Even though prayer can become a 24-hour, 7-days a week process, we forget that God is listening at all times.  He knows our thoughts.

Does that mean that when we have bad thoughts, mean thoughts, or angry thoughts that those are prayers that God hears, too?  Hmmm.  

And that is what happens when my word doodling or stream of conscious style of writing takes me to a conundrum.  Prayer is conversing with God.  And I must now take all that I read, study and learn; and work consciously to develop my prayer life to be more effective.

See, word doodling/stream of consciousness sometimes is necessary to sort out what all is flooding the brain.  The next few weeks I have much to do.  We are beginning a new small group ministry, First Conversations, at church, I have my personal Bible study to complete, and more.

Prayer is essential, and I invite you to join me as I journey through the various readings and conversations as I work to improve my own prayer practices.

Please join me in prayer:

Lord, guide me with my words.

Lord, may my words be your words.

Lord, let others hear you through the words I doodle.

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Jumbled thoughts . . .

I finished reading C. S. Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity.  Maybe that is why I am struggling with jumbled thoughts.  I know it was a good thing to have read the book, but I am simply can’t seem to find the words to speak about it.

Of course, I am continuing to read the Bible through that year-long plan that incorporates an Old Testament reading with a New Testament reading. And that plan has me reading Ezekiel and John, the gospel of John.  And all adds up to jumbled thoughts.

Therefore, I am going to just share some of these thoughts in a “stream of consciousness” format.  I know it is not the wisest way to communicate ideas, but today it makes sense to me.

Yesterday, I visited with a nurse at a long-term facility and was moved by her testimony.  How easy was it for her to share her passion for Christ, and how it affected her daily life. 

As she shared some of her evidence of God’s work in God’s time, I found myself lifted up.  There are times I worry that I cannot be effective in the lives of those I love using prayer and modeling, but she shared her understanding:

“The Lord strips away everything from those who just cannot believe or live in a Christ-like manner in order for them to learn how to trust God.”

Wow!  As much as I read, study and observe, I never considered that stripping away everything from someone may indeed by God’s way of getting their attention and then to build up the relationship with them, bringing them back to God.

I shared with her that I had read Mere Christianity  and The Chronicles of Narnia.  She had not, but she knew of a school that was established based on these books.  Amazing. I have thought so much how using these books to teach young people about faith, and here I learned was a private school based on them.

C.S. Lewis has left us so many words to read and to dwell upon. The book Mere Christianityis a publication based on radio broadcasts during World War II in England.  Consider the setting to which he refers to in the book: the proximity of battling Hitler, answering the call to serve in combat leading to a likelihood of death, and the threat, imminent threat, to one’s own home or property.

Lewis said he did not believe, but then came to believe.  He speaks to others who do not believe in hopes of explaining some of the truths.  He talks to those who see life in concrete terms, through scientific lenses, and the cold reality of war.  And the result is a common sense argument for life with God/Christ at the center.

A few weeks ago, I shared that I feel I have failed to ‘teach’ my own children how to live a Christ-centered life in a direct, honest, and disciplined manner.  I also have not done my best to testify about my faith to others that I meet along the way. 

This week, I did share my testimony; but only because the listener shared hers.  

This week, I continue to follow the discipline of study scripture.

This week, I week I pray that I am modeling the very commandment that guides my daily life in a way that speaks volumes:

Love one another as you want to be loved.

Or in a slightly different way, using Jesus’s words in the gospel of John:

Love one another as I have loved you.

Think about those two different ways of saying the same commandment. My jumbled thoughts are just the way our lives are.  We live jumbled lives, but if we keep Christ at the center and remain faithful, we always seem to end up unjumbled.

Please join in prayer:  

Father God,

The days are filled with jumbled thoughts,

     with jumbled calendars,

     with jumbled relationships.

We turn to you for the words we need

      to unjumble our lives.

The ideas that are shared between one another,

     from the books we read, and

     from the scripture you provide;

Serve as guidance for us in doing all that we can

     to love one another

     as you loved us.  

In the name of you, the Father, the Son,

     and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

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Time to study and for life, too

Making the commitment to read the entire Bible in the year was a goal I had long put off doing.  I have read and studied the Bible, but to follow a specific published reading plan and stick to it!

Well, here fall is upon us and I am still on schedule.  I am nearing the end of my third journal, and I cannot remember how many pencils I have used up (prefer mechanical so really, that means leads).  

Each day, I am reminded how much I do not know.  I also discover that the particular plan that I am using is answering questions that have plagued me for years.  

And as you may remember from previous blogs, that I have been reading additional books, including C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Right now, I am also reading another Lewis book, Mere Christianity.  And I assure you that all this is intersecting and confirming what I know about God and faith—and life as a Christian today.

Today’s world complicates our lives by the pressure to be ‘successful’ and that is based on an American culture that measures success by consumerism. What car does one drive?  How upscale is the house?  How big is the wardrobe?  How high up the corporate ladder has one risen?  And I could go on.

That brings me back to the title:  Time to study and for life?  What do I mean?  In our world today, we have shifted our priorities based on the hours in the day, the days in the week, and weeks in the month.  Not to mention that we race from one commercial season to the next—forget the seasonal shifts or the Christian seasons that even served as a base for what has become commercial, i.e. Halloween, Christmas, Easter.

My decision to invest in the Bible reading plan meant I had to make time to study.  My approach has been to use the Wesley Study Bible that includes study notes, introductions to each book, Wesleyan Life Application Topics, and Wesleyan Core Terms. And that means reading the scripture is more a research project, and the time I use is almost 1-1.5 hours each day.

This challenges the time for daily life.  I do not believe I could have made this time investment without life forces changing my daily schedule.  When I was teaching, the time schedule had to focus on the job expectations. Add to that the time to manage a family, the household chores, and so much more.  

Our culture, which originated on the premise that religious freedom is a human right, has evolved into a culture that seems to do everything it can to shove one’s faith life out of the first priority position.  

We do not even make it a priority to teach, model how to maintain our faith practices within our own families.  At least I feel like I failed that too.

Instead, I went to school, I took jobs, I raised a family, and I continued to be a Methodist.  I used time for life first, then read a devotional with what little time was leftover.

Today, I have altered my time priorities.  I get up early and study before I worry about starting the day.  I look ahead at the calendar and if something in real life demands a shift in my study plan, I develop a plan to accommodate the study time I need.  Do I ever wish I had adjusted my time priorities years ago!

My point is that the more I study, the more I see life through Christ’s eyes.  I am convinced that living in today’s world is greatly improved when I look at it through Christ’s eyes and then determine what I can do through John Wesley’s filter of doing all that I can for all that I can in any way that I can for as long as I can. 

And how I wish I could have impressed that concept to my family and on to my students, but I suppose modeling the Christian life is what I must do now.  My real-life time is more focused on God, now; but my real life continues to evolve.  Hopefully my real-time life reflects my passion for God and his Son Jesus Christ and how it effects my daily life.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear God,

Please accept my apology for taking so long

     to value Bible study time.  

Continue to fill me with understanding 

     as I read and study your words.

Guide me in using your words to share

Bible study

     the wonder of a Christ-filled life.  Amen

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Praying the Psalms VII + final: Throughout it all, praise the Lord

The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing and what echoes in my ears:

     This is the day that the Lord has made;
         let us rejoice and be glad in it. (NRSV)

These words come from Psalm 118:24 and have been part of my life as long as I can remember, whether it was from my mom’s mouth or from a pastor’s, these words seem to express the joy I feel for the world which surrounds me.

As I finished reading and studying the Psalms this past week, I found that my thoughts and my mood just seemed to soar as I read through the final ones.  I cannot imagine ending these weeks of study and not want to express myself in a joyful manner.

Turns out according to the Wesley Study Bible, the final (of five) books in Psalms are filled with psalms of praise.  That piece of information made me stop to think. So much of the Old Testament seems filled with despair, and yet in the hymnal of the ancient Israelites, the emphasis is on praising God.

Placing this into the 21stcentury world, I think we need to remember this too.  Despite everything that circulates in the media and all the horrendous news that seems to open each newscast (and just an aside, my first degree is in journalism, BJ’76 from MU) so I tend to be a “newsaholic.”  Still, I delight on the day the Lord has made.For me, praying the psalms includes always praising God for some element of the day whether it is a personal relationship that brings me joy, whether it is the love from my pets, whether it is a warm embrace, or something 

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Praying the Psalms VI: Remember those camp songs?

Growing up I was in 4-H and UMYF.  In both of these groups, we learned camp songs.  Interestingly these songs were basically the same.  

You may remember them:  

  • John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,
  • Tell Me Why
  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat
  • Kookaburra
  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
  • Kumbaya

And I know there are so many more.

We sang these when we were in fellowship with others.  They were feel good songs, and we sang them loudly.  We did not care if we were in tune or not. We just joined together without any reserve.

The psalms I assigned for the past several days were ““Songs of Ascent”” and some of them were very short, only a few lines long.  These songs were sung by the pilgrims, the faithful while they journeyed to the temple up Mount Zion.

The “Songs of Ascent” are Psalms 120-134.  The songs are full of praise, and many share a sense of unity in the deliverance from enemies and hardships.  

But as I read them I can certainly ‘hear’ the people joining in singing robustly as they make the trip together just like a group of youngster sitting around a campfire.

The two images of groups singing popular songs once again points out that the words in the Bible are just as timely today as they were in ancient times.  We are no different.  We need to join together in praise and worship.  We need God in our lives just as much now as ever.

My argument, then, is to read the “Songs of Ascent” and consider how the same gongs apply to our lives today.  For me, I found these psalms uplifting and all too often we forget that our prayers can be thankful and joyful.  Prayers do not always have to be repentance and supplication.

As I look back over these psalms that I have just completed studying, I can identify some of the key verses that speak to me.  Praying the psalms includes sharing these words:

  • Ps. 120: Deliver me, O Lord,

                                    from lying lips,

                                    from deceitful tongue.  . . . 

                            I am for peace;

                                    but when I speak,

                                    they are for war.

  • Ps. 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills—

                                    From where will my help come?

                            My help comes from the Lord,

                                    who made heaven and earth.  . . . 

                            The Lord will keep

                                    your going out and your coming in

                                    from this time on and forevermore.

  • Ps.122: For the sake of my relatives and friends

                                    I will say, “Peace be within you.”

  • Ps. 123: Our help is in the name of the Lord,

                                    Who made heaven and earth.

  • Ps. 130: But there is forgiveness with you,

                                    So that you may be revered.

                             I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

                                    And in his word I hope  . . .

                             . . . hope in the Lord!

                                    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,

                                    and with him is great power to redeem.

  • Ps. 131: . . . hope in the Lord  . . .
  • Ps. 133: How very good and pleasant it is

                                    When kindred live together in unity!

In closing the “Songs of Ascent” discussion, there are two thoughts. One is that Psalm 132 seems more prophetic as it includes the prophecy that God promised that a king or anointed one will lead the Jewish, i.e. faithful people.  This is a prophecy of Jesus Christ.  I find the words interesting in relation to the story we now know and is shared in the New Testament, but it does not read like the other “Songs of Ascent.”

To close the discussion there is one more thought.  The excepts shared in this posting can be separate prayers, but they can also be inspirational statements.  One final psalm is Psalm 134, and as short as it is, it can be used as a prayer of benediction.  Please join me:

Ps. 134:  Praise in the Night

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,

    Who stand by night in the house of the Lord!

Lift up your hands to the holy place

    And bless the Lord.

May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth,

    Bless you from Zion.

And as you move through the coming days, let your heart be filled with gladness and may the camp songs of your memory fill you with joy.

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